FMMC0334 - Fall 2017, MW 8:40-9:55am

Author: Emma Hampsten

Costume Design: The Hidden Layer of Movie Magic // Now You See It

I feel like the majority of videographic essay I find on YouTube are done with voiceover. Which once again makes me question the balance between simply talking over images and using voiceover to critically engage with a text – what does it do to the viewing experience to eliminate the original sound? What does it do to dialogue to pair it with a montage of images?

In this video essay by Now You See It there is a strong balance between the power of the images and his script. He uses a number of examples, some of which he returns to, and a few clips pipe in with their original dialogue when it complements a point he is trying to make. I was particularly interested in sequences of an interview he included with Edith Head, a 8 time Oscar award winner in costume design and the costume designer for many of Hitchcock’s films. The interview worked well to complement the piece as a whole, it grounded Now You See It’s analysis in reality. In this case voiceover felt very effective in that it was able to tie together a wide number of clips from different sources.

As someone who is very interested in art design for movies, I really enjoyed learning more about the ins and outs of what costume design can do for storytelling. It was especially fascinating to hear that techniques used in fashion design are also applied to original works in film, although the latter is certainly under appreciated and underrepresented in popular media. Designers must dress characters in the style of the time the movie takes place but also must anticipate the future. They must be a few steps ahead between when the movie is made and when the movie is released. Clothing must look modern but without falling into any particular trends to maintain a balance between looking too dated or too generic. That’s why even today Grace Kelly’s clothing  in To Catch a Thief looks so relevant, stylish, and elegant although it was designed and made in the 1950s.

Costume design does a lot to immerse viewers into or characters out of the world in a movie. It draws on the familiar and reworks it into an entirely different story. It gives us insight into characters, mental cues as to how the movie is progressing, and, most importantly, helps tell the story. Now You See It’s video was able to convey all of this and more while not losing and sense of depth and authenticity to the images presented.

 

Milk in Movies: Why Do Characters Drink It? // Now You See It

An aspect of film I always like to pay attention to is the production design. I love combing out the little details of what makes a set, costume, or object significant to the film in it’s entirety.  Production design has the capacity to tell stories within stories – it can explain history, predict the future, tie together characters, and exemplify themes or motifs. So, it is wonderful to find an essay that pays attention to such such a bizarre yet common thing like milk.

For one thing, milk is a symbol of childhood. It is associated with nourishment, helplessness, and innocence. This video looks at how films can develop an unsettling tone by contrasting this understanding with settings or images that are counter to this interpretation. For example, it draws upon Mad Max: Fury Road as an example. Mad Max depicts a society that is anything but childish, warm, or innocent – water is so scare that women are exploited for their breast milk as a source of hydration and nourishment.  This movie addresses the consumption of milk as a sign of strength, but in a way that is counterintuitive to what generally feels comfortable to a wide spread audience. Breast milk is already such a taboo topic, to show it off on screen as something that is simultaneously exploited and beneficial evokes a reaction of disgust, which is exactly what the movie is aiming to do.

Likewise, it is equally unsettling to see milk associated with characters who are violent, unpredictable, and even just simply adult. This essay pulls images from both A Clockwork Orange and No Country for Old Men as examples. The adolescents in A Clockwork Orange drink milk, which calls attention to their youth and reminds us even further of how upsetting their violence is. Similarly in No Country for Old Men, Javier Bardem’s character, a psychopath murderer, also has milk as his drink of choice.

By calling upon these examples, Now You See It‘s video gives us a strong array of examples as to how milk as a symbol can inspire an emotional reaction in it’s audience. Like other aspects of production design, milk has a powerful impact on meaning, but something about it feels all the more personal. I will certainly begin to pay more attention to it’s appearance in other films.

 

The Art of Slow Motion in Film // The Discarded Image

At first I wasn’t sure how I felt about this video essay. I almost stopped watching it towards the beginning. There was something about it that wasn’t feeling coherent to me, which is a point of criticism I would still agree with after watching the whole thing. But as the video progressed and it’s argument built on itself, I found myself drawn in. I think that part of my initial hesitation came from the structure of this video’s pacing. The author uses voiceover over a series of clips from various movies to explain some of the various ways slow motion can be used. The sounds are mostly from the clips with some additional music so the flow of the video as a whole tends to feel a little jumpy. I also find his tone to be slightly disinterested.

The author begins with what comes first in my mind when thinking about slow motion, action films, and then goes into a bit of detail about its effectiveness in sci-fi or fantasy. Up until this point the examples used are generally board and although information is given about why slow motion is used in these moments, I didn’t really feel any deeper connection to the topic.

The video shifts for me about a minute in when it dives into some more specific examples and uses of slow motion that I don’t necessarily think of right away, such as the use of slow motion in Martin Scorsese’s films, which typically allows us to get inside the head of his protagonists. There is also the use of slow motion to heighten intense emotions in particularly dramatic moments, such as in Carrie. We already know that the prom scene is going to end in tragedy, so her heightened sense of joy is made all the most tragic when slowed down.

I guess this video to me seems more like a list. The parts add up to a bigger picture but it’s structure feels slightly disjointed. I do appreciate it because I feel like I have been introduced to a range of ideas now on how slow motion is used in film but I would have liked something more from this video. Maybe it’s as simple as some adjustments in its tone or its flow, some more editing with that sound perhaps. Or it’s something more complex, like diving deeper into particular examples. Either way I felt like a couple of adjustments could have made this video more effective but as it stands now it certainly raises an interesting point and does so using strong visuals and other videographic criticism techniques.

Match Cut: The Art of Cinematic Technique // Celia Gomez

This video by Celia Gomez explores the use of the match cut in different movies. A match cut is a cut between two scenes that has an element that is replicated in each – such as a movement, a shape, or an object. From what I understand it is pretty exclusively done based on visual cues rather than a sound. In this video Gomez gives us a supercut of match cuts from 25 different movies. Again and again we see the same visual technique used and what I find to be so intriguing is that each cut has a very different effect in terms of it’s storytelling. John Trovolta dancing on two different versions of Grease Lightening may tell us a story about teenage fantasy whereas a match cut between water flowing down the bathroom drain and Janet Leigh’s eye in Psycho gives an entirely different message all together.

I felt like the structure of Gomez’ essay did a really good job of showing us the range, power, and capacity the match cut can have. By making it a super cut, we can see that it is not only used in many different movies with various genres, stories, and meanings but that is also is able to tell a story of it’s own. A match cut conveys to us a sense of connection – that two elements of a single story are related to one another. It was an effective choice on Gomez’ part to let the power of those images speak for themselves. I found it really rewarding to see one cut after another in this sequence – to see glimpses into different stories at moments of transition. She goes further to isolate the images by removing all their sound and putting in a track of her own. This video essay felt coherent, thought out, and was certainly fascinating. It makes we want to keep an eye out for match cuts in more films just to see the effect continued.

The Beauty of the Dinner Scene // Now You See It

I was super excited when I came across this video. I grew up in a family that put a great emphasis on the time we spent together around the dinner table and even now I love to cook and host people for a homemade meal. So I’m always interested in the role of food in film – it has such an important role when it comes to defining culture and society, how is that used and reflected in the world of cinema?

Unfortunately I didn’t feel like this video fully satisfied my curiosity when it comes to that question. It certainly goes through the various ways a dinner scene is used in a movie, it first grounds the characters into reality. They are eating, thus they must be human. And because most of us have an established idea of what it means to sit around a dinner table, whenever something out of the ordinary happens we can understand it as a defining moment in the plot. It can convey conflict and add comedy or drama through the unexpected.

I also appreciated that this video essay reminded us of the power something so common can have. A dinner scene would not be put in a film unless it meant something significant and because the act of sharing a meal is so culturally important there is a lot of room for meaning. But I found this video commentary to be lacking when it came to fully delivering that point. The author does an excellent job of telling us his ideas but I found the visual impact of his work to be found wanting.

The creator of this video used a variety of sources, which is effective for showing us that dinner scenes are used in many different types of films. But  when watching a movie and learning about film, I am much more interested in how something is there not just that it is there. What I wanted to see was one of the scenes taken apart  so we could see what that scene is telling us, how it does that, and why. If we were to linger a little longer on, say, the family dinner in Little Miss Sunshine we would probably see all three elements Now You See It calls attention to: “human-ness,” conflict, and the unexpected. The same would go for dinner in The Incredibles and certainly in American Beauty. These are all great dinner scenes and I wanted to learn more about what makes each of them powerful.  I think this video would more more impactful, informative, and interesting if it were to take a step or two into that analysis – it would at least be a bit more filling.

Stranger Things and Intertextuality – Just Write

In honor of the new season of Stranger Things I was thrilled to find this video essay while searching for examples of video responses. In this criticism Just Write is responding to a video made by The Nerdwriter on the subject of intertextuality in films – that is, how a subject in a text (in this case, a film or tv show) is shaped by another text (a book, play, song, or another film). As Nerdwriter points out, this concept is nothing new. Languages and ideas are processed and informed by how they were used in the past. The world is defined in comparison to one another.

Nerdwriter calls attention to what he sees as  a relatively new trend in Hollywood cinema, where movies will use intertextual objections, people, or situations to specifically trigger a dramatic emotional response. Not that it’s a bad thing, but it’s a device that lacks the full emotional depth of a fully flushed out concept. It feels half baked.

Just Write on the other hand points out how intertextuality can be used to it’s full potential. For anyone who has seen Stranger Things on Netflix, they will know that the show doe a spectacular job at capturing a particular aesthetic from the 1980s. Just Write points out that when it comes to intertextuality there is a difference between a text referencing itself and referencing another work. He argues that the term of “pastiche” is more appropriate for the latter. Stranger Things relies heavily on pop culture references from the 1980s to  give sustenance not only to what appears within the show  but also to contextualize it.

An example I liked in particular was how the boys on the show use pop culture to communicate and understand one another. They share an affinity for games such as Dungeons and Dragons and can use those references to build on metaphors that give them a language and a code of ethics to understand the world that is around them. Likewise, pop culture references allow the audience to understand these characters. Just Write points to how the character of Eleven draws heavily from other 1980s films. She is compared to E.T. through the plot and the camera while also being given a dark edge as her supernatural powers reference two Steven King protagonists: Charlie and Carrie. Viewers who have seen these films will make these associations with Eleven and because these references offer characteristics that juxtapose one another intertextuality can be used here to create conflict.

Just Write takes us back one step further though and argues that what is so wonderful about this show is that it has been able to become a pop culture touchstone even for people who don’t understand all the references. Stranger Things not only invites comparison through intertextuality but it truly masters it by reflecting back. Likewise the structure of this video essay allowed us to see that there are layers when it comes to comparison and that a good tv show understands that as well.

The Silence of the Lambs – Who Wins the Scene? by Tony Zhou

In this Every Frame a Painting, Tony Zhou does a very close evaluation of a scene from Silence of the Lamps to address the question “Who Wins the Scene?” The question in itself is an interesting one to throw out while watching a film. What are each character’s goals? How do they challenge one another? And who wins? It sets up a structure of evaluation by putting the attention on the relationship between characters as a source of understanding rather than looking to individual characteristics and features as the main source of information.

In this video Tony Zhou walks us through this question. By looking at the camera’s framing and actor’s positioning, we can evaluate the relationships within the scene as they challenge one another. Zhou breaks apart this particular scene cut by cut, using outside music and voiceover to guide the viewer. The non-diegetic music removes us from the original scene and allows for Zhou to have an effective voiceover that doesn’t get mixed up with the dialogue from the movie. He is able to guide our eye by explaining how the camera angle and the actor’s body language tells us “who’s winning.” I found this video to be wonderfully informative in that it calls attention to a way of seeing that a viewer can use. It is as if Zhou is giving us a new vernacular, or a lens, that we can use to read the relationship between Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster’s characters throughout the entire film.

Once again, this videographic criticism has inspired awe in my by the level of detail that goes into cinematography and filmmaking. By taking a short but important scene apart frame by frame and imposing a singular question upon it, Zhou has presented us with a new way of seeing.

 

 

Baby Driver | Color Coded Characters

This commentary by Film Radar looks at the costume and production design of the new movie “Baby Driver” directed by Edgar Wright. I haven’t seen this movie yet but have heard a lot of positive reviews especially about it’s use of soundtrack and, as someone who is passionate about music, am putting it at the top of my list. So this video particularly jumped out at me amidst my whirlpool of youtube searches because I find production design to be fascinating and quite often under represented in conversations about filmmaking.

In this video, Film Radar dissects each character is assigned a specific color palate that, once interpreted, gives them extra dimensions to their story, actions, and personality. As Edgar Write puts it, he hopes to “color code the characters.” For example, Film Radar tells us that Baby is typically dressed in black and white which can be seen as a parallel to the two lives that he leads: one of crime and another of domestic tranquility and happiness. It also relates to his old-fashioned romanticized view of the world which contrasts to the violent life he participates in. By  working closely with costume designer Courtney Hoffman to focus on color in costume and set design, Edgar Wright’s characters inhabit a world physically designed to reflect their inner lives, which makes the experience of watching the film as a viewer all the more alive and dynamic.

Film Radar uses voiceover narration, additional graphics, text, and outside recordings from other interviews to create his videographic criticism. Most of the clips run behind his voice silently, although a few do include sound and dialogue to emphasize Film Radar’s point. To me, this video can be described as an elaboration of a specific element of the film. Film Radar chose to analyze the colors and found specific clips to support his point. Which brings me to the main question this video inspired for me in terms of making videographic criticisms: what is the impact of a video criticism when you manipulate it to say something about itself rather than using it to reinforce something you are trying to say?

To clarify, I feel like Film Radar’s video on “Baby Driver” was almost more like a video essay rather than a videographic criticism. Not that his method is incorrect or ineffective but it made me think more about the ways to use a text. As we have seen in class it is possible to make the text speak for itself through particular manipulations – contrast of images, the repetition of patterns, etc – rather than having a narrator speak for it. I could picture another video taking on the same topic of costume and color choices in “Baby Driver” and approaching it in a style that would be less “telling” and more “showing.” With that said, I still really enjoyed watching this video and felt like I gained a lot watching it. Hopefully the same will come out of watching “Baby Driver!”

“Drive, The Quadrant System” – Every Frame a Painting

In this short video Tony Zhou looks at a couple shot clips from Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Drive” (2011) to show to composition can tell a story. A lot can be said about the movie’s ability to convey meaning through it’s cinematography, especially if we were to divide the screen into quadrants. As Zhou points out in this video, each quadrant is deliberately framed to tell it’s own story. For example, as Michelle Williams and Ryan Reynolds walk down their hallway and go their respected doors, the right side of the screen focuses primarily on Williams and her downcast pensive expression but ends with Reynolds going to this door and glancing her way before going in. But on the left side of the screen, the shot begins with Reynolds removing his driving coat (haven’t seen the movie, but I’ll be bold and interpret it as a symbol of his dangerous hidden life being a hired driver) and at the end Williams hesitating to enter into her apartment. Each side gives two different stories but come together as one to give the scene an extra layer of vivaciousness, depth, and life. Zhou points out how the quadrant system creates emotion and suspense through it’s method of dividing up space and blocking actors.

I always tend to like Tony Zhou’s videos as a place for inspiration when it comes to videographic criticisms. His casual friendly tone not only makes the content feel approachable but it also draws the viewer in, inviting the listener to see what he sees. In addition to voiceover, he uses a number of effects like super imposed graphics, changes in speed, and fade in and outs to show how the compositional balance of “Drive” works as a tool to make subvert conventional notions of cinematography.

(WEEK 5 RESPONSE)

Passengers, Rearranged by Nerdwriter

This video essay by Nerdwriter1 takes apart the relatively new space action movie “Passengers.” The movie has faced significant criticism form a number of formal and informal reviewers, i.e. film critics and youtube channels, and although objectively not a terrible movie, Passangers arguable could have been a lot better – which is what Nerdwriter1 explores.

I found this videographic criticism fascinating to watch because it discusses the devices used in movies to tell stories. Nerdwriter1 uses  multiscreens and additional diagrams and graphics to outline the original movie into 5 acts with two clear possible endings. The 5 acts follow a trope and certain formats that link the story to a more romanic action drama, where the hero messes up but is forgiven in the end by his lady love and receives absolution for his “sins” (or, as the essay points out, he could die). But this storyline is fairly generic and has been frequently used in blockbuster like movies over the past couple of decades.

Considering that “Passengers” has a pretty creative premise to it, Nerdwriter1 argues that a lot could be done to improve it with what’s already there and uses this video to explore that potential. Inspired by a conversation from another video, Nerdwriter1 rearranges a couple of the major acts, switching the main perspective from the hero, Chris Pratt, to that of the heroine love interest, Jennifer Lawrence. By moving the beginning of the film to the middle of it there arises an entirely different tone, set of motives, and meaning. The movie becomes much spookier and breaks away from the more traditional structure of it’s genre. As Nerdwriter1 points out, this doesn’t solve a lot of the other problems the movie has but it certainly poses an exciting and inspiring new version of it.

In another one of my film classes we were discussing directing and writing and my professor told us that we were creating a story to write and direct it the way we envisioned and then think about 5 other ways to direct and film the same sequence. Stories must be explored from all angles, taken apart and put back together again. I feel like “Passengers, Rearranged” does exactly this by demonstrating how order and editing can so powerfully change the meaning and understanding of a story, and potentially could make it a lot better. This is an exercise I would want to do during each step of production and while watching videos myself – what would happen if we rearranged the story? What becomes of the elements we were relying on?

(WEEK 4 RESPONSE)

Wes Anderson: The Influences and References

The video I chose to write about this week is an brief visual overview of some of Wes Anderson’s cinematic influences in his movies.  Based on the research of Matt Zoller Seitz, Beyond the Frame (the author of this video’s name is not listed unfortunately) uses a split screen to compare scenes between Anderson’s movies and others. The style of this video is rather straightforward, with no voiceover and text used to list the name and date of the movies being shown. The listing of the dates helps us understand the chronology of the works to see how Anderson might have been inspired by certain images or themes.

I couldn’t help thinking throughout this video if these comparisons could all be listed as an influences though. In some cases there definitely seem very direct visual parallel between Wes Anderson’s films and something that came before, such as the images between Anderson’s Bottle Rocket (1994) and the film The 400 Blows (1959). The parallels between the two are so similar it’s uncanny. In other moments though, I was a little skeptical if the films actually could be an influence of one another or if the similarities were coincidental – such as The Aquatic Life with Steve Zissou (2004) and Santa Claus is Coming to Town (1970).  I guess I didn’t understand going into this video that it had been created based off of research done by Seitz. Now I could see how these relationships have a stronger correlation than simply a comparison between similar movie scenes.

I guess that pulls my thoughts into some questions about making videographic commentaries. I felt some skepticism at first because I thought that the creator of this essay was finding these relationships on their own and some of them, although I could see a bond, felt a little far fetched. But as soon as I realized that these connections were based on research, I accepted them as legitimate. But even if they weren’t backed by this research, who is to say that there isn’t something to be offered in the connection? A lot of information can be conveyed by comparing and contrasting films, even if there is no “official” connection between the two. So, what is our role as producers of videographic criticism in backing our works? What do we do when thoughts like, “oh, there’s no way those two are connected,” come up for our viewers?

Overall, I really enjoyed watching this piece and found it inspiring as a learning cinematographer, photographer, and producer of film and media. I am a really big fan of Wes Anderson’s style and work and it was a little reassuring in a way to see how much he has been influenced from other filmmakers and movies (i.e. his genius is not all just from his own original thought and creativity, in a sense). It makes filmmaking seem even more collaborative than it already is and additionally verifies how there is always the potential to make something into your own.

 

“Chuck Jones – The Evolution of an Artist” by Tony Zhou// Every Frame a Painting

In this videographic criticism, Tony Zhou walks us through the animation of Chuck Jones, the director of the infamous Looney Tunes and an acclaimed “master of visual comedy.” By taking apart his cartoons we can begin to understand the structures that are signature to Jones’ style of comedy, and likewise, we can be exposed to the process of developing animated characters.

As someone who enjoys comedy immensely but doesn’t fully know the ins and outs of its design, I found this video to be wonderfully effective in it’s approach. We learn about how we laugh, by laughing. Zhou uses a collection of clips in conjunction to his voiceover to show patterns in how jokes and with that, how comedic characters, can be designed. I was really intrigued by how systematic Jones’ approach is. As Zhou outlines, there are two steps to how the gags in Looney Tunes are designed: we are first given a situation that inspires a particular assumption, then secondly, that assumption is proven wrong. Zhou proves the prevalence of this formula through a series of clips that time and time again give us an assumption that turns out to be incorrect.

I was struck by how aware Jones was of how the restrictions of a formula can provide opportunities for artistic freedom. Instead of seeing a routine or a pattern as something that can be a trap, we can instead read it as a form of discipline. Zhou comments on how Jones’ understanding of the term “Disciplines,” that being the challenges and restrictions you set on yourself, helped them develop characters with more depth and potential for comedy. By setting the restriction that Bugs Bunny never starts a fight, he only fights back, for example, viewers can begin to read into a character, a plot, or a gag to and anticipate certain assumptions that can then be broken.

Learning the creative process of other filmmakers and creators helps me think about my own. To have characters broken down to What they Want and How they Move helps me look for the same patterns in the stories I create or the stories I take apart. To have humor broken down into the categories of human behavior and logic, helps me understand why we behave the way we do, what triggers emotions, and how we function as social beings.

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