La Haine’s depiction of Paris as an antagonistic landscape

Synopsis:

Mathieu Kassovitz’s La Haine (1995) depicts the rising tension between the youth of an underprivileged Parisian suburb called la cité des Muguets, and the French police. In doing so, it focuses on the day following a riot sparked by the brutalization of a youngster from la cité, by the police - and what turns out to be a turning point in Vinz, Said and Hubert’s lives. It is Vinz, the most enraged of the three, who finds the gun that was lost during the chaos, and swears to avenge his friend, were he not to wake up from his coma.


Analysis:

La cité des Muguets, designated as “la cité” throughout the film, could in fact be described as an antagonistic landscape for the three main characters. A personification of the space occurs through its naming, allowing it to slide into the role of an active character of the film. The different cinematic techniques used in the film then become a translation of the landscape’s actions, as it interacts with Vinz, Said and Hubert. In doing so, la cité’s role – and later Paris’ - in terms of the three main characters continuously shits from a space of malaise, to a setting for their shared struggle as they attempt to find their place within the space.Please watch the following clip from 8:40 to 9:20:

http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xan9q0_la-haine-partie-5-fr_shortfilms

This clip depicts the trio’s first encounter with Paris. By combining a zoom in and a dolly shot that increases the distance with the subjects, Paris here slowly becomes a backdrop, thus changing from an actual landscape to a setting. Indeed, the “argument” (Andrews, 5), or principal subject of the frame, clearly shifts from the capital to the narrative as Vinz replaces focus on their actions when he asks “So, what now?” Yet, in the evolution of the space’s role, focus remains on the characters as their actual belonging to the space is questioned and redefined by the space itself: it slowly rejects the characters when it compresses, not lending them the opportunity of making it a place for themselves.

Another way in which la cité can be read as an antagonistic landscape is through the cinematic translation of the characters’ here/there space, and in terms of what de Certeau calls their “spatial practices” (96). That here/there motion either points out to a movement (i.e. when the here/there space is actually that space and moment purposefully leading to a there, as the movement becomes the characters’ enunciation within the space while they get to a place), or a pause (i.e. the fusion of the characters’ feeling, experience and memory within the space). The difference is visually translated by the contrast between the film’s still shots within a moving space (e.g. in a car or in the train), and the handheld tracking shots within a contained space (e.g. la cité).

Little stillness occurs as we follow Vinz, Said and Hubert’s constant roaming in la cité. This motion thus accentuates their here/there space, as they struggle to find their actual place and belonging to the space. The little moments of pause that take place, both in terms of a suspended motion of the camera and of the subjects themselves within the space, mostly occur in wide open spaces that contrast with la cité’s rigid and linear architecture. The following clip illustrates this point – please watch from 2:26 to 4:00:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iMXkbBIBjJY&feature=related

The three main characters’ use and enunciation within the space (97, de Certeau) therefore denotes of their belonging to the below structure, as they feel their way around la cité. The police somehow become a literal translation of the above structure, as they represent the order and structure, and the antithesis of the trio. With an emphasis placed on what is being felt, Vinz, Said and Hubert succeed in turning the space into place at few instances throughout the film; interestingly enough, as the following two stills demonstrate, the place is in fact marked by graffiti, thus literally investing emotion and meaning within the space, defying the above structure and forcefully making sense of it as a place (10, Cresswell).


The characters’ uneasiness within the space is also transmitted to the viewer through another cinematic feature. The fourth wall is recurrently broken throughout the film, thus re-questioning the space for the viewer, and somehow placing him/her within the narrative space. This takes place in the scene where the three characters intrude an art gallery in Paris and judge an art piece.

By doing so, they are in fact looking straight into the lens, indirectly questioning the film itself (i.e. it being the ‘art piece’), and our position as viewers. Indeed, we are placed within the space and as part of the space - and it is our place and sense of belonging to the space that is thus questioned by the protagonists.

The viewer’s understanding of the landscape is also dictated by another feature of the film: sound. The film’s soundtrack helps shift the function of the portrayed landscape from setting to actual landscape, as it juggles between diegetic sound and music. In the latter, it appears that the selected parts of the landscape are to be viewed from a voyeuristic standpoint, whereas the former places the narrative in the foreground. The following scene illustrates the shift from one function to the other:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=js2_hBDi2LI

This shot starts with diegetic sounds, as we appropriately hear what corresponds to what we see. Yet, as Cut Killer starts mixing, the music itself takes over and the shots with shallow focus and within a constraining space are replaced with a wide aerial shot of la cité. Although a voyeuristic approach here becomes appropriate for the viewer, the distorting lens and movement of the camera break the romanticized vision of Paris he/she might be used to watching - and that a film such as Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Amelie (2001) might epitomize.


Texts used:

La Haine (1995) Mathieu Kassovitz, 98 min.

Amelie (2001) Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 122 min.

Andrews, Malcolm. “Land into Landscape.” Landscape and Western Art. Oxford University Press, 1999. 1-24 (ch 1).
de Certeau, Michel. “Walking in the City.” The Practice of Everyday Life. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998. 91-110.
Cresswell, Tim. “Introduction: Defining Place.” Place: A Short Introduction. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2004. 1-16.

Travelogue as Internal/External Expression of Landscape | Ben Leventhal

The great American author Mark Twain once said that “travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” Travel exposes one to new worlds, new peoples, and new places—and the optimistic hope is that when confronted with these things prejudices must fade away. This is the allure of travel—the excitement for being able to get exposed to new and fantastic landscapes. As with any cultural fascination it is only a matter of time before mass media is able to explore it and exploit it on a massive scale. Recently television travelogues have been gaining popularity and acclaim with shows such as “No Reservations,” with Anthony Bourdain, or “Bizarre Foods,” with Andrew Zimmern. Unfortunately with the explosion of new media that has gone to great lengths to expose the most distant and unique places possible, I fear there has been an exoticism imposed on these places, due to the voyeuristic nature of these programs. This exoticism reinforces the very colonialist and imperialist prejudices that travel should be working to combat. I will explore other forms of travel diaries which I think capitalize on the unique medium of a travelogue in order to express a combination of both voyeuristic and introspective perspectives that allow for the self-reflection of landscape that travel truly induces.

Travel is a luxury afforded by the upper class of the world system. In the modern world system, the upper class is almost synonymous with whiteness, or at the very least white-culture dominated nations. This fact adds a certain imperialist perspective to the travel done by the people of these states. Travel from this perspective has evolved in a way that people want to visit and observe foreign places as if they were a zoo full of strange things to behold, rather than to let the contents of that zoo affect them in a significant way. This exotic stereotype evolved from the white-male idea of “geisha women” from the far east, where women are not only “domesticated” but a “sex nymph [or] heart-of-gold prostitute,” (Prasso, 9). This allure is reflected in the “thousands of backpackers setting off from Europe, Australia, and elsewhere to experience the exotic, spiritual, and sensuous East,” (Prasso, 15). This is the cultural landscape that colors the geography of world travel, and as Lewis states, “elements of a cultural landscape make little cultural sense if they are studied outside of their geographical… context,” (Lewis, 24). The geographical axiom is the driving force behind the travelogue medium, and when combined with standard voyeuristic camera framing of travel shows, it emphasizes the implicit racist undertones in painting foreign places as strange or “other.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x5mkYcQmVSA&feature=related

This example from Andrew Zimmern’s television show “Bizarre Foods” is an example of how standard travelogue composition combines with an extreme form of Asian exoticism. The entire purpose of this travel show is to explore how weird and strange the food habits and cultural landscape of a non-white culture are, and ends up further emphasizing racial stereotypes of “other” in America. Travelogue offers up an unusual point-of-view, because it tries to mimic the way of “walking through” a place that de Certeau theorizes, yet ends up actually offering a point-of-view that separates the audience from that space: a view from above or a map of a place (de Certeau, 92). This is because, while Andrew Zimmern is indeed walking through the marketplace in the above video, he is an outsider. His point of view is not from within the group, but from above it looking down on their cultural landscape as exotic and bizarre. When one sees this sort of travelogue he or she is entertained, however they are discouraged from taking part in travel themselves. One takes this experience of landscape and uses it as their own, rather than wishing to take part in travel for themselves, thus nullifying the introspective growth that travel is meant to induce.

Travelogues are by nature voyeuristic, due to the fact that their purpose is to display something new and interesting to an audience that would not otherwise have access to it. However, this perspective, especially of an outsider coming in to explore an exotic location, is problematic for the aforementioned reasons. This point-of-view is not without challenge in the television travelogue medium. Anthony Bourdain runs another show called “No Reservations” which often falls into many of the same pitfalls as “Bizarre Foods,” however he attempts to combat this exoticism by using portions of his show to be introspective and focus on personal changes, not just exotic locales.

(please watch from 11:45 to the end) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kiEtkvrYRjE

Here Anthony Bourdain is self-aware of the fallacy that the presence of a white-man with a video camera can cause in the experience of a place. He understands that travel is truly a “side view [in which people] see landscape as a space in which people act… or contemplate,” (Tuan, 90). It is in this contemplation of a landscape that a true travel narrative, which has the power to eliminate prejudice, emerges. One must first understand the fallacy of treating the landscape as simple landscape art to look at, then they are able to contemplate the meaning of interpersonal relations and growth that can occur through a person’s travels through a landscape.

A voyeuristic perspective can be done in a way that creates a very introspective narrative.

http://vimeo.com/2721992

This past clip displays a very voyeuristic point-of-view. Its construction is a first-person picture diary with which the author only interacts with in one frame near the end. However, the way in which the images are edited together creates an overwhelming sense that were are not supposed to look at any individual image, but at the entire collage as an experience. If one attempts to view individual images they will be frustrated by the fact that the diary moves on immediately. Much like Herzog’s work, this work encourages the audience to let go and experience this travelogue as an experiential image (Prager, 92). It is in this way that while each individual photograph may be voyeuristic in composition, the work itself doesn’t exoticisize its subjects. By creating a travelogue that is a look into the experience of travel itself, rather than a look at how strange and unusual an individual place may be, the audience can gain a deeper understanding of what it means to be a traveler through a place.

If we are to understand travel in the reflexive sense that Mark Twain advocates, then a purely introspective travelogue is the most valuable. One that shows growth and change through the act of traveling can have the power to inspire its audience to travel, and thus inspire change. This is unlike a purely exoticisized voyeuristic form of travelogue which discourages true travel.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ky6vgQfU24

This is a very personal sort of travel diary, in the vein of Mekas. I believe that this sort of reflexive travelogue has the ability to capture what travel is really about. It is less the spectacle of landscape art that dominates the majority of travel media, and more of an internal expression of change. While this clip of a journey through China does rely on the the simple spectacle of physical change, this physical growth of a beard is a reflection of the inner landscape changes that this traveler is experiencing.

Such work that has a point of view so heartily focused on the interior landscape of personal change, rather than external landscape, has the power to motivate others to travel as well. Unlike the majority of voyeuristic travelogues, which purport to experience travel for you and show you how to experience a place, a self-reflective travel diary only purports to show a single internal change. This creates a desire in the viewer to experience this sort of internal landscape shift for themselves. I believe that it is this internal shift that can lead to a more open mind, and the demolition of stereotypes which dominate mass media forms. 

Sources:

Bourdain, Anthony. “No Reservations: Beirut.” No Reservations. Travel Channel. 2006. Television.

De Certeau, Michel. “Walking in the City.” The Practice of Everyday Life 1 (1992): 91-110. Print.

Lewis, Pierce F. “Geographical Essays.” The Interpretation of Ordinary Landscapes (1979). Print.

The Longest Way. 20 Mar. 2009. Web. 22 Feb. 2012. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ky6vgQfU24>.

Prager, Brad. “Landscapes of the Mind; The Indifferent Earth in Werner Herzog’s Films.” Landscapes in Cinema (2010): 89-102. Print.

Prasso, Sheridan. The Asian Mystique: Dragon Ladies, Geisha Girls, & Our Fantasies of the Exotic Orient. New York: Public Affairs, 2005. Print.

This Is Japan! Perf. Eric Testroete. 4 Jan. 2009. Web. 22 Feb. 2012. <http://vimeo.com/2721992>.

Tuan, Yi-Fu. “Thought and Landscape — The Eye and the Mind’s Eye.” The Interpretation of Everyday Landscapes (1979). Print.

Zimmern, Andrew. “Bizarre Foods: Vietnam.” Bizarre Foods. Travel Channel. 2009. Television.

Re: Travelogues by Ben Leventhal. — Where the Hell Does Matt Fit?

I believe that your presentations illustrates an interesting point with the external travelogue being imperialistic and the internal one being personal and reflexive. As you mentioned, there is a grand difference between Andrew Zimmern’s “Bizarre Foods,” where he eats rats for the shock-horror value for the audience, and “The Longest Way,” where the man takes a picture of himself throughout his year-long walk. Your argument caused me to wonder where the short videos “Where the Hell is Matt?” would fall in the spectrum. His videos show footage of Matt dancing around the world in different locations.

This is the second video that he did:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bNF_P281Uu4&feature=relmfu

As he dances around the world, it shows people different landscapes that would never be accessible to them. The uplifting musical score adds to a VIBE that celebrates the world’s beauty. The song also connects the different landscapes and bonds them into one whole. As geographers Yi-Fu Tuan, Anne Buttimer, David Seamon, and Edward Relph believe, place was “a concept that expressed an attitude to the world that emphasized subjectivity and experience rather than the cool hard, logic of spatial science” (qtd. in Cresswell 2004, 20). Through the magic of editing, the different places are brought together into one large place. He creates a dance floor that we all inhabit. In the creating of this place, he includes the world in is adventure. As theorist Tim Cresswell noted, “place is amendable to discussions of things such as ‘value’ and ‘belonging.’” (Cresswell 2004, 20). Even though the video jumps across thousands of miles in an instant, the camera does not move. If the camera moved around a lot or if Matt danced around and in and out of the frame, one could argue that the video would be creating a space, which is seen as “an open arena of action and movement” (Cresswell 2004, 20). Spaces are “amendable to the the abstraction of spatial science,” but since Matt remains consistently dancing in place and the camera remains static, a place is formed. As Cresswell says, the creation of a place allows the viewer to “[become] involved” (Cresswell 2004, 20). Those watching the video forget about the distances between the different locations and can become lost in the vivid places before the eyes.

After his video exploded in popularity on the web, Matt has been paid to dance around the world in other commercials, such as this one for Hotel.com Suite Escapes.:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SSSSkmItFHY&feature=player_embedded

Matt appears around the globe in the different hotels that the site offers. The video displays the beauty of the world; however, these videos re-purpose the landscape as a tool to advertise products, colonizing it for his own use.

However, Matt does not just dance for money, he stands against poverty. In 2007, Matt uploaded another video called “Why the Hell is Matt Standing?,” where like the other videos, he appears in a variety of countries. He made this video to promote the Stand Against Poverty website.

Watch him stand:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iIDHEiB_PDA&feature=relmfu

I believe that the original videos stand on their own, but the back story behind some of these videos either salute or deny the touching global unity felt in the videos. Is Matt placing an imperialistic presence on the places he travels to for money? Or is a sense of world camaraderie still present?

The Wilderness Downtown.

Arcade Fire released their 2010 album, The Suburbs, with a clear theme obvious even from just the title of the album. The themes of most of the songs on the album revolve around suburban life and teenage themes. In an interview with NME, Arcade Fire discusses the motives behind the song, “We Used to Wait”. Arcade Fire’s lead singer and songwriter, Win Butler, says this song was inspired by love letters from a summer during his teenage years. He would wait days and weeks to receive these letters and they reminded him of his hometown and of simpler times.

         These constant references to the suburbs and teenage life throughout the album come across as pure nostalgia. This is nostalgia for a time and a place from some of the most influential years of a person’s life. Arcade Fire looked to this time to tap into emotions that each person listening to their music can sympathize with. Everyone was a teenager and everyone can remember some things from their teenage years. A great part of what can trigger a memory or nostalgia about those years is location. Whether it is the house you grew up in or the high school you went to. These places, as defined by Cresswell, are full of memories. Individuals place certain ideas, events, meanings, and people alongside these locations and thus the landscape of the teenage years are created.

         Arcade Fire then went a step further with their exploration of location as a place of nostalgia, especially with specific suburban themes. They released the music video for “We Used to Wait” right around the time that the browser, Chrome, was beginning to explore different uses of HTML5. Pairing up with Chrome Experiments and the creator of the video, Chris Milk, Arcade Fire created a music video that is unlike any other than has been released. Titled, “The Wilderness Downtown”, this video seeks to connect the viewer in a more personal way to the music than just relating and interpreting the lyrics themselves. Before the video starts, the viewer is asked to input the address of the home they grew up in or of their high school. After pressing search, the experience begins.

  Multiple windows open up and interact with each other. The main theme in the video is a hooded teen running down dark streets of a suburban neighborhood. He is faceless so it could be anyone. Then Google Maps kicks in and begins to show images of the street you grew up in eventually closing in on your home address. There are also overhead shots of this hooded figure running through the street next to a window of a satellite shot of your hometown. In the middle, the viewer is asked to interact with the project and write a postcard to their past self who lived at that address. Finally at the end of the video there are multiple windows of the figure running and trees popping up next to him. This then goes over onto the satellite shot of the neighborhood associated with your address bringing the whole project to a close.

 The Wilderness Downtown

Screens

The Wilderness Downtown

Just as each viewer experienced his or her teen years differently from other viewers, each viewer will experience this video differently. Seeing certain places connects the viewer to different memories and different meanings of that location. This video does a good job to exploit Cresswell’s discussion of place as “spaces which people have made meaningful” (7). Arcade Fire successfully combines the nostalgia present in the song itself with the nostalgia present for the viewers in the meaning of their hometown. This brings to light a whole new way to connect viewers to media. When media is made more and more personal through different ways, such as this interactive project by Arcade Fire, the audience begins to connect their hometown and sense of nostalgia not only with that place, but also then with the music they are experiencing at the same time.

 In the comments section of a post about this video on the music blog, Stereogum, it becomes clear that this strategy is not only effective in creating an amazing media experience that relates to the viewers, but that this sense of nostalgia can also be a great marketing tool. Some of the commenters wrote that after watching the video they continued to listen to the whole album and seek it out. Some people even said that they were not Arcade Fire fans at all but that they enjoyed watching this video and that it gave them chills. This brings a whole new topic into this discussion which is that continuing to try and connect on an even deeper level to audiences could in return help to form a stronger fan base and to bring more fans in. This video in particular succeeds at this because of its use of personalized nostalgia. This nostalgia wouldn’t have been possible without the use of place as a personalized and marked space full of memories and ideas.

 Place can then become a tool to connect viewers more strongly to a product or image and I am curious to see where this idea will be taken further with media in the years to come. This particular video is widely successful and brought more fans and viewers to Arcade Fire. It also is a great example of how nostalgia and place can mean more to a person than blank emotions. While it can be powerful to share someone else’s emotions as happens when just listening to a song, to combine personal emotions with general emotions allows fro a more sincere connection and enjoyment to media. It is hard to imagine another way to successfully reach a wide number of individuals in this personal of a manner, but based on this video, place is a good starting point where so many personal memories are found. Nostalgia as it relates to place is a powerful emotion.


Cresswell, Tim. “Introduction: Defining Place.” Place: A Short Introduction. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2004. 1-16.

Milk, Chris. The Wilderness Downtown. 2010. Google. 24 February 2012 <thewildernessdowntown.com/>.

NME. Arcade Fire’s Win Butler reveals love letters inspired ‘The Suburbs’. 29 July 2010. 25 February 2012 <www.nme.com/news/arcade-fire/52267>. 

Suarez, Jessica. Arcade Fire - “We Used To Wait” Video. 30 August 2010. 25 February 2012 <stereogum.com/486932/arcade-fire-we-used-to-wait-video/news/>.

mermcg:

I love Arcade Fire’s music but had never seen the “We Used to Wait” interactive music video. When I watched the hooded figure run through my hometown my eyes literally began to well up. This music video gave me the most powerful sense of nostalgia, and the lyric “Now our lives are changing fast”…

Exploring Natural Landscape in Princess Mononoke

Man VS Nature, Industry VS Environment. We see these oppositional forces portrayed in countless forms of cinema. The concept of man’s relationship to the natural landscape is not examined anywhere quite as it is in Princess Mononoke (1997). Director/animator Hayao Miyazaki carefully constructs a narrative and vision that portrays an alternate world and time but beckons the viewer to ask questions about universal, timeless concepts. The story takes place during the Muromachu Era in Japan, a time of transition as humans relied increasingly on developing industry.  Miyazaki’s signature fantastical approach gives the landscape a new, symbolic meaning of life, while maintaining accurate visuals of the time period. In this world, Japanese mythological creatures, spirits, gods and demons roam the forests. The climax of the film is a battle between these supernatural creatures and the humans of Irontown. Irontown is translated form the word tatara that referred to industrious iron smelting towns in this era of Japan (“Hitachi Metals”). The ideologies behind towns like these can be compared to Roderick Nash’s exploration of the American perspectives of the American Frontier. “The forest wilderness was the most formidable barrier standing between him and success” (Nash, 2). Lady Eboshi, leader of Irontown, represents the need for human development and survival through colonizing and conquering the land. The main character, Ashitaka, represents the liaison between the natural world and the humans of Irontown. He has human sympathies but is avidly against the violence. He becomes a trusted ally of Princess Mononoke, a wolf-raised human, and sworn enemy to the humans who try to take her land.


Miyazaki’s breathtaking animation and intricate landscape design is an ode to Japanese mythology and culture. Much of the mystifying, peaceful beauty in the design of the landscape was inspired by real places such as the Japanese island Yakushima, which was inscribed on the World Heritage list (“Yakushima”). It is important to note that despite the comparisons that can be drawn between these early industrious Japanese and American colonial pioneers, Japanese mythology and culture developed historically in a unique way. In Flying Mountains and Walkers of Emptiness: Toward a Definition of Sacred Space in Japanese Religions, Allan Grapard explores how and why certain landscapes have taken on such a sacred and transcendent identity within ancient Japanese culture. In this period, “people lived in the plains, mountains were untouched obstacles. Mountains were seen as a space whose nature was other (not belonging to common categories of experience within the profane) (Grapard, 200)”.  Regarding certain natural spaces and landscapes as sacred led to myths and fables depicting fantastical gods who created and interacted with the land. For example, Japanese mythology depicts Daidara-bocchi, a giant creature who created ponds and lakes with its footsteps, and had the ability to split mountain peaks (“Daidara-bocchi”). InPrincess Mononoke this creature is depicted as the Nightwalker, the nighttime form of the forest spirit.  Irontown represents the beginnings of industry and exploitation of trees and land, now humans had the resources necessary to break through the barriers created by mountains.


Yakushima:

image

image


Princess Mononoke:

image

image

As Ashitaka explores the natural world we are treated to sumptuous and magical visions of forests, rivers and mountains. Miyazaki’s animation and attention to detail captures the intrinsic appreciation that humans have for aesthetically pleasing landscapes. In chapter 8 of her book Cinema and Landscape, Sue Harper describes how humans cognitively construct meaning from visually pleasing natural landscapes; “The sights and sounds of nature are what human beings use to construct an emotional ecology…humans beings construct systems of myth which enable them to discriminate between the pure and the impure, the sacred and profane (Harper, 149).The expert animation is also key in giving the land a sense of realism that helps us ground the fantastical elements in a world similar to ours. The breath-taking beauty ofMononoke culminates in the magical area where we see the godly forest spirit.  A sense of peace and innocent purity is achieved through the intricate animation/score.

image

 

  Nash comments on the appreciation and love for the aesthetic of the untouched wilderness and how this trend in thought grew and became a catalyst for wilderness preservations (Nash, 4). More applicably, he goes onto to describe the developing association of the natural landscape untouched by man as being an embodiment of god. Nash points out that transcendentalists assigned spiritual ideologies to nature which manifested over time (Nash, 4). InLand into Landscape, Malcom Andrews keenly describes the spiritually infused, inherent appreciation for the beauty of nature; “This predominantly sensuous delight, touched with aesthetic thrills, then gives way to a more reflective and complex response to the natural world, one preoccupies by the relations between man and nature, cultivation and the wild, and one that values landscape beauty as a moral and spiritual experience” (Andrews, 9). The themes of Princess Mononoke wouldn’t resonate with out our innate ability to react sensuously and wondrously to depictions of serene nature. As Ashitaka enters the forest spirit’s dwelling he meets hundreds of kadoma, mythological spirits who inhabit trees and appear when the forest is healthy. Ashitaka calls them good luck and they playfully lead him. These small white spirits have human and supernatural qualities. Their child-like bodies and curiously clicking heads make them seem innocent and harmless. The magic that Miyazaki infuses in this reality elucidates the spiritual nature of landscapes that we have learned about on different accounts in this class.


Other majestically conceived creatures like the kadoma roam Miyazaki’s lush landscape. The existence of gods and demons as the forest’s inhabitants prompts us to delve deeper into our preconceived notions about the relationship between civilization and the wild. To gain more access to resources, Lady Eboshi intends to kill the forest spirit with hopes that by doing so the humans would have greater accessibility to the resources in the forest. We first see the forest spirit in a sparkling, pristine swamp area that Ashitaka enters. Its surreal appearance is a unique visual manifestation of its existence in Japanese mythology. Its bizarre antlers and bright red, human-like face makes the viewer stare in awe, just as Ashitaka does when he first sees it. The forest spirit is a symbol of the natural cycle of life and death, its individual footsteps cause flowers and grass to sprout up from the ground but as its foot leaves they wither and die as quickly as they emerged. Its benevolent but all-powerful presence causes creatures and humans to stop in amazement. The forest spirit and the lush area it seems to reside in invokes the sensuous and aesthetic delights described by Andrews, the design is astonishing.


http://vimeo.com/25561471  1-40 seconds. Ignore title, couldn’t find this clip anywhere else online. 

  
 

The forest spirit’s retaliation against Lady Eboshi at the end is a metaphor for the central conflict, as she attempts to shoot its head off, flowers and grassy natural life to start spurting out of her gun, making it nearly unusable. When its head is shot off, amorphous blobs explode out of it, creating the headless embodiment of the giant Nightwalker. Its plunder causes the forest to die, the symbolic kadoma are seen falling lifelessly through the air. By fighting for more ground, the humans almost destroyed natural life in its entirety.

The story line on its surface level may seem to facilitate an environmentalist and anti-industrious message. However, Miyazaki skillfully orients our sympathies around both sides. The people of Irontown aren’t portrayed as needlessly destroying the landscape; the iron they seek is essential for their livelihood and development. Lady Eboshi seems heartless and sadistic at times, but she is motivated by the need for human consumption of the land for survival (Shea). The cutting of trees infuriates the beasts in the forest, giving them blinding rage. The boars and apes have no sense of understanding, they consider the humans invaders and they will violently fight to the death to protect their home. Ashitaka becomes the resounding symbol of reconciliation although he never fully achieves it. He wishes that both sides could exist harmoniously but no one on either side can fully understand him. There are no heroes and villains, just the inevitable clashing of natural and human forces. The conclusion yields no winners or losers, Eboshi admits she was wrong in killing the forest spirit and Ashitaka assures Mononoke that the spirit’s death is just another kind of rebirth. Mononoke expresses her appreciation for Ashitaka but says she will always hate and fight against the humans. Neither side can come to consensus; Ashitaka develops into a mediator between the two forces, which is perhaps the position that Miyazaki wants the viewer to take.  Similar to Werner Herzog (Lessons of Darkness), Miyazakiis focused on probing for questions and new ideologies rather than assigning guilt or prescribing a proper way of dealing with these issues. Princess Mononoketherefore embodies the questions, how can humans and the natural world co-exist peacefully, and is it possible? How can we reconcile the need for human consumption and the need to preserve natural beauty and life?


 Citations:

“About Tartara.” Hitachi Metals. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Feb 2012. <http://www.hitachi-metals.co.jp/e/tatara/nnp0101.htm>. 

Andrews, Malcom. “Land Into Landscape.” n. page. Web. 27 Feb. 2012. <https://courses.northwestern.edu/bbcswebdav/courses/2012WI_RTVF_398-0_SEC20/Andrews, Land into Landscape.pdf>.

“Daidara-bocchi.” The Obakemono Project. Web. 27 Feb 2012. <http://www.obakemono.com/obake/daidarabocchi/>

Grapard, Allan. In Flying Mountains and Walkers of Emptiness: Toward a Definition of Sacred Space in Japanese Religions. <http://www.jstor.org/pss/1062158>

Harper, Sue. Cinema and Landscape. Web. <https://mail-attachment.googleusercontent.com/attachment/u/0/?ui=2&ik=1dd9c42a85&view=att&th=135a2c9b450e38e1&attid=0.4&disp=inline&safe=1&zw&saduie=AG9B_P-63zD9bJX373k8e6xgAeK8&sadet=1330327005548&sads=AYejZv9yymCUBj0EdMkYxkHKP_Q&sadssc=1>.

Nash, Roderick. “The American Wilderness in Historical Perspective.” Forest History Society 2-4. Web. 27 Feb 2012. 

Paskell, Kelly. “Theme: the Kami in Japanese Landscape.” Japanese Landscapes. N.p., n. d. Web. 27 Feb. 2012. <http://japaneselandscape.wordpress.com

Shea, J. “Analysis: Princess Mononoke.” Exploring Believability. N.p., n. d. Web. 27 Feb. 2012. <http://exploringbelievability.blogspot.com/2012/01/analysis-princess-mononoke.html>.

“Yakushima.” World Heritage. Print. <http://www.jal.com/world/en/guidetojapan/world_heritage/yakushima/description/>.


Re: Exploring Natural Landscape in Princess Mononoke

Animation is an excellent medium for delving into the supernatural and creating such a catered landscape that can often be unified with the characters. Princess Mononoke is such a great choice for an analysis of this kind of landscape. I love Hayao Miyazaki and am tempted to talk about some of his other films, such as Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, My Neighbor Totoro, or Spirited Away. I have a feeling you’ve given them some thought though, and so I want to instead link the themes in Princess Mononoke to this anime series I picked up a while ago - Mushishi.

Mushishi centers around supernatural creatures called Mushi. Mushi are the most simple and purest form of life. They are invisible to most people, but the main character Ginko is one of the few in the world who can engage with them. Ginko is a Mushi master (Mushi-shi) who travels in search for further knowledge and experience with the Mushi.

Here is a scattered preview of the series:



Much like Ashitaka acts as the mediator in between the human and spirit forces, Ginko works between Mushi and people to create stable, peaceful relations. Ginko is also a nomad and outsider, who travels to a different space - and thus landscape - every episode. Once becoming trusted and welcome and turning these spaces into more of a place for himself and the audience, he leaves to go on another adventure.

Both media texts appear to be rooted in the Shinto spiritual faith. “Kami” is a common Shinto term which is Japanese for “spirit,” and Kami are often associated with natural or abstract forces. Furthermore, both are rooted in an older time in Japanese history. Taking into consideration culture and time as a landscape, the natural Japan-centered landscapes of the film and anime coincide frequently.

I like how you note that “Miyazaki is focused on probing for questions and new ideologies rather than assigning guilt or prescribing a proper way of dealing with these issues,” as I feel that Mushishi also transcends judgement and instead presents a holistic view on human tendencies, spiritual beings, and their interconnected moralities.

If you want to watch more of Princess Mononoke's type of man vs nature dichotomy as well as aesthetically stunning animation, I recommend checking out the anime series (subbed version). It's not one of my favorites, but it ranks high on many anime viewers and critics' lists.

-Alejandro Ovalle

Works Cited

Princess Mononoke. Dir. Hayao Miyazaki. Studio Ghibli, 1997.

Urushibara, Yuki. Mushishi. Dir. Hiroshi Nagahama. Prod. Artland. Oct. 2005. Television.

Midnight in Paris

Midnight in Paris is, at the heart of it, a story about a man and his city. At the superficial level, Midnight in Paris masquerades as many things – a love story, a story of disenchantment, or a story of self-discovery. However, at the heart, I believe the viewer finds a story about a man who creates for himself a city, and falls in love with what he has found.

In DeCerteau’s Walking in the City, he mentions the rhetoric of the city – how a walker creates the city by choosing and opening different possibilities. He explains, “the network of these moving, intersecting writings compose and manifold story that has neither author nor spectator” (DeCerteau, 93). In DeCerteau’s opinion, pedestrians read the city but more importantly create a city that has a different subjective meaning. Owen Wilson’s character, Gil, stands out from his fiancée and her family because he is so eager to walk. Inez, Gil’s fiancée, finds his obsession to be annoying and childish. Gil, after exploring a furniture store, begs Inez to walk back home in the rain but Inez simply responds with frustration.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x87vmArwLCQ&feature=youtu.be

As a result, Inez and her family remain oblivious to the city, while Gil, in his solo walks about Paris, creates a ‘city rhetoric’ of his own. Inez watches the city as a voyeur. She doesn’t allow herself past the superficial; she is content to think of the city as a map of streets and buildings. Gil becomes to know and understand the city intimately, even throughout its different time periods. As DeCerteau puts it, “and if on the one hand he actualizes only a few of the possibilities fixed by the constructed order (he goes only here and not there), on the other he increases the number of possibilities (for example, by creating shortcuts and detours) and prohibtions…” (DeCerteau, 98). Gil is presented with infinite possibilities, and by choosing to go here and not there, he creates a dialogue that cannot be explained simply on a map. Gil’s journey is even more impossible to map because he jumps in time, however these jumps seem to simply be another possibility in the rhetoric of the city, a city that speaks in four dimensions. 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mwuqNUC3VPw

In a way, Paris becomes the externalization of Gil’s inner dilemma, his uncertainty about his fiancée, his job, and his future. Gil is stuck in his life’s here-there, DeCerteau’s idea of transit. Accordingly, Gil spends most of the film walking, stuck in the here-there of Paris. Even as the time period changes, Gil is in transit, from his time to their time, looking for the ‘there’ in his journey. Adriana calls Gil interesting in a lost way - In his wandering, he hopes to change space into place. 

In this clip, Gil also mentions that nothing, not a painting, not a sculpture, not even a symphony can complete with the complex beauty of a city. Perhaps he hits DeCerteau’s ideals right on the head - a city is an art form all and of itself. Each person, each “walker” creates a city of their own, something no map or birds-eye-view could ever capture. All these pedestrians create place, and no one form will ever be able to capture a city in its entirety. Even Midnight in Paris is an exploration of one man’s making of place out of space. We see Gil’s personal city, but each walker builds a city of their own. His memories and his experiences form an identity for himself as well as the city, creating his place out of space. 

Sources

Cresswell, Tim. “Introduction: Defining Place.” Place: A Short Introduction. 1-16. Print.

De Certeau, Michael. “Spatial Practices.” Walking in the City. 91-110. Print.

Midnight in Paris. Dir. Woody Allen. Perf. Owen Wilson. 2011.

RE: Midnight in Paris

Response to Midnight in Paris

I like your comparison between DeCerteau’s “Walking in the City” and Midnight in Paris. It is a fitting example of an artist’s intense longing for expression that he creates an entire world apart from time simply by walking every night. The film truly depicts an extreme case of DeCerteau’s argument in that he not only creates possibilities in movement through space but infinite possibilities as he moves through time. You bring up the pint that Owen Wilson’s character was not limited by the city like pedestrians in DeCerteau’s analysis. Since he has influence of time, he could travel to before or after the city. He can even influence the plans of the city rather than the city limiting his “expression” of walking. You can use this to further argue that this collapses DeCerteau’s distinction between the above and the below. By controlling time, Wilson’s character has control of both map and movement. The dimension of time is more powerful than the above or below because it brings with it the power of expression, like walking the streets, and the power of observation, like viewing from above. You can argue that the artists in the film have the ultimate power to create because of their transcendental nature.  

Color Correction and its effect on Cinematic Landscape: Starting with O Brother Where Art Thou? (2000), ending with Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris (2011)

A brief introduction to Midnight in Paris:

            Gil Pender, a romantic daydreamer and novice author, visits Paris with his insufferable fiancée, Inez, and her conservative parents. While in the “city of love,” Gil slowly isolates himself from his fiancée and begins to take midnight strolls around his beloved Paris. In a fantastical turn of events, he is picked up at midnight by an old-fashioned car and taken back to Paris in the 1920’s, an era Gil idolizes as the “Golden Age” of Paris. He meets Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, among others. He falls for Pablo Picasso’s alluring mistress, Adriana, and eventually realizes that he and Inez are not meant for each other. Adriana and Gil are picked up by another mysterious car and brought even further back in time to the 1890’s, the Belle Epoque era, which Adriana feels is actually the Golden Age of Paris. However, when Gil and Adriana ask the Belle Epoque Parisians what they believe to be Paris’ most idyllic era, they answer with “the Renaissance.” Gil begins to see that everyone mistakenly believes the past to be better than the present, instead of enjoying the present as it is. He returns to the 21st century, breaks off his engagement with Inez, and decides to stay in Paris.

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A highly informational clip showing the first use of full digital color grading in the Cohen brother’s film, O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pla_pd1uatg

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Analysis of clip and relationship to Midnight in Paris (2011):

            Before digital color correction, film stock would be sent to a post-production laboratory to undergo chemical processes, which would then generate the desired final look onto the film. Roger Deakins, the director of photography for O Brother Where Art Thou?, explains that this photochemical process was limiting because only the three primary colors could be used: blue, green, and red. Deakin calls the process “hit and miss” because it can often drift to colors that were not intended. The archaic laboratory processes were unsuccessful at achieving the “dust-bowl era” look the Cohen brothers and Deakin wanted, so they brought O Brother Where Art Thou? to Cinesite, a digital coloring company. On the computer they could change and fix certain shots or items in shots, then easily record the corrected images back out to film.

The Cohen brothers and Deakin envisioned the film as looking “dry and dusty,” but had shot the film during the Mississippi summer, a luscious green time of year for the state. Deakin explains in the clip that had he done the process of color correcting chemically, it would have involved numerous other steps like flashing the negatives, using sepia filters, and doing multiple runs through chemicals. If you go to 5:39 on the clip above, you can see the before (lush and green) and after (golden yellow) of one image, and the drastic effect the filmmakers were hoping to make for this movie – made extremely easier through a few clicks of the mouse rather than hard hand-labor with chemical treatments.

O Brother Where Art Thou? truly changed post-production and the effect editors and colorists can have on the look of a film. Deakin rightly states that as people become more familiar with digital color grading, laboratory processes will be a thing of the past. Digital color correction will open up new methods of filmmaking that were not available before this technology. Directors now shoot film rather flat, grabbing as much detail in the image as possible so that in post-production the editor has as much information to change and alter as possible. Later in the clip, Randy Starr, VP of Business Development at Cinecite, says,

Color became a character, it washes over the audience as you view it. As a character it lets you feel the period of time. It lets you feel the heat and the sweat on their body. That is something the filmmaker could not capture on the camera, and could only use digital technology to let them capture.

In O Brother Where Art Thou? you can see a drastic difference between what was originally shot on the film, and what is found in the digitally corrected version. Green is replaced by gold, the yellow is overly saturated, and there is almost no blue to speak of. The landscape has been completely re-mastered to look like dry and barren Mississippi during the Great Depression. Since 2000, color correction in films has become the norm, oftentimes being a primary indicator of exactly the genre and time period the film fits in. The color grading locates us to where the story takes place and engages us in the themes and palettes commonly associated with those spaces.

            Now to Midnight in Paris! Praised as one of Woody Allen’s best recent films, it begins in contemporary Paris but quickly transports its main character to Paris in the 1920’s – through the powers of color correction. Paris in 2011 is overly bright and the colors are extremely saturated. In the opening sequence alone, which is full of images of Parisian boulevards and gardens, you notice how vibrant the greens and yellows are. This introduces us to a modern, vivid, and warm Paris.

(Gil, Inez, and Paul and his wife peruse around French historical monuments. The blue in the sky is almost lost, while the greens, yellows, and browns dominate the shot.)

(Inez’s conservative parents discuss the Tea Party. Again, green from the flowers pop, while the entire restaurant oozes yellow. Also, funny dialogue J)

The palette of the modern Parisian landscape is almost limited to yellow, gold, brown, and off-black (not even a true black). This color grading is a bold choice from director Woody Allen, who states in one interview with The Examiner, “I want warm pictures….I like the colors to be autumnal: yellow, beige, brown, tan, and gold.” He believes characters look the best when the color is intensely warm, as opposed to being under harsh blue and white lights. This color grading has an immediate effect on skin tone, and throughout Midnight in Paris we never see a character with a “correct” skin color – they instead look orange and “like tomatoes” as Sven Nykvist, one of Allen’s colorists, once said.

(This leaning towards orange as skin tone color is a new trend in color correction – a trend that many are upset over. Films are using orange and its complementary color teal to make the actors pop off the screen, until almost every person looks like a tanned Guido from the Jersey Shore (their words, not mine!). They are creating unrealistic images, and perceptive movie-goers are not happy with the colorists’ “laziness.” Found at: http://theabyssgazes.blogspot.com/2010/03/teal-and-orange-hollywood-please-stop.html)

In his article “Sunshine and Shadow,” Ford defines the cities cast in Film Noir movies as “having an uneasy ambience” with “tense, malevolent light” that is crucial to the mood of the stories (p 120). Dark, isolating cities reflect the main character’s internal confusion and despair. In Midnight in Paris, the lighting in Modern day Paris works exactly the same, except the opposite. Gil is an optimistic and romantic kind of guy, so the lighting of contemporary Paris is brighter and reflects his hopeful and boyish nature. Furthermore, Gil is a wanderer – a pedestrian in Paris – happy to walk the streets in the rain and soak in the city-scape. De Certau, in his article “Walking in the City,” considers walking through an urban system to be a kind of speech act with the city itself (p 97). Throughout the movie, Gil does seem to have a kind of dialogue with the streets and bars of Paris as he is transported through time. 

The 1920’s scenes, though exactly the same city, feel like an entirely different landscape – one of nostalgia and the past. Sure, the colors are still warm, but there is more deep red and brown. They are darkened like a faded photograph. By changing the color palette ever so slightly, Allen has transported Gil and the audience into a different era of Paris.

In this picture, Gil is talking to Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald – two lively icons of the Roaring Twenties. The Fitzgerald’s clothing, and that of all the other Parisians in the 1920’s, has less variety of colors and is our first clue that we are not in modern Paris. The bar they are in has been color corrected to look darker than any shot we are have seen thus far, and the lighting is made to be a bit softer. Allen has created an entirely new cultural era simply by changing a few colors, and the audience gladly follows the fantastical adventure.

In the same article, “Sunshine and Shadow,” Ford writes “that the role of cities in film gradually changed over time from serving as mere background scenery to acting as the equivalent of major characters” (p 119). This could not be more correct than in the case of Midnight in Paris. In this time-travelling film, the city can and should be able to change its appearance in a matter of seconds, as the changing color of the landscape reflects the era Gil is occupying. The city has opened its doors to Gil so that he can meet his literary idols, but also learn a valuable lesson. Interestingly, when other characters attempt to time-travel like Gil, they are foiled. First, the car to the past does not appear for Inez, presumably because she is a non-believer. And the snooping detective sent to follow Gil is trapped in 1400’s Paris. It seems that Paris has decided only Gil can safely tread the waters of time travel. In this way, the city-scape of Paris has become a character, alive and transforming.

 

(Please excuse the grainy quality of this picture. It was taken with my iPhone, and I was sitting very far away from the screen in the Norris McCormick auditorium…so this picture might actually also be illegal.)

This is the Belle Epoque era, as dreamed of by Adriana but now fully realized through Midnight in Paris’ magic. It is many shades darker than the 1920’s Parisian landscape, with almost no natural light. Everything has a muddy yellow and brown tinge, giving it a very old and far-away feeling. Many details of the room are lost in the shadows. Using color correction, Allen has constructed a landscape that he believes is the aesthetic of that time period. He has taken the “raw material” – the film – and corrected it to create the landscape that will orient the spectator to the 1890’s. As Andrews believes, “the landscape is what the viewer has…modified in accordance with certain conventional ideas” (p 4). I am told to imagine this is what a cabaret hall would look and feel like, simply from the dinghy lighting and deep reds and blacks Allen associates with the time.

Color correction is essential to Midnight in Paris because otherwise, Paris would look practically the same in every era, except for the clothing style. Color correction also makes the city of Paris a character that Gil adores and learns from as he roams the streets. We are not overwhelmed by the color correction as we are in some films today, but the subtle differences in color do help divide the city-scape into its appropriate time period.

Works Cited:

Andrews, Malcolm. “Land into Landscape.” Landscape and Western Art. Oxford University Press, 1999. 1-24 (ch 1).

de Certeau, Michel. “Walking in the City.” The Practice of Everyday Life. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998. 91-110.

Ford, Larry. “Sunshine and Shadow: Lighting and Color in the Depiction of Cities on Film,” Place, Power, Situation, and Spectacle: A Geography of Film. Eds. Stuart C. Aitken and Leo Zonn. Lanham Maryland and London: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 1994. 119-136 (chapter 6).

Hay, Carla. “Woody Allen Talks about romance and time travel in ‘Midnight in Paris,” Posted May 20, 2011. Found at: http://cdn2-b.examiner.com/celebrity-q-a-in-national/woody-allen-talks-about-romance-and-time-travel-midnight-paris.

Midnight in Paris (2011) Woody Allen, 94 min

Miro, Todd. “Teal and Orange - Hollywood, Please Stop the Madness,” Posted March 14, 2010. Found at: http://theabyssgazes.blogspot.com/2010/03/teal-and-orange-hollywood-please-stop.html 

O Brother Where Art Thou? (2000) Joel and Ethan Cohen, 106 min.

Seitz, Dan. “5 Annoying Trends That Make Every Movie Look the Same,” Posted August 5, 2010. Found at: http://www.cracked.com/article_18664_5-annoying-trend-that-make-every-movie-look-same.html

Painting with Pixels (O Brother Where Art Thou?) Uploaded by BullaBoy, 2010. Found at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=plaapd1uatg

Images from: http://happyotter666.blogspot.com/2012/02/midnight-in-paris-2011.html

(For some blatant color correcting by film genre, go to: http://www.cracked.com/article_18664_5-annoying-trends-that-make-every-movie-look-same.html)