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Archive for the ‘Film Theory’ Category

An earlier blog post discussed technology as horrific in science fiction films, as a continuation bodily transgressions as a result of future technology, are also a source of discussion.  The Fly (1986) is an interesting film to consider for this area as it can be seen as a film that crosses the science fiction and horror genre. The Fly (1986) through its mutation of the body, is an example of ‘body horror’, which conventionally is synonymous with the horror genre. Bukatman (1993:261) concurs in noting that ‘the horror genre…centres upon an extensive hyberbolization of the body and its (dys)functions.’ It is therefore clear that the mixed genre of science fiction and horror provides the grounding for technology as horrific though bodily transgressions adapted from the horror genre. It is this notion of body horror and transgressions, as a result of technology that is of interest to us.

The premise of The Fly (1986) lies on the creation of a machine that can teleport objects from A to B. Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldbloom), the protagonist of the film plays the scientist who develops and experiments with the technology and ultimately mutates through using it. The relationship between technology and the body is seen after Brundle teleports himself unknowingly with a fly, consequently morphing with it. As a viewer it is clear that this has happened through crosscutting and due to the insect hair on his back, brought to our attention by Veronica (Geena Davis).  At first this accident with technology is portrayed as good. For example Brundle awakes in the night and performs a highly acrobatic routine, displaying a great deal of strength. This is depicted as evolutionary through Brundle’s ecstatic reaction. Bukatman (1993:268) concurs in noting that ‘Brundle calls for transcendence.’ Meaning that his belief that technology has bettered him in his human form, he now believes that he has transcended over machine and ultimately technology revealing his true self. It is initially the case that technology has release the potential of the human body. This is however short-lived as in a later scene Veronica asks Brundle, ‘Do you take coffee with your sugar?’ as Brundle adds the tenth spoonful to his coffee. Indicating the possibility of further side effects to the teleportation with the fly. The film can be said to embrace the idea of technology, initially depicting it as anything but horrific, and perhaps for the greater good.

Despite initially showing the relationship between human and technology as positive, the continued mutation of Brundle changes this. As Brundle gets more and more visually grotesque the notion of technology as horrific strengthens. For example the very last scene of the film shows BrundleFly, complete a full mutation into a fly. The body horror begins to deliver its full effect. Although somewhat disfigured, up until this point Brundle still has human facial features, eyes, mouth and a human shape head. As the rotting flesh drops of his arms, Cronenberg shows the implosion of his face directly at the camera, as more flesh falls away, revealing the ‘fly inside’. The horror of the loss of the human form, the mutation and display of human in flesh and muscle is considered horrific. In merging the genres of the horror film and science fiction, explicitly connects that horror to a technological scenario. As this is a direct product of human interaction with technology, one can suggest that the film portrays technology as horrific.

Whilst visually looking horrific The Fly (1986), also adheres to a conservative ideology, alluded to in the earlier blog post. This can be suggested as the conservative notion of the individual is threatened as Brundle’s constant mutation changes his identity.  For the example the first teleportation merges him with the fly, the second can be seen to advance the mutation and finally the third results in his mutation part machine, part Brundle and part Fly. Bukatman (2004:232) concurs in noting that ‘The apparent mind/body dichotomy is suppressed by the trichotomy of mind/body/machine.’ It is therefore clear that the identity of Brundle is now lost or confused as he becomes less and less like his self. His individual character is now a three-way milieu, that is no longer recognisable as Seth Brundle, the self and other, human and non-human, subject and object all become jumbled and dissolved. Placing this in the context of technology as horrific Bukatman (2004:232)notes that ‘the dissolution of identity into new forms is connected to the rise of new technologies.’ Therefore it is clear that the telepod machine or more directly technology takes over his body, a depiction of technology controlling a human, as is the situation in The Matrix (1999). The technology in the film is horrific as it effective destroys the identity and life of Seth Brundle. The Fly (1986) can be read as somewhat of a cautionary tale, that opens the possibilities of technology, whilst hinting at the potential side effects.

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The science fiction film and technology go hand in hand as it is the function of the genre to represent technology. Its representation is often horrific and rarely for good, and this depiction is why I feel it is worth a discussion.

Before any examples are analysed, it is necessary to establish why these images and themes of technology as the enemy or as producing violence, actually exist in the first place. Ryan and Kellner’s (2004:48) notion of a conservative ideology explains this through placing the films in a political context of the time. Ryan and Kellner (2004:48) first note that ‘fantasy films concerning fears of machines or of technology usually negatively affirm such social values as freedom, individualism and the family.’ Therefore this provides the basis for an assumption that these films are concerned with conservative values in that they suggest that technology represents artifice as opposed to nature, the mechanical as opposed to the spontaneous, the regulated as opposed to the free. Therefore these conservative issues that arise in science fiction films of the 1980’s can be considered as a reflection of the Republican presidency and its ideologies that existed in American during this period. Therefore conservative film makers ‘used the motifs of technology and dystopia to project terrifying images of collectivisation and modernity.’ (Ryan and Kellner 2004:48). It is therefore clear that films that portray technology negatively or as horrific, are usually from a conservative perspective in an attempt to promote conservative ideologies over liberal concerns.

The notion of the Cyborg has populated many sci-fi films, and thus provides an ideal platform to start upon. Haraway (1991:149), provides a definition of the Cyborg, ‘a Cyborg is a cybernetic organism, a hybrid of machine and organism.’ This simple definition is the accepted description of a Cyborg and when manifested in films the Cyborg adheres to this definition in that it is machine and computer enclosed in human flesh and tissue, a hybrid. Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991) provides us with this image of the Cyborg. During the film The Terminator  (Arnold Schwarzenegger) cuts the skin and muscle away from his metal exoskeleton revealing the machine inside him. This scene in itself is horrific as to get to the technology the audience is forced to watch a seemingly human character make cuts in his skin, drawing some blood and then pulling the flesh away. This visceral scene evokes a reaction in the audience as it is an example of body horror and penetration of the skin. This is compounded by the reaction shot of the horrified, screaming character of Miles Dyson (Joe Morton) in the film. As this is primarily geared to reveal technology, the director, Cameron in associating it with the visceral horror of blood, in turn depicts the Cyborg an example of technology as horrific. What makes this example more interesting is that even as a protagonist The Terminator is still a representation as technology as horrific. This compounds the notion that all technology good or bad is horrific in this example.

Redmond (2004:156) introduces the concept that there are two types of Cyborg. The first, the pathological Cyborg and the second, the humanist Cyborg. The first is initially the most interesting to consider for the purpose of this essay as it clears outlines technology as horrific. However the latter of the two, the humanist Cyborg, provides an interesting counter argument in the sense that Cyborgs are not all one track mind, ‘kill, kill, kill’ machines. In the form of the pathological Cyborg the hybrid technological organism is primarily the enemy of the human race. Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991) shows a clear depiction of this variant of Cyborg in the character T-1000 (Robert Patrick).

An example of the horror he creates as a manifestation of technology and as a pathological Cyborg is the characters obsession with heavy goods vehicles throughout the film, constantly using them as huge unstoppable battering rams. The film features two chase sequences, one early in the film when the T-1000 chases John Conor, the T-1000 uses a large truck here, and again towards the end as Sarah, John and the Terminator try to evade him. These two sequences work as visual metaphors for the notion of the pathological Cyborg. The notion of an unrelenting ‘invincible armoured Cyborg’ (Mizejewski 1999:156), fits with Redmond’s definition of the pathological Cyborg as ‘wanting to melt away its human simulacra to symbolically rid the earth (past, present and future)’ he goes on to note that ‘the pathological Cyborg wants nothing more than the complete genocide of the human race.’ The two aforementioned scenes mirror this as they show a Cyborg that will stop at nothing as he systematically ploughs through humans, cars and anything that is in his way, in the huge trucks to complete an objective. Technology is therefore horrific as it is a destroyer of humanity. Redmond (2004:157) concurs in noting that, ‘The Cyborg articulates the terror of letting too much technology into everyday life’. The Cyborg in Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)  is therefore, in both instances, the protagonist and the antagonist, an example of technology as horrific in the other worldly and unbeatable destroyer senses of the word.

As previously mentioned Redmond (2004:156) outlined two distinct types of Cyborg the pathological as demonstrated exist in Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991) , and the second type an example of which also exists in Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991) . This type is termed the humanist Cyborg. Redmond (2004:156) defines this variant as a Cyborg that ‘longs for human emotion and human attachment that will add existential meaning to its fragile outer shell.’ Although the words, emotion, attachment and fragile, don’t initially seem to fit with the Arnold Schwarzenegger version of the Cyborg, examples of this can be found.

The first and main example that can be drawn upon is the father figure role that The Terminator adapts through the course of the film. There are little moments of emotional connection between John and The Terminator, these occurrences involve the Terminator’s willingness to learn from John on a moral and emotional level. For example John gets The Terminator to agree to no civilian casualties, telling The Terminator ‘You just can’t go around killing people, you’re not a Terminator anymore.’ The Terminator accepts this just as he does John’s advice to smile. The film also shows the Terminator having his ‘switch’ reset so that he can think more and hence be more human. The Terminators desire to learn more human emotions and morals aligns him with some of the elements of the Humanist Cyborg, this is compounded by the role of the father figure that The Terminator adopts over the duration of the film. These humanistic elements are more like the character types of the Cyborgs or replicants as they are known, in Blade Runner. The relationship between humans and technology that has been highlight so far (oppositions of human/technology), is deconstructed as the humanist element of The Terminator, his father figure role, undercuts the notion nature (the human form) as an opposite to the negative or horrific technology. The humanist element of the Cyborg offers mediation between technology and human values. Therefore the notion of the Cyborg as an example of technology as horrific is somewhat problematic as the Cyborg is not all concerned with violence and destruction, but also with emotion and feeling.

I have not yet applied this to any other Cyborg films so whether it works across the board I couldn’t say. But what is certain is that technology like most other representations has two sides to it, yet more often than not we talk about technology as horrific.

Stay tuned for more Science Fiction later this month, Bodily Transgressions and Technology.

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What is Framing?

Framing is one of the many elements of cinematography, the frame can be defined as the edge of the shot, the rectangular shape created by the cameras perspective. Choices are made as to what elements to include within this area. This is known as framing. There are several elements of framing, crucial areas to consider are angle, level, height and distance.

Angle

There are an infinite number of angles that could be used by a director, however there are generally three angles that are commonly used, the straight on angle, the high angle (looking down at material within a frame) and the low angle (looking up at material within a frame).

Level

Level in framing is often straight forward. It is more often than not parallel to the horizon. On the occasions it is not i.e. tipped to one side or the other, it is cantered. This technique is rare, but can be seen in Wong Kar-wai’s Fallen Angels.

Height

Used to give a sense of being stationed at a particular height in relation to objects or characters. Important to note that whilst it is related to angle, there are distinguishable differences.

Distance

Whilst this element can be considered as framing, camera distances such as, medium close-ups and extreme long shots are worth explanations in their own right and will be at a later date.

Open Framing

Open framing is the idea that an object or character is shot within the frame surrounded by space, in which to move freely in.

Closed Framing

A contrast to open framing. A character for example framed in a door way appears restricted, closed in if you will.

Functions

Framing is like most cinematic codes a useful tool for generating meaning. However there is no hard and fast way to suggesting something. For example a cantered camera angle in Inception may suggest that reality is out of kilter, but it will not always mean that from film to film. The context of a film determines the functions of meaning.

The King’s Speech motivated this entry on framing and is a useful case study for application of the outlined areas. Framing is used in this film to create a multitude of meaning and emotions. Firstly let’s consider angle. The picture below demonstrates the use of a low angle shot looking up. The shot conotates the intensity of the situation but importantly lets the audience know how small and weak King George VI (Firth) is feeling. There is no doubt that this affect is enhanced by the use of a super wide lens but none the less the same emotion is conveyed.

The images that follows is a prime example of closed framing. We, the audience look upon Firth through the microphone. His face is partially obscured by this object and cropped. Distance also important here, the proximity to him exaggerates the emotion. Consequently we sense his anxiety and how trapped he is, thus creating empathy amongst viewers.

This final shot is perhaps the most interesting. It demonstrates both open and closed framing. Firth sits in a wealth of space, but is not a visual metaphor for agency but for his isolation. He is trapped by the sofa on which he sits, crammed in a corner unable to move, you may think it is a stretch, but the framing one could argue is closed. Distance in this shot is also important, if we were any closer as an audience we would not get the sense of isolation in the on screen space. This shot also highlights how the film constantly broke a cinematographic convention, the rule of thirds. The idea that the frame is split equally into thirds both vertically and horizontally. It is accepted that characters eyes are often on or in the highest third of the frame. The image below shows quite the opposite, perhaps another way of compounding the characters lack of power.

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Last week Nicolas Roeg’s classic art horror was released in a digitally restored Blu-ray version. It came with a shinny blue sticker noting that this very restoration had been ‘supervised and approved’ by Nic Roeg himself. How re-assuring I thought, despite the fact that I had already decided to buy it.

The film once again got me thinking about imagery and psychology in film and recalled some reading I did into Jungian analytical psychology. In relation to this it was once said that “Film is the art of seeing in the dark.” As cinema goers we are all well aware of the notion of sitting in a dark room and becoming immersed in someone else’s life. An analogy between cinema and dreaming has long been drawn, films appearing to us as dream-like, while our dreams are experienced – at least to our waking minds – like movies. The blurred boundaries between film and dream allow film to be a platform for seeing in the dark.

Jungian psychology is a psychology of images, for this very reason it is important to consider the theory in relation to cinema, it itself a world of images. With this in mind the concept of ‘seeing in the dark’ is neatly linked with the ideas of dreaming and the unconscious mind. One can propose that the ‘dark’ can be related to part of the unconscious mind and that dream offers the ability to see. Building on this the representations of dreams in film and film as dream-like, can suggest films to be a light in the unconscious dark.

It can be argued that Don’t Look Now depicts this idea of dream on film and film as seeing in the dark. The very beginning of the film up until John’s daughter Christine drowns can be accepted as reality. As her life edges closer to death, her brother cracks a mirror and John spills a glass of water. As well as this Christine is seen in the reflection of the water, she is upside down in the frame. Roeg uses these elements of mise-en-scene to imply dream or another world as glass and water have the ability to reflect a version of reality. It can therefore be suggested that the water and mirror are representative of transitional spaces between the real world and the dream world. This fact that Christine’s reflection is upside down creates the illusion that she is on the other side of reality. As John enters the water to save Christine he too enters a dream world. This is reinforced in the next shot the viewer sees a book on the couch that John was previously reading titled ‘Beyond the geometry of time and space’, which is again hinting at the notion of another world. This even further re-enforced as the rest of the film takes place in Venice, a world that is not John’s normal world, but one that seems as real, and one in which his dreams can manifest themselves. Wright (1974) concurs ‘the reality of one of those dreams whose circumstance we do not accept as part of our daily experience, but whose intensity seems to produce a conviction of reality superior to actuality itself.’ Therefore the film can be considered as a dream and dreams are gateways to the unconscious, consequently producing the ability to see in the dark.

If it can be accepted that the film provides the ability to ‘see in the dark’ through its interplay with the unconscious mind, we can begin to explore it further. The film is populated with the colour red and the girl in the red rain coat. The notion of the re-occurring figure in red is central to the film in terms of dream. This can be said to be because John feels guilt for his daughter’s death. He allowed her to play near the water, which Laura blames him for in the early scenes of the film. If any part of the film is to be related to dream it is the scenes that involve John chasing the ‘girl’ in red as the scenes relate to his guilt and grief over her death. These scenes relate to the notion that dreams provide the necessary corrective or compensatory images. In John’s case the compensatory image is that of his daughter, as his guilt is routed deep in his unconscious. Hockley (2001) notes that ‘The symbol comes from the unconscious and is a means of expressing a concept or truth that has been grasped by the intuitive part of the psyche, but that has yet to find conscious expression.’ The symbol of the red coat is one that is produced by the unconscious to help John morn his daughter’s death and accept it, in an attempt to return a balance to the psyche.

There is one particular section of Don’t Look Now that has several visual clues to suggest that John is in a dream world. At approximately 35 minutes into the film, John and Laura get lost in a labyrinth of alley ways in the dead of night. As John walks through one archway he appears bemused and states that he knows this place. The use of archways and alleys, by Roeg, can be seen as transitional spaces to John’s dream world, in which he sees the manifestation of his dead daughter. John find his way again and is no longer lost, after seeing the red coated figure, a possible compensatory image for his grief. John shouts to Laura ‘I’ve found the real world it’s down here.’ This asks the question, if that is the real world what world was he just in? Roeg uses dialogue to imply the dream world, John was in his unconscious. To finish this scene there is an incredible visual metaphor for the experience John just had. As they exit the alley onto the main street, the viewer can see with clarity, amongst the darkness, a neon sign that reads ‘Ottica’ with a pair of glasses underneath it. One can assume that this is an opticians and it is the only light in the dark alley. Therefore John’s dream world experience is a means of seeing in the dark.

Whether you choose to read into Don’t Look Now with Jungian Psychology or not, it will always be a mysterious and chilling film. The Blu-ray reboot is worth a purchase, with added interviews from Danny Boyle and Donald Sutherland, he still insists that the sex scene was acted, they add further intrigue to a film that is already excellent at leaving an impression.

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