Monday, February 29, 2016

Supplemental Post #2: Leo My Man

Oprah: "It Happppppened!! bravo Leo! standing O in my p.j's. #Oscars"; Elizabeth Banks: "Leo is a class act. Congrats. #Oscars"; Ellen Degeneres: "He did it! He really did it! @LeoDiCaprio, I love you #Oscars;" Kanye: "Finally!!! Our guy!!! We're so so happy for Leo!!!" Twitter went ballistic last night after Leo received his first Oscar for his performance in The Revenant. Bottom line, everyone was thoroughly satisfied with Leo's win at the Oscars last night, which really prompted me to think of his impact on the entertainment industry and popular culture as an image of masculinity.

Leo's kind of masculinity has to do with an overall classiness, uncompromising professionalism and committed activist mindset. Leo's classiness is readily detected by the way he carries himself, the way he delivers a speech and interact with the media. The minute he stepped on stage last night, you could tell he was confident and comfortable with receiving the top honor. His speech is carefully prepared and eloquently articulated, filled with warmth, determination and passion. It includes congratulatory notes to fellow nominees and cast and crew of The Revenant. He also manages to make a graceful segue from the theme of film, man's relation to the natural world, to a plead for attention to climate change. Nothing short of class.

His professionalism can be analyzed through his unbelievable body of work for a period of over 20 years, in which he played far-ranging and complex characters from a mentally impaired young man, Arnie (What's Eating Gilbert Grape), a poor romantic artist, Jack (Titanic), a master of deception, Frank (Catch Me If You Can) to a shrewd and addicted businessman, Jordan (The Wold of Wall Street). Throughout these years, he has consistently earned positive critical and commercial successes, proving himself to be one of the most versatile actors of his generation. On top of that, he kept challenging himself to do his most grueling and difficult shoot of his career, in his words, The Revenant. His search for excellence is restless.

Arguably, the more impressive and admirable moment about his win was his speech, which included an impassioned call-to-action on the effect of climate change, a clause Leo has provided a powerful voice for in popular culture and even in the UN, where he serves as Messenger of Peace. This is what sets him apart from other models of masculinity represented by stars in movies, TV or music (of course, we also have Emma Watson), and everyone loves him for it.

If we think of Leo as a contrast to the models of masculinity from John Wayne, Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart in the 50/60s, we could say that society has come a long way. The male hero we have today has to be a lot more versatile, classy and committed to activism (it's funny to think of John Wayne as a mega star who only excelled in the Western and Leo's versatility.) Leo may not be the toughest masculine model today, but maybe that's why he is popular. Going forward, let us not take Leo for granted, because his impact is important to our understanding of masculinity today.

Core Post #3: Masculinity, Method Acting, and the whole "Theater vs. Film" Argument

I've always been fascinated by the differences between stage actors and film actors. Very few do both well. In this week's readings, both SID and Stars note the major differences between stage and film acting: stage actors are thought to be "more talented" because of the immediateness of their performance, whereas film actors' final performances are edited in post production, leaving more room for error; stage actors tend to be more "large" in their expressions in order to convey their characters' messages, whereas film actors are more subtle and understated in their facial and body expressions.

Although contemporary stage actors quite often make the transition to film, I think it's pretty rare to see it the other way around. When Hollywood actors and actresses sign on the Broadway shows, hardcore stage junkies muffle a groan of resentment and skepticism. Daniel Radcliffe, following his Harry Potter work, did the play Equus, which actually received much critical acclaim. However, many other stars, such as Scarlett Johansson, a famed movie star, receive moderate to sub-par ratings on the big stage. The theater and the tv screen exist in such separate yet intrinsically similar worlds.

I found the bit on film editing in respect to actors' performances quite interesting. I took a film editing class last semester, and my professor told us that we should look through all of the daily clips to find the "best performance." In many ways, the editor is constructing the performance as much as an actor is giving it. There is a sense of artificiality in film that isn't present in the always-present stage acting.

Dyer's words about masculinity (with respect to Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire) and method acting were very intriguing. I've always wanted to learn more about method acting and its roots. Brando embodied an animalistic, savage male character that tossed his female counterpart around in Streetcar. Brando embodied this character, Dyer notes, not just in his words, but also in the physicalness illustrated in simple actions such as chewing or sorting through clothes. Dyer also goes on to write about how method acting is often used to tap into an actor's subconscious thoughts and emotions that may help portray more complex states of being or thoughts, such as jealousy, repression, or layered emotions. The first reading in SID talks about the fine line between authorship and actors, in that a true actor will embody the character completely without claiming or "re-writing" authorship of that character. While I think that this is somewhat true (good actors will be able to portray characters that are unlike they themselves), it is hard to completely make this distinction as every actor will naturally put themselves into a character, and typecasting will ensure that certain actors will play certain parts that are perhaps more indicative of their personas. It's all cyclical...there is no one way to break down authorship without bringing into account the actors.


Dyer dove into the topic of method acting through a historical lens beginning in the 50s and progressing into postmodern Hollywood. Stars such as Dean and Brando used method acting as a way to better perform their roles: “the performer should come to 'live' the character s/he plays as fully as possible and should base the performance on how s/he feels inside” (132). Method acting is composed of facial gestures, hand movements, and body language as a whole. As a result, interpretations of acting can differ depending on culture and time: “we cannot refer to a general and universal vocabulary of eye and walking movements, but to specific vocabularies, specific to the culture and specific within it” (135)
Moreover, different gestures communicate societal expectations of gender and gender behavior. Certain stances like placing one’s hand on their hip or crossing their legs vertically over the other are viewed as feminine in today’s American culture. However, these gestures are not inherently feminine: “no gesture is intrinsically meaningful but only culture makes it so” (134). For instance, as depicted in Mad Men, businessmen of the 1960s would cross their legs vertically, to the contrary of masculinity now. More recently, however, it is becoming more common to see men cuff their pants, which before had been a feminine style. There is an everlasting shift in cultural gender norms that range from physical to behavioral standards.
Extreme examples of method acting can be noted in Christian Bale’s David O. Russell film performances such as The Fighter and American Hustle. Bale would lose a dramatic number of lbs., sporting heroin chic cheekbones and an emaciated torso of the crack head he was playing. In American Hustle, he transformed into the pot-bellied, greasy haired (he had like one long hair) con artist. Not to mention his critically acclaimed performance that many regarded as authentic.
Method acting is thought to be a more psychological approach to performing. An actor must analyze the inner wellbeing of the character they are playing to truly execute the correct body movements: “ctors did not merely bulge their eyes, say, in terror, but created 

Core Post #3 Performance and Signifiers--Cate Blanchett

When Dyer was talking about Bette Davis in this weeks reading, it reminded me of Cate Blanchett’s recent performances. She was in three films that were released in 2015: Cinderella, Truth and Carol.  I saw Cinderella and Carol in theaters this year and have only seen a trailer for Truth. However, Blanchett exudes regalness and royalty as an actress and that carries over into her films. In both readings in SID, Articulating Stardom By Barry King and Signs of Melodrama by Christine Gledhill, they discuss typecasting and their personae influencing their image. Blanchett is regal in life and presents herself in such a way that represents poised personae. In Cinderella, this exactly what is needed for the stepmother. There are shots that present this and play with her personality. They use it for the character. It works towards the goal of how the stepmother is characterized and played—it makes her role. In Carol, I remember thinking “Blanchett can’t not be regal and eloquent.”  During a clip of Carol at the Oscars my friend said, “Cate Blanchett is always a queen.” Blanchett is continually holding herself in such a way, and doesn’t really change that poise. In Blue Jasmine, it’s the reason she’s cast as that part. And while she becomes unwound and disheveled, she’s performing as someone who is has elegance and eloquence. In all the films, she has a powerful gaze. She also has played Queen Elizabeth I twice—and won an Oscar for it.  Like Bette Davis, Blanchett has signifiers and trademarks: the way she holds her hands, her body poses, her eyes, and her voice.

Her hands—she is holding them like an elegant hand model, whether she is sitting there or has a cigarette in her hand.  The way that she poses as well as the way the camera views her. Like in both Gledhill and King’s, articles, they argue that it isn’t always the actor’s performance, but the camera or cinematic art that makes the performance. While, Blanchett poses herself in such a manner as to exude elegance and sophisticatedness, it is also the camera and lighting contributes to the feeling.  The camera captures her eyes in the way that Dyer discusses Davis’ eyes were captured and like Davis’ eyes the similarly signify duality and ambiguous emotions. Blanchett’s voice is demanding, authoritative and eloquent. It’s a Blanchett trademark. I added pictures I could find below of Cate Blanchett in Cinderella and Carol that show how she composes herself as well as how the camera captures her.

Kate McKinnon did an impression of her for the Spirit Awards. You can see some of the trademarks and signifiers and McKinnon makes fun of her:  

Supplemental Post #2 How I Broke My 8 Year Obsession with Ryan Sheckler

Confession time. My name is Greta Nell Gabriel and I used to think Ryan Sheckler and I were going to get married.  Don't worry, I've since come to my senses, but it was a long and dark road.  It all began when I saw his tattooed skater body in my "M" magazine teen rag riding home on the bus in sixth grade.  While my friends were all claiming Jonas brothers, I told them they could have the Jonas brothers as long as I got that tanned, green-eyed skater boy.  Of course when my friend responded, "Do you even know what he has tattooed on him?" and I did not know, it became my life goal to find out every single detail about him.

Cut to my sophomore year of college and seven skate competitions about 30 posters, one TV show watched 200 times over, one scrapbook of photos and clippings, and one failed attempt at learning to skateboard.  The event that brought me to the climax and conclusion of my obsession was a signing at Tilly's in Torrence.  Having waited for a few hours in line next to skater kids and teenage girls, it was my moment to shine.  I had the perfect flirty line planned out, was wearing my skater girl dress, and was prepared to bring up my academic research on The Sheckler Foundation to prove I wasn't just another crazy fan.  All my years of convincing myself that we were meant to be due to the many coincidences between us including our matching green eyes, middle names that were the same when spelled backwards (with the addition of an "a"), and the fact that his mother's name was Gretchen and mine was Greta came down to this moment.  My beating heart instantly calmed when I approached him and told him we had a lot in common.  Then when I told him I wrote a paper on the communication strategies of The Sheckler Foundation, he confirmed my thoughts and told me that I should come out and volunteer at his foundation's events! Clearly, he wanted to see me again and I knew for sure now that we were meant to be.

The next week, was drastically different. When I came home one day, my signed Ryan Sheckler poster was on the ground, face down while all my other posters were intact on the wall.  At the same moment, my friend shared an Instagram post from Ryan Sheckler of his green eyes which got my mind thinking.  Only explainable by an act of God, something inside me was telling me I needed to let go of my obsession because it was unhealthy.  As silly as it may sound, my obsession was holding me back from experiencing real love and the time I spent daydreaming and researching could have been much more productively spent.  It was time to give him up.

Growing up, I was never obsessed with the popular celebrities, but when I did become attached to someone, it took a long time to let go.  Looking back, my obsession was not healthy but it did create in me a passion for action sports that still is strong today.  I realize now that we should never let ourselves become obsessed with a person and put them on a pedestal with unrealistic expectations as was done to Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland, and now Justin Bieber.  Celebrities are human and it is not fair to them nor ourselves to seriously fantasize about them because it only sets us up for disappointment and is frankly a waste of precious time.

Marlon Brando, The "Method", and Toxic Masculinity

In his description of the "Method" outlined in his book, Stars, Richard Dyer notes that actors who use the "Method", an acting system based on interiority and emotional meaning, are often perceived as more "authentic". Referring to Marlon Brando's performance in A Streetcar Named Desire Dyer explains that the fact that the general audience oftentimes believes that a Method actor "became" a character, such performances are attributed more authenticity than others (142). The words used to describe Brando's performance, "basic", "raw and violent", "animal aggressiveness", alongside Dyer's note that the Method's tendency to favor roles that expressed "disturbance, repression, anguish", reveal a sexist bias in the discursive construct of "authenticity". This bias is further validated by Dyer's assertion that the film plays Brando's performance as "authentic" in "opposition to the falsity of Blanche" (142). The fact that both actors are utilizing the same "Method" of character construction, typified by "redundant performance signs" like Blanche's constant fretting and hand-wringing, is irrelevant (Dyer 142). Brando, though obviously using a complex system to signal character, is "real" and Leigh, precisely for her carefully constructed cracked persona, is "fake".

This bias reveals the underlying toxicity of the depiction of masculinity in Brando’s performance. As Dyer notes regarding E. Ann Kaplan’s description of Brando’s performance in On the Waterfront, because of the Method’s tendency to draw audiences into a performance, Brando’s character’s subjective ideological point of view comes to dominate the film’s meaning (125). Whatever the initial intention of the film, Brando’s character’s “hatred of the ‘false middle-class way of being’” and its articulation in his violence against female characters tilts the message of the film in a very sexist direction (125). The same could be said of Brando’s performance in Streetcar. Though Blanche is the film’s main character, the audience’s understanding of the way she fits into the film’s world, morally and psychologically, comes from Kowalski’s perception of her. This is further emphasized in the climax of the film, in which Kowalski dominates Blanche, both literally assaulting her and figuratively overpowering the mise-en-scene and dispelling any reading of the film that might be sympathetic towards her.

Both Brando’s and Leigh’s performances in A Streetcar Named Desire are focused on interiority, emotional instability, turmoil, and anguish. Though both behave erratically and are clearly unhinged, Brando’s character has the advantage of channeling his instability through outbursts of violence. His character is depicted as troubled but relatable, the film expects us to tolerate his presence. On the other hand, Blanche is depicted as hysterical and in serious need of psychological help. This biased representation of character, articulated across gendered lines, is related to the film’s central construction of Brando’s class-rooted “authenticity” in opposition to Leigh’s bourgeois “falsity”. The film’s construction of toxic masculinity as somehow more “authentic” is a brutal vision that subordinates oppositional readings more sympathetic towards Blanche’s struggle.

Supplemental Post #6: Star Sighting (Suraj Partha!), and the evolution of Starstruck with Social Media

I finally had a sighting last week! In the middle of the week, while at the Parkside dining hall of all places, I went to sit down when I saw a younger looking student leaning over one of the tables who looked exactly like Sanjay Patel from Modern Family. I didn't want to be too presumptuous, although he even sounded exactly like Sanjay, so I went to my own table and looked up the actor's name, only to find out thanks to his Twitter that the actor (Suraj Partha) is indeed a freshman at SC this year, making perfect sense for him not only to be at USC but also to be at Parkside.

An interesting takeaway from the moment was how social media has changed the way our own lives relate to that of stars. Whereas even 10 years ago someone might be tempted to go up to the person, asking if they really are who we think they are and maybe asking for an autograph, social media has brought the lives of stars into our own. With just a Google search I not only confirmed the actor but also what he was doing on campus, which in a way satiated my curiosity all by itself and stopped any impulse I might have to be starstruck or to go up and start a conversation. By allowing stars to so easily be in our lives, social media has increased their influence but possibly actually desensitized us to their presence, lessening the likelihood that we become rabid, paparrazzi-like fans every time we see someone we deem famous because we're so used to seeing them all over the internet, anyway.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Supplemental Post #3: Females, Fashion and Flashbacks

In lieu of the Oscars, movie stars (Leo’s accomplishments!!!!) and fashion trends, I stumbled upon this lovely little slideshow brought to you by Elle that shows “EVERY GOWN WORN BY (ALMOST) EVERY BEST ACTRESS OSCAR WINNER EVER” — we're talking Bette Davis in all her glory and Meryl Streep with a baby bump in 1983. 

As you all may remember, in class, we’ve recently gone over a slew of adjectives, nouns and verbs for “masculinity” and “femininity” as well as a brief overview of popular actresses through the decades, so I thought these set of photographs would be fitting. I couldn’t help but ooh and aah at all the pictures — especially the photographs from the 70’s. Bring back high collars and strange hair! Oh wait…

Core Blog Post 3: Physical Transformations as Performance

In the Stars reading for this week, Richard Dyer explores the different styles of acting popularized by film actors. Although today people are less concerned with the acting style of stars, there is still an undercurrent of fascination with the approach an actor may take when delving into a role. Dyer writes that Method acting, for example, receives such respect because “the fact that many people did and do believe that the Method performer ‘got inside the character’ or ‘became’ him/her gave such performances a mark of authenticity that made other styles seem correspondingly artificial or stilted” (142).

This distinction between an artificial performance and a genuine approach is becoming increasingly characterized by physicality. As the Oscars were on last night, I was reminded of the media fascination with stars when they undergo physical transformations for their roles. It is almost as if it requires too much in-depth knowledge about acting and performance for the typical audience member or media consumer to fully grasp the amount of effort that actors put into their roles until it can be made concrete with a visual.

When Anne Hathaway took her long hair to a buzz-cut for her role in Les Miserables, there were multiple news stories highlighting her sacrifice for her craft. To take it to the next level, Matthew McConaughey’s nearly fifty-pound weight loss for his role in Dallas Buyer’s Club was a huge topic of conversation. It seems an unlikely coincidence that both of these actors received Oscars for these performances, considering they had just prior received significant attention for their commitment to these roles. Yet, perhaps it is just a fascination with bodies that infiltrates the realm of acting in general. Chris Pratt’s transformation from the chubby buddy to the buff hero for his role in Guardians of the Galaxy initiated the skyrocketing of his star persona. There were seemingly endless stories on his transformation including details on his workout routine and diet regimen and even how his wife felt about it.

I’m not sure what the true root of the media frenzy over body changes is, but the possibility that it is in part due to a physical manifestation of an actor’s hard work seems reasonable. Most people think actors have a fairly easy job, so when they see them sacrifice for their career, it makes sense that people would have a certain amount of respect for actors they see doing so.