Archive for October, 2008
Climate change is arguably the scariest force acting upon the world today. It is something that affects everyone regardless of class, age, gender, nationality, or anything. Most everyone agrees that climate change is a problem, yet there is not a worldwide consensus about what must be done to stop it. Continually, world leaders pass the buck of responsibility to someone else hoping the problem will solve itself.
The advertisement in the New Yorker by Conservation International addresses the base issue and fear of climate change by signifying pollution through signifying deforestation. By highlighting deforestation, this ad connotes climate change.
What makes this ad most effective is the symbols used to signify and connote the “myth” of climate change. The forest in the ad is shaped like a trachea with two lungs. The brown patches on the lungs are reminiscent of the often viewed “smoker’s lungs” posters hung in school nurse’s lounges and health education classrooms. The code signified through this ad is the view that tarred and blackened lungs make it hard for one to breathe. So, if carried out to this ad’s conclusions, a deforested “lung forest” makes it hard for us to breathe.
The line, and then paragraph of copy on this ad further emphasizes the relationship between the viewer and the signified climate change.
The first copy, “Lost There, Felt Here” is placed two-thirds of the way down the ad. Using the rule of thirds, it gives ample room for the main image above, space for the paragraph below, while still occupying and drawing our attention. It is a matter-of-fact statement that quickly brings the connection between what the viewer sees in the ad, and what the viewer is feeling wherever he or she is located. Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of climate change is that its effects are so incremental and felt over such a large area, it is difficult for one person to realize and grasp its full force. While most people now agree that climate change is happening, they are incapable of feeling its effects on them. This ad attempts to qualify these feelings by suggesting that there is a direct connection between deforestation and climate change; and that that same connection can be felt when we breathe.
This connection is quantified a bit more in the paragraph of copy found below “Lost There, Felt Here,” where Conservation International provides the statistic that slash and burn deforestation techniques account for 20% of all carbon emissions, twice the amount that all cars, trucks and planes in the world combined emit. They assume that their viewer has the general knowledge that carbon emissions directly relate to global warming.
While this ad does call on the viewer to connote the “myth” of global warming and climate change by understanding the symbols contained in blackened lungs and deforested forests, its main goal is to get the viewer to sign up on its website and presumably give money. This appeal is masked as an invitation to join “Team Earth.” Those words, Team Earth, attempt to show not only that fighting climate change cannot be done alone, it also brings back the feelings of a team, especially the team of Captain Planet. A team is an organization in which a group of people work together, and share a bond to complete a task. This ad taps into the human want and need of being with a group.
This ad is successful because it makes the viewer feel as if there is a problem that is directly affecting him. This problem, while generally seen as unsolvable alone – one small man against an army – when joined by others on Team Earth, the solution may become a reality, “one acre at a time.” The final words of the ad threaten us all, claiming that it is not just the viewer, but “we’ll all feel it.”
Rene Magritte’s “The False Mirror” is a haunting piece of surrealist art that challenges the perceptions of the artist, and the viewer. A giant eye is formed as a frame of a blue sky with clouds. The pupil of the eye rests dead center in sharp color contrast to the white and blue of the sky, and also with a contrast of form – the hard outline of the pupil against the soft curves and natural form of the clouds.
The piece finds balance in its both horizontal and vertical symmetries of shape. There is also somewhat of color symmetry diagonally with lighter sections of the eyelids in opposite corners. All of the symmetries apparent in this painting originate in the pupil, which combined with its contrast with the other parts of the painting takes on the focal point and emphasis of the piece. Interestingly, Magritte chooses a simple shape of solid color as the focal point.
Perhaps, Magritte meant the center of interest to be not the actually pupil, but the frontier between the pupil and sky; and more importantly, the distinction between the two. Is the sky part of the eye? Is the sky reflected by the eye? Is the eye a looking glass to see the sky?
By choosing a human eye as a lens to look at the sky, Magritte essentially raises a question about humans (represented by the eye, our visual connection to anything else) seeing, both literally and figuratively, the world (represented by the sky). In any type of philosophy, the way that humans perceive the world, their location, is essential to understanding the general human condition.
The hard contrast of the black pupil against the sky iris suggests that the sky is in fact behind the pupil. With this realization, it would seem that by looking at this eye, one is indeed looking through the eye and into the brain. The inside of a human, then is the contents of the world. The world is only a product of human’s imagination and creation.
The black of the pupil, however, does suggest a void present in the center of the eye, which would allow the sky to be a reflection on the surface of the iris. The surface of the iris, and thus humans in general, are but a reflection of the sky, and thus the world. Humans are the product and representation of the world.
Do humans create their environment and world, or are we merely the ones created? It is this simple question that makes Magritte’s “False Mirror” so tantalizing. Peering so close into or at an eye induces a sense of wonder and awe. A common proverb is suggested and indeed questioned with this piece: “Eyes are the windows to the soul.” But in this case, the eye is not connected to a body. The eye does not have a face or head to make it distinguishable and the property of someone. Magritte’s eye takes on a universal role serving as the eye of humanity, and the representation of all humans. By looking into this eye, essentially, we are trying to understand our own existence in the world.
The unity of the piece as a painting, and philosophical conundrum allow it to simultaneously pleasure our eyes as well as our minds. Though the sky does not actually exist behind our eyes, nor is it perfectly reflected by them, the image of sky and eye do indeed fit together in this painting.
Magritte has indeed produced a good piece of art in that it addresses the visual demands of the viewer, but raises questions and provokes thought by the viewer. As a piece of the surrealist movement, this painting is free from traditional rationality, customs and structures; but is cohesive in design and image. It elicits imagination and dreaming, while making a statement about common thought and philosophy. The simple painting of sky in an iris is no longer; it is a representation of the human condition in the world, which surrealists sought so hard to understand between and during the two devastating world wars of the early to mid 20th century.
Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” show’s assymetrical balance. While the two sides of his painting are not exactly balanced based on a formal line, the features of each (the bright sun on the right, and the church on the left) have visual weight which serves to balance the painting in whole.
Magritte’s “le Seducteur” uses low contrast of the sailboat against the sea and sky to add to the idea that this sailboat is not just sailing on the sea, but is an integral part of the sea. The viewer’s perceptions of what is boat, and what is sky or water are blurred by Magritte’s subtle contrast, both the faded blues and whites are intermingled throughout the piece, which provide a real sense of a misting, unclear oceanic scene.
In Picasso’s “Guernica,” he uses abnormal human proportions to emphasize the pain and anguish of the Nazi Germany’s bombings of Guernica, Spain in 1937 during the Spanish Civil War. Swollen hands show the torture inflicted upon the victims, as do the expressive grieving faces of the people in the piece.
“Da Circle” by MC Escher is a fine example of pattern in art. He uses repeating forms and colors throughout the work. The dark, evil, bat-like creatures (signaling hell) are repeated in a uniform pattern to create white, angel figures (signaling heaven) in their outline.
Edvard Munch uses rhythm heavily in his seminal series of “Scream” paintings. The central figure, with hands against its face, emotes much emotion not only through its expression, but the undulating pattern of the shape and flow of its body. Rhythm is found in the waves of the river, suggesting a flow of swirling angry water; rhythm is also evident in the red sky with repeating orange and yellow waves, bringing about an unease to the scene. The viewer’s eyes swirl around the painting with the strokes of color, adding to the unease and emotion felt by the central figure.
In “Las Meninas,” Diego Velazquez is able to simultaneously draw emphasis on several sections of the painting to give conflicting point of views. Through the contrast and position of the light dress of the girl in the center of the painting, the viewer initally assumes that the girl is the central figure and subject of the piece. With closer inspection, however, questions are raised about what the painting is actually painting. The back of the canvas, and Velazquez in the painting suggest that he is painting the reflection of the mirror, but the other mirror in the background does not reflect what it should. So the question of emphasis lies outside the painted forms, and into a mental question of whether the viewer is observing the scene taking place, or is the scene observing the viewer. Either way the focal point of the painting changes with each interpretation.
Albrecht Durer’s woodcut “Knight, Death and displays an impressive unity during the 16th century. The dual-tone colors, black and white, are capable of displaying contrast, highlights and shadows, and even gradiations. The balance achieved by the objects positioning, and the proportions of the human to the horse and devil allow the individual pieces within this woodcut to fit together.
“Marylin,” by Andy Warhol is a fascinating look at the principle of variety in a single piece of art. While Warhol does not change the image of Marilyn Monroe from one frame to the next, the dramatically alters the colors. This variety of color palette forces the viewer to carefully regard and examine this otherwise uninteresting representation of the famous actress. He demands attention with the difficulty of repeating form and shape, but drastically altering color, providing variety in an otherwise exact replication of the same image.
This wood pipe, crafted by Argus Dowdy from the Chocktaw tribe of Native Americans, is a good example of three-dimensional form. The design of the space it contains, the long hollow tube is more important than shape of the piece, as the end design and purpose is to be used. In designing this piece, the creator had to take account the eventual use of the pipe by humans, and their relationship to it. The Chocktaw’s neighbors of the Chickasaw, from the Mississippi Delta, were some of the most technologically advanced people in North America. Their precision in the craftsmanship of this pipe is clear evidence of their work. The featured red on this pipe, not only brings about passion, but also resonates and reflects fire, which is used in its final purpose: smoking. Overall unity is achieved through the repetition of the colors, and the use of feathers near the base and closer to the mouthpiece. The symbols used on the pipe also reflect the cultural heritage deep within the Chocktaw tribe.
The “Chickasaw’s Ladder,” painted by Kelly Hoover, represents the spiritual belief of the Chickasaw tribe, originally from the Mississippi area, that ladders connect the earth with the two other spiritual realms. Hoover makes fine use of compositional movement in her piece, as our eyes travel from the base of the ladder up towards its peak, poking through a whole in the sky with light flooding down. This dynamic movement allows the viewer to take on the role of a ladder climber. The texture of the ladder, too, allows the wood pieces of the ladder to relate to the viewer as something he has already touched, and is familiar with. Though the painting is an abstract representation, through the compositional movement and texture, the viewer is transported to this empty land about to ascend into the sky. Through the use of contrasting color between the sky opening and the actual dark sky, an emphasis is placed on the opening. The viewer is supposed to end up in the light; the viewer is drawn towards the light.
I thoroughly enjoyed Matt Handverger’s Lumière Film: “Dinner Plate Robbery” (above). Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this short film is the subject of the piece. While it is indeed someone eating the plate, the eater does not take the focus of the film. Instead, it is the plate itself, which draws attention and fulfills the subject role. This creates a problem, as this subject disappears and is eaten by the end. From a storytelling aspect, the conundrum of focusing on a subject that is essentially killed – with absolutely no struggle – is difficult to grasp. Without trying to draw more out of this one-minute lumière-reality-portraying film, its theme could easily be played out to a sobering finale. Technically speaking, the use of the “aging” effect on the film, while it did suggest the early era of film, it took away somewhat in the jarring static of the added imperfections. The music, though technically not allowed in a true lumière film, Matt’s selection of music was consistent with the feel of early silent cinema accompanied by an orchestra. Speeding up the film successfully allowed a full dinner to be eaten within a minute without the loss of detail. The playful moment when a second person took a forkful of food added a subtle humor and storyline that served well to keep the viewer interested.
Upon revisiting my Lumière film, “It All Came Crumbling Down,” I was at the same time disappointed and pleased with my work. I was pleased with the overall effect of the short piece and the reactions elicited by the class; I was disappointed, however, by some of the technical and directorial decisions I had realized after watching it post-creation. Considering this film like an academic paper or even better, perhaps, as a poem, it is representative of a middle draft. While most of moments and direction are present and doing their job, there are still small aspects that only become apparent with a break from the filmmaking process and a third party critique. For example, watching the film now, I am consistently frustrated that in the frame, I see a cookie, not eaten, put into the lap of one of the actors. Also, at the end of the film, we see the actors hesitating with the forks before diving in, which loses the spontaneity of the moment. While the angle of the shot (high above the table) is visually stimulating, a tripod or crane would allow a steadier shot – which again is an important qualification of a lumière type film. Though I wish I had the time and opportunity to fully watch this film and make changes, I am happy with the way it turned out.
This is an interesting article about the fantasy film genre and the film theory that surrounds it.
“A fantasy film is literally the ‘mise-en-scène of desire,’ the setting whereby impossible desires may play out to their logical conclusions.”
Definitions and Theories:
• Fantasy encompasses desires: “dreams, daydreams and wishes”
• Created by feelings of “awe and hesitation” brought on by “strange and/or improbable events”
• In film especially, these feelings are felt both by the viewer and character
o Through character: a continuum of questioning the alternate reality or events
o Through viewer: understanding the reality as questionable or accepting the world as reality of the story
• “Fantastical” fantasy = simply outrageous elements, understood to be unreal
• “Uncanny” fantasy = the implausibility of the narrative can be described rationally or psychologically, e.g. dreams or hallucinations
• “Marvelous” fantasy (aka subcreation or “high fantasy”) = the viewer and character is supposed to accept the fantastical elements without questioning them
• Purpose of Fantasy:
o Medium of escapism
o Raises questions about reality
o Reveals repressed dreams or wishes
o “Fantasy makes explicit what society rejects or refuses to acknowledge”
o Can be explicitly subversive
o Vehicles for wish fulfillment through “glorification of magical (hence unrealistic) solutions to serious problems”
Mise-en-scène is the placement of props, actors, sets, costumes, and lighting in each scene of a film or theatrical production. These factors contribute greatly to the look and feel of the scene and the film as a whole and can fundamentally change the emotional response of the viewer.
The Wizard of Oz (1939)
• Shifts from real world (in Kansas) to the imaginary world (Oz)
o This is a “fantastical” world, understood by all parties involved
• Imaginary world becomes the reality, with the both the viewer and Dorothy cease to question its implausibility
o A shift to a “marvelous” world, without questions
• At end of the film, the viewer and Dorothy realizes it is all a dream
o The movie becomes an “uncanny” fantasy; there is a reasoning behind the fantastic elements
• Thematic Elements
o Color Seep: movement from black and white to color and less color to more color.
o Long shot
o Pan (While zooming out)
o Medium close-up
o Cut away
The scene shifts from black and white to color. As Dorothy emerges from her home after the tornado, there is a blatant over-saturation of color in the new environment. It seems as if there is very little effort to make the plants seem natural- evidence of the fantastic nature of the world in which the main character now finds herself. In the middle of the scene is the yellow brick road with blue water and plants everywhere. Dorothy’s costume has not changed, but the costume of the good witch immediately instills confidence that her character has a positive role in the story.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968)
• Like the Wizard of Oz, this movie goes through a range of fantasy elements
• The movie begins completely straightforward
• The fantastical elements of the father’s eccentricity and inventions, they are accepted as somewhat fantastical, but real at the same time
• Then, on the beach, the son asks his father to tell him a story. As the story is created, the fantastic elements become real, and they are surprised
o An “uncanny” fantasy = they question the reality
• As the plot progresses, both the viewer and the family fully believe in the fantastic elements
o A “marvelous” fantasy world is developed
• The movie ends with the family back on the beach, after the end of the story.
o While there is no real “uncanny” resolution, the viewer and characters do seem to understand that the movie was indeed a created fantasy within the confines of a story
• Thematic Elements
o Cut away
o Medium close-up
o Zoom out
o Pan (during zooming out)
o Long shot
o Rear Projection: During medium close-up as car moves on water. (Used before green screen).
Mise-en-scène: In the first scene, the car is placed on the beach with the actors in various positions around/in the car. The lighting is appropriate with the scene taking place on a sunny beach. The colors (both of the surroundings and of the man-made objects that appear in the scene) are natural and muted- reinforcing the realism (or the notion that the story has very real components and could conceivable have taken place) of the story. The characters are dressed in accordance with the time period (1920 or so), a great contrast with modern beachwear. The father and son are dressed in suits (or the equivalent for a young boy) and the woman and daughter in white dresses. When the change from reality to fantasy occurs, the characters suddenly find themselves and the car in water (as the tide has instantaneously risen). As the action rises, the car becomes a boat and the scene changes to showing the car/actors motoring in the open ocean.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)
• This is one of the most popular current fantasy series.
• The series begins with the Hairy Potter being thrust into a fantasy world of magic.
o It is rather “uncanny” for both Potter and the viewers, who do not believe that such a world exists
• Soon into the first film, and throughout the rest of the films, the validity and realism of the world is indeed accepted by all players
o Thus forms the basis of the “marvelous” fantasy created.
• Purpose of the film:
o Raises questions about reality – Does witchcraft really exist?
o Reveals repressed dreams and wishes – Many youth (and adults) wish they could fly and perform magic
o Explicitly subversive – the film has taken much criticsm from religious groups that condemn witchcraft and paganism
o Glorification of magical solutions to problems – magic (literally) is used to solve the characters (and thus the illusion, thoughts, and dreams of our own) problems
• Thematic Elements
o Extreme close-up
o High Angle
o Over the Shoulder (Multi shot)
o Medium close-up
o Cut Away
Mise-en-scène: The characters are all dressed alike (as would be the case in a large English boarding school) and are wearing robes because they are wizards. The colors (of the costumes and the set) are muted and dark because the scene takes place inside an old building with only candlelight. In the dining room scene, the characters are evenly spaced at the tables and provide some order to the shot (in contrast to the relative chaos of scenes, including the following scene, in which the school is changing classes). The characters travel in a group (consistent with their roles as close friends) and are well spaced throughout the shot. The constant changing of the staircases adds to the visual complication and fantasy of the shot as the characters head back to their dorm. As they walk up the stairs, they are greeted by an animated portrait that guards their room. All individuals in the portraits on the wall move to watch the guardian adding to the fantastic nature of the shot/film.
• “Fantasy Films: Theory and Ideology”
• Setting Up Your Shots
Made in Collaboration with Sebastian Weeks, Topher Anuzis, and Ben Shelor.
The film OJ, by Laura Gibson ad Felix Penzarella was a fun and entertaining display of the shots required. It centered around Laura drinking – a seemingly neverending – bottle of orange juice. The shots, taken on a sunny day in the quad made great use of the space and allowed the natural green colors contrast the striking orange of the juice. My favorite shot is the point of view, when we see the bottle of orange juice approach the camera, as it would a mouth. This clever and well-executed shot put a nice touch on this film. When working with an object, like the orange juice bottle, it is difficult to keep and uphold the continuity throughout the shots. With the amount of orange juice Laura was drinking, it was important to keep the level of orange juice decreasing, so as not to give the impression that the orange juice disappeared only to magically reappear, in the bottle, during a later shot. This continuity was also jeopardized by the fact that in different shots Laura was wearing/not wearing sunglasses, but without apparent reason to change in the film. In terms of camera work, there were several times when the effectiveness of the shot was compromised by the unsteady nature of the shot filmed. Unfortunately, this was most noticeable in the final shot when the camera zooms in on the empty bottle of OJ, putting a little disappointing conclusion to an otherwise enjoyable film. While there were no clearly defined emotions or labeled elements of design, the music definitely added to the feel of the piece. The light and airy song served to emote a carefree attitude and the sunny qualities of orange juice.
My film, Dirty Chase, created with Ben, was a successful shot study, while creating a veritable plot with emotions out of a stalker story of bleach and a dirty sock. I was quite happy with the overall feel and look of the piece, it was able to convey emotions in inanimate objects, the various shots were executed, and even though the music definitely helped to set the mood, without it, the experience is still effective. Broken down into individual shots though, and with repeated viewings, I realize the “amateur”ish qualities of our film. There were often times when, without a tri-pod, the camera shook, and between the various shots, there was not always continuity with the lighting. In editing, we realized that some of the shots were too short, but we had to use them anyway. This was caused by the confusion in knowing how long to shoot basically still lifes. When we shot the piece, we basically shot a series of still lifes (as our cast could not move on their own). At the time, we did not know how long to shoot each shot, and thus some were too short, while others were far too long (though those could be edited down). The editing process, though I expected it to be long, was more tedious than I had planned for. The limitations of iMovie became quickly apparent, and made me wish I was familiar with a more sophisticated video editing program. The movie was completely edited before we added the music, and introducing the music added another whole layer of confusion and tedium to the process. The hardest part of watching the film in class in front of other people, was when the issue of our film being a slave to the music. This was especially hard to hear considering the music really was a post-editing afterthought that turned out to be highly effective. I feel that Ben and I worked well with each other, constantly throwing out ideas about shots or design elements we could include. It was a collaborative effort I am proud to have taken part in.