SO1E10: Christmas Special

In this episode:

Ann-Marie, Kat, Maria, and Zahra discuss the adaptation of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens with an in-depth discussion of The Muppets Christmas Carol (Brian Henson, 1992).

Discussion:
  • Summary of A Christmas Carol (Note: visited by his dead friend not friends. Too busy thinking about The Muppets Christmas Carol!)
  • Victorian London and the inspiration for the novel.
  • Christmas horror films with a focus on Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (Jalmari Helander, 2010) and Krampus (Michael Dougherty, 2015).
  • British broadcast history at Christmas since the 1970s.
  • English ghost stories and periodical literature.
  • Victorian print culture at Christmas.
  • Why the story of Scrooge is so appealing to filmmakers.
  • How Dickens’ writing is cinematic.
  • Social class and the French New Wave.
  • How Scrooge’s experience is like cinema viewership.
  • The history of The Muppets.
  • The Muppets as stars.
  • A discussion on The Muppets and Disney.
  • An in-depth discussion of The Muppets Christmas Carol.

If you enjoyed this, support us on Patreon for more content.

Goldie Hawn: Performing Dumb and Acting Smart

An analysis to accompany SO1EO9 by Dr Ann-Marie Fleming

Cultural assumptions about a performer are based on cultural stereotypes and performance signs which are formed, at least in part, by the cultural context in which the performer is situated. Performance signs such as facial expressions, voice, gestures, body posture and body movements, as Richard Dyer notes in his seminal work Stars, have no ‘meaning of itself, but only by virtue of its cultural context’ (Dyer, 1979: 133). Goldie Hawn, as a rising star in the 1960s, adopts the coded behaviour and movements of the time, as best shown in the bikini dance scenes of Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In (1967-1973). Hawn’s body movements and posture is most noticeably derived from her background as a Go Go dancer, a popular dance craze of the era. However, the facial expressions, voice, and gestures are formed from cultural stereotypes about blonde women. Hawn’s role in Laugh-In, once more, is integral to this formation. Cast as the dumb blonde, Hawn would perform with a high-pitched voice and would regularly appear unaware with wide eyes and open mouth. Hawn’s performance signs, then, are dictated by both a cultural trend of which she was a part, and a sexist assumption about women.

A star, as shown above, is a product of the cultural context in which they rise to fame. From this rise, an idiolect forms and creates certain expectations about both the performance and the star. Due to this, a performer may find it difficult to remove oneself from earlier expectations as it was here that a fan base was formed. Equally, ‘because stars are always appearing in different stories and settings, they must stay basically the same in order to permit recognition and identification.’ (Dyer, 1979: 98).

Throughout her career Hawn did not rid herself of her dumb blonde associations. Instead, she provided a type of resistance to it through the actions of her characters. This play against expectation, however, did not harm the star’s career because Hawn would continue to use earlier performance signs, therefore performing dumb, whilst the characters would push gender boundaries or come up with unexpected ideas and comebacks.

The dichotomy between the exterior performance and the interior performance shifted Hawn to a not-so-dumb blonde. More importantly, it gave her an added comic genius. The roles were not superficial and the characters had a complex interiority, which combined with Hawn’s timing and dialogue delivery, provide fascinating examples of female comedy at a time when few were given the opportunity to shine.

Bibliography:

Dyer, Richard (1979). Stars. London: BFI

SO1EO9: Goldie Hawn: The Not-So-Dumb Blonde

In this episode:

Dr Ann-Marie Fleming discusses the star image of Goldie Hawn with an in-depth analysis of The Christmas Chronicles 2 (Chris Columbus, 2020).

Discussion:
  • How to approach stardom and Richard Dyer’s seminal text.
  • Goldie Hawn’s career.
  • Goldie Hawn’s early star image.
  • The way a star image can alter over time.
  • Narrative tropes.
  • The star’s image in the early 21st century.
  • An in-depth analysis of The Christmas Chronicles 2.

If you enjoyed this, read the follow-up article, Goldie Hawn: Performing Dumb and Acting Smart, and support us on Patreon for more content.

Audience and Deforestation in the Two Towers

An analysis to accompany SO1EO8 by Will Sherwood

The last march of the Ents is a momentous, pivotal moment in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (1954) and Peter Jackson’s adaption (2002). The plot that leads up to this moment however is presented as strikingly different because of the mediums of novel and film. Here I will briefly outline how Tolkien and Jackson work up to the march in order to engage the reader and audience most effectively in the story and emotions of the characters.

In the novel, Treebeard has ‘often wondered . . . what [he] should do about Saruman’ (Tolkien, 2007, p. 473). He is fully aware of Fangorn’s deforestation but has not decided what to do about the wizard. He blames himself and his heated speech changes from complex to anaphora marked simple sentences: ‘I have been idle. I have let things slip. It must stop!’ (ibid, p. 474). His fury starts to build and an Entmoot is called to decide what must be done. The meeting lasts for several days and Merry, Pippin, and the reader are not privy to its contents. Without any warning, the march suddenly begins with a ‘crash’ and a rallying marching song whose internal rhyme, anaphora, repetition, assonance, alliteration, use of Entish, exclamation marks, and short clauses strongly conveys the bubbling wrath of the Ents (ibid, p. 484):

We come, we come with roll of drum: ta-runda runda runda rom!
We come, we come with horn and drum: ta-rūna rūna rūna rom!
To Isengard! Though Isengard be ringed and barred with doors of stone;
Though Isengard be strong and hard, as cold as stone and bare as bone,
We go, we go, we go to war, to hew the stone and break the door;
For bole and bough are burning now, the furnace roars – we go to war!
To land of gloom with tramp of doom, with roll of drum, we come, we come;
          To Isengard with doom we come!
          With doom we come, with doom we come! (ibid, pp. 484 – 485).

In the novel the events take time and gradually grow in a truly Entish fashion. The reader is not included in the decision making, they are swept up in the momentum and carried along with Merry and Pippin, we are powerless to stall the ‘avalanche’ and feel a wave of sublimity and excitement (ibid, p. 496).

Jackson’s reframing of the march is dramatically different as it deliberately reveals information in a way that forces a twenty-first century audience to empathise with Treebeard. In Jackson’s adaption, Treebeard does not encounter the deforestation until after the Entmoot where it is decided that the Ents will not fight in the War of the Ring as it is ‘not [their] war’ (Jackson, 2003). When he does encounter the scars left by Saruman’s Orcs, Treebeard’s immediate horror is accentuated by the sudden fading of Howard Shore’s score and the Ent stopping mid-sentence. The camera pans out to survey the bleak, grey, dead desolation that stretches the entire valley before zooming back in to witness the sorrow that animates his face. Now, this is the first time in the theatrical cut of The Two Towers when the audience is privy to the deforestation of Fangorn which magnifies our horror. In the Extended Edition (2003), a scene is included earlier where Saruman demands an Orc burn the forest because there is not ‘enough fuel to feed the fires’ (2003). Inevitably this softens the impact of the scene with Treebeard.

To an early twenty-first century audience, this scene followed a decade of peak deforestation. The Amazon had undergone significant scarring in the 1990s where ‘over 10,000 square miles of forest could be cut down in a year’ and the National Curriculum sought to highlight the horrors of the decade (Borunda, 2019). The audience mourns with Treebeard and in turn feels his fury when the lets out a great cry across the forest, rallying Ents to his cause. Jackson makes us feel that we are a part of Treebeard’s decision making, we yearn for the Ents to enact revenge on Saruman for the abuse he has inflicted on the natural world.

Jackson utilises the visual aspect of film that Tolkien ultimately lacked to hammer home the catastrophes of deforestation. By shifting Treebeard’s revelation to within the told story, the audience connects with the Ent more deeply, becoming supporters in the campaign to stop deforestation for good. Whether Tolkien would have appreciated the adaption is up for debate but it was certainly enough to reignite a fondness for nature in many new viewers, particularly those of a younger and far more impressionable age.

Bibliography

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. 2003. [DVD] Directed by P. Jackson. New Zealand: New Line Cinema.

Tolkien, J. R. R. (2007). The Lord of the Rings. London: HarperCollins.Borunda, A. (2019). See How Much Of The Amazon Is Burning. How It Compares To Others Years. [online] National Geographic. Available at: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2019/08/amazon-fires-cause-deforestation-graphic-map/#:~:text=Amazon%20deforestation%20peaked%20in%20late%201990s%20and%20early,to%20cropland%20for%20soy%20or%20grazing%20for%20cattle (Accessed 8 November 2020].

SO1EO8: Peter Jackson’s Filmic Adaptions of J.R.R. Tolkien

In this episode:

Will Sherwood discusses the filmic adaptions of J.R.R. Tolkien with an in-depth analysis of The Two Towers (Peter Jackson, 2002).

Discussion:
  • The approaches in adaptation studies.
  • How Tolkien created a literary world.
  • Will’s upcoming co-edited collection on Tolkien’s connection to the Romantics.
  • Peter Jackson, Philipa Boyens and Fran Walsh’s adaption.
  • Peter Jackson, Philipa Boyens, and Fran Walsh’s authorial style.
  • An in-depth discussion of The Battle at Helm’s Deep in The Two Towers (Peter Jackson, 2002).
  • The landscape of New Zealand.

If you enjoyed this, read the follow-up article, Audience and Deforestation in the Two Towers, and support us on Patreon for more content.

Space, Place and Location in Dracula Untold

An analysis to accompany SO1EO7 by Oana-Maria Mazilu.

Somewhere in between discussing the success of Blue Towel Productions and a preview to my Borat rant, in our podcast episode Ann-Marie asked me whether Dracula Untold (Gary Shore, 2014) was shot in Romania and whether the backdrop looked like Romania. As I mentioned, Dracula Untold was primarily shot in Northern Ireland and in terms of making it look like Transylvania, it looks like anywhere and nowhere. In this article, I would like to expand on this answer and further consider the subject of location in relation to the digital technology used in Dracula Untold.

As much as some Romanian audiences, myself included, appreciated that Dracula Untold had integrated more of Vlad Țepeș in Dracula’s origin story, the purpose of this film was never to provide audiences with more information about Romanian history. The purpose of Dracula Untold was to make money and draw audiences in by banking on the Dracula brand, offering entertainment and spectacle. How the film banked on the Dracula brand may have been one of its primary issues. Universal, and the world’s most famous vampire, have their roots in the horror genre. However, Ann-Marie was correct to note that this Dracula had all the characteristics of a superhero. I too would argue that Dracula Untold is more a superhero movie, rather than a horror. Universal aimed to revive its classical monsters at a time when cinema screens were/are dominated by the likes of X-Men: Days of Future Past (Bryan Singer, 2014), Guardians of the Galaxy (James Gunn, 2014) and Captain America: The Winter Soldier (Anthony Russo and Joe Russo, 2014). So what if vampirism were a superpower? Just like Peter Parker, what if Vlad got bit, gained superpowers, and became your not so friendly neighbourhood vampire warlord? ….Ok, so maybe not quite like Peter Parker. Still, 2014 was a peak time for the superhero genre and audiences swarmed to such movies for entertainment. Dracula Untold also aimed to bank on this audience habit, thus also needed to meet audience expectations of a superhero film. One of these expectations is the use of digital technology, as all superhero films provide such a spectacle where the technology itself is an attraction. As digital technology was anyway going to be a point of attraction in Dracula Untold, receiving a budget accordingly, it was likely more cost-effective to digitally turn Northern Ireland into Transylvania, rather than move an entire film crew to shoot in Romania. From a business and budget point of view, the financial rationale is pretty obvious.  But does the location look like Transylvania? I stand by my initial answer that it could be anywhere and nowhere. To illustrate, consider the two images below, one of the Dracula Untold castle, and the other of the Royal Court of Târgoviște, Vlad Țepeș’s actual residence:

Dracula Untold: Castle Dracula
Romania: The Royal Court of Târgoviște (Source: Cotidianul.ro)

While the Bran Castle is “touristically” known as Dracula’s castle, it has little historical connection to Vlad Țepeș. The Royal Court of Târgoviște served as a residence for Țepeș, as Târgoviște was the capital of Wallachia at the time of his reign. In Dracula Untold, it is interesting to note that the CGI built Dracula Castle bears no resemblance to the Bran Castle, but perhaps the tower on the right-hand side is somewhat similar to the Chindia Tower in Târgoviște, built in the time of Vlad Țepeș’s rule. In exterior shots where landscape dominates, some viewers may recognise the rock formations of the Giant’s Causeway and the scenery of Divis and the Black Mountain. Even so, imagery in Dracula Untold is so digitally stylised, that the location could be Transylvania, Northern Ireland, or Mordor.

Dracula Untold is a film shot in Northern Ireland, but where viewers are constantly told that the action takes place in Transylvania. The message is constantly reinforced in the film’s narrative, particularly through dialogue. Numerous times dialogue refers to Transylvania, to Vlad’s people as Transylvanians, and other locations in Romania, such as the Cozia monastery. Without these ques, a general audience would have difficulty in gaining a sense of space by relying solely on the visuals. Thus, a very fictionalised and digitally enhanced Transylvania is depicted, but I would argue that this does not disturb a general audience. Audiences may not have prior knowledge of the specific locations in Northern Ireland or the real Transylvanian landscape but will know that Dracula comes from Transylvania, whatever this place looks like.

SO1EO7: Dracula and Romanian Cinema

In this episode:

Oana-Maria Mazilu discusses Romania’s reception of Dracula with an in-depth analysis of Dracula Untold (Gary Shore, 2014).

Discussion:
  • The character of Dracula in cinema.
  • The link between Vlad the Impaler and Dracula.
  • The vampire in Romanian cinema.
  • Dark tourism and the Dracula theme park.
  • International films that tell the story of Dracula and Romania’s reception of these films.
  • The Dracula Film Festival in Brasov.
  • An in-depth discussion of Dracula Untold (Gary Shore, 2014).

If you enjoyed this, read the follow-up article, Space, Place and Location in Dracula Untold, and support us on Patreon for more content.

SO1EO6: Halloween Special

In this episode:

Ann-Marie, Kat, Maria, and Zahra discuss the representation of witches on-screen with an in-depth discussion of Hocus Pocus (Kenny Ortega, 1993).

Discussion:
  • The origin of the witch figure in popular culture. Including: word origin, sorcerers in antiquity, real life trials of witches, and how women were defined in history.
  • How witches are presented in texts, the Nouvelle Vague, and the Day of Wrath (Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1943).
  • Patriarchal values and the perception of women as sinful.
  • Witchcraft and the ‘other’.
  • The Witch (Robert Eggers, 2015), Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), and The Little Mermaid (1989).
  • Popular culture’s perception of Romania.
  • An in-depth analysis of Miss Christina (Alexandru Maftei, 2013).
  • Gothic tropes and mis-marketing film.
  • An in-depth analysis of Beyond the Hills (Cristian Mungiu, 2012).
  • Women’s bodies as a threat.
  • Periods and shame.
  • Horror theory. Including: sexuality and Freud, the monstrous feminine, male fears, the abject, and the symbolic order.
  • Carrie (Brian De Palma, 1976).
  • Age and the representation of the witch figure.
  • Fantasy television and the positive representation of witches. Including: Bewitched (1964-1972), Sabrina the Teenage Witch (1996-2003), Charmed (1998-2006), and Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003). Note: the book mentioned here is not Bell, Book and Candle. Instead, it is Bell, Book and Camera (2018) by Heather Greene.
  • The Craft (Andrew Fleming, 1996) and Practical Magic (Griffin Dunne, 1998).
  • Children’s’ film and television, including Looney Tunes, The Wizard of Oz (Victor Fleming, 1939), and Pufnstuf (Hollingsworth Morse, 1970).
  • An in-depth discussion of Hocus Pocus.

If you enjoyed this, support us on Patreon for more content.

SO1EO5: “Catracha Soy”: Honduran Cinema’s Road to Cultural Memory and Redemption

In this episode:

Dr Zahra Tavassoli Zea discusses the national cinema of Honduras with an in-depth analysis of Berta Vive (Katia Lara, 2016) and Negra Soy (Laura Bermudez, 2017).

Discussion:
  • The reasons to discuss the national cinema of Honduras
  • The main ethnic groups in Honduras
  • Films that try to recover some of the legends and tales from Indigenous communities
  • A close analysis of Berta Vive (Katia Lara, 2016)
  • Filmmakers in Honduras
  • Zahra’s interview with director, Laura Bermudez
  • A close analysis of Negra Soy (Laura Bermudez, 2017)

If you enjoyed this, read the follow-up article, Honduran Sand is the New Marble , and support us on Patreon for more content.

Honduran Sand is the New Marble

An analysis to accompany S01E05 by Dr Zahra Tavassoli Zea

One of the most little studied facts about Cahiers du cinéma is that its most famous critics witnessed the emergence of national cinemas in the 1950s with a striking degree of scepticism. French New Wave directors such as Eric Rohmer, François Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard and Jacques Rivette were quite disturbed to see the outpouring of support and enthusiasm from the leftist press and intellectuals towards the multiplication of fiction films and documentaries from “small nations” (i.e. Third World, freshly decolonised, non-American, non-Western European countries). As Marco Grosoli recalls in his pioneering book on the “Schérer School”, Rohmer and his followers admired non-Hollywood films provided that their narrative and aesthetic forms preserved a universal reach and did not solely focused on displaying the idiosyncrasy and particularisms of their folkloric tales and customs (Grosoli 2018, 266). In relation to one of the first Greek films that gained international recognition, A Girl in Black (1956), Rohmer was not overly impressed by the way in which Michael Cacoyannis painted his characters, who lacked the depth of an internal and thereby classical contradiction: didn’t the Ancient Greeks taught us that “drama characters cannot be neither entirely guilty, nor entirely innocent”? (267).

Knowing the basics of classical Greek theatre and its revival through 17th -century French classicism has been, for many Europeans — including myself — a means to evaluate the levels of innovation and modes of self-expression which aim to supplant this western-centric (ergo universal) story-telling structure. In times which many define as one of “cultural revolution”, where racial, cultural, gender and sexual diversity is defended, celebrated and increasingly included in the domains of education, politics, arts and entertainment industries of the western world, it is quite obvious that Eric Rohmer’s opinion would be denounced, if not punished, for not complying with the predominant uncritical approval of “everything” coming from a non-white, non-wealthy, non-Western European country. I for one believe that the principle at the core of such attitude is morally misguided, if not racist in itself, since all artists, regardless of their origin, deserve a fair, objective and therefore critical assessment (just like any other “white” individual – whatever that means to the “métis” population of Central America).

As suggested during my conversation with Dr Ann-Marie Fleming, Honduras is a nation that found its independence after centuries of genocides, slavery, uprooting and neglect on behalf of its European and North American intruders. The colonisation created a composite and pluriethnic community which was taught, by the Spaniards themselves, to behave according to a Eurocentric racial hierarchy, which, to put it bluntly, was mainly based on a very wide palette of lighter and darker skin tones, since the majority of the population was already racially mixed. Typically, a Honduran family unit is composed of siblings who, despite coming from the same biological parents, possess markedly different physical features (one is blacker, the other is whiter), all resulting from genetic fluctuations within an ancestral line that is already ethnically complex. However, this does not amount to say that racial segregation is not experienced by the Honduran population — quite the contrary, sadly.

The Garífunas, the community descending from the African slaves brought to Honduras by the colonisers more than 500 years ago, not only survived the inhumane treatment given to Indigenous people, but their African origins and identity were flagrantly excluded from the narrative surrounding the Spanish and Indigenous foundations at the heart of our country’s national culture. As documented by Helen Umaña, old official documents show that Hondurans, via the influence of the Spanish, negated or made invisible the impact of African spiritual beliefs and rituals on the construction and development of Honduras’ national identity (Umaña 2017, 167-168). Given the centuries of oppression, discrimination and ostracism, the continuous existence of the Garífuna’s ancestral heritage is all the more prodigious and worth honouring and celebrating. And this is exactly what Laura Bermúdez does in Negra Soy (Black I am, 2017).

For her first non-commissioned short, Bermúdez pays tribute to her own African foremothers whose legacy she tries to rehabilitate, after centuries of being silenced, disregarded and overlooked in her own mother’s home country, Brazil, as well as in her father’s land, Honduras. While Bermúdez remains silent behind the camera, her touching portrayal of three generations of Garífuna women is interwoven with extracts of her own chosen poem by Victoria Santa Cruz, “Negra soy”, which affirms, claims and gracefully declares, through repetition, her pride in the acknowledgement, ownership and full embrace of her blackness: “Negra, negra, negra, ¿y qué? ¡Si soy negra! Negra soy.” The strong matriarchal system of the “garínagu” people — too often related to the fathers’ abandonment of their responsibilities and notorious absence — is also represented through spontaneous interviews and moments of sharing with the local families of Punta Gorda, in the Honduran island of Roatán. Both Santa Cruz’s poem and the lyrics of the traditional song (which is performed in its own Garífuna language) coincide with the life stories, struggles and aspirations of Bermúdez’s female figures: the grandmother, the mother and the daughter.

Without giving names or details on the affiliation of her three main characters, Bermúdez carefully sails between local specificities (through, for instance, shots of hands grating coconut, fishing boats, fish being fried, mural art, clothes drying in the sun) and universalism (via aesthetics strategies like wide angle shots, low angle shots, slow motion, backlighting shots, traveling shots and close-ups). To Rohmer’s delight, she ensures the universal reach of her film through contemplative samples of the extraordinary natural environment she had at her disposal, and musically, by reconnecting with the spiritual dimension of the land. Hearing the melody of the seashell horn and the palpitations of the Garífuna drum in the middle of this chaotic year has the effect of the divine announcement of a new world order. Her rhythmic montage, which alternates between a quiet, reverential observation and a more active search for poetic associations by breaking down spatial continuity, proves that Bermúdez does not separate her scientific work, as a documentary filmmaker, with her own soul-searching process. And it is precisely in this very quest of her own identity, through the exterior expression of the Garífuna women’s contemporary reality, that lies the inner conflict, and as such, the tragic beauty of Laura Bermúdez, as a new Honduran author.

Everything in the natural surrounding of the Garífuna community connotes freedom: the joyful colours, the endless ocean, the straightforward contact with fished food and the cut open coconut water. As we listen to the women, Bermúdez reminds the spectator of the invisible ropes that, after hundreds of generations, continue to obstruct the Garífuna women’s acquisition of independence and right of choice in determining their own destiny. By addressing this oscillation between happiness and hard work, between emancipation and obligations, Bermúdez elevates her heroines to the level of classical goddesses, who inspire respect, hope and admiration, with a hint of fear — because, like Greek deities, the Garífunas are here to stay.

Works Cited:

Grosoli, M. (2018). Eric Rohmer’s Film Theory (1948-1953): From ‘Ecole Schérer’ to ‘Politique des Auteurs’. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.

Umaña, H. (2017). Literatura y tradición oral de los pueblos originarios y afrohondureños. Tegucigalpa: Editorial Universitaria/Centro de Arte y Cultural UNAH.