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The short film ‘About a girl’ was made in 2004. The film was directed by Brian Percival and written by Julie Rutterford. The short is about a working class teenage girl who has hopes and dreams of becoming famous and a secret that takes her beyond her years. About a girl was produced byJaney de Nordwall. The short film won a BAFTA film award and inEdinburgh an award for best short film. The short also won three other awards; a TCM prize at the London Film Festival, a Jury award at the Manchester International Short Film Festival and a Jury prize at the Raindance Film Festival. The director of the film, Brian Percival went on to do others things since his success with About a girl. Two years after the short film he directed a film called ‘Pleasureland’ and a series of TV episodes. In 2009 he went on to create his first feature film ‘A boy called dad’ which he made through funding of EM Media. The feature won a number of awards and was even shown in selected cinemas. The film is now available on DVD.
The short film ‘About a girl’ explores a number of issues that raise our attention to different ideologies. Throughout the short the issue of celebrification is regularly exemplified through the protagonist’s dream of fame. The film also contains the issues of teenage pregnancy, poverty, alienation and parental neglect and awareness. One main issue of the short, teenage pregnancy relates to one of the many binary ideologies that teenagers are too young to have children. The issue can also evoke a more oppositional, outer ideology in reference to religious beliefs; that people should be married and be of an older age before they have children or engage with one another sexually. The short film also presents the theme, appearance vs. Reality through the subjects the protagonist is constantly talking about throughout the short film, which is her dream of fame and her prior experiences with her family. The entire short film consists of the protagonist dreaming about fame, remembering the recent past and talking to the audience through the camera communicating that she is talking to herself. As well as themes and issues the short also displays a number of representational areas. These areas are age, regional identity and class and status and are dominantly presented through the technical 1
area of mise-en-scene. In the short it is not one issue that is being dominantly evoked by the four technical elements, sound, editing, camera and mise-en-scene but rather all of the issues that have been stated above. However, the issue of teenage pregnancy which can be argued to be the main issue of the short overall is not presented to the audience until the very end of the film. The film opens with simple black and white titles, the film then goes on to show a black screen. The name of the short then appears on the screen as if it were being typed by a mobile phone. Along with this the diegetic sound of mobile phone keys being pressed can be heard and the text of the title is typical of a mobile phones. Teenagers typically use mobile phones regularly for communication especially by MSM messaging; due to this, this title style starts to address the representational area of age to the audience. The film then goes to a wide shot of a girl dancing on a hill with long grass, the sky is blue with clouds and the lighting in the shot is dull with a few lines of sunlight behind the clouds. This suggests that the shot is taking place at either at dusk or dawn, evoking the sense of a new beginning or dream. The diegetic sound of a girl singing ‘Stronger’ by Britney Spears is heard. She sings the first versus and the chorus of the song, lines include ‘I’m not your property as from today’ and ‘I’m stronger than yesterday, now it’s nothing but my way’. This together with the sense of a new dream creates the idea that what the girl is dreaming is a new stronger part of her life. Due to the lighting on the shot the girl’s figure is silhouetted, this then evokes the sense of celebrification of the girl’s life and dreams. This is because many pop stars such as Britney Spears begin their concerts behind a curtain where a light is used to silhouette the celebrities figure while the first song is beginning. The hill has long green grass on top of it which can link with the idea of the girl’s dream to communicate the sense that the dream the girl wants is better than her previous life. The famous quote ‘the grass is greener on the other side’ comes to mind in the audience due to this. There is then a quick cut to a girl walking down a road in a medium shot. From this the audience grasps that the girl is the protagonist of the short film. The camera is handheld and is fairly rough indicating that as an audience we are walking along side her. This is used to create a sense of realism, relating to the genre of the short which is social realism. The girl is wearing a cream ‘puffer’ jacket, large gold hoop earrings and has long blonde hair which is swept back off of the girl’s face by a stylish netted hair band. The coat suggests innocence in the character, while the girl’s hair being swept back and the large hoop earrings communicate an ‘adult-like’ appearance. The camera is dominantly positioned on the right side of the girl, while the audience can still see her face they can also see what is in the background of the shot. In the background there are red bricked buildings and walls which look slightly old, dirty and run down. The buildings have single panned windows and there is graffiti on the brick walls, all of the background mise-en-scene aspects put together amplifies the representational area of class and status. From the aspects present the audience can gather that the short film is set in a middle to lower class economic setting. The girl talking has a stronger Northern English accent and uses words such as ‘our’, ‘lav’, ‘thingys’ and ‘right’ a lot. This communicates another representational area, regional identity. The audience now detects that the short is set in an area in the north of England, such as Manchester and Birmingham. The girl in the medium is discussing things about her mum and a person called ‘Sammie’ to the camera. This automatically makes the short film like a documentary. However as there is no one asking the girl questions like there would be in a documentary and due to the setting of the film, the short still creates a strong sense of a social realism piece rather than what is automatically felt at the beginning. 2
Then there is a cut to a medium shot of an older woman, a child and the girl in the previous shot. The older woman in the shot is communicated as the girl’s mother through mise-en-scene aspects; the woman is by a pram and is talking to the younger child as a mother would. This is communicated also by the girl in the previous shot was talking about her mum, which creates the sense that this medium is in fact a memory or a thought the girl is having from the things she was discussing prior to this moment. The girl is positioned with her back to her mum and is closer to the camera than the other characters. The mum and younger child are seen behind the girl with the pram in front of them. The girl is almost covering the younger child indicating to the audience that, that character is not the protagonist’s main focus in the short. However the mum is clearly shown in the shot which indicates the opposite, that this character is in fact the protagonist’s main focus at this time. Mise-en-scene dominates this scene by communicating many different important aspects of the short. The mum is scratching at a scratch card vigorously and paying no attention to the younger child jumping up and down at her said trying to get her attention. The mum then tells the child to ‘sh a minute’ while she is defacing the card. This evokes the feeling that the mum has money worries and is preoccupied by this worry. This then naturally brings to the audience’s attention one of the short’s main issues, poverty. The fact that the mum is preoccupied by this and what she says to the younger child brings to attention another one of the short film’s main issues, parental neglect and awareness. In the shot the mum is wearing a darkly coloured fleece jacket and the girl is wearing a cream coloured puffer jacket. This evokes the sense that the mum is seen in a negative way by the protagonist of the short. As the girl’s back is facing the mum and that the girl’s coat is cream and she is focusing on her phone, indicates the sense that the girl has innocence and is unaware of the real reality (such as money) her mum is living in and with. The representational area of class and status is also amplified by the technical element of mise-enscene in this shot along with the element of sound. Background noise of a dog barking and people chatting can he heard diegetically and a news agents or some kind of small shop can be seen in the background. These two elements combine together to communicate that the shot is set on a high street, which indicts an extent of regional identity to the piece. The short then goes back to the girl in a medium shot again. The background of the shot has only changed ever so slightly from the first medium of the girl walking. This suggests the audience that the medium of the mum and younger child was an ellipsis through a thought or memory the girl was having whilst she was talking about the subject to the audience. In the background of the medium there are derelict buildings, little greenery and rubble. Like the previous medium of the girl, where she is talking to the camera this communicates the area of class and status; suggesting that the girl is from a middle to lower class background. In the medium the girl shortly continues talking about her mum, before the short then cuts to a wide shot of the mum pushing a pram, the younger child walking and the girl holding a number of shopping bags, all walking in a line along a path. The technical element mise-en-scene is again dominant in this shot. Along the side of the path the three are walking there are recently made two story houses, opposite the houses is a perfectly green field of grass, there is no rubbish around. On the houses bright sunshine is shone, making the houses and grass look colourful and pleasant communicating that this is a nice area. In front of the three there is a block of old-looking flats which is in dull lighting making the flats look like they are in a shadow. The path the three are walking along is in the direction of the dull flats, showing that, that is where the family is going. The camera also pans up to show the flats in a bigger part of the shot, this also communicates where the family is heading. These mise-en-scene aspects relate to the area of 3
class and status. The technical element mise-en-scene communicates to the audience that the family of three cannot afford to live in nice new housing; they live in old flats that are dull and not as nice. This shows that the family has low income and off the lower class. The shot before this shows the mother scratching at a scratch card, which ties in with this shot, suggesting that money is a worry for the mother and that she is maybe unemployed. This also amplifies one of the issues present in the short, poverty. Throughout the shot dogs barking, cars passing can be heard, evoking the area of regional identity, communicating that the family are in a town or near a city. There is a length of dialogue at the beginning of the scene. The girl complains about why she should be loaded some so many bags. She then gives the bags to the younger child, the mother then says ‘don’t give her all them bags’. The girl replies to this saying ‘well she was holding them in the first place’. This minimal dialogue suggests that the girl is learns from and acts like her mother; as she gives the younger child the large amount of bags she is carrying, when really the younger child was carrying them in first place. This suggests that the mother may initially have given the bags to the younger child but the girl took them off of her. The dialogue also evokes a sense of ‘family’ in the three individuals, as they are doing normal family things, such as arguing, walking home from shopping etc. The short then cuts to a medium shot of the girl walking along again, talking to the camera. The shot is slightly closer to the protagonist then the previous shot of this similar nature, communicating to the audience that the protagonist is becoming more open and is talking about close, personal issues. In this medium the girl talks about her mum’s opinion of her dad through quotes of what the mum has said in the past, such as ‘accusing me I can’t take care of you’s lot’. The background of the shot has changed less then the shot before had, the background is the same just of a little farther down the path the girl is walking along, which is again relating back to the area of class and status. There then is a cut to a medium shot of the protagonist and what the audience believe to be her dad. The man is amplified as the girl’s dad through the subject the two characters appear to be discussing and through what the girl was talking about in the shot prior to this one. In the shot there are red chairs, little tables and beverages, showing that the scene is set in ‘cheap’ cafe. The girl is wearing the same costume she was wearing in the previous shots, keeping the element of innocence present to the audience. In front of the protagonist there is a can of coke and a CD player. These two props relate to the area of age as they are typical of a girl in her younger years around 12 – 13 years of age. The dad character sitting opposite the girl is wearing an Adidas brand jacket and has a ‘skin head’ hair cut. He is also reading a newspaper and has a mug in front of him. The technical area of mise-en-scene here relates to the area of class and status; suggesting he is a part of the working class in society. The dad appears irritated and uncomfortable throughout the scene. He appears to be paying little attention to the girl, as he reads the newspaper and smokes a cigarette, indicating that he is not interested in seeing the girl, as if he is being forced to spend time with her. The fact that the character is smoking in front of the girl which is meant to be his daughter, communicates his lack of care and bond he has with his child as it something that normally parents avoid doing in front of their children. These aspects of character codes and the technical area of mise-en-scene exemplify two of the short film’s main issues, parental neglect and awareness and alienation. As the man in smoking in doors, the action communicates to the audience that the short film is set in a time prior to 2009 – 2010, as smoking is now prohibited in public buildings. The protagonist in the shot says to the dad character ‘I’m not a kid’, evoking the former sense of the girl wanting to appear grown up. This single line of dialogue shows the audience that the girl thinks herself as grown up, rather than her striving to be. 4
The short then cuts to a medium of the protagonist walking along the road again. There are jump cuts from close ups to medium shots of the girl, which work in a way to communicate when the girl is talking about more personal things than normal things. Throughout the shot the area of age is represented by the protagonist’s dialogue. The girl talks about her dad as she walks along referring to her age. She says the lines ‘treats me like I’m five or something’ and ‘It’s like hello I’m 13’. These lines of dialogue indicate again that the girl thinks the age she is at is grown up and non childish. Here the audience gain more knowledge of the protagonist as they are told her age, communicating that the character is a young teenage girl. In the dialogue the character also says the line ‘He’d see more of him only he’s dead busy with work, well looking for work actually’. This line of dialogue communicates that her dad is of the non-working class, changing what the technical area of mise-enscene was thought to be communicating in the shot previous to this one. The character is now definitely in the non-working class. This also provides reasons as to why the dad character was reading a newspaper in the previous shot, rather than paying attention to his daughter as he could have been looking for a job which could be worrying him. The short then cuts to a medium shot of the dad character playing football. Certain props from the technical area of mise-en-scene clarify this to audience through a football net and uniform. The technical area of sound combines with the aspect of mise-en-scene to also clarify the activity football in the shot; through the diegetic sound of a ball being kicked and a whistle being blown. The shot then goes from a medium to a wide shot, showing a football game commencing and the protagonist standing away from the game by a football net where her dad is playing. The width of the shot amplifies the distance between the protagonist and the dad character, again linking to two of the main issues of the short, alienation and parental neglect and awareness. The technical area of mise-en-scene represents the two areas regional identity and class and status. Behind the field where the game of football is being played there are a number of old-styled red bricked housing and a gas works building. These aspects communicate that the scene is set in a working class environment that is near or on the outskirts of a city. The short then cuts to a slightly large medium shot of the girl walking again. The mise-en-scene has changed in the background of the scene from previous shots similar to this. There is now a bridge in the background with white faded paint and graffiti on it. Underneath the bridge there is a small canal appearing, which has rubbish and moss around its edges. In the far background a factory tunnel and more red bricked housing can seen. The aspects of the technical area of mise-en-scene in this shot represent the two common areas of the short, regional identity and class and status. The aspects link in with the other representations that have been evoked consistently throughout the short that the film is set in a work class area which is near a city. The protagonist continues to talk about her dad in this shot, particularly in the relation to the subject shown in the last short; communicating that the shot prior to this represented the thought that was coming into the girl’s head as she continued talking about her dad. The protagonist says lines like ‘He makes me watch him play football most Sundays, he could of played for city’. This one specific line of dialogue ties in with a previously mentioned aspect of regional identity. As the shot also communicates that the film is set near a city and due to the protagonist’s strong accent, it is now shown that the film is set near the city of Manchester. The film then cuts back to a medium shot of the dad character failing to save a goal. Camera is handheld and produces quick movements, communicating the behaviour of the game of football being played, fast paced and rough. The short then goes back to the protagonist walking along the side of the small canal. She then says the single worded line ‘not’ and grins in a cheeky fashion. This 5
dialogue and character code evokes a sense of sarcasm and playfulness, when combine with the short prior to this one. As the girl said her dad could of played for ‘city’ which is famous football team, suggesting that her dad was good at football, the audience then see the dad character failing to stop a ball from entering the net, creating a sense of sarcasm. Then the girl says the word ‘not’ in the short after, clarifying the sarcasm suggested and behaving playfully. This combine also represents the area age, as the girl is acting playful as a younger child would, when throughout the short the girl is trying to act older than her real age and trying to show she is grownup. The short goes on to present these issues in various ways. The short continues its documentary style, until the end of the short where the issue of teenage pregnancy is shown, by the protagonist dropping a plastic bad into the water. From under the water a new born baby falls out of the bag and sinks down. The girl is then shown walking away from the canal in a wide shot, singing very quietly with little energy, very differently from when she is singing at the beginning of the film. The footage then fades to black and the credits begin to roll.