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.

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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.

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.

 

 

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.

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.