Discussion

2018 in Review Part 4 – Special Effects


One of my biggest achievements of the past few months is that of low-fi special effects. Part of my aesthetic is keeping it simple, mainly for my mental health. Part of the fun of keeping my work simple is that it’s more fun, whilst having a concept behind the work being produced in the studio or exhibited. This piece has built into a number of scenes that require special effects that even I have bowed to CGI being used. Using aliens in a piece naturally requires special effects to make them function effectively.

Back in the low-fi world I have found a few solutions to scenes that would otherwise have been lost. First that of traveling down a mine shaft by using a paper belt that I constructed after a day of trial and error. I explored how the piece works from a basic idea to ensuring that I had a working mechanism. I then reinforced the piece and built around it to replicate the shaft environment.

Another piece (far less advanced) is that of the false boulders that sit over the entrance of the larger gold mine entrance (in part 3). By combining this piece and a cut to black in the edit I can create the illusion of boulders falling front of the entrance.

By far my proudest achievement is a confined set – the base of the gold mine thats a culmination of all my work in the past 7 months. The use of materials, the special effects in the tunnels in forced perspective, which in have false barricades. The use of balsa (I’ve used countless pieces) to create an environment that I just need to darken.

I’m sure other effects will be required along the way that I’ve not even thought of. These two at least give me the confidence to make something happen with just an idea and some cardboard to get me started. Being the final part of my review I can see that in 7 months I have come along way, it’s not all fun. But when it is I can see that my making has improved as I have pushed to make more and adhere to the requirements of a plot that drives the work.


2018 in Review Part 3 – Brown Paper


I’ve been saying those words and using that material a lot, along with the much needed grey paper. Both of which I like to use recycled from packaging where I can. However I’ve had to cheat with this one and buy a few rolls to keep me going at times.

It’s a material that I’ve been using before in Playing with Plastic (2018) to substitute rock face. It works perfectly every-time and at any scale. It’s become an invaluable material to this work and my practice, it’s getting up there with balsa and the much loved and coveted cardboard that is the foundation of most of my work. I’ve began using it on my test pieces when I was looking at how to make a tunnel. Understanding how to use it best, which side to have showing (which I still sometimes fall down on) on my work.

After experimentation I began to build some of the model miniature sets required, pushing my set-building work to another level, focusing how the illusion is created before covering/wrapping in brown and grey paper. Grey I have learned to use to suggest a worn on quality to the landscape. With the rock formation I might have gotten carried away with the construction, arranging and layering boxes to build up the form that had to be made in multiple parts.

I have since decided to make a smaller version of the rock formation at 1.72 scale, which is going to be more manageable to work with. Sections will be kept for close up work though which will allow for more drama and a change in scale.


2018 in Review Part 2 – Making in Multiples


If I could take anything away from this last 7 months in the studio it would be that I’ve learned to make pieces multiple times. This is all part of the world building for the animation. The first pieces to be en-masse were a smaller scale flying saucer for at least one scene. It sounds mad to make all that work for the minimum of one scene, however the way things are progressing I might be using more of them throughout the work.

Another big and consuming part was the frontier town. Starting as an upgrade from the VHS boxes I used for Playing with Plastic (2018) I wanted something more substantial. Using the sturdier cardboard I began to upgrade them all. It was only a few weeks ago that I was able to finish the first set. Another scene then required the same pieces in a ruined state, which meant far more detail than these loose pieces based on much earlier designs. These new pieces needed more work, first keeping the dimensions exactly the same, before drawing in where the aliens laser beam would have fired. This act reveals the wooden framework of the buildings that had to be realised. The whole process was far more intensive, which I was at first ready to undertake. With enough pieces to keep me going for a few days/weeks as they needed detail adding every so often before being completed (except for painting). Currently I now have one piece left to make, more will be made in the new year for a different set/location. The process soon became repetitive and got me down, I needed to break away from them but I realised that’s not something I wanted to do, I pushed and now have two (almost complete) towns.

What I can take away from this is that not every aspect of the making process can be enjoyed. However I have proven to myself that I can stick to a design and replicate. My making skills regarding the ruined pieces has improved, they still need some work on them to distress them further, which I’ll carry out when later on.


2018 in Review Part 1 – Adaptation, Expansion & Playfulness


With time away from the studio it’s a good time to reflect on the work I’ve produced there over the past year. I’d like to focus on that produced from May to the end of the year when my attention moved onto a new piece – Cowboys Invaded which is currently gearing up to be animated next year at the earliest. I’ve spent the last seven months producing all the pieces that make up that world. Inspired by Cowboys and Aliens (2011) and the comic book I want to look at the possibility of the aliens winning. The notion of Manifest Destiny that was used during the 1800’s during the Western expansion of what is now known as The United States of America. The comic book and film suggest a potential future that was eventually averted, driving away the invasion. Now in my piece they stay and occupy this landscape and logically the planet.

Having written a few drafts to an alternative narrative complete with a list of required model miniatures to populate and realise that narrative. So far I’ve produced around half of what’s needed. Like all pieces I’ve made, some are quicker to produce than other. So looking back at what I have made I’d like to start with the adaptations and expansions to previously made pieces. Knowing that I would be staying at the same scale of my previous animation – Playing with Plastic (2016) I looked at what I could reuse for this one, saving myself some work. The train-set was the main piece to be taken forward.

The original pieces were made with fixed wheels for the track, making it impossible to animate on curved track. That all changed after catching part of a train restoration program about train coaches for Queen Victoria’s train. I learned that for wheels to move with and along that track they are on a separate plate attached to the main body. I was inspired to see how I could adapt this to my pieces, using a section of cardboard tube I was able to adapt my pieces before expanding the set to include two wagons a new coach and for another aspect of the animation 4 refrigerated wagons that are meant for another aspect.

As with the making of the new wagons I wanted to keep the pieces playful, with an alien presence theres immediately a different language to consider. Being otherworldly I wanted different shapes, using paper cups and plates was an easy way of helping create that for an era when such shapes would have been harder to construct. Also I wanted to have some fun making with shapes that could be used reused to create a language unique to the aliens.

These pieces were only the start of a much wider body of work and a long list of pieces to be made in the coming months.


Working with Miniatures


A few weeks ago I began following Damien Webb on Instagram. His work is far more detailed than the loose language that I employ in my work. I really admire his workmanship and the varied output. Looking through his feed I can see he’s continually pushing himself to produce different work, usually determined by commission it allows him to discover and learn new techniques. We both share a real passion for working in miniature. The podcast below shares a theme that is very current in visual effects, the employment of model miniatures in film with the increased and regular use of CGI. It reminded me of my dissertation that I wrote in my final year at art school, which I’m hoping to share that with you over the coming days. For now I’d like to share a podcast – Flaw in the Iris: The Film Podcast that Damien was invited to contribute too.

 

 


Film Talk – Logan – The Last Gunfighter


Last year I wrote an unused Film Talk which I would like to share with you. A more in-depth look at a comic book hero – that draws closely to the Western genre. It’s a continuation of my exploration of the genre that my practice explores. Logan (2017) is one if the rare comic book films that I’ll actually sit down at watch. Partly because I grew up watching the TV show as a child. Also the film, much like Deadpool (2016 & 18) is far darker than the lighter MCU that has become so popular over the last decade. It’s easy to draw comparisons between the two genres, they touch at many points, Logan or Wolverine is a character that requires further examination.

Tonight I’d like to explore and share a passion of mine, the Western. Logan (2017), which can be read as a Western. Taking my original review of the film as a starting point I have explored and expanded by research to find richer connections to the film. I’ll be focusing on one aspect of the genre – the gunfighter. Looking a few key films – The Gunfighter (1950), Shane (1953) and Unforgiven (1992). Showing clips together with comparisons to Logan.

Historically gunfighter’s such as Billy the Kid, Jesse James and Younger gang, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’s Wild Bunch first reach notoriety due to the cheaply and mass-produced dime novel that first created the characters and situations that produced the folk-law, which Hollywood has used as source material since the birth of film.

The Gunfighter is in fact a 20th century creation post WWII taking two forms. “…in which professionalism in the arts of violence is the hero’s defining characteristic. These new takes on the Western were shaped by the internal logic of genre development, which fostered a certain kind of stylization of the Western and its hero and by the pressures and anxieties of the post-war/Cold War transition…The consonance between the formal character of the gunfighter Western and its ideological content is a genuinely poetic achievement. It gave the gunfighter films ideological and cinematic resonance and made heroic style of the gunfighter an important symbol of right and heroic actions for filmmakers, the public, and the nation’s political leadership.”

Gunfighter Nation – Richard Slotkin, Pg. 379-80

Using this thinking it’s easy to translate the loner gunfighter figure to the comic book universe – Wolverine or Logan who we’ve seen cinematically struggle with his position and circumstances as a mutant in the X-Men universe. Born in the 19th with his natural mutations – claws and healing are transformed in the 20th century by a Dr. Rice. His bony claws becomes Adamantinium a fictional metal that in turn creates the killing machine who has already learned to block out his violent past, the 20th century has transformed into a living Winchester rifle or Colt gun.

The film depiction of Wolverine has been seen on-screen and portrayed by Hugh Jackman since X-Men (2000) a character that has become a favourite among fans, relatable in terms of him being an outsider, unable to fit in with society or even those who he lives with – the X-Men. So almost 20 years later his story has now come full circle and has come to it’s natural end for both actor and character in Logan.

Set in the year 2029, we have avoided the apocalyptic future as depicted in Days of Futures Past (2014) where we last saw Logan. We find Logan is driving a limo under his birth name of James Howlett, he’s living and nursing his old mentor Charles Xavier who has a dementia which is only amplified with his mutant abilities; making an episode of confusion more devastating thanks to his telepathic and telekinetic abilities, which we see twice in the film. They are living over the border in Mexico, a common location in the Western for outlaws and gunfighter’s to hide out and escape the law. They are living with an albino – Caliban (Stephen Merchant) who we learn is a human sat-nav. Logan is in rough shape, he struggles to keep up with every passing battle, be it with humans or mutants. His time is slowly up, the ability to heal is starting to fail him.

Turning to the history of the gunfighter in the genre, we first see one depicted in

The Gunfighter. Played by Gregory Peck, Johnny Ringo is an obscure gunfighter found by the films writer Andre DeToth, who found him in Eugene Cunningham’s Triggernometry; A Gallery of Gunfighters (1934). There is little known about this outlaw apart from

“… a few vicious murders, a reputation for heavy drinking, and a couple of intriguing mysteries. He was said to have had a cultured manner (evidenced by an ability to quote Shakespeare) and to have been the scion of an aristocratic southern family ruined in the Civil War. He also died mysteriously, murdered, murdered by someone who gave him no chance to draw, and his draw, and his reputation was such that chief suspect bragged that he has done it.”

Gunfighter Nation – Richard Slotkin, – Pg. 383

This first set of clip’s comes from the beginning of The Gunfighter, Ringo’s played by arrives in a town saloon where he wants to find an old lover and mother to his son. He’s instantly recognised and comes with a built-in unwanted celebrity status. He just wants to keep a low profile, meet his kid and start his life over. And then we see Logan has stopped to buy some medication for Xavier, before meeting Pierce

 

We can see that Logan is still plagued by a fading celebrity status and hero-worship; Pierce another mutant with a robotic arm has done his research on him and is in awe of him.

The film is set in a future where it’s thought that no more Mutants have been born, so the genes are dying out, they are a dying race. Much like the gunfighter’s who are either being killed off or have been caught by the law that has been spreading West through the country. The gunfighter has been outmoded.

“The gunfighter enters the narrative already knowing that the Wild West’s promise of fame and power (or of redemption) is an illusion; that the vision of the Frontier as limitless in its possibilities for the personal and social perfection is a mirage; and that he himself has been rendered isolated and vulnerable by the very things that have made him victorious in the past”

Gunfighter Nation – Richard Slotkin, Pg. 390

We can see that Logan is very much like Ringo, there’s a short scene where he’s cleaning pus from off his claw, they aren’t functioning as well as they used to.

I mentioned earlier the film is set in a time of no new mutants, this is before the introduction of Laura, a genetically engineered child, born in the lab – by Transigen – a pharmaceutical company who have raised Laura and others for the purposes of developing and passing on the mutant genes to the wider population. She acts as a baton passing in the universe to carry on the Wolverine role. Logan has a hard time accepting their relationship. Laura being younger is naturally far stronger, agile and full of rage like her father has.

She brings her a number of X-Men comics, a self referential tool that connect us to the roots of the wider marvel universe and the creation of Western legend. The superhero equivalent of the dime novel, which I’ll touch on later.

About half way through the film Logan, Laura and Xavier are on the run from Transigen. They are in a hotel room, a classic passing place in the Western. Where by chance (or directors choice) to find Shane is on TV. It’s commented on a few times during those short scenes, given emphasis and lines even raised at the end of the film.

To see how Shane operates in Logan we need to discuss the code that a gunfighter and by extension Logan has tried to live by. For Shane (Alan Ladd) he has chosen to live by this code and so has his counterpart Wilson (Jack Palance) at the final showdown

“The exchange between Shane and Wilson is formal and stylized, and both men appear conscious that they are going through a familiar, predictable, even trite, but nonetheless essential, ritual.”

Gunfighter Nation – Richard Slotkin, Pg. 399

Firstly they both respect each other as gunfighter’s, giving each other proper chance, not much time but the chance to draw their guns before attempting to kill each other. The would only do so facing each other. As Westerns have taught us, it’s frowned upon to shoot in the back, or whilst the others unarmed. Lastly they only fight with just cause, Shane has no personal debt to take up Wilson, it take an insult to finally goad him into action. Then Shane can kill him, freeing the homesteaders and farmers to live in peace and not fear Ryker (Emile Meyer) and his men.  Logan has attempted to live by a code, one instilled by his mentor Xavier who wanted to fight when only necessary and to pick your fights wisely.

Returning to the X-Men comics, which are the universes dime novels. Superheroes are living in the same era as the publication, much like Buffalo Bill, although he worked with the writers to build and establish his own legend that formed the myth of the West.

“…in a Ned Buntline dime novel published in 1869 and stage melodrama that premiered in 1871. [William] Cody has already acquired a word of mouth reputation as an excellent scout and hunting guiding, but after 1869 his newly acquired dime-novel celebrity made his name familiar to a national audience while linking it with spectacular and utterly fictitious adventures”

Gunfighter Nation – Richard Slotkin Pg. 69

The X-Men comics contain a myth that Laura buys into, believing that the coordinates in one of the issues are real for a place called Eden in North Dakota. Borrowing directly from that universe to inform the film. Logan tries to explain to the young girl out the truth behind these comics.

The dime novel writer does play a minor role in the screen Western, usually sitting on the side-lines of the films events. Talking to the gunfighter and others in between the shoot-outs. Usually a small guy with glasses and would never carries a gun, his weapon of choice is his pen, and the words he writes. A strong example of writer can be found in Unforgiven, is W.W. Beauchamp played by Saul Rubinek. We see him taking notes from Little Bill Daggett –  Gene Hackman of how fact and fiction of an event differ. He has to wait for the troubled gunfighter William MunnyClint Eastwood the personification of the genre.

These next clips see Beauchamp learning the truth about English Bob (Richard Harris) whose in jail after refusing to handover his guns. Whilst in Logan, the reality of the comic books being demystified to Laura

Munny is much like Logan in that they have tried to give up that part of their life to function as a family man. Logan is still plagued by the effect of the violence he has inflicted on others. Munny can’t really remember as he was usually drunk at the time of his killings. Whilst Logan tries to repress those memories and the emotions connected to them. Here he is confronted with a blurred mythologised version of his own life story. When Munny is faced with his first killing in years he is very rusty and not engaged in the act of killing from the outset.

“A shot of Munny with the barrel in the foreground and foreshadows his eventual decision to take decisive and deadly action…Ned pleads that he cannot shoot the prone boy and Munny stretches towards the front of the frame and grabs the gun…he has crossed the line into the world of violence.”

Film as Genre – John Sanders – Pg. 64

The tired gunfighter is mirrored in the two fights between Logan and 23 – the genetically engineered mutant – based on Logan’s DNA, a far superior, younger, stronger version of the aging Logan who we see struggling to keep up, regenerate and fight. Lets see both fights in these clips.

The classic Western went out of it’s way to mythologise the West, it’s history and sell it to the audience. The modern Revisionist Westerns such as Unforgiven and Logan wanted to demystify that myth, however by the close of Logan it deviates from the to reinforces it’s own myth. The comic books are based more on reality than Logan gives them credit. The printed legend has become fact.

Lastly I’d like to take a look at the bloody fight between Logan and 23 on the North Dakota and Canadian border. Logan has taken a full dose of a drug that increases his performance, he’s pumped up with man-made adrenaline. It works to a point, his own fragility soon returns, nature has won out ultimately. Again looking at Unforgiven, Munny switches from old family man to bloody thirsty killer.

“He’s back in the mode of mayhem. And he doesn’t care. He’s his old self again, at least for the moment. He doesn’t miss a beat while he loads his rifle and talks to the journalist. Before, he’s been very rusty, having trouble getting on his horse, he wasn’t shooting very well. He wasn’t nailing people with the first shot. Now, when he goes on this suicidal mission, he’s all machine. He not only coldly murders Daggett at point-blank range but he shoots some bystanders with no more compunction than someone swatting a fly.”

Eastwood – Interview

Ride, Boldly Ride – Mary Lea Bandy & Kevin Stoehr – Pg 264

It takes a killing of his friend to cross that line into his violent past. For Logan it’s the survival of a younger generation and a paternal instinct towards Laura. Both men are driven by primal and personal urges.

With every gunfight there are deaths, but rarely the hero, Logan is buried and read over by Laura, reciting a Shane’s goodbye speech to Joey. It’s a little broken but the message remains in tact; that leading a violent life can only lead to a lonely life, one away from society and those you love.

Logan heavily relies on rich lineage of cinematic and printed history to say goodbye to one of the most iconic Marvel characters – Wolverine. Through the films and comic books we have seen a tortured man, who has generated an aura of celebrity status in some circles. Much like the Wild West gunfighter whose skill with a gun raises him to a position of awe and wonderment – a celebrity which comes at a great cost

“The existence of his profession is in itself an implicitly hard-boiled commentary on the nature of American society; and the psychic isolation his profession begets gives the gunfighter the alienated perspective he needs to articulate such a critique: What sort of society is it in which those who have money can hire a killer? And what kind of people are we, that our strong men find such work to their liking? But more important than his critical function is the gunfighters embodiment of the central paradox of America’s self image in an era of Cold War “subversion,” and the thermonuclear balance of terror; our sense of being at once supremely powerful and utterly vulnerable, politically dominant and yet helpless to shape the course of critical events.”

Gunfighter Nation – Richard Slotkin – Pg 383


Feud – Bette and Joan


I don’t usually binge on TV, eating up about a film a day instead. However I sometimes make the odd exception, such as Westworld that I’m excited to return next year. I’ve made a start on the Star Trek spoof – The Orville, which I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how well written it is. Not too heavy on the casual comedy whilst still exploring some heavy ideas, not in great detail.

In the last week I have taken in Feud – Bette and Joan based on the rivalry between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford over 8 episodes. I’m very familiar with the relationship, having made a work based on Shaun Considine’s now much derided book. However a lot of what was in the book has translated to the screen. Focusing on the period before Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) went into production. There was no build of the two actress’s careers. Instead straight into find both Crawford (Jessica Lange) and Davis (Susan Sarandon) as out of work actors waiting for another film to come along. I was expecting a tongue and cheeky bitchy comedy from the two of them. It was funny in places, however I found a rather modern take on the dynamic. Both women portrayed as mature women just wanting to work in an industry that had thrown them on the scrap heap because they aren’t the next big thing any more. The best days of their career are behind them no longer able to ride the wave of that success. At this point Davis had not been Oscar nominated in nearly a decade, resentful that her co-star Anne Baxter beat her to her last worthy win in All About Eve (1950) a case of life imitating art. Whilst Crawford was waiting for another film like Autumn Leaves (1956) to come her way. Both capable of leading a film, just no offers of work or scripts coming their way. The rivalries built up naturally as we get to know them.

I have noticed and come to accept that films and TV that explore the history of Hollywood can be quite prescriptive, feeding facts that we read about as dialogue which can seem forced, however it’s needed to give the film/TV show a strong foundation, to know what we are exploring. The facts become conversation and the quotes become dialogue once more. by episode four I found a feminist leaning come through in the form of Pauline Jameson (Alison Wright) whose a combination of people combined into one role. Robert Aldrich‘s assistant on both Baby Jane and Hush…Hush Sweet Charlotte (1964) who wanted to be a director in her own right. Offering Crawford a script she wrote and willing to direct. Only to be turned down by Crawford, not on the basis on gender, but that of gender defined roles and perceived ideas of female ability, a product of the 1920’s talking to a more enlightened 1960’s women. Whilst through the duration of the 8 episodes the two legends are just wanting to work, to feel wanted and be relevant in their careers.

With the first half of the series focusing on Baby Jane before the apparent Oscar rigging by Crawford, which is still very much hearsay and conjecture. Before moving onto the troubled second film they started together, which I was looking forward to as no footage exist of Crawford in the film before she fell sick (of Bette Davis). Then both falling either into low budget films and obscurity. It’s a pattern that has repeated it self for years for actresses’ who we see come and go, based not on their talent but box-office draw. A few make a return but not as successful, you have to seek them out in the smaller films that get less exposure. A lot are now turn to TV, which has now become an acceptable place to work for film stars. Hopefully that will change with the harassment scandal that is shaking the industry. Change is slowly happening, emphasis on the slowly. If Feud does anything to change the depiction and position of women in film it shows that change is long overdue and effected even the most celebrated of Hollywood stars.


Film Talk – Contemporary Silence – Part 2


With the loss of dialogue, a very conscious decision by the makers of the film, there naturally becomes a massive reliance on the audio to carry more of the plot. Traditionally audio is split up into 3 tracks – Dialogue, Sound effects and the Soundtrack.

“The soundtrack of any film…tends to condition an audiences response to it, sound principally creates the mood and atmosphere of a film, and also it’s pace and emphasis, but, most importantly, also creates a vocabulary by which the visual codes of the film are understood.”

Understanding Animation – Paul Wells – Pg. 97

Sound is a vital component of animation adding more depth and understanding to the images and the narrative, allowing the audience to engage with a film. Naturally we take for granted the sounds around us, helps our awareness of our surroundings and situation. The additional an extra layer to the visuals we process.

 “Moreover, visuals are not always subtle-note the overly obvious miming of silent film-and words are not necessarily blatant…Engagement is called for whether one is interpreting action or speech, visual images or dialogue.”

Overhearing Dialogue – Sarah Kozloff – Pg. 11

However to rely solely on dialogue doesn’t mean we can’t understand a narrative without dialogue. Silent films relied upon title cards and the actor’s performances to convey emotions and move the plot forward. Today it’s very rare to silent or near silent films. One example is Robert Redford’s All is Lost (2013); the lack of dialogue was actually a draw for the actor who explains in this clip.

Silent film has had something of resurgence in mainstream film in 2011. With The Artist and Hugo. The Artist a loving homage to silent film that celebrates classic Hollywood. Whilst Hugo by Martin Scorsese is his tribute to early film, set in France, we meet an older Georges Méliès, who in the film is running a Toy store at a train station. It’s also a film that speaks about the importance of film preservation, something, which is very important to the director.

What they are really doing to attempting to re-energise a love for silent film.

“…Hugo and The Artist are only the most visible instances of a broader impulses to make silent cinema “new” at various moments in film and media history…”

New Silent Cinema – edited by Paul Flaig and Katherine Groo – Pg. 2

If you want contemporary silent film – not re-mastered/restored/re-released silent films you have to look out for films such as Ki-duk Kim‘s Moebius (2013), which relies on vocal expression, about

“…a father’s infidelity leads to his son’s all too literal emasculation, as the same actress plays both vengeful mother and wanton mistress, as the genital transplants pile up…”

http://www.bfi.org.uk/news-opinion/news-bfi/lists/10-great-nolow-dialogue-films

Back in the U.S. Gus Van Sant‘s Gerry (2002) places two men into a salt desert, where they try to retrace their steps back to the car. Very minimal dialogue, there are long stretches where it’s just Matt Damon and Casey Affleck looking over the landscape.

More recently we have The Revenant (2015) the true-life story of Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) whose scene are almost dialogue free. Focusing on his struggle with nature, his own torn body and his anger to seek out revenge for being left for dead.

I ended the talk with a longer show reel, which is the best way to explore and understand the power of contemporary silent and minimal dialogue in film.

 

 


Film Talk – Contemporary Silence – Part 1


Tonight’s Film Talk focused on the silence and minimal dialogue found in contemporary film, the notes are below.

I’m taking a look at a more obscure aspect of film – silent or minimal dialogue in contemporary film. Starting with The Red Turtle (2017) a French and Belgian co-production with Studio Ghibli. Directed by Oscar winning animator Michael Dudok de Wit, which he won for Father and Daughter (2000) about a daughter who longs to see her father return from a rowing trip.

“In this elegant short film about how love can transcend time and death, a young Dutch girl witnesses her father inexplicably rowing out to sea, never to return…A simple and poignant dialogue-free story it is complemented with elegant and graceful design and animation, and the use of silhouettes and shadows.

The World History of Animation – Steven Cavalier -Pg. 324

The Red Turtle is a castaway film that begins by pitting man against nature as a lone survivor is washed up on an island, we first his multiple attempts to escape, only to be prevented by nature – in the form of a giant red turtle, before a woman, who he has a family with, joins him. They stay together on the island and live into old age; complete with all the trials that island life brings them. What I was initially drawn to was the radical choice to have no dialogue in the film, an idea that has been explored in my own work. De Wit’s reason’s comes from a story telling decision, which he explains in this interview.

I wouldn’t be doing the film any favors without looking at past desert island films, which have periods of little or no dialogue. First looking at Hell in the Pacific (1968), a WWII film that placed an American and Japanese soldier on a desert island, first they are still at war with each other, before they realise they have to put their politics and ideologies to one side in order to escape. The first barrier being language that had to be over come. There are sections where there’s no dialogue, a decision taken by director John Boorman , which he explains in this clip.

Moving forward to the turn of the century – Cast Away (2000) there dialogue is kept to a minimum when Fed-ex man Chuck Noland – Tom Hanks lives for years on a desert island, he has only himself and later his ball – Wilson for company, essentially he’s projecting his thoughts onto an inanimate object.

Admittedly there are some vocals – cries or gasps of emotion when necessary in the narrative, as De Witt allows for these moments of verbal expression. An example of this can be scene in the Tsunami scene.

Staying with animation, the decision to have minimal or no dialogue is nothing new. As we saw in the director’s short film Father and Daughter (2000), other animators have made the same decision. Such as Sylvain Chomet The Illusionist (2010).

“The lack of conversation is rationalized here by the different nationalities of the characters and is carried off by the strongly visual nature of the animation, creating a treat of visual story telling that leaves space for its audience to use their minds and discover the detail for themselves.”

The World History of Animation – Steven Cavalier – Pg. 392

Relying on visual cues and associations to bridge the gap. In Pixar’s WALL-E (2008), the first act of the film is near silent, referencing silent film, relying on other audio to express the little robots thoughts and emotions.

“…Wall-E comes to resemble a pet whose thoughts and feelings we believe we can interpret. And like a pet, WALL-E cannot talk, expressing himself only in mechanical beeps and squeals”

The Art of Walt Disney – Christopher Finch – Pg. 400

Whilst in Japan we have Kunio Kato’s short film Le Maison en Petits Cubes/The House of Small Cubes (2008) focusing on an lonely old man who reflects on his past.

“This story is told without any dialogue or narration, there is just a simple soundtrack.”

The World History of Animation – Steven Cavalier – Pg. 379

In the next part I’ll be looking more technically at the function of sound in animation and film.


Film Talk – Films Finest Women


Film Talk turned to look at Their Finest, below are the notes from the talk.

Tonight I’d like to explore the position of women behind the camera, a subject that has become more prevalent recently. Looking at representation and equality or lack of, behind the camera. Using Their Finest (2016) as a starting point for we’ll look at women working on propaganda films before jumping back to the early days of film then making our way up to the present day.

For two years the British film industry has been working closely with the Ministry of Information whose aims for feature films were

“…the importance of films as a medium of propaganda’ in putting across the themes that [Lord] Macmillan had suggested; what Britain is fighting for; how Britain fights; the need for sacrifices if the fight is to be won…”

Britain Can Take It, British Cinema in the Second World War – Anthony Aldgate & Jeffrey Richards pg 26

The film industry collaborated with the government on over two hundred films for the duration of the Second World War. It was a constant battle between creatives, production heads and the Ministry of Information to convey the messages necessary to keep morale up.

The first film to be made under this new relationship was The Lion Has Wings (1939), an Alexander Korda production. It was however commissioned before the outbreak of war but was given the approval of the MOI

“For one thing, the MOI provided “technical facilities” in the production of the film and deal struck whereby it was accordingly afforded a share of the profits. Figures as high as ’50 per cent of the profits’ were quoted by some sources and were ‘the cause of the great deal of discontent in the industry’. Whatever the exact sum, however, the MOI did not to badly out of The Lion Has Wings. It was able to pass on to the Exchequer £25,140 from the film, and that was a straight profit, after it had covered whatever costs had been accrued…”

Britain Can Take It, British Cinema in the Second World War – Anthony Aldgate & Jeffrey Richards pg 24

At the beginning of the war, women were not yet conscripted as men were leaving to take up arms and fight. Leaving a majority female audience back home at the cinema. It took MOI head at the time Jack Beddington to realise he had to

“…address the needs and desires of the predominantly working class, disenchanted, under-served and under-respected female audience. The women, it seems, wanted heart-swelling encouragement and entertainment but gave short shift to anything that didn’t smell of reality.”

Sight and Sound – May 2017 Vol 27 Issue 5, Women and WWII British Films – Stephen Woolley Pg 40

To reach that female audience, female voices were needed to communicate with them. Scriptwriter’s such as Diana Morgan who worked at Ealing and contributed to

The Foreman Went to France, Went the Day Well? (1942) The Halfway House (Basil Dearden), 1944) Fiddlers Three (Harry Watt, 1944), Pink String and Sealing Wax (Robert Hamer, 1945)

Her experience of working in the film industry was rather confusing at times

“Sometimes you got credit for something you hadn’t done, or you wrote most of the picture and you didn’t get a credit. We didn’t worry about things like that.”

“They used to say, ‘We’ll send in the Welsh bitch [Morgan] to put in the nausea.”

Sight and Sound – May 2017 Vol 27 Issue 5, Women and WWII British Films – Stephen Woolley Pg 42

The Nausea being “The Slop” in Their Finest being the women’s dialogue. Morgan’s roles reflected by another Welsh woman – Catrin played by Gemma Arterton, whose brought in after her works discovered by scriptwriter’s at an unknown studio. It’s only after she persist does she see an increase in wages and work with her male counterparts.

It’s the persistence to get what she wants which her male counterparts would not have to fight so hard for. A fight that has been going on before WWII and is still going on today.

If we go all the way back to the silent era of film in Hollywood it was a more even playing field. Even then however it was still relegated to

“…routinized film processing tasks deemed appropriate to their sex in largely segregated setting. For male entrepreneurs, however, the film industry’s first decade suggested adventure, autonomy, and riches”

Women Filmmakers in Early Hollywood – Karen Ward MaherPg 9-10

It was however a time in Hollywood when women could take, such as screenwriter Beulah Marie Dix who could take on extra work.

“…in addition to writing scenarios, she worked as an extra, tended the lights, and “sent a good deal of time in the cutting room”

Women Filmmakers in Early Hollywood – Karen Ward MaherPg 39

It was probably the only time in Hollywood when men and women had parity in the industry as film historian Wendy Holliday found.

“…screenwriting in the early 1910s created a particularly “modern’ heterosocial work culture in which male and female writers like actors and actresses, were roughly equal, having a hand in all phases of production.”

Women Filmmakers in Early Hollywood – Karen Ward Maher Pg 41

If Wartime propaganda films employed women to write the “nausea” or “slop”, originally Hollywood would at times cut those costs in half. In hoping to aim at the female audience they ran writing contests.

“In 1909 Evangeline Sicotte of New York City won $150 in the Georges Melies Scenario Contest for her script “The Red Star,” and Florence E. Turner of Brooklyn won third place, receiving $50 for “The Fiend of the Castle.” A scenario submitted by Mrs. Clemens to the St Louis Times not only resulted in a cash prize but also reach the screen in 1910 as a film entitled The Double.”

Women Filmmakers in Early Hollywood – Karen Ward MaherPg 41

Moving away from the early writers of film and across the Atlantic to France we find Alice Guy Blanche who worked as a secretary to Leon Gaumont made her own films, I’d like to share one with you – Madame a des Envies (1906) a short which depicts a woman, played by herself that indulges in whatever she wants and not thinking about the consequences. Something that has since been more regularly applied to men on-screen.

The role of editor was originally an entry-level position, which was mastered by one of the most respected editors in the industry during her time. Margaret Booth began her career with D.W. Griffith when the process was very cumbersome and frustrating.

“…joiners squinted at negatives through a magnifying glass, trying to determine where to cut with scissors and where to rejoin with tape. They couldn’t watch the film as they were working on it, so the only way to see the print was the pull the negative quickly between their fingers… The process became easier with the arrival of the first cutting machine in 1919, which had foot pedals to run the film and a spy-hole to view it through. It looked similar to a sewing machine, and perhaps because of that (and because it was a low level job), there were many women working as film cutters.”

Backwards & in Heels, The Past, Present and Future of Women working in Film – Alicia Malone Pg 34-5

Booth went onto become one of the most respected editors in the industry.

Moving forward into the sound era we have fewer women of note working behind the camera. One of those is actress/director Ida Lupino who along with her husband set up a production company, they only made a few films, the first being Not Wanted (1949), which she initially chose not to direct. Everything changed when the hired director had a heart attack

“Ida stepped up to take over, and she was a natural. A reporter who had been on set observing her work wrote that he was impressed with her speed and efficiency giving order. Ida hoped that “Not Wanted” would “show the public the heartbreak of the unwed mother;” but when the film was released, reviews were mixed, though the Hollywood Reporter said the story was “done with taste, dignity and compassion.” Ida Lupino had arrived as a director.”

Backwards & in Heels, The Past, Present and Future of Women working in Film – Alicia Malone Pg 102

Lupino is most remembered for making The Hitch Hiker (1953) in less than a month. Coming in at 71 minutes unlike Elaine May’s directorial debut New Leaf (1972), which came in at 180, which proved too long for Paramount who edited out 80 minutes.

“Elaine was so upset at the studio tinkering with her movie and took them to court. She lost the case and publicly disowned her movie, saying this was not the cut she wanted audiences to see. But despite that conflict, Elaine continued to work with the studio, and her follow up was a big success, 1972’s “The Heatrbreak Kid”

Backwards & in Heels, The Past, Present and Future of Women working in Film – Alicia Malone Pg 120-1

Staying with the studio executives, there have been a few females in the boardroom, but not without cost. Sherry Langsing arrived after her enthusiasm for story editing at MGM. Sadly having to put up with her share of sexism from directors such as Don Siegel. 

“…who was furious at being a script notes by a woman. “I dealt with sexism by denying it,” Sherry said in her biography; “Did I hold grudges? Absolutely. But I felt that I had two choices, Either I was going to quit my job, stand on a picket line, and burn my bra, or I was going to have to find a way to navigate the system until I reached a position where my opinions would be heard.”

Backwards & in Heels, The Past, Present and Future of Women working in Film – Alicia Malone Pg 120-1

Sexism wasn’t overcome once at the top as Paramount’s Dawn Steel found out especially when she fought for Flashdance (1983).

“There was a lot of pain and humiliation in those years,” Dawn wrote in her memoir. “I would walk into my office and I would close the door and I would say, ‘I won’t cry, I won’t cry, I won’t cry.’ At least, I wasn’t going to let them see me cry.”

Backwards & in Heels, The Past, Present and Future of Women working in Film – Alicia Malone Pg 139-40

Moving forward to the present day a study at MDSC (Media, Diversity and Social Change) that looked at the 1000 grossing films between 2007 and 16 and the directors on the.

“For each of those ten years the average percentage of male directors was 96%. This means only 4% were female directors, a ratio of 24 men to every one woman. That reflects a huge percentage of female directors not being able to work. These figures don’t have anything to do with the lack of women who actually want the job, but are due to a lack of women being considered for these jobs and a perceived lack of experienced female directors.”

Backwards & in Heels, The Past, Present and Future of Women working in Film – Alicia Malone Pg 158

That sadly doesn’t take into account one of the most successful superhero films –Wonder Woman, directed by Patty Jenkins whose last feature film was Monster (2003) since relegated to TV work. Thanks to the box office success Wonder Woman she’s hopefully guaranteed the work she deserves.

As Dr Stacy Smith from MDSC found and Wonder Woman proves.

“When you have a female director, you have more female leads, you have more female speaking characters, you have more characters that are from underrepresented racial or ethnic groups, more characters 40 years of age or older. You also have more women working in other key production roles.”

Backwards & in Heels, The Past, Present and Future of Women working in Film – Alicia Malone Pg 159

Staying with blockbuster franchises – director of Star War: The Force Awakens JJ.Abrams and his company: Bad Robot ensure there’s equal diversity. Which he explains this interview.

I’ll end by briefly turning to on-screen depictions, with Ghostbusters remake director Paul Feig whose known for his more female focused films when he directed the female version of The HangoverBridesmaids. Proving that audience respond equally to women in comic roles as men.

“I just jumped in and did it,” says Paul; “It was just so much fun. First of all, knowing I had all these roles to cast funny women in. And then once it ended up doing well, it showed me that this excuse of ‘people won’t see these moves’ was pretty much killed”

Backwards & in Heels, The Past, Present and Future of Women working in Film – Alicia Malone Pg 170

Change is slowly happening in film to make a shift towards more diversity not just for women but people of different origins both on and off-screen. With actresses of all generations, especially Jennifer Lawrence speaking out about rates of pay compared to her male counterparts.