Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Two Sides To Everything (and a bit in the middle) Structuralism & Binary Opposition

This week's lecture focussed on 'binary opposition', a term which I was unfamiliar with. Ivan began explaining the term using the idea that humans think in halves - what something is and (more importantly) what it isn't. Many oppositions imply or are used in such a way that privileges one of the terms, creating a sort of hierarchy.
I like the idea that nothing can entirely exist at one extreme of the scale - whilst the majority of us would say that Hitler was an evil man, I'm pretty sure that his dog and girlfriend liked him. This is an extreme example but it helps to illustrate my point. In Stanley Kubrick's 'A Clockwork Orange', there is no denying that the character of Alex DeLarge exists at the less favoured end of the scale. He is a teenager obsessed with rape, murder and theft, or as Alex himself calls it 'ultraviolence'. Everything about him suggests that he is an evil person, however I did not find myself hating his character. Throughout the film, Alex refers to the viewers as "my friends" and himself as "your humble narrator" which helps to establish a relationship and almost win the viewer over to his side.
This got me thinking that maybe Alex also belongs in this anomalous zone. There is no doubt that he is not a good person, but I would argue that the majority of people watching this film would not dismiss him as 'evil'. 

In my opinion the idea of the 'zone of anomaly', the space between these two opposites, is far more interesting than either extremes of the scale. This is the area from which we get monsters, vampires, mummies, mermaids, zombies and superheroes. I think it would also be safe to say here that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are probably the ultimate in 'anomalous zone' characters. Im not exaclty sure which opposites they lie between but they definitely belong in some sort of 'grey' area. 

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Intertextuality - 'Nothing New'

Since Thursday's lecture and seminar this intertextuality thing seems to be cropping up all over the place. I finally got round to watching This is England over the weekend and the very final scene is the main character, Shaun standing on the beach looking out to sea. The camera moves around his head, starting behind him until it finally looks him square in the face. In the last second of the film Shaun's eyes move from looking past the camera and out to sea to looking directly into the lens, making it seem as though he is looking directly at the viewer. Making connections is what intertextuality is all about and this final shot was an exact copy of a film that I watched for my French A Level, Les 400 coups.

This was a conscious choice made by the director of 'This Is England', Shane Meadows as a nod to 'Les 400 coups' director Francois Truffaut. If I'm not mistaken, I think that this is an example of what intertextuality is all about: art imitating art, connections and interactions between two or more contexts, something that alludes to something else. 

In terms of character creation, all model makers need a starting point and various references to develop their ideas. 'Nobody creates in a vacuum'. This idea got me thinking about an exhibition I had seen in America which showed the development of various Disney characters from the initial character description right the way through to the final design. I realise that most people will be writing about horror or sci-fi films on their blogs but there's nothing wrong with a bit of Disney every once in a while. One of the most interesting characters that was featured in this exhibition was Carl Fredricksen from the 2009 Disney Pixar film Up. The people in charge of character creation based Carl on Spencer Tracy in the film Guess Who's Coming To Dinner. I like the idea that these people must have gone through a whole list of various curmudgeonly characters in order to decide on the best design for Carl.

A lot of films and particularly programmes such as Family Guy and South Park use intertextuality as a comedic device. There is something funny about well known scenes being recreated in a different context. For example, one of the most iconic scenes in film history is the shower scene from the 1960 Alfred Hitchcock film Psycho

This scene has been recreated numerous times, but by far the best has to be in Mel Brooks' 1977 comedy, High Anxiety. In this scene, a furious bellboy who has been constantly hounded for a newspaper by Brooks' character, Dr. Richard Thorndyke, bursts into his bathroom whilst he is showering and 'stabs' him with the rolled up newspaper.

I think that this scene has been done brilliantly, with a lot of the camera angles replecating those from the original. Every memorable moment from this scene has been reinterpreted to make the viewer laugh instead of scream; the motionless eye, the ink running down the plughole instead of blood, the curtain being ripped down, even the bellboy's screams are made to sound like the piercing music which plays during the 1960 version. This is intertextuality at its very best.