For Those in Peril

I’m going to take a look at the ways in which ‘For Those In Peril’ contains familiar generic elements and makes an innovative contribution to art cinema. David Bordwell (2002) describes art film as ‘a film genre, with its own distinct conventions’ and, just as with other genres, audiences have developed a set of expectations of films that can be categorised as art house cinema. It’s important to consider what differentiates the art house genre from others. Art films cast themselves towards a niche market, rather than a mass audience. This means they tend not to acquire the same scale of financial backing as films produced within the dominant studio system. This imposes constraints upon the filmmakers, forcing them to think more creatively. In fact, art films go as far as explicitly contradicting the conventions of the classical narrative form. The financial constraints put upon art film directors often lead to the films edging more towards realism, typically not using well-known actors, limiting special effects and using ‘real’ locations. Along with art film’s social realist style, the genre encompasses the filmmaker’s personal artistic vision. Paul Wright’s ‘For Those In Peril’ is an art film which deals with national concerns in a self-conscious manner. Set in a remote fishing village in the North East of Scotland, the film follows Aaron, the lone survivor of an accident at sea which took the lives of his brother and four other men from the village. Aaron is struggling to come to terms with the loss of his brother, who was somewhat of a father figure whilst he grew up. The film explores his psychological complexities throughout.

figure 1Bert Cardullo (2006) notes that there are two main components that distinguish art cinema from other film genres. Cardullo argues that these distinctions are that ‘Firstly, art films are usually expressive of national concerns.’ ‘For Those In Peril’ deals with regional as well as national issues. The everyday life in the fishing village revolves around the sea and its produce. The women in the village work packing the fish and the men risk their lives on the boats. The film explores the theme of bereavement, a common issue in areas where jobs are dangerous. It also focuses on a tight-knit yet unsupportive community. They ostracised the film’s protagonist due to doubts about his mental health and speculated involvement in the accident. Also their own belief in folklore made then think that his presence will bring bad luck.  The village’s people saw Aaron as a constant reminder of the tragedy and didn’t want him around. Duncan Petrie (2000) , my university lecturer, highlights recurring themes found in Scottish cinema such as ‘the alienated or isolated subject.’ Subjectivity is expressed using visual techniques. Aaron is treated as a pariah in his village, the isolation felt by the protagonist is highlighted by the composition of shots such as Figure 1 (For those in Peril, 2013). In this shot he is dwarfed in the frame by the vastness of the water and the sky. The audience, for the most part of the film, sees the turmoil he experiences from his perspective. It encompasses the objectivity of a third person style narrative as well as the first person experience.

Bert Cardullo (2006) points out that ‘art films attempt to conform to canons of taste established in the existing ‘high’ arts…generally characterised by the use of self-consciously ‘artful’ techniques designed to differentiate them from ‘merely entertaining’.  The film has a self-conscious nature in that the editing draws attention to itself; the cuts are frequent and often unmotivated. This style contradicts the classical continuity editing which is popular in Hollywood. Flashbacks are used throughout the film as an artistic device to show the subjective reality of the complex lead protagonist. This temporal discontinuity is often a signifier of art cinema. However, in recent years the use of flashback is slowly creeping into mainstream narrative forms. Figure 2 shows the VHS style footage of the flashbacks makes it clear to audiences that we have stepped back from the storyline’s present day. The aesthetic imperfections of the home-video footage allude to a stark contrast between the crisp reality of the present and Aaron’s hazy memory and lack of clarity of what happened before and during the accident. Each flashback reveals more about Aaron’s emotional condition and it becomes clear that he was already psychologically disturbed before the tragedy. As well as showing the protagonist’s perspective, we see things from the point of view of his deceased brother.

figure 2

Psychologically complex characters are a key feature of art house films, examples of such characters are Dr. Isak Borg in Ingmar Bergman’s ‘Wild Strawberries’ and Ferdinand in Jean Luc Godard’s ‘Pierrot Le Fou’, so it is unsurprising that Aaron’s descent further into mental illness and his psychotic breakdown are explored. He is going to be sent to a mental institution but before this can happen, he goes on his final journey to the sea. The director manipulates a realist style to show the character’s view of the world and the film’s aesthetic is motivated by Aaron’s psychological state. The film attempts to examine the routes of the protagonist’s violent tendencies, something that would rarely be done in a classical narrative form.  There is a certain ambiguity to the mental state of the protagonist. The audiences are uncertain about whether the devil fish is in Aaron’s mind, or if there is some truth to his stories.

Although ‘For Those In Peril’ meets most of the criteria Bordwell used to define an art house cinema film, it is different in that its protagonist actually had a clear cut motivation throughout. Bordwell explains that the reason most art house films don’t have a character with a clear desire is because art films often attempt to make sense of mundane life and ‘had the characters a goal, life would no longer seem so meaningless.’   ‘For Those In Peril’ makes an innovative contribution to the genre of art house by going back to an element of classical cinema, giving Aaron an unequivocal drive. As a mechanism to cope with his grief, Aaron is adamant that his brother is not dead. His childhood memories of listening with his brother to his mother’s stories about the monster in the sea had a big impact on him and he believes that the monster has taken his brother. Aaron’s goal in the film is to retrieve his brother, Michael from the ‘dirty belly’ of the monster. Despite everyone disagreeing with him that his brother is alive, it is this insistence, this obsession that leads him on a journey back to the sea to face his internal demons, as well as the monster he believes is in the water’s depths. To balance this clear cut motivation, Aaron’s psychological inconsistencies are always in question, meaning audiences are unsure why he believes his brother is in the belly of a fish.

‘For Those In Peril’ is typical of an art house film in that it doesn’t use big name actors. This is mainly due to the film’s low budget. Instead the film utilises up-and-coming stars, as well as local extras. This is a clearly cheaper option but it also adds a layer of realism to the film in that the actors aren’t associated with many other projects. The film limited special effects by actually filming in the sea and by basing the film in a real village in Scotland. By using real locations as opposed to the more glamourous Hollywood sets, Paul Wright adds a sense of vérité to the film. The use of real location is a benchmark of the genre.

Ambiguity is, in essence, the meeting of realism and authorial expressivity making it an important convention of the art house genre. While being grounded in reality, the film is fuelled by the superstitions and folklore believed by those in the village and Aaron himself. The ambiguity allows for Aaron’s complex psychological state to be explored in the style of a folklore tale. The story of the devil of the sea is told throughout the film, but there are constant hints that the devil fish may in fact just be a metaphor for the film’s misunderstood protagonist. The film contains several indications of Aaron and the devil fish being one. It is explained at the start in a voiceover from one of the village people that the accident happened on a quiet and clear day, so the tragedy happened under mysterious circumstances.  It was revealed in the film that village people were suspicious of Aaron’s involvement in the incident. This is because he claims to remember nothing at all from that day and that when he was found he was covered in the blood of the other men. These accusations are explored but never truly resolved.

The parallels between Aaron and the fish are drawn in his relationship with his brother’s girlfriend Jane. They both struggle to come to terms with Michael’s demise. Jane turns to Aaron for comfort asking him to say things the same way his brother did, thinking Michael lives on in Aaron, whereas in Aaron’s mind his brother lives on in the belly of the monster. If you assume that they are both correct it means that Aaron is in fact the devil of the sea, who took the lives of the men. Another key indicator of the link between Aaron being the devil fish comes after he drags one of the local boys to sea with a hook trying to lure the creature. The local boy is rescued by the fishermen as they pull him onto the boat. Aaron tries to swim away from the boat like a fish desperate not to be caught. Figure 3 (shows that is ultimately caught in a net like a large fish.

figure 3

The ending of ‘For Those In Peril’ is open to interpretation, something which is synonymous with art house cinema. Audiences are left thinking about the film even after the credits have rolled; it is left to their imagination to decide if the devil fish was meant in a literal sense, if it was in fact Aaron or as a metaphor for the great forces of nature that can swallow a boatload of fisherman without trace.  The end sequence also highlights what David Bordwell describes as another key aspect of the art film genre, which is that ‘the art cinema is less concerned with action than reaction.’ Before the body of the devil fish is revealed to audiences, the shot shows the reaction on the boy’s mother’s face. Audiences are led to believe she sees her son’s body washed up on the shore rather than the huge body of the fish. As she approaches the fish, she showed signs of love not anger. Art film places an emphasis on active viewing, making the audience think about the unresolved ending.

‘For Those In Peril’ is an example of the difficult to define art house genre. The nature of the Art Film genre is to be innovative. ‘For Those In Peril’ is a psychological portrait of a young man dealing with his inner demons. The merging of authorial expressivity and realism allows the director to explore serious and ‘real’ topics such as bereavement and mental illness in relation to myth and folklore. It explores national and regional issues, but they are relevant to a global audience because they deal with universal, real life issues. The film has a dichotomy of reality and myth and the boundaries between the two are permeable due to the film’s ambiguity. The director used the budget constraints to his advantage. He had to think of creative ways to keep costs down, such as using footage from a VHS camera at times and using local extras in the small Scottish village he filmed in. As a genre Art Cinema is explicitly engaged with pushing the boundaries of cinema created by the studio system and doing something new. By giving Aaron a clear cut goal, something that is unusual in art house cinema, Paul Wright has contributed to the development of the genre. Just as flashbacks have made their way into mainstream cinema, an element of classical narrative has made the leap into art house work.

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Production Update..

I haven’t posted in a while because I have been preoccupied with University applications, open days and interviews as well as the BFI Film Academy WM but now that that’s all coming to an end I will be devoting my time to production and blogging. BOA TV have been very busy as of late. We have been working on a few exciting projects which are now coming close to completion.

During the half term, we went to the 2013 BVExpo in London to take a look at some of the newest software and technology. It was a great opportunity to network with industry professionals and get some advice about kit and upcoming post-production packages. We filmed snippets of our visit to the expo and will be piecing it together soon.

A lot has changed in regards to my final major project; I am no longer producing a video for BRIC-ITT due to unforeseen circumstances. Instead I am working on a promotional video for BOA’s Eastside neighbour, Millenium Point. Having to totally rework my original plan was easier than expected and we had a shot list was complete within 2 days. We have also filmed the initial interview with Philip Singleton, CEO of the Millenium Point Trust.  We plan to use this interview as the audio base for our video and punctuate it with a narrative voice over. Today was the first day shooting at Millenium Point and the surrounding area of Eastside. The internal shots were far easier to capture than the external ones because of the severe weather conditions. The strong winds made it hard to control camera shake as we were using a shoulder mount and a fig rig but we took whatever shots we could to use as placeholders for the time being. Tomorrow we will correct these shots by using a tripod and keeping our fingers crossed for a brighter day with no snow. We will also try to get some of the Year Ten students to use the Science Park because we were not able to film minor members of the public due to consent issues. The project is running smoothly so far and we will turn over a 6 minute edit  as well as a shorter one for the Imagine BOA YouTube channel.

The Library of Birmingham promotional video is also in the works right now. We have just one interview left to record and a couple of pick up shots from the inside of the new building. The edit has been more challenging than usual as I have been learning to edit using Avid rather than what I usually use, Adobe Premiere Pro. It is an entirely different process but finding my way around the new software has been all the more rewarding. Tomorrow we have a meeting to show the edit so far to the client, just to make sure everything is in keeping with their vision.

These are the projects we are currently working on but we have a few lined up. For the latest updates of BOA TV’s work check out our Facebook page. http://www.facebook.com/pages/BOA-TV

To see our productions check out the Imagine BOA channel http://www.youtube.com/user/imagineBOA/

 

All hail Lena Dunham…

Lena Dunham is taking the world by storm right now. The filmmaker turned actress, who has been nominated for four Emmys and is the winner of two Golden Globes, has a very open and honest approach to film injecting many of her own quirks and stories into her characters making them particularly relatable.

The multi talented twenty-something not only acts in her films/shows but she also writes and directs them too.  Her über realistic work shows that even the simplest story lines can be captivating and endearing. Dunham also listens to the constructive criticism fans give her, especially regarding the lack of diversity in her series. She had no qualms about speaking about the show’s race problems and even addressed it in her show with humour during a heated encounter on screen lover Donald Glover in which Dunham says ‘This is what you asked for.’ (perhaps a message to the viewers?) which receives the response ‘It’s about time.’ She stated herself that is was a clear statement that the creators were all comfortable and there wasn’t a political agenda against any race or sexuality.

Great things are set to come from Dunham, including a third season of GIRLS and a new comedy series is in the pipeline looking at the life of legendary stylist, Betty Halbreich. She also signed a $3.5 million deal to release her first book of essays called ‘Not that Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells you what she’s Learned’.

TV Buddha: Nam June Paik

Korean-American artist, Nam June Paik is considered to be the first video artist and his work has been shown in museums and galleries around the world. He was a visionary and he basically brought Television and Video into art and stressed that they weren’t sculpture, nor paintings but ‘Time art’. He understood the power and significance of the media and television in particular. He was actually the first person to use he phrase ‘electronic superhighway’ and predicted the internet age.

Perhaps his most notable piece of work, and one of my favourite installations, TV Buddha (1976) shows an antique Buddha statue opposite a small camera and video monitor on a closed circuit camera, capturing an encounter between the Western Technological Media-orientated world and Oriental deity. TV Buddha was a last minute addition to his fourth show in New York and was simply produced to fill the gap on an empty wall.

Screen Shot 2013-02-05 at 15.10.13

The piece raises questions about self perception as well as the relationship between the past and the present, ever evolving technology society depends so highly on.

His ability to so effortlessly blend media forms with art and to have a complete disregard for language barriers leads to thought provoking, creative pieces that have left a significant imprint on the world even after his death in 2006.

Inspiration: Lotte Reiniger

I was introduced to Lotte Reiniger’s work at the BFI Film Academy. Her work is all so delicate and her fairytale adaptations are truly enchanting.

German-born Lotte is a silhouette animator who took her childhood love of Chinese shadow puppetry and made it into a fruitful career. Reigner worked with her husband Carl Koch, a film historian on many of her films. He became her producer and camera operator, together they produced a huge number of animation films. Possibly the most significant of her films is Prince Achmed, a feature film she produced in her twenties, it is often credited as the first animated feature-length film. It was her first and only attempt at a full-length animated film. Short films were her forte and she spent the rest of her career focusing on short films and sequences for other people’s films.

When you look at her work, it is fragile and beautiful. She would cut all of her silhouettes without drawing them first, she would simply hold the scissors still in her right hand and use the other to manipulate paper around the blades. Sometimes the figures would be incredibly complex with up to 25-50 separate pieces joined together. Her films are 18 frames per second giving them a kitschy feel, the musical scores and voice-over narration she frequently used helped carry the story in each of her films.

Adults and children can both enjoy her works as they generate feelings of nostalgia and magic. Reiniger doesn’t get the credit she deserves for the 70 odd films she produced. This may be because many of her original negatives were lost as she fled from Germany to the UK around the time of the war, meaning most of the modern prints are copies so a lot of the fine detail has been lost.

Prozac Nation

Despite creating a great divide between its audience, viewers either love it or loathe it, Prozac Nation is one of the only films to achieve cult status without a commercial release. It is an adaptation of Elizabeth Wurtzel’s frank, no-holds-barred memoir which depicts of her struggles with depression.

The film follows a rather unlikable protagonist, Lizzie, as she makes the move to Harvard University. She is a talented young writer who has received a prestigious journalism scholarship. Her bright future is juxtaposed with images of her troubled childhood tainted by self harm and countless therapy sessions. During her time at University we see Lizzie plummet further into depression and settle into a cycle of drink, drugs and promiscuity. What sends her over the edge is her writer’s block, rendering her unable to do what she needs to, write.

What makes Lizzie such an unlikable character is her selfish behaviour. It causes distress to everyone who means to most to her, especially her overbearing mother brilliantly portrayed by Jessica Lange. The character of the mother is the key to understanding where some of Lizzie’s troubles came from.  While Lizzie’s deadbeat father may have been out of the picture, Lizzie’s mother compensated for his absence by becoming almost too involved as she tries to live vicariously through her daughter’s experiences. She is very proud of her daughter and takes every opportunity to talk and boast about her. Although Jessica Lange’s character is the route of Lizzie’s problems, the audience sees her meddling is just her way of showing affection to her daughter. When it is revealed just how much her mother is spending in the hope to make her daughter’s troubles go away it makes Lizzie’s outburst at her mother seem that much worse. Lizzie’s narcissism was first seen when she betrays her best friend, Ruby and then again when her mother throws her a birthday party and instead of being thankful, she lashes out at her mother and grandparents. The final straw before her suicide attempt is when she destroys what could have been a promising relationship with Rafe.

Christina Ricci was very important to the success of the film. Prozac Nation was a passion project for Ricci, she was also an executive producer and had influence on the screenplay, sacking the first screen writer. She was careful not to cross the line of her portrayal of Wurtzel by being overly dramatic and Ricci succeeded in the difficult task of finding the endearing qualities in such a complex and misunderstood character.

Prozac Nation’s key theme is Depression, as it is an exploration of Elizabeth Wurtzel’s struggles with mental illness but the film is also made with a backdrop of drug abuse and the importance of family values and relationships. Each of the themes feed into one another as the route of her depression is her poor relationship with her father and this fuels her drug abuse which worsens her situation.

Depression is a difficult theme to explore in film. It doesn’t manifest itself in a way that can be seen. So the task of the filmmaker making a film about the feelings experienced by Lizzie was a tough one. Instead of simply showing what she does as a result of her illness director, Eric Skjoldbjærg, tries to make viewers understand that she is spinning out of control with use of camera technique. One of the film’s features brought up by the critics was the overuse of flashbacks which leaves the audience somewhat disorientated, however it can be argued that this was just another technique Skjoldbjærg used to engage the audience and keep them in Lizzie’s frame of mind. If the audience had not had first hand experience with depression, either themselves or somebody close to them, it may be difficult for them to empathise with Lizzie and just view her as a vile, unpleasant narcissist.

Although some people do see Lizzie’s character to be an unpleasant, the film doesn’t actually go about vilifying its protagonist. It shows the events unfolding, usually as a result of Lizzie’s actions, accompanied by a voiceover. The voiceover is an effective tool used by the filmmaker to allow the audience to hear Lizzie’s thoughts and her point of view. In some ways her erratic behaviour is often somewhat justified by her monologue. Another reason the voiceover is suitable is that it makes the film even more closely linked to the memoir.

Whilst Christina Ricci’s character tends to scream at the top of her lungs during her onscreen dialogue, the tone of the voiceover is more sombre. This makes the audience realise that although Lizzie is acting out, this is not a reflection of inner feelings.

The film’s cinematography is very different from the other works of the director.  The story lines of Skjoldbjærg’s films are generally quite dark and often morbid but the images in these films differ from that of ‘Prozac Nation’  as they’re grittier, darker with a lot of blue tones. The shots in ‘Prozac Nation’, feature a lot of pastel colours amongst muted tones, particularly pale pink and grey with low contrast, naturalistic lighting.

Whilst there are certainly flaws in the production, such as significant parts of the narrative, such as her childhood and teen years, being missing, Prozac Nation is a beautifully shot insight to the troubled mind of a young depressed girl. While the film accurately depicts Elizabeth Wurtzel’s personal struggles it doesn’t pick up on the author’s examination of ‘depression culture’ until the very end. Perhaps it was for this reason Wurtzel didn’t respond well to the film herself, she even referred to it as being ‘horrible’. If you take the film for what it is, a microcosm of today’s culture it is a very enjoyable film.

Since my last post, I have been tremendously busy working on content for BOA Broadcast’s first magazine show, ‘Friday @ Two’.

After finishing off ‘Sack Sales on New Street’, I filmed a cooking show with Jake. We tried to steer away from the usual presenter led programmes and concentrate more on the visuals. I am really proud of the finished product so please, check it out!

The final VT I worked on was a feature on the Clothes show. With our press passes we were able to get into restricted areas and get interviews with designers, organisers and models. For me, the highlight of the experience was having to fight our way to the front of the press pit at the end of the fashion theatre catwalk.

Here’s the final product…

The filming of ‘Friday @ Two’ went smoothly. It was a very collaborative effort, we chose two students from the acting pathway to present after the auditions and they were absolutely fabulous. The rest of the crew worked well together and despite a few hiccups along the way, I think we pulled through it.

I am looking forward to working on the next episode of ‘Friday @ Two’ and using everything we learnt to make February’s show even better than our Christmas special.