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Tuesday, December 30, 2014
Review of Criterion's Blu-ray release of "Tootsie"
My review of The Criterion Collection's new Blu-ray release of Sydney Pollack's "TOOTSIE" is up at Cinema Retro. Scroll down until you find it, or alternatively click "Criterion Corner" under Categories in the right hand column.
Friday, December 19, 2014
Film History Paper #3... Godfrey Reggio by David Sarrett
Every semester I pick three outstanding final papers from my Film History class at the College of DuPage. I will be posting these throughout the week.
Third one up... David Sarrett's take on GODFREY REGGIO.
Third one up... David Sarrett's take on GODFREY REGGIO.
By David Sarrett
There are things around all of us that are hidden in plain sight. Things that are so present, normal, and ordinary that we do not see them for the intensity that they are. Reggio takes these things and stares at them at length until they become strange. This is the thread that sews Reggio’s work together in a cohesive approach to what has been branded as experimental documentaries.
Born March 29, 1939 in New Orleans, Louisiana, Reggio was brought up in a traditional catholic family, in a catholic city, and attended Mater Dolorosa School (Spanish for Mother of Sorrows) through 8th grade. At age fourteen, on his own volition, against his parents’ wishes but with their approval, Reggio left home and joined the Christian Brothers, a Roman Catholic pontifical order and a self-sufficient community of 140 monks that make their own food and clothes, care for their sick, and bury their dead. Reggio spent fourteen years living with the Christian Brothers in what he considered a middle ages culture. This way of living was intense, rigorous and purposeful, and it had a demanding routine. Although Reggio openly admits that this was not a monastery of total silence, he spent much of his time in silence, fasting, and prayer. An intended lifer, Reggio took his final vows at age 25. Akin to a male nun, Reggio, with a humble point of view, became a teacher while also servicing the poor. He taught grade school, secondary school, and college. (IMDB)
Reggio was introduced to “Los Olvidados”, a film by Luis Bunuel about poor children in Mexico. This film was a spiritual experience for Reggio. Its ambience and ethos produced a story beyond entertainment that touched Reggio’s soul. He watched it with his students over one hundred times, and this film became their bible. It inspired Reggio to think about cinema as a poetic medium to inflict people with feeling about the world we live in. (CivilNet TV)
The Pope at the time was Pope John XXIII, who once said, “Question everything, accept nothing, including the structure of the church.” This became Reggio’s marching orders, which would subsequently get him into trouble. While there were not many poor children at his school, they did lurk just outside the community in gangs. In 1963 he co-founded Young Citizens for Action, a community organization project that aided juveniles among the street gangs in Santa Fe, New Mexico. This work was not in the interest of the Christian Brothers, and Reggio was asked to leave at the age of 28. (Singularityweblog)
Reggio now saw the world with a new perspective, as an outsider looking in, stepping in, and being surrounded by it all. Reggio has said that being in the church is like being in an exoteric form of religion. Being in the religious order is like being in an esoteric form of religion in that it is more concentrated and more about the pursuit of perfection as opposed to the attainment. Reggio goes on to say that, as a young monk the focus of intellectual attention was the love of the word. The word is currently in a vast state of humiliation. The word no longer describes the world in which we live. This is a conundrum for Reggio because we see the world through language. There is beauty in that we have different languages to describe our world. It is tragic that we are losing our languages. At the beginning of the twentieth century we had arguably 1.7 billion people on the planet speaking 35,000 different languages and principal dialects. Today there are seven billion people speaking in the vicinity of four thousand languages. This is an inverse relationship. Inverse relationships are a concept Reggio likes to examine. The study of ethnology at a University involves people of developed cultures putting subjective categories on indigenous people. Reggio reverses this by taking indigenous people and putting their subjective categories on a progressive culture. He demonstrates this perspective through the lens. Take the Napoleonic statement “A picture is worth a thousand words”, and turn it on its head. Take a thousand pictures and summarize it in one word. That’s how Reggio conceived the title of his first film, Koyaanisqatsi. (Singularityweblog)
Koyaanisqatsi is the first of a trilogy of “qatsi” speechless narrations. The name is a compound word that comes from the Hopi Indian language. Qatsi means “life”. Any word that predicates it furthers it’s meaning. Koyaanis means “out of balance”. The trilogy consists of Koyaanisqatsi, Powaqqatsi, and Naqoyqatsi. Defined as “Life out of Balance”, “Life in Transformation”, and “Life as War” respectively. Reggio considers it a Meta language, a poetic language. Not of word. It is pictorial and non-mental in that it is aimed at the solar plexus to give the viewer a feeling. This experience is visceral. All of Reggio’s films can be considered impossible to categorize in the measure that they do not have something that precedes it as a point of view. This is why they aren’t traditional documentary films because Reggio is not trying to explicate his point of view. He is not a propagandist. (CivilNet TV) His films were done as a collaborative form with Ron Fricke as the cinematographer and Philip Glass doing the unique score full of arpeggios, pipe organs and synths. Ron Fricke was heavily influenced by this project as witnessed in his own release of Baraka in 1992.
Reggio explains that the qatsi trilogy was conceived as incomplete with the audience completing the subject. “It isn’t a story to be told, it’s a story to behold.” He wanted to get away from the linear landscape of cinema avoiding screenplay, narration, actors, story and plot. What is left is motor speed, lenses, movement or stillness of camera, color, lack of color, and veracity of image. Image is ubiquitous. (CivilNet TV) What Reggio saw hidden in plain sight all around was technology. “The purpose of Koyaanisqatsi is to enter the vascular structure of the beast. The beast is global communication, that which fulfills all of our technological desires. This beast is the price we pay for the pursuit of those desires.” (Singularityweblog) This idea is portrayed first in Koyaanisqatsi with the camera focused on the Northern Hemisphere bouncing between untouched nature and human beings’ increasing dependence on technology. Simply put, Koyaanisqatsi shows a way of life that calls for another way of living. His second film, Powaqqatsi, created five years later, focuses on third world nations in the Southern Hemisphere. Forgoing the sped-up aesthetic of the first film, a meditative slow motion technique is used to portray the beauty in those areas of the planet and how cultures are being eroded as their environments are taken over by industry. The third film in the trilogy, Naqoyqatsi, tells of a world that has completed the transition from the natural to the artificial, from Old World to New World. (IRE)
Three decades after his debut, Reggio completed his latest feature, Visitors. Whereas Koyaanisqatsi has 384 cuts, Powaqqatsi has exactly one hundred more at 484 cuts, and Naqoyqatsi has 565 cuts; Visitors has only seventy-four cuts. Despite the differences in the number of cuts, each of these films is around 90 minutes in length. With vastly fewer cuts than the previous films, Visitors pushes the viewer into a deprogramming, a forced slowing of our senses. Reggio equates his filmmaking to churning butter, which he did as a child in the 1940s. It’s a lengthy rigorous repetitive process, which consistently improves the product. He continues to use the same subject, and keeping the film as his medium, he increasingly becomes more focused. Visitors is shot digitally in 4K resolution in Black and White and infrared only. 4K allows more organic material to be on the screen. All subjects are against an all black background, otherwise referred to as “black-ground”. This black-ground gives an illusion of dimensionality. Visitors is meant to put a mirror on the entire planet earth. Without giving away any possible interpretations of the film, aesthetics are paramount. “Color contemporizes”, Reggio says. Black and White elicits more emotion, giving birth to sensation, emotion and perception. When asked about the hypocrisy of using 4K technologies to portray how technology has corrupted our civilization, Reggio admits he has a strong negative view in that he is a prisoner like the rest of us in the global madness we live in called progress and development. (Singularityweblog)
I think Reggio has bookended his career wonderfully. As a man in his seventies, he tours the world still preaching to a younger audience as he quotes Goethe. “Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, DO IT.” Boldness has genius, magic and power in it. Trust yourself and live a non self-conscious life. He continues that the word “beauty” is derived from the Greek work “kallos”, which translates “to provoke”. Reggio wants to provoke his audience plain and simple. Reggio describes a fork in the road that lies before us all; the New and the Old world. The mantra of New World is “United We Stand”. The mantra of the Old World is “Divided We Stand.” The beauty of life is its diversity. Boring is one weather pattern, one season. One Language is boring. Whereas the Old World has seasons, the New World has software. Old and New respectively contrast mystery vs. certainty, stories vs. storage, the Sun vs. energy companies, The Word vs. digital zeros and ones, interaction vs. mediation. The Old World has breath while the New World is breathless. (Singularityweblog) Reggio, however, is grateful to be alive and breathing and considers himself a fortunate refugee who has resurfaced in the twentieth century. All this interviewing, speaking, and text splashed on the Internet was not a part of Reggio’s plan. His conclusion has persistently been that the highest value of art has no predetermined meaning but meaning gleaned from the experience of the encounter. Ultimately, it is whatever you make of it.
“Filmmaker Godfrey Reggio’s Unique View of the World.” CivilNet TV, July 9, 2013. Web. Dec. 8, 2014
“Godfrey Reggio Biography.” IMDB, 2014. Web. Dec. 08, 2014
“Criterion Collection Liner Notes.” IRE, 2013. Web. Dec. 08, 2014.
“Godfrey Reggio on Singularity 1 on 1: We are in the Cyborg State!” Singularityweblog, Nov. 11, 2013. Web. Dec. 08, 2014
Thursday, December 18, 2014
Film History Paper #2... Stanley Kubrick by Trevor Scholtens
Every semester I pick three outstanding final papers from my Film History class at the College of DuPage. I will be posting these throughout the week.
Second one up... Trevor Scholtens' take on STANLEY KUBRICK.
Second one up... Trevor Scholtens' take on STANLEY KUBRICK.
Stanley Kubrick: Auteur
by Trevor Scholtens
Stanley Kubrick is one of the most influential, skilled, and arguably the all-around filmmakers to ever live. He has left a huge legacy behind him, but he started in New York City on July 26th, 1928 when he was born. Kubrick grew up in the Bronx with his father, Jacques, a doctor, his mother, Sadie, a stay at home mom, and his younger sister, Barbara. When he was in school, Stanley wasn’t a traditionally good student at all. He would often skip class, was a social recluse, and was viewed as an underachiever. He was considered by many to be intelligent, but his grades ranked at the bottom of his class. He never valued school, or even a formal education that much, once saying “I have never learned anything at school, and I never read a book for pleasure until I was 19.” He applied to many colleges by the end of high school, but none accepted him. As a kid, Kubrick wanted to become a professional novelist or a Major League baseball player. Since he never seemed to value academics, he played the drums for his high school’s jazz band, and took many pictures with a camera that his father gave him. He was a very skilled photographer and eventually sold some of his shots to Look magazine at the age of sixteen. About one year later, he was hired as a freelance photographer for the magazine (Stanley Kubrick Bio).
In 1950, Kubrick created a photo essay about boxing and used his savings to make his first documentary short, Day of The Fight. He made two other documentaries, Flying Padre and The Seafarers, and then had family members invest in his first narrative film, Fear and Desire. The movie was shown in a few art-house theaters in New York. The movie is considered to be one of the first independent films due to him making it without a studio behind it. He then made two low-budget crime thrillers, Killer’s Kiss in 1955 and The Killing in 1956, and they were well received critically and financially. By 1957 Kubrick was able to make a film for a major studio, so he made Paths of Glory, a remarkable antiwar film that starred Kirk Douglas (About Kubrick).
Kubrick became better known when he directed the historical epic, Spartacus, in 1960 also starring Kirk Douglas. Spartacus was nominated for six Academy Awards and won four. Kubrick moved to the United Kingdom in order to make his provocative 1962 film, Lolita, based on the controversial novel by Vladimir Nabokov of the same name. He remained in the United Kingdom for the rest of his life and career as a filmmaker. Stanley then received his first Academy Award nomination for best director, best writing, and best picture in 1964 for his hilarious political satire, Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. The film that really brought him into the public’s eyes was the utterly incredible and cosmic epic 2001: A Space Odyssey in 1968. The film was extremely critically acclaimed and earned four Academy Award nominations and won Kubrick the award for best special effects, the only Oscar he will have ever won (Stanley Kubrick Bio).
His success continued throughout the 1970’s with films like the shocking yet dazzling A Clockwork Orange in 1971, the historical fictional drama Barry Lyndon in 1975. Stanley then made the terrifying horror film The Shining in 1980, and the chilling Vietnam War film, Full Metal Jacket in 1987. His final film came twelve years later and was the surreal Eyes Wide Shut. He finished his final cut of the film and died of a heart attack in his sleep on March 7, 1999. He was 70 years old (Stanley Kubrick Bio).
One reason why Stanley Kubrick is considered an auteur is because he has a very distinct and skillful visual style. His most distinct visual trait is his use of nearly perfect symmetry in almost all of his films. The way Kubrick sets up and films many of his shots makes them look close to perfectly symmetrical. Many of his films use this impressive technique to draw the audience in to whatever is going on because it is very interesting, and perhaps beautiful, to look at (The “One-Point Perspective” in Stanley Kubrick’s Works).
Another visual trademark of Kubrick is his long tracking shots. Every single film of his has at least one uncut tracking shot that usually lasts for a while. These long tracking shots are impressive in their execution and usually show the atmosphere of the current scene very well. The shot is usually the camera pulling back while a character is walking forward facing the camera (Stanley Kubrick’s Legendary Film Techniques).
Kubrick also was very well known for his meticulous way of filming and directing his actors. Kubrick was famous for being a perfectionist when it came to his movies. He wanted every detail to reflect how he envisioned the film. His symmetrical shots are carefully and impressively made already, but he would often take charge of every small detail, even props in the background, so that it coincided with what he wanted. He was also very controlling of his actors. He would make his actors only say what was written in the script and very rarely let them improvise. His blocking was exact and would shoot multiple takes of every shot so that he could use the perfect one. He was famous for being very hard to work with as a director, but very effective. All of his actors gave extremely well done performances, even earning Peter Sellers an Oscar nomination for best actor in Dr Strangelove and Peter Ustinov a win for his supporting role in Spartacus.
One theme that Kubrick often explored was the dark side of mankind. His films all have a form of crime or moral ambiguity committed by at least one main character. He would often include deaths and breaches of trust amongst the characters in his stories. His focus on humanity’s more sinister subjects made his films compelling, yet challenging for his viewers to watch.
One film that shows his traits as an auteur extremely well is 2001: A Space Odyssey. The film has many shots that are symmetrical and beautiful to look at. The “stargate” sequence has a lot of shots of colors of light that are reflective and gorgeous. He uses long tracking shots for many scenes involving the astronauts on spaceships. One example is when an astronaut is running laps around the interior of the circular spacecraft and it lasts for a long time. The camera stays on him the entire time and the whole scene is uncut. Kubrick’s perfectionism is shown through his realistic ape suits and spaceships for the movie. He consulted NASA to help him create realistic looking designs for his spaceships which he spent a long time designing. His effects for the sequences in space were amazingly realistic today even with the limitations of 1960’s effects. The film explores humanity’s dark side by showing a scene that shows the first tool ever made by man to be used as a weapon to murder an enemy.
Another film that expresses Stanley Kubrick’s qualities as an auteur is A Clockwork Orange. The film, again, uses a lot of symmetrical and well put together shots in it. An example of this would be in the opening shot when you see the Korova Milk Bar. Everything in the shot is symmetrical and impressively put together. He uses many tracking shots, including the scene where Alex browses a record shop. The scene is a continuous take through an elaborate record shop of Alex walking to the camera. He also took control of many things in the movie to make it more real. He actually instructed actors to harm the main actor in one scene and they broke some of the main actor’s ribs. His exploration of human darkness is shown by having the main character, Alex, being a rapist and murderer. He is a despicable human being, but he is still presented in a sympathetic light when bad things happen to him.
One more film that illustrates his traits as an auteur is The Shining. His shots are extremely symmetrical, again, especially in the scene where Danny meets the Grady twins for the first time. He uses many long tracking shots in many scenes in the hedge maze, but more notably in the scene where Danny rides his bike through the hotel and the camera follows him for a long time without cutting. He was very controlling of his actors with this movie. He made Shelly Duvall walk up stairs 127 times and verbally abused her to get the paranoid, scared performance he wanted from her. The film explores the dark side of the human race by having the story basically about one man’s descent into murderous madness.
Stanley Kubrick made only thirteen films in his lifetime and his influence and legacy even live on today. In my opinion, all of his films are astonishing and continue to this day to be inspiring and legendary. There are not many directors that this can be said about. He is an auteur because a Stanley Kubrick film is unmatched in its greatness and is easily recognizable as his own. He made films to the best of his abilities because he loved to make his movies and his passion showed on the screen with his masterpieces of modern cinema. He made his mark on the film world and it will never go away. Kubrick once said, “One man writes a novel. One man writes a symphony. It is essential that one man make a film” (About Kubrick), and that is exactly what this one man did.
Stanley Kubrick Bio: http://www.biography.com/people/stanley-kubrick-9369672#final-years
About Kubrick: http://kubrickfilms.warnerbros.com
The “One-Point Perspective” in Stanley Kubrick’s Works: http://filmmakermagazine.com/85083-the-one-point-perspective-in-stanley-kubricks-work/#.VIUyrGcytEM
Stanley Kubrick’s Legendary Film Techniques: http://www.lavideofilmmaker.com/filmmaking/stanley-kubrick-film-techniques.html
Tuesday, December 16, 2014
Film History Paper #1... Frank Capra by Michelle Imbordino
Every semester I pick three outstanding final papers from my Film History class at the College of DuPage. I will be posting these throughout the week.
First up... Michelle Imbordino's take on FRANK CAPRA.
First up... Michelle Imbordino's take on FRANK CAPRA.
by Michelle Imbordino
Throughout the history of film, there have been many wonderful directors whose work have, and will continue to transcend time. One of these directors is Frank Capra. Frank Capra had an exciting life and a directing career that was so magnificent and stylistically his own that he can be called an auteur director.
Much like characters in Frank Capra movies, Capra lived an interesting life that was full of ups and downs. Frank Capra was born as Francesco Rosario Capra on May 18th, 1897 in Bisacquino, Sicily. He was the youngest of seven, and his family was Roman Catholic. When Capra was five, his family decided to chase the American Dream and come to the US. They settled in an Italian ghetto in Los Angeles. Later on, Frank Capra graduated high school, and then went to college and graduated in chemical engineering. After graduating, and during World War I, Capra decided to enlist in the army (Wikipedia). While in the army he taught math to artillerymen at Fort Scott, San Francisco. A year later, his father died, and then Capra caught the Spanish flu and was medically discharged. In 1920, he became a US citizen and took the name Frank Russell Capra.
After finally recovering, Frank Capra decided to travel around the western US for a couple of years and worked odd jobs along the way. Then, one day Capra read a newspaper article about a new movie studio opening, called them, and then was able to land a job with them. Capra didn't really have any experience, but none the less the studio founder was still impressed and offered him money to direct a one-reel silent film (Wikipedia). Afterward, Capra began to look for more similar jobs in the film industry. He took a position with a minor studio, and then was offered, and received and job to work at Harry Cohn's new studio at the time. Later on, Capra became a gag writer for Hal Roach's Our Gang series, and then wrote for slapstick comedy director, Mack Sennett, where he wrote scripts for the comedian Harry Langdon. Harry Langdon and Frank Capra formed a bond, and so when Langdon left, and moved to First National Studios, he took Capra along too as his personal writer and director. Between 1926 and 1927, they made 3 feature films together, which were all successes with the critics and the public (Wikipedia). But then, Capra and Langdon had a falling out and Capra was fired. In 1928, Capra went back to Harry Cohn's studio, which was now named Columbia Pictures. During this time, sound was making its way into film. Because of Capra's engineering background, it wasn't difficult for him to adapt to the change.
In 1934, Frank Capra's movie It Happened One Night was released. This was the movie that put not only Capra on the map, but also Clark Gable, Claudette Colbert, and Columbia Pictures. It was also the first film to win all five top Oscars (Wikipedia).
His next film was Broadway Bill. Broadway Bill was a turning point in his career. It was with this movie that his style and themes came about. Capra continued on to make more successful movies through the 30's. In 1936, he made Mr. Deeds Goes to Town and won his second best director Oscar for it. In 1938, You Can’t Take It with You was released, which Capra received his third director Oscar for. Then, in 1939, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington was released, and the following year Meet John Doe came out ("Biography").
In December 1941, the attack on Pearl Harbor occurred, which led Frank Capra to enlist as a major in the United States Army. During that time, he was asked to direct and produce documentaries that explained to the public the reasons for the US entry into World War II (Wikipedia). His series of documentaries was called Why We Fight. They were a mix of documentary footage, animation from Walt Disney, and staged sequences shot in Hollywood (Dixon). After the war ended, Frank Capra got together with William Wyle and George Steven and founded their own studio called Liberty Films. Liberty Films one and only film was It's a Wonderful Life. It's a Wonderful Life was released in 1946, and failed at the box office. Regardless, it was still nominated for five academy awards. In 1948, Capra chose to work with MGM Pictures to make the movie State of the Union. This was the only time he worked with MGM Pictures (Wikipedia).
As the 40's started coming to a close, it was evident that Capra's themes and ideas were out of synch with the rest of nation, which had been socially transformed by the war. Not only that, but the film industry was also changing (Dixon). During the Korean War, in 1950, Capra tried to re-enlist in the Army, but was turned down. He was dejected. By 1952, Capra had mostly retired from Hollywood, and went on to produce educational films on science topics for Caltech. Capra's last film was Rendezvous in Space, and it was released in 1964 (Wikipedia). By 1967, Capra was officially retired from Hollywood.
In Capra's personal life, he had two wives. He was married to his first wife, Helen Howell, between 1923 and 1928. Then, in 1928, he married his second wife Lucille Warner. They ended up having 3 children together, and then their children then went on to have children of their own (Wikipedia). Between 1939 and 1941, Frank Capra was the President of the Screen Directors Guild. He was also the president of the Directors Guild of America (or DGA) between 1960 and 1961. In 1982, Frank Capra received a Life Achievement Award from the American Film Institute ("1982...”). Three years later, and at the age of 88, Frank Capra died. The following year he was awarded the Nation Medal of Arts (Wikipedia). While Frank Capra may have died, he also lived, and boy, did he live greatly.
As one of the most beloved directors, Frank Capra's impact on the history of film is undeniable. For starters, Frank Capra put Columbia Studios, which was once one of the studios on poverty row, on the map. He also helped the careers of Clark Gable, Claudette Colbert, James Stewart, Cary Grant, Gary Cooper, and Jean Arthur (Wikipedia). Another major impact Frank Capra had on the history of film, was being one of the first creators of the film movement screwball comedy. Screwball comedies are characterized as movies where there's farcical situations, a unpredictable plot, battle of the sexes, escapist themes, plot lines involving courtship and marriage, witty dialogue, and they typically follow a couple that doesn't like each other at first but then grows to love each other by the end. Capra's first screwball comedy was It Happened One Night. Some of his other screwball comedies include Broadway Bill, You Can’t Take It with You, and Mr. Deeds Goes to Town ("Screwball..."). Screwball comedies blew up during the Great Depression because they were escapist films; and if there was anything Frank Capra was excellent at, it was creating escapist films. His next greatest impact on film history was just that; providing movie goers throughout time, and especially during the Great Depression, with the hope and joy they needed to continue on, because with the absence of hope, there is no life.
Stylistically and thematically Frank Capra's films were his own. Because of this, he is considered an auteur. One major characteristic of Frank Capra films is that each one is able to strike the perfect balance between light and dark. There is pain and loss, but never any deep sense of tragedy. Also, in some Capra films, the story revolves around a simple man who tries to fight corruption in a society, and then in the end he triumphs. The best example of this is probably Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington tells the story of a naive, idealistic man who goes to Washington to fill a vacancy in the US Senate. Things don't go as planned, and he is faced with political corruption, which he stubbornly opposes until he wins in the last minutes. Another characteristic in Frank Capra films is his use of vertical swipe transitions. One example is the movie It's a Wonderful Life, where there's many. Another aspect of many Frank Capra films is wise-cracking and sharp dialogue. This can probably be best seen in his screwball comedies. For example, the movie It Happened One Night. In said movie, there is a lot of witty banter between the two main characters. Banter that has mostly resulted because the characters had issues surrendering their feelings to each other. Another characteristic of Capra movies is his choice of actors and actress. In more than one film the following stars, star: Jean Arthur, James Stewart, and Gary Cooper. Furthermore, I don't think anyone can describe Frank Capra movies better than he did when he received the Life Achievement Award from the American Film Institute in 1982. He said "The art of Frank Capra is very, very simple: It's the love of people. Add two simple ideals to this love of people: the freedom of each individual and the equal importance of each individual, and you have the principle upon which I based all my films" (Frank Capra Accepts).
Frank Capra was a remarkable, auteur director, who's work will live on in infamy, or at least so long as movies exist. He was a man who restored human spirits, with just a little bit of magic. A man who's genuine, feel-good films that in a kaleidoscope whirlwind and yin and yang fashion, mix the pain of life with the joy in perfect harmony, will always be cherished.
"1982 FRANK CAPRA TRIBUTE." American Film Institute. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Dec. 2014. <http://www.afi.com/laa/laa82.aspx>.
"Biography." IMDb. IMDb.com, n.d. Web. 09 Dec. 2014. <http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0001008/bio?ref_=nm_ov_bio_sm>.
Dixon, Wheeler W., and Gwendolyn Audrey. Foster. A Short History of Film. Vol. 2. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 2013. Print.
Frank Capra Accepts the 10th AFI Life Achievement Award in 1982. Perf. Frank Capra. YouTube. AFI, n.d. Web. 09 Dec. 2014. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t746ZVw09P4>.
"Frank Capra". Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia
Britannica Inc., 2014. Web. 07 Dec. 2014 <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/94149/Frank-Capra>.
"Frank Capra." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 12 May 2014. Web. 09 Dec. 2014. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_Capra>.
"Screwball Comedy Film." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 30 Nov. 2014. Web. 09 Dec. 2014. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Screwball_comedy_film>.
Thursday, December 4, 2014
Review: Blu-ray release of Robert Altman's "Thieves Like Us"
My review of Kino Lorber's new Blu-ray release of Robert Altman's 1974 crime and love story, "Thieves Like Us," is up a Cinema Retro. Scroll down until you see it; otherwise click on my name under "Categories" in the right-hand column.
Sunday, November 30, 2014
Review of Criterion's "The Shooting"/"Ride in the Whirlwind" Blu-ray
My review of The Criterion Collection's new Blu-ray release of Monte Hellman's western double feature, "The Shooting" and "Ride in the Whirlwind" is up at Cinema Retro. Scroll down until you see it, or click on "Criterion Corner" under "Categories" in the right-hand column.
Tuesday, November 25, 2014
Review of Criterion's Blu-ray release of "It Happened One Night"
My review of The Criterion Collection's new Blu-ray release of Frank Capra's 1934 classic, "It Happened One Night," is up at Cinema Retro. Scroll down to find it, or click on "Criterion Corner" under "Categories" in the right hand column.
Thursday, November 13, 2014
Review of Criterion's "The Complete Jacques Tati" Blu-ray Box Set
My review of The Criterion Collection's new Blu-ray box set of "The Complete Jacques Tati" is up at Cinema Retro. Scroll down until you see it, or you can go to the right column and click "Criterion Corner" under "Categories."
Tuesday, October 21, 2014
Review of Criterion's new Blu-ray of Fellini's "LA DOLCE VITA"
My review of The Criterion Collection's new Blu-ray release of Federico Fellini's 1960 masterpiece, "LA DOLCE VITA" is up at Cinema Retro. Scroll down until you see it, or look on the right hand column under "Categories" and click "Criterion Corner."
Monday, October 20, 2014
Review of Criterion's Blu-ray of "The Vanishing"
My review of The Criterion Collection's new Blu-ray release of George Sluizer's 1988 creepy thriller, "The Vanishing" is up at Cinema Retro. Scroll down until you see it; otherwise look under "Categories" in the right hand column and click "Criterion Corner."
Friday, October 10, 2014
Review of Criterion's Blu-ray of John Ford's "My Darling Clementine"
My review of The Criterion Collection's new Blu-ray release of John Ford's classic western, "My Darling Clementine," is up at Cinema Retro. Scroll down until you see it; otherwise go to the right column under "Categories" and click "Criterion Corner."
Saturday, September 27, 2014
Review of Criterion's new Blu-ray of Polanski's "Macbeth"
My review of The Criterion Collection's new Blu-ray release of Roman Polanski's "Macbeth" (1971) is up at Cinema Retro. Scroll down until you find it, or alternatively go to the right hand column under "Categories" and click "Criterion Corner."
Monday, September 22, 2014
Review of Criterion's Blu-ray of "The Innocents"
My review of The Criterion Collection's new Blu-ray release of Jack Clayton's "The Innocents" (1961) is up at Cinema Retro. Scroll down until you see it; otherwise look on the right hand column under "Categories" and click Criterion Corner.
Thursday, September 18, 2014
Review of Criterion's Blu-ray of David Lynch's "Eraserhead"
My review of The Criterion Collection's new Blu-ray release of David Lynch's "Eraserhead" is up at Cinema Retro. Scroll down until you see it; otherwise go to "Categories" in the right-hand column and click "Criterion Corner."
Sunday, August 24, 2014
Review of Criterion's Blu-ray Release of "Y Tu Mama Tambien"
My review of The Criterion Collection's new Blu-ray release of Alfonso Cuaron's "Y Tu Mama Tambien" is up at Cinema Retro. Scroll down the page until you find it, or alternatively go to the "Categories" list in the right column and click "Criterion Corner."
Sunday, August 17, 2014
Review of Criterion's Blu-ray release of Almodovar's "Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!"
My review of The Criterion Collection's new Blu-ray release of Pedro Almodovar's "Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!" is up at Cinema Retro. Scroll down until you find it, or alternatively go to the "Categories" in the right column and select "Criterion Corner."
Friday, August 1, 2014
Review of TWIN PEAKS--THE ENTIRE MYSTERY Blu-ray set
My review of the new TWIN PEAKS--THE ENTIRE MYSTERY Blu-ray box set is up at Cinema Retro. If you don't see it, scroll down; alternatively, click on my name in the "Categories" list in the lower right column.
Thursday, July 24, 2014
Review of The Criterion Collection's RED RIVER
My review of The Criterion Collection's new Blu-ray of Howard Hawks' RED RIVER is at Cinema Retro. Scroll down until you find it, or go to the "Categories" list in the right hand column and click "Criterion Corner."
Review of Criterion's Blu-Ray of "The Big Chill"
My review of The Criterion Collection's new Blu-ray release of Lawrence Kasdan's 1983 film, "THE BIG CHILL" is at Cinema Retro. If it's not at the top of the page, scroll down until you find it. Alternatively, scroll down to the "Categories" column on the right side and click "Criterion Corner."
Posted by Raymond Benson at 1:18 PM No comments:
Labels: Barbara Benedek, Blu-ray, Criterion Collection, Glenn Close, Jeff Goldblum, JoBeth Williams, Kevin Costner, Kevin Kline, Lawrence Kasdan, Mary Kay Place, Meg Tilly, The Big Chill, Tom Berenger, William Hurt
Monday, July 7, 2014
Review of Twilight Time's new Blu-ray of David Lynch's "Wild at Heart"
My review of Twilight Time's new Blu-ray of David Lynch's WILD AT HEART is up at Cinema Retro. If it's not at the top of the page, scroll down, or click "Categories" in the column at the right and select my name.
Saturday, July 5, 2014
Review of Shout Factory's Blu-ray release of "Sophie's Choice"
My review of Shout Factory's new Blu-ray release of Alan J. Pakula's 1982 film, "Sophie's Choice," is up at Cinema Retro. If it's not at the top of the page, scroll down until you find it. Alternatively, look at the "Categories" list on the right column and click my name.
Monday, June 30, 2014
Review of Criterion's new Blu-Ray release of "Judex"
My review of The Criterion Collection's new Blu-ray release of Georges Franju's JUDEX is up at Cinema Retro. If you don't see it at the top of the page, scroll down. Alternatively, click "Criterion Corner" under "Categories" in the right column.
Friday, June 20, 2014
Review of Criterion's Blu-ray release of "Hearts and Minds"
My review of The Criterion Collection's new Blu-ray/DVD release of Peter Davis' 1974 documentary, HEARTS AND MINDS, is up at Cinema Retro. If you don't see the piece at the top of the page, scroll down, or look on the right column for "Categories" and click my "Criterion Corner".
Monday, June 16, 2014
Review of Criterion's "A Hard Day's Night"
My review of The Criterion Collection's new Blu-ray release of A HARD DAY'S NIGHT is up at Cinema Retro. If you don't see it at the top of the page, scroll down until you find it, or look under "Categories" in the right hand column and click "Criterion Corner".
Monday, June 9, 2014
Review of Criterion's "All That Heaven Allows"
You can read my review of The Criterion Collection's new Blu-ray/DVD release of Douglas Sirk's "All That Heaven Allows" at Cinema Retro. If the article isn't on top, scroll down or click on "Criterion Corner" in the "Categories" on the right.
Tuesday, May 20, 2014
Film History Student Final Paper #3 - Jean-Luc Godard
Here is the third and last student final paper from my Film History class, 2014 Spring semester, at College of DuPage.
Jean-Luc Godard: Truth, 24 Frames a Second
By Nate Chapman
The French New Wave was one of the more important movements in the history of film, as it encouraged creativity and revitalized a movie industry that had grown complacent, and with that complacency, conservative and predictable. It used new, radical techniques like long shots and stressed existential themes. It also borrowed heavily from Italian Neorealism in that it tried to have the actors be realistic in their dialogue and actions. The story wasn’t always linear, nor was it necessarily the most important aspect of the film. In a phrase, the New Wave shook up the cinema status-quo. The leading figure, considered by many to be the instigator of the movement, was Jean-Luc Godard. Wealthy, young and bored, he found himself living in Paris amidst a number of young film critics and directors in an atmosphere that was ripe for innovation. With his first feature film Breathless, Godard set a precedent for a new, young generation of filmmakers and showed the older ones a new way to reach indifferent crowds. An early proponent of auteur theory alongside the original advocate, Francois Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard’s films have a distinct “Godard” feel to them that is shown through different editing techniques, and of course, a break from the typical Hollywood film formula. Still alive and well, Godard’s legacy left its mark on directors today; there is a reason he has been ranked the third greatest director of all time by a Sight & Sound poll.
Jean-Luc Godard was born in 1930 in Paris to a wealthy family; his father was a Swiss physician and his mother came from a family of bankers who founded the Banque Paribas. When Godard was four, his family moved to Switzerland, where he would remain for a good portion of his early years; however, at the outbreak of the Second World War, Godard found himself in France and encountered some difficulty returning to Switzerland. Jean-Luc was never truly into film early on. In fact, it was not until he read Malraux’s Outline of a Psychology of Cinema that he found it to be an interest he would pursue. He moved to Paris in 1946 to study at the Lycée Buffon, a secondary school; here he mixed with members of high society. However, he failed his baccalaureate exams after two years and returned to Switzerland. After time in Geneva, he returned to the University of Paris to pursue a certificate in anthropology, but he didn’t show up for many classes; instead, he found himself involved with “the young group of film critics at the cine-clubs that started the New Wave” (Wikipedia, Godard). Here in the fifties begins Godard’s involvement with film, albeit criticism, as a career path.
Jean-Luc Godard, living in Paris in the 1950’s, was a frequent attendee of local film clubs. The clubs would screen films and fuel discussions after the viewing, many of which reached deep philosophical levels: “At the Cinematheque I discovered a world which nobody had spoken to me about…they’d told us about Goethe, but not about Dreyer…we dreamed about films” (Wikipedia). Godard found success as a critic for the magazine Cahiers du cinema in the early fifties. In his articles he would come to praise directors like Otto Preminger and Howard Hawks and their “harsh melodramas”, and blast the “formalistic and overtly artful films of Welles, De Sica and Wyler”; the aspects of Italian Neorealism that focused on realism and veracity would find root in Godard’s films later on, much as American film noir refused to sugar coat their stories. In 1953, while working construction on a dam project in Switzerland, he had his first major attempt at filming: “with money from the job, he made a short film about the building of the dam called Opération béton (Operation Concrete)” (Godard Timeline). The film was sold to the dam administration and used for publicity. He continued with several more short films and became friends and associated with soon-to-be important young directors, mainly Truffaut. In 1955, in an important collaboration, Truffaut got Godard to help work on “an idea he had for a film based on the true-crime story of a petty criminal…who had shot a motorcycle policeman and whose girlfriend had turned him in to the police…” (Wikipedia). Nothing came of the project at the time, as no producers were interested (though he would come to revisit the project, to major success as we will soon find out). In 1958, Godard made his most prominent short, Charlotte et son Jules, shot entirely in his own hotel room. The film was notable for Godard’s first use of actor Jean-Paul Belmondo, who would become famous for Breathless.
Come 1959, it would seem Jean-Luc Godard had had enough of reporting from the sidelines. Many of his friends and acquaintances were now well-known filmmakers themselves. Godard went to the Cannes Film Festival that year and requested from Francois Truffaut the rights to the story they had collaborated on previously. Godard secured funding for the film, though not much, and went about recruiting his cast for what would be his first feature-length film. Jean-Paul Belmondo was signed on first, but he didn’t have the star power Godard wanted for the film, so Godard sought out Jean Seberg, an American actress living in Paris. The stage was set for his first major film, the film that would usher in a new era in cinema.
Breathless was, as previously mentioned, the tale of a cool, indifferent young criminal and his American girlfriend. It convolutedly followed him over the course of a few days, from his murder of a policeman to his betrayal by the girl and his subsequent death. The film was envisioned as a documentary of sorts; it took many techniques from the previous Italian Neorealism movement. Godard filmed on location in Paris, used a hand-held camera to shoot the entire film, and used natural lighting. One famous scene involved Belmondo and Seberg meeting for the first time, walking down a boulevard in Paris. With the handheld camera in front of them as they stroll, the viewer gets a very realistic feel and an impression that you are right there with them. Godard also wrote lines of dialogue in a private book that no one else was allowed to look at. He would give his actors a few lines at a time and only allow a few rehearsals before attempting a take; this led to a more authentic and genuine feel to the dialogue of the movie. He also never got permission to film in any of the locations used. This meant they had to be in and out after a few takes, lest authorities come in and hamper his process. The film was also notable for its jump cuts, which were used “at every single break in the sentence to give his (Belmondo) language a rhythm and a flow” (Defining French New Wave).
The film was also a strong anti-Hollywood film in the fact that it eschewed typical Hollywood narrative structure of a strong character-driven story. Breathless jumped from frame to frame suddenly, and wasn’t perfectly linear. There is a strong, personal touch in the film as well, showing Godard as one of the early “auteurs”. “Truffaut states ‘Jean-Luc chose a violent end because by nature he was sadder than I…he was in the depths of despair when he made that film” (Defining French New Wave). The original story of Truffaut’s had a much happier ending, with Michel, Belmondo’s character, living at the end. Also, Godard, living in Paris at the time, probably felt a connection between himself and his character Michel, which makes the character that much more important to the viewer.
The next major film of Jean-Luc Godard’s was Le Petit Soldat, or The Little Soldier. The second film in what many consider to be Godard’s cinematic period of filmmaking, it follows a French intelligence agency who is coerced into agreeing to assassinate a National Liberation Front of Algeria (FLN) agent. The FLN had been waging a war for the liberation of Algeria from France. The character eventually falls in love with a woman who had, at one point previously, helped the FLN. The two conspire to escape to Brazil together, but are of course captured. The main character escapes imprisonment and agrees to kill the FLN agent in exchange for safe passage to Brazil for him and his lover. However, French agents discover her connections to the FLN and torture her, eventually leading to her death.
In order to truly understand why this film is so important, one must look at 1960 France. Algeria had had independence movements as early as 1954, during a time in which many African nations were shrugging off their imperial European “colonizers”. Algeria was to France as India was to Britain; it was the crown jewel of what had been a French empire. When open fighting did break out, it was analogous to today’s wars in the Middle East: insurgents drawn from the native population facing off against a modern army. The fighting was dirty on both sides, with assassination attempts and civilian bombings abound. At one point Frenchmen living in Algeria flooded to France after the killing and lynching of native loyalists. Another marked aspect of the war was the use of torture and illegal executions. France found itself in a moral dilemma and Charles De Gaulle decided to give up Algeria to its people in 1962. Le Petit Soldat came out in 1960, right in the middle of the Algerian War. The film was subsequently banned in France until 1963 due to the nature of its premise.
Godard again shows himself to be an auteur with this film. He certainly overwhelms his studio and industry by making a film that everyone knew would be immediately controversial. An avowed Marxist, Godard shows his contempt for French imperial ambitions in Africa by making his main character someone who flees France to avoid the draft, out of fear for his life and out of disdain for the cause of the war. The entire plot of the film is based on an illegal assassination, something that French intelligence used many times over in the war despite it being expressly prohibited in the Geneva Convention. These anti-establishment, anti-status-quo themes found in the film are important, but there is another theme in the movie that helped stir the pot and get banned: the explicit torture scenes.
For the movie’s time, the scenes depicting torture were wildly violent. One scene has an interrogator lighting a book of matches on fire and burns the main character’s palms with them. In order to obtain realism, “the actor actually endured, for a brief moment, the torture” (Godard’s Truthful Torture Scene). The actor, and thus character, are forcefully held under water for extended periods of time; he is even electrically shocked as well. The French interrogators appear resigned to this method of questioning, as if it was the only choice they had left and were devoid of morality; another swing by Godard at the French authorities. In all, it was no wonder the film was banned at the time. Torture scenes would not be shown as graphically as this until movies like Marathon Man. The entire project was Godard’s own vision; there is no way any studio, French especially, would have allowed those scenes and themes in a French movie at the time: thus, Godard’s force of personality bent them to his own creative will.
Godard continued making films throughout the sixties, including a homage to American musicals, another anti-war movie, and even a science fiction film. Many of his films had political themes based in the current events going on in France and the rest of the world. His film La Chinoise featured a group of students and a number of their left-wing ideas. Coming out in 1967, it immediately preceded the May 1968 events involving the student rebellions and the collapse of the Republic. It was another film of Godard’s that expressly showed his Marxist leanings.
Following the late 1960’s, Jean-Luc Godard moved into what has been labeled his “Revolutionary” or “Radical” period. Films from this era showed Godard’s intense interest in Maoist ideology and featured collaboration with Jean-Pierre Gorin, a young Maoist student. Many of his films from this time were considered extreme, even compared to the Hollywood New Wave films coming out at the time. “Save for small groups of committed militants…most audiences found the combination of recondite ideological hectoring and austere formal rigor all but unwatchable” (Criterion). Godard and his partner Gorin decided to return to a more populist political perspective, moving away from their radical ideas. Come Tout Va Bien.
Tout Va Bien, or Everything Is Fine (All’s Well in the United States), was another political film (yes, another) of Godard’s, coming to theaters in 1972. Godard’s purpose for the film was “to consider the class struggle in France four years on from 1968” (Criterion). It took place in France and centers on a sausage factory under strike. An American reporter played by Jane Fonda is caught up in the strike and becomes radicalized and joins the movement. Fonda, a radical feminist at the time, was the perfect female socialist to play the part in the not-so-subtly Marxist film. Godard took another page from the Neorealism book and hired unemployed, no-name actors to play the factory workers; one way in which he injects a sense of the class-conflict rebounding throughout France at the time into the film. The entire film is based on Fonda’s character and her husband being radicalized over the course of a few nights stuck in the factory, after witnessing the “horrors” of capitalism and its effects on the lower classes. The film even ends with a riot of the workers! If this isn’t classic radical Godard, nothing is.
The film did contain a number of innovative filming techniques. The factory set was actually a cross-sectioned building, allowing the camera to zoom in on one room, then zoom back out and be able to see activity in all rooms, before centering on another. The actors break the fourth wall several times throughout the film as well, talking directly to the camera. There were also a number of long takes and uses montage editing to portray the excitement and chaos of the strike and later riot. The film is important in the Jean-Luc Godard timeline as it was a major “critical and commercial disaster” according to critic Colin MacCabe. Audiences weren’t as enchanted with the extreme Fonda character as Godard hoped. The American premiere didn’t fare much better. The film forced Jean-Luc to recognize that his films weren’t having the political impact he had hoped they were.
Godard made a few more tame political movies later in the seventies, but eventually returned to a more traditional format and mass-appealing source material. In 1987 Godard filmed King Lear, about as clear cut of source material as one can get. Histoire(s) du cinema, completed in 1998, was an extremely long “examination of the history of the concept of cinema and how it relates to the 20th century” (Wikipedia). In some ways it was a return to his roots as a critic.
Jean-Luc Godard is still alive and well today, his most recent film being a short called The Three Disasters. He is and always has been an auteur, of the theory developed by his close friend Francois Truffaut, in the sense that his films were always his own. They were creative and framed many of his own political and personal beliefs and ideologies. Pursuing this auteur idea is what lead him to Breathless, the film that would start it all. Many consider him to be a living legend, and in many ways this is true. Without Godard, there would be no Woody Allen, no Scorsese, or Tarantino. The edgy films we know and love today all are possible because of Jean-Luc Godard and his breaking of the mold with Breathless, over fifty years ago.
Wikipedia: Jean Seberg, Jean-Luc Godard, Breathless, The Little Soldier, French New Wave, All’s Well
Biographical Timeline http://www.carleton.edu/curricular/MEDA/classes/media110/Friesema/intro.html
Criterion: Tout va bien revisited
Godard’s Truthful Torture Scene
The New Wave: Truffaut, Godard, Chabrol, Rohmer, Rivette by James Monaco
Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless: Defining the French New Wave
Sunday, May 18, 2014
Film History Student Final Paper #2 - Ingmar Bergman
Here is the second Student Final Paper from my Spring 2014 semester class of Film History at the College of DuPage. Enjoy!
**************AUTEUR FILMMAKER: INGMAR BERGMAN
By Scott Alexander
I have grown up interested in the process of film and how the cooperating parts put them together. Looking at the style in films, I could always notice trends used by certain directors in almost all their works. This trend in the director’s personal creative vision is known as Auteur Theory. For me, Wes Anderson is the epitome of reoccurring schemes, themes, and overall tone every time I pop in one of his films. I just fell in love with his work and wanted more and more. Now, being in film history and learning about the pioneers that have paved the way for people like Stanley Kubrick, Woody Allen, or even Wes Anderson, it’s amazing to see how each one has grabbed a piece of each other’s style, and made it their own. Like Wes Anderson, the first time I watched Ingmar Berman, I was sold and wanted more.
When I was 12-years-old, I was fortunate enough to be able to travel to Sweden. I arrived in Stockholm and gazed at the scenery unable to take my eyes off everything that created the culture. From that point on, I have always had an affinity for anything Swedish. So when I learned of Bergman in class, my ears perked up and soaked in as much as possible.
Born Ernst Ingmar Bergman on July 14th, 1918, in Uppsala, Sweden, one of the countries larger cities. He grew up in a strict parented household where religion was a constant sight and topic of conversation. “Bergman’s interest in theatre and film began early: At the age of nine, he traded a set of tin soldiers for a magic lantern, a possession that altered the course of his life. Within a year, he had created, by playing with this toy, a private world in which he felt completely at home, he recalled. He fashioned his own scenery, marionettes, and lighting effects and gave puppet productions of Strindberg plays in which he spoke all the parts”
(Rothstein). By 1937, Bergman
was attending the Stockholm University College with a focus on art and
literature. During these years he became a film geek and participated heavily
in the student theatre. Although he would go on not to graduate, his writing
took off as he wrote several plays and even an opera. “In 1942, he was given
the chance to direct one of his own scripts, Caspar’s Death. The
play was seen by members of Svensk Filmindustri, which then offered
Bergman a position working on scripts” (Vermiyle). In 1944, Bergman
began seeing success in his work. He wrote the screenplay for Torment/Frenzy (1944), a film directed by Alf Sjöberg, who
gave Bergman the role of assistant director on the film. This would go on to
ignite Bergman to greater triumphs that saw him directing his own works of art.
Bergman became a global figure with his film, Smiles of a Summer Night (1955). “It explores the frightening insight that it is possible for two people to love each other even when they find it impossible to live together. It also contains a bit of nostalgia, looking back at my own life and my relationship with my daughter, full of great confusion and sorrow”
In that quote Bergman refers to nostalgia, and the role his own life
experiences play into the film. That, to me, is the foundation of Bergman. The
way he could grasp old memories and release them through performances so
audience could relate was simply magical.
What made Bergman an auteur were his almost forbidden-like films that usually explored dark themes and the absence of God. Gunnel Lindblom said, “I came out of that movie house reeling like a drunkard, drugged speechless, with the film rushing through my bloodstream, pumping and thudding”
(Ford, Ingmar Bergman). Many
people have evoked this feeling over again by Bergman films. I believe this is
not the subject matter or storyline particularly, but because it is Bergman and
his sense of composition, or cinematography. For instance, if you gave two
directors the same script to shoot, the film that was turned out by the other
director would be nowhere near the influence of a Bergman film. He just had an
intuition of how to juxtapose the camera to gain the maximum emotion he wanted
to draw from the audience. Bergman would use the close-up like no one before
him, where you could almost feel the performers’ emotions through the screen.
“The relentless close-up of the face is a useful formal and thematic key to
Bergman’s work. In these frequent, almost embarrassingly close and radically
elongated moments the viewer can see, think and feel existential sureties in
different states of crisis – as we watch subjects reduced to pure flesh, bones,
mouth, nose, hair and eyes” (Ford, Ingmar Bergman). For example,
Bergman uses the close-up brilliantly in Winter
Light (1963). “Marta pours her heart out to him
in the letter in a way that she could not do to his face. To present the letter
reading, Bergman shows Marta reciting it in close-up, directly into the camera
for more than six minutes, sincerely and emotionally pleading her case.
(Breaking the “fourth wall” by directly gazing into the camera always induces a
heightened sense of empathy, and it is effective here.) This is perhaps the
most memorable scene in the film, because of its attempt at direct
communication” (The Discussion of Film
Like I mentioned before, religion is a constant theme Bergman tackled throughout his film career. The Seventh Seal (1957) could easily be defined as one of these films. Truly a masterpiece in many ways, it still stands as a landmark of film expression, since it delved cinematically into the ultimate questions of existence and death. “Bergman’s cinematic storytelling techniques are worth mentioning straightaway. Although the film is largely set out of doors, we are not at all presented with a naturalistic setting. Instead the stark, high-contrast black-and-white cinematography creates a moody and expressionistic visual environment”
(Berg). That is what jumps
off the screen when experiencing a Bergman film. Almost like a play, each setting
is a stage perfectly set-up and every element on screen presents a particular
Ingmar Bergman was also a major influence on the art-house cinema movement. A film like the aforementioned The Seventh Seal helped launch the movement, which made perfect sense because of Bergman’s style and overall understanding of film. Another film that grew the art-house cinema movement was Fanny and Alexander (1982). This film, once again, addresses religion and the overall questions that life cannot answer. “The director spent the bulk of his career tackling the notion of a world without God (how liberating this is; how terrifying, too), only to arrive at the conclusion that we are all God, and that man makes God in his own image, for better or worse”
It has been a true pleasure looking into the work of Ingmar Bergman over the past few weeks. His style has been an instant inspiration, and I enjoy learning anything I can from his legacy. The investigation needed to dig out information on Bergman has simply made him one of my favorite directors.
Berg, Cassidy. "Read Into It." 15 November 2010. Auteur Theory: Ingmar Bergman. 1 May 2014 <http://caberglitandmediastudies.blogspot.com/2010/11/auteur-theory-ingmar-bergman-re-post.html>.
Bergman, Ingmar. Images: My Life in Film. New York: Arcade, 2011.
Brooks, Xan. "Film Season." 19 October 2010. The Guardian. 1 May 2014 <http://www.theguardian.com/film/2010/oct/20/fanny-alexander-bergman-arthouse>.
Ford, Hamish. "Ingmar Bergman." December 2002. Senses of Cinema. 1 May 2014 <http://sensesofcinema.com/2002/great-directors/bergman/>.
—. "Ingmar Bergman." December 2002. Senses of Cinema. 1 May 2014 <http://sensesofcinema.com/2002/great-directors/bergman/>.
Rothstein, Mervyn. "Ingmar Bergman." 31 July 2007. Wikipedia. 1 May 2014 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ingmar_Bergman>.
"The Discussion of Film Expression." 13 August 2013. The Film Sufi. 1 May 2014 <http://www.filmsufi.com/2013_08_01_archive.html>.
Vermiyle, Jerry. "Ingmar Bergman." May 2001. Docstoc. 1 May 2014 <http://www.docstoc.com/docs/6182543/Ingmar_Bergman>.
Thursday, May 15, 2014
Film History Student Final Paper #1 - John Ford
Once again I am publishing online final papers on auteur directors written by three of my students from my Film History class at the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn, IL, spring 2014 semester. Part of my requirements is that the piece should be in a conversational tone. Here's the first one!
By Jim Cook
John Ford was one of the greatest filmmakers of early film history. Active from the silent era all the way to the 1960’s, Ford had a fantastic career of over 140 films. He had his own unique style that has led to him being known as an auteur director.
John Ford was born in 1894 to Irish parents in America. Not much is known before Ford moved to California, but he moved there to start acting in 1914 to help out his brother (John Ford, Wikipedia). He began acting under the stage name Jack Ford and had roles in some of the first short silent films he directed. Having cut his teeth on 10 silent shorts in 1917, he went on to direct 52 other silent films between 1918 and 1927 (John Ford’s Filmography, Wikipedia). Unfortunately, many of these films were lost to time, and thus much of John Ford’s early influence with them. Ford then went on to start directing “Talkies” as they were called when they first debuted, because many people thought it would just be a fad, which is totally and completely crazy. The first “Talkie” he directed was called Napoleon’s Barber (John Ford, Biography.com). It came out sometime late in 1928 and is now a lost film, as no surviving full copy is in existence. Ford received his first Academy Award nomination for Best Picture for his 1931 film Arrowsmith. Ford’s first film to gain major critical praise, which also happened to net him a nomination again for Best Picture and the win for Best Director, was called The Informer, released in 1935.
He continued his run of making great movies until he made one of the most influential films of all time, Stagecoach, in 1939. It is said to be one of the most imitated films in history, most notably for its dramatic stagecoach chase and horse jumping scene (John Ford, Wikipedia). It is also said Orson Welles used it as a major inspiration in preparation for making Citizen Kane. Stagecoach is also the Western that brought the genre back into popularity with the major studios of the time. This was the movie that first featured John Wayne as a lead in a western, launching him into stardom as well as being the first Ford movie shot on location in Monument Valley, marking the beginning of 7 westerns Ford would make in that locale (John Ford, Wikipedia).
After Stagecoach had great success, Ford continued the trend of making great movies for the next little while. Drums Along the Mohawk, the first color film he directed, and Ford’s adaptation of The Grapes of Wrath were both successful box office hits, each one netting over one million dollars in their first years, respectively. Then Ford was tapped to direct the on screen adaptation of How Green Was My Valley. Although not popularly known today as a great John Ford film, it may have been the most critically successful of his movies at the time. The film was nominated for a whopping 10 Academy Awards and it ended up winning 5 of those categories. Ford got the Oscar for Best Director for his work on the movie, and it was able to gross more than double its budget, becoming very popular with the movie-going audience of the time. After this, World War II began and Ford joined the Navy to serve his country the best way he could. He mostly made propaganda documentaries, but is noted as a veteran of the Battle of Midway because he was hit with shrapnel while filming parts of the Japanese attack (John Ford, Biography.com). The footage from that would eventually be used in a wartime documentary called The Battle of Midway.
After the war, Ford went back to the western genre. He made My Darling Clementine, a movie about Wyatt Earp. While it didn’t win any awards, it was a commercial success making over two million in its first year. Ford then went on to start the three part “Cavalry Trilogy” which included the films: Fort Apache, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, and Rio Grande. While not as successful as Stagecoach, these 3 movies are John Ford classics, echoing his auteur style in nearly every way (The Directing Style of John Ford, Ryan at the Movies). After a few other movies, and a small stint in television, Ford directed the movie widely said to be his best, The Searchers. Starring John Wayne, the movie was shot once again in Ford’s favorite location for westerns, Monument Valley. Noted for its beautiful scale of on location sets, and the complicated character that was Ethan Edwards, it is widely regarded as the best western of all time, as well as one of the best movies in the history of cinema (John Ford, Wikipedia). Most of Ford’s auteuristic traits can be found in this movie. There is very little camera movement throughout the film, and all the actors in each scene tend to be in the scene through the shot so that camera movement is not necessary. He also likes to tie the beginning and end of the film together, this time using two very similar shots in order to accomplish this. They are both taken from doorways contrasting bright light with dark indoors. This was perhaps Ford’s last great film, but he continued directing until 1966. After a bout with cancer, John Ford passed away in August 1973, leaving behind him a legacy of being one of the great auteurs in the history of film.
This is easily demonstrated by simply noting the things that he specifically did in nearly every film he ever directed, but most notably in his westerns. All of Ford’s movies were conceived visually in his head, never on a storyboard. The heroes in Ford’s movies often felt like outsiders to the established society and they often spoke louder with their actions than with their words (John Ford, Wikipedia). Ford didn’t like camera movement much, opting for static shots, most of which were long or medium shots, he avoided close-ups if possible (The Directing Style of John Ford, Ryan at the Movies). The only times he used tracking shots were during exciting moments in his movies. He liked to tie movies together at the beginning and end by using a vehicle of some sort, often a train or wagon arriving and then leaving. If in his movies a player was playing poker and had a hand of 2 eights and 2 aces, one of the aces being the ace of spades, this character was most certainly going to perish shortly because that hand was known as the “Death Hand.” He defined his westerns by shooting in Utah’s Monument Valley, even if it may not have been the appropriate setting for where the story was said to take place. His use of the Valley to shoot his westerns defined America’s vision of what the American Wild West was like, and many directors refuse to shoot there to this day for fear of ruining the vision Ford set with his beautiful static long shots of the area (John Ford, Biography.com). One of his most powerful shots from Monument Valley comes from the movie She Wore a Yellow Ribbon when the cavalry is shown riding away from an oncoming storm. Ford was also famous for his sparse use of film and his ability to cut within the camera so the production company was not able to ruin his vision of the film; at that time, the director was normally not present for the editing of the footage. John Ford also was not often ultra-specific to his actors on what to do with the scene; he often liked to let them play and act how they thought the scene should play out. Every now and then though, Ford would be very specific as to what he wanted, often showing actors the exact movements and subtle changes he wanted them to do. When this happened he would even do up to 30 takes if it took that long to get the scene shot the way he wanted. He was also known to be very tough and unforgiving to his actors, often publicly berating them in front of the crew. While many actors would have probably left the production, it is said that Ford had the unique ability to get the best out of every actor he had on set, often inspiring them just by being in their presence. John Ford is said to have influenced many directors. There is Ingmar Bergman, Frank Capra, Akira Kurosawa, Jean Renoir, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, and Orson Welles just to name a few, but the list goes on and on (John Ford, Wikipedia).
Since I’ve already told you a bit about Stagecoach and The Searchers, let’s talk about another western movie John Ford directed in 1962. I’m of course referring to The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. The movie featured Ford’s star western actor, John Wayne, along with another major star of the time, James Stewart. It was the first time Jimmy had worked with Ford and was somehow able to avoid conflict or berating from Ford for quite a while. This is another of Ford’s distinctive traits, always publicly berating his actors so that they would not get a big head, and so that they would remember they were just a part of what would help to make the movie. The movie was produced on a fairly small budget for its time, but made the money back almost three fold, in large part due to the fact that it was a John Ford film starring John Wayne and James Stewart. Many critics have noted it as Ford’s most thought-provoking western, and it is still gorgeous looking, even though it was shot completely on set in California to save money. It is also completely in black and white, even though color was fairly standard by 1962. It is said that Ford did this because he didn’t want his sets to look extra fake, and the lack of color helped to sell this (John Ford, Wikipedia).
John Ford is definitely up there with the best of them, and his contribution to film cannot be ignored in the slightest. He was able to work in any genre and apply his specific style to the movies he directed. He was also a man with a clear vision of how we wanted things and was not afraid to be mean to get that out of the people working around him. He was one of the best directors there ever was, and will remain one of the best there ever will be for a long time to come.
“The Directing Style of John Ford.” Ryan and the Movies. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 May 2014
“John Ford.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 30 Apr. 2014. Web. 01 May 2014
“John Ford Filmography.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 30 Apr. 2014. Web. 01 May 2014
“John Ford.” 2014. The Biography.com website. 01 May 2014.
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