Category Archives: black and white

Rome, Open City (1945)

Mum and Dad were up this weekend and I was keen to show Dad The Phoenix cinema. After a lovely Sunday lunch, we went off to see Rosselini’s ‘Roma Citta Operta’.

I thought it was magnificent. Very few films make me actually cry full tears, but Magnani’s acting and the heart-breaking ending had me blubbing immediately.

I highly recommend this blunt, raw masterpiece that, having been made just after the war on a shoe string, has a mesmerising and brutal quality. I feel very lucky to have seen it on the big screen.

11. ‘Partie de Campagne’ Creative

Swing Theory…

I really liked the extended swinging shot in ‘Partie de Campagne’ and thought it would be a good excuse to try out the HarryCAM that Dad made me for Christmas.  I tried a variety of techniques, although I’m not sure that they are completely successful, but it was fun.

Results on YouTube – http://youtu.be/JGKLIHM8NeQ

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11. Joint 90th – ‘Partie De Campagne’ (1936)

During my research and as completely new to Jean Renoir’s work, I was really intrigued to find out that the photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson and the director Luchino Visconti were assistant directors. I was hoping to see this pedigree in the film and find some hints to their genius. I also found out that the film was unfinished because of bad weather and they released it without Renoir in 1946 at only 39 minutes long.

Unbelievably, I have never seen a Jean Renoir film, which is a little shameful, especially as he is considered the fourth best director by the BFI survey. I am looking forward to exploring what his work is like, although I possibly should have started with his full-length films.

I did find it full of comedy French cliches, including a man with a stripy top and a moustache holder, Pastis, an hysterical mother, the amazing beautiful French countryside, Parisians… I was almost waiting for Maurice Chevalier to turn up!

There were a lovely variety of shots used and, although used for a long time, I liked the shot on the swing, which set up the rest of the narrative.

With the 1860 setting and flattened black and white cinematography (by Claude Renoir, his brother?) it feels like an old world rediscovered and almost as if they are recreating the Pierre-Auguste Renoir painting ‘Chestnut Tree In Bloom’ – see below. It is interesting to think of the effect of Renoir’s father may have made on him.

The story was a perfectly contained narrative and would be all you needed in any film and although the kiss seemed hasty and slightly unlikely, I loved the way it was shot. It was almost like she was staring down the lens and the film got more interesting after it. The tracking rain shot was great.

Not sure I understand the genius yet… And mum and dad certainly found it soporific…

Creativity
Steadicam on a swing
Tracking of rain shot
Recreating an old painting

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My next ten.

Right, I’m making a pledge to get back on my BFI list and I will do one this half-term.  I can’t promise that once I get back in to the madness of the term I will be able to keep it up, but I’ll do my best.

Partie De Campagne (1936) – Jean Renoir

The Wild Bunch (1969) – Sam Peckinpah

A Brighter Summer Day (1991) – Edward Yang

Greed (1925) – Erich Von Stroheim

The Colour of Pomegranates (1968) – Sergie Parajanov

Casablanca (1942) – Michael Curtiz

Fanny and Alexander (1984) – Ingmar Bergman

The Spirit of the Beehive (1973) – Victor Erice

Lawrence of Arabia (1962) – David Lean

The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) – Orson Welles

9. ‘A Matter of Life and Death’ creative

I have made a little film to demonstrate the black and white to colour transition from ‘A Matter of Life and Death.’  It’s on flickr:

'A Matter of Life and Death' Creative

I’m especially pleased that I managed to film my Esther Williams swimsuit after hearing about her death last week – she is one of my favourites.

9. Joint 90th – ‘A Matter of Life and Death’ (1946)

I have been really looking forward to re-watching this film and what a lovely Sunday afternoon matinee it is.  A Matter of Life and Death is a romantic fantasy film created by the British writing-directing-producing team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, and set in England during the Second World War. It stars David Niven, Roger Livesey and  Kim Hunter.  It is the second Powell and Pressburger film on the list already, which is great.  It seems slightly odd that these beautifully made, but rather eccentrically British films are so appreciated.  I have heard that Martin Scorsese is a particular fan.

A lovely, comfy Sunday afternoon

A lovely, comfy Sunday afternoon

I have seen it before, when my lovely friend Nat bought me a Powell and Pressburger box set a few years ago, but I was interested to see it again after reading Jack Cardiff’s autobiography and looking with a new eye at all his inventiveness with technicolor. There was a great DVD extra on the disc about him too, which was very interesting. A Matter of Life and Death has always been my favourite Powell and Pressburger film, it has such a great concept and is envisioned perfectly. I always like a movie with a court scene, especially Mr Smith Goes to Washingon and An Anatomy of a Murder.

Like The Ladykillers, I always forget that it’s going to be in colour, but the technicolor black and white of ‘the other world’ gives it a strange, pearly quality that is perfect for a heaven type place. It seems so contrary to make ‘the other world’ black and white and earth colour, but it makes a strange sense, especially as the colour of earth is amazing, particularly the early sequences of Kim Hunter on the phone and Niven on the beach. It’s crazy how much make-up they all have to wear to compensate.  I love the meta qualities of the film, such as when the incompetent Conductor 71 comes down to earth and watches his lapel flower turn to colour (in a beautiful graphic match) and says ‘we are straved of Technicolor up there.’  The Technicolor cinematography is lovely, Jack Cardiff is suitably revered, but it is generally so crammed full of visual and technical details – the camera obscura, the graphic matches, the cross dissolves, filters and framing, the eyelid closing. Wonderful.

I really like the Communist aspect of ‘the other world’, the American captain has issues after clearly managing to get to the top, but it’s lovely that everyone has a report and all are treated equally. This must have been fairly political then. I also love the look of ‘the other world’, all the Art Deco features and the fact that it seems to be run by beautiful women. It looks like a beautiful, shiny Fred and Ginger musical set. The escalator is brilliant and was constructed to actually work – an impressive engineering feat.

David Niven has always been a favourite, ever since reading his autobiographies as a teenager and Roger Livesey is great and I loved him as Colonel Blimp. His voice  is very comforting and warm, like a hot chocolate on the sofa.  Pretty much a symbol for this whole film.

I also love luxuriating in such an amazing view of Britain. I know it’s romanticised, but I love the thought of them learning a Shakespeare play or the view of the village and the country house. People cycling around, playing chess and being so polite to each other. And the focus on a British voice and poetry. The attacks on British history in the court room scene are also interesting, its criticism and its support by Livesey. The French man is also an amazing stereotype – very funny, although I imagine a French viewer wouldn’t see it like that!

Creative:
Something technically interesting
Maybe the same thing in colour and black and white or turning from one to the other in the same shot like the change from the operation to heaven.
Focus on light
Montage of different features

7. ‘The Seventh Seal’ creative

A moody, glossy black and white of a landscape in La Palma

'The Seventh Seal'

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

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.

5. ‘Un Chien Andalou’ creative

A grainy black and white eye close-up.  Standard.

I'm pretty tired...

I’m pretty tired…