Sunday, December 31, 2017

The (Un)importance of Sound: The Shape of Water

Well, this is a surprise. End of 2017, I was taking a break from watching the yearly Jingle Jam and decided to look through the ol' blog to check for broken video embeds. I noticed that some things had changed in the fifteen months since I'd let the site go dormant. Namely, on the dash there is now a view-stat counter next to each post and, believe it or not, the last twenty-five entries on Rachel's Feature Presentations have over two thousand hits apiece. Whaaaat?! Turns out people have been reading this stuff all along! Well, at least since about three years ago, anyway. Still! Very cool. Cool cool cool.

Hot dang, would'ya look at that!

It’s probably just a fluke, like loads of spambots or whatevs, and even then in the grand scheme of the Internet anything less than half a mil is meh as far as popularity goes, right? But I’m stoked about it. Maybe kids from the latest generation of middle schoolers have been using my blog as a non-academic source in their bibliographies for a class they don't want to attend. Maybe a film club consisting of five middle-aged gents and their cats stumbled onto my Populaire post one day and have been using the blog as a bible ever sinceif so, sucks to be them. Maybe it’s just one weird person on the other side of the world clicking on every post over and over again to earn Bitcoin. (I'm not really 100% on how cryptocurrency is earned). Regardless! Considering I didn’t actually give permission for this blog to show up on search engines until after my original film studies course had ended (circa Jan. 2014), I'd say the traction gained since then is pretty darn impressive! Dunno how ya'll have been finding this, since Blogger doesn't have user-added SEO features apart from tags...although, yup, right there on the draft sidebar I see a 'Search Description' box. That's new. Huh. So, now that I've finished insulting both the gracious host site that is Blogger as well as every single member of my potential readership, let's catch up a little.

I don't actually know who this actress(?) is. Is it presumptuous of me to think that a young,
manicured, objectively pretty white lady who looks like she's sitting for an interview is an actress? Probably.

It seems we are experiencing a lot of firsts today. As a case in point, it's unusual for me to share stuff about myself on the Web, but given the long leave of absence I sort of feel as though I owe an explanation. I called it quits with the blog in September 2016 right as I was starting my studies at university to get an MLISi.e., a master's in lib sci—with an IT concentration. Haven't graduated quite yet, but I'm on track to earn the degree this coming May, meaning that I will be a forever-slave to federal loan debt after less than a year and a half spent in school. Yaaaay. On the bright side, I started volunteering at a local library last summer, was hired on as a part-time page in the fall, and will now be moving up the ladder as a reference librarian intern once the new year hits, so I should be able to pay off that debt in, oh, let's say forty years' time? That's nice. What else...I'm still editing on a freelance-basis, but with a full course load, the new job, and everything else life has decided to throw my way production on that front has slowed drastically. I've dabbled in website creation for an electronic publishing class and professionally, my cat is still alive and as cute as ever, I'm soon to be wed to the absolute *loveliest* person in the world (the same man with whom I have already been lucky enough to be in a relationship for nearly a decade, I might add), and...oh, what's that? I should move on to the film critiquey portion of this post? If you insist. >_>

As long-time readers of this blog will know, I dig del Toro. No, not that one, although he's great, too, a totally underrated actor, I've liked his work since The Usual Suspects, though that's hard to watch now given the recent Spacey scandal—just yuckbut anyway did you see him as DJ in the latest episode of Star Wars? So awesome. But no, this one. I've done multiple other posts pertaining to this guy (most notably this and this). So, when my father offered to take me to see del Toro's latest flick on the big screen, I grabbed my Pale Man t-shirt, a box of Whoppers, and climbed aboard the choo choo train to fantasy land. Yeah, I know it's not really a 'foreign' or 'indie' film, but I feel like writing about it anyway. Plus I legit thought it was going to be in Spanish going in, having only seen this trailer beforehand. It did sort of throw me for a loop that some of the actors I knew to be American (and therefore native English speakers) were suddenly fluent in another language, but sometimes the brain just accepts stuff as true when it really, really wants it to be. Or it simply isn't quick enough to catch onto obvious overdubbing. Aaaanywho, let's get on with it!

Rated R cuz of naked people, sexy stuff, bursts of violence, and swearyness.

This is pretty much the only film I have ever seen in the cinema and then decided to write a post about afterward, i.e., I've owned copies of/could stream the others, so I don't have any screencaps, gifs, or even decent notes. What I do have are some hastily typed one-liners in the to-do list app on my phone, things I wrote out as quickly as possible so that the screen brightness wouldn't annoy my fellow moviegoers. Then I got immersed in the magic and, after about the first fifteen minutes of the total running time, I simply stopped adding notes altogether. Professional as always, aren't I? The listed items are as follows, verbatim:
  • Alarm, voices (film), siren, bath tap, music, timer, etc.
  • Whistling along to the music
  • Blood on white marble
Not much to go on. Oh well. Let's knock these out one by one, shall we? I knew from the get-go that I wanted to discuss sound within the film, probably because it is revealed that the main character, Elisa, is mute and her inability to speak plays into the plot quite heavily. After the dream sequence-esque opening, we awaken with Elisa as her alarm clock goes off. Once she switches it off, we can hear muffled voices from what I had at first assumed was a neighboring flat but soon enough found out was actually from an early colorized film playing in the theater a floor below. Then there is a siren blaring from an ambulance as it zooms by outside; the chocolate factory is on fire, but we will not know this until she 'talks' with her neighbor in the scene which follows. Back in the present, however, Elisa is starting her day, turning on the tap in her bathroom, boiling water and winding up a timer to cook some eggs, tearing off a sheet from a daily wall calendar, opening a window to let in the city noise, and roughly shining her shoes all while non-diegetic music plays and swells in the background. The near cacophony of sounds paired with the just-too-close directorial shots makes everything move forward at an all but claustrophobic paceestablishing set dressing and character traits, sure, but also forcing the audience to understand that the motion of Elisa's day is forced like clockwork. The fact that she is often late for her job as part of old-timey Viscera Cleanup Detail speaks volumes.

After she leaves her residence, Elisa gets on the bus for work, whistling along to the still non-diegetic music as if she can hear beyond her small universe and eavesdrop on our own. She also seems just as able to drown out everything deemed unimportant to her specific story, like the national news playing on a television set as she pauses by a storefront window on her commute. This film's composer, Alexandre Desplat, has talked at length about how his music attempts to ease listeners into a blurring between fantasy and reality, a theme mirrored by The Shape of Water's story, its underwater setting (distorted sound), and the 1960s world setting with anachronistic AU highlights reminiscent of del Toro's other work Hellboy. I do not know much at all about music despite having learned to play the clarinet during fifth and sixth grade /brag, so I couldn't tell you how Desplat managed to convey the feeling of being surrounded by watermuch less equate that with the more intoxicating feeling of being accepted and loved by another—on a technical scale with notes and chords and the like. I can, however, say that the OST is immersive in every sense of the word. When it comes to sound effects and music, they do a lot to make or break a visual story. When it comes to words, though...for much of the film, Elisa feels and is often treated like an outsider due to her damaged voice box. To her, the amphibian man represents love because he does not judge her based on the words she can or cannot say, for he himself is unable to communicate with coherent sound. He is alien to the rest of the world, but Elisa never seems to fear him because he is the closest to her personal standard of normal that she has ever encountered outside of her own self. To them, the intricacies of the spoken word are obsolete if not utterly meaningless.

Whew, got a little carried away by the romance of it all. Getting back to the list (I'm no good at transitions), the 'blood on white marble' refers to an uncomfortable scene that takes place in a workplace restroom. Elisa discovers that super creep/product-of-his-time-but-no-less-a-bigoted-arsehole/big baddie Richard Strickland has been torturing poor Mr. Fishy with an electric cattle prod. He rests it on the bathroom counter for a tic as he takes a whiz, and the scarlet blood on white marble reminded me of a very specific image from Cronos, one of del Toro's earliest works. Remember this discussion about eggs? In a recent interview, Desplat spoke about Elisa being "so thin, fragile, delicate" which is why he paired her with the whistling sound noted previously. I could be reaching hereas I so often dobut there's gotta be something in this particular character's 'fragility' paired with eggs, blood, and fish scales. No? Maybe that's symbolism for a different post at some point in the future, then.

And with that, I am calling this rather haphazard exercise to an end. That's one post for 2017, anyway, so don't harp on me too much. :P I would say that it is very probable there will be more of this kind of poorly thought-out, even more poorly structured bullshit in the future, but I'm well out of practice and currently busier than a beaver. There are so many fantastic films out there, though, and I have missed rambling about them in this format, so why the heck not? Talk to you then, whenever 'then' may be. It certainly won't be regularly. Soz. In the interim, enjoy an updated blogger bio. Woo!

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Thursday, September 1, 2016

Until further notice...good-bye.

Hello readers,

It has been three whole years since this blog's inception. Now, fifty posts later, Rachel's Feature Presentations is being retired! [I will take this opportunity to admit I've always disliked that headline. Since this site was originally created for a college course, however, we students had to use our names as part of our titles so that we could identify each other more easily. Tch. I wanted to go with something much classier and alliterative, such as Long-Distance Drive-In, The Fabulous Flick Chick, or even something snappy like Genre Jaunt. Oh well.]

It was a nice, long run, but content has been dwindling down for a little while now, and real-life duties call. Along with my continued work as a freelance copyeditor, I will very soon be starting graduate school to study for an MLIS. So, for the foreseeable future, this blog is being discontinued. No worries, though: I am keeping the site up and will continue to keep an eye on things, so any & all comments are still welcome. I hope that you have all enjoyed my posts, and I would like to thank my readership for putting up with my often lengthy, usually obscure writings. :P

Anyway, who knows? Perhaps I will eventually resurrect this blog and publish once again.

Until then,


Saturday, August 20, 2016

Direction: Detectorists

"[Follows] the lives of two eccentric metal detectorists who spend their days plodding along ploughed tracks and open fields, hoping to disturb the tedium by unearthing the fortune of a lifetime." —IMDB

Detectorists was written by and stars Mackenzie Crook—yeah, that guy from The Office, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Game of Thrones. The British series was also his directorial debut and something for which he earned a BAFTA TV award (Best Situation Comedy) in 2015. Season one is currently on Netflix, and since it's a lovely show featuring some gorgeous shots, I thought that I'd do a post full of pics & gifs.

All taken from episode one. Lots of pretty, pretty establishing shots.

Andy (Crook) and Lance (Toby Jones) working the fields. So panoramic. 😍

Still from S01's cold open. The writing is brilliant, too, and though kept to a minimum, it reveals a lot about these two characters.

End pre-credits, roll title sequence.

Jump to episode two for some B-roll and more est. shots.

Low angle 'hole' shot (see trunk shot).

Cold open from E03 using a long shot before transitioning into a medium shot with rack focus. 

Close-up on a Jim'll Fix It badge. Andy tosses the...interesting...find aside upon discovery.

The new age shop belonging to Lance's ex-wife, Maggie.
Despite the fact that it is full of clutter and tat akin to Lance's own metal-detecting finds, he seems out of place.

Rival detectorists, the Antiquisearchers.
Their placement within the shot suggests that they are a gang (of nerds).
🎶 Mise-en-scène, mise-en-scene...! 

Extreme close-up establishing shots for the pub quiz scene in episode four.

At the start of E05, Andy is alone due to multiple shenanigans that took place in previous eps.
The sense of solitude is overwhelming in these shots of places where he used to hang out with his old friend.


Blending into the scenery, Lance obviously misses his best pal, too. Very atmospheric.

By the season finale our characters have come full circle.

You never know what's hiding underfoot...

The second season is rather good, as well, although I'm not one for bonus Christmas specials. Anyhow, hopefully it hits Netflix or another streaming service sometime soon. If not, I'm sure ya'll can get creative. ;-)

For more information:

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Animation Techniques: Papageno

Little over a month ago I was trawling the web—as you do—and came across the daily Google Doodle. The animation was generated in celebration of German puppeteer Lotte Reiniger's 117th birthday. Having never heard of her before and being intrigued by the doodle, I began looking into Reiniger's work as a silhouette film pioneer.

Still from Papageno.

Using stop-motion animation techniques, Reiniger was a true artist and a prolific moviemaker who made close to seventy films (both original and as advertisements) by the end of her career. She is credited with having created the first feature-length animated filmmany years before Disneyand constructing an early form of the multi-plane camera. For a much more in-depth biography as well as a timeline of Reiniger's career, I suggest visiting this site.

The original Google Doodle for June 2nd, 2016.

The magic of Reiniger's puppetry craft has influenced generations of shadow theatre enthusiasts. Her skills as a designer, model maker, and director truly set the stage for favourite fairy tale interpretations like Snow WhiteSleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Aladdin, The Frog Prince, Puss in Boots, Thumbelina, and many others. Modern-day animation artists are still drawing from her techniques, and it can be argued that this woman's legacy has touched every animated creation since her first film was aired back in the 1920s.

Behind the scenes at Google HQ.

One of Reiniger's more well-known works is Papageno—a short set to and loosely based upon Mozart's opera, "The Magic Flute." The video below covers the methods used in that particular piece, including character design, scene sequence, and storyboarding. It also gives viewers a sneak peek into how Reiniger would trace and cut her figures before punching holes into their limbs, tying them together with wire hinges, weighing them with lead, and flattening them for easier movement.

The video also looks into the creation and use of an animation table, and Reiniger herself demonstrates how stop-motion animation is completed by first going through fractional movement and then onto camera specs, figure turning, close-ups, depth perception tricks, as well as background construction, layering, and movement. She even explains how her works are set to a music track and, toward the end, how she advanced the silhouette technique to include colour. Amazing stuff.

"The Art of Lotte Reiniger" by John Isaacs & Louis Hagen.

Released in 1935, Papageno is the story of a birdcatcher who longs for female companionship, gets attacked by a giant snake, and then decides to hang himself. After being saved by his fairy-bird friends, he plays his magical bells, smooches his new lady-love, and hatches a bunch of mini-me babies. Or something. Fairy tales are strange. Anywho, many of Reiniger's other films can be found on YouTube, so if you like what you see here and want to discover more...I would suggest starting there.

Papagena rides an ostrich and has an army of flamingos.

For further information: