Category Archives: representation

“A Boy’s Best Friend Is His Mother.”

Last night I watched Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho for the very first time. I’m not sure why it took me so long, I certainly don’t have ignorance to pin on. The reasons might have been plain disinterest as well as a spoiled sort of prejudice against black and white films. I don’t regret it however because the person I am today is able to take a lot more from the experience of watching Psycho than the thrill of the suspense it provides. I found myself studying and dissecting each scene’s framing, lighting, character movement, music and storytelling choices. I understand better now and agree with the sentiment that Hitchcock is indeed the Master of Suspense.

I was not aware of the movie’s plot although thanks to pop culture I knew that there would be a scene in a bathroom where a woman is violently (obviously) stabbed to death in the shower. The Simpson’s, Pee Wee Herman, That 70’s Show, Police Academy, Looney Toons: Back In Action are just a few examples that I can name off the top of my head that have parodied or referenced Psycho. It’s theme music and that scene in which Marion Crane meets her unfortunate demise being the film’s most recognised and popular elements.

PsychoSouthParkComparison

South Park Episode: City Sushi & Psycho Visual Comparison

In season 15 of the animated satire series South Park, a long established Asian character Tuong Lu Kim is discovered to be in fact a Caucasian man who suffers from Dissociative Identity Disorder. Dr Janus is a child psychiatrist who also has several alternate personas with the most dominant persona being Mr Kim, the apparent owner of the local Chinese restaurant. For years Janus has effectively convinced the people of South Park that he is indeed the Chinese “Tuong Lu Kim” by squinting his eyes and speaking in a stereotypical Chinese accent. The end of the episode visually and narratively echoes the same scene in Psycho almost entirely, even up to the point where the faces of Mr Kim and Norman Bates are overlaid with the ghostly images of Dr Janus and Mrs Bates. In both stories this is to signify to the viewer that the alternate personality has completely taken over and dominated the original persona.

Psycho (1960) Original Ending Scene

As mentioned earlier, this was my first viewing of Psycho and tried hard to keep an open mind about what will or might happen in the film. As most other human beings I often seek out to guess the plot of a mystery film before I have seen it thoroughly. But this time I followed Marion Crane’s journey all the way up to her shocking death in the first half hour of the film. Stephen King said, “People remember the first time they experienced Janet Leigh, and no remake or sequel can top that moment when the curtain is pulled back and the knife starts to do its work.” On that I agree with him wholeheartedly, Janet Leigh’s character death was as unexpected as it was abrupt. Even prior knowledge of what would happen didn’t prepare me for the experience of watching the film itself. All parts of me were imploring Marion to move and to just ‘not’ be dead even as I continued to watch Norman calmly and methodically dispose of her lifeless body. Now that the character that I’ve attached myself to as protagonist has become a victim I reverted back to my habit of over analysing and second guessing the rest of the film.

By the end of the film I was quite buzzed about all the different narrative and psychological tropes that I recognised like the abusive mother and child relationship which led to Norman developing a split personality disorder. His fear, love and hatred of his mother that led the memory of her to take up permanent residence in his psyche. I was never bought over as a child by Disney movies that seem to give the message to children that no matter how much abuse or trauma they may encounter as a child they must remain a happy and hopeful symbol in a film where only a villain is allowed to experienced an emotional hangup. People are terribly fragile, their minds even more so. And what happens to them while growing up will definitely have consequences in their future. Some will become adults who are driven to kill by some terrible urge within them and there are those who simply want to bring suffering to another. There is a theory written about the differences between a sociopath and a psychopath. The general consensus is that psychopaths are born and sociopaths are products of their environment. Parental absence or abuse being the main reason for sociopathic behaviour. When engaging in criminal activity psychopaths tend to be more calculated and careful not to implicate themselves, sociopaths on the other hand are impulsive. Their behaviour rising into an uncontrollable onset of rage with little regard for the risks or consequences of their actions.

In accordance with this theory, Norman Bates in Psycho could be assumed to be exhibiting more sociopathic behaviours rather than psychopathic but the lines between them are blurred. As an only child raised in a stifled environment by a controlling, cruel and overbearing mother his dependency and attachment to her grew to the point that when she finally decided to get married and get a life of her own he killed her and her husband in rage. Unable to deal with what he had done and her absence, he created a persona of his mother in his mind to the point that it become separate entity that could take him over for certain periods of time.

Slavoj Zizek On Norman Bate’s House

Slavoj Zizek gave a brief but interesting analysis of Psycho, he focused on how the visual representation of Norman’s subjective mind the film is presented through the three levels of his mother’s house. The ground floor being his ego; the normal, rational and earnest Norman Bates who runs the motel. Up the stairs to the first floor where his mother’s bedroom is the super ego; the judgemental and overbearing part of his mind that projects itself as the image and voice of his mother. And down into the cellar in which he carries her body from the first floor represents the id. The id is the source of our bodily needs, wants, desires, and impulses, particularly our sexual and aggressive drives. His act of keeping Mother in the cellar can be seen as a metaphor for his attempt to hide super ego into his id; attempting to use the representation of the over controlling and judgemental part of himself to control his wild, violent and impulsive nature. From what I understand from Zizek’s statement he states that the super ego and the id are tied close together and that when the super ego feels threatened (when ‘Mother’ see’s Normal becoming attracted to another woman) the id will consume and take control over Norman. He is driven to kill the threat to his super ego.

Wow, ok this is becoming a very long entry. I feel that I should point out that I’m merely summarising and reflecting about these theories and I do not know enough of criminal psychology to express myself accurately and succinctly. I have a bit of an interest in researching crime murder, criminal psychology and forensic science. I would not call it a passion as I think my interest stems from a need to understand and accept the fact that people with violent mental disturbances and homicidal tendencies exist which is what this reflection is based around.

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Space Wire (Illustrated Maps and Information Graphics)

(Online)SpaceWireGaiaInfographic03The Illustrated Map/Infographic that I designed for the ESA’s Gaia Mission scheduled to launch this month. Gaia is an orbiting satellite that will make the largest, most precise three-dimensional map of our Galaxy by surveying more than a thousand million stars. It will monitor each of its target stars about 70 times over a five-year period. It will precisely chart their positions, distances, movements, and changes in brightness. It is expected to discover hundreds of thousands of new celestial objects, such as extra-solar planets and brown dwarfs, and observe hundreds of thousands of asteroids within our own Solar System.

(Online)SpaceWireGaiaInfographicGaia Illustrated Map (First Draft)

Narrative of (500) Days Of Summer


Image Source and Copyright: Churchx

Focusing on the narration of the movie (500) Days of Summer from 2009 which is told in a non-linear narrative in other words the film events are portrayed out of chronological order.

People are drawn to a good story, and I am no different. Whether fictional or biographical, stories have and always will be a part of what has shaped my life. I think that half of what makes a story engaging is how it is told and it is my belief that what the audience perceives about a story or narrative is directly influenced by what the artist, writer or director comprehends and how they choose to present that understanding.

(500) Days of Summer is as the poster states; a story about love and not a love story. It’s the story of Tom Hansen (Joseph Gordon Levitt) who believes in true love and when Tom meets Summer Finn (Zooey Deschanel) he thinks he has found his soulmate. But while Summer likes him perfectly sincerely, she does not share the same views on love and is not looking for commitment. Ultimately, she breaks his heart and he is left baffled.

Image Copyright: Imaginaryforces

Image Source: drunkonfame

When the numbers of the days in the relationship are shown, the coloring and “mood” of the background art change to reflect the status of the relationship. Good days are brighter and bad days are darker.

The movie narrates of the chapter of time in which Summer is in Tom’s life and is told from his perspective. Their romance and subsequent breakup is revealed through a non-linear narrative segmented time fragments, jumping from different days in the past or present as we follow Tom’s memories during the high and lows of his relationship with Summer.

The non-linear narrative dismisses the atypical Freytag 5 part (dramatic arc, exposition, rising action climax and dénouement) structure of storytelling a drama and utilizes its kaleidoscopic time structure as an appropriate tool to tell Tom’s story. As human memories are seldom recalled in chronological order, especially when it concerns a failed romance and the person in question is going back over the course of the relationship and looking for those first signs of the end that they’d missed when it was happening. They start near the end, and then hop around between the times that were good and the times that left pain.

Image Source: thewhitesade.com

Another use of camerawork I was really impressed with was when Tom meets up with Summer again a few months after their breakup. A split screen is used in this sequence to show his Expectations and the Reality of what actually happened. The viewer is shown first hand the variants between reality versus Tom’s expectations as well the disappointment he is ultimately subjected to at the end of the scene. There is no dialog during the entire sequence and the subtlety was sublime and very effective in portraying how how often a person’s reality doesn’t line up with how they play things out in their mind.

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Postmodern Artist: Jeff Koons

Jeff Koons, who was born in 1955 is a controversial American modern artist from New York. He is known for his exquisitely crafted paintings and sculptures reproducing kitschy or banal objects using materials and ideas from popular culture to make his art.

One of his most controversial and personal collections is perhaps his deliberately provocative Made in Heaven series from 1990 to 1991 (1)(2). This collection features himself and his then future wife Ilona Staller (otherwise known as Cicciolina), an Italian porn star having sexual intercourse in various positions. The series itself is predominantly made up of huge explicit paintings, photographs and sculptures that leave nothing to the imagination.

One opinion of this series is how the combination of Koons’s fascination with sexuality, the readymade object, and the Baroque interest in Greek and Roman gods, suggests a pagan, pre-Christian view of physical love without shame or boundaries. (3) Unsurprisingly the original opening was criticized severely by art connoisseurs and in the press. Koons challenges the conventions of people’s artistic taste and I suppose this was his way to encourage his audience to make their own decisions about what is acceptable. My opinion on this series still falls within the range of ‘acceptable’ but each piece of art skirts deftly (no pun intended) between the lines of fine art and pornography. Yet despite the blatant sexuality and explicitness, I was surprised by the intimateness and tenderness depicted in the art work and conclusively I felt more like a voyeur intruding on a private moment than one observing works of high art- albeit outrageously subjective high art that is in turns spiritual and gaudy.

Bourgeois Bust – Jeff and Ilona from his Made In Heaven series (1990) (3)

Koons is typically described as a ‘post-modern’ artist and has openly rejected the distinction between low and high art. and his work also illustrated some of the challenges of health promotion in the early 21st century. Many of the health problems of Europe’s richer nations are directly linked to overconsumption. One example is cigarette smoking, in his work Koons transforms a fictitious brand called ‘New 100’s! Merit Ultra-Light’ into a eerie glossy advertisement.

Jeff Koons’ “New 100’s! Merit Ultra-Lights” (1)

I’m not a great admirer of Jeff Koons work but I do find his mocking and self-deprecating approach to art quite interesting. The original work that caught my eye was a large metal rabbit, eloquently titled “Rabbit” from 1986. Koons took a readymade inflatable rabbit and casted the object in stainless steel, playing on the tension between weight, material, and transcendence. It is not itself a mass-produced object, although it represents one and in principle could itself be mass-produced. He claims to be merging high and low culture, turning a bunny such as one would give to a child as a worthless, throwaway toy into a sculpture of highly polished stainless steel thereby giving monetary value and interest to an object that were it not created by Jeff Koons – a famous artist- would not have much value at all. Monetary or otherwise.

Jeff Koons’ “Rabbit” (1986) is considered an icon of Postmodernism (Image Source)