Thursday, March 27, 2008

How happy is the blameless vestal's lot! The world forgetting, by the world forgot. Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!

All good things must come to an end, and unfortunately that includes the end of our Romantic Comedies unit. While I thoroughly enjoyed both films, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind presented a much deeper theme with a question that ultimately seems to end with a catch-22. And the question is, if you had the option to erase your memory about something or someone, would you do it?

Now, most of us may initially think yes before quickly realizing 'Oh, no. Memories make us who we are.' and deciding on this seemingly moral and logically correct answer. After all, those who don't remember the past and learn from it are doomed to repeat it, aren't they? Our memories define us: our morals, our beliefs and our actions. If we destroy those memories, then aren't we destroying a part of ourselves?

If I may bat for the other side now and play the Devils' Advocate, however, what about those people who have had horrible circumstances happen to them? You may scold someone who wishes to erase the memory of a person from a bad break up, claiming they will never learn from their mistakes if they continue to do this time and time again. But what are you going to tell the person who was attacked and raped? 'If you erase this memory, you'll never learn to keep your legs crossed tighter when someone's forcing them apart.'? I would hope not.

Though, once again, as I chameleon over to the con side--what if the person has bettered themselves as a result of this horrible encounter, and have for example taken up a defense class of sorts, vehemently adheres to the buddy system, and is much more cautious around strangers?

But does the removal of scarring memories mean that the aforementioned person will once again throw caution to the wind and say '!@#$ this'? Surely their friends won't leave them vulnerable because they still have the memory of what happened and will surely encourage the continuance of the beneficial behavior.

Perhaps I should wrap this up before it breaks into all-out internal warfare that could last for quite a while. As far as my personal opinion goes, I think it's a very gray area. Even the mere idea of having the technology available is sending up red flags as I imagine the various ways it could be abused--but taking that out of the calculation, if it was an option I, being nothing more than human, would probably chew my moral logic to bits, spit it out and step on it on my way towards the temptation of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

We may be Whores, but we ain't Whorses!

Not originally a big Western fan, I'd decided to bite the bullet and grit my teeth for the next couple weeks when we it was first announced we'd be delving into a seemingly irrelevant, cliche-ridden unit . Of course, now I've swallowed that bullet and eaten any misconceived notions I had about Westerns.

With that confession out of the way, let's move on to the meat of this blog post. Perhaps it's because I'm a young lady (read: not a girl, but not yet a woman) myself that I can't seem to snag my teeth into any other topic than that concerning the women--more specifically our beloved whores--in both Stagecoach and Unforgiven.

In John Ford's Stagecoach we were blessed with the surprisingly sweet and passive Dallas. Our poor, delicate blonde-haired prostitute was being run out of town, and didn't seem to be putting up much of a fight either. Ultimately, she caught the eye of our reluctant hero, Ringo, and by the end of the movie she'd risen above the dishonorable position of a prostitute to a surely soon-to-be wife. In Stagecoach Dallas, and our other main female character Mrs. Mallory, both played rather passive roles not doing much to push the story forward other than to serve as some motivation for our ruggedly handsome hero(es). Every good Western hero needs a DID (Damsel In Distress), right? Our spicy, Unforgiven whores beg to differ.

In stark contrast to the quiet, reserved Dallas we have the indignant leader of Skinny's whore-house; Strawberry Alice. Alice and her followers don't push--they forcefully shove the plot-line of Unforgiven into motion. Not content to just sit around and let unjust things happen to her or her brothel-mates, Alice is defiant, fiery, strong and powerful for a woman in her position. As Strawberry Alice would say "Just because we let them ride us like horses don't mean we have to let them treat us like horses," and she does her best to live by those words standing up for whatever dignity she and her coworkers are trying to preserve.

Interestingly, despite the stronger role Strawberry Alice is granted, at times I feel she goes overboard--namely when she pairs Davy with Quick Mike as far as the cutting of Delilah's face goes. There are times I wanted to smack some sense into her and point out that Davy shouldn't have simply been guilty by association. My heart went out to him when he was being pelted after going above and beyond to try and show his remorse and make up for what happened Delilah. Similarly, just as how I find Alice's man-hater ways a pesky annoyance I was similarly bothered by what a passive, weak character Dallas was. However, despite both character's flaws, they both brought a different, yet necessary flavor to their respective movies, Strawberry Alice full of zest and spice and Dallas satisfying our sweet tooth.

P.S. I think my favorite female character between the two movies was Claudia.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

I've had so many names. Old names that only the wind and the trees can pronounce.

In Pan's Labyrinth Guillermo del Toro manages to create a beautifully intricate, yet intensely violent fairy tale set in Spain, 1944 during the Spanish Civil War. Throughout the course of the film, the fantasy and reality worlds mingle until it is difficult to draw the line between what indeed is fact and when it crosses over into fiction. Del Toro's film is abounding with alluring scenery and lighting, elaborate costume designs, a score ominous enough to keep me tingling and awake long enough to write this blog, and an absolutely stunning and convincing cast. Originally tempted to delve into the wonders of Doug Jones and his magnificent portrayal of both the Faun and The Pale Man (as well as how he passed the time in those five hours it took to get into each costume), as well the fascinating puppeteering and CGI work that went into creating the plethora of magical creatures and items peppered throughout the movie my attention was unexpectedly captured by something--rather someone--else, and that is the director (and screen writer) Guillermo del Toro himself.

In all fairness, Pan's Labyrinth is the only one of del Toro's films that I have actually watched and though I now feel obliged to enlighten myself with more of his undoubtedly beautiful works, at this present moment I am not properly equipped to compare Pan's Labyrinth with any of his other films including Cronos, Mimic, Hellboy, and Pan's sister-film The Devil's Backbone. Instead, what captivated me about Guillermo del Toro was his blaring passion and involvement with this film.

Perhaps the most notable fact about Guillermo del Toro is his 20-year-old notebook that he takes with him everywhere and even lost during the production of Pan's Labyrinth. Within it are all his doodles, scribbles, ideas, drawings, and plots and it is the inspiration for all of his films, and with its disappearance he became immensely distraught. However, in what Del Toro describes as a magical act, the cabbie who's taxi he had left his sketchbook in returned it to him two days later and Del Toro literally emptied his wallet giving the man everything he had which totaled up to about $1,000.

When listening to the director's cut for Pan's Labyrinth, it doesn't take long to realize the passion he has for film making and storytelling. He pays meticulous attention to all the details, such as his request to have the camera almost constantly in motion to give the film a drifting, unstable feeling. He gives very precise, accurate direction for what he expects his crew to do and will expect no less--and certainly does not let it go unnoticed when someone goes above and beyond his expectations.

Another admirable thing about Del Toro is that he knows what he wants in his films and will not let anyone deter him or tell him otherwise. In Spain, actor Sergi López who was to portray the the most vile and unlikable character, Captain Vidal, was known for his melodramatic, comedic acting. Similarly cast against her norm was Maribel Verdú, often portraying a steamy sexpot, now played the ever so solemn and silently rebellious Mercedes in the not-so-sexy story of Pan's Labyrinth. When informed by another man that he was making a horrible mistake and miscasting these characters Del Toro calmly informed him that it wasn't that he didn't know, but simply that he didn't care.

Throughout the director's cut, Guillermo del Toro seemed very pleased and proud of the significant yet subtle color palettes used throughout the film. He used faded blues to portray the real world, a green gel filter to emphasize the nature aspect (namely the moss) in the Faun's lair, and a warm golden palette to portray the wonder and magic of Ofelia's fantasy world. If you pay attention throughout the film, you will see these palettes contrasting each other rather sharply at certain points in the film. Another aspect of Pan's Labyrinth that del Toro seemed to take evident pride in was the wipe effect utilized throughout the film. Oftentimes the characters would disappear behind a tree or other structure that would momentarily obscure the entire screen, before revealing a new shot or scene altogether. Del Toro described this wipe transition as having the effect of turning the pages of a story.

Clearly, Guillermo del Toro invested a lot into Pan's Labyrinth. Not only did he use $100,000 of his own money (later splitting the cost halfway with a friend also working on the film) to get the early production started, in the end he gave up not only his producer's cut of the film, but also his director's cut. In a similar act of devotion to his film, he also spent an extra month after the movie's production subtitling the film himself. He felt the subtitles for his last film were extremely bad, meant for the unintelligent and he did not wish for the viewers to feel as if they were watching a subtitled movie. It is due to del Toro's sacrifices, passion, amazing insight and imagination, knack for storytelling as well as his devotion to his work that made Pan's Labyrinth the absolutely fantastical film we now know and love.

Surprises lurk inside 'Pan's Labyrinth'

Del Toro: Drawn to the Dark Side

Audio Commentary on DVD by director Guillermo del Toro