Media Studies Horror Evaluation Essay

Tuesday, 14 February 2017



Essay Film

• The polar opposite of Direct Cinema and Cinema Vérité is what is known as the essay film. Like a written essay, the essay film is about the filmmaker’s opinion on a given issue. Specifically, the filmmaker states a thesis early on, and then goes on to provide supporting evidence throughout the film.
 • All sides of an issue are not necessarily shown. If they are, it is usually designed to expose or trip up the opposing party.
• The biggest criticism of this approach is that it is not balanced. Proponents say that there is no need for "balance" because these films are, in essence, essays—the filmmaker's opinion based on the way he interprets the evidence.
• Michael Moore uses this approach in his movies. In fact, most of the successful documentary films of recent years are essay type films.

Possible models or narrative strategies:

Expository: lecturing, overtly didactic, e.g. with a personal presenter or an explanatory voice-over.

Observational: like a "fly on the wall," the camera, microphone and film crew seem not to be disturbing the scene or even to be noticed by the participants.

Participatory or interactive: the film crew takes part in the action or chain of events.

Reflexive: the film exposes and discusses its own role as a film (e.g. the ethics or conditions of filmmaking) alongside the treatment of the case or subject.

Performative: the film crew creates many of the events and situations to be filmed by their own intervention or through events carried out for the sake of the film.

Poetic: the aesthetic aspects, the qualities of the form and the sensual appeals are predominant.
From Bill Nichols' work, e.g. Introduction to Documentary (Indiana University Press, 2001).

Using the above criteria, how would you define your documentary? Say, according to Bill Nichols (2001), there are six basic types of documentary; explain them and then say where yours fits. Look at the Screenonline pages for documentary to give yourself some background:

Look at the purposes of documentary – where does yours fit? ‘It’s not so much what you get in the shooting but what you do with it afterwards’ Paul Watson doc maker

How does voice-over, selection of material, use of experts, hidden camera footage, found footage, sound selection of images, and use of editing construct a particular version of reality – and whose interests does this serve?

Why do audiences ‘trust’ documentaries? Think of the problems you’ve faced in making your documentary. Where couldn’t you film? Who couldn’t you talk to? Why? What were the restrictions placed on this project? Who is your audience? A niche audience? In what context would it be shown?

Horror films as a genre seemed to have established a set of conventional elements: the night as a setting, the overt creepiness of the antagonists, the realism in the film’s props. Such conventions further create a sense of order even in the realm of these kinds of films. Of course, not every film will follow these kinds of conventions. For instance, Youtube user Ryan Hollinger emphasizes in his video essay The Horror of Texas Chainsaw Massacre how such an original film as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre underscores its horror by ignoring, for the most part, such horror conventions. He explains that unlike most horror films, this unconventional film follows its own set of rules: the clear violence in broad daylight, the plastic feeling of the props, the subversiveness of the characters. As Hollinger explains such unconventional elements gives a sense of distinction to the film.

Moreover, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre depicted most of its on-screen violence during the daytime—it should be noted that the film had very few scenes of direct violence. Again, even in this detail, the film holds true to its unconventional ways. Hollinger explains that such scenes of daytime violence create a new paradigm. It would be difficult to imagine a director shooting a horror scene in broad daylight. For director Tobe Hooper to do so creates a different sense. In one scene, the main female protagonist runs out of the house as Leatherface chases her back inside. Here, the director shoots the scene in broad daylight. In doing so, Hooper offers an unsettling feeling: the bright scene exposes Leatherface’s body. No longer can the viewer understand him as an effaced antagonist. Rather, in revealing him, the film creates a sense of ordinariness. Such a scene suggests to the viewer that this kind of violence can happen in the daylight. The format of the video itself, as Hollinger explains his ideas, further depict these scenes. When he pauses on the shot of Leatherface grabbing the woman, the viewer can fully grasp the deliverance of using daylight. In using such scenes, Hollinger further underscores such an unconventional method of shooting.

Continuing, the film builds its realism, not in the details of the violence—gore and such. Rather, Hooper intends to further the plain and ordinary feeling of the setting. In the scenes, presented in the video, Hollinger demonstrates the art director’s choice in filling the setting with cheap, ordinary props. Such a choice further deviates from the norms. Audience members would tend to believe that in creating a world of terror, the art director would rather create a detailed gore-infused setting; the film resides in the opposite; however, the use of decomposing animals echo some of these normal conventions. These props are more rarities in the film. In showing the apparent plastic-looking bones and gore, the director, in a sense, places the viewer in a mockery of the genre itself. Only, such comedic commentary to the props quickly dissolves as the viewer meets the cannibalistic family. Here, Hollinger, rather than telling how such props appear, he showcases a variety of scenes with the props. At times, he does not speak and allows for the scenes to speak for themselves. This method allows the viewer to fully grasp the cheap aesthetic of the mise-en-scène.

Furthermore, as has been described, the film’s core centers around a sense of dread in the ordinary. This mundane feeling follows the group as they encounter the small town and its inhabitants. Although many of the townspeople act in an eccentric manner, Hooper uses them as mere props for the audience to become well adjusted to. In doing so, he hopes to expose their behavior as a direct contrast to the actual cannibalistic family that the group will eventually encounter. Once the family kidnaps the female protagonist, the family’s even more eccentric and deranged mannerisms seem quite normal compared to the townspeople. Here again, Hooper effectively reduces the viewer’s expectations on certain norms and heightens other unconventional elements of the characters. For instance, in heightening the townspeople’s ways of being, the cannibalistic family appears normal. This contrast further confuses the viewer in that one would want to isolate such grimy behavior, yet the townspeople act in a similar, if not more, chaotic manner. Adding to this, Hollinger’s presentation of scenes with close-ups of the people further emphasizes the director’s desire to confuse the viewer. The viewer here, cannot distinguish how the townspeople differ from cannibalistic family, in terms of appears that is.

It should be noted that Hollinger’s use of voice-over creates a balance in which this explanatory format guides the viewer; however, certain moments without such an element allow the viewer to examine the scene or shot without any necessary commentary. In this sense, Hollinger creates a balance so not to overwhelm the viewer with too much voice-over or too much space— just enough of both. Even then, the use of sound, specifically the dark music, further emphasizes the film’s diegesis. With it, the viewer can experience the same chaos apparent in the film.


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