Neutral’s contributor base is largely made up of film scholars who are keen to share their passion and dedication to the film industry.

Star Wars and Cosplay  

By Elizabeth Allis | Film Studies BA (Hons)

Cosplay is for fans who go the extra step and want to “take an active role in imagining and connecting with that world” (Zubernis, 261). Cosplay is a combination of ‘costume’ and ‘play’, the costume element involves a fan of a text, dressing up as a character from it; these costumes range from being completely screen accurate to an original interpretation of the character. The play element involves cosplayers interacting with other fans, both in cosplay and not, as well as acting like the character; this most often happens at conventions and fan organised meet-ups. Unlike other costuming and performance, cosplay has a heavy dependence on the source text, meaning that cosplayers always have an interpretation of a character and the text itself. Though cosplay was already popular in Japan, it was recognised by the Western mainstream at the first major Star Trek convention in 1972, with fans dressing up as their favourite named characters, as well as groups of background characters wearing the classic red, gold or blue uniform. These conventions grew larger and with that growth came more official merchandise, as well as more opportunities for fans to interact and produce work such as fan magazines, unofficial merchandise, and increasingly elaborate cosplays.

Star Wars: A New Hope was released in 1977 and from then onwards the fandom grew, with the franchise developing a cult following. The Star Wars franchise currently has twelve films, eight spin-off series as well as many more in the works, all of which provide a diverse array of characters for fans to relate to, favour and explore their stories.

Star Wars is an ideal franchise for cosplayers as it has a heavy reliance on original costumes, these play an important role in characterization, culture and relationships. Costume also plays an important part in the plot, the reveal of the colour of a lightsaber blade can cause sudden action, a helmet being removed can cause a character to be ostracised from their clan, and a simple jacket can show a character rejecting the First Order’s control and joining the Rebellion. Star Wars’ costuming relies a lot on colour symbolism, mainly using the trope of “Bright and light for the heroes and dark for the villains” (Berry, 237) in reference to the Jedi and Sith. The trope is done clearly when comparing the costumes of good, Luke Skywalker in fig 1 (Mark Hamill) and evil, the Emperor in fig 2 (Ian McDiarmid) and is also done more subtly through Anakin’s costumes gradually getting darker as he falls further to the Dark Side.

The sense of community is strong within fandoms as fans all enjoy the same text, cosplayers form group cultures that are “identified through an adherence to an individual character or small cast of characters from an identifiable franchise” (Mountfort, 124). The 501st Legion is an international cosplay group founded in 1997. It has brought together hundreds of ‘bad guy’ cosplayers across the world and is continuously accepting new members. The 501st also helps members and non-members to create screen accurate cosplays using their extensive costume reference library and support groups, ‘Detachments’, to help with specific character groups. The access to advice and assistance that the 501st Legion provides opens the door to the cosplay world for those who are new to the practice, allowing them to join another community within the fandom they’re already part of. Cosplay allows for fans to easily recognise each other through a shared interest, as well as allowing the creators of the original text to recognise the dedication that their fanbase has, as Bennett states, “fan communities and their labour are increasingly seen as valuable to producers” (209) as entertainment companies build relationships with the communities. The Mandalorian’s (2019) creator, Jon Favreau and director, Dave Filoni recognised the dedication of the 501st Legion and brought them in as extras on the show, allowing them to show off their costumes, act like Stormtroopers, and interact with the actors from the favourite media.

The 501st Legion as well as other Star Wars cosplay groups, are invited to Star Wars premiers, another appreciation of the hard work and dedication from the creators as well as the fans who attend the premier.

The internet has acted as a unifier. Social media has allowed cosplayers to share their costumes, connect with other cosplayers and form groups across the world. Online video sharing has allowed for cosplayers to show how well they can act like their chosen character as well as share building and crafting tutorials, helping others with their cosplays.

Disney’s Star Wars Celebration is a yearly convention centred around celebrating Star Wars, with immersive exhibits, celebrity guests and a cosplay competition. Hundreds compete in the competition hoping to win the title of ‘Most elaborate’, the overall appearance and quality of the costume’s construction, or ‘best likeness’, how well cosplayers can imitate the character. These titles show that the fans and the creators value both the ‘cos’ and ‘play’ of cosplay, dedication to the craft and the cosplayer’s performance. Brad Hartsock’s cosplay, 2017’s winner of most elaborate and best overall cosplay, demonstrates the creativity and the freedom from the source text that cosplay allows, as his ‘Crystal Trooper’ seen in fig 4 isn’t screen accurate.

The more recent Star Wars instalments have featured a more diverse cast of female characters, as well as a shift in costume design accentuating the distinction between male and female characters in a non-sexualised way. The Star Wars fandom has developed a bad reputation of not accepting women into the fandom. By accentuating the difference in gendered costume design, strong female characters become more recognisable on-screen, allowing female fans to relate to and cosplay female characters who aren’t sexualised. Female Mandalorians have been given practical armour similar yet different to male Mandalorians (fig 5), Rebels’ (dir. Dave Filoni, 2014) Hera Syndulla’s costume design has fought the sexualisation of Twi’leks as she wears a flight suit (fig 6), her race’s biological female traits display her gender. The shift towards practicality and desexualisation of female characters has allowed female cosplayers to join a community that is changing in the same way.

Members of the 501st Legion have branched out and founded the Republic Service Organization (RSO) in 2007, a Star Wars cosplay group specifically for women. Jennifer LaFortune, one of the founders, found it “difficult to find a female costume that wasn’t highly sexualized”, so the RSO cosplays as 1940s pin-up versions of characters. This opened the door for female cosplayers as it means they aren’t confined to just a metal bikini or armour, the RSO allows for more freedom of expression as well as being more financially accessible, as creating a pin-up costume costs significantly less than creating a screen accurate costume.

Cosplayers can go even further in how much they want to connect and interact with the world of Star Wars by creating and cosplaying their own characters. “Creative adaptations from the story world are fairly common in cosplay” (Mountfort, 80), and Star Wars’ diverse planets, races, genders, religions and clans have created the opportunity for fans to develop their own unique characters with unique costumes. The ‘creative adaptations’ in cosplay link strongly to the various types of fanfiction written about and around Star Wars. Cosplayers can create costumes around slight alterations of the text, much like how fanfiction writers write whole stories around their alterations. These adaptions and alterations of the text often seem like fan-made spin-offs, this idea is suited to the Star Wars franchise as it is suited to spin-offs having many early and recent series such as Ewok’s and the Mandalorian.

The Mandalorians used to just be referred to as bounty hunters in the original trilogy, but new series have shown audiences that there is a religion and culture surrounding them, allowing cosplayers to cosplay as different types, roles and sects of Mandalorians. Disney’s seemingly continuous creation of new Star Wars content allows this same development for other worlds, races and characters, which in turn allows cosplayers to branch out even more.  

The constant reimagining of Star Wars media means that the development and creation of cosplay, as well as cosplay performance, shows no sign of stopping.

The Beauty in the Bleak -

A discussion regarding Andrei Tarkovsky as a cult auteur director

By Liam Durbin | Film Studies BA (Hons)

Amongst names of legendary directors, Andrei Tarkovsky is not an uncommon one. Garnering praise such as “The Greatest” from Bergman and “Overwhelming and astounding” from Kurosawa, Tarkovsky is recognised as a hugely influential creative force by even his most peers. With his transnational acclaim arising from the Khrushchev thaw, Tarkovsky’s visually distinct films and the insurmountable dense philosophical dialogue woven within them coalesces into a poetic form of cinema with the makings for cult acclaim. For Soviet cinema, the thaw period after Khrushchev’s inception as the first secretary of the communist party marked a radical shift. Divorcing, if not entirely, the federal state film studios from their role of simple propaganda outlets, the landscape of Soviet films benefited greatly, according to Oukaderova, from the “process of political and cultural liberalisation following Joseph Stalin’s death”. Tarkovsky sawa this change and ran with it. Described by Bird as both “inconvenient for the system” and “the greatest international [Russian film] star” at the time, Tarkovsky’s creative visions in the 60’s and 70’s helped to establish Russia’s place on the world stage of cinema, notably with Ivan’s Childhood winning a Golden Lion at the 23rd Venice Film festival. However, his first “fundamentally Soviet” film that “could not be made anywhere but [the USSR]” was his 1972 film Solaris. Born from Tarkovsky’s desire to express the dichotomous struggle and the greatness of the human spirit, it also reflects a major contestation from the Soviet Union against the western domination of film. With Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey releasing just months before production began, Tarkovsky was in direct opposition to the film. Having an entirely negative response to the film, he decreed it “a spectral sterile atmosphere” and “a lifeless schema with only pretensions to truth”. A direct contrast to Tarkovsky’s style of poetic cinema, Space Odyssey’s technical mastery stands as a mirror against Solaris’ philosophical depth. This alternate sci-fi, in tandem with Tarkovsky’s nationality, made him a transnational pioneer as well as an off-beat attraction to audiences outside soviet Russia. Solaris was released to great acclaim, winning the Cannes Film Festivals penultimate award. However, it had its detractors; despite being heralded as “The Soviet 2001”, Stanislaw Lem, the author of Solaris’ source text, threatened withdrawal of approval. Even Tarkovsky considered the film his weakest. Regardless, Solaris set the course for Tarkovsky’s transnational cult auteur status, with the philosophical elements fully flourishing in his next feature film, Mirror in 1975. A dense, semi-biographical journey, Mirror is a film almost “too personal in telling” to the point of him losing friends over its candid nature, according to Strick. The film reveals an awful lot about Tarkovsky as an individual, but specifically speaks as much to his process and style as a director. In an interview, Tarkovsky said: “The artist lives off his childhood like a parasite.” Be it the natural elements or the focus on childhood and family, much if not all of Mirror’s themes and motifs stem from his own memories in some capacity. This insurmountably personal meaning and the distinct ways they are presented helped to create a lasting cult interest not only in its arguable inaccessibility within a mainstream market. It also allows for incredibly distinct personal interpretations through repeat viewings. With the birth of the consumer VHS a year after Mirror’s release, access to repeat viewings allowed fans to “approach the film in a condition that enables its meaning to remain”, generating what Bould refers to as “an endless, shifting engagement”.

A further philosophical theme within Tarkovsky’s work is an anti-war sentiment – much to the chagrin of the Soviet state he created films under. Stating that his intent with his first film was to convey “all [his] hatred of war”, it is a belief that he conveys more than once – most notably in his final work, The Sacrifice, made in 1986. With the obvious poignancy of a man pleading with God to prevent nuclear annihilation, Tarkovsky’s poetic manifestation of the looming threat of the Cold-War provided an artistic Russian perspective that further solidified his place as a transnational, alternative voice and cult figure.

Throughout his filmography, however, the most notable and consistent factor is Tarkovsky’s style as a filmmaker – with his seminal 1980 film Stalker being the most poignant example. Not initially received well, it has since become commonly regarded as an incredibly important work, garnering such praise as “synonymous both with cinema's claims to high art and a test of the viewer's ability to appreciate it”, as written in The Guardian. The most recognisably stunning feature of Tarkovsky’s is the long shot, with many shots holding a still or slow-moving view of the scene for long periods. These shots become an image of a space in time that the viewer is drawn into, “which slips from the viewer’s grasp even as it satisfies the desire for more” (Bird). They also culminate in titanic run times for the period, with Stalker clocking at two hours forty-three minutes, further enabling the perceived inaccessibility that many high art cult films maintain. However, these long shots and runtimes reflect Tarkovsky’s philosophy as an individual. He frequently writes on nostalgia, even exploring the concept in his 1983 film Nostalghia. He describes the phenomena as “Longing for a space of time that has passed in vain”, which translates well into his longshots, as his camerawork incessantly ponders scenes, as discussed prior, at least in some way constructed from his past.

There is also frequent, deliberate framing utilised alongside the holding shots. A specific example is Tarkovsky’s use of doorways through Stalker to frame a scene. The viewer is forced to peer through an open door into a scene framed by derelict whitespace. This makes the camera an almost impartial observer, but it also coalesces with the long shots to create the sense of a polaroid. Tarkovsky stated how “It is impossible to photograph reality; you can only create its image”, which is reflected within his film practices. Viewing the film through a constructed polaroid, a photographed and copied view of something, holds true of his desire to create an image of reality as close as the medium allows. These techniques and their deeper implications result in a highly authorly text, creating an inaccessibility that pushes it far from the mainstream, yet creating a unique viewing experience.

Tarkovsky remains a singularly unique figure within film. His transnational appeal as a Cold-War, soviet-era filmmaker, the deeply personal and near impenetrable emotions he captures on screen,

and his uncompromising style of poetic cinema establishes his works as far removed from mainstream and steeped in long lasting poetic beauty.

Neutral Magazine + Film

Lust for life: The Beautiful Soundtrack of Trainspotting

By By Hollie Whittle | Film Studies and English Literature BA (Hons)

It can be widely agreed that music in cinema is what enhances the emotion and emphasises the aesthetic of a film, and Danny Boyle's 1995 cult classic Trainspotting is no stranger to that. It undoubtedly has an iconic cult soundtrack, providing a mix of Britpop, Techno-dance, and even 1970s counterculture and 80’s tracks by artists such as Blur, Iggy Pop, Pulp, Elastica, Primal Scream, Lou Reed, New Order and Heaven 17. When I speak to people who grew up around the time of the film's release (my own family included), the impact of Trainspotting really had created a cultural reset, giving a raw and realistic view of British culture and the true effects of drug abuse. Thanks to the soundtrack, many artists who were included in the track had also gained extra recognition not just for their music, but for the meanings of the songs themselves which avoid romanticisation.

The soundtrack perfectly blends with the film's aesthetic of bright and vibrant colours such as orange red and green, contrasting with its dark and triggering scenes. The vast majority of Trainspotting’s soundtrack is also a mis-match; the upbeat and chaotic sound opposes its depressing and rather upsetting lyrics, almost sounding like a cry for help. A major highlight of this was the film's opening on Renton’s ‘Choose Life’ monologue, in which Iggy Pops 1977 hit single ‘Lust For Life’ is played in the background. Despite Pop talking about his own struggles with quitting “liquor and drugs” , the song's lyrics can easily be related to Renton’s monologue of wanting to “choose life”, and the overall story of him trying to become clean and enter back into society with an ordinary, peaceful life. However, Boyle made an interesting contrast. Rentons speech at the beginning of the film is more of a self-awareness of the life that he should be living; “Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a f***ing big television”, but instead the screen shows him doing the complete opposite such as getting high and running away from the police. After listing all the choices in life that we as people normally choose to do, he immediately and honestly says “But why would I want to do a thing like that? I chose not to choose life. I chose something else. And the reasons? There are no reasons. Who needs reasons when you've got heroin?”. The beauty of Trainspotting’s introduction was not to glamourise the life of a drug addict, but to show the self awareness and honesty of how a drug addict can forget about all the responsibilities that society throws at them thanks to drugs, which adds enormous insight into the many reasons why people fall into addiction. This is why the hypnotic soundtrack and its lyrics are awfully important to the film's storyline and its authenticity, impacting audiences everywhere.

As far as the song is concerned, Pop’s repetitive lyrics “no more beating my brains with the liquor and drugs” and “I’ve got a lust for life” mirrors the ending of the film as Renton leaves Begbie, Sick Boy and Spud to start his new life with £12,000. However, Boyle decided not to replay the song. Instead, Born Slippy by Underworld is featured on the films close. As many other people had assumed when hearing about the film, Underworld had believed the same and didn’t want their song to be involved in a glorified cinematic piece about drugs and alcohol, which Born Slippy had already been idolised for unintentionally. However, Boyles persuaded them to visit the edit suite to show them his intention. As Karl Hyde of Underworld explained to Q Magazine; “The film redressed the balance, gave the song resonance.”

As a result, Born Slippy was a perfect song choice for the film's ending scene, with Renton coming to terms with himself and that he is moving on from the life that he is “choosing life”.

There is no sweeter feeling than nostalgia, which is why the relevance of British artists of the 90’s should also be noted in Trainspotting. The British rock band Blur were at the peak of their career success around the same time as Trainspotting, and the inclusion of British icons in the soundtrack creates a target aimed towards British audiences, especially those who grew up around the time period of Blur and Trainspotting’s release. The nostalgic elements to the film and its soundtrack over time has helped develop its cult appeal, and also means that the film’s resonance and adoration has passed down through generations.

Addiction isn’t easy, nor should it be romanticised. Boyle puts the consequences and struggles of drug use into perspective, through vision and sound, which creates a heart-wrenching and eye-opening piece of cinema. Renton’s journey to recovery is constantly up and down, mentally, emotionally and physically, dealing with feelings of guilt, pain, shame, paranoia and the complete loss of self control. However, one thing that is appreciated of Renton is his self-awareness and his honesty, which is something that many people, especially if they have done terrible things, cannot bring themselves to be.  

If anything, that may have been his saving grace, and what we can learn from this as viewers is to, in fact, choose life.

Neutral Magazine + Film

Spielberg’s West Side Story in the Open Air

By George Norman | Film Studies BA (Hons)

What better chance is there to kill two birds with one stone when it comes to first time cinematic experiences than a seemingly hot summer’s night in the serene setting of York museum gardens across from the abbey. On this occasion, it was the shared experience of an outdoor screening and the viewing of Spielberg’s 2021 adaptation of West Side Story. However problems arose during the experience for this viewer and film fan.

In no part was there a lack of effort lacking by the organisers of the event. The touring group Outdoor Cinema, as everything was catered for, but the logistics of sitting still outside in for a film with an extended runtime, with an extra hour and a half commencement past the advertised arrival time results in a very uncomfortable viewing experience. Technically, the screening also falls apart particularly with the projection, even at half 11 and therefore darkest point of the evening, with the screen seemed to have a ‘motion smoothing’ effect running with too high contrast and too low brightness completely shattering one of the main attractions in Janusz Kamiński’s stunning cinematography. Audibly too there was always going to be no comparison to being in a surround sound cinema, given the physics of sound waves and open air, but to have only two small speakers at the side of the screen is always going to be less than optimal, but it completely detracted from the musical numbers to not have the true scale demonstrated.

Concerning the film, Spielberg’s established quality as a director is present in the translation of the kinetic energy of stage to the big screen, with each musical number feeling grandiose and wholeheartedly cinematic but the problem lies arguably not with the visual nature but either the source material itself or its casting. In order for the narrative to work, it must have an emotional core but when that necessary duty lands on the shoulders of Ansel Elgort and Rachel Ziegler it is never going to achieve its full potential. Ziegler does demonstrate star power, especially in musical numbers, but when faced with Elgort, who is still yet to exhibit on screen chemistry with any co-star, it would take a master performer in order to elicit any signifier of a connection. The central dynamic is also constrained by the abrupt nature of the narrative, taking place over 24 hours, the reality of the situation of that level of such a severe emotional connection being formed that quickly truly requires careful consideration into portraying it as believable which is where the importance of the lacking chemistry is vital. Due to this glaring fault, all the supporting cast seem infinitely more interesting in their roles, a cardinal sin for a film with such a major time investment, as they are not constrained to such a manufactured plot line that only seems to be included in the story by original writer Arthur Laurents for it to become a reimagining of Romeo and Juliet.

Inconsequential is the best word to describe the film then as there is no backbone to the cinematic scope of Spielberg’s eye due to a lack of any positive changes as an adaptation. As an experience then, unfortunately it fell completely short despite a considerable anticipation.  

The end result, and the conflict between the technical, logical and content issues added to an ultimately disappointing experience.

Neutral Magazine + Film

Chungking Express and the journey towards love and companionship

By Dan Rawcliffe | Film Studies BA (Hons)

WIn Wong Kar Wai’s 1994 romance, both souls lost in the Chungking Mansions seem to be walking the journey of life on completely different paths, yet both Officer 663 and Faye have simultaneously got their foot stuck in a purgatorial hole upon their life’s journey. Love’s key purpose in ‘Chungking Express’ is to help our characters escape this hole: Officer 663 mourns a crushed relationship, stuck in a loneliness which plagues the personified objects of his apartment, “everything in the apartment was lonely when she left”. It is this apartment which is the catalyst for both his and Faye’s romance, but also their rebirth. As Faye sneaks in and tenders the apartment, both parties benefit - she escapes her purgatorial life in a menial job, blasting music too loud so “I don’t have to think” about the mundane grease of her everyday life: the apartment hints at her taste for mischievous freedom, eluding work to renovate without permission of the owner. She sees it as her own land in her utopian California, and this caring new presence therefore consoles the apartment itself, arguably curing Officer 663’s heart of past romantic grief. We see the denouement of our characters’ escape when both find refuge in the apartment together. The film is a rumination on loneliness and redemption through gesture, unspoken tenderness and the hope for a more soulful life of interconnectedness, where we eventually see characters who have remained for the most part separate unite in the final act.  

Wong Kar Wai portrays a soulful tale of both characters using their disquieted love to pull each other out of hole of humanistic purgatory, and move on with their lives.

Neutral Magazine + Film

Portrait of a Lady on Fire and the fragility of love.

By Dan Rawcliffe | Film Studies BA (Hons)

Céline Sciamma’s 2019 period piece sets the secret relationship of two women against the motif of ephemerality. The film portrays love in the form of a quick dose of delight, with a brutal deadline gnawing away at their time together, as Heloise will be forced to Milan for an arranged marriage. The initial pulses of connection, through searching eyes rather than imposing words, serve as “fleeting moments that lack truth” in which a romance is planted in the crannies of their conversations, and desperately watered as Marriane butchers her painting and buys them five more days together. Sciamma displays Heloise’s time with Marriane to be an escape from the walls of reality which are closing in on her life; her sister’s suicide, a fallen relationship with her mother and an unwanted, loveless marriage. However, although she escapes the present plight, both women are unable to escape the wolf of time as it chases them throughout the film. It is a film in which both love and time are dangerous drugs: love’s euphoria hooks them to each other, then time’s hand breaks them apart and leaves them with nothing but memories. With the perilous final shot of Heloise’s sob, years later showing her still rehabilitating from the drug that was her love with Marriane, offers despair at its untapped potential. This scene reflects the evidence of what Marriane describes as “not the lover’s choice, but the poets”, as in parallel to the Greek mythology of Eurydice struck down to hell for one last look at her lover; an eternal love is surrendered in exchange for the memory of a gloriously singular experience. With an emphasis on the fleeting nature of time, Sciamma unearths the fragility of love through film, and yet as the final moments hover over Heloise’s face stained with past romance, our director’s key message is that love will always prevail, as Marriane declares  

- “Do not regret, remember.”

Neutral Magazine + Film

Blade Runner: A Summer Screening in York Museum Gardens

By Annie Denton | Film Studies BA (Hons)

Against the sublime backdrop of St Mary’s Abbey ruins, Picture House Cinema had set up their outdoor screening of the final cut of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. The sun set slowly over the ancient walls, dappling light over the trees and ruins. Upon entry, we were provided with blankets (sponsored by Kia) and could select a spot to watch the film, either on the deck chairs or on the grass. Of course, we had to get wine and popcorn and we set up a space on the grass. The cult classic was the first film of three to air that weekend; the other two included Stephen Spielberg’s West Side Story (2021) and the hit Disney film Encanto (2021). Picture House clearly selected their films to reach a wide selection of movie-goers of all ages and interests.

The film started just before the sun had fully set, the first few minutes created a great anticipation for when the darkness allowed the picture to be fully seen. During this time, the light rain and moody skies over the old abbey set a scene which can only be described as the perfect backdrop for the film. The rain held off for the rest of the time, and further blankets were provided from the City Screen team to make sure of everyone’s comfort. The soundscape in the quietest part of York city centre was ideal, capturing our audio-imaginations in the synth-based music.

Further, watching Rutger Hauer’s ‘Tears in Rain’ performance seconds before Roy dies amongst a crowd of people outside, under the night sky, was a unique moment of tranquillity. The echo of the outside atmosphere while witnessing the death of Pris and her dying screams were especially chilling. The whole experience seemed to bring back a sense of nostalgia and element of togetherness while viewing a film, and which seems to have been lost in recent years. The pandemic saw a rise in popularity of the classic American experience of the drive-in movie, due to the natural social distancing and outdoor setting. Yet, I hope to see a continuation of experiences such as these to grace our summers, with a sense of excitement over a cult-classic or family film.  

Blade Runner continues to be a fan-favourite; the first generation to see Ridley Scott’s classic in cinema can share that encounter with the new generation.

Neutral Magazine + Film


By Chloe Farminer | Film Studies BA (Hons)

Ari Aster’s 2019 Midsommar exhibits a wide array of attributes that appeal to a cult audience. The film concerns a group of Americans who become trapped in a cult in Sweden and is a nightmare vision of a clash of cultures. While many techniques are based on the existing tropes of horror and more specifically folk horror, Aster also utilizes subversion of these genre stereotypes and techniques drawn from other genres. He uses these to create a film that unsettles its audience and portrays itself as the epitome of cults in cult cinema. Some of the techniques used include mise-en-scene and foreshadowing which are utilized to draw in a more dedicated audience leading to rewatching, identification with characters, or lack thereof, and utilizing the known history of cults in cult cinema.

The way in which we see Dani (Florence Pugh) solidifies our identification with her. Dani is always framed centrally and we follow the narrative through her reactions. When she is under the effects of hallucinogens, we are too, for example seeing the flowers on her crown and chair breathe in time with her. The camera always follows Dani, even as she isolates herself from the others in the group while having a panic attack. During her ‘bad trip’ when they first arrive in Härga, we see the world through her eyes, grass growing through her hand, and seeing her recently passed sister behind her in the mirror. By doing this, not only do the viewers connect with Dani as a character, but it also makes them feel as alienated by the rest of the group as she does, therefore reveling at the end of the film when the more ‘crass’ characters are punished, much like the post 9/11 splatter film ‘torture porn’ movement which punished ‘immoral’ characters to the satisfaction of viewers.

Aster also always shows us Dani’s reactions first and foremost, for example, after the first jump at the Ättestupa ritual, the camera cuts to Dani’s reaction, choosing to focus more on her in that scene than on the people who have just died. Another way in which Aster presents Dani as a relatable character is through her mental health. As mentioned before Dani frequently has panic attacks throughout the film. A record number of young people have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, furthering the identification many feel with the character and tying into the outsider perspective that cult cinema offers.

The themes seen in cults within cinema are reflective of the values of cult cinema communities. Many cults are seen as a place where people who have no family can go to find a new one, as seen with Dani at the beginning of the film, and the same goes for cult cinema circles. Dani’s desire to be a part of a community mirrors the main driving force in folk horror and cult cinema itself which depict, in the words of Scovell, ‘the longing for an apparently simpler, more communal period.’ Cult cinema itself brings this to many people - repeat viewings, festivals, and paraphernalia are all commonplace to cult cinema and have a ritualistic undertone. Plate posits that both cinema and religion recreate the world through ritual, utilizing techniques of framing, focusing the participant’s attention in ways that invite them into their world.

In the same way that Dani gains a never-ending family in the cult ‘Harga’ - when one person dies another is born - those who join in cult cinema gain a neverending family in that someone will always have a connection to them through the interest they share, the relationship becoming paracinematic and acceptance being offered no matter gender, sexuality, race, etc.

Aster dehumanizes the ‘unlikeable’ characters in his film beyond recognition and much more than in many films - the Americans become objects to be used. For example, when Simon (Archie Madekwe), a British visitor’s, fate is revealed to the viewers. He is hung from a chicken coop roof with his lungs splayed out like wings and decorated with flowers. From his small movements, we can tell he is still alive, or more aptly in a place between life and death, living and object, a subject or state that many films avoid. Displayed like this, Simon has been stored like a parade float until it is time for him to play his part in the death pageant. In the climax of the film, the visitors are arranged for the final ritual like decorations, further dehumanizing them, but, with the inclusion of two living members of the Harga themselves, reiterating the Harga’s faith in death and how close the bridge between the living and the objectified is in their culture. Cult cinema is focused on transgressiveness, seeing that orthodox cultural, moral, and artistic boundaries are challenged by the representation of unconventional behavior and the use of experimental forms, which is exactly what Aster is showing here. Much extreme cinema fits into the cult demographic as it is shocking and elicits a strong response from the audience, and this is certainly the case here.

This specific scene and its formation also lend themselves to a different reading of the film, one that sees the film as a comedy rather than a horror. Spadoni concludes that the final scene is staged like a Martha Stewart Living magazine spread on how to fabulously decorate your home just in time for autumn (even this room is strewn with the dead and dying). The barn itself is decorated with soft browns and warm oranges, the people placed with care like ornaments. This is not the only scene in which this darkly comedic element can be seen and the whole film is able to be read as a clash of cultures comedy, highlighting each group’s stereotypes to laughable effect. Aster leans into the absurdism of the situation, by the end having Christian, essentially the male antagonist, stuffed into a hollowed-out bear and burned alive to the sound of rapturous celebration from the cult members outside. The scene has an almost parade or carnival-like quality to it, further solidified by the float-like appearance of Simon conveying the Harga’s dehumanization of their guests. This different reading of the film again leads to multiple watches and analyses of the scenes to see any more comedic undertones or absurd scenes they missed previously. However, it also led to some criticism from film reviewers, another aspect that can raise a film’s cult status, with Anderson stating that ‘His painstakingly crafted aura of growing unease suddenly dissolves into absurdity.’

Much of the mise-en-scene is also used to make the Harga more terrifying while keeping the blinding daylight of Swedish Midsommar. Daylight horror is by no means a new concept, seen earlier in The Wicker Man in 1973 and also Texas Chainsaw Massacre in 1974, but Midsommar arguably takes it to a new level of intensity. By using the Swedish festival of Midsommar, the scenery remains light almost 24 hours a day, the Ättestupa scene even being colour corrected to seem more blinding. While this use of light can be used to make them seem less menacing or brutal by blinding the viewer to the severity of their actions, it also makes the colony a mixture of the bucolic and sterile. Aster also uses the cult’s recreational use of hallucinogens to make everything our characters see untrustworthy and instill a feeling of eerie uncertainty.

Spandoni describes Midsommar as a film that loads narratively significant details into its backgrounds. A prime example of when the film explicitly tells us that what may seem like idle set-dressing is actually something to pay attention to is a scene early on in the film when the party have just arrived at the commune - a bear in a cage comes into view and one of the characters says ‘So are we just going to ignore the bear?’ This, combined with later foreshadowing of the bear’s importance including the tapestries and paintings that are scattered around the Harga’s commune, some of which Christian (Jack Reynor) has to face directly at multiple points, indicates to the viewers the importance of the animal, and therefore the importance of paying attention to the background of the scenes and encouraging the replay culture that surrounds cult films. In the words of Berridge, ‘Nothing is presented without the potential for misunderstanding or manipulation.’

It is not surprising that films containing cults are prevalent in cult cinema. Folk horror and the bucolic gothic are styles of filmmaking that frequently appear in cult cinema and very often contain cults. The frequency of these themes is exacerbated by the importance of an outsider’s perspective in cult cinema.  

Aster’s use of camera manipulation and intricate details in the set creates many complex readings of the film that make themselves clearer on repeat viewing, encouraging the ritualistic re-watching of films that is a staple of cult cinema and Midsommar typifies this.

He’s Right Behind You 

By Eloise Stone | Film Studies BA (Hons)

Despite acting as a zeitgeist of 70s cinema, slashers (or rather the popularity they once held) became almost obsolete running into the late 80s and early nineties. The abundance was there, there’s no doubting that, but there was a sincere lack of demand to match. The release of ‘Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter’, with ‘Friday the 13th: A New Beginning’ already in the works rendered once obsessed fans uninterested. There were no stakes, the genre had become formulaic, the final girl left conclusive. A closing breath passing Jason’s lips, as his last life left his body, resting forever in Hell. Or Manhattan.

Or wherever it is the last one was set.

Not one to let the certainty of death prevail, however, slasher bit back – and with the 1996 release of Wes Craven’s ‘Scream’, found itself rising yet again in reviews and popularity. Only this time, it was different. That ‘very simple formula’ set in stone by those before was broken, flipped on its head by meta jokes, chronic self-awareness, and characters who actually felt like real people – as opposed to walking cliches masquerading as human. The constant references to past classics added a sense of relatability, perhaps even comfort – this only intensified by the familiar clichés either mocked or built upon throughout the film. Additionally, the ‘whodunnit’ aspect added a newer, fresher layer to an essentially overdone concept, twisting convention even more with the revelation that the single killer seen throughout the film is actually two. It was this inventive vigor that allowed ‘Scream’ to forge through into the new millennium, with the release of two sequels just four years after the first film’s debut. It was around then, however that excitement began to die down and, reminiscent of that early 90s lull, slashers lost the interest of the public for a second time. And so one again, slashers became (in terms of mainstream popularity) a thing of the past. Synonymous then with low budget B-movies and sexually charged, Paris Hilton cameoing gorefests. The Wayan brothers’ ‘Scary Movie’ parody series branding them the butt of the joke, it seemed culturally dominant slashers were a thing of the past. The newest ‘Halloween’ sequels tried their hardest, but they simply didn’t bring anything new. It was just Laurie Strode – getting chased – by Michael. Again. The people who love it loved it, but they already loved it – nothing is being reignited, no new fans are being enticed in and, much like Laurie’s coffin back in 2002, slashers’ popularity was being lowered to the grave.

But of course, in 2018 that was retconned, and Laurie lived to see yet another sequel. And with the release of the imaginatively named ‘Scream’ (2022), as was slasher’s pop-culture demise. By refusing to have an opening death, killing off one of the main characters within the first hour, and allowing Courtney Cox to finally have a normal hairstyle, this film managed to break even the self-made conventions of its own series. Whether this was intentional or simply the mark of a new director, it brought something new to the genre – appeasing lifelong fans as well as engaging newer ones. History repeats itself, and once more ‘Scream’s self-referential, witty take on a seemingly banal genre had reignited the population’s love of slasher – reflected in the success of this year’s line of contributions, such as Ti West’s ‘X’, due to release a prequel later this year, as well as ‘The Quarry’ – a video game in which players act as camp counsellors attempting to survive a night of peril, featuring David Arquette (of Dwight ‘Dewey’ Riley fame) himself alongside a host of other horror staples, mimicking the comfortingly familiar self-awareness known so well to fans of the genre. So yes, like Laurie and Jason and Michael and all the other cash-cows Hollywood keeps cryogenically frozen for our entertainment, slasher has once again been resurrected. And is likely to re-die come 2024, only to be resurrected yet again by ‘Scream’s constant originality in 2025. A cycle likely to run forever, lest its writers fall victim to whatever covetous drug the creators of ‘Jason Takes Manhattan’ were on.  

Ghostface goes to Mars, anyone?

The Damning Misreading of Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me by Your Name  

By George Norman | Film Studies BA (Hons)

In the current period of instant demonisation towards media that disregards darker or more problematic setups as glorifying their topics, Guadagnino’s film has been discarded in many circles because of its predatory undertones that are argued to be romanticised, when in reality they are intended to be the focus of the film. It should be made clear that the film has a defined protagonist and antagonist dynamic, admittedly now becoming more overt given Armie Hammer’s recent transgressions coming to light, running throughout between Elio and Oliver which is what makes it baffling as to why any air of romanticisation can be taken from it when it is a definite exercise in idealism. Power is the major catalyst for this narrative which is cemented in the admiration the camera has for the male form whether through its two leads or ancient statues examined by Elio’s father. This power shift is shown through the opposing castings of Armie Hammer, a tall and broad-shouldered frame, and Timothee Chalamet, a shorter and petite figure befitting of a younger age; where Oliver constantly uses his more looming frame to assert dominance over Elio via physical touch, such as at the dinner table or the volleyball game. This is established to be the only effective method of control that can be used against Elio as no matter how much he tries, it is shown consistently that he cannot be intimidated on an intellectual level, which it can be assumed is Oliver’s go-to method for previous discretions, given his academic standing, including towards Elio’s father.

The best example of this is the sequence with the Bach piece, as Elio is shown to be more than a match for Oliver’s smarts. It is unfortunate then that while Elio is well read and highly educated, he is still seventeen years old and is therefore nowhere near that same level of emotional maturity, which makes him so susceptible to Oliver’s manipulations; as he says himself “If you only knew how little I know about the things that matter”. Said manipulations are laid out so clear. And while it is easy for the growing lack of control and restraint Elio showcases to merely be seen as the consequences of falling in love, not once does Oliver exhibit anything similar, as what began as a back and forward conflict between the two has now been completely overtaken by Oliver.

The entire concept of the film is shown agonisingly clearly in the excursion to the beach and the ‘truce’ as Elio extends his real hand to signify his genuine sincerity, albeit steeped in naivete, whereas Oliver meets his hands with the arm of the unearthed statue, refraining his true intentions behind a disingenuous sham of an agreement. Guadagnino also explores the extended effects of manipulations such as these through the character of Marzia, as her emotional development has now been squandered as a result of Oliver’s actions, laying bare her commitment to Elio only to be rejected in favour of the visiting grad student. For such a seemingly comprehensive examination, then, the question remains as to why the film has such a negative perception in society? Simply put, it is an incredibly gorgeous film both visually and audibly. The film is shown from a single character’s perspective, that being of a young boy who is undergoing what is presented to him as his first major romantic relationship, despite the truth that it is expected that he will be viewing this entire summer in an idealised state; in which case so does the film. The sun-drenched celluloid, Sufjan Stevens melodic tones and cinematic shots of bike rides around Italy all serve and come from Elio’s idealistic point of view, matching with what is seen to symbolise feelings of love to younger imaginations to showcase what a victim, especially one so young, subject to these manipulations will undergo as a result of the strings being pulled by the elder offender.  

It is the case then that to many the film’s use of this lens has been misunderstand as advocating for relationships like these to be sought out rather than avoided as the intention of the filmmaker has been completely lost in translation as a result of thematically fitting and aesthetically pleasing choice.

The Harder They Come Curated Screening  

By George Norman | Film Studies BA (Hons)

The Harder They Come is a classic Jamaican crime film that achieved world success and is cited as a key work of art that introduced reggae to the world stage and so seeing it curated in this way created a palpable sense of anticipation. After making the trip to the iconic BFI Southbank it was hard not to see the event as a grand occasion, filing into the NFT 1 as a complete newcomer to the film to be met by the image Jimmy Cliff on the screen, wielding dual pistols, my intrigue was certainly high.

David Somerset, who initiated African Odysseys, an initiative at the BFI that engages with diasporic cinema, takes to the stage as the music dims to begin the evenings special screening of Perry Henzell’s film as the definite beginning of the season he has curated. He introduced the speaker of the screening’s intro Lloyd Bradley, a renowned British music journalist and author of works such as Bass Culture: When Reggae was King, who recalls the importance of the film. The phrase “Raw Jamaican Jamaica from Jamaica'' stuck out from his speech and would later prove very accurate, as it is his belief that due to its release, 50 years ago, the film’s bold depiction of an identity to so many people previously unrepresented has had a huge effect. After a humorous story recounted by Bradley about the repeated shooting structure of capturing some scenes and the shoestring budget on which the film was made, Bradley asks who has not seen the film before. A mass of hands arose, easing the pressure I felt as a newcomer to it; Bradley then expressed intense jealousy of us newcomers, as he sees it as a masterpiece, an assessment which everyone in the theatre was about to qualify for themselves.

As the film started, the sounds of Cliff’s cover of You Can Get it if you Really Want sets not only the melody-laden nature of the film but also the attitude of Cliff’s character Ivan Martin on his path to fame. Right from the start Cliff dominates the screen with his subtle charisma and instant star power easily settling into his role as the film’s cheecky hero. What is most striking is the stylings of the film, perfectly fitting Bradley’s “Raw” description with Henzell’s inexperience as a filmmaker resulting in the film having a distinct documentary feel in its representation of Jamaica which explains why it has such a positive impact representationally. As the narrative progresses so does its brilliant soundtrack from both Cliff and other reggae artists.

The film highlights the exploitative nature of the music industry through foregrounding of the talent that has been used in deals that Bradley said gave the artists the rights to the songs in Jamaica, but the music companies the right for everywhere else, with him giving the example of how original writer of Rivers of Babylon saw nowhere near the profits of Boney M who released as a global hit.

Moving through its story that develops into a crime drama some dialogue is obscured due to its unabashed authenticity in its dialect but thankfully subtitles are not required as it is always easy to catch up as the narrative progresses. The narrative development is incredibly unique as it goes from a hard knocks social drama to musical drama, with the recording scene of the title track being a clear standout and indicator of the power Cliff holds. The film grows from a simple crime drama to a Western influenced outlaw feature, amplified by the inclusion of scenes from the film Django. Ivan’s journey to infamy is an entertaining one and is solidified in the finale by the crosscutting between Cliff and Franco Nero to result in a very surprising trajectory from where he began.

Upon learning the film is based on the mythical Jamaican outlaw Rhyging, Ivan’s multifaceted journey is very fitting but on first viewing the twists and turns leave it a very unpredictable watch in the best possible way. The unashamed representation of such a vibrant movement of reggae culture had completely engulfed the auditorium throughout the 109 minutes and I left the Southbank situated cinema on a complete high. Bradley’s estimation of the film is no exaggeration and it, along with its legendary status, deserves all the credit it has been given.  

Ever since the screening experience concluded the films soundtrack has been experienced many a time and further exploration into the culture on film has been made a necessity, with films such as the underappreciated Babylon, completely justifying every word Bradley gave on that evening.

Persuasion and the perils of Adaptation  

By Charlotte Fairhill | Film Studies BA (Hons)

At first glance, this recent adaptation seems like it could be the new period drama to add a fresh perspective on Austin adaptations for all to discuss. However it seems to be being talked about for all of the wrong reasons. The out of place modern language, the obnoxious protagonist and the random breaking of the fourth wall to talk to camera just don’t seem to fit in with the period that the film is set in as far as many viewers and critics are concerned. The opening scene shows Anne and Wentworth in what seems to be a flashback with Anne narrating over it. It begins as you would expect a period film to, with dramatic views, gorgeous costumes and of course, the leading lady. The film then moves onto present Anne in a more focused way, and the entire mood of the film changes. Morphing from an orchestral intro to a playful score and a complete switch in how Anne speaks, it goes from a classic retelling to something completely unique, a move that for many ruins the viewing experience.

The language in the film feels severely out of place due to the fact that it’s predominantly Anne using the modern references and everyone else using regency era phrases, and whenever she does use them it’s so unexpected that it can take you by surprise. Anne also has a tendency to shout out in the most inappropriate times, such as when they all go to dinner and Anne announces that her sister's husband, Charles, wished to marry her first. The contrast between original quotes from the novel and the new dialogue in the film are so dramatically different that it comes across as obscure. For instance the line: “Now they were as strangers; nay, worse than strangers, for they could never become acquainted.” Has suddenly changed into “Now we’re strangers, worse than strangers, we’re exes.” and this is jarring.

A character that cosistentently uses the modern language well is Anne (who uses it in voiceover) is her sister, Mary. Mary seems a lot more modernised than the rest of the characters due to her behaviour and attitude so the viewer gets an insight to what the filmmakers might have been aiming for but this also adds to a sense of discontinuity.

The film has completely changed from a slow-moving drama to a comedy, instead of showing Anne as a sorrowful woman who regrets ending the engagement to Wentworth and wishing she could change that moment, she is now a borderline alcoholic who talks down to the audience. Breaking the fourth wall is an on trend technique used successfully in the TV shows such as The Office and Fleabag, which is obviously an influence here. With Anne regularly glimpsing at the camera and smirking, it makes her character seem more like Jim from The Office instead of Anne Elliot. The audience doesn’t need a witty remark from Anne every two minutes and in my opinion they also don’t need the plot to be dumbed down so much. We will work out who each character is without needing an introduction and we understand that Anne was persuaded to give up Wentworth without such an obvious explanation.

Of course everyone can watch this film and gather their own opinion on it but overall, I think that it just could’ve been done so much better, and I find it quite disappointing that it hasn’t.  

If you are a big Jane Austen fan then I might suggest skipping this adaptation and sticking to something a bit more true to the original text.

The Camp appeal of Cruella de Vil in One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961)  

By Josef Walker | Film Studies BA (Hons)

Since Dodie Smith’s 1956 novel The Hundred and One Dalmatians, there have been a myriad of film portrayals of the villainess, Cruella de Vil. De Vil has been presented on film with 101 Dalmatians (1961) followed by the direct-to-video sequel in 2003 and subsequent TV series. De Vil has been portrayed in live action form by Glenn Close on two occasions and most recently by Emma Stone in Cruella (2021). What has remained the same in each adaptation is De Vil’s camp character and personality. De Vil represents camp in all its glory from her extravagant appearance, humour and delicious wickedness, all adding to her appeal and longevity as an iconic screen villainess.

For many mainstream audiences Disney’s 101 Dalmatians was their first introduction to the villainess. De Vil’s vocal actress Betty Lou Gerson further showcases campness within her preformance, as she would state that she had a feeling a little of herself came through within the animation, from being a very camp, wonderful and fun character to play. Ernest Mathijs and Jamie Sexton express in ‘Cult Cinema and Camp’ that campness is “the act of role-playing and performing in a deliberately exaggerated manner is important in understanding camp and to communicate with a particular group of people who understand such gestures”. Gerson displays this perfectly in her voice preformance, as De Vil has a powerful screen presence, filled with her over the top persona and huge voice managing to steal every scene she is in; ironically, De Vil does not have a lot of screen time within the feature, all highlighting the impact and legacy of the character expressed through her campness and eye-catching, unapologetic and stylishly evil appearance. This further emphasises her campness as she is an outcast to society through her independence, differentness and confidence; as her villainy comes more from her vanity, greed, and nasty put downs. Indeed, making her a classic film villain, even ranking 39th on AFI’s list of 100 movie villains (higher than child killer Freddy Kruger), despite the fact that she is less menacing than other Disney villains who seek to dominate and oppress, such Ursula and Maleficent.

De Vil further embodies camp appeal through her eccentrics and her boldness, all to push back against expectations from ideas of a heteronormative nuclear lifestyle. Indeed, she is a woman of a certain age who only cares for riches and materialistic delights; this is another aspect that foregrounds her campness by her rebellion, wickedness and not caring what others think, evidenced within her first scene within 101 Dalmatians. When she enters the home of Rodger and Anita, she is ostentatious and theatrical by her exaggerated mannerisms, body language and articulation. Gerson would add that in the film’s introduction of De Vil she would sweep into the room with broad gestures. Susan Sontag expresses in ‘Notes on Camp’ (1964) “that the essence of Camp is its love of the unnatural of artifice and exaggeration”. Gerson’s and Sontag’s statements are superbly captured with De Vil’s entrance as her appearance and behaviour is definitely unashamedly unnatural, evidenced by her obnoxious and egocentric attitude and snide, sarcastic insults towards the couple and their lifestyle, such as “this horrid little house is your dream castle”. Furthermore, her egotistical conduct is further proven by the fact she fills her friend’s home up with a sickly green smoke from her cigarette holder then snubs out the cigarette in one of Anita’s cakes and flicks ash into a cup of tea, all revealing how camp can represent unnatural behaviour.

Nevertheless, though De Vil is ghastly towards pretty much everybody she interacts with, she still manages to be an enjoyable character because of her campness. It could be argued that audiences are drawn towards De Vil because she is a character we are supposed to hate, as her narrative is that she is serious about making dalmatian puppies into fur coats, something a polite society would view as inhumane; yet when it comes to the feelings and rights of others De Vil is absolutely frivolous.  

Though De Vil faces retribution within the film, still her flair, extravagance and humour create a fabulous camp appeal, making her a classic film villain that different generations have undoubtedly found a pleasure to witness over the years.

Body Horror Demonstrated in Eyes Without a Face  

By Emily Fairs | Film Studies BA (Hons)

The horror film has always been an exceptionally popular genre amongst a wide range of audiences. With the use of psychological body horror, audiences have often been able to feel a physical response to what they see on the screen; a key example of this being Eyes Without a Face (Les Yeux Sans Visage), directed by French filmmaker Georges Franju in 1960. The film centres on a deranged doctor who kidnaps women to perform face transplants on them, so he can gift a new face to his daughter. He caused a car crash, destroying her face completely and forcing her to wear a mask and lock herself away in their mansion after he announces her ‘death’. Eyes Without a Face is incredibly ahead of its time; its graphic, disturbing scenes created new foundations for the horror film, allowing directors to explore the deranged corners of their minds and really get inside viewers’ heads. More recent examples of this include The Human Centipede and The Silence of the Lambs. Although this film was released in 1960, its graphic nature still has the ability to make audiences squirm in their seats and look away in disgust. Eyes Without a Face was released at a time when France was extremely anti-American; the war had not-long ended and French cinema wanted to compete with Hollywood, which in turn led to the French New Wave. During this time, new filmmaking techniques were founded and storylines were created that, in the past, would never have been dreamt up by even the most deranged minds. Eyes Without a Face is the perfect example of France competing with Hollywood to produce the most original, shocking film. This film takes classic horror tropes and pushes them one step further by introducing body horror.

Eyes Without a Face’s use of body horror shocks audiences in ways they could never imagine, especially in the film’s most graphic scenes. The premise of the film is a girl who needs a face transplant, so you can already imagine the images viewers are forced to sit through and squirm at. As the skin is lifted off the first victim, blood streams from her face and her skin is held by an array of medical equipment, as she lies unconscious after being knocked out by medical gas. Scalpels and scissors are seen carrying her facial skin around the room, which makes even the bravest audience members feel uncomfortable.
As the first face transplant was performed in 2005, nearly 50 years after this film was released, earlier audiences were watching events that they deemed unrealistic, unachievable, even unthinkable. The chances of surgical success were unknown in 1960, which adds more apprehension and intrigue; the audience knows the limitations of their bodies and cannot envisage the pain of a transplant, particularly a face transplant. This generates more distress, and the audience empathises with Christiane, whilst also feeling unsettled in their own skin. The introduction of body horror was a terrific success, and has only grown more and more popular over recent years, with horror films only becoming increasingly horrific and some even unwatchable.

Franju really focuses on the importance of eyes in this film; most characters appear with only their eyes visible at some point. Christiane spends most of the film in her mask, the doctor and Louise wear surgical masks, and Edna’s face is bandaged up after her transplant. This displays each character in a monstrous way at some point. When Eyes Without a Face was released, the scariest things in most horror films were monsters. This film makes monsters look feeble, as if they are nothing to be feared. Franju focuses on humans’ real fears, something that might not be as far-fetched as vampires and werewolves.

Christiane hides in the shadows, resembling a monster hiding out of sight. She suffers from her facelessness and lack of identity, despising the way she looks. She is an innocent character who wishes she could go back to a life with freedom and an identity. Edna is also innocent; she is lured to the mansion by Louise and suffocated with gas. The audience sees the true terror in her eyes when her head is bandaged up and when she is being suffocated. When the doctor and Louise are wearing their masks, they don’t show much emotion through their eyes, demonstrating their intentional inhumanity. In 1960, Christiane might have been viewed as a monster due to her disfigurement, however, the director asks the audience to consider who the real monsters are. For one of the first times in early horror film, he makes the audience realise that ugly does not equal evil. This idea has been repeated many times in subsequent films; a key example being Beauty and the Beast.

Another key theme of Eyes Without a Face is moral ambiguity. The doctor sends Louise out multiple times to find new victims, discarding their bodies in the river after they have stolen their faces. They use gas to make the women unconscious then carry out the transplants without their consent. This demonstrates their disregard for human life and creates a new fear for audience members; the doctor murders these women but does so because he wants to fix his daughter and let her live freely and happily. He states, ‘I have caused so much harm in order to perform this miracle’. Although he is the reason his daughter has a disfigured face, he craves fixing her appearance by immorally performing face transplants on unsuspecting women. The audience sees that he does not particularly want to conduct these surgeries but will do anything to make Christiane happy, which exhibits moral ambiguity, something most audience members can relate to.

By the end of the film, the audience realises that the ‘monster’ is the most morally correct character; Christiane helps Edna escape, then releases the caged animals. This reinforces Franju’s message that beauty does not always mean good. There is a painting of Christiane with the doves in cages before her accident. She eventually sets them free, symbolising her also setting herself free, and the audience breathes a sigh of relief for her, and all muscles begin to untense. At the end of the film, she walks free, with her father and Louise both dead; she is now able to live again outside the walls of her home.

Although Christiane looks monstrous, the real monster is her father, who eventually meets his fate. The director makes the audience question their own morals; they know the pain and suffering the doctor caused for many other characters, but most viewers feel a sense of satisfaction when he dies, even if they are unwilling to admit it. This film shows a doctor, a figure society trusts, and misplaces this trust by turning him into a human monster. This focuses on many people’s fear of doctors and surgeries, which makes the film even more horrific for many people.

Eyes Without a Face has become an inspiration for a multitude of films, due to its use of the unexpected hero of the woman. Christiane proved that women are capable of defeating their own monsters, and that young women should be considered for lead roles for horror films more often. This film has inspired an influx in strong female characters, branching outside the horror genre, such as in Kill Bill and Legally Blonde. It also repurposed the use of masks in entertainment, particularly in horror films: key examples of this include The Skin I Live In and Halloween. In these films, the masks alone elicit no response from the audience, but the associations with it create an unforgettable sense of fear. This demonstrates the influence Eyes Without a Face has had on a range of films in the last 50 years.

Eyes Without a Face is an incredibly significant film in demonstrating body horror and its effect on audiences, from 1960 to today. This French film that took a chance by including scenes of extreme horror and disturbance managed to reach a worldwide audience, and still manages to shock new audiences in the 21st century.  

If gruesome body horror and sinister scenes are what you crave, Eyes Without a Face is a must-see film to get you on the edge of your seat and make your palms sweat with anticipation.

From Non-Spaces to Fantasy Worlds

Why Guillermo Del Toro’s Filmography is a Fantastic Example of Transnational Cinema

By Molly Woolsey | Film Studies BA (Hons)

Transnational cinema is something that is incredibly hard to define, as our ideas to what constitutes a transnational film are constantly changing. Guillermo Del Toro is an excellent example, as both he and his films are inherently transnational. He is a Mexican director, who has worked within Mexican, Spanish, and Hollywood film production. A film being co-produced by two or more countries is the first way we can define a film as being transnational. Del Toro’s first film, Cronos (1993), is his only film to be produced in Mexico. After its success, being well received by audiences and critics alike, he made the move to Hollywood to direct the 1997 film Mimic. Del Toro has stated however, that making Mimic was not an enjoyable experience for him, as the constraints of making a film in Hollywood meant he did not have full control over the final product. For his next film he made the return back to his native language and directed The Devil’s Backbone (2001) and this film was an international co-production between Spain and Mexico. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), arguably del Toro’s most famous film, was also a Spanish/Mexican co-production.

As well as being transnational in production, films can also be transnational based on the subject matter they include. One of the most prominent themes found within transnational cinema is the use of non-spaces – spaces which are hidden in the world, yet also in plain sight, just beyond the boundaries of our everyday lives. McDonald and Clark reflect upon del Toro’s use of non-spaces by saying ‘It is intriguing just how many of del Toro’s films feature long sequences in spaces that also replicate the darkness of night; subways, sewers, basements, subterranean caverns, secret instillations’. The orphanage in The Devil’s Backbone can be considered a non-space, as it exists away from the rest of the world, like a small bubble in time, separated from the rest of the world by a harsh and barren desert. The abandoned subway tunnels in which the grotesque creatures of Mimic inhabit is also one of these spaces – it’s a place that has been forgotten by time.

Liminal spaces are similar to non-spaces; however, they can be more accurately described as a space between two places. Santi is the ghost of a young boy that haunts the orphanage in The Devil’s Backbone. Santi exists in the liminal space between life and death. Santi is able to interact with the world of the living, yet he is still dead. He doesn’t belong in either realm, leaving him stuck between both. Ghosts are a key theme in another of del Toro’s films, Crimson Peak (2015). This film links to The Devil’s Backbone as both include spirits who are bound to places in which tragedy occurred. The opening lines of The Devil’s Backbone are: “What is a ghost? A tragedy condemned to repeat itself time and time again?”. This reflects how these ghosts are trapped in the space between life and death, unable to move on until they get some kind of justice or revenge for their death. Del Toro uses ghosts to reflect the trauma of the past, and how it still haunts our everyday lives.

Diaspora is another key theme of transnational cinema, and it refers to a group of people who have come from different places, but now occupy the same space. This can be seen in The Devil’s Backbone. The orphanage is full of children and adults who have come from various places, forced away from their homes. In 2001 Naficy wrote - ‘Diaspora, like exile, often begins with trauma, rupture, and coercion, and it involves the scattering of populations to places outside their homeland’. The trauma of the war has caused the orphans to come together, likely as their parents have died fighting. Exile is similar to diaspora, as it describes those who have left their home behind, either by force or by choice, to move to another place. It can be seen clearly in The Shape of Water, where the Amphibian man is abducted from his home in a South American river and brought to America to be dissected and researched. Another example of exile can be found in Pan’s Labyrinth, where Ofelia and her mother move away from their home in the city, to be with Captain Vidal in the countryside. They move away from their home in search of an easier life in which they will be taken care of, but this is far from what happens. Exile does not always have to be forced, people often leave their home to be with someone they love, or search for a better life. These two themes are key to transnational cinema, as it reflects the crossing of borders, and how people from different places can come together unexpectedly.

Transnational cinema can also be identified by the way a film reflects a country’s history and trauma. The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth are both films centred around the Spanish Civil War. The Devil’s Backbone is set during the war, and is a reflection on the death that occurred because of it. Santi represents the voiceless, the people who died and have since been forgotten. The bomb in The Devil’s Backbone serves as a constant reminder of war within the film. It’s a ticking timebomb that has not exploded yet, but could at any moment. Pan’s Labyrinth, however, reflects the horrors of war in a different way, through the eyes of protagonist Ofelia. She submerges herself in a fantasy world where she is a long-lost princess trying to find her way home. This fantasy world is an escape from the brutality of her everyday life in post-Civil War Spain – yet it’s not all fun and games. She faces horrific creatures and dangerous tasks, which reflect the very real danger she is up against in the real world. The horror of war has infiltrated her mind, and she can never fully escape it.

A final reason del Toro’s films can be seen as heavily transnational is how he takes elements from different countries and their cultures and uses them in his films. His 2013 blockbuster Pacific Rim contains many elements of Japanese mecha and anime tropes. The giant Jager robots are plucked straight from the world of anime, where mecha is one of the most popular genres. The film can be seen as a celebration, as well as an appreciation, of Japan and its art. The Kaiju are obviously heavily influenced by Japanese Kaiju cinema like Godzilla. The film also contains a mix of English and Japanese language which further situates its status as a transnational film. The blending of multiple cultures is one of the easier ways to identify a transnational film.

Overall, I believe it’s clear that del Toro’s films are incredible examples of transnational cinema. When looking at his body of work as a whole, every film he has created is transnational in some way, whether it be by production, by theming, or in most cases – both.

Denis Villeneuve: The Power of Language

By Josh Chambers | Film Studies and Media (BA Hons)

Denis Villeneuve is one on the most prominent and influential directors working in Hollywood today. Similar to other filmmakers he directed smaller budget films such as Polytechnique (2009) and Maelström (2009) and then he got his big break directing blockbusters featuring some of the most recognisable actors in Hollywood. Such films include Prisoners (2013), Blade Runner 2049 (2017) and Dune (2021).

Villeneuve uses language in his films to appeal to a global audience, lending him to be more a transnational and also an accented director, his characters often speak different languages, Villeneuve uses this to show cultural and social control. With Villeneuve being Quebecois, there is a distinct presence of French in his films, especially in some of his early work. Polytechnique and Maelström both feature the French language. This being said, I can consider Villeneuve as a transnational director even before his rise to fame in Hollywood as one of the most recognisable filmmakers. A prime Villeneuve film example I believe to highlight power control through language would be Sicario (2015). A large proportion of the film is heavily seen on the Mexican-American border. Villeneuve is keen to portray the character of Kate who is played by Emily Blunt as a stereotypical American monolingual character, lacking any power in the discussion of the drug cartels which she is keen to abolish. This is the opposite of the character of Alejandro played by Benicio del Toro who is a former Mexican prosecutor who sides with the likes of Kate. Alejandro is distinctly a character who carries aspects of multilinguality, the ability to speak more than one language. Villeneuve presents the characters differently, with the Mexican unquestionably having control in a lot of scenes.

One of the tensest scenes in the film is when Kate and Alejandro are in traffic and they notice a car with four Mexicans, with one holding a gun. Villeneuve presents Alejandro as the dominant character here with him engaging with the car speaking in Spanish, opening with “in peace, in peace”, seen in figure 5 above. After watching this scene, I noticed Alejandro is sympathising with his native Mexicans as they are wary of how hostile Americans can be on the border, opting to open with Spanish instead of English. Several lines later, Alejandro also says “Do you want to die?” to the man who leaves the car with a gun in his hand. The viewer gets a true sense in the scene that the Americans aren’t the ones with power in many scenes in Sicario. Sicario is a key example I would recommend to readers of this magazine to learn about how Villeneuve uses hybridity of language in film. Arrival (2016) is unique for Villeneuve, heavily regarded as one of science-fiction’s most promising entries in recent Hollywood. Arrival focusses on the relationship between humans and extra-terrestrial life and is keen to have communication as the main theme of the film. Unlike Sicario, Villeneuve presents the humans as peaceful and representing hope. “Heptapod” spaceships land on earth during the film, with the main goal for the humans being trying to communicate and understand why they have arrived on Earth. Arrival differs from Villeneuve’s other films as it uses symbols and drawings as a primary notion rather than literal words. To further the theme of communication, Amy Adams’ character, Louise Banks is an experienced linguist and is the catalyst in the process to communicate with the heptapod species, stating “Language is the foundation of civilization. It is the glue that holds a people together. It is the first weapon drawn in a conflict.” With Louise being a linguist, she generates the idea to use ink circles, this is seen in figure 1. Villeneuve demands that this film is about language and communication. A lot of Hollywood films may be reluctant to show how humans interact with each other. Characters such as Louise adapt to the heptapods rather than them having to adapt to the human language. The black ink circles the heptapods artistically flow out is a completely new symbol seen in cinema, it is clear that Villeneuve wanted to keep the audience in as much confusion as the characters themselves.

As previously mentioned in this magazine, the notion of film having a border of some description is a key feature when discussing if it has transnational aspects. While Arrival has extra-terrestrial beings, I analysed if it still includes a border. The gap between the humans and the heptapods can be seen as a metaphorical border, on either side there is distinct differences in form. While the border doesn’t have any other feature than a transparent wall, the relationship between “aliens” and humans in cinema has been one which has been heavily covered. There is always a feeling in other films that human’s resort to violence on a border, especially with aliens. This differs in Arrival as the heptapods species is peaceful and is keen to understand the humans.

The border can be seen as a “liminal space”. The term is often correlated to the horror genre, but we can apply it to Arrival as the film features aliens which are often associated with horror characteristics. The definition of a “liminal space” is any space that exists between two states of being. The liminal space in Arrival is a sizeable gap, Louise is wary of what the heptapods pose to human life even though she is still peaceful. While the heptapods don’t represent any culture familiar with humans, there is still a blend of two different cultures.

Louise is a perfect example of a multifocality character, which can be defined as someone who has a strong understanding of multiple cultural emphases or ways of thinking.

Why Audiences Love Encanto: An Outdoor Cinema Perspective

By Hollie Whittle

Disney Animated Studios over the past couple of years has produced a wide range of movies that have managed to reach international audiences due to the movies setting, characters, music and culture. Movies such as Coco, Moana and Soul clearly express the wider representation of different groups of people within a society, which brings me to write a review of how impactful Encanto has been on audiences, and that it is, in fact, the perfect outdoor cinema movie.

Encanto is a family fantasy musical that was released back in November, 2021, and directed by Jared Bush and Byron Howard. Since the film’s release it has received many awards and nominations, particularly for its animation and soundtrack and, it must be said, it is not surprising at all. The atmosphere of the outdoor cinema was full of buzzing children with their parents, who were clearly fans of the movie, and if they hadn’t seen it before they definitely had left being one. Encanto tells the story of the magical multigenerational family Madrigal, who live in a rural area of Columbia (called Encanto), in which their teamwork and bond help keep their house and powers alive in order to protect their family and society from ruin. The movie’s central character, Mirabel (voiced by Stephanie Beatriz), is the ungifted family member, who finds out that their home is being slowly destroyed by an unknown powerful force and tries to figure out what is causing this to save her home.

Mirabel’s character has become universally popular and praised, as she is considered to be different from typical female main leads, such as having short curly hair, not ‘skinny’ arms and, most importantly, wearing glasses, which young girls all over Tik Tok have appreciated. A UK preteen called Lowri from Nottingham, wrote a letter to Disney back in 2019 asking for more representation for spectacle-wearing characters, and, thankfully, her wish was granted with the creation of Maribel. As well as Lowri, many other young girls have been delighted to see themselves on screen, and during my own experience at the outdoor cinema, there were dozens of girls with glasses; one even dressed as the character which was very heart-warming for the eyes! As well as the main character, the whole cast shows the inclusion and multiracial diversity of Columbia such as Antonio, Bruno, Dolores and Luisa, which again, has been found in many real-life families, with comparison videos and photos all over social media, making people feel pride in their culture as their representation is finally being shown on screens after years of them being hidden.

Moving on to the soundtrack (my favourite part), which was written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, who has been known for his incredible music in the theatre productions Hamilton (2015) and In the Heights (2005). This was the main attractive point of the movie which made the outdoor experience so memorable as well as the film itself. The whole audience, from all backgrounds and ages, were singing along. The soundtrack sticks to the movie’s cultural setting and aesthetic, with Latin folk music (Guajira) and dance, which helps saturate the catchiness of each song (I still have ‘We Don’t Talk About Bruno’ stuck in my head as I write this).

The Encanto Soundtrack has been so popular that it has reached mainstream music charts, and the iconic song ‘We Don’t Talk About Bruno’ has now officially been ranked as the biggest Disney song of all time, remaining on the Billboard for more than 3 months. This is an incredible achievement, and rightly so, as the response to the song that was erupting in the museum grounds was phenomenal, the excitement buzzing in the air and the singing in unison was rather remarkable to be a part of. Encanto’s visual animation was also an eye-catching phenomenon for the film’s success, with bright, almost artificial colours, mixed with the realistic and intricate details of the characters facial expressions, such as the visible singular hairs and the strong emotion in their eyes, which almost makes one forget that it is animated. This shows how far and fast the animation industry has come from transferring from 2D to 3D cinema, and how computer animation can truly transport viewers into the world of cinema, or in this case, Disney.

Encanto is genuinely the peak of family fantasy cinema, representing universal culture and diversity through visuals, music and storytelling, as well as the importance of family bonds and teamwork, which is appealing to watch besides the traditional Disney storytelling of finding romantic true love and evil family members.

The outdoor cinema experience has given an in-depth perspective of how families come together to watch a movie that is about just that; home, family and belonging.

Migrancy and Homosexuality in the Yorkshire Countryside; A study of God’s Own Country (2018)

By Georgia Nolan | Film Studies BA (Hons)

Queer cinema and transnational cinema can be tied together through how they delve into the presentation of ‘otherness’, showing a side to cultures and identities that are not typically seen onscreen. In this article, I want to explore the way that popular queer cinema represents a cultural flow of information on the LGBTQ+ community, allowing for accessible knowledge and portrayals of identities other than typical heterosexuality that we see throughout cinema. This opens cinema up to become a huge tool for diversity and acceptance – something that is vital for the world in which we live. On top of this, transnationality does a similar thing in that it allows for audiences to become educated on issues such as xenophobia and the struggles of migrancy. This is because the meaning of transnational is to operate across national boundaries – so differing experiences get their deserved limelight. Overall, cinema provides an outlet for acknowledging varying situations many people face daily on a global scale.

From this, a queer film that has become critically acclaimed in its own right is God’s Own Country (dir. Francis Lee, 2017). The film is set on a West Yorkshire farm, featuring Josh O’Connor as Johnny, a young farmer son of a couple who are slowly passing the farm down to him. The young farmer is secretly and seemingly shamefully attracted to men, leading him to binge drinking and seducing men abruptly in bathroom toilets. You feel bad for him as a character coming to terms with his sexuality. A Romanian migrant, Gheorghe, joins the farm in order to help during lambing season, which results in the two engaging in intimacy which starts off aggressive and becomes softer and more personal as the film goes on. Before this, Gheorghe fights with Johnny after Johnny insults him in a xenophobic slur. Gheorghe overpowers him, ultimately teaching him not to refer to him that way. The film progresses and the boys’ relationship develops. This film shows queerness, masculinity and migrancy in such a small scale and intimate way, focussing on the relationship between the two characters rather than a huge dramatic narrative about themes like the border-crossing. The topic of migrancy and refugeeism is explored phenomenally in the one singular setting of Yorkshire in God’s Own Country and the film discusses topics that are affected by diaspora and border-crossing in relation to Gheorghe on a scale that is understandable for the intimacy and independency of the film.

The presentation of being a British male in God’s Own Country often ties itself with aggression, binge drinking and unhealthy coping mechanisms, specifically due to the toxic masculine nature that ties itself with British culture. However, the entrance of Gheorghe as a migrant changes the trajectory of masculine representation as he comes across as gentle and quiet, not engaging in the unhealthy habits that Johnny does. The film has been described as showing ‘the creation of softer, more supple forms of masculinity inflected by class and cultural and ethnic difference’ (Williams, 2020, p.76), which shows such a positive representation of migrancy. In one pivotal scene, Gheorghe is comfortable in the open with his shirt off, easing into the harshness of the British countryside and its dull dawns. However, Johnny is covered up and his body language is cold and closed off - perhaps referring to his hidden identity crisis. During the start of Gheorghe’s entrance into the film, he is shown to be struggling with his displacement. However, the audience witnesses how Gheorghe allows for a softness to both of their characters because of the budding relationship that develops, which can be seen in Francis Lee’s pro-immigration commentary on how migrancy creates a more loving and wholesome community through its ability to create more comfortable views on identity and what home means – considering he creates this home for Johnny who has been mentally displaced in his Yorkshire land for seemingly a while.

Location and setting are a such an important characteristic in the creation of meaning in transnational films. This is because spaces within transnational cinema tend to represent an in-between placement of characters, specifically migrant identities. These locations represent a sense of isolation and marginality, or presuppose a context that allows for reflection on fragile, mutating identities; where the meanings of belonging are in question. Therefore, when we look at the setting of Yorkshire within God’s Own Country and its own identity within the film, it very clearly adapts both Johnny and Gheorghe’s characters. Throughout the first act of the film, the Yorkshire countryside can be described as harsh and hostile with a cool colour palette and expansive empty fields. Director Francis Lee has portrayed the landscape in this way in order to enforce this idea of loneliness that comes with displacement and loss of home that Gheorghe is dealing with, alongside the internalised homophobia and identity struggles that Johnny is struggling with. Despite these hardships they are both facing, the pair become more comfortable with each other and amongst the landscape, even proceeding to engage in sexual intercourse in the mud – implying that their identities are mentally and theoretically embedded within the land. This representation is progressive in that it shows that the transnational narrative of migrancy does not have to result in a complete loss of home and identity as Gheorghe ultimately finds his home within Johnny and the countryside. I believe that the way that Yorkshire has been described in this film shows that the rural landscape acts as a way for both men to explore their identity in a calming and compassionate setting, as opposed to the strong and toxic stereotype that tends to come with rurality.

– considering he creates this home for Johnny who has been mentally displaced in his Yorkshire land for seemingly a while.

“You look like a badger” Accented Cinema and Yorgos Lanthimos’ Weird Wave in The Favourite

By Annie Denton | Film Studies and English Literature (BA Hons)

Yorgos Lanthimos’s award-winning feature The Favourite, quickly became my top-pick film of 2018, embodying my love for period dramas and witty dark comedies.

My younger self, having not yet begun a degree in English Literature and Film studies, had not yet discovered what makes The Favourite such a unique film in contrast to the typical British period dramas.

As a Greek director who migrated to the UK, Lanthimos has a distinctive style which transfers itself into the dark humour of his period piece. The Favourite cannot be taken in the context of a British historical piece, despite the story taking place in early 18th century England about the reign of Queen Anne. The director’s approach is influenced by Greek Weird Wave and accented with quirky angles and transgressive content.

“If the dominant cinema is considered universal and without accent, the films that diasporic and exilic subjects make are accented”. Hamid Naficy refers to the idea that directors’ backgrounds and personal cultures influence filmmaking, creating familiar genres of film with unique differences and approaches. For dominant Western media, such as Hollywood films, the authorship is said to be without ‘accent’ as it aligns with viewers’ expectations of specific genres. The Favourite is the product of a global crew: it is a collaboration of Irish (Element Pictures) British (Film4 productions) and US (Waypoint Entertainment) which blend with a Greek director, American producer Ceci Dempsey and British screenwriter Deborah Davis. This cultural blend is responsible for the unique style of the film and an opportunity to express an original approach to period drama, with queer relationships, feminism, dead-pan black humour and Oscar winning performances. One of the successes of the film is Lanthimos’s dialogue, which captures the absurdism of Greek cinema and the dead-pan British humour. The deliverance of the lines results in some of the funniest one-liners and most transgressive lines, which is so unexpected for a film in this genre. Some examples include,
1.Lady Sarah: (to Queen Anne) You look like a badger.
2. Harley: Must the duck be here?
Godolphin: Fastest duck in the city. Horatio is a prize worth stealing, he does not leave
my side. Harley: Keep him away from me or I will pull his liver out and eat it with a cornichon.
3. Queen Anne: I like it when she puts her tongue inside me
Lanthimos carries across filmic techniques from Greek cinema into The Favourite. His work has been contextualised with the label, ‘Greek Weird Wave’. Lanthimos’s ‘fingerprint’ can be said to be the interpretive dance sequences in his films. His unique ways of incorporating dance into his films make for funny, quirky, and oftentimes uncomfortable moments in his films. Yet it is this signature which makes his films accented and so different.

In an article for The Guardian, Steven Rose poses the question, “Is it just coincidence that the world’s most messed-up country is making the world’s most messed-up cinema?” (Rose, 2011). In labelling Greece as the ‘most messed up country’ Rose is referring to the financial crash of 2008, which in turn caused riots and poverty in the recession. The Greek film industry was financially affected and forced to create low-budget films considering family, absurdism, and the nonsensical sense of life. This absurdism has become a staple of Greek Weird Wave and is Lanthimos’s signature style.

Lanthimos’s lens choices and camera perspective in The Favourite creates a visual presence of confinement and introspection. The central characters include Queen Anne (Olivia Colman), Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz) and Abigail (Emma Stone) all of whom are seen to experience entrapment in both the setting and their mental state. The camera situates the characters within their space, where often the wide angles or fisheye lens choice diminishes the person’s size in comparison to the overwhelming space in which they are situated. This distorted look draws attention to the strangeness and severity of the characters’ mental states as the strange lens choices force the viewer to acknowledge them.

The distortion of the angle shows the vast kitchen in its entirety while simultaneously confining the servants in the middle of the room, creating a sense of oppression. The palace itself becomes a medium of this oppressive, claustrophobic atmosphere. A further effect of this entrapment is the allegory for the societal oppression of sexualities. The exploration of the queerness of the characters can be taken within the context or terror and entrapment within the palace, representing society and their positions of power confining the self.

Lanthimos’s accented cinema allows him to explore taboo topics which are not traditionally portrayed within the British historical drama. For instance, The Favourite depicts at length the discovery of the three central female characters’ sexualities and non-conformity to gender stereotypes. The exploration of power and sexuality is visually displayed in the film in different ways. One of the ways that the film allows the women to be non-conforming to gender roles is in the costume design. Award winning costume designer Sandy Powell played with different gendered silhouettes. For instance, Rachel Weisz’s costume often portrays a more masculine silhouette, with angular lines and shooting jackets. One such scene that shows the warping of gender identity is pictured is when Queen Anne is seen in a brown leather riding costume.

As a Greek director who migrated to the UK, Yorgos Lanthimos’s ‘weird wave’ style transfers itself into the dark humour of the period drama. Lanthimos reimagines the period drama, transcending the notion of the British historical film as a genre. Thus, Lanthimos’s The Favourite is an example of Accented cinema and the numerous ways in which he transcends expectations through the medium of dance, sound and visual effects which create an accented approach to the British period piece.

If you haven’t yet seen this unique work of art, watch it and it may just become your favourite.

Why the Musical Matters

By Matthew Peyton | Film Studies BA (Hons)

The musical is a genre that has been tied to cinema since the art form’s creation. From the early period of Georges Méliès who would have music played alongside his films, such as The Kingdom of Fairies and The Barber of Seville, all the way to the modern era with the likes of A Star is Born, The Greatest Showman and La La Land. With this association, I believe that musicals take every facet of filmmaking and compile it into one huge melting pot. At their very best, musicals showcase cinema at its peak. Blending music, dance, performance, directing and production to create iconic moments on screen. The recent adaptation of West Side Story by Steven Spielberg exemplifies the notion that musicals embody the pinnacle of cinematic artistry. Spielberg manages to blend the classic style of musicals like the original West Side Story, on an almost epic scale.

Take for example the way Spielberg frames the setting of New York City. In the prologue, the camera pans across the slum area, with the score’s eerie whistling playing in the background creating a gritty, almost western-style representation of the city, as if it was an old ghost town. The moment when the Jets burst out of the ground only adds to the atmosphere of the city, as if the inhabitants are bursting free and bringing life back into the environment. As the prologue goes on, we begin to see more of the city’s population going about their day-to-day lives. All the while the Jets gracefully move through the city, stopping crowds of people and traffic as they go. By doing this Spielberg presents the musical numbers as an unstoppable force, being able to freeze a city like New York. It is this grand scale that helps to build upon the blueprint from the original film. The musical number “America” in both versions is a highlight in the score, with Bernstein’s upbeat music paired with Sondheim’s lyrics that reveal the complex nature of being an immigrant in America. The song itself carries a defiant edge in both versions. Anita is the one who sings the song, challenging what Bernardo and the rest of the world have laid out for her. She has dreams and hopes and she fully intends to follow them. In the original, the number is performed on a closed-off New York rooftop, whilst the remake has Anita and Bernardo moving through the city, just like the Jets did, gathering a crowd. The original setting of the number makes the message of the song seem almost limited to those on the roof, whilst the remake brings it to the streets, inviting the citizens of the west side to join in with Anita’s dream and find a sense of freedom in this new world.

Spielberg also pays homage to the golden era of film musicals, which seems to be conveyed through the visual aesthetics of the film, as it has an almost grainy filter, creating a visual style reminiscent of the golden era of Hollywood cinema. This classic Hollywood style is cemented beautifully during the introduction of Maria. When Maria, played by Racheal Zeigler, steps out through her window and onto the fire escape, the frame is cluttered with washing lines and the suffocating walls of the alleyway. However, a single spotlight shines on Maria, her white dress making her stand against her bleak surroundings and creating a frame within the frame to highlight her. The shot, as expected, is a reference to the original film, but I would argue it also refers to a wider understanding of classic cinema. It generates images of Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, in turn feeding into this collective consciousness the audience has.

We begin to recognise the conventions of these types of films, which in turn makes us think back to when we may have watched them. Moreover, casting the original Anita, Rita Moreno, in the film further invites the audience to think back to the original film and the style of films from that time where, white actors were cast in ethinic roles. By highlighting the past through the film’s visual style and the choice of casting I believe that Spielberg is inviting the audience to draw on a sort of collective consciousness, to think back on films from the golden era and to recreate the same feelings many people may get from those films. Spielberg has outlined in the past the importance this film has played in his childhood, as is outlined in the end credits with a dedication to Spielberg’s father, simply reading “For Dad.” Spielberg has arguably used the musical genre as a way to look back on himself and his inspiration for making films. Perhaps the film can be read similarly for its audience, inviting us to look back on ourselves and the films we love, to look for a place for escapism and freedom. What better way to escape than through a musical? Just as the film says,

“There’s a place for us.” I believe that place is when we’re watching a musical.

The Genius Absurdity of Mel Brooks

By Issac Hewson Betts | Film Studies BA (Hons)

Mel Brooks is a comedy film actor, writer, producer, and director. He has a filmography starting in the late 1960’s and with new material still being written still today. Brooks has a distinct comedic voice and one that he has maintained throughout his career. Although he is in the discussion as an auteur, he would be more accurately described as a dedicated collaborator. Blazing Saddles was written alongside 4 other screenwriters, and Young Frankenstein was written in collaboration with Gene Wilder, with it being Wilder’s original idea. Most of his works feature in the category of parody and pastiche.

In a quote to the New Yorker magazine he says, “New York humour” includes a “cruelty” not found in “Jewish humour” that he is typically defined within, hinting that his style as a New Yorker is a mix of both. Around the same time as Brooks started to reach credibility, Woody Allen was also emerging, and this started an era in American cinema, particularly in the comedic sphere that was shaped towards a Jewish/New York sense of humour that utilises self-deprecation as a defence mechanism from external judgement. Brooks’ first feature film The Producers shows the self-deprecating humour and parody that was so prominent throughout his career. Both of the main characters are Jewish and are, as described in the book The Jewish Image in American Film, “a compendium of ethnic cliches... that might well have been attacked as antisemitic". The humour within this self-deprecation lies in the fact that these awful characters and terrible stereotypes are the heroes in the piece. They are balanced out and minimised by the even more awful characters of the “sentimental Nazi playwright” who writes “a gay romp with Adolf and Eva in Berchtesgaden” and the “psychedelic simpleton” who ends up playing Hitler.

Herein lies the irony, and absurdity, a spacy L.S.D taking hippie ends up playing Hitler in a musical, written by a Nazi sympathiser, produced by two Jewish men who have sold over 25000 percent of the profits to old women. The final string in this bow of absurdist humour is that the musical is a success and shows Brooks parodying again but this time doing so to the American public who are “willing to find humour, however grotesque in the Third Reich.” Within this, Brooks captures the culture in America of turmoil of racial issues along with the hangover of WW2. Within that it is a society so desperate to laugh that it could find humour in a play entitled “Springtime for Hitler”. The bravery from Brooks to be able to laugh at something and someone who killed over six million of his race shows a new America emerging. An America that is influenced by Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator” where satire, parody and pastiche of the Nazi reign originated. Brooks and others, therefore, allow this form of comment to define the comedic film space for years to come with the classic self-deprecation and humour inspired by great Jewish filmmakers. The representation of the different types of people in America of the time is part of Brooks’ repertoire of comedy in that every stereotype and anachronism is played to the extreme to highlight the absurdity of each of these characters microcosmically in terms of the film, but in general the representations of each societal faction. His further cinematic universe, if you will, furthers this concept with his next film, Blazing Saddles.

Blazing Saddles expands Brooks’ escalation of stereotypes to eventually invert them. His target this time was that of the Western and American racial issues. Racist white people are no longer the heroes, now the villains. Black people, who were never actually relevant in classic Hollywood Westerns, are the racial victims yet they are represented in our hero. In addition, Native Americans, usually the villains and eventually those destroyed by the supposed “white saviour”, are shown as comparable to persecuted Jews. Although at first the image of a Native American speaking Yiddish in a New York accent is entirely absurd, in comes the genius of Brooks again. The Jew being coalesced with a Native American is a comment on World War Two and the holocaust. Brooks here is showing the similarities between what happened to the Native Americans and the Jews and forcing a wider view on these atrocities that American white people committed. He uses the plight of the Jews to show the other times in society that races have had to fight and eventually lose to oppression from exterior forces. Brooks faces societal issues with no fear and creates a discussion about the world we have created and how people are treated whether they be Black, Jewish, or Native American.

In Blazing Saddles, there is a very frequent use of racial slurs, especially towards the new Black sheriff Bart (Cleavon Little). Although, these days the language used would arguably render the film unmakeable, the more important thing is the message it is trying to send. Some may consider this language an absurd thing for a white Jewish man to write today but therein lies the irony. This stems from the fact that the townspeople whom Bart is sent to protect are shown to be dumb country bumpkins. A quote from Brooks himself illustrates this stating that “when you satirise, you have to be careful to know what the cliches are and use them.” In traditional Westerns, the people would be written in a very similar way as Brooks has written them in Blazing Saddles, the difference is that they are exaggerated to extremity thus showing the complete absurdity of the language and their views and their ideas on treatment of other human beings. Brooks’ intentions with this film in terms of absurdity are also clear in how the repetition and obviousness of the old Westerns is used, shown by the fake town set that they break through to fight and how the characters then move into the modern day and watch the film as it's going on. This placement of the film is parodying the falsities of a Western and questions why they are taken so seriously because they are filmed on the same set as a singing and dancing musical. The purpose of this scene is to illustrate that the world of the movies is all fake and full of absurd stereotypes.

Interestingly the only native American in Blazing Saddles is a Yiddish speaking Native American played by Brooks. The young Black family of our sheriff encounter a group, this strange group of Native Americans, who in most westerns would massacre the family to provide validity to the actions of the White “heroes”, but this group in Saddles, let them go free. The Jewish Image in American Cinema states that “It seems comically appropriate that the West’s most conspicuous outsider, the Indian, should speak in the tongue of history’s traditional outsider, the Jew.” Adding to that is the fact that the Native Americans let them go by an apparent sense of brotherhood through the punishment of the wider world on their respective races again shows the genius in Brooks’ absurdity and humanity.

Young Frankenstein is another of Brooks’ repertoire that reenforces his parodic voice. A film co-written with Gene Wilder; it is a spoof of the classic horror genre in general, but more specifically James Whale’s Frankenstein made in 1931 and the 1935 sequel The Bride of Frankenstein'. The concept of the film is that the original Dr Frankenstein’s grandson gets told that he has inherited his grandfather’s estate, he travels there and is manipulated into replicating his grandfather’s experiment with disastrous outcomes. One of the most interesting things about Young Frankenstein is the effort that Brooks, and the other creators put into making the film as close to the originals in terms of cinematography, set design and general aura of the film. The set design contained features of the original Frankenstein set and the electrical aspects that were part of the original production were done by Kenneth Strickfaden who also helped and took part in the creation of the electrical set pieces in Young Frankenstein. Here, you see Brooks’ love for the originals and although he was parodying them, he was not making fun of anything, merely escalating the absurdity.

The cinematography by Gerald Hirschfeld illustrates this point perfectly, as he stated that “I was about to learn a new type of photography which had nothing to do with mood, or with composition, or with lighting, or sets; it had to do with photographing a “joke”. In reading Brooks’ autobiography, you see how clever, well read and cultured this man is and his knowledge of films, and the world proves that Brooks could have made any film he so desired. Be it tragedy, romance, thrillers, or the art-house, Brooks could have turned his hand to any form but instead he opted for parody. He saw the potential that this form had and birthed a period in cinema that allowed comedy to mean more than just physical comedy and silly gags. Young Frankenstein is a perfect representation of this. Young Frankenstein could be considered as the most serious film in his directorial repertoire and yet the joke is still constantly the endgame, and it is an undeniably funny film. The care taken to make the sets and cinematography look as authentic as possible, with every actor playing it completely straight-faced, with the exception of a few nods to the audience, means that without the jokes, this film could be seen as having the same amount of seriousness and plaudits as the James Whale originals, yet again Brooks realises that the message of the film is more profound and powerful through absurdity and parody, which illustrates his artistry and inherent intelligence as a creator.

Blazing Saddles is a film built on the premise of ironic parody and to show how absurd the world is by escalating the absurdity of every situation and premise possible within this universe.