Sunday, October 31, 2010

Three-Act Structure in Billy Elliot

"Billy Elliot" (2000) Directed by Stephen Daldry 
Screenplay by Lee Hall

*spoiler alert 

Billy Elliot is the story of a boy who is in a working class home in a mining town in England. He has a passion for ballet but is expected to conform to gender roles and enroll in boxing and eventually follow in his father’s footsteps to become a miner.
         The structure of Billy Elliot follows the classical Hollywood Three Act structure. It is divided into thirds with two major plot points followed by the climax in the third act.

ACT I: Billy, the protagonist of the story goes to take boxing at the local community center. Professor Ramirez-Berg’s lecture stated that there was an overall rise and fall action and also smaller rise and falling actions within the acts. The major conflict that exists throughout the first two acts is the tension between Billy and his father. The rising action of the first act occurs when Billy begins to take secret ballet lessons and discovers his love and talent for dance. This becomes a secret that he has to hide from his father. His father expects him to follow in his footsteps and be a “normal” boy. The plot point in Act 1 that escalates the stakes is the moment when Billy’s father discovers that Billy has been taking ballet lessons and confronts him about it. It causes the audience to ask the questions “will Billy get to continue dance? Will he decide to disobey his father”? This propels the plot forward into the next act.

Act II:  Billy continues with his lessons behind his father’s back. This implies a complication that will occur in the future. The second act continues as Billy’s skill set increases. Billy’s dance teacher encourages him to try out for the Royal Ballet School in London. The plot point in Act II occurs when Billy’s father sees his son dance and recognizes his true talent. This causes the audience to question what will happen to Billy, whether he will get into the Royal Ballet School, and how his father will deal with the changes in his life. The plot point of the last Act is, at this point, answered. Billy did continue with dance despite his father’s warnings.

Act III: Billy auditions for a spot in the Royal Ballet School. The tension in this act centers around whether or not he will get in. The rising action of the movie occurs in the third act at Billy’s audition. He gets into a fight and yet performs an incredibly electric audition that impresses the judges. The audience considers the consequences of Billy’s actions. Will his rash behavior cost him his future in dance? In the climactic scene of the movie, Billy receives his letter from the Dance academy and is accepted! Billy Elliot is a perfect example of the three-act structure being adapted easily for melodramas with happy endings. The plot point of the second acts are answered as Billy goes to The Royal Ballet Academy and his dad returns to his job after being on strike. The loose ends are tied up and the Three-Act structure is complete. 

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Sitcoms in Society

(From "Friends")

         In my opinion, the most important function of a TV sitcom is to reflect society. One way in which TV does this is by having an episodic format and by objectifying issues from a culture. The lecture discussed the idea of TV being our modern campfire story. Campfire stories are part of an oral tradition in which the stories of a culture are told. Like campfire stories, TV is not always a perfectly realistic depiction of culture. However, it takes aspects of culture such as the role of family, the emphasis on popularity in high school, or relationship pressure, and interprets that into a recognizable format. 
(From "The Big Bang Theory")

The episodic format allows viewers to watch individual episodes without having to remember a lot of specific details from previous shows over a long period of time. It also allows a TV show to represent many different story lines and themes with the same characters without the constraints of trying to be consistent. The TV sitcom allows viewers to watch issues of society being dealt with by characters and to internalize reactions to these issues as well as be entertained at the same time. TV sitcoms would not be interesting or entertaining if the subject matter was not familiar. The reflection of society within television causes the audience to take interest in the character’s lives and causes audiences to feel more connected with society.

 From "Boy Meets World" 

A show that I think symbolizes the classic “sitcom” that was popular throughout the 90’s is “Boy Meets World”- a show about a middle class boy experiencing life as he grows up.  The show is typical of 90’s sitcoms because it reflects a national stereotype about middle class American life. It reflects society by placing the characters in various situations that any adolescent might have to go through. It examines issues of school, community, and family. Boy Meets World typifies the “three-act” structure discussed in the lecture. There is always a problem that is introduced in the first act, the character’s reactions to the issue, and then the solution in the third act. Boy Meets World began as a very episodic show, but then gradually turned serial because of its massive fan base. It ran for seven seasons from 1993 until 2000 and its characters went from the beginning of middle school to the time they are adults and are beginning married life. Many characters stay constant over time and are used for comedi relief. For instance, the character of Mr. Feeny, the high school principle and friend of the protagonist’s family is used in this capacity as well as for giving advice. His character stays the same throughout the show. Cory’s brother is portrayed as a non-serious character who is more interested in girls than work.  Boy Meets World portrayed many issues that were important to high school students in the 1990’s (many of which remain relevant today). These include early marriage, alcohol use, responsibility, and loyalty. Boy Meet World, like most sitcoms, uses pretty formulaic plotlines but I feel like it does this in a clever and innovative way that makes watching it entertaining. Boy Meets World is a great example of a sitcom because it has an episodic format, easily recognizable characters, and it reflects issues in modern society. 

Boy Meets World Clip 

Friday, October 15, 2010

Discussion of Film shots in "Le fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain"

Film: Amelie directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet

    Amelie, a French film, uses all three shots sequentially in most scenes in the film in which new information is introduced.  The film director, Jean-Pierre Jeunet filmed Amelie in a style to emphasize human connection and understanding of the characters. The progression in most scenes is from Close up--> Medium Shot--> Long shot. Not the other way around.  This immediately establishes a close connection with the character or setting, even if we are not sure exactly who the character is yet. This ties back to one of the themes of the film which is self discovery and understanding the quirks of human nature.

1.  Close Up: One of the very first shots of the film is a hand with a face drawn on it. It is shown during the beginning credits, moving the fingers so that the hand is "talking". It immediately gives the film an undertone of playfulness. At the same time, however, the face on the hand is indisputably a bit macabre.  The eyes particularly, are rather disturbing since they lack pupils.  The hand is shown with a stark black background with a green-ish dark lighting. This Chiaroscuro type image adds to the feeling that perhaps not everything is as happy as the original shot may suggest.  This shot clearly begs the question of "who does the hand belong to?" It immediately hooks the audience, making them interested in the character before they even see her. Since this is the first shot, it can not "make sense of feelings" as normal close ups do. It instead establishes emotional content in another way- creating a mood with images that will continue throughout the length of the film.

2.  The medium shot:  The medium shot still works in a similar way to the tradition medium shot in Amelie. It gives more information and confirms information, but it gives more information about the series of close up shots. In the first medium shot, Amelie sits, petrified in an arm chair. Someone has played a practical joke on her and she is horrified by what she thinks she has done. The shot is set up so Amelie is the center of focus. Her face is brightly lit from the side, emphasizing her expression of horror. The camera is positioned at a low angle which in this instance, shows the immensity of the chair in comparison to Amelie. This functions to make to look very small and very frightened. It is now clear that it is Amelie's hand we saw in the first shots. Amelie is almost always shown alone in the opening scenes of the movie, portraying an isolated quality to her childhood. She looks directly above the camera, but straight ahead which makes her appear paralyzed by fear.

3. Long Shot: This is literally the first Long shot I could find in Amelie which is more than five minutes in. The movie is shot in a series of close ups and medium shots, emphasizing different character traits about the different people portrayed in the film. It gives a sense of familiarity to them and puts the audience essentially "in the room" with the characters. This long shot is when Amelie and her mother go to Notre Dame. It shows the church and that little Amelie is with her mother. It is only seconds before her mother dies when a tourist jumps off the top of Notre Dame, committing suicide, and landing on Amelie's mother. This is realized only by narration and not shown. The fact that the scene is shot in the elegant entryway of Notre Dame adds an absurdity to the image when the narration is added. The brightest color int he shot is Amelie's coat which is used to put particular emphasis on her character and not her mother. The mother's character is rarely shown and if she is shown, it is like this shot: a distance shot which affords no ability to see her features close up. The way this shot is set up and the absurd nature of her death allows the audience to distance themselves from her death and to move on quickly with the storyline. The camera angle is straight on which is a power neutral stance.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Hollywood Star System

I think that the star system was an integral part of early Hollywood and the studio system.  It is important because it essentially created American icons that reached a level of nationwide popularity previously unheard of. It was the concurrent creation of films with the popularization of radio that created the modern idea of “celebrity”. Audiences wanted to know about the actors and would go see a movie just because they were starring in it. The star system was the collection of particular actors or actresses by studios that would generate an audience. Some actresses and actors were “discovered” when they were young and trained to become audience favorites through a combination of singing, dance, and acting.
         The star system affected what kinds of films the studio made because the films were written in order to reflect the talents of the actors. They had to showcase their particular talents. For instance, dance numbers for Fred Astaire, singing parts for Judy Garland, or diva roles for Mae West. Eventually, the star system caused the actors to gain power and ask for higher salaries.
         For example, actress Dorothy Lee signed with RKO Pictures at the age of 18. She was type cast as a comedian and was made up to six movies a year at the peak of her career. The advertisements for the films always featured Dorothy Lee prominently, so that audiences would be attracted to the film. The star system was influential because it caused films in early Hollywood to prominently showcase the same talent over and over again, creating an American sensation of Hollywood Stars. (Imdb)

(on major film posters, the actor's names would be featured first and most prominently to advertise the star power) 

Dorothy Lee, 1929.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

All in the Family and Modern Family

      "All in The Family" is similar to "Modern Family" in that they both use family situations to entertain audiences and to bring up issues to viewers that are relevant to family life. Both feature an older father and a child that is newly married. Both use stereotypical characters (Ie. Hippie, foreign, old man) to  add humor to the show. 
   Most simply, "Modern Family" has more characters than "All in the Family." "Modern family" includes three generations, as opposed to two from "all". "Modern", therefore, examines the lives of three families (that are extended family), whereas "All" examines only one.  The two shows are different in that "Modern Family" is much more explicit in the way it addresses relationships that would have been a little scandalous 40 years ago. For instance, two main characters are gay. The older man marries a wife that could be described as a "trophy" wife because she is many years his junior. The young children are put into more sexualized situations much earlier than they would have in the 1960's. "All in the Family" begins to address public prejudices, such as homophobia, but avoids making a direct condemnation about them. Instead, "All in the Family" lets viewers draw their own conclusions. "All in the Family" relies on stereotype more than "Modern Family" and while both rely on a generational gap to create humor, the focus in "All in the Family" is more on that gap than in "Modern". Modern Family deals with race and gender issues more than "All in the Family." "All in the Family" deals more with issues between generations, although they do address gender roles to some extent.