I wanted my first-year film students to understand what happens to a story when actual human beings inhabit your characters, and the way they can inspire storytelling. And I wanted to teach them how to look at headshots and what you might be able to tell from a headshot. So for the past few years I’ve done a small experiment with them.Some troubling shit always occurs.
It works like this: I bring in my giant file of head shots, which include actors of all races, sizes, shapes, ages, and experience levels. Each student picks a head shot from the stack and gets a few minutes to sit with the person’s face and then make up a little story about them.
Namely, for white men, they have no trouble coming up with an entire history, job, role, genre, time, place, and costume. They will often identify him without prompting as “the main character.” The only exception? “He would play the gay guy.” For white women, they mostly do not come up with a job (even though it was specifically asked for), and they will identify her by her relationships. “She would play the mom/wife/love interest/best friend.” I’ve heard “She would play the slut” or “She would play the hot girl.” A lot more than once.
For nonwhite men, it can be equally depressing. “He’s in a buddy cop movie, but he’s not the main guy, he’s the partner.” “He’d play a terrorist.” “He’d play a drug dealer.” “A thug.” “A hustler.” “Homeless guy.” One Asian actor was promoted to “villain.”
For nonwhite women (grab onto something sturdy, like a big glass of strong liquor), sometimes they are “lucky” enough to be classified as the girlfriend/love interest/mom, but I have also heard things like “Well, she’d be in a romantic comedy, but as the friend, you know?” “Maid.” “Prostitute.” “Drug addict.”
I should point out that the responses are similar whether the group is all or mostly-white or extremely racially mixed, and all the groups I’ve tried this with have been about equally balanced between men and women, though individual responses vary. Women do a little better with women, and people of color do a little better with people of color, but female students sometimes forget to come up with a job for female actors and black male students sometimes tell the class that their black male actor wouldn’t be the main guy.
Once the students have made their pitches, we interrogate their opinions. “You seem really sure that he’s not the main character – why? What made you automatically say that?” “You said she was a mom. Was she born a mom, or did she maybe do something else with her life before her magic womb opened up and gave her an identity? Who is she as a person?” In the case of the “thug“, it turns out that the student was just reading off his film resume. This brilliant African American actor who regularly brings houses down doing Shakespeare on the stage and more than once made me weep at the beauty and subtlety of his performances, had a list of film credits that just said “Thug #4.” “Gang member.” “Muscle.” Because that’s the film work he can get. Because it puts food on his table.
So, the first time I did this exercise, I didn’t know that it would turn into a lesson on racism, sexism, and every other kind of -ism. I thought it was just about casting. But now I know that casting is never just about casting, and this day is a real teachable opportunity. Because if we do this right, we get to the really awkward silence, where the (now mortified) students try to sink into their chairs. Because, hey, most of them are proud Obama voters! They have been raised by feminist moms! They don’t want to be or see themselves as being racist or sexist. But their own racism and sexism is running amok in the room, and it’s awkward.
The Great Gatsby Official Trailer [HD]
Oh. Well that’s…not what I expected. Well, maybe a little bit. But oh. Interesting. Also fucking exciting.
Okay yeah I’m on board. EXCITED.
Huh! I’m intrigued? The intro music makes me think that Cobb is having fun playing Gatsby in someone’s dream (Carey Mulligan?) but. Looks cool.
Went to see Bully tonight. Highly recommended for everyone.*
Kelby Johnston is presented as a lesbian in the film, but he’s actually a trans man. It’s not clear to me how he identified at the time of the filming, but his girlfriend does call him “he” in the film and he was clearly binding. But his parents called him she and gay.
So I will try to give everyone the benefit of the doubt that maybe he wasn’t fully out as trans at the time of filming, but there’s no reason that this cannot be clarified now or that we should have to have all of these reviews that continue to refer to him as “she.” Let’s make an effort to not erase trans people.
*I know you’re not just allowed to like something on Tumblr without detailing all of its faults lest someone jump down your throat and accuse you of perpetuating oppression. So, that said, they could have included a Northern or urban school because one could conclude that city folk in the North don’t engage in this kind of behavior. And yes, it was really white. But I do think that being introduced to Ja’Meya Jackson in a juvenile detention facility is actually a powerful commentary on race and differential consequences. White bullies get away with much and a Black girl who fights back (albeit with a gun involved) gets sent to juvie. Oh, and they didn’t talk about systemic oppression and the fact that broader systems of oppression seemed to have been at play in most of the cases. But there was only so much time and I think choosing to make it more generic, focusing on the need to take action when someone is bullied and not just dismiss it as “kids will be kids,” is a perfectly valid and important message to focus on.
Very interesting review at the end here, but also the main point about Kelby is a good thing to know! Passing on.
Since someone who reblogged a clip noticed this—I thought it was interesting:
ComingSoon: One of the first things that struck me about the look of “The Hunger Games” is how you break the 180 degree rule in a very stylistic manner. That’s not an easy thing to pull off and it achieves a very distinct look in the final film. Can you talk about why you chose to take that approach?
Gary Ross: Thank you! You know, both my editors, Juliette Welfling and Stephen Mirrione, are tremendously comfortable with that. We also cut from people to the same people. There are like 300 jump cuts in the movie, too. You’re not supposed to cut from a person to themselves. We break a lot of rules, but it’s all very, very conscious and all within a style that we talked about in advance. It keeps the pace of the movie going and keeps the movie a little bit destabilized, as Katniss is. I love jumping the axis. I think that’s an absolute blast. But you have to do it in a way where you still maintain geography. It’s very astute of you to notice. We do that a lot, but it’s all very well thought-out.
There’s also some interesting stuff about the sound designer, who also did Drive.
I inserted a link since I wasn’t clear on what that was (until I looked at it and went “OH OF COURSE”). Is it weird that this makes me more excited to go see it? Visual disorientation is PERFECT for THG.
LGBTQ* Films History You Should Know
Can you name the first pro-lesbian film? Can you name the year?
Mädchen in Uniform (Girls in Uniform) released in Germany in 1931 was the first feature-length film to portray a pro-lesbian storyline and relationship. The film is based on the novel (and play) Gestern und heute by Christa Winsloe.
The story follow adoring Manuela, played by Hertha Thiele (left) who falls for her teacher Fräuline von Bernburg, played by Dorothea Weick (right).
(Note: Loving Annabelle (2006) has been compared to this film. The largest similarity is the teacher/student relationship.)
SWINTON AS A VAMPIRE! Yes.
Tom Hiddleston and Mia Wasikowska star in Jim Jarmusch’s Vampire Film ‘Only Lovers Left Alive’ set to shoot in Germany later this year.
The horror drama is described as an unusual love story between two vampires who have been in love for centuries. Also staring Tilda Swinton and John Hurt.
Okay, let’s recap:
2. Mia Wasikowska
4. Vampire romance of the probably not sparkly kind.
Yeah, okay, I can get behind this.
This sounds pretty awesome to be honest.
Remember that time Legs walked into your school even though she didn’t even go there, and then empowered this whole group of shat-upon misfits into creating a homoerotic fire-cult? That was awesome.
The idea, [Brian] Froud explains to Empire, was always that Sarah, reaching the age of sexual awakening, is a lustful fan of Bowie-like rock stars, and therefore creates Jareth in a Bowie-like image. “We’re not looking at reality, we’re inside this girl’s head”, explains the artist. “There are references to all sorts of things in his costume. There’s the danger of a leather boy in his leather jacket, which also has a reference to the armour of a certain type of German knight in it; there are references to Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights; and the tight trousers are a reference to ballet dancers. He’s an amalgam of the inner fantasies of this girl. Everyone always talks about Bowie’s perv pants, but there was a reason for it all! It has a surface that’s fairly light, but then every so often you go, ‘Oh, my God! How did we get away with that?!”
From “Dance Magic Dance: 25 Years of Labyrinth” (Empire Magazine, February 2012)
As per usual, the symbolism went way over my head. Who knew?
Also “Bowie’s perv pants”. Best way I’ve ever heard them described.
Wowww I missed a lot. I mean, I also started watching Labyrinth at age, oh, 5 or so, so…
The ballet really integrates into the storyline a lot, but somehow I never made it to the pants. I think probably because his leather jacket and glitter work so well with the tight pants that it doesn’t come off as ~separate~. Nor should it, really. I like listening to the thought process behind the whole thing though. I need to watch the movie again.
just watched ‘sea wall’
i was sitting there holding my breath the whole time. thoroughly amazing. i guessed a bit what would happen because of the preview, the wording of the pitch and nature of some of the reviews, but that didn’t stop it being moving (or unexpected when it did). i’m glad i bought it, because the more i talk about andrew scott’s performance, the more moving and affecting it is (as is the brilliant writing which i’m sure gets overlooked since it seems like a personal narrative) and i think i’ll probably have to watch it again.
the lack of setup, and straight up monologue style make it very personal but it’s also in things like nervous twitches, and eye contact juxtaposed with lack of it, body language. the nonlinear storytelling, the unbelievably real inner dialogues and morbid humor and interpretations of events.
it definitely made me want to see more of both andrew scott’s theatre acting (since i feel like this was probably more similar to theatre than traditional film) and simon stephens’ filmmaking/writing.
check it out here: http://seawallandrewscott.com
From the DVD supplement on editing with Baxter, Wall and Klyce:
Baxter: At the beginning, [Fincher] gives you sort of “big picture” direction. It’s like: This is what the scene should feel like; this is what the scene’s about. And then once you start cobbling it together and you have this thing that’s sort of working — like all the words are there… but the meaning hasn’t really been brought out of all the performances — then he starts to drill in and you start to look at the specifics.
Wall: No scene is ever really locked…. You start looking for words within takes, and then you’ll start, toward the end, looking for syllables within words.
Klyce: What’s challenging for us was that David might choose a take visually that he liked, but then he’d want to choose a different audio take and match that. And then within the audio take he’d want to choose different words that he felt were the best performances. So, a lot of the performances you hear… it’s the actors, but stitched together from different dialog readings.
This is intensely amazing; I had no idea this detailed work was done in the sound editing booth. (I got here from a amazing-to-read review of TGWTDT’s sound and cinematography.) It’s amazing and inspiring, especially since I used to love editing and wish I could get back to it sometimes.
There’s a HUGE critique of this kind of editing work, claiming that it delegitimizes acting performances, in the comments. I see the point, and I even agree to an extent but I think that the essence of it is wrong. It’s not that the actors aren’t good, or that they’re being made to be something that they aren’t: look at their other work for proof of that. It’s simply like viewing two different art forms. You can look at photomanipulations that are goddamn beautiful, works of art of their own that took hours of work and talent and there is no way that you can disclaim them as artwork. A one-take film might be closer to photography in comparison. However, to claim that this kind of thing would lead to wholesale creation of films from nothing is like saying that because someone is an expert photomanipulator they can be an expert oil painter. No; it’s simply not the same skill set. You are taking existing stock and montaging it, not making something.
I’m guessing the syllable thing mostly refers to being extremely particular about what it was that made reading A sound different than reading B and having to catch that exact moment. For all we know, it was mostly to clean up sequences where the mikes weren’t catching things as well as could be expected, or on the 90th take where Eisenberg was nailing an expression better but was tired and had lost a clipped-ness that Fincher had liked. Actors inspire directors. I highly doubt that David Fincher was sitting around going “Andrew is awesome and everything but in my head I really imagine the end of Eduardo’s sentences going down, not up, can we fix that in post editing?” Like - it sounds insane to say syllables were being edited, but if you describe video editing eyelidflutters are getting edited and that’s been happening for decades.