Monthly Archives: March 2013

7. Joint 93rd – The Seventh Seal’ 1957

I have seen The Seventh Seal before and actually used it in lessons when teaching Chaucer’s context and my recent Medieval lyrics lecture. I love the feeling of the middle ages that it gives – harsh and sparse and it is also really useful when describing the black death, the dance of death and death poetry (that I did for my dissertation) However, although I love Scandinavian pretty much everything, Ingmar Bergman is director I am not that familiar with, although one of Uncle John’s books was about him, so I will try to rectify that.  I already like that his favourite American director was Billy Wilder.

Doing my lecture on Medieval poetry.  I used a clip from this film.

Doing my lecture on Medieval poetry. I used a clip from this film.t

Of course my first knowledge of it was from Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey when I was about seven. The opening sequence on the beach is still great and so iconic and I love that my enjoyment is a mix of high-brow and low-brow. I have also recently been teaching The Exorcist and it is great seeing Max Von Sydow so young and virile, even though it was only sixteen years before. It is also a parallel role, he is still concerned with the reality of God, but this time he is the doubting Agnostic.  I love the questioning of religion. Bergman seems to have picked this period as so heightened and intense that everyone must have been questioning it. It’s an endless question and the chiaroscuro seems to heighten the philosophy.

Watching The Seventh Seal

Watching The Seventh Seal

I really like how dry and funny Death is. When my inevitable death does happen, I kind of hope it is like that. It’s great when the knight thinks he is confessing to him and he gets him to reveal all his chess moves and when he starts cutting down the tree while someone is still in it.  His impish face and glinting eyes are suitably mischievous.

The black and white cinematography is beautiful. A shiny black and pure white, I think the Swedish white light must be helping it. A Scandinavian summer is so beautiful and the scenes of the circus performers enjoying it are idyllic.  Mixed with that the large landscapes with cloudy skies are beautiful.

One of my favourite scenes, and the one I used in my Medieval poetry lecture, is the chanting procession.  I love the contrast created by the juxtaposition of performers and the religious flagellation party. That scene could be ancient, it has feelings of Griffith’s Intolerance and the 1928 The Passion of Joan  of Arc by Dreyer. Some of the close-ups, especially of women crying and the long high angle shots create a timeless feeling.

Other thoughts:

  • The scene where the actor is bullied in the tavern is horrible and made especially frightening by the oppressive camera framing and heavy shadows.
  • This is continued with the dark scenes of the girl who has been accused of bringing the plague.
  • The reactions of everyone at the knight’s home when death finally appears is amazing. The way they are so calm with almost angelic close-ups and are then taken off on the dance of death across the skyline is a great moment. No-one can resist it forever.

Creative:
Black and white
Huge landscapes
Period setting
Game playing
Holy relics and questioning faith

March is cinematographer autobiography month – obviously!

This month I have been reading Jack Cardiff’s Magic Hour and Billy Bitzer’s His Story and so have coined it ‘Cinematographer Autobiography March’.

March reading

A few years ago I went through a phase of reading books about producers (such as My Indecision Is Final about Goldcrest and a great biography of Samuel Goldwyn) and really enjoyed it, so I thought this pair would be fun.  I really enjoyed the Jack Cardiff book, which had a lot of celebrity gossip (especially about Sophia Loren and working on The African Queen).  The Billy Bitzer book was written in rather an odd way, but it was interesting to read after recently watching Intolerance. Not sure what I’m going to go on to next…

French film lesson – ‘Être Et Avoir’ (2002)

Kate, Françoise  and I had a lovely couple of French lessons on the 14th and 21st March when we watched a French documentary, Être Et Avoir.

French films

 

French lessons are always great anyway as Françoise  is very patient about our ability and often gives out some snacks and champagne.  What’s not to love?  However, we have decided to watch some films without subtitles to help our listening comprehension.  This was a brilliant film to start with as Être Et Avoir is set in a primary school in the middle of the very rural Auvergne region.  One teacher, George Lopez, teaches all the children (from 4 to 11 years of age) and is the epitome of patience and kindness.  I will remember him when I lose my temper with teaching… Some of the children were completely adorable, my favourite was JoJo who had a cute face and couldn’t quite manage to clean his hands.

Unfortunately, I didn’t understand that much of the language (children’s voices are quite hard to hear), but Françoise very nicely translated and the film was lovely to watch.  We also had to do some research and present it in French as homework, which was nice to prepare. We’re now planning our next film, do suggest anything you think we should watch…

6. ‘Intolerance’ creative

Things I am intolerant to:

MSG
Kiwi fruits
Cat hair
Queue jumpers
People driving at 40mph in a 30 and 60 zone
Hyacinths
Shop keepers calculating incorrectly
Superbad
Hypocrisy
Lazy people trying to make you work harder
Ridiculously enormous fake breasts
Mushrooms
Baby octopi (to eat)
Liver (also to eat)
Royal blue
Lilac
Sexism
D H Lawrence
Michael Gove
Wordsworth
Torture porn horror
Sticky things
Orange tans
YouTube user comments
50 Cent
Keira Knightley

6. Joint 93rd – ‘Intolerance’

1916, D. W. Griffiths, starring up to 3,000 extras, but also Lillian Gish and Constance Talmadge (who I still have a thing against because she was the sister of Buster Keaton’s mean wife Natalie).  I watched this online and at school waiting for my French class.  I have to admit that I wasn’t necessarily looking forward to the three hour run time, but realise that it is a crucial film to help me understand the progression of film.  This is the only D W Griffith on the BFI list, I presume the distasteful nature of The Birth of a Nation made sure it wouldn’t make it.

Intolerance

This film constantly refers to itself as a ‘play’.  I’m not sure if that is because it considered itself a photoplay or that it added some more gravitas.  The idea of a play is continued in the stagey (if lush) sets and the mostly long-shot static camera (although excited to read the book I have just got on the cinematographer Billy Bitzer)  However, there are some great forward tracking shots (to create the zoom effect that wasn’t around until 1932 for film cameras) and close-ups.  I really like the painterly, soft-focus way that faces, especially the female faces have been filmed. I can see an enormous influence for F W Murnau in them. It feels like an ancient religious icon and you can see why people have classed this as a great piece of universal art, along with Beethoven’s 5th.  It does have a timeless quality to it, despite not being well-received initially.

The narrative involves four different plots, that of ancient Babylon, Jerusalem in the time of Jesus, Renaissance France and modern America.  I’m not sure that I would have spent my energy on all four as the modern day story is by far the most engaging because of the human interest.  The Babylonian one has some amazing sets and I love the slaves opening the enormous gates and some of the fight sequences, but the French and Jerusalem settings do seem to  be filling in time (oh so much time!) without adding much to the response.  I definitely think I would agree with David Thomson’s analysis:

‘The cross-cutting, self-interrupting format is wearisome…. The sheer pretension is a roadblock, and one longs for the “Modern Story” to hold the screen…. [That story] is still very exciting in terms of its cross-cutting in the attempt to save the boy from the gallows. This episode is what Griffith did best: brilliant, modern suspense, geared up to rapidity — whenever Griffith let himself slow down he was yielding to bathos…. Anyone concerned with film history has to see Intolerance, and pass on’.

Other key things I liked or noticed:
  • Griffiths creates easy pathos – ‘the little dear one’ and ‘brown eyes’ as names for some of the female characters.  It also means it is universal, but also makes sure the spectator is aware of the response they should be having.
  • Recurring theme of the cradle rocking to indicate universality.
  • Impressive editing – love the irising, the complex cross-cutting and cross dissolves
  • A lot of intertitles – have recently re-watched ‘Sunrise’ and am so impressed in the ability to not use them. Amazing matte paintings
  • The dear one reminded me of Emily Watson
  • Typical view of Jesus, liked the use of lighting on him
  • In the harem dancing sequences, I liked the more realistic female bodies
  • It is weird to think that this was going on at the same time as WW1
  • Gets really exciting towards the end when they are trying to stop The Boy’s execution. Loved the camera following the speeding train.

Creative ideas:

A list of my intolerances (probably not as serious or universal, but I have many…)

A picture in soft focus.

A moving image that focuses on the set.