Saturday, 30 April 2011
Here is an article focusing on Sugar Rush (this is the copy but the whole article complete with pictures / relevant screengrabs is available to view online in the April 2009 issue. Log-in details emailed to you).
Part 3 of the episode - click here (will give you an idea of the show)
Sugar Rush – sexual freedom
Andrea Joyce celebrates the representation of teenage sexuality in Channel 4’s Sugar Rush, and explores its construction through close textual analysis.
Sexual desire on TV is represented as being predominantly heterosexual; that is presented as the norm. However, experience tells us that sexual desire is a lot more fluid than this. The depiction of sexual freedom on the small screen is often the source of controversy and concern as it can connote promiscuity. It is taking time to break down the representation of ‘alternative’ sexual identities as a series of tired stereotypes of highly effeminate men and butch women.
Queer As Folk was considered to be a ground-breaking TV drama based on the lives of three gay men in Manchester. It was a graphic portrayal of the everyday lives and loves of the characters, it screened late night on Channel 4, and was the beginning of a more balanced portrayal of other sexual identities.
More recently we’ve been offered an array of characters embracing sexual freedom. There is Kris Fisher, the cross-dressing bisexual student who is a part of the core cast of Hollyoaks, lovable Maxxie in Skins who is as promiscuous as the rest of the characters, and the periodic foray of an EastEnders character into homosexuality, Sonia Jackson being the most recent.
However, until 2005 what was still lacking was a TV drama aimed at a younger audience that positioned a more fluid sexual identity in the context of the everyday rather than one that made these ‘different’ identities a cause for concern or ridicule. Until recently, there was still a gap in the representation of teenage sexuality. Cue Sugar Rush.
Sugar Rush is a perfect example of teenage sexual freedom, the time when new and strange feelings emerge and experimentation is the ‘norm’ or can always be labelled as ‘just a phase’ if necessary. The programme is based on the novel by maverick journalist Julie Burchill.
The first series of the TV drama was screened on Channel 4 in 2005. Sugar Rush shows the life of 15-year-old Kim Daniels and is laden from the outset with slightly risqué content. The very first scene of Episode 1 sees Kim in her bedroom masturbating with an electric toothbrush under her duvet, before she is interrupted by her Dad bursting in on her. This classic scene of embarrassing parents and the awkwardness of teenage years are illustrative of the themes of Sugar Rush.
Using Sugar Rush to discuss representations of sexuality is a very fruitful exercise as much of Series 1 follows Kim through her obsession with her best friend Sugar.
A close analysis: Series 1 Episode 8
Episode 8 in Series 1 opens the morning after Kim’s dreams have come true and she has shared a long, lingering kiss with Sugar, only to be jilted minutes later, for a guy.
The setting is the interior of Kim’s bedroom with archetypal iconography: posters on the wall, trainers and clothes strewn across the floor, jewellery and makeup lying around on the top of drawers, and a framed photo of ‘best friends’ Sugar and Kim. The indication that Sugar is not just a friend but a lustful obsession is indicated through the diary-like notebook that Kim keeps hidden in her drawer, the pages of which hide a photo of Sugar and a hand-drawn heart containing her name in pink pen, the classic symbols of a teenage crush.
A clear sign that Kim’s heart has been broken is the frantic tearing up of Sugar’s photograph, the throwing away of the tickets for the gig they attended together and the highly symbolic crushing of the once treasured possession, a drinks can covered in her lipstick.
The use of the distant diegetic sound of seagulls reminds the viewer of the seaside location.
Brighton is as much of a character in this series as Sugar or Kim, with its bright lights, pier attractions and openly gay club scene. The fairground pier is the perfect visual representation of Kim’s life: her crush on Sugar takes her on a constant rollercoaster of emotions, this being the latest low.
The speed of the fairground and the ferocity of Kim’s emotions are also mirrored in the camerawork and editing of this scene.
The shot cuts quickly from a close-up to a mid-shot that follows Kim’s hand, pans down to the drawer and tracks up as the contents is pulled out and thrown to the floor. The hand-held camerawork disorientates the viewer and the increasing speed of the cuts, which are particularly fast as Kim tears Sugar’s photograph, is indicative of Kim’s anger.
The pace of the editing slows suddenly with the introduction of the non-diegetic soundtrack as Kim studies the drinks can with Sugar’s lipstick.
The shot cuts from the can to a mid-shot of Kim’s face, allowing the viewer to see her reaction as the highly sexual representation of Sugar’s lips remind Kim of the night before and the kiss they shared.
The shot cuts back to a close-up of the can and tracks it to Kim’s lips. The voiceover dips into Kim’s thoughts and acts as a sound bridge into the flashback of the kiss.
The next shot is a close-up of Sugar and Kim in a nightclub, which is long enough to identify Sugar, who is resplendent in the full glow of one of the nightclub’s spotlight, this emphasising the amount of flesh she is exposing.
The shot quickly cuts to an extreme close-up of Kim’s lips, slightly parted as Sugar comes into frame. As their lips meet the white flash signals the end of the flashback and the arrival back into real time; we see Kim coming out of her daydream as she pulls the drinks can away from her lips, leaving a tiny smudge of Sugar’s lipstick.
The voiceover again acts as a narrative aid to reveal Kim’s state of mind as the viewer is shown a mid-shot of Kim throwing the can across the room.
Cutting to a new setting, a long, slightly low-angle, establishing shot shows a figure standing in an almost Christ-like position at an altar, in front of a small group of seated people.
His orange jumper draws the viewer’s eye straight to him, indicating his significance and also in contrast to the sombre setting, hinting at the forthcoming humour of the scene.
The characters about to be introduced are an acknowledgement of the historical stereotypical representations not only of homosexuals but also of people who are prejudiced against homosexuality.
The quick transition from a fast zoom shot to a mid-shot of the open armed ‘preacher’ is accompanied by a non-diegetic swipe sound to make the quick zoom appear more of a transition, again the voiceover of Kim adds context to the scene and explains a little of what is to come.
The camera pans down the preacher’s arm and directs the eye to the introduction of Belinda. Her styling is stereotypical butch lesbian, from her ripped jeans to the masculine-looking grey tank top, which exposes her toned and muscular arms. Her jewellery is simple and quite chunky, her hairstyle is soft to an extent but doesn’t draw attention to her femininity and she isn’t wearing any elaborate make-up.
One mid-shot frames Belinda and Kim together, emphasising the visual differences between them, Kim is a much more femininely-styled woman, wearing colourful clothes, lots of jewellery and with a playful, soft hairstyle.
Cutting back to the preacher the camerawork is as awkward in its movement as in the previous scene. The shot pans from his face to his hands, suggesting the way he is conducting the session and seemingly controlling both Belinda and Gary, the next character to be introduced.
Gary’s voice, gestures, body language and well groomed appearance stereotype him as a gay, camp man. The long-shot, which frames Gary and the preacher together, represents the preacher’s patronising attempt to ‘cure’ Gary of the ‘disease’ of homosexuality. The repeated close-ups of the preacher’s hands make it seem as if he is trying to place a spell on his listeners; very fast zooms also emphasise the outrageousness of the statements being made by the preacher.
Again the non-diegetic music and Kim’s voiceover act as a sound bridge to move to the next scene.
A push-slide transition moves the viewer to a new setting, the interior of a typical school corridor lined with lockers and populated by students going to and from classes.
Fast zooms are used graphically to interpret the panic that Kim obviously feels, culminating in an excellent example of the sexual gaze. This gaze, historically in film and television, is heterosexual as the viewer is considered to be the same. One unique feature of Sugar Rush is that lesbianism is not labelled as a phase. It is positioned as similarly normal as heterosexual desire. The way it does this is through a gaze that can be interpreted as heterosexual, homosexual or just plain sexual, depending on your taste.
A typical over-the-shoulder shot follows and then cuts to point-of-view shots of Sugar. These include a panning shot from Sugar’s breast area down her body to her thighs, showing her exposed flesh and school uniform, a highly sexualised costume thanks to Britney Spears.
In this scene Sugar is the embodiment of something that Laura Mulvey called ‘to-be-looked-at-ness’. In her seminal paper on ‘Visual Pleasure’, Laura Mulvey stated that:
in their traditional exhibitionist role women are simultaneously looked at and displayed, with their appearance coded for strong visual and erotic impact so that they can be said to connote to-be-looked-at-ness
The combination of a slow panning shot of Sugar’s body and the close-ups of her looking directly into the camera position the viewer into Kim’s point of view. We are asked to look at Sugar in the way that Kim looks at her, following Sugar to the stairs, cutting back briefly to capture Kim looking relieved that she has gone.
A final point of view shot of Sugar as she walks up the stairs cuts off the top part of her body and objectifies her, Sugar becomes a wiggling figure and a pair of exposed thighs to be gazed at.
The three scenes last only three minutes and are arguably evidence of a wider intention by broadcasters to represent sexuality in a broader, more responsible and informed way. You could, however, argue that it is using the controversy still caused in some quarters by the unapologetic representation of sexual freedom to gain viewers. I rate it as an excellent example of the fluidity of desire for women by women, for men by men and for men and women by both men and women.
Andrea Joyce teaches Media Studies at Long Road Sixth Form College, Cambridge.
This article first appeared in MediaMagazine 28, April 2009.
Wednesday, 6 April 2011
You can watch the episode here.
Make sure you address all 4 areas:
You should select 10 frames minimum to screengrab as examples for your analysis. I expect 700-1000 words.
Treat this as an exam practice with extra time. I'm sure the grades will be higher this time. BRING A HARD COPY TO THE LESSON.
You must also have completed the Ashes to Ashes re-creation follow-up task (2 questions) in detail by then. No-one has completed properly yet.
Ashes to Ashes0001
This would score highly on Argument / Analysis as he makes many pertinent points and demonstrates his understanding of the producers' intentions (and the macro-level).
However, it doesn't score much in terms of examples as there are too few specific examples of analysis of the 4 key areas (micro-elements): camerawork, mise-en-scene, editing and soundtrack.
tv drama Ashes to Ashes0001
The script below scored 36 marks out of 50. It also deals with the representation of gender. Examiner's comments at the top.
G322 June 2010 section A only
This second one scored 48 marks out of 50. ESSENTIAL READING!
G322 June 2010 98 marks
genre crime tv drama
2. I am still missing some work on the representation of gender in Ashes to Ashes which was due in last week. In some cases, action has been taken and I will have to deal with the rest when I get a minute this week. Still missing: Shreyaa, Devki, Keval, Nimesh, plus Yasmin and Josh though we agreed on a lighter version since you missed the lesson. And of course, David, if you're out there, give us a sign...
Remember that last lesson I handed out a model analysis based on Life on Mars (the series preceding Ashes to Ashes) to help you out. Use it.
COURSEWORK: Can I please remind you to URGENTLY improve some of your evaluations on the Thriller blog? Some specific guidance is available in the last few posts as well as the comprehensive list of questions at the back of your assessment booklet (use it to check what you have addressed well and identify which questions need to be addressed more fully).
So far, no one has asked to book some time with me to go through it so I assume that you know what to do...
- Edit the sequence you have re-created. You will need to embed the original as a small screen in one corner to get the timings right and to demonstrate how faithful you have been to the original sequence. You can use all of or bits of the original soundtrack (the extract can be imported into Final Cut).
- Now that you've re-created the sequence, complete the two following activities:
a. Think about our impressions of Gene Hunt (as he is introduced to the viewers) and how they are created. Having filmed and edited the sequence yourselves, you should have a good grasp of what the director did.
Use screengrabs to comment closely on camerawork, editing and mise-en-scene. Make sure you also come up with 4 points on soundtrack. (Detailed bullet point s are fine - also use your home-learning task on gender, completed last week)
b. Now suggest some ways (at least 4) in which we could modify our first impressions of Gene through slight changes in the filming and editing, for instance to make him look less sour, less macho, more serious or anything else...
Below is one slightly unfinished version of the re-creation done last year. Can you beat it?