Watch: Stanley Kubrick’s ‘The Shining’ Meets Alain Resnais’ ‘Last Year at Marienbad’

Watch: Stanley Kubrick’s ‘The Shining’ Meets Alain Resnais’ ‘Last Year at Marienbad’

In many ways, Alain Resnais’ ‘Last Year at Marienbad (1961) and Stanley Kubrick’s ‘The Shining (1980) are quite similar.  Both films take place in sprawling resorts that are sparsely populated.  Both films pose narrative mysteries that have deliberately ambiguous solutions.  In the former, did the woman (Delphine Seyrig) meet the man (Giorgio Albertazzi) last year at Marienbad or not?  Or perhaps they did meet, but not at Marienbad.  If they did meet, did the woman forget because she was traumatized after being raped by the man?  Are the characters even "real" or ghosts or fragments of someone’s imagination?  Resnais’s French New Wave classic has fascinated, baffled, and frustrated viewers for half a century quite simply because it is a puzzle without a key to guide the viewer.  You have may an interpretation after watching it, but it is tentative (I change my mind almost every time I watch the film) and far from being definitive.  Kubrick’s ‘The Shining’ offers up ambiguity in a slightly lower dose.  Quite simply, is Jack (Jack Nicholson) motivated by cabin fever or ghosts?  If we accept the former, how does Jack escape the freezer after he’s locked up by Wendy (Shelley Duvall)?  If we accept the latter and the ghosts can take physical action (who rolls the ball towards Danny?), why do they stop short of killing the Danny (Danny Lloyd) and Wendy?  Moreover, how can Jack exist both in the early 1980s and in a 1921 photograph?  These are ambiguities that have encouraged numerous interpretations, ranging from the ridiculous theories of ‘Room 237’ (2012) to my own video essay "Free Will in Kubrick’s The Shining".  

Yet, the connections between these two films go even deeper in how they attempt to use spatiotemporal ambiguity to further disorient the spectator.  The hallways and spaces of Kubrick’s Overlook do not make any spatial sense.  There are windows that look outdoors in rooms that face inwards.  The flow of time, as aforementioned, is also mysterious.  The film’s title cards marking off days and hours represent a linear march of time, yet Jack’s encounter in room 237 and the photograph at the end would suggest that time is a circular or that alternate timelines exist simultaneously.  Similarly, the times and spaces of Resnais’s film blend together.  Costumes provide only a temporary reference point, because jump cuts, voice over, and the similar interiors of separate resorts make the differences between past, present, and future indistinguishable.  Yet, viewers of both films can probably agree on one aspect.  Violence haunts these corridors.  

Dr. Drew Morton is an Assistant Professor of Mass Communication at Texas A&M University-Texarkana.  He the co-editor and co-founder of [in]Transition:  Journal of Videographic Film and Moving Image Studies, the first peer-reviewed academic journal focused on the visual essay and all of its forms (co-presented by MediaCommons and Cinema Journal).  [in]Transition recently won an award of distinction in the annual SCMS Anne Friedberg Innovative Scholarship competition.  His publications have appeared in animation: an interdisciplinary journal, The Black Maria, Flow, In Media Res, Mediascape, Press Play, RogerEbert.com, Senses of Cinema, Studies in Comics, and a range of academic anthologies.  He is currently completing a manuscript on the overlap between American blockbuster cinema and comic book style.

Watch: John Carpenter, Subversive Auteur

Watch: John Carpenter, Subversive Auteur

Up until recently, I had a difficult time grasping the cult of John
Carpenter. Out of the small handful of films I had seen from him across
the past decades (‘Halloween,’The Thing,’ ‘Escape from L.A.,’ and ‘Vampires‘), I found one great film (‘Halloween’), one good film (‘The Thing,’ which felt a bit too much like ‘Alien‘ in Antarctica for me), and two pretty mediocre films (‘Escape from L.A.’ and ‘Vampires’).
Yet, many cinephiles and friends I respect kept urging me to give him a
proper chance. I spent a week or so with about half of his filmography
and I found a director who uses generic pulp for the best of all
possible uses: as a capsule for philosophy and more radical ideology. John Carpenter seems to gravitate towards the subversive, be it in the
form of critiquing American ideology in ‘They Live‘ (1988) or building an action star out of former Disney child actor Kurt Russell with ‘Escape from New York‘ and ‘The Thing’ before destroying that image with the ineffectual man of action—Jack Burton—in ‘Big Trouble in Little China‘ .  

What
I found during my journey through his output was not a perfect
filmmaker, but almost always an interesting one.  A film like
Carpenter’s ‘Prince of Darkness‘ is hampered by a low budget
and bloated running time, but it’s overflowing with Lovecraftian
nuggets (the anti-God, psychic television signals from the future) and
surreal images (the bug man, the broadcasts).  Even his director for
hire adaptation of Stephen King’s ‘Christine‘ (1983) features some
of his finest work with actors, finding a real friendship between the
two male leads in one of the worst of King’s novels.  Across all of his
films, there are poetic images, radical ideas, innovative musical
compositions, an idiosyncratic pace, and abrupt shifts in tone (all of
which Nicole Alvarado and I have attempted to capture within our essay)
that define his cinematic voice.  He is, like his hero Howard Hawks, an
auteur.  
Dr. Drew Morton is an Assistant Professor of Mass Communication at Texas A&M University-Texarkana.  He the co-editor and co-founder of [in]Transition: 
Journal of Videographic Film and Moving Image Studies, the first
peer-reviewed academic journal focused on the visual essay and all of
its forms (co-presented by MediaCommons and
 Cinema Journal).  [in]Transitionrecently
won an award of distinction in the annual SCMS Anne Friedberg
Innovative Scholarship competition.  His publications have appeared in 
animation: an interdisciplinary journal, The Black Maria, Flow, In Media Res, Mediascape, Press Play, RogerEbert.com, Senses of Cinema, Studies in Comics, and
a range of academic anthologies.  He is currently completing a
manuscript on the overlap between American blockbuster cinema and comic
book style. 

Nicole Alvarado is an animation buff and research analyst.  This is her first video essay.

Watch: Who Were the Great International Noir Directors?

Watch: Who Were the Great International Noir Directors?

What
exactly is film noir?  Is it a movement, a mode, a style, or a genre?
 These questions have preoccupied film scholars for decades. According
to filmmaker Paul Schrader, noir began with The Maltese Falcon and ended with Orson Welles’s Touch of Evil.
 He’d add that it was largely an American movement that applied certain
stylistic (high contrast lighting, voice over narration, non-linear
storytelling) and thematic (existentialism, the cruel mechanizations of
fate, amour fou) elements in genres ranging from melodramas to detective
films. Another film scholar might add that directors like Fritz Lang
and Billy Wilder never described their films as being "noir."  They
thought they were making thrillers. Film noir?  That’s a term the French
critics applied retroactively. 

This
video essay series takes the fairly provocative stance that film noir
became a genre.  Essentially, in its golden age during the 1940s, noir
was a mode/movement that was superimposed onto other genres.  In the
words of genre theorist Rick Altman, genres can start off as
"adjectives"–fragments of the style and theme might be there, but the
genre has yet to fully solidify because the filmmakers and audiences
haven’t quite gotten their heads around it yet.  However, by the time
Robert Aldrich was making Kiss Me Deadly in
1955, the writings of the French critics had made it stateside (in
fact, there’s a picture of him reading Borde and Chaumeton’s Panorama du Film Noir on the set of Attack!),
and perhaps the filmmakers and audiences had finally begun to think of
noir as being a noun.  When neo-noir flourished in the 1970s (thanks to
filmmakers like Schrader), the movement emerged–fully formed as a
genre–from its black-and-white cocoon.  

I
write this trajectory into this introduction to the series because I
can imagine that some of my colleagues might have been troubled by a
video essay that calls film noir a genre. I am more than aware of the
history of this debate and it was covered in Part III on Pragmatics.
 Part V is a shift in gears.  There isn’t much in the way of an academic
argument regarding noir or genre to be found here; it’s simply a poetic
supercut of international noir films that the interested viewer should
check out (a list of films – in the order they appear – can be found
below).  

What
I’m attempting to do here is to craft the video essay equivalent of an
encyclopedia entry on film noir for the undergraduate student with a new
episode each month.  If you’re already familiar with the films and the
key debates, you may not find much in the way of "new" knowledge here.
 My main audience–at least in terms of an intellectual presentation–is
the uninitiated.  I assume the pleasures of the more advanced fans and
scholars of noir will be found in the aesthetics of the pieces, although
maybe they’ll be surprised by a "new" recommendation (in this case, I
obviously love Elevator to the Gallows!).
 For those who have followed me through this five part series, I thank
you for watching, sharing, and for the wonderful words of encouragement.
 For those new to the series, I welcome you and urge you to start at
the beginning.  

FILMS (IN THE ORDER OF APPEARANCE, INCLUDING REPEATED CLIPS): 
OSSESSIONE

BREATHLESS

THE THIRD MAN

ELEVATOR TO THE GALLOWS

DRUNKEN ANGEL

ODD MAN OUT

PIERROT LE FOU

ELEVATOR TO THE GALLOWS

BAND OF OUTSIDERS

SERIE NOIRE

STRAY DOG

RIFIFI

TOUCHEZ PAS AU GRISBI

BOB LE FLAMBEUR

THE CRYING GAME

TOKYO DRIFTER

MADE IN U.S.A.

DRUNKEN ANGEL

LA BETE HUMAINE

SHOOT THE PIANO PLAYER

BAND OF OUTSIDERS

ALPHAVILLE

JE JOUR SE LEVE

LE SAMOURAI

ELEVATOR TO THE GALLOWS

SERIE NOIRE

SHOOT THE PIANO PLAYER

LE SAMOURAI

DRUNKEN ANGEL

TOKYO DRIFTER
BREATHLESS

STRAY DOG

ODD MAN OUT

Dr. Drew Morton is an Assistant Professor of Mass Communication at Texas A&M University-Texarkana.  He the co-editor and co-founder of[in]Transition:  Journal of Videographic Film and Moving Image Studies, the first peer-reviewed academic journal focused on the visual essay and all of its forms (co-presented by MediaCommons and Cinema Journal).  [in]Transitionrecently won an award of distinction in the annual SCMS Anne Friedberg Innovative Scholarship competition.  His publications have appeared inanimation: an interdisciplinary journal, The Black Maria, Flow, In Media Res, Mediascape, Press Play, RogerEbert.com, Senses of Cinema, Studies in Comics, and a range of academic anthologies.  He is currently completing a manuscript on the overlap between American blockbuster cinema and comic book style.

Watch: How Did Film Noir Evolve? A Video Essay

Watch: How Did Film Noir Evolve? A Video Essay

What
exactly is film noir?  Is it a movement, a mode, a style, or a genre?
 These questions have preoccupied film scholars for decades. According
to filmmaker Paul Schrader, noir began with The Maltese Falcon and ended with Orson Welles’s Touch of Evil.
 He’d add that it was largely an American movement that applied certain
stylistic (high contrast lighting, voice over narration, non-linear
storytelling) and thematic (existentialism, the cruel mechanizations of
fate, amour fou) elements in genres ranging from melodramas to detective
films. Another film scholar might add that directors like Fritz Lang
and Billy Wilder never described their films as being "noir."  They
thought they were making thrillers. Film noir?  That’s a term the French
critics applied retroactively. 

This
video essay series takes the fairly provocative stance that film noir
became a genre.  Essentially, in its golden age during the 1940s, noir
was a mode/movement that was superimposed onto other genres.  In the
words of genre theorist Rick Altman, genres can start off as
"adjectives"–fragments of the style and theme might be there, but the
genre has yet to fully solidify because the filmmakers and audiences
haven’t quite gotten their heads around it yet.  However, by the time
Robert Aldrich was making Kiss Me Deadly in
1955, the writings of the French critics had made it stateside (in
fact, there’s a picture of him reading Borde and Chaumeton’s Panorama du Film Noir on the set of Attack!),
and perhaps the filmmakers and audiences had finally begun to think of
noir as being a noun.  When neo-noir flourished in the 1970s (thanks to
filmmakers like Schrader), the movement emerged–fully formed as a
genre–from its black-and-white cocoon.  

I
write this trajectory into this introduction to the series because I
can imagine that some of my colleagues might have been troubled by a
video essay that calls film noir a genre. I am more than aware of the
history of this debate and it was covered in Part III on Pragmatics.
 Part IV is a shift in gears and focuses the evolution of the genre,
guided by Thomas Schatz’s scholarship (so be sure to watch the
introduction one last time for the change in approach!).  Finally, there
will be one final installment focusing more intensely on international
noir, so don’t think I’ve forgotten about that either.  What I’m
attempting to do here is to craft the video essay equivalent of an
encyclopedia entry on film noir for the undergraduate student with a new
episode each month.  If you’re already familiar with the films and the
key debates, you may not find much in the way of "new" knowledge here.
 My main audience–at least in terms of an intellectual presentation–is
the uninitiated.  I assume the pleasures of the more advanced fans and
scholars of noir will be found in the aesthetics of the pieces, although
maybe they’ll be surprised by a "new" recommendation (I love Key Lime Pie, a fantastic animated short by
Trevor Jimenez).  In any case, I hope you enjoy the penultimate episode
of this ongoing series and I look forward to the debate it encourages.

A list of the films featured in this installment:

M
La Bete Humaine
This Gun For Hire
The Big Sleep
Out Of The Past
The Killers
The Lady From Shanghai
In A Lonely Place
Sunset Blvd.
Ace In The Hole
Bob Le Flambeur
Breathless
Shoot The Piano Player
Chinatown
Who Framed Roger Rabbit
Pulp Fiction
Sin City
Drive 

Dr. Drew Morton is an Assistant Professor of Mass Communication at Texas A&M University-Texarkana.  He the co-editor and co-founder of[in]Transition: 
Journal of Videographic Film and Moving Image Studies, the first
peer-reviewed academic journal focused on the visual essay and all of
its forms (co-presented by MediaCommons and
 Cinema Journal).  [in]Transitionrecently
won an award of distinction in the annual SCMS Anne Friedberg
Innovative Scholarship competition.  His publications have appeared in
animation: an interdisciplinary journal, The Black Maria, Flow, In Media Res, Mediascape, Press Play, RogerEbert.com, Senses of Cinema, Studies in Comics, and
a range of academic anthologies.  He is currently completing a
manuscript on the overlap between American blockbuster cinema and comic
book style.

Watch: Where Does the Term ‘Film Noir’ Come From?

Watch: Where Does the Term ‘Film Noir’ Come From?


What exactly is film noir?  Is it a movement, a mode, a style, or a
genre?  These questions have preoccupied film scholars for decades.
According to filmmaker Paul Schrader, noir began with The
Maltese Falcon 
and ended with Orson Welles’s Touch of Evil.
 He’d add that it was largely
an American movement that applied certain stylistic (high contrast
lighting, voice over narration, non-linear storytelling) and thematic
(existentialism, the cruel mechanizations of fate, amour fou) elements
in genres ranging from melodramas to detective films.
Another film scholar might add that directors like Fritz Lang and Billy
Wilder never described their films as being "noir."  They thought they
were making thrillers. Film noir?  That’s a term the French critics
applied retroactively.  

This video essay series takes the fairly provocative stance that film
noir became a genre.  Essentially, in its golden age during the 1940s,
noir was a mode/movement that was superimposed onto other genres.  In
the words of genre theorist Rick Altman, genres
can start off as "adjectives"–fragments of the style and theme might
be there, but the genre has yet to fully solidify because the filmmakers
and audiences haven’t quite gotten their heads around it yet.  However,
by the time Robert Aldrich was making Kiss
Me Deadly 
in 1955, the writings of the French critics had made it
stateside (in fact, there’s a picture of him reading Borde and
Chaumeton’s Panorama
du Film Noir 
on the set of Attack!),
and perhaps the filmmakers and audiences had finally
begun to think of noir as being a noun.  When neo-noir flourished in
the 1970s (thanks to filmmakers like Schrader), the movement
emerged–fully formed as a genre–from its black-and-white cocoon.  

I write this trajectory into this introduction to the series because I
can imagine that some of my colleagues might have been troubled by a
video essay that calls film noir a genre. I am more than aware of the
history of this debate, and I cover it in this
essay on pragmatics.  (Part IV will focus on evolution.  There will be a
Part V on international noir, so don’t think I’ve forgotten about that
either!). What I’m attempting to do here is to craft the video essay
equivalent of an encyclopedia entry on film
noir for the undergraduate student with a new episode each month.  If
you’re already familiar with the films and the key debates, you may not
find much in the way of "new" knowledge here.  My main audience–at
least in terms of an intellectual presentation–is
the uninitiated.  I assume the pleasures of the more advanced fans and
scholars of noir will be found in the aesthetics of the pieces, although
maybe they’ll be surprised by a "new" recommendation.  In any case, I
hope you enjoy the first part of this ongoing
series, and I look forward to the debate it encourages.  Stay tuned for
more! 

Dr.
Drew Morton is an Assistant Professor of Mass Communication at Texas A&M University-Texarkana.  
He
the co-editor and co-founder of
[in]Transition: 
Journal of Videographic Film and Moving
Image Studies, the first peer-reviewed academic journal focused on the
visual essay and all of its forms (co-presented by MediaCommons and
 Cinema Journal).  [in]Transitionrecently

won an award of distinction in the annual SCMS Anne Friedberg
Innovative Scholarship competition.  His publications have appeared in
animation: an interdisciplinary journal, The Black Maria, Flow, In Media Res, Mediascape, Press Play, RogerEbert.com, Senses
of Cinema, Studies in Comics, and a range of academic anthologies.  He is currently completing
a manuscript on the overlap between American blockbuster cinema and comic book style.

Watch: What Are the Parts of a Good Film Noir Story?

Watch: What Are the Parts of a Good Film Noir Story?

What exactly is film noir?  Is it a movement, a mode, a style, or a
genre?  These questions have preoccupied film scholars for decades.
According to filmmaker Paul Schrader, noir began with The
Maltese Falcon 
and ended with Orson Welles’s Touch of Evil.
 He’d add that it was largely
an American movement that applied certain stylistic (high contrast
lighting, voice over narration, non-linear storytelling) and thematic
(existentialism, the cruel mechanizations of fate, amour fou) elements
in genres ranging from melodramas to detective films.
Another film scholar might add that directors like Fritz Lang and Billy
Wilder never described their films as being "noir."  They thought they
were making thrillers. Film noir?  That’s a term the French critics
applied retroactively.  

This video essay series takes the fairly provocative stance that film
noir became a genre.  Essentially, in its golden age during the 1940s,
noir was a mode/movement that was superimposed onto other genres.  In
the words of genre theorist Rick Altman, genres
can start off as "adjectives"–fragments of the style and theme might
be there, but the genre has yet to fully solidify because the filmmakers
and audiences haven’t quite gotten their heads around it yet.  However,
by the time Robert Aldrich was making Kiss
Me Deadly 
in 1955, the writings of the French critics had made it
stateside (in fact, there’s a picture of him reading Borde and
Chaumeton’s Panorama
du Film Noir 
on the set of Attack!),
and perhaps the filmmakers and audiences had finally
begun to think of noir as being a noun.  When neo-noir flourished in
the 1970s (thanks to filmmakers like Schrader), the movement
emerged–fully formed as a genre–from its black-and-white cocoon.  

I write this trajectory into this introduction to the series because I
can imagine that some of my colleagues might have been troubled by a
video essay that calls film noir a genre. I am more than aware of the
history of this debate, and I will cover it in
a subsequent piece (Part I covered semantics, Part II focuses on
genetic syntax, Part III on pragmatics–so the noir genre discussion
will primarily rest there, and Part IV will focus on evolution.  There
will be a Part V on international noir, so don’t think
I’ve forgotten about that either!). What I’m attempting to do here is
to craft the video essay equivalent of an encyclopedia entry on film
noir for the undergraduate student with a new episode each month.  If
you’re already familiar with the films and the
key debates, you may not find much in the way of "new" knowledge here.
 My main audience–at least in terms of an intellectual presentation–is
the uninitiated.  I assume the pleasures of the more advanced fans and
scholars of noir will be found in the aesthetics
of the pieces, although maybe they’ll be surprised by a "new"
recommendation.  In any case, I hope you enjoy the first part of this
ongoing series, and I look forward to the debate it encourages.  Stay
tuned for more! 

To watch Part I of this series, click here.

Dr.
Drew Morton is an Assistant Professor of Mass Communication at Texas A&M University-Texarkana.  
He
the co-editor and co-founder of
[in]Transition: 
Journal of Videographic Film and Moving
Image Studies, the first peer-reviewed academic journal focused on the
visual essay and all of its forms (co-presented by MediaCommons and
 Cinema Journal).  [in]Transition recently

won an award of distinction in the annual SCMS Anne Friedberg
Innovative Scholarship competition.  His publications have appeared in
animation: an interdisciplinary journal, The Black Maria, Flow, In Media Res, Mediascape, Press Play, RogerEbert.com, Senses
of Cinema, Studies in Comics, and a range of academic anthologies.  He is currently completing
a manuscript on the overlap between American blockbuster cinema and comic book style. 

WATCH: Film Noir Basics from THE MALTESE FALCON to BOUND to INHERENT VICE: A Video Essay

WATCH: Film Noir Basics from THE MALTESE FALCON to BOUND to INHERENT VICE: A Video Essay

What exactly is film noir?  Is it a movement, a mode, a style, or a
genre?  These questions have preoccupied film scholars for decades. According to filmmaker Paul Schrader, noir
began with The Maltese Falcon and ended with Orson Welles’s
Touch of Evil.
 He’d add that it was largely an American movement that applied certain
stylistic (high contrast lighting, voice over narration, non-linear
storytelling) and thematic (existentialism,
the cruel mechanizations of fate, amour fou) elements in genres ranging from
melodramas to detective films. Another film scholar might add that
directors like Fritz Lang and Billy Wilder never described their films
as being "noir."  They thought they were making
thrillers. Film noir?  That’s a term the French critics applied
retroactively.  

This video essay series takes the fairly provocative stance that
film noir became a genre.  Essentially, in its golden age during the
1940s, noir was a mode/movement that was superimposed onto other genres.
 In the words of genre theorist Rick Altman, genres
can start off as "adjectives"–fragments of the style and theme might
be there, but the genre has yet to fully solidify because the filmmakers
and audiences haven’t quite gotten their heads around it yet.  However,
by the time Robert Aldrich was making
Kiss Me Deadly in 1955, the writings of the French critics had
made it stateside (in fact, there’s a picture of him reading Borde and
Chaumeton’s
Panorama du Film Noir on the set of Attack!), and perhaps
the filmmakers and audiences had finally begun to think of noir as being
a noun.  When neo-noir flourished in the 1970s (thanks to filmmakers
like Schrader), the movement emerged–fully
formed as a genre–from its black-and-white cocoon.  
I write this trajectory into this introduction to the series because I
can imagine that some of my colleagues might have been troubled by a
video essay that calls film noir a genre. I am more than aware of the
history of this debate, and I will cover it in a subsequent
piece (Part I just covers semantics, Part II will focus on genetic
syntax, Part III on pragmatics–so the noir genre discussion will
primarily rest there, and Part IV will focus on evolution.  There will
be a Part V on international noir, so don’t think I’ve
forgotten about that either!).  What I’m attempting to do here is to
craft the video essay equivalent of an encyclopedia entry on film noir
for the undergraduate student with a new episode each month.  If you’re
already familiar with the films and the key
debates, you may not find much in the way of "new" knowledge here.  My
main audience–at least in terms of an intellectual presentation–is
the uninitiated.  I assume the pleasures of the more
advanced fans and scholars of noir will be found
in the aesthetics of the pieces, although maybe they’ll be surprised by
a "new" recommendation (I love
Key Lime Pie, a fantastic animated short by Trevor Jimenez.  In any case, I hope you enjoy the first part
of this ongoing series, and I look forward to the debate it encourages.  Stay tuned for more! 

Dr. Drew Morton is an Assistant Professor of Mass Communication at Texas A&M University-Texarkana.  He the co-editor and co-founder of
[in]Transition:  Journal of Videographic Film and Moving Image Studies, the first peer-reviewed academic journal focused on the visual essay and all of its forms (co-presented by MediaCommons and
Cinema Journal).  [in]Transition recently won an award of
distinction in the annual SCMS Anne Friedberg Innovative Scholarship
competition.  His publications have appeared in
animation: an interdisciplinary journal, The Black Maria, Flow, In Media Res,
Mediascape, Press Play, RogerEbert.com, Senses of Cinema,
Studies in Comics, and a range of academic anthologies.  He is
currently completing a manuscript on the overlap between American
blockbuster cinema and comic book style.

Watch: L.A.I.: Spike Jonze’s HER Meets Ridley Scott’s BLADE RUNNER: A Video Essay

Watch: L.A.I.: Spike Jonze’s HER Meets Ridley Scott’s BLADE RUNNER: A Video Essay

This video amalgamation of Spike Jonze’s Her and Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner by Drew Morton has a sad, sweet quality about it, as if Morton were depicting two parts of the same film. Indeed, the movies show two sides of the same city, which in this case is futuristic Los Angeles. Los Angeles is a ripe creative playground for filmmakers, and they tend to exercise their recess privileges with great abandon. Jonze imagines the daytime city as a place built for both human convenience and soul-crushing anonymity; Scott imagines the nighttime city as a James-Joyce-meets-Buck-Rogers-meets-Raymond-Chandler stew, in which anything might happen, on the one hand, but the results might be depressingly predictable on the other. Similarly, blending the films this way makes one think that Joaquin Phoenix’s Twombly and Harrison Ford’s Deckard could be two halves of the same person–one vulnerable and open, the other jaded and wary. Both actors stepped out of their habitual roles for these films; Phoenix broke from his normal scenery decimation to play someone who was approachable, almost boring, and Ford played a character scarred by seeing the worst of life for too long, on his way to acquire still more scars, fresh from playing Indiana Jones. Morton skillfully allows the two films to bleed into each other, as when the music from Blade Runner becomes the music for Her–or does it?–and thus shows how two visions, separated by several decades, might possibly speak to each other, sending universal messages about loss and loneliness that echo and expand with repeated viewings, and with consideration.

VIDEO ESSAY DIPTYCH: Good Dads/Bad Dads: A Tribute to Cinematic Fathers

VIDEO ESSAY DIPTYCH: Good Dads/Bad Dads: A Tribute to Cinematic Fathers

Good Dads/Bad Dads: A Tribute to Cinematic Fathers

I can’t remember the first film I watched with my dad Jim.  However, I do remember what I affectionately
call my “Martin Scorsese summer.”  I
spent three weeks in the hospital following an appendix operation and decided
to tackle the American Film Institute’s 100
Years…100 Movies
from my sickbed. 
My dad was a major presence during this event, only leaving my side to
go to rent the videos from the list.  I
can still remember him personally recommending Fargo (1996).  My eventual
career as a Cinema Studies Professor can be traced back to that hospital bed
and my dad’s trips to Blockbuster Video.

Another course on the informal side of my film education came
from my eventual father-in-law Larry.  At
first, Larry resented me for dating his daughter Nicole (not for any specific
reason, simply because of that natural protective instinct a father feels for
his daughter).  In order to sooth his
unhappiness, I asked Nicole what his hobbies were.  She started to list them off (“Hunting,
fishing…”), and I began to feel my stomach drop.  She added, “But he likes Westerns.”  I had never been a huge fan of the genre, but
I would become one thanks to Larry.  We
finally bonded over our admiration for John Ford’s collaborations with John
Wayne. 

Despite these anecdotes, my two fathers are not cinephiles.  Larry’s tastes begin with The Searchers (1956) and end with Lonesome Dove (1989).  When I watched 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) for the first time, Jim was quick to
note his distaste.  “If you ever have
difficulty sleeping, turn that movie on. 
You’ll never make it to the part that takes place in space,” he said.  My dad used to like Quentin Tarantino movies,
but I don’t think he has the patience for them anymore. 

One of the last films we watched together is one of his
favorites: Robert Benton’s Nobody’s Fool (1994).  The film stars Paul Newman as a crotchety,
failed father who attempts to redeem himself in the eyes of son (Dylan Walsh)
and the town he lives in.  I think the
film resonates with him because it reminds him of his two fathers.  Thankfully, neither of my fathers needed to
follow Newman’s trajectory towards absolution. 
We shared many of the experiences outlined in Benjamin Sampson’s video essay
on good dads: the life lessons, the cultural education, the enrichment of an
accomplishment brought by their pride. 

Ironically, if there is a larger lesson to be taken from Ben and
I’s diptych, it’s that bad dads are far more memorable than good dads.  Many of the most beloved films of cinema
history appear in my contribution:  Citizen Kane (1941), The Godfather (1972), Chinatown (1974), Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1980), and Freddy Got Fingered (2001) to name but a few.  Bad dads from Darth Vader and Michael
Corleone to Aguirre and Jack Torrence emanate a magnetic, horrifying, presence
that provide filmmakers with the manifestation of a potent conflict whose
universality stems from its intimate proximity to the homestead.  The
Shining
(1980) continues to terrify not because an anonymous murderer is
wielding an axe in a haunted hotel, but because a father is turning on his
son.  The pessimistic ending to Chinatown hits the viewer like a punch
in the gut because Noah Cross’s bad deeds perpetuate themselves without end or
punishment (a related point:  most of
cinema’s bad dads gain their status because they are aggressive towards their
children, be it in the form of physical and/or sexual violence, and not because
they are neglectful).  Essentially, the
influence of Sophocles’s tragedies remain as emotionally potent as they were
2,000 years ago when they were first performed.–Drew Morton 

Drew Morton is an Assistant Professor of Mass Communication at
Texas A&M University-Texarkana.  His
criticism, articles, and video essays have previously appeared in the
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Senses of Cinema, animation: an interdisciplinary journal, Press Play, and RogerEbert.com.  He is the co-founder and co-editor of in[Transition], the first peer-reviewed
academic journal of videographic film and moving image studies. 

Benjamin Sampson is a Ph.D. candidate in Cinema and Media Studies
at the University of California, Los Angeles. 
His video essays on Steven Spielberg’s
A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001) and Orson Welles’s F for Fake (1973) have appeared in Press Play and [in]TransitionHe is
currently researching the intersection between Hollywood and religious
institutions.
 

VIDEO ESSAY: From the Panel to the Frame: Style and Scott Pilgrim

VIDEO ESSAY: From the Panel to the Frame: Style and Scott Pilgrim

Why do the same concepts get recycled and reinterpreted in so many different media, and what does that do to storytelling? Filmmaker Drew Morton poses that question in his video essay “From the Panel to the Frame: Style and Scott Pilgrim.” The piece, which was originally produced as a part of a doctoral dissertation, uses the 2010 Edgar Wright film Scott Pilgrim vs. the World as a springboard to talk about how videogames, movies and comic books influence each other—and how you can often see the aesthetic roots of one medium represented in another, in a way that feels increasingly relaxed and organic. (Press Play contributor Matthias Stork has also dealt with this issue in this piece.)

Morton isn’t talking about adaptation here—turning a book into a movie, for instance, or a movie into a TV series. This is something else. As he puts it in his video essay, it’s more about reproducing or reimagining one medium’s aesthetic within the context of another medium: not just adapting Bryan Lee O’Malley’s original Scott Pilgrim comics, but making the film look and move and somehow feel like those books, to the point of quoting specific panels.

There’s a specific academic term for this phenomenon: “transmediation.” Morton explores that, too. He uses examples from Scott Pilgrim, the Matrix universe, Sin City, and other stories, or “properties,” that unfold across different media to prove that the boundaries that supposedly separate those media are more porous than we may have thought. The “bullet time” scene in the original Matrix movie, for instance, was a great cinematic moment, but it wouldn’t have existed without the aesthetic of mid-‘90s videogames that tried, in their ostentatious yet primitive way, to look three-dimensional. And when Time-Warner, the company that released The Matrix, decided it had another Star Wars on its hands, it commissioned videogames that fans found disappointing because they wanted something that felt like the movies, only game-like, and the games didn’t deliver.

These are slippery subjects to analyze, but Morton never loses his grip here, and the final section—a detailed analysis of the style of Wright’s film—is dazzling. He talks about how Wright folds representations of comics, videogames and music into a movie based on a comic book that was itself strongly inspired by videogames, and in so doing, creates a “re-remediation.” If you tried to represent that on a page, it might look like a bunch of parentheses inside one big parenthetical, or maybe a line drawing of a Russian nesting doll, animated, with each layer’s shell cracking to reveal the layer beneath, each pop commemorated by a point value materializing in space and hanging there. Fifty points! A hundred! Next level!

Click and watch.

Matt Zoller Seitz

Drew Morton is a Ph.D. student in Cinema and Media Studies at UCLA. He has written about film and television for such publications as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, UWM Post, and Flow. He is currently researching the aesthetic convergence between comics and film.

Matt Zoller Seitz is the co-founder of Press Play.