Student Reflection – Jesse James: From Hero to Villain in the Eyes of One (2.1)

By Amanda Sheridan

This project was truly a joy to work on. When the assignment was initially presented in class, on the first day of class in the syllabus, all I really knew was that the piece was to focus on a movie that has affected or influenced us personally in some way, shape, or form. I somehow knew, nearly instantly, that I was going to work from the 1939 film, Jesse James. Of course, I toyed with the idea of doing other films. However, I always came back to Jesse James. Though I knew the film I wanted to work on, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with it. I had the story in my head, but I wasn’t necessarily sure how I wanted to play it out. I decided to use a linear narrative structure to tell the story, because I felt it would be easy to understand, and also because it is, of course, the way I remember it. I also worked on the project chronologically, doing the opening scene first and the closing scene last. I think this kept me focused.

Pretty early on, I decided I wanted the piece to have a graphic or animated feel to it somehow. I thought I could control the color and intensity of the lights and darks more to my liking if I did so. At first I considered drawing out all the panels in comic style form, but I soon realized that this was not a practical idea, due to time constraints for this assignment as well as for various papers and projects I needed to work on for other classes. I then decided re-create the scenes I wanted with photographs. I had my nephews and niece pose for me, and then I used Photoshop to alter the photos where it was needed.

I also felt that I needed to include scenes from the film in the piece. Because my story starts with me watching the film, I decided to try to mimic this in the assignment. I tried to choose scenes that I either remember watching as a kid, or scenes that I felt would have influenced me at that time. It was really interesting to watch the movie again, and to try to reconcile my own memories and ideas with what was actually in the film.

I also knew I wanted a specific break from the childhood to the adult mentalities. I didn’t decide on how to do this until I started adding the title cards into the scenes. To use the nickname “Manny” in the piece was very natural from me, because it was the nickname I went by most often as a child. Once I got to the scenes where I was supposed to be older, I thought using “Manny” might be somewhat strange, because I knew that most people know me as “Amanda.” It struck me that differentiating between the two names would act perfectly as the break I had wanted to convey.

The painting at the end was actually something that I had already started when I began working on this multimedia project. However, as I continued thinking about the video and the assignment, and what it all meant to me, it occurred to me that the painting was really perfect for the video. I had never really thought about it before, but I do tend toward art that deals with childhood or nostalgia, most of it probably coming from my own experiences. Therefore I decided to include it in the final scene to cap off the video, both to finish conveying the influence Jesse James has had on me, and also because it kind of brought me full circle in thinking about the assignment. I had begun the assignment trying to address a narrative story, and had ended it realizing something about myself, which had played out in another class, that I really hadn’t thought of before. Therefore I say that this film was a total joy  to work on, both because it was a fun challenge technologically and artistically, and also because I really did learn a thing or two about myself in the process.