Capra’s Christmas...

15.12.2007


It’s a Wonderful Life (1946).


... is my kind of Christmas. I shall be back in January.

Telephilia and Cinephilia

13.12.2007

Yes, the first word exists. Both can be equated in the love that defines them: the love of television, the love of cinema.

Self-titled telephiles and cinephiles often attack each other with crude generalisations, blatant ignorance, and useless snobbery — and I am being kind. They unreflectingly look at the other side with a mirror and if they recognise something from their side then they come across as being merely selective and critical. They talk of things like cinematic television and televisual cinema.

I prefer to stay outside of this quarrel and keep the freedom to be attentively both a telephile and a cinephile (and to be attentive to the creative relation between television and cinema) without the need to declare it. Love begs for closeness, not conceitedness.

On the March

12.12.2007


Juventude em Marcha.


The Los Angeles Film Critics Association distinguishes distinguishes Juventude em Marcha (Colossal Youth, 2006) today with the Douglas Edwards Experimental/Independent Film/Video Award.

The Widescreen Frame

08.12.2007


Bonjour tristesse (1958).


Week 12, 2008, at the University of Kent. This week’s lecture delivered by Dr. Alex Clayton for Introduction to Narrative Cinema 1: American Cinema is titled “The Widescreen Frame: Challenges and Opportunities”.

Still/Freeze

04.12.2007



Vertigo (1958).

Arranging the Frame in Colour

02.12.2007


All That Heaven Allows (1955).


Week 11, 2008, at the University of Kent. This week’s lecture delivered by Dr. Alex Clayton for Introduction to Narrative Cinema 1: American Cinema is titled “Arranging the Frame in Colour”.

Ironically Sincere

26.11.2007

The great filmmakers always tie themselves down by complying with the rules of the game. I have not done so because I am a minor filmmaker.

JEAN-LUC GODARD

Moments of Choice

25.11.2007


The Reckless Moment (1949).


Week 10, 2008, at the University of Kent. This week’s lecture delivered by Dr. Alex Clayton for Introduction to Narrative Cinema 1: American Cinema is titled “Moments of Choice: Directing the Viewer’s Response”.

Genre, Conventions, and Ideology

19.11.2007


Meet Me in St. Louis (1944).


Week 9, 2008, at the University of Kent. This week’s lecture delivered by Christine Evans for Introduction to Narrative Cinema 1: American Cinema is titled “Genre, Conventions, and Ideology”.

A Lament for Television

15.11.2007


Lost, “Exodus, Part 2” (1.24).


“Television is dying”, writes one of the creators of Lost (2001-) apropos the current changes in audiovisual distribution and the ongoing writers’ strike in America. Lindelof’s lucid article is a good place to start if we want to understand what is at stake. It is evocatively titled “Mourning TV”.

Is His Girl Friday Normal?

06.11.2007


His Girl Friday (1940).


Week 7, 2008, at the University of Kent. This week’s lecture delivered by Dr. Alex Clayton for Introduction to Narrative Cinema 1: American Cinema is titled “Is His Girl Friday Normal?: Examining the Classical Hollywood Style”.

Dollhouse

05.11.2007

Amazing and surprising news: Joss Whedon is coming back to television. After Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003), an enduring monument to fantasy fiction, television had soured him. Angel (1999-2004) was not renewed for a sixth season and the fifth year turned out to be the last. Firefly (2002-3) was canceled after the production of just fourteen episodes — of course afterwards there was the splendid Serenity (2005), the film written and directed by Whedon.

Now Dollhouse is announced for next year — once again produced by 20th Century Fox. According to TVWeek:

Dollhouse stars Dushku [who played the vampire slayer Faith in Buffy] as Echo, one of a group of secret agents living in a futuristic dorm. Each has the ability to be imprinted with custom personalities and abilities for special assignments. When they return, their newly acquired memories are wiped. The show follows Echo as she takes on a variety of assignments — some romantic, some adventurous, some uplifting, some illegal — and gains awareness of her role and confinement.

Joss describes how this came to happen with his usual humour:

The show was pretty much fully formed. I wrote a synopsis, treatment, pilot episode and six suggested future episodes. I made a poster in PhotoShop because I couldn’t sleep.

Narration and Indeterminacy

01.11.2007


The Devil Is a Woman (1935).


Week 6, 2008, at the University of Kent. This week’s lecture delivered by Dr. Alex Clayton for Introduction to Narrative Cinema 1: American Cinema is titled “Narration and Indeterminacy”.

Style as a Vision of the World

23.10.2007


Sherlock Jr. (1924).


Week 5, 2008, at the University of Kent. This week’s lecture delivered by Dr. Alex Clayton for Introduction to Narrative Cinema 1: American Cinema is titled “Style as a Vision of the World: Chaplin, Keaton, and Silent Film Comedy”.

Performance, Editing, and the Close-Up

16.10.2007


Broken Blossoms or The Yellow Man and the Girl (1919).


Week 4, 2008, at the University of Kent. This week’s lecture delivered by Dr. Alex Clayton for Introduction to Narrative Cinema 1: American Cinema is titled “Performance, Editing, and the Close-Up”.

Screen Scales

11.10.2007


Bubble (2005).


Mission: Impossible III (2006).


Alex Munt (Macquarie University) has written a very pertinent article for Flow, a critical forum on television and media culture published by the Department of Radio, Television, and Film at the University of Texas at Austin. “S, M, L, XL: The Question of Scale in Screen Media” analyses how creators work with or against screen scales and what are the consequences of those practices on the aesthetics of moving images.

Out of Time

04.10.2007


Life on Mars.


The second article for my monthly column Séries em Palavras (Series in Words) is published today. Sadly, this is the last one given that this is the final issue of Premiere. Portugal loses its only film magazine, a place where I made friends and learned a lot.

I make the following main points about Life on Mars (2006-7). First, the genres, crime and science fiction, and their conventions are used to explore the dramatic and comedic irony of Sam’s situation. Second, at the same time, the series works mostly from television references and cultural memories that are specifically British.

Analysing Film Sequences

02.10.2007


Strangers on a Train (1951).


Week 2, 2008, at the University of Kent. This week’s lecture delivered by Dr. Alex Clayton for Introduction to Narrative Cinema 1: American Cinema is titled “Analysing Film Sequences”.

Intro to the Course and Study Skills

25.09.2007

Week 1, 2008, at the University of Kent. This week’s lecture delivered by Dr. Alex Clayton for Introduction to Narrative Cinema 1: American Cinema is titled “Intro to the Course and Study Skills”.

Classes Begin

24.09.2007

Undergraduate classes begin today at the University of Kent. In the Autumn term I shall be teaching Introduction to Narrative Cinema 1: American Cinema and supervising six Long Essay students.

Katharine Hepburn with Two Leopards

23.09.2007



Bringing Up Baby (1938).

A Continuous Image of Music

21.09.2007




Christina Aguilera’s “The Voice Within”.


An excerpt from my MA dissertation, “Melodies of the Visible: Diversity in Music Video”:

It is easy to forget the role of editing in regard to videos that employ a single long take and that almost do not make use of editing effects like those described above. Christina Aguilera’s “The Voice Within” (2004) is an excellent example of this role. It opens with the image of a slate and clapboard. These boards are used in film production to identify the takes so as to aid the post-production. These images are usually left out of the final edited version of the film. A video such as “The Voice Within” might not have cuts between shots but it had to be edited: that is, the filmmakers had to choose where the take begins and ends. The choice to include the image of the slate and clapboard has to do with the option to film the video in a sequence shot. It has to do with a notion of bareness and with an attempt to establish its elements in their transparency. Christina sings directly to the camera, recognising its presence as the opening did. She looks as if she was in a bedroom preparing to lie down and fall asleep: she is barefoot and dressed in a nightgown. Her intimate image seems to be at odds with the context. But she walks from an empty backstage, a private space, to an empty street, a public space. In the street, she lies to rest in a bed of light. When the song is over, a crane movement frames the bed and then the camera tilts up to the sky to catch a falling star seen in the nocturnal sky — the only post-production effect of the video. This concrete and symbolic movement, from the backstage to the street, from the bed to the star, is related with the solitary relation of the singer with her voice in the video, and with the cultural relation of the audience with her voice through the video — as she sings, “Just trust the voice within / Then you’ll find your strength”. The video is in black and white, which adds to the effect of its concentration on something essential: her singing and the image of that occurring — a concentration that the colour or any extras might distract from. The editing choices regarding the beginning and the ending of the shot are interesting as they are related with the direct tone of the video and with its allegorical elements. In the opening, the clapboard is shown. In the closing, the white bed is connected with the falling star, linking a possible dream to a fulfilled wish.

“The Voice Within” is also a good example of how a video can be formally related with the structure and progress of the song without the use of cuts that accompany the alterations of the music — the most common cases, studied by Vernallis. In this uncommon video, since space and time are continuous, these changes are reflected not in the cutting but in the mise en scène, more precisely in the three meticulous camera movements during the song. They are all tracking movements in which the base position of the camera changes. But their relation with the singer differs as much as her performance and the song. In the first part, the camera moves away from Christina, from her face to her body. She is seated on a brick. Her immobile posture suggests the slow opening of the song, also conveyed when her eyes open in the first seconds. In this part, the expression comes from her face — hence the camera movement. When the camera moves away diverts the attention to the edges of the screen, so in the second part, the camera rotates around her. Now she is standing up. She basically stays in the same place, but follows the camera so as to remain at every instant looking at it and addressing it. During this part, the motion and gestures of her arms are the expressive elements that convey the variations in the song and the intonation of the lyrics. The third and last part corresponds to an increase in the tempo of the song, underlined by the introduction of a choir. Throughout this part, the camera follows her or, more precisely, is pushed by her to move as she walks to the street to lie down on the bed, when the song ends as slowly as it began.

The Suspense of the Escape

31.08.2007


Prison Break.


The first piece for my new column on Premiere — the title in English would be Series in Words — has been published today. The idea is to analyse a different television series every month. Prison Break (2005-) was the first.

I call attention to two main points. First, the use of suspense to dilate the duration of the show and the employment of cliff-hangers to grasp and to sustain the interest of the audience. Second, the change in structure from concentrated in the first season (jailbreak planning and execution) to fragmented in the second (getaway improvisation and maintenance).

Realisation (Coda)

29.08.2007


Black Ice (1994).


Imagine an eye unruled by man-made laws of perspective, an eye unprejudiced by compositional logic, an eye which does not respond to the name of everything but which must know each object encountered in life through an adventure of perception.

[...] The “absolute realism” of the motion picture is unrealized, therefore potential, magic.

STAN BRAKHAGE

______________________

“Trilogy”: Brakhage, Film Poet | (1) | (2) | (3)

Trilogy: Casting Spells (3)

28.08.2007

  
I... (1995).
[Courtesy of the Estate of Stan Brakhage and Fred Camper. Click for enlargement.]


This is to introduce myself. I am young and I believe in magic. I am learning how to cast spells. My profession is transforming. I am what is known as “an artist”.

STAN BRAKHAGE

______________________

“Trilogy”: Brakhage, Film Poet | (1) | (2)

Trilogy: Rhythm of Images (2)

27.08.2007


We Hold These (1995).
[Courtesy of the Estate of Stan Brakhage and Fred Camper. Click for enlargement.]


Twenty-four frames in a second is a rhythm. And in the mind also, where a growth or evolutionary process is reaching toward a picture, you almost have to think of it as a force field flow — what we call the life force itself: as exact, and variable, as a plant coming up through the earth. And then what’s done with that for recognition is to take slices of it, which are then put together into pictures. And rhythm is the key to the first recognition of that process itself.

[...] Rhythm comes first. You can’t slice up that process to get an image. I mean rhythm really is the width of the slices, and that’s how you get an image. Otherwise you don’t get a recognizable image. If you slice it too thin, you can’t follow the growth process. And if you slice it too fat, you have a series of pictures but you have no image. So rhythm is the intermediary in the process.

STAN BRAKHAGE

______________________

“Trilogy”: Brakhage, Film Poet | (1)

Trilogy: Music for the Eyes (1)

26.08.2007


I Take These Truths (1995).
[Courtesy of the Estate of Stan Brakhage and Fred Camper. Click for enlargement.]


I now no longer photograph, but rather paint upon clear strips of film — essentially freeing myself from the dilemmas of re-presentation. I aspire to a visual music, a “music” for the eyes (as my films are entirely without sound-tracks these days). Just as a composer can be said to work primarily with “musical ideas”, I can be said to work with the ideas intrinsic to film, which is the only medium capable of making paradigmatic “closure” apropos Primal Sight.

STAN BRAKHAGE

______________________

“Trilogy”: Brakhage, Film Poet

Brakhage, Film Poet

25.08.2007

Stan Brakhage (1933-2003) was a film poet, someone whose work burst with expressive creativity, a filmmaker rightly regarded as one of the most important in the history of cinema. I often go back to his films just to recall their freedom and intuition, and to come into contact with their sensuous richness one more time.

Born Robert Sanders, his adoptive parents changed his name to James Stanley Brakhage. He made almost four hundred avant-garde films (most of them hand-painted), wrote books, and was a distinguished professor of film studies at the University of Colorado. Brakhage was diagnosed with bladder cancer in 1996 and underwent an apparently successful surgery. The disease was caused by the coal-tar dyes that he used to paint and it eventually returned to take his life.

Three posts with Brakhage’s words and some frames from Trilogy (1995) will follow. I thank in advance to Marilyn Brakhage and Fred Camper for their support and authorisation.

Blurred Margins

24.08.2007

Last year, I had to talk to the new MA students in Film Studies about my experience at Kent. After the meeting, I told one of them that if he wanted to do his research on television or music videos I would be glad to help. He said that his sole interest was in film and I got the impression that he thought that I was somehow disinterested in studying film.

The eclecticism of my research interests might be bewildering to some people. Puzzling as it may seem, I choose these topics exactly because of my fascination with film. These subjects enable me to examine the borders of film. In fact, my attention is often drawn to what blurs margins — not just of television, video, and film, but also of the popular and the experimental.

Trust

23.08.2007



Battlestar Galactica (2003-), “Precipice” (3.02).


SHARON AGATHON: How do you know? I mean, how do you really know you can trust me?
WILLIAM ADAMA: I don’t. That’s what trust is.

The Rules of the Game

20.08.2007


Offside.


Offside (2006) ritualises Iranian social rules. It explores the metaphorical possibilities opened up by the storyline — the girls’ illegal attempt to watch a football match — to structure the mise en scène.

There is barely any difference between the time of the story and that of the plot. The film does not develop a chain of events to arrive at a resolution: it follows the girls in a single situation. Any determinism in the solution of the conflicts that flourish is avoided because of this choice.

The comedy has occasionally an absurd tone — for example, when one of the girls goes to the toilet and a soldier makes her use a player’s poster as a mask. The social norms are tested throughout the film and so is the notion of authority. Panahi structures the staging from successive demarcated spaces and the scenes reveal and consider the prospects of invasion and evasion that this spacial demarcation entails. Concrete and symbolic as a game.

Offside was banned from the Islamic Republic of Iran, just like the two previous films directed by Jafar Panahi: Talaye sorkh (Crimson Gold, 2003), a story of a man humiliated by social injustice that lies behind a murder and a suicide; and Dayereh (The Circle, 2000), intertwining stories of seven Iranian women with a criminal past due to prejudice and oppression.

Serial Video Art [for Filipa]

19.08.2007


Figs. 1-5: Going Forth by Day.


Serial works contrast with single works. A serial structure arises whenever an artwork presents distinct fragments under the same title. Bill Viola’s impressive video installation comprised of five projections, Going Forth by Day (2002) — “Fire Birth” (fig. 1), “The Path” (fig. 2), “The Deluge” (fig. 3), “The Voyage” (fig. 4), and “First Light” (fig. 5) — about the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth, is a cogent example.

Filipa, do you remember seeing it with me?

The Just Cinema

18.08.2007

I found this article by chance, “O Cinema Justo”. I wrote it five years ago for the Portuguese Bar Association Journal. It would have been titled “The Just Cinema” in English.

Nowhere

15.08.2007


Inland Empire (2006).


NIKKI: Wake up and find out what the hell yesterday was about. I’m not too keen on tomorrow, and today’s slipping by.

Frames Pictures Windows

15.08.2007


Figs. 1a-d: Without a Trace, “Fallout”.


This is the ending of the last episode of the first season of Without a Trace (2002-), “Fallout” (1.23).

After dealing with a kidnapping perpetrated by Barry, a man lost after the loss of his wife on 9/11, Jack Malone seats next to the bed where his wife sleeps (fig. 1a). He looks at a framed photo of him and his two daughters (fig. 1b). Then the camera tilts up to a picture taken from the bedroom window before the attack on the World Trade Center (fig. 1c). And finally moves to the right to the window that shows New York City without the Twin Towers (fig. 1d).

Two Elegies

10.08.2007


Madadayo (1993).


Saraband (2003).

Pop Irony

05.08.2007

From The Simpsons Movie (2007):

HOMER: I can’t believe we’re paying to watch something we could see on TV for free! If you ask me, everyone in this theater is a big sucker! Especially, you! [points to us]

Michelangelo Antonioni (1912-2007)

01.08.2007


L’avventura (1960).

Ingmar Bergman (1918-2007)

31.07.2007


Persona (1966).

BSG 2007

28.07.2007


Battlestar Galactica (2003-), “The Hand of God” (1.10).


BSG 2007: The Politics, Poetics and Philosophy of Battlestar Galactica is the first academic conference on this rich television series. It was opportunely organised by Dr. Ewan Kirkland and will be held today at Buckinghamshire Chilterns University College.

I am presenting a paper on performance and personal identity. Here is the list of presenters and papers:


Richard Berger (Bournemouth University), “Re-designing the Designer: Adapting Polytheism in Battlestar Galactica

John Caro and Dylan Pank (University of Portsmouth), “‘Haven’t you heard? They look like us now?’: Realism and Metaphor in Battlestar Galactica

Sérgio Dias Branco (University of Kent), “Labyrinths of the Self: Different Characters and Identical Bodies in Battlestar Galactica

Jennifer Harwood-Smith (Trinity College, University of Dublin), “Anxiety of Identity in Battlestar Galactica

David Hipple (University of Reading), “Being Unreal: The Intellectual Appeal of Battlestar Galactica

Ewan Kirkland (Buckinghamshire Chilterns University College), “Starbuck as Sacrificial Heroine: Patriarchal Punishment or Mythical Transcendence?”

Elspeth Kydd (University of the West of England), “The Look and Feel of Humanity: Cylons and the ‘Passing’ Narrative in Battlestar Galactica

Esther MacCallum-Stewart (University of East London), “Chocks Away!: Breaking the ‘History’ Formula in Battlestar Galactica

Jean-Paul Martinon (Goldsmiths College, University of London), “Keep the Clock Running: Time and Temporal Experience in Battlestar Galactica

Marko Meenakshi ALIEN Hutsch (Universität Hamburg), “The Starbuck Dilemma”

Pil and Galia Kollectiv, “The Political Theology of Battlestar Galactica

David Roden (Open University), “Cylons in the Original Position: The Limits of Posthuman Justice”

Caroline Ruddell (St. Mary’s University College), “In Flux: Performativity, Technology, Identity and the Postmodern Subject in Battlestar Galactica

Greg Singh (Buckinghamshire Chilterns University College and University of Reading), “‘It’s all just a little bit of history repeating’: Time, Mythology, and Regeneration in Battlestar Galactica

Natasha Whiteman (University of London), “Genre, ‘Quality Television’ and the Sci-Fi Network: The Case of Battlestar Galactica

Interview

26.07.2007

An excerpt from an interview that I gave to the Portuguese film magazine Premiere — in Portuguese, of course. It focuses on my research about the aesthetics of television fiction series for my doctoral thesis.