August 14, 2011

From The Believer, a great article by C.S. Leigh on the way cinema is evolving.  With the decline of movie theatre attendance, and a move towards digital viewing on ever more portable devices, the time when a viewer was trapped in a nearly one-on-one dialogue with a film is fading away.  We can now pause, rewind, skip ahead, and sometimes altogether ignore a movie.  We can perform other tasks, like texting or surfing the internet while “watching” a movie – moving our attention back and forth from the screen.  The power of a film/filmmaker to hold our attention, and thusly, to physically activate our viewing experience is drained from this contemporary form of viewership.  We no longer have to sit through the full 484 minutes of Andy Warhol’s “Empire” (that anyone would ever want to is beside the point) or even Michael Snow’s less lengthy, 45 minute “Wavelength”, we can simply throw it on in the background or catch the highlights on YouTube.

Below are some highlights from the article, but you should definitely read it in full, which you can do by clicking on this link:

Be sure to read to the end of the article, where Leigh lays out a hilarious example of when cell phones meet black & white films from the 60’s in an Atom Egoyan short.

“You could also have a very different relationship with a film depending on where and with whom you watched it. An audience at a university cinema in L.A. had a solemn, nearly funereal reaction to Pasolini’s Salò, based on Sade’s 120 Days of Sodom (they seemed uncertain whether they had just witnessed a film or a crime); later, I watched the same film at the Accattone in Paris with an audience that couldn’t stop laughing.

As cinema becomes more portable, more easily created, and less difficult to acquire, it also runs the risk of forfeiting one of its greatest attributes—its physicality. Its necessary exertions.”

– C.S. Leigh (from his article “Contemplating the New Physicality of Cinema” in The Believer, March/April 2009)


Gus Van Sant’s films are always a little bit strange. even when they’re more on the mainstream side, they’ve got an edge to them; something about them feels a little bit odd … in a good way. one of the elements that lends to this feeling is the use of sound in his films.

football field scene, elephant (2003)

his 2003 picture ‘elephant’ is a rather explicit example of how sound can effect the dimensionality of the filmic space. consider an early scene on a high-school football field. the shot is static; we see young men playing football, and they move in and out of the frame. in the background, a cheerleading squad practices their routine. the scene is relatively mundane, and yet something seems off. somehow the cheerleaders sound a bit closer than they should. at moments the boys sound like they’re right next to us and then they could be miles away. at one point a girl walks into the forefront of the shot, and the picture slows down, while the sound follows suit and begins to fade into muffled silence. but then, the moment is gone, and the picture and sound resume their distinct paces. the whole scene almost sounds like we’re listening to it through a seashell. very subtly, the audio is not in sync with the ‘naturalness’ of the picture. what we hear is a heightened reality, a kind of unnatural natural. and there’s also the Beethoven wafting behind and in and out of the soundscape, which adds another ethereal layer to the mix.

the sound designer Leslie Shatz has been working with Van Sant for many years now, and is the sonic mastermind behind a lot of the audio work that goes into the films. even with Van Sant’s latest (and more mainstream) biopic ‘milk’ (2008 ), Shatz and the sound team ensured the audio plays an interesting and unique roll in the storytelling. granted the sound, and the picture as a whole, is a lot tamer and, so, more suitable for a popular audience; however, the filmmakers still incorporated some unconventional sonic techniques. for more on what the ‘milk’ team did, check out this Mix Magazine online article.

tips on screenwriting

January 14, 2008

okay, here’s a direct copy-paste of some of David Bordwell’s blog. he’s writing about the time he spent recently in Rome where he met a man named Amos Poe who, among many other things, is a screenwriter and teaches … well, here, i’ll let David tell you:

We enjoyed the conference, and one standout aspect was the presence of Amos Poe. Poe is probably best known for his first feature, Alphabet City (1985), and for his 16mm film on the Punk scene, The Blank Generation (1976). His Triple Bogey on a Par Five Hole (1991) has also attracted attention. For three decades Poe has worked as a director, producer, screenwriter, and teacher. The Sundance festival is playing Amy Redford’s The Guitar, which Poe wrote and coproduced.

Amos was great fun. A soft-spoken man with a quick and wicked sense of humor, he enlivened our dinners at various ristoranti. He also spoke extensively about screenwriting, which he teaches at NYU and at NYU’s Florence program. Like many screenwriters, he’s extremely intelligent and articulate about his craft. Three examples:

*How to learn screenwriting? Get a script version of a film you admire. Read the first ten pages, then closely watch the first ten minutes of the movie. Go back and read the next ten pages, and go ahead and watch the corresponding ten minutes. And so on until the end. Do this with three first-rate films, and you will have a concrete, intuitive understanding of how a screenplay works.

*A screenplay, Amos points out, isn’t a short story or novel or play. It’s a movie in words. It must make the reader see and hear an imaginary film, and not only the action, either. Without indicating specific shots, the descriptions should suggest the flow of long-shots and close-ups (”Her lipstick leaves a smear on the cigarette butt”). “The screenwriter is a filmmaker.”

*Write sounds into the background of scenes, setting them up for fuller presence later. If a train becomes important late in the story, mention the wail of a distant train early in the screenplay. This sort of auditory planting quietly strengthens the structure of the story in your reader’s mind.

A link to David Bordwell’s blog can be found on the side of my page under the “blogs” heading, or click here.

De Palma vs. Cuban

November 15, 2007


here’s a very illuminating clip from a press conference for Brian De Palma’s new film Redacted.  De Palma talks about his political motivations for making the picture, as well he addresses the issue that his film has been itself redacted by its producers.  the clip brings to the front the question of how “free” is expression in America (i wonder if we’re any more free here in Canada) when De Palma discusses his attempt to include a montage sequence made up of found photographs from the internet, and the legal issues that scared off his producers (one Mr Cuban) from allowing it to air unedited in the film.  the clip speaks to artistic choice and freedom in a democratic and free society (does De Palma have the right to use these found images as he sees fit? do the subjects of those images have the right to in turn sue the film’s producers?  even if said images were in the public domain (ie: the internet)?).  many thought provoking points are brought up in this short clip, and its worth watching.

hollis frampton

November 14, 2007


this is a great site featuring some biographical and investigative information on hollis frampton and a selection of his experimental films. for frampton the idea of film as a medium for presenting narrative was a restricting and near sighted one. he looked beyond narrative form in filmmaking, and thoroughly explored more conceptual means of filmic representation.

and this is a piece of free downloadable and usable video “manipulation” software called HF Critical Mass. created by barbara lattanzi and conceptually based on frampton’s short film Critical Mass (1971), HFCM allows the user to input a video of her choosing and manipulate a number of its elements to a limited extent.

November 10, 2007

adam.jpg this is adam (1951-2) by barnett newman. the link is an essay by mattias frey on michael haneke’s film benny’s video (1992).

Sound in Film Pt. 1

October 21, 2007


A shot from the opening scene of Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil (1958).

I’ve been reading about the use of sound as a formal and stylistic element in narrative film. The ideas are somewhat abstract, not obviously observable without prior knowledge, but then when one views a narrative film one doesn’t hope one will be distracted by the stylistic and formal choices employed by the filmmakers. However, once informed about such aspects of the craft, the world of film viewing is opened up to so many new observational possibilities. For example, I was just watching Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil, and the rich use of sound editing in the opening sequence really struck me. It’s a long continuous shot, over three minutes without a cut, that follows a car with a bomb inside it down the streets of a Mexican border town. The soundtrack is made up of music from the car radio and the various clubs passed by. So, the music varies. We get hints of different beats, instruments, and styles, weaving in and out of, over and under each other. Where most films of the time, Touch of Evil was produced in 1958, would incorporate a musical score over the scene, this film uses what David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson refer to in their book Film Art: An Introduction as diegetic sound, or sound that occurs within the “story space” (Bordwell & Thompson 289). Normally, a film’s musical score is non-diegetic, or happening outside of the world of the characters and story on screen, it is imposed by the filmmakers as a way to set mood, convey emotional information, or hint at how the audience might feel at any given point within the film. Touch of Evil is clever in this respect, as the diegetic sounds act the part of the musical score, yet are wholly of the story world. The trick is rather seamlessly incorporated, and one might not even notice this distinction unless it was pointed out; however, it all acts as any non-diegetic soundtrack might, to orient (or disorient) the audience, and help set the tone, mood and feel of the film.