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!

 

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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.

Sydney Film Festival 2018

Thursday 7th June – Sunday 17th June 2018

While somewhat tiring given the schedule, this year’s film festival was a real joy. I saw 32 films altogether and can safely say I didn’t actively dislike anything. There was a really diverse range of films, in style, subject matter, and place. I saw films this year from places I don’t think I had ever seen a film from before, including Finland, the Arctic, Indonesia, Kosovo, Slovakia, and Paraguay among others. It’s always interesting, and a pleasure really, to see how people live in other places around the world, watching other cultures, and discovering the differences as well as how there are some experiences, love, loss, family for example, that bind us all together.

While there were a lot of films I really enjoyed just as films there were a couple that I found interesting in terms of my research. To start with there was a film called Transit (2018, Christian Petzold) which is about a German WWII refugee, Georg (Franz Rogowski), fleeing France by impersonating a writer who has been granted passage to Mexico through Marseille. Whilst in Marseille, he meets and falls in love with a woman who, naturally, turns out to be the wife of the writer he is impersonating. I didn’t think it was a super fascinating story but the notable thing about it is that it was actually set in modern day Marseille. This is not directly addressed in any way in the film nor is it overplayed, there aren’t smartphones or computers or anything like that. It is a much subtler approach, the most obvious nod to it being so modern are the contemporary cars. Otherwise, it becomes steadily clearer as the film progresses as you begin to realise that certain things seem out of place if we’re dealing with the beginning of the occupation of France by the Nazis. For one thing the soldiers we can assume are meant to be German are dressed almost like modern SWAT teams with high powered assault weapons. Also, once Georg reaches Marseille, the American embassy is guarded by American soldiers who are in modern American Army uniforms we’re used to seeing from films and news footage about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Once I finally realised the setting was modern I was immediately a touch confused. I wondered whether I had misinterpreted the narrative and we were not dealing with events of 1940 but a hypothetical version of events happening now. As the film went on however, it was apparent this was not the case and that got me to think about why the filmmaker would choose to approach the story this way, displacing the narrative in time. I have thought about it a lot since the screening and the more I think about it the more I think that I might have been partly right when wondering whether it was a hypothetical version of events for now. Perhaps the filmmaker was, by setting a story about refugees fleeing perhaps the most infamous oppressive regime in history, making a point about history repeating itself. Maybe he was remarking on the political climate and the plight of refugees in Europe at present. I can’t answer these questions with any certainty, but it feels to me that if this was not the intention, then it’s definitely an interesting way to look at the film. The idea of using a historical narrative not just to obliquely examine modern issues but directly address them by setting the historical narrative within a contemporary time period is something I don’t think I’ve ever seen before nor even considered.

Another film that was relentlessly thought provoking for me was a film called Bisbee ‘17 (2018, Robert Greene). This was described in the festival guide as “a hybrid film” in that it almost feels like a documentary and a narrative feature film rolled into one. The film is about the town of Bisbee in Arizona, on the Mexican border. Bisbee is a mining town and in 1917 there was a strike by the largely immigrant mining workforce. The result of this strike was that the mining company and the Sheriff’s department, who deputised most of the men in the town that were not miners (mostly white men), and, armed, they gathered the miners up and any civilians that were deemed to sympathise with them, herded them onto cattle cars and dumped them in the desert of New Mexico with nothing but a warning to never return to Bisbee. This has come to be known as the Bisbee Deportation. This is a history that lingers over the town but has seemingly not been addressed properly. It is often referred to as having been kept a secret but whilst the town does acknowledge that it happened, there are still very mixed feelings about how it went down. Bisbee is still a mining town, with generations having worked within the company, so there are some who feel a sympathy with the company and the Sheriff’s department who in their words “had no other choice.” Then there are artists and others community members who feel certain shame about what happened, one man even describing it as an ethnic cleansing, as it was mostly migrant workers who were “deported.” Others in the town are simply apathetic about the events, claiming to see both sides of the story.

The film is in part a documentary about the organisation of a centennial commemoration of the Deportation within the town, talking to various members of the community and following groups as they put events and activities together. It also follows the organisation of a reenactment that almost the entire town will participate in. This is where the narrative film element comes into play. Rather than having the typical dramatisation that one might expect from a historical documentary, this film has the community act in the dramatisation, with townspeople playing characters in the story, not just of the deportation itself but of all the events leading up to it. These scenes are shot like any other drama film and are added and mixed into the documentary. At one point, a scene between the young migrant miner the story focuses on and his mother is interrupted when the young man playing the miner, who is himself a second-generation Mexican immigrant, becomes emotional about the conversation which is akin to something he wished he’s said to his own mother. The lines between documentary and reenactment becomes slightly blurred throughout the film.

The film culminates in the community recreating the deportation on the day of the centennial anniversary, with half the town rounding up the other half. As this happens, we get slices of the real people discussing how they’re feeling about the situation and reflecting on some changing feelings and opinions about the event, having to go through it themselves in a sense. The man who is playing the Sheriff in the scenario had previously felt apathetic about the event but as he herds these people whilst armed, he remarks about how it feels wrong. The young man playing the migrant miner begins the film talking about how he doesn’t like to engage in political debate or discussion and over the course of the film, becomes more engaged and angry about the specific situation as well as more widely, lashing out at a white man for saying that Mexican migrants had previously “assimilated” to white culture, by reminding the man that Mexicans had been on that land for much longer.

What I was interested in with this film was the extent to which performance allowed a particular engagement with history. We often talk about how film allows an audience to engage with the history because of some kind of experiential connection – we have more of a connection because we can clearly imagine what it would have been like for these people because the film shows us. In Bisbee ‘17 however, the connection for the participants is like a more direct and intense version of this I imagine. They are literally going through what the men of 100 years earlier had gone through (though of course with the full knowledge that they are in a reenactment and their lives are not actually in danger). The fact that it altered the way people thought about their history was really powerful to me. Then I was thinking about the layers with it, in that as a viewing audience we’re somewhat experiencing their experience if that makes any sense. We’re learning about the history of the Deportation through the townspeople learning about it. I’m still not sure exactly how to properly conceptualise or articulate these ideas but I think it was utterly fascinating.

The last film I want to talk about in any detail is Spike Lee’s new film BlacKkKlansman, which I am admittedly a bit enamored with. I was really taken with the film in part because of how painfully relevant it felt. Set in the early 1970s in Colorado, the film is the true story of an African-American undercover cop, Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), who hatches a plan to infiltrate the local chapter of the KKK. With the help of a fellow cop and Jewish man, Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver), who acts as Ron in person with the Klan whilst Ron interacts with them himself over the phone, they successfully gain the trust of the klansman. It’s so successful that he establishes a relationship with the ‘Grand master’ David Duke, a racist, anti-Semitic, politician who’s still spouting his ugly rhetoric today, and gets himself nominated as the new chapter leader. It’s a really funny film but its sense of humour is sometimes a really dark one and a lot of the jokes come from the pointed way that Lee connects this story with our contemporary political climate, aligning the 70s KKK with the Trump campaign and administration as well as pointing out the same apathy from the white characters that no doubt helped in Trump’s election and with white nationalists once again feeling empowered. The Black Liberation movement that appears in the film that our main character Ron has a slightly tense relationship with mirrors the Black Lives Matter movement and it has a real sense of feeling like a contemporary film even though it’s very clearly a period piece.

This idea that we have not learnt from our history or that history is repeating itself (perhaps a theme for this entry) is brutally compounded by the last ten or so minutes of the film in which there is a shift from the KKK burning a cross after Ron’s investigation has been halted by the police department, symbolising that despite Ron’s best efforts, the KKK are still free to do their evil thing, to a documentary montage of footage from the neo-Nazi rallies in Charlottesville in August 2017. We bear witness to white men chanting “Jews will not replace us” with Nazi paraphernalia, and violent clashes between these men and anti-fascist protesters. We watch Trump claim there were “bad people on both sides,” effectively refusing to denounce Nazis and suggesting that the anti-fascist protesters were just as bad, and Lee pays tribute to Heather Heyer who was murdered on August 12 by a violent car ramming attack on protesters by a white nationalist. It’s a sickening few minutes of film that left the audience I was in at least, in stunned silence.

I’m interested with this film in the way that Lee connects the true story of Ron Stallworth with our contemporary climate, first through humour and then through a brutal reminder that racist violence really is not remotely funny when it’s really happening. Again, perhaps it links a bit with the idea of the visceral experience because for me and for the people around me that I spoke to, the film almost lulled us into a false sense of comfort. We know what’s going on in the film is wrong, the racist tirades from the klansman and the heartbreaking story of a black man’s murder told by an old Harry Belafonte, making a powerful cameo. I imagine that any decent audience understands that all these things are sickening but that tension is broken with the humour and we can take comfort in the fact that it’s history, right? Right up until the last moment where Lee reminds us that it’s really happening now, Nazis think they have power again and people are dying. It feels like being kicked in the guts. It’s confronting and its important. (For some context maybe, here is Spike Lee’s powerful response at Cannes to the idea of the film being relevant to what’s going on in America at the moment and addressing his reasoning for ending the film as he did. Fair warning there is some heavy language).

Again, I don’t really know exactly how to conceptualise any of my feelings and impressions on these films, but they did make an impact on me and got me thinking about my research and different ways in which the relationship of film and history could manifest itself.

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. 

 

Doing Alright

24th April – 6th May 2018

The past fortnight has been busy. I had my Masters graduation,  and some medical and family issues. It’s been kind of painful personally but productive in the way that it matters! I’ve been working on preparing for this presentation I have in mid-June as I really want it to be done by the end of May. I have such a busy time scheduled for the beginning of June.

So I’ve mainly been focusing in the last week or two on the historical research and reading what I can of what historians have written about themes present in the scene I’m working with. There’s lots to talk about and I might do a little more research but I think the historical part of the presentation just needs to be filled out and it’ll be pretty much ready to go.

This week I’m going to do some further research into the authors I’m talking about and focusing I think on doing some research into embodiment and really filling out and expanding my film analysis.

I’m also going to be really putting an effort into making sure I get on top of the admin stuff that I tend to push aside. I’m going to make sure to set aside time each day to work on those things, forms, emails, registering and applying for things etc, etc. I tend to go all in on a particular project or book or something and I’ve really got to balance all the aspects of the work including the bureaucracy, even though it might frustrate me.

So that’s the plan. I’m feeling a bit emotionally tired but I’m feeling good about the work so I’m hoping for a productive week.

 

Full Steam Ahead

16th – 23rd April 2018

I got a bit caught up and completely forgot about writing this yesterday! I had a decent but fairly relaxed week last week in the end. My dad took me out for my birthday and then a friend did the same and it was my monthly book club on Sunday. Not as much actual work got done as I would like in a normal week but I feel relaxed and energised and ready to crack on harder. Just an all-around more positive outlook than I feel I’ve had in a little while. Perhaps I needed to take a step back for a hot second to be able to take a few steps forward now.

I’ve mostly been focusing on the historical analysis side of the film. Looking into the facts of the issue I’m dealing with. I’m going to continue with this and then go back to the film analysis with some of this information in mind. I think that will inform not just what is being done cinematically but how that’s relating to the historiography. Filling in those helpful layers so I can put something good together for the full panel meeting next week.

I’ve still go to send something off to one of the historians that consulted on the film I’m working on (which is a little nerve wracking I’ll admit. Feels like cold calling someone) and I think I’m almost ready to put in the ECP (which seems ridiculous I feel like I’ve been messing around with that for far too long) and I should probably make an appointment with my school’s librarian as well soon. I’ve also been looking into the software for making clips. I downloaded Handbrake to have a go at that but it’s not reading my DVD properly and so I might have to either try and sort that out or just give up and invest in Tipard instead (which to be fair, I checked and probably looks like the better option).

In a nutshell, I feel like this week is going to be much better.