May
11
Filed Under (Uncategorized) by btrachtenberg100 on 11-05-2010

The concept of the Avant Garde cinema is one that I feel conflicted with in terms of my feelings of authenticity. Whereas many films contain a very meticulous narrative, I feel too many of thee experimental films are put together haphazardly. Granted, there are so many areas of experimental cinema and the spectrum is so large that to generalize like this would not be right. Thomson and Bordwell describe this particular venue of films as those of personal expression. In the case of Kenneth Anger, or Maya Deren I can understand how their unique perspectives, despite lack of conventional narrative, produce a film that displays the idiosyncrasies and feelings of the filmmakers. When it comes to films that utilize the montage technique exclusively by cutting together completely unrelated footage and attempt to create meaning out of the juxtaposition of images, the meaning becomes to broad and subjective. I’m all for subjectivity, but these films can be read into in so many ways that I feel the filmmaker becomes merely a circumstantial term because of the medium. What I can say about these types of films that I find intriguing is that they seem to make the viewer implement the technique of free association to impose meaning on the images. In this case anyone who applies transitional cutting conventions into the montage can create a film that has infinite meaning.
I happen to be infatuated with Maya Deren’s Meshes of the Afternoon for its Freudian symbolism and intimate look into the psyche’s development of the suicidal impulse through the conflict between the different components of the feminine persona. Maya Deren says that there are two types of films; the horizontal, which emphasize plot and structure, and the vertical, which emphasizes what the film means in the moment rather than what it is actually happening. In this sense I can appreciate the compilation method of experimental filmmaking, although I am still a bit skeptical if the filmmaker hasn’t actually shot the footage himself. Although I think Ms Deren would agree with me regarding the antagonism I have for compiled film, for she seems to be of the opinion that surrealism relies to much on the unconscious (as free association does), rather than the “logical extension of a known reality” which are the fundamental components of creativity. Art, in her opinion is a deliberate extension of our creative impulses.
Another issue that bothers me is the idea of films, being considered films if the celluloid haven’t even been exposed to light. Films like Moth light seem to be the products of someone more familiar with the painting canvas. It’s almost as though Picasso made a flipbook. The definition of film seems to impede upon the projection factor rather than the actual filming. If I were to glue frames to a canvas to create a physical expression of film, it would be considered more in line with painting than film, because it would not be able to be run through a projector. With the age of digital weighing down on us, this idea of playing with the raw materials of old fashioned filmmaking seems obsolete and any product in this fashion today seems strictly nostalgic.

May
03
Filed Under (Uncategorized) by btrachtenberg100 on 03-05-2010

I always find it amusing to learn the background and philosophy of a filmmaker. I find it has a similar function to understanding the life of a poet; for once you are put into the context of their work, their work becomes more profound in that you can enter into their mind through the manifested mental construct of poesy. Jean-Luc Godard is an interesting case. He started out as a critic of cinema, and this seems to be directly linked to his style of filmmaking that is clearly reflexive and deconstructs the conventions of Hollywood cinema. Breaking the 180 degree rule, eye line confusion, jump cuts, looking at the camera, ellipses in the action, and lack of clear causality mark his film “Breathless”. Despite these sometimes confusing aspects, the film contains some very complex existential ideas that are reflected in the unconventionality of the narrative.
When Patricia is attending the interview, the subject, a famous author, says that his greatest ambition is to become immortal and then to die. This idea resonates throughout the film and interacts directly with the issues of love and fidelity. The relationship between Michel and Patricia seems a bit muddled and unconventional, but this leaves room for topics such as love to be discussed in a more objective and philosophical manner. I assert that the reason that Michel sticks around is for love, for he asserts that life isn’t worth living without love. At the end of the film, his death leaves this idea unresolved, as love seemed to make Michel immortal in his actions and attitudes yet he dies, but not without a smile on his face. The questions that remain unsolved are posed to us and make us rethink about the roles we play in our own lives.
This breaking down of the fundamental principles of cinema connects really well with “La Jet’ee”; a film that is composed of still images. I find this film fascinating in that it is essentially a series of jump cuts, but each still presupposes a shot that doesn’t actually exist. This feeds into the themes the film explores regarding mortality and the assertion of a future that doesn’t yet exist, yet still exists. The films style is reminds me of the deliberate breaking of conventions used in “Breathless”, in that it directly violates the element that makes a film, film; motion. The series of pictures makes me feel as though I am actually sifting through someone’s memories, almost as though I were flipping through a photo album. Jean-Luc Godard said in the article that “Whoever one films will grow older and die. So one is filming a moment of death at work”. Being that the nature of the film “La Jet’ee” revolves around the circular logic of the inevitability of fate, the still pictures indicate to me a sort of purgatory that is created out of memories and the linking of dreams to reality. The still quality of the film also juxtaposes the ideas of immortality and the ephemeral nature of life. The protagonist in “La Jet’ee” actually achieves this level of immortality by transcending time but ultimately dies through the act of trying to preserve his love, ultimately fulfilling his fate by preserving the memory of his own death in his younger self. Pictures provide a sense of immortality in the film and plays with the idea of being immortal even with the subconscious knowledge of ones own death.

Apr
23
Filed Under (Uncategorized) by btrachtenberg100 on 23-04-2010

As far as psychological features go “Vertigo”, takes the cake as it depicts the failure of the male machismo. The film is essentially divided into two parts in the first part; Scotty is not in control of his life as indicated by the films title. He is passive, mostly watching or being manipulated by Kim Novak. The second half is about the creative obsession that comes with loss and the endeavor to compensate for the previous lack of control, in essence to rectify the betrayal of his masculine nature. Interestingly the film also seems to work in the Hitchcock cannon because it also displays the director’s obsessive use of blondes in his films. This reflexive implementation of this duality is reflected in the two act structure of the film that is layered with Freudian theory. The idea of repressed memories as in the past life that Kim Novak experiences is found throughout as with the repressed feelings that Midge experiences for Scotty. The idea that a complex evolves out of unresolved issues plays in direct relation to the films style. The opening of the film ends with Scotty on the ledge that opens him up to his acrophobia. The end of the film bears a similar feeling as Scotty is left standing on the ledge of the bell tower, creating another chasm, and the budding of more psychological torment.
Tania Madleski makes a good point by showing the way in which the film depicts the way in which man tries to sustain a sense of himself that necessitates the end of woman. What more evidence than the end of the film where Scotty stares off the edge of the clock tower cured of his disorder because he has destroyed the woman who reinforced and capitalized on his lack of control? From the begining of the film we see the feminine ideal slowly disappear. It starts with the death of Madeline, the image of femininity. Then at the midpoint of the film, Midge disappears, as she represents the aspect of female love and obsession. The end of the film signifies the death of the physical body itself as a gateway to reaffirmation of Scotty’s masculinity.
Another interesting point is that of Scotty not being upset at the revelation of the truth but the fact that another man had trained her to perform for him, just as he trained her to be Madeline in the second half. This conflict seems to be present without the actual presence of another man, giving a very paranoid feeling, and underlying creepiness to Scotty’s behavior. This thematic aspect is illustrated through the use of colors, prevalently green. Madeline wore a green dress the first time Scotty saw her, and in the hotel room where she feels conflicted in terms of her obligation to Scotty, she is lit much like an actor during a monologue having the green light from the hotels neon sign illuminate half her face.
On a side note. I feel it’s ironic that the film deals with the issue of control and sets characters as though they were puppets led along by an invisible puppeteer. The film itself is beautifully scored by Bernard Herrmann is a very manipulative theme, that controls the felling of the audience as we follow Scotty descend into madness. I feel this point is made perfectly clear in the dream sequence where Scotty is a disembodied head and the score swells to accompany this nightmare where he is further stripped of his masculinity, with the cartoon image of dissipating flowers and the grave Madeline initially saw herself in, expressing her fear for a loss of her own identity and not being in control of her own destiny. These elements reflect the manipulative nature of film and Hitchcock’s ability to manipulate the audience through the revealing of knowledge selectively to the audience as well as the protagonists.

Mar
10
Filed Under (Uncategorized) by btrachtenberg100 on 10-03-2010

One cannot categorize film noir. To label it as a genre would demean its importance, for it is a pronounced style that revolutionized the way we watch film. It’s realist approach by injecting cinema with cynicism and powerful compositions. The lighting and extensive use of shadows reflects the deceitful nature of the characters in the film as well as illustrates the dark subtext that these films carry. A film like Double Indemnity shows the underlying provocative nature of the noir film. While on the surface it seems quite funny because the dialogue and elements that make up the characters reflects a pulpy detective novel, it’s just frosting for a darker visage. Freud describes everybody as having an unconscious desire for self destruction, called the thantos. While noir style is regarded as being more realist oriented because of its use of real locations, I propose that films like Double Indemnity are more stylish reflecting a dreamlike landscape where doom is inevitable. It explores the unconscious desires of men to die as well as women’s repressed sexual nature that runs rampant. Like a dream the character’s aren’t in control of their own lives as illustrated by strong compositions and a camera moving around the subjects rather that the characters behaving more theatrically as in earlier films of the period (pre-WWII). When we dream, what we experience is based on the past. Any anxiety we have regarding fear, anger, and sexual frustration is manifested in the images we conjure up, yet none can be taken at face value. We see that dreams about teeth breaking represent unresolved anxiety and anger, just as dreams of a cigar represent a phallus. This is the latent meaning of the dream. Noir style is constructed with lighting that obscures the subjects hiding a deeper meaning. The characters themselves, specifically the Femme fetal, aren’t what they appear to be. And like the dreamer, the protagonist, as I said, is often not in control of his fate. While film is supposed to transpose reality onto the screen, pre-WWII films have a very optimistic quality that renders them superficial. The grittiness of the noir film is appealing because it reflects the crappy aspects of life and fears that we are all subject to, yet it is reflected in a very distorted state.
I find it ironic that the noir style is largely an American icon while it is actually the progeny of German expressionism. Film is meant to be expressive and engender critical thinking and I feel that the emergence of this style has allowed filmmakers to dig deeper into our psyche and manifest our deepest anxieties. This rarely happens when everything is presented in a world where bad guys don’t prosper. Why not? Upon explaining the “duplicitous” nature of women in the film noir to a friend he commented “That’s how it is in real life”.
I think it’s interesting to note the new age noirs which have infiltrated the cinema from filmmakers such as Coen Brothers films, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Batman. The style has since Double Indemnity, transcended the crime genre and permeated every category. Its popularity has increased not only because of its provocative visual style but it also suggests a darker, more mysterious side of humanity.

Mar
05
Filed Under (Uncategorized) by btrachtenberg100 on 05-03-2010

I am first and foremost a supporter of the film auteur theory. I believe that a director leaves a unique imprint on the film he creates. Having seen Citizen Kane multiple times as well as Touch of Evil, I can make a distinct connection between the two pieces as works of the same artist. Wells is a very technical director always utilizing new ways to tell his story. Kane is history as it’s the archetypal film. It shows breakthroughs in technical staging as well as profound deep focus photography, yet no one will argue that these two films are variations of the same thing. Whereas some directors such as Dario Argento, produce films that are literally replicas of each other. It has nothing to do with using the same crew. Gregg Tolland was the cinematographer on Kane, while Russell Metty was the director of photography on Touch of Evil. Argento used various cinematographers between films yet the degree of variation is far less. A director cannot make a great movie by himself, or even controlling every aspect of the shooting in a fascist manner. From reading about the relationship between Orson Wells and Gregg Tolland, I realize that the success is in their collaboration.
Tolland had a distinct style that the author traces back to a few of his previous films. Being that Tolland and Wells both were advocates of new technical feats in film, it was only natural that Wells made sure to enlist him in the film. A director must not only have a vision, he must encompass the ability to spot talent he needs to utilize to realize his motion picture. The ability to actually harness that talent, I believe is the key to a successful film. Where like a machine that hums, all its components work harmoniously to create a valuable product.
I have noticed trends in successful directors. David Cronenberg, for one, is known for making “Family” films, in that he works consistently with the same crew that allows him to produce consistently intriguing and disturbing work. Spielberg consistently uses composer John Williams, and editor Michael Kahn, and has consistently good films. (That is with the exception for Munich, and Indiana Jones 4). Not every director off the bat finds a compatible crew they work with this may be a reason that some directors must go from studio to studio, working with countless crews before they make a film that can galvanize his creativity.
Some can make consistently good films with different crews, but I propose that if Gregg Tolland didn’t work on Citizen Kane, we would have a significantly different movie today which might not have surpassed the standards of filmmaking at the time.

Mar
05
Filed Under (Uncategorized) by btrachtenberg100 on 05-03-2010

It takes a clever film such as “Lady Eve” to remind me of the striking differences between today’s risqué comedies and those of the glory days of cinema. I would go so far as to compare a comedy where constraints force the artist to find loopholes in what’s accepted to a low budget film. I have always been a massive fan of the low budget arena, particularly that of horror, not that “Lady Eve” is by any means frightening, but more scrutiny and meticulous care is used to execute it. Because of the relaxed standards of today’s cinema we find studios cranking out films that appeal to the teenage crowd and deal with romance in a rather perverse and direct way. Such as is the case with films like American Pie, Something about Mary, and Knocked up. This is not to say they aren’t massively entertaining, but that our standard for showing has caught up with our curiosity for knowing. It is this fleeting discrepancy in standards that has severed the imaginative cord between the build-up and the punch line.
I would also like to argue that Preston Sturges brief illustrious career blossomed because he happened to be at the right place at the right time. (Even if it did take him forty years to do it.) His attitudes regarding the restrictions in the Hollywood system is expressed in the satirical emphasis that he puts on the fine line between the moral and the taboo. “Lady Eve” is essentially the old boy meets girl coming of age story with one small catch; it’s a Preston Sturges film. He works around the Hollywood code by cleverly creating scenes that are thick with sexual tension and innuendo. In the scene where Barbra Stanwyck and Henry Fonda are lying cheek to cheek, the tension is so high because at the time an intimate kiss would be unthinkable and that expectation is what suspends the suspense and humor throughout the scene. Let us not forget either that this is supposed to be a coming of age story for Henry Fonda’s character. A man who studies snakes (the epitome of all phallic representations), as well as keeps losing the one that he keeps in a box. Like a filmmaker working with a restricted budget, Sturges finds creative ways to indirectly say what he wants to say while at the same time making fun of the Hollywood moral code.
When I think back to his other work “Sullivan’s Travels”, it becomes clearer that Preston Sturges was one of the pioneers in revolutionizing the content of the cinema. As the just mentioned film is also self reflexive in terms of its criticism of the way films were being made at the time, except it dealt with context more than the content of the cinema.
I would like to make another comparison between films like “Lady Eve”, a well made comedy, to “Psycho”, a powerful horror film. Most of the blood and terrifying images in “Psycho” are suggested. We see the knife and hear the stab, but don’t see it. Although if we think back to the scene, we imagine we did see gratuitous violence when there is no blood spilt onscreen. This element of audience participation in putting the pieces together makes for a more memorable image. We all know that a joke that requires explanation is inferior to the joke where our mind makes the connection. We all make the connection in our own unique way, so laughter is fused with a sense of personal satisfaction from successfully connecting the two. “Lady Eve” is one of those jokes. It always comes close to making those connections for you but the innuendo is much funnier than actually having it graphically depicted for us.
Today’s standards for what’s accepted as well as what’s expected, has created almost a new category of cinema. The contemporary pornographic comedy like a Farrelly Brothers film or a gorefest like “Saw”, accosts the senses, desensitizing us from things that would otherwise be shocking if meticulously crafted to allow participation of the audiences imagination.

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