Category Archives: Film Theory

Alternative Theory

Brotherhood of Blades is one of the coolest martial arts films in recent years. And that’s why I choose it as a case for my topic: Martial Arts Film as Attractions. So on the one hand, the medium is supposed to be cool and an attraction itself as well; on the other hand, it must show great logic and connections between the theories I refer and cite in my paper. Through the simple figures and the relative ubiety between them, Prezi satisfies both requirements and further inspires me to simplify and visualize my theory. What’s more important, Prezi has a quite similar function with the camera lens, for it can zoom in and out, and it acts as our eyes to enjoy the theory, as our hands to touch the theory, and as our feet to go near the theory. I believe it is perfectly suitable for our class “Film Theory Through the Senses.”

When I was preparing the Prezi, I found a wonderful thing that background will move together with the theory mapping. So I customized the background to create the effects that the end of the presentation, the whole picture will be upside down. I want to show my respect for the film in this way, because the entire story is related to the reversion of fate, and the thoughts about whether the insignificant have the ability to change it. By giving all the pictures to their right position, I want to offer my own answer to this question.

Here is the URL of my Prezi. Hope you will like it, and have a better understanding of Chinese martial arts film through my Prezi.

http://prezi.com/0b4h5r3cfdg9/?utm_campaign=share&utm_medium=copy

 

 

 

 

Revisiting Zbigniew Rybczynski’s Oh, I Can’t Stop!

 

When I am waiting for the short loading, I can still remember classmates comments on this film. Most of them suggested that what the camera represented could be a machine, smashing and swallowing everything on its way. They also appreciated the technique usage such as the sound and the deceptive long take and applied Gaze theory to this film. While they felt scared or haunted, I still got a sense of loneliness the second time watching it, not because I had a little bit different feelings than others, but because I got the same loneliness as the object which was represented by the camera. Compared to a machine is destroying other things, it is more likely to be a monster who is being chased, is going to be killed. If it is not a POV shot, the scene may be that a man without the face, or gruesome like Quasimodo, is escaping from the capture of a crowd of villains, but when he is close to or wants to turn to the people in front of him, they yell and run off. That’s why we get a lot of screams in the soundtrack; it belongs to a person in flight. Especially when I see that the “Quasimodo,” encountered with blockings, is heading any path without heeding which one is right, it is hard to keep myself out of resonance: the fear of the sophisticated environment, the fear of the future, and the inward fear of the fear itself. His behavior of destroying or hurting is from the instant to seek survival. It reminds me of a hot mobile gaming several years ago – Temple Run. (Fig.1.) If we cut out the bottom part of the cell phone screen, we will find that the scene is extremely familiar with Rybczynski’s short. (Fig.2.)

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Fig.1. The teaching model in Temple Run
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Fig.2. The tunnel scene after cropping 

There involves the same relativity in these two cases. The running action can be understood as struggling forward as well as evading the attack backward; you may think that you are getting closer to everything but in turn, you are further and further to them; you hug yourself to assume that you have escaped from the danger, while from others’ perspective, you are the biggest threat. It also reminds me one of the flaws in the Baudry’s aura theory. Regardless the individual’s differences, Baudry and some of other theorists always set the audiences as a whole in their argument, over-emphasize the exhibition and the unidirectivity of the emotion flowing from the cinema to the audience. But like the distinct images in our mind to the same short, whether the viewer has the experience of playing the specific escaping game, and whether they can find the intertextuality between this game and the film, seemingly become the key point of the audience reception.

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Russian Ark: 

Here is another POV film constituted by a single 90-minute long take, Russian Ark (Alexander Sokurov, 2002). In my point of view, it is Sokurov’s experiment with the time and space, because the actual production time is equal to the exhibition time. Although it is the same with Rybczynski’s film, we will feel profound respect for Sokurov’s work, for there are over 2,000 actors and three orchestras spreading the whole palace. However, I don’t have such a deep resonance as in Oh, I Can’t Stop!. The relatively low speed of the camera movements delivers it as a graceful scenic film to me while some critics focus on the possibility of class mobility. So what do you think of this film? Maybe the different feelings can support the importance of individual’s experience again.

Filmology:

Rybczynski, Zbigniew. Oh, I Can’t Stop. 1976.

Sokurov, Alexander. Russian Ark. 2002

 

Post-Conference Report of Transformations I: Cinema & Media Studies Research Meets Digital Humanities Tools

Cinema & Media Studies Research Meets Digital Humanities Tools gives the leaders of media studies a chance to get together and discuss the transformations and the future of this field. The conference is wide-ranging, with couples of speakers and a great number of significative topics. Most of them specifically focus on the influence of digital humanities on reinterpreting film and film history, refining the research methods, and reconstructing the teaching system. Among all the panels, I feel the Deb Verhoeven’s “Big Data Goes to the Movies: Beyond the Itinerary” and Debashree Mukherjee’s “Maps, Microhistories and Macroanalysis: Digital Futures of Indian Film Historiography” interest me most.

Putting forward the term of “kinomatics”, which means the study of the geometry of motion, Verhoeven tries to explore the movement pattern of certain genres in a given area. In order to make sure everyone can get the key points that were addressed, she mainly takes the “Greek Cinema in Melbourne” as an example to evaluate the relationship between venue operators in Australia, Greek film production companies, and the particular configuration of Greek film diffusion in Australia. All these movements data across certain regions are finally visualized in the bar graph, circle graph, and more vividly, in tree graph and windmill graph. These charts help her get a lot of interesting discoveries and conclusions. For example, after comparing the ubiety between population and venues for a few years, she finds that the emergency of theaters is not necessarily due to the population centralization. On the contrary, the community’s formation relates closely to the new theaters arising. This instance tells us the truth that several data or chart together may disclose more information, as well as the great influence of film on human beings.

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Image 1.2.3.4: Conference PowerPoint

Mukherjee states her understanding of digital humanities in another perspective. Her speech concerns more about how to collect the data and how to apply the data to film history rather than the data visualization. She makes a rough list of the missing films in Indian film history and emphasizes the importance of digital formats and online archiving. The website “indiancine.ma” is a project by Pad.ma where scholars can remotely gather and annotate their own clips. Among all her in-depth macro analyzes, the application of data grounded on the film subtitles leaves me deep impression. By catching all the English subtitles, scholars can know the frequency of specific words or expressions, and have further research on the distinct style in a definite period or area. What’s more, she also shows the function of catching each frame, and the statistics based on each frame can give scholars a direct view of the primary color, the most frequently used structure, or the various scales.

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Image 5.6: http://indiancine.ma/

Transformation, the core concept of this conference as well as the theme of each panel, reminds me of chapter 8 “Digital Cinema and Film Theory – The Body Digital” in Elsaesser’s book. I agree his argument that “digital cinema” is by no means just the achievement of cinematic effects by digital means. Essentially, transformations include the technical revolution, the category shift, the diversification of viewing experience, and the new applications in teaching. Furthermore, for the film theorists, the inherent connotation of “digital” is probably beyond the object of study, but a research technique, a methodology, which means the theories will arise from the huge database and strictly logical speculation, instead of the ideal observation and supposition as before. In the process of research, collecting the statistics, in turn, contributes its effort in enlarging and enriching the database. In other words, this transformation has the dual benefit: the research becomes more convenient and reasonable with the digital approaches while the digital method takes advantage of various studies to refine itself, to activate the astronomical data.

Reviewing all of their incisive ideas, I remember a data-based research in Chinese cinema study. Peter Rist, the chair of the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema in Concordia University, uses a big data way – ASL (Average Shot Length) – to support his idea that King Hu, a great Chinese director of martial arts, is also a genuinely experimental innovator in the 1960s and 1970s. Through calculating the ASL of King Hu’s films, collecting data of other directors and the international mean ASL of the same period, and comparing the difference between them (in a very similar way to Mukherjee’s research), he not only finds that King Hu’s cutting rate is faster than that of the other notable contemporary director of martial arts film, but also discovers that his ASL is remarkably shorter than the international mean ASL. Based on the analysis of the data, he comes to the conclusion that King Hu’s films have a very complicated but stylistic rhythm created through changes in the meter of editing, as well as other shifts between stasis and action, including those of character and camera movement.

Taking a broader view, we can see that the application of digital humanities tools is not limited to cinema studies. In other media, we can also glimpse the significance of digital humanities. Take television as an example. As Verhoeven said, the spread of a cultural product is affected by various factors of viewers, such as the age, household income, birthplace, proficiency in English, etc. Chinese Spring Festival Gala, which produced by CCTV and has evolved into a new folk-custom, is always lacking an authentic and valid rating data for the research and future production. CSM is the primary data provider now, but it only collects the data based on years and provinces. CSM seems to possess neither a representative and a sufficient number of samples, nor the consciousness of relating present data to socio-demographic factors, where the research value and commercial value mainly exist.

In a word, the digital humanities tools have a cross-cultural and cross-national meaning to the cinema and media studies. We should realize that many countries and fields still need a sufficient emphasis on digital humanities, and there are still plenty of films to archive, plenty of data to record, and plenty of facts to document. We are supposed to collaborate and contribute our share to advancing the development of digital humanities. Only in this way can we enjoy the convenience and reliability brought by the digital technique, with which the academic and commercial circles will welcome a more bright future.

 

Works Cited

Hallam, Julia, and Les Roberts, eds. Locating the moving image: new approaches to film and place. Indiana University Press, 2013.

Mukherjee, Debashree. “Notes on a Scandal: Writing Women’s Film History Against an Absent Archive.” BioScope: South Asian Screen Studies1 (2013): 9-30.

Elsaesser, Thomas, and Malte Hagener. Film theory: An introduction through the senses. Routledge, 2015.

Rist, Peter. “King Hu, Experimental, Narrative Filmmaker.” Davis and Chen (ed.), Cinema Taiwan(2007): 161-171.

Theory Response: Similarities & Differences

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Also, in spite of not mentioning the boundary between scriptwriter and director, I still believe that Vertov will support Astruc’s argument that scriptwriters are disappearing. For the genre as the newsreel, the reality weighs more than the editing. What’s more, snapshot means the quick seeking and capturing of eyes, so writing the script is not only pointless but also impossible. But the question is coming later: can the reality cover all the subjects, all the contents to the extent that we don’t need the melodrama, fiction film, and the works filled with pure imagination? Here comes their second divergence. Vertov excludes any genre except the newsreel while Astruc claims that cinema can handle any subject and any genre, which implies his open opinion on not only what but how these themes are woven into the film. It is two directions of one thing: replacing all the other things (turning into a monopolist), or coexisting with anything (turning into a language).

Beyond the simple relationship of similarity and differences, there are some more far-reaching connections between these two theories — there is a historical evolution involved. Looking at their schools of thoughts, the camera work in “Kino-Pravda” series, which perfectly illustrates Vertov’s combining theory with practice, inspires the filmmaking of Cinéma vérité. Cinéma vérité, also called observational cinema, sometimes is classified as a part of the French New Wave, for which Astruc’s this article is regarded as the first proclamation.

 

Theory Challenge

In “A Touch of Spice: Mobility and Popularity,” Eleftheriotis believes that a sense of mobility in and around the film A Touch of Spice (Boulmetis, 2003) is a critical enabler to its popularity. This sense of mobility is also embodied in The 10th Night (Yamaguchi, 2006), although the appearances may be a bit different.

Eleftheriotis argues that the mobility in A Touch of Spice is manifested in two ways. The first is the spatiotemporal mobility in narration, which involves an oscillating movement between past and present, memory and experience, Istanbul and Athens. Similarly, The 10th Night is in many ways representative of a much more multifaceted mobility in narration. Just the name of the anthology, Ten Nights of  Dreams, is an allusion of the mobility between real life and dream world. More remarkably, the experience of the hero Shōtarō is so erratic that it seems like a dream within a dream. Therefore, flashback in The 10th Night is not just a painful return but it shows a greater degree of mobility between the fictitiousness and the real, the predator and the prey, the desire for food and sex. Especially when Shōtarō was in the underground factory, the mobile “pig ride” serves as a television, as the vignettes of cooking passes in parallel one by one, from the collecting of the soup to the cooking of meat, then to the adding of the secret ingredient. Such scenes resemble that of the viewers changing TV channels. It is this moving process that offers Shōtarō increasing reflexivity and reflection and gradually forces him to push the button on the stick, which has the same function as a TV remote control. 

 

Another sense of mobility in A Touch of Spice, according to Eleftheriotis, lies in the contemporary and forward-looking perspective while the flashback is about the hero’s childhood. Placed in the global market, the film relates its mobility as a cultural commodity to its mode of production, marketing, and circulation, and delivers an optimistic manifesto for the future. Compared with this film, The 10th Night evidently lacks a internationally mobile or flexible agent, since it does not use the subjective narrational perspective of the hero, but a third-person point of view in flashback. Thus, The 10th Night probably shows its weakness on the cosmopolitan mobility. However, we have to keep in mind that the film is adapted from the short pieces of Natsume Sōseki. The leap from literature to cinema has already constituted its innate mobility. Beyond this intrinsic, mutual mobility, The 10th Night, also links the past and present to the future, and the double appearance of the inventor is this connector. The first prediction of the inventor is inserted when Shōtarō is in the clutches of pigs, and it seems like that this shot is in the past perfect tense because it’s a prevenient prediction to the “future” that has happened, in the memory. The second one is the last shot, a prediction regarding the hero’s astronaut career which is in the future past tense. It’s an unrealistic mobility rather than a simple narrative movement, because it traverses among almost all tenses. Mobilizing the mobility of different arts and various tenses to recoup what Eleftheriotis calls “global mobility,” The 10th Night is still a short full of vivid imagination and mobility.

 

Work Cited:

Eleftheriotis, Dimitris. “A Touch of Spice: Mobility and Popularity.” 2012.

Boulmetis, Tassos. A Touch of Spice. 2003.

Yamaguchi, Yudai. The 10th Night. 2006

Sōseki, Natsume. Ten Nights of  Dreams. 1908