di'e'ge'sis noun 1. the narrative world of the story 2. recounting, narration
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Featuring new writing on: • Doctor Who • Prometheus • WALL-E • Sunshine • Hunger Also including: • confined spaces • remakes • 3DTV • viral videos
I EDITORIAL S S U E # 6
Welcome to the new issue of , the film and tv critical review magazine with insight, opinion and analysis. Run by Southampton Solent University’s Film and Television Studies degree students, issue #6 offers up a space-themed edition - which has itself increased in size and volume - to bring you new voices in screen criticism. So why space? A fascination with space has been one of the screen’s fundamental philosophical interests, along with time and identity. All three converge here, examining the contradictions, complexities and contours of screen space whether in the claustrophobic confines of incarceration, the unchartred territory of unforgiving landscapes or the familiar feelings of friendship and love. WALL-E and Eva anyone?
Issue #6 races through office spaces, soundscapes and remakes with Promethean reach. Politics, class and the culture of space dominate our CUT TO features section through Steve McQueen’s Hunger, scifi TV comedy, home cinemas and the alien nations of Dr Who. We have also had the privilege of accompanying editor Terry Rawlings and sound mixer Ray Merrin on a journey through the film spaces they have contributed to including Alien, Blade Runner, Legend and 28 Days Later. Derby’s iD Fest and new feature “Dissolve” take us into spaces we may not be too familiar with and whether its science or silence you prefer we have dystopian interstellar encounters or meditative moments in space. So if you want to spend 127 Hours between a rock and a hard place and then move into the star-bleached brightness of Sunshine before descending into the tortured bleakness of Martyrs then read on. And while in space no one may hear you scream (as Felix Baumgartner surely found out in his stratospheric drop), no-one can deny that space gives film and television the air to breathe. It’s out of this world!
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AT THE MARGINS
04 Doctor Who’s Alien Nation 08 McQueen’s Hunger Games 12 A Space for Class 16 Viewing Spaces
42 Remaking Space 46 Hyperspace Blues 48 Acting the Mise-en-scène 52 A Space for Torture 54 Dissolve
PLAY. PAUSE. REWIND. 18 Blinded by the Light 22 Confined Spaces 26 Office Spaced 30 Space vs Mankind 32 Hidden in Plain Sight
SHORTHAND 34 The Space Beyond the Screen 38 The Sound of WALL-E
DIALOGUE 56 The Interview: Terry Rawlings and Ray Merrin 60 iD Fest 2013
FADE OUT 62 With Strings Attached 64 The Cult of Wong 66 One Giant Leap 68 Issue 6 Editorial Team 70 The next issue
Managing Editors: Donna Peberdy & Darren Kerr Assistant Managing Editor: Jennifer Lyne Chief Copy-Editor: Sam Hall Promotions Coordinator: Lloyd Hann Editors: Caine Bird, Hollie Birkenhead, Bianca Garner, Anna Gurman, Lloyd Hann, Sam Hall, Jack Kennedy, Jennifer Lyne, Ciaran Mullan, George Najdzien, Lucy Ravenhall, Rob Turnbull, Yaz Wall, Aaron Wilcock Design: Adam Flood, Donna Peberdy Cover image: Yaz Wall
C U T
S P A C E
ravelling across space and visiting new worlds is central to many science fiction stories and is even explored in films as early as George Méliès’s silent film La voyage dans la lune (A Trip To The Moon 1902). Alongside visiting wondrous new planets, narratives which explore the notion that there are other worlds as fantastic as our own, if not more so, also satisfy the natural human curiosity of what else exists in the universe. From the planets and the stars, to the moon and every other magical, scientific discovery that exists beyond Earth, the depiction of outer space has been widely explored on the screen. Travelling through space is an exciting opportunity for the spectator to visit fantastic new worlds and the life forms that may inhabit them. The pleasure in watching virtual space travel could account for the popularity of the science fiction genre, including many science fiction films and TV shows from Forbidden Planet (1956) to Stargate Atlantis (2004–2009). These planets are otherwise unreachable through the limited technology we have created and would perhaps not appear as wondrous in reality as they do on television. In particular, this article focuses on Doctor Who (1963-2013) in reference to its use of technology and CGI and how that acts primarily as spectacle. Outer space, however, also provides a place where moral issues can be subtly explored under the guise of spectacular visuals and narratives, suggesting that the spectacle is worth consideration as something more than solely providing pleasure for audiences. Doctor Who has been a popular show since its inception in 1963. The show focuses on a mysterious and highly intelligent being named “the Doctor”, who travels in a police box through time and space, visiting numerous fictional planets with beautiful, strange and terrifying creatures that both thrill and enchant audiences. Technological advancements have
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had a significant impact on the success of the series, increasing its popularity with the spectator. James Chapman’s book Inside the TARDIS: the Worlds of Doctor Who (2006) explores the history of Doctor Who and the ways in which the series has adapted to appeal to the changing audiences. He observes that when repeats of the original series (1963 to 1989) were broadcast to contemporary audiences, the viewing figures suggested the show was largely unsuccessful. The use of technology and special effects is a key reason for this; the mediocre special effects of the older episodes would not have had the same effect on the new generation accustomed to CGI and advanced technological effects as it did on the audiences who watched the episodes when they first aired. The Daleks, Cybermen, and Snowmen provide examples of the ways in which CGI has aided in pushing the boundaries of the technological capabilities of the show. In earlier series, the Daleks were only able to glide along the ground. However, with developments in CGI, the Daleks have the ability to fly. The Daleks, along with numerous other creatures, were made more believable, becoming more terrifying and certainly much more of a spectacle as a result of changes in technological developments. The creatures therefore, through both CGI and special effects, appear more realistic and exciting and more spectacular as Doctor Who experiments with technological advancements. Similarly, through filmmaking techniques Doctor Who encourages the audiences’ emotional investment in the show. The spectator, for instance, shares a sense of eagerness with the characters through identification, as the Doctor and his companions hungrily explore new planets and feast their eyes upon alien creatures. As the characters visit each new world, each companion experiences excitement and curiosity,
ALIEN NATION ALIEN NATION
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much like the spectator is hoped to experience, as to what new worlds lay outside the TARDIS doors. In the episode “Planet of the Ood” (2008), for example, the Doctor (David Tennant) and his companion Donna Noble (Catherine Tate) fly the TARDIS to a neverbefore-visited planet. The down-to-Earth, human companion acts as a stand in for the spectator; the Doctor remarks to Donna that “everything you’re feeling, the fear, the joy the wonder, I get that!” implying that the emotions that both the companion and the Doctor experience are shared with the spectator through identification, allowing the spectator to be just as enthralled by each new world as the Doctor and his companion are. Donna, unable to contain her excitement, runs out of the TARDIS to satisfy the natural human curiosity that results from visiting unreachable worlds. The show demonstrates an awareness of the impatience the spectator experiences; as the Doctor remarks “look at that view!” the camera lingers on Donna and intentionally makes the spectator wait to see the new and unfamiliar world. The eagerness increases and the spectator’s curiosity is finally satisfied with a shot of snowy mountains enhanced by CGI, looking like they landed in CS Lewis’s Narnia. As the camera lingers on the shots
of the snowy panorama, its enchanting visuals are flaunted in a spectacular exhibition, mesmerising the audience with its digital capabilities and the new world which the Doctor and Donna have discovered. The manipulation of spectacle in the worlds of Doctor Who drew audiences in and made the show more of an experience rather than a simple narrative, which continues to be evident in the more recent series (2005 – 2013). As a result of the use of technology, the CGI and special effects have developed further and are capable of creating a world far more visually fantastic than those of the earlier series. Although visually the show is spectacular, there is a darker side to it that explores the issue of human morality. “Planet of the Ood” begins with an advert promoting the enslaving of an alien race, the Ood, who are bought and sold to humans; their primary purpose is to serve. A voice-over states that the Ood were created “all with one purpose” followed by a shot of an Ood who politely asks “do you take milk and sugar”? The purpose of these alien creatures is established to the people living on the alien planet, Ood-Sphere, as servants who will benefit any household by performing mundane tasks. This episode deals with the enslaved Ood who are controlled through a central brain manipulation system. The Ood are heavily mistreated by the humans;
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they are caged, tortured and manipulated to project wellknown catchphrases such as Homer Simpson’s “D’oh!”. The company in charge of promoting and selling the enslaved Oods to the public, go so far as to suggest gassing the corrupt slaves, indicating a reference to slavery and racism, social and cultural issues of our historical past which are placed into the context of an alien planet. The moralistic coding of the narrative is fed to the spectator under the guise of spectacle. In portraying issues of slavery and the sinister side of human nature, “Planet of the Ood” suggests that mankind project their imperfections onto a fantasy world, which largely mirrors our own in an attempt to deal with social issues of our historical past and educate people on morality. Doctor Who, much like a fable, provides the spectator with a moralistic message. “Planet of the Ood” then, can be used as a guideline in reminding us of the consequences of mistreating others and suggests that Doctor Who additionally serves great social importance in reflecting the problems of our world. The creative team behind Doctor Who can be considered puppeteers of special effects in the way in which CGI is manipulated to create an enchanted reaction in the audience, thus creating a show that acts primarily as a visual treat
aimed at a diverse audience. The appeal of the show arguably lies in its artistic creativity incorporated with technological special effects to create a fantastic world that is both believable and more desirable than our own. However, it is also an intelligent and engaging science fiction series with social issues bubbling beneath the surface. Doctor Who constructs an image of space that is arguably a reflection of our world, its people and its problems. In its treatment of social issues and human emotions in a spectacular fantasy world, Doctor Who arguably attempts to use its technological capabilities and visual effects to tap into sensitive aspects of humanity. The show reminds us that, although the social issues are placed within the context of the alien planets, they are fables that mirror our own world and morality, and therefore deserve adequate consideration. Audiences may initially be drawn to Doctor Who for its spectacle, as a show that appears fantastic and offers something more visually exciting than reality. However, ultimately, space is full of flaws and imperfections and by addressing these imperfections on screen, Doctor Who can be read as something akin to a traditional fable, offering moral commentary through the guise of wondrous CGI, placing it on the map as both commentary on social issues and pure entertainment.
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HUNGER GAMES Ciaran Mullan
unger (2008) examines the 1981 Irish hunger strike, the ramifications the strike had on those involved and the circumstances leading up to the tragic climax. Directed by Steve McQueen and starring Michael Fassbender as Bobby Sands and Liam Cunningham as Father Dom, Hunger is an intriguing depiction of prison life as a life of ritual, routine and regiment. In this article, I will be looking at how the film portrays physical, emotional and psychological space. In 1976, the British government removed political status from prisoners convicted of paramilitaryrelated activities or membership. This essentially meant that paramilitaries would be treated as ordinary criminals and would not be recognised as political prisoners. They would wear prison uniforms, undertake prison work and their command structure would not be facilitated inside the prison. Almost immediately, Republican prisoners began an organised protest. This was initially in the form of the blanket protest where the prisoners refused to wear the
prison clothing and thus only wore a blanket for warmth. This quickly led to the dirty protest where, along with refusing to wear the prison uniform, the prisoners refused to â€œslop outâ€?, which effectively meant they urinated and defecated in their cells. Space in Hunger is constructed to create a sense of claustrophobia and confinement using specific framing and editing devices; the slow paced editing and frequent use of long shots challenge established cinematic conventions and present the film in an interesting and unique way. At the beginning of the film, a new prisoner is being processed and registered with the prison regime. He refuses to recognise the prison authorities and to wear prison clothing. He is stripped naked, given a blanket and taken to his cell. This is the first moment in the film where we see the insides of a cell. The walls of the cell are smeared with excrement and this is the first indication of the confinement of the prisonerâ€™s dwelling. He shares his cell with another political prisoner and the only furniture is
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a small foam mattress, which has been torn to use as a smearing device. The claustrophobic atmosphere of the cell is exacerbated by the effects of the dirty protest whereby an already small space is diminished by a pile of human waste in the corner, faeces on the wall and another prisoner in the cell. The film goes to great lengths to highlight the lack of space in the cell. McQueen creates an atmosphere of observation that allows the audience to feel the tension through striking imagery and descriptive and emotive dialogue. There are several references to space throughout, such as the metaphorical comparisons of space when Sands talks about his early childhood memories of cross-country running and the conditions portrayed emphasise the dire consequences of the hunger strike. We are also privy to the brutality and inhumane treatment of the prisoners at the hands of the guards, illustrated during scenes of strip-searching, probing and physical violence. This challenges the concept of space by highlighting the physical conditions the
prisoners were kept in, but also the psychological effects of having little physical space. By showing the degradation and dehumanising of the prisoners, the film is able to shed light on their motivations. They are incarcerated and their options are limited. The film suggests that in the eyes of the prisoners, the only option (other than conforming) is a hunger strike. With their options limited, and their current tactics proving futile and dangerous, their lack of space leads them to drastic measures.
led to the decision to go on hunger strike. This powerful scene is followed by stripsearching, anal probing and assaults on the prisoners, ending in the trashing of their new cells. These events begin to question the reasons and motives behind the prisonersâ€™ actions; they adopt increasingly violent and dangerous techniques as their desperation intensifies. As their personal space is
invaded and violated, the only space they have left is their bodies, which they turn into a weapon to fight the cruel realities they face. A scene that calls attention to space through the use of cinematic techniques in different ways and featuring arguably one of the best performances in the film, is the scene depicting the conversation between Sands
Another particularly disturbing and memorable part of the film is when the riot squad enter the prison. This was a relatively regular occurrence and gave the prison authorities an opportunity to search the prisoners and clean their cells. The riot squad would line up along the corridor on both sides, hold up their shields and bang their batons. Drawing from the creation of an immensely intense and intimidating spectacle, Hunger allows the audience an element of empathy with the prisoners. We see them dragged from their cells, beaten along the seemingly never-ending line of police; they are naked, vulnerable and defenceless. The impossibility of retaliation provides an insight into how physical and emotional lack of space or manoeuvrability
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and Father Dom. Father Dom is a clergyman with Republican sympathies; he is afforded a degree of respect from the prisoners, unlike most of his colleagues. The master shot is unbroken for 17 minutes and the two characters discuss the morality of hunger strike, the reasons behind the strike and the potentially fatal consequences, in and outside the prison. The unbroken master shot intensifies the dialogue by removing any distractions conventional editing techniques may create. It also makes the space feel smaller, as we are focussed on the characters and what they are saying, rendering their surroundings irrelevant. This is an opportunity for character development and opens up the characters’ emotions and personalities. During this conversation Sands’ childhood is also referred to and, in particular, his success as a cross-country runner. He nostalgically reminisces about his experiences, poignantly highlighting the space, freedom and open air he used to enjoy. His fond memories and
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recollections grant us a deeper understanding of the doomed protagonist. Not only does it give us an insight into his character but the notion of space as free, open and fresh vastly contrasts the notion of the prison space as imprisonment. Following on from the conversation, Sands commences his hunger strike. In a largely dialogue-free montage, we see food being placed in front of him and his refusal to accept the offerings. The plates of food gradually look more appealing – our indication that time has passed – and the authorities repeatedly try to encourage him to accept the food and abandon the strike. The film shows Sands slowly deteriorate as the effects of the hunger strike begin to show on his body in the form of bed blisters, extreme weight loss and vomiting. Sands, the figurehead and role model for the rest of the prisoners, is shown in the advanced stages of hunger strike; completely incapacitated, he
cannot move or function. He is slowly perishing and becomes a prisoner in his own body and mind. He has reached the stage where death is inevitable; even if he were to call off the strike, the effects the hunger strike has had on his body would likely be irreversible. Sands has no space for negotiation, relenting or compromise. His mind begins to wander; he sees a vision of a younger version of himself that he does not recognise. His slow and agonising deterioration is an analogy, showing the merciless and harsh regime the prisoners were faced with and the eventual self-sacrifice and suffering resulting from their choices. Hunger calls attention to the function of space; how taking away a personâ€™s personal space and freedom can have profound psychological and emotional consequences and how such spaces can be manipulated to take on different meanings. The film demonstrates an awareness
of this and accentuates spatial connotations through cinematography, editing and framing. A noticeable example of this is the filmâ€™s lack of close-ups, instead choosing to draw focus towards the environment, background and characters evenly. The audience witnesses the confinement of the prisoners and the harsh conditions they lived in. The lack of space is one of the driving factors influencing their choices. Notions of space are also foregrounded once the strike has commenced; Sands is completely unable to move towards the end and is at the mercy of those around him. He loses control of the situation as external powers begin to determine the outcome and he is completely powerless in his final days. Through tight framing devices and extended static camera work Hunger invites the audience into its space, making the viewer feel awkward and more aware of the cramped and inhumane space. The audience is forced to watch and experience the horrific events and consequences.
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A SPACE FOR CLASS
with most of the future worlds in science fiction you’re not talking about the future, you’re talking about the present”, voiced graphic novelist Alan Moore during the BBC’s Comics Britannia (2007) series. British science fiction writers attempt to translate the future to outer space and Moore’s comment is illustrative of the niche market of science fiction comedy. Although they focussed on a British cast, Red Dwarf (1988 - ) and Hyperdrive (2006-2007) were set almost exclusively in space, yet they both made frequent references to British popular culture.
in the smarmy, selfish, spineless character of Arnold J. Rimmer and the more empathetic, likeable yet lazy character of Dave Lister. The love/hate relationship between Lister and his slight superior Rimmer emphasises the show’s encouragement for the audience to sympathise with the former. Working-class heroes were commonplace during the 1980s and 1990s, which can be read as a backlash against Yuppie culture and Conservative rule in the UK at the time. This attack on the middle classes is highlighted when Lister watches an old news recording which details an account of a terrorist attempting to poison all of the world’s spring water, which would have wiped out the middle classes within three weeks.
Red Dwarf, although perhaps not the most critically regarded of British sitcoms, has been deemed a cult success in both the UK and abroad by critics and audiences alike. Class is a subject which is touched upon After a radiation leak wipes out the crew only occasionally in the much less successful of a deep space mining Hyperdrive, a show vessel, Dave Lister (Craig which unfairly received Charles) remains the only “the British class system heavy criticism due living member of the crew and those who aspire to the inevitable as a result of being in stasis comparisons with Red during the incident. He is to climb its unforgiving Dwarf. Hyperdrive revived three million years steps has been a subject suffered from poor later by the ship’s computer ratings and frequent and has lost all contact with of ridicule in comedy” criticisms regarding its the rest of humanity (who comedic value. It follows may already have become extinct). Trapped in the crew of the HMS Camden Lock (whose deep space, Lister’s only companions include design was based on London’s BT Tower), “Cat” (Danny John-Jules), a creature that in a world where most countries remain evolved from his pet feline, the holographic as they are today but with thriving space representation of his deceased immediate programs. The duty of the Camden Lock, the superior Arnold Rimmer (Chris Barrie) show states, is “to protect Britain’s interests and, from the third series onward, a cleaning in a changing galaxy”. Unlike Red Dwarf, droid named Kryten (Robert Llewellyn). Hyperdrive features aliens as one of the chief threats, and is perhaps much closer to a Star Although a sci-fi comedy, the aim of Red Trek (1966 - ) parody than the more original Dwarf was not to parody science fiction, comedic premise offered by shows such as as had been the case with previous sci-fi Red Dwarf. The lead characters include the comedies such as the movie Space Balls hearty Commander Mike Henderson (Nick (1987). Indeed, in its first two seasons the Frost), the highly dedicated First Officer focus had been on British class divides. In a Eduardo York (Kevin Eldon) and Diplomatic foray of comedy classics from Steptoe and Son Officer Chloe Teal, with the latter mirroring (1962 - ) to Keeping Up Appearances (1990 - the frequent onscreen persona of the actress ), the British class system and those who that plays her: Miranda Hart. aspire to climb its unforgiving steps has been a subject of ridicule. This traditional aspect In the world of Hyperdrive, Britain returns to of sitcom writing is realised most evidently a more conservative attitude with the higher
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classes ruling the roost. The majority of the crew appear to be middle class. This is particularly the case with Teal who has a background in horse riding and, we find out later, a father with a great deal of influence in the military. Unlike Red Dwarf, the focus is on the higher ranking officers rather than lowly technicians and maintenance droids; in this show it is primarily the Officer class which frequently put the rest of the crew in danger. Hyperdrive centres on upper- and middle-class rejects, those who have inherited all the privileges of their birth while making a mockery of what they have at their disposal. For want of a better term they are the “stupid rich”, with so much money and privilege they don’t know what to do with it. An alien race, the Lallakkis, make a number of appearances in the show. They are on and off enemies of Britain and a clear representation of the downtrodden working classes, despite
their off-world origins. From the first episode in which they appear, the Lallakkis are depicted as coarse, idiotic and rebellious, mirroring an ignorant perspective of the British working classes. Yet despite the potential class prejudices of the show, Mike Henderson frequently associates himself with being a plucky underdog rather than an overbearing leader. The crew of the Camden Lock trundle their way from one incompetency to another, starting intergalactic wars and aggravating unhappy civilians in their attempts to keep the peace. Only Eduardo York finds the time to dedicate himself to his life in servitude, while those around him dream of another life away from the stars or imagine their career as fulfilling a childhood fantasy. Both shows also engage with contemporary issues beyond class divides. A case in point is the Red Dwarf episode “Meltdown” (1991) in
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which Rimmer amasses an army of “good” animated waxwork droids to battle their evil counterparts. Situated at the end of the fourth season, which was at this point approaching the height of its popularity, the episode sneaks in a satirical attack on the negative aspects of war. After all, the good wax droids are decimated in order to achieve victory. The episode was intended as a critique of human conflict, but was scheduled at an unfortunate time. It was in fact postponed from its intended broadcast as it coincided with the Gulf War of 1990-1991 and an anti-war message was considered too controversial as a result. Red Dwarf was not just a vehicle for providing a commentary on the issues of the day, however. Popular culture, old and new, was a persistent topic of choice. The show’s creators, Rob Grant and Doug Naylor, made several references to Casablanca (1942), The Flintstones (1960) and included a couple of cameos from Marilyn Monroe lookalikes – likely a love letter to their own nostalgia. They were also no strangers to references of a more contemporary nature, despite being set a century or more (depending on which series you watch) in the future. The first season included a reference to Norweb, the now defunct electricity board of North West England. The following season included references to Felicity Kendall, famed for her character Barbara in The Good Life (19751978), and the Sinclair ZX Spectrum, a home computer discontinued in 1992. Pop culture references have graced the show throughout its run, including its most recent series. In the episode “Fathers and Suns” (2012), Lister is stuck on an endless phone call to a shopping channel and technology continues to cause havoc via an unworkable computer interface. Pop culture references such as these help the audience connect more on a contemporary level, enhancing the appeal of the comedy and helping it reach a wider demographic.
This would separate Red Dwarf from other sci-fi shows which often rely on exposition, and also require some audience participation at the level of scientific knowledge or past knowledge of the show’s diegetic world. Hyperdrive, much like Red Dwarf, is also no stranger to popular culture. A notable example is “Gary Neville day”, a reference to the former Manchester United defender who in the world of Hyperdrive developed the ability to travel beyond the stars. A later scene lampoons the high-class world of nouveau cuisine when the Camden Lock’s highest ranking officers dine on a meal of Walkers Wotsits. Nostalgically, an episode in the second season includes a reference to the videogame Streetfighter II (1991), while Mike Henderson and Eduardo York are trapped inside a 1990s “pubconcious”. The references are there to speak to the audience, to help them feel more at home than they might in the world of Star Trek, which has been critiqued for barraging its viewers with technobabble. The worlds of Red Dwarf and Hyperdrive are seldom interested in creating a new universe to get to grips with. It is almost as if these shows have been projected from the future and translated through pop culture references and class struggle to speak to their target audience. It is in this combination that the two shows derive their humour. Imagine if Spock (Leonard Nimoy) had suddenly become accustomed to watching Tales of the River Bank (1960), or Han Solo (Harrison Ford) modelled himself on the former goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel. Referring back to Alan Moore’s comment about the place of the present in the future, perhaps writers feel more comfortable referring to the present in their fictional futures. As humanity has shown, in Britain or elsewhere, we often crave familiarity in the long run.
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elevision technologies have installed themselves into our homes to become a part of everyday life, developing and becoming more complex as time goes on. In the past, audiences would have to travel to a cinema theatre to view a film, where they would be joined by many other patrons watching one big screen in a darkened room. However, since the development of home cinema systems, the public have been able to view a variety of shows and films from the comfort of their own homes. Changing the exhibition space has indeed altered the viewing experience. Sales of television sets grew during the 1950s with the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, but it was not until the mid-1980s that home cinema systems appeared on the market; as a new technology it was expensive, thus only accessible to wealthier members of society. This changed, however, as technologies continued to advance and consequently became something every household could potentially own. As a result, we have witnessed a technological convergence, with films and television shows now available to view on portable devices like mobile phones. The idea of a home cinema system often conjures up an image of a room in the home that mimics cinema theatres, including padded armchairs
w it h cup-holders. This is not necessarily the case, as many homes now have these systems integrated into their living rooms, allowing for broadcast television viewing to become synonymous with the home cinema experience.
With the abundance of technology available there is the possibility of creating “an entertainment mecca in domestic space”, as Barbara Klinger states in Beyond the Multiplex: Cinema, New Technologies and the Home (2006). Some systems may even consist of projectors and George Lucas’s THX sound to increase the cinematic experience. In Living Room Wars: Rethinking Media Audiences for a Post Modern World (1995), Ien Ang indicates the appeal of such systems when suggesting “television viewers are in a far better position to avoid messages they do not want to be subjected to than cinema spectators, who are trapped in their chairs in the darkened theatre […] television viewers have the freedom to move around their own home”. Indeed, the appeal of home viewing can be explained by considering the “uses and gratifications” approach by Elihu Katz and Jay G. Blumler in The Uses of Mass Communication (1974) which states
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audiences actively use media texts, like television and film, for a number of reasons, including a quest for information regarding current affairs or a kind of surveillance of the world or as a form of entertainment or diversion from reality. The experience created by home cinema systems heightens this idea of escapism and becoming immersed in a greater spectacle, which is a key motivation for viewing films. The benefits of a home cinema system become apparent when considering contemporary television shows that employ a more cinematic style to those of previous years. Star Trek (1966-1969), for example, had an obvious studio appearance making it feel boxed in with low production values. More contemporary shows like Heroes (20062010) use detailed sets to create atmosphere and tone, as if each episode is shot in a cinematic style. This allows the viewer to become fully connected to the scene, narrative and characters. Sets like Isaac Mendez’s (Santiago Cabrera) artistic apartment in Heroes have a greater impact when viewed on a larger screen consistent with home cinemas. The image
further positions the viewer by potentially demanding the attention of a theatre “gaze” rather than “glance”. The latter is an idea put forward by John Ellis in Visible Fictions: Cinema, Television, Video (1992) that he associates with television viewing and thereby reveals a key distinction between home cinema and ordinary television viewing. Aerial shots and panoramic shots, along with detailed sets can also be further appreciated when viewed using such screens as intricate scenes are designed to give the main characters (and viewers) a means of unravelling the plot, thus the viewer can establish a stronger connection to what they are viewing. These details may be missed on a smaller screen, weakening the viewing experience in comparison to that created by components of a home cinema system. Sound plays an important role in keeping viewer attention and in order to create the cinematic atmosphere to interpolate the audience, along with the larger screen to distract from other features of the room and focus on the digital image. The surround sound speakers of home cinema systems immerse the viewer in the scene by creating the illusion that the sounds are
coming from elsewhere in the room, almost as though the viewer is within the scene itself. The mini-series warepic The Pacific (2010) is a prime example of a cinematic television drama that is desirable to view on a home cinema system. Its use of an explosive soundtrack fully exploits the capabilities of surround sound in the home by frequently using gunfire and explosion sound effects to make it seem as though a shot was fired from right next to the viewer. To then pair this with provocative and high definition visuals on a home cinema screen creates a viewing experience to rival that of the cinema theatre. Home cinema systems are not of such importance to some people. In TV Living: Television, Culture and Everyday Life (1999) David Gauntlett and Annette Hill suggest that people belonging to an older generation (especially those who are recently retired) try to resist watching television and films and instead fill their time with a variety of other activities in an attempt to feel more useful and active. Gauntlett further states that they may eventually find themselves falling back into a viewing habit due to physical and financial restrictions keeping them from other
activities. It is possible to apply these findings and suggest that this same generation are also less concerned with possessing home cinema systems, perhaps due to financial matters or lack of space and instead would be content with standard television technologies that allow for the “glance” and do not attempt to mimic the intensity of cinema theatres. The increasing popularity of 3D cinema, evident in the case of films such as the blockbuster Avatar (2009), has meant further convergence as 3D has been made available for use in the home. This again changes the viewing experience in an attempt to bring the conventions of cinema into the domestic space. Although, 3D has its disadvantages as viewing currently involves the use of specially designed glasses, perhaps the future will see these spectacles made redundant. Nevertheless it may take some time for such technology to enter the home and become fully integrated with home cinema systems. One thing is for certain, home cinemas are here to stay and are continuing to develop, but what does this mean for the future of cinema theatres?
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BLINDED BY THE LIGHT
The expansive landscapes of space have been defined through a combination of science and religion in science fiction storytelling. Speculation about the future revolves around religious and scientific interpretations. These familiar future settings are embellished with technology and often centre on philosophical questions to provoke thought. Most scifis are encumbered by similar questions in search of a greater truth. Sunshine (2007), directed by Danny Boyle and written by Alex Garland, refuels popular space philosophy, whether it is mankind’s confidence in science and technology or a rejuvenation of faith in religion as a means of salvation. Science fiction explores future settings with a rationale based on scientific possibility weaved together with religion and mythology to offer an audience a familiar yet new world. In
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Science Fiction Cinema: F r o m Outerspace to Cyberspace (2000), Geoff King and Tanya Krzywinska note that the inclusion of “technological innovation and scientific discoveries” gives the genre relevance; science offers the technology and rationality behind science fiction. King and Krzywinska also mention that sci-fis “exchange ideas, forms and images”, arguing that religion, philosophy and mythology can become entwined in the vastly imaginative landscapes
of science fiction. These highly influenced worlds are displayed in a hypothetical realm based on the rational. According to the authors, “science fiction links visions of science and the unknown to speculation about human evolution and destiny” whereby science fuses with religion for an interpretation of space or the unknown. As a genre, sci-fi focuses on the unknown yet to give an appearance to the unknown the genre relies on a relationship between science and religion. Religion serves to personalise the viewing experience, it makes the audience feel something for the material. This, according to Steven Sanders in The Philosophy of Science Fiction (2008), invites a feeling of “disembodiment” in the viewer and a disconnection from the material. For example, 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) confirms the self-reflective quality of religion and philosophy in space as the highly symbolical imagery complements the sound to tell a story, or potentially an interpretation of life. Religion is concerned with intellectual and sensory perception. The final scene
featuring the “star child” orbiting above earth invites the audience to revel in the mystery and offer interpretations. These elements push the audience into unfamiliar territory. This is not to say that science fiction is unrecognisable but, in its concern with religion, it catalyses multiple (and some indescribable) emotions that the viewer must interpret for themselves. Philosophical burdens become entangled in the relationship between science and religion. Ridley Scott’s science fiction films continuously allude to God, such as in Blade Runner (1982) where synthetics grow curious of their makers and Prometheus (2012) with mankind meeting the “engineers”. From the iconic Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) escaping hell in Alien (1979) to Rachael (Sean Young) the sympathetic synthetic with a human complex coming to terms with her identity in Blade Runner, space certainly reveals an impression of a greater presence. Regarding religious influences, scifi embraces more than the traditionally expected monotheistic form of religion and finds comfort in many other forms. Polytheism, the worship of many Gods, is suggested in television series such as Battlestar Galactica (2004-2009). Whether it is the last colony of mankind praying for salvation to the Gods of Kobol in Battlestar Galactica, or the
many ridiculous religions nested in the form of parody (such as “Robotology” or “Robot Judaism” in Futurama), space encompasses multiple cultures and broader beliefs and yet has a continued reliance on science and technology. Sunshine presents a voyage of scientific possibility, religious experience and philosophical enlightenment. As Captain Pinbacker (Mark Strong) proclaims, “For seven years I spoke with God. He told me to take us all to Heaven”.
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The film centres on the voyage of the Icarus II into the mysterious void of space, embarking on a mission in hopes of re-igniting the sun using the “payload” to end the nearing wintry apocalypse. Many science fiction stories offer allegories. Beyond the obvious names of the shuttles and the scorching powers of the sun, the story of Sunshine evokes Greek mythology with the story of Icarus. In the myth, the imprisoned Daedalus and son Icarus attempted to escape by crafting wings of wax and feather. But ignoring his father’s caution, Icarus flew too close to the sun, resulting in his demise. The myth’s symbolic value adds further depth to the story of Sunshine; Icarus may come to resemble mankind with its ignorant belief in its power. However, Icarus was punished for his ignorance and, in the film, mankind suffers a similar fate. Sunshine deals with this issue as a sacrifice is made in order for humanity to be triumphant. The allegory is reflective of human nature and this is evident in many other sci-fis that offer insight into themes of human will, sin and meeting our maker. Sunshine approaches such philosophical topics as knowledge, existence and reason. Existence is at the heart of the piece and in order for mankind to survive sacrifice must be made, which coincides with Mace (Chris Evans), whose devotion to the mission is motivated by the greater good and results in a and disregard for his own life. Reason, however, circulates salvation and possession and weaker characters grasp at
the fragility of life. Everything seems to be rooted in the tiresome skirmish between good and evil, encapsulated by Pinbacker’s insurrection against the crew as he exclaims, “it is not our place to challenge God”. The philosophical approach is a way of understanding human nature in search of larger truths. Religion is a more subtle motivation in Sunshine; the idea of a divine presence in space is implied through the spectacle of space and the journey of the characters. The film follows the curiosity of God; as faith grows and seems to fill the void of loneliness, fear and awe. Certainly the spectacle of space ignites religious sentiment and an impression of heaven with all its awe and might. The obsessive and curious psychological officer Dr Searle’s (Cliff Curtis) profound interest in the marvel of the sun’s blaze connotes the idea of worship or faith; he maintains that light “envelops you” and compares darkness to absence. There is an overwhelming attraction to the sun where the characters become increasingly drawn to its magnificence, suggesting that the sun resembles some higher and more powerful form. The character journeys that transpire on screen are more spiritual than scientific. As the crew venture deeper into the unknown, problems arise due to their psychological vulnerability. The spectacle of space is beyond comprehension and the crew slowly falls prey to their humanity. Dr Searle’s demise and his attraction
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to the blaze is a reminder of the fragility of life. Exploring the psychology of the mind, soul and spirit seems to be of importance to Boyle, best exemplified in 127 Hours (2010) and Trance (2013). Whilst neither are sci-fi films they both nonetheless explore different functions of space. A prominent example of the exploration of the mind, soul and spirit resides in the sci-fi thriller, Solaris (1972, 2002), where a distressed physiologist Kris/Chris Kelvin (played by Donatas Banionis and George Clooney in the respective versions) investigates a shuttle orbiting a mysterious planet that causes his character to self-reflect. Similarly, in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977) the force, an “ancient religion”, is
used for guidance and comes from within. Certainly science fiction presents a haunting impression of religion. Religion is frequently replaced by calculations and predictions: Capa (Cillian Murphy) is the wonder-boy genius physicist guiding the payload based on scientific probability similar to Hal 9000 delivering the crew to Jupiter tracking the beacon of the mysterious monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey. The scientific approach to space exploration is the most popular; everything is driven by faith in science alone. Capa drives the plot forward until his swan song with the sun as an unearthly metaphysical occurrence transpires: the indescribable delivery of the payload into the sun. The sequence recalls the climax of 2001: A Space Odyssey, with its grand gesture to religion and the beyond. Sunshine erupts with a similar cocktail of emotions in its sweltering conclusion and Capaâ€™s final act as he sacrifices his life. In
this instance, the character is at peace for saving humanity; better yet, it highlights the journey into the soul. Surely these occurrences cannot be attributed to science alone? Together religion and science offer answers and explanations, they interpret the unknown and give value to something valueless, forging an all-to-familiar setting in space. Space remains one of the last frontiers where both science and religion are nested and have staked claims. Religion has diffused into films, just like its counterparts: current technology and science. Sunshine and other sci-fi epics of space exploration offer no real definitive answer to the science/religion debate regarding space. Instead, such films set to enlighten the viewer by asking questions of their own, as with the synthetic/human quandary in both Blade Runner and Battlestar Galactica, which question the relationship between mankind and its
maker. These questions, along with themes concerning human definition and â€œmeeting our makerâ€?, provoke complex emotions in the audience. Sunshine withholds similar answers, avoiding a definitive definition and forcing the audience to interpret the experience for themselves. The film is about a journey, for the characters or the audience, whether scientific or spiritual, whether to the sun or for the soul.
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CONFINED SPACES C
onfined spaces in films not only submerge the audiences into the narrative but can also create a claustrophobic environment. Many films that portray confined spaces generally display characters that are unable to escape and are faced with an event that is out of their control, such as Sean Penn’s Into the Wild (2007), Kevin Macdonald’s Touching the Void (2003) and Rodrigo Cortés’s Buried (2010). In the latter, the protagonist Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds) is trapped in a coffin. The film reveals this confined space via the use of diegetic lighting (a lighter, torch and mobile), which exposes the protagonist’s situation and the cramped dimensions of the coffin. Due to the enclosed environment and the position of the actor within this space, these tight confines ultimately prevent camera movement and limit the choice of camera angles. Based on a true story, Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours (2010) depicts the harrowing incident where Aron Ralston (James Franco) becomes trapped under a boulder whilst canyoneering alone near Moab, Utah. 127 Hours displays Aron’s struggle to free himself and how he must ultimately resort to desperate measures. In doing so, the film constructs a confined space by manipulating camera angles, camera movements, diegetic sound and fast-paced editing.
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These film techniques are utilised when Aron first becomes trapped under the boulder. The sudden panic and realisation that he is trapped with no means of communication is shown by the use of fast-cuts and tight close-up shots. This not only contributes to what Michael Goldman refers to in a 2010 Variety article about the film as an “ultra confined space” but also shows Aron’s isolation and his predicament in being trapped. Goldman’s notion of the “ultra confined space” can be considered as a new phenomenon; not only does the term represent film space but the space on set, thus creating the threedimensional environment.
Of course, cinema can be observed as a threedimensional medium bringing characters and landscapes to life. Narratives manipulate threedimensional space though framing thus creating, what David Bordwell and Kristen Thompson call in Film Art: An Introduction, a “visible space [and] a conscious world”. For them, “the frame selects a slice to show us, leaving the rest of the space offscreen”. This is a necessary requirement as film tries to replicate the contemporary world. These aspects are established from the combination of visual elements and diegetic sound that helps the audience to believe the space represented on screen is authentic and a true portrayal of contemporary life. 127 Hours displays its isolated environment in a way that engages the audience, allowing them to become involved with Aron’s choices and to admire his ability to fight for his survival. The film techniques manipulate the images shown within the frame and define the awareness the audience has of Aron’s surroundings and situation. This can be seen in the choice of using depth of field, which concentrates on Aron’s emotions but also highlights his isolation and confined body.
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In a DVD featurette Danny Boyle states, “The idea of a confined space is a psychological one”. This can be distinguished through the deterioration of Aron’s mind resulting from dehydration and sleep deprivation. He becomes disoriented and starts to hallucinate, at one point creating his own chat show. He also begins to remember his childhood and past events through a series of flashbacks such as his relationship with his father, showing how he became interested in hiking. 127 Hours displays the awareness of space both psychologically and physically. This can be seen when Aron drops his multi-tool as the spectator watches his struggle and attempts to pick it up with a stick. This on-going battle with himself and his need to obtain the multi-tool in order to escape releases tension and creates humour for the spectator. The camera angle also highlights his inability to move an inch from the rock and reminds the audience of the limitations posed by the confined space. 127 Hours was quite unique in employing the services of two cinematographers: Enrique Chediak and Anthony Dod Mantle. They both have different styles that can be seen by their choices in camera angles, the format and optics used. These decisions were necessary due to the limited characters in the film thus enabling the audience to be submerged into the narrative. The use of two cinematographers created a unique and organic image that is displayed in the flashback scenes, which use a threesplit screen. As a result, the cinematographers complimented each other and have recreated visual scenarios in a new and interesting way. Another contribution to the film’s gritty and mesmerising camera techniques was the choice of cameras used, switching between digital and film. Boyle’s decision to experiment with these different cameras (Canon EOS 5D Mark II, Canon 7D and SI2K) enabled him to capture this unique image that is not frequently used in film. This is illustrated through the different locations creating a different tone and atmosphere that is introduced by Aron’s video diaries as they capture a raw account of his injuries and fears witnessing his deterioration and possible death. For that reason the use of two cinematographers enabled audiences to distinctly notice the difference in filmmaking style and aesthetics. The decision to shoot on location and in a confined studio creates a kinetic hyperreality that captures the vivid moments experienced
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by Aron and constructs an uneasy atmosphere that is evident in many of Boyle’s films. In films such as Trainspotting (1996), 28 Days Later (2002), Sunshine (2007) and Slumdog Millionaire (2008), Boyle’s energetic style can be recognised in his unsettling narratives, fast paced editing, electronic music and likeable and relatable characters. However, unlike most of his films, 127 Hours only shows the story of one protagonist instead of a group struggling together with an event unfolding on screen. The focus on one protagonist allows the spectator to be submerged in their story and sustain a personal relationship with that character. In 127 Hours the protagonist instigates an emotional and personal relationship with the audience, which can be seen in Franco’s direct engagement with the camera at certain points, breaking the fourth wall. The enclosed set enabled an intimacy between the director, cinematographer and the actor, enhancing Franco’s vulnerability in certain scenes and increasing the film’s emotional impact by focusing on Franco’s reactions and facial expressions. The interaction with the camera helped to sustain the pace of the film and the spectator’s interest, reeling them into the emotion as displayed by the actor. 127 Hours displays many forms of film space, from the use of cinematography to the choice of music, and does so in a way that manipulates and directs the narrative. The use of space is encapsulated in Boyle’s decision to reconstruct the canyon, which was built without moveable walls thus becoming more constricted than the original location. In doing so, the film captivates audiences and makes them question their own space. The “ultra confined space” can be distinguished as the boulder that prevents Aron from returning home but it can also be considered as the space behind the camera and the confinements of shooting in such a narrow space, preventing the use of standard movie cameras such as 35mm. Nevertheless, this enabled Boyle to utilise smaller cameras to obtain the intimate and unique shots, which he would be unable to achieve with a larger camera and allowing Boyle to experiment and move away from conventional film techniques. As a result the confined and claustrophobic space induces panic for the protagonist and apprehension for the audience, but in Boyle’s capable hands it is a space we enjoy being stuck in.
uring the transition from the 20th to the 21st century a new type of sitcom was presented to the British public in the television shows Spaced (1999-2001) and The Office (20012003). This new sitcom combined a particular style of camera work, story structure, editing, music, lighting and performance and departed from conventional sitcom tropes such as the studio audience, the canned laughter and the bad pun. At first neither was winning the race for the highest ratings. However, they did have a small cult following that gradually grew. The Office in particular went on to become a worldwide success, grossing an estimated ÂŁ370 million and was shown in more than 80 countries. The Office and Spaced are arguably two of the most important British sitcoms of the last 20 years; they have had a lasting impact and influenced so many of the sitcoms that are on television
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today. Their unconventional approach to realism depicts the lives of everyday people in realities that combine self-awareness with numerous pop culture references, establishing them both as hugely iconic shows leading the way for surprising and innovative comedy. Both shows introduced some very recognisable faces and names to the public. Ricky Gervais, Stephen Merchant, Martin Freeman, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Edgar Wright are the most familiar names to have come from the shows, having gone on to produce other critically acclaimed films and television programmes such as Shaun of the Dead (2004) and Extras (20052007). The Office and Spaced provided these six creative personalities with a solid platform to establish their careers and their wider significance in the film and television industry.
Each has their own instantly recognisable styles and trademarks. Director Edgar Wright’s passion for old horror and comedy films is clear throughout the two series of Spaced. An American Werewolf in London (1981) is a good example of a film Wright has been influenced by as this style is clearly apparent. He shoots in a very cinematic way which gives the show its trademark visual look. Fast camera whips, quick zooms, rapidly cut sequences and constant movie references all provide this visual look. This is all too different from the traditional, multi-camera, three-walled studio sitcom and theatrical performances that audiences have been used to in shows such as Are You Being Served? (1972-1985), Fawlty Towers (1975-1979) and Only Fools and Horses (1981-2003). Wright is the key to the puzzle here. While the show is tremendously well written by Simon Pegg and Jessica Hynes (née Stevenson), Wright is the one who really pulls the pieces together. Rarely does a director have so much impact on a sitcom, which is one reason why Spaced is so distinct and critically lauded. Wright’s impact is clear throughout the two series, particularly evident in a pretend shootout scene (Series 2, Episode 5) where the actors use their hands in place of guns. This cinematic scene is filled with quick cuts, dramatic music and a multitude of sound effects. Shot like a traditional sitcom, this scene would be less effective yet cinematic action and western ‘shoot out’ scenes demonstrate Wright’s creative influences. Intertextuality is a major part of the show and provides a large amount of the humour. At first watch, it may be easy to miss or misunderstand the film, television, comic book and other media references. However this encourages multiple viewings as viewers can revisit Spaced with a wider knowledge of pop culture, which can reward them for understanding parts of the show they had previously missed. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975), Star Wars (19771983), Scarface (1980), Pulp Fiction (1994), The Royle Family (1998 - ) and The Matrix (1999) are just some of the intertextual references within the show. Such examples include a reproduction of The Royle Family opening credits where all the characters from Spaced sit on the sofa to “Half The World Away” by Oasis, or the reference to Scarface where Mike holds a plastic, pink gun in a bar fight and proclaims “Say hello to my little friend”. These embedded references encourage the audience to really engage with the show, to research beyond it
in order to make sense of it and widen their pop culture knowledge as a result. Spaced was undoubtedly a unique sitcom and, in the same year that it finished, another emerged.
The Office implemented the mockumentary “fly-on-the-wall” style that is seen in many current sitcoms such as the long-running US show Curb Your Enthusiasm (2000 - ), UK series The Thick of It (2005 - ) and, more recently, the Olympics comedy Twenty Twelve (2011 - ). However The Office popularised the style and paved the way for other sitcoms to follow in its steps. The humour is often very subtle and repeatedly takes place in the background, behind the apparent focus of the scene. Tim (Martin Freeman) is often seen reacting to what the characters in the main focus of the shot are saying. In Season 2 Episode 4, for example, Simon (Stephen Humby) and Gareth Keenan (Mackenzie Crook) are discussing go-karting and Tim is in the background showing his dismay at what is being said. Not only does this enhance the mockumentary approach but it also gives the show an extra dimension. Utilising all the space in the frame, helps to construct a sense of realism. Close and repeated viewing of the show reveals new jokes and a new experience each time.
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Awkward humour and “cringe worthy” moments are the main points of comedy in The Office. These moments are synonymous with this type of sitcom and the audience have to expect a certain amount of “cringe comedy”. In The Essential Cult Television Reader (2010) David Lavery notes this “dark, satirical humor is based less on set jokes and repartee than on discomfort and humiliation”. Cringe comedy is embodied by David Brent (Ricky Gervais). The infamous guitar playing scene where Brent plays his own songs such as “Freelove Freeway” and “Serpent Who Guards the Gates of Hell” makes viewers want to hide away as a result of the painful cringe factor. From the inappropriate jokes and the gloating, to the politically incorrect comments and the constant seeking of approval, Brent is a British sitcom icon. Although a seemingly rotten person at the end of the series, viewers feel a sense of heartbreak and sorrow for him.
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Gervais’ slight glances down the camera lens not only acts as a reminder that The Office is supposed to be a documentary but brings the audience closer into understanding Brent as an arrogant, egotistical man but essentially someone who just wants to be loved. Perhaps the most famous moment of both series and Gervais’ career is “The David Brent Dance”: a crab like shimmy with rotating arms accompanied by Brent’s own vocal grunts. The office workers begin clapping along to the dance only to slowly fizzle out, leaving Brent dancing alone with everyone else staring in horror. It takes the audience from laughter to absolute pity for Brent in an instant. This is a trademark of The Office; the moment connects the audience to the characters and positions them in that very office, feeling the awkward silence and emotions along with the characters. The Office has the ability to make the audience cry with laughter, hide behind their hands cringing and also pull at the heartstrings.
The main disappointment for fans is that both are only two series long. The production teams did not give in to the fans’ pleas and instead opted to preserve the quality of their sitcoms rather than grind out more episodes and risk losing the quality factor. In interviews, Simon Pegg described making another series of Spaced as “dangerous” and claims it could “hurt the original two series”. Similarly, in spite of a Christmas special and Comic Relief appearance, Gervais seems unlikely to create another series of The Office. Both series’ endings are left fairly open and leave the audience wanting more, allowing the audience to think for themselves about where the characters end up and if the relationships continue. Although both fairly short series, The Office and Spaced offer a significant contribution to modern day comedy. Bringing forward their original styles and formats combined with superb stories and characters makes them true titans in the comedy world. The US remake of The Office
has become a huge critical and commercial success, with nine series and over 200 episodes, casting Hollywood stars such as Steve Carell and Will Ferrell. It has also been broadcast and remade in countries such as Israel and Chile, all of which have their own native versions of Brent. Such examples show how the space that British sitcom has traditionally occupied has been irrevocably changed as a result of these two pioneering shows.
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SPACE VS. MANKIND Space is often depicted as a utopian place to discover new things. In his book Science Fiction (2000), Adam Roberts defines the science fiction genre as “imaginative fiction based on postulated scientific discoveries or spectacular environmental changes, frequently set in the future or on other planets and involving space or time travel”. However, not all discoveries are pleasant. Dystopia emerges in the environmental disasters and the non-human, unfriendly beings that want to destroy the hope, creation and wonders that exist in the utopian idea of space. In some cases it can even be seen as a negative consequence of
exploring too deeply the wonders of space. Prometheus (2012), like many sci-fis, depicts space as a place for both discovery and danger. The explorers search space for clues to the roots of mankind, looking at space as a utopian place of possibilities.
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Nevertheless, space becomes figured as dystopian when they have to fight for their lives and for mankind as they journey in the deepest parts of space. Apocalyptic narratives have become the norm in science fiction films and are evident beyond the Alien series. In Alien Zone II: The Spaces of Science Fiction Cinema (1999), Barry Keith Grant cites Armageddon (1998) as an example of the apocalyptic film “founded on the promise of scenes of mass destruction”. The film shows space as a place of danger as astronauts have to race against time to stop a meteorite from crashing into earth and destroying the planet. Armageddon uses a blend of fright and intrigue to bring a natural disaster to our screens. It depicts space as dystopian as the threat is coming directly from space, encapsulated by the meteorite; if it breaks through the atmosphere it would cause
tidal waves, earthquakes, fires and destroy the ozone layer which could potentially end earth as its inhabitants know it. In Armageddon, space is unsafe and anything can potentially be dangerous to Earth and mankind. Cloverfield (2008) presents a more developed apocalyptic narrative. In bringing the fight to earth instead of outer space, director Matt Reeves shows a group of unsuspecting people filming at a leaving party until there is an attack by an unknown creature. Similar to an alien invasion narrative, humans need to fight the unknown in order to return to safety. Shot in a found footage style, the film is told from the perspective of one of the characters that is trying to find safety. This gives the film a sense of realism as the audience is positioned from the characters’ point-of-view instead of a more conventional sequence with static cameras. This creates more intrigue by giving the audience a subjective point-of-view of what could potentially happen if a monster invaded the Earth. Subjective filming, rather
than allowing the audience to observe objectively from a distance, is an effective strategy to allow the audience to see and feel the main characters’ turmoil in their bid to survive.
who now know what to look for in order to defeat another meteorite. Cloverfield, on the other hand, ends in a much darker, more dystopian manner with the future of Earth left in a very vulnerable state.
Both Cloverfield and Armageddon show mankind being attacked by an alien force: a monster and a meteorite. A key difference, however, is that in Cloverfield the troubles are brought to Earth for mankind to fight and defeat. Although the humans fight with any tanks, guns and bombs they have at their disposal, the monster is unknown and unfamiliar, rendering their human weapons inadequate.
There are numerous films that depict space as dystopian where humans have to defend their planet. Films like Prometheus fuel our wonderment about space and ask us to think about what possibilities could be out there. Adam Roberts suggests that sci-fi “opens up new possibilities; it makes us think”. Prometheus is just one of the most recent films to engage with this idea and will not be the last. As more science fiction films are being produced and developed, so is technology. This helps sustain the fictional worlds, generating new stories with new equations to be solved and answered. As humans discover more about outer space, we also discover more about the potential dangers that lurk there. Each new space story invites us to ponder whether these dystopian worlds are just a fiction or are closer to us than we think.
This contrasts with the more effective use of the drill in Armageddon and, while the meteorite was unplanned and NASA and the government had little warning, there was enough time to send out drillers and astronauts to prevent a disaster. Another key difference between the two space narratives is that Armageddon ends with the survival of the human race
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HIDDEN IN PLAIN SIGHT The Hidden Face (La cara oculta 2011) is a Spanish thriller directed by Andrés Baiz and is his second featurelength film. His first, the Columbian crime drama Satan (Satanás 2007), won awards for best actor and best film at the Festival of Monte Carlo. The Hidden Face stars Clare Lago, who was nominated for a Goya (Spanish Oscar) for her performance in the acclaimed Carol’s Journey (2002); Quim Gutiérrez, who won a Goya for his performance in Dark Blue Almost Black (Azuloscurocasinegro 2006); and Martina Garciá, who starred in Sebastián Cordero’s award-winning Rage (Rabia 2009). The film’s powerful opening sees Adrián (Gutiérrez) watching a video his girlfriend Belén (Lago) has recorded to tell him she is leaving. Little does Adrián know that Belén, in a ploy to test his affections, has locked herself away in a hidden room inside the house so that she can observe his reaction. Unluckily Belén, as anyone who has seen the trailer will know, becomes a prisoner inside her secret room as she loses the one key that enables her release. Once Belén realises she cannot get out, she becomes increasingly distressed, which escalates when Adrián embarks on a new relationship with the beautiful Fabiana (García). When Fabiana finds a key to the hidden room, the remainder of the film focuses on the anticipation of whether Belén will be let out of the room before she wastes away.
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The hidden room within the film is what makes this film so innovative. Hidden rooms have been used in other films before such as David Fincher’s Panic Room (2002) where the room is used as a safe space to hide from criminals. In Edward Dmytryk’s 1949 film Obsession (released in the US as The Hidden Room) the room is used as a space for the main character to hide away in order to plot his revenge on his cheating wife. It is also interesting to consider The Hidden Face alongside other Spanish films that feature hidden rooms such as The Orphanage (El orfanato 2007) and Pedro Almodóvar’s The Skin I Live In (La piel que habito 2011). However, the hidden room is used to different effect in The Hidden Face; the room is used, initially, as a space from which to spy on someone. Belén wants to see if her boyfriend is cheating on her and to test how much he will miss her when he finds her video. The hidden room is not a space that offers protection or to calculate revenge; she only wants the truth. While Vera (Elena Anaya) is locked away against her own will in The Skin I Live In, Belén goes there by her own free will. For Belén, the room that was once an opportunity for truth, turns into her own tomb. After losing the key that enabled her freedom, Belén realises that she is going to die alone in the room that once held so much hope. With food supplies dwindling, her imprisonment becomes increasingly surreal and she desperately needs help, and fast. Seeing Belén fade away in her self-made prison asks the audience to sympathise with the character. Belén’s pain is evident as she watches her boyfriend with another woman yet we know this results from her own foolishness. Repeated close-ups of Belén’s face show her heartache and anger that she cannot get out. The majority of the film takes place in two main settings: the house and the hidden room. By not leaving the house, a sense of claustrophobia is created; the film tries to position the audience so they are also trapped inside the house and inside the hidden room with Belén. Low-key lighting contributes to the sense of claustrophobia as there is no natural sunlight going into the hidden room, which causes Belén to feel more and more trapped inside this room. With Fabiana as Belén’s only means of freedom and her main cause of pain, the audience is asked to sympathise with Belén’s situation as she is stuck in her own tomb and anticipation increases when we find out her opportunity to get out relies on someone else. The moral of the film seems to be to trust in others more; if Belén had trusted her boyfriend, she would not have been trapped in the room. Yet the ending questions this very idea and stays with you long after the film has finished; it makes you ask yourself: what would I do in that situation? And many may not be able to answer that question. As a result, The Hidden Face offers a clever counterpart to previous hidden room films and is highly recommended viewing.
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S H O R T H A N D
The Space beyond the Screen 2012 saw the release of Ridley Scott’s prequel to the Alien (1979-1997) saga: Prometheus. Whilst the film received a mixed response from fans and critics, its marketing campaign was arguably more ambitious than the overall film. Two unique trailers were released, both expanding on the film’s diegesis. Both trailers were examples of “viral” marketing, which is becoming the most creative and intriguing way of selling and promoting films for contemporary audiences. In Show Sold Separately: Promos, Spoilers and Other Media Paratexts (2010), Jonathan Gray debates how effective film promotion can be and how the industry has adapted in order to keep up with the changing media world. Gray argues how “hype” is necessary to sell a film, which could explain why viral marketing and “teaser” trailers work so well as it establishes hype for a film before even the official theatrical trailer is released. The first teaser trailer was an advert for the android, David (Michael Fassbender), entitled “Happy Birthday David”. The three-minute short, shot in the style of an advertisement, introduced the character of
David, revealing his background and bringing attention to the fact that David is not unique but is mass produced. This advert is presented in a similar way to that of a car or vacuum cleaner commercial advert; David is presented as a machine designed to assist. This viral marketing helps reveal the complexities surrounding the android as a character and sets up the question of whether or not David is to be trusted onboard the ship Prometheus. Fans of the Alien saga might already be suspicious of any android involvement in the Prometheus storyline due to the earlier sneaky android Ash (Ian Holm) in Alien (1979). The second teaser trailer showed Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) addressing crowds at the 2023 Technology, Entertainment and Design (TED) global conference. The trailer reveals Weyland’s ambitions and intentions, which
provide a backstory for a character that does not receive a great amount of screen time in the film. The trailer also acts as a bridge linking both Alien and Prometheus; fans would know that Weyland Industries are a constant burden for the characters in the Alien films. Again, the trailer encourages debates and questions on fan discussion boards and fan-made websites, with fans engaging with the film before it has even been released. These trailers are not the only examples of viral marketing used by the filmmakers; a website discussing the Weyland Corporation helps to fill in any gaps or plot holes that viewers may have encountered whilst watching the film. This provides a range of sources to keep even the most active fans entertained until, and after, the film’s release. Damon Lindelof, one of the writers, discussed the impact that the viral marketing campaign had on the film. In an interview he stated that, “We wanted to generate viral content that starred the characters from the movie. So I pitched the idea of the TED talk. And that TED talk really speaks to the prequel question because it’s Peter Weyland! And Weyland is a name that is very familiar in all Alien movies. And we’re going to tell audiences that he is a part of Prometheus. So here’s another way
we are showing them, as opposed to telling them, what the relationship between the two movies is”. His comment suggests the intention of the trailers is to reassure fans of the original Alien films that questions may be answered or, perhaps, may even leave fans with more questions. Either way, the trailers acknowledge Prometheus is to be read alongside the previous films. Gray discusses how viral marketing can be considered paratexts, which he states are “not simply add-ons, spin-offs and also-rans: they create texts, they manage them, and they fill them with meanings that we associate them with”. The film’s viral marketing campaign extends the text and sets up the film’s theme and ideas well before its actual release. They are effective because their simplicity helps add mystery to the film’s plot. Both videos are less than four minutes in length; they are easy to find on YouTube as well as other trailer websites and there is even the option to download them from iTunes. As Gray had previously discussed, this helps to secure an audience for the film well in advance and helps to ensure a profit for the filmmakers.
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However, a franchise as successful as the Alien saga surely does not need to resort to the “gimmicks” of viral marketing? The decision made by the filmmakers to expand the world and extend the plot line, certainly made Prometheus one of last year’s biggest and most anticipated blockbusters, with its opening weekend amounting to $51 million at the US box office alone. As Prometheus is one of the first blockbusters that is part of a new franchise to use viral marketing, its success could see other franchises adopting the same method. Could we see the next Star Wars film “advertising” for the Jedi academy? Or Luke Skywalker endorsing a new lightsaber model? Viral marketing certainly appeals to the fan cultures surrounding films. Snakes on a Plane (2006), for example, used viral marketing in order to gain a fan following on the internet with many people debating the film’s plotlines in order to make creative decisions about changes to the storyline. However, Snakes on a Plane only just managed to break even, suggesting that not every film can live up to the hype it creates for itself.
Of course, Prometheus is not the first film to use fictional websites to sell its film and expand upon the film’s diegesis. Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight (2009) capitalised on the cult following around the Joker (Heath Ledger) by creating www.whysoserious.com, which involved fans playing a scavenging game set up by the Joker. For anyone interested in finding out about the latest viral film campaigns, the website www.movieviral. com keeps individuals updated, acting like a spring board to allow individuals to watch viral videos and access other websites, such as a recent Django Unchained (2013) game that allows participants to play as one of the characters from the film.
The rise of viral marketing campaigns reflects the film industry embracing the potential of the internet, knowing that most of the audience are likely to see film trailers while online. With cinema attendances declining over the last decade, filmmakers have needed to adapt to advertise their films in unique and interesting ways in order to generate an audience for their films. As discussed earlier this year by Alex Ramirez in an article for The Content Standard, social media has helped spread the word of upcoming releases, “the digitization of the film industry has certainly helped, with cloud sharing replacing the physical transportation of film reels, social Watching Prometheus viral adverts helps to expand media and viral marketing campaigns have the space of the film, revealing more information kept people going to their local theatres”. about characters intentions and helping to create a stronger reality for the film to exist in. The Weyland Social networking encourages audience Industries website is perhaps even more interesting members to become involved with the film, than the advert for David or the TED talk because with many able to “like” Facebook pages and it offers visitors the chance to explore the layout sign up for information about new releases on of the ship Prometheus. It also offers, training in their news feed. Viral marketing encourages order to “join” the Prometheus crew through a people to talk about films before their release memory game and other logic based games; there date, as is the case for Neill Blomkamp’s highly are databases providing information about Dr anticipated Elysium (2013). A short film has Elizabeth Shaw’s (Noomi Rapace) work and her already been released showing two young research dossier is available to read; a “Meet the men pulling over in a car and discovering a Crew” section which introduces the main roles strange pig-like creature. Such viral videos and performers; and a unique biography of Peter appeal to film fans that are desperate to try Weyland. The website has enough to keep even the and gather enough information about these most dedicated fan entertained and the website secretive films. fully draws you into the world.
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With Prometheus we see that Hollywood has truly embraced the marketing appeal of viral video campaigns. Although it may be some time until Hollywood becomes fully confident in using viral videos in its marketing campaign with another franchise, Prometheus could be considered proof that viral videos can help sell a film and reassure the pre-existing fan base. Only time will tell whether or not Hollywood steps away from traditional marketing campaigns of posters and film trailers, becoming more creative and experimental with the ways it sells its upcoming releases.
THE SOUND OF WALL-E
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lthough a computer animated sci-fi, WALL-E (2008) has the ability to warm the hearts of children and adults alike. Produced by Pixar animation studios, it follows the story of a robot named WALL-E (short for Waste Allocation Load-Lifter – Earth Class) as he cleans up Earth in the year 2805. Humans, in the meantime, have fled to live on the Axiom spaceship where all meals come liquidised in a cup and they suffer extreme loss of bone density. Later, the humans send EVE, an Extra-terrestrial Vegetation Evaluator, to scout for any signs of life on Earth. This is where a love story begins; WALL-E falls for EVE and travels across the galaxy to be with her. Whilst WALL-E is just as charming as any of Pixar’s films before it, Toy Story (1995), Finding Nemo (2003) and Cars (2006), it is particularly interesting because of the relationship between sound and space. Sound in film rarely surpasses the attention that is paid to the visuals yet WALL-E showcases the importance of sound. In Film: A Critical Introduction (2005), Maria Pramaggiore and Tom Wallis note “In mainstream film speech gets the most emphasis [because] dialogue conveys so much information that sound effects or music rarely overwhelm it”. However dialogue is scarce during the first half of WALL-E. The decision to not include the convention of speech suggests that WALL-E is striving to break away from the mainstream and tell its stories in more creative ways. We might ask how the sound team were able to communicate with the audience without speech as the main component of sound. WALL-E has been widely perceived as a homage to silent slapstick comedy of the early 1900s. One particular sequence features a montage of WALL-E’s work during the day. This consists of him finding a bra amongst the rubble and putting it over his eyes, playing with a paddle ball before it repeatedly hits him in the face, tossing away a diamond ring as rubbish but being amazed by the box it came in and setting off a fire extinguisher that launches him backwards. The non-diegetic score playing during this sequence can be described as a non-intrusive, upbeat tune that lets WALL-E’s visual reactions to these foreign objects act as the comedy. Many moments in WALL-E share the same approach as early slapstick, such as people falling over and their exaggerated reactions. The film asks
the audience to laugh along with WALL-E’s actions. It is similar to the way that sound was played live in the silent era of film where a live band or musician accompanied the films as they were screened; sound is used to guide the audience’s emotions asking for them to empathise with WALL-E as he sifts through the rubbish alone each day. This is clearly evident in the songs from the musical Hello Dolly! (1969) played throughout the film. In the opening sequence the song “Put on your Sunday Clothes” is played and the audience is guided across space amongst the stars and solar system before focusing in on our own ruined planet. This is quite a juxtaposition of images and sound inviting a very sombre response from the audience. Director Andrew Stanton has said “I just knew I wanted an old-fashioned song against space and I just loved the future against the past”. The audience is forced to consider why this song from a romantic comedy musical was used in place of a more seemingly fitting science fiction soundtrack. WALL-E is set in the future, a story and world unfamiliar to our reality and so this choice of song enables the audience to be placed in the story and connect with the unfolding events. When the song fades out, WALL-E hurries into the frame. This is the first time we are introduced to him, associating the robot with the music. It is the music then, rather than dialogue, that is given the responsibility to convey character. Aligning WALL-E to the song makes him more relatable to the audience; it suggests a desire for adventure. The lyrics of the song “Put on you Sunday Clothes” further emphasise this.
“Out there, there’s a world outside of Yonkers… Out there, full of shine and full of sparkle… There’s lots of world out there” The lyrics directly relate to space since, of course, space is vast and contains millions of stars that “shine” and “sparkle” in the sky, whilst also relating to WALL-E’s longing for something more than his everyday routine. WALL-E is the accidental hero of the film, helping the humans rediscover life on Earth,
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and this song could symbolise more than WALL-E’s character but the world as it once was: joyous and simple. This is juxtaposed with the images that show how different Earth is now and suggests the past has been all but forgotten. Forgotten, that is, until WALL-E restores life as the characters once knew it; he embodies the hopeless romantic. This further resonates when WALL-E is back in his storage cabin and listens to “It Only takes a Moment”. He becomes captivated by the image of the Cornelius (Michael Crawford) and Irene (Marianne McAndrew) in love and copies them holding hands by putting his two metal hands together. WALL-E wants companionship and the audience can sympathise with him through the use of music and images of loneliness in a deserted world. The use of these songs demonstrates an intelligent use of sound and how it can function creatively aside from simply synchronising with the images. It seeks to evoke an emotional response from the audience concerning the state of the Earth in relation to how it once was and it assists in the construction of character showing WALLE’s need for companionship.
“intricate soundscapes breathe life into the metal bots” WALL-E and his robot friends become more likeable and relatable than the humans within the film and the robots are able to connect with the audience without saying a word. Even M-O (Microbe Obliterator), a small robot designed to clean the ship, has more personality and characteristics than many of the humans we encounter. This result is largely achieved by the complex and dedicated work of the sound team who create intricate soundscapes that breathe life into the metal bots. In an interview, Ben Burtt, sound designer for WALL-E as well as the Star Wars (1977-2005) and Indiana Jones franchises (1981-2008) stated: “There are 2600 sound files made for WALL-E, which is a lot more than I made for any other movie. A Star Wars movie, which is huge, usually takes about 1,000 new sounds. Indiana Jones movies, maybe 700 or 800. So this was gigantic, partly because it just needed so much detail in the sound”.
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In comparing WALL-E to the size of the Star Wars universe, it is clear the attention, effort and creativity put into the sound is vast and that sound has not been put on the back burner in favour of the animated visuals. WALL-E’s soundscape features numerous mechanical clanks and clangs: WALL-E beeps, screams, yelps, groans and whistles; a squeaky door has been made a charming character trait and a motor has been edited to mimic the sound of his name. Each and every sound has had to be made, sourced and collected to help bring these animated characters to life. I have discussed the sound effects and the songs that appear in WALL-E but there is another element of sound that is just as significant and this is the voiceover of the Axiom’s computer. The computer’s voice is in fact American actress Sigourney Weaver, nicknamed the “Sci-fi Queen” due to her roles in the four Alien films (1979-1997), Galaxy Quest (1999), Avatar (2009), Paul (2011) and Cabin in the Woods (2011) and as the voice of the Planet Express Ship in an episode of Futurama (2002). Weaver’s voice is probably most recognised for her role as Ellen Ripley in Alien, a strong leading lady in the science fiction genre. Stanton, being a fan of the Alien films, wanted Weaver for the computer’s voice as a nod to sci-fi as she becomes “mother” of the ship. These examples shows that sound can be just as creative and holds the same level of importance that visuals have even though sound is regularly pushed to the side of discussions. It is refreshing to see a mainstream movie like WALL-E return to the roots of cinema and break conventions by allowing the visuals to speak for themselves without the need to narrate the action. Without dialogue, it is up to the audience to interpret the visuals and other accompanying sound to decide what it means for them, especially when they do not seem to match in an apparent way. It is clear that even though it is a Disney film aimed at a younger audience, WALL-E not only demonstrates the importance of sound in a traditional way but also the capability of sound and its creative impact on the audience.
M A R G I N S
In Telluride, this year , we screened Andrei Tarkovsky’s great movie Solaris (1972), to honour a sci-fi masterpiece before the contemporary plague of remakes comes to obliterate it... [Solaris] needs to be seen as widely as possible before it’s transformed by Steven Soderbergh and James Cameron into what they ludicrously threaten will be “2001 meets Last Tango in Paris”. What, sex in space with floating butter? Tarkovsky must be turning in his grave.
What Salman Rushdie elegantly articulates here in his book Step Across This Line (2010) is the seemingly unwavering attitude that a remake of a critically acclaimed film will inevitably be in no way comparable in standard to the “original” text. Rushdie wrote this in September 2001, more than a year prior to the December 2002 US release of Soderbergh’s remake of Solaris, condemning the contemporary work before even seeing it. The worry here
is that because the Tarkovsky text was so critically acclaimed most of all for having an “art house” style particular to the auteur Tarkovsky and Russian cinema of the time, that placing the Solaris story in the hands of such American aficionados as Cameron and Soderbergh, recent directors of mainstream money-makers Titanic (1997) and Ocean’s Eleven (2001), would inevitably lead to a dilution of “quality” storytelling in favour of a familiar product whose only function is to make money. There is a worry that the story’s greatness would be forever ruined by someone else’s opinion about what that story should be; should the makers be allowed to do this when the far superior original is still available? As well as failing to view the Soderbergh remake as anything more than a cheap knock-off of the Tarkovsky film, this view neglects that the Tarkovsky film itself is far from the original text; Solaris was first written as a novel in 1961 by Stanisław Lem and then remade into a TV movie in 1968 by Boris Nirenburg. Why,
then, is there an argument for Tarkovsky remaking Solaris but not Soderbergh? Surely stories like Solaris should be open to interpretation and experimentation by new and fresh directors that do not wish to simply re-do what has come before. Soderbergh has even gone on record as saying it was not his intention to remake the Tarkovsky film: “I’m a big fan of Tarkovsky. I think he’s an actual poet... I didn’t feel his film could be improved upon. I really just had a very different interpretation of the Stanislaw Lem book, which has a lot of ideas in it, enough I think to generate a couple more films”. We get a sense here that Soderbergh found inspiration in the Lem novel for a story that could speak to modern audiences, and needed telling
in a contemporary fashion, which was not Tarkovsky’s aim. The incredibly slow pace of the 1972 version and the fact that it is in a foreign language would inevitably dissuade a lot of people
today from watching it. If there was no Soderbergh remake (which takes 4 minutes to reach the 45th minute of Tarkovky’s film) then many people would not experience the Solaris story at all. The
implication is that the remake is crucial in developing an international market for the story, even potentially finding new audiences for the first film adaptation should fans of the remake wish to seek it out. However, you do not have to even be aware the Tarkovsky film exists to enjoy the Soderbergh sci-fi. In fact the Soderbergh film seems to alienate fans of the earlier film by being both too similar in some places, and too different in others. The first half of the Soderbergh story is an identical, albeit faster paced, version of the Tarkovsky film; both films follow the story of psychiatrist Kris/Chris, sent to investigate the strange goings on aboard a research space station orbiting the ocean planet of Solaris. Solaris turns out to be a
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sentient entity that repeatedly materialises the dreams of the crew members. While the Tarkovsky film explores themes of the meaning of life and of lost love, the Soderbergh film reflects on memory, regret and a Blade Runner (1982) inspired question, “do memories of being alive make us alive?” The Soderbergh film ends with a clone of Clooney’s character floating through a life he remembers on Earth but does not quite feel a part of, while the Tarkovsky film ends with Kris choosing to stay in a fantasy world on Solaris that he partly has control over. Although Soderbergh is adamant that his film has nothing to do with the Tarkovsky film, very similar non-conventional shooting styles are utilised in both versions. In the 1972 film, the style is more typical of the Russian national cinema of the time, such as extremely long takes with no background noise and little camera movement, creating tonal and rhythmic montage inspired by such works as Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin (1925). The 2002 film exhibits some of these characteristics while adapting them to a faster paced Hollywood style, resulting in an obvious update to appease the shorter attention span of the modern film spectator. This can be seen as a positive in terms of opening up the story to an accessible market. Yet it does offer the inevitable argument that this example of “dumbing down”
has encouraged laziness in filmmaking on the part of directors and producers who favour the predictability of a known commodity over originality, relying on viewer familiarity
with the “original” to help guarantee a presold product. This type of argument suggests that there was once a time in film history when directors were free to explore “original” and aesthetic concepts without commercial considerations and that contemporary filmmaking has entered a soulless, decadent age of commercialism. It also assumes that a remake of a well-received film guarantees a return in sales, which is not the case with Solaris. If we are to take Tarkovsky’s Solaris as the proposed “original” here, then
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one could see Soderbergh’s Solaris as the familiar known commodity that the audience should recognise. However, with the Tarkovsky film being aimed at a fairly niche, art-house and nonHollywood market, the notion of audience familiarity with the original text seems out of place. This is reinforced by the fact that Soderbergh’s Solaris was a commercial failure; it grossed $21 million worldwide compared to its $47 million budget. Audiences both failed to recall the supposed source material and refused to anticipate the 2002 remake, despite a big star like George Clooney at the centre and auteur directors Soderbergh and Cameron at the helm. Although perhaps not commercially successful, the format of foreign sci-fi allowed Soderbergh the experiment with big ideas by utilising the already established Solaris story to create a credible film. It is the already established story that is important here; if Soderbergh were to make a similar story from scratch without the weight of attaching itself to a previously successful film, then the likelihood of that film being made would be reduced. In this regard, it is worth considering the spate of big-budget, all-star sci-fi flops as Event Horizon (1997), Sphere (1998) and Red Planet (2000) that had come before. None of these films returned half their budget despite featuring big names like Dustin Hoffman and Samuel L. Jackson. It would have been clear that even Clooney would
not be able to sell a psychological thriller set entirely in space. Soderbergh needed the vehicle of the remake to give weight to a film that perhaps inevitably was always going to be a flop. The Soderbergh film can be considered to target a new audience that is completely unaware of what has come before and unconcerned with the repetitions that are expected of it. Instead, it updates the narrative to include themes of postmodern anxiety and confusion of what is real and what has been remade, ironically mirroring the real debate around the two texts. Soderberghâ€™s Solaris was neither produced nor
Tarkovskyâ€™s film and bringing the story to a new age and to a new audience, it is a worthy remake. consumed as a traditional remake - audiences did not anticipate the modernising of a classic foreign film â€“ but, in promoting and praising the Stanislaw Lem novel, refreshing the old style of
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HYPERSPACE BLUES W
hat do space, jazz music and the visual style of Rian Johnson’s cult film Brick (2005) have in common? It may seem strange to consider the use of these elements in the same context but Cowboy Bebop (1998-1999) directed by Shinichiro Watanabe juggles all three in an eclectic mix of creativity and has attained a surprisingly significant yet deserving following in the West.
In the year 2071, hyperspace “gates” spanning the solar system have made interstellar travel not only possible but also a successful commercial venture. With a wild and expansive new territory to inhabit and the marvels of technology to utilise, criminals can run and hide from their misdeeds more elusively than ever before, fuelling the need for more flexible law enforcement. Bounty hunters or “cowboys”,
as they are referred to, comb the stars for wanted fugitives to apprehend and transfer to the appropriate authorities. Cowboy Bebop is a Japanese cult animated television series that ran for just 25 episodes over two years. Despite having such a short run, it is fondly remembered by fans worldwide and its impact was widespread. The director of multiple award-winning independent film Brick and the 2012 blockbuster Looper, Rian Johnson has officially cited Cowboy Bebop as an important influence on the visual style of his debut film. It is clear how the anime series influenced many aspects of Brick’s production. Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s performance as Brendon in Brick is heavily influenced by Spike Spiegel, the protagonist of Cowboy Bebop (voiced by Steve Blum in the US version). Both characters share the messy mop of black hair and vacant expression, even stuffing their hands into their pockets whenever they are not hot on the trail of a lead. Cowboy Bebop features characters with very unique and contrasting styles and characteristics, even down to their footwear which is often the focus of the frame. Indeed, Johnson stated in interviews that shoes are a very important aspect of the characters in Brick and operate as an “instant snapshot of the essence” to their nature. Cowboy Bebop’s central characters include suave, smooth talking narcissist
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Spike Spiegel and hardened ex-cop and former detective Jet Black (Beau Billingslea). Along their many travels they encounter silver-tongued con-woman Faye Valentine (Wendee Lee) and Edward (Melissa Fahn), a mischievous and talented child hacker. Their travels usually involve somewhat camp and playful scenarios paying homage to various cultural phenomena, such as the Alien-like elusive creature that boards the ship, stealthily injuring crewmates one by one that can only be killed with fire, or the strange clown-like killer with make-up on his face who laughs hysterically at the signs of death and violence that recalls The Joker. Cowboy Bebop is a celebration of western culture and idealism, not just in its subject matter but also tonally. The series draws from a fascinating pool of countercultural music
ranging from 1980s heavy metal to blues and jazz. Not only does this set the mood but it also reflects the main characters’ status as misfits and outcasts both within the world they live in and in their own dysfunctional family; the obscurity of the music reflects the characters’ own lonely tale. One of the most strident things about Cowboy Bebop is its tone. The over-arching messages of easy come, easy go and que sera sera are prominent in the motivations of the characters and the resolution of their problems. Spike will often see his targets escape or cause their own downfall rather than successfully apprehending them. He takes his failure with a beleaguered smirk, learning something about life instead. As a space western, Cowboy Bebop has a very unique depiction of its setting, essentially likening the empty vacuum of space to the empty plains of the American Old West. The series is riddled with establishing shots of spacecraft set to the strum of a guitar that present this interpretation without a single piece of dialogue being needed to clarify it. From music to imagery, western themes are ever present in Cowboy Bebop. Cowboy Bebop’s clean, sophisticated animation style makes fight scenes fluid and flying segments convincing. This works fantastically with its varied colour palate and art that beautifully changes from planet to planet. From the gritty backstreets and skylines of Mars to the idyllic windswept landscapes of Venus, the television series always frames its emotive and distinctive characters against an expressionistic backdrop.
in the Japanese production. However, having the characters speaking English in the first place is clearly how the show was intended; indeed, the English language features heavily in the show appearing frequently on signs and even occasionally in the script for example with the term “cowboy”.
Another hallmark of quality is its use of voice actors which was, at the time of release, widely considered to be a small revolution in dubbing. Many fans hold the English script and performances in higher regard to that of the original Japanese iteration. Today, this would not be considered as out of the ordinary given the nature and intention of the show and its astoundingly western themes and mannerisms. Back in 1998, however, the Cowboy Bebop dub was a phenomenal feat with a great deal of care and effort given over for as small a venture as anime localisation, which was a considerably smaller business than it is today. Steve Blum brings a warm, deep and smooth American tone to Spike; with a devil-may-care sense of humour he provides a strong and necessary departure from the cheekier and sillier approach found in the Japanese version. Wendee Lee provides a sassier tone for Faye without ignoring the character’s latent sensitivity at the right moments. This helps mature the character from the more girlish one heard
Whether you are familiar with Cowboy Bebop already or are new to the show, it might be easy to pass it off as another insignificant or juvenile anime. Yet Cowboy Bebop offers an impressive combination of western and eastern media and sets a bold standard for others that followed, such as Brick or Firefly (2002), another space western also choosing to unconventionally follow a team of misfits. Cowboy Bebop is an expansive and thought-provoking saga that shows us space in a way we have never quite seen before: through the eyes of a man as laid-back and cool as he is unlucky and world-weary.
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ACTING THE MISE-EN-SCÈNE Lars von Trier is a filmmaker that does not seem happy unless he has made a brutal film. In Dancer in the Dark (2002), he shows us exactly how terrible a life Björk can lead in an unconventional tear-jerking musical. The Idiots (1998) portrays the obscene and graphic exploits of a group of adults behaving as though they are mentally disabled. And in Dogville (2002), the focus of this article, Trier presents the story of Grace (Nicole Kidman) as she takes refuge in the small town of Dogville: a town represented by minimal props and white painted outlines on a sparse stage. With the bare and blank mise-en-scène, the focus is the film’s ensemble; always on display, the function of the actor is to create the space and the imagery themselves.
This article considers how this space is created and to what effect. Dogville tells the story of Grace in nine chapters, each introduced with a brief synopsis of the following chapter, emphasising the film’s self-aware nature. Grace seeks refuge in the town of Dogville, apparently hiding from gangsters. Eventually, encouraged by the somewhat naïve philosophical writer Tom Edison (Paul Bettany), the town agrees to hide Grace in exchange for labour work. That is, until the townspeople become more demanding in order to compensate for the risk they face for hiding her. As the film progresses, Grace becomes the victim of rape and is forced to be the town’s slave as penance for trying
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to escape. She eventually becomes Dogville’s “dog” when they fit her with a collar attached to a large metal wheel. Forced to continue her slavery, she endures sexual and emotional abuse until she is able to wreak her revenge. Throughout Dogville the audience has to endure what Grace endures, from the town’s uncertainty of her, to their love and then their betrayal. However, with such a bare mise-en-scène the audience is left potentially disjointed from the film’s diegesis. The town has no identity, no first impression, except for the citizens, outlines and occasional prop. Trier’s aesthetic is reminiscent of German poet and playwright Bertolt Brecht’s politicallydriven plays. Brecht aimed to
emphasise the play’s existence as just a play thus allowing the audience to critically evaluate what they have watched. The play was intended to alienate the audience resulting in what is referred to as “distanciation”, which prevents emotional attachment to the actors’ portrayals in order to encourage a focus on the message being presented. With regards to acting, Brecht’s “Epic Theatre” serves to emphasise the artifice. John Harrop observes in his book Acting (1992) that “the fundamental task for the actor in his work [is] based on the evident separation or ‘estrangement’ of the actor from the mask of character so that the audience can recognise in the actor’s performance a criticism of the character presented”. The
actors are not portraying a character; they are conveying a message through their narration of a character. However, Trier has no interest in sticking to a straightforward concept. Brechtian ideas might help to make sense of the minimal sets but the acting is much closer to the ideas behind Method Acting: projecting an imitation of life. Influenced by Konstantin Stanislavsky’s system of acting, Method actors are expected to make their characters real. Instead of being self-aware, the actor has to lose their own identity in order to realistically create a false life. In an interview with Sight and Sound in 2004, Trier highlighted Dogville’s tendency to the obscure by noting that “the actors’ performance style [has]
nothing to do with theatre. The idea was to have them play realistically, even though the decor bears the same resemblance to reality as a child’s drawing”. The actors must be realistic, but the abstract nature of the set, as Trier says here, may actually resemble some innocent interpretation of reality. That is, a child may only view what they deem as necessary through pure, young eyes, not the eyes of the observant adult, intrigued by all aspects of the plot. The characters are believable and the actor must immerse themselves in order to make their character a reality. As Harrop explains, the actor must “create a physical and psychological profile of the character”. Whereas Brechtian plays often confused audiences by
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interchanging actors during a performance, Dogville’s performances are arguably more emotionally engaging with one actor playing one character throughout and developing them realistically over time. The end result contrasts the minimal and unrealistic mise-en-scène. Dogville marries together a notion of Brecht’s distanciation evident in the mise-en-scène but Stanislavsky’s emotional engagement through performance. One notable scene sees Grace fighting back tears as three women, led by Vera (Patricia Clarkson), destroy her porcelain figurines as punishment. Vera accuses Grace of seducing her husband, as well as smacking her son without consent. Vera tells Grace if she can hold back her tears, she will
spare the remaining figurines. When Grace fails to control her emotions, Vera smashes the figurines we have seen Grace work so hard to collect. This scene uses real figurines as props and as Kidman tries to control Grace’s emotions, the props allow the audience something real to associate her plight with. Emphasised by the narrator’s (John Hurt) explanation that Grace had not cried since childhood, he says that the figurines were “proof that in spite of everything, her suffering had created something of value. Grace could no longer cope. For the first time since her childhood, she wept”. The performances create an empathy with the characters, aided by the use of props, which counteracts the bare and open stage visible in the background.
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One of the more brutal examples of the space of the mise-en-scène being used to intrigue can be seen when Grace is first raped by Vera’s husband Chuck (Stellan Skarsgård). Distanciation is achieved through the use of the background, allowing a constant distraction for the audience as the actors are performing across the set. When the camera focuses on one townswoman sweeping the street, the rape can still be seen in the background for the audience to see. The action takes place within the confines of the outline representing the house so that wherever the camera is placed, the act is still visible in the background. The scene is exposed to the audience but at a distance, and the other characters cannot see it, thus alienating Grace from the
town and the audience from the action. The savageness is downplayed as the audience is not permitted to experience it directly. At the same time the brutality is left bare, exposed but with no one taking notice since they do not “see” in the context of the stage as they are outside the action. In Dogville vs Hollywood (2005), Jake Horsley argues that the sequence shows that “not only is the style of the film designed to alienate audiences and deny them any possibility of ‘entertainment’, the content itself, in metaphoric form, describes the necessity, and tragedy, of this defiance. Dogville is about the price of alienation”. The price of Grace’s alienation from society means she must do as the town says; the price of the audience’s alienation means that they are permitted
to only observe and consider the commentary this offers about the town of Dogville but without empathising in any horrific moment for the protagonist, just as Brecht intended. A near-bare space as the stage means the audience cannot be submersed in a new world and thus must observe from the outside. When Grace is placed in an emotional scene, we not only see Kidman’s performance, but also the performances of the other actors in the background as they continue to portray their characters from within the borders of the painted outlines. However, it can be argued that this actually enforces an emphasis of the performances of all actors. Kidman must portray Grace’s suffering and strength, immersing herself
in emotions that bring the physical and psychological reality of Grace to life, much like Stanislavsky’s approach to acting. The relationship between performance and mise-en-scène provides a juxtaposition of emotional entanglement through the actors at the same time as distanciation via the set. Arguably, the lack of set is more in line with a blank canvas; the audience must immerse themselves in the performances to construct their own image of the miseen-scène.
A SPACE FOR TORTURE Films depicting rigorous torture sequences and deliberately focusing on gore and graphic violence started to form a trend around the turn of the millennium. The critics coined a term for this new wave of horror films: “torture porn”. It contains many similarities to previous trends or sub-genres within the horror genre such as “splatter” or “exploitation”. Many commercially successful examples of this new wave include films such as Hostel (2005), Captivity (2006) and the Saw franchise (20042010), as well as remakes of various horror films from the 1970s-1980s, such as The Hills Have Eyes (2006), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003) and I Spit on Your Grave (2010). This new wave of horror has been replicated across other European cinema screens, such as in France where it has been described as “New French Brutality”. As always, French cinema has chosen to take a more experimental and unconventional approach to what dominates Hollywood cinema. Pascal Laugier’s Martyrs (2008) aims to do something different. There is no doubt that Martyrs is a horror film, but it is one that fearlessly attempts to hurdle into darker themes of despair surrounding human existence.
The film follows two young women, Lucie (Mylène Jampanoï) and Anna (Morjana Alaoui). The film opens with a disturbing sequence whereby Lucie escapes captivity from an old industrial estate. As she grows up, she becomes close friends with Anna, who joins her as she seeks the people who kidnapped her in order to rid herself of the phantom girl that torments Lucie’s mind. Lucie proceeds to execute her captors and their family. Yet this fails to rid her of the “dead girl” in her mind and she commits suicide. The film then takes an unforeseen turn as the audience is aligned solely with Anna. The members of the cult, who had previously abducted Lucie, capture Anna and lock her in a torture chamber. They argue their reasoning for kidnapping and torturing young women is to reach a state of transcendence and an understanding of the afterlife.
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It is important to note that the audience is aligned with two female protagonists and seemingly follows the Hollywood horror convention of the “Final Girl”. Described by Carol Clover in Men, Women and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film (1993), the Final Girl is “the one who […] perceives the full extent of the
preceding horror and of her own peril; who is chased, cornered, wounded […] she is abject horror personified”. Both Lucie and Anna show traits of this convention; they are both strong and tolerant characters that truly fight to stay alive. However, even though Martyrs adopts these conventions, it also transgresses them by killing off Lucie halfway through the film, despite her struggle. The final girl convention is also replicated and then destroyed within Anna’s character. Clover goes on to describe the Final Girl, noting “she alone looks death in the face, but she alone also finds the strength to […] stay the killer long enough to be rescued or to kill him herself ”. Anna replicates this fearlessness of death and danger by successfully attempting to stay alive throughout her torture. However, Martyrs does not give the audience the conventional Final Girl ending, as Anna is not rescued, thus destroying the final girl archetype and its conventions. It is during the longest scene in the film that Anna is continuously tortured and pushed to the edge of death. In short, Anna is starved, beaten and eventually skinned alive, in order to become transcendent and able to envision the afterlife. This is the scene in which the audience is pushed to the point of leaving the cinema or turning off the film in order to spare themselves from the depravity being represented. However, the audience too is able to share this feeling of
transcendence by being aligned with Anna. This duality between the way in which the protagonist and the audience feel is what makes the film’s overall message so powerful, but not always understood. Throughout the film, the projection of violence is visceral and raw and it asks the audience to consider why it is watching it in the first place, to question their enjoyment. The film forces the audience to find a rationale for the violence and plays with their hope for a happy ending, but does not provide one. This is very much a film of two parts. The first half cleverly tricks the audience into believing that it follows the conventions of a typical “torture porn” film. This is shown through the hand-held cinematography, the disjointed editing and creepy ghoul that haunts Lucie. Yet the second half jolts the audience by transgressing these conventions, unravelling the genre in order to bring more meaning to the way in which an audience engages with violence on screen. This is epitomised by the torture sequence which cleverly uses the space in which Anna is kept to directly translate to the audience how the character is feeling. We never leave that space; we are forced to suffer along with her in the dark.
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DISSOLVE SAM HALL
from one to another...
If you’ve seen E.T. (1982) You should see The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976)
Predating Labyrinth (1986), David Bowie plays a somewhat friendly alien in The Man Who Fell to Earth directed by Nicholas Roeg (who directed Don’t Look Now three years previously). Following an uncontrollable drought on his home planet, Thomas Newton (Bowie) makes the long journey to Earth disguised as a human in an attempt to strike a deal to provide regular deliveries of water back to his world. With his ship destroyed, he sells advanced technology to make his fortune and build a replacement vessel. He does not account for the greed of the people of Earth however and it is not long before he considers a more comfortable life there in place of saving his planet. Unlike E.T., the sex scenes and full frontal nudity mean this is certainly not one for the whole family.
If you’ve seen Alien (1979) You should see Xtro (1983) A little known UK production from the eighties, Xtro isn’t going to win any special effects awards these days. Yet it still retains a creepy, unnerving atmosphere throughout, particularly in the use of lighting and the bizarre premise. After three years following his abduction, Sam (Philip Sayer) returns to Earth to take his son (Simon Nash) back with him. Despite some simplistic props and costumes, the surreal nature of this obscure monster flick/psychological thriller might still send a few shivers through any viewer.
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If you’ve seen Sunshine (2007) You should see Solaris (1972) Based on a Polish novel of the same name, Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris could be considered the anti-Star Wars (1977), a science-fiction film where substance takes a great deal of precedence over spectacle. Psychologist Kris Kelvin (Donatas Banionis) visits a space station whose crew appear to have an unusual mental reaction to the alien planet they are orbiting. The film becomes a deep exploration of human nature, the subconscious, coping with loss and our limitations when it comes to empathy, understanding and communication. The film was remade in 2002 by Steven Soderbergh, starring George Clooney. [Editor’s note: see Robert Turnbull’s consideration of the two versions on page 42].
If you’ve seen Saw (2004) You should see Interrogation (1989) While Hunger (2008) might be considered a superior film, Interrogation is probably more controversial for the circumstances surrounding its release. The film was originally developed in 1982, but due to its heavy criticism of the Stalinist regime of the 1940s and 1950s, it was banned until 1989 following Poland’s independence from the Soviet Block. Antonina (Krystyna Janda) is abducted by the authorities without explanation, and her long period in prison offers a harrowing depiction of the torturer’s “domestic space”. If you enjoyed the torture porn of the Saw franchise, this one probably isn’t for you, it’s more a critique of the ineffectiveness of torture methods.
If you’ve seen Black Mirror (2011) You should see Cold Lazarus (1996) Starring Albert Finney as Daniel Feelds, Ciarán Hinds as Fyodor and Frances De La Tour as Emma Porlock, Cold Lazarus features a bleak future where the UK is merely another state in the neo-colonial capitalist empire of the USA and where corporations rule the roost. It follows a small team of researchers who, struggling for funding, attempt to unlock the mind of a revived frozen head. In their effort to find further funding, they become embroiled in a conflict between the corporations that run them and a terrorist organisation called RON (Reality Or Nothing). Think a longer running episode of Black Mirror with a little bit of Blade Runner (1982) thrown into the mix.
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D I A L O G U E 56 Diegesis: CUT TO [space]
THE SPACE BETWEEN US Between them, they have worked on films as diverse and iconic as Alien (1979), Chariots of Fire (1981), Blade Runner (1982), Legend (1985), Batman (1989), GoldenEye (1995), Trainspotting (1996), The Beach (2000), 28 Days Later (2002) and The Hours (2002). Editor Terry Rawlings and Sound Mixer Ray Merrin have been in the industry for a very respectable five decades; Merrin has been nominated for four BAFTAS, including two in the same year for Hilary and Jackie (1998) and Little Voice (1998) and two for his sound work on Harry Potter and the Philosopherâ€™s Stone (2001) and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002). Rawlings has been nominated for four BAFTAS and one Oscar and was recognised with a Career Achievement Award in 2006 by American Cinema Editors (ACE).
writers Hollie Birkenhead and Anna Gurman caught up with the duo to ask them about the challenges they face in constructing the film space and soundscape, what it was like working on Alien, and just who has the hardest jobâ€Ś
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On editing… Rawlings: My job is editing the film. I get the rushes in the morning and I make the cuts during the day. We work on this until we’re happy with it. We then send it over to a sound editor who will fit the sound and so forth. Then we deal with it as far as music is concerned, and when all these things are organised, we pass it over to Ray and it goes into where he works [sound re-recording mixing], where he makes everything that we planned work. Merrin: We hope! Rawlings: We try to. Sometimes we don’t get it right. On the challenge of editing sound and image… Merrin: For me, personally, the most difficult would be dialogue films in a way because “crash, bang, wallop” films are easier to input noise onto. It’s the wrong word: noise. People don’t like that word. But with dialogue, you have to smooth everything over between each cut. When you’re filming one angle then a different angle and the atmosphere behind that angle changes, you have to cut tight then put an atmosphere track over it, whether it is inside this room or outside, with birds. So they are more challenging in that respect. Rawlings: I think the most challenging film I worked on was The Saint (1997). When we finished the film, they wanted to keep a character alive that had previously been killed off. So to try and make that work with what you had was very difficult. We had to keep coming up with ways to keep her in it until they managed to get more money to make it work properly. On genre and editing... Rawlings: Most films have the same problems and I don’t think one of them is any more difficult than another. But if I had to choose it would be comedy. The reason is because as soon as someone has told you a joke and you’ve enjoyed it, if someone else tells you that same joke, it doesn’t mean anything. So you’re working on a film that’s got funny sequences in it which you work on for the first time and get it as well as you can. When you look at it again nothing seems funny anymore so you could cut yourself away from what was good in the first place. On space, place and atmosphere... Rawlings: As far as space films, westerns or any other genre goes they are all roughly the same. You are trying to create the atmosphere of that film, that story. If you are good at what you do, you would just switch yourself into that mode when you do it. [To Ray:] Do you agree?
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Merrin: With films set in space you create sounds that are slightly different so nothing comes across as normal. You are striving to produce a different type of sound that’s not boring, whether it is a sound inside a spaceship or something throbbing in the background. The sound editor for Alien (1979), Jimmy Shields… Rawlings: …Masterman! Merrin: Yes, Masterman would make most of the sounds work. He would talk with me to ask if certain things would work before the director would see it. It’s collaboration; team work with everybody. The sounds for Alien were created from anything we heard that was different, just by listening to things we normally take for granted because we don’t listen in life. On taking audiences on a journey… Rawlings: You have to work out how far you can take someone when you’re trying to frighten them. In Alien I always thought it was like pushing someone into a corner. You keep on forcing them further and further back, but you’ve got to know when to stop. Creating that sort of atmosphere is all about timing. Merrin: Sound then brings it to life. Ridley Scott said that sixty percent of the Alien film was the soundtrack. When we saw it in its uncut version it didn’t have a “wow” factor until the music and sound effects were added. I brought along family to the cinema to see it and they were jumping out of their seats. The cinema needs to be able to deliver good quality image and sound to create that space and experience. Rawlings: A good example would be the rain room scene in Alien; the chains are swinging, the water is dropping down and you’re creating endless space with the water all around you. Merrin: Surround sound helps as well. Rawlings: Yes, you can place the sound in different positions, so that it comes from exactly where you want it to. Like 3D sound. On who has the hardest job… Merrin: Me! Rawlings: No me! No, I respect him highly and he does me. And we both have interesting and difficult jobs. I have to get it right before Ray can make it sing.
INTERVIEW BY HOLLIE BIRKENHEAD & ANNA GURMAN
Derby QUAD, 9��-12�� May 2013 2013 marked iD Fest’s fourth year. As the name suggests, the festival attempts to represent films that depict identity on screen and this year its focus was on “family”. The festival boasted a generous line-up with films ranging from Toyko Story (1953) to Clerks (1996), all connected through their representation of family on screen, whether symbolic or real. The festival’s main strength was its ability to attract filmmakers and educators of film but also a broader audience comprised of film fans and families. iD Fest took place at Derby’s imposing QUAD. Inside, an artistic and nostalgic collection of portraits featured in the exhibition hall, neighboured by a BFI electronic library containing an entire history of films. Upstairs, the impressive
screens showcased the selection of films and panels. From the insightful and extremely entertaining panels and Q&As with a selection of highly regarded and talented personalities, to the cosy and casual setup of the screening of aged classics alongside new short films, iD Fest offers a celebration of film. The concept of family was cleverly and conceptually interpreted, offering a varied insight into the familial construct, providing a child actor’s impressions or simply showcasing the chemistry between close colleagues that, in doing so, harnesses a strong family sentiment. The range of material, the respect for the silver screen and the quality of the programming helped make iD Fest an unforgettable experience. iD Fest is both a festival that celebrates filmic achievement regarding
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different strands of identity in film and a space in which the passions and intricacies of films can be appreciated by auteurs, scholars, aficionados and general admirers alike. Importantly, the festival showcases a heartfelt appreciation of film and the experience that accompanies it. Festival highlights: Q&A with Monty Python’s Terry Jones and screening of The Meaning of Life (1983); Directing British Independent Features Panel (with Dexter Fletcher, James Nunn and Dominic Burns; Martin Stephens Q&A and screening of The Innocents (1961); Eat My Shorts! Short Film Showcase. Read the full review online at: www.diegesismagazine.com/ id-fest-2013
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F A D E O U T
any people know the TV shows Stingray (1964-1965), Thunderbirds (1965-1966), and Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons (1967-1968), but fewer would know the name Gerry Anderson and fewer still would realise the impact the producer, writer and director had on British television. Despite initial ambitions as an architect and following a brief stint as a plasterer, Gerald Alexander Anderson started his own film production company AP Films (APF) in 1957, with the intention to create big-budget blockbusters and epics like Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments (1956) and William Wyler’s Ben-Hur (1959). Struggling to find work, Anderson and APF co-founder Arthur Provis reluctantly agreed to produce Roberta Leigh’s children’s puppet series: The Adventures Of Twizzle (1957). Anderson hated puppets and “nearly vomited on the spot” when he was asked to work on the series but, needing the money, he resigned to make the best puppet show he could in order to prove himself and move to live action later on. Anderson’s contempt for the lifelessness that puppets exhibited pushed him to pioneer intuitive techniques to create a better quality puppet show; he approached a manufacturer of artificial eyes to create more realistic moving puppet eyes and invented an automatic mouth system that worked in sync with the actors’ dialogue. A complex system of marionettes also had to be invented that allowed for an electrical current to pass to the puppet heads while remaining thin enough to be invisible to the camera. These improved puppetry techniques, alongside stories of high drama, were utilised in a form of filmmaking Anderson invented: Supermarionation; a term designed only to set his style of puppetry apart from other puppet animation of the time. Anderson sought to distance himself from any notion of “bad” animation that accompanied traditional puppetry, such as the 2D painted backdrops that hid the puppeteers’ legs as seen in competing shows like Watch with Mother (1952-73), which included the popular Flower Pot Men and Andy Pandy, and the handin-a-sock puppetry of The Sooty Show (1955-92). The idea was to show that APF
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was a company dedicated to producing “quality” puppet shows, providing a new and exciting experience that surpassed its competition. Inspired by the Soviet Union and USA space race, Anderson turned to science fiction and found more inventive ways to make his puppets never have to walk; they travelled in various futuristic vehicles like the spaceship and hover scooters in Fireball XL5 (1962) and the flying, submersible, road-legal “supercar” in the 1961 children’s series of the same name. Both took a jovial and comedic tone, perhaps due to Anderson’s perception of puppetry as a less than serious medium. Despite each of his shows becoming more popular than the last, Anderson could always see the flaws with working with puppets and pushed to perfect Supermarionation for his next series: Stingray. The show pitted the actions of the World Aquanaut Security Patrol and good guy Troy Tempest against the evil Titan of Titanica: a city of fish people. Stingray holds claim to being the first British TV series to be filmed entirely in colour, and perhaps with the most dramatic opening titles, which are filled with unexplained explosions. With Stingray, we can start to see Anderson’s ambition to create bigbudget exciting action films but bringing them to everyday TV viewing, most notably in the Anderson staple of the extended launch sequence, which seems to culminate in 1965 with Thunderbirds. One of the most memorable elements of Thunderbirds was watching the puppets get to their machines in elaborate shoots and conveyor belts and then watching the machines lumber towards their launch pads. There was some kind of primal anticipation in watching things happen slowly and with military precision, Anderson then relieves that anticipation by delivering an explosive conclusive rescue which lends itself more to filmmaking rather than being characteristic of TV programming. Indeed, when first shown the half hour Thunderbirds pilot, media mogul Lew Grade is said to have exclaimed “This isn’t a TV show! It’s a feature film!” He then commissioned 32 one-hour episodes. Thunderbirds went on to inspire generation after generation through its numerous re-runs on ITV in the 1980s
With Strings Attached
GERRY ANDERSON, 14 APRIL 1929-26 DECEMBER 2012
and today on BBC2, as well as home movie releases, two films, a Japanese anime series and even a CGI remake series is set to air on ITV in 2015. This is a testament to the lasting appeal of Thunderbirds; despite some of the technology being dated, the story and excitement that were captured through Anderson’s miniatures seems to remain timeless. Anderson stands alongside the likes of Aardman for creating painstakingly intuitive TV and getting the most out of the limited resources available. Anderson’s efforts paid off for him as the success of Thunderbirds and follow up shows Captain Scarlet and Joe 90 (1968) caused APF (now Century 21 Productions) to become, as Anderson described: “swamped under its own product”. Finally Lew Grade uttered what Anderson had wanted to hear during his entire film career: “maybe you should move to live action”. Excited by this, Anderson wasted no time in hiring actors and creating large sets to bring alien invasion narrative UFO (1969) and Space: 1999 (1975) to the small screen. However the move to live action carried its own problems, most noticeably Space: 1999’s bizarre orchestral-jazz-funk soundtrack, actors that were stiffer than their wooden predecessors
and melodrama that caused little more than a cult following. Despite and perhaps because of Space: 1999’s stunning visuals, the show ran into budget concerns that caused its cancelation and returned Anderson to cheaper puppet shows. The reality is that shows like Thunderbirds were made on incredibly low budgets for the amount of excitement that they produced, something that proved less viable for TV when using the life-sized sets that Anderson had craved. Despite seeing the puppet shows as a means to an end, as a stepping stone onto live action, they ultimately became Anderson’s most creative and inspiring work. Although he could always see the flaws with his programmes, towards the end of his life Anderson seemed humbled to let the flaws go as he started to realise that was part of the appeal. Gerry Anderson’s shows are not about detailed character development but the complex machinery self-assembling and travelling slowly to its launch pad. They are about the excitement of action and spectacle, knowing you can see the strings and without making excuses for it. It may be hammy, intensely dated and gleefully melodramatic, but Anderson’s work remains a joy to watch.
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The Cult of Wong
he book John Dies at the End (2007) began as a cult “webserial” by Jason Pargrin who adopted the pen name “David Wong” after the lead character in the story. The book achieved its cult status by allowing viewers of the webserial to vote for what stories would end up in the book as well as including new content that fans would not have seen before. Last year, John Dies at the End was adapted into a film, directed by Don Coscarelli (Phantasm 1979; Bubba Ho-tep 2002), and was released in the US in January 2013. While it screened at Sundance and the London Film Festival, it is still yet to go on general release in the UK. Can it be assumed that the film will experience the same cult following as the book? Or will it simply fade into obscurity due to its limited release? John Dies at the End is the story of John Cheese (played by Rob
Mayes in the film) and David Wong (Chase Williamson); two lazy, unskilled, twentysomethings who are taken across time and space due to the effects of a new street drug named “soy sauce”. A side effect of the drug is that it draws the eye of an organic super computer from another dimension named Karrok. Karrok’s aim is to replace the inhabitants of “Dead World” – a name he uses to describe our dimension due to the amount of products we use that are “dead” (such as furs, meat and wood) – with clones that his followers create using recycled body parts. The story takes place in “Undisclosed”, a small town in Southern America. John and David are small town Americans who have no ambition or competence between them but in spite of this they achieve great feats. Their only saving grace throughout is that the world they live in is just as stupid
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and crazy as they are. Their wild assumptions about how things should work are seemingly unfathomable but appear to be the only thing holding the world together. It is like viewing the world through rose-tinted glasses; you can do no wrong and that is what is so charming about the story. The story blends sci-fi, horror and comedy; one moment a freezer full of meat is possessed by a phantom and the next John and David are breaking into Elton John’s tour bus in order to steal his clothes. At the beginning of the book, David and John escort a girl to her house to exorcise the ghost of her dead boyfriend. In order to draw out the ghost they put themselves in archetypal horror film situations: “Oh, no!” I heard John shout over the running water. “It’s dark in here and here I am in the shower! Alone! I’m so naked and vulnerable!” Coscarelli
picked up the novel from a recommendation on Amazon after researching zombie literature and exclaimed, “This would make a great movie!” The director has been quoted as saying, “I’ve approached every movie in my career like it’s my last, because the reality is there is an excellent chance I could never get funding again and this is my absolute last shot at it so I’m going to work my ass off to make it the best possible film I can”. The implication is that if the film was designed to appeal to the masses, it would not be what the fans of the book would believe to be “the best”. The opening lines of the film - “Solving the following riddle will reveal the awful secret behind the universe, assuming you don’t go utterly mad in the attempt” - are taken from page one of the book. This is something that would instantly resonate with fans and is seen all through the film with almost no unique dialogue; it is like
a love letter to the fans with Coscarelli constantly saying “remember this part?” Some of the characters have been brought to life in the film with John having all of his frantic, craziness and Arnie Bloodstone (Paul Giamatti) portraying the sleazy, sceptical reporter. But others have been completely altered and in some cases they go against what was written in the book. The main example of this is Amy (Fabianne Therese) who in the film is introduced with her prosthetic hand being stolen from her, while in the book she makes a big point about hating the look of prosthetics and refuses to ever wear one.
Critically, the film has received mixed reviews. For the San Francisco Chronicle, “every single thing wrong with John Dies at the End might have been avoided had John died at the beginning, along with all the other characters, transforming an awful full-length movie into a harmless five-minute short”. The St. Louis Postdispatch was more positive however, noting “some of the themes and the hallucinatory special effects are reminiscent of Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch (1991) and there are cheeky allusions to Dawn of the Dead (1978) and even Eyes Wide Shut (1999), but a viewer with an open mind might say that this midnight-style movie is more enjoyable than any of them”. The reviewer’s suggestion that John Dies at the End is better than the work of Stanley Kubrick and George A. Romero combined is a promising premise for The Cult of Wong indeed.
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ONE GIANT LEAP On Sunday 14th October 2012, Felix Baumgartner travelled 120,000 feet or 24 miles into the atmosphere in nothing more than a stratospheric balloon. He then stepped off the ledge of his tiny capsule and descended from space, freefalling faster than the speed of sound. The mission was sponsored by Red Bull but this time their wings would be flying much higher than ever before. The Red Bull Stratos mission brought together all the leading experts in engineering and was streamed live from America. Eight million people held their breath while viewing his journey live on YouTube. Luckily Baumgartner landed his jump safely, but it left the media industry asking important questions. It asks us to consider that not all characters need a backstory for the audience to connect with them. Internet sites like YouTube make it possible for filmmakers to create characters whose lives we momentarily and instantly connect with. If second screen media such as YouTube attracts such large audiences, what does this mean for film and television and more “traditional” formats?
The introduction of Web 2.0 saw the development of more experimental formats. It was created after the bursting of “the Dot.com bubble”, a period that lasted roughly between 1998 and 2000, where a lot of investment was being made into Internet-based companies and American stock grew hugely in this area. It all stemmed from a sudden market confidence in the profitability of these Dot.com companies. Of course, this investment proved to ultimately be an illusion; the web was in its early stages and no one understood how to make an internet company survive. The stock market began to spiral downwards with hundreds of Dot.com companies folding. Speaking in 2005, inventor of the World Wide Web Tim O’Reilly noted, “The bursting of the Dot. com bubble in the fall of 2001 marked a turning point for the web”. This led to O’Reilly coming up with an idea to survive the Dot.com crash and Web 2.0 was born. When Web 2.0 arrived in 2001 it encouraged a different sense of engagement. O’Reilly wanted more involvement in the web and for people to participate as much as possible, creating not just media consumers but independent media producers. With Web 2.0 came the world of blogging and, more importantly for television producers and consumers, YouTube. The Red Bull Stratos mission was not streamed on any channel in the UK; it was freely available for everyone to view live on YouTube, on the second screen. YouTube has increased in popularity since its launch in 2005. Users can upload their own video creations as well as watch the videos of others, view television shows, music videos and watch live broadcasts from all over the world. When I sat and watched Baumgartner’s freefall everything was put on hold. I did not need the programme to be shown on the BBC or ITV for it to grab my attention. Not only was I watching the event unfold on my iMac as a second screen in the household, but I also had a third screen in hand – my Blackberry – to tweet and follow the Baumgartner hashtag. And it seems I wasn’t the only one.
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As a result of the 2012 London Olympics, there was a significant rise in viewing “television” via second screen. When a major public event like the Olympics takes place, there is simply just too much content to show in its entirety on mainstream TV. Second screen allows the audience to never miss out. They do not have to pick and choose. According to a Guardian article by Stuart Dredge in October 2012, a huge 75%-85% of TV viewers use other devices while watching the primary screen and more than a fifth of TV viewers are using their second device to chat to people on Facebook or Twitter. According to Janet Staiger in Media Reception Studies (2005), when the “hypodermic needle model” was first discussed way back in the 1930s, the audience was assumed to be either “open or empty” and media producers were considered to simply inject messages into the passive minds of audiences. But in 2013, this is certainly not the case; audiences are increasingly active and can find information and facts for themselves. In Age of Television: Experiences and Theories (2007), Milly Buonanno states that “whilst technological development tends to proceed quickly and relentlessly […] lives of ordinary human beings goes at its own pace”. But Mission Stratos suggests that is no longer strictly true. No UK mainstream channel showed the flight but that did not stop being able to find out about it and watch it. The news about Baumgartner’s fall spread across social networking sites Facebook and Twitter so it was in the hands of the audience to source the video on YouTube and locate the live Twitter stream, along with additional features on accompanying websites. The popularity of the Baumgartner fall indicates a new age for audience interaction. Whilst the changes in television broadcasting and YouTube may not be as daring as a jump from space, they are bold enough to have a significant impact on television and the shows that surround us. There is now, Buonanno suggests, an understood “inter-media cooperation […] established between television and the Internet” encouraging media producers to not fight the Internet but embrace it as a crucial moment of convergence. Whilst broadcasters make a concerted effort to encourage audiences to interact with a programme via additional content, YouTube viewing ratings are peaking worldwide with a single, simple broadcast. Baumgartner’s mission does not have much to compare to. It is a long way from the broadcast of the first moon landing in 1969 which aired on the BBC. The moon landing coverage totalled a period of 27 hours over 10 days. It was broadcast from Lime Grove Studios in London and the main BBC1 segments were shown in black and white with the BBC2 programmes shown in colour. Like Baumgartner’s journey in the balloon, the second screen’s journey is still growing and the balloon is expanding. We’ve reached about 50,000ft in changes but what could possibly change and what world will we reach at 90,000ft and then 120,000ft? We have a lot to learn and conquer; it is a journey that will shape television forever and we certainly have the “wings” to make it happen.
STEPHANIE USHER Diegesis: CUT TO [space] 67
#6 EDITORIAL TEAM BA (Hons) Film and Television Studies JENNIFER LYNE Third year Jenny has worked
on the Diegesis editorial board since the first issue and was promoted to Assistant Managing Editor for CUT TO [space]. Her favourite spacerelated TV shows include Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse and American Horror Story, for their creative use of space.
CAINE SAM HALL B I R D A veteran of the magazine, Sam has written for every issue of Diegesis so far. His spatial awareness occupies all known dimensions, but his favourite spaces include Solaris (1972), 2001: A Space Odyssey and the quasidimensional adventures of Bill and Ted.
Third year Lloyd has now worked on four issues of Diegesis, starting with CUT TO [blood], as writer, editor and, for this issue, as Promotions Coordinator. His favourite space films are probably Space Jam and Alien. Although they are quite different...
CUT TO [space] is second year Hollie’s first outing on the Diegesis editorial board. She loves everything sci-fi from Alien and WALL-E to Dr Who and Transformers.
Third year Lucy has contributed to three issues since CUT TO [obsession] and has been part of the editorial team for the past two issues. She believes that she would make the perfect partner next to Agent Jay to fight evil life forms from outer space here on Earth.
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This is first year student Caine’s Diegesis debut as editor and writer. Whilst he has yet to walk on the surface of the moon, much like Buzz Aldrin he shares a fascination for the potential of space. His favourite sci-fis include Sunshine and 2001: A Space Odyssey.
ANNA GURMAN CUT TO [space] is the second issue Anna has been involved with. Her favourite space related viewing includes Doctor Who, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and Star Trek. It’s safe to say she is a girl who always knows where her towel is.
GEORGE NAJDZIEN CIARAN MULLAN First year Ciaran joined the Diegesis editorial board for this issue and this is his second outing as a writer for the magazine. Being something of a sci-fi tyro, Caine chose to interpret the space theme loosely and wrote his second article on Steve McQueen’s Hunger, exploring space themes in prison.
Second year George is new to Diegesis this issue. Sci-fi is one of George’s favourite genres and his most loved sci-fi films are Alien, The Terminator and Star Trek Into Darkness.
YA S M I N WALL
AARON WILCOCK CUT TO [space] is
Aaron’s first issue on the Diegesis editorial board. His favourite space-related film is Space Jam (1996) because it reminds him of his childhood.
Second year Yaz has been involved with Diegesis since #4, as a writer, section editor, photographer and even covergirl! She thinks space is beautiful and would love to study the stars someday.
JACK KENNEDY Second year Jack joined the
Diegesis editorial board for this issue. His favourite sci-fi films are Star Trek Into Darkness, Star Wars and Prometheus.
ROBERT TURNBULL Third year Rob makes his Diegesis
writing and editing debut with [space]. An avid Verhoeven fan, his favourite films include Starship Troopers and Robocop.
This is third year Bianca “Bee” Garner’s second stint at editing and writing for Diegesis. She is very small so can easily access hard to reach spaces. Bianca is also the name of an inner satellite (Moon) of Uranus that was discovered in 1986!
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CALL FOR CONTRIBUTIONS We are now seeking article pitches for our next issue CUT TO [skin]. Have a look at our suggestions below or suggest something else!
the body, identity, protection, growth, containment, surface, touch, sensation, tactile serial killers, the silence of the lambs, the texas chainsaw massacre, se7en, skin obsessed horrors, jennifer’s body, the tattooist, hellraiser, slasher films, rotting flesh, cabin fever, touching the void, cinematic beauties and beasts, youth and sexualised icons, plastic surgery, nip/tuck, the skin i live in, la confidential, abre los ojos, celebrities, Disney’s princesses, imperfections and blemishes, aging stars, nudity, censorship and relaxation: hollywood vs. china, bollywood, pornography and pixarification, the decline of adult cinema, fifty shades of grey, lovelace, artistic nudity and sex, pornography vs art, shame, 9 songs, shortbus, the dreamers, trance, sexuality on screen, rust and bone, the sessions, race, ethnicity and diversity, django unchained, the help, sexualising youth, spring breakers, bring it on, writing on the body, memento, the pillow book, weight, supersize vs super skinny, feed, the machinist, a ma soeur!, showing off and covering up, fashion, texture, leather, makeup, jekyll and hyde, prosthetics, hitchcock, the hours, science fiction, tattoos, the girl with the dragon tattoo, red dragon, prison break, once were warriors, different skins, fur: an imaginary portrait of diane arbus, the elephant man, shedding skin, pandorum, the fly, itches and irritations, bug, the singing detective, under the skin, the matrix, alien, someone else’s skin, invasion of the body snatchers, vice versa, being john malkovich, skin symbolism, skin titles, skins, skin deep, mysterious skin, in her skin, under the skin, skin.
submit your pitches here: www.diegesismagazine.com/join-in 70 Diegesis: CUT TO [space]
THE NEXT ISSUE...
CUT TO [skin] Diegesis: CUT TO [space] 71
Issue 7 COMING Dec 2013
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www.diegesismagazine.com @DiegesisMag DiegesisFilmTVmagazine firstname.lastname@example.org
Diegesis CUT TO [space] issue 6 2013. The film and television critical review magazine with insight, opinion and analysis.