Mash Ferris!

Here's a couple Ferris Bueller Mash-ups for you.

The first one, "Requiem For a Day Off," has a lot of good moments in it. Too many, in fact. It's really just a nearly endless stream of amusingly re-contextualized bits. They're funny, but no real story line comes of it. Hey, Benji, that's why they call it editing. All in all, it's pretty entertaining stuff, though.

The second, "The Fugitive's Day Off," wins points for execution, but it's basically just the fruit of one good idea. Well, worth watching, nonetheless.


Damn you, American Teen!

Yesterday was commencement: not only did I finish everything in time to graduate, but "Barry Manilow's Wardrobe" won me the "Paul Smith Prize" for this year's distinguished Master's thesis (woohoo!). So, now I'm thinking about "what next?" Publish?

If that's the current plan of action, then I'll probably end up turning the epilogue into a full-length chapter, and then writing a proper epilogue. I wrote about this movie before, but after watching the new trailer, and seeing the poster (which, if you happen to have wandered onto this website from a virtual knitting circle, you may not have realized is a mock-up of The Breakfast Club), I'm thinking that it will give me more than a little reason to write some more.

It brings me back to one of the essential (though largely unaddressed) questions of the thesis: which came first, the social stratification in high schools, or the social stratification in high schools as depicted in The Breakfast Club?

Oh, btw Nanette, it's the jock, the geek, the rebel, the princess and the criminal.


Damn Skippy!

Well, here it is. Finally.

I'm just about to print this thing out and have it bound. You can download the PDF here, if you like that sort of thing.


Full Draft


Sorry no updates recently. I've been working hard, or something like that.

Click here to download a PDF of the almost-final draft.

Click here to download the same as a Word file.


John Hughes Piece on NPR

I found out about this interesting NPR piece by way of one of my favorite procrastination engines, Metafilter. (Here's the original post on MeFi.) Proving, once again, that the influence of John Hughes is damn near perpetual, if not always pleasant.



This is the second vignette in the thesis, meant to act as a bridge between Chapter 3 (which ends with a discussion of teen suicide) and the Epilogue (which will deal with more contemporary high school films). I'm not entirely satisfied with it; there's something awkward about the flow. I'm also not sure that the whole vignette thing will end up working out, but the general idea for this was to use a contemporary teen film - Gus Van Sant's Elephant - to connect old and new, in particular to point out the odd fact that Hollywood was virtually obsessed with films that dealt with teen suicide at the end of the 80s, but has so far completely avoided the topic of school shootings (which are at least as commonplace as suicide was twenty years ago).

Anyway, here it is...
Director Gus Van Sant confonts several controversial issues in his 2003 film Elephant. Family dysfunction, bulimia, teen pregnancy, homosexual repression and school bullying each work their way into the eighty-one-minute plot, but all of these issues are merely ballast for the film’s true thrust: to depict an incidence of school violence on the level of the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado. Loosely patterned on the infamous killing spree of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, Elephant is one of very few films to address the epidemic of school shootings to recently plague schools in the United States.

Like many of Gus Van Sant’s less commercial ventures, Elephant’s approach to narrative is hardly straightforward. It consists of several short vignettes that follow the daily activities of individual students at an unnamed high school in the American northwest. The vignettes are divided by title screens which simply state the name of the character (or characters) about to be seen. These sections move backward and forward in time, often overlapping one another, but because of the long take tracking shots used, they sometimes create curious continuity problems. Intertwined with these stories are the film’s two primary subjects – Alex and Eric – the perpetrators of the violent attack that ends the film.

Cinematically, Elephant is widely known to have been inspired by the 1989 Alan Clarke film of the same name. Clarke’s Elephant is a dramatization of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland, consisting of several sequences – quite similar to one another in narrative content, and cinematic structure – in which unsuspecting victims are gunned down by uncannily resolute assassins. In each sequence the camera follows a subject, or subjects, on a dolly shot as they pursue, and then kill, their targets. Clarke follows his subjects from a respectful distance mostly as they walk away from the camera, but sometimes accompanying them side-by-side. These tracking shots – which are generally not long takes, at least in proportion to the other shots in the film – alternate with static images of the victims, lying motionless after they have been shot repeatedly and killed. With no music or non-diegetic sound, very little dialogue, and only the subtlest structural variations from one sequence to the next, Clarke’s film has a rather harrowing effect on the viewer.

Van Sant’s film borrows the tracking shots from Clarke’s minimalist visual style for a very different overall effect. His shots are often extremely long takes, filmed almost exclusively from behind the characters. While Clarke’s film is filled with menace, Van Sant’s is somehow dreamlike, lulling the viewer into a nearly passive state. The fact that the camera follows behind each subject allows the viewer to identify with them in the same way one connects with a character in a video game. In fact, this perspective is almost indistinguishable from a certain genre of violent video games – often called “first person shooters” – and is a rather loaded reference to one of the cultural artifacts frequently blamed for the prevalence of violence among young people. Along with the occasional addition of slow motion and the introduction of random non-diegetic sounds – like bird calls, the sounds of dripping water, unintelligible speech, all with significant amounts of reverb and echo, no less – the cumulative effect of these aesthetic choices is the vaguely surreal atmosphere that pervades the film.

The overall impact of Elephant is difficult to describe. It is too nebulous to be a straight dramatization, and the lack of substantial character interaction makes it hard to pin down what is being expressed. While there are clear signs that the two shooters are victims of bullying, and may be struggling under the tension of repressed homosexual identities, the film doesn’t make a clear enough connection to point to any definite “cause” for the violence. What’s more, practically all of the characters in the film suffer from some sort of dysfunction – as previously mentioned – but they don’t uniformly seek out solutions in violent behavior. A CBS News report covering the 2005 massacre at Red Lake High School in Minnesota alleges that Jeffrey Weise, the shooter responsible for killing seven classmates before committing suicide, watched Elelphant shortly before the attack. However, it is difficult to imagine that the film could be solely responsible for inciting copycat violence, considering the unusual way in which it depicts the events. Comparatively speaking, Zero Day – also released in 1993 and, to my knowledge, the only other film to openly dramatize this type of school violence – takes a considerably more explicit approach to the material. That film – which focuses exclusively on its two violent protagonists – blatantly fetishes firearms, and even offers an on-screen tutorial for would-be bomb makers.

Perhaps the most disturbing thing about Elephant is one of the interviews appearing in the twelve-minute “making-of” featurette included with the DVD release. Alex Frost, the untrained actor that plays one of the two killers, remarks: “To me, high school is like going to hell. You get up and go to hell every day.” With the same disturbing nonchalance that marks his character in the film, Alex adds: “There’s always that… possibility that somebody could come to school with a gun and start shooting people, and one of those people could, in fact, be you.” The slight ambiguity is unsettling enough – Frost clearly means to say that “There’s always the possibility that it could be you that gets shot,” but his awkward teen creepiness leads one to think that maybe he really means to say that “There’s always the possibility that it could be you that comes to school and starts shooting.” – yet it is one of Alex’s later comments that is really distressing. At the end of the interview, Frost conveys his incredulity that he could have gone from being a teen nobody to starring in a feature film. It is as if to say that he never imagined the possibility of becoming a movie star, but he seems to think it would be altogether likely that he – or one of his peers – could walk into school one day and start shooting people.

School shootings – like the massacres at Columbine, Red Lake, and more recently Virginia Tech – are at least as prominent in the national consciousness today as teen suicides were fifteen or twenty years earlier. There have been nearly twenty incidents of this type of school violence since 1997, with at least one incident occurring annually (with the exception of 2002, in which no such incidents occurred). If this type of crime is so prevalent, why has it been virtually ignored by the motion picture industry? A significant number of films attempted to tackle the nuances of teen suicide in the late 1980s, but studios seem completely unwilling to do the same with school shootings today. Timothy Shary attempts to broach the topic in his survey Teen Movies: American Youth On Screen: “In the twenty-first century so far, Hollywood seems perfectly content to dismiss issues of juvenile delinquency rather than risk being blamed for encouraging it (90).” But the fear of culpability didn’t seem to significantly deter filmmakers from pursuing teen suicide in the ‘80s. In that sense, Gus Van Sant’s film is aptly titled: the menace of school shootings is like the elephant in the room that no one is brave enough to acknowledge. It is entirely possible that the issue could be dealt with responsibly on screen – as Elephant proves – it is even plausible that conscientious films of this type could be an important step toward understanding the causes and effects of an otherwise disconcerting and perplexing topic.

Drillbit Taylor

Ok, it may not be the two and a half hour director's cut of The Breakfast Club that I've been hoping for, but Drillbit Taylor just might be a promising return to form for John Hughes (under his I'd-rather-not-take-full-responsibility pseudonym, Edmond Dantes). At the very least, he's taking a break from pre-tween protagonists, and returning to high school.

There are a few genuinely funny, er, "bits" in the trailers and clips available here. All in all, it looks sort of like Weird Science meets My Bodyguard (but funny), with a Superbad sensibility, for good measure. At any rate, it'll probably be better than this piece of crap.

P.S. (Man-of-the-moment, Seth Rogen is listed as a co-writer, and the bully is played by this kid, who was one of the gunmen in Elephant. Stay tuned for a post on Elephant, probably coming later today.)