Categories
Film Notes

Film Notes #3: THX 1138 (1971)

George Lucas’ debut feature about a dystopian future society forms the third part of my 30-day film program.

For newcomers, the deal is that I must watch a film every day and make notes about it, with the following rules:

  1. I’ve already seen it
  2. I must make notes whilst I’m watching it.
  3. Pauses are allowed but the viewing must all be one session.
  4. It can’t be a cinema release.

The point is to capture my instant thoughts about a movie and my overall film diet for 30 days, as well as post interesting links to the film in question.

Here are my notes on THX 1138 (1971) which I watched on a Blu-ray on Saturday 24th March.

[Warning! Spoilers ahead]

  • Begins with an old episode of Buck Rogers (!)
  • Titles going from top to bottom reflects the underground nature of the society in film – I can’t think of another film outside Gaspar Noe’s IRREVERSIBLE (2002) that uses this device and that film used it for the end credits
  • Widescreen lensing is impressive – it was shot using Techniscope, a cheaper alternative to 35mm anamorphic which Leone used on his Spaghetti Westerns
  • Sound design immediately apparent as a key part of the film
  • Phrase “consumption is being standardised” repeated over and over
  • Appropriate because the shopping mall
  • Walter Murch co-wrote the screenplay and was obviously closely involved in the sound design
  • What the hell is going with the lizard in the wires?!
  • Sense of despair reflective of the cultural malaise of the late 60s and early 70s
  • The idea of a controlling futuristic society was possibly a big influence on THE MATRIX (1999)
  • Did the hologram sex channel influence MINORITY REPORT (2002)?
  • When Duvall confesses about his room mate, it is almost like a Catholic confession or a session with a psychiatrist
  • The slogan “buy more” has a certain irony when it comes to the issue of Star Wars merchandising
  • Imaginative use of low budget sets
  • Futuristic officers seem to be influenced by the police who cracked skulls on campuses during the Vietnam
  • There is even a TV channel which shows officers beating someone – predicting the Rodney King incident by 20 years! That case also played a key role in TERMINATOR 2 (1991).
  • Issue of sedation prefigures the issue of antidepressants
  • The idea of workers trapped inside white anti-septic clothing is an effective idea
  • Widescreen compositions must have made this a nightmare to pan and scan
  • Pre-digital era effects are deeply impressive
  • The robot that Duvall is working on just before the mind block looks C-3PO from STAR WARS (1977)
  • A computerised industrial society where people are drones has chilling resonances with today’s inter generational struggle, which is also a theme of THE HUNGER GAMES (2012)
  • Ironic that Donald Pleasance is in a film where everyone is bald.
  • Lucas was frustrated at how Duvall would get a scene in take one and Pleasance would take several. In a pre-digital world this was probably a nightmare for the chemistry of a particular scene and maybe led Lucas to pursue digital solutions
  • Nice touch that Duvall’s character is actually building the robotic officers who oppress him
  • The evils of bureaucracy is a persistent theme and the questioning of authority is essentially the whole point of the film.
  • Ironic that the McCarthy era America was paranoid about Communism and it became an oppressive state itself.
  • The ‘white prison’ is a very striking idea, later explored in Lecter’s jail cell in Michael Mann’s MANHUNTER (1986) and then reversed in Jonathan Demme’s THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991).
  • It is also a highly effective ‘visual effect’ as it creates an illusion of depth – an optical trick that predates the use of green screen by 25 years
  • The voices possible influenced by 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968)
  • Couple’s love making being interrupted is symbolic of the sexual Puritanism and hypocrisy of the 1950s era which Lucas grew up in.
  • Approach to the issue of drugs is interesting. It goes for an Brave New World approach where drug taking is an oppressive and enforced act rather than a rebellious act. Philip K Dick also explored similar territory in A SCANNER DARKLY (2006).
  • Excellent use of locations and sets, augmented by Murch’s great sound design.
  • Lalo Schifrin’s score is very effective and moodier than his ones for DIRTY HARRY (1971) and the Mission Impossible.
  • In particular the car chase at the end is a masterful use of sound which makes the sequence feel bigger and more realistic
  • Cars are also important in AMERICAN GRAFFITI (1973) albeit in a wildly different context
  • The voices throughout are ‘comfortingly sinister’ which makes it an effective metaphor for communist regimes.
  • But it could also be seen as an indictment of 1950/60s capitalism which encouraged conformity
  • It could also be seen as obliquely referencing the Holocaust e.g. people as numbers and the enforced shaven heads
  • The closing sequence is actually very similar to THE TRUMAN SHOW (1998).
  • Final shot is hopeful for what some interpret as a bleak film.

Categories
Film Notes

Film Notes #2: Stagecoach (1939)

The 30-day film watching experiment continues with John Ford’s classic 1939 western.

For newcomers, the deal is that I must watch a film every day and make notes about it, with the following rules:

  1. I’ve already seen it
  2. I must make notes whilst I’m watching it.
  3. Pauses are allowed but the viewing must all be one session.
  4. It can’t be a cinema release.

The point is to capture my instant thoughts about a movie and my overall film diet for 30 days, as well as post interesting links to the film in question.

Here are my notes on Stagecoach (1939) which I watched on a DVD on Tuesday 13th March.

  • John Ford’s first sound western.
  • Apparently Orson Welles watched this 40 times whilst making CITIZEN KANE (1941).
  • Nominated for Best Picture in 1939.
  • Motley crew of people get on a stagecoach and journey across Apache territory.
  • Typical Ford use of real locations, especially Monument Valley.
  • Costumes are fantastic.
  • Acting a little (ahem) “of its time”.
  • John Wayne looks so young – our popular image of him is as an older man.
  • Banking commentary at 33 mins! (Occupy Wall Street by way of Monument Valley… )
  • The pompous banker is played by Henry Gatewood and the screenplay has the foresight to include the detail that he’s just embezzled some some assets.
  • Interesting camera positioning within a confined space – compare to THE SUGARLAND EXPRESS (1974) and CHILDREN OF MEN (2006).
  • Ford must have planned out his shots carefully.
  • According to Steven Spielberg, Ford never shot coverage, so the studio couldn’t edit in their preferred takes.
  • At one point (47 mins) a character actually says the words: “well I’ll be dog gone”.
  • Cast actually blend well together, newcomers to the film might be surprised it’s not an all Wayne affair.
  • Claire Trevor, John Carradine and Thomas Mitchell all excellent.
  • Claire Trevor’s character is a prostitute so notorious that local women have conspired to oust her from the town.
  • Quite a bit of smoking goes on e.g. Curley lighting his cigarette from the lamp and the Doc smoking his cigar.
  • Racial attitudes are more interesting than expected.
  • Although the Apaches are hostile, there is one scene in the Mexican fort which suggests racial tolerance where they talk of the wife’s Apache people.
  • The idea of an anti-hero prisoner on board may have influenced ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (1976) and other films.
  • Climactic chase is actually exciting!
  • Replace the horses with helicopters and the chase is reminiscent of the helicopter attack on the village in APOCALYPSE NOW (1979)
  • Did RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981) reference the Apache sliding under the coach in the scene where Indy slides beneath the truck?
  • The climax of MAD MAX 2 (1981) was also possibly influenced by this chase.
  • Blending of rear projection and location shooting is actually pretty good.
  • Foley of water splashing in the Doc’s face is one of the more notable sound effects.
  • The cavalry charge is signified by the bugle, an important sound effect that is blended in with the score.
  • Interesting that the Wayne character is a prisoner – somewhat against type.
  • Denouement sequence interesting as we see a criminal propose marriage to a prostitute. So much for 1930s morality!
  • Misleading ‘switch’ in who got shot in the final scene reminiscent of the climax of MINORITY REPORT (2002).
  • Closing dialogue (“Doc, I’ll buy you a drink”) is a bit like CASABLANCA (1942).
  • Claire Trevor is billed above John Wayne in the end credits.
  • Holds up very well as a classic Western.
  • I definitely need to get the Criterion Blu-ray of this – it has a load of interesting extras.

Categories
Film Notes

Film Notes #1: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been conducting an experiment in film watching.

The deal is that I must watch a film every day and make notes about it, with the following rules:

  1. I’ve already seen it
  2. I must make notes whilst I’m watching it.
  3. Pauses are allowed but the viewing must all be one session.
  4. It can’t be a cinema release.

The point is to capture my instant thoughts about a movie and my overall film diet for 30 days, as well as post interesting links to the film in question.

I’m going to use Storify to curate interesting links about the film under discussion and embed them in the post.

Even though the first one is an 1980s John Hughes comedy, I think in the long run you’ll find the choices eclectic.

So, this is the inaugural Film Notes post about Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986), which I watched on a PVR on Tuesday 20th March, after recording it on Film4 on January 1st 2012.

What follows are my notes from that viewing session (there are spoilers, so if you haven’t seen the film you’ll have to buy the DVD):

  • Good to watch an 80s comedy in 2:35 aspect ratio
  • Interesting use of sound to introduce the world of the film (e.g. Ferris’ mother saying his name before the opening shot)
  • One of the major themes of the film is the taboo subject that parents do actually prefer a sibling
  • Energetic use of music contrasts with the quiet of the opening scene
  • The original Buffy (Kristy Swanson) is the girl in the class who informs Ben Stein that Ferris is absent
  • Surreal device of talking to the camera with text on screen
  • What other teen movies include references to the ‘Laffer Curve’?
  • Ferris uses an IBM PC XT to hack into the school systems and later also uses it to draw.
  • Movie references to ALIEN (1979) and DIRTY HARRY (1971)
  • Ferris seems to be using the red bat phone from the Adam West TV series
  • Batman connection in that Nolan’s films use Chicago for Gotham and the Windy City is also the setting for Ferris’ day off
  • The idea of a lie about a dead parent an excuse for skipping school is also used in THE 400 BLOWS (1959)
  • Tension between Cameron and Ferris in the kitchen is very well written and played
  • Matthew Broderick has seemingly not aged since 1986
  • Nice touch that we never actually see Cameron’s parents, which makes the Ferrari sub-plot feel more important
  • Ferris is sort of a Bond figure: expert liar, computer expert, glamourous girlfriend, master of disguise,
  • Incest gag outside the school when Sloane kisses Ferris – maybe influenced by BACK TO THE FUTURE (1985)?
  • Real location shooting, rather than green screen, which is actually used (or misused) in teen comedies
  • Guy at the garage looks suspicious and the reveal of his character is interesting.
  • Tension of Ferris’ mother coming home to check on him is very well done with inventive staging, sound design and music
  • What the hell is going on with the guys in the weird hats at the beginning of the Sears Tower sequence?
  • Unusually for a teen movie Ferris actually proposes to the female lead
  • The snooty (‘snotty’) waiter at the restaurant has gets his comeuppance in a very economical comedy scene
  • If there’s a moral lesson in the film it’s that a computer is better birthday present than a car
  • Scene where Ferris’ dad narrowly misses him in the restaurant is heavily stylised – almost as if Bunel did an 80s teen movie
  • Wrigley Field makes another appearance in the movies e.g. THE BLUES BROTHERS (1980) and THE NATURAL (1984)
  • Note the gag that Principal Rooney knows nothing about sport, as the cook deliberately says the Bears (football) are playing instead of the Cubs (baseball)
  • Slow motion Ferrari sequence doesn’t appear to be using the London Symphony Orchestra version of the STAR WARS (1977) theme.
  • Museum sequence has a definite Sofia Coppola vibe – you can see why it was used for a YouTube mash up
  • Scene where Ferris notices his Dad in the car is a good example of a ‘Texas Switch’ – an old Western trick of switching actors which is also used at the end of ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981)
  • Did the float sequence get good production value out of a real parade?
  • John Hughes movies are filled with doubt about the future, reflecting the very real anxieties of teenage years. But he finds reassuring comedy in this.
  • Rooney’s middle fingered salute to the florist is comedy gold.
  • Notice how Jeannie’s emergency phone calls don’t have any reply audio
  • Cameron’s shock at the mileage on his Ferrari is depicted as a cut to black which is actually the inside of his mouth
  • Cameron flipping out in the pool is similar to a scene in THE DESCENDANTS (2011)
  • Charlie Sheen cameo (“are you in for drugs!”) actually prophetic about his later problems.
  • Great close up of Jeannie’s fist and the sound of the knuckles cracking is a good pay off to the gag that Sheen knows Ferris
  • Good tension as Cameron kicks the car – cutting, sound and dialogue all create the idea that the car is almost a living, breathing thing.
  • Cheesy 80s music used for Cameron and Mia Sara’s final scene
  • Her final line is “he’s going to marry me!” – maybe partly why it so popular with boys and girls
  • Ferris is celebrated for being a liar and Jeannie is punished for telling the truth
  • Interesting use of Steadicam and slow motion in the final chase sequence
  • Climax well handled – the love of a teenage sister trumps her jealousy
  • Good script pay-off with the baseball he caught at Wrigley Field to turn off the stereo
  • Final freeze frame of Ferris was used on some posters (I think)
  • Post-credits screen is a role reversal for the teacher – he has to endure the humiliation of a school bus ride (“Rooney eats it!”)
  • Playful final scene is Ferris telling the audience to stop watching – perfect for the VHS era where multiple viewings would reveal this.