Saturday, 27 June 2015

One Small Step For Man...

Prior to the 1950's, science fiction was a genre not widely recognized in film. In fact, it was almost non-existent as far as cinema was concerned. The genre now known as science fiction is usually believed to have originated in 19th century literature. Several authors from that period are credited with presenting early stories that are now considered science fiction. Some stories by Edgar Allen Poe have been cited as early examples of the genre. Mary Shelley's Frankenstein can also be considered an early science fiction story. However, the genre was first popularized by two major authors from the period: Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, though at the time it was known as "scientific romance" instead of science fiction.

Of these two, Wells is noteworthy for pioneering many popular ideas of modern science fiction. While the idea of time travel was nothing new when he was writing, his novel aptly titled The Time Machine was one of, if not the first, to explore this theme with a scientific explanation (a machine that grants access to the fourth dimension). Wells was also working at a time when "invasion literature" proved popular with readers, and presented his own twist on the idea by making the invaders aliens from another planet. The result was The War of the Worlds, a story in which a race of Martians (another classic cliche of later science fiction stories) attempt to conquer the Earth. Over the following two centuries, this one novel would be adapted into four different movies, a video game, a rock opera, and a radio drama; but it also became the key inspiration for a classic sub-genre of science fiction: the alien invasion, an idea which would be explored across millions of films, television shows, video games, and books. 

By the early 20th century, science fiction had made a name for itself in literature, though it was largely confined to pulp magazines. Authors like Robert Heinlein, Ray Bradbury, H.P. Lovecraft, John W. Campbell Jr., and others began publishing their stories in these magazines. On film, however, it was a very different story. One of the earliest science fiction films was Georges Méliès 1902 film A Trip to the Moon, inspired by Wells' story The First Men in the Moon and Verne's From Earth to the Moon. The story was extremely simple: a group of astronomers get together and decide they will get into a giant bullet that they can use to launch themselves to the moon. They land on the moon (crashing into its eye in the process), have a few strange encounters, and then go home. Méliès had little concern for scientific accuracy, and instead the "plot" was more a tool to create then-revolutionary special effects.

A Trip to the Moon, however, remained an exception to the rule. Many of  Méliès' other films were more fantasy than science fiction. During the silent era, outside of a few rare exceptions such as Fritz Lang's Metropolis and Woman in the Moon, there was next to nothing. Science fiction was barely recognized as a genre. James Whale's adaptation of Frankenstein and its sequel Bride of Frankenstein could both be seen as science fiction today, but at the time they were branded as horror. It was not until the early 1950's that any real change began to occur. This started with a man named George Pal, a producer interested in making films about actual science. 1951 saw the release of a blockbuster titled Destination Moon which marked the beginning of science fiction as a film genre. 

There were a few reasons why it was only now that science fiction was starting to become recognized as a genre. Perhaps the most prominent reason was the role of television, then a new invention that was seen as a threat to cinemas. The rationale was simple, creating more films in colour and with high-budget special effects to create a greater spectacle was meant to attract more audiences (similar reasoning was involved for the later cycle of big-budget disaster films in the 1970's and 1980's). Part of it was also that the space program was in its beginning, and there was an interest in the idea of visiting other worlds. Both America and Russia were already beginning experiments in rocketry (the Soviet Union would send Sputnik, the first manmade object into orbit in 1957), which fueled interest in stories of rocket-based exploration. There was also simple Cold War paranoia (which fed into the first major cycle of alien invasion films, beginning with 1951's The Thing From Another World).

Pal was one of the first to believe that a film based around science would be exciting for the American public, and to an extent he was right. Destination Moon not only kickstarted the popularity of science fiction as a film genre (Pal himself would go on to produce three more science fiction films during the decade, and direct an adaptation of H.G. Wells' The Time Machine in 1960), but also sparked a wave of imitators (Rocketship X-M being the most infamous). Unlike many of those imitators, Destination Moon is what would now be considered hard science fiction, which is basically the polar opposite of space opera (something at the time popular through low-budget serials). Hard science fiction involves detailed research and a concerted effort to incorporate actual scientific facts as much as possible. It was the first movie to really make such a concerted effort. 

The plot is quite simple. Much like Verne's From Earth to the Moon before it, the story was an attempt to realistically envision what a moon landing could look like. Like A Trip to the Moon, The "story" serves as little more than an excuse for the spectacle, but there is also another purpose. Instead of simply showing off various special effects, Destination Moon attempts to educate the viewer on how space travel might one day work based on the information that would have been available in 1951. The film is not even subtle about this. The character of Joe Sweeney (Dick Wesson) serves as an obvious audience surrogate, asking questions the viewer might have and mainly providing an in-universe justification for the other characters to explain how everything works.

By modern standards, this is hardly perfect. The whole film is basically a roundabout lecture about how space travel could be accomplished, but for the time it was radical. To some extent, some of the era's attitudes toward science fiction still show (particularly the cast of unknown actors in place of stars), but it proved one thing: science can be exciting. In that sense, Destination Moon would go on to help pave the way for other, perhaps more sophisticated and better quality hard science fiction films. Pal himself would attempt a spiritual sequel of sorts with Conquest of Space (which attempted to do something similar only now with a mission to Mars), but it also would lay the groundwork for later efforts at hard science fiction. Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey may have paved the way for the likes of Contact, Europa Report, and Interstellar; but it was Destination Moon that helped set the stage for 2001 to take form.

Destination Moon came out  1951, almost twenty years before the actual first moon landing would happen. As a result, there are some inaccuracies of note, particularly in the type of rocket that is used. The four central characters travel to the moon in a single-stage reusable rocket. While the technical principles behind it still make sense in theory this is far from what was actually used to land on the moon. Unlike a lot of 50's science fiction stories, the rockets that were used for the moon landing were multi-stage (curiously, this is the one detail about travelling to the moon correctly predicted by Rocketship X-M). 

The difference between a single-stage rocket and a multi-stage rocket is simple enough. Single-stage rockets were for a long time the subject purely of early science fiction stories (though more recently there have been attempts to design single-stage rockets). These types of rockets are designed to be able to go up but also to go down safely in one piece, meaning that they can be used again provided the fuel is available. Multi-stage rockets, like the Saturn V used by the Apollo astronauts, are designed in separate pieces with the intent of specific parts being used for different stages of the mission. Usually when a component of the rocket has served its function it is discarded. In addition, it is worth noting that the film depicts a single voyage to the moon, while in reality it took 11 missions before a man could actually be put on the moon.

Module separation on Apollo 6

The way in which the moon itself is depicted is also jarring when seen today. The lunar surface is envisioned as a cracked environment covered in jagged mountains. Once again, this was due to observational limitations of the era, as no pictures had yet been taken of the moon's actual surface. In reality, it is precisely the opposite of what is depicted in the film. There are no jagged mountains, only smooth rolling hills and craters (2001 would still depict the jagged mountains, but otherwise offer something closer to the reality). 

Curiously, though, it did manage to predict on some level what would actually happen. The all-male crew is perhaps the most obvious parallel (even with a greater number of female astronauts, we still have yet to put a woman on the moon today). The number of astronauts involved in the expedition is also close to history. Destination Moon depicts four men performing the first moon landing, while the actual Apollo missions only required crews of three. The film also alludes to the landing sparking massive media attention around the world, also true to reality. Also, upon landing on the moon, two of the men proceed to step outside and speak to the media about what they have done for humanity, not a whole lot different from when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first people to set foot on the moon.

The idea of the moon landing being the product of American corporations coming together instead of a military campaign also proved to be half-right. Early space experiments were conducted by the military, specifically the army and the air force. The trouble was that both sides were wasting time, money, and resources building rockets and competing against each other. Neither side wanted to share and it proved problematic for the government. 

Eventually, it was decided that neither the army nor the air force would be permitted to continue building rockets, and instead a civilian organization was assembled to conduct research into the possibility of space exploration. This decision would result in the beginning of NASA, which still operates today. Destination Moon's ideas of a group of civilians coming together to plan a voyage into space in anticipation of being asked to do so by the government serves as an uncanny foreshadowing of the government-funded civilian organization that would be formed a decade later.

Also true to reality is the reasoning behind the men feeling such an urgent need to conduct this expedition. Throughout the first half-hour of Destination Moon, the characters speak of a military incentive for going to the moon. The opening scene depicts the failed launch of a rocket that according to the characters would have been a triumph of humanity, and there is immediately discussion of sabotage. Later on, General Thayer (Tom Powers) is asked if intelligence has investigated the issue, to which he simply replies with "they know." When the idea of combining American corporations to construct a rocket to the moon is pitched, Thayer's reasoning is simply that if America does not get to the moon, another party will, and should they succeed it would pose a threat to American democracy. 

The script is vague on this issue, refusing to explicitly name this other party, but it is obvious who the characters mean to refer to: The Soviet Union. Much like Destination Moon, the real-life space race became a situation of establishing power. The American and Soviet governments were competing against each other to build rockets and eventually to put someone on the moon. Each party wanted to get to the moon before the other. President John F. Kennedy famous promised to put a man on the moon by the end of the 1960's. 

Though America ultimately won, the Soviet Union proved to be a formidable opponent. While they failed to land an astronaut on the moon, they did beat America in several other aspects of space exploration. Sputnik was the first man-made object to enter orbit. Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first person to enter Earth's orbit in 1961 and return safely (America launched its first astronaut, John Glenn, a year later). In 1963, cosmonaut Valentina Tereskhova would become the first woman in space (America's first female astronaut would not be launched until the 1980's). In many ways the Soviet Union was one step ahead of them, and at a time when communist paranoia was seen as a valid concern there was a pressing need by the American government to gain some sort of advantage; hence travelling to the moon.

Destination Moon was released before Sputnik, but the Cold War was also reaching its height. It would only be a few years later that Senator Joseph McCarthy would begin his infamous series of "Communist Witch-Trials" that would hit a lot of the American population hard. At the time, nuclear Armageddon seemed inevitable for most people. It was actually believed to be only a matter of time before either the United States or Russia launched their missiles and provoked a massive war against one another. Naturally, any advantage either side could acquire in this conflict was seen as valuable, and that included the possibility of using outer space.

Finally of note is the presence of two serious disasters that fall upon the cast of Destination Moon. There are two dangerous situations both of which come close to ending in tragedy. The first occurs on the way to the moon, when astronaut Jim Barnes (John Archer) falls off the side of the ship while examining its engines. He gets set adrift and the other men have to improvise a solution to save him. The second disaster occurs after the men have had some time to explore the lunar surface. This time, a serious fuel miscalculation forces the crew to think outside the box in order to lose weight until they realize that they might have to leave someone behind. Fortunately in both cases, the tragedy is averted, but they do serve to emphasize that the danger is real.

These two specific situations might not have happened on the Apollo missions, but they do foreshadow the various disasters that would be faced by the real astronauts. Apollo 1 did not even make it off the ground; several technical flaws resulted in the deaths of the three-man crew when a fire broke out in the cabin and they were unable to get out. More famously, the Apollo 13 mission had to be re-routed back to Earth after an oxygen tank exploded. Much like the two crises faced in Destination Moon, this was an unexpected problem that required fast improvisation and out-of-the-box thinking using only whatever was on board the spaceship to get everyone back safely.

When seen today, Destination Moon is a flawed experience, even when compared to Pal's later science fiction work such as When Worlds Collide and Conquest of Space (both of which put more focus on developing the story while simultaneously trying to incorporate realistic science), but it historical significance cannot be denied. It was because of Destination Moon that other, perhaps better-made science fiction films like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Contact, and Interstellar were able to be made. Destination Moon not only predicted the beginnings of early space exploration but also set the scene for the modern science fiction film. Had it not been for the efforts of George Pal modern science fiction might not have existed.

This post was written for the Classic Movie History Project Blogathon hosted by Fritzi Kramer at Movies Silently, Ruth of Silver Screenings, and Aurora of Once Upon a Screen.

Friday, 26 June 2015

So Fetch Friday: Revisiting Movies

It's mostly been a quiet week without much going on outside of a few exceptions. I did volunteer with the Female Eye Film Festival during which I did get to see one interesting short film: A Short History of Madness. This was a French Canadian film about how mental illness was treated at different periods of Quebec's history all done through carefully choreographed dancing. I know, I was a little skeptical about it at first myself but it turned out to be a lot better than you'd expect. Unfortunately, there wasn't a whole lot else there that seemed worthwhile. I saw some of the other movies and shorts that were playing but I could never really get into any of them.

I finally got a chance to see Kingsman: The Secret Service. That was quite the movie and lots of action and humor. I could definitely see a lot of influence from various iconic espionage thrillers, most notably the various subversion and twists on classic clichés from old Bond movies ("This ain't that kind of movie"). There was also the character of Merlin who seemed to be very unsubtle based on the various incarnations of Q. Of course, in addition to that there were some of the more bizarre jokes (Galahad and Valentine sitting down to an elegant dinner of fancy wine and... McDonald's?) that were quite amusing. Of course there was also the strong female lead which was a nice touch.

Outside of that, I haven't had much time for movies, though I did get a chance to revisit Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome. One thing I will say about that one: most people say The Road Warrior is the best (at least out of the original three, Fury Road is offering some competition) but I personally think Beyond Thunderdome is a far more entertaining movie. Sure, it gets a bit weird at times and the title is a bit of a misnomer because Thunderdome is only a very brief (though important and memorable) part of the film (of course, the same could be said about the original Mad Max, since Max is only actually mad for the last fifteen minutes) but it's still a lot of fun.

One interesting thing I've noticed about the Mad Max series recently: you ever notice the changing gender dynamics over the entire series? In the first Mad Max, the only major female character was Max's wife Jessie, and for the most part she didn't have much of a role in the action and served mainly as a motivation for the male protagonist. In The Road Warrior, the focus is still primarily on the men but there are some supporting female roles given slightly more depth. Of course the one tough girl who gets any particularly notable role doesn't even get a name, but she is established to be a relatively competent with a compound bow.

Beyond Thunderdome then goes and introduces Tina Turner as the central villain, but it also has a teenage girl named Savannah saving Max's life and going on to become a leader to the other children as well as spending much of the rest of the film helping Max in his... adventures. Looking at this progression, going from next to no female characters to some small but notable female supporting roles to a female villain plus a female sidekick, it only makes sense that eventually we'd get to the point of having a female co-protagonist or, as ended up being the case for Fury Road, a female protagonist taking center stage while Max himself ends up being more like a sidekick.

I did manage to revisit one film I remember seeing once as a kid, The Pacifier; the weird Disney film where Vin Diesel plays a Navy SEAL who has to protect a group of kids from North Korean terrorists. I barely remembered anything of this movie outside of the "Red Baby" joke and the scene where Vin Diesel shows off his skills at the school gym. Surprisingly it's actually a lot of fun, though it made a lot more sense now that I actually watched it knowing what a "Navy SEAL" is, which meant a lot of the military jokes had more impact.

I finally finished The Killing and I'm not sure it was the best conclusion. I guess I could be glad that it didn't end on a cliffhanger but I didn't feel like the solution to the mystery was very clearly explained. In fact the last episode actually begins with the resolution and then went on to become what felt like an overly-long denouement. Admittedly it was at first a pleasant surprise to see Richmond make a cameo after being forgotten about for the last three seasons but I wasn't sure about his actions. His cameo appearance consisted of him trying to convince Linden to cover up the fact that her boss was a serial killer because that would cause damage to the public or something.

It didn't seem to be very well explained and the fact that he was trying to suppress facts for his own ends seemed a bit out of character (the entire driving force of his character in seasons 1 and 2 was that he was a politician trying to do the right thing). This seemed more like something Mayor Lesley Adams would have done, Richmond seems more like the kind of guy who would have wanted the public to know what happened so that measures can be taken to prevent this kind of thing from happening again.

I guess now that I'm done with The Killing, I've got to find a new show to watch. Doctor Who will probably be back soon but I should see what else I can find in the meantime. I'll probably have to comb Netflix or HBO On Demand to see what I can find. I don't suppose anyone would like to offer up any suggestions?

Stuff From Other Bloggers

  • Jenna and Allie review Mad Max: Fury Road
  • Wendell Ottley reviews Nighcrawler. You already know my thoughts on that movie but he did offer a bit of insight on what it might have been that wasn't working for me.
  • Fisti shares a treatment he wrote for a screenplay adaptation of We're Going on a Bear Hunt. I've only read part of it so far but it's certainly an... unusual take on the famous children's story, turning into more of an art film about the relationship between a father and his children with the actual "bear hunt" being conveyed through the various games they play. At least that's the impression I got from the portion I read.

Friday, 19 June 2015

So Fetch Friday: Blogathon Season

Well, things are looking up a little bit for me now. My last class has finally ended, which means more time for writing, blogging, and stop motion. The timing is perfect, since as it happens we seem to be getting a lot of blogathons right now (as I'll get into later) so now I'll actually be able to take part in some of them. That reminds me, I'm not sure if anyone has actually been watching these but I did manage to make a new stop motion short. For this one, I decided to try not to rigidly stick to the silent movie format that I'd been using before. There are no title cards (outside of credits) and instead I've tried to tell the story entirely through visuals.

Outside of that, I don't have very many new updates to share. I haven't had much time for watching a lot of films this week, though I do hope to start watching some more now that I'm done with this class. Normaly I'd have a few things in here, but right now I don't have a lot of material so perhaps I'll just skip ahead to the usual fandom updates.

I finished season 3 of The Killing, and it got depressing. First, they killed off Bullet. The character who I said I was really getting invested in last week got killed off shortly after I made my last So Fetch Friday Post. I liked her and I was really getting interested in what she was up to. We are starting a new plot thread for season 4, though it still connects somewhat with the events of Season 3 which is nice (as opposed to completely leaving it behind like season 3 did to the first two seasons).

The season finale of Game of Thrones proved to be really intense. There were some rather shocking moments and a lot abrupt loose threads that leave me wanting to know what happens next. Jame and Bron were all ready to go, until it turned out that Ellara has apparently poisoned the daughter they'd set out to rescue. It seems she was not ready to take no for an answer and is determined to provoke Westeros into war. Considering that the woman she murdered was Cersei's daughter I'd say there is a pretty good chance that she succeeded.

Meanwhile, Stannis doesn't seem to be very good at military conquest, is he? First he gets horribly owned by Tyrion at King's Landing, now he loses basically everything else. Half his army has deserted, his wife committed suicide out of guilt for their... questionable actions in the previous episode, and now they're going up against an army of men on horses at Winterfell. Stannis never stood a chance. He should have fallen back to the wall and regrouped, but he was too stubborn to accept that. It seems the only people left of Stannis's party are Davos (who was sent to Castle Black in the previous episode) and Melisandre (who left shortly before the battle happened). Of those two, Melisandre is the only survivor who knows what really happened. I guess the big question is what happens now that Stannis is dead. Is Davos going to join the Night's Watch since he can no longer serve "the one true king" or is he going to have to find himself a new leader?

Meanwhile, Brienne has managed to reclaim some honor by being the one to kill Stannis. She has managed to remain loyal to Renly Baratheon (the first person she tried to pledge her loyalty to) by avenging his murder at the hands of Stannis. At least Brienne has found some honor, which has proven difficult since she has a streak of swearing loyalty to people only for them to keep getting murdered. Unfortunately, doing this also meant that Brienne had to turn her back on Sansa just when she was finally in a position to light the candle in the high tower as instructed.

Now Sansa has to rely on herself, which she has done by managing to break out of the room she has been locked in. She almost got caught by Ramsay's psycho mistress Myranda, who tried to mutilate her with a bow and arrow, but fortunately Theon has finally been pushed to his breaking point and can't take it anymore. He managed to hurl Myranda over a ledge and send her plummeting to her death just as the Bolton soldiers were returning. They were last seen jumping over one of Winterfell's walls. This part did seem a little odd. Was Theon trying to commit suicide or does he have some plan in mind for getting down safely? I don't know, but if Theon does manage to survive I have a feeling that all the torture that was inflicted on him is going to come back to bite Ramsay. I don't know how it will happen just yet, but it will.

Finally, I've saved the most shocking development for last (also fitting since this is where the episode ended). This of course happened on the wall, where John Snow has brought the Wildlings inside. It was already established that there were people in the Night's Watch who objected to bringing the Wildlings through the wall, and I was expecting there to be tension, but I was not expecting... this. Jon Snow got lured outside to where he found a group of his own men gathered around a sign saying "traitor". Then, in a fashion that now realize bears a startling resemblance to the murder of Julius Ceasar, they began stabbing him one by one "for the watch," including one boy who had been loyal to Snow until now. Season 5 literally just ended by killing one of the most popular characters in the show.

I'm sorry I don't have much else right now. There really has not been a whole lot going on this week for me to draw from for this edition. It's definitely not an easy time for fandoms with most of the popular shows having finished already (though I think Doctor Who should be starting up again soon), and I haven't had as much time to think about movies or do much in the way of writing. Fortunately, now that I'm finally done with this class, I should have a bit more time for those sorts of activities.

There is one exciting development, however. I'm officially signed on to volunteer at the Female Eye Film Festival, a festival specifically centered on promoting films by female directors. I'm also looking at possibly volunteering for the Raindance Film Festival and Tiff, though those two are not completely set in stone yet.

Stuff From Other Bloggers

It seems to be Blogathon Season now. Everybody is going and starting their own blogathons. I'm sure Fritzi Kramer will be pleased to know I've already managed to get started on my entry for her Classic Film History Blogathon, but there are plenty of others going around I either have not yet gotten around to checking out, or which I still haven't decided on what to contribute. I think there's a few I'm forgetting as well:

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Anouncing The Origin of An Auteur Blogathon

The term "auteur" comes from French and translates roughly as "author". The idea of a cinematic auteur is based on the theory that the director is the "author" of their films. This idea was first pioneered by French Critics in the 1950's and 1960's, including future filmmakers Francois Truffaut and... a certain other French New Wave director who shall not be named. These critics were watching American films and looking at films produced by major Hollywood directors of the era such as Howard Hawks, John Ford, and Alfred Hitchcock. People like Truffaut and that other guy realized that there were patterns which could be found among their films. For instance there were traits that defined a Howard Hawks movie and which could distinguish it from say... an Alfred Hitchcock film.

Now this is not the only way of looking at things. Technically, similar patterns could be found among... say... different screenplays by the same writer. Just look at a few of my own scripts and you'll quickly notice a few trademarks that keep popping up, such as the prominence of strong female characters (in most cases including the protagonist; so far the only exception has been an adaptation). Similarly, some producers have patterns that emerge in their films. A director is by no means the only "author" of his or her film. That does not make auteurism an invalid theory, however.

It is debatable if the director can truly be considered the "author" of their film, but every director has their own style. There are patterns you can trace simply by looking at any director's body of work. Once these patterns and styles are identified it becomes easier to identify the film of one director from another. For instance, having intensely studied a few auteurs myself I could easily tell a film by David Lynch from a film by John Carpenter or Sergio Leone. Similarly it would not be hard to distinguish a film by Alfred Hitchcock from something directed by Georges Méliès or Kathryn Bigelow. Even the worst scum in the history of film, directors like Ed Wood, Uwe Boll, and Michael Bay, have patterns that characterize their films. After all, anyone with common sense could easily distinguish one of Michael Bay's blockbusters from one of Ed Wood's b-movies.

However, there is something that every major director has in common: they had a beginning. There is always that one film they have at the very start of their filmography which launched their cinematic careers (for better or worse) and set the stage for everything that would follow. For this blogathon, you will be examining one such film in detail.


  1. Pick one director and identify his or her first feature film. It must be the first feature film (i.e. over one hour runtime) listed in her/his filmography.
  2. While you will be primarily discussing that one film, you should have an understanding at least some of the director's later films, enough to be able to recognize his or her style.
  3. Analyze your chosen film in relation to the director's later projects. What elements of his or her style do you see here?
  4. Keep in mind that this blogathon is based on critical thinking and analysis, not simply on whether you liked the film. Your post should not be so much on the film itself as what it says about the director.
  5. Repeats (i.e. two people writing about the same director and film) are acceptable, but discouraged. If you do choose a topic someone else is writing about, try to find something different to say on the subject.
  6. Include a banner and a link back to this post. There are several banners to choose from below, and you are permitted to create your own provided they fit the blogathon's themes.

As long as you follow the above rules, there are no restrictions on which directors you can or cannot choose just so long as you have access to their movies. You could look at an auteur from the beginnings of cinema (provided you can find their first movie) or you could look at someone working today. You could write about a mainstream director who worked in the Studio Era or some obscure foreign director nobody's heard of. In fact, I'm encouraging diversity as much as possible. Obviously, it should come as no surprise that I'd like to see both male and female directors examined this way, but variety in time periods, ethnicities, nationalities, genres, etc. are all very good as well.

Technically it doesn't even have to be a good director you study. You could if you wanted write a whole piece on Michael Bay. However, my advice would be to pick a director you like or would be interested in studying. It should make the experience of watching and analyzing their first feature film more enjoyable. I suspect everyone has their own range of directors they admire so there should be plenty of variety on that front.

Normally I would provide a list of suggestions to help give participants some ideas, but I presume we're not likely to get any interest from non-film bloggers (if by some chance I do, you can e-mail me and I'll try to help you find something to contribute). You people write about movies, I expect that you're familiar with a few directors. Maybe a different assortment of directors from me but still directors nonetheless. 

I'm looking at running this toward the end of August, from the 23-29. Hopefully that should give everyone interested enough time to think about their choices, watch their films, and write up their pieces. As is the custom, each day I'll post the links as I get them.

If you have any questions, you can share them in the comments and I will get to you as soon as possible. If you need help, I can't make any promises but I'm happy to try and assist you any way I can. I'm hoping to see some really great stuff here so start thinking about whose first film you'd want to look at and let me know what you decide.

Current Participants

Due to the structure of this blogathon, and my discouraging of repeats, I'd like to ask that anyone who is interested in taking part tell me ahead of time what they would like to discuss. There's no hurry so if you'd like to join in but don't know yet who you want to write about yet that is perfectly fine. Once you have your topic, make sure to notify me and I'll add you to the list. This just so we can keep track of what has and has not already been selected.


I've assembled several banners here for you to use in your posts. Each one contains a still from a different directorial debut, and I've tried to diversify the range as much as possible, but if none of them are to your satisfaction you may create your own banner. Just make sure it contains the title of the blogathon, my blog name, and imagery that fits the themes we're exploring here.

Monday, 15 June 2015

The Problem With Modern Romance

When Fifty Shades of Grey first came out, it was met with a huge public outcry for more than a few good reasons, mostly related do to its treatment of the central sexual relationship. Critics and audiences alike discussed the problems with the "romance" that served at its core. Usually, the more positive reviews were the ones explaining that Fifty Shades of Grey's sex scenes were ridiculous and either implausible or unbelievable. However, the worst reviews were those of audiences criticizing the nature of the relationship itself. Most viewers agreed almost unanimously that the film was basically a glorification of an abusive relationship, with the abusive man treated as a perfect romantic partner.

This approach naturally drew a lot of concern. Word got out quickly about how backwards this film was. Plenty of Facebook posts dedicated themselves to illustrating the problems with this film. One of the best ones was an image that said something along the lines of "Fifty Shades of Grey is only a romance because the guy is a billionaire. If he lived in a trailer home it would be a horror movie." The sad thing is that the attempts of people to raise awareness of the issue may have had the reverse effect of what was intended. All the press about Fifty Shades of Grey's issues only fueled interest in the film, and motivated more people to see it to see if it was really as bad as they were told. People spent actual money to go see this film, adding to its box office revenue and unwittingly telling the studio behind it that they want to see more films like this. It is how Hollywood works: when one film makes money, they try to replicate its success with other projects.

Fifty Shades of Grey at least had an excuse for being as messed up as it was. It might not be any justification for glorifying an abusive relationship, but it does explain why the story ended up coming off that way. Fifty Shades of Grey originated as a Twilight fanfiction, which I can only assume was originally supposed to center around the characters of Edward and Bella. Given the questionable relationships depicted in The Twilight Saga, it should come as no surprise that it would carry over into fanfiction (at least that written by actual fans). Some publisher found this fanfiction published online and thought it had potential to make money. Unfortunately, there were some issues of copyright that would make it hard to market the story, so it had to be hastily rewritten so that it could be called an original narrative.

Fifty Shades of Grey was literally just bad fanfiction hastily re-written so that it could be professionally released and called "original" as a way of making money. The sad thing is that it worked. The book became such a huge media sensation that a film adaptation was inevitable, and now two more sequels are already in development because it made so much money. Understanding this, it makes sense that the movie would be a disaster in terms of quality. The problem is that should have been the end of it. Fifty Shades of Grey should be a relic from a bygone era no different from the racism, sexism, and homophobia of a typical Michael Bay blockbuster. Unfortunately, it was not so simple.

Fast forward a year later, in 2015, and a movie comes out called The Age of Adaline. Once again, this one begins emerging all over the press. Everyone is reviewing it, and I find myself going to see it just because everyone is talking about it. At first it actually seemed like it had potential, and then Ellis Jones (Michiel Huisman) showed up. Throughout The Age of Adaline, Ellis is treated as the ideal romantic partner. He is cast as someone who gives Adaline's life meaning. He is referred to as a "good man", but he is precisely the opposite, as is evident when he first appears.

During this scene, he sees Adaline leaving, and proceeds to force his way into the elevator she is standing in. He then follows her outside, using every excuse he can think of to avoid leaving her side. It is not until Adaline is able to get into her car and drive away that she finally escapes him. This man is supposed to be a sympathetic love interest, but his introductory scene has him come off less as a romantic and more of a pervert. He literally tries to do everything in his power to have sex with Adaline.

Now this could just have just been a bad first impression, but his later appearances would suggest otherwise. After chasing Adaline out of a party, he proceeds to track her down to the library where she works and offers her some "flowers" in the form of books that have flowers in their title (very unsubtle). He then tells Adaline that he will only donate the books if she agrees to go on a date with him. Adaline ignoring him at the party was not enough, he is determined to have sex with her in some way, and now what he is doing could be considered harassment. If Adaline had any common sense, she would have rejected Ellis on the spot, but those books are apparently too valuable and she agrees. This leads to both going on a few dates that are played as charming, even though it was clearly shown that Adaline was pressed into accepting his offer.

Unfortunately, it gets even worse. After being chased out of a party and getting sexually harassed at work, Adaline gets home to find Ellis waiting for her. Turns out he actually went behind her back to get her address, and now has shown up at her house without her permission. Ellis is not only a pervert but also a stalker. Adaline quickly realizes this and decides (correctly) that she needs to get away from this guy. This would be great if there was not a scene immediately after in which Adaline's daughter tells her to go back to Ellis, claiming that he is a "good man" and she actually listens. Adaline then willingly enters a relationship with a man who has both sexually harassed her and stalked her, and the  whole thing is played as though it is somehow charming.

Unlike Fifty Shades of Grey, The Age of Adaline had no excuse for its glorification of sexual harassment and stalking behavior. There was actually a good idea at first, with this premise of a woman who struggles to cope with an inability to age and subsequently has to live through different periods of history. The film could had there been a more concerted effort to actually make Ellis a likable character. Instead, he comes off as a creepy stalker, and once again, a horrible person is presented as the perfect romantic partner.

It does not take a genius to piece two and two together. The financial success of Fifty Shades of Grey has convinced Hollywood that the public wants to see more films like it. The presence of similar elements in The Age of Adaline only a year later is upsetting as it suggests a new trend is beginning to emerge in the modern romance genre. Fortunately, The Age of Adaline was not as successful as Fifty Shades of Grey, with a return on investment of 67.64% of its budget. However, the fact that such a film was even attempted is upsetting.

It appears that Hollywood has come to believe that there is money to be made in romances centered around abusive relationships. People unwittingly inform Hollywood that they want to see these films by paying money to see them. As a result, The Age of Adaline suggests that Fifty Shades of Grey has started a new and absurd trend in modern romance that sees a horrible man being treated as the ideal romantic partner. In 2015, people should know better, and this trend needs to be stopped before it starts. It is time that we stop giving money to see films like Fifty Shades of Grey and The Age of Adaline so that Hollywood realizes that we do not want to see any more of these kinds of movies.

Thursday, 11 June 2015

So Fetch Friday: Back on Track

Wow, it's been a few weeks since I last did one of these. Things have been a bit hectic lately. I've still got this class to worry about, but fortunately I've only got two more (excruciatingly boring) lectures to attend before I'll be done with it. It has been hard to really think about anything. I have managed to see a few movies over the past few weeks. I've also got a few assignments that have been causing trouble lately. For the first time since I was in highschool I've had to do some really confusing mathematics about box office revenue and none of it is making a whole lot of sense right now.

Last week of course I saw Back to Bataan and I also finally got a chance to watch the theatrical version of Apocalypse Now which was quite the movie. I even wrote a whole analysis of that film. I also got a chance to revisit a great comedy that I had not seen in years: Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure. Watching it now a lot of the humor did make a bit more sense than when I first saw it. There were a few historical figures I'd never even heard of before I first saw Bill and Ted. There were a couple I was somewhat familiar with, like Abraham Lincoln, Napoleon, Socrates, and Joan of Arc, but it was not until much later that I even realized that Ghenghis Khan or Billy the Kid were actually real people. I also was not exactly familiar with Freud at the time either (in fact I think I initially confused him for Jules Verne, seriously). Naturally seeing it again when I actually knew a bit more about all these people allowed the film to make a bit more sense.

The rock and roll puns also made a lot more sense now that I actually have some familiarity with 80's rock music. I did know something about most of the bands that Bill and Ted kept referencing at least, and amusingly there actually is at least one instance where a pun was not intended but it works retroactively. When Bill and Ted first meet Billy the Kid and sit down to play cards with him, Bill tells Ted "Dude, you got to have a poker face like me!" Obviously there was no intended reference here, but when you consider that Lady Gaga now has a song called "Poker Face" it actually makes that line funnier.

Unfortunately I did not get to finish the movie. I was in the middle of the climactic sequence where Bill and Ted deliver their report with all their historical figures when the film started glitching. I'm not sure what happened, I didn't see anything wrong with my DVD. For some reason it just started skipping, freezing, and rewinding and I had no idea what to do. That was somewhat annoying but it was still a pretty fun movie up until that happened. Also, amusingly, I found out that Ted's father had a bit part in Eraserhead. He was the guy who operated the machine that turned Jack Nance's brains into pencils.

I also got to see Now You See Me, a curious film that brought out some intriguing ideas. It did have a compelling narrative and I'll admit that I did not see the twist at the end coming. The only trouble was it was hard to tell who was supposed to be the hero in this story. Maybe that was the intention, I'm not sure, but I never could tell who I was meant to be rooting for. I also had some uncertainties about the part where the French Interpol agent decides to cover up the presence of a corrupt law enforcement officer and let a man rot in jail for a crime he didn't commit because "some things are better left unexplained." It just seemed like a weak motivation for an otherwise fairly strong character.

Of course, the real amazing parts in that movie were every scene in which the characters were debunking illusions. They did a pretty great job of creating all the magic tricks and then finding clever explanations for how the magicians pulled them off. There were even a lot of clues in plain sight that didn't make sense until they were explained later.

I've finally been talked into seeing The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1. I'm not the biggest fan of the series, but this one had some interesting ideas. The first Hunger Games was alright, and Catching Fire was basically the same movie again so it was nice to at least see something new. I liked the idea of focusing on the propagandist aspects of the revolution more than the actual fighting itself. That's a side of revolutions that often gets overlooked to s seeing a lot of emphasis on the process of generating support was a pleasant surprise and I found that part to be very interesting.

Apparently they're remaking Point Break and released a trailer for the new version... which seems to bear very little resemblance to the original at all. I wasn't the biggest fan of Point Break in general, and I'd argue it to probably be Kathryn Bigelow's weakest film (at least from what I've seen of her work). To be totally honest, it always felt like it had its priorities skewed, because I actually found the love story between Johnny and Tyler to be far more interesting than the central plot involving the former going after the bank robbers and developing homoerotic relations with their leader. During that final scene where Johnny Confronts Bodhi I kept thinking "no, I want to see what happened with him and Tyler." I know this is going to be an unusual position for me, but honestly I think Point Break would have been a far better movie if the romance with Tyler had been the primary focus and the stuff with Bodhi was just a side plot.

In any case, this remake doesn't look like it's going to be all that good. They seem to have completely changed the character of Bodhi from a reckless adrenaline-addicted surfer to a Robin Hood-esque outlaw robbing the rich and giving to the poor (why?). It also looks like they've completely dropped the whole character of Tyler (who I'd say was the best part of the original) or at least reduced her to an even smaller supporting role. It doesn't look like it's going to be worthwhile.

Additionally, it seems that Ridley Scott is trying to make another science fiction film. This first trailer has not given me the best impression, but it does have Jessica Chastain which is a positive (and she seems to be good in everything). On the other hand, I know that while I haven't always hated them, a lot of Scott's more recent films have... not always been up to standard. I might want to wait until I find out more about this film The Martian before I decide if I'm going to go see it. There are some decent ideas and it looks like they might be going the hard science fiction route so if that's the case I'd be open to finding out more. I know a lot of people were disappointed with Prometheus but it has occurred to me that his two big science fiction films, Alien and Blade Runner are drastically different stories. Perhaps trying something new in the science fiction genre instead of trying to repeat a previous success will get Ridley somewhere.

On Game of Thrones we finally got the long-awaited meeting between Danearys Targaryen and Tyrion Lannister. Tyrion managed to prove his worth and has now officially become the new advisor to a queen who actually seems to recognize his intelligence. Tyrion has also started to develop a few good skills in combat. Unfortunately, Daenerys still has to attend what amount to Gladiatorial games and watch people fight to the death for the crowd's amusement. She is not happy about this. Worse still, those ominous masked men who hate her are also getting more powerful, and they've even resorted to murdering civilians to emphasize their point. Daenerys managed to escape with the help of Drogon (who she is apparently getting better at controlling). If she can handle Drogon maybe she'll start to release the other two dragons. This should be interesting.

Meanwhile, something horrible happened to an unfortunate young girl and I'm sure everybody who saw the episode knows what I'm talking about. Arya stark encountered a character who we haven't seen in a while, Meryn Trant. It's been so long since we last saw this guy I didn't even recognize him at first until I read up on the episode later. In any case, we learned one nasty thing about this man when Arya followed him into a brothel. He was presented with a bunch of prostitutes, nearly all of them looking like they were in their 20's, and he responded to every single one with "too old". Yeah, it turns out one of Cersei's top lieutenants is a pedophile, and the really horrible part is that Arya herself almost ended up an unwilling client. It's a darn good thing she was kicked out before Meryn saw her.

Finally, just when I was finally starting to gain respect for Stannis as more than a tyrant he goes and commits the brutal atrocity of murdering his own daughter. The act of murdering his own daughter is bad enough, but it gets worse because the way in which she was killed was to be burned alive. From what was shown, I suspect Melisandre had a hand in forcing the decision. I find myself starting to wonder if she is like the Hannibal Lecter of Westeros: someone who is very good at getting into people's minds and then using that to manipulate them to her own ends. If that is in fact the case, Stannis isn't even really in charge, she just wants him to think he is.

Suddenly I'm beginning to reconsider what I said before about how Stannis is probably the best hope for Sansa. The best case scenario is that Brienne gets her act together and devises an extraction plan to storm Winterfell and then teach Sansa to stand up for herself so she can stop being the victim all the time. Come on Brienne, where are you? We haven't heard anything from you in the last few episodes.

I started season 3 of The Killing and it has brought about a few surprises. At the end of Season 2 we finally found Rosie Larsen's killer. Now for Season 3, it looks like they've decided to try and bring out a new plot. We've got the two central characters still but a lot of the storylines from the previous seasons seem to have been dropped, and I think I have mixed feelings on the subject. Part of me is a bit unsure about this choice. I can see why they might have dropped the plot about the Larsens, since that was concluded in the previous season, but they also seem to have dropped the whole storyline about Darren Richmond. I guess I can still see why he is no longer given any focus but it might have been nice to at least give him a cameo or something now and then.

On the other hand, the new story that is unfolding looks like it could be interesting. The focus is shifting towards runaway teenagers and some sort of mystery that is gradually unfolding. A girl has been murdered, another has disappeared, and the latter's friend "Bullet" is struggling to cope. Meanwhile, a number of bodies have been found revealing that something bigger is going on. Linden tried to get out of being a cop but she is back in again, and ready to solve the case. There does seem to be something interesting about the relationship between Holder and Bullet. I'm half-expecting a plot thread where he becomes a father figure to her. Seeing Hugh Dillon (Ed Lane from Flashpoint) show up as a prison guard also proved a pleasant surprise, and I could not help noticing that the prisoner he's guarding seemed to remind me a lot of Cyrus "The Virus" Grissom.

I'll just have to get through one more week and finish the final assignments and then I can be done with this class permanently. It's hard to stay committed to blogathons at the moment but as soon as I'm done I'll try to find some time for them, so if anyone wants to invite me to join in on a blogathon, next weekend would be the time to do it. The good news is that I might have a new blogathon for the summer. I don't want to say too much, since it's not 100% set in stone yet, but I can tell you I'm looking at making a formal announcement as soon as my class is done, with the blogathon itself taking place near the end of August.

I do think this one has potential to be something interesting. It will definitely be something different for me. I love coming up with ideas for cast-a-thons, they are a lot of fun and I am open to doing more in the future, but right now I think it will be good to try something new. This concept will also be based on film analysis and the type of in-depth critical research that has made my articles so compelling. In other words, it should be quite fitting to my academic experience. Even better is that I'm pretty certain that this one can appeal to a wide audience with a variety of different tastes. As for the actual content of the blogathon, I'm not going to reveal anything until I'm certain it's happening (though so far it's looking good). I do believe that if I do go through with it though, you'll all like it.

Stuff From Other Bloggers

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

How Zulu Deconstructs British Imperialism

Cy Endfield's 1964 film Zulu depicts a historical event which, at the time, might have been seen as a triumph of British Imperial might. This was the Battle of Rorke's Drift, fought on 1879 during the Anglo-Zulu War in South Africa. One cannot deny the military genius of the men who orchestrated this action, during which 100 British soldiers stationed in a single post managed to survive against thousands of attacking Zulu warriors with very few casualties. Endfield's film depicts the events of the battle, but also took liberties in his depictions of what happened. There is in fact a good reason for this, since Zulu is not so much a dramatizing of what historically occurred, but using the story of Rorke's Drift as a springboard to criticize the entire foundation of the British Empire.

Perhaps the most obvious component of this deconstruction is in the treatment of the Zulus themselves. While it is true that the film is primarily shown through the perspective of the British soldiers and no particular individuals among the Zulus are given specific characterization there is a concerted effort to develop them as an interesting collective antagonist. To do this, the movie goes out of its way to subvert the obvious stereotypes that would come from this situation. To put it into perspective, let's look at how Natives were treated in many westerns of the era.

Though it was starting to become less common with movies like The Searchers (a film which still cast the Native Americans as villains but allows them some depth) laying the groundwork for change, the typical image of Native Americans was to cast them as nothing more than savages. These characters would be stripped of any shred of humanity and instead would be nothing more than an obstacle or a pest that needs to be eradicated. Many old westerns, Stagecoach and to a lesser extent Red River being famous examples of this practice. Often they were not the primary antagonist and usually served the purpose of fulfilling one or two action scenes, usually a chase that would often end when the Calvalry came in to save the brave heroes.

Zulu  makes a point of thoroughly deconstructing this view in its treatment of the African Natives. Many of the characters, the majority of them English or Welsh men born into the notoriously repressive and bigoted Victorian era, hold such views of the Zulu tribe. However, the opening reveals that the Zulus are in fact a force to be reckoned with, as is shown with a report (narrated by Richard Burton) which provides some simple facts: a garrison of British soldiers at Isandlwana (a hill in South Africa) has been attacked by Zulus and "in spite of gallant resistance" were overpowered and annihilated.

Only the gruesome aftermath of the battle is shown (though it would later be dramatized in a prequel film, Zulu Dawn) but it is clear that the British army is hardly superior in any way, much as they may like to make themselves look like they are. It is likely that many of these soldiers were confident in their abilities, believing that 1200 men trained to handle rifles and some artillery would be sufficient to keep an army of men with hide shields and spears at bay. In reality, it turned out not to be enough. The Zulus' seemingly primitive weapons turned out to be quite effective, and there is a good reason: they are brilliant tacticians.

At first glance, it is not hard to see why the close-minded soldiers of the British empire might have assumed the Zulus to be an easy threat to deal with. From what is seen, however, the Zulus are very good at handling their spears (it is later also shown that they can handle firearms when necessary). They are very clever when it comes to devising a battle plan. They have one other strength the British do not: a thorough understanding of the environment. Most of the British soldiers seen later in the film simply complain about the heat and dry weather of South Africa, but the Zulus are able to turn it to their advantage and use it to make themselves harder targets.

This shot of Isandlwana is immediately followed by a scene which offers a glimpse into a Zulu village during a wedding ritual. The Zulus are observed outside of a wartime situation (if only briefly) and it is shown that they have a culture. It may not be a culture that a typical member of the film's intended audience can fully understand, but nonetheless it is a culture with rules, social standards, and customs. They may not conform to European standards, but there is no way the Zulus can truly be seen as "uncivilized". This sequence may be brief, but it is the first step in deconstructing any notion of the Zulus as "savages" by showing that they are in fact people.

The same scene also makes a point of highlighting a less favorable aspect of Victorian society, its treatment of women. The only two Caucasian individuals present in this scene are a missionary named Otto Witt (Jack Hawkins) and his daughter Margaretta (Ulla Jacobson). Otto is posed a question by King Catewayo which he translates as whether he is "happy to see so many brides married to so many women at one time." This leads to a short discussion with Margaretta in which Otto points out a custom in Europe at the time: "Young woman accept arranged marriages with rich men."

This brings about the subject of women's rights, not a central focus but it addressing it here does highlight the fact that the British Empire was flawed in many ways. It brings up the prejudices of society at the time, opening the door for exploration of two other major forms of discrimination: classism and racism. In fact, the entire empire was in many ways built on bigotries and a belief in superiority. To provide a better known example, there are plenty of stories of how the British treated citizens of India when it fell under their rule. Many Englishmen genuinely believed themselves to be superior to the Indian population, and yet despite all its might it lost its influence there to an Indian man who relied exclusively on peaceful protest.

Even once the focus shifts to Rorke's Drift and the British soldiers stationed there, there is still an emphasis on making it clear that the Zulus are not "savages". There are several conversations dedicated to precisely this. Upon hearing about the massacre at Isandlwana and the number of levies who died, Bromhead dismisses them as "cowardly blacks". He is immediately called out on it by the man who informed him, Adendorff (Gert van den Bergh), who points out not only that those levies died on his side but also that it is the Zulus who are the main threat. Later on, Swiss mercenary Christian Ferdinand Schiess (Dickie Owen) calls out two Welsh soldiers both named Jones (Richard Davies and Denys Graham) for dismissing the Zulus as "a bunch of savages" pointing out how much more maneuverable the Zulus are than either of the two soldiers.

Early in the film, Adendorff demonstrates a common war tactic used by the Zulus, which is simple but remarkably effective at surrounding and trapping their enemies. When the Zulus arrive at Rorke's Drift and begin their attack, they prove a formidable danger which the British soldiers struggle to hold back. Their tactics prove to be in many ways a force to be reckoned with, and in a way it earns their respect. In one short but notable clip, a group of Zulus are signaled to stand down when the wagon carrying Otto and Margaretta passes them, showing that while the Zulus may be warriors, they do have a moral code (even if it is not necessarily clear what that code is).

In many ways, Bromhead serves as the embodiment of Victorian social ideas. When he is introduced he is a typical upper-class Victorian gentleman, and he makes a point of showing it. His introductory scene shows him taking an expedition to hunt animals for fresh meat while the soldiers under his command are given what is described as "horse meat in axle grease." He then proceeds to ride his horse while a group of black servants carry his dinner on foot behind him. He even goes as far as to put on a fancy cape, even though nobody else is around to see him. It soon starts to become clear that there is a clear hierarchy in the regiment. There are different levels and in general the officers are seen as separate to the enlisted men who are simply expected to do as they are told. There also seems to be a clear separation between the Welsh men and the English men, neither of whom are particularly fond of each other. Finally, there is a divide between the walking soldiers and the sick in the hospital.

Lieutenant John Rouse Merriott Chard (Stanley Baker) serves as a disruption to the established hierarchy. Unlike the other men, Chard is not a soldier but an engineer, making him an outsider. He has never been combat before and only ends up taking command on a technicality, as he has seniority to Bromhead. When Chard is first seen working on the bridge, he is shown organizing a diverse team of men which includes people of different ranks as well as black workers. Chard even engages in some social discussion with a Welsh private and allows him to look through his binoculars for a moment. Through Chard everyone is to be put on equal footing.

Chard first interrupts the established structure when he takes command over Bromhead, presumably a more experienced officer who has prior to now been in charge. In order to keep the regiment organized, Chard and Bromhead have to work together, as equals, with neither one being superior to the other. Furthermore, Chard also enlists the help of Adendorff, a Boer (meaning his is likely of Dutch heritage) who is once again an outsider who also knows far more about the Zulus than any of the British soldiers.

When Otto and Margareta show up, they both become problematic for Chard's command. This is because Otto represents another major aspect of Victorian society: religion. His aim is to warn the camp of a threat they already know about. Furthermore, his efforts to help only make things worse, as he hinders any effort to unify the base. In a way, Otto can be seen as trying to reinforce the established norms since his efforts create divides in the men who would be united under Chard's command. While he may be well-intentioned (trying to help the wounded) he proves unreliable, which is demonstrated when he is revealed to have hidden a bottle and eventually gets drunk. In the end, the only way to break free is to get Otto off the post.

Tying back to the conversation between Otto and Margareta at the beginning, her experience at Rorke's Drift proves to be a difficult one. That discussion makes it clear that most Englishmen have little expectations for their women beyond getting married and offering children (preferably sons). When she arrives at the camp the soldiers immediately begin to display these same views. Most of them are either indifferent or actively desiring her sexual affection. One or two even talk about trying to marry her. However, from what is seen she does appear to be capable of more than just having children. From what is shown she has some medical knowledge and she also knows something about what is going on.

There is also a scene in which a wounded man tries to rape Margareta. He likely expected her to passively accept it, but she does not take it so easily. Instead, she shows that she has the capacity to be stronger by fighting back and breaking free of his control. The same scene also brings up another challenge to Victorian ideas of how women should behave, when Schiess tells the two Jones soldiers that King Cetswayo has a regiment of female warriors called "Ripen at Noon". This regiment is never seen, but the idea of a competent female soldier, let alone an entire platoon of them, would have been radical for the era (and even for 1964 when Zulu was first released). This idea barely seems to phase the two soldiers, one of whom simply replies with "That's pretty," helping to emphasize the fact that the entire British Empire is structured on backwards thinking and the only people who see the world clearly are the non-conformists.

Otto's alcoholism allows an oppurtunity for Margereta to finally begin to stand on equal ground with the men. The general attitude of the time would have said that a father was expected to protect his daughter, but now those roles have been reversed. When it becomes clear that the soldiers have to get Otto away from Rorke's Drift, Chard could have enlisted any of his men to do the job. Instead, he entrusts Margareta to get take him away. He not only trusts her to protect her father, but also that she knows precisely where she is going and that she can make it safely. Chard might not be ready just yet to give her a rifle and let her take part in the battle, but he is starting to realize that being a woman does not automatically make Margareta inferior to him on an intellectual level. By entrusting her to take care of her father and sending the two of them alone, Chard also forces Margareta to become more self-reliant, and realize that she too can be strong. Once again, the British values of supremacy are challenged.

When the actual battle starts, the tone quickly shifts. While at the beginning the men may have had some sense of imperial might, the feeling changes from British strength to a simple desire to survive. The soldiers know they are outnumbered and their odds of surviving are next to impossible, and the film makes no secret of their fear. As the Zulus first march upon the surrounding hills, the soldiers are forced to realize that they are not up against any savages, but a powerful military force (if perhaps one structured differently from theirs). The image of English supremacy can no longer be enforced, and it is simply a question of how not to die.

This adjustment in tone is reflected in the uniforms of the soldiers. When they are first seen the men at Rorke's Drift proudly display bright colors of red and white (a typical combination for English uniforms of the era). Their tunics are clean and their helmets are shining. As the battle progresses, the impression of their clothes begins to fade. The uniforms of Chard and Bromhead both begin to accumulate dust. Towards the end of the film it starts to become more common to see men wearing torn uniforms or only being partially dressed. In the cases of Chard and Hitch (David Kernan) their uniforms are stained with injuries sustained in battle. Others, like Corporal Allen (Glynn Edwards), lose any identification of their national background entirely.

Hitch and Allen are an especially notable case, as they perform a task which proves essential to keeping the soldiers going: handing out ammunition. However, both have been injured and display it very clearly. Allen loses his tunic and instead spends the rest of the film wearing nothing more than medical bandages over his chest (while being unable to use one arm). Hitch meanwhile is shot in the leg and has to crawl. In other words, the one force giving the soldiers any chance of surviving is controlled by two wounded men who are clearly in pain as they struggle to drag the box of ammunition around, hardly fitting to the imperialistic image of the British Empire as unstoppable.

The final scene, set the morning after the battle, serves to complete the deconstruction. By this point, the British soldiers are faced with one last attack by the Zulus and just barely manage to hold them back. This final action is preceded by a confrontation between the British and the Zulu warriors during which the latter performs what is likely a war chant. Throughout the film, there has been talk of a choir within the regiment, and one of its most prominent members, Owen (Ivor Emmanuel) admits that they are talented.

This leads to a "battlefield singing contest" wherein the soldiers begin to sing their own war chant, a modified version of Men of Harlech. The two war chants are juxtaposed together and serve as counterparts to one another. This one moment is brief, but it shows that ultimately the soldiers are not so different from what they have prior to now viewed as savages. The Zulus are people too, and an intelligent civilization. Once again, it is Chard to orders the men to begin singing, and just has he has challenged Victorian attitudes toward class and gender, he is now finally putting the Zulus on the same level, acknowledging them not as savages but as a worthy opponent. It is only this final recognition of the Zulus as skilled warriors rather than dismissing them as incompetent savages (as was likely the mistake made by the men at Isandlwana) that allows any form of Victory to take place.

After this confrontation, the Zulus make one last charge but are repelled. It seems that the British soldiers have won, but upon seeing the massive pile of Zulu corpses in front of them, there is little satisfaction to be gained from this aparent victory. There is no glory to be found, only relief found in any of the soldiers making it out alive. Even that is not wholly worthwhile with the fact that there were numerous casualties sustained in the battle, even if it was less than would be expected from these particular circumstances. Bromhead, who began the film embracing the values of an upper-class Englishman, admits to feeling sick and ashamed. Chard also admits that he would not want to go through this experience again.

When the Zulus finally return, it is a moment that at first seems completely hopeless. For the soldiers, it is remarkable that they have managed to keep going as long as they have and put up any kind of resistance against impossible odds. Much of the camp is in ruins with only a smoldering wreck left from the hospital. Most of the soldiers that remain are too tired or injured and in no condition to keep fighting. Bromhead, subverting any imperialistic ideology, is ready to accept his demise at the hands of the Zulus. The only reason anyone is left in the end is because the Zulus decide to spare them (again, subverting the view of them as savages) considering them worthy opponents.

The montage sequence which ends Zulu concludes the idea through the use of irony. Richard Burton's narration returns to identify the participants of the Battle of Rorke's Drift who won the Victoria Cross. In any other film, this would have been seen as a great achievement. Perhaps there could have been a scene in which the soldiers are congratulated for their efforts and honorably receive the award to illustrate the significance of their accomplishments. It would be a grand moment, but the way it is presented in Zulu, these awards are anything but a great accomplishment. Instead, Burton's narration is played over shots displaying the immediate aftermath of the battle.

The narration is first heard over a shot of soldiers trying to bury the bodies of fallen Zulu warriors (of which there are many). Burton then begins to name the individual men who won the Victoria Cross, all of whom are stressed and tired. Schiess is still struggling to recover from the leg injury he had before the battle started. Of the five privates identified: Hitch, Hook, the two Joneses, and Williams; one is still wounded and the others are clearly tired, stressed, and could not care less whether they get any recognition for what happened here. The same can be said for Corporal Allen, who is clearly in pain from his injuries. It is likely that many of the wounded soldiers have suffered permanent damage (which was the case for the real-life Frederick Hitch), and those that have not would have a good chance of developing PTSD (a condition not recognized at the time).

Likewise, Surgeon James Henry Reynolds (Patrick McGee) also has his hands full as he is busy trying to look after the large number of injured men. As the only doctor present, Reynolds has to look after everyone himself, adding even more stress to his situation. When the name of James Langley Dalton is mentioned, he is shown placing a sheet over the face of a dead man. He may be alive and uninjured, but he seems more concerned about the people who have been lost over the previous day than what he personally may have contributed to this particular action. Bromhead is seen approaching a small cavalry division, but much like the others he seems to be more relieved to be alive than proud of his victory. In contrast to his entrance at the beginning, Bromhead approaches the men on foot, but barely seems to notice them. He is more interested in sharing affection toward their horses.

The final name that is mentioned is John Rouse Merriott Chard, the man responsible for devising the strategies that allowed them to hold as long as they did. Chard is far from proud of his victory, however. Unlike the others mentioned, he is seen alone, far from anyone else. He stands over the graveyard where the Zulus' bodies have been buried, and proceeds to plant a shield as a gravestone, presumably an act he views as a sign of respect. Much like Bromhead, there is no pride in his success. In fact, Chard seems to lack even the relief of making it through in one piece. He finishes the deconstruction of British Imperialism, by recognizing and visually acknowledging the Zulus as intelligent human beings and that the Empire he fought for is not all perfect.

In the end, Zulu could not be a more fitting title for this film. The focus may be on the British soldiers, and depict what at the time might have been considered a triumph by the English military, but underneath it is more about the Zulus. It is a film that exposes the darker side of British colonialism not as an unstoppable force bringing order to the world but a flawed system of government constructed on backwards thinking, hatred, and bigotry. It is only when these elements are finally recognized and cast out of society that any progress or hope can emerge.