Category Archives: Cinematography

First attempts with my HarryCAM

Thanks Dad!

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Cheating, but how could I resist…

The number one film was on this afternoon and I cheated and watched it.  How can you not watch ‘Vertigo’ when it’s on on a rainy Sunday afternoon?  The cats were also enjoying it…

I then was playing with my HarryCAM and found a suitably ‘Vertigo’ inspired piece of set: http://youtu.be/Wkgl1EwYVRE

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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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Why my dad is ace (again)

We did a Secret Santa at home and I got dad.

He made me a Steadicam, or more accurately a HarryCAM.

Amazing.

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10. Joint 90th – ‘Aguirre, God of Wrath’ (1972)

I have to admit that I have been putting off watching Aguirre, Wrath of God.  I had only watched Herzog’s documentaries and enjoyed them, but was slightly nervous about watching this from its legendary, should I say notorious, status.  I had heard a lot about this film and Fitzcarraldo, especially concerning the volatile relationship between Herzog and Klaus Kinski. I had also heard about the influence it had had on Apocalypse Now in 1979, which didn’t help as I’m not a huge fan of that film, with its bloated storytelling and self-indulgence, so I started watching with trepidation.

Watching Aguirre

As soon as I did, aided by a very old DVD that immediately started the film, I felt plunged  in to the incredible landscapes, actually feel slightly anxious for the actors involved, especially watching them come down the rapids on rafts in full armour or carrying a sedan chair through mud.  Herzog seems to like making his actors and crew work for their money, almost as if the suffering won’t be genuine if they aren’t experiencing it.  I’m not convinced and this kind of realism debate reminds me of the filming of Marathon Man when Dustin Hoffman was jogging around to appear tired and Laurence Olivier suggested he ‘try acting, dear boy’.   Although it does clearly works for this film and I’m not surprised that Cecilia Rivera, the actress playing Aguirre’s daughter, never made a film again!

This style  mirrors this physicality of production and some shots have water flying in to the lens or obscuring the shot.  These are contrasted with very static shots when focusing on the human story or the controlled spiraling around the boat towards the end. Kinski is also frenetic. He never seems to stand upright, but is constantly leaning over or tilted.  It reminds me of Olivier’s Richard III, not sure why he is in my mind so much this week… Kinski  is also always so close to the other actors. His face is strangely hypnotic, a constantly invading presence.

The story line is actually a very easy diary format, this simple narrative thread allows an episodic structure and gives some coherence for the audience to allow the madness to unfold.  That it contains maniacal, egotistical and ambitious men seems suitably matched to the humble diary format, it shows them off and allows their obsessive dreams to be described, rather than prescribed.

Thoughts:
A metaphor of  the trap of power, money and religion, shown by the ridiculous difference between the emperor and the soldiers.

I question why Herzog wants to punish himself, his actors and his crew so much? I love that Herzog shot it in sequence to show the deterioration.

Love the oneiric qualities of the final scene, the monkeys are amazing.

The soundtrack felt strange and difficult at first, but seemed to make sense by the end.

Creative:
Diary format
Landscapes with obscured parts
Too close or tilted images of the world.

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

8. Joint 93rd – ‘A One And A Two’ 2000

A One and a Two is a Taiwanese film released in 2000 . It was produced and written by Edward Yang. I have never seen a Taiwanese film before and so this top 100 list is already helping me see a lot of films from amazing places.  It shows one of the most impressive powers of film in that I am able to see different cultures and lives and it inevitably makes me realise that I should travel much more!

A One and A Two

I had researched this film a little before I started.  It is the youngest film I have watched so far and when it was released it received plaudits from Cannes and Cahiers du Cinema among many others.  However, when I first started watching it, as I came in from work on Friday, it seemed initially quite cheap, maybe shot on video and the domestic setting made it look like a fairly low-budget TV soap.
However, as you got involved in the nearly three hours of story-telling, it was heart-breakingly moving and had unforgettable performances.  It is told through three characters from the same family: NJ, the father, Ting Ting the thirteen year old daughter and Yang Yang the eight year old son. They are all so engaging and rounded.  Yang Yang’s expressions are so infectious and his interactions and questions with the the adults are adorable.  His little unexplained adventures lend a softer, humourous side to the film that is necessary and I always love a child with a camera, especially as he is taking photos for a very benevolent reason.  Ting Ting’s story of first love is so movingly acted and when NJ is finally able to express his feelings that have clearly been eating at him for thirty years, the quiet heartbreak  made me cry – stoic men always get me.
Throughout there is a brilliant use of parallelisms between all the stories.  These are shown in graphic matches, but also through the brave use of reflections and windows that gave a shiny, but untrustworthy quality to the film.
This is the first film on my list that I have watched since I got my new job.  I am now going to be Head of English at another school, so will no longer be watching these for my teaching self-esteem, but to enjoy them as a hobby, as they always had before.  I think with this new even more demanding job, I am definitely going to need the distraction!  This is also the last 93rd film – I can start watching the 90th films now!
Creative:
Something with reflections and lights – a photo.
Using family – I am going to visit my family at the weekend, so I could easily use them and maybe combine the reflection.  Possibly a film or still image.

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