Cuba St. Filming

Maddy here

For our film we wanted to gather footage of women, shot in the vertical format of Miriam’s mobile phone, waving at the screen in a public location. With our trusty tripod/mobile phone contraption in tow, we went down to Cuba St in the center of Wellington city to find our subjects. We filmed women from a range of ages and ethnicities, capturing around twenty different people. The set up time was drastically different from that of a professional film rig, allowing us to quickly and easily capture our footage on the go. miriamwave copy

With this footage we wanted to highlight the mobile phone’s portrait composition and the way in which this alters our perception of the female figure on screen. To accompany these images a voice over will read “We demand the right for change! We demand the right for women to stand tall! We demand vertical!”

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Interviews

Maddy here.

Our next step has been to collect the interview footage. Thankfully we have a theatre department at Victoria so we were able to round up some actors to play the part of ‘Feminist Film Scholar’ and ‘Italian Director’ – two opposing voices in the video.

We filmed James the ‘Feminist Film Scholar’ with our mobile phone rig, capturing his stunning performance in the vertical format.

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Next we filmed Michele as ‘Italian Director’, his hand gestures made the perfect accompaniment to his pro horizontal argument.

These interviews, along with other vertical format clips, are going to dissect the more ‘traditional’ examples of horizontal filmmaking (see below for example).

 

Charlie’s Angels

Charlie's Angels

Lucy Liu Hair Toss

Miriam here

We’ve had a look through contemporary Hollywood films that sexualise their female characters in a very 1990s style of pseudo-power to the female. A few clips from these films will be interwoven into our video.

Camera Rig

Maddy here.

Our next step towards completing the Vertical Cinema video has been to set up a way to film on Miriam’s phone without the unwatchable wobbles of our hands. Ingeniously, we came up with this contraption:

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With my incredible taping skills, and the help of some bamboo skewers, her camera was thoroughly fastened onto the professional camera tripod. The only issue with the setup is having to tape, untape, and retape every time we go to film…

Still Images for Vertical Cinema Project

Maddy here.

To update on the Vertical Cinema project:

To start with I have been collecting images which include horizontal shots of contemporary female exploitation, vertical images of suffragettes, and some recognisable feminist figures. Our plan is to incorporate these with the interviews and other filmed material we will collect.

Side by side, these images and filmed material will hopefully have the same lightheartedness of ‘V.V.S – a P.S.A’.

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The film is certainly looking to retain its feminist manifesto message along with challenging the ‘traditional’ format of horizontal filmmaking.

Sharkfest Bait 3D

Bait 3D

When Piranha 3D graced the newly converted 3D cinema screens in 2010, it was clear that 3D cinema’s reputation for gimmicks, artifice and shock value was going to be reaffirmed. An update of the Piranha horror series that included James Cameron’s directorial debut Piranha Part Two: The Spawning (1981), Piranha 3D eschewed the subtle stereoscopic effects that Cameron had promoted in Avatar (2009) and instead used its enhanced depth to flaunt its exuberant sexual and violent imagery. It’s use of nude lesbian underwater swimming scenes and a castrated penis flying towards the audience in negative parallax indicated that 3D cinema is best suited to the extreme and the ridiculous. A number of films since then such as Jackass 3D (2010), 3D Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy (2011) and Fright Night (2011) have continued this trend. At first glance the new Australian-Singapore co-production Bait 3D (2012) seems the latest edition in a long line of exploitation 3D films, stretching back to House of Wax (1953), The Stewardesses (1970) and Amityville 3-D (1983). Bait 3D even follows in the footsteps of 2011’s Shark Night based on a similar premise: sharks, horror and lots of water, all filmed in 3D. However, the distinction between Bait 3D and its more successful 3D exploitation counterparts is that Bait 3D seems to be trying desperately hard to be considered a sincere drama.

 

Piranha 3D’s nude swimming scene

 

The film opens with an introduction to a picture-perfect beach on Australia’s Queensland coast and two jocular but earnest lifeguards, Josh and Rory. We are soon presented with the equally earnest Tina, Rory’s sister, who is also Josh’s fiancée. When Rory is fatally attacked by a shark in the ocean, Tina and Josh split up only to be reunited when they become trapped in a half submerged supermarket in the aftermath of a tsunami. Alongside a motely crew of criminals, innocent shoppers and a policeman, they have to survive the impeding attacks of the great white sharks that have become trapped with them. The plot has around the same level of credibility as Piranha 3D’s human eating piranhas unleashed during a Spring Break party and Kailey Carruthers has noted many of its glaring inconsistencies (cars in the film are air and watertight; the great white sharks never stop eating; the underground parking lot doesn’t completely flood; the supermarket doors are airtight; the electrical boards continue to conduct electricity even when completely submerged). Rather than ham up these elements for comic effect, the film seems stoically unaware that the audience may not take its various narrative threads (a father-daughter reconciliation, the redemption of a criminal, the loving sacrifice of the token Singapore character, Josh’s self-forgiveness, amongst others) seriously.

 

Bait 3D’s watertight car

Early in the film, Tina is shot from behind with her skimpy bikini-clad body poking towards the audience. While there is a moment of self-reflexivity when she turns round to ask Josh/the viewer ‘were you looking at my butt,’ it reaffirms rather than subverts the tendency of 3D B-movies to fetishize the female form in stereoscopic dimensions. There is some comic relief in the form of ditzy beach couple Kyle and Heather who are trapped in the underground car park but for the most part the audience is asked to consider the threat posed by the animatronics sharks as a real concern. Most worrying is the claim that director Kimble Rendall said: “It sounds funny, but we talked to shark experts who said that after tsunamis a lot of people do get eaten by sharks because they come into the villages. It’s not really that far from the truth.”

 

 

While the 3D effects are variable in the film, one aspect it does frequently use effectively is the sheer quantity of water. Due to the film’s aquatic theme, there are various scenes filmed either underwater or in such a way that the action is framed half underwater and half above water. When the bottom of the frame appears underwater, it is unclear where the film ends and the auditorium begins. There is a liquid flow that that seems to encompass the audience’s screen space and produces an eerie effect in which the auditorium has the same dense quality as the water.

 

 

The underwater scenes also mean that much of the action can be played out slowly, allowing the stereoscopic effects to develop fully. After the first shark attack kills Rory the camera is placed under the water, watching as his blood disperses in a slow, flowing movement around the viewing space. There is then a moment when Rory’s lifeless body rotates on a horizontal axis and drifts directly towards the viewer. While somewhat gimmicky and gratuitous, these moments make a welcome change from the tendency in contemporary blockbusters to throw explosions and debris into the auditorium at a speed that audience can barely contemplate. It is in these moments that it becomes clear that the same effect could not be achieved in a 2D film and this particular viewing experience is unique.

Fresh Meat Cannibal Cinema

Fresh Meat

When esteemed New Zealand filmmaker Barry Barclay articulated his concept of fourth cinema as indigenous films by indigenous filmmakers, it is unlikely that he was envisioning this year’s Māori-Cannibal film Fresh Meat (2012). His hope that fourth cinema would continue to grow, encompassing ‘identified core values which govern life in the Maori world, values such as whanaungatanga, mana, manaakitanga, aroha, tapu, mana tupuna, wairua, does not exactly gel with the splatter-fest of mauled bodies, bombastic special effects and outlandish shoot-em-ups that the Wellington based Gibson Company has produced. Nonetheless, the generous and encouraging writing that Barclay left behind suggests that he might have seen the value in this film which, for all its spectacular and fantastic silliness, stakes a claim for the impact Māori filmmakers can make on the New Zealand film industry (I am using the term filmmaker loosely here to account for all the Māori cast and crew that worked on the film). Although the film could do with more carefully scripted dialogue and a good edit that would tighten the pace and energy of its narrative, it produces some wonderful moments that drive at the way Māori culture is being defined in the twenty-first century.

Set in an unnamed suburb somewhere in New Zealand’s interior, Fresh Meat begins when the Tan Brother’s Gang blow up a prison van to set their leader Richie Tan free. Their getaway plan involuntarily means hiding out and taking hostage the Crane family who turn out to be not just Māori but recently converted cannibals inspired by the father’s esoteric new religion. The siege quickly becomes a bloody mess of mangled limbs and broken body parts as the criminals are pitted against cannibals. While the excessive use of blood and gore can be linked back to earlier New Zealand cinema, particularly Peter Jackson’s Bad Taste (1987), the cannibal topic has its parallels in the way Brazilian cinema of the 1960/70s used cannibalism as a way of dealing with its post-colonial condition. In order to explode the myth of their country’s harmonious racial mix, Brazilian films from Macunaima (1969) to How Tasty Was My Little Frenchman (1971) played on the European settler’s fears of barbaric indigenous cultures by depicting the extreme through the trope of cannibalism. It was a political and reflexive strategy that suggested the only response to the First World culture imposed upon Brazil was to devour it whole. In many ways Fresh Meat readdresses this in contemporary times and director Danny Mulheron says of the family “they’re a metaphor for consumption.  This family wants things, they want wealth, they’re Sweeny Todd-like. They want to make money, he wants to be a famous writer so they consume themselves.” Also, like the Brazilian films, Fresh Meat, uses comedy and exaggerated parody to put to the forefront tensions that polite society does not wish to discuss. When daughter Rina exclaims that in the past Māori tribes only ate their enemies not their friends, she highlights the taboo that, for better or worse, plays a part in Māori history.

It’s the humour in the film that allows Fresh Meat to play with revered aspects of Māori culture in a way that jokes around without belittling their status. The importance of Kai (food) is subverted when father Hemi persuades his vegetarian Pākehā (white New Zealander) guest to eat human flesh by telling him that it is rude to sit at a Māori table and not eat. Later in the film Hemi renames one of the criminals Gigi as Kai Kai. At another moment, it is his Mere pendant made from the sacred Pounamu stone, and hanging on his chest, that deflects the deadly but also absurd bullets that one of the gang tries to shoot at him. One of the most memorable visual moments is when the Crane family hang over their recent kill with their faces and hands forming the image of the haka that was ubiquitously used for commercial exploitation during the Rugby World Cup. These are tropes that have been addressed frequently in films describing Māori customs but rarely with the same type of comic effect.

In one of the most interesting twists on depictions of indigenous Pacific culture, Rina finds herself dancing in a hula skirt while swinging the poi balls traditional to Māori culture. It is an image not dissimilar to the many depictions of Hawaiian women in film who perform their dances for the benefit of the white onlooker. In this set up the premise is quickly turned upside down as Rina is performing for Richie Tan as he sits in her overtly childish underwear and she soon gets the better of him by turning the weighted poi into a weapon that she whacks around his head. At this point in the film, it is not just the settler gaze that is being sabotaged but also the male gaze that so often fetishizes these moments. The male gaze is unsettled again at another point in the film as Fresh Meat develops the subplot concerning Rina’s sexual desire for Gigi. When Gigi has to cover herself in pints of milk, fellow gang member Johnny is clearly excited but his reaction is framed alongside the equally enthralled and desirous Rina.  While most mainstream films that feature lesbians use their appearance as an excuse to titillate viewers and posit their sexual acts for the benefit of the onlooker rather than themselves, Fresh Meat keeps Rina and Gigi’s sexual acts private.

Throughout the film the greatest parody is centred on Hemi, the under-published university professor whose power for hunger leads him to create a religion with himself at the centre. He berates an unjust society that won’t allow his career to develop because he is Māori while failing to acknowledge the incredibly offensive images he creates when mimicking Asian characters in the film. However, the critical lens is also placed on Pākehā culture in New Zealand, particularly through the depiction of Rina’s friend Shaun. He bumbles around the screen desperately trying to impress the Crane family with knowledge of Māori language and culture, but always failing to get it right.

One of the notable lines in the film states that they’re cannibals who happen to be Māori, not Māori cannibals. In many ways, this line pinpoints the difficulty of representation that Māori people face but it also engages with the fact that this film, like the character’s cannot escape that paradigm of representation.