Film as Collage

HillCinema and literature often mimic artistic practices. Postmodern literature and metafiction such as John Barth’s ‘Lost in the Funhouse’, for instance, imitates the way in which Abstract Expressionism foregrounds its own artifice. Similarly, nineties cinema often blurs several genres into one narrative to the extent that it can be difficult to describe exactly what type of film or series we are watching and thereby results in a work that resembles a collage, that is, an artwork made from an assemblage of different forms.

This is particularly evident in works such as Twin PeaksEdward Scissorhands and Toy Story.

For instance, while Twin Peaks is officially labeled a detective series, it incorporates supernatural elements. The series follows the investigation of the murder of a high school student. However, it does not offer solutions to the murder based on generic conventions in that the murderer is revealed to be a supernatural character whereas in traditional detective stories ‘all supernatural … agencies are ruled out as a matter of discourse’ (Knox). Furthermore, Twin Peaks seems to incorporate more than the supernatural. It can, for example, be viewed as a soap opera in that it contains romantic subplots and family disputes. Also, the characters in the series appear to be imported from different genres: Laura’s killer is a demon from another dimension called BOB and is based on the villains of horror films, forensic specialist Rosenfield derives from science fiction, (with his black suit and sun glasses, he brings to mind The X Files), Leland with his sudden outbursts of song seems to have come from a musical, comic duo Andy and Lucy are sitcom characters while Sheriff Truman is fundamentally a western character complete with a cowboy hat. In addition, Dale Cooper, the protagonist of the series, appears to stem from the realm of advertising. At random moments in the series, he comments on certain commodities around him. For example, when he drinks a cup of coffee, he dramatizes the event by inhaling it deeply and announcing loudly:

‘You know, this is a damn good cup of coffee. I don’t know how many cups of coffee I’ve had in my life…this is one of the best!’

This collage-like or ‘toy box’ ensemble of characters is similar to that of Toy Story in which characters such as a cowboy (Woody), an astronaut (Buzz), a dinosaur (Rex) and a tour guide (Barbie) join forces and bring together the genres of the Western, science fiction, the natural horror film and advertising.

Moreover, another film that similarly mixes genres is Edward Scissorhands. Like Twin Peaks, the film incorporates elements of advertising. For example, the character Peg Boggs, the local Avon representative, often faces the camera, holds up products and describes them loudly. At the beginning of the film, she is selling cosmetics in her neighbourhood and at one point announces:

‘I’ve come to show you our exquisite new line of soft colours in shadows, blushes and lipstick. Everything you need to accent and highlight your changing looks.’

The setting of this scene, an overly bright suburban street, further likens it to a commercial. However, the exaggerated performances of the residents and the pastel coloured 1950s suburban setting also liken the film to an American daytime soap opera. Furthermore, because Edward Scissorhands is essentially a fairytale about a man with scissors in place of hands, it, like Twin Peaks, fuses together the soap opera with the supernatural, or in this case, the horror, specifically the German silent horror film. For example, at the end of the brightly coloured cul-de-sac is an enormous haphazard-looking mansion where Edward resides, resulting in a bizarre juxtaposition of the suburban and the gothic. Indeed, it is like a strange crossover of Desperate Housewives and The Cabinet of Dr Caligari. Moreover. this juxtaposition between the two genres is further pronounced in the film when Edward moves into the suburban estate. Indeed, Edward seems to be in the wrong film. In contrast to the neon dressed, melodramatic suburbanites, he looks and behaves like a character of silent cinema. For instance, he is completely devoid of colour in that he dresses in black, white and grey. Also, Edward barely speaks. He generally relies on facial expressions as a means of communication and his exaggerated physical gestures channel performances such as those of Charlie Chaplin.

Therefore, by blurring several genres into one narrative, these early nineties works appear to be drawing on collage in that they cut and paste a variety of genres into one work and result in something completely new and unrecognisable.

 

An example of a ‘commercial’ in Edward Scissorhands:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=exNuX9vkWtY

And another in Twin Peaks. Note the exaggerated performances and focus on the product in both scenes:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KxwcQ1dapw8

A close analysis of Edward Scissorhands and the various genres it draws upon:

http://www.slideshare.net/robyn_valentine/edward-scissorhands-28703291

For further information on this idea of a ‘toy box’ ensemble of characters, here is an article that discusses how it operates in the video game Disney Infinity, the ultimate toy box experience:

http://marvel.com/news/video_games/22864/understanding_disney_infinity_the_toy_box

 

Edward Scissorhands. Dir. Tim Burton. 20th Century Fox, 1990. Film.

Full of Secrets: Critical Approaches to Twin Peaks. Ed. David Lavery. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1995. Print.

Toy Story. Dir. Dir. John Lasseter. Pixar Animation Studios, 1999. Film.

Twin Peaks. Dir. David Lynch. CBS Television Distribution, 1990-1991. Television.

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Twin Peaks: A Trauma Narrative

Twin Peaks 2While David Lynch denies knowledge of trauma theory, Twin Peaks and its prequel Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me can certainly be read as postmodern trauma narratives of childhood abuse. Twin Peaks is a supernatural crime series centering on the murder of high school student named Laura Palmer by her father Leland and Fire Walk with Me is a prequel to the series that focuses on the days leading up to her death. The film narrates Laura’s struggle with her abusive father and displays many of the experimental techniques employed in trauma narratives. The employment of an experimental form in postmodern trauma literature can be seen as an attempt to more accurately represent the workings of a traumatised mind. For example, the form of trauma narratives are often fragmented and repetitive in order to mimic the way in which a traumatic event is experienced belatedly through nightmares and flashbacks (Caruth). In novels such as Slaughterhouse-Five, for example, the narrative is told out of sequence while Tim O’Brien’s In the Lake of the Woods takes the traumatic event in the novel and narrates it twice. Similarly, in Twin Peaks, the narrative similarly moves backwards and forwards in time in that events that occurred in the series final are discussed by characters in the prequel. Also, the central traumatic event of the series, that is, the murder of Laura, is literally repeated. When Laura dies, her identical cousin Maddy Ferguson moves into her house and eventually suffers the same fate as her when she is murdered by Leland. When Maddy announces that she must leave the Palmer household and return home, Leland rams her head into a wall and wraps her in plastic just as he did to Laura. Moreover, in Fire Walk with Me, we are told that Leland killed a girl named Teresa Banks. She is also found wrapped in plastic and it is revealed that Leland informed her that she too ‘looked just like my Laura’.

Furthermore, a common reaction to a traumatic episode is the inability to process it and in turn replace it with something more tolerable (Melley). In Slaughterhouse-Five for instance, in order to protect himself from his traumatic memories of the Dresden bombings, Billy Pilgrim imagines he is a time traveller abducted by an alien race known as the Tralfamadorians who inform him to ‘Ignore awful times, and concentrate on the good ones’ (85) while John Wade in In the Lake of the Woods is unable to fully confront his painful memories of Vietnam and similarly replaces them with ‘more pleasant ones’. For instance, his acts of atrocity in the war are made more palatable by envisioning them as magic tricks: ‘He displayed an ordinary military radio and whispered a few words and made their village disappear’.

In Twin Peaks, there is a similar displacement of traumatic events onto the supernatural. For example, whenever Leland enters Laura’s room at night she does not recognize him as her father but as BOB, an aging demon from another dimension, because the idea of her father as her abuser is too horrific to confront directly.

Therefore, while Lynch claims to know nothing of trauma theory then, he appears to have thoroughly researched it.

For more information on the conflicting representations of reality and the supernatural in Twin Peaks, see here:

http://thequietus.com/articles/10431-twin-peaks-fire-walk-with-me-david-lynch-20-years-on

 

Caruth, Cathy (ed). Trauma: Explorations in Memory. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1995. Print.

Davenport, Randi. ‘The Knowing Spectator of Twin Peaks: Culture, Feminism, and Family Violence.’ Literature Film Quarterly 4 (1993): 255-259. Print.

Twin Peaks. Dir. David Lynch. CBS Television Distribution, 1990-1991. Television.

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me. Dir. David Lynch. New Line Cinema, 1992. Film.

Vonnegut, Kurt. Slaughterhouse-Five. London: Vintage Books, 2000. Print.

Is it okay to laugh now? Constructed comedy in Friends, Rabbits and Edward Scissorhands

RABBITS

Comedy is defined as ‘any discourse or work generally intended to amuse by inducing laughter’ and sitcoms and film tend to order their audience to laugh. Sitcoms are constructed in that a character will say something ‘amusing’ and then pause while a laugh track plays. This is the audiences’ cue to laugh, the moment we are ordered to find this funny. If the laugh track were absent however, viewers would be less likely to laugh. In this clip of Friends for example, the laugh track is removed. In the episode, two characters (Rachel and Ross) got married and have no recollection of it the following morning and their friends inform them of it. Because the actors are waiting for the laugh track to pass, there are long pauses between lines and moments where they are motionless, (particularly evident when Ross and Rachel point at each other in horror). Also, what was originally a comic scene is suddenly more serious in tone.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=4BFSZ8XzWOM

Recent cinema however, has begun to draw attention to comedy’s tendency to tell us when to laugh. In Edward Scissorhands for example, there is a scene where Edward is undergoing an etiquette lesson from his creator. In the scene, the inventor is informing his creation about manners and common courtesy. He then moves on and begins to read poetry to him. When he gets to the ‘punch line’ of a particular, he pauses and looks at Edward, who appears confused. The inventor tells him: ‘Go ahead, smile, it’s funny’ and Edward slowly and very artificially grins. The idea of comedy as constructed is further underlined in this scene because the ‘audience’ here is artificial in that Edward is a machine built by the inventor and whose smile has thereby literally been ‘constructed’.

Another cinematic work that similarly draws attention to comedy as something carefully constructed is David Lynch’s Rabbits, a surrealist sitcom that follows the lives three humanoid rabbits in a living room reminiscent of the stereotypical ‘apartment’ sitcoms usually take place in. Their conversation is disjointed and some of the lines are punctuated by a laugh track. However, the laugh track directly challenges the sitcom formula because it intrusively plays when a character delivers a line that is not inherently funny, as if, according to the article ‘Making sense of David Lynch’, ‘to say that the audience of a sitcom will laugh regardless of what they are seeing’. Loud laughter is heard, for example, when one of the rabbits asks ‘What time is it?’ Also, the duration of the laugh track or typical ‘applause’ heard when a character enters a room is played for too long. The rabbits stand eerily still and it becomes very obvious that they are waiting for it to pass.

Therefore, the viewer’s laugh is just as constructed as the sitcom.

 

The first episode of Rabbits. Note how the rabbit in the suit ‘waits’ for the audience to finish their applause:

http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x3vkph_david-lynch-s-rabbits-ep1_shortfilms

The scene from Edward Scissorhands in which the inventor literally makes Edward laugh:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n2VVJ-mb5zc

For a detailed discussion on Rabbits and comedy parody, see here:

http://the-artifice.com/david-lynch-a-rabbits-tale/

 

Friends. David Crane and Martha Kauffman. Warner Bros. Television, 1994-2004. Television.

Edward Scissorhands. Dir. Tim Burton. 20th Century Fox, 1990. Film.

‘Making Sense of David Lynch: A Rabbits Tale.’ The Artifice, 14 June. 2014. Accessed 13 Feb. 2015. Web.

Rabbits. Dir. David Lynch. 2002. Television.

Video Games: Postmodernist Texts?

thelastofus (1)

A common feature of postmodern narratives is transforming our position from passive readers/viewers unquestioningly receiving the narrative to more active participants with a degree of control over the text. For instance, postmodern narratives often have ambiguous conclusions or present us with multiple endings thereby granting us the power to choose how the story ends. In Tim O’Brien’s In the Lake of the Woods we are presented with variations of the same incident and it is up to the reader to decide which one actually occurred in the narrative while R. L. Stine’s Give Yourself Goosebumps series literally offers readers the choice to turn to particular pages for different outcomes.

A similar trend occurs in postmodernist cinema. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, for example, prompts us to interpret the film by offering the viewer a series of incongruous scenes we are meant to piece together while films with ambiguous endings like Ghost World are actually ordering the viewer to decide what happens in it. In this sense then, we can see video games as postmodernist texts. They take this idea of audience participation further in that the player literally controls the narrative. Video games involve a combination of both narrative and gameplay as the player alternates between viewing cutscenes/reading text and controlling the character’s actions/solving puzzles. This is apparent in games such as The Last of Us in particular. This game appears to deliberately blur the boundaries between literature and gaming. Indeed, the experience of playing it feels very similar to watching a film. For example, after a prologue, the game opens with credits similar to those of a film. Also, the quality of graphics in the gameplay is identical to that of the cutscenes so there is a seamless transition between watching what is happening on your television screen and controlling it.

Moreover, some games oblige the player to make moral choices and the decisions you make during the game will have a direct impact on the narrative and its outcome. In Bioshock for example, the player can decide whether to kill or save certain characters in the game and the ending will differ depending on which you choose.

Because of the level of participation in narrative involved in video games, they can therefore be seen as postmodernist texts.

 

Here is the opening scene/minutes of gameplay of The Last of Us. As we can see, it looks more like a film than a game. It is often difficult to distinguish between when the player is controlling the characters or watching cutscenes:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ur9OJmA8GBE

Once this scene ends, the opening credits roll, furthering the game’s resemblance to film:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rnp4-RoRxSo

Here is an article about moral choices in games and identification with game protagonists:

http://www.polygon.com/2013/7/25/4555956/opinion-making-the-wrong-choices-the-right-way-in-the-last-of-us

For further information on postmodernism, metafiction and audience participation, see here:

http://flavorwire.com/420231/why-was-90s-horror-so-scary

 

Bioshock. Ken Levine and Alyssa Finley. 2k Games, 2007. Game.

Ghost World. Terry Zwigoff. United Artists, 2001. Film.

O’Brien, Tim. In the Lake of the Woods. London: Flamingo, 1995. Print.

Stine, R. L. Give Yourself Goosebumps. New York: Scholastic, 1995. Print.

The Last of Us. Bruce Straley and Neil Druckmann. Naughty Dog, 2013. Game.

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me. Dir. David Lynch. New Line Cinema, 1992. Film.

Van Der Ster, Jelle. ‘Lost in the Funhouse: Postmodern meta-reflections in videogames.’ Uni>ersia, 24 Sept. 2009. 10 Mar. 2015. Web.

Editing Fairytales

MaleficentOUAT

A significant aspect of H.D. Lawrence’s revisionary work is that she takes silenced female figures from classic mythology and gives them voice and agency. This process has continued into recent pop culture. For example, the film Maleficent takes the villain of Sleeping Beauty and rewrites her as the hero. In Sleeping Beauty, Maleficent is merely a plot device, the ‘evil fairy’ who curses Aurora when she is born for no apparent reason other than not having been invited to the royal christening whereas in Maleficent, she has an actual motive for doing so. In the film, she is presented more sympathetically and it is Aurora’s father King Stephan who is cast as the villain instead. Indeed, it is revealed that Stephan drugged Maleficent and cut off her wings while she was sleeping. Maleficent thereby transforms the tale of Sleeping Beauty into a revenge story in which Maleficent must take down the evil king and rightfully reclaim her wings.

We can see further evidence of this rewriting of characters’ origins in the television series Once Upon A Time, a mash up of familiar fairy tales which show mythical figures in a new light. In the series, all of the fairytale characters live together in a town called Storybrook and in the town library, there is a book in which the fates of each character is written for them. What the series makes evident then is that heroic and villainous characters are only good or evil because they were written that way. The Evil Queen from Snow White, for example, says that she is ‘Always the villain, even when I’m not’ so no matter what characters do, they are frozen in the stereotype or fixed in the particular category chosen for them. In the fourth season of the series, however, conventional fairytale villains such as The Evil Queen begin to question and refuse the villainous identity imposed upon them and set out to change their outcome by literally rewriting the ending to their own stories.

This idea of editing the stories of classical fairytale characters is therefore strongly prevalent in today’s pop culture and suggests that H.D. Lawrence’s revisionary project is far from over.

 

A clip from Once Upon a Time showing Regina’s efforts to rewrite her own ‘story’:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eCtLY-5fP30

Here is an article which reads Maleficent as a revisionary tale of recovery:

http://geekmom.com/2014/06/maleficent-feminist-fairy-tale/

This essay also outlines some of the features of feminist revisionary tales:

http://ramsites.net/~lagupta/An%20Examination%20of%20Feminist%20Rewrites%20of%20the%20Fairy%20Tale.pdf

 

Maleficent. Dir. Robert Stromberg. Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, 2014. Film.

Once Upon A Time. Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz. ABC Studios. 2011-present. Television.

Sleeping Beauty. Dir. Clyde Geronimi. Buena Vista Distribution, 1959. Film.

Taber, Nancy. ‘Detectives and bail bonds ‘persons’ as fairy tale hero/ines: A feminist antimilitarist analysis of Grimm and Once Upon a Time.’ Gender Forum, 2013. Accessed 10 Mar. 2015. Web.

Don’t judge a film by its poster

ATimeBatman ReturnsWhile Mark Z Danielewski’s House of Leaves was initially promoted as a horror about a house that is bigger on the inside than the outside, it becomes apparent when reading the novel that this is just a gimmick and that the subplot of the book, the editor’s traumatic process of putting the book together, is in fact the main story. This idea of advertising a text as something that it is not is a phenomenon in cinema as well. For example, Richard Curtis is largely known for romantic comedies and his latest film About Time was indeed advertised as one as the poster promoting the film depicts the characters Tim and Mary at their wedding day. However, the relationship between Tim and Mary is not the central focus of the film. Indeed, it could even be described as a subplot. Rather, what the film appears to be more interested in Tim’s relationship with his dying father. While the film was promoted as a conventional love story then, it is less about romance and more about filial love.

Another film in which the subplot emerges as the central plot is Batman Returns. The title leads audiences to believe that this is a superhero film about Batman. However, a more appropriate title for this film would be Catwoman. Indeed, it quickly becomes apparent that Selina Kyle is the protagonist of this film while Bruce Wayne is a member of the supporting cast. Superhero films conventionally show the origins of the hero, that is, how they attained their powers, the exploration of their new powers and performance of minor heroic acts, such as preventing local crimes and saving civilians in their city. They then show their triumph over the main antagonist of the film. Batman Returns certainly follows this formula but reverses the roles of its characters. The film concentrates on the character Selina Kyle rather than Bruce Wayne: it shows how she becomes Catwoman by being pushed out of a window by Max Shreck, one of the film’s villains, and revived by cats, this is followed by her experimenting with her new powers by saving a civilian from a brutal attack and the film ends with her defeating the villainous Shreck by electrocuting him while Batman watches from the sidelines. Also, while the final image of the film shows the iconic bat-signal looming in the sky, just before the credits role, Catwoman moves into the frame. The silhouette of her mask is emphasised and takes attention away from the bat-signal. Because superhero films typically end with a heroic image of the central hero, this last image of Catwoman looking triumphantly into the sky therefore further suggests that this has been her film.

Films are often promoted as more conventional, mainstream or something entirely different than they actually are. Similar to novels then, we cannot judge a film by its poster.

 

The scene from Batman Returns where Shreck the villain is killed by Catwoman. Note that Batman remains on the sidelines for most of the scene (he is even knocked out at one point) and reminds Catwoman of their similarities:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lalexosgwUk

An excellent article on gender in film and its impact on how films similar to Batman Returns are promoted:

http://jezebel.com/5980085/where-are-the-girls-in-childrens-media

 

About Time. Dir. Richard Curtis. Universal Pictures, 2013. Film.

Batman Returns. Dir. Time Burton. Warner Bros, 1992. Film.

Danielewski, Mark Z. House of Leaves. Doubleday: New York, 2000. Print.

Alexanderm. ‘Batman Returns and Fairytale Feministm.’ Confused Gender, 9 May. 2012. 10 Mar. 2015. Web.

Pal, Deepanjana. ‘Maker of Notting Hill, Love Actually tells a father-son love story in About Time.’ Firstpost, 12 Oct. 2013. 10 Mar. 2015. Web.

Moffat and Metafiction

Moffat 2Steven Moffat’s Sherlock and Doctor Who are somewhat metafictional in that they increasingly appear to make reference to the viewers watching them. For example, based on Conan Doyle’s ‘The Final Problem’, Sherlock’s Series 2 finale ‘The Reichenbach Fall’ ends with Sherlock Holmes throwing himself from the roof of St Bartholomew’s hospital and the next scene showing him to be alive as he watches John Watson visiting his ‘grave’. In the months leading up to Series 3, the fan forums were filled with speculations as to how Sherlock faked his death. A production source revealed that ‘Sherlock fans are known for their penchant for coming up with theories to solve mysteries we set’ while Moffat noted the ‘many people theorising about Sherlock’s death online’. This fact is overtly referred to in the opening episode of Series 3, ‘The Empty Hearse’, in that the character of Anderson appears to be a stand in for the Sherlock fan base. After Sherlock’s ‘death’, Anderson is certain he survived the fall and forms a fan club obsessively dedicated to figuring out how. The group share theories similar to those you see online and wear deerstalker caps worn by fans at conventions.

Similarly, in Doctor Who, Moffat continues to make references to its fans. In the Series 3 episode ‘Blink’, Larry Nightingale is a member of a fan forum that theorises about the Doctor’s mysterious appearances on seventeen DVDs. Later in series 7, the character Osgood is also representative of the Whovians. For instance, she is what Robinson describes as a ‘meta audience proxy’. Similar to the cosplaying of Anderson’s Sherlock fan club, Osgood too appears to have been plucked straight from the masses at Comic-Con: she wears the Fourth Doctor’s iconic striped scarf in the 50th anniversary special ‘The Day of the Doctor’ while in the Series 8 final ‘Death in Heaven’, she wears Ten’s shoes and Eleven’s bow tie while repeating his catchphrase ‘Bow ties are cool!’ Moffat’s Sherlock and Doctor Who are thus metafictional because characters within the show seem to be cosplaying the fans.

 

A clip from ‘The Empty Hearse’ that parodies fan’s attempts at figuring out how Sherlock survived the fall:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CsaHUNKe-Cs

A clip from ‘Blink’. Here the show is making constant reference to itself: Larry discusses the online forums and The Doctor literally appears on a television screen as a character in a DVD. Also, the video shop worker at the desk is watching a television show in which the events mirror the events of the show we are watching as he shouts at the character on screen to go to the police. In the next scene, Sally Sparrow, the protagonist in the Doctor Who episode we are watching visits the police station:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YvIw-Q3ogLw

A review of‘The Reichenbach Fall’ which points out some more metafictional moments of the episode:

http://www.tor.com/blogs/2012/05/shaking-hands-in-hell-sherlocks-the-reichenbach-fall

For some broader information on metafiction in popular culture, see this review of Scream 4:

stuartreviewsstuff.wordpress.com/2011/05/04/scream-4-once-again-i-didnt-scream-this-time-i-wasnt-supposed-to-and-thats-a-good-thing/

 

Doctor Who. Writ. Steven Moffat et all. BBC, 1963-present. Television.

‘Exclusive: Sherlock’s The Reichenbach Fall ‘fake death’ mystery revealed’. Metro, 1 Apr. 2013. Accessed 26 Nov. 2014. Web.

Robinson, Joanna. ‘Do Sherlock and Doctor Who Really Have a ‘Bad Fan’ Problem?’ Fanity Fair’s Hollywood, 10 Nov. 2008. Accessed 26 Nov. 2014. Web.

Sherlock. Writ. Steven Moffat et all. BBC, 2010-present. Television.