Friday, October 17, 2014

Foreshadowing in The Birds

The Birds is basically a movie about foreshadowing. From the beginning the increasing presence of the birds is emphasized. On the boat she first notices the birds, and she receives an injury from one of the birds. This scene is heavily contrasted with the concluding scene in which she is brutally attacked by a swarm of birds.

The birds tend to appear in settings where characters are isolated and vulnerable. This creates a sense of paranoia that Hitchcock is famous for in all of his films. The eerie violin music and occasional squawk of the birds drive this suspenseful mood.

Once scene that is a good example of this foreshadwing is when a character gets out of their truck and walks into the house and walks in and notices the cups broken and the evidence builds and builds until the conclusion of finding the body.


I know by this point all of you must be getting pretty sick of me defending things that are critically and popularly reviled, but I am back again with the latest issue of Ted's Defense of the Indefensible. In today's installment we are going to discuss the director Michael Cimino and his 1980, critically and commercially panned, western film, Heaven's Gate.

However, in order to properly defend Heaven's Gate, I first need to make concessions that people will point to in an effort to debunk or discredit my apology of the film. Those are....

1) By the sheer fact of the numbers Heaven's Gate was a flop as it cost 44 million dollars to make and only took in 3 million dollars at the box office

2) It is generally considered to be the largest box office bomb of all times as a result of the money spent on it versus the money that it took in.

3) Cimino, who at the time was one Hollywood's rising star, hot shot, directors was hired by United Artists to direct Heaven's Gate on the back of his Academy Award winning movie and because of his star power he was able to negotiate a contract that gave him carte blanche and lots of other fiscal allowances that were never given to any film maker previously. This made him one of the most lawsuit-proof film director to ever work on a picture.

4) The movie was such a financial disaster for United Artists, the company that produced that movie that it, that its parent company Transamerica Corporation became nervous and abandoned film making all together, selling United Artists off to MGM. Beyond the immediate effect that this had for United Artists, the failure of this movie also had a tremendous impact on the film industry at large. From the 1960's, with films like Bonnie and Clyde and The Graduate, until the 1980's, which was around the time of this fiasco, the demise of the studio system led to a 20 year long period known as New Hollywood, where studio lost the majority of their control and because of this young directors arose that began to take more and more control over the industry but because of failures such as these, the studios began to take back more and more control from these directors in an effort to prevent the gross decadence and profligate spending that went into disastrous movies such as this one.   

5) The movie faced many budget overruns, high shooting demands that were made by Cimino, and endless retakes. A legend from the set said that on the sixth day of shooting, the whole shoot was five days behind where it should be.

Now of course one may wonder, Ted what is there for you to possible defend with this movie? It seems like it is such a train wreck that not even the best lawyer in the world can argue for this movie. Well, I have one response for you, watch the 216 minute cut of the movie instead of the awful 149 producer influenced dreck that was released in the 80's as a reaction to all the bad press that surrounded the movie. The 216 minute cut of the movie was first screened at the 69th Venice Film Festival and then again at the New York Film festival which I was fortunate enough to attend and see and by which I was blow away with sumptuous visuals such as these below...

Which to me proves that no matter what rumors, exaggerations, half truths or even truths are said about Mr. Cinimo, he is a clear master of his craft who no matter what can deliver a visual that is completely on point and undeniable. Throughout the entire film, the way that visual is treated reminded me of early photography that would have been prevalent around that time.  

The reason that I and others have such with the 149 minute cut of the movie is because it was a slap dash job that was ordered by the producers of the movie in a last minute rush to make the Academy Awards. Indeed, director Steven Soderberg was so interested in the massacre of this movie that he made what he entitled "The Butcher's Cut." This cut can be found here:

Which shows an extensively cut film to the point where key details of film are completely obliterated. Also Mr. Cinimo , in several trade papers blamed this excessive cutting on the failure of the movie, which given the fact that I have seen the 216 minute version I tend to agree with.

So here are two lessons to be applied after reading this blog post....

1) Critics don't always get right.

2) Don't a judge a book or in this case a film by its cover.

Rotten Tomatoes: Hot or Not?

Rotten Tomatoes: launched in 1998, technically owned by Warner Bros. but originally created by Senh Duong has become one of the most widely known film aggregator of it's time. The issue however is just that, the "like or dislike," "hot or not" aspect of it. But we'll get around to that later. For now, let's get the fun part out of the way, pretend we're Buzzfeed and play with lists and gifs.

I figured it'd be fun to reap the joys of the "hot or not" concept before ripping it to shreads. So let's take a peek at the movies that earned a 0% on Rotten Tomatoes. The majority are (surprise) films I've never heard of or, you guessed it, "rotten" sequels. (i.e., Fox and the Hound 2, Mulan II, Kronks New Groove.) These are the films that, apparently, "all critiques consider to be bad films." I mean, I gotta hand it to whomever all these "critiques" happen to be in giving two thumbs down to The Never Ending Story II: The Next Chapter. But who exactly are they and who considered them qualified?

A promotional photo for the (apparently micro-aggresionally racist)
childhood dismantlement:
The Never Ending Story II: The Next Chapter
According to, the reviews are "based on a set of criteria." Hop onto the Rotten Tomatoes website and said criteria is described as follows, "Movie reviews in the Tomatometer come from publications or individual critics that have been selected by the Rotten Tomatoes staff. " 
(Specifics:  here.)

I then frolicked over to the other end of the spectrum of the long list composed by hundreds of qualified writers across a handful of mediums. Those that earned 100% on the "tomato-meter."

The list listed titles such as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Battleship Potemkin, and Singin' in the Rain. Hmm... Did Film Aesthetics and Analysis use this wiki webpage to map out our class syllabus?

So what? I'll tell you what. This website is a review aggregator. Meaning, it calculates numeric averages based off of positive or negative ratings to make products easily comparable for consumers as well as creating databases to be sold to third parties. (That's a mouthful.)
Basically, there are obvious flaws to rating something into one of two categories. There is so much that goes into a film and it appears that Rotten Tomatoes ignores and neglects those beautiful complexities.
However, I believe the site is more-so used to spark conversation and expose films to people who wouldn't find them otherwise. For example, thanks to my eyes grazing that "0%" list this evening I do believe I will top off the night with Sex Lives of the Potato Men. 
(Why does this exist? I dunno, but I'm sure as hell glad it does.)
A British comedy about the sexual antics of a group of
potato delivery men in Birmingham. 

Please Watch Responsibly

The Way You Look Tonight

As I was flipping through the channels on my TV the other night, my family stopped to watch a press conference with President Obama about the ebola crisis in the United States.  As we watched him speak on the subject, I noticed just how tired he looked.  I remember canvasing for Obama back in 2008, and the now worn and tired president is not the same young and spirited man he was when he first ran for office. 

 I thought back to many history classes that I have taken in which we discussed the question whether or not Franklin Delano Roosevelt would be elected for office if he ran today.  If we think of solely his politics, it is easy to think that he would still be voted into office by Americans today.  However, we must also consider his physical condition.  A victim of polio as a child, FDR was weak in his lower body and used crutches and a wheelchair.  When he gave speeches, he leaned against the podium for support.  If television had prevalent in American homes at this time, would people have still voted for him, seeing that he was physically weak?


 Personally, I do not think that America would have elected FDR into office.  This was an era before television, an era before the majority of Americans could judge a public official based on their physical characteristics.  The first television was introduced to the American public at the 1939 World's Fair at which FDR gave a speech to welcome all of those in attendance.  It wasn’t until the early 1950s, however, that more than fifty percent of Americans owned TVs.

  Television has influenced politics and increased the importance of the public image.  Before television, people could listen to politicians on the radio or read about them in the news, but there was no way in which the masses could observe the actions and the physical appearance of a person and make judgements about him.  With the invention of the television came the importance of having a presentable image.  Politicians are constantly under public scrutiny, for there are always fans, interviewers, or paparazzi waiting to film or take a picture of a public personality.   The public image has become so important in today’s society.  The body language and physical appearance of a politician suddenly became much more important to the public once the masses were able to watch a public figure live on TV.


The importance of the public image adds a whole new element to politics.  Because of the influence of television, politics are no longer mainly based on what the politicians believe or what they promise their constituents, but instead on the way a politician looks.  America aims to vote for someone who looks strong, friendly, trustworthy, and like they will be able to protect America in a time of crisis. 

Another Promising Season?

A couple years back, around in 08, vampires were becoming popular once again. For some they thought it was just a quick fad, but for others, they believed it was an idea that never got old. Although the hype about supernatural creatures has died down somewhat, there are still some good films/ TV shows involving them that do a great job of presenting them.
 One show that many people tune into is known as The Vampire Diaries. And yes I have written about this before, but this show has been my favorite for years now. The Vampire Diaries show is based off of the series by L.J. Smith. Kevin Williamson and Julie Plec, executive producers of the show, premiered it on September in 2009 on The CW television network. Within that first episode, it received the highest ratings for a television premiere on any network. The amount of viewers live was 4.91 million and it did not stop there. Including DVR viewings, the ratings went up all the way to 5.7 million! And as each episode premiered every week, the ratings continue to stay strong at 4.5 million or higher. Many people were impressed with the first season, saying that it looked very promising and was done very well for a supernatural series.


Seasons two and three, continue to follow the success of season one’s ratings. However once season 4 approached and ratings dropped from 3-4 million to 2-3 million. And it continued to drop as season 5 came along. Many people lost interest in the show in season five because of too many storylines. As well as the fact that after season four, the Originals’ characters were no longer on the show. The characters were put into a spinoff show called The Originals. Many viewers were upset about this, however then started to watch The Originals. Although the show has lost viewers, it still is rated as one of the most viewed television series on The CW’s network, and right under it is The Originals. So obviously people are still interested in the show, however how much longer until the show comes to an end?

I know watching it myself I did see a change in the series once the Originals left. I found myself getting bored, and seeing the writers just scratching for any material they could use to get audiences back into it, as much as they were when season one premiered. Don’t get me wrong, I still love the show, but it still is definitely not the same. Before season five, the biggest threat in the show was the Originals.  In the storyline they were the biggest and baddest creatures out there. However, I now realize that towards the end of season four it just seemed like they were looking for something worse, mainly because they knew the Originals were heading off into a new direction.  This is when they introduced Silas. Silas was now seen as the most terrifying creature. And for a while I was confused because I thought the Originals were the first vampires to ever exist on earth, but then somehow the writers made it seem like Silas was. They began to mix plot lines and it was confusing me as a viewer. Now after so much time has past since that point in the series, I now understand that Silas was originally a witch, belonging to the Travelers. However, after many events he eventually became immortal and trapped. So technically he is the longest living vampire.
 But still it was plot changes like these that confused me and turned me off from the show.

In season five, everyone was wondering what was Silas going to do. And we all found out that he was Stefan’s doppelganger. His character only lasted for seven episodes in season five. And the worst part of it was that this big bad character they made was being this malicious for love. When I found out that was the reason why Silas was such an asshole, it made me upset. No one that is fighting for love would ever act so cruelly. I feel like the writers needed a new villain to replace Klaus, which obviously they did, however they did not do it the right way. The plot did not make sense with the character, and maybe I’m wrong and someone probably disagrees with me on this, but I truly believe it did not match up. And finally when he died I was relieved. His character was just annoying and there were no redeeming qualities about him, or any reasons that justified his cruel actions.

After Silas died, there was what I’m going to call a ‘dry period’ in the show. The show brought up a new enemy that was human. Of all things to fear, they picked a stupid HUMAN scientist. Really? Come on. This show that I had loved went from a show about supernatural beings and how they can still fall in love or feel hurt, to science trying to dissect supernatural beings and make their lives a living hell. This just made me mad, it was boring, and it was like the writers simply did not know what to write for months. And then somehow they morphed that plotline to connect with the witch travelers. Season five started off with about 2.6 million viewers, and ended in 1.6 million viewers. And to top that off they killed off their best character! Damon Salvatore, the impulsive, selfish, sarcastic, charismatic guy that everyone loved, was killed off.

I remember going on their Facebook page and seeing millions of comments saying, “He is the only reason I have continued to watch this show,” or “If you don’t bring him back I’m going to stop watching this show altogether”. And I mean I don’t blame these people, he was and is my favorite too.

 But not only that he really had a huge impact on the show. He was the underdog, the person people could relate to because he was realistic. He was selfish and took what he wanted. He loved to drink alcohol all the time. He rather save the girl he’s in love with from dying, than her best friend. And even while he faced death, he always had some sarcastic comment ready to go.  Everyone was mad that they picked him. So being that he was my favorite character I did research to see if he was contracted for the next season, and low and behold he was.
Season six premiered October 2nd, 2014. And so far it has NOT been a disappointment. Surprise, surprise, Damon is actually still alive…Just not on earth. And the show has stopped the plotline with the human scientist evil doctor and is back to focusing on super naturals. I don’t know if there will be a season seven as of right now, however, season six looks very promising to me. It reminds me of the early TVD and although there are still many plot lines, they are not nearly as confusing as they once were in season five.  It’s hard to say if the show will continue or not because well look at season five, it was one of the worst, but it still got signed for a sixth season. Clearly people still really care about this show and the evolving characters,  so hopefully the writers continue this good streak and help finish the stories of the characters in the right way.

Sarah Jone's Set Safety App

Last February on a low budget film called Midnight Rider Sarah Jones, a camera assistant was struck and killed by a train. After not checking the right safety precautions and shooting on a live train track the crew found out they had 60 seconds to get off the bridge they were shooting on. Frantically grabbing equipment and trying to escape some off the crew were injured but Jones was hit by debris causing her to land in front of the train.

This caused a massive wake in the industry and many of the crew and her family has been questioning the ethics of the industry and the safety on set. Friends of Jones got together to create an app that lets anyone report any safety issues on set and lets you contact a safety hotline if needed. They hope to cut down the majority of accidents and the lack of safety on sets today.

I hope everyone is safe and takes precautions while filming there final.

More information about the story and the app are in the links below

Avatar: The Last Airbender (Storytelling done right)

Honestly, everyone should just be amazed it took me this long to cave and make a post about this TV show. Avatar: The Last Airbender is by far one of my favorite, possibly my most favorite, television series. There are a lot of things that make this show incredible, but I believe that by far it's strongest quality is it's impeccable storytelling.

If you have never seen this show (which oh my god I know I always tell people to watch things in these posts, but I have never been more serious when I say you need to watch this show) I could waste my time trying to summarize the basic plot, but why do that when you can just watch the show's intro which will explain everything for you in 45 seconds.

So now that everyone has a least some idea of what I'm about to discuss we shall forge on! 

This show is incredibly complex and nuanced for a children's show. It explores themes that most children's programing wouldn't dare touch including but not limited to: sexism, racism, genocide, war, death, murder, religion, environmental awareness, family disfunction,  domestic abuse, disability and many other "adult" themes. 

It is because of the extreme care the shows creators took with the storytelling that they were able to address these themes in a show that is targeted for such a young audience.

Firstly the show's characters are in no way one demential. Most children's shows, and let's face it, many adult shows, have archetypical characters with cliched problems who never develop throughout the show's run. The characters in Avatar, have complex problems and personalities that do not feel contrived or cliched. They grow and evolve through each episode and learn from past failures and events.

Even the shows villains are fleshed out. We understand and learn as much about the villains of the story as we do the heroes. We sometimes find ourselves sympathizing with the villains even more than the heroes. This is something particularly unusual for a children's show, as usually characters are defined as either good or evil, and good always triumphs over evil. In this show the heroes frequently are defeated by villains. It is in these defeats that we are most able to feel for our heroes and connect with their struggle. 

As in most television shows there are some episodes that can be considered "filler", or an episode in which not much is done to advance the plot but instead to simply fill up time because they creators of said show signed a contract with the TV station to make a certain number of episodes. However, unlike most shows the "filler" episodes in Avatar never feel like a waste of time. While not much is being done to advance the plot, these episodes serve to explore and deepen our understanding of the characters and their struggles.

Another unfortunate reality of many TV shows is that they go on for too long. There are too many seasons of the show, because it is popular and making the station money, and they story eventually gets lost as it continues to droll on and on and the writers must continually come up with new problems for the characters to face. This is a problem that Avatar does not have. When the creators of the show pitched their idea to Nickelodeon they already had the entire story planned beginning, middle, and end. Even when they were offered more seasons, the creators refused because they did not want to jeopardize the telling of the story. In result, the story is exactly as long as it needs to be. It does not drag to a point where you lose interest in the characters. I have massive respect for the writers for turning down a potential to make more money in favor of telling the best story possible. It really paid off.

In conclusion, Avatar: The Last Airbender is really a masterpiece of storytelling and everyone should take the time to watch the show at least once. Don't let the fact that it is a children's show stop you, because as I mentioned earlier it deals with adult themes and in no way talks down to it's audience. It is something that people of all ages can enjoy.

I would like to end by linking to a really interesting documentary about the making of Avatar: The Last Airbender. If you are a fan of the show you will definitely find it interesting!

Interstellar and the Fear of Non-Digital Projection

As of right now, we are just three weeks away from getting the chance to see Christopher Nolan's highly anticipated space adventure, Interstellar. Already drawing 2001 comparisons from the few that have seen the film, it appears to possibly be marrying the technical wizardry and ambition of Kubrick with the sentimentality of Spielberg (who was originally attached to the project). A series of cryptic, but visually stunning trailers have stirred the hype and major Oscar buzz is flying.  
However, what I want to talk about here has nothing to do with story specifics or awards prognostication. Not too long ago, it was announced that Interstellar would open two days early with 35mm and 70mm screenings in select theaters. It's an exciting proposal and a rare one for a big studio like Warner Bros. to make. Nolan is known to be a strong advocate for film preservation and with the kind of clout he has in Hollywood these days, the fact that he is using the podium to draw attention to film quality should not be surprising. The special screenings are sure to be popular with fans, but it is proving to be a point of concern for some theater owners.

In a recent article by Kevin Jagernauth of The Playlist, it was found that a sizable number of theater owners view the early release as "devaluing the digital push," with one CEO making the claim that "It makes no sense to step back in time."

The reactions are a sad indication of the film business we live with today. While the artistic community celebrates and treasures film showcases such as this one, the suits and moneymen look askance. Now, to be fair, much of the derision is coming from those who did away with old projectors and recently went full digital at the not-so-subtle suggestion of the studios, so the prospect of missing out on a major pre-release must be frustrating. However, to say that this move "devalues" the digital push seems a bit hyperbolic and misguided. No matter how big the early numbers for Interstellar are, there's no way it's going to turn the tide back to traditional projection. It's about the expression of the artist and I feel like some of these folks need to see past the dollar signs and recognize that.

Digital is here to stay, period. Of course, that is until the unfortunate day when theater viewing becomes obsolete and everything (including physical media) instantly goes to streaming and VOD, but for now, digital is firmly set in place and as film lovers, we need to champion the few directors (Tarantino, PT Anderson and Scorsese to an extent) that still flash the extra cash for the privilege of working with film. It may just be ladling water out of a rapidly sinking ocean liner, but I'm glad that some big names are standing up for the format.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Early uses of Steadicam

Steadicam shots are used in several major motion pictures today, as several of these directors and cinematographers are reaching for the limitless possibilities of camera movement. Essentially, the steadicam stabilizes the camera from jitter due to the camera operator, giving a smoother image. Its use goes back to 1975 when it was first implemented in the film "Bound for Glory," shot by Haskell Wexler, which can be seen in this shot here:

Of coarse the running sequence from "Rocky" is another early use of the steadicam that was shot only one year later. Garrett Brown, the original inventor of the steadicam, was the operator for each of these notable sequences. Then in 1980, the invention was pushed even further when Stanley Kubrick and cinematographer John Alcott asked for the camera to be lower to the ground, for certain famous sequences in his film "The Shining".

Saturday, October 11, 2014


Documentary [dok-yuh-men-tuh-ree] : based on or re-creating an actual event, era, life story, etc., that purports to be factually accurate and contains no fictional elements.
Although this class is focused on narratives, I felt like documentaries essentially do the same thing. They tell a story to the audience. They introduce a world, a conflict, and how it can be resolved or has been resolved. Narratives do the same, with an opening scene that is completely opposite from the ending scene, and a climax in the middle. The reason why I'm writing this is because recently, I researched more into documentaries and how to make a good one for my trip to Myanmar this winter. I feel like the same elements that make a documentary can also be applied to making a narrative film.

How to make an effective documentary

1. What is the message you want to convey?

I think this is an important question to ask yourself. Before you even think about what equipment you need, you need to find out what the focus of the documentary is going to be, and why you're filming this in the first place. What are the issues you want to address and offer solutions to? Is it going to be worthy of your audience's time? And make sure the topic you choose is also something that you're interested in, as well as enlightening and enganging the audience. Generally, documentaries are about controversial issues, and as well as educational. If you're going to provoke, fully explain.

2. No one likes to be lectured

Although it's the documentaries job to inform, you don't want to bore the audience and make them feel like they're in a classroom. This can also be applied to films as well: Don't tell, show. People don't go to see films to have a person tell them what the film is about. We go to see movies to see the emotions and the drama and the action. With documentaries, you don't want to lecture your audience and over inform them on the subject. Instead, you want to inspire them to learn more about your documentary and be involved as well. 

3. Outline, outline, outline

It honestly can't be emphasized enough. Outlining what you want to include in your documentary or film can help you organize your shots and time schedule as well. You don't wanna be out in the middle of the day ready to shoot, and not know what you need to film. Along with that, it's better to overshoot than to undershoot. You want to have more shots to work and edit with, especially if you're travelling to a location and you'll only be able to shoot certain days. Re-shooting sucks, and no one wants to go through all that effort, only to not have enough shots. 

4. Music 

Music can completely change the mood of a scene, even manipulate how the audience can react towards a clip because of the sound. It's one thing to enhance the scene with audio, and another to alter it's intent. When editing, it's important to ask if the shot can speak for itself. If it can't and you need music to alter it in anyway, chances are you're going to ruin it and make the audience feel disconnected and even feel different than what they were supposed to feel. 

Friday, October 10, 2014

Parks and Recreation (It's awesome)

Hey guys, short post today because if I make it much longer it will be me just going on and on about why Parks and Recreation is currently my favorite TV show. If you haven't seen it, you definitely need to check it out, it's great.

I just started watching this show a week ago and I've gotten through four seasons already. It's extremely addicting, but more than that it's really well crafted!

If you haven't seen this show, or you don't know what it's about I'll give you a little summary. The show follows Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler), the Deputy Head of the Parks and Recreation Department of the Pawnee, Indiana, and her many coworkers at City Hall.

For the most part I'm not a huge fan of comedy television. I usually either find it crude or plain unfunny. The other problem a lot of comedy TV seems to be plagued with, is that while the show itself may be funny, the characters are only comic relief and you don't care about them at all.

Parks and Rec doesn't have any of these issues. The show is genuinely funny, while never need to move into territory that could be considered "crude" or "offensive".  The characters, while sometimes sensational, all have qualities that are relatable and as an audience you find yourself actually caring about their struggles, even if they may be ridiculous and comedic in fashion.

The show is shot much like Office, in a "Documentary" style, although the show's events are fictitious. One of my favorite things about the show is the video confession parts, where the characters break the fourth wall and talk seemingly to the viewer. Not only is this usually to reveal some hilarious insight into what the characters are thinking, but it also helps the audience feel engrossed and a part of the show as they are watching it. It's almost as though you, the viewer, are one of the characters.  

The show also explores important social issues. They use comedy to do it, but important issues such as feminism, politics, and government never feel like a punchline, even though this would be easy to do. This is something I applaud the shows creators for. 

Basically the show is just really awesome, and everyone should watch it.  There are 6 seasons so far (they are all on Netflix, fyi) and the 7th season premieres this August. 

Response: Manhood and The Bechdel Test

Colin Stokes brings up some vital messages films are sending to children, specifically boys. Most importantly, he raises the issue that there are many wonderful heroines smashing the patriarchy for little girls to idolize, but no male characters for boys to look upto that are defying the patriarchy. This is crucial. Currently, the heroism is synonymous with "becoming a man" and scooping up a nice lady prize in the end. 

Stokes mentions a specific test he has movies undergo before sharing them with his children. This test was first coined by Allison Bechdel in 1985. There are three points of criteria all movies must meet,

This test is incredibly interesting to me and I feel that it raises important attention to female characters and their true role in the films they're in. Specifically, Stokes mentions Princess Lea in "Starwars" who "waits around the whole movie to give our hero a medal and a wink." I agree with Colin, for the most part. I do however believe that there are some flaws with The Bechdel Test. One is simply the shaming aspect of the test itself towards enjoying a film that drops the ball in one of the three criteria (over 80%). The test fails to take into account the complexity of conversation. Regardless, it's important for us as the viewers to be aware of the one dimensional purpose Hollywood places on women so we are able to talk to our children to prevent them from being put under the wrong impression. 
Bechdel's test isn't the core of what Colin is trying to get at, he's mostly emphasizing the importance of what we learn alongside the characters in the films; the purpose of characters and how they go about "saving the day." He encourages collaboration with friends sharing common goals (Tangled) as opposed to violent conflict and female prizes (The Lion King). He pushes for application of skills towards the greater good (Kiki's Delivery Service) versus moving up a male hierarchy through mastery of a skill (Ratatouille). This is something I am on board for. These are the movies I'd also love to see more of.


This past week a major event in American history occurred. No, I am not talking about the end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I am not talking about the end to world hunger, I am not talking about anything to do with subprime mortgage crisis of 2008, but rather I am talking about....


In this weeks blog post I want to talk about and analyze the debut episode of Freakshow and then go on to offer my opinions on why I believe that this season of American Horror Story will be the best out of all the iterations that have occurred thus far. Before I go any further, however, I want to give the all important....


and let anyone know that this blog post will contain spoilers about the first episode of the show. So if you have any desire to watch the episode and haven't got around to it yet, because let's be real being busy is a syndrome at the Park School, please click off this blog now. For those of you brave enough to stay with the blog post don't say I didn't warn and let us enter the big top of this twisted, freakish season of American Horror Story.


In the sleepy little hamlet of Jupiter Florida, a milkman arrives at the Tattler residence to deliver the mornings shipment of milk. He enters the house after seeing his previous delivery of milk soured on the front stoop and upon entering he finds the houses owner, Eudora Tattler, dead and when he hears a noise upstairs, he discovers an injured pair of conjoined twins names Bette and Dot. 

The twins are rushed to the hospital and upon their arrival they shock and sicken many of the employees. Elsa Mars, an owner of a traveling circus, appears claiming to be looking for a sick aunt that is in the hospital

She asks a candy stripper on duty named Penny about the discovery of the twins that was mentioned in the local newspaper and invites Penny to come to her show. After distracting Penny, Elsa sneaks into the secure ward were Bette and Dot are being held to find out about them for herself. Elsa explains to the twins that she tried to meet them in there house but had to come to the hospital instead because they were longer there  but never the less she still wanted to see them. Throughout the conversation that Else hold with the twins, it is apparent that they can communicate without speaking. Bette, the naive, optimistic head, takes an immediate liking to Elsa and what she can offer them, whereas Dot, the cynical, depressed head, despises Elsa, throwing her out of their room. 

On the outskirts of Jupiter, a couple picnics on Lake Okeechobee and begin to have make out. The girl, Bonnie, wants to have sex while the boy, Troy, goes get a gift out of their car. Twisty, a clown with a frightening visage appears suddenly and knocks the couple unconscious before stabbing Troy repeatedly in the chest with scissors.

Terrified, Bonnie attempts flee the scene but is chased after by Twisty. Later, Twisty murders a family in their house and kidnaps their son, hiding both the son and Bonnie in an abandoned bus in the middle of the woods. He comes to the bus and tries to entertain the two of them but only ends up scaring them. 

Elsa is eating diner at a local dinner when she notices one of her freaks, Jimmy Darling flirting with a waitress. Jimmy tells Elsa that they shows days are numbered and that he wants to find meaningful existence outside of the confinement of the carnival. Later, Jimmy attends a tupperware party where the housewives convince a curious young party goer to enter the room with him. Jimmy is revealed to have severe syndactyly and uses his deformity to masturbate the woman. 

Elsa returns to the twins in the hospital and tells them to explain their mother's murder to her again. The twins begin to explain that a man broke into their house but Bette conflates details from the movie Gaslight into their story and Elsa quickly catches onto the lie. She demands that the twins get their facts straight before the cops come to find them for questioning. Scared, the twins break out of the hospital and try to run away but before they can, Elsa confronts the two of them one final time. Under pressure, the twins tell Elsa what really happened, which was that Mrs. Tattler kept the girls locked in the house and Bette couldn't take it any more and stabbed her to death. Two days later, Dot stabbed Bette out of her guilt for not being able to stop the murder. 

Because they have no other options, the twins accept Elsa's offer of a home at the carnival. Bette writes in her diary that she is happy to be outside of the confines of her house for the first time and that she is entranced by Elsa. Dot, however, is extremely grossed out by the environment of the carnival and the carnies, specifically Meep, a mute who bites the head off of live animals, and Ethel, a bearded lady and Jimmy's mother, and she wishes that she could go back to security of their farm. 

Ethel describes to the twins how Elsa saved her life, rescuing her from the drunk tank and reuniting her with Jimmy. Dot is smitten with Jimmy but does not like Ethel, flatly refusing to perform in the show. Ethel reminds the twins that there is no better life for them. 

Later on, Ethel speaks with Jimmy about the money that he earned masturbating the women at the tupperware party. He expresses his desire to leave the show to Ethel and she tells him that he would never be accepted by the outside world. Later on that evening, a detective arrives to the carnival to arrest the twins for the murder of their mother. The other carnies come to the defense of the twins and in a fit of rage over being called freaks, Jimmy slits the detectives throat with a straight razor. Jimmy then leads a procession of freaks into the forest by the carnival where he rants about no longer accepting the way they are treated by the society around them. After he finishes his rant, the freaks surround the dead body and dismember it as Twisty the clown watches them. 

Penny (who was kidnapped and drugged with opium for several days) emerges into Elsa's tent and tells her that she wants to go home. Elsa plays her a video that shows her engaging in an orgy with the freak, effectively buying her silence about what has transpired under the big top. A wealthy socialite Gloria, and her stunted son Dandy arrive at the carnival and buy all the seats for the freaks show, convincing Elsa that the twins are going to be the carnivals savior. 
The show gets under way as Ethel provides and introduction and shows off the freaks while Elsa performs Life on Mars. Dandy is completely fascinated with the freaks, especially Bette and Dot and offers to buy them for 15,000 dollars. The twins flatly refuse stating that they have found a home at the carnival. Before Gloria and Dandy leave, Gloria insults Elsa's singing abilities leaving Elsa completely devastated.

Later on, Elsa admits to Ethel that the reason that she brought the twins to the carnival is to draw crowds in so that she gain acclaim and glory as a performer. Ethel agrees with Elsa that she has the potential to be a great star. Ethel leaves and as Elsa prepares for bed we see that as she undresses that she is completely legless below the knees and instead has to rely on prosthetic legs to walk.


I had so, so, so many opinions of this episode and the future of the series. Firstly, the cinematography and the way that this episode was shot reminded me of a Douglas Sirk movie and also Twisty reminded me of a heightened version of Pennywise the clown from It. Also the way that the story was told really gave me chills and goose bumps and made me excited to see where the show was going to head. Granted, I did feel that Elsa's interaction with the twins could have been cut down slightly in favor of showing other things but I really did love the episode. As someone who is a die hard fan it is nice to see that American Horror Story is returning to it asylum like mode of story telling and horror.

Much to Mr. Ryan Murphy's and Brad Falchuck's credits the series has been given new life and energy as the thrills and horror abounds in the fourth season of the show.

Family Troubles

A common technique used to create conflict, especially in children’s film, is killing off the protagonist’s parents.  This happens in many superhero films and Disney movies, including The Lion King, Frozen, Batman, and Superman.  

    This technique is used for many reasons.  For one, it isolates the protagonist.  They must now navigate in an unfamiliar world and no longer have a support system.  The protagonist must not only overcome the grief of losing a parent, but also solve their own problems as opposed to getting the answers from someone who knows more than they do.
 Though killing off a protagonist’s parent does create conflict within a film, I would like to pose a question.  As opposed to killing off a parent, is it more effective to include a flawed parent whose actions are toxic to their child?

 Including an estranged parent is a more effective way to create both internal and external conflict in any plot.  Often times an estranged family member will have chosen something over or instead of the protagonist.  Though the family member is still present, the protagonist is in a constant state of doubt as to whether or not the family member actually cares about them.  This creates a much deeper internal conflict for the protagonist.  When a parent dies, often times a protagonist knows that they were loved before the parent’s death.  It is obvious that the parents did not choose death over their child.  However, when parents choose as drugs, money, or their own selfish wants over their child, the conflict becomes more intense.  Keeping an estranged parent also helps to create character vs. character conflict.  The protagonist must not only struggle through internal conflict, but also stand up to their parent or family member and confront them.
 In Million Dollar Baby, Maggie’s parents don’t care about her health or her dreams, but only the money she will make from boxing.  This takes a toll on her and causes her distress throughout the film.  Not only does she not have the support system that she needs to be successful, but she is also taken advantage of by her family, making it clear that they only associate with her for the money. 

  In What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Gilbert’s mom, Bonnie,  spends her time wasting away in front of the television and letting herself be overcome by her misery.  Gilbert is forced to be the man of the household and take care of his siblings.  This puts him under a great deal of stress and pressure and it frustrates him to see his mother not doing anything to help her family or herself.

    Although many children’s films use the technique of killing off the parent in order create conflict for the protagonist, it is much more effective to write a movie with an estranged parent, creating greater internal and interpersonal drama within the film.

Experimental Practices in Documentary

The documentary takes many forms. Some talk about the past to make commentary on the here and now. Others digest contemporary events, aiming to prevent the unsavory future these events suggest. Some docs, like those of Morgan Spurlock or Michael Moore, center around the filmmaker's personality as they interact with subjects on camera and make each investigation a personal matter. Alternatively, others, like Our Nixon or The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975, consist almost entirely of vintage video clips, making what's generally relegated to dusty history books fresh again, while the filmmaker and the present day recede in importance. From the complex, interview-driven stories documented by Errol Morris to the poetic meditations of Werner Herzog, the documentary sports a wide variety of approaches to the medium and they all have the capacity to be done well.

Personally, I feel the most interesting of these is the avant-garde or experimental documentary. Often featuring little to no dialogue, these films rely on imagery and montage to create visual tapestries of a place/environment, a culture or an experience. In my eyes, this represents the documentary in its purest form. Uncensored observation meets expressive organization. Of course, these films don't always hit the mark (Take General Orders No. 9, for instance. While a nice idea, the film was a misjudged, overly-prosaic exercise in navel-gazing, in my opinion). However, when they do find the right balance, something transcendent can be achieved and I'd like to take this opportunity to highlight three of my favorite examples.
Dziga Vertov's Man with the Movie Camera was one of my earliest encounters with experimental film. Just as the title suggests, the picture follows a man with a movie camera as he travels throughout a city, documenting the many events that take place there over the course of a day. Inside, outside, on busy street corners or at the beach, there is nowhere his camera cannot go. More than just a spectacular extended montage capturing the rhythms of urban life in late-1920's Russia (the Soviet Union, then) it was a grand demonstration of what film can do...what it can see and where can it go. This wasn't the first film to bring the medium's power to the spotlight, but it was a startling accomplishment nonetheless. Widely known and written about over the 85 years since its release, there's isn't much of anything new I can add to the discussion, but in closing, it's worth noting that it set the stage for another  comprehensive masterwork...
It's fitting that Godfrey Reggio's Koyaanisqatsi should follow Man with the Movie Camera in my discussion, because it is basically Vertov's film, circa 1982 (or maybe 1975, because that's when production started). This is a gross simplification, though, because it definitely distinguishes itself and there's a lot going on, philosophically in Reggio's film. It's less than 90 minutes, and yet, it feels gargantuan in scope. It's morbid and apocalyptic, but also vibrant and full of energy. It takes a bird's eye view of the cities and the deserts, but routinely returns to ground level to observe the people in their varied uniforms and social statuses. In the Hopi language, the title means "Life Out of Balance" and the film explores this concept. Beginning in the natural environment, it soon transitions into the urban world, where the cacophony and rapid pace of modern life is on display. The film thrives on visual juxtapositions. City layouts and highway strips resemble circuit boards and massive housing projects, once shown as formidable and impressive are demolished one by one. Technology is on the rise and artificial constructs are taking over and this neglect of the natural world, this rapid secession from our roots has led to a deceptively normalized chaos and disorder that has already begun to alter who we are. Koyaanisqatsi is stunning and a one of a kind experience.
Released only last year, Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Verena Paravel's Leviathan proudly continues the tradition of the non-verbal experimental documentary, incorporating several nuanced touches in the process. Simply put, it is one of the most unique audiovisual experiences out there. Set on a fishing trawler in the North Atlantic, somewhere off the coast of Massachusetts, the film is as immersive as it gets, placing fisheye cameras along the side of the boat, in the water with the net and on the main deck with the fishermen, as well as their eviscerated catch. There is a complete lack of talking-head interviews or voice over commentary. The images speak for themselves...and they speak volumes. Non-distinct soundscapes and inky, unnerving visuals cause the film to take on a surreal quality (that absence of voices to give the viewer a sense of comfort adds to this as well). The boat gradually becomes like a living being (perhaps the sea monster "Leviathan" of the title), a shuddering, groaning behemoth with the fisherman acting as its silent, downtrodden servants, endlessly repeating a series of routine motions and mundane tasks.

I would describe the entire experience of watching the film as: riding a mechanical monster through the sinister waters of an alien planet on which no dry land exists. No part of the film is fantasy, but that odd sense of mythologizing and the notion of creating a surreal narrative out of real life footage works its way into every aspect of Leviathan, from the otherworldly glow of the debris in the underwater sequences, to the way the nets look and sound when lowered into the waters at night (like a lengthy, metallic tongue) to the way the birds are shot (an intense low-angle shot bobbing up and down in the sea, as the creatures glide along just above and occasionally dive violently into the water, hunting for what treasures the trawler has excreted). The sea takes a toll on the people, the ship takes a toll on the beings of the sea and the aesthetics of the film emphasize this mutual harshness. Many will find it tedious, but as far as I'm concerned, it's one of the most impressive documentaries of the last decade.

If it's not already obvious from the write-ups, all three of these films come highly recommended from me. Experimental documentaries have the unique opportunity to engage with audiences on both a visceral and intellectual level and they must be celebrated for this reason. It's important to note that they do not necessarily stand above all others, though (as my use of "pure" maybe alluded to earlier). Hoop Dreams is ambitious and heartbreaking, Grizzly Man is a fascinating character study and Grey Gardens is compellingly voyeuristic. All of these films are brilliant, but none of them stayed with me quite like Man with the Movie Camera, Koyaanisqatsi and Leviathan have...

...and I think there's something to be said about that.