Thursday, December 6, 2012

I SPIED SUCCESS -- The 3rd film in the Myth Series A Chaotic Hit

Well, on Tuesday, December 4, 2012, Myth Goes to the Movies hosted the 3rd of 6 films -- this one was Dr. No, the first James Bond film, which celebrated its fiftieth anniversary this year. We had built up a great deal of momentum after the success of the Lawrence of Arabia event, so Dr. No needed to get a proper tribute from us.

The broad attention given to Skyfall's release one month earlier helped us generate a great deal of interest for the celebration of Dr. No's anniversary, which involved looking closely at clips of the original film, a gallery of over twenty student research exhibits (see photos below), and guest lectures from two experienced spies, "Dr. Barnett" and "Ms. English."

True to the culture of espionage, the event was an exercise in controlled chaos and poise during unforeseen complications. We pulled off a big hit, with many curves thrown at us!

Unfortunately, with CSUN's budget crisis and venues difficult to spare, the best milieu we were able to reserve was a simple classroom in Sierra Hall. There were corners full of junk in the room (like a broken overhead projector and half a flagpole), plus a pool of sludge left by a thoughtless student who spilled several liters of root beer on the floor during the class that ended fifteen minutes before our event began!

To make things more complicated, the facilities office on campus informed me five days before the event that we wouldn't be able to set up tables for displays in the hallway outside -- it would count as a fire hazard. Yikes! Students had planned to come dressed up as Bond characters and serve apple cider champagne and faux "mocktails" on chic tables in the corridor, but we ended up having to cram an entire warehouse worth of fabulous exhibits into cramped catwalks around the perimeter of a room that filled to capacity very quickly. For much of the event prior to 6:00 pm, there were students clustering on the floor.

Taking place during the last week of the semester, the event grayed my hair with anxiety. I was worried the two guest speakers, seasoned field operators both in their own rights, would look upon the room and think "yikes." There were holes in the back wall. My plan of action was to pimp up the room as quickly as I could with a small army of dedicated students. To make things even more exciting, when Sara Dean and I arrived at the library branch in VanNuys, where we had reserved a DVD of the Bond film, the librarian suddenly told us it was lost! It was well past 2:00 at that point and we had to scramble to find the film within two hours, knowing our guest of honor had already arrived and was on campus.

We ended up doing a great job, if I may say so, given the difficulties of the venue. A darling of a student went with me to pick up a fabulous spread of poultry amuse-bouche delicacies, fruit medleys, and elegant veggies with dips concocted in hollowed-out peppers. The mushrooms were delicious. The pseudo-champagne worked out nicely when one group of American literature students set up a pyramid of plastic champagne glasses in a pyramid next to the projection console, thereby diverting attention away from the pocked back walls of the classroom.

Organizing 20-25 student research exhibits within 15 minutes into a sensible gallery is, well, like trying to teach 75 cats to march in lockstep in a day. Somehow the Northridge students pulled through and made it work. Much of their success rested on the fantastic content of their displays.

Turnout was brisk, and engagement was high. We ended up having about 65 people attend the event. Below are some highlights.

Above is a clip of Barnett talking to the students about the way media and representation construct the adversary in spy myths.

The images below are the exhibits, which I could not photograph until the next day, in my office -- my apologies to the students! The room was so cramped in Sierra Hall, it was impossible to get good footage of the exhibits during the event itself.

1. This exhibit examined Dr. No and the Bond films as pieces in a long history of "imperial literature."
Virgil's famous lines from Aeneid 6, celebrating global domination as the Roman "art," is posted alongside Whitman's descriptions of American spirit as something that begs to cross boundaries. These literary tropes sit uncomfortably beside packets of sugar and tea, reminding us of Jamaica's history within imperial history--so that Dr. No cannot be overlooked as a text of imperialism fitting in with a long aesthetic tradition.

2-3. Moving from left to right, these two exhibits, done by students in Film  & Literature,  critique the cinematic ideology of the Bond franchise. The students took a bleak view of the film's appeals to British virtue and the perfidy of Dr. No, who becomes a modern variation of the fungible "other."

4-5. Continuing from left to right, these exhibits continue on the theme of the film's use of fungible archetypes: villains that feel almost constantly replaceable with new villains, heroes that become increasingly difficult to distinguish from one another (Austin Powers, Batman, Jason Bourne. etc.)

6. This exhibit deconstructs the logic of the Bond films from a film theory perspective. How does the script and the cinematography construct the ideal agent, the ideal mission, the ideal effect on the ideal audience?

7. Also from the Fil & Literature class, this exhibit examines the representations of Bond and No as antithetical archetypes. The film creates Manichean polarities through the deployment of myth.

8. This exhibit, created by Greco-Roman mythology students, looks to various Bond scenes as echoes of Ovidian sensuality, especially as one sees it in the Metamorphoses. Ovid is famous for narrating about sexual encounters that are charged with danger and risk; students saw the Bond aesthetic as partly borrowed from the ancient Roman imperial traditions.

9. This exhibit was carefully constructed to place the James Bond torso in the center of the viewer's gaze. It made sense, for such use of imagery emphasizes the Bond torso, clothed in a tuxedo, as a piece of inventory with changing heads (Sean Connery, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, etc.). Students saw Dr. No as a symbol of hubris, akin to what they found in Greek and Roman tales of overconfidence.

10. Here students look at Bond's evolution over the years, the creation of an evolving mythology that adapts to the society's need for new myths.

11. Similar to #10, this poster juxtaposes images of James Bond next to texts from famous literature in other cultures relating to "heroes" on quests or journeys.

12-13. These two exhibits took different approaches to Dr. No. #12 looked at the film as a system of symbols within itself, while #13 interpreted Bond much more as a reflection of old archetypes dating back to antiquity. The trickery and promiscuity of Zeus, king of the gods and supposed standard-bearer of governments, serves as an interesting prologue to the imperially licensed sexuality of James Bond.

14. This exhibit looked at James Bond as the ultimate modern epic hero, the twentieth-century reincarnation of past epic adventurers like Aeneas, Perseus, and Hercules.

15. In this exhibit, students deconstruct the reality of the intelligence field and the myths that spy movies promote to romanticize and obscure what espionage really is.

16-17. These two exhibits look closely at some of the more memorable images of spies, including, of course the spider that almost kills Bond in Dr. No and the familiar scenario of the car chase.

18. In this exhibit students examine the traditional traits of masculine heroes,  Students went back to antiquity to look at ancient representations of physical combat, as well as classical images of exceptional strength or cunning.

19. This one focused a great deal on James Bond's sexual mythos.

20. In this exhibit, various "Bond babes" are edited into the shape of the word "women," to emphasize the film series' use of females (perhaps somewhat misogynistic) to construct heroism against the sexual backdrop of femininity.

21. As this exhibit reminds us, before there were fiendish villains with nuclear reactors and mysterious island lairs, there were the old tales about gods who gave their chosen heroes and heroines specific gifts. The spy, this poster points out, is part Hermes and part Ares -- somewhere between the soldier and the trickster. Honey Ryder is an Artemis figure because she travels with a huntress weapon (her knife) and catches nature alone. The poster reminded me that Honey coming out of the water is also reminiscent, of course of Botticelli's Birth of Venus.

22. This exhibit looked at Helen of Troy as the epitome of a spy: someone able to use sexuality in order to navigate geopolitical conflicts, and someone who tailors her sexual acts to the needs of the moment while leaving her allegiance and true feelings largely mysterious to observers.