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!

 

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. 

 

Today’s Mood: Frustration

9th – 15th April 2018 

I don’t really have anything to report this week because I feel somewhat like I’m in the same place as when I wrote this last week. I feel like I’ve progressed nowhere this week. Logically, this isn’t true. I put together the timeline chart for the Early Candidature Plan and I’ve put together shot lists for a few scenes from one of my movies but I also didn’t finish either of the things that I wanted to last week, that being the ECP in its entirety and Mr Smith Goes to Tokyo which frustrates me. I know that I’ve gotten things done and the shot lists for instance are already illuminating some interesting things for me but I still feel frustrated. I feel like I didn’t get enough done last week when I didn’t really do anything differently. Sometimes I won’t have gotten as much done but I know that there was I had a day where I had to do others things, or I took off, or I just wasn’t as focused or something but this week I really felt like I was working normally. Maybe I’m expecting too much of myself again but I felt like I really had a realistic goal for last week and have no real reason not to have met it.

I’m also getting frustrated with the way that I’m finding I’m putting little tasks off, admin stuff and things like that, and prioritising bigger things and then realising that I never did those tasks or I haven’t done them for weeks and that’s driving me a little mental. I guess though that it just means re-evaluating my schedule and setting time aside time to do those little things.

I don’t really have anything else to say, just got to make this week better. And work a little harder, especially as it’s my birthday this week and I’d like to be able to not to anything then.

Back on Track

2nd – 8th April 2018

This week felt productive! After carrying that yuck feeling about the synthesis into the beginning of the week, my meetings with my supervisors really helped sort me out. It was reassuring and constructive to get the feedback that the synthesis was actually alright for what it was. I think through talking about it I had to address how much my perfectionism when it comes to my writing can be a bit of a straitjacket. I have to relax and realise that not everything has to be a perfect mini version of my thesis, especially not at this point. I sometimes expect far too much of myself which is not so good for my productivity or for my mental health to be honest. Anyway, this is something I’m going to keep trying to work on.

Putting in the abstract to present at our history faculty’s In House felt really good! To be honest, I’m still quite intimidated by the prospect of doing it so I’m a bit proud of myself for just getting in there with it. I have a terrible tendency to simply avoid things that make me anxious but as that is going to get me approximately no where in the future, I’m feeling good about taking some steps to quit doing that. Big up my supervisors for their help and encouragement in this regard.

On this note, I now have to pick some scenes from my films to start working up shot lists for so I can present a proper in depth analysis. Its hard to limit myself to only certain scenes because ideally there’s so many I’d like to do. As it is I’ll have to just focus on a few for now.

I’m still reading Mr Smith Goes to Tokyo which is actually becoming a touch of a problem. I’m finding it so interesting that I’m reading it too slow. I like to think that I’ve gotten pretty decent at effectively skimming things so that I don’t sit and try to read every word of every book because I obviously don’t have the time for that. However, with this one I’ve found myself reading it almost word for word which isn’t I guess a bad thing because it’s relevant but it’s also taking more of my time that I would normally spend on one book. At least I’m gathering a lot of notes and interesting information I suppose.

So my plan for this week is to work on getting my shots lists together  so I can start really working on that analysis. I also want to get the Early Candidature Plan finished. I’m still working on putting that timetable together. I’ll finish Mr Smith this week and maybe have more of a look into the press for my films as well. Hopefully it will be another good week.

 

Crisis of Confidence

19th March – 1st April 2018

Last week I really didn’t think it was worth writing a blog because I got little to nothing done. I handed in the synthesis on the Monday I was feeling a bit yuck about it and then the next day I went to see Bruno Mars and then got a bit ill so I was pretty well wiped for most of the week. I did manage to get a bit of research done on some citations from stuff I’ve already read but otherwise I had a pretty dud week. The concert was great so there’s that at least.

This week has been a little better. I’m still feeling pretty crappy about the synthesis to be honest and it’s causing a bit of a spiral in my confidence. I’m looking forward to my supervisor meetings this week because I always find talking things through really helpful and often confidence building. I just didn’t really like how the synthesis came together and I’m not super proud of what I put forward which, because my brain is prone to overthinking, naturally led me to feeling sort of out of depth. I can rationalise that its early and I still have a lot of work to do and I’m obviously going to expand and perfect the analysis and the like so I’ve been trying to shake it off. This has also though, made it hard to approach the abstract for our uni’s History In House presentation, where the history faculty gets together once a semester to present and discuss their current projects. I’ve started working on it and I think I know probably how to go about it (though I’ve always been quite bad at abstracts which doesn’t help) but its just the confidence thing I guess getting a little too much in the way. I’m trying really hard to push through this though.

Otherwise I’ve been reading Mr Smith Goes to Hollywood which I’m finding really fascinating. Firstly just because I know next to nothing about the American occupation of Japan so its just interesting to learn a touch about that but also discovering how this intersected with film and censorship is really neat! I think its really interesting how the American occupation government had an eye on Japanese film as a means of trying to inform public opinion due in part to their experience with this with American films during the war. I’m enjoying this read a lot so far.

I’ve also been having a crack at filling it out my Early Candidature Plan as best I can at the moment. I’m still not quite sure when I should put that in but I don’t want to keep putting it off.

I think I’m going to be alright, I’ve just got to keep trucking along.

I hope everyone that celebrates has a good Easter!

I’m Back!

Hello! Its been a while, I know. Things got a little crazy toward the end of my Masters. But, it was all worth it because I ended up handing in a Masters thesis that earned me a High Distinction and got me into my PhD program with a full scholarship! So basically I ended the most stressful year of my life to date and decided what to do next was to dive straight in to what will probably be three more incredibly stressful years.

I’m excited though, I have to say. I’ve just really gotten back into it, knuckling down on the early stages of the research, reading widely and as much as possible. I had my first proper meeting with my supervisory panel last week which went well and really hyped me up to get going again. My two supervisors from my Masters have come with me into my PhD which is brilliant and I couldn’t be more grateful to them. I’ve also got a new addition who is an expert in the area of history I think I’m going to look into and who is just a lovely, incredibly intelligent woman. I’m excited to work with her.

So yes, back at it. This time I’m going to continue my research into history and film in a similar way to what I did in my Masters. At this point my plan is to look into the recent spate of British films and television series that are returning to and reimagining the early Second World War, specifically Dunkirk and Churchill. I also plan to investigate the reception of these films and series which is an area of my Masters thesis that I basically ignored due to the time and space constraints on my paper.

Hopefully I’ll be more active on here, tracking my PhD journey, updating on the research process and sharing the lessons that I learn from the wonderful and learned people around me and from the mistakes I’m sure I will inevitably make.

Wish me luck!

 

 

Research Update 20/06/2017

So I spent the last 10 days at the Sydney Film Festival and I’m feeling both exhausted and inspired. I’m also, naturally, feeling a little guilty because I really haven’t done a lot thesis wise. I tried to squeeze in a bit of reading and writing here and there but there really isn’t a huge amount to report.

The film festival itself was wonderful. It was my first time but it will definitely not be my last. I saw loads of really interesting films and was lucky enough that out of the 20 I saw, there was only one that I didn’t really like. I saw a couple of films dealing with specific historical people or events (a sweet biopic of painter Maud Lewis and an unsettling documentary about Elián González) but almost all of the films were dealing with a particular historical and/or cultural moment or issue. A number of them were documentaries and it was interesting to be able to contrast and think about the ways issues were presented in a documentary form versus a fictional film. I Am Not Your Negro directed by Raoul Peck was an interesting example to me because it almost felt like it was blending fiction and documentary by examining issues of race in America entirely through the words and writings of James Baldwin. The film also explored how film is used to construct and reinforce cultural ideas and norms, particularly in this case, how Baldwin came to understand his place as an African American in the United States through the construction and depiction of African American characters in the films of the 1930s-1950s.

My experience viewing Last Men in Aleppo, a documentary about the White Helmets in Syria, was also particularly interesting. As I was entering the theatre, a group of protestors were gathered outside handing out pamphlets that denounced the film as propaganda, claiming that the White Helmets are sponsored by Al-Qaeda and that the film was one of many films attempting to arouse sympathies in the West with a pro-terrorist organisation. One of the ways this was done, they claimed, was by showing these men saving children and emphasising their relationships with kids. I don’t know nearly enough about this situation to know whether these protestors claims are true or false but it did lead me to think about how the documentary did attempt to create sympathy. I’m not in a position to say whether this is unfounded sympathy (though either way, it seems these men are clearly sacrificing a lot, even their own lives, to help people in their city), rather I just mean that it drew my attention to the ways in which the film was constructed in order to align the audience with the perspectives of these men.

Most of the feature films I saw were foreign films and it was fascinating to see how different filmmakers from all over the world approached their films and the eras and/or issues they were depicting. I felt like I learned something about cultural/historical issues from different places that I knew little or nothing about. A particularly powerful one for me was White Sun directed by Deepak Rauniyar which dealt with the fallout of the Nepalese Civil War by examining the clash between traditional customs and new ways of thought when a man who fought for the Maoists must return home to his traditionalist, loyalist village after his father dies. I thought it was interesting because whilst it is framed as an incredibly personal story it deals with very large issues, mainly that the peace that had been reached was not an end to their problems but the start of a whole range of new ones. The director also refrained from choosing sides, depicting the problems with both the monarchist system and their traditional values (including misogynistic and classist attitudes) and the Maoist approaches (the violence and death toll caused by them). The director was at the screening I attended and spoke about how this was important. He talked about how he wasn’t happy with the state of his country, that neither side had solutions, and that he wanted to depict the effects this had on everyday people. I didn’t know nearly anything about the Nepalese Civil War but this film prompted me to investigate it a bit, something we’ve been talking about a lot.

It was just useful to be engrossed in film for a while I think. I noticed that I saw more things in films, like how they are being constructed and why that might be so and what perspective is it coming from and such. Overall, whilst by the last day I was pretty exhausted, it was an incredibly enriching experience.

Looking forward, while I had been writing here and there during the festival when I had a minute, I’m planning to get stuck back in, finishing off the work on Elizabeth in the next few days hopefully and then getting stuck in on The Virgin Queen. The awareness that time is running out is starting to hit me a bit. I’m not freaking out too badly just yet but it’s there in the back of my mind. Just got to get back to work I suppose.

Research Update 17/04/2017

This fortnight has largely been focused on thinking through and writing on methodology. It’s been a good process. The more I write the clearer things become.

First of all, it’s become clear to me in writing about methodology that my grasp of film theory is a little lacking. I found that when it came to describing how exactly I’ll approach the films and things like what exactly I mean by terms like mise-en-scéne, I couldn’t pull up the theory and the literature that I need. This sent me into a bit of a spin at first but at the end of the day, the only thing that will fix that is doubling down on the film research for a hot second.

Secondly, I worked out what I don’t really like about O’Connor. Although his method allows the space for serious film analysis, he and the scholars contributing to Image as Artifact are still coming from the perspective that traditional history is still the most important and the best means of assessing any historical piece. This is understandable given the time it was written, O’Connor’s position as a historian, and his intention that this method be applied in a history classroom. What it means though it that the areas of the methodology that fit more easily with standard historical methods, namely tracking down production histories through archival research, are the most thought out and considered aspects of the method presented in Image as Artifact and the film studies aspects are far less developed (though there are still some really interesting ideas in there). Also, it feels as if O’Connor and co. are still trying to fit film studies into historical studies.

Thirdly, despite this I found that I still feel the method can work. It is unsurprising that O’Connor’s attitude in the early 1990s would be the way it is. As such, I think for its time the method was still a great move forward in the field of film and history. I feel that if I bring it even further and dispense with the idea that historical methods are paramount (they are still absolutely crucial of course, I’m definitely not arguing to get rid of them) and taking the film analysis sections more seriously, the method can still be incredibly useful. I feel as if the method needs to be taken to a conclusion that O’Connor himself seemed still a little hesitant to reach. Film studies perhaps doesn’t need to fit into historical studies but rather they could meet somewhere more in the middle.

I’ve also had a few issues this fortnight trying to get that thesis/life balance right. Easter time is always a little busy for me, my family celebrates it and it’s birthdays all around (including my own) and finding the ability to say ‘I can’t do this thing because of my thesis’ has been really hard. I’ve never been very good at saying no to my family and close friends and I feel that now it’s expected of me to do everything, both by me and by them and it becomes this big loop of guilt for me about either/or not doing enough work and not doing enough with or for my family (though I know that they would of course understand). Not to mention, with my head, sometimes stupid things knock me out. I had a panic attack last week about almost losing a ring and it took me out all day which again, makes me feel really guilty. I’m just trying to work out how to balance these things at the moment and some days it’s harder than others. I think I have to learn how to live with being a bit selfish from time to time for my own greater good.

Research Update 02/04/2017

I’m continuing to work through Image as Artifact to unpack my thoughts on the methodology. A lot of it is contributions from other scholars but, as I’ve been discussing with my supervisors, everything is of its particular context and this becoming increasingly obvious to me all the time. There is a lot of talk in this about how film can be useful so long as we are aware of its pitfalls in comparison to written history.

There is some interesting discussion however, particularly in Daniel Leab’s essay, about how the medium contributes to the past being rewritten for the present and how films respond to changing beliefs about the past. This is useful for me thinking about how film/TV might demonstrate changing ideas of Elizabeth I as a result of second-wave or post feminism for example. There is discussion of the inadequacy of the content analysis supported by Rosenstone and the need to think about style and composition. This is a big part of what I like about O’Connor’s methodology.

I also came across a nice quote from Patricia-Ann Lee which I will need to remember to keep in mind. “Creating or even defining methodologies,” she says, “is a chancy and dangerous business since it suggests that there are absolutes in a process which must always retain the greatest possible flexibility” (p. 97). O’Connor’s method is probably not THE answer to analysing historical films but perhaps is just the most applicable for me given my opinion on how these films should be approached and will probably need to be changed and adapted to the new ways in which film and TV are being consumed today.

I’ve finally finished writing about defining historical films (even though I’m fairly sure I will cut most of it) and by the end I think I really fleshed out my own thoughts on the topic though it will definitely need to be cleaned up. I’ll be moving right along to writing about methodology.

Side note: Pacemaker is THE BEST. I sit down to write what I need to that day and end up just flowing. Today, I needed to write 163 words to hit my target but ending up writing close to 600 once I got on a roll. It’s such a good way to prompt myself to get writing. This is not a sponsored post.

Sources:

O’Connor, John, ed. The Image as Artifact: The Historical Analysis of Film and Television. USA: R. E. Krieger Publishing Co. , 1990.

Research Update 27/03/2017

I’ve had another slow week I feel. I’m trying to get back on track but I still feel a bit sluggish and slacking. I’ve been working through Image as Artifact by John O’Connor, trying to get back around the methodology. So far this has been helpful as I’ve picked up some really important threads of ideas and also been able to see some of the shortcomings of O’Connor’s theories. I think it’s important that I acknowledge and address these if I’m going to use his method.

O’Connor developed the two phase method of film analysis and historical inquiry for analysing historical films in order to help develop critical viewing skills in the classroom. While this isn’t my focus or my argument I think it’s still in the same vein in the sense that I want to further a meaningful way to assess these films. I like that O’Connor aims for this method to be used for both film and television and specifies that each media requires slightly different approaches, including the consideration of the flow of television programming and the different spaces and circumstances of television viewing in comparison to cinema. This will be important to keep in mind when I talk about film versus television. O’Connor also argues for a view of the audience as active and that context is paramount, both positions I would agree with. There is a lot on reception which for now is helpful just to keep in mind but would be good for further work.

O’Connor still appears to be coming from the position that written history is ultimately superior to film. He criticises scholars for holding historical films and television to unrealistic expectations but admonishes films that privilege “feeling history” over “thinking historically” (p. 33) and argues, in a similar position to Robert A. Rosenstone, that films that pander to audiences expectations and preferences are the worst kinds of historical films. He also seems to want historians to become more actively involved in filmmaking as he believes they would want to make the creative process more obvious to the audience – the ideal trait of a good historical film in his opinion.

I feel that these arguments miss the point. To me, if we want to seriously evaluate historical film and television on the basis of their particular media as well as their historical value, we must accept film as it is going to come and that not all films are going to be experimental and challenge dominant narratives and expose their processes of construction or reconstruction. I believe we should be questioning what we can learn both from films that do these and the mainstream films that don’t, instead of picking and choosing and creating hierarchies of kinds of films – end of rant-

O’Connor is also skeptical of the typical narrative structures in historical films and television claiming that “in the stories that make for successful movies on television programs, the motives of major characters must be understood in terms of present-day values and concerns immediately accessible to a general TV audience…” (p. 2). While I understand his position that this might misrepresent actual historical motives (or what historians believe to be the most accurate motives), I think this might be able to show us information about how the filmmaker and the wider society in question sees the relationship between the past and the present and how they relate to each other. I think that the question of how we use the present to relate to the past and vice versa is a really rich and interesting one and could certainly be explored in films about Elizabeth I. In particular, can later Elizabeth I films like Elizabeth (1998) and shows like The Virgin Queen (BBC, 2005) and Elizabeth I (HBO, 2005), be viewed as means to explore female political leadership in a post-Thatcher Britain?

Ultimately, I think that although I disagree with some of O’Connor’s underlying ideas, the methodology is still fine for me.

Aside from that, I just started a Pacemaker account/plan to help keep track of my writing (thanks to the wonderful Toshi and Alix for putting me onto it).  Also I had a really great and productive study day with Lucie and Alix which included Alix gifting us some really lovely pens which might seem insignificant but really makes me smile and makes actually writing more enjoyable.

Sources:
O’Connor, John, ed. The Image as Artifact: The Historical Analysis of Film and Television. USA: R. E. Krieger Publishing Co., 1990.