Coffee and Cinema:
Interview with MA Film Studies Thesis student, Jordan Parish

With host Stephanie MacDonell

Stephanie: Hey Jordan

Jordan: Hi Stephanie

Stephanie: How are you?

Jordan: I’m fine, how are you?

Stephanie: So tell me about your work, what are you working on right now?

Jordan: I’m doing my thesis on Japanese Horror films made at the turn of the 21st century. I’m looking at what’s called the “undead subject”, it deals with the undead figures in Japanese horror films. There’s this distinction between two different modes of being, two different relations to a lost object. I’m trying to incorporate that into what this undead subject is and what these different films portray the undead subject as, in figures. I’m looking at the popular J-horror movies, like Ringu, Ju-on:Grudge, films by Kiyoshi Kurosawa, he did Pulse and Cure. Lot’s of writing and rewriting, researching but it’s good. Coming out of it it’s a nice feeling, being really learned in a certain topic.

Stephanie: So I know you are taking a language course as well: Japanese. How’s that going? Are you finding connections between what you are doing in your thesis right now and studying the language?

Jordan: It’s going alright. You do notice some things within the films. There’s the move by Kurosawa, Pulse, throughout the movie he frames characters in this way that looks like a certain kanji within a box. The movie is about being unable to get out of this box, all about entrapment. So learning what the kanji means, as a symbol or a picture in a sense…

Stephanie: So what are some of the films that you are teaching in your class: 21st Century Cinematic Fantasies?

Jordan: Well those movies, the J-horror films. We are looking at 21st Century films that involve fantasy figures like a ghost or imaginary figure. For instance, in Fight Club the character Tyler Durden is a figure of the masculine ideal. These are psychoanalytic ideals of the figural representation of subjectivity. In the summer I’m teaching films in the 2010s, we are going to focus on the gaze and performance. I tried to pick films that focus on some type of performance, like Black Swan for example. Then there’s La La Land, a musical, but also about different types of performances. What else… Abbas Kiarostami’s movies…and Holy Motors. That movie is like Holy Motors, it involves some sort of relation to God and religion but then at the same time it’s about a guy who’s an actor and he’s able to perform and change his performance, he’s able to change his self.

Stephanie: What’s been your overall experience in teaching here? Like coming up with courses and teaching your own solo classes.

Jordan: It’s been great, great that OU lets you teach your own class. That’s awesome, I don’t know if you can find that in the larger schools, that make you just TA once in your whole grad career…I don’t know if they actually make you do that… but there’s a lot of opportunity for that at OU and it’s great. It gives you a lot of experience.

Stephanie: Are you plugging the school? (Laughs)

Jordan: (Laughs) Hey! Yeah!

Stephanie: So you took some Film Studies courses in your undergrad, what was your main focus in your undergrad?

Jordan: European cinema really. That’s was set me on course with psychoanalysis. My teacher started us off with Jung. So I started with Carl Jung but then I talked with people and read more and discovered he was…bullshit (laughs)…so I switched.

Stephanie: That’s funny, which psychoanalytic theorists do you work with now?

Jordan: I’ve been working with Joan Copjec or Todd McGowan.

Stephanie: Oh yeah! And you got a chance to meet Copjec last semester when she was visiting!

Jordan: Yeah, her work and what she’s talking about is really interesting with Iranian cinema. She looks at how Iranian cinema contrasts with Western cinema, the cinema that’s total exposure and then Iranian cinema that she calls a “modesty culture”. She doesn’t say one’s better than the other but digs into both and how they can be looked at together. It’s really interesting.

Stephanie: She works Kiarostami’s films, which you are teaching over the summer.

Jordan: I’m trying to, if you’ve ever seen his movies, they’re weird: half documentary, half fiction.

Stephanie: Yeah like 10 or Taste of Cherry.

Jordan: Yeah!

Stephanie: So tell me about the papers have you written, or seminar papers while you have been here?

Jordan: Hmm…I’ve written like a hundred pages on The Grudge for different classes.

Stephanie: That’s one of your thesis films too….cheater!

Jordan: Hey! No I want it on the record that I say different things in every one… (laughs)….leave me alone!

(laughs)

Stephanie: Well that’s totally going in the interview.

Jordan: I’ve written on New German Cinema, I’ve written a lot on Far From Heaven. That movie has connections to Fassbinder and he’s another director that I’m a freak about. And he has those connections to Douglas Sirk that I write about. The World was another, which is also all about performance.

Stephanie: So you’re planning on continuing psychoanalysis after you graduate and maybe enter a PhD program?

Jordan: Probably, if, well who knows, but I’d like to if possible. I also am working with Deleuze, that’s something that I’ve picked up here. I had never heard of Deleuze. Those Cinema books are just ridiculous. You can just read like two sentences and use it for an entire paper. That was my European cinemas paper on New German Cinema. I have a lot of different interests and like a lot of different films. I could just sit here and talk about old movies. I saw La La Land, I thought that was nice, not just for the musical thing but its own take on the musical I thought was nice. I’ve mostly been watching older movies on my own time (leans into the recorder) like Shock Corridor (laughs) that needs to be advertised, that movie’s ridiculous. It’s about people from the 1950s who have…this guy is a news reporter and he’s trying to do a report on a man who was murdered in an asylum, so he’s going to do this by going undercover as an inmate in an asylum and he’s going to do this without going crazy…somehow. He goes in there and he talks to the other inmates, like on who was the first black student to be in an all white integrated school and he’s gone insane from all the things that had happened to him and there’s other people who he talks to. It’s a big social commentary on 1950s culture.

I mean, if you just see these movies that Deleuze talks about in his books, they’re all awesome, even the really old ones. Like Johnny Guitar! You guys watched that one in Louis’ Settler Colonialism & Western course. That movie was ridiculous, holy shit. The scene when the two main characters get back together, it’s just…gorgeous…There’s a lot of old silent movies that are awesome. They just don’t get a lot of credit unfortunately.

Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman, 23 Commerce Quay, 1080 Brussels

by Qian Zhang

The first time I learned about Chantal Akerman was several years ago when I was living in Bloomington, Indiana. She was scheduled to visit IU Cinema (my favorite place in Bloomington) where her new film Almayer’s Folly (2011) along with her previous films, Jeanne Dielman, 23 Commerce Quay, 1080 Brussels (1975) and News From Home (1976), were planned to be screened. Without any hesitation, I got tickets for all the films. Unfortunately, Akerman could not make the visit. To be honest, I did not feel sad for her absence until I watched Jeanne Dielman, 23 Commerce Quay, 1080 Brussels, which is one of the most striking films that challenges the traditional representation of women.

Many films, particularly mainstream films, represent women through close-ups, tracking shots, and the like. Female characters are consistently captured by the camera, and female bodies are manipulated into a series of fragmented images. Women in those films are reduced to objects of images and even fetishized. Those films frequently adopt point-of-view shots in order to deliver the (usually) oversimplified thoughts of female characters. None of these techniques appears in Akerman’s film Jeanne Dielman, 23 Commerce Quay, 1080 Brussels. The film adopts a static camera and long takes toward the female protagonist Jeanne Dielman, and allows her to get in and out the screen space freely. In this way, Akerman reminds the audience of the existence of some kind of "off-screen space" that is hidden from the camera. This unusual technique creates a unique distance or gap between the audience and the main character. Besides this static camera, there are neither voice-over nor point-of-view shots. The only manner the audience can utilize to know about Jeanne Dielman is to "see" her getting on and off screen; everything else about her —what she thinks, what she loves, what she sees, what she desires, etc.—is beyond the bounds of the visual images.

The title of the film, Jeanne Dielman, 23 Commerce Quay, 1080 Brussels, is also an interesting thing to think about. It provides both the protagonist’s name and her precise geographical location. By this piece of straightforward information about a person’s “location” in a society, this title ironically imposes a paradoxical geo-sociological identity for Jeanne Dielman: it locates her at a specific place but dislocates her from the dynamic society. This echoes Akerman’s main point on the representation of the female character: seen and unseen, stable and unstable, located and dislocated. In the end of the day, she is not some object over there for the audience to know about; she is a subject for the audience to know.

This is a long (201 minutes) and rich film. It deserves the attention of any serious film lover.

BRICK: Talking Nonsense In Neo-Noir

By Julia Staben

“And he wants cash on the nail. He's a pot-skulled reef worm with more hop in his head than blood. Why pay for dirt you can't believe?” -- Brick (2005)

I have always been a dialogue person. While I feel visuals in film are the most important to the medium, there’s something that captivates me about the way people speak. In the theatre, where I started my career in the arts, entire stories were arranged through only dialogue and it became an obsession of mine. I loved musicals because they turned cadence into poetry, and then poetry into music and for the first time I felt like words were accessible even though at the time I was overwhelmed by the idea of language. This is what first got me hooked on film noir. Nothing gave me more pleasure than watching people quip back and forth in street slang. I used to walk around saying “The cats in the bag and the bag’s in the river” and other such idioms, and people would look at me as if I had lost my mind. I thought I was pretty smart.

Then I watched Brick (2005) and I was completely humiliated.

The directorial debut of Rian Johnson, who would later move on to direct The Brothers Bloom (2008), episodes of Breaking Bad (2008-2013) and most recently, episodes of BoJack Horseman (2014), Brick is a film which isn’t visually stunning, but makes up for it with atmosphere and density. That is not to say the story here is particularly complex, but if I were to describe this film in one way it would be “inaccessible.” That isn’t an insult. Johnson’s story about a high-school boy who gets tied up trying to solve the murder of his ex-girlfriend knows it’s a neo-noir and understands precisely what that entails. King pins, drugs, scandals, murder cases, melodramatic revelations, we know the schtick. However, what people remember the most about this film, myself included, is the dialogue. A bit too witty and snide for its own good, the conversations in Brick are so thick with jargon you’re going to need urban dictionary open on your laptop while you watch it. The language alienates its viewers, letting them know right from the start that if you can’t take the heat, stay out of the kitchen. And while most films would be berated for this kind of self-gratifying smugness, Brick knows that you can’t just enter its world and be expected to be accepted with open arms. You have to learn the beats, feel the flow, put on subtitles even. Just know you’re not getting any handouts.

As audience members, I feel we can get complacent sometimes, comfortable. We’ve grown accustomed to alienating visuals, disturbing imagery. Art critics tend to separate what can or should be alienating and what should be accessible. Brick isn’t my favorite film, but it’s the first film I watched that made me question what I was watching not just in a thematic way, but in a structural way. And the more you watch the film, the more you start to understand that the dialogue is not just jargon, it’s a social code. As in the books of Raymond Chandler, Brick is a celebration of American hyper-masculinity, of the grey underworld and sits beneath urbanization. And the guy we follow through those streets is the man who knows this turf better than anyone.

The guy can talk the talk, even if we have no idea what he’s talking about.

The Decadent World in The Handmaiden

By Nien-Chen Lin

Once again in The Handmaiden (2016), the world renowned auteur, Park Chan-wook, invites us to one of his most sensual cinematic worlds. Before one digs in to the film itself, it is worth noting that though the English title refers to Tamako, the maid; it’s Korean title Agasii refers to the lady, Hideko. This clever design and/or “slip of translation” foreshadows and interweaves two heroines’ emotional connections in the bizarre and cunning world they live in. Yes, it is not only about erotica as you might anticipate after viewing the trailer. As a successful commercial/cult director, Park Chan-wook certainly knows how to bring his audience into the theater. Promoted as an erotic thriller, The Handmaiden already occupied the must-see list of the public as early as 2015. For those who are familiar with Park Chan-wook and his twisted but highly aestheticized world, this upcoming film to some is being regarded as a grandiose comeback since the rather weird mixture of Korean essence and Hollywood texture Stoker in 2013.

Indeed, this delirious and violent combination has always been the trademark of Park Chan-wook’s film. From his most famous work Old Boy (2003) to Lady Vengeance (2005), and his subversion of generic vampire films in Thirst (2009), it is easy to notice the growing powers of his heroines. Yet this time Park Chan-wook gives us a triple-sided scheme weaved in a secluded mansion where a lady, a thief, and a fraud reside. With everyone’s life at stake, this heritage-pursuing scheme (based on heterosexual marriage) perfectly turns out to be a wonderland for lesbian desires. Yet again, is this utopian happy ending too good to be true? Is Park Chan-wook a feminist or an ultimate exploiter of women? In the well-known traditions of South Korean erotic films, how does The Handmaiden separate itself from the others aside from the historicized settings?

Unlike the controversies brought up by the lesbian sex scenes in Blue Is the Warmest Color (2013), the sex scenes here deliver a rather blatant yet clear message—a completeness which is lacking in heterosexuality. Raised and trained as the “reading doll” for Uncle Kouzuki and his aristocratic guests, Hideko is already sickened of the violent nature in penetration. Later when she comes to realize her affection to Tamako, this female bond actually saves the two from total destruction. In the last scene, when they finally enjoy their freedom from men, the symmetry of their sexualized bodies also imagines the completeness of lesbian sexuality.

When Form Creates Meaning: A Review of George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead

By Film M.A. Thesis Student, Stephanie MacDonell

Night of the Living Dead envisions the anxieties of 1960s United States through a B-list monster movie narrative. The film takes place in an isolated house containing a microcosm of US social relations with characters of different class, kinship, race, and gender. The characters must defend themselves from the presence of zombies while also confronting their own political and social divisions.

The narrative leads to the death of the lone survivor, Ben, an African American man, by white police officers sent for a search and rescue, and to execute the zombies. Through the figural presentation onscreen, Ben is “mistaken” by the officers for a zombie and shot dead. Upon Ben’s death, the film transitions from filmic time and space to photographs. The film ends with a found footage collage of photographs that depict the disposal of Ben’s body.

Right now I’m working with Night of the Living Dead for my thesis. I’m doing an indepth analysis of the film’s use of found footage in the ending sequence for my first chapter. The thesis is going to look at found footage in narrative film arguing that the incorporation of found footage is a political act by creating a dialectical unison of past and present in order to shock or provoke the spectator by challenging the perception of the film. I’m still at the proposal writing stage for my thesis so this is a simplification of what the final project will be and my argument will most likely go through some changes as I research. Long story short, found footage is the aspect I engage with while I watch the film.

Night of the Living Dead was made on a low budget, released as a B film, and had two successful runs as a midnight movie at the Waverly in 1971. The film’s aesthetics and form reflect the economic conditions of these. I teach this film in my Cult Cinema course and always bring up the question of how the film’s form (art and/or technology) creates meaning within the film. Basically I try to start conversations about how the low budget quality influences the viewer’s perception of the film. I don’t think it’s useful to consider how well the film was made but what the film form is doing. For me, the form creates an uncanny resemblance to the graininess and imperfections of newspaper images and footage that were proliferated during the 1960s in the U.S. I would say that the film shows the “image-ness” of the image.

Night of the Living Dead definitely falls under George A. Romero’s auteur. It was the initial film in his Zombie Trilogy that includes Dawn of the Dead (1978) and Day of the Dead (1985). He’s considered to a definitive director of the modern wave zombie, or the post-colonial zombie, in film studies. I’ve studied his films in a lot of previous classes too. His films create an allegory to US relations in terms of civil rights, war, social relations, capitalism, and biopolitics. Romero’s body of work expresses the anxieties of the generation or time when the films were made. There’s also a lot of focus and question around the body as object and body as subject. The zombie is a figure of Otherness that represents a crisis within social and economic relations. For my thesis, I’m specifically looking at this representation in terms of race and blackness within Night of the Living Dead’s found footage sequence – for instance, the way white America views bodies and police brutality. I see the incorporation of found footage as a cultural function to link Night of the Living Dead and historical events: both past and present.

Notes From The Set with MFA Student Dylan Dyer

Written by Ayesha Nizhoni

Thesis MFA student Dylan Dyer has been busy. When she's not focusing on her own work in the Ohio University film program, she's crewing on other films, gaining valuable expertise.

Ohio Film Underground spoke with Dylan about what she's learned so far, her hopes for the future, and what it takes to not look like an idiot on a film set.

1. I understand you've been fortunate enough to work on some features and shorts during your time here at OU. Please tell us the films and the nature of your roles on the various crews.

I worked on the feature films The Turn Out (Assistant Camera), Claire in Motion (Assistant Camera), and Hap and Ashley (2nd Assistant Camera) - the first two were faculty projects, while the last one was students' Vince and Kathy's thesis film. I've also worked on an untitled UCLA thesis short (Gaffer/Assistant Camera), web series Jess Archer Versus (1st Assistant Camera), and the short Salt Wounds (Assistant Camera) - those last two were by returning OU grads from Film and/or Media School.

2. Would you say that you learned more in the classroom, or on the set?

As important as classroom education is, there are tricks you can only learn from working on a film set. You pick up good tips from the ones that run smoothly, and promise not to make the same mistakes from the ones that go poorly! There are so many moving parts to a film set, so you really need that personal hands-on experience to truly understand how a shoot works.

3. After your experiences on real, working sets, what do you think about the possibility of going into film full-time after graduating from the program?

I've always intended to go into film full-time, and I think having solid experience on feature film sets will go a long way towards helping me get on professional sets after I graduate. And many of the professionals I've worked with on these shoots have kept in touch and offered me small gigs while I'm in school, so I've definitely formed some good contacts to help me get started.

4. Do you think that the fact that the program isn't in L.A. or NYC has something to do with easier accessibility to on-set film work for MFA students?

Definitely - obviously SE Ohio doesn't have the large professional film/video network that LA or NYC does, so as a filmmaker coming to this area your local hiring options are a bit slim. But we also have a reputation of being more than capable of filling that professional gap, so people don't feel the need to bring in their own crew or hire from, say Columbus or Cleveland. OU students have out-professionaled the professionals on more than one set I've been on.

5. What was the most important thing you learned during your time working on the films you've crewed?

It's hard to pick one thing as most important, but I'd say one of the biggest lessons is how important interpersonal skills are on a film set. We tend to emphasize the technical expertise that goes into filmmaking, but how well you light a scene or mic a room matters little if your crew and cast hate you. Good communication skills, the ability to forge mutual respect and trust among the cast and crew, and inspire a sense of community is critical to being a good director or department head, and gets you hired back (and promoted!) if you're on a crew. But people often get so caught up in the technical requirements of their duties that they forget it's just as important to be a good leader and team member.

6. Since you've gained more real world experience than many MFA film students, do you have any plans for your own films?

Well, I spend more time on others' films than my own (my focus is cinematography), so I tend to put most of my experience towards my work on other projects. I am planning a thesis film, however, which I describe as 'part love story, part physics essay' - we'll see how it turns out! Beyond that I have enough ideas for short films to keep me occupied for a few years, but I'd rather leave the feature films for others to write and direct, and ask them to keep me in mind for their DP, gaffer, or AC.

7. What would you tell someone considering Ohio University for film?

As I've exemplified, there are a lot of outside opportunities offered through OU and you should volunteer for as many of them as you can - being able to say you've worked on film sets beyond student shorts can really set you apart from other MFA graduates. You also have the Division of Theater and Dance, as well as the Media School, as potential resources and collaborators, which can be extremely valuable.

8. Any words of wisdom for current MFA film students?

Well, I don't know that I'd say I necessarily have words of wisdom! But if I had to sum up what I've done, I'd recommend these tips.

Act like a professional, and treat others like professionals.

Don't pretend you know what you're doing when you don't, just ask someone and learn quickly. And remember (per the Big Lewbowski): this is not 'Nam, there are rules. Please follow the rules.

Cinematic Explorations of Family Histories and Ominous Futures

On November 5, MFA Thesis students in the film program presented films completed during their previous year. These works, screened at the Athena Cinema in front of a packed house, were labors of love, time and energy displaying both technical and artistic expertise. The films, largely dramatic in tone, ranged from personal histories, to a comedically deranged girlfriend, to warnings of ominous futures. The evening offered a strong showcase of the burgeoning talents in the Ohio University film program.

The Astral Sensorium of American Honey

Written by Jordan Parrish

Andrea Arnold’s American Honey (2016) appears to present a story about a young woman drifting across the United States with a crew of young misfits selling magazines, partying, and falling in and out of love. However, Arnold’s use of cinematography, sound, and lighting turn this story into a sensorial experience on parallel with the contemporary cine-poems directed by Terrence Malick such as Tree of Life (2011) and Knight of Cups (2015). Arnold infuses American Honey with non-narrative driven shots describable as “Lubezki-an,” featuring a camera as restless and visceral as the film’s protagonist, Star (Sasha Lane). For example, Arnold presents Star’s seemingly random encounter with a grizzly bear nearly biting her head off as a comment on the violent fight that she has with her lover, Jake (Shia Lebouf), in the previous scene. The film also shows many aside shots featuring Star returning small animals such as bees and turtles to their natural homes, expressing her desire to care for small creatures i.e. children of her own as a wife and mother. The camera’s constant, unsteady movement and close proximity to the characters (Arnold rarely uses anything longer than a medium shot distance) place the spectator just as adrift in the landscape as the protagonist, presenting mid-western America as an ocean with the characters’ movements maintaining a fluidity resembling that of sea creatures.

Star travels with these characters inside of a van acting as a virtual fish tank throughout the film, expressing Arnold’s further interest in epidermic contact between enclosed interior spaces and a brutally false external one as seen in her earlier Fish Tank (2009). When Star first sees the van drive by, its loud bass attracts her to it as if a virtual heartbeat absent from the rest of the world. American Honey spends a large portion of its screen time simply depicting the crew driving in the van blasting popular music and singing along with it, each song carefully chosen to comment on the relations between the characters. However, none of the songs hold as much weight as the title track by Lady Antebellum, the most striking scene of the film occurring in a long scene featuring the characters all singing along to it. Arnold emphasizes Star’s concluding inability to sing along anymore caused by disillusionment with her place in the world, abruptly cutting the music as Star emerges from underwater in the final scene soon after. Star can no longer see anything outside of hollowness and deception, no longer hear the music from before, or experience the supposed “sweetness” of being an “American honey” any longer. In this way, she embodies her name’s meaning in the end, her mother naming her after the fact stating that everyone is born from remnants of dead stars. American Honey ultimately suggests that American ideology surrounding femininity, as seen and heard in mediums such as film and popular music, repeats a cycle of stellar death for subjects in the real world. Star’s experience of loss in this world transforms the film’s intense natural sunlight into a concluding shot of flickering fireflies; however, the film does not end on a pessimistic note. These tiny fireflies illuminate the invisibility and precariousness of night in the same way that stars do for those lost in the world’s oblivion. Rather than a descent into nothingness or a supernova exploding, American Honey presents the death of a star as the simultaneous birth of a subject.