Amélie (2001)

Coursework, Creative Arts 1.1 Experience Creative Arts, Creative Arts BA (Hons), Films, Project 2: Encountering Time - A Critical Analysis, Research & Reflection

Amélie is a 2001 French romantic comedy by Jean-Pierre Jeunet. There is so much you can say about this movie but I want to focus here on its use of colour throughout the film as I think it is one of the most brilliant examples.

The film follows the story of Amélie who is brought up in an eccentric household and eccentric characters seem to be ever-present in her life. We are brought into her imagination and the way she sees the world throughout the film.

The use of colour in the film helps us feel this imagination and inner world. The film as a whole is very saturated with warm filters, there is a lot of deep red, gold, yellows and earthy greens which help create this almost surreal feel. Paris itself is brought to life and personified using the yellow hues and it acts as a character in the film rather than a location.

Green and red are used commonly in the film. Green symbolises nature, hope and is a comforting colour to many people and so it is used to harmonise the overall look in the film. Red on the other hand brings warmth, passion and Amélie is often seen wearing red or carrying red accessories to reflect her life and mood.

The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums – Kenji Mizoguchi

Coursework, Creative Arts 1.1 Experience Creative Arts, Creative Arts BA (Hons), Films, Project 2: Encountering Time - A Critical Analysis, Research & Reflection

The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums is a 1939 Japanese film directed by Kenji Mizoguchi, about a male actor specialising in playing female roles in late 19th century Japan. It was a movie I discovered by accident one day but has become one of my favourites. It manages to capture humanity and the ideas of family, class, the value of life in a simple storyline with amazing cinematography.

The shots Mizoguchi uses to draw us into the story are on a very human level. There are a lot of wide-angle shots that place the actors in very real sets as if we are watching real life from a distance. There is a lot of care taken to create realistic mise-en-scene to convince us we are watching a real story. The detail in the shots is amazing, and as so much of it is shot from a distance the set is almost more important than the acting at times, but this is how we often see the real world, we watch stories unfold from a distance.

There are very few close-ups or changes of angles within a scene and this helps us stay captivated by what we are seeing unfold. Almost like watching actors on a stage rather than a film.

Alongside the amazing cinema work, the storyline and script are believable and give us an insight into the class system in Imperial Japan. The characters develop and we feel their emotions and struggles with them.

bell hooks – Cultural Criticism and Transformation (1997)

Creative Arts BA (Hons), Films, Other Projects, Uncategorized

This is a short film that I found out about through the monthly film club and is available on Kanopy:

Gloria Jean Watkins, known as bell hooks, is an American academic and social activist. Cultural Criticism and Transformation is a 1997 two-part film that critiques stereotypical portrayals of race, gender and class in popular media and is a strong argument for the power of cultural criticism.

It is an interview-style film that is divided into two parts. Part One is on Cultural Criticism and Part Two is Doing Cultural Criticism. It was made in 1997, so a lot of the references appear quite old now, but the themes and ideas are sadly still relevant today.

Cinema and popular media are incredibly important to people. It is also a very powerful way of getting ideas to lots of people. At the start of the interview, bell hooks talks about her time educating people from different backgrounds. She speaks of how when teaching in Harlem, the students would have the same ability as those she taught in yale but often they lacked the belief to embrace their future. Students from Yale on the other hand had the expectation that they were the best students with bright futures ahead of them; they weren’t any more gifted, they just had the belief. Popular media has the ability to try and break some of these stereotypes. It can cover race, gender, culture, politics in a way that everyone can hear the same message.

There is power in representation. People often want to behave like the images they see don’t mean anything. Hollywood moves can bring the big ideas to people but it is an industry full of white male privilege and we can see that in subtle and not so subtle ways. There is a conscious manipulation of representations. For example, why are villains usually black or voiced by a black actor? However, it isn’t just race, bell hook talks about intersectionality and its importance.

Representation in Media Matters

We often want to think that films are magic and not true reflections on reality, but very intentional choices on the parts of the filmmaker are made about what kinds of images will make a certain impact. We can be deeply moved by a film but still have problems with certain representations.

One example she talks about is the film Smoke from 1995. The director cast a black actor in the role of the thief and always insists there was no reason behind it. However, the book that the movie is based on made no reference at all to the thief’s race. People often don’t want to believe there was any intention behind the casting.

Popular media can dictate to us the issues we are passionate about. One example given is Braveheart which was released in the 90s. Prior to its release nobody outside of Scotland really cared or even knew about Scottish independence, then they saw the film and a lot more people started passionately advocating for independence.

Be an Enlightened Witness

bell hooks asks us throughout to be what she calls an “enlightened witness”. To watch things and question what we are watching in terms of who is being represented and why. Why do we make certain remarks about women when they are performing but would never do the same about men? Why are certain races cast in certain roles? Are people being represented? Are stereotypes being perpetuated?

Cave of Forgotten Dreams – Werner Herzog

Creative Arts 1.1 Experience Creative Arts, Creative Arts BA (Hons), Films, Other Projects, Research & Reflection

This is a 2010 documentary by Werner Herzog about the Chauvet Cave in France that was mentioned in a Grayson Perry book I am reading. In the cave are paintings that are at least 30,000 years old and due to a landslide that sealed the cave off thousands of years ago, they remain in almost pristine condition, as though they were in a time capsule. The cave is heavily protected with very few visitors being allowed to enter in a bid to preserve the paintings and evidence around them.

The paintings themselves are incredible and this documentary is one of the best looks we’ll ever get to see of them. Many of them feature animals that would have been native to France at that time. There are horses, mammoths, lions, rhinos, deers and only one part drawing of a human female.

There are a few panels of handprints made from red ochre that are thought to have been by one man. In the documentary, they show how they identified it as one male artist who was probably about 6 feet tall and even concluded the order in which he made the prints.

The art of the animals is amazing. There is a sense of movement about them and layers of animals that have been painted on with the 3D surface of the cave taken into consideration. The combination of the surface contours and the way that the light would change in the cave with torchlight almost gives them an animated feel as though they move across the cave.

The Documentary Style

As well as the fascinating subject, Herzog’s film itself is a piece of art. He gives us an insight into a place most of us will never get to visit. However, it isn’t just a documentary about art. Herzog makes us think about huge topics, humanity itself, about the nature of time, God, religion, conservation, materialism and so many other contemplative questions throughout. The cinematography is beautiful. even considering they had to film in a cramped cave with limited access walkways. The music chosen to accompany each section gives it a religious experience feel about it and he does his best to make the place feel as alive as if you were in the cave with him.

One of the big questions asked is if we can ever tell and understand who these people were who painted the images in the cave. We think we can relate to them purely as they are humans like us, but in doing so, we take so many of our modern western perspectives with us. Can we ever understand the artists as people across such an abyss of time? It makes us question what is important to us and how that might be regarded 30,000 years from now. The objects we treasure and the art we make, will that be understood so far into the future? Or will it be misinterpreted? Will anyone even care so far in the future?

There is argument through the movie that it is spirituality that connects us all across epochs. Herzog argues that instead of being homo sapiens, we should be homo spiritualis. There is some evidence the people in the cave made the paintings in a spiritual way. There is a very specifically placed skull with what seems to be incense around it that indicates the cave was used a spiritual place. We assume as modern westerners at times that art is purely decorative or expressive but there is a very interesting point in the film that if you talk to people like indigineous peoples about why they make art, they will reply they are not making art, it is the spirits that are making art. So, could it be a link to spirituality that links humans of all types, all ages and all eras that is the link in art across time.