THE DISASTER ARTIST (2017) – MOVIE REVIEW

THE DISASTER ARTIST (2017) – MOVIE REVIEW

“Just because you want it doesn’t mean it can happen.”

DIRECTOR(S): James Franco / Tommy Wiseau 

WRITERS: Screenplay by Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber (Based on: The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Film Ever Made by Greg Sestero & Tom Bissell

CAST: James Franco, Dave Franco, Seth Rogen, Ari Graynor, Jackie Weaver, Alison Brie, Hannibal Buress etc.

**CONTAINS MINIMAL SPOILERS**

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I’d never seen the cult “bad” movie, The Room (2003). I’d seen clips on YouTube of actor, producer and director, Tommy Wiseau’s magnum opus drama, and not only found it excruciatingly painful to watch but, like a car crash I couldn’t take my eyes of it, transfixed at the creative carnage on show. From the initial limited release in 2003, The Room has subsequently become celebrated as a paean to bad filmmaking as armies of hipsters and millennials laugh and quote-along to agonising performances and dialogue on the silver screen. Even during the showing of The Disaster Artist (2017) I was at, a couple of audience members quoted along to some of fantastically simulated scenes from The Room.

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Films within films and the movie-making process have provided, down the years, a rich vein of comedic and dramatic output from: Singing in the Rain (1952), Living in Oblivion (1995), The Player (1992), State and Main (2000); plus, the film The Disaster Artist most reminds me of, Tim Burton’s glorious tribute to the hopeless, yet determined, director called Ed Wood (1994).  Structured around two struggling actors in Tommy Wiseau and Gregg Sestero this hilariously skewed yet somehow likeable buddy movie is propelled by the Franco brothers’ brilliant performances as European eccentric Wiseau and the younger, naïve, and ever-smiling Sestero.

Wiseau’s character is an actors’ gift as he exists in some delusional yet over-confident Neverland. We do not know Wiseau’s age, background and how he managed to become so wealthy, yet Sestero is drawn to his outrageously up-to-eleven acting performance during a class, and the two soon become inseparable. Moving to Hollywood they valiantly try to make it as actors and the film lurches from one desperately funny scene to another. Despite their apparent lack of ability they won’t be deterred and decide if Hollywood won’t come to them then they will come to Hollywood. They will make their own movie!

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Here The Disaster Artist really becomes a wonderful comedy of filmmaking flaws as we get scene after scene where all manner of rookie errors are committed by Wiseau. James Franco really excels as Wiseau; as the production is clearly beyond him his deluded power and determination will not yield, despite run-ins with the script supervisor (Seth Rogen) and various cast members who have no idea what the hell The Room is about. Here the story becomes compelling as Wiseau’s mania and lack of discipline flies in the face of established filmmaking conventions. During the making of the The Room, Wiseau is genuinely funny, monstrous, and yet somehow sympathetic. He is a true outsider’s outsider; he is a bona fide Hollywood version of Frankenstein’s monster.

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James Franco has an odd career trajectory and has kind of stamped himself as a scattergun jack-of-all-trades, giving impressive performances in such films as: Spiderman (2002), 127 Hours (2010) and Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011); but also starring in some haphazard comedies of which the hilarious This is the End (2013) was the best. Amidst his prodigious work ethic he has also produced some turkeys (i.e. Your Highness (2011); as well as pretentious adaptations of literary classics by William Faulkner. If pushed I would say that his faithful recreation of the cult of Wiseau is his greatest performance to date. The fact he directed the film too is also remarkable as he got the pitch of parody and drama just perfectly.

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Meta-textually, comedically and entertainment-wise this film is a highly satisfying cinematic experience. As the credits roll the sequence which compares scenes from The Room and Franco’s faithful simulacrum is a joy to behold. I can certainly recommend The Disaster Artist to anyone who enjoys seeing massive fails in the creative process of filmmaking. Having said that though this is a film which also pays tribute to the deluded fools trying to make it in Hollywood. I mean, however impossible it may seem Wiseau and Sestero, refuse to buckle in light of insurmountable odds. Their reward is one of the worst films ever made in The Room; but paradoxically it is a success as it has given so much joy to people at the same time. It’s this joie de vivre that the Franco’s bring forth and the underlying message is that without friendship, dreams and hopes you are nothing in Hollywood or life.

Mark: 9 out of 11

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INGRID GOES WEST (2017) – MOVIE REVIEW

INGRID GOES WEST (2017) – MOVIE REVIEW

DIRECTOR:            Matt Spicer 

WRITERS:              Matt Spicer, David Branson-Smith

CAST:                    Aubrey Plaza, Elizabeth Olsen, Billy Magnussen, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Wyatt Russell, Pom Klementieff,

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**CONTAINS MINIMAL SPOILERS**

Grief is something which we will, or have already experienced, and given the dramatic possibilities, death and overcoming the death of a loved one propels many narratives in the cinema, literature and music etc. Ingrid Knows Best is one such narrative and while much is made of the plague that is social media and Instagram culture, this is ultimately a story of how our anti-hero deals with the loss of her mother and, in some ways, her own identity. In short: she doesn’t handle it very well, but rather disassociates her grief and fixates on so-called on-line celebrities in order to distract herself and escape the pain.

Aubrey Plaza is brilliant as Ingrid and she is fast becoming one of my favourite actors. I loved her in Office-influenced sitcom, Parks and Recreation and the brilliant lo-fi-sci-fi-rom-com Safety Not Guaranteed (2012). However, in this film and the mind-bending science fiction series Legion (2017), she completely owns the show. Plaza has a rare skill for vulnerable insanity where she does crazy stuff but at the same time you really empathise with her character.

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In the opening scene she commits an act of pretty despicable revenge but once you see her living arrangements and family situation you really gain understanding of her character.  Even when Ingrid heads west and begins stalking her next obsession, Plaza’s doe-eyed-butter-wouldn’t-melt façade and crumbling inner humanity ensure you never lose empathy for her. The writing is excellent as the script creates humour, drama and skilful satire of the facile, narcissistic and selfie-obsessed culture we live in today. Elizabeth Olsen too is impressive as the “Instagram Queen” and object of Ingrid’s obsession.

Overall, this was just #brilliant #dark #funny #sad!  I was really satisfied with this film and while the slightly off-kilter crime-plot-turn near the end slightly unhinged the character study, the touching and thematically perfect ending was a brilliant pay-off for Ingrid’s character. Plaza though is the shining light of the film as she imbues Ingrid with not only the pathos of a zeitgeist Travis Bickle, but also a comedic mania which really brings the satire home.

(Mark: 9 out of 11)

 

CLASSIC MOVIE SCENES #2 – ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA (1984) – “THE CAKE SCENE”

CLASSIC MOVIE SCENES #2 – ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA (1984) – “THE CAKE SCENE”

Sergio Leone’s sprawling, violent, elegiac and epic gangster film is rarely on television but always deserves a re-watch every few years. It revolves around the lives of young gang of Jewish friends growing up in 1920s Brooklyn called: Noodles, Max, Patsy, Cockeye and little Dominic. It contains majestic story-telling of the highest quality as the story is structured around past, present and possible future, with Robert DeNiro’s older Noodles reminiscing and projecting from the hazy and drug-addled glow of opium den. The film acts as a history of childhood friendships and includes themes relating to: love, lust, greed, betrayal, loss, broken relationships; as well as focusing on the rise of mobsters in American society.

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As a father myself it is a very noticeable trajectory seeing one’s son grow up from a small child to an adult and witnessing the changes in character as he becomes a man. The single most significant thing for me is that loss of innocence, not so much in regard to a child becoming a bad person, but that light which seems to drift away from a young person when they become a teenager. Once Upon A Time in America is a brilliant film in dealing with the collision between young innocence and adult corruption by external society and natural changes.

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One such scene which perfectly encapsulates such a loss of innocence occurs when young Patsy (Brian Bloom) buys a cream cake with the desire to lose his virginity to a local girl. He buys the cake, sits on the stairs waiting for her to get ready and looks at the cake. Ennio Morricone’s beautiful score resonates as Patsy is tempted by the cake. He fingers at the cream just once, then again and then all thought of sexual temptation is removed by the desire for cake. In the end he eats the whole cake and scrams when the girl opens the door. Such a classic scene stands as a beautiful and touching moment amidst all the death and violence throughout. For that moment Patsy’s innocence remains intact yet we know that, in this violent, ugly world of: men, gangsters, guns, crime, crooked cops and prohibition it will not last forever.

 

 

 

 

FLATMATES: A SHORT HORROR FILM PRODUCTION UPDATE

FLATMATES: A SHORT HORROR FILM UPDATE

As you may or may not know I make short films. I have been involved in a number of short film productions and promos over the years. My work can be found at www.fixfilms.com. I usually work with the ultra-talented director, writer, producer, editor, special effects whizz and Star Trek expert, Gary O’Brien. Our working relationship is still going strong and our last collaboration Chance Encounter (2016) has now over 46,000 views on YouTube, so we’re happy with that. We are also planning a new Star Trek film currently called The Holy Core but you can check out Chance Encounter on this website: http://startrekshortfilm.com/

In between this though I decided, foolishly given my lack of directorial experience, to make my own short film from scratch. So, I have written, produced, catered, and now directed a low-budget ghost story called Flatmates. One of my creative aims for 2017 to was make my own film, and subject to the post-production process I have now achieved that. It will be edited and released in 2018 and sent to film festivals all over for consideration and screenings (hopefully). Will it be any good? Who knows? I will let those who watch it decide. What I do know is that I assembled a crack team of amazing talent and I thank them all for their sterling efforts.

We filmed the short script on the 30th November 2017, having also had an acting rehearsal day in October 2017 too. What I realised is that filmmaking and specifically directing is fucking difficult. I am much more at home writing and producing and making sandwiches. Co-ordinating the actors, crew and my ideas while directing performance was a steep learning curve and it made me admire the many filmmakers and their films I have watched over the years. Because put simply making movies is tough!  However, thanks to the talented cast and crew who worked tirelessly I am confident I have a little film that tells an interesting story.

What I did learn is that to make a decent film you need a committed cast and crew; a good script; a bit of money to pay people and feed them; and above all else – YOU NEED TIME!  I tried to do too much in one day and if the film is not as good as it could have been then it is not down to lack of talent and effort but down to not shooting over two days. I think this film will still be an atmospheric and scary horror story but the next short I plan to make will probably be planned even more. Indeed, while I planned Flatmates to hell, a two day shoot, rather than one, could have potentially enhanced the production.

Anyway, I would personally like to thank the following people for assisting in the production and certainly recommend their skills as actors and crew-members. Click on their names for their links / websites too.

CAST

ACTOR                       ROLE

MEL GAYLE              LISA DUNBAR           

GEORGIA KERR      SARAH           

TILDE JENSEN         INGRID           

CAITLIN SCOTT      VIVIANE

CREW

NAME                                     DEPT.

MARINA FUSELLA             SOUND

EDWARD LOMAS               D.O.P / CAMERA

KATO MURPHY                    GAFFER  / LIGHTING

GARY O’BRIEN                     EDITOR / POST

BEN PENDREY                      ASS’T. DIRECTOR

ANGIE WHITE                      MAKE-UP

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FADE OUT

Overall, Flatmates is my first proper directorial production and as an independent filmmaker it is pleasing to have ventured into such a positive creative experience. I certainly look forward to learning from the decision process and fully expect to get better and better the more productions I make. I am now logging the images and sound and prepping for the edit where Gary will then work his magic for the post-production process.

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Flatmates – written and directed by Paul Laight – will be released in 2018

 

 

HEARING STORIES: SOME THOUGHTS AND REVIEWS ON AUDIO-BOOKS

HEARING STORIES: SOME THOUGHTS AND REVIEWS ON AUDIO-BOOKS

Six months ago I was reading a physical book of Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 and I was just not feeling it. Not the actual book as it is a classic novel of our time but the actual activity of reading itself. I just did not want to read anymore. Of course, I can do it but my mind just didn’t have the desire or energy. What did this mean?

Had I been dumbed down and rendered attention deficient by virtue of the constant viewing of films, TV and the barrage of internet viewing. Perhaps my brain had been become punch-drunk and distorted my mind, like an over-the-hill boxer who’d just had one too many fights. It was confusing. I’ve always loved reading and did not want to stop.

So, I thought why not try out the Audio-book route?  What’s the worst that could happen?  I could LISTEN to someone reading the book to me and experience the literature from an aural perspective. I have to be honest – I’m glad I did! Because I have been listening to a number of audio-book productions and they have been very rewarding from all manner of dramatic, artistic, comical and emotional directions. Moreover, I listen to these books while walking and at the gym so my “reading” has become a very pleasing mobile pursuit.

Anyhow, here are some reviews of the books I have been listening to over the past months. If you also listen to audiobooks please feel free to suggest any good “reads” or narrations.

AUDIBLE

BACK STORY – DAVID MITCHELL (narrated by David Mitchell)

Comedian, actor, panel-show humourist and writer David Mitchell takes us on a literal walk of London landmarks and streets, while also wandering down his own personal memory lanes and avenues. Pedantic, neurotic, angry and insightful in equal measures this is an entertaining and intelligent journey full of hilarious rants and stories relating to Mitchell’s life; one which is blighted, not by personal tragedy, but rather a very painful bad back. His narration too is very funny and listening to him speak is like having your very own personal version of the brilliant comedy show Peep Show in your head.  I especially, from a creative point-of-view, enjoyed his analysis of comedy past, present and the actualities of writing sketches, jokes and performing too.

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CATCH 22 – JOSEPH HELLER (narrated by Trevor White)

The novel which began my whole diversification into the audiobook territories is a startling anti-war character drama full of tragedy and black comedy, highlighting the folly of humanity during conflict. I was both laughing out loud and crying inside as Heller’s seminal work crashes us into the heart of madness during World War II. Featuring any number of crazed pilots either being killed or trying not to be killed while flying over Italy, this novel expertly takes you up and down and up and down. Heller does this with a meticulously acute writing style and via characters such as the wonderfully named: Yossarian, Milo Minderbinder, Doc Daneeka, Snowden, Nately, Nurse Cramer, Captain Aardvark, Colonel Cathcart and many more lunatics. This is a sprawling insane war-set epic which satirizes and laments the folly and destructive behaviour of mankind, and is all the more relevant today because we still can’t fucking learn to stop killing each other over ridiculous things like money, land, God and love.

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DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP – PHILIP K. DICK (narrated by Scott Brick)

Dick’s classic science-fiction novel is better known now as Blade Runner and the film versions are incredibly stylish and powerful genre works. Yet, Scott Brick’s narration of Dick’s source novel is absolutely perfect in its rendition, creating a haunting pathos beyond that featured in the film. The story covers one day in the life of Rick Deckard – an “Andy” or android bounty hunter who must track down a series of superior robots of the Nexus Six variety. The original Blade Runner (1982) film did well to distil and simplify the narrative but it only touched the sides where the complex themes are concerned. The novel is far more involved with subtext relating to: simulations; animal husbandry; Artificial Intelligence; Virtual-reality religious fervour; and the existential pain or humans and robots, being explored within the rotting dystopic, Earth setting.

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GAME OF THRONES – GEORGE R.R. MARTIN (narrated by Roy Dotrice)

George R. R. Martin’s North-versus-South-Westerosian fantasy epic has provided hours of entertainment via HBO’s massive hit TV adaptation. The original source novel is a literary monster of a book with an over 33 hours running time, so kudos to the talented, yet ageing actor, Roy Dotrice for staying alive during the recording and finding the energy to narrate it. If you don’t know the Game of Thrones TV show, it has become an iconic narrative of Starks versus Lannister’s versus Targaryen’s versus zombies versus dragons and all manner of: lords, ladies, monsters, whores, hordes, henchmen, sorcerers, warriors, Kings, Queens and peasant scum; all fighting and spitting hate at each other for a baying public’s bloodthirsty satisfaction.

The book, of which Game of Thrones is based, is an intricately plotted, brilliantly characterised and action-packed joy. Not for the faint-hearted it is explicit from a violence and erotic perspective and Martin’s writing is believable unbelievability of the highest order. While it may be fantastic in regard to many of the concepts it is grounded in a raw and human reality as the flawed characters conflict with each other in all manner of familial jousting, hearty battling and political chicanery. The book has all the greatest qualities of the television show and much more besides and well worth the many hours it took me to “read”.

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HOW NOT TO BE A BOY – ROBERT WEBB (narrated by Robert Webb)

The other half of the Mitchell and Webb double-act, Robert, narrates his own story with an adept sarcasm, intelligence and over-riding sense of grief throughout. As a big fan of Peepshow, his brilliance as an actor is playing unlikeable-selfish-man-boys with devilish charisma. He’s obviously very funny too and his anecdotes and memories of growing up in a Lincolnshire town and overcoming family heartache before joining the so-called Cambridge academic elite are very honest and personable. I would have liked a bit more detail about his creative process but reading between the lines I felt that it all came very naturally and unpretentiously to Webb. Overall, this is a terrific listen, full of funny and tragic moments; plus given I’m the same age as Webb, his references to televisual, pop, film and comedy culture were immediately recognisable to me, only adding to the book’s enjoyment.

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I, PARTRIDGE: WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT ALAN – ALAN PARTRIDGE (read by Alan Partridge)

Steve Coogan’s genius comedy creation Alan Partridge has been part of my life since the 1990s when I first saw him on the brilliant satire show The Day Today. There he presented the sports and would subsequently go on to a kind of greatness as a chat show host on Knowing Me, Knowing You and starring in one of the best sitcoms of all time, I’m Alan Partridge. It is a testament to the acting ability, quality of writing and sheer stamina of Coogan that he continues to mine comedy gold from the hills of Partridge, as it were. Coogan narrates (in the glorious character of Partridge) a fictional autobiography from actual cradle to career grave. It also hilariously covers how he bounced back from the precipice of a chocolate-driven-frenzied-nervous-breakdown-suicide-attempt in Dundee. I have never laughed so much as six hours of comedic gold entered my brain and left me in stitches throughout. This is one of the funniest things I have had the pleasure to listen too; full of bitter rants, vengeful asides, over-elaborate similes and a litany of what I can only call Partridgeisms! Is that a word: well it is now!

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SCREENWASH ONE-LINER FILM REVIEWS

SCREENWASH ONE-LINER FILM REVIEWS

Sometimes it’s not necessary to go on and on about a film so here’s a rapid-fire round-up of films I’ve seen over the last couple of months. It’s like speed-dating for films but without the crushing romantic disappointment of mass rejection in one evening. As usual I accompany the reviews with marks out of eleven.

**SPOILER-FREE”

1922 (2017) – NETFLIX

Thomas Jane excels as a scheming farmer haunted by death, greed and rats!    (Mark: 8 out of 11)

THE ACCOUNTANT (2016) – SKY CINEMA

An OCD-assassin portrayed by Ben Affleck wreaks havoc in a very tidy fashion.    (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

ANDY AND JIM (2017) – NETFLIX

Schizoid-meta-textual-yet-intriguing Jim Carrey / Andy Kaufmann documentary. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

ANTHROPOID (2016) – NETFLIX

Gripping WWII story concerning Czech resistance fighters assassinating Nazis.   (Mark: 8 out of 11)

ASSASSINS’ CREED – SKY CINEMA

Stunning production values and cast are let down by a bemusing plot and script.   (Mark: 6 out of 11)

THE BAR (2017) – NETFLIX

Spanish comedy-thriller has selfish occupants trapped in a bar all turn on each other!    (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

BLEED FOR THIS (2016) – NETFLIX

Miles Teller excels as boxer Vinny Pazienza battling for survival in and out of the ring.   (Mark: 8 out of 11)

DEATHNOTE (2017) – NETFLIX

Hamstrung horror film throws away a brilliant concept via hopeless script and acting.  (Mark: 5 out of 11)

FREE STATE OF JONES (2016) – AMAZON

Watchable American Civil War historical drama with McConaughey on good form.  (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

GOLD (2016) – AMAZON

McConaughey again shines as a modern day gold prospector in compelling drama.  (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

LIVE BY NIGHT (2016) – SKY CINEMA

Affleck as gangster anti-hero in stylish but empty “Roaring Twenties” adaptation.   (Mark: 7 out of 11)

THE MEYOROWITZ STORIES (2017) – NETFLIX

Narcissistic family members talk at each other about life in pretentious drama.    (Mark: 7 out of 11)

SNOWDEN (2016) – NETFLIX

Oliver Stone brings the famous whistle-blower’s story to life in a well-shot drama.   (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

TRUE STORY (2015) – NETFLIX

Franco and Hill sleepwalk through a compelling real-life murder case narrative.   (Mark: 6.5 out of 11)

THE WAILING (2016) – NETFLIX

Incredibly rendered yet abstract Korean horror centring on Shamans and viral death.   (Mark: 8 out of 11)

WAR MACHINE (2017) – NETFLIX

Tonally haphazard mix of war satire, biopic and drama with Brad Pitt hamming it up.   (Mark: 6 out of 11)

FAMILIARITY AND NOSTALGIA IN THE FANTASY FILM GENRE 

FAMILIARITY AND NOSTALGIA IN THE FANTASY FILM GENRE* 

“Here you leave today and enter the world of yesterday, tomorrow, and fantasy.”
Walt Disney Company

Once upon a Time. . . four simple words which immediately conjure a whole host of possibilities and eventualities in literature and by extension, cinema. In her book A Once Upon a Time: A Short History of Fairy Tale, Marina Warner attests that fairy tales are “Stories that try to find the truth and give us glimpses of greater things. . . this is the principle that underlies their growing presence in writing, art and cinema.” My own personal experience growing up was of reading fairy tales, myths and legends. Indeed, such stories formed a narrative backbone to my childhood and opened my mind to all manner of worlds of monsters, magicians, Kings, Queens, dragons, spiders, ghosts, gold-haired heroines, muscular heroes, acts of love and war, epic journeys; as well as breath-taking battles and feats of unimaginable compassion and bravery.

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Such an education conditioned my young mind for an array of imaginative potentialities and in later life my love of fairy tales and stories would bleed through into my love of cinema. But how does one make the leap off the page onto the screen, making that which is fantastic believable to our eyes, hearts and minds? In this article I would like to consider certain ways we have been conditioned and how storytellers develop their narratives in the fantasy genre. How does the unbelievable become believable in our minds? There are many ways in which this is achieved but I would like to focus on two methods which are familiarity and nostalgia.

How does one define fantasy cinema?  One could certainly posit the notion that the fantasy genre deals with fantastic themes including: magic, the supernatural, myth, folklore, exotic worlds, and fairy tales; and for the benefit of this article can encapsulate science fiction, horror and superhero movie genres. Essentially, fantasy is that which is not of our perceived rendition of reality, enabling escape into the extraordinary. Fantasy cinema is not simply dragons and wizards but more far-reaching as their stories cast their magic from childhood to adulthood. I myself recall the day when I first saw The Wizard of Oz (1939) as Dorothy’s journey from Oz literally took my breath away. Moreover, only recently I marvelled at the fantastic images and comedy of Thor: Ragnarok (2017) on the big screen.

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Lew Hunter’s book Screenwriting 434 is a fine research tool for all budding writers. He opines, “You have to make the audience care about your on-screen people and their dilemmas, and when that occurs you’ve created believable unbelievabilty. Audiences will not just get with a film that starts with what they perceive as unbelievable unbelievability.” Thus, this is an integral rule in getting the audience to suspend disbelief and come into a fantastic world. I mean for every Lord of the Rings Trilogy, which in my view brilliantly brought to life J. R. R. Tolkien’s incredible literary behemoth, you get many films which fail to achieve this. Peter Jackson obviously used, at the time, state of the art special effects to achieve his vision of the book but more important, in my view, is establishing the world and characters in the audience’s psychology and making the unbelievable believable.

As aforementioned there are many other movies which do not arguably work as fantasy films. Of course these are subjective choices but offerings such as: The Island of Dr Moreau (1996), Judge Dredd (1995), Batman and Robin (1997), Van Helsing (2004), Cat Woman (2004) The Lady in the Water (2006), Eragon (2008), Foodfight (2012), Terminator: Genisys (2015), Death-Note (2017), to name a few, could all be argued to have failed to make the unbelievable believable. Be it the poor writing, bad production choices or a lack of cogency in the presentation of the rules of their respective worlds, these are a few examples of movies which arguably did not work. But what of the films that successfully connect with our imagination. How do they achieve that?

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Disney Studios has been presenting animated and live action films for close to a century now. As well as developing short animated films centred on iconic characters such as Mickey Mouse, Disney Studios used established texts too. Their first short was Little Red Riding Hood (1922) and subsequently they would win an Oscar for The Three Little Pigs (1933). Thus, the Disney template of utilising familiar stories from folklore or fairy tales was born and since then they have produced many, many such short and feature length productions such as: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), Sleeping Beauty (1959) and The Little Mermaid (1989). The suspension of narrative disbelief is achieved because innately we are accustomed to the idea of talking animals or wicked witches or half-woman-half-fish characters as they were familiarised to us in infancy. Indeed, as famous fantasy writer Neil Gaiman confirms, “We encounter fairy tales as kids, in retellings or panto. We breathe them. We know how they go.” Thus, believable unbelievability is achieved due to conditioning as children with the extraordinary. Likewise, our acclimatization with commercial products when growing up, including toys such as: Lego, Transformers, Barbie and the Pixar’s ingenious Toy Story trilogy tap into this familiarity model and the child’s dream that perhaps our toys can actually come to life.

As we grow older though many of us can become cynical and lose the innocence and imagination we had when younger. Thus, the challenge for filmmakers is to make not only children but also adults believe in the fantastic and the unbelievable. One way of doing this is through nostalgia or harking back to narrative conventions established from yesteryear. Academic Frederick Jameson wrote in his seminal essay Postmodernism and Consumer Society, that society entered a key cultural period from around the 1960s onwards where modernism had given rise to postmodernism and that originality per se was being replaced by emulation; more specifically satire, parody and pastiche. He goes on to suggest “. . . individualism and personal identity is a thing of the past. . . stylistic innovation is no longer possible and all that is left is the imitate dead styles.” A cinematic element of pastiche he argues is the “nostalgia film” which consists, not of original narrative, but of film moments and narratives from the previous films.

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Indeed, one of the most successful cinema franchises of all time is George Lucas’ series which began with, Star Wars (1977). While containing many original elements in regard to the fictional monsters, creatures, planets, space ships, weapons, heroes and villains it’s structurally very familiar, featuring the archetypal hero rescuing a “Princess in a Tower” narrative.  Even the “Once Upon a Time. . .” like beginning is echoed in the now classic opening text: “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. . .” Moreover, the expositional crawl which then follows is inspired by the early Saturday cinema sci-fi adventures such as: Flash Gordon. Lucas’ genius in using such nostalgic devices creates a clear pattern of familiarity and mental preparation for the fantasy elements yet to come in the story. Lastly, and less obvious, Star Wars also draws heavily, in terms of structure and characters, from Akira Kurosawa’s classic film Hidden Fortress (1958).

Similarly, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series is equally adept at creating a magical world out of nostalgia and familiarity. The films are all structured around the school year and generally begin with an opening set-piece set in a mundane suburban area before slowly introducing the fantasy elements. Of course, some of us may not be so nostalgic for our school years but we are familiar with the educational structure. The Harry Potter books and films are a creative stroke of genius creating both emotional connections for children and adults. Children see the characters of Harry, Hermione and Ron as reflection and wish to emulate such characters; while adults can look back on their school days nostalgically and perhaps also enjoy the magical adventures from a position of halcyon positivity. What Star Wars and Harry Potter both offer is a means to project some incredibly fantastical elements but make it believable by setting their worlds in a recognizable environment such as school or through the stylistic signifiers like the opening Star Wars text.

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Ultimately, most of us love reading or going to the cinema in order to be entertained and escape from our reality. However, if the writer or filmmakers have not successfully created a suspension of disbelief we as an audience will fail to enter their fantasy world. Quality writing, production design, costumes, make-up, performance are of course integral to ensuring we believe what we read and see on the screen. However, as I have attested films also work on a more psychological level of drawing us in using methods such as familiarity and nostalgia to tell their stories. We may not even be aware of this but to make the unbelievable believable it paradoxically must connect with our prior knowledge and experiences, especially those we had as children.

*Originally posted on http://www.sothetheorygoes.com

 

 

 

Thoughts on Cinema, TV and Life!