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Looks That Kill: James Bond and the Power of Viewing

In cinema and film, the camera’s power is synonymous to the status quo of a given culture. The camera’s field of view—and by extension the spectator’s view of characters or objects in a scene—represents a power structure that mirrors the traditional modes of thought in the filmmaker’s culture, society, and ideology. The relations that are visually portrayed in a film stake their power and authority in their familiarity and their ability to build or reduce anxiety in the viewer; as such, the filmmaker can use the visual relation of objects and concepts to manipulate the viewer’s emotional and intellectual state. Too often however, by taking inspiration in intolerant and oppressive stereotypes and subsequently deploying those tropes to illustrate the visual narrative, a large portion of mainstream film production results in a product which is decidedly exclusive in its target audience (which is more often than not white and male).

Aiming to defamiliarize myself with the tropes and devices which saturate the hugely successful James Bond 007 franchise, whose catalogue numbers 25 films spanning more than six decades, I began by first conceiving of a method to do so. What better way to defamiliarize than to completely immerse oneself, first becoming familiar with the material and subsequently deconstructing it into elements that can be reflected upon? Therefore, I set it as my goal to view one film from the series every day for twenty-five days. Needless to say, these three and a half-weeks felt like an eternity.

From beginning to end, the films in the 007 franchise are bigoted and are, by all accounts, utterly devoid of any form of insightful philosophical or spiritual reflection regarding the protagonist’s actions and motives. As such, despite a concerted effort on my part to overlook the stunted representation of the Other in order to enjoy viewing, the narratives of all 25 films and their premises rely on the negative tropes to such an extent where they prove to be inseparable from the work. The films are naught but a prime example of a series of productions whose prejudicial portrayal of the Other results in dramatic narratives that underserve and vilify non-Anglo ethnicities, women, and minority groups. Further, the ignorant and negative illustration of the Other lends to a visual narrative that frames other races or historically oppressed persons in a less than flattering light where characters belonging to these groups are simply a means–or obstacles–to the protagonist’s ends.

The oppressive depiction of the Other contained wherein is wholly incompatible with any form of modern feminism and, as such, it seems the films’ relations of social hierarchy are irreconcilable with any form of inclusive and open society. At the very least the subversive and deconstructive nature of feminist theory runs in a completely opposite current to the mainstream modes of thought that inform the archetypes contained within the 007 series of films, and thus, could be a compelling framework by which to further explore the films. Clearly a project whose scope well exceeds our current discussion. A feminist in the vein of Mulvey would have a heyday with the 007 catalogue of film; after all, nothing seems more unambiguously phallic than a gun-toting spy who covertly penetrates enemy lines in order to get the better of dangerous men and conquer their women.

There are a number of elements ubiquitous to the 007 films that illustrate the aforementioned problems of representation and the oppressive power of looking. Emphasizing the viewer’s power and agency within the visual world is the iconic introduction which opens each and every film from the series: a left-to-right panning circle followed by an animated gun barrel by which the viewer sees a full shot of the film’s title character walking from right to left, turning once he reaches the middle of the frame to symbolically shoot and kill the viewer. The striking black and white sequence not only provides a compelling visual scene by which to begin the film, but having already implicated the viewer, it also invites them to freely participate by looking with impunity at anything in the film’s visual worlds that he or she so ever desires.

This emphasis on looking without restraint informs the entirety of every scene from the introduction on and seems to mirror Bond’s attitude throughout. Any time a character is seen on screen, he or she is framed according to the motivations or desires of the protagonist himself: scantily-clad women are frequently framed in close-up from a high angle, accentuating Bond’s sexual dominance and women’s apparent powerlessness to his infinite swells of charm; groups of enemies (often comprising people of non-Anglo ethnicity) are fully-framed with interchangeable costume, imposing a sense of impersonality and non-agency upon the individuals within the group; and often, individual foes are seen from behind where their faces are unexposed or framed in mid-shot–opposite and facing the main character–in order to emphasize their threat as a source of unjustifiable violence. The nature of the “inevitable” conflicts which arise in the artificial scripts (i.e. Bond vs. any ‘out group’), alongside the above-mentioned tropes used to frame the Other, serve to alienate the viewer from anything unrepresentative of the film’s ‘in group’ and inhibit any critical moral reflection on his or her part.

All in all, the positions and movements of the frame throughout the entire 007 catalogue only serve the protagonist and his motivations, resulting in the portrayal of a hero with ultimate power over sex, life, and death. The positions and movements of the frame, by extension, allow the viewer to indulge in the power of looking according to his or her own desire. In James Bond 007, a franchise that unabashedly celebrates the hedonistic pleasure of voyeurism, to watch the hero arbitrarily kill or maim his foreign enemies according to his own desire and seduce villainous women is not the viewer’s privilege, but rather, it is the viewer’s right.

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Lost in Translation? The Foreignness of French of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Amelie

I have always been obsessed with words. I learned to talk long before I could walk; I haven’t stopped talking since. I read things and write things, and I’ve dedicated my academic life to studying English words and the stories that we have created from them. I am a words person. For someone so obsessed with words, it may come as a surprise that my favourite film is in a language that I barely understand.

Amelie is the esoteric and Technicolor love child of director Jean-Pierre Jeunet and screenwriter Guillaume Laurant. Released in 2001, it tells the story of Amelie Poulain, an ordinary young woman and the extraordinary ways she interacts with her world. It’s a love story, a coming of age story, and a ghost story all at once. It’s a film I’ve seen more times than I can count, and it’s a film that speaks to my world view possibly more than any other piece of media.

Oh yeah, and it’s a film with dialogue that’s completely spoken in French.

1-amelie

Like most foreign-language films released to primarily English-speaking audiences, Amelie is accompanied by English subtitles that correspond to the French dialogue. These subtitles are, of course, there to help the non-French speaking viewer understand the film and follow its plot.

The presence of subtitles in Amelie is something I absolutely have taken for granted. For me, as a monolingual English-speaker, the subtitles are an integral part of the film. But they are not an original part of the film. Jeunet and Laurant did not write the screenplay anticipating that their words would eventually be translated into English – and that certain aspects of their original vision would be lost in the process of translation.

When searching for a way to defamiliarize a familiar film, I was immediately draw to the concept of translation and how one’s understanding – or lack of understanding – of a particular language affects the viewing experience.

What would happen if I viewed Amelie without the English subtitles, completely in French? How would the viewing experience change by removing part of the film that was crucial for my understanding?

amelie-screen1

Watching a familiar story, but without the ability to understand the dialogue completely was an alienating experience. Even though know I the plot of the film, and what lines should go where, being unable to place them exactly was unsettling. It felt like part of the story was missing.

In some ways, removing the subtitles created a kind of surreality within the universe of the film. It was at once both familiar and strange – like the world of Amelie that I know, but also unrecognizable. Although Amelie is by no means a surrealist film, removing the subtitles creates a surreal effect.

Perhaps the most striking thing was that removing the subtitles made me realize just how much I tend to focus on words and dialogue when viewing films. After all, I’m a writer and an English major – I love words. And while dialogue is a very important part of many films, it is by no means the most important part. As I am learning, film is both an audio and a visual medium – neither aspect is necessarily more important than the other, just different.

Not being able to understand the dialogue of the film forced me to turn my attention to the other aspects of the film, such as cinematography, music choice, and the overall mise en scene of the movie. Even though I’ve viewed the film many times before, I picked up on visual cues and subtle details that I did not notice before.

amelie-3

The whole exercise makes me wonder about the nature of viewing foreign language films as a whole. The experience that I have watching Amelie with subtitles is completely different than that of someone who is fluent in French.

There are issues of translation – certain words, phrases, and jokes are impossible to translate from French to English, and vice-versa. There are issues of cultural context – French society is different from Canadian or American society.

As a foreign film, Amelie exists in a duality – almost like a doppelganger, but significantly less sinister. There’s the French version, and the French-with-English-subtitles version. I would argue that the addition of subtitles is significant.

Are they the same film? Versions of the same film? Is watching a film with subtitles a diminished experience, or does it add an extra dimension to the experience?

Ultimately, I walked away from my viewing experience with more questions than answers. But that’s okay. Alternative viewing experiences are supposed to make us ask questions and to view the familiar In new and critical ways.

Amelie_and_Nino.jpg

When it comes to subtitles and foreign films, there will always be things lost in translation when you go from one language to another. However, what we lose in translation is made up for in the valuable insights gained through an alternative perspective on a familiar film.

Mise en Kane: Visual Portrayals of Loss in Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane

Orson Welles’ film Citizen Kane, for what it’s worth, is widely regarded as the greatest American film. Orson Welles, the films writer, director, and star, came from a theatre and radio background. Since many of Welles’ radio sensibilities are present in the soundtrack, I was curious to know if the story of reluctant millionaire Charles Foster Kane could be adequately shown solely through the film’s ground-breaking visuals. Having seen this film in conventional circumstances upwards of forty times, I came into this assignment sceptical that I might find something new and exciting to take away from the experience… I am happy to say I was wrong! If anything, viewing Citizen Kane divorced of its soundtrack only strengthened my love for this film, for its story, performances and for its technical genius. Citizen Kane is visual storytelling at its finest, and with the help of the odd intertitle, could easily work as a silent film.

The entire life of Charles Foster Kane is summed up in a newsreel obituary in the first few minutes of the film. The viewer is then invited to accompany a newspaper journalist as he interviews various characters who were part of Kane’s life. Through these interviews, the viewer pieces together an intimate portrait of Kane, a man who, while exceedingly wealthy, experienced great amounts of loss throughout his life. These instances of loss are depicted brilliantly throughout the film through the use of innovative filming techniques and are not diminished when viewed without the accompanying soundtrack.

Certain mises en scene are recurrent throughout the film; the first of which is a scene where Mary Kane, Charles’ mother, learns of a great inheritance and signs Charles away into the custody of a ward of the state, thus ensuring his future education and wealth. This is Kane’s first experience with loss – that of his family and of his childhood innocence.

citizenkane-posterimage

In this scene, a young Charles Kane plays in the snow in the background, blissfully unaware of the life changing conversation that is happening in the foreground. This blocking of characters is common throughout the film, where those who are in control of Kane’s livelihood are placed in the foreground while Kane himself seems to float helplessly in the middle of the frame.

This mise en scene is mirrored in a future scene where Kane is faced with having to sign away control of his company and assets after years of frivolous spending and mismanagement.

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Here, Kane is again in the centre of the frame. At the beginning of the scene, he looms large over the two men at the table, but paces hopelessly into the background, this time painfully aware, as the men discuss bankruptcy and the seizure of his assets. There is a kind of optical illusion to the scene as when Kane wanders into the background he seems to shrink in size, revealing the windows on the rear wall to be over six feet off the ground. Kane’s center blocking and shrinking effect symbolize that he is diminished in his power and is no longer fully in control of his destiny. Without audio to hear the conversations in these scenes, the composition is still effective in conveying the somber mood and feeling of loss.

Kane was also unlucky in his love life. He married and divorced twice. The gradual dissolution of his first marriage is portrayed in a brilliant yet heart breaking scene.

4953309352_b5c2ba0cc2kane23

Here we see Kane with his first wife enjoying small talk over breakfast. Through a series of cross cuts, representing the passage of time, we see the characters’ expressions slowly change from playful and inquisitive to stern and defiant. The final shot pulls out to reveal the couple now sitting in resentful silence at opposite ends of the table. The couple began the scene sitting side by side, and have both emotionally and literally drifted apart.

The entire breakfast scene can be viewed here:

Citizen Kane Breakfast Montage

 

images

After the tumultuous end of his second marriage and a subsequent emotional breakdown, Kane wanders somberly through a long corridor in his mansion. He passes through a hall of mirrors symbolizing his many lives and losses.

There are many instances of loss in this film. I have chosen to feature only those scenes that are most proficient in conveying a sense of loss without the aid of the soundtrack. The film as a whole functions very well as a silent film. The symbolism and the plot remain apparent without dialogue.

This post barely begins to scratch the surface of the symbolic and technical genius of this film. It was innovative in many ways, from its mock-documentary structure to its pioneering use of camera optics and special effects. I hope that if you, the reader have not yet seen it, you’ll immediately search it out (legally!) online. For those of you who have seen it, I hope you might find it as infinitely re-watchable as I have and continue to do.

Note: In an effort to keep this blog post as spoiler-free as possible; I’ve been intentionally vague on the plot of the film.

 

 

Citations:

Welles, Orson. (1941) Citizen Kane 70th Anniversary Edition.

https://itunes.apple.com/ca/movie/citizen-kane-70th-anniversary/id447852615

Ross, B. (1999) RKO 281: The Battle Over Citizen Kane.

DVD

Lebo, H. (2016). Citizen Kane: A filmmaker’s journey. New York: Thomas Dunne Books.

Welles, O., Bogdanovich, P., & Rosenbaum, J. (1992). This is Orson Welles. New York, NY: HarperCollins.

Fear, anxiety and Surrealism in Philip Kaufman’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

 

One of the greatest advantages of modern cinema is its ability to transform its audience into another reality. This other reality can be full of wonder and excitement or in the case of Philip Kaufman’s Sci-fi horror Invasion of the Body Snatchers, a world of paranoia and fear. The film leaves the viewer questioning ones perception of reality and sense of self.  Kaufman incorporates film noir style, Surrealism and psychoanalysis in his modern remake of the original film to depict the disempowered fragility of the Individual. In altering my viewing of Invasion of the Body Snatchers I played a repetitive loop of the song “Cirrus” by Bonobo in order to heighten feelings of fear, agitation and anxiety that the “Imposters” provoke. In unifying these two medias I hope to discover a new way of experiencing Kaufman’s Dystopia in which anxiety is the new norm.

At the beginning of the film Kaufman cleverly uses foreshadowing techniques incorporating loose frame shots of human and plant integration. The camera starts off with a wide angle shot of a hallway and then zooms into the scene of a glass door in which the characters appear off screen. The camera invites us to look at the reflection cast on a glass door to where the characters sit on a bed.  As the viewer you experience both the plants behind the glass and the characters reflection. This dream like scene with props such as a bed sets the tone for an exploration of unconscious fears in which alien and humans collide.

glass

The film unifies the duality of human and alien with the conscious and unconscious mind. Parallels of these themes are depicted throughout the entirety of the film as characters fear the most human basic need, sleep.  For this fear translates to the death of humanity, feelings of hope, anger and love lost, and in its place a transformation to something alien. During this transformation we see the short lived moments of “Doppelgangers” and the relationship of parasite to host.  One cannot exist without the other, much like our conscious and unconscious mind. These visual elements of surrealism can be identified in this portrait by the Artist Frida Kahlo titled “The two Fridas” and echoes that of the garden scene of Matthews’s partial transformative experience.

two-fridas

twomatthews

As Matthew dozes off to sleep plant like tendrils disperse from a small pod nearby in the garden and make their way towards him.  The web-like tendrils act like veins connecting the pair giving the audience a horrifying insight into Matthews fear. During my altered viewing of this scene the music plays the role of a siren call for the alien pod, gently lulling Matthew to sleep creating a false sense of security and rest. The rhythm echoes Matthews breathing as the “blooming” alien comes into being. The heavy bass tones indicate the menacing growth of the alien and help to envelop me as a viewer into a world filled with psychological fear. Watching this I’m thinking Matthew wake up!

In the unaltered viewing of this scene Ben Burtt the Sound designer chooses the familiar technological sound of an ultrasound. The sound of a fetus heartbeat, with its positive connotations associated with human life,  are all of a sudden portrayed as somewhat sinister as this sound now emits from this growing alien life form.  Begging the question are the aliens human after all? And is this transformation part of humanity’s upgrade? As the character of the Psychiatrist Dr. David Kibner states:

“You will be born again into an untroubled world. Free of anxiety, fear and hate. Minds and memories become absorbed. You are evolving into a new life form. “

Throughout the film the characters refuse to accept Dr. Kibner’s rational analysis much like how Surrealism rejects psychology.

phonescene

A battle of minds can be seen here in this distorted mirror shot of the characters of Matthew and Jack. This is indicative of the fight for dominance between the conscious and unconscious self, simultaneously paralleling the battle between human and alien.  The shot is tightly framed to give the audience the illusion of claustrophobia and a distorted sense of self and others, heightening feelings of paranoia and hostility.  In the unaltered scene the characters are both talking and nobody is listening giving emphasis to being seen and not heard. With the altered viewing the music plays and emphasises the characters movements and sense of urgency. The lack of dialogue forces importance upon the characters facial expressions which appear angry and frustrated.  Kaufman scatters other surrealist shots pertaining to perception of self and others with the use of a fish eye lens and props like the broken windshield.

fisheye

windshield

Characteristics of film noir are shown throughout the film as most of the scenes take place at night or in low light settings. The characters of Matthew and Elizabeth are marked by fatalism and experience a kind of “doomed love.” In this close up, balanced shot of Matthew chiaroscuro is used to add an element of horror. Half of his face is in shadow as the artificial light source comes from below signifying a part of him that is yet to be revealed and how the unconscious mind is never fully revealed.

chairascuro

At the end of the film we are enlightened as Matthew has in fact been transformed. Kaufman uses this fantastic notion of addressing the viewer directly with Matthew’s shriek and finger point.  His horrifying gaze and hand gesture implies that us as the viewer must be assimilated.

gaze

The repetitive music played during my film watching experience had some unusual findings. Not only did it change the way in which the film was understood with no narrative, it was replaced by a heightened sensitivity to body language. The first hour or so I was feeling anxiety ridden much like the characters would have felt in their efforts to survive. After that point I was surprised to find myself feeling soothed by its mindlessness and predictability which left me with the desire to be assimilated with the aliens. Hahaha yep.  I also noticed the after effects of not listening to the music. I could still hear it play! Not physically but a kind of earworm effect. I like to think that I temporarily tricked myself into a surreal experience were my own reality was in fact altered.

By Caroline Cox

Disney Classics Re-Imagined

In the last couple of years, Disney has decided to re-imagine some of its many loved classics.  These re-imaginations are not simply the animated versions re-done but a whole new live action experience.  This process began in 2015 with the release of the live-action version of Cinderella.  2014’s Maleficent was live action as well but was not a recreation of the original animated version: it was in itself a whole new story.  The Jungle Book and Pete’s Dragon came out this year (2016) and showed promise to stay true to their original stories as well (I can not say for sure as I have not seen either of them yet).  More live action releases that have been announced include: The Lion King, Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, Mulan, Dumbo, Peter Pan, The Jungle Book 2, and Snow White.  The next anticipated live action release to come in early 2017 is The Beauty and the Beast.  This brings me to the real reason behind this post: Are the live action versions in fact true to their original animated counterparts?  Based on the trailers, the answer is yes.  Please see below:

In the 1950’s when Cinderella was first released by Disney, there were no such thing as the movie trailers we know today.  The one featured above was created for the release of Cinderella on DVD.  After careful examination of both the films and movie scripts, these trailers are a false comparison.  The two Cinderella trailers are almost frame-for-frame identical but when you watch the live action version there are but a few lines that are the same.  The trailer was created to play off our childhood nostalgia to get the viewer more interested in the new version when in fact it is a completely new and different experience.

bells-in-cinderellaWith the trailers being so similar, I decided that my alt-viewing experience would be to watch the live action version of Cinderella with the soundtrack of the animated version.  It suffices to say that they did not line up what-so-ever, which was fun.  Another problem was the fact that the animated version runs approximately 1 hour 15 minutes while the live action version was 1 hour 44 minutes.  To counteract this, I paused both films for the scene when Cinderella meets her Fairy Godmother and continued the movies together from this point.  This helped a little bit, but again they were not in sync.

There were some obvious differences between the two films.  Some the viewer may notice are:

  1. Cinderella’s mother and father play a significant role in the beginning of the live action version but are merely mentioned in the animated version.
  2. There is almost no singing in the live action version.  This is a very odd thing in Disney movies as any Disney fan will know.
  3. Cinderella’s dog Bruno is absent from the live action version.  The talking mice and birds are also missing.
  4. The Fairy Godmother uses two lizards as the footmen and Mr. Goose as the coachman in the live action version while she uses Cinderella’s horse and Bruno in the animated version.

cinderella-and-chrarming-are-married

I will always give credit where credit is due.  There were subtle ways that the movies stayed the same.  Where the new stayed true to the old include:

  1. The colours of the costumes:
  • Drizella and Anastasia are still in their green/yellow/blue and pink/orange/purple colour schemes respectively.
    stepsisters-in-cinderella
  • Cinderella’s original dress is still pink and ball gown is still blue.
    pink-dress-in-cinderella
  1. The mouse Gus-Gus.  His name is Gus in the new film but he is still present.  Gus can not talk but he is still a small companion to Cinderella and brings a smile to her face when she is down.
    gus-in-cinderella
  2. Famous Quotes:
  • The famous “Bibbidi, Bobbidi, boo” was not left out.  It is not part of a song in the live action version but still plays its magical part just the same.
  • Cinderella’s loss of belief in magic.  This scene occurs after her step-sisters have destroyed her dress and she is crying in the garden.
    • In the animated version, she says, “I can’t believe.  Not anymore…  There’s nothing left to believe in…  Nothing.”
    • In the live action version, she says. “I’m sorry, Mother. I’m sorry. I said I’d have courage, but I don’t. Not anymore. I don’t believe anymore… Nothing.”
  • At midnight, the magic ends.
    • The Fairy Godmother in the animated version says. “You’ll have only ’till midnight, and then…You must understand my dear, on the stroke of twelve the spell will be broken, and everything will be as it was before.”
    • The Fairy Godmother in the live action version says, “Remember, the magic will only last so long. With the last echo of the last bell, at the last stroke of midnight, the spell will be broken and all will return to what it was before.”

The trailers use many camera framing techniques to keep the two films similar to each other.  The different shots show the limitations of animation and the advances in live action technique.  One shot that both versions of the film use is the over-the-shoulder shot.  An this type of shot highlights the framed character in relation to their interactions with the character the camera is over the shoulder of.  Below, we see Cinderella’s attraction and joy in being in the company of the prince.2016-11-04-33

There different uses of framing also allows for different emotions to come through to the viewer.  These emotions are more profound in the live action version when compared to that of animation.  The limits of animation prevent the same strength of emotion that comes through the characters and therefor, prevent the viewer from being as emotionally connected to the characters.

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The side angle shot seen below adds to the evilness that Lady Tremaine and her daughters portray.2016-11-04-27This shot also using lighting to highlight the expressive eyes of the step-sisters and their mother.  This lighting also emphasizes how Lady Tremaine has control over her daughters as her face is more lit up and the center of focus.  In the animated version they are all mono-toned and look dumb-founded, there is no real emotion coming through.

This can also be seen with the Duke.  In the live action version the Duke is an antagonist while in the animated version he is a comical character.  The slight change in camera angle gives the live action Duke a more sinister look.2016-11-04-45

After in depth analysis of the trailer and films, I have discovered that they aren’t that similar at all.  Not nearly as similar as the ones for Beauty and the Beast.

I guess we must wait until March 17, 2016 to be sure.

Until then,
thehonourablemiss.

2016-11-04-56

References:

Branagh, K. (Director), & Weitz, C. (Screenwriter). (March 13, 2015). Cinderella [Motion picture on DVD]. United States: Disney.

Cinderella (2015) Movie Script. Retrieved November 01, 2016, from http://www.springfieldspringfield.co.uk/movie_script.php?movie=cinderella-2015

D. (2015, March 14). The Cinderella Trailer Gets Animated | Oh My Disney. Retrieved October 10, 2016, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R8ZLo7rHr0o

Deen, S. (2015, March 15). The old and new Cinderellas, side by side. Retrieved November 01, 2016, from http://metro.co.uk/2015/03/14/the-trailer-for-disneys-new-cinderella-movie-is-exactly-the-same-as-the-trailer-for-the-animated-version-5104223/

Donnelly, M., & Verhoeven, B. (2016, November 03). Inside Disney’s Reboot Fever: 14 Animated Classics Set for Live-Action Treatment. Retrieved November 04, 2016, from http://www.sfgate.com/entertainment/the-wrap/article/Inside-Disney-s-Reboot-Fever-14-Animated-10592371.php

Gabriel. (2016, January 16). Cinderella 1950 Script. Retrieved November 01, 2016, from https://www.scribd.com/doc/295724358/Cinderella-1950-Script

Geronimi, C., Jackson, W., & Luske, H. (Directors), & Perrault, C. (Writer). (March 4, 1950). Cinderella [Motion picture on DVD]. United States: Disney.

Miller, G. E. (2015, March 13). A brief history of Cinderellas. Retrieved November 04, 2016, from http://nypost.com/2015/03/13/a-brief-history-of-cinderellas/

S. (2016, May 24). Beauty and the Beast Trailer Comparison: Then and Now (Animated vs. Live Action). Retrieved October 20, 2016, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YXxIUSsEX4M

 

 

The Disordered Order of Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction

In 1994 Quentin Tarantino released a contemporary film noir movie. The plot possesses a darkness of hit men, drugs, and organized crime hiding underneath the ‘average citizen’ persona each character maintains. The movie is set up so groups of scenes are not in chronological order. The reordering is highly intentional and comprehensively thought through. To understand why Tarantino set up the film in this way I decided to view it in ‘Tarantino’s order’ and then in chronological order. The two orders are as follows.

Tarantino’s Order

  1. Prologue (“I love you Pumpkin. I love you too Honey Bunny.”)
  2. Opening Credits: Miserlou
  3. “Royale with cheese.”
  4. Ezekiel 25:17
  5. “Boxers don’t have an Old Timer’s Day”
  6. “All my piercing, eighteen places on my body – every one done with a needle.“
  7. Son of a Preacher Man
  8. Jack Rabbit Slim’s
  9. You Never Can Tell
  10. Girl, You’ll be a Woman Soon
  11. … Adrenaline …
  12. Captain Koon’s Story
  13. “I’m an American Honey. Our names don’t mean shit.
  14. “I wish I had a pot.”
  15. “Where’s my watch?”
  16. Poptarts
  17. Flowers On The Wall
  18. “Bring out the gimp.”
  19. “I’m going to get medieval of your ass.”
  20. “Zed’s dead baby, Zed’s dead”
  21. “Do you know what divine intervention means?”
  22. “I just shot Marvin in the face.”
  23. “If Bonnie comes home and finds a dead body in her house, I’m gonna get divorced.”
  24. “I’m Winston Wolf. I solve problems.”
  25. Epilogue (“I’m trying real hard to be the Shepherd.”)
  26. End Credits

 

Chronological Order

2. Opening Credits: Miserlou

3. “Royale with cheese.”

4. Ezekiel 25:17

21. “Do you know what divine intervention means?”

22. “I just shot Marvin in the face.”

23. “If Bonnie comes home and finds a dead body in her house, I’m gonna get divorced.”

24. “I’m Winston Wolf. I solve problems.”

1. Prologue (“I love you Pumpkin. I love you too Honey Bunny.”)

25. Epilogue (“I’m trying real hard to be the Shepherd.”)

5. “Boxers don’t have an Old Timer’s Day”

6. “All my piercing, eighteen places on my body – every one done with a needle.“

7. Son of a Preacher Man

8. Jack Rabbit Slim’s

9. You Never Can Tell

10. Girl, You’ll be a Woman Soon

11. … Adrenaline …

12. Captain Koon’s Story

13. “I’m an American Honey. Our names don’t mean shit.

14. “I wish I had a pot.”

15. “Where’s my watch?”

16. Poptarts

17. Flowers On The Wall

18. “Bring out the gimp.”

19. “I’m going to get medieval of your ass.”

20. “Zed’s dead baby, Zed’s dead”

26. End Credits

I believe it is important to note that some critics of this film would classify scene 12, ‘Captain Koon’s Story’, as the first in chronological order because it showcases Butch as a young child. However, since the segue from Butch as a child into modern time is Butch waking up suddenly, I believe it is a dream or recollection and would therefore be classified as happening as a memory just before Butch’s boxing match.

Pulp Fiction does not have simply one instance of rising action, climax, or denouement. It has at least three, each one within a story. This is why Tarantino was able to reorder the stories because the audience was still able to understand the film and enjoy each situation separately without the order taking away from any of them. It was on purpose that no story was chopped up during the rising action or climax. The integrity of each story was never compromised.

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The sections in Tarantino’s order have some overlap although they are broken up by the above screens. Because of the overlap I focused on the separate scene order. 

Some scenes in the film are repeated or shown to the audience twice but from different perspectives the second time. Tarantino’s order opens the film with Honey Bunny and Pumpkin and closes with them as well. The end dialogue of their conversation is repeated. I believe that the repetition’s purpose is to remind the audience of the context of the scene (since it was over two hours since the viewers have seen Honey Bunny and Pumpkin). However, Jules and Vincent’s repeated scene, the end of scene 4 ‘Ezekiel 25:17’, and beginning of scene 21 ‘“Do you know what divine intervention means?”’, has more significance. Jules’ repeated line, “Marcellus Wallace don’t like to be fucked by anybody except Mrs. Wallace” is received completely different since minutes before, in Tarantino’s order, Marcellus was raped. The chronological order would never have achieved the horror this line instills as Tarantino’s repetition and reorder does.

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What was Tarantino really trying to do with this order? Why did he leave us with Jules and Vincent walking out of the diner instead of Butch and Fabienne fleeing on the stolen motorbike to safety? And why did he start with Honey Bunny and Pumpkin rather than ‘“Royale with cheese.”’?

This movie is classified as film noir because of its darkness, crime and generally shadowed cinematography. By Tarantino opening with a couple casually having coffee at the diner and speaking about their recent robbery of a liquor store, and potential robbery of a bank, it emphasizes the darkness that hides in average looking people’s lives. No passers by would believe the couple steal from others at gunpoint for a living. The theme of darkness hidden by normality continues but is never as well presented as it is with Pumpkin and Honey Bunny. That is why they open and close the film.

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Vincent and Jules leaving the diner is filmed in a way that the audience would recognize to be the conclusion. The long take of Jules and Vincent leaving the diner is a tracking shot and a medium shot and cuts to the credits. This set up looks like many other endings, wether Tarantino would admit to it or not. Butch and Fabienne’s exit on Zed’s chopper is a distant shot which pans following the couple drive then fading to black. Tarantino chooses to fade to black between scenes and cuts straight to the opening or closing credits at the end of the prologue or epilogue respectively. This creates a consistency that tells the audience what to expect.

The epilogue is calm and although guns are involved there is no shooting, murder, or physical assault. Everyone leaves the diner without rushing and without any fear of danger following them. Butch could still be bleeding out at his exit. Leaving a film on the inconclusive note of running for one’s life does not feel satisfying for the audience.

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One of the final shots. Note: Jules and Vincent hiding their guns and maintaining the average citizen persona

My position, and I believe any alternative viewer who had seen the original first, is biased. The epilogue scene feels right and good at the end, and wraps up the film. The audience is finally gifted with all the information that they were teased with during the prologue. The fact we know Vincent will die did not affect my enjoyment of watching Jules and Vincent interact and share dialogue. Tarantino’s order makes the film more interesting and pulls the audience in with the intrigue it creates. It was illuminating to watch the chronological order and it cleared up any plot questions I may have had. And although watching the chronological order created a new amusing context, stick to the entertaining, roller coaster original. There is a reason it was made that way.

Manipulating Gone Girl

by Connor Brousseau

While watching David Fincher’s Gone Girl for the first time, I was shocked on how much I empathized with Ben Affleck’s character Nick, despite all the evidence stacked against him. I realized that this was because Nick was the audience’s introduction into the world. His presence brings the audience into the story, and he propels it forward. We see everything that happens in the narrative (not in a flashback) through his point of view, until the latter half of the movie. We see his mistakes and indiscretions, but the one thing we don’t see as an audience is his violent nature, outside of the flashbacks. His actions within the context of the present narrative, no matter how slimy or despicable, never turn towards violent or threatening. This kept me from taking full stock in what the diary described in David Fincher’s cut of the film.

Through this re-edit of Gone Girl, I will be exploring the film’s themes of emotional manipulation by cutting Gone Girl into a more manipulative narrative. In order to do this, I rearranged the footage into five separate acts. The first act contains all of Amy’s diary entries- detailing the beginning, rise and eventual destruction of Amy and Nick’s relationship- at the very beginning of the film. Nick’s entire narrative takes place during act two and three, the act break taking place where the main plot twist is revealed. The fourth act is Amy’s story after the twist, and the final act is the conclusion of the film. Through this, I hope to be able to more effectively manipulate the audience, the same way Amy and Nick manipulate the American public.

Act One: Painting a Backdrop

The first act of my re-edit of Gone Girl contains all of Amy’s diary entries. All of the evidence against Nick is in the diary. Watching the film unfold through Amy’s eyes first, instead of Nick’s, makes his seemingly understandable behavior throughout act two seem downright villainous. I had no problem believing Amy’s story when we see her entire side of the argument before the events of the film actually begin. We are charmed by Nick, just as Amy is, which makes his descent into an abusive husband that much more tragic for Amy. When the theatrical cut of the film introduces Nick, he is a beaten down man who is exasperated with his wife; an every-man who is easily relatable. In this version the transition from perfect boyfriend to abusive husband is frightening to watch, because it is sudden and believable.

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From perfect…
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to terrifying.

Even Amy’s typeface is manipulative, a factor I didn’t notice until the footage was back to back. The first entries look as though they were written by a teenaged girl, and the later entries look to be written quickly, and without any thought on making them look cute. Even her writing is evidence that Nick is frightening her.

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Final Entry

Through this diary, we are being manipulated in the same way that Amy manipulates the cops to be on her side. Much like the American public who observes the media, the audience is put into a position where they cannot hear Nick’s side of the story. By the time they can hear Nick’s side, they have already made up their mind. Act One of my revised version of Gone Girl more effectively does to the audience, what Amy does to the American public.

Act Two: Back to the Start

Just like that, the 20th Century Fox titles appear. We’ve just been dealt a 17 minute prologue with all evidence pointing towards Nick. We are then treated to our first sample of narration not given by Amy. Nick’s voice is heard, atop a shot of Amy’s head.

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“When I think of my wife, I always think of her head. I picture cracking her lovely skull, unspooling her brains, trying to get anwers.”

Not a flattering picture painted towards Nick Dunne. Throughout act two, we witness the evidence stack up against Nick. Even his own actions, like having a secret mistress and smashing a glass in a fit of rage help to incriminate him in the eyes of the police. He innocently smiles while at a press conference for his missing wife, and the media interprets it as sinister.

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“She’s pregnant.”

Act two is where the looming presence of the media comes more into play. We see that public perception changes very quickly, when they’re ready to lynch someone. Like the mob that formed to destroy Frankenstein’s Monster, the people of the community are ready to all but hang Nick when Amy’s friend Noelle asks him at a public event, “what have you done to your pregnant wife?” As Amy muses later, “America loves pregnant women.”

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“You tell them, Nick. You tell them Amy was six weeks pregnant!”

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Act Three: Bad Press

Whoever said there’s no such thing as bad press has never seen Gone Girl. Nick’s lawyer, Tanner Bolt says, “We’ll need to realign the public’s perception of Amy.” Everyone in America thinks Nick Dunne murdered his wife. Even the police officers are manipulated by the media. Lead Detective on the case, Rhonda Boney seems to be the only good cop in the outfit, while her partner James is swayed easily by an entertainment reporter on the news.

Nick goes on television as per Tanner’s request in order to realign the public’s perception of himself first. It works, and a quick google search tells him that the public sides with him. Nick’s victory is short lived however, and he is soon arrested after the murder weapon is found in his fireplace.

Act three ends with a mob of angry people around Nick’s car. He’s been released on bail and is preparing for trial. No matter what happens, the public perception of Nick can’t change without more manipulation from Amy.

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“Come home Amy, I dare you.”

Act 4: Gone Girl

In Act Four, Amy manipulates the audience as much as she can with the limited resources she has been given. Unfortunately for her, the audience knows all of her tricks now, so the manipulation falls flat. That is, until we are introduced to Desi Collings, an old boyfriend of Amy’s. When Amy gets into a bind she calls Desi for help. He sets her up in his lake house, and immediately takes an uncomfortable amount of control over her. Despite what we have just seen her do, Amy successfully uses her fragile femininity and Desi’s overbearing and inherently creepy nature to manipulate us more.

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We also get to finally see Nick’s tv interview. (This is a scene that I cut out of act 3, due to the amount of reaction shots of Desi and Amy.) We see Nick do to Amy what she has been doing to America and the audience for the whole movie. He shows her that he can be the man she wants him to be again, and he asks her to come home. Nick’s charm works, and Amy leaves Desi, cutting his throat during sex and inflicting wounds upon herself conducive to rape.

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nsfw

Act Five: Run Right Back

Amy returns to Nick, crashing a car into his lawn. When she meets him in front of the house, she faints dramatically. This is indicative of what we see throughout all of Act Five. Amy’s manipulation, from the viewpoint of someone who knows that she’s faking everything.

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“You. F***ing. B****.”

Rhonda, the lead detective on Amy’s case attempts to question her, citing the evidence that doesn’t corroborate with her revised story. Amy simply pretends that she is emotionally scarred, and the men in the interview shut Rhonda down, attempting to protect this “poor innocent woman.”

Amy manipulates Nick one final time. She is pregnant. She knows that Nick can’t leave her now, even if the child isn’t his, due to the responsibility he feels, and the media’s pressure on him to be the perfect husband. Now that he is a celebrity, Nick has no choice but to stay with Amy to raise his child, and attempt to put his life back together.

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“We’re gonna be parents.”

In Conclusion:

This cut of Gone Girl is effective in some ways, but it lacks many things that the theatrical cut does so well. I believe that the my re-edit serves the purpose of getting the audience on Amy’s side much better. By the time the opening credits role, there is no mystery. Two characters are set up and established before the events of the film begin to play out. However, where the theatrical cut succeeds is the mystery, and ambiguity of the story. Until the evidence shows up, the audience doesn’t know whether Nick is innocent or not. This makes for a more exciting opening to the film, whereas in my edit, the twist is more of a surprise. The theatrical cut of Gone Girl is a better told story, and allows the audience to think objectively, whereas my cut more closely parallels the themes of the movie by manipulating the viewer, like what Amy does to the people of America.

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“What have we done to each other? What will we do?”

Time Will Tell

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Six years ago our minds were exposed to one of the most memorable time bending and time dilating films in the past decade. Christopher Nolan’s film Inception uses brilliant visual representations to explore new ideas of time, space and dreams. Immediately after starting my alternative viewing of Inception, I realized that Nolan had anticipated the exact manipulation that I performed on his film. For my alt-criticism, I chose to explore the concepts of time in Nolan’s film Inception after twisting the film’s time myself. I decided to reverse the film and watch it completely backwards. This made for a bizarre, yet entertaining viewing experience. Through the viewing of this film I became more aware of the importance of time in filmmaking, how it can be an essential storytelling tool and how the manipulation of time can affect the visuals we see on screen.

Nolan does a fantastic job showing the dilation of time in dreams through effective slow-motion visuals and mind-blowing practical effects. But after watching the film backwards, I realized that Nolan plays with time in Inception more than I originally thought. He also anticipates my manipulation by creating a film that can be watched in reverse. Nolan directs a film with an opening that also works as an ending and an ending that can work as the film’s opening. Interestingly enough, there is no title sequence at the start of this film if viewed normally. However, by watching the film in reverse, the title we see at the end now opens the film. Thus, it feels like a standard film opening, even though I’m viewing the film from the final moment to the first. This is an interesting play on linear time and I think Nolan does this intentionally. By viewing Inception backwards, I gained a new perspective on the opening and ending of the film, while also realizing that Nolan may have expected someone to manipulate Inception exactly how I did.inception-movie-title-small

In “The Emergence of Cinematic Time”, Mary Ann Doane explains how cinema has emerged as a means of capturing and controlling time. She explores cinema’s essential paradox and how the instability of an image can shape not only the time we see on screen, but also our modern ideas of continuity, discontinuity, contingency, temporal irreversibility, etc. Inception is a strong example of this. Nolan creates a film in which time plays an essential role in the narrative. His exploration of time in a dream relative to reality is a constant theme throughout the film, and the slowed down, time dilating visuals are the best example of this. But does Nolan have a deeper message about time and dream vs. reality than we think? Time will tell.

Nolan invites us to escape the time that controls and strangles our reality by getting lost in his dream. Inception is a strong example of how film as a medium has the power to transport us as the audience into an alternate reality. Film can alter time on screen, but it also has the power to transport us away from our reality, as well as alter the time that we abide by in our everyday lives. This is exactly what I think Nolan hopes to achieve with this film. He wants us to get lost in his dream, while also preaching to us the power film has to transport us out of our reality. He does so by exploring concepts of time while also showing us what he feels filmmaking is all about.

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Through my own manipulation of time I realized that one simple tweak can change the meaning of a visual entirely. For example, there is a scene where Arthur is preparing to give the group of dreamers the kick they need to get out of their particular layer of the dream. To perform the kick he detonates explosions that launch an elevator upwards at a fast enough rate to jolt all of the dreamers awake. But because I viewed the film in reverse, this scene showed the elevator in a dangerous freefall, followed by Arthur holding onto the railing as if he is bracing for impact. The time reversal flips the visual to show something believable, yet completely different from what was originally intended. I have created a counter-factual narrative with my reversal of this film. I used Nolan’s creativity with non-linear storytelling to make Inception less linear than it already was. I tried to tap into the mind of the director when diving into the manipulation of this film, and it was a delight to discover that Nolan was prepared for my alteration of the narrative.

The adjustment of the narrative seemed to diminish the tone and the emotional punch of the story. One reason being that no one actually dies when watching the film backwards. The emotional impact of seeing a character die disappears as each person now comes back to life. Arguably the most poignant scene in this film goes from heartbreaking to being rather meaningless and ridiculous from simply reversing the time and order. Instead of Cobb’s wife committing suicide right in front of his eyes, the reverse shows Cobb screaming and crying for a reason we do not understand, followed by Mal (his wife) floating back up onto the window ledge. Along with these plot changes come dreams that no longer collapse and an important symbol that no longer has any significance (the top).   This proves the importance of time in film. It shows the power editors and filmmakers have to change the visuals and the story, simply by playing with time.

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Nolan’s ability to capture and control time in films like Inception, Interstellar and Memento, is what makes him one of the most talented and respected directors of our time. But I would argue the most effective of these three is Inception. I believe that behind the appealing visuals, Nolan hides a more profound, time related connotation. Time dilation occurs in Inception when someone becomes lost in the alternate reality of a dream. This same experience is essentially what takes place when we as viewers watch a well-crafted film. We can get lost in the alternate reality of a motion picture and time becomes malleable. Two hours can feel like one or forty. Nolan illustrates on screen what he hopes we experience as viewers of his film. There is one scene in particular where I think Nolan intentionally summarizes what film is, through a line spoken by Cobb to Ariadne: “You create the world of the dream. We bring the subject into that dream and they fill it with their subconscious.” Could this line be a reflection of Nolan’s thoughts on filmmaking? Perhaps Nolan is the creator of the dream, transporting us as the audience into his dream to subliminally fill it with our subconscious.

-Curtis Smeding

Works Cited

Inception (2011) Warner Brothers Entertainment, Director: Christopher Nolan. Perf. Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Michael Cain, Ellen Paige

Doane, Mary Ann. The Emergence of Cinematic Time: Modernity, Contingency, the Archive. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2002. Print.

The Sound of Separation

My goal here is to break down, song by song, Radiohead’s Kid A (2000) when “synched” with The Wachowski Brothers’ The Matrix (1999). To begin, I inserted the DVD into the player, pressed play, and turned the volume down to zero. Then I set up my iPhone with the album on a separate speaker and pressed play just before the Warner Brothers logo appeared.
The pairing of Thom Yorke’s voice with the aesthetic of The Matrix produce an inescapable hollow feeling. The music of the album is responding to and informing the feel of the film; it is an intuitive relationship.
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Trinity is giving a slow motion kick to the chest of a police officer, which aligns with a slowing in the song Everything in Its Right Place to give the illusion of ultra-slow motion. Movement continues with Kid A as Trinity runs from the agents and they begin to shoot at her. Soft electronic beats match up with gunshots so that the stark vision of a shot is muffled by the soft electronic beat of the song.
Agent Smith speaking on-screen is heard through Thom’s distorted lyrics. The juxtaposition of Smith overlaid with Thom’s distorted voice makes him look monstrous. An interesting facet of Smith’s character is that he doesn’t exist in the real world, he only truly exists as part of a sentinel program within the Matrix, and yet his character development is real.
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The music stops as Neo wakes up and sees Trinity’s message on his computer screen. Then he follows the white rabbit to the freaky underground club, and the song expresses the movement of the action. The National Anthem starts with a heavy baseline as Neo’s journey into the unknown begins. He meets Trinity in the club as a cacophony of trumpets begins to play and Thom says, “Everyone around here is so near.”matrix05
Neo is at his office job the next day when Morpheus calls him, and the song How to Disappear Completely begins to play; it is a soft and calming guitar strum. Neo begins to panic as the agents descend upon him while Thom croons sweetly, “I’m not here; this isn’t happening.” Neo is in the Matrix, and the Matrix isn’t real. But he refuses to leave the building by going out on the window ledge and he is captured by the agents.
In the interrogation room they close in on him once more, and his mouth disappears before they put a grotesque-looking tracker in his belly button.

He wakes up in his bed thinking that maybe it was all just a crazy dream, until he gets a phone call from Trinity to meet up. Treefingers chimes its way into my ears and it is like the music they play at spas. On-screen is a downpour of rain on a lonely city street as Neo gets into a car. Optimistic begins as Neo makes the decision to stay in the car after having a gun pointed at him. Then they suck out the thing that was in his bellybutton and he reveals that he didn’t think it was real.

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The song builds in percussion as they ascend the stairs to meet Morpheus for the first time. Thom sings,” I’d really, really like to help you man.” as Morpheus lifts the veil from Neo’s eyes. “Trap doors that open, I spiral down.” Neo takes the red pill.

“You’re living in a fantasy world.” Neo is about to wake up from the Matrix. He looks over to the fractured mirror to see his reflection and he becomes consumed by it.

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The song builds to crescendo and distortion takes over. Neo wakes up in the machine fields and is flushed down the drain to die.

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The song Idioteque begins and Thom sings, “This is really happening.” Neo is rescued and brought back to life by Morpheus and his crew. Morning Bell begins after Morpheus tells Neo that his muscles have atrophied and that he’s never used his eyes before. Neo finally wakes up in the real world. Morpheus immediately plugs Neo into a program, which involves sticking a long metal rod into the back of his head.

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Motion Picture Soundtrack begins as Morpheus tells Neo the story of how the Earth became controlled by machines and is now a nuclear wasteland on the surface where fields of humans are harvested as an energy source. They liquefy humans to feed new humans in a never-ending cycle of death, all the while keeping their brains locked into a computer program which has them believing that they live in the real world.

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Neo says it isn’t real, to which Morpheus replies, “What is real? How do you define real?” Thom’s beautiful voice and the plucking of harp strings contrast sharply with the vision of Neo freaking out and throwing up because he can’t believe what Morpheus told him.
I had watched the rest of the movie with the album on repeat, however this would have been a much longer post, so I’ve only included information from up to the end of the first listen of Kid A.
Although the album was the non-diegetic score of the movie, I felt that they informed each other as if they were both conscious entities. In my mind’s eye, Radiohead saw The Matrix when it came out in 1999 and were inspired by Neo to come up with Kid A, which was released a year later. The album is filled with electronic sounds that were digitally produced; just as the movie had a digitally produced world. When the two entities are overlaid with each other they both reveal their true nature. The marriage of The Matrix and Kid A is a holy union which we should all experience at least once in our lives.

Citations:

Radiohead. Kid A. EMI Records, 2007. CD.

Andy Wachowski and Larry Wachowski. The Matrix. Warner Bros. Pictures, 1999. DVD.

 

By Kayla Peters

 

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