EXPERIMENT 2 (Reality, fiction, cuts, transitions, flashbacks)

Through the flashback live action experiment I made, I tried to use the same technique used in the film to generate a change of mood, a way to blend both memory and present together but keeping them separate in terms of emotion. The experiment was really useful as I am mixing both narrative and fictional styles in my documentary film and its closely related to metamorphosis, transitions and human manipulation too.

EXPERIMENT 1 (Metamorphosis, visual codes, Imagery)

Finally, the experiment I made it’s just a quick test to try to emulate my case study film style but obviously with my own imagery, ideas and basing all the visuals on a segment of the interview recording I’m working on for my group documentary film. After analysing the different ideas used in I met the Walrus, the trial worked out as a possible solution on how metamorphism operates as a timing and transition agent between ideas and the relationship form- content.

THE TREE OF LIFE (Thoughts,cuts, flashbacks, memories)

Flashbacks and memories are usually represented brighter and sometimes quite blurred and distorted compared to scenes in the present, but what the director does in here, is to cut straight from the building window to the stream by introducing a new image which symbolizes and produces the same feeling as the one before, being the memory the need and want to escape from the daily life, from reality into a peaceful and pure place. Another strategy not to make noticeable changes from cut to cut is to play with sound. Once the lake scene is introduced to the audience, they get the taste of what it looked like and sounded like but rapidly while it goes forward to the present again and after interchanging a few times the shots, the only sound that invades the screen is the one from the present, what really makes us believe as an audience, that even though the character is in there, he’s ignoring his surrounding and only focused on his flashback.

CASE STUDIES (BRIEF 3)

CASE 1: I met the Walrus, Josh Raskin (2007)

 www.youtube.com/watch?v=jmR0V6s3NKk

Keywords: Metamorphosis, metaphors, transitions, transformation, interview, animated documentary.

Forty five years ago, a 14 year old intrepid Beatle fan made his way into John Lennon’s hotel room while in Canada and carried out what is nowadays, a very significant and peculiar interview of the musician and his main points of view on politics, the world and future. Nearly four decades later, the same grown up boy Jerry Levitan, decided to make an animated documentary of the valuable recording to immortalize Lennon’s words and interpret his philosophy. In this way, he contacted director and animator Josh Raskin who gave birth to the multi award winner animated short I met the Walrus in 2007.In some way, this pair managed to convey a strong visual message to the audience but how did they succeeded in terms of selecting the right tools in order to deliver the message?, What is so unique about I met the Walrus and why is it considered one of the most successful animated documentaries in recent years?.
The first thing I was wondering when trying to find these answers was, if the fact of having such an old and low quality recording as the main source for the film was going to interfere with the visual process and final outcome. Even the less experienced filmmakers know that having a good quality soundtrack from the beginning is always the perfect tool to generate visual representation in the most quick and effective way. However, for Levitan, the recording was not a concern as it mattered more to him its value as a historic archive and the impact the words have on today’s global situation rather than its condition. In the other hand, apart from being able to improve the quality of the sound through modern software, the many options that animation facilitates are numerous in terms of creating a visual style that would in some form or another blend and adapt to a specific soundtrack. To achieve that, the pair of filmmakers wedded the traditional pen sketches by James Braithwaite with Alex Kurina’s digital illustration to produce a graphic narrative which gently romances Lennon’s words in a torrential flood of nonstop animation, a variety of explosions of sequences that originate from nothing or from minuscule unrelated matters and are decorated with special satirist drawings to enhance the symbolism and metaphors of the speech.
What Raskin, Levitan and their collaborators understood very well, was that even if the recording had its deficiencies, they had to take the worst and make the best of it by simply manipulating animation. A clear example of this practice is the visual representation that occurs after a minute and thirty seconds of the film when the inevitable sound of a phone ringing spoils in some way the interview and the filmmakers take advantage of the event by finding an image to symbolize the phone as well as other environmental sounds. It was because of this, the use of comedic metaphors, the continuous flow of ideas creating a narrative and the ability to interpret the interview without missing important bits or overcrowding the canvas with lots of information that this film has been awarded so many prices and nominations and has conquered a place in the top of animated short films of the decade.

The short film I met the Walrus is exceptionally related to my research due to its way of building a whole narrative from just an original source through metamorphism, a constant sense of transformation and a simple use of techniques and visual codes such as colour and realistic/fictitious imagery. The fact that it is an animated documentary film also contributes enormously to my group documentary project and to learn how to portray clearly and successfully a recorded interview into a moving image.
Finally, the experiment I made it’s just a quick test to try to emulate my case study film style but obviously with my own imagery, ideas and basing all the visuals on a segment of the interview recording I’m working on for my group documentary film. After analyzing the different ideas used in I met the Walrus, the trial worked out as a possible solution on how metamorphism operates as a timing and transition agent between ideas and the relationship form- content.

CASE 2: FILM: The tree of Life, Terrence Malick (2011)

Video link (scene of the film): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zm6JyYGwtpY

Keywords: Reality, memories, fiction, transitions, cuts.

Recreating past events and fictional circumstances from one cut to another in films has always been difficult to achieve, or at least in a very good manner. Thousands of film directors have tried in diverse ways to make their stories understandable and to portray in a distinctive style the time and place where a scene develops. The tree of Life, by director Terrence Malick is not the exception with the big difference that this experimental drama film engages the audience from the beginning to take part in a colossal voyage managing to convey the life of a man (reality) with his own memories (past) and more profound matters, jumping from modern days to the mid 50’s and even back to the very beginning of life on earth and creation of the universe. But how does the director move that freely in the timeline from one point to another without confusing the audience? Even if the film was mostly renowned because of its experimental scenes always expressed by the powers of nature through the representation of cosmic and astronomical environments in contrast with the story of the man., I will concentrate in analyzing a particular non experimental scene where the man remembers events that happened in his childhood while being at work.
The scene starts with Jack O’Brien (Sean Penn) walking impatiently around a firm of architects while he speaks to someone on the phone. The character is clearly stressed and anxious about his current situation and the oppressing atmosphere where he is at that moment. This tension is represented through a loud and busy work environment sound effect, Jack’s negative attitude and a series of office related activities that disturb him. At that point the congested sound fades out and the camera pans to the ceiling of the building where there’s a window, brightness, calmness, bringing the perfect opportunity to introduce a scene with flowing water and a flashback memory of him and his brothers playing in a lake. Flashbacks and memories are usually represented brighter and sometimes quite blurred and distorted compared to scenes in the present, but what the director does in here, is to cut straight from the building window to the stream by introducing a new image which symbolizes and produces the same feeling as the one before, being the memory the need and want to escape from the daily life, from reality into a peaceful and pure place. Another strategy not to make noticeable changes from cut to cut is to play with sound. Once the lake scene is introduced to the audience, they get the taste of what it looked like and sounded like but rapidly while it goes forward to the present again and after interchanging a few times the shots, the only sound that invades the screen is the one from the present, what really makes us believe as an audience, that even though the character is in there, he’s ignoring his surrounding and only focused on his flashback. There are actually many ways filmmakers try to approach memories and recall of events but sometimes some tactics seem to prove more effective than others, even when the main purpose is to confuse the audience.
In conclusion, it is worth to mention, that memories are considered fiction as they will never be recalled 100% accurately and are part of our imagination but based in a real source. For that reason, The tree of Life, truly demonstrates a proper management of the flashback effect and is a perfect example to follow when animating stories, documentaries and interviews that require to jump from realism to fiction changing the notion of time and making use of cuts to save money and time. Through the flashback live action experiment I made, I tried to use the same technique used in the film to generate a change of mood, a way to blend both memory and present together but keeping them separate in terms of emotion. The experiment was really useful as I am mixing both narrative and fictional styles in my documentary film and its closely related to metamorphosis, transitions and human manipulation too.

Written by Juan Bampa

REFERENCES & BIBLIOGRAPHY

– Book “In the blink of an eye” A perspective on film editing” by Walter Murch, 1995, 2001. Silman – James Press.
– Video “Galactic Raptor”, author unknown. Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ga48XKYjFLM
– Video “Hitchcock on cutting”. Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NG0V7EVFZt4

MANI601 Brief 3 – Case Studies and Practical Experiments – Kadesha Drija

Case Study 1

Feature Length Documentary – “Miss Representation”.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S5pM1fW6hNs

The first case study of my research into media representation is American documentary, “Miss Representation”, directed by Jennifer Siebel Newsom (2011). The following review looks particularly at how the film links media representation to social attitudes, as well as the filmmaking techniques and forms helping to express these points.

“Miss Representation” encompasses the key theme associated with my own research, that being the role of mainstream media in influencing public opinion towards particular social groups. The documentary’s focus is on the under-representation of women in the media, and the prevalence of limited and often disparaging portrayals of women. The argument presented in the film is that these broadly negative representations contribute to the maintenance of existing, masculine-biased gender relations.

Academic theorists of cultural representation have often pointed to its importance in influencing audience attitudes and behaviours. In Godall et al’s (2007) “Crash Cinema: Representations in Film”, this argument is particularly striking:

“In shaping cultural discourses cinematic representations influence our attitudes and ideologies towards issues of race, gender, age, identity, wealth and power.” (2007; xv)

My previous research into representations of the benefits system has primarily been focused on written representations found in newspapers and magazines. Interestingly, Godall et al broaden this into the realm of the cinema and illustrate a similar effect. In terms of “Miss Representation”, a film concerned with addressing media representations of women, the key aim is to highlight the prevalence of already existent negative representations. This was largely done through the inclusion of a broad variety of media in which such negative representations are overtly clear. These included animations, live action footage, archive footage, music videos, audio snippets of radio shows, and footage of live news reports. The scale of the representations being shown within the film helps to emphasise how widespread an issue the misrepresentation of women in the media has become.

Mehring’s (1990) “The Screenplay” helps to further outline this interplay between a film’s message or content and the form or language it uses to express it:

“Film form is the expression of film content. It’s the vehicle that delivers film content. It is impossible for the screenwriter with a knowledge of uniqueness and power of the motion picture medium to separate form and content.” (1990; 5)

With “Miss Representation” the interplay between form and content helped to solidify the film’s arguments without the use of dialogue, but instead through the visual suggestion of a broad, persistent issue. In delivering the key message of widespread misrepresentation of women in the media, cutting together a range of cultural evidence taken from music videos, celebrity magazines, news reports and written articles was an effective strategy. Also important was the use of editing within interviews to underline the points being made. This was deployed on various occasions where interviewees would make a statement about general maltreatment of women in culture before it being reinforced by cuts to various forms of negative media representation of women.

These elements of form inspired me with my own practical experiment. For this I chose to interview a young woman who aspires to a career in the creative industries about how she regards the representation of women in the media. As part of this interview, she expressed the point that women are more positively portrayed in the music industry now than they have been in the past. While considerable ground has been made in recent times, I believe that the representation of women remains overly sexualized in the music industry and wanted to deliver this message within my experiment. In order to do this, I decided to edit in clips of modern music videos in which women are overtly objectified.

I feel that this experiment was interesting and successful as a response to the documentary. While utilizing the same techniques in “Miss Representation”, my own practical experiment looked to contradict rather than solidify the arguments of the interviewee. In doing so, the aim was to suggest that overly positive views of progress in the representation of women are naïve to the lived reality of women in the music industry. The inclusion of additional footage from the subject matter being discussed, as well as quick edits of this footage, helped to succinctly deliver the intended message.

References

Mark Goodall, Jill Good, Will Godfrey (2007). Crash Cinema: Representation in Film. UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing. xv.

Margaret Mehring (1990). The Screenplay. A blend of Film Form and Content. USA: Focal Press. p3-5.

CASE STUDY 2

Secret Lives – Walt Disney (1995) Directed by Joseph Bullman

The second case study I chose to examine was “Secret Lives – Walt Disney”, directed by Joseph Bullman (1995). The documentary gives a background to the Walt Disney studios and details the inequalities facing women who were employed there. These included never being given the opportunity to progress into top animation roles, instead being restricted to work such as inking and tracing, and always in a separate part of the studio to other men.

When looking at the interplay between form and content, the documentary uses interview and archive footage to show the lived realities of gender difference and inequality for women working for Walt Disney. The documentary develops this point further, however, by making the suggestion that the conformity with traditional gender roles of female subservience is evidenced in the films produced by the studio. To demonstrate this, animated footage of Disney films are utilized showing various examples of weaker female roles.

This led me to further explore such representations of women in other Disney works. One such example is “The Little Mermaid” (1989) directed by Ron Clements and John Musker. The female lead, Ariel, is a mermaid who is promised she will meet a man provided that she changes her physical appearance to a human and sacrifices her own voice. The narrative continues along these lines with Ariel’s actions being rewarded by her finding her man. The overriding message is one of subtle subservience of women being a trait that will ultimately lead to the reward of finding a man. The condescending tone of this is masked somewhat by its cartoon form, sound design, coloring and the childlike design, all of which are suggestive of innocence and harmlessness. Nevertheless, the scale with which these subtle gender-stereotyped messages predominate in the popular culture for children continues to be worrying for many feminist critics. One such example is Peggy Orenstein, who writes:

“I’ve spent much of my career writing about experiences that undermine girls’ well-being, warning parents that a preoccupation with body and beauty (encouraged by films, TV, magazines and, yes, toys) is perilous to their daughters’ mental and physical health…if trafficking in stereotypes doesn’t matter at three, when does it matter? At Six? Eight? Thirteen?” Orestein (2006)

As Orenstein notes, there is a prevalence of cultural products that encourage stereotypical gender roles. Her specific mentioning of films led me to consider the genre of ‘chick flicks’, aimed at an older female audience and using live action but, arguably, containing many similar patriarchal messages. A good example from this genre is that of “Bridget Jones’ Diary” (2001) directed by Sharon Maguire. The lead title character in this is heavily reliant on relationships with men to generate her happiness and this is demonstrated through carefully edited scenes utilizing the tropes of female sadness such as close-ups on boxes of tissues, crying eyes and so on.

Numerous theorists have highlighted the persistence of these representations, as well as their effect on female self-perception. Lazard (2009) states:

 “From a feminist psychological perspective, I would argue that such depictions of femininity in fiction are important because fictional representations are sites within which audiences negotiate understandings of gendered subjectivities.” Lazard (2009; 134-135)

The representation of old-fashioned, female subservient gender roles in culture is deeply embedded and, arguably, more normalized than any other representation. Its presence in Disney films shows it to be introduced during childhood, while its presence in adult popular culture, such as the ever-popular romantic comedies and ‘chick flicks’, suggests the message does not fade over time.

I decided to explore this idea through my practical experiment. The Disney footage of female leads in “Secret Lives – Walt Disney” documentary was utilized by the film-makers to deliver the message of traditional gender roles being prevalent in the workplace and the product of Disney. My experiment looked to use similar Disney footage of female leads, alongside footage from ‘chick flicks’ such as Bridget Jones’ Diary, as cutaways during an interview. In contrast to the experiment associated with case study 1, I was not using the additional footage to subvert the message of the interviewee. Instead, I was keen for the experiment to reinforce the message being imparted, the prevalence and potential dangers of providing one-dimensional female role models in terms of the attitudes held by women in later life.

REFERENCES

[1] PEGGY ORENSTEIN. (2006). What’s Wrong With Cinderella?. Available: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/24/magazine/24princess.t.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0. Last accessed 07/11/14.

[2] Lisa Lazard. (2009). ‘You’ll Like This – It’s Feminist!’ Representations of Strong Women in Horror Fiction. Feminism & Psychology. 1 (1), p134-135.

Bibliography

Mark Goodall, Jill Good, Will Godfrey (2007). Crash Cinema:Representation in Film. UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing. xv.

Margaret Mehring (1990). The Screenplay. A blend of Film Form and Content. USA: Focal Press. p3-5.

PEGGY ORENSTEIN. (2006). What’s Wrong With Cinderella?. Available: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/24/magazine/24princess.t.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0. Last accessed 07/11/14.

Lisa Lazard. (2009). ‘You’ll Like This – It’s Feminist!’ Representations of Strong Women in Horror Fiction. Feminism & Psychology. 1 (1), p134-135.

Filmography

Miss Representation. (2011) Directed by Jennifer Siebel Newsom [Documentary] USA Girls’ Club Entertainment.

Secret Life of Walt Disney. (1995) Directed by Joseph Bullman [Documentary]. UK Twenty Twenty Television.

The Little Mermaid. (1989) Directed by Ron Clements and John Musker [Film]. USA Walt Disney Studios.

Bridget Jones’ Diary. (2001) Directed by Sharon Maguire [Film]. USA Universal Pictures.