Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Split I Screen

In X-Men: First Class, the typical rookie training montage has an added stylistic element: the spilt screen. Normally, the montage is used to condense the weeks of training in “real” time into minutes in film time. While a montage alone can be used to show multiple characters training at the same time, the split screen depicts this more effectively. So we see Beast trying to outrun Professor X on one side of the screen while we see Banshee trying to use his supersonic voice to propel himself to fly on the other side of the screen. Not only does the split screen effect gives the training montage a fresh visual perspective but also gives a nod to the comic book layout.

Other films have used split screens to give the audience the experience of viewing simultaneous events. Here are my favorite uses of the split screen:

Pillow Talk

The split screens used in this film visually depict Brad Allen (Rock Hudson) and Jan Morrow (Doris Day) sharing their telephone line. Jan hates the fact that she has to share a telephone line with a womanizer like Brad. In this still image, she interrupts one of the many calls that Brad makes to one of his many lovers. Note that Jan Morrow is at the center of the frame placing her in the dominant position as the main female protagonist as well as Brad Allen’s main love interest.

(For the Da Vinci Code fans out there, notice that Jan’s section is in the shape of the chalice which further suggests that she is the dominant female in the film.)

Down With Love

This film is a tribute to the Doris Day/Rock Hudson sex comedies. However, the film puts a modern-day twist by making the sexual innuendos more overt. Here the split screen takes two innocuous activities, Catcher (Ewan McGregor) drying himself with a towel and Barbara (Renee Zellweger) cleaning her sunglasses, and puts them together to make it look like she is giving him a blow job while they are discussing their date plans.

(500) Days of Summer

This film uses the split screen effect towards the end of the film. The left side of the screen shows what Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) expects to happen when he arrives at Summer’s (Zooey Deschanel) apartment while the right side shows what actually happens. Sometimes the expectations and the reality are the same but other times they differ. In the still image, we see Tom expecting that he and Summer will blissfully reunite and we see him alone in reality. Then reality literally wipes away the fantasy when Tom discovers that Summer is now engaged.

At first I was confused by the placement of the expectation side. I remembered that the left side of the brain is the logical side while the right side is the creative side, so I would think that Tom would be creating the expectations. However, upon further reflection, in Tom’s mind, the expectations follow a linear logic that is associated with the left side of the brain. He feels that he and Summer reignited a spark at Millie’s wedding. When Summer invites him to her place for a party, Tom logically expects that Summer is single and feels that spark as well.

Run Lola Run

The split screen reminds us that Lola is racing against the clock as she tries to get the money in order to save her boyfriend, Manny. When I studied this film in film theory class, I learned to think of it as a video game in which Lola learns from her previous experiences what she has to do in order to rescue Manny. Most video games have a timer somewhere on the screen. Also, most video games show multiple characters doing different things simultaneously on the same screen. This split screen show that Lola and Manny will not be defeated by time with the clock at the bottom of the frame.

These are my favorite uses of the split screen effect in films. Are there other films that use the split screen that you like? If so, feel free to share in the comments section. Also, check out Split Screen: a weblog dedicated to the art of the split screen and multi-layered visuals to see more media that uses the split screen.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Is Bridesmaids really "The Hangover for Women"

Bridesmaids: “The Hangover for Women.” That is the description used mostly by mainstream media to market the film. But why? As a woman, I like The Hangover and not because I fondly remember fantasizing about Bradley Cooper’s Will Tippin from Alias. I enjoy it for the same reason men enjoy it: watching three ridiculous guys go through ridiculous obstacles to get the groom to his wedding. Is it to reassure people that Bridesmaids will be so funny that they will be glad to fork over $12 to see it? Released at the beginning of wedding season, the film has a built-in audience with the female population who has dealt with the craziness of being in a wedding at some point in her life. Plus, there are women who will drag their boyfriends/husbands to see it as entertainment blackmail for making them sit through the NBA playoffs/NHL playoffs/MLB game/French Open matches. Then there are the Saturday Night Live fans who either love Kristen Wiig or just curious to see her play another character other than her annoying socially-inept, goofy-voiced characters.

If Bridesmaids is truly meant to be “The Hangover for Women,” then the film should have focused on the bachelorette party to prove that women can party just as hard if not harder than the guys. After all, the bachelorette party in Bridesmaids is supposed to take place in Las Vegas just like in The Hangover. However, the women never make it to the bachelorette party thanks to Annie (Kristen Wiig). Due to her fear of flying, she gets drunk after taking a sedative which causes her to panic and to throw a tantrum getting the bridesmaids thrown off the plane. No losing the bride. No Mike Tyson cameo. No mad dash to get ransom money. No quickie Vegas marriage for anyone. Perhaps a moment of toilet humor in a bridal boutique and a brief girl-on-girl kiss will appeal to the male audience but that does not make Bridesmaids comparable to The Hangover.

What Bridesmaids has in common with The Hangover is that it humorously reflects the wedding party experience with the pre-wedding parties. These pre-wedding parties have a way of bringing people together who may know the bride or the groom but may not know each other. The groomsmen plan the bachelor party while the bridesmaids plan the wedding shower and the bachelorette party. The male version of party planning is drinking beer and deciding between a sports bar or a strip club as the perfect location to get the groom to an amnestic level of drunk. The bachelor party is the sole reason why men are willing to sit through a wedding in a tuxedo. Even though the groom is absent for most of the film, the bachelor party experience strengthens the bond between Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms), and Alan (Zach Galifianakis). No matter what happens they accept that they are stuck together and try to help each other out. The film shows male bonding before the wedding at its finest.

However, Bridesmaids shows female bonding before the wedding at its most awkward. In this film, the awkwardness comes from Lillian (Maya Rudolph) bringing together her childhood friend Annie and her fiancĂ©’s boss’s wife Helen (Rose Byrne). When they meet, Annie and Helen size each other up in a passive-aggressive manner speaking clipped tones under the guise of politeness. The engagement party devolves into a game of “Who knows Lillian best.” When they try to bond while playing tennis, they “accidently” hurt each other while trying to prove they’re Lillian’s best friend.

The other awkwardly funny moments come when one of them tries to control the party planning. Wedding showers are notoriously difficult to plan even with the most laid-back bride because you have to decide on a theme, party favors, and games. Any woman who has had the responsibility of planning the wedding shower has at least one member of the bridal party who bombards you with well-meaning suggestions with that tone of “I can do this better than you. Why the hell did the bride ask you to do this?” which makes you automatically defensive constantly justifying your choices. In the film, Annie suggests having a Paris theme for the wedding shower which Helen rejects initially undermining Annie’s position as the maid of honor. However, when Helen takes over the wedding shower planning, not only does she use Annie’s suggestion but also she goes over the top with it (i.e. puppies as party favors) which causes Annie to freak out. Lillian tells Annie not to come to the wedding. The film shows how easily two well-meaning bridesmaids lose sight of what the bride wants.

Based on story alone, Bridesmaids is not “The Hangover for Women.” While Annie does act ridiculous throughout the film, her ridiculousness is a reaction based on insecurity. The guys act ridiculous as reaction to the ridiculous circumstances. The only way that Bridesmaids can be called “The Hangover for Women” is through making us laugh as we relate to the pre-wedding bonding experience.

(Note to aspiring female producers/directors/screenwriters: If you’re looking for ideas, how about a film featuring a bachelorette party that focuses on the bonding between women making it a true “The Hangover for Women”? Please do not make it about finding the right man.)