All entries for April 2007
April 10, 2007
Sony Vaio UX1 Ultramobile Computer cum ....
The Marketing & Promotion
I first spotted the ads for this machine in the Financial Times Weekend Colur Magazine. The written text is unremittingly sexist it "packs a techno punch; it's the ultimate boy's toy... ". Actually its small size is very likely to appeal to women but it's huge current price will not unless women break through the 'silicon ceiling'. It seems to be aroun £2K right now but as the advertising says occasionally a new technology product "can chqange the paradigm". iPod did that to the Sony Walkman so maybe it's Sony's turn to do it to Apple?
Well its certainly ultra-mobile. Can it compete with the trend towards all in one devices which Blackberry, iPhone and most mobiles are aiming for? It certainly beats the competition offered from Samsung but at a price. Well it's certainly in the running! It has 32GB of Flash memory not a hard disc drive HDD which makes it fast and reliable and proves the sharper predictions of the technology press 3 months ago were right as they said the next big leap forward would be based upon huge flash memory capacity what companies like Samsung have predicted will be "Super-Blackberries".
From the perspective of mass media can it communicate in a world which is going unremittingly wireless and internet driven? Well the advertising says it can:
But that's nothing. Just check out the Flash driven advert below which I find fun and convincing. A clear case of the media is the message I think :-)
Click on the above image and then click on "Get the full story" box for a very impressive interactive advert which has a virtual stylus which you can use to check out the UX1's capabilities. This is an advance in advertising technique I think.
It has wireless LAN for continuous communication and even two cameras built in so that a video chat can be conducted on the move. With Vista as its operating system and a huge memory you can use the browser of your choice. It even has built in microphone and speakers. As a phone it can communicate to more than one person. With headphones its private. At around the size of a PSP its a no brainer if you've got the cash of course !!
Is it a marker of the technology to come? Is it creating a new paradigm. I think so. I want one immediately whereas the latest mobile phone has no interest for me at all. Imagine how useful this could be for professional photograhers for example. You can have a full working version of Photoshop and computer with you for less than the weight of a medium size fast lens. Edit and upload your shots while out on a shoot in demanding conditions. This beats a lot of laptops and is a prelude to the way many laptops will be going.
This means that prices will become affordable in a couple of years or less. can Nokia and iPhone bring out competitive products or will it be Toshiba who have a powerful place in the laptop market who are challenged as well. With this one I suspect Sony are on a winner. but clearly the ultramobile computing market is set to take off big time. Watch this space.
In depth review from Personal Computer World this also has a link to the Samsung Q1 an earlier cheaper but less effective competitior in the ultra mobile market
For a more typical aspirationally minded geeky macho male check out the entirely predicatble GQ lifestyle magazine way of reviewing things.
The Turbo-gadgets Blog is quite interesting for surface reviews. Check out the SonyEricsson New phone for Japan while your here.
April 09, 2007
Does style determine meaning ? The scope and importance of Mise en scene criticism
In the final paragraph of his recent review of mise-en-scene criticism John Gibbs comments:
..that style determines meaning, that how an event is portrayed on screen defines its significance, that single moments or images of films cannot be adequately considered when extracted from their context - then close study continues to be vital. My belief is that an understanding of mise-en-scene is a prerequisite for making other kinds of claims about film..... A sense of how style relates to meaning needs to be central to your enquiry.’ (My emphasis: Gibbs 2002, p 100)
Gibbs is concerned to point out that although it shouldn’t be the sort of thing that goes out of fashion the idea of mise en scene went out of fashion. The fact that in the question AS OCR Media Students will receive for AS textual analysis ‘Action - Adventure’ films the term mise en scene is relegated to bottom of the list shows that the examiners are yet to catch up with the latest thinking on the matter! The handout below will argue that the term mise en scene necessarily includes elements of film making such as camera angle, shot, movement and position.
Mise en scene criticism is particularly important to an understanding of Hollywood cinema because within the production system directors are frequently assigned to projects rather than originating them unlike European cinema. It is a cinema which is self-evidently not ‘art’ in terms of the stories that are chosen.
The development of mise en scene criticism has therefore been to discover how layers of meaning can be incorporated into films through stylistic devices of the director who is not in control of the overall project. It is possible for example that the style could subvert the intended meaning of a script which the producers have decided to turn into a film. Bearing this in mind John Orr has pointed out the changes in direction of European realist cinema which have taken mise en scene in new directions. See the blog posting on Lilya 4-Ever for more on this.
At its heart mise en scene criticism is a critical concept which draws attention to and makes easier to discuss all those elements of a film which communicate in a non-verbal fashion. It allows us to understand film as a visual and sensory experience rather than just a literary one.
A working definition of mise en scene
The term is based upon a French theatrical term and has been used in Britain since at least 1833. Mise en scene is the contents of the frame and the way that they are organised. In this argument Gibbs prioritises the work of Robin Wood and the French critic Doniol-Valcroze arguing that the tone and atmosphere is all mise en scene. Mise en scene is what people go to the cinema for as it transforms a dry script and gives a form of expression unique to cinema. This means that it is the realisation of the script organising all the cinematic elements into an organic whole which is mise-en-scene and is ultimately the responsibility of the director.
Historically within Hollywood the director has not always had total control of all the elements. The soundtrack for example has frequently been somebody else’s decision therefore some mise en scene criticism has ignored the importance of sound in their attempts to look for evidence of ‘authorship’ coming from a director. Consequently these critics have focused upon visual style alone.
It is essential to focus upon both parts of this working definition.
The expression ‘frame contents’ = The inclusion of lighting, decor, properties and the actors themselves.
The expression ‘frame organisation’ = The way the contents of the frame encompass:
- Firstly : the relationship of the actors to one another and the decor
- Secondly: the actors relationship to the camera therefore also to the audience’s view.
This means that in talking about mise en scene one is talking about framing, camera movement, the particular lens employed and other photographic decisions:
Mise en scene therefore encompasses both what the audience can see, and the way in which we are invited to see it. It refers to many major elements of communication in the cinema, and the combination through which they operate expressively. (Gibbs John, Mise en scene: Film Style and Interpretation, 2002).
Gibbs looks at a range of 9 elements which contribute towards the mise en scene and argues that how a particular film or part of a film depends for its effect on an interaction of elements including:
- Lighting: The organisation of light, actors and camera makes possible a series of suggestive readings.
- Costume: clothing can be particularly significant. In films such as Thelma and Louise the clothing worn by the character changes gradually throughout the film signifying both internal and external changes in their condition.
- Colour. Colour is an expressive element for filmmakers. It is often mobilised by means of costume, which has the advantage of a direct association with a particular character. It might however be a feature of the lighting, the set decoration or particular props. In Thelma and Louise the home of Thelma is very dark and gloomy. Shots of Thelma discussing going away for the weekend show the interior with a bluish-grey hue signifying boredom, imprisonment and enclosure. After the shooting their getaway is within a frame which is of a bluish hue. A colour commonly associated with neo-noir cinema.
- Props. Props such as cars are usually associated with road movies, guns and other weapons with crime or crime thriller genres and various scary things with horror genres. The early slightly oblique shot of a gun making it difficult to recognise in Thelma and Louise gives the spectator an early inkling of something horrible to come. A few shots later a gun is clearly tossed nonchalantly into a bag. When Louise later sees the gun she asks why it was necessary. In case of a ‘psycho-killer’ replies Thelma in an ironical tone. The gun becomes an important element of the story.
- Decor. Robin Wood has argued that ‘It is his business to place the actors significantly within the decor, so that the decor itself becomes an actor;’ (Wood cited Gibbs, 2002 p 57)
- Action and Performance. It is important not to forget how much can be expressed through the direction of action and through skilful performance. A great deal of significance can be bound up in the way in which a line is delivered, or where an actor is looking at a particular moment. Critics have found writing about performance difficult but performance is central to our understanding of narrative film.
- Space. Space is a vital expressive element which is at a filmmakers disposal. In thinking about space we might think about the personal space between performers and our own sense as an audience when it is impinged upon. There is also the issue of ‘blocking’ that is the relationships expressed and the patterns created in the positioning of the actors. Look out for groups of three actors which allow for a range of opportunities to express relations. Always remember to try and identify whose point of view (POV) is being represented through the camera within any given shot.
- Position of the Camera. By thinking about space we necessarily think about the position of the camera. The position of the camera governs our access to the action. The same event filmed in a long shot is going to have a different effect upon the audience compared with shooting something close up. Decisions such as whether a character ‘leads’ the camera or whether the camera anticipates his / her arrival can give a different feel to a film: ‘...one of the instantly identifiable characteristics of Hitchcock’s mise-en-scene has been the subjective tracking shot, that places us in the actor’s position and gives us the sensation of moving with him; this usually alternated with backward tracking shots of the actor moving.’ (Gibbs 2002, p 20). Other directors such as Preminger in Laura the camera positioning has the opposite function. The camera tends to watch the character rather than implicate the audience in his movements. The critic Robin Wood has argued that camera movements connect whereas editing separates.
- Framing. What is in the frame is only a selective view of a wider fictional world. In the act of framing an action a filmmaker is presented with a large range of choices including what to withhold and reveal to an audience.
- Interaction of the elements. Gibbs proceeds to argue that it is the interplay of all the events that is significant. Any individual element only acquires its significance because of the context within which it is operating: in others words the world of the film itself.
This is because any filmmaker will be developing accumulating strategies of creating layers of meaning within the film. Gibbs strongly makes the point that ‘...it is terribly difficult to make claims for an individual element or moment without considering it within the context provided by the rest of the film.’ (My emphasis: Gibbs, 2002, p 39). The reason for this is the importance of identifying two related ways in which a film makes meaning which are through coherence and complexity.
Coherence in a film
There are basically two ways in which a film is ‘coherent’.
Firstly there is the example of a visual motif. This would be an element which acquires significance through repetition. In Thelma and Louise for example being out on the road seems to offer freedom and hope. As soon as they stop anywhere trouble not of their own making seems to occur. Out on the road they utilise the stereotypically sexist men such as the truck driver and the policemen to get a light-hearted revenge on a world of men which is oppressing them. When they do this it is only to take the mickey out of the men concerned. They don’t do any real harm.
The other way to consider the issue of coherence is of different elements of a single moment. Some argue therefore that the very form of the film is the content. The important thing to be considering is the question: Is everything within the frame pulling in the same direction developing the drama? Coherence isn’t everything. Something very simple and uninteresting can be coherent. What gains our attention is whether the coherence is combined with complexity or inner tensions which can bring a greater depth of meaning to the film. In Thelma and Louise for example the mise en scene which pictures Louise in the driver’s seat of the car soon after the killing breaks the image up by shooting her behind the edge of the windscreen. Shots like this give greater depth of meaning as they symbolises the deep rift in her mind as she struggles to decide what to do at that moment. The reasons for her decision unfold later in the drama but that moment is important and what is in the frame clearly marks this cinematically.
The overall coherence of Thelma and Louise finally is reached when it is understood that all the mise en scene aspects are also intertwined with generic conventions. This combination of mise en scene as a part of genre helps to lend this film extra subversive power.
Women and British Cinema: Some avenues for research
Many of you will have studied some history of British films in your AS film Studies. The critical research project in Media Studies offers the opportunity to develop that area of study. Below is a list of British films which could be useful in helping you to establish a research project on the topic of Women and Film. This is not intended to be exclusive. It is possible to take almost any film and link it into the topic of women and film from the major perspectives of film analysis and criticism. There are a range of common critical methodologies currently used to analyse films. Methods and methodologies like anything else are subject to change. Below are some common ways of approaching films. Please note there will be overlaps, categories are not usually discrete! The film industry will try and utilise genres and stars to target a specific audience for example. Common critical approaches to film that you will need to consider include:
o Is a film targeted at an audience which is primarily female? (How can we tell? – issues to explore: gender and genre / stars, gender and genre / representation of women).
o Is a film primarily targeted at men? (How can we tell? – issues to explore: gender and genre / stars gender and genre / representation of women)
o Here you need to focus on genre theory. See Blog entries on genre. You could examine several films from a specific genre perspective. You will need to read up on genre theory and identify how films have been targeted at audiences by gender. Examples of genres which have been traditionally ‘women’s films include:
§ Costume dramas / melodramas / romantic comedies
§ Genres such as Biopics (biographical films may (not will) tend to have a target audience gender bias depending upon the historical person being represented. Examples of biopics include: Hilary and Jackie / Iris / The Queen
- See blog entries on stars and theory. Questions you may wish to consider include:
- Does Britain produce actresses whilst Hollywood produces stars?
- Have there been shifts in the representation of female stars in relation to shifts in the position of women in wider society?
- Does cinema encourage or follow social change in society ?
- What has been the relationship of British women stars to Hollywood?
- The recent controversy surrounding Helen Mirren's comments on 'date rape' raise issues about the responsibilites of 'celebrities' and also how audiences react to controversy of that nature.
British women stars you may wish to study can include:
- Julie Christie
- Helen Mirren
- Judi Dench
- Kate Winslett
- Vanessa Redgrave
- Margaret Lockwood
- Elizabeth Taylor
- Keira Knightley
- Tilda Swinton
· Auteur / ‘Art House’ Cinema:
o Stephen Hill has suggested that from the 1970s the typical British genre film, often comedy, was squeezed out of the cinemas as American money went back to America and TV took over the function of being the main environment for the exhibition of British films.
o Hill suggests that this stimulated a new model of ‘Art Cinema’ for British film makers targeted at quite specific but relatively stable and known audiences:
§ Some of the films continued the social realist tradition such as Ken Loach & Mike Leigh
§ Others films were self-consciously ‘arty’ experimenting with new forms and ways of dealing with narrative
§ Other films were representations of what are considered as ‘high art’ texts such as re-workings of Shakespeare plays, the books of Jane Austen (Sense and Sensibility) or E. M. Forster (Passage to India, Howards End).
· Useful films to consider for women and film critical research unit
o The films below deal with many of the issues of the representation of women, issues of audience, genre, Stars and performance and art house cinema. All of the films have quite developed critical discourses often from a feminist methodological perspective which will help you to develop your research ideas and give you more of a background feel to your chosen topic area.
§ The Wicked Lady. British star, Use of pirate / highwayman film to allow women different cultural space
§ Brief Encounter. Post war re-establishing of women’s ‘traditional’ position in society
§ Taste of Honey. British ‘New Wave’ realism
§ The L-Shaped Room. British ‘New Wave’ realism
§ Darling. The ‘Swinging Sixties’
§ Bahji on the Beach. Woman director / about changing position of women in relation to changing Britain
§ Orlando. Woman director / challenge to gender/ based upon famous woman writer who had at least a second wave feminist consciousness
§ Sense and Sensibility. Role of women historically / woman stars / can male directors be sensitive to women?
§ Secrets and Lies. Male director and representation of women
§ Elizabeth. Male director and representation of women / representation of great historical woman. Comparisons with Kapur’s “Bandit Queen”
§ Ratcatcher. Woman director
§ Bridget Jones’ Diary. Is this a ‘post-feminist? Representation of women? Is it a progressive or regressive representation of women?
§ Bend it Like Beckham. Representation of changing position of women in society / woman director.
§ Charlotte Gray. Woman director / woman as ‘hero’ non passive
§ Vera Drake. Historical representation of women could be compared to British New Wave realist films. Male director representing issues primarily affecting women. Could a woman do this better?
§ Dirty Pretty Things + Last Resort + Ghosts. Representation of women on the margins. (Could also go non-British and look at Moodysson’s Lilya 4-Ever see separate Blog entry)
April 08, 2007
Lilya 4-ever, 2002, Lucas Moodysson
A moment of genuine pleasure for Lilya
It would be difficult to describe this film as ‘entertaining’ but it is a very powerful film which quickly drags the viewer into the realistic nightmare of post-Soviet Russia. Along with many of the post-Soviet countries which used to make up the other side of the ‘Iron curtain’ Russia became a place where what most of us consider as normal rights of social citizenship such as housing, health, and jobs became hard to come by. As a result this opened up opportunities for the most unscrupulous and ruthless as morals and morale quickly collapsed into a free for all of 'survival of the fittest'. The film is equally realistic about the collusion and conivence of Western countries at the level of the individual to exploit the situation for economic and sexual gain. It is also critical of Western countries at the level of government to fail to stop what some have described as a new slave trade. At the most general level Lilya 4-Ever can be understood as a breakdown in trust.
Being abandoned by her mother &
approaching a moment of total abjection
Relevance to the critical research unit
Lilya 4-Ever is one of several films made by European film makers which came out not long after the turn of the millennium which dealt with the exploitation of the weakest in society who are forced into emigration because conditions have become so bad in their country of origin.
The Last Resort, by Pawlikoski and Dirty Pretty Things by Stephen Frears make up a trio with Lilya 4-Ever. All concern the exploitation of women in some way. Lilya is tricked into the sex trade, in the Last Resort the woman is tricked into arriving in England with her son expecting to be married after a liaison with an English businessman. She ends up in a downmarket seaside resort as an asylum seeker and eventually gets involved in a video pornography to gain some sort of an income. Dirty Pretty Things focuses on how potential immigrants and asylum seekers were tempted into selling some of their body organs in order to gain fake British passports. Of the three films Lilya 4-Ever fits very well with three categories of research – Women and Film, Crime and the Media and Children and the Media. These films are due to be joined by Ghosts a film about Chinese undocumented labour, which leads up to the terrible tragedy waiting to happen on Blackpool Sands. Ghosts is due out on DVD in April 2007.
Lilya with her "saviour"
All three films are mainly social realist films and fit in well with the social realist strand of cinema which you will be covering when you look at contemporary British cinema. Last Resort and Dirty Pretty Things are both British Films. Lilya 4-Ever is Swedish and uses social realism combined with fantasy sequences which function for the viewer as a representation of Lilya’s unconscious.
Social realism tries to represent aspects of life as they really are. Of course they still use cinematic techniques but they see themselves as grounded in social reality and they usually have a strong preferred reading emanating from the makers of the film. It is interesting that the Lilya 4-Ever DVD has appeals from both UNICEF the United Nations children’s section and Amnesty International as well. As a marketed package it clearly has an even stronger preferred reading for combining with these other texts very clearly positions it. In this sense Moodysson is a man with a mission as he explores the contradictions and injustices of this world. It is of course possible to discuss this film from the perspective of whether male directors can create good representations of women.
Lucas Moodysson as 'neo-Bazinian Realist'
In his article New Directions in European Cinema (2004) John Orr argues that moodysson is one of the powerful european necomers along with dirctors like Lynne Ramsey who have taken on the mqantle donned by directors such as Ken Loach, Mike Leigh and Bertrand Tavernier. Bazin Orr notes saw cinema as a form of exploration in both documentary and fiction:
It would reveal to us ... more of the everyday world in which human beings lived at all levels of society, many of them previously excluded by the commercial dictates of cinema as a cultural industry. Many of the practical means he saw as facilitating this new kind of cinema still thrive, more so now than ever. There is still low-to medium-budget cinema, location-based, often using non-professionals, but focusing now on social malaise - exclusion, violence and poverty - in a more consumerist age ... where the excluded still miss out. The neo-Bazinian aesthetic usually stresses ensemble acting (with improvisation and comic diversion) and obviates star quality. (Orr John, 1990 pp 301-302)
Powerfully Orr links in the work of the Neo-Bazinians to that of the theorist Julia Kristeva through the development of the Bazinian aesthetic to what he describes as a "new unbalancing of perspective". Orr describes it as an anti-aesthetic style in which mise en scene becomes a site of prime deformation thus transgressing the classical style of realism. There is also what Orr describes as a traductive realism which through various camera techniques, differently used amongst directors. The net outcome of these techniques amounts to a 'going down.'
It is here that Orr draws upon the work of Kristeva to discuss the meaning of "abjection". He describes abjection as being:
... the suspension of identity in a world devoid of meaning where abjection is a safeguard, a choice for the liminal in the instance of the void. It is the choice to be stranded as protection against the void. The downward flight is a conscious exposure by the abject being to the very dangers from which it seeks to protect itself, and ultimately from death. (Ibid p 306).
So near and yet so far, Lilya looks
out on a World of apparent freedom
that she can never know. Is the spectator
in the role of the reflection gazing on Lilya
in her Swedish "prison"?
Crticism of the Western States
Moodysson’s story takes male domination in contemporary Western society onto another political level for he explicitly criticises the role of the state at two crucial points. Firstly when the pimp tells Lilya that the police would only send her back to her own country and secondly this point is visually consolidated when Lilya feels she can’t take the opportunity to go up to the policewoman in the garage after she has escaped because she is so scared. As a result she ends up killing herself. The film provides some respite from this potential ending because we are given a scenario of choice. At the end of the day she is a human agent and can work it out, as the section on neo-Bazinian realism below discusses choosing the route of 'abjection' is sometimes a conscious but perverse one. We never know which choice she or others like her in real life make or made but we clearly see the results of the wrong choice.
The mise en scene
The mise en scene of Lilya affects me every time I see it. My first visit to a post-Soviet country was in 1997 and the housing blocks that Lilya lives are absolutely typical. What I found interesting about housing in the Soviet Union was that unlike here it wasn’t based upon class and income although that is rapidly changing now. It used to be the case that doctors and other professionals would be living in blocks like these alongside labourers, mechanics etc.
The areas outside these blocks are called yards and they all seem to have a basketball net in them. It really is a big game certainly in Lithuania (one of the world’s best teams) the country with which I’m familiar. The paintwork the gloomy stairs, because electricity is so expensive relative to incomes ,and the extraordinary poverty of those who were most weakly positioned in society are all true. Many older people lost the value of their life savings as the Rouble lost much of its value. There were also many banking scandals with people depositing their savings and directors of banks running off with the money and lodging it in Swiss bank accounts.
The collapse of the Soviet Union also saw the rise of many small time criminals as well as the large scale ones. The bigger the criminal the more they can get away with things of course. The way in which the current owner of Chelsea football club made his way up is not paved with petals! The petty criminals and smaller gangs took to ruthlessly exploiting young women and young girls. Many young women are tricked into the sex trade in Western Europe by promises of jobs in modelling or even just – as was the case with Lilya – working picking flowers and vegetables.
When these women arrive on false passports - which are usually issued because they are under 18 – they are relieved of their passports and they are trapped. As in the case with Lilya even if they escape from the flats they are usually kept in the police used to send them back to their country of origin and the perpetrators usually get away with everything or else face only small fines or other minor punishment. When you consider the amounts of money that can be made there is little or no risk for the perpetrators. It is thus a very tempting business to the unscrupulous.
It was important in Lilya that the range of men she was farmed out to cut across class boundaries. She was even farmed out for group sex in men’s sporting clubs. This is a very important point, as this represents just how much a wide range of men collude with this illegal trade. Clearly Moodysson (a male director) is representing men as seeing women as vehicles for their own pleasures rather than as people. By doing this he is criticising the dominant ideology which encourages men to treat women in this way. Moodysson's representation of women is not in any sense idealised. Lilya is let down by mother, aunt and "best friend".
From the perspective of using this film as a text in your research project there are many different avenues which can be explored. Not least there is the issue of whether women directors can represent the position of women better than men. There is the link to social reality about the ideological frameworks which create women as victims of what feminists would describe as a patriarchal system.
There are of course a number of potential extracts that could be used in your focus group work. Whilst the film seems unremittingly grim in terms of its preferred reading there is much in there which desires and demands your attention! There are a range of charities and some MPs who are very concerned to deal with some of these isues. Just as the work of Ken Loach in the sixties managed sometimes parts of the media can help to bring about. Indeed Moodysson is asking for people to choose life and to reject the abject.
Here is a useful blog address (provided by visitor Colin). It is a useful MySpace blog with a video download and useful interviews with the director Lucas Moodysson and some information about the exploitation and eventual suicide of a young Lithuanian woman which helped inspire the story:
Here is a live Amnesty International Campaign operating in Greece (June 2007):
There is an excellent list of international organisations and a bibliography at this page.
Trafficking in Birmingham 2004:
Its still a problem in 2006:
April 07, 2007
Stars & Star Theory
Helen Mirren wins leading actress award @ the Oscars 2007
As can be seen from the above image and the 'appreciation' web site linked beneath it the role and status of stardom is an essential part of developing and maintaining significant audiences for the film industry. But the creation of stars wasn't always a part of the film industry. In the early years of the industry it was technical feats, stunts etc forming a 'cinema of attractions' which were the successful ingredients of cinema.
Audiences soon began to tire of these though and more complex stories told in more exciting cinematic ways began to develop. At the same time genres and stars were also developed as ways of increasing the industries communications with their audiences, for audiences are fickle things and must be continuously seduced. By the time Hollywood developed a sophisticated studio system it had also developed a 'star system'. There was a hierarchy of stars and frequently they were associated with specific genres. John Wayne was usually associated with Westerns and then later on war films as well for example.
Much of the writing on stars is hagiographical and sychophantic. This is of course all part of creating an aura of myth around those upon whom 'star' status has been conferred. It is a notion which has spread from primarily Hollywood stars into the whole culture of 'celebrity'. Scandal and gossip is all an essential part of creating the necessary 'spin' around stars and potential stars. In reality the whole business is very tightly managed with agents, promotions and public relations companies playing an important role in star discourse. You will never see an interview with someone of star or celebrity status on TV or hear one on the radio unless there is an upcoming, film, record thatrical production etc. In this sense all interviews with a star are nothing else but indirect advertising. The interviews by chat show hosts are undemanding with prearranged questions which usually border on sychophancy. There very rarely any critical or probing questioning. If there was any danger of that the agents & PR people wouldn't put the stars onto the shows!
A study of the construction of stars inevitably involves issues of audience and reception. With no audiences there are no 'stars' ! The webliography has several links to articles about audience and the relationship to stars.
Star as Capital Value
The French film industry was the first to recognise the method of using stars to generate audience interest. After the radical reduction in power of the French film industry due to World War 1 the star system really developed in Hollywood in 1919.
Mary Pickford became the first star. Charlie Chaplin soon followed. Not only could stars make money for the studios they could make big money as well provided they generated big profits for the studios.
After the coming of sound there was a shift in the way that Male stars were represented whilst the position of female stars remained largely the same. Vamps / Virgins or Sex Goddesses. In this way they tended to function as objects of beauty and desire. By comparison male characters started to become more complex. They could not only be heroes but rebels or even anti-heroes.
Stars contributed to the successful growth of Hollywood and its increasingly dominant position over other countries. This meant that thet could export their stars into the exhibition system of other countries. It also meant that Hollywood could attract the most popular European stars by outbidding any opposition. Great Garbo is a good example from the silent era.
By the end of the 1950s the star system was weakened with the collapse of the Hollywood studio system after anti-monopoly regulation and the growth of TV caused a consolidation and restructuring of the industry.
Stars were still being manufactured but there were far fewer of them. There was still fierce in country rivalry as Britain and Europe tried to create sex godesses such as Diana Dors, Sophia Loren, Brigitte Bardot to compete with Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield.
Sophia Loren "At Home" Sophia Loren front cover of Life 1960
The creation of celebrity through different parts of the media was a crucial part of gaining and maintaining star status. The scandal potential and events coming back to haunt you cross over into star as deviant (see below). This is a recent image from the National Enquirer. Was a certain young woman really the daughter of the famous film star Sophia Loren? (Does anybody really care?)
Stars have far more than a direct capital value. Their ability to attract audiences has the ability to attract money. Getting a popular leading and fashionable star lined up for a script considerably increases the chances of getting financial backing.
Films are both vehicles for stars but also genres become associated with particular stars. Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers were iconic for the musical which was an American genre.
Star as Construct
We can understand stars as primarily constructed by the film industry, but stars are also agents in their own right and they play some part in creating the myths which float around them. Stars are also authenticated by other parts of the media but they also use these channels to help construct their chosen myths. If Marlene Dietrich was sexually charged we can see Catherine Denueve as an 'ice-maiden'.
A star is about putting on a face representing something that actually isn't there:
Yet we as spectators accept this construct as real. ( Hayward, S. 1996 p 340)
Of course this is open to question and research. Exactly how much spectators do accept these constructions is exactly one of the realms of research which can be undertaken through qualitative research from sixth form projects on women and film to far higher academic levels.
Christine Gledhill argues that stars reach their spectators primarily through their bodies in other words their appearance. Female stars have historically bemoaned the fact that there have been few serious roles for older and more mature women. On the whole the audience dislikes the audience to age:
Curiously, the process of aging matters when it is a woman star - it recalls our own age, ageing is too real - not the 'real' we want to see. (ibid)
But is that necessarily the case? Certainly the Oscars of 2007 offer a challenge to this perception. Are things changing since Hayward first wrote this? The photograph of Helen Mirren gaining her Oscar for her leading role in Stephen Frears' The Queen, signifies possible change. Below is the list of nominees from the BBC website
Penelope Cruz, Volver
Judi Dench, Notes on a Scandal
Helen Mirren, The Queen
Meryl Streep, The Devil Wears Prada
Kate Winslet, Little Children
Three out of the five are highly regarded as actors and are clearly in the 'mature woman' category. Does this finally mean that there is the recognition of an audience who are also more mature mentally ?
Dame Judi Dench Dame Helen Mirren
Does this begin to break down the traditional delineation of the star as construct with three basic parameters which Gledhill identifies?
- Star as real person
- Star as 'reel' person (on-screen character)
- Star 'persona' (combination of the above two categories)
For Richard Dyer the star image has four key components:
- What the industry releases promotionally
- What the various media critics say
- What the star says and does
- What the those who make up the audiences say and do. (Lookalikes etc at one extreme). different audiences will probably make up different meanings to the point of reading the star 'against the grain'.
Stars can become intertextual as the image gets picked up and used by others in advertising for example. A star can be seen as a constellation of meanings rather than any one single meaning.
Star as Deviant
In general the star colludes readily in the construction of themselves as a star led by the studio. Where there are exceptions, such as with Meryl Streep and Robert de Niro, then this resistance becomes incorporated in the essence of their stardom.
On the whole stars comply with and wish to be represented as 'normal'. There are 'lavender' weddings for example to cover up homosexuality. Star performance for gays then becomes a double masquerade.
Being a star is about excess. Excess - being larger than life- is what is specifically according to a 'star'. Without an excessive lifestyle how can they be a star? Provided this 'excess' is well managed then it is of positive value to a studio. If it becomes genuinely excessive then the 'norms of excess' are transgressed and a star can start to take on a negative value for a studion. Excess is usually in the realms of consumption (drugs alcohol) and / or sex. This threatens to expose the masquerade of stardom.
Star as Cultural Value: sign & fetish
Stars can function as signs of changing cultural value. In the 1950s American teenagers quickly took on board the look of James Dean or Marlon Brando. in Europe teenage girls mimicked Brigitte Bardot. Stars then act within wider society to precipitate new mores.
Stars can be mediators within the society as a whole. Hayward traces the changing representations of female sexuality in Hollywood to clarify the point:
- 1930s / 40s: 2 types of female eroticism - independent as good as the boys Bette Davis & Katherine Hepburn / weak vulnerable type (Vivien Leigh)
- 1950s: The independent type replaced by dutiful supporting wife as US society needed to absorb excess labour after the war or a self-parodying brunette who 'settles down' (Doris Day & Jane Russell)/ the weak vulnerable type is replaced by the 'dumb blonde' (Marilyn Monroe)
- 1960s late in the decade the more self assertive radical-liberal feminist eroticism (Jane Fonda)
These change relate to a combination of changes in the social / political / economic conditions in society as a whole.
Star-Gazing & Performance
Audiences come with expectations of certain stars. There are basically two differnt modes of acting:
Here a star plays roles inline with his or her perceived personality. They know what to expect of say the taciturn gunman Clint Eastwood, or grinning machismo bravura with Jack Nicholson.
These actors are far fewer in number. Meryl Streep is a good example. For those who come to see stars rather than good acting this can cause a problem. For the person concerned with impersonating a role then a sign of their excellence is the ability to 'disappear' as a star. Hayward remarks that this is the case with Meryl Streep and suggests that this is why she has usually received very mixed reactions to her performances.
Published February 2007
Hayward, Susan. Key Concepts in Cinema Studies. Routledge
Nelmes, Jill. 2007. Now in 4th Edition (which has just come out). An Introduction to Film Studies. Routledge.
3rd Edition has section Stars and Hollywood Cinema from page 169.
General Bibliography on Audience Studies
Jackie Stacey, Star Gazing: Hollywood Cinema and female spectatorship (1994)
Janet Staiger, Perverse Spectators: the practices of film reception (2000)
Janet Staiger, Interpreting Films (1992)
Tania Modleski, Loving with a vengeance: mass-produced fantasies for women ((1982)
Ien Ang, Living Room Wars; Rethinking Media Audiences for a Post Modern World (1996)
Ien Ang, Watching Dallas, (1985)
Ien Ang, Desperately seeking the audience (1991)
Richard Butsch, The Making of American Audiences: from stage to TV (2000)
Henry Jenkins, Textual Poachers: TV Fans and Participatory Culture (1992)
Shelley Stamp, Movie-Struck Girls: Women and Motion Picture Culture after the Nickelodeon (2000)
Lauren Rabinowitz, For the Love of Pleasure: Women movies and culture in Chicago (1998)
Lisa Lewis, The Adoring Audience: Fan Culture and Popular Media (1992)
Miriam Hanson, Babel and Babylon (1992)
Lynn Spigel, Make Room for TV (1996)
Janice Radway, Reading the Romance (1984)
Helen Taylor, Scarletts’ Women: GWTW and its female fans (1989)
Mary Ann Doane, The Desire to Desire: The Woman’s Film of the 1940s (1987)
Judith Mayne, Cinema and Spectatorship (1993)
M Stokes and R Maltby, American Movie Audiences (1999)
Greg Smith: Film Structure and the Emotion System (2003)
Kathy Fuller, At the Picture Show: Small town audiences and creation of movie fan culture (1997)
Jowett/Jarvie/Fuller, Children and the Movies: Media influence and the Payne Fund (1997)
Hadley Cantril. The Invasion from Mars: A study in the psychology of panic (1940)
Melvin DeFleur and Sharon Lowery, Milestones of Mass Communication research
Denis McQuail, Audience Analysis
Shaun Moores, book on ethnographic studies
Cheryl Harris, Theorizing Fandom (1998)
Sanders, Science Fiction Fandom (1994)
Barbas, Movie Crazy: fans and stars
Harrington, Soap Fans
Tulloch, Watching TV Audiences (2000)
Ellen Seiter, TV and New Media Audiences
Spigel and Mann, Private Screenings: Women and Television
Sut Jhally, Enlightened Racism
Robin Means Coleman, African-American Viewers and Black Situation Comedy
Mumford, Love and Ideology in the Afternoon (computer file)
Joyrich, Lynne, Re-viewing Reception: TV gender and popular culture (computer file)
Shattuc, The Talking Cure: TV Talk shows and women
Bernstein, Attack of the Leading Ladies (1996)
Pinedo, Recreational Terror (1997) computer file
Wikipedia on Richard Dyer the first academic to seriously study stars
Female Film Stars and the Dominant Ideologies of 1950s America: Jessica Freame
Senses of Cinema article on the Development of the Star Image of Dorothy Lamour
Link to Matthew Tillman article on Stars
Review author[s]: Constance Balides
Signs, Vol. 22, No. 1 (Autumn, 1996), pp. 248-254. (This is a JSTOR article and requires subscription access.)
- Cinema and Spectatorship by Judith Mayne
- Star Gazing: Hollywood Cinema and Female Spectatorship by Jackie Stacey
- Babel and Babylon: Spectatorship in American Silent Film by Miriam Hansen
Unpacking clothes: a Senses of Cinema article by Tamar Jeffers who researches Doris Day.
Review of Kuhn, Annette: An Everyday Magic: Cinema and Cultural Memory. London, I. B. Tauris (2002). ISBN 1-86064-791 (pbk), pp. vii + 273
Link to review of Richard Dyer, 2nd Ed 2004. Heavenly Bodies: Films Stars and Society by Rebecca Feasey in The Jounal of Visual Culture
A useful example of establishing a relevant research project (clicking will downloadthe proposal): http://media.utu.fi/emy/JuttaHeikkila.rtf
Link to an Exeter University MA Unit on Stars
Link to interesting Fashion Worlds Cultural Studies Blog page on the cult of celebrity relevant to star theory.
Link to Rebecca Feasey article on Stardom and Sharon Stone: Power as Masquerade. It comes from Taylor and Francis and will cost you a gobsmackingly ridiculous £13 to douwnload! Find it in your library.
Article by Guy Austen from Scope the online film journal :
"In Fear and Pain": Stardom and the Body in Two French Ghost Films. Guy Austin, University of Sheffield, UK
Link to Film Jounal article by Hunter Vaughan which discusses Eyes Wide Shut in relation to Laura Mulvey
Link to article on American Fan Magazines and the Glamourous Construction of Femininity
Link to Su Holmes University of Kent Revisiting Star Studies Article
April 05, 2007
Theo Angelopoulos: The Unseen Europe Part 1
Theo Angelopoulos talking about his filmaking. Film featured Eternity and a Day . Only available in the UK as a VHS video.
This posting is currently provided to give a portal to a range of the best sites on the internet concerning Greek director Theo Angelopoulos. At the time of publication it was probably the best portal on the internet for accessing further information about Angelopoulos. I have now added some YouTube extracts which enthusiasts are posting. In the UK it is currently very difficult to get much of Angelopoulos' work. Hopefully this will help to generate more of a market and provide the investment for digitisation. As I have now devised the 'hub page' system I will start to create separate pages of links on the films when time allows. (Ironic that so much of his work incorporates filmed time!)
Theo Angelopoulos receiving his
honorary degree at Essex University
Andrew Horton (1997) argues that Angelopoulos has made an important impact on cinema in four ways in particular:
- As an innovative film stylist
- As a committed filmmaker
- As an artist able to be able to transcend purely nationalistic boundaries. In doing so to "evoke the ageless, the univerasl and the mythical
- These lead to a 'cinema of contemplation' (history that points to an inner journey).
(Based upon Fainaru, Dan 2001. Theo Angelopoulos Interviews )
- 1935 Born in Athens April 27th into a merchant family
- 1940 Italy invades Greece. Mussolini's army is repulsed. Germany is forced to interverne. This puts back Operation Barbarossa (the invasion of the Soviet Union) by several valuable weeks. This probably saved Moscow and possibly Leningrad from being captured
- 1944 Greece is liberated from the Nazis but enters a protracted cilil war between Communist and anti-Communist forces. The feelings generated by this conflict will last for decades. During the civil war Angelopoulos' father was arrested for no apparent reason. He returned home suddenly after nine months
- 1959 Angelopoulos quits his law school degree nearing graduation in order to complete his military service
- 1961 Angelopoulos goes to Paris to study literature, filmology, and anthropology at the Sorbonne
- 1962 enters IDHEC (Institut des Hautes Etudes Cinematographiques). He has several disagreements with his tutors there. Attempted to shoot a medium length film called 'In Black and White'. It was never completed due to lack of funds. Negative remained at the laboratory
- 1963 moves from IDHEC to courses run by ethnographic filmmaker Jean Rouch at La Musee de L'Homme
- 1964 returns to Athens. Writes film criticism for Democratic Change
- 1965 works on US / Greek production of a fictional film based upon a real pop group the Formix Story. It was supposed to be a promotional film for the band's American tour. angelopoulos was replaced by the producers before completion
- 1967 Greece of 'The Colonels'. This military takeover led to much repression of democratic institutions. Democratic Change was closed down and strict political censorship is enforced upon all the media
- 1968 Angelopoulos completes the B & W short The Broadcast which took 2 years to complete. It is about a radio show looking for the "Ideal Man". It is screened and wins the Greek Critics award at the Thessaloniki Film Festival
- 1970 Reconstruction is released. This is his first film based upon an real event which was the killing of a returned Gastarbeiter. It won several awards at the Thessaloniki film Festival including: best film, best director, best script, best actress and the critics' prize
- 1971 Reconstruction gains some international recognition winning the Georges Sadoul Prize in France and gaining a special mention from the International film Critics (FIPRESCI) at the Berlin Film Festival
- 1972 Days of '36 released. Based upon a real incident which took place in pre-World War II Greece. Wins Best Film at Thessaloniki film Festival and wins FIPRESCI award in Berlin
- 1974. Starts work on The Travelling Players in January. Has to stop in May because of political events; re-starts in November finishing the film in January 1975. It is a great international success garnering awards in Thessaloniki, Cannes, and Brussels
- 1977. Makes The Hunters which is the first film to be produced by his own company with French and German co-producers. It is invited to the official Cannes competition. Wins a Golden Hugo in Chicago
- 1980. O Megalexandros (Alexander the Great [this is a problematic translation]). It combines several Greek myths and is styed in the form of a Byzantine liturgy. It is a co-production with Italy and Germany. Wins Golden Lion and Critics Award in Venice. Also wins acclaim in Thessaloniki
- 1981. One Village, One Villager. Documentary on the theme of the fate of Greek villages abandoned by their inhabitants. Screened by Greek Television
- 1982. contributes to a series of documentaries on cultural capitals. He makes Athens, Return to the Acropolis
- 1983. Starts shooting Voyage to Cythera in January. Had to stop for two months due to bad health. finally finished in 1984. Start of a new cycle of films which are far more personal in nature. shown in Cannes 1985 it marked the beginning of a still ongoing partnership with the Italian poet and scriptwriter Tonino Guerra and composer Eleni Kaindrou
- 1986. The Beekeeper is shown at the Venice Film Festival. works with Marcello Mastroianni for the first time. Mastroainni becomes a personal friend
- 1988. Landscape in the Mist launched at Venice Film Festival. wins the Silver Lion at Venice and selected as Best European Film of the Year by the European Film Academy. The following year if wins a Golden Hugo for best director and a Golden Plaque for best cinematography in Chicago
- 1991. The Suspended Step of the Stork opens in Cannes. Stars Mastroianni and Jeanne Moreau. this another cycle of work which Angelopoulos describes as existential. His concerns for the beginnings of the breakup of the Balkans and the beginnings of a disillusionment in politics in general are apparent
- 1995. Named Doctor Honoris Causa by the Free University in Brussels. Makes Ulysses Gaze which uses an american lead for the first time (Harvey Keitel). shoots the film all over the Balkans incorporating past and present tragedies. It wins the Grand Prix at Cannes
- 1998. Eternity and a Day wins the Golden Palm in Cannes. Becomes the president of the Thessaloniki film Festival after having had a troubled relationship with other Greek directoprs complaining that he had stolen the show from them
- 1999. Awarded Doctor Honoris Causa at Paris X University in Nanterre
- 200. Awarded honorary Degree of Doctor of Essex University (Department of Film Studies)
- 2004. The Weeping Meadow. Part one of a projected Trilogy
- 2007/8. Projected release of The Dust of Time second part of the Trilogy.
The Dust of Time (in production release date projected 2007)
The Weeping Meadow (2004) [Part 1 of trilogy] Extract from YouTube below
Extract two from Weeping Meadow Beer Hall Scene English subtitles.
Eternity and a Day (1998)
Lumiere and Company (1995)
The Suspended Step of the Stork (1991). You Tube Extract below.
Landscape in the Mist (1989)
The Bee-Keeper (1986)
Voyage to Cithera (1984)
Alexander the Great (1980)
The Hunters (1977)
The Travelling Players (1975) YouTube extract below
Days of 36 (1972)
Resurrection of a Crime (1970)
Interview with Andrew Horton mainly about Eternity and a Day
More of the interview with Andrew Horton mainly on the visual style of Angelopoulos
Fainaru, Dan Edited: Theo Angelopoulos Interviews. University of Mississippi Press
The Films of Theo Angelopoulos (review)
Journal of Modern Greek Studies - Volume 18, Number 2, October 2000, pp. 468-470 (you will need to part of a subscribing library to access this article).
This search is a selection of the best sites on a Google search to page 20.
Last date of search 5th April 2007
Here is a link to a useful website . You will need an Athens account to access this article. Review article of important films from the Balkans by Diana Iordanova
Official Theo Angelopoulos Website
Angelopoulos' Gaze by Bill Mousoulis from Senses of Cinema
Vicky Tsaconas Landscape in the Mist? Senses of Cinema site
The Strictly Film School Blog entry
The Hellenic Ministry of Culture Site
Guardian review of Eternity and a Day : Bradshaw
International Herald Tribune Cannes Report on Angelopoulos winning the Palm d'Or in Cannes 1998
Text of the awards ceremony at Essex University where Angelopoulos was awarded an honorary degree from the Centre for Film Studies
Link to Thessaloniki Documentary Festival site with links to documentaries about Angelopoulos
Useful page of references from the Film Reference site
Theo Angelopoulos, a man against frontiers: Ulysses's gaze in International Journal of Psychoanalysis Volume 85, Number 4 / August 01, 2004, Pages1017 - 1021
Angelopoulos interview with Geoff Andrew in Time Out magazine Jan 2005
Cinemascope Review of Weeping Meadow
Realtimeplayer interview with Angelopoulos in French from Making of Europe Net
Link to PDF file on Borders & communities in Angelopoulos' trilogy by Lasse Thomassen Dept of Government Essex University
Link to petition to Greek Government seeking to reverse the decision to sack Angelopoulos from his position as director of the Thessaloniki Festival.
Link to BFI site on documentary on Angelopoulos "Balkan Landscapes"
Regular Production Crew
Andreas Sinanos on the following film:
The Weeping Meadow
Yorgos Arvanitis on the following films:-
Eternity and a Day
Landscape in the Mist
Voyage to Cythera
Alexander the Great
Days of 36
Resurrection of a Crime
Eleni Karaindrou : Biographical Notes from ECM
April 03, 2007
Comedy Part 1: Comedy Conventions
Initially comedy seems to be a very easy genre to deal with, most people like ‘amusing’ films, however, one person’s sense of humour is another person’s misery. From the perspective of genre the ability to appeal to a wide range of people to gain financial success means that it is a very difficult genre to do well, either as a genre in itself or as an aspect of a multi-generic or hybrid generic film. What constitutes comedy and the comic is complex. Film comedy is frequently a genre hybrid. Comedy can be made as; ‘black comedy’ with a bleak sense of humour; it can be reliant upon slapstick, gags or sharp-edged satire; it may be parodic of other cinematic conventions.
Comedies frequently rely far less than most other genres upon standardised narrative devices. A study of how the comedy genre operates throws the issue of narrative into sharp relief. The diversity of these comic forms is covered in part one of this three part section on comedy.
Part two examines narrative and its functioning within comedy. Part three looks at how comedy can act as a release of social tensions through well-managed social transgression, and also considers how comedy can function as a critique of social reality in a way which other genres can find difficult to do.
The diversity of comic forms means that a single definition of comedy is insufficient. The criterion of laughter isn’t enough to define a film as a comedy. This is because comedy is widely used in other genres for momentary effects. Think of the rather deadpan comic aspects of the Terminator films for example. These effects are a feature of the films rather than the central purpose. The Terminator films can’t be defined as SF-comedy. The term ‘comic’ means the ability to cause laughter. Even a real event can be comic. ‘Comedy’ is an aesthetic term with two distinct meanings:
The Oxford Concise Dictionary definition is : ‘Comedy, n. Stage-play of light, amusing and often satirical character, chiefly representing everyday life, & with happy ending (cf. TRAGEDY);’ The key meanings here are: ‘Amusing’ and ‘A happy ending’.
Notably the word laughter isn’t mentioned in this definition although the expression ‘amusing’ can be seen as a partial synonym for laughter but it expresses far more than this.
Social Class , Comedy and Comic Conventions
Historically both the content and the structure of comedy have tended to have a class bias. As far as content is concerned, where the upper classes are represented it is in their more private or trivial aspects of life. The enormous political power of these elites allied to the control of land, industry and the effects of this power on most people’s lives is ignored. Robert Altman’s Gosford Park (2002) can be considered as comic from this point of view.
In comedy note the importance of creating a happy ending and also the representation of everyday life which was normally concerned with the middle and lower orders of society.
A happy ending is a convention usually coexistent with other conventions, such as the constant generation of laughter through funny lines and situations. Where films have only brief funny moments but with a happy end both the film’s concerns and the structure can be close to the genre ‘we tend to think of as melodrama’ (Neale & Krutnik,199: 13). Under this criterion we can consider Thelma and Louise and Muriel’s Wedding (1994) as melodrama crossing -over with screwball comedies which are comedies about the 'battle of the sexes'.
The majority of comedy films can be seen as being genre hybrids. About a Boy ( 2002 ), The Full Monty, Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994), Trainspotting, Shallow Grave (1995) range through a number of genre hybrid combinations from romantic comedies, to ‘black’ comedies. They have strong narratives as a vehicle for comic aspects. The stronger the narrative the more the film takes on either multi-generic or hybrid generic aspects.
Historical Aspects of Comedy
Originating in high bourgeois theatre from the late 18th century there has been a link between comedy and melodrama creating a tradition of ‘sentimental’ comedy. It was a hybrid genre which emerged in several European countries featuring characters of a lower rank than those suitable for tragedy. A major aim was to encourage the audiences to identify with the characters and to weep on their behalf rather than to laugh at them. In France this was called comedie larmoyante or tearful comedy. Neo-classical theory made a distinction between ‘high’ and ‘low’ comedy thus denigrating non-narrative forms of comedy. There are two fundamental divisions in the field of comedy as a whole. These are the criterion of the happy ending and the criterion of laughter. Narrative forms of comedy must have a happy ending and can have laughter. Non-narrative forms of comedy are only comedy through the criterion of laughter. Stand-up comics such as Ali-G and Paul Merton use non-narrative techniques of comedy.
Narrative comedy has a clear beginning, middle and end revolving around a definite plot. Non-narrative types of comedy just aim to create laughter with the plot a feeble device to act as a vehicle for a continuous stream of gags and slapstick such as Borat.
Comedy was very popular in early cinema which was a media form which appealed primarily to the working class mass audience. This situation changed as film technology and film-making techniques became more sophisticated. The use of narrative as a standard vehicle for comedy developed. Frequently the less sophisticated the audience the weaker the plot, and the narrative structure. Films such as Monty Python and Blazing Saddles (1971) break down this class based comedy by operating at a range of levels from slapstick to parody which depends upon a good level of cultural knowledge so that the audiences can understand the references.
Comedy and Comic Conventions in Cinema
‘Comedy’ as an aesthetic term has two distinct kinds of meaning. It can refer to the genre as a whole. Alternatively it can refer to particular works - Some Like it Hot. (1959).
The use of the indefinite article ‘a’ tends to imply a narrative form; The TV sitcom the Royale Family is comedy rather than a comedy, because it is non-narrative being based upon a continuous invariant location - the front room in front of the TV. This is a comedic form specific to broadcast media which can concentrate on series production.
The generation of laughter can mark all forms as comedy. It can also mark all genres which leads to a considerable amount of genre hybridity. Hitchcock’s North by North West (1959) can be seen as a comedy-thriller for example.
Generic hybridization should be distinguished from parody. In contrast to generic hybrids, which combine generic conventions, parodies work by drawing upon other conventions to make us laugh.
Parody need not necessarily be comic. When it is comic and occurs within the context of a comedy, laughter is consistently produced by gags and funny lines which specifically use as their raw material the conventions of the genre involved. Blazing Saddles for example isn’t a Western with comic elements or a comedy-western but a comedy which relies upon a knowledge of the Western amongst the audience to work effectively.
Parody is a mode or way of doing comedy, not a form. Parody has its own techniques and methods but no particular form or structure. It can occur within a narrative feature film, a comedy sketch, a quasi-documentary. Parody is one of a number of modes available to comedy. Slapstick and satire are other modes.
Satire works to mock and attack. Sometimes prevailing norms are attacked in the name of other non-dominant social values. For example M*A*S*H uses democratic and humanitarian values to measure the undemocratic and inhumane practices used in the war being fought in Korea. The Korean war was long over but M*A*S*H had strong contextual relevance  as an analogy to the Vietnam war which was going on at the time. It stood against the self-professed norms of the US military and governmental establishment and also of war itself.
Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times (1936) attacked the inhuman values of modern industrial society ‘in the name of disappearing values it associates with pre-industrial life especially rural life.
Examples of films reliant upon satirisation are Muriel’s Wedding which can be described as a satire of small-town life and as a satire upon the social institution of marriage. One reason why parody can be confused with satire is that parody can be used for satirical purposes. The actual process of Muriel’s ‘white wedding’ can be seen as a parody of the aesthetics of a typical white wedding. The audience, Muriel along with her Bridegroom and the Groom’s coach all recognise that the arrangement is not a real wedding. It is purely a business arrangement which is convenient for different reasons for both parties. The aestheticisation of the wedding, which could have been done quickly in a registry office, is a parodic form which serves to satirise the stifling small-town ritual of white weddings prized by Muriel’s peer group.
Thelma and Louise satirises men and masculinity and the role they play in women’s lives. In analyses of audience response the film was popular amongst male viewer’s who didn’t associate themselves with the absurdity of the stereotyped male characters. Thelma’s husband is satirised as being generally incompetent using a gag comic convention of literally putting his foot in it as he steps on a pizza answering the police. The truck-driver is successfully satirised as his masculine fantasies literally go up in smoke. Both are made to look stupid. The police officer who stops Thelma and Louise for speeding is on the other hand parodic, stretching back to the policeman in dark Oakley’s striding ominously up to the victim in a long line of films from Psycho (1960) to Terminator 2. The policeman’s unceremonious bundling into the boot satirises through parody this version of institutionalised masculinity.
Slapstick is another mode of comedy that can be found in a very diverse range of forms. The origins of the term stem from a type of prop which were a pair of paddles to create a lot of noise with minimum danger. This marked violent comic action of the kind to be found in pantomime, circus and ‘low’ forms of farce. The physical plus visual qualities of slapstick were crucial in the early comedy of the silent period. Slapstick is valued for the populist foundation of its aesthetic. Slapstick is inappropriate and inadequate as a vehicle for romance or its fulfilment. It lacks a plot structure that is capable of taking romance seriously. Narrative comedy can accommodate slapstick but the reverse isn’t the case.
The term can apply to any kind of visual comic effect. They can involve a comic effect like a ‘pratfall’ where somebody falls over. In Life is Beautiful (1998), perhaps the darkest of ‘black comedies’, Guido falls off his bike into Dora for example. At the beginning of the film there are a variety of gags which lead the viewer to think that this is comedy which is pure farce as the brakes fail leading the car past a reception for royalty. Gags can be a part of the narrative or else entirely incidental to it. Thelma’s husband putting his feet in the pizza in Thelma and Louise for example.
It is important to differentiate between comic and comedy and it is also important to note the differing forms of comedy which in more sophisticated products might all be present, which lends appeal to a wide range of audiences. It is usually the case that stronger narratives are less reliant upon slapstick styles of comedy and also that these comedic forms are more likely to be marketed as a genre hybrid. In the next section there is a more detailed account of the ways in which narrative works to increase comic effects.
1 See under Genre as ‘Hybrid and Multi-generic’.
2 See under Methods and Methodologies in Film Research / contextual Criticism’.
The Western: Creating and Re-creating the Concept of Genre
Despite the severe decline in the output of Westerns since the early 1970s this section has been included to emphasise the historical importance of critical work using the Western as a case study through which much genre theory developed. The work on Westerns as a genre has established a research paradigm or set of limits of thinking about genre which arguably needs revising. Neale’s work on the Western challenges this paradigm and argues that instead of being thought of as a ‘closed’ genre, Westerns need to be thought as an open-ended genre which is both hybrid and multi-generic. As Neale (2000) points out Westerns have occupied a pre-eminent position in writing of all kinds on genre in the cinema:
...the Western still features centrally in introductory accounts and in introductory courses on genre in the cinema fed in part by occasional attempts to revive it in Hollywood and by the resurgence of scholarly interest 
Neale’s recent analysis (2000) problematises this early critical work and suggests that overemphasis on particular key westerns amongst critics has biased the critical output so that other issues surrounding genre theory in general and the study of the western specifically have become obscured. Neale further argues that decline of Western production means ‘its role as a generic paradigm, as a model or starting point for the study of Hollywood’s genres, is even more problematic now than it was before’ 
The Western and the Construction of American Identity
It is hard to underestimate the importance of Westerns in American society, helping to play an important role in creating an American identity through a host of representations about the chain of events recreating popular, but not necessarily historically accurate views of the emergence and development of the United States.
The Western genre and surrounding discourses have blended in various ways to create a ‘mythology’ that has been:
uniquely central to US history, US culture and US identity. This mythology is grounded in the notion (itself as imaginative as it is real ) that there existed a moving western frontier in the US between the seventeenth and the late nineteenth centuries.’
Neale notes that frontier mythology is the framework for most Westerns but many touch on this minimally. There are many other films which contain elements of the frontier within them. There were hundreds of Indian (Native American) Westerns made in the late 1900s, 1910s and 1920s. Some have argued that they constituted a genre in their own right. These were comprised from a widespread number of themes. Some saw the native American originally described as ‘Indians’ as a ‘noble savage’. Others were about the loyalty and devotion of native Americans to the European settlers.
Problems with the Western and Genre Theory
The central position of the Western in the development of genre theory has created two linked problems:
- Work on the Western has strongly influenced theories about genre.
- Research into the phenomenon of the Western films themselves has often been limited because of the dominant position of genre theory and criticism, which means that other aspects about Westerns such as their role in the construction of an American national identity has been largely ignored within film studies.
The centrality of the Western in genre theory can be measured by its prominence in both conventional and unorthodox accounts of genre. There are problematic aspects of both the centrality of the western to accounts of genre, and problematic aspects of the western itself.
Neale draws on Buscombe’s research of 1970 to point out that the visual conventions or iconography of the Western are highly distinctive and highly coded. Neale argues that this strongly marked set of visual codes is the generic exception rather than the rule. These exceptions of Western coding include the combinations of an iconography or set of visual conventions including: clothing; decor; landscape. These conventions also include other aspects of its generic world such as the use of language and modes of transport. Overall Neale concludes that ‘ ... for all these reasons ...it [the Western] is hardly a suitable model for general conceptions and theories of genre’ (My emphasis).
This understanding of the range of visual conventions (iconography) has been seen as a very important aspect of the Western, playing an important role in linking the product with audiences and as well as being an important arena for doing case study work in developing genre theory. Neale’s survey of genres leads him to suggest that other critics who have written on other genres using iconography as a key element of their ideas have not been able to develop their arguments in such a convincing manner as those who have written upon Westerns.
If Neale’s suggestion is correct, then visual conventions can be considered as a much weaker aspect of other genres than has frequently been argued. This means that it is dangerous to use one model of genre as a model for all genres as it can close down ways of thinking about other generic categories. The logic of Neale’s argument also means that genres can be seen as both very specific in how they are constructed as well as sharing some common features.
Genre Hybridity in the 1920s Western
Within the whole cycle of the Western genre hybridity - the sharing of other generic conventions - has been common. Neale draws on the work of Letraut, about 1920s silent Westerns. He points out that the films produced then were very different to later Westerns and therefore there wasn’t a ‘fixed nor substantive entity’ within the genre. There was a shifting array of differently stressed and diverse components and numerous alliances with other ‘genres, cycles and trends and from the specific and plural traditions these alliances call into play.’ 
These films sought to appeal to a variety of audiences ranging from children to adults and from the rural to the cities. There were a variety of hybrid terms used to describe the films such as :
- Romantic Western
- Western comedy drama
- Western farce
- Western mystery melodrama.
It is also possible to discuss these films as a range of alliances utilising a wide range of cinematic conventions all of which are worthy of further research:
- The alliance between the Western, visual action and acrobatic athleticism ( chases and stunts - rodeos)
- The alliance between the Western, history and ‘realism’. These appeared in frontier epics with a stress on period detail and consistency, and in traditions of psychological characterisation and moral decision-making
- Alliance between the Western and comedy - comic sidekicks, comic situations, traditions of parody / satire / deployment of stunt and action regimes of bodily gesture.
It is possible to see that a variety of themes traversed these hybrid genres - religious conversion, racial prejudice, revenge, land-grabbing villains. The relationship to the frontier myth is either distant or complex.
New Research Methods: Reconstructing Genre Theories
Some researchers have decided to avoid previously received wisdoms. For example, Stanfield in a partly published thesis in 1999 used different research methods based on archival research to re-explore the Western genre coming up with some quite different ideas to those written about previously which included an emphasis on the industry construction of the market. Stanfield’s research techniques included:
- Archival Research:
- Examining contemporary trade and newspaper resources
- The films themselves
- Cultural histories of the US of its popular cultures in the 19th and 20th centuries.
As a result Stanfield argues that the role of the market  was very important. The B western was aimed at rural and small town audiences in which a variety of changing social and cultural relationships were examined through a variety of forms. ‘The singing Western’ was aimed at attracting female audiences for example. By comparison the A western appealed to metropolitan audiences and their concerns. The marketing ploy of romance through male lead stars to appeal to women was successful. This was a multi-generic approach.
The market failure of Westerns in the 1930s was a combination of lack of romance, alongside an ill judged investment and deployment of new wide-screen technologies against a backdrop of depression. The subsequent relaunch of the Western included films designed to appeal specifically to women. A variation on this theme was the ‘City Western’ with well known male and female stars and dealing with adult themes such as drinking, gambling and sex.
There was also a cycle of historical films which sometimes overlapped with the ‘city’ film. These were promoted as Americanised engagements with large-scale political and historical themes. They also helped to counter accusations that the censorship codes were preventing engagement with serious issues. They often managed to integrate romantic story-lines thus providing general appeal. The richness of content enables us to see these films as multi-generic.
Neale suggests that the models and terms devised at the beginning of the post-war period to discuss Westerns in which the hero’s troubled relationship with society undergoes modification are more straightforwardly applied to Westerns of this post-war period and the late 30’s such as Stagecoach (1939) which received its canonical status at this time.
It seems doubtful whether these models of the Western genre can be usefully applied to films of the earlier period. This means that within what can be classed as a genre there can be huge shifts in the way these films are made, viewed and criticised. This is all part of contextual criticism . In the post-war context some westerns were able to articulate contemporary post-war and cold war concerns such as:
- The return of the veteran and their rehabilitation into civil society
- The issue of national allegiance, especially in relation to the Vietnam war
- The re-marketing and industry reconstruction of the genre using Elvis Presley and other rising pop stars to capture the growing teen market.
Neale also raises the issue of whether critical preference for films such as The Searchers (1956) and The Wild Bunch (1969) has tended to obscure the existence of other socio-cultural and aesthetic trends and other film titles resulting in a closing down of research and discussion about westerns in recent years.
Overall it can be seen from this section that the critical work around the Western has been foundational in the study of genre. At the same time this work has been rather one-sided in its approach to genre ignoring many features that are now increasingly recognised as important to genre studies. These include the notion of genre as process of negotiation between audiences and the industry. Westerns can be seen as both hybrid and multi-generic, as part of a widely differing marketplace and as forming an arena for public debate when socio-political events such as the Vietnam war became an important part of the popular consciousness. Soldier Blue, based on the story of a cavalry massacre of a native American village, is a good example of this. The film functioned to demythologise both the ‘history’ of the American nation established through the Western as well as relate to a current oppressive war through this exposure of the past.
1 Neale, 2000 : 133.
2 Neale , 2000 : 142.
3  Neale, 2000 : 134.
4 See also section on ‘visual conventions and genre’.
5 Neale, 2000 : 134
6 However the issue of mise-en-scene including fashion and stylisation in the section of popular culture shows that more complex research relating genre to visuality could usefuly be done.
7 Neale, 2000 : 137
8 See the section on Comedy and Genre for more on the workings of comic conventions in cinema.
9 See also the section on ‘Methods and Methodology in Film Research’
10See also the section on ‘Genres and Multiple Marketing Strategies’.
11For more on contextual criticism see under ‘Methods and Methodology in Film Research’.
Genre the Everyday and Popular Culture
Genre, popular culture and the everyday have been three concepts historically linked and often made into a hierarchy which is very gender based. The concept of popular culture is itself a troubled one with accusations of elitism from some academics countered by accusations of crass populism by others. The Romantics criticised genre in ways which linked it with the everyday seen as repetitive and mundane, yet the role of romance in a wide range of genres aimed at markets segmented by age and gender can be seen as a desire to escape the everyday mundanities. A wider generic concern can expand Neale’s comment on the ‘women’s film’ genre as one which is strange and contradictory to think about other generic forms.
Desire is often released by the culturally generic form such as romances. The character can move to higher things through romantic involvement but then the characters are reincorporated back into the everyday by becoming reconciled to it. David Lean’s Brief Encounter (1945) is a good example of this. Below some of these concerns are examined in more detail. In conclusion, the spectacular and its links with the romantic are seen to perform this role of reconciliation for the audience providing an generically based industry continuously fired by individual fantasies of escape and need for reconciliation.
History of Genre and Popular Culture
Originally most modern concepts of genre had a hostile attitude to cultural products perceived of as industrialised and necessarily repetitious. This attitude originated in the Romanticist movement of the 19th century. Strongly criticising mass cultural products as routine , repetitive and formulaic these critics were trying to create a clear division between ‘high art’ and ‘low’/popular culture. The work of Neale (2000) through detailed empirical studies of popular films argues that it is better to consider genre as a complex process within the greater complex of cultural industrial strategies. As a result it is more appropriate to consider genre conventions as loose and open-ended rather than as a system which forecloses upon the meaning and quality of a film.
The metaphor of repetition is very strongly associated with industrialism and its processes and it has also been strongly associated with the domestic environment. Industrialism has, for many, been seen as the way forward for humanity as a whole, making repetition positive for some theorists. This has been contrasted by the same theorists to the everyday or quotidian of the domestic environment which has been viewed as very socially conservative as time is seen as cyclical or going nowhere. This construction of time and domestic space is a highly gendered one. Time constructed as masculine linked to an industrialised workspace despite the repetition of the industrial processes is still envisaged as a form of progress. By comparison, domestic time considered as repetitive and circular is considered as feminised time and space without the possibility of progress.
A slightly different variation on repetition has been seen by Romanticist critics as running counter to the “greater” things in life. They have been very much in favour of supporting the concept of “ Art for art’s sake”. Romanticists are associated with anti-industrialism. In the 19th century important critics divided into left and right-wing approaches to Romanticism. William Morris wanted more of a return to crafts conceived of as an organic form of production valuing the best of ‘popular culture’ of the time. This can be contrasted with the approach of Matthew Arnold whose ideas of ‘high culture’ strongly influenced British arts policy until the 1980’s, for his ideas were adapted by T.S. Eliot , F. R. Leavis and Lord Keynes who was responsible for establishing the Arts Council in Britain after World War Two .
More recently feminist social theorists such as Rita Felski and media theorists such as Roger Silverstone have been examining issues around the concept of the everyday. Both of these theorists are concerned to re-evaluate the everyday which is something we all usually take for granted thinking of it as almost “natural”. Both theorists come to similar conclusions which are that the repetitions of the everyday have a very important set of social, cultural and psychological functions, thus they are more positive about the term. In terms of child development repetition is very important in achieving a well-balanced child. In terms of media output a regular range of programmes helps us to receive and give meaning to our days and provides pleasure as well. These factors are described as ontological security. Ontology is about social being and here the expression means that people feel comfortable in the world and are able to function effectively when they have a strong sense of ontological security.
To assume, as so many critics of generic output have done, that repetition is necessarily bad, creates a tendency to misread the complex processes and continuously shifting relationship of production and audience construction within the media world. In that sense nothing is ever quite the same. Critical positions which are totally anti-generic tend to assume a largely passive audience and as such is driven by an elitist view of the capabilities of the audience. Those popular films which can be said to be genre-based articulate a process which in an indirect way through the box-office relates to, informs and is informed by the desires, fears, needs of vast numbers of people.
The Spectacular and the Everyday
The ways in which film as a form of ‘popular’ culture is consumed changed between the 1950s-1970s. The role of cinema as the primary form of mass media was eclipsed by television. The contextual  aspects of exhibition have changed beyond all recognition since the days of the classical Hollywood studio system. Consumption of films is still very popular. Frequently cinema release acts more as a form of promotion for the film. Shorter runs and the complex licensing arrangements, releasing the film through rental chains often owned by multi-media corporations, followed by satellite and cable release then retail shops and then terrestrial TV shows that a sophisticated hierarchical marketing system is in place to maximise profitability upon each film.
Generic films aimed at a youth market tend to do well at the cinema. The audience are less tied to the domestic environment and have a relatively high disposable income. The youth audience is the largest group of regular cinema-goers. Audience analysis shows that the ways in which film interacts with the everyday is complex. More family oriented crowds at rental outlets such as ‘Blockbusters’ at weekends shows that cinema exhibition within the domestic environment at a time when the week is less structured by institutional requirements such as work and school means that longer films can be watched without breaking up weekday routines.
The ‘Blockbuster’ is now major factor in the survival of the mainstream cinema as a distinctive media form with a major industrial base. The space of the cinema and the spectacular is an important industry feature which in helping fantasy breakout of the quotidian marked by repetition constructed as mundanity indicates that generally audiences are by no means strongly attracted by generic features of film alone. The blockbuster can be seen as working upon a widely differing range of socially constructed desires of romantic longing to escape the everyday.
The marking of the everyday as unromantic by generically-based media industries provides the psychological space in which to develop products which are designed to construct a range of cultural and social practices constructed as ‘romantic’, whilst being careful not to overfeed those dreams. The social researcher Adorno can be seen to have made an important argument when he argued that there was a ‘fundamental symmetry’ between mass-culture and fascism: ‘both feed-off and reproduce immature character structures with high, almost childlike, dependency needs.’ 
Use of special FX to create ‘magical’ aspects of narrative which have no relationship to reality of verisimilitude (narrative logic) are only viable because of the desire to escape yet this escapism must be resolved by the narrative closure into some sort of verisimilitude. In Charlotte Gray there is a classical romantic ending with an open but contented future ahead, in Titanic the irreconcilable differences of class must end in a heroic and tragic death made real by linking to historical events. In Minority Report reconciliation and a new stable family future beckon. Thelma and Louise have a slightly more difficult ending which can be read in a number of different ways. Verisimilitude says that they will die however breaking through the genre conventions by a non-specific ending allows for the possibility of a new form of the everyday and the possibilities for social change by breaching the conventions between rationality and irrationality as the space where generically based cultural products manipulate the imaginaries of their audiences.
1 See Felski, Rita. 1999-2000.
2  Silverstone, R. 1994.
3 Also see under ‘Methods and Methodology in Film Research’.
4 See also ‘Multiple Marketing Strategies’ section.
5 Adorno quoted Crook, Stephen in Adorno 1994. P 10-11.
Film Studies Departments United Kingdom
For further advice on what to think about when choosing a film studies course check this Kinoeye entry
This posting is primarily to provide a quick links guide for potential undergraduate students of film studies in the UK. The listing doesn't distinguish between departments in terms of teaching quality or on any other grounds. It is up to the potential undergraduates to research these parameters for themselves. Given that this site is hosted by the University of Warwick clearly its own courses are prioritised. That's competition for you :-).
Please note well: This posting is under continuous development as departments are registered in the course of other searches. As such it doesn't currently represent a fully organised search. It is just being posted as a courtesy to visitors.
Film Studies at University of Warwick
Department of Film & Television Studies
French with Film Studies
Italian With Film Studies
German Studies can also incorporate a number of film modules:
Film & Literature Course
UK Universities Film Studies Departments
De Montfort University, Leicester
Falmouth University College
King's College University of London
Lampeter (University of Wales)
London Southbank University
Oxford Brookes University
Queen Mary's College, University of London
Queen's University Belfast
Sheffield Hallam University
Southampton Solent University
St. Andrews University
UCL (University College London)
University of Cumbria
University of East Anglia (Norwich)
University of Ulster
University of West of England
University of York
UK Universities Language departments which have film studies modules
Sheffield University Department of French