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Sunday, January 23, 2022

As Pedro Almodóvar's Parallel Mothers moves through theaters, El Confidencial today posted an interview with "legend of Spanish cinema" José Luis Alcaine. The interview was conducted by Ana Ramírez. Here's a portion, with Spanish-to-English translation assistance via Google Translate:
Most of the time, I don't need to talk too much with the directors I work with. Almost everyone thinks that the director of a film and the cinematographer are communicating during the entire shoot, but in my case it is not true. I need to see the films they have made before, ask them a few weeks before what they are looking for in photography and that's it. Some give me references: 'Go see this film or 'I'm looking for a light like this'... For example, in 'The Bird of Happiness', I asked Pilar Miró what she wanted before shooting. She didn't say anything to me, she just looked in a folder and took out a print of 'The Scream', by Eduard Munch. 'This is what I want'. And from there, one starts to guess.

Q. Along these lines, the more accomplished your work is, the less it is perceived by the general public?

A. Sometimes it happens. But what I don't want is for the photography to be noticed. When someone tells me: 'I've seen your film, what great photography', I already know that they haven't seen it or they didn't like what was being told, that's why they paid a lot of attention to the photography. I told Pedro Almodóvar that 'Parallel Mothers' has two readings. One, to see it normally. Another, to see all the details that Pedro has put in and that I have illuminated, because they enrich the film. Perhaps, at the beginning you follow the story and you are not so aware that they exist. In a way, you have to watch it twice.

Q. A book, a painting, a piece of furniture… How do you make those hidden messages visible in Almodóvar's plans?

R. In 'Parallel Mothers', I have basically used very closed diaphragms. [The diaphragm is the part of the lens that regulates the amount of light that enters the camera]. Not only does this mean that less light enters, but the more the diaphragm is closed, the more objects begin to appear in focus and sharp in the shot.

I think that when playing with that, with the depth of field, there can be two types of narration in cinema. There is one that has now become fashionable throughout the world: by opening the diaphragm a lot, almost the entire frame is out of focus, except for a single object or a character that is closer to the camera. That's an advantage for the production of the film, because you don't have to worry too much about what's around you.

The other approach consists of establishing several fields of action that are seen on the screen. The viewer can see them all, first, second, third... All of this enriches the story because there can be different layers of narration. For example, if a character says something in the foreground and another reacts elsewhere in the shot. This allows the viewer to feel inside the place, accompanying the actors. If only one part is in focus, you sit in the chair and see a completely flat screen. For me, it's terrible because the viewer doesn't participate. They tell him a story that is perhaps very interesting, but his vision is very much driven by what the director wants to tell him. He cuts the wings of the story and the relationship. In the cinema that I like, I need more depth of field and a richer image.

P. Where do you think that trend comes from?

R. That started in the 80s and 90s. Many of the important directors of that time came from the world of advertising. The 'spots' that were most popular then lasted about 30 seconds and concentrated many different shots in a short time. And the difficulty is added that they were made for the televisions of the time, which were smaller. That's how they came up with the idea of concentrating the viewer's attention on a single point, on the product, and that's it. For a small screen, that's fine. But for a screen like this [points to the theater canvas], the viewer is out of the game because he only pays attention to a very small portion.

I think that in these circumstances, even if the stories are good, they don't leave a mark because they don't let you participate. They are flat and unrelieved exposures. Within a quarter of an hour, you've forgotten. For the record, all this is a theory of mine… It is difficult to verify. I think that the cinema of the 40s to the 70s left a mark on you, because the relief of the narration was very careful. The tendency to simplify it has to do with an easy cinema, faster to produce in this sense and cheaper, because everything that is outside the field does not matter. It is an orphan cinema. We are at a crossroads. On the one hand there is covid, which drives viewers away from theaters. On the other hand, there is the orphanage of films that leave a mark on you. One of these that makes you want to debate when you go out.

P. Is this audiovisual bill that simplifies the viewer's gaze, or does it happen the other way around?

R. A significant thing happens. This fashion for shallow shots means that the manufacture of new camera lenses concentrates on producing very beautiful blurs. I know that the big companies look for them, because I know some manufacturers. I have asked them about the new lines and they answer the same thing: they are looking for the out-of-focus part of the image to be very beautiful because that is what people ask for. It is the whiting that wags its tail. It seems like a mistake to me, but this covers us all.

It's the same with mobile phones. That of the 'bokeh effect' or the 'portrait mode' is increasingly taken care of, because people like to see themselves. That's why the rest is blurred, so that the portrait focuses on you, logically. I think this can go beyond aesthetics... There is an invasion of images of ourselves, of ourselves and of our friends. Never before have we been so aware of the passage of time on our image. Before, people were not aware of their own aging, of the passing of the years on themselves. Now we take pictures of everything, we see each other when we are 18, when we are 30 and when we are 50. There was a great guy, Rembrandt, who took self-portraits from when he was very young until he was very old. He painted the passage of time, as we do when we see ourselves grow old in the images.

I think this has something to do with the growing cult of image, beauty and, above all, youth. Wouldn't it be better if instead of staying young with surgeries, we stayed young by learning, going back to college? (Laughs).

P. You usually say that the first time Brian De Palma called you to order the photography of a film, it was because he admired your way of portraying the faces of actresses. That is something that is also seen in his filmography with Almodóvar.

R. This is where theater is opposed to cinema, although they are branches of the same tree: in the actors' gaze. The theater actor works with the body and with the voice. But the film has to work a lot with the look. The eyes are very important to express... If the story is impregnated with the gaze, it is taken to another level. I think it's something that can be seen in the eyes of Antonio Banderas in 'Pain and Glory'.

I say that cinema and theater are the branches of the same tree, that of the represented story. I think there is something that we forget sometimes. For me, cinema is form, to a large extent. The interpretation and the story are very important, but so is how they tell it to us. What shots are chosen, what camera movements, how is the light, the montage... Normally, that is not analyzed. I note that almost all film criticism comes from literature. The first thing a critic does, normally, is to tell you about the story, to tell you about the cast. But the visual form is not paid attention to. This is normal if one takes into account that there is no teaching about image and representation.

Q. In an increasingly visual world, do we need a kind of 'literacy' of images?

R. Lately I am advocating the creation of an image subject. What is cinema, painting, sculpture... What is everything that has been used as representation in the history of mankind. That, from an early age, students begin to discover what is used to tell stories visually. Right now, there is a large part of the youth that does not read, but almost all of them consume many audiovisual products. Even they themselves, through their networks, create small stories in images. They are taught to read and write, things that fewer and fewer of them do outside of school. A subject dealing with the image through the ages, in all its variants, would be good. Of cinema and television, of course, but of many other things. A painting is also a story, painters tell stories through the image. Students need to know how to analyze this and take advantage of it. Above all, because in our civilization images are constantly used as a means of expression. It's very important.

And this has more implications: a lot of news and many images are falsified. If we do not leave aside the tools to analyze photographs, interpret them and create them, it is possible to be taught to detect these manipulations. We are invaded by the image and it is not a bad thing. Yes, it is a very different culture from the one I knew, much more influenced by literature, but our kids should learn to use the visual and express themselves with it. As we were taught with literature.

P. What can be learned from those codes in the cinema?

R. Many times, visual codes depend on gender. It's true that I haven't worked much on that type of film. Action, superhero, horror... I remember one I did with Chicho Ibáñez Serrador, 'Who can kill a child?' It was a horror film, set on a beach and with some kids as murderers. He gave me the film and I proposed to take a photograph far from the typical horror film. Paradoxically, that the terrifying was in the situation and not in the image, because then it becomes a movie. If you take a photograph of summer and the Mediterranean, people are a little surprised and scared. Because he thinks it can happen to them. Otherwise, the horror genre is full of clichés. I always laugh when the topic of the girl who goes into the alley alone comes up. There's already bullshit there... A girl would never go in there alone! Photography is full of sparkles, backlights, long shadows... In Ibáñez Serrador's film, I tried to escape from the genre in terms of photography. From time to time, he would say to me: 'Hey, why don't we make a shadow on the wall as threatening?' And I told him better not, he's not interested... Besides, with a natural thing, the public is more surprised. If the door creaks and a shadow appears, we already know what will happen.

Somehow, 'The Skin I Live In' also had that point of suspense and terror. But neither Pedro nor I wanted a genre film. We wanted to tell some facts and not know very well what was going to happen. For my taste, what happens in the genre is that what is going to happen is telegraphed, you see it coming if you have a certain visual culture. But if you don't give any indication, people are left baffled. I try to escape codes in lighting.

P. In addition to naturalism, you emphasize the elaboration of light, the creation of volume on the screen. Where does this concern come from?

A. I have a lazy eye. It works worse than the other and, since the relief is given by both eyes, my brain is inclined to pay more attention to my good eye. Because of this, I have difficulty perceiving the volume. I have a hard time seeing things in relief, so I create it with light. The lighting helps me to highlight the volume of things and, incidentally, to correct this defect that I have.

In almost all my works, I start from the idea that I am always learning. I am always looking at everything, especially the innovations that are coming out. Once, I had the idea of using fluorescent lights when it was not usual in the cinema. I needed a flat, low light to illuminate a table with multiple characters. I was thinking a lot about making a wooden one to put several spotlights with a tracing paper on top... Well, a mess. And I thought: 'But this could be a home fluorescent'. So I went with my production manager to a hardware store to buy some tubes and we started using them. In fact, when he had filming outside, he traveled with a trunk full of fluorescent lights, because they weren't used and there weren't any anywhere. Now it's the most normal thing in the world.

P. Sometimes, changes are not well received... You also often say that, when you were studying at the Official School of Cinematography, they told you that cinema was not made for you.

A. Yes. It was for a very simple reason. When I started, what was done was a studio light, with very defined shadows. That seemed a bit false to me and I was always looking for ideas to find another way to light. I did tests of all kinds. In film school, I was considered a dangerous madman. I tried to see if by bouncing the light off a wall or by putting some white paper on some black flags... That's what led Juan Julio Baena, who ran the school, to tell me that the cinema was not made for me. But I didn't pay any attention to him. He was very convinced of what he was doing. When someone is sure of what they're looking for, even if they can't find it, it's hard to keep them from it.

Posted by Geoff at 7:13 PM CST
Updated: Thursday, February 3, 2022 10:06 PM CST
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Saturday, January 22, 2022

Let's start at the beginning: there's a podcast called Caged In: Coppola Connections that stems from the host, Petros, having "watched, reviewed, and lost his mind watching every Nicolas Cage film." That podcast looks "at the Coppola family, whether it's Francis Ford Coppola or Patricia Arquette for the 5 years she was married to Nicolas Cage." Now comes a spinoff, or "sister podcast," titled Movie Brat Bros., and season one, "De Palma-Rama," delves into the filmography of Brian De Palma. For the first episode, Petros is "joined by Jeanette and Daryl Bär to discuss Brian De Palma's 1974 Musical Horror Comedy, Phantom Of The Paradise." According to the episode description from Petros, "We chat the the plot, production and legacy of this film whilst seeing how it compares to Francis Ford Coppola's '74 output. We dive into the cultural impact of this film and the other Movie Brats' musicals."

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CST
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Friday, January 21, 2022

As promised the other day, Waxwork Records made its newly re-mastered edition of Pino Donaggio's score for Carrie available for pre-order today. It turns out there is also a CD version available. Both will be shipping on February 4th. Here is the Waxwork Records description of the vinyl version:
Waxwork Records is thrilled to present CARRIE Original Motion Picture Soundtrack by Pino Donaggio! Expanded and re-mastered for its 45th anniversary, this deluxe double LP album marks the very first time that the complete film music has been released on vinyl. Carrie is a 1976 Horror film adapted from author Stephen King's very first published novel of the same name. The movie stars Sissy Spacek and is directed by Brian De Palma (Scarface, Phantom Of The Paradise).

The score by legendary composer Pino Donaggio (The Howling, Tourist Trap) skillfully captures the pressure of forced innocence, the humor of teen drama, and the trauma of coming of age as a girl in 1970’s America. The album also features the tracks “Born To Have It All” and “I Never Thought Someone Like You Could Love Someone Like Me” by Katie Irving.

CARRIE Original Motion Picture Soundtrack features the expanded film music re-mastered and pressed to 180 gram "Prom Fire” colored vinyl, with new artwork by Phantom City Creative, and old-style tip-on gatefold jackets with matte satin coating.

CARRIE Original Motion Picture Soundtrack Features:

The Expanded and Re-Mastered Soundtrack
180 Gram "Prom Fire" Colored Vinyl
New Artwork by Phantom City Creative
Deluxe Packaging
Old Style Tip-On Gatefold Jackets with Matte Satin Coating

Posted by Geoff at 7:51 PM CST
Updated: Friday, January 21, 2022 7:55 PM CST
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Thursday, January 20, 2022

"Erin Vassilopoulos’s moody and stylish Sundance debut feature Superior is a spiritual sequel to her 2015 short film of the same name," states IndieWire's Ryan Lattanzio. "Both revolve around twin sisters trying to distinguish themselves from one another, and they’re played by Alessandra Mesa and Ani Mesa. This throwback thriller serves up ’80s vibes and Brian De Palma-esque thrills." According to Lattanzio, Superior was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize last year at Sundance 2021. "Factory 25 will release the film March 25 at BAM Cinemas in New York," Lattanzio informs, "followed by a nationwide expansion. A digital version of the film, as well as a limited edition Blu-ray, will be available later in the summer of this year."

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CST
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Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Waxwork Records posted the following announcement today, via Instagram:
Coming this Friday. CARRIE Original Motion Picture Soundtrack 2xLP by Pino Donaggio. This special 45th Anniversary album features the expanded soundtrack re-mastered and pressed to 180 gram “Prom Fire” colored vinyl, new art by @phantomcitycreative, and deluxe packaging! 🔥

Posted by Geoff at 11:46 PM CST
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Monday, January 17, 2022

Instagram user 9.a.r.t put together the above set of echoed images from Brian De Palma's Dressed To Kill and Edgar Wright's latest, Last Night In Soho. Scroll through 9.a.r.t's post there to see larger comparisons and a couple of bonus shots of the white coat for further comparison.

Edgar Wright contrasts past & present in Soho

Posted by Geoff at 6:01 PM CST
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Sunday, January 16, 2022

Posted by Geoff at 11:55 PM CST
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Saturday, January 15, 2022

"Gorgeous 60-second 'table-top' 360-degree shot crafted by cinematographer Stephen H. Burum for Brian De Palma," film editor Vashi Nedomansky tweeted Friday night along with a video clip of the shot. "Important story point is shared while showcasing the beautiful set design, staging and lighting." Nedomansky is a former pro hockey player who has been editing film and television features for over a decade. As well as editing features such as David Zucker's An American Carol and TV movies such as Sharknado 2: The Second One, among others, he was an editing consultant on David Fincher's Gone Girl and Tim Miller's Deadpool.

Following up Friday's initial tweet about the 360-degree shot, Nedomansky posted five more video clips from the film, each with its own comment, beginning with a "SPLIT DIOPTER ALERT! 5 examples of Brian De Palma's well-embraced visual storytelling technique in Carlito's Way (1993)." He followed that with a clip of the film's shot near the beginning, which moves from the ceiling fluorescents down to Gail, medics, and police, turning upside down and then moving to show Carlito on the stretcher. "I don't even want to know how they did this shot," Nedomansky wrote. "Just want to appreciate its powerful effect..."

Going back to the scene that had the 360-degree shot above, Nedomansky then tweeted a clip foucusing on Carlito's reactions to the conversation around the table. Nedomansky imagined the brief working conversation between De Palma and Burum:

De Palma: Let give Pacino a nice push-in.
DP Stephen H. Burum: I got this.

From there, Nedomansky moved on to "The 125-second 'oner' at Grand Central Station," which, he added "was filmed by Steadicam operator Larry McConkey. De Palma shot 28 takes of the scene and used take 26 in the final film. It was shot without sound so De Palma could yell out instructions to cast and crew."

Nedomansky concluded the series of clips with a beauty: Carlito holding a trash can lid over his head in the rain as he spies Gail with her ballet class through windows across the way. "Carlito tries to reconnect with Gail after 5 years in jail," Nedomansky tweeted. "A beautiful moment as both characters finish the scene with mirrored body poses via a perfect match cut. Subtle and emotional as fuck."

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CST
Updated: Sunday, January 16, 2022 11:06 AM CST
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Thursday, January 13, 2022

On Instagram a few days ago, ​artist Ernesto Renda shared images of his new piece, "View of Downtown from South Street Seaport (after Dressed to Kill (1980))". The piece -- wax pastel on canvas, glue relief on board, 12 x 18 x 2 inches -- focuses on a cut from Brian De Palma's Dressed To Kill, from Kate screaming orgasmically in the back of a taxi, to the "view of downtown" mentioned in the title. In De Palma's film, shot by Ralph Bode, the camera tilts down from the skyward glimpse of the World Trade Center towers (where, incidentally, Liz and Peter will meet up for lunch near the end of the film), and then pans right to show the taxi arriving at the man's apartment building. In his Instagram post, Renda also shared the two stills he focused on from Dressed To Kill:

In a scetion on his website, Renda describes his interest in "inserts and cutaways" --

Inserts and cutaways are shots used to avert the viewer's gaze from some intense or visceral sight onto something else. They are a sort of dissociation from the visible. I'm interested in the way that film images, as dialectical medium, form meanings together. In these types of sequences, the director imbues the second shot with the ecstasy, pain, intensity of the first shot.

What interests me as well is when these shots are used to convey the ambivalence of the non-human world or the surroundings of the characters. An example would be a scene "behind closed doors" cutting to the literal closed-door to express the intimacy, privacy, and secrecy of the action.

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CST
Updated: Friday, January 14, 2022 12:29 AM CST
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Tuesday, January 11, 2022

At Hyperallergic, Nadine Smith reviews Pedro Almodóvar's Parallel Mothers:
Time passes, and the two collide again after Ana loses her child to SIDS. Janis takes her on as a live-in nanny, but something has begun to feel off to her about her child. Secrets fester as Janis and Ana’s relationship thickens and intensifies, with the film evolving into a beguilingly uncanny thriller. After the more contemplative autofiction of Pain and Glory, Parallel Mothers is a return to Almodóvar’s familiar sandbox of applying a tender touch to pulp and genre tropes. With shades of Brian De Palma, he even employs a nanny cam to inventive ends.

The tension between Janis and Ana might be emotional and sexual at heart, but there’s a historical rift as well. Janis is the child of a Republican stronghold from the time of the Spanish Civil War, and is all too aware of the hidden mass graves throughout the countryside. In contrast, Ana is disconnected from the past, and the daughter of the fascist upper class. Almodóvar has become such an established brand and an icon of cinematic queerness that the sociopolitical context he emerged from is often forgotten. But it’s impossible to separate the thorny sexuality or vibrant color in his films from post-Franco Spain’s explosion of cultural and personal expression. No nation is ever free of its genealogical trauma. The cotton swab of a DNA test is a double-edged sword in Parallel Mothers — it both cuts away the veil from uncomfortable secrets, but is also a scientific tool that connects Janis to the bodies of long-lost family members. Almodóvar reminds us that the sins and struggles of our mothers are never washed away.

Posted by Geoff at 11:57 PM CST
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