Twin Peaks – fire walk with Gordon Cole

Just in time for the A2 study of Blue Velvet, David Lynch returns with a new series of Twin Peaks – 25(-ish) years on, just as Laura Palmer’s doppleganger in the red room promised (baffled? you’ve got some catching up to do!).

It is being tantalisingly trailed by a few teasers. Not that they are teasing any plot, of course. But in the latest you do get to see Lynch’s own character, Gordon Cole, eating a donut. Truly, what more could you want for Christmas?

With the anticipation reaching fever pitch (in Dr Masters’ sad little head), here are my favourite characters from the original series (x2):

  1. Albert Rosenfield (FBI)
  2. Agent Cooper
  3. Gordon Cole (especially ‘take a look, Sonny, it’s gonna happen again’!)
  4. Audrey Horne
  5. Major Briggs
  6. Catherine Martell
  7. Hawk (Deputy)
  8. Sheriff Truman
  9. Dennis/Denise Bryson (FBI)
  10. Bob

A2 Film focus: meet Mr David Lynch

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One of the examined units for A2 film students this year is Film and Emotional Response, which will involve the teaching of David Lynch’s Blue Velvet.

In addition to the detailed information you receive on text-based resources, here are three useful documentary resources, each with something useful to contribute to our understanding of Lynch and his cinema:

Pretty as a Picture: the Art of David Lynch (1997)

David Lynch: Scene by Scene (interview with Mark Cousins, 1999)

Jonathan Ross Presents For One Week Only: David Lynch (1990)

Kane Lives! David Bordwell leads the 75th anniversary celebrations

inquirerIt being a truly great work of art,  Citizen Kane continues to stimulate fresh insight and interpretation 75 year on from its 1 May 1941 date release date. David Bordwell, one of the great living film writers, has recently penned an excellent and lengthy reconsideration of the film’s technical innovations for his Observations on film art blog – accessible here. It’s especially useful for being appended by a list of suggested additional resources, of which Rick Altman’s article  “Deep-Focus Sound: Citizen Kane and the Radio Aesthetic” is heartily recommended for its insight into Welles’ radio-derived sound aesthetics. It is, as Bordwell suggests, hard to access, but the school library has a copy of the anthology Perspectives on Citizen Kane which contains the very article.

kane leboThe RGS library also has Harlan Lebo’s informative book Citizen Kane: A 50th Anniversary Album, and after the passing of another 25 years Lebo has returned to the film with the new anniversary, releasing Citizen Kane: A Filmmaker’s Journey, a fuller investigation (it runs to nearly 400 pages) of the historical and production contexts. The very great Welles website has an interview with the author here.

Forever Ealing: In memoriam Philip French

ladykillersOne of Britain’s greatest film critics died towards the end of 2015. Philip French wrote for The Observer for over fifty years, crafting reviews of unsurpassed clarity and insight. His last review was for the recent re-release of The Ladykillers in which he refers to it and Kind Hearts and Coronets, the other Ealing comedy we are studying at AS,  as ‘flawless black comedies on the state of the nation’.

Read the piece here

See Bill Murray at the Baltic (sort of)

Baltic MurrayTyneside is lucky enough to be playing host to Hollywood legend Bill Murray until 28 February. The Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art is staging Brian Griffith’s quirky exhibition inspired by the, er, quirky actor, and it comes heartily recommended by our own Mrs Egan-Fowler (herself a displayed artist at the gallery).

Entitled ‘Bill Murray: A Story of Distance, Size and Sincerity’, the exhibition is a fantasy world of model houses and, according to a Guardian report, ‘imagined Murray activities’. Sounds like a whole bunch of fun to us, and possibly of interest to the Film Industry (‘Producers and Audiences’) bit of the AS Film Studies course with its focus on, among other facets, stars and stardom. The star already presents us with a fascinating case study of a cult film phenomenon (defined by Umberto Eco as ‘ a completely furnished world so that its fans can quote characters and episodes as if they were aspects of the fan’s sectarian world’) built around such movies as Ghostbusters, Groundhog Day, Lost in Translation – playing a role close to his own persona – and, of course, a slew of great Wes Anderson movies (including the little seen masterpiece Rushmore) – but going beyond the films themselves as a recent piece in the Daily Telegraph makes clear. Not bad for a 65 year old.

Ken Loach wraps Newcastle film

DanielThe trickle of films made in Newcastle over the years is about to be added to: veteran British filmmaker Ken Loach, director of Kes, The Wind That Shakes The Barley, Looking for Eric and many other beautiful and compassionate movies, has just completed the filming of I, Daniel Blake over 5 weeks in various locations around the city, including the home of one our students!

The ostensible subject matter is the hardships faced by those who are thrown onto their own resources when the social security system fails them. This thematic concern with the weak and vulnerable in our society reminds us that Loach’s work is as pertinent now as it was when he made Cathy Come Home for the BBC in 1966 (before middle aged Film teachers were born, let alone their students). Indeed the plot outline of his new work seems to echo that earlier film’s storyline. Loach, now 79, is unlikely to repeat the great cultural impact of Cathy Come Home – it was central in raising public consciousness over the scale of homelessness in the UK – although the BBC have been named as one of the new production partners.

There is some worthwhile coverage of Loach and the film, both locally and nationally (a piece in The Guardian).

RGS Lens-based Media Workshops

LBM POSTERA new film- and photography-based skills workshop has been established at the school, offering specialised advice in traditional and digital techniques. It is open to year elevens and sixth formers, and those wishing to get involved should ideally bring along something they would like to work upon or develop. Offering an excellent opportunity to acquire top quality skills training, the sessions run on Thursdays after school – please contact Miss Harvey for further information should you want to get involved.

Student writing: The exposition of Taxi Driver

By Tabitha Burnett, L6CEF

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The film’s opening frame focusses on a cloud of smoke, before this begins to dissipate as something moves into shot. It is revealed to be a classic New York taxi. The camera angle is low, so that the viewer is forced to look up, making the taxi seem more threatening and ominous. We cannot see the driver, which almost gives the impression that the taxi is driving itself. This direction and technique helps to personify the taxi; this, coupled with Bernard Herrman’s dramatic crescendo-building score, which seems to move at the same pace as the car, leaves the watcher wary of it, and what it may come to represent.

There is a marked change in the mood of the film when we cut to an extreme close-up of Travis in his car, backed by the slightly sleazy 1970s jazz music. The choice of shot allows the viewer to see his eyes in detail, and we are immediately forced to engage with him, to see the world from his perspective. His eyes seem to move about in a bizarre mixture of boredom and fascination (later highlighted by a neon sign depicting that very word), never blinking. The red lighting used during the extreme close-up also helps to create a portentous atmosphere. His view of the street, out of his windscreen, is a colourful and distorted one, leading us to believe that he does not see things as most people do.

The shot of Travis in the taxi office is taken at a low angle, which serves to make him more threatening, and also creates an association between him and the taxi we see in the opening. When the personnel officer asks him about his driving license, he replies by saying “It’s clean, real clean. Like my conscience.” This is a strange thing to say, as we know he was honourably discharged from the marines; we can assume that he was a soldier in the Vietnamese war, and that he had to kill people. This could be said to, in part, foreshadow his ability to kill people without feeling guilt or remorse later in the film.

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When Travis leaves his job interview, Scorsese chooses to use a 270 degree pan of the taxi station as a type of establishing shot. Interestingly, instead of following Travis, the camera moves away from him and focusses solely on the parked taxis and the other cabbies. This technique would almost lead us to believe that the camera has temporarily forgotten him, and this heightens his sense of isolation. It makes it seem as if the parked taxis are more important than the story’s main character. This technique of panning away from Travis is used later in the film, in what Scorsese calls the most important scene of Taxi Driver, and so becomes a motif, isolating him from the rest of society, and even from the watcher. Following the scene in the taxi station, Travis walks out of the building and onto a busy street. Scorsese tracks his progression, though allows Travis to walk towards the camera, rather than moving the camera with him, before using a jump cut. This style creates a moment where Travis literally fades out of existence, on our screens. This could be said to show his absent-mindedness and links to those moments where the camera temporarily forgets about him. He then reappears further up the street, drinking, in plain sight, from a brown bag. This tells us something more about his character, in that he doesn’t care about other people’s opinions of him. He doesn’t know how to act when out in public, and this isolates him from the rest of society.

Travis’s apartment is very jumbled, and this could be said to reflect his own mind. The panning shot of his room goes past a mirror, where we can see Travis sitting at his desk, writing. The window behind him is barred over, giving the impression that he is trapped, and helps to further enforce the isolation we have come to associate with him. Other shots of his apartment reveal large quantities of medication, which he takes at moments throughout the first half of the film. He has no physical ailments, which leads us to believe his condition is purely one of mental instability, resulting in extreme insomnia, possibly as a form of post-traumatic-stress-disorder from his days as a marine. One of the stage directions in Paul Schrader’s original script states that “He speaks as if his mind doesn’t know what his mouth is saying”.

When Travis first sees Betsy, the shot of her is his perspective, also used to focus on black people moving about the city. Travis describes her as appearing “like an angel. Out of this filthy mess.” This could hint towards Travis’s racism. It also highlights the fact that Betsy is the only person he has engaged with. His description of her sets her above everyone else; everyone else in the shot becomes irrelevant, as he only has eyes for her. The camera tracks her movement through waves of people, in a way that it sometimes fails to do with Travis. She is always kept in, or near, the centre of the frame. The speed of the frame is also slowed down, to mark her importance, almost as if she were lingering in Travis’s mind, in the same way that she does on the screen. He says that “they…cannot…touch…her.” The pace of his narration moves in time with the slow-motion in the movie. The camera itself is amongst the people, which could suggest that it is also a point of view shot (Travis’s).

We see Travis’s mental instability in the moments where he becomes lost in thought (especially in the POV shot over the glass of fizzing liquid, in which dialogue and background noise is faded out entirely), and in the moments where he is excessively forward in his conversations; “I never would have had the courage to talk to you. And with him I felt there was nothing and I could sense it. When I walked in, I knew I was right. Did you feel that way?” It seems as if, though surrounded by thousands of people, in one of the biggest cities on the planet, he is completely alone. When Travis and Betsy have coffee and pie in the café, there is a two shot. The table has been carefully placed, as if to separate them, and there is a large black line cutting down the window behind them, isolating Travis further. This type of shot occurs again when Travis is in another café with his fellow taxi drivers; they all sit on one side of the ‘window line’ and he sits on the other, not really engaging with them.

The choice of shot is interesting when we are first introduced into Palantine’s office. It is very classically framed, with no wide angle or fancy lighting technique; what you see is what you get. This choice helps to highlight the normalcy of the scene, to the point where it becomes almost tedious, and we start wishing Travis would make an appearance. Again, during the conversation between Betsy and Tom, only classical shot-reverse shots are used, heightening the sense of normality that the two characters seem to represent. The ease of conversation between them is never even mildly replicated between Travis and Betsy; it is always slightly awkward. She and Tom seem to act as contrasting characters to Travis; their normality makes him seem even more alienated, in the way that he is bad at holding conversations, never knows what to say and is not familiar with modern-culture references.

The use of narration, in the form of Travis’s diary entries, allows us to see more of New York from his point of view. One such entry allows us into his thoughts, on the world beyond the metal body of his taxi; ” All the animals come out at night – whores, skunk pussies, buggers, queens, fairies, dopers, junkies, sick, venal. Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets.” This religious imagery reveals Travis in a new light, because here is a man that sees only the bad in the world, and wishes for an apocalypse; his only solution to the problems he sees is death. This is when we really begin to see the man with a messiah complex, capable of, and willing, to kill people for a ‘greater cause’. As a result of Scorsese’s direction, we begin to see New York, trough Travis’s eyes, as hell on Earth.

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Women directors: a celebration and a caveat

ssThe October issue of Sight and Sound devotes a great deal of space to films made by women, culminating in a major piece that sets out ‘100 Overlooked Films Directed by Women’ – as always, it’s available for perusal in the school library.

More dismaying news appeared in last week’s Guardian in an article pointing out the relatively low percentage of films directed by women at recent film festivals. It is nonetheless true that a healthy number of British female directors have emerged in the last decade, joining established figures like Sally Potter and  Lynne Ramsay: Andrea Arnold,  Clio Barnard, Sarah Gavron, Carol Morley, Amma Asante have all made significant films, although production opportunities have proved irregular. The situation is much improved on previous decades, but with much to be done to achieve something like gender parity.