Thursday, September 5, 2019

Key conventions comprising works of writer and director christopher nolan

Key conventions comprising works of writer and director christopher nolan Chapter 1 Introduction I think audiences get too comfortable and familiar in todays movies. They believe everything theyre hearing and seeing. I like to shake that up. (The Auteurs, 2010) Christopher Nolan made his feature debut with Following in 1998 but it was the cult classic Memento, released in the autumn of 2000, which lead to his breakthrough in Hollywood. Despite only a handful of subsequent box office successes later, Nolan had soon established himself as both a blockbuster writer and director of the highest calibre. With Nolan rapidly constructing a key signature of his work that chronology would take a back seat to character with an identifiable undertone of film noir, is Christopher Nolan an auteur of the 21st century or merely a product from the likes of David Lynch and David Fincher? Consequently, this assignment will aim to answer this very question and will make a judgement on whether Christopher Nolan is in fact an auteur. In order to make a final judgement the dissertation will pursue the following procedure: Chapter three will aim to define what characteristics constitute an auteur, and will thus provide an informative analysis of the cinematic theory so that a context for the discussion can be established. This dissertation will benefit largely from the combination of both Alexandre Austrucs relatively elementary definition of auteurism as well as Andrew Sarris and John Caughies more modern, in-depth interpretation of the film theory. Employing approximately 50 years worth of academic analysis in regards to auteurism, a precise and thorough definition of an auteur will be produced, essential when drawing an accurate conclusion. Similarly, Chapter four will provide a brief summary of both the history of film noir and the neo-noir motion picture, informing the reader through an analysis and development of the genres codes and conventions. Joan Copjecs publication explores the origins of this classic period of Hollywood cinema and offers a perspective upon the films themselves, viewed in light of contemporary social and political concerns, and from new theoretical insights. She also analyses the re-emergence of noir cinema in recent years and how neo-noir remains a popular choice for the big film studios. Another publication which has been hugely beneficial during my research is that of Dr Frank Krutnik. Krutniks book combines both theoretical and historical research through the examination of individual films through a generic framework. In a lonely street is an extremely valuable text as it is especially successful in combining both historical research and textual analysis. It is important to note that Chapt er three and four of this dissertation are effectively the foundations before producing a smooth transition into the rise and success of writer and director Christopher Nolan. The vast bulk of the evidence gathered will be contained between Chapters five, six and seven. Chapter five will observe a number of Nolans cinematic trademarks, beginning with non-linear narratives. The International Society for the Study of Narrative states that narrative is the telling of a story or communication of a chain of events, fictive or real. Aspects of narrative include how the story is told, the context in which it is presented, and the construction of the story (Narrative, 2010). Therefore, in order to achieve an in-depth deconstruction of the non-linear narratives of Nolans first two motion pictures, Following and Memento, the aid of a narratological theory will be required whilst an analysis of all aspects of narrative must also be attributed. One narrative theory which has been specifically chosen is that of Tzvetan Todorov. Lacey (2000) argues that one name has become synonymous with that of Narratology over the years, Todorov, who simplified the concept of narrative while allowing a more complex interpretation of film texts with his theory of Equilibrium an d Disequilibrium. First proposed by Russian Formalists, there should be two individual narratological traditions: thematic and modal. According to research by Professor Meir Steinberg (Narrative, 2010) the former is largely limited to a semiotic formalization of the sequences of action told, while the latter examines the manner of their telling, stressing the importance of voice, point of view, transformation of the chronological order, rhythm and frequency. Numerous academics however, have insisted that thematic and modal Narratology should not be investigated separately as they both undoubtedly benefit one another especially when investigating the function and interest of narrative sequence and plot. Therefore, one must ensure that both a modal and thematic stance has been incorporated into the investigation of each text. The study will then progress on to observe the role of the morally dubious protagonist, a feature which dominates the majority of Nolans texts. For this purpose, Memento, The Prestige and Batman Begins have all been chosen for evaluation. This chapter will also undertake a vigorous breakdown of recognisable mise en scene traits and themes which will be identified throughout the volume of Christopher Nolans films. It will be this section of the study that will ensure a balanced debate as we look at the impact of other members within the production process such as Wally Pfister, a cinematographer, who Nolan has hired for all but one of his feature films. We also consider the influence of Chris brother, Jonathan, who has helped co-write several texts. The introduction to the conclusion, if you will, will help summarise and determine the significant influence the noir conventions that have been stated throughout this discussion have had on the development and originality of certain Nolan films. The dissertation will then conclude that despite the fact that Christopher Nolan, like many of his predecessors, has inherited a vast wealth of cinematic codes and conventions, his body of work, all be it relatively small, provides a unique stamp thus establishing Nolan as an auteur alongside the likes of Scorsese and Spielberg. Methodology. (3 pages) The following Firstly the information collected for this dissertation will be purely qualitative rather than quantitative as it focuses upon film theory through the form of textual analysis. The Secondary research will specifically involve the consultation of academic textbooks on the dissertation topic. This will be essential in developing prior knowledge on the subject and will allow discussion in order to reach the overall aim. The opinions of film academics and authors will be utilised in order to validate or oppose various issues raised within the dissertation. By using published or peer reviewed sources it increases the reliability of the information referenced and in turn the dissertation. The dissertation will also consist of narrative analysis of moving image. Stokes states that narrative analysis involves very close reading and is best conducted on a limited number of texts (2003, p. 69) which is why the dissertation particularly examines and deconstructs the works of a sole director and writer. However, there may also be a negative effect of investigating the work of one artist as Stoke (2003) claims there can become a danger of bias by steering away from a critical approach if you admire the work of the particular auteur. She states that one must go through a process of developing a critical distance and a way of watching which is detached and dispassionate. Therefore in order to ensure that the investigations results are as reliable as can be, one must aspire to analyse with complete objectivity. Whether or not this is entirely possible is another matter. Stokes (2003) also offers seven steps in order to conduct narrative analysis effectively. These guidelines will be extremely useful when deconstructing the narratives of Following, Memento and Batman Begins. Chapter 3 The Auteur Theory. More than a theory. In 1954 film critic and film director FranÃÆ'ois Truffaut coined the term auteurism, a concept which would later provoke much controversy and debate within the world of cinema. The politique des auteurs, later referred to as the auteur theory, originated in 1950s France as an abstract aesthetic rooted in the works of prestigious film journal cahiers du cinema. The fundamental works of this cinematic movement were Alexandre Austrucs Un camera stylo and Francois Truffauts Une certain tendance du cinema FranÃÆ'ais. Both of these concepts promoted the idea that as the author of a motion picture, the truly great directors must have a distinct visual style and identifiable themes which ingrain all of their work. (REFERENCE) Alexandre Astruc in his celebrated essay The Birth of the new avant-garde: the camera-stylo, announced that: The cinema is quite simply becoming a means of expression, just as all the other arts have been before it . . . After having been successively a fairground attraction, an amusement analogous to boulevard theatre, or the means of preserving the images of an era, it is gradually becoming a language. By language, I mean a form in which and by which an artist can express his thoughts, however abstract they may be, or translate his obsessions exactly as he does in the contemporary essay or novel (cited by Corrigan and River, 1999, p.159). Caughie (1988) states that as a term, Austrucs camera-stylo (camera pen) failed to take root, however the insistence on film as an individual self-expression, had a considerable polemical importance, forming the basis of Franca Truffauts cinema dauteurs. Traditionally, the reference to the auteur in French film criticism was associated with either the author who wrote the script, or, in the more general sense of the term, the artist who created the text. Before too long the latter sense came to replace the former and the title auteur was attributed to the artist whose personality had been written in the film. Inspired by the critics of cahiers du cinema, US film academic Andrew Sarris demanded a more detailed definition of the term la politique des auteurs and would later transform the notion of an auteur into an acclaimed cinematic theory. The auteur theory was never, in itself, a theory of the cinema, though its originators did not claim that it was. The writers of Cashiers du Cinema always spoke of la politique des auteurs. The translation of this into the auteur theory appears to be the responsibility of Andrew Sarris (Caughie, 1988, p.24). In his Notes on the Auteur Theory in 1962, Sarris proposed three key traits in order to identify an auteur; the first being the technical competence of a director as a criterion of value. The second; the distinguishable personality of the director. Over a group of films, a director must exhibit certain recurring characteristics of style, which serve as his signature. The third premise refers to a more mystic interior meaning: Interior meaning is extrapolated from the tension between a directors personality and his material. This conception of interior meaning comes close to what Astruc defines as mise-en- scene, but not quite. It is not quite the vision of the world a director projects nor quite his attitude to life. It is ambiguous, in any literary sense, because part of it is imbedded in the stuff of cinema and cannot be rendered in non-cinematic terms. (Cited by Pearson, 1997) It is fairly evident when scrutinising the words of Andrew Sarris, that there are in fact numerous weaknesses in regards to his academic approach towards the auteur theory. The first two traits are fairly self explanatory, as he claims that a director mustnt simply be a master of his craft but that he must also present a style which is clearly distinguishable as his own. The weakness in Sarris approach however, lies in his third and final point, as he produces a vague description of what he defines as interior meaning. This definition is simply too unclear making it near impossible for other film academics to evaluate and measure an auteurs interior meaning. This point is indisputable as Sarris himself claims that his third principle is in fact ambiguous (Cited by Pearson, 1997) to say the least. Once Andrew Sarris had developed the notion of the auteur theory, he began to break the boundaries set when analysing auteurism in cinema. He took note of films within Hollywood and the commercial system where a large number of directors whose work, displayed a consistency of under-lying themes and a style which Caughie believes was unusual as it was difficult for a director to express personality and uniqueness within the industries constraints: In fact, the struggle between the desire for self-expression and the constraints of the industry could produce a tension in the films of the commercial cinema which was lacking in the art cinema, encouraging the auteurist critics to valorise Hollywood cinema above all else, finding there a treasure-trove of buried personalities, and, in the process, scandalizing established criticism. Uniqueness of personality, brash individuality, persistence of obsession and originality were given an evaluative power above that of stylistic smoothness or social seriousness (Caughie, 1988, p.10). Despite the director as author approach becoming increasingly popular in the 1960s, its weaknesses soon became apparent as it wasnt long until the notion of auteurism had been extended to include both producers and actors. The auteur theory had now developed to the extent where it would only accept rigorous analysis of films as oppose to unclear references to themes and style; With its emphasis on the importance of systematically analysing a body of texts, auteur-structuralism conceives of the author as a set of structures identifiable within a directors films. (Crofts, 1998, p. 315) Film critics would therefore now attempt to deconstruct the common themes and style of a given director rather than simply producing a vague interpretation. Caughie (1988) states that a weakness of the auteur theory lays in the fact that it requires a means in which to measure value. Sarris suggests films become valuable in so far as they reveal directorial personality. He therefore does precisely what s hould not be done: he uses individuality as a test for cultural value (Caughie, 1988, p.27). After utilising a number of interpretations in regards to the auteur theory, a single definition must be produced in order to validate the conclusion drawn at the end of this investigation. The definition which has been selected is that of John Caughies as it is both simplistic yet precise. Caughie, is his text Theories of Authorship, stipulates that an auteur is purely a valued member of the production team whose personality can be traced in a thematic and/or stylistic consistency over all (or almost all) of his/her films (Caughie, 1988). It is therefore fair to suggest that a personality, arguably a synonym for auteur, simply refers to a number of unique codes and conventions which have been persistently drawn upon for a large percentage of his or her (in this instance, a directors) work. Chapter 4 A History of Film Noir and its progression into the Neo Noir motion picture. More than a genre Paris, summer 1946. This moment marks an incredibly important event in cinema history, not for production but for exhibition. For this was the summer when, after the hiatus of the Second World War, French critics were again given the opportunity to view films from Hollywood. The films they saw prompted the naming and theorisation of a new phenomenon: film noir (Copjec, 1993). Silver (2004) simply defines classic film noir as one of the most influential movements in cinema history. This definition seems rather basic, however, despite five decades of attempted classification and debate its categorisation still remains problematic as it is marked by what Krutnik (1991) coined as a division between opposing camps of theorists and historians. Perhaps it is easier to suggest what characteristics constitute film noir rather than attempting to identify it wholly as genre or a period of history. Silver and Ursini (1998) in their book Film Noir Reader claim that the boundaries of this classic period stretch from John Hustons The Maltese Falcon (1941) to Orson Welles Touch of Evil (1958) and emerged from crime fiction in the United States during the Depression. The iconic visual style of film noir set in the 40s usually tends to be low key lighting with use of dark, dramatic shadowy patterns. This style is particularly noticeable in Carol Reeds The Third Man. In an analysis of the visual approach of Kiss Me Deadly, critic Alain Silver (1995, p.222) describes how cinematographic choices emphasize the storys themes and mood. In one scene, the characters, seen through a confusion of angular shapes, thus appear caught in a tangible vortex or enclosed in a trap. Copjec claims that this new form of cinema that emerged in 1940s America reflected the anxieties of a country entering a new era, an era perhaps dark and ominous. Film noir had therefore become the antithesis of Hollywoods glamour productions of the 30s. Literally meaning black film, film noir was first introduced by the French critic Nino Frank in 1946 as he noticed how dark and often black the settings and themes of these Hollywood films were (Wolfgang, 2003). Unlike other forms of cinema, film noir has no elements that it can truly indentify as its own. Rather, film noir makes use of elements from other forms, most notably from the crime and detective genres, but often overlapping into thrillers, horror, and even science fiction (Copjec, 1993). The primary moods of classic film noir are melancholy, alienation, bleakness, disillusionment, disenchantment, pessimism, ambiguity, moral corruption, evil, guilt and paranoia (Wolfgang, 2003). Whereas much work has been published on classic film noirs, produced between 1940 and 1958, little criticism has been written about the newer films, produced between 1966 and 2010, defined as the neo-noir motion picture. For some there has been a tendency amongst film critics to exclusively use the term noir for the classic films of the 30s, 40s and 50s. Although in recent years, there has been an increasing flexibility in regards to the classification of noir, especially as far as a chronological broadening is concerned. Some film academics believe that the genre has expanded from pre-World War Two cinema to the modern day phenomenon of the Neo-noir motion picture. This therefore suggests that the label film noir now has over sixty years of film history behind it. The term Neo-Noir was first coined by Todd Erickson in the 1990s in his widely credited essay Kill Me Again: Movement becomes a Genre where he claimed that neo noir only became a genre in the 80s, when it emerged from its embryonic state in the sixties and seventies (Silver and Ursini, 1998). He also discusses the emergence of noir motifs in films subsequent to the canonical period and suggests studying them as a new genre. Contemporary film noir is a new genre of film. As such, it must carry the distinction of another name; a name that is cognizant of its rich noir heritage, yet one that distinguishes its influences and motivations from those of the bygone era (Silver and Ursini, 1998, p.321) Erickson expanded on his definition stating that Neo Noir encompasses films released after the classic period which fulfil central aspects of the genre but take other different generic approaches (Lee Horsley, Crime and Culture). These central aspects of iconography, to which Erickson refers, a re: The visual style, in terms of cinematography with the use of symbolic lighting on certain characters to portray a particular characteristic. Academic David Watt (2002) highlights these codes and conventions within a framework of David Finchers Fight Club. Watt argues that Fincher has accomplished a particular style of lighting through the relationship between the central characters. In various scenes, Jack is in the foreground of the shot lit in high key with Tyler in the background hidden by shadows, thus representing that Tyler is hiding something from Jack (Watt, 2002). Another piece of iconography within the narrative structure is the common use of flashbacks in film noir where the protagonist will narrate their own story. Watt states that Fight Club fulfils this narrative device and plays on it through creating a flashback from another flashback, setting the film further back and expanding on the convention (Watt, 2002). The third and final key element of film noir is the i nclusion of certain Character types who the audience recognise as a recurrent motif of the genre. For example, perhaps the most identifiable character type in film noir is that of the anti hero, a convention that will be discussed in greater detail later in this study. Watt proclaims in his dissection of Finchers Neo Noir Blockbuster that the anti hero: Poses as the central character but does not follow the rules of society in the diegesis and contrasts heavily to the typical high concept hero. Fight Club immediately introduces the audience to the anti hero through a typical film noir convention of the introductory close up. Fincher has taken this convention to its extreme though and begins the film from literally inside the protagonists brain and then spirals out, disorientating the audience as they are forced to identify with this nameless character. Jack acts as the anti hero but his traits of the character type are expanded and again, took to their ultimate extreme. He does not trust anyone and is a loner, so much so that his name is never clearly identified and he is only recognised as Jack through the narrative voice over of I am Jacks wasted life (2002). The similarities between both the protagonist in Fight Club and Christopher Nolans Memento will be hugely evident when we analyse Nolans use of the anti-hero in his own Neo Noir epic. If we return briefly to the genre itself, many of the Neo-Noir films, especially of those created in the 70s and 80s, including for example Chinatown released in 1974, are what Lacey (2001) considers as pastiches that knowingly, and fondly, recreate the style of earlier noir cinema albeit in colour and with a modern sensibility. These films express a retro and nostalgic avoidance of contemporary experience with the intention of escaping from contemporary issues (cited by Wolfgang, 2003) Horsley (2002) corroborates this statement by arguing that in recent years one question is frequently raised in critical debate, pondering whether the fashionable trappings of neo-noir are themselves symptomatic of commercial postmodern nostalgia. He moves onto suggest that the sense that noir created in the 70s and 80s was a retro and nostalgic avoidance of contemporary experience has been encouraged by the often-cited essay, Postmodernism and Consumer Society, in which Frederic Jameson assigns to fi lm noir a central role in the vocabulary of commercialized postmodernism. However, Lacey (2001) claims that there are also numerous Neo Noir motion pictures which push the genre forward and avoid pastiche. One director whose films arguably fit this mould is Christopher Nolan, a writer and director whose work has instigated this very investigation. Leaving aside for the moment the matter of nostalgic pastiche it could be argued that Neo noir is not so much a genre of film but rather an identifiable visual style which has been adopted by a large number of contemporary film makers. As an aesthetic and ideological set of principles, the traditional conventions of noir are very visible in the works of modern auteurs: David Lynch, Michael Mann and David Fincher. However, there is still an obvious difference between both Film Noir and Neo noir as they each have their own underlying social and political context which undoubtedly affects a films perspective. As stated earlier, Film noir is very much a response to post war disillusionment and can be categorised into certain distinct phases, Neo noir on the other hand is far more difficult to isolate as the genre itself continues to evolve. Despite the 60s and 70s providing some telling illustrations of Neo noir, it was not until the early 80s that the genre gained widespread acceptance and credibility. This could arguably be down to the success of Ridley Scotts Blade Runner which would later be followed by other influential directors David Lynch (Blue Velvet, Mulholland Drive) and David Fincher (Seven, Fight Club). As Lee Horsley suggests: The contemporary refashioning of noir themes is a manifestation of the flexibility and responsiveness to social change that have characterised noir from its inception and of the continued vitality of the form. The transformations of the genre in neo-noir have helped to clarify some of the constant, recognisable elements of the noir vision, most importantly the moral ambivalence of the protagonist and his (or in neo-noir often her) ill-fated relationship with a wider society that itself is guilty of corruption and criminality. (Horsley, 2002) One director whose body of work notably contains recognisable elements of the noir vision is that of Christopher Nolan. Thanks to his unique, stylised, time-bending reformation of film noir conventions, Christopher Nolan has established himself as a creator of psychologically demanding films that defy categorization. When Nolan spoke to journalist Chris Roberts in October 2000 he was asked Have you always loved film noir?: Very much. Im a big fan, but interested in making those materials live for this time, this place. To create something new, whilst not abandoning the things I love about the genre. Which include the intrigue you can get out of that triangular relationship between three main characters. Who does what to whom is the driving force of both the narrative and the psychology. You judge them on their actions, rather than a lot of back-story and conversation. I just think it would be a marvellous thing for film-makers to have some of the narrative freedom that novelists have had for hundreds well, thousands of years. In other media, its always been accepted that you dont have to tell stories chronologically. In films, you have the flashback concept, but Stanley Kubrick and Nicolas Roeg were pioneering and pushing other boundaries in the Seventies, and it seems criminal to me not to keep using the freedoms they hard-earned. You should always be a little ahead of your time. I dont mean in a me dicinal, here-take-this-its- good-for-you way, but keeping people on their toes is a fun thing to do. Citizen Kane pushed things forward ambitiously, but in a real, instinctive, not gimmicky sense. And some of the aggressive, avant-garde devices Godard patented are accepted mainstream tricks now (Roberts, 2000). This insightful interview helps display some of Nolans key influences and motivations and yet the man himself remains in many respects an enigma. Before discussing the key conventions which comprise his work, lets begin with the man himself. Chapter 5 The Rise of Christopher Nolan More than a director Christopher Jonathan James Nolan was born in London on the 30th July 1970 as a child of a British Father and American Mother. Nolans introduction to film production began as early as seven when he began making war movies with his older brother using his fathers super 8mm camera and an assortment of male action figures. His passion for films increased with age whilst he is said to have been influenced to produce short science fiction films in the same vein of George Lucas space saga, Star Wars. After spending his childhood years residing in Chicago, Nolan returned to England to attend boarding school at Haileybury College, he then progressed to University College London where he studied literature. While an undergraduate, Nolan shot the surreal shorts Tarantella and Doodlebug with young actor and friend Jeremy Theobold starring in the lead for both films. Theobold would also take up the role in Nolans first feature film, Following, a no-budget black-and-white movie produced in London over a one year period. This ultra-low budget indie received wide acclaim receiving numerous awards such as the prestigious Rotterdam International Film Festivals Tiger Award and the Slamdance Black White Award. Despite Nolans success within Europe, it wasnt until he wrote and directed Memento (2000), a cult classic revenge story with its unique narrative structure, which held him up on the global stage. Hailed by critics, Nolans reputation almost changed overnight leading to him becoming a highly sought after talent. Returning in 2002 with Insomnia, a remake of Erik Skjoldbjaergs 1997 film of the same name, he proved he could direct some of the worlds top actors such as Al Pacino and Robin Williams. It was in 2005 however, with a reimagined take on a long-defunct film franchise, Batman, that propelled Nolan to the upper tier of Hollywood directors. His dark, brooding take on the avenging crusader was much more aligned with its original intention than any other subsequent incarnation. (Screenrush, 2010) With more recent box office successes, The Prestige (2006) and The Dark Knight (2008), Nolan has undoubtedly secured his reputation as a one of the top directors and writers working in Hollyw ood today. Now we know the man behind the lens, lets start dissecting the key conventions which comprise his work. We begin with Nolans use of the non-linear narrative. Chapter 6 Narrative More than a story. When Christopher Nolan released Memento in the autumn of 2000, few suspected the impact it would have on cinema goers worldwide and its significance not only on neo-noir as a genre, but also its effect on how audiences and critics perceive narrative within film. As a fragmented, non-linear narrative structure, Memento is a text which has received broad investigation in recent years. Its true meaning however, if in fact there is one, remains very much an enigma even a decade after its initial release. Nevertheless, the use of a non-linear narrative is nothing new, as stated earlier, as it has often been used in the past by noir directors to slowly reveal relationships among characters and circle the story back to a key precipitating event. What makes Memento special however is that its non-linear narrative structure puts the audience into the shoes of the protagonist. Through this device the viewers become detectives themselves. For the most part the audience struggle as much as Leonard does, creating a coherent narrative out of all the evidence they witness. Nolan gives the film noir genres tendency to confound the viewers expectations a conceptual twist by linking the flow of the narrative to the condition of the protagonist. (Wolfgang, 200 3) Memento would not be the first film Nolan would experiment with narrative structure as his first feature film, Following, applied this tool by using visual clues to aid the viewer in re-ordering the story chronology. This device would be something Nolan would return to in Memento, using the scratches on Leonards face as a marker-point for the time-line, rather than indicating the passing of day or night (Mottram, 2002, p.78). Christopher Nolan gives an insight into his trail of thought during the production process: When I had written the script, which seemed to work on the page, the feeling was if youre going to use this unconventional structure, such as the three time-lines in the Following, then my impulse at script stage was to teach the reader the structure, to do it very quickly with small scenes,

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