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As Scene on TV: "Orange Is the New Black"

Orange is the New Black: “Thirsty Bird” – Piper’s Transferred

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Season one of Orange is the New Black ended on a nail-biter of a cliffhanger.  Series protagonist Piper was assaulted by the meth-head Jesus Freak Pennsatucky, leaving Piper to defend herself in a violently bloody brawl.  The season ended with the audience uncertain whether Pennsatucky lived or died, and what consequences would fall upon Piper.   After nearly eleven months, the second season premiered, only to further delay answers. 

http://youtu.be/MzS7msRMNck

Throughout the series, Piper has served as the “every man” eyes and ears inside the US prison system.  As a college educated, middle class career woman, Piper has more in common with many Netflix viewers than the uneducated blue-collar woman who comprise the majority of the prison population.  Throughout the season, we’ve been astonished with her as she’s navigated the prison world.

The premiere episode of season two brings us even more intimately to Piper’s state of mind, as her time spent wondering what fate will befall her for her actions mirrors the fan frenzy that has swirled since season one.  We can see that her time in solitary has allowed Piper to sink into a troubled state, where her only comfort comes from creating art from her breakfast eggs.

When the guards arrive and order Piper out, she’s as confused as we.  Neither the audience, nor Piper, knows Pennsatucky’s fate.  While Piper struggles with her guilt, the audience yearns for an answer.  When she’s transferred, Piper assumes this is a reaction to Pennsatucky’s likely death, inferring her information from minimal exposition, just as the television-savvy audiences are wont to do.

It’s not until well into the episode that we learn the real reason for Piper’s transfer, and it’s not until the start of the second episode that we learn what happened to Pennsatucky, and how their violent confrontation will impact Piper’s sentence.  In some shows, stringing out these reveals could feel like a cheap attempt to maintain dramatic tension.  In Orange is the New Black, however, the lack of information leads to greater empathy for Piper, and by extension, all of the prison population who face regular dehumanization in a variety of ways, including the withholding of pertinent information.  By withholding catharsis from the audience, Orange is the New Black symbolically helps us identify with the prisoner characters.

Angela Jorgensen originally hails from Iowa. She currently resides in Los Angeles and aspires to write for hour-long television dramas. She’s currently producing a documentary called The Longest Straw [www.thelongeststraw.wordpress.com].

As Scene On TV: "Game of Thrones"

Game of Thrones: “Viper and the Mountain” – Sansa’s Testimony

A few weeks ago, we took a look at a Game of Thrones episode, touching on how the scene used implication and insinuation to paint a more vivid picture than an explicit conversation could have conveyed.  Today, we’ll take a look at a different Game of Thrones scene, in which Sansa shows unusual character development by lying to cover for her aunt’s murderer during Petyr Baelish’s trial.

http://www.hbo.com/video/video.html/?autoplay=true&vid=1381053&filter=game-of-thrones&view=null#/

Prior to this point, Sansa has been a captive, passive, frightened character.  Amidst badasses and independent women, Sansa has served as an unlikeable, simpering girl who’s too frightened to become a woman.  While her characterization is consistent, and while Sansa’s had her reasons to be passive, particularly after seeing much of her immediate family killed for stepping out of line, Sansa’s character trajectory has not given any indication that she’s developed the sort of cunning necessary to lie on the witness stand, as she does on this scene.

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Ironically, in this scene, Sansa’s prior passivity is her greatest strength here.  She plays at being traumatized by her aunt’s “suicide,” a wide-eyed bystander in a series of unfortunate but innocent mistakes on the part of Petyr.  A known plotter like Petyr can’t be taken at his word, but sweet, young Sansa can be believed, a fact that Sansa exploits to her advantage as she corroborates Petyr’s story, then demonstrates her own power over him.  

Her final look up at him, while clichéd and somewhat choreographed, still serves as a power-move on Sansa’s part, an acknowledgement that while she helped Petyr, it is ultimately she who holds the power in this circumstance, and she’s aware of that fact and willing to exploit it.

Like the last post covering Game of Thrones, this scene doesn’t happen in the books, and is a whole-cloth invention of the show.  However, as the show doesn’t have the benefit of giving viewers a first-hand look at each character’s thought process, scenes like this, that demonstrate character change, are necessary.  After nearly three full seasons of being used as a pawn at King’s Landing, it’s time for Sansa to take initiate, as she does at her first opportunity.

Angela Jorgensen originally hails from Iowa. She currently resides in Los Angeles and aspires to write for hour-long television dramas. She’s currently producing a documentary called The Longest Straw [www.thelongeststraw.wordpress.com].

Scream Scene: "Invasion of the Body Snatchers"

“They’re All Part Of It!”

The year: 1978. The city: San Francisco. The Film: Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The person writing this: Me, Ashton. This is my favorite horror film. And I only watch horror films. It’s skyrocketed to my number one for various reasons, not the least of which is its infamous final shot. It scares the shorts off me every time. Now when viewing, I only wear pants. I’m also only now starting to ask why that scene scares me so much.

Invasion_of_the_Body_Snatchers_Donald_Sutherland

The film is a remake of the classic 1956 version directed by Don Siegel, which is itself an adaptation of the terrifying Jack Finney novel, The Body Snatchers, written two years prior. All versions concern the same central premise of a small American town getting surreptitiously invaded by alien pods. The seemingly harmless plants swallow up the townspeople one-by-one and spit out replicas – replicas faithfully human on the outside, but mindless automatons on the inside with the sole mission of furthering their species.

Film historians generally agree on the themes and metaphors of the novel and first film adaptation. Whether the clones represent the dangers of conformism and loss of self under socialist rule or they conversely represent the tyranny of McCarthyism, there’s the general consensus that they’ve definitely got something to do with communism. Finney denies that this was ever his intention.

Born in 1986, I missed out on the fear of communists and of U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy. To me, Kaufman’s Invasion is about something entirely different, which is exactly why I love his 1970’s remake more than the others. It hits me on a much more personal, visceral level that’s difficult to shake.

SPOILERS AHEAD (but come on, you’ve had 36 years to catch this movie.) The bulk of the film follows protagonist Matthew Bennell played immaculately by Donald Fucking Sutherland. Bennell is our loyal, intelligent, and incredibly charming hero - we feel safe with him. We spend the majority of the film watching him struggle to evade the alien invasion, losing many friends along the way. In the closing scene of the movie, Bennell silently walks through his office, past his “coworkers” than out into the streets of infested San Francisco. The world as we know it is gone, yet Bennell has miraculously managed to survive being overtaken by an alien pod…or so we think.

Veronica Cartwright, who’s graced us in other genre heavies such as Alien and The Birds, sees Bennell and runs up to him, relieved to find a fellow survivor. As she cautiously approaches him, the camera pushes in on Donald Sutherland. He slowly raises an arm, points his finger directly at her/the camera/us and emits a guttural, indescribable scroan (it’s like a scream and a groan). Veronica grabs her head and screams, realizing it’s the end. And there go my shorts again.

On the surface, it’s quite obvious why it’s so scary. The scream coupled with Donald’s contorted face, which goes zero to alien in the blink of an eye, is unlike anything we’ve experienced before. And we’re powerless to escape. The camera cuts back and forth between Veronica walking towards us and a steady push-in on Donald. The camera takes us hostage and drags us inexorably towards certain doom. We register that something is amiss and we realize that Donald Sutherland is not Donald Sutherland milliseconds before he points and screams. But by that point, it’s too late. The camera and its momentum are too powerful for us to disengage and there’s nothing we can do but scream along with Veronica. It’s a terrible feeling of helplessness as we realize that the one anchor in the entire film has failed us, and if Donny Boy can’t survive, there’s not much hope for the rest of us.

Which leads me to the deeper implications of this horrifying final scene. Like all good horror films, it reaches us all on a personal level. Every person, regardless of age and memory retention does have the clear recollection of being left somewhere as a child. Whether it was a supermarket or a playground, we remember suddenly looking up and finding that our parent is no longer holding our hands and we’re standing amongst a group of strangers. For me, it was the Westfield Public Library - let’s say 1990. And while I’m sure the whole ordeal probably lasted mere minutes, I distinctly remember the palpable feeling of abandonment and crushing isolation.

That’s what that final scene summons in me. Matthew Bennell is not a communist, nor is he fighting against them. He’s a simple human, one whom we love and trust and have no doubt in our minds that he will be with us and protect us through all this horror. While the rest of the world crumbles around us, Bennell holds our hands and assures us that everything is going to work out fine. When we approach him at the end, there’s a great feeling of relief that’s quickly snatched away. Philip Kaufman radically let’s go of our hand and leaves us in a world full of strangers. It’s a profoundly bleak ending and one that’s impossible not to ruminate over.

That’s why I love this film so goddamn much. Yes, it’s got oozy alien clones emerging from plants and thrilling noir-like chase sequences through claustrophobic downtown San Francisco. But it’s so much more than that. Watch it and see what I mean.

P.S. The hairstylist’s name is Edie Panda.

Ashton Golembo lives in Los Angeles and works as a television Field Producer and Production Coordinator. He's a genre cinephile and avid lover of all things horror.