“Whitnail and I, you know what I mean?”

By Nora Gilmartin

Year: 1987

Director: Bruce Robinson

Production: HandMade Films

George Harrison was a producer, allowing it to be one of the few films in history that contains an original, fully licensed Beatles song (Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”)

Infamous in British university culture for its impossibly difficult drinking game

There is always one work within every film lover’s artillery that serves as the perfect representative for their sense of humor. The absurdist name drops Monty Python films— fans of eccentric, wry humor tout Coen brother works like Fargo— disciples of visual comedy worship Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead. So in an attempt to self-categorize my comedic taste, I always simply say, “I’m a big fan of Withnail and I, you know what I mean?” Only no one ever knows what I mean. They’ve never even heard of it.

That’s not to say to Bruce Robinson’s directorial debut wasn’t beloved, or indeed even worshipped. The film holds a cult status in the hearts of many Brits, and arguably served as the catalyst for star Richard E. Grant’s career. It has aged like fine wine for the press, now being ranked as one of the top British comedies of all time. But for whatever reason, it never made its home in the States. Perhaps Withnail’s visa was denied because of public intoxication charges. Because if there’s one thing you rarely see in this film of many elements and many one-liners, it’s the main characters sober.

The film opens like a raging hangover. Set in a squalid flat in Camden Town in 1969, we are introduced to two of the many casualties of the decade of artistic exploration– Withnail (Richard E. Grant) and “I” (Paul McGann). As the rest of the world settles back into the drone of office routine and 6 o’clock news, Withnail and his companion are still “resting”– broke, unemployed actors, with serious alcohol problems.

Withnail is Shakespearean in his flamboyance— teetering between the pride and arrogance of a king, and the emotional imbalance of a madman. He assails against the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune and curses the underserving folk who have become more successful than him. “I”— also referred to as Marwood in the screenplay, but never named in the film— serves as the voice of the audience. Only slightly saner, he strives to find ways to resolve their destitute state and avoid any further chaos.

In an attempt to flee urban London, they reach out to Withnail’s wealthy Uncle Monty. Played by Richard Griffiths, Monty has been lauded for decades as his greatest role (sorry, Potter fans). A corpulent, gay Oxford alum, he manages his time equally between tending his growing vegetable collection and reminiscing over half-fabricated memories of his thespian years. They obtain a key to his home in the country, and immediately head off in their deteriorating Jaguar.

The holiday, unsurprisingly, is a disaster. The pair find themselves even more out of their element than ever before, in a dingy, wet hut of a summer home— relying on their own natural hunting ability to gather food. They attempt to shove a chicken in a kettle, and use plastic grocery bags as Wellingtons. The nightmare is heightened tenfold when Monty arrives in an attempt to seduce Marwood. He retreats when he gets the impression that Marwood and Withnail are in a secret affair, and is saddened by yet another rejection in his old age.

Despite being a comedy, the film is incredibly self-aware of the tragic nature of the characters. The world no longer holds a place for their kind— if it ever did— and they have reached the age where they must adapt, or perish. In a moment of ingenuousness, Monty holds the boys’ hands and declares, “We are at the end of an age… And here we are, we three, perhaps the last island of beauty in the world.”  It is a sentiment echoed throughout the film by the companions, and reflected by the behavior of the outsiders. They are harassed by local drunks, ignored by rural neighbors, rejected by posh tea drinkers, and abused (albeit rightfully) by the police. These are the scenes which provide the greatest comedic effect in the film, but upon further scrutiny reveal the bleak future to come. What will happen to these characters, when the last drop of wine is spilled, and when they tire of amusing schemes to escape their state?

Marwood is astute enough to realize what must be done. Upon returning to London he secures the leading role in a play, cuts his hair, and makes his final exit. An eviction notice comes through the mail, for which Withnail is too high to even show concern. Yet he reveals his devastating fragility in the final scenes, as he attempts to appear happy for his friend’s success, while trailing him to the station— quietly hoping Marwood will become aware of his betrayal. Marwood remains headstrong, saying his sincerest goodbye in Regent’s Park. Withnail is truly, completely alone.

Standing in the rain, in front of the wolf enclosure they used to frequent together, Withnail belts out the “Hamlet” soliloquy: “What a piece of work is man.” The rain strengthens in its intensity, as if to drown him out, but he continues to scream over the downpour. He takes his bow, and the screenplay ends with, “The wolves are unimpressed.” There is something painfully relatable about Withnail as he walks into the distance. His bombastic and rebellious facade has been shattered, the last remnants of dreams finally crushed, with no support or encouragement to be found. He is stranded– a man out of time. Out of cash. Out of booze.

So how does this reflect upon myself, and others who declare Withnail & I to be their favorite comedy film of all time? Perhaps we embrace the more farcical elements of life, acknowledging that the most comical and extravagant characters are often also the most tragic. We can find humor in the darker sides of humanity, and mockery in those who herald themselves as the elite. And maybe, just maybe, we fear that we are the outsiders— narrowly avoiding isolation and destructive despair.

Jesus. That’s grim. Time for another drink.

Nora Gilmartin graduated from Hunter College with a BA in English Literature.


Man of Steel: A Spoiler-Free Feminist Review

By Tara M. Clapper, originally published on The Geek Initiative.

I’ll give it to  you straight: “Man of Steel” fails the Bechdel Test. Hard. There’s a lot of missed potential. Here’s a spoiler-free, feminist perspective on the movie.

Lois Lane – This version of Lois (Amy Adams) has potential. There aren’t too many character details that need to be changed to update the character. Her profession is still relevant; her personality is still independent and irrepressible. This movie confirms these facts before Lois encounters Clark (Henry Cavill). In the beginning of the movie, we learn that Lois served as an embedded journalist in a military situation. Sounds kick ass, right? Well, after it’s mentioned, this fact is forgotten.

Lois Lane’s Role In Plot – Aside from serving as Superman’s love interest, Lois helps Clark discover his identity and purpose. In this specific way, it’s nearly identical to the role of Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) in “Thor.” Beyond that, Lois does learn information key to the success of Superman and his human allies. However, instead of acting completely with this information in vintage Lois fashion, she just passes the info on to a (male) character, who then completes the task.

Once she uses her reporter skills to understand (extremely early in the movie) that Clark Kent isn’t a typical guy, she serves only as a love interest and a vessel for information. Her role becomes very passive as the movie progresses. As Superman’s quest for identity and monumental decisions take on more importance, Lois becomes a background character – yet her romantic interest in him grows.

While we do see Lois working as a journalist at various points in the movie, her accolades and experiences are not mentioned after the main action sequences.

And So She’s Damseled – Yes, even I wanted to see Superman rescue Lois as she’s falling in the sky. I was glad to see it once. But several times? It’s overkill. I actually feel like she was only falling from buildings and planes to remind us that she was still present, because the script gave her nothing else to do and no other way to again catch the attention of that handsome guy in the red cape. 

The Relationship – My husband didn’t like the progress of the romantic interactions between Lois and Clark and we had a debate about it. In this movie, Lois is actually present for some of Clark’s journey in discovering his identity. I felt that this strengthened the relationship and made me relate to both of the characters more, but my husband expressed a strong preference for the standard ‘double identity’ scenario in which Lois does not realize that Clark and Superman are the same guy.

I don’t think it works well in a contemporary setting, especially when we’re supposed to believe a Pulitzer-winning investigative journalist can’t figure it out. I’m glad they alter the dual identity thing in this movie and I think my husband’s yearning has less to do with nostalgia and more to do with patriarchal bullshit. I’m pretty much over comic book movies that exhibit this type of behavior and I’m very grateful that “Man of Steel” moved past it.

Bechdel Test? Nope. Despite several opportunities for the female characters to pass the Bechdel Test, they do not. Additionally, Superman likes to save people and he saves both males and females – and that’s great. During the movie, this theme is echoed when other characters act to save bystanders and colleagues. Unfortunately, only males get to be heroes in this scenario, and the victims in need of rescuing are usually women.

Villainous Female – There is one female villain in the movie. Faora-Ul (Antje Traue) is on Team Zod, and she kicks ass. She can hold her own against male and female opponents. Unfortunately, she’s the only woman in the movie that gets to exhibit any real physical power. And she’s a villain. So basically…this movie is just trying to tell me that powerful women are bad.

How Clark/Superman Treats Women – Clark is respectful to women in the movie (Minus Faora-Ul, but she’s out to kill him). His real struggles are with his own personal identity, some difficult decisions he has to make, and his human father, Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner).

Maternal and Nurturing Imagery – “Man of Steel” featured a great deal of maternal and nurturing imagery towards the main character, who is depicted at different stages of life, and never without a mother figure. Clark is always the decision-maker (even when it’s him and his human dad), though women tend to take a passive role. That said, I wouldn’t say this imagery is negative; I just wish it was balanced with a more assertive female character or at least a physically intimidating female character who did something useful.

Three female characters are also portrayed as emotional, however I would argue that this is a positive trait of the movie. If anything, all of the male characters except Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and General Zod (Michael Shannon) were a bit too unemotional to be realistic.

The Penis Pods – At one point, some characters get put in pods in outer space. They’re shaped like penises. Flying dildos encompass the entire movie screen. Thank goodness I wasn’t watching the movie in 3D!

It was so obvious that most of the audience started laughing and pointing at the penis pods. Why were the pods shaped like penises? I’m not sure. It had to be intentional, though, because I can’t imagine anyone calling those things anything other than space dildos or penis pods. At that point, I was pretty immersed in the story, but the shape of the space pods ruined my immersion.

Female Soldier – There is one (token) female soldier. She gets few lines and they are always spoken to men. Her most significant line, of course, is about Superman. After she manages to survive (and I assume perform duties adequately) after a major catastrophic event, her male commanding officer does not congratulate her. Instead, he asks her why she’s smirking. I’ll let you guess why. It has nothing to do with the fact that she may have worked on a team who defends against alien invaders and everything to do with the male superhero who doesn’t even thank her for her service. And if she even had a name, I didn’t catch it.

I visually surveyed the audience at the theater. It seemed about 80% male, versus the 60% male audience I observed at “Iron Man 3″ and “The Avengers.” Yeah, Henry Cavill takes his shirt off. Yes, he looks great – but DC unfortunately hasn’t figured out something Marvel clearly understood with “Thor” in 2010 and the movies that followed: female viewers want more out of a movie than a good-looking guy, and they’ll pay to see a comic book movie at least once if you keep that in mind.

Overall, the movie could have been worse. The acting was top notch; Cavill’s portrayal of Superman is a careful balance of an homage and an original. The plot is easy to follow for a non-comic book fan and the first quarter of the movie is especially gripping. It blended lessons learned from “Serenity,” “Star Trek,” “Thor” and “The Avengers” (some of the plot comparisons are unavoidable) as well as “The Matrix” without borrowing too heavily from any one influence. However, you may want to take some motion sickness pills – the camera is constantly shaky to provide a documentary-style feeling and to blur out sub-par special effects.

Tara M. Clapper is the Senior Editor at The Geek Initiative.

Interview with Co-Founder & Writer/Director of Congested Cat Productions, Christina Raia

Film Syrup interviewed Co-Founder & Writer/ Director of Congested Cat Productions, Christina Raia, hoping to bring to the surface this resourceful production company’s in-progress projects and creative motives. Read the following series of questions that Film Syrup presented to this independent filmmaker. Congested Cat Productions, based in the New York City area, is made up of an inspiring team of young creatives, including Raia. 

265783_10151092273807919_62753384_oFilm Syrup (FS): Among the short films you are currently working on, which do you foresee your audiences receiving best, relating to most closely, and responding to through social media, writing, etc.?

Christina Raia (CR): I think both shorts, “Not Our Living Room” and “We Had Plans,” will appeal to our audience, but the latter may resonate more with the audience we’ve acquired from our past collaborative work, “Kelsey.” Our fan base for the series was predominately female and within that mostly comprised of lesbians. I think the “Kelsey” fans appreciated that we created a series centered on a lesbian whose sole existence was not wrapped around her sexual orientation. Yes, that was a prominent aspect of her identity, but she was an individual with experiences and emotions that all people go through, who also happened to be gay. We believe in portraying people as people, and expect our audience to look at them that way, and relate to them on an emotional level. We don’t do caricatures or stereotypes. We aim to do the same with both of these shorts. However, since “We Had Plans” is about sisters (while “Not Our Living Room” is about brothers), where one is a lesbian, I believe it’ll draw in our audience a little more.


FS: What are your long term creative goals in your management at CongestedCat Productions, LLC? What message do you wish to send to audiences? Do you think this message has previously been achieved?

CR: CongestedCat Productions started as a branded umbrella for me and my collaborators to produce and release our creative content. However, in the three years that we’ve been around, we’ve evolved more into a company that believes in unifying and empowering independent film and filmmakers. We believe in creating and showcasing innovative and original content, not just by ourselves but by our peers as well. This is how our free monthly film screening series, IndieWorks, got started. Ultimately, we believe in portraying and giving voices to underrepresented individuals, both in terms of the content creators and content created. I do believe that is something that sets us apart from other production companies or teams because not many that I’ve encountered have made diversity and challenging social norms a priority.


FS: What components of your company do you feel are very essential to the industry it is based in? Is there a gray area where film meets business that takes away from creativity, or that makes business more creative?

CR:Our company was started not as a way to profit, but as a way to create. So, for us, artistic merit and creativity comes first and then it’s a matter of figuring out our strategy in gaining funding and/or an audience for each individual project. I personally never aspired to be on the business side of film but no one was knocking on my door offering to bring my work to fruition; so I had to create that opportunity for myself. Because of this, it’s been a bit of a steep learning curve for me since founding the company three years ago. However, all the team members (we like to think of ourselves as a team rather than just a company) are under 28 years old, which I think benefits us because we’re sort of coming up in this new generation of film making and film technology. We’re very aware of the more traditional methods, but are most open to more innovative ones. Often filmmakers feel pressured to conform to mainstream expectations in terms of creative choices as well more production-based aspects like casting, even in the festival circuit. Since our team aims to make less mainstream, more diverse content, we’re much more into modern digital based distribution platforms and options. For instance, creating a web series worked well with our more youthful appeal and approach both on a creative side as well as in advancing the new-media industry reach of our company.


FS:Where did the name “CongestedCat” derive from? Do you think it influences your interested audiences to view your videos, website, or general media? (Cats are apparently in right now).

CR: I founded CongestedCat Productions with my childhood friend Chris Carroll (who mainly acts as resident photographer and graphic designer within the company). When trying to name the company, we knew we wanted the title to have two C’s to represent our names. We tried to think of what we had in common, and the two things that came to mind were that our zodiac sign is cancer and we both love cats. The former wasn’t so appealing name-wise, so we decided to work with the latter. Chris typed into google “C Cat” and the first thing in the drop-down menu was “congested cat.” Chris said it jokingly and we laughed about it for a while, not seriously expecting to use it. However, the more we said it, the more it grew on us. We felt that when heard, the name would likely not be forgotten by people. Additionally, since the intention was for originality with a touch of familiarity to become a bit of a company trademark, we thought it’d work well because it was offbeat in a way that would force people to presume that the content they’d be seeing from us would be anything but generic or predictable.

Because the name came before we really established the team or the content we’d produce, it has very little to do with our target audience. I suppose if people like cats, though, they may be drawn to viewing our work. Our crowdfunding campaign is under the name ‘CongestedCat Shorts’ in order to attract our already existing audience that associates our company name with the content they enjoyed and supported (most notably “Kelsey” but also my upcoming feature ‘Summit,’ past shorts films or IndieWorks).

FS:Do you think the viewership of short films are majorly different from the viewership of full feature length films? Specifically, how does this question apply to CongestedCat Productions?

CR: I think that traditionally people who enjoyed short films were exclusively filmmakers themselves or cinephile types, while feature films appealed to people across the board. However, with Youtube and Vimeo becoming the norm for how people consume media content, there’s a deeper appreciation, I think, for short form content and the ability to tell a compelling story in a short amount of time. For CongestedCat, this is beneficial because we enjoy short form content and believe it’s a useful way to reach people quickly and effectively. With that said, we do have a plethora of stories and styles we want to convey; so feature films are definitely part of our long-term plans. They’ll be more of passion projects that we’ll choose to work on very selectively, and hopefully be able to build an audience around through our future shorts.


FS: What is the main premise of IndieWorks? What is the viewer turnout like for the screenings at People’s Lounge & Bar?

CR:IndieWorks is a way to showcase and support local filmmakers in New York City, and create a sense of community in an environment that can often be overly competitive and about stepping on each other. Ideologically, we believe in working toward a middle class of indie film where we’re all supporting each other and rising together (while still showcasing what makes us all unique), rather than hoping to be the chosen one in a group of many. So, for us, we wanted to start an event free of the politics and capitalism that tend to overrun the festival circuit and, of course, Hollywood, and create an environment where we can see and appreciate the work of our peers and allow discussions and networking that could spark collaboration and support. We have one screening of 6 films every month and average about 45 people at each event. The weather often plays a part in the turnout. The least we’ve ever had was 30 people. The most was 120 at our 1st year ‘Best of Fest’ screening 2 months ago.

To find out more about CongestedCat Productions & Indieworks: http://www.congestedcat.com/

What a Scene and a “Costume” Mean to a Character’s Place on a Set


Contributing Stylist, Roxanne Pfaus, has put together six different outfit combinations that have proven to be ideal for the specific locations Film Syrup photographer, Colleen Rowe, has chosen to display them. These carefully crafted clothing-location combinations have generated scenes that could be imaginable within different films, or perhaps Film Syrup and its collaborators will inspire you to make them imaginable within the crevices of your own minds.

Accompanying Rowe and Pfaus on this creative venture is filmmaker & singer-songwriter, Paige Skelly, who has been chosen to model Pfaus’ clothing choices, transforming these “costumes” into outfits. Among other components, costume choice is extremely important to film production so it’s very key that filmmakers choose the right stylist to make sure that the outfits chosen parallel the scenes presented to audiences. Fashion meets film with a firm handshake in this particular photo shoot, or perhaps it is always dwelling in the shadows, waiting for an opportunity to pull viewers deeper into the scenes that contain it.

1. Zombieland

Colleen Rowe: Running from a Zombie is pretty difficult, or so I’ve seen in various TV shows and films. Zombies are “in” right now—it’s just a fact, especially in the television world, crediting the popular TV series, The Walking Dead with this newly found love for the undead. The 2004 zombie film, Shaun of the Dead also drew audiences to appreciate “Zombism” with its lighter comedic taste. From these moving pictures depicting very fast moving zombies, zombie apocalypse survivors usually become really good at running and if they’re not, well, they’ll become better at it once they have turned into, the commonly used phrase from TWD, “walkers.” Generally, survivors’ clothing becomes tattered from running through deep woods, the branches catching on the edges of the fabric. Since there are rarely comfortable places to stay during a zombie apocalypse, clothing becomes dirty from the lack of cleaning resources. Basically, what I’m trying to say is that, you’re probably going to look like shit most of the time, but don’t quote me on my eloquence.

Roxanne Pfaus:  In this caseThe tattered look of the jersey knit fabric conveys a disheveled look.

IMG_4673Colleen Rowe: What a lot of people don’t know or really attempt to contemplate, probably because they’re so worried about their favorite characters getting eaten by their approaching undead foes, is that every zombie apocalypse survivor needs some flexibility in their survival-wear. Now I’m not talking about spandex with screwdrivers stitched in, but I am talking about a short dress that allows extensive leg movement—specifically for kicking, running, and driving away from dead people who aren’t capable of thinking enough to change their clothing to strategic running-wear.

IMG_4685Colleen Rowe: Here is where remaining human survivors have a special advantage—knowing your opponent’s weaknesses. In this particular case—Paige is wearing a short dress that allows her to use her legs to attempt to defeat her opponent, while the zombie unsuccessfully attempts to kick her—this is actually pretty resourceful for a “walker,” since usually they are only really good at grunting and binging on human flesh. Movement is key during a zombie apocalypse, where fashion is judged by necessity, rather than excess.

Roxanne Pfaus: This costume portrays a startled woman, acting on the set of a film. In fearing for her life, Paige’s outfit is minimal, but practical. The subdued color of her empire waist mini-dress provides her camouflage, while the textile allows her movement and comfort. This mushroom taupe fabric is able to cast a chromatic appearance, not only with the brick backdrop, but imaginably among a variety of earthy tones as well. IMG_4675Colleen Rowe: Don’t be surprised if you happen to see Beth Greene wearing this outfit on the show that has made her the only known vocalist left in the world. If she’s not already a man magnet on The Waking Dead, she’ll definitely be one now with this outfit! Hopefully, she will have better luck than Paige.

IMG_4689Special thanks to Vanessa Garcia (the zombie featured).

2. Those Romantic Walks on the Beach with that Girl Wearing the Beetle Juice Hat


Colleen Rowe: Spending time by the water is a perfect opportunity to shed some clothing and anticipate a refreshing cool-off while on-lookers check out your body, possibly with flaming green flecks in their eyes. Although bikinis are ideal, something nice to slip over a two piece is always flattering. Perhaps the mysterious female standing in the shadow of herself on the sand is a character with a burning desire to impress every fisherman throughout the local boatyard with her all-black attire and bare feet screaming for a, as Austin Powers calls it, “sensual massage” (remember to use the British accent when you say that in your head). Whatever her motives are, she is obviously turning heads so the suggestion is here: if you’re going to create a seductive female character within a film, make sure that something about her is quite signature and her own.


Colleen Rowe: For example by contrast, don’t bore viewers with a Jessica Simpson look-alike. Also, if you decide to put her in a Velour jumpsuit please expect her credibility to be tainted. For now those are two rules to film by.

Roxanne Pfaus: The stark contrast between the actor’s dark wardrobe and soft scenery creates a dramatic delivery. Her woven, straw, piece- dyed hat keeps the sun out of her eyes and offers a theatrical focal point.


Colleen Rowe: Since walking on the beach is usually considered a typical activity for a first date, Paige is playing the part, so imagine an over-dramatized scene where two lovers meet to confess their attraction for one another beside beach rocks. The unknown lover is unbelievably attracted to this dreamy woman, her black skirt long enough to show audiences that she’s classy with her cowgirl-Esq, politely revealing vest giving this impression that she’s experienced and confident. The Beetle Juice patterned hat really pulls this “look” together to exhibit her unconventional uniqueness.

Roxanne Pfaus: The light-weight, cotton-spandex blend that composes her skirt keeps her cool and a gust of wind will surely provide a cinematic fluttering effect. This edgy suede vest embellished with metallic beading and tassels is able to flatteringly reflect sunlight.


IMG_4727Colleen Rowe: Remember to the pick the correct female for her chosen role in your film, but also take into consideration what she will be wearing because a shirt’s V-neck and the length of her skirt says everything you need to know about her character, or the façade her character wishes to present.

3. Accessories & Contrast Count, Even in Sportswear

Colleen Rowe: Quoted in films like Dead Poet Society, Henry David Thoreau spent years in the woods attempting to detach himself from conventional society. Although revealing tank tops and tight pants were not available during the 19th century when he was alive, you can bet he would have worn them as a substitute to his pretentious suits while he was finding himself in the fish pools at Walden Pond. Walt Whitman would absolutely approve.


Colleen Rowe: Not only are these outfit options comfortable for summer hiking weather, they also provide contrast for the scenic greenery surrounding Paige. The bright backdrop behind her powerfully makes her the center of the photo, or scene as she stands in a black-grey combination outfit. The blue pullover vest adds to her color, absorbing the light and giving her a sporty appearance.

Roxanne Pfaus: This look resembles a more utilitarian woman. Her mesh tank top is sporty in appearance and, additionally, is able to whisk away moisture and sweat. Durable pants allow the subject to participate in wear and tear that other fabrics wouldn’t be able to compete with. They are also multi-pocketed which is seldom offered in women’s wear. This is important because this allows Paige to carry additional hiking gear that could be necessary to her endeavor.


Colleen Rowe: Remember shoe tying is a key activity while hiking, because constant activity invites laces to be tied often.

IMG_4745Colleen Rowe: Realistic actions make intentionally realistic film scenes more probable, but props as simple as sneakers with laces and sport watches make that necessary.



Like many other situations, it’s the little things that count.

4. A Female Character by Herself


Colleen Rowe: We have already established that colors really exaggerate a mood within a scene. For some reason whenever I see someone wearing a yellow shirt I always associate them with Ronald McDonald, which is pretty misleading especially if this particular person is a vegetarian. Basically, if you dress someone up a certain way, they can be perceived completely differently from what they actually are—which is subjective anyway. Colors and styles really play on emotions. One thing that this outfit really exhibits is a word comprised with one vowel: Bliss.

Roxanne Pfaus: Paige’s down to earth ensemble works congruently with her sandy scenery. This sun dress not only provides a nautical style, but also allows her to bask on the beach with ease.  The dress’ engineered printed stripe design plays up the actor’s looks with an optical illusion that is favorable to any woman’s figure.

IMG_4767Colleen Rowe: A sundress is perfect for casual encounters and to show off legs, but sometimes characters, and people really, need to be alone to really feel themselves and who they represent themselves to be. Isn’t it important to be alone sometimes? In this scene we see Paige’s character as someone fully content with who she is, completely alone and dressed up for the company of herself.

IMG_4781Colleen Rowe: It’s important to catch a female character with at least one scene on her own, “dressed well.” A scene like that is a compilation of all those moments she spent sitting in front of her vanity making eyes at the person she wants to be. When girls dress up just to impress their mirrors before they have anywhere to go.

Roxanne Pfaus: Her knit Raschel shrug creates a lace like effect that utilizes Lurex yarns to enhance the costume with a metallic detail.


Colleen Rowe: That time alone is essential to character building, in both forms—the fabricated character and the character within us that shapes our souls.

IMG_4780Colleen Rowe: Since films are, a lot of the time, based on reality or real human emotions, and vice versa, it’s so important to capture this alone time, in a scenic setting, with your chosen subject dressed for themselves, rather than the audience who watches them. In life and film, feigned confidence is very apparent.

5. When Everything Around You is Big, You’ll Make Yourself Bigger to Compete

IMG_4789Colleen Rowe: Have you ever wondered why everyone in New York City is so cranky and rude? It’s because of the big buildings that surround them. The people feel small because they are given this scale of size and are secluded to the bottom of it. Is that why everyone is dressing so nice? Since when did everyone who can afford it become a “fashionista”? Everyone’s making themselves look beautiful because it makes them feel bigger and the truth is, you do feel more badass with a fedora on.

IMG_4826Colleen Rowe: While surrounded by concrete and metal giants, I think people feel that they need to grow thicker skin—so they literally pile on layers and drop two shades darker to make “attitude” become more than a look.

IMG_4828Colleen Rowe: Of course you can add the classic “sneer,” because that’s just so urban. It’s definitely important to increase your character’s “tude’” if they are wearing a specific outfit. Women in spandex are always so much angrier than women in sundresses because the tighter material usually cuts off the circulation to…

Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that when you’re surrounded by a scene that really exhibits a dangerous setting, make your character more valuable by coinciding with the backdrop.

Roxanne Pfaus: An amplified attire is necessary in order to stand out in an urban environment. The featured knit dress conforms to the contours of the actor’s body, while the synthetic piping offers a subtle linear detail that is reminiscent of the surrounding architecture. The actor’s digitally printed and embossed cosmic leggings are modern and avant garde, while offering elasticity in the core spun spandex.


Roxanne Pfaus: Her felt fedora compliments this esoteric, street- smart look, in a place where attitude and perspective are key elements.

IMG_4856Colleen Rowe: A cage-like fence will automatically make a character feel confined, so dress her in an outfit that will allow her to break through the metal.

6. Use Your Character as a Prop

Colleen Rowe: When you create a scene that’s very specific and you have this perfect opportunity to use your character as a prop, do it!


Colleen Rowe: Placed specifically next to an antique shop, Paige is dressed as a doll—a typical antique collection item. Numerous films and TV shows have portrayed dummies as coming alive. The infamous Child’s Play scared children away from ever owning a ginger doll. Can’t cute dolls break out of the antique shop for the sole purpose of impressing people? Perhaps she has other motives, but the important thing here is not to conform to doll stereotypes—they’re very hurtful and no one likes a racist.

IMG_4882Roxanne Pfaus: This last look is less functional and more decorative. Paige’s blotch printed floral knit dress is nostalgic of a typical feminine demeanor.

IMG_4868Colleen Rowe: For this particular photo shoot, tights and lace socks are used to really stick to this dollish theme, while excessive blush exemplifies her rosy cheeks.

Roxanne Pfaus: Her jacquard knit argyle tights are a classic and conventional design, while her lace socks replicate what you would find on a toy doll’s feet.

IMG_4884Colleen Rowe: It’s remarkable when you remove the model-turned-prop from the specific scene she was made a prop for, she becomes more human and alive. Out of the context of the antique shop, we’re seeing this outfit transcend the boundaries of artificial to real.

Roxanne Pfaus: The inspiration for this style is heavily reliant on the location, where you could imagine seeing a porcelain doll for sale.

IMG_4898Colleen Rowe: Location really is everything, but outfit selection is excessively important. Remember not to leave the scene before your work is done, but also keep in mind that there’s always a back door to get back to where you need to be.

Photographer/Writer, Colleen Rowe

Stylist/Co-Writer, Roxanne Pfaus

Model, Paige Skelly

“The Heart Machine”: If Your Heart is Mechanical, Will it Still Beat for Human Interaction?

By Colleen Rowe

the heart machine bam photo

“The Heart Machine” was shown at The Brooklyn Academy of Music in June 2014. Photo Credit: Myself (Colleen Rowe)

We have all done it before and occasionally we think about it in a jaded haze of harsh perplexity. The stranger you see on the sidewalk, in the bar, on the subway—it’s really just a stranger, isn’t it? With curious inclination, you might halfway approach your stranger, because this unknown has become yours in the misty sentiments your mind creates above wheels upon rattling tracks. As your hand almost reaches its destination, within the space of skin folds between your stranger’s palm and fingers, you turn away, realizing, suddenly, that the city of New York is a very large place and within the swallowing crowds there isn’t a possibility that you’ve just run into the woman who you believe might be your emotional savior, only to be spit up with a violent cough back onto the pavement. It’s just a stranger, you tell yourself again, and she isn’t yours. In a fleeting moment, someone asks, with a twinge of undocumented mystery: What if she isn’t a stranger? What if she is yours?

Writer and director, Zachary Wigon, has mindfully crafted the independent film, The Heart Machine, portraying the casual conversations between two individuals who have formed a long distance relationship with each other and a mysterious truth about their physical proximities. Between their scheduled skype sessions, the male protagonist turned antagonist, Cody, played by John Gallagher Jr., appears suspicious quickly after the web camera lens shuts off, plotting points on a map of New York City and evaluating the typically American electric outlets beside a picture of his transient beloved. After a run in with his internet girlfriend’s doppelganger on the subway in New York, after knowing that she has been in the process of completing a fellowship in Germany, Cody mentions this sighting to his girlfriend, Virginia, played by Kate Lyn Sheil, only to hear her feigned disinterest as an obvious warning of deception. Perhaps this mystery subway rider was his.

The daily lives and separate interactions within their individual worlds become noticeably depressing as Cody begins to stalk people who might have had an interaction with Virginia, while Virginia partakes in promiscuous, blind sex dates. Together, within their tunnel vision bubbles, initially so large with inventive ideas and a magnetic chemistry, their separateness pops their internet world back to a reality so unremarkable that you start to hate them for their completely irrelevant lives. Here, as the line between real “lives” and internet personas becomes large enough to park a Titanic-sized water tricycle within its domain, viewers realize how simply expectations are built up by portraying oneself incorrectly on a website platform. It is remarkable how thoroughly obsessed people become with everyday internet interactions, to the point where they lose part of who they are. The Heart Machine touches upon this idea, directing it like a ventriloquist’s dummy, to present the realization that we are not really who we are portrayed to be through technology.

Cody, an initially seemingly adorable and caring boyfriend transforms into an undesirable stalker, exhibiting Zachary Wigon’s intentional idea: a normal guy can be depicted as a “creepy” individual once obsessive desires are introduced. His single minded actions to attempt to find his internet girlfriend in her tangle of lies, including following a barista she may or may not have known, manipulating a girl—who Cody had seen Virginia in a picture with on Facebook—to bring him back to her apartment so that he can search through her phone for any clues on Virginia’s whereabouts, and researching the address of Virginia’s apartment, where he proceeds to search through her garbage and finds the wrappers of the “German” chocolates she is often seen eating during their skype sessions, present the idea that everyone on the internet has the potential to be a stalker.

In a sense, we are all stalkers to a certain extent. Zachary Wigon makes this clear as the glass filled with water Virginia first drinks at the dive bar where she meets one of her sexual exploits. This scene, particularly, was captivating—her lips, nervous and trembling as she gulped down the water she uses to hydrate her insecure frame. Virginia’s location, very close to Cody’s New York world—a world in which Virginia is his—and the company she keeps, individuals exiled to  distant, emotional plateaus, shows a different type of need that exists within her character. The need is expressed by Virginia herself during her first real-life, impromptu meeting with Cody as they stand on a roof and she explains her initial desire to find someone, via electronic dating applications, to care about at that moment, rather than someone to have sexual relations with. Her parallel need to disconnect physically with the people she actually cares for shows inability to mix sex with love, a commonality among scorned lovers.

This film is powerful, to the extent where it makes its audiences question whether the people we see every day through social media posts are the professionals and philanthropists they present themselves to be, or if they are simply con-artists with specific motives to clear the richness from their “internet model” competitors. In a world where boxes of chocolates have been compared to life—American imports disguised with a foreign, in The Heart Machine, German, façade, these lifeless things become representations for what is expected: deceit, manipulation, and a little bit of genuine adoration. If lies are told through a webcam, are they more credible because the evidence is difficult to receive? If we say we’re from a certain place, when we’re really from a completely different region, does it mean that we can reinvent ourselves without anyone finding out, so long as the original witnesses are stuffed into photo albums in our attics? Just because a person throws away the chocolate’s wrappers doesn’t mean that they won’t be recycled with advertised imprints of their original makers. It doesn’t mean they won’t be dug out of the trash by a jealous lover gone mad with anger. We’re digging through the internet to find a joint conclusion of what the truth once was, but this mimesis has shaded society with lenses so thick that the original contents of our souls are dabbed with printer’s ink and figurative “likes.”

In the end, Cody implies that his relationship with Virginia is over after his suspicions are confirmed that Virginia has been in New York the whole time they have been dating through Skype. Virginia, thinking about Cody first seeing her on the subway, assuming it was her doppelganger, she writes him a work of prose, shifting the initial outward, physical perception of that scene to an introspective voice—the person has now become the speaker and their whole existence is a memory jotted down in a diary. Here, the instance experienced by one person, is translated by another into something more beautiful than it was meant to be—a filter on a photograph, a manipulation of what once was into what is.

Did Virginia originally deny being a writer because she was more comfortable with being someone’s visual candy on a random train in New York City? The sound of a beating heart isn’t secluded to madmen—it’s that background noise when it’s really quiet and you’re pressed close against the reality of human contact. In the end, the liar becomes the heroine, because the art she depicts is so abstract that it becomes a concrete part of who she is and what the film that contains her has crafted her to be. The art of reality is a difficult concept to present—if you’re not careful, you’ll be depicted to be exactly as you are. You might become yours.