How to write a successful (MA) English Literature graduate application letter

3 Apr

 

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Although colleges will ask you for a personal letter to assist in their selection process this is not in fact what they are looking for. They are looking to create a fit; an appropriate connection; the correct person for the available college resources. This means that the applicant needs to be aware that their letter of intent, rather than a personal statement, should be a carefully crafted document in order to illicit interest and most importantly, to simplify the selection committee’s choice. For example, rather than ramble on about your love affair with books and literature, direct instead your letter towards a specific period and department. By engendering the letter towards available programs and possibly known professors the applicant will significantly increase their chance of selection. Remember there are hundreds of applications, therefore, your job is to make the task of the selection board that much simpler. By offering direction rather than vague notions of literary allusion the candidate will not only stand head and shoulders above the multitudes but will significantly increase their chances of selection. Do not be fooled by the title of “personal statement”; do not reveal the deepest darkest corners of your soul but rather illuminate your writing with practicality. They want you in their college. They just need a little help in finding the right fit. The idea is to temper your own experiences and educational aspirations to available resources. Once again – as you have heard a thousand times before – be eloquent, be bright; use prose ” that would ascend the brightest heaven of invention” but keep it simple. George Orwell said that “good writing should be like clear glass.” Keep this in mind when penning your piece and for goodness sake keep it relevant. It may be a personal statement but it is definitely not all about you. It’s about the college and your own place within it. Make sure that you fashion your words to fit the institution and department of your choice. Craft your letter carefully to dovetail the available pigeon holes. Good luck to you.

The following is my own letter which was instrumental in my successful selection to the Masters program at ASU.

               I came of age in the 1980s in the north of England, a particularly austere period for what had been – until that fateful decade – the manufacturing center of the known Universe. Steel, ships, coal, railway carriages and chocolate where all produced within a hundred miles of where I grew up. The possibility of work after graduation was unquestionable; guaranteed employment for life. When I finally left comprehensive education, unemployment in east Yorkshire was higher than it had been in the 1930s and the aforementioned industries had all closed down and disappeared. Britain was no longer the engineering hub of the world but instead had become a land decimated and divided by greed and governmental neglect. Naturally I’m talking about the Thatcher years, when Margaret decided that there was no such thing as community – despite being the daughter of a grocer – and that Britain was a nation of individuals. Greed was the watchword of the hour and money poured into the south via the City and out of the north via asset stripping – the sale of machinery and associated jobs – and shipped abroad. The north was obliterated.

               The protests that arose to confront the tyranny and self-serving policies of the Tories gave rise to a form of literature which has abided with me ever since; the literature of the politically isolated and disenfranchised. When men are idle and families starving their minds turn to other things and often, as in the case of the striking miners, to the pen as well as the placard. Margaret Thatcher if nothing else was a terrific muse and her self-absorbed largesse reinvigorated the literature of the working class. One only has to think of the politically charged music of Billy Bragg and The Smiths, Bleasdale’s “Boys from the Black Stuff” and Franc Roddam’s “Aufwiedersehen Pet.” This voice, although pertinent, is not specific to the then newly unemployed of the eighties and can be found throughout literary history. Literature has always been a reactionary medium of political discourse reflecting the concerns of working people and quotidian politic. It’s this voice that interests me and wish to pursue. It is after all, the abstract and brief chronicler of our time.

               It’s the retrospective of history that allows one to reflect upon the inequalities of our own contemporary world and therefore, it’s the period of the Renaissance and in particular the writers and poets of the sixteenth century, that I wish to pursue. Given this tumultuous period of religious upheaval, the awakening of what would become the modern mind and the foundation of what we today call western society, I want to further my understanding of how the literature of the period underpinned the attitudes and frustrations of the masses; what it was they understood to be representative of their own disenfranchisement and how they formulated their grievances through the satirical and polemic. To comprehend the essence of quotidian sixteenth century society and attempt to appreciate the level of public dissatisfaction necessary to subvert what was ostensibly a police state. Their ineffable ability to show case injustice and malcontent whilst – and not always successfully – evade the censorious eye of the regime. Ultimately through the study of Renaissance Literature I hope to further acquaint myself with those, who dared to imagine that mere words on a page could alter that which was intolerable or unjust. It’s the voice of the everyman and the politically disenfranchised who documented inequitable and oppressive circumstance – exposing the injustice of modernity – which draws me. It’s the working man’s hand that I wish to grasp from the pages of plays and poems to supplement my own experience of what is ultimately the human condition; the centuries of subjugation and struggle which today are as pertinent to a 21st century society as they were to the groundlings at “The Globe.”

                As an undergraduate at ASU I have studied under Professors Corse and Fox and would be delighted to be able to continue to do so. In particular my sixteenth century satirical studies with Professor Corse were extremely instrumental in my desire to pursue this particular vein of socio-polemic literature. Likewise Professor Fox – whose encyclopedic understanding of Shakespearian literature and diverse contemporary authors was beyond illuminating – excited my interest in the social and political undercurrents of the English Renaissance. The chance to study with either of these professors in order to increase my knowledge in the field of Renaissance literature and literary satire would be beyond gratifying.

               As with all choices there’s always more than one reason why one makes certain decisions and as the product of my own experience, electing to pursue an MA at ASU is no different. Not only will it enhance future employment possibilities, it will, more importantly, advance my own creative writing ambitions and lend itself to my desire to continue my education once completed. If the strikes of the eighties taught me anything it was the importance of education and a necessary ability to adapt. Modern America is no different in many respects from rural Yorkshire and the jobs which exist today – as I have witnessed at first hand in an ever diminishing manufacturing sector – may not be here tomorrow. Forewarned – as the adage goes – is forearmed.            

                Today I live in Phoenix with my wife and children, having settled here over ten years ago and operate a business on the west side of town. On first arriving in Arizona, after buying our home, I sent photographs to my family in England, justly proud of my new found materialism. My father looked at the photographs and, ignoring my possessions completely, focused on the blue sky. The new car and house might just as well not have been in the pictures. One can understand that living on a windswept island where we have more words for inclement weather than the Inuit have for snow, that the glimpse of an azure blue sky framed by palms trees might be appealing. Needless to say it wasn’t long before he boarded an aeroplane to visit us and enjoy for himself that with which he’d been sorely tempted. Phoenix, just as he discovered, is my home and therefore, ASU my college of choice.

 

Masters at ASU. Thanks very much.

31 Mar

YEAH BABY!

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March 30, 2016

ID Number: xxxxxxxxxxxxx

Dear Colin James,  

Congratulations! You have been admitted into the English (MA) program beginning the 2016 Fall.

You may access your official degree admit letter through My ASU at my.asu.edu.

Sign into My ASU and click on the View my Admit Letter link to access your official letter. Please feel free to print a copy for your records. If you have questions about your ASURITE UserID, please call 480-965-1211.

Once again, congratulations.

Sincerely,

An Image

Andrew N. Webber

Interim Dean for Division of Graduate Education

Graduate Education

Division of Graduate Education

PO Box 871003, Tempe, AZ 85287-1003

(480) 965-6113 Fax: (480) 965-5158

1939 – TROUBLE AT MILL

6 Aug

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WYLER’S WUTHERING HEIGHTS

The assertion that a film fails to represent a book or doesn’t do it justice is not a new one and is common, especially when a production purports to accurately portray literary provenance. The process of embellishment or the reimagining of character or plot from canonized literature often leads to a faux representation that viewers accept as a true rendering of the author’s work, when in reality nothing could be further from the truth. Invariably a director will apply his own interpretation to that which doesn’t require gilding. Although we’ve come to regard film as art we must not delude ourselves that they – just as novels – are written for a market in the hope of profit and not just for aesthetic purposes. Although this may sound cynical let us consider how often we’re regaled with box office receipt figures rather than accounts of artistic merit and directorial accomplishment. Such is the case with the 1939 production of “Wuthering Heights” which although can be forgiven for its technical failings due to its contemporaneous – although surprisingly award winning – cinematic ability, we cannot so easily dismiss the license that was taken by Wyler with Bronte’s novel. The film although claiming to a be “a faithful adaptation” by the New York Times reviewer Frank Nugent is nothing more than a romantic period-piece designed to elicit the most bums-on-seats in order to garner the greatest profit for Sam Goldwyn. Anybody who has read the novel will recognize instantly the flaws in the film and will undoubtedly register a deep dissatisfaction after viewing it.

“Wuthering Heights” although it contains a love story is anything but and instead is a novel of agonizing desperation, revenge and societal machination; the microcosm of a small community who represent the hegemonic traits of larger class culture. Its principal characters are of course flawed and rather than accepting that which will bring them eternal happiness are instead bent on self-aggrandizement and the destruction of those perceived to have done them wrong. The rub of course and the denouement, is the realization that which they have lost was not the fault of others but theirs alone. The character of Heathcliff as we read him in the novel and the visualization of the character in the film are worlds apart and although sharing certain traits are conspicuously different; that which we discover through the mind’s eye thanks to Bronte’s writing is manifestly absent in the visual rendering.

Heathcliff is played by Lawrence Olivier who unfortunately lacks the grit and grime one would associate with such a robust character. In recent years in other productions of the story the character has been played by men more fitting to the role; one thinks of Tom Hardy’s 2009 portrayal which was far more realistic in terms of Bronte’s descriptions. In clipped English tones “Larry” – contrary to the uneducated stable boy Bronte describes – becomes that which he accuses Linton of being; a “whimpering milk sop.” In the film it’s the “pasty faced” Linton (David Niven) who initially seems to portray a man of substance and not Heathcliff and of – continuing in the tradition of class hegemony; at least in the beginning of the film – possessing inner strength.

Bronte paints Heathcliff as an enduring soul, one who despite his once elevated position under the care of old Mr. Earnshaw submits to the despotic behavior of Hindley. He isn’t the self-reflecting, submissive stable hand that Wyler portrays, but a survivor who chooses his own destiny and eventually succeeds in his plan to destroy all who’ve treated him ill. The scene where Heathcliff slaps Cathy is plagiarized from the one in the novel where he attacks Linton when he first meets him as a boy. Successively we’re reminded in the novel how weak Linton is and yet the director chooses to reverse character stereotypes. Perhaps this was done in order to garner sympathy for the leading man who – despite which ever camera angle is chosen – has the cleanest, most carefully manicured hands of any stable hand! 

For obvious run reasons the director chooses not to show the adolescence of the characters but instead portrays them as young adults. The first meetings between Linton, Heathcliff and Cathy occur originally when they’re children. The illusions of grandeur that Cathy decides to adopt are slowly ingrained into her over the years through the obvious wealth and kindness of the residents of Thrushcross and therefore the fabrication of the ball earlier in the film is merely an expedient.  Perhaps a similar simulation of time passing as utilized in “Citizen Cain” would have been more expedient, as the viewer is left struggling to construct a realistic time frame between one incident and another. Here the characters lose significant depth as it’s the experiences they have as children that cement the animosity – particularly in Heathcliff – of their adult years.

The continuous portrayal of Heathcliff and Cathy at Penniston Crag are also beyond the scope of the novel as are their surreal declarations of love. In the novel the relationship is understated to the point where Cathy first expresses her love of Heathcliff to Nelly and not the boy. Again this lends a simpering edge to Heathcliff that is incomparable and completely out of character. Further, Heathcliff’s confession that he tried to escape to America, but instead jumped overboard, is a complete fabrication and deliberately puts the power of the relationship – in the tradition of fin ‘amors – in the hands of Cathy. When Heathcliff leaves the house he disappears into the night to mysteriously return a changed man. There are no thoughts of Cathy in his head only those of revenge. The director turns Heathcliff into an indecisive, when in the novel he proves to be a man of action and self-determination.

“Wuthering Heights” to my mind and also comparable to the writing of its author, is a mean, austere bastioned, stone building that was built to endure the inclement weather of the moors. Instead it’s revealed by the director to be a clean, well lit, orderly home. In my own imagination I envision the rooms as cramped, the house to be in disorder and in general disarray. There’s no impression of a Yorkshire farm house and instead one is cheated of imaginary creation with what is obviously a film set. Contemporary sets, thanks to the shrinkage of technology and the ability to utilize existing locations, offer a more realistic experience to the viewer. Bronte does a fantastic job of visualization in her descriptions and to have read the book and to have visited her location – if only in the mind – was far more satisfying than the faux décor of a Hollywood stage.

Everything in the movie is extraordinarily clean, from the hands of the stable boy to the farm yards themselves. Even the skies above the moor are of a perfect hue offering a surreal experience to the viewer. Rather than the claustrophobia of inclement weather, the sun ridden grasslands of northern England seem boundless juxtaposing the lives of its inhabitants – particularly within the four walls of “Wuthering Heights”- which are rather more limited. Although a willing suspension of belief is necessary to enjoy most films, the advent of realism with the popularity of color film has allowed a director to more accurately portray his own artistic vision. The choice to shoot the movie in black and white was not necessarily a good one as the portrayal of the countryside in color would have added to the depth of the movie. Instead the falling action is over shadowed; creating a shallow and lifeless environment populated by wooden figures. What was also noticeable was the attire of the actors who appear to be dressed in anti-bellum American clothes instead of the more traditional flat-capped country attire of a nineteenth century rural environment.

Because the director has chosen to make the character of Heathcliff weaker than his literary contemporary we are constantly put in a position where we can observe his inner turmoil; to perhaps understand the emotional man behind the perceived rough exterior. In particular the stable scene where Heathcliff thrusts his hands through the window in frustration is particularly poignant. Almost revisiting the sickness of Catherine at Thrushcross, Heathcliff throws himself on to a bed of straw in a dirty old stable, mirroring the frustration of his unrequited love. Rather than a man of fortitude we discover a character that has more in common with Bronte’s Linton than Wyler’s leading man. This scene of pathos fails to garner our sympathy but rather, compounds the obvious weakness of the character and showcases the sickness of love.

In all the movie fails to replicate the written word and would leave any ardent follower of Bronte disappointed and unsatisfied. Even taken outside of the novel, the story line is weak and the characters tin-cut. That it is of any worth at all is as an example in the progression of film history and the diverse representations the novel has endured through the decades. If the story of Heathcliff was based only on Wyler’s movie then he would have been nothing more than a disposable love interest and not the giant of literary history that he is. Written as a Byronic hero, Heathcliff stands head and shoulders above an ill-chosen, ill dressed, poorly accented cast, in what was clearly a studio production of a made for profit motion picture.

THE SHINING

4 Aug

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GOTHIC CODIFICATION – THE BOOK/ THE MOVIE

The visual medium of film is the ideal showcase to exhibit those traditional tropes of Gothic literature that are so conventional to the reader. Although imagination is a powerful tool – as King’s writing proves – the addition of quality illumination, professional cosmetology and a score that would make an exorcist quail, are not without their place. It’s the Gothic that’s Chorus to so many great films including “The Shining” and it’s undoubtedly one of the reasons for its immense popularity. The visualization of the unheimlich is a powerful attraction; ominous locations, other worldly situations, uncanny, dark and brooding moments, strange characters and the inevitable parataxis that wrong foots an audience are all part of the well-fingered apparatus of cinematic satisfaction used to excite pliable minds. By using different methodologies to exhibit horror with brilliantly rendered imagery King and Kubrik both succeed in painting imaginations.

 The Gothic Trope of location is paramount to any horror setting and has been astutely applied, although with subtle difference, in both the novel and the film. The image of a ruined dilapidated castle in a remote landscape – as epitomized by Walpole – can take any form. In Bronte’s book it was Wuthering Heights; in King’s it’s the Outlook Hotel. Therefore the rule of thumb to great horror is equivocal to great real estate deals; location, location, location! Prolific use is made by Kubrik of the corridors within an isolated, abandoned, snowbound hotel that lead the viewer down blind cornered passages along a succession of locked doors. His locations are quotidian although because of the tense situations he creates quickly metamorphose into the unheimlich. Coupled with his porosity of time and the fine line between the real and surreal he very quickly invokes the atmosphere of the supernatural. King does exactly the same thing and although not using the maze paradigm as Kubrick does -particularly at the end of the film – constantly takes us down into the bowels of the hotel to the gigantic wheezing boiler that is central to both the life and the death of the Outlook. His use of the ancient elevator is so finessed that that to even imagine looking through its diamond shaped portholes is enough to cause chills to run up and down the reader’s spine. Add to this the dramatic chase sequence across America – think Planes, Trains and Automobiles -of Hallorann who is thwarted at every turn in his efforts to reach Danny. The winding snow filled roads encountered by the cook become the snow drifted maze experienced by the boy that Kubrick so brilliantly captures with the steady-cam at the climax.

The hero is the split personality of Danny which in the book is far better implied than in Kubrik’s production. The imagination in this particular instance is a more capable tool for creating the elusive figure of Tony who we perceive to be a shadowy figure at the edge of peripheral vision, as opposed to the finger puppet association used in the movie. Halloran also exhibits aspects of heroism and in the book is a more determined, dynamic personality than the actor portrayal in the movie. Wendy of course is stereotypically cast as the Gothic heroine. King portrays much stronger characters in the book than Kubrik does in the film; his fight scene between Wendy and Jack on the lobby stairs evokes far more terror, although Kubrik does a fine job with an axe and a bathroom door. Wendy is determined to save her son and despite multiple injuries is able to fend off her crazed husband who – in spite of a knife wound that would kill any mortal man – continues on his quest to hunt and kill Danny. The idea that Jack is in fact the embodiment of the Hotel is better defined in the book than the movie. One could be forgiven for believing that the director’s representation of Jack is of a man suffering from cabin fever – in the book we are continuously referred to the legend of the Donner party– when in fact he’s been possessed by the hotel. Jack according to Grady has always been the caretaker as they were both hired by the same person; the Outlook.

Clearly the anti-hero is Jack Torrance. Rather than Byronic he’s simply a flawed character; a man who has trouble controlling both his appetites and his demons. Although we want to believe fervently that it wasn’t his fault that he was sacked from his teaching post nor that he consciously broke Danny’s arm, we know that Jack is his own worst enemy and that ultimately he will fail. King constantly alludes to childhood and continuously presses all the buttons of nature and nurture, implying that no matter how hard Jack tries – despite the hotel’s influence – he’s the embodiment of his father. From the second he accepts the Ullman’s offer of employment at the Outlook his family are doomed. Despite not drinking and his efforts to finish his play his mind is constantly on alcohol. King describes how he is manically wipes his lips and there’s hardly a moment when he isn’t thinking about booze or the memories associated with it. His obsession with the hotel’s history and the time he spends in the cellar pouring over documentation accurately portray an addictive personality.  In the film we see the physical change in Jack as he becomes more and more obsessive and disheveled and Kubrik takes his failures a step further when he reveals  exactly what it is he’s been spending his hours writing at the typewriter, “ All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”

King’s use of the supernatural is sublime. His book paints a realistic picture of animated topiaries, independently operated confetti filled elevators, ghostly inhabitants in the presidential suite and an eternally occupied bathtub in room 217. The constant allusion to the sounds of the ages reverberating through the hotel and the allusion that all time is framed within the walls of the hotel; masks off at the midnight hour and all will be revealed! King writes his book in layer cake fashion by reiterating earlier subjects, adding details and then later compounding them. How it is that Wendy suddenly knows about a masked ball and how does the passenger on the plane know Hallorann’s name? Kubrik on the other hand in visual brilliance shows us what King can only describe. The Grady girls who were murdered by their father, the elevators filled with blood and of course the opulent Gold Room in constant use by the Hotel’s eternal guests. The Gold Room scenes are truly breath taking and the moment when Jack sits at the bar suddenly to be confronted by the mysterious Lloyd – who he apparently has always known – who is either a ghost – as King describes – or simply a figment of an alcoholic brain magnified by cabin fever is beyond brilliant. Kubrik’s use of period music and costume to extenuate the overlapping layers of history adds to the drama of the plot. King attempts this in his writing by adding lyrics – “I see a pale moon rising” – to his scenes but unless the reader is familiar, unfortunately remain simply words on a page. If anything, this is the epitomic difference between the written word and the medium of film. A director manifests that which an author can only describe.

The Special Shakespearian Effect

19 Jul

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“FORBIDDEN PLANET” AND “THE TEMPEST”

  James Burbage towards the end of the sixteenth century, having built the successful “Globe” using the wooden frame from his original playhouse “The Theatre,” acquired a stone-built hall at Black Friars. The building stood on the grounds of the old Dominican Monastery which had been used variously over the years. Rather than an open air theatre, where the actors were subjected to the elements and limited to a wooden scaffold in the center of the viewing public, Black Friars was the precursor of what we today would consider a modern stage location. The Black Friar’s allowed for performances sheltered from the elements and where for the first time the use of stage magic or, in Hollywood parlance, special-effects could be utilized with full impact. The Hall – according to contemporary accounts – was shadowed and lit by candles; the stage decorated with elaborate screen sets and the plays themselves accompanied by musicians. The ambience of the location along with the atmosphere created by the players would have been beyond anything an Elizabethan audience had thus far witnessed; the development of the play via the utilization of stagecraft undoubtedly stunning.

            There is evidence within “The Tempest” of significant stage-direction which would have allowed a writer a broader scope with regard to character development and so, it’s little wonder that this Shakespearian play, perhaps more than any other, contains evidence of technological manipulation. This giant leap forward one could argue is akin to the C.G.I manipulation of modern film makers. Now the sixteenth century playwright had the facility to bring his characters to life and rather than simply have a Chorus implore a crowd “to make imaginary puissance” or to “piece out the imperfections [of a play] with [their] thoughts.” At last the playwright could do more than just stimulate the workings of the – now comfortably seated – groundling’s “imaginary forces.” Although “Henry V” would have benefitted from close exposition within the confines of Black Friars “The Tempest” would’ve been literally embellished by that which was now possible. Clearly Shakespeare wrote the play with this in mind; hence the numerable sequences which elicit the use of some form of stage manipulation. It’s because of these proto special effects that the play is so easy to conceive within the framework of “Forbidden Planet.” A film which, although loosely based on the play, translates Shakespeare’s magical realism into the technological advancement required of the science fiction genre. Therefore, those special effects which were vital to the success of “The Tempest” have lent themselves to the longevity of “Forbidden Planet” without which it would’ve been impossible.  The technology used to exhibit these effects in both productions is of course planets apart but the results are none the less stunning and are particularly apparent in the characterization of both Robbie the Robot and Ariel.

            The play opens with the supposed drowning of a ship however, with manipulation of torches, swinging ropes and discrete lightning to represent flames it would’ve been an easily achievable scene inside of Black Friars. The fantastical portrayal of the plays characters on the other hand would have been a challenge. Ariel is an ethereal being, a willow-the-wisp character that can fly around the world in seconds, appear at will wherever it chooses and carry out the most arduous task with the greatest of ease. With a system of ropes and cranes Ariel could have been seen to fly to the delight of the audience as with little effort from Elizabethan riggers, the character could magically have be whisked from one part of the stage to another. In an era when magic was considered to be a very real phenomenon and the explanation for the world at large, the audience would have been astounded to see proof of the unseen realm for just the mere price of admission. Ariel is the enslaved embodiment of Prospero’s desire who without him – not dissimilar to the advanced knowledge left to Morbius – would not have been able to achieve the magic he did. Although he has the book, the staff and the wardrobe to paint himself a magician, Prospero is a base alchemist who utilizes the abilities of another to achieve his own ends.

            In the 1950’s rendition of the same play, Ariel appears in the form of Robbie the Robot and although light years apart in appearances, performs exactly the same role. Robbie is a sophisticated piece of electronics; a mobile, mechanical being that serves at the behest of his designer and master Morbius. He’s a swirling sophistication of flashing lights and rotating sensors who is able to perform all manner of tasks thanks to the usurped knowledge left by the planets predecessors. Robbie is both a protector and servant; a mechanical being of great strength that can produce any quantity of any material at will. Able to carry tons of sheet lead and yet unable to harm any living being thanks to his programming he is the embodiment of Ariel. An unwitting captive of Morbius’ design who without complaint fulfills every request and performs any task demanded of him. Just as Ariel is unable to free himself from the bonds of Prospero so Robbie is destined to exist only to serve. Robbie is the poster-child of 1950’s prophesized, future, technological development just as Ariel is the manifestation of the ethereal. Both Shakespeare and Wilcox are able to create magic thanks to the application of the special effect. In both instances the illusion for the audience is a persistent one as, rather than merely imaginary, Ariel and Robbie are living, breathing or electricity consuming, stage-crafted phenomenon.

            Using trick photography and film cuts Wilcox was able to create optical illusions that to a 1950’s audience must have seemed very real indeed. His superimpositions of models to show what appear to be highly advanced technology are extremely successful and from an artistic stand point very authentic. In particular, the attack of the Monster of Id upon Morbius’ residence where in order to protect themselves, steel shutters slam – as if by an unseen hand – into place. Likewise his renderings of the underground structure – which in reality are probably plastic models – when properly lit and filmed with superimpositions of tiny human figures, appear to be extremely lifelike. Wilcox presents a film that the audience is able to readily accept thanks to the success of his many special effects. “Forbidden Planet” isn’t particularly well written or acted and yet thanks to its cutting edge sophistication is unforgettable.

            Similarly Shakespeare doesn’t rely on the ability of his actors nor his words to achieve success. In the stage direction we can clearly see the intent of the play was to amaze and surpass that which had already become quotidian. Tales of star struck lovers, revengeful kings and ubiquitous twins surviving shipwrecks were in want of fresh paint and it was the machinations developed at Black Friars that allowed “Theatre” to take the necessary leap. In two places in particular we are shown the ingenuity of the players. In the first instance, the banquet scene, where the survivors of the ship wreck are offered a bounteous table and yet thanks to the harpies are unable to partake. Ariel is seen to suddenly appear in various parts of the stage; finally ending up on the table itself. “Thunder and lightning. Enter Ariel who like a harpy clasps his wings; and with a quaint device the banquet vanishes.” The notes suggest “an ingenious device of stage mechanism.” Shakespeare has included a flying harpy, sound and lighting and to conclude, an apparatus of some mechanical genius that renders the banquet gone. Secondly at the wedding of Miranda and Ferdinand, Prospero is in want of a “corollary” of spirits. This event is preceded by “soft music’ which choruses the arrival of Ceres, Juno and Iris. The stage direction once again bears witness to the ingenuity of the author. “Juno descends;” suggesting some type of winding mechanism. The footnotes even suggest that the direction is given too early and that this may be to take into account the limitations of the “machine.”

            Clearly the utilization of special effects to enhance characterization is nothing new and if one considers the theatre of Ancient Greece then we gain insight into the notion of Deus Ex Machina; where the god would have been lowered to the stage to turn wrongs to rights. Similarly Shakespeare was able to adapt to his new surroundings and given the embarrassment of riches the new location offered was able to adjust his plays accordingly. Likewise Wilcox using the malleability of film was able – without a single advanced mechanism – to make an audience believe that they had landed on a distant planet by means of space ship, only to discover that a far superior intellect awaited them.

             Both creators utilized everything at their disposal to create an illusion that enabled a willing suspense of disbelief. Just as Robbie the Robot is no more than a man dressed in a suit and Ariel a man on a wire, both characters are gilded by the use of special effect. It is the advent of Elizabethan stage craft that has taken Shakespeare’s “flat unraised spirits” from the “unworthy scaffold” and translated them into Wilcox’s “beautiful Cinema Scope” with “Amazing Color.”

MEN OF ENGLAND…

14 Jul

imagesBASTILLE DAY: July 14th 2015.

“THE PROFUNDITY OF IDEOLOGY IS IMMORTAL”

“If you find yourself in the majority , you should reconsider your position.”

Mark Twain

Men of England, wherefore plough

For the lords who lay ye low?

Wherefore weave with toil and care

The rich robes your tyrants wear?

Wherefore feed and clothe and save

From the cradle to the grave

Those ungrateful drones who would

Drain your sweat—nay, drink your blood?

Wherefore, Bees of England, forge

Many a weapon, chain, and scourge,

That these stingless drones may spoil

The forced produce of your toil?

Have ye leisure, comfort, calm,

Shelter, food, love’s gentle balm?

Or what is it ye buy so dear

With your pain and with your fear?

The seed ye sow, another reaps;

The wealth ye find, another keeps;

The robes ye weave, another wears;

The arms ye forge, another bears.

Sow seed—but let no tyrant reap:

Find wealth—let no imposter heap:

Weave robes—let not the idle wear:

Forge arms—in your defence to bear.

Shrink to your cellars, holes, and cells—

In hall ye deck another dwells.

Why shake the chains ye wrought? Ye see

The steel ye tempered glance on ye.

With plough and spade and hoe and loom

Trace your grave and build your tomb

And weave your winding-sheet—till fair

England be your Sepulchre.

P.B.S

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GEWITTER – The Tempest

9 Jul

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A Rendering of “The Tempest”.

It’s 1918; the First World War is coming to an end. After five years of bloody attrition Europe has been obliterated and trenches stretch from the North Sea to the Alps. Despite the millions who’ve already died, small pockets of fighting still persist in a land ravaged by shot and shell.

In a forward listening post – separated from the German trenches by barely a hundred yards – two British officers stand watch. Their orders are to raise the alarm in the unlikely event the Germans try to make a desperate, last-ditch effort. The soldiers stand ankle deep in mud and filth and peer with their binoculars over the sand bagged trench. As they stare into the early morning mist a biplane – although in radio contact with the officer in charge – buzzes unseen above the clouds. The radio crackles – a static voice breaks the silence – and suddenly the ground in front of them comes alive. An artillery barrage erupts upon the enemy lines, sending huge columns of mud and debris into the sky. The elder of the two men reaches for his cigarettes, smiles and waits for the guns to abate.

The film is set during the First World War. The character uniforms are those of the protagonists of the period, the location the trenches of Flanders. The scenario touches on the events of the “Tempest.” The premise is that a small group of German soldiers evacuating from the front lines are caught in the final barrage of the war. Despite casualties the men manage to escape but because of the mist and the utter desolation of the environment they become increasingly disoriented. This leads to their desperate quest to escape the dangers around them and their eventual encounter with the British.

Rather than just another well-worn, mud-drenched soldier epic, this particular film will be filmed with lashings of psychological fantasy where each soldier is drawn, despite his personal demons, to relive episodes of his pre-war existence. These episodes will be similar to the scene in “The Shinning” when Jack Nicholson walks into the ball room at the Overlook Hotel, which although supposedly empty, is filled with the ghosts of a bygone era. The men will all experience surreal episodes that will make them question their sanity, as well as the nature of perceived reality; an allusion to the absurdity of the carnage experienced during the war.

After all, what could be more absurd than total annihilation?

Character List

Major P.

 Michael Caine – who else?

The Major is a sympathetic realist in his fifties who although, battle hardened, clings to the notion of a universal morality; that there’s more to life than blood and bullets and that by living one day at a time and soldiering to the best of his ability he will eventually earn the right to return to his beloved England.

Leftenant Graves.

Jude Law

Graves is a public school boy – that’s English public school – who thanks to conscription has been forced into the ranks during the final months of the war. A good looking boy from a well-to-do background who, although maintaining the pretense of a stiff upper lip and filled with faux “Boys-Own” bravado, is on the point of mental break down. Hand tremors and occasional outbursts are softened by the affection he holds for the Major who – through their shared experience and his protection – he’s come to appreciate as a virtual father to him.

 There’s a nagging question of barely-perceptible homosexuality, but this is never satisfactorily resolved.

Ariel

Is a disembodied voice that alternates from person to person. The spirit is the pilot in the unseen aircraft, the voice on the end of the telephone and the static in the radio. There is constant contact between the Major and the entity with regard to the observation, discovery and eventual capture of the enemy. The voice is everywhere and nowhere; the ghost in the machine and yet Major P’s only contact with the outside world.

German Soldiers

Schmidt, Gruber and Schuhmaker

 Liam Neeson. Tom Hardy. Peter Falk.

The soldiers are foils to the British characters; Neeson to Caine and Hardy to Law.

Falk is the chorus and embodiment of Trinculo and Stephano and offers comic relief.

Hardy like Law is a young man drawn into conflict and the pseudo love interest in the never declared homo-eroticism.

Neeson is just as grizzled as Caine; a man who’s been forever changed by what he once perceived as a just crusade.

Various walking shadows

Every good war movie needs a few death scenes!

Psychological episodes

•        Falk lost in the mist turns a corner and suddenly find himself on the “Reeperbahn” in Hamburg. Girls and good times are everywhere and we experience the surrealism of pre-war Europe.

•        A monster made from the corpses of all the dead of all the wars rises from the mud. Barbed wire hangs from its body. It chases the soldiers and although never catching them is constantly an entity at the corner of their eye and a perpetual threat.

•        Law meets and chats with an airman who – to everybody apart from himself – is obviously a ghost.

•        Caine finds himself – fishing rod in hand – at the edge of a mud filled crater reliving civilian life.

•        Neeson reencounters his wife who was killed in a bombing raid by the British at the beginning of the war; the reason he joined the army in the first place.

•        Random vehicles are seen to drive through the trenches, ice cream vendors appear alongside other tradesmen. The occasional prostitute is seen leaning against the side of the trench.

The idea is to create sheer terror with absolute ridiculousness. The trenches aren’t just filled with the dead but also their memories. The Trenches as it were are;

“  ….full of noises,
Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.

Denouement

The men finally unite after their horrors whilst lost in the trenches.

 Law and Hardy have their brief, yet obvious moment of affection.

The men despite their different uniforms and political ideology come to a tacit understanding of universal brotherhood.

As the radio sputters to the sound of victory the air is filled with the roar of twelve-cylinder-Fokker- aero-engines. Machine gun fire rips through the trench killing them all.   

The radio breaks into a music hall ditty.

The camera pans the bodies and lingers briefly on the outstretched hands of Law and Hardy.

The trench slowly transforms into the Reeperbahn which Falk witnesses – cigar in mouth – in his last living, breathing moments.

The paradox of reality and dreams is left unanswered.

The Intent

Although the film parodies the book there is no intention of staying absolutely true to it or of using Shakespeare’s language. Although there will be allusions to the play – possibly in conversations between Law and Caine – there will be no direct link to it. The intent is to subvert the original play and at the same time doggedly adhere to it. By relating to it in the loosest of terms and without obvious reference the allusion will be maximized.

Do I have to mention that my idea is protected by copyright and that I’m also available for shooting next week?

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