di'e'ge'sis noun 1. the narrative world of the story 2. recounting, narration
CUT TO [waste]
I S S U E # 8
EDITORIAL Welcome to Diegesis, the film and television magazine produced by Southampton Solent University’s Film and Television students, showcasing new voices in screen criticism. For our 8th issue, we CUT TO [waste], from dark and desolate wastelands to toxic trash and discarded debris, drifting in the depths of space. Waste evokes images of unwanted objects, once loved but now surplus to requirements, left to fester and rot. It recalls the wasted body, emaciated through disease, trauma or punishment, or the result of over-indulgence and excessive behaviour connected to substance abuse, alcohol and sex. On the screen, waste is revealed in postapocalyptic narratives, the found footage film, stoners and slackers, in stories of wasted opportunities, time wasters and wasted talent. But waste is also in what we do not see: what gets left on the cutting room floor or left behind on the page. This issue features articles about the wasted lives revealed by film doppelgangers, bodies wasting away of AIDS, the highs and lows of drug addiction and the negative stereotyping of Italian Americans apparently wasting everyone who crosses them. We consider the wasteful treatment of a television show with promise and a filmmaker who has fallen from grace. We turn to stars and actors associated with waste, either through performances of excess or actors such as River Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman, whose careers were tragically cut short. But waste is not all grime and gloom. As some of our writers note, acknowledging the destructive potential of waste presents an opportunity for change and a reason to adapt, recycle, reclaim and reinvent. As the saying goes, one person’s trash is another person’s treasure or, in the case of a much loved Pixar creation, one robot’s. In DIALOGUE this issue, we challenge the low-spirited landscape of film criticism in the UK and our exclusive interview with Variety film critic Guy Lodge gives invaluable advice to aspiring critics who may have been told their dream job is a waste of time. Inspired college and sixth form readers should take the first step by entering our review competition – you never know, your writing could appear in our next issue! We haven’t been wasting any time at Diegesis since the last issue and are in the final stages of filming our new review show that will premiere during Southampton Film Week via SolentTV. We are now in print, online and on our way to online TV – not bad considering we’ve just turned 4. We hope you enjoy reading our latest issue. Let us know your favourite articles on Twitter and Facebook!
w w w. d i e g e s i s m a g a z i n e . c o m email@example.com
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CONTENTS CUT TO [waste]: features 06 seeing double:
The doppelganger film
10 Positives and negatives: AIDS on screen
14 cinematic wastelands: Post-apocalyptic spaces
18 Altered states:
The highs and lows of drug addiction
22 waste management:
Screening Italian Americans
PLAY. PAUSE. REWIND.
32 lost in translation:
Adapting film and tv I
34 waste not, want not:
Adapting film and tv II
36 operation clean-up:
WALL-E’s eco message
SHORTHAND 40 wasting no time:
Five animated shorts
AT THE MARGINS 44 the high life: Screen stoners
DIALOGUE 54 in critical condition:
Film criticism is dead. Again.
56 the interview: guy lodge
Interview with Variety’s critic
FADE OUT 60 wasted potential: Gone too soon
62 recycled stars: Life after death
ENCORE 64 wasted youth:
47 weeding out gender:
26 lost prophet:
50 salvage hunters:
30 lost and found:
Call for contributions
M. Night Shyamalan The found footage film
Deconstructing drug dealers Television gone to waste One person’s trash is another person’s treasure
68 transformations: 72 The next issue:
75 review writing competition Calling aspiring critics!
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Managing Editor: Darren Kerr
Assistant Managing Editor: Caine Bird
The articles appearing within this publication reflect the opinions and attitudes of their respective authors and not necessarily those of the editorial team, BA (Hons) Film and Television and Southampton Solent University
Brought to you by BA (Hons) Film and Television Southampton Solent University
Will Barratt Jack Beetlestone Caine Bird Hollie Birkenhead Jack Kennedy Jodie Kirkland Hannah Law George Najdzien Evdokia Roussou Laurence Russell Alice Stansfield Megan Sowerby Yasmin Wall Joe Wallis Jack Wightman Aaron Wilcock Claire Williams
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Online: Hollie Birkenhead Laurence Russell Megan Sowerby
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wa st e] TT O[ CU
Seeing DOUBLE The double identity film explores the question “are you wasting your life?” and invites us to question our engagement with the present.
ritish comedian and filmmaker Richard Ayoade’s film The Double (2013) explores the subject of identity, more specifically the loss of identity, and the idea of the double in film. Simon James (Jesse Eisenberg) is a selfconfessed doormat whose world is shaken up when a new employee James Simon (Jesse Eisenberg) joins the company he works for. Rather curiously, however, only the pair can see that James is Simon’s uncanny doppelgänger. While James has an identical complexion to Simon as well as the same job, his personality is the complete opposite. James is cocky, brash and prone to risk-taking and, despite his lack of knowledge about the company he works for, he still manages to be more successful in his work life and relationships than Simon could ever dream of, much to Simon’s despair.
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The Double pays homage to film noir with its dark and shadowy cityscapes and dreary office cubicles that create a sense of claustrophobia and melancholia. Simon is the “average” working man, isolated in a big company, overshadowed by the senior staff. Ayoade mentioned in an interview with Empire magazine that the film is more personal and “about loneliness and being small and forgotten”. James is the man that Simon aspires to be. He gets all the girls and is able to sweet talk, blackmail and even lie his way to the top, but James uses the work of the talented Simon to get there of course. In his review of the film, critic Mark Kermode described the relationship as “the more successful the doppelgänger becomes the more unsuccessful, the more insignificant and non existent [Simon] becomes”.
In another film about double identity, Fight Club (1999) follows the story of an office worker (Edward Norton) who is apparently so insignificant that he is not even deemed worthy of a name and is instead credited simply as “The Narrator”. Similar to The Double, the protagonist in Fight Club is portrayed as a lonely man living in a dystopian city and is uninterested with his seemingly homogenous life, as he says rather ironically, “everything is a copy, of a copy, of a copy”. He is initially driven by his obsession with consumer items and fills his flat with expensive furniture from an IKEA catalogue. The Narrator establishes his identity via these objects and his possessions, pondering “what kind of dining set defines me as a person?” His only moment of emotional release comes after attending various cancer and disease support groups in the community and, in sharing with their sorrows, he is finally able to express himself as he weeps into another man’s chest. His alter ego Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) shows him a more exciting way to live and teaches him to “stop being perfect”. The Narrator uses Tyler as an opportunity to live vicariously as a more exciting version of himself. Together they start a fight club and exchange their possessions and positions in the world for a supposedly simpler life, which they feel gives them a better sense of reality. The film’s diegesis is defined by commercialism, materialism and fakery and the fight club offers the characters an escape (as much as the primal and visceral sensation of fisticuffing in an alleyway offers something far less superficial than an Egyptian cotton towelset from IKEA). Fight Club and The Double share a similar aesthetic with unglamorous imagery comprised of dilapidated environments that reflect the looming darkness of the films’ moody atmosphere. Noirish low-key lighting, shadow-smothered scenery and an urban setting reveal the psychological turmoil of the characters in both films as they gradually lose their identities. Author Frank Krutnik notes in his book In a Lonely Street (1991), “noir’s spectacularly ‘explosive’ visual set pieces, laden with such Expressionistic techniques as tilted camera set ups, heavy chiaroscuro lighting and exaggerated-perspective sets. The distorted mise-en-scène serves as a correlative
of the hero’s psychological destabilisation”. These defining features are employed in The Double and Fight Club, especially when the identity crisis of the main protagonists is most evident. These characteristic effects of the noir genre helps construct, indeed conceal, the true identities of both pairs of doppelgängers and the real protagonists’ personalities are gradually revealed as the narrative develops. In Fight Club, The Narrator’s life revolves around his office job, his materialistic fetishes, and incessant insomnia. The visual elements are integral to the film’s narrative and the noir aesthetic mirrors The Narrator’s tortured psyche. He doubts everything, except for Tyler.
The double trope acts as an almost seamless mirror for the protagonist to see an alternative version of themselves In both films, the double trope acts as an almost seamless mirror for the protagonist to see an alternative version of themselves and the personality they aspire to have. Viewers can identify with this as it reflects a desire to better ourselves and be more like someone or something else. The protagonist in Fight Club becomes increasingly like his alter ego Tyler Durden. He learns from Tyler and changes his life, prioritising the fight club above his job and his ordinary, materialistic lifestyle. The same goes for Simon James and at first this seems to be a positive change but quickly James Simon turns against his double by overshadowing him and eventually forcing him to become insignificant and seemingly non-existent. This offers an interesting commentary on our modern and social media-driven culture. Online profiles on sites such as Facebook and Twitter can often become the modern alter ego of social media users. Profiles present users with a façade, or a version, that is potentially smarter, better looking, more popular and successful than the actual person may be. As the writer Christine Rosen wrote in her 2007 article in The New Atlantis, “does this technology, with its constant demands to collect (friends and status), and perform (by marketing ourselves), in some ways undermine
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our ability to attain what it promises - a surer sense of who we are and where we belong?” In other words, some people are voluntarily sacrificing their identities for a misconception of themselves. Living in the age of “social” medias, reality becomes virtual and “friends” and experiences presented on the screen are nothing but lines of ones and zeros. We are wasting our lives by depicting ourselves as the virtual doubles we desire to be and living through them, rather than just being ourselves. Caught up in a fantasy, it is hard to find real and tangible experiences. The hunt for something more authentic, real even, can be seen through the resurgence of old records, craft beer and vintage clothes that are becoming increasingly popular in western culture. These rather retro artefacts hearken back to a time when life was not connected online and people communicated in person and lived “in the moment”. This relates back to the central idea of Fight Club; Tyler Durden and the rest of the fight club members are trying to find themselves by discarding all ideas of status and virtual living and instead simply by living in the moment. These characters are primal and physical and engage in fistfights and brutal brawls. In The Double, Simon James is also looking for a more tangible reality. He describes himself feeling like a puppet,
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saying “I don’t want to be a boy held up by string”. When his doppelgänger takes over his life, Simon slowly ceases to exist and is looking desperately for someone to connect with, in particular Hannah (Mia Wasikowska), who he shares a strong rapport and empathy with. However, Hannah is more interested in James than Simon and is wooed by his lies that flatter her and turn her against Simon. It is not until Simon sees the dark, egotistical side of James that he realises he is the man Hannah rightfully deserves. If only he had believed in himself. In both cases the protagonists in The Double and Fight Club try to become their alter egos in search of a better life only to realise that what they were striving to become turns out to not be that desirable after all. Both characters battle with their other halves and eventually find a way to eradicate their alter ego. There is a point of realisation where they discover that they already are the person they want to be. Perhaps the waste of time was not in resenting the doppelgänger, but in wishing that they were more like their alter egos. Are you making the most of your life?
Anna Gurman •
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Matthew McConaughey’s role in Dallas Buyers Club offers an Oscarwinning performance that challenges how AIDS is depicted in film. But just how much has the representation of AIDS changed in contemporary cinema?
wenty years after the release of Philadelphia (1993), a film widely considered to be a benchmark for the representation of AIDS on screen, Dallas Buyers Club (2013) indicates a development in the representation of AIDS and how far it has come in contemporary cinema. Set in the 1980s, the glum drama revolves around Ron Woodroof ’s (Matthew McConaughey) physical and psychological struggle with his diagnosis of HIV and his fight against the American health care system to get the drugs he needs in order to have a chance of living. At the same time, he must come to terms with his own views and attitudes towards sexuality and identity. Dallas Buyers Club is illustrative of the shifting perceptions of AIDS in cinema. Initially, Ron lives dangerously through excessive drinking, fighting and unprotected sex, and all that comes to epitomise his selfdestructive lifestyle. The film does not focus too much on the story of how Woodroof contracted HIV however, or even for that matter how he comes to grips with his declining health post-diagnosis. Instead the story follows his attempt to get medicine in order to prolong his waning condition leading him to evade the law and into direct and troubling contact with the FDA (Food and Drug Administration). As a maverick illegally attempting to import and sell unapproved pharmaceutical drugs to help with the management of HIV and AIDS, his rebellious acts reinforce Ron as a strong masculine figure. McConaughey’s performance is very visual in capturing the external, as much as internal, struggles of an AIDS victim. McConaughey lost a considerable amount of weight for the role, totalling an astonishing 21kg (46lbs). Ron’s gaunt and sickly face, scrawny physique, with his thin-limbed posture and negligible body fat, illustrates the depriving effects of the disease on his body. The illness that deteriorates Ron’s wellbeing challenges his overt manliness and, through his illegal drug operation, he
becomes a dominating and empowered masculine figure. Ron transitions from a seemingly wimpish man made feeble via his disease into a macho eighties drug kingpin. It is this overtly masculine portrayal of a HIV patient that calls into question how far the representation of AIDS has come in film and, as Dallas Buyers Club was set in a time and place when the illness was associated with homosexual men, just how challenging it is to have the protagonist as a straight male.
McConaughey’s performance and astonishing weight loss capture the external, as much as the internal, struggles of an AIDS victim By telling the story via a straight man’s prospective and setting the film at a time rife with homophobia, Dallas Buyers Club measures the development of maturing opinions on the subject. There are scenes in the film that exhibit extreme displays of homophobia and hatred towards the gay community, even from Ron, and this is certainly problematic. The aggressive acts of homophobia in the film display a backwardness, as though watching events through a rear-view mirror, as such outdatedness would rarely be seen so openly in contemporary cinema. For example, Ron meets Rayon (Jared Leto), an old friend who he refuses to shake hands with because he is a transvestite. This scene explores a growth in Ron’s character by juxtaposing his past life with his present one. The association of AIDS as a largely homosexual disease is prevalent throughout Dallas Buyers Club. This is a direct result of the news media in the 1980s reporting and promoting a fear that HIV and AIDS were exclusive to the gay
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community. During the period, the disease was attributed to gay men and, as the media reported on the prevalence of AIDS cases, widespread fear was created for the “gay disease”. This was in spite of the fact that around this time symptoms for the disease had also been found in heterosexual males. Information released in 1981 by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicated that five males, all described as “homosexuals”, were apparently the first cases that displayed symptoms of HIV. From the offset, the disease was attributed to the gay community and was being transmitted via sexual contact with other infected men. Indeed it is a problematic and out-dated association that certainly spurs conflict in Dallas Buyers Club. Ron’s diagnosis triggers the story’s conflict and he seemingly becomes more defensive, and more conscious, of his sexuality. This shows how people at the time viewed alternative sexualities other than heterosexuality as abnormal.
The aggressive acts of homophobia in the film display a backwardness, as though watching events through a rear-view mirror The labelling of AIDS as a “gay disease” is prominent in many films that often feature a stereotyped homosexual character diagnosed with the disease. In Dallas Buyers Club, for example, Ron’s right-hand man and accomplice Rayon also helps to run the drug import company. Rayon is presented as the weaker of the two characters as his alternative sexual identity seems to alienate the character. In his book The AIDS Movie: Representing a Pandemic in Film and Television (2000), Kylo-Patrick R. Hart’s research correlates a link between sexuality and AIDS in films. In the total 32 films included in the study, 76 gay characters were noted to be diagnosed with AIDS. This unequivocally shows the relationship between AIDS and homosexual characters in cinema and this has problematic consequences in brandishing the gay community with a negative image.
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Dallas Buyers Club offers a more complex understanding of sexuality and challenges heteronormative masculinity. After his diagnosis, Ron’s sexuality is called into question and he consequently has to deal with outside prejudices of homophobia and ostracisation as well as his own insecurities. Ron suffers a thick dose of his own medicine as he becomes subject to torment and ridicule, similar to the way he once treated others. As he grows closer to Rayon however, Ron’s narrow-minded views on sexuality become more fluid. The partnership between the characters is emblematic of broadening views of sexuality on screen. Ron’s diagnosis is in direct conflict with his sense of masculinity. The disease makes him appear vulnerable and emasculated via the association of AIDS with gay and bisexual men at the time. Rather than a strong type as expected of the heteronormative masculine figure, AIDS actually makes Ron appear weak, impotent and unable to undertake the required masculine duties of protecting and providing for himself. However, he continually exerts a macho energy and he expresses a typical and hegemonic behaviour and attitude, as Ron becomes rebellious to the law and the health care system. The film is more aptly understood as the story of Ron’s battle against the American health care system as a group of doctors seemingly discriminate against him because of his condition by refusing to treat him or provide effective medication. The doctors are emblematic of American health care and Dallas Buyers Club explicitly explores the faults in the system. The health care system seemingly stresses business first and foremost as the FDA did not approve of drugs that had shown promising results in the treatment of HIV. The toxic drug AZT (azidothymidine) helped to remedy symptoms, but could also cause drastic side effects, and was the prescribed method of coping with HIV/AIDS in America at the time. As pharmaceutical companies monopolised the market, and despite the discoveries of drugs approved in other countries, certain drugs were still unapproved in the USA. It is this business approach to the treatment of patients that leads to the portrayal of the
health care system as one of the antagonists of the film. In spite of this, Ron comes into possession of potentially life-prolonging medicines by searching for and acquiring the drugs outside the country. He too becomes a businessman and sells these drugs for profit. In this regard, HIV and AIDS become both an illness and a political and business agenda. The idea of the health care system as an antagonist is not uncommon in film. Michael Mooreâ€™s controversial documentary SiCKO (2007) provides an insight into the failures of this very system. This is something both films share; rather than focusing too much on disease or the patients involved, the films chart the charactersâ€™ struggles to get proper medical treatment. Dallas Buyers Club brings into clear focus the political and bureaucratic approach to AIDS, and giving less attention to how the character deals with the disease and accepts his waning mortality. Dallas Buyers Club demonstrates developments
in the representation of AIDS in film. Even though the film is presented with a strange nostalgic backwardness, the time of the piece enables mainstream audiences to feel more comfortable around the subjects and themes involved. It is the interaction between the gay and the straight community in Dallas Buyers Club that is a key element and is reflected in the relationship between Ron and Rayon. The film does show an improvement in the representation of AIDS on screen, particularly in its mainstream reception and critical acclaim that suggests an improving awareness of HIV and AIDS.
Sophie Britton â€˘
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A closer look at screen wastelands in post-apocalyptic America reveals these survivors are as savage as they are sympathetic.
he wasteland setting is not very common in cinema, or at least without some kind of menacing monster. There are films, however, that are set in wastelands where the hero is every bit the monster. In these harsh wasteland terrains, the characters are pitted against each other in a bid for survival, fighting for food and water and if not against themselves, then against the elements. The Book of Eli (2010) and The Road (2009) explore the physical and psychological hardships and struggles of survival in the wasteland. Within this setting, the characters in these films are forced into a moral conflict of good versus evil, whilst realising the extent to their capabilities and those of others around them.
The wasteland inhabitants are forced into a moral conflict of good versus evil The Book of Eli tours a lone man’s fight through the post-apocalyptic and ravaged barren lands of North America in order to protect the last and only copy of the Bible in a bid to save, and hopefully preserve, humanity. In Allen and Albert Hughes’ action film, the wide shots create an impression of scope and scale. The terrain is deformed by giant and mysterious craters that are presumably evidence of the aftermath of whatever caused the apocalypse, a detail that is not fully explored by the film. The Road focuses on the survival of a father and his son by any means necessary, listed only in the credits as the Man (Viggo Mortensen) and the Boy (Kodi Smit-McPhee). The setting is meek, grey and cold. A single gasping shot captures the beauty and chaos of the film as the father and son walk alongside a lake and the trees are ablaze on the horizon. In both postapocalyptic fables, the barren landscapes are in ruins and the majority of the population is
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dead. Resources are sparse and people have resorted to killing each other over food and water. The world is truly in chaos. There are many threats posed to the characters that inhabit these barren wastelands. As a result of the limited food rations, people have resorted to cannibalism to survive. This level of savageness clearly illustrates the moral ambiguities of right and wrong in the wasteland setting. Although scenes are heavily suggestive in implying brutality, the films do not explicitly show every chewy bite taken by the flesh-eating savages. In The Book of Eli, cannibals are identifiable via their quaking and jittery hands as a consequence of consuming too much human meat. They also tend to live in small numbers far away from civilisation. The cannibals are presented as a threat and they tend to lure their victims into an ambush and pray on a false sense of security. By contrast, in The Road the cannibals do not have obvious mannerisms so the threat is not as easily identifiable. While there are not as many encounters with cannibalism, the scene where it is most clearly implied – the Man and Boy’s discovery of naked people locked in a basement – is one of the film’s most chilling moments. Nonetheless, the threat of cannibalism is presented as just another symptom of the wasteland setting. Another harshness of the wasteland is revealed in how the films deal with rape. In The Book of Eli, rape is a very real and severe threat to the young and vulnerable Solara (Mila Kunis). In one instance, Solara is ambushed by two strange and aggressive men that attempt to rape her until the mysterious and lone Eli (Denzel Washington) comes to the rescue. The two men drag Solara into a nearby concrete cylinder and the camera tracks to a hole in the cylinder. The new position of the camera conceals the majority of the punches received by Solara, but
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reveals enough to show her distress. The clever and subtle cinematography hides the violence from the audience and is suggestive of the brutality. In The Road rape is only briefly alluded to but is still powerful in its impact. When the Man holds a creepy hillbilly at gunpoint, the strange character frequently looks at the son whilst licking his lips and smiling. The Boy is younger, weaker and more innocent than his father and it makes him a target for this kind of sexual perversion and assault. Despite the paedophilic undertones, this film is more focused on the potential threat of rape. Whilst only referred to directly a few times, the film invites the audience to focus on the harshness of the setting and what its inhabitants are capable of doing. Despite the morbid themes and subject matter utilised across the two films, there are moments that show the potential good in people. Even the young boy in The Road, who was born and raised in such a harsh world, can still care about the welfare of other people besides himself and his father. In one scene, the father and son come across an old man and, whilst the Man wants nothing to do with them, the boy pleads with his father to spare the old man some food. The kindness exhibited by the boy, rather idealistically, signifies hope for humanity and, after all the hardships endured by these characters, they still have some morals intact. The wasteland setting can also help to define a characterâ€™s kindness as a response to their environment. There are several moments in The Road where the Man and Boy have to vocally remind themselves that they are the good guys; it is as if this keeps what remains of their spirit intact and gives them a sense of humanity. Eli, however, is very much an antihero and he tries to avoid conflict, even to the point of letting others die whilst he stays hidden and out of sight. Eli will certainly fight to survive when he has no other choice; Solara acts as moral compass for him, similar to how the son humanises his father in The Road. In his first encounter with Solara, Eli is fighting numerous men in a bar until she enters, sees what is happening and begs him to stop.
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The characters in these films react to their environment differently. As a lone survivor, Eli is not easily deceived and has little trust for others. After stumbling across a fallen woman who is asking for help, he ignores her plea. The lone Solara later sees the same fallen woman in the road and immediately goes to offer her help. Much like the Boy in The Road, Solara was born and raised in the wasteland environment and never knew a world before the apocalypse. Despite bearing witness to the harshness that has come from the post-apocalypse wasteland, Solara still cares and wants to help others; she is a kind and good-natured person.
Battling with external threats, the wasteland inhabitants also fight to keep their morality and humanity intact The Road and The Book of Eli present polarising character pairs; there is the more ruthless character that is dedicated to survival and the other that keeps them morally grounded. These kinds of characters are necessary for a post-apocalypse film as they help to keep each other alive. Solara depends on Eliâ€™s virility and brutishness to survive through the many tricks and traps. Similarly, the Man would have made some morally wrong choices if it were not for his son. Both Eli and the father strive to prepare the presumably physically weaker character for survival in the harsh environments and to train them to be able live without their mentors should they perish from starvation, disease or a nasty brawl with another wasteland brute. The wasteland setting forces the characters to define themselves in relation to their environments in order to survive. The many obstacles and antagonists like the cannibals, kill and take anything and everything that they can get their hands on or sink their teeth into. The practical survivors like Eli and the Man are ruthless in their self-preservation and fight for survival. The kind and morally sensitive characters like Solara in The Book of Eli or the Boy in The Road are presented as the voice of reason and represent the small, developing hope for humanity. Apparently the apocalypse can bring out the best and the worst in people.
Megan Sowerby â€˘
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Altered States F
ilmmaker and renowned director Martin Scorsese’s crime/comedy The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) generated controversy last year for its apparent glamorisation of drug culture and celebration of its central drug user Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio). Writing for the London Evening Standard, critic David Sexton frames the controversial matter by asking, “is it immoral to celebrate villainy?” Indeed this debate is still fresh and the disputes concerning altered states in cinema are certainly contentious. The potency of such debates presents an opportune time to look back at the depiction of drug use onscreen in Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream (2000). Far from offering a glamorous representation of drug culture, the gritty drama offers a raw and chilling representation of the wasteful effects that drug abuse can have on its addicts.
Requiem for a Dream offers a raw and chilling representation of the wasteful effects of drug abuse The Wolf of Wall Street is not the first film to depict excessive drug use and lifestyles or to be criticised for its depictions. Scarface (1983) and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998) also received mixed reactions on release. In the latter example, the film often resorts to mimicry of the effects that drug abuse has on users but to comical effect. In a particular scene, the lead protagonist Raoul Duke (Johnny Depp) finds himself in a hotel and under the influence of acid as he stumbles about entranced with a deranged Jim Carrey shtick. Aronofsky’s drama was also received
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with scepticism, and not because it glamorised drug culture, but rather due to the raw depiction of the catastrophic effects that drug abuse has on the main characters of the story. Moreover, as opposed to focusing solely on the short-term euphoria that drug intake offers the casual user, Aronofsky chooses to explore the long-term effects of drug abuse that lead both the characters’ livelihoods and bodies to waste away. Harry (Jared Leto), his girlfriend Marion (Jennifer Connelly), his mother Sara (Ellen Burstyn), and his best friend Tyrone (Marlon Wayans) resort to drug use as an escape from the dull and mundane everyday of Coney Island. The characters are everyday people who are relatable to the audience and make the impact of the film even greater. The story follows them as they desperately chase their dreams. Harry desires money in pursuit of a clothing store in which Marion will be able to sell her designer wardrobe and the two can build a future together. Tyrone also seeks wealth, but to escape from his impoverished neighbourhood. Meanwhile elderly widow Sara anxiously searches for excitement in the form of television infomercials to enliven her rather lacklustre life. The sensory euphoria of drug intake enables these characters to escape their mundane everyday lives. For Harry and his friends, heroin and amphetamines offer an escape from a reality that they no longer want to live in. As Anna Powell writes in her book Deleuze, Altered States and Film (2012), drugs offer the characters a “brief, insubstantial euphoria”. In fact, the desire to escape from reality is the common justification for drug use by users and
revisiting Darren Aronofskyâ€™s Requiem for a Dream in the wake of negative press around the glamorisation of drug culture in cinema presents a complex human tale about the highs and lows of drug addiction.
addicts in many films that feature these kinds of lifestyles. Drug use is commonly linked to poverty and addicts are often considered lowerclass people with substandard incomes, living in deprived areas with small economic growth. They turn to drugs for satisfaction, albeit only offering a transient and fading euphoria. This is echoed throughout Requiem for a Dream as the main characters are desperate to escape poverty and build life anew in hopes to be successful and find happiness, but their struggles gradually only bring them closer to their addictions. Conversely, The Wolf of Wall Street associates drug use with a privileged social and economic position of its main character and it is part
of the glamorous lifestyle that Jordan Belfort adopts. Under the influence of drugs, Jordan attends numerous glitzy parties that are depicted in colourful and vibrant scenes and represent the fleeting euphoria that the character is experiencing. The controversy around Scorseseâ€™s film is in part due to the glamorisation of drug culture and also the film does not depart from the criminal lifestyle, as Jordan struggles to be rehabilitated from his addiction and multiple drug-induced stupors. In Requiem for a Dream the audience is constantly reminded about the negative and damaging consequences of drug use; even the short-term effects of drugs on the characters are not always presented as euphoric. In an
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early scene of the first act, Harry, Marion and Tyrone ingest drugs at a party. The distorted and quick-paced editing creates queasiness and discomfort. As the film gradually progresses, the sequences become increasingly nightmarish. In one instance Harry’s lonely mother Sara fantasises about a violent assault from common kitchen appliances whilst hallucinating on amphetamines.
As the film progresses, the sequences become increasingly nightmarish In Requiem for a Dream there is nothing glamorous or colourful about drugs. As Jeffrey Overstreet mentions in Through a Screen Darkly: Looking Closely at Beauty, Truth and Evil in the Movies (2007), Aronofsky aims to expose the audience to the horror of drug use by creating an image of how a person acts under the influence of drugs rather than how they feel. The characters are ultimately unable to escape from their dull reality, even under the influence of drugs, and they are depicted as depressed and isolated addicts. Moreover, by denying the temporary euphoria from drug use, Aronofsky manages to underline the catastrophic effects that drugs have on the characters’ minds and bodies. Requiem for a Dream offers a powerful depiction of the physical and psychological effects of drug use. The film reveals a raw, often cynical, depiction of the wasteful effects that drug use has on its characters. Where drug use is presented to a comical effect in The Wolf of Wall Street, Requiem for a Dream exposes the audience to a far more brutal reality. The characters’ addictions confine them within a delusional and distorted reality. For Harry and Tyrone, dealing drugs is apparently the only way to make money and escape poverty. Whereas
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Sara takes, and soon becomes addicted to, amphetamines in order to lose weight and to fit into her favourite red dress that she wants to wear when she makes an appearance on her dream television show. In the beginning the characters seem to come closer to realising their dreams but their addictions ultimately cost them their life aspirations and lead them down darker and grimmer paths. By the end of the film, the characters are alone, broken and far away from their dreams and ambitions. Whilst the characters do not die from their drug addictions, this is more of a punishment than it is a relief. They suffer through the consequences of drug use and, in the aftermath, are isolated from their loved ones and are seemingly hopeless. In their attempts to escape from reality, the characters sacrifice the good in their lives and deprive themselves of a better future. This depiction of drug users, however, can lead to the problematic representation of a helpless addict beyond rescue. Drug use is often a result of social and economic factors, such as the poor living conditions of Harry’s decrepit apartment block. The raw depiction of the effects of drug abuse provokes sympathy for the addict, as illustrated by Trainspotting’s (1996) sickly lead Renton (Ewan McGregor) or the slender Harry in Requiem for a Dream. Contrastingly, a more glamorous representation of drugs, usually involving wealthy and successful people, can generate a problematic admiration or even esteem for the user. Representation of drug culture tends to draw attention to a character’s physical and emotional state and ignores how or why the user developed the addiction in the first place. This suggests the characters are unable to make any significant decisions in their own lives and will inevitably fall into addiction. Aronofsky, however, portrays the consequences of drug
use in such a provoking way and, rather than glamorise drug culture by exploring the temporary satisfaction of drug use, he focuses on the long-term effects that it has on the characters. Requiem for a Dream is very condemning and critical of drug culture. Its powerful, raw and almost uncensored depiction of drug use is shocking and often unnerving. Through their addictions, the four main characters waste every chance they have at happiness and it leads them into a life of misery. Through comparison with The Wolf of Wall Street and other films that feature drug-induced lifestyles, it would seem that the depiction of excessive drug use is not explicitly condemned, or for that matter
entirely negative, on-screen. Furthermore economic, social and cultural contexts influence the depictions of drug culture in cinema. As Aronofskyâ€™s film suggests, the effects that drugs can cause are too damaging and disastrous to be glamorised or ignored. Drug use has wasteful effects regardless of the addict or the prescription.
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waste management What do you think of when you hear the words â€œItalian Americanâ€??
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empathise, with these crime anti-heroes as it makes these characters seem less fantastical and a bit more human.
For over a century Hollywood has been using the well-known Italian American stereotype in cinema. Ever since the early work of D.W. Griffith’s career, the stereotypes have been apparent in film. Griffith’s At The Altar (1909) presents a couple in love and about to get married until a gun-toting Italian American seeking retribution for his lost lady-love brings an abrupt end to the ceremonious celebrations. As one of the pioneers of early cinema, Griffith established the early beginnings of the stereotype for Italian Americans and it implies an historical context behind the emergence of the gangster.
Does humanising the gangster, however, normalise violence in film? Violence is often justified as being a necessary part of business; death is equated to economic waste in the mafia and rarely is it personal. Despite the bloodied beatings, foul language and mass murdering, there is still a sense of empathy for these unlawful outcasts. George Larke-Walsh argues in her book Screening the Mafia (2010) that violence is justified as it remains within the narrative world of the crime genre. The world populated by these fictional mafias is rarely portrayed as a threat to regular non-criminal citizens. But despite the violent personality at heart, the Italian American can also function as a protector for the everyday man and common worker. This is evidently displayed throughout The Godfather (1972), where Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) acts as the force of justice and hero for the common man. He takes offence when people do not come to him with issues first and instead involve the police or government; the Don gives “his” people, in his interpretation, a fairer form of justice.
he on-screen Italian American is often shown to be a classy, suave and desirable individual. Appearances can be deceiving however, and lurking underneath the pleasant ruse is a ruthless, violent gangster stereotype. Championed as the ultimate anti-hero by popular culture, the Italian American is often associated with the criminal underclass. Many films within the crime genre have explored the rising prevalence of the gangster in society. Is Hollywood just recycling out-dated, negative and tired stereotypes or is there more to the representation of the Italian American?
The typical gangster is perceived as a lawbreaker who takes what they want when they want it. They are certainly unafraid to waste anyone or anything that stands in their way. In a scene from Goodfellas (1990), for example, the notorious New York gangsters, Tommy (Joe Pesci), Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) and Jimmy (Robert De Niro), visit Tommy’s mother. They begin to dine just after being involved in a brutal murder; regardless, the gangsters show little remorse and consequently reinforce the sociopathic behaviour commonly associated with Italian Americans. This scene does break up the violence, however, and humanises as well as civilises the character via the mother/ son relationship. Director Martin Scorsese attempts with Goodfellas to depict the figure behind the criminal actions and encourages the audience to look beyond the violence often associated with the gangster. The emphasis on a loving family is a welcome depiction of the Italian American community and these familial bonds enable an audience to connect, and even
Does humanising the gangster normalise violence in film? Paying respects to elders is important in fashioning Hollywood’s stereotype of the gangster as Don Corleone is presented as the generous, respectful patriarch and conceals his ruthless, murderous and criminal intent. The character’s identity is constructed via a cultural context that is deeply associated with traditional Italian American heritage. Indeed Don Corleone operates outside of the law and yet he champions the rights of the common blue-collar worker and does not present any immediate threat. The personality and characteristic traits of Don Corleone, amongst other characters such as the over-protective and womanising Sonny Corleone (James Caan) or the obese and ruthless enforcer Luca Brasi (Lenny Montana), are significantly influential in constructing the typical Italian American in cinema. This type of character is mostly
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commonly referenced in the media, parodied in television shows and film and epitomised by the crime/gangster genre. Italian Americans are not, however, always shown to have involvement with the mafia. The TV favourite and loveable dunce Joey Tribbiani (Matt LeBlanc) in Friends (19942004) is a hungry, horny and half-witted Italian American who lives next door. Even though he has no involvement with criminal activity, Joey is hardly a positive representation of an Italian American. He wastes his life away on prankish mischief and leads an unfulfilling lifestyle and the character is presented as comic relief via his dumbness and frequent womanising. Joey Tribbiani is a culmination of stereotyped expectations of the Italian American and the show makes a gag out of this exhausted and pigeonholed character: he is disgusting, piggish and outright silly. From Henry Hill to Joey Tribbiani there seems to be no middle ground for the Italian American. Even the light-hearted, all-singing and all-dancing family-favourite musical Grease (1978) depicts Danny Zuko (John Travolta) and his stylishly leather-clad entourage as rascally and roguish misfits. Although not murderers, they are not peaceful
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citizens either, despite all their flamboyant dancing, whim-whamming and provocative crotch thrusting. Being inebriated by alcohol, street racing, bullying and skipping school all emphasise the criminal or deviant association with the Italian American male stereotype. Italian American characters are tiringly pigeonholed to this stereotype on-screen. “Come on guys, let’s go for some pizza”, one of Zuko’s gang members croons nonchalantly and clearly staying true to his roots. Friends and Grease recycled the stereotype from existing typecast characters and ethnic representations on-screen and, whilst it may seem harmless, it turns the Italian American man into a laughable and petty criminal. The Sopranos (1999-2007) is a landmark television drama that both reaffirms and challenges representations of the Italian American male. Head-of-the-family Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) and his mostly devoted crew embody stereotype. Indeed, the alibi for Tony’s gangster lifestyle is a tired cliché as he works in “waste management”. Tony is, however, a fragile and damaged man undergoing regular therapy sessions with Dr Melfi (Lorraine Bracco). This is quite the contrast from the archetypal gangster; there is more to Tony than just being a Mafioso. The Sopranos also depicts life for non-criminal
and professional Italian Americans living in America too. This is regularly explored via Dr Melfi’s discussions with her friends and family. In particular, fellow psychiatrist Dr Elliot Kupferberg (Peter Bogdanovich) ridicules Dr Melfi for helping Tony and consequently blames him and his friends as responsible for Italian American criminal stereotypes. The Sopranos shows the fears and moral panics sustained by news channels, papers and general media by reporting on the lawful case to bring the Soprano family down. Elliot speaks of his fears that Tony, his gang and their criminal affairs are degrading to the Italian American heritage. The Sopranos offers an alternative depiction of the gangster as the show vocalises the perceptions of “ordinary” Italian American citizens not necessarily involved in organised crime. Whether the representation of Italian Americans has changed since The Sopranos is certainly debatable. Despite the efforts of The Sopranos to challenge the expectations of the Italian American male, recent films such as Don Jon (2013) and The Family (2013) have regressed to stereotypical portrayals. Don Jon follows a porn addict whilst The Family focuses on a psychopathic household in witness protection. These films recycle tired stereotypes, suggesting that the Italian
American male is still struggling to renounce typecasting in modern cinema. The deconstruction of ethnicity offered in The Sopranos has gone to waste as recent films are reconstructing poorly crafted caricatures of the Italian American. Elliot’s worries in The Sopranos echo the suffering of an ethnic group and its representation from years of tireless, negative stereotyping in the news media. Despite plenty of opportunities to eschew typecasting, Hollywood seems to market these characters by regressing to the archetypal gangster and ladies man. Indeed stereotyping is problematic, violence and criminality have come to be associated with the Italian American due misrepresentation on-screen. Hollywood may be in love with its gangsters, but as Johnny Depp’s sympathetic Donnie explains in Donnie Brasco (1997), it is about time to just “fuggedaboudit!”
Jack Beetlestone • Diegesis: CUT TO [waste]
Lost Prophet •
According to his critics, the writer-director has lost his touch. Has M. Night Shyamalan wasted his sixth sense for filmmaking?
veryone is his critic. Following the scathing reception of his latest mainstream excursions in The Last Airbender (2010) and After Earth (2013), M. Night Shyamalan’s ascension into the pantheon of seminal filmmakers is apparently not so likely after all. Dubbed “an unqualified disaster in the purest sense” by Little White Lies critic Adam Woodward, the response to After Earth captures the mounting dismissal of the filmmaker. Writing for This is London, David Sexton summarises the popular consensus regarding Shyamalan when he asked during a review of The Last Airbender: “How did Shyamalan get it so wrong?” A talented and once respected filmmaker, his fraught relationship with critics has turned the once hopeful auteur into an Internet meme and consequently denounces any critical potential of his work. CollegeHumour’s parody video “No One Likes M. Night Shyamalan” exemplifies this growing antipathy. Yet the filmmaker continues to be renowned for his self-assured hubris. Is Shyamalan’s notoriety a cautionary tale of balancing fame and filmmaking ability or just evidence of another occupational hazard in a ruthless industry? Shyamalan started his career with the melancholic and mysterious thriller The Sixth Sense (1999) and achieved tremendous success both critically and commercially,
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resonating well with general audiences. The sleeper hit secured nominations for Best Director, Best Screenplay and Best Picture at the Academy Awards and signalled a great potential for the aspiring Shyamalan. The films that followed, however, were arguably more influential in defining the young filmmaker’s oeuvre. Unbreakable (2000), Signs (2002) and The Village (2004) paved the way for his distinctive authorial style. The cinema of Shyamalan is all too curious, often dream-like and founded on superstition and childish make-believe. Unbreakable is perhaps the most endearing of his films, and his minimalist sci-fi Signs displays Shyamalan’s apt technicality in capturing his constantly twisting and turning narrative structures. In 2002, Newsweek labelled Shyamalan “The Next Spielberg” and his inventiveness is often cited alongside the achievements of Alfred Hitchcock. The young filmmaker was lauded long before he was lambasted and while it may have been widely dismissed, the cinema of Shyamalan is still relevant. Even his grander missteps in filmmaking carry merit and value in spite of the negative press and critical bashing. His latter works underscore the filmmaker’s struggle to envision his distinctive cinematic imprint in scale and grandeur. The filmmaker’s blundering blockbusters may lack subtlety
and modesty but they still manage to impart a childish imagination. In its 3D rendition of a young hero battling a villainous threat, The Last Airbender is stylishly mystical, a child’s haven in all its playfulness with the magic of “bending” elements. The Lady in the Water (2006) gave momentum to the filmmaker’s growing infamy with cinemagoers and critics alike. The film struggled at the box-office with a widely unenthusiastic reception and was subject to an almost unanimous critical assault. Sony’s PR campaign following the release of After Earth excluded reference to Shyamalan’s influence in making the film, instead focusing on Will Smith as the film’s lead. Whilst underpinning the decreasing bankability of Shyamalan, a trend all too evident in the fluctuating currency of stars, it also shows the regression of an industry undergoing perpetual change. Despite this on-going trend to ridicule one of the most innovative and singular visions to emerge in contemporary cinema, the works of M. Night Shyamalan carry critical merit and expects more out of the cinema-going public than the average film. Often underappreciated, Shyamalan’s catalogue includes a range of sincere films that exhibit the filmmaker’s peculiarities, curiosities and idiosyncrasies and can be seen as extensions of his own personality. Unbreakable is perhaps the most prominent example of a film that exhibits the deeply rooted personal investment the filmmaker has in his projects. Following the tale of an everyday security guard with superhero qualities, Unbreakable’s story is primarily interested in family matters manifested in a father/son
relationship. Just as pressure surmounts on Bruce Willis’s David Dunn to accept his inherent super-capabilities and become the idol his son deserves, Shyamalan is presented with a similar burden as an apparent contemporary filmmaking prodigy.
Is Shyamalan “the next Spielberg” or an “unqualified disaster”? Fatherhood is the beating heart of many of Shyamalan’s projects. After Earth, for all its mediocrity in visual flare and lacklustre narrative, has a sincere and sobering dynamic between father and son (played by Smith’s real life son Jaden). Cypher (Will Smith) and Kitai Raige’s (Jaden Smith) familial bond is tested as they navigate Earth after their ship crashes on the derelict planet. Even The Happening (2008) has a solid father/ daughter relationship between a frazzled teacher and a young girl as they struggle to survive the perils of an embittered Mother Nature. Shyamalan’s films often play out like a bedtime story; children are usually the linchpin for creativity in the imaginative worlds of his characters. This is where The Last Airbender succeeds with its charming and child-like curiosity with make-believe. Similarly, The Sixth Sense’s narrative, charting the grim tale of a boy who can “see dead people”, is about the power of a child’s mind and imagination. Shyamalan’s films are more about the experience of the journey than they are about the final resolve and Signs and The Village offer a more contemplative and patient style of cinema. The folksy charm of The Village evokes post-9/11 angst, where the metaphorical
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“elders” create a hoax in order to control an isolated countryside village through fear. Mysterious hooded creatures begin to terrorise the townsfolk but the twist ending reveals the nature of the beasts as a farce organised by the town elders to keep out corruption. The Village is a scary rendition of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s novel The Secret Garden peppered with the same childish wonderment and a unique moody soundscape constructed via composer James Newton Howard. It is an observant and curious piece that taps into the sensation of experience with moments of genuine horror and canny humour. Perhaps his most technically skilful film, Signs provocatively explores the mystery of crop circles and otherworldly encounters on a family farm, sustaining suspense by teasing with brief glimpses of the alien invaders. The film has a strange compositional symmetry evident in the opening shot that tracks through crops on the farmland to reveal a flustered Reverend Graham Hess (Mel Gibson), a moment not dissimilar to the scene of young Danny Torrance (Danny Lloyd) pedalling through the empty hallways of The Overlook Hotel in The Shining (1980). The story is simple and for the most part confined to Reverend Hess’s farm as the characters’ world comes under siege. Despite being thematically overcooked and with spiritual references aplenty, Signs displays Shyamalan’s competence in handling cinematic elements. His works stimulates the different faculties of experience, the camerawork often teases with the image, the sounds are foreboding and crisp; the brisk winds can almost be felt in The Happening, as can the cold chills in The Sixth Sense. While his films attempt to eschew the attributes of blockbuster spectacle, audiences have become accustomed to the characteristic twist in Shyamalan’s complicated stories. This expectation imposed on Shyamalan’s work has ironically led his films to become predictable and the filmmaker’s narratives do require a level of patience not always found in mainstream cinema. Where the technological developments of the industry in the early 2000s was more concerned with the visual spectacle and its potential, Shyamalan’s films express more nuances in
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the direction, acting and scripting of each project. In Signs, for example, the instilled sense of claustrophobia by keeping events contained to a farm may seem alien to modern blockbusters where grandness is the industry’s raison d’etre. Shyamalan’s films are modest by comparison, indulging in the finer details of a quality story, which often focus on the tormented psyche of the lead character, society and, perhaps more so, himself. Shyamalan is nonetheless a filmmaker in transition and his next project looks toward the medium of television to support his creative visions. Wayward Pines, about a Secret Service agent investigating a disappearance in a rustic town, is scheduled to air on FOX in 2015 with Shyamalan billed as director of an episode. The medium could be detrimental in helping to re-establish the writerdirector. Where Shyamalan is usually writer, director and producer in his films, Wayward Pines is a more collaborative project and he is taking a more cooperative role. Yet, crucially, the medium supports Shyamalan’s ability to create larger, more complicated narrative structures. Perhaps the ambitious narrative and plot of The Village, or even Signs, would have been more suited to a smaller screen, where audiences could invest in Shyamalan’s gradually developing narratives where events, slowly but surely, uncoil. Whilst the filmmaker’s value is brought to question in light of his recent mainstream blunders, Shyamalan’s cinematic ingenuity is established in the make-believe. Indeed these are hard times for the unbreakable spirits of Shyamalan, but that should not discredit his talent for capturing and inciting awe. His narratives too are impressive and perhaps television is more suitable for his brand of creativity. Regardless, Shyamalan’s rhetoric is founded on propositions of “what if ” and asks only of the viewer to believe.
Caine Bird • Diegesis: CUT TO [waste]
Lost & Found
Is it a just a tired gimmick or is there still value in the found footage film?
upposedly discovered on the cutting room floor, the found footage genre has granted filmmakers new possibilities to explore and exploit the global film industry. By creating the illusion that lost or forgotten footage has somehow been recovered, the genre utilises wasted material and turns it into an alternative and unique cinematic experience to rival mainstream entertainment. Cannibal Holocaust (1980) was among the first films of the found footage genre and started the trend for many more films in the following decades. At the turn of the new millennium, the genre became a cultural phenomenon and many films were released using this technique including the seemingly endless Paranormal Activity franchise (2007-present), the V/H/S films (2012-present) and Cloverfield (2008). But it also fell out of favour with critics rather quickly, prompting the question: is there still value in the found footage film? In Experimental Ethnography: The Work of Film in the Age of Video (1999), film theorist Catherine Russell describes the found footage film as, â€œan allegory of history, a montage of memory traces, by which the filmmaker engages with the past through recall, retrieval
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and recycling.â€? Russellâ€™s observation engages with how filmmakers continue to use the genre and revive found footage films by modifying genre conventions to appeal to contemporary and popular culture. An example might be Chronicle (2012) - about three teens who discover they have special powers - that taps into the high demand for superhero films.
The found footage genre utilises wasted material and turns it into an alternative and unique cinematic experience The macabre horror V/H/S documents the lives of different groups of people who have experienced abnormal and paranormal occurrences that have been caught on video. Structured into an anthology of short stories, a group of young people who find these tapes soon begin to experience similar strange events. The collaborative crew of filmmakers
recycle “found” videotape footage that incorporates multiple short story threads together to create a fractured and often discontinuous narrative whole. Similar to Catherine Russell’s definition, V/H/S is a montage of differing ghost stories, or tapes, that act like “memory” sequences and build into the wider narrative. Not only does this add more depth to the film’s narrative but it also makes V/H/S more enjoyable to watch; the multiple story threads parallel one another and all build into a resolution making the audience wonder how the stories will eventually link together for a final outcome.
Audience members at a Paranormal Activity screening were so scared that they walked out
Alexandra Heller-Nicholas observes in Found Footage Horror Films: Fear and the Appearances of Reality (2014) that the “aesthetics are most immediately identified via its signature rawness, either in the form of diegetically produced shaky handheld camera footage or surveillance feed.” Paranormal Activity (2007) follows young couple Katie (Katie Featherston) and Micah (Micah Sloat) who are new residents of the San Diego area. Tormented by a paranormal entity, Micah records every moment of their daily lives to document the strange happenings. Not only does it employ the use of hand-held camera footage but Paranormal Activity also utilises a surveillance feed aesthetic that makes it all the more intense. The found footage creates a rawness and sense of realism. Using a style that creates the illusion of events being truthful places the viewer in the film via the camera so the camera’s point-of-view becomes our own. Bar a few exceptions, many film critics have criticised found footage films, labelling the genre as a tacky gimmick. Writing for
The Huffington Post, Marshall Fine writes dismissively about the “jittery handheld cameras meant to give the footage a ‘You Are There’ feeling, even when nothing is going on.” Found footage films certainly do overuse this technique to nauseating proportions, perhaps Fine is right and the genre “is officially ripe for retirement.” In 2012 fifteen found footage films were released on the big screen compared to a total of about thirty comedies of that same year. The statistics clearly illustrate that there is indeed a market and, by way of comparison with comedies, it is a significant amount of production for a genre of film still in transition. Found footage films are continuously evolving and new, innovative ideas are challenging the conventions of the genre. Found Footage 3D (2014) is currently in production and offers a new and interesting take on the genre, introducing a third dimension. It is about a group of filmmakers wanting to make the first 3D found footage film and soon find themselves literally immersed in the film. Such examples suggest that found footage films will continue to be made as long as there is an audience for the genre and filmmakers are adapting to that market. During screenings for Paranormal Activity, audience members walked out of the cinema so scared by what they were watching. The film epitomises the genre’s strength, encapsulating John Kenneth’s belief expressed in Found Footage Horror Films: Fear and the Appearances of Reality that a successful found footage film makes you feel “like you are actually there… and unsafe.” Found footage films do offer cinema something new and inventive. By recycling what appears to be old or lost footage, these films make entertainment out of apparently wasted material.
Georgie-May Lancashire • Diegesis: CUT TO [waste]
lost in translation When books are adapted into films and television series, why is so much of the content wasted and left on the page?
ilm adaptations are generally a sound investment with an already dedicated fan base. Studios seem more willing to invest in these films (and television programmes) as there is apparently less risk involved and less chance of the project blundering at the boxoffice. But, are potentially decent film and television adaptations of rich novels being compromised by wasting the original content? With limited time to tell a story and develop a narrative, films need to whittle a story down to its bare bones. Even The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001 - 2003), an admirable adaption of the original JRR Tolkien texts, had a total runtime of eleven hours and had to change numerous details to fit into the film’s timeframe. So why can films not easily translate from page to screen? A film adaptation has its own artistic merit and offers an alternative version, perspective or even angle or approach to the original story rather than to merely retell it. Why should “the excellence of the film depend on similarity to the novel”? (to borrow from adaptation scholar Sarah Cardwell in Adaptation Revisited: Television and the Classic Novel). In most cases the changes between adapted texts are minor plot points, or things that simply could not be done on screen. Although there are many cases where
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content gets lost in adapting the texts for the screen, which has consequently seen the removal of some larger, rather important points, such as omitting characters from the story altogether. It seems as though every minor change generates more and more change until the film is almost unrecognisable from the novel. In Game of Thrones (2011-present), for example, a character’s delayed death was used to develop a comedic relationship between Sandor “The Hound” Clegane (Rory McCann) and Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) and resulted in a needless fight scene between characters that did not meet in the novels. Similarly in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, upon omitting the character of Tom Bombadil who makes appearances in the book series, director Peter Jackson changed the conclusion of one of the main storylines involving The Witch-King of Angmar’s demise. It can be important to scrutinise the content that does potentially go to waste however, or gets omitted from the final cut of the film, as it could disrupt narrative integrity as much as continuity. These minor plot points are crucial in constructing context that a film’s narrative builds upon. Medium-specific time constraints are certainly a
factor to consider. A film with a typical runtime of 90-120 minutes has a short timeframe to introduce the characters, establish and then develop a story. Whilst plays intended for the big screen can fit into the smaller timeframes, stories intended for the page often have a cleaver taken to the content, making cuts to fit, cram and wedge everything into the film format. The rights to The Song of Ice and Fire novel series (1991) by fantasy/fiction author George RR Martin was sought after for years for a potential film adaptation. But Martin kept refusing until the HBO network offered to adapt it into a miniseries, which would become Game of Thrones. Produced as a TV series, the format enables more complex narratives to develop and be told over a longer period of time. But, even with the enormous ten hours of screen time per season, there are still details that get omitted. Indeed, most of the changes are justifiable, if not necessary, for the series but the show’s producers still manage to enrage the original fan base familiar with the fantasy novels. Consequently, fans have repeatedly taken to their keyboards to voice their discontent on an array of social networking sites, making claims that the changes are running the show and lampooning the producers in the process, only to tune back in the following
week. While some changes may only appear to be minor, adaptations always manage to somehow upset fans of the source texts. A book’s popularity can reveal a lot about the adaptation process, and a film’s struggle to be successful, or at least eschew cynicism, is in part to do with fandom. Spoilers also become a problem when adapting an established story. In the Internet Age, it is certainly harder to contain the surprise and twist of a film or series, as seen with the almost legendary endings of The Sixth Sense (1999) and Fight Club (1999). So, why do we retell known stories when we know the outcomes? In Game of Thrones, fans familiar with the books will have been preparing themselves to see the most dramatic moments unfurl on screen. The key events of the novel series do take place, but these almost iconic plot points familiar to fans of the series seem simplified on-screen, and lack the impact of the novels. In the fourth season, hefty creative liberties were taken by adding scenes, killing off characters and changing plot threads. The series unjustifiably jumped ahead in the narrative, so far so that a key part of the novel was spoilt, revealing a mystery that readers had been agonising over for seven long books. Even those up-to-date with the reading are still at risk of stumbling across spoilers.
Game of Thrones fans responded all too familiarly to Benioff and Weiss’s decisions by flocking to social media and complaining about and criticising the producers. Claims were made that the producers had departed too far from the book series and then, by revealing information early, stepped on its toes. While it would seem impossible for a film or television adaptation to offer a flawless representation of the original content, we might also ask why should it need to? While some of the content may get lost in translation, or a producer may kill a writer’s darlings, a film or series adaptation still carries critical merit in spite of its flaws even if it is hard to see beyond the changes that have been made. An adaptation offers an alternative take rather than a direct quotation of the material but a strong fan base will inevitably result in strong objections.
Joe Wallis •
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waste not, want not With more and more franchises splitting films into parts, is this just Hollywood’s way of getting more bang for its buck?
ecently the idea of a film having an actual end is not that simple. There has been a growing trend to split literary adaptations into parts, which complicates and fractures a film’s narrative structure and spurs accusations of these films being all about money. However, this trend also signifies changes in the way audiences watch, interact and engage with films. The Harry Potter franchise (2001-2011), as with The Hobbit (2012-2014) and The Hunger Games (2012-2015) are studio tent-poles aimed at teen audiences and have been or will be split into “parts” when adapted for the silver screen. This episodic model of consumption looks toward television as an example for success. An exponential increase in studios to create parts recognises a trend as these franchises are only a couple of years apart in release. Many reasons have been identified for this now regular practice of splitting apart films. Sources such as TIME magazine, Den of Geek and The Guardian have all concluded the sole incentive of this creative decision is motivated by box-office figures. Indeed it is easy to come to this conclusion; the final two instalments of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2010) and Part 2 (2011) reaped in box-office
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revenue that was reportedly more than the cost of filming both films back to back and is the equivalent to getting two films for the price of one. This is a big monetary incentive for producers and studios alike and, in the current unstable economy of the film industry, there is a financial risk with every blockbuster released. The model of splitting a film into parts is a costeffective approach and potential solution to the financial woes of an industry in recession. Perhaps film studios are looking to the success of the television model for inspiration. George Lucas has called television “more adventurous”, while Steven Spielberg has noted that $250 million-dollar budget films pose a huge risk and could lead to the eventual “implosion” of Hollywood. Television employs a model that limits the financial risk of productions by reusing sets and locations and commissioning pilots. Pilots are used as a testing ground for audiences, often recycling locations and characters for each episode to avoid wasting resources. HBO shows do not just recycle resources however, but also actors. An extreme example
is JD Williams, who has starred in a total of four HBO programmes, including The Wire (2002-2008), The Sopranos (1999-2007), Oz (1997-2003) and Sex and the City (1998-2004). The idea of television as an economically viable medium by reusing sets is also evident in Warner Brother Studios’ 112-acre lot; in 2011 it reported an estimated total of 56 television programmes in production. Sets are reused and recycled to create an economical and resourceful environment. An example of this is the bar set in the US remake of Shameless (2011-present) that also appears as a hardware store in Hart of Dixie (2011-present). This example of productions sharing sets illustrates how shows reduce cost by not creating new sets but rather remodelling sets from previous productions. Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows: Part 1 and Part 2 mirrored this model due to the $250 million reported budget (a standard budget for a summer blockbuster). However, the film made more than double the amount in profit. This exemplifies how the medium, when following an episodic model, limits financial risks while doubling profits, which is certainly an incentive for producers. In contemporary Hollywood, money is always an influence and this model of splitting films into parts is profitable. However the trend also parallels the changing consumption habits of spectators. With the advent of Netflix and television shows with bigger budgets creating lavish productions, distinctions between film and television are being blurred, not only regarding production standards but also how we watch them. Games of Thrones (2011-present), Dexter (2006-2013) and Gossip Girl (2007-2012) have all been largely successful book adaptations reworked as television series despite slight tweaks and alterations to the text that are changed in the translation of novel to screen. The growing popularity of recent television shows indicates that audiences look for a more developed and character-driven experience and this is reflected in the medium’s ability to unfold large narratives across its episodic format. Like its televised counterpart, film sequels appear to be more episodic and run the risk of “dragging out” and tiring the story of the source material it is adapted from. This could make the story unnecessarily long, tedious and open-ended. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, for example, ends with a soap opera cliff-hanger where the main characters
are getting ready for the final battle between Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) and Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes). The film does not follow a three-act structure as it does not have a resolution and therefore adds substance to the argument that the television model, which often leaves episodes open-ended to encourage the audience to watch the next episode, directly influences a film series as sequels too offer no real conclusion. The idea that film is becoming more episodic is best employed by Marvel Studios, whereby production is scheduled into “phases” and is exemplified by the numerous film adaptations and spinoffs of the characters from The Avengers story thread. Five individual character-driven films that lead into the first phase of The Avengers with The Incredible Hulk (2008), Iron Man (2008), Iron Man 2 (2010), Thor (2011) and Captain America (2011), are all interconnected within the same universe with post-credit scenes from the different films that tease collaborations between superheroes in potential spinoffs. The intertextual references across the film series are leading to, and simultaneously marketing, the finale of “phase one” and culminates in Avengers Assemble (2012). Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Television series often end this way and this model has been adopted for a “phase two” that will segue into Marvel’s follow-up Avengers: Age of Ultron, scheduled for a May 2015 release. Film consumption habits are changing following the advent of popular television shows like Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad (2008-2013) and both examples boast critical success and unusually large budgets. Splitting a film into several parts is a pragmatic and economical strategy and also meets the demands and needs of diverse, growing audiences. Profit is predominantly, and unfortunately, a gauge for success in the film industry and the Harry Potter franchise, as with The Avengers, The Twilight Saga (2008-2012) and The Hobbit have performed extremely well at the box office. Despite the criticism about splitting a film into parts or series, there is undeniably a large audience for this model. With the announcement of The Hunger Games and Divergent films (2014-present) doing the same, it does not look like it is going to stop anytime soon.
Jason Blight • Diegesis: CUT TO [waste]
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operation clean-up looks can be deceiving: can family animation films reveal a deeper and darker truth to the environment?
ecently the animation genre has brought consumerism, wasteful lifestyles and the potential negative impact on our future environment into greater focus. Since the rise in prominence of Disney and Pixar, animations have shared a variety of characters, stories and themes that open up a dialogue on issues of environmentalism and how humans interact with spaces around them. These themes and scenarios are rarely explored in mainstream film, other than the occasional documentary such as David Guggenheim’s An Inconvenient Truth (2006) or Robert Kenner’s Food, Inc. (2008). There are a few exceptions and hidden gems that take such issues and make them relatable to family audiences. Such films are characterised by littered landscapes, hazardous habitats and galactic garbage. WALL-E (2008) introduces a grim apocalypse that humans have created via excessive waste build-up on planet Earth whilst also reinforcing the messages of other beloved animations such as Disney’s Bambi (1942) and FernGully: The Last Rainforest (1992) made by FAI, Kroyer and Youngheart Films. Disney have been trying to rewrite the repetitive and redundant stories of “finding true love” exemplified best by Tangled (2010) and Frozen (2013) and have endorsed wider social, philosophical and even political issues. Whilst Pixar rarely wastes an opportunity to tell a new story, their early animation films offer something below the stencilled surfaces of its lovable characters, imparting a moral about mankind’s mistreatment and consequent impact on the environment. Bambi is a beloved classic about the life of the eponymous fawn growing up in a forest setting. The film’s environmental message is about the struggles of animals in the forest
dealing with poachers and other potential threats. An ensemble of furry friends, such as the loveable rabbit Thumper, helps to teach Bambi tricks of survival. Similarly Ferngully offers the story of “The Last Rainforest” that is inhabited by mythical creatures that fight to save their home from workers, tree surgeons and others whose job it is to destroy it. Whilst these films negatively present the waste of Earth via pollution and deforestation, they also show how humans can help build a sustainable future and in turn the films offer a positive spin on the stories of wasteful consequence.
The family animation film takes on environmental issues in littered landscapes, hazardous habitats and galactic garbage In Bambi, the animals literally speak out and come to life to create a connection with younger audiences via a heart-wrenching tale of adolescence and growing-up. The film’s plot concerns the disharmony between humans and nature as Bambi grows-up trying to understand the struggles of mankind. Whilst humans are never directly seen in the film, they still present a threat and assume the expected role of the Disney villain, as Bambi’s mother warns: “man is in the forest”. The death of Bambi’s mother is the film’s strongest and most memorable shock and represents the damaging effect that mankind has on nature. Critics have suggested, however, that the imagery of the death scene has such a powerful impact despite being unseen that often viewers will try and ignore the morbid messages and instead passively view the film as just another family-friendly animation.
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The more recent example of WALL-E, while similar to these two examples in many regards, also offers a significant departure. Set in a distant but not-sounrealistic future on Earth’s wasteland remains, humans have long since abandoned home and relocated on a 700year trek to outer space aboard the slick white space-vessel: the Axiom. Robots have been left behind on an operation to clean up the leftover waste. Heaps of junk left in the wake of the human departure suggests the aftermath of an out-of-control consumerist lifestyle, epitomised by the corporation “Buy ‘n’ Large”. The company created robots such as the loveable yet lonely protagonist WALL-E (voiced by Ben Burtt), a Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-Class – to clear the waste left behind. WALL-E’s days of loneliness change for the better after meeting EVE (voiced by Elissa Knight), an advanced feminine ExtraTerrestrial Vegetation Evaluator robot, EVE is called to duty when life in the form of a small green sprout is found on Earth. Ferngully too uses animation to explore environmental issues. The film stresses concerns for the endangerment of the rainforest and how it is affected by pollution and logging. The fairy Crysta (voiced by Samantha Mathis) and human male Zak (voiced by Jonathan Ward) meet in the magical forest known as Ferngully and have to stop a dark entity that haunts the forest named Hexxus (voiced by Tim Curry). By a twist of fate, Zak is part of the team that is endangering the rainforest via deforestation until Crysta accidentally shrinks him. Set in Australia, this film features a vast and beautiful ecology, similar to its country of origin. Over the years Australia has faced pollution problems, which influences Ferngully’s narrative such as issues of deforestation, agriculture clearing and overgrazing as well as pollution, all of which have negative effects on both the characters of Ferngully as much as the setting.
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The compact and ever-recycling WALL-E often finds excitement, joy and even laughter in sifting through Earth’s trash. Without this loveable character for the audience to follow, the environmental messages would not be as impactful as the character is very sympathetic and takes on the job of cleaning up Earth when all hope seems lost. It is not, however, all about glum environmental messages as Pixar solders an endearing love story into WALL-E’s motherboard. The opening sequence of the film comments, rather condemningly, on the apocalyptic future of humankind, implying this to be the result of a lack of care for Earth by humans. The film opens by zooming through the atmosphere, from the unperturbed emptiness of outer space to a belt of clutter and waste debris that encircles Earth. The camera tracks down to the lonesome WALL-E
cleaning up a world we used to know. For WALL-E, however, waste is his treasure as he organises and sifts through the rubbish, finding value in commonplace items that may not necessarily matter as much to the average human. One man’s trash is another robot’s treasure.
One man’s trash is another robot’s treasure The value WALL-E attributes to everyday trash is condemning of modern materialism, an endemic by some standards and a great example of a character trying to make a difference in the world. A promotional advert for Buy ‘n’ Large helps to explain the story of the junk that surrounds WALL-E. The promotional video shows humans escaping, however, rather interestingly, this scene is shot in live-action to juxtapose the animation, which breaks apart the fantasy and makes the political message more appealing via an element of realism. The remaining wasteland is significant as it reflects the disregard that humans have for their environment.
The animation genre has the power to influence younger audiences because the films offer a representation of the world and comment on the possibility of a doomed future as an alternative to stories of romance. WALL-E offers a wasteland setting with its bleak, dystopian future and explores the consequences of industrialisation that audiences may not normally be exposed to in the news media. The political and equally as proactive messages of these rare gems that scrutinise wastefulness is sadly ignored in favour of more mainstream fare where the visuals are watched but the messages not always heard. Cinema should follow in the caterpillar tracks of WALL-E’s little robot and find value in environmental insights.
The majority of the film unfolds without dialogue, harkening back to the powerful silent film era of cinema. Yet it still manages to vocalise a strong message. It demonstrates the outstanding way Pixar creates its characters that captures an audience’s heart, despite WALL-E being voiced in synthesised hums. The absence of dialogue reinforces the grand emptiness of this world, with its lack of life due to the corrosive effects of mass consumerism over time. Contrasting Bambi and Ferngully, WALL-E offers something of a solution as its protagonist achieves what he set out to do: find life on Earth in the shape of a budding sprout. After taking the plant to the Axiom, the humans can return to Earth to start anew. WALL-E not only raises the importance of certain issues and finds a unique method communicating that, but also the film offers a solution as humans begin to rebuild their world.
Alice Stansfield • Diegesis: CUT TO [waste]
sh or th an d
five animated shorts that give us pause for thought in Just a few minutes.
Wes Ball 2012 Created by Wes Ball, Ruin is a short animated film that stages a thrilling chase sequence through an abandoned city. Following quarantine, one mysterious survivor tears through the empty land, breaking the eerie silence with the roar of his motorbike engine whilst giving chase to an unidentified drone. Ruin perfectly captures the sparseness of a post-apocalyptic universe, devoid of humans. The only remnant of mankind is the decaying city characterised by vacant skyscrapers, crumbling office buildings, derelict bridges and empty roads, all covered by a thick layer of ivy. This suggests the Earth has been a barren wasteland for some considerable time allowing for the growth and decay of these manmade structures. Visually striking, the CGI provides a more realistic vision of the future. Complete with beautiful blue skies and green grasses, nature takes back control of the environment, reverting it back to its natural, pre-polluted state. This is a refreshing take on an apocalyptic world as opposed to depressing dystopian versions that are more frequently shown in films and television shows of the same genre.
Vicky Swain â€˘
where can i watch?
Visit www.diegesismagazine.com/waste for links to these short films
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Damien Ferrié 2005 Over Time is an award winning CGI animation that perfectly captures life and loss in barely five minutes. Set to a beautifully melancholic soundtrack, the short depicts a group of puppets operating their creator in a reversal of roles, as the group struggle with the puppeteers passing. The puppets try to continue their creator’s life as they guide him through his everyday tasks such as shaving, eating dinner and going to bed. The film challenges the idea of a wasted life with the passing of the puppeteer. The old, nameless man is shown face down at his work desk, dead. This leads to the questions: how did the man die and where are his family and friends? The audience are immediately led to believe that the man has wasted his life with his work, and now has nothing to show for it. However as the film progresses this idea is challenged by the puppets. The man has put so much time and effort into his passion that he has given life to the puppets so that they can live on and preserve the man’s life. The personification of the puppets comments on how a memory or the effect a person has on you can be preserved and live on long after death.
Dean Shelley •
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Chris Edser 2003 Waste. It is a by-product we all wish we could manage better, but without the right motivation how can we change our ways? Chris Edser’s short film Waste plays on this by linking recycling to the idea of social integration. With the dark, grimy cartoon of a glass bottle out of place in a rubbish-ridden world, we are made to feel guilty about our wasteful habits simply by looking at this lonely soul just trying to find somewhere to fit in. We are introduced to the very real possibility of what our world could look like at some point if we carry on the way do. It is a thought-provoking premise that does an effective job of promoting waste management. A scene involving two inanimate objects finding love at the end of the film is particularly striking; the idea of reward for recycling shows that objects can always be used for something else and something better. Waste offers an intricately filmed but simple message: recycle because there’s no excuse not to.
Joe Potts •
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A constant worry we all have is wasting things that are precious to us: time, money and energy. We may blunder around worrying about ourselves but perhaps we do not consider enough how what we waste can effect other people. Julia Pott’s animated short Howard is one film that makes you think about how much we can waste for another person. Through a troubled female’s monologue we discover that she has wasted time in a relationship with a man that is in love with her. The film portrays her unsettled and guilty mind going over and over the way she squandered a man’s love. The subtext for this film is alarming. This woman’s dreams are influenced by rom-coms, ruining her everyday perception of reality. “You were brilliant, witty, gorgeous to look at”, is the way the man is described. Why isn’t he still? Like a fatty food you know you shouldn’t have, he was merely a few moments on the lips for her that she couldn’t stop eating. Eventually she got bored and put him down. We are often guilty of having the same attitude. Who cares what we waste as long as it is not ours. But hopefully someone else will pick him back up. After all, waste not want not. Right?
The Machine is a beautifully designed short story by Rob Shaw. The story is told using stop motion animation, a fitting format for a narrative focused on technology. The Machine opens with an arcade contraption that, when fed coins, tells the story of an evil machine created by man that wreaks havoc by taking lands as it pleases. “I am bigger, stronger and faster”, the machine asserts, overthrowing a farmer, a king and, finally, Earth. As with many shorts, there is a clear relationship between the film’s form and content. Light and sound is used to striking effect, with the use of a darkened foreground to create the controlling shadow of the murderous machine, juxtaposed with a gong and strings to signify unstoppable violence and destruction. The film cleverly comes full circle, and in the way of boredom that man made the machine, the machine makes man, only to need another coin for the story to be told again. Shaw is able to create an inspiring artefact with a clear purpose through the use of wonderful set design, clever narrative and character development.
Julia Pott 2010
Elly Heeley •
Rob Shaw 2010
Tom Beal •
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INS AR G
AT TH EM
The High Life Is there more to the stoner on screen or is it all just one big hallucination?
he “stoner film”, or “stonersploitation”, refers to a subgenre of comedy films predominantly coming out of the United States that depicts the lives of recreational drug users in a rather positive light. Whilst the UK film industry has a tendency to produce grim dramas that portray stoners and drug abusers with a negative and demeaning slacker stigma such as the television series Skins (2007-2013) and Top Boy (2011-2013), a number of North American films have offered an alternative perspective of the stoners themselves such as Dude, Where’s my Car? (2000), I Love You, Man (2009) and This is the End (2013). These films date back to the works of Richard “Cheech” Marin and Tommy Chong in the
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1970s and 1980s, known infamously as Cheech and Chong. As stoner comedies continue to succeed - This is the End grossed a worldwide total of $126 million at the box office - it appears that the negative representation of stoners is out-dated and no longer relevant. Audiences are seemingly enjoying these films and are clearly entertained by stoner humour. So is the negative representation of stoners onscreen problematic? Certain celebrities and actors have begun to actively and openly champion the legalisation of marijuana for public use. Seth Rogen, for example, has even gone as far as to broadcast an instructional tutorial on “how to roll a cross joint” via YouTube as part of his own personal
(and political) agenda. Advocates against the legalisation of marijuana however, have argued that celebrities such as Rogen pose as immoral role models. As more films are released that depict drug use in humorous circumstances, the films of Cheech and Chong offer an alternative representation of the stoner. Just as mainstream stars of popular stoner comedies such as Rogen and James Franco support the legalisation of marijuana, Cheech and Chong’s active campaigning for the legalisation of cannabis dates back through the decades. Tommy Chong remains an activist and campaigner for the legalisation of marijuana in the United States and he has been accused of abusing his public image by his critics by participating in the distribution of drug paraphernalia that consequently led to his nine-month imprisonment in 2003. Claiming that hemp oil helped treat his cancer, Tommy Chong delivers another optimistic view on the use of marijuana and this accompanies his trademark humour in the Cheech and Chong films. These on-going reflections in cinema that channel into the news media have caused us to rethink our perceptions of stoners throughout the years.
Cheech and Chong introduced dope humour to the American cultural zeitgeist Almost exclusively representative of cannabis culture during the 1970s and 1980s, the Cheech and Chong franchise exploits marijuana for comical effect and the personas the pair have created over the years have become iconic in displaying the eccentric mannerisms of the traditional stoner. Cheech and Chong largely introduced dope humour to the cultural zeitgeist in the United States. After performing as stand-up acts and releasing nine acclaimed comedy albums for which they received four Grammy nominations, Cheech and Chong began starring in films that resonated at the box-office and with popular audiences. Their films often offered a bizarre and zany representation of stoners that both shocked and amused audiences.
Their first feature film, Up in Smoke (1978), was the highest grossing comedy of that year and surpassed $100 million at the box office. Consequently, this led Chong to direct and the pair to co-write and star in seven more feature films, with a recently announced reunion film in the early stages of production that will see the pair team up with actor and director Jay Chandrasekhar (The Dukes of Hazzard 2005). Following the success of Up in Smoke, Cheech and Chong released two more films, Cheech and Chong’s Next Movie (1980) and Nice Dreams (1981), and the pair began to establish stoner humour as a prosperous genre on the big screen. Nice Dreams depicts the wacky and unconventional manner in which stoners make their money and the audience sees a more interesting representation of life than the typical nine-to-five routine. Departing from a conventional linear narrative, Nice Dreams presents an alternative style of continuous and hilarious chaos. Cheech and Chong certainly end up facing numerous mishaps throughout the film. For example, Chong signs away their fortune from a marijuana dealing business to a psychiatric patient named Howie (Paul Reubens) and Cheech ends up nude and hanging off a balcony while narrowly escaping Donna’s (Evelyn Guerrero) thuggish husband. However, the audience does not witness a resolution and Cheech and Chong instead become strippers to earn back their lost wealth. Nice Dreams offers a fresh perspective that opposes the negative image often associated with stoners. Whilst the lifestyles of these stoners may appear to revolve around marijuana and substance abuse, they do not waste their lives trying to conform to the conventional expectations of ordinary work or routine matters. Contrary to stereotype, stoners are presented as having aspirations and dreams too and they experience more by not limiting themselves to the conventional. Instead, they favour the unusual and eccentric such as running a marijuana business in an ice-cream truck and selling frozen lollies made of herbs. When Cheech waxes lyrical about his idea to open a retirement home for hippies, Chong replies “Oh yeah, we could call it Laidback Manor”.
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Their relaxed and carefree attitude verbalises a positive image, which is in tune with their off-screen campaign to promote the potential benefits of marijuana as a drug that enables a stress-free, enjoyable lifestyle. Nice Dreams, along with other Cheech and Chong films, has an upbeat and entertaining tone. The hardships of the charactersâ€™ are usually dealt with through comedy and, even though the pairing often find themselves wrapped up in obscure circumstances throughout the Cheech and Chong canon, their films project an image of blissfulness via marijuana as well as use of the drug as an encouragement for creativity, relaxation and happiness. It would seem that whilst the legalisation of marijuana is still being scrutinised by the law as well as in the public eye, the work of Cheech and Chong and numerous other stoner comedies that have since followed suit has enabled the emergence of a new attitude towards marijuana consumption as something that can apparently
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encourage creative pursuits and a zest for life. These films present drug-taking as simply a lifestyle choice and Cheech and Chong offer a positive representation of stoners as opposed to the negative slacker image. Aside from the politics of on-screen drug use that is polarised between arguments for and against the legalisation of marijuana, perhaps the purpose of stoner comedies is quite simply to entertain. Audiences have come to be amused by narratives on drug culture, especially when they have a light-hearted, comedic tone instead of a darker and uglier representation of addiction. Perhaps it is time to rethink the connotations of a stoner and consider that they live life to the fullest, even if they are wasted.
Chloe George â€˘
Weeding Out Gender Tugging at the roots of some of television’s most revered drug dealers
Jenji Kohan certainly has a way of writing female characters that challenge the ideological norm in US television. Kohan’s most recent project, the critically acclaimed Netflix original series Orange is the New Black (2013-present), challenges established ideas around female sexuality and gender identity. Kohan’s earlier project, Weeds (2005-2012), offers a unique female character in Nancy Botwin (MaryLouise Parker). Along with Breaking Bad’s (2008-2013) Walter White (Bryan Cranston), the characters are two of television’s most infamous drug dealers and both shows present characters that weed out gender differences on the small screen. Weeds is an edgy and heartfelt dark comedy drama led by anti-hero Nancy. The show follows Nancy’s struggles as a single mother of two children coming to terms with the sudden death of her husband, Judah (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). Desperate to maintain a comfortable lifestyle for herself and family, and without a stable income, Nancy decides to “break bad”
by selling marijuana and entering into the drug trade. Nancy is soon growing drugs and having scuffles with gangs, weapon smugglers, drug lords, DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) agents and even a Mexican mayor. As a strong, independent, white suburban woman, Nancy paves the way for other female characters in a heavily male-centric genre. Although she is also rather deeply flawed, endangering her children, going to prison, harbouring a murderer and is often selfish and impulsive too. Most of the other prominent drug dealers in Weeds are men and this is similar to the majority of drug-dealing characters in other television series such as The Wire (2002-2008), True Blood (2008-2014) and Breaking Bad. Nancy directly contrasts Richard A. Lippa’s findings on female representations on screen in his book Gender, Nature, and Nurture (2009), where he suggests female characters of television shows tend to occupy four main roles: the “housewife, secretary, nurse and
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witch”. Nancy not only struggles to perform her duties as a mother but also she engages in criminal behaviour. She clearly has no desire to occupy any of Lippa’s outlined roles and, when she does eventually get a more conventional job, Nancy uses it to continue her criminal activities. Weeds joins a number of other television dramas with strong female antihero leads that occupy roles other than Lippa’s female stereotypes, including Russian/KGB agent Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell) in The Americans (2013-present) and Washington DC crisis manager Oliva Pope (Kerry Washington) in Scandal (2012-present).
Weeds’ Nancy clearly has no desire to conform to conventional female stereotypes Nancy’s situation is not dissimilar from Breaking Bad’s methamphetamine cook Walter White. His life dramatically changes after he is diagnosed with lung cancer and, to safeguard his family’s future, Walter acquires large sums of money via his scientific knowledge and ability to cook blue “meth”. Over the course of five seasons, Walter changes from a naïve chemistry teacher still learning the ropes into his hardened criminal alter ego Heisenberg. In both series, the characters are simply doing what they believe is best in order to provide for their families, despite how illegal or highly dangerous it might be. In Weeds, the appeal of the “high life” is just too enticing for Nancy whereas Walter does not want to be a part of the drug scene but it is the only way he can generate money for his family’s future. Nancy has numerous opportunities to leave the chaotic drug business behind but that never deters her. Nancy’s apparent attraction to danger is a refreshing departure from the single mother “soccer mom” stereotype. In her article “Soccer Moms, Welfare Queens, Waitress Moms, and Super Moms” (2002), Laurel Parker West discusses the “soccer-mom stereotype” where women are seen frantically carting their children about from one sporting event to another, whilst regularly sacrificing their own aspirations in order to cater to their children and often looking for a male role
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model. Characters such as Susan Mayer (Teri Hatcher) in Desperate Housewives (2004-2012) or Miranda Hobbes (Cynthia Nixon) in Sex and the City (1998-2004) adhere to this stereotype. Although she proclaims herself to be not exactly the best mother, Nancy is motivated by protecting her family and, whilst sometimes selfishly acting out of impulse, she does mostly succeeded in keeping her children safe and providing for them. This is similar to Walter’s way of parenting in Breaking Bad as he tries to be involved in his son’s life and can often be very paternal, although not always leading to a positive outcome as the nuclear family splits and literally goes nuclear. Walter and Nancy’s gender roles are constructed via how the character deals with the constant impending troubles resulting from their criminal lifestyles. Like so many other male characters in the genre, Walter is limited by, or eventually resorts to, his intellect or brutish physical violence to get out of trouble. In the first season, Walter blows-up a building with chemicals then, in the second season, he is taken hostage and so concocts a deadly poison via his scientific knowledge in an attempt to kill his captor. Nancy, meanwhile, has brains, brawn and her sexuality. She is an attractive single mother who empowers herself by embracing her sexual appeal and uses it to succeed in the exclusive “boys club” of the drug world. Similarly to Walter, Nancy sometimes resorts to violence or cunning to resolve troubled situations, however she more often than not uses her sexuality to her advantage. She marries a DEA agent so he cannot testify against her in court; she also had aggressive sex with a rival drug dealer on the hood of his car. Such instances suggest Nancy is smart, strong and in control of her own sexuality and sexual desires, a representation that goes against conventional representations of women in television. In Media Depictions of Brides, Wives, and Mothers (2012), Deborah A. Macey writes about the “sex object” stereotype in television that stipulates that women exists solely because of their sexuality and nothing else, conforming to the heterosexist norms of
beauty. But, by not conforming to this gender stereotype, or having her character reduced solely to a sexual object, Nancy is presented as a more complicated woman. She certainly embraces her sexuality and this works to her advantage as she imbues it with intellect and strength. Weeds thus provides a critical commentary on sexuality and the roles of women and demonstrates that women are not merely objects defined by their male counterparts. The connection the audience has with both Nancy and Walter and other anti-hero characters results from the possibilities opened up by longer narratives in television drama. Compared to film, audiences have a longer amount of time to develop an attachment to a show’s characters. Audiences are treated to the characters histories and backstories, making it easier to recognise and relate to them. This may be why the audience wish for the drug dealing, law-breaking characters to succeed. There is time to explore a character’s struggles and flaws and encourage sustained empathy. When asked about Nancy Botwin and another characters she has created in an interview with Paste magazine in 2013, Kohan said “what attracts me is how they walked that line and the pushpull between those sides of them - the side to be the good girl and the part of them that wants to be the rebel and feel that excitement and escape their stereotype”. Nancy’s dangerous adventures provided a platform for Kohan to demonstrate how women can be multidimensional characters who do not have to conform to socially accepted gender stereotypes within television.
Dean Shelley • Diegesis: CUT TO [waste]
Salvage Hunters on Cult tv, cowboys and Firefly’s twinkling cosmos
irefly (2002-2003) is a space western that follows the exploits and hardships of Captain Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) and his rag-tag crew of criminal misfits as they try to survive in a postcolonial galaxy ravaged by a war between the freedom fighting “Browncoats” and the sinister Alliance. The show’s notoriety does not originate from its story but rather from Firefly fans, or Browncoats as they prefer to be called, who have had to deal with a lot of frustration regarding the uncertainty that plagued the show’s lifespan and its eventual cancellation. The plagued production history, the dedicated fans and the show’s potential all define Firefly’s uniqueness. Although its popularity only increased after it was cancelled as a result of positive word-ofmouth and it has since attained cult status, Firefly is, rather sadly, the epitome of wasted potential in television. Firefly was first broadcast in 2002 on the Fox Network in an unforgiving time slot on Friday nights. The show was broadcasted out of chronological order and instead of weekly episodes, fans had to put up with bi-weekly showings along with the constant looming threat of cancellation. Eventually Firefly was terminated before it had even finished. However, after the series was cancelled, Firefly continued to amass a powerful fanbase and in 2005 spawned the film adaptation Serenity, which rose from the ashes of the television series to appease the collective fans. Show creator Joss Whedon excised several fan favourite characters and hastily tied up numerous loose plot-holes. It received mixed reviews; a common criticism was that the film sorely lacked the humour that made the television series successful but fans were just pleased that the Serenity space-shuttle was still orbiting in the glimmering cosmos. Regardless of the buzz, the film performed poorly at the box office and barely made back the production budget.
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Indeed it is incredible that Firefly is even remembered at all. It was a show that seemingly encountered every problem imaginable but overcame the turbulent trials of television programming and remains a part of the fan consciousness. Reynolds and his crew are forever the underdogs no matter the situation and this is much like the show in general. Its underdog status could explain how Firefly managed to cultivate such a dedicated fan-base and cult following despite being destined for failure. For film theorist JP Telotte in David Lavery’s The Essential Cult TV Reader (2010), “Every cult text is an ‘accident’, a disruption in our normal experience, a work that, for various reasons, should not have retained its following” and yet “such disruption of the norm and of our expectations can offer something important.” Without the many obstacles in its production history, and the methods the show used to overcome them, Firefly would have been like any other sci-fi show that faded into obscurity. Whedon’s many television shows have always been character-driven. The overall narrative of his collective shows comes secondary to the development of its characters. Whedon has created some of the most iconic characters on television as a result, such as Sarah Michelle Gellar’s wilful Buffy in Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003), the brooding Angel (David Boreanaz) from the hit show of the same name (1999-2004) and, of course, Malcolm Reynolds. Firefly has a unique style of character exploration where drastically different characters clash in confined environments. This focus on characters could be the basis for Firefly’s divide in the viewership and whilst pleasing audiences familiar with the characters, it also alienates others by assuming they have watched the show before. Whedon has even acknowledged Firefly’s unique ambiguity when he says, “It’s about nine people looking into the blackness of space and seeing nine different things, that to me is what is interesting.”
Firefly’s abrupt cancellation before the series had the chance to complete its run left fans confused and tormented as a result of many unanswered questions. The aired last episode did not conclude the main story arc but was in fact the pilot (episodes 11-13 were not even shown). This led upset fans to flock to Internet forums with numerous unsuccessful attempts to revive Firefly, such as “The Firefly Petition” and, more recently, a Kickstarter campaign that was promptly shut down by Whedon. Who were the ominous blue-handed men hunting down Dr. Simon Tam (Sean Maher) and his sister River (Summer Glau)? And what really happened to River when she was experimented on? Some of the probing questions have since been answered and explored in a series of graphic novels and comics as part of the official canon of the Firefly series and some rumours have been hinted at in interviews conducted with Whedon and addressed at the Firefly 10th anniversary reunion. But the cancellation of the show is not entirely negative and the mystery surrounding Firefly certainly helped to develop its cult status. The show’s abrupt ending and unanswered questions enabled fans to be creative and conjure up theories and conspiracies in forums
and explore ideas and narratives in fan-fiction, expanding the universe first envisioned by Whedon. Any official attempts to extend the Firefly universe on the big or small screen seem to have been shelved ever since Serenity, leaving fans waiting and rather shocked given the surprising deaths of Hoban “Wash” Washburne (Alan Tudyk) and Shepard Book (Ron Glass) that occur in the film. Firefly chatter has declined in the wake of Whedon’s involvement in Marvel’s Avengers franchise. That is, however, aside from an occasional regret-filled speech that would suggest otherwise. In Firefly’s early retirement, a lot of potential and promise for an innovative series was wasted and the show had barely started before running into difficulties. The series was not granted a full run on scheduled television by Fox, nor was it treated the same as any of the networks other prime programing material. Perhaps if the feature film had been received differently, the good spaceship Serenity would still be orbiting around space rather than corroding in a scrapyard somewhere.
Adam Burns •
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One person’s trash is another person’s treasure…
If you’ve seen the book of eli (2010) You should see the last battle (1983) Luc Besson gives the apocalypse a new look in The Last Battle. Opposing the western action/ adventure the wasteland genre routinely offers up, Besson embraces a representation of the future as rather primitive. With an absence of dialogue throughout, and with eclectic outfits comprised of many materials and weaponry more suited to medieval times, Besson depicts not only a unique wasted landscape but also a story of wasted men.
If you’ve seen The wolf of wall street (2013) You should see The lost weekend (1945) Few have come close to displaying the desperation associated with alcohol as profoundly and honestly as Billy Wilder. The Wolf of Wall Street is outrageous fun with its shocking modern Gatsby tale of excess, but The Lost Weekend unflinchingly follows the life-shattering consequences of such abuse. The film trails a writer (played by Ray Milland) caught in the vice-like grip of alcoholism as he wastes his talent and searches for redemption at the bottom of a bottle. A harrowing tale of self-destruction.
If you’ve seen requiem for a dream (2000) You should see The man with the golden arm (1955) Otto Preminger’s ground-breaking film The Man with the Golden Arm depicts the troubled life of a heroin addict. It is a bold, brave step in filmmaking history as Frank Sinatra dons the role of his career as the dud Frankie Machine. After overcoming his habit in jail, Frankie attempts to rehabilitate and reintroduce himself into functional society as a productive citizen. However, he returns to the dead-end of drug addiction; it is a truly heart-breaking masterpiece.
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If you’ve seen The day after tomorrow (2004) You should see on the beach (1959) The fear of nuclear annihilation and the development of weapons of mass destruction isn’t just a recent cinematic phenomenon. On the Beach is a brave film adaption from Stanley Kramer, based on the book of the same name by Nevil Shute. The film provides a commentary on the futility of using such weapons. The plot charts the remaining colony of human society in Australia as they await their impending demise via the catastrophic effects of radiation fallout. Death is inevitable. The powerful film uses routine and familiar themes of life, love and loss, and once the characters perish amidst the fallout, we witness just how wasteful weapons can truly be.
If you’ve seen dallas buyers club (2013) You should see The machinist (2004) The Machinist is a murky and surreal story that details the life and fractured mind of Trevor Reznik (portrayed by a grossly underweight Christian Bale). Guilt and self-deception erupt and actualise from nightmares into reality as Reznik is afflicted with horrendous insomnia and is seemingly the target of a shadowy figure. Strange characters and even stranger situations emerge as Reznik drowsily drifts through his life of isolation. Aside from the film’s macabre narrative, Bale offers a shocking transformation in assuming the gaunt frame of a malnourished Reznik. From Bruce Wayne’s Batman to a bag of bones, Bale starved his body into nothing more than a skeleton-like build. Dubbed the last Alfred Hitchcock film that Hitchcock did not actually make, it is an unmissable viewing experience.
If you’ve seen this is the end (2013) You should see reefer madness (1936) In 1936, Hollywood produced and distributed a propaganda film detailing the true (and equally many untrue) ill effects of marijuana use. In 2005, this film was repackaged as a tongue-incheek, musical comedy. As surreal and bizarre as they come, Reefer Madness pokes fun at the endless political messages that demonise the increasingly popular drug. Reminiscent of the sing-along cult favourite The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), this film is an entertaining watch.
Jack Wightman • Diegesis: CUT TO [waste]
e dia lo gu
In Critical Condition Apparently Film criticism is dead. Again. But Is there hope for film criticism in the 21st Century? or are we aspiring critics wasting our time? Caine bird looks at the current state of film criticism and chats to guy lodge, film critic and features writer at variety, about his approach to reviewing, advice for aspiring critics and what he really thinks about those claims about the death of film criticism.
ilm criticism is apparently in crisis. The once economically stable, respected and very much traditional critic is buckling under the pressures of the many virtual outlets available to us, where numerous sites now offer algorithms, formulas and percentages as a replacement for the professionals. While the “death” of film criticism is frequently prophesied, this detracts from an alternate, and equally powerful view, that the profession is in fact adapting to online spaces that democratise global voices and opinions. Criticism is arguably, and now more than ever, embraced by popular culture as more
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sites, interested readers and proactive writers alike emigrate to the net and join in with the conversations surrounding film and television. As popular attitude becomes increasingly apathetic towards the contemporary critic, why should we still value criticism? The narrative of film criticism is indebted to the luminaries of yesteryear such as the premier French film journal of the 1960s: Cahiers du Cinéma, a clique of high-minded theorists renowned for scrutinising the language of the visual art form. Filmmaker and critic’s
critic Jean-Luc Godard, often pictured with a cigarette butt propped between his lips, is but one of the many great authorities on film to emerge from the period. In accounts of the death of criticism, there does seem to be a great deal of sentimentalism for the past, if not a reluctance to let the profession naturally evolve. Film criticism, like filmmaking, is always transitioning. Art is, after all, a process and creative licence should never expire.
Film criticism, like filmmaking, is always transitioning. Art is, after all, a process Since the advent of the Internet, the landscape of contemporary film criticism has experienced a large shift towards the widespread digitisation of print-based publications for people to read on their computer screens, tablets and smart phones. Undeniably, the Internet has become an important tool of the trade. The web-savvy aficionados of the 21st Century have embraced in the opportunistic offerings of cyberspace with greater, more diverse and active readers in abundance. As popular culture becomes increasingly digitised, so too does it become more conscious about the ever-distant horizon of myriad possibilities offered by the World Wide Web. The Internet is a site of convergence between creative pursuits, artistry and language. The critical study of film has expanded onto the web’s domain. Academics and scholars have also tapped into the possibilities of a more socialised, dialogic, form of exposure within cyberspace. Meanwhile, those aspiring to make a name in the plentiful, apparently democratic, marketplaces are often perceived as a crop of illegitimate dilettantes who are tainting the craft. Amateurism may be a consequence of the influx of new voices but what is more unfortunate in this self-cannibalising industry is how writing is becoming a payless pursuit with little financial rewards and much competition. With this critical neo-renaissance, it may be difficult to pinpoint singular voices from the crowd, so who exactly are the authors of modern criticism?
The Internet appeases a diverse palette of film and television interests but what seems to be most pressing is the responsibilities of the critic. A judgement on a film should involve more than a quick wag of thumbs, of which Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel (pictured left) were acutely aware with their “two thumbs up” system of reviewing. The tenets of professional, thoughtful criticism for many established critics are: to provide an insightful dialogue on film and television; to offer evaluations, assessments and to weigh the qualities, both good and bad; to reach an informed verdict. They should analyse the anatomy of a film with surgical precision, assessing the grammar of film with an eye for detail, and studying the sections of a film’s architecture. However, it is not all about a critic’s opinion on a film either, but a reader’s understanding and engagement with that review: readers are the crux of modern criticism. Writing for RogerEbert.com in 2014, film and television critic Matt Zoller Seitz pleaded with the critical community to be more analytical and depart from casual, narrow note-taking. Seitz raises an important concern for the modern critic: it is all about language. The critic is an intermediary, a translator, responsible for decoding cinema’s many messages and in turn relaying those to the target audience. A shot choice, like a soundtrack or a performance, is a vital element in the ever-complex structures of the filmic language. All this, of course, should be imbued with, as Guy Lodge notes in the following interview, skilled prose that observes and vocalises thoughtful ideas on a film, seasoned with a sense of humour. It is not always about words on the page, but images on the screen too; language provides the building blocks for important self-reflection, discovery and preservation for the wider culture, whether communicated via the critic’s pen, keyboard or a filmmaker’s camera. The doom-and-gloom premonitions about the uncertain future of film criticism are misplaced to say the least. Readers do have healthy appetites for informed criticism and want to be challenged, inspired and entertained. The film critic will be preserved as long as filmmakers continue making films, both the good ones and the bad ones.
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When did you decide you wanted to become a film critic? I’m not sure if I ever consciously decided to become one. From a very early age, I was interested in both film and creative writing. I kept extensive childhood journals in which I effectively reviewed every film I saw, so the instinct was always there at a hobbyist’s level. I studied screenwriting at the London Film School and freelanced on various film projects for a while, but the income was inconsistent, so doing some reviewing on the side seemed an attractive way to make a bit extra while still feeding my craft. Around five years ago, the side-line became the day job, but it wasn’t a calculated move.
How would you describe your approach to reviewing? Review everything on its own terms, first and foremost. Every genre and minute subgenre has its own quality scale: there are good Marvel superhero films and bad ones, good Romanian New Wave domestic dramas and bad ones, good fratboy comedies and bad ones, and a good critic should be able to discern between them, rather than simply assuming a certain type of viewer will like them all – that way lies condescension. That said, don’t be afraid to be yourself: be open and engaging about your subjective preferences, biases, idiosyncrasies. You’re a critic, not a consumer guide: your readers should enjoy reading you for your voice,
not merely because they want to be informed about a certain film. And serious, considered analysis does not preclude a sense of humour.
What is your writing process? I tend to take extensive, mostly illegible notes during screenings, and almost invariably never use them when writing the review –
Every film comes with its own review challenges that may seem a pointless practice, but something about the act of merely writing a thought down tends to seal it in your mind. If I’m not rushwriting a review between festival screenings, I prefer to sit at a desk-height table, near an open window, with a cup of lemon tea, and the writing flows much more easily. I tend to spend a long time rewriting and finessing the opening paragraph – particularly crucial for a Variety review, where the opener has to serve as a self-standing précis review. Once I’m happy with that, the rest usually comes smoothly enough. I’m not an especially fast writer, mainly because I like to fix the structure as I write. Beyond that, I don’t know if I have a “process”, per se – every film comes with its own review challenges, and one’s approach varies depending on the outlet and the word count. A thousand-word review requires a different frame of mind than, say, a 200-word one – though shorter reviews aren’t necessarily easier.
Who is your favourite critic that you enjoy reading and why? I don’t have one favourite, but I think the contemporary critics I most enjoy reading – Stephanie Zacharek, Justin Chang, Robbie Collin, Tim Robey, Jonathan Romney, Manohla Dargis, and so on – have several virtues in common, their generosity chief among them. A generous critic isn’t the same as a lenient one: their prose is verbally alive and abundant, rich in ideas and observations, suffused with evident love for cinema and for writing itself. They can all also be devastatingly funny, but not merely snarky.
What do you think are a film critic’s responsibilities? A film critic has a responsibility to multiple parties: to his readers, to provide entertaining prose that is informative without being overly instructive; to his editors, to deliver sparky, efficient copy that sits well with the outlet’s brand and style; to the filmmakers, to assess their work fairly, precisely and without condescension; and to the medium itself, to contribute to a conversation that preserves its history while pushing it forward. Those can be difficult to balance, and you may stress one more than the other depending on the outlet you’re writing for: Variety, for example, is industry-focused, while for Time Out, it’s casual moviegoers you’re reaching first. Whatever the case, however, your writing should be careful, individual and focused on the film first.
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Congratulations on your recent promotion. what is the best part of writing for variety? The most thrilling aspect of writing for a trade paper like Variety is the difference your review can make to a film’s future at an early stage in its outside-world existence, particularly on the festival circuit: a positive review for Variety can direct distributor interest toward a small, challenging film that might not seem an obvious commercial play.
A review can make a difference to a film’s future On the flip side, crushing early reviews can severely impede a film’s distribution prospects, so you have be sure the film merits it. Working from the European side of things for an American-based publication is especially exciting: you can make a difference, however small, to the range of international work exposed in a Hollywood-ruled environment.
What is the hardest part of the job? I’m loath to list too many hard parts of the job – when push comes to shove, watching films and writing about them, usually from home, is a cushier gig than coal-mining. But that’s not quite the same as saying it’s an easy job. The greatest challenge to doing
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it well is keeping multiple films fresh and distinct in your mind so that they can be reviewed later with accuracy and insight – easier said than done at festivals, where you may well see up to six films a day.
provides with one’s peers, readers and even filmmakers, which is often discursive and stimulating – it encourages further articulation and unpacking of one’s ideas. The review is no longer the end of the conversation.
What is the most enjoyable part of being a film critic?
What are your thoughts on the current state of popular film criticism in the UK and beyond and where do you see film criticism going?
As exhausting and logistically challenging as they can be, the festival circuit is a constant adventure – exposing one to alternative film cultures, and providing a handy alibi for frequent travel to parts of the world one wouldn’t otherwise have the time or resources to visit. This year alone, I’ve been to Cannes, Moscow, Berlin, Miami and Karlovy Vary, Venice, among others, with Budapest and Beirut on the horizon. That’d be a joy even if one weren’t discovering a wealth of exciting films along the way.
How important is Twitter and other social media for your job as a critic? To me, as a freelancer, Twitter has been invaluable in establishing a personal brand, bringing a fixed audience’s attention to your work, even when it’s scattered across multiple outlets they might not read. I’ve secured a lot of commissions from editors who first came to know me via Twitter. There are those who look down on it, but they’re often writers who have the luxury of a staff position; their readers know where to find them. I also enjoy Twitter for the ongoing dialogue its
Every couple of weeks, there’s another op-ed piece on the supposed death of film criticism, which I read with increasing irritation and, often, incomprehension – just take a look at the swarming responses (both constructive and abusive) to popular film criticism on social media and comment boards, and there seems to be no shortage of engagement between readers and film critics. Opinion-based writing will always fuel conversation. What’s different is that the internet has redefined the boundaries between reader and writer, providing the former with an increased platform to express their own thoughts, and fashion themselves as a critic in the process.
Opinion-based writing will always fuel conversation. What’s different is that the internet has redefined the boundaries
There’s more film criticism than ever in circulation these days: much of it is amateur and unregulated, but that’s not to say it’s always bad.
Loving film and loving writing are not the same thing I regularly read writing by hobbyists that far outstrips that of paid critics for clarity and invention. Sorting the wheat from the chaff can be difficult, but since when has reading criticism not been a highly selective procedure? I see more editors cottoning on to this range and wealth of content, which is a threat both to paid critics and unpaid ones – I’m personally unhappy with the number of reputable outlets who believe it’s acceptable to recruit talented individuals to write for free. All that is problematic, and I think the professional strictures and rights of the published film critic will have to be reevaluated at some point – but I don’t think it’s a worry that comes at the expense of film criticism itself.
What advice would you give an aspiring critic who wants to pursue it as their profession? If you don’t enjoy writing as much as you do watching films, consider another line of work. That may sound obvious, but I do occasionally come across aspiring (and even some established)
film critics who enjoy the perks of free film screenings and festivals, and actively participate in the social activity of the critical circuit, only to jot off their reviews quickly and carelessly, putting in the minimum amount of creative effort required to keep the ride going. Loving film and loving writing are not the same thing: before pursuing criticism as a profession, take a hard look at your writing (and perhaps get some honest friends to do the same for you) and ask yourself what’s unique or illuminating about it. Would you choose to read it as a third party? If it doesn’t jump off the page to you, an editor isn’t going to look twice at it.
Even the most seemingly successful critics these days have a Plan B in mind (Furthermore, you’d be amazed how many chancers send editors spec reviews that are riddled with spelling and grammatical errors.) If that sounds like harsh advice to give upfront, it’s because the odds are already stacked against even the most gifted writers setting out to pursue film criticism as a profession: positions are few, fees are small, layoffs are increasingly and alarmingly frequent. Even the most seemingly successful critics these days have a Plan B in mind, believe me. Don’t narrow your goals too much: writing is a broad gift that can still be applied in a multitude
of profitable ways, whether it’s film-related or not. The good news, however, is that true talent is still relatively rare, and it does stand out: editors want an unusual, engaging voice, not just column-filling copy. So if you’re sure that’s what you have, then flex it as much as possible: accept whatever paid commissions you can get, knock them out of the park, and promote the hell out of them to attract the attention of other, larger outlets. The more you write, the better you write. The more you read, the better you write, too: there are presumably some renegade artists who churn out brilliant words without ever digesting anyone else’s work, but chances are you’re not one of them. I’m not just talking about film criticism, either, though it’s good to keep abreast of the art form: reading for pleasure, whether it’s Chekhov or JK Rowling, is the only way to absorb and interpret the words, phrases and ideas that eventually make your work your own.
interview by Caine Bird • [image credit: Variety]
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FA DE OU T
wasted potential ACTORS AND FILMMAKERs: Gone too soon
by Jack Beetlestone FW Murnau 1888-1931
An influential figure to emerge from the German Expressionism movement of the 1920s, FW Murnau created some of the most iconic and timeless films of the period. Nosferatu (1922), Faust (1926) and Sunrise (1927) are but a few of his most renowned and creative endeavours that featured heavily stylised set designs, costumes and characters and this reflected the inner turmoil of a post-WW1 Germany in decline. His most recognisable film, the silent and gothic Nosfertatu, was influenced by Bram Stoker’s Dracula and is considered an early horror masterpiece by film scholars and historians. After his tragic death in a car accident prior to the release of what would be his final film Tabu, A Story of The South Seas (1931), Murnau’s work went on to achieve relative critical success in both Germany and Hollywood. Despite his early death, Murnau’s unique and contorted aesthetic and style of storytelling can still be seen in contemporary Hollywood. An expressionist veneer can be seen in the gothic works of mainstream auteur Tim Burton, including Edward Scissorhands (1990) and Beetlejuice (1988).
Bruce Lee 1940-1973 Bruce Lee is one of the most iconic Chinese film actors in the history of Hollywood and widely recognised for introducing martial arts films to mainstream audiences. His trademark fighting style, known as Jeet Kune Do, has been mimicked, praised and parodied for years. Lee wrote, directed and starred in the cult classic The Way of the Dragon (1972), which became infamous for its hard-hitting final battle sequence that pitted Lee against Chuck Norris. Enter The Dragon (1973) exemplifies Lee’s influence in filmmaking and was the first martial arts film to be produced by a Hollywood studio. Lee’s staged fights make for memorising and entertaining experiences. Lee died of a cerebral edema three weeks before the film was released. His official cause of death was recorded as “death by misadventure” and considered to be an allergic reaction to a painkiller taken to ease a headache, although conspiracy theories abound. Since his death at 32, Bruce Lee has had an indisputable impact in shaping the martial arts/action film genre. The many films of this once-niche genre are continuously rousing general audiences with spectacular battles in popular foreign releases and many mainstream action movies such as The Raid 2 (2014).
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John Belushi 1949-1982 John Belushi was a star actor of many beloved comedies in the 1970s and 1980s, including the hit musical The Blues Brothers (1980). Belushi’s excitable and charismatic on-screen personality is just as hilarious and iconic as when the actor first started out. His double act with Dan Aykroyd in The Blues Brothers created one of the most adored musicals of all time that just oozes with coolness. Rubbing shoulders with such soul legends as James Brown and Aretha Franklin, Belushi too excels in standing out from the crowd. As well as being one of the original Saturday Night Live (1975-79) members, John Belushi starred in many of the National Lampoon films including the pre-American Pie college comedy Animal House (1978). After overdosing on a concoction of cocaine and heroin, John Belushi died aged 33; it was a tragic waste of a talented and comical actor who was only just getting started in the business.
Brittany Murphy 1977-2009 Brittany Murphy oscillated between rom-coms such as Uptown Girls (2003) and more gritty crime films such as Sin City (2005), proving that she was a talented and versatile actress. Many fans of rap music will know her from the underground hip-hop tale 8 Mile (2002) where she starred alongside rapper Eminem. Murphy also provided a strong supporting performance in James Mangold’s psychiatric drama Girl, Interrupted (1999), alongside Angelina Jolie and Winona Ryder. One of her most memorable performances was as the ditzy Tai, best friend to Alicia Silverstone’s Cher, in the coming-of-age teen rom-com Clueless (1995). As well as acting, Murphy also sang in the band “Blessed Soul” that achieved a moderate cult following. Murphy died in 2009 aged 32. Official reports listed her cause of death as pneumonia with anaemia and drug intoxication listed as secondary factors, although her actual cause of death is still the subject of speculation. Murphy always seemed like she was capable of much more.
Marilyn Monroe 1926-1962
Certainly a sex symbol, Marilyn Monroe is arguably one of the most iconic women to work in the film industry in the history of cinema. Starring in hit films throughout the 1950s such as Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) and Some Like it Hot (1959), Monroe ensured that she was a prominent leading lady in Hollywood through her mesmerising and entirely memorable presence on-screen. She certainly led a troubled life off-screen and was as famous for her on-screen roles as she was for her relationships with America’s most desirable men (including baseball star Joe DiMaggio, president John F. Kennedy and Hollywood leading man Marlon Brando). Monroe’s body was found in her bedroom in 1962 when the actress was just 36. The official cause of death was listed as barbiturate poisoning and considered to be a “probable suicide”, although theories around her death still emerge on a regular basis. Her status as a pop culture idol continues to this day.
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recycled stars the end of a life doesn’t have to mean the waste of a star
he twentieth and twenty-first centuries have opened the world’s eyes to the inner workings of Hollywood and the lives of the people who have found fame and fortune there, but also those whose lives have ended tragically. Hollywood has had to find ways to cope with the loss of its beloved stars that have died mid-production by rewriting, editing and, more recently, digitally recreating, in order to turn a film that could have perished along with its star into a box-office hit.
technology would be used to “work around” Hoffman for the final scenes but remaining respectful of the actor. Even though the loss of a star’s life leaves a creative absence, it appears technology is increasingly the solution to not wasting a star’s final performance.
In the past year, global film stars Paul Walker and Philip Seymour Hoffman both tragically died. However, their final films are part of blockbuster franchises where their fans always want to be one step ahead. Consequently when Walker and Hoffman’s deaths were announced, people wanted to know what would become of the films they were making. In late November 2013, 40-year-old Paul Walker died as a result of a car accident. Walker was one the main stars of The Fast and the Furious franchise and was only halfway through filming the latest instalment: Fast & Furious 7 (2015). Production was halted and rumours speculated the film would either be postponed indefinitely or look-alike doubles would finish the filming of Walker’s involvement in the film. Finding a way of filling in the blanks was fundamental to the continuation of the franchise since Walker played such a prominent role in the films. After much speculation in early 2014, it was announced that face-replacement technology would be used along with Walker’s brothers, Caleb and Cody Walker, standing in as doubles to complete the filming. On 2 February 2014, news broke that Philip Seymour Hoffman had died of an overdose. The 46-year-old actor was due to reprise his role as Plutarch Heavensbee in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Parts 1 and 2 (2014 and 2015). With a week of filming left on Part 2 and “one major, emotional scene” still to shoot according to The Hollywood Reporter, Hoffman’s death raised the question of how his final scenes would be completed. Lionsgate announced that
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The death and digital recreation of a star such as Philip Seymour Hoffman only adds to the debate around whether the value of life can be saved by cinema. A star’s untimely death leads to a fascination with their life’s work and their last piece of work. The death of a star means that material from their final film runs the risk of being wasted. Announcements of a new film and the stars attached to it proliferate on the Internet and news of a star’s death travels even faster. Technology not only spreads the message but it also deals with the production problems raised by a star’s death. Stars are now being digitally recreated as if they were still alive and assist in giving new life to the star long after their physical life has ended.
Daniel Kane •
co mi ng so on
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EN CO RE
Wasted Youth River Phoenixâ€™s untimely death was a waste for the industry but his stardom is forever memorialised in his performances
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n 31st October 1993 Hollywood star River Phoenix overdosed on a deadly cocktail of cocaine and heroin and died outside Hollywood nightclub The Viper Room. The actor was only twenty-three and at the beginning of what looked to be a promising career in cinema. With many of the young actor’s performances gaining critical recognition and further securing his future in film, Phoenix became increasingly dependent on a variety of illegal substances. News of his drug addiction and consequent death came as a shock to fans and audiences alike, it seemed to contradict his pristine, virtuous image and friendly on- and off-screen persona.
The star began his career with various appearances in television commercials and dramas. Phoenix eventually gained recognition and found success after portraying the kid rebel Chris Chambers in Stand by Me (1986). A low budget drama, the film has since become a cult favourite and remains popular with audiences to this day. The story follows four twelve-yearold boys on a journey of self-discovery as they set out to find the body of a local man who was reported missing. Along their quest, we are shown brief snippets of their family lives, offering depth to the characters as we begin to understand their motivations for looking for the body. The film presents a close-knit group of stereotypical boys as they enjoy talking about girls, avoiding their parents and engaging in banter as they crack jokes at each other’s expense. The film packs a final, and very emotional, punch with a narration infused with a grand sense of nostalgia from one boy’s older self as he explains that he never quite had friends like the ones he had when he was
The character of Chris Chambers has proved most popular with audiences however, not only due to Phoenix’s performance of the misjudged and strong-willed teenager, but also to the haunting comparisons that can be made between the fate of the character and the death of Phoenix. River’s charm and acting talent is immediately apparent in this film via his performance of Chris. Hidden behind the character’s tough and aggressive nature is a vulnerability and desperation for acceptance. Beaten by his father and regarded as a thief and a lowlife by the other kids at school, Chris is desperate to change these popular perceptions.
The actor is just one of many young stars to succumb to this destructive lifestyle spurred by Hollywood fame; declarations of wasted lives and talent are conjured in the wake of their memory. In particular, River Phoenix offers an interesting case study in stressing emerging patterns concerning the relationship between drug culture and wasted youth. His death meant a loss of talent for the film industry and the actor has become memorialised by his few, yet impressive, performances.
twelve. Phoenix’s heartfelt performance creates a connection between the actor’s image and ideas of adolescence that are continuously captured in his acting style.
Like a morbid premonition, the final shot of Stand by Me is all the more affecting following Phoenix’s death
Nearing the climax of the film, a standout scene witnesses Chris breaking down to reveal his true feelings to his friend Gordie (Wil Wheaton), erupting in an intense display of emotional anguish. The scene is a crucial moment in Chris’s story; his strong-willed and independent persona collapses before the eyes of his closest friend and we come to truly understand the character. In Phoenix’s last screen appearance in the film, his character fades out of frame as the narrator tells the story of Chamber’s early death and, like a morbid premonition, the lasting shot becomes all the more affecting following Phoenix’s untimely passing. Following on from his role in Stand by Me, Phoenix was cast as a young Indiana Jones alongside Harrison Ford in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989). His first starring role in a big budget Hollywood vehicle, Phoenix takes on a hugely iconic character, offering a look at the cheekiness and intelligence of youth. Phoenix’s involvement in the original Indiana Jones trilogy confirmed the actor’s talent for mainstream audiences.
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At the time of his death, Phoenix was in the middle of shooting a movie titled Dark Blood, directed by George Sluizer. Production was immediately halted in the wake of the actor’s passing and the production team and financers worked to see if the film could be edited and released with the footage that had already been filmed. But, the practicality of completing Dark Blood proved unviable and the project was promptly shelved. However, nineteen years later Sluizer re-edited the film and it screened at some festivals and was released direct to DVD in 2012. Missing scenes were replaced with the director’s own narration of the story. The film was popular with River Phoenix fans desperate to see his latest work and demonstrates his deft talent and critical recognition decades after he passed away. In a review for The Guardian, Geoffrey Macnab has described Phoenix’s performance as having “an energy about it that reminds us of why he seemed such a distinctive screen presence before his untimely death”.
In 1991 Phoenix appeared in Gus Van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho, alongside friend and fellow actor Keanu Reeves. Phoenix played Mike, a young street hustler and sufferer of narcolepsy with an addiction to a variety of drugs. Mike battles with his personal demons, whether referring to his sexual orientation, drug dependency or his troublesome life on the streets. The dark tone of the film parallels issues in Phoenix’s personal, off-screen life, as we see him give a heartfelt performance of a struggling addict.
River Phoenix’s drug-induced death precedes promising young actors such as Heath Ledger, Brittany Murphy and Cory Monteith, whose careers were all tragically cut short
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Phoenix was also scheduled to play a lead role in Interview with the Vampire (1993) as reporter Daniel Molloy but died just four weeks before the production start date. The role was recast and eventually went to Christian Slater, who in turn went on to star in a string of Hollywood blockbusters after gaining recognition for his performance in the film. Coupled with the critical acclaim for his few but powerful performances, it is likely that Phoenix would have found the same level success and gone on to become a leading man in Hollywood. Wasted life and wasted talent is a subject that is often at the forefront of Hollywood and the lifestyles associated with it. Promising actors such as Heath Ledger, Brittany Murphy and Cory Monteith have all suffered similar fates to Phoenix and their careers followed similar patterns to his. These actors starred in multiple successful projects and were popular amongst fans and critics alike yet they all succumbed to the same addictions and vices. The recent death of esteemed actor Philip Seymour Hoffman is yet another example of a darker side to Hollywood that has proven fatal. Images and references to drug use have become integrated into the designer fabric of celebrity culture, whereby drug culture is often being associated
“I’d like to play every type of character, but only once. I like to experience things” -- River Phoenix on acting
with, and is perhaps even symptomatic of, fame and fortune. The news media fuels these ideas with frequent discussions about the ease of acquiring drugs in Hollywood, including the BBC’s coverage of Hoffman’s death. While the loss of talent means a promising career cannot be further developed, critics and fans can delve further into and revisit a star’s works to explore them in more detail. Phoenix’s films are a memento of the talent that was lost when he passed away and the deaths of Hollywood’s many stars act as a reminder to audiences that the image presented on-screen is not an accurate, nor truthful, representation of what is happening in their personal off-screen, lives even if many parallels can be drawn.
Regardless of his own demons, Phoenix brought life to a collection of fascinating characters throughout his short-lived career. Decades after he lost his life, his performances still gain critical recognition and popularity with modern audiences, which all the more supports the idea that he could have sustained a successful career and gone on to be a leading man in Hollywood.
Aaron Wilcock -----
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Transformations • Actors going to great lengths to get wasted...
Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street A far cry from his boyish heartthrob days as the young Jack Dawson in James Cameron’s Titanic (1997), Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jordan Belfort in Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) offers a very different performance indeed. A man fuelled by excess, Jordan indulges in abuse of Class A drugs and consumes copious amounts of alcohol throughout the film. Always seeking the best of the best, Jordan is seduced by what seems to be the holy grail of drugs, referred to in the film by their street name “lemmons”. The effect of this drug is illustrated by the decline in Jordan’s once strong and infallible disposition and, in a particularly comical scene, the drugs literally knock him off his feet to the extent that he can no longer walk or talk. This contrasts earlier scenes that glamorise his drug-induced lifestyle. The camera weaves in and out, alternating between aerial and close-up shots that depict Jordan’s battle to remain conscious. He struggles to
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maintain control of his body as he crawls to his car; his body now a bag of broken glass. Although there is evidence of comedy in this scene, it is clear by the debilitating consequences of drug abuse on DiCaprio’s Jordan Belfort that the moral of this tale is to not abuse substances. DiCaprio’s physical performance of comedy shows his ability to use his body as a way of presenting the effects of the lemmons as they violate and seize control of Jordan’s body. DiCaprio’s performance of a drug abuser in The Wolf of Wall Street illustrates the versatility of his acting ability that does not solely rely on his appearance and charisma, but rather that he is capable of performing comedy whilst communicating an underlying serious message.
Francesca Townend •
Meryl Street in August: Osage County With a stern, reserved expression, a mother enters a cosy family dining room and all conversation between the members of the family draws to a sudden halt. In the family drama August: Osage County (2013), Meryl Streep gives an emotional performance as cancer patient Violet Weston. The film opens with a profile of Streep looking mostly frail with her sickly skin and thinning hair as a result of her cancer treatment. Whilst this was achieved through convincing make-up effects, it is the emotion communicated through Streep’s performance of the embittered Violet that stands out, mostly through her subtle movements such as her trembling hands with every puff of a cigarette. After attending her husband’s funeral, Violet and the grieving Weston family gather together for what should be an intimate dinner. Throughout the afternoon however, Violet sniggers and jibes a constant dialogue of disparaging remarks toward her family until she gets into an argument with her daughter about her dependence on medication. Streep
demonstrates Violet’s addiction to medication with uneasy and jittery movements, as she desperately searches her home for hidden stashes of pills. The tension erupts as she is wrestled to the floor by her daughter Barbara (Julia Roberts), all the while breaking down into tears as her family members attempt to pry the pills from her hands. The emotional climax of the film is made all the more powerful as Violet sits, shaken and afraid as her family begins to rummage her home for more pills. An intense and, at times, uncomfortable watch, the audience is drawn deeper into her performance as Streep moves between vulnerability and aggression. In August: Osage County Streep offers a tender portrayal of a scared, angry and lonely woman, often completely closed-off from the rest of her family.
Aaron Wilcock • Diegesis: CUT TO [waste]
Charlotte Gainsbourg in Nymphomaniac: Vol. I and 2 Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac: Vol. I & II (2014) offers a central performance that negotiates the bipolarity of its lead character between a verbal gentleness and physical brutality. After being found in an alleyway by an elder man following her assult, the selfproclaimed nymphomaniac Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) recalls erotic and often melancholic episodes of her past life. At first, the young Joe (Stacy Martin) bounds about almost comically indulging in sexual encounters with a juvenile promiscuity. With age and supposed maturity, Gainsbourg assumes the tattered and exhaustive mess that is Joe in her older years. Gainsbourg expresses indifference as the often unapologetic and provocative volumes unspool across a series of disorderly chapters. In the first act of Vol. I, the camera swoops down to a bed-bound Joe and reveals a close-up snapshot of her bruised and swollen face. Her dark hair curtains her pale face dirtied by blotches of purple from her violent beating. Her body is
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clearly hostage to her addiction to sex as she curls and whimpers. In contrast to her excessive sexuality, Gainsbourg vocalises Joe’s suffering via stillness, reservation and thoughtfulness. Actor coach Michael McCaffrey writes in Stillness: Lessons from Redford, De Niro and Penn (2013), stiffness characterises a “vacancy” in energy but here Gainsbourg’s stillness is a sign of internal confinement that connotes smartness and signifies a depth in character. Her performance is often characterised by numbness. Joe’s masochistic sexual cravings draw attention to the brutality of her tale and her soft yet unsynchronised narration reinforces her potential sensitivity. Gainsbourg’s dexterity in offering a contrasting verbal performance to her physical one shows how an actor’s voice and image can play with the expectations of a performance.
Caine Bird •
Nicolas Cage in Leaving Las Vegas
Ewan McGregor in Trainspotting Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting (1996) sees Ewan McGregor portray the sickly addict Renton who is deeply embedded within the Edinburgh drug scene. McGregor portrays Renton as a lifeless degenerate lacking any ambition as he spends his days consuming drugs and partying with his friends: an eclectic group seemingly doing nothing more than scrounging for their next “hit”. Renton, however, soon realises that he must overcome his addiction and rehabilitate himself. McGregor assumes this transformation with great attention to detail in the vocalisation of Renton; he has a broad Scottish vernacular and a thick accent and uses slang terminology. He also uses his physical appearance to portray the character’s transition into sobriety. McGregor begins the role underweight and, as the character progresses, gains weight to indicate Renton’s gradual rehabilitation. To begin with, Renton is a skinny and scruffy young man who appears drained and depleted as a result of his addiction. McGregor’s performance expresses a broad spectrum of emotional change and captures the agony of addiction. In a particular scene, Renton visits his dealer for a “fix” and, in a surreal moment, we watch him slowly submerge into the floor below. McGregor performs Renton’s ecstasy in this scene by tightly closing his eyes and literally falling into total euphoria. McGregor communicates the sensation of Renton’s drug-induced stupor by adopting a twitch, as well as struggling to speak at times. Overall, McGregor’s performance invites the audience into the mind of a waster and depicts the agony of his rehabilitation as Renton tries to better himself and escape his morbid fixation with drugs.
In Leaving Las Vegas (1995), Nicolas Cage delves deep into the realms of the world of an alcoholic. Cage’s performance portrays a darker side of addiction and offers a more realistic depiction of an alcoholic in what is a gritty, non-conventional storyline. The film presents alcoholism as a disease and an addiction that cannot be “fixed” overnight. This message, along with Cage’s performance of a self-destructive alcoholic, makes for an uncomfortable viewing experience. Cage’s Ben is on a determined mission to come to the end of the road through alcohol. Contrary to Hollywood narratives of recovery and rehabilitation, Ben has vowed that he will “drink himself to death” and urges his travelling companion and prostitute Sera (Elizabeth Shue) to promise to not stand in his way. While the audience gains an understanding of how Ben was once a successful family man with a stable career and home life, the film focuses more on his destructive path than the reasons for his behaviour. Cage moves between extremes of frenzy and lethargy; the actor’s gaunt body reflects Ben’s pain as the debilitating effects of alcohol abuse gradually take its toll. Through Cage’s performance, Leaving Las Vegas creates a more sobering reality for alcoholism, one where it becomes apparent that becoming sober is not as achievable as some Hollywood films would have audiences believe.
Fay Parker •
Chelsea Wildish • Diegesis: CUT TO [waste]
ISS UE XT NE
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writing competition 2014 •Do you enjoy watching and writing about film and tv? •Do you want the unique opportunity to get your writing published? •Are you aged 16-18 and in college/sixth form?
For the second year, Diegesis is joining up with Southampton Film Week in search of new voices in screen criticism. •THE task
To write a 500-550 word review of a film or television programme inspired by the word “conflict”
The winning review and runners up will be published in issue 9 CUT TO [conflict] in print and online in 2015.
Friday 31 October 2014
•To submit your review
Email us your review as a Word document with your full name and name of your college/sixth form.
•for more details
visit www.diegesismagazine.com/writingcomp for hints and tips and check out CUT TO [skin] for last year’s winners. Good luck!
submit your reviews and queries to: firstname.lastname@example.org
#9 coming 2015
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www.diegesismagazine.com @DiegesisMag DiegesisFilmTVmagazine email@example.com
Diegesis CUT TO [waste] issue 8 2014. New voices in screen criticism.