Tag Archives: lady gaga

and now for something comprehensive

As I have undoubtedly mentioned at some point in the last several months, I’ve devoted a lot of my filmmaking efforts in the first portion of 2012 to my senior thesis film (also known as comps at Carleton).  It’s an experimental piece called when you wish upon a star, essentially a mash-up of Lady Gaga music videos and Marlene Dietrich films with footage of myself, a (perhaps overly?) complicated and problematized exploration of persona, celebrity, gender performance, and the performance of identity in general.  It tries to be a film theory and critical analysis through film-making, a sort of “filmed theory” as I have termed it, asks questions about whether comparisons I have made and wanted to make were even acceptable.

It was truly a labor of love, and after more than four months of such loving labors, I finally completed and presented it two Fridays ago in the second round of the CAMS comps film symposium.  (For those of you who were there, thank you thank you thank you; I am of a mind that comps talks are a bit like funerals, in terms of attendance, so it was wonderful to see so many faces I love in the audience.)

Then, coincidentally, I discovered later that evening that the blog Marlene Dietrich: The Last Goddess had just published a post entitled “Lady Gaga, Marlene Dietrich, and…Anna Swanson?” — and aside from the immediate fact that it’s a massive ego-sweller to have my work as a filmmaker analyzed for the first time, I was also struck by the (for lack of a better word) accuracy with which Joseph, the blogger who wrote the piece, perceived exactly what I had intended to be taken from the film, meaning-wise.  Or rather, not ‘exactly’, but approximately, since the film is so much about the difficulty of pin-pointing meaning, and is very much intended to be interpreted through whatever lens each new viewer brings to the work.

I was particularly thrilled by Joseph’s reaction to how I was wrangling with whether to ascribe to Dietrich the mantle of queer iconography and feminism: “I can’t help but wish that all the folks who ever professed that Dietrich was their feminist icon would watch Swanson’s piece!”  And the comment thread that his reaction to my comps sparked was similarly intriguing and satisfying.  It even gets around to touching on the question of whether Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” is reductive in its treatment of gender/identity/sexuality/etc. — to which I would respond that ‘reductive’ is relative, and that this song may perhaps be the most effective (or at least the catchiest) example of strategic essentialism to be found today.

Lately, I’ve also been thinking seriously about how to exhibit and control the distribution of my work; I’ve been jokingly taken up the motto that I will require a second screening of a film immediately after its has ended, and force my audiences to watch it twice.  And in a somewhat related vein, I’ve been wondering about whether to make my work completely and publicly accessible online, which has been my M.O. for all my work in the past.  To that end, I recently decided to make the online version of when you wish upon a star private/password-protected, which I have been interested to note has been noticed by the blogger(s) at The Last Goddess — the entry on my work has a new heading:
EDITED MAY 7, 2012 TO ADD: Looks like the video has been made private. What a pity!

More flattery.  Goodness.

So, for now, while I wrestle with my (cough) burgeoning fame and (cough) burgeoning ego, I would just like to insert a shameless plug for an upcoming LIVE screening of this work of mine.  For anyone who missed my comps talk but is in the Carleton area this weekend, we will be hosting a screening of all 10 senior comps films in the Weitz Cinema at 8 pm on Sunday, May 13.  It will be a truly beautiful extravaganza of moving image pieces that have had the hearts, souls, sweat, blood, and tears of we brave artistic souls who are the graduating Carleton CAMS seniors of 2012.  I personally guarantee a good time shall be had by all.

gaga-madonna-reversibility

As soon as Lady Gaga’s new single “Born This Way” came out last February, comparisons (and accusations of plagiarism) began to be made with respect to Madonna’s 1989 hit “Express Yourself.”  Along with discussions of controversy, the Internet was flooded with mash-ups of the two songs, generally attempting to prove their similarity — and admittedly there are some striking similarities between the two pieces (Gaga has gone on record saying that she is heavily influenced and inspired by Madonna).  But neither the accusations nor the mash-ups have extended beyond the singles themselves to their music videos, which leaves, for the sound studies scholar interested in such, an alluring lacuna.

As a final project for one of courses this term, Sound Studies, I delved into a lot of really fascinating music video theory, and ended up creating the piece “Express Yourself This Way” (above).   It plays with this opportunity for both visual and aural mash-up in order to interrogate, empirically, how sound and image in music-video map onto one another in a such a way that “the inherent qualities found in the sound and the moving images are interchangeable, so that the audio resounds the moving image, and the moving image visualises the audio”(18, Strand) — namely, to test ideas around the concept of aural visuality.

As Carol Vernallis says, “music video editing is strongly responsive to music”(xi, Vernallis), and Andrew Goodwin, Strand, and Vernallis all agree (as do I) that unlike film, sound comes first in music video as the song precedes the the creation of the clip.  Each of them makes similar but slightly differently-nuanced arguments for how it occurs, but the general consensus is that the sound of the music (not necessarily lyrics) inspires the image, finding aural-visual corollaries in things like color, visual microrhythms (as termed so by Michel Chion), form/flow, and contour that bring the image and sound together a particular ‘joins’ — almost reminiscent of Walter Murch’s metaphor of the dance of the edited lines of a film.  Thus, according to Strand, “by using the song and the aural qualities inherent within its audio space as a starting point, visuals are created that correlate to the phenomenological qualities of the sound in such a way that the images become the sound, undulating and streaming around the viewers, pulsing and reverberating through them”(39, Strand).

Thus, one of the primary questions asked by the video I have crafted: if arguments about aural visuality and the expression of image through music from the starting point of sound, hold true, should the images of the songs resonate similarly if “Express Yourself” and “Born This Way” sound so much alike?  My methodology in exploring was therefore to match the audio of each song with video from the other’s music video (they were both, minus the expository ‘para-song’ section at the beginning of Gaga’s video) almost exactly five minutes.  Even at this stage it was a bit uncanny how well the new image/sound pairings seemed to ‘work’.  In music video, Carol Vernallis has identified “the fundamental unit [as] the musical section, rather the scene or the shot”(170, Vernallis), as it would be in film.   Thus, “treating the form of the song as the analytical ground for the video better reflects its semantic and formal structure”(171, Vernallis), so I proceeded to segment each of the new aduio/visual pairings into their segments (intros, verses, choruses, bridges), and then created a hybrid ‘standard song form’ which I used as a framework to reconstruct a total music video by alternating sections from each in order through the framework, which is textually highlighted at the beginning of each major cut in the piece.

As I mentioned, there is an uncanny workability to the overlaid image/sound pairings that suggests that there are indeed aural similarities, and that because the theories of aural visuality seem to hold true, this creates a similar intertextual reversibillity between music videos themselves, over and above the intratextual reversibility (in the Sobchack sense) of image and sound.

Although my experiment doesn’t yet address what can be determined culturally from this more formal, critical aural-visual interrogation of a widespread accusation of ‘plagiarism’, it does also allude to the question of whether there is perhaps an inherent synchronicity of cultural concern between the two artists and their intended meanings in the songs that supports their ultimate similarity, in both sound and music video.  I am certainly not passing judgment as to whether Gaga has paid an extended homage or has completely ripped off Madonna — both artists operate within highly post-modern practices and discourses, where traces abound and ‘true originality’ is impossible.  Borrowing, both deliberate and inadvertent, is bound to happen.  But while the songs seem clearly intended (on Gaga’s part) to have some similarities, the interchangeabillity — the similar aural translational qualities — of the two music-videos suggest that an inadvertent similarity has emerged in the flow of images, precisely because Strand, Vernallis, and Goodwin are right: sound is always the impetus for the music-video, and aural visuality (and cinesthetic montage) entails that images that “work” for one song will “work” for a song that has been almost objectively determined as sounding the same.

Works Referenced

Goodwin, Andrew.  Dancing in the Distraction Factory.  Taylor & Francis, 1993.
Lady Gaga.  Music video. “Born This Way.” dir. Nick Knight.  2011.
Madonna.  Music video.  “Express Yourself.” dir. David Fincher. 1989.
Strand, Joachim Wichman.  Thesis, MCA in Screen Arts.  The Cinesthetic
Montage of Music-video: hearing the image and seeing the sound
.
Submitted to the Department of Media and Information Faculty of Media,
Society and Culture, Curtin University of Technology July 2006.
Vernallis, Carol.  Experiencing Music Video.  New York: Columbia University
Press, 2004.
Vernallis, Carol.  “The Aesthetics of Music-video: an analysis of Madonna’s
‘Cherish’.” Popular Music (1998) Volume 17/2.  United Kingdon: Cambridge
University Press, 1998.  p. 153-85.

the rapture is finally here!

I’ve been working on my final film (rapture) for Nonfiction over the past few weeks, and here it is, in all its “final” cut of glory (this is to say, I will be continuing to tweak and perhaps totally re-do over the coming week, and a more final version will make its way to Vimeo as well).  With that in mind, please watch, read my discussion of the work below, and please please please give me feedback!!!  Why bother being alive in the 21st century if we don’t take advantage of our ability to crowdsource-workshop our work?

rapture. a film by anna swanson.

A modified version of my project proposal, for the provision of context:

In keeping with the fairly personal, autobiographical work I have already done for the course, my final project will be a piece that delves into my personal archives. While I was abroad in the spring, I shot a decent amount of video on my Nikon D5000, which I had on my person at pretty much all times between March 15th and June 3rd. Because all of my archival footage was shot on a Nikon D5000, it isn’t the highest quality that it could be, but it has a great value in its digital-indexical referencing of lived (and remember) experience for me. This specific aesthetic is in the tradition of the autobiographical avant-garde’s “simplification of the recording apparatus”(13), which I think allows for a greater premising of the indexicality of the footage as holding as its referent the lived experience of the filmmaker. Many of the filmmakers Lane references “shot by themselves in available light and recorded sound at some time other than the moment of shooting”(13) – the former which I did, over the course of the spring, and the latter which I intend to do this fall as I edit the picture. I want to work in this “artisanal form of autobiographical expression”(13).

The piece, rapture, is about a great number of things. On one level, it is about a specific incident of personal injury that I incurred while walking along the former Berlin Wall, but it also seeks to more broadly address the sort of transformative experience of being in Europe this pass spring, and to that end, to address the very manner in which I remember/glorify/conceptualize that part of my (recent) past. It is psychology as well as abstract expressionism. It is about the subjective and constructed nature of history and memory, the way that always having a camera changes the world, the very real psychological strangeness of going from normal existence to suddenly being in shock with blooms of fatty tissue exploding from one’s palms. It is both a visceral experience and my own mediation and historicizing of that experience.

For those of us who regularly document our lives on film or video, the footage that we take is in some ways a visual manifestations of the thoughts we think when we are alone among the crowd of the world, and these thoughts compound to make up the history of our selves, our memories. So, because of my interest in film as an analog for and an exploration of memory, I employed the formal constraint of only using footage that was shot while abroad, restricting myself to a bank of personal archival footage that I am equating, conceptually, with malleable pieces of memory. The re-composition of these is itself an experiment in the construction of the past, through the literal process of editing this past into something of varying degrees representational and abstract.

The voice over is likewise restricted (as a further analog for drawing on memory) to selections from automatic writings I have done while in Europe and over the summer, rather like prose-poems; a means of furthering the psychological mimicry and individually subjective form of the constructed memory, drawing on my supposedly-subconscious mind’s outpourings, the products of experiments in extreme sleep deprivation.

The selections from the writings are each voiced by different people in my life, each narrator corresponding to a specific piece of writing, which I then intermixed in a way that again approximates the reconstruction of memory, but also invokes the way in which we as people are constructed by those that we love, and are moreover never the same person at any given point in time.

In terms of the editing style, I attempted to mirror the free-association of these patterns of thought, with occasional clear connections, and occasional moments of seemingly totally random mental jumps – varying degrees of jarring and fluid.

Three areas of inquiry that were central to the process:

What is the nature of memory? How do we construct it? How is it shaped by the records we take (personal photographs and videos, for example)?

How self-specific and revealing can I be without totaling confusing or alienating an audience, or on the other extreme, making them uncomfortable?

How can I add voice-over without over-determining the images or robbing them of their power to speak, and without speaking to them either too literally or too abstractly?

weekly update (like snl, but on thursdays)

Ten days have elapsed since my last blog post, but they have been far from uneventful.  In the course of a rather ambitious psychogeographic expedition, I had the opportunity to became intimately acquainted with both the former sites of the Berlin Wall and the German health care system.  I saw Robert Beavers and P. Adams Sitney go head-t0-head, as it were, at the Arsenal Cinema screening of four of Beavers’ films, in a slightly tense but fascinating juxtaposition of the critic and the artist, and had the immense pleasure of seeing the entire first reel of Early Monthly Segments for the second time in the space of a few days — there is truly something to be said for repeated viewing, especially when it comes to avant-garde cinema.

The following day, I returned to Robert and Ute’s to spend a wonderful, inspiring, and thoroughly enjoyable several hours discussing film, Japan, and life, watching Ute’s latest cut of her film Young Pines (working title), cooking a delicious dinner of salad, potatoes, white wine, and white asparagus (I’ve never had it in the states…so good!!).  I often feel that as a student, there is a sort of impenetrable veil between my status as a student and the ‘real world’ of working artists and publishing scholars and people who are not in a strange transitionary phase between child and adulthood that we call college.  But spending that evening with Robert and Ute felt like that wall was shattering (how appropriate, in Berlin…) — being engaged as, if not a peer exactly, at least a fellow member of this small but dedicated community of people who care about experimental cinema and unique critical and aesthetic ways of approaching the world, as an initiate into part of the world of artists and thinkers that I intend to live my life among.

Since my last entry, I have also survived a psychogeographical experiment in wakefulness lasting 41 hours and producing several pages of automatic text and roughly 700 similarly ‘automatic’ photographs, I have survived the trip to Copenhagen (where we are now comfortably situated for the remaining week of our European adventure), I have survived The Rapture (although not without the intriguing appearance of bleeding holes in both of my palms…), and I have survived my very first real interview, with John Mhiripiri, the director of Anthology Film Archiveswhere I will be working as an intern this summer!

All this is to say, it’s been quite the week or so, on top which is of course the release of the newest Lady Gaga album, Born This Way, which I have listened to approximately 37 times already, in its entirety, and follows nicely on the iPodic heels of the audiobook I just finished last Wednesday, Tina Fey’s Bossypants (both of which are, as aural texts, seminal to the current debates that compromise quasi-4th-wave feminism, and on which I would love to expound in a later post…).  Clearly, my brain is swimming in critical and artistic commentaries and revelations and epiphanies, some of which will hopefully be shared on this forum for thought, but in the mean time, I am also swimming in media projects, the least of which is a massive-ish personal book of photography, theory, and musings from these ten weeks in Europe, which I am theming around the word and concept ‘traces’ (nod here to Derrida, of course).  It will, handily enough, have an online incarnation, so look forward to that in the near future (this is NOT an empty promise — I’m working with a deadline!!), but in the mean time, forgive me in advance for another probable lapse in blogging, and certainly let me know which of the many fascinating recent events of my visually cultured experiences you want to hear about at greater length!

Now to charrette — as John Schott always says, ‘ANDIAMO!’

tv on the internet: a few thoughts inspired by rac105

One thing that struck me right away in Barcelona was the predominance of chart-topping American pop music — I could hear it pumping from this booth outside El Corte Ingles every day when I went to class, it played in tiendas and supermercats all over the city, and on my first evening in the area, I distinctly heard some Justin Bieber flowing out of the club Razzmatazz near our housing in Poble Nou.  (This is in opposition to Paris, where I was during spring break, and where I was constantly hearing very mediocre American hip-hop/R&B that I had never before…  Also while in Paris, my friend Clare introduced me to the videos of the French artist Yelle, who is beyond the scope of this current post but merits further consideration.  I think there is something distinctly French about French music videos.)

As may have been implied in my post on remix, one of my favorite focuses of visual culture is the music video.  But music videos on TV – Spain has a channel called RAC105, which is what MTV would be (what MTV should be, at the risk of inciting argument…) had it not become predominated by reality TV and other programming that seems to have forgotten its roots in avant-garde video and, oh yeah, music.  My beef with MTV aside, RAC105 was fascinating in its selection of videos: almost all American pop, plus some local Spanish color, and one random house single from Eastern Europe called Mr. Saxobeat by Alexandra Stan.  Pop songs and music videos tend to have a shelf-life in the context of radio-play and MTV-play (when MTV gets around to playing music videos…), but RAC105 defied a lot of my expectations about what would get played — it was not uncommon to have Miley Cyrus’  “Party in the U.S.A.” followed by “Born This Way” followed by something Annie Lennox recorded in the 80s.  It reminded me, in its programming and ordering, of the often-eclecticness of KRLX, my beloved home college radio station (where, incidentally, I DJ when I am on campus).  Maybe this connection is related to the relative lack of commercials on RAC105, such that it, like college radio, can sort of play whatever it wants – or rather, whatever it is that it thins Spain wants, which seems to be this intriguing mélange of American music (plus the token Romanian house stuff…).

There are also definitely videos that I saw for the first time on RAC105 (Britney Spears’ “Hold It Against Me”, in which the relevance of Rocky Horror and Tommy references elude the best of us…).  The channel was on most of the time we were all in our lounge/kitchen, and was very popular with my fellow study abroad students, but we would often ask each other, is this popular in the U.S.?  Is this what Spain thinks is popular in the U.S.?  I never had definitive answer for either of those questions.  Nonetheless, I find it fascinating to consider how music videos that may or may not reflect our culture and its values are being received abroad – what is catching on in Spain, and what, through the lens of Spanish TV, we can assume is catching on at home while we are away.

mnac in order

So part of the impetus for this blog is that I am currently abroad on a new media and digital photography program with Carleton College, and we will be spending several weeks in Barcelona, Berlin, and Copenhagen (in that order), said adventure having begun officially this past Monday.  Beyond theory and musings and other fun pursuits, this blog is for the time being also a way of sharing with people who know my real-life self (not just my digital data-self) what I’m up to while I’m away from home, since most of what I’m up to will pertain extensively to what my budding semi-optic explorations are all about.

Barcelona has a wealth of great art museums and cultural centers with exhibitions, some of which are free and many of which are at least cheaper for students (c’est moi!), which makes Barcelona a great place to be for engaging with the ‘high culture’ end of visual studies.  So far I’ve been to MACBA (Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona), MNAC (Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya), and Arts Santa Monica.  Having recently taken Critical Methods at Carleton, I am currently very intrigued in museums-as-texts, and how they structure our viewing practices – when I go to art museums, I usually book it for the most Modern or Contemporary sections in the building, but last Thursday when my friend Edee and I hit MNAC, I decided to challenge myself and start with the older stuff.

MNAC also has beautiful architecture, like this gorgeously-lit domed organ room.

The art was displayed in a vaguely chronological layout, from Gothic to Renaissance and Baroque, which highlighted both the evolution of Western painting in terms of technologies (I could pinpoint the introduction of perspective, and the transition from making children look like tiny adults to actually looking like children) and the evolution of Spain’s depiction of its Catholicism, since all of the art in the institution is by Catalan artists, and Spain is definitely (at least historically) a Catholic place.  Consistent subjects of Sant Jordi (Saint George) and the dragon, various stages of Christ’s life, evolved before my eyes as I worked through the museum.

With the increasing realism in the art, I couldn’t help noticing how much gorier and potentially sexualized (in my interpretation) a lot of the imagery became – jugulars spurting blood and severed tendons, bulging codpieces, positively evil-looking lizard-like dragons and demons.  I’m not well-versed in these particularly areas of art history per se, but from a cultural-critical perspective, there seemed to be a lot of potential for analysis, and a lot of potential for the next Lady Gaga video.  In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to see her dressed in something like this for her next awards show appearance.

Lady Gaga, also Catholic-inspired, might like some fashion tips from this Renaissance version of Jesus.