Research Project/ Reflective Blog Essay

In September of last year, 2013, I began my Masters in ‘American Literature and Film’, in University College Cork. As part of the course, I was required to keep a research blog which was to be updated on a continual basis. This essay is a reflective one on the processes, topics and experiences I have had over the year to date in writing this blog. The topics were of our, the students, choosing. We were however required to write a blog on two seminars given over the year, but we were not constricted in this regard as there were a large range of topics to choose from, from a number of different fields presented by those both inside and outside of the college.                                                                                                                                 

My first post, which is written below, was a very general post. As it being my first experience writing something of its kind, I was unsure as to what to write. I didn’t discuss anything in depth, merely made mention to my perceived view of the English department’s obsession of ‘the other’. I also strayed away from focusing on literature or film, in referring to the future purchase of books for the course. The first post, written on the 21st of September is as follows:                                                                                                               

So, as part of my MA programme (American Literature and Film), I have been tasked with writing a blog. It’s strange writing this in the knowledge that pretty much the whole world could see it, yet few, if any, will. For our first proper class we have been told to read a selection of poetry. On the front cover was a picture from a journal called ‘others’. What is it with the English department’s obsession with ‘others’? (I mean the idea of ‘the other’, rather than this specific text). Saying that, I could be wrong in my assumption that this is in fact about the ‘other’, but we shall see. I’m going to go out on a whim and say I’m probably right. I’ll get reading tomorrow and see if my assumptions were correct. Side note: Just spent around €120 on books for the course. I could probably have gotten some from the library, but I just like having my own. Besides, what kind of literary enthusiast would I be without a few books in my collection? So, to my many, or very few, or non-existent readers, until next time.”                                                                                                                                          

My second post, on ‘Tragedy in Death of A Salesman’, which I later wrote an essay on, was more appropriate I feel than my first post as a research blog. In this post I went into why I thought the play fell under the genre of tragedy. Having missed the class on the play, in which they went into detail of views on the text, I was going in without any prior knowledge. I personally saw the play as a tragedy, a view which is still up for debate among critics. This post, written on the 14th of October is as follows,                                                             

Seeing as I missed the lecture where we talked about tragedy in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, I thought I’d write about it here. When we think of a tragedy (play), we wouldn’t often think of a modern text. We would be far more inclined to think of the Greeks, Romans, or Shakespeare, but certainly not something produced in 1949. It seems as if the world has moved on from the tragic genre. But wait! It would be wrong to say there is no such thing as a modern tragedy. After all, Death of a Salesman does in fact display some key traits. According to the Oxford English dictionary, a tragedy can be defined as a play dealing with tragic events and having an unhappy ending, especially one concerning the downfall of the main character. Under that definition it is pretty clear that Willy Loman is part of a tragedy, as we see with his constant struggles and eventual suicide. Willy Loman was a man obsessed with the American dream. The idea consumed him and turned him mad, evidence of which can be seen in the clip above. It was a dream he could not achieve, and so he was unable to provide for his family. His realisation that his life assurance pay-out would be more beneficial than his wage alive drives him to suicide. To reflect his own words to Charley, “you end up worth more dead than alive”. However, At Willy’s funeral, it is seen that his intentions were in vain, as Biff appreciates his father even less. Biff does not feel that his father died an honourable death, and the fact that Willy did not achieve what he desired in his death makes it tragic. So, in summation, Death of a Salesman, at least in my view, clearly falls into the realm of tragedy.”                                                                                                      

It wasn’t until a post I made on the 16th of November, I really think I got the hang of writing for a blog. The subject choice in this post was ‘Breaking Bad’, a show which at the time I had only recently started watching, with the encouragement of a number of friends. In this post, I read into it more than I had done with some previous posts, and I had a real interest in the subject of choice. I also supplied a short clip form the show which obviously can’t be seen here, but which I felt helped the reader to see that Whitman does appear through references in the show. I feel this interest was reflected in the resulting post, which follows,

            “Having recently started watching Breaking Bad, I was pleased to see reference to one of the great American writers. Clearly Walter White’s name makes reference to Walt Whitman. Not only that, but in the show, Walt’s son is also named Walter, again a reference to Whitman, whose father was Walter. In the most recent episode I watched, Walt’s assistant even recites Whitman’s When I heard the learn’d astronomer.

‘When I heard the learn’d astronomer,

When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,

When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,

When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,

How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,

Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,

In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,

Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars’

 In this poem, Whitman comments on the way in which the scientific world is viewed. It is placed in opposition to the world of beauty, art, etc. Science, to a scientist, has lost its beauty. It has become just numbers, and words. It is no longer the thing of magic it once was. Whitman characterizes the scientific approach towards nature as dull, unlike the approach of the poet. Only when the narrator leaves the lecture hall does astronomy mean something, when, alone, he looks up in awe at the night sky. This is a revelation Walter experiences in Breaking Bad. He soon finds the magic again and yearns for it. His leaving the classroom, opens his eyes to the world. He, like the student in the poem, is no longer trapped in the lecture room. He has escaped into the ‘mystical moist night-air’. Although, considering how the show in general is playing out, as well as what I’ve heard since the show has finished, it seems Walt doesn’t achieve the same level of freedom as the student in the poem. I suppose I shall find out in time.” 

After the conclusion of ‘Breaking Bad’, I decided to write about my views on the question on many people’s minds, ‘Did Walter win?’ This post was more of a personal view, than one of research. I did however use the show as reference to support my opinion, so it wasn’t entirely personal. Having finished the series, and now knowing what I know about it, I think it would be interesting to re-watch the show in a much more critical way in order to further develop arguments for and against Walt’s apparent victory. This post, written on the 14th of January, is as follows,                                                    

            “Since the conclusion of Breaking Bad, there have been many questions floating around the internet. One of these being, ‘Did Walter win?’                                                                      

From the beginning, Walter’s goal had been to provide for his family. He had fought a losing battle with cancer, and knew his death would eventually come. And so, he sought to help them as much as possible, before the inevitable happened. When he first set out, his aim was to reach $737,000. He made that and then some. He eventually amassed a fortune of around $80 million. However, as things worked out, he did lose about $70 million of that. Still, who would be unhappy with a $10 million departing gift? Well, for one, Walt’s family.                                                                

In the process of becoming a drug lord, Walt destroyed his family. His wife grew to hate and fear him, especially after his ‘I am the danger’ speech. In the end, everyone knew about his second life. Walt, had always known what he was doing was wrong, hence his fear of having people find out. Once they knew though, it opened the door for him to become bolder in his endeavours, thus allowing him to make more money. He became obsessed with the power he had and ‘pride’ in his product drove him over the edge. He changed from a man who feared every aspect of danger and violence, to a man who sought it out. He killed countless people, culminating in his massacre of the gang in the final episode.                                           

Yes, Walter ended up providing for his family, but he also lost them and ruined his and their reputations. So, the question of whether or not he won is very much down to the individual viewer. Personally, I would say that he won. He did what he set out to do. He was going to die anyway and so it’s irrelevant if his family hated him. He still achieved his goal.                                                                                                                                          

I wrote the first of my required seminar posts on the 3rd of February. This seminar was given by visiting lecturer, Prof. Patrick Geoghegan. I decided to write on this seminar as it not only related to my course in that, in it, he spoke about slavery in America, I wrote on it because he spoke about the Irish within an American context. The topic of choice, being Frederick Douglas and Daniel O’ Connell, had been covered in a class with Dr. Lee Jenkins previously, which helped me in that I already knew some of what Prof. Geoghegan spoke about. It wasn’t repetitive though, as his information supplied further contexts and connections, and vice- versa with Dr. Jenkins. The post is as follows,                                                 

On January 17th I attended a lecture given by Prof. Patrick Geoghegan. In this lecture he emphasised the importance of Daniel O’ Connell in the Irish context as well as in the American. He believed himself a slave to English rule and that it was up to the catholic people (i.e. the Irish) to free themselves. The stance he took for equality in Ireland was something Frederick Douglas took on in his push for the abolition of slavery in America. Douglas himself would later be known as the black O’ Connell, such was his influence. O’ Connell’s association with the anti-slavery movement enraged people on both sides of the Atlantic. The Americans felt he was meddling in things which he had nothing to do with, while the Irish felt he should focus more on the situation at home. However, the work he did proved to be of vital importance to those involved.                                                                                

De Valera once said that O’ Connell ‘took a people who were on their knees and convinced them, they were more than slaves’. This remark shows proof of O’ Connell’s importance to both the Irish and American slaves. O’ Connell was known for his ability to create emotion with power of voice and reason rather than with finely tuned sentences. In 1843, at the age of 68, he travelled the country and spoke at 31 meetings in support of repeal. This along with his many other exploits, cemented O’ Connell as a major figure in the history of Ireland. Such was his impact; he even featured in the original French text of ‘20,000 leagues under the sea’, but was omitted from the English translation until as recently as 2005. This omission is similar to what has happened in recent years in the teaching of Irish history. O’ Connell barely features in schools today, having been replaced by the likes of Michael Collins and Padraig Pearce. O’ Connell has been unfairly pushed aside in the history books, but even so, he should be remembered. When asked who he thought was the most important of Irishmen, he responded ‘Henry Gratten; after myself’.”                                          

The second of my required seminar blogs was on Roland Emmerich’s film ‘Anonymous’, a seminar which had been given by Edel Semple. I wrote on this topic, as I was interested to see how Edel viewed a film which called Shakespeare into question. It became clear very quickly that she was less than thrilled with the Oxfordian way of thinking. It did however provide an interesting opportunity to further research a subject I would have had little opportunity to do within my particular Masters programme. This post, written on the 27th of March, is as follows,                                                                                                                              

“On the 26th of March, I attended a seminar given by Edel Semple on the Roland Emmerich film ‘Anonymous’. In this seminar, she went into detail on the Oxfordian conspiracy, as well as the Tudor Prince theory, and others on Shakespeare and his works. The focus however was on Oxford. For those of you unfamiliar with the Oxfordian conspiracy theory, it basically states that Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, wrote the plays and poems traditionally attributed to William Shakespeare. Though most literary scholars reject the theory, popular interest in the Oxfordian conspiracy continues. There have been many writers attributed to having been the true author of Shakespeare’s works, but the Oxfordian theory has been the most popular among sceptics. In an attempt to sway audiences to the Oxfordian theory, Emmerich released a trailer for the movie in which he lists ten reasons why, in his view, Shakespeare of Stratford did not write the plays attributed to him.                             

He also made materials available for schools to teach alternative authorship theory, in what he called an attempt ‘to encourage critical thinking by challenging students to examine the theories about the authorship of Shakespeare’s works and to formulate their own opinions.’ The study guide does not state that Edward de Vere is the writer of Shakespeare’s works; he is merely a possible candidate. The film caused outrage among members of the academic community and the people of Warwickshire, the county in which Shakespeare was born. In response, in Shakespeare’s home county of Warwickshire, the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust promoted a protest against the film by temporarily covering or crossing out Shakespeare’s image or name on pub signs and road signs.                                                  

While the film itself isn’t actually that bad, its content has sent ripples through the academic community. Had it been anyone but Shakespeare, it may have done quite well, but questioning whether or not the most famous playwright in history was actually an illiterate drunk is just asking for trouble.”                                                                            

After having written on themes, characters, etc. in previous posts, I decided to write about the technicalities of stage and cinema in two of my later posts. These posts, written on the 3rd and 14th of March dealt with staging conventions in the Samuel Beckett play, ‘End Game’, and Cinematography in Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane. As ‘End Game’ doesn’t fall under the mantle of American Literature, I will instead supply part of the post for Citizen Kane, which follows,                                                    

…This film is one of the great pioneers of Mise-en-scene. It has everything one could imagine, as well as what one couldn’t.The sequence introducing Susan Alexander is very clever indeed. It is night time; a thunderstorm is in progress. The camera rises to the roof (crane shot), from the conventional advertising poster depicting her face; it records the neon, and the sign ‘El Rancho’, and the name Susan Alexander Kane, and also a sky-light in the roof behind the sign.

The flash of lightning at the beginning of the scene is a diegetic sound. It can be seen as a flash on the portrait and the viewer automatically presumes something bad is about to be shown, as is the case with almost all scenarios where lightning is involved, and as we see we are not mistaken. The camera comes through the ceiling and we are introduced to the fallen from grace singer, Susan Alexander Kane. The thunder also acts as a sound bridge, creating the illusion of an uninterrupted scene as the camera goes through the skylight and into the bar…, Once we have entered the bar, we automatically focus our attention on Susan. It is not a conscious decision. We are drawn to her by the use of lighting in the scene. It is a very soft light, so soft that we can almost only see silhouettes. But this further enhances the atmosphere as darkness and depression take centre stage…,

Having said all the positives of this scene, I still have reservations to it and to the film as a whole…, This isn’t to say that I thought ‘Citizen Kane’ was a bad film; in fact, I thought everything about it was downright brilliant. From the performances right down to the meticulously planned camera movements and clever lighting tricks, there isn’t a single element of ‘Citizen Kane’ that isn’t a stunning achievement in all areas of filmmaking. It is by all accounts a master class in the art of cinematography.” 

Over the course of the year, I feel my blog improved with each post. It went from highly generalised and vague, as seen in the first post, to a very detailed look at the cinematography of a specific scene within Orson Welles’ ‘Citizen Kane’. While I do feel it improved, I think I could have done better, not just in terms of subject, or execution, but also in my consistency in producing works, as gaps between posts were oftentimes great and varying.  However, I am at least glad that I supplied a range of topics and opinions to those who have read my blog.

Advertisements

Literature Review for my Thesis

In my research proposal, I outlined my wish to further study under three main topics in relation to Isaac Asimov’s ‘Mechanical Men’; Adaptation, The Uncanny, and Revolt (in terms of the robotic more so than the human).                                                       While there is quite an extensive amount written on each topic of my thesis individually, not much has been written so as to bring the varying fields together, namely adaptation of and the uncanniness felt in relation to robots, especially those of Asimov’s works.  I have tried to vary my sources across both the physical and the digital, in terms of journals, books, film, etc.                                                                                                                                   

Proyas’ film, ‘I, Robot’, was supposedly an adaptation of Asimov’s collection of short stories of the same name. However, it is apparent that this is not an entirely accurate adaptation, and so I have chosen a number of books, articles, etc. to further study adaptation in film. Shannon Wells-Lassagne and Ariane Hudelet’s book, Screening text, Critical Perspectives on Film Adaptation, does not make excuses for cinema in not adapting literature perfectly across mediums. Rather it states that ‘the point is not to translate… so as to create a film that will mirror its source… but rather to construct from the novel, through the cinema, a second-level work – in no way a film comparable to the novel… but a new aesthetic being that is like the novel multiplied by the cinema’ (8). I have chosen this book in an attempt to be as unbiased as possible in my study of the film I, Robot as an adaptive work, as this book attempts to explain and subdue negative thoughts against the inaccuracy of adaptation. A question posed by Joseph H. Kupfer in Noël Carroll and Jinhee’s Philosophy of Film and Motion Pictures, is the idea of Interpretation. Kupfer speaks in detail about readings of texts and films and how experiences can affect one person’s reading to another. In this light, I would like to see if Proyas’ reading of Asimov’s work can be understood in some way true to Asimov’s, or was it entirely a product of the cinematic process. In Debra Fried’s Hollywood Convention and Film Adaptation, She brings to question whether adaptation is merely a tool used to bring texts into the modern age, a necessary evil in creating something the audience can associate with. While this text is aimed almost exclusively at stage to screen adaptation rather than page to screen, I still feel some of the ideas expressed can be of use. Other texts under the heading of adaptation, which were unfortunately unavailable at the time of this writing which I intend to look at, include Shilo McClean’s Digital Storytelling, and Brian McFarlane’s Novel to film: an introduction to the theory of adaptation.                                                                                                            In terms of the uncanny, my main points of reference will be the ideas posed by Sigmund Freud in his essay, The Uncanny or Das Unheimliche, and Masahiro Mori’s The Uncanny Valley. I will also look at other writers on the uncanny, such as E. Jentsch and F. Nietzche, who provided earlier works than Freud, though perhaps less detailed. The uncanny valley hypothesis states that as the appearance of a robot is made more human, some human observer’s emotional response to the robot will become increasingly positive and empathic, until a point is reached beyond which the response quickly becomes that of strong revulsion. I feel this theory is of great value when studying the effects robots have on the population within the contexts of both film and literature. Freud’s essay would be equally invaluable in the study of the uncanny as his is seemingly the basis for all studies on the topic.  I also wish to study other works on the uncanny valley, such as Tinwell’s Facial expression of emotion and perception of the Uncanny Valley, Burleigh’s Does the uncanny valley exist? An empirical test of the relationship between eeriness and the human likeness of digitally created faces and Piwek’s Empirical evaluation of the uncanny valley hypothesis fails to confirm the predicted effect of motion. Each of these works studies the effectiveness of the uncanny valley as a reliable theory.                                                                                                                                                                                                          In Paul M. Abrahm and Stuart Kenter’s Tik-Tok and the three laws of robotics, the uncanny is applied to the industrial within nature in the fictional land of Oz. Similar to the robots among men in I, Robot, ‘The factory-produced machine is alien to the nature of this world, and any found therein points to the presence of the non-magical [Magic being the natural in this case] human being. Technology and magic [nature] thus come into direct contact in this fiction with the implication that technology, as the better method of accomplishment, will eventually destroy magic [Nature]’. This work will be of use to me as it goes towards explaining, in part, the fear of the unnatural. In J.L Moreno’s The Future of Man’s World, he writes not on the survival of the fittest, but on the survival of human existence. He, like the protagonists in both the film and book version of Asimov’s work, questions our control over the machines. While his is a somewhat extreme view, as far as my reading goes, it will be of use in my attempt to write an unbiased argument. In a chapter titled ‘the uncanny guest’, in Bülent Diken’s book Nihilism, he writes that ‘nihilism posits some values superior to life and negates life in the name of those higher values’, this is something seen within the film in the robots’ refusal to follow the three laws of robotics. Further study of nihilism, would, I therefore believe be of benefit in further understanding the film and its given meanings. In Peter Robinson and Rana el Kaliouby’s Computation of emotions in man and machines, they write of how ‘advances in computer technology now allow machines to recognize and express emotions, paving the way for improved human-computer and human-human communication’. This advancement is seen in both Asimov’s books and Proyas’ film. It is especially evident in, Sonny, the robot’s learning how to wink and what it represents. Emotion of robots is clearly important in the study of the uncanny, as it either brings us to empathise or feel fear. Nicholas Royle’s The Uncanny, which does study the uncanny in a wide variety of fields, is especially of interest to me in that it studies film as uncanny. That is to say it studies film itself, and not its contents, as uncanny. It sees film as a type of doubling, the ultimate act of doubling. It goes into detail on how the characters are doubles of the actors. Who are so alike, but yet so different, similar to the robot population in I, Robot. The same can be applied from the character in a book, to that of a film. One of the more useful texts of my study will be Sean Redmond’s Liquid metal: The science fiction film reader. This text provides a history, context and way of reading a number of themes within the sci-fi genre, key of which to me are based within two sections of the book, namely, ‘The Cyborg in Science Fiction’ and ‘Imitation of Life’. Each section holds a number of essays and articles detailing the aforementioned.                                                                                                    Other than the critical works mentioned above, I will, of course, also be studying the works of Asimov himself (I, Robot, Caves of Steel, etc.) and Proyas’ 2004 film ‘I, Robot’, as well as the original, 1978, screenplay for ‘I, Robot’ by H. Ellison and J. Vintar’s Hardwired, on which the released film’s story was based. While not directly related to I, Robot and its workings, I would also like to look at Karel Čapek’s 1920 drama R. U.R. which is a science fiction landmark in that Čapek is who first used the term ‘robot’ in reference to a man-made automaton. I would be particularly interested in Kamila Kinyon’s The Phenomenology of Robots: Confrontations with Death in Karel Čapek’s “R.U.R.” which gives a brief history and provides some philosophical readings to the text.                                                                                                                                                                                 With the sources listed above, I will have a basis to start my thesis. It is inevitable that in the course of my research I will come across more works which will be of use to me, and potentially remove some of those I have mentioned. I feel the sources I have selected will provide ample information; readings, theories etc. and I hope they will be as useful as I believe them to be in relation to my proposed topic.

Bibliography

Abrahm, Paul M., and Stuart Kenter. “Tik-Tok and the Three Laws of Robotics.” Science Fiction Studies 5.1 (1978): 67–80. Print.

Asimov, Isaac. Caves of Steel. New York: Random House LLC, 2011. Print.

—. I, Robot. New York: Random House Publishing Group, 2004. Print.

Čapek, Karel. R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots). New York: Penguin, 2004. Print.

Carroll, Noël, and Jinhee Choi. Philosophy of Film and Motion Pictures: An Anthology. Oxford: John Wiley & Sons, 2009. Print.

Diken, Bulent. Nihilism. New York: Routledge, 2008. Print.

Ellison, Harlan. I, Robot: The Illustrated Screenplay. New York: Warner Books, 1978. Print.

Freud, Sigmund. The Uncanny. London: Penguin UK, 2003. Print.

Fried, Debra. “Hollywood Convention and Film Adaptation.” Theatre Journal 39.3 (1987): 294–306. Print.

Kinyon, Kamila. “The Phenomenology of Robots: Confrontations with Death in Karel Čapek’s ‘R.U.R.’” Science Fiction Studies 26.3 (1999): 379–400. Print.

McClean, Shilo T. Digital Storytelling: The Narrative Power of Visual Effects in Film. Massachusettes: MIT Press, 2007. Print.

McFarlane, Brian. Novel Into Film: An Introduction to the Theory of Adaptation. Oxford: Oxford University Press, Incorporated, 1996. Print.

Moreno, J. L. “The Future of Man’s World.” Sociometry 8.3/4 (1945): 207–304. Print.

Mori, Masahiro. “The Uncanny Valley (Original Translation).” Energy 7.4 (1970): 33–35. Print.

—. “The Uncanny Valley (Updated Translation).” Robotics & Automation Magazine, IEEE June 2012 : 98, 100. Print.

Piwek, Lukasz. “Empirical Evaluation of the Uncanny Valley Hypothesis Fails to Confirm the Predicted Effect of Motion.” Elsevier 130 (2014): 271–277. Print. Cognition.

Proyas, Alex. I, Robot. N. p., 2004. Film.

Redmond, Sean. Liquid Metal: The Science Fiction Film Reader. London: Wallflower Press, 2004. Print.

Robinson, Peter, and Rana El Kaliouby. “Computation of Emotions in Man and Machines.” Philosophical Transactions: Biological Sciences 364.1535 (2009): 3441–3447. Print.

Royle, Nicholas. The Uncanny. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2003. Print.

Tinwell, Angela. “Facial Expression of Emotion and Perception of the Uncanny Valley.” Elsevier 27 (2011): 741–749. Print. Computers in Human Behaviour.

Tyler J. Burleigh. “Does the Uncanny Valley Exist? An Empirical Test of the Relationship between Eeriness and the Human Likeness of Digitally Created Faces.” Elsevier 29 (2013): 759–771. Print. Computers in Human Behaviour.

Wells-Lassagne, Shannon, and Ariane Hudelet. Screening Text: Critical Perspectives on Film Adaptation. North Carolina: McFarland, 2013. Print.

MA Mini Conference

Tags

, , , ,

Last Friday, the 28th of March, the MA group held a conference to showcase their work. The classes in this group included; American Literature and Film (My group), Irish Writing and Film, Modernities: Romanticism, Modernism, Postmodernism and Texts and Contexts: Medieval to Renaissance Literature. This conference not only allowed students to show off their work to lecturers, but to their classmates. It was a very rewarding experience in that it allowed us to hear other’s ideas, and give us an understanding of what is required to give a professional presentation.

The presentations had to follow a format called Pecha Kucha. Pecha Kucha (Japanese for chit-chat) is a presentation style in which 20 slides are shown for 20 seconds each (six minutes and forty seconds in total). It demands presentations be quick, precise and to the point. The most difficult part of this style, in my opinion, was keeping time with the slides. In order to keep time, practice was key. I’m sure if I went in without practice I would have sped through my notes and have been done after about ten slides. However, I feel on the day I kept time fairly well, if perhaps not perfectly. I also had to chair for a number of students, which involved introducing them to the room and giving a brief account of what they would be discussing.

The presentations ranged from ‘Arthurian legend’ to ‘Presentation of robots in Film’ (My topic of choice, with the slideshow available at http://prezi.com/7yuetppsyl3f/the-uncanny-in-relation-to-robots-in-film/). Each student offered a different topic, from a different time period, yet many had influences related to one another, as seen with the discussion of video games being brought up on a number of occasions throughout the day. These presentations gave an insight to who had similar ideas and so provided us with potential sources of material when we go on to do our thesis’.

Overall, it was a very enjoyable day, if also a bit intimidating. I think everyone was happy with their performances, but I’m sure they were all relieved when their turn to speak was finally over. Congratulations to all those involved.Image

Shakespeare: According to Emmerich.

Tags

, , , , ,

On the 26th of March, I attended a seminar given by Edel Semple on the Roland Emmerich film ‘Anonymous’. In this seminar, she went into detail on the Oxfordian conspiracy, as well as the Tudor Prince theory, and others on Shakespeare and his works. The focus however was on Oxford. For those of you unfamiliar with the Oxfordian conspiracy theory, it basically states that Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, wrote the plays and poems traditionally attributed to William Shakespeare. Though most literary scholars reject the theory, popular interest in the Oxfordian conspiracy continues.There have been many writers attributed to having been the true author of Shakespeare’s works, but the Oxfordian theory has been the most popular among sceptics. In an attempt to sway audiences to the Oxfordian theory, Emmerich released a trailer for the movie in which he lists ten reasons why, in his view, Shakespeare of Stratford did not write the plays attributed to him.

He also made materials available for schools to teach alternative authorship theory, in what he called an attempt ‘to encourage critical thinking by challenging students to examine the theories about the authorship of Shakespeare’s works and to formulate their own opinions.’ The study guide does not state that Edward de Vere is the writer of Shakespeare’s works, he is merely a possible candidate. The film caused outrage among members of the academic community and the people of Warwickshire, the county in which Shakespeare was born. In response, in Shakespeare’s home county of Warwickshire, the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust promoted a protest against the film by temporarily covering or crossing out Shakespeare’s image or name on pub signs and road signs.

Image

While the film itself isn’t actually that bad, its content has sent ripples through the academic community. Had it been anyone but Shakespeare, it may have done quite well, but questioning whether or not the most famous playwright in history was actually an illiterate drunk is just asking for trouble.

‘Theatre of the absurd’: Staging conventions

Tags

, , , ,

In Endgame, Beckett distances the audience from his commentary on life through constant reminders that his staged play is merely a staged play. Through the dialogue of Hamm, Beckett directly implores the audience to be objective onlookers to the absurd tale of Endgame. Hamm ponders, “Imagine if a rational being came back to earth, wouldn’t he be liable to get ideas into his head if he observed us long enough?” The stage directions prescribe he continues in the “voice of rational being.” “Ah, good, now I see what it is, yes, now I understand what they’re at” (Beckett 33). The audience is called to step away from the stage, to recognize the emotion-blocking proscenium between themselves and the text’s four characters. The audience must realize that it is from another time and place—reality. The reality proscenium is enforced through theatrical references and techniques throughout the play. For example, despite the minimalist set used in Endgame, Beckett employs the formal convention of a rising curtain during Clov’s opening dramatic action. The text indicates that the initial movement involve the set’s two windows. By purposefully acknowledging their existence, Clov unveils to the audience the characters’ limited eyes to the outside world. Clov then continues to raise the curtain on each of the characters. He removes the sheets from each bin and examines its contents. Finally, Clov pulls the sheets from atop Hamm, leaving only the handkerchief upon his face (Beckett 1). Through one paragraph of stage directions, the stage has amply been set before the audience’s rationally onlooking eyes.

Though not segmentally indicated in the text, the first two monologues, shared between Clov and Hamm, serve the formal function of prologue to Endgame. After undressing the stage, Clov “turns towards auditorium” to address the onlookers. “Finished, it’s finished, nearly finished, it must be nearly finished” he promises them. Clov then begins to explain his situational context to the audience of outsiders. Hamm interrupts Clov’s storytelling with his exclamation, “Me—(he yawns)—to play” and continues the prologue by himself (Beckett 1-2). Beckett’s indirect use of a prologue reflects a theatrical introduction convention which began in early Greek drama. The prologue sets the story within the story—the play within the play. The prologue presents the audience with a situation to be critically observed.

Cinematography in Citizen Kane

Tags

, , , , , ,

The expressive meaning of the cinematic masterpiece Citizen Kane, directed by Orson Welles in 1941, cannot be summed up succinctly. Within Citizen Kane, everything is significant; not a single frame is wasted or extraneous. Each separate portion of the film contributes to its overall impact as one of the greatest cinematic achievements in cinematic history. This film is one of the great pioneers of Mise-en-scene. It has everything one could imagine, as well as what one couldn’t.

Image

The sequence introducing Susan Alexander is very clever indeed. It is night time; a thunderstorm is in progress. The camera rises to the roof (crane shot) , from the conventional advertising poster depicting her face; it records the neon, and the sign ‘El Rancho’, and the name Susan Alexander Kane, and also a sky-light in the roof behind the sign.

The flash of lightning at the beginning of the scene is a diegetic sound. It can be seen as a flash on the portrait and the viewer automatically presumes something bad is about to be shown, as is the case with almost all scenarios where lightning is involved, and as we see we are not mistaken. The camera comes through the ceiling and we are introduced to the fallen from grace singer, Susan Alexander Kane. The thunder also acts as a sound bridge, creating the illusion of an uninterrupted scene as the camera goes through the skylight and into the bar. Thunder isn’t the only sound present in the scene, Bernard Herrmann’s ‘Rain’ is the music being played along with the thunder. It proves to serve as an eery mate to the thunder and greatly enhances the mood as we fly through the ceiling.

Later, this time in the daylight, the camera takes its extraordinarily elaborate journey through the skylight a second time—Hasn’t Welles heard of doors?—and this time, again rather sodden, Susan Alexander tells her story. When she has told as much of it as she chooses to, the camera rises up, reverses through the skylight retracing its passage between the segments of the neon advertising-sign. Does the film, do we, really need this elaborate shot?

Once we have entered the bar, we automatically focus our attention on Susan. It is not a conscious decision. We are drawn to her by the use of lighting in the scene. It is a very soft light, so soft that we can almost only see silhouettes. But this further enhances the atmosphere as darkness and depression take centre stage. The lighting used is the realistic light that would be expected in a bar, it is dark and not ridiculously bright as is the case in many films which are meant to be in a dark setting. Through the entire scene, hers is the only face we can properly see, thus clearly establishing her as the key character.

When Susan refuses to speak with the journalist, the waiter takes him aside to explain that ‘She just won’t talk to nobody’. Susan Alexander is left at the table and the camera slow pans after the waiter and Mr. Thompson (journalist), all the while they remain in almost total darkness with only the smallest features distinguishable in the waiter, but as is the case in the entire film, the journalist’s face remains unseen.

Image

Like many of the scenes in this film, it is shot in sharp focus, everything is clearly distinguishable in foreground and background, for example the lamp on the table behind Susan Alexander is just as visible as she herself is.

Having said all the positives of this scene, I still have reservations to it and to the film as a whole. It’s a difficult undertaking for someone of my generation to watch a film like ‘Citizen Kane’. Not because it’s “too old” or “too boring”, but because it has been hailed–almost universally—as one of the best motion picture ever made. And while the anticipation of seeing a film with such overwhelming acclaim may be quite exhilarating, actually watching it is ultimately an intimidating and somewhat disappointing experience.Image
This isn’t to say that I thought ‘Citizen Kane’ was a bad film; in fact, I thought everything about it was downright brilliant. From the performances right down to the meticulously planned camera movements and clever lighting tricks, there isn’t a single element of ‘Citizen Kane’ that isn’t a stunning achievement in all areas of filmmaking. It is by all accounts a master class in the art of cinematography.

Daniel O’ Connell: The Liberator

Tags

, , , , , , , ,

On January 17th I attended a lecture given by Prof. Patrick Geoghegan. In this lecture he emphasised the importance of Daniel O’ Connell in the Irish context as well as in the American. He believed himself a slave to English rule and that it was up to the catholic people (i.e. the Irish) to free themselves. The stance he took for equality in Ireland was something Frederick Douglas took on in his push for the abolition of slavery in America. Douglas himself would later be known as the black O’ Connell, such was his influence. O’ Connell’s association with the anti-slavery movement enraged people on both sides of the Atlantic. The Americans felt he was meddling in things which he had nothing to do with, while the Irish felt he should focus more on the situation at home. However, the work he did proved to be of vital importance to those involved.

De Valera once said that O’ Connell ‘took a people who were on their knees and convinced them, they were more than slaves’. This remark shows proof of O’ Connell’s importance to both the Irish and American slaves. O’ Connell was known for his ability to create emotion with power of voice and reason rather than with finely tuned sentences. In 1843, at the age of 68, he travelled the country and spoke at 31 meetings in support of repeal. This along with his many other exploits, cemented O’ Connell as a major figure in the history of Ireland. Such was his impact; he even featured in the original French text of ‘20,000 leagues under the sea’, but was omitted from the English translation until as recently as 2005. This omission is similar to what has happened in recent years in the teaching of Irish history. O’ Connell barely features in schools today, having been replaced by the likes of Michael Collins and Padraig Pearce. O’ Connell has been unfairly pushed aside in the history books, but even so, he should be remembered. When asked who he thought was the most important of Irishmen, he responded ‘Henry Gratten; after myself’.

“I will go on quietly and slowly, but I will go on firmly, and with a certainty of success.”                                                                                                          – Daniel O’ Connell

A Night at the Theatre

Tags

, , , , , ,

I recently attended Oscar Wilde’s ‘An ideal husband’ in the Everyman theatre with a number of classmates, as well as one of our lecturers. As such, I have decided to write about the experience.

Firstly, I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed the performance, and having never seen nor read the play before, found it most amusing. The play deals with a number of themes throughout, ranging from the role of women, corruption in politics, aestheticism, marriage, etc. I was particularly interested in how women were represented in the play. At times it was a very obviously sexist display, stating women to have ‘no common sense’ and having less ‘value’ than a man. However, it would suddenly turn the emphasis back, so that the women in the play seemed to look down on their husbands, almost as children who they had to look after. Yes, at times it was highly sexist, but I feel Wilde did this for comic reasons as opposed to expressing an actual view on women.

Image

In terms of characters, I feel Lord Goring was probably my favourite. He was a highly charismatic man who displayed a high interest in aestheticism and the practice of ‘idleness’, very much a recreation of Wilde himself. Lord Goring, while constantly being referred to as lazy, idle, etc. by his father, actually plays a vital role within the play. Goring delivers a number of the play’s more sentimental pronouncements on love and marriage, serving as a guide to the Chilterns and teacher to Lady Chiltern in particular.

Image

And so, to end this weeks entry, I shall leave a quote from Lord Goring himself:  ‘I’m so full of interesting information, I feel like the latest edition of something or other. Well, after some consideration… so much to do, there’s only one thing to be done. There comes a time in every son’s life when he must, indeed, follow his father’s advice: I shall go to bed at once.’

The one who knocks

Tags

, ,

So, apparently my blog has been on the fritz. Having had this brought to my attention, I have fiddled with some settings (none of which really explain the problem, but we shall see).

Since the conclusion of Breaking Bad, there have been many questions floating around the internet. One of which being, ‘Did Walter win?’

Image

(He at least won some awards, well Bryan Cranston did)

From the beginning, Walter’s goal had been to provide for his family. He had fought a losing battle with cancer, and knew his death would eventually come. And so, he sought to help them as much as possible, before the inevitable happened. When he first set out, his aim was to reach $737,000. He made that and then some. He eventually amassed a fortune of around $80 million.However, as things worked out. he did lose about $70 million of that. Still, who would be unhappy with a $10 million departing gift? Well, for one, Walt’s family.

In the process of becoming a drug lord, Walt destroyed his family. His wife grew to hate and fear him, especially after his ‘I am the danger’ speech. In the end, everyone knew about his second life. Walt, had always known what he was doing was wrong, hence his fear of having people find out. Once they knew though, it opened the door for him to become bolder in his endeavours. Thus allowing him to make more money. He became obsessed with the power he had and ‘pride’ in his product drove him over the edge. He changed from a man who feared every aspect of danger and violence, to a man who sought it out. He killed countless people, culminating in his massacre of the gang in the final episode.

Yes, Walter ended up providing for his family, but he also lost them and ruined his and their reputations. So, the question of whether or not he won, is very much down to the individual viewer. Personally, I would say that he won. He did what he set out to do. He was going to die anyway and so it’s irrelevant if his family hated him. He still achieved his goal.

Walt Whitman/ Walter White

Tags

, , , ,

Having recently started watching Breaking Bad, I was pleased to see reference to one of the great American writers. Clearly Walter White’s name makes reference to Walt Whitman. Not only that, but in the show, Walt’s son is also named Walter, again a reference to Whitman, whose father was Walter. In the most recent episode I watched, Walt’s assistant even recites Whitman’s When I heard the learn’d astronomer.

‘When I heard the learn’d astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.’
In this poem, Whitman comments on the way in which the scientific world is viewed. It is placed in opposition to the world of beauty, art, etc. Science, to a scientist, has lost its beauty. It has become just numbers, and words. It is no longer the thing of magic it once was. Whitman characterizes the scientific approach towards nature as dull, unlike the approach of the poet. Only when the narrator leaves the lecture hall does astronomy mean something, when, alone, he looks up in awe at the night sky. This is a revelation Walter experiences in Breaking Bad. He soon finds the magic again and yearns for it. His leaving the classroom, opens his eyes to the world. He, like the student in the poem, is no longer trapped in the lecture room. He has escaped into the ‘mystical moist night-air’.

Starry night

Although, considering how the show in general is playing out, as well as what I’ve heard since the show has finished, It seems Walt doesn’t achieve the same level of freedom as the student in the poem. I suppose I shall find out in time.