For Practicing Context (or whatever it’s called, I tend to think of it as “Lucy”) I had a number of ideas as to what I could spend some time looking into.The verdict of m’colleagues was to look into the area of children’s films.

My cine literate chums and I came up with this list of live action films (because I think they are far fewer in number than animated) 

1939 The Wizard of Oz
1971 Bedknobs & Broomsticks
1976 Bugsy Malone
1982 ET
1983 Masters of the Universe
The Dark Crystal
1985 The Goonies
1986 Labyrinth
1988 Who Framed Roger Rabbit
1990 The Witches
Home Alone
Mr Bean
1993 Hocus Pocus
Dennis The Menace
Homeward Bound
1994 The Flintstones
1995 Babe
1996 Space Jam
1997 The Borrowers
MouseHunt
1999 Inspector Gadget
Stuart Little
The Little Vampire
2001 Harry Potter 1
See Spot Run
Spy Kids
The Lizzie McGuire Movie
2003 Agent Cody Banks
Cheaper By The Dozen
2004 Garfield
2005 Nanny McPhee
Shark Boy vs Lava Girl
2006 Charlotte’s Web
2007 Bridge to Terabithia
Stardust
2009 Nativity
Hotel For Dogs
2011 Horrid Henry

Obviously there are many more but these are interesting in that they have stuck in the group’s collective memory.

Further investigation on IMDB led me to the Working Title page. Since the mid-1980’s Working Title have been involved in a wide variety of films and are possibly the most successful British Film Company of this period. But out of 170 films the only family ones that stand out are Thunderbirds (a flop) and Nanny McPhee 1&2 and Mr Bean 1&2 (hits).

These seem really safe choices, Thunderbirds being a much loved brand, Rowan Atkinson’s Bean character had enjoyed international TV success and Emma Thompson has  Academy Awards for Acting and Adapted Screenplay so if she wants to write and star in an adaptation of the Nurse Matilda books by Christianna Brand, as a production company, you’re at the very least holding a respectful meeting.

But other than these, nothing leaps out as being orientated towards families, so 1.7% of their output.

The question I think I am formulating is “Does the British Film Industry make proportionally fewer films for families/children (or U and PG certificate films) and if so, why?”

There are no shortage of British writers writing for 7-13 year olds. It is possible that they just don’t write screenplays. A more likely possibility is that script readers (the first fence for any screenplay) are on their first rung of the film industry ladder and as such don’t want to see/read films for children. It could be that family films don’t make money (which might come as a surprise to Pixar).

With lottery money, previously distributed by UKFC and now the BFI, does a proportion go to family films?

Anyway, as someone that currently has half a script for a kids’ adventure movie with a cracking idea for a sequel, I’d like to know if there is a really good reason why it shouldn’t be made and shown.

 

Under my tutelage, you will grow from boys into men, from men into gladiators and from gladiators into Swansons _ Ron Swanson, Parks and Recreation

For Professional Futures I have been working on a manifesto. I have looked at a number of artist manifestos and then I remembered this one. A contextual reference can be found here http://youtu.be/V6c7Vw6R33E

When women go wrong, men go right after them_Mae West

Written as a counter to Laura Mulvey complaining of women as victims, Barbara Creed emerged from the darkness of her local horror flea pit and blinking, swivel eyed, in the Australian sunshine saw vile depictions of women everywhere.

She constructs an argument based on, “if we accept Freud’s interpretation…” but in a world where Freud’s actual theories are disputed at best and derided at worst, these are the most dubious of foundations.

Context is everything and wading into her discussion of Julia Kristeva and abjection over breakfast was, in hindsight, a mistake. Her delight at wallowing in the squalor seems a bit juvenile, “Images of blood, vomit, pus, shit, etc. are central…to our notions of the horrific.” The possibility that this is because they are associated with disease and death doesn’t cross her mind. 

Criticism that Kristeva “never makes clear her position on the oppression of women” seems odd to the point of Daily Mail. Does Creed really think Kristeva might be in favour? Or, like Muslim leaders who don’t rush out a statement of condemnation every time an act of terrorism is committed, merely insufficiently vocal against?

It does seem even stranger that being confronted by the character of Ripley in Alien (1979) instead of celebrating arguably the strongest female character in cinema up to that point, Creed ignores her almost totally and concentrates on the titular creature. 

So an actual female character is not discussed, except in relation to something arguably more powerful – way to support the sisters, Barb!

Once one embarks on this journey into the nonsensical, it is of course everywhere and every orifice with teeth is a castration prone vagina (rather than, er, a mouth which actually is a devouring hole with teeth).

So whilst Barbara spends her time looking at the monsters that aren’t there, she ignores the actual oppression of women by Hollywood.

For example, over the last few years, the body size of women as depicted in Hollywood has dropped considerably. When someone who is a size 12/14 is cast (for example Miracle Laurie in Dollhouse, Lena Dunham in Girls) it is a point of conversation and discussion.

This has resulted in women who are size 12/14 presuming they are fat/obese/unattractive/undesirable, none of it true and surely worthy of comment and condemnation.

I think the reason Horror remains for me an unexplored genre is it doesn’t make me happy and on the face of it adds nothing to the world. It emphasises the fear of the unknown that is at the root of racism and sexism and all the negatives when actually it is the known that we should be terrified of.

Women are very unlikely to be attacked, assaulted, abused by a stranger. It is more likely to be their husband or a parent. And when a father abuses a daughter it may not merely be with her mother’s complicity but their proactive support and encouragement, because their mother did the same to them. And this isn’t just in the Deliverance-style backwoods, but amongst the professional classes too.

Horrible isn’t it? Perhaps the spotlight will come to these monstrous females one day, but for the time being, it seems more fun to focus on fannies with fangs.

Following colleague conversation, there are two important points to be considered. Firstly, I am drawn to strong female protagonists and positive representations of women. 

In addition, of the many films Creed alludes to, I have some knowledge only of Psycho. So a lack of ignorance might make me more specific.

 

“Conceptually, we may call truth what we cannot change; metaphorically, it is the ground on which we stand and the sky that stretches above us.” _ Hannah Arendt

I found Hannah Arendt (Von Trotter, M. 2012)  fascinating as an opportunity to see a foreign language biopic, especially as it had so many of the scenes a Hollywood biopic fan would expect.

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There were a number of familiar tropes such as the flashback to a more innocent time, the tragic event, the celebrity cameo (“Dr Heidegger?”), the barnstorming performance in front of an audience at the end.

One of the things that the filmmaker has no control over is the circumstance and frame of mind a viewer sees a film. Because I had spent 45 minutes prior to arriving at the Arts Centre shopping for a wig for my film I was also struck by the by the sheer volume and variety of false hair on display which most were oblivious to.

 

Continuing to wrestling with Benjamin and The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, some more I have become interested in

looking at the original versus a reproduction

One of the most extraordinary experiences I have ever had was walking into a room at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles.

In one room there were works by Raphael, Klimt, Rubens, Gaugain, Renoir, Gainsborough and at the centre, a van Gogh.

I was in the room with some of the most expensive paintings in the world – expensive because they were originals.

Owning an original work of art, as opposed to a reproduction is somehow “more”.  

 

I am fortunate to own an original cel from an episode of The Simpsons -Tree House of Horror 6. This means I own something that has been seen by millions of people and been reproduced thousands of times through DVD sales.

I love the picture for the image and the extra meanings I have projected on to it. But it’s originality means I have invested more emotionally more than the limited editions and posters I have.

 

 

Filmmaking is a battle between business and aesthetics_ James Cameron 1997

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On Saturday I was fortunate enough to hear Mark Kermode speak in Truro, ostensibly to promote his new book

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As the predicted withdrawal by the manufacturers of celluloid is at the forefront of our minds at the moment I thought I would ask him his views.

He said that whilst there were many advantages to filming on digital cameras, what was wrong about the anticipated situation was the removal of choice.

He believes that artists should be able to choose the way in which they make their films but because there are fewer manufacturers and developers, artists will be forced to shoot digitally. The economics will have dictated the aesthetic.

I can no longer sit back and allow Communist infiltration, Communist indoctrination, Communist subversion and the international communist conspiracy to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids _ Dr Strangelove (1963)

It is sometimes the fate of the recalcitrant student to ask the question “Why?” Over the last day or two this has been the question that has been nagging at me:

Why do we study so many thinkers, writers and theorists who were extremely left-wing in their views?

People such as Walter Benjamin and Roland Barthes were not merely sympathetic to a left of centre view, they were communists.

I am not arguing that we should study their equivalent on the right but if we were to do so those people would be anti-Semites and racists. Unless this was your area of academic study I can’t imagine anyone would want to read this sort of thing but it seems odd to me that we should so much time in the company of their left-wing equivalents.

As a society I see no ambition amongst the vast majority to embrace communism. I struggle to think of a society that did subscribe to a Marxist point of view, that didn’t then go on to embrace corruption by state officials who suppressed and murdered people by the tens of thousand.

Are there any cultural theorists and commentators who acknowledge capitalism as an imperfect but functional system, which, with checks and balances, provides the majority of people in the West with a decent standard of living and an opportunity for self improvement? And if so when do we get to look at them?

Practical Screencraft: Photo-chemical capture is probably going away. But these are just tools to tell a story a certain way. – Andy Wachowski

Two possible signs of the impending apocalypse!

In the first, I see Dan The Beloved Leader has embraced a Hollywood convention!

In the email outlining the essential minimal crew, the word “writer” was conspicuously absent.

I am reminded of the old joke about the Polish actress who came to Hollywood and to advance her career slept with a screenwriter. This, admittedly, is grotesquely racist and sexist but illustrative of their non-essential status of the writer in the film industry.

The second is Side by Side (Keneally 2013), a documentary produced by Keanu Reeves (of “Woah!” fame) which is thoughtful, intelligent and required viewing for anyone contemplating the industry’s future regarding film and digital. I plan to spend the weekend bathing in its knowledge and insight.

 

Practical screen craft: Most of the time he can hardly see you! – Educating Rita

On seeing the ArriFlex the first thought is that it is, as the Cornish would say ‘proper job’.

Nevertheless the prospect of using it to make a film is somewhat nerve wracking.

All of my fears about employing this camera instead of using a digital one were crystallised, ironically, by Tyler Shields’ The Death of Film.

I have every expectation that any film I make will come back from the developers looking like this:

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Moving Narratives: It’s Show time folks! – All That Jazz (1979, Fosse)

It is always interesting to watched two very different productions on the same day.

A Dangerous Method (2011, Cronenberg) is about the relationship between Freud, Jung, and Sabina Spielrein (I hadn’t heard of her either, thanks patriarchy, eh, Lucy?).

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According to the film, Freud & Jung relationship foundered (paging Dr. Irony) as a result of ego. One of the things that struck me about this was how much “telling” the screenwriter Christopher Hampton employed. One regularly heard lines like “His followers in Vienna are all deeply unimpressive, a crowd of bohemians and degenerates…”

 

In comparison, every episode of Breaking Bad has examples of building the narrative, explaining characters’ back story, feelings and motivations through showing rather than telling. 

In Episode Five of Season One, Walt and Skyler visit some old friends for a birthday party. The size of Walt’s token gift in comparison with the enormous boxes on display, the clothes they are wearing, they may be in the same state but they have travelled to a different world.

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Walt goes into the library. He sees the framed magazine covers and articles, admires an antique book on display and the other volumes on the expensive wooden shelves. He then coughs as a result of his cancer, treatment of which probably costs the same as this library.

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The contrast between Walt’s life as a financially struggling high school teacher and his former colleagues and how this makes him feel is superbly told without one word of exposition

Writing, “tell” is so much easier than “show” but by crediting the audience with intelligence, it will provide them with a more rewarding experience.