di'e'ge'sis noun 1. the narrative world of the story 2. recounting, narration
CUT TO [obsession]
Featuring new writing on: Incendies • Life’s Too Short • One Hour Photo • Six Feet Under Also including: stalking • OCD • weird Canadian sex • female porn
I EDITORIAL S S U E
Welcome to the 4th issue of magazine run by students from the Film & Television Studies degree at Southampton Solent University. offers a space for student writers to engage with film, television and screen culture, critically and creatively. This issue we CUT TO [obsession], exploring this dark and complex concept that has been foregrounded in so many cinematic and televisual thrillers and beyond.
In our special features section, narratives of stalking and identity theft reveal the dark side of family and relationships when love manifests itself as mania, adoration is taken over by infatuation and fetish and attraction are replaced by compulsion and consumption. The articles in this issue explore obsession in its many forms. The films of Christopher Nolan present obsession as both a thematic and stylistic trope, evident in his body of work from shorts to features. The spectrum of fan obsession is considered from the relatively innocuous to the completely crazy. Obsession might refer to sexual paraphilias such as the images of necrophilia, technophilia and incest that abound in the cinema of Canada. It might refer to the marmite effect that 3D has had on audiences, from those who can’t wait for the next 3D film to come out to those who love to hate the techo-gimcrack. And with monarchy mania gripping the nation, the Queen’s performance is under the spotlight now more than ever. From fans to fanatics, consumers to the consumed, this issue will have you fixated from start to finish.
And when you’ve returned to a fairly normal state, start planning your short film for the next competition (see the short film competition page for details). The Team had an extremely difficult job judging the obsession competition: congratulations to the winning film! CUT TO [obsession] is our biggest issue yet and we’re celebrating with an exclusive limited print run. Visit our Facebook page or website www.diegesismagazine.com to reserve your copy now!
We think you’ll be crazy about it!
Section Editors: Charlotte Birch, Adam Flood, Lloyd Hann, Laura Hawtin, Amy Hay, Tom Hinkley, Jenny Lyne, Monique Rowland Social Media: Claire Scott, Darren “Tweet” Kerr, Donna Peberdy Managing Editors: Donna Peberdy & Darren Kerr Design: Adam Flood, Donna Peberdy, Charlotte Birch, Yaz Wall, Claire Williams Cover model: Yaz Wall
CUT TO [obsession]
PLAY. PAUSE. REWIND.
20 A Universal Truth 22 Role Play What do two nineties films about female/ 24 A Royal Affair 04 FATAL FEMMES
female obsession reveal about the nature of obsession?
26 From Dog Tales to Dinosaurs 28 Of Bugs and Men What might start as “harmless” intrigue 30 Hit Comedy 08 IT STARTS WITH ENVY
can quickly escalate to a dangerous game of cat and mouse...
AT THE MARGINS
32 Height Restriction 34 4 Inches from Happiness Is this what happens when love takes hold? 38 Weird Sex Please, We’re Canadian 40 Singin’ in the Pain 16 OCD: Obsessive Compulsive Director 42 Cult Creation 12 WILD HORSES...
Christopher Nolan has made a career out of focusing on obsessions and fixations. Is this a case of OCD?
44 The Interview 48 3D or Not 3D? 50 Short Film Competition
54 Hustled for the Last Time 56 Dead, Buried but Not Forgotten 59 The Next Issue
website: www.diegesismagazine.com Facebook: www.facebook.com/diegesisfilmtvmagazine Twitter: xDiegesis email: email@example.com
C U TO B S E S S I O N
FATA L FEMMES
bsession is a theme present throughout many years of literature and films, from Stephen King’s novel Misery (1987 adapted for the screen in 1990) to Clint Eastwood’s film Play Misty For Me (1971). In addition to these popular art forms, obsession is also found in our reality in numerous forms: an obsessed fanatic or perhaps the delusion of a relationship that never was. Obsession often goes hand in hand with a person who feels the need to claim ownership over another person, but it can be far more haunting than this. What may start off as perhaps an innocent crush or admiration for a friend, can quickly turn into an unhealthy addiction of needing to live the life of someone else. Or it can be the unrequited desire to become romantically involved with a person; a theme explored in many films. Female/female obsession is the focus of Single White Female (1992, pictured) and The Hand That Rocks the Cradle (1992, pictured over) whereby the obsession ultimately stems from tragedy. Both films depict tales of delusion and loss and were well received after their initial release, with Single White Female debuting at #2 in the American Box Office and The Hand That Rocks the Cradle staying at #1
for four consecutive weeks. This suggests that audiences enjoy thriller films because of their twisting plots of suspense or their psychological depth. Whatever the reason, both films have something to say about the emotional impact a tragic event can have on an individual’s mind.
“The hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world”
attempts to force her way into Claire’s life. Throughout the film this subtlety becomes more obvious when Peyton begins to sabotage Claire. She leads Claire into thinking that her husband Michael (Matt McCoy) is having an affair, and she manipulates Claire’s daughter Emma (Madeline Zima) into preferring Peyton as a mother figure. What Claire takes to be signs of friendship are in fact Peyton’s attempts at destroying Claire’s life in order to compensate for her own tragic loss.
From the very beginning, the audience is aware of Peyton’s intention; she has already seen a photo of Claire and so when they “accidentally meet”, Peyton’s seemingly innocent question of where the Bartel family live is an example of one of her many manipulative
Obsession in this film is far from being just about dark revenge. Instead it is a film about the psychological and emotional state of a woman coming to terms with losing everything she has. One key scene exploring this is when Peyton takes Claire’s baby and breastfeeds it. This is an attempt to not only create a bond with the baby, but is also an act of filling the emotional gap left after the death of her unborn child. This is taken a step further when Peyton and Michael redecorate the baby’s nursery; an act typically performed by the mother. At this point it is evident that Claire feels uncomfortable and this is the act that triggers her realisation that something is not quite right, something which builds up to the climax of the film.
This is a key quotation from The Hand That Rocks the Cradle that provides inspiration for the title and sums up ultimately what the film is about. Peyton Flanders (Rebecca De Mornay) takes on the position of nanny at the house of Claire Bartel (Annabella Sciorra) after Claire accuses Peyton’s husband of molesting her. This leads to Peyton’s husband committing suicide, the shock of this resulting in Peyton’s loss of her unborn child, for which she blames Claire.
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The loss of a child is a tragic event that is similarly found in Single White Female. Rather than this loss being an unborn baby, it is the death of a nine-year-old girl whose twin sister grows up attempting to fill what she claims is “a part of her that has always been missing” by physically becoming the identical twin of her housemate. Hedra Carlson (Jennifer Jason Leigh) seeks out Allison Jones (Bridget Fonda), desiring to become her flatmate. But what starts off as a seemingly innocent friendship, becomes a dark and twisted attempt by Hedra to turn Allison into the twin she lost when she openly copies her. From copying Allison’s haircut to sabotaging her relationship, Hedra is a clingy and vulnerable young woman who blames herself for the death of her twin sister. By using Allison, Hedra finds a way to reconcile that broken bond. Rather than feeling a sense of attraction to her victim, the female stalker (in this case Hedra) is on the search for sisterhood, erasing anything and anyone that stands in her way. This leads to Hedra going so far as to murder Allison’s boyfriend, Sam (Steven Weeber), when his relationship with Allison threatens to push Hedra into finding somewhere else to live. This build up in the narrative not only creates suspense, but it suggest that Hedra’s desperation stems from a fear of losing the female companion she had formed to replace her twin.
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“a dark and haunting display of delusion”
Significantly, rather than simply being a demonstration of obsession, these extreme attempts to stay close to Allison indicate Hedraâ€™s vulnerable state of mind and desperation to come to terms with the death of her twin. The resolution of Single White Female comes with Allison stating how she does not blame Hedra for her actions and that she will try to do what Hedra could not forgive herself. A photo on the table places together two face halves: Allison and Hedra. After spending the duration of the film searching, Hedra has finally found her missing half, despite the unfortunate consequences. Ultimately, the strength of the plots of both Single White Female and The Hand That Rocks the Cradle lie in their exploration of the female maternal instinct to protect those they love, demonstrating the results when this is taken to the extreme. However, this theme is not limited to just these two films; it is further explored in Christian E. Christiansen and Richard Robertsonâ€™s The Roommate (2011). In this film, Sara (Minka Kelly) finds herself living with a new roommate,
Rebecca (Leighton Meester), only to discover that Rebecca has an obsession with her which swiftly turns to violence when Rebecca becomes desperate to cling onto Saraâ€™s affection. This film shares many similarities with Single White Female, in particular the reference to Sara and Rebecca co-owning a pet cat, much like the dog that Allison and Hedra own in Single White Female. In both cases, this pet symbolises the bond that holds the friends together, acting as a substitute for a child and nurturing the natural, female, maternal instinct. In both films, the pet is killed by the obsessed female as an extreme attempt to keep their victim by their side. Where obsession can be a dark and haunting display of delusion, its purpose in both The Hand That Rocks the Cradle and Single White Female lies in an emotional need to mend a broken bond and eventually come to terms with a tragic loss. Whilst taking the audience on this twisted rollercoaster of suspense and mystery, the use of obsession in these films ultimately brings to light the vulnerability of the human mind.
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t starts with envy: wanting what you do not have. It starts out innocent but soon you will stop at nothing to get what you want. It is all about the chase. Some prefer making their victims fear their every move. Others prefer simply watching from a distance. Either way, it is something seen in many films ranging from Christopher Nolan’s Following (1998) to Steve Shill’s Obsessed (2009). In a comparative report of the US and Australia, Matthew Goode labelled stalking the “crime of the nineties” (Criminal Law Journal 19.1 1995). Indeed, numerous films focusing on stalking were made during this decade, such as: Cape Fear (1991), The Bodyguard (1992) and Stalking Laura (1995). Many films continue to use stalking as their main chill factor; film has considered the different motives for stalking from simply being obsessed and slightly psychotic, to having experienced an emotional disaster that needs closure. Consider the depiction of obsession in films like Sleeping with the Enemy (1991, pictured). Laura (Julia Roberts) is constantly living in fear of her abusive husband Martin (Patrick Bergin), even after she has escaped. Laura
lives a quiet life as a housewife to her over-bearing husband who controls her every move and so she constructs her own death in an attempt to run away from her entrapment. But things do not go quite as she planned; Martin finds her, stalks her, and then plans his attack. At the film’s climax, Laura is given an undisputable clue that he has found her and her nightmare becomes a reality when he comes after her once more. Luckily, this time she has help. It is thought-provoking to think that perfection could be so flawed; Martin is obviously obsessed with having things in order, from the meticulous way he has his cupboards packed to the neurotically straightened towels in his bathroom. Having an attractive wife and a beautiful house is all essential to the image of the “perfect” life, only there is nothing perfect about this life she tries to run from. Enough (2002) is another good example of obsession and stalking. Slim (Jennifer Lopez) marries Mitch (Billy Campbell) who at first seems to be her dream man but he quickly becomes violent towards her. To protect her daughter and herself she tries to flee from him but he
pursues her. Soon she realises that she only has one way to make it stop: she must kill him. But the only way to do this is to become tougher. There is a line in the film where he asks her “You wanna fight me, man to man?” and she replies with “Woman, Mitch”. This makes it obvious that he has always seen her as a weak female that was never equal to him, of course until she is tougher and becomes a threat to him. These two films and ones like these such as The Burning Bed (1984) and No One Would Tell (1996), foreground the notion that men have a need for power and control in order to feel masculine and that is why women (the physically weaker sex) become the victims. In these examples, obsession and stalking are presented as male behaviours and so it seems they have more of a physical motive rather than a psychological one. It could be argued that stalking is more prominently seen from the male perspective. However, there are many films that depict women as crazy and obsessed, particularly The Loved Ones (2009), which demonstrates how a woman can be the one to be feared. The film follows Brent (Xavier Samuel) through his disastrous prom evening.
IT STARTS WITH ENVY 8 Diegesis: CUT TO [obsession]
Diegesis: CUT TO [obsession] 9
Lola (Robin McLeavy) has her father (John Brumpton) abduct Brent a few hours before prom. When he awakes he finds himself sitting at Lola’s dining room table. He then endures the unthinkable. Obsessed Lola carves a heart with her initials into Brent’s chest. Brent makes a brave attempt to escape, but is stoned out of a tree and has his feet hammered to the kitchen floor. After being forced to dance with Lola (with his feet still tightly secured to the floor), Lola and “Daddy” take it one step further when they drill a hole into his forehead and try to pour boiling water into his head. After seeing and enduring all of this, they show him the pit under the floor where Lola keeps all of her victims. Brent lands in this pit and he has to dig deep with every ounce of will he has to make it out alive. Although Lola might not be as strong physically as her male victims and so needs her father to do the physical things, her manic mind makes her psychologically threatening and deadly. However, there are films where the stalkers have suffered some emotional disaster in their life and they need a way to fix it. In Michael Romanek’s One Hour Photo (2002, pictured), Sy (Robin Williams) works as a photo developer in a store. He treats all his customers with the best service, but especially the picture-perfect Yorkin family. Sy has followed their lives through the photographs he has developed; he knows what their house looks like and he knows what they do for their sons’ birthday parties. He feels like part of the family: Uncle Sy. But he isn’t.
It is only at the end of the film that we learn that he has endured a traumatic childhood and longs for a normal family life; and so became obsessed. It is sad to think that someone could be so desolate that they fantasize about being part of a family, in an innocent way. The way he obsesses about this family is alarming because his obsession becomes dangerous after he finds out that Will Yorkin (Michael Vartan) is cheating on his wife and ruining his perfect family. We get a glimpse of what his childhood must have been like in the way he treats Will and his secret lover when he photographs them naked in their hotel room. However, we only link his behaviour to his past at the end when he goes on to say that a father should not neglect his children or make horrible demands of them; his emotional outpouring makes you realise that it had probably happened to him as a child and somehow, in spite of his obsessive behaviour, you feel sorry for him. In Stalker (2009), a documentary produced for the Crime and Investigation Network, psychologist Dr Monica Whitty observes that stalkers do not have the social cues that tell them that their behaviour is inappropriate. The documentary follows two different cases: a young family who move to Jamaica and a man who had a one-night stand with a colleague. In both cases the stalking mostly takes place over the Internet.
According to a recent Sky News article – “Stalking Victims Disappointed by New Laws” – there is debate about whether or not the British government is doing enough to protect victims from stalking. Victims have said that they are disappointed by the lack of changes made to improve the laws against stalking and that maybe the psychological trauma should be taken into consideration when thinking about the long-term effects of being stalked. But when all is said and done, do these films deal with real issues? Can they make a difference to the way the government approaches stalking? Or are they simply dramatised for entertainment? The documentary and news story indicate that obsession and stalking surpass the fictional narratives presented in these films and, exaggerated and excessive as they might be, the fear they bring to their audience is closer to reality than most of us realise.
C L A I R E WILLIAMS
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â€œthe fear they bring to their audience is closer to reality than most of us realiseâ€? Diegesis: CUT TO [obsession] 11
he theme of obsession and stalkers has been at the heart of some of the best thriller films from Fatal Attraction (1987) to One Hour Photo (2002). Film critic Barry Norman claims that “the stalker is a splendidly menacing character and it’s everybody’s fear to be stalked’. It is exactly this that makes the final part of Fear (1996) so gripping; we helplessly watch on as the violent and somewhat unexpected actions take place right in front of us.
Described by some as the “male version” of Fatal Attraction, James Foley’s Fear is a tale of teenage lust turned sour. The film tells the story of Nicole Walker (Reese Witherspoon) who falls in love with handsome and seemingly wellmannered David McCall (Mark Wahlberg). Nicole is portrayed as a normal seventeen-year-old that is well behaved and enjoys having fun. Then she meets David at a party and things start to change. When Nicole introduces David to
her parents, he is extremely polite and leaves a lasting impression. However, when Nicole’s father (CSI’s William Petersen) takes a sneaky look into David’s past, he finds David is not all he seems.
The film deals with the traditions of teenage angst: overbearing and protective parents, school popularity and attention from the opposite sex. Witherspoon is perfectly cast to portray Nicole’s naivety towards boys and an innocence which is heightened by her appearance; the angelic and pretty face with the blonde hair makes her look all the more younger than her peers.. Her best friend Margo (Alyssa Milano) is more “experienced” and seems to guide her; it is Margo who ultimately brings Nicole to the all night rave where she meets David. David’s character is well played out, showcasing a person that is the product of his own unfortunate upbringing. Wahlberg’s boyish good looks juxtapose the
mysterious dark side that lurks just under the surface. There are several moments in the film where the camera zooms into focus on David’s face. His eyes from this angle look haunting, epitomising Barry Norman’s definition of the “splendidly menacing” stalker in the film; his deadpan facial expression with a cold and ominous stare is framed perfectly by the camera, transcending the diegesis and striking fear into the audience. Although the film is stylish in its execution and carefully shows the growing obsession on David’s part, the film conforms to the traditional conventions of the thriller genre. This is done with use of anticipation, high points of anxiety and the threat of terror. It is clear from the outset which way the film might go, giving clues as to what might just happen next. It is because of this the first hour or so of the film is quite slow-moving with each scene gearing up to the climatic ending that shows just how dangerous a young man can be.
COULDN’T DRAG ME AWAY
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“With a crescendo of emotion, the actors’ performances are so convincing in portraying the fear that the characters feel.” 14 Diegesis: CUT TO [obsession]
Throughout the film, David’s obsession escalates. When he stops by Nicole’s school to pick her up, he sees her innocently hugging her male friend. David instantly reacts and ends up beating him to the ground where he then proceeds to kick him several times, in the meantime giving Nicole a black eye. The repercussions of this give a physical sign of David’s obsession before it becomes known by Nicole and the other characters. Sound and music play an important part to the story of David and Nicole. In each scene where they appear to be getting close, the Rolling Stones song “Wild Horses” is played, with the lyrics “wild horses couldn’t drag me away” alluding to how Nicole keeps going back to David despite his actions and her father’s wishes. The non-diegetic sounds, which are often loud and dramatic, conform to the traits of the thriller and are emphatic in David’s most obsessive moments. This is used specifically when David carves the words “Nicole 4 eva” into his own skin with a razor and then rubs ink on himself to make it stain, thus revealing to the audience just how obsessive and crazed he has ultimately become. This is where the movie’s tagline “together forever or else” is personified through David’s irrational actions. It is from this moment on that David reveals his true colours to Nicole and her family and his obsession with them reaches a breaking point. Nicole’s father becomes fully aware of the extent of David’s obsession when he discovers a shrine to Nicole in David’s room. He finds a photo of the Walker family where David has
replaced the face of Nicole’s father with his own, a bracelet with “David’s girl” engraved on it, and the underwear from David and Nicole’s first time together. This also adheres to the stalker theme in the film, whereby the whole story starts to unravel before turning into a confrontation between the stalker and the victim. This has been done successfully with Fatal Attraction and Sleeping with the Enemy in which the victim usually succeeds triumphant over the culprit. The final scenes reveal that Gary, Nicole’s friend from school has been found dead. Of course, all fingers point to David, stressing the extent of his obsessive tendencies, which have now turned to murder. From this point, David and his gang of friends start to taunt the family and, in homage to Fatal Attraction, the famous bunny boiler scene is replaced with the decapitation of the family dog. The director James Foley brings the film to an ending of great intensity in the final act. With a crescendo of emotion, the actors’ performances are so convincing in portraying the fear that the characters feel. Fear is a film that deserves a lot more attention than it received on its release. Despite being beautifully directed and performed by its lead actors, it has largely been overlooked in comparison to other stalker films. Not only is it a great thriller for the younger generation, but the powerful and universal themes that are explored in the narrative, means the film has not become any less poignant since its release. As Barry Norman said, it is everyone’s fear to be stalked, and Fear shows exactly why.
TAMMY PAINE Diegesis: CUT TO [obsession] 15
ig budget British director Christopher Nolan has given us some of the greatest pieces of modern day cinema. His fascinating plots and deft storytelling abilities have quickly made him one of the most notable directors in recent times. Along the way, he has redesigned the mega-buck Hollywood movie into something more than just a seat-filler and moulded it into a thoughtprovoking ride for the senses. His films have delved into the darker areas of the human psyche and in turn connected with his audience on a deeper plain of thought.
*OBSESSIVE COMPULSIVE DIRECTOR
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Each of his films have been set in very different worlds and varied in their content yet one of the central themes running through Nolan’s work is obsession. This can be seen not just his own attention to detail, but an obsession which is at the heart of his stories: his debut feature Following (1998) centres on a writer who follows people in search of inspiration (read Claire Williams’ piece in this issue for more on this film); Memento’s Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce) is an obsessed, one-man, self-appointed detective trying to avenge the death of his wife; the eponymous superhero of Nolan’s Batman trilogy (Christian Bale) obsesses over the ideals of justice and lives a life of crime fighting; the two magicians in The Prestige begin a battle for supremacy that leads to an obsession with each other; and Inception’s Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) loses his wife when they become obsessed with being together in a dream world.
emento, written by his younger brother Jonathan, is Nolan’s second feature film and first major box-office success. Guy Pearce, outside the world of Neighbours’ Ramsay Street, stars as Leonard Shelby, a man plagued with anterograde amnesia (short-term memory loss), which makes the task of avenging his wife’s death rather problematic. It is an obsession that will never be appeased because his short-term memory will rob him of any thoughts of vengeance, leaving him in a skewed Groundhog Day. Searching to find the killer of his dearly departed wife, his only way of retaining vital clues is by covering his body in tattoos that hold the pieces of the ongoing puzzle. As we follow Leonard’s journey throughout the film we see him obsessing with note-taking, a system he has developed to remember the facts of his wife’s murder, and is pivotal to him remaining on the right course. Leonard is trapped in a reality where everyone is a stranger and the immediate pain of his wife’s loss will be with him forever.
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The Prestige (2006)
wise man once told me obsession was a young man’s game”, spouts Cutter (Michael Caine), assistant to magician Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman). The Prestige, based on the book by Christopher Priest, centres around two magicians, Robert Angier and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale). The performers of mystical wonder are locked in a battle for magical one-upmanship. The two former assistants separate after the death of Angier’s wife for which Angier blames Borden,
beginning the feud between them. Angier becomes a far more popular magician despite being inferior to the skills of his competitor. Borden develops a trick that Angier hails as the greatest ever seen and he becomes obsessed with discovering how to perform it until the warring magicians trade blows in a bid to destroy one another. Scarlett Johansson stars as performing eyecandy and looks spectacular as the voluptuous blonde assistant.
lugging people into a machine and sending them into a dream world. On paper this sounds like a Wachowski Brother’s rip-off, but don’t be fooled. Nolan’s epic dream world where there are no rules brings together a stellar cast including Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen Page, Marion Cotillard, Tom Hardy, Joseph GordonLevitt, Ken Watanabe and Cillian Murphy.
of his dream and real world, Cobb is obsessed with getting back his freedom and holding his children again, and he drags the young and impressionable Ariadne (Ellen Page) into his obsessive quest. The journey he takes is wrapped in confusion as the dreams they enter begin to entwine with their real world. Ultimately we are left wondering if Cobb is awake at all.
The blurring of reality makes for a dangerous place as DiCaprio’s Dom Cobb has previously found when sharing dreams with his wife, Cotillard’s Mal. Their obsession with controlling dreams is at the expense of Mal’s sanity and the disintegration of their relationship in the real world. Following the collapse
Nolan taps into our fascination with dreams and perhaps his own. Inception proposes the possibilities of acute mind control and the freedom that we can have in a land of dreams. It does, however, illuminate the dangers that come with the mind and show the frailty of our sanity if the mind is tampered with too much.
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Batman Begins (2005) The caped crusader is reignited by Nolan’s directorial magic wand. Gone are the garish costumes and camp accessories of earlier incarnations such as Batman Forever (1995) and Batman and Robin (1997), as well as the clichéd characters and cheap oneliners. Instead, a dark shroud has been placed over Gotham’s playboy billionaire and, with Christian Bale featuring as Bruce Wayne, the winged detective has never appeared so menacing and muscular. The film returns to the birth of Batman and shows us why Bruce Wayne committed his life to fighting crime and bringing justice against the perpetrators of crime in Gotham City.
The Dark Knight (2008)
he Dark Knight Rises (2012) is the third and final installment of Nolan’s Batman franchise and is to be released this year, but what will the caped crusader have to face? Tom Hardy and Anne Hathaway are set to appear as Bane and Catwoman, with Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Marion Cotillard to also feature. If you would like to write a review for our next issue go to our website www.diegesis.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org
he second instalment of Nolan’s Batman trilogy is brought to life by Heath Ledger’s Joker, arguably the finest piece of acting seen in any of Nolan’s films to date. This is particularly impressive given the clown shoes he was filling: that of the wide grinning Jack Nicholson. It was speculated that his own obsession ultimately led to his downfall and the sheer work he put into his roles took a toll on his health and led to his untimely death. The follow up to Batman Begins continues with a dark view of Gotham City and with the birth of Two Face (Aaron Eckhart), The Dark Knight is sent into battle with two of Gotham’s most feared and ingenious villains. The Joker is as insane as he is cunning and the grinning madman is obsessed with bringing down Gotham’s winged protector. The city is brought to its knees and the Dark Knight battles the toughest decisions of his life.
Thomas Whitehead Diegesis: CUT TO [obsession] 19
A UNIVERSAL TRUTH PLAY
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ncendies (2010) is a film by Canadian director Denis Villeneuve which in 2011 was Oscar nominated for Best Foreign Language Film. Villeneuve adapted the film from the play Scorched by globally recognised writer, actor and director Wajdi Mouawad. Mouawad was born in Lebanon before moving to France and later Quebec; Scorched was based on his childhood experience of wartorn Lebanon where a civil war raged from 1975 to 1990. Since the play first opened in 2003 it has been produced all over the world, from Mexico and the US to Germany and Australia. During this time it has received global acclaim; its worldwide popularity is a testament to the significance of the issues the play deals with. Scorched has been described as showing “the atrocity of war and the poetry of loss in an epic memory play” (Mercury News Review 2012). At its heart, the play deals with the most basic of human emotions – anger – making it a universally relatable story. It is for this very reason that director Denis Villeneuve, after seeing the play for the first time in Montreal, immediately wanted to make a film out of it. In an interview with PBSNewsHour in 2011 Villeneuve explained that what grabbed him about the play was “the way Wajdi Mouawad was able to talk about anger inside of family, inside of society”. Incendies shows the interwoven story of a family’s past and present. Our story opens somewhere in Frenchspeaking Canada with the reading of Nawal Marwan’s (Lubna Azabal) will to her twin children Jeanne (Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin) and Simon (Maxim Gaudette) by her long-time employer Notaire Jean Lebel (Rémy Girand). He hands them each an envelope containing a letter: one addressed to their father
who they thought was long dead and one to their brother who they did not know existed. What then ensues is a modern day quest – a hunt across time and space – as Jeanne, and later Simon, travel to the Middle East to uncover their mother’s past and find their father and brother. From the very opening scene where we see young boys having their heads shaved somewhere in the Middle East, Incendies invites the viewer into a nonlinear, complex world, where the stories of each protagonist are steeped in enigma. This continues throughout the film with the intertwined destinies of the characters colliding in fateful occurrences. The narrative is both puzzling and intriguing as the audience join Jeanne and Simon on the journey to find their brother and father.
“Incendies is not a gentle ride; do not expect to feel satisfaction by simply observing.” Critics have likened Incendies to a modern-day Greek tragedy or a Shakespearian drama. The narrative focuses more on character events and less on time and place as important. The most recognisable locations are modern up-todate spaces such as a lawyer’s office, a university classroom and a flat. These spaces are juxtaposed with villages, roads and the prison which we see in flashback as part of Nawal’s life when Jeanne travels to the Middle East to uncover her mother’s past. Neither past nor present is defined, placing the story in a non-specific period. Villeneuve supports this by pointing out that “It’s a movie about family, process, it’s not a
movie about history” (Empire 2011). In order to distance the movie from the historical past of Lebanese conflict and become neutral, Villeneuve chose to geographically remove himself from the country altogether by filming in Jordan and Quebec, giving fictional names to places of significance. This transposition is a removal of the narrative from what audiences see as a recognisable space; just as time is unspecified so is location. In displacing space and time, the narrative becomes more universally relevant and familiar to audiences. As Jeanne and Simon grow up, much like the next generations of those involved in civil war, they need to let go of what is a universal human emotion: anger. Incendies is very much about consolation and finding peace, not about trepidation. It could be argued that this film is attempting to speak to society on a global scale by demonstrating the need for consolidation and hope in modern day society and the importance of these. Like many foreign-language films, Incendies differs from Hollywood; it does not display the quick editing, recognisable stars, special effects and an easily digestible narrative that we have come to associate with Hollywood and the modern blockbuster. Incendies is not a gentle ride; do not expect to feel satisfaction by simply observing. Instead, become involved in the construction of Nawal’s past through the journey which you will take with Jeanne and Simon. The film encourages the audience to feel shock at the pure coincidence (although farfetched) of the events which lead up to the final moments of the film. Incendies presents a satisfying, challenging and shocking story that will have you longing to share it.
Diegesis: Play. Pause. Rewind. 21
ROLE PLAY JENNY LYNE In America on Film (2004) Harry Benshoff and Sean Griffin note that Bound (1996) “was popular with mainstream audiences, but it too reinscribed queers as devious criminals”, arguing that in order for a mainstream film representing homosexuality, it has to “deploy
the usual stereotypes” of lesbians as offenders. Other examples of this within mainstream cinema include Monster (2004), Boys Don’t Cry (1999) and Basic Instinct (1992). On the surface, it is easy to see ways that Bound negatively depicts homosexuality on screen.
22 Diegesis: Play. Pause. Rewind.
However, it also presents its two female characters, Corky (Gina Gershon) and Violet (Jennifer Tilly), in a positive and “queer” way, celebrating marginalised sexualities, depicting sexuality as fluid, not fixed, and therefore subject to change.
We first see Corky bound and tied up inside a wardrobe, thus initially (however metaphorically) setting her up as an offender. The camera slowly pans down the wardrobe, revealing pretty dresses and high-heeled shoes that starkly contradict Corky’s baggy trousers, tank top and combat boots. She is positioned in opposition to these synthetic items, as if lying there like a foreign object. This sets up Corky as a non-conformist woman who does not adhere to the social and ideological construct of conventional femininity. Feminist Judith Butler sees gender as a physical “act” that we are expected to “perform” because it is ideologically attached to our biological status (for more, see her key texts Gender Trouble 1990, Bodies That Matter 1993 and Undoing Gender 2004). This suggests that women must conform to the cultural constructs of gender such as those constructed by the media. Corky does not comply with the cultural constructs of her biological gender; she rejects dominant feminine ideals, and this is shown at first through her clothes and is a stereotype largely maintained throughout the film. Violent is presented differently however. Initially, we see a traditional representation of femininity on screen when we are first introduced to Violet. She is wearing a short black dress with high heels, where the camera lingers upon her legs voyeuristically. The camera objectifies her to the audience, saying “it’s okay to look”, as that is what she is there for. This speaks specifically to Laura Mulvey’s term: “The Male Gaze” or what she describes as “woman as image, man as bearer of the look”. In her influential essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” published in 1975,
Mulvey states “in a world of sexual imbalance, pleasure in looking has been split between active/male and passive/female”. However, Bound subverts the idea of the male gaze as it is Corky who is in fact bearer of the look in this scene. Although Violet is, at first, presented as passive and objectified, it is Corky who is objectifying her.
subordinate but is able to use the construction to her advantage. She is empowered by the fluidity of her sexuality and the self-consciousness of her own performance of gender.
Benshoff and Griffin argue that “Queer is descriptive of the textual (and extra-textual) spaces where heterosexuality is threatened, critiqued, or Corky and Violet are more in shown to be an unstable line with Sally R. Munt’s claim performative identity”. In in Heroic Desire: Lesbian Identity Bound, Violet and Caesar’s and Cultural Space (1998) that heterosexual relationship “Butch/Femme produces a way fails while Violet and Corky’s of looking and being looked at”. homosexual relationship is Munt reworks Mulvey’s theory successful, unbeknownst to in terms of butch/active and Caesar. The heterosexual norm femme/passive. According to is thus threatened and the Munt, “Butch” and “Femme” are homosexual relationship is the artificial stereotypes of lesbian one the audience respond to, gender, with the butch lesbian sympathise with and ultimately who assumes and performs the root for. Bound can thus be seen male, dominant role and the as a celebration of marginalised femme performing the feminine, sexualities in its rejection of passive role. Bound, however, what Benshoff and Griffin does not sit comfortably term the “socially constructed within this notion. If we follow positionalities” of normative Vladimir Propp’s deconstruction sexuality. of narrative character types in Morphology of the Folktale It is perhaps understandable that (published in Russian in 1928), Bound adopts sexual stereotypes the male or butch performing in order to reach a bigger as male is the “hero” and the audience. However, Bound female/femme is the “damsel in questions and challenges these distress”. This is not the case in notions of heteronormativity by Bound, however, as Corky and foregrounding the homosexual Violet, perform both the “hero” relationship, offering the and the “damsel”, foregrounding homosexual characters as heroes the idea of queer sexuality as and demonising the “dominant” fluid. male. Even though it also adopts homosexual stereotypes, Caesar (Joe Pantoliano), Violet’s particularly in its depiction of boyfriend, also plays a key butch Corky, Violet’s sexuality role in the narrative. Caesar is left ambiguous and, since is a money launderer for the she is the strongest character mafia. Caesar is depicted as the in the film, this successfully dominant, hegemonic male promotes the idea of sexuality within the household, but not and gender as fluid. The film sets within his role in “The Business”. up a binary in Corky and Violet, However, when his job and his with challenging the stereotypes money are stripped from him, embodied by Corky. Because Violet becomes dominant. Her of its success in doing this, the awareness of normative gender film mocks the homosexual roles gives her the advantage stereotype, representing it to the to manipulate and perform her audience as an outdated way to gender. She understands her perceive homosexuality. feminine role as passive and
Diegesis: Play. Pause. Rewind. 23
he Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the London 2012 Olympics are two very big events for Britain this year. Not only are they a celebration of the Queen’s 60-year reign of the throne but also a celebration of nations coming together in London to compete in sport. As a result of this there will be a lot of pressure on Britain to show the rest of the world what we are made of. The Queen herself plays a significant role in this as her reputation as a leader is one that is well-respected and loved across the world. Many nations such as America do not have a royal family so when events such as the Royal Wedding take place, many people across the globe become obsessed with our regal traditions. This may come from the classic fairytale ideology of Kings and Queens and Princes and Princesses. Traditional fairy tales and classic Disney films have helped paint an idyllic picture that many of us are familiar with. But it is not often that we see what it is really like to live the life of a Queen and the pressures that are present at times of crisis.
A ROYAL AF FAI R KIRSTY WILLIS 24 Diegesis: Play. Pause. Rewind.
The Queen (2006) provides audiences with an interesting and realistic insight into the life of Queen Elizabeth II. The film was presented as a biopic; a genre that has been the subject of much critical debate regarding its status as a factual or fictional film. The concept of a biopic is to portray a person that actually did, or still does, exist. It is expected that the film is based around what happened in the person’s life. However, arguments arise when exploring the accuracy of the biopic. It is determined by how closely the films match the people they are portraying and the events that happen.
According to film scholar Dennis Bingham in Whose Lives Are They Anyway? The Biopic as Contemporary Film Genre (2010), often “there are instances where the filmmakers see the need to ‘complete’ history, to fill in what didn’t happen with what a viewer might wish to see happen.” This can be the case with private moments in people’s lives where no one except the person in question really knows what happened, leaving filmmakers to piece together information they have gained in order to build a narrative. This also applies to how well they “know” the character and to what extent their personality comes across on screen. The Queen is based around what supposedly happened behind closed doors and explores how the Queen (played by Helen Mirren) dealt with the death of Princess Diana (played by Diana lookalike Laurence Burg). The motivation for this film comes from an audience’s curiosity and interest in the Royal Family in relation to such a sensitive subject. This leaves filmmakers in a position where, on the one hand, they need to provide audiences with a reaction from the Queen that would fit well with their perception of the situation yet, on the other hand, there is a need to still be respectful towards the Queen and the Royal Family due to their status. Helen Mirren mainly portrays Elizabeth when she is out of the public eye yet still surrounded by a lot of people, whether they are family or staff. The film is mainly set in Balmoral Castle which appears to be quite a busy place despite being the home of the Royal Family. Although the Queen is depicted as comfortable around the people she is with, she still needs to act with a degree of responsibility. The pressure
comes with the news of Princess Diana’s death; she not only has to deal with the situation as the Queen but she also has to provide support as a mother and a grandmother to Prince Charles (Alex Jennings) and the two young Princes William (Jake Taylor Shantos) and Harry (Dash Barber). Mirren displays as little emotion as possible to show she is staying strong and is in control of the situation. The Queen Mother’s (veteran British actress Sylvia Syms) reminder to The Queen – “Duty first, self second” – reinforces the importance of putting other people before herself. However the debate which is at the centre of the film is: is her duty primarily towards her grandsons or the public? The film draws from popular discourse to show how the public were upset that the Queen failed to make a public appearance to show an expression of grief. The film suggests that public displays of emotion are something that the Queen has been brought up to believe are inappropriate and something that should be kept private. Therefore it would have been quite difficult for her when she finally agreed to make a live public statement. Mirren’s delivery of the public address is composed and dignified; it is performed very simply in a straightforward and controlled manner. The emphasis is on the words she is saying and how she is saying them rather than her facial expressions, which remain relatively neutral. The scene is filmed in a way that reflects how the Queen usually presents herself in public and provides a strong message for her public. Mirren also provides the audience with a perception of how the Queen may have dealt with her emotions privately. The film implies that only once she was completely alone and
secluded from everyone else was she able to release some emotion and allow herself to grieve. This is done in a way that reflects the Queen’s public persona; it is dignified and proper. In Mirren’s public performance, a brave front is being put on to keep in line with the public’s expectations and her private performance is something unexpected and unknown, it shows her with her guard down and as a “real” person. Overall Mirren provides audiences with an insight into the Queen’s life that would not be available to them in reality. By presenting the film as a biopic it implies that it is an accurate depiction of the Queen’s life. Yet, as most of the film takes place away from the public eye, it cannot provide a complete record of events. As the majority of the public do not personally know the Queen they rely on what they are told by the media to shape their own perception of her, therefore films like The Queen and The King’s Speech (2010) have the potential to have a significant influence on public perception. By creating a biopic film it allows “history” to reach a much wider audience, which means that people who may not have much prior knowledge of the events that are told will use these films as their main source of reference. Many people have always been fascinated by the Queen and the Royal Family, they are constantly under pressure to maintain a strong reputation and hold the country together whilst representing a sense of strength and unity to the rest of the world. The Queen and Mirren’s performance reveals the personal and emotional struggles behind this steadfast public image, showing the human behind the crown.
Diegesis: Play. Pause. Rewind. 25
S H O R T H A N D
From Dog Tales to Dinosaurs
ith many elements showing signs of similarity, the question of adaptation arises when considering Paddy Considine’s short film and directorial debut Dog Altogether (2007) and its feature-length equivalent Tyrannosaur (2011). It is often thought that short film is the space to experiment in the journey towards making feature-length films. The problem with this is that in terms of Dog Altogether and Tyrannosaur, the short precursor clearly serves as more than just a narrative and filmic trial-run. The shift from short to feature film can challenge conventional ideas of short-film-aspractice and can help to understand the feature in a more informed way. The main premise around adapting a text seems to be in taking key events and essentially filling in
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the gaps as Robert Stam and Alessandra Raengo have discussed in their analysis of film versions of literary texts in A Companion to Literature and Film (2004). The implication is that the short film is adapted in order to be complete. This is problematic when discussing the relationship between Dog Altogether and Tyrannosaur. It does not accurately describe or define the process that Dog Altogether has undergone in order to become Tyrannosaur. Instead of taking key events Tyrannosaur seems to build upon and expand what is already present in the original short rather than simply fill in the gaps. It seems to devalue the short film which undermines its role and relationship to the feature and as a text of its own. As director Paddy Considine has pointed out, Dog Altogether did indeed feel like “the beginning of
a bigger movie” but had never intended to make a feature film. Instead he said he “just took the idea of going along with the female character, and then started writing the script from the point where the short finished.” The d i r e c t o r ’s intent ion to expand and develop characters illustrates how Dog Altogether’s influence on the feature film reveals more than a consideration through adaptation would by the fact that many characters are established, enhanced and expanded on. As Linda Cowgill points out in Writing Short Films (2005) “characters are usually created to fit the story, not the other way around”
and in the case of Considine’s short film Joseph (Peter Mullan) demonstrate how character is story – a point that is evident in the feature film where the emphasis is on character-driven drama rather than a plot-driven narrative. The decision to build on the central characters is clearly apparent in the development of Hannah (Olivia Colman) too. In the short film she has no back story and appears to simply function as a, albeit crucial, catalyst for Joseph’s character to react to. Arguably Considine’s use of Hannah in Tyrannosaur means that the film is as much about Hannah as it is Joseph, as we are invited into her life to meet her violent husband and witness her victimisation and abuse at his hands. Enhancing the characters and introducing new situations help to essentially explain and define Joseph and Hannah whose first meeting in the short (which is repeated in the feature) is central to character and story. Other minor characters from the short film take now firmly share the stage too. One such character is the young boy, who appears for a very brief time in the short film, as Joseph ruffles his hair and smiles. What we can understand from this brief encounter in Dog Altogether
is that there is some established friendship and familiarity. Tyrannosaur creates multiple encounters between Joseph and this child creating a surrogate father/son relationship through increased engagement between the two, allowing for a greater understanding of the bond between them; much more than just filling in the gaps. We see not only how characters are developed in order to further define the central ones, but also how the audience who are familiar with Dog Altogether are encouraged to engage with these characters through a preexisting understanding of Hannah and Joseph.
“character-driven drama rather than a plot-driven narrative.” Cowgill has claimed of shorts that “in the best films plot is character” because short films have to be economical and so have to depend upon character to communicate their ideas. What we see in Tyrannosaur are characters now associated with the grander themes of social realism which Julia Hallam and Margaret Marshment note in Realism and Popular Cinema (2000) is particularly about “the development of character through depictions that emphasise the relationship between location and identity”. It is clear that the feature film owes a debt to the approach to form and content, as well as location and identity, established in Dog Altogether: an altogether perfectly well made short film.
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Of Bugs and men
n filmmaking, every film is a learning process. In his article “Towards a Poetics of the Short Film” (1998), Johannes Riis argues that the short provides the “opportunity to practice and improve narrative skills without the costs and pains of a long production period”, suggesting that for filmmakers, producing a short film acts as a stepping stone, a place in which they can hone their filmmaking skills before they move onto the feature film. There does seem to be a general consensus, through the history of film, that the short film form is the place for learning skills. As Peter Rea and David Irving note in Producing and Directing the Short Film and Video (2010): “Many major European directors who became famous in the 1930s and 1940s began their careers in the 1920s with short films: Jean Renoir, Renè Clair, Luis Buñuel, and Julien Duvivier are among them. […] These filmmakers played visual tricks with the medium, dealing with surrealistic film fantasies. They later incorporated into their features many of the filmic ideas explored in these short experimental films.” Historically, then, short films have been a place for students and newly starting filmmakers to practice their craft and hone their skills. However, this runs the risk of undermining the value of short films as it implies that
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they are not as accomplished as feature-length films, despite the fact short films can be award-winning pieces of work by their own merit. It is not a simple movement from shorts to features but an entire evolutionary process. For Christopher Nolan there is a visible three-step process in perfecting the craft of experimental film narrative. His first three films – Doodle Bug (1997) Following (1998) and Memento (2000) – not only show a steady increase in duration throughout his body of work (from 3 minutes, to 69 minutes, to 113 minutes) but also offer a continuing learning and practicing timeline. Doodle Bug is a short film in which a man is trying to crush what we assume to be a bug in his flat but which turns out to be a smaller version of himself. The audience is left with a sense of ambiguity due to the trick editing where the duplicate versions of Jeremy appear and it becomes unclear where the narrative is going. It is because of the ambiguity that a short film like this becomes difficult to categorise in terms of narrative as it does not sit comfortably with Aristotle’s ida of classical narrative structure
“it is not a simple movement from shorts to features but an entire evolutionary process”
as beginning/initiation of action-middle/complication of action-end/resolution of complicating action. If Doodle Bug’s narrative does not fit entirely into the category of classical narrative due to this uncertain ending, then it may be better suited under the heading of experimental film. In Writing the Short Film (2004), Patricia Cooper and Ken Dancyger argue that in experimental narrative it is the form or style that is often more important than the content itself. “The usual elements that shape a story – a goal-directed main character, a plot – and a traditional genre all tend to be subverted in the experimental narrative”, they note, “We are left with the powerful stylistic elements of the experience”. Doodle Bug does seem to use the narrative as a means for the stylistic elements to be portrayed, making narrative a secondary priority. The experience for the audience is definitely with the trick editing rather than the goal for the young man to crush the bug. Nolan is interested in psychological elements, foregrounding perceptions of insanity and fear; Doodle Bug could be described as experimental as a result, a form well suited to the short film form. The impact of the trick editing would be lost if not kept in the short film form. Following is the story of Bill (again played by Theobald), a young aspiring writer who becomes involved in burglaries with con-man
In Memento, one plot line within the film is entirely backwards. The audience is shown the ending first and it works back from there; the plot design is not concealed but revealed as a way of involving the audience in the confused mind of Leonard. The structure of time becomes even more scrambled from Following to Memento, developing his earlier formalistic narratives. Memento is highly experimental and it is not often that audiences will come across an entirely backwards film but this didn’t hinder its success and it performed very well at the box-office. Compared to Nolan’s later films The Dark Knight (2008) and Inception (2010), there is clearly a direct relationship in terms of style and Nolan’s desire to portray psychological elements visually. Cobb (Alex Haw) and his femme fatale partner (Lucy Russell). He is set-up and persuaded to commit crimes. Aristotle uses the term “peplegmenos” for complex narratives, which literally means interwoven and is clearly applicable to Following as it is not edited together in an entirely linear fashion. This is in keeping with Louis Giannetti’s description of formalistic narratives in Understanding Movies (2008), which “luxuriate in their artificiality. Time is often scrambled and rearranged to hammer home a thematic point more forcefully. The design of the plot is not concealed but heightened. It’s part of the show”. This narrative theory can be applied to Following because of the scrambled and rearranged scenes. Giannetti
proposes that this is part of the show, to amplify the viewing experience of the narrative. Returning to Riis’s argument about the short as steppingstone, the experimental style that is witnessed in Doodle Bug is also evident in Following; its formalistic narrative contrasts with Aristotle’s theory of classical plots as its events are not arranged in a single continuous action so it makes it more fitting to experimental film. Nolan’s desire to push the boundaries of classical narrative and try something new is evidenced with both case studies; he takes the classical narrative and literally pulls it apart. That this pulling apart is more pronounced, more developed with Following than Doodle Bug reinforces the idea of evolutionary process of filmmaking from shorts to features.
There is strong evidence to show that Riis’s claim about the short as a tool for practice is relevant. Yet this does not mean that it can be applied to every filmmaker. For example, from artist-turned-director Sam Taylor-Wood’s short Still Life (2001) to featurelength film Nowhere Boy (2009) there is no relationship between the two either stylistically or thematically. There is strong evidence to show that short film is a place for practicing but for artists like Taylor-Wood it is a place to be creative and express ideas.
Lucy Ravenhall Diegesis: Shorthand 29
hat is the relationship between a short film and its feature-length adaptation? As the previous article noted, short film is widely accepted as a mere experimental stage for filmmakers to practice their narrative technique before moving up to feature length film (Riis, “Towards a Poetics of the Short Film” 1998). If Johannes Riis’s theory is accurate, some sort of progression and consistency should be evident in comparing Martin McDonagh’s short Six Shooter (2004) and his feature-length adaptation In Bruges (2008). One example of this would be the similarity of character types such as Kid (Ruaidhrí Conroy, pictured over page) in Six Shooter compared to Ray (Colin Farrell, pictured centre) from In Bruges. Kid is incredibly outspoken, foulmouthed and overall socially inept, delivering a barrage of abuse to a grieving couple he is travelling with to the point that the mother jumps off the train. Ray is also outspoken, frequently expressed in numerous politically incorrect statements. Ray is a more developed character with traits more like that of a young child, such as his fascination with dwarfs or his frequent nagging to Ken (Brendan Gleeson, pictured right) about being bored during sightseeing.
This father/son relationship is explored further in In Bruges as Ken looks after Ray, keeping him from getting into trouble, teaching him about morality and even holding him as he cries. In Six Shooter, Donnelly (Gleeson) protects the Kid when the grieving father lashes out at him. There are some moments where Donnelly tries to hide a smirk when hearing some of Kid’s inappropriate comments. This protector relationship is more subtle than In Bruges. These examples suggests that McDonagh used Six Shooter as a practice ground to test some narrative strategies which were later developed into actual themes in his feature film. The biggest example of a minor theme in Six Shooter that has been further developed in In Bruges is the idea of death of an innocent. In Six Shooter much of the plot revolves around the two cot deaths mentioned in the beginning. In the feature it is revealed that the reason Ray and Ken are hiding in Bruges is because Ray accidently killed a young boy. While the death of an innocent was an integral part of the plot in Six Shooter, In Bruges uses it as a catalyst for the entire plot. McDonagh clarifies why he chose such a dark storyline:
“What happens when something goes wrong? What happens if the wrong person – an innocent – is killed? How do you deal with that? How can you live with it as a human being? I was trying to explore the human side of the hitman film. It was a deliberate setup and then knocking that down and going to a different place”. McDonagh explains that he liked the idea of exploring the morality of these apparent cold-hearted killers and look at how they rationalise the choices they have made both to themselves and to the audience. The audience empathise with Ray and his erratic behaviour when it is revealed that he accidently killed a child and he is clearly full of remorse. The same can be said about Ken’s chosen career path when he tells the story of his wife’s murder. McDonagh has explored the idea of slowly revealing to an audience why these people are the way they are. McDonagh’s method of identification was first achieved with Kid in Six Shooter, though perhaps less obvious. He rarely gives up his almost psychotically playful façade, but there are glimpses which are more evident on second viewing. Despite these somewhat morbid themes, both films are humorous. The sheer amount of dark events in such close proximity in Six Shooter, combined with Kid’s surreal yet believable response to all the drama, make the film appear so absurd. The end line of the film “Oh Jesus, what a fucking day” is in fact the punch-line to the whole film, showing that there is humour to be found in just how bad things can get in just one day. In In Bruges the amount of unfortunate events experienced by the characters is more frequent and extended over the course of a long weekend, added to the fact that Ray hates the country regardless of what is going on. With their similar character types, narrative strategies, themes and dark comedy, it seems both films support the idea that the short film is just a testing ground for filmmakers to practice technique for their move to feature films. Yet this is at the level of content. In form, it can be argued that the opposite is taking place. Without trying to undermine its effect, Six Shooter is very simplistic in style with few risks being taken. For example, the short has no score while In Bruges has a very unconventional score for a humorous film, described by McDonagh as
“a little doom-laden”. In Bruges uses music to actually sway the audience’s emotions away from the humour in between moments of laughter. This eerie score works well with the artistic moments of montage, a technique that is also absent in Six Shooter. There are lengthy moments of footage of Bruges architecture and artistic paintings that add to the mood of doom and redemption. This can be seen as a further manipulation of emotions quite similar to the Kuleshov effect. The spectator may have just seen the artistic paintings of Hell and Purgatory; combined with Carter Burwell’s score and a cut to Ray’s forlorn expression, the audience make the connection to the character’s guilt and fear over his sins. This sort of emotional manipulation is rare in a comedy. This is a bold choice, as the audience may not like the feeling of fluctuating between feelings of joy and then melancholy. These techniques are absent from Six Shooter. There are several points that support Riis’s idea that the short is a practice for the feature. The similar content between the two films evoke a completely different emotional response from the spectator due to the relationship between form and content. Whereas McDonagh established some innovative strategies for the narrative content of Six Shooter, he did not apply the same amount of innovation to the film’s form. This is not necessarily a criticism. The film serves its purpose as a realistic and thought-provoking film but does not exhibit the experimentation with film form that is evident in the feature.
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M A R G I N S
s an adult male standing at 5’4” I have often been the subject of the odd height related joke, yet my own experiences barely compare to those born with the numerous forms of dwarfism. Is this condition, labelled by some as a disability, a hindrance to the aspiring actor or a benefit? Dwarf actors have long been typecast into either mythical roles in fantasy films or in comedic roles. Even today,
32 Diegesis: At the Margins
actors such as Warwick Davis are given costumes in films such as Harry Potter to play Goblins, mythological dwarfs or similar. Yet due to the rarity of their condition, acting in such roles can be easy to come by for many, much easier than roles for actors of a “normal” height. However this also shows clear evidence of exploitation, something which many dwarf actors are forced to endure.
H E I G H RESTRICTION
Bridget Powers (more commonly known as “Bridget the Midget”, a term considered offensive by the dwarf community), is an extreme example of this exploitation. She has appeared in a large number of pornographic films designed purely for curious customers or those with a fetish for women of her stature, such as Las Vegas Revue 2000 (2000) and Bridget PI (1999). Despite the nature of this exploitation, Bridget has stated in interviews that she has come to accept this exploitation as she considers most people of all walks of life are exploited in some way or another.
Political correctness has led to clampdowns on some forms of prejudice yet those with dwarfism seem less immune to certain “humourous” discrimination. It appears that abuse aimed at dwarfs, however insignificant, is considered more acceptable to the media than racism or other forms of bigotry. An example of this is in the first series of Psychoville (2009) in which a group of dwarfs are unable to jump up onto a stage and so have to find the stairs. Although this may appear light-hearted, it is nevertheless intent on deriving humour from their condition.
For some, the stigma attached to such conditions can become too much. David Rappaport was an English actor who aspired to be much more than a panto dwarf. Alongside early comedic roles, including a notable cameo in the eighties sitcom The Young Ones (1982), Rappaport gained much acclaim for his performance in Terry Gilliam’s fantasy film Time Bandits (1981). Rappaport played the leader of a gang of dwarf thieves with the ability to travel through time. Unlike many dwarf actors in the film, he brought a depth to his character which gained him much attention from across the Atlantic.
Despite these isolated examples, there are some actors who have appeared in roles which do not highlight their stature in a way which may be deemed exploitative or unfair. Lisa Hammond was introduced into the children’s series Grange Hill (1978) as a character intended on raising awareness about dwarfism. She has since had a notable role in the comedy show Max and Paddy’s Road to Nowhere (2004) as Max’s (Peter Kay) ex-lover. Interestingly she also appeared in Psychoville which, as well as employing cheap laughs from dwarfism, also drew attention to the problems dwarf actors have with typecasting.
Rappaport went on to appear in CBS show The Wizard (1986) which was far from the typical fantasy film its name might lead one to believe it is. The Wizard appeared at first to be Rappaport’s big break, in which he played the lead role, however the show didn’t obtain the audience required to be kept running and it was cancelled after only 19 episodes. Despite a few cameo roles here and there, the pressures of life became too much and he tragically took his own life in 1990. While the life of a dwarf actor can, on rare occasions, lead to stardom, even fame can bring more tragedy than happiness.
exploitation. Ricky Gervais, who has provided the dwarf star Warwick Davis with recent television success, has a long tradition of deriving humour from potentially offensive situations with the intention of either deliberately antagonising the audience for comic effect, or by stating that the joke is on the character who is being ignorant, not the victim of the prejudice. Life’s Too Short (2011, pictured) is a mockumentary filled with examples of such humour whereby the characters who poke fun at dwarfism are not to be laughed with, but to be laughed at. It is up to the viewer to decide whether or not this is offensive, but both Gervais and Davis insist that they have no intention of upsetting dwarfs themselves, and if they want to offend anyone it is people who “can’t take a joke” or do not understand the meaning of irony. Critics, however, are still divided on the show and Gervais’ attitude has left some brand him with arrogance, claiming he has no authority on what is or is not deemed offensive.
Peter Dinklage is a dwarf actor fortunate enough to be cast in a role which barely highlights his condition at all; he was highly commended for his role in The Station Agent (2003) proving that dwarf actors can be respected for their acting ability rather than the way they look. The Emmy award winning show Game of Thrones (2011) is a recent success for Dinklage, and another serious, awardwinning role for the actor.
With acting parts still relatively rare for dwarf actors, the question of what legacy Game of Thrones or Life’s Too Short will leave for them remains unanswered. Perhaps serious acting roles for actors such as Dinklage will lead on to greater things for dwarf actors on the whole. Life’s Too Short leads one to believe that the circus act approach is still very much the preferred outlet for dwarfs however, as it certainly does not shy away from repeated jokes and references regarding Davis’s height, even if he himself approves of them. For now, it would appear that Dinklage is an exception to the rule.
Even when the media does derive humour from dwarfism, in recent years this have often been done with a sense of irony rather than deliberate
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4 INCHES FROM
n the documentary Inside Deep Throat (Channel 4 2008), William Purcell the prosecutor against Deep Throat (1972) is quoted as saying, “A woman seeing this film may think that it is perfectly healthy, perfectly normal if you have a clitoral orgasm. That is all the woman needs. She is wrong. She is wrong...and this film will strengthen her ignorance.” This statement and many other views around the film since its release highlight the issues surrounding the visual knowledge of female pleasure in hard core pornography. After the commercial success of Deep Throat, public pornography became increasingly popular. For a while hardcore pornography had the ability to make it into mainstream cinema. At the same time however, America also saw a rise in feminist debates against pornography. Although there were many debates surrounding the objectification of women, many women felt that the popularity of hardcore pornography was positive in acknowledging that women had a right to sexual pleasure. Deep Throat was the first film
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to explore the clitoral orgasm and to be focused on finding pleasure for a female protagonist. Yet is the film only based around this notion of female sexual gratification? Are dominant male pleasures and phallic symbolism also an essential component of Deep Throat’s popularity and success? Although it could be argued that Deep Throat explores female pleasure, it must be considered that it was also was one of the first films to show the act of fellatio, proving that male pleasure was still dominant. In his article “On Pornography” (1980) John Ellis states “male pleasure is assumed rather than investigated; this provides the security of the male viewer”. This statement applies to hardcore pornography including Deep Throat when investigating visible male pleasure in the “money shot”. Developed from the meat shot of early stag films, the money shot fetishises, in other words fixates upon, the moment of male ejaculation. Fetishising male ejaculation can be seen in other seventies hardcore films such as
Behind the Green Door (1972, pictured over page), which contains a seven minute ejaculation scene stylised with psychedelic colours in slow motion. In an essay in Pornography: Film and Culture (2006) Marty Klein claims “porn imagines a world in which male–female power is equal, because male and female sexual desire are equivalent”. This idea can be seen in Deep Throat when the fellatio money shot is mirrored with Linda Lovelace’s orgasm. Despite the action being mirrored it problematises female’s pleasure as the ejaculating penis is still essential for her sexual satisfaction. During this act of fellatio Lovelace’s face is slightly hidden from the spectator. However the camera cuts between this act and a close-up of the doctor’s face in enjoyment; even during a scene that is supposed to concentrate on the female orgasm, the camera fixates upon the doctor’s enjoyment which, in turn, highlights the penis as vital in achieving orgasm for both genders. As a result, after displaying the female orgasm in the first half of the film, the second half largely ignores
Lovelace’s sexual needs and predominantly focuses on male pleasure. Even though the penis is presumed to be vital for both male and female pleasure, without the existence of the female body heterosexual male pleasure could not be achieved. The female body is also an iconic symbol for pleasure in pornography as it is aimed to arouse the dominant audience: heterosexual males. The dominance of male pleasure and the importance of the phallic presence is reminiscent of the debates made by feminists about hardcore pornography, who argued that pornography made “cultural stereotypes of women as victim, made vulnerable through sex” (Laurence O’Toole, Pornocopia, 1998). Nonetheless what many antiporn feminists didn’t explore was the concept of female pleasure. In Hard Core: Power, Pleasure and the “Frenzy of the Visible” (1989), Linda Williams notes that issues of sexual satisfaction were never explored in film and they showed that “to insert a penis into any orifice was automatically presumed to be satisfying for both man and woman”.
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Deep Throat wanted to explore these unaddressed issues in female gratification. Even though male pleasure is still important in the visualisation of the film, displaying female pleasure is how Deep Throat became such a success. In contrast to the visible display of male sexual pleasure is the display of female pleasure which becomes difficult to represent in the same way the money shot signifies male pleasure. Deep Throat acknowledged female satisfaction by intercutting symbolic shots between Lovelace and a rocket setting off, connoting explosive pleasure. The image of the rocket is problematic however, as it is phallic in shape and can therefore represent the male doctor’s climax. As Williams states in the documentary “It’s harder to show female pleasure and believe it is actually happening”. It is evident that showing female pleasure is more complex than showing male pleasure, as it is invisible to the viewer and actresses are able to “fake” their reactions on screen that is not possible with the money shot. Issues of invisible pleasure were explored further in Deep Throat with the recognition of the clitoral orgasm. Helen Gurley author of Sex and the Single Girl (1962) says that orgasms were only associated with males and that female sexual pleasure was largely ignored. At the beginning of Deep Throat we see Lovelace stumbling upon her roommate Helen, receiving oral sex from an anonymous man. In her position Helen is presented as dominant over the male. The focus of this short scene is the pleasure she receives and the importance of achieving pleasure without the need of a penis. The sex scenes that follow show both Helen and Lovelace having sex with more anonymous men who are there to help the women achieve orgasmic pleasure. On the one
hand this shows the power women can have in taking control of finding their own pleasure. On the other hand it offers women as sexual objects, letting unknown men use them for male sexual pleasure. Although Helen is able to reach orgasm without penetration, Lovelace is dependant on the penis for her sexual pleasure. This dependancy is even seen in the conclusion of the film when she agrees to marry Wilbur. since he has a 13 inch penis which is vital for her own enjoyment. As society has progressed and become more open to the idea of sex, women have also become common consumers of pornography. Therefore a question worth addressing is what can pornography offer women now? Hardcore pornography has developed since the early seventies through to diverse contemporary pornography. Pornography has become easier to access through millions of Internet sites, DVDs and magazines. More fantasies, extreme and tame, are being discovered due to porn accommodating multiple pleasures. With female pleasure becoming a prominent part of contemporary society, films are being created solely for women. Female porn directors such as Anna Span have become very influential. For example, Span’s short film Lisa & Sam’s Woodland Romp (2007) sees a couple decide to have sex discreetly in a wooded area of a park. Compared to hardcore pornography aimed at men, The penis is hidden from the viewer. This shows that to focus on the enjoyment of females the penis should not be fetishised, which in turn creates a shift from hardcore to softcore for female enjoyment. Another Span short, Shooting Baby in the Park (2007), sees two girls having sex instead of a stereotypical
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heterosexual couple. What is interesting about this film is that the oral sex is discreet and the viewer never fully sees the female genitals. From looking at these two films to gain female pleasure the penis must become insignificant. Another significance is the fact that they don’t fetishise the money shot. In earlier hardcore pornography the money shot was used to express the film’s climactic ending. In Lisa & Sam’s Woodland Romp, although it is clear Sam has orgasmed the viewer doesn’t see him ejaculate. In One for the Girls! (2007) Clarissa Smith conducts a study interviewing female consumers of pornography. It is clear from Smith’s findings and from works such as Span’s that the porn industry is everevolving. In current society women are able to enjoy porn and have more opportunities to access it through websites such as cliterati.co.uk, which are run by women for women. Looking at pornography through the decades there has been a clear shift in gender consumption and what is displayed to the viewer. Even though men are still the dominant audience for porn, women have been given space to explore their own pleasures. Over time it has been established that women want to experience and witness pleasure on and off screen as much as men. Female pleasure will forever be problematic in conventional hardcore pornography, where male’s visible pleasure and the iconic penis remains more important than the invisible, “alien” pleasures of women (Williams). Perhaps if society becomes even more open to a diverse range of sexual pleasure, the conventional nature of hardcore pornography will be replaced by a more accessible range for men, women, gay and straight.
In Canadian cinema weird sex is like snow; it’s everywhere. It has its roots in the history of Canadian Literature, where scores of potent women and passive men have tried and failed to find communion through sex. The nation’s cinema is just as dependent on the same key themes as its literature, there is something deep in the national psyche that keeps filmmakers from the frozen north returning to weird sex. Once upon a time, Porky’s (1981) was the highest grossing film in Canadian box-office history. That might not sound too impressive but, if we are talking about a national cinema preoccupied with sex, a story about a group of teenage boys looking for it at any cost might be a good place to start. Porky’s fared well across the border in the US – indeed, it was marketed for universal appeal – but essentially it held the same message in its heart as the smaller Canadian productions under discussion here: that sex is a central preoccupation in the national psyche. The key difference is that the smaller national productions were perhaps more able to wear their hearts on their sleeves. There is something so deeply ingrained in the Canadian experience that speaks of weird sex that it returns time and again without much outcry (well, unless it is at Cannes). From Patrick in Don McKellar’s Last Night (1999) who refuses to have sex on the last night on earth in case it is bad sex, to Maury Chaykin and Margaret Langrick’s incestuous father-daughter duo in Vic Sarin’s Cold Comfort (1989), there is something unusual happening behind closed doors. To be honest, it is not always behind closed doors; any number of David Cronenberg films takes the country’s anxieties out in to the world. The transformative sex in Cronenberg’s films – from The Brood (1979) and Videodrome (1982) to Dead Ringers (1988) and Crash (1996) – is always suggestive of the link between sex and death. But this is not surprising; horror cinema allows for a more specific representation of gendered identities in national contexts. Whether Japanese, American, or Canadian, national horror cinemas are often characterised by their depictions of sexuality.
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Cronenberg touches on some truths in his exploration of sex and death. Most of the films that would fall under the “weird sex” banner are concerned with the same thing: a negative affirmation and a reminder to live by becoming as close as physically possible to death. One other explicit example of the embodiment of these themes is Maelström (2000), directed by Denis Villeneuve (who went on to direct the critically acclaimed Incendies (2010) see Tristan Hosken’s review on page 20). Maelström follows the story of Bibi (Marie-Josée Croze), who undergoes an abortion in the opening moments of the film only to then drown her guilt in alcohol before driving home and hitting somebody with her car. She descends into a spiral of meaningless sex in a self-destructive attempt to alleviate the guilt. Abortion and dead children (literally or figuratively) are also common themes in Canadian film and literature. Abortion is one of the central issues in the seminal slasher flick Black Christmas (1974), and “dead” children show up in The Brood, The Changeling (1980), and even in a gentler film like Mon oncle Antoine (1971). Again, these themes may be at their most explicit in Canada’s horror cinema, but what is important is that these themes are not simply conventions of genre, as in their history in Canadian literature they aid in the construction of national identity. There are a lot of films from Canada that deal with weird sex in all its guises: asexuality, incest, necrophilia, periphilia and sadomasochism. What follows are four short reviews of key films demonstrating Canada’s penchant for the weird and wonderful world of dysfunctional sex. This is not by any means an exhaustive list, but I hope that it is at least representative. That these four films were all made within seven years of each other might say as much about the disconnectedness of the era as it does about Canadian cinema. A fuller account of these films, and many more, can be found in Katherine Monk’s Weird Sex & Snowshoes: and other Canadian Film Phenomena (2001).
Crash (David Cronenberg 1996) Exotica (Atom Egoyan 1994) A man becomes obsessed with a young stripper. Why? Because she reminds him of his dead daughter, of course. What starts out looking like a narrative of paedophilic obsession quickly takes a sharp turn towards incest, before pulling off course again and resting at a heartbreaking story of loss and an inability to connect. The characters here expect sex to ease the loneliness but only end up reminding themselves of everything they have lost.
Based on the 1973 J. G. Ballard novel, James Spader stars as a man exploring the links between sex and death after surviving a car crash in which another man is killed. The result is the discovery of a sexuality linked directly to the violence of the crash. Shots of broken bodies and broken cars abound in this musing on survivor guilt and sexual dysfunction. There is also a James Dean death-cult and some fine performances from Elias Koteas, Holly Hunter and Deborah Unger.
Suspicious River (Lynne Stopkewich 2000)
Kissed (Lynne Stopkewich 1996) Kissed (pictured) presents us with another character exploring the relationship between sex and death as Sandra (Molly Parker) crosses the line by consummating her passion with the cadaverous men who pass through her place of work: a funeral parlour. A search for negative affirmation – she feels alive simply because she is not dead – results in necrophilia and collides with Canadian cinema’s typical representations of the passive male/potent female.
Four years after Kissed, we find Molly Parker in another leading role for director Lynne Stopkewich as a woman looking for a connection with the men that pass through her place of work. This time, however, we step away from necrophilia into the realms of sadomasochism, with the story of a motel worker that engages in meaningless, degrading sexual encounters with strangers. These encounters eventually turn violent but it is not enough to stop her. A particularly harrowing rape scene holds the key to the secret behind this woman’s search for feeling.
Singin’ in the Pain
Lars von Trier’s film is not to be taken lightly. Björk stars as Selma, a Czechoslovakian immigrant in America, who escapes to a world of Classical Hollywood musicals to cope with the struggles of her everyday life. These struggles including going blind, trying to stop her son from going blind, murdering her friend, and the dire consequences of her actions. Yes, it is a heavy film. In Dancer in the Dark (2000) director and writer von Trier manages to make a film which abides by and breaks almost every convention of the musical genre, whilst successfully managing
to deflate the souls of everyone watching. As a filmmaker, von Trier is no stranger to controversial and harsh subject matter. Dancer in the Dark is no exception, being the third film in what he deems the “Golden Heart Trilogy”, following Breaking the Waves (1996) and The Idiots (1998). Each film tackles a different will found within the human spirit. Breaking the Waves investigates sexuality, religion and marriage, Idiots questions the details of mental health, and Dancer reveals exactly what a mother would do for her child, and the lengths to which a person will go to escape reality. Von
Trier pushes his protagonists to their very end, pushes his actors to their respective ends and ultimately pulls us in, pushing us to our ends, as though we were there with them.
The main convention of the musical genre he follows is obvious: the film features songs. No surprises there. How does it break it? They don’t count. Each and every song featured (which is only about six) involves Björk’s character, Selma, escaping from reality, daydreaming that the sounds around her, from factory machinery, to trains, pencils and footsteps, make their own rhythms
and provide her with musical accompaniment. The people around her dance and sing with her, regardless of whether or not they can actually sing. And thus, we have another convention being met and broken. Björk herself has a brilliant voice, pushed to its full heartbreaking potential, though her Czech accent leaves a lot to be desired, whereas her supporting cast are not so strong with their vocals. The song “I’ve Seen It All”, featuring only her and would-be boyfriend Jeff (Peter Stormare, perhaps best remembered for ending up in a wood-chipper in the Coen Brothers’ 1996 film Fargo) polarises this convention. Björk can sing, Stormare not so much. He may not fit the musical world she strives for, but he is not meant to; it is her musical, not his. This point is furthered in the film’s final song, which for the purposes of this article I will name “The Next to Last Song”. In the final, emotionally crushing scene, there is no music; nothing in the room which could provide Selma with any noise or rhythms. Without trying to give too much away (which will be almost impossible), she finally receives some good news, and begins to sing. With no music or noise, she turns to the one thing she has left: herself. She listens to her heart, and begins to sing aloud. The change here is that we do not partake with her. We are nothing more than those watching her; this woman singing aloud, a capella, to herself. We have made the switch from escaping her reality with musicals, to being nothing more than a supporting role, watching her escape to a musical world she will not even get to finish. Just as “I’ve Seen It All”
is not Jeff ’s musical, this ending is not ours, but solely Selma’s. Selma may passively indulge in musicals via her imaginative escapes, but there is also an active involvement within the film. She rehearses for the part of Maria in a local performance of The Sound of Music, even using the song “My Favourite Things” to escape reality; she goes to the cinema with her friend and colleague Cvalda “Kathy” (Catherine Deneuve), who talks her through what is happening, even using her fingers to act out the dance moves on screen on Selma’s palm. Even if she cannot watch the musicals anymore, Selma longs to know about them. Ultimately, she does not want them to end, expressing to Kathy in the cinema how she would stop watching at “the next to last song”, in order to avoid the big finish, thus allowing it to continue on.
Selma longs to escape from her mundane life but has no way out
The musicals tell her she is doing the right thing. She sings about how going blind really does not matter in “I’ve Seen It All”, whereas in the song “Scatterheart” she has herself, and anyone around telling her, she had no choice but to kill her friend. So much so, that during the song he rises from the dead to voice his forgiveness of her and swiftly wash the blood from his face, as he tells her to leave (as his wife tells Selma run, too). She is so obsessed with an idealistic American Dream, she does anything she can to escape the reality of her actions, and what better place to
find the American Dream than the musicals. The standardised classic musical would involve a protagonist down on their luck, perhaps impoverished, doing what they can to get by; not unlike Selma. However, the musical world would raise them above their circumstances. My Fair Lady (1964) and Singin’ in the Rain (1952) are both examples of such storylines. A woman is taken from her mundane life, and propelled into excellence, be it the socialite, though not American, world Eliza Doolittle (Audrey Hepburn) is trained for in My Fair Lady, or the heights of stardom Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds) eventually reaches at the end of Singin’. Selma longs to escape her mundane life, she just seems to have no way out. Von Trier tests the musical genre to its very end. Where reality is filmed with a duller colour scheme and lighting, with the use of handheld cameras reminiscent of von Trier’s very own Dogme 95 movement, the musical sequences endorse a much more cinematically conventional style. Static cameras and a brighter colour palette allow Selma to indulge in her imaginary ideal, alluding to the Classical Hollywood musicals she idolises and von Trier challenges. Are these musicals harmless escapism or a problematic unrealistic fantasy? Don’t say both. Applying the different filming techniques, he enhances the harshness of reality, and as the dread of the world seeps into the musical numbers themselves, Björk’s Selma really has nowhere to escape to.
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n The Cult Film Reader (2008) Xavier Mendik argues that “whilst anything can be a cult movie, you cannot guarantee the manufacture of one”. The cult success of Snakes on a Plane (2007) suggests otherwise, particularly in its strategic deployment of the Internet as a means of generating a significant fan base.
In a Cineaste special issue, I. Q. Hunter defines cult films as “movies that are often transgressive, marginal, disasters on first release, or drawn from genres such as horror, science fiction and exploitation, and which have attracted an exceptionally devoted and vociferous fan base”. Mendik has even devised an equation for working out what makes a cult film. His formula – excessive content x elongated release + ecstatic fans = a cult film – was used by Jameson Whiskey to determine their cult film programme in 2010. Both definitions suggest cult films are primarily defined by fan behaviour and content. But what made Snakes on a Plane different? Internet buzz started as soon as the fans heard of the film’s name whilst the film was still in pre-production. Primarily the Internet allows for more fan participation. For example, sites such as YouTube allow a fan to watch a film’s trailer and teaser trailer months before its release and share production stills circulated on fan sites a n d online magazine. The internet provides avid fans with information on a film and updates on a film’s progress at the click of a button and is widely accessible. National statistics show that in 2010, 60% of adults accessed the internet everyday (ONS opinions Survey August 2010). YouTube ranks third in the world’s most accessed websites (after Google and Facebook) and other blogging sites such as Twitter are in the top 10. Blogs offer more levels of participation for fans as filmmakers and actors blog film and news updates at all hours.
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With vast information available on the internet and more and more p e o p l e u s i n g blogging sites and forums to find out information about new film releases, studies show that audience engagement via the internet is rapidly increasing. Before the internet, many say that cult film
was usually defined in accordance with a film’s lack of critical and commercial success. The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) was marketed with only billboards and upon its release many cinemas withdrew the film because of small audience numbers. The film only became popular when it was shown as a midnight screening. Similarly, Reefer Madness (1936), initially an educational film about smoking marijuana, was re-cut as an exploitation film and shown at midnight screenings on college campuses in the 1970s. The introduction of the Internet allowed production companies to genera buzz with production rumours, news about cast members and even
plot spoilers. This creates more opportunity for fans to follow film, to gain quick access to information and find others with shared interest in the film on fan forums. Cult films often e n c ou r a g e a u d i e n c e participation at screenings. Fans dressed up in fancy dress to watch The Rocky Horror Picture Show in the 1970s and this dressing up continues today. With Snakes on a Plane hundreds of fans organised to meet up as groups to go and see the film,
mostly organised over forums such as snakesonablog. com. There were a total of 1876 different threads for different opening night rendezvous across the US. Many would argue that New Line advertised the film to fans alone as an intentionally trashy, bad film. Arguably the film does have some recognisable B-movie characteristics; although B-movies are low budget features, they often feature laughable acting, excessive narrative lines and transgression. All of these feature prominently in Snakes on a Plane, from character stereotypes (a glamour model whose handbag dog is fed to a boa-constrictor by an angry business man) to bad dialogue (“I’ve had it with these motherf*cking snakes on this motherf*cking
plane” a line which was, incidentally, written for star Samuel L. Jackson by the fans). New Line Cinema designed the film to become cult by targeting a key audience and finding the “ecstatic fans”. Targeting a niche audience automatically guaranteed a large fan base primarily on the Internet. As Mark Jancovich writes in Defining Cult Movies (2003), the Internet “has made possible the creation of large niche audience that may be spatially diffuse but can constitute a powerful market force”. By monitoring fan forums throughout production, the studio could edit the film to what the fans wanted: “excessive content”. When the fans demanded more violence and snakes in the film, extra content was re-filmed. As New Line Cinemas did not screen the films to critics and journalists before its release, the fans played a crucial role as creative participants. The film did not do well at the box-office, only generating a modest sum at late night screenings. Making $15 million the opening weekend, ticket sales fell drastically after that, similar to other cult films that performed badly at the box-office such as Donnie Darko (2001) which grossed only $4.1 million but later developed a cult following and DVD sales rapidly increased. From the initial Internet buzz, many assumed that the film would be a guaranteed success. It even inspired a low(er) budget spoof, Snakes on a Train (2006), that went straight to DVD and was a commercial failure. Flight of the Living Dead: Outbreak on a Plane (2007), essentially Snakes on a Plane but with zombies, and Recoil (2008), about snakes on a submarine, did not fare any better. As a Hollywood blockbuster the film was a failure but its intentional cultishness – the excessive content and ecstatic fans – contributed to its success. This would not have been possible without the Internet, which gave fans, in particular cult fans, more access to the film so they could participate in, and even determine, the film as event.
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D I A L G U E 44 Diegesis: Dialogue
HEAD TO HEAD
etween them they’ve worked with Guy Ritchie, Kathryn Bigelow, Sofia Coppola, Baz Luhrmann, and Christopher Nolan... twice; they’ve shared screen time with Leonardo DiCaprio, Christian Bale, Colin Firth, Heath Ledger, Gary Oldman, Guy Pearce and Daniel Craig; their leading ladies include Reese Witherspoon, Kirsten Dunst, Carey Mulligan and Jennifer Garner. Tom Hardy may be Hollywood hot property at the moment but his lawlessness stretches back to his terrifying transformative turn in Bronson (2008) and he’s proved his worth on the small screen in Band of Brothers (2001), The Take (2009) and as a homeless alcoholic in the wonderful TV movie Stuart: A Life Backwards (2007). Joel Edgerton is as prolific with short films as he is with features; as one of the founders of Blue Tongue Films with his brother Nash he was involved in award-winning shorts such as Spider (2007) and Crossbow (2007) (read the excellent article in CUT TO [blood]). Edgerton has also garnered widespread critical acclaim for his performances in the brutal Animal Kingdom (2010) and the recent Sundance favourite Wish You Were Here (2012) As audiences count down the days to a Hardy double-whammy with his role as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises (2012) and taking the lead in Lawless (2012) directed by the talented John Hillcoat of The Road 2009 and The Proposition 2005, and as we eagerly await Edgerton in Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby (2012) and an untitled Kathryn Bigelow project about Osama bin Laden (2012), Claire Scott caught up with the Brit and Aussie to talk about boxing, Bronson and Baz.
On training for Warrior... Hardy: It was a bit like going to school together really. We had boxing class then we had Judo class and then choreography class and then eating chicken class. Edgerton: It felt weird. It felt good to be strong and to learn something new and, standing in the cage wearing a pair of gloves and shorts, you certainly feel like at least part of you belongs. We never had that final thing though that was getting the jitters in your stomach about walking into a ring knowing that the other guy really was trying to knock you out. Hardy: We were often in a bad mood during filming because of the changes to our diet. It puts you in an incredibly bad mood. You’re alright for a couple of hours and then all of a sudden... [clicks fingers] But it was no more brutal than a game of rugby. Edgerton: I’m a pretty eventempered person but I would have some issue with something and argue with my producer who would look me in the eye and tell me to eat a bowl of rice.
On play fighting... Edgerton: Professional boxers train hard; we were there to play. I reckon that Anthony Kewoa Johnson or Kurt Angle or Nate Mark or any of those guys would probably have me seeing stars within about 20 seconds. And that’s if I could run away from them! On real boxers... Hardy: We got into the ring with Hans Marrero who
was Mike Tyson’s sparring partner. There I was in the ring, with my gloves and my shorts thinking “man, I just really don’t want to be here, this is just really shit, this is just really not for me.” But then I got on with these guys. Yhey are really lovely, full of humility. They know I’m an actor and they are just happy you’re here to represent their sport fairly and give them a good name. Just brushing against them gently was like head-butting a horse. We did 210 hours of footage of fighting, in the end you give up being frightened because you’re just knackered. Edgerton: [who has a black belt in Karate]. There’s a Ju Jitsu aspect of it which is much more of a physical chess game. If I can no longer defend myself then the fight is over. There’s no 10-count where I can half put myself back together and try to remember my name in order to fight you again. Boxing allows you to keep engaging in the fight even if you are starting to lose brain cells. With mixed martial arts, the moment you can no longer defend yourself there is a clear winner.
Hardy: When I went to Pittsburg, instead of a elaborate training routine I ate pizza and a lot of ice cream and walked up stairs a couple of times a day. It involved sitting around a lot and doing occasional weights. During the 5 weeks of training for Bronson I mostly worked on the inside of the head rather than the physical appearance. It was the inside of the head that was psyched up. For Warrior it was very very different.
Diegesis: Dialogue 45
On managing fame... Edgerton: I wouldn’t have been as prepared for it in my 20s. A series of fits and stumblings and moments when you thought your career wouldn’t take off teaches you not to have expectations that this job is going be the thing that makes me extra special. It allows you to concentrate and enjoy the work without putting too much pressure on the thing. Hardy: I was white knuckling when I was younger. I’ve learnt as I’ve got older. I had a brief stint with Hollywood with Star Trek and I thought “this is it”. But it was straight after drama school and I had no idea how to handle the world and dealing with producers. I was punching way above the line. It has taken 10 years, being someone’s dad, being divorced, going to rehab, playing new characters, waiting and then it not happening. I now have an
46 Diegesis: Dialogue
immense amount of gratitude if I get invited to be a part of a film like Inception.
On working with Nolan... Hardy: I’m very very lucky. He knows what he wants and he’s very clear. My job is very simple.
On future Aussie projects... Hardy: Well Mad Max is Mad Max. It’s wicked and I’m very grateful to be part of it. George Miller directed the original (Ed: not to mention The Witches of Eastwick, Babe: Pig in the City and Happy Feet!) and he’s doing this one too. Imagine doing something as epic and as dark but utterly action. Edgerton: I get to go back home which is great. The Great Gatsby is a book that’s so rich in its kind of descriptive language. It’s F. Scott Fitzgerald! You have to be
careful that you don’t get spun off on the fact that it’s such a great book therefore it equals a great movie. The characters are so great but the success of the book is largely due to the descriptive language. So then you need a director who is going to be able to find a visual language or a visual poetry that is going to match its job. I think Baz is such a great fit for that. Look at Moulin Rouge and Romeo and Juliet; he’s a great fit for that visually. He’s got a great gang of people to play these characters like Leonardo (DiCaprio) and Tobey (Maguire). I’m really privileged to be part of that. And it’s in 3D.
On 3D... Edgerton: 3D is the spectacle that’s the version of when I ride my polo pony up right to the camera. It’s submersive. It allows you to choose what you look at and who you look at. If it’s done right then it will feel like a movie where you really enter the room with the characters rather than looking at them through a window. It’s a real challenge and the thing with Baz is that he’s not afraid of sticking his head out of the window and driving a million miles an hour because he’s willing to play.
COMPETITION! We have a copy of Stuart: A Life Backwards (2007), a little known BBC drama starring Tom Hardy and Benedict “Sherlock” Cumberbatch, to give away. Hardy plays Stuart Shorter a homeless alcoholic. To win this DVD, rearrange these anagrams of films about alcoholics and drunks. Email your answers to diegesis@ live.co.uk with the subject header Backwards Competition. The winner will be randomly selected after 1 August 2012. eg Stuart A Life Backwards = A Fabricated Wart Sulks 1. Daisy Sew 2. Vile Veg Lasagnas 3. Coma Tuft 4. Brass Ration 5. Dahlia Tin Win Congratulations to Bianca Garner who won last issue’s one-line horror pitch competition and a signed copy of Bane. Director James Eaves said “guilt is always a good motivator for murder and mayhem!” Check out FB for the pitches.
Diegesis: Dialogue 47
OR OR NOT NOT 3D... 3D... Everyone loves films. No matter where you live, how old you are or what your lifestyle entails. Each and every year, the film industry profits billions from the public as they go and watch films each week in cinemas despite the abundance of good programming on TV and in spite of the economic downturn. As film have to continue growing to impress its audience and to push the boundaries, it needs to not only focus on the narratives of the stories being told and the special effects but the viewings for the cinema experience as well. 3D is a phenomenon that is taking the film industry by storm. Some will argue that this groundbreaking technology is fantastic whilst others will wonder what is the point of it? Here, Amy Hay argues in favour of 3D, whilst Charlotte Birch opposes the argument.
CHARLOTTE CHARLOTTE BIRCH BIRCH && AMY AMY HAY HAY
48 Diegesis: Dialogue
GLASSES Charlotte: One of the main issues I find with 3D is the glasses you have to wear to watch 3D. Firstly the glasses seem to only be made for one generic head size: very large. For the majority of cinemagoers the glasses slip off your face, or you have to sit in a very uncomfortable position to get them to stay there. Secondly, what happens if you already wear glasses? You’re expected to wear two pairs. And I don’t think that ever came into fashion. Amy: Isn’t this a small price to pay for leaving behind your life for a few hours and being thrown into another world?
COST C: The cost of paying to see a 3D film, compared with a 2D film is quite frankly ridiculous. Not only do you have to pay extra for a pair of glasses, but you also seem to have to pay extra for the words “3D”. In the financial climate that we’re in today people can’t afford to pay these extravagances. And for the cost what are you getting? Arguably, a poorer quality picture. A: For the film industry a main positive of 3D films is the fact that downloading illegally is now at a standstill when it comes to the films as 3D films can’t be downloaded. This means more people will go and enjoy the film experience which has been slowly declining in recent years. It has put the excitement back into going to the cinemas and has put a different spin on the film industry as a whole.
THE EXPERIENCE C: The quality of 3D is very disappointing. With the majority of 3D films, the quality of the picture is lost and too dark, perhaps down to those oversized glasses. But it seems as though a lot of 3D films have been made as a 2D production then converted into 3D in post-production in which it loses the quality of the picture. It also means that a lot of the time what could look fantastic in 3D is often left in the background. In order to succeed, 3D needs to immerse the audience, something it is disregarding in favour of being a blockbuster and making money. A: Many cinemas have used larger screens and vast sound systems (such as IMAX theatres) to create better viewing but the latest main attraction is the 3D experience. 3D technology
has given audience the illusion of depth perception and it is shown for one sole reason only: to impress its audience whilst generating a lucrative profit. When Avatar 3D was released in 2009 a new cinema phenomenon was born. Avatar was already a Hollywood blockbuster and the 3D experience underpinned the quality of the film with the quality of the viewing. 3D is especially popular in the horror genre as it gives the film a better sense of suspense to what you are watching; when something jumps out at you it virtually does!
BEYOND THE INDUSTRY C: For me 3D has been taken too far in that it is spreading beyond the film industry. In the past couple of years cinemas have shown football matches and Wimbledon. The problem I have with this is that if you want to go a see the football or Wimbledon can you not just go and watch it outdoors instead in a far more sociable environment. Also does the fact that these matches are screened in 3D actually enhance the viewer’s pleasure (aside from them thinking they’re going to get hit by a ball)? A: The public have got a taste of the way technology has been revolutionised and it has filtered into other commodities such as television sets, 3D printing, mobile phones to also start creating more than the simple 2D that the public have been accustomed to in the past.
ULTIMATELY... A: 3D is not just a novelty that the audience are not used to; its global popularity suggests 3D will be around for some time. Well, until the next technological advancement comes along. So for now it is simply the new generation of filmmaking. C: But 3D seems to have generated the era of the remake. More and more films are being rereleased in 3D in a bid to cash in on the success of the original release. Yet does this not hinder the release of new films? The regard for a new narrative has been lost within the Hollywood machine in preference of the remake which is a guaranteed cash cow. So although 3D may be exciting to some people we are at risk of losing the excitement and challenge of a new film narrative as the 3D remake is clearly more profitable. Which leaves us spending more money to view a jumping out version of films we have already seen.
Diegesis: Dialogue 49
SHORT FILM COMPETITION
CUT TO [obsession] The films considered for this issueâ€™s short film competition offer varied commentaries on obsession and obsessive behaviour. You can watch the entries by visiting our website: www.diegesismagazine.com/obsession
Entries Dolls by Yasmin Wall - a critique of societyâ€™s obsession with beauty and perfection Hangar by Mickael Muraz - an experimental short that finds a novel use for cling film Forever by Victor Kellar - a surveillance tale about the compulsion to capture a moment and make it last...forever. Frustration by Emma Lieghio and Craig McDougall (Broken Physics) - a depiction of the exasperations of a young boy trying to be creative. Faces by Alvara Salvagno - an experimental film which plays with colour, speed and movement.
The winning film is Frustration, directed by Emma Lieghio and Craig McDougall. Emma and Craig are currently second year Film and Television Studies students at Southampton Solent University and recently set up their own production company “Broken Physics”. checked in with the talented twosome to break the good news:
Congratulations! How does it feel to win the first ever short film competition?
For us it’s doubly important: we are lucky enough to win the first Diegesis film competition, but it’s also the first film competition we’ve ever won! It has definitely encouraged us to make more. It’s very uplifting to be recognised by your peers. What was your inspiration for the film?
What do you plan to do with the film now? So far we’ve uploaded it several different websites where people are looking for a quick laugh, for example www.reddit.com but we also hope to use it for promotional material to attract more work because we think it reflects us quite well. What are your current obsessions?
Personal habits and pet peeves! We both make a habit of obsessing over tiny details, one of which is neatness, so we thought we’d work from personal experience and make a film about something we know about.
Emma: My current obsessions are finding free zombie novels for my kindle and watching Steve Carell’s entire back catalogue. Craig: I’m currently obsessed with finding socks with unusual designs and collecting FD and FD fit lenses for my camcorder.
What do you hope people will take away with them from watching your film?
Any thoughts on what you’ll make for the next competition?
That straight pictures are important..! But the most important thing for us was that it made people laugh and people could relate to it.
We like the idea of a grandfather doing tricks with their grandchild. But the rest of the idea is top secret!
Diegesis: Dialogue 51
SHORT FILM COMPETITION CUT TO [magic]
Your challenge is to make a short film of up to 3 minutes inspired by the theme of “magic”. Films will be shortlisted by the magazine editorial board and the winner, as judged by a panel of experts, will be announced in the next issue of . The winning film will be awarded an amazing certificate and go down in the Hall of Fame for all eternity. You can watch the entries by visiting www.diegesismagazine.com/magic Don’t forget to visit our Facebook page for inspiration - we’ll be posting some magic shorts over the next 2 months.
Your film must be no more than 3 minutes duration. Films longer than 3 minutes will be disqualified. Your film must be uploaded to the short film competition Vimeo group in order to be considered for the competition: https://vimeo.com/groups/diegesisshorts The deadline for uploading films is midnight on the 1st September 2012. Videos uploaded after this time will not be considered for the competition.
We look forward to seeing your films! Good luck!
FilmMatters Future Film Scholars.
FilmMatters ISSN 2042-1869 | Online ISSN: 20421877 4 issues per year, Vol 3, 2012 Editors-in-chief Liza Palmer: University of North Carolina Wilmington. email@example.com
â€˜A new scholarly journal with a novel angle on cinema.â€™ The Chronicle of Higher Education
Tim Palmer: University of North Carolina Wilmington. firstname.lastname@example.org
Film Matters is an exciting new film journal, celebrating the work of undergraduate film scholars. Published four times a year, each issue will contain feature articles, as well as a healthy review section. In addition, with an undergraduate audience in mind, Film Matters will include occasional service-oriented pieces, such as profiles of film studies departments, articles that engage the undergraduate film studies community and prepare students for graduate study in this field, and resources and opportunities that undergraduate scholars can pursue. Forthcoming open call for papers deadline: September 1, 2012 for submissions to 4.1 (2013). Please contact Liza Palmer with any queries or submissions.
F A D E O U T
n 2002, Bharat Balluri, the current series Executive director of Spooks (2002 - ), sat in the back of a taxi with his new idea: a television show following a group of experienced con artists, conning the bad guys on the streets of London. Written by Tony Jordan, a hugely successful BBC scriptwriter whose credits include Eastenders (1989-2008), Holby Blue (2007-2008) and Life on Mars (2008-2009), Hustle first burst onto our television screens in 2004. Hustle captivated its audience for eight whole series and often achieved an audience share of 30% with 7 million viewers. Yet, despite all this, February saw the last of the Hustle episodes on our screens, which devastated all those gripped to the storylines of our favourite six conmen. There were a number of things that made Hustle great but the cast were the backbone of the show. Tony Jordan did not create your Average Joe characters; they were cheeky, playful, strong and oozed confidence. All five had their own panache, but they all played their own part in the family unit that created the Hustle family crew. The cast had to be carefully handpicked but the casting directors did not disappoint. Veteran actor Robert Vaughn, one of the Magnificent Seven (1960) and perhaps best known for his role as Napoleon Solo in popular sixties show The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (1964-1968), took on the part of the infamous Albert Stroller. Vaughn was joined by Adrian Lester as Michael Stone, Marc Warren as Danny Blue, Robert Glenister (older brother of Philip “D.C.I. Gene Hunt” Glenister of Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes fame) as Ash Morgan and the only female recruit Jaime Murray as Stacie Monroe. They were a team of actors that just clicked.
Hustle was almost destined to be a success with Jordan at the helm, backed by the BBC, with a crew made up from the team from Spooks and a set of five actors who all in their own right shined and gelled well to make the team Hustle needed. If that was not enough, the BBC constructed a huge marketing campaign organised by Abbott Mead Vickers, the biggest advertising agency in the UK based on revenue. Launching with the slogan “the con is on” it quickly became a slogan that stuck on the lips of every Hustle fan. Hustle was designed to be as youthful as possible with the aim of targeting young audiences but also written to reach an older
54 Diegesis: Fade Out
demographic. The marketing team created a catchy and memorable theme tune, along with a captivating opening sequence that offered the perfect complement for the exciting, charismatic team. It was filmed spectacularly, using beautiful shot framing and composition, but also modern twists such as “bullet time”, a visual effect made famous by The Matrix (1999) and which became a key stylistic trope of the series. A review in The Times (2004) noted that Hustle had “the snap and style of a series that has been cryogenically frozen in the 1960s and brought back to life”. Each episode saw the hustling team adhering to their famous slogan “you cannot con an honest man”, hunting out a mark to target for a “long con”. As Stacie explains to her fellow grifter and audience in the first series: “unlike the more obvious short cons, most marks don’t report a con because they think they’ve done something illegal, or better still, they don’t know they’ve been conned in the first place”. The team carefully plan each con in significant detail, sometimes over a period of months, with subtle hints to each of the marks, working their way to the big reveal. BBC capitalised on the success of the show; before the first series had even finished they had sold broadcast licenses to twelve countries worldwide, and later commissioning the show to India and South America. The BBC received significant support from AMC, an American production company, which saw many episodes being released in the US before the UK, but which also allowed the team to film on location in Los Angeles and Las Vegas. It is not the first time that a show about grifters has been popular in the US. Leverage first aired in December 2008 as a thirteen-part complete series. With a similar goal to Hustle, they plan to payback those ripped off by Government schemes. The success kept growing for Hustle and in 2006 the BBC released their spin-off documentary The Real Hustle, written by real-life hustlers Alexis Conran and Paul Wilson. The documentary, unlike its partner, focuses on short cons, which are quick and to the point. The team demonstrate a string of magic tricks, distraction scams and proposition bet, the aim? To stop the public being scammed by the same cons The show aired on BBC3, as a companion to the original Hustle, but there is no doubt that The Real Hustle is successful in its own right, with the twelfth series due to air later this year.
The future of Hustle was in serious jeopardy 2009, when it was announced that lead actors, Marc Warren and Jaime Murray were not to star in Series 5. AMC pulled out of the show announcing that they would not be broadcasting Series 5 or any of the future series of the show. The pair were replaced by Matt Di Angelo and Kelly Adams, a handsome younger guy and dashing blonde in an attempt to revamp the show. Di Angelo was already a well-known face on television for his role as Deano in Eastenders and Kelly Adams was also well distinguished with her roles in Holby City and Doctors. The new team continued until the very last episode earlier this year and the finale did not disappoint. We saw our favourite group of hustlers being convinced by master conman Mickey “Bricks” Stone to push themselves to the limit in the search for riches. The end episode put pressure on the writers to create the biggest con yet. The Hustle team bring themselves close to the limit even faking their own death, a finale that did not disappoint Hustle fans. The season finale brought back all the old characters and they all certainly go out with a bang. Tony Jordan has not ruled out a return in the future, so maybe we’ve been hustled and it’s not really over?
HUSTLED FOR THE LAST TIME
STEPHANIE USHER Diegesis: Fade Out 55
2001 - 2005 DEAD, BURIED, BUT NOT FORGOTTEN T
he depressing, funny and, at times, crazy lives of the Fisher family came to an end in 2005 when Six Feet Under finished after five years and five series. The HBO show created by Alan Ball, centres on the Fishers and their family funeral business and similarly to his current venture True Blood (a slick fantastical world full of creatures that are as horrific as they are sexy), Six Feet Under shares the same sense of surrealism often demonstrated by dream-like sequences and alternative pseudo scenes of character behaviour. However in contrast, Six Feet Under is a far more mature text, in that it strives to delve deeper into the human psyche and express this through meticulous character and story development. It has boasted an incredible lead cast which includes the likes of: Michael C. Hall (Dexter), Rachel Griffiths (Brothers & Sisters),
56 Diegesis: Fade Out
Frances Conroy (American Horror Story), and Freddy Rodriguez (Planet Terror), not to mention the plethora of supporting and cameo roles, including: Kathy Bates (Misery), Rainn Wilson (The American Office) and James Cromwell (The Artist). This remarkable cast has helped construct the show’s strong identity, which is still wildly praised for its up-front depictions of death, often normalising the taboo subject with an emotional and complex attention to one of life’s certainties. Indeed, this focus on the process of death and its subsequent effects on others is at the heart of each and every episode. This article will contain spoilers of the finale, but I believe this only works as incentive to view from the start of the show, rather than removing the need to do so. Death in Six Feet Under acts as a framing device; each
episode (bar a few) begins with a fatality and ends with their resulting burial. These deaths are often small narratives in themselves, creating shocking, depressing and morbidly humorous snapshots of people’s final moments. Some notable instances have included a man running over himself while he attempts to reach for his morning newspaper from his car seat; a wife who kills her “boring” husband with a kitchen pan as he rambles on; and a woman who is struck down as if from nowhere by blue ice which has been released by a passing aeroplane. Whilst black humour plays a role in these framing moments, at times they are also challenging to view, depicting grisly and horrific violent acts. These include the moment a man is sliced in two by an elevator which has broken down as he attempts to rescue
those trapped inside or a crazed gunman shooting numerous office workers before ultimately killing himself. Significantly, no matter the tone of these opening scenes, they all end with a “in memoriam”, a slow fade-towhite with the deceased’s name, life and death date appearing, before fading back into the focus of the main narrative. The prologue narrative device plays a key expository role in the consumption of the programme, drawing attention to when a character had died. It provides closure for the audience, becoming almost a necessity during the breadth of the show’s life. This is no more apparent than when the prologue device is used in regards to the main cast. At the end of the second series, lead character Nate Fisher (Peter Krause) is rushed to hospital after collapsing as a result of a brain abnormality. Unsure of his state, it is not until series 3 when the audience is told what has happened to him. The “in memoriam” appears, confirming that he has died during an operation. However, we soon learn this signified his clinical death (his heart had stopped beating), but was resuscitated soon after. This narrative device of death here then, shown
through a simple fade-to-white, provides a powerful impact, epitomizing a sense of fragility with seemingly very little effort. The impact of the narrative device culminates in the programme’s finale. At the very end of the last episode, a montage reveals the future of the lead characters. Using a single song as the soundtrack (“Breath Me” by Zero 7’s Sia), the audience is given the ultimate closure on what happens to the characters that they have followed so closely for five series. It begins first with the youngest child of the family Claire Fisher (Lauren Ambrose) leaving for New York to pursue a career in photography. After an emotional goodbye, she drives from their funeral home signifying the beginning of a new journey for not only her but now for the audience. Cross-cutting is used to switch between present and future, the latter in which we see family occasions such as a wedding and a birthday. We then see the future death of each main character in chronological order. The distinct lack of any distinguishable dialogue is only heightened by the use of the soundtrack which builds gradually and ominously, accompanying the “in memoriam” titles for
each character. This creates a powerful and emotional experience for the audience who witness the continual death of characters with no relent. Where other programmes may leave it up to the audience to create a sense of comfort in knowing that characters remain present in some distance world, Six Feet Under prevents this from happening by forcing audiences to confront the fact that death, which has so evidently been a theme in the show, is an unchangeable certainty. Each death and subsequently each fade-towhite moment is like a nail in the coffin of the show, providing without ambiguity, narrative closure for the audience. For this reason Six Feet Under is justly unforgettable, its life span engraved into the audience’s memory like a tombstone, highlighting an ability to bypass the generic sense of passivity in a finale and leave a haunting impression long after the credits roll. I urge those who have not experienced Six Feet Under to watch it from the beginning. Note that whilst you know now the ultimate outcome of the show, the process of the programme’s death is undoubtedly key to its success.
ADAM FLOOD Diegesis: Fade Out 57
visit www.diegesismagazine.com to read our back issues
CUT TO [magic]
CALL FOR CONTRIBUTIONS Got something magical for us? Have a look at our suggestions for articles below or feel free to pitch something else! Magical Worlds - The Golden Compass 2007, The Chronicles of Narnia 2005, The Lord of the Rings 2001-2003, The Neverending Story 1984, Illusionists - The Prestige 2006, The Illusionist 2006, L’illusionniste 2010 The Magic of Youth/Childhood - The Craft 1996, Harry Potter, Matilda 1996, A Simple Wish 1997, Nanny McPhee 2005, Lemony Snicket’s a Series of Unfortunate Events 2004, Pan’s Labyrinth 2006 Black Magic - White Witches and Racial Sterotypes Magical Effects - 3D and 4D, special effects, invention of film, IMAX experience The Original Magician: Georges Méliès - from Le voyage dans la lune 1902 to Hugo 2011 “Real” Magic - Mitchell and Webb’s Magicians 2007, Penn and Teller, When Louis (Theroux) Met Paul (Daniels) and Debbie (McGee) 2001, Derren Brown Magical Musicals - Enchanted 2007, The Wizard of Oz 1939 Jim Henson’s Magical Muppets - Labyrinth 1986, The Dark Crystal 1982 The Supernatural Trio: Vampires, Werewolves and Witches Magic and Science, Myths and Legends - superheroes, Back to the Future 1985 Wonderful (and sometimes wicked) Witches - Hocus Pocus 1993, Practical Magic 1998, Bewitched 2005, The Witches of Eastwick 1987 TV Magic - Bewitched 1964-1972, Charmed 1998-2006, Sabrina the Teenage Witch 1996-2003, Buffy the Vampire Slayer 1997-2003, Angel 1999-2004 The Body Swap - Vice Versa 1988, Freaky Friday 1976/1995/2003, The Change -Up 2011, The Hot Chick 2002, 13 Going on 30 2004, 17 Again 2009 ILM: Industrial Light & Magic Films with magic in the title that aren’t really about, er, magic - Magic Mike 2012, Magic City 2012, Magic 1978 Trick Films and the Magic of Shorts Send your pitches to
Issue 5 COMING Oct 2012
CUT TO [magic]
Interested in writing for ? See our Call for Contributions, visit our Facebook page or email email@example.com for more details.
Diegesis CUT TO [obsession] issue 4 2012. Diegesis is Southampton Solent University's film and television magazine, produced by the film an...
Published on Jul 8, 2012
Diegesis CUT TO [obsession] issue 4 2012. Diegesis is Southampton Solent University's film and television magazine, produced by the film an...