Thursday, 26 May 2011

Year 13 Film Studies practice questions

Compare the ways in which the films you have studied for this topic use specific narrative techniques to dramatise their stories of female empowerment.

'As well as combating external forces, characters often have to engage in an internal struggle.' How far is this true of the films you have studied for this topic?

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Year 13 media exam - Examiner's Report 2010

I strongly advise you to read this to get a better idea of what the examiner is looking for in your Section A responses.

Section A
Whilst Candidates were typically able to discuss research in general terms, there was a distinction between those that could focus in on the precise ways in which their work was influenced by or responded to specific media texts/products and those that dealt with research and planning in a less applied and relevant manner (to the question set). Candidates in the latter category were restricted to levels 1 or 2 for use of examples. Terminology was utilised with variable conviction also – the stronger answers used appropriate theoretical or technical language to explain how creative decisions were informed by research into real media at the micro level. Candidates are advised against the ‘scattergun’ approach – merely listing every instance of research and planning. They are also urged to be clear about the outcomes of research – reporting that they used YouTube to watch trailers, for example, is not sufficient for credit at A2. The words ‘informed by’ in the question were important. Evaluation/critical reflection is required here and the question demands explanation. Many Candidates provided description only – Centres should share the wording of the mark scheme as well as this report with Candidates ahead of the next series.

Equally, progression is an important part of this section and this was another neglected element. The higher level answers were able to synthesise all of these aspects – specific examples with emphasis on the outcome of the research in relation to creative decisions; critical reflection on the process of the research; and an awareness of progress made from AS to A2 and with reference to other media production work where relevant – the distance travelled. There was a little overlap with 1(b) due to genre conventions being a feature of research but the stronger Candidates were able to provide a broader answer here. They dealt with genre conventions along with a number of other aspects of real media texts, including narrative, media language and more technical and institutional/professional areas of media production related to several of their own productions and then go on to ‘zoom in’ on theories of genre for the next question with a more sustained discussion relating to just one production.

Finally, it is important that Candidates can be specific and informed about real media conventions but there are a range of ways of relating their own work to real media – these might be more institutional. For example the institutional information in magazine contents pages or the title sequence of a film – these are equally conventional to the more genre ingredients examples that proliferated in answers. Or they might be more technical – observing industry practice in a particular medium.

A suggested outline structure for question 1(a) June 2010 will be placed on the OCR A Level Media Blog

Stronger answers to this question were able to do three things well. Firstly, they set up the concept of genre for discussion, with reference to writing on the subject from the likes of Altman, Buckingham, Buscombe, Neale, McQuail, Stam, Boardwell, Miller, Goodwin or in some cases, with varying relevance, Propp and Todorov, Mulvey and Barthes, Strauss and Saussure. Level 4 answers generally offered references to writing about the particular genre in question as well as the more general work. Secondly, these higher-marked answers went on to apply these ideas to a range of specific elements of their own chosen production. And thirdly, the extent to which the ideas in the referenced writing fit with the product being analysed would be discussed.

Mid-range answers would more straightforwardly list generic elements of the work with less reference to theoretical material. Lower level answers would neglect theories of genre altogether and/or lack specific examples. To what extent the production in question adhered to or challenged genre conventions is, at least, required in order for Candidates to be credited for both understanding and applying the concept. An alternative approach is to deal with more institutional aspects of the workings of genre and format. Many answers dealt with narrative theory which is, of course, appropriate – as it is so closely linked to genre – providingCandidates explicitly make this connection for the examiner, so it does not have to be inferred in the marking. Clearly, to prepare for all the concepts which may arise in the exam and then to condense understanding and application into thirty minutes of writing is challenging, so Centres are strongly encouraged to devote as much time and pedagogic energy and differentiation to this part of the exam as to Section B .

A suggested outline structure for question 1(b) June 2010 will be placed on the OCR A Level Media Blog

Year 13 Exam Question 1a Suggested Structure

Structure for A2 exam q.1a

This was requested from the e-community; there are other versions elsewhere, but this is probably the simplest!

paragraph 1 should be an introduction which explains which projects you did. It can be quite short.

paragraph 2 should pick up the skill area and perhaps suggest something about your starting point with it- what skills did you have already and how were these illustrated. use an example.

paragraph 3 should talk through your use of that skill in early projects and what you learned and developed through these. Again there should be examples to support all that you say.

paragraph 4 should go on to demonstrate how the skill developed in later projects, again backed by examples, and reflecting back on how this represents moves forward for you from your early position.

paragraph 5 short conclusion

Remember it's only half an hour and you need to range across all your work!

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

All about my mother link

Check out this piece on 'How to appreciate Almodovar films', it has some interesting comments...

Exam practice question - my response...

How far do the narratives of the films you have studied rely on dramatic moments of confrontation and how far on a more subtle change over time?

The two very different Spanish films All about my Mother (AAMM) and Pan’s Labyrinth use complex narratives and character representations to explore gender ideologies. I would suggest that both films rely in part on dramatic moments of confrontation but also demonstrate a more subtle change over time; in this essay I will explain this view.

AAMM is a powerful melodrama, exhibiting many of Almodovar’s signature traits and exemplifying his exhuberant, challenging post-Franco style. As a melodrama, it is hardly surprising that there are many dramatic moments within the narrative and throughout the film we see various confrontational moments between the characters. For example, as Manuela enters Barcelona in a taxi there is a violently shocking scene which introduces us to Agrado as she is assaulted by a client. She is defiant in her response and in this way Almodovar sets his agenda: this is a film which challenges traditional gender roles and our perceptions of what is and what ‘should be’.

The scene is perhaps all the more shocking because up until this point, in Madrid, there has been high drama in the sudden death of Manuela’s son but her reaction to it is subtly presented and gender representations are far more traditional and in line with the hegemonic view. As Manuela’s somewhat passive quest to find Lola continues, the narrative is punctuated by various melodramatic moments of confrontation but Almodovar’s intention is clearly not merely to present a set of over-exaggerated characters in improbable scenarios and it is perhaps his subtlety that allows the film to communicate its real meaning.

Although Manuela is the main character and it is her actions which move the narrative along initially, it is perhaps through all of his characters and their intertwined experiences that Almodovar more fully explores gender and sexuality and questions hegemonic values. Each of his characters goes on a journey and whilst the overtly melodramatic narrative is what keeps the audience entertained (if somewhat disbelievingly) it is perhaps the more subtle undertones of change which we can only appreciate once the film is finished that contain its true message. Manuela, the eternal mother, has a chance to be so to an infant again; Agrado has found acceptance and purpose which does not rely on the sale of her body; Huma is free of the destructive and toxic Nina; Rosa’s mother, who represents perhaps more than any other character the hegemonic values of Spanish society that Almodovar is challenging, is shown to be uncaring in the worst way by rejecting her grandchild and thereby loses her right to have access to him. Rosa, of course, is dead but before her death she had seamlessly morphed from nun to earthly mother. I would argue that all of these changes are subtle and not reliant on moments of dramatic confrontation, and that actually it is these changes – these people – which are the film’s narrative. Although the dramatic moments are entertaining, they are the bass line and the subtler changes are the melody.

In terms of narrative, Pan’s Labyrinth is of course quite different from AAMM but I would argue that in terms of the importance of dramatic moments of confrontation versus subtler changes, there are some similarities. As a gothic fairytale/fantasy film set during the Spanish civil war, we would expect dramatic confrontations as binary oppositions are a key convention of the genre and confrontations a symptom of conflict; and indeed, we are not disappointed. The villain of the tale, Captain Vidal, is at the heart of most of the dramatic confrontations within the film, with the Doctor, Ofelia, Carmen, the rebels and eventually, the ultimate confrontation with Mercedes which results in his death. As in AAMM, these moments are certainly key to the development of the narrative and serve to highlight del Toro’s representation of Franco’s hegemonic masculinity as violent, controlling and confrontational.

But when we look at the female characters in the film, as indeed we must, there is a recognisably subtler and more sensitive approach both in their representation and in their roles and functions within the narrative. Mercedes, as the ‘helper’, grows in strength and courage as the film progresses, moving gradually from a somewhat sidelined observer of Vidal’s terror to a heroic central player and successful challenger, killing the villain and saving the rebels (who happen to be men). Ofelia of course, undergoes enormous change throughout the tale, losing her mother and confronting various creatures as well as Vidal as she goes but perhaps more significantly, failing to confront her own fear of growing up and instead opting to stay a child forever. Carmen is represented as weak and conforming to the hegemonic ideology that women should be subservient to their husbands and she dies during childbirth, perhaps to demonstrate that this view is outdated. In this film, the necessity for women to be mothers is thus challenged through both mother and daughter, as Carmen dies for it and Ofelia openly rejects it.

One conclusion which could be drawn is that although there are many moments of dramatic confrontation in Pan’s narrative, they perhaps merely mask the subtler changes happening beneath them. Or that del Toro has intentionally constructed these confrontations within the world of the men and within Ofelia’s fantasy world to allow us to observe that subtler changes which they promote in our heroine and her helper. The eventual result, of course, being that the situation in Vidal’s ‘family’ mirrors that of the war with the rebels: he fails to recognise the subtle changes occurring around him and pays for it dearly. Because in actuality, it is the female characters who are in control and their experiences being explored. As I said, Vidal and the dramatic moments of confrontation that he is so frequently part of, are the cause and the subtler changes within the female characters the effect.

In conclusion, I would say that as with most narratives, dramatic moments of confrontation help to move things along in both of these films but are by no means completely relied upon to create meaning and communicate with the audience. Both films, in different ways, are about women and their experiences and subtlely is also required to communicate these experiences with the poignancy and genuine feeling that they do.

Ideology and All About my Mother

Ideology Essay

All about my Mother essay

All About My Mother Director: Pedro Almodóvar

It would be easy to misread Pedro Almodóvar’s1999 film All About My Mother as nothing more than a playfully transgressive romp, in which absurd characters misbehave with wild abandon for comic effect. This is, in fact, what Almodóvar seemed to be after in several of his earlier movies, such as the wonderfully madcap Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, or the nuns-and-drugs farce Dark Habits. On the surface, All About My Mother is no different: it tells the story of Manuela (Cecilia Roth), a grief-stricken woman who moves to Barcelona in order to stalk an aging actress (Marisa Paredes) who played a role in the accidental death of her son. Meanwhile, Manuela renews her decades-old friendship with a transvestite prostitute (Antonia San Juan) and also becomes the caretaker and adoptive mother for an ailing, pregnant nun (Penelope Cruz). It’s an improbable, even ridiculous premise, and it becomes even more so as the plot piles on absurdities on the way to an unlikely and highly melodramatic ending.

Yet at the same time, All About My Mother is an uncommonly moving film, and it contains moments of rapturous beauty and genuine power. As Manuela searches for her old friend Agrado (San Juan) in Barcelona’s seamy backstreets, the camera rises up into the sky in order to look down on a group of prostitutes being circled by johns in their cars. The shot is a grand gesture, fit for a moment of great triumph in a sweeping epic—and in the context of Almodóvar’s comically gritty premise, it comes off as audacious in its unexpectedness, and also outrageously beautiful. In All About My Mother, Almodóvar brings all the emotionally lush grandeur of cinematic art to bear on characters and subject matter that many artists would treat only with pity or laughter. Although the film often is funny and absurd, Almodóvar imbues every shot with passionate artistry and a deep-running, non-condescending affection for his characters.

All About My Mother closes with a loving dedication: “To Bette Davis, Gena Rowlands, Romy Schneider…To all actresses who have played actresses, to all women who act, to men who act and become women, to all people who want to become mothers. To my mother.” Almodóvar is the all-too-rare male filmmaker who makes movies about women. His female characters are far more than just objects of desire for male protagonists; instead, women’s lives, wants, and stories are the central concerns of nearly all of his films. All About My Mother contains several rich, multi-dimensional, and meaty female parts, all of which Almodóvar presents with the self-conscious intention of paying tribute to great women of cinema’s past. The movie’s title is an explicit allusion to All About Eve, and Almodóvar also borrows much of its plot, while at the same time weaving in extended allusions to A Streetcar Named Desire and passing references to artists, writers, and filmmakers ranging from Mark Chagall to Oscar Wilde.

Almodóvar’s point here is not to prove his self-conscious postmodern cleverness. Instead, he treats his allusions with the same intense affection that he directs toward his characters. Almodóvar understands that love for art is at its core an expression of love for life and for all of humanity, and he wants to show us that every woman—every grieving mother, every transvestite prostitute, every pregnant nun—deserves the same kind of boundless, overflowing love that movie audiences routinely offer up to stars on screen. All About My Mother is a great film because it uses its self-conscious allusions not to create cold, sophisticated ironies, but instead to provide audiences with a passionate, open-armed reminder of art’s power to transform our small lives and desires into grand-scale collective visions of beauty and love. Ryan Williams

Incomplete essay - Genre in AAMM

How does an understanding of the genre contribute to meaning in All About My Mother?

I am going to discuss the ways in which All About My Mother demonstrates the genre of the melodrama and how it contributes to our emotional response during the film.

First of all to look at how Manuela's character changes throughout different parts of the film. In the melodrama, the focus of the film is a family, which contains many archetypes for the characters to fall into. In the exposition we see her as the devoted mother to Esteban, she cares for him in every way possible, we she her making his food, tucking him in bed at night, worrying about him as he crosses the road alone. However these are all traits that should be acted out on a younger child, indicating straight away Manuela's need to “over mother” at times, and also her need to mother when it is not actually appropriate or necessary. There is a sense of irony with the film, as we see Manuela acting as the grieving woman onscreen, even before the tragedy of Esteban's death. Manuela leaves for Barcelona and assumes the role of the surrogate mother for Sister Rosa, even though she has no real ties or connection to the girl, “over mothering” yet again. However Rosa also falls under tragedy and Manuela becomes the grieving mother once again. Manuela shortly becomes devoted mother for the final time to Rosa's baby, who she names Esteban also. We see Manuela changed between these two character types throughout the entirety of the film, she goes from devoted mother to grieving mother until her “over mothering” attitude becomes useful on an actual child, where we are left to assume everything is fine.

Almodovar seems to place all his characters in a very heightened emotional role, as standard of the melodrama. They are all actresses with complex issues in society, very much like the roles played out in A Street Car Named Desire, which seems to go hand in hand with the film itself. There is a Pregnant HIV positive...

Essay - Homosexuality in All about my Mother

In Almodovar’s film, All About My Mother, the issue of homosexuality is continuously prevalent. Because the film takes place in 1999 in Spain, it can greatly be paralleled to the country’s legislation policies, as well as the public attitudes towards homosexuality at the specific time period. As the characters continue to develop, it becomes clearer for the audience to realize that the homosexual community is completely dissimilar from the rest of the Spanish society. In many elements of the film, correlations can be derived that parallel the movie to the situation in modern day Spain.
The story of the gay movement happens to be somewhat complicated, especially during the twentieth century. In 1984, the first gay liberation movement occurred in Spain, along with the AIDS epidemic. It was because of this that gays were automatically associated with having the disease, although in most cases, they usually chose to deny the claim. As the years continued into the nineties, the gay communities of Spain came together to organize a proper response to the AIDS epidemic. By 1994, the number of AIDS diagnosed people had visibly decreased, which was a remarkable improvement for the gay community. The next milestone in Spain’s homosexual history took place in 1999, the same year that All About My Mother was released. At this time, “64 percent of new AIDS cases were among intravenous drug users, and only 15.5 percent of these cases were men who had sex with men” (Maddison 1). Regardless, the stigma that gay men are infected with AIDS still exists, and therefore, the context of the film is strongly influenced by the current attitude of the Spanish people. In the film, both Lola and Sister Rosa are diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, which further emphasizes that the film takes place during the time period of the AIDS epidemic.
After the release of his film, Hollywood critics described Almodovar as a “women’s director” because of the female-identified melodrama and obvious homosexuality portrayed in All About My Mother. These themes do tend to attract an audience with a female majority. Almodovar manages to attract this audience by “connecting the visible world of nursing, theatre, and middle-class motherhood to the subterranean world of prostitution, transsexualism, heroin use, and AIDS” (Beller 1). By doing so, Almodovar successfully depicts a dramatic contradiction that can easily be paralleled to the events taking place in real Spanish urban life. All About My Mother can simply be described as an intervention in the construction of sexuality in Spanish society. The film works to explore the limits and contradictions of the passions that the world may not consider to be ‘civilized’; that is, the sexual desire for another of the same gender.
In the beginning of the film, the audience is immediately brought into an unusual sexual, yet political atmosphere. When Esteban, who is seventeen years old, asks his mother, Manuela, if she would prostitute herself for him, she replies that she has already done everything she possibly could. At this point, the presence of sexuality is somewhat apparent and the viewer can most likely see the tension that exists between the two characters (Beller 2). Not soon after, Esteban is hit by a car, and dies directly in front of Manuela. This causes Manuela to recede back into the world that she had previously been a part of, the world that she had been protecting her son from. In fact, this universe is that of sex workers, transsexuals, and prostitutes from which she had fled to find a middle-class, normal life for her son to grow up in. The movie clearly illustrates how different Manuela’s life is when her son dies, which makes it easier to understand what life was like as a homosexual in Spain. Once she begins to act in the play, A Streetcar Named Desire, Manuela reminisces about her past life, and slowly re-enters her old life with the transgenders, HIV-positive nun, and actors that she used to befriend. Together, the characters are able to overcome their individual issues and by releasing their own creativity, they can satisfy their physical and emotional desires.
To further examine the symbolism of the film, the fact that Manuela chose to hide the truth about Lola, Esteban’s transsexual father, proves the fact that homosexuality was looked down upon at this time in Spain. However, because Almodovar chose to develop his characters in such a positive light, the audience may forget the existence of such strong discrimination against homosexuals. The characters prove to have “individual lives, suffer humiliation, make the best of bad situations, and keep going to try to create life”, regardless of how the public feels towards them (Blake 1). Furthermore, the characters seem to be living in a nonjudgmental society because even though the Spanish community seems to hold nothing in store for them, they still try to make their lives as enjoyable as possible. The women and ‘wanna-be’ women bond over their yearning to live their lives with authenticity.
When All About My Mother was first released, film critics were skeptical as to what the public would have to say. Because religion is very important in Spain, specifically the Catholic religion, many would assume that the film would be rejected due to its theme of homosexuality. Surprisingly, two ministers actually went to Hollywood with Pedro Almodovar to receive his Oscar for the best foreign film in the year 2000 (“Spain’s enfant not-so-terrible” 1). Congratulatory telegrams were even sent to Almodovar from King Juan Carlos and Spain’s conservative prime minister, even though at the beginning of his career, Almodovar was viewed as “Spain’s artistic enfant” because of his sexual preference. In fact, if the film were made in the 1970s, the chance of it being accepted by the Spanish audience would be slim to none.
In the seventies, an underground movement took place in Madrid called the movida, meaning “the action”. The movement was led by Almodovar himself, and aimed to destroy the “normal” sexual and cultural civilization established by General Franco’s sternly Catholic and moralistic regime (“Spain’s enfant not-so-terrible” 1). Even today, people are still surprised by the tolerance of the Spanish people. Although General Francisco Franco’s regime ended with his death in 1975, at the time, censorship caused the nation to be extremely conservative (Jahiel 1). In other words, Franco, the leader of Spain at the time, enforced strict regulations to enforce that the country remain loyal to the Catholic religion, and therefore, disapproved of homosexuality altogether. Almodovar worked to bring homosexuality into the public eye and would openly ‘party’ to it as well. While this faction disgusted the majority of Spain, in All About My Mother, Almodovar still managed to incorporate the idea of motherhood, family, and the importance of home as experienced by the Spanish culture. It is because of this that Spaniards were able to accept the film when it was released, rather than completely disapprove of it.
Generally speaking, Almodovar does strongly incorporate the culture of Spain into his film, All About My Mother. While in some scenes, he makes it fairly obvious, such as Manuela’s trip to Madrid, in which she encounters the gathering of prostitutes, other scenes must be interpreted in order to perceive the cultural context. Almodovar purposely builds the characters in an upbeat manner so that the audience can recognize that though they may be ‘different’, they still attempt to live their lives as ordinary as they can, regardless of what the Spanish society may think.