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Film and TV Criticism

Amira Mitchell, ‘Cinematic Masculinity and Self-Sabotaging Performance in Filth’

Cinematic Masculinity and Self-Sabotaging Performance in Filth

A Video-Essay by Amira Mitchell

The tropes and characteristics of the anti-hero are so ingrained within the history of Classical Hollywood (rooted within the Western and Film Noir genre), that whether unconsciously or not, audiences have become accustomed to falling for the morally ambiguous man. In fact with multi-million dollar franchises such as The Fast and the Furious about to release its eighth instalment, it is undeniable that the tradition is very much still alive. However what drew me to investigate Filth in particular is how the film confronts a unique brand of anti-hero taken a couple steps further; and how the film manages to humanise a completely unredeemable man. The film follows James McAvoy as a corrupt policeman navigating the force by doing anything but solving the savage murder of a young man. In many ways Bruce conforms to the anti-heroic persona, however this video-essay will explore the moments where he does not and how they effect interpretations of the film retrospectively. By showing Bruce Robertson committing inexcusable crimes such as statutory rape as a part of our introduction to him, right at the beginning of the film, Jon S. Baird (director/co-writer) forces a critical and arguably unsympathetic engagement with him. It is through this distanced and de-romanticised representation of Bruce that brings to light themes of masculinity and the corruption of its representations. It would be impossible to ignore the disparities between the ‘perfect husband’ his wife Carole describes at the start, to the reality we see before us.

From interviews, it is clear that cast and crew have aimed to make a film that will shock and divide audiences, but for more philosophical reasons than it may at first seem. Filth is a film that is bold and uncompromising in its representations of masculinity and it’s relationship to cinema. Commenting on how films and their false narratives can and do have a lasting effect on our expectations of masculinity. Bruce Robertson is the type of character that one can only enjoy spending time with through the medium of film or literature rather than within the real world. Yet it is through being made privy to his abhorrent outlook on the world, that the façade of his machismo is exposed. Filth deploys black comedy alongside the film’s most tense and harrowing moments, to critique notions of heroism. Instead of being swept up into Bruce’s world, one can’t help but compare its absurdity with the real world we live in today. Through Bruce Robertson’s unreliable narration, we are exposed to a unique interpretation of contemporary society. Where seemingly normal events are perverted within his eyes, and securing a promotion becomes a Machiavellian game. However what the film begins to reveal is how ‘The Games’ extend beyond not only the promotion but also Bruce himself. Men throughout the film, (role)play imitations of masculinity, just as Bruce’s co-workers are at first presented as one-dimensional caricatures within his own mind. This video-essay aims to visually represent how the set up of Bruce’s suicide at the end of the film encapsulates the performance of masculinity, as one out of the control of its performer – an unfortunate but necessary armour against contemporary society.

Interviewers commonly point out McAvoy’s most surprising transformation from such beloved characters as Mr Tumnus and Professor X, into the unattractive and un-heroic Bruce Robertson. Through continuously subverting our expectations of the film and its characters, Baird uses Bruce’s character as a vehicle for investigating the nature of cinematic masculinities in contemporary society. This video-essay hopes to visually demonstrate explorations of gender performance through uniform and costume, but also through the adoption of a certain lifestyle and outlook that ultimately corrupts and damages Bruce’s psyche to the point of no return.

 

Amira Mitchell

Daedyn Appleton: ‘Tarantino: Wishful History’

In my video essay I’ve aimed to first establish what pastiche is and to affirm through textual evidence Tarantino’s regular use of it. My intention is, on top of this, to construct an argument around how he uses these techniques and how this use may be tied to his work thematically in recent years.  I have used Kill Bill (2003-4) as an example to establish his interest in pastiche, but the focus of my piece is Inglorious Basterds (2009), Django Unchained (2012), and The Hateful Eight (2015). I argue that there is a unifying thematic interest behind these three films, in their approach to the relation between truth and image.

To explore this I’ve split my video essay into three parts, the introduction, the theme of storytelling, and finally the ‘closed room sequences’. Exploring the theme of storytelling I suggest that both Django Unchained and Inglorious Basterds offer similar spins on the revenge formula. By utilising pastiche, and in Inglorious Basterds’ case imbedding issues of propaganda, the conflict in the films emerge from issues of representation. Our protagonists are imbued with the power of myth and legend in the films presentation of them, through the power of their own narrative tropes they challenge the warped representations of their historical oppressors.  These are the wishful histories the title refers to, these films that shift historical truth to give violent agency to characters that have been victimised by history. This sense of the malleability of truth is something the third part then picks up.

Relevant to the second part, the third focuses on the shifting ideas of truth in the regularly appearing ‘closed room’ scene in Tarantino’s filmography. There is a focus on shifting levels of identity and performance that appear often in the plots of these final three films. The changing and unstable nature of these spaces, seen in the sudden reveal of a new dangerous or threatened element of the space in The Hateful Eight and Inglorious Basterds, alludes to what remains distinctive in these scenes, the unstable and unreliable nature of images and the idea of ‘truth’.

The Hateful Eight relies on uncertainty and mystery, and through this and other factors, I argue, it comes to reflect tellingly on its two predecessors. The motif of the Lincoln letter as an act of wishful history is the most overt example of this. Reflecting on the image I have chosen to start and end my video essay with, the snow covered Klu Klux Klan shaped crucifix. I suggest in my essay that the idea of a fluid symbol secures these issues of interpretation and critical thinking as a Tarantino staple.

Structurally my intention with this bookending image was to round my argument off efficiently. This repeated image would allow for all ideas gestured towards in the body of the piece to be informed by and to help inform this central intriguing picture. My introduction section was an attempt to engage with the platform that this kind criticism operates best on, using online content to establish the broad idea of borrowed and appropriated content. I was also interested in capturing the manic and disorientating experience of much of the internet, the mass of deferred signifiers and referential images, something that I had to cut back on when considering the time limit of my essay.

This idea though of social media content and new forms of bite sized entertainment as a mass form of pastiche seemed a viable thing to engage with considering the online address and appropriated style of the video essay.

This alludes to my attempts to give my video essay the texture of film, in so much as I cut away to a projector at regular intervals in the essay, and often blend film images with the projector image. This was to ensure that the viewer was engaged with the idea they are watching appropriated content, exploring a filmmaker who emphasises surface above all else.  This skin fits thematically for the argument the video follows. When in the essay I show Django standing in front of the exploding plantation I blend this with the projector image. In doing this I attempt to engage, and ensure that viewers are engaged, with these characters just as the film is engaged with them, as nothing more than characters. This level of superficial representation is one that I felt I needed to maintain to follow the argument I established, that uses pastiche as a bedrock on which my thematic readings are based. In this instance the image of the projector when linked to the explosion and the previous clip of Gone with the Wind encourages the interpretation that Tarantino is critical of these sources.

This kind of editing was something I aimed to thread throughout my video essay. When the essay fades from the Nazi cinema to the British war office, the desired effect was to connect the space arrangement of the two without explicit statement. This kind of possibility was a liberating factor in the construction of my argument. I have attempted to use blending techniques and visual montage to add to the overall direction of my essay.

Altogether the intension of this piece was to construct an argument on the development of the use of pastiche in the work of Quentin Tarantino, whilst simultaneously attempting to communicate the experience of appropriated content and the post-modern condition in a broad sense.

Ann Amarawansa, ‘The Visual Representation of PTSD and Rape in Jessica Jones’

 

Visual representation of Rape/ PTSD in Jessica Jones.

 

In my video essay, I will be discussing the ways in which Jessica Jones represents the subject of PTSD in relation to sexual assault, and how it separates itself from other popular media culture representations.

 

The depiction of rape in these other media forms perpetuates images of explicit violence towards women. The rape is treated as an isolated incident, and the lasting effects on a survivor is rarely explored within these narratives. In some cases, the graphic violence is included with the intention of creating unsettlement and discomfort amongst the spectators. In particular, the use of explicit violence against women in The Accused coincides with this notion. Alexandra Heller-Nicholas writes that the film was one of the many films that paved way for the “revenge rape” genre in the early 80s, as it accomplished the ability to “aggressively express the notions of spectatorship in regards to rape and revenge”. It emphasises the point that a women is not responsible or deserving of sexual assault, even if she’s dancing or dressed provocatively.

 

Additionally, the infamous rape sequence in Irreversible also attempts to draw the viewer’s attention to the horrors of rape by making it excruciatingly uncomfortable and disturbing. On the other hand whilst the use of graphic violence is argued to present an anti-rape perspective, showing images of women being violently assaulted only perpetuates this violence against women in media representations.

 

I argue that Jessica Jones presents a refreshing perspective on the subject of rape, as it chooses to not show the rape itself but instead, the effects it has on the survivor following the traumatic event. It does not treat the rape as an isolated event that is used as a set up for a revenge story, rather it integrates the complexities of PTSD into the narrative and constantly reiterates it to the audience.

 

This is achieved in several ways, the most prominent example being the use of ‘The Purple Light’. The significance of the light is that it serves as an indicator for the viewer, indicating that Jessica is experiencing a flashback due to her PTSD. It also works with a dual purpose, both as a reference to the original comics and as an illustration of her PTSD symptoms. In the original comics. Kilgrave (Jessica’s rapist and archenemy) is referred to as “The Purple Man”, as his entire body and clothing is purple. Therefore the purple lighting is representative of Kilgrave and illustrates how he is constantly present within Jessica’s mind.

 

During these flashbacks, Kilgrave isn’t clearly shown- only through his silhouette. This particular depiction of the character is reminiscent of the monsters/ ghost characters in horror films. The allusive visualisation of the figure of Kilgrave makes him far more threatening and frightening than that of showing the rapist.

 

Another significant mode of representation of PTSD is showcased through ‘Moments of Marked Subjectivity”. Jessica Jones uses visual techniques to present Jessica’s PTSD to the viewer.

Examples of moments of marked subjectivity in the show include: rapid alteration of lighting, motion blur, jump cuts. They create the jarring and unsettling tone of these scenes. These visual elements enable the viewer to understand and experience the character’s inner turmoil. The use of moments of marked subjectivity blur the binaries between reality and the subconscious as they reflect Jessica’s fears, bringing them into the domestic space. The merging of the domestic safe space with Kilgrave also alludes to the invasive character of the rapist. This coincides with

 

Modleski’s argument about uncertainty in horror films, and how by the viewer sharing the position of uncertainty with the film’s heroine, we also are just as powerless as the heroine. By incorporating these moments of marked subjectivity, the show creates a sense of uncertainty. I find that the ominousness of Kilgrave in these scenes allows the audience to share Jessica’s fear and trauma.

 

Jessica’s PTSD is explored throughout the series and it’s explicitly reiterated across the narrative through her drinking, incapability to sleep, pushing her loved ones away and lastly “Birch street, Higgins drive, Combalt Lane”. These three words are said in the pilot episode after Jessica experiences a flashback of Kilgrave. This is an actual technique used by sexual assault victims as a coping mechanism, this would be familiar to a lot of victims of sexual assault watching the show. This becomes a recurring mantra across the series, which emphasises to the audience that Jessica is constantly haunted by her trauma.

 

Finally I conclude that Jessica Jones depicts the subjects of rape and the issues surround it in an ethical yet realistic way- contrasting from other popular media representations. Whilst other popular media representations such as The Accused, The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo, Game of Thrones etc. present graphic images of rape with the intentions of showing the horrors of rape, they “inadvertently contribute to those backlash representations”. Jessica Jones however chooses not to show the rape itself but to focus instead on the effects following it and how the victim tries to overcome it. The show makes the viewer viscerally feel the damage it does to a person. The show doesn’t shy away from discussing issues that most other media representations neglect or gloss over. The rape isn’t treated as an isolate incident or a set up for a revenge rape story, it is an integral part of the narrative and doesn’t allow the audience to forget that.

 

References:

 

Articles:

http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/herocomplex/la-et-hc-jessica-jones-smile-sexism-20151123- story.html

 

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kelley-calkins/why-is-jessica-jones-impo_b_8846902.html

 

http://www.stylist.co.uk/people/jessica-jones-ptsd-survivor-rape-feminist-superhero-comic-netflix

 

http://www.sheknows.com/entertainment/articles/1103801/the-times-jessica-jones-season-1- addressed-ptsd-and-rape

 

https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2015/nov/27/jessica-jones-shattering-exploration- addiction-control

 

http://io9.gizmodo.com/jessica-jones-is-a-show-about-trauma-that-doesnt-skip-o-1744577582

 

Interview with Dr John Mundt: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sbXbLtuF28Q

 

Clips:

The Accused (Jonathan Kaplan, USA, 1988) , I Spit on Your Grave (Stephen R. Monroe, USA, 2010), Girl with The Dragon Tattoo (David Fincher, USA, 2011), Game of Thrones (David Benioff/D.B. Weis, creators, USA/UK 2008-2013), Watchmen (Zack Snyder, USA, 2009),  Irreversible (Gaspar Noé, France, 2002), Last Tango in Paris (Bernardo Bertolucci, France/Italy, 19720 and Jessica Jones (Melissa Rosenberg, USA, 2015)

 

Books:

Heller-Nicholas, Alexandra. Rape-Revenge Films. 1st ed. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co., Publishers, 2011. Print.

 

Projansky, Sarah. Watching Rape. 1st ed. New York: New York University Press, 2001. Print.

Lisa Mosse, ‘Colouring the GDR’

 

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Germany has seen a surge of historical films set in the GDR. These films, commonly referred to as post-wende films, form part of what Jaimey Fisher has claimed to be a production trend. They respond to both popular interest and curiosity in the former East-German state, as well as to a national process of vergangenheitsbewaltigung, or coming to terms with the past. This term that was once associated solely Germany’s Nazi past today includes the coming to terms with the abuses and oppression instigated by authorities within the GDR. Whilst these abuses are generally recognized today both in Germany and outside, the comparatively positive aspects of the GDR remain relatively undiscussed. Although Germany is today unified, the differences between East and West to some extent still remain, characterised by what Peter Schneider defines as “the wall of the mind” throughout his work Berlin Now. Because of these continuing divisions, the ways in which the GDR is represented inevitably becomes political as it aligns itself with either ‘half’ of the country. One therefore comes across a wide variety of GDR-set films that highlight either its negative or its positive characteristics in an attempt to consolidate their view thereof into German cultural memory.

 

 

 

The Lives of Others (Florian Henckle von Donnersmarck, Germany, 2006), Sonnenallee (Leander Haußmann, Germany 1999), Goodbye Lenin! (Wolfgang Becker, Germany, 2003), and Barbara (Christian Pertzold, Germany, 2012) form part of the many films that critique both the GDR itself as well as prevalent depictions thereof. In these films, colour becomes a crucial strategy of representation that encourages the spectator to view the state through a specific lens. Colour as a medium that is immediately emotionally stimulating, subtle manipulations thereof are enough to allow the films to highlight certain aspects of the GDR, whether negative or positive, all the whilst maintaining an authentic-looking setting. In this video essay, we shall look more specifically at how each of these films respectively makes use of specific colour schemes to translate their position towards the GDR. We will then conclude by determining how successful these portrayals are in relation to realism and aesthetic qualities, deciding that Christian Petzold’s Barbara offers the most equilibrated and insightful depiction of all.

 

Lisa Mosse

Cassandra Qiu on the work of Wong Kar Wai: ‘Roaming in Time and Space’

Wong Kar-wai’s films are nostalgic and contemporary, personal and political. They capture Hong Kong’s anxiety about its identity and future from the 60s to the 90s, ultimately expressing its inhabitants’ alienation and detachment. This video examines how time and space affect the relationships between the characters and their environment, their romantic desires and memory, in and across Wong Kar-wai’s films.

Urban space is ultimately the psychological space between its inhabitants. Chungking Express (credited as Kar Wai Wong, Hong Kong, 1994) is a collage of spatial complexes, which obscures the boundaries between urban space. These images capture the characters’ immobility against the speed of urban life, thus setting up and evoking elements constitutive of the ‘nature’ of the metropolis: obscurity, fragmentation and evanescence. The roamers have nowhere to go but are nonetheless rubbing shoulders with the urban mass every day.

Kar Wai’s protagonists are lonely and ordinary, trapped in an endless monologue. They wander about the urban time and space; their identities are obscured, they are alienated from their lovers and environment, eternally lost in self-indulgence and aphasia. Here, the ‘express’ of the title stands for a personal space where time is spent, love occurs and memory withholds. The chance and distance of encounters ultimately result in and express urban alienation.

Confronting the socio-political ramification of 1997, the gay community in Hong Kong felt most helpless. By moving to an entirely foreign space, the characters in Happy Together (credited as Kar Wai Wong, Hong Kong/Japan/South Korea, 1997) now escape into exile and allow themselves to start all over. Geographically and psychologically, Argentina becomes a refuge. It offers an external space for the couple to wander and live. It transcends their fantasy of love and the desire of going back to Hong Kong. Their emotional wrestling and utopian romantic desires are externalised into the almost baroque interior space. Taipei is a place Zhang can always go back to, an alternative space between foreign land and hometown, where love, families, warmth belong to. For the couple, hometown Hong Kong is eventually a piece of illusion and fantasy, the reverse side of Argentina. Their romantic love remains as a historical and spatial problem, unsolved and eternally deferred as the train stops. Neither does Hong Kong, nor the fall is the destination. The fall is just another spatial-temporal loophole, which holds its destination in futility, happiness forever delayed.

Ashes of Time (credited as Kar Wai Wong, Hong Kong/Taiwan, 1994): time and feelings that are wasted in the endless desert. Kar Wai now moves his characters into the wasteland–a true geographical and mental exile. The roamers discard themselves into the alternation between day and night, between seasons.

Ou-yang (Leslie Cheung) is the axis of the narrative, connecting the fragmentation of individual stories through the half house. The desert stands at the crossroad of illusion, desires and loss. Its vastness echoes with the empty spaces in other Kar Wai films. The spatial distance is both the physical and psychological distance between characters. And it is ultimately the distance between affection and feelings. The characters are constantly gazing at the distance, in meditation and dreams. The moving shadows and reflection cast from off-screen space projects their internal wrestling. The immobility of their futility for love is thus sharply contrasted with the movement from the external world, the same space in which inhabits them.

In this vast desert, water and tides sparkle and turn, the wind blows, flag and banners move, sand fries and man meditates. Perhaps a roamer truly belongs to the desert, belongs to the exile of time and feelings.

Now we move into Kar Wai’s temporality. Time is the background soundtrack to melancholy. Time is the very essence of everyday existence. Time is nostalgic sentiment and memory. Time is a force that cannot be neglected. The roamers now watch time as pure time and step into the unstoppable flow of history. Meanwhile, they attempt to catch the ephemeral present for their romantic relationships and historical identity. Ultimately, time is also the mental clock of characters. Even a minute can last a lifetime. Yuddy spends a lifetime to find his identity but finally gets rejected by his root and dream. The one-minute walk is sensible in slow motion. The music echoes with the forest sequence, which is the last thing he sees before death. The forest turns out to be the space of personal desolation and spiritual desiccation, with time spent on it as futility.  The ephemeral present is uncatchable. It remains as pieces of memory that forever exists in the roamer’s mind, as part of the personal history against the vast passing era. After all, time is wasted into the ashes for seeking love and identity.

Kar Wai refers to time as the biggest factor in relationship, which creates space for emotions to happen within the daily trace of life. Here, time is also conspiracy and secrets. Time is both a visible entity and a self-conscious form that contains implicit narrative potentials, the rubbing shoulders, the promise and feelings that are delayed or missed.

In this sequence from In the Mood for Love (credited as Kar Wai Wong, Hong Kong/China, 2000) shown in the video, time is represented as at a standstill. The light’s pendulum-like swinging behind Li-zhen (Maggie Cheung) seems to freeze the temporality into a dreamlike effect. The score beats synchronically with Lizhen’s undulating gait. The sequence beautifully accentuates the arrest of time, withholding the missed encounter and invisible desires between two characters. Lizhen and Mr Chow’s (Tony Leung) temporality is packaged in the imaginary fragments. Here, time is self-conscious and relationship is postponed into imagination.

Meanwhile, time is referred as an era gone past that took away memory and promises. Cambodia marks temporality as a specific historical time. It is the place where Mr. Chow whispers his secrets inside the tree hole. At the end of the 60s trilogies 2046 (credited as Wong Kar Wai, Hong Kong/China, 2004), he creates a utopian spatiotemporally in his novel, to resonate with the room where he and Li-zhen spent the happiest memory.  But Li-zhen has disappeared into the flow of history, as into the endless and cavernous black hole of time.

Time can be eternal, finite, material and tangible, illusory, and frozen. Every character and their stories are trapped in a unique sentimentality under Wong Kar Wai’s manipulation of time and space. They are faded in the vast environment, roaming in destiny and history, lost in love and chance. Then the final question arises: Where are they destined to?

Cassandra Qiu

Filmography:

Days of Being Wild (1990)

Chungking Express (1994)

Ashes of Time Redux (2009)

Happy Together (1997)

Fallen Angel (1995)

In the Mood For Love (2000)

2046 (2004)

Lauren Nwenwu, ‘Afro-American Culture in “Luke Cage”, Season 1’.

Luke Cage (2016) ,Season 1,  Video Essay

This video essay examines the first season of Marvel Studios’ Netflix series Luke Cage (2016), and it’s endeavour to embody a multifaceted representation of contemporary Afro-American culture, specifically through the themes of politics and geography. This comes with consideration of the show’s critical reception, as some critics called it blaxploitation meets Hip-hop-western, praising Cheo Hodari Coker’s presentation of Harlem, black culture, and a groundbreaking black superhero for Marvel, whilst others disagreed, stating that the racial politics get “lost in platitudes”, and it “failed” to “connect with black culture”. Luke Cage‘s exploration of the themes of politics and geography are linked to the notion of Afro America’s developing landscape through the character of Luke Cage (Mike Colter) (Marvel’s first African American hero to feature in his own standalone comic), and his character’s growth in a ‘hero’s journey’ narrative.

The show presents an objective stance on the ongoing discussion of police prejudice in black communities, as it portrays a juxtaposition of scenes of both police brutality, and police ally-ship. It also draws in a contemporary discourse of black politics, significant to the current socio-political climate in the US in its mentions of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Coker’s show examines an aspect of the gender politics surrounding roles and relations of black men and women through character developments. For instance, it challenges traditional notions of patriarchy and common codes of black culture in black American film and television, in the death of Pops (Frankie Faison), and the destruction of his barbershop. This is shown too, through portrayal of the dynamic between the characters of Mariah Dillard (Alfre Woodard) and Cornell ‘Cottonmouth’ Stokes (Mahershala Ali), played out in scenes in which emphasis is placed on their power and villainy through the composition of mise en scène.

In addition, the importance of geography in series is highlighted in it’s being set in an incarnation of modern day Harlem, wherein a sense of community is heightened by Luke’s gradual acceptance and assimilation into the area, as he reckons with his role as Harlem’s hero.

The ‘hero’s journey’ narrative is layered with intertextual links to famous figures of black history and culture via references made within the diegesis, conveyed as being a part of the a backbone to beliefs of some of the show’s characters, for example in Pops and Luke’s discussions on notable writers and literature Harlem as Luke begins to consider partaking in heroic acts.

Oftentimes during these acts of heroism, the representative nature of his abilities is highlighted in visual stylisation, such as overhead lighting and low angles, in a manner typical of comic adaptation aesthetics. As well as this, Luke’s hoodie, modern-day interpretation of his character’s costume, has a symbolic quality to it as a recurring motif throughout the show, intended for making a social commentary on the treatment of African American men in public by the police in the US. It’s representational value as a visual marker of ‘urban-ness’ is subverted to instead represent a sense community, purveyed by the members of Harlem’s community who express solidarity with Luke’s evasion from the police.

Luke Cage and it’s titular protagonist convey the series creator’s intentions to create a show which supplies an approach to representation and discussion of the complex dialectical of black culture in contemporary America.

by Lauren Nwenwu

Works cited

Bailey, Moya. (Moyazb). “Misogynoir.” Tumblr. October 2, 2013. Accessed Feb 5, 2017. //moyazb.tumblr.com/post62922146054/misogynoir>
 (Moyazb). “More on the Origin of Misogynoir.” Tumblr. April 27, “014. Accessed Feb 5, 2017.
 <http://moyazb.tumblr.com/post/84048113369/more-on-the-origin-of-misogynoir>

Di Placido, Dani. “'Luke Cage' Costume Designer Discusses Keeping It Casual”. Forbes. OCT 18, 2016, 07:00. Accessed Feb 5, 2017.
 <http://www.forbes.com/forbes/welcome/?toURL=http://www.forbes.com/sites/danidiplacido/2016/10/18/working-class-hero-luke-cages-costume-designer-discusses-keeping-it-casual/&refURL=https://en.wikipedia.org/&referrer=https://en.wikipedia.org/#33e34db46fb9>

Dubois, Hawkins. “Get To Know Manuel Billeter, The Super Cinematographer Behind Marvel's 'Luke Cage' ”. Moviepilot. December 6, 2016 at 15:35PM. Accessed Feb 5, 2017.
 <http://moviepilot.com/p/interview-with-marvels-luke-cage-cinematographer-manuel-billeter/4109179>

Hale, Mike. “Luke Cage’ Puts Race at the Center of the Story”. The New York Times. SEPT 29, 2016. Accessed Feb 5, 2017.
 https://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/30/arts/television/review-marvels-luke-cage-a-hero-for-harlem.html?rref=collection%2Fsectioncollection%2Ftelevision&_r=0

Jerkins, Morgan. “'Luke Cage' Is the 'Hip-Hop Comic-Book Show' You've Been Waiting For”. Sep 30 2016, 6:30pm. Accessed Feb 5, 2017.
 https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/luke-cage-is-the-hip-hop-comic-book-show-youve-been-waiting-for

O'Hara, Helen. “Luke Cage, spoiler-free review: this could be Netflix's best Marvel series yet”. The Telegraph. 2 OCTOBER 2016, 9:53PM. Accessed Feb 5, 2017.
 < http://www.telegraph.co.uk/on-demand/0/luke-cage-first-look-this-could-be-netflixs-best-marvel-series-y/>

Opam, Kwame. “Luke Cage's take on black power in America makes it must-see TV”. The Verge. September 29, 2016 04:15pm. Accessed Feb 5, 2017.
 http://www.theverge.com/2016/9/29/13111394/luke-cage-review-black-power-marvel-netflix

Propp, Vladimir, “Morphology of the Folktale: Second Edition” Texas, USA: University of Texas Press, 1 Mar 2010. Pp. 39.

Pulliam-Moore, Charles, & Hairston, Tahirah. “Is Netflix’s ‘Luke Cage’ really the black superhero we’ve been waiting for?”. 10/4/16 10:43 AM. Accessed Feb 5, 2017.
 http://fusion.net/story/353229/luke-cage-review/

Sheffield, Rob. “Luke Cage': Meet the First Black Lives Matter Superhero”. Rolling Stone Magazine.  October 5, 2016. Accessed Feb 5, 2017.
 http://www.rollingstone.com/tv/news/luke-cage-meet-the-first-black-lives-matter-superhero-w443198

Tanz, Jason. “Modern Marvel: Why Netflix’s Luke Cage is the Superhero We Really Need Now”. Wired. 08.16.16. Accessed Feb 5, 2017
 <https://www.wired.com/2016/08/mike-colter-luke-cage/ >

Rivera, Joshua. “Why the Creator of Luke Cage Wanted to Make a “Hip-Hop Western”. GQ.  October 3, 2016. Accessed Feb 5, 2017.
 <http://www.gq.com/story/luke-cage-cheo-hodari-coker>

Rouse, Isaac. “Analyzing The Good & Bad of Luke Cage”. Huffington Post. 10/05/2016 10:32 am ET. Accessed Feb 5, 2017.
 <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/isaac-rouse/analyzing-the-good-bad-of_b_12333068.html>

 

Audio Visual

Marvel’s Luke Cage, (2016) Season 1, Cheo Hodari Coker 

The Wire (2004) Season 3, Episode 11, David Simon 

Barbershop: The Next Cut, (2016) Malcolm D. Lee 

A Fistfull of Dollars, (1964) Sergio Leone 

John Horn Interview with Cheo Hodari Coker, The Frame. September 16 2016. Accessed Feb 5 2017. <http://www.scpr.org/programs/the-frame/2016/09/15/52135/why-luke-cage-creator-made-his-superhero-costume-a/>

Netflix Interview with Cheo Hodari Coker, Youtube. Sept 26, 2016. Accessed Feb 5 2017. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XVfPwvGZ1z4>

Jidenna - Chief don’t run (instrumental)

A Tribe Called Quest - We The People (instrumental) 

Method Man - Bulletproof Love 

A Wallop of Evil: A review of Touch of Evil (Orson Welles, 1958, USA) review By Alice Hone

Orson Welles faced a hard time with Universal in attempt to allow release of the final cut of Touch of Evil (Welles, 1958, USA) although upon release of the director’s cut some years later in 1976 it becomes difficult to understand why. Welles’ edit is dynamic, with a brooding sense of violence throughout it is the ultimate film noir encompassing all that is unique about the genre. It is a story of murder and corruption that takes place on a Mexican border town. Amongst many narrative strands ultimately the plot resides with Vargas, (Charlton Heston) a Mexican cop and his attempt to foil the corruption of American Cop, Quinlan (Orson Welles) whilst he is supposed to be on his honeymoon with new wife Susie (Janet Leigh.) Many other narrative strands and characters come into play throughout, enabling the film to provide melodrama, comedy and crime all wrapped into one neat and cohesive structure.

Welles is known for his use of the low angle shot, A Touch of Evil being no exception. The first of which is shown after the beautiful and iconic long opening take which starts at a high angle, gradually making its way towards mid shots of the characters. This fluidity is immediately interrupted by an explosion, which Vargas and Susie respond to, as does the camera by jolting them out of their own fantasy world encompassed by the first 3 and a half minutes through the fluid camera movement and cuts quite immediately to the pair at low angle, this provides a sense of theatricality, with the focus on the form of the image we are allowed to determine our own connotations as to why the pair may be framed at this angle.

Not only does the use of low camera angles add drama but they also signify the power positions of each of the men throughout. For instance, Quinlan (see below) is first introduced to us in a startling low angle as he gets out of the car and remains within this frame for the remainder of this scene. Although Vargas has previously been framed in a similar manner, as soon as Quinlan shows up he now remains in a mid shot, showing the influence Quinlan has had on the power Vargas was holding. Although Vargas may be a well-respected officer in Mexico now he has crossed the border he is on Quinlan’s turf.

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A striking and unusual use of the low angle shot comes from Susie, as the Grande’s are attempting to intimidate her the camera focuses in on a close up of the two characters at a slight low angle whilst Susie towers over the mall man. She is not intimidated by these men, at least in this initial situation surprising an audience used to seeing women (particularly married women) portrayed as weak and incapable.

What struck me the most and remained with me after the viewing of this film was the bold use of music. Scored by Henry Mancini, highly notable works that include ‘Moon River’ theme from Breakfast at Tiffany’s and The Pink Panther theme, he discussed Welles’ vision as entirely a selection of source cues (music played through radio, instruments, juke box all within the diegesis) this was an attempt to situate every element of the film in reality rather than being jolted out with unrealistic sound. This I do agree with for the majority, for instance the famous opening sequence of the film showcases a combination of mariachi style bands playing through the bars and clubs on the town strip, along with overhead speakers playing an up to date rock and roll sound. It is immediately understood this is a place of conjoining cultures. However although the music is played together it is not cohesive. Not a hybrid of musical and cultural styles but instead there is an overt overbearing individuality to each of the pieces. However, there are also instances of inconsistency surrounding this vision, although there are many occasions where the music played are source cues, other sequences seem to use the sound from these sections in a more obscure and inappropriate setting. Take for instance the scene in which Quinlan kills Uncle Joe Grande, the Latin American music is played throughout, presumably this is supposed to be coming from the street below, however that does not account for why the music melodramatically reaches crescendo at the pinnacle point of Joe Grande’s death.

Similarly to how the low camera angles provide both drama as well as a more intricate reading of power relations between characters, the music also provides not only this melodrama created within climatic sequences but also helps to define character. Marlene Dietrich’s character Tayna is never once shown without piano music, supposedly from her brothel, being played in the background. This becomes a motif synonymous with her character, even her appearance after the final showdown is overwhelmed by this. The sound of the music resembles her unique quality, it is continental and exotic, neither American nor Latin, as if she is the middle ground between the two parties. Which is not false, as she is the only character who seems to remain objective to the entire situation.

Due to the use of music and specific camera angles each character becomes well defined and characterised throughout the film, the development is astounding. Presumably this is something which was not as definable within the original edit released by Universal in 1958, it is truly a wonder why they would have attempted to cut away such cinematic boldness.

Alice Hone

Blade Runner (Ridley Scott, USA, 1982) – Swallowed by the City by Joe Curry

Wrapped in rain and shade, Blade Runner bleeds style and showcases a dystopian aesthetic that’s influence is set to surpass the very future it portrays. Scott’s cyber-punk fever dream commences in true film noir fashion with disgruntled ex-Blade Runner Deckard (Harrison Ford), being dragged away from the bottle and back into the perpetual precipitation of Los Angeles to take out a gang of rogue replicants. The film breaks new ground with the genre, however: it’s revealed that the case Deckard’s trying to crack is less damsel in distress and more trying to define what it is to be human; taking it even further by asking whether he qualifies.

Blade Runner fills out the frame of iconic eighties action film with ease, but, much like the neon light that lacerates the grand grim cityscapes, there is a current of emotional warmth coursing through the cold exterior. It harnesses a depth that’s quite unique when held up against its contemporaries. Deckard is essentially an emotionally crippled shut-in, who made a career out of gambling with others’ lives, and burying bullets in strangers on the assumption that they were inhuman automatons. Navigating a moral area as grey as the Los Angeles that’s depicted, Deckard’s arc appears to illustrate something much subtler than a gun-slinging detective trying to bring down a murderous faction of replicants. Blade Runner soon becomes a portrayal of depression and self-inflicted isolation, centred on a subject with an utter inability to engage emotionally.

The chosen sequence (see above)is a prime example of the emotional ostracism exhibited throughout the film. The frame is frequently littered with hollow husks acting as imitations of life, highlighting the fact that for Deckard, the tether that bonds form and substance has been severed. It opens with a brown owl gliding gracefully across Tyrell’s office and, unfazed by his presence, cutting straight past Deckard to descend on a nearby perch. Initially, it seems to be a rather pointless display of natural beauty, however it’s immediately revealed as the contrary – ‘it’s artificial’. The film makes a swift cut to Rachel (Sean Young) as she comes strutting into view, flanked on either side by a pair of sculpted eagles perched on pulpits, apparently equal in spirit to the gorgeous creature that previously graced the screen.

Whether it be a grinning Geisha plastered across a skyscraper or the origami figurines that sprout up throughout the film; Deckard is constantly surrounded by empty faces he’s incapable of interacting with, blurring the distinction between what is to be considered real and what not until the question loses meaning altogether. As the film progresses and the faces accumulate, Deckard’s surroundings start to shed weight and his grasp on what’s real and relevant loosens. When presented with the fact that even the presence of memory can no longer be depended on, his reliability comes into question and suddenly the chasm doesn’t just exist between Deckard and his fictional surroundings, but between him and the audience also.

‘If only you could see what I’ve seen with your eyes’. Eyes are apparently a window into the soul, either being ground to mulch by the thumbs of an Aryan replicant or acting as minute beacons of light in the rain, Scott did a great deal to highlight their presence. The way eyes are portrayed in the film literally acts as a barometer for the characters’ status, especially in this sequence. Rachel’s face is lined with white light and her hair’s gathered up about her head. She’s clearly not hiding; her image evokes honesty.joe1

Droplets of light seem to sit in the centre of each pupil, illuminating her gaze and cutting straight through the smoke that pirouettes from the end of her cigarette. It’s a contradictory juxtaposition that offers her a glamorous human edge while confirming her eyes consist of some kind of artificial material, again, blurring the lines that divide man and machine. This is in stark contrast to Deckard, who hides his gaze in a cowl of shadow. Eyes are constantly presented as pools in which a character’s true nature gathers, yet here we have Deckard retreating into darkness, hiding his gaze from view and refusing to reveal himself, once again building emotional distance between him, his surroundings and – notably – the audience. Dr. Eldon Tyrell (Joe Turkell) provides the cherry on top, sporting a pair of magnifying glasses as spectacles, giving him an unavoidable bug-eyed gaze. He’s the creator of these replicants and thus is the only character truly comfortable in his own skin. He has absolute confidence in himself and, as such, his eyes are completely on display. He’s almost boasting. Deckard finds himself sitting amongst two characters unabashedly bearing their souls for him and is utterly unwilling or unable to do the same.

 

The space and framing also illustrate Deckard’s emotional ineptitude. Often utilizing the entire width and depth of the frame Blade Runner consistently places characters amidst a field of negative space, emphasising the emotional distance while constructing the rest of the set as a series of physical obstacles between Deckard and his surroundings. Tyrell’s office is cavernous and, due to the huge glass window, opens out to a seemingly endless horizon. When the whole room is brought into frame Deckard is cut off from his counterparts by obnoxiously large tables or ornaments, while also being dwarfed by imposing architecture. Even the lighting divides Deckard. He requests more darkness in order for him to work yet poles of light still puncture the parameters, intruding on his privacy and casting even more visible division between him and the rest of the cast. Even if a more intimate frame is utilized, Deckard rarely shares it. There’s one sequence in particular in which Deckard accosts Rachel, grabbing her and forcing her to share the frame – and a kiss – with him in a desperate attempt to achieve some kind of emotional resonance, yet proving only to alienate himself further.

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Harrison Ford is as much a symbol of Americana as blue jeans and Coca Cola yet in Blade Runner, he’s swallowed by the city, familiar in location but alien in culture. Cleverly playing with the trope of the stoic anti-hero, Scott creates a world in which it’s impossible to truly ascertain the nature of your own existence, taking the absence of emotional empathy to a point of dysfunction and weaving Cartesian themes as grand as what it means to be human with nuanced portrayals of isolation and depression, resulting in an irredeemably lonely hero incapable of victory.

Joe Curry

Race & Residence threshold crossing in Devil in a Blue Dress (1995, Carl Franklin) Lauren Nwenwu

Brooding, isolated, conflicted – qualities we expect of the traditional private detective protagonist type in film noir, a man on a mission. But Ezekiel ‘Easy’ Rawlins (Denzel Washington) of Carl Franklin’s neo-noir Devil in a Blue Dress isn’t your conventional noir hero, despite being caught up in a tangled plot of sex, violence, and illegal booze – a plot in league with the likes of Raymond Chandler, adapted from the 1990 mystery novel by Walter Mosley. A WWII vet, down-to-earth Easy is just looking for a way to keep up with his mortgage payments after losing a job: “He also owns a house- just like you people,” remarks barman Joppy (Mel Winkler) to the mysterious Mr Albright (Tom Sizemore), whose interventions turn Easy’s world upside down as he’s tasked with finding the white socialite girlfriend Daphne Monet (Jennifer Beals) of a mayoral candidate for a sizeable sum of money. But 1948 Los Angeles, Daphne is revealed to have been precariously crossing the race boundary, which Franklin keenly accentuates through the repeated invasion of Ezekiel’s home.

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“Man I loved coming to my house — I don’t know, maybe I just loved owning something” – Easy

What does Easy’s house mean to him? It means somewhere to call his own, a small slice of hard-earned American prosperity after having fought for his country, which was not so easily available to black Americans at the time. It also means a clear cut distinction of class difference in the black community, despite all being subject to the same racial prejudice of late 1940s LA, it positions his character among the few actually succeeding at what little residential betterment was made attainable for the black working class. In the pre-civil rights movement setting, Ezekiel himself has crossed physical boundaries being originally from Houston Texas, and a part of a mass migration of black people across state-lines to the west in search of more progressive living.

He worked hard to get it and he’s willing to work hard to keep it, hence his care and attention in it’s upkeep, in both maintaining the foliage and keeping meddling neighbours from cutting it down.

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Not only is his privacy invaded by marginally comical axe-toting locals, but by law enforcement, and criminals alike. The LAPD accost him outside his home and subject him violent questioning and beating, referencing the racist police brutality of the time with unsettling realism. At the sight of Albright and his men in his kitchen, Easy’s understandable distress is audible in cries of ”What the hell are y’all doing in my house?!”, with soft lighting and filters contrasting with the unnerving presence of the men who threatening him at knife and gun-point. Easy is warned in the nick of time that gangster Frank Green is in his house just before he is attacked, only to be saved somewhat reluctantly by his quick-drawing, sometimes-friend Mouse (Don Cheadle).

Easy’s house is a symbol of his hope for a secure future, hence their crossing of his threshold without his consent acts as illustration of this hope’s fragility, and how with such ease it may be taken from him during the hectic investigation, which he entered into under false pretenses, unaware of the veiled manipulation of the white elite through the shady Albright’s real boss, perverted mayor candidate Matthew Terell (Maury Chaykin) and competitor to Monet’s fiance.

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A prisoner in his own home

But most fascinating of all is the scene where Daphne has breaks into his house preceding the narrative climax of the film, after Easy discovers the true reason behind his continued domestic disturbance all along (see clip below).

She appears from behind the corner to his surprise, and in a series of close up shot-reverse-shots they converse across the physical borders of the doorframes they are positioned within. As Easy relaxes at the sight of her, she entreats that he not be angry, him replying softly with ”Now why should I be angry with you?”, a loaded question. This sequence details her supposed encapsulating charm with which she subdues all she encounters (but is however not enough to protect her once the truth of her black heritage is made known, no amount of charm and bewitching blue outfits can save her from ingrained societal racism), an air of mystery attained through her act of ‘passing’ and the secrecy surrounding her identity.

In this low-key lit, shadowy scene, Daphne blows out a puff of smoke in true fatale fashion, laughing out of relief when she finds out Easy has the incriminating photographs she covets in order to bring down Terell, but she looks wooden, her hold over Easy waning, demonstrated in her failure to obtain the photographs from him with sex appeal. Donald Bogle writes that the pair ‘are tepid and glaringly unsexy… because the characters don’t get sexually involved (as they do in the novel), making the movie lack the sensual kick characteristic of many past noir dramas.”. Is Bogle right? the performance of Beals as Daphne is indeed one much critiqued. Or is he simply missing the alteration of tone in their exchange in this scene, marking Easy’s brief awakening from Daphne’s spell as he begins to suspect she knew more about the complex situation than she previously claimed. He is no longer sexually intrigued, because her dishonestly briefly repulses him, having come with the cost of so much death and infringement on his personal comfort zone. He denies her access across a physical boundary, as she leans in to kiss him and he pulls away, evident of a directorial decision on the part of Franklin to reduce the explicit sexual entanglement to suggestive rather than outright.

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“Those pictures belong to me” – Daphne

She is both femme fatale – beautiful, misleading, vampish – and tragic mulatto, due to the naivety of her character, adamant that securing evidence to incriminate her fiance’s competitor for mayor will allow her to marry him despite the large pay off from his family already sent, and her black blood. So not just is she crossing colour lines, but class lines too, with her intended being a member of an upper class white elite family, and her wanting to access that privilege denied to people of colour from her act of passing.

It is in this scene that Daphne reveals to Easy her true racial identity, after a struggle in which the pair become physically violent with one another before as she tries to stop him from calling the police as he reaches for the phone, her hair becomes mussed up and she loses all guise of composure, attempting to slap Easy when he accuses Frank of being her pimp. She confesses that Frank is her brother by her Creole mother, making her black by the one-drop rule in the contextual remnants of the jim crow law. It is upon this web of secrecy that the complicated narrative rests.

By this point the near obliteration of boundaries, racially, socially, physically – both intimately and in terms of residence – illustrates Franklin’s linkage of Easy’s extrinsic struggle with being saddled with the private detective role in the film. As Rogert Ebert says, ‘he is made not born’, for the noir hero life. The position is put upon him, and Washington flexes his talents with prowess within the restrictive confines of the unconventional neo-noir character. In the end, Easy wants nothing more than to pay his bills and shut his door on the not-so-easy outside world, after having to adapt and become a part of it when he is thrust the chaos of Daphne’s ‘devilish’ making, all because of her crossing of racial borders, rupturing his dreams of comfortably defined privacy.

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“I sat with my friend, on my porch, at my house.” – Easy

Lauren Nwenwu

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