Monthly Archives: June 2011

“I am in love with the Golden Gate Bridge”

>Married to the Eiffel Tower is a revelatory documentary about three women who deeply and passionately love inanimate objects. They carry on full-fledged emotionally mature relationships with these objects, falling in love, breaking up, sometimes getting back together again. They believe the objects love them back — these are fully reciprocal emotional bonds.

It reminded me in some ways of the BBC documentary on men who love RealDolls, Guys and Dolls. Both the women profiled in Married as well as the men in Guys and Dolls have an awareness that the objects of their affection are — objects. But they are unflinchingly honest about their emotional attachments.

Definitely worth a look, especially in the context of creating emotional bonds between humans and simulations.

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Making the Familiar Strange

>How do you make a game adaptation of a film or novel? When we watch a film made from the bones of a beloved book, we ask only (!) that the film recreate faithfully our fondest memory of reading the book. But that fidelity rarely works in a game — the enjoyment of a game is based on different aesthetic experiences. A game that too-faithfully rendered a familiar novel or book would be, well, boring.

So I was intrigued by how Matches and Matrimony would explore Jane Austen’s most famous novel, Pride and Prejudice, which has been adapted to films (and other novels, if you count Bridget Jones’s Diary) many many times, sometimes even with zombies.
The game is a fairly standard dating sim in structure, with an attribute leveling system which determines what interactions are available with which characters during the course of play. Once a cycle (a week in the game) you select activities that raise certain attribute scores, then participate in narrative scenes during which you can make some dialogue choices or take an action.
The game falters most when (and I can’t believe that I, the consummate Jane Austen loyalist, is saying this!) it tries too hard to cleave to the novel. Entire scenes of dialogue are lifted directly from Austen’s text with no editing — delightful to read in a book, deadly tiresome on a game screen. The game sparkles when the writers insert their own dialogue, especially the inner monologue for of the main character, Elizabeth Bennet. The game gets considerably more fun when it diverges from the novel, opening up new romantic possibilities. However, since every one knows Lizzy is meant to be with Darcy, following other romance paths is not as exciting as it ought to be.
There are many charming touches to the game, however. The music is uniformly good and appropriate, and the writing that isn’t from the original text, in spite of a few stumbles here and there, mostly fits in smoothly with Austen’s style. And there are a couple of surprises for Austen fans (special guest appearance!)
I enjoyed the game; but it really drew my attention to the difficulty of adaptation and reinforced my instinct that it’s not advisable to do a narrative adaptation of a film or novel — it’s not fun to play a pattern that is so obviously predestined. Rather, you want to feel that you are playing the the author’s world, but perhaps with your own rules and your own choices.

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Scarlet Road

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As it happened, and as these things tend to do, the most moving and wonderful film experience for me this year happened entirely by accident. Or, at least, from a set of unforeseen circumstances. Far be it to explore these instead of talk about the film though, as out of the two paths that could be traversed here, the film is the much more interesting route.

Suffice it to say the Sydney Film Festival was the destination and therein a documentary Scarlet Road, of which I had not heard previous. The summary provided in promotional material as follows:

“Scarlet Road follows the extraordinary work of Australian sex worker, Rachel Wotton. Impassioned about freedom of sexual expression and the rights of sex workers, she specialises in a long over-looked clientele – people with disability.”

A topic not on most people’s list of interests, and one that some may actively avoid. And while I’m not averse to such themes it’s not something I’d generally queue for, so a chance viewing in this instance was certainly a lucky circumstance.

Another moment of happenstance revealed itself as the packed theatre finally settled in; most of the cast and crew were present. It was after all, the premiere.

After an introduction by the producer and director and a short film (which was excellent yet unpleasant (the story of a young man in an abattoir)), the feature began.

Immediately engaging, within ten minutes the personalities had leapt from screen to heart as they conveyed their message with warmth, passion, conviction, and justification, exuding confidence in the material presented. The viewer had no reason to question character as each were worn on sleeve and each grounded to common sensibilities; happiness, empathy, honesty and love.

The documentary follows a slice in time of Rachel’s working career as a sex worker, and specifically around two of her clients John and Mark.

With character on sleeve then, Rachel unabashedly a sex worker, just as John with Multiple Sclerosis, and Mark Cerebral Palsy. “Sex workers are people too” is mentioned and you can’t help but infer the same qualifier for the disabled on behalf of the audience, yet the magic in the overall work is that the statement feels unnecessary. Indeed, one should realise the statement only pertains to and wishes to highlight the challenges faced in both, as opposed to a pointed suggestion that the audience may think differently.

Both John and Mark are wheelchair bound, and both have limited function of body. John can talk, but Mark relies on a machine to vocally communicate. Both are men and have needs and desires as any, and over the course of the film you come to see how important the basic sense of touch is, and how much the general populous takes it for granted. Sure, the touch is sexual, however here it is far more sensual and emotional than you might expect; the shower scene with Mark and Rachel is perhaps the most beautiful and moving I have seen on film not just for the context or how it was shot, but because it was real. The emotion unquestionable.

Family plays an important role in the film too, and Mark’s is in danger of stealing the show. An older couple, Mark’s mother and father have an obvious absolute love for their son. The father set in his ways and a character of his time, he builds parts for Mark’s mobility in ‘the shed’, and expects dinner on the table at knockoff time. He’s the hilarious non-pc grandfather you had or wished you had, and the audience loved every second he was on screen. The mother showing unwavering care and love, when her eyes well with tears so too the audience. The empathy palpable.

Both were just a few rows up in the theatre. I could have only imagined their thoughts, and how proud they must have felt watching the film and experiencing the gushing emotion from everyone present.

The end brought uproarious applause.

This is a film every person should be forced to see. Let’s face it, it’s not the most approachable subject. It’s such a beautiful story and one which fills the viewer with a sense of greater humanity, a reminder that there are wonderful people out there doing such important work that touches so many lives. A feeling of, you know, humans are alright.

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