Thursday, December 25, 2008

giveth and taketh away

The sound is from an interview with Jorge Luis Borges in a program called Radioscopie in Radio France. (07/06/1978). You can listen to the full interview here.

Shot on Nokia E65. Both sound and image edited on Quicktime.

I suppose it is influenced by Borges' "The Lottery in Babylon"

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Erden Kıral's "Bereketli Topraklar Üzerinde" (1979)

In my opinion, Erden Kıral is the greatest Turkish filmmaker. And unfortunately I don't know anyone who agrees with me on this. His films are very Rossellinian in the sense that the images acquire their true beauty by the place they have in the rhythm. His editing is always breathtaking...

Saturday, December 13, 2008

"Fantômas" (1913) de Louis Feuillade

Louis Feuillade easily belongs to the pantheon. "He foresaw that people who went into the dark to participate in stories, no matter how sophisticated their world, were still primitive creatures." says David Thomson in A Biographical Dictionary of Film (quoted here).

Friday, December 12, 2008

Manoel de Oliveira's "Um Filme Falado" (2003)

A belated HAPPY 100th BIRTHDAY to Manoel de Oliveira who was born December 11th, 1908.

According to IMDB, his new film is "in production". It is called Singularidades de uma Rapariga Loira.

King Vidor's "Solomon and Sheba" (1959)

I like Solomon and Sheba more than anybody else I know, including Vidor himself. For more, see below...

On his website, Tag Gallagher has a bio-critical filmography of King Vidor. Should be a huge pleasure to read for any Vidor fan. I stole the following from there. It is Vidor talking about the making of Solomon and Sheba:
"I did half of it—two months—with Tyrone Power. More than once he told me: ‘This is the best part I’ve ever had, the best picture I’ve ever been in,’ and when we ran the rushes we had to agree: he was able to convey the character’s vacillation between sex and religion, sex and state obligation, so well that we thought we were going to have a simply marvellous movie. Then Power died and was replaced by Yul Brynner, who was so cautious and inhibited at stepping into the part in those circumstances that Solomon and Sheba somehow turned into an unimportant, indifferent sort of picture.…We also had weather prob­lems. I’d started shooting in September, but it was December by the time we came to re-shoot it and we could no longer go to the places I’d originally used, so we constantly had to cheat in matters of climate and landscape. Yul Brynner wanted to skip over the interesting com­plexity, he didn’t want to hear about it. It was impossible to talk with him. Numerous scenes like the love scene in the wheeping willows thus became quickly ridiculous.…

“Despite everything, the film was finished in less than a month, as Yul Brynner’s contract demanded, and I could let go of my emotions. I had kept what had happened to me emotionally hidden until then and then suddenly, walking to my office, the floodgates broke. I went back home and closed the door. I sat down and began to cry.”

If he knew what I felt watching it...

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

John Ford's "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" (1962)

Fred Camper cites it frequently among the great masterpieces of Hollywood. Tag Gallagher says it is "John Ford at its apex" and cites it among the important works in Ford's "Transcendence" period. I can't imagine a better publicity for a movie.

Many things have been said about it so I'll just note a few things I found interesting.

1. Dutton Peabody reciting Henry V

When he notices he hasn't any alcohol left, Dutton Peabody looks at his empty bottle and says "No courage left?". Then he adds, "Have we credit? That is the question, have we credit?" obviously referring to Hamlet. A few moments later, he recites, incorrectly, the last four lines of the following from Shakespeare's Henry V (Act 4, Scene 3).

This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

In his book
, Tag Gallagher writes that if Rossellini made The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance he would have titled it America Year Zero. There is truly the feeling of momenteous historical change happening right in front of our eyes.

2. Two non-invisible cuts

Nothing seems invisible at Ford anymore but there are two cuts that stand out because they clearly break the known rules of Hollywood editing. And it is interesting that these happen in very similar circumstances in the film and within a few minutes of each other.

In both cases, Ranse leaves Hallie and Link alone. Just at the moment Ranse is leaving the frame, Ford cuts to a shot just a little closer. It expresses a strong connection between Link and Hallie (and Pompey, in the second one), a silent communication which doesn't happen when Ranse is around. We have not seen Tom Doniphon yet but all the arrows already point to him, and to his tragic life.

3. About lighting

An example of non-realistic, expressive lighting. When Hallie looks back in anger, her face is lit in darker tones. Tom tells her "you look mighty pretty when she you get mad", we cut back to Hallie again, her face brighter.

4. Words

In his book, Tag Gallagher expresses really well the dichotomy between word & liberty in the film.

The following is an important point because here Ton Doniphon makes his most pompous statement in the film where his shattered ego will become the main drama. Which is partly why Ford needs to reframe the action: Notice the silence that comes after such a statement, it's as if a God has spoken and there is nothing to add to it. I love the little "silent-film" that follows, a great play on depth-of-field.

5. A sense of intuition

Ranse wakes up ans says, "I've got something to do!", before he knows what it is...

6. Fire-light

“The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” has beautiful lighting, especially in the alternately mournful, ceremonial, and nightmarish night-time sequences. On the other hand, the lighting during the day is fairly even, but there are many moments when this isn’t so: the passage of the train over a hill with long, monolithic shadows cast across its slope; Hally sadly walking around Stoddard’s empty classroom as particles of light sift in from the windows off-screen right; Doniphon setting afire his cabin in a horrifically immediate sequence where Ford’s camera dissolves the proscenium he’s set up throughout the rest of the film by bringing us into this enclosed, three-dimensional space, a perspectival transition accentuated by Doniphon almost assailing the camera, if I remember correctly.
- Edo Choi on Dave Kehr's blog. (Click here for the specific comment.)

5. The last shot

The last shot: the black "THE END" appears, over the image, slowly. The camera is shaking while the train is moving right and left. This shaky camera goes against the whole style of the film, which is why it works, the feeling it leaves is one of a fragile universe... Very similar to what Ford achieved throughout the whole film by his editing.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Otto Preminger's "Bunny Lake is Missing" (1965)

This is the opening of Preminger's Bunny Lake is Missing. In the first 1 min 53 seconds there are only two cuts. Yet, the camera moves, reacts and reveals... Very much like the film's story slowly revealing itself. In Preminger, the truth is something to be discovered by "an adventure of perception" (using Stan Brakhage's words).

The first shot is 22, the second 38, and the third 53 seconds.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

King Vidor's "Metaphor" (1980)

Everybody seems to be more interested in "Truth and Illusion" but I like this one more. Although it seems to be in a much lesser subject, its rhythms and its tone goes deeper. Vidor re-editing a film of his in another film of his... It's something to see, really...

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

King Vidor's "Truth and Illusion: An Introduction to Metaphysics" (1964)

"The nature gets credit which should in truth be reserved for ourselves: the rose for its scent: the nightingale for his song: and the sun for his radiance. The poets are entirely mistaken. They should address their lyrics to themselves, and should turn them into odes of self-congratulation on the excellency of the human mind. Nature is a dull affair, soundless, scentless, colourless; merely the hurrying of material, endlessly, meaningless."
- Whitehead, Science and the Modern World (quoted in the film)

"Did matter precede thought?", Vidor asks...

Vidor titled his autobiography: "A Tree is a Tree"

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

from S. T. Coleridge's "Frost at Midnight" (1798)

Only that film, which fluttered on the grate,
Still flutters there, the sole unquiet thing.
Methinks, its motion in this hush of nature
Gives it dim sympathies with me who live,
Making it a companionable form,
Whose puny flaps and freaks the idling Spirit
By its own moods interprets, every where
Echo or mirror seeking of itself,
And makes a toy of Thought.

Coleridge lived between 1772-1834. How did he describe so wonderfully a medium that was yet to be created? Film "makes a toy of Thought."? Shiveringly well-said.

Of course he was not talking about cinema. According to this website, where you can read the whole poem, " In all parts of the kingdom these films are called strangers and supposed to portend the arrival of some absent friend. " So, basically, he was referring to something like a flag.

"Film", in English, means something thin. The word, according to Merriam-Webster, comes from the Old English word for skin, "fell". In Old Greek, "pelma" meant the sole of foot.

Re-read the poem. I think Coleridge is talking about Ernie Gehr's films... except that film flutters on the gate and not the grate. I guess it was a spelling mistake on Coleridge's part.

And by the way, I encountered this part of the poem in Robert Creeley's Just in Time. So a short one from Creeley:


Rippled refractive
surface leaves
light lights.

Carl Theodor Dreyer's "Gertrude" (1964)

As in all the other films I mentioned in this blog, the stills will do no justice to what one feels when the light actually pulsates. Dreyer's Gertrude is a light-dance.