Monday, 3 December 2018

Fish Tank: Section C

Social Realism

Better than any other genre, social realism has shown us to ourselves, pushing the boundaries in the effort to put the experiences of real Britons on the screen, and shaping our ideas of what British cinema and British life can be. 

Social realism in films is representative of real life, with all its difficulties. The stories and people portrayed are everyday characters, usually from working class backgrounds. Typically, films within the social realist genre are gritty, urban dramas about the struggle to survive the daily grind.

One of the strongest images of postwar British cinema is that of factory worker Arthur Seaton downing a pint in one at the end of another week in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960). Also in A Taste of Honey (1961) prejudices and social values were explored in British cinema for the first time.

These films dealt with prostitution, abortion, homosexuality, alienation and relationship problems; issues that were seen as controversial at the time. Here were factory workers, office underlings, dissatisfied wives, pregnant girlfriends, runaways, the marginalised, poor and depressed.

This British New Wave was symptomatic of a worldwide emergence of art cinemas challenging mainstream aesthetics and attitudes. The New Wave protagonist was usually a working-class male without bearings in a society in which traditional industries and the cultures that went with them were in decline. Directors like Ken Loach and films such as those by Mike Leigh's High Hopes (1988) and The Full Monty (1997) have addressed the erosion of regional and class identities amid a landscape rendered increasingly uniform by consumerism and social structures.

Descendants of this style at the BBC in the 1960s, Ken Loach and Mike Leigh assessed the impact of the consumer society on family life, charting the erosion of the welfare state and the consensus that built it. Looking back, Loach's work seems to reflect the shift from the collectivist mood of the war years to the individualism of the postwar decades in its very form. Loach's films went from the improvised long-take naturalism of Poor Cow and Kes (both 1969) to the 'social melodrama' of Raining Stones (1993). 

In the 1980s, publisher-broadcaster Channel 4 attempted to cultivate a cinema audience for realism. Responding to the moralistic entrepreneurialism of the Thatcher years, 'Films on Four' My Beautiful Laundrette and Letter to Brezhnev (both 1985) followed characters from the margins as they attempted to stake a claim in the new order. Meanwhile, more lethal and complex representations of men and women appeared in Shane Meadows' A Room for Romeo Brass (1999) and This Is England (2006) added more diverse representations of modern culture.

'Fish Tank' can be seen as a direct descendant of this type of cinema in its portrayal of a young girl disillusioned by her lifestyle, social insignificance and prospects who seeks escape in her passion to express herself in dance.

Friday, 16 November 2018

'Fish Tank': It's Relevance to 1950's/1960's British Social Realist Films

In Andrea Arnold’s film, “Fish Tank,” an unsmiling 15-year-old named Mia (Katie Jarvis), who lives in a housing project in Essex, in England, becomes close to the boyfriend of her uncaring mother. The man, an Irish charmer named Connor, played by Michael Fassbender, gives her money and lends her his video camera so that she can tape herself dancing to hip-hop. It soon becomes apparent that the relationship between Mia and Connor is becoming dangerously intimate.

Ms. Arnold shot “Fish Tank” in a raw, nonjudgmental and observational style with plenty of hand-held camerawork. The film, which was in the United States on Friday, is recognizably the work of the same unflinching filmmaker who made “Red Road” (2006) and “Wasp,” which won the 2005 Oscar for best live-action short. The consistent look and the working-class milieu of Ms. Arnold’s films align them with the three British directors most associated with social realism: Ken LoachMike Leigh and Alan Clarke, who died in 1990.

The difficulties in Britain of raising money to make films prohibits cohesive movements in the national cinema, and like other directors who have worked in a social realist style — including Gary Oldman (the actor, who directed “Nil by Mouth”), Carine Adler (“Under the Skin”), Lynne Ramsay (“Ratcatcher”) and Duane Hopkins (“Better Things”) — Ms. Arnold is something of a lone voice. Her reputation as an auteur could come to rest on whether her films successfully harness her chosen style to express social themes, or whether they are merely anecdotes that look like Mr. Loach’s films.

Ms. Arnold admits to being a fan of Mr. Loach, but is hesitant about making claims for herself as a social realist. “I guess I am,” she allowed during a recent telephone interview. “When people have suggested it, I’ve said, ‘Oh, am I?’ I know it sounds kind of mad, but I just get on and make my films in my own way as best I can. I’m not aware that I’m joining any group. I know that all the people that have made similar films in the past paved the way for me to be able to do it, and I’m obviously influenced by what came before, but I’m not that conscious of it.”


Friday, 12 October 2018

'Pan's Labyrinth' - Guillermo del Toro

For those with a weakness for the beautiful monsters of modern cinema, Mexican maestro Guillermo del Toro has earned a deserved reputation as the finest living exponent of fabulist film. Gregarious and personable, with an almost photographic recall of faces, he has charmed both the hardcore horror fans, who gave him a hero's welcome at London's Frightfest in August, and now the upmarket critical cognoscenti, who snapped to attention following his Palme d'Or nomination for his new film Pan's Labyrinth at Cannes in May.

Set against the backdrop of fascist Spain in 1944, Pan's Labyrinth is a dark fairy tale that distils his distinctive mix of fact and fantasy, poetry and politics, pain and pleasure. It's an epic, poetic vision in which the grim realities of war are matched and mirrored by a descent into an underworld populated by fearsomely beautiful monsters - a transformative, life-affirming nightmare which is, for my money, the very best film of the year.

Since the early 1990s, del Toro has divided his film-making between personal European projects (the modern vampiric chiller Cronos in 1993; the ghostly Spanish Civil War fable The Devil's Backbone in 2001) and big-budget Hollywood hits (ongoing comic-book franchises Blade II in 2002, and Hellboy in 2004). Those familiar with the guilty ghosts of The Devil's Backbone will recognise key motifs in his new fable, about a young girl's exploration of a labyrinthine underworld in Franco-era Spain.

Thursday, 11 October 2018

Postmodernism: Critical Approach - Notes

Postmodernism: An Artistic Style

Postmodernist art reveals itself when:

1. It's self-referential. In other words, it refers to itself, or is about itself. Postmodernist artists often refuse to let their works be simply or totally about something else. Their works are about themselves as works of art, and they constantly draw attention to themselves as artifices instead of trying to be windows on some sort of reality beyond themselves. 

2. It's "intertextual." That is, it's art that often likes to be about some other work of art, or some other "text." A famous pop artist named Roy Lichtenstein loved painting images taken right out of comic books. That's "intertextuality," he made art about somebody else's art. 

3. It's category-defying, often in confusing ways. Postmodernist artists love to defy our expectations and do things they're not "supposed" to do -- maybe to remind us that the rational categorisations we often use to understand art never work as well or as perfectly as we like to think they do.

4. It's "pastiched." Fancy French word, that. "Pastiche," to recent art critics, is the practice of borrowing elements of different genres and different styles from lots of different historical periods, then mixing them all together in a single work of art. It creates a kind of historical collage. 

5. It's not snobbish. In fact, postmodernist art can be very "pop." It often draws its subject matter from the realm of popular culture and employs pop-culture forms and genres. Most postmodernist artists don't draw the sorts of distinctions between "high" and "low" culture many artists of the past did -- and so they defy yet another mode of categorisation.

6. It gets fact and fiction all mixed up. Postmodernist artists aren't much interested in the distinction between real and make-believe. They often make famous "real" historical figures interact with fictional characters in their works, and they often re-tell "actual" textbook history in peculiar, unsettling, often illuminating ways. Mixing fact and fiction is a way to amplify this idea. 

Read more here.

Pan's Labyrinth: Postmodernism

Pan's Labyrinth: Critical Approach

Characteristics of a postmodern text that can be seen within ‘Pan's Labyrinth’:

Intertextuality – the referencing of other cultural texts; either visually or verbally within the content of the text  (Alice In Wonderland/The Wizard of Oz/Goya - paintings.)

Hybridity - the mixing and/or recycling of pre-existing genres and narratives to construct new forms or a ‘hybrid’ (Fantasy/Fairy Tales/Political/Historical/War/Drama)

Pastiche – paying ‘homage’ to older texts (see intertextuality)

Bricolage - the collection of disparate or differing objects to help explain the nature of the prevailing culture and society (links to the construction of the film - it's assembled from many different styles/ideas)

Irony – playfulness with the style, form and/or content of a text (Knows that is referencing other narratives and has fun with its style)

When answering a question from a postmodern perspective apply the key words to a wide range of scenes in your discussion. Don't just state that it's postmodern as you will also have to explain how your understanding of the film has changed as a result of studying the critical perspective.

Guillermo del Toro - Auteur

Guillermo del Toro is a Mexican director, producer, screenwriter, novelist and designer. He is mostly known for his acclaimed films, Blade II, Pan's Labyrinth and the Hellboy film franchise. He is a frequent collaborator with Ron Perlman, Federico Luppi and Doug Jones. His films draw heavily on sources as diverse as weird fiction, fantasy and war.

Del Toro can clearly be seen as an auteur due to his recurring themes and frequent collaborations. In this Culture Show interview from 2006 Mark Kermode discusses the directors work whilst questioning his personal experiences and influences. It can be seen as a good guide for what critical approaches should be applied to your own study and how examples of a directors work can be used to indicate a 'consistency of style'.

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

British New Wave Cinema 1959-1969 (including Social Realism)

What is Social Realism?

Cinematically the British New Wave is part of a tradition of social realism within British film which has seen many shifts since the growth of the British documentary movement in the 1930s. Realism is a difficult concept because encapsulated within it there are a range of changing aesthetic conventions all of which have as a central concern the intention of representing ‘the world as it really is’ or ‘life as it is really lived’.

Britain today is still a society in many ways defined by class, but in the 1950s divisions were far more rigid. The 'new wave' films and the sources that inspired them gave a voice to a working-class that was for the first time gaining some economic power.

Previously, working-class characters in British cinema had largely been used for comic effect or as 'salt of the earth' cannon fodder. Here we see their lives at the centre of the action. That action, such as it is, details everyday dramas - hence 'the kitchen sink' tag. We see events through the emotional journeys of the characters.

Interestingly, only Room at the Top (d. Jack Clayton, 1958) and Look Back in Anger (d. Tony Richardson, 1959) look directly at conflict between working-class and middle-class characters.

The later films concentrate on conflicts within the working-class contrasting 'rough' (the very poor, unskilled, criminal and hedonistic - represented by characters like Arthur Seaton in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (d. Karel Reisz, 1960) and Colin Smith and The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, d. Richardson, 1962) with 'respectable' (skilled, aspirational, educated and 'moral' - such as the heroes of John Schlesinger's films: Vic Brown in A Kind of Loving (1962) and the life that Billy Fisher in Billy Liar (1963) appears to lead).

The debates around class are complex. There is recognition that social change and affluence will make society 'freer' but there is also an understanding that the basis of power will not change.