Archive for December, 2012

Rocinante loves North Carolina! She loves the beautiful country roads, she loves taking me to discover barbecue restaurants and most importantly she loves riding in the winter!! (She also likes coming into the house when it is raining or when I leave Chapel Hill to come to Spain).

Sadly, since I walk to work, Rocinante and Helmut (the car) just sit on the driveway passing time, I might take them out once during the week to run an errand or to buy groceries. But on the weekends I make sure to go on a nice ride. Since Chapel Hill is really a glorified village we hit the back roads very soon, which means I have yet to get very far. Basically I have been discovering the myriad roads around Orange county and they are all beautiful.

In September I bought a bicycle. It is an old Schwinn road bike. The biggest bicycle retailer in the US happens to be Performance Bike

in Chapel Hill – who knew, right? aaaaand the husband of one of my colleagues happens to work there. They were having a charity fundraiser for MS so I bought it for $300 for the cause. I love it! She is aluminium with carbon fiber fork and seatstays. As they would say in old Boston, she is wicked fast. My last road bike was called the Millennium Falcon, so for now this one has the same name. I love going on rides on the country roads around Chapel Hill, although I have already managed two flat tires. I also use it to go to the gym or to specific events around campus. Normally I walk eight minutes to Dey Hall, so I do not really need to ride.

Close scene analysis: Belle Epoque, Fernando Trueba 1992

Fernando Trueba’s (Madrid, 1955) Belle Epoque establishes from the first scene the nature and spirit of the film. With a star studded cast that includes Fernando Fernán Gómez, Jorge Sanz, Penélope Cruz, Miriam Díaz-Aroca, Ariadna Gil, Chus Lampreave and Maribel Verdú among others, and with an equally talented crew including the award winning veteran Rafael Azcona as writer, the quality of the film is evident by its award shelf.  The film hauled in Best Foreign Language Oscar© in 1994, BAFTA, Berlin Bear, Goyas, etc. The initial scene post credits is an abstract of the entire film as it, from the very first impression, establishes the main character, the mood, and the setting.

The modernist stylized opening credits start and roll on a long, almost horizon view of a desolate, palm tree lined dirt road. There appears to be some sort of unidentifiable bulk in the middle of the road. Is it a body? The music that accompanies the credits is a village band version of Ravel’s Bolero.

The camera advances down the straight road with the dark mass obviously becoming larger, but with the viewer still unable to identify it.  Just before the camera reaches the point where the viewer can identify the object, two notes appear on screen.  The first note reads: “En el invierno de 1930, tras el fracaso de la sublevación antimonárquica de Jaca, un joven soldado abandona el cuartel y, convertido en desertor, vaga por los campos intentando vivir su propia vida.”, (In the Winter of 1930 after the failure of the Jaca antimonarchic revolt, a young soldier abandons the barracks and, as a deserter, wanders the countryside trying to live his own life), and  “Febrero 1931, en algún lugar de España…” (“February 1931, somewhere in Spain…”¹). With the fading of the last musical note, the viewer finally identifies the bulk as a suitcase at the same time as a foot enters the screen and sets itself next to the case.

With a whack From a Mauser ‘s rifle butt, the suitcase immediately and innocently pops open. A Guardia Civil (a Spanish paramilitary policeman) in his traditional three cornered, patent leather hat pokes his head from the top left corner into the screen, looking into the suitcase.  Another guardia then enters from the top right hand corner of the screen. The viewer is looking up at the policemen from inside the suitcase. This comic gaze of the suitcase looking up at the policemen establishes the tone for the rest of the film. The suitcase appears to be observing the feared authority as the authority curiously peeks in – who is looking at who? This shot, with the camera on the ground pointing up at the nosy guardias, goes on for five seconds, an eternity in modern film, before the guardia are distracted by noises coming from the bushes on the side of the road.

With the fear inducing shout of “¡Alto a la Guardia Civil!” and “¡Manos arriba!” (“Halt to the Guardia Civil!” and “Hands up!”), a young man (Jorge Sanz) walks out of the bushes and obediently puts his hands up.  Simultaneously his trousers drop. Here again Fernando Trueba reiterates a comic wink as the feared Guardia Civil deals with a young man in his underwear trying to explain why his trousers aren’t fastened. The connotations are clear.  Although this scene could be dramatic, reminding viewers of the brutal arrests of Federico García Lorca, or Miguel Hernandez,  we are reminded not to take this scene too seriously. As the younger Guardia goes to fetch the traveler, the older one has stayed to inspect the contents of the case.  This inquisition leads him to believe the suspect is a deserter, which causes protagonist Jorge Sanz to shout “¡Viva Galán y García Hernandez! (“Long live Galán and García Hernandez!” the executed army captains that led the antimonarchic revolt in Jaca). The younger policeman, realizing the suspect is an outlaw, is ready to hit him with the rifle.  However, the older policeman casually tells him to stop. Trueba has easily established the “good cop, bad cop” dynamic, which calls forth further issues as the role of the authority in a divided Spain. The wiser, older Guardia is the more flexible, tolerant one, willing to listen to the renegade, and the younger more passionate one blindly follows the established order.

The deserter denies coming from Jaca where the revolt has just occurred, claiming he is coming from Madrid.  In addition, he denies deserting. This is all unconvincing with a purpose.  When asked where he is going, his answer is clear when he exerts a shrug of the shoulders, a showing of open palms and a “no sé” (I don’t know). This is a key element in establishing the character as a vagrant, a wanderer and following the rich Spanish literary tradition, maybe a pícaro, a rogue or picaroon.

The interrogation proceeds with the three men standing around the open suitcase. The older Guardia picks up and flips through a Bible as he continues the questioning. The young man declares he is in favor of the Republic. With the sentence:  “Aquí ya no se entiende nada, republicano y con la Biblia encima” (“Nothing is understood here anymore, Republican with a Bible on him”) the opening credit music creeps in and the camera zooms to the young man’s hands as he is handcuffed voluntarily. The scene fades quickly to the cuffed hands of the deserter carrying his bag in the dark of night.

This brief opening chapter, just over a minute long, with ten camera shots, creates the setting, the main character and the main issues of the film.  At this point it becomes important to delve into how the filmmaker manages to convey so much information in such little time.

While the two policemen in Belle Epoque might appear somewhat parodical , their reputation,  cultural representation and historical prestige is so heavy one does not take them lightly but maybe only just a little. Using the Guardia Civil in the opening scene is a master stroke in having the audience, at least the Spanish one, instantly recognize and culturally associate the scene.  In the following scene we shall see the younger of the two policemen shoot the elder one, who also happens to be his father in law therefore proving the Guardia’s “trigger happy” reputation. Another cinematographic stroke is not using the lighting, camera angles, or available contrasts to establish a power superiority on behalf of the authority.  This keeps the young deserter as an equal throughout the sequence.

Why a renegade deserter would leave his suitcase right smack in the middle of a road, regardless of how untraveled it might be, in politically difficult times does not go unnoticed by the viewer. Yet Trueba’s point, does not seem to be beating a dead horse, instead he is making sure we accept the tale lightheartedly, without the heady historical and political charge.

The craftsmanship and technique required to accomplish so much narrative in such little space is a credit to the filmmakers. The mise en scene is necessarily economic to get the most amount of information in the fastest, easiest way possible.

The lighting is very neutral.  While the viewer appreciates the long shadows of the palm trees during the opening credits, there is no other indicator of time or temperature.  The coloring is also quite neutral with the main splashes of color coming from the green fields on the side of the road and the deserter’s white boxer shorts – lest anyone has not yet noticed the comedy in the exchange with the Guardia civil.  Could it be the white boxer shorts are meant to evoke a thought of “innocence” or “surrender” via color alone? The Guardias’ uniforms are famously (or infamously) olive green.  Even the glimpse of a stream behind the deserter as he comes out of the bushes is rather murky. Other than the point of view shot from inside the suitcase, all other camera angles and shots are standard full body shots.  An American or half body shot is used for the final exchange in the scene, where the conversation comes to a climax and the handcuffs come on.  Another item of note is the absolute lack of any other sort of civilization in the film.  There are no houses, farms, barns, animals or cars. Because the setting is quite rural, even without expected rural backdrops, the focus remains on the actors, which still allows the viewer to believe the events happen at a distance from the closest village or town. There are various possible reasons for this remote setting: to rule out any possible interference in the scene that would take away from the carefully worked exchange, and to emphasize that the action is taking place in a rural setting and not an urban, cosmopolitan one. The use of lenses, depth of field and composition again are evident only in that they are not noticed. The filmmaker wants the audience to focus on the exchange and reduces everything else in order for the viewer to take in what information is being provided.

In conclusion, the scene builds up gradually from the opening shot of the suitcase on the middle of the road to the climactic “Nothing is understood here anymore- Republican with a Bible on him” declared by the older Guardian. In just over a minute the filmmaker has managed to set up the audience to enjoy a likely comic film with a clear political and historical theme.

Notes:

All translations by the author

Bibliography:

Monaco, James. How to Read a Film. New York: Oxford University Press, 1980.

As promised, I am going to post my essays and whatever work I have from school. I am posting things AS IS meaning no corrections (yuck) this will: a, avoid me going through all my work correcting it and b, give you a raw feeling, a work in progress view, a behind the curtains peek. Here is my first writing from this year a critique of a film journal. Enjoy…

Cinema Journal review

Founded by the University of Texas at Austin in 1959, a milestone year for film¹, Cinema Journal, published quarterly, is sponsored by the Society for Cinema and Media Studies, the largest professional organization of moving image media scholars. It includes faculty and students from various fields of Film, Television, and Media, from the US and 39 other countries.¹ Promoting all areas of media studies within universities, encouraging and rewarding excellence in scholarship and writing, and facilitating and improving the teaching of media studies as disciplines and to advance multi-cultural awareness and interaction² SCMS has a wide reaching mission statement that is reflected in the Journal’s content. In our research we studied three consecutive issues of Film Journal: Spring, Summer, and Fall 2011, specifically analyzing methodologies, theoretical approaches, and type of themes favored.

Since publication is limited to SCMS members, the journal is guaranteed its scholarly quality as is evidenced by their 15 percent acceptance rate. Since Cinema Journal is open to all areas of humanities-oriented scholarship in media studies, not only is the quality of the content consistently formal, it also encompasses a wide spectrum of themes and methodologies.

The first and most obvious element evidenced by the reader is the rigorous and varied level of the work, including film, television, radio, sound and digital media. The academic craftsmanship and attention to detail entice the reader to explore each theme and issue. A variety of techniques is applied to this goal, such as comparative film analysis for example of “Esfir Shub’s late 1920s compilation documentaries and Santiago Alvarez’s early 1970s chronicle films”³. As was mentioned earlier, with the ambitious goal of promoting all areas of media studies, the Journal combines seamlessly film history: “The Benshi Track: Mizoguchi Kenji’s The Downfall of Osen and the Sound Transition” to “Audiovisual Change: Viral Web Media and the Obama Campaign”, international film: “Localized Globalization and a Monster National: The Host and the South Korean Film Industry” or, “Landscapes of Expression: Affective Encounters in South Indian Cinema” as well as technology issues “Out of the Screen and into the Theatre: 3-D Film as Demo”, or industry analyses: “There’s More Than One Way to Lose Your Heart”: The American Film Industry, Early Teen Slasher Films and Female Youth”. We found that Cinema Journal covers topics some publications might shun, for example queer fiction such as Nicole Seymour’s “It’s Just Not Turning Up”: Cinematic Vision and Environmental Justice in Todd Haynes’s Safe”, or Feminist and Psychoanalytic Film Theory in “Film Experience and the Formation of Illusion: The Spectator as “Surrogate Body” for the Cinema” by Christiane Voss. Besides the feature articles, Film Journal includes conference reports, “In Focus” special sections on topics such as “The Long Shadows of 9/11: Science Fiction, Thrillers and the War on Terror” or “Teaching Television in a Postnetwork Era”, with detailed book reviews on Teaching Television. Finally each issue includes interviews, special articles on teaching “Teaching our Research…and Researching Our Teaching”, in depth studies, Comic Studies receives a full 41 pages, even obituaries.

As a “senior” publication in the field of Film Studies, Cinema Journal provides a rich, in-depth, and multi-disciplined view covering the domain of Film, TV and Media.

Image

Notes

1. 1959 heralded the first film to win 11 Oscars: Ben Hur, the beginning of the Nouvelle Vague with Claude Chabrol’s Le Beau Serge (1958, Fr.) (Bitter Reunion), Francois Truffaut’s feature film debut – the semi-autobiographical Les Quatre Cents Coups (1959, Fr.) (The 400 Blows) and Jean-Luc Godard’s A Bout de Souffle (1960, Fr.) (Breathless). Elizabeth Taylor became the first Hollywood star to receive $1 million for a single picture Cleopatra. Ref.:AMC Filmsite Written and edited by Tim Dirks www.filmsite.org Copyright 2012 American Movie Classics Company LLC. All rights reserved

Works Cited

  1. Project MUSE | 2715 North Charles Street | Baltimore, Maryland USA 21218

http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/cj/

  1. Project MUSE | 2715 North Charles Street | Baltimore, Maryland USA 21218

http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/cj/

  1. Malitsky, Joshua.”A Certain Explicitness: Objectivity, History, and the documentary Self.” Cinema Journal 50 (Spring 2011): 26-45.
  2. Film Journal. 50, No 3 Spring 2011. University of Texas Press, Austin Texas.
  3. Film Journal. 50, No 4 Summer 2011. University of Texas Press, Austin Texas

4.   Film Journal. 51, No 1 Fall 2011. University of Texas Press, Austin Texas.

Well, I wanted to update the blog during Thanksgiving but was so busy with work, the turkey came and went without me blogging, blah.

You see, this is my first chance to update my blog this term. This has been because it has been a crazy semester. By a scheduling error I was made to take 4 courses instead of the standard 3. This has made life more difficult than it had to be, or should be for my first semester.

Medieval Spanish was fantastic! Professor Frank Dominguez is the Man, he waltzes into class and lectures, rather chats nonstop for 75 minutes on Medieval anything, but of course mostly literature. He knows everything, he literally wrote the book on Medieval Spanish literature. He is open to questions and he knows the answer. Even when we go off topic he continues to know everything. During office hours he is always available and incredibly helpful and humble. I am really enjoying this class. Dominguez early on saw how I was always looking for the evolution into the Renaissance at every point, and now we joke about it in class at any opportunity.

In Old Spanish we are learning about how Spanish evolved and how it went to America and then how it evolved in America. We do research and a different group presents on their research every week.

I also took Film Theory, which had very little to do with a Romance Language course.

Italian is fantastic, unfortunately with my other classes I do not have the time to devote to memorizing all the details that learning a new language entail. The class is mostly undergrads and the professor Katie-Nicole is great, so I look forward to the class although I wish I had time to prepare more. I have great classmates: Stjepan is a smart and funny Croatian American from Long Island and Maddie is a brilliant and hilarious Musicology PhD candidate.

All this leaves me with literally no time. The first week of school I went to a women’s soccer game and after I felt so guilty about wasting time that I have not returned to any more games because I have to be studying. Basically I have about 500 pages of reading per week, plus presentations and writing.

Chapel Hill is wonderful. It is a quaint little town, but thanks to the university it is a thriving quaint little town. I have a little routine and I love it. I can go hide in the museum if I want and just stare at the Goya prints or any other great painting. Or I can go to the botanical garden. There are good coffee and sweets, necessities for anyplace I live. There are many places to read and study, of course, I can’t tell you where they are.

There is an excellent, friendly dive bar to soak, the Zog, where the team: Mandey, Jedd and James take care of me and we can talk about silliness, or Borges or music or whatever.

I can and do walk to church every Sunday, and after mass I cross the street to the Carolina Inn for a cup of coffee and to read.

I can walk anywhere and I do. The cinema is $4.00, although I have only been to see Sacha Baron Cohen’s The Dictator, when it came out in the summer.

My life is very monotonous and I love it! I study and work out, little else. My colleagues are great but they are much younger so I do not hang out with them a lot. I like my little life.

In summary, I cannot wait for next semester where I hope to have a little bit more time to enjoy, to reflect and digest what I am doing. It looks like I will be taking Women in the Golden Age, XVIII Century Peninsular novel and a directed study with Frank Dominguez on narrative in the middle ages, pre-Golden Age!

So it is now time to morph this blog into a more academic place to reflect what I am doing, so I will post some of my work in case anybody needs help falling asleep. I will post stuff as I handed it in – this will give the reader a realistic, raw quality of reading.