CTS Moving Image Portfolio

A series of pieces of writing formed around my study of Moving Image.

A Critical Review of Veronica Mars
In the style of Lily Sparks, http://www.tv.com

There has been new interest in the 2004-2007 (Imbd, nd) television series Veronica Mars recently, due to the record-breaking donations for the crowd-funded 2014 film. Despite only being aired for three seasons, and cancelled due to low viewing figures, fans remained ardent enough seven years later to donate 5.7 million dollars (John,E. 2014) for another instalment.
So why was such a niche TV show so loved? I believe, after repeated attempts at getting friends and family to give it a chance, the premise of the show sounds ridiculous. A blonde teenage private eye, balancing high school with mystery solving? It sounds about as trite as a Scooby Doo plot!
In the pilot episode, Veronica and her father are town pariahs, wanted by the local biker gang. She has been raped and her best friend murdered, and despite vowing to find out, she doesn’t know who did either. She faces a world of opposition in which everyone is a possible suspect, and this world gets more complex the more she finds out.
Despite this, Veronica Mars is not at all a depressing or negative show. Veronica’s strength, brilliance and wit help keep attention mostly away from the dark themes. Kathleen Rowe Karlyn sought to “look beyond the doomed suffering women of melodrama and the evil ones of film noir”(1992, p. 8) to find a positive female protagonist. I would argue that Veronica Mars encapsulates this perfectly.
Veronica Mars is a both a relatable young woman and a classic hardboiled detective (something underscored by excellent use of film noir voiceover), who has to deal with gritty, dark and realistic issues first hand, such as abuse, murder, rape and social inequality. She faces all of this with determination and brilliance, with her inner turmoil only occasionally glimpsed through dry humour. After catching a serial rapist, a composed Veronica tells the local Sheriff’s Deputy, ‘Sacks’, ‘I track down the bad guys, call you, you make the bust. You know what that makes everyone, Sacks? A winner.’ (‘Welcome Wagon’, 2006).

Bibliography

Internet Movie Data Base (nd) Veronica Mars. Available at: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0412253/ (Accessed 1 Dec 2015).
John, E. The Guardian (2014) Veronica Mars, the movie: ‘Fans gave the money, there was all this pressure’. Available at http://www.theguardian.com/film/2014/mar/13/veronica-mars-movie-fans-money-pressure-return-kickstarter-funded-marshmallows (Accessed 1 Dec 2015).
Karlyn, K. R. (1992) The Unruly Woman: Gender and the Genres of Laughter. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.
Vineyard. J. Vulture (2014) Veronica Mars Creator Rob Thomas Explains His Cultural Influences. Available at: http://www.vulture.com/2014/03/rob-thomas-explains-his-cultural-influences.html (Accessed 1 Dec 2015).
‘Welcome Wagon’ (2006) Veronica Mars, Season 3, episode 1. CBS, 3 October 2006 (USA)

Review of an Academic Text
Are Women Really Focalised?
Overlap Between the Concepts of Male Gaze and Focalisation in Film Theory by Katalin Bálint

This text is unusual in that it uses data to find the relationship between focalisation and the male gaze. The use of film stills and charts makes it very accessible and interesting to look at, but unorthodox, which is pointed out early on. There is a clear level of knowledge and research, with many other theorists mentioned, but seems a little biased from the start. Though the male gaze is discussed at length, it seems that the Katalin is sceptical of it’s existence prior to the study.
She uses two Hitchcock films, Vertigo (1958) and Marnie (1964) for her analysis, as Mulvey (1989, pp.23-24) claims these are both examples of films in which a male point of view makes the females into objects. I would argue that this is a fairly limited range of films from the same director, and would really benefit from a wider study, although she has proved that this form of critique has some credence.
Katalin’s research shows that in these two films the male lead is the focaliser and the female the focalised, but concedes that Vertigo is about a man following and therefore observing the woman, so this is logical. However, she claims to disprove Mulvey’s theories about the dominance of the male gaze, showing that in more than half of Marnie, a woman is the focaliser. It is possible that Mulvey missed this according to Snow, who argues that the male gaze is almost universally seen as a negative and ‘whatever in the gaze and it’s constructions escapes this definition is usually assimilated to the issues of female spectatorship” (1989, p.30). Katalin concludes by comparing her research with other theorists ideas, conceding that although her study seems to disprove the prevalence of the male gaze, she agrees with Mulvey about the “looked-at-ness” of women.

Bibliography

Katalin, B. (2011) ‘Are Women Really Focalized?’, PSYART: A Hyperlink Journal for the Psychological Study of the Arts. Available at: http://www.psyartjournal.com/article/show/blint-are_women_really_focalized. (Accessed 1 Dec 2015).
Marnie (1964) Directed by Alfred Hitchcock [Film]. Universal City, Calif, Universal Studios Home Entertainment.
Mulvey, L. (1989) ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.Visual and Other Pleasures’ New York: Palgrave, pp. 14-28.
Snow, E. (1989) ‘Theorizing the Male Gaze: Some Problems. Representations.’ Available at: http://doi.org/10.2307/2928465 (Accessed 1 Dec 2015).
Vertigo (1958) Directed by Alfred Hitchcock [Film]. Los Angeles, Paramount Pictures.

An Archive of Short Films relating to ‘Watched’

Doodlebug, 1997

Elisa Lam Elevator Video, 2013
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cJ_E6l1P86U

Let the Right One In, 2009

Montgomery, 2007

Rear Window, 1954

The Birds, 1963

The Cry of the Owl, 2009
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R4SbBnrGgWE

Under the Skin, 2014

Promotional Piece for the short film ‘Watched’
Tagline: Paranoia is underrated

From the opening shots of this debut short film, the audience is drawn into paranoid world of suspense, dark, brooding cinematography and sound, and a story in which there is no certainty, only clues and questions.
A nameless woman comes home to a dark and quiet house. There are no clues as to where or when the story is set. Glimpses of her silhouette can be caught in the half-light as she nervously checks the rooms, moving in the darkness to illuminate each hiding spot. Despite finding nothing, she and the viewer remain tense, darting eyes around empty rooms with every small movement filling the silence. Look carefully, why is she never quite at ease? What is she looking at? And why does the intruder have a set of keys? The camera angles suggest there is something wrong with this picture, and the repeated use of darkness keeps the viewer watching for what might happen, taking cues from the lack of information. This sense of dread and anticipation is heightened by the minimal and selective use of sound, which only serves to highlight the eeriness when something may be watching quietly from outside.
‘Watched’ is a film that exploits contemporary fears of surveillance and voyeurism, and questions assumptions about how we judge victimhood based on appearances. An exploration of those moments generally assumed completely private, when your guard is down, ‘Watched’ is ultimately a film about perspective, showing both that of the fixated and of the paranoid.

Watched Analysis and Critique

The short film Watched made by Adam Wenham and myself started as a direct response to a lecture on narrative and focalisation. Illustrated to great effect by clips from The Birds (1963), we were inspired to create a deceptive piece using point of view.
Due to limited time and resources we felt a film focusing on a protagonist and the relationship with their surroundings would be the most effective for a short film. We also wanted to have an open ended question or mystery to intrigue the viewer, as previous research into short films found many films that had unoriginal or predictable plot lines with an irritating moral theme, and decided leaving it open ended would avoid this problem best.
However, due to editing and acting issues, the final cut of the film is different to our original idea. In the script, I attempted a twist relying on the viewers perception of the woman and slightly ambiguous ‘red herrings’. The protagonist at the beginning was an introverted, observant individual and focused on the ways in which they see the world, the particulars of their perspective. This puts her in the role of the focaliser, and the people she watches the focalised. Our original opening shots were exclusively of passers by, details in their faces, clothes, gait. Shots of her eyes following them were only to illustrate that she is a ‘people watcher’, to establish her as the viewer through which the audience sees at the beginning of the film. It was important that the protagonist be a young woman, as we felt the audience would dismiss her as a threat more than a male, who is more likely to be seen with suspicion (Snow, 1989, p.30) if intently observing passers by. It also brings to mind the scenes in 2014’s Under the Skin in which the woman spends hours watching the public, and is able to convince men inside her house to their death by simply inviting them in.
As the film progresses, the camera angles change, so that the shots of The Woman are no longer just to establish that she is watching, and instead gradually suggest that she is being watched, up to the point of being obvious. To achieve this we filmed her from a distance, from behind, and details such as her clothes, hands and hair. At this point the film is explicitly using the Male Gaze as a negative, as the point of view is controlled by a (supposedly) male character and the female character becomes the object of his gaze (Mulvey, 1989, 19-20) In an attempt to establish our narrative and manipulate the audience by making our female protagonist the victim, the most effective tool is the point of view (Stam et al, 1992, 83-95).
The manipulation continues as she seems to become aware of the attention, looking over her shoulder, and the shots more overtly covert, from behind foliage and walls, physically following her around corners. At this point we stopped using a tripod and almost ran at the same pace as the protagonist, the jerky motion and short distance raising the intensity, despite never seeing from her perspective.
As she enters the house the tone is more neutral, the narrative simply a narrative without trying to portray it from a particular point of view. However, she is still visibly nervous, checking the rooms and turning on lights. Here we used techniques we observed in Montgomery (2007), of using selected and minimal sound and light to enhance the tension, so that for much of the time there are silent, dark pauses in which the audience cannot interpret what is happening. Her movements and manner whilst in the house are not natural for someone in their home, police footage from the controversial 2013 Elisa Lam case was a reference for an example of how someone genuinely scared might act when being supposedly observed.
Sound is used to further effect, as it defines the points at which the protagonist is being watched from outside and when she is inside, nervously trying to settle down after being chased inside. We suggest to the audience that her feelings are justified when gazing out of the window, as her gaze is returned by the camera angles, silently focused on her face from outside the window, building a sense of uneasy intimacy. Similar shots are used continuously in the 2009 film Let the Right One In, in which similarly vulnerable seeming protagonists, children, stand gazing out of windows whilst the camera shows they are being watched.

This continues when the same technique shows her getting undressed, which when represented differently may not make the audience feel as uncomfortable, but in this context highlights her vulnerability to the gaze from the unnamed villain. This focalisation is again abandoned when she leaves the room and therefore the gaze, to see what the noise at the door is, distinguishing between the narrator’s activity and the activity of the character (Genette, 1988, 72-79). After her ascent we make a final switch to her point of view, as she observes the silhouette of someone nearing the door.

This was originally a crucial part of the plot, which occurred to me after watching Christopher Nolan’s early film Doodlebug (1997), in that after all of this build up, which relies heavily on audience assumptions about what is happening and camera work suggestive of a particular narrative, but is never outright stated. The door is unlocked by a couple, who are shocked but angrily shout in panic: ‘Who are you!? What are you doing in my house!?’ This would be the finale of the film, that this woman was never being followed or observed, was never in any danger, but is actually a kind of home invader, possibly unstable. This was never intended to be explained to keep the ending as open as possible, but in the final edit we found that all of the tension and suspense built up to that point was broken by the performance at the end by ‘The Homeowner’ with the only piece of dialogue in the film.

In conclusion, the short film Watched explores how we can indicate focalisation, the gaze, and allocate roles based on stereotypes. This is achieved using a combination of camera angles, lighting and sound to create a sense of menace and suspense.
Bibliography
Firat Parlak (2007) Montgomery. Available at: https://vimeo.com/739588 (Accessed 1 Dec 2015).

Genette, G. (1988) ‘Narrative discourse revisited’. Ithaca: Cornell University Press,pp.72-79.

Katalin, B. (2011) ‘Are Women Really Focalized?’, PSYART: A Hyperlink Journal for the Psychological Study of the Arts. Available http://www.psyartjournal.com/article/show/blint-are_women_really_focalized. (Accessed 1 Dec 2015).

Let the Right One In (2009) Directed Tomas Alfredson [Film]. Bavaria Media GmbH.

Mr Viral News III (2013) Elisa Lam Elevator Video. Available at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cJ_E6l1P86U (Accessed 1 Dec 2015).

Mulvey, L. (1989) ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.Visual and Other Pleasures’ New York: Palgrave, pp. 14-28.

Seul La Cinema (1997) Doodlebug. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-WhKt_CkXD0 (Accessed 1 Dec 2015).

Stam, R., Burgoyne, R., Flitterman-Lewis, S. (1992) ‘New vocabularies in film semiotics: structuralism, post-structuralism, and beyond.’ London: Routledge, pp. 83-95.

Snow, E. (1989) ‘Theorizing the Male Gaze: Some Problems. Representations.’ Available at: http://doi.org/10.2307/2928465 (Accessed 1 Dec 2015).

The Birds (1963) Directed by Alfred Hitchcock [Film]. USA: Universal Pictures.

Under The Skin (2014) Directed by Jonathan Glazer [Film]. Paris, France: STUDIOCANAL Limited.

What Courtney Said

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CTS Uncreative writing exercise. We looked at random pieces of writing spliced together, so I alternated tweets from Courtney Stodden with excerpts from Allie Brosh’s Hyperbole and a Half.

While I lie beneath this sizzling-sun, the popsicle that I am sweetly sucking on begins to melt & drips irresistibly all over my moist body!

I must have done a really good job pretending to be okay even while I was still unconscious, because I was released well before the anesthesia wore off.  

Mmm… My rock-hard abs work perfectly as a delicious goodie dish!

I began stumbling around the restaurant, shouting the closest approximation to the word “mom” that I could come up with.

Just learned how to do the splits… Figured I’d need to know how to do that trick sooner or later! Who knew my legs were so flexible?! 

I have repeatedly discovered that it is important for me not to surpass my capacity for responsibility.

Stepped my paws into a sexy wet cat-suit; Prowling mysteriously around the house while lickin’ my lips searchin’ for some nip! MEEEOWWW!

I Googled “how to tell if your dog is retarded” and after a bit of research, I found a dog IQ test that looked fairly legitimate.

Letter from Emerald Hill

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Dear Jonny

We’ve moved in, only half unpacked and seem to have already overfilled the house. Amy is trying to put up some shelves, but the walls are so thin here everything just falls out in the night.

It’s beautiful here; clean, open, neat houses in rows. We’re on a street called Emerald Hill. Fitting, as the grass is so matte and lush it’s as if we are on top of a velvet dome. It’s weird being out of the city, so quiet I notice everything, and my thinking gets strange and abstract.

I looked outside at night for the first time since we arrived, and for a bewildered moment of terror thought we were in space. Like the house had just floated up when we weren’t looking. It was pitch black outside, no streetlights, no cars, nothing. The lack of sound is a heavy, constant pressure that makes me feel uneasy. There’s so little distraction that every thought feels like a shout only I can hear.

Amy thinks it’s funny. This is home for her, but I’m going mad. She seems to fit in perfectly, made friends with all of our neighbours, talking about doing a dinner thing. I’ll have to sit there reciting stock small talk. Everyone seems lovely, I’m sure it’s just me, but something feels off. Recently it’s like I don’t understand what anyone is saying, even though I know every word. There is a different layer of meaning to everything, which I can’t read. Amy says it’s just leaving so quickly the way we did, I have to get used to it here, get to know people. I’ll be fine.

But even in her I see an oddness. Maybe it’s the whites of her eyes, maybe it’s the way she holds herself, but I’m relieved at night when she closes the door. I can stop feeling as if there is something behind me, or just beyond my line of vision.

T x

This is a letter we were asked to do as creative writing in response to the lecture Troubled Dreams. It was about virtual spaces and artifice. I was given the above photo to base my letter on, but also used my experiences of moving from a city for the first time.

Hegemony

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Hegemony can be defined as the influence of the dominant class on everything, particularly our perception of what is desirable, which in turn affects our taste.

John Berger’s ideas of hegemony would have been accurate for the time period, but don’t translate as well today. Usng August Sanders’s photographs documenting the public, he described a class system in  clearly defined by the style and quality of their clothing, their posture and surroundings. Particularly in modern England, the class system is convoluted and non linear. His ideas about clothing indicating class would not be applicable, as in recent years a kind of inverted snobbery has become increasingly prevalent amongst the middle/upper classes. Examples of this include people like Guy Ritchie, Lily Allen and Jamie Oliver, who are often mocked for trying to seem more ‘street’ than they really are, often affecting ‘mockney’ accents and slang. This has extended to clothing, with styles and manufacturers so mixed up according to who buys them that a entirely different interpretation emerges.

Most people will at least subconsciously be able to read a person based on their appearance, particularly if familiar with their social group. The emergence of youth subcultures in the 1950’s will also affect this, even to the point of indicating class. Studies show that people who are or have been Goths or similar subcultures are more likely to succeed academically and in their careers, and are more likely to be middle class. People wearing flashy branded clothing that would have been expensive are ironically, more likely to be seen as poor. The biggest difference between Berger’s interpretation and the modern day is that by trying to appear wealthy, the individual looks more like they have something to prove.

Notes on recommended film clips

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Single shot: Long take

Solaris Beginning: Audio suggests sense of everyday, but the motion of moving past the everyday seems strange and futuristic, especially the tunnels filled with lights. Audio builds to foreboding futuristic beeps and booms. A human subject, even when shot from behind, is always a good focal point and is evocative.

The Shining Boy on tricycle: Camera angles as if the boy and door are looking at one another, interacting, and builds suspense. The twins unexpectedly cut in is both surreal and a shock, it adds to the feeling that anything could jump out.

Goodfellas Entering the club: Relies on the audience reading people- waiters, bosses, guests, according the clothing and body language. The scene is designed to show that the protagonist is a well known and respected man, who has confidence and charisma.

Edited: Montage

Bladerunner Beginning: I loved this scene, the futuristic dystopia and common people walking in the rain and smoke. It feels more realistic as there is a contrast between sweeping high angle shots of buildings and hovercraft against pedestrians shouting, eating, going about their business.

The Birds Waiting in the playground: The scene plays out, building indirect atmosphere. Only when she watches a single crow fly behind her does the viewer get the shock that as they were watching it was innocuously building up to that extreme reaction. Half the class gasped when this was shown.

Metaphor in film

The Seventh Seal Death and the Knight: The scenery provides a beautiful atmospheric backdrop, accentuated by the high contrast and lack of colour. The cloak of Death is cleverly used to obscure and frame the screen, asserting his dominance and foreboding.

The Seventh Seal

Visiting London College of Fashion and exhibiton Simon Costin’s Impossible Catwalk Shows

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I needed a book from the London College of Fashion and was excited to have access to their library and building, so made the trip to Oxford Circus. The building and location are impressive, and I went to see their current exhibition by Simon Costin.

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My first thought was that it must be difficult to find designers willing to obscure their shows behind laser cut trees, nuclear waste and other obstructions, but I was inspired by Costins showmanship. Especially after reading the guide and immersing myself in the exhibition properly, I could see the pageantry and drama that some of these shows would have. The exhibition itself was really fun to get into. At first glance, (second to last photo) the show isn’t that visually dynamic. But once you get up close, peek through the eyeholes in the big boxes, get inside the domed viewer and take a few minutes to watch the projected film, the small versions of grand shows are charming and beautiful. I especially liked the tiny room full of dip dyed dresses over old timey bathtubs and the darkly glittering wasteland in a box. They may actually be just as effective on a tiny scale, as when you have to peek through up close you get a real sense of the space and dimensions from that level.

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A Forest in a Book

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My little sister had this book yesterday, Red Riding Hood by Louise Rowe. I immediately offered to read it to her just because I love this kind of thing so much. The cover is comparatively plain compared to other children’s books, but then surprisingly, opens to explode out a forest. It’s very satisfying.

What is also lovely is the use of collage, mostly of leaves, to make trees and floorboards, and fur/fabric texture photo collage for the characters. The natural colours make it feel a little spooky and atmospheric, though I’d like to see it all in white.

Folklore, cut paper art, pop up, collage, all work together to create more of an experience than a story. She ran her fingers over the shapes, felt the cut outs, wanted to waggle the pages to make the wolf growl, and circled it from different angles to see through windows.

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Initial Idea for Zine

This is one of the subjects that was eventually ruled out. The zine was going to be called alternately ‘Overheard Conversations’, or ‘Glimpses of Strangers’. It was the idea that I and everyone in my group liked best, but after presenting my ideas to my personal tutor she rightly pointed out that I would have a hard time coming up with enough text for this.

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I love these two though, the first is a couple I walked past, I was so curious about the backstory of that statement! This was made using photocopied collage, the style of an authentic zine.

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The second made me laugh, it was a couple of my little sisters classmates, overheard in a park. I immediately wrote down that conversation, even if I felt a little bad about it.