Dancing Your Way to Defeating the Bad Guy: A Look at the Exploding Importance of Music in the Superhero Genre

by Jake Fauske

Great movies almost always have great soundtracks. Whether a Hans Zimmer score such as in Christopher Nolan’s Inception, or something like Kubrick’s haunting selections on 2001: A Space Odyssey, iconic movies garner iconic sounds to go with them. While scores and soundtracks are often written around movie scenes, in order to match the tone of what the director has shot or written, the reverse can sometimes be true as well. One style may not be better than the other, but in recent years, a blending of the two styles seems to be the perfect combination. The soundtracks of big budget movies, more specifically in the superhero genre, have proved to be vital success factors. While Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy carries more classic Zimmer scores, 2008’s Iron Man brought back the titular Black Sabbath theme song, and solidified the need for an iconic, moving defining track, or series of tracks, that can act as the hero’s calling card to moviegoers. While many movies in the hero genre have followed the trend, it is truly identifiable in the Iron Man Trilogy, Black Panther, both Guardians of the Galaxy, and most recently, Sony’s Spiderman: Into the Spider-Verse. Both Guardians of the Galaxy movies and the newest Spiderman give audiences an excellent opportunity to understand how much better the movie experience can be when the movie and music are woven together seamlessly, and were developed hand in hand.

Let’s start with James Gunn’s 2014 epic Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1. As early as 2013, when Gunn announced that Tyler Bates would be writing the score, audiences were tipped to an interesting feature about the movie. Gunn revealed that Bates would be writing pieces of the score before any of the movie was filmed, so he could, “film to the music” as opposed to the scoring around the film. Bates’ pre-score, as well as the hand selected 60’s and 70’s classic songs, would go on to help Gunn shape the movie, scene by scene. The process he worked by was simple: Gunn would build a playlist from half-remembered popular songs on the Billboard charts in the 60’s and 70’s, and then blast the songs on speakers around his house for days. From these listening sessions, he would then sometimes be inspired to create a scene around a song, writing each moment to a verse or chord. Other times he would already have a scene in mind, and would comb through that same playlist, replaying the scene with each song until he visualized a match. Peter Quill’s eccentric introduction is a prime example of Gunn’s auditory magic:

The first time the audience meets the character, Peter’s true intro comes after several minutes of long buildup as he treks through a seemingly deserted planet. Then, his Walkman clicks into place and Redbone’s “Come and Get Your Love” starts playing as the title card appears and Star-lord begins to dance. Gunn admits that he wrote the scene with Blue Swede’s rendition of “Hooked on a Feeling” in mind, yet was fixated on “Come and Get Your Love” when he heard it, and reworked the dance when they realized it was a better fit. Regardless of which iconic song was used, as both end up in the film, moviegoers are unlikely to forget Star-lord’s introduction or the film itself, with such a memorable open. A half-remembered ballad from years ago, Gunn’s choice of Redbone’s song instantly has the audience singing along to a song they weren’t even aware they knew, and looking forward to what action, and music, the rest of the movie has in store. And let’s not forget, the climax of the film is a dance off for the galaxy!

Gunn and Bates repeated their dynamic combination for the 2017 sequel, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, with Bates writing parts of the score first, allowing Gunn to film to the music. The pair also broadened their song selection, choosing some big-hitting famous classics and other, lesser known masterpieces that allowed Gunn to showcase not only his personal range for music taste, but also the emotional range of his characters and scenes, as they were built to reflect the soundtrack. Let’s look at the opening sequence to the sequel as well:

No longer an introduction per say, but a reintroduction to characters we already love, a quick catch up to let us know they are right where we left them. An adorable baby Groot replaces Star-Lord as the dancer this time around, with Electric Light Orchestra’s mega-hit Mr. Blue Sky taking the title card slot, and again Gunn has every audience member singing and dancing along with a baby tree, four minutes into the movie, with no hint of what the rest of the film is about. Music adds emotion, engagement, even a certain power to a scene, and Gunn acknowledges this at the end of the opening credits, when Drax falls through Groot’s speaker, cutting off our sing-along and enraging baby Groot to the point of attacking his own teammate. This wink at the audience lets us know that the director agrees, life is more fun with a good song attached. Though there are too many great examples to touch on, I would be remiss to not bring up the pivotal, dramatic team split-up moment in Guardians 2, as half the team elects to go with Peter and his newly found dad, Ego, while the other half stays to repair the ship. As Quill, Drax, and Gamora walk down the ramp, in tasteful slow motion, Fleetwood Mac wails The Chain in the background, as an auditory representation of the inner-team turmoil. In an post-release interview, Gunn mentions specifically picking that song to represent, “the bonds of love potentially breaking, or not breaking”. Because not only does he use the song there, but he brings it back again in the film’s climax, signifying to audiences that no, that figurative chain will not break, and that the Guardians will prevail. With the selection of The Chain, Gunn had two of the biggest moments of his film already set, waiting to be flushed out around those guitar chords and drum beats. I still can’t get that scene out of my head.

Here’s part of the interview:

For those of you that have seen the Guardians movies, what do you think of the soundtracks? Do you sing along? Is it too much?

For those of you that haven’t seen them, get on it.

 

Now let’s switch gears and talk about a film we viewed in class: 2018’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. In addition to a lovely score written by Daniel Pemberton, Pemberton and directors Persichetti, Ramsey, and Rothman curated a soundtrack released in conjunction with the film entitled Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (Soundtrack from & Inspired by the Motion Picture). Not the most original name admittedly but, not only are these songs used in the movie as a backdrop to the heroic feats of action done by Miles Morales and his spider-compatriots, but they exist in his universe as well. In fact, the album was curated to “represent what a teen like Morales would listen to”. Each track is an attempt to represent Miles’ diverse background, the melting pot of his version of New York City, the current “pulse”, so to speak. Even the “alternate dimension” Chance the Rapper posters and billboards placed around the movie (his heraldic 3 hat switched to a 4 to remind us that this universe is not our own) speak to the musical detail placed in this film.

Take our first meeting with Miles, as he blasts Post Malone’s dream ballad “Sunflower” on his headphones, and sings along to ~ most ~ of the worst, if not all, just like we would to a radio hit when it comes up on shuffle or in the car on the way to work. From it, we can instantly identify with Miles, and maybe even begin to like him from the jump, if that’s your music taste (I know it’s mine):

“Sunflower” is used as a sort of focal point for Miles, as he is able to relax and worry less when he hears it, just as the audience does. It even helps him “unstick” from the ceiling in Doc Oct’s lab later in the movie as he and Peter B. Parker make a daring break-in. When all is said and done, and the day is saved, Miles is right back on his bed, headphones on, listening to Post Malone and Swae Lee again, the song reminding him that everything is right in the world. Throughout the movie, songs from the track list can be heard on radios, from cars, in headphones, and in the case of the super important (but not for the reasons you think) spider bite/graffiti scene, even on an old school boombox complete with an awesome master-mix of The Sugarhill Gang’s “Apache” meets Black Sheep’s “The Choice is Yours”. Music and art are some of the biggest parts of our protagonist’s life and the film runners do an excellent job of allowing the audience to experience each aspect right along with Miles:

I’m not sure about everyone else, but I was almost enjoying the graffitiing and song mix too much to be nervous about the freaky-looking spider. That’s how powerful music can be in film.

Its’ not groundbreaking news that music is powerful, or that the right song can make a movie scene unforgettable. But my goal here is to highlight how prevalent it’s become in the superhero genre, without even touching on heavy hitters like Black Panther, who used an almost identical style to Spider-Verse by letting industry heavyweight and Pulitzer Prize winner Kendrick Lamar curate an album to accompany the film. The industry is leaning hard into the emotional impact that the right sounds can illicit, both by creating new ones and delving back into the past to find the perfect match. I believe we will continue to see this shift, with big name directors enlisting the help of hot artists, letting them design the accompanying sounds tracks to drum up media attention and hone in on that perfect tone the movie is seeking. Who knows, it might even break out of just the super hero genre.

 

What do you all think?

What’s your favorite soundtrack? Not including musicals of course, otherwise the original version of The Lion King is always the best answer, (though I will always accept Lion King 1 ½ ).

The Invisible Hours as “Immersive Theatre”

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by Charlie Gallagher

We have all interacted with a classic detective story in the past. With so much media devoted to this genre—novels, movies, video games, and even board games—you would think there is not a lot left to do. After all, everyone knows the butler did it! However, in 2017, Tequila Works came up with a truly original idea using VR technology, “The Invisible Hours.” It plays like a movie, but it is interactive like a video game. The story is predetermined—you cannot change it—but you have the freedom to experience it from an infinite number of perspectives. So, what is it? Is it cinema? Is it a video game? Is it VR? Originally, I was quite skeptical about the game’s verdict about itself, that it is “immersive theatre” (The Invisible Hours). In this post, I will test the title against virtual reality games and cinema to evaluate the game’s verdict.

The clearest difference between “The Invisible Hours” and a more traditional cinematic experience is the ability to interact with objects. Everyone begins their journey as Gustav steps off the boat and onto the dock. Some of the first interactive objects are the gun lying next to Tesla’s body, the gong mallet, and the electrical switch. Throughout the story, the observer will also find a variety of objects, some of which are clues and some of which are Skyrim-like trinkets.

Erika Ishii discovering some of the available in-game haptic interactions.

Even though they have very little meaning, the last remnants of a quest from 2011 that refuse to leave your “quest item” saturated inventory, something about them is just cool to look at. The objects in “The Invisible Hours,” are like that too. Surprisingly, watching others interact with these objects can hold someone’s attention as well. As the observer moves their input devices, whatever those might be, you really get a sense of the object in 3 dimensions. Unlike a Skyrim  inventory model, which feels sort of like interacting with your parent’s priceless vase, you can shake these. Of course, the objects do not have any weight to them, but something about the motion of grabbing and shaking is so much more real than just twirling a 3D model with a joystick. In my experience, this is also true when you are only observing someone else’s gameplay. So, it is clearly different from cinema, but that does not make it virtual reality because it is not an influential interaction—one that has any effect on the story.

With the original Skyrim on PS3, even though you cannot interact with the majority of objects outside of your inventory, you still have the occasional bucket, shovel, or body you can drag around. This seems much more like an actual virtual reality experience, even if it is lacking in the haptic department. “Press X to drag” is hardly the same as moving the Vive’s controller, but the “X” button has something else going for it.

A player of Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim uses the drag mechanic to manipulate a bottle.

It creates an interaction that means something. Interactions in the admittedly beautiful and immersive world of “The Invisible Hours,” are not the same. They are augmented spectatorship. When the observer takes the Luger in front of Gustav or steals his briefcase in the opening scene, the characters just ignore the intrusion, as if it never happened.

Gustav could not care less about the floating pistol in his face.

Of course, you could argue that the press “x” to drag mechanic is not very much of anything, but in some cases, it does indeed affect the world, like when you put a bucket on a guard’s head and proceed to steal something without so much as a peep other than the occasional comment about arrows and knees.

Buckethead

In Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim placing a bucket over a shopkeeper’s head effectively blinds them, or at least it did before it was patched.

You could also point out that that there is haptic interaction in the menu, but I do not consider the menu to be part of the game. It is more like a mini-game. Dressing up a menu in this manner can be interesting. Certainly, the hidden terminal in Treyarch’s 2010 “Black-Ops,” added quite a bit of interesting retro content, but at the end of the day, it is still just a main menu. Further, some objects in-game are important to the plot, like Bernhardt’s nose (unfortunately not something you can interact with), or the various pamphlets found throughout the game. In interacting with them, you are advancing the plot, but only so far as you advance your own understanding. The story goes on around you, even when you find a clue that brings the plot together. Secret scenes and “spirit radios” may result in somewhat more interaction but only superficially.

On the other hand, the ability to move around and control your viewing angle is decidedly closer to a video game than it is to cinema. Although, when we play a video game, we expect that our movements will affect what happens. For most of a playthrough, the plot will advance independent of where you are, what you are doing, or what you are looking at. This is a major reason that the “Hours” experience is distinct from VR gaming.

At the same time, the ability to change the point in time you are viewing from is a lot more like home cinema where you can rewind at will. There are so many clues and tricky plot points to miss. Supposing you do not miss them, you will still no doubt be confused, at least at first. Like a confusing movie, you can go back and make sure you understand anything you missed. Alternatively, if you are bored by one piece of dialogue, you can fast forward. There are times where you might want to experience from only one character’s perspective, but at that point in time, they will not be doing anything interesting. As you follow another character, you may converge into a scene you have already witnessed. This sort of feels like watching a movie you have already seen, albeit from a different perspective. Fast forwarding is useful here as well.

Something about making your own stage directions with the HMD on is a little bit disorienting. This would obviously never happen in cinema. The experience is likewise different from a video game, but this is because of its implications. Here, if you miss an important part because you are having trouble turning around, it is not quite the same as it would be in a more interactive environment.  In a game, when you fail miserably to accomplish an objective because of a lack of familiarity with the controls, that can sort of go along with the gameplay. One example is Assassin’s creed.

This is a clip from Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, one of the franchise’s best titles. The control inputs for a back-eject are simple, but cinematically, Ezio’s performance is complex. This leads me to not feel as foolish when I fail a back-eject, despite input simplicity.

Movement in Assassin’s creed, especially the later titles, is semi-cinematic. You direct your characters actions, but the character knows quite a bit about what to do. When you execute a back eject and fail miserably, you feel like it sort of makes sense. Back ejects are rather difficult looking, after all. It feels like you could hardly blame Ezio for your foolish mistake. Here, when you are spinning around trying to get a sense of what is going on, it is completely different. It feels like you have suddenly forgotten how to walk, and your vision is cutting in and out.

Erika Ishii demonstrating the difficulty of turning around while still facing the camera. You will notice the same flashing as during a teleport.

Presumably, you get better at it with practice, but it also seems like one of the main reasons for the follow character mechanic. The presence of this mechanic seems to acknowledge difficulty or at least the presence of a learning curve. The problem with the follow mechanic is that it changes the experience from first person to a sort of fly on the wall point of view. This moves you further away from interacting with the world. It looks more like I would imagine “Headsight,” an early example of proto-VR, might have felt. “Headsight” essentially gave the point of view of a security camera.

Erika Ishii making use of the “follow character” mechanic

You could argue that the follow mechanic is just another valid way to interact with the story, and you would be right, but it is certainly less of a virtual reality experience in that it is one extra barrier between the observer and what is actually going on. It also takes away much of what little interactive agency you have. It left me wondering if the controls could have been tweaked. Of course, sometimes it may be interesting to watch a scene from a fly on the wall perspective. If that is the observer’s preference, there is nothing wrong with it; however, it seems more likely that this is for people who are annoyed by the choppy viewing above. That being said, observers in restrictive viewing environments and those who are less mobile will obviously appreciate the mechanic.

The natural product of all the control afforded to us is circular storytelling, and that is where “The Invisible Hours” really shines. Even if we had all experienced the story for the full session, it is unlikely that we could have fully appreciated this property. It is a product of the interplay between changing camera angles, locations, and times that allows the observer to experience the story from a variety of perspectives. In fact, circular storytelling essentially requires this variety. You will never understand the full story by merely following Gustav around.

Here we have the “spirit radio” one of the main drivers of circular storytelling. It only activates at the moment a character dies, in order to use it you are almost required to go back in time. Immediately after, we have the one of the menus, an easy way to change your location, view, and time.

Cinema, at least in its presentation of events, is mostly linear, even if the events themselves are not. Typically, in storytelling videogames there is some element of choice, but in one playthrough, you are mostly stuck in a linear presentation of events, at least the first time. “The Invisible Hours” is nothing like that. It gives you the choice to create your own perspective. This choice does not change the actual events of the story, only how you perceive them. In this way, the title is quite distinct from both cinema and more traditional video games.

You might ask what makes this different from spectating, a common feature in many multiplayer video games. This is different because spectators are not typically bound by many of the physical rules of the game they are watching. When you spectate your friends in a first-person shooter, you are usually free to take the camera anywhere. Occasionally, there are games which only allow spectating from the view of the player, but this typically occurs in competitive gameplay during matches, where spotting could give some players a competitive advantage. It hardly compares to the sort of active spectatorship in this single-observer experience.

More traditional video game spectating, as seen in Modern Warfare 2 (2009).

“The Invisible Hours,” can teach us much more about how to create an immersive experience with quickly evolving VR technology than either video games or movies alone. As a sort of hybrid between cinema and virtual reality, it also has a lot to teach us about the relationship between cinema and VR. No doubt this game will be referenced as turning point for study in the future, especially as the field of video game studies continues to grow.

Ultimately, “The Invisible Hours,” is neither a piece of cinema nor true virtual reality. In many ways, it is the best of both worlds. It offers the aging detective story we have all experienced many times in an entirely new and amazing way. Even almost 3 years post launch, the experience is as timeless as the genre it brings to a new generation of equipment.

 

Trailer

Games

Bethesda. Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Bethesda, 2011.

Tequila Works. The Invisible Hours. Tequila Works, 2017.

Infinity Ward. Modern Warfare 2. Infinity Ward, 2009.

Ubisoft Montreal. Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood. Ubisoft Montreal, 2010.

Treyarch. Call of Duty Blackops. Treyarch, 2010.

Youtube Clips

The Presentation of Scopophilia in Rear Window (1954)

By Hasnat Ahmad

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Rear Window is a 1954 film by Alfred Hitchcock which follows a globe-trekking photojournalist named Jefferies who’s been confined to his home due to a leg injury. While Jefferies is sitting in his wheelchair, he decides he has nothing better to do but spy in on the going-abouts of his neighbors, leading him to suspect a certain Mr. Thorwald of murdering his wife. But the film is not so much a murder mystery as it is a film about voyeurism and the pleasures of viewing other’s lives without their express knowledge or consent. Hitchcock uses multiple cinematic techniques, including camera movement, set design, editing, and zoom to create an effective presentation of the role of scopophilia in an increasingly modernized and urban society.

Camera movement

The camera movement of Rear Window is an important factor that Hitchcock utilizes to create an effective presentation of voyeurism. The point of view shots which slowly pan across the screen are a critical reflection of what the movie-goer themselves might do in a similar situation to observe ongoing events. This creates a unique sense of shared voyeurism for both the viewer and Jefferies himself, as the viewer is viewing him view the hectic lives of his neighbors. Hitchcock almost paradoxically also emphasizes the fact that this voyeurism can also have its positive benefits as well. If Jefferies had not violated the privacy of his neighbors while he was bedridden, he would never have implicated Mr. Thorwald in the murder of his wife or grown closer to Lisa, who he mostly brushes off and ignores during the first half of the film.

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As viewers, we come to the stark realization that the definition of voyeurism, to seek sexual pleasure from being a peeping tom, is not always applicable to every voyeuristic situation, many times such as in Jefferies’ case it is simply an individual attempting to be alive and gain a sense of meaning in a world where their profession depends on them being able to walk. Picking up his lenses and observing the neighborhood is nearly all he can possibly do to find personal meaning while he is confined to his wheelchair.

“Hitchcock uses long continuous shots during points of dialogue or non-action to lull the audience into a false sense of security and to make them focus on the dialogue or the significance of the image itself, while in scenes of action, he cuts from shot to shot anxiously trying to squeeze in as many shots as possible, especially at the climax as Jeff struggles for his life against the villainous Thorwald. The cinematography is bound by the apartment as well; there is very little tracking, making us feel as immobile as Jeff, and any tracking that is done usually follows a character.

There is, however, a lot of tilting, panning, and dolly shots. These are the motions Jeff is able to accomplish with the aid of his binoculars and long-focus lens. This choice means that the viewer does not get every detail of every event happening in the other apartments. Their residents drift in and out of view due to blinds, doors, walls, and the angle of the view from Jeff’s apartment. These decisions are all done to equate Jeff to the viewer, an observation that has led many scholars to conclude that Jeff represents the movie-goer, looking for entertainment wherever he can find it.” -Kevin S. Brennan

What is most striking about the camera movement of Rear Window is how little the inhabitants of the neighborhood truly interact with each other. The viewer almost gets a sense that they each live in their own little worlds with their own lives on tangents far from ever intersecting. Each time the camera slowly shows us the ongoings of the neighborhood, it is clear how isolated each apartment is, just as or even more so than the isolation of Jefferies. Jefferies is in fact so alone that he is not so much isolated as he is living his life through the lives of the people he spends his days watching.

Set Design

Set design is another effective tool that Hitchcock utilizes in Rear Window to implement a theme of voyeurism. The feeling of confinement and alienation is incredibly important to the film, as even when Lisa and Stella come to check on Jefferies, he pays as little to no attention to them as possible in pursuit of watching Mr. Thorwald’s every move. This entrapped feeling is created by the fact that the viewers of Rear Window can only see what is within the scope of Jefferies’ lenses most of the time, creating a feeling of powerlessness, as we can only see as far as he does or is willing to do so. From Hitchcock’s perspective, the set is designed in such a way to create an effective voyeuristic experience for the viewers of Rear Window. There are clear wide shots of the entire group of apartments which Jefferies is observing from his sedentary state.

This explicitly leads to the viewer understanding and recognizing the layout and structure of the neighborhood, similar to as if they were looking at a map while playing a video game, allowing the viewer to put themselves as shadows right behind Jefferies, following his every move with a telepathic understanding of his emotions and actions. There aren’t many things in Jefferies’ room, but of what does exist the most intriguing is definitely his photographs, which is no shock, of course, as he is a photographer and not a shabby one at that. They all contain images of events scattered across the spectrum of everything imaginable, but the single trait they share in common is that they all depict tragic destruction and devastation.

Another critical observance is the shot of a broken camera in his otherwise very basic room, which indicated how he has previously undergone danger in desperate pursuit of his job, not very dissimilar to what he is doing by pursuing Mr. Thorwald.

This undoubtedly brings a sinister tone to his pursuit of voyeurism. It begs the question, what line does one cross to become a voyeur? Is it not true that every person behind a camera is a voyeur in some sense? But what is for sure is that Jefferies receives pleasure from viewing scenes of unhappy endings, such as the demise of Mrs. Thorwald.

“By maintaining the voyeuristic point of view from the rear window of Jefferies’ apartment, the audience views the same events that Jefferies stumbles upon from the same limited perspective. Hitchcock is the renowned ‘master of suspense’ because of his expert use of revealing just enough information to the audience to keep them on the edge of their seat as events unfold in the movie’s narrative. Because the viewer knows as much as Jefferies does, they are forced to make their own conclusions regarding this mysterious murder plot. They must decide if they will believe Jefferies, in which case Lars’ apartment across the courtyard lurks ominously as a scene of a gruesome murder or follow the advice of Doyle and believe the entire story is the figment of a stagnant imagination” -Greg Beamish

Editing

Editing is another method Hitchcock utilizes in Rear Window in order to implement an effective presentation of voyeurism. During the film’s opening sequence, Hitchcock implements the Kuleshov effect in order to tie together the actions of Jefferies with the camera in hand.

He uses this effect to tie together shots which otherwise the viewer might not make any connection between. This effect blossoms into a broader theme throughout the entire film, as it is used by Hitchcock through the performances of Jefferies, Lisa, and Stella.

“By sharing this voyeuristic activity with the audience, Rear Window shows Hitchcock’s view on voyeurism that it is a universal pleasure that all human beings pursue. In the story of the film, Jeffrey’s spying of his neighborhood starts off as his private hobby, but it eventually becomes a shared experience with his fiancé, Lisa, and his nurse, Stella. They are wary of the ethical issue with peeping at first, but later, they become more enthusiastic about finding out about Mr. Thorwald’s murder case than Jeffrey has been. Through this sharing, Jeffrey and Lisa even develop a fonder feeling with each other.

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Outside the story, Hitchcock further expands this excitement onto the audience and makes their interest in watching a film also a kind of voyeurism. Therefore, in Rear Window, voyeurism is not as much as an unhealthy desire, but a very natural one that normal people also can possess” -Johns Hopkins Film & Media Studies

These effects could only come to fruition through the editing decisions of Hitchcock, which he performs masterfully and in great taste. The way Jefferies rolls up his blinds to observe the neighborhood through a mid-shot of the open windows lets the viewer see how many different places your eyesight can potentially travel to, creating almost a sense of desperation to try to seek out what is most important. Each and every frame exists only to exponentially magnify the voyeuristic effect within each and every individual shot.

Shot Size and Framing

Shot size and framing is another important method which Hitchcock utilizes in order to effectively implement a theme of scopophilia in Rear Window. Visual shots of the camera panning across the neighborhood and zooming in on happenings within various apartments are especially critical in creating a sense of voyeurism for both Jefferies and the viewer, as he holds the lenses which act as a second pair of eyes not only for himself but also for us. These lenses almost indicate a form of handicap or paralysis of Jefferies, as his own eyes are too weak so he must use other means to view what he needs to, further indicating his extreme isolation within the film. One particular method of shooting which Hitchcock utilizes especially well in Rear Window is the framing of shots within shots, such as the windows of the apartments across from Jefferies. This is what makes the ending scene of Mr. Thorwald angrily entering Jefferies’ apartment and physically assaulting him so dramatic, as he is in a sense breaking the fourth wall by doing so.

The entire length of the film where Jefferies has been watching Mr. Thorwald through his camera and further his window turns him into a moviegoer in some sense. This layering of frames is critical in Hitchcock’s attempt to create an intense theme of voyeuristic tendencies for not only Jefferies but also viewers of the film. The viewer is viewing Jefferies view through his camera the view through Mr. Thorwald’s apartment window. However, when Mr. Thorwald enters Jefferies’ apartment, the streak of voyeurism is hastily broken and the viewer is snapped back into reality, showing how no matter how far off what one is viewing might be and however much isolated one might feel, the events you are viewing are much closer than you might have initially imagined, very much like a car side-view mirror where “objects in the mirror are closer than they appear.” All of this is not even mentioning the camera used to film Rear Window itself. There are, however, many ways Hitchcock uses framing to indicate other themes, such as whenever Jefferies is looking at Lisa, she is always the only thing in the frame, indicating his strong attraction and love for her.

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Wrapping Up

By utilizing clever cinematic techniques such as camera movement, set design, editing, and framing, Hitchcock creates a voyeuristic viewing experience for the movie-goers themselves. Not only is Jefferies watching the neighborhood with his steady gaze, but we are also watching him with ours. This means that as opposed to a simple static experience, the viewer is actively participating in the film, piecing together the clues just as fast as Jefferies. Hitchcock masterfully recognizes the fact that viewers are intrinsically motivated by personal means, and the most effective way to keep them involved is to create a voyeuristic experience that draws them in themselves due to fundamental human nature.

Sources:

Greg Beamish, https://the-artifice.com/hitchcock-rear-window-1954-voyeur/

Johns Hopkins Film & Media Studies, https://hopkinscinemaddicts.typepad.com/hopkinscinemaddicts/2013/04/voyeurism-in-cinema-rear-window-and-the-conversation.html

Kevin S. Brennan, https://scholarworks.gvsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1150&context=cine

The Interaction Of Spider-Verse’s Animation and Plot

by Tomi Kolapo

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a landmark in the evolution of mainstream superhero releases. It is both a superhero movie and an animated movie. It exists in the era of live-action superhero films. It proved to be a success by grossing over $375 million worldwide. The unique animation style that mimics comic book drawings resulted in widespread critical acclaim for its visual originality along with its box office success. 

The film is centered around the main character of Miles Morales. He is infected by a radioactive spider. However, unlike other iterations of Spider-Man, Miles is not the only Spider-Man that exists. Instead, he is another one of the multiple dimensions in the world. Miles is the main protagonist of the multiple spider-man. In Miles’s situation, he is given a flash drive by an older Spider-Man as he witnesses the previous Spider-Man get murdered by Green Goblin. The flash drive has the function of deactivating an accelerator that could destroy the city. Green Goblin works for Kingpin. As a result, the rest of the film serves as an adventure to defeat Kingpin and his intentions with the use of the flash drive. This adventure reveals itself to be interdenominational as a result of encounters with different versions of the hero.

The intricacy and complexity of multiple dimensions raise a concern about the plots form, which reveals itself as a strange but unitary piece. However, this singular piece is constructed of multiple ideas, cultures, and races represented by the concept of the multiverse. Thus, the narrative needs to be strong enough to hold these different strands together. However, this narrative, though meticulous in its plotting, has a complicated relationship to the normal three or five-act structure. This can be accounted for by its self-awareness, increased possibilities of animation and its comic structure. It culminates in a  more unique narrative than normal comic book structures. The typical structure allows for a movie more palatable to a wider audience. Even though Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse has a complicated structure, it retains a wide appeal. This structure makes it harder to apply traditional act structures.

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The first part is the exposition (prologue). The exposition provides the background information for the characters and setting. The background information in the movie is more explicit than normal. The movie starts off with Peter Parker saying “All right let’s do this one last time.” From here the original Peter Parker explains his backstory leading to the current moment. However, by saying “All right let’s do this one last time” the movie conveys that its aware of the audience’s familiarity with Spider-man origin stories. Therefore, part of the burden of outlining the character’s inherent attributes is placed upon the audience. However, this prologue is in a way deceptive because there are multiple other spider-men from other dimensions. Each gets their own origin explained with a similar set up as the initial backstory. These backstories happen at different points that come after some plot points. Also, these characters prove to be more integral to the story than the original backstory. Therefore, it questions the chronological ordering of the traditional 5 act structure. This seeming lack of agreement with the 5 act structure on the order of the prologue is potentially made further clear by potentially viewing the entire movie as a prologue to Miles Morales’s story. He does not get the setup for explaining the backstory until the end of the movie.

Opening Scene and Peter Parker’s Backstory

The inciting incident occurs when Peter Parker dies and he hands Miles the flash drive to shut down the collider. He gives Miles a purpose to use his newly acquired powers. Also, it is the point in which he first encounters Kingpin and his henchmen. After this, there are many emotional points like the encounter, revelation, and death of Aaron. Also, there is the battle in which they try to infiltrate Kingpin’s facilities. This is while the characters and nature of the story’s world are being revealed to the audience by encountering characters from other dimensions, which is information fitting of a prologue. However, these appear as potential distractions from the real climax, which is the big battle like it is in most superhero movies. It ends with the defeat of Kingpin and the collider being shut down.

The falling action appears partly within the climax. The major supporting characters (the other Spider-men) get a resolution to their story while the battle is happening. It exemplifies how the ambitious nature of the storytelling alludes to the structure. The falling action includes other events like fixing his relationship with his father and capturing kingpin.

The denouement happens as Miles flings through the air and then he gets to explain his own backstory like the other spidermen. Thus, he now has his own prologue. Also, why he does this he explains the message of everyone having the ability to be a hero and that people are not alone when they choose to be one. This is signified by the message he receives from Gwen Stacy at the end.

Denouement

The filmmakers and animators describe a filmmaking process that was well aware of its relative lack of limitations. One of the producers, Chris Miller stated in an interview “we’ll just push it as far as we can until it breaks” and he also states “so we crammed it with as much as we could” when speaking about the multiverse and other plot points (Kaye). As a result, it shows a willingness of the creators to experiment with the form since they were given the opportunity to. The filmmakers did not have the burden of carrying large financial and storytelling consequences. Avoiding strict adherence to normal plot structures is less worrying to executives because its funding is significantly less than its live-action counterparts. The movie cost less than 100 million, while most live-action Spider-man movies this century cost around 200 million. Also, the film did not have the pressure of continuity. For instance, Spider-Man: Far From Home had certain plot limitations since it fed into the larger entity of the Avengers and other stand-alone films. These live-action films have multiple mechanisms working at the same time so it is easier to resolve these potential problems by having films of the same structure. It leads to the avoidance of large disasters with the establishment of live-action movie plot templates.

Removal of these unnecessary burdens and expectations reveals awareness of the limitations of animation. This is an unintended example of applying the modernist perspective that Clement Greenberg describes in “Modernist Painting.” Modernism as Greenberg conceives of it, recognizes the limitations of a medium (Greenberg 5-10). In this instance, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse shows an appreciation for animation as a unique format.  Animation will always have an obstruction from completely mimicking reality since it is not real, but computer-generated. Spider-man recognizes this and embraces the absurdity of animation. It takes full use of animation’s ability to use a wide variety of colors and shapes that are rare, unusual or impossible in reality. As a result, ridiculous plot elements like a multiverse fits in without sticking out as unusual. The plot cannot escape the animation that creates it.

 

When Splitting Up a Narrative Gets Dicey

by Eric Chang

Now that we have transitioned to studying Hollywood’s narrative tradition from the perspective of screenwriting guides, it is important that we understand that our analyses focus on just that: tradition. In the paradigms advanced by Syd Field and Kristin Thompson, both models of Hollywood-style narration are based on the then-historical body of work produced by Hollywood cinema. Thus, I view the following discussion as a matter of discerning which model is a more faithful representation of a fixed set of cinematic work rather than a matter of discussing the merits of non-tangible theories regarding ideal narration structure.

Syd Field’s book Screenplay, published in 1979, proposed the “three-act structure,” where the majority of Hollywood’s films could be divided into three distinct acts: the setup, confrontation, and resolution (see below). These acts are divided by major plot points and would take up 1/4, 1/2, and 1/4 of both the script and the film’s run time respectively. Since its publication in Screenplay, this model of the prototypical Hollywood narrative has become a staple in both film production and analysis.

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However, in 1999, Kristin Thompson, in her book Storytelling in the New Hollywood, proposed a revised version of Field’s model, citing problems arising from the Field conception of a narrative. According to Thompson, Field’s model shifted the focus of screenwriters and film analysts away from the dramatic logic of cinema scripts to the page number and minute-count of each film’s separate acts and their respective partitions. In reality, the demarcations between Fields’s three acts were arbitrary – each film could be divided into infinitely many narrative acts. Thus, a total and rigid allegiance to Fields’s three-act model should be seen as the misguided transformation of a helpful and flexible framework into a hindrance. Furthermore, by having a lengthy and ambiguous middle act in the “confrontation,” Fields’s model caused difficulties for screenwriters to fill the section (comprising of over half the film’s script and screen time) with action that had both a clear direction and natural exigence.

As a result, Thompson proposed her own four-act model for traditional Hollywood narratives. By inductively studying a large sample of Hollywood films, Thompson observed that the majority of films could be broken into four main acts: setup, complicating action, development, and climax (see below). By functionally splitting Fields’s “confrontation” act in half, Thompson’s model created four acts of equal length while also identifying a crucial “central turning point” wherein there exists a clear break between the complicating action act and the development act. These turning points are indispensable in understanding Thompson’s model. According to Thompson, these turning points provide functionally-crucial transitions between acts and can be easily spotted. Some main examples cited by Thompson include the articulation of new goals, a shift in the protagonist’s tactics, the introduction of a new premise or goal, etc.

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Taking a step back from the heavyweight cinematic analysis showdown between Fields and Thompson, it appears that the major difference between their two models is that Thompson’s model functionally adds an extra partition in the middle of Fields’s model. While this may seem arbitrary and self-defeating given Thompson’s claim that films can be divided into innumerable acts, each with their own functional differences, there is a very real and beneficial consequence resulting from this change. Calling back to Thompson’s identification of the protracted and difficult task of writing such a long middle act in Fields’s model, what Thompson’s “complicating action” act and “development” act provide is more structure. With Thompson’s description of the “complicating action” act’s necessity for a new situation for the protagonist to face followed by the “development” act’s description as the bulk of the protagonist’s struggle towards their goal(s), there is a clear difference in the two parts that now constitute Fields’s amorphous middle act.

Thus, Thompson’s revised model provides advantages for screenwriters and screen-watchers alike. For screenwriters, more structure allows for an easier way to ideate and capture the “dramatic logic” so important to an interesting and engaging screenplay. For screen-watchers, this four-act model allows for clearer expectations regarding traditional Hollywood films, which can translate to heightened awareness and easier identification of important plot points and segments, increasing audience engagement and information retention.

This latter result is directly relevant to Thompson’s focus on the Hollywood cinema consumer: the audience member. According to Thompson, the very basis for the need for narrative models is so that films can be more engaging to audiences, with each segment of the narrative achieving what is hopefully an optimal length to prevent both the shortchanging of information provided to the audience and the boredom wrought from unnecessarily-drawn out plotlines. With Thompson’s newly-enumerated middle acts, this can be accomplished much easier with clear guidelines that can keep a movie’s plot moving along at both a concise and engaging pace.

An interesting question posed by Thompson revolves around just how Fields’s three-act model came to be such commonplace in Hollywood films’ narrative tradition. Thompson has two theories. The first possibility is that the three-act model is truly the most optimal segmentation for Hollywood films, where less-optimal segmentation methods have been phased out and selected against through years of the optimality of Hollywood films being judged by the reviews of critics and the revenue generated from moviegoers. The second possibility is that the Hollywood academic tradition of learning how to screen write from watching past films has created a positive feedback mechanism, wherein the current prevalence of three-act model narratives is simply the result of its popularity in past films and not evidence of its innate optimality.

Personally, I believe that both theories are not mutually exclusive and that both have played a part in the modern prevalence of the three-part narrative model seen in so many Hollywood films. I also do not see Thompson and Fields’s narrative models as mutually exclusive. In tandem, it seems very possible that both models will continue to be perpetuated and popularized by both the academic tradition of Hollywood screenwriters as well as the easily-digestible, engagement-conducive nature of these structured narrative models.

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Thompson, Kristin, Storytelling in the New Hollywood: Understanding Classical Narrative Technique. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999

Classical Hollywood Narration and its Limits

By Kelly Mu 😀

In his essay Classical Hollywood Cinema: Narrational Principles and Procedurals, Bordwell seeks to highlight how classical Hollywood narration constitutes a specific and normalised way of representing and presenting a particular story, through manipulation of compositional style and techniques. According to Bordwell, there are three components, or purposes of a narrative: representation, structure and act. Bordwell focuses on the former two to show how classical Hollywood narration (prevalent in American films in the 1960s and 1970s) is able to differentiate itself from other narrative modes.

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A Brief Visual History of Virtual Reality

by Charlie Gallagher

I began trying to understand virtual reality (VR) by looking at its early history. This clarified how VR came to be; however, it left me with more questions than when I started. Chief among them was how to define VR. For this, I turned to the Crerar library and eventually to reading a large portion of the textbook Understanding Virtual Reality, by William Sherman and Alan Craig. While it was an excellent text, it was very vague in defining virtual reality. This led me to investigate how VR works. I began to understand virtual reality as a give and take between the many types of inputs fed to a VR system and their corresponding outputs. While my understanding increased, I was not much closer to a working definition. My goal with this blog is to trace out a brief history of VR to supplement my power-point (link at the end).

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