Archive for October, 2009

Tripping through the 1970’s, via Video Art

October 28, 2009

September 23rd’s lecture took the class on a visual trip through the 1970’s via Video Art, a movement which, at the time, was new to the film making industry. Video Art, which came to be during the 1960’s and 1970’s, is not film, but rather art that relies on moving pictures to comprise video/audio data. Video Art differs from classical Hollywood cinema in the sense that it doesn’t rely on typical film conventions. For example, Video Art may choose to exclude actors, dialogue and/or a discernible narrative/plot. While traditional cinema seeks to entertain, Video Art is much more concerned with the mediums being used. Versulca’s Switch Monitor Drift (1976) falls into the later, focusing more on the visual images that are created through the Video Art, while Phil Morton’s General Motors (1970’s) uses the new style in a way that tells a story while simultaneously manipulating the medium at hand. The final product is a mix of documentary meets the absurd. Nam June Paik also blurs the borders by using Video Art. In his 1978 film Merce by Merce By Paik, Paik presents the audience with 15 minutes of  Merce Cunningham’s contemporary choreography placed in front of a green screen. Paik’s film demonstrates the overlapping that was occurring in the arts during the 60’s and 70’s while also highlighting the ethos of creating this type of art: to reveal and show the audience the process involved in making Video Art (we see Cunningham in front of the green screen before/during/after the images are generated via the screen). While Video Art still exists today, it’s more so used through installation art.

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A Response to Professor Michael Booth

October 28, 2009

During September 21st’s class, we were graced by the presence of Loyola Professor Michael Booth. The aim of his lecture? To help us further understand the differences between independent cinema versus classical Hollywood cinema. He demonstrated these differences through two important films… Billy Wilder’s Double Idemity (1944), and Maya Deren’s Meshes of the Afternoon (1943). Wilder’s film, distributed by Paramount Studios, is the epitome of classical Hollywood conventions… the story is told through a linear narrative, it opens with typical shot sequences (wide establishing shot, moving to a medium shot, in for the close up, back out to a medium shot), makes use of cut-away shots for sake of continuity and fixates upon the male gaze. Despite the typical Hollywood conventions, Wilder managed to create a solid film. Deren, too, created a solid film… however, she strays greatly from any sort of typical film standards. Meshes…, which is only 14 minutes long, was a silent film. It wasn’t until much late that music, non-diagetic audio at that, was added to the score. Additionally, Deren casts away the convention of opening a film with an establishing shot and instead goes straight in to extreme closeups. Her reasoning for this? By avoiding an opening establishing shot, Deren is able to avoid establishing that the character we are seeing is a female and thus she cannot immediately become a fixture of the male gaze. In fact, Deren works, throughout the film to avoid casting her protagonist amidst the male gaze… the character behaves in a manner that is constantly looking inside of herself, thus controlling what the audience is able to see of her. Because Deren refuses to be looked at through the lens of the male gaze, she makes it incredibly difficult for the audience to see her as a sexual object. Instead, she presents images in a matter-of-fact way, leaving little room to fetish-ize the image being shown. Deren also makes use of unusual camera angles and jumps. For example, through a series of irrational cuts, or jump-cuts if you will, objects move all about the screen, breaking continuity and creating a general feeling of chaos. Again, she does this to keep the audience focused on the story as opposed to gazing at the woman. Being that Deren’s movie was made in 1943, her unconventional ways were highly criticized. However, that mattered not to Deren… she was going to make her movie, the way she wanted, or she wasn’t going to make it at all.

I’m not even supposed to be here today!

October 28, 2009

1. Clerks, 1994

2. Written by: Kevin Smith – Directed by: Kevin Smith – Produced by: Kevin Smith and Kevin Mosier – Distributed by: Miramax Films

3. I viewed this film from the comfort of my living room.

4. Target audience: definitely adults. This comedy is filled with foul language and raunchy topics/scenes… you know, all the usual filth that makes for a great comedy.

5. Clerks is easy to classify as an independent film as auteur Kevin Smith wrote, produced, directed and acted in this film. Additionally, the film was made with the minuscule budget of $27,000 and filmed in the convenience store where Smith worked at the time, in order to save money. Furthermore, Smith sold a large portion of his comic book collection, maxed out at least eight credit cards, dipped into his college fund and used insurance money from a car that was lost in a flood, in order to fund the film.

6. Film Description: It’s just another day in the life of Dante Hicks, a Quickstop employee who has been called into work, despite the fact that it’s his day off. However, being called into work on a Saturday is the least of his problems, as Dante is simultaneously trying to deal with still being enamored with his high school sweetheart, Caitlin, while also managing his current serious relationship with Veronica, a women with strong opinions and determination to get Dante out of Quickstop and into college. Then there’s Randall,  Dante’s best friend who runs the video store next door and is even less dedicated to his job than Dante. The film unfolds over the course of this Saturday, as the audience watches Dante attempt to handle all that’s on his plate while also maintaining the Quickstop… will he succeed?

7. Technical Considerations: Shot in black-and-white film and roughly edited, in an attempt to save money, Clerks has a bit of a documentary feel to it. The plot isn’t based on big Hollywood action scenes and classical conventions, but rather Smith is simply capturing, on film, how Dante handles the stress of his daily life. The film lacks special effects and fancy scenery, instead focusing on the mundane reinforcing that this is just another day in the life of an average guy. Personally, I appreciated the minimalism used in filming the movie as it made it much easier to understand and empathize with Dante’s plight.

Are they slow moving, Chief?

October 28, 2009

1. Night of the Living Dead, 1968

2. Written by: George Romero and John Russo – Directed by: George Romero – Produced by: Karl Hardman and Russell Streiner – Distributed by: The Walter Reade Organization

3. I’ve viewed this film, numerous times, mostly at home.

4. Target audience: Horror movie fans

5. Night of the Living Dead is considered an independent film as it was made with the mere budget of $114,000. Due to the incredibly small budget, all artistic control was maintained by the writers/producers/director. For example, while shopping for a distributor, Romero turned down offers from Columbia and American International Pictures in order to keep the gore and ending in tact. Romero has been quoted as saying, “Everyone want[ed] a Hollywood ending, but we stuck to our guns.”

6: Film Description: Chaos descends upon rural Pennsylvania as the dead rise and begin feasting on any and all human flesh. Speculation as to why this is happening rests on a radiation-covered NASA satellite returning from Venus, but the cause of the situation means little when trying to survive. The plot thickens when the protagonists discover that anyone who is killed, sans major head trauma, will return as a flesh-eating zombie, including anyone who was merely bitten by the infected. Additionally, the only way to stop the zombies is to destroy their brains. Amongst these circumstances, a small group of characters take refuge in an abandoned farmhouse while trying to survive the night. Their only hope rests on getting some gasoline from a nearby pump into a truck that is running on empty, but this requires braving the hordes of ravenous walking corpses outside. When they finally put their plans into action, panic and personal tensions only add to the terror as they try to survive.

7. Technical Considerations: The film was shot in black-and-white on 35mm film due to budget constraints. However, the grainy look of the film actually appeals to the story line, giving the film the feel of a documentary. It’s as if the audience is watching real-time footage of society rapidly losing its stability, adding to the drama and horror of the film.

 

Honey, there’s a spider in your bathroom the size of a Buick…

October 28, 2009

In 2002, Roger Ebert referred to Annie Hall as “just about everyone’s favorite Woody Allen movie.” Being that the film first hit theaters in 1977 and, to this day, continues to possess a cult following, it’s pretty safe to say that Ebert was onto something. Annie Hall, which can technically be considered an independent film as Allen was unwilling to relinquish any artistic control over the film in order to secure funding, has continued to appealed to audiences over the decades despite the fact that the film strays from typical Classical Hollywood conventions. Allen repeatedly breaks the 4th wall, talking directly into the camera and thus at the audience, in a steam of conscious manner. Therefore, the film is heavily driven by dialogue, as opposed to action, highlighting Allen’s tendencies to go off on what seem to be random, though are actually deliberate, tangents. While Allen strays from classical conventions in terms of plot and dialogue, he also strays from classical camera conventions. For example, in Classical Hollywood cinema, it’s common to start a scene with an establishing shot, moving to a medium shot, followed by a close up and then back out to a medium shot. Allen, on the contrary, often uses extremely long establishing shots, keeping the camera angle wide even after the characters have entered the frame. Additionally, Allen opts for several long-standing continuity shots in order to place focus on the dialogue as opposed to what is happening, visually, around the characters. It is also important to note that Allen uses a slew of other creative outlets that differ from conventional Hollywood cinema, such as; using subtitles to convey inner monologue, cutting into shots of animation, duplicating Annie in the same scene in order to convey a separation between her mind and body, and breaking reality (think random strangers responding to Alvy on the street/Marshall McLuhan just happening to be on hand in the movie theater to debunk a character’s thoughts on his writings). By abandoning conventional Hollywood cinema standards, Allen was able to reach out to a wide fan base on not only an entertaining level, but also an emotional level, leaving behind, what many would consider to be, his masterpiece.

I am trying to break your heart…

October 28, 2009

1. I Am Trying to Break Your Heart: A Film About Wilco, 2002

2. Directed by: Sam Jones – Produced by:Peter Abraham, Sam Jones and Gary Hustwit – Distributed by: Plexifilm

3. I viewed this film at home, after my roommate ordered it from Netflix.

4. Target Audience: This film is a documentary about the indie rock band Wilco’s journey in making and distributing their fourth studio album “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.” Therefore, the target audience would be those who are not only interested in Wilco, the band, but also how the music industry works.

5. This black-and-white documentary by Sam Jones, a first time filmmaker and award winning photographer, was distributed on DVD by Plexifilm, an independent DVD label that produces original films, releases films theatrically, and produces, distributes and markets DVDs. The film never saw release in theaters, but was submitted to, and selected as part of, the Official Selections of the Los Angeles, London and Stockholm International Film Festivals, in 2002. Additionally, the film is considered independent due to the subject matter of the film… being that it’s a documentary about an, at the time, independent rock band.

6. Film Description: The film provides a unique insight into the politics of the music industry… more specifically, how bands relate to their record labels, by chronicling the process of Wilco recording their 4th studio album, an album that critics have hailed as their landmark, their masterpiece, their ticket to fame. It wasn’t all smooth sailing for Wilco… while nearing completion of the album, tension arose between the band and their record label, Reprise, a division of the Warner Music Group. Wilco’s prior albums hadn’t brought in the amount of money that Reprise wanted to see and thus Wilco was dropped from the label. With a completed album and no contractual obligations to Reprise, Wilco made the album available to download on their website. Interest peaked, hard, and Wilco’s profile began to rise, catching the eye of Nonesuch Records, again a division of Warner Music Group (meaning the band was essentially paid, twice, by Warner for this album). This film also explores the, at the time, growing tension amongst the band mates, most noticeably between front man Jeff Tweedy and multi-instrumentalist Jay Bennett (Bennett was fired from the band upon the completion of the album due to “artistic differences”).  Additionally, the film gets up close and personal with Tweedy, capturing, on film, his chronic migraines and the debilitation they cause him.

7. Technical Considerations: I Am Trying to Break Your Heart is more than just a documentary on Wilco’s 4th album, but rather it manages to show a quiet sort of intimacy amongst the band’s members. Sam Jones achieves this, not only by using black-and-white film, but also by taking a Cinema-vérité stance. The band is observed, more so than questioned, letting the audience see into who they really are as opposed to who they present themselves to be.

 

 

Fortune and glory, kid… fortune and glory.

October 28, 2009

1. Død Snø (Dead Snow), 2009

2. Written by: Stig Frode Henriksen and Tommy Wirkola – Directed by: Tommy Wirkola – Produced by: Herald Zwart – Distributed by: IFC Films

3. I saw the film, twice, in July of 2009 at the Music Box Theatre.

4. Target Audience: While the film is definitely a horror movie, focusing on zombies, and therefore rather gory, it’s also extremely comical. The film will appeal to teenagers and adults who appreciate American horror films (it references them frequently). It should be noted that this is a Norwegian film and thus involves subtitles.

5. Dead Snow is a Norwegian horror film that had its U.S. premier at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival. After which, its U.S. distribution rights were bought by IFC Films, an American film distribution owned by Rainbow Media, specializing in independent films and documentaries. The film saw a limited release in the U.S. over the summer of 2009.

6. Film Description: It’s Easter vacation, and what better way to spend the break than skiing down the isolated hills just outside of Øksfjord, Norway, no? In Dead Snow, eight medical students embark on, what they believe will be, just another ski trip. However, soon after arriving, the group receives a visit from a questionable hiker who informs the group of how the Nazis occupied this territory during World War II, brutally raping and pillaging the locals until the locals revolted, driving the surviving Nazi soldiers deep into the hills. It was assumed that the soldiers merely froze to death, but the group quickly discovers the fallacy in this belief as they learn, first hand, that the horrors of Hitler live on, when they come face to face with a battalion of undead Nazi soldiers intent on devouring anyone unfortunate enough to wander into the remote mountains where they were once sent to die.

7.Technical Considerations: Technically, this movie was a masterpiece. From the soundtrack, which fits the film beautifully, enhancing the drama that’s unfolding in front of the viewer, to the costuming (you should see the Nazi zombies – The makeup! The uniforms!), to the various shot sequences used throughout the film (there are a lot of establishing shots used to place the audience into the snowy abyss right along side of the group. Additionally, when the action happens, the director makes sure that the shot is tight enough to give you the anticipation and anxiety that the character onscreen in experiencing)… it’s truly a beautifully crafted film.

I imagine you have no idea what to expect.

October 27, 2009

1. Teeth, 2007

2. Written by: Mitchell Lichtenstein – Directed by: Mitchell Lichtenstein – Produced by: Mitchell Lichtenstein and Joyce Pierpoline – Distributed by: Roadside Attractions

3. I first saw this film in 2007 at the Music Box Theatre, then again on DVD at home.

4. Target Audience: The film is definitely a dark comedy, mixed in with horror. However, it should be noted that the film’s premise is one for more mature audiences, as is the graphic visual nature of the film.

5. Teeth is a prime example of an independent film. It premiered on January 17th, 2007 at the Sundance Film Festival in the independent drama category. The film was made with a budget of $2 million and was distributed by Roadside Attractions, a U.S. film company that largely specializes in independent pictures (the film never saw a nationwide release). Furthermore, the movie was released on DVD through Dimension Extreme, a genre DVD label owned by the Weinstein Company, specializing in unrated horror films.

6. Film Description: The myth of vagina dentata is explored through a chaste teenage girl named Dawn in the bizarre experience that is Teeth. Dawn is a spokesperson for a Christian abstinence group called The Promise. However, when Tobey moves to town, Dawn becomes sexually tempted. What unfolds there after is an adventure through Dawn’s experience learning that she possesses, and coping with,  the ancient myth of vagina dentata – a toothed vagina. Only a hero can save Dawn, as he must conquer the vagina dentata in order to set Dawn’s sexuality free.

7. Technical Considerations: Visually, the film is pretty spot on. The somewhat subdued colors mixed with a nuclear power plant looming in the background of the town, creates an eerie feeling right off the bat… something seems a bit off in this small town. The film, in it’s nature, is graphic, and while it can be hard to watch at times, I felt that the director handled the content well… for example, he maintains establishing shots and medium shots while filming the more grotesque scenes so that you are definitely aware of what is going on, but you don’t feel as though you are being forced to look at these images.