When the Fog Lifts

This week has been both good and not so good. I am happy to report though, that within myself I am in the best place that I have been in probably almost a year. I feel enthused about my work and confident about managing it all and getting it done – even though the tasks ahead are still a bit daunting. For the first time in a while I’m keen for opportunities to write, including this, and getting my thoughts and ideas out. Having said all this, this week was slower than I had hoped. My partner has been having a few issues with their thesis – I both would and would not encourage dating within the same industry – and so some of my focus went toward trying to help and support them this week. On a more positive note, I also got to spend a lot of time with my family this week!

Nonetheless, I’m pleased with my work on my draft. I have been actively scheduling my weeks of late so that I can manage all of the tasks I have to get done. In the past, while I spent a lot of time writing about the things I read, I would largely leave the actual draft writing and editing until I absolutely had to get it done. Lately I have been setting aside at least one day each week to go back to my draft and work on it, whether that is editing, writing sections I had been neglecting, or finally dealing with those comments that I had left for myself to eventually do something about.

Doing this has already started to bring me a greater sense of achievement with my writing than I had been feeling before. I used to somewhat dread the draft writing because it was something I was cramming together all at once but now it feels like I’m actually making steady progress which makes it a bit easier for me. It also feels more manageable when I’m looking at it as one or two days a week and a couple of tasks – write a section, deal with the comments in this section, fix the edits – than having it sit in the back of my mind and everything that has to be addressed building up into what felt like weeks and weeks worth of work.

In the end I’m probably doing the same amount of work but pacing it out is much better for me to manage. I imagine this is not necessarily new or surprising information and probably something I should have been doing the entire time. To be honest, the more the black fog that I was living in with my health lifts, the clearer I see the things folks had been telling me the whole time. This applies to a lot of things: taking care of myself, approaches to getting things done, ways to balance life and work, getting the right amount of rest and so on.

Essentially, I’m feeling really good and its allowing the work to flow and for me to appreciate the ways of working that actually help me to get things done and stay sane.

A Productive Fortnight

To begin with, my apologies for the delay in updating. My plan was to write the blog on Fridays as a way to reflect on the week’s work. The last two Fridays have just gotten away from me apparently. I’m learning though, to forgive myself when I’m not quite as productive as I want to be because getting grumpy about it is simply counterproductive. So anyway, because I’ve now gone two weeks without a blog, doing it on a Monday and then hopefully getting back on track with my Friday updates seemed like a good idea.

It has actually been a pretty good two weeks, despite me throwing my organised schedule somewhat to the wayside. This fortnight, I completed my first Annual Progress Report for my Candidature. That was a far easier process than I originally expected it would be. It was also a good opportunity to stop and take stock of where I’m up to and what’s left to do. I’m grateful that I had no major issues to report and that I have been blessed with wonderful and helpful supervisors that I think I work well with and work well together. I know that myself and my thesis are in good hands with them! Examining where I’m at and where I have left to go was a bit more anxiety inducing. I know that I have been working fairly consistently but I did feel like I could have been a bit further ahead than where I am now. I also know that this chapter I am working on is going to form a guide for how to write my other analysis chapters and that I’m working out the bigger ideas through writing it but I think that I had thought I might have more content down by now. Nonetheless, having to do the research plan based on submitting on time (Jan 2021) was helpful. Next year will be busy but if I stick with my plan, for the most part at least, it’s doable!

Over the past fortnight I have also read a good amount of really interesting and useful things. Worth mentioning are Jerome Christensen’s article “Studio Identity and Studio Art: MGM, ‘Mrs. Miniver’, and Planning the Postwar Era” and Gabriel Miller’s book William Wyler: The Life and Films of Hollywood’s Most Celebrated Director. Both of these texts discuss some of the production context that I had been neglecting in my Miniver chapter. Christensen in particular, discusses the role of MGM during the war. He argues that MGM was a “synecdoche for the industry in the eyes of the public” during the 1930s and into the 40s and that because of its prominence, its activity during the war, including the involvement of major stars, was particularly notable (p. 261). He also delineates three types of home front films that MGM was making during the war. The first of these was promoting civilian participation in the war effort, the second was “domestic spectacle,” and the third, which concerns Mrs. Miniver, are those which extend the home front to include Great Britain, bridging the gap between the U.S. and the U.K. (p. 261–262). He argues why these films were important, most of these reasons being things I have already looked at with Miniver, such as encouraging Americans to sympathise with the British and to think about the war coming to them if they don’t help out. He adds though, the idea that by 1942 when Miniver was released, public opinion was centred on the war in the Pacific rather than in Europe, which Christensen suggests was “of greater strategic consequence” to the Roosevelt Administration (p. 264). This is helpful context for the production of the film. I did not realise until I read this that I had been forgetting about this in my actual chapter.

Christensen raises another point I’d like to note before moving on. He discusses the difference between persuasion and propaganda in a way that I think will prove really useful when I come to writing my section on the discourse around propaganda. To begin with he simplifies the difference by arguing that persuasion “influences choice” and propaganda “instills or confirms a faith impervious to evidence” (p. 271). I thought that this was an interesting idea that I can explore further in the propaganda research and writing. I was also impressed by a particular analogy that he uses. He states that the differences between persuasion and propaganda “are as clear as that between black and white, or rather the difference between choosing black or white and being compelled to see black as red” (p. 271). This struck me as I was reading it and I’ve noted it down to return to when I’m working on that section. I also watched the Netflix documentary The Great Hack (Karim Amer & Jehane Noujaim, 2019) which looked at the Cambridge Analytica scandal in which it was revealed that Facebook had turned over user data to company Cambridge Analytica in order to target and ‘persuade’ voters in favour of the Trump campaign in the U.S. and the Leave.EU campaign in the U.K. This raised points for me while watching it about the line that extends between propaganda films of the Second World War that were persuading general audiences towards particular ideas and the current notion of ‘fake news’ specifically targeted toward individuals through their social media accounts to encourage them toward particular political positions. This feels like it might be worth exploring to an extent, as this kind of campaigning was intrinsic to the Brexit referendum which is important context for Dunkirk (2017) in particular.

Moving on, Miller’s book provides some more detailed context for William Wyler himself, both personally and as a director. Importantly, Miller breaks down the idea that Wyler’s style as a director was largely realistic. Rather, he claims, “Wyler’s mise-en-scène is in no way neutral…. Wyler’s pictorial arrangements are often complex” (p. 3). He further argues that Wyler was masterful at subtly controlling and manipulating the gaze of the audience (p. 4). This struck me as important given the discussion of mise-en-scène and melodrama that I have in my analysis section of the chapter. This context gives more credence to Wyler’s use of melodrama in Miniver. Miller also points out that Wyler had a long history of making socially and politically conscious films, often critiquing American society (p. 13).

Notably for my research and analysis, Miller explores in depth the production of Miniver. He discusses the adaptation of the story from Struther’s novels, noting that most of the important plot points in the film were added by screenwriters, Arthur Wimperis, James Hilton, George Froeschel, and Claudine West (p. 209). However, Wyler himself had significant input into the script. In the original script, the German pilot that Kay confronts was originally cast more sympathetically, “suggesting that he reminds Mrs. Miniver of her son Vin” (p. 212). This is obviously not the version that made it into the actual film. According to Miller, Wyler refused to shoot the scene this way, believing that the sympathy for the Nazi pilot was going too far. Louis B. Mayer, the head of MGM at the time, was wary of offending foreign audiences and wanted Wyler to keep it as it was in the script. Eventually Mayer relented but Miller notes that by the time America entered the war, the entire incident “was forgotten” (p. 212–213). I won’t carry on but the insights that Miller provides in this book will be really useful for filling out the creative context for the film. Miller also notes that Wyler himself published a number of essays on his work that may be worth looking up at some point, just to see if there is any insight to be gained there.

Other than all of that, I have been working on my draft a bit, working out how I can restructure the analysis in particular so that it flows a bit better. I’m feeling happier about it at the moment and I think that by next week I should I have something worth looking at again.

Trying to Keep Busy

13th – 19th August 2018

I really don’t have too much to report this week. For the most part I’ve been working on putting the CoC document together. It’s been a bit of a tough slog still with my Grandma passing away last Wednesday. I’m a bit touchy and sometimes it’s hard to keep focused but I think keeping busy is the best option for me. I’ve also been going to uni a lot more. I’m on campus five days a week now and I’m finding the routine, almost like getting up and going to work every day, is helping me keep grounded. It also doesn’t give me the room to just lie around in bed which, if I’m honest, is what I feel like doing most of the time at the moment.

So yes, I’ve been working on the CoC document over the last week. I read back over my introduction from my Masters thesis and the synthesis I worked on earlier this year and worked out what stuff I can use and made a little scaffold based on the sections that are required for the document. This left me with only a few parts that need to be put together from scratch as it were, so I’m feeling okay about it going together. It just needs to be written up properly and formalised. It’s still a little sketchy at present. The things that I’m most worried about are the sections like the research outcomes and maybe the research case a little and I also realised I have to do a budget, but I thought I would talk that through with my supervisors.

Other than that, I’m also trying to fit my marking in which I think I’m getting a decent rhythm with. I’m marking an annotated bibliography at the moment and I’m finding the pedantry of it somewhat relaxing even though it is slightly tedious. Only one of my students is using my referencing style so it’s also somewhat interesting to learn a bit about other styles as well as a nice reminder to myself about what I need to look out for in my own work when I was digging into Chicago.

This week I’m looking to get a first draft at least of the document as close to finished as I can. Next week I’ve got to go interstate for the funeral on Monday, so I really would like to get as much work as I can done before then.

 

 

Unpleasant Surprises

6th – 12th August 2018

This past week was a bit trying honestly. Mainly this was because of my Grandma’s health. We were really worried we would lose her last week. We rushed down to Canberra where she is on Thursday and I tried to focus and get some work done on the way down, but it took a lot of energy to do so. Once we got there, she was not looking great, having had a stroke and her left side being mostly paralysed, but thankfully she’s being taken excellent care of and for the foreseeable future, it seems she’s going to be okay.

Also this week, finding out my Confirmation of Candidature was going to be a bit sooner than I had imagined (in a month with the document due in about three weeks) initially threw me a little and I knew that I was also heading into marking a bigger, and what I imagine will be more time consuming, assignment this week. All of this together left me feeling a fair bit overwhelmed toward the end of last week. Over my time doing research projects, all two years of it, I’ve managed to learn, however, that freaking out really isn’t going to get me anywhere, so I stopped, took stock, and started thinking logistically about how I’m going to tackle the coming weeks and everything that needs to be done.

To start with I looked at another student’s CoC document which turned out to be a huge relief. I was struggling a little to work out exactly how I was supposed to put the document together and amass the disparate strands of my project together into one piece. Looking at this example and seeing the structure of it instantly eased my mind. Being broken down into sections is a lot easier to manage and it made me really see that it is a lot like the introduction to the thesis itself so that made me feel a lot better. I’ve done that before, I know how to go about it. I also realised that I’ve done a lot of that work already, both in the synthesis I did earlier in the year and in my Masters. I’ve also been keeping track of the stuff that I’ve been reading as I do it, so it shouldn’t be too difficult to put it together once I have the structure I want to do it in. I was thinking perhaps of approaching it in a similar way to the way I did my introduction in my Masters. I feel like that was pretty logical and coherent. We’ll see how we go.

I’ve also gone through my bibliography again as it stands now to work out if there’s anything on there that I haven’t read yet that I think really needs to be in the document and there’s a couple of things but nothing I don’t think I can handle. I’ve been skimming through Anna Clark’s Private Lives, Public History recently which I had unwisely been putting off.

For the immediate future then the plan is simply to get this document done and ready to go by September!

 

Turns out marking is kind of hard

23rd July – 5th August My apologies for not having a blog last week, I didn’t have a minute to write it, I was so busy. Fortunately (or unfortunately for my overall progress) the week before last was a bit of a write off. Turns out I’m too old to manage going out so much these days. The two concerts completely wiped me out and I barely made it through the meeting I had to have about the marking I’m doing this semester that ended up falling the day after the second concert. Not my best moment but I got some rest over the weekend and went full steam ahead into last week.Side note, the concerts were really great, so it was a little worth it.So last week, as I said, was really busy. I finished off  RAF Archive book and put some brief thoughts together on it which was really great and definitely got me enthused about looking into more primary sources. I also circled back to another book I had stopped in the middle of and an article one of my supervisors sent my way is on my agenda for early this week.Most of my week however was taken up with marking. I had somewhat underestimated how difficult that would be at first. On Tuesday me and the two other students that are also marking had another meeting  before the lecture for the unit (which I have to attend and it turns out I’ve lost some of my lecture fitness, whoops) where they ran through with us the sort of things we should be looking for and the type of feedback we should be giving and generally just guiding us through the process, which was unbelievably helpful. They warned us that in the beginning it would probably be a bit difficult to decide on marks and to work out quite what to say in the feedback. I took that on board, but it doesn’t necessarily sink in until you’re doing it I suppose. I found it kind of agonising at first and old mate self-doubt crept in, was what I was saying to these students going to be helpful? Was I even right? Was I being consistent with my marks? It was much more stressful than I anticipated, and it took a day and a half to mark seven students in the end. Once I had released the feedback the insecurity didn’t ease, I continued thinking about it, or overthinking more accurately. Eventually I pulled myself together and realised that was only going to waste my time. I couldn’t possibly continue to agonise over every mark and every line of feedback, I just don’t have that kind of time. I’m hoping as I go on I will gain more confidence with it and stop worrying too much. I’ve been through the process they’re going through and I’m a smart kid. I know what I’m doing. That’s what I keep telling myself.This week I’m looking forward to my supervisor meeting, if I’m honest. We haven’t had one for just over a month as a two of my supervisors have been away. I think I’ve realised that I really need to check in more, I need a bit of a tether. I also have realised that I’ve been drifting a little and that maybe more deadlines will help me. I’m not sure exactly how to go about this, what kind of deadlines and how often but I’m hoping we can talk about that and maybe work something out. Otherwise it’s looking like another busy week, more marking which will take me less time this week, I’m determined, more reading, more writing. I much prefer feeling busy than feeling like I haven’t really done enough so it’s alright with me.

Dunkirk Air Combat Archive

9th – 22nd July 2018

I’m feeling fairly confident this week actually! Things are settling and I’m feeling like I’ve got the right routine happening at the moment and I’m finding some interesting stuff.

This comes off the back of a not so good week. Mostly just because a lot of things in my personal life were going on. The Thursday before last was the funeral for my aunt and the day before that I visited the library at the campus where my mother worked when I was a child and I spent a lot of time with her there and I think because I was already feeling a little vulnerable that hit me a little hard. So it was all in all a bit of an emotional hangover at the end of the week before last. But there was a light at the end of the tunnel as I went into last week feeling a little refreshed and lighter. And I’m sat writing this now in that library I still feel Mum’s energy here but it’s a lot less overwhelming and more comforting now that I feel in a personally in a better place.

Anyway, some actual content, I’ve been working through the book Dunkirk Air Combat Archive which is really interesting! The book is basically just a collection of actual patrol and combat reports from RAF pilots over Dunkirk. It’s been a really interesting read. There’s a lot of background information with it which sets the scene for every day of the evacuation, the weather, the military movements and decisions made that day, how much damage was inflicted on the town, the beach and the boats. It’s really given me a kind of day by day description or layout of the evacuation itself which has been really valuable. It’s also really fascinating to hear about it, or at least the air part of it, through the pilots themselves in a sense. Reading their actual reports gives that real sense of some of the things I talked about in my presentation. The sense of being outnumbered and overwhelmed really comes through in their reports as well as the issues of height. The impact that the weather had on them actually came through a lot stronger than in the secondary sources I dealt with in the presentation.

A particularly interesting thing that’s come about with this book is that it includes stills from actual footage from camera guns on Spitfires in the skies over Dunkirk. There are multiple pieces of footage it seems but because it’s specified where its come from I’m hoping that might give me a bit of a head start, or a help at least, in seeing if I can track them down. I’m really interested, in the potential comparison between the actual footage and the scenes in feature films about the evacuation featuring the RAF. It could be a really interesting avenue.

This coming week I can’t imagine I’m going to get a huge amount done, full disclosure. I’ve got concerts on both Tuesday and Wednesday nights which I’m staying in the city for and then I’m meeting on Thursday afternoon about some marking work I’ll be doing this semester so I won’t be home for pretty much three days this week and I imagine I’m going to be close to exhausted. I am going to try and find some time in the mornings to get some stuff done though. I’m aiming at least to have a productive day today (Monday) and on Friday to make up for the probably inevitable dip in productivity in the middle of the week.

Feeling Good! Who Would’ve Thought!

 28 April – 03 June 2018

Its been a pretty productive week I think. At least I feel good about it. I wasn’t feeling great going into my supervisor meeting on Tuesday. I knew I was taking too long with the presentation I’m doing in the middle of the month but it was a complete relief to hear I didn’t have to put a paper together for it which is what I had been working on. I’m not sure how I got it in my head that I needed to do that. Silly of me but oh well, nothing to be done now. But it did mean that I got the presentation pretty much together on Wednesday. All the notes are there and ready to go. My PowerPoint is not where I want it still but I’m not worried about that. I always do a PowerPoint a few times before I’m happy with it for anything. It doesn’t take very long at all.

I also went in to uni on Wednesday and Thursday which was really good and productive. I felt like I got a lot done those days. I work well at home but I think it’s the thing of if i’m going to get up at 5:30am to travel all the way to my campus there’s no point not making the most of it or it’d be a complete waste of time and energy. It’s just that little extra motivation paying off. And helpfully, having felt more productive those two days, it was easy to carry some of that motivation through to Friday, though my Saturday afternoon was nowhere near as productive as I wanted it to be given that I was going to be out all Sunday but I think I was just in day off mode as Saturday afternoons are usually my time to myself. 

Anyway, I managed to get a proper bibliography together this week. That was an interesting exercise because it showed me that I had actually been doing a decent amount of research in amongst all the reading and working on particular things. Sometimes a collected product like a bibliography is helpful to remind myself just what I have been doing. A little like these blogs if I’m honest. Just a little reminder that I have things to talk about, there is work that’s been done. The bibliography did also show me that I have a lot of stuff to check out if not read entirely. It also made me think about the idea of revisiting the stuff that I’ve gathered or noted down, just so that it doesn’t become a straight checklist for me to get through and I end up wasting my time on things I maybe don’t have to read. There were a couple things that I had left on there after last year that were probably not necessary anymore so I just took off. Also sending it my supervisors is something I perhaps should have done earlier to get their input, things I’m missing or are unnecessary for example. As I’m writing this, I just got an email from one to take a couple of sources off there, because there’s no use having them really if I don’t address them which she doesn’t think there should be any need for me to do, which makes sense.

I also found doing a chapter breakdown this week to be both a productive and frustrating enterprise. It was certainly helpful in trying to crack at how the thesis will come together. However, it was more difficult than I would have liked and I think I ended up with something really simplistic and not very good. I’m still struggling with the big picture, the idea that all of these parts will come together in one whole and trying to work out what’s going to go where is so overwhelming at the moment. The structure of anything I write, every essay, even blog post, all of it, is something I obsess about. It’s very important to me that a piece of writing flows nicely. So I think I’m finding it frustrating that I can’t visualise for sure how this thing will come together. But, having said all that, it was still a really helpful exercise to try and have a go at it, trying to think about the pieces and how they might fit together. I’m trying to make sure to think about it as a process, a ongoing thing that will be adapted and changed as I get further into the writing and the research. But it is nice to have a little map, even if it is a sketch that is probably missing some landmarks. We’ll get there.

So that’s the plan this week. I’m going to try to get rid of any backed up work so that I can go into the Sydney Film Festival without any worries. It’s going to be tiring enough as it is.