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I recently watched this very good documentary on Orson Welles and Citizen Kane (see below) that includes interviews with Welles from BBC interviews in 1960 and 1982 and an interview with Pauline Kael discussing her controversial “Raising Kane” article.

Whenever I showed Kane in my film class, I was careful to introduce it with minimal information and careful to never say that it is considered by many to be the best film ever made. Francois Truffaut said that it is “probably the one that has started the largest number of filmmakers on their careers” although that probably isn’t true for the current graduating class of filmmakers.

More recently, there have been reports that Welle’s unfinished final film, The Other Side of the Wind, may finally be completed and shown by 2015. The New York Times reported that the production company Royal Road Entertainment made a deal for the rights to the movie and set as screening date of May 6, 2015, which would have been Welles’ 100th birthday.

Welles spent parts of the last 15 years of his life working on the movie. It stars John Huston and features Peter Bogdanovich, Susan Strasberg, Lilli Palmer and Dennis Hopper. Huston plays a veteran director who is trying to make a comeback.

The story has been floating around for many years that the genesis of the leading character was an encounter in 1937 between Ernest Hemingway and a young Welles. Hemingway, a bit drunk, mocked Welles as being an “effeminate boy of the theater.” Welles shot back something, Hemingway threw a chair, they scuffled and in true Hemingway-encounter form they settled things with a boozy toast and then had on-again, off-again friendship.

Plot summaries have been online for years and so are clips from the film. It was shot on and off as Welles had money and he used certain props and motifs to tie together the disparate parts. The film’s structure centers on the 70th birthday party of the movie director Jake Hannaford (Huston), but opens with his death just after the party.

Welles included film-within-a-film portions of Hannaford’s film, The Other Side of the Wind.

It is set in the 1970s and mocks the Hollywood that is post-studio system, and the experimental New Hollywood and some European directors.

Partially as a style and partially due to varying budgets, Welles shot in color, black-and-white, used still photography, 8mm, 16mm and 35mm film. He was getting money by doing television roles and by getting individual investors.

Welles left a rough 45-minute edited work print that he had to smuggle out of Paris in 1975 after an irate investor had taken control of the negatives.

Actor/critic turned director Peter Bogdanovich is one of those who have tried to finish the movie. Now, Frank Marshall, a line producer on The Other Side of the Wind, and Bogdanovich plan to put the film together using Welles’ notes.

Welles,

Huston, Welles and Bogdanovich

From the reports out there and the clips that have leaked out over the years, the film sounds like a fragmented series of sections that would be difficult to patch together. But Welles fans, and I count myself in the group, are hopeful that it can be edited it into a coherent last effort from Orson Welles.


Oja Kodar presents Orson Welles’ unseen footage for unreleased projects including The Other Side of the Wind

 


The Complete Citizen Kane – a documentary

Reese Witherspoon in the forthcoming film, Wild

“People make mistakes in life through believing too much, but they have a damned dull time if they believe too little.” – James Hilton

Getting Lost has continued to be a popular post on this site for a few years. That tells me that I am not alone in my interest in the idea that getting lost is sometimes the path to getting found.

I have posted a field guide to getting lost.  I surprised myself when I noted in the site statistics how many times “lost” has turned up in my posts.  My interest in getting lost has always been balanced with a desire to be found or finding myself.  I have played with that idea both literally getting found in the woods and more figuratively in those times when I feel lost in the psychological  lost days sense.

This past week I came upon some old hardcover copies I had of two  James Hilton novels. One was Goodbye, Mr. Chips. That nostalgic book that became several films was one I read the summer before I became a teacher. It was a good injection of hope with a touch of sadness for the profession that I have been doing for 40 years. Hilton based it his father, who worked as a school headmaster. Now that I am at least semi-retired from teaching and only doing it part-time, I can identify more with the “goodbye” part of the Mr. Chips’ story.

The other book is Hilton’s Lost Horizon. It was published is a 1933 and my copy is one that was on my parents’ bookshelf that they bought after seeing the 1937 film adaptation by one of my favorite directors, Frank Capra. His films are sometimes labeled “Capracorn” because they often slide into sentimentality. I never agreed with that completely. I actually think his holiday class, It’s A Wonderful Life, is quite dark. I would teach in a film noir class without hesitation.

Lost Horizon brought us the term Shangri-La. It is Hilton’s fictional utopian place (like Paradelle) that he located high in the mountains of Tibet. The protagonist, Hugh Conway, escapes his life in the British diplomatic service and finds inner peace, love, and a sense of purpose in that mountain place. It seems sadly always-timely that Conway fears that another cataclysmic world war is imminent.  Hilton turned out to be correct. I wonder if the book came to mind for my father a few years later when he went off to WWII as a sailor.

Hugh Conway had to be lost before he found himself, and that idea came up again this week when I read an interview with Reese Witherspoon  about her latest film, Wild, which comes out in early December.

Now, I have had a sitting-in-the-audience crush on Reese since I spotted her on the TV film Return to Lonesome Dove (1993). She was great in Election and Pleasantville and lovable, popular and smart in the Legally Blonde films. She probably still has to deal with an image of being a romantic comedy actress. But she got serious praise for Walk the Line. And I really enjoyed her work in Water for Elephants and Mud, although those two probably didn’t get as much praise or box office – not that those things should mean anything to viewers.

In that interview, she says “Honestly, I’ve done some movies that were really challenging, and I’ve done some movies that aren’t challenging at all.” I found another article that talked about a Reese “renaissance” – a term that would piss me off if I was her as much as the term comeback – but she has been following some new paths recently.

She had a starring role in the drama The Good Lie (about in the Lost Boys of Sudan). She produced David Fincher’s Gone Girl  that comes out in October. She has a smaller role (like in Mud) in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice. and I like it when “stars” do small parts too. But the film that most interests me is Wild .

The film is based on the memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. A friend gave the book to me the year after my mother died, but I wasn’t ready then to read it.

Cheryl Strayed’s memoir is about her solo hike on the PCT after her mother’s death and the dissolution of her marriage. It was a best-seller and an Oprah’s Book Club selection, but a tale of grief wasn’t what I wanted then.

Still, I did page through it because a solo hike of the Appalachian Trail has been on my bucket list since I graduated college. I did the prep, read the books, got the maps, joined a hiking club, did some sections of the AT. But then we had kids. And my knees started to give out on me, so I stopped hiking and started walking.

The book should have grabbed me. It could sit comfortably on a shelf with the story of Chris McCandless, Into the Wild and my well-worn copies of Walden and A Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and everything I’ve read that touched on wilderness salvation.

I think what held me away from the book was that I didn’t have the kind of crisis that Strayed had. I didn’t  have spontaneous sexual encounters outside my marriage. I didn’t fall into shooting up heroin.

When I considered my long hike I was prepared. Strayed, like McCandless, was unprepared for the journey. If you are an experienced hiker, you will cringe at their lack of preparation. A friend who sails felt the same way about the Robert Redford character in All Is Lost. He told me, “He did everything wrong!” She takes along books (again like McCandless, overly inspired by literature) – Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, Adrienne Rich poetry, but not the right hiking boots.

But the upcoming film will motivate me to read the book.  The film seems very promising. Reese looks scrubbed and natural.  It was directed by Jean-Marc Vallée (Dallas Buyers Club). It was adapted for the screen by Nick Hornby (High Fidelity). Laura Dern plays Strayed’s mother.

I suggested just last week to my friend Scott (who is newly retired and moving to Virginia) that we do a Shenandoah hike and get a little lost. Scott and I can talk for hours and solve all the world’s problems. He works as a substance abuse counselor and knows all about finding yourself. I don’t know if the soul-searching I am feeling as autumn arrives this month requires a thousand-mile hike in order to center myself, but you have to be open to getting lost if you want to be found.


I watch this film at least once a year. I’m sure there are people who think of this film – seen or unseen – as “just another Bill Murray/Harold Ramis comedy.” I really believe it is far more profound than you would think at a glance. I don’t know that the filmmakers’ intended all of that, but it’s there.

A. O. Scott in The NY Times did a re-review of this existential comedy this past week (watch his video review) and that was enough to send me to the shelf this weekend to watch Groundhog Day again.

I am not crazy in my belief that’s there’s more here than meets the viewing eye. Do a search on “Groundhog Day” and add something like philosophy, Buddhism, Zen, etc. and you’ll get plenty of hits of others who feel the same way.

Harold Ramis (director and co-writer) has said that he gets mail from Jesuit priests, rabbis and Buddhists, and they all find meaning in the film , and use it in sermons, talks and classes. In Buddhism classes, it is often used to illustrate the cycle of continual rebirth.

If you haven’t seen the film, here’s some background: Bill Murray plays a self-centered, cranky TV meteorologist named Phil who gets sent to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania to cover the annual Groundhog Day festivities. He is joined by his producer Rita (Andie MacDowell), and a cameraman Larry (Chris Elliott). He does a going-through-the-motions report. When they try to drive back to Pittsburgh, they are stopped by a blizzard (which he had predicted would miss the area) that shuts down the highways and they are forced to stay in town an extra day.

Phil wakes up at 6 AM and discovers that it is February 2 all over again. The day runs the same as it did before, but no one else seems to be aware of the time loop. And it happens again the next time he wakes up – and the next time and so on (38 times by my count).

He realizes that he can use this to his advantage and begins to learn more about the townsfolk. He ‘s hardly noble. He seduces women, steals money, drives drunk and tries to put the moves on Rita (that last one fails).

But this power he has eventually bores and depresses him. He tries to break the cycle and files mean TV reports, abuses residents, kidnaps Punxsutawney Phil the groundhog. Finally, he attempts suicide, but still ends up waking up to the clock radio playing Sonny & Cher’s “I Got You Babe.” (Give a listen.)

Each time I re-watch the film, I think about another aspect of it. I keep thinking that some day I am going to teach this film in a course.

One scene has Phil dead in the morgue. Rita and Larry are there to identify his body. Is any of these retakes on the day affecting the others?  They don’t seem to remember the alternates takes, but…

A few years ago, I watched it and it led me to explore other movies and writings that play with time loops. There are a lot of them.

One day Phil is in the bowling alley. He asks two guys drinking with him, “What would you do if you were stuck in one place, and every day was exactly the same and nothing that you did mattered?” One guy replies, “That about sums it up for me.”

Are some of us leading a kind of Groundhog Day existence for real?

Other writers online have gotten far more serious in their explorations of the film than me.

This is from thesacredpage.com

Once Phil realizes that in his Nietzschean quagmire there are no consequences to his actions, he also experiences modern philosophy’s liberation from any sense of eternal justice. “I am not going to play by their rules any longer,” he gleefully announces. His reaction epitomizes Glaucon’s argument in Plato’s Republic. Remove the fear of punishment, Glaucon argued, and the righteous will behave no differently than the wicked
and from groundhogdaythemovie.com comes some discussions about the film like this:

I asked what the Reb thought was the turning point in the film. After watching it for the ninth or tenth time specifically to find where the third act begins, I concluded that it begins 4/5 of the way into the 103 minute film, at about the 80 minute mark. Phil is throwing cards into the hat, and Rita points out that the eternally repeating day doesn’t have to be a curse.

Reb Anderson disagreed. He thought the turning point came later, when Phil found he was unable to save the old man’s life. Only here, he said, did Phil realize “It’s not me, it is the universe, I am just the vessel.”

Why did the writers use February 2, Groundhog Day, as the setting? I think because it’s such a nothing “holiday.” It has no religious connections, no cards, no gifts and very little tradition. And yet, it’s not just an ordinary day. The first time I saw the film (wow, almost 17 years ago), I thought that he would relive the day for 6 more weeks of winter. Later, I thought about the day and decided there was something about the end of winter, spring and rebirth going on in the story.

In this piece from 2003, the author suggests that we consider the film as a tale of self-improvement which:
“…emphasizes the need to look inside oneself and realize that the only satisfaction in life comes from turning outward and concerning oneself with others rather than concentrating solely on one’s own wants and desires. The phrase also has become a shorthand illustration for the concept of spiritual transcendence. As such, the film has become a favorite of Buddhists because they see its themes of selflessness and rebirth as a reflection of their own spiritual messages. It has also, in the Catholic tradition, been seen as a representation of Purgatory. It has even been dubbed by some religious leaders as the “most spiritual film of our time.”
Want to have a viewing group (which I would prefer to a reading group these days) and show the film?  Check out the discussion questions on this philosophy site. http://www.philfilms.utm.edu/1/groundhog.htm

The original idea for the story was supposed to have come from the book The Gay Science (The Joyful Wisdom) by Friedrich Nietzsche. In that book, Nietzsche gives a description of a man who is living the same day over and over again.

The writer of the original script, Danny Rubin, said that one of the inspirational moments in the creation of the story came after reading Interview With the Vampire which got him thinking about what it would be like to live forever. Rubin and Ramis have both said that they avoided exploring the really dark side of Phil’s time looping in which he could done some horrible things without consequence, like murder.

And, as a capper to this love letter to the film, I have to add that the film is also funny and sweet. Funny is no surprise. Murray and Ramis teamed up for the film Stripes which is a great, silly comedy that I also love, and that has no philosophy or religious themes at all.

The sweetness is all Hollywood. Phil does learn lessons. He befriends many of the townsfolk that he had mocked. He uses his knowledge to try to save lives and help people. And he finally knows how to treat Rita. His final TV report is a beauty that puts everyone in tears. The  next morning he wakes and finds the circle broken.

When the clock clicks over to 6 AM for you in the morning, what kind of day are you planning to make it?

Director Maurice Tourneur [left] with his 1st cameraman Lucien Andriot and 2nd cameraman John Van den Brouk on the set of ‘Poor Little Rich Girl’, Paragon Studios, Fort Lee, New Jersey, 1916.

I re-encountered the film Before Hollywood There Was Fort Lee, N. J. on Netflix. I had seen this documentary sometime in college, and used it in a film course I taught.  My New Jersey students had a tough time accepting that Fort Lee, New Jersey was once the center of American film production. But it is true. This was at a time when Hollywood was full of orange groves.

This documentary combines photographs from private collections and restored footage from such films as Thomas A. Edison’s “Rescued from an Eagle’s Nest” and D.W. Griffith’s “The New York Hat,” featuring Mary Pickford and Lionel Barrymore and filmed at the studios in Fort Lee.


D. W. Griffith made many one-reel Biograph dramas there (Mack Sennett appeared in his first film). Pearl White endured the “Perils of Pauline,” and Mary Pickford and Theda Bara starred in early features.

The American film industry got its start with the construction of Thomas Edison’s “Black Maria”, the first motion picture studio, in West Orange, New Jersey. New Jersey offered land for studios for much less than nearby New York City. By about 1916, a dozen major movie studios were operating across the Hudson River from Manhattan.

The movies came to Fort Lee when pioneer companies started to look for new filming locations. In 1907, it was found that the Palisades near Fort Lee and Coytesville could be used for “Wild West” scenes and other outdoor scenes. Rambo’s Hotel on First Street was used as a place to dress as well as for the exterior of a Western saloon.

In 1907, Thomas Alva Edison used the cliffs of the Palisades for the exterior of “Rescued from an Eagle’s Nest.” It was in this picture that D.W. Griffith, later to become more famous as a director, first appeared in a starring role as an actor.

In 1914, with the expansion of the giant French film companies into the United States market, Maurice Tourneur moved to the United States to direct silent films for Éclair’s American branch studio in Fort Lee.


His once-lost 1917 feature, A Girl’s Folly, is included on the DVD of Before Hollywood, There Was Fort Lee, N.J in a half-hour abridgement with views of the glass stages, rotating sets, tank for water effects, projection room, and crews at work, along with his hour-long 1914 feature, The Wishing Ring.

Watching these early films, you can see the development of film language with the early use of editing, intercutting and the variety of shots (fewer long shots and more close medium shots) which was rare in early films.

Fort Lee also prospered with the businesses that came to the city to service the film studios. Fort Lee’s reign as the film capital lasted about 20 years. Nestor Studios of Bayonne, New Jersey built the first studio in Hollywood in 1911. Later, Nestor merged with Universal Studios and co-owner William Horsley’s other company, Hollywood Film Laboratory, is now the oldest existing company in Hollywood (now known as Hollywood Digital Laboratory).

California’s climate was more cost-effective and by the 1930s pretty much all filmmaking had moved to the West Coast.

Another motivation to be on the opposite coast was because at the time Thomas Edison owned almost all the patents relevant to motion picture production. Movie producers on the East Coast who violated Edison’s Motion Picture Patents Company were often sued. Movie makers on the West Coast were able to work independently of Edison’s control.

MORE

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vertigo_%28film%29

I thought of Alfred Hitchcock’s film, Vertigo, three times in the past week. The first time was when I took a hot air balloon ride over Napa Valley in California. Next was while climbing the stairs of a tower in San Francisco, the city that is the setting of the film. Finally, last Tuesday, I noticed that it was Hitchcock’s birthday.

Vertigo is a 1958 psychological thriller that Hitchcock based on the 1954 novel D’entre les morts by Boileau-Narcejac.  The film stars James Stewart as former police detective John “Scottie” Ferguson, who has been forced into early retirement due to his vertigo and clinical depression. He works as a private investigator and is hired to follow Madeleine Elster (Kim Novak) who is behaving peculiarly.

The film received mixed reviews upon initial release, but has garnered acclaim since and is now often cited as a classic Hitchcock film and one of the defining works of his career. it replaced Citizen Kane as the best film of all time in the 2012 Sight & Sound critics’ poll and has appeared repeatedly in best film polls by the American Film Institute.

 

img-edgeAcrophobia (from the Greek ákron , meaning “peak, summit, edge” and phóbos, “fear”) is an extreme or irrational fear of heights. Of course, most people have some degree of natural fear when exposed to heights. It may not show itself when in an airplane at thousands of feet, but be terrifying at a hundred feet on a ledge with no railing.

Acrophobia sufferers can experience a panic attack in a high place and become too agitated to get themselves down safely. Between 2 and 5 percent of the general population suffer from acrophobia, with twice as many women affected as men.

The term “vertigo” is often used incorrectly to describe a fear of heights. It is more accurately a spinning sensation that occurs when one is not actually spinning. It can be triggered by looking down from a high place, but also by looking straight up at a high place. True vertigo can be triggered by almost any type of movement including standing up, sitting down, walking or changes in visual perspective (e.g. squatting down, walking up or down stairs, looking out of the window of a moving car or train). So, with vertigo dizziness triggered by heights is just part of the problem.

In Hitchcock’s film, he popularized the dolly zoom. It is an in-camera special effect that distorts perspective to create disorientation, The effect is achieved by dollying (on wheels) the camera away from a subject while the lens zooms in, or vice-versa. The effect is that  the background appears to change size relative to the subject. It was Hitchcock’s method of showing Scottie’s condition. As a result of its use in this film, the effect is often called “the Vertigo effect”.

Acrophobia is the extreme, but obviously cautiousness around heights is helpful for survival. Like other phobia, this extreme fear can interfere with the activities of everyday life, such as climbing up a flight of stairs or a ladder or even standing on a chair.

I don’t have vertigo, but I do have acrophobia. It hits me when I climb on a low roof to clean out rain gutters. It stops me from going on many amusement park rides which rely on that natural fear for their thrills.

At one time, sufferers were encouraged to expose themselves to height to overcome the fear. I took rock climbing classes and force myself into situations sometimes. In researching this article, I found that this treatment is now considered questionable.

I actually enjoy flying on airplanes and love looking out the window. I wondered about taking the balloon ride last week because of the open basket. Although we rose to about 2500 feet, I felt no fear at all about the height and it was smoother than the plane ride to and from the west coast.

The Takeaway is a morning news program hosted by John Hockenberry that I listen to most days. But I have to say that my favorite segment on the show is the weekly Movie Date.

Since my wife and I try for a weekly movie date, I like the idea. I especially love it when you see a movie that gets you talking about it on the way out of the theater. That’s why having another couple along is a good idea. Since we don’t always double date, I’m glad we have Kristen Meinzer (producer on The Takeaway) and Rafer Guzman (legitimate movie critic  for Newsday) to take along.

I like their opinions. I like when they disagree. I like that their taste in movies is different. I especially like that they never really focus on a film but get off into a genre or related films.

Here are some descriptions of recent episodes:

Rafer confesses to being a magic nerd, Kristen talks about girl-on-girl action, Rafer admits to liking big beds, and Kristen uses some barnyard language. It’s all in honor of “The Call,” “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone,” “Ginger and Rosa,” and “Spring Breakers.”

Rafer and Kristen review “Dead Man Down,” “Emperor,” and “Oz: The Great and Powerful.” Along the way, they contemplate the power of Tyler Perry, the scariness of The Incredible Hulk, and the style choices of Joan Crawford. A warning: this week’s trivia question refers to a certain college past time involving marijuana, “The Wizard of Oz,” and Pink Floyd.

I recall that a review of the movie SALT went off  into female action heroes like Barbarella.  The review of INCEPTION explores whether or not we like being outsmarted by a movie.

So, yes, this is not Cahiers du Cinema . Then again, Cahiers du Cinema isn’t Cahiers du Cinema any more.  This is not so much film reviews as it is movie reviews.  And I mean that is a good way.  When they reviewed a pretty dreadful MARMADUKE, they go back to BABE and OLD YELLER.

They also do a trivia question and I have lucked into getting my voice on the air twice for having the wright answer.  Thirteen more times and I will have my 15 minutes of fame.

They are on Facebook too  facebook.com/moviedatepodcast  and their website is at thetakeaway.org/articles/takeaway-movie-date

I wonder if Kristen and Rafer ever do a double date?

Spanish filmmaker Cristóbal Vila made “Nature by Numbers”, a short film about mathematical concepts found in nature (Fibonacci Sequence, Golden Number, etc.) a few years ago and his newer film (below) is the short “Inspirations.” His inspiration is M.C. Escher who also explored mathematical ideas with his art.


INSPIRATIONS from Cristóbal Vila on Vimeo.

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