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?

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