Tag Archives: Sarah

Stuffed in the Fridge and Wrapped in Plastic

28 Jun

(Spoilers for Dexter and The Dark Knight below)

Young women frequently turn up dead in fictional media whether as the victim of the week in a police procedural or whether she is a long time characters sacrificed for another’s development. It is an easy option for many writers to evoke a reaction from the audience and drive the story.

It comes down to the vulnerability that we perceive in a young (almost always white) woman with an air or innocence and virginity. In many shows it transpires that this may not be the whole truth. Twin Peaks‘ Laura Palmer is a typical example of this, the prom queen who snorts coke and hangs out with demons. Nonetheless she is a complex and ultimately sympathetic character, especially compared to other examples where the dead body is there to be both mourned and fetishised in equal measure.

On police procedurals where it is a quick way to engage the audience’s attention but there is rarely enough time in each episode to get them to fully empathise with the character. She is reduced to being a body, usually one that has been subjected to horrific abuse. Laura Palmer undergoes a shocking ordeal before she dies but because she is the entire focus of the storyline we see her beyond the role of the victim. As Sady Doyle writes in her recent article “The Violently Killed Femmes”:

The dead-girl shows that succeed care about who she was before she died. And they allow her to be more complicated than she appears. Twin Peaks’ Laura Palmer, Veronica Mars’ Lilly Kane: Each of them, at some point, started talking back. And the first thing they did was to call bullshit on the symbolic meaning that had been hitched to them and start creating their own.

Laura herself is ever present through the dialogue and actions of other characters. Even though she is dead she is still engaging and important to the plot for reasons beyond her status as a victim. Reading Doyle’s article was interesting, as Anita Sarkessian has recently released the second episode in her Women vs. Tropes series which deals with similar issues:

In this video Sarkessian talks about variations on the Damsel in Distress trope, including the Women In Refrigerators trope that typically sees a female character killed in a particularly horrible way to provide motivation or development for a male character. Often young murdered women are used in this to provide motivation for a male character to either get revenge or avenge her death. Examples include Rita on Dexter being murdered by the Trinity Killer and therefore providing Dexter with a character arc in the following series, Rachel Dawson in The Dark Knight is blown up by the Joker to give Batman something to angst about and then come back from in the next film, plus every revenge film ever made.

It’s a cheap and degrading gimmick and as Sarkessian makes clear in her video, it would be ridiculous to suggest that no women should ever die in media but how and why they die is important to the representation of these characters.

About the writer: Sarah is a filmmaker and writer with an obsession for luscious visuals and a distain for tomatoes (they are a sneaky and untrustworthy foodstuff). If she’s not blogging or tweeting, she’ll be watching films or running around with her video camera.

4 (Sort of) Biopics you should watch

10 Jun

The Notorious Bettie Page

Directed by the Mary Harron who also directed American Psycho, The Notorious Bettie Page uses the hearing at which Page was called to testify as a framing device. Switching between black and white and glorious Technicolor it follows the life of the Queen of Pin Up and Bondage from small town girl with a rough upbringing to the icon she is remembered as. The film mixes raunch with quieter moments of reflection showing Page as a multi faceted character with vulnerability and naivety rather than just a body to be gawped at.

Howl

An arty film with a mosaic like structure. Firstly we have a New York publisher on trial for publishing a collection of poems by Beat Generation icon Allen Ginsberg, then there is Ginsberg being interviewed and reflecting on his life and writing career and this supplemented by flash backs which is interspersed with gorgeous animation and James Franco as Ginsberg reading the eponymous poem. It is visually engaging with a dreamlike feel to it and doesn’t alienate those (like myself) who were unfamiliar with Ginsberg’s work before.

 

All That Jazz

Not strictly a biopic but the life of the main character mirror that of writer/director Bob Fosse to a tee. Fosse juggled editing a biopic about comedian Lenny Bruce with trying to stage the Broadway musical Chicago, hence the title. Similarly, Joe Gideon (played my Roy Schieder) uses a cocktail of drugs and sex to plough through his own fanatic attempts to stage a Broadway Musical and edit a Hollywood film. He isolates everyone around him as he flirts with death (literally. She keeps appearing in dream sequences) and experiences heart complications. It isn’t a musical itself though it does show the performers sings and dancing. However it does have one of the best final scenes of any film I have ever watched.

Adaptation

Again not strictly a biopic by screenwriter Charlie Kaufman makes himself a character in the film and gives himself a fictional twin brother. It follows him struggling to turn the book The Orchid Thief into a film and Kaufman penned the script while struggling to turn The Orchid Thief into a film… Add to that the fact that the real life author of the book is a character in the film (played by Meryl Streep) and some of the book is dramatized and you get a mind bending, oddball film that is worth watching for Nicholas Cage’s portrayal as the goofy Kaufman bothers alone.

About the Writer: Sarah is a filmmaker and writer with an obsession for luscious visuals and a distain for tomatoes (they are a sneaky and untrustworthy foodstuff). If she’s not blogging or tweeting, she’ll be watching films or running around with her video camera

BAFTAs

25 May

The BAFTA television awards have just passed and while there were a few givens (Olivia Coleman won both awards she was nominated for and currently holds the title of Number One Person you want to sit and have a cup of tea with) the rest of the bunch was varied to say the least.

But how much of what was shown accurately reflects what we as viewers are tuning into week in week out? The BAFTAs are decided by critics rather than voted for by the public like ITV’s National television awards and therefore has that air of gravitas. This is high culture right here, the stuff we should be watching. But is it?

There was one single audience award comprised of Homeland, Game of Thrones, Call the Midwife, Strictly Come Dancing, The Great British Bake Off and the 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony. Surprisingly for some Game of Thrones took the prize (and delivered a very stilted acceptance speech) but some of those nominated were not recognised in any other category or they were in limited catagories that don’t received as much attention or are not perceived of as important.

 

The one thing apart from that, that all those shows have in common is they are labelled as “populist” usually by those who use the word in a derogatory way. They draw in huge audience numbers (Sky Atalantic saw a 1700% increase in viewers for the Monday night slot when GoT series three debuted) and generate a load of interest from viewers but are not always critically acclaimed or if they are praised then there is an exception to them receiving wider acclaim and more nominations.

For example no one doubts the high quality and production values of GoT but it is often analysed within the parameters of genre since it is a fantasy show. Call the Midwife is Sunday Night Fluff, (Good Lord I hate the word “Fluff”) Bake Off is quaint Britishness, indicative of the twee WI wannabees sub-culture, Strictly is a guilty pleasure and Homeland is foreign so despite a British lead actor we can’t take credit for it and use it as a way to bemoan the lack of “slickness” on British TV.

In a way that can only be described as Hispster-esque, the word populist has negative connotation because of the idea that if something has mass appeal then it is automatically less deserving of our praise and conversely something is only praiseworthy is it has been seen by less than thirty people.

About the writer: Sarah is a filmmaker and writer with an obsession for luscious visuals and a distain for tomatoes (they are a sneaky and untrustworthy foodstuff). If she’s not blogging or tweeting, she’ll be watching films or running around with her video camera.

Top TV opening titles part two

13 May

As soon as I’d finished last week’s article I immediately remembered a whole host of other opening sequences that I felt should have gone in so here are ones I missed last time…

Game of Thrones (HBO, 2011-Present)

An epic title sequence for an epic show, the music and the visuals are rich in detail and echo the effort that goes into the series as a whole.

Dexter (Showtime, 2006-Present)

A show about a serial killer who (mostly) only kills bad guys. The opening sequences shows a mundane morning routine from a morbid point of view, juxtaposing the title characters true nature with the front he puts on for friends and family.

Pokemon (1998-1999)

Don’t judge me

Community (NBC, 2009-Present)

A sitcom about a group of misfits at community college, the opening titles are so upbeat and cheery it is guaranteed to put a smile on your face. Also, special episodes tweak it a bit, my personal favourite being the Christmas special where stop motion Abed sings it while dancing on a car.

About the Writer: Sarah is a filmmaker and writer with an obsession for luscious visuals and a distain for tomatoes (they are a sneaky and untrustworthy foodstuff). If she’s not blogging or tweeting, she’ll be watching films or running around with her video camera.

Top TV Show theme tunes

1 May

Cross posted to Sarah’s blog.

I’m going to be honest here; I usually fast forward through the credits (and the adverts and if I’m watching Glee, the musical numbers) however I do have my fair share of favourite TV show theme tunes that I’m going to share with you today:

LOST (ABC, 2004-2010)

An exercise in simplicity that also comes off as disconcerting. If only the finale had measured up. It’s also nice and short.

Veronica Mars (UPN/CW, 2004-2007)

I have been quiet about my Veronica Mars obsession but there is no denying the awesomeness that is “We Used To Be Friends” by The Dandy Warhols. A more subdued (re: rubbish) version was used in the third series but I’m featuring the original here.

Twin Peaks (ABC, 1990-1991)

A beautiful, melodious soundtrack played over images of the titular sleepy town,  its factories and mills, lush forests and rivers. Completely at odds with David Lynch’s portrayal of a small town rife with sexual depravity, murder and intrigue, incest, ultra violence, amnesia and demons running loose.

Jonathan Creek (BBC 1998-present)

A reworking of “Danse Macabre” with a creepy, gothic air. It is also very, very catchy – the hallmark of a good theme tune.

Justified (FX, 2010-present)

Rap and country music are probably the two things in the world I know the least about but Justified appeals to that tiny part of me that still wants to be a sherriff in the wild west. A modern western with a suitably bleak outlook and a lot of black humor, the gritty opening (I could only find the song not the visuals L sorry) is evocative of the tone and setting.

Doctor Who (BBC 1963-present)

The theme tune has had many variations in the show’s fifty-year history but the same basic idea had been stuck with throughout. Everyso often the ‘effects’ would be updated with whatever new tech the Beeb could get it’s hands on leading to some pretty psychedelic sequences and rather more face melting than should be expected from a family show.

About the writer: Sarah is a filmmaker and writer with an obsession for luscious visuals and a distain for tomatoes (they are a sneaky and untrustworthy foodstuff). If she’s not blogging or tweeting, she’ll be watching films or running around with her video camera.

The Sole Defining Feature

10 Apr

If you haven’t been watching Channel Four’s new show Gogglebox, it basically follows a cross section of people sitting and watching television. That’s right, it’s you sitting and watching people watching TV.

It is fairly funny but I have noticed something that has been bugging me, particularly in the most recent episode. It showed the people featured watching two shows, one with Dr Margaret Mountford (formerly of The Apprentice) exploring the ruins of Pompeii and the other with Dr Joann Fletcher showing us how everyday people lived in Ancient Egypt. Both were shows presented by highly intelligent, passionate presenters that aimed to make the information accessible and interesting for the audience.

So why was it that all the people featured in Gogglebox could focus on was their physical appearance? Not only that but most of their comments were negative, rude and of no direct intelligence to what they were watching.

While I suspect that one of the primary motivations behind Gogglebox is for us to be able to laugh at the viewers featured (the posh alcoholic couple, the woman with the obnoxious children etc.) it does highlight a problem for women who work on that side of the media.

A while back I wrote a post on Anita Sarkessian, a media commentator and presenter of her own web-based show, Feminist Frequency. Sarkessian is all kinds of awesome but was the target of vile, sexist abuse when she tried to crowd fund her latest project.

Similarly, last year when Mary Beard was subjected to similar abuse (and threats of violence) after appearing on Question Time, she remarked that it was enough to put any women off of appearing on TV.

I’m sure I don’t need to go into why that’s bad.

By virtue of making up more than half the population of the earth, we are entitled to have smart, passionate women on television communicating their ideas but when they are reduced to the sole function of being a thing to look at, devoid of any personality or worth beyond the aesthetic, why on earth would anyone want to subject themselves to that?

It’s not clear whether most of these detractors are men or women in fairness (before I’m being accused of being a man hater) and plenty of the viewers on Gogglebox were women, so as a general audience we need to readjust our viewing habits and expectations for the media and perhaps we can take these programmes for what they are: entertaining, informative and present by smart, charismatic women to make us want to learn more.

About the Writer: Sarah is a filmmaker and writer with an obsession for luscious visuals and a distain for tomatoes (they are a sneaky and untrustworthy foodstuff). If she’s not blogging or tweeting, she’ll be watching films or running around with her video camera.

Why the Veronica Mars Kickstarter may just change the film industry and the universe, as we know it

5 Apr

That may be a slight exaggeration but hear me out.

I wanted to be Veronica Mars. I wanted to be the cool, sassy outcast who everyone secretly wants to be, who solves crimes that the incompetent police cannot, who wears improbably expensive clothes for someone from the poor side of town, who has a high number of guys chat her up and smoulder at her, who has witty remark for every occasion and a cool Phillip Marlowe-esque internal monologue describing her every action. I really loved that show.

Created by Rob Thomas, who originally envisioned it as a novel, Veronica Mars follows the titular heroine (Kristen Bell) in her hometown of Neptune, California. The story starts when her best friend Lily (a pre-fame Amanda Seyfried) is brutally murdered and her Sherriff father wrongly arrests Lily’s Dad as the culprit. He loses his job and Veronica is quickly dropped by her ultra rich friends and ex-boyfriend (who is also Lily’s brother) and becomes the subject of ridicule. While her father becomes a PI (and sometimes enlists Veronica to help) she begins an investigation of her own which spans the entire first series, with many of the plot points becoming important in the second series.

Reasons why I love Veronica Mars: the title character, the supporting characters, the ace opening theme, the way class is dealt with in the show, the neo-noir vibe and the way it deals with tough issues e.g. date rape, racism and multiculturalism, domestic abuse etc. I could go on and on in extreme detail but that would just bore you. Rent the DVD and find out for yourself. In the meantime get a taste with the (extremely spoilery) fan made video below:

The show was cancelled after its (disappointing, pretend I didn’t say that!) third series though a fourth was planned with Bell as the only remaining cast member and followed Veronica’s work i tried to protest to keep the show on air until Thomas informed them that there was no chance.

But wait…

Internet Fandom to the rescue! On 13th March 2013, Thomas created a Kickstarter for the long wished for Veronica Mars movie. Funnily Kickstarter has its origins in another cancelled show beloved by fans, Arrested Development. However it would be three years before the sight was up and running and AD is getting its own (non crowd funded) movie. The basic premise for Kickstarter is you use it to crowd fund an arts or tech project (video games make up most of the top ten projects), you pick an amount to raise and a time period and if enough people back you within the time limit you keep the money and deliver the project to your fan base. Prizes and incentive including DVDs, signed scripts, producer credits etc. are often offered as incentives to back a project. Song writer Amanda Palmer is a huge advocate of Kickstarter  (and social media in general as a tool to connect artists with their audiences) using the project to fund her independently produced album and proclaims the benefits of this radical way of making art.

With the Veronica Mars project Thomas had one month to make the $2million (pennies in TV land) to fund the movie.

They reached their goal in under 12 hours. A Kickstarter record. Warner Brothers agreed to back the project the next day.  At the time of writing the project has amassed over $3million and the counter is still going.

So why is this so important. TV is driven by money, which comes from advertisers who are interested in the viewing figures. The success of this project means that the ultimate power rests not with the network executives or even the advertising companies but with the viewer, and not just the casual viewers but particularly the fans.  They have become an active part of the process of creative TV rather than just a passive recipient of what the networks make. The logical conclusion to this is that the audience has the power to choose what shows get made in the first place.

This has lead some fans to speculate that other shows, namely Joss Whedon’s space western Firefly and Bryan Fuller’s Pushing Daisies might receive “The Kickstarter Treatment”. However, while Veronica Mars was relatively cheap (in TV terms) to make both Pushing Daisies and Firefly relied on intricate sets and lots of special effects to convincingly portray their narrative worlds.

Alongside this is the issue of who owns the rights. Rob Thomas was lucky enough to get Warner Brothers on board but how do we know the same can be said for Fox or other networks? Add to that the fact that at the end of the day show business is just that – a business and the fact is the powers that be felt that Veronica Mars’ (and other cancelled shows) viewing figures weren’t high enough for it to be a viable product so why pour more money into it?

As Alan Sepinwall writes in his article on Hit Flix:

…Simply by going first, the “Veronica Mars” movie gets to benefit not only from the love of fans of the show, but from the interest of people who like the idea of crowd funding, and of people who want to see this one succeed so that their favorite might have a shot down the road…

Things are tentative at the moment. The success of the Veronica Mars movie doesn’t guarantee that similar projects will work but the genie has been let out of the bottle. Whereas before crowd funding was the domain of the Indie scene it has been demonstrated to have some mainstream appeal and anything that gives fans a measure of control over shows and series they love can’t be a bad thing right?

Whatever happens next, whether this kick starts (excuse the pun) the new era of content making or it is merely an interesting and unique footnote in TV history, crowd funding will at least always have a place among the smaller artists and writers who are struggling for recognition and funding and at least we’re getting a Veronica Mars movie.

Sarah is a filmmaker and writer with an obsession for luscious visuals and a distain for tomatoes (they are a sneaky and untrustworthy foodstuff). If she’s not blogging or tweeting, she’ll be watching films or running around with her video camera.