Reflections: Looking Beyond The Bell Jar

Deadline day looms, and I wanted to take some time to reflect on my experience filming The Bell Jar (Book Trailer), both personally and professionally. 

For me, filming this trailer was a cathartic experience. As someone experienced in mental illness, I felt that I was in an privileged position to be able to create a piece of work portraying the feeling of being trapped inside a metaphorical bell jar – foggy, claustrophobic, suffocating. Using visual elements, I hoped to embody something of this experience. I was aware, however, to avoid clichés that are often associated with representations of mental health issues. As Elliot (2015) cites:

‘Eight in 10 people said “headclutchers” don’t show how it feels to have a mental health problem. One in three reported that images of suicide had triggered suicidal feelings. And many said that people with mental health problems don’t look depressed all the time.’


*’Headclutchers’ are stock photos used too often to illustrate stories about mental health*

With this in mind, I wanted to try and create a more representative visual narrative by using different sequences inspired from The Bell Jar, to present a more holistic experience featuring different aspects of one’s life. I was careful to avoid too much focus on stereotypical imagery, such as the pensive gaze through the window or watching the waves ebb and flow from the shoreline. As aforementioned, people with mental health problems don’t look depressed all the time. Plath succeeds in writing a protagonist who fluctuates, who lives in-between. I wanted to do this justice. Below I’ve listed some of the thought processes behind the ways I chose to film The Bell Jar (Book Trailer) as a result. 

Subject Matter

The protagonist is central to all shots. In my filming, there is no opportunity for escape or distraction, purposefully. Often, mental illnesses can cause feelings of isolation and the perception that one is the complete centre of their own universe, inside one’s own bell jar. 

Style

Overall, I was aiming for something between period-drama and a film noir-esque feel. The costume design evokes a 1950s feel whilst there is a certain presence of eroticism and violence (particularly the figs sequence) which might lend itself to a film noir aesthetic in some ways (Boeder, 2018). The filming itself is minimal for several reasons. Firstly, leading on from the point above – there are no complicated shots so as to keep the focus clear (as well as the fact that I’m new to film-making and was operating the cameras alone so was limited in what I could achieve). Moreover, I implore panning across and around the subject to give a kind of circular, cylindrical impression, as if living inside a bell jar. 

Spoilers

At times, I was fearful that I might be giving too much away in the trailer. Of course, book trailers are intended to employ ‘techniques similar to those of movie trailers to promote books and encourage readers. These trailers can also be referred to as “video-podcasts”, with higher quality trailers being called “cinematic book trailers”.’ (Wu, 2012). I think, however, reading is an entirely separate experience from watching, and hope to encourage both through my work.  

The ‘Western’ world seems to be getting increasingly sadder and struggling more to cope under the pressures of neoliberal capitalism and the associated expectations. I think we can learn much from Plath, and I hope my trailer can contribute something to her legacy. 

          

Sourced Used: 

Boeder, L. 2018. ‘A Guide to Classic Film Genres and Styles’ ThoughtCo[online] Available at: https://www.thoughtco.com/guide-to-classic-movie-genres-728307 [Last accessed 15 November 2018]

Elliot, C. 2015. ‘How a visual cliché about mental health can slip through’ The Guardian [online]. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/apr/12/visual-cliche-mental-health-slip-through [Last accessed 15 November 2018]

Wu, L. P. 2012. ‘What key elements make an effective book trailer?’ 30DayBooks [online] Available at: https://www.30daybooks.com/what-key-elements-make-an-effective-book-trailer-plus-a-sneak-peek-of-the-new-book-trailer-by-30-day-books/ [Last accessed 15 November 2018]

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