‘The person I have chosen to couple up with is…’

By Dr Nigel Mather

Difficult decisions, tempestuous times and complex relationships in Love Island (2021).

Caliban: ‘Be not afeard, the isle is full of noises/Sounds and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not’ (Act 3: Scene 3).

William Shakespeare, The Tempest (1611), Act 5: Scene 1.

Faye: ‘It’s so done, it’s unreal’: Love Island (2021).

The seventh series of the ITV 2 programme Love Island began in the summer of 2021 as England sought success in the Euro 2020 football tournament and drew to a close as American and British forces and personnel left Afghanistan after a presence there of nearly twenty years. In other words, the series often faced stiff opposition in gaining the full attention of viewers and spectators and of proving itself to be a compelling, worthwhile and rewarding televisual experience. Viewpoints will vary as to the entertainment and moral value of Love Island 2021, but, arguably, few programmes this year – at least those not involving Piers Morgan – have generated as much online discussion and debate on an ongoing basis. This essay will seek to explore and unravel some of the key dramatic and psychological mechanisms and character/contestant manipulations out of which the show generates its series of accumulative mini-character narratives and story arcs, and consider what the series may have demonstrated or suggested about British male-female relationships and interactions, circa 2021.

     Love Island is not a place which that iconic British fictional character Robinson Crusoe would recognise or respect, and indeed the kind of isolation endured by Crusoe whilst marooned on his island would be completely out of place on Love Island, where contestants all sleep in the same room, privacy is non-existent and nobody ever does any work. If Love Island is all about communality and community, as the selected islanders search for love, sexual intimacy (and a possible cash prize of £50,00 if they make it through to the final), it is, above all else, concerned with the contestants’ pairing off with each other and forming couples which may or may not prove to be permanent during the show’s eight-week run. The long-term aim for each couple may be to win the 50,000 pounds, but as in a real-life scenario involving being shipwrecked on a desert island – without the obvious physical dangers which such an experience might involve – Love Island does emphasise the importance of survival, of not being evicted from the villa and of living to fight another day, so to speak. Couples deemed incompatible by other islanders or contestants who find themselves unwillingly single are sent home from the villa on an almost nightly basis. This is the most transparent means by which the producers create suspense and encourage viewers to tune in to the following evening’s edition of the programme. Despite Love Island coming under the category of a competition with a significant cash prize attached, contestants tend to disapprove of anyone who appears to be openly or covertly ‘playing a game’ and those taking part do not draw attention to or acknowledge the cameras covering their (nearly) every move.  Although everything builds up  towards the final, that concluding episode might be viewed as something of an anti-climax, the real drama and humour emerging from the process and the journey, rather than from the end-product and final result. And even the biggest fans of Love Island might feel that this year’s series did go on for a bit too long; few people, particularly during a pandemic, were able to go on a vacation abroad which lasted for two months…

    Love Island focuses solely on male-female romantic and sexual relationships (it would be fascinating to see what would happen if a contestant chose to couple up with a member of his or her own sex), which might make the concept of the programme outdated, regressive and severely limiting for some viewers. The constant introduction of new contestants (‘bombshells’) as the show proceeds inevitably leads to changes within the couples formed, but once a steady or ‘exclusive’ couple have established themselves, fidelity and monogamy become key concerns, with much of the show’s 2021 drama stemming from a concern on the part of the women islanders that their chosen male partner may be being unfaithful to them (a situation intensified by the introduction of a separate villa for the male islanders – Casa Amor – halfway through the show’s run. In this new setting, the original male contestants are introduced to new female islanders eager to get a kind of ‘green card’ allowing entry to the main villa and integration into the community when the men return ‘home’).

    Generically, as befits a programme which can be viewed as the lovechild of Big Brother (2000-2018)and Celebrity Love Island (2005-2006)[i], Love Island offers a hybrid mix of drama and documentary, fiction and reality, involving soap opera-type plot twists and melodramatic events, and featuring moments of ‘low comedy’ evoking 1970s British ‘Confessions Of’ and ‘Carry On’ movies in which the contestants take part in the kind of ‘saucy’ and sexually suggestive games once associated with ‘18 to 30’ holidays. Such sequences can and do, however, lead on to very different kinds of scenes and scenarios where the contestants probe, investigate and dissect the relationships developing and unfolding in the villa in microscopic and minute detail. These moments of acute psychological analysis and in-depth exploration at times resemble those undertaken by the more tortured characters of Ingmar Bergman’s chamber and ‘island’ films and the plays of Tennessee Williams with claustrophobic settings; thus, revealing just what a distinctive and diverse set of elements Love Island is composed of. These scenes of intense drama tend to be what sparks of most of the online discussions about the programme and are, subsequently central to the perceived success or failure of a particular series. If everyone treated the scenario for what it ostensibly is, an extended summer holiday for attractive men and women, and all concerned got along amicably and did not seek to form romantic and sexual bonds which might last a lifetime, then the producers would have to more overtly stir up tensions in order to create antipathy and antagonism amongst the islanders of a Lord of the Flies (William Golding, 1954) nature.

    Temporally, each episode begins with a continuation of events unfolding in the previous night’s edition, with contestants then being shown going to bed at the same time (everyone sleeps in the same room, which resembles a school dormitory, even down to ‘lights out’ at a certain time). Women and men in a relationship sleep in the same bed. If these couples engage in sexual relations during the night, these interactions are not shown on primetime television, but as the 2021 series progressed, allusions to sexual activity taking place became more pronounced, culminating in a somewhat bizarre (and tacky?) sequence whereby the women were awarded ‘degrees’ of attainment according to how far they had engaged in full sexual activities with their particular partner. These ‘awards’ were awarded by Priya, a late entrant to the show, and trainee doctor in real life. Priya, herself, did not receive such an accolade and her time on Love Island was cut short after she failed to bond with Brett, a fellow intellectual, doing a PhD in Sports Science.

    Differing parts of the day’s and evening’s events are divided up by advertisement breaks, creating a real sense of time gradually passing on this seemingly endless holiday (the 2021 series lasted for nearly fifty episodes). Each edition of the programme moves towards a cliff-hanger conclusion where the contestants receive a text and are summoned to the seminal setting of the firepit. Here numerous couplings and recouplings take place and one or more islanders consistently face the prospect of being (in the show’s terminology) suddenly and immediately ‘dumped’ from the island. Those asked to leave are filmed pulling a small suitcase on wheels out of the villa, the evictions possibly taking place in the middle of the night.

    The harshness – some might say cruelty – of this process of selection and re-selection, coupling and recoupling, means that the contestants constantly live under the pressure of not making the grade, of being found wanting and lacking in terms of personality, desirability and attractiveness, and of being summarily dismissed from their current job (i.e., being a contestant on Love Island). If much of the show in its happier moments is devoted to celebrating the formation and consolidation of female-male relationships and demonstrating the pleasures and rewards of same-sex friendships along the way, equally, the programme does not shy away from revealing that not everyone is going to find sexual, emotional and romantic happiness within its sun-drenched location (the island is, thus, notably not a utopian setting). A somewhat Darwinian element can, hence, be detected in the very heart and centre of the show; only the loveliest, the most adaptable, desirable and ‘fittest’ get to survive and prosper to the very end; and even then, only one couple in particular is rewarded financially at the close (it is not clear if the contestants are paid for their participation in the show).

   If life in much earlier centuries was perceived as involving suffering and hardship before death inevitably intervened and the gates of heaven, hell and purgatory opened and loomed large ahead, Love Island concentrates on finding sensual and emotional satisfaction in the here-and-now, but this search is presented as a tortuous and perilous one, with many false roads, futile detours and potential disappointments. In between the fifth and seventh series of the programme, the show’s presenter Caroline Flack (1979-2020) committed suicide whilst facing charges pertaining to domestic violence against her boyfriend. This inevitably leaves something of a tragic shadow hanging over the programme’s depiction of tempestuous, mercurial and sometimes tormented relationships. Laura Whitmore subsequently took over from Flack as the show’s 2021 anchor and presenter of the show (although she rarely appears in the villa itself). Whitmore’s husband, comedian Iain Stirling, provides a wry, sarcastic and sceptical view of proceedings in voice-over form throughout each episode (interestingly, he is heard but never seen on the programme), so that a husband-and-wife partnership might be perceived to be acting as a kind of surrogate mother-and-father team behind the scenes, working for the ultimate good and well-being of the islanders, despite the gossiping, disagreements and evictions which are a regular part of each episode. (Stirling’s humorous observations are presumably included to suggest that despite the sometimes-dark nature of the material, audiences should mark Prospero’s advice in The Tempest to a worried Miranda, when he tells her, ‘Be collected/ No more amazement. Tell your piteous heart/ There’s no harm done’ [Act 1: Scene 2].)

    If the 1969 film Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (Paul Mazursky) had its eponymous characters contemplating group sex, the final of Love Island (2021) featured four couples – Millie and Liam, Chloe and Toby, Faye and Teddy, Kaz and Tyler – vying to be crowned winners for being the most compatible and likeable island couple as voted for by viewers of the show. The initial favourites to win the show – Liberty and Jake – who had formed an exclusive couple almost from the start, broke up just as the final approached and each left the villa voluntarily. (It is very rare for contestants to leave of their own accord.) Liberty and Jake, with their respective pronounced Birmingham and Bristolian accents, had stood out from the other islanders in terms of the seemingly solid and untroubled nature of their relationship. All this was to change in the final two weeks, however, as producers (or/and the couple themselves) decided to reflect deeply on how far their relationship was likely to last outside the villa and was genuine on both sides. Fellow contestants and online commentators were not slow to notice that Jake rhymed with fake and snake, and as the couple became ever more introspective and unhappy, each decided that it would be inappropriate for them to be present in the final show and thus eligible to win the competition (the concluding stages of Love Island should be based around happy, not sad occasions, noted Liberty, philosophically). Living up to her name, Liberty sought liberty by leaving the island villa. The deterioration in the relationship of this likeable couple was a distressing spectacle to witness and one might question whether such relentless soul-searching is really necessary or mentally healthy for two young people, who have, after all, met on what is essentially an extended summer holiday (albeit, one broadcast on national television). It would seem, though, that every couple must have their own story arc and Liberty and Jake, perhaps, paid the price for their share of dramatic narrative coming only when the show was nearing its completion.

    Unhappiness and disappointment were also associated with contestant Hugo, described as the show’s first disabled islander because of being born with a club foot. He summed up his time in the villa as ‘tragic’ when he was voted out several weeks before the end of the series. By the use of this strong term, he was alluding to the fact that he had not succeeded in forming a relationship with a female contestant during his time there. Initially, the majority of online commentators felt sorry for him, although sympathy was in shorter supply later on as he spurned a contestant (Georgia) who entered the show at a late stage, and who appeared to have been brought in because she was keen to enter into a relationship with him. Later, Hugo did succeed in gaining an apparent girlfriend (Amy) to accompany him on his departure from Casa Amor and return to the villa, but this relationship fizzled out, and he was to accuse Amy in a post-show interview of using him simply to gain access to the final stages of the Love Island series.  

    All this sub-drama was mild, however, compared to the controversy stirred up by Faye and her relationship with Teddy. Ally Ross in his TV column in The Sun claimed that ITV ‘had a dud series on their hands, which meant that someone had to be thrown to the wolves to raise the show’s profile’ and to maintain viewer interest at a late stage in the proceedings. Ross claimed that residential lettings manager, Faye was led by producers in a segment entitled ‘Mad Movies’ to conclude that boyfriend Teddy had been emotionally unfaithful to her during his stay in Case Amor (this despite the fact that she had recoupled up with someone else during his absence from the villa). Faye, who had already become known in the series for her forthright and uncompromising manner, subsequently entered into a blistering, expletive-ridden and highly aggressive and sustained rant and tirade at Teddy. Islanders who tried to calm down Faye were told to mind their own business and her behaviour appeared to shock and disgust most viewers and commentators (there were reputedly 25,000 complaints made to TV regulator, Ofcom, about her conduct). Ross noted that Faye did not ‘let up until she’d told every single part of Teddy to ‘Fuck off’, including his sandals’.[ii]  

    An episode aired several days later did show Faye expressing remorse and regret about her behaviour, but viewers were left wondering how far this apology was prompted by producers now worried about the show’s reputation, and how far this stemmed from a feeling deep within Faye herself that her behaviour was unacceptable, threatening and disturbing. Some online commentators wondered how Faye might act in a similar situation that was not being recoded for public viewing. Others wondered why the producers had not intervened and how they had come to the conclusion that this was fit and edifying viewing for TV audiences. Numerous online commentators claimed that if a male contestant had acted in a similar way and manner, he would have been escorted off the premises by security staff and evicted from the villa. Faye, in a reunion Love Island special on the 5th of September, 2021,did have the wit and humility to comment that if she had been watching such a performance from a contestant on the show at home, she ‘would have been complaining about it too’. Despite this unpleasantness, Faye and Teddy did reunite as a couple and were voted third in the show’s final, so forgiveness from the viewing public and Teddy was clearly evident in the attaining of this result. When the couples in the final show were required to write a speech praising their partner’s qualities, Faye was the only contestant to write a speech in the form of a rhyming poem, showing that obscene cursing, ‘Caliban-style’, was not her only way of expressing herself.

    To view Jake and Liberty, Hugo/Georgia/Amy and Faye and Teddy’s experiences retrospectively, and try to make sense of what befell them, and what they brought upon themselves,  one might say that the Love Island production team are trying to bring about happy endings where possible, but that the aim of the show is to test these relationships as fully as possible, so that only those relationships which might stand the test of time (or at least survive until the show is over) are prioritised and privileged. Male and women contestants are shown not just entering into relationships, but constantly, actively, reflecting on these same relationships and whether they are all that they should be. ‘Compatibility’ became a key term as the series neared its conclusion and contestants were forced to rank and evaluate the status, well-being and future prospects of their fellow islanders, an activity which unsurprisingly led to some heated arguments and disagreements.

    Thus, in its concern with the ebbs and flows of human relationships in their sometimes rawest and almost primordial states of being, Love Island, arguably,has links with the novels and short stories of D.H. Lawrence (one can imagine this particular author finding fiery Faye to be the islander who interested and fascinated him most of all). One might also make links with certain plays of Shakespeare and such dramas as Romeo and Juliet (1597) and The Taming of the Shrew (1592). The most dramatic Love Island scenes take place around the firepit on eviction/recoupling nights, evoking the beginning of King Lear (1606) where the ageing King divides up his kingdom and relationships all around him subsequently turn very sour indeed. One thinks also inevitably of The Tempest with its secluded and self-contained island setting where the ethereal Ariel uneasily interacts with the all-too physical and unattractive Caliban. Stretching the imagination quite widely (some might say wildly), the producers and their representative, presenter Laura Whitmore might be seen as ‘Prospero-like’ figures, forever creating dramatic situations and scenarios in order to reveal, test and challenge the islanders’ true nature and character. The final of Love Island,with eight ‘characters’ left standing on the stage, resembles a number of the conclusions to Shakespeare’s comedies, romances and problem plays, where characters are finally paired off and proceedings conclude on some note of hopefulness and optimism. Those who made the final of Love Island 2021 did not do so without a considerable struggle, echoingProspero’s words in The Tempest that this ‘swift business’ which he embarks upon, he ‘must uneasy make, lest too light winning/Make the prize light’ (Act 1: Scene 2). Few reality television programmes, arguably, make as strong demands on its contestants as Love Island does, even though those taking part in the show may seem to be doing no more than lazing around in the sun and having a hedonistic time without a worry in the world.

    The four couples in the programme’s final were composed of one white couple, three mixed race relationships and one black couple, which could be viewed as indicating that Britain is in some ways becoming a more genuinely multi-cultural and integrated society. The only all white couple in the final (Liam and Millie) were voted the eventual winners by a public vote and their main dilemma was how they would overcome the fact that they lived in very different parts of the country (Liam: South Wales: Millie: Essex). Before entering the villa, contestants in the 2021 series had apparently been pursuing a range of occupations, including waitressing, plumbing (aka a water engineer), hairdressing, working in the Civil Service, studying, and in the case of Amy, acting/ performing. Their working lives were rarely the topic of conversation, however, as everything was focused on life in the villa in the here-and-now. When pop singer Mabel was unexpectedly brought into the villa to perform a few of her songs for the islanders, her appearance was brief and she was not shown speaking to the contestants or being given a guided tour of the Love Island setting.

    All of the couples in the closing night of the competition appeared to be vowing eternal love and dedication to each other, but, naturally such togetherness cannot (and perhaps should not) be guaranteed. When their relationships are no longer followed by cameras 24/7, and public interest inevitably fades, these made-on and made-for TV relationships may start to falter and possibly crumble. John Updike in his Memories of the Ford Administration: A Novel (1992) writes of ‘How quickly we become history, while wanting always to be news’.[iii] But the same author also concluded his seminal novel, Couples (1969) by stating that a couple, who had become notorious and disliked in their original setting, eventually found solace and acceptance ‘gradually, among people like themselves’, where they were accepted as just ‘another couple’.[iv]

    Successful couples amongst the Islanders may not wish to become too much like other people on their return to British shores, as there can be money to be made from lucrative advertising and promotional deals whilst their names are common currency in British culture. But one should not underestimate how difficult the transition to everyday mundanity may be; or, how for many of the contestants, this may be the most exciting and eventful few weeks of their life. A segment of the show did ponder the possible future when contestants and couples had to look after a pretend baby in the form of a white or black baby doll. Whilst this competition was played largely for laughs, the women did not enjoy the constant crying of their ‘babies’, and they were not pleased when the male contestants were relieved of baby-minding duties and allowed to go off for a friendly and male-bonding game of golf while the women stayed at home. They would have been pleased to learn, however, of how highly their male partners on the golf-course spoke of them in their absence.

    The series deserves high praise for the excellence of its editing, use of music and unobtrusive and telling camera-work. Perhaps the highest accolade might be that during a difficult time in human history, the show showed how relationships involving people from very different walks of life might fail or prosper, but were always worth persevering with. There was controversy and unpleasantness, but there was also courtesy and an unyielding emphasis on the processes of courtship and consideration for one’s partner. The unchallenged emphasis on heterosexuality and the fixation with monogamy and fidelity can seem strange and misplaced in a post-modern world of shifting sexual identities and preferences. A pornographic version of Love Island would have little time for the endless spoken reflections on the underlying features and elements underpinning each relationship formed in the villa. The show’s producers might well argue that the programme needs clearly defined parameters and restraints for it to function as an engaging example of human drama and family entertainment. If life in the villa is not quite a heaven-on-earth, there are clearly worse places to be ‘shipwrecked on’, and so, for the moment, its immediate future appears secure. However, as the show itself demonstrates on a regular basis, nothing is entirely secure and everything can change without warning. One day the gates to the villa may end up being closed forever and the islanders just a distant memory. Until such a day, one can only wish the class of 2021 good luck, a favourable wind home and thank them for their efforts on our behalf. To paraphrase the poet John Donne, the programme illustrates that no person is an island unto-themselves, and that love will always be a precious commodity, worth seeking, finding and holding on to, if at all possible.  

Notes


[i] In his autobiography, Michael Parkinson claimed that ‘Shows such as Celebrity Love Island…did nothing to improve either the ratings or the reputation’ of ITV in 2005-2006.

 Michael Parkinson, Parky: My Autobiography (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2008), p.344.

[ii] Ally Ross, ‘Caring? That’s mental’, The Sun, 13 August, 2021, p.15. Ross felt by allowing such behaviour to continue unchecked and then deciding to include footage in the show, producers were more concerned with the ‘financial well-being’ of their ‘advertisers’ than with the mental and psychological health of the show’s contestants. Some of the contestants faced experiences which will always remain disappointing and disturbing for them, but as the series is now in its seventh incarnation, presumably (like marrying into the British Royal Family), few people can be completely unaware of what life in the villa might be like if they chose to enter its confines.

[iii] John Updike, Memories of the Ford Administration: A Novel (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1992), p.366.

 

[iv] John Updike, Couples (Penguin: 1969), p.506.

SO2EO4: 2 or 3 Things I Know About a PhD

In this episode:

Dr Zahra Tavassoli Zea discusses what she knows about PhDs.

Discussion:
  • What it is like to be a PhD student
  • How difficult it is to get an academic career
  • How filmmakers in May 1968 challenged culture
  • Questions from the listeners about studying for a PhD

Link to Death of a PhD: https://vimeo.com/391319564

Link to Tide Magazine: https://www.tidemagazine.fr/

If you enjoyed this, read the follow-up article, Q&A: 2 or 3 Things I Know About PhD Life, and support us on Patreon for more content.

Q&A: 2 or 3 Things I Know About PhD Life

By Dr Zahra Tavassoli Zea

  1. Choose a song that best represents your PhD years.

It depends on the year, really. So here’s a list:

2012–2013: Man O To by the Iranian electro artist Nu

2013–2014: Who by Fire by Leonard Cohen

2014–2015: Chandelier by Sia

2015–2016: Mandy by Barry Manilow

2016–2017: The Final Countdown by Europe

Lots of Whitney Houston and Beethoven too.

2. How did you choose your PhD topic?

We can’t actually “choose” a topic, since a doctoral thesis is supposed to contribute to a research field through an original investigation. Instead, we progressively “construct” a topic, generally during the first couple of years through extensive research and meetings with our supervisors. In other words, when we apply for a PhD and give a “pitch” to potential supervisors, we are essentially “bluffing”, because the topic is meant to substantially evolve and take its “definitive” shape halfway through (I used brackets because a thesis, even after submission and corrections can always be improved…That’s the essence and the tragedy of research).

 Quite often, PhD theses are the continuation of research undertaken during an MA degree (through a 15 000-word dissertation). This was not my case. My MA thesis was on Spanish cinema under Franco’s dictatorship, and more specifically on the way National Catholicism heavily influenced the cinematic portrayals of Spanish children from the 1950s to the 1970s. From the moment I started studying cinema at a postgrad level, I became passionate about the way some filmmakers actively participated in the reconstruction of Europe in the immediate aftermath of WWII. The fact that Italian Neorealism, as a cinematic movement, emerged out of pure “necessity” to document such an awful historical turning point, is something that moved me deeply. Had I spoken Italian more fluently, I would have probably oriented my MA thesis or even PhD towards Italian cinema (I dream of living in a Tuscany Villa one day… So if anyone can help me with that, please call me!). But, in the context of research, I realised that I could make the most of my assets: to be able to speak and write in Spanish and French. Language skills can really amplify the scope of investigations; being able to draw from local literature and archival material definitely added more depth to my dissertation. As for my PhD, I did something quite simple… I mixed two of my favourite ingredients together: 19th-century literature and Nouvelle Vague cinema.

The idea was to keep on researching the concept of “realism”, which I first discovered in high school when reading Boule de Suif, Madame Bovary or L’Assomoir, and when contemplating Manet’s Olympia at Musée d’Orsay. The taste for Nouvelle Vague cinema came to me much later, during an MA module dedicated to Jean-Luc Godard. Many people thought his cinema was unwatchable, pretentious, etc. I felt the contrary: there is something truthful about Godard; he is a scientist in the same way Balzac and Flaubert were. When discovering the works of Rivette, Truffaut and Rohmer, I noticed that their films, despite their different aesthetics and politics, are made of a common material: a romantic longing for a unitary worldview. These impressions and parallels I was able to draw between nineteenth-century realism and the Nouvelle Vague laid the foundations of the 90 000 piece jigsaw puzzle, aka the PhD thesis.

3. Which difficulties did you encounter as a foreign PhD student in a British university?

Writing an entire PhD thesis in English was definitely a challenge. I only started writing English essays during my MA back in 2011. I remember feeling quite demoralised when getting a 52 on a film history essay about Manhattan Melodrama (dir. Van Dyke & George Cukor, 1934). But, as far as I am concerned, the fear of failure acts as a motor, and it led me to graduate with distinction. The same happened during my baccalauréat (equivalent to A-levels): the grades I got during the first exam year were pretty terrible… So I turned on the booster during the final year and passed with “mention bien”. I guess it’s a good thing to be determined, but it’s also a characteristic of people with high levels of anxiety.

      Another difficulty I found, especially during my MA, was to become friends with British people. I would generally hang out with international students from Thailand, China, Japan, Romania, Turkey, Italy, Germany, Spain, Belgium or the US. You need to be living in the UK for more than a year to “break the ice” with the British, since the first encounters are always a bit superficial. However, once you finally feel that there is something more than “small talk”, and develop a sense of complicity with a British, then you’re in for something truly special. I think that my French sarcasm helped a lot… It’s true: France and the UK share a sharp sense of humour, and that’s one of the reasons I love my British friends so much.

4. How were your first meetings with your main supervisor?

It’s always a bit stressful to present yourself to your primary supervisor with the latest “findings” of your research. But I was lucky to have an inspiring and supportive supervisor. I remember he was very generous of his time; we would spend a couple of hours talking about Eugène Delacroix, Honoré de Balzac, Chris Marker, Jean-Luc Godard, Edward Said, Roland Barthes and Jacques Derrida (I was completely clueless about the latter). Unfortunately, he had to leave the university just before I entered my continuation year (i.e. the final year before submission)… He wanted to continue supervising me remotely, but those in charge at the time refused to pay him for that. So I had to find someone else. Fortunately, the person who replaced him was also brilliant. I think my writing really improved thanks to him; he taught me everything about concision, structure and clarity, while being extremely encouraging. Contrary to my “first” primary supervisor, his meetings were rather short but super instructive. He was the embodiment of efficiency.

5. How does a typical day of research look like?

8:00: 2 slices of bread with peanut butter and jelly, black coffee (no sugar) and a glass of grapefruit juice

9:00: 30 minute walk toward the university campus

10:00: Getting books out of my locker or trip to the library to pick up some reserved volumes

10:40: Pouring myself a cup of green tea while skilfully avoiding human contact

11:00: If I am not already fully absorbed by the article I am reading, the paragraph I am writing, or the email I am answering, it probably means I’m checking my Instagram

12:00: Proper work begins (procrastination is a big component of PhD life)

13:00: Still working (I try to ignore people opening bags of crisps)

14:00: Still working (my tea is cold, need to pee).

14:12: After going to the loo, I finally enter the campus grocery store to see what disgusting sandwich is left

14:24: Checking out with a cold Evian bottle, a Spinach & Ricotta Bake and a banana, which I eat by myself on a bench

14:55: While taking the stairs, I bump into agitated drama students doing odd things out loud and barefoot. Eye rolling

15:00: Work continues

18:00: Those who arrived to the study room earlier than me start packing and say goodbye

18:45: The last person in the office leaves. I am finally alone. I stand up, stretch my arms and legs while checking the books and DVDs some people carelessly left on a desk

19:15: Odd noises in the building. Probably another drama student

19:30: My best friend texts me. She wrote 1500 words and needs a drink. She will be waiting outside in 15. It gives me enough time to put my books back inside the locker, go to the empty bathroom, put some eye concealer and a bit of lipstick on my cheeks and lips not to look like a ghost

20:00: It’s cold and dark outside.We’re taking the bus. TGIF. We go straight to the Dolphin (the pub next to my house)

21:30: I already had two pints of Stella. Considering going to the Foundry (dancing bar)

22:30: Seriously considering going on Tinder while dramatically talking about my love of Rohmer (and how no one comes close to him)

23:00: Dancing to the sound of What do you mean? by Justin Bieber and Rockabye by Clean Bandit

24:00: Chicken cottage is still open. I order two pieces of fried chicken while a drunken old man is yelling outside shirtless. I’m ready to go home. 

6. What was the biggest challenge during your PhD?

Not being able to take a break from the thesis, ever. It haunts you, everywhere you go. I was restless and felt like I was missing out on something… because I didn’t do a break between my MA and my PhD. So I was torn between the desire to carry on with my research and the need for life experiences, which people normally have in their twenties: traveling, socialising, partying, attending cultural events, earning decent amounts of money… So I guess I was my own challenge. Not the PhD itself.

7. Choose a film that best represents your PhD years.

Histoire(s) du cinema by Jean-Luc Godard (1988-98). Why? Because I felt those 4 hours 26 minutes mirrored my own state of confusion: an accumulation of thoughts; weird image associations; a hubbub of intense conversations; le brouillon et le brouillard… (endless drafts and fog).

8. What is your best memory, teaching wise?

There are many great memories. I loved organising a screening and seminar on Jonah Who Will Be 25 in The Year 2000 (dir. Alain Tanner, 1976), because it’s a films that’s been rarely taught. I was also proud of introducing my students to Caroline Chérie (dir. Richard Pottier, 1951) and the post-war literary movement of the Hussards. But I guess what impacted me the most was the intelligence and drive of many of my students… Teaching is something I thoroughly enjoyed doing, and I think that such a genuine desire to communicate with my students contributed to creating a stimulating and friendly environment.

9. What is your worst memory, teaching wise?

I don’t have any particularly bad memory. But I will say that marking piles and piles of essays without earning a single penny is something that still makes me angry. And the thing is that this exploitative system is detrimental to students too, because they witness the stress and burnout their seminar leaders are subjected to. The lack of support from the permanent members of staff was also shocking and really hard to forget.

10. Did you manage to maintain a healthy lifestyle?

I could have developed healthier habits, that’s for sure. I had a rather sedentary life, except for the morning and evening walks to/from the campus. As a result, I lived with chronic backaches. I even reached a stage where, one day, I had to bend my back when walking because the pain was excruciating. My eyesight also got worse. I had migraines, which were partly due to the unhealthy amount of hours spent in front of books and screens, and partly due to tension and stress. To top it all off, I suffered from hearing loss in both ears (this is due to a genetic condition, not to the PhD!). It took me a while to realise and accept that I was becoming partially deaf. So it’s only in the last year of teaching that I took the necessary steps (getting hearing aids) to live more normally. It was particularly difficult when giving lectures and seminars, because I had to use double the energy to understand what my students were saying.

11. What was the most memorable conference you attended?

It was a conference organised by the Association of Adaptation Studies in St Augustine, Florida! It felt so liberating to travel by myself to the USA, present a paper on Rohmer, meet many interesting people from around the world and just be a tourist for a few days. Plus, the School of Arts paid for the flight (as part of the PhD programme’s allocation) so that made it all sweeter. I wish I could do it all over again!

12. How did your Viva Voce exam go?

Contrary to many other PhD candidates, I really enjoyed the experience… Probably because the external and internal examiners told me from the get-go that I had passed with minor corrections. It was such a huge relief! And it really motivated me to give a great impression (just in case they would want to reconsider their decision… we never know!). I also had read my thesis way too many times and taken three weeks to prepare myself for all the questions they would ask. So to say that I was prepared is an understatement.

13. Choose a book that best represents your PhD years.

The Quest of the Absolute by Honoré de Balzac.

14.  Is there a filmmaker you particularly dislike?

Two automatically come to mind: Woody Allen and Wes Anderson. Weirdly, they are both American and share the same initials. Regarding the latter, I would say that his animation films are his saving grace.

15. What was the most rewarding part of your PhD?

The wisdom you acquire along the way.

16.  What were the most memorable lessons you learnt from your peers?

Thanks to my peers I became more politicised. I also learnt a lot about vegetarianism and veganism.

17. Name a lecturer or professor who had a great impact on you.  

I’ll name two: Dr. Marco Grosoli and Prof. Mattias Frey.

18.  After spending nearly a decade in the UK, what did you learn about the British people?

They are very much into waste recycling and respecting the queue order; they find it odd when people talk with lots of hand gestures; they’re not really into discussing feelings, more into actions; their gastronomy is sadly misunderstood, it is actually quite varied according to regions… Have you ever heard of a chip butty? They’re also the loveliest people I know.

19. Choose a TV show that best represents your PhD years.

Probably Made in Chelsea, because that’s what I watched the most when eating dinner… I was living the life I wish I had through Louise Thompson and Mark-Francis Vandelli!

20. Any regrets?

Non, rien de rien.

Non, je ne regrette rien.

Ni le bien qu’on m’a fait,

Ni le mal

Tout ça m’est bien égal!

(It’s a song by Edith Piaf!)

S02E03: Eurovision

In this episode:

Dr Ann-Marie Fleming and Oana-Maria Mazilu discuss Eurovision 2021 and Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga (David Dobkin, 2020).

Discussion:
  • Eurovision 2021 results
  • How Fire Saga impacted our perception of this year’s Eurovision
  • Cinematography and comedy in Fire Saga
  • The performances of Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams

If you enjoyed this, read the follow-up article, Play Ja Ja Ding Dong, and support us on Patreon for more content.

Play Ja Ja Ding Dong

By Oana-Maria Mazilu and Dr Ann-Marie Fleming


In the Eurovision episode, Maria and Ann-Marie discuss comedic elements and cinematography in Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga (David Dobkin, 2020). During this conversation, they stumbled on a pertinent question: are Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams shot differently?


Much like the repeated song, Ja Ja Ding Dong, the filmmakers have preferred shots, and the debaters assumed that this would be a mid-shot. However, during this same discussion, it was clear that both Ann-Marie and Maria felt more aligned and sympathetic to McAdam’s character. This raised more questions, such as: are there more close ups of McAdams and is this driving our alignment and understanding of her character’s perspective?


The contributors sat down to watch the film again, but this time counting the different shots. Parameters were set, for example, they would not count shots when the stars were on-screen together or count shot-reverse-shots. This was due to the stars sharing the screen, and thus our sole attention is not on the star and their performance. Instead, they looked at the moments where an audience’s attention would be on a singular star. Additionally, duration of shots were not counted. For example, if a McAdams shot was 30 seconds in length, but a Ferrell shot was 40 seconds in length. Overall, the contributors felt that McAdams and Ferrell’s screen time was of equal length, and thus the length of shots was not as pertinent as the type of shots. Lastly, as a disclaimer, although every effort has been made to be accurate, some scenes were edited at a quicker pace than others, so some allowance should be made for human error.


The findings were as follows:

Rachel McAdams

Close-up 141
Mid-shot 86
Wide-shot 30


Will Ferrell


Close-up 110
Mid-shot 122
Wide-shot 40

Overall, there was not a huge discrepancy between shot choices. However, the slight difference does suggest that the filming of Ferrell differs to that of McAdams.
In Writing the Comedy Movie (2015), Marc Blake asserts that the preferred shot in a comedy movie is the mid-shot, especially if the performance is a ‘comedian comedy’ (51-58). The mid-shot is chosen for comedians because comedy itself is an art form that relies on the physicality and skills of the performer. Therefore, the mid-shot acts as a way to showcase and enhance a comedic performance because it allows bodily movement, but is close enough to also highlight facial expressions. Our findings show that the mid-shot is the preferred method for the filmmakers of Fire Saga, at least when discussing Ferrell.


Whilst there are more mid-shots of Ferrell, there are more close-ups of McAdams. Close-ups are used in all films, most notably in dramas and melodramas during a highly emotive scene. This is because the shot allows for a detailed view of facial expressions to communicate a diverse array of feelings. Close-ups also allow you to feel near to a star, becoming physically closer than you would to most of your friends’ faces. Place that face on a large cinema screen so that it is larger than life or close to you in your front room, and it gives the audience a level of intimacy with the star. This intimacy, this feeling like you know or understand a star/the character, is superficially constructed, but it nevertheless helps an audience member sympathise/empathise with the character. Used often enough, an audience member may align with that character’s desires, in essence, root for them. After viewing the film, both contributors said they connected more to McAdam’s character. This may be in part that her character is far more relatable and three-dimensional, however, the cinematography would also suggest that we would feel more connected to her because of the presence of close-ups in comparison to both Ferrell and the rest of the shot choices for her character.


Another point of consideration is that McAdams is often reactionary to Ferrell. For example, he organises the set without her, she arrives and we see her reaction to it. In this way, she is passive as things are done/said to her and she reacts to them. This is historically common in comedy films, particularly with a male star (think of the films of Jim Carrey, Ben Stiller, Adam Sandler or Will Ferrell). The reactionary shot, therefore, may be better suited to a close up. Contrasting Ferrell’s outlandish behaviour with McAdam’s confusion. Indeed, Ferrell et al. would not be as funny without a reactionary shot to reflect the audience’s reaction. In this case, the close-up is functionary in that it supports the performance of Ferrell.


Overall, the analysis suggests the male and female star are filmed slightly differently. Whether this is to serve Ferrell’s performance, to connect to McAdam’s relatively sensible character, or both, is still up for debate.

Blake, Marc (2015). Writing the Comedy Movie. Bloomsbury: London.

S02E02: On-screen representations of academic education

In this episode:

Dr Zahra Tavassoli Zea discusses on-screen representations of academic education.

Discussion:
  • Early universities that were modelled according to a democratic system
  • The role of cinema in developing a certain “image” of universities
  • Positive depictions of students at universities
  • Representations of Human science studies

If you enjoyed this, read the follow-up article, Rope by Alfred Hitchcock: the Good, the Best and the Depraved, and support us on Patreon for more content.

Rope by Alfred Hitchcock: the Good, the Best and the Depraved

By Dr Zahra Tavassoli Zea

To make a podcast episode on academia is to question the philosophy with which we try to live our lives. Do we enter university to become better individuals, or do we enter higher education to do something good for the world we live in? Are these two avenues complementary, or do they exclude each other? What does it really mean to become the “best”; or better, what does such a notion reveal about the person, the group or the society that pursues this idea?

While I was reading Honoré de Balzac’s letters to Madame Hanska, I was struck by a short maxim, generally attributed to Voltaire: “the best is the enemy of the good” (Balzac 1876, 410). In the middle of a torrent of words, this sentence, alone, encapsulates, in my opinion, one of humanity’s most important conundrums. Either we, mortals, resign ourselves to living as ordinary biological creatures caught amongst a whole range of different species, within a dense and complex universe with powerful, all-embracing cyclical laws, or we consider ourselves as essentially superior species, separate from nature, and capable, ultimately, of transcending the realm of the finite. 

Today, I wouldn’t have any trouble saying that Balzac was well aware of his own limitations, be they of a purely economical, social, physical or even intellectual nature. He thought he wasn’t free but rather chained to his money problems, peasant roots and obsessive need to be recognised and acclaimed by the highest strata of French society. In a way, an important percentage of people could still identify themselves with Balzac’s psychological traits, notwithstanding his extraordinary drive and unrivalled work capacity. It is even highly probable that only a tiny percentage of my readers were born with a silver spoon in their mouths. In fact, aren’t we all relentlessly trying to upgrade our social status, to improve our lifestyles, to break with previous belief and behaviour models, with a view to prove to ourselves that we have freedom, after all?

Now, what happens when Alfred Hitchcock, the son of a modest food merchant, collides with wealthy American students from one of the world’s most prestigious universities? Educated in a Jesuit school, Hitchcock must have learnt lessons on Christian resignation: 

We should be resigned to the will of God when He afflicts us, because affliction is for our good (…) because at the very time that we are suffering under his hand, he has in reserve, and is preparing for us, the happiness of heaven and immortality (Thomson 2015, 423–424). 

Christianity comes with the premise that man, like all other living creatures, is bound to suffer and, in the midst of his ordeal, should find solace in his capacity to love and keep faith. This community of people, who feel accountable to the divine judgement, stands in contrast to the academic community whose principles rest on self-fulfilment, the development of a skilful individuality, the consecration of scientific minds and, occasionally, genius discovery. 

In Rope (1948), Hitchcock infiltrates the exclusive society of wealthy Harvard undergrads, whose privileged life appears to bore them to death (pun intended). In a theatrical manner, Hitchcock raises the curtains on an act of murder: Brandon and Phillip strangle their classmate David with a rope. Motive? Playfulness, plain and simple… not even fame (yawn). Naughty as ever, Hitchcock presents the strangulation like a sexual climax: 

  • Brandon, how did you feel?
  • When?
  • During it.
  • I don’t remember feeling very much of anything, until his body went limp… and I knew it was over. 
  • And then? 
  • Then I felt tremendously exhilarated. H-how did you feel? Oh, I… I… 

Inside their luxurious New York apartment, Brandon and Philip move and speak like a toxic, co-dependent couple. They also form part of the happy few, who can afford to pay the services of their maid, Mrs. Wilson, on a daily basis. Refined meals and the finest champagne are served and poured to their guests, who arrive rather quickly and cheerfully to the murder scene. In plain sight, a wooden chest that supports a couple of candlesticks, cutlery and cured meat, hides the corpse. The perversity of the little soirée, which includes David’s girlfriend and father, is revealing of Brandon’s sociopathic and narcissistic traits: he is unable to empathise with others and doesn’t take responsibility for his actions. As a matter of fact, he believes his intelligence is superior to anyone else’s: “Being weak is a mistake… because it’s being ordinary”. Later, when the guests are gone, he even slaps the drunken and emotional Phillip on the face: Brandon controls the game; he sets the rules; he is the Alpha male par excellence. 

While it is rather difficult to relate to these highly entertaining main characters, I believe that Janet, David’s girlfriend, is representative of western bourgeoisie’s common understanding of what is “good”. It would be safe to say that in the early nineteenth century, the rising middle-class began associating ideas of economical and social “betterment” with the concept of “happiness”. In other words, Voltaire’s old saying was radically updated in the wake of capitalism: “the best” became the “friend” of the “good”, for the ordinary man thought that excelling at work would make him and his family happier. In Rope, Brandon becomes the classical jester, whose function is to unveil a cynical truth: he suggests that Janet is dating (the late) David because of his money, and that she secretly prefers her other admirer, the half-witted Kenneth. The spectators become Brandon and Phillip’s unwilling accomplice, as they are already aware that Janet and David’s relationship is destined to a hapless fate. However, it is with a misplaced interest that we carry on watching Janet’s delightful attempts to please the father of her dead fiancé. 

As for Brandon, we know nothing about his past – other than the fact that he grew up as a spoiled brat. Rupert Cadell, the prep-school housemaster (aka James Stewart, handsome as ever), seems to know something about Brandon that will quickly take him down a peg: “You always did stutter when you were excited”. Sure, universities can teach us to articulate properly, to control our facial expression or to improve the way we stand on our feet; postgraduate diplomas can even become a good-looking Band-Aid to cover self-esteem issues or other mental health problems… Yet, for Hitchcock and for Balzac, the denouement – in a film script, a novella or reality – systematically occurs as a result of one Christian certainty, which they assimilate to the truth. It goes along the lines of: one may look calm and brave while dying of fright inside… A stutter or a nervous twitch is nothing but the soul catching its breath. 

Works cited

Balzac, H. de (1838/1876). “À Madame Hanska, à Vierzschovnia”. In Calmann Lévy (ed.), Correspondance de H. de Balzac 1819–1850, 409–414. Paris: Librairie Nouvelle. 

Thomson, A. (2005). Sermons and Sacramental Exhortations. London: William Whyte.

Oscars 2021: Considering Collective

By Oana-Maria Mazilu

The 93rd Academy Awards this year were the first time a Romanian film was nominated at the Oscars, in not just one, but two categories. Collective (Alexander Nanau, 2019) was amongst the nominees for Best Documentary Feature and International Feature Film. Unfortunately, it did not win in either category, despite being viewed as a strong contender (my money was on Best Doc). The nominations were received with mixed feelings, while the losses did not raise much noise among film critics.

Before the results were announced, Collective’s presence at the Oscars was in itself well-received because…well it is the Oscars. Yet, beyond this initial reaction a further consideration of the film led to a ‘hold on a sec’ kind of follow-up question: Why was Collective nominated while in previous years the wealth of New Wave films storming European film festivals did not make it this far? Cristian Mungiu’s Beyond the Hills (2012), a well-known figure of the New Wave, had been selected as Romania’s entry for the Foreign Language Film category at the 85th Academy Awards but did not go beyond the January shortlist. So why was Collective more appealing on the other side of the Atlantic than previous Romanian films? Film critic Ionuț Mareș offered an interesting breakdown of the reasons behind the success of the film, as well as the reticence towards it from some members of the Romanian audience.

In his opinion piece, Mareș pointed out that Collective had a successful festival run, a powerful distributor behind it (Magnolia Pictures), and a launch in Romanian cinemas before the pandemic completely destabilised the film industry. Added to this were favourable reactions from the press, particularly the anglophone press and, as Mareș rightly notes, the fact that Barack Obama named Collective as a favourite in his list of films for 2020 also increased its popularity and positive public opinion. Yet, to dismiss Collective’s nomination at the 2021 Oscars as a mixture of good timing and luck would be incredibly unfair.

The film’s subject matter resonated globally, I would argue in particular with the U.S. audiences.  Collective deals with the aftermath of the Colectiv night club fire, corruption in the national health system, those who exposed it and those who wanted to do something about it. In the time of the Covid-19 pandemic, we are all much more interested in how health systems function nationally and collaborate internationally, and this would be the global resonance of the film. However, I believe that the themes of integrity, ethics and bravery in journalism were particularly relevant in the U.S. political scene. After four years during which legitimate press outlets were dismissed as fake news and manic rants were presented as facts by the Donald Trump administration, Cătalin Tolontan’s words that ‘when the press bows before authorities, the authorities will behave badly towards the people’ likely resonated with U.S. viewers. In this sense, the film reinforced the importance of the press in holding authorities to account and questioning political decisions. It is not surprising then, that Eric Kohn writing for IndieWire noted it as ‘One of the greatest movies about journalism and the dark forces it confronts’, a quote which also dawns the film’s poster.

The structure and pacing Collective also made it easier to follow by international viewers, adopting a Hollywood film type of narrative structure, although much more subtle than Chuck Norris vs Communism, which I previously discussed on Spot On, Doc. To put it simply, the first half of the film presents the journalistic investigation conducted by Gazeta Sportului (The Sports Gazette) led by Tolontan on the dilution of disinfectants used in hospitals which resulted in unsanitary conditions and further deaths after the nightclub fire. It was a difficult time as families tried to move their loved, burn victims of the Colectiv fire, from the Romanian hospitals in which they were infected with bacteria, to hospitals in other states of the European Union.  International aid came in the form of foreign hospitals accepting to receive these victims. The Romanian diaspora also mobilised to provide local support by speaking to authorities in destination countries and housing the Romanian families travelling with the burn victims. In this sense, it is the first half of the film which has the greatest emotional impact. The Colectiv fire is a tragedy still fresh in the minds of Romanians, and the Gazeta Sportului investigation brings back those memories. The film opens with visceral footage from inside the club at the moment that it caught fire. Arguably, it is the scene with the highest emotional impact for any viewer and it is shown in the first seven minutes of the film. Yes, Collective hits you from the start but it also ensures that you are emotionally invested and following the meticulous journalistic investigation that dominates this first half. In its second half, the film turns to focus on the political, and more specifically the actions taken by Vlad Voiculescu, then newly appointed minister of health, in trying to untangle the corruption in the ministry and health system. It was this second half that some Romanian viewers took issue with. Some considered it propaganda for Vlad Voiculescu, others disliked the fact that any politician would be portrayed as a hero in a film, and ultimately political stances and personal opinions on public figures shaped Romanian audiences’ perception of the film. On my part, I stand by what I said in the episode. I did not feel that the film was propaganda for Voiculescu, instead, I believe he became a narrative device that voiced audience thoughts on-screen, particularly those around the lines of ‘how the hell do you even begin to tackle this corruption’. 

The ending of the film may have also caused issues for Collective in terms of the Romanian audience, international audiences and the Oscars nomination. The film ends with the 2016 elections which saw the return to power of the Social Democrat Party. Romanians would argue that it was not a sufficiently detailed consideration of that context, while for international viewers it was not the happy ending that one is primed to expect from a Hollywood type of narrative structure. In terms of the Oscars, Variety predicted the win for My Octopus Teacher (Pippa Ehrlich, James Reed, 2020) with the commentary that it was ‘the feel-good film of the bunch’ in the Best Documentary Feature category. I am bitter, but without meaning to throw My Octopus Teacher under the bus, I do feel that Collective was more worthy of the win because of the debate and reflection that it sparks. We shouldn’t avoid these just because we need a feel-good film in the time of the pandemic. Quite the contrary, as mentally exhausting as it is, it is in such times of crisis that we need to be vigilant in following political decisions and question them when necessary. Still, Obama liked Collective. Thanks Obama! 

References

Davis, C., 2021. 2021 Oscars Best Documentary Feature Predictions – Variety. [online] Variety.com. Available at: <https://variety.com/feature/2021-oscars-best-documentary-feature-predictions-1234784896/&gt;

Kohn, E., 2021. ‘Collective’ Review: One of the Greatest Movies About Journalism and the Dark Forces It Confronts. [online] IndieWire. Available at: <https://www.indiewire.com/2020/11/collective-review-alexander-nanau-1234599567/&gt;

Mareș, I., 2021. De ce deranjează documentarul „colectiv” – Ziarul Metropolis | Ziarul Metropolis. [online] Ziarul Metropolis. Available at: https://www.ziarulmetropolis.ro/de-ce-deranjeaza-documentarul-colectiv/

S02E01: The Oscars

In this episode:

Oana-Maria Mazilu discusses the Oscars with an in-depth analysis of Colectiv (Alexander Nanau, 2019).

Discussion:
  • The Oscars in 2021.
  • An in-depth analysis of Colectiv.
  • A discussion about Soul (Pete Docter and Kemp Powers, 2020).
  • Why some films are chosen for the Oscars.

If you enjoyed this, read the follow-up article, Oscars 2021: Considering Collective, and support us on Patreon for more content.

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.