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Great Expectations

I think that the 2019 adaptation of Little Women was the one I was most looking forward to and had the highest expectations for. I’m pretty sure I have already mentioned on here that I was not a huge fan of the crosscutting, but at the time of my last post I wasn’t quite sure how to articulate what exactly I thought was wrong with it. So over the past two classes our discussions on the fact that this film borders on not actually being an adaptation, have helped a great deal in approaching the film from a new angle. Part of the beauty of the novel for me is how it’s chronological ordering allows us to see full lives play out and aspirations change. Of course we intend things to work out well for the sisters in the end, but the fact that we are only able to know what is happening in the order in which it happens, keeps a certain level of doubt in us as to how fully their dreams will be realized. Additionally, if the story is political at all, I would argue that it is equally social. Emphasizing the importance of family and friends, as much as it discusses transcendentalism and gender politics. The 2019 film seemed to push the family aspects of the novel mostly to the side, and focus on the politics in such a modern way that it appears to use the novel’s narrative as a vehicle for pushing its own, different message. This is only a criticism of the movie as an adaptation and not a film. A reading of this film as a standalone commentary would be interesting.

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Little Women (2019)

I was not a huge fan of the crosscutting in the most recent adaptation of Little Women. However, I am not quite sure why yet. This film definitely deserves another viewing. The ending was the area where I felt it worked the best though. Crosscutting is established throughout the film as being between two different points in time, and with Jo writing the story as we go back in time. The absolute truth of the past story we are viewing comes into question. How much of it actually happened? And how much of it is simply Jo’s tale?

At the end when Jo is meant to marry Professor Bhaer we are simultaneously shown Jo discussing the idea of marrying off her heroine with her editor. Before we are given the actual umbrella scene Jo agrees to the editors terms. Is the umbrella scene in this adaptation truly a part of Jo’s reality, or just the story she has written.

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My Brilliant Career

My Brilliant Career appeared to me as Little Women if it had only focused on Jo. Overall the plot, at it’s base, is quite similar. A girl growing into a women wishes to be something other than what society expects of her. Both have artistic aspirations, and wealthy acquaintances whose values and lifestyles juxtapose free spirit with the strictness of high society, but this is by no means a critique. My Brilliant Career appears to me as Little Women if Alcott had been able to write it to the fullest extent of her original intentions. The scene where Sibylla punishes the child on the farm is an intense representation of her acceptance of where she stands in life and literally shows her taking control of her situation. Sibylla also does not marry at the end. This was remarkably striking to me especially after listening to the commentary in class.

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1978 TV version

There is a lot to talk about with this adaptation of Little Women. Overall I enjoyed the British version much better. The US TV adaptation seemed like another 1949 adaptation only longer, and its agenda was more reflective of the 1950s than the 1960s. Out of all the one the nose dialogue what stood out to me in particular was meg’s drunkeness at the party near the films start. It establishes a trend throughout the rest of the film that nearly demonizes the consumption of alcohol. Meg twists her ankle most likely due to how much she has had to drink, and later on Laurie goes on a bender in Europe because Jo has rejected him. This adaptation came at the turn of the decade, around the same time that sentiment against underage drinking was strong in the US, causing the drinking age to change from 18 to 21.  Did they receive funding from Moms Against Drunk Driving? The past two US adaptations we have viewed read more to me as PSA’s than adaptations.

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Acting in One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest

The best example of the acting in this film is the opening scene.  Setting is established with a full sequence illustrating the opening routine of the ward, as well interactions between the characters who inhabit the setting, several of whom are named. Most importantly Nurse Ratched. She is the woman with the keys to the ward so clearly must hold some position of power. Her posture is stiff and straight, and her face blank like a stone, also evoking feelings of authority. When greeted by the orderlies she does not return the “good morning”. She is clearly not a particularly kind or sociable person, but when she enters the nurse bay she returns the nurses greeting with a smile. Perhaps this says something about how she uses her power, and treats those who are “beneath” her. After she simply stares at the orderlies, they give each other looks, indicating that this interaction might be a common , but to them it means very little. Their respect for Nurse Ratched is quite possibly manufactured, whereas those who see her lighter side go about their routines without even the slightest question as to her authority over them. This doublesidedness hints towards a more manipulative aspect of Nurse Ratched’s nature.

However, for the most part so far the actors performances have been realistic. They all fit within their environment, and behave as we expect them to. At this point all the interactions shown are played off as typical office space tensions. Before that sequence we are shown a car, and after the sequence the purpose of the car is revealed. Out steps protagonist Randal P. McMurphy. Up until the cuffs are off, literally, composure is normal for a convict entering a new institution, where, presumably, he will be staying from now on. He examines his surroundings, including the patients. His look is somewhat concerned. He knows he is not in prison anymore, but as soon as his wrists are unchained he jumps and shouts, and even gives one of his guards a “bugs bunny” kiss on the cheek. A cartoon character has been transplanted into a very grim and real mental institution, and for the rest of the film we shall see how he adapts. Or not.

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Harold and Maude, Drier Than Saltines

The first scene of Harold speaking to a psychologist uses very minimal sound and sparse editing. In fact, there is no sound aside from the room tone, and limited dialogue. The editing is classical and chronological, but there is only one cut in the whole scene. Throughout the entire film the humor is very dry and this scene is no different. Dry humor is typically seen as subtle, since it typically does not include a setup or punchline, and is typically delivered in a bland and monotone way, but I think the takeaway is overt. Harold has never been able to do or choose anything for himself. He has been born into the world of a dying aristocracy where everything is provided to him on silver platter and sentiments lie in material wealth as opposed to more humanistic and abstract values. Harold wants to live his own life and he does everything he can to throw himself off his predetermined path or get a genuine reaction from his emotionally absent mother. His way of interacting with people is awkward. Designed to be off putting and elicit concern. The minimalistic and slow editing and cinematography of this scene and others illustrates that perfectly.

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Raid Scene from Andrei

For context, I rewatched Andrei Rublev by Andrei Tarkovsky last week, and one scene I found particularly striking. The raid of a Russian city by mongols. So I wrote this:

Andrei has just witnessed the massacre of an entire city by Mongol Tatars conspiring with a disgraced Russian prince. As the camera pans from Andrei’s former apprentice Sergei, there is a cloud of smoke floating down the stream. It clears the frame before the cut. The smoke of battle has finally, literally cleared, and Andrei is left praying in a charred temple full of corpses. The sanctity, holiness, and peace of the holy place are juxtaposed with the remnants of the bloodshed. Throughout the shot a black cat passes through the frame and crosses Andrei.

Andrei has been trained to believe that god is a symbol of peace and justice. However, even a cathedral, one of the most sacred of places, has been coated in the blood of the innocent. The church is a place where the people flock for protection and forgiveness from god, but after the smoke clears it becomes clear that they have received none of that. Andrei has also killed a man, which even though it was in defense of another, is an act he strongly believes to be wrong. Another comparison between him and the ones responsible for the massacre shown.

This is the point in the film at which Andrei is closest to losing his faith entirely. If we obey god then he is to reward us, but then why are the servants of god the ones who suffer? If goodness is what we are meant to strive for, then why are those who do evil rewarded more apparently than the good? The black cat, to me, then represents the idea of chance. Perhaps these people, and Andrei, were just unlucky in their experiences.

God has a plan for everyone, and there is no way of knowing what that plan is. Therefore, chance exists, but a plan is typically set based on guidlines, and if god is meant to favor the just over the unjust then shouldn’t his plan reflect that? That consideration of chance becomes a further contradiction of Andrei’s faith. Andrei has begun to question the ability of Christianity to provide definitive answers to his questions.

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Action to Establish Character in Hana Bi

Hana Bi is a solid film in terms of editing and cinematography all the way through, but the opening scene is one of the best I have ever seen. Two men in jump suits are eating on top of Nishi’s, the protagonists, car. They have made a mess, and Nishi certainly does not look thrilled about it. There is a shot of Nishi’s hand leaving his pocket followed by an immediate cut to the man who was in front of him now cleaning the windshield with a bloody nose. The action here is not directly shown. One second the man is standing his ground the next he has been beaten. The abruptness of the editing provides some comedic effect, but to me it summarizes how Nishi’s character handles himself in situations. He is no nonsense. If you get in his way he will not hesitate, and will deal with you as swiftly as possible. No dialogue is said, and the actors expressions are pretty dry, but the scene gives us a solid idea of what to expect from our protagonist throughout the rest of the film.

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The Passion of Jeanne D’arc

The Passion of Jeanne D’arc is a difficult movie to say I love, but I can see why it is praised. It is shot entirely in close-ups and medium shots. Even the juxtaposition of Jeanne losing her hair with a festival happening wasn’t a true establishing shot. It tracked along side a crowd, but the majority of the subjects are still only captured from the waist up. Very little is used in terms of set, and the costumes are quite minimalistic as well, being mostly peasant rags, prison smocks, and monks robes.

At first this extreme minimalism was frustrating to me. There wasn’t much to see on screen most of the time, so it was easy to lose interest. It felt as though there was nothing to read in the frames, or more accurately, nothing leading me to feel a need to read the frames and become invested in them. I got that the emphasis of the film was on the performances of the actors. Their facial expressions were very theatrical, being that it was a silent film. However, it was not shot in a theatrical way like a Melies, and even in theatre the actors face is not their only tool for the creation of character and portrayal of emotion.

As I watched on viewing shot after shot, the commonalities between them that I had ignored as nondynamic grew more and more apparent in the intentions. Most of the angles were either high or low. Everyone in frame at any given time was either being given power or humbled by the camera in some way. All the shots were long, allowing the actors emotions to evolve right before the my eyes, organically without cutting. Cutaways were scarce, but when they did occur they absolutely had purpose. When Jeanne sees her hair on the floor it emphasizes a loss of her innocence, and serve as clear next step towards her eventual martyrdom. The directness and intentionality of the film had finally become apparent to me.

Ironically, the set for this film was the most expensive ever built at the time, but it never appears in a wide shot, only in pieces that are absolutely relevant to theme and plot. Such as, crosses on walls, church spires, and podiums that emphasize the looming authority of Jeanne’s inquisitors. Additionally, the camera is often turned towards the sky, where the light is motivated from, and is slightly over exposed, emphasizing the prominence of the heavens and painting Jeanne as a saint.

It is amazing how many different ways a frame can deliver a message. No matter how crowded or empty.

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Week One: What Happened?

It has been an interesting first week. I’m still getting used to my schedule, as the status of my classes being online or in person, and synchronous or asynchronous has remained changing in some respects. Communicating with professors in my asynchronous courses is another thing I need to work on, since one of those classes is lacking clear schedule.

So far this class is doing better than others in terms of the meeting department, since we actually meet two times a week for the full class time. Where some of my other classes are split up strangely to accommodate the pandemic situation. I have used RamPages before, but it will be my first time with several of the other platforms, and I hope that the transition goes smoothly.

We already have had our first meeting this week, with a good discussion on Mise-en-Scene. I look forward to continuing that discussion next class, and to reflecting more deeply on it in my next reflection.