Tag Archives: article

A TEST OF CHARACTER: BRIEFLY EXPLORING CINEMATIC PERSONAS

A TEST OF CHARACTER: BRIEFLY EXPLORING CINEMATIC PERSONAS

“Just because you are a character, doesn’t mean you HAVE character.”

Winston Wolf – Pulp Fiction (1994)


What makes one film character more interesting than others? Obviously, the actor who plays them brings much to the role, but the writing, their story and personality are what draws us specifically to them. While film studios have utilised the star system and cast well regarded actors to sell their movies, the actual personas of the characters are just as, if not, more important.

Having strong characters to support the genre, concept and plot of their works is integral to writers, directors and actors. Thus, I’d like to explore some general character traits which help define a strong film character. I would like to consider the following: LIKEABILITY, EMPATHY, EXPERTISE, RESILIENCE, HUMOUR, COOLNESS and COMPLEXITY. There are obviously many other aspects to a character we could consider but I’ll stick to these for now.

To support this, I will list five film characters in each category. If I have missed anything glaring, then please feel free to shout out and comment.

*******CONTAINS FILM SPOILERS*******



LIKEABILITY

Does a character have to be likeable for you to root for them? Not at all! However, if they are a positive character it does help you to warm to their stories and emotions. That isn’t to say you cannot appreciate unlikeable characters, however, they are more complicated and I will come to those later.


FIVE LIKEABLE FILM CHARACTERS

  1. GEORGE BAILEY – IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946)
  2. WOODY – TOY STORY (1995)
  3. SAMWISE GAMJEE – LORD OF THE RINGS (2001)
  4. MARGE GUNDERSON – FARGO (1996)
  5. ATTICUS FINCH – TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (1962)


EMPATHY

Empathy and sympathy are two sides of the same coin, but can also contain variants. You can sympathise with a character but not necessarily empathise with their actions; and vice versa. For me, empathetic aspects are what I look for most in a character. They could still be pretty unlikeable, but if I feel drawn to their plight I will still connect with their story. Nonetheless, the characters I list here are both empathetic and mostly sympathetic too.


FIVE EMPATHETIC FILM CHARACTERS

  1. ROCKY BALBOA – ROCKY (1976)
  2. MARTY PILETTI – MARTY (1955)
  3. FORREST GUMP – FORREST GUMP (1994)
  4. CARRIE WHITE – CARRIE (1976)
  5. KING KONG – KING KONG (1933)


EXPERTISE

I have read a lot of screenwriting books and many of them say if you cannot make a character likeable or sympathetic, make them excel at something. Their expertise in their chosen field will draw you into their world, empathise and even admire their actions. If they are on the right side of the law that will obviously increase identification with such a character. Having said that there are many experts who are villains and I, like many, love a good nemesis too.


FIVE EXPERT FILM CHARACTERS

  1. TONY STARK – IRON MAN (2008)
  2. ETHAN HUNT – MISSION IMPOSSIBLE franchise.
  3. INDIANA JONES – RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981)
  4. HANNIBAL LECTER – SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991)
  5. DETECTIVE WILLIAM SOMERSET – SEVEN (1995)


RESILIENCE

Resilience or the overcoming of insurmountable odds is a sure-fire way of getting an audience on side. The fact a character refuses to give in despite overwhelming odds creates all manner of means with which to identify with a character. When watching a film we also want to see characters who mirror our own personalities. So, to watch characters who never give in is very appealing to me.


FIVE RESILIENT FILM CHARACTERS

  1. ELLEN RIPLEY – ALIEN (1979)
  2. SOLOMON NORTHUP – TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE (2013)
  3. CELIE JOHNSON – THE COLOR PURPLE (1985)
  4. ANDY DUFRESNE – THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION (1994)
  5. OH-DAE-SU – OLDBOY (2003)


HUMOUR

Obviously making an audience laugh is a fine way of making the one like a character. It’s also a good way to mask a characters’ agendas or be employed as a defence mechanism or weapon too. Funny characters are not just limited to comedy films as humour can enhance action, romantic and drama genres too.


FIVE HUMOROUS FILM CHARACTERS

  1. ACE VENTURA – ACE VENTURA: PET DETECTIVE (1994)
  2. PETER PARKER – SPIDERMAN (2002)
  3. JUNO MACGUFF – JUNO (2007)
  4. AXEL FOLEY – BEVERLEY HILLS COP (1984)
  5. RANDALL P. MCMURPHY – ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST (1975)


COOLNESS

Arguably the most difficult one to quantify and even write, because it could be the actor who the one bringing the cool to the role. However, I think there are great examples of characters who are written that way too. Usually, a cool character will be someone of few words or a reserved demeanour or simply designated cool by their skills, actions and even what they wear.

FIVE COOL FILM CHARACTERS

  1. VIRGIL HILTS – THE GREAT ESCAPE (1963)
  2. CLIFF BOOTH – ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD (2019)
  3. LEE – ENTER THE DRAGON (1973)
  4. HOLLY GOLIGHTLY – BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S (1961)
  5. MAX ROCKATANSKY – MAD MAX (1979)


COMPLEXITY

Complexity can be defined it many ways. It could be they are conflicted souls, searching for their place in the world. Or characters who are behaving badly while striving to be good. They could just be presenting a certain persona while hiding their real self. Or they could just be totally screwed and have mentally flipped. Complex characters are often unpredictable, but always compelling.


FIVE COMPLEX FILM CHARACTERS

  1. HOWARD BEALE – NETWORK (1976)
  2. MIRANDA PRIESTLY – THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA (2006)
  3. DARTH VADER – STAR WARS (1977)
  4. TRAVIS BICKLE – TAXI DRIVER (1976)
  5. JOHNNY FLETCHER – NAKED (1993)

TO BE CONTINUED. . .

There are so many wonderful characters in the world of cinema. Those mentioned above are just a few. The aspects I speak of too are just brief sketches really in such a fascinating area. Certain characters are more than simply likeable, empathetic, cool, complex and funny. Some of are a collision of all the facets I have noted above. Lastly, as well as different elements to their personas, characters can also be defined as an archetype or genre type. But, that is another story for another article.


Image result for old boy octopus

TELLING STORIES WITH STYLE: THE TROPES OF TARANTINO

TELLING STORIES WITH STYLE: THE TROPES OF TARANTINO

**CONTAINS MOVIE SPOILERS**

Quentin Tarantino is a powerhouse of cinema. He has proved consistently, since his debut film Reservoir Dogs (1992) right up to his most recent film The Hateful Eight (2015), a filmmaker of incredible invention. His works are well known for their references to pop culture, TV shows, music, fashion, and quoting in general from an array of cinematic influences. Indeed, his films are always firmly planted in genre, from: war films to Martial Arts to Western to crime and B-movie pictures. However, despite utilising other genres as a springboard for his writing, Tarantino instils his own style within his work. This creates a paradoxical form of originality, making him what I would call a postmodern auteur. The postmodern auteur not only quotes, borrows and steals from other influences but they are able to present them in a fashion so as to make them feel fresh and somehow original.

thC9Q8HYP4

It would be easy to write an essay of Tarantino-style bingo pointing out which films and genres he has used and stolen or quoted from, thus, as an alternative, I would like examine the narrative tropes he employs to tell his screen stories. Tarantino isn’t simply a cultural magpie throwing in arbitrary pop references but he has a magic box of narrative tricks gained from cinema, stage, literature and music. In this essay I would like to explore some of these methods and how he diverts from the linear narrative style represented by the classical Hollywood norm. I will also examine his work in general and scenes from his films to show how he has created some fascinating means of telling stories.

Tarantino differentiates his films from the classical narrative style in a legion of ways. Such tropes include: “Chapter Headings”; non-linear timelines; unreliable narrators; and what I have termed “the long game” scene or sequence. Along with his perpetual references to various genres, specific films and the use of soundtracks from other movies, such devices work brilliantly to propel the narratives of his films. It may seem quite a simplistic device to use, but “Chapter Headings” are a very effective story device.  It’s obvious to say Tarantino has borrowed from literature in order to structure his films this way, but the ‘Chapter’ introductions establish the nature of storytelling and literally inform the audience of a change in scene, time, place and character.

014-quentin-tarantino-theredlist.jpg

While classical Hollywood works to immerse us in the invisibility of filmmaking, Tarantino calls attention to the form with “Chapter Headings.” He does this not as a Brechtian distanciation device but rather as a means to include us in the story intellectually. The “Chapter Headings” also create humour, mystery and suspense. For example in Kill Bill: Volume 2, one chapter is called The Lonely Grave of Paula Schultz, which immediately conjures a mysterious and eerie story to come. It  turns out to be just that as Beatrice ends up buried alive as the segment further reveals more of her fascinating back-story. In an ingenious aside in Tarantino’s “Universe”, Paula Schultz is in fact the wife of King Schultz from his own Western Django Unchained (2012).

“Chapter Headings” also seek to cement and bind another of Tarantino’s tropes: the non-linear or fractured timeline structure. Here, fractured events are portrayed out of chronological order and do not follow the direct causality pattern of the events in the standard narrative model. Non-causality is as old as the hills with Homer’s The Iliad in the 8th century BC being one of the first examples of such a narrative device. Indeed, it’s easier to pick out a Tarantino film that doesn’t follow a non-linear structure than not. However, even his most linear film Jackie Brown (1997), which follows the eponymous protagonist’s attempts to stay out of jail and alive, finds the narrative splintering into a triptych of varying perspectives during the final act.

grave.jpg

Often non-linearity is used to show dreams, flashbacks, time-travel and explore splintered identities or point-of-view; nonetheless, the non-linear narratives of, for example, Reservoir Dogs (1992), Pulp Fiction (1994), Kill Bill (2003/2004) and Inglorious Basterds (2009) contain fractured timelines from mainly a creative and aesthetic choice. But they are not just style for style’s sake as they create a dazzling intellectual response and activate the viewer to piece the stories together like a jigsaw. Reservoir Dogs (1992) is especially ingenious in breaking the rules of genre as it’s one of the only films I’ve seen about a robbery which shows us everything aside from the actual crime. It is important, however, to say that while Tarantino knows the rules of linearity he chooses to break them, on the whole, to enhance the cinematic experience. Interestingly, in my opinion, his most satisfying films are those which are his most linear. Tony Scott proved this when he re-wrote and re-ordered Tarantino’s script of True Romance (1989), while Django Unchained (2012), aside from a few brief illusory dream sequences and momentary flashbacks, builds powerful emotions as Django hunts down his slave captors and wreaks revenge in order to be reunited with his wife.

A narrative off-shoot of fractured timelines is Tarantino’s use of stories within stories and unreliable narrators. The device of the unreliable narrator is another means in which Tarantino differentiates his narratives from classic storytelling. In 1981, William Riggan, created a study of various unreliable types, including: The Picaro, The Madman, The Clown, The Naif and The Liar. The Picaro will typically be a bragger, similar to the Liar but not as heinous. The Madman or Mad Woman, however, will be more sinister but The Clown and The Naif will either be playing for laughs or in the latter’s case, telling their story from a naïve position. Tarantino takes great joy with narrators, unreliable or otherwise, telling lies; something seen brilliantly in both Reservoir Dogs (1992) and his most recent film The Hateful Eight (2015).

reservoirdogs_mrorange

In Reservoir Dogs (1992), Tim Roth’s “Mr Orange” is revealed to be an undercover Police officer. “Orange’s” cop superior actively tells him to invent a story – because you “gotta have a story,” – to inveigle his way into the Joe Cabot’s gang. Thus, he invents a shaggy dog tale about the time he almost got bust by cops in a toilet. Tarantino presents a dishonest character delivering a story in a false reality providing both suspense and entertainment from a wholly unreliable basis. More ambiguous and vile is the story Samuel L. Jackson’s Major Marquis Warren tells to Bruce Dern’s irascible Confederate, General Sandy Smithers, in The Hateful Eight (2015). Sworn enemies while occupying opposing sides during the American Civil War, Warren, raises the dramatic stakes by regaling the story of how he strips, sexually humiliates and then kills Smithers’ own son. We flash-back to this incident and must consider if this is actually real or invented in order for Warren to provoke Smithers to grab a gun; thus allowing the Major to shoot him self-defence. These devices are tremendously effective narrative tools for creating shifting emotional responses to characters and again mark Tarantino’s work outside the classical norm.

The Hateful Eight (2015), given it is virtually set in one location, is very theatrical in feel. Marrying the influences of the Western genre in such television shows as Bonanza with Agatha Christie’s novel And Then There Were None (1939), the film also evokes principles of the “Shaggy Dog” story and Chekhov’s gun theory where every element of a narrative has cause effect irreplaceability. Consequently, the whole film feels like one long sequence of scenes and event with a massive and particularly violent payoff at the end. Indeed, this narrative conceit is a major styling of Tarantino. While most basic screenwriting books will tell you to get in and out of a scene as quickly as possible to move the narrative along, Tarantino disregards this rule throughout his oeuvre. This, I call the “Long Game” scene where lengthy dialogue gives way to a spectacular punchline at the end.

thN18GKOUU

A perfect example of the “Long Game” scene is the beginning of wartime epic, Inglourious Basterds (2009). We open with the “Chapter Heading”: Once Upon a Time in Nazi Occupied France and are introduced to Christophe Waltz’ SS Office Hans Landa. At first Landa is amiable and charming in his inquisition of a French farmer. Indeed the scene moves slowly and not without humour as the German takes out his over-sized pipe and drinks the farmer’s delicious milk. But, as this is Tarantino we know suspense is building to a slow but startling crescendo. When the reveal of the hidden Jewish family below the timbers is shown, we realise that Landa is not the affable German he acts but a devious murderer and the nemesis within the narrative. With machine guns firing and splintering wood in slow motion, the soundtrack swells operatically as the scene ends with Shosanna (Melanie Laurent) sprinting away, her family butchered by the Nazis. Such “Long Game” scenes are one of Tarantino’s memorable tropes and he achieves this through his brilliant handling of conflict, dialogue and expert use of cinematic form and content.

inglouriousbasterds

Overall, Tarantino has had an exceptional film career by using established means of telling stories, both inside and outside the rules of standard narratives. He uses devices like those discussed to invigorate and entertain the audience. There is also much pleasure to be had from experiencing the tropes such as: “Chapter Headings”; unreliable narrators; non-linear structure and the “Long Game” scenes. Thus, using theatrical, literary, cinematic and musical narrative influences Tarantino proves himself a master of storytelling as demonstrated in his impressive body of work.

GLOBAL MOURNING: DEATH AND THE ANTI-SOCIAL MEDIA by PAUL LAIGHT

GLOBAL MOURNING: DEATH AND THE (ANTI) SOCIAL MEDIA by PAUL LAIGHT

“All that live must die, passing through nature to eternity.”
William Shakespeare

Death: the final frontier.  The long anorexic finger of the reaper hangs over all of us and the annoying thing is we can do nothing about this. We are cold hard truth Cassandra.  We know we are going to die; we just don’t know when. The cruel irony of life is we don’t know why we are here or where we are going when it ends. Today alone – according to Google – the utter bastard that is death has taken approximately 150,000 people worldwide due to: illness, war, old age, murder, accidents, suicide, natural disaster and so on.  Of course we cannot grieve everyone but death is always magnified when we lose a famous or esteemed person. Recently we have lost musical genius David Bowie, acting gentleman Alan Rickman and hard-rocker Lemmy.

Of course these are sad losses to the art and entertainment worlds as all were esteemed entertainers who seemingly lived their lives to the full.  Bowie especially had a phenomenal talent for Phoenix-from-the-flames-like reinvention and for me remains one of the greatest songwriters this country has ever produced; while Rickman was a fine acting talent who always brought gravitas to every role. Lemmy was well, Lemmy: a hard-drinking-hard-playing-hard-drug-taking-mad-man!

21_bowie3_g_w

What I have observed is the various approaches to mourning across the world, media and more specifically the Internet, which generally explodes with a combination of emotions. More often than not humans also attack each other with Facebook and YouTube being especially brilliant for hilarious rows which quickly descend into personal attacks on parentage, religion, sexual preference; or whether someone’s Gran is a Nazi or not.

Ultimately, we all know death is a prick and people handle it in a variety of different ways, including:

  1. Overwhelming outpouring of emotion for the life lost.
  2. Praise and celebration of the artists’ work.
  3. Irreverent comments where people say “I didn’t know them so why be upset?”
  4. Aggressive comments which accuse people of “grief tourism”!
  5. Humorous retorts such as, “Bowie is dead at 69. Rickman is dead at 69. Donald Trump is NOT DEAD at 69!”
  6. Angry comments such as:   “I hate you God – you took Bowie and Rickman but Rupert Murdoch is still living and now getting married!”

Personally I prefer the silent contemplative response and the people who are overly negative and criticise people for “grief tourism” irk me a bit. Indeed, it especially annoys me when the whole “you did not know them — so why are you grieving” statements come out.  Well, I disagree with that because you do “know” them through their art and knowledge one has of their songs, acting, product and performances.

Surely, it’s instinctive to react to someone’s death?  Are people really using a famous persons’ death to gain attention for themselves?  Maybe they are; nothing surprises me with human beings. But to be honest, if they are holidaying in death and they’re not harming me then who cares!   Let’s face it even the “grief-trolls” or “haters” or whatever-you –want-to-call them are scared of death and their defensive, satirical or ironic approach is a valid way of dealing with death and grief. Therefore, I respect their reaction as that is how THEY are grieving.

social_icons

Ultimately, we’re all animals who get scared when illness and death comes a knocking and when a hero or an artist or someone famous dies we are all confronted with our OWN mortality and I suspect that is what we are most upset about.  I mean who actually thought David Bowie would die – the guy is immortal surely?!  But he has passed away and that is sad; but we should celebrate a wonderful life of creativity. We should also respect how a person chooses to grieve however over-the-top or emotional or irreverent or negative it may be. We are all human. Let’s just try and get on as we’re all in the same sinking boat. You win some – you lose some.  Nothing lasts forever; apart from death that is.