Monday, November 25, 2013

Week Fourteen: Orange is the New Black

            For this week’s assignment, I chose to binge watch Orange Is the New Black, a new Netflix original series that portrays the life and struggles of women in prison.  Having grown up without cable television, I was never introduced to such ongoing dramas.  As a child I watched Disney Channel and Nickelodeon when visiting my grandparents, and over the past few years I have grown obsessed with Seinfeld, The Big Bang Theory, Full House and Glee, all of which I own on DVD.  In short, my preference of television has involved lighthearted and witty comedy. 

            None of the shows on the provided list stood out as something I would choose to watch on my own.    However, my Facebook newsfeed was flooded with praise for the new racy Netflix series, several of my friends were hooked, and my favorite color is orange, so these three factors made my decision for me.  Little did I know I would end up just as hooked as everyone else.

            Orange is the New Black delivers its audience the hard truth.  Much of the content is so explicit that it’s incredibly uncomfortable to watch, yet at the same time, I can appreciate that.  The creators have developed a show that isn’t afraid to introduce the public to the extreme racism, gender issues, crime, drug abuse, and general mistreatment of solitary confinement. 

            The behavior of these imprisoned women can be terrible and even terrifying at points, but audiences still manage to love them.  I think this is one of the greatest successes of the show; the creators were able to speak the truth but still manage to guarantee that prison women are still human.  They still can love.  They still need love.

            Another great aspect of the show is the “flashback”.  This creates an even deeper plot with so much to explore.  Because the setting and theme is so absolute – prison life– the incorporation of an abundance of characters isn’t so overwhelming.  Everything connects back to the central plotline.  The audience is woven in and out of so many stories, but there is always that strong foundation that keeps the series on track.

            I am a huge Jodi Picoult fan, and Orange is the New Black is very much like one of her novels.  Perhaps this is why I was hooked so quickly.  I enjoy literary works that describe the daily lives of people who aren’t like us, or explain situations that we’re not fully aware of.  Like Jodi Picoult, the creators seem to have done their research.  The show is both entertainment and a learning experience, and I’m looking forward to hearing about the characters’ lives in future episodes.  

Friday, November 15, 2013

Week Twelve: Dan Clowes and the Comic Book

This week we examined the graphic novel, or as Dan Clowes prefers, the “comic book”.  His works, Ghost World and Art School Confidential, were humorous and in some cases relatable.  Both examine an awkward time after graduating from high school and the transformations associated with adolescence. 

Ghost World was my favorite of the two and having seen the film prior to reading, it was interesting to analyze the adaptation.  Some scenes from the comic book, such as the diner scene with Weird Al and the girls’ obsession with the “Satanists”, were depicted very similarly in the film.  Much had to be added, however, in order to have a strong enough plotline and appropriate length.   

In class we discussed how comic books are commonly adapted into films.  My first thought was, “of course – the story and visuals are already laid out for the director.  It must be easy.”  After reevaluating, however, the challenges of such an adaptation became clearer.  When turning pre-established dialogue and image into a motion picture, it’s the director’s duty to mimic, or at least build upon, the visions of the artist.  The director must take into consideration the characters, setting, and mood, leaving very little leeway or artistic license.  Of course the director could take his own approach, but he might leave comic book fans disappointed by giving their favorite characters a different look or attitude. 

That being said, I think Terry Swigoff did Clowes’ work justice.  Ghost World is incredibly quirky, awkward, and presents two distinct personalities that seem angry about absolutely everything and treat life as a joke.  That’s not to sound negative, though, for Enid and Rebecca are amusing and even lovable to an extent, and Swigoff seems to have captured them very well.  In addition, his camera angles, stage, and even the strange dance sequence at the beginning all echo the original tone set by Clowes. 

I think audiences should be impressed by the success of transferring a comic book to the big screen.  Novels may have a book cover that set a “starting point” for a film director; Chris Columbus used Mary Grandpre’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone illustration as a model for casting Daniel Radcliffe.  However, there was plenty of room for establishing his personal vision.

Picture books are on the same turf as comic books.  The animation of The Polar Express greatly resembled Chris Van Allsburg’s original work.  It wouldn’t have felt right without visuals similar to the children’s book illustrations.   How the Grinch Stole Christmas is another great example, especially because they turned cartoon-like images into a live action presentation.  The wonderfully whimsical Dr. Seuss was certainly evident throughout Ron Howard’s adaptation.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Week 10/Week 11: Austin Grossman and the Narrative of Video Games

In my opinion, Austin Grossman’s You speaks to a very specific audience.  Video game enthusiasts may find themselves wishing they could be playing the game itself rather than reading about it.  Avid readers may find themselves completely lost within the gaming jargon (as I was).  There were parts I enjoyed, but they came and went spontaneously throughout the novel.  For example, I thought it was interesting to read how the world of gaming affected Russell’s daily life and relationships.  From the moment he started envisioning and communicating with the characters, you knew he was hooked.  And despite the fact that I have almost no interest in video games, I appreciated the dedication of Black Arts employees.  What surprised me most was that they weren’t even issued schedules; they loved their work enough to just show up and sit at a computer for hours on end.  In this way, Grossman introduced quirky yet somewhat lovable characters that I could relate to in a sense.  The workload at Ringling forces us to lose sleep, sacrifice our social calendar, and stare at computer screens for much too long, yet we love it. 

Beyond this, however, I almost felt like I was trudging through, attempting to understand the appeal of technology and development in the industry but failing.  It’s funny that Grossman should title the book “You”, as if he’s trying to sell the brilliance of this world to every reader.  For someone with no prior experience with video games, however, rambling on and on about data and programming and such details wasn’t exactly effective.    I’m not even sure if it was a problem of confusion, or simply that my mind drifted so far away from the text that I don’t remember what I read.  I had to laugh, then, when the narrator said, “You had to really love computer games to get excited about a game this crappy, to really invest in this little shifting grid of letters as an alternate world…” (Grossman 86).  I could completely relate.

What’s more, the flashbacks and time shifts conjured an entirely new level of confusion that made the experience of reading You even more aggravating.  Most of the time I was too busy struggling to understand the book to be able to enjoy it.
I don’t wish to completely attack Grossman, however.  His subject matter may not have connected with me, but his voice and tone were intriguing.  He also had very strong characters, which in a way reminded me of The Big Bang Theory.  I’m not much into science, superheroes, or geeky video games, yet this is still my favorite television show.  Why?  Because the characters are so strong and well developed.  While I can hardly relate to the subject matter, Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady have created such powerful personalities that I’m on the verge of obsession, if not there already.  I think it’s great to read about characters who are interested in something that makes no sense to you; it opens the door to acceptance.  Why read about someone who is just like you?  You already know that world.  Reading You introduced me to a world that I’m glad I’m not a part of, but am happy to watch from the sidelines.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Week Nine: Mira Nair's Work as a Director

I chose to watch the works of Mira Nair, an accomplished director born in India in the late 1950s.  Many of her films’ main characters are Indian, and the themes of such are based on cultural situations and values.  My evaluation of her works as a whole may be distorted, as I watched some of her more “English” films, such as Vanity Fair, which takes place in London, and New York I Love You, which as the title suggests, is set in the United States.  While many of her films could be defined by her role as an “auteur”, I believe the defining characteristic is the constant incorporation of her heritage.

That being said, several of her films seem to illustrate the “strong, independent woman”, or at least focus on the role of women in society.  Vanity Fair follows the progression of Becky Sharp (Reese Witherspoon) as she overcomes poverty and enters a high-class society full of financial and romantic drama.  Monsoon Wedding explores the experience of an Indian daughter’s arranged-marriage.  Even Amelia, which is based on real-events and thus leaves little room for the director’s personal preference plot-wise, tells the story of the first female pilot to fly across the Atlantic.   Although not always the case, it seems that female directors often take the opportunity to illuminate the power of the woman and create from the female perspective.  Browsing Nair’s filmography, however, one will also find The Reluctant Fundamentalist, a thriller featuring a Pakistani man and his search for the American Dream. 

So what is the defining characteristic of Mira Nair’s collection?  For any director, there will usually be exceptions when it comes to their entire filmography.  In Nair’s films, though, her culture constantly shows through.  It’s her rich background that influences her audio and visual artwork.  Though she was born in India, she now resides in New York City where she teaches in Columbia University’s film department.  She also spent time in Africa and is married to Mahmood Mamdani from Uganda.  Whether the film features an Indian or African cast, or themes from either culture, she skillfully integrates her personal background throughout her work.  New York, I Love You is a very peculiar film, as it is rather story-less.  It’s simply a series of short segments that introduce brief relationships, conflicts, or quirky stories.  The bright colors and music used especially in the opening segment are very powerful and reflect Indian culture.  Such a distinct portrayal of culture provides an interesting take on any film, for it puts a spin on the typical feel of a movie set.  Adding a “Bollywood” feel to a New York scene or an English cast generates an unfamiliar experience for the viewer and breaks from some of the stereotypes we typically see in genre. 

When a director is so connected to such a strong cultural background and is able to incorporate it into their works without deviating from the script, it creates a fresh experience for the audience.  Her influence on the actors themselves is interesting as well; before filming sessions, she has cast members engage in yoga, as she is also a dedicated yoga practitioner.  Mira Nair’s filmography has some diversity, but I believe her strong focus on women and Indian culture is the core of her success.