Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Joseph Campbell and the Hero's Journey

When I started trying to write my first blog post for this class, the first topic that popped into my head was the way Dan Harmon, creator of Community and Rick and Morty and one of my favorite creative talents, structures the stories he writes. Harmon, whether he's writing a half-hour episode of a sitcom, a feature film, or a three-minute comedy sketch, utilizes "story circles," which he says allow him to tie narrative and character development directly together. Unfortunately, as I searched for visual aid to illustrate my blog post, I discovered that a past CP2 student had already covered the topic (Kyle Vorbach's excellent post can be found here: http://filmword.blogspot.com/2013/02/dan-harmons-story-circles.html). I decided to delve into the origin of Harmon's story circles, which can easily be traced back to the writings of Joseph Campbell and his theory of the monomyth.

Joseph Campbell was an American author and educator who specialized in examining mythology and religion for similarities across cultures. His life's work as an author came together in the form of his most lasting theory, that of a monomyth. In The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949), Campbell argued that the structure of the hero's journey remained consistent throughout cultures, with only surface changes made to create the heroes that define a culture's mythology. Campbell was heavily influenced by Carl Jung, one of the most prominent psychologists of the 20th century, who developed a theory of collective unconsciousness. Jung's assertion that all of humankind shares certain archetypes heavily influenced Campbell's analysis of both mythological stories and more modern pieces of fiction. Harmon's story circles draw their cyclical structure and many of the narrative steps from Campbell's theory of the Hero's Journey:

Campbell's structure, however, goes into more detail than Harmon's. However, it should be noted that Harmon often cites steps such as the Crossing of the Threshold when talking about his writing. Campbell's basic steps on the Hero's Journey are as follows, broken roughly into three-act structure:

1. The Ordinary World
2. The Call to Adventure
3. Refusal of the Call
4. Meeting with the Mentor
5. Crossing of the Threshold 
End of Act 1

6. Tests, Allies, and Enemies
7. Approach
8. The Ordeal
9. The Reward
End of Act 2
10. The Road Back
11. The Resurrection
12. Return with the Reward
End of Act 3

The division by act structure can be debated, and different sources often re-name the specific steps, but the basic structure of the Hero's Journey stays constant over much of fiction, regardless of genre or artistic medium. Campbell's theory originally was formulated as a way to discuss mythological texts like The Odyssey and Gilgamesh, but has come to influence some of the most prominent novels and films of the 21st century. Want an example?

George Lucas and Mark Hamill on the set of Star Wars

George Lucas was one of the first filmmakers to take Campbell's theory and develop a feature film around it. It was Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces that helped Lucas flesh out his basic ideas for his first big-budget film. Star Wars and the entire original trilogy owe their structure and storytelling beats to Joseph Campbell. Dan Harmon has since taken the same basic structure and applied it to over 90 episodes of Community, in addition to using the structure for projects such as Rick and Morty and Monster House. Studying Campbell's monomyth can help young storytellers master the basics of character development, pacing, and plot structure, regardless of medium.

My source for Campbell's steps was this website: http://www.thewritersjourney.com/hero's_journey.htm . If you're interested in Dan Harmon's story circles and would like to know more, I'd recommend checking out his tutorials on the Channel 101 wiki: http://channel101.wikia.com/wiki/Story_Structure_101:_Super_Basic_Shit.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Based on a True Story

We've all learned that movies are never completely original. They're either based on a comic books series, television show, or books. And you can always trace back movies and relate them to many other things. One of the most common movie themes are true stories. However, movies never seem to be able to depict the actual real events. Here's a perfect example of a movie that was based on a true story, that wasn't even accurate:

Pain & Gain

We all know the black comedy pretty well; it's a bunch of buff dudes that start killing people that started off as an accident and got out of control, just to get money. However, that whole scenario wasn't so accurate. The movie was loosely based on articles from the The Miami Times featuring the murders of the Sun Gym Gang. The survivor of the kidnappings and tortures, Marc Schiller, was never contacted during the making of the film. He confessed that the movie got all the characters wrong. In fact, the Sun Gym Gang wasn't just three members, it was instead a much larger group.

                             Dwayne Johnson (Paul Doyle)

Carl Weekes
 Dwayne Johnson's character (Paul Doyle) doesn't even exist in real life, and was actually composed of three different guys: Jorge Delgado, Carl Weekes and Mario Sanchez. There is also a scene where Doyle robs an armored truck and gets a toe shot off. That scene? Entirely fictional. And those gay references that affected Doyle's life? Completely made up by Hollywood. 

                       Tony Shalhoub (Victor Kershaw)
Marc Schiller

Marc Schiller was the survivor of the gruesome kidnapping in real life. But in the movie, Victor Kershaw (Marc Schiller's character) is nothing like the real deal. In the movie he's seen as a brash person, living the life and smoking cigars. In reality, Schiller was a humble man and had a family to take care of, not a house full of women in their bikinis. He also wasn't a rich scumbag, but instead owned a failing deli franchise that still gave him seven figures in the bank. Hollywood did this in order for the audience to sympathize with the killers, instead of the kidnapped. Kershaw also never hit Daniel Lugo with his car in the Bahamas, which we saw towards the end of the film. None of that happened. The task force just arrested Lugo in a hotel. And if we really wanna get picky with how accurate the film is, Schiller was never buckled up in the car when the gang attempted to kill him. He actually jumped out of the car before it hit the pole, and then was ran over twice with a Camry, not a van.

This is Rebel Wilson's character in the film. I'm not even gonna explain this.

What does make matters worse about this movie is that the filmmakers turned a real life event that affected a lot of people, into a comedy. As Schiller says, the only accurate thing about the movie is the title: "My pain really did result in a lot of people's gain. Especially Hollywood's."

Friday, September 26, 2014

I Can't Wait to See That!

What is my favorite part of the movie going experience, you ask?  Is it that moment right before the film when the lights begin to dim?  Is it the reactions of the audience members around me?  Is it the popcorn?  My favorite part of going to see a movie would have to be watching the previews.  Previews allow an audience to get a taste of a thousand movies that they may never have time to watch. 

There are two types of trailers.  A teaser trailer is generally the first trailer released for a movie.  These types of trailers consists of clips of scenes from the film and are generally fairly short.  If the film is a comedy, the funniest bits and gags are shown.  If the film is a horror flick, the preview will consist of a few jump scares and creepy images.  It is to grab the audiences attention and make sure that they will be interested in seeing the film.  Closer to the premiere of the film, the theatrical trailer will be released.  This type of trailer lets on more about the plot of the film.  Instead of showing just the most exciting aspects of a film, the plot will be explored, giving the audience a deeper look into what the film is about. 

Unfortunately, trailers do not always provide an accurate representation of the films that they are attempting to market.  Though previews may be fun to watch, they are extremely misleading.  They generally offer only tidbits of information that can not let an audience member accurately judge the quality of a film.
(The first comment under this trailer says, "this trailer makes the movie look better then it actual is.")

A thrilling trailer can make a movie a lot of money even if the film itself is lacking.  By showing only the funniest parts of comedies in trailers, the audience is convinced that the whole movie is even funnier.  In reality, however, the best parts of the movie have already been revealed in the trailer.  As a viewer this is frustrating, for you may spend up to fourteen dollars to see a movie in a theater, and then discover that it is much less intriguing than it appeared in the preview.  

It is for this very reason, however, that previews are my favorite part of going to see a movie.  The collection of previews shown at the beginning of the film allows you to briefly experience many different genres while never having to pay fourteen dollars to sit through a bad film.  In the previews, every film looks like it is the best film that you will ever see!

The Lego Movie: A movie that should have sucked, but was actually pretty awesome

Okay, so I'll be honest,  when I first heard they were making a Lego movie I groaned. Because come on, it sounded like it would be a stupid kiddy movie that's soul purpose was only to sell more Legos at Toys R Us. Most films like this (Transformers, Battleship, etc.) are just god awful. Also, I've grown up playing with not only Lego toys, but also other Lego merchandise- such as their popular video games. I can't tell you how much fun I had playing the Lego Stars Wars video game as a kid, but the thought that the cut scenes from that video game were to be the type of content about to be featured in a Hollywood film was horrifying to me. (I mean in the earlier games the Legos don't even speak english, they just sort of babble like in the Sims, it's weird and just awful.)

With all that said, I don't think it was completely unfair of me to have my doubts about this film. So, when the film came out and started getting extremely positive reviews, I couldn't believe it.

So obviously, I had to go check this out for myself and I am so glad I did! Because not only is the Lego Movie good, it's awesome! The film is brilliantly and hilariously written, with beautiful animation, charming voice acting, and a surprising amount of heart. 

One of my favorite things about the film is how self-referential it is. It knows that it's a movie about Legos and instead of making the audience try to forget that, which would be impossible, it uses this fact to it's advantage. The film jokes not only about the nature of the toys and properties themselves, but also the way it's users/audience relate to them. 

For example, this was one of my favorite jokes in the film:

Because, come on, who didn't have that one friend who would only use certain colors or pieces when playing with Legos? (The fact that they use Batman and his darkness obsession, for this joke just makes it better.) It is little touches like this that really make the film connect with the audience in a way that other film franchises with a similar basis (again: Transformers, Battleship, etc) have not. 

This film is kind of like Lego's mission statement. It actually makes you want to leave the theater and go buy Legos.  Which I guess is the point, but it's done so well and so cleverly that you don't even mind being marketed to for two hours. 

The Lego Movie is directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, who also directed another popular film you might have heard of...

Yeah, no wonder you liked the Lego Movie, huh? What's even better, Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill actually both have small speaking roles in the Lego Movie because of this.

 If you did not know that, you are welcome by the way.

As you can probably tell, Warner Brother's (who distributed the film) took full advantage of their rights to use DC comic book characters (Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, etc) in this film. Which is fine by me because then we get jokes like these-

But DC heroes weren't the only franchise characters to make an appearance in this film. The Lego Movie goes all out, bringing in characters from films such as Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings. It adds to the atmosphere of magic and chaos that the film presents, because when else are you going to see Dumbledore and Gandalf in the same movie? It could only happen in the Lego Movie and the filmmakers took full advantage of this fact.

I could go on and on about how much fun the Lego Movie is, but if you've already seen it then you know what I'm talking about and if you haven't I don't want to spoil anymore for you! If you are one of those people who have yet to see this film, go rent it and watch it with a bunch of friends! You won't regret it!

Hans Zimmer, The Great and Powerful

Many times in life we look for something to inspire us, something to give us some kind of guidance. And for many of us, music does this. It is meant to create something within us to make us want to look for more, or to not give up, or even to help us mourn. Music covers everything and it is our best friend who is always there for us. It picks us up when we have fallen. It teaches us to stay motivated and go for our dreams. It tells us stories of heart break and death, things we relate to. Music does it all, and it does it for every single person in this world. 

When I was little, most of the movies I was attracted to were mainly disney movies. Most of these disney movies were musicals. But some had some kind of sound track that helped build the plot. As I got older I obviously watched more than just disney movies, and I found myself looking at more than just the film. The music that played during the story helped me believe more in what I was watching. And I found myself looking up several different soundtracks, composers, and downloading all of the songs I had witnessed during the films. These songs stuck with me so much that I wanted to listen to them everyday. And I can tell you right now, had there of been no music in these films, I probably would not have liked the film as much or felt as connected to them as I did, and still do.

Obviously there are many different composers and each of them have their own style.
However one of my absolute favorites would have to be Hans Zimmer. Hans Zimmer has composed music for over 150 films! And that’s only films. He’s also done television in his lifetime. If you have seen Dark Knight, Pirates of the Caribbean, 12 Years a Slave, or the classic disney movie The Lion King, then you have been graced with the music of Hans Zimmer. Hans had his big break when he composed for Rain Man in 1988. The movie deals with two brothers 
whose father has just died. The father leaves one of 
them a huge amount of money, and leaves the 
other one close to nothing, so they decide to travel across the country together. Being that this movie takes place mainly on the road, Hans wanted the movie to be different than any other road movie. Normally road movies are found to have a lot of music containing guitars, or stringed instruments and so he wanted to create something new. He did this by using mainly an electronic keyboard, and he also incorporated flutes into it. The soundtrack was very airy and misty that created a bit of sadness that the film needed, and it matched the emotion of the story completely. The film’s soundtrack was nominated by The Academy for Best Music, Original Score. The film definitely got him much attention because it led him to many other projects.

Another soundtrack that got him much attention was Disney’s, The Lion King. Hans worked with Elton John, as well as Tim Rice, and he produced a score. This soundtrack is very well known throughout the whole world. It was made in three different countries, and it is known as the best selling soundtrack album in an animated film in America. It has sold over 7 million copies. More than half of those copies were sold the same year it came out, in 1994. Hans won an oscar for this film for best music, and original score in 1995. However, one of my favorite scores that Hans has done would have to be his work on the Pirates of the Caribbean. Hans was originally asked by Director Gore Verbinski to work on the first Pirates of the Caribbean, Curse of the Black Pearl. However he was working on another score, so he did not officially work on it, he only helped the other composer Klaus Badelt with it. However once the second movie came rolling around, he couldn’t help himself and he completely immersed himself in the score. He worked on the1st,  2nd,  3rd, and 4th of the Pirates of the Caribbean series. I loved his work in these movies because he was able to catch the life of a true Pirate and somehow not make it corny. And while doing all of that, he also helped build each character. Depending on what race they were, he could have influences from many different cultures.

"You try to treat each film as an autonomous movie, but at the same time, there's great fun in revisiting old friends, as it were. We now have Penélope Cruz playing Angelica, who's Spanish, so I felt that there could be some Latin influences in the score for On Stranger Tides. I've been a big fan of Mexican guitarists Rodrigo y Gabriela for years now, and I asked them if they wanted to come and play with us. We've been having a really great time with them being part of the musical world this film gets to inhabit.” -Hans Zimmer, Pirates Wikia

He was nominated for these movies several times and won many awards. For Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, he won the ASCAP Film and Television Music Award in 2012. He was also nominated by the World Soundtrack awards in 2011 for Soundtrack Composer of the Year for his work on Pirates, Inception, How Do You Know, Megamind, The Dilemma, Rango, and Kung Fu Panda 2. For Pirates of the Caribean: Dead Man’s Chest, he won the ASCAP Film and Television Music Award in 2007. He also won it the same year for The Da Vinci Code. He was also nominated for his work on the 2nd Pirates film by the Grammys in 2007 for Best Score Soundtrack Album for Motion Picture. And for Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, he won the ASCAP Film and Television Music Award in 2008. Needless to say Hans Zimmer’s work on Pirates was awesome. I'm curious to see if he works on the new Pirates of the Carribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, which is suppose to come out in theaters July 2017. Fingers crossed he does work on the film score!

 Hans Zimmer is one of the best film composers out there. His music never fails to be different each time. He is able to create such a specific sound for each story and represent each character differently, yet keeping them similar at the same time. If you haven’t payed close attention to the detail of his music, then I suggest you start. What makes Hans so great is that he does this because he loves it and I think that shows in his music. He isn’t doing it for the money, or just because he has to, he is doing it because he chooses to. He loves it and will continue to share his love for it with the ears of the world. 

"If something happened where I couldn't write music anymore, it would kill me. It's not just a job. It's not just a hobby. It's why I get up in the morning."- Hans Zimmer

Check out the best of Hans Zimmer in the video below, you won't regret it!

Inside the Theater

Since I was a young boy the movie theatre has always been a sacred place to me. Almost every other weekend as a kid the movie theatre was always a place to escape. In an odd way going to see a film with my family was a time to bond. And I say it's odd because going to see a movie with other people doesn't give you much time to talk to the other person. But it's the time before and after the movie that starts up a conversation and creates this bond between people. And I believe that all starts with the movie theatre.

From the moment you step into a theatre you are hit with the that buttery aroma, and the bright lights illuminate the concession stand. Even before the film starts you are already enthralled into a different world where candy and soda are overpriced beyond one's imagination. And as you walk into the theatre and up the stairs the little lights guide you like plane on it's take off. You sit through the previews as you get excited by another reason to come back and you can't wait until the film actually starts. And it finally does.

One of the most magical moments about going to the movies is not knowing. Not knowing what the film will do to you and how you may remember this moment is something truly special. There are moments sitting in different theaters that I will always remember. Laughing with my best friends, crying alone in a theatre, or the awkward dates I've had all while watching a movie. Some have been pretty bad movies now that I'm looking back but it's what the films remind me of and that's all that matters. Sometimes a film is more than just individual frames trying to tell a story and it becomes more about the moment of time your life is in. Movies and the experiences I've had at the theatre have changed me into who I am today, and I hope to one day make someone feel the same. 

The Church of Schwarzenegger

Can we take a moment to talk about Arnold Schwarzenegger?

Here is an actor who has never won any acting awards and for good reason. Here's a guy who got into the movie business on his impressive physique and winning smile. Here's a person that pretty much anyone with even the slightest bit of film knowledge is aware of. Here is also someone who is the butt of many good-natured jokes and the subject of millions of sorta-funny, sorta-terrible impressions (Seriously, everyone has an Arnie impression, no matter how bad).

However, he is a widely beloved figure (In film- I'm not going to touch his politics), a cultural phenomenon, and his box office numbers have been incredible over the years (Until now, but I'll get into that later). Where does the affection come from and how did he get to be such a living legend?
A one man Arnie.
(I'm so sorry, that was terrible)
So, how in the world can I go from discussing The Turin Horse last week to using a Commando gif today?! Just go with it- it takes all kinds. That's just it, though. In order to get into any type of semi-serious conversation about Arnold Schwarzenegger, you have to be willing to buy the silliness of his films. Admittedly, I can't even get into all of his movies. Most of them are garbage, but even in the worst of the worst, I find myself irrationally giddy over his inclusion. As for the few that actually work as films, the appreciation comes in part as a result of the director's use of Arnie as more than just the goofy one-liner-spouting muscleman. In this respect, I'm talking about Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Predator.
Warning: May become intoxicated by the testosterone in this gif.
Arnie's roles in the two aforementioned films are different for the most part. He's pretty much invincible in Terminator and he shows a fair amount of vulnerability in Predator, as he is stalked by the unfazed alien hunter. However, both roles have limited dialogue, and Schwarzenegger's physicality is used to the fullest, working in conjunction with, rather than overwhelming the action or suspense the film is creating. As far as I'm concerned, he's enjoyable in any role, but when put to good use, the results can be fantastic (And yes, I do think Predator is a legitimately well-made film for what it is).
A striking resemblance.
Despite coming up in over the top action fare, Schwarzenegger somehow found his way into comedies. Not only that, but he wasn't too shabby! Don't get me wrong, his acting wasn't that much better than it was before, but suddenly, he was fully allowed to tap into the charisma and likability that laid just below the surface in the likes of early hits such as Conan the Barbarian or The Terminator. Where did this come from and who first noticed it, you ask? For that, I point you in the direction of a little film called Pumping Iron.

Pumping Iron was a documentary centering on bodybuilding that was released in 1977. It's cool for some early candid footage of Arnold, but it's also a really solid piece of filmmaking. The doc spends time with multiple subjects, but Schwarzenegger is the main focus and by watching all this footage featuring him, it is very easy to see how he became a star. He's naturally funny and not a word that comes out of his mouth feels disingenuous. All the other bodybuilders talk about him, clearly in awe of both his muscles and his magnetic personality. At the end of the film, he announces his retirement from bodybuilding competition...Could anyone have guessed what would come next?
Suddenly, the Slap Chop sounds like a great deal.
Still working post-governorship (Sorry, but...this man was elected Governor! I still can't believe that happened!) and more than happy to self-deprecate, Arnie continues to be a force in pop culture. However, his time as a box office draw appears to be just about up, as his last few films opened to mediocre numbers. The world seems to be giving up on grey and grizzled Arnold, while the buff and bright-eyed Arnie of the 80's and 90's remains fondly remembered. He came up at the right time- a perfect fit for the indulgent nature of 80's action cinema. Most modern actioneers can't handle the kind of unabashed cheese Arnold was associated with and perhaps the rough assimilation into more self-serious fare partially explains his recent decline. That's not to mention the new requirement that he must refer to his age in every movie he's in nowadays. I suppose the "I'm too old for this" schtick can only get you so far (I'm looking at you, too, Sly). I still love him, but for the rest of you, we'll always have this:
Not his best moment, but it makes me laugh.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Subtlety of Sofia Coppola

Sofia Coppola began acting as a baby, in her father, Francis Ford Coppola’s, film The Godfather. She acted through her teens and late teens but was met with much criticism. She truly burst onto the scene as a director, when she made her first feature film The Virgin Suicides, an adaptation of Jeffrey Eugenides book of the same name. It’s a chilling portrait of adolescence in the 1970's suburbs, and manages to avoid the clichés which tend to ruin most films on this topic. What stands out most to me about this film is its subtlety. Cinematographer Edward Lachman, paints the characters in soft diffused light, the whole movie, which adds to the general ambience. The Virgin Suicides is very nearly a silent movie. The dialogue that exists is muttered almost in whispers, something that is a mainstay throughout her films. A muted color palette and simple framing is present through all her films:

These beautiful yet eerie images are interspersed with the film's more disturbing images:


Lost in Translation, was her next and probably most widely acclaimed film, winning awards around the world. This film sticks to a similar color scheme and again the subtlety dominates this film. Sofia Coppola has mastered squeezing the most emotion possible from the simplest gestures. She uses dialogue as a secondary tool and instead uses the dreamy imagery of each shot to move the viewer through different stages of emotion. This subtlety crosses over into the plot as well. The film stars Scarlet Johansson and Bill Murray who even though they don’t do as much as kiss, manage to involve you in a deep passionate love story. Handled by another director, this film could have fallen into sappy, melodramatic mush, but with Sofia Coppola it stands as a gentle and beautiful statement on loneliness and friendship in Tokyo.

In recent years Sofia Coppola is known for Marie Antoinette, Somewhere, and her latest film The Bling Ring. These films stay in the quiet subtle realm that her earlier films created. This is true, especially in Somewhere which makes many people uncomfortable with its endless shots of banal actions, such as a car driving around a track, and strippers pole dancing, very awkwardly. Through these endless scenes Coppola builds tension and mood.

The mood of her films are probably the most striking things about them. From the first shot to the last a kind of haze sets over the film. This is why her films can capture audiences so completely. She manipulates viewers not by over the top action or drama but by leading them through the moods of the character’s lives. Through this subtlety Coppola’s films wash over the audience and leave an impact that the viewer may not even be aware of.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Creating a soft image with the book light

Cinematographer Shane Hurlbut A.S.C. has worked on some films such as Need for Speed, Act of Valor, and Semi-Pro. In which he uses a lighting technique that he describes on his blog as a "Book Light." This configuration and purpose is definitely interesting way to light a scene. Essentially, a book light is any light source which is first bounced creating a soft effect, and then diffused even more through diffusion material such as bleached or unbleached muslin. When positioned the bounce and diff will look like that of a book. Also, now the bounce has become the source of light, making it so that moving the diffusion closer or further away from your subject can change the softness of this light. One last thing to mention is that in most locations this bounce source will probably have light spill everywhere, leading to light bouncing off the walls in many directions. To combat this, having a few flags or draping a large piece of duvetyne fabric in order to block off this light will be extremely useful in order to make the scene have an even look.

Go over and check out Shane's useful blog:

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Jonathan Demme and Stop Making Sense

Talking Heads have been present in my life for as long as I can remember. Some of my earliest musical memories with my mom involve listening to songs like "And She Was" and "Psycho Killer" on the cassette player in our car. The band's discography is burnt into my head in a way that can only happen when you're exposed to music at a very young age. Once I began listening to music on my own, their greatest hits CD came into heavy rotation. I've never quite understood them, and I've always thought that David Byrne was kind of crazy, but I've always loved the band.

When I began to become interested in film, I was thrilled to discover the existence of Jonathan Demme's 1984 concert documentary, Stop Making Sense. Demme, who is most famous for his 1991 thriller Silence of the Lambs, brings an innovative cinematic approach to the concert film. Shot over several nights of the Talking Heads tour, so as to get the necessary footage but not interfere with the show itself, the film employs cinematic techniques in a concert setting. The most noticeable departure from the traditional concert film comes in the film's lighting. Emphasizing high-contrast, stark lighting, Demme and his gaffer (as well as, presumably, the lighting designer of the concert) fill the stage with shadows, often creating dramatic silhouettes of the performers that stand out in a genre defined by showing as much of what's going on as possible. Demme isn't afraid to leave some of the action out of the frame, while still showing enough to display the talent of the performers.

Monday, September 22, 2014


I think we all either remember the first music video we saw or if we don't remember that we all love watching music videos. I mean who doesn't love getting lost in some non-narritive, episodic, film that helps to advance or give a deeper glimpse into the artistry of the performer. Oh, and if you are wondering the first music video that I ever watched was Hung Up by Madonna in 2005.

Anyways, while we consume these videos, I will bet good money that there is no one that stops to analyze the history, form, or structure of the music video. Well that isn't entirely true, I shouldn't say no one because a film scholar and historian named Kennet Dancyger, whose primary interests are in film editing and film production, purposed that a surrealist silent film from 1929 entitled Un Chien Andalou might be the birth of the film making style that is present in modern day music videos. His thesis states that, "[Un Chien Andalou] broadens the film makers options: to make sense, to move, to disturb, to rob of meaning, to undermine the security of knowing" (Ken Dancyger, The Technique of Film and Video Editing: History, Theory, and Practice, 32). In lay man's terms this he argues that by subverting the continuity of a traditional narrative, Un Chien Andalou opens the door for the film maker to act in direct colloquy with the audience. In the same manner, music videos provide the same blank canvas in which narrative structure is abandoned in favor  In this weeks blog post, I want to further examine this claim as I compare Un Chien Andalou and its aesthetic to the aesthetics of two current music videos, Shades of Cool, by Lana Del Rey, and Applause, by Lady Gaga.


Un Chien Andalou is the height of the French Surrealist Avant-Garde film movement. We are all familiar with famous eye cutting scene (hopefully) and the disjunctive, non-narrative structure that this film employs as a means of subverting the audiences expectations that have been built by watching a diet of narrative films. Below are the two eye images....

The reason that I have included both the eye images is because they are vitally important to understanding the meaning of Un Chien Andalou. These images occur right at the beginning of the film and the image of cutting out an eyeball is representative of destroying your previous gaze and biases so that you can experience the film through a new lens, one that the film maker attempts to construct rather than one a producer or an industry have sought to establish through a long history of convention. After the eye is cut away, we as the audience are then at the mercy of the film maker's push and pull, which can be seen primarily in the extra-diagetic music and the lack of continuity of time. The music used in the film creates a dichotomy between establishing mood as well as destroying the mood of the film, thereby creating what I like to call an anti-mood, or a mood in the music that is at odds with the visual on screen. Also another element that is at odds with narrative structure that we are all used to is the use of title cards to establish a time that is at odds with time that the visuals show us.  

Above are some examples of the title cards used and there translations. The importance of these title cards comes when you observe that they create a duel narrative. The first narrative that they create is within themselves as the title cards serve to break the narrative structure and remove us from the narrative, which in and of itself is still narrative (Hopefully that wasn't to confusing for you and you can follow my logic here but if not think about it this way, even a lack of something or NOTHING still MEANS SOMETHING). The second narrative that is being created is in the image that  is being shown on the screen against these title cards, that do not match up with the title cards flashing across the screen and that push and pull is important to take note of. This style of disjunctive editing is important because the author of the film, Luis Bunuel, is attempting to poke fun at the Hollywood style of continuity editing by putting the time in the title cards and the time in the images at odds with each other. I would now like to move the discussion on to how Lana Del Rey's music video Shades of Cool can be compared to Un Chien Andalou.  

In Lana Del Rey's music video for her single Shades of Cool, which is influenced by Un Chien Andalou, we see many elements of an experimental, avant-garde cinema. While not probative off any deep connection or influence it is interesting to note that the establishing shot of Shades of Cool is of a man's eyes. Additionally, Shades of Cool does not follow a narrative structure or maintain any semblance of special continuum as it employs an episodic structure. Also of note is the way that the video uses super imposition of images, and heightened color to convey a very specific mood through her corpus of work. For those who don't know Lana Del Rey has said in interviews that she tries to create music that remembers a time when she abused substances (she abused alcohol as a teen) and that she tries to sound like she is under in the influence when she sings. If the videos are viewed through this lens we can then see the super-imposition of images and heightened colors can be seen as the means of chasing a time when she was under the influence of alcohol. Next, I want to examine Lady Gaga's music video for Applause and how it compares to Un Chien Andalou.


In a similar manner to Lana Del Rey's Shades of Cool, Lady Gaga's Applause is very much rooted in a surreal, non-narrative world. Also, Lady Gaga's video is also rooted in the pop art traditions of Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons. Much like Lana Del Rey's video, Lady Gaga utilized bright, stylized colors, and super imposition of semi-creepy, very pop art influenced, images like her with her head on the body of goose. None the less, Lady Gaga's video is very experimental in its nature as it eschews traditional narrative structure, never locates in a specific time and place, and, most importantly is influenced by artistic movements which derive from the surreal artist tradition of the 1920's. The album which the song Applause is featured on is called ART POP which Gaga describes as a reverse Warholian experience where by art is put into pop and the viewer can assess meaning from that. So when viewed thought this very pretentious lens, Gaga attempts to use a manipulate the image that she presents to the audience for the effect of making some grand statement about the nature of art and how that influences music. 

As can be seen in all of these stills, the gaze of the camera and the viewers eye are immediately focused on the eyes or the eyeball. This creates a proximity to the audience because it roots them in the perspective of the artists gaze. This allows a direct colloquy with the audience that allows them to feel as thought they are gaining a personal experience of their favorite artists. So actually it isn't the Illuminati that is responsible for all the eye symbolism in music videos, it is Un Chien Andalou's fault. 


While this is just an interesting theory that has been purposed by a film scholar and further explored by me in this blog post, I think that it is important for everyone who is interested in film in any capacity to expose themselves experimental films. As I have learned from my Film Aesthetics and Analysis class at Ithaca College, experimental film and its practice of subverting genre and conventional expectations, can often times teach us more about the practices of film making then narrative films can. I want to close with that by no means can I say with 100% certainty that Un Chien Andalou is the reason and the cause for the style of modern music video but I thought that it was an interesting idea that Mr. Dancyger proposed that I wanted to explore further.