violence

She’s Going Down: Mash-Up

 This was not the first time I’ve worked with digital video, but it is the first time I’ve ever made something even remotely similar to a mash-up. Recording how-to videos, vlogs, or video game-related videos and editing those is one thing, but looking at hours of media and trying to process and synthesize them into a video is a very different animal.

To be frank, I dislike the idea of mash-ups, both in video and otherwise—I had to write a “multi-genre” piece in another class that was a similar idea of combining various styles into one thing, and I disliked that, as well. I like telling stories and I like making statements, but I’ve always been very particular with how I do things: Why buy a computer when I can make one myself, why buy a Halloween costume when I can sew, why put together a video that is a stitched together version of other videos when I can make something myself?

With that in mind, I had to really rethink how I approached this assignment. At first, I had the ideas sketched out, much like the storyboard rough draft we were assigned to do. I knew what I wanted, and I wanted to find things that fit right so, but when you’re not working with your own creations, things simply do not work like that, so instead of trying to find videos that fit my story, I ended up scrapping everything and finding videos that had images I thought I could work with, editing those videos down to the related sections, and then seeing how those could fit into a greater story. I needed to tell a story, but I could not do it by looking at the story in a linear fashion and hoping what I had would fit. Instead, I started to look at it as a puzzle where I had all these pieces, and if I put them together just right, there would be something there: It would no longer be a mass of colors and lines, but a fully-formed image (or in this case, idea).

Another challenge while creating the mash-up is that I do not think—or make any sort of art—with semiotic theories in mind. I think, “Putting that clip next to that will be powerful,” or “Speeding up this clip will create a sense of urgency” without telling myself that I’ve used this-or-that theory. These theories are things I assign to what I’ve done afterward, when I look into my motivations and reasoning, and this is also why I know I have trouble discussing my work in relation to these ideas. I can tell you why did something in this process, but to say it was a conscious choice to relate one clip to another in an active attempt to represent the idea of truth of falsity is not how I think, and in that way I approached this assignment like I approach any story I write, thinking about what I want to say and how to get there without getting bogged down by concepts. I worked on giving it meaning before searching out ways to add to develop the little nuances that would make or break my point.

And while, through all of this, I still dislike the mash-ups as a whole, I have come away with more respect for the medium: To tell a story without using your own words and/or images, with content you had no hand in the creation of, is a strange and arduous task. It required thinking in ways that I rarely do, and to some extend helped me make realization about my own story-telling. Although not related to mash-ups, often I would look at non-linear stories, or mysteries, and think of how I would never know how to put together a plot myself, creating something that was not more tradition in form, but through my many mash-up trials and errors, I have figured out this: That sometimes it is best not to see a story as a linear thing, but as a puzzle waiting to be solved (or taken apart). Puzzles make an image, and images tell stories, but they are not given to you with the pieces numbered 1 to 1,000, and the ability to think of stories in this way has opened many doors for me, writing was (although I do still expect many errors along the way—after all, it only took me scrapping one whole draft to finally get this project on track).

Semiotic Analysis

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White Bright Lights

Think about the last few movies you’ve seen, and think about color: Adventure movies are all cool and blue, fast metallics and flashes of red-orange. Dystopias are gray smoke and dirt, and horror calls to mind dark nights and blood reds (and actual blood) to create the tense fearful atmosphere we come to expect. But horror also unabashedly does with visual imagery what many other genres will not do, whether for fear of losing money (and lets be real: Most horror is not a cash cow), or fear of alienating the audience (again, not the biggest concern in a genre that features tree rape in one of it’s most classic films), which is deviate from expected color themes and imagery to craft something even more unsettling than an abandoned old house or hostel.

House of 9

House of 9 (2005)

Oftentimes I joke that my favorite type of film is “people trapped mysteriously in a room together movies” and part of that falls into one of my favorite contrasts in horror: Clean, white rooms or clean-cut families providing a conflicting backdrop to the acts of violence that will undoubtedly occur. The most evident of this is in these “people trapped” films: The Killing Room, Breathing Room, House of 9, among others. They provide almost scientifically clean areas in which atrocities take place, creating a canvas for horror that can make even cliche actions seem that much more difficult to watch.

Take the trailer for two comparatively similar films, such as the aforementioned Breathing Room and the dark and dirty Nine Dead:

Sean Hall tells us that “stories always change in the telling” and while both these movies ask their trapped characters “why are you here?” it’s in the telling that makes one better than the other: The visuals in one are powerful in their contrasts–the darks, lights, and reds, make up a story that is lacking in the dull consistency of Nine Dead‘s cinematography. But there is more to this contrast than relying on setting and cinematography. For this, we look to Lucky McKee’s films, Sick Girl, and, in particular, The Woman: McKee (and by proxy Jack Ketchum, who wrote the film) gives us clean not only in setting, but in characters. The Woman features the Cleek family, who, for all intents and purposes appear to be not just normal but a good All-American Family. They are the family you expect to have atrocities committed against, not the ones to be committing the atrocities: But that is what make the film successful.

The Woman

The Woman (2011): Father, business man, keeps a feral woman as a pet dog

The power in horror lies in unchecked fear, tension, and the things we do not expect. To seen beauty and light intermixed in our deepest fears is unexpected, and often unused in big-budget Hollywood horror. It’s powerful, and it is, to some extend, perfect.

On a final note, reflect back to a film we are all probably familiar with: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. The setting of the “games” is a lush forest hidden under the same dystopian filters of the previous movie. But how different, how powerful, could things have been if it opted for the unexpected and gave us this tropical forest in full Caribbean Cruises-esque color as the backdrop for brutal murder? The answer is very, because there is something wonderful about the brutal beauty of color, and unexpected light in the face of the darkest realities.