Tuesday, 07 February 2012

The face of malevolence moments after discovering it's dead inside. My wife claims that because I pay so little attention to lips when watching television—the deaf love nothing more than a tolerant spouse and a volume button—I end up pausing faces in the most awkwardly hilariously positions. Over the course of an evening my ring finger can lay waste to thousands of dollars of cosmetic surgery and three-point lighting and those bricks Tom Cruise's costars are contractually obligated to ignore. So she thought it'd be a hoot for me take this talent to the masses and try it out on some politicians. Unfortunately, the results have been entirely awkward without being the least bit hilarious. Consider Mitt Romney: There's quite a bit to be said about Romney's reaction to this bit of self-inflicted political theater, but the obvious message seems to me much more primal. As Darwin wrote inThe Expressions of the Emotions in Man and Animal (1872), Romney's "expression of misery [as almost] ludicrous caricature" is typical with respect to infants when doubtfully beginning to cry, or endeavouring to stop crying; for they then generally command all the other facial muscles more effectually than they do the depressors of the corners of the mouth. Two excellent observers who had no theory on the subject, one of them a surgeon, carefully watched for me some older children and women as with some opposed struggling they very gradually approached the point of bursting out into tears; and both observers felt sure that the depressors began to act before any of the other muscles. Now as the depressors have been repeatedly brought into strong action during infancy in many generations, nerve-force will tend to flow, on the principle of long associated habit, to these muscles as well as to various other facial muscles, whenever in after life even a slight feeling of distress is experienced. But as the depressors are somewhat less under the control of the will than most of the other muscles, we might expect that they would often slightly contract, whilst the others remained passive. It is remarkable how small a depression of the corners of the mouth gives to the countenance an expression of low spirits or dejection, so that an extremely slight contraction of these muscles would be sufficient to betray this state of mind. (193) In short, Romney's desire to not be "bursting into tears" at all times has, "on the principle of long habit," created a situation in which his hang-dog muscles "are somewhat less under the control of [his] will." Meaning, of course, that any debate with Obama has the possibility of witnessing theatrics more grandiose than anything seen this side of a playpen.
Foreshadowing and Genocide and Quite a Bit More, Actually, in "Amy's Choice" (Another one of those now-more-conveniently-located posts.) One of the core assumptions of the way I teach visual rhetoric is that directors often know more than they know (or are letting on). This is because shooting schedules often don't track with air dates—for example, the episode I'm going to be discussing today, "Amy's Choice," was the seventh aired, but last one filmed in Series Five of Doctor Who, meaning that writer Gareth Roberts and director Catherine Morshead already knew what would happen in the four episodes that would follow it. The result is a kind of foreknowledge masquerading as foreshadowing: the audience experiences the latter because the writer and director possess the former. Sound obvious? That's because that's how we think foreshadowing works. Only one problem: foreshadowing doesn't require authorial intent to be visible in a work. The Jews didn't sit around writing a book foreshadowing the eventual arrival of some guy named Jesus—they wrote a book that a bunch of Christians later interpreted to contain a number of moments when the coming of some guy named Jesus was foretold. Foreshadowing, in other words, often functions as an interpretation used to bolster the authority of a particular reader. ("What do you mean you didn't see Jesus's coming foretold in the Hebrew Bible? What are they teaching at the monastery these days?") Whereas foreshadowing was once largely a matter of readerly interpretation, thanks to some technological innovations I haven't the time nor the space to get into here—it starts with books and evolves into lending libraries and marches forward—foreshadowing is now considered to be more a matter of authorial (or directorial) intervention. More succinctly, material that used to be wrenched from variably willing texts is now forcibly inserted into them. The classic example of the latter would be the medical drama in which someone suddenly feels a sharp pain in his or her head. The cause? Some writer forcibly inserted a tumor into it as a cheaps means of "foreshadowing" death. It's about as subtle as: Because most viewers prefer their foreshadowing to be a little more subtle than semaphore, writers and directors must be careful how they pace the parceling out of information. This is generally true—but it is even more crucial when, as is the case with "Amy's Choice," the previous episodes have already been filmed. Sometimes showrunners have been known to withhold information from writers and directors to enforce subtlety, but even in such cases the actors and crew can't unring those bells: a scene that would've been lit a certain way or a line that would've been delivered without a lilt will look and sound a little different after the chimes have sounded. All of which is only to say that Roberts and Morshead needed to write and direct "Amy's Choice" with a deft hand because they knew they were filming a fake version of a real death. Being that this is Doctor Who, that oversimplifies things slightly, but the scene that follows is a dry run for...

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