Monday, November 05, 2012

"Other Research Activity"

Right now, I'm in the middle of my final thesis project at school.  Things are starting to shape up, but I have to admit, I am such an f'ing procrastinator when it comes to research.  I am a bad (slow) reader, and have trouble retaining things I read-- I even admitted this in my thesis proposal in so many words.  One of my favourite things to do to procrastinate/weasel my way out of reading is watch movies/video under the guise of research.  Here is a short run-down of the films/video works I've been immersing myself in lately while working towards my major project.

7 UP/21 UP, (1963/1977).  Dir: Michael Apted.  Grenada Television, UK.

     “Give me a boy at seven, and I will give you the man” is the Jesuit motto at the heart of the Up Series, the renowned documentary series that examines the lives of twelve individuals over several decades as an interrogation of the British class system.  Originally focusing on twelve seven year olds, these individuals were subsequently interviewed every seven years in an attempt to determine if it was possible for them to break out of the class divisions they were born into.  What started as an examination of social stratification in England eventually became a compelling portrait of not just twelve individuals, but of post-war cultural and society in Britain.  

     Of particular interest to me is the ethics of representation at play in 21 UP, the series’ third instalment.  In the segment devoted to Tony, an aspiring cab driver from East London, the director 
accompanies him driving through some of London’s more crime-ridden neighbourhoods.  Apted later admitted to filming such scenes intentionally because he predicted Tony would become a criminal and end up imprisoned before the next installment of the series.  Apted later acknowledged in interviews the ethical problems with making these sorts of assumptions about his subjects.

sum of the parts: what can be named (2010).  Deanna Bowen.  V-Tape, Toronto, Canada

     sum of the parts: what can be named is an oral history of Bowen’s family performed on video.  Bowen traces her family history back several generations, from the earliest history she could find of enslaved relatives in Georgia to the family’s subsequent migration to western Canada in the early 20th century.  For Bowen, the oral history serves as a record of family members who could not speak on their own behalf as well as reclamation of a history that is largely unrecorded.

     The formal strategies employed by Bowen in sum of the parts evoke ideas of “disrememberment” and what it means to exist versus to not exist.  Bowen’s physical presence and strong narrative voice contrast with the absence of family members, whose only trace of existence is embodied by their faint signatures reproduced against the video’s black backdrop.  Importantly, the centrality of Bowen within the video anchors the history in the present, and gives the video a strong emotional resonance.

Goin' Down the Road (1970).  Dir:  Donald Shebib.  Evdon Films, Toronto.

     Goin' Down the Road is a 1970 Canadian film directed by Donald Shebib and released in 1970. It chronicles the lives of two men from the Maritimes who move to Toronto in order to find a better life. It starred Doug McGrath, Paul Bradley, Jayne Eastwood and Cayle Chernin. Despite a lack of production expense, it is generally regarded as one of the best and most influential Canadian films of all time and has received considerable critical acclaim for its true-to-life performances. In 2002, readers of Playback voted it the 5th greatest Canadian film of all-time.

     The film reflected an important social phenomenon in post-war Canada as the economy of the eastern provinces stagnated and many young men sought opportunities in the fast growing economy of Ontario. Although the men in the film come from Nova Scotia, the "Newfie" as an unsophisticated manual labourer was a common stereotype starting in the early 1950s as many Atlantic Canadians moved to the cities looking for work, only to find widespread unemployment and jobs that may have seemed to have attractive salaries, but made living in large cities marginal at best. Many of Toronto's early housing developments (particularly Regent Park) were built to handle the influx of internal immigrants before they were eventually replaced by external immigrants from Africa, the Caribbean and Asia starting in the 1960s. (Wikipedia)

Delirum (1993).  Mindy Faber.

     Mindy Faber’s Delirium (1993) is a video portrait of the artist’s mother’s history of mental illness.  Like autoethnography, Faber’s video uses a portrait of her mother and their relationship as a greater exploration of a social/cultural phenomenon-- a history of women and madness and the link between domesticity and depression.

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