You know those hard-to-find films?


Written on December 30, 2010 – 2:54 pm | by jwolpoe

Guys! (or possibly just Professor Herzog, hi! :D)

Grey Gardens, the film by the Maysles brothers that we spoke about in class is on Hulu, apparently until the end of the day!

Apparently the Criterion Collection has their own channel on the site, which is pretty crazy. Most of the older classic films seem to go through that collection, so the fact that they have a page on Hulu is fairly impressive.

Movie Opportunity!


Written on December 22, 2010 – 11:57 pm | by jwolpoe

I know that probably no one is checking these anymore, but in the incredible off-chance, I though I would mention that a Satyajit Ray film is playing at the Film Society at Lincoln Center next week!

Details can be found here. It’s part of a series on Scorsese’s influences, so it’s a really interesting mix of films.

Film Analysis: Bonnie and Clyde


Written on December 10, 2010 – 9:12 am | by jwolpoe

Bonnie and Clyde (1967) was directed by Arthur Penn, produced by Warren Beatty and distributed by Warner Bothers. The film tells a fictionalized account of Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker as bank robbers in the South during the Great Depression. The film was meant to appeal to audiences in a time of poplar anti-government sentiments and for most of the film Bonnie and Clyde are dashing young heroes laughing at the world and the government alike. However, the overall theme of the film comes down to consequences of their actions, and the losses that come with those consequences. The scene that most reflects that message is later in the film when Bonnie goes back to see her family after the gang has establishing a reputation famed bank robbers and murderers. The theme of consequences is reflected in the setting, color palate, visuals and use of sound.

The scene opens with a wide shot of a sandy field with some stunted trees and unidentified machinery in the background. The location is obviously isolated and abandoned, and was chosen as a meeting place for precisely those reasons. The field is a transition location – it contains none of the comforts of home, but it also has none of the glamour and riches of the life on the road. It is empty of life, growth and production, and represents a kind of limbo for the gang, unable to go back and hesitant to move forward.

The sand of the field provides a bland and blank palate for the scene to take place. The people in the scene are mostly dressed in black, contrasting with the white dresses Bonnie wears for most of the film. Here she and the rest of the gang are dressed in black, as if they are mourning the innocence they have lost through their actions. The scene is coded strongly for a funeral, with the whole family coming together for the first time with Bonnie while mostly dressed in black. The coding clearly foreshadows the funeral to come for the members of the gang who will die by the end of the film.

The first thing one might notice upon the transition to this scene is the way the scene is matted and blurred to provide an ethereal, fantasy-like quality. This scene is part of Bonnie’s attempt to go back to the childhood she abandoned at the beginning of the film, and it is presented similarly to a flashback, even though it happens sequentially. Most of the shots contain two or more people interacting in casual interactions. The focus is extremely shallow, and the background for every close-up shot becomes an indistinct blur. The people themselves appear a little fuzzy around the edges in large crowds, blurring into a masses of a family event. Bonnie’s family is never introduced as individuals, and they truly become a collection of bodies and children, representing a full family. Each member of the Barrow Gang is more recognizable and distinct, and never quite manages to blend in with the rest of the family.

Arguably the most important element of the scene is the use of sound. The scene is introduced by non-diegetic sound, a slower orchestral tune that starts before the scene fades in. Then there is a brief moment of the film’s banjo music theme while Bonnie and her mother see each other for the first time. The orchestral music sets the tone for the whole scene, setting up the whole melancholy flashback tone even before the color change. The banjo comes in as a quick reminder of the underlying tension of the scene – Bonnie has left her family and no longer truly belongs with them.

The rest of the scene is mostly soft muted sounds, of laughter and chatter and a general good time. It directly accompanies the muted visuals, the blurred sounds and sights combining to make the scene a surreal contrast to the sharp reality of the rest of the film. The sound is also not synchronized for most of the scene, the background chatter unconnected with any individual people. If you watch carefully, most of the sound in the first half of the scene is non-diegetic, even if it appears to be, because characters lips normally rarely match the words they are saying. The general sound of the shot will play, but it will not match perfectly. For example, the moment when the family gathers to say grace is non-diegetic, as grace is still being heard while they break and begin reaching for food. That shot is also a good example of overlapping sound used to transition between shots, which happen three times in the scene. In this example, the shot after everyone reaches for the food is a shot of Clyde bringing a plate to another member of the gang, CJ, who is standing guard. We still hear grace still being said as Clyde tucks a napkin into CJ’s shirt and gives him the plate, even though is is over. The constant overlapping sound in the first half of the scene makes the shots blend together in a kind of wave of emotion and memory. The first half of the scene is about the kind of general family atmosphere of the event, and the Barrow Gang enjoy themselves.

When Bonnie’s family begins packing up to leave, the scene has a dramatic shift. There is still the background murmur – this time of a mother calling her sons from the sand dunes – but the sound is diegetic as Bonnie speaks to her mother with Clyde. The scene turns from more happy fantasy to more painful reality during this conversation. Clyde babbles awkwardly while Bonnie is suspiciously silent while he talks. Bonnie’s mother delivers her opinions with a slow, reluctant tone, but brings both protagonists back from their castles in the sky when she tells them that they, “best keep running,” or they, “won’t live long.” Bonnie stands shocked and silent as her mother walks away.

The scene ends with Bonnie’s family drives away, leaving the Barrow Gang alone in the desolate wasteland. Clyde’s bother Buck is standing with his wife, Blanche, and Bonnie grabs onto Clyde in a mirror image, splitting the gang into their tiny family units. After a scene filled with children, laughter and chatter, the moment is lonely, silent and desolate.

The Barrow Gang tried to recapture their lost innocence and youth in the empty field, but it was a place of paralyzing limbo for them. It was there that they discovered their inability to return to their pasts, and they are forced to move forward toward their inevitable destruction as they leave. They have tried to hide or avoid the consequences of their actions, which include bank robbing, abduction and murder. However, as the film eventually proves, it is impossible to keep running forever, and this failed attempt is the turning point of the film. In the next scenes, the gang will hunted and eventually killed. The setting, colors, blurred visuals and careful use of sound heavily enforce that theme in this scene. The horrific ending to come was definitely an abrupt shock for the audiences of the 1960’s, who identified strongly with the heroic anti-establishment freedom of the gang, making the theme that much more difficult to accept.

Avant Garde Film


Written on December 8, 2010 – 2:11 am | by jwolpoe

I was especially excited about the Avant Garde section of the screenings, because it’s not a type of film that I will probably seek out for myself. And it’s not really a type of film I enjoy more than others – I really like have a definite storyline in my films, and avant garde will probably be something I watch mostly for the sake of saying I watched it, or to analyze it, but certainly not for fun.

But avant garde film raises the really fascinating question of different mediums and how we use them or perceive their use. We expect films to be a certain way – of a certain length, and style, with a story and actors and with other expected elements. But…why?

When I think about avant garde film, I think about paintings. Paintings are a totally different medium, with different limitations, yes, but completely different expectations. When looking at a painting in a museum, you are looking at Art. It doesn’t have to tell a story, or be about anything in particular. It’s about the brushstroke, and the lighting and arrangement. Critics will analyze the style and aesthetic, and will compare it to other paintings based on that. Some don’t even get titles, just dates.

And that’s how I see avant garde films – we’re not looking for a story, we’re looking for a style, lighting, texture and effect. It’s films that belong in museums, instead of being taken home to read. It’s not my cup of tea, but I like the occasional museum visit. I enjoy paintings and statues and all sorts of other art forms without expecting Monet to tell me a story complete with characters, setting and plot. The paintings can be beautiful without them, and so can film.

(Of course, I was always the person who spent time examining the biblical paintings, because those were attached to stories, even if the painter didn’t have to write them. But that’s just me.)

Homosexuality in Bollywood


Written on November 24, 2010 – 2:54 am | by jwolpoe

I finally found the article that I mentioned in class, so I wanted to share it:

Bollywood Gay Film Hits Screens

Psycho


Written on November 16, 2010 – 1:49 pm | by jwolpoe

This was my first time seeing Psycho all the way through, and whoa. First of all, the driving scene (which I have seen before, but without context) was absolutely brilliant -there is nothing inherently suspenseful about a woman driving a car, but the music was basically yelling, “THIS IS A SUSPENSEFUL AND TENSE EXPERIENCE.” And the voices served to give us an insight into Marion’s point of view, without  a heavy-handed crossover. We experienced her panic alongside her, and by the time the policeman was rapping at her window, we could totally understand why she was so flustered and suspicious – she was on a constant adrenaline-fueled panic-high, and she hadn’t said a word since she left the office.

I also found Norman Bates to be a much more sympathetic character at the beginning of the film. He didn’t strike me as creepy or scary at the beginning – just a little sad. I thought he might have something like mild aspergers or something similar, slightly disconnected from normal society and odd hobbies. So I somehow managed to be pretty shocked during the big reveal, and while most of classroom laughed I literally jumped in my chair.

Written on the Wind – Marylee and Color


Written on November 8, 2010 – 9:56 am | by jwolpoe

It took me a minute when watching the film to realize that Marylee was Kyle’s sister, because while Kyle acted far rougher than his status, at least he typically wore suits. Marylee’s first outfit looked high-quaility enough, but it was so pink. And while the dress itself wasn’t very inappropriate, the way she wore it made it seems so. In fact, it seemed that way with most of Marylee’s clothes – that no matter how appropriate or not they may have been, she over-sexualized them just by wearing them, even when she was alone.

The most memorable image I have of her, however, is when she invited Mitch into the car so she could drive him back after Kyle ditches them at that first scene. She is wearing the absolute pinkest dress, sitting in a vividly red car and just oozing sex at Mitch, who clearly wants no part of it. When he got into the car, it was a clear message of how much power she (and her family) had over poor Mitch and his life.

P.S. I watched The Big Sleep in another Media Studies class, and I spend this whole movie trying to figure out where I knew both Lauren Bacall and Dorothy Malone from. Google sovled that problem for me, but it was a bit distracting. Lauren Bacall’s voice especially is extremely distinctive.

Charlie Chaplin Letter


Written on November 4, 2010 – 5:30 pm | by jwolpoe

Just stumbled on this fantastic letter from Charlie Chaplin to a fan in England in 1916.

The intro gives a brief background on him, but check out the letter itself! The header alone takes up nearly half the page, and it’s stunning (if a bit ostentatious). I like how encouraging he was, and it’s almost cute the way he thanks her parents. I can’t imagine famous actors/actresses sending responses like that today.

Ozu Films


Written on October 25, 2010 – 10:47 pm | by jwolpoe

Early Summer was not the first Ozu film I’ve ever seen – last year I watched Tokyo Story, a later work by Ozu. I actually found the panning shots in the film (and I can only recall two off the top of my head) absolutely shocking, because they felt so weird after watching a later work in which he clearly avoided any camera movements.

And a few of his actors were the same as well. I spent the first few minutes of the movie fixated upon Noriko, convinced I’d seen her before. A quick internet search confirms that she starred in Tokyo Story as well as Late Spring, another movie in which she plays a character names “Noriko” who is unmarried. It’s interesting that Ozu chose to focus on that theme in three separate films, under three different circumstances. It’s true that women in post-war Japan were being given more freedoms, as clearly demonstrated by the Norkio in Early Summer, but it’s also true that the societal pressures to get married and have a family still existed.

Overall, I loved the film, reveling in it’s simple everyday story. The comparisons to Umberto D. were impossible to avoid – while the tone and flavor the film are completely different, the same spotlight was shown on everyday life. (A far less desperate everyday life, true, but a average one nonethelss.)

I commented in class that I enjoyed the layers that Ozu brought to the characters without ever explicitly stating them. My example was the relationship between Noriko and her sister-in-law. At no point in the film do they chat about their friendship, and for the vast majority of the film we only see them together within the confines of the home, while Noriko has an outside life with her job and her boss. Yet it becomes increasingly clear over the course of the film that Noriko and her sister-in-law are in fact good friends, and it seems quite possible that the sister-in-law will be left quite alone once Noriko leaves. Again, none of this is ever explicitly stated, everything is shown to the audience in a low-key, very realistic sort of way. It was refreshingly enjoyable, after Hollywood movies tend to bash you over the head with extra exposition and voice-overs to clearly establish who is related to who and how. In this film the relationships emerged gradually and naturally, and the film felt like a peek into a real life instead of a crafted story designed to fit a certain time frame.

Film Analysis Assignment 1 – Umberto D


Written on October 23, 2010 – 11:38 pm | by jwolpoe

Italian Neorealism typically explored the poorer, undervalued side of Italian society, showing the day-by-day struggles of individuals in small, quiet stories.In Umberto D. Vittorio de Sica explores how the polite value placed on individuals from Umberto’s youth is falling to the cold efficiency and distance of post-war Italy. This theme is explored repeatedly throughout the film, especially in the first scene in the hospital, while the doctors are going through the patients. De Sica uses filmatic elements such as the setting, camera angles, rapid shot-reverse-shots and depth of field to convey the coldness in the Italian establishments and the changes in society that Umberto must struggle through.

The scene is set in an impossibly long hospital ward, with high ceilings. As the camera pans across for the establishing shot, the ward appears to be a mass of matching beds and patients, each completely identical to the next. The only action comes from the mass of doctors and one nun who are travelling from bed to bed to evaluate patients’ conditions. And even they are dressed in a stark, cold, professional white, matching the general mood of the room. Over the course of the scene, many shots show the stretch of length of the hospital, emphasizing how each patient – even Umberto – is just another body occupying a long stretch of beds. The depth of the field is shallow, focusing on one or two patients alongside the doctors but blurring the rest into an endless, faceless stretch.  To the doctors, every patients is just a body to be healed, not an individual suffering, and Umberto is lost in this efficient system of quick healing. Even the nuns can’t possibly focus on each individual in the crush of patients in the ward. Umberto, who is used to an older style of polite personalized attention, cannot convey the need he has for more than just a quick application of medication.

When the doctors come to Umberto’s bed, the camera angles tighten noticeably. The doctors are shot from a low angle, making them appear tall and powerful, especially alongside the bed-ridden patients. The doctors first approach the patient in the bed next to Umberto. He is an old hand and working the hospital system, so he plays along the doctors expectations, by lying low in his bed, at the very bottom of the screen. A nurse stands behind his bed and defends him to the doctors, and she takes up the whole top of the screen when it focuses on him. She is displayed to be in a position of power with the doctors, able to influence their decision regarding patients. She is capable of caring about patients, as shown by her closeness to Umberto’s fellow patient, while the doctors stand farther away.

While the doctors talk to each patient, most of them stand at the foot of the bed, while one main doctor comes slightly closer to examine the patient. Their placement again betrays their disinterest, and as they talk to each patient the shots are all rapid shot-reverse-shots between the powerful doctors and the powerless patients. The quick cutting and tighter shots make these scenes seem like battles between the doctors and patients, but while the text is about the doctors pushing the patients out while they fight for the right to stay, the angles of the shot – again, high angles on the doctors, low angles on the patients – make it clear that this is a battle about being recognized as individuals. The doctors see a constant flood of nameless patients, and they don’t even bother to learn names or faces, only diagnoses. The patients need to fight with the doctors, or the nuns, to become individuals and gain rights to compassion and sympathy.

Most striking is the camera distance when Umberto opens his mouth for inspection. The camera stays incredibly far, too far for a good look at Umberto’s throat, which the doctor is supposed to be examining. This once again reinforces the distance the doctors feel fro the patients, even while trying to treat them.

The first person to recognize Umberto and help him is his fellow man in the hospital, who teaches him tricks to make himself appear more pitiful and sympathetic to the nuns. These tricks will make the nuns care enough about him to defend him to the doctors. The other patient uses these tricks to stay in hospitals for free, while Umberto succumbs to use these tricks under pressure and desperation. Their attitudes are clear from their placements in their beds – Umberto spends most of the scene nearly upright, making himself neat for the doctors and visitors. The other patient spends most of the scene slumped carelessly into his bed, knowing that making himself into a more pathetic figure will earn him more sympathy.

The scene ends as Maria walks into the room to look for Umberto and pay him a short visit. When Maria walks in, she is unable to find Umberto for a few minutes, lost in the sea of matching beds. Again, this scene serves to highlight the isolation and loneliness of individuals, who are devalued in new systems of efficiency in the post-war Italian society. Umberto is a adrift in this uncaring environment, unable to fight for himself in the crowd of other people.