Posts Tagged ‘Film’

You don’t need to like or dislike Arnold Schwarzenegger to appreciate this. I’m just using “Arnie” as a guide. You don’t even need to have seen Terminator (1 or 2) to understand my use of it as an example. If you’ve ever seen a film where there’s a high body count by closing credits, you’ll get the gist of the idea.

Arnold Schwarzenegger as T-800 (Madame Tussauds).

Arnold Schwarzenegger as T-800 (Madame Tussauds). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve had my movie ‘pitch’ for several years now. I’m blogging it here, because I can’t see myself ever making it (at this point, anyway). Basically it goes like this:

The screen is split in two. On the left side of the split, the audience quickly recognises Terminator (or other equivalent film) is playing. This film plays in its entirety.

On the right, the alternative film plays. In this instance, it might open with a policeman, sitting down having breakfast with his family. Subsequent scenes might show him doing relatively routine activities; dropping off his children at school, buying some take away coffee, doing paperwork. The actor playing this role should be relatively unknown and the reason why would become apparent in due course.

About half way through Terminator, the left and right screens would start to come to reflect one another. Thus the policeman seen doing run-of-the-mill activities (as I understand most policing is on a day-to-day basis) would come to have an interaction with Arnie. For these moments, the screen would show only the ‘original’ film. The policeman might die in the police station shootout, perhaps he is collateral in another scene where his car is crashed by Arnie’s truck – the more obscure it was, in many ways, the better. The audience will now recognise that the small time extra in the big budget film is actually the ‘star’ of the film that has been showing on the right hand side of the screen.

At this point, the screen would split once again. Terminator (or X) would continue on, as before, while the camera on the left would remain with the dead policeman. Over the course of the remaining film, the scenes would return to everyday life: his family receiving the news; their shock at his sudden demise; preparations and the subsequent funeral.

The point? Not much really – just to show, using an unorthodox method, how we overlook details and the casualty count (or take it for granted) when we watch an action movie. Just something a bit different. Hope you liked the idea.

I’ve had an idea for the next tech gadget; I apologise if it is already on someone’s drawing board – and if it exists already, I’d love to hear about it.

It’s a virtual desk. Well, a real desk, that does some ‘e’ things…

The idea came about this morning, while working on a uni assignment. My course is all online; the readings, the university website, even uploading my assignment. At the moment, I am working on an iPad and a desktop, switching between using apps like Notability (great for virtual highlighting and note making on the PDF documents I’m viewing), to stalwart programs like Word (where I’m writing the piece itself). Along the way, I’m dropping out of the virtual realm, making notes, thoughts and doodles on paper.

It’s not entirely satisfactory though, or at least it doesn’t feel right in the sense of a tactile and functional learning process is… or even the sense of the aesthetic. And that is where the virtual desk comes in. I got the idea, in part, from the Australian Museum’s virtual display of a collection of things that bite and sting – the blue ringed octopus, ants, box jellyfish, a shark etc – that you can prod at on a large table, with projections from above, and information pops up about the type of ‘bite’ you have received from your virtual prodding. The desk senses your interaction and responds, albeit in a relatively limited fashion, accordingly (try as I might, I couldn’t find a photo for this post!)

John Underkoffler explains the human-computer ...

John Underkoffler explains the human-computer interface he first designed as part of the advisory work for the film Minority Report. The system, called “g-speak”, is now real and working. Note the gloves Underkoffler is wearing. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The virtual desk would be a real desk that, when switched on, would allow you to have a Minority Report (and now I HAVE found a pic, using Zemanta, that seems to show that something approaching my desk, is on the way). But rather than having something vertical, I’m pitching for something horizontal… traditional. A desk where items, such as documents, would appear in front of you. Items that you could slide around, see at once, write on (whether that be with a stylus, like a pen or pencil) or in a way that leads to type being produced.

I would like to think that the desk could be an old one… even a leather topped one (which is something that I have never owned), or something befitting the title “bureau”. And when you’ve finished and switched it off, that majestic item retains its place in your house, rather than being another in a long line of ‘computer ware’.

Just a thought that I figured I would get down while it was in mind. Feel free to send me a pic if you have something like this at your house!

George, you’re playing with my mind!

When I set out to write this post, I realised that my recollection of the film Star Wars, had become corrupted. Like Orwell’s Winston Smith in 1984, I was a victim of the “He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.” scenario. However, a little bit of memory is a dangerous thing.

“Blast it Biggs, where are you?!” was originally, “Blast it Wedge, where are you?!” and even as I type the latter, it feels more like a memory implant than my own memory, now returned to me. You can see why I’m confused. The following was written before I went to one of the many alterations pages available on the Internet:
For years, this line from Star Wars, expressed by Luke as he flies about the Death Star in his X-wing fighter, seemed out of place. It was only years later, with a (updated cut), that, with the introduction of additional text, the relationship between Biggs and Luke was made clear(er) in the exchanges prior to their departure on the mission. This went some way to explaining why Luke would be sounding off at “Biggs”, who had been unseen and heard of thus far. I had coped with the original position but felt it thoughtful that someone (George?) had seen fit to help clarify the oversight.
Wrong, wrong, wrong!
Now, having decided to type in a few more search phrases and click on a few more links, I’ve realised the behemoth that I’ve come across. The aim of my blog was not to add to the vast range of fan sites dedicated to haranguing Lucas over his “upgrades”. There are many of them, including Nicolas Pell’s George Lucas’ 8 Most Irritating Changes To The ‘Star Wars’ Films and they do an excellent job in their own right.
For me, I had no intrinsic issue with some relatively “cosmetic” improvements. Things such as making sure that you could see the fleet of x-wings as they blasted off into the twilit sky, or “fixing up” the pink glow of their engines when viewed from behind. I understand that the film print can become worn and might need a bit of a facelift.
But, it was only sometime later, as I watched the film with my son, that I came across all manner of additions. Silly creatures having to get out of the way of the landspeeder containing Luke and Obi-Wan as they approached Mos Isley, was niggling; making the film feel more like Sesame Street than Star Wars. Then, at that time, the big surprise as a “new” scene showing Han Solo negotiating with what can only be described as a svelte Jabba the Hutt was revealed. That it was obvious that this was original footage blended with new CGI effects only added to the sense of annoyance. Why would you want to “improve” Star Wars? Having grown up seeing it at the cinema, followed by numerous viewings on VHS tape, recorded from the TV, one comes to create a personal perspective about a text.

You might have guessed that the paragraph above was another “draft 1.0” version of my post. But I thought it worth keeping. So now to the larger idea which, thankfully, remains intact.
I recall coming across Roland Barthes’s article on The Death of the Author when I was at Uni. At the time, I found the idea that a text could become ‘alive’ with the experiences that the reader brought to the text when reading it, invigorating. The end result saw texts with almost limitless possibilities for interpretation, based on time, locale and perspective.
It has only been recently that I have come to value Mr Barthes afresh. For the following, think of the old “author” equals “composer”, in the sense that this applies to any “text” you might conceive, including film.

“The Author is thought to nourish the book, which is to say that he exists before it, thinks, suffers, lives for it, is in the same relation of antecedence to his work as a father to his child. In complete contrast, the modern scriptor is born simultaneously with the text, is in no way equipped with a being preceding or exceeding the writing, is not the subject with the book as predicate; there is no other time than that of the enunciation and every text is eternally written here and now.”
Where is George Lucas in all this? Is he afraid of his own relative mortality with Star Wars, that he would lose control? Texts may show that “writing is the destruction of every voice, of every point of origin” but the possibilities from that one definitive act of creation can lead to countless possibilities in the millions of “readings” that individuals bring to a text. Why not create fresh representations of a text if it is deemed worthy of consideration, whether this be through a re-make of the original (for instance, the two versions of Ocean’s Eleven, decades apart) or a re-presentation of the original idea (as in the film Seven Samurai, which became the western The Magnificent Seven, the space film Battle Beyond the Stars, and later again, A Bug’s Life)?

I recall an art teacher telling me that a skill for an artist (or a school student) was when to know that the picture was “done” – in other words, when adding anything more would lead to the decay of the artwork, through overwork. Why would it be any different for any other text type?

I wonder whether George Lucas should acknowledge that “Having buried the Author, the modern scriptor can thus no longer… indefinitely ‘polish’ his form… we know that to give writing its future, it is necessary to overthrow the myth: the birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the Author”.

Barthes wrote this in 1967, a decade before Lucas released the first Star Wars film. We aim to teach students when, after the necessary re-drafting, to leave a work alone – perhaps it is time for George to put down the brush and do the same with Star Wars.

As a teenager in the 1980s, Blade Runner was a staple video in our house. This was the release that included Harrison’s Ford narration, later overshadowed by the release of The Director’s Cut in 1992. However, my brothers and I would watch the VHS tape, recorded from the TV, that proceeded to get ever grainier with repeated viewings.

In the late 1990s, I taught this ‘early’ version of the film, to, of all groups, a top Year 10 class. This was in the days before it was put on the HSC list, and I was looking to it as a piece to connect on a study of Detective Fiction, having already opened the unit with a study of Raymond Chandler’s novel, The Big Sleep.

At the time and having watched and discussed the film, I would highlight the fact that the students and I ‘sat’ half way between Scott’s vision of the film in 1982 and the film’s setting of Los Angeles, 2019. This was the segue for a discussion about the future, and working on the basis that the film aimed to predict a future that was 40 odd years in the future, how accurate was the development of that vision. How well could students predict 40 years from their own present?

Fast forward to 2012 and, again, a number of events have piqued my imagination and got me thinking about the HSC unit that my students study, pairing Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein with Scott’s dystopic view of the future in Blade Runner. These include the announcement that the film had been voted the most popular/influential sci-fi movie of all time, that Scott was looking to make another Blade Runner film and, from New Zealand, a story I initially heard on radio discussing the likelihood that, within 50 years, prostitutes of the future could well be artificial ones created by humans. It was the last item that struck me most of all. In the media that I perused, there was little to nothing about the ethics and the logistics of such an enterprise.

Recently, I marked an HSC assessment for the Advanced candidature. The question included a brief visual stimulus (the opening of the film, up until the appearance of Holden in the office) and asked students to discuss the negative consequences that arise in the text from the actions of man’s desire to play God. From reading their work and with some thoughts to the media mentioned above, I write the following to see where Blade Runner, along with Frankenstein, sits in our context now. Hopefully it provides some ideas, discussion points and assistance for staff and students alike.

Frankenstein gives rise to Blade Runner?

There are a number of excellent study guides on both of these texts, and I am not looking to intentionally cover ground explored by others here. In opening, and acknowledging that this novel by Mary Shelley is arguably the progenitor of the science fiction genre, it strikes one in terms of the ability to view these two texts as a kind of before and after on a continuum. Victor Frankenstein goes through a number of gates in the course of the novel. We see his passionate pursuit of education and knowledge and his inability (or wanton disregard) of the warnings of others (while, incidentally, all of these other figures similarly miss the signs from Victor or are, again, ineffectual in mentoring him). This leads to his creation of the monster, his abhorrence and abandonment of the monster and the spiralling events from this point on.

So while Victor Frankenstein sets up the process of strikingly illicit scientific pursuit, undertaken in a clandestine manner, often under the cover of darkness, we see that this has been brought into the mainstream by the time we get to Blade Runner. Is Tyrell more the business man than the scientist – is it that he stands on the shoulders of figures such as Frankenstein (or, more recently, the work of JF Sebastien and Chew, the genetic designer and eye specialist respectively from the film) to have reached the position that he is in now? Eldon Tyrell has made the manufacture of the replicants a part of mainstream America, yet has similarly ‘lost’ part of his connection with others along the way. The nature of the commodity is highlighted by his comments regarding Rachael, an “experiment, nothing more” who has been gifted “the past” in order to stabilise her emotions. When he is interrupted by Roy and J.F. Sebastian, he is in the middle of stock trading, rather than any notions of scientific experimentation as was the case for the fevered Victor. For a “genius” as described by J.F. Sebastian, I am amused that he is two moves away from mate in a chess game, yet can’t see this coming – mind you, J.F. seems similarly oblivious to the fact that he is this close to what would be only be his second ever win against his employer. The rampant greed that would (go on to) be the hallmark of 1980s sees a facet of this world, where Tyrell’s tower rises, Babel-like, above the trash that mark street level Los Angeles, below the smog line. Los Angeles, reflected, 2019

This leads to larger ideas of the place and role of Nature in the two texts. In the novel, reflecting Romantic sentiments, it is often depicted by Shelley as a restorative; the juxtaposition between the sublime, pure, often ‘light’ aspects of nature (the Romantic movement) counterpoint Frankenstein’s gothic, secretive pursuit of his dream of reanimation. One thing which one might ‘consider’ is Victor’s original aim (obviously mirrored in Walton’s story). Does one view his initial desire to discover and study as negative? Context is important, and most would argue that the pursuit of discovery and exploration in most human societies is highly valued. Certainly, I don’t think anyone has any issue with his later irresponsibility, and it is often hard for students to appreciate anything other than a negative take on Victor.

This is where one can tap into concepts such as the values of humanity. Perhaps it is not so much that he creates the life, but that he has no foresight as to what this entails in terms of rights and values and continues to abandon any sense of responsibility that he must shoulder thereafter. We, as readers, don’t see the ‘monster’ as human, but it is hard not to see the replicants as such when viewing Blade Runner. He, in 1818, cannot walk amongst society without fear or backlash, whereas they walk (look at Roy and Leon early on as they walk along the streets in their leather jackets) amongst humanity, almost to the point where their difference is their physical superiority to the human rabble – they certainly appear more striking aesthetically.

More human than human?

So if Frankenstein sets up the problem of animation, Blade Runner, takes it forward to a time when it is unremarkable – except that we have made them ‘too’ good. This becomes a problem when we can’t tell them apart from us without machines. Yet, all along, we have missed the opportunity to set Frankenstein’s mistakes to rights – this 200 odd years later. We create the most wonderful creature and offer it slavery, danger and a death sentence in return. Should we be surprised by the actions of the replicants? Consider, at the top of this article, the notions of creating artificial prostitutes within our lifetimes. What have we learned? What are we capable of learning?

The scrolling text at the beginning of the film affords a wealth of discussion points. I am struck by the context – long lost to us in 2012, that watching this film in 1982 would have held (and, more notably, the potential to view this film as a resident of Los Angeles). Reading that white on black text, with the associated ‘noises’, to be greeted with THAT image of L.A. – not any Los Angeles that a 1982 film viewer would recognise, would have been a powerful one. Perhaps it is not surprising that the film was not well received upon release and flopped commercially. As the text, (again covered admirably in other articles) comes to an end and the words ‘LOS ANGELES 2019’ appears, there is a simultaneous harp ‘glissando’ and drumbeat- like the curtain is being drawn back in a magic show for the reveal. In a world where we can create life, look what we have done with the ‘life’ (nature) that was already present. The mise-en-scene is a veritable slap in the face and still holds well as we draw close to the magical date of 2019 itself.

What continues to strike me are the notions of the consequences that the film holds. As mentioned, Tyrell neatly ignores any notion of rights that the replicants have. They are certainly commodities but Tyrell seems inept at interaction – ignoring Rachael and providing less than satisfying (inane?) responses when confronted by Roy. The need for Blade runners only exists due to his creation, and he smugly hides behind the ‘commerce is our goal… more human than human” line midway through the film. That word “human” is so evocative. One can look at all the presentations of human we have had – from the ‘racist’ types like Bryant, to the street level mishmash of cultures – individuals who do not react with the killing (let’s not beat about the bush here) of Zhora. What does this word suggest in light of the concerns of the unit? It may well be that other units that are being studied examine the nature of the human condition. It should be no different here.

While considering this, I noted in my marking of that HSC assessment that some students had suggested that in the scene where Deckard shoots Zhora in the back, that Deckard shows no emotion at this point. This surprised me. If you look, you will see that the only three who do react (appropriately) are Deckard, Leon and Rachael. Sure, Deckard has shot her as part of his job, but the next few minutes sees him shaking (physically and verbally) and verbally jousting with Bryant. Is this Ridley Scott’s way of positioning the viewer? Where do you stand when an unarmed woman, running away from her assailant, is shot in the back? Notice the change in her physicality when the body is turned over (the mannequins that are in the shop windows suddenly come to prominence). In death, she returns to being a ‘doll’.

Zhora, having been shot by Deckard

Think about, for a moment, what a human corpse ‘signifies’ in death. Most religions would probably posit that the soul is not the body and so our corpse is not indicative of who we ‘are’ following death, if that makes sense. Think forward then, to Roy’s ‘tears in rain’ speech. This speech goes for all of us in death, and that’s what makes it so poignant. Even Gaff ‘gets it’ to some degree in his “It’s too bad that she won’t live. But then again, who does?” line. If both texts are cautionary tales, as most students would be able to identify, one can look at the legacy idea for each text in isolation and both together. Where does Walton stand at the end? Where is the viewer at the end of Blade Runner? If we are ‘close’ to creating this kind of future with predictions of synthetic prostitutes, are we going to make these mistakes that these two texts warn of, despite all these warnings? Perhaps we should all look at our context now and the decisions, like Victor, that we are looking to make in the near future.