Monday, 5 March 2012

Screening and Discussion - Punishment Park

On March the 8th Punishment Park will be screened from 4.15 in the New Academic Building, 3.26. This will be followed by an informal discussion.

Peter Watkins' Punishment Park (1971) is a pseudo-documentary set in a detention camp in a near-future America, where young 'terrorists' are brought in front of a jury and convicted without much of a trial. Choosing three days in Punishment Park over lengthy jail sentences, the detainees gamble their freedom on an attempt to reach an American flag - on foot and without water - through the searing heat of the desert. What follows is a lethal, one-sided game of cat-and-mouse with a squad of heavily armed police and National Guardsmen.

The blurring of ficition and reality in Punishment Park is not only due to Watkins' cinema verite style , but also because the 'actors' are not so much acting as expressing their actual beliefs and emotions, as well as drawing on their own experiences. With this film, the techniques of improvisation employed in it and its multiple layers of reality, Watkins evolved something Joseph A. Gomez has called "a psychodrama for the participants, for himself and for the audience".

Watkins' film, made in the wake of the escalation of the Vietnam War, the campus riots at Berkeley, and the trial of the Chicago Seven, makes an interesting point about America's fascistic tendencies when facing inner (as well as international) conflict. It remains relevant in the current context of the continuous 'war on terror', laws of being able to detain without trial, and the bru
tal violence facing Wall Street protesters.


Monday, 20 February 2012

Screening and Discussion - Persona

On February the 23rd Persona will be screened at 4.15 in the New Academic Building LG02. This will be followed by an informal discussion.

Ingmar Bergman's Persona (1966), widely recognized as his most extraordinary and influental film, is a rich and poetic study of womanhood and identity - not to mention of cinema itself. Elizabeth (Liv Ullman) is a famous actress who is suddenly taken ill and left without speech. While convalescing on the coast, she is cared for by Nurse Alma (Bibi Andersson) and, silenced by her possibly psychosomatic illness, finds that her nurse does the talking for both of them. Gradually the two women's personalitites merge and the boundaries between their identities begin to blur.

Bergman later said about Persona; "Today I feel that in Persona, I had gone as far as far as I could go. And that in [this] instance when working in total freedom, I touched wordless secrets that only the cinema can discover". The film has been, and still is, subjected to a wide range o
f interpretations - Susan Sontag suggests that Persona is constructed as a series of variations on a theme of 'doubling' and proposes that the subject of the film is 'violence of the spirit' whilst film sholar Adam P. Sitney offers quite a different reading, arguing that "Persona covertly dramatizes a psychoanalysis from the point of view of a patient". Apart from this, the extremely minimalist and experimental style of the film makes it a special instance in the history of cinema - during filming Bergman wanted to call it "A Bit of Cinematography".


Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Screening and Discussion - Network

On Thursday, February the 2nd, at 4.15 Network will be screened in the New Academic Building LG02. This will be followed by an informal discussion.

'Network' (1976) is a satirical comedy directed by Sidney Lumet. A television network, Union Broadcasting System (UBS) is struggling with poor ratings and, facing unemployment, their news-anchor loses it on live television - surprisingly causing ratings to rise again.

Network opens up questions about the power of television over large groups of people - especially thinking of the mob-like behaviour that accompanies the shows of Jerry Springer and the like - and the almost messianic aura that its presenters gain (think Oprah Winfrey). The film considers the importance of ‘good ratings’ within television, underlining that the media, even though claiming for itself official and objective information about society, essentially needs to sell itself (thus considering what people want to read becomes an issue – lowest common denominator?) - interesting to put in the context of today's Leveson Enquiry and Rupert Murdoch's approach to news-making.


Friday, 13 January 2012

Screening and Discussion - Platform

On Thursday, January the 19th, at 4.15 Platform will be screened (room to be announced). This will be followed by an informal discussion. More information coming soon!


Sunday, 27 November 2011

Notes on The Masque of the Red Death

Roger Corman 1964

Clip 1 - Intro

In this opening shot the tilted camera creates a sense of unrest, a technique Corman uses throughout the film but which often ends up having quite different effects on the viewer; for example, compare this scene, in which we get a feeling that something disturbing is coming, and the scene towards the end where Prince Prospero's guests takes a frightening turn, in which we get a sense of his panic and fear. The tilted camera effect used in the scene shown, in fact the whole atmosphere of the scene, owes a lot to the opening scene of David Lean's Oliver Twist from 1948.

The film is a good example of Bazin's idea of "those directors who put their faith in the image... those that relate to the plastics of the image" with its lavish sets, lush colours and extravagant wardrobe; none of which adhears to any sense of the 'real'. The film had a relatively small budget but looks more expensive than Corman's previous Poe adaptations due to moving the filming to London. The sets were borrowed from the production of Becket (1964), a film that David Weston (Gino) worked on prior to The Masque of the Red Death. English cinematographer Nicolas Roeg used lush color to contrast the form and look of the images with the horrifying content of what the images conveyed.

Clip 2 - Prospero's Entertainment

But even though Corman seems to rely on "the plastics of the image", the use of montage helps create suspense; in this scene he is alternating his signature extended tracking shots and long takes with a carefully calibrated montage (we see the reaction shots of the guests enjoying the entertainment intercut with Prospero's increasing dismay as neither victim shows any sign of fear).

As in a true Gothic tale the characters and the story are stereotyped, but very ambiguously so, and constantly undermining the values connected to their stereotype. Gino (David Weston) is the classical hero - in his very first scene he recues a child - who wants to save his love Francesca (Jane Asher) who got abducted by the villain Prince Prospero (Vincent Price), seeing the corruption of her pure faith as his ultimate mission. At the same time Gino doubts himself, Francesca is not as chaste as she first appears - the tension between her and Prospero is undeniable - and Prospero is capable of both sophistication and depth of feeling, despite being evil personified. Prince Prospero's villain stems from the Gothic tradition within literature where the villain is normally the character that the reader is supposed to give attention and sympathy to, thus him being the character that most noticeable undermines his stereotype.

Clip 3 - Francesca's curiosity

The Masque of the Red Death is full of symbolism, not only in the use of colours. Corman talks about Freudian symbolism; The girl “must run down that corridor! That is very symbolic and extremely important. To me, the corridor is, simply, a vagina. You must set up two things in the movement down the corridor; I think it is a child’s approach to sex, in which he knows there is something great and wonderful out there but that child has also been told by the parents, ‘That’s bad—don’t do that!’ So to recreate that feeling—because I think the sense of horror does have elements of sexuality within it—you go down the corridor, and the audience must be saying to the person—identifying with the person—‘Don’t take another step. Get out of there right now! Don’t open that door! At the same time, the audience must be saying, ‘Open the door. We must see what is behind that door!’ If you set that sequence up correctly, it never fails to generate an emotional response”. This symbolism is part of the formula Corman applied to the horror genre - most explicitly in his distinctive psychadelic dream-sequences.

"And darkness and decay and the Red Death held dominion over all". - Edgar Allan Poe

The Masque of the Red Death is based on Edgar Allan Poe's 1842 short-story with the same name. The plot of another Poe story, Hop-Frog (1849), is used to add substance to the film (Poe's The Masque of the Red Death is only four pages long) and there are references to the story The Pit and the Pendulum (1842) and the poem The Raven (1845).

There is a few overarching themes that could really stem from any Poe story; death's ultimate victory over everything and the subsequent fear of death and thus time. In
Poe's The Masque of the Red Death the big ebony clock in the black room plays a very important part as a physical manifestation of the inevitable coming, something that is played down in the film - or maybe replaced by the questioning of morality and religion. Even though humanity - the characters - know that death is coming for everyone, religion has taken on the function of an escape-route to eternal life. The film tries to show that essentially all religions are the same, and good and evil are only words utilized to justify the journey (the guidelines of any religion) one has to follow to reach that eternal life, call it heaven or hell.

  • The Masque of the Red Death - Edgar Allan Poe 1842
  • The Seventh Seal - Ingmar Bergman 1957
  • Corman's World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel - Alex Stapleton 2011
  • House of Usher - Roger Corman 1960
  • The Pit and the Pendulum - Roger Corman 1961
  • The Premature Burial - Roger Corman 1962
  • Tales of Terror - Roger Corman 1962
  • The Haunted Palace - Roger Corman 1963
  • The Raven - Roger Corman 1963
  • The Tomb of Ligeia - Roger Corman 1964

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Screening and Discussion with special guest David Weston!

On Thursday, December the 1st, at 4.15 The Masque of the Red Death will be screened in the Richard Hoggart Building, room no 309. This will be followed by an informal discussion and Q&A with hero of the film David Weston. More information coming soon!


Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Screening and Discussion - Solaris

On Thursday, November the 17th, at 4.30 Solaris will be screened in the Richard Hoggart Building, room no 307. This will be followed by an informal discussion. Please have a look at the post in the post below for things to consider whilst watching.