All entries for January 2007

January 12, 2007

Book Review 1: My Beautiful Laundrette

Book Review: Christine Geraghty. 2005 My Beautiful Laundrette. London: I.B. Tauris £9.99

The Book Cover

Preface: This article is now part of an interlinked theme called Representing Changing Britain: Ethnicity and Hybridity. If you have visited this page via another route you may wish to follow this perspective on contemporary British Cinema.

Introduction
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The specialist publisher I. B. Tauris has teamed up with Turner Classic Movies film channel to develop The Turner Classic Movies British Film Guides . The series was launched in 2003 and the fact that I have seen so few of them about on the shelves of bookshops varying from University of Warwick bookshop to Birmingham and Coventry branches of Waterstone’s is disturbing. When this happens it is little wonder that British cinema is held unjustly in low esteem. Critical coverage of our best films is a fundamental part of cultural citizenship. It is thus worth reviewing and hopefully revitalising sales of these books. This review and those which follow on this blog are not conducted on the grounds that they are new, but on the grounds of the ‘long tail’ argument which has been advanced and analysed elsewhere on this blog. If something is worth reading then it is, worth reading.

On the basis of Geraghty’s book on My Beautiful Laundrette and a swift glimpse at some of the other ones I have received for review this series of monographs on individual British films is doing what it says it intends to on the inside cover which is to : ...comprehensively refute the ill-informed judgement of French director Francois Truffaut that is cinema.

Priced to go, at a very reasonable £9-99 these books are ideal for those who wish to engage with a film more deeply either from direct personal interest or as a student completing a film or media studies course.

The books are well researched, well written and don’t go off into the depths of ‘theoretical practice’ at the expense of the film. They are a good match for the French cine guides also produced by I. B. Tauris which I’m more familiar with.

The titles in both series are written by well known academics and critics and effectively act to bridge that gap in film studies literature which veers between total populism on the one hand and obscure academicism on the other. In short, they provide an intelligent read for the train being a handy size to carry around.

Race Politics Identity Complexity

My Beautiful Laundrette

My Beautiful Laundrette was made in 1985 by Stephen Frears and scripted by Hanif Kureshi. It was certainly one of the most interesting British films of the 1980s and certainly deserves a full monograph devoted to it. Along with films such as Mike Leigh’s Meantime it spoke to a disaffected youth culture who had a rebellious consciousness which had been honed by the growth of political and cultural such as ‘Rock Against Racism’ the ‘Anti Nazi league’, anti-fascist marches in Lewisham, ‘Gay Pride’ and mass radical cultural events sponsored by the Greater London Council (GLC). Despite the triumphs of the Thatcher government there had been strong resistance to it from London under the leadership of ‘Red Ken’ Livingstone and other cities such as Sheffield at the time had been supporting radical cultural politics.

The audience for a film like My Beautiful Laundrette was an audience without a film until that point. The fact that Hanif Kureshi appears on the London cultural scene at this time is less than coincidence. The reason why the film was so successful in Britian, apart from the cinematic elements which Geraghty explores very thoroughly, was this rich cultural environment. Had it been just a ‘boring but worthy’ film then it would have been consigned to the dustbin of history.

I have a criticism of Geraghty for sidestepping the cultural context from which the film grew. In her introduction she argues for a corrective position set against a critical backdrop which has emphasised the social and political importance of the film. Geraghty instead argues that much of the film’s success was based upon its aesthetics and its cinematic art. Here there is a tendency to slip into the polarisation of text / context as different methods whilst I prefer to use SPECT (social / political / economic / cultural / textual) as a combination. My Beautiful Laundrette fits into all of these categories rather well, which is unusual.

Throughout the book there is a lack of recognition of the hybrid nature of many young people at the time, certainly in the more progressive cities of Britain in any case. It was they who provided the audiences because it was a part of their lived cultural experience. Geraghty makes the point that having a cinema release was a status thing from within the British cultural establishment gaining access to a critical weight which would have been absent had Channel 4 chosen to go down the route of premiering the film on TV. In fact the film gained around 8 million viewers on two screenings on TV. Geraghty seems to be putting this down to its mode of release rather than the fact that there was a ready made target audience. The film would probably have gained similar numbers of viewers in the UK if had just come out on TV because of the cultural milieu from which it grew. On the other hand Geraghty is certainly right when it comes to overseas reception and distribution.

At the time the film was surrounded by controversy in the UK because many in the readymade audience were concerned with having ‘positive’ role models. Kureshi’s original play was having none of this and both play and film stood up for making the characters have human foibles rather than cardboard cut-out ‘good’ Asians. Many a late night smoke ridden argument was held about whether the film was politically progressive or regressive.

Room for some qualitative audience research

Whilst Geraghty homes in on the academic critical debate around black British cinema from academic luminaries such as Stuart Hall, Paul Gilroy and Kobena Mercer this is a film where some qualitative audience research wouldn’t have come amiss. Some memories and experiences of people at the time might have been welcomed both from readers who were around at the time and from current students. This would have been especially valuable given as Geraghty notes from her own students that they think it is an old film. Perhaps there’s a research project there for somebody.

Narrative, Mise en scene and Performance

Geraghty does some excellent analysis of the narrative particularly in relation to the narrative theories of Todorov which makes the book valuable student reading to accompany the film. As a contiguous narrative there are many strands the relationship between Nasser – Omar’s Uncle – and his mistress are but one.

Nasser and his mistress

She makes some very pertinent comments about the performances noting that whilst the film seemed to be a launch platform for Daniel Day-Lewis it didn’t lead to similar success for Gordon Warnecke who plays Omar relating this to part of a wider problem for British Asian actors.

Geraghty also analyses the mise en scene very well commenting on the way that this is clearly a proper film rather than an extended TV play through a range of cinematic devices. When it comes to mise en scene apparently many considered the ‘Powders’ laundrette to be a comment on a cinema. I must say I read it as a bit of a homage to Schlesinger’s Billy Liar when a spanking new supermarket is opened by Julie Christie. By comparison this is a parody upon Thatcher’s entrepreneurial UK.

Keeping good films alive

Geraghty also makes some useful comments about how a film can live on through being adopted by courses such as the Welsh Joint Exam committee’s excellent Film Studies ‘A’ Level. Discovering it as an affordable DVD last year I showed it as a movie on my British cinema course for evening students many of whom were contemporaries. For them and for me it still retains it freshness and liveliness as a film.

Geraghty notes how the film made other films about hybridity possible such as Bahji on the Beach, East is East and Bend it Like Beckham. This alone makes it a very important British film. Geraghty notes the rather dismissive tones of Claire Monk who criticised films like these for becoming a ‘staple of British films’. The fact of the matter is that as Britain seems to be becoming more culturally divided rather than less with the growing demand for single faith schools a lamentable signifier of this tendency the need for popular representations of cultural hybridity is important. As part of the ethnic polarisations in British society today is centred upon the growing class divide criss-crossed by this ethnicity there is a greater need to encourage hybridity as the essence of Britishness.

Will it go on my bliographies?

Absolutely despite my comments about context the book’s discussion about the film’s aesthetic strengths are considerable and it will help many a student learn more about film criticism when read alongside the film itself. Geraghty’s book is also to be welcomed for being a book which will keep the film’s message of hope alive.

For more on the book and link to a free extract click here


Legal Beavers Podcast too!

Writing about web page /danaciocan/entry/podcasting_/

Writing about an entry you don't have permission to view

It looks as though there’s the beginnings of a Warwick podcasting network starting up as people start to play with bits of euipment. At least everybody’s on a learning curve and pooled experience will be supportive. Check this post and the developing discourse for more.


January 05, 2007

European Film Glossary: From Ed–Mo

Film Glossary Continued

Editing. See also Film Editing. Editing is essential to the creation of a wide range of media products. It can mean the process of choice of articles and changing articles in print journalism. It means putting together a particular choice of shots in film and TV as well as the way in which sound is used. It is an essential part of the whole process in creating preferred readings of a media product as well as ensuring that it as coherent as possible. Susan Hayward (1996) identifies four categories of editing:
  • Chronological editing
  • Cross-cutting or parallel editing
    Deep Focus.
  • Montage. The first principle of montage editing is a rapid alteration betwen sets of shots. They become significant when they collide. Fast edting and unusual camera angles denaturalise Classic narrative cinema. Image becomes privileged over narrative and characterisation. Originally used mainly in avante-garde and art cinema mainstream cinema has incorporated the technique and the principle appears to have become the fundamental aspect of Film and TV advertising. See also Kuleshov.

Emergent genres. In Britain it is possible to discern an emergent genre of British-Asian films. The most recent addition is Bend it Like Beckham (2002) by a British-Asian woman director. At the time of writing it was the top selling British film for 2 weeks. This is the latest in a line stretching back to My Beautiful Laundrette (1985), Sammie & Rosie Get Laid (1987), Bhaji on the Beach (1993), Wild West (1992), East is East(1998),Anita & Me (2002) . Only the last of these became known within mainstream cinema. These tend to be marketed as being comic or comedy. The comic side works through a wide range of issues including inter-ethnic relations, inter-generational relations, cross-cultural relationships and sexual identity issues. This genre can be usefully seen as intertextual as it relates to successful TV comedies such as Goodness Gracious and more recently The Kumars.

Establishing shot. This shot uses a distant framing and enables the spectator to understand and map the spatial relationships between the characters and the set.

Exhibitionary Context. This term sums up the conditions of viewing of a film which can be highly variable. This is not just physical conditions. In Nazi Germany Jews were not allowed into cinemas and people were not allowed to enter a film late to ensure they saw the more propagandistic newsreels and documentaries.

Eye-line match. Another Hollywood editing convention designed to encourage identification with the protagonists. Here the audience sees the action from the characters eye-line or viewpoint.

Female revenge film. Thelma and Louise is often interpreted (incorrectly) as a ‘female revenge film’. This genre construction could be seen as misogynistic. These films feature female characters in which the potential of women for violence is contained within plot scenarios that either demonise them or destroy them in some way (Fatal Attraction (1987) , Body Heat (198), Black Widow (1987). They are films in which femme fatales wreak havoc on the lives of innocent men. The films above are often considered by some critics as neo-noir.

Flashback. (See also intra-diegetic)

Genre as a vehicle for a star. Genre can be a vehicle for the development of a star. John Wayne was developed as a star by director John Ford who used him in many very famous westerns such as Stagecoach. Clint Eastwood came from a relatively minor role in the TV western series Bonanza to become famous through his role in ‘Spaghetti Westerns’, directed by the Italian director Sergio Leone.

Genre Cycle. Genres emerge ( see Emergent Genres) and evolve. The first film or films which are thematically connected are not a genre. Once certain themes become common in certain settings then a genre can be seen to emerge. The Western is a classic example. Once the most popular type of film in the US very few westerns are now produced. Genre stars such as Clint Eastwood make the occasional western. A film such as The Unforgiven in its deconstruction of the natural manly virtues of the gunfighter by depicting paralysing fear and in its criticism of the legal system and the treatment of women it is responding to very different social concerns from the heroic establishing of the values of the US on ‘savage’ or ‘Indians’ i.e. displaced and exploited Native Americans , which was commonplace in the early part of the genre cycle.

Genre Hybridity. A film where the codes and conventions from a range of established genres are used. Singing cowboys making a western musical or a musical western for example. The higher the production values of a film the more likely it is to be a hybrid genre film in order to attract the widest possible audience. Titanic is both a disaster-movie, quasi-historical movie, and a romance. It may be that one of the genres is predominant but this requires a close reading to establish.

Genre Text. A term developed by Stephen Neale to try and differentiate between individual films (the genre text) and the generic norms of the genre as a whole.

Hegemony. In relation to ideology it is a more sophisticated idea than the ‘hypodermic’ model of ideology. Hegemony, or ideology, is the process by which certain paradigms or ways of thinking become so self-evident as to relegate alternatives to the spaces of the nonsensical and the unthinkable. The term originally taken from the Italian revolutionary Antonio Gramsci argues that hegemony is not repressive in the way that armies or the police can be used to repress opposition . Instead, hegemony means that control is maintained through a consensus maintained through the dominance of its “forms” of how society is conceptualised. This renders other forms and other imaginaries, unreadable, inaudible and incomprehensible. For example, films which explore a corrupt government official in the United States don’t see this as a fault of the system but as a fault within the individual. These films, usually through the medium of a self-sacrificing hero , ensure that the system is restored ‘to normal’. The possibility that corruption is the ‘normal state of affairs’ is not considered. See The Insider and Erin Brockovich for examples of this. This position can tend to ignore certain state cultural policies such as censorship laws as having a strong effect on what is shown and when. British cinema between the two World Wars was not allowed to show or make films which were critical of the British Empire for example.

Iconography. Buscombe came closest to arguing the position that a genre’s visual conventions can be thought of as one of the defining features of a genre such as guns, cars, clothes in the gangster film . It is hard to argue this with any great consistency because the possible connections between the items or icons is unclear. More importantly it is actually very difficult to list the defining characteristics of more than a handful of genres, for the simple reason that many genres – among them the social problem film, the biopic, the romantic drama and the psychological horror film – lack a specific iconography. The genres of the western and gangsters discussed by critics McArthur and Buscombe happen to fit the concept of generic iconography very well. Others that fit well are the gothic horror film, and the biblical epic. Neale argues that the failure to apply the concept productively to other genres suggests that the defining features of Hollywood’s genres may be heterogeneous.

Ideology. In media terms this thinking argues that there is a form of ‘false consciousness’ which hides a deeper underlying social reality. This has given rise to the model that people can simply be injected (Hypodermic syringe model) with a certain view of the world particularly via media output. Critics of this model in the media field argue that this hypodermic syringe model is very patronising as it doesn’t give people the credit for being able to develop alternative ideas. Rather they see ideology as a hegemonic process. There is a commonly held belief that Adorno and Horkheimer were behind the so-called ‘hypodermic syringe’ model of ideology. This is a serious misrepresentation of their position which will be dealt with in a separate article in due course. In the meantime students should ask lecturers who put forward this view exactly where Adorno and Horkheimer have supported this reductionist model. The model rather better describes the idea espoused by the Stalinist Communist parties.

IDHEC. Instituit des hautes etudes cinematographique. The leading French film school which was first started in the Second World War and renamed after the war.

Indexical sign. From CS Pierce the American founder of semiotics. This sign is associated with what it is a sign of, such as smoke with fire or spots with measles.

Intertextual. Intertextuality is a relation between two or more texts which influences the making of and/ or the reading of the text (film) being consumed. By using references to other texts the critic or director can be seen to be constructing the knowledge about the film based on other films.
  • Intertextual Relay. Neale uses the term ‘inter-textual relay’ to refer to the discourses of publicity, promotion and reception that surround Hollywood’s films, and includes both trade and press reviews. It is argued that this role of relay is a crucial one. ( Neale , 2000: 3 ). The cinema industry’s marketing campaigns were first described as ‘inter-textual relay’ by Lukow and Ricci in 1984. Neale considers that cinemas, cinema programming and cinema specialisation can all be considered as components in the relay especially when broader conceptions of genre such as newsreel and shorts are taken into account.

Institutional mode of representation. A term used to describe mainstream cinema and its system of representation. There is strong identification with a character and the world is usually seen through this characters experiences. The origins of this were in the 19th century novel which focused on the psychology of one or two characters.

Jump cut. This cut demonstrates a jump in time and disrupts the ‘normal’ continuity editing. It was used as a device by several internationally famous directors during the 1920s and then dropped out of fashion. The development of sound played a major contribution in overwhelming a more diverse range of styles. Malle, Truffaut and most famously Godard used this editing style. Godard’s first feature film Breathless is best known for this. The jump cut ‘calls attention to the constructed reality of the filmic text, to the spectator’s ongoing labour of generating a fictional world out of often contradictory stylistic cues, and to Godard’s own expressive, auteur presence’. (Neupert, 2002 p 216).

Kuleshov effect. The Soviet filmmaker Kuleshov showed that through good editing that it was possible to create alternative readings of the same facial expression. Through this Kuleshov was attempting to show that the meaning or preferred reading of shots could be changed by altering the juxtaposition of the shots.

Lighting. In the early years of Hollywood lighting wasn’t meant to draw attention to itself. In some countries such as Germany lighting was used very early on to create dramatic effects. Low angle , low key lighting was used in German Expressionist cinema . There are three main aspects to lighting:
  • key lighting – hard light, used to highlight focused on a particular subject
  • fill lighting – used to illuminate the framed space overall
  • backlighting – this can distort and brings out silhouettes ( horror / film noir / expressionism).

The Hollywood cinema system had strict rules about lighting not wishing to allow the lighting to supersede the actual narrative. This could make audiences uneasy. See also mise-en-scene.

Meaning. It is now recognised that meaning is made from the active process of reading a cinematic text. Audiences bring a range of individual experiences to the cinema and these are intermingled with wider socio-cultural responses as well. Sometimes filmmakers could use allegories to allow audiences to derive alternative meanings other than the officially preferred reading of a text. This happened in Eastern European cinema during the Soviet times for example. See also audience work.

Mise en scene. Please see under separate entry.

Modernist device. This is a way of using editing or other cinematic convention in a way which draws attention to the film as a construction. The opening credits of Godard’s Mepris and the very content of the narrative itself ensure that the spectator is always considering the process of making a film.


January 04, 2007

European Cinema and Media Glossary: From A–E

Glossary of Terms for European Cinema

Introduction

Please note that this glossary will be on more than one page as the server limit appears to be about 5,000 words for each ‘post’.

*A glossary of this nature will always be a “work in progress”. The adavntage of it being based on the internet is that it can be continually updated as new terms, techniques and methods emerge. Terms sometimes gather alternative meanings as well. So this glossary will, in the spirit of Web 2, be a dynamic one. It is intended to serve a wide target audience of anyone interested in cinema in general but especially European cinema.

Visitors are of course welcome to contribute by asking for terms and or words to be included. I will do my best to accomodate them however there are many other tasks to develop, which is also why it will be a work in progress as I’m developing glossaries relating to other areas of the media simultaneously.

If I find any useful online freely available references which can develop terms in greater depth they will be hyperlinked.

Please note that bold and italic words are cross-referenced

Aberrant decoding. This is term used to describe a reading by part of an audience which is entirely different from that intended by the producers of the media text. More often known as reading against the grain this usually happens when the readers of the text have quite different values and beliefs to the producers of the text. See also cultural effects theory and codes and conventions.

Adorno and the Frankfurt School. Theodor Adorno and the Frankfurt School of Social Research were amongst the earliest social scientists to closely critique and analyse and critique the growth of the culture industries which are now in effect ‘lifestyle’ industries. Adorno argues amongst other things that the apparent ‘diversity’ of market segmentation and the cultivation of ‘lifestyle ‘ is entirely bogus. Lifestyle can be describe in his terms as a death mask of individuality covering the bland features of the ‘consumer clone’. See also Passive Audience and Mass Culture.

Advertising. (TAM). The advertising content of media forms such as Newspapers, magazines and TV and commercial radio often takes up as much space as the editorial content. It is often advertising rather than the actual number of sales which creates the large profits of a media product. (Count for example the number of pages which are adverts in GQ). Increasingly there is a growth of advertorial content. Media institutions which have a totally public service broadcasting function (BBC) are not allowed to advertise commercial products. They usually advertise their own programmes and products. Advertising is a discourse where frequently all normal physical and social arrangements are held in abeyance. We regard the claims made in adverts as a joke, but we buy the products often in spite of , or because of the jokes.

Aestheticisation of Everyday Life. This is the claim that the division between art and everyday life is being eroded in two ways. Firstly artists are taking objects of everyday life and making them into art objects. Secondly people are making their everyday lives into aesthetic projects in terms of style, appearance and household furnishings. This may reach a point where people see themselves and their surroundings as art objects. Consumers have now broken down the hierarchy between ‘high’ and ‘low’ art. See Culture Industries

Against the grain. See Reading against the grain.

Ambient sound. This refers to the ‘natural’ background sound present in a scene in film, TV or radio

Anti-classical. See Art film

Art film. Art film is often described as a European phenomenon and is considered as a genre by critics such as Neale. Often Art cinema is associated with auteurs. European art cinema often uses different modes of storytelling such as long takes combined with great depth of field (Visconti in Ossessione for example). The narratives are less likely to be concerned with the’ classical’ Hollywood structure of a central character moving in a linear fashion through trials and tribulations to a comfortable resolution. Endings may reject neat narrative closure, and there may be multiple points of view. There is likely to be little emphasis on identification with the characters compared to the Hollywood style institutional mode of representation. Typically those films designated as ‘art films’ require more work from the spectator.

Audience. Audience has always seen as important by film distributors and exhibitors. Many commentators understand media audiences to be a construction of the media companies rather than a a social reality based upon conceptions of individual viewers or citizens. As such it is a marketing term which needs to be treated with suspicion. There has been a lot of work by film theorists about how the individual spectator is positioned by the film text. Often this has been without reference to actual audiences. Those interested in a more sociological approach to responses by audiences have done some research on this. The research of Jackie Stacey is very useful in this regard. The qualitative research methods employed show that there are pluralistic readings of a text and that many women read filmic texts against the grain of the preferred reading offered by the construction of the film or the reinforcement of this by the critical establishment. This shows that the social reality and lived experiences of an audience can have a very different effect. (See the monograph by Marita Sturken on Thelma and Louise for comment on the enthusiastic reception by women audiences in the cinema).

Audience work. Far from being ‘couch potatoes’ or passive audiences who merely absorb what is on screen in an unthinking way. Audiences are required to do a certain amount of work to derive pleasure from a film. This work will include: processing information; directing attention to; interpreting in relation to some agenda; evaluating. (This is a point strongly made by Adorno and Horkeimer clearly showing that they have nothing to do with the ‘Hypodermic Syringe’ model of Ideology.

Auteur. Originally this expression was used in the 1920’s . The term was centred around a debate concerning the artistic quality of films. Films where there was very strong directorial input were compared with films where scripts were commissioned from separate scriptwriters and directors were under the thumb of studio producers. This fed into a major debate about cinema and its relations to ‘high art’ / ‘low art’ (popular culture). By the 1950s a group of French critics (again) reinvented the use of the term auteur. They were very keen on American / Hollywood cinema and argued that just because a director had little control over the production process apart from the staging of shots it could still be seen that individual directors had very distinctive styles which could be seen in the mise-en -scene. As a result of this debate the idea of auteur can mean either a directors style through mise-en-scene (Hitchcock, John Ford), or else as a ‘total author’ of both the script and the film itself. ( Orson Welles , David Lynch in the US or Bergman and Godard in Europe).

Blum-Byrnes Agreement. Agreements in 1946 and 1948 were established between the French and US governments which guaranteed a quota of exhibition time to French films as part of a wider trade agreement.

Buddy movie. A basic aspect of the ‘buddy movie’ is that men understand each other better than they understand their women. ( Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid ) The primary relationship in Thelma and Louise film is between the women who understand each other’s ways of being in the world. better than their men do thus reversing the conventions of the Buddy movie.

Camera Movement. (TAF). Camera movements include very important techniques in gained specific visual effects and are fundamental to how a film is made and the visual style which it uses. The main techniques are currently:

  • Pan. This is when a camera moves either to the left or the right. Usually there is a moving object on screen but this is not necessary. Empty space can create meaning. If there isa moving object the camera tends to lead rather than follow the object. Whether the pan is a slow or fast one also contributes to the mood and dynamics of that part of the film.
  • Handheld camera / cinema verite. Originally this was quite usual in documentary style filming or news reporting. A wobbling image as the cameraperson follows a subject gave a feeling of being present and ‘reality’ to the viewer. This can often be used to make a moent more tense. A good example of this being used as a technique is in thebatle scenes near the beginning of Saving Private Ryan when the americans are invading the beach. The wobbly images give an excellent feeling of being present on the beach.
  • Steadicam. The steadicam is special camera which is handheld by the cameraperson. The camera uses gyroscopes to ensure that it remains level and thus remves the feel of a handheld camera (see above).
Tracking Shot.
  • Zoom. Stricly speaking a zoom shot isn’t a camera movement but an adjustment of the lens which gives the feel of movement. A zoom lens is a special kind of lens which was originally developed in the 1950s. It was a technological develpment which helped to attract audiences. It is possible either to zoom-in or zoom forward on a person or object. The shot can also create the illusion of displacement of time and space. A zoom-out or zoom backwards places a person or object in a wider context. Zooming in can be strongly linked with voyeurism. Hitchcock’s Rear Window provides an excellent example of voyeurism and zooming.

Cinema verite. See Camera movements.

Character. In the standard Hollywood realist text : ‘Action typically pivots on central characters who are rendered in psychological depth and tend to become objects of identification for readers. These characters are fictional persons whose fate is tied up with the progress of the narrative, indeed on whom may be centred the very disruption that sets the narrative in motion’ (Kuhn Annette. 1982. Women’s Pictures : 31). See also Institutional mode of representation and eye-line match.

Citizenship. This concept builds on earlier ideas of citizenship which focused upon economic, political and social concerns. Economic citizenship gave people the right to trade, political citizenship gave people the rights to vote and have representative electable governments with powers limited by law. Social citizenship gave people the right to health care, education and pensions. See also cultural citizenship.

Close Reading. Making a close reading can get down to the level of individual shot construction, in which subtleties of coding can be carefully analysed. See also preferred reading and reading against the grain.

Close up. Usually a shot of the head from the neck up. Could also be a wringing of hands. See performance and shot.

Closure. See narrative closure.

Codes and Conventions (General). Cinema uses a number of methods to organise meaning production. Some are general to narrative forms and others are specific to cinema. Cinematic conventions work to make the product appear to be seamlessly produced which means that it appears as though meaning had already existed prior to the construction of the film. In fact the cinematic codes and conventions of production produce an axis of meaning which will interact with both the reactions of audiences and the exhibitionary context.

  • Photographic conventions. Framing, long-shots, medium shots, and close-ups all generate particular forms of meaning: To the extent that close-ups are most commonly of central characters in film narratives, they may function to constitute that psychological realism of character which is a mark of the classic narrative. ( My ephasis: Kuhn Annette. 1982. Women’s Pictures: 37).
  • * Mobile framing*. This effect can be produced by different camera movements and can produce a narrative meaning in several ways. A zoom-in can emphasise detail which can be read as bearing a particular significance within the narrative. Camera movements can also move the plot along through panning and tracking.
  • Editing. Mainstream cinema has institutionalised a set of rules for editing. The normal Hollywood system of editing is called ‘continuity editing’ which ensures through making careful cuts that the production is as seamless as possible thus making the system of production invisible and creating a coherent fictional world into which the spectator is drawn. Various ellipses of space and time achieved by fades or cuts will move the plot along. Not all film-making follows this convention see Jump cut.
  • * Narrative conventions*. All narrative genres have conventions by which the narrative is governed. A road movie for example implies discovery, the obtaining of some self-knowledge. Usually the main protagonist / s are male. Usually the movie follows an ordered sequence of events which inexorably lead to a bad end (Easy Rider: Dennis Hopper : 1969) or a reasonable outcome ( Paris Texas: Wim Wenders: 1984). Thelma and Louise ( Ridley Scott : 1991) controversially undermined the male aspects of the road movie genre. It achieved this by having the main protagonists being women escaping from differing, but oppressive, backgrounds. It also showed that a variety of all those things conventionally conceived of as ‘liberating’ from male perspective were male constructions and coded as such. This film reverses the dominant genre conventions of coding outside space as nature / feminine. By comparison men in the film are sometimes coded in domestic / feminine space. The ending of Thelma and Louise was controversial, but by neither showing death, prison nor some-kind of compromise return to their respective roles in life, nor by escaping to another country the film showed the current impossibility of escaping from gender relations which privilege men in this society.
  • Evolving conventions. Genre isn’t static. A genre and the conventions which govern it evolve over time and are transformed through a complex interaction of economic, technological, political, social and cultural factors . Part of the work of genre analysis is to establish these factors. Think of what conventions have changed in the genres you have chosen to study. (See also Genre cycle).

Connotations. Connotations are associations with words or concepts have for a reader of a text. High production values such as glossy paper can connote sophistication and glamour. This is why expensive shops and products have very sophisticated types of packaging. Hollywood cinema has made its reputations on high production values such as seamless editing and very expensive sets etc. The way in which Hollywood products are promoted are also dependent upon high production values to make audiences think they are getting more than they probably are. This is why anything up to half the cost of the actual film can be devoted to marketing, promotion and advertising. This helps Hollywood dominate the film market and makes it hard for independent companies to compete.

Conventions. See also Codes and Conventions. Conventions are established procedures within a particular form of media ( painting, film , novel etc) which are identifiable by both the producer of the artefact and their audiences. Conventions are thus conventions can be understood as agreements between the producer and audience. These will sometimes remain fairly static and at other times there will be moments of strong challenge to these conventions. The French nouvelle vague can be understood as challenging a range of cinematic conventions.

Convergence. This is the current process whereby new media and communications technologies are changing not only our media equipment but changing the ways old media institutions have worked. It is also globalising and changing our systems of gaining knowledge. The process is still in transition with new developments rapidly emerging. In a few years these processes will have matured and will be less dynamic.

Costume. While it is a variety of prop it is specifically linked with specific characters as well as contributing to the general setting. Changes in costume can be used as indicators of changes of attitude, status, time and place.

CNC. Centre Nationale de la Cinematographie. The French state organisation that oversees film policy issues including subsidy ones.

Critical Realism. In East German cinema critical realism was a popular aesthetic amongst the filmmakers. ‘Inspired by the films of Italian directors, the approach may be described as an East German variant of neorealism. It observes rather than leads, offers a realistic depiction of controversial issues and opens them up for debate’ (Claus, Horst. 2002 p 140).

Cultural Citizenship. Cultural citizenship is about access to systems of representation within the arts and media to ensure that all have the knowledge and capabilities to represent themselves. Also see citizenship.

Culture Industry. The term is used to designate organisations that produce ‘popular’ culture such as TV, Radio, books magazines, newspapers and popular music. It is now extended to beauty salons and hairdressing salons as well as museums and galleries and sports organisations and events. They are of growing importance in Western society. Contemporary everyday life is filled with images as part of the output of the cultural industries. The first people to properly identify the Culture Industry were the Frankfurt School social scientists Adorno and Horkheimer. They were very critical of these industries seeing them as being ideologically controlling particularly of the poorest people offering false hopes and imaginaries. Adorno was extremely critical of social scientists who were colluding in this growing ideological industry. He had originally had a post in New York when he was forced to emigrate from Germany by the Nazis. The post was concerned with developing social scientific methods for identifying and creating audiences for media industries. See also Media and Culture Industries.

Cultural effects theory. This suggests that how the audience or audiences of a text are positioned will have a significant impact upon how they interpret that text.

Cut. TAF). This is used in film and TV to change a shot from one place or viewpoint to another. See film editing and shot, It is achieved by splicing two pieces of film together. There are a range of different cuts which can achieve quite different visual effects. Cuts give a film its rhythm. Getting the tempo right is essential. The editor often works with the director to make a rough cut or director’s cut. Further adjustments are then made often after audience research has been carried out on the endings of Hollywood films before the final cut is made.

  • Continuity Cut. These cuts take the viewer seamlessly and logically from one sequence to another moving along the narrative.
  • Cross cuts. These cuts are used to alternate between two sequences or scenesthat are occurring in different spaces but at the same time. Normally these are used to create a feeling of suspense. As such they are frequently used in genres such as action adventure, the western, thrillers and gangster films.
  • Cutaways. These shots take the viewer away from the main scene of the action. They are often used as a transition before cutting into the next sequence or scene. For example: in a court scene the day’s proceeedings are coming to an end, there is a cutaway shot to the outside of the courthouse, then a cut to the next day nside a lawyer’s office.
  • Jump cut. This cut demonstrates a jump in time and disrupts the ‘normal’ continuity editing. It was used as a device by several internationally famous directors during the 1920s and then dropped out of fashion. The development of sound played a major contribution in overwhelming a more diverse range of styles. French directors in the 1960s such as Louis Malle, Fraoncois Truffaut and most famously Jean-Luc Godard used this editing style. Godard’s first feature film a bout de souffle / Breathless is best known for this. The jump cut calls attention to the constructed reality of the filmic text, to the spectator’s ongoing labour of generating a fictional world out of often contradictory stylistic cues, and to Godard’s own expressive, auteur presence. (Editor emphasis, Neupert, 2002 p 216).
  • Match cuts. These are the exact opposite of the jump cut. These cuts make sure there is a spatial-visual logic between the differently positioned shots within a scene. Where the camera moves to and the angle of the camera make visual sense to the spectator. See also eye-line matching.

Deconstruction.

Deep Focus Cinematography.

DEFA. Deutsche Film AG. The state controlled film production, distribution and exhibition company in East Germany (GDR) from 1946 – 1993. See also UFA

Denotation. This is a straightforward relationship between a sign and its referent. The word cat and the photograph of a cat both denote a particular type of animal.

Deterritorialised. This expression is often related to genres which are feminised. They tend not to concentrate on territory in the same way that war films, westerns and other more masculinised genres have.

Dialectical. This is fundamental to Eisenstein’s theory of montage Originating in Hegel’s philosophy the idea centres around the point that an original thesis exists. This is in collision with an antithesis. The outcome of this collision of opposite ideas results in the creation of something entirely new. This is known as the synthesis.

Diegesis / Diagetic. This refers to the content of the narrative which is happening on the screen. This includes the sound , actions of the characters etc. All of these occur naturally within the fictional world of the film. Frequently films use non- diegetic devices for dramatic effects or to inform the audience about something which the characters themselves don’t know:

  • Intra-diegetic sound. This is a sound from a person the audience doesn’t see but whose presence we know exists in the story. There is a disembodied voice. Mildred Pierce 1945 has many examples of this through flashback. Often the character’s voice goes intra-diegetic announcing a flashback acconpanied by a visual dissolve ‘it was yesterday when…’. Flash backs are also intra-diegetic in the sense that they interrupt the narrative flow of the present.
  • Non-diegetic sound by comparison is where there is voice-over or else a soundtrack which heightens the emotional effects on the audience but isn’t present in the on-screen world at all.

Digital Distribution. The opportunities for the makers of short films to be distributed via internet streaming are improving all the time. The most recent deal to allow streaming of independent shorts was made between the Sundance film Festival Organisers and iTunes the Content Management software system owned by Apple as this BBC report of 12 / 01 / 07 notes.

Digital divide. A very important social and cultural concept of the ‘information age’. This term refers to those who have access to a wide range of digital communications systems in terms of cost and knowledge and those who are excluded from this. It is becoming a serious problem of citizenship.

Digital Versatile Disc / DVD. A disc which although the same size as a CD can hold many times the amount of data due to a combination of more sophisticated data compression systems, the ability to store and retrieve data from different levels of the disc. This means that moving images can be stored in a way which is more permanent than tape and maintains its quality over time, whereas tape particles lose their magnetism and lose details. Research is going on to more than double the storage capacity of the current DVD’s by using different laser technologies. The ‘versatility’ referred to in the name means that the equipment incorporates technical standards which means that digital information relating to images – static or moving sounds or text can be stored and retrieved. New standards of quality have been developed and consumers are faced with both Blu-Ray from a consortium led by Sony and HD-DVD (High definition DVD), led by Toshiba. Already third party players are bringing out players which can playback both. (Beginning of 2007)

Discourse. Textual analysis often uses the term discourse to deconstruct or look at the way a text works. This means that the analyst identifies the various discourses present in a text and makes that clear for the reader. A discourse provides a framework of language to construct a particular kind of knowledge on a topic. Discourses organise our thoughts and try to make a closure that is to close off other ways of thinking about a topic. For example, cinematography which continuously sexualises women through voyeuristic techniques is a visual discourse. This can be seen as part of a wider discursive field in which the institution of cinema discriminates against women. A discourse is not a description of reality but a way of ‘fixing’ the topic or constructing a form of social reality in a biased way. Different discourses can therefore change our views of the nature of social reality.

Dissolve: see Editing

Dollying / Tracking Shot (TAF) see camera movements.

DVD. See Digital Versatile Disc.

DVD Recordable. A new breed of domestic machines has now appeared which can record TV or films in DVD format. Whilst currently still very expensive it is probable that they will replace the Video Cassette Recorder in most households in 5 years time. (In fact first written 3 years ago the price has dropped dramatically and video-recorders are fast-disappearing) They can record digital radio signals as well. There is not currently a standardised format which makes things difficult for consumers.


January 03, 2007

One Laptop Per Child

Negroponte’s Brainchild

My BBC new technologies feed has just alerted me to the promising progress of this project which could dramatically change the lives of people in the underdeveloped countries. This is the One Laptop per Child Project directed by digital guru Nicholas Negroponte.

We had some great debates about this project last year in AS Media Studies New Media Technologies project on our forum. At least one student was very sceptical suggesting that perhaps water projects would be more useful.

Basic needs is a hard one to argue against yet the world can easily afford both. Stop supplying arms to tinpot dictators. Make sure foreign aid is for the benefit of the recipient countries rather than a grand capital project which largely benefits the large corporation which builds it. Appropriate technology is the expression you are after. International governmental will could allow clean drinking water for all global citizens.

Needing New Technology

This shouldn’t detract from Negroponte’s project. The quickest way to get the whole world wired up and letting people in Africa and Bengal or the Favela of Brazil gain the benefit of free knowledge from the likes of Wikipedia could move the world on from the ludicrous polarisations underpinned by Texan oil companies and their favourites inthe White House. you can’t argue against cheap laptops for all. Perhaps the Bill gates foundation could throw some money at it as well.

EMail the Bill Gates Foundation

This gives you information about the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s global development programme.

Wing them an e.mail and ask them to send a few thousand of these wind up computers out to Africa and be a good blogocitizen.


Web 2: Cultural Diversity, Adverts & The Long Tail

Currently there seems to be a debate going on about making money through blogs and websites for small organisations.

Media Studies students will recognise very general issues which occur whatever the kind of media you are using. This post suggests that many people think that it is possible for a small scale blog which is targetting a very niche audience is going to make some money through services such as Adsense which are offered by Google. (The post is from Anderson’s diary about his concept of the Long Tail).

The following quotation has been taken from another blog which is bemoaning the fact that the tiny amount of money generated from her site falls below the minimum amount that Google is prepared to administer:

I’m beginning to have my doubts about Chris Anderson’s long tail, the proposition that cultural boutiques can make a living from audiences on the Internet. One disgruntled publisher complains she’s owed less than the minimum Google can be bothered to pay her. And, as fast as she makes money, Google lifts the threshold. [She writes:] “When I started with Adsense in late 2004/ early 2005 the minimum was $25. Just when was about to hit the $25 minimum, they raised it to $50. Now that I have $45 in my account, the minimum is $100. Granted, I have a site with very low traffic, but how many website owners are getting screwed by Google? If the long-tail theory holds out, there could be millions of dollars of unpaid Google ads. (My emphasis).

I must say I don’t have much sympathy. Of course Google had a low starting point they were trying to encourage creativity which would ultimately generate successful people and Google a fair bit of money. I believe Adsense pays about a dollar a time if somebody clicks an advert on your blog. If you are expecting to magically make money from a tiny niche market you will be disappointed. People can still get a free blog from Google and Google Analytics provides an extremly sophisticated service which many commercial concerns can use to improve marketing or to try and make pages more popular. All these services cost money yet they are free.

I use Google Analytics on this blog. I’m interested in who is attracted to this blog and what it is that attracts them. For example I had 16 hits the other week from Chellaston in Derbyshire. I have also had hits from cities in Chile and in Australia as well as from China, Vietnam and Taiwan and a lot from the USA. I’m both surprised and pleased because much of this blog is targeted to quite tight audiences.

What is Google Analytics?

On November 13, 2005, Google announced Google Analytics, a free Web analytics service targeted at the long tail of small and medium-size businesses that lack a Web analytics solution. While “free” is a powerful word, the Urchin product on which Google Analytics is built is less than a Web analytics powerhouse. The offering will succeed at the lower end of the market, but won’t completely ruin the party for high-end vendors.

The above analysis comes from a business technology company Forrester Research who describe themselves as:
Forrester Research (Nasdaq: FORR) is an independent technology and market research company that provides pragmatic and forward-thinking advice about technology’s impact on business and consumers.

Their analysis of Google Analytics in full will cost you $50-00 if you are silly enough. They may wish to eat these rather expensive words by the look of the client base Google seems to be gaining. (Anyway no links to rip off artists like that!).

The point about Google analytics is that anybody is allowed to use to help them get some income from their site. As that isn’t this sites primary aim then I can use the tools for other purposes such as seeing whether my students are accessing the site. Criticise Google for giving us all a version of big brother if you like but they want you to make money and they seem to be doing all they can to encourage this by letting you study the audience you do have.

Creativity and Diversity

Of course I am interested in the possibilities of individuals or small companies making a living from working in this way! As far as I’m concerned blogs are a fascinating form of media. If people can make them interesting enough then an audience will appear. Audiences are fickle at the best of times as Ien Ang’s classic media book Desparately Seeking the Audience shows. (Please note the publisher is remaining nameless. I could put a link through and if they pay me I will, otherwise you will have to find it yourself. In other words there are lots of opportunities to offer a service to interested parties).

There is no reason why the web should be any different to any other sort of media in this respect. Cheapness of access is nevertheless democratising. Finally we might get to the point where audience and content interact to provide a genuinely new media paradigm.

Being able to publish in a range of different forms when you are ready to is genuinely liberating. Previously media companies were having to programme full schedules now the: what you want, when you want it how you want it culture that new media is developing means that good quality programmes, sites, etc. can be made available for years if need be.

Audiences will eventually decide whether these are worth bothering with. If nobody recommends them then they will die a natural death or adapt. (bit of cyber-Darwinian theory :-). But the woman who is complaining has been given free publishing opportunities, unheard of in the past. Given that it costs Google something to run I don’t think there are reasonable grounds for complaint. Let’s face the now $100.00 payout is miniscule for an advanced Western country. If you want money find an audience or else be happy that you can egoistically be speaking to a few afficionados worldwide.

However, an alternative is that if you are a small-time publisher who is unlikely to ever get those few dollars from Google, why not all club togther and donate to the one lap top per child project. For $100.00 or around £60-00 you can get a child in an underdeveloped country a good computer. Indirectly this is increasing your market so do the world a favour and get that money out of Google’s accounts if it bothers you.

Publishing opportunities

Thanks to Google for allowing lots of people to play with these new technologies and affording some the opportunity to create new cultural voices for nothing. If you are publishing poetry you usually pay the printer for the priviledge, and you feel proud if you get your money back. Most poetry publishers do it because they feel a creative urge often it will only be read by people with similar interests and that’s fine.

In the world of Jazz Derek Bailey and Evan Parker both excellent and highly experimental musicians were making music more for other musicians than for a wider public. Miles Davis made a good living and was popular and so does Jan Garbarek, on the whole their music is less experimental. Often not to many people’s tastes but to enough to enable them to go on making their style of music.

Whatever kind of media you are working in you can either make your art / service with a wider audience in mind or you can target a very narrow audience. At the end of the day it is the audience which drives cultural diversity, not advertising, nor the artist. Without audiences cultural creators are nothing. If people are so egoistic that they only want to make a cultural creation for their own benefit that’s fine, just don’t whinge when you don’t make money from it.

This doesn’t detract from the original argument put forward by Chris Anderson in Wired Magazine:

In the tyranny of physical space, an audience too thinly spread is the same as no audience at all.

On the above link you can find his original concept of The Long Tail.

Is Diversity Necessarily Good Quality?

A point worth making about the issue of cultural diversity is that just being diverse doesn’t necessarily equate to being good in terms of the quality of what is produced. What it does mean from the perspective of cultural citizenship is that many people are finding a voice in ways that were previously impossible. Hopefully the better ones will be able to make a living
without compromising their ideas for the sake of commercialism. Sometimes all people want to do is to communicate thier ideas, and there has never been a better opportunity than now.

The advantage of web publishing as we move inexorably towards a networked society creating what I prefer to think of as a global city it affords opportunities for many. The metaphor of city is more appropriate than Marshall McLuhan’s “Global Village”. The physical city of Modernity liberated people from the claustrophobic control of the Local landowner and the Church. It is getting increasingly hard to disagree with Anderson’s argument that the networked society is freeing many from the ‘tyranny of physical space’ which was previously the prerogative of government or powerful media tycoons.

It appears as though Web 2 is finally begining to deliver on the original promise of the internet. There will always be crass commercialism and so-called ‘celebrity’ culture with sad people talking about ‘Celebrity Big Brother’ the home of has-beens and cheap publicity seekers. encouragingly vast new cultural spaces are beginning to open in a genuinely “popular way”. When I say popular I mean generated and growing from people’s own ideas rather than people being spoonfed with crass programmes like Big Brother keeping the ex public schoolboy ‘inventor’ happy in his mansion in Hampstead.

The Long Tail Market

The Long Tail in Media

So what then is this ‘long-tail market’ that people are doubting. Here is Anderson’s summary contained on his Long Tail diary

In Long Tail markets, hits lose their monopoly on culture as they share the stage with million of niche products. Minority taste rules.There are three basic types of participants in Long Tail markets: consumers, aggregators and producers (note that it’s possible to be all three; these aren’t mutually incompatible). The main effects on each are: * Consumers. Effect: Largely cultural. People have more choice, so individual taste increasingly satisfied even if the effect is an increasingly fragmented culture. * Aggregators. Effect: Largely economic. It’s never been easier to assemble vast variety and create tools for organizing it, from search to recommendations. Increased variety plus increased demand for variety equals opportunity. Also note that just as one size doesn’t fit all for products, nor does it for aggregators. I think the winner-take-all examples of eBay, Amazon, iTunes and Google are a first-inning phenomena. Specialized niche aggregators (think: vertical search, such as the real estate service Zillow) are on the rise. * Producers. Effect: Largely non-economic. I responded to a good Nick Carr post on this last year with the following: “For producers, Long Tail benefits are not primarily about direct revenues. Sure, Google Adsense on the average blog will generate risible returns, and the average band on MySpace probably won’t sell enough CDs to pay back their recording costs, much less quit their day jobs. But the ability to unitize such microcelebrity can be significant elsewhere. A blog is a great personal branding vehicle, leading to anything from job offers to consulting gigs. And most band’s MySpace pages are intended to bring fans to live shows, which are the market most bands care most about. When you look at the non-monetary economy of reputation, the Long Tail looks a lot more inviting for its inhabitants.

Well this blog seems to be largely agreeing with my audience analysis above and interestingly makes a lot of the the notion of a blended world of culture with material life interacting with virtual a core value. It is audiences that make the culture in the final analysis!


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