Recap

by stronged

As I mentioned in a previous posting, I have been asked to speak to the 3rd year Creative Writing students about my journey from their position into Honours. My past supervisor, Craig Batty, would like Ruby, Steve and myself to focus upon aspects of our major project (for Ruby and I, a feature length script; for Steve, a section of his novel).

I have had to dig out the two primary assessments from last year (contextualising essay and a 10,000 word essay) as, for the life of me, I could not remember any distinct details about them. They acted as a precursor to what I am facing now in Honours; a major creative project with an accompanying contextualising statement (exegesis).

An excerpt from my initial pitch goes a little something like this:

Jean Lee is a character that has been shrouded from the halls of Australian history for far too long. The last woman to be hanged in Australia, she represents a real life, living and breathing femme fatale who refused to be bound by the constraints of the social norms of her day. What’s different about this historical heroine is that she sacrificed herself for the man she loved. 

Yet another overly ambitious project I set for myself to complete.

The contextualising essay touched upon many different aspects of this project. Over the course of 2nd year and the beginning of 3rd year I covered my primary research the best I could (i.e. Newspaper articles, biography, poems, the official judgement). So I used the essay to get my head around the double narrative flashback structure Linda Aronson speaks of in her text The 21st Century Screenplay. Plus, examining the textural elements of writing a period piece through Maria Di Battista’s Fast Talking Dames publication. Both research interests converged into an essay that takes character psychology as a template for narrative structure.

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The reversal of roles Di Battista discusses in her text was of intriguing, in a way pre-empting feminism in cinema. She believed that pre-WWII Hollywood positioned heroines in the role of “designing Eve” whilst casting the male leads as “innocent Adams.” These heroines acted as the streetwise smart alecks, educating the heroes about the way of the world (examples: Hold Your Man(1933), Mr. Smith Goes To Washington (1939)). Perhaps this is the role Jean played in her relationship with her lover Bobby? Hence, why she inevitably took the rap for him that lead to her death.

Using Jean as the unreliable narrator of this screenplay, I devised a way to have her write out her version of the story as her last cry from death row for her daughter to understand the whole story. The letter is intercepted by Jean’s mother (carer for her daughter Jilly) who suspiciously reads it’s contents. Thus, the letter acts as a device to instigate a series of flashbacks of the people who surrounded Jean during her short life.

To understand the vernacular and psychology of the day (Jean was hanged in ’51), I read Ray Lawler’s Summer of the Seventeenth Doll and the correspondence between Australian artist Joy Hester and her patron and friend Sunday Reed. I also devoured a vast amount of pre-WWII cinema to get a handle on the mannerisms and popular culture of the time.

As both Jean and Bobby were from the working class (at some stages even below), the quote Di Battista uses in her book from Hold Your Man was of great inspiration:

“We’re here today

Tomorrow we’re through.

So let’s be gay

It’s up to you.” (96)

This revealed to me how Jean and Bobby could be so reckless with their lives. Detached from any responsibility (albeit Jean’s child), they both saw how fickle life was and therefore felt compelled to live their life to it’s very fullest. Perhaps a good example of what Adrian was discussing in one of our Media Objects labs last semester, when you take a kernel of an idea and expand on it. This could be a quote, a lyric, a symbol or performance. At times it is helpful to pick out a term or phrase that you are not sure about. The act of writing about what you think it means will highlight where the holes in your logic are. You can then start the process of filling these holes in by actively reading more material.

All you need is a nugget, and from that you magnify it into a discussion that holds a particular significance for you. When you feel you have exhausted that nugget, you move onto another one. After a while you will find yourself with what seems to be a small collection of disparate material. There may be certain pieces that you have a stronger interest in or that resonate with what you would like to investigate in your academic research. The next step is to expand upon these particular pieces.

According to Adrian’s methodology, the best way to refocus your research trajectory is to compose a brief, four sentence abstract answering the following questions:

What is the problem you are investigating?

Why is this a problem?

My answer to this problem is…

Because…

I originally applied to do Honours in Media and Communications for a few reasons:

  1. To solidify a productive working practice (the rhythms and routines of reading, annotating, writing, editing, videoing)
  2. Equip me with an organisational skill set that will boost my productivity rate
  3. To work on my professional development as a filmmaker and scholar
  4. To allow me the opportunity to teach undergraduates as the rule of thumb is that you can teach whatever program is below your qualification
  5. I had some projects that I was interested in exploring
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