Saturday, November 27, 2010

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Jonathan Safran Foer author of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, as well as Everything Is Illuminated (which was adapted into film in 2005), uses bits and pieces of his own childhood to shape the precocious narrator, Oskar Schell. For example, when Foer was nine years (the same age as Oskar), he was terribly burned in an accident at a chemistry lab and as a result, he suffered the same kind of mental stress as Oskar after the death of his father. Therefore, from the very beginning of the novel, readers are exposed to traumatic effects of death.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
is a novel built around the eyes of a nine year old boy who concocts inventions in his mind that would improve everyday life and solves mysteries to quench his curious mind. The opening pages of the novel expose Oskar's thoughts (which I believe exceed the mind of a nine year old) as a stream of consciousness, having no sort of pattern or reason. He is weighed down by a secret he holds and feels all the burden and exasperation as a result of losing his father and his mentor. Interspersing the novel are letters from Oskar's grandfather to his son and Oskar's grandmother to Oskar. These letters again reveal the themes of suffering and pain as a result of loss.

The aesthetics of the novel are similar to much of the works we've been exposed to this semester but also contribute a natural fluidity to the narrative. Foer includes photographs, colored highlights or circled words, illegible text perhaps to reflect how a nine year old processes death and loss. Despite the seriousness of the themes, Foer also includes elements of humor and a sense of innocence to the protagonist's search.
Some questions we can consider as we read the novel:
  • What are the advantages of telling the novel through the perspective of a nine year old?
  • How do the aesthetics contribute to the themes of the novel?
  • How do the letters Oskar's grandparents write help us understand the protagonist? Why include these letters?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Pokémon Theory

Absolutely amazing.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Introduction to The Jacket

First of all, I should start out by saying that The Jacket got some unfortunate advertising when it came out in theaters in 2005. Because it was advertised more as a horror film than, as the director calls it, the “subversive psychological thriller” that it really is, along with its horrible trailer (seriously) it didn't do very well at all before it came out on DVD. However, keeping in mind that this is only Maybury’s second full-length film, and despite mixed reviews and poor advertising, The Jacket, although clearly Memento-esque in many ways, it is definitely an aesthetically interesting film that introduces new ideas and elements into the memory loss/time travel sort of stories that it is adapted from.

The director, John Maybury, is a British director that is pretty well known for the artistic visual elements that he brings into his works. He claims to find inspiration from silent films, and has often had an avant-garde style in his film making. Keep these things in mind when thinking about the stylistic aspects of The Jacket. Another thing to keep in mind is Maybury's insistence that the film appears "organic", in direct opposition to big-budget Hollywood movies, which he often says are “crap”. He didn't want to use CGI in his film, although it is used in one aspect of the film (which I will let you figure out for yourselves). Furthermore, he likes to use colors and backdrops to reinforce emotion and set tone - so keep this in mind as well. Before directing The Jacket, John Maybury’s resume was made up of music videos and a number of short films that he described in one interview as “arty, pretentious nonsense in Europe that no one has ever seen."

This is Maybury’s first American film, as well as his first time “being allowed inside the system” (i.e., Hollywood). Furthermore, even though Maybury has continually expressed gratitude for the experience of directing The Jacket, he has also expressed frustration with the limitations that Hollywood produced films present. The largest of his annoyances with the system seem to be with advertising (which isn’t surprising when you look at how they advertised The Jacket) and with the American rating system/test screenings. About an hour and twenty minutes had to be cut from the original version of this film, mainly because of the results of test screenings – Maybury, being British (and this being his first experience working with American cinema), was surprised at many of the things that were cut, especially how much nudity and sexuality (which doesn’t even seem to have been very explicit in the deleted scenes, if you ask me) was cut out compared to the very little violence that was cut from the film. In commenting on this in an interview, he said, “obviously it’s a process that’s very important to the corporate people who work in this country, which is why you get so much crap cinema.” Obviously he’s a pretentious guy, but at the same time he makes a pretty good point about what our ratings system has turned into.

The screenplay for The Jacket is loosely based on the novel The Star Rover by Jack London. This novel tells the story of Darrell Standing, a university professor serving life imprisonment in San Quentin for murder. While in prison, Standing is subjected to a torture device called "the jacket," a canvas jacket which can be tightly laced so as to compress the whole body, inducing angina (severe chest pain caused by lack of blood/oxygen to the heart). Standing figures out that he can tolerate the torture by entering a kind of trance state, in which he walks among the stars and experiences portions of past lives. Most of the novel is made up by the accounts of the past lives, so it almost comes off as a series of short, disconnected stories. Jack London based The Star Rover off of the real life experiences of Ed Morrell. Similarly, Morrell was subjected to torture at San Quentin prison, and claimed to have taught himself self-hypnosis in order to endure the pain. When he got out of prison, his wife wrote a book titled The Twenty-Fifth Man under his name, relating his experiences. The book supposedly became a platform for prison reform and the state of Arizona, where they completely changed their prison policy based on its contents.

Things to keep in mind while viewing the film: settings, colors and patterns in the background/surroundings, war aspect of the film, repeated or mimicked elements

One question you should ask yourself when watching The Jacket: is this or isn't this a film about time travel?

Friday, October 29, 2010

La Jetée

Released in 1962, La Jetée
(The Jetty or The Pier) is a 28 minute film narrated almost entirely from black and white still photography.
The narration is done through a voice over and very little dialogue occurs throughout. The story is set in post-apocalyptic Paris where scientists are experimenting with time travel in order "to call past and future to the rescue of the present." A nameless man becomes the most promising subject because he has an obsessive memory of his childhood in where he witnesses passenger jets take off, a man falling to the ground, shot, and killed, and a distraught woman standing as another witness to the scene. Through the series of still shots, we experience the time travel to the past and the future.

La Jetee's film director, Chris Marker, packs so much detail into this short film and introduces it as the landmark to sci-fi. Not only does it deal with imagined innovations in science and technology, it also utilizes its form to twist around themes like time and memories. The themes of the apocalypse, travel, loss, hope, and memory are some of the main concerns that the film examines through its content and aesthetics. As the protagonist voyages from the post wwiii present to the past, the film also takes this journey through time rather than space.

Interesting fact! La Jetee was the inspiration for Terry Gilliam's 12 Monkeys that starred Bruce Willis, Madeleine Stowe, and Brad Pitt. In fact, executive producer of 12 Monkeys persuaded Chris Marker to expand the 28 minute film into a full length science fiction film. Similarities between the two films include their nonlinear storyline and time travel subplot.

Here are some of the things you want to be thinking of while watching the film:
  • Why does Marker choose to portray the film through stills rather than motion pictures? are we viewers affected in any way by this kind of presentation?
  • Consider the themes of time, memory, and how reality is experienced. What does the film reveal about our own memories? Consider even what this film has to say about cinema.
  • Although there's not much dialogue taking place in the film, do the voice over and the other sound effects form its own narrative?
Here's the video clip of La Jetee:

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Woman's World: what it takes to be a woman

During my reading of Graham Rawle's Woman's World, one very specific idea kept coming to mind: is this really how he views women? While the character of Norma is more outgoing than her male counter-part Roy, both of them are easily interchangeable. Rawle over-simplifies the life of a woman to simply revolve around cleaning and looking fabulous. He seems to suggest that with the right amount of makeup and a pretty dress, any man can become a woman and have it be completely convincing. Now, this may just be a disillusion of Norma's, but the method of Rawle's construction of the novel itself seems to suggest otherwise. To fully convey the "woman's world," Rawle collected woman-specific magazines and compiled a novel based on pop-culture and advertising of the time. His view of women only covers surface-level characteristics. Yes, women tend to take care of the home and wear makeup, but by completely ignoring any deeper levels, the story comes off as semi-chauvinistic. Early in the story, as Norma is narrating, she says, "It's normally so unlike a man to know about such things" (23). While she is commenting on knowledge about shoes, she might have well been commenting on a man's knowledge of the multi-faceted world of a woman. Graham Rawle's superficiality wanes on borderline offensiveness. 

Woman's World

When I first reviewed this book before I started reading it I thought that is looked interesting. Not only does it look interesting because of the way it is written but it aesthetically pleasing to the eye in my opinion. I feel that the illustration of the book catches the readers attention before the actual plot does. The author choose to also to illustrate pictures of things being discussed. This gives the reader a closer understanding into the characters mind. Another undoubtedly interesting thing is definitely the main character Norma and Roy who are the same person. During the book though they are the same person one person is being focused on at a time though Norma always puts her input in when we are reading about the life of Roy. I think one should consider that Norma's character is definitely over powering to Roy's character. An example of this is the scene when Norma was with Mr. Hands and he tries to come on to her sexually but she does not want to. The reason why Norma is over powering in this situation is because even though she is dressed as a woman she has the strength of a man as well. Instead of letting her manly side, Roy appear when she needed him she decided to stay helpless and allow Mr. Hands in a sense to have the upper hand. While reading this I thought that Roy would surely appear and get himself out of the situation by restraining Mr. Hands but this did not happen. Norma ended up hitting Mr. Hands over the head with her heel. To me Norma does not think about it because she is convinced that when she is dressed as Norma she is a female and by her using her heel as a weapon is what one would think a typical woman would do. The last thing to think about is how Roy is considerate of Norma's feelings throughout the book. For instance, he does not go to dinner because of Norma. Whereas Norma is always running around trying to be something she is not a woman and gets into all sorts of trouble leaving Roy in uncomfortable situations such as when he was harassed by the police. Think about this situations and give your opinions on whether you thought they were interesting and why?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Language in Woman's World

Throughout the first two sections of Graham Rawle’s Woman’s World, the language of the 1960s fashion world is used in a possibly humorous, satiric mode. This use of language, however, fails in the third section as Roy realizes that Norma’s perception of the world is incapable of coexisting with his own. This failure begins to breach the surface of Norma’s exterior after she thinks that she killed Hands. Upon post-assault reflection, she realizes that actual life severely contrasts the romance portrayed in the magazines she worships, stating that “In all the romantic stories I have ever read in my magazines, not one of the men, and certainly none of the women, has ever killed anyone” (page 233-234). She expresses this new-found belief again when she states that “those who realize this truth [that life is not at all like Hollywood] will be happier for the knowledge” (page 237). Norma’s shocking experience of being victimized during an attempted rape results in her recognition of the superficiality and inapplicability of the content that she molds her life to.
This avoidable situation and the complication that accompanies it leads to the explicit statement by Roy that he wants to be rid of Norma (page 252), who chooses instead to believe that Roy is making this life decision because he experienced first-hand the disrespect that men show women. After Norma makes this statement, she makes it clear that she operates in denial. This should evoke a sense of concern within readers as this denial leads to an alteration of tone applied while portraying the Roy/Norma dichotomy. Norma reveals her insecurities, which is quite surprising since she normally fawns over herself and Roy loses his cool, collected mien that led him to unbelievable success in the past as he adopts instead a newfound air of paranoia (p. 215, 303-305). What does this say of the novel as a whole? Should we as readers be concerned that the portrayal of the first two sections, and thus the events that took place, was an inaccurate portrait?