Film

Second Semester on the Film MA

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For the second semester of the course, I took two modules – the compulsory core class and a module at UCL called Genre in Italian Cinema. As part of the Intercollegiate Screen Studies Programme, MA Film students can take a module from a selection offered by various London universities, so it’s a good opportunity to try something a bit different and get a feel for another university (and I must say, UCL has a great canteen…)

The Italian class focused on two areas of Italian cinema: in the first half of the semester we looked at commedia all’italiana, then in the second half the focus shifted to Italian crime film. I learnt a lot about Italian politics and society in the twentieth century, from the post-war years of the ‘Economic Miracle’ to the anni di piombi (Years of Lead) in the seventies, which saw unprecedented levels of terrorism, with nearly a thousand people killed. The decade saw numerous bombings and assassinations, including the kidnapping of ex-prime minister Aldo Moro by the Red Brigades in 1978. We discussed these events in relation to Elio Petri’s Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (1970), a Kafka-esque black comedy about a murderous inspector, parodying the widespread police corruption and ineptitude.

While the first semester of the core module was concerned with space, the second shifted focus to time. We started the semester with a discussion on the cinematic construction of time and a screening of Chris Marker’s La Jetée (1962), a short film about time-travel which primarily consists of still images. The film draws attention to the inherent stillness of the cinematic image – of course, films usually consist of twenty four still frames a second, giving only the illusion of movement. We spent a week looking at Gilles Deleuze’s ideas of the ‘movement-image’ and the ‘time-image’, notions which attempt to account for a change in the representation of time before and after World War II. Time and temporality were also discussed in less direct ways in relation to reception studies and how Douglas Sirk’s work has been viewed across time, filming death and dying, and phenomenology, amongst other topics.

The third semester runs from now until the end of August and involves writing the dissertation. I’ll keep y’all posted on how that goes!

Moviegoing in London

As an avid cinema-goer and having now studied in London for over three years, I know a thing or two about the best places to go to the pictures in the capital. London is one of the best cities to be a film student, partly because there are so many cinemas. I’ve compiled a list of some of my favourites, keeping the student budget in mind:

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Barbican Cinemas, Beech Street, EC2
In addition to its theatres, exhibitions spaces and countless cafés, the Barbican Centre also has three cinemas, mostly showing new releases. If you’re 14 – 25, then you can get £5 cinema tickets from Monday to Thursday with a Young Barbican account, which you can sign up for online for free.

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British Film Institute, Southbank, SE1
The BFI is the cinephile’s Mecca, showing 2,000 films a year across four screens and if you’re under 25, then it’s probably the most affordable cinema in London – bring ID and get a £3 ticket, available 45 minutes before the film starts. I can’t overstate how great this place is, on any given day there’ll be something worth seeing: classic Hollywood movies, the obscurest of obscure World cinema, experimental film, old TV series even. Upcoming seasons include retrospectives of Jean-Luc Godard and Quentin Tarantino. They also have two restaurants, a shop, library and Mediatheque where you can access an archive of film and TV for free.

Ciné Lumiere, Institut Français du Royaume-Uni, 17 Queensberry Place, SW7
The Ciné Lumiere, located in the Institut Français near the Natural History Museum, specialises in French, European and World cinema, hosting Q&As with filmmakers and actors and showing a classic French film every Sunday. It’s like a corner of West London that is forever France; the box office staff greet you with a ‘bonjour’ and the signage is all in French, c’est charmant. The building itself is very nice and the seating is spacious with ample legroom. Student tickets are £6 for matinee screenings.

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Close-Up Film Centre, Brick Lane, E1
Having recently moved into a new premises just off Brick Lane, Close-Up houses a café, a DVD library with 19,000 titles and a small cinema which seats 40 and shows films in ‘glorious 35mm’ (as the chalkboard outside declares). Tickets are £10, which sounds pricey but it’s worth it for the experience; every time I’ve been there’s been an exciting atmosphere and a sense of occasion. As well as films by the likes of Cassavetes, Tarkovsky and Fassbinder, Close-Up specialises in little-known works which are yet to be digitised.

Genesis, Mile End Road, E1
Genesis is the go-to cinema for every QM student – just five minutes down the road and tickets are only £4.50 on Mondays and Wednesdays. It has five screens, one of which is the luxury Studio5, as well as a bar and pie shop, and the films are a mix of blockbusters and more niche fare, including NTLive broadcasts. It’s something of a carrot-cake cinema, recently refurbished with distressed wallpaper and exposed lightbulbs and serving that most hipster of pastries, the cronut. Genesis also hosts monthly Cinema Italia screenings where you can see brand new Italian films which are yet to get a UK release (as well as some classics) and generally there’s a Q&A afterwards.

The Institute of Contemporary Arts, The Mall, SW1
Secluded from the hustle and bustle of Trafalgar Square, the ICA is easily missed from the outside, but it’s worth looking out for. On its two screens you can see arthouse new releases, art films as well as retrospectives (previous retrospectives include Chantal Akerman, Luis Buñuel and Paul Thomas Anderson). There’s a bookshop where you can stock up on Derrida, Sartre and all your critical theory needs. Student tickets are £8, and a cinema ticket will also grant you ‘day membership’ to the art gallery.

Odeon Panton Street, SW1
While this list is mostly independent, arthouse cinemas, I’ve included this crusty little Odeon because it primarily shows films which were released a few months back. Located on a backstreet just off Leicester Sq., if you missed something when it was released but you still want to see it on the big screen, then it’s worth checking the Panton St listings. It could do with a lick of paint, but it has a certain ramshackle charm; one gets the sense that the place is aware that it can never compare with its fancy Leicester Sq. cousins, so it’s given up making an effort. Student tickets are £6.00

First Semester on the Film MA

Books

In my first blog post I thought I’d reflect upon the modules I took during my first semester on the Film Studies MA course. I took two modules: one is the compulsory core module which everyone on the course has to take, the other was a class run by the History department called Hollywood and the Second World War. In both instances, the class sizes are quite small (fewer than 10) and instead of a lecture followed by a seminar, as you might get as an undergraduate, the format tends to be a sort of lecture-seminar hybrid for 2 hours, with ample time for in-depth discussion.

The core module lasts for two semesters, the first semester focusing on space and the second semester on time. The first couple of weeks consisted of a whistle-stop history of film theory as well as all the key concepts necessary for film analysis. After this, each session was taught by a different lecturer and covered a topic (directly or loosely) relating to space, including spatial theory, marginality in cinema, set design and deconstructing the city. The great thing about the module is the variety; we’d be watching Code Unknown (2000) one week and Dredd (2012) the next. In the first essay, we could pick from the different topics covered and apply it to a film of our choice, so if a particular week sparked your interest you could spend more time exploring it in greater depth.

The Hollywood and the Second World War module looked at the impact of the war on the studio system while also covering some key approaches to film history and theory. Though you may expect from its title that we’d be watching lots of war films, the set viewing didn’t include any combat films, and many of the films didn’t even make direct reference to the war. In addition to classics like Casablanca (1942) and The Big Sleep (1945), we also watched a few titles which I was less familiar with, like Since You Went Away (1944) and Gaslight (1943). Each week we’d discuss the set film in the light of a different approach: star studies, genre, auteurism, reception studies, etc. I found the week on reception studies especially interesting as it involved reading responses to a Mass Observation survey from 1942-3 about people’s favourite movies from the past year. The general consensus was that the respondents didn’t like films about the war or anything they perceived as propaganda. Generally, the responses express a low opinion of contemporary filmmaking, with the exception of Fantasia and The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (though one respondent didn’t like it, saying that ‘I don’t like colour and I can remember that the cinema was cold’). A few avoid movie-going altogether because they don’t want to catch flu at the ‘germ-exchange’.

London, Just do it.

How do I wrap up five glorious months studying abroad in London in a single blog entry? I really can’t. All I can say is… Experience it for yourself! JUST DO IT! London is the most awesome city in the world and there’s something for everyone here. There’s always something to do and see and experience. Also, try new things! I was never a theatre-goer until I lived in London. Now I love the theatre and am even considering a profession in scenic design. Here are my top seven things to do in London:

 

1. Watch a play or musical (at least one!)

(Queue early in the morning—it’s not that bad especially when you’re with good company—to get cheap tickets. I saw Matilda for £5! I couldn’t help smiling the entire night after watching it.)

'Matilda the Musical'

‘Matilda the Musical’

2. Subscribe to The Londonist

(You can get daily emails about random free or cheap events around London. For instance, I went to a free arts and crafts party. There’s always something fun and weird going on around town.)

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3. Visit markets

(I wrote a whole entry on markets! They are fantastic and a lot better than the ones in the U.S. There are always delicious street food to try and funky vintage threads to look out for in this town.)

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4. Frolic in the parks

(Queen Mary is right next to Mile End Park, which leads to Victoria Park. It’s my favorite park and a great area to have a morning jog. I also recommend the famous Hyde Park. It’s HUGE. There are so many parks scattered around London and it’s a lovely escape from all the concrete.)

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5. Visit castles and palaces

(They are remarkable to say the least! You can spend hours upon hours in one place and not see everything. My favorite place had to be the Tower of London just because I love the history of Henry VIII. I even spent about six hours at Hampton Court Palace and didn’t see everything. London has some remarkable history. The architecture and craftsmanship that goes into every palace and castle is also mind-blowing.)

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6. Visit museums

(Museums sometimes sound a bit boring, but they don’t have to be! London is filled with museums with various exhibits. One time I went to the Science Museum for a special exhibit on zombies. People dressed up and the whole exhibit was interactive and fun! I particularly love the Victoria and Albert Museum and found their theatre exhibit really interesting. Oh, and did I mention that museums are free?! It’s fantastic!)

The V&A's Cafe

The V&A’s Cafe

7. Get lost!

(That’s right, I’m encouraging you to get lost in the city. Although there are maps outside of most tube stations, I managed to get lost a few times, but during those times I got to see parts of the city that I would not typically explore and loved it. You get to know the city a lot better by wandering around and you can actually see how everything is actually so close together and walkable. Don’t worry about not being able to find your way home: there’s always a tube stop nearby!)

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Writing about London makes me want to go back so bad! It’s a city that can honestly steal your heart when you’re not expecting it. I even miss the cold weather! Strange, right? The study abroad experience is really what you make it and I can honestly say I’ve had such a full and wonderful experience. Queen Mary is also a great university to attend while in London. It’s nice to have a closed campus a bit away from the center of the city. I would highly recommend taking the course on London architecture at Queen Mary. Every other week is a field trip and you learn to appreciate the city so much more. I hope you get the chance to study in London or at least visit. It’s been such a pleasure sharing my experiences with you. Cheers!

The End of Classes and the Beginning of Holiday

Getting my Queen Mary memorabilia before it's too late!

Getting my Queen Mary memorabilia before it’s too late!

Wow?! Classes are over already?

At Queen Mary, there are only 12 weeks of classes and most of the classes only meet twice a week: once a week for lecture and once a week for seminar (or as my school back in the States likes to called it, “discussion”). So if you think about it, that’s only 12 lectures per class! Now there’s a month break before exams start, but if you’re studying liberal arts you most likely don’t have many or any exams. Luckily all my exams were given during week 12 and I just have two more papers due by the end of April. However, if you’re studying abroad for an entire year, you might have to cut your month-long holiday short because exam month will not only cover what you learned this semester, but also last semester. I have a flat mate who’s taking seven exams!

Whatever number of exams you may have, you should have no problem fitting in time to travel and have fun. I’ve noticed many study abroad students go out of the country on the weekends (but that’s personally a bit too short of a trip for me and I need the weekends to catch up and rest), but I think you should also spend a lot of time in London to soak in the culture and see what the city has to offer… and boy does it have a lot to offer! This past week I got to see two phenomenal plays and one (‘Peter and Alice’) starred Judi Dench and Ben Whishaw! To save money on plays, I recommend queuing early in the morning for day tickets, which are around £10-12 (compared to £50 tickets you buy ahead of time online). Because of the high demand for ‘Peter and Alice’, my friends and I lined up at 6:45 am, but it was worth it. You’re young and in London after all!

London Markets

There’s a reason we all love the weekend. It’s time for sleeping in, reading that book you bought ages ago, or (for the more lively, younger crowd) going out dancing. For many study abroad students (or “associate students” as they are known here), it’s even a time to travel outside of the country. As for me? The weekend means markets.

Perhaps I have an old soul or the energy level of a grandma, but for me the markets are the place to be on the weekend. There are so many sights, tastes, noises, and smells (pleasant ones I assure you) to experience when going to a market and you can go to a different one each weekend. I’ve gone to plenty of markets since being here, but there are still so many to explore. Here is the lowdown on the ones I’ve been to so far:

 

White Chapel Market

One of the closest markets near campus (I’d say a 25 minute walk) that has really cheap produce, blankets, clothes, and oddities. I can’t say I’m a fan. I passed through during my first week being in London and found it a bit chaotic. However, if you want something cheap, you’ll definitely find it here. The quality of clothes and shoes aren’t the best, hence the low prices. One of my flat mates buys veggies here and splits them with a friend (because vendors sell a lot of produce in bulk) to save money.

Portobello Market

If you want spend hours at a market, Portobello is the place to go! It is a famous market (a big thanks to Notting Hill) so there are a lot of people. The street of stalls is so wonderfully long. The market is divided into sections: antiques, food, and clothes. I recommend first walking the entire length of the market to see what’s out there before making a purchase (so you get the best deal). Now, this market isn’t cheap but it’s reasonably priced and there are many things you can find here that you can’t find anywhere else (like awesome vintage cameras). Take your time to peruse. Also, the buildings nearby are colorful and quaint and there are also nice, permanent cafes and shops in the area.

Columbia Road Flower Market

Do you like flowers? ‘Cause I do! The Columbia Flower Market is a really small market for people who like plants. There are so many different kinds of flowers and it’s really fun hearing vendors shouting about discounts. The selection of flowers is probably better in the spring. This market opens and closes early (8 am – 3 pm) on Sundays, so you have to wake up early (or at least earlier than you would expect on a Sunday).

Borough Market

I have to admit, this is my favorite market so far. Why? Because of all the FOOD. Just across the street from Tower Bridge’s tube stop, this little gem is packed with yummy stalls. There are all types of different food you can sample (yay free stuff!) and buy. I went on a food crawl (in case you didn’t know, it’s basically eating and enjoying as much as you can in an area) with a friend and ended up having a beef empanada, sirloin steak sandwich, raclette, pear-apple-elderflower cider and goat’s milk rum raisin ice cream. I was satisfied to say the least (and I only spent about £15 which is a deal for all the food I ate). The prices are pretty decent. Depending on how popular a stall is (long queues) will most likely determine the price it charges. I plan to go back multiple times in the future.

Broadway Market

Another close market to Mile End (in case you were worried that everything is located in central London)! This is a small market with lots of character. Sadly, I went near closing time (the market is only open on Saturdays from 9 am – 5 pm), but it seems promising and I plan to return. Also there are adorable cafes and bookshops nearby.

Brick Lane Market

Enclosed in a building, this is a fun market full of food and vintage clothes. Unlike Borough Market, Brick Lane has a lot more different ethnic foods. I had Ethiopian, Chinese, Thai and Mexican food during one visit. Brick Lane is also semi-close to campus (it’s about a 30 minute stroll, a bit past White Chapel Market). Although there are a lot of fun funky clothes here, it isn’t cheap.

Well, that’s enough of me for now. One last thing: if you’re going to any market, make sure to check when it is open. Some are only open or closed on specific days. For instance, Borough Market is closed on Sunday, but open the rest of the week. There’s nothing worse than getting excited about going somewhere to only find out that that place is not open (I know it all too well).

An Overview (So Far)

What a beautiful sunny day! Today, I can actually see the blue sky but I can’t say that the temperature has gotten that much warmer. I’m originally from Southern California, so I’m use to a lot of sunshine and living in flip-flops. But other than the colder climate, I haven’t had much difficulty adjusting to London. I’m a city girl so I love that every day and night there is something to do and see. And yes, London is a pricey city to be in, but there are plenty of cheap or free options around town!

Queen Mary (from Mile End Park)

If you’re coming here, my first tip is to sign up for the Londist’s emails. Everyday I get updates on what’s going on in the city for free or cheap. One of the best events I attended since being here was Burn’s Night (at the end of January)—an old Scottish celebration that involves lots of dancing—and it was free! I would say it is the equivalent to an American barn dance. Most museums are free to the public or students, so you should visit as many as you can. London is flooded with history and I am amazed by how much there is to learn and absorb here.

Burns Night: celebrating a Scottish poet through dancing!

Oh, and you have to go to watch a few plays here. It’s a must! I’m from Los Angeles where movies are king, but theatre is king in London. There are countless shows going on at once. My personal favorite venue is National Theatre and if you line up early in the morning (it’s easier to get tickets on weekdays and you usually only have to turn up around 9:30 am) you can get theatre tickets for £5 – £12. Such a steal. My favorite shows so far have to be ‘The Magistrate,’ ‘The 39 Steps,’ ‘Kiss Me Kate,’ and ‘Macbeth.’ Theatre-going is actually a norm here in London and people have ice cream during intermission—there’s nothing stuffy about it!

Meeting James McAvoy after his performance in ‘Macbeth’.

And lastly food: it isn’t so bad! I’m a foodie, so I go out looking for good eateries and do a bit of research and I highly recommend the book eat.shop london. It’s a fantastic source for decently priced restaurants and cute shops. If a place looks a bit dodgy, maybe you should avoid it, but I’ve had pretty good experiences wherever I go. There are only a few restaurants near campus (The Gold Fryer and other kebab shops, Nandos, Subway, The Greedy Cow. etc), but I don’t frequently eat out so I can save up. I cook for myself or buy cheap sandwiches during the week and then treat myself on the weekends.

This is just a general overview on my experience so far living in London, but I’ll get into specifics in later posts.

I study abroad. Ask me how!

Why hello there! If you’re here you may be considering studying abroad, specifically at Queen Mary in London. This is something I am currently doing, hence the blog.

It seems a bit daunting, studying abroad. A semester, even a year, across an ocean from home? Yikes. Or maybe you’re desperate to get out and see another part of the world, but you don’t know another language or think you can afford it. Here’s the thing: you totally can. I’m not gonna lie, it’s not easy. Grades, money, complicated travel arrangements… and that’s just for you “traditional” students.

Me, I’m what’s referred to by my home university as a “non-traditional” student. In my case this translates to “old.” At 35 I’m not quite ready for the Hoveround or dentures, but I’m nearly twice the age of the “traditional” American university student. There are a lot of reasons I chose to leave the glamorous life in my cubicle behind, and the possibility of studying abroad was a big one.

One of the things that make my situation unique, mostly owing to my elderly status, is that I live off-campus. This is not only because I need my sleep and the thought of all those whippersnappers with their first legal access to alcohol frankly terrifies me; it’s also because I am, in my old age, a certified Crazy Cat Lady and insisted on bringing my two boys with me.

 

“Haha your death-glare has no power over m-AUUGGHHHHH!”

I had to leap a lot of hoops to get here, most of them revolving around the transport of those two lovely gentlemen above, endless paperwork, and money. (Hint: make sure you know exactly how much money you’re getting before booking your plane ticket. Trust me on this.) Getting everything to work out just right was like walking some purgatorial gauntlet complete with whips and fire. I made it through, though, and so can you. Ask a million questions, then ask them again to someone else, do all the math, beg people for money, and make it happen. It is so worth it.

Keep checking this blog to find out why.

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