Blog 5 – documentary

It’s interesting to think that a documentary about someone’s family history could be so interesting. Most documentaries follow suit more to the essay-format, taking a subject, doing research on that subject, and then use the magic of editing to spin the film in favour of their thesis. However, Sarah Polley’s The Stories We Tell presents it’s unique documentary format as if it were a fiction film or “mocumentary” (mock-documentary.) If one didn’t know these were real people, one could easily be convinced that this was a mocumentary, much to the like of District 9, it’s like if you combined the style of District 9 and combined it with the complete personal colour palate of Kramer vs Kramer.

As Polley herself says, “we can’t all be right, we can’t all be wrong.” It’s here where her film comes to life. If Polley had listened to her birth father’s advice and only delivered the film through one perspective, the story would have been tainted with the very bias her father wanted to force onto it. His way of thinking is that of a child who doesn’t want to share his toys with the other kids. The kid who gets pushed by his fellow classmate down and then gets upset when the teachers ask him if he pushed first, which he very much did. It’s an older Hollywood way of thinking and we can’t be more grateful that Polley shoved it aside and let her true artistic mind take over. It’s this exact form of filmmaking that draws us into the story much like that of a fiction film. By giving us not just the perspectives of her birth and parental fathers, but also those of her siblings, family friends, and even some doctors and work clients. It allows the audience to act like as close to the fly on the wall as possible, just like we would in a fiction film. This is probably why we draw so much interest into the story, despite having no relation to anyone in the film. It gives a sense of pseudo-individualism, allowing us to look into ourselves and relate it to our own families, friends, and even ask ourselves how we might tell a story such as this? How we would we tell our story? And beyond this, how does each individual mind work to retell a story? This film marvels at analyzing human memory, showing just how difficult it can be to remember the past exactly. Doesn’t it just make you wonder how bringing in the wrong witnesses or not enough witnesses or even the witness’s own memory has probably obscured many court cases.

However, no film is without it’s critics and many have commented on Polley’s own subjectivity, once again using ol’ magical editing to help tell the story. As Polley states, “because the film was so much about storytelling and how stories are constructed, it would have felt really false to me to leave out that fact that I was constructing this story.” Polley presents her construction at the end of the film by showing us some of the behind the scenes. It reminds us that this is still a film, it has been edited, and to remember that one of its central characters, Polley’s own mother, has passed away, unable to give her side of the story. Many have critiqued how the film didn’t have the mother’s side, bringing up ethics of filmmaking, stating the film could have made the mother appear one way or another without us knowing. I would argue that this excuse could be made of everyone. I feel like the mother was presented very well. She is seen a someone who loved her children, husband, her friends, and her family, but didn’t quite know what do to when presented with a fork in the road. It makes her human without making her a villain and shows her love without making her a saint. Though, I’m sure one could have edited the film to make her more neutral, how Polley represented her mother was, like the story itself, a collection of every participants opinions and honestly, that’s the best possible way to have do it.

I personally, loved this film and it’s style of documentary. I don’t know if it could be done with every documentary, but when dealing with stories and different perspectives of it, it certainly makes for an outstanding presentation. And hey, it even had some acting, since, you know, this course is called “Acting for Non-Majors” we might as well watch films that, yea know, having acting in them…

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Blog 4 – Native America Film

I love hollywood films. There, said it. Bam. Yea, I find them incredibly entertaining and when they do discuss deeper topics they tend to use subtleties and, more recently, post modern ideas to creatively discuss topics such as race, gender, and sexuality. Topics that, gonna say it, lead to incredibly generic discussions. (They really do. Want to find them? Head over to UpWorthy or Buzzfeed, 10 bucks says you’ll find every ‘debate’ and answer ever discussed about these topics.) But what American Hollywood films have always been so great at doing is getting beyond the simple answers of these topics and going straight to heart/soul of the people involved, even the philosophy of why humans do these things to each other and how we could stop it (X-men, bitches!) Apologies for my agitation towards this subject, but whenever a University coarse begins a discussion on these topics and the discussion – basically speaking – concludes with, “We’re all the same, let’s love each other that way, okay!? :D” I can’t help but say, “yea, I know. Pretty sure everyone knows this. Why are we discussing this? This isn’t a discussion, you’re preaching to the choir. Tell us something new!”

So when we came to the discussion on Native Americans portrayal in cinema, I knew EXACTLY where this was going, for the very same reason as above, it’s a generic conversation topic that leads people who feel ‘guilty’ for their ancestors to help whipe that guilt and feel better about themselves, then pat each other on the back, apologize to eachother, and then go do something ‘good’ and call themselves good people. No, that doesn’t make you a good person, because guilt shouldn’t be the vehicle for doing Good in the world. Doing Good is something people with even small traces of humanity do for no reason whatsoever, just because they bloody well want to. Films like Rhymes for Young Ghouls and Samson and Delilah led to these kinds of discussions and if one noticed, the only people ‘discussing’ in class where the well-raised white folks, discussing their guilt towards history and how shitty the reserves were – yea, man, we learned that in grade 5. We’re supposed to be discussing how these films fought the stereotypical images of Western film. I’ll admit, these two films definitely didn’t show the stereotypical Aboriginal side we’re used to, but their messages were pretty obvious and, honestly, their characterization was incredibly shallow – yup, said it, Samson and Delilah were robots, Delilah maybe a little less so, but call the film, Chappie and Eve (ß from Wall-E) and it’d be the same film.

Now, Smoke Signals, that’s how you battle stereotypes!! Use them to your advantage through humour, then flip them with characters that go truly development through personal struggles. Characters whose personas evolve without loosing sight of who they are; who we can see ourselves hanging out with or we could picture on the street. Not only did Smoke Signals make us care about the individual characters, but we also cared about the reserve they lived on and each individual person who lived in that reserve. We got the see the hardships these people went through, but never once made them out to be killing machines or soulless robot kids. We saw Victor’s idea of what it meant to be an ‘Indian’, which actually felt more “Hollywood” than Thomas’ idea vs Thomas, who’s look and attitude was inspired by the people – the culture – that raised him. What makes Smoke Signals so great is it speaks the idea that Cultural identity isn’t defined by it’s archetypes, but the people who grow the communities and traditions within it – Thomas, the girls driving the car, the radio man, and Susan are the perfect example of this. As humans, Thomas was raised to care, love respect. His heart is ingrained in the community – even a bit too much at times, often stepping over personal boundaries, “Heeey Victor! Why’d your dad leave?” Victor, on the other hand, has found life in the “lone wolf” persona, finding peace only in himself and at times his mother. It’s not rocket science to know that the reserves are poor places to live or that colonization was an incredibly dark thing that occurred. We are taught – should be taught – these things in elementary and high school. We shouldn’t be learning it or even discussing it in University, it belittles ourselves and the establishment where we have come experience higher learning. Smoke Signals is that higher learning. A film, where we can take these stereotypes we already know to be wrong and play with them through humour, whilst showing us the people behind the masks and the true definition of a people of culture. Ironic, Smoke Signals was the most Hollywood film of the bunch, yet it did the best job at proving the points this blog assignment entailed.

PS: So, are we going to look at Screen Acting at all or is this THEATRE class, going to turn into exactly all those other non-major film classes York has to offer. I’ve taken those film classes and yep, so far, totally the same… When is Michael Greyeyes coming back?

Blog Assignment 2 – Gender, Sexuality, and Love

A Normal Heart is one of those films that isn’t just great because productional elements (though those are brilliant!), it’s great, because it takes a subject matter that could so easily have been romanticized or given the “buzzfeed”/“UpWorthy” treatment of “we’re going to guilt the audience into feeling like jerks unless they agree with our obvious and generic thought process.” No, A Normal Heart, fortunately, does not fall into this shallow thinking. Instead, the film treats it’s characters like, well, human beings. No good and evil, no pity, no audience guilt, and no ‘pretending’ to understand a specific group of people. It understands that we, as humans, have this thing called humanity that provides empathy with any another human. By doing this, A Normal Heart immediately destroys all stereotypes, making it’s characters relatable to any audience member, and gives us a story that, while focused on the AIDS epidemic and Gay Community in the 1980’s, could easy be about any community whether big (race, gender, religion, politics) or smaller (music communities, families, arts communities, etc).

There are 3 characters that perfectly show this accommodation for the “human soul”: 1) Mark Ruffalo’s Alexander “Ned” Weeks, a Gay Rights Activist who tries to spread awareness of the AIDS virus. Now, the stereotypical way of portraying a Gay character in media would be to give him a more feminine-alto voice, give him high end designer clothing, give a strut to his walk, and make him demon-free (as he is our protagonist after all!) But no, Ned is actually a bit of a dick. He speaks in a relatively baritone registered voice, his attire is put together and reasonable without being flamboyant, he walks as a human would normally walk, and yea, he’s got demons, he’s got quite a few demons. His demons rank from have a poor connection with his brother (played Alfred Molina), to his unwanted slams and “forced outing” of political leaders which leads to him being fired from his own AIDS research group. Despite this, his heart is always in the right place, though his mind and mouth may take it on tangents.

2) Bruce Niles, played by Taylor Kitsch. What I like about Bruce is his exact opposite character trait to Ned. Unlike Ned, Bruce is more put together, emotionally and physically, which allows him to carefully choose his words with political figures and interviewers. This allows the AIDS research facility to grow without upsetting anyone (unlike Ned who just insults them, when they don’t help.) Regarding stereotypes, Bruce is a bit closer to that Hollywood “Gay Archtype” than Ned. His attire is a bit more flamboyant, his hair very groomed, and he is little too overly sexual (but I mean, on a Stereotyle scale of 1-10, if Ned’s like a 2, Bruce is maybe a 5, so…). While, Bruce also represents the “friendly rival” persona commonly found in Films (ex, Rush, Amadeus), it is the scene where he must bury is lover that truly brings out his humanity and it’s this scene which reminds us that A Normal Heart is not a Gay Rights Film about AIDs, it’s a humanitarian look on how a community struggles with a plague. How any community would struggle; how it destroys our very soul, unless we fight it. No person should have to steal their dead lover out of a hospital in a garbage bag while their lover’s Mother weeping, nay, wailing to the heaven’s for mercy, and all they can do is stay calm until it’s over.

3) Finally, Jim Parson’s Tommy Boatwright. Tommy, who’s very flamboyant nature, his higher range tenor voice, his more feminine personality, and his dialect fits very close to the Gay Stereotype we often see in media, never deters from who he is as a person. Though he may fit an Archtypical mold, Tommy’s relationship to his friends and his storing of their calling cards when they die of the virus, immediately makes him the most relatable character. Despite elements of that cast that many of us could individually relate to, it is no doubt that we all see ourselves as Tommy. We all feel his suffering, but continue to see the world in an optimistic light, knowing there his hope at the end.

Ned, Bruce, and Tommy, and the many characters in between, help to flesh out the humanity A Normal Heart whilst representing a community that not all of us fully relate to. By dissecting and discarding the stereotype, it allows us to see ourselves in their positions without feeling scolded or guilty, strongly emphasizing awareness about this epidemic, the community, and gender equality. I hope we can get more of this and less Buzzfeed. Common Internet, I believe in you!

Spencer Creaghan

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Blog Entry – Post-Modernism

We find post-modern traits in the works of many of today’s filmmakers such as Quentin Tarantino, David Lynch, and the great, oh powerful god that is, Joss Whedon. Another filmmaker to be included in this category is Wes Anderson. His quirky style of filmmaking, which seems to follow him no matter how hard he tries to get away from it, follows him in Moonrise Kingdom. Though masked as a coming of age movie, the film hones into all the usual bright colours, awkward personalities, face-directly-on-camera medium shots, and one word dialogues that make a Wes Anderson movie a Wes Anderson movie. His sense of irony and campiness definitely fits him into this post-modern category (though, I think calling anything “Post” is unnecessary. Why not just come up with a more original name? The genre is original enough. The people that are part of the genre could easily come up with a better name in seconds, especially given the oceans of creativity that these guys and gals possess. The term is also incredibly pessimistic, “oh hey, we think what you modern guys are doing is dumb, so we’re gonna take your thing and flip it on it’s head. HA HA.” Instead of what probably really happened which was a bunch of nerds who like a bunch of different nerdy stuff wanted to bring all that stuff together and create a giant community of nerdiness and awesome – and maybe include a social statement or two, whilst still making sure the focal point was on something nerdy, like Captain America or slaying Vampires. But of coarse, the academics couldn’t figure out all this nerd, so they labeled it something dumb like “post-modern.” But I digress…) Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom contains all these levels of ‘nerd,’ sorry, Post-Modernism, through:

  • hyperealistic sets and costumes that look like paintings from the 1960’s
  • a huge sense ironic self-awareness to it’s ridiculousness, such as the kids being pen pals, running away from home, their rescue team being a bunch of campers, and a deadbeat cop who’s in love with the run away girl’s mother. I mean, common, that’s just funny.
  • And greatly blurring many genres such as coming of age (the main plot), dark humour (the woodland fight between the girl and campers), thriller (the Noah’s ark finale), military (the boy’s camp), and rural drama (with it being a small town and all.)

 

To relate the ideals brought up by Žižeck, Moonrise Kingdom mainly looks at

realism and the nuclear family. Realism is challenged by the ridiculous characters and plot events, such as the Sam and Suzy speaking and acting as if they were in their 40s, the social services woman who wants to bring Sam back for electro-shock therapy, the cop who is essentially homeless, and the campers who could easily have been in Full Metal Jacket. The idea of a Nuclear Family is seen 3 ways. The first is Suzy’s family, your standard 1960’s mom, pop, and 4 kids, all snug in their house listening to classical music. The kids do what their told, and everyone is happy. Except, not everyone was happy. Suzy ran away partial because of this and the mother was sleeping with the homeless cop. The second challenge to the nuclear family can be seen with Sam and his newly legal guardian, Captain Duffy, at the end of the film. They live in a run down trailer, they basically mind their own business between each other, and both are basically using each other to save themselves from the hardships of their current lives. For Sam, it’s the orphanage, for Duffy it’s his lonesome. The final ‘family,’ could be seen as the Boy scouts camp. Lead by Scout Master Randy, who, let’s face it, isn’t really the father figure they are looking for, the camp tries it’s hardest to feel like a true family. The boys look out for each other, they care about each other, and they’ll go to great ends to save the one another from harm. Actually, the camp is probably the closest to the standard concept of the Nuclear Family in this regard, though this could easily be over looked due to it being a boy scout camp and not a “perfect family” with Mom, Pop, and 4 joy filled kids, 2 boys, 2 girls.

 

In all, Moonrise Kingdom’s captures the perfect essence of celebration for past and present styles (nerding out) to fit it perfectly in the category of Post-Modernism.

 

Spencer Creaghan

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Blog 1 – Django Unchained and why we’re analyzing it wrong.

Last week in class we looked at Quentin Tarantino’s spaghetti western/revenge film “Django Unchained.” Now, A LOT was said about the film, but I felt that no matter what was said, the dialogue always came back to the topics of Quentin’s own skin colour, the skin colour of the characters, how that effected choices of the characters made in the film (and why those choices were “wrong”), and the fact that the female character was portrayed as a damsel in distress. Before going into anything, I’m just going to say, I flat out disagree with almost everything that was said about this film when it came to the analysis of race and gender. Why? Because It does not apply to this film! Had we looked at Hotel Rowanda, 12 Years A Slave, even The Help, then yes, I would agree with all of those points. I would back those points up like by own buddy in battle, but we didn’t look at those films, we looked at Django Unchained and because of that, those points no longer valid.

Firstly, Quentin Tarantino has said that Django is a revenge film for his fellow African Americans, the same as he did for his Jewish friends and Inglorious Bastards. That’s it. That’s the film. That is his own artistic statement about the film. Even in class, it was mention, by the professor even, that Mr. Tarantino does not like putting politics into his movies and as such will do the film as he wants to do it. Then that’s all we should analyze with it comes to politics. Looking at it any more would be the same as saying that Katy Perry’s song “TGIF” is about how the week breaks us of our evil capitalist hold, because Marx was the best ever and eff the government, and also the police, and also Illuminati controls everything. No, it’s bloody about Katy Perry and how she likes to party with her friends and get really wasted. That’s her artistic statement. Going over board, while fun in ironic settings, only makes you a tool. The same is true for Django Unchained. Tarantino wants us to see as a fun, over the top revenge film for his african friends and he made it like a Spaghetti Western because he loves Spaghetti westerns more than anything AND THAT’S WHAT IT IS! Look any deeper and you’re missing the point. Your missing the Artist’s point, you might as well be putting words into his mouth that he’s never once said.

Okay, next: the term “White Privilege” (or any kind of privilege really) is probably the biggest plague on society that the 21st century has come to invent. So what, just because Mr. Tarantino is white he can’t feel the pain of another human being? Just because, his family history wasn’t a part of this time the same as Mr. Foxx’s may have been, doesn’t mean me can’t imagine the troubles that those people may have been through. I truly believe that judging someone by the colour of their skin is wrong and is the biggest crime of humanity up until the 21st century, but it seems like we still aren’t over this. In fact, it’s the very people who think they are destroying it that are keeping it alive. Just because Mr. Tarantino is white does not and should not mean he can’t cringe when we writes a man torn apart by dogs, or feel joy when a man save the woman he loves from the prisons of racism, or make a revenge film for a culture that he is not. The colour of one’s skin shouldn’t dictate what goes on inside our minds. We are all human. Above all, we all feel the same as one other. Saying Mr. Tarantino should not have made this film because of his “White Privilege” is itself racist. A different level of racism than slavery, mind you, but racist none the less.

Now let’s talk about Hildy. Actually, before we get to Hildy, let’s remember something about the film as stated pretty clearly: This film is a retelling of the great German legend of Sigfried and Brynhildr as heard in the The Ring Cycle and “meta-ly” stated by Dr. Sholtz. The German tales is simply, Brynhildr (Hildy) was held prisoner in the tower (Candyland) by the Dragon (Mr. Candie/Racism/Slavery), until Sigfried (Django) came to save her. Now, Tarantino has always in the past presented extraordinarily strong female characters, so when he gives us a damsel in distress this one time, there must be a reason. The German legend is that reason. Tarantino obviously wanted to stay true to the story and for that to work, Hildy had to be the damsel. Now, he did try to have her escape and be that strong woman, but unfortunately, the Dragon was too powerful and she was put in the hot box. Anyone who critics the film as being anti-feminist or sees Hildy as weak are (as all other points made in this blog), missing the point of the film and trying to find trouble where there isn’t any. If they were Hildy and the film was the dragon, the dragon would have eaten them.

My final point to argue of those presented in class is of poor Dr. Sholtz. In class, Sholtz was attacked for being “that white guy who saved Django,” when Django could have saved himself. Okay, let’s go back and remember the film for a second. Django did try to save himself. He tried running away many, many times, but each time he was captured again, and burnt and scared. Let’s remember what era we’re talking about, people were beaten and killed for less. Yes, it sucks that Django had to have been given his freedom by a white guy. If Django Unchained was a modern day film, it would very much indeed be racist, but it doesn’t take place in 2014, it takes place just before the Civil War and slavery is very much a thing. After having tried to escape but unfortunately failing time and time again (as told in the film), Dr. Sholtz was that necessary character to move the plot forward.

Alright, this just about ends my mighty first blog about Django Unchained, but before I go I would like to bring out the issue with something said in class: “We’re in university. We’re supposed to be analyzing everything.” Now, I paraphrase a tad, but the gist is there. To this point I say, yes, we should be analyzing, but we should also be analyzing when it is okay to analyze and how far that analysis should go (there is such a thing as over analysis). Being able to critique something doesn’t make you intellectual or a unique thinker, it makes you exactly like everybody else, even toddlers critique their parents constantly. No, University teaches (or rather should be teaching if it isn’t already) us how to know the difference between levels of analysis. To know when it’s okay to bring up your opinion based on knowledge of the subject or when you should study more about such a topic instead of spewing out whatever information and terms you found on tumblr, UpWorthy, or Buzzfeed. To know when we should analyze a piece of art based on the artists intention and/or craft and skill that was put into making it. And to know when maybe you are finding an issue with something just to ‘have an issue with it.’

There is a character on the former NBC sitcom “Community” named Britta, a character who, when playing Dungeons and Dragons, will side with the obviously evil attacking Goblins over her hero friends, because this land “may be the Goblin’s home.” She is the worst. The ideas that I have argued today are the very things that Britta would have said in class. If this is where our generation is headed than I fear for us and pitty artists like Quentin Tarantino who just wanted to made a Revenge Spagheti Western for his African American friends.

Okay, that’s the end of this Blog.