Thursday, 26 March 2015

So Fetch Friday: The Wrath of Jean-Luc Godard

It's almost the end of the year. I've literally got one week left of classes and then I'm done... well, except for exams, and these annoying papers. I've got one paper for horror that's been causing so much trouble. The TA strike caused it to keep getting pushed back, then my professor suggested it might get cancelled, and planned to have us vote on a revised syllabus in order to determine that for sure. That was supposed to happen on Monday, but instead he decided to push it ahead to next week, which is the last week of class making the "revised syllabus" a bit redundant, but he has also said that the essay is still on. Part of me is half-hoping it does get cancelled so I can focus more on the other paper (which is already making progress).

For one paper I'm writing about Under the Skin and how it challenges the anti-porn movements by offering a literally alien perspective. For the other, I'm apparently doing a comparison of The Thing and The Thing From Another World, and I've made a whole bunch of notes pointing out some really weird theories about how The Thing From Another World is secretly an allegory criticizing Cold War politics disguised to look like it fits the usual formula of 1950's alien invasion films. Unfortunately, this one has proven to be very stressful, just getting some sort of material has been frustrating enough and I couldn't even enjoy watching The Thing for this one.

This week, we had to watch Martyrs because we were leaning about the New French Extremity in horror. Even my horror professor admitted that he wasn't particularly fond of it and only chose to screen the film because it was a good example of what he was talking about. The first half actually was not too bad, with the two girls getting stuck in a family home trying to clean up the aftermath of a crime gone wrong while one is clearly not all there in the head. Then about half-way in, the mentally unstable girl commits suicide, and her friend encounters what is basically a torture cellar in the basement of said house and a kidnapped woman who obviously needs medical assistance... and she does absolutely nothing. Seriously, the film gives absolutely no reason why she can't just call an ambulance for the tortured woman, and if she had just notified the authorities as soon as she found all that, she could have saved herself a lot of pain and suffering. That second half ended up being appropriately disturbing, but when you get down to it, it was really just gore for the sake of gore.

It's also a very good demonstration of something we've discussed in my horror class that I feel like I should have a few very good reasons to be concerned about. Apparently horror films have a bizarre obsession with torturing women, usually in particularly nasty ways, and there are even big directors like Brian De Palma who have gone on the record explaining why they find it more interesting to torture women. Something about this doesn't seem entirely right. Yes, by its very nature most horror films are likely to torment their main characters in some capacity, but the fact that there is a recognized idea of "Torture the Women!" seems a bit disturbing, not to mention the tendency to create a spectacle of it.

It got me thinking a bit about my own writing, as I have some experience in writing horror stories, and I have a few concerns of my own on this matter. I've never gone quite to the extremes depicted in these New French Extremity films, but I have inflicted harm on quite a few women across my various short stories, novels, and screenplays. On the other hand, I've always found psychological pain to be a lot more interesting to look at, probably why the subject of mental illness has a tendency to keep popping up in some form or another. I'm not creating a spectacle of women being tortured I'm getting into their heads and exploring their feelings. I'm not completely above inflicting physical harm on my female characters if necessary but never with this much gore.

Of course, we also had the obligatory Godard film for this year. Being constantly reminded of that fact both in lecture and through the readings hasn't helped. One of the articles I had to read for this week wouldn't stop praising Godard and talking about his "creative imagination". If by "creative imagination" you mean laziness than yes, I'll agree with you. Considering he couldn't even be bothered to go through his own film to figure out what needed to be cut (and instead just cut out random segments) and didn't even bother to make a compelling vision of the future in Alphaville, this is a guy who wouldn't know imagination if it came up to him and punched him in the face.

I honestly had hoped going in this would be one of the first we'd watch just so we can get it out of the way. My hatred for Godard is the stuff of legend on the blogging community, even more so on campus. Even a few of my professors are very much aware of how much I dislike this guy's work, and yet I keep getting forced to watch him anyway. Why can't I escape his wrath? Okay, technically the reason my professor gave for picking this film was because it was one of the most iconic of the French New Wave, but there were tons of other people working in that movement who probably produced far better films so I kinda wish we were looking at some of them.

Fortunately, Breathless is arguably the least painful out of the movies in his filmography I've been forced to watch so far. In fact, it's not so much painful as it is just poorly written. It actually seemed slightly better this time though I think that's only because I've seen how much worse Godard's later films get. Compared to Alphaville or Tout Va Bien, Breathless looks like a masterpiece, but that's not really saying much. It's still a terrible movie and being forced to re-watch it again didn't do a whole lot more than give me even more reasons to dislike the main character (as I noted in my article on the film, I found further evidence that the main character is an idiot, plus a long list of other reasons why he had it coming at the end). I guess I should just be glad that it's over now, and I'm through with Godard for the year. I've been forced to watch the obligatory film and made it out with my sanity, so do I get a pie or something? Now I just have to endure one last art film, L'Avventura, and I'll be done with this class.

One thing I did find out, though, was that Breathless was originally written by Francois Truffaut (who you may remember for his supporting role as the French scientist in Close Encounters of the Third Kind) and from what I've been told his original vision was quite a bit different from what Godard came up with. Apparently the premise behind Truffaut's original script was that the main character is a criminal on the run who finds himself taking refuge in a young woman's house where she slowly begins to fall for him. That actually makes so much more sense than Godard's version, in that it sounds like he actually has to develop a relationship with her and has to spend a lot of time in hiding rather than hanging out in the middle of open streets despite being a car thief and and murderer who should be either turning himself in or getting out of town. Maybe there's something about Truffaut.

Finally, we watched a much better film by Steve McQueen, and by that I of course do not mean the 1960's action star who has been dead for 35 years. I'm talking about the British director who I only just realized was also responsible for 12 Years A Slave. The movie we watched this week was Shame, and it was... interesting. I'm still not entirely sure I understood the whole film, but there did seem to be something beautiful about it. I liked Sissy, she seemed to be an interesting character with all her peculiar mannerisms, or perhaps it has to do with my peculiar fascination with mental illness. Either way she was pretty good, and Michael Fassbender was alright as well.

On a slightly more optimistic note, it looks like a short screenplay I wrote (which is also a lot better than any of Godard's movies) is finally going to be made into a film, probably no more than 10-15 minutes at the most, but a film nonetheless. The story itself is pretty simple, drawing on a mix of my own failed college experience and watching a few too many David Lynch films, but those who have read it have told me its quite emotional. The subjective dream-like elements of the script have apparently proven to be quite effective, seeing as it has sparked quite a bit of discussion from readers interested in sharing their own personal interpretations of what it means.

We've been talking about doing this for a while, with me first pitching the script back in September, but pre-production can take a while sometimes. I've got a friend on hand to direct who, from what I've seen of his previous short films, is really good, and it's also a great exercise to be sure since it gives me a chance to experience what it's like to hand my script over to someone else. The editing process hasn't always been easy, but I've tried to be open to his ideas even if I'm not always 100% certain if he is making the right call. I've had a chance to attend a production meeting with him and two other guys and we started planning out how we were going to shoot the opening scene, or perhaps more accurately they did the technical work and I was on hand as a consultant. Casting auditions are already underway, though do to a scheduling conflict, I was unable to attend the first session. We're hoping to start shooting near the end of April, though I can't say when the final product will be released at this time.

You know who we haven't heard from in a while? Our good friend Dr. Hannibal Lecter, let's see what totally non-suspicious shenanigans he's up to now. We have finally confirmed one thing that up until now has only been implied, and I think is a touch that might make Mads Mikkelsen's Hannibal a thousand times scarier than Anthony Hopkins' version. In Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal's habit of eating human meat was for the most part only referred to. There was that one scene where he bites a couple of prison guards but that was something he deemed necessary to his plan, his passion for human meat is only alluded to through double entendres ("I'm having an old friend for dinner"). In the first few episodes of Hannibal, we see him showing his talents as a cook, with implications that the food he is serving to people is actually human meat. Those implications have finally been confirmed, as we see him harvesting organs and then serving them for a dinner party.

Glad I wasn't invited to this party. As a teetotaler I wouldn't have been able to handle all the wine.

Also, it seems that Hannibal may or may not have had a hand in the death of a trainee (we see him strangling her, but it wasn't entirely clear if she was dead or unconscious) employed by Crawford in tracking down a serial killer (or more specifically, Hannibal himself, though Crawford doesn't know that yet). It is strongly suggested that he did, but there have been a few indications of the vague possibility that this agent, Miriam Lass (whose introduction seemed to remind me a lot of Clarice Starling) might be alive, although without an arm. Part of me is half-expecting that she's going to turn up at some point having become a serial killer in her own right, which would certainly be an interesting twist. If Hannibal did kill her then and there it would seem a bit strange that she would be able to send a message to Jack sometime later, so obviously they're not telling us everything just yet.

Gillian Anderson has also started to appear, and I'm amazed it took looking her up on IMDB to find out she was playing Dr. Lecter's psychiatrist (hey, even psychiatrists need psychiatrists sometimes). I swear I never would have guessed that was her, the only reason I even knew she was on the show was because her name kept popping up when the credits were listing guest stars. If there's one thing Hannibal is definitely not short on, it's psychiatrists, which is good because I think Will Graham could use a few. He has always been a bit "unstable" but now he's experiencing hallucinations that are becoming dangerously hard to separate from reality. Based on my limited understanding of psychiatry I think it might be reasonable to guess that he is suffering from some form of Schizophrenia, and he really needs to get some help.

Meanwhile, in Banshee County things are getting pretty dark, even for a show as morally ambiguous as Banshee. Lucas finally got a chance to do something good when he encountered "his" estranged son Jason (or more accurately, the estranged son of the man whose identity Lucas has assumed). Jason was having a somewhat difficult time in Banshee but he seemed to be doing okay and was trying his best to co-operate. Then, literally the night before he was to start a new life in Canada, and after Lucas had saved him from a dangerous British hitman, Jason went to the bar and decided to have sex with Rebecca. Kai Proctor... didn't take it too well, and let's just say Jason would have been better off if he had just stayed in the motel room and watched TV.

It also turns out Proctor's butler is very good at covering up murders, but we have got also got a glimpse into his past. From what has been shown, it seems that this man has been through some rough experiences, which apparently includes physical abuse. I am curious as to where this is going to go, and if perhaps as we learn more we'll find out why he is so loyal to Proctor and why he is willing to do all the horrible things he does for him. However, what matters now is that Lucas is mad and is prepared to do everything in his power to take down Proctor's business empire. So far he's actually done a pretty good job and successfully incarcerated Proctor, but unfortunately keeping him in prison is proving to be easier said than done.

At the same time all this is going on, we also got introduced to some new villains, the "Skinheads", which are a bunch of angry racist guys (one of whom has a Swastika tattooed on the back of his neck, in case you haven't already figured out they're bad news). They don't like the fact that a black man like Emmett is able to be a respected cop. They were so angry at him, they attacked his (white) wife in the street and in the process murdered her unborn fetus. Naturally, even if it wasn't entirely clear if he was doing the right thing, there was some satisfaction to be found in watching Emmett get his revenge by beating the crap out of all the angry racists and showing them how tough he really is. Unfortunately, it was still sad to see him resigning from the police force. Now they're down to only three cops (and technically Lucas isn't even really a cop, which makes it only two) and that's going to make things tougher to handle. Hopefully Emmett will work up the nerve to get back into the police force eventually.

Unfortunately, I have not had the chance to keep up with The Walking Dead or Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., it's been hard enough just finding time to watch all the shows I have at this point. I've just got one more week and then I'm done, then I'll have to start worrying about exams. On the bright side, I have a blogathon starting next week and I've figured out that my Blindspot film for April is Gangs of New York, which I should be able to watch as I'll have slightly more free time than I currently do. Also, guess who has a birthday today. Come on, guess. I dare you!

That's right, Quentin Tarantino. On this day in 1963 the great director Quentin Tarantino, known for Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, and Kill Bill was born. Oh, and it's also my birthday. I sometimes find it amusing to look up who people share their birthdays with, and it was for this very reason that I chose to watch Kill Bill in March. I think it might be fun to ask all of you reading this, who do you share your birthdays with? Is there a great actor or director who was born on the same day as you (though not necessarily the same year)? Let me know in the comments.

So it's been a tough week so far but I'm managing okay. I've still been producing content and watching films which is good, and hopefully I can get at least one of these papers out of the way by the end of next week.  That's one of the good things about doing this kind of feature, it provides a simple forum to express myself when I don't have a lot else to be doing. It's just something I can type up in between assignments and classes. I'd recommend getting involved, I know Katy Rochelle has been very open to inviting people to participate, so I think it's worth getting that banner on and trying it out.

I've been wondering recently about doing something on what makes a compelling anti-hero, I thought I could draw a bit of my writing experience for this one, since I've got quite a few anecdotes of attempts with varying degrees of success. I think it could be an interesting topic, but I might need to see how things play out. It might not be a bad idea to get some feedback in this regard as well. So to finish off, I'll leave you with a few questions to think about:

  1. Does anyone know any good French New Wave Filmmakers
  2. What are your thoughts on horror's obsession with torturing women? Are you guilty of it yourself or are you better than that as a writer?
  3. What celebrities do you share a birthday with?
  4. What do you think makes a good anti-hero?

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  1. Wow...what a post.

    You know I'm all for expressing personal opinion, despite of what others say, and so despite the fact that you so clearly hate Godard (and I have mentioned numerous times here and on my blog that he is my favorite filmmaker), I commend your passion.

    You're wrong, obviously, but passionate ;-)

    So happy for you about your screenplay, by the way...that's awesome! I hope I get a chance to see the finished product.

    1. Thanks. I'm not entirely sure what the distribution plan is for the film yet, although the guy I got to direct it did say he was interested in submitting it to the Raindance Film Festival.

    2. That would be so cool! Just seeing Alex's festival run with Wait has me excited for you if you get to experience the same thing!

    3. Well, shooting is scheduled to start near the end of April (we're timing it so that we start after our exams are done) and then there's editing to worry about, so hopefully we'll have it done by the end of the end of the year.

  2. I have yet to see a Godard film and so my sympathies to you:) Truffaut is one director I do like from the New wave. I am so not into horror films where women get the brunt of it...sorry not sexy. I have Johnny Weismuller and the Marquis De Sade sharing my birthday (sigh).