Making the Movie

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Blu-ray Review: 2 Films by Agnès Varda starring Jane Birkin (Jane B. par Agnès V. & Kung-Fu Master!)

Agnès Varda has been overshadowed by other filmmakers of the French New Wave like François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard. This pair of films, rescued by the new label Cinelicious Pics, make a great argument for what a mistake that has been. Fans of beautifully-presented, groundbreaking movies — such as the US’s Criterion Collection or the UK’s Eureka! Masters of Cinema Series — will want to take a good look at this double-disc set.

Jane B. par Agnès V.Agnes-Varda-and-Jane-Birkin

The first film, Jane B. par Agnès V. (1987), was Varda’s followup to her acclaimed Vagabond (1985). It’s a strange hybrid of documentary, short film, philosophy and feminist cultural criticism. I found it far more successful (and watchable) than any of Godard’s formalist experiments in the last several decades — and yet it was never released in the United States. Perhaps it was because it was ahead of its time. It still feels, in many ways, ahead of its time.

The project began when Varda struck up a friendship with the actress, model, singer and 60’s and 70’s icon Jane Birkin. Continue reading

Your Weekend Viewing: A Video Essay on The Fountain

Movies with Mikey lets us know — on no uncertain terms — that The Fountain, the mind-bending Darren Aronofsky film from 2006, has been misunderstood:

I haven’t seen the movie in a while, but I remember a sort of poetic ambiguity that recalls 2001: A Space Odyssey. Stanley Kubrick understood that a certain amount of ambiguity in the interpretation of a film left room for the audience to write some of the story:

I didn’t have to try for ambiguity; it was inevitable. And I think in a film like 2001, where each viewer brings his own emotions and perceptions to bear on the subject matter, a certain degree of ambiguity is valuable, because it allows the audience to “fill in” the visual experience themselves. In any case, once you’re dealing on a nonverbal level, ambiguity is unavoidable. But it’s the ambiguity of all art, of a fine piece of music or a painting — you don’t need written instructions by the composer or painter accompanying such works to “explain” them. “Explaining” them contributes nothing but a superficial “cultural” value which has no value except for critics and teachers who have to earn a living. Reactions to art are always different because they are always deeply personal.

Not that a filmmaker shouldn’t always have a clear idea of what the movie means. But being open to the audience having other interpretations is one storytelling strategy. It certainly works for filmmakers like Andrei Tarkovsky or Terrence Malick.

In this past year, a movie like Ex Machina might be a good example. The story is seemingly simple, but the amount of interpretations it has generated is enormous. What other films do you feel have been misunderstood? What do you think about the use of ambiguity in cinematic storytelling?

Wednesday Links: Oscars 2016 Hangover

Most of these links come from the @makingthemovie Twitter stream. If you’d like to see them as they come, follow us on Twitter.

Marty Baron: Why the Globe’s Spotlight reporting matters & why the @SpotlightMovie matters… – You can also read my take on why Spotlight won the Academy Award for Best Picture.

Go Into The Story: Download 46 movie scripts from 2015 including all 10 Best Screenplay Oscar nominated movies – Short of writing screenplays, the best way to learn is by studying the current masters of the craft.

AskReddit: What movie scene gives you chills every time? – I think of “Ansi Nisi Masa” in 8 1/2 or the St. Crispin’s Day speech in Branagh’s Henry V. The current top vote getter on this Reddit thread is the docking scene from Interstellar – an outstanding combination of editing, music, performance, sound design and much else, say what you will about the rest of the film.

SlashFilm: Gods of Egypt Director Alex Proyas Hates Film Critics – Keep in mind, this is a filmmaker whose career was helped enormously by critic Roger Ebert championing his film Dark City.


Oppenheimer’s latest documentary, The Look of Silence, is currently on Netflix, by the way.

Making ‘2084’ – The $40 Greenscreen Sci-Fi Short Film

Making-2084-Before-AfterIt’s awesome that filmmaker Taz Goldstein made a funny and high-quality short film using a greenscreen in his living room. That would be enough. But he’s also put out a series of videos showing how it was done!

The short is called 2084 — yes, it’s set one century after Orwell’s 1984. Taz shot it in his “cramped living room, with a one-person crew, and a budget just south of $40.” I take that $40 to mean in additional outlays for 3D models beyond the resources he already had on hand. The software, camera, lights and greenscreen involved would be more. But still, it’s impressive.


To see how it was done, watch the short play side-by-side with the raw greenscreen footage:

Next, take a gander at this tutorial where Taz demonstrates how he was able to animate the short using an After Effects plug-in called Element 3D:

Taz has also helpfully posted links to all the software and 3D model websites mentioned in the video on the Vimeo page. Check it out. It’s better than a donut thing!

Making-2084-Taz-Behind-CameraUPDATE: I asked Taz about how much of a time investment it was to make. Believe it or not, this 3 minute short has been 20 years in the making:

The short is based on a 20 year-old sketch. Yes, really. Byrne Offutt wrote and performed the sketch at the Acme Comedy Theater in Hollywood back in 1995. I loved it, and wanted to turn it into a short film, but we didn’t have the resources back then. Flash forward 20 years. I was learning to use Element 3D, and realized it would be a great tool to create 2084… and I could learn how to use the software while making the short. Byrne and I revised the original script to make it more contemporary. The re-write was very quick since the sketch was already very well established. Byrne liked my contributions and insisted I take shared writing credit, but really, it was mostly Byrne.

We shot it in about 6 hours, in my living room. I’ve attached a couple other images of the shoot, if that helps. By the way… the three donuts in the movie doubled as craft service. :)

Post[production]… well, that’s another story. It SHOULD have taken me about a month to do all the animation, but it took considerably longer for 2 reasons: 1. I was in production most of the year (and hardly had any time off), and 2. I had no idea what I was doing in the software. All in all, post was spread out in tiny chunks over the course of a year. It that made me crazy. Next time, one month or bust.

Why did Spotlight win Best Picture? (Oscars 2016 recap)

Crop of the hands of Oscar winners from Spotlight hold their trophiesLast night’s Academy Awards were entirely self-flagellating on the subject of race, but they probably had to be. The #oscarssowhite protest was viewed as an existential threat to the Academy, or at least to its prestige, and I heard a rumor that ABC (who airs the Oscars) had called the Academy and said: you have to do something.

Which they did, with their proposal to change membership rules, and with the way the telecast was presented. Not that it helped the ratings, which were reportedly down 6% from last year’s already low number. ABC’s producers had a couple of camera mishaps, but they kept the show moving.

Host Chris Rock surprised no one by attacking the race issue at full throttle in his opening monologue, and the numerous presenters of color seemed aimed at balancing the palette — knowing the winners would be mostly pink of pigmentation. Sadly, there was a racial tone-deafness to a joke about Asian kids (one with a Jewish name) being the best accountants at Price Waterhouse Cooper. And a cameo by Stacey Dash sailed entirely over the heads of anyone outside the bubble of Black Twitter.

It was gratifying to see the Chilean short film winners and director Alejandro González Iñárritu holding hardware. I suppose we might have a conversation about how ‘whiteness’ applies sometimes but not other times to people whose backgrounds are Latin American. Then again, The Revenant‘s B-story featured indigenous Americans — the only real Americans, whatever politicians might say.

But it was not The Revenant‘s lot to ultimately triumph, despite Iñarritu winning Best Director and Leo “finally” getting his Best Actor win. It was Spotlight that took home the big trophy, even as Mad Max: Fury Road, save for a surprise win from Ex Machina in VFX, swept the technical categories.

Why did Spotlight win Best Picture?

Spotlight had been considered the front-runner for much of the Awards season, but some late wins by The Revenant and The Big Short in guild awards had made observers think it’s star was on the wane.

However, beyond the fact that it was a quality film that had always been in the conversation, I think there were a few factors that put it over the top. First, it is known that the Academy’s largest block of voters (by profession) is actors. Spotlight truly shines as an ensemble.

Second, the Best Picture vote uses a preferential ballot system, whereby being a second or third choice of many voters helps in a year like 2015, where competitors like The Revenant and Big Short were both loved and loathed. Spotlight was pretty much liked by all.

It is a well-made picture, through and through, and a paean to journalism as a profession. Like The Big Short, it presents an era of very recent history that is already long gone. Yet Spotlight‘s focus is on a chapter we can bathe in a warm glow of nostalgia: newspaper reporters comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable. It is a writerly drama (as evidenced by it’s only other award, Best Original Screenplay). And of course, it has been a rallying point for Catholic abuse survivors.

Resonantly, the best moment of the show was when Lady Gaga was joined on stage by a group of sexual assault survivors. Her song lost to a James Bond song, but it will go down in history as one of the most powerful musical performances ever broadcast.

There were no shortage of causes trumpeted on the Kodak stage, and #oscarssowhite eventually became one with a chorus that included climate change, LGBT rights, and Pakistan’s culture of honor killings. And that, really, is the Academy and the larger world of filmmaking shining at their best: celebrating the art, and also its power to change lives.

The Academy voters couldn’t have picked a better film than Spotlight to represent these ideals, often strived-for but rarely so firmly held.

Your Wednesday Links: The Director’s Burden Edition

Most of these links come from the @makingthemovie Twitter stream. If you’d like to see them as they come, follow us on Twitter.

Slashfilm: Movies Sold At Sundance 2016

An educational video about the cliché of ladies slapping men in movies

This lesson from The Book of Life can be profitably employed in the movie industry

BELLADONNA OF SADNESS Official Red Band Trailer – Weird, kinda amazing and definitely NSFW promo for a trippy 1970’s Japanese animated film, newly restored.

Filmmaker Magazine: Cracking Eggs: Looking for Financial Stability Outside of Independent Film

Engadget: 4K Blu-ray has already lost to streaming

BuzzFeed: 5 Batshit Things In The Movie “Joy” That Weren’t In The Original Screenplay

“The myth that the director is the sole creator of his film is a burden on almost everyone in the movie business, including the director, who frequently becomes weighted down by excess responsibility, in capable of generating a team spirit, afraid to delegate authority, or unable to graciously accept the contributions of the expert collaborators he has summoned to his side.” – Ralph Rosendblum (and Robert Karen), When the Shooting Stops… The Cutting Begins: A Film Editor’s Story

Your Weekend Viewing: In Frame: Zun Lee

From the Vimeo page:

Zun Lee is a physician, self-taught photographer and visual storyteller based in Toronto. He originally picked up a camera to relieve work-related stress and quickly developed an exacting eye for documentary photography and street portraiture. His intimate projects “Father Figure” and “Fade Resistance” challenge media stereotypes of African-American families and have garnered the attention of The New York Times, The New Yorker, and Magnum Foundation, among others.

Director Sam Wood on authenticity in actors

I found this little gem in an unlikely place, Dale Carnegie’s 1948 self-help book How to Stop Worrying and Start Living. The frequent name-dropper Carnegie relates a little piece of wisdom he heard from the director Sam Wood. Wood is largely forgotten today, but he made some terrific films, including one that many consider the best baseball film of all time, Pride of the Yankees. This advice on acting comes within a larger discussion about self-knowledge:

Sam Wood […] said the greatest headache he has with aspiring young actors is exactly this problem: to make them be themselves. They all want to be second-rate Lana Turners or third-rate Clark Gables. “The public has already had that flavor,” Sam Wood keeps telling them; “now it wants something else.”

Before he started directing pictures such as Goodbye, Mr. Chips and For Whom the Bell Tolls, Sam Wood spent years in the real-estate business, developing sales personalities. He declares that the same principles apply in the business world as in the world of moving pictures. You won’t get anywhere playing the ape. You can’t be a parrot. “Experience has taught me,” says Sam Wood, “that it is safest to drop, as quickly as possible, people who pretend to be what they aren’t.”

I wonder if Sam Wood would have spotted the talent of a young Meryl Streep, a gifted mimic who seems to disappear into a role. On the other hand, he might have noticed a George Clooney or a Tom Hanks, actors whose screen personas are extension of their natural likability.

Whether the actor you’re presented with is a Streep or a Clooney, the point is well-taken that the actors should be self-aware enough to know which kind of actor they are.

Your Wednesday Links: Get In Formation Edition

Most of these links come from the @makingthemovie Twitter stream. If you’d like to see them as they come, follow us on Twitter.

FiveThirtyEight: ‘“Leo Got A New Fur Coat But, Gosh, Was It Worth The Consequences?” – released domestically as “The Revenant”’ – See also their 2016 Oscars Race interactive infographic

The Atlantic: Will ‘Batman v Superman’ Manage to Revive the Most Difficult Comic-Book Superhero of All?

rkenji on Imgur: Brazilian movie titles translated back – Also ‘clickworthy’ on Imgur: Who Rotten Tomatoes says should have won Best Picture

Newcity Film: Hey Hey In The Hayloft: The Preston Sturges Whirl Of “Hail, Caesar!” – I enjoyed the new Coen Bros film as a combination of A Simple Man and Burn After Reading. Nearly every scene is a gem, but it’s a bit esoteric for the average film-goer, so I’m not surprised the box office has been a disappointment.

Additionally, this past week I watched Chi-raq on Amazon Instant (free with Prime). The film is supremely cinematic, but it also benefits from VOD due to the density of the language and imagery. Like Hail, Caesar!, it is well-built for repeat viewing.

Vimeo Discontinues Tip Jar

Your Weekend Viewing: A Brief History of Cursing in Cinema

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