The Lives of Others – College Critique

Name:  Frank Gould
Class:  Advanced Film Program – Art of Cinematography
Date:  29 April 2011
Assignment:  Review The Lives of Others Movie
Title:  Apples, Oranges, Oscars, and Golden Globes

From the first frames of this movie, the audience is presented with a harsh reality of Soviet East Germany as the smooth camera dollies down a long and empty hallway where the painted walls have a line approximately as high as a human’s neck.  As an officer escorts his prisoner down this hall, it appears as if they are both trying to keep their heads above this artificial paint line, metaphorically above water.

The Lives of Others - Opening

This same theme is repeated in most of the Stasi headquarter scenes showing a highly institutionalized 1960s appearance.  The camera dollies left to right to show a classroom of students being lectured about how to interrogate a suspect into confession; the colors are grays, browns, and greens.

The Lives of Others - Classroom

This is in stark contrast with the artist’s flat that appears warm and inviting.

Later in the story, the lead character sets up his surveillance room above the artist’s apartment and the camera move around him slow and methodically in the scene where he hears a song played on a piano by the resident below.  This scene shows us how moved he is by moving a long way but keeping him center frame with all the high tech surveillance equipment surrounding him in a set that looks like a cave.

The Lives of Others - Electronic Cave

At this same point in the movie, there are many scene where he is standing or looking at things in the artist’s apartment showing a wide shot and all the set decorations that tell the audience about the artists he is watching and recording.  I believe these shots also tell the audience that he is changing and becoming more appreciative of the artists and their lifestyle.

I chose this movie for this class review because it generated a heated discussion between a few students after watching it.  Carlos Escobar and Bobby Arnold were not impressed with this movie where Alex Bright thought it was a great movie.  Alex contended that Carlos didn’t like the movie because he couldn’t relate to it and that those of us alive during the cold war could.  Carlos replied that he wasn’t born when the holocaust occurred but he liked Schindler’s List.  The reason we watched this movie was to learn why this movie won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film over Pan’s Labyrinth.  Bobby said he was not impressed with either movie.  It was at this point our instructor reminded the students that art is like comparing apples and oranges.  Some prefer one over the other. In this case, we watched a fantasy film to compare with a fictional documentary-type movie.

I was impressed with and liked both movies.  Both are basically the same arc through the story where the antagonists try to oppress and control the artistic.  The difference is that the antagonist in Pan’s Labyrinth is obsessed with his future offspring and legacy where in The Lives of Others, the antagonist is obsessed with the female life-partner of a successful East German playwright.  Another significant difference is in the production. Pan’s Labyrinth is a very complicated fantasy world with mythical creatures and worlds beyond reality.  The Lives of Others is a very realistic portrayal of communist controlled East Germany and how its citizens try to enjoy life in an oppressed culture.  The story cleverly unfolds the change in that culture back to freedom when the Berlin wall is torn down. This is the irony because we learn in the beginning that the antagonist believes “people do no change!”

The protagonist in The Lives of Others is a Stasi officer named Hauptmann Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Mühe) who is assigned the task of monitoring playwright Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch) and his lover Christa-Maria Sieland (Martina Gedeck), a successful East German actress.  Wiesler’s commanding officer assigns this task to him in the attempt to break the two lovers apart for the commanding officer, higher in command. In the “rule of three” trilogy, Wiesler turns out to be the third apex between the lovers and the Stasi commanders.  As he listens to the lives of the lovers, Wiesler indeed changes as the plot develops. We learn that Wiesler lives alone in a sterile apartment and exists only to serve the State by spying, interrogating, and torturing citizens into submission and obtain confessions for the State.

The Lives of Others - Enjoying life

During a celebration party for Georg, he confronts the Stasi high commander about his director friend, Albert Jerska (Volkmar Kleinert) who has been blacklisted by the Stasi commanders and will never be able to work again.  Then later during Georg’s birthday party Jerska gives Georg a gift of piano sheet music for Die Sonate vom Guten Menschen (The Sonata of the Good People) which becomes another trilogy in the plot.  Georg attempts to convince the commander to remove Jerska from the blacklist but is too late because Jerska commits suicide and gives Georg a reason to protest the State oppression.  Because the office of statistics stopped recording and reporting suicides (instead, calling them “self-murderers”), Georg decides to write an article for a West German newspaper to expose this travesty.

Act Two is where we watch Wiesler manipulate the lives of the underground protestors and attempts to setup a sting operation.  However, the sonata that Georg plays on the piano changes Wiesler to where he realizes his life is void but the lover’s lives are full of close friends and art.  Wiesler is so moved by the piano piece he hears over his surveillance headphones that a tear runs down his face while Georg plays it on the piano. He then starts lying about the lovers in his reports to the commander and then has to balance the story between the commanders and the lovers.  Eventually, Wiesler loses his job because Christa commits suicide outside her apartment believing she will be incarcerated for treason.

Act Three is where the trilogy resolves as the East is freed, the high commander loses his job, and Georg learns that his apartment had been wired from the beginning.   He then writes a book with the title of the sonata and dedicates it to Wiesler, in appreciation for what he had tried to do to save the lovers. The sonata plays a significant role in the movie and as a trilogy from when Georg first receives it from his friend before committing suicide (#1 – swan song) and when playing it, Wiesler changes his allegiance (#2), and finally at the end when Georg dedicates it to Wiesler (#3).

The Lives of Others - Ending

As for the Oscar win over Pan’s Labyrinth, I believe that the story resonated more with the voters for The Lives of Others in that it is more realistic to human suffering and how art changes the world to be a better place.  Pan’s Labyrinth is definitely an entertaining and beautifully executed story but it lacks in its connection to specific life experiences.  As for Bobby’s opinion of the two, he didn’t like fantasy stories and expected more action in The Lives of Others.  He, obviously, prefers pears.  I also found it interesting that both movies were nominated by the Golden Globe committee for Best Foreign Film but lost to Letters from Iwo Jima, a film directed by Clint Eastwood – ironically not a foreigner.  Regardless, The Lives of Others won an Oscar and had 61 wins & 21 nominations, Pans’ Labyrinth won 3 Oscars and had 68 wins & 58 nominations, and Letters from Iwo Jima won an Oscar and had 16 wins & 15 nominations.

(Dis)connect(ed) Critique

Movie Title:  Disconnect

Spoiler Alert:  This page includes a synopsis that describes most of the plot. If you have not seen this movie, you might want to do so before reading this post. Otherwise, feel free to read it and watch it later for any feedback you might want to offer. I would like to advise on this movie about it being a depressing topic and pretty much a tragedy.

As I say in the spoiler alert above, this movie is depressing from the beginning until the end. It has great performances by all of the actors and especially the young kids. After watching the story, I felt it still had arcs that never ended and decided it was more of a pilot or prototype movie. Although not all arcs have to be concluded, it was strange that this movie killed off (a.k.a. comatose) a primary arc about half way through the movie.

Why this movie is so depressing is that it portrays people in our society tightly coupled with their devices and lack social interactions. It seemed like no one had any friends or family outside their online presence. Then as things became complicated, they became more isolated.

This movie starts by introducing three main character arcs:  Young bullied son, an identity-theft victim couple, and a news journalist. The spine arc is about an ex-cop who is in business as a private investigator who helps the identity-theft couple.

The bullied son Ben (Jonah Bobo) starts by seeing two kids, Jason (Colin Ford) and Frye (Adrian Bernstein), who are laughing about a disgusting prank in a mall. They recognize Ben from school and start texting him as a false-identity girl named Jessica Rhony who says she likes his music. We learn that Ben is an introvert and enjoys music and texting Jessica.

While the bully story plays out, the local broadcast news journalist and id-theft couple arcs are interspersed with the above arc. The news journalist Nina (Andrea Riseborough) finds an online camera porn site where she pays a handsome young stud Kyle (Max Thieriot) to talk to her. Obviously, he doesn’t know what she does in life but eventually she gets him to interview for a news story.

In the id-theft arc, the couple has lost a baby son and in her sadness, she goes online with others who are sad and lonely after a loss of a close one. This is where the arcs start to intersect with another when the couple hires the PI who turns out to be one of the bully’s father. The PI does a full online investigation and finds one person who might be the couple’s identity-theft suspect. In a meeting with her husband, he exposes her relationship with this suspect and the husband becomes more distant.

Why I felt depressed is that Ben is being bullied, it keeps getting worse because he believes he has his first girlfriend, the bullies keep digging Ben in deeper, the id theft couple has their furniture repossessed, and the news journalist gets broadcast on CNN and that sparks an FBI investigation into how she got the story. This arc gets thick as Nina becomes closer to Kyle and their two worlds are galaxy’s different.

I’ve drawn a picture below to show how the two fathers, Rich Boyd (Jason Bateman) and Mike Dixon (Frank Grillo), interact with the other arcs.

DisconnectVenn

Mike Dixon is the PI for the id-theft couple and Rich Boyd is the attorney for the local news station who legally advises Nina regarding the FBI.

The only reason I finished this movie was to see how these characters complete their journeys. That was why I decided to call this a tragic love story. The tragedy is that after significant humiliation Ben commits suicide and never wakes up from a coma. The Hull family is the id-theft couple’s love story that resolves at the end by becoming a closer couple, where they had grown apart from the beginning. It is only through human compassion that she is able to stop her husband from killing an innocent man.

The problem I also had with the plot is that the PI felt so compassionate about his son that he erases evidence off of an iPad. I would imagine in real life the victim’s father, Rich, being a lawyer, would sue because of the evidence on his own son’s laptop but I’m not a lawyer. I believe there would be “tampering with evidence” and/or “obstructing justice” charges also against the bully’s father.

The other problem I had was that the father never asked the school if Jessica was enrolled in the school she’s purportedly attending. He figures out who Jason is by looking in the yearbook but doesn’t try to find Jessica, even though “she” is still texting Ben’s father. He also figures out her last name is fabricated from “horny” as “Rhony.”

I’m sure there are those who would enjoy this movie. I just wasn’t impressed with setting up Nina’s successful breakthrough as a journalist then knocking the legal legs out from under her. Then she dumps the homeless stud with whom she had offered to help his future but instead ends up exploiting him for her career. This arc I think should have been thought through more thoroughly so she offered options to get him out of the funk. But instead, she took a hit to the face and cried her way home to her cozy, lonely condo.

So, I think this describes why I think this is a prototype or pilot for a final version or episodic show. The characters are great and these actors do an excellent and believable performance. I just feel it needs a little more work on the arcs and maybe a few more positive accomplishments.

Big Fish – College Critique

Topic:  Lighting & Color
Film:  Big Fish (2003)
Director:  Tim Burton

Spoiler Alert:  This page includes a synopsis that describes most of the plot. If you have not seen this movie, you might want to do so before reading this post. Otherwise, feel free to read it and watch it later for any feedback you might want to offer.

I am a fan of Tim Burton and his style of movies. Big Fish is no exception to his amazing ability to bring a special and fantasy world alive on the big screen. In this film, he uses colors, exposure, and lighting to depict ambiguity separate from the main plot. Because the story is about exaggerating the truth, thus “big fish,” and the son’s acceptance of another reality in his father’s life, Burton uses many formalism techniques to create the special world contrasted with more realistic techniques to represent the current timeline, or reality. In the beginning, the character introductions are primarily as if coming out of the womb where it is mostly warm, dark, wet, and misty, as both father and son become adults.

Burton must have had a great time filming this with a wide variety of camera angles providing the make-it-look-real from the audience’s point of view. There is a giant man character, several midgets, and the short Danny Devito filling in a diversity of character sizes and proportions. This is the magic that Burton brings to the screen, as exemplified by moving the camera up the giant’s body extreme close-up from feet to head then moving 180 degrees to end in an over-the-shoulder shot of the crowd, as depicted in the frame below.

Big Fish 01

The picture above also illustrates a pattern found throughout most of the movie where lights or color spots appear in the upper third of the frame, as these balloons appear in red, blue, and yellow. From the beginning of the film, Burton uses candles, small lights, fireflies, and medium sized lights to add color and depth to the frame. This is a great technique to emphasize a three-dimensional view for the audience and to bring them closer into the story.

Big Fish 02

Burton constantly focuses in tight on images to create a visualization of the voice over and animates them, like shoes growing, whimsical mechanical contraptions, or a swamp witch. In most scenes, the skies are overcast, raining, or night until the main character, Edward Bloom, reaches the town of Spectre where the whole town comes out on the street in broad daylight to greet their new visitor. It is there where time stops in the background while the dialog takes place using medium shots of characters individually framed in short clips – the townspeople stand motionless behind the speakers, as in the photo below.

Big Fish 03

This film appears to be closest to formalism style by exhibiting almost cartoon images then ranging into wide and high angle establishing shots, with lighting symmetry, to further draw the audience into the scene, as in the photo below.

Big Fish 04

In this shot, the townspeople dance bare-foot on the main street framed with lights that diminish into the background giving it the feel of the classicism style of film. In the Edward dying scenes, Burton creates a realistic style that shows warm and tender exchanges between the characters. This can be seen in the photo below of a warm bathroom scene shot at eye-level using monochromatic background contrasting with the blue robe, giving it color dominance.

Big Fish 05

One of the things that Burton creates so well is haunted forests. There are several forest scenes in low lighting that depict the fearful side of life but the lead character always strides through it, declaring his ambition. He gets stung by bees, bitten by jumping spiders, and even sucked by leeches. All of these creatures attack him in low-key lighting, including lots of black, gray, and small light spots dotting the background. As described in Understanding Movies, the author says, “In general, artists have used darkness to suggest fear, evil, the unknown. Light usually suggests security, virtue, truth, joy.”  Burton uses both of these techniques throughout the movie where Edward travels in an out of the forests and into the virtue, truth, and joy of Spectre, as depicted in the shot below.

Big Fish 06

As the film nears the end, all of the characters grow closer together between the special world and into the ordinary world, or the reality of the story. It is here where the audience finds the big fish story coming to reality with Jennifer from Spectre standing in the bright light while Edward’s son, Will, is learning about the truth of his father’s stories, and sits in the dark.

Big Fish 07

The shot above shows Jennifer appearing as if she is descending into the frame from the light above and looking down to Will. This appears to be an attempt to get the audience to understand psychologically that Will represents a journalist’s desire for a “fact-based” history versus the big fish stories his father tells. In this scene, the audience learns that one of Will’s assumptions was wrong about his father’s absence during his younger days. In other words, Will was guilty of a fictitious story about his father and grows to accept that not all of his father’s stories were fictitious.

Big Fish 08

In the final scenes, father and son are in the hospital after Edward has a stroke and appears pale and washed out. The hospital curtains and walls are blue, reminiscent of water, the lights are dim and shoot downwards – like moonlight from above into water, and the two characters look like big fish in a small pond. It is at this point that Will grows out of his “black-and-white” journalistic approach to life and tells a fictional story. After his father asks him, Will tells his father the story about how his father’s life will end and at this point the film transitions into a fictional story of the future.

Big Fish 09

During this prescient story, the light in the room brightens and Edward’s face becomes full of color – appearing recovered from death, as exemplified in the picture above. It is here where Edward is full of joy as all of the characters come together in wide angle, long shot views, where truth meets fiction, from Will’s perspective. While Will tells the ending story, the scenes cut back and forth between the fictional story and reality.  Burton contrasts close up shots of the characters in the dark and monochromatic hospital room representing reality against the bright and slightly over-exposed wide shots taking place outside in full sun representing the fictional story. It is here where the big fish story ends.

Big Fish 10As with other scenes in the film, Burton uses wide-angle lenses and extreme long shots to show the large amount of people who were part of Edward’s life. In the funeral scene, the camera is pointing down above the road while a car moves full screen up and drives to the center of the frame. The audience can see on the horizon a large number of cars and people walking around the church. This is the final scene where the two worlds combine into one farewell gathering.

☆ The End ☆

Snatch – College Critique

Topic:  Camera Movement
Film:  Snatch (2000)
Director:  Guy Ritchie

Spoiler Alert:  This page includes a synopsis that describes most of the plot. If you have not seen this movie, you might want to do so before reading this post. Otherwise, feel free to read it and watch it later for any feedback you might want to offer.

The movie Snatch is quite a rollercoaster ride with camera movement. It feels like a movie made for MTV audiences with all the artistic freedom employing almost all possible camera movements and musical interludes – there’s even a swish pan transition, as illustrated in the picture below. Even after the camera stops moving, the camera zooms in and/or tilts into a character making the audiences feel they are actually there. Some of the camera movements are very subtle while others are intense. Guy Ritchie pulls the audience with zoom and character movement into a situation, like fights or in the introduction where the diamonds heist is presented in a chaotic manner. This gives the movie a humorous edge while gangsters negotiate around gambling, fumbling, and chasing the big diamond MacGuffin.

Snatch01

The camera definitely displays the heinous nature of the characters. For instance, when the lead character Turkish meets with the head gangster Brick Top, the camera pans and tilts down into a concrete pit containing a dead dog following a fight with another live dog still in the pit. Without dialogue, this camera move tells the audience how evil the mob boss is and foreshadows the story. The camera then pans back to the lead character, as if we’re in the room with him. At other times, the camera pans a room to reveal a crowd of gamblers attending a boxing match in a large room.

Snatch02

An interesting motif that Ritchie continued to employed is the security monitors that appear in several scenes and show a mirror reflection of the character in an over-the-shoulder shot, as illustrated in the picture above. A similar security monitor motif appears at the beginning of the film. As demonstrated in the pictures below, the camera pans across several security monitors and tilts up while displaying the characters passing through the security entrance, riding up the elevator, walking down the halls and into an office where they steal diamonds.

Snatch04 Snatch03

During the diamonds heist, the camera becomes very active by zooming and twisting in on the characters. As illustrated in the picture below left, the fast action camera twists to show a robber as if we’re looking up at him following their commands to “get down.”  There are also many Mechanical Distortions of Movements in the heist scene where the edits show fast motion frames mixed with regular motion frames repeated in frenzied zoom close-up shots of the robbers and victims. Along with the music, the audience is drawn into the action and the chaos of a robbery that yields the big diamond without fatalities. Also employed in this scene is the use of freeze frame. I believe this technique was used to make it appear like a newspaper article with pictures that gives the audience enough time to focus on the props and characters, as exemplified in the freeze frame from the movie below right with a gun that appears periodically throughout the movie.

Snatch04 Snatch03

Later in the movie after the first character dies, the camera points down on the dead man and a crane lifts the camera up while turning slowly counter clockwise to reveal the crowd that witnessed the death. During this scene, the characters walk as in a trance around the dead body that eventually disappears in the dark shadows between the characters. It is as if Ritchie is trying to visualize that this story respects the dead, but it’s just a story, silly. Bodies start flying from that point on.

One interesting shot that I found to be difficult to setup was when two characters are walking together down a stairway and are tracked by the camera as they talk. The picture below is a still shot of them walking down the stairs. I believe the crew had to install a track to move the camera on a dolly down the stairs with the actors.

Snatch07

Once the story gets down to the characters interacting in sets of twos and threes, the camera tends to remain stasis with close-up and medium shots of the characters. Most of the time the characters are framed with out-of-focus backgrounds. I believe this is Ritchie’s way of getting close to allow the actors to talk directly to the audience and express emotions on their faces. In some of these shots, the camera actually tilts down as the character sits and zooms in even tighter, pulling the audience closer to the characters.

In general, I believe Ritchie used the camera to grab the audience’s attention and bring them into and tell the story. From the beginning of the film where the pans and tilts follow the characters in the security monitors and into the initial turning point, the camera helped tell the story. He also utilized Mechanical Distortions of Movements like slow motion following fight scenes to show the victor and his success. Although a gruesome story, Ritchie used the camera to great extremes to present a humorous story about gangsters, gypsies, and revenge.

Frida – College Critique

Topic:  Kinetics & Acting
FilmFrida (2002)
Actor:  Salma Hayek

Spoiler Alert:  This page includes a synopsis that describes most of the plot. If you have not seen this movie, you might want to do so before reading this post. Otherwise, feel free to read it and watch it later for any feedback you might want to offer.

This movie was a turning point for my appreciation of Salma Hayek’s acting skills. I had seen Robert Rodriguez’s Mariachi trilogy and found her comical, dramatic, and seductive. Then a friend recommended Frida and afterwards I purchased a copy to watch again.

Her expressions in this film range from a childlike student to painful patient to seductive romantic. Salma starts in the movie as a child running through the school to gather a group of students then ends up in a sexual encounter with her boyfriend. She giggles, pulls her shoulders together, and exhibits a child’s happy emotions. Later in the character’s life, she has tears streaming down her face in a stasis position where she is bound in a metal medical brace (similar to the picture below), crying, realistically, in severe pain. Then after recovering, she seduces women and exhibits lyrical body motions as she fluidly caresses her sexual partner. From the beginning of the film as a child she goes through several painful encounters and slowly loses her enthusiasm until she becomes an invalid in the end.

FridaOver the past decade and a half, Salma has grown into popular celebrity status in the American Star System by receiving several awards including a nomination from the Academy Awards for best actress in a leading role as Frida Kahlo. In this role, she won a best actress awards from Golden Camera and Imagen Foundation. Back in 1994, she starred in the movie El Callejón de los Milagros with the tagline:  “The Most Awarded Film In Mexican History,” with 49 international awards. As a celebrity, she was chosen in 1996 and 2003 as People magazine’s “one of the most beautiful people in the world,” in 2001 for the Glamour magazine Woman of the Year Award, in 2003 for the Producers Guild of America Celebration of Diversity Award, in 2005 for the Time Magazine 25 Most Influential Hispanics Award, and in 2006 for Harvard Foundation Artist of the Year Award.

In 2007, Forbes.com magazine published an article entitled “Salma Hayek tops sexiest celebs list” that reported a polling firm’s results saying, “Topping the list is shapely Latina Salma Hayek. According to the polling firm, which provides appeal rankings for more than 3,000 celebrities, 65 percent of the U.S. population would use the term ‘sexy’ to describe the 40-year-old star.”

Because Salma has a Spanish accent, which her characters consistently have, expresses strong emotional feelings, both positive and negative, and is a seductive female actress, she is considered a personality star. Her performances are filled with brilliant comedic, romantic, and realistic effects that she tailors to each role. From Antonio Bandera’s partner in the Rodriguez trilogy to the formally abstract Latina soap opera character on Ugly Betty, she portrays a visual style that captivates an audience. In Frida, Salma also shows her diversity by dancing a tango with perfection and sings in a drinking scene. As her mother lays on her deathbed, Salma glides into the room and smoothly lands next to her mother as if becoming joined together and expressing emotional bonds.

As part of her personal projects, she has testified to support reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act before the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary. She has donated thousands of dollars to a shelter for battered women and anti-domestic violence groups.

My partner couldn’t watch Frida the first time he tried because of all of the emotional abuse and physical suffering but after listening to it, in the background, he became interested and watched it all. I had to question why I hadn’t felt the same during the several times I had watched it. I can only say that Salma’s performance is so expressionistic that the good times exceeded all the pain and suffering. I know it hurts but revolutions – a subplot of this movie – are painful.

China Town – College Critique

Topic:  Art Direction
Film:  Chinatown (1974)
Director:  Roman Polanski
Art Direction:  Stewart Campbell
Set Direction:  Ruby Levitt

Spoiler Alert:  This page includes a synopsis that describes most of the plot. If you have not seen this movie, you might want to do so before reading this post. Otherwise, feel free to read it and watch it later for any feedback you might want to offer.

“Water and Power” would have been an appropriate subtitle for this dustbowl era film set in the late 1930s. As a who-done-it suspense movie, clues emerge slowly as the plot unfolds to reveal a powerful Los Angeles man named Noah Cross who gets away with criminal acts of murder, fraud, and incest. His daughter, Evelyn Mulwray, is a protagonist who is trying to keep her daughter/sister, Catherine, away from him and his evil life. The Private Investigator hero, Jake Gettis, has the job of finding the killer and bringing him to justice.

All of the costumes, sets, location shots, and props work well together to create a sense of reality. Chinatown continuously shows water and dry riverbeds in the Los Angeles area during a drought-stricken period. The plot eventually reveals the villain indirectly buying large tracts of land to convert them into a large saltwater treatment and retention pond to sell the converted freshwater back to the citizens. This same character started and sold the Water and Power Company to amass his wealth.

The movie was nominated for eleven Oscar categories including Best Picture and Art Direction. It won for Best Original Screenplay by Robert Towne. The overall tone of the picture is portrayed in monochromatic earth tone browns and grays with heavily subdued blue and other bright colors. The following set and costume analysis attempts to describe how they embody the essence of the story materials.

Exterior or Interior:  The film includes scenes both exterior and interior. The primary focus is on the sprawling Mulwray mansion that is a California-style home extending from the inside to the outside with a saltwater pond. To me, the mood felt like a web womb where the mother is attempting to take her daughter away from her dry father.

Style:  The sets appear to be very realistic for the Great Depression era when the story takes place. Several scenes appear to be set in the style of Erté with long curves and sharp angles, most exemplified by the Evelyn character.

Studio or location:  It doesn’t appear to have any studio shots but instead set inside California homes and exterior locations. Most exterior shots show how much water is at stake contrasted with the lack of water in dry riverbeds. To show the fraud during a drought, overflow water is dumped into the sea.

Period:  The period is during the Great Depression and contrasts the rich from the poor with the rich as water and the poor as dry. The props and costumes appear to match the period exquisitely. As Vanity 100 describes the sets in an article dated 9 June 1974, “There’s absolutely no offensive showoff of the nostalgia; the clothes, cars, houses, etc. are simply part of the scenes.”

Class:  This film displays a large amount of wealth with very little attention to the poor. It turns out that the poor attempt to help Evelyn with her flight; however, the rich and powerful win over the fight for justice with their corruption.

Size:  As mentioned above, the sets are large and sprawling, indicative of rich people. Water is depicted in large outdoor vistas of sea and restraining waterways contrasted with dry riverbeds.

Decoration:  There are not a lot of decorations but appear to be more functional by design. Hollis Mulwray appears to have the most lavishly decorated office with plaques on the walls indicating his accomplishments and how they are removed after his death.

Symbolic function:  Again, large and sprawling exterior and interior shots show the contrast of the rich versus the poor. The rich have captured the water resources and the poor are reflected in the dry riverbeds.

Costume Analysis

Period:  The movie takes place during the Great Depression and appears to be a realistic depiction of the period.

Class:  Definitely a high-class emphasis in the costume designs. Evelyn is clearly a high-class figure in her designer fashion outfits. As the movie progresses, her clothes become less sophisticated and more functionally relaxed.

Sex:  Evelyn appears in soft and fluffy undergarments with a tight fitting overcoat. Her figure shows her bodyline as a restrained sex object.

Age:  All of the characters appear to be wearing the correct costumes for their age with the exception of Catherine who appears to be wearing clothes of a younger girl.

Silhouette:  Gittes’s clothes are loose with the most emphasis on his baggy pants. Some of his jackets have cuts on the back, down the spine, possibly indicating his strong backbone in the story with some restrictions around his waist by a horizontal fabric belt.

Fabric:  The fabric appears to be all cotton and silk. Evelyn has the most diverse costumes ranging from the fluffy undergarments to a flowing silk gown she wears after a nude scene with Gittes.

Accessories:  Evelyn starts with a framed broche on her chest surrounded by her tight fitting jacket and advances to a fur wrap over her jacket with a netted veil floating over her head that creates interesting shadows on her face as she moves. Gittes wears a fedora throughout most of the film and, during a quarter of the film, has a large bandage across his nose covering a knife wound. Noah depends on a cane to show his age and fragility. Evelyn ends up wearing a simple black dress possibly foreshadowing her death.

Color:  The costumes are very subdued in colors that are mostly browns, blacks, and grays.

Body exposure:  There is little body exposure with only one nude scene of Evelyn and Gittes.

Function:  For the most part, this film shows work clothes on all of the characters until the end when Evelyn’s outfits loosen up and become more leisurely.

Body Attitude:  All characters stand tall and upright with the exception of Noah who hunches over his cane.

Image:  The overall impression of the costumes creates an elegant working environment of middle- and upper-class characters. Only the poorer characters wear single layered and cheaper clothing.

The Hours – College Critique

Topic:  Narrative
Film:  The Hours (2002)
Director:  Stephen Daldry
Writers:  Michael Cunningham (novel) and David Hare (screenplay)

Spoiler Alert:  This page includes a synopsis that describes most of the plot. If you have not seen this movie, you might want to do so before reading this post. Otherwise, feel free to read it and watch it later for any feedback you might want to offer.

This movie starts with a suicide scene of Virginia Woolf, a famous author of the early 20th century, as she writes a note to her husband. The Virginia Woolf voice over reads the suicide note while Philip Glass, piano and stringed orchestra, classical-style music plays in the background. With his slower repetitive style and haunting minor keys, the music reflects the internal sadness of the author until she dies.

The movie then shifts both forward and backward in time to reveal three parallel stories, all separated by decades:  Before Virginia’s suicide and during her initial battle with mental illness while writing a novel, a housewife Laura Brown (Julianne Moore) in 1951, and a lesbian Clarissa Vaughn (Meryl Streep) of contemporary, early 21st century. The common thread in the three stories is the novel Mrs Dalloway being written by Woolf, read by Laura, and enacted by Clarissa, also the lead character’s name in the novel.

The Narratology of the movie contains several elements of both mimesis and diegesis in that it shows several scenes of the character’s actions and then tells through narrative how the characters are related and interact. For instance, Virginia and Leonard are married and he very much cares for her and her mental health over many years while starting their printing press business.

Later we learn through dialogue that he wanted to provide her with a press for her books. To carry the story forward, Virginia Woolf continues with voice over telling the audience things like the story is “one day in the life of a woman.”  In addition, there are mimesis techniques used like sepia coloration and sound that show states of internal conflict. An example of this is when Virginia is in the kitchen and the church bell and other ambient sound get chopped shortly after she has words with her employee.

Another diegesis is used across the three stories that starts with Clarissa in the flower shop talking about her friend Richard’s (Ed Harris) book with the vendor. Clarissa admits he changed the character names of the actual people he writes about in his novel. This style of writing is called roman à clef and means a novel in which real people are written about using alternative names.

A subsequent book that Virginia publishes after Mrs Dalloway in 1928 is called Orlando:  A Biography. This book has been categorized as a roman à clef novel. At the end of The Hours, Leonard asks Virginia who dies in her novel. Virginia replies, “The poet will die…The visionary,” just like she kills herself, a visionary, in the beginning of The Hours.

The narrative appears to resemble more closely the realist characteristics but also has some formalist characteristics. As the Giannetti textbook says, “Realists prefer loose, discursive plots, with no clearly defined beginning, middle, or end. We dip into the story at an arbitrary point. Usually we aren’t presented with a clear-cut conflict, as in classical narratives.”  The Hours clearly has no defined beginning, middle, or end; it starts with one ending, or death, then splits into three stories.

Although the story “dips” in at the start of one day in the lives of the three parallel stories, that day becomes arbitrary because so many inciting incident events happen. Then at the end, all stories merge together and reconcile each other. The narrative does report objectively, rejects stale convictions, has a fondness for “shocking” subject matter, and rejects a “glib happy ending.”  Three of the other traits of realistic narratives do not fit this movie.

As for formalistic characteristics and one that is contrary to the realistic narrative’s traits, the Philip Glass score often interrupts with “lyrical interludes, exercises in pure style,” as defined by Giannetti, with the plot “structured according to the filmmaker’s theme.”  This is how the filmmaker adapts this movie into three stories that have characteristics similar to thematic montage:  a biography of the author, a new story intertwined with the old Mrs Dalloway story, and an enactment of the author’s Mrs Dalloway story set in the future and adapted for that time period. The plot is structured in threes and repeats scenes in all three stories with the different characters, such as women kissing women, alarm clocks ring, flowers, and the women looking at themselves in a bathroom mirror.

The film narrative doesn’t appear to fit within the parameters of the classical paradigm clearly. It’s not until the end that the audience learns key points about the lives of the characters. There is not a clearly defined antagonist and protagonist dealing with a conflict. The conflicts in this movie are fought inside the characters, with the exception in the contemporary story where characters speak most about their internal conflicts. There are classical paradigm similarities in the areas of being “linear and take the form of a journey” during one day in their life and there is an Act I Setup, a long Act II Confrontation, and then a short Act III Resolution.

It is in the end that we learn the parts each played in the movie’s plot versus the plot of the book. The book appears to be the primary plot structure for the movie because the protagonist writer in the movie gives up her fight, along with the antagonist in the book. From that, the book’s protagonist learns to love life, or “the hours,” that she has left and that her life is not trivial, as the antagonist suggested.

In general, this adaptation is a fantastic voyage through three lives. The character arcs are similar in that they have internal conflicts that resolve, all slightly different than what the audience might expect. I would think that Robert McKee appreciates this story with all the conflicts, inciting incidents, crisis, climax, and resolution.

As a whole, I don’t think the whole movie story quite fit’s Joseph Campbell’s “hero’s journey” because the protagonist Virginia of the movie and writing the story gives up the fight to live. However, the Mrs Dalloway story does fit Campbell’s analysis. To confirm the hero “returns with the elixir,” Richard’s mother Laura tells Clarissa that she is “a lucky woman,” and Clarissa ends the story happy to be living after brushing up with the horrible side of death.

Blade Runner – College Critique

Film:  Blade Runner (1982)
Director:  Scott Ridley
Producer:  Michael Deeley
Screenwriters:  Hampton Fancher and David Webb Peoples
Cinematographer:  Jordan Cronenweth
Editor:  Terry Rawlings
Principal Actors:  Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, and Edward James Olmos

Spoiler Alert:  This page includes a synopsis that describes most of the plot. If you have not seen this movie, you might want to do so before reading this post. Otherwise, feel free to read it and watch it later for any feedback you might want to offer.

Synopsis

This movie takes place in the future and mostly at night.  It starts by introducing the audience to the city of Los Angeles in 2019 with its vast spans of lights, blasts of flames, and flying transportation vehicles.  After these establishing shots and an attempted murder scene, the camera floats down from above into street crowds and ends on the protagonist Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford).  The police enlist him to terminate four Replicants – genetically manufactured human androids – that have escaped and are trying to invade Tyrell Corporation.  To locate the Replicants, Deckard becomes a detective and sleuths his way to the first who he brutally shoots in the back as she runs through panes of glass to her death.  At this point, the voice over informs the audience that Deckard is starting to have feelings for the Replicants.  This is a turning point and somewhat of a controversy about Deckard himself being a Replicant.

This is supported by juxtaposing the scene immediately after the first termination of Zhora (Joanna Cassidy) where Deckard sees beautiful Rachael (Sean Young), a Replicant, across the street.  Shortly thereafter, she rescues him from another Replicant by killing his assailant.  By this time, Roy (Rutger Hauer) and Pris (Daryl Hannah) – the last two remaining run-away Replicants – have nested with a path to the genius at the Tyrell corporation that might help them extend their lives.  Dr. Eldon Tyrell (Joe Turkel) is the genius who created the Replicants; JF Sebastian (William Sanderson) is the path to the genius.  At the turning point where Roy confronts Tyrell for a fix to his short life, Tyrell tells Roy that “the light that burns twice as bright burns half as long;” Roy has done a lot in life but it cannot be lengthen.  Then Roy kills his creator.

Deckard catches up with the action by finding and killing Pris.  Roy returns to where Pris has been killed and finds Deckard where they battle each other through several rooms.  This final battle climaxes in a savior scene where Roy “sees the light” and saves Deckard’s life.  In the voice-over, the narration says, “I don’t know why he saved my life. Maybe in those last moments he loved life more than he ever had before. Not just his life, anybody’s life, my life” (Trussel).  Roy had learned that Deckard had a life to live although his own was gone.  Deckard returns to Rachael and they leave Los Angeles to live out in the wilderness.

One important point to note is that there are several versions of this film.  For this essay, I have chosen to use the US theatrical release (1982), as provided in the Four-Disc Collector’s Edition DVD package (2007).  This version includes the Deckard voice-over narration and “happy ending” scene and does not include the unicorn dream scene.  The happy ending scene occurs after Deckard returns from being saved by Roy.  The following sections attempt to describe how this is very effective as a quality movie, even though subsequent releases improved on this quality.

Mise-En-Scène/Lighting

In general, the interior shots are very monochromatic and the exterior shots typically have strong colorful lighting created from advertisements and neon signs.  In a majority of the exterior scenes, the sky is dark, rain falls constantly, and the streets are crowded with people.  In the interior scenes, there are large, medium, and small rooms; all rooms show strong lights shining through the internal air or flickering on the walls.  The large rooms belong to the police, Tyrell, and Sebastian; the medium to Deckard; and the small to Replicants.  External medium and close-up shots use high lighting with contrasting dark to create a three dimensional environment.  Because of the dominant dark colors and shadows, this alone could be sufficient to classify the movie as film noir; however, it also fits this genre as a detective story using a narrator with honky-tonk piano and haunting sax solos.  These are all similar to the film noir classics like the Maltese Falcon (1941).  As the Film Noir Studies website says, “the people who made these films set out to create on the motion picture screen a different kind of world, and to provide it with a darker, more cynical interpretation” (Blaser).  Ridley Scott accomplished this in a world of the future.

Ridley also enhanced this style by using extreme lighting techniques, such as silhouettes of characters in bright-lit backgrounds, unexplained flickering lights, and black-framed cameo shots.  For instance, in the first termination scene, the Replicant lies dead on the floor lit by bright lights and neon while people continue to walk across the screen in silhouette showing the scene as immaterial to the characters on the street.  In Tyrell’s office/home, there are light patterns flickering on the walls behind the characters but there’s no fireplace or other source for those lights.  And when the filmmaker wants to show Deckard alone and longing, we see his face surrounded by darkness, as illustrated below.

Blade Runner 1

Another technique Scott used is the wide-angle lens to show large spaces where the characters live.  In the picture below, the audience can see the curvature of the lens in the doorways with Sebastian and Pris entering his apartment in the Bradbury Building.  This shot shows the audience that he lives in a large dry part of the building after walking through the lobby dripping with water and littered with trash.

Blade Runner 2

Another important point that Sammon’s book points out is that Ridley Scott used “layering” to create the environments on the sets.  “Scott’s self-described techniques of building up a dense, kaleidoscopic accretion of detail within every frame and set of a film” (47).  Scott told the author, “a film is like a seven-hundred-layer layer cake” (47).  This clearly gives the image depth a realistic appearance and one that audiences believe is the future.  In the photo above, these layers are shown in the right side door opening where Sebastian has collected hundreds of toys and genetically modified creatures.

1982 Mistake:  The scene where Deckard dreams of the unicorn is not in this version.  Because of this, there is no meaning in the end where Gaff leaves a unicorn origami at Deckard’s front door.  The dream is to help prove that Deckard is a Replicant and that his dreams were implanted, something Gaff knew that Deckard didn’t.

Movement

Camera movements were diverse throughout the film and caused additional complexities to shooting the film because of the special effects.  For instance, in the scene where the police flying vehicle is returning to the precinct building, the camera rotates clockwise on the miniature model while the flying vehicle, a Spinner, also turns as it lands on the top of the precinct building.  This is created using miniature models and multiple motorized and synchronized camera exposures to create the final lifelike composition.  This perspective gives the audience a feel of how it would be like flying in a Spinner and closer to the story.

Blade Runner 3

In addition to these special effects shots, like the picture above, the camera movement is used to take the audience into several scenes as if they were there, in the story:

  • The camera tilts down from the Union Station police precinct building in a long shot, down through the roof of a room, and stops inside a police walled office, as if the audience is sitting next to Officer Bryant.
  • A dolly used to pan across the Bradbury Building pointing down from an upper floor as Deckard enters the lobby on the first floor.
  • Camera pans Deckard as he nears Sebastian’s apartment then dollies closer to his back.  When he hears a noise off camera, he turns quickly back looking just off the right side of the camera.  This appears to pull the audience closer into the scene with Deckard.
  • After Roy breaks Deckard’s littlest two fingers on his shooting arm, the camera shoots hand held and wobbles like an injured person illustrating his pain.  It then gets cloudy like his vision is getting worse.
  • Camera tracks Roy running up to jump between two buildings then cuts to below shot, over the shoulder of Deckard as Roy lands on the building above him, all in quick edits.

One nice touch of camera work is the use of slow motion when Zhora, the first Replicant, is killed.  It is a classical scene of adding aesthetic as Guinnetti says Sam Peckinpah used in his movie The Wild Bunch, “By aestheticizing these scenes of ugliness, Peckinpah demonstrates why the men are so addicted to a life of violence when it seems so profitless.”  In this case, Ridley uses the narrative to tell how Deckard has grown to question the genocidal killing, shooting a woman in the back, and his growing feelings for Rachael.

Editing

This movie uses elements from both Classical and Continuity editing.  From the opening scenes of the cityscape vista, the camera closes in tighter and tighter until it lands in the office of the police interrogation.  Thereby closing in from a broad perspective that ends up macro lens on the character’s eyeballs before a climax, this is a classical form of editing.  Continuity editing occurs during sections of the film where the characters travel on the ground:  Walking from the Spinner to the police office, Roy going to and returning from Tyrell’s office/home, and Deckard climbing the stairs to Sebastian’s apartment.

One of the interesting scenes in the movie is at a bar after a verbal confrontation with a mobster, who apparently owns the “joint,” Deckard is shown waiting during a thematic montage in the bar.  During this montage, a lyrical passage of music and an announcer off camera play as we see audience members, performers, Deckard reading a newspaper, then finally the Replicant that Deckard is seeking.  It is also in this scene where Deckard gives us an associational response to what he’s watching during the show.  He turns away from the stage and covers his eyes from the show.  Although this is a great acting device, it kept the camera from showing any of the performances but gave the audience the idea that it was not something they would want to see, and without showing it.

As for the editing style fitting the Soviet Montage (Formalist Theory) or Bazin’s Tradition of Realism, I believe it more closely fits the Soviet Montage because of the juxtaposition of the city from above into close-up shots of the characters and their activities.  Throughout the movie there are dialectical synthesis and conflicts between the characters, their environment, and their desires.  For instance, the creature seeks its creator to change the way it was created and live longer.  This same conflict is inside humans who wish to extend their lives.  When told it can’t be changed, Roy kills the creator.  As this scene unfolds, the edits start with a long shot then slowly tighten in on the final kill close-up.

1982 Mistake:  The scene where Roy enters the movie has a shot of Roy’s hand curled up in what appears to be pain.  The edit is too long and reveals in a flash behind the hand that there is a nail protruding out the backside of his hand.  This scene was obviously shot for later in the movie after Roy punches a nail through his hand to keep his hand functional.

Sound/Music

The sound and music are the final sensual stimulation of the whole movie.  In addition to the strong key and flickering lights, the sounds of machinery and other high-tech audio sounds continuously play in the background to remind the audience this is a future world.  Some of these high-tech audio sounds are common sounds used today, such as telephone audio signals, radio frequency squeals, and synthesized sounds.  One particularly eerie sound plays in the background of the shot below that sounds like a synthesized cat growl, giving the audience an insight into how dangerous Pris is.

Blade Runner 4

A Greek musician named Evangelos Odysseas Papathanassiou created the musical score, using his artist name Vangelis.  This score completes the masterpiece Ridley Scott sought to create.  As Sammon says in his book, the score is “a dizzying mélange of unabashed romanticism, ominous electronic rumblings, gutter-level blues, delicate celestial shadings, and heartbreaking melancholy” (273).  Sammon continues to describe Vangelis’s working methods as having “closely mirrored Ridley Scott’s own technique of ‘layering.’  The musician would first improvise the basic melody of each track, lay down that melody onto magnetic tape, and then refine it by piling other sounds and/or textures on top [of] the foundation track, working and reworking the resulting mass of music much like the way a sculptor kneads a lump of clay” (274).

1982 MistakeThe audio track is out of sync in the scene with Deckard and the snake salesman.  Lips move but no audio talk and there’s talking without lips moving.

Acting

In another quality of this masterpiece film, the casting was perfect.  Each actor fit the role as no other actor could fit.  From Rachael’s gorgeous face and expressions to Harrison Ford’s Deckard stunning acting, these professionals made the audience believe in them as if they were real.  In addition, Rutger Hauer delivered several classical lines that were brilliant, such as “if only you could see what I’ve seen with your eyes” and “all those moments will be lost in time like tears in rain.”

Harrison Ford performs his diverse characters in the bar scene where he twitches his nose and snarls at the bar mobster.  Then he proceeds to watch a show on stage and off camera but turns in disgust and hides his eyes from what he’d seen.  When he finally gets to see Zhora in her dressing room, he plays a dorky agent and stutters when talking about lewd or repulsive acts to the naked beauty.  Blade Runner was released following Harrison Ford’s star performances in Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark and firmly established in the American Star System.  However, these roles had given him public exposure but as Sammon writes, the “producer and director were in unanimous agreement that Ford had thus far been given ample public exposure as a personality, but little opportunity to showcase his true talents as an actor” (88).  I believe he proved his lead talents and persona in this film.

Art Direction:  Sets & Costumes

Set Analysis

The art direction in this movie was spectacular and very realistic.  Buildings were modeled based on historic architecture, such as Mayan pyramids for the Tyrell office/home (Shay 12) and the Chrysler building in New York for the Police Precinct Station (Shay 43).  They also used existing buildings for internal shots, like the Bradbury Building in Los Angeles for Sebastian’s apartment (Sammon 138) and the Union Station for the Police Precinct Station (Sammon 118).

What is most engaging in this movie is the environment and cityscape that the production team created.  Using forced-perspective models, the art department was able to create miniature buildings and fly vehicles within them to convince the audience that the scene was real.  Andrew Laszlo defines forced perspective photography as “the relative size of something as it is compared to the known size of something else” (207).  By creating realistic buildings in the set, the perspective of the other buildings and their details, like stairs or windowsills, “force” the audience to believe the size of the images around it.  This was used extensively in the miniature sets where the camera floats and turns revealing the future environment and living conditions.

The matte paintings were amazing art direction and special effects accomplishments that have won and been nominated for several awards.  As Sammon says in his book, “Puddles of painted water shimmer with reflected neon; streams of traffic jockey or position on distant painted causeways; Spinners soar into the frame, only to disappear behind a painted building and emerge again on the other side.  None of these things are exactly revolutionary, but the sheer virtuosity with which two- and three-dimensional subjects are blended together represents what is probably the most bravura use of matte paintings in years – perhaps ever” (55).  Of course today, this would be much easier and more efficient to use computer graphics and digital images.

In the photo below, the view out of the window is a rear screen projection into the set and completed using matte painting for the top of the view out of the window.  In addition, the furniture and setting contains museum quality pieces to show the rich life of Dr. Tyrell.

Blade Runner 5

Deckard’s apartment external and internal shots were also created using existing buildings and design.  The outside of his apartment building is the Frank Lloyd Wright house in Los Angeles.  As Ridley Scott said, “Decker’s apartment was great.  It was Frank Lloyd Wright’s house exterior.  Couldn’t shoot inside the house so Larry took casting of the walls” and made them into the walls inside Deckard’s apartment (22:10 minute mark, “A Good Start:  Designing the Future” Chapter).  The picture below shows the interior of Deckard’s apartment and the walls cast from the outside of Frank Lloyd Wright’s house.

 Blade Runner 6

Costume Analysis

The costumes in this movie are very well designed and are believable as much today as back when the film was first released.  I would consider the period infinite because it fits the story well.  Class is differentiated between the impoverished who wear rags and the high class such as Rachael.  Her coats have high arching collars that make her appear royal.  They appear to be Hollywood outfits, designed by fashion designers.  Because she is only a couple years old, she unusually fits snuggly and beautifully in her adult clothes.  The fabrics of her clothes are made from cotton and fur that appear to be custom made to fit her tightly and to accentuate her body.  In one scene she has a high fashion, high-tech purse with a poignant graphic design that nicely and futuristically complements her dress.  Rachael and Deckard wear earth toned colored clothes of tan, green, grey, dark blue, black, and white.

Deckard wears three shirts in this movie two being dark colored button down with a thin tie and the third in the glib happy ending where he appears to be wearing a polo shirt under a sweater.  As Sammon states, “even a futuristic detective must have a trench coat, of course.  According to the 1982 Blade Runner press kit, Rick Deckard’s outerwear consisted of ‘a new, oddly proportioned version of the traditional trench coat…a russet colored full-length cotton, with multi-pintuck collar, raglan sleeves, deep pockets, and French seams’” (112).  He carries a futuristic terminator gun in a holster over his left buttock.  Don Shay quotes Douglas Trumbull, Special Photographic Effects Supervisor, as saying, “Ridley wanted to have an unusual, futuristic gun…Why not make something that’s black?  Instead of making light come out of the gun, make darkness come out.  And rather than make things explode, have them implode – collapse – as though matter just vaporized and vanished into a void.  It wouldn’t throw blood and gore all over the place – part of him would just vanish” (20).  This was clearly shown in the Leon head blast scene after his battle with Deckard where the gunshot leaves a weird hole and residue.

Narrative

The voice-over narrative in this version of the movie is one weakness in the quality of this version.  By using a voice-over narration, it leans the narrative towards the formalistic narrative because “the design of the plot is not concealed but heightened.  It’s part of the show.  Formalistic plots come in a wide assortment, but usually they are structured according to the filmmaker’s theme,” (384) as Giannetti says.  This style fits the film noir genre but in the end Ridley Scott removed all the voice-over because he wanted to have more realistic narrative and conceal some of the plot details.

The narrative is realistic, as the Giannetti textbook says, “Realists prefer loose, discursive plots, with no clearly defined beginning, middle, or end.  We dip into the story at an arbitrary point.  Usually we aren’t presented with a clear-cut conflict, as in classical narratives.  Rather, the conflict emerges unobtrusively from the unforced events of the exposition.  The story itself is presented as a ‘slice of life,’ as a poetic fragment, not a neatly structured tale” (383).  The beginning of Blade Runner starts with the first murder in the Tyrell office.  It is arbitrary because it is in the middle of the Replicant’s quest to infiltrate the office but the audience doesn’t know why.  The Replicants have escaped and are killing people but the police are merely trying to terminate them so “no one’s ever going to find out they’re down here,” as Office Bryant tells Deckard (Trussel).  As the Replicants are killed off, the audience learns that they are trying to get changed by their creator to live longer.  This conflict is not clear-cut until late in the story.

The film does follow the classical paradigm as the action climbs to the climax and denouement.  Again, the additional footage at the end of this version of the movie exposes another weakness in the narration:  glib happy ending.  Having exceeded the budget and run past deadlines, the producers wanted a happy ending for Deckard and Rachael.  They drive off into the sunset as the camera glides through scenic views of the green surviving world outside dystopia, in stark contrast to the streets in the city.  This happy ending is not realistic narrative and was removed to improve the quality of the final cut, released in 1992.

The film does not follow the classical three-act plot structure because the audience is not informed what the conflict is in the Replicants, just that they need to be stopped.  The protagonist knows he’s up against a formidable foe but not why they are attempting to do what they are doing:  infiltrate Tyrell corporation.  As for the resolution, the last few scenes in the movie shows the audience that the antagonist finally changes and realizes he must stop killing and in fact save the protagonist.  By this point, Roy just plays with Deckard as he tries to get away and survive.  Roy becomes the savior and rescues Deckard from falling to his death.

1982 MistakeDeckard gives a voice-over narrative throughout this version of the film.  It becomes annoying to the audience as it repeats what’s displayed on the screen instead of leading the story forward.  In the Director’s Cut of the film, released in 1992, the narration is removed and is replaced with silence that gives the movie its poetic and lyrical mood.

Box Office and the Long Tail

This movie was not a financial success when it was first released.  As I have listed mistakes above for this 1982 release, it appears audiences didn’t find the movie as a blockbuster; it only grossed “$14 million during its initial theatrical run…it is not exaggerating to describe Blade Runner’s maiden appearance as a resounding financial flop, a situation which, under normal circumstances, would have ended the Blade Runner story right there” (Sammon 318).  As Tom Southwall, Production Illustrator, said, “Everybody was expecting a heroic follow-up to Raiders of the Lost Ark or a Starwars and the way it was advertised on television with only the visual effects shots of the flying car over a futuristic city and sort of a fight sequence doesn’t prepare you for the dramatic emotional side that there is in the film.  It leaves you sort of broken” (7:30 minute mark, “To Hades and Back:  Release and Resurrection” Chapter).

Back during this time, Warner Brothers was rereleasing films into the cable and later VHS markets.  As Sammon says on the Dangerous Days DVD, when the audience “could actually manipulate the film just as Deckard manipulates the photograph, then they recognized what an accomplishment it was and then the buzz started to gather” (16:42 minute mark, “To Hades and Back:  Release and Resurrection” Chapter).  These releases grew a cult of followers by an audience that would not have necessarily watched a science fiction film in a theatre (Sammon 322).  Afterward a few years, the film became a hit for small theatres and festivals.  This grew slowly over the years until Warner Brothers got involved in expanding the theatre screenings that generated hundreds of thousands of dollars, with little marketing expenses (Sammon 340).

After a few years of negotiations, a second release in 1992, called the Blade Runner Director’s Cut, received a lot of press about both the new release edits and about inside stories from the first release.  This reinvigorated audiences to go see it again.  According to Sammon, “By Mid-October, the Director’s Cut was screening in ninety-five theatres, and the film hovered within the top-fifty grossing motion pictures in the United States for a ten-week period…[it] was then booked for screenings throughout Europe, Japan, and Australia, where it met with similar success” (368).  Chris Anderson writes of the difficulties for getting films, much less a re-released film, into theatres in his book when he says, “The ‘carrying capacity’ of the U.S. theatrical industry is only about 100 films a year.  The economics of local movie theaters are cruel and unforgiving.  It’s not enough that a film be good or big in Bombay.  It’s got to be big enough in Stamford, Connecticut, or wherever else a theater happens to be, to pull more than a couple thousand people through the door over a two-week run” (128).

Obviously the Blade Runner movie gained an audience of aficionados that were able to revive and propel it back into the global culture.  For a masterpiece and cultural icon, Blade Runner will continue to have a long tail in the market, as it was again released on DVD and Blu-ray and in four different editions in 2007.  It has since been included in the American Film Institute’s in the 2007 edition of the document as 97th out of 100.  In June 2008, the AFI awarded Blade Runner the number 6 slot in the top 10 Sci-Fi genre.  “To pay homage to the 10 revered genres, AFI enlisted film artists associated with each category to count down the top films, while providing their unique insight on each” (1).  The letter continues, “’AFI’s 10 TOP 10 will serve as the ultimate guide to the very best in 10 of America’s most beloved film genres,’ said AFI President and CEO Bob Gazzale” (2).

Bibliography

  •  American Film Institute, 100 Years 100 Movies, 2007, pdf.
  • American Film Institute, AFI’s 10 Top 10 – Host Announcement, 2008, pdf.
  • Anderson, Chris.  The Long Tail:  Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More, Hyperion, 2008, Print.
  • Blade Runner:  Four-Disc Collector’s Edition, Disc 2:  Dangerous Days:  Making Blade Runner, The Blade Runner Partnership, 2007, DVD.
  • Blaser, John J. and Stephanie L.M. “Film Noir And The Hard-Boiled Detective Hero.” Film Noir Studies, 2008, Web.
  • Giannetti, Louis.  Understanding Movies (11th Edition), Pearson Prentice Hall, 2008, Print.
  • Laszlo, Andrew.  Every Frame a Rembrandt, Focal Press, 2000, Print.
  • Sammon, Paul M. Future Noir:  The Making of Blade Runner, Harper Collins Publishers, 1996, Print.
  • Shay, Don.  Blade Runner:  The Inside Story, Titan Publishing Group, 2000, Print.
  • Trussel, Steve. Blade Runner Transcript, Trussel.com, unknown publish date, Web.

An Epic Approach: Cloud Atlas

Spoiler Alert:  This page includes a synopsis that describes most of the plot. If you have not seen this movie, you might want to do so before reading this post. Otherwise, feel free to read it and watch it later for any feedback you might want to offer.

For Labor Day, I decided I’d spend 3 hours watching a single movie and perhaps write a review of it because the reviews in Redbox were mostly negative with audience scores of 2.5 out of 5.0.  What convinced me was the few positive reviews that said to ignore the other reviews because those reviewers were impatient and lacked sufficient intelligence to follow multiple storylines in one movie.

While watching Cloud Atlas, it reminded me of The Hours movie that spanned three generations in the US.  Instead, however, Cloud Atlas has six storylines that take place in different locations and diverse time periods.  And the same group of actors play different characters in some manner during the six time periods.  From Wikipedia, I’ve listed these storylines and year below.

  • South Pacific Ocean, 1849
  • Cambridge, England and Edinburgh, Scotland, 1936
  • San Francisco, USA, 1973
  • United Kingdom, 2012
  • Neo Seoul, (Korea), 2144
  • The Big Island, 2321

What’s amazing is the production over anything else.  The cinematography, makeup, and scores were exceptionally well done, as was the acting.  To produce this, there were two camera crews and a long list of special effects and stunt artists.  That to me makes it an epic movie but from what I learned from Wikipedia, the term “epic” as a genre is a contentious evaluation.

Click here to listen to an arrangement by Frank Gould of the song central to this story.

As Wikipedia says, “Cloud Atlas polarized critics, and has subsequently been included on various Best Film and Worst Film lists.”  It also says that it is the most expensive independent movies of all times with a $102 million budget provided by independent sources.  I would imagine that a lot of that budget came from what were once known as the Wachowski brothers; however, now one is transgendered.  This is the same pair that brought us the magnificent Matrix trilogy.

I often say that a typical movie should be no more that 90 minutes.  In my review of Mud, I concluded that is a perfect example of a 90-minute movie but a lot of time is spent on B-roll footage that makes it more of a film festival movie than theatrical.  In conversations with professional editors, like Oliver Peters, I have been informed that a movie should be as long as it takes to tell the story.  However, I could never spend the amount of time sitting in a theatre watching a movie like Cloud Atlas, unless there were at least two intermissions, as I took myself while watching it.

Some of the properties of an epic movie, per Wikipedia, are that “Epic historical films often take a historical or imagined event, or a mythic, legendary, or heroic figure and add an extravagant, spectacular setting and lavish costumes, accompanied by a sweeping musical score, and an ensemble cast of bankable stars, making them among the most expensive of films to produce.”  To me, that sentence alone qualifies Cloud Atlas as an epic movie.

Where Cloud Atlas meets the criteria above, it was not a successful movie, like those quoted as examples in Wikipedia.  The lifetime gross for the movie was just over $27 million US dollars, per Box Office Mojo, and screened in a mere 2,023 theatres.  That makes the movie an “epic failure” because it failed the business model of making a profit for those people “above the line” and instead lost roughly $88 million USD.

From what I’ve seen, it appears they did not release or market the movie right.  Like I said above, there should have been intermissions along with a huge marketing campaign to attract the right audience and set expectations appropriately.  As an idea, the trailers should have been constructed to show that this is a new kind of movie to experience.  One Redbox review even described it as having six video screens sitting in front of you as you surf between the six stories, instead of being presented sliced between each other.

That’s where the mass audiences killed the release.  A third of the gross income from the release came on opening day, a little over $9 million USD.  Word of mouth is the thumbs up or down for the success of theatrical releases.  The opening number of theatres was 2,008.  Based on these numbers, only 15 more theatres screened the movie after opening release.

However, I believe it will eventually find its audience in a similar fashion to Blade Runner.  This epic movie suffered a similar release problem as Wikipedia quotes, “A significant factor in the film’s rather poor box office performance was that it was released around the same time as other science fiction films, including The Thing, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and, most significantly, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, which dominated box office revenues that summer.”  In addition, “Film critics were polarized as some felt the story had taken a back seat to special effects and that it was not the action/adventure the studio had advertised.”

I did find one problem with continuity. In the boat scene where Tom Hanks’s character is slowly poisoning the attorney passenger named Adam Ewing, at the climax of the scene there is a storm that darkens the sky outside and makes the scene even more terrorizing along with the fight between the black man named Autua and Tom Hanks’s character. Maybe they did this as creative license to add to the chaos. The problem I had was that when Autua takes Adam to the topside of the ship to puke the poison out, the storm is gone and the sun is shining.

In conclusion to my short review of an epic movie, I say set aside a large block of time to watch in one sitting (or during one day) or load it on a device where you can take the time to watch it in shorter timeslots.  What I found to be the most fun was remembering the different plots and how they relate to each other.  The central theme is the typical humanity, dignity, struggle for success against the oppression from others.  But don’t watch it for the themes, watch it for its engaging performances by the actors, the costumes, the sets, and the action.  As one reviewer said, it’s like putting together a puzzle and to me that is a significant reason to watch and challenge the brain.

Click here to view the score Frank used to play and record the song above.

They Called it Mud

Spoiler Alert:  Please don’t read past this paragraph if you intend on watching the movie. This is only my editorial opinion and describes my “professional” evaluation. I suggest you watch the movie by renting it, like at a nearby Redbox, or borrowing a copy from your local library. Ignore the Redbox review comments about it being SLOW. They’re right, but it’s worth being patient.

Here I am again being a movie critic. This time it’s called Mud, an indie movie with celebrity actors like Reese Witherspoon, Matthew McConaughey, Sam Shepard, and Joe Don Baker. The cast did a great job and the story was very interesting. Although I don’t like today’s movies that take forever to get through the storyline because of all the artistic b-roll footage and the way too long dead air time between lines, I was able to make it to the end. My partner, Troy, was just about to abort it when the story twists and complications kept him connected.

Essentially what happens is Mud, Matthew McConaughey, ends up on an island waiting for his girl friend, Reese Witherspoon. We don’t know how long it’s been but he’s adapted to being away from people on the deserted island in Arkansas on a Mississippi River tributary. Also, he somehow gets enough cigarettes to smoke throughout the movie (which is why I’m glad we wait for these smoker movies that over charge my nicotine withdrawal nerves when I’m stuck in a theater). Maybe he just smokes when the cameras are around?

How we meet Mud is through two young boys, who are maybe 10 or 11 years old – although Ellis, Tye Sheridan, says he’s 14 to a girl who looks like she’s 14. These two boys venture out to the island because of a rumored old boat stuck up in a tree caused by flooding. This is an interesting prop that comes to life over the course of the story. Maybe there was a little too much worshipping it; however, it kept the story interesting by watching their repair progress. The boys go into the boat and find fresh food and a shoe print on the wall. So, they know someone is there.

Because they’re on a tight schedule to get back in 15 minutes, they head back to the boat to depart but Ellis, the boat’s owner’s son who saw the shoe print on the wall, sees that same shoe print in the sand around the boat. Regardless of the time, he takes off and follows the footprints going down the shore away from the boat. Then they end.

After they turn around, Mud is standing next to the boat fishing, miraculously appearing from nowhere. This is a repeating plot device that makes him appear magical or miraculous. This is where we learn some of his back-story and relationship with his girlfriend, Juniper.

Later that day, Ellis and his friend, Neckbone (yeah, humorous name), Jacob Lofland, find a “new woman in town” going into the neighborhood Piggly Wiggly grocery store. Ellis is determined to investigate this woman and does so by confirming she has a Nightingale  tattooed on her hand, just like Mud told the boys.

At this point, the story is about two primary arcs, one on the island and one in Juniper’s hotel room. The boys have become the middlemen between the lovers and they visit the island on a regular basis. After Mud reveals why he’s running from the law, he also informs the boys that there’s a mafia boss’s son that he killed.

This was an appealing plot line where Ellis has to decide the right versus the wrong things to do. His faith in Mud is strong and at the same time his pugnacious behavior grows stronger. Mud makes a deal with them if they help him get away by rebuilding the boat, Neckbone gets a gun and Ellis gets his mojo. Ellis gets the short end of the deal because he’s doing it for love and romantic ideals.

Since Mud told the boys about growing up in the same area and knows the same people living there, the boys decide to help him. Ellis learns that the law is searching for Mud but Ellis says he has not seen him when confronted by anyone. Mud also tells the boys that a cottonmouth snake bit him when he was young and Juniper saved his life, miraculously.

This is where I get somewhat confused with the age. The two young men did an outstanding performance, in my humble opinion. At first I thought they were a little too casual but as the story progressed, they went through some very difficult actions, like trick bike riding, fist fights, and walking for miles, or so it seemed. They did a great job in all of their scenes.

But what confused me was the age they portray being interested enough in women to start a fight with a senior schoolmate seemed a stretch. Instead of realizing he’s too young for his one truelove, he punches out yet another of the girl’s suitors, again his senior. His testosterones must be in over-drive. I can only imagine what he’s doing when he’s alone.

When the boys find where Juniper is in the hotel by selling fish door-to-door, they also meet the brother of the guy Mud killed and he means business by beating and threatening her in front of the boys. The guy asks if they know her and they lie by saying they were just selling fish and happened to hear the ruckus.

Now we’ve almost met everyone, except for the dead son’s father, the kingpin, called King, played by Joe Don Baker and an assassin friend of Mud, Tom Blankenship, Sam Shepard, who we learn raised Mud, an orphan like Neckbone. Add to that plotline, Ellis has just learned his parents are separating and he’s going to be half-homeless with one of them.

This is why this story is so appealing as it is setup with an underdog hero who romantically tries to rescue his lover but she has repeatedly deserted him for other men. This last one he killed because her husband beat her so badly she can’t have children, and he saved her life from the thug by killing him.

Now enter the big guns. King and Tom start down the path to avenge his son and the other to aid his adopted son. King gathers a group of volunteers and marksmen to find Mud and kill him. He holds a religious welcoming of the bounty men to pray they kill Mud. Tom sends cash and supplies to Mud, via the boys.

The boys are now driving Neckbone’s motorbike around town finding pieces needed to repair the boat. Oh, and the boat has no motor. Oh, and it’s up in a tree.

This is where things get a little messy for the director. We’ve learned the thugs are watching Juniper so through her they can find and kill Mud; however, Ellis goes to Juniper’s hotel room three times and they never catch or follow Ellis, even though they’re sitting in the parking lot watching her room. I thought any minute they’re coming out of a side pocket to nab him. But, no, Ellis visits Juniper twice to deliver messages from Mud and returns answers.

The other plot line that has trouble is that these two small boys are hauling heavy equipment that two grown men would have trouble moving. Like the time they steal a 70HP outboard motor from a salvage yard under a small lift in the chain link fence or pulling a 23-foot boat trailer with the motorbike and then a small motor boat. Of course, indie moviegoers probably would just say, “Oh, that’s just a macho guy thing” and ignore the physics, but all they needed were some slightly older actors, at least with more muscles, and maybe a car or pickup truck.

Regardless, it is a fun story to watch these guys find the parts to fix the boat and save the day, along with their escapades along the way. I won’t give the ending because that’s certainly something to experience, unexpectedly. I will say it has a tinge of deus ex machina but it’s totally setup from the beginning and you’re happy it’s there when you need it. I certainly hadn’t expected it.

Why I even bothered to write this review is that I continued to think about it days after I saw it. It’s the “Huckleberry Finn” on the river coming of age story with corrupt government aggression, misinformation, and firepower. The hero has nowhere to go and his dream is crushed again but he has the fortitude to move on into the unknown future. Oh, and there’s bromance to boot.

The last issues I have to mention or my evaluation would be incomplete. I’ve listed them below and if anyone has any comments, please add them in the section at the end of this post.

  1. During a phone conversation between Juniper and Ellis, her hair changes positions while talking on the phone. It was obviously the splicing of two different takes but it’s obvious as you watch it in one cut where the phone is over the hair and the other cut it’s under the hair. It goes back and forth each cut four times.
  2. In rural communities, there are (or used to be) a lot of sheet metals. Instead, these boys end up providing Mud with corrugated galvanized sheets of metal to repair the flat side of the boat. Besides looking like someone used a circular saw to make a square opening in the boat, for who knows why, Mud used hot tar to fill the gaps in the corrugated sheet metal against the flat boat siding. It would have been nice if the pan of the boat in the water near the end of the movie showed the opening was above the water line.
  3. The boat motor does not work so they have to repair it. Well, there’s a small problem with the way they repaired it: Out of the water, on the trailer, and with a battery we never saw. Now those who don’t know boats and maintenance, you must have a water supply going into the casing to cool the engine. This is where my editorial criticism may be too extreme for most moviegoers. All it would take, and I would have suggested it, is put a hose on the motor starting with the first camera shots when they’re repairing it. To me, this is an important credibility prop that proves these guys know what they’re doing. In fact, that is a very important item to authenticate Mud has all this experience and supposedly Neckbone too who built his own motorbike.

I do hope you watch it and enjoy seeing it unfold on screen. It does have a heart in that everyone helps guide Ellis down the right path and not the wrong path. I only want to recommend this movie for when you have a couple hours to dedicate to it. Yet another movie I’d like to edit out 30 minutes to get through the plot quicker.