Recent work – Happy songs

Over the months of December, January and February I found myself in a bit of a rut. A trend defined by weeks of unmotivated downtime for me is watching a lot of teen films and rom coms. In this period I began analysing the strict structure that these films follow, especially I was concerned by the portrayal of the ‘happy ending’ and the sugary sweet manipulation of the sound tracks.

I started filming different aspects of my life on a new hand held ‘flip’ camera, including moments on my own, with my family and with friends. Its discrepancy and the fact it cannot immediately connect to the Internet meant that many people did not act as self-consciously in front of it as they would do with a phone recording. At parties I started asking other people to film with it, one of the most successful out comes of this is footage from a new years party. Watching this footage back, I started thinking about the ‘state’ of my generation, as shown in the video it seems that many young people are depressed and anxious, which reflects what I have read in Franco ‘Bifo’ Beradi’s ‘After the Future’. Thinking about the teen films I had been watching really began to concern me in this regard as I realised that many young people, myself included, have grown up with the expectation of significant resolution to everyday banality. This short video set within the transient moment of change that is the new years party, depicts a specific western view of ‘millennial adolescents. Asked whether they are looking forward to the coming year the youths, fuelled by intoxication, speak somewhat bleakly about their future and past despite living and studying comfortably and some merely shrug.

I wanted a way of comparing these experiences of modern adolescence that I have experienced to those I have seen depicted in films. Having been inspired by Lenka Clayton previously with alphabetising Zoella’s vlog ‘what’s in my handbag? 2016’ I decided to do the same to songs that have been used in teen film. I was especially interested in lyrics that expressed the resolution of ‘dreams’ in some way, as I think that this is one of the most interesting yet concerning things that teen films do. A good example of this is Hilary Duff’s performance of ‘This is what dreams are made of’ at the end of the Lizzie McGuire movie. Hilary/Lizzie performs this in the Colosseum Amphitheatre in Rome after being mistaken for a famous pop singer on a school trip. In the 4 minute duration of the song Lizzie manages to conquer the ‘bad guy’, return credit to the ‘good girl’ and perform to tens of thousands of people including all of her fellow students and parents. The reason that this concerns me so much is that I used to perform similar scenarios in my bedroom mirror as a child, and watching this scene now will still reward me with a sense of awe and goose bumps.

Alphabetising these lyrics meant writing them out repeatedly and after doing several different songs, including work by the Jonas Brothers, High school musical cast and Britney Spears, I began noticing that just before the words were totally alphabetised they made strangely poetic stanzas. For example;

 

‘Do dreams make different

Make dreams

Make make dreams

Make do

Make dreams do’

 

Which was found within High school musicals extraordinarily positive final song from the first film of the trilogy; ‘We’re all in this together’.

It was at this time I began looking at Mishka Henner’s work and was particularly struck by his series ‘Bliss’ that consists of awkwardly realistic stills taken of news reporters. I began taking stills of my own videos as I found that their low resolution quality often turned the banal pieces of footage into something much more visually engaging.

I felt that this reflected what is happening a lot on the Internet already where social media sites such as Instagram and Facebook encourage us to present our lives fictitiously with photos that tend to reflect how we wish our lives were rather than how they actually are. I then got an opportunity to have a zine published by Black Wave Press and felt that this would be the best way to experiment with the comparison of my own experience of adolescence and the teen film depictions of this. Here I displayed some of my John Giorno inspired found poems next to stills taken from my own videos amongst glitter and kitsch in a zine titled ‘Happy Song.’ The zine begins and ends with poems that specifically deal with dreams, starting with an adolescent covered in glitter holding the camera towards her face and ending with a newly formed family having their photo taken on a smart phone in front of a Christmas tree.

After some feedback in tutorials on this zine I decided to make a video counterpart, I first experimented with using my own voice to read out the poems but eventually decided it was much more effective to use a robotic voice. I made as many experiments with this technique as I had carefully selected poems, after showing them back to back in a crit, I quickly realised that these were all separate sketches and need to be displayed that way, if at all.

My most recent piece of work with this footage was ‘could cos dreams – a happy song’ which consists of layered footage zooming towards the screen in the way in which film classifications were announced on VHS tapes. After tutorials with Matthew Weir, Andy Parsons and Lilah Fowler, I realised it was really important to get these works into a more physical state (beyond Youtube) and so I showed this particular piece in the Linear Gallery. I turned the volume up to maximum and made it so that the footage would only appear once a minute. It was this silence contrasted with the loud repetition of ‘dreams’ and the happy family which meant this experimental work often confronted passers-by with confusion.

I have been working a lot with this particular piece of footage of the newly formed family. I believe this is because I am really interested in the education of children and the way in which institutions support this learning at such a crucial age. Being staged in front of a Christmas tree, I think this footage also explores the conventional dreams of the happy family and happily ever after often expressed in teen films. The smart phone in the foreground also highlights our current place in technological history where everything we do is documented and momentarily distributed, creating a tension in the ‘here and now’.

I realise that my work over the course of this year has become a lot less ambitious in terms of its scale but I feel that this has been necessary in order for me to spend time working on the breadth of my ideas and influences. I don’t quite feel that this is in any way a finished or resolved piece of work as it is still very quiet and ambiguous but I believe it is a starting point for something much more ambitious.

Maggots and food experimentation and problem solving

During my project I have been keeping a smaller sketchbook inspired by Tracey Emin’s book ‘One Thousand Drawings’ where I forced myself to draw memories as quickly as possible in order to keep them unrefined and raw. When flicking through this sketchbook for inspiration I came across a drawing that included the sentence: ‘THERE ARE MAGGOTS IN MY BRAIN/ EVERY TIME I THINK OF FOOD/ I AM ROTTING AWAY.’ This led me to start filming with maggots, as well as inspiration from the boat scene in ‘Willy Wonka and the Chocolate factory’ where we see a centipede crawling over a mans face, which is something I found particularly disturbing. Inspired by the fluid scene changes in ‘Enter the Void’ and the constant use of zooming in and out, I decided to try and make short piece of footage which zoomed into something pleasant and then zoomed out of something that looked similar but was actually maggots. I wanted to do this with food because the idea of having maggots in my mouth makes me feel physically sick and can completely put me off food, which I think will be the same with the majority of people. So I set up a plate of spaghetti bolognaise and zoomed into it so that the shot was completely obscured, and the set up spaghetti in the same bowl at the same angle but instead of bolognaise I seasoned the spaghetti with maggots and took several shots zooming out of this set up. I then used Adobe Premiere pro to put these two shots together, the problem I faced with this was that the bolognaise was much darker than the maggots when both shots where completely zoomed in. This caused problems for me because when I put both of the clips next to each other on the timeline, when watching it through, it went from the brown hues of the Bolognese to a flash oh white, which made it obvious that the clips had been cut and changed. This was a problem because to make this footage work the two clips needed to integrate seamlessly so that the audience would assume that the clip was about to zoom out again onto the bolognaise, so that the juxtaposition of the maggots was much more shocking. I tried many different ways of solving this, firstly I tried re filming the zoomed in bolognaise shot to see if I could focus the camera on spaghetti instead to make the change seem less obvious, this still didn’t work because there was still an obvious change of shots when watching it back through. Next I tried turning the opacity of the bolognaise shot down at the end and at the beginning of the zooming out footage of the maggots on the spaghetti so that the footage would go completely dark when the shots where changing. Although this got rid of the flashing problem between the two scenes, this made the audience suspect that there was going to be a change of footage as it seemed like a proper cut, whereas I wanted the audience to be constantly looking at the texture and assuming the shot was staying the same. Next I tried using the ‘change to colour’ tool to try and get the bright whites in the second shot to match the colours in the first, but this only made the second clip go a strange colour and took it further away from merging fluidly with the first shot. I then watched a Youtube tutorial which showed me how to overlap films, so I turned down the opacity where the clips would overlap and then merged them together by placing one over the other. This worked perfectly and I finally had the outcome that I was aiming for, as the two clips merged fluidly so to an unsuspecting eye it does not seem that the footage is changing at all. This clip is to show the different perspectives of someone living with a mental illness and someone who is not, as it is meant to demonstrate how everyday situations such as sitting at a table to eat a meal can be a struggle for people who suffer from a mental illness.

Enter the void analysis

This film had an interesting plot, but it is more the bizarre visuals, use of perspective and unique camera angles that inspired me most. In particular the cuts that Noe uses throughout the film, which transports the audience via light display or what appears to be Tokyo’s electric system to the next scene instead of blacking in and out. I think if I do experimenting with making films with multiple cuts I should find more interesting ways of linking shots that will add to the viewers anticipation and anxiety. One change of scene that I thought was particularly well done takes place when we are following the backs of the two main characters who are on a rollercoaster, as an audience we get the sensation of being hurtled forward by the ride with all the noises and lights that you would expect to hear and see flashing past you. Once the rollercoaster goes into a tunnel the fairground audio fades slightly and we begin to see a light that we assume to be the end of the tunnel, but as we get closer we realize that it is actually an oncoming car and we are moving at full speed towards it, all of a sudden we find ourselves in the midst of a fatal car crash. The way in which the camera is continuously moving forward at such high speed until this point is effectively what makes this transition so smooth and shocking, helped by the way in which Noe has chosen very similar colour palettes for both scenes. This idea of transforming something pleasant to something disturbing very quickly is something I’d like to experiment with as I think this use of shock would be an effective way of creating anxiety in my audience. Another transition technique that I want to experiment with which takes place when the two main characters are talking and the camera blurs slightly and when the camera restores focus the female lead is carrying on the exact same dialogue and stood in the exact same position with the same costume but the rest of their surroundings have changed. As this is from the lead males memory we can interpret that this is him being unclear about the location of the memory, but I think that this technique of setting up to similar shots but with changes that confuse you as to what you where expecting to see. The hallucinogenic sequences that Noe also chose in transitions between shots were also something that I’d like to experiment with, possibly in a kaleidoscope format but with everyday objects to reiterate the idea that everyday situations, however familiar can seem scary and confusing from the perspective of someone living with a mental illness. Another technique I felt was worth noting was used in the beginning of the film when we are in the perspective of the male lead in such a literal sense that we even experience his blinks. In an article I read in the guardian, the writer described how as he was watching this part he noticed that his blinks where in the same rhythm as the characters. This idea of being able to physically effect the viewer by influencing their basic human need to blink is something I’d love to be able to recreate, as it shows the complete subconscious control that a mental illness can have which turns into a physical action (in this case the viewers blinking, in the metaphoric sense self harm or loosing motivation).

‘Making toast’ – initial film experiment.

After doing some research on Mark Wallinger I found my self particularly inspired by his film piece ‘Angel’, a clip of which can be seen here. In this clip you can see that the footage has been reversed, but it takes a while to tell because the main focus of the footages composition is Wallinger who appears to be talking to the camera. Once you start to notice how the people in the background on the escalators are acting in very strange ways you come to the realisation that Wallinger is actually the one acting in reverse, but because of the way the footage has been edited it appears that he is acting normally. This created huge confusion in me as a viewer, as you naturally tend to focus on the foreground it is assumed that there is nothing unusual about the film, but when you realise that you have been deceived you begin questioning every other aspect of the film itself, creating tension and anxiety in the audience as well as shock and confusion. This technique had the exact effect on me that I wanted to create in my own audience, so I then decided to create my own film using this technique to try and create an optical illusion with film. I wanted to use it in the context of an everyday situation to show how people with a mental illness perceive normal everyday life so I started planning the footage around making a cup of tea but then realised that when pouring liquid it would flow backwards and give the whole set up away. I then thought that it maybe interesting to film something just as trivial and have something else, for example running water, at the end to indicate to the audience that the whole clip has actually been in reverse. I then decided that I would simply film myself making a slice of toast but without adding any spreads like butter or jam or cutting it in half as these are things that can’t be undone and would have to be done at the beginning of the footage. Planning this was very difficult and I had to make several lists working out how it would be filmed and then how the audience would see it when the footage was reversed. I found that there where a lot of complications to this process as I started thinking about the logistics of it such as how the toast will appear not toasted before it goes into the toaster and how I am going to get the toaster to ‘pop’ up. In my first experimentation with this technique I ran the tap at the end of the clip to show the water running backward to give away the fact it is reversed footage, but in practice this did not work as I had planned as you couldn’t really see the water running. So in a later experiment I poured juice in the foreground of the shot, which worked much more successfully. After being cut this clip came to just over a minute long, which I was pleased with as this makes it more accessible to an audience and more likely that they will watch the whole thing. This also allows enough time to build up tension within the experiment, especially when very little action is happening whilst I am waiting for the bread to finish toasting, which is relieved in the last few moments when the juice behaves in a way that defies nature. Although I had to overcome many complications I feel that the final outcome of this experimentation was successful as ultimately this is meant to be about how everyday life and routines can be perceived as confusing and hard to comprehend when lying in bed facing a mental health issue that complicates simple tasks, which I feel is the same experience we get from this film clip.

30 seconds/1 cut

Here is my short film clip from a group project ’30 seconds/1 cut’. I was very enthusiastic when I heard about this project as I really enjoy working in the media of film and wanted to experiment with it more after my week rotation in moving image and photography in part 1 of my course. I decided to take this opportunity to film myself screaming at the camera for 30 seconds without stopping. I used this as therapy for myself, letting out all of my current frustrations and anger but channeling it into something constructive and hopefully creative at the same time. This is how I feel about a lot of my current work, as by focusing on my own frustrations and therapeutically channeling them into my art I sometimes can feel quite relieved and as though a weight has been lifted off my shoulders. Unfortunately I was unable to scream for the whole 30 seconds as my throat began to hurt, so the last 10 seconds are left in an eerie silence with me out of shot before it carries on to the next persons 30 second clip. My film contrasted very dramatically next to the other clips as many of them didn’t include much sound and many of them were practically silent, so when mine came on it was quite a shock and made a few of the audience jump. I was pleased with this result as it meant that the viewers physically reacted to my work and made an impact on them, I also feel that this video could be interpreted as a literal cry for help. I do wish that I had got better lighting, focus and symmetry in the shot and possibly more white to give a more clinical aesthetic to the piece. When I asked my peers what they thought of my clip they said that they found it frightening and uncomfortable to watch and listen to as I had recorded myself in a very intimate way making myself appear vulnerable and mentally unstable.