Aaron Dobbs--who long shamed me for having a CRT TV and no DVR [both since remedied, thank you]--advances an intriguing theory, both on his blog [quoted below] and in the first of a series of posts developed with FOC Alison Willmore on Indiewire:
I'm not arguing that the lead-up to this now-monikered "Third Golden Age of Television" is a direct result of big corporations and pop culture co-opting the '90s independent film movement, but the progression is more linear than one might first imagine. Nor do I want to enter the debate about whether film (especially independent film) is dead or alive. More movies than ever are being made today; colossally bloated atrocities as well as tiny stories easily overlooked, many deservedly so. Even as technological and economic concerns have made it logistically and financially easier than ever to make, truly independent film seems to have reclaimed the meaning of "independent."
Elsewhere: Bela Tarr is one of many yawning voids in my viewing, but because I arranged my 20th & 21st century lit class around the movies [shorter pieces engaging directly with them; longer ones having subsequently been adapted into them], this piece intrigued me [via]:
I’ve been thinking about Béla Tarr’s long takes versus other long takes. Damnation, Sátántango and Werckmeister Harmonies are all based on either books, or screenplays by the Hungarian writer László Krasznahorkai, I’ve been reading his writing too and the work is really phenomenal; he uses these long sentences that sort of cycle through. You start off in one place, and somehow, through the succession of his dense language and phrases, seem to pass through eternity and end up in another place altogether. There’s a similar feeling to a long take, but they’re not the same. The sentences will sometimes describe very simple things, like people in a waiting room and how they’re feeling. But the sentence manages to encompass the whole history of these people and their future and their fates and the feeling of waiting and of eternity; and then, you the reader now feel like you’re confessing your own being to some vague ghost of God while you’re reading the sentence. It’s hard to explain. But I’ve been interested in why Krasznahorkai’s sentences are so powerful for me, and why Béla Tarr’s long takes are so effective, at least for me . . .
Speaking of long takes, I showed my film class The Kiss leading into our discussion of the long take, but what I really enjoyed in this post was its examination of The Life of an American Fireman [and this week we talk about continuity editing]:
Take the Lumiere’s Leaving the Factory. Well, what kind of a factory is it? It’s a movie camera factory. The people leaving that factory are absolutely aware of what that funny box on the tripod is, and they didn’t get to leave the factory until their boss, the guy making the movie, said so. Or take Edison’s The Kiss—it may look like a couple of middle-aged schlubs having a quick snog but in fact they are professional actors recreating a scene from a play they were in. As “actualities” go these are staged events involving subjects who are aware of and playing to the camera....
8. Fireman Save My Child
OK, kids, here’s where it gets complicated. We just saw the lady and her rugrat saved, and now bizarrely the film has leaped backwards in time to show the same events all over again from a different point of view.
Forgive me, but this is the weirdest piece of editing imaginable—this borders on the avant garde. But this avant garde weirdness only exists here because it hadn’t yet occurred to Porter (or anyone else) that you could cut in the middle of a scene, go look at something else for a while, and then come back. In other words, cross-cut.
As soon as cross-cutting was an option, it would quickly become the norm. Filmmakers would abandon the all-or-nothing approach—because it makes no sense. It is absolutely insane to run a scene through in its entirety, then roll back to the beginning and watch it all over again from a different angle. It feels like we’re watching the daily rushes, an unfinished product.
Another link swiped from the Film Doctor [who I still can't believe I haven't met yet], this time on depth of field:
While it may have been intentional the effect still stands. In Moonrise Kingdom Wes Anderson went for a very specific look. He lays characters out flat with flattened backgrounds. There aren't leading lines down the frame either. Notice how many straight lines go flat through the frame? Despite being shot on location Moonrise Kingdom looks like a series of sets as opposed to a real world. One of the ways Anderson achieves this is the lack of foreground, middle ground, and background in his shots. This is entirely what Anderson was going for. However if this look is not what a director is looking for, not having depth in his frames will inhibit his movie.
While we're on the subject of Moonrise Kingdom, serious gratitude goes out to Brian Darr of Hell On Frisco Bay for his gracious mention of my round-up about that film in a recent post regarding same, thus answering my question, does anyone not-bot read this site?
At the end of the line, Josef takes his seat before the camera, his many hundreds of coworkers held crystalline in deep focus behind him, their thousands of typing fingers generating a din that sounds distinctly like applause. Josef’s uncle Max (Max Heffler) arrives to express his concern and offer legal advice, but Josef, keen to avoid further trouble, insists that they not talk at length during working hours. But the very moment Josef finishes his sentence, it is as if he has dismissed the office with an inaudible cue: everyone in the room stops typing and stands in perfect unison, streaming from the room in single file with a speed and precision impossible to imagine of a crowd of this size....
The look and feel of this film—an utterly bizarre spectacle of non-traditional framing, focus, and perspectives, shot in a harsh chiaroscuro—depends upon Welles’s technical expertise as much as his desire to both build off of and undermine his history as a filmmaker. That major sequence in the office is typical of the self-mythology the film conspires to deconstruct: it is at once the quintessential Orson Welles shot and a kind autocritical counterpoint to the same, exaggerating the director’s affinity for the grandiose in a context that seems to demand the opposite. It is a caricature of the expected Welles “bigness” of image precisely because the feeling at the heart of The Trial is internal, rooted in the mind: this is a “small” film, in the sense that its fears are located in the paranoia of one man wrongly persecuted, and yet Welles shoots it as if it were an epic.
One more from FOC Aaron Dobbs, which recalled a conversation I had last week with Richard Neupert, a film prof at UGA who also serves on the board of Ciné Athens (run by my grad school classmate, Gabe Wardell) about DCP and one of my film class alums (he failed, thanks to devoting his energies that semester to the campus radio station), the technology manager there. Essentially, he worried the kid would get bored because DCP was "just pushing a button":
Digital projectors usually require little attention after pressing play until a movie is over. But once the projectionist in Targets goes down, when the reel empties with nobody to handle the changeover, the film is done even if the movie isn't over. Bogdanovich repeatedly returns to the projector reel, showing its bulk quickly diminish. I don't claim that the director was making a comment on the medium's exhibition technology, but Thompson's attack on the projectionist could be seen as young America's attempt to extinguish old Hollywood. Even more importantly, it stands for an idea that the youth of the era – within and outside Hollywood – doesn't even realize or care how their actions will impact themselves. Thompson, for example, doesn't consider that by targeting the projectionist, he could hasten his own discovery. Still, half-a-century later, its unintentional symbolism regarding the "death of film" may prove even more profound.
What amused me most about this round-up was how many of the indies mentioned in it* I've actually seen:
Two black-and-white comedies took home a lot of green this summer, too: Noah Baumbach’s buzzy Greta Gerwig vehicle Frances Ha made $4 million, while Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing scored $4.2 million ... not bad for a microbudget Shakespeare film that Whedon had originally intended to release online. Radius-TWC’s 20 Feet From Stardom is another summer success story: The backup singer documentary has earned a remarkable $4 million so far, and the jubilant hit is well-positioned for Oscar consideration down the line. Let’s hope awards voters also remember the rapturously reviewed Before Midnight, which has taken home almost $8 million since May, a sum higher than either of the Ethan Hawke–Julie Delpy romances that preceded it.
*For those playing along at home: Frances Ha, 20 Feet From Stardom, Before Midnight, The To-Do List, The Bling Ring, Stories We Tell, I'm So Excited! [Among the other titles mentioned, I could give a shit about The Way, Way Back or Much Ado About Nothing.]
“Oh, Joan, she buys clothes and then she takes it to her seamstress and has it tailored two sizes too small!” It’s a funny little character thing that I love about Joan. Joan wears her clothes too tight—it’s fabulous.
Learn about Laver's Law from the Siren. Made me feel even better for asking students which movies they'd seen the most times on the first day of class:
Laver's Law applies to cinema.
Laver's Law was the creation of James Laver, an art historian and curator at the Victoria & Albert Museum, who helped create the field of fashion history as we know it today. His law is, as it should be, of the utmost elegant simplicity. In a book called Taste and Fashion(1937), he proposed that the way we regard fashions in clothing forms a predictable cycle over time. One item, such as a dress, will be regarded in a number of ways as the years roll on....
The point is that in just a few more years, these films may look different to everyone. Certain films are born great and stay that way; but canons are not immune from fashion. This year's whipping boy may be on my grandchildren's college syllabus. If the Siren has been caught dissing a treasured favorite, comfort yourself with the thought that time's winged chariot may yet run me off the road.
And perhaps somewhat related, a piece from The Toast reminds me that watching and then writing about films should be a source of joy:
Did you enjoy the campy absurdity of movies like Step Up or Center Stage, and do you also like enormous fucking drums? Then you will like Drumline. It is a movie that has everything in it, particularly lots and lots of drums. Swirling drums and giant drums and medium-sized drums and droves moving in unison and sideways drums and upside drums and just when you think there aren’t more drums, there come the drums. It is better than most other movies that exist. Most other movies have an appalling lack of giant fucking drums getting just whaled on by Nick Cannon making the most serious face he can muster. Let us look at the evidence.
Challenger: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Moral of Challenger: Several people with inexplicable hairstyles regret dating Jim Carrey, for various reasons. Having memories is hard.
Parallel Moral of Drumline: GIANT DRUMS ARE AMAZING
Challenger: The Dark Knight.
Moral of Challenger: Agent of chaos spends upwards of 20 minutes carefully and rationally explaining his justification for becoming an agent of chaos; nobody has any fun.
Parallel Moral of Drumline: BING BANG BOOM CRASH BOOOOMMM
Challenger: Donnie Darko
Moral of Challenger: Do not take your ADD medication. It will kill your sister and it will crash planes.
Parallel Moral of Drumline: Nick Cannon is handsome like an old-timey milkman. And he learns how to stand up for himself with the help of a team of misfit drums.
Challenger: Into the Wild
Moral of Challenger: If your family loves you and sends you to college, you should definitely run away to Alaska and starve to death to show them how fucked up their conventional values are.
Parallel Moral of Drumline: Sure, you’ve played the drums…but have you played the drums while SPINNING AND WEARING A CAPE? GIANT DRUMS ARE AMAZING. WITH A FUCKING PLUMED-ASS HAT ON IT? FUCK YOU AND YOUR SIMPLE, RESERVED HATS. PANTS WITH STRIPES AND SHOULDER PADS WITH STRIPES AND SHOES WITH STRIPES AND BANDANAS WITH STRIPES AND PLAYING THE DRUMS WITH YOUR FEET AND STRIPES STRIPES EVERYWHERE FUCK YOU YA FUCK.
Challenger: (500) Days of Summer
Moral of Challenger: If you loved your girlfriend, and she goes on to love somebody else, you are an interesting person.
Parallel Moral of Drumline: FUCK YOUR SAD EYES JOSEPH GORDON-LEVITT USE YOUR SAD EYES TO LOOK AT THIS: