Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Bordwell's In Depth and Incisive Take on The Good German

If you don't read David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson's blog you should. In this post by Bordwell, he discusses the same article about Soderbergh's The Good German that I do in the post below. Only he does it 1000x betters and with frame grabs. Check it out.

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Sunday, November 12, 2006

You Can Make It Like They Use To--NY Times

The NY Times Sunday has a fascinating article about the making of Steven Soderbergh's new film, The Good German, with George Clooney and Cate Blanchett (requires log-in with free account). The article discusses the classical approach to filmmaking that Soderbergh used and is so rarely found in today's big budget studio filmmaking.

I do think the article overstates the loss of the classical style. The mode of filmmaking, based on the studio approach to working, hiring, etc. has largely been lost. But the classical style of continuity editing and narrative clarity has not, despite many people trying to claim the opposite. For example, the author states that the film used wide angle lenses to create multiple character compositions that are no longer in fashion today, thanks largely to the use of 2-shots and CUs influenced by composition for television. While this may be generally true, the situation is more complicated. The use of multiple character compositions may have been due more the widescreen innovations in the 50s, and many films from the 30s-50's used two shots and CUs. Furthermore, many films today still use a wide range of compositional strategies. And with the emergence of widescreen TVs, a denser compositional approach may be returning (who knows). And while camera movement may be easier, it is still in the classical tradition. Besides all this, the "classical style" embraces more than just compositional strategies. In also refers to editing and narrative. While editing might be faster paced with short shots, the shot reverse conversation has remained common for decades and narrative clarity is still the top priority in the majority of films released in Hollywood.

Despite my comments, I think the article does an excellent job of discussing changes in style generally and in modes of production from the studio era to today.

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Sunday, November 05, 2006

Top Ten List--One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, 1975, Written by Bo Goldman and Lawrence Hauben; Based on the book by Ken Kesey; Directed by Milos Forman

The over-arching metaphor of the movie may be obvious, but it doesn't make it any less brilliant. The mental hospital that Jack Nicholson's Randle McMurphy finds himself in is a perfect microcosm of society. Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher) is the authority figure trying to bring conformity and rule-bound behavior at any cost, and McMurphy is the one trying to inspire those around him to question authority and revel in their individuality and ability to care for each other. At first, both viewpoint have their validity, but extending the metaphor, Ratched's position of power and authority slowly corrupts her and she bends the rules and then breaks them in order to remain in control. The down, yet hopeful ending, is the best part of the movie, as it gives the movie-level metaphor the ring of truth, as McMurphy and the inmates fail overall to overthrow authority, yet the struggle inspires The Chief to break free and make a go at living life. The story is filled with sadness, humor, anger, rebellion, little victories, and big defeats. In the end, there are very few movie metaphors that are so complete, so successful, so insightful, and so completely simple.

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Next Top Ten or So

Okay, this is starting to get a bit drawn out. I will try to get these complete, so we can all move on to more interesting things.

L’Avventura, 1960, Written by Michelangelo Antonioni, Elio Bartolini and Tonino Guerra; Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni.

In my mind, L'Avventura is the kind of film that everyone dreams of making when they're young and want to go to film school (of course, Pulp Fiction is probably a little more popular choice). What I mean, is that when you're young and dreaming of making the best movie ever made, you imagine a film in which every single thing is meaningful--the angles, compositions, mise-en-scene, etc. But you com to realize, that most films just aren't made that carefully. But L'Avventura was made that carefully. Every camera move, every frameline, every position or movement of an actor, every placement of a background element, everything visual has meaning, has a reason to be the way it is. Now, I'm not going to pretend I know what the meaning of every choice in L'Avventura is, but the meaning is nevertheless there. Even more impressively, the meaning is not cheap symbolism (I read recently on David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson's blog that Scorsese and Michael Balhaus tried to put crosses in any form into every shot where a character is in danger into in The Departed--that's cheap symbolism to me). In fact, the meaning of the shots isn't really symbolic at all, as is excellently explained by Gene Youngblood on the Criterion Collection DVD.

In short, the film is about the mysterious disappearance of Anna, and the resulting love affair between her boyfriend Sandro and her best friend Claudia. These are all characters who seem to have lost meaning in their lives, and the varying abilities of the characters to realize this and do something about it. Of all the films on my list, this one suffers the most from an attempt to describe it, given the amazing quality of the visuals, so I'm going to quit while I'm ahead.

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Sunday, October 29, 2006

Report from Hot Springs Doc Festival

On Friday, I spent the day at the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival, one of the world's premiere showcases for documentary films. The festival runs for 10 days, and I only spent one, but I still saw a number of good films as well as one of the best docs I have ever seen.

The first film I saw was a short doc called The ACLU Freedom Files: Dissent. The film showcased a number of shocking betrayals of the right to free speech. In particular, the film highlights instances of protesters at Bush/Cheney events being arrested for not protesting in the proper "zone" or even protesting at all. It's disappointing these things are happening more frequently and not getting wide press coverage. Unfortunately, the film looked terrible, suffering from some technical issues.

The 2nd film, 1o Questions for the Dalai Lama, traces filmmaker Rick Ray's journey through India to come up with 10 questions to ask the Dalia Lama during a one hour interview. The film is a little long, but very effective in telling the 20th century history of Tibet and the Dalai Lama. His questions are varied, though not especially philosophical. The Dalai Lama's answers tend to be broad and at times almost cliche, yet he seems to realize this and often laughs at his own answers. Any fan of Buddhism, Tibet, or the Dalai Lama should check this out.

The next film, Kind, True, and Necessary was an overly long look at a Quaker couple living in Oregon. The entire film is VO of the couple discussing their life (interesting at times) over shots of them doing their thing at home over a couple of days period.

The fourth film I watched, So Goes the Nation, is highly polished film that examines the 2004 presidential election through the lens of Ohio. The film features a wide range of interviews with grass roots workers, top level campaign officials from each side, and political commentators such Paul Begala discussing the election. The film is sympathetic to the Democrats in my view, but it does a nice job rationally and objectively examining the strategy that the Republicans used to propel Bush over John Kerry.

The fifth documentary was one of the best documentaries I have ever seen. Titled Can Mr. Smith Get to Washington Anymore, the film traces political newcomer Jeff Smith's campaign for the U.S. House of Representatives in St. Louis. Smith ran against political insider Russ Carnahan, whose father Mel was a Missouri governor, and mother Jean was a US Senator (Taking Mel Carnahan's seat when he died before taking office). He also ran against 8 other candidates in the Democratic primary. All were after Dick Gephardt's vacant seat. Jeff gathers a staff of mostly political novices with one or two more experienced staffers. Mostly he runs on pure energy, excitement, straight talk, and intelligence. In the end Smith lost to Carnahan by about 1500 votes, which was truly extraordinary. Despite Smith's loss, he reinvigorates your faith in the ideals of Democracy and the belief that if you want to make a difference you can run for office. When the movie ended, the audience gave an ovation that lasted nearly as long as the credits. When the lights came up, Jeff Smith was introduced, along with director, Frank Popper, and he received a standing ovation nearly as long as the movie got. If you get the chance to see this film, do it. It's inspiring and extraordinary.

The last film of the night was American Stag, directed by my friend Ben Meade, a filmmaker and professor at Avila College in Overland Park, Kansas. Ben's film takes both a serious and humorous look at American stag films from the 20s to the 60s. It features interviews with minor celebrities like Adam Corolla and Tommy Chong, as well as film historians. The film is well constructed, but of course, the highlight is the stag films themselves, and perhaps a dozen or more are featured and we see a good chunk of many of them. Some are sad, some funny, some disturbing. But you get sucked in, and of course, with any movie of this sort, you end up in the same position as the men who used to gather at parties and lodges to watch these films. Of course, if you know Ben, you know he likes to manipulate and play with his audience, and though American Stag may be the most straightforward of all his films, he continues to play with viewers in this film as well. It's funny and entertaining and very well made. Look for it and check it out.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari - Movies - Review - New York Times

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari - Movies - Review - New York Times

For a while now I've been hearing about this new version of Caligari in which the original backgrounds were scanned and new actors, with dialgoue, told the story anew. Well, rumors no more. It is opening in Manhattan.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

David Poland's Response to The New Yorker Article

The Hot Button: October 18, 2006

I was going to post more on why I wasn't too impressed with the guys featured in Gladwell's article on predicting hit movies. But David Poland, The Hot Button blog, covers all the bases pretty well, so I direct you to his site. He pretty much calls BS on the whole thing...

What if you built a machine to predict hit movies?

The Formula: What if you built a machine to predict hit movies?

Very, very interesting article by Malcolm Gladwell about guys predicting hit movies. My initial reaction, on reading the quotes from the guys, is that there's no way their program can predict hits the way the article claims it does.

Also, they start sounding really ridiculous when offering how to make movies better. Of course, their program has never been tested (and can never be tested) in recommending how a released movie could be improved to make more money.

Having said all that, I'm really curious to learn more about these guys.

The article is long, but well worth the read.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Some thoughts on Youtube and Google - Blog Maverick

Some thoughts on Youtube and Google - Blog Maverick

There has been a lot of discussion about Google's acquistion of YouTube. Anyway interested in filmmaking and the web should be following the ins and outs of this discussion. Mark Cuban, as always, has an opinionated and incisive take on the issue. This is the link to the first article he wrote on the subject, but he has about 3 or 4 more recent entries. It's worth looking at.

Monday, October 09, 2006

ZoomLicense: Finally a way for indies to license pop music? - DV Guru

ZoomLicense: Finally a way for indies to license pop music? - DV Guru

Interesting possibilities with this Zoom site. There's no mention of festival rights, and I'm guessing internet rights, like broadcast rights aren't covered. Still, this site might be worth checking out when it comes online.