Waltz with Bashir (2008): Trauma and Representation in the Animated Documentary

By Joseph A. Kraemer

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There is a struggle in presenting traumatic events, as it comes along with aesthetic and ethical considerations. McCay was an important precursor for a number of trends in artistic representation that lead to defining the twentieth century in portraying the modernist tendencies toward experiencing human catastrophe. Having these visual documents allows for society to understand better what they have not encountered directly themselves.

“The drive to complete and heal trauma is as powerful and tenacious as the symptoms it creates. The urge to resolve trauma through re-enactment can be severe and compulsive. We are inextricably drawn into situations that replicate the original trauma in both obvious and unobvious ways”… The concept of the reenactment, outside of its role as a symptom of and treatment for the traumatic experience, also points the way to how animation can fit within the myriad discourses defining the ways in which nonfiction film can represent the world.

Ari Folman’s filmic process reveals the interplay between the signifier (the animated image), the signified (the viewer’s mediated experience), and the referent (the historical reality). Instead of using “rotoscoping”, a common animation technique where the image is directly painted over to create a unique look for the movement of the plastic image, Folman used the video instead as a visual reference for a stand-alone process of animation where the images were crafted frame by frame using drawings and vector-based computer technology (“Waltz with Bashir Press Kit” 4-6).

Folman reveals the live footage at the end of the film, rendering the animation as the cartoonish element in comparison to the vulgarity of actual dead bodies. It was as though he hypothesized the viewer wanted “know” the truth and the reality of the trauma of the massacre. The purpose this serves is through the unveiling of the massacre’s effects, there is a moment of supreme catharsis where the true scale of suffering is felt. Many threads converge at once and the whole picture can be seen. The thesis is formed in attempt to remember and understand the truth of the event, which is how the filmic act becomes the means by which Folman is able to achieve his therapy.

Bibliography:

Kraemer, Joseph. (2015) Waltz with Bashir (2008): Trauma and Representation in the Animated Documentary. Journal of Film and Video 67.3-4. University of Illinois Press.

Writing Animated Documentary: A Theory of Practice

by Paul Wells.

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Only recently there has been an acknowledged view of animation’s self-evident role in public engagement. Wells aim is to present approaches to writing animated documentary using theoretical concepts as tools of practice and identify practical applications. Wells claim is that animated documentary cannot be divorced from its conditions of production, as there may be specific contexts, socio-political outlook, but it can vary in terms of its uses. Such as artwork, a vehicle for information and training, educational text for knowledge transfer. The challenges of animated documentary that Wells addresses is that the text is more often interrogated for its form, rather than content. The ability to reconcile the relationship between “form” and “content” in animated documentary would mean increasing credibility in this field. Documentary simply put is an act of social record. Wells describes the animated documentary to operate in three ways. Firstly, it is a model of personal, social and institutional memory; second it reflects aspects of relationships between individuals and government bodies and finally it is how such texts evidence their own form as a matter of record. In relation to the extract, Wells mentions the documentary film maker Jon Else who provides a useful perspective to understanding what procedure is recommended to produce a documentary based on secondary materials. The sourced materials used will always have social subjectivity as its driving force and needs to convey a non-fictional enunciation, manifested visually. Wells further states his case through Paul Laverty’s statement that “good issues don’t make good films – good stories do” and this means that it is essential the presentation of the “document” requires a perspective. Thus, Wells redefines animated documentary as animated non-fictional dramaturgy. Wells recognizes the potential of animated documentary and reasons out the necessity to clarify the definition of documentary in order for viewers to take the animated documentary seriously. After establishing the genre of dramaturgy, Wells presents five core principles in the production of animated documentaries, with consideration to Halas’ taxonomy.

Notes:

  • What is animated documentary?
    • p7. theorisation of documentary practice has been characterised by the address of its core genres – travelogue, cinema verite, fly-on-the-wall, screen-journalism, docu-drama, observational actuality etc.
  • What challenges are there presented in the field?
    • p8. considerations insist upon deciding what the use of animation helps to actually achieve in the film that cannot be achieved in any other way.
    • p12. More challenging is to prove how an animated documentary not merely speaks to the public sphere as evidenced above; but how in itself it answers research questions.
  • What approaches are there to produce a successful animated documentary? *define what is successful – the conditions and considerations needed
    • p10. Animation’s key characteristics: symbolisation of objects and human beings; picturing the invisible; penetration; selection, exaggeration and transformation; showing the past and predicting the future; controlling speed and time
    • Examples: Break the Silence; The Moon and the Son: An Imagined Conversation by John Canemaker; His Mother’s Voice by Dennis Tupicoff
    • p13. five core principles required to create animated documentary: making animation choices; staging in space; using attachment and detachment; episodic lists and micro-narratives; transition and associative relations

 

Bibliography:

Wells, Paul (2016) Writing Animated Documentary: A Theory of Practice. International Journal of Film and Media Arts. Available at: <http://revistas.ulusofona.pt/index.php/ijfma/article/view/5432>. Date accessed: 06 jan. 2017.

Media Discourse First Assignment

mindmap

There are two parts to the assignment in the Media Discourses module: the reader and the enquiry proposal.

The reader comprises of 6 extracts that is based on a relevant topic and along with them written commentaries. The commentaries needs to account for its usefulness, and to demonstrate my understanding of, thinking of my own work, my field and surrounding issues/challenges. Also, it must include an analysis of how the extract’s methods can be applied to real examples.

The enquiry proposal needs to include a working title, challenges that will need solving, the methodology and the resources needed to undertake this task.

Based from the mind map, I have unraveled and explored a few options within the scope of animated documentaries. What I personally am interested in, are animations that portray visually a story that has been told verbally or in a written form that describes a cultural and/or historical account. This form of intertextuality also helps to explore the usefulness of expanding platforms and audiences in sharing such accounts in creative and unforgettable presentations.

I will be gathering a list of texts to read and derive extracts from there, simultaneously forming the enquiry proposal as I understand the media discourses that surround my topic of animated documentaries.

Game Culture

https://www.jesperjuul.net/text/endlessriverofgames/

Jesper Juul, the ludologist, an contemporary active video game researcher of today wrote the article Sailing the Endless River of Games. He co-founded the paper Game Studies.

Juul comments that the video game history has changed in ways experts have not predicted that includes casual games, independent games, free to play games. This drives us to consider different facets of video games and how they are categorized.

Categories of games that were discussed in the lecture were:

  1. Based on core elements – fps, rpg (open world map); subcategories like sci-fi fps
  2. Regional games, how culture can affect the style of the game
  3. Puzzle games, point-click
  4. Cross-over categories

Definition of what is a video game: electronic game that involves human interaction that uses the medium of a user interface displayed on a video device like computer monitor or TV screen.

The medium of games makes a statement by how it occupies and intrigues us through seeking out different combinations and ways to provide beyond entertainment to an active engagement and attitude development. It may expose the slightly more passive media such as watching television.

Games is a platform that enables the player to present themselves in whatever way they chose, to become an alter ego, a different part of themselves in a virtual world. Each players personal abilities to conquer games vary, thus exist different motivations are revealed, as enjoyment comes in various forms. One interesting type of game to consider is interactive drama whereby decisions made when a situation is presented will alter the outcome of the game. Multiple possibilities can be produced.

The alter ego is nonetheless the same person as these are the choices made in the context of the game are made none other than the person. It is platform that reveals more about the self, thus interactive drama games such as The Walking Dead by Telltale and Heavy Rain by Quantic Dream, when statistics are collected can demonstrate which choices were the most clear and which choice was the most challenging that could go either way. Telltale would present the percentage of choice, in which players can view if they were in the majority or not. I think there is potential to undertake research in the psychological choices and within the realm of the game and the player in reality.

An example of TV series that portrays this idea of choice making is Westworld. The whole park Westworld is where the player can enter and live in a western-themed park. The “hosts” are human robots that are assigned personalities and follow routines. The “newcomers” or “guests” are the players that enter this park and make their decisions, doing whatever they wish in the park without fear of retaliation from hosts.

A quote that relates to the topic at hand by one of the hosts William states:

I used to think this place was all about pandering to your baser instincts. Now I understand It doesn’t cater to your lower self, it reveals your deepest self; it shows you who you really are.

Thus this is why I find fascinating about the topic interactive drama games is that it is a platform to observe the choices of the player and the decisions made. The Game Ego presence is also a concept that is related, and something I shall delve into after further research.

Singular Specific Art vs Amalgamated Art

Paperman, a short film released in 2012 with Wreck-it Ralph. The story, although sweet is not the main attraction to me, but rather the graphics and how it was achieved. The director John Kahrs describes the process as “It’s not like a texture map. It’s just like painting on the surface of the CG. It actually moves on a 2D layer that’s driven by the CG.” The process for combination, measure of ratios that determine whether 2D/3D integration is successful is a thought-provoking field of study that I am interested to focus on here.

In today’s current media trends, it is a complete amalgamation of mediums. The term medium revolves around the storage and transmission of data, it is the mediator or agent between a person(s) or thing(s). ‘Medium’ today carries a completely different meaning as opposed to its traditional definition that it only referred to the liquid substance (i.e. oil or water) to which pigments are mixed and applied. The idea that using a ‘pure’ medium, without the mixture of other art forms, is known as Laocoonism coined by art critic Clement Greenberg.

However, by combining various art forms into a singular display, would that result in losing particular qualities that can never be produced elsewhere except for that singular specific medium? Outsidde the world of the digital, how important is it to have medium specificity?

Greenberg interestingly argues within his concept Laocoonism that when it occurs that a single art is given a dominant role, it becomes the prototype of all art. All other art types when spring to creation shed their ‘proper’ characteristics to imitate the dominant art. They are forced to deny their own nature. During Greenberg’s period, literature was the dominant art, that caused all other arts to create a narrative. Instead of the materials needed to produce the artwork being labeled a ‘medium’, the artwork itself is the medium to express the narritive. According to Greenberg, the emphasis is taken away from the medium (meaning paint, or clay to sculpt) and transferred to the subject matter. Realistic imitation is no longer the goal and is taken for granted, rather it is the artist’s ability to interpret the artwork for poetic effects and narratives. Thus, he views this treatment of the then definition of the ‘medium’ as being made impure when the painting is no longer being paint, but has been transformed into something else entirely. Losing this, appears to stir apprehension, that art is no longer art for it’s own sake. Artists such as Jackson Pollock and Hans Hoffman imbue Laocoonism as the artwork’s abstraction is narrative free and is what it is – paint on canvas.

Jackson Pollock. Shimmering Substance. 1946.jpg
Jackson Pollock’s Shimmering Substance 1946

 

The term ‘undead media’ describes how more traditional mediums of creative expression have now become used as a secondary rather than a primary medium to convey information, an example would be Paperman. The bricolage of art forms is possible to achieve gesamtkunstwerk, in direct translation means a total work of art. In other words, an ideal or universal work of art. Such examples include the 2008 China Olympics incredible theatric performances, buildings such as the Crystal Palace and Wagner’s Bayreuth Opera House. The idea is to overwhelm with the senses and produce great intricacies to arouse the senses. Originally gesamtkunstwerk aimed to not only unite the arts but also art and society. However, there are dangers with commerical gesamtkunstwerk such as when nations become proud and dominant, it would cause division as a superior superpower. Through the overwhelmingness, there is a loss in critical faculties – synaesthesia. Such superpowers can be the ever-growing technology companies that have a great control over the lives of people who greatly depend on it.

There is a relationship between the commercial and gesamtkunstwerk as the desire for entertainment is often exploited for financial gain. With all these economical, political and culturally changing forces, what is one to make in the midst of the clamoring concepts and periods of Laocoonism, the post-medium age and commercial gesamtkunstwerk?

How does this all relate to animation today?

As Sven Lutticken in his article ‘Undead Media’ states:

memory that culture can be something other than DreamWorks. This is a memory that is not, or should not be, a nostalgic one, but a way of looking towards the future.

He is referring of how the specificity of the art world struggles to be sustained and even acknowledged as a subsystem, functioning as a second-degree to the commercial gesamtkunstwerk. The thought to dismiss specificity of the art world and to undermine it compared to today’s digital media is in fact unbeneficial. Sketching, painting and sculpting in each of its own right is useful in developing a deeper knowledge and understanding of that specific medium, to feed back into digital media in a productive manner. It allows for a more critical approach in developing innovative ideas to look ‘towards the future’. It contributes to the effectiveness of the development process in animation, and one such example is the stop-motion animation Kubo and the Two Strings, which I would like to delve into a deeper analysis in another post. This example, in my opinion is an excellent and successful example of using an array of all sorts of techniques to combine the latest technology with old school methods.

 

References:

  1. Sven Lutticken (2004) ‘Undead Media’
  2. Clement Greenberg (1940)  ‘Towards a Newer Laocoon’
  3. http://www.moma.org/collection/works/78376
  4. http://www.digitaltrends.com/movies/laika-cgi-3d-printing-stop-motion-kubo-and-the-two-strings/

Communication Theory

 

Prior to this lecture, I have not heard of the model of communication developed by Shannon and Weaver (1949). In a nutshell the model describes communication through a diagramatic process of ‘transmitting information’ from a Transmitter (sender) to a Receiver. What is useful in this model is that we can analyze, discuss and plan acts of communication.

There are a number of issues in this analysis of communication such as:

  1. How accurately can the message be transmitted by the sender?
  2. How preceise is the meaning conveyed on the receiver’s end?
  3. How effectively does the received message affect an intended behaviour?

Also, it is best to be aware of this weakness of the model as it is a gross over-simplification that can be misleading to the representation of the nature of human communication. Within the context of the study of media and communication, the model needs flexible reframing.

Thus important considerations from the Transmitter would include:

  • Understanding the Receiver’s cultural, religious, generation background
  • Them as individuals, and collectively
  • Their connections and relations to other societies

 

Henry Jenkins on Participatory Culture compels us to geek out for democracy, being passionate about the different popular cultures. To see the potential of translating fantasy to mobilize today’s world issues. A vehicle to think politically through these insterest driven networks such as Andrew Slack’s Harry Potter Alliance. Through this, Slack explored the intersection between politics and popular culture. It was all based on the thought of having the “Dumbledore’s Army” realised in our world’s current events. This idea encouraged and captured the imaginations to motivate the minds of young Americans. The group made podcasts and used Facebook to capture the attention of over 100,000 people, mobilizing them to contribute to the struggles against genocide in Darfur or the battles for workers rights at Wall-Mart and so on.

Another important point that Jenkins had made was that without adult guidance, engagement and skill validation to get to higher levels would leave a lot of students behind. Therefore, where there is an intention to bring this concept of creative online communities into the educational process, there needs to be sensitivity and well rounded considerations to predict the response of behaviour with the Receivers.

Some Transmissions are better than others. Some ideas are ‘redundant’ or clear to understand, whereas other ideas are ‘entropic’ that is unclear stimulating a variety of questions. Controlling the amount of noise and disruption can be useful in methods of conveying the clarity of message in order to provoke and challenge thoughts.

 

David O’Reilly’s work in the few clips that I had selected seems often dark and mysterious. Some events seem quite random, and the disruptive nature of his work that produces the alienation effect (a.k.a. Verfremdungseffekt, v-effect) is successful in making different types of scene transitions as well as demonstrating thought processes. “Please Say Something” demonstrates the relationship between the two characters the cat and the mouse and the alienation effect truly brings out and highlights the particular thoughts of the characters, spatial boundaries such as outside and indoors.

Having the Shannon-Weaver model of communication thus can be useful in the way of having different manipulatings between transmitting a message to the receiver to stir up questions and thoughts about certain topics whether it be political, relationships or attitudes.

References:

  1. http://visual-memory.co.uk/daniel/Documents/short/trans.html
  2. http://communicationtheory.org/shannon-and-weaver-model-of-communication/
  3. http://henryjenkins.org/2009/07/how_dumbledores_army_is_transf.html
  4. http://mediacommons.futureofthebook.org/imr/2015/01/07/glitch-glitch-o-reilly-s-layering-brechtian-alienation

Module: Media Discourse