Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Only a Tick-Tock Away: the use of clocks in Neighbours

Clock props are useful development devices for particularly pressing plotlines in soap operas. They orient temporal awareness and signify danger, but just how striking is their symbolism?

Last week on Neighbours UK there was a radical real-time episode focusing on Detective Mark Brennan’s untimely yet ‘timed’ departure as he fled from police force harassment into the arms of a witness protection scheme. There was a race against the clock impetus to the episode as ex-girlfriend-cum-girlfriend and guardian, Kate, had to first decide and then persuade her unimpressed little sister, Sophie, to join Brennan with her in time for his on the dot car pick-up. Although each scene will have taken significantly longer to produce, each minute of acting we see on the screen works out as the same minute of storyline which the characters are experiencing. The Tension was assembled via the use of darkness (Ramsey Street is usually eternally light); rain (which was actually real and unplanned in the filming but Ramsey Street is usually eternally sunny); unnecessary but realistic routine hiccups such as Lou fussing over dessert choices, Jade losing her shampoo and Sophie slipping in a puddle; ticking clocks galore and the convincing acting of anguished emotions – particularly by Ashleigh Brewer, who plays Kate. She misses the drive away deadline by seconds, before discernibly displaying her onslaught of distress at her inopportune loss. In the following episode, Kate’s grief and frustration is acted with subtlety and impressive believability. Brennan tended to be both banal and anal as a character (although apparently popular eye candy with female viewers), yet this didn’t seem to matter by the time we are sucked into Kate’s agony over his absence.

Kate finally says she loves Brennan but to her little sister, not to him.

Kate and Brennan screenshots: split tensions, ‘fade-in’ dreams (see what I did there?)

Yesterday, clocks and watches (the watch - a delectable Diesel one, in fact) were used again for Lucas’s storyline involving his Dad’s death and his reluctant anxiety around whether to attend the funeral of the parent he says referred to him as someone who has ‘always stuffed up’. It is revealed to the audience through a conversation Paul has with Lucas that the funeral is at one o’clock. There is then a pre-funeral garage montage with Lucas doing things which car mechanics do*, perhaps mechanically (like clockwork?), to a sultry sound track, tense eyebrow lowers and cuts to the garage clock as time ticks by. There is even a split scene tri-screen of: the wall clock, Lucas’s funeral suit and Lucas looking vexed. Yet the episode wasn’t in real-time, minute by minute, because we see sporadic shots of the big hand of the clock beat through morning and early afternoon. Also, conversely, the clock shots don’t work to invoke the pressure of a lack of available time in the given situation. Lucas has time to get to the funeral parlour; the question is whether he wants to and what it might mean to him if he does or if he doesn’t.

I've an eye for a retro, square faced watch (evidently - to the point where I can be bothered to screenshot it)

In this sense, the clock signifies a less immediate kind of tension - the long term trauma and effects of being inadequately parented. Each time Lucas looks at the clock and, actor, Scott Major, conveys plausible torment and convincing depths of indecisiveness through watery eyes, our attention is drawn to the concept of time passing, of how it manifests itself, of imminent mortality and of how to use the time we have to the best of our abilities and sensibilities. Yes, it’s deep stuff for a daytime drama, but then you can never take the opera out of soap opera.

Time for Lucas to smarten up?

Whilst the real-time Neighbours episode was niftily executed and presented, the utilisation of clocks was more necessary than it was nuanced. In this more recent episode, the clocks seem to work to symbolise a character’s misspent life span. Lucas is damaged goods, really.** Unlike Kate, and since buddy Brennan disappeared without warning, he doesn’t seem to have anyone to whom he can turn. In this episode, the clocks, along with Paul’s mention of Lucas’s unrequitedly estranged ex, Elle, have re-anchored the viewer’s attention on this factor. The clock prop points to Lucas's past and present experiences and decisions, but, in its doing so, we are inadvertently forced to consider how his future may pan out in following episodes. I’ll keep watch.***

*it looks quite fun. Time to give up my day job and re-train??
**which is why he’s more interesting than Brennan
***but not the Diesel one.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Camping in Hathersage

There was a little bit of most things at their English bestest when camping in Derbyshire this weekend. Being of mixed Celtic/European descent and not really into gang mentality I'm not patriotic. However, there're elements of the English countryside, culture and cuisine for which I have a soft spot. This little getaway tended to involve them. Hathersage is a multifarious little place! We went by car - there is also a train station - to the North Lees campsite, which was in a picturesque little spot, although offered a disproportionately large number of midgies and required lights to be out by ten. It's just up the road from North Lees Hall, an Elizabethan tower house, which inspired Charlotte Bronte's Thornfield Hall in Jane Eyre. Hike higher into the hills and stumble upon (but hopefully not over) Stanage Edge which is popular with climbers, Robin Hood and film directors (see Pride and Prejudice motion picture, 2005 - the Keira Knightley one), wild flowers, long haired sheep, ferns, crooked tree trunks, paving stones, purple heather and, errr, lizards. In the town there's a heated lido (which sometimes hosts nobbly knees contests), people driving vintage cars (a Lotus but didn't get the rest), a gastro pub and cream tea houses galore.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

French Gothic

It struck me whilst on a holiday escape to the rural Lot area of France that it is comparable to the literary notion of the Southern (American) Gothic. Like the American South, France has a vastness of space and a comparative lack of people to occupy it. In addition, people in France tend to sleep in the middle of the day and keep their shutters closed at all times to shut out the heat or cold. When wandering around the landscape, it is easy to come across nobody for miles. Much of the local vista around Montgesty - where I was staying - is unused and untamed and similarly as to parts of the American South, there are withered corn fields and worn out wooden barns. Correspondingly, there are also a large number of small churches, suggesting a high degree of devotional activity - the counterposition between 'communal', collective, conservative conformity and alienation from everyday empathy. It seems that the themes of Southern Gothic fit the landscape of 'French Gothic,' many of which are the labels attached to this post: isolation, terror/fear, a lack of the familiar, the puritanical perspective and the struggle between the rational and the irrational psyches. To me, the best way of thinking about the gothic is to consider the relationship between absense and presence - whether it be the waves of European religious architecture since the 12th century which focus upon arches, expansive ceilings and flying buttresses; or the literature of Edgar Allan Poe and Bram Stoker which consider the horror of supernatural entities; or the more Modern notions of the terror of living in an industrialised yet disparate dream turned nightmare - there is always a fear of what is absent and of how that absence may be filled. The dark holes of the cathedral's arches, the castle's dungeon or the mad professor's attic laboratory or the stretches of land and disused garages and barns on which people relied before they moved to the cities or suburbs - they all carry the emptiness of the unknown. Potentially, there are both beasts and secrets lurking within their spaces. We fill them ourselves with our imaginations.

I took these photos with the Southern Gothic in mind; in particular the title sequences to True Blood. I decided to strip them of colour so I could dress them with shades of grey. They depict a France whose charm is not in being chic but in being bleak.

The final pictures of chateaus, clowns and church windows are not so Southern Gothic but more traditional European Gothic or Horror Gothic. I'm having a Gothicfest.

French Charming

What things are French charming or chic? Are they opposite or similar to things which are what we might consider as French Gothic? Is French Charming the back-handed compliment of French Gothic? Either way, French charming things are not very English and that is really quite nice. Charming things are things like grapes growing from the side of a barn, swarms of sunflowers with their backs to a chateau, duck egg blue wooden shutters, unnecessary door carvings and frilly iron balconies on blocks of flats, Rococo and Gothic side by side, market stands with a dozen types of olive, zigzags of vine rows, overgrown footpaths and lime green mossy walls, a cross on every countryside corner, abandoned wood piles, dome abodes for pigeons, lone vintage mopeds, triumphant arches, wicker chair pavement clusters, little boats - and lots and lots of pots flowing with fluorescent flowers.