Sunday, 6 March 2011

week 1. Of Sunrises and Sexual identities

Oh yeah, always good to start with an alliteration as a title. Makes for a good post.

So I have started this blog because I like pretty things and blog spot will let me have a background whilst the school sanctioned blog will not. I do hope this does not mean style over substance. For I believe both are integral for living.

First week in and we are covering form and filmic language. You can never go past Bordwell and Thompson for basic film theory.  Ultimately what we have in film is a form of representations or semiotics. As a set of conventions, codes and culturally relative expressions, pictures, symbols, anything which conveys meaning. This entry is going to examine form in film though the example of Murnau’s studio piece Sunshine, a tale of two people (1927) 

Firstly I noticed that the film uses the production elements in a clever intertextual way. The referential expressionist styling’s refers to Murnau’s roots in German expressionism. But the subject matter is ostensibly American. There is the base level distinction between city and country and then the binary that is the American studio system and European art cinema. Binaries are an innate form of semiotics. Things are often defined by what they are not; definitions formed by contrast are a very simple way of depicting meaning in film.

The film, shot in black and white utilizes lighting to allude to characters intentions. The Man (George O’ Brian) cast in shadow and caught in the dark is shown in dark garb. Any time his mind wanders to The Woman from the city, with which he is having an affair the film dramatically casts him in shadow, and in unnatural angles to highlight his philandering. The Wife (Janet Gaynor) is positioned in the household. Shown collectively to fit with the space of the house, her white, light costume is similar to the china and lamp in their small home. The woman from the city (Margaret Livingston) is shown to be a creation of the jazz age. She is shown in a negative light. Literally in moon light, shadow and fog cast her in a melodramatic and deviant way.

A mid range shot with The Wife and Baby, the then the wife’s tears are intersected with images of the Man and the Woman from the city, all highly melodramatic. But then again, arguably everything in film is melodramatic. Editing is melodrama. The sound elaborates further still, working in unison with editing, framing, acting and mise en scene to emphasise the characters and narrative flow. Even the title cards are overtly theatrical. As ‘drowned’ is mentioned the words slide dramatically down the screen to strengthen the Woman from the cities mischievous plan.

For all that this film offers in the way of basic film forms, I found it more engaging in a gender studies context. The masculine nature of the Woman from the city was intriguing. No doubt that Flapper’s were crossing heteronormative behavioural patterns during their time. It is fascinating to watch her characters masculine mannerisms and behaviours throughout to film. This in the wake of my attending the Melbourne Queer Film Festival volunteer induction, and seeing an interesting line-up of films on offer. One in particular caught my eye, a fan of trash and exploitation cinema ‘Ticked off trannies with knives” in particular stood out from the myriad of independent films offered this year. Apparently this film begets a new genre; transploitation. Nice ring to it, but it is hardly the first film in which transexuality has been exploited as a anomaly. Wild Zero (2000) and Waiting for Yvette (2008) both arguably exploit the curiosity with intersexuality. Either way, in the words of Mr. Wilde “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.”

The most recent episode of 30 Rock was also a biting social satire fraught with gender issues. I love that the episode sees Liz Lemmon being left with the line ‘Gees Liz, you must really hate woman’ after she sabotage’s a new female employees job because of her ostentatious ‘very sexy baby’ version of femininity. The best part is Tina Fey, a powerful and talented writer has now bought out exactly what this episode was suggesting. That women are the ones bringing women down.

I think the blogsphere has an interesting reaction to the episode, almost like it has been taken at face value. The two articles below have also picked up on that. Does that mean 30 rock was too clever for its audience?

Tina Fey Backlash

Feminism in comedy

It seems only natural that something so socially ingrain as gender be represented so frequently in which ever form of media popular at the time. Amazing that even between Sunrise, Trannies with Knives and 30 Rock the issue of femineity and ideals really has not progressed further than overt melodramatic representations of femaleness. And anything else gender where gender is incidental is not needed to be discussed. Probably a case of those who are marginalised screaming the loudest into the blogsphere.


Waiting for Yevette, (2008) Justin Ross. USA
Wild Zero, (2000) Tetsuro Takeuchi. Japan
Ticked off trannies with knives (2010) Israle Luna. USA
Sunrise: a song of two humans (1927) F.W Murnau. USA
30 Rock: TGS hates women (2011) dir. Beth McCarthy-Miller, writter. Ron Weiner


Bordwell, David & Thompson, Kirsten Film art an introduction, 8th edition. Mcgrawhill, International
Laura Mulvey 'Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, screen, vol. 16, no.3

Picture credits
Sunrise: a song of two humans (1927) F.W Murnau. USA (screen cap from youtube)
Ticked off trannies with knives (2010) Israle Luna. USA (screen cap from MQFF site)

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