Archive | Reflection RSS for this section

DEXTER (TV SERIES) Opening Title Sequence – A Close Reading

 

Use of Opening title sequence in Television Shows

Conventionally, the opening title sequences are used to give information about the television show, the actors’ and the creator’s name. However, some use this opening sequence to set a tone for the show, while helping audience identify the genre. They create images and use sound that is intended to be immediately recognizable for the audience and engage them by drawing them into the program itself. Thus while they provide a ‘brand identity’ for the program, these title sequences are meant mostly for introducing the show and need to considered independent from the particular episode of the show that follows it. 

Introduction about the show

The montage which is shown as the main title sequence is designed by Digital Kitchen Studios for the television show ‘Dexter’, which revolves around a character named Dexter, who works for Miami Police and moonlights as a serial killer of those murderers and criminals that have escaped justice. Using the ‘code’ taught to him by his father to avoid getting caught and catch only the people ‘who deserve it’, while maintaining an ordinary persona, he leads a double life – which makes him question about himself and his relationships.

The title sequence

The main title sequence, shown before every episode, takes the morning routine of the main character, converting it into a highly unusual montage by adding new layers of meaning and expanding its significance beyond the literal (denotative message) into ideological, aesthetic, hermeneutic and ontological level (connotative messages).

In this analysis, a close reading of this sequence will be done by relying on many semiotics concepts and terminologies to break it into different layers, ultimately answering two major questions  –

  1. Why is this opening sequence so appealing to the viewers?
  2. How we, as the spectator are affected during and after watching it?

What does it show?

Before answering the ‘Why?’ it is important to analyze the ‘What?’ This is to ask – What does main title contain and for what reason?  Answering this may help us mark the denotative layer of the sequence, helping establish on the point to build the other layers and interpretation.

On the surface of it, it is a montage of the morning routine of the main character – Dexter. This almost instantly feeds the audience with an enormous amount of information about him. While the routine by itself can be seen denotative, the choice and the process in the routine connotatively reveal a lot about the character. For instance, skin texture and eyes depict the age and gender. The choice of food – bacon, eggs, juice – gives an idea about the culture he belongs to. Even the presence of mosquito and sunny brightness outdoors crudely indicate the geographical location[1]. The choice of clothes, presence of equipment such as razor, coffee-maker, and treadmill fixate a time period this is set in.

So while the sequence establishes the character and his space, it also introduces the tone of the entire show. Furthermore, by its structural construction, it is appears to be a micro-narrative in its own right, presenting the routine as some sort a meticulous repetitive performance thus paralleling Dexter’s killing rituals.

Why use the morning routine?

As already discussed, the usage of ‘morning routine’ helps in revealing more about the character. But its aptness works at another level. It is the first stage of the day, thus becoming the first stage in human diurnal consciousness. Thus, the morning routine does not only constitute the start of his story, but the start of a new consciousness for the audience: An entrance into a new world.

Furthermore, by observing the character during that time and place, he is reduced to the mercy of the audience gaze as the space and environment, as well as the actions are extremely intimate. This routine is almost always kept out of the public sphere. This power of being able to gaze at the character during this time ends up making him look vulnerable and he becomes an object of empathy. The audience starts feeling for him without even realizing it.

Montage’s Photographic Messages

The title sequence is a well-made montage which loads the audience with an enigmatic reaction. To understand the affect more thoroughly, it needs to be broken down into different elements. This segregation of layers by some of the different ‘connotative procedures’[2] will help communicate the message(s) encoded in the sequence.

AESTHETICISM

The title sequence prepares the audience for a world with different aesthetics, a reality whose formal and stylistic treatment makes the understanding of morality differently than how it is seen in every-day life.

Paradoxically, the title sequence is the climax of audio-visual stimulation and engagement. The choice of music is highly unusual given the genre of the show – that is to say, instead of a dark ominous tune; it is very light and ‘joyful’.  However, this seems necessary, as it makes the audience take the visuals more lightly and in doing so abandon any sensual and cognitive associations made previously with the concept violence or gore, the potentiality of which is implied in the sequence. This short but efficient process takes place on a range of different epistemological levels: conscious, subconscious, intellectual and emotional.

Adding to this is a re-using of visual motifs in different contexts with different objects placing the audience into a different aesthetic and ideological mind-set.

Aesthetics are not just in overall imagery but also embedded within each frame. Screen texture oscillates between straight and circular shapes – from blood stain in sink, to texture of ham, to shot of a frying pan to blades of the knife to coffee beans and then to dental floss.

Whether it is the knife cutting the ham and the egg, or the wounding of the dental floss around the finger or shoelace being tied through the lace holes, the elements of “cutting”, “stabbing” and “strangling” – three recurring actions in Dexter’s modus operandi – are then hinted through integration of the two geometrical symbols – straight lines crossing circular shapes.

This Interplay between straight lines and circles if looked through a Freudian lens, bears an implicit reminiscence to the sexual act, turning Dexter’s obsession into a seemingly justifiable basic human instinct. This for the audience further substitutes his male sexual drive with blood thirst, during the show, thus explaining his ‘need to kill’. This fetishization for the graphic elements in this sequence brings the audience one step closer to Dexter. These forms and style put the audience in at vantage point through which they feel they can see through Dexter’s façade, and accept his inner motivations and desire.

POSE (ARRANGMENT)

While Pose originally referred to the posture and arrangement of the object within the picture[3], here it has been liberalized into meaning the arrangement of camera and shot which invariably affects the pose of the object. Looking through a technical point of view, it is noticed that there is a constant switch from horizontal to vertical compositions, either indicated by the arrangement of the props or the axis of the action. Furthermore, there is the alternation of shot sizes: ECU (extreme close-up) to CU (close-up) again and again.

This has a two-fold effect. Firstly, it creates constant visual jumps that symbolize the inner conflict of the main character (hence foreshadowing the story). Secondly, the close-ups create an abstract, claustrophobic and almost sinister mood by obscuring the character and space, reflecting one of the main tenants in Dexter’s philosophy: keep his emotions to himself and his true self hidden from the public.

SYNTAX (ARRANGEMENT OF SHOTS)

Barthes theorized that when ‘several photographs…come together to form a sequence… the signifier of connotation is then no longer to be found at the level of any one of the fragment of the sequence..’. Thus looking at this as a series of shots reveals some interesting patterns of progression and development, other than the literal morning routine. On a sub-textual level this little narrative shows Dexter’s gradual affinity for blood and killing. It serves almost as a prelude to his ultimate affects, which are manifested by the killing scenes in the actual story.

The sequence starts with Dexter innocently killing a mosquito and smiling at the bloody bite mark. It continues with him shaving and cutting himself (the audience do not see the actual cut, only the blood), then cutting up his breakfast egg and ham, pressing down the coffee machine plunger and squeezing a blood orange. In the end he ties his shoes and puts on his shirt. The activities itself reveal his drive to kill, that is to say – affinity for blood (cutting himself while shaving and blood drop in the sink), violent demeanor (killing mosquito, squeezing fruit to make juice), actual killing ( killing of mosquito and slicing bacon-egg), wrapping up the corpse (tying the shoe lace and putting on the shirt). The violence and Dexter’s true nature are gradually exposed.

OBJECT (PLACEMENT)

The placement of object or posing, as Barthes mentions, is what gives it meaning and context. Dexter interacts differently with his two main environments: indoors and outdoors. Indoors he is subjected to his affects; outdoors he is calm and controlled. In psychoanalytic terms, inside his apartment the “Id” dominates him and outside it is the “superego” controls him.

Third meaning

Though the denotative and connotative layers of the sequence are explored, there is still something that holds the audience to it. Following the footsteps of Barthes, it may not be blasphemous to call this the third meaning.

While not going into defining it, as that is not the scope of this analytic reading, it can be the couple of elements not yet explored – the gestural significance in the sequence and the use of irony.

Through the sequence, there is a gradual revelation of Dexter’s face and body. Dexter’s face is constantly blurred or obscured by shadows, tight shot sizes or shallow depth of field until finally it is revealed in the third last close-up, and then, his body further revealed in a medium shot as he leaves his apartment. This puzzle-like revelation is not only analogous to the main storyline, which unfolds like a puzzle in every season, but the character himself

Use of irony helps in transiting into the universe created here by infusing another meaning. It is very close to what Barthes described as ‘the obtuse meaning’ as it belongs to the family of pun, buffoonery, useless expenditure’.

The sequence is not in the chronological order of the morning routine or there is an element of magical realism. Like, the shaving does not make sense as Dexter is not clean-shaven when he steps out. Another instance is that he is eating the ham and egg separately, which is not how it is usually eaten. Preparing coffee and juice is not usual nor is tying one’s shoes before putting on a shirt. Yet, we do not notice these things, but rather accept them as normal. Realism is justifiably sacrificed for aesthetic and narrative logic. Acceptance of this sequence as everyday activity – when it is clearly not – is the final indicator to the fact that the audience has accepted Dexter.

Irony thus creates a complete new meaning of an illogical sequence. Thus, quoting Barthes again ‘Indifferent to moral and aesthetic categories (the trivial, the futile, the false, the pastiche), it is on the side of the carnival. Obtuse is thus very suitable.’

Conclusion

How can the audience justify not only watching, but actually feeling attracted to a man who is a serial killer? Why don’t they want him to be caught when he embarks on his killing spree? And the spectators irresponsible for feeling attracted to a killer?

Dexter’s title sequence succeeds in creating a very smooth transition for the viewer from one reality to another and is thus able to answer the above question and subtly, yet not indirectly, appealing to the audience’s ‘dark passenger’[4]which is personified as the character Dexter


[1] Mosquitoes are typical of warm environments near water. While the audience may not be able to exactly pinpoint the location to the area being Miami (USA), they get a sense of a place very similar.

[2] Used by the Semiotician Roland Barthes in his essay ‘The Photographic Message’ (1977)

[3] ‘The Photographic Message’, Barthes

[4] The term Dexter has given to his obsessive need to kill

 

Image

Advertisements

Lost Loves Exploring Rama’s Anguish – Arshia Sattar’s ADP Seminar

It is a very hard thing to talk about Ramayan in a few hours without preaching or bringing out one’s own reflection and interpretation of the epic, but Arshia Sattar was not only able to translate the original text as written by Valmiki but also bring out new areas to explore and discuss with them.

Listening to her read excerpts from her book, I struggled wondered who to give credits for the incredulous description and dialogue within the text – Valmiki or herself. Her poignant ways of writing surely compliment (if not enhanced), Valmiki’s masterpiece in terms of content and structure.

But while her penmanship left everyone mesmerized enough to just listen to her, her almost humourous anecdotes, cheeky comments about the epic made others respond and engage in the discussion.

Her reason for working on Valmiki’s version over others tellings was primarily because of the presentation of Ram as a mortal, who “does what he believes is the right thing” and faces the consequences of it.

This was interesting, as she saw the addition of divinity to the main character almost trivialized the essence of the epic and all the complexities that go with it.

Getting to her new book ‘Lost Loves – Exploring Ram’s anguish’,  she dwells into the relationship between Ram and Sita. Without making judgments or siding with one character, she showed how Valmiki represented dialogues between the two, giving insight about both characters.

What particularly stood out (and was almost unanimously agreed upon), was the ambiguity of time in the epic.

Add to that the supernatural elements, the dream-like scape of Ramayana brings out – almost subtly – the question about its own reality.

A reality that is only questioned by Sita when encountered by Hanuman in Ashok Vatika.

Experience of being contained and then re-represented

Trapped. Itchy.

Ok this smells.

That is how I felt, while lying down, wrapped in the Calico cloth as an Egyptian mummy (well…to be fair to them -mummy don’t have the luxury of watching the fan rotate on the ceiling). Both my team-mates had gone out of the room. I forgot the reason why. The paint on cloth covering my upper body was drying, though I could feel the coolness of water seep through it and spread on the newspaper that was between my T-Shirt and cloth. 

I should have removed my T-shirt. This is a waste. Now I am not sure what I am doing. WHY am I doing this? I don’t even understand cloth. Well that can be seen through my fashion sense. Why did we chose to work with cloth?

I kept thinking about purpose of this exercise. Which then went to purpose of life (lying motionless can do that to you). But my epistemological journey was soon interrupted by sounds of laughter. Someone had entered the room. Other group members? No, It was a PDP student. Who asked me the question I was struggling with

“What the hell are you guys doing?”

It was then I resorted to the most profound, psuedo-intellectual  debatable answer, that one can use (and has used) in Srishti –

“Art..dude. Art”

Quiet naturally, I knew what his second question was going to be, so I was already ready with it  like catapult to throw it back at him.

“What do YOU think we are doing?”

Good. Now I can use whatever he says, to hitchhike on it and make it a very transcendental conceptual piece of work.

“I am not sure. But whoever you are suppose to be, I feel bad for you. How long have you been here like this?”

“Umm..about 20 minutes. My team-mates are going to be back and continue painting”

“Hmm..Cool. Hopefully you aren’t claustrophobic. It must be hard breathing in that”

He left with that.

Great. Thanks. I AM claustrophobic and you just reminded me of it. Happy thoughts, Anupriy. Need a distraction. Ok, concept. Think concept. Try introspecting the experience. Enlightenment shall occur.

Where are those guys? What’s taking them so long?

The forceful conceptualization technique  was not working. I mean who was I kidding? There is not  working –

Wait a minute!

The guy said whoever I was suppose to be. Whoever. Not whatever. Why?

It was as if the wrapping of the cloth may have done away with my identity, but was still with the context of a human identity. Just the question of which socio-cultural persona I was becoming.

To cloth, is human..

Presence of cloth, becomes a sign of humanity. A sense of culture, even when there maybe no sense to it by itself. Cloth is the medium. No, no. Cloth is a form to represent an identity. A constructed identity. I felt contained because I felt my biological identity was almost extinguished by this new constructed identity. (I was really trying to ignore the itching sensation this time). This conflict between the two identity always exist. But the exterior identity always wins. It gets to define how the entrapped essence (person in this case) is going to behave.

There are another phenomenon happening. Since, the exterior is what is noticed, the interaction with others happens with regards to the space in which ‘covered abomination’ is present. But the act of clothing, makes this abomination human again. Maybe a foreigner. But human nonetheless.

My team-mates came and finished of the painting. But these thoughts were going on in my mind.

At that time I was not sure how to express them (I MAY have used the covering of my mouth by the cloth as an excuse to justify)

Walking around and having eyes on me. Inside, through my eyes (which had not got a great look at how I was looking ,save from a couple of photos that were taken), I felt like the creature I mentioned. The unnatural way of the way I was covered (atleast for me), made me feel as if my identity was gone.

I assumed I looked like some weird fictional Middle-East character. (Perhaps, an ancient assassin, deadly and lethal – always a  fantasy). But I could not deny that the entrapment made me feel like a creature. The only thing that reminded me of humanity was the touch of cloth around me.

I am not sure if this was an insight to something deeper. Or a pseudo-intellectual analysis of my condition then. But I thought it got me thinking…

I finally found some relationship with cloth… 

Image

Wrapping Up

Image

Exposing of Identities

Image

Being worked lying down

Image

 Abs of the Assassin

Reflection at the end of ADP Year 1

APPARENT INCLINATION TOWARDS TYPOGRAPHY AND GRAPHIC DESIGN

Common link with many works done in Semester 2

In my works done during the semester, I was told to find a common thread or connection. Initially, this seemed a bit difficult and pointless, as I believed – or wanted to believe – that the works I did were independent and showed a different concept. However, in retrospection, going through most of them, I noticed something interesting. Most of the work I did had a strong presence of typographic or graphic design element. I seemed to be very playful with the text.

Devising, deciding and designing a textual content were apparent not just in my artworks but also in my documentation. If given a choice (and time), I meticulously worked on formatting and presenting any material I wrote.

However, the affinity towards design was not just in the sense of aesthetics but rather at conceptual level – thus being clear, at least to myself, as to ‘why’ I chose to present a certain element of content or design rather than just ‘what’ or ‘how’.

Want to know more about the field and experiment with the forms

While reading about and following the works of the design giants such as the late Paul Rand and Stefan Sagmeister, during my past time was working as an appetizer for my craving for graphic design, I also use to get mesmerized by many relatively less famous design works or concepts. The movie ‘Helvetica’ rekindled my love for fonts and typefaces, urging me to dabble with them. The ‘Philographics’ by Genis Carreras was more than an inspiration culminating in me working on making my impression of minimalistic TV show posters.

As Srishti had a Visual Communication Department, every time I was at PDP campus, I saw scores of graphic design works put up all over the place. The exposure to the variety and the creativity of the students, most them doing works for their self rather than as a part of assignment, excited me. The latent interest in graphic design soon became a burning desire strong enough for me to start doing my own works.

I joined a ‘Information Design’ workshop where I made few in ‘infographs’ – the information for one of them taken from Statistician Hans Rosling’s interactive data-visualizing software ‘Gapminder. Being in CEMA, I also became very keen to use technical knowledge to make graphic design more dynamic and interactive.

This interest of amalgamating technology with graphic skills has led me to explore the concept of ‘Kinetic Typography’ – a form of Motion Graphics. Its importance can be seen by its presence if the way how text – in form of title, words or statements – are presented in ads and films. One of my first introduction (and inspiration) to this form was the Music Video ‘Shop Vac’ where animated text create scenes and context.  I am currently learning this design form and would like to see how I can apply it.

Struggle to dwell further – resistance faced

As my interest and fascination in graphic design grew, I started becoming clearer about what I wanted to explore during my semester. However, perhaps due to the difference of opinion with my mentor towards this field, I always had to go to great lengths to justify why I wanted to do something. Being an ADP and CEMA student, I had to explain how this interest and skill was going to be incorporated in my art practice. This initially led to a lot of frustration. It was evident in my works that there was a strong interest in design; however it was merely present as a small element. I felt I was barely scratching the surface and had a lot more to explore. For this I had to know the background, theories and works of great designers.

However, as most of the graphic design courses were offered at under graduation level only and many ADP seminars or workshops, which I was a part of, was happening around the same time, I had to prioritize. This did not however discourage me. Despite, constrain of time along with the numerous projects I was already involved with, I decided to keep learning and exploring this field. Interactions with students or faculties in Visual Communications, online tutorials, and practicing became my after-work hobby.

QUESTION OF ARTWORKS AND GALLERY

Definition of Art – need and methods for defining

Before coming to Srishti, I did not seem to have a very strict definition of Art but if asked, would have said that ‘it is a human expression created to invoke some emotional or intellectual response’. However that has changed during my time in ADP. Art here was not just expression; it became an identity of the person, defining their practice. While this expansion of the term ‘art’ was very educating, it was incomplete without knowledge of the background of different art practices. My mentor encouraged me to read up further on the theories, many times emphasizing on New Media Arts for being a part of CEMA. Sometimes, the amount of reading up and reflecting use to be overwhelming but it opened and introduced new worlds to me. I became aware of different art practices and movements. I started looking at my own works in a different light.

It was quite evident then that I had a fascination towards minimalistic art and design. Minimalism by its definition reduced the idea to its essence emphasizing on the concept – which may be presented in a rather subtle yet clear manner. This did not mean that there was a compromise on aesthetics; instead it relied heavily on it. Being introduced to conceptual artist like Tony Smith and Marcel Duchamp (and his controversial artwork – Fountain), gave me the boost to explore and dwell in this field.

Relationship with the concept of gallery

There seems to be a quite intricate relationship between gallery and art. I was never a gallery-goer myself, so the importance of gallery never occurred to me. So once, I was showing some of my design posters to someone in school and got a response “How is this Art? Can you present it in a gallery?” This left me really confused. This confusion was further propelled, when I saw that is was almost a norm here to present work done in the gallery. I felt as if the work was being done for the gallery rather than for its own purpose. The concept of gallery as a space to showcase and judge an artwork suddenly seemed too restrictive.

This almost led me to a negative reaction towards making artwork that was finally going to be presented in a gallery. However, from this reaction came ideas and concepts which soon became artworks. One of the work was ‘Not My Audience’, where I placed objects such as my shoe, a dried rose and crumpled paper on a podium with a tag ‘If you don’t get this, you are not my audience. The idea of teasing and being playful with the concept of Art and gallery was not only fun and engaging for me, but for many viewers who enjoyed the work. I realized that I was questioning art within an artwork itself along with the concept of gallery. Even the name – No Point Being – of the final CEMA gallery that the CEMA students, Ritika and I set up, subtly indicated this point.

Backstage work in gallery – time spent in planning and production

While talking about the gallery, it is important for me to reflect on the backstage work of setting up and the learning in it. Leslie Johnson’s workshop and her involvement in helping the ADP set up their first gallery in Srishti cannot go without mentioning here. For me and others, she did not just help in conceptualizing and realizing our artworks but worked effortlessly along with us in setting the gallery space. I soon realized that the gallery ‘Illiteral’ was not just a gallery for us to show few things we have done – it was the first time the ADP had some sense of identity towards the Srishti community.

Her contribution helped me in getting the confidence to set up my own gallery. However confidence along could not finish the job. Finding a space, negotiating with others, planning the layout, figuring out the logistics soon became a good learning.

The conflict and confusion with regards to the artwork and gallery seems to have dissipated to a great degree now. What was initially frustrating now has become a source of inspiration for new ideas and perhaps a development of my own practice.