Quills: Voyeur as the Voice of Reason

Available on Amazon

Available on Amazon

Manipulation in film, not only of the objects within the frame but of the audience as well, has been the practice of film makers for decades. In Philip Kaufman?s Quills (2000), a biopic loosely based on the last years of life for the18th century author, the Marquis de Sade (Geoffrey Rush), the audience becomes not just an observer but an active participant in particular sexual acts through overtly suggested voyeurism. For what purpose does Kaufman so conspicuously manipulate the audience into committing these acts? In an ambitious argument for uncensored art, even when pitted against the utmost controversial fiction of the Marquis de Sade (a man who RollingStone.com calls ?one sick twist? (Travers)) Kaufman wants his audience to actively lust for things they cannot have. For this reason, I examine the transition from the experience of fictional freedom in the first scene involving Mademoiselle Renard (Diana Morrison) with the oppression of that freedom within the rest of the film. By beginning the story here, Kaufman demonstrates that in order to understand what can be lost through censorship, one must understand, first hand, what exists prior to that loss.

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Will the Real Harvey Pekar Please Step Up?

American Splendor, the film

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From the beginning of Berman and Pulcini?s American Splendor (2003), we are presented with many versions of Harvey Pekar:

  • A comic strip frames Harvey Pekar (Daniel Tay), an uncostumed kid on Halloween in 1950. When asked what he?s dressed as, we learn that this kid is no super hero. He cranks off, ?I?m Harvey Pekar. I?m just a kid from the neighborhood? and storms off with the voices of kids mocking his name in fading echos.
  • If memory serves correctly, we hold that same external comic frame and fade the content to actor Paul Giamatti walking that same street?playing the film?s character “all grown up.”
  • A voiceover of the real Pekar tells us Harvey Pekar is also a real guy and we eventually meet that guy in a sound studio being interviewed, documentary style, by Shari Springer Berman.
  • Interspersed are comic renditions of the character talking to us in bubbles, telling us about who he is.
  • Giamatti thinks in bubble text at the supermarket where the idea for American Splendor was born.
  • We meet?the comic renditions?of Pekar again at the the train station when Joyce Brabner (Hope Davis) arrives for the first time.
  • Later, we get clips of the real Pekar on ?Late Night with David Letterman.?
  • Giamatti?also stages Pekar?s volatile GE/NBC blast on the same show.
  • Last but not least, we see one more permutation when Giamatti acts repulsed while watching a play about Pekar played by Donal Logue when the voiceover adds that he, the real Pekar, wonders how he?ll feel seeing Giamatti play him in this movie.

The genious mix of reality and fiction is?enough to make my head spin…

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My Intellectual Cosmos

Taking stock, a reflective exercise often assigned at the end of a class, is also a graduation requirement. This is my first draft. Tweaking to follow… although?references to?”navel gazing” and “mental masturbation” are definitely keepers.

The Collegiate Experience and My Intellectual Cosmos

Sigma Tau Delta Honor StoleThis reflective essay has been assigned to help connect my Senior Seminar experience, with its focus on pre-romantic poetry, to the greater Saint Rose experience and thus my intellectual cosmos. To be honest, I find this task rather difficult. My trouble stems from the Senior Seminar portion of this ponderance. Let me first say that I have thoroughly enjoyed the intellectual, in-depth conversation every class has offered and that I find significant value in the exploration of early literary theory and the ability to measure today?s ideas by comparison. Still, I struggle to kindle some sort of greater passion for the subject matter in a present-day application that brings new awareness to light.

In my ideal world, Senior Seminar should be more than an entertaining intellectual exercise. I had hoped for a topic that would engage my passion, inspire me to action in righting some contemporary wrong and raise my own awareness as well as the awareness of those who read what new discoveries my research has to offer. Instead, I am reminded time and again, as we jest about the many ways in which poets have continually pondered their navels, that the struggle of the human experience merely shifts at a snail?s pace. Looking to history offers little more than greater historical knowledge of humanity?s slowly morphing circumstances, faulty attempts at understanding through overly general categorization, and constant repetition of these mistakes. While history is a fantastic place to begin, traveling back in time is not necessarily the best place to finish, at least in the opinion of this Saint Rose senior.

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Looking at Quills

Available on Amazon

Available on Amazon

Having selected Philip Kaufman’s Quills (2000) as my ?Writers in Motion? film of choice, I watched it twice, first to take in the entire story and again to take notes. For further insight, I watched the DVD extras on screenplay writer Doug Wright’s commentary, costuming, setting and casting, searched for the text of the screenplay to read for sheer literary value, and hit JSTOR for some scholarly direction. I also found accounts of the Marquis de Sade?s real life on the Time Warner True Crime site and discovered another devoted to PVC fetish wear designed in the Marquis? name. Before I knew it, I had shoved so much material into my feeble little brain that my ability to create a single thesis ground to a screeching halt. I screamed, ?TOO MUCH INFORMATION!? and took a break. This is how I roll.

Reading Barsam?s last chapter of Looking at Movies offers the perfect springboard for this paper I have yet to begin. With graduation looming just 15 days away, that?s what I call salvation in print. One method Barsam suggests is a tracing of dualisms or binary oppositions. In Quills, that could include things such as:

  • nature/culture
  • good/evil
  • freedom of speech/censorship

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Gonzo Editing

(This week’s observations stem from Richard Barsom’s Looking at Movies, “Chapter 6: Editing,” a viewing of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and?a personal account of family feud.)

I?m fascinated by the ways we, as humans, make meaning from images. Whether presented on their own, in a pair or a group, the story often changes when contextualized by what surrounds that central image. If anyone has ever done scrapbooking, you know that three well placed images on a page, and not necessarily in chronological order, can epitomize an entire event, whether it be a child?s birthday party, a wild night out on the town, or a child?s wild birthday night out on the town.

Welcome to the opening montage of Terry Gilliam?s 1998 film, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. A series of black and white images flashes before us: a helicopter, a Vietnam protest, and other faded war time images alternating with a repeated black screen covered with thick, wet and vibrant spattered blood. We immediately think of fresh death, destruction and civil unrest.

Fear and Loathing in Las VegasOnce in that frame of mind, we?re hit with the jarring contrast of a long shot showing a pristine, cherry red convertible flying down the straight and narrow highway. Who is driving? Cut to a humorous image of drug induced driver/journalist, Raoul Duke (Johnny Depp) and passenger/lawyer, Dr. Gonzo (Benicio Del Toro). We not only see the main characters, and I do mean characters, we also enter their LSD induced world as our view of them is contorted through the distortion of a fish eye and barrel lens. Next, Duke repels his invisible bat hallucinations with a fly swatter. The scene then cuts to a real bat casualty lying dead in the road. The audience has just left their own sense of reality and specifically entered that of Duke?s. Welcome to the 70’s.

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Bullets Over Barton; Barton Over Broadway

Bullets Over?BroadwayIn the Woody Allen and Douglas McGrath 1995 film, Bullets over Broadway, fictional playwright David Shayne (John Cusack) is on par with fictional playwright turned screenwriter Barton Fink (John Turturro) in the Coen brothers? 1991 film of the same name, Barton Fink. Each character is conflicted by the stereotypical questions that face all authors, such as:

? From where, what or whom does inspiration come?
? What constitutes art, one creator?s original idea or collaboration?
? What is the value of art or artist and how is that value recognized?
? In what ways does the art belong to the author as well as the audience?
? At which point does that private to public transference take place when dictated by capitalism?
? Does this transference to the public realm devalue the art, the artist, both or neither?

What makes each character?s experience realistic in both films is the fact that their moral and ethical struggles in relation to the convergence of idealistic art and life?s monetary motivation are born out of authentic human experience.

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