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“…there are no sacred truths; all assumptions must be critically examined”.

Carl Sagan kind of rocks a little bit, don’t you think? I mean it’s nothing new, Socrates came up with that sort of thing sometime between 469 – 399 BC, and since the renaissance science has moved towards this exact idea as being the backbone policy. But if you have a a light gadget that shines moving stars across your wall, then turn off the lights, put on Carl Sagan’s voice, and just enjoy. I kid you not, gather some friends and lie on the floor. Life starts to make a little more sense, kind of like listening to Bob Brown after listening to Abbott.

Talking of, how about this link(?), which kind of ends in a let down…

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The other day we discussed truth in documentary, and in particular whether the genre can ever be completely truthful. For me, I don’t think there is such a thing as an absolute truth, and if there is I don’t think people can ever know that it is for certain. If there is nothing that can be determined as pure truth in real life, how can it be done on screen in the form of documentary? There is a difference, however, between not being able to show a complete truth and covering up truth to manipulate viewers. When there is an agenda that distorts the story that is when truth is compromised.

A while ago now, before we had our class on documentary, I got a copy of a documentary I had been wanting to see called, ‘If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front’ (2011). I approached the documentary skeptically, especially because I had found out about the documentary via a source that (who) is not opposed to expressing what would be considered extreme environmental views.

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And that is what the film is all about, extreme environmental views, but from the perspective of different people. We are shown the negative side of the people involved in the attacks from the E.L.F., as well as seeing what prompted these people. There was a balanced view here that I wasn’t expecting; the only opinion that the film slightly pushes is the harshness of the penalties for the convicted ex-members. This does seem like a pretty obvious conclusion to reach however.

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Not knowing any of the history of the Earth Liberation Front in America, I didn’t approach the film with a negative view on the organisation, as many who are more aware of them might. The film takes a lot of time explaining the background of the organisation and its members, this part may be said to bring audiences to take sides with the current and ex-E.L.F. members, but I felt it was done in quite an objective and matter of fact manner. Especially considering that the average American viewer would have experienced an onslaught of negative information about the E.L.F distributed by the press.

People from both sides of the story were extremely cautious about giving interviews to the film crew.

The activists didn’t trust us because they feared we were going to do what the media always did: sensationalize the story and brand them as terrorists.  And the law enforcement and arson victims worried that we were going to sand-bag them and edit the film out of context to make them look bad.”  – Marshall Curry (director, writer, producer editor)

Isn’t it funny that these people were already geared to believe that a documentary would manipulate and cover up the truth? Marshall Curry went on to say,

The film has been very well received by people on all sides of the story.  The former ELF press spokesman… said that the film is an honest exploration of complex issues, and he thinks that it will generate important conversations about those topics.  And the Federal Prosecutor who spent years working to put the ELF in prison has said the exact same thing.

Directors/Producers: Marshall Curry, Sam Cullman

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I’ll leave with a quote from the film, a part that particularly stuck with me. I think that most people who watch documentaries probably already have a strong, predetermined stance on things, we pick a documentary because the topic interests us. So how much is preaching to the converted, so to speak. This documentary was not like that, mostly because it’s pretty hard to get behind one side and say, “yes they are right”. This was a documentary that confused me, kept me thinking for a long time afterwards,  and made me assess my values and my position. Who’s to say who will be thought of as right or wrong 50, 100 years from now. The Earth Liberation Front are seen as extreme now, but will they be hailed as ahead of their time, as revolutionaries later down the track? Where does the truth, the correct path, lie?

The industry tends to call the environmentalists radical, the reality is that 95% of the standing native forests of the United States have been cut down. It’s not radical to try and save the last 5%, what’s radical is logging 95%. This is radical.” – Bill Barton, Native Forest Council

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If you’re asking me, and lets face it you’re probably not, a lesson spent watching Community, Seinfeld and Buffy, is a lesson well spent.

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Novelty episodes. Not really a fan of musicals, I always end up feeling quite awkward for the characters. Cringing for them, and wondering ‘why would you do that?’

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I have a friend, who is the biggest Buffy fan I know. We would watch it together (a late discovery, so we had the DVDs) during sleep overs, maybe make a cake, or eat ice-cream. Staying up late, watching television and eating junk-food, the downfall of our generation, well I don’t regret any of it!

One of these nights she declared that I had, had, haaaad to see the musical episode. It just might be the reason we were on this earth, aka I could die after viewing this and die a content chappy. A somewhat intuitive statement considering the subject matter of the episode. ELBOW-NUDGE, ELBOW-NUDGE. Anyway, I approached with trepidation, but also with a level of awareness of the greatness of Buffy.

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And yeah, it’s kinda shit, but isn’t that also what Buffy‘s kinda about? Being so shit that it’s great? I’m sure that could be heavily disputed, but it’s my blog, and my opinion… so it stays!

Power-trip aside (not to mention cover-up of truth with my blatant one-sided opinion, hello have you met the blog on documentary?), the point is, is that musical episodes do realise they’re contrived and are taking the micky out of themselves. In our post-modern world of reference overload, special episodes realise the film tradition they are representing, and tend to be highly self aware in their delivery. i.e. that shitness is an included necessity.

Community takes this to a new level, and when Community gets referenced… that just gets full on. Community has a special episode just about every second episode, and as a ‘generation y hipster’, I love it. I’m kidding, I am not a hipster (but that’s just what a hipster would say, wouldn’t they?)

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It seems as though we have so much information easily available to us (and maybe through the influence of academia) we are constantly sourcing and citing as a part of modern speech. It might even be the somewhat recent obsession with copyright laws that makes us extremely careful of acknowledging our inspirations and influences.

We often view commercial television as dumbed down, and vying for cheap laughs, there are obviously shows that confound these expectations. Seinfeld is one, I think if you actually explore Buffy you’ll find it has more substance behind it also. More recently I think the humour in modern television shows tries to be wittier, up-to-date and filled with double-meanings. It aims to make the audience feel a part of a group; a smart and on-the-ball group. It’s a satisfying pay-off. It’s kind of intellectual bribery, with some tribal mentality thrown in for good measure (in the sense that we natural like being a part of a group). I am very much looking at YOU, How I Met Your Mother.

Even Gossip Girl does this, seriously, watch some of it. There are a lot of quips that can be picked up, and possibly it could be said that today, there is a growing trend for there to be two layers of writing. Something for your average viewer, and something for hyper aware viewer.

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Although, it must be said that Two and a Half Men does not fall under this trend, and apparently it’s really popular. That is probably a whole blog post in itself, and something that no amount of analysing or heightened awareness can figure out.

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… and Law and Order, what the freak is that on about? Community did a hilarious episode about it though…

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Okay, okay, okay. Here’s a dude I love, love, love! Yes, I even brought him up in my film pitch as an influence for my film. Eric Rohmer. What a dude! And by dude I mean maker of brilliance.

Now there are two tangents that I’m going to go off on in terms of ‘mise en scene’ for this guy; colour and sound.

Rohmer was the type of guy to have a colour palette for his films, and he seems to have a thing for greens and blues. Checking out online snapshots of his films, you start to realise just how far he’s taken it, it’s pretty much a lifework’s homage to blue and green. Well, maybe not that intense, but you get my hyperbole.

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Adventure time: lets check this out in one of my all time favourites, the 1987 film, ‘L’ami de mon amie’, or for the non-French speaking of you, ‘My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend’. Throughout the film Rohmer uses colour to pair off the two inter-changeable couples by dressing them in bold shades of either blue or green.

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This is done most noticeably in the final scene of the film when the two couples reveal to each other their secret romances. Standing across from each other the pairs balance each other out, and while I love (SPOILER ALERT!!!) the happy ending for, everyone’s preferred couple, Blanche and Fabien, the constant swapping of colours does suggest that this is just the temporary situation and that these young, wild things could just as easily change their minds.

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Of course you could also see this as Rohmer saying that this is the final switch for the couples, that in this final scene we can see how it ends. I always thought of Blanche and Fabien’s relationship as holding strong, and Lea and Alexandre’s relationship not withstanding. Rohmer also tends to have a ‘silly’ woman and a ‘sensible’ woman, as a viewer we know who to side with and who the one to succeed will be, but could he be saying that neither is necessarily the path to success? This is a film about young people making mistakes, playing with life, I don’t get a feeling of permanent with Eric Rohmer’s films, the characters continue off screen.

Something that I adore about Eric Rohmer’s films is his use of sound. It’s like nothing that I have heard elsewhere; he captures the sounds of a place and makes them a prominent part of the film, creating an extremely naturalistic ambience. There is rarely any music in his films only the sounds of the environment. Through his soundtrack Rohmer brings up familiar sensory and is able to add an extra dimension of reality to transport you to his world.

After doing some research on the matter, I found this:

As always, Rohmer uses real locations, natural light and sound. As they walk and talk in the vineyard (5.25 on) on a windy day, Magali and Isabelle struggle to keep their hair under control, and the wind is clearly audible, as is a passing train. In fact, Stephen reports that in his quest for realism Rohmer will not add any sound not recorded as shot, and he will not voice-over a dialogue to remove background sound.

– Interview with Mary Stephen re making of Conte d’Automne

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As I now know, Rohmer was very secretive person, and was extremely careful about staying out of the spotlight.

Rohmer has always avoided personal publicity, one reason being to remain anonymous while filming in public… he normally shoots with a team of only four people, both to keep costs down and to avoid attracting attention…Most of the time people in the streets imagine that they’re shooting a student film, or a documentary.

– Interview with Mary Stephen re making of Conte d’Automne

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I’ll leave you with this:

“Neither the text of commentaries or the dialogues are the totality of the film – they are things I film, like the landscapes, faces, behaviours and gestures. I show people who move and speak.”

– Eric Rohmer

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And now a post to even it up. Just because I like Jennifer Aniston better. Not because she’s America’s sweetheart, or the classic girl next door, or the ever suffering, unlucky in love, but still kick ass gal. No, I like her because I’ve grown fond of her through years of watching ‘Friends’.

[http://www.people.com/people/jennifer_aniston/0,,,00.html]

Really, she was always going to be the popular one from the start. For ten or so years Jennifer had been entertaining us, made herself part of our lives. There was a strong connection, a relationship that had been nurtured every week in our lounge rooms. She had made her way into our hearts in way that Angelina never could. The wholesome Jen, next to the bad girl Ange.

These are the people who fill the gossip magazines. They are well and truly celebrities, as opposed to stars. But why? Well, I would say that for me it’s because Angelina Jolie is known for her action movies, that aren’t particularly dialogue savvy, or focus on her acting skills. Unless wearing tight fitting clothing, and doing high kicks with nice looking legs is brilliant acting. It’s not. Which is why she’s not a star.

(Talking of nice legs, have you checked out Jen’s?)

 [http://scarletmom.com/2011/07/making-peace-with-your-body/jennifer-aniston-long-legs/]

Maybe Ange can get props for working with Clint in ‘The Changeling’. But he’s the kind of guy that can get anybody and turn them into brilliance. Kind of like Tarrentino (but high brow).

For Jennifer, I would say that a large part of falling into the celebrity category is that she is closely connected to television. Television always seems to mean second rate, and I wonder if that will start to change with the widely reported upon changing of the medium itself. Television doesn’t have to deem a person as a celebrity though, as it does produce many good actors. The people in ‘The West Wing’, ‘Mad Men’, ‘The Wire’, ‘The Sopranos’, ‘Six Feet Under’, etc. But you will notice a general trend with these shows, they are all serious dramas. They may have comedic elements, and shows like ‘Breaking Bad’ especially push this side, but in general a lot of what is considered ‘good acting’ is the ability to play a serious role. There are a whole heap of actors that are loved for being able to play a heart wrenching part, meanwhile only a slim amount of comedic actors (Steve Carrel, John Cleese) are considered genius. Is it because comedy is considered easier to watch, it is therefore thought of as easier to act? As a personal view I think Jennifer Aniston is a very good comic actor, she has a brilliant sense of timing and knows how to deliver a line, and yet I too didn’t start to really respect her as an actor until I saw Nicole Holofcener’s ‘Friend’s With Money’. She had now justified herself, she was able to act a range of roles and not just be a comedic actor. But is a actor who is experienced in dramatic roles expected to be able to act in a comedic role to demonstrate their range? I think they would possibly be criticised for not, but would still have a respect that comedic actors seem to lack.

But what about the hoards of crap that Jennifer has been in, I hear you say. Well then, what about Elizabeth Taylor? And she’s still a star.

I should probably end by saying that comedic actors need to be taken more seriously, because that’s a neat way to end this post. But then that would be lame. So… lets end here.

 

[http://www.celebridoodle.com/celebridoodle/jennifer-aniston-shows-some-leg-pictures.html]

‘In The Mood For Love’, directed by Wong Kar-wai and released in 2000, is a sublimely beautiful film. Each shot is carefully considered, and the set and costumes are well thought out and very detailed. The film is set in the past, during the sixties in Hong Kong, and is very much embroiled in nostalgia. At times I find myself very suspicious of this film, as I am with any film that shows suffering in a beautiful way. I don’t agree that suffering is a beautiful thing, and I don’t like it when a film or story portrays suffering in a romanticised way. Especially because it always the woman who seems to get the rough end of the stick. After seeing the film a couple of times though, I took better notice of a poem shown at the end of the movie.

“He remembers those vanished years. As though looking through a dusty window pane, the past is something he could see, but not touch. And everything he sees is blurred and indistinct.”

It suggests that everything we saw in the film is how the male protagonist remembers it, not necessarily how it actually happened. And so for this reason everything shown is an idealized version, which is why everything looks so wonderful. I think when viewed in this way the film changes from just being a beautiful film, to being an exercise in nostalgia.

There are a few of these interludes throughout the film. Time seems to move differently, and a mood is created that then is echoed in the rest of the film.

 

The lighting in this segment is limited, which creates opportunities for a play between shadow and light. Particularly in terms of the characters’ figures. Figures emerge and enter the dark, and a moody atmosphere is set up. In certain parts, Su Li-zhen’s body becomes a dark shape so that the curves of her body can be seen. The tight fitting of her dress helps this, a dress that is both conservative (high neck-line, covered) and risky (shows off her body). The lighting is also what makes me see this as a memory, it is dark, and slight foggy looking. It does not have the clarity of a real event.

The music is obviously a very important part of this scene. The pizzicato that starts the piece, and continues as backing for the violin soloist, sounds like an anxious heart beat, a heart beat affected by love or sexual desire. In any case, it does produce an anxious or restless mood. Over this a violin is played. It is quite passionate, somewhat wild, and emotionally stirring. It seems as though you could be swept away in the peaks and falls of the song. A song that appears to be the external release of the feelings within the two mains.

Movement here seems to be slowed down, which serve to make it more intoxicating. A particularly important part of the movement is the sway of the female character, Su Li-zhen’s, hips, which increases the sexual tension. The noodle flask, and one of the lamps above the street stall evoke this movement of Li-zhen’s hips. This movement is done in time with the music, which ties it all together in a deeply satisfying way.

There are also visual suggestions that too help with the overall sexuality of the sequence. The male character, Chow Mo-wan, is seen eating, which is a very sensual theme and action. At the end when the two pass each other they are in close proximity in a small space so Su Li-zhen presses herself to the wall. These little details once again help to set the mood and the tension between the two characters.

Plus the movie features the Brian Ferry song, ‘I’m In The Mood For Love’, which continues my theory that any movie with his music in it is a good film. Okay… well this one and ‘Lost In Translation”. Haha, he is such fun!

The classical narrative structure. It’s a goodie. Like my grand-pop always said (if I had anybody who I actually called grand-pop), “If you’ve got a good thing going…” And then he would trail of wisely, never finishing what exactly to do ‘if you had a good thing going’. So I guess David Lynch came along and thought that the end to that clique was, “… screw around with it to the point where people don’t know which way is up or down. If there is one? Or maybe up and down is simultaneous?” Because by the end of ‘Mulholland Drive’, up and down do indeed feel like they could be the same thing. One thing is clear; Lynch is seriously going up against the old-school, grand-pop style of narrative structure.

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Thankfully for David Lynch it works in his favour, not in everybody’s opinion, but definitely in mine. No. I can’t say I fully understand the film. Can anybody? But I sure as hell had a great time (obsessively) thinking about it.

The thing is, is that it starts off like an ordinary film. Sure there’s some whack stuff happening, but it’s nothing too out of the ordinary, and you keep thinking that the pieces will tie up at the end. Letting your mind do the usual detective work and jump around from proposition to proposition.

I may have even started to get a little cocky, thinking, ‘man, people go on about how mind-f#cking this movie is… and I’m finding it pretty easy. Score!’ It’s a bit of an esteem boost. Until about two hours into the movie. I kid you not. We’ve been watching this thing for nearly two hours or so, following the story line. It’s all good, albeit getting a bit weirder and wilder as it goes on. But surely that’s just leading to the climax and resolution, right?

Now lets stop and compare. Take the movie ‘Toy Story’ for example. The filmmaker Andrew Stanton recently did a talk on TED Talks about what makes a great story.

(On a sidenote, I don’t think there is anyone, for one second, who wasn’t convinced that Nemo would find his father. You’re fooling yourself Stanton!)

In ‘Toy Story’ we start with Woody being the favourite toy, top dog, so to speak. Then along comes Buzz Lightyear to usurp him. Woody now has the goal to regain status as the top toy. This goal is extended when Woody and Buzz Lightyear get left behind and have to work together to get back home. The deadline comes in the form of the horrible, toy-abusing boy next door. Once home everyone is friends and all is resolved as Woody and Buzz Lightyear now share the position of top toy.

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Apply this to ‘Mulholland Drive’. We’ve got our goal; figure out whom ‘Rita’ is. It’s somewhat hard and extended because they can only figure things out through random moments of inspiration from Rita. There’s a deadline too; sinister forces, possibly the cruel Hollywood executives, are out to get Rita. And for extra kicks a love side story develops. So far all of the criteria are checked off.

Well there is a climax!

But where is the resolution? Where are you? Somewhere in the dark, twisted brain of David Lynch, where mere mortals like myself can only try to reach in to grasp some kind of answer.

The last half hour of the film is spent completely unraveling everything that the entire movie up until now has been about.

Now the ‘whole’, ‘coherent’ characters are not at all whole; they are in fact other people. Likewise the film finishes with a jumble of events distinguished by slight, conventionally unrecognisible time-lapse signals.

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Events are not resolved, things are left answered and there’s a lot of weird stuff going on. Not very conventional, Lynch breaks possibly every rule to classical narrative structure. The most impressive of the lot probably being an unsatisfying resolution.

It is understandable why many get fed up with the film. In his talk Stanton says that all good films make a promise that they’ll lead you somewhere worth your time. For some people, ‘Mulholland Drive’ isn’t worth their time. For me, part of the film’s appeal is it’s bold rejection of the norm, it’s what makes ‘Mulholland Drive’ so exciting and fascinating.

 

 

 

And for bonus points!

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Stan Brakhage’s short film ‘Mothlight’ represented an idea to me. Rather than recognising a coherent narrative structure I came away from the film with an understanding on the theme of life, and specifically that everything in this world is connected.

‘Mothlight’ has a strong association with the idea of death. With all of the images shown in the film being of dead things, the concept of death in inescapable. Yet the constant flicker of light that comes from the rapid change of image to image invokes the flutter of a moth’s wings, or the rustle of leaves in a wind. It is as if death is imitating life. The film manages to show this in a beautiful and captivating way. It could be saying that death gives way to life. That from death comes new life, and that this process of life is a beautiful thing.

The technique of shinning light through the objects is important, as the objects appear transparent. By showing these objects with the light shinning through them it seems as though they can be viewed in their entirety. Nothing is hidden, and what we are left with is supposedly the true form of the object. With death comes the lack of life’s mannerisms to mask or confuse. The illusion of difference in life is now able to be seen as false in death.

What is it? A leaf or a moth wing? (Brakhage, 1963,’Mothlight’)

The quick transgression of the images also serve as a way to make it obvious how similar the objects are. At times it is hardly distinguishable what is being seen as the objects blur into patterns and shapes. The remainders of these once living forms are reduced down to a basic and transparent point, and essentially they appear the same. Everything is just patterns and shapes. Further along, when the objects disintegrate into a mess at the end, it was as if they were breaking down into an even more basic state.

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Patterns and Shapes.

Link for flower image. Link for moth wing image.

(Brakhage, 1963,’Mothlight’)

To me this brought forward the idea that everything in our existence is the same. That we come from and revert back to the same stuff, meaning that ultimately there is no difference between the forms we take.

Stan Brakhage may have, of course, had no intention of getting this idea across, however his use of light and the way he rapidly shows the images, combined with the the theme of life and death suggested to me that this was his intention.