Tropes, Archetypes, and Sterotypes

Was looking over tropes and archetypes and came across something interesting.  In my novel I needed a mentor archetype to teach my MC (hero) the ropes. The MC is white and the mentor is black. I didn’t think this was a trope, but came across what is called “magic negro.” BTW I bristle at the word, and should. It’s a pejorative.

For those not in the know, the term refers to a black character, usually of a lower economic and social standing, who is “in touch with the earth,” and may or may not possess magical powers. He or she may be the sole black person within the story, and his/her sole purpose in a story or film is to find the clueless white leading character, and give him or advice, then sacrifice himself for the MC.

This magic black man/woman typically doesn’t have their own storyline other than he or she is to be the MC’s guide. The magic black person has no family, no origins, and kind of a blank slate. This makes their character role pivotal, but also underwhelming.  Even Obi-Wan got to hang out and guide Luke after his death. Dude had more than agency—he had staying power.

By contrast, mentors are the archetype, and serve to guide the hero. They may sacrifice themselves, however they have agency and are viable parts of the narrative. For the record, the mentor for my novel has magic, and knowledge he teaches the MC how to use magic properly, but this is a world where magic exists.

The mentor in my novel evolved from being simply a mentor, to having elements of an ally (potential friend/companion), and trickster (who’s side are you on, anyways) archetypes.  He definitely has his own story arc, and he’s not the sole person of color in the story.

For the record, I love mentor roles in stories. I also love teachers, ad teaching. Academics is important to me personally. It’s important for me to get story elements correctly without falling into tropes and/or racial stereotypes.

Do I think I can have a black mentor for a white student? Do I think the roles can be misconstrued or misunderstood?  Can I give my mentor the role he deserves, past perceived limitations? Can I even defy expectations by not having a mentor be perfect or a great role model? The answer is “yes” to all of these questions.

Happy creative endeavors.


A Wednesday

Today calls for light rain, and that’s fine. I did the writing I said I was going to do in yesterday’s post. It was not what I expected.  For clarity, I said I was going to write some poems from the main character’s (and allies) perspective to help me see who they are in this novel.

Writing a poem from the protagonist’s perspective proved to be tricky and broken. Broken because I kept getting distracted repeatedly. I did get a point of view, and I hope to have time to work on this more.  As a main character I know he’s going through phases, and I need to address the final phase as a hero, which he may, or may not understand and want.  I need to “hear” what he’s saying.

The allies have proved to be easier. I wrote something already on one of them, and decided that it was the right way to go with that character.  That character is a trickster archetype, so my notes reflect exactly what I want to say. I still need to write a poem from his POV because I feel it will help me ease into his thoughts better.

The third character is tricky because in my notes I knew what I wanted and who I said she was, and the fact that she shifts a lot in her her persona and actions (her archetype is shape shifter). I suppose this is more like a duality, but I understand where her conflict lies.

Another ally to work on, for the moment, is also a bit of a shapeshifter archetype, since he has opposing viewpoints, but isn’t evil. He’s more of a reluctant ally, and while I can hear his voice, I can’t nail down his point of view yet.  I do think if I look back at what I wrote for him (for the novel), I’ll hear his voice better.

Happy creative endeavors.



What’s My CINEs, or I Have CINEd Against You

Many people ask me all the time “what is Cinema Studies?” My response is as simple as the name says, the study of cinema (or “film” as most people like to refer to). Some people still remain skeptic. I tell them then, “think of it as an English degree, but the emphasis is on films as opposed to works of literature.” This is when their eyes light up, and it makes sense. I write about films. It’s more than that. Studying film history is also a study of culture. Also learning terminology, theories, and watching periods of films while contextualizing the text with said theories. It’s been quite the learning experience. I’ve never thought of or viewed films in the way I do now.

When I write papers on films I’m making arguments based on theory(ies) and what’s in the film. For example I once argued that a couple films addressed what it means to be human. This is a topic that has come up in several times within my papers. On my blog the doppelganger has appeared as one of my main interests. I note these because when writing out favorite topics and themes emerge. This really helps me too understand who I am as a writer. Its certainly worth the effort of discovery. Sometimes we have to listen to ourselves and actively access our skills.

Another familiar topic of mine is the theory of psychoanalysis. I’ve read information based on Freud, Lacan, and Jung. All three are great, and can be taken separately. Psychoanalysis theory also informs feminist film theory, gender studies, and queer theory. I’m learning more and more to appreciate the narrative, and the narrative structure, which is also part of film form. Film form is how we address the films we watch and discuss. I hope to look at other theories more and more to used them better. For example, I like elements of Structuralism, post-modernism, should read more on deconstructionism, and reception theory. I need to know more on multiculturalism as well.

Melodramatic Vampire Adventures

Louis wants his story told.

In 1994, there was this darling of a film called Interview With a Vampire directed by Neil Jordan and based on a novel by Anne Rice of the same name.  Interview starred, Tom Cruise as the Vampire Lestat, Brad Pitt as Louis emo vampire extraordinaire, and Kirsten Dunst as Claudia, the child vampire.   Damn if vampires don’t look decadent, somewhat mysterious (alluring), and downright lethal killers.  This film masks a potent vision that immortality is not without a high amount of tragedy.

“Decadent” is a key word here, as vampires in this world are very indulgent, and embody the dark fantasy powers that make immortality both exciting and disgusting.  To live forever one must kill living beings.  It’s pretty nasty.   The allure fades quickly.  These creatures don’t seem sensual or magnificent, but dark twisted beings.  In this respect they are  shadows of  the human psyche.

The framing narrative is interesting.  Louis is so calm and sedate as the world passes him by.   Telling his tale to a stranger appeared to bring him some peace.    He was resigned to his fate as an immortal to an extent.  Let’s talk about the biting for a moment.  This seriously has a sexual aspects going here as fangs penetrate skin with a mix of pain and pleasure. There’s a plenty of biting going on for victims and converts .

Lestat fails to understand what Louis meant by "personal space."

This is a world filled with a bit of melodrama, and about the pain of losing a child, which is not fully thought or acted upon until the child is gone.  Rejection seems to be a silent theme here as well.  Lestat is rejected, as is Claudia, and Armand at different points in the film.

Like many people back in the day I scoffed at Cruise playing Lestat, a true bastard of a vampire. Well he did a good performance.  I’m not here to knock it.  Granted this film isn’t for everyone.  If you like Anne Rice novels, you may or may not even cared to see it adapted to the big screen.  I’ll say Cruise does put some energy and charm behind Lestat.  Clearly the character is meant to enjoy his actions and that comes through here.  Every act is meant to tease and amuse Lestat in some cruel, inhuman way.  He’s elitist, arrogant, and evil. He delights in killing and teaching Louis the ways of vampirism.

Claudia's hunger is only beginning.

While Cruise impressed as Lestat, I think Pitt and Dunst stole the show here.   As Louis, Pitt is melancholy, super emo, and somewhat annoying.  He cannot enjoy being a vampire because he is still too much like his former human self.   While Lestat promised Louis that his transformation to a vampire would “pluck out the pain,” it only seems to intensify his misery.  Louis remains at odds with the world around him.  He takes little or no pleasure from anything around him.    Where vampire films may bring about a doppelganger effect to the character’s persona, it does nothing for Louis.  He’s still brooding.   He resists the urge to give into his need to kill humans for blood/food.

Dunst’s performance is interesting as Claudia.  She’s an efficient killer and her wrath is immense as she feels the pain of not being able to grow past a child’s age into a woman (even though she is thirty).  Her anger and revenge is swift and cruel, and only highlights the tragedy that will befall her.

The Electra/Oedipus Complex comes to mind when one thinks of Claudia.  It is her separation from her two fathers that sends her down the tragic road she leads.   Lestat can be seen as her father as he did turn her.  Louis is the mother figure since he does nurture and care for Claudia.  To Lestat she is a means to control Louis.  Claudia in effect kills her dark father, and knows her mother will abandon her soon.  Louis is so wishy washy that Claudia has to die before any emotion can be pulled from him.   His revenge on the theater of vampires is without pity.  For Armand’s (Antonio Banderas) part in Claudia’s demise, Louis rejects him.

Washing that hair must be a bitch, Armand.

The makeup and effects by Stan Winston are wonderful.   Lestat’s death at the hands of Claudia, and  back from the swamp after Claudia’s failed assassination attempt was creepy as hell.  Claudia’s own ashed body was haunting.  Fire comes into play a few times in this film.  Louis’ manor, Lestat’s home, and the theater where the vampires dwelled.  Perhaps it suggests that   it is the only element the immortals fear, as it kills them.   Fire can mean passion, and passion can destroy the strongest of beings (or redeem them).

I wondered where Lestat was all this time.   He was so pivotal at the beginning of the film, but is barely there when Louis and Claudia leave the States for France.  When Lestat finally pops up again in what appears to be a chance meeting with Louis, he’s lost his impact as a mentor to Louis and as the monster he truly was.   Mind you, Lestat still proves that life is merely a game to him.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula: The Sublime Power of Eros and Thanotos

There used to be a time when vampires didn’t fake their way through high school to seduce a mopey teenager.  They were quite evil, selfish, and got what they wanted with little care or consequence in the world.  Your virginity be damned, like your soul.  People didn’t come back from this nightmare, or they were so changed one wondered what happened after the film ended.

Dracula represents Christianity vs the Turks in the prologue

So in 1992 a film was released, and boldly called, Bram Stoker’s Dracula.  One of its key slogans was, “love never dies.”  Directed by Francis Ford Coppola, starring Gary Oldman (Dracula), Winona Ryder (Mina/Elizabeta), Anthony Hopkins (Van Helsing/Priest), and Keanu Reeves (Jonathan Harker), this film does its best to give us gothic horror mixed with fairy tale motifs, and angst for the centuries.

Doppelgangers are abound in this film.  You will see so many of them.  Look for Van Helsing twice in the film, as well as Dracula, Mina, and Lucy.   Each displays the other self that compliments and damns them.   It’s quite a vicious site to behold.  As we know the other self can be a sight to behold.  More importantly, being a vampire seems to suggest that a person looses their inhibitions, and their humanity.

"Love never dies," yet it did. Bye, bye Elizabeta.

Religious themes cannot be ignored here, as God is brought into question.  After all, when Dracula was human, he fought on behalf of the church. It is the tragedy of his beloved’s Elizabeta (who commits suicide), that causes him to question his faith and his “reward” for fighting on God’s behalf.

Eroticism  plays a sly and sometimes disgusting part in this film.   Dracula seduces Mina, then rapes and kills her friend Lucy.  This visitations to Lucy are brutal, and Dracula does not keep his charming, young form he uses on Mina.  Instead he looks bestial, deadly, and terrifying.  By contrast, he looks young and studly when he visits Mina.  When Jonathan encounters him, Dracula appears as creepy old man whose shadow does stay in place and often reveals what the count is feeling at the time.  The shadow is a classic Jungian archetype, and the other self and unconscious desires do come to the surface.

To say Dracula represents all the aspects wrong with our psyches is a fair statement.  He is the id (switching from Jung to Freud here), and boy is he ugly.  There is a reason we as humans suppress and repress our desires.  Not all of them are fit for the material world.

As an adaptation goes, the film doesn’t stay as faithful as one would like to believe to the source material, however I will say that Coppola went for a different route than most Dracula films I saw before it.  This go round, Dracula knows love, and ultimately love can redeem him, as it was love that cause him to spite and curse God, resulting in his transformation into a creature of evil.  This film definitely goes for the artistic, emotional side of storytelling with some commercial concessions.  Bram Stoker’s Dracula cannot be accused of lacking style or ambition.  Noter the use of the old school Pathé camera when Dracula comes to England.   It’s a street scene that again emphasizes the techniques, which reinforce the atmosphere.

The prologue sets the stage well with who Dracula was before he became a creature of evil.  Here the fairy tale motifs come alive: We have a warrior prince, a princess, love, yearnings, and one ugly curse.   Lucy’s buried in a glass coffin that is straight out of Snow White. The fight scene in the prologue is a little odd as it takes place in shadows against a reddish-orange sky.  The scene reminds me of stage plays where color could be used to show emotion.

Poor Lucy get's "turned out" just cause Dracula wanted it to happen.

Much is made of blood and contamination in the film.  If it reflects society, AIDS became a major issue.  Its not surprising someone who needs blood to live is at the war with the world around him who has no real idea he exists.

Note several of the editing and special effects in the film.  When Lucy is revisited by Dracula t some point the film is reversed.  Her moves appear unnatural.  Likewise when Van Helsing confronts Lucy as a vampire, and she backs into the coffin, the moves again appear unnatural.  The cut away scenes from circular and round shapes add a distinct, otherworldly feel to the world.

While this film makes a strong connection to love and redemption, make no mistake Dracula is very evil.  He and his wives suck the blood of babies, he kills and kidnaps Jonathan in order to seduce Mina (whom he believes to be reincarnated version of his lost love, Elizabeta). He rapes, then murders Lucy out of spite of Mina’s rejection of him for Jonathan.    Being a vampire is gory, unholy, and to a great extent ugly.  Dracula has many brides, but he only has eyes for Mina.  Sadly love can’t make him whole, just make him see the error of his existence.  Also turning Mina is something of a bitter struggle as Dracula confesses to Mina, it’s not pretty.

Is this what they mean by "short end of the stick?" Ouch.

Color is abound in this film as it takes on multiple energies.   Note Lucy’s colorful and somewhat outlandish outfits (in fact several of the outfits are more artistic that historically accurate).  The night outfits Lucy and Mina were to bed are sublime but out of place for the era.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula’s score, composed by Wojciech Kilar, plays a key part in providing the atmosphere with some extra demented, gothic emotions.   The music moves from serene, elegant, to sublime.  There are simply moments where the one realizes there is danger in the score itself.   Such heartbreaking melodies with somber elements to emphasize the romance and tragedy.

There are a lot of downers in this film as well so don’t think this is all a love-fest.  Keanu’s accent is terrible.  I wish someone told him to keep his American accent.  It would have fit him (and the film) better.   Instead when I hear it, I laugh.  I love Oldman’s accent, but not everyone falls for it.  A friend suggested it’s overplayed, and his hairdo and get ups are so over the top you may laugh (be warned Jonathan Harker laughs at Dracula and gets a sword in his face for his amusement).

The ending could have been, much, much, stronger because it’s clear that Mina is in love with both Jonathan and Dracula.  I thought Jonathan and Mina’s confrontation was weak considering he fought so hard to get back to her, and she turned Dracula away to be with Jonathan.  Mina plays both ends of the fence here.  She may need the closure like Dracula, but she half-asses it.

If you purchase the DVD or Blu-Ray, the commentary and extras were worth it for me, as Francis Ford Coppola and his son Roman Coppola discuss the visual effects for the film.  There is talk of the screenplay, director’s commentary, and some behind the scenes goodness I enjoyed.  If you like your vampires evil and with a touch of redemption, then this the film for you.  Mind you, nobody gets what they want but Dracula in the end, and the accents are grating.

Black Swan: Magic In the Metamorphosis?

Went to see Black Swan with a friend for the holidays. We were thinking this film would be a bit wild, dark, and a little unpredictable.  Directed by Darren Aronofsky, with performances by Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel and Winona Ryder.   For my own satisfaction, I was more than curious about the use of the doppelganger (the other self) in this film.

What I also liked was the contrast of art and psychosis.  To create and destroy within the film is a chaotic paradox worth digesting.  There’s something sly and elegant at work within this film.  A sublime taste of tragedy that gave me mixed feelings about an ambitious blend of horror, fantasy and drama.    I left the theaters feeling a little cheated with the finale.  That’s not to say I did not enjoy the journey the story took me to.

Portman plays Nina, a ballerina who’s chosen to play both the white and black swans in a production of the “Black Swan” ballet.  While Nina’s perfect for the role of the graceful white swan, she doesn’t not have the freedom to pull off the performance for black swan.  She struggles with throughout the film to embody the qualities of both swans. When Lily (Kunis) appears, I got the impression she is the bad girl of the ballet company, and she was made to be the black swan.

While the turmoil and politics of the dance company stir and make for good backstage drama, Nina mental state takes a dramatic turn as she comes undone.   This doesn’t mean she was stable from the start.  She’s a kleptomaniac, and her mother is emotionally high strung and manipulates her daughter in a bi-polar – let me live through your life – fashion.

The sexual desires of Nina’s psyche come from her attraction to the dark side, and Lily.  As a doppelganger Lilly seems to be the things Nina is not.  Lily is not as graceful, but skilled.  She’s also sassy, a bit crass, and not afraid of drugs.  At some point it appears Lilly is ruining Nina’s chance to be the lead dancer. Lily also represents a certain freedom Nina denies herself in order to be the perfect ballerina.  Nina’s repression is released in this sexual union/fantasy to some extent.  It does not stop the torture and anguish.

The Jungian archetypes are more than interesting to see played out on the big screen.  For those not into psychoanalytical theory that won’t matter, but to see the shadow and the unconscious desires come to the surface held my attention.  Note the use of color in this film to tap into the symbolic qualities of the shadow: While Nina wears the color white in her clothes Lily wears black.

The reason I feel the fantastic should have been stronger is because the audience kept getting hints of it, and that part of having a doppelganger is that a person is going through a metamorphosis.   It’s not that the hallucinations aren’t in Nina’s head, but that we the audience sees them as real in addition to Nina.  I’m compelled to let go of my disbelief a little to see that.

Likewise the horror is about deforming the body via mutilation.   It’s quite disturbing and tragic as the body manifests physical symptoms of the mental breakdown.

Black Swan for sure is a dark film and part of me wishes it were completely a mix of horror, dark psychology, and the fantastic. Ultimately the genre of Black Swan is tragedy, which possibly should have been how it was labeled from the start.