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?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Rawle dissects a page of his book

I found this article online and I thought it was pretty cool so I put the link here. Its an article from New York Magazine in which Graham Rawle takes a page of his book and explains where he got the word clippings, etc. Other people might have come across this too, but I figured I'd share it anyway.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Unravelling the Mystery in _Woman's World_

I must admit that before I came to class today, I did NOT know that Norma and Roy were the same person. Oops. I was aware, however, that the characterization of Norma was a bit on the strange side, and I knew that some of her actions and how other characters responded to her stemmed from mysterious roots.

A characterization point that I found important is in Chapter Five, during the confrontation between Mary and Norma/Roy: “‘I knew you’d gone dressed like that when I saw your suit still hanging up,’ she said. I was ready to try and explain why I had chosen the particular outfit I had, but she seemed reluctant to listen, and, besides, I suddenly felt horribly conspicuous in it” (77). From this, it seems likely that Mary and Norma share a close relationship, because Norma says she is actually moved by Mary’s feelings. Unlike during the job interview, where she is adamant about her role and her rights as a woman, here she reveals vulnerability and unsureness. Did you, like me, see Mary as an especially important character, one who we readers can trust more in figuring out Norma/Roy’s actual situation and personality?

Also - a semi-related yet very important question: how does it seem like form is playing into this developing mystery? If, like we were establishing in class, we don't exactly trust the narrator’s voice... why? Is it through direct plot action, through the form itself, or a combination of the two?

Suggestion of Norma's Flashback / Suggested themes

(TYPO ON PG 101??????)

With what was mentioned in class--the possibility that the part about the young girl getting run over by the bread delivery track could be a flashback of Norma/Roy's--I'm thinking that Rawle's presentation does in fact serve as a possible story of origin for Norma's behavior. But, I wanted to mention that Rawle's movement into the presentation of the event (suddenly and out of nowhere), creates an aspect of Norma's inability to maybe forget this event (whether it's truly significant to her past or not).

The exit from Norma's "flashback" does a fine job in continuing the action of the flashback. The boy is apparently up in a tree hiding, and when Mary (or the mother of Norma/Roy) calls to Norma, it's presented in a way that could possibly trick the reader (Mary asks, "What are you doing up there?"). This adds to effect of surprise Norma most likely was experiencing snapping out of the flashback. It may suggest that Norma is the boy in the tree, which ultimately creates the idea that Norma/Roy could have possibly been in the incident she is thinking about.

(After the new reading, I was feeling the incident w/ the accident w/the little girl was about to occur during Roy's escape from the bra theft. Don't forget the bra is in the glove compartment, Roy!! lol)

I'm beginning to truly feel for the main character. I'm feeling sympathy towards Norma/Roy and her mom. Though Norma wishes to be herself, it's evident that her mother is affected greatly by 'Norma' ("Norma" possibly suggesting an spin on the word "normal" creating irony with Roy's abnormal behavior, just a thought). Roy makes Mary happy, and the disappointment/resentment of Norma is evident from her mother throughout the past two readings.

The switch to Roy creates a surge of positiveness in his life. The green light found at Mr. White's presents a theme of acceptance of the 'true' Roy. He receives the green light from the different secretary (which he never got as Norma due to her personality's impatience). Also, the secretary becomes a major factor in Roy's life when they begin to flirt which of course would not occur had he been Norma. He also gets the job, which creates 3 positive events all focussed around this "green light." Roy is approved in many aspects due to his switch to himself (even later by Mary who's attitude completely changes due to Roy's success at Mr. Whites). He essentially receives the "green light" when he is Roy.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Norma, Norma, Norma

What in the world is going on with Norma?

As refreshing as it is to be reading a—comparatively speaking—novel, after a string of books that I have not quite been able to characterize, Woman’s World is still considerably more unconventional in terms of the definition of a “novel” than, say, something written by Nathaniel Hawthorne. What Graham Rawle is giving readers is a story, constructed beautifully out of clippings from 1960s-era women’s magazines. This is the story of Norma Fontaine/Little, but after reading the beginnings of this book I cannot place my finger on who she really is.

I think this might be part of Rawle’s intention, or maybe not. After all, the actual text of this book was largely improvisational on his part—he stated that his first draft of the story was his own words, but in using the clippings the bulk of his writing was altered. Because of this, Norma’s personality is slightly muddled during the first one hundred or so pages of the book. We know that she lives with her brother, Roy, and someone named Mary, and that her wardrobe is seemingly endless and exceedingly fashionable. But the story of her life before this novel is unclear. Who was she before? Why is she not allowed to answer the door? Why do her neighbors think her a stranger, and her home’s regular postman confused by her presence? How much, if at all, can we trust her?

(500) Days of Summer

At first I wasn’t all too excited for (500) Days of Summer having been jaded by probably every rom-com to have come out in recent memory. You know the ones with the same plot staring the same actors again and again?

Sorry Vince Vaughn but I’m tired of staring at your ugly mug for an hour and a half.(What's with that mustache anyway?)Yet, (500) Days was a surprisingly refreshing detour from the cookie cutter formula that most of romantic comedies fall under. Released in 2009 and directed by relatively unproven music video director Marc Webb, the films stars Joseph Gordin-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel.

The movie follows a failed relationship between Gordin-Levitt’s character Tom and Deschanel’s character Summer as a non-linear sequence of days during said relationship. The beginning of the film nods towards the idea that the films plot isn’t entirely based upon fiction reading “Any resemblance to people living or dead is purely coincidental ... Especially you, Jenny Beckman ... Bitch”. Writer Scott Neustadter later admitted that Bechman is from a former relationship of his. The writing of the movie is based upon this to a point.

The film through the relationship of Tom and Summer brings up the problems of memory when someone looks back to tell a narrative. 500 (Days) does this by playing scenes multiple times but with Tom analyzing the situation in a new light. Writing the film as a memory of days also allows it to show the conflict between Tom’s expectations and the reality he faces.

The final point the film brings into focus is the problem of knowing another mind. Since the movie is told solely through Tom’s point of view (as well as a third person narrator) a solipsistic relationship develops between Tom and Summer. This is limiting in the sense that we don’t get a clear picture of both sides of the relationship, and speaks to relationships between all people. This also raises the question if we can understand what writers and authors present to us as recipients of their work, since we cannot understand the authors intent.

A few things to think of while watching the film: How the role of memory affects the narrative is told as well as the content, whether solipsism actually creates a rift between author and reader (or in this case writer and watcher) or that this problem does not exist, and finally whether or not this movie succeeds in presenting a “real” representation of a relationship as it tries to do.

Finally here's a trailer for the movie:

Monday, October 11, 2010

Dictee readings for Wednesday (10/13)

The end of Dictee is challenging, so I thought it might help to guide our discussion on Wednesday with some critical perspectives on the book.  I've broken you up into groups to look at the following articles:

Layla, Alex, Diane, Cat, Bonnie, Leroy

David, Krista, Brian, Matti, Stephanie, Ben

Sally, Bianca, Nicole, Donnovan, Joyce, Sang

Lauren, Cassie, Patrick, Margaret, Dan, Phillip

Hopefully, you've already gotten an email, but here are the baseline instructions for Wednesday's class:

I'd like you to look over the attached article for Wednesday's class (sorry for the size).  I'd like you to be able to summarize the argument of the piece, and points us to any important claims/points that the piece addresses.  In particular, what does the article assume and what new information or context does it need to invoke to makes its point(s) about Dictee?  Finally, what is the overall impression of the book; based on this article, do we have a sense of what this book is for, or why it operates the way it does?

You don't need to prepare much other than your notes, but your fellow students will have other articles, so we will be comparing how other critics take up Dictee.

Thursday, October 7, 2010


Released in 1988, AKIRA twisted the boundaries of what animation could show: violence, body horror, and sex built around heavy themes. It ushered in the "Golden Age" of Japanese animation and was one of the first of its kind to break into the American market.

Akira begins like any post-apocalyptic movie: in a rebuilt but morally decayed Neo-Tokyo, 30 years after after a cataclysmic explosion has leveled the city. Crime and violence run rampant and the government has similarly evolved into a brutal police state. The plot follows the leader of motorcycle gang The Capsules (Kaneda), as he deals with the kidnapping of one of his friends (Tetsuo). The shady government scientists subject Tetsuo to a battery of tests and injections and eventually awaken his latent psychic powers. Unfortunately Tetsuo has a pretty bad inferiority complex, so when presented with his new abilities... well, explosions ensue.

Sound ridiculous?

Frankly, it is. On top of all the gratuitous mushroom clouds, there is way too much plot for a two hour movie. (It was condensed from a 2,000+ page graphic novel, so there are a LOT of characters, exposition, and plot to cover.) Nevertheless, Akira is considered one of the most aesthetically iconic movies, animated or otherwise. See if you can spot ties to Blade Runner (1982), Tron (1982), The Matrix (1999), or even Kanye West's music video for Stronger.

Some things to keep in mind:
  • Pay attention to the structure of the narrative. How is this set up like many sci fi/action films we see today? (Or is it not?) Where does the exposition come and what effect does this have on the viewer?
  • As Akira's cult status has grown, many critics have stated its only saving grace is the gorgeous animation. How much do the aesthetics of the movie affect its quality? How does the setting become more than just a backdrop? (Pay attention to color changes, angle choices, etc.)
  • What kind of things can be accomplished within this medium that would otherwise be impossible? What are the limits?
  • Akira is best enjoyed with an open mind and a heavy suspension of disbelief. =)

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Spoken in the Spaces: An Attempted Deciphering

Throughout the work so far, the inability to speak or prohibition of expression has taken root as a central theme. In the section of "Erato - Love Poetry", Theresa Hak Kyung Cha seems to utilize form (as we have seen before in Double or Nothing, sorry to bring it up again) to further convey this message. Cha speaks on "the unspoken the unheard, the apprenticeship to silence" (106) and we as readers are to observe this within the pages before us. Throughout this section, the use of space and emptiness is quite pointed. The open book gives two pages whose text have the ability to be interlocked, one page's words being capable of perfectly fitting the empty spot on the opposite. I found this to mirror a slightly more enigmatic passage from earlier in which Cha speaks on the pain and difficulty of being perhaps metaphorically pregnant with not only others' words but the unspoken words of "she". The passage I thought related was: "When the amplification stops there might be an echo. She might make the attempt then. The echo part. At the pause... The invoking. All the time now. All the time there is. Always. And all times. The pause. Uttering. Hers now" (4-5). It seems the character(s) represented by "she" are only capable of expression in the emptiness or in the absence of any oppressive force.

This can also account for the almost contradicting, dual track of narrative within this section, each voice or train of thought limited to the one side of the page. The two pages, Left and Right, and distinctly different in their message, much like some of the more emblematic pages, such as those with the Japanese characters of "Father" (54) and "Mother" (55). It seems there are a myriad of voices within this chapter and they do not necessarily want to be joined.

Cha also uses the disjointedness of this section to make the text analogous to the love being discussed. Cha says of the husband and wife: "They do not touch. It is not like that. The touching made so easy the space filled full with touch. The entire screen" (106). In this section, the movie theater has been brought up and this makes literal sense of the "screen", but I believe Cha is saying something less opaque than that. She references the medium of film as being easy to fill with "touching", but is also extending this connection to her book. This chapter is filled with disjointed words that do not touch, and entire pages appear empty. With the mention of this, the blank page becomes evocative of the emptiness of the love within the mentioned marriage. There is more space than words at times, speaking depths about the nature of the marriage.

I find that Cha's tactics for employing the medium of printed word to be more expressive is almost identical to what we have seen in Double or Nothing. However, it seems more effective because it does not throw it in our face quite so brazenly. The subtlety is certainly appreciated.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

F for Fake

F for Fake (1974) is a pseudo-documentary/quasi-fictional film directed by and starring Orson Welles. It was his last major work before dying in 1985.

The film is primarily focused on telling the stories of Elmyr de Hory and Clifford Irving. The relationship between the two men (artists?) was established when Irving wrote a biography on Elmyr's life as an extremely talented (successful?) art forger entitled Fake! The two men are similar in the fact that it's hard to know if what they claim to be is entirely truthful. Both are known hoaxers, Elmyr with his replications of master artists's work and Irving with his alleged encounter with the then hermit Howard Hughes.

The story of the these two men lead the picture into a dissection of artistic value and authenticity. Pay particular attention to moments when said issues seem to be addressed head-on. Also consider Welles' role as narrator and creator of the film and whether or not this complicates his artistic merit.

There's a lot to this movie; a lot of radical claims about what can and what can't be accepted as art. The words in parenthesis above are follow by a question mark for a reason. Think about if such a title (artist/successful) can be applied to the film's primary characters (Elmyr/Irving). Also I feel it would be most valuable to come to class Friday with a thought out personal definition of what constitutes an artistic product.

Enjoy the movie!


Theresa Cha's novel, Dictee, bears similarities to her own autobiography. Born in Korea in during the 1950s, she and her family were victims of the Korean War. Her family moved constantly, from Korea to Hawaii, from Hawaii to Northern California. During her stay in the United States, she studied at an all girls Catholic school. All of these bits of information contribute to her novel Dictee, which carries a theme of dislocation and fragmentation. In the opening pages of the novel, we see how Cha divides this novel into nine sections. We see the use of French and English; on some pages, there are words written in Japanese. Keeping in mind Cha's immigrant status, the incorporation of fragments and the variety of forms she chooses to include (whether it be journal entries, letters, news articles, photographs) in the novel focus on not merely a geographical dislocation, but also on a cultural and societal disconnect.

The first 59 pages for Monday's class include a collection of stories of Korean women during the time of the Korean revolution. From the inception, Cha uses the repetition of phases of "pain to speak," "pain to say" and "pain of speech." Throughout the stories Cha recalls, there is a limitation in the freedom of speech and the choice of one's language. How does the structure of the novel play a role in emphasizing the speaker's struggle of speech?

Similarly, on page 7 and page 11, she poses a similar quote but removes the words muse, goddesses, and daughter of Zeus. Throughout this first section we read, there are excerpts from the Bible yet she titles her nine segments with a Greek mythology character or Greek muses. What can we make of this?