Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Royal vs. Business in The Queen

In Stephen Frears' The Queen, we primarily focus on the death of Princess Diana and the subsequent week in which the newly elected Prime Minister Tony Blair must keep the peace while the Royal Family, headed by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, attempts to seclude themselves from the public. The family's plan doesn't go so well, as the public demands a response regarding the death of the "People's Princess." It's a story of the traditional vs. the modern and how even the most powerful woman doesn't always get her way.

The film's aesthetics are fascinating and certainly highlight the traditional aspects of the Queen and the rest of the Royal Family, as well as the modern aspects of the Prime Minister, his staff and his own family. One of the elements that really enhances these aspects aesthetically is the costumes.

For the traditional side, the costumes are very elegant and anciently glamorous. For the women, washed out colors are the name of the game. They wear all sorts of well styled attire that screams a sense of fashion but also a sense of class. For the men, things are quite similar. Their suits are slightly colorful. They certainly want to seem professional but without losing the signature "Royal Family" style, which could probably be defined as showcasing clothes stolen from the 1800's JCPenney Catalog.

This clothing style for both men and women tends to stay the same throughout the film except for the final scene in which the Queen dons a black dress while "mourning" over Diana. The choice to keep all of their clothing fairly similar and traditional not only brings out their since of period piece fashion, but also their morals and beliefs. There are many instances in the film where the Royal Family go with their traditional instinct over adapting to the new modern approaches suggested by Tony Blair. Like their costumes, they want to stick to tradition and do things the way their ancestors did and continue to do things that way.

Team Blair on the other hand thinks otherwise. Their attire at least echoes the 20th Century and seems much more accurate with the 1997 setting. While most of the central modernist characters are always wearing business clothes, the point still gets across that these guys are forward thinking. Every suit looks like it was just taken off the rack at your local mall and the colors looks pretty basic. While it ain't as elegant as the Royal Family's wardrobe, it's sweet and simple.

This kind of clothing tells us that these guys are trying to think in the now as opposed to the past. They want to understand the public and connect with them not only on a political level but also a personal level. The scene where Blair wears a Football jersey is a perfect example of the "average every-day dad" persona Blair wants to get across to the British citizens. This approach starkly contrasts the traditional mask worn by the Royal Family and explains why the public has a much easier time siding with Team Blair as opposed to Team Elizabeth. Without the brilliant decisions made in costuming for The Queen, much of the subtle character development for both the Royal Family characters and the Blair-related characters would have been lost.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

STRIKING: a short look at the lighting of Lars Von Trier's Dogville

After the excruciating yet brilliant credits finished rolling, many thoughts were swirling through my head regarding Lars Von Trier's genius depiction of small-town depression-era American culture, otherwise known as Dogville.

After Grace, a rich, city-girl runaway, comes across a town with a population of around 20 men, women, and children, she attempts to settle in, make friends and prove her worth. Things seem to be going swell at first as she finds work, acquires a home and begins to become one of the "citizens of Dogville." However, Dogville bares its teeth and Grace attempts to flee, only to be returned and punished. Her punishment? Calling up the mobsters who she ran away from in the first place and letting them know where she ended up. In return, the town is punished, but not as gracefully as Grace. With the help of her powerful father, she decides to burn down the town and kill all the citizens. The end.

Outside of the film's fantastic story, it also boasts many interesting choices regarding the film's aesthetics. It was tough to choose one element to focus on but out of everything, the film's bold, powerful lighting stuck out to me. Through lighting, Trier is able to convey both physical light sources as well as emotional aspects for certain characters, sets and moments.
First, the sources. Throughout the film, Trier puts his soundstage setting to fantastic use by using lights to establish setting. Walls of white light trap the town to simulate daytime. Blueish-gray lights stream down from the sky to act as moonlight. The only physical lights we get are street lamps or candles, but they aren't used too often.
One of the most interesting light sources is used in the scene where Grace opens Mr. McKay's blocked-off window. It is one of the only instances where we get a light source that doesn't feel artificial or part of the cookie-cutter world Trier has created. This is used to create a feeling of remembrance for Mr. McKay in which times were better and he could actually see what lies in front of him. There are many instances in the film where light is used to enhance or bring out some sort of emotion. Leading right into my next point...

The emotions. By far one of the best examples of the use of emotions through lighting has gotta be the final scene in which "some light is shed on Dogville." This is an incredible moment where the lighting is used to bring out the harshness and cruelness that Dogville was to Grace. There are many other moments throughout the film where lighting is used to highlight a character's feeling.

Both the sources and the emotions are brought out in the film. They are both used as tools to further enhance the space as well as the characters. In terms of an aesthetic, the film certainly couldn't do without the lighting. Especially for a film like Dogville, which needs abstract elements such as lights not only to enhance emotions, but also to dictate where we are and give us a stronger sense of space. To put it simply, the lighting in this movie is awesome.