Drama thrives on the conflict not between right and wrong but between different kinds of right

In this entry I will look at how conflicting views of what is ‘right’ creates the drama in Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus and Euripede’s Iphigenia at Aulis.

This post will examine Iphigenia At Aulis (Euripedes) and Titus Andronicus (Shakespeare) where conflict arises through the different beliefs of the ‘right’ course of action, especially regarding murder. We can easily identify the differences between what is morally right and wrong, these views are usually linked with things which are legally right and wrong. We recognize that doing the right thing is obviously the correct action to take, and that we should oppose the wrong action. So when different opinions of right go head-to-head, which is the best action to take?

In Iphigenia At Aulis, Agamemnon is torn between doing right by his family, and doing right by his country. If he does not sacrifice his daughter Iphigenia, his army cannot sail to war. We accept that murder is morally and legally wrong, and to intentionally kill one’s child, filicide, is extremely immoral. On the other hand, we realise that sometimes the greater good of a country, with many people, is more important than an individual. If he decides to save Iphigenia, he is disregarding his duties as leader of the Greek army and is also disrespecting Greece, but if he sacrifices her, he will upset his wife and her mother, Clytemnestra, and lose his eldest child. At first, Menelaus believes that Iphigenia should be sacrificed, because it is Agamemnon’s duty, as their leader, to take them to war. Their conflicting views leads to a heated argument between the two brothers. Yet when Menelaus thinks about the situation more thoroughly, he sees it is not right for Agamemnon to execute Iphigenia, but in spite of this, Agamemnon is now convinced he should sacrifice his daughter, “we have come to a point where necessity dictates our fortunes”(p98, 511-512). By taking the life of his daughter, Agamemnon believes that they can do the right thing: save the Greek wives that are being raped in Troy, and retrieve Helen. The reader knows that Clytemnestra and Iphigenia will not agree with Agamemnon’s concept of ‘right’ and therefore disagreements will take place between the two sides. Clytemnestra indeed feels betrayed by her husband and this leads to another argument;

“I, who have been loyal to your bed, shall be robbed of my child, and the woman who sinned will get back her girl under her roof in Sparta and find happiness” (p120, 1202-1205).

The conflict in Iphigenia at Aulis arises from Agamemnon’s shifting loyalty between his family and the Greek army. The play’s drama happens when the characters have different opinions of what ‘right’ is, and are trying to change the outcome of Iphigenia’s future. Where there are opposing views of right, conflict appears.

In Titus Andronicus there are also conflicting beliefs of what is ‘right’ over murder as a right of sacrifice, and loyalty to his army. Titus returns from war. His sons have been killed in battle and he has taken Tamora, Queen of the Goths, her sons Alarbus, Chiron and Demetrius, and Aaron the Moor as prisoners. Titus reveals that he will kill Alarbus as a sacrifice, in respect to the men who have died at war. When Tamora begs him for Alarbus’ life, he says to her;

“for their brethren slain, / Religiously they ask a sacrifice. / To this your son is marked, and die he must, / T’appease their groaning shadowsthat are gone.”(1.1.126-129)

Titus believes it is the right thing to do by his surviving and deceased army members. Unlike Agamemnon, he is not hesitant in his actions. The Latin phrase “Ad marnes fratrum” (1.1.101.) which means “to the shades of our brothers”, shows the ritual-like act that they are about to carry out, which Lucius later describes as their “Roman rites” (1.1.146). Nevertheless, we accept any murder as wrong. Alarbus’ murder, however, will pacify the Roman brothers who have died, which is very important to them and something we can relate to, which is why funerals are so important after the death of a loved one. The sacrificing of Alarbus acts as a catalyst to the drama in the rest of the play. Without this, Tamora would not have sought for vengeance and the subsequent drama would not have followed. Tamora seeks to avenge her son through murder, just like Titus avenges his sons through murder.

Titus also kills his daughter, Lavinia, in the final scene. He has asked Saturninus, the Emperor, was it “well done” (5.3.36) i.e. right, of Virginius to kill his daughter after she was “enforced, stained and deflowered” (5.3.38). Saturninus said that it was, because “the girl could not survive her shame” (5.3.40). Titus’ ‘right’ decision to kill his daughter after her rape and dismemberment, contrasts more modern beliefs that she should not be killed because of this, it was not her fault, and therefore should feel no shame. We are shocked that Titus has killed Lavinia as it is very sudden and although was obviously planned between Lavinia and Titus, the audience were not aware of this. In the cultural context of this play, the killing of Lavinia seems reasonable and just, yet is conflicting with the view that any murder is wrong. The murder of Lavinia reveals to Saturninus that it was Chiron and Demetrius who raped and amputated Lavinia. The death of Tamora, Titus and Saturninus ensues, in a scene that if full of drama. Titus feels he has taken vengeance for Lavinia’s ordeals, something that is right, yet he has murdered, he feels justly, to do it. The distinctions between various opinions of right create the drama in Titus Andronicus.

Drama occurs through the opposition of different beliefs of what is ‘right’. If every person had the same principles of what is right and wrong, there would never be any disagreement, and therefore no conflict. We believe it is simple to tell the difference between what is wrong and right, yet it is when there is more than one version of right, conflict takes place. In Iphigenia At Aulis it is Agamemnon’s adjusting loyalty creates the conflict, whereas in Titus Andronicus it is the character’s strong opinions of wrong and right that create conflict. Diversities of moral, and sometime legal, values creates drama in a play.

Side note: Even if you aren’t very interested in reading Shakespeare, I urge you to watch the 1999 film Titus directed by Julia Taymor. It is quite long but it is an amazing piece of work and depicted in a way that I haven’t seen in any other Shakespeare film adaptations. All of the Titus Andronicus pictures I have used are screenshots from the film. 

  • Shakespeare, William. (1995) Titus Andronicus, ed. Jonathan Bate. London :The Arden Shakespeare.
  • Euripedes. (2008) Iphigenia At Aulis. In Bacchae and Other Plays, trans. James Morwood. New York: Oxford World Classics.

Shadows in Horror Films: Fear of the Unknown

The fear of the unknown is one of the most natural and instinctive fears that we have. I will talk about how directors use the shadows to help create panic in the audience.

Being scared is one of our most natural instincts. We are scared of what we don’t understand. Shadows represent this fear as we wonder what is lurking within them. The power of the human imagination can make us believe highly irrational thoughts are true, especially when we don’t have much information about the situation. Shadows in their nature are obscure, which raises our suspicion and creates a feeling of fear. From a young age, we are taught to fear certain things. Fear is an important tool to keep ourselves safe. Our parents try to teach us the importance of our own safety and we learn to fear anything that may threaten this. We are told not to be out after dark or wander off alone. This idea is reflected in Fabiansson’s work; “Children are taught to be afraid…to be careful of the unknown and fearful of strangers.

These fears continue into our adult lives. Even though we may be scared of different things as adults, we still get scared of the unknown. If we are in another person’s house at night and there are noises downstairs, we don’t know what the sounds are and we get a little nervous. However, if we were in our own house at night and heard a noise downstairs, we could tell whether it was the dog, the dishwasher or the heating etc. There is no unknown in our own house, so we aren’t scared.

In his essay Fear Itself, John Hollander talks about the different types of fear. He distinguishes a fear of the unknown e.g. a fear that there is no afterlife, whereas a ‘nameless fear’ is “fear induced by some unknown object.” Shadows represent the unknown. If we see a shadow moving across a wall, it is very difficult to see what, or who, is creating the shadow. Even if the shadow is defined, we still have no more information about the object than its shape. Hollander talks about the “meta-fear of disorientation” which is when we do not know what exactly is scaring us, or whether we should be scared of it in the first place. He says having a fear of something is not the same as the fear that it may turn out to be something else.

A good technique used by filmmakers is to create a clearly defined shadow, with an inhuman or unrecognisable shape to create confusion. This lack of information is difficult for us to handle so we try to fill in the details ourselves. The shadow is clear enough that we can’t mistake the shape, but because the shape is unrecognisable it scares us. Even though we try, we know our ideas may be nothing like the reality, so try to think of all possibilities. As we go from one thought to the next, fear makes us think irrationally and also allows us to believe these thoughts are true. We can only know what is there when it is revealed. Filmmakers frequently use shadows because the human imagination conjures up what is most terrifying to each person. This is an intelligent method because if they had to create a monster, they would be isolating the audience that isn’t scared by that monster. It is a simple, yet highly effective way to evoke fear. Cinemas help to exaggerate any fears the audience has. The darkness, the loud noises, the huge screen and the crowd atmosphere overwhelms the senses. There are thousands of films that use this technique, but I will just mention a few.

The opening scene of the 2001 film Monsters, Inc. shows the basic idea behind shadows as a tool to terrify us. It shows the character Thaddeus Bile creeping into a boy’s bedroom. We notice that it is only after the parents leave and turn off the lights that this happens. This enhances the idea that there are things lurking in the dark. A shadow flashes across the screen, then as the monster stands over the bed, we really believe he wants to hurt the boy. We can only see his glowing eyes in his silhouette. Yet when the child screams in terror, Thaddeus also screams, and then falls around the bedroom. Suddenly all the fear we had for him disappears.

File:Thaddeus Bile Scaring.jpg

Oren Peli’s Paranormal Activity is another film where shadows are used to create panic. In this film we never see the monster, and it is never revealed to us. During the 20th night we hear the creature coming up the stairs, and then we see its shadow on the door of the bedroom. It is unnerving because we can’t see the creature, and wonder how it even has a shadow if there is no solid figure in the first place. The fact that it has footsteps and the ability to drag Katie out of bed indicates it has enough physical presence, but no form that is visible to us. This leads us to come up with our own ideas of what it may be, yet this proves so difficult because we are provided with severely limited information.

Freddy Krueger’s character in Nightmare on Elm Street – both the 1984 film and the 2010 remake – uses the shadows to scare his victims. In Wes Craven’s 1984 version of the film, Tina’s death is a perfect example of how shadows are used. Just before Freddy Krueger appears, his hatted silhouette appears on a fence. He then emerges and walks towards Tina. A flicker of light reveals his disfigured face before he is in darkness once again. His arms appear twice as long as they should be, and his deformed face creates a strange shape to look at. Tina runs away from him, but he suddenly appears in front of her and she bumps into him. This serves to make Freddy part of the shadows. He represents the darkness. In the 2010 remake, directed by Samuel Bayer, Kris’ death is the remake of Tina’s. Both of the boyfriends can only stand by helplessly as their girlfriends are being slashed to death. Kris goes out to find her dog and she finds it slashed in the garden. Freddy is standing in the darkness, yet the blades he used to kill the dog glisten with blood. He then chases her around, again using the shadows. The fact that we sleep at night in dark rooms adds to this effect. Whenever the characters encounter Freddy they are dreaming, and dreams are never like how the world really is. Things can happen in dreams that don’t happen when we are awake, and this makes Freddy extra terrifying because he isn’t bound by the rules of reality like the rest of us.

Any person will fear what they can’t understand, it’s natural. We’re all rational and like to explain things because explanations take the fear out of the unknown. However, shadows only give us a warped representation of what the thing is. Shadows are used by directors to manipulate this fear of the unknown. All horror directors use images that are supposed to frighten us, and using darkness and shadows is a very popular way to do this.

Works cited

  • Charlotte Fabiansson – “Young People’s Perception Of Being Safe – Globally & Locally”
  • John Hollander – “Fear Itself”
  • A Nightmare on Elm Street
  • Paranormal Activity
  • Monsters, Inc

Shakespeare’s ‘The Winter’s Tale’ – Why is time so important?

I take a look at one of Shakespeare’s great plays and how the whole story could have been different if there was just a little more time…

Time has a key role to play in The Winter’s Tale. What creates tragedy in a play or book is that time runs out. E.g. we are saddened if the hero arrive five minutes too late to save the hostages. In comedies, there is just enough time: the hero disarms the bomb with one second to go. In this case, Leontes realises his mistake too late. It is the expectation of tragedy that allows for this comic relief. In The Winter’s Tale the hope that Leontes will see his blunder before Hermione before something happen he will later regret. Both his son and his wife die before it dawns on him what has happened. However, the comic relief at the end of the play is only able to happen with the death of Hermione. This is why The Winter’s Tale has been called a tragicomedy.  Hartwig states that the experience of Hermione’s apparent reincarnation is “discovery of that joyful truth is so exhilarating that no one worries about the trickery involved in creating it.” We suspend our disbelief while we enjoy the miracle before us. The play itself is set in no particular era; it is simultaneously subject to both time and timelessness.

The opening of the play shows a heavily pregnant Hermione trying to persuade Polixenes, King of Bohemia, to stay with them for a while longer. This arouses the suspicion of her husband Leontes, King of Sicilia, who starts to believe that she is having an affair. Polixenes has already stayed with Leontes and Hermione for nine months, a time universally recognized as the length between a baby’s conception and its birth. The fact that Polixenes has stayed with them throughout this time is obviously playing on Leontes’ mind, yet he puts two and two together and comes up with five. The king is tortured by the belief his childhood friend has betrayed him. His unfounded ideas lead to his deteriorated mental state and act as a catalyst to the remainder of the action in the play.

The Winter’s Tale is not the only Shakespeare play where men are driven mad by the thoughts that the women around them are deceitful beings. In King Lear, Lear is sent insane by the exposure of Goneril and Regan as cruel and merciless daughters. In The Tragedy of Othello, Moor of Venice Othello is tormented by the belief that Desdemona is having an affair with Cassio.

Leontes is told by Hermione and Polixenes that he is wrong, echoed by many of their friends and acquaintances: one lord tells Leontes “the queen is spotless”, Camillo pleads with Leontes to “be cured / of this diseased opinion” and Paulina tells him “I am no less honest / than you are mad.” Despite all this, Leontes answers their pleas with “You’re liars all” and he declares he is in “a nest of traitors.” The longer that Leontes is obscured by his distrust, the less time he will have to resolve the situation before something irreversible happens.

Leontes demands an oracle and it reveals what we all know: that Hermione and Polixenes are both innocent. However, it also tells us “the king shall live without an heir, if that which is lost be not found.” Strangely, even this divine oracle does nothing to persuade Leontes that his assumptions are groundless. During this trial, a servant runs in and tells the court that Mamillius has died. Hermione collapses with grief and is taken out. It is in this moment Leontes finally comes to his senses. He sees how he was “transported by [his] jealousies / To bloody thoughts and to revenge.” Unfortunately it’s too late: time has run out. Hermione and Mamillius are dead, and his daughter is lost.

Act IV opens with Time itself acting as a narrator. It tells us that sixteen years have passed since the day of the trial. In Sicilia, it appears as if no time has passed; Leontes has shut himself up in isolation. In contrast, time in Bohemia has allowed Perdita –  the “lost one” – and Florizel to blossom into young adults and fall in love. The name Florizel seems to be suggestive of flowers and nature, things we associate with growth and the passing of time. In their introduction to The Winter’s Tale, Synder and Curren-Aquino say that time in the sixteen years gap passes “hurriedly in Sicilia, leisurely in Bohemia”.  In act V, Paulina asks Leontes to promise never to marry again without her permission and if he is to marry, she shall pick his queen. They are in limbo: stuck in purgatory until the oracle is fulfilled and their lives can carry on. They talk about when Leontes will marry again and Paulina talks in prophetic terms. On first reading we take it to mean he may never marry again, yet on second reading of the play, we see what Paulina has planned. Suddenly, Florizel and Perdita appear in Leontes’ kingdom, asking for his help. It seems fate has led them here. That which was lost has been found, and they can now look to the future.

Paulina reveals the statue of Hermione and it is Paulina that brings Hermione back to life. Hermione has healed from the hurt and shame that Leontes has caused her, and she is finally ready for the “re-establishing [of] an intimate bond with Leontes.” It almost seems as if she has been in hiding for sixteen years, being cared for by Paulina. This now gives more meaning to Paulina’s earlier statements regarding when Leontes will re-marry; “She shall not be so young / As was your former” and “when your first queen’s again in breath.” We can now see that Hermione has aged too, waiting for this moment.

It is this reincarnation of Hermione where we see time’s “most amazing triumph: the rebirth of a marriage…” Time has allowed the reunion of Leontes and Hermione as a happily married family. Time has made the heart grow fonder and as Leontes and Hermione embrace, there is no hint of any bitterness or resentment. Not only are they reunited with each other; they are reunited with their lost daughter; Leontes is reunited with Camillo and Polixenes and Florizel is reunited with his father. We now realise that Paulina “has known and controlled the central miracle.” She has been the stage director. This moment of pure delight was saved by Paulina until the right moment. Just as Hermione has forgiven all wrongs, so does the audience. We forgive Leontes for his previous errors and we join the characters in their moment of raw pleasure. The absence of Mamillius is the only thing which makes this incident any less satisfying.

Time is important in The Winter’s Tale for many reasons. Shakespeare uses time to create suspicion, heartache and joy. If only Leontes had spent more time thinking about what he was accusing Polixenes and Hermione of, he would have realized his mistake and the following tragedies would have been averted. He is then stuck in a period of remorse and grief until the oracle is fulfilled. Sicilia has become a timeless state until Perdita “the lost one” is found. Time has not stood still in Bohemia however; it has permitted Perdita and Florizel to grow up, which is fundamental for the play to progress. Time is the only reason Hermione has been reincarnated. Time has healed her wounds and allowed Leontes to reflect and learn from his experiences. Time is central to the plays advancement. Unlike many of Shakespeare’s other plays, which last a very short period of time, The Winter’s Tale had to be set over a long period of time to make it the play that it is.

Postmodernist techniques in the horror films ‘Scream’ and ‘Halloween’

Here I will look at the postmodern techniques in Scream and Halloween; how they relate to each other, other horror films and the horror genre. 

The term ‘postmodern’ is generally taken to mean something that literally comes after ‘modern’; even newer, fresh or up to the minute. It normally challenges views or traditions of the ‘modern’ era, and proposes new ways of thinking.

Postmodernism is now a term most commonly used for films, television shows, art and literature that reference other works; they can be obvious parodies or very subtle similarities. They may be missed by those who don’t know what is being referred to. While it won’t take away from the audience’s joy, it produces a feeling of being ‘in the know’ for those who do understand the reference. Some postmodern shows include Family Guy, The Simpsons and South Park.

The films I will look at are the Halloween, and Scream. Halloween was released in 1978 and directed by John Carpenter. Scream came later, in 1996. It was directed by Wes Craven and makes many references to Halloween throughout. Both films are ‘slasher’ films, where the killers wear masks, carry knives andmainly target teenagers in high school.

In her essay ‘Recreational Terror: Postmodern Elements of the Contemporary Horror Film’ (available through Jstor), Isabel Pinedo names five characteristics that are present in the postmodern horror genre; violence, violation of boundaries, irrationality, lack of narrative closure and a bounded experience of fear. I am going to use these as a formula for analyzing both Scream and Halloween.

Violence

Halloween is not a film centered on violence. Most of the film consists of Michael stalking his soon to be victims. At the start we see six year-old Michael stab his sister to death. But do we really see him killing her? Because of his mask, we never see the knife penetrating the skin; we are only given the impression of it. When Michael escapes fifteen years later, he stabs and chokes his victims in a variety of ways. We always see Michael killing the women in the film, but never see the men die. While there is violence in Halloween, it is not particularly overt; we never see any cut up bodies, and there is barely any blood shown.

In Scream, there are frequent, bloody deaths, which are far more gruesome than those in Halloween. The opening sequence is also a murder scene. Casey Becker and her boyfriend Steve are tortured before being killed. Steve has been heavily beaten, bound to a chairand placed on Casey’s back porch. It is here that he is violently slashed to death. His wounds are clear to the audience, and there is a lot of blood. When Casey tries to run away she gets stabbed several times, before being hung in a tree and cut open, exposing her insides. At this point, the film has already showed more blood, guts and gore than the whole of Halloween.

Violation of Boundaries

In Halloween, Michael Myers crosses the familial boundaries by killing his own sister. The fact that Michael is only six at the time is even more horrifying. Even though Judith should be in charge, it turns out she is the one who needs to be protected. He also breaks many physical boundaries; the injuries that become inflicted upon him would kill any normal man, but it cannot stop him. He is shot six times by Dr. Loomis but he survives. This is especially terrifying because it seems nobody can stop him.

The main boundary that Scream crosses is the boundary between film and reality. The obvious references to several popular culture films blur the lines between the characters being in our reality: aware of these films, with their own criticisms and opinions of them, and them being in their own horror film, separate from our world.

Both of the film’s murderers break violate the victims personal boundaries with their violent acts towards them. They also break moral boundaries and legal boundaries as they go on their killing sprees.

Irrationality

Irrationality is a key theme in Halloween. We all want to know why Michael acts the way he does. He has no clear motive, but we are able to link it back to his Judith; he wrote ‘sister’ on the back of his asylum door and returned to his family home after he escaped. He also steals Judith’s gravestone and places it over Annie’s dead body. The person with the most rationality is Dr. Loomis. He is only taken seriously by the audience. Dr. Loomis describes Michael by saying “this isn’t a man…” If Michael really is as “evil” as Dr. Loomis describes, we should be very scared that he is free.

In Scream, the irrationality takes the form of the killer. Throughout the film we wonder why all this is happening, and who could be behind it all, whereas we know exactly who it is in Halloween. This is enhanced by the police presence as they are trying to find out what we want to know. Motives and people are questioned throughout the film:

Everybody’s a suspect! – Randy

When we find out it is Billy we are surprised, even more so when it’s revealed that Stu is his accomplice. We find out Billy’s mother left because his father was having an affair with Sidney’s mother, and Billy has been struggling to cope since. However, this does nothing to excuse their actions. When questioned about his motives, Stu reacts almost-comically, saying “peer pressure”.

Not having any reasoning capabilities creates a terrifying monster because without rationality, they cannot see what they are doing is wrong, and it’s very unlikely the monster will stop.

Lack of Narrative Closure

In Halloween, we are left with no closure. After being shot and falling from a balcony, Michael has managed to survive and escape. He is still out there and able to carry on hurting people. This film is one of the best to apply this technique. At the end of the movie the theme music returns as we are shown several shots of the films locations. Over the top of all this, we can hear Michael’s breathing. He could be anywhere, in any of these locations. Michael is anywhere he wants to be.

This does not apply to Scream so much. Our questions are resolved when Billy and Stu confess to Sidney that are responsible for the killing but are going to frame Sidney’s father. They are overheard by Gail Weathers, who creates a tell-all news story once they have been killed. Everybody will know what happened. Billy and Stu are both dead which satisfies the audience because they were so anxious to be the only ones left alive.

Bounded experience of fear

Isabel Pinedo likens watching a horror movie to a rollercoaster, saying that in horror films “fear and pleasure commingle.” We use our rational minds to distinguish the movie from our everyday lives, and keep the two separate. Both Carpenter and Craven ask us to suspend these rational thoughts for the duration of the movie. However, when we leave the cinema, we aren’t looking around for a crazed killer in a mask.

In Halloween, we like to think that the authorities would never allow Michael Myers to escape, they would listen to people like Dr. Loomis and crisis would be averted. We trust those in charge to keep us safe from such people.

In Scream, although we are able to separate the characters world from our own, the lines between the two are blurred. They like the same movies as us, they dress like us, eat and drink like us, and are subject to the same advertising as us. If they were in a horror film, how are they aware of other horror films such as Halloween and A Nightmare on Elm Street? These hazy and unclear boundaries aim to set the film in our world, rather than in the realm of the horror movie.

How Scream references other horror films

I will point out the numerous references that Scream makes to other pop culture films. All these allusions make Scream truly postmodern.

  • The character Billy Loomis was named after Dr. Loomis in Halloween, who was named after Sam Loomis in Psycho. Also, the girl who plays Annie in Halloween is called Nancy Loomis. There is multiple inter-textual referencing between Scream, Halloween and Psycho. Jamie Lee Curtis was chosen for her role in Halloween precisely because her mother played the lead female role in Psycho.
  • At the start of Scream, Casey Becker, played by Drew Barrymore, is asked to name the killers in Halloween and Friday the 13th.
  • Billy’s line “We all go a little mad sometimes” is a direct quote from Norman Bates in Psycho. 
  • In a comical reference to A Nightmare on Elm Street, the janitor of the school is shown wearing a fedora and striped jumper similar to Freddy Krueger’s. The principal even refers to him as ‘Fred’. This acts as comic relief.
  • When the principle is killed, there is a close up of his eye in which we can see the mask of the killer. This is an obvious allusion to Psycho and the famous shower scene.
  • In both films, characters are sent to the ‘McKenzie’s’ house for help.
  • Randy mentions ‘Leatherface’ at one point, a direct reference to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
  • Tatum tells Sidney she is starting to soundlike something out of a “Wes Carpenter” film: a blending of Wes Craven and John Carpenter.
  • There are other minimal references made to The HowlingThe Exorcist and Silence of the Lambs as well as the characters of ‘Norman Bates’ and ‘Hannibal Lecter’.
  • During the party at Stu’s house, they all decide to watch Halloween. Randy explains the
    rules of horror films. Randy seems to be narrating Halloween and his own life, his own horror movie. Randy screams “he’s behind you!” at the screen, while the killer of his own movie is right behind him. When Dewey enters the house to investigate, the soundtrack to Halloween also acts as the soundtrack for Scream.

Both of the films are postmodern and both reference the horror films that have come before them. Both have had a huge effect of the horror movie genre and have created a new tradition in the horror genre. John Carpenter and Wes Craven have subverted and adapted the conventions to fit each of their films.

James Bond ‘Skyfall’ – Sometimes the old ways are the best

50 years after the first James Bond film, the latest installment of Ian Fleming’s Bond series brings it back to its roots.

WARNING: contains spoilers

I went to see Skyfall yesterday and I was blown away by it. The film, directed by Sam Mendes, had everything you could want from a Bond movie; fast cars, chase scenes, women, gadgets and a Bond that looks good in and out of a suit. This is not a review, but a look at the ideas the film explores.

The running theme throughout seemed to be; the old ways are the best. Bond (Daniel Craig) gains an injury at the start of the film and struggles to get back on his feet. All around him there are signs he is getting too old for his job. James Bond is ageing. Not only is Bond starting to feel bypassed, but MI6 as a whole is under investigation, having its relevance assessed. At the forefront of this investigation is Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes), the Chairman of Britain’s Intelligence and Security Committee. Mallory insists that M (Judi Dench) retires, questioning her ability to run MI6. Mallory tells Bond “This is a young’s man game.”

The inevitability of time, don’t you think? – Q

We see Bond struggling with his physical and mental tests. For the first time in the Bond series, we are scared that Bond has lost his touch. He goes for his final meeting with M and Mallory, and M tells him he has passed. A collective sigh of relief can be heard throughout the cinema. Only after Bond and Mallory have left it is revealed he didn’t pass them after all…

He is sent to meet Q, who seems to personify Bond’s struggle against this new era of secret intelligence. When he first sits down with Bond, they are looking at a painting of a war ship being towed away for scrap metal. This is an obvious metaphor for Bond’s place within MI6. His posh English accent and schoolboy looks are very different from Bond’s rugged, tough and weathered appearance. When Q tells Bond who he is, Bond is shocked. “You must be joking… you still have spots.” When Bond asks Q why he needs him if technology is so important, Q says that sometimes a trigger must be pulled. The whole gallery scene is a constant tit-for-tat, each side trying to better the other.

Age is no guarantee of efficiency… – Q

…and youth is no guarantee of innovation. – Bond

It seems that Bond’s world is being overrun by technology. Technology that makes him redundant. MI6 have lost a file which holds the names of agent working for them. The villain behind this scheme has hacked into the MI6 computer system, baffling everybody involved. Even the latest technology that MI6 use cannot stop this evil mastermind. The hacker warns M: “Think on your sins.” He has gained access to her personal computer, along with all the files within. Within seconds of this ominous message, MI6 is blown up. The shocked silence that follows is deafening. In a film of explosions, gunshots, trains, cars, motorbikes, helicopters, city scenes and fist-fights, the silence has more impact than any music could.

A few days later the villain again attacks M’s personal computer. She is taunted again, and told to “click here” for a prize. When she does, it links her to a YouTube video, revealing five of the identities of her agents. She is warned that five more will be revealed every week. M tries to save her agents but three of them are killed and the execution videos published on the web. This highlights another way in which technology is being used against them. Even the soundtrack predicts the end of an era. After the dramatic opening scene, we hear Adele’s voice “This is the end…”

Let the sky fall, when it crumbles
We will stand tall
Face it all together

Bond is finally brought face-to-face with Raoul Silva, the mastermind behind the whole thing. He is a former MI6 agent who has turned to the dark side. When we are introduced to Silva he is surrounded by technology. Silva has his own island because he  tricked the locals into fleeing. The island has clearly been deserted and left to become ruin. To have all this sophisticated technology among the rubble is another great contrast between old and new. However, this time Bond gains the upper hand, all thanks to a simple tracking device.

Silva is brought back to London, but all is not as it seems. Silva has planned everything. He knew exactly how MI6 would react, and worked around it. Even Q struggles decoding Silva’s work. Everything seems to be working to Silva’s benefit.  This is when Bond takes over. Knowing that Silva wants M, he decides to stop the cat and dog game (or rat and rat and Silva puts it) and takes a whole new direction. This leads him back to his roots.

What this brings him to is something never seen before; Bond before he was an agent. He arrives at a large country house called Skyfall.  At this point we know we are being let into a part of James Bond he never wanted us to see. This is where we meet Kincade (Albert Finney) the gamekeeper at Skyfall since James was a boy. Bond explains the situation to Kincade, and the three start to prepare the house for Silva’s arrival. When looking at the weapons they have, Kincade explains every gun was sold apart from Bond’s father’s old hunting gun. Bond takes this gun for his own. It is almost as if he has asked his parents for help, and they don’t let him down. Kincade then puts a knife on the table, saying that the old ways are sometimes the best. This is the most iconic line from the film, and we then know how it will end.

Bond uses his past to fight back. It has a last-stand feel and we know this is Bond putting in his all. We see the lengths he will go to in order to protect MI6, M and his precious lifestyle. In the end, the old ways win out. Just as Kincade predicted, the knife meant the end for Silva. All the technology and gadgets can’t protect Silva when he is stabbed. Q said at the start that sometimes a trigger needs to be pulled, and technology can’t do that.

For my article on new media click here.

I only had two problems with the film; Bond as an ageing character, and the obvious product placement.

  • Bond has been saving the world since 1962, never ageing and not even shown with the same actor from film to film. As an audience we are supposed to overlook this when we enter into the cinema and the world of Bond. All of the Bond films have been set in present day times, with the technology to suit. The Daniel Craig films are set before Dr. No, so how can he be seen as getting old already? Bond as an ageless character is a game we all play along with, and the rules are not to be mentioned. This film break the rules. However, I think we aren’t supposed to focus on his physical ageing. The physical ageing acts only as a metaphor his lack of importance due to technology. I have chosen to take this view and disregard his physical ageing, and I’m focusing on his technological ageing. +
  • The product placement is very obvious in this film. The sponsorship paid for the majority of this film, before it ever hit the box office. We can no longer hear James Bond asking his martini shaken not stirred, he now asks for a Heineken. We see many people throughout the film drinking Heineken, and not in subtle ways. In the opening scene alone Audi and VW Beetles are mentioned. the Vaio laptops are seen throughout the film. There are many many more examples that I don’t have the time or desire to look at. Again this brings Bond into our world, rather than taking us into his. We don’t like to be reminded that we are watching a film. We know this brings in a lot of the revenue for the film, but is this really the whole point? I hate to see Bond manipulated in this way. James Bond is a long-running tradition with millions of fans that I know agree with my point. Don’t sell out Mendes!

Skyfall has renewed the world of Bond and MI6. While there have been changes, the newly appointed know how important it is to have field agents. Bond is important. While his support crew need to keep on top of this technology, you can’t replace Bond’s expertise with a geek at a computer. Without all the geeks at computers, Bond would not be able to do what he does, I can’t doubt that, but what good is a gun in hands-on combat? This is the meaning of the film and we are left feeling more proud of Bond than ever. Seeing part of his childhood has only served to make his more human in a world of technology, and has made him more dear to us.

A Look at Lichtenstein

Roy Lichtenstein – Pop Art Genius

Not many people would know Roy Lichtenstein’s by his name alone, (well done if you can even spell it), yet many people would know his artwork to see. He is one of the godfathers of pop art and his cartoon style of painting has made him very famous all over the world. His work is contemporary, often amusing and will be enjoyed by most people who see it. Whatever you do, don’t base your opinions on the Wikipedia picture of him, it’s creepy. Click here to see for yourselves.

Roy Lichtenstein was born in 1923 in New York and grew up there. He was an art and music lover from an early age, even though art was not taught at his school. After school he took summer classes at the Art Students League of New York and later moved to Ohio to get a Fine Arts degree. Lichtenstein became one of the most well-known pop artists, with big, colourful pieces that really draw the eye. His work is very similar to cartoon and comic book styles. He uses Ben-Day dots to help create this effect. This technique uses dots to create blocks of colour. Cyan, magenta, yellow and black are the four colours of dots most popularly used. This is known as the CMYK colour model which is associated with colour printing of newspapers and magazines. The dots are spaced in different ways depending on which colour is needed. This is why you may have seen colour dots around the edge of some newspapers.

Arguably Lichtenstein’s most famous work is ‘Drowning Girl’, painted in 1963. It was inspired by a DC Comic and shows a woman engulfed in water, with the caption “I don’t care! I’d rather sink than call Brad for help!” It is a witty piece of art; we can’t help but laugh at the woman melodramatic statement. She seems to be drowning in her own tears, swept away by her own feelings. It is an ageless stereotype that women are rash, stubborn and above all, emotional. It is one of his many painting of women, and not the only one that shows them in this stereotypical way. Brad is also mentioned in his other paintings.

My favourite of his pieces is called ‘Ohhh…Alright…’ and shows a dramatic redhead on the phone. We can’t tell whether she is upset, confused or suspicious by the news she is receiving; that’s for the viewer to decide. For me, that represents the very complicated world of a woman’s mind. I’m not one for supporting sexist stereotypes, but I truly believe women are emotional, much more so than men, and to be honest, I’d be surprised if there were people who do disagree. It can be compared with ‘Oh, Jeff…I love you too…But…’ which shows a blonde woman, also on the phone. Both are staring off the left side of the canvas, holding the phone up to their faces with both hands, and looking distressed. ‘Ohhh…Alright…’ sold for a staggering $42.6 million at a Christie’s auction in New York back in 2010.

He hasn’t only done paintings though; he has created many sculptures, the DreamWorks Records company logo and has decorated a BMW Art car in 1977. Lichtenstein has this to say about the car: “I wanted the lines I painted to be a depiction of the road showing the car where to go – the design also shows the countryside through which the car has traveled. One could call it an enumeration of everything a car experiences, only that this car reflects all of these things before actually having been on a road.”

So even if you haven’t heard of Roy Lichtenstein, look up his work, you will enjoy it once you do. You won’t regret it. For some reason, his work is considered cooler than others because of its comic book qualities. He’s a brilliant artist and a key figure in contemporary art culture.

New (and Newer) Media – Alan Liu

Alan Liu – Imagining the New Media Encounter (available here).

“Today, “digital” is the great new medium, and … The star today is “media” in a larger and more promiscuous sense that intermixes literature (when it includes it at all) with music, film, TV, animation, journalism, and so on…” – Alan Liu

This post is not so much a response to the article, just some thoughts on some of the issues raised. This article may be a little difficult to get to grips with at first, but I did a class called Philosophy of the Mass Media last year which gave me a good foundation of Luhmann and McLuhan.

What the article did was make me think about was what we can actually define as ‘new’ media. Luhmann says that something can only be new once, and that once it has been put out into the world (through television, magazines, radio etc.) it is no longer news. Today, people queue for hours to get the latest phones, games, iPods, iPads and more. The novelty comes from the item being newer and more advanced than the last. However, by the end of that day, it is no longer new, and people start to look for the ‘next big thing’. For Luhmann there are many different selectors which help the mass media decide what is news for the people of the society. This can be on a local, nation or international level. The selectors include; local relevance, surprise, conflict and violation of norms. These selectors help to narrow down the information from the non-information.

We live in a highly technological age where we must be able to use this technology to get things done. While some people may see this as ‘laziness’, my point of view is that each new piece of technology allows us to do more and more, and this in turn allows us to create more and more. Humans create things to makes our lives easier. This has been happening for thousands of years. A media-related example is that hand-produced leaflets were replaced with the creation of the printing press. For more information on the printing press, its development and the impact it has had on the mass production of books visit this site: History of the Printing Press.

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The more we become familiar with the technology, the more productive we can be within our society. This ties in to what McLuhan says regarding the medium as the message. It isn’t what we can say, but how we can say it, and what methods of the media are available to us. In this way, the media is becoming more democratized. The media is allowing more and more people to get involved and comment on society through blogs, websites and social networking. We don’t need a postgraduate degree to set up a blog, or write on Facebook. McLuhan believes there is no excuse to not get involved, it is our duty to become an active social agent within our society.

I suppose what I’m trying to say is that at one point or another, everything is new. Not only that, but there are thousands of new inventions every week. These new creations lead to more and more new things. There is no way that anybody can be expected to keep up with it all. We just have to learn how to cope the best we can with the new technology of today! However hard this is, we must find our own ways to best communicate with the outside world.

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