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
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
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.
A new trailer has hit for Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax (March 2, 2012) and now we get more of a Despicable Me vibe intertwined with the beloved Seuss tale, with new scenes involving a groovy teen romance between Ted (Zac Efron) and Audrey (Taylor Swift), villainous O’Hare (Rob Riggle), out to sustain his profitable plastic, imitation world, and the iconic Lorax himself (Danny DeVito). Joining Polyphonic Spree on the soundtrack is Vampire Weekend. The animation looks suitably eye popping from the the new Illumination Mac Guff studio in Paris.
Imagine my surprise on Thursday when I found myself hanging out with 11 Disney Legends at a lovely reception after a special D23 photo shoot for next year’s magazine cover honoring the 75th anniversary of Snow Whiteand the Seven Dwarfs and feature animation.
Not only that but Richard Sherman entertained us at Walt’s old piano upstairs in the archive in the Frank Wells building (above), performing “Feed the Birds” and “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” from Mary Poppins. And for good measure, he ended with the deleted song, “Chimpanzoo,” which was added to the stage show.
In fact, when I chatted with Sherman, he told me that he got to meet Cary Grant at a party and informed him hat he was so inspired by seeing Gunga Din as a child that he paid homage in “Super…” by including “dukes and maharajas” in the lyrics. He said Grant couldn’t help but laugh.
Meanwhile, I asked Alice Davis (above, left, with Ruthie Thompson) how she met her husband, the late, great Marc Davis. She smiled and explained that while they were both studying she was introduced to Marc and invited him to a girlfriend’s party. Afterward he had such a good time that he asked her out out on a date to thank her. But she told him she’d only accept if it was more than just gratitude.
And Tinker Bell’s Margaret Kerry related how she recently chastised two men for being critical of the current state of Disneyland. “It’s a gift what Walt and Roy gave us and we should appreciate the magic every time we go there.”
Here’s the full list of luminaries:
Kathryn Beaumont, voice of Alice and of Wendy Darling
Alice Davis, Imagineer and costume designer
Lisa Davis, voice of Anita in One Hundred and One Dalmatians
Joe Hale, animation producer
Dickie Jones, voice of Pinocchio
Margaret Kerry, live-action model for Tinker Bell
Floyd Norman, animator and “story man”
Richard Sherman, composer and lyricist (Mary Poppins)
Ruthie Thompson, supervisor of Scene Planning department (Ink & Paint)
Burny Mattinson, storyboard artist (Winnie the Pooh)
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.
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.
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.”
As with The Adventures of Tintin (Dec. 21), the new trailer for Steven Spielberg’s War Horse (Dec. 28) emphasizes more action. A galloping horse named Joey leaps across the exploding battlefield at night during World War I, underscored by John Williams’ majestic score. Flashback to Albert taming, training, and riding Joey in the warmth, beauty, and comfort of rural England. But all that is shattered when Joey is taken from Albert, and we follow the horse on its epic journey that reaches No Man’s Land.
As production designer Rick Carter asserts, this is part of his post 9/11 “nature of conscience” exploration amid the “Goya-esque disasters of war.” The same goes for Spielberg as well.
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.
David Cronenberg’s predictably polarizing A Dangerous Method (Nov. 23) managed to get under everyone’s skin at both Telluride and Venice this past weekend. This is right up Cronenberg’s cerebral alley with the intense rivalry between Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) and Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen) leading to the rise of psychoanalysis on the eve of World War I. And when you factor in the beautiful and unbalanced Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley) who comes between them, you’ve got plenty of sexual repression to deal with As always, look for below-the-line Oscar potential from such Cronenberg regulars production designer James McATeer, cinematographer Peter Suschitzky, costume designer Denise Cronenberg, and composer Howard Shore.