Thursday, June 17, 2010
One of the things that I appreciate most about my classmate Heather's blog for this term's "Writing About Literature" assignment is how thorough and well structured she has been. Her last wrap-up blog post, The End As The Beginning, is a good example of this: while on the lengthier side, she divides it up into bite-sized morsels that can be read without scrolling, and with headings that make it clear what she intends to talk about. Quite a good example of sign-posting, I believe. I think that this "sign-posting" mentality was especially helpful on posts that had a lot of analysis of relatively abstract and difficult material, like her post Online Identity: Multiple Forms Singlular. That post had 5 subheadings, each giving a good teaser of what the argument beneath it would include.
So, while Heather tended less towards the informal, personal mode of blogging, and more towards a traditional research paper, her alteration of the form to include sign-posts and break things up into digestible bits made a load of text seem more manageable.
An additional benefit to Heather's use of "signposting" is that it structured each post very neatly so that it fit in with her thesis, and so that she could link each post in with the project as a whole. So while her blog is text-heavy, it is also one of the easiest in our class to navigate and understand the scope of her argument.
To Work On:
Part of the reason that Heather needed so desperately to "sign post," and should be praised for it, is because of the density of her analysis in blog posts. In some cases, this was a bit overwhelming, especially because some posts, especially at the beginning, did not make use of the multi-media possibilities that can help break up text and engage the reader. For instance, a series of 4 posts posted from May 25th to June 1st included no video, image, os visual other than a single thumbnail in the last lengthy post on June 1st. While this might not be necessary or even advised in a traditional paper, the blog format allows a scholar to make use of tools that are exciting and might help readers to connect with material in new, interesting ways. By keeping her early blog text-heavy with little visual stimulation automatically filters out interested viewers or readers who simply have a hard time making it through that much text.
Heather clearly recognized this, though, and starting with her post on June 3rd, titled "Palfrey, Harvard, and Identity Play," Heather began including vibrant, engaging photos. In that same post, Heather referred to the photo, including a personal perspective and explaining its use, which was a welcome personal addition to a complex, difficult subject. And while Heather did not explore any other media use in her blog, by the end, each post was shorter, and more engaging structurally, indicating an obvious trend towards understanding the reader's needs.
Also, while Heather's signposting mitigates other structural gaps, she could have used tags or labels to allow alternate ways to combine and search material in her posts. Her final post, for instance, does not contain any tags, and so would not be found through a search of key words, either by scholars searching outside her blog, or inside of it. By contrast, Ben used labels very effectively in his last blog post, making it possible to group his posts in interesting ways based on specific things a reader might be looking for. This gap in Heather's posting mechanics limits a reading of her material to more traditional modes, and shies away from the unexpected and fortuitous results that can come through the intelligent manipulation of new media search tools.
Let Me Sum Up:
In general, Heather completed a well-researched, well organized, insightful series of posts. It was always interesting to read, and Heather was responsive to comments from her readers. While her form was more traditional, she clearly made concessions to the blog format, which greatly improved the readability over what a traditional paper merely pasted online would have.
Monday, June 14, 2010
P.S. You'll want to click on this last image
In my early set of posts before I reformulated my direction in a new hub post, a few classmates made comments about how landscape in a scene from Lawrence of Arabia either immersed them further in the scene, or allowed them to separate themselves from the story...Allison in fact said both:
1. "I would have to agree that you have to step a foot or two away from plot or narrative to appreciate the aesthetic. "
2. "I rewatched Out of Africa lately, and it is also another example of a film which stops action entirely at points to transport viewers to another landscape."
This presents me with a dilemma: landscape, if it "transports" you somewhere, is actively engaging you, rather than allowing you space to step back and think. My argument, then, that landscape allows one to step away from narrative, would merely replace one attention-stealing thing with another. In the moment that one steps back from the plot, says Allison, one is also sucked into an observation of the aesthetic.
Indeed, Chris also made a similar comment in my follow-up post:
"For me, landscape is a huge deal in film. I think most of my favorite movies draw me in with good use of landscape and physical setting."
Again, the way that Chris is "drawn in" suggests being more captivated or mesmerized by the scene, with less space for reflection.
In the same comment section as Chris, Heather says, "Well, do characters allow us to immerse ourselves more fully in the plot, or step back from it. I would say immerse us, because they become an integral part of what the plot really is."
The kind of "immersiveness" that Allison, Chris, and Heather allude to is exactly the thing that I intend to argue against in my next and final post, when thinking about certain kinds of landscapes making a film text more "writerly" than "readerly."
But it will be an uphill battle. Chris comments about the film Avatar, relating landscapes to the "world," saying that the film "owes a LOT of its success to creating a world rather than just a story." He pointed to the way people were so drawn into "Pandora" that "Avatar Withdrawal Syndrome" became a seriously disturbing news story. Avatar is a film that takes ideas about "immersion" and pushes them to the extreme, both by virtue of its 3-D environment, which converts a flat screen to a "surround-visual" experience, and by using digital technology that allows virtually constructed spaces to seem authentic. So, does the meticulously-crafted natural world of Pandora perform the same agressive attention-grabbing function that 3-D shows do?
Perhaps it does, at least in some cases. But the conversation needs to go beyond just "landscape does this" or "landscape does that." In a conversation that I had with my "Writing about Literature" professor, Dr. Burton, we discussed the ways in which film "grammar" effect the way we perceive something, and landscape is no exception. Whether a certain scene in film is filled with quick edits and short shots, or is filmed from an unnerving dutch angle, or backed by mood-enducing music, or whether it employs slow-motion or filtering effects, our perception of the scene is affected, as is the space we may have for reflection.
Take, for instance, the following trailer for the film Avatar, especially the second half of it. Despite a serious load of natural elements, the "film grammar" (ie. quick edits, soundtrack, placement of characters in relation to camera and natural elements, etc) of the trailer does exactly what a trailer is meant to do: it grabs your attention in as many ways as it can, to the exclusion of providing space to analyze or consider it reflectively.
Any consideration of what landscape does or does not do in film must take into consideration the film grammar of the scene that it is in, and I will try to delineate some of those differences in my final post.
Saturday, June 12, 2010
Thursday, June 10, 2010
Tuesday, June 8, 2010
stands for a particular view of the world, one we may never have encountered before even if the aspects of the world that is represented are familiar to us. We judge a re-production by its fidelity to the original - its capacity to look like, act like, and serve the same purpose as the original. We judge a representation more by the pleasure it offers, the value of the insight or knowledge it provides, and the quality of the orientation or disposition, tone or perspective it instills. We ask more of a representation than we do of a reproduction.
But what about nature depicted in film? When do we care more about its fidelity than the pleasure that it gives? And isn't the film-maker's gaze a way of creating a work of art? The "framing process," of choosing this portion of land or sea rather than that, of finding the right lighting, of even noticing a bit of land for its aesthetic qualities...is not that the process of an artist? Let us consider this scene from Sjostrom's 1918 film The Outlaw and his Wife:
At what points in the film does the natural world merely serve as a place for action to take place (setting), and at what point does the natural world become something more, something to be appreciated in itself, as landscape? In addition, do we gain pleasure from these beautiful scenes, or merely satisfaction when they seem to be "true" to the original land? Are we seeing reproduction, or representation?Whatever the film scholar may argue, it matters the way in which the general viewer responds to the film.
Saturday, June 5, 2010
landscapes of national cinemas; aesthetics; landscape and film; place, identity and the role of film; geo-political film-scapes; film directors and landscapes; new readings in film geography; landscape and film form; travel, journeys and filmic landscapes...And more!That "and more" part has me especially excited. Imagine the possibilities of "And More!" I also found a recent graduate conference in landscape studies had concluded in March at Indiana University, the 2010 Landscape, Space, and Place Conference. The topics for this one include:
landscape ecology; landscape architecture; cultural landscape; symbolic landscape; sense of place; historical landscape; landscape and the arts; landscape-related pedagogyI also found that The Society For Landscape Studies held a "Spring Field Weekend" in mid April, in conjunction with the Sussex Archaeological Society. It seems Spring is the time to hold conferences, and I just missed the boat. Luckily, many conferences post past paper abstracts, like the Landscape, Place, and Space Conference in Indiana...so hopefully I won't have to wait too long to see what this year's event was all about.
My "Writing About Literature" professor, Dr. Burton, asked that we extend our research process beyond our own isolated bubble, so that we could better take part in a larger conversation about our research topics, and learn to make connections that will allow us to grow through collaboration. So, I decided to send an e-mail to the superstar of silent film scholarship, Tom Gunning.
His published work (approximately one hundred publications) has concentrated on early cinema (from its origins to the WW I) as well as on the culture of modernity from which cinema arose (relating it to still photography, stage melodrama, magic lantern shows, as well as wider cultural concerns such as the tracking of criminals, the World Expositions, and Spiritualism). His concept of the "cinema of attractions" has tried to relate the development of cinema to other forces than storytelling, such as new experiences of space and time in modernity, and an emerging modern visual culture.
About an hour later, I realized that I'd made a mistake in my e-mail (aw suck!), and sent Dr. Gunning a second e-mail apologizing:
As I was looking at Martin Lefebvre's book again, I realized that it was Jean Mottet who wrote an article about landscape in D.W. Griffith. It doesn't alter my interest in your work, but I apologize for misrepresenting. I just knew that you had done work with the early American film and D.W. Griffith.
Despite my silly mistake, Dr. Gunning responded almost immediately with an answer that probably saved me 5-10 extra hours of research trying to find evidence for something that didn't exist (and I'd spent that much time already trying to find it). Here is his response e-mail:
A quick answer. In the teens when Sjostrom was working, shooting in a big studio for landscape scenes was not necessarily cheaper, so it was not unusual for directors of the teens to shoot landscape scene sin nature (Griffith, prodcuer Tomas Ince and the various directors who worked under him) Maurice Tourneur, all did great work in landscapes, However I would agree Sjostrom was perhaps more powerful than any of the others, not because he was the only one shoorting in landscape, but because he has such an extraordinary sense of the way environment interpenetrated his character and his narrative. Outlaw is perhaps the masterpiece in this regard, but most of his films show this great sensibility. It may partly be a cultural sensibility, since I feel the strongest rival to his talent in this regard is his fellow Swede Maurice Stiller, especially Song of the Scarlet Flower and (available on DVD) Sir Arne's Treasure I have an essay on Sjostorm, but it is not on one of his landscape films: “‘A Dangerous Pledge’: Victor Sjöström’s Unknown Masterpiece Mästerman” in Nordic Explorations: Film Before 1930 ed. John Fullerton and Jan Olsson (Sydney: John Libbey and Co., 1999).
And Dr. Gunning's response to my flub of attributing his work:
I did wonder, but if you look at my Griffith book you will find pleanty on Landscape...
You'll note that Dr. Gunning directly refutes much of what I wrote in my second post on landscape in film, but I am overjoyed that he did, because I knew that I was making a leap without enough proof. Now I can revise it to make it accurate. Even better, though, was that he corroborated my sense that Sjostrom did something special that other film-makers were not doing - he in essence justified my paper, even if he offered a concrete counter to a sub-argument. All things considered, it was an excellent exchange, and if I can come up with another good, concise question to ask, I hope Dr. Gunning might offer me another pearl or two.
Thursday, June 3, 2010
To understand Sjostrom’s movement towards his masterpieces (Terje Vigen specifically anticipating others such as The Outlaw and His Wife, the Girl from Marsh Croft, etc.) in the late 1910s, we should first consider the filmic traditions from which he was building. The Lumieres showed their first films to a paying audience in 1895, while the first moving images shown in Scandinavia were in Norway’s capital in April of 1896. For the first few years, most of the films shown in Scandinavia were English and French films (Iversen 94). As much as anything, audiences came simply to see an exciting new technology; Gunning describes the technology itself as an “attraction,” independent of any film shown (58). After a few years, certain types of films developed greater popularity than others and these films formed what Gunning has called the “cinema of attractions” (57). Before native Scandinavians were producing films, foreign filmmakers employed by such companies as Hales Tours had descended on the Scandinavian fjords and mountains to make travel films, primarily for foreign audiences (Sorenssen 103). There was an early sense that the Scandinavian landscape held a special spirit about it, and so-called “Norway films” remained popular into the 1920s and 1930s even as other films of the “cinema of attractions” era faded away (Sorenssen 104).
The travel films offered the most significant group of films that incorporated nature as something for its own sake, independent of any other on-screen action. Earlier films by such filmmakers as the Lumieres had natural elements; we should think particularly of A Boat Leaving Harbour, as its depiction of the men struggling on the sea is later echoed in other Scandinavian films, specifically Strosjom’s Terje Vigen. The sea, for Sjostrom, would be a recurring and deeply personal subject. We can see a similar subject matter in the first Norwegian feature film produced between 1906-1908, entitled Dangers of a Fisherman’s Life – An Ocean Drama, a one-reeler in which a fisherman’s son falls overboard and is lost. This film is significant both in theme and because its photographer, Julius Jaenzon, later became the “master photographer” for both Victor Sjostrom and Mauritz Stiller (Iversen 95). Yet the primary purpose of both of these single-reel films was to show the action of the men in the boat; the ocean was incidental. By contrast, the travel films focused on the land or scenery and no specific action or event.
Post update: 6/5/2010:
Tuesday, June 1, 2010
This post forms the "head" for an exploration of landscape in narrative, and with a heavy emphasis on narrative in film. While many of my arguments stem from a close look at the use of landscape in Victor Sjostrom's silent films, they use elements of Sjostrom's films also as illustrations of what landscape generally can do within the context of the moving image, the motion picture. Why use Victor Sjostrom's work? Partly I have a desire to see his name fixed more prominently amongst the great filmmakers of our age; many are familiar with D. W. Griffith, Charlie Chaplin, etc, but Sjostrom rarely enters prominently into a discussion of the early great auteur filmmakers. Nevertheless, Andrew Sarris (the man who popularized the "auteur theory" in America) wrote of Victor Sjostrom that he was possibly "the world's first great director, even before Chaplin and Griffith." Why was he great? Sjostrom came to film from the theatre, and developed characters and situations that had great depth and emotional significance, as with one of his first acclaimed works, the 1913 film Ingeborg Holm. But in addition to Sjostrom's nuanced sensibilities about character and story, he also introduced natural elements into his films that brought the spectacle of the natural world to a level rarely achieved before, or after. His films A Man There Was and The Outlaw and His Wife, released in 1917 and 1918, were at the time described as "the most beautiful films in the world." Sjostrom brought subtlety and beauty to the mise en scene of the natural world, surpassing the sort of place-holding role that setting and set design had been relegated to in a transitional period between the prominence of a "cinema of attractions" and the triumph of the feature film. Consider the opening sequence of A Man There Was, and how powerfully Sjostrom uses the natural world (and note that it is Victor Sjostrom himself in the title roll):
I am a lover of outdoor spaces, of big skies and distant horizons, of the sublime grandeur of mountain ranges and the infinite repetition of waves in a choppy sea. And while this love is personal, and forms the impetus for my exploration of landscape in media, it is also communal, as it follows a general societal impulse to see the world's awe-inspiring natural locations, whether in person or vicariously through whatever medium may be available. We can find, for instance, in an early silent film produced by Thomas Edison, a short film of a natural setting in which no specific action takes place other than the motion of the train and of the water roaring by in the gorge outside the train's windows.
Audiences flocked to see these types of films, called "phantom rides," "scenics," "travel films," "travelogues," or "foreign views." There are clearly echoes of the "travel film" in A Man There Was...but Sjostrom takes the camera's ability to capture natural spectacle and weaves it into a story that uniquely benefits from the union. He did this at a time when many films had removed from natural settings, because of the expense of transporting actors and film crew and for concerns about weather and disruption of extremely tight shooting schedules.
Why make it? Because it was meaningful both for the filmmakers, and for the audience, just as Edison's film from 1900 was. The fact is, that along with narrative stories and action and events, both historical and modern audiences are drawn to landscapes.
The popular affinity for the grandeur of our world is a sensibility that Victor Sjostrom tapped into. But I argue that landscape in film is much more than a pretty thing to entrance us. Martin Lefebvre, Associate Professor in the Mel Oppenheim School of Cinema, Concordia University, Montreal and author of Landscape and Film, says that "landscape is everywhere in film, but it has been largely overlooked in theory and criticism...What kind of landscape is cinematic landscape? How is cinematic landscape different from landscape painting?" Lefebvre poses such questions in his volume, and I hope to articulate a response that enriches the discussion. I also intend to note differences between the use of landscape in literature and the use of landscape in film.
Ultimately, it is my view that developing an understanding of the way landscape can work within a text will aid the modern viewer in determining valuable aspects of visual aesthetics, especially aesthetics in film. I also suggest that this understanding may help modern viewers to be reflective and discerning in consuming media, so that the viewing process is one of growth, rather than cheap thrills or stagnation.
The following points delineate the different areas that I will consider in my exploration of and arguments about landscape:
1. A historical look at the transition period between the "cinema of attractions" and the feature film
2. The biography of Victor Sjostrom and the events that led him to consider his natural environment as an important aspect of his films.
3. A comparison using film clips of Victor Sjostrom's films and representative films of the same time period.
4. A historical look at the way that landscape has developed in art and literature, and in film, and an analysis of the differences between them.
5. An extrapolation of Roland Barthes' thoughts about "Readerly" and "Writerly" texts to the film paradigm, and the ways that landscapes can promote the creation of a "writerly" text.
6. Personal experiences in creation of landscape painting and film that inform my thoughts about landscape
7. Theorists and texts that might add to the discussion that I have not yet explored.