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.
The poem ?The Critick and The Writer of Fables? published in 1713 by Anne Kingsmill Finch, Countess of Winchilsea, is an ambitious attempt at a satirical play on gendered and formal limitations of Augustan poetry. The critick is representative of a male poetic society, and yet by acquiring a voice from Finch within the poem, it appears to represent one side of Finch?s own internal debate in deciding where her writing belongs. She makes a case for a new style of writing by satirizing the forms already in existence. The poem, at once, exemplifies an Augustan commentary about poetic definition while it inserts the thinly veiled female object of Finch, the fable writer, as the subject in the style of the Romantic poets. Finch carves a place for her own poetry between the satirical, warring poet and the pastoral, peaceful muse, making room for her various resulting combinations. Finch?s poetry resides somewhere between two chronological, poetic traditions, as well as a gender division, without fully occupying any one more than another. It is in her displacement that she finds her own space.
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…
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
This 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.
I still see things that are not here. I just choose not to acknowledge them.
– John Nash, A Beautiful Mind
I’m your average Jane when it comes to movies. As a member of Netflix, I’ve opted for the one-movie-at-a-time-for-$6.99 package. The only technical film operation I am familiar with is filling my online movie queue, checking snail mail, and pressing “play.” Thank goodness for Richard Barsam’s guide, Looking at Movies: An Introduction to Film. Without it, the lexicon used both in the production/direction and analysis of film would be lost on me. The closest I have come to analyzing film technique, aside from story, is when I found porn in my genealogical research. Essentially, until now, I’ve preferred to see without really looking.
That said, and since class didn’t officially have to write for today, I’m just going to wrap up Chapter 1, “What Is a Movie” for myself. You?re welcome to read along.
To summarize ultra-simplistically, a film is both form and content inextricably intertwined on celluloid (unless it’s digital). That’s the easy part. It’s the myriad ways in which form and content can be manipulated that blows my mind:
Through the camera lens (as both perspective and frame)
Coexpressibility of time and space (parallel edits and montages)
Lighting (chiaroscuro: a term that describes contrasts of light and dark which I?m thrilled to recognize from an oil painting class)
Via the constructed illusion of realism and the opposite, or antirealism (fantasy, sci-fi, thrillers)
Striving for verisimilitude: a convincing appearance of truth based on “realistic” expectations as well as a filmmaker’s and audience’s mediation of conventional and innovative cinematic language (scenes, sequences, dissolves, etc.)
Through a flexible dependence upon the conventions and overlap of genres and subgenres
Narrative or fiction (action, biopics, comedy, fantasy, film noir, etc.)
Non-fiction (factual, instructional, documentary, propaganda)
The conflation of both via historiographic metafiction (This note is my own written especially for Michael)
Animation (drawing, puppet or clay animation, pixilation, computer animation)
Experimental film (Un Chien Andalou – An Andalousian Dog, as the book translates – is on UbuWeb if you want to see it. The eyeball scene is a trip.)
In the end, it is all simply an illusion of movement – but a complicated one at that. And so here we end where we’ll begin another day…
FoYoInfo: English Department Visiting Scholar
Jim Collins Lectures on Film and New Media
April 8th, 7-9 p.m. in Saint Joseph Hall
Does anybody wanna go?
(The old Postmodernism gang perhaps?)
PS: How odd to be reading references to the filming of Brokeback Mountain on the day that Heath Ledger was found dead.
Charles Baxter’s Defamiliarization: A Summary
In Burning Down the House, Baxter addresses the issues of stale character and meaning in fiction. Avoidance of overdetermined characters and events is achieved through what he calls defamiliarization. Only when this idea is employed does a piece of fiction become interesting.
To create fictitious people in the same way an elegy is written about the deceased is to create something flat. “Such a recital is all overdetermined. All the arrows point in one direction” (31). A limited scope of the whole of the person is neatly packaged and presented as deemed fit by societal expectations. The result is a staging of what Baxter calls “the show business of every day life” (29). This predictable approach, where characters are created according to form, is what detaches them from memory. They are “overparented” by the author. Characters must be comprised of more than one side. A reader identifies most with interesting details of struggle and failure; otherwise a character has nothing to distinguish him or herself from the norm. As Baxter says, “the difference between fictional art and public rhetoric is that in fiction, the arrows point in all sorts of directions” (32). In essence, the character becomes an identity with which the reader is too familiar.
The way in which an author creates meaning in a story can fall into the same trap. To focus on one “truth” and fit the narrative neatly within the boundaries of that truth is to deny the reader dramatic tension. There is no learning involved. Modernists felt that “truth had gotten stale” (36) and cliche so they broke the rules and shook their audience. After they ran out of rules to break, time passed and what they had produced had also become familiar. As Baxter says, familiarity means security and the “power to predict” (38). In this attempt at newness, what becomes new also becomes old. Additionally, the avant-garde approach of innovation and marginality offers no real solution. To throw out the old for mere novelty simply creates and adds to the confusion avant-garde artists construct. Baxter believes we need an alternative approach and offers the solution of defamiliarization.
Defamiliarization is “a technique for finding a certain kind of detail that resists the fitting of the object into a silhouette, that is, into a ready made symbolization” (42). Viktor Shklovsky calls the silhouette concept algebrization, “the process of turning an event or familiar object into an automatic symbol” (41). This factor which can be plugged in to mean something familiar fails to add interest. Baxter combats this boredom with an idea of Gerard Baxter Hopkins, that “images [become] memorable when some crucial part of their meaning [has] been stripped from them” (41). Mundane, predetermined meaning must be removed from objects and images to add unpredictability. Another form of defamiliarization is misalignment or diversion from a single truth via juxtaposed contradictions of emotion. People often feel many opposing emotional reactions when impacted by a single change in their lives. These combinations represent simultaneous forms of existence within one individual and create an unpredictable outcome. It becomes uncertain which emotion will rise to the surface and influence the next action. Another tool in the arsenal of defamiliarization is point of view. This provides the framework of observation and works best when the narrator doesn’t know what their own journey means. Their position offers a picture that is moderately strange. This speaks to the idea of renormalization, where “moderately strange in the middle of ordinary is the lens for focusing the ordinary. Without it, the ordinary has nothing against which to define itself” (49). Ultimately, defamiliarization is about “not finding ourselves where we expected to be but where we did not expect to be found, and at a moment when our defenses are down” (49).
Baxter, Charles. Burning Down the House. Saint Paul: Graywolf Press, 1997.