Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Change It Up!

Reel One: In film class, we're headed into the break and the students just turned in their first compare/contrast paper, so they needed a break.  We watched the thinly-plotted-but-heavy-on-color-drenched-symbolism-and- slapstick-humor Luc Besson flick, The Fifth Element.  There's much to love in this film, including Chris Tucker's Ruby Rhod, Bruce Willis' dry wit, Jean-Paul Gaultier's futuristic costumes, and Milla Jovovich's "Divine Language" as the Perfect Supreme Being with a Multipass.  And Gary Oldman's Zorg, who seems to be the comic "Ming the Merciless" version of this character Oldman played in The Professional three years earlier for Besson.  Science fiction is often a very "white" genre and tends to the creepy rather than the comic, so Fifth Element can be a fun way to explore other ways of approaching the genre.

Reel Two: Over at the Rewatch, we have our second "change it up" of the week.  In Fifth Element, the Diva's aria is a key scene - that's her at the top of the post.  Over at the Rewatch, music is the very heart of the episode this week, so it's a good pairing.  Up this week for discussion and analysis is the musical episode, Season Six's "Once More with Feeling" and our Faithful Guide Nikki Stafford took this one to new heights.  While Janet Halfyard provides the academic touch in discussing the use of music in Buffy as a whole, using "OMWF" as the springboard, a veritable dissertation of scholars literally "chime in" on this episode, singing the songs, mangling the lyrics, even doing a dance or two.  Silliness prevails - what is with that cup, Matthew Pateman? - but it also successfully gets across the depth of the love these fine folk have for this show.  (Seriously - I'm the one in the fuzzy pink bathrobe, something I would've sworn would never appear on the Internet.  Ahhh, never say never, my friends!)

Coming Soon:  Next week, my class is on fall break and I'm attending the PCA-South conference in New Orleans.  The Bebop paper is drafted, although it needs a couple of hours' worth of attention to fine-tune a few points and then get cut down to presentation size.  I'm hopeful that I'm managed to pull together the various threads of manga, anime, feng shui, science fiction, and the blending of genres, both cinematically and musically.  There's a lot in that there 20 minutes, so I'll probably need to slash and burn something to allow sufficient time for the rest.  Tomorrow is a "controlled burn" sort of day, so everything should be in good shape by the time FryDaddy and I get on the flight next Wednesday.  Oh, and I'm the writer of the Rewatch next week as Willow spirals down, and down, and down . . .

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Shakespeare in Space?

Reel One:  The film class made the leap to color this week.  For our last "early classic," we took in Wilcox's Forbidden Planet, a film with one of the most misleading and pulp-lurid posters of the 1950s.  I must admit to really enjoying watching my students watch this one.  It's certainly a 1950s view of the future with a flying saucer just chock-full of slide-rule instrumentation (then again, science fiction commonly has views of the future that are dictated by the time in which the film was made - you don't seem atomic-ray altered monsters until after WW2 had shown us the destruction that slamming atoms together could create).  It also has Robby the Robot, a mechanical man who can create ten tons of lead alloy or run up a (very short) dress with the skill of a pageant designer with an atomic BeDazzler.  Toss in a good dose of Shakespeare's The Tempest and you've got a movie that can hold up over the years.  Even a nice dollop of Freud - I've asked my students to consider what their own "monsters from the Id" might be like - that should be educational!

Reel Two:  Over at the Rewatch, the dark tone of the first three episodes of the sometimes schizoid Season 6 gives way to some frothy comedic fun.  (It won't last - seriously, Season Six goes darker than dark, which makes the comedy both a little jarring and quite, quite welcome when you get it.)  Buffy has to pay bills, Dawn goes on a Halloween date and - oh, kitten poker!  There's something ESPN should sink its broadcasting teeth into!

Coming Soon: I may not see much sunlight this weekend, but at the end of it, I hope I can report that my paper for the New Orleans conference is drafted.  Next week, over at the Rewatch, a dissertation of scholars takes on "Once More with Feeling" and explores why Buffy wants something to sing about.  The film class is slated to discover that broad comedy and science fiction can indeed mix by exploring the wildly colorful splendor that is Luc Besson's The Fifth Element.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Let the Dead Be Dead

The woman named Tomorrow
sits with a hairpin in her teeth
and takes her time
and does her hair the way she wants it
and fastens at last the last braid and coil
and puts the hairpin where it belongs
and turns and drawls: Well, what of it?
My grandmother, Yesterday, is gone.
What of it? Let the dead be dead.  (Carl Sandberg)

Reel One: In the film class, we explored the "mad scientist" trope with one of those rare sequels that comes off better than the original - James Whale's The Bride of Frankenstein.  Drs. Frankenstein and Pretorius just can't let the dead be dead.  Science is used to re-animate a bride for the monster, without bothering to consult the young woman on whether or not she'd like to come back from wherever she's been.  (She also could use a hairpin or two.) About 70 years later, Buffy's friends will make the same choice, albeit for arguably less-selfish reasons, but with equally dire consequences.  

Reel Two: Over at the Rewatch, we've entered the dark country of Season 6.  Buffy's dead.  For real.  There's even a headstone. Haunted by the idea that their friend sacrificed herself and was sent to some sort of hell dimension, Actions Are Taken and Buffy is brought back from the afterlife.  This will have major, major consequences as this journey is supposed to only have a one-way ticket.  Still, it's hard to let the dead be dead.  It's a shocking, violent  start to the UPN years and when you consider that Season 6 began broadcasting about a month after 9/11, it seems a shade darker.  Elizabeth Rambo, who co-edited a book on these final two seasons, writes this week's post and it's good stuff!  Check it out.

Project Countdown:  I have a blog post to finish on part of Season 6 of Buffy.  It's my solo contribution for the Great Buffy Rewatch of 2011 that I've been posting links to all year.  It won't go up for several weeks, but we're all asked to get ours in early.  I've done my rewatch and have my notes, but still have to turn those into a post.  Then my attention needs to get focused on my presentation for the conference in New Orleans in early October.  More on that as it gets closer - the research is nearly done and I'm getting excited about the drafting part, as well as the prospect of seeing old friends, including Nikki Stafford of the Rewatch (she's a keynote speaker at the Lost conference that's being held as part of the larger conference) and a host of those who have written for the Rewatch this year.

Coming Soon:  The Charlotte area Browncoats are holding their annual "Can't Stop the Serenity" shindig this Sunday.  Free admission, plenty of food and auction items with all the funds going to support several good causes.  C'mon - watching Serenity on the big screen while surrounded by like-minded folk?  You know you want it!  Details can be found here.  And the film class dives into deep space and Freud with Forbidden Planet.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Head, Hands, Heart?

Reel One:  The film class got to its first full-length (and beyond!) movie this week with Fritz Lang's Metropolis. I firmly believe that a science fiction class needs to include this one - it's the granddaddy of most science fiction tropes and there's just so much going on there. I'm looking forward to hearing the extended commentary from my first-time viewers.  Silent films can be a real challenge - you have to keep up with the intertitle cards, the acting style tends to be way over the top, and there's the whole notion of "no words," but once you can get past that and allow yourself to be sucked into the story, there's quite a payoff.  Stirring music, whiz-bang effects, sensuality, a decadent society content to batten like ticks off the backs of slave workers, the eventual revolt of those workers, religion vs. technology, women as not-quite-fully-realized characters -- Metropolis has it all!  Metropolis also contains a snazzy epigraph at the beginning that Madonna shamelessly ripped off for "Express Yourself."  Watch and you can't miss it in either work.

Reel Two: Over at the Rewatch, Season Five wraps up.  Glory figures out the secret of the Key and Dawn'll have to bleed for it.  Or will the blood of another Summers do?  Saviors sacrifice and we learn this week that death is Buffy's gift.  And the counter isn't accepting returns.  It's a stunning trio of episodes that lead inevitably to a climax that still makes me tear up a bit.  (Watch Spike.  That's the secret.)  And Giles, as we already know, is not a mild-mannered librarian.  Read Nikki's comments on that part - great stuff!

Coming Soon:  Next week, the Rewatch enters the divided territory of Season Six.  Buffy has died, so has another Slayer been called?  Or did that line end with her earlier death back in Season One?  Either way, who's going to protect Sunnydale from vampires?  Who's going to raise Dawn?  And how much more loss can one group of friends take before someone snaps?  In the film class, we leave Rotwang and his Evil Hand behind in 1920s Germany and explore the "mad scientist" trope further with the American classic Bride of Frankenstein.  For my money, one of those rare films where the sequel surpasses the original.

Also:  I have a stack of books on my desk to "research gut" for my upcoming presentation in October.  It was very nice to take last weekend off and decompress from a variety of writing deadlines (including start of semester madness), but it's back in the saddle this weekend.  What?  You don't know how to "gut" a book?  Let David Lavery teach you!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Angles, Shots and Set Ups

Reel One: In class this week, we had the "vocabulary lecture" - not my favorite of lessons, but you have to know the language if you plan to speak clearly. In the case of film studies, that means knowing the difference between a two-shot and an extreme close-up. We had some fun going over the different angles by having a volunteer sit quietly as the subject while other students demonstrated how to set up the angle of the shot (we did the best we could with "bird's eye"!). We then watched a few clips to see what we had talked about in action - Vertigo, The Third Man, and North by Northwest (above) all gave us food for thought. Now we're ready to see everything in action - dissection is just ahead, but now we have the tools to peel back the surface and look underneath.

Reel Two: Over at the Rewatch, Buffy and the Scoobies have to deal with the loss of Joyce. Last week focused on the immediate aftermath - this week looks at the days afterward. Buffy stays busy, Dawn feels ignored, everyone mourns in their own ways. (Angel even comes briefly back from L.A.) And Willow begins to do some things that are the result of terrible, terrible ideas. The fact that they come from a place of love and concern changes that not a whit. Cameras aren't the only thing being "set up" right now - seeds are being sown that will bear fruit (some of it poisonous) further down the road. (OK - here's your challenge for this post. Just how many metaphors did I mash in that last sentence?)

Coming Soon: It's time for Metropolis! Buckle up - class struggle, the depiction of women as Madonna/whore, technology as a benevolent force or an endless maw that must be fed, a dystopian society - it's all in there. And without dialogue.