Categories
Interesting Interviews

Citizen Trump

After recently discovering a video of Donald Trump discussing Citizen Kane (1941), it reminded me of an encounter I had once with his ex-wife in the South of France.

Just in case you haven’t seen the video with the property mogul and current Republican frontrunner, it was filmed by Errol Morris as part of a wider project that unfortunately never got made.

The prescience and irony is something to behold, especially if you know Citizen Kane well.

It also reminded of a strange incident during the 2007 Cannes film festival, when a friendly PR girl rang me and asked if I wanted to interview someone in a villa amongst the hills above the famous French town.

Not being too busy that night, I agreed, thinking ‘why not?’ and was intrigued as to who this person might be. A director? Producer? Actor?

As the taxi stopped outside the villa, you could almost feel the wealth and decadence in the air: palm trees peeking over walls, lights shooting into the sky and the noisy gaggle of Eurotrash inside.

My PR contact was waiting at the gates with two burly security guards hovering around her. I asked who my interviewee was, and she told me: “Ivana Trump. Donald’s ex-wife”.

Ah
, yes. I vaguely remembered her. She and her (then) husband Donald were quite the celebrity couple throughout the 1980s, widely covered in gossip columns and magazines (including this interesting piece in Spy magazine).

Donald was even referenced cryptically in Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990) and Ivana (post-divorce) even made an appearance in The First Wives Club (1996), with the memorable line: “Remember girls: don’t get mad, get everything.”

After being ushered inside the garden party, I was directed to a path where fellow journalists were gathered and minders made sure they never went near the real action of the party which was covered by a big tent. But I was still scrambling for questions to ask her as just 30 mins earlier I had been in a hotel bar drinking quite heavily.

Then, after a few minutes, she emerged with a handler whose role was unclear, and my short ‘interview’ began (after a female showbiz hack asked who would play her in a movie.

(I come in around the 1 minute mark!):

Nothing revelatory for sure and truth be told, at the time I was not aware that Ivana was a regular showbiz fixture at Cannes (sometimes charitable, often for lines of retail items) and afterwards it remained in my audio archives. After all it was only 1 question and unrelated to film!

However, after seeing her ex-husband Donald wax lyrical on YouTube about Orson Welles’ astonishing film debut, it took me back to Cannes 2007 and how the themes of Citizen Kane endure: money, fame, power and then what?

Like Kane, Donald has amassed a fortune, gone through divorce and is currently running for political office. What lies ahead for this loud, ambitious man who is dominating the Republican primaries?

Will it be The White House or a wrecked childhood nursery?

> Wikipedia on Ivana Trump, Donald Trump and Citizen Kane
> Roger Ebert’s review of Citizen Kane in 1998

Categories
Interesting Radio

The Orson Welles Radio Tapes

Orson Welles was the multi-talented polymath who was a pioneering figure in twentieth century theatre and film.

2015 marks the centenary of his birth in Kenosha, Wisconsin and various celebrations have been taking place across the world at festivals and cinema societies.

He is still best known for co-writing and directing Citizen Kane (1941), a landmark in film history, but also made astonishingly audacious stage productions, such as a production of Macbeth in Harlem with an all black cast.

However, it was on radio where he reached national attention in 1938 with his infamous adaptation of H.G. Wells’s novel ‘The War of the Worlds’, which was so convincing it caused widespread panic.

His Mercury Theatre group not only produced acclaimed work on stage but also on the airwaves from 1938-40 and again in 1946, with a stock company of actors including Agnes Moorehead, Joseph Cotten, Ray Collins and Helen Hayes.

Courtesy of the Internet Archive site, here is a selection of his work, which includes literary classics, especially Shakespeare, but also dramas by Thornton Wilder and Noel Coward.


 

> Shakespeare

The Bard was a pivotal figure in Welles’ career and various abridged productions Welles produced included Hamlet, Twelfth Night, Julius Caesar, The Merchant of Venice, Macbeth, Henry V, Romeo and Juliet, Richard II, Richard III and King Lear.


 

> Mercury Theater Productions in 1938

If Welles was sadly denied creative control for most of his film career, his radio work was a different story. In 1938 he was given full reign in various adaptations of literary classics, including Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Treasure Island, and The Count of Monte Cristo. The music was by Benard Herrmann, a future collaborator on Citizen Kane.


 

> Radio Almanac Pt. 1

A mix of comedy, trivia, music and drama, with Agnes Moorehead as president of “the Orson Welles Swoon Club”. Guests include Nat King Cole and Kid Ory.


 

> Radio Almanac Pt. 2

Before The War of the Worlds made him (in)famous, the 22 year-old prodigy funded his theatrical productions with radio work, including a year playing avenging crimefighter ‘The Shadow’.


 

> Wartime Broadcasts

A collection of shows made during World War II, including the liberation of Paris, the Fifth War Loan Drive and
GI Journal. A fascinating snapshot of the time, it shows a more serious side to Welles, as well as illuminating a key episode of twentieth century.


 

> Commentaries

Long before Rupert Murdoch (a modern day Charles Foster Kane) owned the New York Post, Welles was a columnist on the paper and also had a weekly political radio broadcast, covering such topics as the atomic bomb tests, and the blinding of war veteran Isaac Woodard.


 

> The Bogdanovich Interviews

Director Peter Bogdanovich became a friend of Welles and conducted a series of audio interviews between 1969 and 1970. They discuss his life and career, including the success of Citizen Kane (1941) and later films such as The Lady from Shanghai (1947), Touch of Evil (1958), and Chimes at Midnight (1960). In total this runs to about 4 hours, but is fascinating if you are interested in the filmmaking techniques Welles pioneered and the general arc of his career.


 

> The Lost Tapes of Orson Welles (BBC World Service Documentary)

Presented by Christopher Frayling, this 2014 documentary was broadcast on the BBC World Service. It explores audio of the conversations Welles had with his friend Henry Jaglom from 1983-85 and explores his life and career. Contributors include Welles biographer Simon Callow and film writer Peter Biskind.


 

> Find more about Orson Welles at Wikipedia
> WellesNet – A great resource for fans and aficionados

Categories
Archive Interesting Podcast

Frank Darabont on The Shawshank Redemption

Frank Darabont on The Shawshank Redemption

* A previously unpublished interview from the FILMdetail archives *

Back in 2004, I spoke with writer-director Frank Darabont about the 10th anniversary of The Shawshank Redemption (1994).

Whilst not an initial success, it gradually became one of the most beloved films of all time, consistently ranking at No. 1 on the Internet Movie Database.

Listen to the interview below, which was recorded in September 2014:

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> Buy the film on Blu-ray or DVD at Amazon UK
> Find out more about The Shawshank Redemption at Wikipedia
> Frank Darabont at the IMDb
> WSJ article on how The Shawshank Redemption keeps making money

Categories
Behind The Scenes Interesting

The Sound of Gravity

Skip Lievsay on the Sound of Gravity

The sound of Gravity is a crucial element of the film and in this Soundworks video director Alfonso Cuaron and Re-recording Mixer Skip Lievsay discuss how they (and the sound teams) created the dramatic soundscape of outer space.

SoundWorks Collection: The Sound of Gravity from Michael Coleman on Vimeo.

Gravity opens in the UK on November 8th

> Official site
> LFF 2013 review

Categories
Directors Interesting

John Landis on The Talking Room

John Landis on The Talking Room

The director John Landis recently sat down with Adam Savage of the Talking Room to discuss his life and career.

Over the course of an hour they discuss:

  • His break as a production assistant on Kelly’s Heroes (1978)
  • Working on Spaghetti Westerns in Spain
  • An American Werewolf in London (1981)
  • Animal House (1978)
  • Three Amigos (1987)
  • Make-up maestro Rick Baker
  • Meeting Stanley Kubrick
  • Paul McCartney’s song for Spies Like Us (1985)
  • Changes to the movie business

> John Landis at the IMDb
> Tested

Categories
Documentaries Interesting

The March (1963)

MLK at March on Washington

To mark the 50th anniversary of the The March for Jobs and Freedom, the US National Archives have posted a digitally restored version of James Blue’s famous documentary.

You can watch it here:

> Find more about the US Civil Rights Movement at Wikipedia
> Civil Rights Roundtable 1963 involving Charlton Heston, Harry Belafonte and Marlon Brando

Categories
Directors Interesting

The Future of Movies (1990)

The Future of Movies in 1990

Back in 1990 the late Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel hosted a TV special which featured directors Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Martin Scorsese discussing the future of movies.

Spielberg and Lucas made headlines earlier this summer by predicting the implosion of Hollywood’s current economic model, but what did they feel 23 years ago?

The answer lies in this programme – recently discovered by Cinephilia and Beyond – where they not only discuss the future of movies but also their careers and a good deal else beside, including:

  • The possibility of a sequel to E.T. (1982)
  • Spielberg’s interest in a Howard Hughes project
  • Lucas on the Star Wars prequels
  • Scorsese on Goodfellas (1990) and commercial success
  • The sex scene in Don’t Look Now (1973)
  • HD television
  • Film preservation

You can watch the full programme here (along with the fast-forwarded ads):

> RogerEbert.com
> Find out about 1990 on film at Wikipedia

Categories
Behind The Scenes Interesting

Writing With Light

Writing With Light

A 1992 documentary about cinematographer Vittorio Storaro provides a fascinating insight into his working life.

Best known for his work with Bernardo Bertolucci, Francis Ford Coppola and Warren Beatty, he is one of the greatest of his era.

This 55 minute programme features interviews with the man himself and his collaborators, interspersed with footage of him working on several films.

Amongst other things it features him talking about:

  • The qualities of magic hour
  • His Oscar wins
  • The Conformist (1970)
  • Apocalypse Now (1979)
  • His theory of colour
  • One from the Heart (1982)
  • Dick Tracy (1990)
  • The Sheltering Sky (1990)
  • His use of hi-def video in 1983
  • Imago Urbis (1992)

> Official website
> Vittorio Storaro at the IMDb
> More posts on cinematography

Categories
Behind The Scenes Interesting

The (Extended) Making of The Shining

Extended Staircases to Nowhere

The full version of The Elstree Project‘s documentary about The Shining is now available online.

Stanley Kubrick’s famous horror was originally documented in a 17 minute short film, as part of the project designed to document the famous studios of Elstree and Borehamwood.

But now they have released a much longer version lasting 55 minutes with contributions from:

  • Brian Cook – 1st AD
  • Jan Harlan – Producer
  • Christiane Kubrick – Wife of Stanley Kubrick
  • Mick Mason – Camera Technician
  • Ray Merrin – Post-Production Sound
  • Doug Milsome – 1st AC and Second Unit Camera
  • Kelvin Pike – Camera Operator
  • Ron Punter – Scenic Artist
  • June Randall – Continuity
  • Julian Senior – Warner Bros. Publicity

They discuss many aspects of the film including the 2nd Unit footage shot in America, the different stages at Elstree, the use of Steadicam, the fire on set, and what Kubrick was like to work with.

> The Elstree Project
> Buy The Stanley Kubrick Boxset from Amazon UK
> Previous Stanley Kubrick Posts

Categories
Interesting

Gordon Willis Craft Truck Interview

Legendary cinematographer Gordon Willis recently sat down with Craft Truck for a lengthy interview about his career.

In the first video he discusses his work on such films as The Godfather (1972), Klute (1971), Manhattan (1979) and Annie Hall (1977).

Plus, he also talks about his thoughts on editing, the importance of simplicity and ‘dump truck directing’.

In the second, he talks about Stardust Memories (1980), The Godfather II (1974), lenses, Francis Ford Coppola, All the President’s Men (1976), Interiors (1978) and The Devil’s Own (1997).

> Find out more about Gordon Willis at Wikipedia
> Craft Truck

Categories
Behind The Scenes Interesting

Operation Dirty Dozen

Operation Dirty Dozen

An old behind-the-scenes featurette for The Dirty Dozen offers a glimpse in how movies were marketed in a bygone era.

Long before DVDs, the internet and viral marketing, there were making of featurettes which were used to plug forthcoming films.

In a sense they were like short films, using B-roll footage and scripted voice-overs to describe the stars and production.

They seem like a long way from how movies are pushed to audiences now, with fans at Comic-Con lapping up news of projects yet to be made.

The Dirty Dozen remains one of the ultimate ‘guys on a mission’ film, a huge hit in 1967 that spawned numerous imitators such as Kelly’s Heroes (1970) and was a big influence on Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds (2009).

Below you can see Lee Marvin filming the opening sequence and also grooving in 1960s London, along with Donald Sutherland, John Cassavetes and Jim Brown.

N.B. Aldbury was the location of the first school I ever went to.

> The Dirty Dozen at Wikipedia
> The Making of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Categories
Directors Interesting

Ridley Scott Omnibus

Ridley Scott on Omnibus in 1992

Director Ridley Scott was the subject of BBC arts programme Omnibus in 1992.

Titled Eye of the Storm, it was first shown on UK television around the release of 1492: Conquest of Paradise (1992).

Although there is a certain irony that Scott’s career suffered a dip soon after (until his renaissance with Gladiator in 2000), it is a solid profile filled with various collaborators, including David Carradine, Sigourney Weaver, Mimi Rogers, Michael Douglas and his two sons Jake and Luke.

Amongst the things discussed are:

> More on Ridley Scott at Wikipedia
> Sundance Labs interview with Ridley Scott from 2002

Categories
Interesting

William Goldman WGF Interview

William Goldman Interview

In 2010, screenwriter William Goldman sat down with the Writers Guild Foundation for a lengthy chat.

Famous for writing such films as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), Marathon Man (1976), All the President’s Men (1976) and The Princess Bride (1987).

He’s also known for coining the phrase ‘nobody knows anything’ and his two books about his experiences in Hollywood, Adventures in the Screen Trade (1982) and Which Lie Did I Tell? (2000), are essential reading.

Amongst other things, he talks about:

  • His first screenplay
  • The changes in the business since the 1960s
  • His background and early life
  • Military service
  • Getting his first novel was published
  • His early education in movies
  • The importance of Cliff Robertson to his career
  • Differences between the Hollywood of yesteryear and today
  • Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)
  • His time at Princeton
  • The Great Waldo Pepper
  • Why he never wanted to direct
  • The one film he regrets not writing
  • Marathon Man (1976)
  • Agents
  • His time in the ‘wilderness’
  • The pirate movie he wrote that never got made
  • Working with Clint Eastwood

Watch the full 93 minute interview here:

> Buy Adventures in the Screen Trade and Which Lie Did I Tell? at Amazon UK
> William Goldman at the IMDb
> Writers Guild Foundation

Categories
Interesting

The Legacy of All the President’s Men

Redford Woodward Bernstein

Back in April 2001 Robert Redford, Bob Woodward, and Carl Bernstein recognised the 35th anniversary of All the President’s Men at the LBJ Presidential Library.

The three sat down for a lengthy discussion (around 80 minutes) and shared numerous anecdotes about Watergate and the subsequent film, including:

  • How Redford first heard about the affair in 1972.
  • Why the differences between Woodward and Bernstein appealed to Redford.
  • The reason the film focused on just a part of the investigation.
  • The book actually came out before Nixon resigned.
  • Redford becoming ‘obsessed’ with the material.
  • How Jason Robards was eventually cast as editor Ben Bradlee after his initial reluctance.
  • The reaction of the journalist duo when they finally saw the film.

You can watch the full discussion here:

> Buy the Blu-ray or DVD from Amazon UK
> Find out more about the Watergate scandal at Wikipedia

Categories
Hitchcock Interesting

Rear Window Timelapse

Jeff Desom has constructed an ingenious timelapse video using footage from Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954).

It plays chronologically but the effect is quite startling, especially if you are a fan of the film (I’d place it amongst his very finest).

More information on how it was made is here: http://jeffdesom.com/hitch/

The music used is Hungarian Dance No. 5, composed by Johannes Brahms (arranged by Hugo Winterhalter).

[via Metafilter]

> Jeff Desom
> Rear Window at the IMDb

Categories
Interesting

Rare Dutch Documentary on Stanley Kubrick

Part of a Dutch documentary about Stanley Kubrick has surfaced last December on YouTube and offers tantalising glimpses into his working methods.

I’m guessing it would have been made and broadcast on Dutch TV as a tribute in the months after the director’s death in March 1999.

You can watch the 13 minute piece here:

Among the things it features are:

  • Rare footage of Kubrick talking to the press at the premiere of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) where he reveals production actually began in 1965
  • George Sluizer, director of The Vanishing (1988), with wise words about the genuine emotion in Kubrick’s films
  • Kubrick spent several hours on the phone to Sluizer trying to persuade him to edit digitally – this was the pre-Avid days of the late 1980s when he was using Montage to edit Full Metal Jacket (1987)
  • How Belgian director Harry KĂŒmel, who made Daughters of Darkness (1971), met Kubrick and found him to be charming and open about the filmmaking process
  • Actress Johanna ter Steege describes Kubrick’s pre-production work on his abandoned adaptation of Louis Begley’s Wartime Lies
  • Malcolm McDowell at the Venice Film Festival in 1997 on how Kubrick encouraged Steven Berkoff to spit all over him on A Clockwork Orange (1971)

If you watch the documentaries Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures (2001) on the most recent DVD and Blu-ray box sets of Kubrick’s work and Jon Ronson’s Stanley Kubrick’s Boxes (2008), you’ll see a pattern emerge of great passion, technical obsession, restless curiosity and affable charm.

I love the fact that if you went into the St. Albans branch of Ryman‘s stationary store sometime in the 1990s you could bump in to one of the greatest directors in cinema history buying some ink and pens.

> Buy The Stanley Kubrick Blu-ray collection at Amazon UK
> More on Stanley Kubrick at Wikipedia

Categories
Digital Interesting

Walter Murch on the Digital Revolution

The art and science of cinema is undergoing seismic changes as it completes the transition from analogue to digital.

Who better to guide us through this transition than legendary editor and sound designer Walter Murch?

He recently discussed the evolution of film technology from 5.1 sound to Final Cut Pro with Lawrence Weschler at the Chicago Humanities Festival.

As an editor Murch’s career has straddled the transition from traditional celluloid to modern digital cinema.

But he is equally important as a sound designer, virtually inventing 5.1 surround sound with Coppola on Apocalypse Now.

You can watch the hour long discussion here:

Among the subjects they discussed were:

  • The episode of Clone Wars he recently directed
  • How THX 1138 (1971) began as a student project
  • The last completely analogue film he worked on was Fred Zinneman’s Julia (1977)
  • How the work print of Apocalypse Now (1979) weighed 7 tonnes
  • The link between information, energy and money
  • A truly brilliant comparison between the financial meltdown and cancer

> Walter Murch at Wikipedia
> Collected articles on Walter Murch at Film Sound
> From Celluloid to Digital

Categories
Interesting

Indiewire Distribution Panel 2011

Last summer indieWIRE hosted a panel discussion in New York on how film distribution has changed since the site launched in 1996.

Hosted by Editor-in-Chief Dana Harris, the following people were involved:

Amongst the topics they talk about, include:

  • How the speed of release has changed
  • The death of regional film critics
  • How critical influence is now in the hands of a small group of critics (e.g. NY Times, Ebert, David Germain of the AP)
  • The inflation of theatrical ticket prices
  • How Secrets and Lies and Breaking the Waves would never make today the money they did back in 1996
  • How genuine indie movies like Exit Through The Gift Shop have to be more aggressive with advance screenings
  • A bad review in the Village Voice follows you to 17 other cities as they syndicate their reviews
  • Insidious cost $800,000 to make but by directly engaging the horror audience (e.g. filmmaker Q&As and horror websites) it lasted 14 weeks in its theatrical run.
  • How TV sales for foreign films are non-existent now
  • The role of Netflix
  • Tablets as TVs
  • DVD is disappearing quicker than streaming is filling the void
  • How the interface of systems like VOD systems like iTunes and Netflix is a huge issue
  • The problem of VOD tracking numbers, compared to VHS and theatrical (a paradox which show how dominant players like to keep data to themselves)
  • How Bingham Ray was asked to ‘bump up’ the sales figures of an early Jim Carrey film (!)
  • How does an older audience more comfortable with print media cope with the death
  • Younger audiences not wanting to pay for films like The Human Centipede or Black Dynamite
  • How getting out of the house for a communal experience is what is going to keep cinema alive
  • ‘Eventising’ (e.g. live Q&As beamed by satellite across the country)
  •  How younger musicians are wanting to compose music for silent films
  • The rise and fall of the indie bubble coinciding with indieWIRE’s existence
  • How now is a time when “anything is possible and nothing works” (a quote from Richard Lorber)
  • The ever changing distribution landscape

> What indieWIRE looked like in 1996
> More on film distribution at Wikipedia

Categories
Interesting

The Orson Welles Shakespeare Collection

Audio of Orson Welles performing Shakespeare on the radio between 1936 and 1946 has surfaced online.

Before he went on to make Citizen Kane (1941), Welles made a name for himself on radio with various broadcasts, including his infamous version of War of the Worlds in 1938.

Now thanks to the Internet Archive, have a listen to or download Welles perform in Hamlet, Twelfth Night, Julius Caesar, The Merchant of Venice, Macbeth, Henry V, Romeo and Juliet, Richard III, Richard II and King Lear.

You can download them as MP3 files by clicking on the links below:

You can also listen to his 1 hour version of Dracula by clicking here.

> Orson Welles at Wikipedia
> The Mercury Theater

Categories
Behind The Scenes Interesting

The Making of Husbands

An old BBC documentary shows how John Cassavetes made his low budget film Husbands (1970).

Although slightly more expensive than his first four films – Shadows (1959), Too Late Blues (1961), A Child is Waiting (1963) and Faces (1968) – it is a fascinating insight into how independent films were made before the Sundance revolution.

During this period of directing he was better known as an actor in films such as Don Siegel’s The Killers (1964), Robert Aldrich’s The Dirty Dozen (1967) and Roman Polanski‘s Rosemary’s Baby (1968).

But he was using this acting money to self-finance his films as a director – often shooting scenes in his own home – and even forming as a company to handle foreign distribution.

Husbands saw him star alongside Peter Falk and Ben Gazzara as a trio of married men who go on a spree around New York and London, after the funeral of one of their close friends.

This BBC documentary probably aired on BBC1 around the UK release.

Note the following:

  • The incredibly posh BBC presenter
  • The light handheld cameras
  • Use of real locations
  • The improvised dolly on the back of a car
  • How Cassevetes works his actors
  • Use of long lenses
  • The ‘problem’ of a professional crew
  • Working with ‘no story’
  • The hose down at (what is presumably) Heathrow airport
  • Cassevetes getting frustrated with his crew
  • The sheer amount of smoking that goes on
  • Filming at Bank Station on the London Underground
  • Cassavetes saying: “Actors will put their money where their mouth is. Directors won’t”

> Husbands at the IMDb and Wikipedia
> Ray Carney’s links on Cassevetes
> Article on the making of Husbands
> Ben Gazzara (1930-2012) – including video of a memorable chat show appearance
> More on Independent film at Wikipedia

 

Categories
Festivals Interesting

The Future of Cinema Panel at VIFF 2011

A panel last September at the Vancouver Film Festival raised some interesting points about the digital revolution affecting cinema.

The panel included: film critic David Bordwell; producer Simon Field; film critic and TIFF programmer Andréa Picard; film critic and Vancity program coordinator Tom Charity; and the director of VIFF, Alan Franey.

The discuss the following topics:

  • The imminent death of 35mm prints and what that means
  • The possible future of film festivals in the digital age
  • Whether celluloid is like vinyl
  • Parallels with the music business
  • Torrenting and the problems it poses
  • The quality of projection
  • The importance of festivals in developing a more rounded appreciation of the medium
  • Failure of film education to expose students to new forms of cinema
  • The serious problem of preserving digitally native films (Bordwell’s blog post is here)
  • Higher frame-rates
  • The projection difference between digital (pixels) and celluloid (molecules)
  • Challenges facing festivals in appealing to the next generation
  • A new generation of critics emerging online
  • The responsibility festivals have to cinema history
  •  How hard social times might be good for filmmakers

[via Film Studies for Free]

> Vancouver Film Festival on Vimeo
> From Celluloid to Digital

Categories
Interesting

Everything is a Remix Part 4

The fourth video essay by Kirby Ferguson in his Everything is a Remix series explores how copyright has become corrupted in the information age.

For his previous videos, check out Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

Ferguson’s next project This is Not a Conspiracy Theory already has a KickStarter page which you can donate to.

> Kirby Ferguson at Vimeo
> More on copyright at Wikipedia

Categories
Directors Interesting

Sidney Lumet Interview from 1999

Back in 1999 director Sidney Lumet sat down for a three hour interview about his life and career in television.

He later went on to make his name as a film director with such films as 12 Angry Men (1957), Dog Day Afternoon (1975), Network (1976) and The Verdict (1982).

But his background in theatre and television were a big influence on his subsequent work and this lengthy discussion is a fascinating insight into his early career.

The conversation with Ralph Engelmen in 1999 for the Archive of American Television covered his growing up during the Depression, his early work in theater and the pioneering days of television, the era of McCarthyism and his subsequent transition to feature films.

PART 1

PART 2

  • Actor training
  • The thread between modern playwrights and ancient Greek drama
  • Why early television recruited people from the theater
  • How he got hired by CBS in 1950 before he even owned a TV
  • Working as an assistant to then-director Yul Brynner
  • How the production technology of early TV worked.

PART 3

  • The early live TV dramas of the 1950s
  • How audio was recorded in early television (no radio mics!)
  • Working with Walter Cronkite
  • Camera interview techniques
  • Working with James Dean
  • How the discipline of TV served him well in later years
  • The legendary CBS news team and the Blacklist

PART 4

  • How he was visited by two FBI agents (who actually wore fedoras) during the Second Red Scare
  • The Blacklisted writers who formed a co-op
  • Actors who were effectively banned during this period
  • How rumours quickly spread
  • His return to Broadway and how Henry Fonda spotted him for 12 Angry Men

PART 5

  • The origins of 12 Angry Men
  • Differences between working in film and TV
  • His encyclopaedic knowledge of camera lenses
  • How TV cameras used multiple lenses and subsequently proved great training for movies
  • His approach to working with actors
  • How directing is distilling a piece to a core theme
  • The importance of flexibility
  • The painful process of acting
  • How the lack of interior studio space in New York boosted TV production in LA.

PART 6

  • His first experiences with videotape
  • The differences between working on videotape and film
  • How video is ‘far superior’ to film (remember, this was 1999!)
  • The reason live TV dramas died out
  • The influence of money on quality TV shows (‘the common denominator became more common’)
  • How he directed ‘The Howard Beale Show’ live when he shot Network (1976)
  • How everything in that film has actually happened …except killing someone
  • How TV network rivalries actually helped boost the appeal of Network (they all thought it was about a rival)
  • The isolating experience of watching TV compared to cinema or sports
  • How TV essentially stopped the Vietnam War and advice for people starting out

It’s a bit of a beast to sit through in one go, so it might be worth watching in half hour chunks.

> Sidney Lumet at IMDb, Wikipedia and TSFDT
> Buy 12 Angry Men, The Offence, Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, Network and The Verdict on Amazon UK

Categories
Directors Interesting

Steven Spielberg at La CinémathÚque Francaise

Last month Steven Spielberg sat down for an hour long discussion with Costra-Gavras and Serge Toubiana at La CinémathÚque Francaise.

It was part of the European press tour for War Horse but the length and quality of the conversation made it much more than the usual press junket and red-carpet sound bites (where time is limited).

What made it extra special is that the two guys asking the questions really know their stuff.

Costa-Gavras directed two of the best political dramas ever made in Z (1969) and Missing (1982), whilst Toubiana was was the long time editor of Cahiers du cinéma (1981-1991) and is currently director of La CinémathÚque Française.

Spielberg wrote after the event:

“Not since Cannes in ’82 have I been so moved by an audience of lovers. I will never forget today!”

As you can imagine it was a pretty fascinating conversation, which formed part of the Spielberg season they are currently running, which lasts until March 3rd.

Although the questions are asked in French, Spielberg had an earpiece through which quick translations were made, so the conversation flows pretty well.

They never discuss it, but Costa-Gavras’ Z (1968) – one of the great films of the 1960s – was a major influence on Spielberg’s Munich (2005).

Here is the English version:

(Click here for the French version).

Spielberg starts speaking at around 03.36 and the conversation covers the following:

  • The ‘secret of his success’ and the ‘nervous energy’ that keeps him making movies
  • Why he made War Horse and how he directed the horses
  • The influence of John Ford (e.g. the landscape and choosing wide-shots over close-ups)
  • How he fell down a hole during shooting
  • Researching World War I at the Imperial War Museum in London
  • Why he didn’t use CGI horses and
  • Patience as a working tool in working with animals and children
  • The importance of casting and listening to actors
  • Using wide-angle lenses in shooting horses and the Devon landscape
  • His regular ‘chameleon collaborators’ (e.g. John Williams, Janusz Kaminski and Kathleen Kennedy)
  • Why his editor Michael Kahn persuaded him to edit Lincoln (2012) on an Avid
  • He will still shoot on photographic film for the foreseeable future
  • How he selects film projects
  • Shooting 3 films in 12 months (The Lost World, Amistad and Saving Private Ryan)
  • Why John Ford never shot coverage to prevent studio interference
  • How he got final cut after Jaws (1975) and why it is sometimes dangerous
  • How Duel (1971) was inspired by an issue of Playboy
  • Why some of the best writing is now in US cable television (e.g. Boardwalk Empire, Modern Family etc.)
  • Why he cast Francois Truffaut in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
  • How Spielberg helped translate the title of L’Argent de poche to Small Change
  • Crazy Hollywood sayings like ‘product’ and ‘taking a lunch’
  • The influence of 9/11 on Minority Report (2002) and War of the Worlds (2005)
  • Why he became more interested in news and world events after becoming a parent
  • At 51:32 Costa-Gravas says something which leaves Spielberg speechless in admiration – can any French speakers translate?
  • The danger in having too much confidence and why a lack of it can be essential
  • The work of the Shoah Foundation and how some survivors had never talked about their experiences before
  • Why he shoots on schedule
  • His work as a producer and studio head
UPDATE: 08/02/12: Richard Brody has provided a translation via Twitter:

> La CinémathÚque française
> Arte.TV page for the event
> Serge Toubiana’s blog about the event (in French but use Google Translate)
> Find out more about Steven Spielberg and Costa-Gavras at Wikipedia

Categories
Interesting Technology

3D Printing

3-D printing seems like science fiction but is a reality that could have a profound effect on our lives.

It is essentially the process of creating real-life three dimensional objects from a digital file on a computer.

There is a long history of movie technology ‘predicting’ the future, such as the tablet computers in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) or the gesture-based UI’s in Minority Report (2002).

If you saw Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol recently, amongst the gadgets the IMF team used was a 3D printer in order to create masks.

Fantasy? Well, Japanese company REAL-f have actually developed a 3-D printer that can make a detailed replica of your face.

This is handy if you want to go to a Halloween party as yourself, but it also illuminates how digital technologies have the potential to literally shape our physical world.

In the same way that the development of the printing press and moveable type galvanised seismic human epochs like the Renaissance and Enlightenment, this has the potential to do the same for our age.

But how exactly does it work?

Lisa Harouni is the co-founder and CEO of Digital Forming, a company that creates the digital software used to run 3D printing processes.

She gave a TED talk explaining how it all works:

Another video that covers this area is Klaus Stadlmann‘s TED talk on how he built the world’s smallest 3D printer.

Technology is often characterised in the mainstream media as ‘geeky’ or the province of nerds.

But the example he uses of the hearing aid is actually a practical example of technology benefitting the ‘real world’.

To use a narrow example from the film industry, could prop companies reduce their costs by using 3D printers and building physical things? (Are there any that already do?)

But aside from the myriad of manufacturing possibilities, 3D printing could solve urgent medical problems.

Surgeon Anthony Atala is involved in a field known as ‘regenerative medicine’ and shows how human organs can physically be created using a 3D printer.

Essentially, the concept is that the printer uses living cells to output transplantable organs.

With people living longer this could have profound implications for the organ-donor problem.

Although a ‘printed’ kidney is years away from medical use, just wait for the end of the video for a moving demonstration of how science and technology can solve human problems.

> Find out more about 3D printing at Wikipedia
> TED

Categories
Interesting Short Films

Yosemite HD

Sheldon Neill and Colin Delehanty have created a stunning time-lapse video of Yosemite National Park in California.

Part of Project Yosemite it was shot on the Canon 5D Mark II with a variety of Canon L and Zeiss CP.2 lenses.

The song used is ‘Outro’ by M83 from the album Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming.

This behind the scenes video shows how it was shot:

> Project Yosemite
> Find out more about Yosemite National Park at Wikipedia

Categories
Interesting Random

Jaws Vertigoed

Indiewire have recently been running a mash-up contest in light of the recent story about The Artist using music from Vertigo.

If you missed the story, Kim Novak recently took out an ad in Variety to complain about the use of some of Bernard Herrmann’s score in Michel Hazanavicius’s tribute to the silent era.

Press Play then decided to see how it sounded against other film sequences, so they staged a contest called ‘Vertigoed’ with the following rules:

  1. Take the same Herrmann cue — “Scene D’Amour,” used in this memorable moment from Vertigo — and match it with a clip from any film. (You can nick the three-minute section from one of Kevin’s mash-ups if it makes things easier.) Is there any clip, no matter how silly, nonsensical, goofy or foul, that the score to Vertigo can’t ennoble? Let’s find out!
  2. Although you can use any portion of “Scene D’Amour” as your soundtrack, the movie clip that you pair it with cannot have ANY edits; it must play straight through over the Herrmann music. This is an exercise in juxtaposition and timing. If you slice and dice the film clip to make things “work,” it’s cheating. MONTAGES WILL BE DISQUALIFIED.
  3. Upload the result to YouTube, Vimeo, blipTV or wherever, email the link to [email protected] along with your name, and we’ll add your mash-up to this Index page.

Given that they have recently been running an excellent video series on Steven Spielberg, the sequence that immediately popped into my head was this one from Jaws (1975).

Mainly because of the use of the “zoom dolly” shot that Hitchcock made famous on Vertigo but also because there are some interesting connections between the two directors.

Both made significant films at Universal and Hitchcock was also a major shareholder of the studio as Jaws smashed box office records.

Its financial success would have made both men a lot of money, but the two were destined never to meet.

In fact, Spielberg was twice escorted off the set of Hitchcock movies on the Universal lot.

According to a book by John Baxter, as a young man he was thrown off the set of Torn Curtain (1966) and years later an assistant director asked him to leave whilst Hitch was shooting Family Plot (1976):

There’s probably a reason that ‘Scene d’Amour’ has been used so often as a temp track (i.e. a piece of temporary music used before the composer settles on a final score), which is that it lends a haunting beauty to almost any image.

With that in mind here is the scene from Jaws set to Herrmann’s music:

The music accentuates the tragedy of a mother losing her son, whilst with Williams’ score there was a sense of impending dread and brilliantly orchestrated horror.

Note also how the scene in the original version is free of music until the shark appears.

Take a look at the entries over on the Press Play site, which sets the track to various films including Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, Rocky, The Great Dictator and They Live.

> Buy Scene D’Amour by Bernard Herrmann from the Vertigo soundtrack
> Press Play Vertigoed Contest and their Video Series on Spielberg
> Buy Jaws on DVD
> Buy Vertigo on DVD

Categories
Behind The Scenes Interesting

The Cost of Star Wars

How much did Star Wars (1977) cost to make?

A quick Wikipedia search tells us that the budget was $11m.

But what if we wanted to dig a little deeper?

Browsing an old bookstore, I came across Joel Finler’s The Hollywood Story which reprinted a breakdown of the Star Wars budget.

This in itself was reprinted from David Pirie’s Anatomy of the Movies, which in turn was presuambly sourced from a 20th Century Fox or Lucasfilm financial statement.

It is worth noting that these figures would have been from 1980 – before the dollars from home video and merchandising really began to flow.

[Click here for a larger version]

There are a few things that stand out:

  1. The Cost of the Visual Effects: Star Wars was effectively the birth of the modern visual effects industry and this can be seen by the unusually high budget for the ‘special effects and models of spaceships and robots’.
  2. The Transport and Tunisia Location Costs: The $700,000 it took to take the film to the North African desert paid off as early on in the film it gave it a sense of real world scope.
  3. World Wide Box Office Receipts: When this statement was published the figure of $510m was pretty spectacular, overtaking Jaws (1975) which ushered in the blockbuster era with $470m. Spielberg would regain the all-time box office crown with E.T. (1982) record-breaking $792m.
  4. The Negative Cost: When budgets are often quoted in the mainstream press, the figure usually being discussed its what’s called a ‘negative cost’ – the price it took to produce the finished negative of the movie. Here it was $11m, which actually tallies with the Wikipedia figure.
  5. Prints and Advertsing: This is the combined cost of producing the film prints, shipping them to cinemas around the world and then marketing the fact that the film is showing (outdoor posters, television spots etc). Traditionally the global profits are split 50/50 between studio and exhibitor, although it can vary. The typical exhibitor’s share in the US is split 45 to 55% and in the Rest of the World 55 to 65%. UK exhibitors often keep an unusually high amount, averaging around 65 to 70%. In the case of Star Wars the $510m was carved up between exhibitors ($260m) and the studio ($250m).
  6. Percentage Points: Fox, Lucasfilm and various actors accepted percentage points of the final profits. Fox took %60 ($88.5m) and the producers took %40 ($59m). Of that producer share several actors got unexpected bonuses. Chief among them was Alec Guinness (%2.75 or $3.3m), Mark Hamill (%0.25 or $368,750), Carrie Fisher (%0.25 or $368,750) and Harrison Ford (%0.33 or $1m), set workers (%0.5 or $73,750) and office workers (%0.02 or $$7,375)

As of 2008, the overall box office revenue generated by the six Star Wars films is around $4.41 billion.

Only the Harry Potter and James Bond franchises have grossed more.

Aside from making George Lucas a lot of money, their other creative legacy is the creation of ILM, the company founded to create the visual effects for the movies.

For example, the opening shot of Star Wars took eight months and Lucas wanted people who could use the power of computers to help make the process easier.

Lucas hired Ed Catmull, who was in charge of the computer division at Lucasfilm and Alvy Ray Smith, who became head of the graphics project there.

When Lucas sold this computer graphics division to Steve Jobs in 1986, the former Apple boss (who would eventually return in 1997) renamed the company Pixar.

It would eventually go on to make animation history with a series of pioneering short films, Toy Story (1995) and a series of Oscar-winning and box office triumphs.

But for more on that, story check out the history of Pixar.

> Star Wars at Wikipedia
> Skillset breakdown of film finances

Categories
Interesting music

Buck 65 Title Card Video

The new video from Buck 65 pays homage to notable title cards from cinema history.

Created by Travis Hopkins, Superstars Don’t Love manages to cram in a lot of references into just 1 minute and 28 seconds.

Did you notice them all?

Art of the Title has a post explaining how it was put together, including some direct comparisons.

> Buck 65
> Art of the Title
> Christian Annyas’ Movie Title Stills Collection

Categories
Awards Season Interesting

The Hollywood Reporter’s Actor’s Roundtable 2011

The Hollywood Reporter have posted the full video of their awards season round table with various actors in this year’s Oscar race.

It includes George Clooney (The Descendants and The Ides of March), Christopher Plummer (Beginners), Gary Oldman (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), Christoph Waltz (Carnage), Albert Brooks (Drive) and Nick Nolte (Warrior).

As you can imagine this kind of gathering makes for a pretty fascinating discussion, especially as it lasts just over an hour:

It zig and zags across various issues but here’s a mini-breakdown of the highlights:

  • Oldman on being asked to play Charles Manson, the influence of his mother and the Bryan Forbes film that inspired a
  • Plummer on playing King Lear on stage, the most challenging role he’s played, being 80 and what makes actors great.
  • Clooney on becoming an actor, the career of his aunt Rosemary Clooney and making challenging films.
  • Nolte on getting old, 48 Hours, not finding work, repertory theatre companies and a great story about Barry Lyndon.
  • Brooks on the psychology of stardom, why Jack Benny was his idol and the overall social value of acting.
  • Waltz on finding success relatively late in his career, his roles after Inglourious Basterds and the nature of acting.

> The Hollywood Reporter
> Latest on the awards season at Awardsdaily and In Contention

Categories
Interesting

The Spielberg Face

This video essay by Kevin B. Lee highlights a signature feature of director Steven Spielberg.

Whenever you watch a Spielberg movie there is a good chance you will see the camera zoom in on a character looking at something (or someone) in awe.

As the video points out it was not a new technique, but the enormous success of his movies meant that it became synonymous with the wonder of his films.

It is an effective technique as it literally draws us closer to the characters and stokes our imagination as to what is being looked at.

Perhaps it goes back to the famous “Dolly zoom” shot of Roy Scheider on the beach in Jaws (1975) where we get a disturbing close-up before cutting to glimpses of a dreadful shark attack (it’s around 2.01 in the clip below).

But the visual motif also functions as a metaphor for his career – a director who cares deeply about his audiences before providing them with something of wonder to look at.

> Transcript of the essay at Fandor
> Steven Spielberg at the IMDb, MUBi and TSFDT
> Chaos Cinema the Rise of the Avid

Categories
Interesting Viral Video

Dragon Tattoo Hard Copy Viral

As part of the viral campaign for The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo Sony have released an ingenious recreation of a 1990s TV show.

It has never ceased to amaze me how badly big budget movies have traditionally executed on screen news graphics (e.g. that ‘news report’ during climax of Spiderman 3).

But David Fincher isn’t the kind of director to allow sloppy visuals into his movies.

Even if he just oversaw it, his noted perfectionism and knowledge of various video formats may have influenced the final result, due to his extensive work in commercials and music videos since the 1980s.

So perhaps that was why this fantastic recreation of Hard Copy appeared on YouTube recently:

Those who have read the book, or seen the Swedish film, will note how events from the plot are woven into the news segment.

But check out the audio and visual fidelity to the original show.

It appears the look they were going for was a VHS copy recorded to TV, transferred to a computer and then uploaded to YouTube – note the tracking lines and period commercials.

Digital editing programs now it easier to recreate this older look but it is still an impressive feat, along with some (possible) Easter eggs for the eagle-eyed.

If you want to compare it with the actual show, check out this actual clip from September 1989:

If you don’t remember it, Hard Copy was a US tabloid news show that ran from 1989 to 1999.

Like a sleazy tabloid cousin of 60 Minutes, it wasn’t afraid of sneaky tactics and attracted controversy due its airing of violent material.

In short, a perfect fit for the dark world of Steig Larsson‘s book.

Note that the channel is called Mouth Taped Shut, which is also the blog which has been hosting various production photos and viral tidbits.

One intriguing episode of Hard Copy was their investigation into the notorious Nine Inch Nails video for Down In It:

Given that NIN frontman Trent Reznor is actually scoring Fincher’s new film, was this whole concept inspired by his past appearance on the show?

It’s a very effective viral campaign but also suprisingly mischievous and playful – a bit like Fincher and Reznor perhaps?

> Mouth Taped Shut
> Details on the soundtrack
> More on the Stieg Larsson novel and Hard Copy at Wikipedia

Categories
Behind The Scenes Interesting

In Praise of Widescreen

Almost every film we see now is in widescreen, but how did this look come about?

With the proliferation of widescreen television over the last decade, it is sometimes easy to forget that until relatively recently films were cropped for home viewing.

This meant that for a lot of movies, a large percentage of the rectangular image (in the aspect ratios of 2:35 and 1:85) was removed so it could fit the squarer aspect of television (the 1:33 or 4:3 ratio).

The roots of this are historical, as the advent of television in the 1950s forced Hollywood to come up with newer ways of enticing audiences back to cinemas.

Thus modern widescreen processes were invented to put an image on screen that couldn’t be replicated in the homes of the time.

This shifted the fundamental look of films from the traditional academy ratio of 1:33 to the more rectangular widescreen look we now take for granted.

But when it came to screening those movies on television (ironically the very medium that triggered widescreen developments) there was the obvious problem of converting that wide image on to a square TV screen.

Here Sydney Pollack and Martin Scorsese (and others) explain for TCM the whole business of ‘pan and scanning’ and why it was bad for certain movies (by the way, Curtis Hanson’s example of The Last Supper painting is pure genius):

Back in 1992, there was a TV programme where several directors discussed why they shot certain films in widescreen, including Michael Mann (Manhunter, The Last of the Mohicans), Phillip Noyce (Dead Calm), John Boorman (Point Blank) and John Carpenter (Halloween).

They discuss how the advent of a wider screen affected their visual approach to making films, but also how it influenced such things as editing, dialogue and even running time.

What’s interesting is that Mann’s comment about widescreen televisions in Japan is now the reality.

Certain films such as Gus Van Sant’s Elephant (2003) and Andrea Arnold’s Fish Tank (2009) and The Artist (2011) actually used the squarer visual format (a.k.a. 1:33 or academy ratio) for effect.

Going back to the 1970s and 80s, directors like Stanley Kubrick (e.g. The Shining and Barry Lyndon) and William Friedkin (e.g. Sorcerer) were careful to frame some of their films so they couldn’t be awkwardly pan and scanned, although this created subsequent problems for DVD and Blu-ray releases.

Having grown up in the era of VHS and ‘squarer films’ on television, I instinctively prefer the look of widescreen, possibly because it reminds me of the cinema experience, where you could see the full image and got much better sound.

There’s also the crucial matter of actually seeing the film the way the director intended it to look.

It still often depends on the individual film, with Citizen Kane (1941) perhaps being the most ingenious use of the camera in the 1:33 ratio (as mentioned in the above clips both Welles, Howard Hawks and Fritz Lang were sceptical of Cinemascope).

But with widescreen now ubiquitous in our homes and cinemas is there going to be another shift in the frame through which we see movies?

> Find out more about widescreen formats at the Widescreen museum
> More on cinema of the 1950s at Wikipedia
> Review of Ben Hur on Blu-ray

Categories
Documentaries Interesting

The American West of John Ford

A 1971 documentary on the westerns of John Ford provides a fascinating insight into the director and his work.

Filled with clips from his work, it also contains interviews with colleagues such as John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, Henry Fonda and Andy Devine.

It was filmed just two years before he died in 1973 and the tone is somewhat elegiac, as the Western was dying as a genre along with the old studio system.

I love the formal way in which Wayne, Stewart and Fonda address the camera and share stories with their old director (Wayne calls Ford “Pappy”) along with expensive helicopter shots of the landscape he made famous.

Also note that it is screened in the 16:9 aspect ratio, which seems unusual for the TV of the time but was presumably so they could capture the widescreen images of his films.

> Find out more about John Ford at Wikipedia and MUBi
> Senses of Cinema essay on John Ford

Categories
Interesting

Steven Spielberg on Stanley Kubrick

In 1999 Steven Spielberg sat down for a lengthy and fascinating interview about Stanley Kubrick.

Conducted by Paul Joyce, parts of it were used in the documentary Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures and clips surfaced on the subsequent DVD and Blu-ray re-issues from Warner Bros.

An Italian Kubrick site recently posted the unedited 25 minute version that aired on British TV around the release of Eyes Wide Shut at UK cinemas (which if I remember correctly was September 1999).

It is a fascinating discussion which covers:

  • Spielberg’s first experience at a Kubrick movie
  • How the film of 2001: A Space Odyssey was a mind-altering experience
  • The violence in A Clockwork Orange
  • How they first met on the set of The Shining
  • Kubrick’s late night phone calls to other directors
  • How he found out about Kubrick’s death on the Internet

> More on Stanley Kubrick and Steven Spielberg at Wikipedia
> The Stanley Kubrick Collection (available on Blu-ray here)

Categories
Interesting Technology

Martin Scorsese and Grover Crisp on Blu-ray

How far has Blu-ray come as a format since the Martin Scorsese keynote address at the Blu-Con 2.0 conference in 2009?

Two years ago Scorsese joined the event live via satellite from New York City and his 20-minute address was moderated by Grover Crisp, the man in charge of film restoration and digital mastering for Sony Pictures Entertainment.

In the run up to Christmas sales of the home video format will be under renewed scrutiny, but it is worth looking at what was said via video of the event which someone has posted online in three parts:

Part 1: The history of home video, proper aspect ratios, why the Blu-ray format is superior, Bernard Herrman’s score for Taxi Driver (for which Crisp oversaw the recent Blu-ray restoration).

Part 2: They discuss the uncompressed sound of the format, how the rise of DVD drove the restoration of prints and the 4k restoration of Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove.

Part 3: More on the Dr. Strangelove restoration and the dilemmas involved in doing it, Scorsese’s favourite film on Blu-ray, whether he considers the Blu-ray release before shooting a film and the benefits to future generations of filmmakers.

All this is interesting, not just because Scorsese is such a passionate authority on film, but because there is still is some confusion over the Blu-ray format.

The main problems have been: the needless format war which delayed the adoption of the format; mainstream confusion over how it differs from DVD; the costs of upgrading to a player and the recession.

I remember being sceptical about both high-definition disc formats (HD-DVD and Blu-ray) when they were given their first major marketing push in the run up to Christmas of 2007.

Was its introduction too soon after DVD?

I was invited to a screening of The Bourne Ultimatum on HD-DVD (still available on Amazon for some reason), projected in a cinema and the three guys there (publicity people mainly, but also a someone from Microsoft, who were involved in the format) were very bullish about why it would succeed and Blu-ray wouldn’t.

Two months later in February 2008 the HD-DVD format was dead, as Toshiba (the main electrical company behind the format) couldn’t sustain the costs after studios and retailers sided with Blu-ray.

During 2008 the cost of Blu-ray discs and systems was still relatively high, even though television was shifting to the HD era and it became hard to actually buy old-style analogue television sets.

The Dark Knight in late 2008 was perhaps the first truly blockbuster disc in the format, even though – compared to DVD – overall sales were still sluggish and anecdotally even people in the media I spoke to were confused, sceptical or didn’t care.

The main misunderstanding I encountered was the worry that DVDs couldn’t play on a Blu-ray player (they can) and just scepticism about upgrading their equipment.

Even in 2010 The Guardian were publishing articles by writers who didn’t seem to know what they were talking about, which prompted me to write this response.

At the moment, the adoption of the format is still being hobbled by the resilience of the DVD format (a lot of great titles are still really cheap) and a lingering sense of confusion about Blu-ray outside the home video/cinephile realm.

There is a three-way split between DVD, Blu-ray and digital downloads (if you include Netflix, iTunes etc) but optical discs might be more resilient than people think.

Although there are analogies with where the music industry was ten years ago, the recent problems at Netflix suggest that the adoption of digital downloads and streaming might be slower than you think.

Which brings us back to Scorsese.

His point that Blu-ray offers the best quality and drives the restoration of classic films (a subject very close to his heart) are good ones and in a year of sequels and remakes at the cinema, releases like Apocalypse Now, Taxi Driver, Ben Hur and The Three Colours Trilogy have been most welcome.

Seeing classic films that have been restored with care and attention is a real joy that reminds you of the craft that originally made them so great.

> More on the Blu-ray format at Wikipedia
> Recent DVD & Blu-ray posts
> Taxi Driver on Blu-ray
> Recent Martin Scorsese posts

Categories
Interesting music

John Williams 1990 Concert

In 1990 Steven Spielberg hosted a TV special dedicated to the music of John Williams.

For a special edition of a WGBH programme called Evening at the Pops, Williams conducted the Boston Pops Orchestra as they played some of his most famous themes.

Spielberg introduces each segment and those played are selections from Raiders of the Lost Ark, Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Sugarland Express, 1941 and E.T. The Extraterrestrial.

Although there were more scores to come (Jurassic Park, Schindler’s List) it is a nice tribute to one of cinema’s most enduring creative partnerships.

> John Williams at Wikipedia
> Steven Spielberg at MUBi and TSFDT

Categories
Interesting

The Karate Kid Rehearsal Movie

Director John G. Avilsden has uploaded a video rehearsal version of The Karate Kid (1984) to YouTube.

Back in the early 1980s video technology allowed directors to shoot cheap rehearsal footage before they used the expensive film stock for the actual shoot.

If you get the recent Blu-ray of The Outsiders (also starring Ralph Macchio) you can see Francis Ford Coppola do a similar thing with his young actors.

This must have been lurking in a cupboard somewhere in Avilsden’s house but back in May 2010 he decided to upload it to YouTube.

The end result looks like a cross between a fan film and B-roll footage but is actually a fascinating document of the filmmaking process.

You can hear the director (or crew) making comments about certain shots and what sounds like Polaroids being taken for reference.

The thing that struck me whilst watching it?

The weird similarities between this process and the one used to bring Avatar to the screen, despite the huge gulf in budgets and technology.

Here it is in several parts:

[Via Metafilter]

> The Karate Kid at IMDb and Wikipedia
> John G Avilsden’s YouTube Channel

Categories
Documentaries Interesting Short Films

The Umbrella Man

A new short film by Errol Morris explores why a man was holding an umbrella just a few feet from where President Kennedy was shot in November 1963.

Like his friend Werner Herzog, the famed director has long been fascinated by the events surrounding the JFK assassination.

Morris has written an accompanying piece for the New York Times, in which he says:

For years, I’ve wanted to make a movie about the John F. Kennedy assassination.

Not because I thought I could prove that it was a conspiracy, or that I could prove it was a lone gunman, but because I believe that by looking at the assassination, we can learn a lot about the nature of investigation and evidence.

Why, after 48 years, are people still quarreling and quibbling about this case? What is it about this case that has led not to a solution, but to the endless proliferation of possible solutions?

The only thing I can recommend is that you click here to watch the video as soon as possible.

> NY Times directors statement and video
> More on Errol Morris and the JFK assassination at Wikipedia
> Thoughts on his nw film Tabloid

Categories
Amusing Directors Interesting

Steven Spielberg Cameos

Steven Spielberg pops up in movies more often than you might think.

People of a certain age might remember him in The Blues Brothers (1980) but there are some that are not so well known, like Jaws (1975) and Vanilla Sky (2001).

A YouTube user has compiled this neat video of them.

My favourite?

Probably Gremlins (1984).

> The Voice Cameos of James Cameron
> DGA Panel on Spielberg’s career