Getting More Immersed with Indiewire


  The Penske Media purchase of Indiewire has resulted in an expansion of my role as crafts and awards season contributor.  Beginning this week, I begin Emmy coverage of below-the-line contenders along with my usual Oscar season crafts reporting, working closely

Immersed in Blu-ray: Hitchcock and Bogart


The WB Archive Collection gets Hitch and Bogie on Blu-ray and they've never looked better for home viewing. In Kent Jones' indispensable doc, Hitchcock/Truffaut, he reminds us that Truffaut was on a mission to correct misconceptions about Hitch as a lightweight

Immersed in Books: Farber on Film


For the first time, the complete writings of film critic Manny Farber is available from Library of America, edited by Robert Polito (Savage Art: A Biography of Jim Thompson). Manny Farber (1917-2008) was the first modernist film critic to write like a modernist.

Cinematography

The Artist Director Speaks

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Below the Line, Cinematography, Costume, Movies, Music, Oscar, Production Design, Tech, Trailers | Leave a comment

At a recent junket for The Artist, I got the chance to ask director Michel Hanazavicius the following questions:

What was your approach to the acting?

The movie has been done in the ’20s so, of course, it’s the course of acting in the ’20s, not of the silent movie. So it’s not about acting silent; it’s just acting. And I think the silent part, to me, in the writing process, is how to create images that will tell the story. It’s the same confusion that people have about silent movies. They think that silent movies are old. But they are not old because they are silent; they are old because they were made in the ’20s.

How did you design and conceive a silent movie in black-and-white with today’s technology?

Well, the technology’s exactly the same as it was in ’20s: you have a camera, you have actors. You are not forced to use 3-D and to use digital. You can do what you want with technology. To me, it’s not a technical challenge, this movie. The technology and the technique are very simple, except maybe for the writing once again. It was very difficult and challenging for me because the most complicated thing is to make it simple for the audience. They want character and they want a story: they don’t want to see a performance; they don’t want to see how difficult it was or how clever it is. At least this film allows you to make a very specific story. You can go to some poetry that you usually don’t see in other movies. And I think it’s part of the promise of that movie because you say, ‘I won’t use dialogue.’ That means you use something else — you use images. I think unconsciously people want to have so many images that you don’t see in other movies. For example, when she goes in the dressing room and she puts her coat on the coat rack, usually you don’t that in a normal movie because it’s a little too much. But you can do that in a silent movie because it’s part of the promise. Or when a character is arguing with his own shadow. You don’t do that unless you’re a director like Fellini or Almodovar or Tati. What was difficult for me was to find the freedom. What is freeing during a silent movie and doing it?

Why use Bernard Herrmann’s love theme for Vertigo for the climax, which I understand was a temp track?

For people it’s a little bit shocking to have the music of another movie. When I saw Casino, Martin Scorsese used the music of Le Mepris from Jean Luc Godard and for a few seconds I questioned it. Finally, I accepted it. So we had two options: I asked the composer to compose on the same structure but with our own thing, and I did not have that feeling of something special from the last movement. And also this theme is so beautiful, so perfect, so sensual that, finally, I decided to keep it. And this movie is not just a tribute to silents: it’s wider than that. It’s a tribute to all the classical Hollywood movies. That track had legitimately to be here and anyway you can find Herrmann, the music is so beautiful.

Revisiting Hollywood’s Silent Age with The Artist

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Below the Line, Cinematography, Costume, Movies, Music, Oscar, Tech, Trailers | Leave a comment

In today’s TOH column at Indiewire, I discuss the challenges of making The Artist with production designer Laurence Bennett, costume designer Mark Bridges, and composer Ludovic Bource. What’s amazing is how liberating it was for them to return to the roots of Hollywood and classical filmmaking at a time when we’re on the cusp of technological change once again.

Bond 23 is Skyfall

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Below the Line, Books, Cinematography, Costume, Editing, Events, James Bond, Movies, Production Design, VFX | Leave a comment

Better get used to the title Skyfall for the 23rd Bond film (Nov. 9, 2012). Like Quantum of Solace, it apparently refers to Bond’s troubled state of mind. “It has emotional context which will be revealed in the film,” promises producer Barbara Broccoli.

But there was precious little revealed at today’s London press conference, amid speculation about the return of Blofeld and the possibility of M’s shocking demise. Fittingly, today also coincides with Sean Connery’s announcement as Bond 50 years ago.

Yes, Javier Bardem plays the super baddie, no doubt a new breed of grounded Bond villain; Berenice Marlohe plays the seductive and enigmatic Bond girl, Severin; but Naomie Harries plays a field agent named Eve, not Moneypenny; and Ralph Fiennes and Albert Finney have not yet been confirmed as friend or foe (although it has been suggested that Finney plays M’s boss).

Speaking of M, according to the official announcement, Skyfall is about how “Bond’s loyalty to M is tested as her past comes back to haunt her.  As MI6 comes under attack, 007 must track down and destroy the threat, no matter how personal the cost.”

Meanwhile, director Sam Mendes (who was first approached for Die Another Day, but it understandably wasn’t the right fit) suggested that Skyfall will offer a return to classic Bond action and is first and foremost an audience film and not a high-brow experience, as 007 travels to Istanbul, Shanghai, and Scotland (his ancestral home). How ironic that both Mendes and Craig first got hooked on Bond through Live and Let Die, and that their association on Road to Perdition has serendipitously taken them down this road to Bond’s maturity.

Make no mistake: Skyfall is our first glimpse of Craig’s fully-formed Bond and will likely define his legacy as 007. Speaking of Craig, he came to the press conference with very short hair and some stubble on his face. All he had to say was this was going to be “Bond with a capital B.”

The crew includes director of photography Roger Deakins (Jarhead and Revolutionary Road, who will be using the Alexa); production designer Dennis Gassner (Quantum of Solace, Road to Perdition, and Jarhead); editor Stuart Baird (Casino Royale); costume designer Jany Temime (Harry Potter); second unit director Alexander Witt; stunt co-ordinator Gary Powell; SFX supervisor Chris Corbould; and VFX supervisor Steve Begg.

Going French on Blu-ray with Criterion

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Blu-ray, Cinematography, Home Entertainment, Movies | Leave a comment

In a nice twist of fate, Criterion has recently rolled out some indispensable French classics that look exquisite on Blu-ray, including Jean Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast, The Complete Jean Vigo, and Claude Chabrol’s landmark debut, Le beau Serge. Viewing them together is not only like being transported back in time, but also like experiencing a continuum: Vigo, who tragically left us prematurely, created a hybrid of naturalism and impressionism, tweaking the privileged for their pomposity and celebrating the idealism of youth; Cocteau emphasized both enchantment and horror in his fairy tale retelling, using a vivid mixture of styles, textures, and film stocks; and Chabrol ushered in the French New Wave for the Cahiers critics-turned directors with an assured debut about provincial suffocation and the fear of mortality among twentysomethings.

Of course, Vigo’s Zéro de conduite and L’Atalante are famous for their grade school rebellion and maiden voyage for newlyweds on a journey of discovery, but the earlier mock travelogue (À propos de Nice) and sports documentary (Taris) are revealing primers. All but Taris are photographed by Boris Kaufman (On the Waterfront), who helped navigate the stylistic and emotional shifts from the real and the imaginative.

With Beauty and the Beast, Cocteau found a post World War II allegorical statement about man’s inhumanity to man in a kaleidoscope of fear and redemption. It remains one of the most beautiful movies ever made and a way of melding different artistic influences.

Le beau Serge may have been overshadowed by Francois Truffaut’s The 400 Blows, but even Truffaut appreciated Chabrol’s maturity beyond his years in evoking working class melancholy in his hometown of Sardent.

The Tree of Life Goes Blu

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Below the Line, Blu-ray, Cinematography, Editing, Home Entertainment, Movies, Music, Oscar, Tech, Trailers, VFX | Leave a comment

Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life bows on Blu-ray today (Fox Home Ent.), providing the opportunity to dip into his brilliant summary statement about coalescing nature and grace. The imagery by cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki is stunning in HD (which is why he’s the Oscar front runner so far). Coupled with the superb DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 (the score by Alexandre Desplat is magnificent along with the use of various requiems), this is reference quality.

The Tree of Life is a free-form, existential journey that captures fleeting moments of life.  It primarily focuses on a Texas family in the 1950s, setting up a tension between nature (personified by Brad Pitt’s conflicted, talkative father) and grace (personified by Jessica Chastain’s peaceful and quiet mother).  It’s bookended by a present-day segment about the alienation experienced by the eldest son, Jack (Sean Penn), a successful architect haunted by childhood memories.  Early on, sparked by a moment of grief, the film suddenly leaps to a birth of the universe segment that addresses the meaning of the cosmos.

The bravura birth of the universe sequence can now be studied and appreciated more closely as well (also a VFX Oscar contender): “It’s a real coalescing of ideas and metaphysics about the history of the universe that takes us from [notions] of origins right through some semblance of the Big Bang to the early genesis of stars and galaxies and planets forming, ultimately life itself on planet Earth,” explains Dan Glass, the esteemed visual effects supervisor who oversaw the VFX-laden sequence.

The work was divided into three realms: Astrophysical, which dealt with the early cosmos and evolution of the universe, stars, galaxies and planets, principally handled by Double Negative in London (under the supervision of Paul Riddle); Microbial, the molecular and cellular origination of life, which was primarily done by the London boutique One of Us, with supplemental work by Method (the splitting off of DNA strands to form more complex organisms, supervised by Olivier Dumont) and the father/son team of Peter and Chris Parks, who shot interesting flows of colors; and Natural History, which focused on the much anticipated dinosaurs, created by Prime Focus/Frantic (supervised by Mike Fink and Bryan Hirota).

Editorially, Malick utilized what editor Mark Yoshikawa calls a “relay system of editing.” He adds, “He didn’t want the presence of the editors’ fingerprints on it.  That is why he always had Chivo [Lubezki] and Joerg [Widmer, the camera operator] grabbing bits that we could never really use for traditional coverage.  It was very challenging.”

Moneyball: ‘The Island of Misfit Toys’

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Below the Line, Books, Cinematography, Movies, Tech, Trailers, VFX, Virtual Production | Comments Off

Moneyball (opening today) reminds us that baseball is as much about psychology as poetry. As with anything in life, you can’t fulfill your promise without confidence and nurturing. And, not surprisingly, director Bennett Miller follows Capote with another literate and mournful biopic of a creative iconoclast on a life-changing journey. Only in this case, Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt at his most fascinating and charismatic best) is spiritually adrift because baseball has broken his heart (he blew his chance as a player). But that doesn’t prevent the driven and resourceful Beane from reinventing himself,  rekindling his love once again (the script by Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zaillian crackles with metaphor and wit).

Moneyball ironically begins in 2001 with the A’s losing a devastating playoff series to the Yankees, and subsequently losing their stars to free-agency. With a small payroll, there’s just no way to compete with the Yankees, but, thanks to a young economics wiz (Jonah Hill), Beane embraces a revolutionary approach to scouting players through computer analysis, and slowly transforms his “island of misfit toys” into a competitive team, and going on a wild, record-breaking ride in the process.

Moneyball is fundamentally about the difficulty of adapting to change and learning to survive and thrive with less — an apt metaphor for our times. Wally Pfister ‘s cinematography has a gritty yet surreal quality at times, in keeping with the volatile tone. The transparent VFX wizardry involving stadium seating is by Rhythm & Hues (supervised by Edwin Rivera).

A Dreamy Drive

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Below the Line, Cinematography, Clips, Editing, Movies, Production Design, Tech, Trailers, VFX | Leave a comment

Drive (opening today) is like being in a dream. Director Nicolas Winding Refn seems to be channeling Michael Mann from the ’80s with Tangerine Dream. In fact, it doesn’t seem like the 21st century at all. Everything is faded, dingy, grimy, low-tech, thanks to Beth Mickle’s production design and Newton Thomas Sigel’s cinematography. It’s set in LA (downtown, Echo Park, the Valley), and the vibe is neo, neo noir.

Ryan Gosling plays the stuntman/part-time getaway guy (who gets in way over his head) as the iconic loner in his ’73 Chevy Malibu: Steve McQueen-like, only without the movie star charm and charisma. But he’s effective: a quiet, anonymous drifter forced out of the shadows when he befriends Carey Mulligan (a latter day Tuesday Weld) and her son. Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman play terrific baddies; and Bryan Cranston makes a crusty foil to Gosling as his unlucky pal.

However, the opening downtown getaway, which sets up Gosling and the milieu so brilliantly, (edited by Mat Newman), is never matched in terms of excitement and fascination. And the bone crunching, bloody violence is so over-the-top that it wakes you up from the spell. But then that’s probably the intention (VFX is by Ring of Fire and Wildfire). It’s a real treat.

Trailering We Bought a Zoo

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Below the Line, Books, Cinematography, Editing, Movies, Music, Trailers | Leave a comment

Cameron Crowe is back! We Bought a Zoo, the writer-director’s first feature since 2005′s Elizabethtown, really looks like Jerry Maguire meets Local Hero, as single dad Matt Damon attempts to reinvent himself and the dilapidated zoo he buys. With the help of his two kids and the wacky staff, they all discover a new life for themselves and the animals in this gentle tale of reawakening. Co-starring Scarlett Johansson, Thomas Haden Church, Patrick Fugit, Elle Fanning, and John Michael Higgins.The score is by Jónsi from Sigur Rós, but you know the eclectic rock tunes that Crowe selects will be appropriate to the misadventures. Production designer Clay Griffith (Jerry Maguire), cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto (Brokeback Mountain), and editors Joe Hutshing (Vanilla Sky, Almost Famous, Jerry Maguire) and Mark Livolsi (Almost Famous) are along for the journey.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8R0aUmVoqrs

Trailering Twilight Breaking Dawn — Part 1

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Animation, Below the Line, Books, Cinematography, Costume, Editing, Movies, Production Design, Tech, Trailers, VFX, Virtual Production | Leave a comment

The second trailer went online yesterday for The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part 1. And it doesn’t disappoint in teasing the tense wedding, bed-breaking sex, and horrifying pregnancy that will unleash the powerful offspring, which poses a threat to both the vampire and werewolf clans. It’s the ultimate in post-modern kitsch, with sex, birth, and death, which is probably what attracted Bill Condon in the first place. Imagine Gods and Monsters meets Chicago.

Meanwhile, Tippett is back doing CG wolves, and there is other VFX from Method, Modus, Lola, Hydraulx, Wildfire, Spin, Image Engine, Mr. X. And there’s stylishly spooky below-the-line work from production designer Richard Sherman (Gods and Monsters), cinematographer Guillermo Navarro (Pan’s Labyrinth), costume designer by Michael Wilkinson (Watchmen), and editor Virginia Katz (Dreamgirls).

What’s to become of Edward and Bella? Opens Nov. 18.

Catching Contagion

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Animation, Below the Line, Cinematography, Editing, Movies, Production Design, Tech, Trailers, VFX | Leave a comment

Steven Soderberg’s Contagion gets under your skin immediately, which is exactly its purpose. Using the Red camera, the director achieves a gritty look to this cautionary tale about mass hysteria stemming from a mysterious pandemic that baffles the scientific community and sweeps the globe like the Black Plague. At the same time, flashbacks of Hong Kong and other locales have a naturalistic beauty, heightened in IMAX, that allow us to appreciate life and the world around us.

It’s a gripping procedural with scattered emotional beats from a fine ensemble cast (Gwyneth Paltrow, Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law, Marion Cotillard, Kate Winslet, Jennifer Ehle, and Elliott Gould), and the perfect film to commemorate the 10th anniversary of 9/11. What have we learned besides blogging at its worst is “graffiti with punctuation”?

Soderbergh’s cinematography stands out along with Howard Cummings’ production design, Stephen Mirrione’s editing, and VFX by onset supervisor Tom Smith of Method Studios (the creepy CG bat is particularly effective).