Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Narrative and Spectacle in the Hollywood Cinema

What first caught my eye was the fact that Berkeley was only responsible for the number sequences while there was another director for the narrative moments. This must really change the dynamic of things on set and how a film is structured. Shooting, actor and director interactions, even financial budgeting are all parts that would drastically be changed in this kind of format. I guess this is why his films were considered aggregated because of this obvious separation between actions in the narrative and number sequences that serve as spectacle. I did not think about the construction of time and space in terms of musicals and their departure from the narrative “world” before this reading. After watching 42nd street I definitely can see how this plays out in the world and that you don’t realize it until having watched about 4 minutes of the play being carried out on stage. Also, I don’t like talking about Mulvey often because we have discussed her in other classes and I tend to like going against her views (maybe it’s because I’m a guy, but hope it’s not for that reason). I am agreeing with her in the sense of the female performer being subjected to the males view especially in this movie because of many of the camera angles on women’s legs, which is just the nature of the movie, and camera shots throughout musical numbers. However, she’s bound to be right just in general with the nature of this film right? I mean, it’s a musical and there are a lot of women’s dancers and are supposed to be spectacle, so why does this have to be a negative thing? I don’t know, maybe Mulvey doesn’t see it as a negative thing and just another form of how a gender is represented.

I am a big fan of Broadway musicals and this reading reminded me of it naturally. Also, on a quick note the Choreographer’s name is Gene Kelly, and I kept thinking Grace Kelly, which reminded me of the song Grace Kelly by Mika.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

ATPS: Chapters 4, 5, and 6

To start off with I want to say that I was sometimes confused with what time in history events were occurring in relation to other cinematic events. Fuller tends to jump around in dates frequently so this threw me of occasionally.

I didn’t realize that there were films during the 1910’s to 1920’s that were created by companies that posed as educational films when in actuality they were advertisements. I thought that the Ford Company was genius in opening up a film department for media and promoting their company through films. It was interesting to see how these films them started to become regulated by the CMPB because the church was becoming a problem with their religious views and people wanted to know what type of content they would be seeing. Obviously this reminds me of the MPAA now, however, it was slightly different. This group would tailor their judgments based on the supposed crowd that would be going to see the movie. For example for soldiers in the war, they were less strict on the violent images since soldiers were more prepared for this kind of content. This specialization in “ratings” is much more detailed and obviously could not be done now but was cool to see how this one organization tried to add it’s opinion on what people needed to know before entering the theater.

New York City runs things! I know this is a snobby New Yorker thing to say but as Fuller shows in this reading, since a lot of the industry was NY (and a few other cities), it was the center for setting the industry standards. It wasn’t great to see it associated with dingy nickelodeon theaters, but hey that’s the city. What was messed up and I’m glad doesn’t happen anymore is the temporary monopoly that film producer and distributors had on the market when they owned 20% of theaters in the city. This was completely corrupt and created an unfair market, which lead to non-company affiliated theaters receiving fuzzy and snowstorm-ridden films.

Lastly, but not least, I can’t believe how easy it was to send in script back then. Okay, they weren’t really scripts, but scene scenarios. It was basically a page, with just an idea of what people could be doing, since there was no dialogue there wasn’t that much heavy lifting that had to go on. Also, no unions yet to stop your script from getting through or having to worry about representation. No wonder, companies just ripped off these people by just making their movies without permission, it seems like the writers were asking for it.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Louise Brooks, Star Witness

Performance. This article sheds light on the discourses around the figure of Louise Brooks. Honestly, I don’t know a lot about this woman, her movies, or the fan fare around here. However, after reading this article I can’t wait to see the movie Prix de beaute because it will hopefully add some color to a black and white picture that I have in my head of her right now. DeCordova articulates that during this the silent period the “real hero behaves just like the reel here” and boy did Louise embody this feature. Hastie definitely nails it on the dot at the end of this article when she describes Louise as being a very smart woman. The character, Lulu, which she became “famous” for was that of which represented many of Louises’ characters, and the way that she performed off screen lived up to people’s expectations of what. She displayed the same features as her characters, which allowed people to blur the images of Louise and Lulu. Hastie mentions that Louises’ book Lulu in Hollywood was written after her career was over and is used my many authors to document not only Ms. Brooks but use it to document Hollywood during the Silent Period. This is amazing, not only is still able to confuse Hollywood authors with her personal opinion with who Louise really was, but she is serving as a “valid” and “true” source of historical documentation. As Hastie points out this whole book could just be another performance for Louise because she already claimed that she did not want to do a biography. The title of the book is Lulu in Hollywood, which brings you to believe that this is the story of one of Louises’ characters. Ms. Brooks was really smart and I have to believe that at some point she actually did have the personality and opinions towards subjects, especially sexuality, as her characters because as person could not keep up two personas (that resemble each other) and keep out there real persona to themselves for such a long period and even write a book at the end of their career to continue this performance. It seems like way to much and if she did do all this to further a reel image off screen then she’s too smart of a woman and border line crazy.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Silence of the Silents

Rick Altman makes great points but fails to take a side until the end of his paper. Honestly, I think that his best writing occurs during his conclusion because he concretely lays out the way he saw music’s involvement with cinema. If he started with that then it would have made the rest of this paper a lot more interesting. At one point he claims that he wanted, “…to show that silence was one of a number of acceptable film exhibition approaches throughout the pre-1910 era” (p.677). After 30 somewhat pages this is what you’re getting after? You have argued both sides, and bring up many good points, but what he states is obvious. We know that films didn’t come with accompanying music and theaters weren’t equipped with stereos, therefore no film would always have sound. The author even shows obvious quotes that verify music as a practiced form of entertainment during cinema. However, he then introduces a weak argument that music was not a must or a mainstay in all theaters because of many given reasons. Hello?! Stop discrediting other authors on that fact that they make generalizations of music always accompanying films.

I did find this paper very informative despite my lack of appreciation of Mr. Altman’s writing. He does a great job of doing his research and putting together information regarding the presence or lack there-of in movies. I really liked the argument he presented in regards to pianists either playing or not playing in theaters. At face value, you would think that if there were pianos in most theaters, someone would be playing most of the time. But Altman brings good evidence showing that these pianos were used as Ballyhoo and intermission music for the audience. Which makes you think that he neglects the fact that Ballyhoo music was playing during films, which means that it was a background soundtrack to audiences. Since they could hear this music during the films I feel that this would count as music accompanying a film.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

ATPS: Chapters 3 & 4

What first struck me as amazing in chapter three is the clout that the south obtained. I know that American was still VERY racist in the early 1900’s so I guess it all makes sense, but how could the south be able to dictate film subject and audience attendance when they ranked lowest for theater attendance and revenue. It’s a shame how the ‘moral’ opinion of the closed minded and racist south was able to curtail the films that were shown and stop African-Americans from entering certain theaters.

Another thing that I found amazing but this time very funny, is how hard it was for people to come up with names for their cinemas. There were literally articles and competitions held for people to come up with names for what to title the space in which films were exhibited. They went from Nickelodeon, to Photoplay and then settled on theater with a variance in what names people could put on it. I know it was a big deal back then, but it just seems funny now that there was such a big discourse on what to name such a now seemingly simple event. It was also funny to read about all of the confusion and mixed emotions that surrounded the dark aspect of the theater. I can completely understand how people slightly were freaked out about being next to strangers in a dark area. Today theaters aren’t as dark but it’s still an interesting experience to sit next to strangers in a pretty dark confined space.

Lastly, I like the way the Fuller systematically takes us through the process of how nickelodeons tried to attract people from their advertisements, exterior displays, and film programming. I was really able to get a feel of the process that these film exhibitioners went through when deciding on how to present films and what resources they had. It’s amazing that films were produced in the hundreds a week and that nickelodeons could change there programs each day! We have the same programming in theaters with slight weekly changes for about three weeks now if not more! Of course then their movies were about 5 minutes so it’s very understandable to see why things are different now.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Make 'em Laugh

Kramer: “Slapstick comedy…[was] crucial for the film industry’s production of short films and its overall programming strategies.” Cinema during the 1920s needed to transition from an elementary medium that focused on astonishment and gags for the credulous audience to forming a distinct narrative plot line that incorporated the cinema of attraction. The shorts from 1904-1906 display the film medium briefly establishing a character to identify with and then astonishment ensues. These movies were successful because they catered to a credulous audience that watched movies just for the featured spectacle. In Coney Island the character is Coney Island and viewers are immediately supposed to be wowed by the amazing light show. The next year, 1906, Dream of the Rarebit Fiend establishes a character and a reason for the attraction. Establishing the character and his actions, he ate and drank too much, is created in order for the film to implement its “wow” factors for the audience. Slapstick comedies were placed right beside these attractions on screen and or on stage. Especially during the transition from stage to the screen, stage performances would sometimes occur right before Chaplin would appear on screen. However, as time went on the astonishment factor was not enough and the credulous viewer started to become incredulous. The audience demanded more.

The audience had become desensitized to the 3-5 minute slapstick stage acts and special effects on screen. The film industry needed the audience to not look for the astonishment but to become concerned with the story. From there the incredulous viewer would be sucked into the reasons and opportunities for the actors to fall into situations that provided astounding effects. Steamboat Bill Jr. accomplishes this balanced medium in 1929. The film sets up a narrative and uses slapstick comedian Buster Keaton to work within this story first spectacle second model and then take advantages of moments that allow for comedic acts and tricks. The story provided many an opportunities for the audience to expand their entertainment into gaining pleasure from knowing what to expect from Keaton but getting involved in a love story that provided many opportunities for him to display, what he did best, his amazing acrobatic and comedic talents. Now we see that cinema learned how to use the old feature of slapstick comedy by weaving it into a narrative to keep the audience concerned with characters while entertaining them situations that resulted in slapstick comedy.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Laterna Magika

Laterna Magika is a very cool and “fresh” concept. I say “fresh” because I know that it has been around for decades but it is a medium that is not commonly used in mainstream performances. Reading this article after reading Kramer’s article on the interweaving aspect of theater and cinema makes Laterna Magika almost look like the baby of Kramer’s thoughts. Imagine if Keaton was able to act out his stunts on stage while simultaneously trying to out do his onscreen character. Obviously Laterna Magika goes further than that though. It’s a great opportunity for theater to use film aspects to further the audience’s experiences, present character depth/insights, and a range of other previously recorded aspects to this performance. What Burian mentions in this article is that this medium needed its own scripted play for itself. With this great opportunity comes a very good chance to mess it up and material needs to be made specifically for it, as directors started to do.

What really stood out to be in this article was one person’s integration of television, that were showing a live actor somewhere else that could react to what people onstage and onscreen where doing. The show is more theater now than film of course, but presents a neat interaction. Also, the audience could start to get involved with the way that these performances play out, for example a screen could show the audience, actors could address them at times, and ask the on screen character (the audience) what to do in a situation, thus making every performance different. Either way, I can’t wait to see one of these Laterna Magika shows.

I keep thinking about if this medium should or could be implemented into mainstream theaters and I keep coming up with no and no. It should be integrated with theater. Film right now from a completely technical and presentation standpoint could not support this format. Theater is far better suited to handle this format because of the acting space and access to stage actors.

A Slapstick Comedian at the Crossroads

Kramer too easily glosses over the differences between stage acting and film acting. There is a distinct way that actors have to transform their acting techniques from theatrical moves into filmic gestures. At the end of this article he talks about how actors in the 20th century do the same thing as Keaton did. He says that the two mediums "can be seen as complimentary" however there is still a great divide between theater and film performances as well as competition for audiences between the two. Keaton was able to easily make the switch from Vaudeville to musical theater to the "dirty screen" because he did the same thing in all of these acts. It was slapstick comedy in every instance and the way that he performed most likely didn't change drastically. Probably what changed the most was his ability to pull of more complex stunts when he got to the medium of film, which was mentioned in this article. I have not seen his "The Three Keatons" act but I feel that they could not have been drastically different than what he was doing in Steamboat Bill, Jr. He is carrying out the same interactions with this actor that he probably did with his father.

As the article mentions, studios were looking to grab slapstick comedians because this is what was bringing audiences to theaters. It was easy for them to scoop these acts up, even though pay was less, because these actors didn't need to drastically change their performances. It might have even been easier for these actors then ones now because they didn't even need to talk. Everything was silent so their gestures just got bigger and their stunts more elaborate. This is much easier than someone going from the theatre to the screen now days because acting styles are very different.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Boundaries of Participation

I think this article did a good job at describing the ways that the audience interacted with films and the way the films were represented in society. The distinction between lower and upper class audience attendance is interesting to look at. She says that movies were perceived to be lower class when films were pre-narrative. During this time people would participate more in the film whereas when the films started becoming more narrative based the audience became more subdued and sat silently in their seats. What would be said about todays society and the way we watch films. She briefly touches on this at the end of the article by saying that people are starting to talk more again because of the fact that there are signs asking people not to speak during the movie. But what about those attending films. Are films going back to a lower class audience attendance? I think that audience participation is making a strong comeback especially with the popular interactions that people take with making their own spoof videos and remixes on youtube. Kathryn speaks about an experiment with the audience having their pictures being cast on the screen to be seen next to movie stars. This is what we are doing now, remaking movies with our own takes on what we liked, didn't or however we want to interact with the films. Magazines provide ample information to read, see, and learn about actors fans more than ever have complete access to the characters and actors that they see on screen. I think that with the lull in audience participation during the talkie films, I think participation quickly picked up again just more outside of the theater and into everyday live of moviegoers.

Also, this article mentions that people brought bag lunches and there were people selling peanuts. This answers part of my question about food during the early 1900's.

At The Picture Show (ATPS): Preface and Chapter 1

Kathryn Fuller does a good job at describing the small-town movie scene in Cooperstown. One thing that immediately stuck out to me is the attention span comment that she made about audiences back in 1896. She claims that Bert and Fannie Cook were very popular because they realized the audiences desire to not only watch short films but to be entertained by other means such as people singing, music to accompany action, and other such attractions. It took me to the topic that always comes up with audiences and youth culture now. Back then there were 20-25 short films within the time span of two hours and now we have 2 and a half hour plus movies, dare we compare. I know this is before the narratives were completely formed but it's definitely worth taking note of when people try to make the comment that audiences have short attention spans.

It's pretty neat to see all the competition that quickly arose with traveling cinemas as well as the adaptation that these groups had to quickly do with the introduction of nickelodeons. It was awesome to see how audiences grew tired of having the same traveling acts exhibit the same films, which led to nickelodeon's being instated so they could set up shop and receive many new films and immediately implement them, which changed the industry demand for a consistent pipeline of new films.

This whole time I did wonder when popcorn became a staple and what people ate during these shows. If they did resemble Vaudeville type environments, what were they eating at these attractions? Not that this is a big deal, I am just curios to know what foods people started to bring or that were sold during these events. Because if these were traveling shows, did they get profits from vending food at the given establishment or did the theater provide the food services? Just some "food" for thought.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

An Aesthetic of Astonishment

This article was great to read because it broke down and demystified the stereotypes of the “first audience” reactions to Arrival of a Train at the Station. What I found interesting was the many different takes that authors from then and now have on it. I particularly like Gorky’s interpretation that the viewers were experiencing doubt and belief at the same time. Last year professor Keathley made a great comparison to this mythic audience to people trying to touch holograms now. Like Gorky said, we know that these presentations are illusions however we are shocked at the event that is unfolding before us. The Trump l’oeil is active here and will continue to be active. If you think about it whenever we look at a representation such as film, photography, projections, etc. we are always looking at a representation of life. Aren’t these already manifestations that cause the viewer to judge based on realism? If we belief the image is in fact real because it was taken somewhere at some point in time aren’t we falling subject to believing everything we see, when in fact it is a real event that is altered by the photographer? It is he that is causing or allowing us to feel these feeling of thrill, joy, excitement, that we get from whatever medium we are consuming it through.

Kracauer, I believe, also explains the reason for 3D’s success during recessions. During recessions there is a general pessimism to life or negative outlook that causes a lack of excitement. People need to feel a thrill again and since narrative forms of media have shown to be what films are structured around now, it makes sense that people want to feel a thrill within these constructs.

The Cinema of Attraction

It’s cool to learn about early cinema and the form of presentation that it took on. As not being quite a theatrical performance it was very interested in not keeping to a narrative story line but to a watch an event occur. To capture the viewer by showing an elephant be executed or women undress. It was this type of voyeuristic, watching of events that people came to watch. The cinema of attraction was a movement that showed audiences’ events rather than telling them about them. It was a neat experience and interaction that went on between the two parties. On one-side filmmakers wanted to dazzle the audience and engage them by acknowledging them while the audiences gave their eyes to the filmmaker and presenter in trusting them to be wowed. It was a mutual understanding, I feel, that these two parties didn’t mind being involved in. Whereas now, audiences may react negatively to being acknowledged when the self-contained screen world is broken and their suspension of disbelief is intruded upon. Films back then were different in their aims because they aimed to create amusements for people not through their narrative but through events. It seemed like a great atmosphere where the audience participated with the films by reacting be it yelling at the screen or jumping in their seats. It reminds me of the cult movies, for example The Rocky Horror Picture show, wear audiences see this as a social event, recite lines together, bring props, etc. all while watching a narrative film. This is a cool aspect of films now, but to my knowledge has not been utilized too often. I think there is a great opportunity for audience participation to occur in theaters once again and very well may bring people to the theater not only to be passive participants but active in their involvement with the material presented.