Re-Viewing Rear Window

Posted in Articles with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 9, 2012 by reelality

Hitchcock’s Rear Window famously discusses voyeurism via Jimmy Stewart’s audience analog, L.B. Jefferies, and his obsessive monitoring of the compartmental lifestyles of his fellow tenants.  Traditionally, Jefferies’ selective gazing has been compared with the medium of cinema, as he derives a comparable fly-on-the-wall pleasure from spying on his neighbors as audience members do from viewing a film.  That is to say, both are allowed to witness events unencumbered by the judgement of those subjects receiving their gaze while also enjoying a certain vicarious relation to the events they are witnessing.  While the cinematic discipline does hold such pleasures and comparing Rear Window to the medium is apt, the advancement of technology has carried these voyeuristic tendencies forward across each decade’s reinterpretation of the art form.  Thus, Hitchcock’s masterpiece can also be re-read, currently supporting comparisons to this decade’s primary form of expression: the Internet.

During the film’s initial run in 1954, television was in a state of popular infancy as consumers dabbled with the burgeoning medium.  Due to such an untested fascination and the relegation of theatre to the graveyard of the past, film stood as the primary interpretive force behind Hitchcock’s narrative and visual design.  As consumption of television propagated the social body, the adjacent windows of Jefferies’ courtyard grew to take on a comparable approximation to the various station options of the small screen.  Each apartment, formerly representing narrative options of the silver screen, now came to resemble the process of “channel flipping”, with Jefferies scanning from window to window until his attention is gripped.  The private nature of TV viewing also related closer to Jefferies’ interned vantage point than that of the group dreaming inherent within cinema; Stella and Lisa sharing in his voyeurism is no different than friends gathering on a couch to share in a football game.  Ultimately, the number of viewers was minimized, edging closer to the individual referenced in the definition of voyeurism.

The current decade holds sway to society’s new captivator, however, the Internet.  Social media’s rise to prominence within the medium only furthers a relation to Rear Window.  Through the lens of Facebook, YouTube, MySpace, Twitter, Flickr, and the excessive barrage of socializing platforms, Hitchcock’s themes of voyeuristic tendencies within humanity find a fruition.  In effect, Rear Window mutates into RrrWndw.

Examining Facebook for a second, one will find a mass fascination with monitoring others’ daily lives.  As the open windows of the film allow Jefferies to freely, secretly spy upon his neighbors’ existences, so too do the status updates, picture uploads, and relationship statuses of the Internet’s most used platform.  Equally, the choice of the characters within Rear Window to leave their homes and lives open to viewing by unfurling their curtains and drawing their blinds compares to Facebook users’ decisions to post personal moments; each has the choice when to close off the flow.  Furthermore, characters within the film relate exclusively to the social pleasures of Facebook.  Miss Lonelyhearts, the Thorwalds, and the newlyweds would easily be associated to the “single”, “it’s complicated”, and “married” relationship status updates found on the site.  The songwriter would relate to music sharing apps such as Spotify or Pandora.  And Miss Torso parallels “trolling” of pictures (extending Laura Mulvey’s male gaze further than she would have thought possible).

On a further subtextual level, another similarity arises.  Facebook exists upon the notion of presentation.  Each user shapes their image toward their desired summation; commonly this will incorporate actual “likes” and interests, but the freedom of the site can be used to create a fiction, as well.  Ultimately, the choice of belief and interpretation falls to the viewer of the information.  Jefferies serves a similar purpose in Rear Window, pooling snippets of data from his viewings, only to piece the narratives together within his imagination.  However, imagination might be too strong a word.  Jefferies concludes foul play is afoot by relating Thorwald’s relationship to his own.  So too does a Facebook user compare their “likes”, relationships, pictures, and experiences with those of their friends, ending up with a similar voyeuristic/vicarious satisfaction where joy or release is found by way of others’ existences.  The end result falls somewhere between anonymity and full disclosure, with viewers/users/Jefferies devouring formerly solely personal information at the discretion of the subject.

In total, these comparisons between the film’s themes and these social mediums concludes in one notion: voyeurism shapes our media.  As the definition of the term relates to a single individual secretly witnessing sexual (personal) acts of others without reprisal, one can see social mediums have been working towards this goal for some time.  Film theaters began the progression with a shadowed group viewing experience tailored to recreate individual dreams or fantasies.  Television parred the process down further by moving the screen to a private location where only the residents of the location would share in the process.  The Internet, via social media platforms, has finally realized the definition, however, by offering a solo, personalized viewing option, controlled by the viewer themselves.  With close to 900,000,000 users of Facebook across the world, the conclusion holds.  That is also not to discount the continued success of film and television, as well.

Technology may lead us further toward our subconscious desires, however, with future advancements edging toward our voyeuristic goal.  Hitchcock’s unequable ability to tap into society’s hidden desires and fantasies will undoubtedly lead Rear Window to change with it.

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The Hunger Games

Posted in Current, Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 2, 2012 by reelality

The Hunger GamesImage

Written and directed by Gary Ross

Imitative of previous dystopian Sci-Fi efforts, though the film may be, The Hunger Games positions itself as genius, rather than simple talent, by stealing, rather than borrowing.  Culling snippets of Winter’s Bone1984The MatrixFahrenheit 451, Running ManGladiatorSpartacus, andmost notably, Battle Royale, the film produces a message for the times, which, regrettably, reflects social conflicts of the past as it comments on the present.

The rich have eaten the poor here, regurgitating them back across the country in prison camp-like districts, their notions of revolution digested in the process.  By immediately establishing a conflict between upper and lower classes, the film relates itself to the political struggle of the day, namely the Occupy movement.  Residents of District 12 are positioned as “what if” versions of Occupiers who have, in this universe, been ground under the political machine of the ruling body.  Still pumping forward, that same machine wields imagery and words to maintain control for the Capitalists.

The gladiatorial arena of the Hunger Games serves as the government’s greatest tool, utilizing formulated jingoism and glitzy showmanship as methods of entertaining the wealthy while punishing the poor.  Through this conceit, the narrative conveys the notion that the “truth” is only as far away as a compellingly told story.  By being whisked through the tribute molding process, Katniss Everdeen serves as the viewer’s eyes and ears to that notion.

Her entrance into Capital City provides a visual declaration that appearance is foremost in the minds of the Capitalists; hair, clothing, shoes, and make-up are decorative to the extreme, posing a stark contrast to the tattered frocks of the District citizens.  Caesar Flickerman’s (a blending of ancient and modern vocabulary representative of the film’s timeless examination of repressive politics) talk show furthers a similar idea, feeding the public a manufactured narrative, painted up as reality, to quench their thirst for a “truth” that does not exist.  Reality television’s equally scripted nature is played with in these scenes, displaying the captivating power presentation has over a social body.

Once inside the Hunger Games, Katniss and her peers demonstrate the opposing capabilities of humanity when placed in dire circumstances.  While Cato’s gang represents the primal violence present in all of us, Katniss, Peeta, and Rue stand as demonstrators of unity and cooperation.  Rue’s death serves as a condensed example of murderous rage and, through Katniss’ treatment of her body, remembrance of other’s value.  Ultimately, Katniss and Peeta disrupt the godlike control of the Capitalists by removing their ability to shape the narrative, proving that they are the writer’s of their own destiny.

Tailored from ideas, imagery, plots, structures, and messages found in countless examples of cinema and literature from past decades, The Hunger Games speaks to social struggles of the past (the civil war, segregation) and present (Occupy Movement, class warfare) through a depiction of history’s tools of repression (gladiatorial events, television), proving such conflicts are timeless.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Posted in Current, Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 18, 2012 by reelality

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Directed by Tomas Alfredson

Hidden underneath a calculatedly sterile espionage thriller, Alfredson has, as he did with Let the Right One In, located the beating heart among rigid personas.  Using Cold War spy politics as metaphors for separation and indiscretion, the film balances genre stylishness with internal pathos.

Regardless of their individual genres, Let the Right One In and Tinker Tailor share a similar ambience, making a case for auteurism within Alfredson’s style.  Outwardly, both films share in an obvious subtlety of mood and atmosphere, while housing underneath a raw examination of romance, both destructive and reassuring.  Each movie’s characters struggle to socialize with each other, maintaining icy facades in an effort to conceal the weaknesses within.

As alluded too, within this narrative each spymaster finds themselves in a continual charade of allegiance as the film’s protagonist, George Smiley, obsessively studies personalities for any flaw.  Here the flaws accumulate from each agent’s private romances.  Smiley, himself, learned early in his career that those you love can bring about your downfall.  Alfredson parallels the inspective nature of his plot by pacing and structuring the film to demand a constant study of every detail as a way of imparting information.  It is by way of this technique that the audience concurrently deduces what Smiley does: his wife is his greatest weakness.  No wonder her character is kept visually concealed throughout the film.

A long game unfolded by Russian operative Karla and top agents of MI5 revolves around destabilizing Smiley’s marriage and, thus, his attentions.  Bill Haydon plays a primary role here, sleeping with Smiley’s wife and facilitating their break.  Painted as a bi-sexual flirt, Haydon, of all the characters, is the only one shown to have no exclusive relationships.  This lack of romantic loyalty mirrors his traitorous alignments and, ultimately, brings about his assassination by scorned lover, Jim Prideaux.  Stylistically, Alfredson accentuates the final turn of this destructive relationship in his editorial juxtaposition of the “blood tear”, caused by Haydon’s bullet wound, and Prideaux’s actual tear, motivated by his emotional wounding.

Closing out a narrative with its fair share of intricacy and silent, somber tonality on such a heavily Shakespearian affair conveys Alfredson’s true topic: love.  Finding a similarity between Russia, England, and America’s deceptive Cold War relationships and those of secretive lovers, the film presents itself as one of its characters: protectively distant, until romantic truths are laid bare.

The Artist

Posted in Current, Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 2, 2012 by reelality

The Artist

Directed & written by Michel Hazanavicius

Delicately, yet decisively, wielding the techniques of early cinema (thus pure cinema), Michel Hazanavicius, with his mesmerizing cast, details the blending of sound and image via a romantic parable in The Artist.

Hitchcock notably favored the tactics of pure cinema, relying on visuals unique to filmmaking to relate his characters’ personalities and struggles.  It is apt then that Hazanavicius incorporates Hitchcock-ian imagery in the building blocks of his period yarn.  Mindful, in this way, of film history’s architects, The Artist gathers all the artifice of moviemaking’s hundred years, boils it down, frames it with the medium’s earliest mold, all to convey a hopeful message of advancement and incorporative growth.

It is within this contradiction which the film creates a compelling irony.  Choosing an outdated technical format, the silent picture, The Artist establishes its “hook” or novelty to bring in viewers, but, byway of this aged method, Hazanavicius is able to champion the basest of cinematic storytelling for a modern audience.  Notably, public opinion has favored the picture, thus proving the universal quality of the device.  In effect, then, the film and director are confronting the current popular notion that present day releases be comprised of chatty exposition and unmotivated flashy activity.

Poking the bear, so to speak, would be a wasteful goal without metaphorical support.  Elevating the content, Hazanavicius simultaneously conducts a subtextual battle then blending of image and sound.  Here Valentin represents visual strength, constantly mindful of his public and screen images, excessively reveling in the power and presence they bestow him.  Peppy Miller, in contrast, comes to embody sound as she rises Hollywood’s ladder of box-office success.  The moral, however, comes through the commingling of the two.  Valentin offers Peppy her first break (a silent, expressive meeting marking her arrival) while also inventing her key visual attractor, the fake mole.  Inevitably, Peppy is able return support as she nurses Valentin through his deflated denouement.  Draped with romantic narrative, the message clarifies within the film’s final, progressive scene where the two find that fertile middle ground of noise and movement amidst the medium’s discovery of the musical.  Hazanavicius’ choice to introduce audio into these moments only amplifies the idea that cinema may baulk at change initially, but, ultimately, advances within the merging of old and new.

On a social level, such a concept could hold appeal during the current milieu of political infighting, redistribution of the capitalistic business model, and technological rivalry.  Through the film’s message of eventual equilibrium, audiences could be finding solace.  Or, possibly, the film simply plucks the right emotional notes.

Whatever the result, The Artist beguiles as its protagonist does, through classic flimflammery, charm, intelligent construction of imagery, and, above all, concise simplicity.

That, and the most irresistible dog to grace a screen.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

Posted in Current, Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 20, 2012 by reelality

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

Directed by Guy Ritchie

Helming testosterone pumping action vehicles as Britain’s Tarantino, Guy Ritchie’s career has been anything but internal.  Within the subtext of Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, however, Ritchie has contradictorily focused his gaze inward, studying an existential struggle for self side-by-side with the loneliness of loss.

While sturdied by an expressive cast, the narrative rests within the headspace of its titled sleuth, minus an initial prologue.  During these opening moments, the audience rebounds between the viewpoints of Holmes and the last film’s femme fatale, Irene Adler, eventually finding themselves abruptly deposited, via Adler’s demise juxtaposed with a purposeful dolly up to a solo dinning Holmes, inside the hero’s perspective.  From therein the narrative aligns with the visuals to approximate Holmes’ frantic search for definition, as his symbiotic personality hungers for companionship in lieu of Adler and his betrothed best mate, Watson.

Exceeding the homosexual overtones present in the franchise’s first entry, here suggestive references are fervent and frequent, displaying Holmes’ frothing dismay at losing Watson to Mary.  Similar to an ignored child, Holmes uses all his scraggly charm and daring-do to whisk Watson away on their own “honeymoon”, fueled by a covert desperation for interaction.  For it is through his reaction to others that Holmes finds himself.  Ritchie and his costume department caricature that existential search visually through the consulting detective’s increased usage of disguises, most notably his turn as a female passenger during the film’s train sequence.  Outside of the obvious gag, such a costuming choice not only exaggerates homosexual underpinnings, but also a subconscious desire for interest from Watson by using the gender currently occupying his attention.

Painting with a black humored brush, Ritchie surrounds Holmes with examples of social bonding by way of productive pairings, for example the familial gypsy camp.  Even the film’s villain, Moriarty, comprises half of a more cooperative team than that of Holmes and Watson.

Climatically, Holmes reaches a stalemate, of sorts, with himself as well as his mirror opposite, Moriarty.  Utilizing his energized pairing of narration and slow-motion (an internal device portraying Holmes’ thoughts), Ritchie concludes his protagonist’s journey with Sherlock discovering he will triumph, not by enacting self-serving methods, but choosing a strategy which is simultaneously sacrificial and altruistic.

Buddy action pictures, such as Ritchie’s previous Snatch and Rock n’ Rolla, usually resign themselves primarily with chest bumping and high-fiving through extended fisticuffs, explosions, and pursuits, which, fairly, are present in Game of Shadows, but the subtextual foundations here are something more than elementary.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Posted in DVD + Bluray, Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 13, 2012 by reelality

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Directed by Rupert Wyatt

Self-aware describes both the simian protagonists and script of this franchise reboot.  Recognizing each laughable plot contrivance, then correcting for it before the chortles hit, while peppering societal insight throughout gains Wyatt and his team an unexpected, yet impressive win.

Undoubtedly, the creators of RotPotA (did you expect me to type it every time?) realized depicting the evolution of a chimpanzee from simple ape to vocal revolutionary within the span of two hours could reduce their film to a mockery on par with Deep Blue Sea or the SyFy Channel monster movie of the week.  Carefully calibrating their script to account for such pitfalls has, instead, proven they deserve their jobs in Hollywood.  Nearly inevitably preposterous key beats, such as Caesar speaking for the first time, are elevated to pathos by grounding them through character conflict, simplicity, and thematic motivation.  Caesar’s utterance of “No!” maintains a level of believability through its infantile non-complexity while striking a cord of satisfaction with the viewer through its turning of his arc (from oppressed to opponent) while supporting the key theme of rebellious display.

Screenwriters Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver not only counter absurdity with aplomb, but balance clumsy structural elements with seeming ease.  Moving characters through a decade of time as well as objects from location to unrelated location can be cumbersome, yet here plot necessities like Caesar’s acquisition of ALZ 112 from Will’s home are positioned subtly in earlier scenes and actions (Will’s secret attempts to cure his father).  Credit for such moments does not solely fall to the writing, however, as Wyatt’s clever visual shorthand (i.e. Caesar catching Charles’ misuse of the fork) and Serkis’ ranged, silent performance heft a portion of the weight.

Though technical and narrative cognition are worthy of regard, where the full commingling of direction, scripting, and delivery comes to fruition is with the film’s message.  Following Will and his adopted primate offspring allows for a distanced study of humanity’s various successive and destructive self-treatments.  Positively, we are shown humans’ ability to learn compassion as we see Caesar mimic Will’s devotion to curing his father’s aliment, while, conversely, witnessing the instilling of a cyclical eye-for-an-eye mentality when Caesar reacts with aggression to the physical mistreatment laid upon him at the zoological shelter.  The film’s journey also offers metaphors for a number of society’s other de-humanizing institutions and practices, such as prison systems, police brutality, capitalistic greed, and the bureaucracy of the judicial body.  Utilizing a core conceit of Sci-Fi storytelling, Wyatt creates a vantage point toward today’s misdeeds while providing a veiled distance through which the audience may view them.

While at times occupied with broad characterizations or franchise reboot requirements (catchphrase repurposing, sequel preparations, etc.), Rise of the Planet of the Apes (okay, I’ll type it once) has been injected with an unlikely amount of invention and self-awareness, while concurrently proving it has more on its mind than a typical aught remake.

However, the possibility of its guttural groaning and screeching raising an army of similarly inclined features to conquer the multiplexes seems as likely as a talking monkey.

There Will be Whining!

Posted in Articles with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 11, 2012 by reelality

Type.  Type!  Type you feeble digits!

What a bountiful effort to force my fingers into action!  I’ve been on hiatus too long; my brain has gone numb and cold.  Scanning over my previous entries, I don’t hear my voice, I hear the educated tone of a distant stranger.  Where did that person go?  Who’s this sluggish oaf left in their place?

As usual, it all goes back to movies for me.  My being has been craving them, howling for them and I haven’t delivered.  And don’t think I’m getting jollies by masochistically depriving myself of the art form I love.

Life has been intervening.  My regular movie-going compatriots have vanished.  Work beckons constantly.  And, showing vastly greater common sense than I, my girlfriend understands film to be, what in reality it probably is, a socially vapid, time-draining black hole.  So, apparently, my defensive mechanism is to complain.

That kind of spoiled bleating is basely obnoxious, however.  Why moan about a fulfilled life which delivers a healthier dose of human interaction than I’ve experienced in the whole of my twenty-five years?

Maybe because I feel stupider.  Scoff, sure, but watching movies keeps me sharp.  A snobby film student axiom, I know, yet nonetheless accurate.  Films may depict fiction (and here I’m including documentaries, as well, because even they display an edited reality), but they are also founded in truth.  Story is constructed with bricks of empathy, commonality, and stereotype, which, if assembled correctly, result in a universal parable, if not a documentation of natural fact.  Though ridicule has fallen on me time and again for believing it, I find such an assemblage to be a fair outlet for gauging human behavior and the surrounding world.  Life is reflected in movies while humans acquire personality tropes from the screen.  Feeding upon this diet keeps me reevaluating the philosophy of interaction, choice, and morality, which, in turn, keeps my mind active.

That’s to say nothing about deriving message from content, either.  There’s a certain forensic search inherent in any viewing of material where the eyes and the mind frantically battle against the onslaught of sound and image to derive meaning.  A creator worth their salt is capable of providing viewers with clues buried amongst the plot and action leading to a deduction of the social landscape.

Compiled together, a consistent immersion within these elements can, in effect, keep the mind lean and taught.  Mine has grown flabby and hobbled.

A regiment is in order.  In opposition to the common association of the word, this instance refers not to physical activity, but inactivity.  I need to sit, watch, and write.  A lot.  2011 resulted in the lowest total current movie viewings I’ve accumulated in, at least, the past eleven years.

No more!

Starting now, be it alone, accompanied, off Netflix, from Red Box, via an iPad, or a computer screen, I will drink up film.  I will drink it up!  And I will regurgitate it here.

Bring a mop.  It’s going to get messy.