Emma’s Random (Reylo) Thoughts Part 11: The Poster, The Trailer, and Their Place in All This

Well, the The Last Jedi poster and the trailer are out.  And considering that every time I post about Reylo my views spike, I might as well capitalize on this development.  🙂

1 The poster.

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The poster is very striking.  Everything is bathed in red, which makes Rey’s lightsaber stand out even more clearly.  I also noticed how Kylo Ren and Rey are framed towards the top/center of the poster.  The artist also gave them a sense of symmetry, for lack of a better word.  Rey is looking down to the left, and Kylo Ren is looking up to the right.  Their light sabers are facing out in opposite directions, and they are perfectly parallel to each other.  I also detect a straight line between Rey’s hands and Kylo Ren’s hands.

Leia, as the Scavenger’s Hoard podcast notes, is right in the heart of everything.  Sadly, Finn and Poe have been relegated to secondary characters, which is too bad.  I like Finn,  despite the fact that the film really botched an opportunity with the character, and I was very worried at the end of The Force Awakens that Finn might have died.  It wasn’t clear when I saw the film so I immediately went on Wikipedia to see if he survived.  Oscar Isaac is also a very talented young actor, but he was given very little to do in The Force Awakens, and sadly it appears that this may not change in The Last Jedi.

What I find most fascinating about this poster is, as Scavenger’s Hoard notes, Luke is in the villains position.  We don’t see Snoke up at the top, the way we saw Darth Vader at top in several of the posters for the original trilogy.  Instead, we see Luke, lurking over everyone, with a displeased expression on his face, much as he was in the original poster.  If Luke in the trailer said, “This is not going to go the way you think,”  I think that the poster is implying that Luke is no longer the hero.  Quite the contrary, he may occupy a morally ambiguous position in the film.  At least, I certainly hope that is the case.

2 The Trailer

The trailer definitely draws on the idea of Luke as a disappointing figure for Rey.  This makes sense to me.  In most stories about young woman, the girl’s father is either dead or useless.  While I am very, very, very much hoping that Rey is not Luke’s daughter, because that would be the laziest thing they could possibly do, Rey is desperately hoping for a family, and will no doubt see Luke as the father that she never had, just as she saw Han.  Just as children see a orphan in a story as especially vulnerable, a young woman without a father is also seen as vulnerable. If Rey’s new father figure turns out to be useless, the audience will keenly feel her vulnerability.

This will be heightened by the fact that Rey is clearly troubled by her growing powers with the Force.  This will be a welcome edition to the film, since I do agree that Rey was a Mary Sue in the first film.   Luke seems to know what her strength means; he is clearly terrified by it.  Luke seems reluctant to actually train her in the film.  It even gives the sense that he could abandon her.  This is good news!  Rey will need to be increasingly isolated and troubled by her powers in the film in order for the film to actually function in a meaningful way.

Kylo Ren is also shown as troubled.  He is shown destroying his helmet and struggling over the decision to kill his mother.  They definitely are not going for the simple Bad Guy portrayal, which is good.  I am convinced that Kylo killing his mother is a misdirection.

The film also implies that Finn is coming into his own, growing stronger and preparing to battle Phasma.  That is good, since it was hard to see Finn defeated and nearly killed at the end of the film.   It also hints at the arc of Finn in the movie.

The last images of the trailer are definitely taken from two different scenes.  Even so, I still think that it is remarkable that they were put that way at all.  Many anti-Reylos argue that the film is baiting Reylos.  That makes no sense.  It makes no sense to make a trailer to bait a very, very, very small group of people on the internet.  It makes infinitely more sense to bait the vast majority of fans with what the vast majority of fans are likely to believe.  I’ve watched a number of trailer reaction videos for the trailer, and the people who comment on that section of the trailer mostly believe that it is implying that Rey will turn to the Dark Side.

I said that I find the juxtaposition of the two scenes remarkable.  Once again, Star Wars has a chance to set up Kylo Ren as a compelling, even terrifying, antagonist for Rey, and once again, Disney says, “No thanks.”  The general Star Wars audience has been waiting for two years for the next confrontation between Kylo Ren and Rey.  The trailer was a perfect opportunity to tease a battle between Rey and Kylo, just as they did between Finn and Phasma, or between Rey and Snoke.  But they didn’t.  Instead, the trailer shows a confused fragile Rey desperately seeking someone to show Rey her place in all this.  We cut to Kylo.  There is no rage, no menace in his face.  His features are soft, even pained, and he reaches her hand out to her.  This is a remarkable set up for the next film, and teases at a different relationship between the two characters.  That is a significant choice.

What does all of this mean for Reylo? All of this makes Reylo seem possible.  The film definitely implies a connection and similarity between these two characters that goes beyond protagonist and antagonist.  This does not necessarily imply a romantic or sexual connection, which would be fine.  It would be a missed opportunity to play with dynamics and metaphors that are embedded in the way we think about the Force, but it would still be fine.  It also hints that Kylo Ren may not continue on the path to the Dark Side.  This means that I don’t think that they will pursue the idea Kylo Ren as the Monster persuing Rey.  Ohtze refers to this as Death and the Maiden, and this seems that this interpretation may be less likely, since it is dependent upon Kylo Ren being a frightening, compelling, antagonistic villain, and Disney hints that it may not take Kylo Ren down this path.

If they do try to bring Kylo Ren back to the light and bring Rey and Kylo together as allies, if not lovers, that would be a sign that Disney is willing to take a bit of a risk, which would make me feel better about the prospects of the film.

Of course, J.J. Abrams is still involved in the film so we could still end up with Rey being Luke’s daughter.  That’s my biggest fear; that Star Wars tease the idea of doing something different and then ultimately chicken out and just remake Empire Strikes Back.  Talk about a bait and switch!

There’s precedent for this.  Before Star Trek Into Darkness J.J. Abrams was adamant that Benedict Cumberbatch was not playing Khan.  Then he was Khan.  Then we were subjected to this.

I will never forgive you for that, J.J. Abrams.  Do you hear me?  Never.

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Emma’s Random (Reylo) Thoughts Part 10: Triumph of the Bridal Carry

I really enjoyed writing about the interrogation scene, so I wanted to talk more about the bridal carry scene.  But before I do that, I want to talk about Triumph of the Will.

Triumph of the Will , directed by Leni Reifenstal, is a well known Nazi propaganda film.  One of my history teachers basically insisted that we all see the film.  The use of Nazi imagery is a common way for filmmakers to show to tell the audience that the Bad Guys are the Bad Guys.

We see a bit of it in The Two Towers.

We see it more explicitly in The Lion King.

The question is, is J.J Abrams aware of this motif in film?

That’s a yes.

I started with this because the Nazi imagery is a very convenient way to show that the Bad Guys are the Bad Guys.  Because most people (sadly, not all) realize that Nazis=Bad, it would be strange to show the Good Guys using Nazi imagery.  This would immediately add an ambiguity to the film.  Are the Good Guys really Good?  Are the Bad Guys really Bad?  This means that filmmakers must be aware of the common meaning of symbols, and use them carefully, otherwise they may send the wrong message.

Which brings me to the Bridal Carry scene.

Unfortunately, there is not a short clip of that scene, but the Battle of Takodana does contain it.

Now, as I have said before, this imagery has a very clear meaning in film.  Drawing on the image of the groom carrying the bride over the threshold of the ship (and restricted from showing sexual acts on screen by the Hays Code) the filmmakers needed to be creative in how they expressed sexuality.  One way monster films found was to show the monster carrying an unconscious woman in his arms.

I did not see The Force Awakens in the theater, but I saw a clip of the bridal carry in the Screen Junkies Honest Trailer for the film.  When I saw the bridal carry, I was shocked.  Even the guys on Collider Videos, when they watched the bridal carry scene in their commentary on the film, shouted out, “It’s just like the monster movies!”  That’s right guys.  It is just like the monster movies.  Now what does it mean when they show it in the monster movies?

To me, one of the questions about the possibility of Reylo in the Star Wars films is a very simple one.  Is J.J. Abrams a good director?  A good director is aware of the meaning of images and symbols and uses them strategically to convey meaning to the audience.  (As for Death of the Author, I agree with Lindsey Ellis.  Filmmakers’ intent do matter, but only insofar as they know the language of film, and how to use film language to convey their meaning.)

So, is J.J. Abrams aware of the meaning of the bridal carry in films?  Is he aware that this image in film was used by directors as a sexually suggestive image?  This is not a purely academic question.  J.J.Abrams was recently tapped to direct the last filIm of the Star Wars trilogy.  Because if J.J. Abrams is not aware of the meaning of symbols in his film, we could very well see Luke Skywalker give a speech filmed like this.

I really hope he’s a good director.

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Se quel guerrier io fossi! … Celeste Aida by Placido Domingo

Gotta love Placido.

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Director Series: Charlie Chaplin

I have basically decided to stop doing the Films About Women series for the time being, and in its place I am focusing on short series on Charlie Chaplin.

I will be watching films by Charlie Chaplin and posting short reviews and reflections on his films.

George Bernard Shaw once said that Charlie Chaplin was the only genius that cinema ever produced.  That’s no longer true (if it ever was) but Charlie Chaplin is an incredibly influential performer and director.  So, in his honor, I will be watching some of his films and talking about them.

Plus, when I was young, Sesame Street used the character of The Tramp in some of their skits.

 

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Princess Diana’s Funeral

I rewatched Princess Diana’s funeral on Youtube, which I had not seen since it happened 20 years ago.

Here are my thoughts.

1 I still feel terribly sorry for William and Harry.  Especially Harry.  He still looked like a little boy.

2 There was no mention of it in the BBC coverage, but I heard that there was a great deal of fear about Prince Charles marching behind Diana’s coffin.

3 The hysteria at the beginning of the procession was baffling.  I don’t get the way people reacted.

4 I am not a fan of the boy sopranos, ie castrati children.  I get why they are there (women couldn’t speak or sing in church, historically) but I still don’t like them.

5 The funeral feels almost like a strange music festival, with the mixture of hymns, Verdi’s Requiem, and Elton John.

6 I think Earl Spenser is a bit self-righteous, by I try not to judge him too harshly.  His sister had just died, and there’s clearly a lot of raw emotion.

7 It’s funny to watch this and remember how popular Tony Blair was at the beginning of his time as Prime Minister.

8 I watched a video where they interviewed the Welsh Guards who carried the coffin in the Abbey. They said that they had to be careful because the floors were very slippery.  I felt very nervous watching it again.

9 It’s still amazing in retrospect how volatile the mood of the country was.  Perhaps it was a reaction to the end of Tory government.

10 The people’s response to Earl Spenser’s speech shows how many people wanted to attack the establishment at that time.  It was not a great speech and he is certainly a funny person to stick it to the establishment He is the 9th Earl Spenser. He lives in a house that goes back hundreds of years. His family line is older than the royal family. He is not an outsider.

11 Watching this again makes me wonder what else was going on in Britain that precipitated this reaction.  I know that the Labour Party had just won a huge victory, bringing Tony Blair in as Prime Minister, promising the modernize the country.  Did the death of Diana seem like the end of that goal?

12 The people’s reaction showed that the British aren’t ready to get rid of the monarchy, which is fine with me.  If they didn’t care whether or not the Queen had shown up, if they were indifferent to her, then they would be in trouble.

13 The service at Westminster Abbey makes it difficult to judge the importance of Diana’s death. The scale does make it seem far grander than it was.  Perhaps that is part of the reason that the event ranked so highly in subsequent rankings of historical events. The event gives people the sense that it was a tremendous event.

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Dunkirk and Characters: What are Characters and Do They Matter?

I want to talk about characters in Dunkirk.  Dunkirk lacks one of the classic means that a war movie uses to develop characters, specifically the characters sit around and talk about how the girlfriend they left back at home.  I am going to refer to this colloquially as “The Girlfriend Scene.”  Many of the people who did not enjoy the film pointed to the lack of “The Girlfriend Scene.”

So, I want to talk about characterization.  Specifically, 1 What is characterization in film 2 Do characters matter in film?

1 I want to talk a little bit about how characters are developed.  In high school, I read a book called True and False, Heresy and Common Sense for the Actor, which is a controversial book about acting by David Mamet.  I remember snippets of the book, but one line I remember was “When we say that Abraham Lincoln had character, we don’t mean how he held a handkerchief.”  He meant that we talk about how Lincoln reacted in a crisis.

With this in mind, I want to talk about a key scene in the boat.  A group of soldiers climb into a beached boat at low tide.  They wait for six agonizing hours, enduring unseen soldiers using the boat as target practice, as they wait for the tide to come back in.  As the tide comes in, the water leaks through the holes and the soldiers begin to question whether or not the boat will sink.  Harry, one of the soldiers, decides to throw a French soldier (who has been posing as a British soldier) off the ship, most likely to his death.  Tommy refuses to go along with this, and defends the French soldier.

This interaction between Tommy and Harry actually shows us a great deal about their characters.  Tommy is empathetic.  He understands that the Frenchman is stowing away with the English out of fear.  He also is clearheaded in a crisis.  Harry accuses the Frenchman of killing the English soldier he buried and stealing his dog tags.  Tommy points out that that would have been unnecessary.  “How difficult is it to find a dead Englishman in Dunkirk beach?”  Lastly, Tommy has a clear moral code, and that is more important to him than his own survival.  Tommy definitely wants to go home (he says that he does) but he also wants to protect an innocent man.  When Harry points out that they might die, Tommy says calmly, “That’s the price.”  He is willing to risk death than to send someone else to his death.

Harry, however, does not fair so well under pressure.  He is very much a foil for Tommy in this scene.  He panics under stress.  He is also suspicious and judgmental, and perhaps a little xenophobic.  He quickly condemns the Frenchman, calls him “a frog” and accuses him of murder.    He is realistic about war, stating, “Survival’s not fair.”  (The film agrees with him, because Harry survives.)  However, he takes this to extremes, caring only for his own survival, even if it means he has to kill other allied soldiers in order to do it.  I don’t want to be too hard on Harry, since we don’t know how we would react in this situation, but he is far from the ideal soldier in this moment.

Now, Jeremy Jahns comments that for all we know, the characters could be serial killers back at home.  Harry, possibly.  But Tommy?  Not a chance.  We know that, not because he may have a girlfriend back at home, but because of the choices he makes in a difficult situation.  That is the correct way to develop a character.  Tommy and Harry may not be fully fleshed out characters, but moments like that reveal something far more important than their relationship status or the fact that Tommy wants to eat fish & chips at Blackpool.

2 Do characters matter in film?

This is on surface a very simple question with a simple answer.  The simple, short answer is “Yes.”  The longer answer is, “Mostly yes, but what do you make of films like Into Great Silence or United 93?

I want to start by talking about Into Great Silence, because I have actually seen this film.  Into Great Silence takes place in a Carthusian monastery.  Carthusian monks are essentially hermits that live in the same building.  Whereas other monks will spend a lot of time together working, praying, eating, or recreating, Carthusian monks do most of these activities alone.  They eat Sunday lunch together and spend several hours in recreation on Sunday, and gather together for night prayer.  But for the rest of their lives, they spend nearly all of their time alone in their cell.

It goes without saying that in a nearly 3 hour film, there is about only 10 minutes worth of dialogue.  I’m probably overestimating that.  The rest of it is exactly as the trailer shows.  There are silent images of the monks and short scenes of the monks going about their day, praying and working.  Yet, critics loved it.

The affect of the film is not to get attached to the characters but to feel immersed in the world.  I read in an interview that the title, Into Great Silence, is not a direct translation of the German title.  In German, it is The Great Silence.  However, the director Philip Gröning said that he prefers the English title, since it more closely matches his intent.  He wants the viewer to enter into the experience of these monks.

Now, Into Great Silence is a documentary so it is not a perfect analogy.  A better one would be United 93, which I have not yet seen.   However, Roger Ebert did, so I am quoting his review.

The director, Paul Greengrass, makes a deliberate effort to stay away from recognizable actors, and there is no attempt to portray the passengers or terrorists as people with histories. In most movies about doomed voyages, we meet a few key characters we’ll be following: The newlyweds, the granny, the businessman, the man with a secret. Here there’s none of that. What we know about the passengers on United 93 is exactly what we would know if we had been on the plane and sitting across from them: nothing, except for a few details of personal appearance.

Scenes on board the plane alternate with scenes inside the National Air Traffic Control Center, airport towers, regional air traffic stations, and a military command room. Here, too, there are no back stories. Just technicians living in the moment. Many of them are played by the actual people involved; we sense that in their command of procedure and jargon. When the controllers in the LaGuardia tower see the second airplane crash into the World Trade Center, they recoil with shock and horror, and that moment in the film seems as real as it seemed to me on Sept. 11, 2001.

http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/united-93-2006

My point is that the minimal characterization is nothing new.  Christopher Nolan also talked the film The Wages of Fear by Henri-Georges Clouzot, which he screened for the crew before filming.  He argued that Clouzot showed people in the middle of physical, dangerous processes and believed that the characters did not need to make a case to the audience through dialogue as to why they shouldn’t die.

Are characters essential?  Not really, though it is risky to leave them out.  I am curious as to how Dunkirk will feel on Blue-Ray.  I don’t think the film will play as well on a small TV screen as it does in the big screen.  However, the second time I saw the film it was definitely on a smaller screen, and while I missed the bigger screen, I still cried when the boats showed up.

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Elegy to Defunct Blogs

A few days ago, when Rafa won his third US Open, and his sixteenth Grand Slam, I suddenly found myself feeling a sense of nostalgia and loss.  Yes, I was happy that Rafa had won, and tickled at the strange turn that the 2017 season had provided for Federer and Nadal fans.  But I suddenly was struck by a sense of loss.  What was I mourning?  I was mourning a loss of blogs.

Back in 2011, I read several tennis blogs that are now defunct.  These blogs attracted a large number of comments and we formed a kind of community.  It was, ironically, that community that encouraged me to start blogging again.  They commented here sometimes, especially when I was being treated for thyroid cancer five years ago. Of course, in time, we all moved on.  Interests changed, lives changed, and these blogs and communities folded.  Ironically, my blog seems to be the only one still in existence.  I think that is because my blog is random, not theme based.  I don’t need to abandon this blog when I suddenly pick up a new interest; I simply add that to the blog.  (Though most of the writings of this blog is pretty consistent.)  But as I thought about the US Open and the kind of discussions that would have taken place on those blogs this week if they still existed, I felt very sad.

The internet is a graveyard of blogs. Some blogs never really take off and are quickly abandoned.  Other blogs have wide followings but the writers either move on with their lives or interests.  Sometimes society moves on from the interests of the blog.  Many of the blogs that I have read and loved over the years are now abandoned.  Some have been deleted.  That makes me sad, when a blog is deleted, especially if the writing was good and the pieces memorable.  Occasionally, a defunct blog will rise again, and there are still a couple of blogs that I check, even a year after the most recent post, hoping against hope that it will be updated.

The death of a blog can also mean the death of the community.  Usually the internet is a horrible place where people are dreadfully mean to each other.  But occasionally, similar minded people will find each other on the internet.  When they do, it is amazing.  However, on blogs, I have found that these tend to be rather ephemeral.  Either the blog dies out, people move on with interests, or the issue that brought the people together ceases to be relevant.

For the most part, everyone moves on.  But as I watched the footage from the US Open, and thought about this crazy year and all its unbelievable surprises (the resurgence of Federer and Nadal, the collapse of Djokovic) I wished that I was able to read what the blogs said and the other commentators.  The pain was surprisingly sharp, considering they were just blogs and comments online.  I wonder if other people have had this experience.

Perhaps we all need to view blogs and online communities as the sand mandalas created by Buddhist monks.  They take painstaking care to create beautiful works of art, only to destroy them to symbolize the transient nature of reality.  It is hard though, at times, not to feel the loss very keenly.

Well, in memory of all of the lost blogs and the communities they fostered, I submit Mozart’s Requiem.  I was fortunate enough to hear this at the Cleveland Orchestra last month.

 

 

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