SEK: What are you doing?
YOUNG CHILD: Huntin’ monsters.
SEK: Monsters? You see some?
YOUNG CHILD: On you.
SEK: On me? Where?
YOUNG CHILD: All over.
SEK: I have monst—
YOUNG CHILD: ALL OVER! ALL OVER! (runs away)
SEK: Of course I do.
Author Page for SEK
The line of the night will be “I know you are but so am I!” But I can’t predict who’ll say it. Ha ha!
But we’ll have us no bitter “hoc voluerunt” because they really did want this. Unless Obama took notes during Biden’s epic battle, Romney will win tonight by becoming more-Obama-than-Obama … which will appeal to conservatives because they want to defeat Obama more than they believe in anything but beans.
BOLDER PREDICTION: Biden swoops in Superman-style for the win!
Paul Ryan’s committed to doing work that doesn’t need to be done because someone has to do it. Or something:
Is there anything more odious than conservatives pretending to do the work of a class for which they don’t care one whit in order to secure the votes of those who spit on the very people these conservatives are pretending to be?
Futzing around on Facebook last night, I had an idea—which turned into a very interesting thread—about teaching a class on “films that can’t be unseen.” My suggestions were Requiem for a Dream, Happiness and Aguirre, the Wrath of God, but a number of horrifying suggestions followed, including: Dead Ringers, Oldboy, Irreversible, Dancer in the Dark, Blue Velvet, and Gummo, among others.
Obviously, this is a terrible idea for a class—or a fine way to find myself fired—but those of us not disturbed enough by the prospect of a Romney presidency need something to foreclose the possibility of ever sleeping again. So I wonder what would find its way onto your syllabus, were you to teach this course?
I caught the latest 30 Rock this afternoon and noticed something:
The guy in the midground is off-center:
This may seem like a blindingly obvious point, but one reason this shot is off-center is because the characters in it are off-kilter. The director, Robert Carlock, stages this shot in order to maximize the misdirection: Kenneth Parcell (Jack McBrayer) encourages viewers to follow an eyeline match left and somewhere north of his mother (Catherine O’Hara) before the camera gently racks the foreground out and the midground in to focus. The audience resets its eyes and sees nothing of interest until the movement of Kenneth’s step-father (Bryan Cranston) attracts its attention, at which point an eyeline match again suggests viewers look left and somewhere north of his mother. Compelling the audience to bounce its eyes around this quickly within a sustained shot redoubles the manic impression the dialogue and narrative want to create. As I said, this point may seem obvious, but if you want to think about the difference between comedy and drama on a visual level, the scene above may be the perfect place to start.
Situational comedies are filmed in an unsettling manner in order to maximize the capacity for surprise. When the audience haphazardly spirits its attention across the frame, the director literally has more space with which to work:
When you debate competitively there are some issues you know not to address. There are others you know to better than to pursue. Then there are those that must be avoided at all costs — that must not even be mentioned lest your loss become an object lesson in unwitting self-immolation. Whether Ryan’s handlers wanted to watch him burn or Ryan was simply too stupid to recognize the brutal inefficacy of his anecdote matters less than the fact that he said it with his “honest face” to Joe Biden’s actual one:
RYAN: Mitt Romney’s a car guy. They keep misquoting him, but let me tell you about the Mitt Romney I know. This is a guy who I was talking to a family in Northborough, Massachusetts the other day, Sheryl and Mark Nixon. Their kids were hit in a car crash, four of them. Two of them, Rob and Reed, were paralyzed.
The one thing you don’t address — the one you know better than to pursue — the one that must be avoided at all costs — the one that must not even be mentioned in a debate with Joe Biden is a tragic car accident. The attempt to elicit sympathy for Romney by anecdotal proxy is a poor enough of a play. The decision to do so via an anecdote about a tragic car accident in a debate with Joe Biden means you’re either a sociopath or possessed of an idiocy of immeasurable power.
TECH PERSON: What happened here?
SEK: Don’t know. Was like that when I got here.
TECH PERSON: (points at the clip still displayed on the wall) How’d that get up there then?
SEK: It was working at first.
TECH PERSON: At first? Before you got here?
SEK’S STUDENTS: (SIMULTANEOUSLY BURST INTO LAUGHTER)
SEK: (to no one and everyone) Almost done?
SEK’S STUDENTS: (WEEPING UNCONTROLLABLY)
TECH PERSON: (turning on the lights) All done.
SEK: Thank you. Now as for you lot …
It is, Governor Romney. Shall we have a look at where your heart is?
Switzerland is beautiful this time of year, but it’s getting a little cold. Maybe you could find your heart another home?
The Cayman Islands? Much more temperate. You and your heart will be very happy there. As will your money.
I know Jon Gruden means “amnesia,” since he’s talking about Dez Bryant forgetting that he’s being paid millions of dollars to catch balls. But as a fan of speculative fiction, I can’t help but wonder what it would mean to live in a world where, “[t]o be a football player, you’ve got to have alopecia.”
It’s not just me, right? That’s a strange mistake to make, repeatedly, isn’t it?
I have one goal here: to define “high fantasy” as a genre through Fellowship of the Ring. There will no doubt be academic arguments about the particulars—the true extent of Tolkien’s influence, for example, or the necessity of orcs—but I want to sketch out the basic generic qualities of high fantasy in a portable manner, i.e. one that will also apply to Game of Thrones. Meaning the most commonly argued generic feature to qualify as unnecessary baggage is this one:
Works of fantasy exist in a world utterly unrelated to the one in which we live and are therefore purely escapist.
Because, at the very least, whatever work I do with Fellowship also needs to apply to Game of Thrones. That and it’s just wrong. Anything written by a human being in a particular historical moment belongs to that particular historical moment even if it depicts a different or invented historical moment. The rest of the generic features of high fantasy I want to pull from Fellowship via an immanent analysis of the film itself, and what better place to begin than with maps?
Maps are important because 1) sentences like “Go north until you hit Chicago and hook a left and you’ll end up California” don’t make intuitive sense in fantastic worlds, and 2) the most common plot elements in fantastic works, quests and wars, are map-driven affairs. You need to know who’s where and in relation to what in an invented world, and that requires special attention be paid to maps. Though the visual presentation and manipulation of maps is prevalent in high fantasy—as is evidenced both above, viewing Peter Jackson’s zooming around the map of Middle Earth, or in the opening credits of Games of Thrones—it should be noted that as a film convention, it predates high fantasy as a genre. (Spielberg’s clearly referencing something here.) Another common element in high fantasy would be a token of power:
Like one of those. In the case of Fellowship, the ring functions as both a token and embodiment of power, whereas in Game of Thrones, the Iron Throne will merely be the token awarded to the winner of the game, but in both cases there’s an item whose acquisition is certral to the plot. In Fellowship, Jackson establishes and maintains the significance of the ring by constantly zooming in on it. The frame above, for example, belongs to a sustained zoom:
You’ll recall that according to the first post, Van Patten made Will a sympathetic deserter and oath breaker; according to the second, Van Patten established the family dynamic through Bran’s perspective; according to the third, Bran remained the focal point because everyone believed themselves to be acting in his best interest; and according to the fourth and final post in this series, which would be this one, we’ll finally witness the “punchline” of the preceding scenes. To begin:
The scene shifts from inside Winterfell to somewhere outside it. It’s difficult to tell exactly where because there’s a notched log occupying the majority of the frame. Why the log? Because Will’s world is now the size of its notch. His world closes in on him as his death nears, so it makes sense that his purview, visually speaking, follows suit. It momentarily expands into an extreme long shot when he believes he’s found an excuse that might could maybe save him:
But only momentarily:
Note contrast between these two shots: in the first, the camera is at a distance and captures a large swath of the highlands that are bright despite the mist blanketing them; in the second, the camera tightens in and centers on Will in a medium close-up, and the compositional structure is oppressive: he is flanked on both sides by armed guard and the hill behind doesn’t, as the one in previous shot did, suggest freedom so much as unscaleable-rock-that-might-as-well-be-a-wall. He’s trapped within the structure of the shot, and the medium close-up reminds us of the fear and pain we saw on his face when he was captured:
The irony of being imprisoned on an open field is more apparent in the above because the framing is looser, but it’s essentially the same shot as the one in which he confesses his oath-breaking with one important exception: when he confesses to have broken his oath, he knows all hope is lost. In the shot above, the possibility of escape still exists, if not on that field, then possibly through pardon—hence his mentioning the white walkers two frames previous. But by the time he enters that structurally oppressive medium close-up, he knows his fate.
As do the other characters in the scene, and more importantly, the extent to which they sympathize with is indicated by the distance of the camera from their faces. This may seem like a simple means of identifying a complex emotional response, but it has a long history in film theory, the short version of it goes something like this:
Films used to be silent. Because actors couldn’t tell us what they were thinking and many directors found intertitles aesthetically unappealing, the close-up on actors’ faces became the preferred means of communicating their emotions. The heightened expressiveness evident in the close-up compelled audiences to pay more attention to the micro-expressions written upon the actors’ faces, which made directors pay more attention to directing their actors to wear particular micro-expressions to communicate particular emotions, and so began the vicious cycle that led to the conventions of the modern close-up. Combine that with the fact that we’re so hard-wired to pay close attention to faces that we’ll “see” the face of Satan in a cloud formation, Saint Mary slumming on some toast, or this Martian fellow looking at whatever it is he’s looking at. We want to see faces, and when we see them, we want them to communicate something to us. Just look at my cat. Can’t you see the wonder in his eyes? Of course you can’t. Whatever emotion Finnegan’s feeling might be the feline equivalent of curiosity, but it’s inhuman. Its humanity is merely imputed, drawn on his mug by our brain’s intense desire to find meaning in anything structured like a face.
All of which is a long way of saying that conventional close-ups have been building on extant brain architecture for more than a century now, which is why the simple act of reversing from long shots of some characters to close-ups of others will make it seem as if the narrative’s being focused through the latter. Let’s continue with the scene: