Category Archives: list

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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What a sweetie!

Thank you Dirk Malcolm and the Dirk Malcolm Alternative Blog (http://wordpress.com/read/blog/id/13428146/) for your very kind comments. I hope everyone votes on the next challenge and keeps up with Dirk’s progress.

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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

10. ‘Aguirre, God of Wrath’ creative

Fit For Purpose Diary

Monday 17th June 2013

I imagine (and hope) it is not going to be as grueling as filming with Herzog, but I have decided to keep a diary of my last filmmaking adventure at Robert Smyth in homage to the diary style of Aguirre, God of Wrath.  Every year for the last four years Gavin and I, with the help of some very good people, have made a film during the summer exam leave.  This is designed to make me better at filmmaking so I can confidently teach it and to create useful resources when teaching filmmaking to the students.  I say all that, but really it is a way to have some fun, which we are unbelievably being paid for, during the weeks off teaching and because it really is the most amazing feeling when it goes well.  In previous years, we have made a music video, trailers, a horror scene, an example of continuity editing and and arthouse one shot film.  They are all available on my YouTube channel: http://www.youtube.com/user/hhurdley/videos

Anyway, this year we have decided to make a short film as it is something we haven’t done and we need one as a resource for the A2 film students.  Gavin has also had a bad knee for a while now and I thought I would base it on that.  We are looking for it to be three to five minutes long (to be honest, we’ll be lucky to get to three minutes) and we always like using foley in a fun way.  Last week I started to plan the story very roughly and today I storyboarded properly.  I was feeling a bit funny all morning and I thought a bit of drawing and planning would help my brain focus.  I am having problems with the concept of leaving Robert Smyth, even though I know I am ready to go, and doing this will help me have something to remember and concentrate on so I don’t start getting too emotional too early.

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I’ve checked it with Gavin (although I don’t think he’s looked at it properly, I bet Klaus Kinski was exactly the same) and he seems fine with it.  It is a fairly lo-fi film and I think we should be able to film it within the next few days and then we can start working on foley and editing, which may take longer.  We are normally one or two take people and it isn’t going to require a huge amount of props.  I am obviously anxious about getting it finished before I leave!

Tuesday 18th June

Today we worked on the production of props and final organisation before we start shooting tomorrow.  For some reason I am quite nervous about starting filming, maybe because I know it means I’m closer to going.  I have figured out a shooting schedule and that always makes me feel calmer.  After work yesterday I went and got some travel cosmetic bottles and they have now turned in to this:

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Wednesday 19th June

We started filming!  We have done some of the early shots of H Mann opening and receiving the letter and the title sequence.  I am having to do the filming, which is not my normal job and I have finally worked out about focus, which is a major breakthrough for me.  I just hope I have done it all right.  Gavin was not very Kinskiish, but he did seem quite nervous throughout the process.  He reckons he is not a good performer, but his acting of Eminem in the Lose Yourself video would disprove this.

Gavin camera

Thursday 20th June

Today we made excellent progress.  Gavin wasn’t here during period 1 to go to a doctor’s appointment about his knee problem (this film is completely meta) and then I was buying plane and train tickets during period 2, with a whole saga about fraud and HSBC.  Anyway.  We then realised that we had periods 3 and 4 and lunch to work on it only and Gavin is away doing some community work tomorrow.  So, we suddenly shot into action. We filmed the entire rest of the film in three different location, with different costumes and fairly complicated props.  At lunch we even managed to start editing, pretty good progress!  I honestly don’t know what these proper filmmakers do with their time and money.  I also really enjoyed having a white coat on, I felt  it imbued me with some extra power.

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storyboard doctor

Next week we need to finish our editing and start work on the sound.  I will obviously post results when they are finished.

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It was pretty uneventful really, I’m certainly no Herzog, but Gavin does have a few Kinski tendencies… Unfortunately, he has to do some outreach work tomorrow with dementia sufferers, so we can’t get any further.  So selfish!

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. 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. 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. ‘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.