Dear Phone – Peter Greenaway
This was one of the first films I looked at for the last brief (Secret Life of Objects) as I was drawn to the scribbled text. It reflected the scribbly essay I was working from at the time and I wanted to know more about the film. It was quite interesting that all the text had to be narrated. Which in Greenaway’s mind was just an odd little way of adding visual context to the audio, but which, to me, had much more resonance in the futility of the text. We are forced by the poor hand writing, constant crossings out to listen, rather than to read, so why doesn’t he just show us more of the phone boxes? He’d rather confused the viewer and have us try to do both. Greenaway tend to work for purely humorous reasons, and this film didn’t fail to comply. That is certainly no bad thing as there is a depth to his humor which can be read into, rightly or wrongly so, but I wouldn’t have been nearly as drawn to it as I was, had I not misinterpreted it. Roll on discussion on the value of interpretation.
Cinema 16- British short films.
About a girl- Brian Percival. 9 minutes. 2001.
‘About a girl’ starts with the young girls silhouette dancing amongst the cloudy sky, whilst singing to Britney Spears Stronger. This is cut sharply, and the girl is revealed, strong Mancunian accent is first present with the words of, “If Jesus were alive today – right, he’d probably be a singer.” A bold statement to first be met with, she continues to speak as she walks along the canal, Manchester industrial landscape can be seen in the background. She rants non- stop about her dreams of becoming a singer in a girl band with her group of friends, swaying between this and her troubled relationships with her Mother and Father. Most things a hormonal thirteen year old might moan about. The film concentrates on the girl walking down the canal and then flashes to the scenes she is referring to in her stories. Watching her dad play sunday league football stood next to the goal post listing to Britney Spears on her walkman, to trying out the expensive perfumes in the department store and singing Oops I did it again, on the back of the bus with her friends. As a viewer the underlying sense that something is not quite right becomes more apparent as she continues to speak about her everyday working class life. The descriptions of her pop idols and the toppings on ice creams, and fused with reminding hints of a domestic violence, poverty and family problems. The girl is on the escape of her current life, speaking about how her Mother never buys her anything, and that she will be jealous when she is living a glamourous life in London, eating at posh restaurants and drinking Bacardi breezers. In an emotionless twist, the girl kept a new born puppy in the house and hid it for two days without it being found, when it was found her Mother gave it to the neighbours to drowned in the canal. She looks disturbed, at the canal, she has become wise before her time.
The underlying truth, which is suspected throughout, is unveiled at the end of the film. The shot comes off the girls face directly as she is walking, and hovers over the canal to show that she is also carrying a plastic bag. She walks to the canal edge and says, “Got dead good at hiding things since then.” Then the bag is thrown into the canal, where an underwater shot shows a new born baby coming out the carrier bag and drifting deep into the canal bottom. The film ends with the carrier bag floating down the canal and the girl walking away up the canal singing Britney Spears Stronger.
It is an raw film, documenting the sadness and loneliness of a child, putting on a front to hide the emotional struggle of her life.
Morgan M. Morgansen’s Date with Destiny
Written by Sarah Daily, Produced by Lawrie Brewster
This film is brilliant for many reasons.
The narrative, written by Sarah Daily, is uniquely formed, using a descriptive phrase to replace every single word in the script. For example, a watch is called a time teller, smile becomes lip lifted and bottom becomes back cushions. The effect is at first a little confusing and disorientating. But soon the humour of Daily’s choice of word combinations is apparent. I think she, as an author, wanted to question the purpose of language and the meaning of words, whilst creating a highly descriptive and engaging narrative.
The overwhelming affect of the confusing language is in keeping with the setting of the film. Set in 1889, the extravagant use of language reflects the ornate decorative designs of the Victorian period.
The thing I found most interesting about this film was the way it was created. Website hitrecord.org is a tool to aid collaborations between artists and was founded by actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who is also the protagonist of this film, Morgan M Morgansen. Amazingly, through this website the film received drawn and animated contributions from 180 international artists. Submissions were then orchestrated into the finished film, along with live action, by producer Lawrie Brewste (who also stars as the “food penguin”). The result is a rich collage of styles that merge together to produce a tapestry of film. The fantasy setting created has references to reality such as parts of Paris and also adapted famous paintings. The result is a fantasy that, when based loosely on whats recognizable, seems all the more strange.
The story itself is fairly familiar. Nervous man goes on date with beautiful woman, he gets the girl and they fall in love. If it wasn’t for its unusual narrative style and appearance the film would be uninspiring. But I think it is due to the simplicity of the story that the film is successful because it allows the craftsmanship of word and image to be appreciated.
The Piano by Jane Campion, 1993.
The film tells the story of a silent woman who travels to New Zealand with her daughter, for a marriage arranged by her father. They are left on the beach with their belongings and her beloved piano to wait for the future husband, Stewart, to arrive. Only he is not as gentle as he could be, and leaves the piano behind, claiming it is too difficult to carry. Ada, the main character, turns to Baines, a local worker, to get it back. Only Baines has become attracted to Ada, and exchanges the piano with Stewart for a piece of land. Ada must gain back her piano one black key at a time by playing for him, and allowing him to watch, listen and touch her.
The film deals greatly with oppression. Ada is arranged for a marriage by her father, and the viewer gets the impression she is not happy about the arrangement, nor the trip (from Scotland to New Zealand’s south island) as they travel along. She is immediately handed to another oppressor, her future husband. Ada describes the piano as her voice, and tries hard to get Stewart to understand its importance, but he ignores her and leaves it behind. Throughout the film Stewart’s attempts to bond with Ada seem ridiculous, their wedding picture is taken in pouring rain, he shows no compassion, and he attempts to rape her, twice.
But Ada has a real sense of self, and she shows no remorse for ignoring her husband, as she begins to bond with Baines. After their deal over the piano, she remains in control, and whenever he crosses the line, he accepts her withdrawal. Slowly they develop an intimate, passionate relationship that allows for her desire to bloom. But it is only possible here with someone understanding, and someone who listens, even when she cannot speak. Ada’s sexuality is also developed, as she begins to relax and think more of herself through Baines’ affection.
There is also an element of the ‘gaze’ in the film. Stewart has a photograph of Ada upon which he seems to have made his impression of her, and he returns to the image to remind himself of who he believes she is. Fiona, Ada’s daughter, peeks through the wooden boards of Baines’ house and sees her mother and Baines kissing. This innocent gaze is transferred to something she does not comprehend, as she tells her new friends and they take the motions of kissing to the trees. Here, Stewart learns of Ada’s relationship with Baines, and follows Fiona’s curiosity. He peeks in the house and watches them, naked, making love, but does not move. He is so consumed by what he sees, and I believe this is because he is watching his wife naked for the first time, not because she is with someone else, that he does not react immediately when a dog begins licking his hand. Even then, snapped to reality, he does not storm in the house, but continues to watch, confirmed of her sexuality, and perhaps believing that now he can do as he wishes.
He attempts to rape his wife, but she manages to escape him. His final command to her is to stay away from Baines. She complies, but as she hears that Baines is leaving, she writes a message on a key from the piano, and has her daughter deliver it to him. However, Fiona has turned sides, and delivers the key to Stewart, who, in fury, returns to the house and cuts off Ada’s finger with an axe in the last attempt to control her. But Ada no longer fears him. He cannot win her heart anymore, and she has won her escape.
Throughout the film Ada’s silence seems to represent her oppression, she begins learning to speak at the very end, when she has found peace with someone who understands her. Her own power and will remains strong till the end.
Koyaanisqatsi, directed by Godfrey Reggio. 1982
Koyaanisqatsi, part of the Qatsi trilogy directed by Godfrey Reggio; though made in 1982 is still as, if not more pertinent to our contemporary condition today. The film opens with vast landscapes untouched by man; the Earth in it’s natural state, progressing and developing at it’s own rate. Compiled from juxtaposed stills and time lapse footage, the images, twinned with Philip Glass’ astounding soundtrack are overwhelming to say the least. However, as the scenes flicker through our minds eye and we are lost in the worlds natural beauty, a dark structural shadow creeps up on the rolling clouds; The stark reality of our consumer world. Devastating footage flashes across the screen; war, explosions & demolition followed by fast moving cities and 12 lane highways with cars bumper to bumper. Though the film has no dialogue whatsoever, we get a strong sense of the underlying narrative; the story of us, by us and for us.
The use of time lapse footage highlights the speed of our money driven existence and it fails to paint a pretty picture, instead the motion, combined with realisation brings a nauseating feeling. Koyaanisqatsi, for me, raises the questions that are often overlooked, or that we fail to give substantial answers to. Sometimes it seems juvenile to ask questions such as; Why have we done this to ourselves? It may appear to be a stupid question, and one that can be answered with a timeline of events that have shaped and defined our world, but the logic behind this string of affairs is non existent if this is what it has lead to. So these questions go unanswered, because it’s never ending.
This film is very relevant to my practice, as it gives a great insight into the mind of a mentally unstable person. The story follows a young dancer named Nina who is part if the New York City Ballet, she is chosen to replace the lead ballerina in the production of Swan Lake. Nina must play both the angelic White Swan and the dark and sinister Black Swan. However, Nina is a timid and proper girl so is told that she must find the sensual Black Swan within herself to ensure that her role is not then given away to Lily, who already possesses these characteristics.
Nina is then pulled into a whirlwind of desperation and becomes detached from reality, with the pressure of perfection and an overbearing mother taking its toll of Nina. She begins to have hallucinations and feelings of paranoia and even as the viewer, you are at times not be able to determine what is real anymore.
This is a stark and at times shocking depiction of a naïve girl that is pushed to the edge to become perfect. She seems to love the idea of being perfect more than ballet, which again is an indication that this is a girl that is suffering psychologically.
Laura Holmes :
Pan’s Labyrinth – Guillermo Del Toro
Pan’s Labyrinth is the story of Ofelia, a young girl fascinated by fairytales, whose life is filled with death, pain and sadness. Written in 2006 and set in 1944, Guillermo Del Toro presents her journey in whi ch she tries to cope with this brutal reality; she imagines a fantasy world where she is the reincarnated spirit of Princess Moanna. She must carry out three tasks to prove her innocence and that she has not become mortal, in order to return to her father’s magical underground realm. Throughout this quest, she meets many magical characters, which are each representations of people she has met in reality, and the tasks that she carries out are echoes of real life scenarios.
Overall the underlying theme of the film is of the desire to escape reality, or the need to protect oneself from disturbing past or tormenting present. The film itself could be viewed as pure escapism or a single dimensional “Fantasy” genre. I believe the film has much greater depth than this and constantly returns to this need to escape, both in reality and the fairytale. This is explicitly demonstrated in Ofelia’s character but there are also allusions to this through other characters. The other prominent theme is rebellion; Ofelia’s attempt to escape from cruel reality, and the rebels’ rise against fascism. Traditionally a fairytale has a moral, and I believe in this case the ‘moral of the story’ to be related to Del Toro’s original statement in the director’s commentary; that through this fantasy he has created for us the viewer, it essentially is an escape from the real world, and a method of dealing with a distressing reality.
– Highly recommended, get it from the library 🙂