1. the narrative world of the story 2. recounting, narration
CUT TO [snow]
Featuring new writing on: • Let the Right One In • The Shining • Fargo • The Event
Also including: •Secret Cinema • Toys in Film • Who is Harvey Krumpet? • Farewell Tony Curtis ISSUE 1 WINTER 2010
Editorial Diegesis , a screen review magazine run by Film & Television Studies students at Southampton Solent University. Diegesis is a space for student writers to think outside-the-box, and engage Welcome to the very first issue of
with film, television and screen culture, critically and creatively. As the parameters of film and tv change from celluloid to digital forms or small screen broadcasting to worldwide webcasting, then so too can the ways in which we write about them.
Each issue includes a special themed section titled CUT TO [...] which features articles inspired by the theme. There are also five regular sections in
Diegesis : PLAY.PAUSE.REWIND. reviews or re-examines film and tv programmes
whether old or new. AT THE MARGINS reflects on art, alternative and independent film and tv, alongside small
festival reports. SHORTHAND brings new perspectives to the diverse but neglected field of short film and will also draw your attention to student filmmaking competitions and festivals. DIALOGUE features interviews with and
conversations between film and television production practitioners as well as experts on screen history, criticism and debate. The final section is aptly titled FADE OUT which takes a retrospective look at film and tv through their actors, directors, writers and other personnel as well as key moments in their respective histories.
For this inaugural issue we CUT TO [snow] which brings together the light and playful in comfortable comedy, toys
and family films, with the dark and dangerous in slippery crimes, vampires and drunken Santas. Who says winter snow is all about Christmas? And so,
welcomes you into its own world of the stories, themes, issues
and debates that shape our understanding of film and television. Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit our Facebook fanpage (Diegesis: Film & Television Review) for issue updates and announcements. Enjoy!
Diegesis Editorial Team Student Editors: Daryl Ball, Sam Hall, Jenny Lyne, Daniel Oâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;Keeffe, Robin Pailler, Alex Pitigoi, Ashley Russell, Claire Scott, Laura Stephens Managing Editors: Donna Peberdy, Darren Kerr Special thanks to: Rob Benson, Louise Morrell and Laura Smith Cover image: Rob Benson Photography robbensonphoto.com
Contact Diegesis: email@example.com 2 Diegesis: CUT TO [snow]
Contents SPECIAL SECTION
CUT TO [snow]
PLAY. PAUSE. REWIND.
06 Winter Chills: The Shining, Let the 16 ASBO Heroes: Misfits Right One In and 30 Days of Night
08 Batteries Not Included: Toys in Film
10 Winter Thrills: Fargo, A Simple Plan and Frozen River
12 Letting the Right One Win: A Bit(e) Too Much?
14 The 12 Films of Christmas
18 The Two Doctors: Similarly Different 20 The Event: Introducing Lost Lite SHORTHAND
23 Who is Harvie Krumpet? AT THE MARGINS
24 Not So Terrible: Ivan the Terrible Pt I 26 Shhhhhhhh!: Secret Cinema DIALOGUE
28 In Conversation with Michael Apted 29 Q&A
FADE OUT 30 Nobodyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Perfect: Tony Curtis (19252010)
32 The next issue
Diegesis: CUT TO [snow] 3
4 Diegesis: CUT TO [snow]
CUT TO [snow] Every issue,
Diegesis will feature a special section on a specific theme, idea or concept. The section
includes critical reviews and articles on not just the most obvious films and television programmes that come to mind, but also interprets the theme broadly, in connected and conceptual ways.
Our focus this issue is particularly apt in the same month that snow brought much of Britain to a standstill.
News images of abandoned cars, isolated motorways and empty classrooms were juxtaposed with the
beautiful and extreme whiteness of the British landscape. The images we saw in the news readily brought to mind fictional depictions of snow encountered on cinema and television screens, including the films illustrated here (clockwise from bottom left: Frozen River, It’s a Wonderful Life, Let the Right One In, The
Nightmare Before Christmas, Bad Santa, Fargo and A Simple Plan). As such images and films attest, snow
takes on a multitude of meanings: remoteness, alienation, and desolation; nostalgia, family and Christmas; fun and fear, discomfort, death and danger; excitement and isolation. Visually, snow covers, envelops, hides and conceals. Yet it is temporary, transitory, vulnerable; with one rainfall or blast of sunshine, it
melts, disappears, and is left to be memorably recalled – something that suitably defines the treatment of “snow” in the following CUT TO articles.
Diegesis: CUT TO [snow] 5
Winter Chills The Shining, Let the Right One In and 30 Days of Night
here are countless examples of horror films which are set in snowy surroundings, but why is this? Connotations of snow are surely reason enough: isolation, desolation, peril, and risk, naming but a few. Surely we can also attribute these characteristics to films of the horror genre. This is indicative of just how fitting snow is as a backdrop for horror filmmakers to use and exploit. I have chosen to review three horror films which are implicit in their manipulation of snow in order to enhance the narrative and visual imagery of the final film. Whilst different in their origins, they are comparable in that they clearly demonstrate how significant the theme of snow is to the horror genre.
Based on the 1977 horror novel by Stephen King, The Shining (Kubrick, 1980, above) stars Jack Nicholson in one of his most famous roles. After getting a caretaking job during a particularly harsh winter, family man Jack Torrance (Nicholson) takes his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and son Danny (Danny Young) to stay in the empty Overlook Hotel. The thick snow which smothers the hotel and surrounding landscape is symbolic of Jack, Wendy and Danny’s isolation and alienation from the outside world. The family are trapped and complications soon arise as the question is raised of whether or not this is in fact the first time Jack has been here as he claims. The hotel cook, Mr Halloran (Scatmann Crothers), drives the plot further by explaining to Danny that, like him, he has the gift of telepathy known as “The Shining”; a gift that will eventually prove to be both helpful and fatal. He later implies to the young boy that perhaps all is not what it seems at this particular hotel, warning him not to do something and yet subconsciously expecting him to do it anyway (a typical horror genre cliché). In this case, Danny is warned against entering room 237.
6 Diegesis: CUT TO [snow]
As the film progresses, Nicholson’s haunting stare becomes more and more frequent as the symptoms of cabin fever set in. His mental health declines to the point where he starts to believe his hallucinations that his family need “correcting,” and assures them that he will make this happen regardless of the consequences. Cue a terrifying, suspense-filled game of cat-and-mouse around the hotel as Danny and his mother are chased by an axe-wielding Nicholson. The actor’s psychotic characterisation brings to mind one of the last screen performances of the late Heath Ledger as the Joker in The Dark Knight (Nolan, 2008), including the over-exaggerated gesticulations, crazed grin and sarcastic tone. Of course, the link to the Joker is more substantial in this case; Nicholson would later go on to play the role of the Joker in Tim Burton’s Batman (1989). The chase culminates with Torrance hunting his son in the hotel garden maze. The result is a beautiful yet horrifying scene. The smooth tracking shots that wind dream-like through the maze are lit entrancingly by soft lights which bounce off the gleaming snow, giving the whole scene an ethereal glow. The combination of this and the overwhelming onslaught of horrific weather conditions (as if the threat of being killed by an axe wasn’t problem enough!) is indicative of Kubrick’s intention to make the audience feel uneasy and uncomfortable; the suspense is dragged out for as long as possible before the dramatic, and darkly humorous, final shot of Nicholson buried shoulder deep in snow, having frozen to death. Kubrick has demonstrated how prominent snow can be to a horror film. In this case, it is crucial to the elimination of the film’s threat. However, it still remains a destructive force in itself. The Shining has become synonymous with the horror genre; Kubrick’s careful consideration of character portrayal through his close work with the actors and the thought that has gone into the isolated setting has ensured that The Shining stands strong as an iconic piece of work.
In contrast, Let the Right One In (Alfredson, 2008, above right) poses a rather more mythical threat. A Swedish film, it may be more pertinent to describe it as part of the “dark romance” genre rather than typically horror. Oskar (Kare Hedebrant), a timid twelve-year-old boy, falls in love with Eli (Lina Leandersson) who has been twelve for the past two hundred years. Set in snowy Stockholm, Alfredson has undoubtedly ensured that the barren setting echoes the tone of the film. A feeling of absolute desolation and lack of hope is elicited as the plot follows the two characters’ journey; Eli attempts to help Oskar stand up for himself and get revenge on his tormentors, all the time trying to hide the fact that she is a vampire. The film progresses at an extremely slow pace implying that the narrative has become almost overpowered by its setting, unable to escape the suffocating blanket of snow which envelops the film. The action shots, although arguably tame compared to typical horror film conventions, are spaced intermittently throughout, with more emphasis given to the developing relationship between the two protagonists. Let the Right One In is based on the novel of the same name by Swedish writer John Ajvide Lindqvist, who also wrote the screenplay. As well as being inspired by the Morrissey song “Let the Right One Slip In,” the name of both the novel and film is later explained in the plot: Eli is unable to enter somewhere without first being invited. Of course, this leads
to the question of what happens if she is not invited but enters anyway, which is answered rather graphically by Alfredson. The resulting scene features an extreme close-up of Eli’s face as blood oozes out of her skin. Even more disturbing is the close-up shot of her eye which is also shown with blood trickling out of it.
Watching Let the Right One In after seeing The Shining, viewers may be disappointed in terms of their expectations of horror films. The film is entertaining and aspects of the cinematography are used very cleverly. A prominent example is Alfredson’s use of reflection, particularly in a scene where Hakan’s (Per Ragner) disfigured face is first revealed in the reflection of the window. However, the gradual pace of the plot may put off some audiences. The film’s producer, John Nordling, has stated that it was difficult to target a specific audience because of the different genres the film may be attributed to; Sweden marketed it as a mainstream film whereas the US treated it as an art house film, which can also be attributed to its “foreign language film” status. Despite Let the Right One In not necessarily appealing to a universal mainstream audience, it remains attractive to critics. As Sukhdev Sandhu for the The Telegraph has gone so far as to state, the film “is worth skating over thin ice to see and fall in love with” (9 April 2009). Continuing the snow and vampire themes, 30 Days of Night (Slade, 2007,
below) features a threat more menacing and on a much larger scale. Barrow, Alaska, the northernmost town in the US, is plunged into total darkness every winter for thirty days. What is so significant about this particular winter? A group of grotesque, bloodthirsty vampires have come to feed on what remains of the defenceless inhabitants. It is left to Sheriff Eben Oleson (Josh Hartnett) to save himself and as many others as possible.
The film is impressive in its use of stylistic camera angles while remaining horrifying in its depiction of graphic violence and murder. Admittedly, Josh Hartnett may not seem the most inspired choice for a protagonist in a horror film (based on his previous associations with the action and romance genres in films such as Pearl Harbor [Bay, 2001], Black Hawk Down [Scott, 2001], Hollywood Homicide [Shelton, 2003] and Sin City [Miller, Rodriguez and Tarantino, 2005]), yet his performance here is credible. His character endlessly strives to protect the ever-diminishing group of survivors, including his estranged
wife Stella Oleson (Melissa George). Slade’s use of his surroundings is what makes this film particularly effective; the isolated wilderness is paramount in emphasising lack of hope for the characters. Visually, the image of blood spattered across fresh snow is extremely powerful. The contrast between the purity of the snow and the tainting of it by the red blood certainly made the murders more horrifying as a result of this striking depiction. Frantic camera movements during a killing frenzy are indicative of the energy on screen; just like the audience, the camera doesn’t appear to know what to focus on. The scene ends with an incredible bird’s-eyeview of the chaos which demonstrates the scale of the rampage and explicitly shows bodies and blood on the snow. Each murder is seen as a pool of blood from this particular camera angle, and the image of each death is like a stain on the overall mise-en-scene.
The image of each death is like a stain on the overall mise-en-scene.
While decidedly more mainstream than Let the Right One In (due in large part to the choice of actors and the language), the film received positive reviews, including BBC Movies, who proclaimed: “30 Days of Night strikes out a nervejangling, bloodily unpredictable route to a truly stunning ending that’s well worth the wait.” 30 Days of Night exceeded my expectations of a vampire horror film. Slade has achieved something that is both visually gory (and therefore perfectly fitting for the genre) and yet strangely appealing through the innovative use of cinematography. Each of the three films considered here use snow in innovative and symbolic ways that enhances the impact of cinematic horror. Ultimately the films point to the instability of snow, from the hard, impenetrable spaces of Let the Right One In and the solid ice of The Shining that leaves Jack Torrance literally and metaphorically frozen in time, to the melting snow at the end of 30 Days of Night, erasing the horrors of the night before.
Diegesis: CUT TO [snow] 7
Batteries Not Included: The Function of Toys in Film
hen you’re young, the best thing about Christmas is the prospect of unwrapping presents. But not just any presents – more specifically, toys. Many have argued in recent years that the increasing presence of “virtual entertainment” is destroying the very nature of children’s playtime, with film, television and virtual video gaming accused of shrinking the scope for imagination and giving young people an easier option for play on a rainy day. Yet, there is most certainly a realm where “childsplay” and the moving image can succeed alongside each other, and not just in terms of children experiencing creativity by engaging with their fantasies on screen. There are many “adults” too, who have firmly clutched onto their right for “playtime,” and those people tend to be within the creative industries. After all, such arenas for play allow for even the most serious, stiffcollared individuals to break free from the restrictions placed upon them in adult life, utilise a great source of escapism and let their imaginations run wild. Indeed, nowhere is this more prevalent than on the big screen, with “teen” or “adult” productions such as the recent Transformers franchise (Bay, 2007, 2009) as proof that people are never too old to play, or at least engage in play, with toys. The most crucial thing here, however, is that these are no longer the simple imaginings of childhood, in which one would spend days on end creating fictional landscapes and storylines within the mind, using nothing more than a set of static, tin soldiers. These are toys on screen, in varying senses of the word, with magical qualities; toys that fulfil childhood reveries – the exquisite notion of the inanimate becoming animate.
There is a somewhat varied history of “toys coming to life” in the cinematic world; from the usual assortment in Mister Magorium’s Wonder Emporium (Helm, 2007), The Indian in the Cupboard (Oz, 1995), the Toy Story franchise (Lasseter, 1995, 1999, 2010) and Small Soldiers (Dante, 1998), to the much more sinister Chucky franchise and Stuart Gordon’s 1987 horror, Dolls, with a plot featuring two magical toymakers and their haunted collection of dolls. Yet what is it about the idea of inanimate objects bringing themselves to life that both fascinates and disturbs audiences, regardless of age?
In guidelines written specifically for parents of young children, teaching organisation Teachers Resisting Unhealthy Children’s Entertainment (yes, sadly T.R.U.C.E. actually does exist) state that: “Play is essential to [a child’s] healthy development and learning. Children use play to actively construct knowledge, meet social/emotional needs, and acquire life skills. The content of their play comes from their own experience. Because of the pervasive influence of the electronic media – TV, movies…DVDs, computers, video games – children spend more time sitting in front of a screen and less time playing creatively with each other.” Indeed, it is their firm belief that such changes in the way a child conducts its playtime are “undermining play.” While much can be said for collective, imaginative exploration through joint play sessions with other children, T.R.U.C.E. wholly misconceive the strengths of the moving image,
8 Diegesis: CUT TO [snow]
and the way in which it too can allow for a different level of creative and interactive play. Perhaps what matters more considerably in this type of “passive engagement” with the imagination is the aftermath; how the child (or indeed adult) condenses the content post-screening. T.R.U.C.E. blame “the influence of high-powered marketing and popular culture” as interfering with what they see as the “thoughtful decisionmaking [process] at the toy store.” Yet, ironically, much of popular culture’s influence is what inevitably creates profit for toy production companies, through synergy shaped by “electronic media” itself. While a child may be able to imagine a scenario where their stuffed toy rabbit springs to life and fights with an Action Man doll, there is a lot to be said for the experiences that occur from within the cinema, where children are able to see such fantasies played out before their very eyes. If anything, such films as Toy Story 3, and the more obscure Belgian production A Town Called Panic (Aubier and Patar, 2009), are able to play upon such themes of magical interaction with toys, and enhance the imagination of the spectator, regardless of their age. Ailsa Caine of film magazine Little White Lies argues that Toy Story 3 ultimately “adheres strictly to kids-only conventions,” yet perhaps it is this very notion that appeals to a much broader audience than just the under-13s: the film is able to act as a device for pure nostalgia, a celebration not only of its predecessors, but of childhood itself. A Town Called Panic on the other hand, takes the idea of plastic figurines coming to life much more literally, with filmmakers Aubier and Patar sculpting a jerky, stop-motion adventure from a handful of store-bought characters. Madcap to say the least, Panic captures the true chaos of childhood and the non-existent boundaries of the imagined with its abrasive sound effects and fast-paced action editing (not to mention a talking horse that wears shoes, drinks coffee from an oversized mug and reads the newspaper on the sofa). Making reference to Pixar’s Toy Story 3, Sight and Sound’s Andrew Osmond describes Panic as “commercially and technically on the other end of the scale but essentially the same idea: take a cowboy, an Indian, a horse smarter than either…and try to sustain a shaggy-dog adventure with them all for 77 minutes”. Yet, most crucially, what Osmond identifies is the spectatorial excitement, the igniting of an audience’s imagination that the film brings about, making it easy to imagine “budding child animators watching the antics…mustering their own toy armies at home and letting rip with a camera.” Suddenly childhood playtime just got serious; the children of today don’t just want to imagine stories only to leave them behind as they progress into adulthood. They want to go on to recreate them in later life. Play is no longer a temporary state of mind, restricted to childhood development. So kids, with video camera and toys tucked under arm, it’s time to show the cynics what playtime is all about.
Diegesis: CUT TO [snow] 9
Winter Thrills Fargo, A Simple Plan and Frozen River
or many, snow is a calm and welcome sight, often nostalgically associated with “pleasant” winters, the promise of festive cheer, and time spent with the family. On screen, the vast emptiness of a snowy landscape has also been used to engulf characters and serve as a metaphor for emotions portrayed within tales of crime and desperation. This article considers three films which use snow to this effect: the Coen Brothers’ Fargo (1996), Sam Raimi’s A Simple Plan (1998) and Courtney Hunt’s directorial debut Frozen River (2008). Another recurring theme is the conflation of money and happiness that each central character in these features adopts which, in turn, questions our own principles and values within contemporary society.
The vast emptiness of a snowy landscape has been used as a metaphor for emotions portrayed within tales of crime and desperation.
In Fargo, William H. Macy plays Jerry Lundergaard, a Minneapolis car salesman who decides to plot his wife’s kidnapping in order to deceive her wealthy Father and claim the financial reward needed to pay off severe debts. The film’s opening – a shot of a car approaching from a distance on a snowy landscape – serves as a direct metaphor for the situation in which Jerry will find himself. The purity of a white screen is soon disrupted by an isolated car towing an unlicensed vehicle. The car is driven by Jerry en route to meet kidnappers Carl (Steve Buscemi) and Gaear (Peter Stormare), unaware of the devastation his desperation will bring. The harsh winter of North Dakota consumes its characters both literally and metaphorically. Whether it’s the difference in footprints left by the kidnappers at a crime scene, which enables Frances McDormand’s police officer Marge to recognise there are two suspects; or the stark contrast between the hidden security and detail of the characters home interiors opposed to the vast bitter plainness of a snow filled landscape. The consuming landscape reflects a society in which each character is trapped. The lack of any real communication between characters and their routine, mundane existence is captured through the isolation of their suppressed, desolated surroundings. This theme of isolation and the urge to escape daily repetition is continued in Sam Raimi’s A Simple Plan (1998).
10 Diegesis: CUT TO [snow]
The film tells the story of three men: Hank (Bill Paxton), his brother Jacob (a quite brilliant Billy Bob Thornton) and their friend Lou (Brent Briscoe) who stumble across a plane wreck containing a dead pilot and a bag of cash worth $4.4 million. The desire of financial stability becomes a burden as a breakdown in trust slowly destroys each character’s moral identity, resulting in a web of conspiracy, lies and inevitably, murder.
The scene is one of sheer directional brilliance by Raimi. After crashing their truck due to a fox sprinting in front of them, the men decide to head into the woods to ‘collect their debt’ as Lou puts it. As they enter the forest, Raimi focuses his camera on a murder of black crows (a clear double significance here) looking down on the men, almost suggesting the darkness that lurks over them; the crows offer a stark contrast to the innocence of the white backdrop. Upon finding the money, Lou and Jacob instantly become like children on Christmas Day, their dreams and hopes finally foreseeable. It’s Hank who immediately questions their justification for such assumptions. For him, the only response is to go to the police; it would be a crime to steal the money. “It’s the American dream in a God damn gym bag,” Lou argues. “You work for the American dream, you don’t steal it” replies Hank. “Then this is even better,” Lou responds. Hank pauses and, as he does, Raimi cuts to a crow flying by before returning to a close-up of Hank’s face as both Jacob and Lou persuade him to change his mind. Hank finally gives in, but only on his conditions. As the men agree and begin to count the money, Raimi cuts to a long shot as a crow watches the scene before flying away. The shot is evocative of the dark spell that has been cast over the three characters and marks the beginning of the demise in friendship. The relationship between Hank and his wife Sarah (Bridget Fonda) is also particularly significant. After finding the money, Hank asks Sarah what her immediate response would be. Initially, of course, Sarah responds as Hank did: “I wouldn’t take it, that’s just me, I wouldn’t take it.” Hank immediately reveals the cash to Sarah’s awe. Sarah’s part in “the plan” gradually becomes more dominant. She forces Hank to cover up his tracks and, in doing so, comprises Hank’s relationship with both his brother and Lou. The desperation of Sarah when Hank tries to return the money reveals a woman overwhelmed by the desire and happiness
money can fulfill. She coerces Hank into keeping the money by describing how mundane and isolated their life would be without it, diminishing his masculine identity by calling attention to his poor income and inability to support his wife and their new-born child. Her desperation gives Hank little alternative but to push the boundaries as far as needed in order to keep the money, instigating a tragic finale.
Courtney Hunt’s more recent film Frozen River (2008) deals with the ever-present theme of struggling for money, a reminder of the economic downturn suffered in recent modern society. It also deals with the controversies of immigration and the bid to lead a better life. Oscar nominee Melissa Leo plays part-time store worker Ray Eddy. The film opens on Ray smoking a cigarette outside her dilapidated trailer park home, tears rolls down her face as the bitter cold surrounds her. It’s the morning that her new trailer park home arrives, much to the delight of her two sons. Her husband, however, is revealed to have a gambling addiction and has disappeared from the town with all of the cash for the house payment.
The bleakness of the surroundings ensure a strong sense of isolation as well as an indifference of identity.
Unable to get a promotion in her job, and insisting her eldest son TJ (Charlie McDermott) remains in school, Ray is forced to find a way of raising enough cash to support her family as well as ensure the payment for the new trailer home or lose the entire deposit. To make matters worse, Christmas is right around the corner. Whilst searching for her husband at the local bingo halls, Ray stumbles across his vehicle only to discover a young Mohawk Indian lady by the name of Lila (Misty Upham) has claimed possession after watching the owner board a bus out of town. Lila offers to help Ray in selling the car for much more than it is worth. In doing so, she tricks Ray into crossing the frozen river that separates Canada and America – known as Mohawk territory. Lila pressures Ray to smuggle two Chinese men across the border; Ray reluctantly accepts as Lila offers to split the $2400 payment. After completing the job, Lila flees with the money. Ray, however, returns and offers to repeat the proceedings. After tricking Lila and keeping the money in a bid to “break even” the two form an unlikely friendship.
Both characters it would seem are polar opposites. Ray is the struggling single mother desperate to fulfil her children’s dreams of a new home in contrast to the empty loneliness of the bleak, colourless landscape. Lila on the other hand, is a lonesome young lady; disregarded by her own Mohawk community as a petty criminal, she lives alone in a desolated trailer amongst the woodland. Her motives for money are unclear other than to survive. As the relationship between the two women grows, Lila confesses that her daughter was taken away at birth by her mother-in-law but she aims to make enough money to claim her back and raise her herself. Frozen River again succeeds in its use of a vast snowy landscape to add atmosphere to the characters emotions. The Mohawk reservation is portrayed as a disconnected community, one in which the bleakness of the surroundings ensure a strong sense of isolation as well as an indifference of identity. The film’s issues regarding race and immigration in a modern post 9/11 society are extremely poignant as multi-cultural communities remain segmented through the anxiety and ambiguity of social understanding between cultures. A key scene in understanding this poignancy is when Ray initially refuses to smuggle Pakistani refugees. She eventually does, but leaves their bag behind fearing they might “blow themselves and everyone else up.” Once it is revealed the bag contained the refugee’s child, Lila and Ray race back in a bid to rescue the abandoned child. The film’s message is clear: despite our cultural differences, we are all human. We all strive to ensure the welfare of our family, regardless of the limitations and the consequences.
Ultimately though, each film forces us to question our own judgment and morality surrounding the ideology that money guarantees happiness and our natural instinct to achieve happiness. Whether it is the cowardice desperation of Fargo’s Jerry Lundergaard, the lengths of deception and sacrifice in A Simple Plan, or the risk and belief of Frozen River’s Ray; each character inhabits an emotion we all reserve. The sparse snow filled landscapes reflect the desperation to succeed in a time of economic uncertainty within fragmented societies. Money it seems is perceived as the only certainty of survival, in an uncertain future. Sadly, there’s one thing money can’t buy: sunshine.
Diegesis: CUT TO [snow] 11
Letting the Right One Win: A Bit(e) Too Much?
hen I first started planning a comparative study of Tomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One In (2008) and Matt Reeves’ newly released Let Me In (2010) I thought that it would be fairly straight forward. But it really isn’t.
Of course the basic premise remains in which Oskar/Owen (Kare Hedebrant/ Kodi Smitt-McPhee) is an innocent and lonely boy who suffers from bullying and torment from fellow school kids. He meets Eli/Abby (Lena Leandersson/ Chloe Moretz) and his outlook on life completely changes. She helps him take revenge on the bullies and find love in her. However, she is no innocent child, and has deep and dark secrets that cause her to shy away from the daylight and crave the taste of blood. Having seen the original film I found in Let Me In I was being force-fed scenes of Owen’s maltreatment and revenge through the film’s heavy-handed dramatisation of the explicit bullying scenes. Throughout Reeves’ adaptation, the complexity and mystery of the original seems to have been taken away, making it a very mainstream vampire
12 Diegesis: CUT TO [snow]
film. This does assist in the financial success of the film, but does it also take away its individuality? Although Alfredson sets the original film in the early 1980s it is the music and iconography of the period that is made all the more explicit in Let Me In. Reeves sets his film in the age of Bowie and arcade machines - the period in which he grew up – which invests the film with his own history, a very American history; suburbia was seemingly still a safe place for culture to thrive at a time when President Ronald Reagan spoke of the evils outside the US. As such, Let Me In shows Reeves’ own personal involvement in the film. Giving the remake this kind of identity enables the audience to connect with the characters in the film much more than the original. Alfredson keeps us guessing about the identities of Eli and Hakan (Per Ragner), the mysterious man accompanying her. This allows the audience to slowly form their own judgements about the characters and keeps viewers guessing about the genre of the film. Neither character is shown as being particularly horrific. When the audience first witness
the “ritual” of obtaining blood for Eli, the viewer is kept at a distance from the action, observing and witnessing rather than being thrown into the scene for the purposes of the cheap scares often associated with the horror genre.
By contrast, Let Me In starts off on a snow-covered highway, accompanied by low key lighting and the sound of deep ominous tones which present an easily identifiable horror film. Alfredson’s opening is completely different. There are no establishing shots as such, and no genre is really established. Instead, numerous puzzles are set up for the audience, such as: what is a young boy doing with a knife?; and why are the new neighbours covering up the windows? The same narrative tactic is used throughout; many things are left for the viewer to discover while watching the film. Reeves’ version is very much about trying to keep to those classic archetypes of the horror genre, for example, using a vivid red in the title sequence. Red is an important signifier in this film as it is in most of the history of Hammer
Horror films – the company behind Reeve’s remake. Hammer’s use of colour in the late 1950s and early 1960s has seen them carve out a place in horror history and similarly the red in Reeves’ production is almost always too red, so that it is excess noticed by the viewer.
Let Me In is very much centred on Owen being bullied in school and Abby helping him stand up for himself and get revenge on the people that have hurt him. As a result this sense of excess seems to continue as the bullying scenes are a lot more explicit that Alfredson’s and also appear more frequent and graphic. It may be that Reeves wanted to make the production more noticeable and easily recognisable as a horror film, adding to the “shock” factor and making the audience feel uneasy. However, rather than the audience successfully connecting to the characters and the storyline, they may well struggle to keep their eyes on the screen at times. Abby’s metamorphosis when she needs to feed is highlighted more than Eli’s in the original; Abby’s face completely distorts, whereas Eli’s eyes often become oversized and occasionally she appears to prematurely age. Reeves’ over-exaggeration of Abby’s transformation takes away Abby’s own
innocence and entrapment, which is one of the major themes in both films. It is the same reason the two protagonists are children: to explore the idea of innocence and comingof-age. Unfortunately though, Reeves contradicts this theme by presenting Abby as a young girl and then having her transform into a monstrous animal when she needs blood.
Reeves doesn’t try to change or better Alfredson’s adaptation, rather he puts his own stamp on the film. He faithfully keeps many important scenes in the remake, such as the scene where Abby rescues Owen from being drowned in the pool by a gang of bullies, but Reeves is also brave enough to change scenes and successfully integrate the politics of the period in order to express his views on coming-of-age in this time. This is why people who have seen the original may not necessarily prefer the new version, but should not write if off as simply an empty remake. The problem Reeves is faced with when looking at producing a remake is that it will almost always be judged unfavourably against its original. Changing Let the Right One In from an art-house, low budget, indie film to
a big budget American genre movie will inevitably change the direction of the film and its core audience pushing the work away from “art” into the commercial mainstream. This has a significant impact on the film because it is then situated alongside many other mainstream horror genre films which at the moment are constantly reproducing formulas for financial success. The current cycle of “new” slasher films, torture-porn, and remakes of 1970s and 1980s US films, present the horror genre as lacking. However, comparing Let Me In to other recent horror films, like the very unnecessary Paranormal Activity 2 (Williams, 2010) and the horrendous A Serbian Film (Spasojevic, 2010), the shift in context and understanding enhances how good it actually looks. This film brings an originality to the genre in the current American mainstream, despite being a remake. Knowing the original often ensures a dislike for any remake, but it also limits the ways in which we can read a remake. And so, for its faults, Let Me In can be seen as a strong lead for other US horror films to follow.
Diegesis: CUT TO [snow] 13
The 1st film of Christmas my true love gave to me ... something short & sweet The Snowman Murakami, 1982)
Animated short directed by Dianne Jackson and Jimmy T. Murakami. A young boy builds a snowman on Christmas Eve, only for it to come alive that night. The young boy and the snowman play around in the house and then head on an adventure to the North Pole to visit Santa Claus. A truly fantastic festive film for everyone to enjoy; it will bring a tear to the eye and a smile to your face.
The 2nd film of Christmas my true love gave to me ... a dark comedy
The 3rd film of Christmas my true love gave to me ... a bit of technology
Scrooged (Donner, 1988)
Polar Express (Zemekis, 2004)
Comedic take on Charles Dickens’s classic Christmas tale. Frank Cross (Bill Murray) is the cynical boss of a television station and about to broadcast a live adaptation of A Christmas Carol. His behaviour to his staff, and towards the festive period generally, does not go down well with the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future. One of the best adaptations of the Dickens classic, this is genuinely funny. One to watch with all the family!
Animated film, with Tom Hanks voicing most of the characters. A sceptical young boy boards a train that takes him to the North Pole and the hometown of Santa Claus. A journey of self-discovery, the boy finds that the people who retain wonder through life are the ones that never stop believing. Fantastic CGI the whole family to be amazed; the picturesque landscape will surely give you a Christmas tingle.
The 12 Films of Christmas
The 4th film of Christmas my true love gave to me ... a midnight movie
The 5th film of Christmas my true love gave to me ... a tearjerker
The 6th film of Christmas my true love gave to me ... a hero
Black Christmas (Morgan, 2006)
Little Women (Armstrong, 1994)
Batman Returns (Burton, 1992)
Remake of the 1974 Bob Clarke shocker, directed by Glen Morgan (Final Destination). Billy is a young boy with a liver dysfunction who goes insane and kills his mother and her lover one Christmas. He is sent to an insane asylum only to escape many years later. Making his way home, he finds that it has become a sorority house. Billy is not in the festive mood and terror ensues. Admittedly, it’s a pretty bad film, but a good alternative to regular Christmas schmaltz; it’ll make you cringe, scream and laugh.
Family drama set during the Civil War. Four sisters – Beth (Clare Danes), Jo (Winona Ryder), Amy (Kirsten Dunst/Samantha Mathis) and Meg (Trini Alvarado) – live with their mother (Susan Sarandon) in poor circumstances while their father is away fighting. The five women are very close, although family feuds still occur. The film focuses on the girls’ love for each other and the men they meet (including a young Christian Bale), but alas, tragedy strikes. A definite tearjerker and a heart-warming tale to help you through the cold winter.
Tim Burton directs yet another dark Christmas-themed film, starring Michael Keaton as Batman and Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman. Gotham City has a new villain who goes by the name of the Penguin (Danny DeVito), and it is up to Batman to foil his plans to ruin Christmas. After being exposed in a negative light, Batman must clear his name as well as solving the problem of Catwoman. Also starring Christopher Walken. A fun Christmas superhero movie.
14 Diegesis: CUT TO [snow]
The 7th film of Christmas my true love gave to me ... something a little alternative Eyes Wide Shut (Kubrick, 1999) Kubrick’s last film. starring then reallife couple Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise that focuses on the breakdown of a marriage and the bizarre encounters that stem from the ordeal. Although not entirely a Christmas film, it is set in New York around the festive period. The lighting alone makes it a mustsee for festive atmospherics. More of an intellectual Christmas screening perhaps.
The 8th film of Christmas my true love gave to me ... something “indie”
The 9th film of Christmas my true love gave to me ... stop motion
Bad Santa (Zwigoff, 2003)
The Nightmare Before Christmas (Selick, 1993)
Dark comedy Santa shenanigans directed by Terry Zwigoff (Ghost World). Willie (Billy Bob Thornton) is a cantankerous conman and drunken sex-addict who, with his 3 foot sidekick Marcus (Tony Cox), dress up as a Santa and an Elf to rob department stores on Christmas Eve. Hilarity ensues when an overweight eight-year-old (Brett Kelly) takes a liking to Willie and the two form an unlikely friendship. Thornton shines as the foulmouthed and deadpan antihero. Dirty alternative Santa movie.
Animated musical fantasy written and produced by Tim Burton. Jack Skellington, the king of Halloween town, comes across a doorway to Christmas town. He abducts the helpless Santa Claus and takes it upon himself to deliver presents to the children of Halloween Town. Of course, these are no ordinary Christmas presents! Great twist on a festive film, bringing together two of the most popular holiday seasons and creating a fantastic premise.
Looking for something festive and heart-warming, funny and family-friendly, or dark and dirty this Christmas? Daniel O’Keeffe’s capsule review offer something for every taste, age and disposition.
The 10th film of Christmas my true love gave to me ... something for the family Home Alone (Columbus, 1990) Comedy mayhem directed by Chris Columbus (The Goonies), written by John Hughes (The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) and starring Macaulay Culkin as Kevin and Joe Pesci as Harry. The McCallister family are about to go on Christmas vacation, but they have left a certain family member behind: their youngest son Kevin. Booby traps, spiders, ice and Christmas decorations galore bring the burglars to justice. Great family fun!
The 11th film of Christmas my true love gave to me ... a classic
The 12th film of Christmas my true love gave to me ... some muppets
It’s A Wonderful Life (Capra, 1946)
The Muppet Christmas Carol (Henson, 1992)
Classical Hollywood fantasy drama directed by Frank Capra. On Christmas Eve, George Bailey (James Stewart) is left suicidal after misplacing an $8,000 loan and being scammed by the evil millionaire Mr. Potter (Lionel Barrymore). Before he manages to kill himself, an angel Clarence (Henry Travers) is tasked with making George see sense in order to “get his wings.” Like a Ghost of Christmas, Clarence goes onto show George his alternate reality, had he not been born. Also starring Donna Reed and Gloria Grahame. Perennial heart-warmer.
Comedy/musical/fantasy/family film directed by Brian Henson and starring Michael Caine as Ebeneezer Scrooge. The classic story from Charles Dickens with a twist; same characters and same settings, with a huge cast of singing and dancing Muppets thrown in. Fun for young and old alike. A must-watch for the festive season, preferably on Christmas day for full comic effect.
Daniel O’Keeffe Diegesis: CUT TO [snow] 15
PLAY. PAUSE. REWIND.
This section offers a space for the critical review of past and present films and television programmes, moving beyond simple plot descriptions and recommendations. “Play” refers to recent film and television and to the enjoyment of watching. “Pause” is the act of reflecting on what has been viewed. Finally, “Rewind” is revisiting and reconsidering film and television, as well as offering new perspectives and creating new ideas about past texts.
ASBO Heroes: Misfits Nathan’s escape is dealt with in fabulous form, as Kelly uses her telepathic powers to hear him masturbating before the gang proceed to swiftly release him from his untimely grave.
isfits (cre. Overman, 2009-) is E4’s current leading light on television today. BAFTA award-winning in its first series, it flung itself back onto our screens in early November. For those of you who haven’t seen it yet, here’s a quick summary of the first series: Five teenage tearaways are forced to work together under the terms of their community service. After an erratic flash storm they find themselves with unwanted superpowers: party girl Alisha (Antonia Thomas) can cause sexual frenzies purely by touch; recently shamed local sportsman Curtis (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett) can rewind time when he feels regret; tough girl Kelly (Lauren Socha) can hear people’s thoughts; shy Simon (Iwan Rheon) can turn invisible when he feels ignored; while wind-up merchant Nathan (Robert Sheenan) seems to be unaffected, much to his annoyance. After accidentally killing their probation worker in self-defence, the group spend the series trying to hide their guilt from both the police and the probation worker’s wife, while discovering that they aren’t the only people in town who have been gifted by the storm (including the mysterious “Superhoodie,” whose sole purpose seems to be to get certain members of the gang out of trouble). The series culminates with Nathan discovering he does have a superpower after all, only to find himself, in a cruel twist of fate, buried alive and unable to make the most of it.
At this point of writing, the second series of Misfits is well underway, and after the spectacular and somewhat unexpected success of series one (council house criminals gaining superpowers after a freak electrical storm doesn’t quite sound like a hit on paper), the unique, hilarious, sexually charged yet realistically grounded drama ended up with some high expectations to live up to. Pleasingly, episode one of the new series starts with its usual charm and swagger:
16 Diegesis: Play. Pause. Rewind.
Series director Tom Green dives straight into a new set of storylines and characters by the first ad break. Heading back into the world of community service, Nathan and co. come face to face with their newest probation worker (a surprise to all but Simon, who is still hiding a dirty secret from series one in the freezers of the community centre) and oddball Lucy (Evelyn Hoskins), a shape-shifter who is infatuated with Simon. Although the episode is used to delve into Simon’s previously unexplored background, it is somewhat unclear as to what Lucy’s relationship to Simon is, apart from that they met in a psychiatric ward; Lucy’s character is fairly two-dimensional, her role reduced to a petulant (if mentally unstable) child in her attempts to have Simon all to herself.
However, this does make way for the character dynamics between the fabulous five to be explored and given the chance to develop in ways ranging from the sublime to the seemingly ridiculous. These relationship changes open up new possibilities for the coming weeks. For example, one
When it comes to creating the superpowers of Misfits, CGI and SFX are mostly replaced by a clever concoction of smart cinematography and superb acting.
of Lucy’s shape-shifting moments could be seen as a clever foreshadowing of a relationship change between Aisha and Simon. There is also a touching scene between the three leading men where Nathan reveals a softer side, hinting at a possible change in Simon’s persona that could also be explored in forthcoming episodes. But what of the elusive Superhoodie? It is obvious from the beginning of episode one that he (or she?) is integral to the plot of the second series (and indeed the survival of the main characters), helping to open the series with a spectacular paper aeroplane trick that leads to Nathan’s eventual discovery with a clever use of SFX. Interestingly, for a television series about superpowers, there is surprisingly little in the way of SFX in comparison to other contemporary
dramas such as Heroes (cre. Kring, 2006-2010), which frequently makes use of pyrotechnics, stunts and CGI effects to create each superhero’s power. SFX in Heroes is used to make the show more cinematic and action-packed in an attempt to keep audiences interested and entertained. But when it comes to creating the superpowers of Misfits, CGI and SFX are mostly replaced by a clever concoction of smart cinematography and superb acting. The emphasis is on realism over spectacle; this show wants its audience to believe that the unfolding events could actually be happening in today’s world, an effect that would be difficult to achieve if the events onscreen resembled a Hollywood blockbuster.
With all good television dramas, as each episode draws to a close we are left with questions and wanting to know and see more, and as a whole Misfits certainly hasn’t failed to deliver. Yes, some minor characters could do with a bit more fleshing out for us to really connect, but it seems to somehow add to the realism and charm of the show – when in life do we ever manage to perfectly understand every person we meet? We can’t, as life isn’t perfect, and Misfits reflects this in its own unique way.
Solent Screen Seminar Series Guest Lectures, Master Classes and Q&A Forums with Awardwinning Industry Professionals from Film & Television Specialist Areas, including: Directors Editors
Critics Producers Cinematographers Scriptwriters
Diegesis: Play. Pause. Rewind. 17
The Two Doctors: Similarly Different
he introduction of a new Doctor Who in April 2010 instigated a great deal of fan discussion regarding the “best” Doctor: David Tennant or Matt Smith? Fans will argue different reasons for their favourite Doctor. However, this article aims to evaluate each actor on their own merits considering, in particular, the relationship between “charisma” and technology in performance.
Technology is a driving force in the narrative of Doctor Who (1963-). It creates believability in The Doctor’s world and yet it is not just a way to see fantastical monsters from other planets, but introduces so much more to the stories and characters. Take the “sonic screwdriver,” for example. This is not just a fancy piece of “alien” technology but is The Doctor’s only defence mechanism, since all the aliens come with their own weapons. The Cybermen electrocute with their hands and the Weeping Angels place people in a different time with just one touch. The sonic screwdriver is thus The Doctor’s main, portable defence. However David Tennant and Matt Smith use the sonic screwdriver in very different ways. Tennant’s Doctor tends to use it as a final measure, but Smith’s Doctor seemingly uses it to help him to discover what to do; the sonic screwdriver is either the last resort or investigative tool. In both cases, technology in the diegetic world of Doctor Who makes the actors fit the prop rather than the prop fit the actor. The Tardis is another example of the way technology is used. As a piece of technology, it plays a major and extremely significant role in the television series. In fact, the Tardis can be seen as a performer in its own right, informing the performance of The Doctor and other characters. The Tardis has its own characteristics, another “being” for Tennant and Smith to work with. This is clearly evident when the flight is portrayed as bumpy. The Doctor has been flying the Tardis for many years so should be in full control (if it was, simply, a piece of technology) but the Tardis is presented closer to an intelligent life-form, unable to be controlled.
18 Diegesis: Play. Pause. Rewind.
Cinematography plays a key role in the construction of each Doctor’s identity. With Tennant’s Doctor, the camera work is very distant, predominantly using mid and long shots. This technique assists in the construction of his charisma, as his presence radiates out from the screen; the camera sits back and observes The Doctor, helping audiences to gradually identify with and trust his character. We are positioned in the role of observer as if we are another companion along for the ride.
Due to the nature of the Doctor Who series, there has to be “something” about both the actor and the character that set them apart.
In the Smith series, however, close-ups are much more common, used as a strategy to make the audience quickly identify with the new Doctor. Tennant had such a long run as The Doctor that the series’ producers knew they had to work hard to present an appealing Doctor in Smith or run the risk of a drop in viewing figures. When Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) was introduced, she quickly became The Doctor’s companion, and from then on the camera remained very close to the two actors; even when we see their whole bodies it feels intimate, as if the audience is intruding on a private conversation. The excitement and curiosity that the close camera provokes is only increased by Smith’s wacky interpretation of The Doctor.
Although technology is an important factor in creating the image of The Doctor, it is the performance of the doctor himself and his charisma that makes him so watchable. With a programme like Doctor Who, a single character with constant actor changes means there has to be something about both the actor and how he plays the character that sets him apart from any standard role. Both Tennant and Smith epitomise the notion of charisma. Everything about their performances shows why the performer of The Doctor needs to be chosen carefully to ensure they have that certain charisma to keep the audience coming back.
The transition from David Tennant to Matt Smith is indicative in this regard. The success that Tennant brought to the image of The Doctor was a hard act to follow for Smith, especially considering his relatively unknown status. So how did this transition work? Without charisma, The Doctor would not be effective. Both actors already need to have charisma to play the role as The Doctor is a charismatic character himself. Therefore, each Doctor needs his own style and interpretation for his character to work. The way that Tennant performs is quite manic with his elongated words and extended monologues, along with the way he walks - swaggering and jumping around. This style contrasts Smith’s Doctor with his eccentric and, to an extent, posh demeanour. Additionally, his performance is characterised by thoughtful explanations and affected gestures such as tilting his head to the side and fidgety movements. Another factor that is vitally important to the performance and style of The Doctor is his costume. Tennant and Smith both have their own recognisable styles that enhances their charisma. Tennant’s suit and tie combination with long coat and Converse trainers are essential to his interpretation of The Doctor; the costume is smart yet unconventional, both formal (the suit) and laid-back (the trainers). He also wears glasses which gives him a more authoritative, intelligent look compared with Smith’s fresh-faced and youthful enthusiasm. Smith’s tweed suit, boots and bowtie, which has quickly become one of his trademark features, presents the character as unusual, mature but youthful, clever but funny. Costume, then, plays a key role in the construction and distinction of character, assisting and enhancing the actors’ performance in creating The Doctor.
Doctor Who? To date, The Doctor has been variously depicted by eleven different actors, all with their own subtle (and some not-sosubtle) interpretations of costume and character: William Hartnell (1963-1966) Older and more mature than any of his regenerations, Hartnell’s Doctor appeared serious, wise and professional in his Edwardian suit and thin cravat.
Patrick Troughton (1966-1969) More casual and scruffy than his earlier counterpart, Troughton was the first Doctor to wear a bowtie and sported a floppy and unkempt “moptop.”
Jon Pertwee (1970-1974) - Another older Doctor, who wore extravagant, brightly coloured velvet suits and showy cravats.
Tom Baker (1974-1981) - Baker’s wacky costume is remembered as part of his interpretation of The Doctor, especially his long and colourful knitted scarf.
Peter Davison (1981-1984) - A young pretty boy who epitomised Britishness with his cream suits, slick hair, cricket jumper and straw boater. Colin Baker (1984-1986) - Appeared to combine the styles of the two previous Doctors, there was something clownlike and playful about his costume; his patchwork jacket brings to mind Joseph’s Technicolor Dreamcoat.
Doctor Who needs both technology and charisma for The Doctor to be effective. They work alongside each other in order to enable the creation of The Doctor. If technology was not utilised in the right way to be able to “suspend disbelief” then Tennant and Smith would have struggled to retain the audience’s interest. Both actors also need to display and project charisma in order to keep the audience watching and returning. In the end, while playing the same character - Doctor Who - Tennant and Smith’s style and interpretation of the role differs in subtle ways yet the overall effect is one of difference.
Yasmin Foster and Laura Green
Sylvester McCoy (1987-1989) - Another amalgamation of previous Doctors (Davison’s hat), his costume encapsulated the mystery of The Doctor with a question mark pattern on his jumper and umbrella.
Paul McGann (1996) - Reminiscent of Hartnell and Pertwee’s Doctors, McGann wears an Edwardian style suit with waistcoat, elaborate cravat and pocket watch. The look is grander, smarter and more serious.
Christopher Eccelston (2004-2005) - A contemporary costume for a contemporary Doctor, and in a complete depature from the suit-wearing classic Doctors, Eccleston wore a leather jacket with v-neck jumper and short hair.
David Tennant (2005-2009) Matt Smith (2010-)
Diegesis: Play. Pause. Rewind. 19
The Event: Introducing Lost-Lite
or many of its followers, the ending of ABC’s Lost (cre. Lindelof, Abrams and Lieber, 2004-2010) left too much to the imagination. Six years had passed and its loyal fans tuned in every week longing to resolve many of the mysteries involving the crash of Oceanic Flight 815. The final episode created a great deal of anticipation as it was hoped that the final pieces would be put into the cleverly constructed jigsaw. The closing scenes cut between the show’s protagonist Jack (Matthew Fox), lying bloodstained and isolated on the island floor, but also in a church joined by fellow characters who had been “lost” throughout the series. The last shot sees these characters disappear through the church doors into a beaming white light, leaving many questions unanswered.
Lost’s fans, it seemed, were ultimately lost.
In response to the finale, fan sites such as www.lost-forum.com asked “what questions were solved?” Answers encapsulated the frustrations felt by fans, including: “Found out that all of the answers to the mysteries and questions about the show Lost, will be lost forever,” and “The biggest mystery is why so many people fell for this.” A common opinion was that the series producers had opted for the easy route out, refusing narrative closure in
20 Diegesis: Play. Pause. Rewind.
exchange for maintaining the myth that made Lost such a success. Lost’s fans, it seemed, were ultimately lost.
Four months after the show’s finale and with questions still unanswered, The Event (Wauters, 2010) premiered on NBC. The conspiracy thriller follows the lives of three sets of characters: Sophia (Laura Innes) and her group of extraterrestrials; Sean (Jason Ritter) and his girlfriend’s family; and the coalition government, who all have links to the attempted assassination of US President Elias Martinez (Blair Underwood). Employing a formula that made Lost so popular, The Event uses a multi-strand narrative to reveal clues about the characters’ pasts that reveal their involvement with “The Event.” The multi-strand approach is apparent right from the opening shot which constructs a scene of chaos before travelling back twenty-three minutes to show how these events conspired. The flashback introduces us to Sean, armed with a gun and apparently hijacking a plane. However, this turns out to be misleading when it is revealed he is in fact trying to stop his father-inlaw from assassinating the President. The twist already demonstrates to the audience that Sean is the show’s antihero, fighting not only evil but those in authority (who believe him to be a terror suspect). The opening sequence
offers a parallel to Lost’s plot and story construction. The difference here is that The Event uses flashbacks multiple times an episode, helping to define key characters such as Sean and President Martinez, whilst maintaining audience interest by providing them with narrative hints and intentional spoilers, as seen with Vice President Jarvis’s (Bill Smitrovich) involvement with the assassination attempt.
Nick Wauters, creator of The Event, outlined the philosophy of the show by stating that “there will be big reveals and big clues in each episode” and, from what has been seen so far (episode 8 aired on C4 on the 3rd December), this ethos has been upheld. The audience now has a better understanding of Sophia and her network of mysterious extraterrestrial life forms and its potential to harm humankind, whether it is teleporting a plane in mid-air or an ability to raise the dead. We understand why Leila (Sarah Roemer) was kidnapped by rogue government officials who wanted to punish her father for knowing too much about extraterrestrials and why Sean becomes such a critical figure as a result. We also see how President Martinez is cast as an isolated figure, as his revolutionary idea of freeing imprisoned aliens has been crushed by the old guard surrounding him. This particular storyline arguably
evokes the current political situation in the United States where some feel Obama’s revolutionary promises have been tamed by a reluctant government. Despite providing significant pieces of information to keep the narrative moving along, the programme continuously surprises with new revelations and plot twists. Essentially, what The Event does particularly well is lure its audience into a sense of knowingness and empowerment by revealing details of its characters pasts, diverting attention away from questions of what “The Event” actually is. The Event, then, can be read as a response to Lost in its use of the formula that made the earlier show such a “cult” hit. The Event also brings the multistrand approach into the mainstream, providing a more accessible narrative for those audiences who felt alienated by Lost, without sacrificing mystery in the process. This is why The Event can be considered as Lost-Lite; the show does all that Lost did well but, like a lite or diet version of any soft drink, is easier on the digestive system.
It doesn’t take much more scratching of the surface to see further links between the two conspiracy-mysterythrillers. The Event, in perhaps an act of intertexuality, starts in a similar fashion to Lost with a plane crash providing the catalyst for the ensuing mystery.
The Event can be read as a response to Lost in its use of the formula that made the earlier show such a “cult” hit.
Although set in different locations and orchestrated in different ways, the symbolic nature of the plane crash that opens The Event seems to embed a rallying call to those fans who felt that the ending of Lost didn’t live up to the show’s high standards. It also shares with Lost an emphasis on new media, capitalising on its official website to offer fans, in a mode of narrative extension, a forum to discuss their own theories thus making them more active in their consumption of the text. NBC has clearly sought to offer the same opportunity for engagement to its viewers that ABC did via Lost.
Who’s Who? The New Kate: Leila She portrays the innocent female in initial episodes as she is kidnapped and held hostage, however once rescued by Sean, we see a psychologically determined woman who is willing to kill for the safety of herself and her family. The New Sawyer: Agent Lee Both characters are caught in between where they want to be and where they should be. With Sawyer, it was between being part of the group or against it; with Agent Lee it is between aliens and humans. The New Locke: Michael Buchanan Leila’s dad is the pilot of the plane that is used in the President’s assassination attempt. His actions result from fear for his family, however, reflecting the way in which the island influenced Locke to harm others. The New Benjamin Linus: Thomas (Clifton Collins Jr) Both are aggressive leaders of the “other group:” the Others in Lost and the free extraterrestrials in The Event. Both are aggressive in their leadership and are willing to put others at risk.
The rivalry of these two American networking giants is the last point of consideration when viewing The Event as Lost-Lite. It would seem that NBC executives readily embraced the reaction to the end of Lost, quickly devising a way to capture the legions of Lost fans who craved more following an ending which left many questions unanswered. In essence, The Event is another byproduct of the rivalry between US television networks, which always seeks to improve existing ideas for the benefit of the network giants, in this case NBC. Giving the name Lost-Lite to The Event isn’t so much a criticism then, it is in fact compliment regarding the layout of the show which has the potential to appeal not only to loyal Lost fans but also those who felt it wasn’t quite enough. The Event can be read as an attempt by US television executives to satisfy Lost fans by channelling elements of the popular show through The Event.
The New Jack(s) Sean Walker & President Martinez
Sean, like Jack, is the main protagonist in the story and becomes the leader of a small but ever-expanding group of people, including his girlfriend Leila. Where Jack’s mission was to escape from the island and reveal its truths, Sean is trying to escape the law while trying to safeguard Leila and find out who, or what, is after him. There are also looser links between Jack and President Martinez too.They both share the need to discover the truth as Martinez is determined to find out why the extraterrestrials are on Earth and who is behind his attempted assassination.
Diegesis: Play. Pause. Rewind. 21
Short films are simply the most accessible type of film due to technologies of production (cheap cameras and software) and exhibition (online outlets). The term “short film” covers many types from animation to documentary and can be found in various genres and experimental forms. Some of the best films are made on a low budget with a strong narrative. However, they are simply not showcased enough in spite of the increasing number of websites featuring shorts. And so, this section will include reviews and the occasional feature on work rarely seen, along with award winners, and information on short film festivals for students who want to get their work seen.
Competitions Olympic Shorts. This is an amazing opportunity for anyone who has an idea or story they are looking to film to be in with the chance of having it shown to possibly the largest audience out there: the viewers of the 2012 Olympics. Run by Film Nation in partnership with the UK Film Council, the call is for anyone between the ages of 14-25 to submit a film “ inspired by the Olympic and Paralympic Values of respect, excellence, friendship, courage, determination, inspiration, and equality” in a style ranging from drama to documentary.
Submission Deadline: 15th August 2011
Visit the Film Nation website for more information and to also watch more award winning short films for Film Nation from students and teenagers across the UK: http://www.filmnation.org.uk
Mofilm. Mofilm is an extensive site offering the very best film competitions for all ages throughout the year. They have previously worked closely with big name brands (such as Pepsi) offering aspiring filmmakers the chance to win awards and prize money including the opportunity to get the work showcased online. At the moment they have the Barcelona : GSMA Film Competition 2011, working with Mobile World Congress - a competition offering filmmakers the chance to make short films for various companies including Tropicana, Mountain Drew and Chevrolet. This is a fantastic opportunity to make a short film for a well-established brand and be in with the chance to win cash prizes and the chance to appear at the awards ceremonies in Barcelona.
Submission deadline: January 31st 2011
Visit http://www.mofilm.com for more details
22 Diegesis: Shorthand
Who is Harvie Krumpet? Written & Directed by: Adam Elliot, Melodrama Pictures, Australia, 2003
ARVIE KRUMPET is a 22min short feature clay animation written and animated by Adam Elliot, produced by Melanie Coombs of Melodrama Pictures and financed by Film Victoria, the AFC, and SBS Independent. It has won many awards including 2003 Academy Award for Best Short Animation, the Australian Film Institute Award for Best Animated Short Film and over fifty other awards internationally. Watching just the first five minutes of this film tells you that it is a beautifully designed original piece. The film itself is incredibly heartwarming. In its short duration we see the life story of our main character, the loveable, yet simple, Harvie Krumpet. Beginning his life in a wintery Poland and born into a wonderfully weird family, Harvie is taught “fakts” [sic] by his insane mother. As he frequently encounters bad luck each fakt combines pathos with tragedy and innocence throughout Harvie’s bizarre story, giving the film its heart-warming comedy value. In one instance, after Harvey finds his parents frozen to death, nude, on a bicycle we get Fakt #116: “Certain frogs can come back to life when thawed, humans do not.” The tragic image of Harvie losing his parents is turned into a humorous sequence as he sets off to Australia armed with his ever expanding little book of fakts, to start his life and try to make sense of a world that he does not seem to understand. The film is narrated by Geoffrey Rush whose soothing tones and gentle pace take us and Harvie through lessons in life, love and hardship in this modern fairytale. While having some appeal for children, the hardship and struggle seems to target adults with an open mind. It would be hard to find anyone who doesn’t immediately fall in love with simple but dim-witted Harvie as he goes through his life in Australia, presenting the audience an alternative view on modern life. What really appeals about Harvie Krumpet is that a simple character’s journey through a life he cannot fully understand ensures that he doesn’t simply conform and instead is driven
by firstly his own fascination with the world around him and secondly his desire to learn. As such he never takes life too seriously; he dances around naked, falls in love, has a child who, in turn, teaches fakts and grows old with dementia. Harvie’s lust for life is apparent in a friendship with a Scottish pensioner which sees them play games with each other, such as hiding his new friend’s false teeth, getting drunk to disobey and not conform to society. Perhaps Harvie Krumpet makes us all wish life was so simple through innocence and remaining positive. Although throughout his life Harvie is unlucky with countless undesirable jobs, such as working at a skip or when picking up golf balls, he always sees the bright side of things and turns them to his advantage. When Harvie works at a skip he finds a television and he teaches himself English. After he has a magnetic metal plate put in his head (previously electrocuted by lightening!) he stumbles across his favourite quote - carpe diem, seize the day - and so becomes a nudist. Many people may know the writer/director Adam Elliot from his feature film Mary and Max (2009), also clay animation with an equally quirky storyline (a young unloved girl finds friendship with a pen pal, Max, who is an overweight middleaged man with Asperger’s syndrome). Both films are alike in their use of Elliot’s obvious twisted sense of humor and his cleverly constructed and likeable characters. In Mary and Max, Elliot creates two characters that don’t quite fit social norms. Both Mary and Max are lonely and looking for friendship which they find in each other and, like Harvie, each has their own distinguishable traits and idiosyncrasies: Mary loves semi-skimmed milk and chocolate while Max suffers from anxiety attacks. Both films deal with similar themes of handling death, coming of age, facing loneliness, managing education, enjoying friendships, and living with a disability. Both films encourage us to look at life in a different way.
The clay animation in Harvie Krumpet is flawless, with the dark palette pointing towards Harvie’s dark experiences. The lighting highlights the intricacy of Elliot’s work in every movement of the characters and their facial expressions. Colour throughout the film is minimal (the greyscale tones of Harvie’s attire matches his skin) but it also creates emotion through contrast. For example when the grey tones seem to connect to the darkness in Harvie’s life, a striking red is used when he falls in love with nurse Valerie; his glowing red heart offers a graphic match to Valerie’s red lipstick and red glasses, which likewise stand out against her dark costume and grey skin tones.
Harvie Krumpet is an original and cleverly constructed piece, both in the small details of clay animation and Elliot’s direction of a darkly humorous script, which presents a warm and sweetly humorous film appealing to the old and the young alike. Harvie teaches us not to take life too seriously, and to always remember: carpe diem, seize the day.
Diegesis: Shorthand 23
AT THE MARGINS
“At the Margins” is a section that aims to draw attention to and discuss some of the key art, independent and niche events in both film and television. Looking past the mainstream, this section gives space to small film festivals, specialised awards and low budget filmmaking, as well as including reviews of both current and previous independent/art/alternative releases.
Not So Terrible: Ivan the Terrible Part I
he unfinished trilogy of one of Eisenstein’s greatest works has been highly applauded throughout cinema history and yet it met with great controversy after the release of its second part. Therefore, having yet to see Ivan the Terrible Part II/ Ivan Groznyy: Skaz vtoroy – Boyarskiy zagovor (Eisenstein, 1958), it is with a degree of open mindedness that I offer a review for Part I.
Set during the early years of the former Tsar of Russia’s rule, Ivan the Terrible Part I/Ivan Groznyy (Eisenstein, 1944) is a film that almost betrays its name. Ivan is portrayed not as a cruel dictator but as a benevolent, if heavy handed, patriot of the Russian people. From his coronation at the beginning of the film it is made clear that he has many enemies (though few of them, or indeed few of the supporting cast overall, are named). Ivan, played by Nikolai Cherkassov, opens his coronation with a pledge to unite Russia under the rule of the province of Muscovy, and to lead his people as a decisive and strong ruler. After a threat from his neighbours in Kazan, Ivan declares war on the province, and early on in the film we are treated to a spectacle of epic battles showcasing Eisenstein’s famous use of montage. Following his victory against Kazan, Ivan immediately succumbs to a life threatening illness. As he lay dying, Ivan’s enemies in the court make themselves known when they refuse to pledge themselves to his son, and Ivan realises he is surrounded by treachery. When he recovers, unexpectedly to those around him, he vows to unite Russia once again and declares war on neighbouring Livonia and the Crimea.
24 Diegesis: At the Margins
The Boyars, his greatest enemies within the court, allied with Ivan’s aunt Efrosinia Staritskaya (Serafima Birman), plot against him and his plans. Due to their influence, his wars abroad fail and his personal life becomes embroiled with tragedy. Nevertheless, Ivan refuses to surrender, and his defiance and clever manipulation force his people to turn to him in their hour of need. So ends the first part of this twopart epic, with an element of optimism.
Ivan the Terrible is “more politically knowledgeable and incomparably hotter to handle” than Shakespeare (James Agee)
As I understand it, the second part of this story reveals the Tsar’s true nature, and the reasoning behind the name for which he is most famously known for becomes clear. Therefore, the first part is perhaps unusual in its portrayal of a monarch who is not cruel but strong and defiant. The clear villains in the first part are the Tsar’s enemies, most notably the Boyars with their dark, extravagant cloaks and devious mannerisms, influenced by Eisenstein’s own dislike of the ruling class. The film itself is clearly aimed at the Russian people, and requires a degree of knowledge in Russian geography and history in order to be fully understood by a foreign audience. This confusion is accompanied by the fact that at the start of the film is it not made exactly clear who the supporting characters are, other than by their motives. Ivan the Terrible Part I is clearly influenced by both theatre and silent film, with actors bellowing out their
lines while staring into the distance as they speak. Elements such as the heavy make-up and occasionally melodramatic style of acting give other clear links to silent film. In fact the film has an almost operatic feel to it, particularly with the accompaniment of a traditional Russian orchestra. Throughout most of the film the acting feels unrealistic, with actors rarely meeting each other’s eyes, which gives the feeling of a distance between characters. They rarely seem close, even the relationship between Ivan and his wife Anastasia (Lyudmila Tselikovskaya) doesn’t always feel natural.
Do not let these elements deter you from watching the film, however. The acting style and theatrical nature of the film do not hinder its enjoyment, though it may make a modern audience feel a little reluctant at first. Eventually you are drawn in by the performances and, with such a theatrical history in the works of Tolstoy, Chekhov and Ostrovsky, this is really where the strength of the film lies. The film is a great spectacle and in many ways a wonder of Russian cinema. In fact, considering the film was both made and released during World War II (one of the darkest period in Russia’s history), its epic scale should be highly commended. Comparing the film to Shakespearean historical works, the late US critic James Agee described it as “more politically knowledgeable and incomparably hotter to handle” (cited in Ivan the Terrible Part I and II Criterion Collection essay). This comment is perhaps surprising considering the US attitude towards Soviet Russia and its “propaganda” at the time it was
shown in the USA in 1947. The sets and costumes fire the imagination; it is clear that the film was not made under a tight budget. Scenes such as the aforementioned battle scene, and the coronation scene, give us a sense of grandeur. The costumes in particular are quite impressive, in particular the long dark robe worn by the Tsar himself toward the end of the film which creates a strong sense of his authority. Eisenstein’s use of shadow and light gives an almost expressionistic look to the production, exemplified in German films such as The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari (Wiene, 1920) and Nosferatu (Murnau, 1922). This is particularly evident in one scene where Ivan tries desperately, yet with great cunning, to assert his influence over a particular foreign matter. The enlarged shadow he casts on the wall gives him a dominating stance over the smaller shadows made by his subjects. Symbolism and iconography also play a key role in the film, with religious imagery being commonplace, unusual perhaps for a Soviet production. In one notable scene the eye of a large mural of Jesus appears to watch over a member of the court plotting against his dying Tsar. Anastasia appears as a saintly figure, almost similar to the Virgin Mary.
The film would eventually lead to the snow settling on the life of one of Russia’s greatest directors.
Eisenstein’s influence marks this film out as a true classic of the historical epic genre. It is unfortunate that the second part of the unfinished trilogy would prompt the disapproval of Joseph Stalin and destroy Eisenstein’s career. In fact it was not long after the release of Part II that Eisenstein succumbed to a heart problem which took his life soon after. It seems that although this is a significant film for its time, it would eventually lead to the snow settling on the life of one of Russia’s greatest directors.
Diegesis: At the Margins 25
Shhhhhhhh! Secret Cinema N
early 500 people stand in single file outside the gates of an abandoned hospital on a cold November night in South Kensington. Dressed in bathrobes, they wait anxiously in silence, as dark figures with American accents make their way down the line, whispering to each person: “The programme on which you are about to enrol is experimental and highly secret. Though certain elements may seem disturbing, the New Wellbeing Foundation has your health and happiness at heart. Tell No One.”
To any bystander the scene may look like the initiation into some kind of new-age suicide cult, but to those in the know this is the start of a night of unique experiences at the hands of Secret Cinema. The London-based company have been operating in locations all over the city since 2007, holding unique events that fuse interactive theatrics, live musical performances, and cinema into an immersive experience that challenges the banal and clinical setting of the local multiplex. The latest event transported the audience from the bustling streets
26 Diegesis: At the Margins
of London into the haunting setting of Oregon State Hospital and headfirst into the narrative of One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Forman, 1975). The events have grown from a few hundred people watching Gus Van Sant’s Paranoid Park (2007) underneath London Bridge, to the grandiose proportions filling Alexandra Palace with 15,000 people over 3 days, and turning the massive venue into a buzzing Arabian souk for a screening of David Lean’s 1962 epic Lawrence of Arabia. As few details as possible are given to the patrons who pay up to nearly £30 for a ticket, even the film is a secret until the opening credits begin to roll. Clues in the form of music videos and short films are given over Facebook, and dress code and location are emailed a few days before the event begins. Paying a small fortune to see a film that you may have already seen might seem a bit like swapping your car for some magic beans but Secret Cinema seems to be offering an experience that film lovers have been yearning for. The events offer a way to experience films
in an immersive world that reflects the on-screen landscape. Each location is drastically dressed and filled with props that fit the style of the film and actors playing characters from the film interact with the audience, offering each patron their own unique experience to take away with them.
Whilst the Lawrence of Arabia event caused some ambivalence among attendees over the acoustics of the huge screening room, hour-long food queues, and sitting on a concrete floor for three-and-a-half hours, the latest more intimate event seems to have ironed out the kinks. Audience members were invited to wander the creepy corridors of Oregon State Hospital, exploring every room and inspecting every detail of the haunting world. Nurses and orderlies in 1950s dress pace the halls and direct people to prescription rooms and medication stations for “liquid sedatives.” An announcement over the tannoy calls for “Wake up Time” and patients begin to stir from beds all over the hospital. The event begins to come to life as actors play out the opening scenes of the film and invite audience members to join in.
Some took part in special treatment therapy and were invited to share their feelings with the actors playing nurses and patients. In other parts of the hospital the characters broke loose and began playing music to the crowds. Characters from the film, such as Billy and Martini, danced with audience members and a singer serenaded an unsuspecting female patient. The event became a cacophony of images and sounds with scenes from the film being acted out all over the hospital. Before long, Jack Nicholson’s character, McMurphy, was starting fights with orderlies, and patients were being lobotomised. Things were happening simultaneously all over the hospital so that audience members in any part of the building had something new to look at and experience. After two hours of experiencing the sights and sounds of the surreal hospital, the tannoy announced it was relaxation time and every audience and cast member stopped in their tracks and waited as the halls were filled with a thick fog. Before the event, attendees had been asked to learn the lyrics of Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence.” As it was played, the halls came alive with the voices of hundreds
of people singing along to the same beautifully haunting song before being ushered into four separate screening rooms to watch the film.
While sitting down for the next two hours may seem like an anti-climax in comparison to the excitement of the evening, as the opening credits rolled and the characters that had been talking to and singing with everyone appeared on screen, the brilliance of the film
put into perspective the point of the whole evening. Secret Cinema brings out the best of a film for a community of film lovers begging for a more complete experience, away from the unimaginative and impersonal setting of the local cinema that churns out the latest Hollywood remakes in so called “stunning” 3D. The events offer an alternative experience that appeals to
fans of classic cinema, some of who may have seen the films being shown several times. Yet the world that is created gives new depth to familiar scenes and offers a new universe for first time viewers of the films to experience.
The growth of Secret Cinema and the rise in new ways of experiencing film, such as Cineroleum - a student-based company that turned a derelict London petrol station into a cinema for a month of screenings this summer - suggest a cinematic revolution may be taking place in response to disenchantment with Hollywood’s increasingly bland output and the lack of value from nationwide cinemas. With cheaper ways of exhibiting films these days, cinema is in the hands of those who love movies and while the motto of Secret Cinema may be “Tell No-One,” people are talking and, by the looks of it, nothing short of a lobotomy is going to keep them quiet.
The next Secret Cinema event is taking place from February 11th 2011. For ticket details go to www.secretcinema. org
Diegesis: At the Margins 27
“Dialogue” is a section that features interviews with and conversations between film and television production practitioners as well as experts on screen history, criticism and debate.
In Conversation with Michael Apted Director, writer, producer, cinematic raconteur from BBC television to Hollywood film, Michael Apted continues to have an illustrious career that spans fiction and documentary filmmaking. He has worked with such notable British actors as Laurence Olivier, Kate Winslet and Robert Carlyle in features ranging from the Bond film, The World is Not Enough (1999), to the historical drama Amazing Grace (2006, below) and most recently directing the fantastical third Chronicles of Narnia film, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010) for which The Queen historically donned a pair of 3D specs at a special Royal Gala screening.
Apted’s first directing project in America, Coal Miner’s Daughter (1980), was shot in the Appalachian mountains and garnered seven Oscar nominations including Best Picture and a win for Sissy Spacek’s moving portrayal of country and western singer Loretta Lynn. This came after beginning his career in the UK where he had collaborated with some of the finest British television writers including Colin Welland, Jack Rosenthal and Arthur Hopcraft. His talent has been acknowledged in numerous awards from the British Academy.
His award winning documentary work has explored the world of music in Bring on the Night (1985), marriage in the Married in America series (2003-) and the global influence of football in The Power of the Game (2005). It has also brought him to examine the Tiananmen Square massacre in Moving the Mountain (1994), matters of science and creativity in Me and Isaac Newton (1999) and has culminated in being awarded the highest honour for documentary work: the International Documentary Association’s Career Achievement Award.
28 Diegesis: Dialogue
Q&A On completing the latest Narnia film... “It’s by far the biggest film I’ve ever done. It’s much more complicated than the Bond film I did. It has a huge amount of visual effects in it and also we have to convert it to 3D having shot it in 2D. So the post production has taken pretty much a year. It has been a huge job. Historically, 3D has gone in and out of fashion; but now they have equipped many theatres with so much 3D equipment, which is incredibly expensive. [Jokingly] I’m hoping it will stay alive at least until after the release of Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Besides that what attracted me to the project was that I liked the emotional story behind it. It is about growing up and the temptations young people have to deal with: money, power, sex, vanity or whatever. It’s about those issues. Whenever I get material that’s the only thing I look for, if there is some emotional way into the film. And in this film I thought it could have strong emotional content.”
On being in Hollywood... “When I went to Hollywood in the 70s, the directors were definitely ruling, with directors such as Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese. Writers and directors have lost a lot of leverage. And the studios are run largely by businessmen, by lawyers and accountants, not by people who actually know about film. Now it’s a tough time for everybody. As President of the Director’s Guild of America for three terms, which covered six years, I was the only non-American ever to have had that position. I was in the middle of two series of negotiations, including the period of the writers’ strike, which in our opinion was a catastrophic decision because no one has yet recovered from it.
Largely, many films are full of visual effects and of course the thing about that is that they are incredibly expensive. The big film studios are more interested in making films of 200 million dollars than they are for 25 million dollars. Although it may cost a lot they think they can get a lot of money back, and now with technology, like the return of 3D, the idea is that they make fewer films but bigger films, which for some is seen as disastrous. The heat has gone out of the American Independent films and but, I believe, has found its way into cable. At first it was HBO and now you have all these other companies doing shows such as Mad Men and Breaking Bad and they’re terrific.”
On directing a Bond film...
“I had never done anything remotely like Bond before. When I took it on it was made clear to me that there were certain rules
about certain things you have to deliver: one-liners, good looking women in bikinis and stuff like that. It was very frustrating doing the film with those rules. However they also felt that the series had become very mechanical. They wanted a director who had been more used working in dramatic features. There was an attempt to broaden the market place and to bring more women to the film, both in the film and into the cinema, and that’s why they wanted me to do it.”
On documentaries and features... “I like them both. I think doing movies pays the rent and conversely documentaries are a real struggle financially. But I must say that I think, in my heart, I’m a documentarian because I try, in every film I do, to instil a documentary kind of atmosphere to it. Fortunately I’ve never had problems with final cut in my work. I’ve always pretty much got what I wanted; you always know there is a bit of give and take in features. Very few directors have final cut. I won’t do a documentary though unless I have final cut. I suppose the things that I’m most proud of are the Up films. It was luck but it’s become sort of my signature. Also I’m very proud of Coal Miner’s Daughter because it was my first American film and it was one of those rare things that became a big commercial, as well as a big critical, hit. That is something I’m pleased with.”
On starting out... “I had always wanted to be in the entertainment business and started out by listening to the radio then my great piece of good luck is that I went to school right in the middle of London so I was exposed to cinema and theatre. From college I got a trainee job at Granada Television in a time where commercial television had been going only for five or six years. It was expanding and trying to create its own young work force. I started out as a researcher for 7UP and then I also had a real desire for drama. It was a wonderful training system there because if you started in drama then you went on to Coronation Street which was extremely well run.”
Finally... advice for aspiring filmmakers
“The demise of the Film Council is a worry – it has to be replaced by something rather similar to it. My advice is just do it and don’t wait around to do things. All you can do is keep doing good work, wherever you’re doing it, because you have to be lucky. I was lucky. You have to be in the right place at the right time.” Michael Apted was in conversation with Stuart Ray for Southampton Film Week 2010. The interview was edited for publication by Alex Pitigoi. A filmed version produced by Solent Productions will be available shortly via the University portal. Michael Apted is a Visiting Fellow at Solent University. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is in cinemas now.
Diegesis: Dialogue 29
For each issue, this section will offer varied topics under the conceptual umbrella of “Fade Out.” This may include a discussion of the final film of a director, actor, composer or editor’s career, a tribute, retrospective or obituary for a filmmaker, actor, or cinematographer who has recently died, the decline of a particular genre, star, studio or channel, or offering a closing piece for the next issue of Diegesis.
Nobody’s Perfect: Tony Curtis (1925-2010)
hen the film star Tony Curtis died in September, the majority of retrospectives focused on his most popular successes, in particular Some Like it Hot (Wilder, 1959) and The Defiant Ones (Kramer, 1958). Often commenting on his pretty boy looks, his relationship with Marilyn Monroe and multiple marriages, his personal life seemed as, perhaps even more, intriguing than his career on screen. However, an element of his performance which is often overlooked is the dark and sometimes corrupt nature of Curtis’s characters including Sidney Falco in Sweet Smell of Success (Mackendrick, 1957, below right) and his portrayal of real life murderer Albert DeSalvo in The Boston Strangler (Fleischer, 1968, above). These deeply disturbing films, which significantly contrast the light-hearted comedy of Some Like It Hot, were largely overlooked by audiences and critics. Yet these films offer some of the most interesting, creative and inspired performances from Curtis, who appeared to maintain a knowingness throughout. He was able to show the audience how captivating he could be, whilst at the same time wanting and seeking their approval. Evident parallels between his life and cinema are clear throughout a career that spanned five decades. In his 2009 autobiography American Prince, the actor writes about the childhood guilt he felt following the death of his nine-yearold brother Julius (the result of a fatal truck collision). He felt his mother always blamed him for his brother’s death and it seemed that every role he gained was a way to express to his parents that he could be a success. He was a post-war star that
30 Diegesis: Fade Out
emerged out of a pessimistic era in American history. This pessimism, combined with Curtis’s captivating performance style, is ever-present in Sweet Smell of Success: a corrupt tale of the New York press in 1950s America. Curtis plays Sidney Falco, a press agent who is intent on gaining fame and admiration from his fellow peers. The noir overtones of the film reveal a confused post-war America, filled with dismayed and fraudulent characters, craving an out of reach celebrity lifestyle. This longing for fame is central to Falco’s personality, but also to Curtis, who had always wanted to be part of Hollywood, admiring both the stars and the system. The opening line of his autobiography exemplifies this admiration, in which he states: “All my life I had one dream, and that was to be in the movies.” The relentless ambition maintained by his character could be seen as a clear reflection of the actor’s own drive to achieve the American Dream. The film brings out the true nature of this notion, establishing it as a myth; an unattainable image of everlasting success. Although Curtis was a major success at numerous points in his career, it was not a constant which he could rely on; he had to work to be in the spotlight. It appeared that the actor thrived under pressure, trying to prove himself as a worthy actor rather than just a sex symbol. Some of the best scenes in Some like it Hot are when he is disguised as a millionaire, in which he does his best impression of his idol, Cary Grant. When he is playing both Josephine and millionaire Junior he is at his comedy peak, and seems comfortable in impersonating others. However, perhaps Curtis was not at his acting peak in the film, but this could be seen to come from some of his later
roles and, of course, the earlier Sweet Smell of Success.
It is apparent that Curtis’s true acting ability came to the forefront in roles that were largely overlooked by audience and critics. The Boston Strangler is one such film, drawing comparisons to the way the media views individuals who are in the public eye. Similar to Hollywood stars, we are first introduced to DeSalvo from the perspective of other characters, from investigators and news broadcasts. Once the perspective shifts to the murderer, however, Curtis combines brutality and vulnerability in a seething performance that is both chilling and inspired. Arguably one of the greatest moments in his acting career plays out in the final scenes when he re-enacts his part in the murders. His feminine whimpering, watering eyes and laboured breathing are juxtaposed with images of his vicious strength as he strangles the imagined victim before him. The fine line between strength and vulnerability is evident throughout the film, as it is in Sweet Smell of Success when Falco is destroyed by failure and guilt. Arguably, Curtis has a self-reflective ability to portray his pessimism via his characters; a projection of inner personal turmoil on screen.
Curtis has a self-reflective ability to portray his pessimism via his characters; a projection of inner personal turmoil on screen.
The reflection of inner-turmoil is evident in a little known comedy, Lobster Man from Mars (Sheff, 1989, top right). A film within a film, it parodies 1950s B-movies and the Hollywood film industry, drawing many similarities with The Producers (Brooks, 1968). Curtis plays Hollywood film producer J.P. Shelldrake, who buys the science-fiction film “Lobster Man from Mars.” Shelldrake believes it will be a box-office flop, but when it becomes a major success, he is subsequently sent to prison for tax fraud. Unlike Some Like It Hot, his character in the film is not a success in the final sequences, but in fact fails; he becomes the joke. In this period Curtis had been in rehab for alcohol and drug abuse, and the longing for a by-gone era in Hollywood and his career was ever present throughout this film. Once again, Curtis offers an intriguing performance,
with his ageing physique and passionate attitude lending itself greatly to the role. Similarly, his role in Neil Simon’s 1979 play I Ought to Be in Pictures could not be more apt for this period in Curtis’s career. Playing the lead in its first run, the actor portrays a screenwriter with writer’s block. He is frustrated, confused and angry at himself and the business, having to juggle his personal life and dwindling career. All too relevant parallels can be drawn between the stage and reality with the actor at this time, yet he always appeared grateful to be working in the industry that he loved. Tony Curtis produced some of the greatest performances in cinema history, portraying vulnerability and depth behind his distinct pretty boy looks. Whilst playing murderous, despicable and corrupt characters, such as DeSalvo and Falco, Curtis was also able to be loved by the audience, even though the guilt of his childhood seemed to haunt him throughout his life. Perhaps Hollywood enabled him at times to enact the excitement of a childhood he never had. Beyond his marriages and countless relationships with Hollywood starlets, including Janet Leigh and Christine Kaufmann, he strived for admiration. In this way, Curtis’s career is testament to the final line of Some Like It Hot: “Nobody’s perfect.”
Diegesis: Fade Out 31
Issue 2 COMING Spring 2011
CUT TO [gold]
Contributions Welcome! Issue 2 out Spring 2011. If you are interested in writing for the magazine, please email firstname.lastname@example.org for more details. We welcome contributions based on the special theme, as well as pieces for one of our regular sections: Play. Pause. Rewind. (old and new film & tv), Shorthand (short films), At the Margins (art, independent, alternative, festivals, nonmainstream), Dialogue (interviews, Q&As) and Fade Out (retrospectives).