Lit Review

Once again WordPress tried to best me (after the disaster last night I started with a Word doc and then tried to copy and paste it into WordPress with no success) but I’m done playing its reindeer games. Please see the attached and good night nurse!

*Late add that is so obvious I’m embarrassed. From the queen:

Sontag, Susan. Regarding the Pain of Others. Penguin Books, 2004.

Final Blog Review/Portfolio

Ok so I made this post that I sorta dig, made it all fancy with a new layout 🤩, only to find out I can’t post it without losing all of my content because it’s a bit too advanced (something about AMP?) for a free account (I did all of this online research on how to fix it only to find it would involve downloading a plugin that requires a business account). I see you WordPress, I see you 👀

Anyway, I thought of a way around capitalism! Just click the link below to the post! (Admittedly not as fancy now, but I tried!)

https://ananonymousuccblog.wordpress.com/final-blog-portfolio-✍🏾/

Poetic Distancing

So… this post is a result of me being a (slight) procrastinator. I may *sometimes* wait til the last minute to do things which, in this case, resulted in me not being able to attend a second research seminar because everything is now cancelled and there will be NO MORE seminars… 😭

Image from Globalnews.ca

I’m actually writing this post on St. Patrick’s day (it won’t be posted then, that I can guarantee) but this is what the streets looked like ON ST. PATRICK’S DAY, IN IRELAND (!!!) from some photos I took:

Day
Night on my block, Barrack Street. All pubs are closed.

Somber. IRELAND on St. Patrick’s Day for the people in the back!!!

Living the dream, huh?

Also the first seminar I attended was amazing and I’m upset about this missed opportunity and so many other events we are all missing because of what’s happening in the world right now. But perspective says, relax, make the best of it and just be grateful.

So in place of writing about a seminar at school I will write about a cultural event in Cork that I attended where UCC represented big time, the Winter Warmer Festival.

I was invited to read to be a part of this magical world (teaching a poetry worksop and giving a featured reading the same day) before I arrived in Cork but even then I knew it was going to be something special. Ok so Ó bhéal is a Cork literary institution curated by the lovely Paul Casey that offers monthly readings in addition to this yearly love-fest for the written and spoken word from world-renowned poets and filmmakers.

The festival location for readings on Washington Street
This photo and all below photos by Linda Ibbotson.
That’s me left, my dear friend Rachel Andrews center and Danielle McLaughlin of Fiction at the Friary right.

Here’s me reading:

This weekend was magical and EXACTLY why I’m here in Cork, which is something that’s nice to be reminded of as we endure what is happening now. For those of us that came from afar we came for a reason, our love of Ireland and Irish culture and we are supposed to be here.

We are supposed to be here.

And on the last night of the festival I got to hear Liz Berry read. This was a transformative experience. Liz is a very celebrated poet from the Black Country of England (Peaky Blinder’s fans, it’s a real place!!!) and she is lovely and enigmatic and talented and magical! Seeing her read with such care, precision and dedication to the words she’s written, and just seeing how she cares for those words (she carries new poems in a folder in plastic) made me think about exactly what I’m doing: Do I take myself and my craft seriously? Do I cherish the words in the way that I should? Do I take the care that she does to honor the words and the mysterious places that they come from? Do I read as slowly and sensually as she does to allow the audience to digest every pained and executed word? If not, what am I in this for? Do I believe?

Liz Berry on the left 🥰

I was also overwhelmed with the Irish language that weekend which was lovely 💚 Many poets read in Irish and after the reading was over we all went to the Long Valley pub and an attendee, who I happened to recognize as someone who taught Irish language classes at UCC, translated a poem that I wrote into Irish for me then and there! I felt like all the the time I’d spent on my Fulbright application and everything else I had given up back in the States was worth this exact moment!!! This is why I am here. The community feeling and just love and respect for literature was so loud and beautifully overwhelming that night and the entire weekend. Oh and here’s the poem:

The poem will appear in English in the upcoming issue of the Quarry Man, go UCC!

And here’s a third-party write-up of the wonderful weekend:

https://www.lancaster.ac.uk/languages-and-cultures/blogs/staff-blogs/cornelia-grabner/a-gathering-of-poetic-voices-in-cork-ireland-the-o-bheal-winter-warmer-festiva/?fbclid=IwAR1z9Qg9DcCuWs8zQbPrdLlYoqA-zM_oPYnJGXVsd7NwWCVotCUA-ZJ45F8

CoronaConference

Heya. How’s everyone doing out there? Reading, writing, pulling your hair out sheltering-in-place? Same.

With school being closed and our big conference presenting our thesis ideas being cancelled, we’ve decided to post our sample presentations online instead. Here’s mine, but it comes with a serious, serious trigger warning. Like I’m not kidding, stop scrolling now if you’re not in a place to look at an emaciated man or a mutilated young boy.

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Mini Conference Research Presentation in Abstention

Steve McQueen and His Presentation of Pain and Ecstasy on Film

My thesis will be focusing on the exquisite pain and ecstasy portrayed in the Steve McQueen films Hunger, 12 Years a Slave, and Shame.

I watched Hunger for the first time last semester and was blown away. I knew of Bobby Sands and had visited Belfast and done all of the peripheral research about him, but I didn’t fully connect with his “statement,” and Ireland’s history of using hunger strikes as a political weapon[1], before this movie. I didn’t feel or understand the very intentional pain he (Sands) was using to effect change until watching Hunger

I did some research on Steve McQueen and realized he had a pattern. I had previously avoided watching 12 Year a Slave, as a Black American, because I had heard and read[2] that it was “torture porn only set up to make “white liberals”[3] feel good about themselves, while making the actual descendants of slavery in America irate about the over-the-top sensationalism of our ancestors’ pain.

One of many horrific scenes in the film 12 Years A Slave

But because I watched Hunger first I thought, wait, this isn’t torture porn at all, and, if it is, there’s something way deeper happening here than just shameless exploitation. McQueen may be on to something that many revolutionaries and scholars have known for a while, something that was perhaps best illustrated in the 2016 Brendan Byrne documentary Bobby Sands: 66 Days. Here are some very powerful quotes and background from the film:

“Fasting in Ireland was rediscovered in the late 19th century by anthropologists who were investigating kind of Gaelic history. And for those scholars who were trying to revive Irish nationalism there’s an emphasis on the ancient Gaelic laws and it became discovered that there was almost an institutionalized fasting to rectify an injustice and this became popularized by a play by W.B. Yeats called ‘The King’s Threshold.’” (14:20)

“Hunger striking has very ancient roots in Irish history. There’s tradition that the poet wasn’t paid by the rich man, he would starve himself outside his gate.” (14:39)

“[Terence James] MacSwiney said it is not those who can inflict the most but those who can suffer the most who will win… By suffering and by suffering publicly and over a long period of time you are making a statement and you’re making a statement that you will outlast the others. No matter what they do to you’ll still be there, or your spirit will still be there or the people who follow you will still be there and in the end you will win.” (27:28)

From Hunger

Whoa, brain explosion! Much has been written about America’s fascination with Black pain and public suffering[4] and it was the visual images of Emmett Till’s ravaged body[5] and German Shepherds and water hoses being used on nonviolent Black protestors that effectively changed the momentum of the Civil Rights movement in America. 

Sands himself was greatly influenced by TV and the visual image as was explained in Bobby Sands: 66 Days. He is quoted as saying that images were “imprinted on my mind like a scar.”

In preparing the literary review for my thesis I watched many, many films that I thought somehow applied to the narrative of pain and oppression on film… and then I watched many, many films just to distract me from 1) What I had just previously watched and the brutality of the narrative and 2) Coursework in general, it’s nice to have a mental reprieve… or so I thought.

One of the films I chose as a distraction was Bronson starring Tom Hardy in all of his (naked) glory. I had actually never seen anything like this film before, where male full-frontal nudity is used to show a man’s virility and power instead of his smallness and weakness (like in Hunger and most other films with full-frontal male nudity). We are rarely allowed, as an audience, to feel the pleasure of viewing the male body. 

Uploaded by: Body Transformation, May 17, 2017 on YouTube

After giving a presentation about McQueen (and pain) and my pleasure in watching Hardy’s nakedness in a class, Dr. Anne Etienne made me reconsider what I was actually writing about and the direction in which my thesis should go. 

Should I be focusing on the pains and pleasures of male nudity on film? What does pain look like on screen and what is its effect? How does that make “us,” the audience feel? How and when are we meant to participate in the agony and or the joy? Who are the usual “victims” in McQueen films and why does he choose them and their stories, and to portray pain in the distinctly drawn-out way that he does? 

The movie I haven’t yet discussed, because I haven’t yet seen it, is Shame. From what I’ve read the movie is an exploration of many of my questions, and it’s another McQueen/Michael Fassbender film in which Fassbender’s naked body is used as a filmmaking tool. 

As Edwin Coomasaru wrote in discussing both Hunger and the male body as a form of societal projection:

“In times of conflict the stakes of masculinity are … high, and historically what has been conceived of as the ideal “man” has also often been considered the ultimate soldier … 

Although the hunger strikes and their reception in visual culture have been rarely talked about in terms of masculinity, it’s worth considering the connection in order to gain a greater understanding of the Troubles and their legacy. 

Macho, stoic, muscular male bodies have historically been used to cultivate militarism and patriarchy throughout twentieth-century Europe. They represent strength and self-control: the idea of the disciplined manly solider, able to sacrifice his body for the cause. This notion of the ideal warrior is used to try and justify the oppression of those seen to be ‘unmanly’: women, queer identities, colonial subjects, opposing factions in a war.”

Because so much of this work is about aesthetics it’s important to point out that McQueen started as a visual artist. (And I booked a trip to go to the Tate in London to McQueen’s current exhibit, but that trip had to unfortunately be cancelled.) I will discuss this in my thesis because I think this background is an important influence in his work and the way he dramatizes pain. 

I will conclude this presentation with a poignant quote used at the end of Bobby Sands: 66 Days:

“Ultimately Bobby Sands effectively marks the end of the tradition of armed struggle in Ireland. Because what he said is there is really no justification or need to kill people. What you really need to do is dramatise your own suffering.”

I have a feeling McQueen would agree with this sentiment.

Thank you.


[1] https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/heritage/the-long-history-of-the-irish-hunger-strike-1.3228103

[2] https://www.vulture.com/2013/11/12-years-a-slave-black-oscar-bait-essay.html

[3] The dangers of “white liberalism” are very well described here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2020/01/17/martin-luther-king-polite-racism-white-liberals/

[4] https://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/22/magazine/the-condition-of-black-life-is-one-of-mourning.html

[5] https://www.facingsouth.org/2016/08/living-legacy-emmett-tills-casket

Works Cited

Byrne, Brendan, director. Bobby Sands: 66 Days. Canvas, 2016.

Coomasaru, Edwin. “Emaciating Machismo: Masculinity, Murals and Memorialising Hunger Strikes.” The Irish Times, The Irish Times, 5 May 2016, www.irishtimes.com/culture/books/emaciating-machismo-masculinity-murals-and-memorialising-hunger-strikes-1.2636109.

An Unexpectedly Hardy Film

Tom Hardy as “Charlie Bronson” in the 2008 film Bronson

I like to procrastinate and unwind by watching movies. This can be tricky as a lot of my work deals with film, but the goal is to leave my brain at the door and just veg.

Looking through my free Amazon Prime ( I know, it’s just free and I’m not ordering from them 😬) queue last night I thought, what Tom Hardy film haven’t I seen yet? Bronson? Yeah, sure, why not as I recalled reading how he did one of his famed body transformations for this film (he reportedly packed on 100 pounds of muscle) and befriended the man he was portraying in real life. Sounds good.

What I wasn’t expecting and hadn’t been prepared for was exactly how much of Tom Hardy I was going to get. This movie has more full-frontal nudity involving a main, male character than pretty much anything else I’ve seen. (And to be clear when I’m saying male nudity in this post I very specifically mean full-frontal male nudity but I don’t want to belabor the point and get TOO specific as I’m trying to avoid an SEO nightmare of random, new, disappointed followers.)

Many people have compared the film to A Clockwork Orange but there wasn’t anything gratuitous about the violence in this film, which is odd if you think about it. The movie is about England’s “most violent” prisoner, yet the fight scenes are pretty tame. The gratuity and naughtiness is all centered around Hardy’s body.

Apparently opting to be nude is why Hardy got the role to begin with.

Tom Hardy only got the role in this 2008 biopic about the life of a notorious Welsh prisoner after Jason Statham and Guy Pearce, director Nicolas Winding Refn‘s first and second choices, respectively, balked at the nude scenes. 

E Online
https://www.eonline.com/photos/25999/a-brief-history-of-male-full-frontal-at-the-movies/885817

Here’s a great article on male frontals:

https://www.theguardian.com/film/2018/oct/23/chris-pine-penis-nudity-outlaw-king

Image from the Guardian

“People were giggling about my penis as if they were schoolschildren… I think it’s maybe the dying embers of this Calvinistic idea that self-flagellating and shame and anger and violence is all good and yet sex and intimacy, making love is bad. And that manifests in us all giggling about a penis – it’s so stupid.”

Chris Pine

In the article another well-known, bare-all-A-Lister, Ewan McGregor, adds:

“Women are always expected to be naked in films, but I like to try and do it so they don’t have to… It’s a feminist thing.”

Ewan McGregor

And even the Patron Saint of this blog, himself, Cillian Murphy, is a proud member of the ‘if you got it flaunt it club.’

From Twitter… And it made sense in 28 Days Later, in fact, back in 2002 he was a bit of a pioneer.

Let’s unpack why this is important to my thesis (cause otherwise I’ll get in trouble).

Director Nicolas Winding Refn, like Steve McQueen, has his own aesthetic and plays with pain on screen in very particular ways. (With McQueen the pain is a bit more visceral and with Refn it seems to mostly manifest as awkwardness.)

McQueen’s Hunger deals with a lot of male nudity but the nudity in that film isn’t as noticeable because it’s somewhat inevitable; of course prisoners who are starving themselves and being relentlessly beaten in their robes are going to find their bodies exposed and naked. It’s not over the top to show this on film.

The same can be said for 12 Years a Slave — seeing Patsy’s full upper torso as she’s being whipped didn’t feel gratuitous to me (it has to many other critics however). There is no other way to be publicly whipped and the brutality of that scene was crucial in getting the brutality of Patsy’s existence across. She wasn’t allowed a bit of mercy, modesty, or humanity, and her pain was meant to become the audience’s pain in that scene. It wasn’t meant to be sexually stimulating or pleasurable the way most male nude scenes are not meant to be pleasurable. Again others have argued otherwise:

The reality depicted in this movie is so harsh I cannot help but wonder if people find the movie excellent because of the sheer relentlessness.

Roxane Gay

In fact Gay argues that the scene is visceral, as it should be, but it also feels gratuitous because the scene is not designed to amplify Patsey’s plight. The scene is designed to amplify Solomon’s plight, as if he is the more tragic figure in this situation.” I don’t entirely disagree with this. I do believe my being a Black female made me inherently relate to Patsy’s plight more than other viewers might, but this opens the door to discuss who we make art for and how. And what is McQueen’s responsibility there?

https://www.vulture.com/2013/11/12-years-a-slave-black-oscar-bait-essay.html

Patsy’s back after the aforementioned scene in 12 Years a Slave.

In any case I think Bronson did something different. It’s the only movie I can think of that perhaps meant to stimulate its audience (all of its audience as there is plenty of homoeroticism in the film) with a male body. The nudity was most certainly gratuitous and campy. It was a celebration of the male form. In the film Bronson takes on prison guards, almost exclusively naked. He paces around his cage nude, like an animal, panting, waiting to fight. While not intrinsically sexual (in fact sex is barely portrayed in the film) it is by definition arousing through the highly stylized scenes of Bronson’s, sometimes painted and posed, incredibly-fit and vigorous physique. Lighting, angles and music also heighten the pleasurable viewing experience.

Tom Hardy has been nude on-screen a bit, for example there’s an incredibly gripping scene in Stuart a Life Backwards in which the character is inflicting harm on his body and fighting police officers who come in to stop him. He’s naked during this scene and while the set up is actually similar to Hardy’s character in Bronson (fighting the law naked) there is no pleasure for the character or the audience in this scene. Instead of Hardy’s body exuding power and virility, this scene serves to make the audience pity the character. His nakedness is used to show his powerlessness and lack of armor in the world, again making Bronson most unusual.

Stuart a Life Backwards

If I’m going to talk about pain on film I must also talk about how we are set up to view pleasure. The above was a starting point. What is a pleasurable viewing experience? What is pain and what creates a painful viewing experience? What are the implications of how we use bodies on screen to elicit these responses? That’s what my thesis will attempt to figure out.

Next up: Shame. Now this film I for sure know has a lot of Micheal Fassbender. A lot. Will his body be as painful to watch as it was in Hunger or somewhat pleasurable? We shall see! 👀 So much for vegging out!

12 Years A Slave

Just the quickest of posts to say, whew, I did it! I’m celebrating! I finally finished watching this movie! It took me over a week. I needed to take breaks, breathers, and baths. But you know what? I thought it actually deserved all of its accolades. I thought it was NOT the white savior movie I was expecting. I thought it was brutal and horrific in all the ways it needed to be to get the message of what chattel slavery REALLY was. I wish Oprah’s adaptation of Beloved did better…

… but this is now the only successful film (and there are many reason why others weren’t successful that may have been worthy and/or OVERWHELMINGLY never got made that I can’t get into in this post) that viscerally documents and centers the horror of history and I’m on board with that. I’m on board with making people cringe (even if it’s me). I’m on board with shame and horror.

My thesis advisor also had me watch Mississippi Burning and that was also no fun. I’m pretty sure I watched it when I was way younger but my reaction now is obviously totally different. Again, better than I was expecting. A white savior film, yes, but not at all in the traditional sense. In fact the movie is better made than many of its successors. Even in the age of “woke,” the movie hit on a lot of the points that have gotten lost in today’s empathy wars. I’ll get more into this later.

Anyway, I now know I have to watch Django Unchained, even if to say how horrific it is in comparison to other movies of its ilk. I’ll probably need to watch way more, maybe even Daughters of the Dust which has been on my list for a while. I signed up for a lot of anger but, ok. Let’s do it and do it right!