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Friday, January 15, 2010
REDACTED ADVANCED NEOREALIST FORM
VARIETY ARTICLE LOOKS AT POST-BLAIR WITCH DOCUMENTARY TECHNIQUES
A Variety article by Peter DeBruge, posted a couple of days ago, looks at the evolution of documentary techniques, highlighting recent films such as Redacted, District 9, The Hurt Locker, Bruno, and In The Loop, all films that, according to the article, have evolved the docu-form in the wake of the Blair Witch Project. Below is an excerpt led by thoughts from David Bordwell:

Of course, filmmakers didn't wait until 2009 to experiment with documentary techniques. As Bordwell points out, "From World War II on, nearly every country had some sort of neorealist impulse." In America, the crime genre combined docu-style shooting with voice-of-God narration in such late-'40s/early-'50s entries as The Naked City and Panic in the Streets. Later, directors who got their start in documentary, including Stanley Kubrick and William Friedkin, incorporated verite-based techniques in such films as Paths of Glory and The French Connection. "It reaches a culmination in Medium Cool, where you have that immediacy of filming in the Chicago riots," Bordwell adds.

Nearly 40 years later, Brian De Palma advanced the hybrid form with his 2007 Iraq War thriller Redacted, weaving jihadi websites and Al Jazeera-style footage into a tapestry of "found footage" not unlike the elaborate collage of District 9. By comparison, Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker seems downright conservative, even though it marks a radical departure from the director's more classically constructed earlier work. To achieve the immersive effect she wanted, Bigelow turned to cinematographer Barry Ackroyd, whose background in documentaries had served him well with such verite-inclined directors as Ken Loach (Ladybird Ladybird) and Paul Greengrass (United 93).

"The reason she got in touch with me was because of United 93. She wanted that sense of immediacy and urgency," explains the d.p., who coached Bigelow in Greengrass' strategy of shooting long, continuous takes and letting the action move from one camera to the next. While the actors played close to the script, the camera crew was encouraged to improvise and avoid ever repeating the same take. "If in the end, the shot is out of focus, that's the equivalent of a beautifully framed shot because it betrays the emotion in it," Ackroyd says.


Posted by Geoff at 10:32 PM CST
Updated: Sunday, January 17, 2010 8:09 PM CST
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Wednesday, January 13, 2010
HUGHES BROTHERS' CINEMATIC LONG SHOT
SHOWDOWN IN BOOK OF ELI UNRAVELS IN ONE UNCUT HANDHELD TAKE

Collider's Todd Gilchrist interviewed Allen and Albert Hughes on the set of their new movie, The Book Of Eli, which opens Friday. Albert explained to Gilchrist how the long-take scene they were shooting that day was inspired by Welles, Scorsese, De Palma, and Woo. Gilchrist writes:

The day we visited the set, the Hughes brothers were putting together the pieces of one of the film’s biggest scenes, a showdown at a rundown old home that unspools in one uncut shot. Albert indicated he and Allen were interested in evoking some of the great long-take scenes in movie history, but wanted this sequence to be their own. “It’s influenced by all of the cinematic shots through history, like the shot Orson Welles did in Touch of Evil. Then you have Scorsese, of course, and you have Brian De Palma, and we’ve always done long shots. I showed Hard Boiled for one reason - there’s a lot of action in that two minute and 32 second shot. Some people misinterpret it and say “is that the shot you want?” But ours is more rugged and handheld and going through things, but [I liked] the energy of what he did there.”

Posted by Geoff at 11:05 PM CST
Updated: Wednesday, January 13, 2010 11:06 PM CST
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Monday, January 11, 2010
SCARFACE CALMS BABY
ON ABC'S MODERN FAMILY
Last week's episode of ABC's Modern Family (on Wednesday nights) hilariously brought Brian De Palma into prime time sitcom. In the episode, titled "Up All Night," a gay couple are fighting over the best way to get their daughter, Lily, to learn to sleep. Mitchell is trying to "Ferberize" the baby by allowing her to cry herself to sleep, but Cameron cannot stand to hear her endless cries in the middle of the night. Mitchell confronts Cameron, who is holding Lily in his lap in front of the TV. Cameron gives Mitchell an excuse for why he is holding Lily in the middle of the night, and the following exchange ensues:

Mitchell: No, no, you got up to comfort her, but that only teaches her that every time she cries her daddy will come in and cuddle her and put on her fave—[turns to the TV with shock on his face] What are we watching?!?

Cameron: Brian De Palma’s controversial masterpiece Scarface.

Mitchell: For the baby?!?

Cameron: She happens to like it. I don’t know if it’s the colors, or the sounds… Oh here comes the nightclub massacre, she loves it. Watch her little eyelids, it’s so cute, they get so heavy.


Posted by Geoff at 2:34 PM CST
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Sunday, January 10, 2010


Posted by Geoff at 1:44 PM CST
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Thursday, January 7, 2010
THE ART OF THE TITLE
LARRY MCCONKEY HIGHLIGHTED IN STEADICAM OPENING SHOTS
The Art Of The Title has been looking at single-take opening shots, and part 3, posted December 21st, looks specifically at steadicam long takes, including three in which the great Larry McConkey was the camera operator: Martin Scorsese's After Hours, Brian De Palma's The Bonfire Of The Vanities, and De Palma's Snake Eyes. The takes at Art Of The Title are supplemented with commentaries and entries from Afton Grant's SteadiShots, including the following from McConkey himself, discussing the opening shot from Bonfire Of The Vanities:

I fell on the very first take, due to the introduction of an ice sculpture that extras were wheeling in front of the camera for the first time on the take. Up until then they had rehearsed with an empty cart to save the ice from melting. The extra weight slowed them up considerably. I was following the actors into the underground garage and I had choreographed the ice sculpture to wipe through frame between the actors and me before after which I planned to race in front of the group in time to back through a narrow doorway. Unfortunately there was an army of people trailing me who had to then race around and precede me through that doorway (Brian, Vilmos, AD's, sound, my assistant, etc.) and there really wasn't enough time. Someone tripped my AC, Larry Huston, who graciously offered his body for me to fall on top of. I was completely unharmed, as was the rig, but Larry H. had a nasty gash in his head. He refused a ride to the hospital so we could continue to work, and the nurse reopened his wound after every take to keep it from healing improperly until he could get stitiches. What a trooper!! Brian, who is a master tactician and strategist just hadn't considered this possibility: he stood over me, and after seeing I was OK said "I didn't think you could fall!" He had anticipated every potential disaster but this one. We did another 11 takes until dawn when Vilmos informed me that this last take "must be the one!!! The light at the beginning and end were perfect, and that WAS the one.

Each take was a full 500' and the shot was over when the end of the film flapped through the gate.

I wanted a device to let Bruce pass by me a little too close to the camera for focus in the elevator, and he came up with the idea of scooping up some Salmon Mousse, and twirling a little drunkenly past me. This also delayed the action enough for the rest of the crew (same group as before except for Larry H. and the boom woman with a wireless boom mike who rode with me) to exit the elevator next to us. They were timing their elevator to synchronize with ours on the way up to maintain a good RF link to the mixer. If the elevators rose side by side it worked fine, otherwise complete dropout. After exiting, I wanted to get back in front of Bruce so he came up with the Mousse Toss onto the wall thereby backing away from the camera enough to allow me to make a clean exit. There were many other devices like this throughout that I came up with to make the shot flow... I figure the more work everyone else does, and the less work I have to do, the better it will look...

(Thanks to Rado!)


Posted by Geoff at 4:41 PM CST
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Thursday, December 31, 2009
SEITZ & CO. LOOK BACK AT DECADE IN MOVIES, PART 2
Two glaring omissions: no Black Dahlia, and no Redacted. And a curious lack of Clint Eastwood and Woody Allen films overall... but otherwise, very nicely done. Courtesy of The L Magazine.

Posted by Geoff at 12:52 PM CST
Updated: Thursday, December 31, 2009 12:53 PM CST
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Wednesday, December 30, 2009
SEITZ & CO. LOOK BACK AT DECADE IN MOVIES, PART 1
Courtesy The L Magazine

Posted by Geoff at 1:09 PM CST
Updated: Wednesday, December 30, 2009 1:16 PM CST
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Wednesday, December 23, 2009
ROBIN WOOD DIES AT 78
"RETURN OF THE REPRESSED" CRITIC VIEWED SISTERS AS FEMINIST FILM
Robin Wood, author of the influential book Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan, died Friday of complications from leukemia. Wood was 78. In the above mentioned book (the title of which can be seen as a direct inspiration to the core of David Greven's new book, Manhood in Hollywood from Bush to Bush) Wood devotes a chapter to Brian De Palma subtitled "The Politics of Castration," in which he states that De Palma's "interesting, problematic, frequently frustrating movies are quite obsessive about castration, either literal or metaphorical." In the chapter, written before Body Double was released, Wood cites Sisters and Blow Out as De Palma's best works. Of the former, Wood wrote, "Simply, one can define the monster of Sisters as women's liberation; adding only that the film follows the time-honored horror film tradition of making the monster emerge as the most sympathetic character and its emotional center." Of Blow Out, Wood concluded that for him, "no film evokes more overwhelmingly the desolation of our culture."

In his 1983 book on De Palma, Michael Bliss interviewed the director, discussing Wood's analyses of De Palma's work:

Bliss: There's a piece on Sisters by Robin Wood that says that Sisters is the first feminist film to come out of Hollywood; it's a psychological and structuralist reading of the film. It talks about the knife as a phallic object.

De Palma: I don't like to get into that kind of reading into things. I remember talking to Robin and asking him questions about this. I finally said, look, that wasn't what I was doing when I made the movie; you may see these things but it's beyond me. But I do feel in a sense that I deal with contemporary feminist characters... Most of my women characters are very active, very strong; they dominate the action for the most part. In Sisters all they do is dominate the action. In Dressed To Kill all of the men are practically like women in normal films. So whether they're prostitutes or girls making money on the side by setting up candidates or actresses or newspaper reporters-- to me they are contemporary women and are aggressively pursuing their goals.


Posted by Geoff at 3:33 AM CST
Updated: Wednesday, December 23, 2009 3:37 AM CST
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Sunday, December 13, 2009
MANHOOD IN HOLLYWOOD
GREVEN BOOK DEVOTES CHAPTER TO CASUALTIES OF WAR
Manhood In Hollywood From Bush To Bush, David Greven's study on Hollywood's representations of masculinity from 1989 to 2009, was published last week by University of Texas Press. Greven has been a part of the De Palma online community for a number of years. Earlier this year, the online journal Genders published the Greven's insightful essay, Misfortune and Men's Eyes, which looked at male bonding in three early De Palma films (Greetings, Hi, Mom!, and Get To Know Your Rabbit). Greven's new book (which can also be purchased at Amazon) continues the author's discussion of the homosocial, and features an entire chapter on De Palma's Casualties Of War. Here is an excerpt from the book's introduction that discusses the chapter on Casualties Of War:

In Brian De Palma's great antiwar film Casualties of War (1989), his characteristic, career-wide experimentation with split-image effects—the split-screen, the split-diopter—takes on an entirely new significance in terms of De Palma's staging of the masochistic gaze. Daniel Lang wrote an account in 1969 of one of the most harrowing episodes of the Vietnam War: the kidnapping, rape, and murder of a young Vietnamese woman by a group of American soldiers, one of whom refused to participate in and unsuccessfully opposed the group's treatment of the woman. The first, and only, film version of this case, De Palma's film emerges in the year that Bush 41 takes office and within a new wave of Vietnam films instigated by the surprising box-office success of Oliver Stone's Platoon (1986).

In this chapter, I consider the original account by Lang and De Palma's cinematic rendering of it, which I view as the synthesization of several key themes in his oeuvre, especially the failed heroism of American manhood. I examine De Palma's film as a representation of American homosociality, providing a historical contextualization of it that illuminates American misogyny and homophobia, the latter no less a key factor in the events as described in the Lang account and De Palma's film. I provide a theoretical framework of the homosocial that allows us to consider De Palma's film as a critique of the normative codes of American manhood and what Gayle Rubin, following Levi-Strauss, calls the "traffic in women." The association of Eriksson, the man who opposed the kidnapping, rape, and murder of the woman, with homosexuality by the ringleader of the group, Meserve, is analyzed as a crucial component of the narrative. I explore the ways in which the film represents homoeroticism as both a galvanizing and threatening element in homosocialized manhood, which inculcates misogyny and homophobia. Further, this film represents a strong corrective to the particular forms of nationalism in the Reagan era, carried over into the Bush era. I also examine the film's staging of a masculine battle between a "negative narcissism" and a "heroic masochism."


Posted by Geoff at 10:12 PM CST
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Friday, December 11, 2009
DE PALMA ON MEL BROOKS
SAYS SILENT MOVIE ACCURATELY REFLECTED STUDIO POLITICS
Mel Brooks, Robert De Niro, and Bruce Springsteen were three of the artists receiving Kennedy Center Honors last weekend in Washington. The Washington Post's Gary Arnold caught a compliment from Brian De Palma about Brooks' Silent Movie:

Director Brian De Palma complimented Silent Movie by observing that it reflected studio politics of the period with remarkable accuracy; to him, the farcical elements seemed more realistic than exaggerated.

Arnold would have loved to have seen Brooks and De Niro work together in the seventies.


Posted by Geoff at 10:26 AM CST
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