Cinematography of the Week #2

Hey there! I hope you’re all having a fab week. First of all, apologies for being so inactive recently – I’m currently moving house and was away on holiday last week and have in general been suuuuper busy but I’m ready to get everything up and running again. I may even edit together some clips from my holiday and post them here. Who knows?

La Haine

This week’s feature is from one of my favourite films of all time. La Haine (Dir. Mathieu Kassovitz, 1995, France) follows three young men travelling through the banlieues in France. It touches on subjects such as class injustice, police brutality and racial profiling.

The narrative shook me to my core but it is the incredible work of Pierre Aïm (cinematographer) that caused this film to steal my heart. As a film with an unconventionally slow pace and little dialogue at times, the shots throughout truly help to speak volumes as to how the characters are feeling and how they experience the world around them.

The infamous ‘zolly’ shot (as shown above) is iconic due to the skill it takes and the message it portrays. The (sometimes referred to) ‘Vertigo effect’ is achieved by a wide angle zoom lens, a steady zoom and a dolly. The result is a poetic expression of how these three men who have made their way to Paris feel as though there is a strong disconnect between themselves and the city. All of these characters, none of which are simply French, feel isolated in their own country due to their low class background and different ethnicities.

What other shots do you like from this film? Are there any films you would like to see featured? Comment below!

The Future is Female: Celebrating Women in the Film Industry

Credit: Yasmine Gateau for Variety

In light of International Women’s Day and the recent Academy Awards I wanted to take a moment to pay homage and celebrate all of the amazing and wonderful women in the film industry. It is still considered very much a boys’ club with the Academy itself being 77% male and women only making up 4.6% of major studio films as of 2015 – I think the phrase most appropriate here is ‘disappointed, but not surprised’.

Hollywood needs to become more inclusive and allow art to be valued as art, not to discriminate against the creators due to who they are. Viola Davis, American actress and producer, was the first black woman to win an Emmy, Tony and an Oscar for acting (the ultimate triple threat) and used her acceptance speech to shed light on the topic of diversity. Davis stated “the only thing that separates women of colour from anyone else is opportunity.”

The only thing that separates women of colour from anyone else is opportunity.

Last year was the first time a female cinematographer, Rachel Morrison, was nominated for an Oscar. This amplifies the shameful divide still seen today in the film industry but helps to give hope to future talent.

With this all in mind, I wanted to just stop, think of, and appreciate these woman making incredible art and paving the way for future talent. If you’re looking to feel inspired or need something new to watch, here are a few pieces I would recommend all by women who are changing the game.

Andrea Arnold – English director, writer and former actress

Credit: IndieWire

Writer and Director of Fish Tank (2009), the story of a 15 year old girl who lives with her mother discovering what it is like to grow up and establish her identity as a woman, daughter and sister. Fish Tank won Arnold the award for the Best British film of 2009 at the BAFTAs. Among her other works; her 2006 debut feature film Red Road, a thriller following the life of a CCTV security operator in Scotland, and American Honey, a 2016 road trip and coming-of-age film set in the US. Her films tend to explore different characterizations of women.

Lynne Ramsay – Scottish director, producer, writer and cinematographer

Credit: Variety

Writer and director of Ratcatcher (1999), a drama which won Ramsay the Carl Foreman Award for Newcomer in British Film at the BAFTAs although never receiving wide cinematic release. Other releases include dark drama We Need To Talk About Kevin (2011) and psychological crime thriller You Were Never Really Here (2017). Her work has recurring themes of death, grief and guilt and a fascination with young people, focusing more heavily on imagery than dialogue.

Wanuri Kahiu – Kenyan director and producer

Credit: Bret Hartman / TED

Previously working on The Italian Job (2003), Kahiu went on to direct works such as her debut feature film drama From a Whisper (2008), portraying the realistic story of the aftermath of the August 7th terrorist bombing in Kenya 1998 and short sci-fi film Pumzi (2009) following the lives of the East African Territory community after World War III. Rafiki, her 2018 drama film about two female friends turned lovers was banned in Kenya due to its homosexual theme contrary to the law against gay relationships and sex, met with international outrage.

Ana Lily Amirpour – American-Iranian director, screenwriter, producer and actor

Credit: BlueCat

Her debut feature film A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014), self-described “Iranian Vampire Spaghetti Western” has received critical acclaim and praise for its imagery, tone and its feminist themes. More recent releases include the black comedy thriller The Bad Batch (2016), directing an episode of Castle Rock and upcoming feature film Blood Moon (TBA).

Marjane Satrapi – Iranian-French director

Credit: Arkansas Times

Satrapi, based off her autobiographical graphic novel, co-wrote and co-directed animated feature film Persepolis (2007), following her life growing up during the Iranian Revolution. Satrapi was the first woman to be nominated for Best Animated Feature at the Academy Awards. In 2011, Chicken with Plums, another co-production based on an existing graphic novel was released, an animated drama following and reflecting the life of a musician on his deathbed. Black comedy horror film The Voices (2014) was also directed by Satrapi, following the life of an upbeat man called Jerry who suffers from schizophrenia and chooses against taking his medication, resulting in delusions and violent thoughts.

As a film student I want to express how much these women (and many others) inspire me and prove that the film industry needs pieces of work from people from all different backgrounds and walks of life.

Velvet Buzzsaw: profit over passion

Jake Gyllenhaal in promo poster for Velvet Buzzsaw Credit: Netflix

I spend an embarrassing amount of time on Netflix aimlessly scrolling, adding new films to my list or rewatching the same series I have already seen a thousand times (I’m looking at you, Drag Race). So when I saw the trailer for Velvet Buzzsaw I was super excited – a genre-bending, Jake Gyllenhaal-led satire film written and directed by Dan Gilroy – what’s not to love? I’m a massive fan of Nightcrawler so naturally, I had high hopes for this release.

*Spoilers ahead*

Velvet Buzzsaw follows various characters in the contemporary world of art in Los Angeles, including art critique Morf Vandewalt (Jake Gyllenhaal), an intriguing man with a great deal of influence in his field and Rhodora Haze (Rene Russo), owner of the Haze Gallery. Morf feels unsatisfied in his relationship with his current boyfriend Ed (Sedale Threatt Jr.), and rekindles his previous attachment to Josephina (Zawe Ashton), who works for Rhodora.

Everyone seems to be discontent with present collections and are on the hunt for the next big thing. This is when Josephina discovers a man called Vetril Dease who lived in her building has died – she enters his home to discover thousands of paintings. As Josephina begins to release his work to the eye’s of the public, strange things start happening. Anyone that attempts to profit from or act greedy in any way due to Dease’ work ends up dying under mysterious circumstances – the art starts to come to life to kill anyone who has done wrong morally, sometimes causing all evidence of the person’s death to disappear.

A piece from Dease’s collection of work Credit: Netflix

Pretty cool concept, right? All in all, it follows the classic horror narrative of being punished for sin, making it fairly predictable. Dease’s ‘spirit’ acts as the force that deems the guilty few to be punished and decides their fate. One by one, the profit-hunters are picked off by Dease’s art (or his ‘spirit’ seems to embody other artwork such as the Sphere and the Hoboman) – even when Morf realises the danger and warns everyone.

Morf after sensing a presence in Dease’s work Credit: Netflix

Morf starts to head towards a mental breakdown and becomes haunted by the negative reviews he’s written and how he has harshly critiqued these different artists’ work. He becomes more aware of the damage he has caused and feels guilty, although is still deemed sinful and he is killed when the Hoboman is brought to life by Dease’s ‘spirit’. Rhodora seems to narrowly avoid death, however, just before the credits her tattoo of her old band ‘Velvet Buzzsaw’ comes to life and kills her, taking his final victim. Is the ‘spirit’ finally satisfied?

Rhodora’s Velvet Buzzsaw tattoo Credit: Netflix

These underlying themes of greed and paying the price for acting in a selfish manner, especially displayed in the world of art, strongly shone through, working to subtly comment on how artforms and creative expressions that are so pure and passionate are drained for profit and celebrated for all the wrong reasons. Originally created as a outlet to reflect on Dease’s abuse-filled childhood and bad mental health struggles, his artwork was always meant to be destroyed and was never intended to be sold for fame or fortune. His ‘spirit’ seems set on punishing those who have forgotten the purity and hard work that goes into artistic expression – Dease literally painted with his own blood. If that doesn’t prove a point (and make you feel a little uncomfortable) I don’t know what will. His legacy and body of work act a symbol for the passionate artist, unfit and too vulnerable for such a superficial world. John Malkovich’s character Piers also symbolises this belief. An artist who hasn’t created anything ‘show-stopping’ in years and is now seen as less important and less worthy of attention because of this – expression should be for the self. This is amplified during the credits where we see him on the beach drawing patterns in the sand only for them to be washed away – he is creating simply to create, not to be observed.

Jake Gyllenhaal as Morf Vandewalt in Velvet Buzzsaw Credit: Netflix

Also, the role of the critic is touched upon with Morf’s character. I can only assume this stems from Gilroy’s own experiences in the public eye, having your work torn apart (whoops, sorry) without true thought of its consequences. Through this I can sense the drive for celebrating the creation of art simply just to create and not to be analysed and placed value on. I find this take and exploration about expression truly intriguing and powerful, however, part of me feels as though more could have been done to really push the message within the narrative. Using such a limiting skeleton for the plot I believe hindered the impact this film could’ve truly had.

Josephina covered in paint and colour Credit: Netflix

To describe my viewing in one word? Underwhelmed. Some of the characterisation was enticing and the general concept was edgy, however, the weight of the narrative didn’t pull it over the finish line for me. Some themes that were touch upon like greed and harsh critiquing (which is now hilariously ironic) I enjoyed but it just felt as though something was missing. My understanding with Dan Gilroy, from this piece and Nightcrawler is that he enjoys a darker side to realism, where the events and chaos that have occurred suddenly seems to disappear as life all around us continues and I can see that through his work. I just wish he’d taken the surrealist elements that step further to amplify the message.

Velvet Buzzsaw is available to stream on Netflix now

Bandersnatch: the illusion of free will

Bandersnatch loading screen Credit: Netflix / Bandersnatch

*Spoilers throughout*

I’ve been intrigued by Black Mirror and its themes since it began. Through the topics discussed within the show it invites us (or somewhat forces us) to look inward at ourselves, our morals and our behaviour. Each episode is a stand-alone story, reflecting on the society humanity has created and the dangers that lie ahead if we utilise technology in a perilous way.

Choice screen when Stefan (Fionn Whitehead) is offered a job at Tuckersoft Credit: Netflix / Bandersnatch

Their first ever interactive film, Bandersnatch, has caught a large amount of attention from the public due to this new concept that allows you to choose your own fate. Every few minutes you get given two choices (e.g. Frosties or Sugar Puffs) and ten seconds to click a choice – the path your storyline goes down is solely up to the choices made by the viewer, some choices having larger significance than others. There are over five main endings and at every dead end there is the chance to revisit the last important choice or to restart completely. The variety of these choices makes us question how much free will is given regarding the viewer and the protagonist’s actions – we’ll be looking more at that later.

The film follows Stefan (Fionn Whitehead), a young video game programmer in 1984, who is undergoing the creation of a choose-your-own-adventure game ‘Bandersnatch’, based off a book of the same name. The book is written by Jerome F. Davies whose detoreation of sanity results in him cutting his wife’s head off. Something is telling me this isn’t going to end well…

Stefan visits Tuckersoft, a successful video game company to pitch his idea where he meets Colin Ritman (Will Poulter), his favourite programmer. At face value we are presented with an oddball video game programmer but he seems to become a mentor of Stefan’s from the second he meets him. He seeks to understand Stefan and give him advice – if the viewer declines the offer to work at Tuckersoft Colin agrees that working alone is more beneficial.

Colin Ritman (Will Poulter) showing Stefan and Moham Thakur (Asim Chaudhry) his new video game Credit: Netflix / Bandersnatch

He also has this all-knowing presence as well – if Stefan chooses to accept the offer straight away, Colin says “wrong path” and the story loops back to the previous decision again. He appears to be aware of the parallel realities and existing within the loop – every time the story restarts the clip of Stefan meeting Colin now shows him saying “we’ve met before” which is untrue other than through the looping of the story.

Stefan is presented as a rather passive character and seems to hate feeling watched and reviewed. His uncertainty and lack of sense of self is evident from the start, as he mentions talking to his therapist (Alice Lowe) that he feels ‘monitored’ and out of control of his choices (I wonder why). This portrayal of anxiety and low self esteem makes us sympathise with Stefan, and his self aware nature begins to change the tone of the film, making the viewer feel more uncomfortable and concerned as to whether he will discover the audience.

In Stefan’s first session with his therapist is where we discover (if you choose to talk about it) what happened to his mother and this leads to the only opportunity where you don’t get given a choice – (possibly due to it being a flashback) this immediately takes away this idea of free will and choice. Stefan’s five year old self’s stubborn decision has dire consequences – is this why he can’t trust his own judgement? This loss has led to a life of uncertainty over his choices and actions – perhaps this is why he is so intrigued by Bandersnatch and being able to have control over other people’s choices and storylines (ironically, but hey, that’s Black Mirror for you). His mother ends up getting on a later train than originally planned (that derails) because Stefan can’t find his beloved rabbit toy that his father (Craig Parkinson) has hidden – his whole life he blames his dad due to his own overwhelming guilt.

After deciding to work from home to create Bandersnatch, Stefan slowly becomes overwhelmed with programming. This, of course being a Black Mirror piece, acts as a warning of technology and its capabilities – the new innovative software causes Stefan’s mental health to deteriorate. He begins to disconnect from the real world and focuses on nothing but completing the Bandersnatch game. He becomes so consumed in the story and the structure that he starts to believe that he too is on a set path. He begins to lose all sense of control and self.

Stefan’s medication Credit: Netflix / Bandersnatch

There is the choice to go back to Colin’s house to seek support and advice where he offers Stefan a tab of acid – if the viewer decides against taking the tab Colin slips it into his cup of tea anyway and remarks that he ‘chose for him’. During their trip Colin discusses a ‘spirit’ controlling us and how PAC man is a reflection of society – he is ‘programmed and controlled’ and can only consume looping round and round in small circuits, pursued by demons. Stefan is living his life in the format of a video game, a never-ending loop that he is trapped in.

Jerome F. Davies’ office after deterioration of sanity Credit: Netflix / Bandersnatch

Colin gifts Stefan a taped documentary to watch on Jerome F. Davies’ life and his spiral into insanity – Stefan becomes paranoid, as Davies did, that he is being controlled and drugged and begins to question his own free will. The documentary explains how Davies believed he had no control over his fate therefore suggesting his actions were guilt-free if his fate was dictated for him. Stefan, having always been haunted by guilt since he was five ends up (if the viewer chooses to) killing his father – the choice is perceived as not his to choose. He obeys but appears to do so with restraint, yelling that he’s “not in control”.

One of the endings shows Stefan talking about the finished result of Bandersnatch, discussing the stripping back of loads of choice giving the illusion of free will and stresses how he gets to decide the ending – does this suggest a switch around in power play? We, the viewer, have been perceived as the more authoritative part of the game, however the illusion of free will is being reflected onto us, giving the whole experience and story a deeper level to it. Did Stefan always have the intention to kill? Is the whole film a piece of video game software that he has created?

Whether Stefan decided his fate or not, it doesn’t have a happy ending.

Black Mirror’s Bandersnatch is available to stream on Netflix now


Ewan McGregor as Renton in Trainspotting

We are used to seeing drug abuse glamorised in the media – from Hollywood celebrities throwing extravagant parties and sniffing cocaine to rappers bragging about being rich and taking pills, but the topic of addiction and the reflection of people’s reasoning to partake is more important now than ever. Drug abuse and addiction is spoken about and experienced by celebrities and everyday people, making it seriously relevant and cause for concern at this time. Expressing these problems and keeping the conversation around it alive and present isn’t easy, however, some creators can give this topic the depth it needs to captivate their audience and strike a chord.

Film is such an intriguing medium as it can be used as a window into someone else’s life, the average person like you or me, and explore these issues that many of us face. Various films touch on occasional experimental drug use, coming of age stories like The Perks of Being a Wallflower where Charlie has a weed brownie (unknowingly) but many don’t dive so deep as Trainspotting and Requiem for a Dream. These portrayals go above and beyond to tell stories of true hardships and explore the nature of addiction.

Set in the dog days of the Tory government, Trainspotting follows a very atypical group to be portrayed in cinema; ‘underclass’ heroin addicts in an economically depressed area of Edinburgh. Renton, our antihero, discusses those who partake as doing it simply for the pleasure, “take the best orgasm you’ve ever had, times it by a thousand and you’re still nowhere near”. When you’re a junkie all you need to worry about is scoring as opposed to paying bills, having a relationship, being a functioning member of society – this rejection of society’s norms could be a reflection of the youth culture at the time. Irvine Welsh’s 1993 novel of the same name was created at a time where the presence of nostalgia, consumption and this idea of a lost generation was apparent. This being said, Renton still attempts to quit – after his ‘final hit’ he has aggressive diarrhoea in the ‘worst toilet in Scotland’, fully disclosing and reminding the audience how unglamorous drugs can be.

Drug abuse is never without tragedy, and Trainspotting is a harsh portrayal of the pain it causes – most harrowing of which is Allison’s baby Dawn dying due to neglect, met with her begging Renton for a hit to suppress the pain. Taking heroin is now portrayed as self-destructive and a form of escapism from reality, similarly with Tommy who starts to partake after a breakup and loses his life to AIDS through the sharing of needles – this all allows the group to reflect on the severity of their actions. They’re fully aware of the damage it can cause.

Ellen Burstyn as Sara Goldfarb in Requiem for a Dream

Requiem for a Dream explores four different characters battles with addiction, desire and a pursuit of a dream – similarly to Trainspotting it closely follows heroin junkies doing what they can to score and the tragedy their addiction causes. However, the parallel story of Sara Goldfarb, mother of one of the addicts, is heartbreaking. After her husband passes, she becomes obsessed with being on a television game show and begins to take uppers to lose weight, attempting to live up to society’s standards. This portrayal of addiction to prescribed drugs removes the binary conventions of good and bad drugs and allows us to think deeper into what causes addiction. This technique almost normalises drug addiction, travelling from heroin (one of the most addictive illegal drugs ever) to diet pills which anyone can access over-the-counter. Requiem for a Dream makes you question the difference between these two addictions, and re-evaluate how the addicts themselves appear in your eyes. The heroin addicts are immediately deemed more sinful and the lonely house-wife is pitied, even though they are all suffering from the same illness. The fairness of this evaluation is challenged.

Sara takes the pills so she can live in her own fantasy, stopping her from facing true reality and coming to terms with how lonely she has become. Her fix has become a companion, a friend – her addiction caused by isolation and her desperation to feel valued and surrounded by love and approval, all of which she is lacking. Her reliance on the pills to ignore reality is destructive and pushes her further away from real people, making it harder to connect. All characters end up losing something due to their addiction – a relationship, a limb, their sanity – leaving them an empty shell of their former selves.

These are the groups in society that people do not wish to be reminded of and are pushed aside, however, the issues raised through these stories are painfully relevant and help to reduce stereotypes of those who become reliant on drugs. These films all humanise addicts by telling the realness of drug abuse through the most captivating characters, a sobering reminder of the heartache it causes. Drug abuse is used to fill a void in your life due to feeling discontent or lacking hope in reality but these films help bring awareness to these matters – don’t let your fix become a friend.