Thursday, 31 May 2012

Scene 16: The Cult Film and I

A couple of days ago, out of curiosity, a wish to expand my film knowledge and because I knew I'd be stuck in a car with nothing to do for an hour, I borrowed a film book from the library called Withnail and Us by Justin Smith. 

The book is about cult films and film cults in British cinema, that is it's actual subtitle, which analyses several cult films  including The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), Withnail and I (1987), The Wickerman (1973) Tommy (1975), which I hadn't realised was a cult film and  Performance (1970), which I'd never even heard of - see below for trailers of some of these. 

The book's aim is to try and  define to some degree what a 'cult film' is, and look into the practices of fans of cult films. 

The book turned out to be slightly more challenging than I first thought, because it seems to be written for people who've done film studies. Film studies of course the academic side of film and is rather different from the practical media production course I did at college. 

Nevertheless, I have so far read the introduction and the first chapter, which looks at The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and shall continue to read it, and see what it has to say in answer to the question it poses in its introduction - what is a cult film?

After doing a bit of research online for this post, I think I know what cult films are generally agreed to have in common - they are unusual films, unconventional, eccentric and consist of a mixture of genres. Sometimes  they are "so bad its good" or sometimes they include audience participation, such as The Rocky Horror Show. They have usually done badly at the box office, been panned by critics, or even banned and then grown quietly in popularity through word of mouth.  Most importantly though, cult films appeal to a small but loyal audience of fans. 

However,  Filmsite  points out that there is no hard and fast rules or checklists for cult films.
Whilst in an article from BBC News -  What makes a cult film? -  it is pointed out that films such as The Wizard of Oz and Star Wars have loyal fans that dress-up, like fans of cult films. Does this mean due to that these too are cult films? Or are they too mainstream?

Either way, I do believe that whatever makes a film cult,  happens organically. To attempt to make a cult film may seem like a simple idea - make it quirky, cheap and full of references to other films - but in reality cult films can't be planned, they just happen. Whatever makes them acquire the 'cult' status is not something a film producer can budget in. 

Anyway, check out Total Film's The 34 Greatest Cult Movies of All Time to see what cult films are out - and I'd be really interested to hear anyone else's views on this subject, and find out what films people think are cult and which are not, so please comment! 

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Scene 15: Comedy in the Community

So, I have not been writing this blog as regularly as I promised, apologises, I have been busy. I have also become a new fan of a comedy series which I have been addictively watching. That series is Community. 

Community is a comedy about a study group at a community college. The group is led by Jeff, an ex-lawyer, who starts it by accident with Abed, a young lad obsessed with films and pop-culture, whilst trying to flirt with a female student called Britta, check out the trailer below.

I first heard about it from the internet comic book artist Rogo (check out his stuff here), but I didn't take the time to watch the series, until I saw a video of Karen Gillian talking about the show and how it parodied of Doctor Who.  

I was also told once, before I'd watched Community, that it was better than The Big Bang Theory - another comedy I think is very good. Now, having watched the first and second season of Community, I'd personally say that they are quite different. Community's tone and humour is somewhat darker and crazier than Big Bang's. It isn't afraid to deal with the issues in life, but at the same time things usually turn out alright,and  there are sweet and innocent moments of fun in there as well - mostly from Abed and Troy.

One of the things that set Community apart though is that it is very meta - a word the TV show has actually taught me - which means its very self-referential. Like films about the process of filmmaking, Community draws your attention to how TV shows work, as they do it themselves. This is neatly done through Abed who likes to view live as a TV show. So for example, when it looks like the group is going to be stuck in a room searching for a pen Abed announces it must be a bottle-episode - or low budget episode as we might term it in the UK.

The show also uses lots of references, as mentioned before, and some of the best ones are when the whole episode is used for spoof, for example the episode Modern Warfare is an amazing war film/apocalypse tribute.   

So in short, if you're into comedy, film and television references, or just Chevy Chase, I suggest you check this out. 

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Scene 14: A Review of Medieval Lives

So, a couple of things, first of all this blog post is very late and I am sorry, but I have been very busy. Secondly, I have just realised that I managed to skip from post eight to ten in my scene numbering system, so technically this is post thirteen! 

Last weekend I watched the entire series of called Terry Jones' Medieval Lives hosted, obviously, by the former Python Terry Jones. 

It was an excellent series, I think, for several reasons. First of all it had a good series premises/structure, which was to take a stereotype of the medieval era, such as the Monk or the Knight, and then challenge the viewers preconceptions. Taking each role in this way gave each episode a strong focus, and at the same time meant Terry Jones could then use the lives of each character to explore the aspects of the medieval world related to them - for example when he looked at the Philosopher he also explored the general medieval attitude to science. 

Secondly, the series was played with a good balance of visual fun and actual historical information. Terry Jones' dresses as each role for the beginning introduction to each episode, and his dressed-up antics are then used as cut aways during later scenes. There are also cut aways using animated medieval pictures that move in jerky cut out movements - giving the programme a little bit Monty Python-esque feel. 

However, at the same time Terry Jones does know what he is talking about, yes there is humour in his presenting style, but he also come across as someone who knows his subject, and he is interested in it. 

On the whole I found the series a very accessible way to learn about the period. The only minor complaint being that I thought one or two of the cutaways seemed a bit quick and a bit unnecessary. 

For those of you studying media/film/tv I'd like to mention another medieval documentary, called Inside the Medieval Mind, that I have now started watching, which makes a good comparison point for Medieval Lives in terms of what each documentary is aiming at in terms of style and audience. 

Inside the Medieval Mind, though I have only seen five minutes of it so far, is obviously aimed at a more adult audience, and comes across as serious and dramatic. The cutaway footage used is tinted in darker shades, there are shots of threatening skies and shadows are used several times. Meanwhile the approach of Medieval Lives of course is one of fun, and therefore more suitable for a family. It has a light-hearted approach, without loss of information. 

In summary, a good example of a fun, family-friendly documentary that does teach you something. 

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Scene 13: A Big Audio Finish

I have noticed recently that, so far, I have been concentrating on the film industry on this blog. So, I'm going to try and include some more variety. After all this blog is meant to include film, television and audio. 

Out of those three I think radio gets most overlooked, especially radio drama. Which is why I am going to mention the excellent production company Big Finish,  who produce CDs, downloads and books, and who's new website went live a few days ago - check it out here: Big Finish

I came across them through my interest in the BBC drama/sci-fi series Doctor Who, which is included in their range. Their audio dramas are new epsidoes, or plays, and spin-offs of sci-fi series, most of which went off air some time ago, using original actors from the shows. 

Their range includes Doctor Who and its spin-offs, Blake's 7, their own version of the Sherlock Holmes stories, Highlander, Sapphire and Steel, Stargate, the recent BBC series of Robin Hood and a range of audio books. 

Their range also includes an old series that might become big again soon - the supernatural soap-opera Dark Shadows. They have been doing audio books and full cast dramas set in the Dark Shadows world a while, and now a new Dark Shadows film by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp is coming out. 

This is what I like about Big Finish, they have given several series new life and new scope, so fans have had the opportunity to listen to new adventures of finished series, with the original actors playing their original parts. They also come across as fans of the programmes themselves, and you feel that the shows are in good hands.  If you like sci-fi then I recommend you check them out!