Christopher Plummer Blogathon: Remember (2015)

Even when you’re as legendary and accomplished an actor as Christopher Plummer is there are certain themes you may be loath to revisit if it mirrors a bit too closely to one of your more famous roles. In Remember Christopher Plummer plays Zev Guttman, a Holocaust survivor living in a nursing home whom has just lost his wife and is dealing with dementia. Now entering a new stage of his life he can embark on his mission to avenge the death of his family at Auschwitz.

When the material is good enough and you feel it has something to say, the director you’ll be working with is acclaimed (as Atom Egoyan is), you will gladly participate in a film that may appear to share superficial themes (Nazism and World War II) to a film in your past you can’t seem to outrun (The Sound of Music). Furthermore, when you have over 200 credits to your name, and are in your late eighties (an age bracket that may as well not exist as a consideration in mainstream films) you may not be too picky. However, as some of Plummer’s more recent films like Beginners show he’s not just agreeing to a project because he read a script as some actors over a certain age may appear to.

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What is the most notable in this film is that Plummer is not merely the elder statesman in an otherwise youthful cast. Quite on the contrary Remember features impressive performances from fellow octogenarian Martin Landau and septuagenarian Bruno Ganz, and features but a brief supporting turn by the prodigious and prolific young actor Peter Dacunha. Not only are the older actors great but they feature prominently in the film. However, the film as opposed to the pre-packaged film for the older set it is one about characters and plot considerations that are specific, and can communicate to audiences of all ages due to the use of expertly employed suspenseful set pieces.

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While much of film acting is the ability to recreate emotional notes many times over owing to the need to shoot coverage, much of a film like Remember wherein a character must reabsorb givens as if it is entirely new information asks much more from an actor, director, and editor than a conventionally constructed film. In this film Plummer has to not only emote to have us engage in the repeated loss of his wife but also on more than one occasion have us fear that his only purpose left — as he sees it — will fail because he has either forgotten about the letter that now defines his reality or because in his travels it has become illegible.

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While a protagonist going brazenly into random encounters with other men of a certain age and asking them they are German, were at Auschwitz, and a blockführer does allow for a quiet thrum of tension throughout; there are moments of unexpected pathos. Zev has but a name (Rudy Kurlander) and a location to find each of the man who could be responsible for killing his family. One of the men has a number tattooed on his arm, which catches Zev by surprise.

“You’re Jewish?”

“Homosexual.”

At that moment Zev breaks down in tears, feeling remorse and offering his condolence. It’s a wonderful moment of empathy that is but an example of how this is a more layered emotional experience than one might expect going into it.

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There is a huge revelation that I will not spoil but it is the commitment to a performance that allows it to work. When the film is over and consider things in hindsight you will note the clues were there all along, but you didn’t even realize you should have been looking for them.
This film was distributed by A24 who is a company willing to go outside the norms and push the envelope even where we weren’t aware it should be pushed even lightly. It is available to stream for Amazon Prime subscribers and is worth checking out.

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Nuts in May: A Laurel and Hardy Blogathon – The Music Box (1932)

Whenever I’ve been offered the opportunity to write about Laurel and Hardy, I’ve jumped at it. This is not just because they were a staple of my childhood as I mentioned here:

I love Laurel and Hardy. I’m not sure how many of their features I’ve seen. I do fondly recall watching their shorts on weekends growing up.

However, that and the fact that The Music Box became a sort of white whale for me for years does factor in. The fact that Laurel and Hardy was just something I found on TV, usually thanks to TCM, lead to me seeing many of their shorts without knowing their names. The internet, my studying films, and revisiting some had men eventually find The Music Box by title.

In my youth I knew them as O Gordo e o Magro first, the Portuguese name for the pair which translates to The Fat Man and The Thin Man. I learned their names in English, and watched them here, I even recall coming across plastic toys of them in Brazil.

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That dyed-in-the-wool fandom has me wandering back to them on occasion as my gyre of movie-watching wends its way through history, be it their silent, more often their short talkies or their features I come back to this duo often.
Sometimes this is by design and others it is by chance. When writing on the topic of non-competitive Oscars I ran into Stan Laurel, whom was awarded one (Oliver Hardy was not) for:

his creative pioneering in the field of cinema comedy. Stan Laurel was not present at the awards ceremony. Presenter Danny Kaye accepted the award on his behalf.

Pack Up Your Trouble (1932, MGM)

When trying to select a way for me to discuss the War to End All Wars on Film Laurel and Hardy were the only way I could find to get myself a comfortable toehold.

A silent, solo turn by Ollie in The Show, and their film Brats was one of my favorite discoveries of 2012, were two other times they came up just on my blog. So, you can clearly see an omnipresence there in my life and times.

However, the most persistent memory of them of all so far as I’m concerned is The Music Box. It’s one I may have lost track of for a time because I think of it the way Friends names episodes “The One with the Piano Movers.” This is likely their most iconic bit. It’s not a wonder the synopsis cites Sisyphus because the task at hand is just as hopeless and fraught with peril but far funnier with these two involved.

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Humor is subjective, but since I saw it this has been one of the handful of funniest things I’ve ever seen. Enjoy!

The Great Villain Blogathon: The Frailty of Villainy 

Introduction

When deciding what to write about for the Great Villain Blogathon Frailty jumped out immediately. The reason for this is not that there’s nothing necessarily unique about the antagonist(s) within the narrative, nor in the fact that there is some role reversal, but rather in how that comes about and the approaches to it.

That is what makes Frailty such an interesting film to examine in this topic. The mandatory SPOILER ALERT applies that if you have not seen this film you should cease reading now as the film will be discussed in depth.

Frailty 

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For a horror film to thrive its villain(s) need to be effective, for the villains to be effective they need to have a potentially horrific foundation upon which to work. This is a film that offers quite a bit of solid ground to tread upon for not only does the paradigm of the narrative shift fairly often, but in terms of its crafting there are fascinating things to consider. Frailty, for as vague as it may sound, is exactly the title this film needs for whether it’s the frailty of life, the human spirit, religious belief, sanity, and even reality; any weakness, any fissure, any breaks can have dire consequences. Frailty examines such consequences.

This is one of the more frequently overlooked turns by a director/lead actor (Bill Paxton), a fact underscored by his untimely death earlier this year. When you include the fact that it was a first feature film credit for both he and screenwriter Brent Hanley, then the unlikeliness of the creation of what Roger Ebert rated a four-star film is multiplied.

Another thing that jumped out at me was that this is not unlike a story I would’ve written in my late teens or early twenties, thematically speaking. However, if one takes a look at an early draft one can see a majority of an excellent script in tact that was improved to increase surprise and pay-off, and build mystery.

The film gives the sense of Biblical verses clashing without getting into pulpit-pounding, even with all the talk of God, angels, and demons it remains character driven. In true-to-theology fashion fear and disbelief the two most common reactions these characters have to Biblical figures hearing messages from angels. The talk of “are we destroying demons or killing people” in family may get over but the director’s voice could come through in a less obvious in a clip fro the show Davey and Goliath where the discuss the notion of God making people do things or something happen in a very thoughtful way. The allusion to the story of Abraham and Isaac is very properly included and underscores the Old Testament sensibility of the film.

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There is built on a bed of lies a dramatic shell game of names, and antagonists. Fenton Meiks (Matthew McConaughey) comes into the FBI building wanting to see Agent Doyle (Powers Booth) who is in charge of the God’s Hand case, a rash of serial killings linked by notes claiming that “God’s hand was at work.” When Fenton finally gets to see Doyle he starts weaving his tale of how his brother Adam is the God’s Hand killer, and has recently committed suicide. Doyle is doubtful, which sets up the necessary and well-handled element of doubt in this story, but agrees to listen for a time. This disbelief is reflected in the flashback with Fenton as faith and disbelief go hand in hand. He flashes back to when he (Matt O’Leary) and Adam (Jeremy Sumpter) were kids and how the story of the case really started with their father (Bill Paxton). As wild as the story is, at critical junctures gets satisfactory corroborations from others, such that Doyle keeps listening.

In this frame you have the introduction of an unreliable narrator, which a classic literary and cinematic device, but that’s not the only trick in store just perhaps the most surprising one of all. The biggest twist of the proceedings is that the man who presents himself as Fenton is actually Adam all along.

Crafting a Villains and Shifting Them

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In this film, as you may be able to tell above, plot and character are very closely intertwined such that the changes in the story invariably alter how the audience may react to characters. The film in its flashback gives you what you think is a protagonist you can root for, one whose fighting the good fight. Well, you do have him in Young Fenton. He doesn’t believe the story his father is trying to sell him and who his younger brother seems far too eager to believe. But this tale is tragic in a sense. Young Fenton will not save the day, he will survive his childhood (barely) but he will be dead within minutes of the film having started.

In a world where you’re unsure if anyone is honest is where the line between villain and anti-hero is a little blurred, where demons may or may not exist; there is an additional onus on the casting not only for the adult versions of the characters but who plays their younger versions. Three out of the four are of vital importance and cast with the utmost precision.

 

The hard to properly attribute truism that every villain is the hero of their own story is very applicable to this film. For this film to communicate effectively with its audience all the actors had to connect with their characters and understand the world from their character’s truth. It is only in this way they can hope to be dimensional human beings, rise above caricatures, and have a far more primal, deeper impact on its audience. Having a talented actor such as Bill Paxton directing the film certainly helped the cast and allowed them to expand the potential of their roles: it brought Matthew McConaughey his best performance prior to his McConaissance; a deft turn from Powers Booth; a well-earned ‘Introducing’ credit for Matt O’Leary who is spellbinding; a deceptively good pre-Peter Pan turn from Jeremy Sumpter; and a chillingly effective, and convincingly convicted self-directed role for Paxton.

Yet, to minimize Paxton’s directorial effect to just performance would be wrong. A grasp of narrative and material is needed to successfully shift the audience’s view of a character, or at the very least to successfully pull of a story twist. Furthermore, there are plenty of great visuals that drive home whether its Young Fenton fearfully stepping back into the dark, Young Fenton standing between Dad and the ax, Young Fenton seeking light and water through the knothole, the odes to Hitchcock — Young Fenton’s dismembered head against negative fill, and the dolly back-zoom in at the end — and graceful dissolves that may have impressed Truffaut.

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Also, for the perception of the characters to change frequently the circumstances of the story have to change, which means that the story cannot hinge on just one big twist but have quite a few; and this one does: Fenton kills dad not the demon he’s meant to, which the audience both doesn’t necessarily expect and is glad for, making him momentarily heroic. Adam finishes the kill that dad can’t complete, sending not just a momentary jolt through the audience but breaking the relief that may have come over the audience. We know things are not yet resolved or over just because dad is gone. The twists come until the very end when we learn that Adam is the Sheriff in Meat, Texas.


In this film you go from identifying Fenton to watching his downfall, the zealous end of a patriarch’s life, and the transformation of Adam from complete innocent into acolyte. His typically quiet observance of events as a child make him a hard one to read and that foreshadows his ability to tell the story from another perspective so convincingly. Not that it’s entirely unforeseen either after Young Fenton has killed dad the frequently mentioned promise to buried in the Rose Garden is made. Young Adam’s angry assertion that “I promise to God I’ll bury you here,” show’s the switch flipped in him perhaps more so than when he followed through on dad’s destruction of a demon.

Another brilliant touch in Frailty is that as you follow Adam’s tale (whom we believe to be Fenton), an twists unravel, you realize you’re witness to his methodology. Every demon on his list presents a new challenge. FBI Agent Doyle presents quite a few. However, with Fenton being the demon prior it got the ball rolling and allowed him to concoct his tale, and Adam figures out a way to change the names in the story of his life well enough such that he can lay the appropriate traps to get Doyle’s attention, tell his story with just the right breaks such that he could lead the Agent to his future burial place.

What’s perhaps most impressive in Frailty is that it manages to be deft in a film that deals with a zealotry — or a metaphysical plot depending on your viewpoint. Fenton’s transition from suspected-demon to full-blown serial killer is mostly offscreen. We are witness to only the inception but not the road traveled thereafter. What we may interpret merely as Adam being an obedient, agreeable child is confirmed to be his truth as he saw (or believed he saw) the same things his father saw.

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In the end it is Dad Meiks who spends the longest run inhabiting the role of the antagonist in the film. He may have a soft spot for Fenton inasmuch as he does not destroy him after he claims an angel told him he’s a demon, but he still dehumanizes him by locking him in the newly built cellar, starving him in the dark, and only gives him water through a knothole. With him occupying that position and Fenton being his victim its clear where we’ll identify for a majority of the tale. When all is said and done it would have come as no surprise if Fenton had killed himself. However, that was to be another twist, another lie Adam told. He did destroy Fenton and made it seem as if it was he who killed Agent Doyle, hence the ruse of the name when asking to see him.

Conclusion

If Frailty was but a spectacle of twists and upended expectations it would not have the staying power it has had since its release in 2002. Clever writing also can only do so much. It is the sensitive, humanizing, layered portrayals these characters are given by their actors that makes them relatable and identifiable. The performances ultimately makes it possible for the characters to occupy disparate roles throughout, and engender pity if not sympathy. For a villain is ever more effective when you can see where they’re coming from and understand the world from their vantage point, and Frailty makes it such that that happens. You will likely not agree with them, but you will understand them, and that makes the visceral reaction far more palpable.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Early Women Filmmakers Blogathon: Germaine Dulac

Introduction

When embarking on blogathon I tend to opt between either of two extremes: either I pick a subject I know innately, preferably looking at it from a vantage point I’ve note yet attempted; or conversely picking a subject which to become more enlightened about, in short, seeking a moment of auto-didacticism. It was with the former intent I embarked to write an introductory sort of overview to the works of Germaine Dulac.

The collegiate experience doesn’t permanently affix one’s critical or aesthetic modality of choice but it does greatly influence it. As such, my reflex knowing that I was covering a writer/director was to take an auterist approach seeing how one of her films was already being covered in-depth.

As it so happens this decision, based on the facts of her life and career, was of providence more than of my own making. I discovered that not only did Germaine Dulac write, direct and shoot films but she was also one of the earliest pioneers of film criticism. One of my longstanding complaints: the French pioneers of film theory such as René Tabard or Henri Langlois are hard to find in print and translated to English are hard to find.

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Aside from her inclusion in the forthcoming Early Women Filmmakers box set from Flicker Alley in May, Tami Williams, PhD, is preparing Pure Cinema: Selected Writings of Germaine Dulac, for publication through the University of Wisconsin Press.

So more in-depth knowledge of her life and works are on the way, allow me a brief introduction that I hope will inspire you to look further into her fascinating life and work.

I. SEARCHING FOR PATHWAYS FROM UNIQUENESS TO UBIQUITY

Typically when women are breaking into male-dominated fields their inclusion and acceptance seems to be almost self-congratulatory on the part of the gatekeepers of the boys’ club (“See we let the girl in, aren’t we great? ‘Men’ on three!”). Take for example this article pictured below which that starts with the phrase “Germaine Dulac is the only female director in France at the moment.”

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The particular nomenclature had her bristling against it, whenever and wherever she could Metteur being a phrase borrowed from the theatre, it bears noting that the standard credit for film directors in France is now mise en scène.

In response to a journalist who only cited the novelist of the source material as the ‘author’ of The Seashell and the Clergyman (Le coquille et le clergyman). She said:

“les intellectuels et le cinéastes se rapproches, or, ce sont des nuances de mots qui les séparent irrémédiablement”

the intellectuals and the filmmakers should develop a closer kinship to one another, for it is only nuances between words that irremediably keep them apart.

However, her push against the status quo wasn’t just against the parameters and influences on film, but also one that was very sociopolitical in nature. Aside from her activism in socialist causes, the onset of the Great War had her urging women to make their presence felt and a difference. While World War II was seen as a sociological flashpoint in the United States where the war effort suspended typical notions about the sexes and work, Dulac sounded the rallying cry in the War to End All Wars as it was on France’s doorstep:

“international task of French Women.” She urged her audience to “create things anew and according to your own spirit”

Yet while being quite involved in activism this did not slow down her varied productions during this time:

From 1916-1918, Dulac produced and directed six feature-length films, a six-episode serial film, a ballet-pantomime set at a cross-dressing masked ball, and a series of journalistic shorts, all of which are lost, though Williams thoroughly describes and analyzes the existing related documentation. After the war, though continuing to produce films on her own, Dulac mostly worked with independent producers, including Ciné-Studios, Film d’Art, Société des Cinéromans, and Delac, Vandal et Cie.

II. VANGUARDIAN

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One of the traps when discussing a female pioneer in a field is discussing the precedent she set, or the way in which she was an antecedent of those in said field in her gender. Make no mistake, there were many instances wherein Germaine Dulac was out in front of all filmmakers in many ways.

Not only was she on the vanguard of thought, but there was little to no precedent for it. In a wonderful piece on Senses of Cinema (see it for a more in-depth reading of her career and works) that Dulac was indeed ahead of her time in championed the notion of auteurism that Truffaut, Goddard, Varda and others would rally around and propel in France in the ‘50s and ‘60s onward.

“This letter addresses a concept—authorship—that was not prominent in French film discourse at the time.”

-Rosanna Maule

If one were to look at her filmography, be it what is still extant or it in toto, one will find that despite its at time varied stylings it her works are typically distinctively hers. Much as the scattershot styles and genres the great Michael Curtiz directed in part as a result of the Studio system, Dulac’s varied output was dictated in part by the marketplace in which she worked.

Since the end of World War I, French cinema was hindered by an economic and institutional crisis, struggling to counteract Hollywood’s emergence onto the international film scene. The fragmentation of France’s film industry into various film companies, many of them small and independent, and the crisis of the national system of film distribution and exhibition coincided with the expansion of alternative circuits of film production and distribution by avant-garde filmmakers.

She was a woman definitely marked by her era and some of her quotes underscore the very issues that arise when engaging in feminist film theory as Patrice Petro astutely observes:

As the history of feminist film theory so clearly demonstrates, the very attempt to ‘find’ a female subject has led to a paralyzing situation in some feminist film histories, which tend either to affirm a socially constructed feminine identity or to reject any attempt at self-naming at all.

Yet one must not fall too deeply into the trap of examining films that at this point in time are around ninety years of age by current social mores. Be it in telling a tale of a wife distressed by her relationship with her oafish husband with a different kind of tragic capper (The Smiling Madame Beudet), A farcical look at a cruise romance (Invitation to the Voyage), or the impossible conflict of clerical celibacy as seen through the eyes of a woman (The Seashell and the Clergyman), her vantage point on these dramas was unique in and of her perspective alone even if she did not have different aesthetic aims than many, but that she had too.

“It is unacceptable that half of humanity continues to be written off.” Despite her exemplary career, during which she was compared to such cinema luminaries and innovators as Sergei Eisenstein and Jean Renoir, Dulac experienced erasure both during her life and after her death. Over a century later, women directors are still grossly underrepresented in the film industry, women’s stories dismissed as unbankable by producers, and it is still unacceptable.

Flitterman-Lewis expanded upon that notion by saying The Seashell and the Clergyman was “a more intriguing field of inquiry, for it thematizes woman as a force of desire within the production of the filmic writing itself”.

If you get too bogged down in labeling you could be missing the textual intrigue in examination of the technical. If you want to label her as a surrealist impressionist, you can What ratio she filmed these stylings in, and whether this film fully fits the surrealist mode, and if in The Seashell and the Clergyman she gets to shout “FIRST!” rather than Un chien andalou, is not as important as having created the work itself and how she advanced the aesthetics of visual of storytelling, and engaged in an active dialogue both in her work, in her writing on film, which establish an exchange between high and popular culture, art and commerce.

 “The avant-garde and commercial cinema, or the art and industry of film, form an inseparable whole.”

Germaine Dulac

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In this balancing act, Dulac found the equilibrium for other forms of exploration that paved the way for her presaging other cinematic developments.

Her filmic approach to sport in her documentary of the Tour de France anticipated Leni Riefenstahl. In 1919, Dulac set up her own distribution office in New York, becoming one of the first foreign filmmakers to do so. She also distributed several of her films through London studios.

Francois Truffaut on the set of Confidentially Yours (1983, Le Films du Carrosse)
Her dialogue between art and criticism and commerce and art she would foreshadow things not just like the The New Wave, where a group of young French critics viewed and studied film voraciously with the intent to study the landscape, but in embracing the avant-garde and popular cinema she anticipated not just one of the New Wave idols, Hitchcock, but in professing the auteurist belief can be found in more broadly accessible film types she anticipated the likes Spielberg.

III. QUESTING FOR DIALOGUE

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Her insistence on creating and persisting upon a dialogue about the nature of film, challenging preconceived notions while the art was still in its youth, cannot be underestimated in its importance in affecting the form’s aesthetic development.

When the cinema was a purely visual art form there was truly more a case to be made against intersectionalism. With the advent of sound, cinema became the crossroads of all artforms, the cinema and its forerunners became much closer. However, seeking ones own voice, ones own means of creation, and standards of narrative and technique was a necessity. The only way to adequately establish such beliefs were to experiment and to share your thoughts with colleagues. This exchange of different ideas, especially when one has a unique view of cinema is a necessity:

I actually had the desire to become a dramatist, but when some pecuniary circumstances obliged me to abandon this first path to chose that, at the time more lucrative, of the cinema, I had no regrets. However, in the beginning I did not understand the importance of the cinematographic expression in its entirety. Only by using ideas, lights, and the camera was I able, by the time I made my first film, to understand what cinema was, art of interior life and of sensation, new expression given to our thought … an art non-tributary to the other arts, an original art with its own meaning, an art that makes reality, evades from it while incorporating it: the cinema spirit of beings and things!

And Dulac was certainly not one to run from nuance and say things that very nearly contradicted each other (but not quite), as this quote from the same interview proves:

I believe that cinematographic work must come out of a shock of sensibility, of a vision of one being who can only express himself in the cinema. The director must be a screenwriter or the screenwriter a director. Like all other arts, cinema comes from a sensible emotion … To be worth something and “bring” something, this emotion must come from one source only. The screenwriter that “feels” his idea must be able to stage it. From this, the technique follows.

Not only would this philosophy be embraced by the New Wave but further down the line would appeal to many modern day actors.

IV. NOUVELLES VOGUES

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The French word vogue is now so synonymous with fashion that it’s full embraced in the English lexicon, the name of a magazine, and a hit song by Madonna all bear its name. However, it is one thing to introduce things as the latest trends, but it’s quite another to explore new notions so throughly that they tend to permanently affect an aesthetic landscape, which is what it seemed Dulac did.

She maintained an ongoing dialogue between different models of cinemas that the auteur and the European art cinema would later crystallize into oppositional clusters, despite their interrelations in the film industry and in the production and distribution policies of European governments. She established a more consistent correspondence between film theory and practice, personal view and formal expression, aesthetic and technical considerations. Although her filmmaking career ended relatively early and she subsequently pursued a more administrative role at Gaumont, she continued to write and lecture on film, maintaining her intellectual and aesthetic commitment to cinema until her death.

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Dulac avoided the contradictory intentions of auteur critics and filmmakers by keeping the contradictions in check through a dialectical position in her filmic and theoretical practices. From this perspective, her auteurism also invites one to reconsider the conceptualization of the auteur in different historical and critical frameworks.

If one were to take too cursory a glance at the career trajectory of Germaine Dulac one might be too quick to dismiss it, as one where she transitioned from more literary-based traditional films to impressionist and surrealist works to newsreels. However, the back and forth of these works is more involved than that, and her interests even more varied than that as she also wrote plays that were performed and engaged in theatrical criticism.

One need look no further than her Wikipedia entry to see disinformation spread with a generic, unsupported claim that “Her career as filmmaker suffered after the introduction of sound film and she spent the last decade of her life working on newsreels for Pathé and Gaumont.”

As if this was some sort of failure on her part, running the nonfiction film department of France’s oldest film distributor and writing presciently about the importance the newsreel could hold. Poor thing. It made me nearly want to create a Wikipedia account just to flag that nonsense.

The title of this piece has been purposely been selected for its trace of irony. For Dulac was not seeking the next trend like a bandwagon to jump on but instead was seeking to introduce new concepts and change the paradigm wherever and whenever she could. First, let us look at that aforementioned, and scoffed at by some Wikipedians, newsreel work:

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La Mort du Soleil (The Death of the Sun)

The team she headed at France-Actualités made and sold to distributors, including its patron Gaumont, a weekly compilation of about twenty minutes made up of short news items. In the 1930s, cinema programmes usually consisted of a short film, and a newsreel, before the “big film”. News theatres offering non-stop newsreels and cartoons were just opening. About five companies, including Pathé, Eclair etc., competed for contracts. A typical newsreel programme from the archives of France-Actualités, for 2 March 1934, ran for 20-30 minutes as follows :

  1. Belgium: accession of King Leopold
  2.  Lake Placid bobsleigh competition
  3. ‘Paris-humour’: a taxi-driver’s strike, using a puppet
  4.  Maiden voyage of the Normandie
  5.  The mysterious death of local councillor in Dijon*
  6. General review of the army garrison in Algiers
  7. Children’s string band in Montmartre
  8. Police work: how laboratories help trace criminals
  9. Film awards at Harry’s Bar, Venice
  10. Two air force planes collide in mid-air
  11.  Funeral of victims after a street riot
  12. Saint-Malo fisherman’s religious procession

When one characterizes working on newsreels as a career that is “suffering” the inference is that nonfiction films are less than, that person has without careful examination answered the question why film even needs to exist. Germaine Dulac examined that question, and make no mistake based on what little I read, and knowing there’s more to come, she never overlooked the basic question, which I’ve seen too few tackle:

When the cinema was first discovered and given mechanical and technical form by the Lumière brothers, it took by surprise a world by no means ready for it.

If we compare cinema with the invention of printing, that too had brought upheaval, by finding a completely new means of spreading the written word, but it did not create any new form of expression: on the contrary, it appeared in response to a need. […] Commercial entrepreneurs had created a “need” for cinema among popular audiences before artists had had a chance to reflect on its possibilities.

In fact many of Dulac’s crusades were not shortsighted in their aims but seeking to create a cinematic framework and reexamine definitions that were, in her estimation, too quickly set in place in the art’s infancy.

Her wish to unify creative responsibilities in the figure of the filmmaker insists upon the need to break away from the literary and theatrical notion of authorship in French culture. For Dulac, abolishing the expression metteur en scène (which she considered reductive because indebted to its theatrical origins) would have meant dispensing with a concept that at the time was, even more so than in literature, almost exclusively identified with male authorship.

The foreword-looking nature of her film thought was especially prescient when it came to the newsreel:

The public has learnt to notice any changes in their attitude, their appearance or their gestures. Familiarity starts to breed sympathy and perhaps understanding of ideas. Greater familiarity leads to more informed judgment. Walls come down. The vagueness of speeches can be harmful. The precision of the camera brings the clarity of truth.

Thanks to newsreels, we can enter into diplomatic discussions, into quarrels or alliances between peoples, and we can learn about their society.

The dialogue she was interested in was just not in traversing the divide of criticism and creation, but also in meandering from one style of filmmaking to another.

In remaining working on newsreels Dulac kept some of her focus always on what many (mostly men) thought the original function of the motion picture was going to be: the recording of real life events rather than staged, scripted dramas or comedies.

In her avant-garde work she focused on another major tenet of the cinema the juxtapostional relationship of images through editing technique, the quasi-musical rhythm it by itself could create, and the mimetic ability to reflect the workings of the conscious and subconscious mind, as well as the alchemical tricks that could be achieved by techniques in post production such as super-impositions split-screens and the like.

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The Dancer’s Prism

While traveling back and forth between the artifice and veracity of film she was able to underscore the impartiality necessary to accurately convey current events and what cinematic techniques could be manipulated to mold interpretation. In short, she put out a primer on how to interpret the influence of propaganda on newsreels and films.

The cinema, with its whirlwind of moving images, delivers what we all dream about, all the things that escape conscious thought.

What lessons could have been learnt if the cinema had been invented a hundred years earlier, if it could have captured the ancien régime and then the events and people of the French Revolution!

In future years, historians will unquestionably go to this source rather than to written documents, because thanks to film, they will be able to reconstitute an event not merely in the imagination, but with an exact visual image.

The result of this little survey was as follows: the items I had selected from the weekly programmes were actually dependent on each other: one thing had led to another. When stripped of irrelevancies, their graph told an inexorable tale. The cinema was truly in the service of history.

This is another example in which the cinema binds together the scattered forces of humanity and coordinates them into a single current which thereby gives them wider distribution.

If that isn’t enough to convince you that her aims were for the future and the overall betterment of the artform, perhaps nothing else could convince you, but in fact there is more.

From 1930-1935, Dulac was the artistic director and nonfiction filmmaker at Gaumont, one of France’s largest and oldest production houses. She also assisted Louis Lumière in creating France’s first major film school, L’École Louis Lumière, where she taught until her death in 1942. Dulac was fundamental to the 1935 nationalization of the French film industry and in 1936 helped establish the Cinémathèque française.

If you reached this point and are itching to see some of her work, my mission has been accomplished. Below is what was readily available online. Enjoy!

V. PURE FILM: Or, Don’t Take My Word for It Just Watch

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First, what is one of her seminal works.

“Throughout the picture,” writes critic Nathan Southern, “Dulac uses such devices as slow motion, distortions, and superimposed images to paint Beudet’s various emotional states onscreen,” an intersection of form and substance that resulted in a picture that “instantly established Dulac as a force in world cinema.”

 

The Smiling Madame Beudet (La Souriante Madame Beudet) (1923)

 

Invitation to the Voyage (L’invitation au voyage) (1927)

The following quote perhaps describes this film best, for even through its experimentations in repetition, in shot length, even without the framework of the source material, and the tongue-in-cheek commentary keeping this quote in mind one will see it embodied on celluloid.

A film’s characters are not the only important things; the length of the images, their contrast and harmony, play a primary role alongside them. A new drama made up of movement, finally understood rationally, asserts its rights, magnificently leading us towards the symphonic image poem, towards the visual symphony beyond familiar formulas where, like music, emotions burst, not into deeds or actions, but into sensations.

Below you will find links to both a monochromatic and a sepia-toned version of the film. The monochromatic one features a more logical scoring option in my estimation inasmuch as I find jazz to rarely be fitting accompaniment to silent cinema, and is frequently anachronistic.

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The Seashell and the Clergyman (Le coquille et le clergyman) (1928)

After more than seventy years, Germaine Dulac’s film The Seashell and the Clergyman surely merits that we take another look, as we reclaim Dulac’s rightful place among pioneering filmmakers of the early avant-garde. – Maryann De Julio 

 

Spanish Dances  (Danses Espagnoles)  (1928)

Some of the earliest works of the silent cinema were merely cinematic records of particular dance styles or routines. In excess of two decades later, Dulac here pushes that idea forward with the technology available to her.

Celles qui s’en font (1928)

The music video was hotly debated innovation in the music industry in the 1980s. Today, it is such an afterthought it’s rarely discussed at all. More than a half-century before that Germaine Dulac already experimented with the form.

 

Étude cinégraphique sur une arabesque (1929)

This was the first of Dulac’s shorts I watched. Borrowing nomenclature from ballet and combining it with her shock of images she creates a study in motion created by both her mise en scène and editorial choices. It is a symphony of movement.

 

Retour à la vie (1936)

I could not find a subtitled version of this film unfortunately. Some of the drama is readily apparent and visual. It’s only the detail that is lost in this talkie. However, it is another example of Dulac’s preoccupation with the juxtaposition of city life in Paris versus the very different provincial existence in the rural areas of France.

 

Coda

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Beauty and the Beast (2017, Disney)

This Paris-province conflict is still a reality of modern-day France, and the examination that Dulac was so fond of sees itself exemplified this very year as Disney in expanding the story of Beauty and the Beast for the live action version had Belle, Maurice, and her late mother as Parisians until she was taken by the Black Death.

Favorite TV Show Episode Blogathon: You Can’t Do That on Television, Adoption (S08 E02)

Statistics

Episode Cast: Andrea Byrne, Amyas Godfrey, Abby Hagyard, Vanessa Lindores, Doug Ptolemy, Adam Reid

Running Time: 25 Minutes

Number of Sketches: 28

Number of Studio Segments: 7

Average Scene Length: 42.8 Seconds

Cold Open

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The show always started with a cold open that usually riffed on a real TV show and claims that said program is what You Can’t Do That on Television (YCDTOTV), is pre-empting.

“The Huxtables put their kids up for adoption will not be seen today…”

FIRING SQUAD

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Sketch 1

One of the standard bits in this show is having one of the cast members, who rotated over time, standing before an (O.S.) firing squad. This execution was always set in some vaguely Hispanic country based on the Captán’s (Les Lye) accent.

The set-up is the kid would try to outsmart the executioners and either get their capitán shot and the kid off the hook. Here Adam (Adam Reid, all the kids essentially played themselves) claimed he couldn’t be shot because he had been put up for adoption. This is one of the instances wherein the ruse did not work. The firing squad adopted him and the order to fire is undeterred.

Sketch 17

Firing squad – “I’m an orphan.” “We know that.” “A rich orphan.” “Shoot him.”

Opening Title Sequence

The second version of the intro was the one I was more familiar with:

And the prior, plus the second with a weird theme I never heard:

Rather Monty Python-esque n’est-ce pas?

SUMMER CAMP

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Sketch 2

Adam talks to Doug (Doug Ptolmey), who didn’t want to be at Summer Camp but it was that or adoption. The Camp Director (Les Lye) adopted him. The scene ends with them being out to skinny dip in leech-infested waters.

STUDIO SEGMENTS

#1 Introduction

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These brief interludes serve a few functions: firstly, and most notably in this episode they set the tone. Now, if one were to watch this show enough they would see that these kind of silly, outlandish gags; such that the humor is merely exaggerated rather than dark or existential; are commonplace. The difference in this episode, in what makes it my favorite, is that it takes its own brand of humor on to a topic most would not: you guessed it, adoption.

The titles of YCDTOTV episodes typically denote what the topic du jour would be. However, with this show’s infamy of certain episodes; as Nickelodeon aired this episode but once legend has it (which I saw), in that airing there was an edit; and there were such complaints that it never aired again, with it being the far less politically correct 1980s, with all this taken into consideration – even having seen this episode a few times – I forgot this episode did feature a disclaimer in its introductory studio segment.

In this episode the studio segments began with Adam Reid and Vanessa Lindfores and they stated the following this episode was “written, directed, produced, and performed by people who have no idea about adoption, and of course, haven’t bothered to find out,” this is acknowledged as par for the course for this show, TV in general, and they debate if it matters, Vanessa thinks it does and acknowledges that “some kids watching might be adopted.”

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The cue card man (Les Lye) tries to stop them giving away trade secrets. They then apologize in advance, say “you know this is all meant in fun,” and “you have to have a good sense of humor to watch this show.”

Seeing this episode not only as a child, a still-rebellious young adult, and now father via adoption, I still appreciate it. Aside from the delay in beginning the introductory segment (it begins at 2:02, which is not unusual for the show).

Having said that I would show other episodes to my adopted son if I thought it might enjoy it, but it should be noted fewer jokes than one would expect border on even the realities of the fears of adopted children, seeing as how a lot of the gags deal with either a) the antiquated adopting orphans paradigm, whereas now nearly all adoptions occur through the foster care system, or b) the threat of being put up for adoption used in ultimatums and punishments.

#2 The Running Gag

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It was not unusual for the studio segments to be threaded together by one running gag. In this segment Doug Ptolmey joins Adam and Vanessa. The suggestion that they might be brother and sister is mentioned and they bicker more about the possibility that they might be adopted.

#3 Introduction to the the Opposites

The opposite sketches were a bloc in every episode where a perception the opposite of reality would be presented based on the topic du jour. It would start in studio with a confusing bit of dialogue “Wouldn’t it be great if Vanessa and Doug were brother and sister?” Those in the studio would then say “This must be the introduction to the opposites!” There would be a vertical flip of the image as a transition, and the sketches would proceed. How this was handled in this episode will be featured later.

#4 Out of the Opposites

Doug proposes marriage to Vanessa before flip out of the Opposites. Hilarity ensues.

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#5 Apparent Defeat of the Running Gag

Adam, Vanessa and Doug engage in another brother and sister conversation. “I’d die,” Vanessa says and Vanessa gets upset. Vanessa’s apparent defeat is conceding she may be Doug’s sister, this structure for the studio story applies to this episode, I’ve not tested it against other episodes.

#6 Slime and Water

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One of YCDTOTV’s, and by association, Nickelodeon’s, signatures became green slime. These were prompted on this show by saying “I don’t know,” saying “water” lead to water being dumped on your head. This was always a feature of the show that just became a given that you knew. It’s not dissimilar to the secret word on Pee Wee’s Playhouse. One pedagogic use this has is it gets kids in suspense awaiting that surprise and thus paying close attention to the dialogue.

In this scene Vanessa calls her mom. Confirms she’s not Doug’s sister. The conversation causes her to say “I don’t know,” get slimed, which causes the phone to spark.

#7 Outro

In this particular endcap to the studio segments Vanessa is on the phone telling a story about how story how she was born in Paris. She gets watered twice. Dough gets slimed.

It was not unusual for the show to “double-dip” in this fashion.

BARTH’S BURGERY

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Les Lye as Barth in the episode ESP – Magic & Astrology

Sketch #3

Amyas who do you think is in the burgers?
They all died.
The kids drop dead.

Sketch #21

Barth was in the orphanage once, jokes about his parents. He worked there. Kids died of food poisoning.
DOCTOR’S OFFICE

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Christine Ruddy and Les Lye in a pediatrician scene in the episode Body Parts (1984).

This was another frequent set-up replete with Les Lye’s Groucho-like pediatrician.

Sketch #4
Here one of the cast was playing a kid whom had just been put up for adoption and seeking comfort from his doctor, where there is none.

HOUSE – LIVING/DINING ROOM

Sketch #14

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Adam doesn’t want to eat his mother’s (Abby Hagyard) dinner. Little Orphan Amyas comes in to eat what she cooks. He is bribed into being adopted, and  Adam is off to orphanage.

Sketch# 26

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Senator (Les Lye) and Missus (Abby Hagyard) Prevort in the episode Blame.

Sen. Prevort calls orphanage about Adam wants to give him back because he’s done what he had to do. “What do you mean adoption is forever? You get over here right now you damn bureaucrat!”

Aside from the use of the word damn, which reportedly was dumped from the Nick broadcast clearly this is the most problematic moment of the episode, inasmuch as it preys to humorous affect on the juvenile whimsy some adults treat adoption with and the adopted child’s worst fear: rejection.

TODAY’S CHILD – MOCK PSAs

The unique thread of this episode were the Mock PSAs created to lampoon news segments like the omnipresent Wednesday’s Child where local children are featured in hopes of increasing their chances of finding permanency. Clearly, on YCDTOTV these segments have a more acerbic and sarcastic slant.

Sketch #6

The skits begin with a money-grubbing, insult-driven Vanessa.

Sketch #9

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Little Orphan Andrea makes her appearance in these as as well. She beats up the boys.

Sketch #19

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Amyas. Dissolve to get him and his sailor suit dirty.

Sketch #24
Doug is advertised as reading Playboy, looking up girl’s skirts, and being a gross, typical boy. Since he’s a handful its advised that you can put him in cage, where you can keep “it.”

Sketch #28

Todays child: Adam doesn’t stop talking . “And if you prefer we’ll cut Adam’s tongue out before you take him home.” This gag creates a great final image within skits for this episode.

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THE DUNGEONMASTER

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Dungeonmaster (Les Lye) and Prisoner (Eugene Contreras) in the episode Inequality: Kids vs. Adults

Sketch #10

In this other frequent setup Adam is chained up, Little Orphan Andrea comes in to beat up on him.

THE OPPOSITES

HOUSE – DINNER TABLE

Sketch #11

At Dinner Dad starts off by saying “Your mother and I are complete idiots.” The kids are overjoyed to be adopted. Great vocabulary in this scene

TODAY’S PARENTS

Riffing on Today’s Kids we see two parents up for adoption.

Sketch #12

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Today’s Parents are Senator and Mrs. Prevort…

More on the Opposites later.

HOUSE – BEDROOM

As is common with fare tailored for younger audiences, many scenes are homebound in YCDTOTV. In an episode clearly many of them will revolve this locale. These scenes usually centered around three locations (i.e. sets) the dining room, the bedroom, and a façade representing the front door.

The first bedroom scene is:

HOUSE – BEDROOM

Sketch #5

Amyas has a nightmare that his mother (Abby Hagyard) put him up for adoption. She wants him to clean your room. Then he welcomes adoption.

The second bedroom scene appears in the Opposites:

Sketch 13

Mom (Abby Hagyard) and Dad (Les Lye) love that their adopted hellions are jumping about from bed to bed.

Sketch 18

The final occurrence is a standard skit wherein Amyas dreamed I was adopted by a mother who let him do what he wants. He is mom’s nightmare.

DETENTION

This was a familiar setup which usually involved in copying an obscene number of pages out of the dictionary. Being a literal-minded child that always struck me as equal parts hilarious and horrifying.
There is one instance of this skit in this episode.

Sketch #15

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Lisa Ruddy with some of the massive dictionaries in detention in the episode Fads & Fashions

The principal (Les Lye) and Student (Doug Ptolmey) find out they are father and son. Principal adopts him. And as per usual there is further exaggeration with a kid chained up a dungeon-like technique toward the back of the room.

LIBRARY

The library is frequent of equal fascination and revulsion to kids. The stereotypically stern librarian and fear of late fees had something to do with it.

Sketch #16

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Abby Hagyard as the librarian

In this episode the librarian (Abby Hagyard) scolds a student who is returning Little Orphan Andrea. It continues the running gag as Little Orphan Andrea comes out to wail on the student as a penalty.

HOUSE – EXTERIOR

Sketch #20

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Amyas Godfey faces Alisdair Gillis and Adam Reid on the house – exterior set in the episode Back to School.

Doug has been adopted and lives in a new home, he has been chained and put in the dog house to bark at intruders. The orphanage doesn’t charge anything at all for him they say gleefully, as opposed to a dog.

LOCKER JOKES

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Amyas Godfrey donning a Nickelodeon hat for the locker jokes in the episode Back to School.

Of all the staples on this show, this was perhaps my favorite. There was more formula to these than all all other sketches but you really got used to the rhythm.

“Oh, (insert cast member name)!”
“Yes, (insert cast member name)!”
“(set-up)”
“(obligatory response)”
“(punchline)”
“(optional retort)”

and so on and so forth.

Furthermore, in this particular episode it was the locker jokes that was the second attempt to address prior realities of adoption.

Sketch #22

Among the things mentioned in these jokes were that: orphanages were mean, orphans are now protected (in the US and Canada anyway), and it ends on a serious note encouraging people to adopt a kid in a 3rd world country, in financial terms, which was a more common practice in the 1980s.

BUS

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Les Lye as Snake Eyes in another episode.

One running skit on YCDTOTV that also featured its fair share of humorous morbidity was the bus scenes featuring the character Snake Eyes (also Les Lye). Much like Barth, in which scenes ended in vomitus, presumed food poisoning, and perhaps death; the bus always crashed. Having only been on the bus a year, and sadly seeing more news items than I’d care to, the fear is quite real, sadly.

Sketch #25
Snake Eyes reveals he was an orphan. He drove bus that killed his parents, after he tells this tale he gets into his daily accident.

SIGN-OFF

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Les Lye as the announcer on a different episode.

Another traditional part of the show was a sign-off citing a faux production company, and riffing on the episodes theme, and then with Les Lye as a station Announcer complaining about the show on a hot mic.

You Can’t Do That On Television has been an adopted production… All the kids on the show back to the orphanage.”

Conclusion

Essentially, when it comes to this particular episode, if it’s not for you due to the subject matter that’s one thing; but if it’s the style of humor you don’t jibe with then the show overall isn’t for you. It’s a fairly good litmus test for YCTOTV actually. This is the show at its most extreme, if you like it anyway you’ll want to look into seeing more.

You can catch it on the rare occasions when it is shown on TeenNick’s The Splat late-night programming bloc.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

O Canada Blogathon: Brendan Meyer, Part Three (In Search of Other Dimensions)

Another thing that seems to be happening with younger actors these days is increased career longevity. This is not just due to changes in training and surplus of media, but also the myriad approaches that exist to extending a career, and transitioning to more mature roles.

Some actors who go through dramatic growth spurts go on hiatus due to it, others take their time to pursue educational opportunities. For a fortunate few they can work continuously, toe the line while playing teenage characters with a high degree of believability, finding increasingly complex parts all while being of age and not constraining the production with the need to adhere to child labor laws.

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Brendan has found a good balance in this regard as of late. Typically the subject matter and the depths he’s asked to plunge are vaster and more varied than he was previously allowed.

That chronological flexibility he possesses and geography are two things he’s used to great advantage.

 

Garage Sale Mystery (2013)Garage Sale Mystery: All That Glitters (2014) and Garage Sale Mystery: The Secret Room (2015)

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A lot of fare on either Hallmark or Lifetime is produced in Canada. Brendan has frequently been the “leading Canadian” in a number of these project, which I’ll go through more. So, if you’re ever watching something and say to yourself “Hey, they’re good, who are they?” that’s likely one of the Canadians in the cast.

Lori Loughlin (Full HouseSummerland) decided to bring the Garage Sale Mystery books to the screen as the lead and Executive producer. Brendan played her son in the first three installments, he was usually an unwilling but tech-savvy assistant to mom’s research. His scenes were few and had but one he could really sink his teeth into, and naturally he delivered. The series continues but his part has been recast.

The Christmas Ornament (2013)

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Naturally, Hallmark’s Christmas fare finds itself in Canada quite a bit. In this one Brendan plays an enthusiastic and knowledgable tree salesman whose facts on disparate species of trees helped me sort my own preferences in trees (science comes back again). The good thing about the holiday movies for actors is that they re-air and go into production yearly, so it’s a bit like a mini-addition to pilot season.

The Virginian (2014)

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Lest you think Canada’s utility as a filming location only shows itself in the metropolitan malleability of Vancouver and Toronto, here is Brendan Meyer (facing Ron Perlman) in a 2014 straight-to-video remake of The Virginian. This image being all I could find is indicative of the size of his role in this film.

Starving in Suburbia (2014)

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Perhaps most impressive in terms of his performance and the film itself is Starving in Suburbia. He seems secondary to the tale but his involvement grows as things progress. In examining the mental illness that anorexia is it plays the story like psychological horror and features quite a few moments for Brendan, but is actually worth watching as a whole for sure.

Offering glimmers in smaller parts is great but there have been some recent roles where Brendan has gotten a chance to shine front and center. The depth and complexity of these parts leads to this question…

The Movie Rat: How do you approach a role?

Brendan Meyer: I read the script to learn what my character’s motivations are and how other people react to my character. Then I try to get an overall sense of the character and then take it day by day on set.

Two parts of that statement are huge. Firstly, considering how other characters react to one’s character is not something I’d consciously considered, but it is very important, so I learned something there. Even if an actor is working inside-out the perceptions others have of you can influence self-perception and it’s an important factor to consider for a character. This allows him to consider both motives and ulterior motives. Secondly, “then take it day by day on set” implies openness to collaboration and an innate understanding of the nature of physical production wherein things are bound to change.

CSI: Crime Scene Investigation: The Fallen (2014) and Motive: Fallen (2015)

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I watched both the episode of CSI and Motive close together, and if you’re willing to be put through the ringer for 86 minutes I’d suggest you watch them back-to-back. You certainly can as they share much in common, even the titles of the episodes are similar. Should you do so you’d witness Meyer deliver tour-de-force performances where he is angry, confused, vulnerable, seemingly malicious, at other times innocent, fractured, and hurt.

Both these episodes are award-nominated. He won a Joey Award for both and was nominated for a Canadian Screen Award for Motive, which is just cited to show that others recognized his work in these episodes as well.

It is in these shows that you see best exemplified his process as not only does he make the characters identifiable and interesting but how he feels he is perceived factors into to decisions he makes.

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A still from Motive (USA) 

The Guest (2014)

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The Movie Rat: In 2014, I nominated you for Best Supporting Actor in the BAM Awards (my year-end bests) for The Guest. What was that production like?
Brendan Meyer: It was a great production. The entire cast and crew was terrific and I loved filming in New Mexico.

Here is what I wrote about The Guest at the end of 2014 with regard to Meyer’s nomination…

With the young actor categories there was parity not only in the categories but I did not single out any fields for the six-nominee maximum. With the open categories I only went with one. In terms of the nominations threshold there was an unbreakable flatfooted tie. Ultimately, I couldn’t penalize any actor for the size of their supporting turn. Similarly, Brendan Meyer who was playing quite a few years younger than his actual age is so spot-on in The Guest that that fact could not be used against him.

The Guest is a film that plays with many action and thriller tropes with tongue planted firmly in cheek. As such most of the characters need to play their parts with a high degree of straightness even as things get odd. Brendan’s second only to Dan Stevens in how close to the vest he has to be with regard to his thoughts and intentions. Furthermore, his character Luke in many ways plays our eyes into the world of this story. He sees and learns things about the guest as we do, but his thoughts on him are a bit different.

THE GUEST

(L-R) BRENDAN MEYER and MAIKA MONROE star in the action thriller THE GUEST, opening in September.

He also plays a tremendous amount of subtext in this film such that his opinions and decisions may catch us off-guard but they always make sense, and they do because of the way Brendan is able to convey thoughts an emotions visually, he only later confirms his thoughts in a sincere confessional scene that still leaves some things unsaid but says enough.

His arc is deft and he is pivotal to bringing the emotion to the audience at the start.

Another theme of some of his recent works have been post-apocalyptic titles. We will look at a few of those now.

Fear the Walking Dead: Flight 462 and Fear the Walking Dead (2015-2016)

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If you’re like me then you watch The Walking Dead and gave Fear the Walking Dead a chance. If you did that and didn’t scan past this interstitial series embedded in commercial breaks you caught a treat. This series of webisodes is tantamount to a short film, and a reminder that fractional storytelling as Ridley Scott discusses regarding his commercial work, is a great stepping stone.

Brendan here plays a lead in perhaps the most straightest horror work he’s done and it’s a great set-up that ties into the main series later on.

It may not give you the answer you awaited, that comes in the episode of the main show pictured below, which streams on Netflix and Hulu.

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Prior to that he featured in two episodes of the first season of The 100. Here he played the eager to tag along guy who is looking to make friends and tell his story but not necessarily cut out for this world.

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The 100 (The CW)

He also had a guest appearance one a show, which by chance I had just binged-to-get-current-on…

Falling Skies: Respite (2015)

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In this episode again was a thwarted promise of his finishing the final season as a recurring player, however, there was good material for him to work with in terms of being sheltered, and scared, yet knowledgeable, angry about being in the dark and wanting to fight the alien invaders when he learned about them. Really good character stuff aside from the affectations of underage (the character is 15) drinking and smoking.

The Movie Rat: Can you briefly describe the experience of writing and directing your short film A Job?

Brendan Meyer: It was tremendously fun and educational. A lot of the professional crew from Mr. Young helped out so it really felt like I had a ton of support. They were amazing and made sure we had a great finished product. Also, my actor friends all worked in the show and they are super talented so that helped.

A Job (2015)

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Note: Should either A Job or Wolff’s Law become readily available online, I’ll feature them here.

The Movie Rat: Do you feel that directing and writing have had an affect on your acting work. How so?

Brendan Meyer: Definitely. I feel I’m better able to understand character development and even blocking by having to think those things out for the projects I create.

Wolff’s Law (2015)

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I can’t be 100% that the short film Wolff’s Law was Brendan’s first project after writing an directing his own short film, but it is the performance that most stands up as having occurred following his writing and directing a film. In this film Brendan has to work physically, usually within tight frames with facial expressions and with subtext far more frequently than through text. Very little is said and he is typically the only character on screen. The film gets its protagonist alone, and silent and yet there is nothing that feels as if it is left unsaid. It communicates volumes due to clarity of the films vision and the singular sincerity Meyer brings to the role.

Before discussing his two most recent dramtic turns here are his two latest comedic participations that have allowed him to broaden his horizons some…

iZombie: Zombie Bro (2015) and iZombie: Reflections on the Way Liv Used to Be (2016)

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In a two disconnected episodes of the CW’s iZombie Brendan plays a frat brother. Aside from the refreshing nature of playing a college student for a change, he does get to do some varied work here like dropping his voice an octave, getting emotional saying the word “chug,” and flailing through a beer pong mime. These episodes are good to have in his repertoire as he seeks to demonstrate expansive range.

This potent comedic punch was also on display in an episode of the short-lived Fox show Backstrom, which stars Rainn Wilson. In that Meyer is back in his teen persona but his comedic timing is as impeccable as ever and got the biggest laugh out of me in the whole episode.

T@gged (2016)

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This was the first new-to-me work I watched for this blogathon. I was intrigued by its being on a new media platform (Go90 a streaming app developed by Verizon), the variable running times of the episodes, the incorporation of technology, and the mystery/thriller plot.

Typically Brendan had one scene an episode when he appeared before being heavily involved in the finale. Without giving too much away he really makes his presence known there, and despite the fact that I figured where it was going, despite some second guessing, the journey is still worth it. A little bit more on this a little later…

The OA (2016)

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The Movie Rat: The OA was written entirely by Zal Batmanglij and Brit Marling, and directed by the former. Do auteur cinema and television hold a special appeal for you?

Brendan Meyer: Yes, I do enjoy working with writers and directors who have a lot of control over the overall direction of the show because then the vision of the show is often more clear and focussed.

I raced to finish T@gged before The OA came out, which was good because the former frequently left me drained and/or in tears and I needed recovery time. In a similar vein to T@gged this show saw Brendan part of an ensemble, and like everyone in the cast, he has his moments and an episode wherein he appears more than in others where we learn more of him and his life, but its piecemeal scenework which puts an onus on ability to absorb and interpret material and access previous moments to maintain the dramatic unity of the piece.

It’s clear that Meyer and everyone in the cast responded to the limits this show was testing and it’s exciting to see him involved in something like this. This is the kind of project you just want to be involved with regardless of the extent of your involvement.

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Most of his participation in this show hinges on physicality, especially in the multiplied mirror routines as the characters work on their “moves” (watch the show to know what that means), and that acting is reacting as his listening to Marling’s dialogue in a scene is likely his best moment of the series. Below you can view a similar scene where he and Betty (Phyllis Smith) bond.

Ones that Got Away and Ones to Come

As with any actor, or any artist for that matter, there are those projects that got away. I knew he’d been cast in Ender’s Gameand was going to be one of the recruits who gave Ender a hard time, but had to dropout because of scheduling conflicts. However, I didn’t know that he’d done some promotional appearances with his would-be castmates.

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There’s also a 2014 pilot for Fox that didn’t air and wasn’t picked up.

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The cast of Here’s Your Damn Family

But it was a project that never happened that lead to Mr. Young, so that’s an example of a proverbial door closing and window opening.

Don’t be surprised if one of those future endeavors is Shakespeare related. On his page both in his theatre experience and on the home page the Shakespeare titles are evident, including the fact that he’s written some adaptations for the stage.

The Movie Rat: How did your Shakespeare fandom begin?

Brendan Meyer: My parents took me to Shakespeare plays when I was young. Our local Shakespeare festival, the Freewill Shakespeare Festival, had an amazing group of actors and they did awesome plays.

The Movie Rat: What’s your dream role, Shakespeare or otherwise?

Brendan Meyer: Richard III definitely. There are a ton of other roles in many other plays, Shakespeare and non, too numerous to mention. I’d love to do more theatre.

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This fandom has manifested itself on Mr. Young on the episode “Mr. Shakespeare” where he plays a few variations of the of the death scene in Romeo and Juliet. Due to the awkwardness of that scenario his most Shakespearean moment on the show was probably on “Mr. Poet” when his sudden burst of inspiration gets him past his writer’s block and he improvises a poem about Echo. However, in a pleasant surprised there is a Shakespearean element in T@gged also that fits in well with its themes.

Conclusion

If you didn’t know of his work before I should hope you have a desire to see some of it now both dramatic and comedic. What I had not yet seen and discovered was illuminating and I hope there is plenty more to come.

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The Cast of The OA relaxing on set. 

Postscript

In the tradition of my exhaustive but incomplete Bergman list here are Meyer’s titles that I’ve not yet seen: For the Love of a Child (TV Movie, 2006), A Pickle (Short Film, 2009), The Assistants (TV Guest Appearance, 2009), Everyday Kid (2010, TV Movie), Closures (Short Film, 2011), Birthday Boy (Short, 2015), Code Blue: A Love Story (Short, 2015), Camp (TV Movie, 2016)

O Canada Blogathon: Brendan Meyer, Part Two (Who You Calling Kid?)

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In yesterday’s installment I introduced Brendan Meyer through his earliest roles in near complete chronological order. Now comes his breakout and what that brought.

Mr. Young (2011-13)

The Movie Rat: How did your role on Mr. Young come about?

Brendan Meyer: I was attached to a Nickelodeon pilot that didn’t go at the last minute, and so I was pulled in to audition for Mr. Young late in the process and I was lucky enough to get it.

Any artistic endeavor ends up relying a bit on luck, but with regard to the decision the producers of Mr. Young had to make, it became abundantly clear over the course of 80 episodes that they made the correct one and were fortunate the other project fell through and that he could audition.

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Mr. Young is about a young prodigy, Adam Young (Meyer), who graduates college at 14 and decides both to give back and try to capture his missed high school experience by teaching science at Finnegan High School. Creator Dan Signer started to perfect such wild notions in shifting Disney’s Suite Life franchise onto a boat, then on A.N.T. Farm simultaneous to Mr. Young, but the outlandishness to the point of absurdity necessitates a strong central figure both believable as a science whiz and also at times a goofy, shy, lovestruck teen, blending just well enough into the surrounding insanity to not stand out; in short, the actor playing Mr. Young has to sell the world being created and Brendan does.

Disney has shown a willingness to get a bit more creative and daring on its sister Disney X.D. network, but I was not surprised only the first two seasons aired here after the full three-season run was on YTV. One of the joys of this blogathon for me was not just re-watching those first two seasons, but finding season three on iTunes and watching it for the first time. When this show aired on Disney XD I watched it weekly and usually shared my favorite line on Twitter (there was much competition as the cast and writing was usually firing on all cylinders).

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At worst a sitcom becomes rote repetition; at best, especially for a young actor, it’s a laboratory for trying out new techniques an motifs, and the premise of Mr. Young gave the writers and actors the freedom to experiment allowing Meyer much growth.

On Inside the Actors Studio Mike Myers said:

“Silly is a natural state – serious is something you are forced to do till you can be silly again.”

Not only do I find that an apropos insight, but I think silly is a word I reach for to describe a comedy at times, but it is rarely fitting. Mr. Young is serious until it can find a way to be silly again, which it frequently does.

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One thing I wanted to create, in part to learn something, was a running list of scientific concepts mentioned on the show. Sometimes they were just mentioned in passing to lend credibility to Adam’s character, at other times it was the springboard to a plot like when they employed an exaggerated interpretation of pheromones in “Mr. Moth.”

The second way in which the show makes itself credible enough to be silly is adhering to the comedic precept whose importance was underscored to be in my working with actress and instructor Angela Pietropinto who said, and I paraphrase, the basis of all comedy is obsession on the character’s part. These characters, Mr. Young especially in his pursuit of Echo (Matreya Fedor), have that to ground them, and it allowed Brendan much freedom.

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Here are just some of the things the 80 episodes of Mr. Young allowed Brendan to do and work on.

Work with Dialogue and Dialect:

  • Large amounts of dialogue at disparate rates.
  • Picking up cues
  • Delivery
  • Working against CG
  • Voice modulation
  • Intonation
  • Emphasis
  • Over-emphasis
  • Overly-descriptive dialogue
  • Wise Guy accent
  • Hypnotic regression (“listen to the sound of my voice…”)
  • Golly-gee bellhop voice
  • Quasi-Bostonian greasemonkey
  • Wizard voice
  • French accent
  • Eureka line
  • Obtuse line
  • Woozy line
  • Monologue
  • Corny joke voice, etc.

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Physicality:

  • Mirror exercise
  • Dance
  • Mime
  • Pantomime
  • Slap fighting
  • Stuntwork
  • Falls
  • Pie gags
  • Depth Perception Gag, etc. 323mrinterview

Acting Styles:

  • Soap Acting lite
  • Exaggerated commercial kid acting
  • switching characters, playing Dang

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Different Characters and Costumes:

  • Alan Young
  • Alan Small
  • Mr. Marvelous
  • Bald Cap to look like Principal Tater
  • Leprechaun
  • Cross-dressing (several instances: lunch lady, Leia gold bikini, Daisy Dukes)
  • Old man
  • Billy Bonkers (Willy Wonka parody)
  • Dark Demon
  • Bulletin board
  • Audio Speaker
  • Water fountain (these last few will make sense if you see the episodes)
  • Romeo (More on that tomorrow)
  • Beat poet
  • Jack-in-the-Box,
  • Farmer
  • Masks
  • Statue, etc.

 

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If this were a Wikia or an episode guide I’d go further in-depth, but clearly the rapport existed with the cast such that the series was a not just a hit but one I find genuinely hilarious and silly. I’m a loud ,but not usually physically expressive laugher, and some parts of this show had me stomping my feet, and the only two tiers I have above that are my face being in pain and crying and those are rare indeed.

More evidence of the great ensemble work here, which is a skill in and of itself, is an episode wherein everyone switched personas became easy enough to pull off, and when Brendan wrote and directed a short film (more on that tomorrow) he asked Raugi Yu to be involved.

The foundation of the world of Mr. Young is so well-established that the show even gets very meta in season three and is perhaps funnier for it, in part because it shows a design to the three season run as opposed to a show just trying to run out the clock. The teased romance between Adam and Echo is not as much of an obstruction to the show as it is on other sitcoms. Recurring characters reach their final moment and there is a closure for all. Everyone grows character- and performance-wise.02x05

Even before Mr. Young ended though, Brendan was getting other opportunities and he took them. Being the lead on a YTV/Disney show lead to cross-promotional appearances, which were taken advantage of by Meyer. The first of these being…

Girl vs. Monster (2012)

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Here’s some of what I wrote about this film just after its initial release:

The story does seem like it’ll take the typical routes through Disney tropes but it does throw a wrench in enough to keep it interesting and less predictable than most. The casting is also better than most recent films. Granted Disney Channel will spin-off a star from a show into most of, if not all, these films, but the choice to not only choose Olivia Holt (Kickin’ It) who is of lower-profile than most of the current Disney stable helps this film and the viewers because she’s more quickly her character in this film, and it’s less like a star vehicle. Especially when you consider she’s flanked by a great supporting cast, only some of which are frequently seen on the networks, featuring Brendan Meyer and Kurt Ostland (Mr. Young); Katherine McNamara, Adam Chambers, Jennifer Aspen and Brian Palermo.

In this film Brendan plays the male friend whom is not the love interest for the female protagonist, which is an under-written niche. I’m glad to see in this film and evidence of Disney consciously attempting to stray from its stories with Anglo-Saxon patriarchal roots. He’s the kind of guy there to help his friend (gives her a literal boost when the wants to jump, and awkwardly claps in support though thinking she’s a bit wacky) but he is frozen by fear and cowardice. His arc is well established and intersects with the overarching plot nicely.

In a found footage film he’d be nothing but the guy with the helmet cam, thankfully this has loftier designs than that. Once he snaps out of literal paralysis he makes decisions, gets more involved and less secondary, stares down the manifestation of his fear, and the star-moment of his performance is not dialogue but a look of determination in his eyes – a testament to growth as a screen actor that visuals frequently become his most memorable moments.

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The arc concludes with a moment fitting his characters journey but also allows for a comedic moment with an awkward comeback that he delivers on (fittingly with Mr. Young co-star Kurt Ostlund), Meyer here brings a lot to a rather straightforward affair.

That’s as a significant supporting player, he contributes to the betterment of a project even in a very minor role such as…

Spooky Buddies  (2011)

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This is an example of  level of dedication. Brendan is in this film to deliver one line, step on a few jack-o-lanterns, and then get shocked by a runaway specter; in short, a one day shoot, but it still required having to apply make up as such and doing this to his hair.

Life with Boys: Girl-Entines Day with Boys (2013)

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Life with Boys was another YTV show that came south, this time to Nickelodeon. It didn’t thrive down here, so this episode was one I saw on Amazon and not on the airwaves.

The  plot offers only a slight variation on the two-dates-simultaneously premise but in a handful of scenes Meyer injects quite a bit of life to it with a cry-yell, a well-told story, an awesome delivery on what ended up being the best line on the show (though the laugh track didn’t know it), the ability to convincingly be unable to get a word in edgewise, and a reaction best described as a “What the-?” face.

And he’s still gone back to Disney despite Mr. Young being over…

Best Friends Whenever: A Time to Rob and Slam (2015)

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I saw this episode when it aired on Disney and I was glad revisit it on Netflix. It’s one thing to ask (or allow) an actor to go over-the-top or to see them just “have fun with” a part, but what they do with it is another. Brendan plays a guy who refers to himself as “The Rob” and is the lab partner from Hell. The margin for error on this character is miniscule, slight slips can take The Rob from impossibly hilarious to just impossible.

It’s a treacherous enough part excluding the fact that Rob was a seemingly normal, unassuming guy in middle school. So the ability to change persona is needed but also to make this insane amounts of narcissism and ridiculous mannerisms work.

At different points he seemingly channels W.C. Fields and Mark McKinney’s Mississippi Gary, puts a new spin on nom-nom-nom, and adds “Rob” at the front of nearly every word and makes it work.

But here are some clips so you get a better sense of it.

The Movie Rat: You have quite an extensive resume at a young age, do you feel that diversifying the media you work in (TV, Film, Shorts, Web series, theatre, etc.) is the key to working more consistently?

Brendan Meyer: I think being open to projects that can challenge you and give you the chance to work with great people helps.

Three of Brendan’s recent projects were first released on new media platforms (YouTube, Go90 and Netflix respectively). The one on YouTube (below) is his latest Disney project, a  Free Period short-form film released in the summer of 2016.

Parker and the Crew (2016)

While playing one of many overgrown scouts in the above film, Brendan’s comedy stylings have been allowed to mature some since, but while that’s a jump it’s nothing compared to the quantum leap he’s earned in terms of showcasing his dramatic chops.

To Be Continued…

Tomorrow’s Post: In Search of Other Dimensions

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O Canada Blogathon: Brendan Meyer, Part One (Early Roles)

Introduction

I had participated in both prior editions of the O Canada Blogathon, however, after I read the parameters anew and I was glad I did. I already wanted to profile a person but the freedom to make my focus a modern figure including TV and film made the decision easy.

Picking a performer allowed me to slip into an old viewing habit anew, watching things based on an actor involved; it also gave me the chance to feature someone whose work I am quite familiar with, and who should be more well-known. And I love trying to bring films and performers to a larger audience.

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The OA (Netflix)

If you’re addicted to Netflix it’s possible you know Brendan from The OA, which just came out in November. However, I’ve been familiar with his work since Disney X.D. picked up Mr. Young from YTV. Since then he’s evolved from the lead in a sitcom aimed at young audiences, to someone whose involvement leads to a project’s ascent to automatic betterment, to a BAM Award nominee for his performance in The Guest; to a consummate performer who is ever deepening his ease, skill-set and mastery of the craft of acting. Potential is quickly becoming potency, as at the age of 22, he can still play far younger  with the commensurate ability of someone with both extensive training and experience.

As such, it seems likely we’re only witness to the tip of the iceberg and his talents will shine forth even brighter as his characters become even deeper, richer, and more complex.

Brendan was gracious enough to grant me an interview, which I’ll incorporate throughout as appropriate. As I was deciding how to tackle his precociously expansive filmography, I figured the best way to approach things would be with a pseudo-Inside the Actors Studio look at his works to date. If the first eleven-plus years of his work are any indicator he will get to be on the real deal at some point in the future. As there are already a great many credits to discuss, I will split this post into three parts.

Here goes…

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The Movie Rat: How did you get started in acting?

Brendan Meyer: I was always interested in being an actor. So, when I was young my parents took me to the theatre and let me do acting classes during my free time. It started out as a hobby, and then grew into a full time job.

The evolution from hobby to job is evident as you look at credits closely, many of his earliest screen credits were filmed in Alberta near enough to his native Edmonton making participation in those projects more convenient for he and his family. Brendan’s natural talents landed him the roles and he started amassing experience.

Waking Up Wally: The Walter Gretzky Story (2005)

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When I saw that Brendan played “Goalie” in this film, I thought perhaps all he was but a pee wee goalie who flopped about as Young Wayne Gretzky scored a goal. However, I was pleasantly surprised, that even in his first film role, he was one of the featured youth players.

Wayne Gretzky’s father, Walter (Tom McCamus), on the mend from an aneurysm, is coaching a pee wee teaming having an episode, barely hearing the chatter as he’s asked by many players, Brendan included, “What’s the starting line-up?” the players debate and Brendan the goalie says “It’s Wally’s call! Right, Wally?”

In the game he has a huge moment making a spectacular edit-assisted save on a breakaway chance. Upon arriving at the bench he celebrates with a huge smile stating “That was the best save I ever made!” and punctuates an all-around feel good moment quite well.

The Secret of the Nutcracker (2007)

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If you’ve seen my Battle of the Nutcrackers post, you know I don’t tire of new versions of The Nutcracker. Learning that he’d been in a unique film version that the Alberta Ballet and Alberta Symphony Orchestra were involved in and got Brian Cox to be in, it’d have to be one of my first viewings.

It is definitely more film than ballet, however, as opposed to the ballet where Frank’s analogue (Fritz) drops out after the first act, he has to carry much of the action as part of a brother-sister team and does so effectively.

Blood Ties (2007)

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This appearance as a guest star on a TV episode aside from leaving a cliffhanger that was never fulfilled by his character recurring, but it serves as an exercise in single-camera film acting technique. He doesn’t have much in the way of dialogue but has to rely on his glances, context, and expression to convey emotions and does so.

DinoSapien (2007)

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One theme that came up based on Brendan’s works was science, and based on the anti-science climate propped up by some, I could not be happier.

I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that I saw myself in the likes of the dinosaur-knowledgeable kids in Jurassic World and Jurassic Park, and that’s Brendan in this series with a boisterous enthusiasm for the subject matter and a natural ability. His performance plays second fiddle only to the concept of intelligent, evolved dinosaurs. It’s an idea that could’ve been further developed and explored with more seasons and budget.

Freezer Burn: The Invasion of Laxdale (2008)

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The stock phrase goes that there are no small parts only small actors. However, when a role is small and your few moments are memorable that does help. One example of that is this film wherein Brendan’s first line of three is “My dad says you’re a loser!” immediately followed by punching the protagonist (Tom Green) in the genitals.

Christmas in Canaan (2009)

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One thing that has to be acknowledged is that there is a sort of enlightenment going on both with young actors, who are persistently improving and directors and dialect coaches are more willing to work with them. Kodi Smit-McPhee mentioned how he learned the American dialect at a young age from a coach and never really forgot. Many other Australian and British actors are in the same boat. So, it really shouldn’t really have surprised me that Brendan showed up in this film with a slow Southern drawl that blends seamlessly. It certainly added impact to another brief appearance.

The Tooth Fairy (2010)

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One dichotomy of type that’s difficult play is both bully and bullied. Brendan has been able to do both successfully. His first turn at either was in The Tooth Fairy. He was bigger and more imposing than the lead, Chase Ellison, at the time but also plays the part well aside from suiting it.

R.L. Stine’s The Haunting Hour: The Dead Body (2010)

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I wrote of The Haunting Hour before in one of my rare to-date cinematic episode pieces. Here is something of what I said regarding this episode:

It uses a cinematic settling-in-of-fact to take the journey of discovery along with its protagonist (Brendan Meyer) and, though the audience may jump ahead of the conclusion, the impact is heightened because of the fact that for the last few minutes you’re allowed to feel the enormity of the reversal of fortune sink in for the characters involved as well as for yourself.

This is an example of a story wherein his character is typically bullied and gets a taste of bullying. Not only can he do both, but he can do both in the same work, which comes up again later.

Following up on the above quote though the end was one of the standout moment for Brendan as his moment of realization is compounded and chilling.

Note: There was a sequel to this episode in 2013.  Sadly, it has not been released on digital or physical media yet, so I couldn’t include it here. 

R.L. Stine’s The Haunting Hour: Creature Feature, Part 1 and Creature Feature, Part 2 (2011)

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Brendan’s second tour of duty on The Haunting Hour was in a two-part spectacular that kicked off season two. Perhaps the most interesting part about it structurally is that Brendan’s character,  Nathan, goes from supporting player to protagonist. This is even more fitting because his character is an average kid striving for the cool girl while also trying to appease his geeky friend (Joel Courtney).

While in the first episode his best moment is a dramatized topping exercise with Courtney, in the second episode he is properly and naturally cut-off mid-sentence (a feat more difficult than it sounds), uses effective non-verbal responses, and exceptionally conveys the bittersweetness of the closing phone call.

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The Haunting Hour episodes were the first things I saw Brendan in. I am not sure I recognized him from one season to the next. At most, it would’ve been as one of those actors who came back to the show a few times over.

Soon, however, he’d be a name I knew well.

To Be Continued… 

Tomorrow’s Post: Part Two, Who You Calling Kid?

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At the Circus Blogathon: Stephen King’s It (1990)

The synoptic platitude of King’s work is that he finds “horror in the commonplace,” as has been reported ad nauseumStephen King’s It, features Pennywise, likely the horror genre’s most well-known clown, but it’s so much more than just that. Stephen King’s leviathan of a novel is a best to tackle in terms of adaptation. Even with as many devoted fans as the book has there is some controversy among Constant Readers about how necessary the first 200 pages or so are, this is where we get to learn of the last rash of killings in Derry and most importantly about the Lucky Seven, or The Losers’ Club. It being a book I’ve personally read twice tells you what I feel of its construction as a novel.

When dealing with a novel that has disagreements amongst fans about a large section you’re dealing with an unenviable adaptation task. One small example is the lack of time to establish minor characters. An example, one of the secondary villains , Henry Bowers, an acolyte of Pennywise, ends up in an asylum. The fact that he is now fearfully obedient of not just to Pennywise, but also an abusive orderly, is delicious irony, which due to lack of adequate screen time and inspiration is intimated in a ham-fisted way. Add to that the fact that it’s a network mini-series and the fact that Tommy Lee Wallace was perhaps hamstrung by the negative initial reaction to Halloween III and was creating a mini-series for Network TV that had to go for implication and expectation over exhibition and exposition.
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However, one thing that was incredibly well done was the casting of Pennywise (Tim Curry) and the pacing of his interjection into the narrative of this screen version.

It starts off quickly with a stinger wherein Pennywise’s return to the modern day is confirmed. The handling of the first kill is not unlike a scene from Fritz Lang’s M with a scream, cutaway, the involvement of a balloon, and no blood even in aftermath. It’s the furtherance into near-graphic violence with a “Standards and Practices” approach that makes this handling questionable, not to mention all the sublimated and/or omitted sexual tension of the story.

The one-two punch of Pennywise appearances in the first 13 minutes of this 180-minute film whets the appetite and allows the audience to settle in to learning about who these people are, what they went through together, how they are reuniting, and why. This separates it from the book inasmuch as it starts in the present and then goes back to the Georgie Denbrough murder which gets it started in the book. With Curry’s first extended appearance there is an unease in where and how he appears (out of nowhere and in a storm drain), not so much what he says, and then at the last second he bears his teeth and makes his approach and delivers the scare.

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There’s then a layoff and it’s not until 43 minutes in until Pennywise is heard from again, but not seen; as dead kids talk to Beverly through the pipes leading to her bathroom sink. Pennywise only speaks after her dad doesn’t notice the blood she sees all about the bathroom and is terrified by. Her father is just another blind adult. Making Pennywise a horror only kids can see and feel opens the door for a lot of the wondrous implication this story has in store.

Fifty minutes in comes the It version of the shower scene, which plays on a more common trauma for adolescent males, the post-gym class shower. Young Eddie (Adam Faraizl), who is domineered by his mother, tries to avoid it entirely. His coach at least makes him return and shower on his own. This opens the door for Pennywise to find him alone and frighten him. It also establishes a pattern of Pennywise using scare tactics specific to the kids. Here he refers to Eddie as “Wheezy” mocking his psychosomatic asthma and also “Girly-boy” referring to the homophobic bullying he’s prone to due to his size, lack of athleticism, and subservient nature.

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The lack of memory most the characters have of this summer in their childhood, now that they are adults is in many ways tied to place, and also dependent on the act of forgetting a perilous preternatural world as kids growing up tend to do. Only Mike Hanlon (Tim Reid), who stays in Derry, remembers well, and becomes the custodian of the history of Pennywise’s generationally spaced appearances (i.e. disappearance of settlers, standpipe disaster, Easter Egg Hunt, etc.). Each of these characters walks out of important moments in their respective lives on the power of a promise and a nebulous memory, which speaks to the resonance of the trauma and bond they felt.

The specificity of Pennywise’s tailored horror reveals itself when he first appears to young  Richie Tozier (Seth Green). He is a werewolf at first and then shows the clown version of himself once he has Richie terrified. Pennywise is a polymorphic horror whose most ubiquitous version plays on coulrophobia, the fear of clowns, a fear I don’t share (save for in this tale) but is universally effective because it is a façade innocence that masks malevolence. While at first he may seem to be other things, a werewolf, a black dog, the Man in the Moon, Mrs. Kersh, Mr. Keene, a disembodied voice, a sign on a marquee, a logo on the back of playing cards, grotesqueries in fortune cookies, It’s true form, and many more. The heart of the fear of clowns is the fracture of a benign reality that reveals the true tenebrous nature of reality, which is at the core of this story. The reason for Pennywise’s cyclical repetitious feedings succeeding is that no one who ever peeked behind the veil is strong enough to hold the memory or bound to readdress the monster by a promise to dear friends. The selection of a clown here combines adult and childhood fears in a cipher both can relate to.

As a child Bill says he’s not sure he ever wants to grow up, not only is that a moment of a natural adolescent struggle against Peter Pan Syndrome, but it’s a subconscious realization being verbalized. He knows growing up and old means forgetting and unwillingness to engage in a fight he might not even believe in. Getting out of sight of Derry allows six of the seven to escape the thoughts for the most part, but one never does and it’s the only reason they ever line up for a rematch.

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The last person we see receive their phone call from Mike Hanlon as an adult is Stan Uris (Richard Masur). Stan, as a kid, by his very nature was the hardest to convince of Pennywise’s reality. When he hears the news from Mike it opens up the floodgates and he is overwhelmed. The mention of It fractures his cognitive dissonance. He commits suicide, leaving his one-word note written in blood: “It.” Perhaps the key to Pennywise’s effectiveness is that he can get in their heads when he’s not there; he’s psychological parasite.

Horror in beauty and innocence also recurs as a theme in the film, perhaps more simply joyful than a clown to any child would be a balloon. Yet this is one motif used to terrify the Lucky Seven on many occasions in both the past and present. Even with the characters well into adulthood and jaded, the same triggers that worked before work now and King’s choices are just as spot-on there like Beethoven’s Für Elise evocative of beauty and melancholy being a funeral march by proxy.

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The near-defeat comes in their almost abandoning the cause. And if one never felt unease or fear looking at a clown seeing its tainting might take you to that place, but having it be whatever can scare you, is perhaps the most clever device King has even used in attacking the hierarchy of fear.

Some of the keys to this adaptation are not what it managed to shoehorn in from the book but what it, through an audiovisual medium, was able to bring to life like never before. Pennywise’s voice and mannerisms, and the variable nature of them; the use of sound edit to blend personas, are among them. Ending the film with a Pennywise laugh and a circus theme on calliope may not have been the proper note to a rushed attempt at an emotional ending but it was a decision that could only occur on film and for that it’s appreciated. The ability to crosscut through time and use L-cuts gave aid to characters attempting to reconcile their past and present, and added emotional impact where needed. Rarely were they needed as reminders of valuable information. Likewise an artist’s rendering of Pennywise’s first appearance in town in the 1700s, that image coming to life and talking to the characters may be more vivid in a reader’s imagination but it takes on a life and accuracy of time period, as well as a crudeness of art, probably not inferred by most readers.

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Stephen King has tackled many horror tropes both common and uncommon alike throughout his prolific career, few resonate like his treatment of the clown. Even considering some of the limitations this film version had to contend with it’s highly memorable.

Things I Learned From the Movies Blogathon: On the Topic of Human Sexuality

Pre-Amble

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Now, I know that sounds like a dissertation title. However, the approach I’m planning on is a bit freeform, personal, and as all encompassing as I can be with such a huge topic.

I will limit myself somewhat as the nuance and intricacy of human sexuality this could be a much, much longer piece than it already is.

Introduction

The other day was National Coming Out Day. I didn’t post anything specifically about the day because as fate would have it I was actually doing quite a bit of other writing on that day. What I wanted to say on that day was probably more appropriate on a day like today then on the actual day.

A day such as that is not an appointment to be kept, to be either taken advantage of or passed over. It is a day of recognition, of noting those who have taken the step and come out; a day of sharing stories and support. When I was in the closet to the world I kept thinking some specific date or deadline would force my hand. It never did. I wasn’t ready until I was ready. So that was my message for the day: it’s not a compulsory day but rather a day that can be used to show those in struggle that it’s safer than they imagine to take that step.

Usually the blogathons I’ve signed up for have either been review-oriented or could be more academically approached. This one is different because it’s inherently personal, and the topic I selected made it impossible to stray from being candid. It’s about what you have taken away from seeing a movie. Frequently that thing may not even have been the intention the film has but no two people ever see the same film.

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Some of these films are LGBT films, some aren’t, but all make a singular point I didn’t take away from other films. Hopefully in underscoring many of these films I have a diverse cross-section. The pride flag is a rainbow for a reason: it’s all-inclusive and highlights differences. Too often underrepresented groups want the whole of their identity enveloped in a character or two, which is an impossible ask. We’re past the point of being merely stereotyped. Characters have to be themselves and not representative of all subsets and subcultures.

The Films

Where I Learned: A Little More About Myself Than I Wanted To

This Boy’s Life (1993)

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This Boy’s Life was a film I first saw on cable while in Brazil. I watched it with my uncle. It’s a captivating story of Toby (Leonardo DiCaprio) living with an intolerable stepfather (Robert De Niro), finding his voice as a writer, and trying to make it out of a toxic home life.

I was a teenager when I saw it and not entirely self-aware. At some point in the film the character of Arthur (Jonah Blechman) is introduced. Being set in the 1950s with the kind of character DeNiro is the homophobia directed toward him is quite overt and something he just has to deal with. This was probably the first film wherein I was consciously smitten with a male star and I identified with Arthur’s plight all the more for it, but I was self-conscious about it. So when the famous scene where Arthur steals a kiss on Toby’s cheek while they’re singing comes about I felt defensive. I felt as if my facial expression was readable or else some of my thoughts were. I felt the need to say something to cover.

“I’d punch him!” I blurted out.

My uncle without hesitation said “You don’t have to do that. You just say ‘I’m not like that.’”

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I was still a while away from admitting I was like that even to myself much less out loud, but the film and scene are important for a number of reasons. In that scene you can actually look at it a few ways: there is of course the obvious viewing it as a romantic overture. However, they are close and having a good time. Arthur is wordlessly expressing his gratitude of having someone to sing with. By midcentury homophobic fears had sufficiently strangled men showing affection for one another in verbal ways much less physically was verboten. And in that second reading it’s almost more important, but the lack of judgment that Tobias shows at that moment is important in and of itself and it’s a hallmark of many of these films either in isolated scenes or as a whole.

Where I Learned About: Coming Out of the Closet

Ellen (TV 1997)

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Yes, it’s a TV show but there are plenty of movies on the list, calm down. This was the first coming out I was ever conscious of. It was probably where I became familiar with the phrase and its meaning. I already liked this show, so I was curious to see how it would go, especially since it was announced beforehand. I think it went brilliantly.

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The sad reality of TV especially on a sitcom, where constancy is prized, it was too big a change for the show and maybe for the country as a whole at the time. I’m glad to see where we, ABC, and the Walt Disney Company has come since then.

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Where I Learned: Bisexuality is Real, Lust Can Make You Crazy, And How To Love The Femme Fatale

Basic Instinct (1992)

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Firstly, I must apologize that it needed to be phrased as such. Sadly, there is a stigma that exists that there is no such thing as bisexuality. Everyone’s path to self-discovery is slightly different. Mine included a time when I identified myself as bisexual. Growing up tremendously quiet and withdrawn in certain social situations most of my deductions about my true identity was all based on the internal battle with no real experience to draw any definitive conclusions from. In that time I experienced that stigma first hand. No sooner had I identified myself as bisexual I got the “lecture” in an online conversation about needing to decide, and you “can’t have the best of both worlds.” It was a rude awakening. When it came time when I had to face if I could make real emotional and physical commitments one way or the other is when I learned the truth for sure, no one’s ultimatum was going to do it for me.

Having been someone who always accepted that a duality is not only possible but real suspension of disbelief was easy in this film. The hurdle I really had to get over, involved what I learned most about how lust, and the adrenaline rush that Nick Curran (Michael Douglas) feels is what makes his character so vulnerable.

Before I ever watched a long-running horror franchise in full I saw this, it may be the first villain I ever embraced, thanks in large part to Sharon Stone’s performance. She fully embraces the femme fatale role.

Where I Learned: About the True Toll of AIDS

And the Band Played On (1993)

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For the most part I never fell victim to any falsehoods about HIV or AIDS. Magic Johnson’s announcement coming in my formative years was quite helpful. However, the mysterious, terrifying, and most tragically inactive (from a Federal Government standpoint) I was too young to realize what was happening. This film enlightened me.

Where I Learned About: Persecution in a Bygone Era

Paragraph 175 (2000)

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In outlining a dogma of hatred there has to be a public enemy number one designated. In the Nazi regime that target was the Jewish people. The Nazis were by no means singleminded in whom they considered enemies of true Aryanism. Estimates of Romani, or Gypsies as the more commonly referred to, deaths range from 220,000 to 500,000. Marzahn was the first concentration camp used for Gypsies. Many then went to Auschwitz-Birkenau, Chelmno, Belzec, Sobibor, Sachsenhausen, Buchenwald, Dachau, Mauthausen, and Rävensbruck.

The documentary Paragraph 175 takes its title from the German Criminal Code at the time that discussed prohibitions on homosexuality. Since the persecuted could be of either gender and of any race or creed there aren’t precise statistics. However, documentation of state-sanctioned ostracism, arrest, and murder of homosexuals in the Third Reich following the edicts of Paragraph 175 are documented.

Such as:

  • Banning of Gay organizations like the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft run by Magnus Hirschfeld
  • Banning scholarly writing on Homosexuality and sexuality in general.
  • There were 100,000 people arrested as homosexuals; 50,000 were sentenced.
  • Homosexuality in any form was outlawed, but as per usual in these historic incidents the brunt of the force of said policies fell upon gay men.
  • The Gestapo compiled a list of homosexuals and forced many to conform to the “German Norm”

Where I Learned About: More People See False Morality

Léolo (1992)

Léolo (1992, Fine Line Features)

False morality is not an exclusively North American phenomenon, but we do have our own special brand. This was underscored in specificity as something other have noticed in this film where students never learned the English words for “those things” in class.

The topic comes up as Léo introduces us to their school’s guide to English; the omnipresent John and Mary. The schooling they were receiving was still very recitative and in this litany of body parts that the francophonic children learned there was a glaring absence: reproductive organs. Yet, Léo, and some of his other classmates had begun to discover these parts of their anatomy had other functions that were heretofore unknown to them.

So immediately Léo is complaining about the injustice of forced ignorance. In the guise of sheltering the children and preserving their fleeting innocence they are left to discover sex between “ignorance and horror,” as Léo says. And with no demystification from anyone elder in their life how else can this discovery occur. Surely, for some the repercussions of this will be minimal, but for others who knows how much of a negative impact this had on their development.

Where I Learned About: Transitioning

Transamerica (2005)

Transamerica (2006, IFC Films)

Aside from learning not to expect true greatness to be recognized by the Academy, even when nominated; this film opened my eyes on the emotional toll a person will pay when undergoing gender reassignment. Before and after the fact there will be grieving over lost time, opportunity, reclaiming identity, striving for a new future while incorporating a difficult past.

Aside from Felicity Huffman’s brilliance there is so much to experience and feel in this film.

Where I Learned About: Differentiating Sexual Identity and Orientation

Prodigal Sons (2008)

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For those who like axioms this one stuck out to me as I was seeking to learn more about what the transgendered experience is like, when being asked about why it is some people who have gender reassignment have heterosexual relationship and some have homosexual relationships, one woman answers perfectly and made me understand the magnitude of that journey; to paraphrase what she said: look in a mirror and ask yourself does what you see match how you feel inside? Most people will say yes. Look around and who are you attracted to.

That’s it. That is the difference between sexual identity and orientation. I have not in my life ever felt that specific emotion when looking at myself in a mirror. I never felt torn against myself for the very skin I was living in. I felt isolated, conflicted emotionally, and at war with where my mind and eyes would wander, and with whom I sought to be closer with amorously and amicably, but not something that fundamental.

Wherein: I Re-Examined a Film with the Topic of Sexuality in Mind (and Found a Road Less Traveled)

The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

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After being reminded of the fact that the character of Buffalo Bill was a controversial one in the LGBT community took offense to – on a doc about it and I believe The Celluloid Closet (below) does touch on it. There were angry protests and signs about how the film seemed to vilify a transgendered person. When watching it with this in mind, I came away unconvinced, and not just because of my axiom of needing to understand that one character does not a whole demographic represent.

Bill’s situation is exacerbated by two factors: he was not given the go-ahead for surgery in psych evaluations and he specifically has sociopathic and psychopathic tendencies. Bill reacts violently and irrationally to the circumstances facing him. A vast majority won’t.

Looking at the film focusing merely on the aspect of sexuality there is no evidence, as it is played in this one film, that Clarice Starling is a heterosexual woman, aside from the assumption we’re societally conditioned to have that everyone is “straight unless proven gay.”

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To my mind this dubious, and nebulous nature of her sexual orientation is underscored by her subtle disregard for being objectified by men while jogging around the FBI’s training compound.
So if we’re viewing the film through a prism of presumed sexuality, and as I see it  there are heterosexuals, one lesbian, and one man longing for a sex-change. There are characters across the spectrum.

Where I Learned: Sometimes Film Theory Has To Go Away

Thelma and Louise (1991)

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Learning film theory can be dense and difficult to most. However, there is a value to it and learning to analyze in terms of interpretations that may not even even have been made by design. It can be the only to enjoy some filmmaking styles like certain New Wave films or works of magical realism. However, never is this subject harder to learn than when you just disagree with a theory.

Signed DVD as my first ever #wcw post. #autograph #SusanSarandon #ThelmaAndLouise #NoFilter #OppositeDay

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I fully understand the visual cues and character roles and attitudes that lead those to argue that Thelma and Louise becomes a lesbian tale by proxy. The reason I don’t buy it is because I cringe at the notion that any movie that includes an “I don’t need no man” sentiment is promoting lesbianism (Frozen) or the very sexist attitude that treats lesbianism as a choice whereas being a gay man is a sentence.

Thelma and Louise is many things: flawlessly structured, brilliantly acted, a masterpiece, a tremendous feminist statement, up there with The Accused but it’s not a lesbian story. Not to me.

I fully get and support the notion that due to a lack of representation individuals in the LGBT community can cling to characters that were not designed to represent us, and that is a healthy and normal thing, one instance from my childhood that comes to mind is Flower in Bambi.flower

Ma Vie en Rose (1999)

Where I Learned: Being Comfortable Can Change How You See the World

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Cinematically speaking, in the opinions of most, children are seen as lower beings on the totem pole. Too often children are societal afterthoughts when decisions our leaders are making now are molding the very world they seek to inherit. So there can be a great amount of coddling and shielding in film and society. However, those with a sensitivity, understanding, and appreciation can make changes, insights and be of help.

Ma Vie en Rose tells a tale of a common childhood activity, cross-dressing, through the eyes of a character who takes it to an uncommon degree and finds more comfort and joy in it than most. Even with social norms varying from country-to-country, this film being set in France doesn’t change many of the reactions to this.

The beauty seen in the world through the eyes of its protagonist is a breath of fresh air and can be an eye-opener to many about acceptance as opposed to tolerance.

Where I Learned: About More Nuances of Sexuality and the False Equivalency Tranvestites Face

Dress to Kill (1999)

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For those who need simple axioms by which to live, and learn better whilst being entertained Eddie Izzard can be a great means of enlightenment. His discussion on “weirdo transvestites” and “executive transvestites” and him describing himself as a “male lesbian” are as insightful as they are funny.

Where I Learned: Stories of First Love Don’t Have to End in Tragedy or Heartbreak

North Sea Texas (2011)

Why I start with a book will soon make sense…

 

#shelfie #book Find out what this book has to do with my #ThingsILearedFromTheMovies #Blogathon post. Today on http://www.themovierat.com/

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One of the defining books of my teenage years was The Bitterweed Path. It was among a select few books I read when I was visiting family in Brazil. My grandmother has accepted a trove of books in English that she had no use for as she reads solely in Portuguese and French.

It’s a wonderful tale of an unrequited, unfulfilled love at the turn of the 20th Century. It meant so much to me, in the edition I read, that I asked for it to be be specially bound like my Grandmother and aunt sometimes do. It was quite a chore for the bookbinder but still holds an honored place on my shelf. But not all stories need be like that to work.

North Sea Texas (2011, Strand Releasing)

Here’s a perfect example. After I learned that much to my surprise North Sea Texas was nominated for a GLAAD Media Award I wrote the following:

However, what North Sea Texas strikes upon, and what makes it work so well and so important is that it’s an idealistic tale. It reminds me of a debate I and a professor had about the Indian film Fire in college. His criticism of the film was that the revelation of, and the familial objection to, a sexual abuse situation was unrealistic. My assertion was “Why should it be?” If you’re trying to make a point be it societal, political or otherwise, there are times when the best way to make it is to seek out an ideal and illustrate it, rather than just illustrating that the problem exists.

 

Where I Learned: It Has Gotten Better, Or Stereotypes Used to be Much Worse

The Celluloid Closet (1996)

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Yes, the picture is an outlier, a maverick.

While you can note issues that still exist you cannot understand how the present is better without looking to the past. Documentaries like this and Reel Injun do well to highlight the way in which marginalized populations have been treated onscreen through the ages. Outliers are as noteworthy as patterns and improvements can be noted across the board with improvements and continued, diversified representations appearing frequently.

Where I Learned: You Don’t Even Need to Say the Word “Gay”

In the Family (2011, In the Family)

On the film In the Family I wrote the following:

the film could be handled differently and still work but then it would run the risk of pigeonholing itself as a gay film, or a racial film or a courtroom film, depending on how the plot unfolds. It could quickly become maudlin and melodramatic. However, in restraining its emotion, allowing it to build in its characters and its audience it creates a tremendously universal and human story that I’m sure many can relate to, whether it reflects anything in their life or not. One example of the restraint, and a litmus test of sorts for films with gay themes, is that the words “gay” or “homosexual,” or any pejorative variation thereof are not spoken. This is a clear choice it seems that underlines both the humanity of the story and the underlying hostilities and prejudices that exist.

Where I Learned: Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow

Billy Elliot (2000)

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The musical adaptation of Billy Elliot amplifies virtually all the emotion in the tale. Aside from the obvious that dancing or liking it does not determine one’s sexual orientation, this one selection closes the circle from the beginning of the post.

Billy Elliot (Jamie Bell) is not a poofter as the vernacular would state it. Despite the fact that Michael (Stuart Wells)  is not fully self-aware for a majority of the film, he is gay. Michael’s pain at losing his best friend when he goes off to the Royal Ballet School will be massive. There is no expunging it, it can scarcely be mitigated.

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Billy’s kiss on Michael’s cheek is not a pandering gesture by a character or in filmmaking terms. It’s a simple, beautiful act of friendship. One that on its own is tear-jerking but sets up the end of the film beautifully: Billy makes his professional debut. Of course, Michael is there. So glad are we that he is both happy and supporting his friend that the coincidence of his sitting next to Billy’s dad can be forgiven.

Bonus Features

A few titles, scenes, and moments that came to mind where words are a bit unnecessary; the images say it all. Enjoy!

Where I Learned: Cartoons Can Make You Feel Uncomfortable

Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)

 

Where I Learned: It’s Real Awkward When You Get What’s Going On in Some Performances at Madonna’s Blond Ambition Tour and You’re There With Your Dad

Where I Learned: Some People Are Gay, and That’s OK

Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)

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Where I Learned: Dancing Can Be Sexy 

Look Who’s Talking Too (1990)

Where I Learned: You Will Have To Come Out More Than Once Whether You Like It or Not. Thanks for Bearing With Me!

Coming Out (Part 2) by Troye Sivan