Music Video Monday: Sigur Rós – Hoppipolla

Introduction

I’ve debated starting this theme for a few weeks, and I ultimately decided I would as it would encourage me to looks for options that actually fit what I’m aiming for. If one pays too much attention to Top 40 type music you tend to see a dearth of creativity in the music video form. The music video is spawned from short films and can be as creative if not more so than their predecessor. Far too often it does just become singing heads. I want to try and buck that trend and find ones both new and old that do something somewhat outside the box, at the very least have some sort of visual narrative. Here we go.

Sigur Rós – Hoppipolla

Really easy to intro this music video if you get the reference I am to make: this video is like Speilberg’s segment in The Twilight Zone Movie without the literal transformation. If you don’t get it just push play and you’ll soon see what it means.

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Favorite TV Episode Blogathon: Alfred Hitchcock Presents: “Incident in a Small Jail”

Alfred Hitchcock Presents “Incident in a Small Jail” S6E23

Introduction

In the late 1980s and into the early 1990s, when I was quite young and did most of my Nick at Nite watching, it seemed they stretched a bit further back for shows than nostalgia, re-run based stations do now. Maybe being able to pick over selections from the initial Golden Age of television had something to do with it, or maybe memories were longer then. Rather than allow excessive amounts of nostalgia to get mixed into this post I will leave that an open-ended question.

There will be some reminiscing involved because my history with this episode is much of why I like it, but by no means all. That is because this particular episode more than any other on any show lodged itself in my (sub)consciousness and was intermittently lost through the years as I’d forget about it then recall it again.

Also, I’m grateful for this opportunity to discuss this episode in part because a while ago I introduced the concept of Cinematic Episodes, and except for two entries I’ve not revisited it. So, finally I have returned to discussing television. I even have a partially drafted take on Hitchcock’s turns directing the show he produced and hosted, so it really is something I’ve anticipated. Amazingly Hitch didn’t handle this particular episode, but like almost all the stories they definitely bore his stamp.

 

Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1961, Universal)

As Alfred Hitchcock Presents became one of the select TV shows I started collecting seasons of on DVD, I began to search for this episode, amongst others. It was actually only seeing this blogathon announced that I discovered what its name was and in what season it aired (as it turns out its the most-recently distributed in the US, Season six).

Due to this fact, I had the unusual pleasure of seeing it for the first time in eons, and one tremendous development was that it still affected me greatly; however, I had entirely forgotten the ending – but I’ll get to that.

For now, my impressions on the episode both then and now.

Incident in a Small Jail

Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1961, Universal)

The premise of the story is fairly simple. A salesman, Leon Gorwald (John Fiedler), is cited for jaywalking. In a clumsy attempt to bribe the stickler cop (Ron Nicholas) he is hauled off to jail. After a bit a suspected murderer (Richard Jaeckel) is brought in. Eventually there are fears that a lynch mob is forming to raid the jail the police try and make arrangements to transport the prisoners. The suspect has no designs on waiting to be lynched though, he overpowers the sheriff tricking him and getting out of his cell then forces Gorwald to trade clothes with him.

What I had recalled most vividly was the beginning. The thought of being stuck in a cell for jaywalking (bribe attempt or no bribe attempt) was terrifying enough in and of itself. However, that part omitting the bribe attempt is what I recalled. All I remembered beside that was the dread suspense, which was still there many years later with a lot of added nuance.

It’s very clear to see that this and all the other episodes of this show were basically in three-act structure. What’s impressive here is that the unity of time and space is sustained through a large portion of the story in the jail. There’s only one true temporal ellipse, not including the omission of small fractions of time that don’t need to be seen by more modern audiences.

Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1962, Universal)

In regards to modern audiences the episode, like all of Alfred Hitchock’s Presents’ episodes, featured stand-ups by Hitch himself teasing the story, adding gravitas or humor where needed, adding finishing touches or throwing it to commercial, while mocking the sponsors. In this particular episode it’s more adding levity due to the nature of the ending of “the play,” as he was wont to call it.

Setting aside the traumatic mark this episode left on me there was room to notice more of what made this episode work for me: John Fiedler is key amongst them. He’s a face you may recognize, a name harder to recall, but you likely know the voice. Fiedler was the voice of Piglet from the time Walt Disney started handling the character until his (Fiedler’s) death. Another aspect that really makes it work is the direction of Norman Lloyd. Lloyd was one of the most prolific director’s during the show’s run, and consistently delivered results. His episodes, for being so numerous, were not always the best but he did helm many great ones.

Much like the films Hitch directed the episodes of the show frequently found their inspiration from works of fiction. This particular tale was originally written by Henry Slesar and appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. It truly is an ideal candidate for a short form treatment because the conflict and set-up are so simple and unencumbered by secondary concerns.

Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1962, Universal)

Since this was a show of mystery and suspense I will avoid discussing plot detail much further than I already have, lest I ruin the surprise. However, even knowing all the facts anew (as I watched it twice in preparation for the piece, it still worked with nearly equal efficacy the second time around. The reason this is so, is that like many forms of entertainment, this episode plays with your perceptions. Types of characters and actors are shortcuts for those working on a project and for the audience alike. They allow immediate identification and classification before characterization has begun. Without much time to develop character, and more time focused on situation and plot, perceptions are more easily exploited. This episode plays this game expertly.

Another nuance that has always struck me is that: dead silence can be very dramatic. No silence is deader than a monophonic track. Even when there is dialogue the ambient sound can be very low. Hitchcock and his show knew how to use silence and volume well. Two of my notes in preparing for this blog dealt with volume. One commented on the whispered conversations the officers had about how to deal with the potential lynchmob, another about the bombastic, loud laughter of the suspect. This unsettled tone of voice throughout, the repetition of dialogue; it all gets to you.

Alfred Hitchcock Presents reached heights in suspense, writing and performance that few shows have reached – especially considering the anthology nature of its structure – and “Incident in a Small Jail” is perhaps the finest example of that.

Short Film Saturday: The Spirit of Norway

OK, so this one is a little different. I have discussed in posts past how amusement parks can and are pushing audiovisual boundaries. This film isn’t exactly a boundary-pusher, however, owing to the fact that the Norway pavilion in Epcot is being revamped and conquered by Frozen; this is a relic. Norway’s film was without question the shortest and oldest country-dedicated short in Epcot. Add to that the fact that it was played after Maelstrom, the former main attraction in the Norway section, and many people talked and/or walked right through it and on to the next ride, and you can see why it needs attention drawn to it. It was always my favorite, and even if going on the ride multiple times I still watched it. Now that it’s closed it’s good to find there are some captures online. This one is particularly quiet and fairly good. Enjoy, because you can’t see it in person anymore!

Mini-Review: Traitors

Traitors is a film that in a way uses an underground music scene to hook us into its story. However, the synopsis succinctly makes the connection between the disparate scene that draws you in and the dilemma that forms the crux of the conflict:

Malika is the leader of the all-female punk rock band Traitors, with a strong vision of the world, her hometown of Tangier, and her place in it. When she needs money to save her family from eviction, and to realize her dreams for the band, Malika agrees to a fast cash proposition: a smuggling run over the mountains for a dangerous drug dealer. But her companion on the road is Amal, a burnt-out young drug mule, who Malika decides to free from her enslavement to the dangerous drug dealers. The challenge will put Malika’s rebel ethos to the test, and to survive she will have to call on all her instincts and nerve.

Clearly, Malika (Chaimae Ben Acha) has ample motivation for her gamble. However, what’s refreshing even though she’s willingly getting into a dangerous situation she doesn’t do so naively, nor does she make silly mistakes once she gets into it. In fact, her intelligence and ability to read people is persistently on display throughout.

The simplicity of the through-line the story has allows us to become immersed in this world and invest in the characters’ quest. It’s also highly refreshing the way the film absolutely refuses to over-elaborate the situation. Even though a story is about drug-smuggling, which one would assume hinges on a good amount of discretion too many films, even dramas would over-escalate and raise the stakes to ridiculous extents. They are up, there is tension and suspense but priorities for protagonists and antagonists alike are kept in check.

There is a big scene in this film where Traitors transforms from a film one can like to a film one can love and that is where Amal (Soufia Issami) is telling Malika her story. They are both riveting to watch in the scene. The information make Amal a major player, changes the dynamic between the two characters, and informs decisions made from that point forward.

Traitors is a quickly-paced, engaging watch that establishes a character’s philosophy and puts her in a situation to have the courage of her convictions . It’s highly recommended.

March to Disney: The Education of Where the Red Fern Grows

Though branded as a March to Disney post the only discussion of Disney will be at the open, as this film was independently produced and sold to Disney. I got this film as a redemption on Disney Movie Rewards, which is where you can redeem codes and movie ticket points for swag – I usually go for DVDs. It’s a good deal.

As for Where the Red Fern Grows I had not seen this version, but I was aware that it was one of Joseph Ashton’s few follow-ups to The Education of Little Tree – there rare onscreen one as he usually got voice work.

The Education of Little Tree and Ashton’s performance was well-received. Ebert singled him out: “And Joseph Ashton, as Little Tree, is another of those young actors who is fresh and natural on camera; I believed in his character.”

He was also nominated for a Young Artist Award and in my own BAM Awards.

I also have yet to see the original Where the Red Fern Grows (1974) so I was a virtual blank slate going in (which is always a good thing). Essentially, it ends up being a Disney dog-film, one of many. As the film started I wondered if Ashton’s ethnicity would be referenced in the story or if he was just cast for the role in an open casting.

When it comes to casting I have written on it a few times in the past. One casting precept I am fine with is just casting someone “just because.” What I mean by that is exemplified by Love Actually: one of the many characters in the film is Karl, played by Brazilian actor, Rodrigo Santoro. Karl is the unrequited, secretly admired love interest of Sarah (Laura Linney). What I liked about that piece of casting is that it’s a Brazilian actor just cast as the “hot guy,” the crush with no indication from the script or film that he had to be the “hot foreign guy.” It’s incidental and that’s refreshing from time to time.

The reason this is, is that true inclusion and universality means casting actors from all over, as rounded characters and in mixed films. Having all films be a melting pot is utopian, and I get arguments against films for targeted audience, but for the time being they are sadly a necessity. Roles in general for African Americans, Asians, Latinos, women, Native Americans, little people and other groups are limited. Roles for the aforementioned groups in a dimensional piece they play a part of are more limited still. Roles for these groups are usually reserved, in the US, for race-specific films like civil rights tales.

Therefore, when I was under the impression that Ashton was just in the film I was intrigued. However, that only lasted so long as a fractional Cherokee heritage of his mother was referenced. So it does not meet the Love Actually standard, but one thing it did is fully embrace Billy’s heritage. Another thing it does is cast an actor of Native American lineage in a film not ostensibly about his lineage as The Education of Little Tree was.

While I have not read the book there is some American Indians in Children’s Literature did some great research on a post about Native depictions in the School Library Journal’s Top 100 Children’s novels:

On page 10, “The land we lived on was Cherokee land, allotted to my mother because of the Cherokee blood that flowed in her veins.”
Page 43, “I reached way back in Arkansas somewhere. By the time my fist had traveled all the way down to the Cherokee Strip, there was a lot of power behind it.
On page 143, where Rubin says “A long time ago some Indians lived here and farmed these fields.”
On page 254, Billy recalls that he “had heard the old Indian legend about the red fern. How a little Indian boy and girl were lost in a blizzard and had frozen to death. In the spring, when they were found, a beautiful red fern had grown up between their two bodies. The story went on to say that only an angel could plant the seeds of a red fern, and that they never died; where one grew, that spot was sacred.”

With those being the sole references to the Cherokee people in the book clearly the boy-and-his-dog(s) aspect has more impact since his goal is to save up to be able to buy them, he has to figure out how to get them train them, and they build his self-esteem.

So this does not quite reach the threshold that a few Māori actors (Temuera Morrison in Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones and Keisha Castle-Hughes in Nativity Story) achieved, but it still is significant. Casting is still a battle. When superheroes ethnicity is changed to anything non-white racist trolls come out of the racist woodwork; whether it is in the best interest of the project or not sometimes actors will be cast to learn a dialect as opposed to being portrayed by a native; even little people have to deal with being digitally multiplied, and now with being replaced by shrunken normal-sized actor; therefore, whenever there’s a Tyrion Lannister, Ellis Redding or Valentin Arregui part it’s notable even more so when it’s a project with many things to say and not just one.

In a utopian world Ashton may have been cast when an actor of Cherokee descent was not a prerequisite, but at least that was a Cherokee cast as a Cherokee.

Music Video Monday: Violacida – La ballata degli ostinati

Introduction

I’ve debated starting this theme for a few weeks, and I ultimately decided I would as it would encourage me to looks for options that actually fit what I’m aiming for. If one pays too much attention to Top 40 type music you tend to see a dearth of creativity in the music video form. The music video is spawned from short films and can be as creative if not more so than their predecessor. Far too often it does just become singing heads. I want to try and buck that trend and find ones both new and old that do something somewhat outside the box, at the very least have some sort of visual narrative. Here we go.

Violacida – La ballata degli ostinati

It starts with the surreal image of an audio jack being stuck in an ear (pictured). The make-up vaguely reminiscent of commedia dell’arte the edits being driven by percussion (hard cuts for drumbeats, quick dissolves for tambourines) make this quick song’s visuals move as quickly. There’s a surreal home video feel to the rest of the video that’s very fitting. Quick viewing. Enjoy!

March to Disney: The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)

Introduction This is a post that is a repurposing of an old post. As stated here I am essentially done with running multi-film review posts. Each film deserves its own review. Therefore I will repost, and at times add to, old reviews periodically. This post was originally featured during 31 Days of Oscar and I have decided to include it here for March to Disney. Enjoy! The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996) Due in part to the fact that I just didn’t know very much about this title, I expected less from this Disney selection than the above, but in the end I liked it a lot more. It does things a little differently in the end, and with regards to anthropomorphism, but it goes back to the theme of ostracism and has a solitary character effectively drawn, literally and figuratively, that really make this film work. It also by its nature takes on aspects of religion and racism with a lot more finesse than you’d ever expect out of a Disney film, which makes it highly underrated in my mind. Score: 9/10 Oscar Nominations/Wins: 1/0

Short Film Saturday: The Story of Menstruation

Yes, if you can believe it this is a Walt Disney production. It is one of the more fascinating of Disney productions in many regards. Firstly, because although Disney did make educational and didactic films on occasion they were rarely on such a frank subject. The forthrightness of it in such a prudish day an age made this a rarely seen title for many years. Anyone who has had health since it became a virtually mandated class will not be stunned but taking the context of this being made in 1946 adds some surprise to the proceedings.

Free Movie Friday: A Bucket of Blood

You need never fear that this site is running a theme that may not be your cup of tea for the plan this year is to always have content that runs a little bit counter to that. The current theme is March to Disney, but the Free Movies on Firday continue to be horror films.

Here is another AIP film. This another in the vein that Corman came out with after Psycho changed the game in the horror and thriller genres.