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Powerpoint Koven

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  • 1. An Introduction to the Study of Urban Legends and Popular Cinema Dr. Mikel J. Koven University of Worcester
  • 2. Studying Urban Legend films
    • Unlike other folktale forms, specifically the Märchen, straightforward film adaptations of urban legends is difficult
    • We – as analysts – need to know the general corpus of urban legendary in order to know when we find the stories in film
    • We also need to know the general morphologies folklorists use to study the urban legend in order to explore potential cites of newly emerging legends
    • Not just about knowing the stories, but also knowing when something smells and perhaps functions like a legend
  • 3. Embedded Narratives
    • Since urban legends tend to be quite short, they can often be included in popular films as narrative asides or embedded action
    • Embedded as dialogue ( Night Moves )
    • Embedded as action (ostension) ( Gremlins )
  • 4. Embedded Narratives
    • Need to be diligent for urban legend examples in non-folklore films (not specifically about folklore subjects/ narratives)
    • Dialogic narratives – where the urban legends are spoken within the dialogue
    • Ostensive narratives – where the urban legend is demonstrated in the film as action
    • Meatballs : sitting around the campfire telling the hook story (dialogic); Tripper finishes the story by showing that his hand is actually a hook to scare the other counsellors (ostensive)
  • 5. Single Strand Narratives
    • Films which attempt adaptation of a single urban legend into a 90-minute film.
    • Because of the relative shortness of the legend stories (again, unlike the Märchen), a single urban legend is usually insufficient for a feature length film
    • Short films based on single legends – Liz Adams’ Side Effect – version of “The Hippy Babysitter”
  • 6. Extended Narratives
    • The most common form of single-strand narrative is the extended narrative
    • This takes the legend as its starting point, and then extends the narrative further by showing ‘what happened next’ or what the repercussions were
    • When a Stranger Calls (1979) – takes as its starting place the “babysitter and the man upstairs” story and then follows the characters 7 years later
    • Remake (2006) doesn’t try to extend the narrative like the original, but draws out the story to a full 87 minutes.
    • The Curve/Dead Man’s Curve (1998) extends the story of the “Suicide Rule” to explore the repercussions of murdering one’s roommate and trying to make it look like suicide
  • 7. Resultant Narratives
    • Where the film narratives gives the background story to the urban legend
    • The events leading up to the legend
    • Legend is almost the ‘punchline’ to the story, the revelation of what the film narrative actually was
    • Paradise Lost/Turistas (2006)
  • 8. I Know What You Did Last Summer (Gillespie, 1997)
    • An interesting variant on the resultant narrative structure:
    • Four teens are hunted down by a hook- carrying murder who blames them for the hit-and-run death the previous summer
    • Prior to that fatal accident, the four are sitting telling urban legends around a campfire and tell “The Hook”
    • So does the hook-carrying killer evolve out of the hook-handed killer story (resultant narrative)? But then why do they already know this story?
    • Precognitive resultant narrative?
  • 9. Structuring Narratives
    • The urban legend acts as a structuring framework for the film’s narrative
    • Dead Man on Campus (1998) – comedy which uses the “suicide rule” legend
    • Various comic scenarios from trying to find a suitably suicidal roommate
    • Legend provides the framework, the comedy fleshes it out
  • 10. Fusion Narratives
    • One urban legend narrative is rarely enough to pad out a full feature
    • Where two urban legends are fused together to extend the narrative
    • Any more legends included and the film becomes multi-stranded, but a fusion of two still works for a (largely) single stranded narrative
    • Alligator (1980) – fuses the “Alligator in the Sewers” with the “Pet abductions for medical experiments” legend (to explain how the sewer-gators mutated
  • 11. Multi-Strand Narratives
    • Several urban legend narratives used in a combination of the narrative strategies outlined previously
    • Can either be anthology / portmanteau films
    • Or in multiple fusion narratives
    • Wherein multiple legend texts (more than two) are fused, in diverse ways – some dialogic, some ostensive – to create the overall feature film narrative
  • 12. Urban Legend (Banks, 1998)
    • Uses a combination of ostensive and dialogic urban legend narratives
    • Typical teen slasher film (post- Scream )
    • Main structuring narrative : serial killer using urban legend recreations as MO
    • “ Killer in the Backseat”, “Aren’t you glad you didn’t turn on the lights”, “The Boyfriend’s Death”, “On-air murder”, “Kidney Theft”
    • Ostensive motifs
  • 13. Ostensive and dialogic UL motifs
    • While the killer is using urban legends to murder the students at Pendleton College, other UL motifs circulate within the film
    • Ostensive: “Bloody Mary”, “Pop Rocks & Coke”, “The Death Car”, “Dog Exploded in Microwave”, “Car-Lights Initiation”
    • Dialogic (legends discussed): “University Cover-ups of Campus Murders”, “Spider Eggs in bubblegum”, “Richard Gere & the Gerbil”, “Babysitter and the Man Upstairs”
    • Dialogic/Ostensive: told , but told as action – baby aspirin used to replace birth-control pills, unusual sexual position causes partners to get stuck, etc.
  • 14. Candyman (Rose, 1992)
    • Another multiple fusion narrative
    • Also mixes ostensive & dialogic motifs
    • We hear (dialogic) “the Hippy Babysitter”, “Alligators in the Sewers”
    • We see (ostensive) “Razorblades found in Halloween candy”, “Killer bees”, even an odd echo of both Gelert and the “Choking Doberman”
    • We hear and see (dialogic/ostensive) both the Candyman story (based on “Bloody Mary”) and “Child Emasculated in Bathroom”
    • Candyman himself is both a revenant and “the Hook-handed killer” – as well as a male variant of Bloody Mary
    • Unlike Urban Legend , this film is more unified as a narrative
  • 15. Anthology/Portmanteau films
    • Fairly self-evident: an urban legend is used as one (or more) of the stories in portmanteau films
    • Nightmares (1983): “Terror in Topanga” is “The Killer in the Backseat”
    • Campfire Tales (1997) is slightly more interesting – all the stories are ULs
    • Framing narrative of campfire tales
    • “ The Hook”, “The Boyfriend’s Death”, “The Vanishing Hitchhiker”
    • Fusion narratives: “Shannon’s Friend” fused with “Human’s Can Lick Too”
  • 16. In Summary
    • Embedded narratives:
      • Dialogic
      • Ostensive
    • Single-strand narratives:
      • Extended Narratives
      • Resultant Narratives
      • Structuring Narratives
      • Fusion Narratives
    • Multi-strand narratives
      • Fusion Narratives
      • Anthologies/Portmanteau films
  • 17. Thank you.