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.

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I’m Back!

Obviously it has been quite some time since my last blog, almost a year on here actually (though I have been writing reflectively on and off for that time). Although I often let things like this slip when things get tough, returning to it feels cathartic. I had let myself forget how useful it is to both get my feelings about what I’m doing out and to recognise the work that I have actually done.

To start with, I should perhaps catch you all up. Despite everything I went through in the three weeks prior to handing in my Confirmation of Candidature document and doing the presentation, I passed it with flying colours. No amendments needed! Since then I have been working on developing an idea of what I think the thesis might look like and which is naturally ever evolving but I think I have something to work with. I’ve also written somewhat of an introduction, that will no doubt need to be edited and changed, but its nice to have a version of it. I’m currently on the fourth draft of my first analysis chapter, this one being on the film Mrs. Miniver (William Wyler, 1942).

The last few weeks though, have been a particularly rough patch in a very hard year. This month actually marks a year that I have been getting consistent treatment for my depression and anxiety. Hence the lack of desire to post about the work. It’s still a constant struggle every day of my life but at least I am now on the right track. Over the past month or so though, it became clear that I needed to take a break, something I had been avoiding doing throughout this whole year. I had forgotten that mantra, ‘rest is a requirement, not a reward.’ It got to a point where I spent more time at my desk crying than writing. Finally, I was convinced to take the break I needed. It ended up being longer than I anticipated because it turned out things were even worse than I realised. But the important thing is that I sought help from the appropriate professionals and from the support network of loved ones I am blessed to have around me.

I have had to make sure to work on finding that work/life balance that we’re always searching for. I have a rule now not to work from home at all (as my house is far too small for there to be any separation between work and relaxation if I work there) and I am trying harder to dedicate the work days to my research so I can freely spend the weekends with family and free from the stress of the thesis. I readily acknowledge that at times in the next year and a half this may not always be possible to maintain but when it is, I have to give myself time off.

Getting back to work this week with a better headspace and renewed motivation has been great! My immediate plan has been to go back to the literature in order to be able to make my draft of the Miniver chapter more sophisticated and more insightful. There was a significant amount that I had set aside to have a look at but did not even skim through. I have been working through the draft again to spot the places that need more information or need to be expanded with more sources or more critical engagement (which I was not feeling as confident in). This has felt like a nice and easy way to ease myself back into the work whilst still being productive.

I had been analysing Mrs. Miniver in terms of melodrama and so I returned to the literature on this. This felt like a good place to start as it was the last place I had been. I have been going through the relevant chapters of Marcia Landy’s edited collection Imitations of Life. So far, Landy’s introduction has been useful in providing some more context on melodrama and expanding some of the ideas I’ve already come across, particularly Thomas Elsaesser’s (his essay Tales of Sound and Fury can also be found in the aforementioned book) notion that the internal conflict or emotions of the characters are played out externally though the mise-en-scène in melodramas. Thomas Schatz’s chapter also provided a more detailed history of the development of the family melodrama than I had previously come across.

In discussing the relationship of melodrama, ideology, and politics, Landy makes a point that I think is important for my whole thesis. She argues that we have to keep in mind that the text “is not merely a direct response to or reflection of social life; it is also a determinant of social reality” (Landy p. 18). This is an idea that I think relates to the crux of my argument about history and film. The way that a historical film engages with the contemporary context of its production and how that context is expressed in the film is certainly a key aspect of the analysis of the depiction of history in a particular film. However, I also think that the specific choices of how to represent a version of history in these films inevitably impacts the way that the audience thinks about that history. This is what I am making an attempt to measure or analyse through my study of both the films and the responses to them.

This is an idea I have often discussed before, but it is helpful from time to time, especially when something I read prompts to me think about it, to try to articulate these overarching ideas. Especially now that I feel like I’m coming back to the thesis feeling clearer.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

Reflecting on my First Conference Paper

2nd – 8th July 2018

This week was a bit of a hectic one, I’ve had a few family issues to come to terms with.  However, in reflection I’m excited to have presented at WSU’s Postgraduate Conference on Friday (6th July). I was a little anxious about it at first, it’s a bit of a different environment to the History In House (a meeting in which members of the history faculty can present their current research to each other which I presented at in June), and then once everything went a little pear shaped earlier last week I became almost ambivalent about it, given that my mind seemed to be on 100 different things at once. Once I was at the conference though, whilst my nerves kicked in a bit I wasn’t as uncomfortable as I thought I was going to be.

I have to take a moment to pass on thanks to my dear friend Alix who I work with at uni two days a week usually but who, this week, listened while I talked through the presentation, checked my PowerPoint, and even let me stay with her the night before the presentation to save me the three hour trip I was going to have to make and who came for moral support. I’m not quite sure I would have handled it as well this week if she hadn’t been so lovely to me.

During the presentation itself I still felt a little shaky but I tried to remember the idea that I am the expert on this particular thing in this particular room. I was a little intimidated as well by the people in the room. I highly respect every member of the history faculty but doing it in the In House environment where everyone is presenting and talking about their research feels like a different, safer place in many ways. It feels more collegial than the conference did, though I’m trying to remember to think of myself less as a student under scrutiny. Anyway, having a few academics there who I also very highly respect but don’t often have much to do with felt a little intimidating but as I got going it stopped mattering at all.

I was still a little hyperaware of my voice but I’m trying to work on that. There was another technical glitch with the clip, this time there was no sound whatsoever which threw me but ultimately I just narrated it myself a bit (though I do completely agree with my supervisor Judith, who commented afterward that I perhaps should have just winged it with the clip instead of wasting too much time trying to figure out a solution). I felt like I handled the questions fairly well, some of them genuinely making me think about my project and raising some points that I will have to look into, I think. At the end of it all I still wasn’t feeling super happy but I wasn’t really mad about it.

It did make me think about my own response to feedback and what that means for my own growth. I find myself often responding to any praise with self-deprecation and I don’t think that that is really helping me at all. Slightly tangentially, I recently watched Hannah Gadsby’s incredible comedy special Nanette (which is completely and utterly brilliant and I would recommend it to everybody) and in it she talks about having built her career on self-deprecating humour and how she doesn’t deserve to do that to herself and to anyone that identifies with her. Though I’m not in the same situation as Hannah it got me thinking about – frankly, a whole lot of things, it’s quite honestly changed my life – what I’m actually doing when I respond to things simply with self-deprecation. I don’t intend to start being arrogant, I still believe strongly in humility but when people give me positive feedback, especially about something which I lack confidence in and especially from those whose opinions I trust, and I immediately respond by putting myself and my performance down, I’m not sure how I’m ever going to grow in that. If I keep myself in that place of believing I’m not good at it then I’m never going to develop confidence. Henceforth, I’m going to try to work on taking in what people say about my work whether it be constructive criticism or praise. I need to learn to be kinder to myself. I should write a self-help book.

In other news, I’ve gone through my present bibliography and worked out what it is I think I need to have read for my CoC document, excluding, of course, any new works I find. I’ve got an RAF archive book from the library and my plan for the immediate future is to work through that, and then slightly longer term to start going through my resources and beginning to put together this document.

Overall feeling a lot more on track.

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.

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.