di'e'ge'sis noun 1. the narrative world of the story 2. recounting, narration
Diegesis CUT TO [gold] ISSUE 2 SPRING 2011
Editorial Diegesis , a screen review magazine run by students from the Film & Television Studies degree at Southampton Solent University. Diegesis is a space for student writers to think outside-theWelcome to the second issue of
box, and engage with film, television and screen culture, critically and creatively. As the parameters of film and tv
change from celluloid to digital forms or small screen broadcasting to worldwide webcasting, then so too can the ways in which we write about them.
Each issue includes a special themed section titled CUT TO [...] in which you will find features that are inspired by interpreting the theme from a variety of perspectives. There are also five regular sections in
PLAY.PAUSE.REWIND will review or re-examine film and tv programmes whether old or new. AT THE MARGINS reflects on art, alternative and independent film and tv, alongside small festival reports. SHORTHAND brings new perspectives to the diverse but neglected field of short film. DIALOGUE features interviews with and conversations
between film and television production practitioners as well as experts on screen history, criticism and debate. The final section is aptly titled FADE OUT and takes a retrospective look at film and tv through their actors, directors, writers and other personnel as well as key moments in their respective histories.
For this second issue we CUT TO [gold], with articles that range from the Oscars to oil, from “black gold” to brazen gold diggers. We also have a special AT THE MARGINS section for you this issue where you will find three papers that were presented at the UKs first undergraduate research conference in March. And so,
Diegesis welcomes you
into its own world of the stories, themes, issues and debates that shape our understanding of film and television. Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or “like” our Facebook fanpage for issue updates. Enjoy!
Diegesis Editorial Team Student Editors: Daryl Ball, Denilson Pinto Ferreira, Sam Hall, Jenny Lyne, Rhocea Rocque, Laura Stephens Managing Editors: Donna Peberdy, Darren Kerr Cover image: Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra (1963) Twentieth Century Fox.
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Contents SPECIAL SECTION
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PLAY. PAUSE. REWIND.
04 Foreign Films at the Oscars
10 Gilmore Girls
08 Black Gold: Oil in the Movies
14 Detective TV
AT THE MARGINS:
18 Black Swan
24 Women in Torture Horror
20 Pixar Shorts
28 Video Games as Art
30 In Conversation with Alan Parker
06 Barbara Stanwyck: Gold Digger
12 True Grit
16 The Kingâ€™s Speech
26 The BBFC: Empowerment or Control? DIALOGUE 31 Q&A
FADE OUT 32 Elizabeth Taylor (1932-2011) 34 The next issue
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And the Winner is … Who? T
his year’s 83rd Academy Awards centred on the competition of a number of highly anticipated mainstream films. The Oscar buzz alternated between The King’s Speech (Hooper 2010), The Social Network (Fincher 2010) and Black Swan (Aronofsky 2010), all of which received multiple nominations. The King’s Speech appeared as the major success of the night, winning a total of four awards and scooping the “top” accolades of Best Picture, Best Actor in a Leading Role and Best Director. The publicity of these films started long before the Oscars even took place, promoting their nomination success to an engrossed US market. The King’s Speech played on America’s interest in the Royal Family, covering numerous billboards with the quintessentially British star Colin Firth. The interest in Natalie Portman’s role in Black Swan and the previous Oscar success of The Wrestler (Aronofsky 2008) enabled these films to become key players in the Hollywood market. However, each year some of the most thought-provoking, compelling and controversial films are arguably overshadowed by the major awards. Even the star’s designer garments and relationships receive greater attention than the Best Foreign Language Film category.
Past winners of this overlooked Academy Award have included 8 ½ (Fellini 1963), Cinema Paradiso (Tornatore 1988), Life is Beautiful (Benigni 1997) and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Lee 2000). Just from this small example of films, it is evident the category includes both extremely influential releases and acclaimed filmmakers. However, the majority of films in this category received limited distribution, which is still evident in today’s film industry. This year the award went to Denmark’s In a Better World (Bier 2010) beating Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Buitiful (2010) starring Javier Bardem (pictured) and the controversial and unconventional family drama Dogtooth (Lanthimos 2009) from Greece. The attention paid to the main categories of the night including Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Actress appeared to overshadow other awards, such as the Best Live Action Short Film or Best Feature Documentary. These categories and the foreign films nominated lack the star quality (with the exception of
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Bardem in Buitiful) which is central to the mainstream appeal of the ceremony, attracting viewers beyond a purely cineliterate audience. They further lack the revenue and mainstream appeal to reach audiences of Oscar nominated films such as Toy Story 3 (Unkrich 2010) and The Fighter (Russell 2010). To even receive a nomination at the awards, or to be shortlisted, allows often low budget, foreign filmmaking to reach a wider audience than it may ever reach in its domestic country. This is crucial in helping directors to make the transition into the Hollywood film industry. The German director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck is a case in point. Von Donnersmarck made the transition from foreign language filmmaking to Hollywood studio production with actiondrama The Tourist (2010). The director won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2006 with the critically acclaimed The Lives of Others. The film saw von Donnersmarck move from short films such as Dobermann (1999) and The Crusader (2002) into feature filmmaking with ease. After his Oscar win, critics and audiences alike were interested in what the director would do next and, four years after this success, expectations for The Tourist were high. Would the film be the intense psychological thriller that had been promised, with powerful performances akin to the director’s earlier work? Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp take on the leading roles in this light-hearted narrative of mistaken identity and subterfuge. The understated performances and slow paced style displayed in The Lives of Others are replaced with action set pieces and comical character personalities. It could be said that by losing these elements, the director has lost what made his previous work so appealing, and ultimately how it gained its critical acclaim. In his BBC Radio 5 review of The Tourist, Mark Kermode stated about the director that: “Presumably he’s trying to do a Wolfgang Peterson, trying to go from very respectable foreign language work to frankly fluffy Hollywood.” However, this “fluffy Hollywood” formula did result in high box office takings, almost $300 million worldwide, although this is most likely due to the star pairing of Jolie and
Depp. While the film appealed to a mass market, the lack of critical acclaim and award success did see the film subjected to ridicule at the 2011 Golden Globe awards, Ricky Gervais commented: “It was a big year for 3-D movies: Toy Story, Despicable Me (Coffin and Renaud 2010), Tron (Kosinski 2010). Seems like everything this year was 3-Dimesional, except the characters in The Tourist.”
Often foreign filmmakers produce their most acclaimed work in their own countries, with financial success coming from major studio productions, or films with a star name attached, such as Bardem and the Mexican born actor Gael García Bernal. Yet even after an Oscar success, this transition into Hollywood filmmaking does not work for all foreign directors, with many choosing to stay within their national cinema. When the Spanish director Pedro Almódovar won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film with All About My Mother (1999), it seemed that Hollywood would beckon the filmmaker. Almódovar is one of the central directors in Spanish national cinema and throughout almost three decades of filmmaking he has produced some of most intriguing portrayals of dysfunctional families. The Oscar win did bring more attention to the films he made after All About My Mother, but this is also due to the increasing global success of the actress Penélope Cruz who has appeared in a number of his films. The success of Volver (2006) and Broken Embraces (2009), for example, does not solely come from Almodovar’s direction and Oscar notoriety, but also Cruz’s star billing. The Oscar success has allowed Almódovar to reach a wider audience yet he has consciously decided to stay within the cinema he engages and feels most comfortable with. As the director has himself stated: “My life and films are bound to Madrid, like the heads and tails of the same coin”.
The Best Foreign Language Film category can often be overshadowed by the major public interest in the Best Film award and the glamour of the ceremony itself. To be nominated and even win the award can result in larger, Hollywood studios becoming interested in a director’s work and result in making this transition. It is evident that this transition works for certain directors more than others, with
?: Foreign Films at the Oscars the major success of Alejandro González Iñárritu who directed the Academy Award nominated Amores Perros (2000) and the international network narrative Babel (2006). Iñárritu is an example of a director who successfully moved from low budget national production to large scale, globally funded filmmaking. US studios noted the festival and financial success of Amores Perros, most certainly boosted by its Oscar nomination, allowing the director to gain bigger budgets whilst sustaining both popular and critical acclaim for his work. It is not to say that this success occurs for all Oscar nominated or winning foreign filmmakers, evident from the lack of critical acclaim for Donnersmarck’s The Tourist. Also, New Zealand born director Lee Tamahori, whose major success came from indigenous blockbuster Once Were Warriors (1994), failed to engage critics and audiences in his later work, such as the neo-noir film Mulholland Falls (1996), and went on to make a generic Bond film, Die Another Day (2002). Mexico’s Guillermo del Toro is an interesting example of a director who has successfully moved between industries. With the multi-award winning Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) and the accomplished Hellboy (2004), his work maintains a distinctive style not dependent on its place of production.
to have recognised the success of previous winners in the foreign film category and the potential global popularity which international stars, like the French actor Vincent Cassel as the male lead in Black Swan, can bring to a film. This could be seen as a development for foreign filmmaking, rather than being entirely reliant on the Hollywood market. Furthermore, like directors such as a Amenábar and del Toro, some actors have successfully moved between Hollywood and foreign filmmaking in recent years, exemplified by Kristin Scott Thomas’s move from the mainstream The English Patient (Minghella 1996) and Four Weddings and Funeral (Newell 1994) to the French films of I’ve Loved You So Long (Claudel 2008) and Leaving (Corsini 2009). With this increased global mobility of foreign fillmmakers and actors from independent and national cinemas to Holllywood studio production, it will be interesting to see if the foreign film category will be of greater interest in future Academy Awards as more actors take on global importance.
The director Alejandro Amenábar is a further case in point. From the personal, smaller budget Spanish filmmaking evident in Tesis (1996) and Abre los ojos (Open Your Eyes 1997, remade by Cameron Crowe as Vanilla Sky in 2001), Amenábar went on to make the horror film The Others (2001) starring Nicole Kidman, returning to his home country in 2004 to make the Academy Award winning The Sea Inside (2004) starring Javier Bardem.
Clearly, it is not only directors who are central to this transnational movement between foreign and Hollywood markets, but also actors. The buzz created by international stars, such as Gael García Bernal and Penélope Cruz, are central to a film’s marketability and success, especially in Hollywood cinema. A foreign language film such as Buitiful is more likely to gain a larger audience than other nominees due to Bardem’s increasingly global star persona. Hollywood appears
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Gold Digger AMY LYON
Undoubtedly ruthless, one of her most famous leading roles saw Stanwyck as the personification of ambition in Baby Face (Green, 1933, below right). Director Alfred E. Green’s leading lady dominates the film as a detached yet desired and driven career woman with Stanwyck’s character appearing as a symbolic figure of female independence. Employing any means necessary to advance her position, Lily Powers is not averse to using her sexual wiles to entice men and achieve her goals. In fact, this is exactly what she does in order to reach the top: sleeping with men as a way of asserting her authority. The film follows her character during the era of Prohibition, ruled over by a manipulative father who forces her to sleep with the customers of his illegal Speakeasy despite her being under age. Eventually she moves to the city where her dreams of power and money, combined with her sexual prowess, land her a job at the Gotham Trust.
here could not be a more appropriate phrase to ultimately sum up the career-defining character portrayals of the eminent Barbara Stanwyck (1907-1990). The iconic classical Hollywood actress built a career on embodying cold-hearted females with one thing on their mind: money. While this may imply a superficial and rather all too familiar contemporary characterisation (demonstrated in films such as Heartbreakers [Mirkin 2001] and Priceless [Salvadori 2006]), Stanwyck’s acclaimed acting ability combined with her distinct on-screen icy demeanour established her as not only one of Hollywood’s strongest female leading ladies but also the ultimate representation of modern feminism. Her powerful (and arguably controversial) goal-oriented depictions of women who knew what they wanted and were willing to go to any lengths to get it were just as original and thrilling for audiences during the classical era as they are today. The subject of gold digging is one of thematic significance and the characterisation of the gold digger undoubtedly dominated Stanwyck’s career. Her choice of roles and subsequent creative interpretation of the characters gained her a reputation to rival that of her contemporaries, including the legendary Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, neither of whom were able to match the individuality and cool reserve that identified Stanwyck as a true Hollywood professional.
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The portrayal of a woman using her sexuality as a means of furthering her career was a contentious issue to represent onscreen and, despite being a “pre-Code” film, it was subject to a number of cuts by the PCA (Production Code Administration), even though it was released before the “Hays Code” was strictly enforced in 1934. However, Green adopted an innovative method of representing Lily’s increasing good fortune so that the audience is never actually witness to her exploits. Instead we witness the metaphorical zooming out of the camera presenting the exterior of the Trust building, whilst at the same time a pedestal shot climbs up the windows of the floors above until finally the camera zooms back in. Each window the camera passes represents another position gained in the employment hierarchy and another man who has blindly overlooked Lily’s gold digging intentions. The audience is aware of what Stanwyck’s character is doing however because it is not immediately visible, due in large part to the strategic fade-to-black shots, we are able to support her successes rather than criticise her methods of achievement. In addition to this, the effects of censorship meant that the audience is eventually witness to her sense of morality which reveals itself at the end of the film when she makes the decision to go back to her husband Courtland Trenholm (George Brent, right, Dark Victory, Jezebel) after initially fleeing with his fortune. Stanwyck not only manages to portray a relentless gold digger, but a female who lacks morals and yet the audience is able to identify with her. Baby Face almost provides a moral interrogation of the audience; it is hard not to support her ruthless advancement. Green’s choice to include details of her abusive childhood provokes a feeling of empathy; we see the character at her most vulnerable and we want her to fight back. In this case, that means her becoming professionally successful and therefore defying the limitations of her origin. This,
combined with Stanwyck’s charismatic performance, means she is not condemned as a gold digger. In fact, when reviewed within a contemporary context, her status as a gold digger may even be celebrated as an act of female independence. Stanwyck’s distinct screen presence is brought vividly to life through this character and clearly demonstrates her professional versatility.
The theme of gold digging provides an over-arching concept by which to analyse films of the classical era and the roles Stanwyck played in them. In The Lady Eve (Sturges 1941), Stanwyck stars in a classic screwball comedy alongside another Hollywood legend, Henry Fonda (The Grapes of Wrath, 12 Angry Men). Sturges cast Stanwyck in her first comic role as the manipulative gold digger Jean Harrington who sets out to con the rather nervous snake expert Charles Pike (Fonda), heir to the Pike Ale Corporation. In contrast to her character in Baby Face, it may be argued that Stanwyck’s performance in this film evokes a stronger sense of morality. Admittedly, at the beginning of the film her status as a gold digger is confirmed as she pursues the unsuspecting male protagonist, however, by the end of the film she adheres to the Hollywood cliché of falling in love with her victim.
Initially Stanwyck presents her calm façade: the picture of a woman in complete control. This highlights the contrast between her and Fonda’s performance, whose character is perpetually nervous in her presence. Sturges’ conventional use of black and white in order to highlight the difference between the “black widow” and her prey is particularly emphatic during the scene in which Stanwyck seductively offers her leg towards Fonda as he changes her shoes. Her movements are astutely suggestive and she is completely aware of the effect she has on him. The Lady Eve shows a female in complete control but also at the point of vulnerability as Jean eventually confesses her love for Charles at the end of the film. The humorous plot and fast-talking dialogue showcases Stanwyck’s acting ability and her role is undoubtedly one of the reasons the film is still appealing for contemporary audiences.
Film noir provided Stanwyck with an opportunity to push the boundaries in terms of portraying a female in a position of power. Double Indemnity (Wilder 1944) shows the female protagonist, Phyllis Dietrichson, using her charm to lure the unsuspecting Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray, The Apartment, My Three Sons) into murdering her husband in order to collect his life insurance. The seductive Phyllis eventually frames her foolish lover who ends up being punished for carrying out her wishes. Wilder’s construction of the remorseless femme fatale demanded that Stanwyck’s performance be more overtly sexual than in the previous two films, although this sexuality resonates as an artistically subtle
undertone to her characterisation. We may take the view that the label “femme fatale” holds more glamorous connotations than the modern connotations of “gold digger,” however the characterisations are very similar; both character types thrive on duplicity despite having to hide their greed behind a pretence of socially acceptable behaviour. Double Indemnity’s femme fatale exhibits all the behaviour akin to that of a gold digger; as the title of the film reveals, Stanwyck depicts an adaptable character, one leading a double life in order to profit financially. Just as with a gold digger, a femme fatale uses her current situation as a means to an end.
Whether playing completely immoral characters in compromising situations, or flirtatious females in positions of power, Barbara Stanwyck contributes her own signature acting style and unrivalled screen presence to many of the greatest classical Hollywood films of all time.
Wilder’s intended subtlety is what makes Stanwyck’s performance particularly intimidating; she exudes an air of sexual energy that dominates the overall tone of the scenes she shares with MacMurray. On meeting Walter for the first time, wearing nothing but a towel, she exhibits a façade of female decorum. However, it is evident that she enjoys the thrill of male desire, asking rather playfully “Is there anything I can do?” a question clearly full of innuendo. Of course, while it appears she submits to the will of men, she actually remains consciously aware of herself and those around her. As the scene progresses, typical noir cinematography techniques are used to emphasise the two sides to her personality. As Phyllis paces up and down in front of the fire place, the director’s dramatic employment of chiaroscuro lighting – the contrast between light and dark – projects Stanwyck’s harsh shadow across the wall behind her. The shadow is so definite that it almost becomes as prominent a figure within the mise-en-scène as the actress herself. Stanwyck’s representation of the femme fatale inspired actresses in later neo-noir films such as Kathleen Turner in Body Heat (Kasdan 1981) and Linda Fiorentino in The Last Seduction (Dahl 1994), is indicative of her reverential status as an iconic performer and one of the reasons why she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress in 1945. Despite this nomination, the onscreen gold digger missed out on the gold statue to Joan Crawford for her performance in another film noir, Mildred Pierce (Curtiz 1945); clearly life did not imitate art in this case. Whether playing completely immoral characters in compromising situations, or flirtatious females in positions of power, Barbara Stanwyck contributes her own signature acting style and unrivalled screen presence to many of the greatest classical Hollywood films of all time. As the films discussed here have demonstrated, the various ways in which Stanwyck represents the female as a gold digger is largely due to her ability to adapt to different genres; whether a pre-Code drama, screwball comedy or film noir, her acting talent has enabled her to produce iconic depictions of gold digging and has helped her gain notoriety as an accomplished actress rather than typecast as a deceptive gold digging seductress. Her repeated success in portraying gold diggers has set the standard for actresses today attempting to mimic her achievements; Stanwyck’s characterisations are undeniably as relevant to the contemporary period as they were during the classical era.
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Black Gold! SAM HALL
Oil, or “Black Gold” as it is colloquially known, is something no competing modern nation can be without. From fuelling motorised vehicles to making plastic, the fossil fuel is one of the most lucrative industries on the planet. It seems quite unusual then that the subject is not tackled more in the world of fictional film. Documentaries such as Fuel (Tickell 2008), Crude (Berlinger 2009) and The Oil Factor: Behind the War on Terror (Brohy and Ungerman 2005) have tackled the subject in great detail, often highlighting its impact on the environment or even exploring the conspiracies that link it to wars the world over. The truth is that save for the discovery of a bountiful alternative fuel source, oil is a necessity for modern living. Louisiana Story (1948), a documentary drama that deals with the commonly highlighted links between the environmental damage of oil, also brings to light the way the industry disrupts the lives of those who are perhaps unlucky enough to have land in which oil can be found. It questions the impact of oil on the world by telling a story to the viewer. The few feature films that have focused on oil and the controversies around it, have done so by highlighting the greed, ignorance and suffering that surrounds the competition to obtain it. Perhaps the most well known films that deal with this matter are the classical Hollywood film Giant (Stevens 1956) and Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood (2007), films where the multi-billion dollar industry brings sadness and misery to the places where it is discovered.
Giant tells the epic story of a Texan family throughout the first half of the twentieth century. It follows the character of Leslie (Elizabeth Taylor, Cleopatra, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof), a modern socialite from Virginia who falls in love with Bick (Rock Hudson, Pillow Talk, All That Heaven Allows), a young inheritor of a hefty fortune and a large ranch in Texas. Despite Leslie’s modernism and Bick’s more traditionalist attitude, they quickly settle down, get married and set up home at the ranch. Leslie’s new life in Texas is not the fairytale lifestyle she was hoping for, however, as she discovers a world of prejudice, sexism and unshakeable traditional values. Further trouble grows when Jett Rink (James Dean, above, Rebel Without a Cause, East of Eden), once a stable hand on the ranch, strikes oil and sets up a million dollar industry called Jettexas. Bick and his family struggle with Jett’s sudden wealth and power, finding that his company encroaches on their ranch and their interests. A clash between Bick and Jett ensues but Bick discovers in Jet a broken man, a lonely drunk whose only friend is money. As a result of this, and the influence from his wife and children, Bick learns that his traditional values are nothing compared to the love of his wife and family, and he overcomes his old prejudices.
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Oil is the catalyst that eventually brings Bick and his family closer together. Jett starts out a working man yet just as much an old Texan as Bick; however his pursuit of the American Dream does not bring him the happiness he longs for. His dealings with oil make him ruthless, buying up land wherever he can, but it is only near the end of his life that he realises he cannot buy true happiness and fulfilment. He may not like Bick, but he does admire his lifestyle and his beautiful wife. He believes his success will get him the life and love that he desires. As a substitute for his attraction to Leslie, he woos her daughter Luz Jr. (Carroll Baker, How the West Was Won, The Game), although she eventually sees him for the broken man he really is. The film portrays oil as a corporate giant that sweeps away the old ranching business in Texas, turning it into a shadow of its former self. The great traditions and values of the state are trodden underfoot, yet the prejudice and sexism remains. The prevailing message in Giant is that family and love come before anything else, and those who sell their soul to the oil industry lose this sense of compassion that the cattle ranchers had never lost. Jett striking oil made him an instant millionaire, he never obtained the appreciation for what he had that Bick’s family had developed over time. Bick’s traditional values taught him to appreciate and make the most of what he had; Jett’s conglomerate industry gave him Bick’s money but not Bick’s lifestyle. In There Will Be Blood it is the oil baron himself who becomes the centre of attention. Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis, below, The Last of the Mohicans, Gangs of New York) is an intelligent and hard working oil man with a penchant for and understanding of the industry. He can be cruel and thoughtless, but he does share a certain degree of love for his adopted son H.W. (Dillon Freaiser). After being tipped off about a potential oil field, Daniel purchases several acres of land and sends a small and quiet town into turmoil. The land becomes the centre of Daniel’s oil empire, but his determination to obtain more oil leads to strained relationships with his son and with those who live on the land, particularly the local pastor Eli Sunday (Paul Dano, L.I.E., Little Miss Sunshine). The film ends with Daniel’s life empty; he distances himself from his son and can’t seem to release himself from his cruel and ruthless nature. After a short clash with the defiant but poor Eli, Daniel destroys his reputation and his business through an unmitigated outburst of violence, ending on the memorable line “I’m finished”. Again the cruel ambition of the oil baron overshadows what little compassion they have. Not unlike the rise and fall of the anti-hero in a gangster movie, the oil baron tramples on the simple lives and traditions of those they come in contact with, and they suffer as a result. In this case, however, Daniel’s lust for power and success clashes with the ambitions of an influential member of his community who shares Daniel’s desire to control those around him. Whereas the clash of oil tycoons and cattle ranchers dominated Giant, There Will Be Blood adds religion as a notable barrier in the expansion of the oil industry. Before the oil industry made its way to Eli’s town, religion dominated and he was at the head of this community. The destructive wave of the industry swept away the power faith had over the people of the town leaving Eli to beg Daniel for money by the end of the film. Oil has not been good to Daniel either, he has worked hard to get the power he obtains by the end of the film, but he has lost all compassion he had left, even the love for his adoptive son. Like Dean in Giant, Day-Lewis comes across as a calm and charming man at first, but he still cannot hide his selfish and almost psychotic pursuit of money and power from those around him. Oil may be drained from the ground, but through the events in this film it also drains the soul and happiness out of the lives it touches, leading one section of the community to financial ruin and the oil baron himself is left empty and soulless. Oil ultimately takes the lust for power to a new level. “Black Gold” is not simply a descriptive term, referring to the colour of oil; it highlights the hold it can have over people and it is this connotation that is foregrounded in Giant and There Will Be Blood. Those who control its distribution control communities and world markets, they command respect from those around them. Oil also arouses jealousy and hatred. As oil barons grow richer and more selfish, so those around them become increasingly detached. Those with access to oil become isolated as they realise that others want their money and not their company, so they grow bitter of life and plunge into misery and madness, exemplified in Dean and Day-Lewis’s histrionic performances.
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PLAY. PAUSE. REWIND.
This section offers a space for the critical review of past and present films and television programmes, moving beyond simple plot descriptions and recommendations. “Play” refers to recent film and television and to the enjoyment of watching. “Pause” is the act of reflecting on what has been viewed and contemplating a critical reading. Finally, “Rewind” is revisiting and reconsidering film and television, as well as offering new perspectives and creating new ideas about past texts.
Small Screen Screwball LEE COOK “Life’s short, talk fast.” So said the promotional material for Gilmore Girls (WB 20002007), Warner Brothers’ breakout drama, when it first hit our screens in October 2000. Originally broadcast on the now defunct WB network, the show lasted seven fasttalking seasons, and through its 153 episodes we were presented with a Capra-esque image of Middle America – a genuinely transparent celebration of life and love in a small town.
That small town was the fictional Stars Hollow, Connecticut, home of thirtytwo-year-old Lorelai Gilmore (Lauren Graham, Birds of America) and her sixteenyear-old daughter Rory (Alexis Bledel, Sin City). It’s the kind of place we might expect to see Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert step off a bus in It Happened One Night (Capra 1934), and the heiress on the run might have felt right at home. With Lorelai all but estranged from her wealthy parents after leaving home aged sixteen and pregnant, they are now back in her life and so are the issues that drove them apart in the first place: Lorelai’s refusal to have her entire life planned out for her following her pregnancy prompted her to turn her back on her parents and the world they represented. This conflict and the division between classes are key to the
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narrative arc of Gilmore Girls as Lorelai clashes time and again with the blue-blood sensibilities of her parents. She treads a thin line between the life she has built for herself and the privileged world that her parents inhabit, the same world that her daughter will eventually become a part of. The show eschews the high drama of death and destruction for the seemingly trivial affairs of small town life and it works, it really works. It also provides us with the basic framework of classic screwball comedy: romance, high society, physical comedy, and what comedy scholar Wes Gehring has defined as “a proclivity for parody and satire”.
Over seven years we see the young Rory grow from local high-school student to prep-school prodigy and eventual Yale graduate, and along the way get to see her fall in and out of love with a host of unsuitable suitors: from home-grown hero Dean (Jared Paladecki, Supernatural) and New York rebel Jess (Milo Ventimiglia, Heroes) to wealthy fellow graduate Logan Huntzberger (Matt Czuchry, The Good Wife). Lorelai takes the step from manager of the Independence Inn to inn-owner and she too is subject to many a failed relationship, from the onoff romance with Rory’s father Christopher (David Sutcliffe,
Film writer David Thomson has called Peter Bogdanovich’s What’s Up, Doc? (1972) a screwball comedy that was unaware the genre had been dead for twenty-five years. He was right. For all intents and purposes the genre was left for dead as early as the 1950s with films such as Unfaithfully Yours (Sturges 1948) and I Was a Male War Bride (Hawks 1949) leading the way for its final push with Billy Wilder’s Some Like it Hot (1959). So when Gilmore Girls was first aired it was refreshing; it not only set a new standard for TV comedy-drama but seemed blissfully unaware that the genre it was redefining was long gone. The difference here was that Gilmore Girls didn’t just drag screwball’s body back from the dead, it took it on a postmodern yellow brick quest for a heart. This is what made it such an endearing and enduring series, and which has ensured its place as an important entry in the annals of popular television history. It is a place in history that isn’t without warrant for a show voted number 32 on Entertainment Weekly’s list of new TV classics and listed as one of Time magazine’s 100 best TV shows of all-time (2007).
Private Practice) and the meant-to-be nature of her relationship with reclusive diner owner, Luke (Scott Patterson, The Event), to a whole host of potential Mr. Rights and Mr. Right-Nows.
The romantic content achieved its full potential in the hands of show creator Amy Sherman-Palladino, who earned her stripes with three seasons as a staff writer on Roseanne (ABC 19881997) and found her way onto Veronica‘s Closet (NBC 1997-2000) with a well timed spec-script. The material wasn’t exactly new to the director of the pilot episode either: Leslie Linka Glatter was a one-time director on Ally McBeal (FOX 1997-2002) and now counts The West Wing (NBC 1999-2006), House (FOX 2004-), and Mad Men (AMC 2007-) amongst her credits. By the time the show got rolling it adopted the tone of the pilot episode, a tone which has helped it to draw comparisons to the work of Aaron Sorkin and David Mamet. With their respective writing credits including The Social Network (Fincher, 2010) and The Unit (CBS 2006-2009) it’s not a bad tree for this apple to fall close to, and not a bad basis for any further analysis of the show’s enduring appeal.
By now you’re probably onto me so, in closing, I’ll admit it: the truth is that I love screwball comedy and I’m glad to see it back, alive and kicking, for the box-set generation. This show not only broke down barriers in terms of dramatic content but left audiences reeling from the heart-breaking simplicity of the picture it painted. Through its flawless characterisation, Gilmore Girls proved once and for all that the screwball comedy genre is timeless, if it’s done properly. With hints of everything from Northern Exposure (CBS 1990-1995) to Ally McBeal, the show presents a world inhabited by people we can’t help but relate to. These characters make learning to love a worthwhile education, and whether it is Smith going to Washington or Deeds going to Town I can’t help but think that they might have stopped off in Stars Hollow along the way.
Its appeal was aided in no small part by Gilmore Girls’ own brand of irreverent humour. From Bauhaus to Buford and from Nancy Walker to Walker, Texas Ranger (CBS 1993-2001) the show fast talks its way through fifty years of popular culture and pokes fun at a whole host of political and literary pretensions. This is a world populated by smart people, educated and world-wise, sharp-tongued and quick witted, and we never feel belittled or patronised by the speed of the references. We only ever wish we knew what exactly it was they were talking about at sixtywords-a-second for forty-five minutes a week: it’s an autodidacts dream, and one this reviewer is reluctant to wake from. A cameo from Norman Mailer provides a particularly shining moment; the two-time Pulitzer Prize winner finds himself being ejected from Lorelai’s inn for occupying the restaurant for an interview and ordering nothing but iced tea. We later see him continuing his interview at a window-table in the local diner. The references fly thick and fast but it’s never less than 100% good pure screwball fun.
Diegesis: Play. Pause. Rewind. 11
he Coen brothers are a Through their extensive written and directed a num various genres and have pro masterful with each. From B neo-noir crime film, to Mille prohibition-era gangster film a (2003), a romantic comedy, the have been unexplored by the continues with their latest film mythic western which is a mod as well a throwback to the old w
True Grit follows 14-year-old Steinfeld) quest for revenge, ac US Marshal, Rooster Cogburn Heart, Iron Man, The Fisher Kin Ranger, LaBeouf (Matt Damon The Departed, The Talented M to track down Tom Chaney (Jo Goonies), the man who murde of the Coen brothers, they c colourful and unsavoury char (maybe even more typically of the protagonists, particularly Cogburn. This typical Coen bro with the usual moral questio in other films by the two dire perfectly with the western gen packed fight for revenge and themes of retribution, pride between right and wrong in a
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Although many may think of of the 1969 John Wayne film closer to the wildly popular 1 Portis, upon which the origina This makes it the third Coe from another source, after O Thou (2000) (which, accord “very loosely and very sort o on Homer’s Odyssey, although enough to receive an Oscar Adapted Screenplay) and th winning film No Country For isn’t the only link the film ha fact, No Country could be desc its own right, albeit a contem it gave the brothers a taster o
pair of chameleons. e careers they have mber of films across oved themselves to be Blood Simple (1984), a er’s Crossing (1990), a and Intolerable Cruelty ere are few genres that e brothers. The trend m, True Grit (2010), a dern take on the genre westerns of yesteryear.
d Mattie Ross’s (Hailee ccompanied by “gritty” n (Jeff Bridges, Crazy ng) and boastful Texas n, The Bourne Identity, Mr Ripley), as she tries osh Brolin, Milk, W, The ered her father. Typical come across a cast of racters, many of whom the Coens) want to kill the rather unpopular others approach, along oning that is explored ectors, comes together nre, creating an actionsurvival that explores e, and the fine line shattered society.
True Grit as a remake m, it is actually much 1968 novel by Charles al film was also based. en film to be adapted O Brother Where Art ding to Joel Coen, was of unseriously” based it was taken seriously nomination for Best heir four time OscarOld Men (2007). This as to the latter film. In cribed as a western in mporary one. No doubt of what they could do
with a proper, old-fashioned rootin’ tootin’ western. Combined with the recent resurgence of The Old West in popular culture (just look at the sales figures for recently released video game western Red Dead Redemption), it seems like there was no better time for the directors to don their boots and spurs and you can thank your lucky six-shooter that they did. If you are already a fan of the western genre, then you are in for a treat. But you don’t have to be a fan of the genre to enjoy this film. True Grit is an emotionally charged and beautiful thrill ride that really captures the feel of the nineteenth century frontier.
Westerns certainly haven’t always been an overly accessible genre. The emphasis on tradition and historicism might be too much for some. From the 1930s up to the mid-1970s, westerns were produced on a momentous scale - John Wayne alone starred in 84 Westerns from 1930 to 1976. You would be forgiven, then, for thinking that this might be something only your dad would enjoy, and although I don’t doubt for a second that he would, there is plenty here for a younger adult audience too. Although not totally free of historical references, it keeps away from narrative elements such as the Civil War (which can be particularly confusing for an audience who aren’t aficionados of nineteenth century American history), and keeps within the realms of western mythology, which is far more recognisable to a modern audience (who has never heard of six-shooters and outlaws?). Although this increased accessibility may be primarily thanks to Portis and his novel, it is the Coens who put the icing on the cake with their use of relatable characters. Jeff Bridges’ Rooster Cogburn is The Dude, but on a horse. By “The Dude”, I am of course referring to Jeff Bridges’ character in the Coen Brothers’ 1998 film The Big Lebowski. Bridges’ Cogburn mirrors many of the features of The Dude that made him such a great and popular character. However, this isn’t new ground, and this focus on characters is common in many modern westerns. Unlike the action oriented Spaghetti Westerns of the 1960s, such as Sergio Leone’s masterpiece The Good, The Bad and the Ugly (1966) where showdowns occur as frequently as conversations do and where we don’t even find out the protagonist’s name, characters and character driven stories usually
take a forefront in westerns of recent years. Take, for example, Ed Harris’s Appaloosa (2008), which follows the relationship between two friends and the problems they encounter when one of them falls for a trouble-making woman, and Kevin Costner’s Open Range (2003), which follows the hardships of two friends who are trying to make a living by freegrazing. Both of these films features spectacular shootouts and impressive set-pieces, but the emphasis is on the relationships and development of characters. The same can be said for True Grit, however, it can be argued that it has been done in a far more exquisite way. There is no doubt in my mind that True Grit will be considered the best western of the last decade. The Coens have mastered a magical formula. Everything in their films fits together so well: from their choice of actors – Josh Brolin plays a darker, more erratic version of his character in No Country; Jeff Bridges reprises his attitude of The Dude, which fits so well into the character of Cogburn; and Matt Damon provides some excellently performed comic relief in the form of LaBeouf – to their unrelenting wit and skill for the blackest of humour, and their deep understanding of the period and subject upon which their films are based. Talking of actors, you can’t rightly talk about True Grit without mentioning Hailee Steinfeld. Like the book, the Coens make sure the audience knows that this is Mattie Ross’s story. It is about the most significant experience of her life, during which she shows courage way beyond her years and cements a strong relationship with an unlikely friend. Newcomer Steinfeld plays the part flawlessly, boasting confidence and charisma and carrying the story along excellently, as well as creating some genuinely emotional and magical moments with Bridges.
All in all, the Coens can be praised for their skill in writing and directing a western so successfully, however, I would be more inclined to praise them for their adaptiveness and apparent ability to master any given genre. True Grit is the most recent in the list of spectacular Coen brothers’ films, and is not only one of the greatest westerns for years, but also one of the best films of 2010.
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Arresting Developments HANNAH EVESON
he detective drama is a tried and tested formula. They have been at the core of British broadcasting since 1954 when Fabian of the Yard (BBC 1954-1956), a police procedural drama based on the real memoirs of a Scotland Yard detective, first aired and won the hearts of the nation. It was the first programme of its kind to be made purely for British television and shared many similarities with the US show Dragnet (NBC 1951-1959). Fiftysix years later and British television is thoroughly saturated with procedural detective programming which is no longer exclusive to the boys in blue; doctors, scientists, lawyer’s, even little old ladies in sleepy middle England have had a crack at solving crimes. With a steady tide of imports from the US and a whole host of home-grown programming, including Midsomer Murders (ITV 1997-present) and Agatha Christie’s Poirot (ITV 1989-present), the genre seemed to be running a little dry in the last few years with nothing particularly ground-breaking coming onto our screens. With the biggest and most successful programmes of recent years being big budget US shows such as the CSI franchise (CBS 2000-present) and Law and Order (NBC 1990-2010), British programme makers have been struggling to keep up, churning out the same shows they have been making for over ten years and even remaking programmes from the 1980s;
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Agatha Christie’s Marple stories having been reproduced several times in the form of Miss Marple (BBC 1984-1991), Agatha Christie’s Marple (2004-present) and even a Disney version is on the cards. Stuck in a time warp, we were well overdue for some new blood and, lucky for us, 2010 saw something of a revolution in the crime drama genre in the form of three new kids on the block: Luther (BBC 2010), Thorne (Sky 2010) and Sherlock (BBC 2010).
With the thundering power of the Murdoch empire behind them Sky1’s Thorne was given a big production budget, mainstream stars in the form of lead actor David Morrissey and a prime time Sunday slot. However, throwing money at something never guarantees success and the real star of Thorne was its original text. The Thorne novels lent themselves well to a television adaptation with their grippingly brooding protagonist and intricately elaborate story lines. Creator Mark Billingham made the brave decision to take the shows six episode run and split it between two of the Thorne books: Thorne: Sleepyhead and Thorne: Scaredycat. The show received a mixed critical reception but was praised for its production value and originality. The characters are believable and captivating; Morrissey manages to
give the title character a strong three-dimensional personality. The elongated story lines allow better character development and plenty of space for creating and maintaining tension. Sleepyhead, for example, offers a truly terrifying story arc in which a serial killer aims to keep his victims alive during torture by paralysing them. The programme makers hope to make all of the ten Thorne novels and if done with the finesse of the first two they will be a refreshing break from the mundane cop shows currently bombarding our screens. The surprise champions of this revolution however are the traditionalist BBC who have been putting the licence fee to good use producing not one but two of the most ground-breaking detective dramas of 2010. Luther focuses on the investigations of a mentally troubled murder detective, John Luther (Idris Elba, The Wire), who is so riddled with self loathing, rage and a clouded sense of right and wrong that you question whether he should be on the other side of the interrogation room table. The first episode alone gives us a glimpse into his inner turmoil, broken marriage and worrying developing relationship with Alice, a sociopath under investigation for parenticide. As well as fraternising with the enemy, Luther displays a superior intellect and a ruthless attitude to justice. Drawing inspiration from real life cases, such as the infamous taxi driver killings in London, Luther’s plots air on the right side of edgy. Though at times Luther feels clichéd and stereotypical of procedural crime shows, Elba’s performance as John Luther makes it work and still feel fresh. Following its UK success, Luther has since been aired in both Australia and the US receiving rave reviews and has been commissioned for a second series in 2011. For me, however, the star of the 2010 crime show revamp has come from some of the most well trodden ground in literary history in the form of Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss’s modern adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories.
Their brainchild Sherlock is not all that appealing on paper; the idea of bringing one of the most iconic characters of the 1800s into the twenty-first century seems either incredibly brave or somewhat misguided. However with Moffat (Pressgang, Coupling, Doctor Who) and Gatiss (The League of Gentlemen, Doctor Who) at the helm, the show was guaranteed at least a cult following. Taking the unusual stance of a three episode run, an hour and a half time slot and being tucked away in the summer schedule, the whole show seemed to break all the rules of prime time crime drama. Maybe this was reflective of the BBC’s original concern for the episodes success. Nonetheless, a mere six days after the first episodes were broadcast, a second run was commissioned and the show was sold to another twelve territories.
Taking enough from the original stories to feel an authentic tribute to the text, Sherlock is a perfect cocktail of eccentricity, mystery and British silliness and showcases what Moffat does best which is make characters compelling and likable even though they are deeply flawed. The casting of Benedict Cumberbatch (Atonement, Four Lions) was a risk in giving an iconic role to a little known actor. The gamble turned out to be a winning move; Cumberbatch has an ethereal quality to him which lends itself to a character with superhuman intellect and Martin Freeman (The Office, Love Actually) as Watson adds a little star appeal and quintessential Britishness to the series. Some of the post-production techniques, such as the on screen texting during deduction sequences, were risky yet effective. The episodes feature the impossible crimes that made the original texts so good as well as enough wit and banter to make it an enjoyable watch. The hour and a half episodes sit well in the uninterrupted schedule on BBC1 making them more like TV movies than serial drama. With more Sherlock to look forward to and further episodes of Luther and Thorne on the horizon, I am enthusiastically optimistic that this tired genre has had the kick it needs to establish a new golden age.
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The King’s Speec EMMA O’NEILL
ound is one of the most crucial elements of Tom Hooper’s The King’s Speech (2010). The sound of piano music that is heard freq film is a critical aspect of an experience that is otherwise woefully misrepresented. It is a sound that could be taken for granted a to an otherwise drab and conservative representation of speech defects. The sound of the piano represents a skilled musician at the who performs to precision; it is a prime example of something that is beautiful and complex that when performed to large audienc faultlessly, just as a King should be able to present himself to his subjects with elegance and poise in his pronunciation.
Prince Albert (Colin Firth, A Single Man, Love Actually, Bridget Jones’s Diary), or “Bertie” as he was known to his closest family and f severe speech impediment, also known as a stammer. The voice is crucial to the Head of State, an essential mechanism of communic Without it, he is nothing. Bertie’s father tells him that his responsibility is “to perform”, stating: “We are now something much worse. W has come for the Prince to project himself vocally to millions. Whilst some of the stigma associated with stammers is acknowledged the character of Bertie’s father, the film largely glosses them over. We see little emotion from Firth and how it affects his character s Bertie looks awkward during a scene with his children who ask for a bedtime story but he is still able to read fairly accurately. Du little torment from his stammer, only the odd flinch that can be caused due to the pain of stammering, but Firth gives little indication character emotionally. What it does suggests, however, is that he is more comfortable in this environment than in front of a crowd; the with his impediment so his stammer is less severe.
The emotional investment that is connected with stammers is marginalised with the exception of a few stories about his father and so as a child. Childhood trauma is often a major cause of stammers yet there is not enough attention to detail in these possible traumas. of his Nanny refusing to feed him, which occurred before the stammer and is suggested to have resulted in the stammer, is passed ove unconventional relationship with his speech therapist, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush, Shakespeare in Love, Pirates of the Caribbean, Q possible emotional investment, particularly when Bertie confides in him about his childhood experiences. However, this is marred b posture which suggests he is over the trauma. Instead, the film focuses on how the stammer must be eliminated from Bertie. The topic o is treated in a conservative manner and leaves little to the imagination in terms of its representation. The condition is glossed over a detail given to the emotional effect on Bertie’s personal life. Although admittedly the public speeches do show the stress linked with s lack any detail of social stigma that is so often associated with speech defects and can cause emotional upheaval in the sufferer.
Perhaps not all is lost for this film. Despite its lack of grit in its representations it offers a light-hearted way of understanding a condit that is so often misunderstood. Recently BBC Radio Four have interviewed teenagers speaking for the first time about their stammer saying that The King’s Speech has given them the confidence they needed in order to realise they are not alone. Credit must be given to this film therefore as it showcases a very real condition that those suffering can relate to and build confidence from. What the film lacks in emotional investment, it makes up for in its ending which provides Bertie with some resolution and acceptance. The acceptance stage of language defects can often be the hardest. The ending does not dismiss the nature of stammers, showing how the stammer can always be a part of the person’s life. Bertie speaks on the wireless at the outset of World War 2 with Lionel Logue, stammering on only a few words (mainly words with the beginning letter W). When Logue points this out to Bertie, he responds mockingly “Well they had to know it was me”, showing that while he knows his condition will never disappear, he can accept it and be a King with the voice of a King. Overall The King’s Speech offers a conservative representation of speech defects. Given that the film was representing a Head of State, then perhaps it would have been more plausible to show more of the sociocultural implications of the speech defect and relate this back to Bertie and how this affected him. As a result, audiences are given a very basic and underdeveloped representation that struggles to give information for understanding the process involved in the treatment of stammering. This lack in terms of representation therefore only offers a basic level of identification.
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quently throughout the as merely adding décor e height of their career ces must be performed
friends, suffered from a cating with his subjects. We are actors.” The time d in the film, mainly via socially with his family. uring this scene, we see n of how this affects his ese are children familiar
ome neglect he suffered . In particular, the story er very quickly. Bertie’s Quills), does show some by Bertie’s relaxed body of speech impediments and there is not enough stammers, they seem to
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Black Swan JENNY LYNE
“Are old tricks necessarily the best...?”
“What happened to my little girl?”
A film derived from Tchaikovsky’s ballet Swan Lake, Black Swan (Aronofsky 2010) takes a new spin on the thriller genre and combines traditional horror movie conventions with themes of obsession, beauty and ageing. It boasts impressive performances by Natalie Portman (Leon, Closer, Star Wars Episode I, II & III), and Mila Kunis (That 70s Show, Forgetting Sarah Marshall). Portman won an Academy Award for her performance of Nina Sayers, the Swan Queen. In a role for which the actress trained for a year before the start of shooting, Portman embodies the character’s desires of perfection.
Within the diegesis, the characters are constantly reflected in mirrors, making the characters subject to their own gaze; we are not just watching them, they are also watching themselves. This tool is used shrewdly; it isn’t always obvious to the audience whether we are looking at “reality” or into a mirror. The repeated use of mirrors reinforces the ideas of beauty and vanity and the destruction that is concealed within those themes. The beautiful world of ballet is revealed as complex, destructive and ugly.
Another example of brilliant casting is the pick of Barbara Hershey (Chicago Hope) who plays Nina’s mum, Erica, a retired ballet dancer who never made it further than the chorus line. The character is deeply troubled by her fleeting career which ended due to her unplanned pregnancy. Erica projects her own dreams and aspirations onto Nina but becomes obsessed and jealous of her daughter’s achievements as a result. Nina’s ballet instructor, Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel, La Haine, Irreversible, Mesrine) is a less developed character, lacking depth in relation to the other characters. Instead of coming across as powerful and domineering, his character seems more like an angry school teacher spouting off pretentious spiel. “Strip it down, make it visceral and real”
The film employs an effective use of close-ups throughout in order to create a very intimate yet uncomfortable feeling. Close-ups serve the function of not only depicting Nina as constrained within her own world and mind but it also has the effect of making the audience feel claustrophobic. The film uses few establishing shots, making it seem like we are captured in Nina’s world and causing us to question what is real and what isn’t. This is particularly the case with Kunis’s character: is Lily a real person or is she completely imaginary?
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Black Swan includes a brilliantly crafted metamorphosis scene reminiscent of John Landis’s An American Werewolf in London (1981) in which feathers sprout out of Nina’s shoulders, snapping backwards to reveal an astounding set of black wings. This scene exquisitely concludes the second act of the film and creates a brilliant climax in the story. After this, Nina also change visually, her white and pastel-coloured clothes changing to black as fantasy merges with reality. However, the clichéd distinction between black and white does become a bit tiresome after a while. We repeatedly see Lily in black, connoting her as the “evil” character when her deviance is obvious enough without the change in colour palette.
On the other hand, this presentation of characters changing through the mise-en-scene is very expressionistic and theatrical. When watching the film again, it is easier to understand the subtext of the film and identify the narrative “clues”. The ambiguous undertone works in my opinion, leaving certain things unanswered and in the hands of the audience to decipher. In Black Swan, Aronofsky connects theatrical and cinematic in a truly entertaining way. I almost felt myself wanting to stand up and clap along with the end credits.
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Short films are simply the most accessible type of film due to technologies of production (cheap cameras and software) and exhibition (online outlets). The term “short film” covers many types from animation to documentary and can be found in various genres and experimental forms. Some of the best films are made on a low budget with a strong narrative. However, they are simply not “showcased” enough in spite of the increasing number websites featuring shorts. And so, this section will include reviews and the occasional feature on work rarely seen, along with award winner, and information on short film festivals for students who want to get their work seen.
how the shorter form conveys bigger messages... DARYL BALL
he short form has always been viewed as a product away from the mainstream, lacking the overall scope and narrative to entice the public to part with their cash. But in a throwback to a bygone era of drive-in theatres and the B-movie, Pixar have often introduced their feature films with a series of shorts. These pieces often tie in to the feature showcasing a different style of cinema to the feature length production that follows. Feature-length hits like Toy Story (Lasseter 1995) showcase Pixar’s family-orientated target audience as it plays on the childhood fantasy that toys are living entities, whilst also maintaining adult interest through “grown up” humour. Characters such as Andy symbolise the child that every parent takes with them when attending this film. The short form offers an extension in Pixar’s attempts to become a household name for family audiences as it can act as a basis for providing information. Here are some ways Pixar use the short form to convey educational messages to its family orientated audiences.
The short provides Pixar with an effective way of conveying messages to its family demographic. The short is constrained by time and thus they have to be more economical with their storylines. This results in films which relay a much clearer, more immediate message than that of mainstream narrative features. Pixar have capitalised on the ability of shorts to convey messages quickly. They use them to provide a form which is more educational than their feature length counterparts in their simple moralistic tales. The films described here illustrate how Pixar use the short to educate. All of them use the form to convey messages that apply to most school playgrounds, touching on issues that affect every child and methods by which they can overcome these. The short achieves this because it refuses to dwell on the negative aspects for too long, instead making sure a resolution is quick in coming because of the time constraints the form works under. The strength of these shorts is evident in their ability to find their way into classrooms all across America, moving out of the cinemas to be used as educational teaching tools.
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Boundin’ (Luckey 2003) With its rhythmic flow that sets it out like a nursery rhyme, Boundin’ tells the story of a young aspiring sheep whose becomes very popular amongst the creatures in the American west through song and dance. Its popularity is quite literally stripped though, when the young sheep’s fur is sheared. Missing his fleecy exterior the sheep retreats from society, taking comfort in the shadows of a rock. The sheep’s actions represent the way many children react to negative criticism regarding their appearance, locking themselves away in their rooms to cry. The negativity surrounding this piece is emphasised by the sudden change in weather from sunshine to thunder, showing just how fragile the young sheep has become.
However the film refuses to dwell on this negative outlook for too long and this is due to the time constraints that the short works under. A feature length narrative would focus on the negative emotions or cut to a new scene with new characters and a different scenario but the short needs to resolve all problems within this limited timeframe. The young sheep isn’t left feeling down for long before a mythical jackalope bounces into the fray. Standing tall over the sheep, the jackalope attempts to persuade him to see the good in life and asks him to show off some of his dance moves. After a short period, the young sheep embraces some of the techniques taught to him by the jackalope and returns to his former self, once again standing proud as a figure and accepting his annual shearing as a part of life.
The jackalope carries the message of the short film, illustrating to its young audience that looks are not everything in an image dominated world. The jackalope also represents a guide to the parents that watch, acting as an example of how to react to certain situations that will arise during their parenthood. Boundin’ carries a very powerful social message then; it serves to showcase to children that appearances are not the only thing that you are judged on whilst offering their parents a template of how to act if the situation occurred. The short creates the power in this message as it stays focused throughout on the young sheep’s problem, refusing to take interest in the viewpoint of any other creatures in the small mound.
One Man Band (Jimenez & Andrews 2005) One Man Band focuses on the seemingly insignificant act of a young girl throwing a coin into a fountain for good luck and the possible complications that may come from this. The complication in this short is provided by two rivalling one man bands, both who compete for the attention of the young girl’s money. Like most Pixar short films, One Man Band strips itself on dialogue in a bid to focus on the actions of the characters. The lack of dialogue creates a degree of sympathy towards the young girl as the audience witness her discomfort as she is pestered by the two musicians. As the two rivals draw in closer to the young girl, it becomes evident that she is intimidated by their selfish actions. The result is that nobody gains as the girl, who is by now ravaged with fear, relinquishes control of the coin and it rolls away down a drain. Angered at losing her gold coin, the girl takes a violin from one of the performers and plays a tune of her own. Within seconds the girl is rewarded with a bag full of gold coins. The story illustrates the power of teamwork over individual gain, as the musicians’ selfishness in this case results in everyone losing. But for the pre-school market these shorts convey the message that children should not be pressured into any actions they don’t feel comfortable with by adults. Ending the film with the girl being rewarded for trusting her instincts and not giving in to the two elder men provides a message to children to always stick to what they think is the right thing, avoiding any possibly temptations that maybe ahead.
For the Birds (Eggleston 2000) Screened before Monster Inc, For the Birds introduces a group of small birds, competing for the prime spot on a telephone pylon. In traditional Pixar fashion, the film plays on an everyday scenario to create humour as the small birds fight between themselves for the prime spot. Soon, a much bigger bird enters the fray. With his awkward exterior and clumsy stride the big bird is ridiculed by the smaller birds. However he refuses to cast judgement on his smaller companions, instead wishing to integrate himself into the group despite the smaller bird’s negative attitudes towards him. The smaller birds, annoyed by the fact that the bigger bird is unfazed by their taunts, displace the bigger bird by working together to remove him from the line, attacking its feet with their beaks. As a trigger effect of knocking the bigger bird off the line, the much smaller birds are catapulted into the sky. They eventually return to the ground featherless, humiliated and stripped of their power, revealing that underneath their hardened exterior this group of bullies are no different and just as exposed and vulnerable as the ones they target. To complete this turnaround, the film ends withthe bigger bird laughing at the ones who had just taunted him, offering a symbol to those that face bullying on a daily basis that their problems can be overcome and bullies will ultimately get their comeuppance.
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AT THE MARGINS
“At the Margins” is a section that aims to draw attention to and discuss some of the key art, independent and niche events in both film and television. Looking past the mainstream, this section gives space to small film festivals, specialised awards and low budget filmmaking, as well as including reviews of both current and previous independent/art/alternative releases.
This issue, “At the Margins” features three conference papers written by final year film & television studies students. The three Solent students had the unique opportunity to present their work at the British Conference of Undergraduate Research (BCUR), the first ever conference of its kind in the UK. Held at the University of Central Lancashire in April, the two-day conference included presentations by over 160 students selected from more than 30 universities.
The papers are particularly suited to this section for two main reasons. Firstly, while postgraduate research conferences are commonplace in academia, the role of the undergraduate student as researcher is largely overlooked in the UK. One of the aims of BCUR was to provide a dedicated space for undergrads to exchange ideas and network with like-minded individuals; the impressive turnout and even more impressive quality of papers is testament to the fact that it is not just postgraduate degrees that produce work of originality.
Second, in their subject matter the three papers investigate issues and debates that are often marginalised or ignored in favour of more mainstream topics. Laura Stephens looks beyond the Hollywood blockbuster to consider the subversive nature of the female torturer in independent film and Asian extreme; Kevin Tomes presents a convincing case for thinking about video games as art rather than dismissing them as just entertainment; and Emma O‘Neill challenges the established perception of the British Board of Film Classification to ask if their remit is really about empowering viewers or controlling them. The three papers published here engage with established debates related to their topics and seek ways of building on and critiquing the work of scholars in the field. Congratulations to Laura, Emma and Kevin for presenting at their first, but most likely not their last, academic conference. We hope you enjoy reading the papers as much as we enjoyed listening to them!
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The Female Torturer in Contemporary Horror
Empowerment or Control? Emma Oâ€™Neill
Convergent Art Forms: Video Games and Film
Diegesis: At the Margins 23
The Female Torturer in Contemporary Horror LAURA STEPHENS
he character of the female torturer has become an important development in contemporary horror films. This paper aims to discuss how the female torturer may be seen as a subversive development in the horror sub-genre I will refer to as “torture horror.” I will explore the movement from passive victim to active torturer, in Hard Candy (Slade 2005) and Takeshi Miike’s Audition/Ôdishon (1999), and discuss how her character threatens dominant gender ideologies. When researching the role of the monstrous and violent female in film, it is clear that it is not only the torture horror sub-genre in which her character appears. In fact, the monstrous female can be seen throughout cinema history, not confined to one particular genre. The various incarnations of the monstrous feminine can be seen through more mythical creations in Hammer films like The Gorgon (Fisher 1964) or noir femme fatales in films such as Double Indemnity (Wilder 1944) and Out of the Past (Tourneur 1947). Barbara Creed explores these varied images in the seminal text The Monstrous Feminine: Film, Feminism and Psychoanalysis (1993), citing the femme castratrice, vagina dentata and the castrating mother as characters who prey on male castration anxiety both psychologically and, in some cases, literally. She is also the psychotic female monster in thrillers like Fatal Attraction (Lyne 1987), The Hand That Rocks the Cradle (Hanson 1992) and Single White Female (Schroeder 1992), yet she is almost always punished for her transgression from passivity to activity. It is important to note, however, that for the active female to be seen as a subversive development in the horror genre, her dominant image must be the passive victim. Although, discussing the “look” in cinema, Laura Mulvey notes: “In a world ordered by sexual imbalance, pleasure in looking has been split between active/male and passive/female.” This dominant, patriarchal power divide is apparent in classical Hollywood cinema, but also films of the slasher sub-genre.
The conventional roles of the active male killer and passive female victim are evident in 1970s and 1980s slasher films, such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (Hooper 1974), Friday the 13th Part 2 (Miner 1981) and Halloween (Carpenter 1978). This sub-genre of films was evidently influenced by Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960); as Carol Clover notes: “Its elements are familiar: the killer is the psychotic product of a sick family, but still recognizably human; the victim is a beautiful, sexually active woman”, and these women are punished for their promiscuity. The male killer is evidently “propelled by psychosexual fury” as the close stabbing action of the killer’s phallic weapon may act as a metaphor for his repressed, sexual emotions. It is the sexualised female victim in these examples who are punished at length on screen, acting as an image for the killer’s unattainable sexual partner. However, these slasher films begin to allow some female characters to take on an active role, fighting the male killer and escaping death. According to Brigid Cherry: “through Psycho, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Halloween and A Nightmare on Elm Street (Craven 1984)… the heroine becomes increasingly self-sufficient and the male characters more ineffectual.” Cherry’s statement highlights the movement of female characters in the horror genre from the passive victim to an increasingly activity. This is evidenced by what Clover termed “the Final Girl” in the slasher film, and also the rape revenge heroine. The Final Girl of the slasher film is not sexually active like the female victims and is rewarded for this innocence by being the last woman standing, often defeating the killer. Examples like Laurie (Sigourney Weaver) in Halloween, Alice (Adrienne King) in Friday the 13th and Stretch (Caroline Williams) in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (Hooper 1986), all show the Final Girl to adopt the symbolic phallic weapon, such as a chainsaw, knife and even coat hanger, to become active and escape the killer. However, this suggests that she must become masculine in order to take on an active role, as do the rape revenge heroines in films like I Spit on Your Grave (Zarchi 1978), Violated (Cannistraro 1984) and The Last House on the Left (Craven 1972). These heroines take revenge by torturing and often literally castrating the male characters that tortured and raped her. It is this arguably coded masculinity which can be said to distract from her ability to be subversive, to be both entirely feminine and active. As Clover notes: “To applaud the Final Girl as a feminist development is... in light of her figurative meaning, a particularly grotesque expression of wishful thinking.” It appears that power seems to lie in the hands and mind of whoever owns the phallus, However, when looking beyond the slasher subgenre, these torture films can offer a varied perspective on the role of the active female in contemporary horror.
The character of the female torturer shifts the dominant gender ideologies between active male and passive female. These examples show both extreme physical and mental torture of mainly male victims. Hard Candy explores the meeting of the apparently innocent 14 year old Hayley (Ellen Page, Juno, X-Men: The Last Stand) with middle-aged photographer Jeff (Patrick Wilson, Little Children, Watchmen), after talking in an internet chat room. They go back to Jeff’s house, where Hayley begins to question him on his relationships with young girls, and then she mentally tortures him by pretending to castrate him. This psychological torture is combined with physical scenes in the Japanese horror Audition, which follows the widower Shigeharu (Ryo Ishibashi, The Grudge, Brother) as he tries to find a suitable new wife through a fake audition process. He falls in love with the previously abused Asami (Eihi Shiina, Eureka), who is disgusted by the way he treats women, so she temporarily paralyses him, using needles and piano wire to inflict her torturous revenge. Inside/À l’intérieur (Bustillo and Maury 2007) is another clear example of the female torturer where La Femme (Béatrice Dalle, Betty Blue, The Time of the Wolf) loses her child in a car accident, causing her to take revenge on the surviving pregnant driver Sarah (Alysson Paradis) who she ultimately blames for the pain she is suffering.
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Whether it is extreme physical or intense mental torture, it appears that the female torturer is responding to some form of trauma. Although Clover is referring to films such as the science-fiction Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (Juran 1958) and Strait-Jacket (Castle 1964), her argument can also be applied to the post-millennial torture films I am concerned with here. She states that: “Female killers are few and their reasons for killing significantly different from men’s… their anger derives in most cases not from childhood experience but from specific moments in their adult lives in which they have been abandoned or cheated on by men.” These specific moments are evident in Audition, in which Asami has previously been physically abused by her stepfather, and in her adult life is ashamed by Shigeharu’s actions. Although he has done nothing physically to harm her, Asami may feel it is her right to make the male victim feel passive, silenced by the paralysing drug which gives her a voice previously denied to her. Hayley in Hard Candy also has not been directly abused by Jeff, but feels it is her duty to avenge his previous victims and protect any potential future ones. However, unlike the active Final Girls of the slasher sub-genre, these female torturers do not need to violently retaliate in order to survive or escape the male killer. In fact, they have planned their torture and have manipulated their victims into a passive state. They also do not need to always adopt the symbolic phallic weapon to become active, but can use their intelligence over brute strength. It appears that the female torturers may in fact take a sadistic enjoyment from knowing they are in control, and always have been. Even if Hayley at first appears naïve, and we may expect Jeff to be the predator, he is most certainly the prey and has been controlled by the teenager, lulled into a false sense of security from the very start. This image of the female torturer feeling justified in her actions also allows her to emotionally detach herself from the pain she is causing her victims. This apparent emotional disconnection from her victims and the torture she is inflicting onto them may be seen as another way in which the female torturer plays with dominant gender ideologies. Throughout cinema, but particularly in the horror genre, Clover argues that “Angry displays of force may belong to the male, but crying, cowering, screaming, fainting, trembling, begging for mercy belong to the female.” In the films I am discussing here, however, there is an evident reversal of these emotions. It is in fact the female torturer’s victims (who are predominantly male) who beg for mercy, scream and faint, and ask her why she is doing this to them. There is a clear subversion of the power dynamic between the strong male and weak female, with the female torturer also preying on the male victim’s weaknesses and fears. This becomes evident in Hard Candy in which the torture set piece sees Hayley construct a fake castration. Hayley drugs Jeff and binds his arms and legs to a table. She dons doctor’s scrubs, and talks Jeff through the procedure. Both Jeff and the audience believe Hayley is performing the castration as he screams, cries for help, but eventually gives in, with tears rolling down his cheeks. She makes jokes throughout, saying that she shouldn’t throw his castrated testicles into the garden, because “we wouldn’t want a little animal confusing it for an afternoon snack.” She has entirely made Jeff feel as defenceless and helpless as the girls he has abused. By making him the passive victim, she feels justified in her actions. While we see male killers often emotionally breakdown in the slasher film, such as Leatherface weeping in a childlike manner after committing murder in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, we do not see this of the female torturers. Their past trauma appears to have made them emotionally stronger and able to make others feel the pain she has suffered. Also, the female torturer in these examples often uses these stereotypes of the passive female to her advantage.
The apparent innocence of 14-year-old Hayley and the pretend naïveté of Asami in Audition allow the female torturer to lull her victims into a false sense of security. It is this knowledge of other people’s perceptions which adds to her subversive nature, as she is no longer the passive victim but can act like one in order to escape the situation she finds herself in. As Hayley asks the male victim Jeff in the final scenes of Hard Candy: “who will they believe?” It is these dominant gender ideologies which wholly work to the female torturer’s advantage. In other examples of the female monster in films such as Fatal Attraction and Single White Female, we see her character punished for transgressing from a passive to active state, but this is not always the case in these torture horror films. Creed suggests that “the castrated female monster is inevitably punished for her transgressions.” However, this series of torture horror films arguably begins to subvert this conventional image of punishment, in favour of escape and even justification of the female torturers actions. This is evidenced by the film Inside. After the female torturer La Femme destroys all the male characters who have tried to prevent her reaching the female victim and her unborn child, she performs a torturous caesarean to get the baby she has always wanted. La Femme takes the baby away from Sarah, who is left bleeding to death on the stairs, while she rocks the child to sleep, becoming the mother figure she always wanted to be. Even though she has tortured and killed an innocent women, not to mention multiple male victims, she is rewarded with the child she felt was taken away from her. It is elements like this movement away from punishment for gendered transgression which ultimately causes the character of the female torturer to become increasingly subversive in contemporary horror films.
Although I have concentrated on her subversive nature in these films, this is not to say that all forms of her character aid her ability to alter dominant associations between gender and power. Films such as The Devil’s Rejects (Zombie 2005) and the Australian film The Loved Ones (Byrne 2009) use comedy and horror to often mock the female torturer for trying to become active and place her within a family unit, expressing a hierarchy of control. However, these are not the only examples of the contemporary female torturer in the horror genre; her character can be seen in Hong Kong film Dream Home/Hayalimdeki ev (Ho-Cheung Pang 2010), South Korean film Bedevilled (Chul-soo Yang 2010) and the British film Eden Lake (Watkins 2008) which all demonstrate a movement from victim to active torturer to various degrees. We also see the return of the rape revenge heroine in the remakes of I Spit on Your Grave (Monroe 2010) and The Last House on the Left (Iliadis 2009). She appears evidently more violent, and the images of torture are much more visceral and extreme than previously shown. It is perhaps only a matter of time until the female torturer becomes an iconic horror monster like the slasher killers of Leatherface, Jason and Michael Myers in future horror cinema.
Works Cited: Brigid Cherry (2009) Horror; Carol Clover (1993) Men, Women and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film; Barbara Creed (1993) The Monstrous Feminine: Film, Feminism, Psychoanalysis; Laura Mulvey (1975) “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” Screen vol16 no3;
Diegesis: At the Margins 25
Empowerment or Control? The BBFC
he purpose of this paper is to consider the role of the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) and its function within society. The aim is not to discredit the concept of censorship within British society but to ultimately ask whether or not its current format holds any validity within our society and whether a new approach could provide a better form of censorship. In order to achieve this it will be imperative to look at who the BBFC actually are. In turn, this will lead on to debates that question what the UK gains from them and if the film industry could survive without them. This will result in looking at what forms of censorship may provide a more appropriate and fair system of viewer protection.
The British Board of Film Censors was established in 1912 although it must be noted that censorship was never at the forefront of its plan, as stated by Tom Dewe Mathews: “The government responded with the Cinematograph Act of 1909 which invested local authorities with the power to grant or veto licenses…But under the cloak of safety censorship would be smuggled in.” The topic of censorship has been widely contested. As Sarah Smith comments: “Once the 1909 Act was in force, cinema owners and film-makers were appalled by the powers given to local authorities…this system of censorship was considered insufficient by the councils, who called on the Home Office to establish a central, state-run film censorship.” The BBFC was thus created in 1912 but didn’t officially start until 1913. James Robertson discusses how the move from local to central became a collaboration of efforts between the government and the film industry: “The film industry itself approached the government and obtained its approval of Home Secretary Reginald McKenna for the establishment of the British Board Of Film Censors as the industry’s selfcensorship body with effect from 1st March 1912.” The Board of Censors outlined two criteria that a film must meet if it was to be passed which were “no nudity and no personification of Christ.” The first president of the BBFC was George Redford who had retired from a post in Lord Chamberlain’s office as an examiner of plays. From this point onwards a new dawn of censorship had begun but does it still have social value and can it truly be seen as empowering or just control by an un-elected body?
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The BBFC’s vision statement is at the heart of everything it does:
“We give the public information that empowers them to make appropriate viewing decisions for themselves and those in their care. We help to protect vulnerable viewers and society from the effects of viewing potentially harmful or unsuitable content while respecting adult freedom of choice.”
We can clearly see from this that the BBFC sees itself outside of society as it consistently refers to itself as “We” but then refers to the public as something altogether separate. From the outset, the BBFC set themselves up as an empowering source for society. However, in a telephone interview I conducted in November 2010, a BBFC spokesperson stated: “The BBFC is not empowering anyone in society and the public make their own decisions.” This is a contradiction to what the BBFC claim to do. They clearly state “we empower” yet, if they are not empowering, then it leads me to a provisional conclusion that they are in fact just controlling. The BBFC’s final comment from the telephone conversation that the public make their own decisions is something of a contradiction as well; the public cannot come to their own conclusion due to the fact they are constricted by age ratings. Only those aged 18 and over can choose freely while those under the age of eighteen are still considered to be part of society and the public sphere so how can they argue that the public are making their own decisions? The origins of censorship came from the fear of the cinemas themselves, not the potential harmful content. However, nowadays based on the BBFC vision statement we can be confident in acknowledging a shift in its criteria. The BBFC has now shifted its position to include: “We give the public information that empowers them to make appropriate viewing decisions...from the effects of viewing potentially harmful or unsuitable content.” Society can now see the growing fear from the BBFC vision statement of the possibilities of exposure to media violence. But do they look at both sides of the argument?
I neither agree nor disagree with the possibilities of the media violence debate and to do so would be fruitless. The argument has existed for so long neither side can answer with finality. David Trend argues that “The media violence question has resisted resolution in part because the topic is so hard to define.”. Similarly, Martin Barker states that “Over seventy years of research into this supposed topic have produced nothing worthy of note.” Both argue that yes there is a great deal of research into the topic of media violence but none of this research has concluded anything solid. Yet in Britain we now have an entire centralised system that controls our viewing pleasure because of it. This can be supported yet again by the use of phrases such as “vulnerable viewers” and “potential harm” in the BBFC vision statement. Again this brings me further into a conclusion that the BBFC really are just controlling and not acknowledging both sides of an argument that now affects 60% of the population which according to the UK Film Council is the current scale of cinema goers in Britain.
America’s classification system today is marginally more representative. It openly accepts that it is not just those over 18 who are a part of American society but also those who are under this age group. This can be seen by their certification; the large majority of audiences can attend films if a parent or guardian feels it is appropriate for those aged under 17 (which is the R rated) and the NC-17 rating means only those of 17 and over. Could the UK benefit from having a straightforward system like this where the legal guardian gets the final say rather than a faceless body? The BBFC have actually acknowledged this to a degree. In an interview for The Guardian newspaper, thendirector Robin Duval stated: “We know that the development and maturity of children varies considerably and parents know best what their children can deal with.” The BFFC have undermined any justification that they may have had for their current system. If “parents know best” then it can be suggested that the MPAA has a much fairer that gives the power to the people whilst providing information to the public that gives them the information they need to make “appropriate viewing choices.”
In conclusion, I would like to quote from Mathews who states that “I began this project believing that a centralized system of delegated censorship was not too high a price to pay in order to protect those too young to discriminate themselves. However after a lengthy look at the currency, I now doubt its value.” I do not doubt the value of having a centralised system but I do doubt whether in its current format it has any value or validity. It has become apparent through both my primary research and secondary research that the BBFC are exercising more control over the British public than their preferred term “empowerment.” There is at present no advantage to the BBFC in its current format that is under-represented and un-elected and shows a long history of contradicting itself about who is really doing their suggested empowering. It can be suggested therefore that a new system needs to be put into action that is both fair and informative for the viewing population.
I would now like to briefly look at the possibilities of other classification methods, in particular the USA and their Motion Picture Association of America also known as the MPAA. The censorship system was set up in 1909 but unlike Britain it was already an organisation outside government control that was to reflect the public fear and anxiety and gave fair censorship procedures to all American citizens. This has been confirmed by Matthew Bernstein who states: “A form of censorship that would be enforced by exhibitors, with control vested in the hands of civic bodies representing the public interest. It was essentially this model that was put into operation in March 1909.” From this we can already see that the American system of censorship from the outset was considerably more fair and clearer in its objectives. It was not hiding its intentions of censorship and making that clear by giving the power to civic bodies and stating straight away that they would be representing the American culture and that it is indeed a form of control.
Works Cited: Martin Barker and Julian Petley (2001) Ill Effects: The Media Violence Debate; Matthew Bernstein (2000) Controlling Hollywood: Censorship and Regulation in the Studio Era; Tom Dewe Mathews (1994) Censored: The Story of Film Censorship in Britain; James Robertson (1993) Hidden Cinema: British Film Censorship in Action 1913-1972; Sarah Smith (2005) Children, Cinema and Censorship: From Dracula to the Dead End Kids; David Trend (2007) The Myth Of Media Violence A Critical Introduction.
Diegesis: At the Margins 27
KEVIN In 2010 Roger Ebert summarised a lengthy post on his Blog with “I remain convinced that in principle, video games cannot be art.” This paper will argue that contrary to Ebert’s statement, video games are their own art form and that their development as an art form can be explored and explained by comparing the development and history of video games to the development and history of film. With the publication of The Dark Knight Returns (DC Comics 1986) and Watchmen (DC Comics 1986), the comic book industry was attempting to usher in a new era. In an attempt to acquire a new audience, one that would provide critical appreciation of the medium, Comic books changed their name, becoming “graphic novels.” These books were no longer comics; instead they contained graphics, or sequential art. In fact, they were no longer books, they were novels. All this is significant as more than a few videogame critics have suggested that in order to move into the next era, videogames should look to find a new label. For Ben Croshaw: “Perhaps ‘game’ is the wrong word for what videogames have become. I’ve always felt the same thing about the term ‘moving picture’; it seems rather quaint now that we’re not all diving under our seats in fear because we think a train is about to bust through the wall.” The connections between films and videogames are easy to make because they are actively sought after by the games industry, performing, I would argue, the same function that the term graphic novel performed for comic books. Indeed, videogames rarely give a lingering credit to “Lead Programmer,” anymore. Instead they have “Directors.” Adverts for video games are not longer adverts, they are trailers.
Despite these more contemporary connections, I would argue that the relationship between videogames and film is so intertwined that it can be identified right at the creation of the medium. As with film, the exact date of when videogames began is confused and rather ambiguous. Was the medium of film born with the creation of the first camera? With the creation of the public exhibition device? Or can the creation of film be traced right back to the invention of the magic lantern, or Zoetrope? Similarly, were videogames created with the officially credited first video game Spacewar! (Russell 1961), or was it with the first home-video game system, the Magnavox Odyssey, in 1972. Or was it was it invented in 1952 when bored physicist Willy Higinbotham hooked up a couple of Donner computers to an Oscilloscope to create a simplistic tennis game? What we have is a rather nebulous feeling over the correct starting point of the medium that many film historians would be familiar with. In a talk earlier this year at the Video Game Developer’s Conference, Brian Moriarty gave a talk entitled: “An apology for Roger Ebert.” Moriarty stated: “I define “play” as superfluous activity. I define a “toy” as something that elicits play, and a “game” as a toy with rules and a goal. Games are purposeful. They are defined as the exercise of choice and will towards a self-maximizing goal. But sublime art is like a toy. It elicits play in the soul. The pleasure we get from it lies precisely in the fact that it has no rules, no goal, no purpose.” What Moriarty is describing is a game for a game’s sake, which accurately describes early games, however, film for film’s sake is also the format for early film, and the medium developed beyond it.
Tom Gunning identifies the “Cinema of Attractions” as a descriptor for early film, describing it as a cinema that defines itself through its ability to “show” something. The Cinema of Attractions was, literally, a circus act, a fairground novelty, a simplistic act of showing off a new technology. This aspect is also indicative of early video games. While early film, such as The Arrival of a Train (Lumière Brothers 1895), is hard to label as a film by contemporary standards, so are the games featured in the Magnavox Odyssey also several degrees removed from contemporary games. The Odyssey required a minimum of two players who were only able to manipulate one of two squares around the screen using Etch-a-sketch controllers. The system was incapable of producing graphics, so to play the other games the system came with it was necessary to place semi-transparent plastic overlays on the television screen. As a typical example, one of these games was a “Simon Says” game that required the use of question cards that were provided with the system. These games were not videogames as we now know them, rather they were board
28 Diegesis: At the Margins
games, or parlour games that used the telev per Moriarty’s definition. However, games di film, videogames needed to develop in order the initial spectacle of their mere existence w Like film, videogames developed narrative. E and you are trying to cross the road” as in A narrative. Videogames moved from mimick games and multiple alternate versions of Pon and evolve. It is worth noting that the previou as evidence by games such as Bejewelled (P 2007) and Tetris (Various 1984). However, Attractions still exists beyond the invention Coppola Cinema of Effects”: films whose purp show off special effects. Despite the rather co film, such as the oft-cited early narrative film an example of this Cinema of Effects.
From the integration of narrative, games cont medium available to them as a model of how as to mimic its evolution almost in its entire to success as a medium, but a failure: the so observes: “For any film scholar who has begu commonly referred to as the interactive mo multimedia product came closer to crossing t and videogames. However, a film scholar wh be both disconcerted and disappointed.” Inte movies and they were about as interactive a however, games continued to develop, going the film Johnny Mnemonic [Longo 1995] and t Electronic 1995]), to a point where games t This is exemplified by Final Fantasy 7 (Squar exposition and cinematic cut-scenes all usin most successful games of its time.
Tomb Raider (Core Design 1996 – 2006, Cry filmic language and helped bring into existe game. It was so successful that a film versio 2001). Not only that, but both the game and films, such as National Treasure (Turteltaub as an influence on the recent Uncharted gam fascinating example of games imitating films currently plans for an Uncharted film. The de to the Ebert quote that opened this paper. S viewing footage of contemporary videogame where traditional filmic modes of criticism br view a film will be a hollow experience as the its audience not being spectators, but players. other art forms, the artist directly creates the Since this experience is carefully planned an prevented from disturbing it; hence, non par the experience itself but the conditions and r own individualized experience.” To ignore ga critically appreciating a videogame is akin to l watching a film with your eyes closed. Howev –immersion and interactivity – are lost as gam those qualities that make a successful film. Ob
vision set as an accessory. This is a “game” as id not remain in this simplistic form. Just like r to continue being financially viable beyond when they just “showed off” their technology. Even if it was as simple as “You are a chicken Atari’s Freeway (Activision 1981), it was still king already existing board games, parlour ng (Atari Inc 1972) and had begun to develop us non-narrative games have not disappeared PopCap Games 2001), Peggle (PopCap Games Gunning also identifies that the Cinema of of narrative, terming it the “Spielberg-Lucaspose is to demonstrate new technology and to ontemporary name, Gunning notes that early The Great Train Robbery (Porter 1903) is also
tinued to develop, leaning towards the closest w to utilise this element – film – going so far ety. However this path to mimic film led not o-called interactive movie. As Bernard Perron un to take an interest in videogames, what is ovie seems a natural place to start. No other the threshold that separates the worlds of film ho commences research on this premise will eractive movies were barely games, let alone as your DVD menu. Learning from its failures, g from totally mimicking film (exemplified by the interactive movie Johnny Mnemonic [Sony took filmic language and made it their own. re 1997), whose integration of gameplay with ng filmic language, helped make it one of the
ystal Dynamics 2006-present) also modified ence an entirely new generation of adventure on was made: Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (West d the film can be cited as influences on other 2004). National Treasure can easily be cited mes (Naughty Dog 2007-present) in a rather s imitating games. Not surprisingly, there are evelopment of the videogames connects back Significantly, Ebert made that comment after es. He did not actually play the games. This is reak down. To view a videogame as one would vast majority of the game’s effect comes from . Chris Crawford addresses this element: “With e experience that the audience will encounter. nd executed, the audience must somehow be rticipation. With a game, the artist creates not rules under which the audience will create its ameplay, and the methods of gameplay, when listening to music without the instruments, or ver, the appreciation of these unique elements mes attempt to qualify themselves by utilising bserving this point, Crawford states: “Real art
through computer games is achievable, but it will never be achieved so long as we have no path to understanding. We need to establish our principles of aesthetics, a framework for criticism, and a model for development. New and better hardware will improve our games, but it will not guarantee our artistic success any more than the development of orchestras guaranteed the appearance of Beethoven.” Similarly, Perron (2003) argues that “playing a game is not about viewing a movie with a joystick in hand.” Appreciating a game is not about simply watching it. Doing that removes that element of interactivity, and it is that element that allows games to stand out amongst other art forms. This interactivity can not only allow the player to form their own stories, but confront and explore moral and ethical issues in a way that non-interactive mediums cannot. James Portnow focuses on the recent game Mass Effect 2 (BioWare 2010) as an example of this. At one point in the game, the player (as Commander Shepard) is asked to decide the fate of a rogue sect of sentient machines: destroy them, or reprogram them so that they will re-join the rest of their race, their memories erased. The scenario asks a significant question of the player: it asks them contemplate the very nature of free will, it asks them to make a choice and continue having accepted the consequence of this choice. Mass Effect 2 is a beautifully constructed game, however, I would argue that this choice is in fact a rather simplistic one, especially when compared to the intricacy and non-linear worldexploration of some other games. For example, Acornsoft’s 1984 game Elite features an open world, allowing the player to engage in legal and illegal trading. Both choices have consequences: legal trades are readily available, easy to transport but make a low profit; illegal trades are harder to find, potentially call attention to you by law enforcement, but have the potential for larger profits. There is no overarching story; the player creates their own narrative. The ability to challenge a player through moral and ethical dilemmas adds to videogames an element unavailable to other media, an element that can be used to explore events, settings and scenarios in a new, unique and personally affecting way.
The controversial example of Six Days in Fallujah (Atomic Games, pictured) is a case in point. Atomic Games were given some members of the Third Battalion First Marines to act as play testers and advisors on the game, which originally was going to be very reminiscent of the Call of Duty (Various 2003) games. However, during the game’s production, the marines were called away to partake in the Second Battle of Fallujah, which remains one of the more bloody and violent conflicts in the Iraq war. Upon returning, the marines requested the game truly reflect their experiences in Fallujah, that it act as a tribute to those who died there, and serve as not just as a war simulation, but as a true representation of the horrors of war. The game immediately drummed up controversy. Speaking to Captain Reed Omohundro, advisor on the game who lost 13 men in the battle, a Fox News host asked: “Are you actually going to say that this is a way to honour the men who died that day?” Folding under the controversy, the game was never completed, and Atomic Games was later dissolved. Six Days was pre-judged as incapable of carrying the gravitas required simply because it is merely a “Video Game,” a criticism that would not be applied to a film such as the critically acclaimed, multiple award-winning The Hurt Locker (Bigelow 2008). As Portnow argues: “Games makers are not weighed on the merits of their work, they are judged by the name of their medium.” Videogames are an art form. They can address relevant and complex themes and they can do so in a way that no other medium can. It took film almost 100 years before it could approach these topics, games can do it now, having developed to their current form in half the time. All that is missing is cultural appreciation. Works Cited: Chris Crawford (1984) The Art of Computer Game Design; Ben Croshaw (2010) Videogames as Art: www.escapistmagazine.com; Roger Ebert (2010) Video Games Can Never Be Art: blogs.suntimes.com; Tom Gunning (1986) The Cinema of Attractions. In: Elsaesser (ed) (1990) Early Cinema: Space, Frame, Narrative; Brian Moriarty (2011) An Apology for Roger Ebert: www.ludix.com; Bernard Perron (2003) From Gamers to Players and Gameplayers. In: Wolf and Perron (eds) The Video Game Theory Reader; James Portnow (2010) Extra Creditz [online]: www.escapistmagazine.com.
Diegesis: At the Margins 29
“Dialogue” is a section that features interviews with and conversations between film and television production practitioners as well as experts on screen history, criticism and debate.
In Conversation with Alan Parker Sir Alan Parker started out as a mail boy, then copy writer before directing commercials. His first film, television movie The Evacuees (1975), won a BAFTA for Best Single Play. Parker then made a swift transition to Hollywood and went on to direct 14 feature films including Fame (1980), Angel Heart (1987), Evita (1996), Angela’s Ashes (1999) and The Life of David Gale (2003). He received Academy Award nominations for Best Director for prison drama Midnight Express (below right, 1978) and again ten years later for civil rights drama Mississippi Burning (1988 below centre) and won the BAFTA Film Award for Best Direction for Midnight Express, Best Direction and Best Film for The Commitments (1991 below left) and Best Screenplay for Bugsy Malone (1976). Birdy, his 1984 film about two returning war veterans, won the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes and was also nominated for the Palme d’Or. A founding member of the Director’s Guild of Great Britain, Parker accepted the Chairmanship of the British Film Institute in 1998 and became the first Chairman of the UK Film Council in 1999. In 2002 he was knighted for services to the British film industry. Sir Alan Parker was in conversation with Kieron Butler to an audience of students and staff at Southampton Solent University in March 2011. The highly acclaimed director was awarded with a Visiting Fellowship. The full interview can be viewed online at: http://vimeo.com/21477773. The interview was edited for publication by Denilson Ferreira.
30 Diegesis: Dialogue
Q&A From Early Ads to Film If you saw the Bird’s Eye commercial, they were becoming more and more ambitious, and so it became frustrating that you only had at a maximum 45 seconds in order to do something, and perhaps it was a longing to do something more substantial. I made a 50 minute film for television, which the BBC took, which actually was very difficult to do at the time, because there was no such thing as people making material outside of the BBC’s system; obviously nowadays everyone makes films outside, or materials are supplied by independent producers, but it wasn’t so then, nothing was allowed outside the BBC doors.
On the Transition from Britain to Hollywood First of all, I think we had no choice really, there was absolutely nothing happening in this country, there was absolutely no film industry. We were embraced by the American “umbrella” which you call it in Hollywood. Mostly because they liked what we did and they were ready to finance our films. And I think it wasn’t going to happen in this country. And that’s what Hollywood has always been known for. It has always embraced people from outside in order to use them. They can either use you, or you can use them. And the moment you start to think that they are using you too much then maybe it’s time to leave.
On Casting I always say, if you don’t get the casting right you won’t get the film right, particularly with kids because there is a definite technique for you to be able to get the best out of a child actor. The truth is, if the kid is wrongly cast, no matter how brilliant the director is, they won’t get the best out of that young person.
On Working with Jodie Foster She’s very technically gifted and a very good actress, that goes without saying, but she’s also a very good director, so directing her was easy. [On Bugsy Malone] she became a child again for the first time after a long time. I don’t thing she’d ever done that because previously on other films she was always the very smart kid surrounded by adults, on adult movies. I think she quite enjoyed her time.
On Communicating with the Audience My rule was always whatever I did, and certainly with film, is that you don’t ever do it for you and your closest relatives. You’re doing it in order to communicate to an audience. The audience is always the most important thing. It doesn’t mean to say you can’t have your personal vision, but you have to still communicate to them because if you’re not communicating to them it doesn’t matter: what you’re saying is irrelevant. You’re not doing your job.
On Collaborating A lot of films you do you are away from home for a long time. If you’re in the middle of nowhere, living in some horrible Holiday
Inn in Mississippi, you want to make sure the people you work with are good… You’ve got to spend months with these people so it’s nicer when they’re friends as well as just people you’ve got to work with.
On the Abolition of the UK Film Council When the last [Labour] government came into office they did a review of the whole film industry, which took nine months, involving every single aspect of the film industry. And what everybody asked for was one organization – an umbrella organisation – to be the place where all the lottery money and the government money goes in order to have a board made up of experts and professionals staff, which is what the Film Council was. When this [current Coalition] government came into office, they looked at a list of things called “quangos”, which from the Conservative’s point of view is something at the bottom of your shoe, and they went down and did all the cuts. And then suddenly, Jeremy Hunt (Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport), took his biro and crossed out the Film Council to the consternation of all the civil servants, because it was an exemplary organisation, and had led to ten years of stability and growth within the industry.
On the BFI taking over the UK Film Council The conclusion at the moment is to stuff the whole of the Film Council into the BFI, which was, and has been I don’t know for how many years, a cultural and educational institution. The Film Council is a commercial institution to do with the commercial film industry. So to stuff that kind of organisation into another organisation, and ask everyone to do everything for half the budget, is a recipe for a complete and utter disaster. And it’s very sad really because it is a terrible error on behalf of this government.
On Getting Funding to Make Films Now Well the funds haven’t been disbanded, and hopefully they won’t mess around with that. What used to be three funds (the development fund, the new cinema fund and the premiere fund) have all been combined together. That is quite effective: it is a very good fund. We don’t think they’re going to mess around with it; they will just move it into a new building, which is the BFI. But the fund itself will stay the same. The great irony is that the last film they funded with the premiere fund, was The King’s Speech which has made more money than all the other films that they probably funded put together. You wonder if all the money that film would make in profit would go back into helping other people fund their films. Now that it’s part of the BFI, it might go back into funding the BFI and the government would love that because they won’t have to give so much money. This is a ludicrous dichotomy between a cultural organisation and a commercial one and I think, in doing this, they’re going to ruin both.
On Film Heroes When I first started I had two heroes: Ken Russell and Ken Loach. They were so opposite I don’t know why they were my heroes because my films don’t look like either of them. Ken Loach was doing his completely political, social realism films, and you had Ken Russell doing his manic, lunatic brilliant stuff. I used to think: God, if I can fuse the two of them together, I might end up doing something good. But I have nothing but admiration for them I think they’re wonderful. Absolutely wonderful.
Diegesis: Dialogue 31
For each issue, this section will offer varied topics under the conceptual umbrella of “Fade Out.” This may include a discussion of the final film of a director, actor, composer or editor’s career, a tribute or obituary for a filmmaker, actor, or cinematographer who has recently died, the decline of a particular genre, star, studio or channel, or offering a closing piece for the next issue of Diegesis.
Elizabeth Taylor (1932-2011) STEPHANIE USHER 32 Diegesis: Fade Out
t is widely felt that Elizabeth Taylor set the guidelines for the life of a celebrity. As a child star from the age of twelve, she showed incredible talent for acting in films such as National Velvet (Brown 1944), moving effortlessly, it seemed, into adult stardom. Taylor was the first actress to secure $1,000,000 in a single paycheque, she was the winner of three Oscars, campaigned tirelessly for charities, was a huge AIDS activist and was made a Dame in 2000. The dangerous combination of someone willing to be extremely generous but also one who was willing to take huge risks, saw Taylor suffer the effects of a drug addiction, alcoholism and undergo numerous near-death experiences including surviving skin cancer and major heart surgery. On top of this Taylor married seven men, one man twice, and endured a lifetime of press intrusion. Rather than get caught up with Taylor’s scandals, however, this retrospective considers Taylor’s “golden” achievements.
Taylor’s childhood was filled with studio work, a result of her own controlling and dominating mother. Taylor admitted herself that her life was filled with domination, first that of her mother and then by MGM, where she was under contract following the abandonment of her contract with Universal after just one film. Taylor reportedly chose MGM because “the people there had been nicer to her when she went to audition” but she soon learnt that under their instruction she would be desperate for her own freedom and autonomy. Taylor often stated that she found her freedom after her marriage to Mike Todd, her third husband, with whom she was utterly besotted – one of only two husbands she claimed to feel real love for. Taylor says that Todd taught her how to love, how to live without constraint and how to take risks. Taylor tragically lost her third husband in an aeroplane crash, a plane she too was due to catch but was left behind whilst she was suffering with pneumonia.
On top of her list of successful box office hits, Taylor is one of just five actors to achieve four consecutive Academy Award nominations for Best Actress. She received her first nomination in 1957 for her role as Susanna Drake in Raintree County (Dmytryk 1957). Susanna is a rich girl from New Orleans, who woos leading man John Wickliff Shawnessy (Montgomery Clift) away from his first love and childhood sweetheart, Nell (Eva Marie Saint). Subsequently Susanna announces she is pregnant; her and John marry and Nell is left heartbroken. The intensity of this character really set a benchmark for her later work. The following year saw Taylor nominated for her role as Margaret “Maggie the Cat” Pollitt in the film Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (Brooks 1958). Taylor’s character is the wife of an ex-footballer, Brick (Paul Newman), who is dependent on a crutch following an injury. Following Brick’s depression and anxiety he tries to resist Maggie’s attempts to help him battle his alcohol addiction. Taylor portrays a fragile and vulnerable woman, constantly being pushed away from a man she really cares for. Her performance is breathtaking, the audience really gets pulled into the emotion of her character, falling deeply in love with Maggie and feeling her pain.
In 1959, Taylor’s third consecutive nomination came for her role as Catherine Holly in Suddenly, Last Summer (Mankiewicz 1959). Catherine suffers psychological problems after her cousin dies on a trip to Europe. She ends up being admitted to a mental institute where she becomes a lobotomy candidate. Despite the fact Taylor did not win the Oscar that year, she did receive a Golden Globe for Best Drama Actress. Taylor’s reconstruction of the character is flawless; a truly believable performance of a traumatised individual.
Taylor’s next golden achievement came in 1960 when she finally received the Academy Award for Best Actress in BUtterfield 8 (Mann 1960) for her performance of Gloria Wandrous, a woman who is a fashionable beauty and call girl (incidentally, the capitalised B and U refer to the old US telephone dialing code system). Reviewers were critical of the film itself but said that they could not fault Taylor’s performance. Despite Taylor’s success in the film, the actress remarked that she hated the film in the same way her character does in the film, apparently writing “piece of shit” in red lipstick on the mirror in the room in which she read the script. It would be impossible to list Taylor’s golden achievements without mentioning Cleopatra (Mankiewicz 1963), the highest grossing, most expensive film of its time and which made Taylor the highest paid actress to date. It is reported that the producers were told that Cleopatra was known as the most beautiful woman of her time and that the woman who played her should also be who the public felt was the most beautiful woman of her own time. Initially, Taylor was not interested in the role, and shrewdly asked for $1,000,000 for the part, which Fox historically agreed to. Taylor is one of just eleven women to win two Academy Awards for Best Actress in a Leading Role. Taylor gained this accolade for her performance in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (Nichols 1966), the only film of its time to be nominated for every eligible category of the Academy Awards. Taylor shocked the nation by gaining over 13kg for the role of aging and bitter Martha, playing opposite her then-husband Richard Burton. The film is testament to the fact that she took her acting career more seriously than the glamour. She gained a significant amount of weight, grew her hair, wore facial prosthetics and padding on her waist, and lowered her voice in order to act as, in Taylor’s own words, a “slob”. Taylor’s performance in the piece is often praised, with some quoting it to be her “finest to date”. Taylor not only had a successful acting career, she also worked tirelessly for charities, in particular for the case of AIDS, after the loss of many of her acting companions including Rock Hudson. She was extremely passionate and sincere about this work, ignoring death threats about getting involved, claiming that to solve this issues she had to “put herself out there.” Her passion for such charity work brought her great recognition, including The Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award for outstanding contributions to humanitarian causes, which she received in 1993. This was arguably Taylor’s most prestigious award, as nominations can only be made by the Board of Governors, and there have only ever been thirty-three awards presented.
Taylor’s awards and golden achievements kept coming long after the end of her professional acting career. In 2000, Taylor received The Vanguard Award in honour of the member of the entertainment community who has made a significant difference in promoting equal rights for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender. In the same year, Taylor was honoured by her county of birth, the United Kingdom, being made a Dame in recognition of her acting career and acting work. Taylor once said “I’m a great believer in an encouraging world” and to many she is much more than that. Dame Elizabeth Taylor was an actress of distinction, helping others to live and conquer the things they need to most, but also someone who advanced the art of film and most importantly, whose work such as Cleopatra, BUtterfield 8 and Suddenly, Last Summer stood the test of time.
Diegesis: Fade Out 33
Issue 3 COMING Autumn 2011
Issue 3 out Autumn 2011. If you are interested in writing for the magazine, please email firstname.lastname@example.org for more details. We welcome contributions based on the special theme, as well as pieces for one of our regular sections: Play. Pause. Rewind. (old and new film & tv), Shorthand (shorts), At the Margins (art, independent, alternative, festivals, non-mainstream), Dialogue (interviews, Q&As) and Fade Out (retrospectives).
Issue 2 Spring 2011. The second issue of Diegesis magazine, edited by students and staff from the Film and Television Studies degree at Sou...
Published on May 17, 2011
Issue 2 Spring 2011. The second issue of Diegesis magazine, edited by students and staff from the Film and Television Studies degree at Sou...