Film Proposal: Theater into Film, a method for interpreting landscape representation and translation
The proposed film series draws upon films which bring elements of theater, in particular the use of the stage, set and visual production into film. The topic relies upon films depicting the integration of theater and film as a way to explore and analyze landscape, how landscapes are represented and translated, and insight which can be drawn from this comparison. The films chosen embed the visual production of theater into film, taking an interest in the actual semblance and construction of the integration, the metaphors this creates and how this rendering may contribute to themes both in the world of film and of landscape. An analysis of theater in film may offer an unusual or unique perspective from which to view and consider landscape, representation, and its translation.
Note on the use of theater in film and Short List
Though there are many instances of plays recorded as films, (The Royal Opera House live Cinema features for example), these productions were intentionally avoided. In choosing films I found that the line between what constituted theater into film was not always clear. For example, films like Chicago (2002), or Shakespeare in Love (1998), include many scenes which portray a physical theater, however do not draw heavily upon theatrical elements in the way the film is constructed or shot. The way theater was framed in these films seemed to posit it as an actor or subject matter, as opposed to a method or technique intended for creativity in creation and visual production. The films in this series intentionally treat theater as a method and a process contributing to the production of the film, one which frames and visualizes landscape.
Films considered (some)
Cinema Paradiso, Orochi, Playtime, M, Chicago, MacBeth, Silence, Shakespeare in Love, The wild, wide world of Hanna, Cleopatra, Amelie, The Matrix, Black Swan
The Land of Opportunities Trilogy: Dogville (2003) and Manderlay (2005), 3rd film not yet made
Anna Karenina (2012)
Gangs of New York (2002)
Synecdoche, New York (2008)
The Truman Show (1998)
Pertinence of each film
The Land of Opportunities: Dogville (2003) and Manderlay (2005)/ Directed by Lars Von Trier
Directed by Danish maker Lars Von Trier, Dogville and Manderlay consider societal injustice in American society. The avant-garde experimental films provide an opportunity to analyze how the use of theater and stage set communicate and translate landscape elements. The sparse film set and bare bones nature of the film provides an opportunity to focus on the use of a stage craft as a method to analyze landscape representation (as opposed to Anna Karenina which includes a variety of sets, shots and a great deal of post production). The sparse film sets offer an opportunity to analyze choice in landscape representation, and how an entire landscape is represented with few elements. The inclusion of an experimental film encourages a consideration of symbolism and meaning and how these ideas are embedded in landscape is representation.
Anna Karenina (2012)/ Directed by Joe Wright
Anna Karenina envisions landscapes of 20th century Russia as it narrates a scandal between the wife of an imperial Russian minister and cavalry officer. The film’s use of experimental staging, visibly shifting sets, and juxtaposition of shots within the theater and outside it made this film the touchstone for this film proposal. A fundamental aspect of the film’s creation and translation was
its use of a traditional Russian theater as a stage. This creates an opportunity to discuss how landscape is represented in film as it exists within the confines of a theater. In more ways than one, the use of the theater in the film acts as a metaphor. How the landscape is represented can be analyzed with this in mind. There is a message and a purpose behind which scenes are shot in the theater, and which scenes are shot out of doors. The stark juxtaposition creates an opportunity to analyze how the tradition of theater and landscape representation in theater portray messages and meaning within the film. In addition, the film brings together the traditional visual elements of theater and the visual spectacle of post production, which can also provide a platform to discuss the effect of this contrast and how this technique is utilized to represent landscape.
Gangs of New York (2002)/ Directed by Dante Ferretti
Gangs of New York is included largely to analyze the impact of physical process and production of set design and by extension landscape. The film, set in 1860s America, centers around the life of a young Irish immigrant after his release from prison. Though the film is not set within the confines of a theater, or intended to represent theater, the method in which it is constructed provides insight into the ideas considered in the proposal. There are many films which could have been used to analyze this, however this film was chosen due to the scale, ambition, originality and expertise of Dante Ferretti’s set design. The set, built from the ground up in a field in Italy, is a recreation of the one square mile Five Points neighborhood in Manhattan. The set provides an opportunity to analyze construction and the parallels between representation and construction in film and in landscape. In addition to how the landscape of this film is constructed and translated, the film can also be used to analyze craft, scale, and artistry in representation.
Synecdoche, New York/ Directed by Charlie Kaufman
Synecdoche definition: a figure of speech in which a part is made to represent the whole or vice versa.
This dark and complex film narrates the disconsolate life of Caden Cortad (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), and provides an opportunity to analyze the meta referential both in film and in landscape. The film also provides a platform to consider the use of mise en abyme and the framing of a story within a story, similar to the proposal’s interest in framing theater within film, or a landscape within a set. There are many compelling themes creatively embedded in the film, such as the passage of time, foreshadowing and symbolism. Part of this is the use of the play and the idea of being stuck inside your own perspective. This frames a conversation in which landscape, perspective and representation can be considered. Landscape as synecdoche is analogous to landscape representation and the consideration of a part that is made to represent a whole, and vice versa. Considering the reverse may inform how literal landscapes reflect and shape our representations. What elements do we choose to represent, how are certain techniques used to fill the inevitable void that is created in an effort to represent a whole? The film frames a discussion of the
transition of landscape back and forth between representation, reality, and production. A discussion of techniques in this film can then be applied to an analysis of the meta-referential in each of the films in the series, and how the representations and visual productions of theater, film and landscape reflect one another.
The Truman Show (1998)/ Directed by Peter Weir
The Truman Show, directed by Peter Weir, relies upon the set as it stages the premise of the film’s plot line. The leading character Truman Burbank, acted by Jim Carrey, has been filmed his entire life, and is the unknowing star of a reality TV show called the Truman Show. Truman lives in what he believes is the town of Seahaven Island but discovers at the end of the film is really a huge Hollywood set which simulates weather as well as day and night. In reality, the film was shot in master planned community Seaside, Florida. The town is a famous example of New Urbanism in the United States, which may explain why Weir chose to set the film here. New Urbanism a 1980s planning movement, reacted to both the societal and environmental consequences associated with urban sprawl post WWII. Seaside is the classic example and pinnacle of New
urbanism both in the way that it is built around Transit Oriented Design and Traditional Neighborhood Design. The idealism embodied in Seaside reveals the idealism which not only makes it an appropriate setting for the film, but
also explains why these societies are not more prevalent. This set, which is in a way more of a reality as the film set for the Truman Show, than it is a living neighborhood in the United States, was only able to take on these ideals because it is on unincorporated land, is privately owned by developers, and was therefore able to write and enforce a strict zoning code. There is a requirement that every house has a white picket fence, for instance. The set plays an integral role in the climax of the film, the final piece of concrete evidence which proves to Truman he’s existed inside a set for his entire life.
The order of the films, though they are not presented in
chronologically, is intentional in the way it introduces the topic of theater and film together. Lars Von Trier's films (seen together), are chosen as the first film due both to the transparency as a theater set, the creativity and depth invoked in the process of shooting a film on what looks and acts very much like a set which would be used for a theatrical production.
Gangs of New York follows Von Trier’s films, extending and deepening the focus on set design. This film is also early on in the series as the physical construction of sets is a topic of discussion which is evident in the way it relates to landscape, and offers a wide variety of discussion points. The film is included with the intention that analysis focuses on landscape representation, construction, translation and the processes involved in visual production.
Anna Karenina follows Gangs of New York, moving towards an analysis which is both physical and metaphorical. The film offers many themes and ideas which can be explored and relates to the integration of theater, film and landscape representation. Though the film falls into the historical romance genre, themes and motifs embedded remain complex, and relevant to the
intersection of theater and film. The metaphors provide intellectual discussion topics which invoke landscape intrigue.
At this point in the series the intended analysis and points of discussion evolve in complexity, becoming more metaphorical transitioning to the next film, Synecdoche, New York, one which is complicated, nuanced, and more interpretive in the ways it relates to the proposed topic. The interpretive elements in this film demand a familiarity with topics, ideas and techniques which will have been analyzed in previous films. The culmination of ideas and analysis is intended to shape conversations and discussions which have a higher degree of complexity and nuance. An in depth understanding and analysis or discussion of the meta analysis of film, abstractions within abstractions, translations which can be analyzed forwards and backwards, requires a comfort level, vocabulary and understanding which will have been built by the previous films. Discussing landscape representation in relation to this film may be as interpretive as the film itself.
The final film in the series is The Truman show. The film fosters a discussion on topics related to urban planning, New Urbanism and how this American planning movement gave rise to the film’s stage. The series intentionally ends on a film which is optimistic, (i.e. not ending with the very dark Synecdoche, New York), intriguing and authentic.
Questions: All films
How is landscape represented in each of these films through the use of theatrical set design? How can one analyze the representation and translation of traditional theater techniques in film?
In choosing films for the series, it was not always a clear line between theater and film. What constitutes or defines theater into film? This question is open to interpretation and may take into consideration the use of post production as opposed to the reliance of physical sets.
The analysis of the way landscape is portrayed and represented, also offers commentary on the ideology and values of the time period. The representation and translation of landscape can also be used as a frame to discuss and analyze various aspects of influences of history, societal norms and expectations, and the way that film portrays and provides commentary on the context in which it
is grounded. How does the use of set, set design, materiality, construction and craft, render or convey these histories?
Can you tell which are literally shot in a theater, soundstage or traditional film set? How do the films utilize film sets, post production etc.?
How does set design capture landscape representation and translation? What techniques does the director (or set designer) employ to characterize the landscape? What are some of the limitations or capabilities of using this technique? Similarly, how does the film set depict the physical place it is meant to represent, how does the physical construction and representation of landscape change? How is this different from filming in a physical place?
What effect does set as landscape have on a consciousness of reality when watching the film?
How is the literal landscape interpreted and how do actors interact with the constructed landscape to convey a message? How might they interact with landscape in film and theater separately? What impact does the integration of the two have on the theme? What does this say about landscape translation?
Consider how the integration of theater and film is created by and constricts or enables the use of the camera. How are angles and shots utilized? What impact or what feeling does this create? How is landscape framed differently?
The film series intentionally selects films which compliment each other in terms of place and time period. How do these films represent place and the experience of place, the making of place and the material aspects of place?
Questions: Individual Films
Dogville and Manderlay
There are scenes in the film, the dust storm for example, where camera angles and the use of skewed perspective is used to create the landscape. Layers and camera moves play an important part in creating many of the scenes in the film. How does camera movement impact the representation of landscape in these films?
Gangs of New York
Ferretti’s process is similar to practice in landscape, research, sketch technical drawings and models. The set in Gangs of New York is huge, and creates a physical place. How are the processes of creating a place for the purposes of film as opposed to the purpose of reality similar, how are they different? Possible considerations include the recreation of place, scale, location etc.
How does shooting both inside and outside impact the overall meaning of the film?
What are some themes that can be explored through the use of the old Russian theater as a stage for the film?
In more ways than one, the use of the theater in the film acts as a metaphor. How can landscape fit into this metaphor?
Synecdoche, New York
In the same way theater is a reflection of the Caden’s life, landscape representation is a reflection of landscape. How can a comparison between these reflections inform an understanding of landscape?
How applicable are the meta-referential elements in this film to landscape and landscape representation?
How might an analysis of the meta-referential shape a perception of landscape, or even places we may not consider landscape in a traditional sense? If we were to represent an “untraditional landscape” before we even considered it a landscape, would it be easier to recognize? What does this say about landscape representation and translation?
The Truman Show
How does the setting in Seaside Florida, a town which is the pinnacle of the New Urbanism movement, shape the film?