Sound and vision: Test Shots for shadow puppet show

This short video contains three separate shots, which I edited together as an experiment to learn what my next steps will be with regard to making a filmed shadow puppet show.

I cut the bottom off a cardboard box and painted the inside of it black. I placed it on a box in front of my computer screen, so that my screen could be viewed through it. I opened an image of a silhouetted tree with white background and took a 10 second shot. For the second shot, I took the lens cap of the camera and moved it in front of the cardboard box to see whether the movement could be picked up and looked suitably silhouetted. For the third shot, I opened a moving image file, my short film Adaptations, and played it. The sound in this test video is the sound captured by the camera, a Canon 60D.

In the first shot, it’s hard to know there is a cardboard box surrounding the screen. The screen has a textured look to it, which I like. The first shot immediately cuts to the second shot, which makes it look like a continuous shot, which I also like and discovered inadvertently – the camera didn’t move at all between shots, although there is slight camera wobble when I press the on button, so I need to be aware of this when shooting. The third shot of the short film: the short film starts with a black screen and then cuts to a white matte before the title of the film appears, letter by letter, accompanied by Justine Smith’s fabulous flute playing. Again, the screen seems textured – there are tiny squares on the screen. Whilst the screen is completely white, which is a dirty white, which seems perfect for the aesthetic of a shadow puppet show, the sides of the cardboard box can be seen at the sides of the screen. This gives another sense of texture and depth, which I also like.  There are dark marks on the screen – this is black paint: I was impatient to experiment so placed the box against the screen before the paint was fully dry. When the short film cuts to a shot of newspaper on pavement, the light fades at the sides and the cardboard can no longer be seen.

I like the idea of using a white screen. Cardboard is too flimsy – I had to prop it up and it fell over several times; this is not acceptable for filming the actual puppet show, so I need some plywood instead or some other harder material. This doesn’t appear to relate to the filming of the shadow puppet show but I like that the camera picked up today’s weather and the short film weather sound effects – they matched one another: screaming wind.

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Sound and vision: truth and lies

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A few weeks ago, I watched a film called An Ideal Husband, directed by Oliver Parker, which is based on an Oscar Wilde play – it was very funny with lots of facetiousness and puns. The film, which is set in the nineteenth century shows a woman with very high ideals and a husband who did something shady to change his station in life before he met her. That shady happening is about to surface; his wife doesn’t know about it. He is given an ultimatum by a blackmailer: use his power in parliament to push voting in a particular way or the misdemeanour will be exposed and he’ll be socially and politically ruined. There are lots of twists and turns, with mounting tension: the audience is privy to more information than the characters have – we get to know each character’s intentions and when a character misinterprets another character’s intentions it feels uncomfortable. One of the themes is about lies. The main protagonist, played by Cate Blanchett, has a high ideal for truth telling, until she admits she told a lie. There is immense relief in her admittance: she can’t live up to the ideal she’s tried to rigidly live by. She also recognises that she’d put her husband on a pedestal and he couldn’t live up to her image of him.

I connected with the film’s message about the pain caused by rigid ideals. I had associated lying with ‘bad’ and truth with ‘good’ but it’s not as black and white as that. I think most people, if not everyone, lies. Some people lie with phrases that are shorthand for something else; some people lie to protect others from painful truths; there must be myriad reasons for lying. It doesn’t make lying ‘bad’, a childish view; it is more complicated than that.

Sound and vision: Punch and Judy aesthetics

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I took these photos yesterday afternoon. They’re of the Punch and Judy theatre at Brighton Museum. I like the dark textures of the photos. I’m thinking of projecting them and using them as a backdrop for the live action of my Punch and Judy film; if that doesn’t work, I could use the green screen for the live action and bring the backdrop textures into the film in post-production. I also measured the theatre so that I can get an idea of dimensions for the display I’m going to build for the second year show.

I presented my ideas yesterday in the Sound and Vision seminar by projecting my blog and showing the thought process I’ve been going through so far. Apocalypse Now! has particularly fed into my idea and we talked about me using Punch to show my own experience of my father’s inability to resume ‘normal’ family transactions after tours of duty in Northern Ireland. Lots of artists dealing with soldiers and conflict were named and I have further research to do, as well as piecing together a shooting script.

Sound and vision: The Tragical Comedy of Mr Punch by Paul Badger and Michael Dixon

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The video shows a pared down version of Punch and Judy. There is little dialogue (thankfully, we don’t have to listen to much of Punch’s tiresome squawk) and some great sound effects. The lighting is dark, which adds to the tension. When Punch kills, he throws the body off stage and the scene cuts to what looks like a 16mm film shot of glove puppets laying in the gutter of a road.

This is the closest video I’ve found to what I’d like to do, which is to take the scene from Punch and Judy where Punch kills the baby and write a screenplay that works with the subtleties of his psychopathic nature. I’d like to shoot it in the Moving Image room, using stark lighting from the 16mm projector, which will cast shadows onto the white screen.

The scene opens with the camera focused on Punch, who is alone and staring into space – his psychosis is very present in him. A door slams. Slowly, Punch’s demeanour changes and he shouts, “Judy!” He’s demanding, not requesting, her presence. She arrives on camera and he makes a huge fuss of her with compliments and physical affection. Then she asks him to look after the baby; he bristles and agrees. Cut to a shot of the shadows of Punch and Judy. She hands him the baby and exits screen right. He tells the baby it’s pretty. The baby cries. He asks it why it’s crying… this is as far as I got today.

I spoke to Matt, Moving Image technician, about the idea of building a Punch and Judy theatre in which the screen, showing the film on a continuous loop, is housed. The theatre is inside a box that contains surround sound speakers and a bench. Matt suggested I go to Brighton Museum, where there is a Punch and Judy theatre so I can get an idea of dimensions. He suggested it might be nice to make the space spectators sit in quite small – the claustrophobic feel will reflect the feel of the film. I’m thinking of decorating the Punch and Judy theatre with dead glove puppets and blood splatters.

Punch and Judy is seen as subversive and changes with the times to reflect them. For example, in a video commissioned by the V&A, there were two babies instead of one and they looked like our current government ‘leaders’. However, this doesn’t address the violence in the show that is directed towards the wife and child and this is what I want my film to highlight.

Sound and vision: dead Nazis crucify Ronald MacDonald while Ku Klux Klan watch art

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I took these photos at the Jake and Dinos Chapman ‘Come and See’ show at the Serpentine Sackler Gallery. I like the irreverent humour in their sculptures and the reference to everyone who looks at their art as a Ku Klux Klan hippy.

Sound and vision: a story within a story: Wael Shawky’s Al Araba Al Madfuna II (2013)

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This is a photo I took at the Serpentine Gallery showing of Wael Shawky’s Al Araba Al Madfuna II. I like the lighting and the choice of using black and white, rather than colour. There were two stories in this film and I like this idea also. The idea of two stories also occurs in Apocalypse Now!, where Martin Sheen’s character cannot tell Marlon Brando’s character’s story without telling his own, and in The Comical Tragedy or Tragical Comedy of Mr Punch, where a man’s reminiscence allows the story of Punch and Judy to unfold. I’m going to allow my film to reflect the story of Punch and Judy and my father’s story will be reflected in Punch.

Sound and vision: Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean’s romance with Mr Punch

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I liked how the traditional seaside puppet play was weaved into a story about childhood and reminiscence in The Comical Tragedy or Tragical Comedy of Mr Punch by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean. The graphic novel seems to collage drawings and photographs, blurring reality and creating a dreamlike feel. There is, sometimes, an air of melancholy for an unrecoverable past and this is punctuated by remembered events that involve a favourite ice lolly, no longer available. As the past is relived, however, the confusion of innocence is highlighted; adults behave inconsistently and make insensible remarks. The book shows childhood as a, sometimes, frightening time.

Mr Punch shows up at various points of the story in short bursts, as if his violent nature cannot be borne for long; that he manages to kill several characters and not be punished is a strange message for a children’s seaside entertainment show, given our cultural behaviour around crime and punishment. On the other hand perhaps it’s not so strange; not all crime is punished, especially crime sanctioned by government – for example, killing people is a crime unless you’re a member of the armed forces and have been ordered to kill people labelled as “the enemy”.

Mr Punch manages to kill everyone who opposes him, including The Devil, and this is where the play ends. In Gaiman and McKean’s version, Mr Punch says, “Hooray! Hooray! The Devil is dead! Now everybody is free to do whatever they wish!” Is Mr Punch a hero or a villain? The statement reflects a truthful reality: people are not all good or all bad (if we are even good and bad at all – surely, these are concepts made up for moral purposes?).

I like the idea of using a story within a story and the dark aesthetic in Gaiman and McKean’s book works well. It feels layered in its presentation as well as in its storytelling: the photographs and drawings create a sense of texture that is often disturbing. It would be interesting to put sounds to this story.