Sunday, March 27, 2011

More Images of "Japan"

I was recently looking through a gallery of Life magazine cover when I found a couple of interesting covers from 1951 and 1964. The '64 cover takes the ubiquitous image of a beautiful woman in a kimono and combines it with the most American thing on the planet: bowling. This is quite possibly the only sport one can play with eating a hot dog, and drinking a beer, but now we’ve kicked off our bowling shoes and added some tabi socks to the mix, making this is such a quirky, kitschy image to my eye. Bowling graces the cover of the “Special Issue: Japan”, that’s the best they could do.

Lola (Fassbinder, 1981)

1a. Emotional Response after first viewing:
         Lola is a gorgeous film, a veritable feast for the eyes. Yet directly after viewing it I feel unsettled and emotionally drained. There is a carnivalesque quality to the viewing experience in the lushness of the mise en scene and chaotic, beautifully artificial use of color. Yet the film also made me feel hollow after viewing, mainly because I walked away with the feeling that nothing has changed in the world of the film. It is still an unequal world of exchange, and the final scenes in which little Marie lies in the hayloft suggest that nothing will change. It gave me a somber, disheartening feeling, which was unexpected as the film’s artful use of melodramatic codes lured me into expecting a perfect, cohesive ending. 

What's Old is New Again

"However, we need to remember at this point that the technologist is a social being and that all this is taking place within the social sphere. The social has obviously informed the model thus far. The scientist conceptualizing necessary fundamental understandings are as much social beings, exponents of and prisons of the culture that produced them, as are the technologists who have ideas for devices and build prototypes".
-Brian Winston: Media Technology and Society

An Ode to the Soap

After talking about complex narrative, I've been thinking quite a bit about soap operas lately. I found an entry on media scholar Jason Mittell's blog pertaining to the subject of complex narrative and soaps, and enjoyed reading someone else's thoughts on the matter. It just seems to me that the soap opera is the grandaddy (grandmama?) of complex narrative. Honestly, could there be anything more complex than a program like All My Children, which has been going strong since 1970 and a cast of over 50 characters? It seems that soap operas have been largely ignored (although I did find Love and Ideology in the Afternoon by Laura Stempel Mumford to be an interesting read) because of the division between "high" and "low" culture. The fact that it is "women's tv" also stigmatizes the genre and makes it superfluous and beyond recognition.

Images of "Japan"

These ads were both featured in Atlantic Monthly in 1960: the first in September and the second in December. What I find striking is the lack of Japanese in either of these ads. The first features a blonde, All-American woman, comfortably enjoying the amenities of JAL at the Kusaga Grand Shrine. The ad promises “Shoji screens, and tatami-patterned carpets, chrysanthemum designs and pine bough motifs, the taste and restraint of Japan” on every JAL flight. The early 60s borrowed “Oriental” motifs, especially in the design of “mod” furniture, and the Western interest in Japan increased following World War II. The first Benihana Japanese Steakhouse appeared in New York City in 1964, four years after JAL received its first jet. The aesthetic of “Japan” was fresh, haute couture, and this ad is inviting wealthy housewives to come to Japan to find tasteful, restrained items with which to decorate their suburban homes. 

Last Year at Marienbad (Resnais, 1961)

I loved Last Year at Marienbad. I’ve been struggled with writing this reaction, because every time I start writing I can’t get over how visually striking this film is. We are presented with strikingly gorgeous images and a luxurious, rich depth-of-field clarity that is simply hedonistic. Resnais provides the viewer with maddening, yet ingenious, self-referential moments in the visual language of the film, and visually alludes to the stylistic perfection of the image in even the smallest scenes. At one point, we watch two older gentlemen playing chess, and behind them stretches what appears to be a hall tiled like chess set. This same hall is shown again later in the film, and it was not until the second view that I realized that an extremely talented example of trompe l’oeil. This image really screwed with my mind; in the midst of this deep focus voluptuousness, I am confronted with this strange flatness. The hall, like much of the hotel, evokes a M.C. Escher and especially impossible objects. An impossible figure, such as a Necker cube or Penrose stair, is a two-dimensional figure that we interpret as a projection of a three-dimensional object. The film similarly uses our visual systems to blur the line between depths and even reality. The “false perspectives” and baroque excesses of the hotel again reference this theme, and we begin to distrust our eyes even as we are hungry for more image.

Detour (1945)

    While watching Detour (Ulmer, 1945), I began to consider the interplay between narrative and history that takes place within the film. 1945 marks the surrender of Japan and the official end of World War II, and I argue that this film works through the experience of war and the fate of the returning soldier. Something I found intriguing was the film’s internal timeline of events. Al (Tom Neal) narrates the story through flashback, but there is ambiguity surrounding when exactly the events took place. He informs the audience in the first flashback that playing piano in a nightclub was “pretty good work for those days”, and later explains his failed hitchhiking attempts to Haskell (Edmund McDonald), saying, “not many people stop for a guy these days. Can’t blame them; maybe they’re afraid of a stick-up or something”. I take this unnamed time, where work is scarce and people are desperate, to be a thinly veiled allusion to the Depression, sometime between 1929 and the late 1930s. By setting the action of the film before the war and pre-1945 provides a space in which to examine contemporary issues in the safety of “before-now”.