24LiesASecond will merge with The House Next Door

June 27, 2008

I have good news and bad news, everybody…

First the bad:
In the next few months, the 24LiesASecond website as you’ve come to know it will ceize to exist.

Now the good:
24LiesASecond will merge with The House Next Door.

Yes, you’ve read that right.
So what’s going on? Let me explain…

When Jim Moran and me launched 24LiesASecond in 2004, we had no idea what a flight the blogosphere would take. We wanted to provide a platform for the kind of provocative underdog film criticism we couldn’t find anywhere else and made a vow to aim high and shoot low. Hence, our specialty became the carefully edited long-form essay.

Fast-forward to four years later… Thanks to wonderful contributions by Mike Crowley, Giuseppe Puccio, Dennis Cozzalio, David Greven, Bob Cumbow and Will Lasky, the quality of the 24Lies articles has endured, but the quantity of our output leaves a lot to be desired. Despite a modest cult following (that would be you, loyal reader) and a handful of eminent supporters (Jim Emerson, Anne Thompson, Matt Zoller Seitz and – dare I say it? – Brian De Palma), our website has remained something of a hidden gem.

Most of you will know that 24Lies member Keith Uhlich has recently took over the editorial reigns at The House Next Door–a very popular film blog founded by the great critic/filmmaker Matt Zoller Seitz. After drawing 30 episodes of Directorama under Keith’s editorial guidance, the idea arised for 24Lies and The House to team up. In many ways, The House Next Door has succeeded where 24Lies has failed: By offering new content to their visitors each and every day, Keith and editor emeritus Seitz have built up an impressive, readership. Simply put: If quality online film criticism is your thing, Next Door is where it’s at.

What will this merge amount to?

The 24Lies archive will find a new home at The House Next Door, where it will be introduced to a much wider audience. All the articles will be republished according to a weekly schedule, one by one, labeled under their own 24LiesASecond Essays tag. Future articles by the 24Lies authors will also be published on The House Next Door.

I’m sad to say that this means the 24Lies forum will be discontinued. This, of course, was an especially tough decision to make. We’ve had many memorable discussions on our message board over the past few years and I’ve always enjoyed reading every member’s thoughts and opinions tremendously. For this reason, I’ve contacted Geoff Beran of De Palma à la Mod and he’s looking into the possibilities to attach comment sections to his posts, so that we can keep in touch with eachother and De Palma’s work. Let’s hope Geoff can technically figure out a way to do this, because it would be the ideal solution to keep our little community together.

24LiesASecond’s transition to The House Next Door will happen gradually. You guys will be able to post on the 24Lies forum for another two weeks or so. After that, a locked version will stay online until the end of the year to ensure all of you have enough time to copy and save your favorite threads. The 24Lies essays will be republished on The House later this Summer. Until then, you can still find them here.

That’s all folks. I hope you understand. Drop a comment and let me know what you think. Thanks for all your support and see you all at The House Next Door!

All the best,
Peet Gelderblom
Founding editor

Editor-in-chief Jim Moran (right) with yours truly


In defense of Mickey Mousing

June 22, 2007

This is my contribution to Damian Arlyn’s Film Music Blog-a-Thon at Windmills of My Mind. ___________________________________________________________

band2.jpg

A catchy negative term can do a lot of damage. As far as film criticism is concerned, just consider the massive abuse of a phrase like “style over substance,” a knee-jerk “yeah, right” to instantly smother a filmmaker’s poetic license, or the buzzword of the moment: “torture porn.” In more or less the same category falls the catchphrase “Mickey Mousing.”

Mickey Mousing is the standard description for film music that directly mimics the action onscreen. You know, just like the old Disney shorts: Goofy falls flat on his face–TOOT!–a tuba honks. A classic example is the ending of the original King Kong, in which the music is crescendoed in such a way as to suit Kong’s motions in climbing the Empire State Building.

In criticial and educational circles, Mickey Mousing is often looked down upon. The general consensus is that it’s lazy, cheap and old-fashioned for a soundtrack to ape the visuals. And yet many Hollywood maestros frequently make use of the technique: Danny Elfman (Beetlejuice, The Simpsons), Hans Zimmer (Spirit, Pirates of the Caribbean) and the late Jerry Goldsmith (Gremlins, Total Recall).

The opposite of Mickey Mousing takes place when a piece of music complements the images to establish a general mood or theme. This is usually called “underscoring.” Contemporary underscorers are Cliff Martinez (Traffic, Solaris), Michael Nyman (The Piano, Gattaca), Gustavo Santaolalla (Brokeback Mountain, Babel), Thomas Newman (American Beauty, Little Children), Alexandre Desplat (Birth, Syriana) and Philip Glass (Candyman, The Hours). These guys rarely emphasize what’s already on the screen, and needless to say, I appreciate their work as much as the next cinephile.

john_williams.jpg
The king of Mickey Mousing?

With no one questioning the merits of underscoring, why exactly deserves Mickey Mousing such a bad rap? What seems to bug people the most is that it wears its intentions on its sleeve. Mickey Mousing tells the audience explicitly what to look for, how to empathize, and when to laugh, cry or shiver. It takes the frontal assault, whereas most critical minds prefer a soundtrack to blend into the background and leave room for personal reflection. Frankly, some of us don’t like to be blatantly manipulated.

Even respectable directors like Sidney Lumet (in his excellent book Making Movies) and John Carpenter (in his director’s commentary on the Prince of Darkness DVD) have openly expressed their disdain for Mickey Mousing. The latter jokingly crowned John Williams the king of Mickey Mousing. In the same breath, Carpenter claimed that Bernard Hermann was the quintessential underscore composer, with Vertigo being an honorable example.

darth_vader_esb2.jpg

Fair enough. A bombastic music cue like The Imperial March (you know the one: “TAAA! TAAA! TAAA! TAA-TADAA! TAA-TADAA!”) leaves little room for ambiguity. It practically screams out to the audience: Beware! Something Sinister, Totalitarian and Oppressive has entered the room! And honestly, isn’t that exactly what makes the tune so irresistable to begin with? When a hard-breathing Darth Vader is about to wipe Rebellion ass, do we expect anything less than military drums and pumping brass? Of course not! A gentle woodwinds motif just wouldn’t cut it…

imperialmarchsnippetgminor.jpg
Click to hear a sample of The Imperial March

By the same token, what’s not to love about Hans Zimmer in prime fighting shape, or a rousing Danny Elfman score? And before you start to think that Mickey Mousing doesn’t leave room for subtlety: Take another look at the prom scene in Carrie, in which Pino Donaggio‘s music Mickey-Mouses in perfect harmony with Brian De Palma’s visual orchestrations to bring you to the edge of your seat in anticipation for the bucket of blood to fall.

vertigo.jpg

In fact, I’d even argue that Vertigo‘s soundtrack, which Carpenter embraces as a full-blooded piece of underscoring, incorporates quite a bit of Mickey Mousing. There’s no doubt that Herrmann’s haunting score is layered and full of conflicting emotions, but it sounds fittingly lyrical when Scottie and Madeleine share a passionate kiss, and appropriately disturbing when Scottie’s fear of heights comes into play. And wasn’t it Hermann who wrote Mickey Mousing history by syncing shrieking strings to the fatal stabs of a killer’s knife in the world’s most famous shower scene? When a composer drums up a frenetic, percussive score to support a thrilling car chase, or lays an elegiac theme over a melancholic tableau, his or her technique isn’t that far removed from Mickey Mousing. The music still follows and punctuates the visuals–only the beats are longer.

Sometimes film music is supposed to take a back seat or provide its own commentary on what happens in the picture. Sometimes film music needs to work in tandem with the visuals to help the viewer relate with the characters or a given situation. Both approaches are legitimate. You can spend the rest of your life arguing wether Thomas Newman (Finding Nemo) or Scott Bradley (Tom & Jerry) wrote the superior soundtrack, and I’ll say: Isn’t it great that we don’t have to make these either/or choices? We can have both to enjoy!

bang.jpg

___________________________________________________________

RELATED:
“Our minds may focus on what there is to see, how we
experience the view is often heard.”
Sound as Vision: Riding The Blind Giant


The end of cinema is (only the) beginning

December 11, 2006

All this talk about the uncertain future of film criticism seems to run parallel to another hot topic among worried cinephiles: the decline of cinema. The two are connected, obviously, and although I’m definitely in the minority on this one, I’m optimistic about the fates of both.

In a contribution to Andy Horbal’s pretty damn amazing film criticism Blog-a-Thon (how much evidence for the improving health of film criticism do you need?), Annie Frisbie at Zoom In Online articulated a collective concern in a fine post called Film is about to disappear over the historical horizon:

Cinema has always meant reverence, the hush of a dark theater (sans cell phones), the flicker of light on my face almost tangible, waiting for the dream to continue. It seems to me that the digital age has taken the magic out of movies. (…)

This year brought Half Nelson and Little Miss Sunshine, but it also marks a year when I saw fewer movies in the theater than I did when I was in college in the suburbs without a car. I find this depressing. I’m losing the plot. I need a miracle.

nighthawkscollage.jpg

In my celluloid fantasia Nighthawks – a fictional essay in which New York City is overtaken by movie characters as diverse as Travis Bickle (Taxi Driver), Barbarella, Alvy Singer (Annie Hall), Vincent & Jules (Pulp Fiction) and Marge Gunderson (Fargo) – a cute little mass-murdering rodent by the name of Mickey Mouse voiced a similar sentiment:

People don’t care anymore. They used to look up to us in the dark, in awe of that eye-enveloping screen, absorbed in the magic of the moment, hanging on to every word we uttered. Now they’re just killing time, flipping channels, skipping chapters, moving us around with game controllers, navigating content, shuffling context, downloading us to tiny portable displays they command with their thumbs…

At that moment, Dressed to Kill‘s Kate Miller briefly interrupts Mickey to remark:

If they’re doing all of these things, doesn’t that mean they still care about us, only differently?

Mickey, however, won’t listen:

You don’t mind being reduced to mobile wallpaper? I mean, where’s the allure in that? Face it, to the modern consumer we’re a hip accessory at best. An excuse for further browsing without sense of destination. It’s sad when you think about it. They watch but they don’t see. Deliverance has become a dirty word, attention spans are shrinking by the minute. Viewers expect to be transported, but they won’t let us take over the wheel. So they keep driving in circles, blissfully unaware of the fact that, without surrender, there is no journey.

Too many cinephiles grumble about like Mickey; few are as open-minded as Kate. To complain about the rapid decay of cinema with a sense of melancholy is to put the lid on an era. That way of thinking, understandable as it may be, is a bit of an insult to the fine films that are made today. (For those of you snorting in the back: In case you haven’t noticed, there’s a Golden Age of Asian cinema happening right now. Genre films, art house, animation… the works.)

It’s rare for a medium to die. People have predicted the end of radio since the introduction of television, and radio’s still here. The medium even branched out to podcasts, streaming channels and audio books. Likewise, cinema isn’t dying–it’s evolving. The real question is, into what?

Annie Frisbie’s post payed tribute to a classic 1999 essay by Godfrey Cheshire entitled The Death of Film, The Decay of Cinema. Cheshire’s towering article envisioned a future where movies would still be made, only they would “increasingly be like Titanic, splashy spectacles made for a global 12-year-old whose main education comes from you-know-what,” lacking “nuances of tenderness and tragedy, of profound inwardness and chivalrous discretion, and of the individual artist’s very personal way of envisioning the world.” With a frame of reference restricted to blockbuster fare and a certain brand of Oscar contender, there’s plenty of truth to Cheshire’s vision, but a wider perpective reveals how much his prediction has dated.

Just look at the massive popularity of viral videos and audio-visual mashups at YouTube, MySpace and iFilm, of video podcasts, of DVD, Home Theatre and online rental services like Netflix, of devices like the video-iPod, the PlayStation Portable, PDAs, laptops, camera phones and software like BitTorrent and Final Cut Pro. A quickly expanding part of cinema is making a gradual shift from a collective, linear experience to a private, interactive one. Yes, the quality of user-generated content is still far from consistent (to put it mildly), and oh yes, all these ultra-flexible digital networks and continually updated interfaces can easily lead to pointless “browsing without sense of destination,” but I can imagine no better antidote against Cheshire’s “CGI blockbusterdom” doom scenario than this small-screen revolution. Who knows, we may be on the verge of a filmmaking Rennaissance. Picture it: A cinema of intimacy… discovery… a quirky perspective unfiltered by authority, corporate investment, analog distribution or popular demand… the bittersweet fruit of obsession and shameless self-indulgence… the mystique of a message shrouded by an ever-fluctuating context, offering audiences the challenge to guess the right questions, rather than the right answers.

If this is the end of cinema – and I’m not convinced it is – it’s only the end of cinema as we know it. Now is a time of transformation. The key to appreciating the change, I believe, is a wise notion of fellow-blogger Girish Shambu: Art is meant for use. That may be your miracle right there, Annie. Go ahead, give it a try. Mickey was right about one thing: Without surrender, there is no journey.


The contrarian fallacy: Armond White vs. the Hipsters

November 30, 2006

The following article is my contribution to Andy Horbal’s film criticism Blog-A-Thon. Visit No More Marriages! for an up-to-date table of contents.

One is Hip or one is Square (the alternative which each new generation coming into American life is beginning to feel), one is a rebel or one conforms, one is a frontiersman in the Wild West of American night life, or else a Square cell, trapped in the totalitarian tissues of American society, doomed willy-nilly to conform if one is to succeed.
–The White Negro: Superficial reflections on the Hipster (1957) by Norman Mailer

What’s a rebel to do these days? According to the gospel of Armond White, film critic of New York’s premier alternative newspaper the New York Press, the Hip are the new Square. In review after review, White makes it abundantly clear that hipster is the most insulting label he can think of. In fact, it’s his umbrella term for everything he calls smug, glib, trite, obtuse or smart-ass, which by the way he tends to do quite often. Say goodbye to Mailer’s “psychopathic brilliance” of Hip, quivering with “the knowledge that new kinds of victories increase one’s power for new kinds of perception.” Enter White’s endless tirades against the mindless evil of hipster mentality eroding pop culture, embodied by the likes of Quentin Tarantino, Todd Haynes, Richard Linklater, Christopher Nolan, Peter “the hipster’s Spielberg” Jackson and any critic empty-headed enough to praise them.

Armond White’s style of criticism couldn’t be more different than that of his NY Press colleague, Matt Zoller Seitz. If this were the X-Men universe, we’d be talking about the militant Magneto (a mutant terrorist with a serious superiority complex, eternally at war with humanity) versus the noble Professor X (a peaceful telepath who seeks coexistence of human- and mutantkind by means of education). While White keeps his ivory tower firmly locked, Seitz has plugged into the blogosphere and founded his very own Xavier’s Institute with The House Next Door, a school of gifted youngsters that embraces respectful discourse and mutual understanding. The militant spends most of his time criticizing his peers, the telepath surrounds himself with them.

White more or less articulated his view of film criticism in Slate’s Movie Club, where he answered Salon‘s Stephanie Zacharek as follows:

As for the “art” of criticism: No amount of fancy wordplay can excuse the destructive effect of praising offal like Before Sunset. (That’s not a personal attack, it’s a defense against the injury of bad criticism and poor taste.) I don’t read criticism for style (or jokes). I want information, erudition, judgment, and good taste. Too many snake-hipped word-slingers don’t know what they’re talking about—especially in this era of bloggers and pundits. That’s why a hack like Michael Mann gets canonized while a sterling pro and politically aware artist such as Walter Hill is marginalized. Let me be more blunt: I am not the least bit interested in reading the opinions of people who don’t know what they’re talking about. There, I’ve said it.

Indeed, he said it. It’s one thing to challenge the opinion of others, it’s another to proclaim absolutes in the name of Good Taste. A true provocateur doesn’t hamper by discouraging thought, but stimulates others to think differently. Why is it that some critics judge like punishing Old Testament Gods when their function is not to damn or win souls, but to sharpen minds? A critic’s pen should serve as a whetstone, not a sledgehammer.

Contrarians like Armond White aim to prove that there is something inherently wrong with the limited world view of another, while their actual concern is to establish a few limits of their own. By consistently taking the opposite stand, they reveal themselves as just as much a fashion victim as the hipsters they so despise. While the latter slavishly embrace the latest trend, the former just as predictably oppose it. Both the hipster and the contrarian poses attempt to overthrow a shared enemy: the dominance of mass culture.

Which, in this day and age, begs the question: What mass culture? With the millions of niche markets currently out there, what’s left of it, really? By the same token: Is there still a single definition of hip? In a time where one icon means everything to one subculture and entirely nothing to the next, what is this nonconformist rebelling against?

It’s like everybody’s hip now. It’s exhausting. There’s no discovery. It’s not original.

Those words were spoken by futurist Faith Popcorn way back in October 2005. That was when the L.A. Times published an article entitled Fads are so yesterday, which announced that coolhunting itself, even the whole notion of “cool,” was just a trend. In January this year, Maclean’s columnist Andrew Potter took this observation to the next level:

(The) mass-media ecosystem has disappeared, replaced by the rip/mix/burn culture of the Internet with its blogs and podcasts, in which there is no longer any distinction between producers and consumers. The really interesting bit is not, as Faith Popcorn would have it, that everyone is cool; it’s that no one is. Trends appear as nothing more than brief consumerist shivers, passé the moment they appear (…)

Aha! So, should we be mourning the end of trends? The kids certainly aren’t, argues Potter:

Having never really experienced the tyranny of mass society, they don’t feel any great urge to stand against it. That is why they adopted the word “random” as their preferred term of approbation. The people who have a problem with the death of cool are aging hippies and other stubborn counterculturalists who remain attached to the idea of a mass society and its right-wing agenda of cultural conformity.

Clear enough. But that leaves us with one final mystery to solve: If cool’s out, what is in? Potter explains:

The prevailing aesthetic is not cool, but quirky, dominated by unpredictable and idiosyncratic mash-ups of cultural elements that bear no meaningful relationship to one another. Appreciating the anti-logic of quirk is the only way to navigate the movies of Wes Anderson (Jeff Goldblum in an “I’m a Pepper” T-shirt!) …

Hold on. Quirky? Idiosyncratic? Wes Anderson? Help me out here–who denounced Syriana in favor of Sahara and Transporter 2? Who called the universally acclaimed Nicole Kidman only “moderately talented”? Which critic belongs to the whopping 8% of idiosyncratics that Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat (2006) couldn’t get to smile?

Wouldn’t you know it… Armond White is a hipster.


David Lynch Folds Space: mind-origami at 24LiesASecond

November 16, 2006

I realize we’re not exactly prolific at 24LiesASecond (The House Next Door we ain’t!), but when we do publish something, we try to make it worth the wait. Today is a joyful day…

lynchcollagesmall.jpg

When Bob Cumbow, author of Once upon a Time: The Films of Sergio Leone and Order in the Universe: The Films of John Carpenter, emailed me a few months ago with a new idea for a 24LiesASecond essay, tantalizingly titled “David Lynch Folds Space,” I went nuts! Gone was my contributing-editor cool, and up jumped a drooling fanboy.

As a teenager – I was thirteen at the time – I found Lynch’s Dune (1984) as puzzling as anyone who’d never read Frank Herbert’s novel. Nonetheless, the concept of “travel without moving” as explained by Princess Irulan in her opening monologue, always made perfect sense to me. Why cross all those light-years from galaxy to galaxy when you can simply fold the distance? You can’t, of course… but the idea just seemed so obvious, so right!

Bob’s plan to apply the very same concept to David Lynch’s work was a stroke of genius (Mel Brooks didn’t call Lynch the Jimmy Stewart from Mars for nothing!) and we had lots of fun speculating on the subject in our email correspondence.

An excerpt from David Lynch Folds Space: Because He Is the Kwisatz Haderach!:

Folding space consists in bringing two spatial points together by collapsing the space between them, thus eliminating the need to move from one to the other. Dune’s “explanation” of travel without movement, of the folding of space, is a sly announcement of not only the vision but the technique that David Lynch brings to the screenwriter’s and film director’s art.

So early in Lynch’s career, in only his third feature film, we have a pseudo-scientific articulation of the artist’s unique way of seeing the world, and of remaking it. For folding space is a near-perfect metaphor for the way David Lynch makes movies.

For a mind-bending trip to the epicentre of Lynchian logic, read Bob’s whole article at 24LiesASecond. If you like it, don’t hesitate to drop a note in its dedicated thread at the 24Lies Article Feedback forum, or comment on it here.


Sound as vision: Riding the blind giant

September 26, 2006

Watching a good movie is like falling under a spell. Gradually, without realizing it, you take the limits of the screen for the limits of the world. Everything else is forgotten, your heart opens up and your mind surrenders to the will of the filmmaker. Ninety minutes later you gain consciousness and walk out of the theatre a little different than how you got in. It begs the question: What was it, exactly, that got you this far?

Most people would say it was the gripping story that glued them to the screen, or the suspenseful way it was told. Others would argue their sympathy for the main character drew them in. A few would mention the intoxicating gaze of the camera, the movements, the rhythm, the colors, the shapes. But who would be clear-headed enough to give credit to the invisible? We don’t just watch a movie, after all: we listen, too.

schopenhauer.png

In his central work The World as Will and Representation, the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer (1788 -1860) compared the human intellect to a lame man who can see, riding on the shoulders of a blind giant. The Mind does not control the Will. The same metaphor applies when you take a look at how people experience and interpret movies. In the filmic universe, our window on the world is framed by the vision of the director, but this vision may not be carried by visuals primarily. If we wouldn’t spend most of our time revering the mighty Image, we might realize the extent to which our thoughts and feelings are guided by a blind giant called Sound.

Why do critics and academics refer to cinema as a “visual” medium even though that word only covers half of the definition? When every Special Edition DVD comes loaded with a wealth of behind-the-scenes material, highlighting every detail from location scouting to CGI effects–how come only, say, 0.01 percent of these extras go into the craft of sound recording, sound mixing or sound design? Show off hands: Which of you cinephiles can name five movies supervised by the Godfather of Film Sound, Walter Murch, without checking the man’s IMDb page?

murch_head.jpg

The fact that audio in motion pictures is often overlooked can be largely explained by its abstract nature. You can point out the lipstick on a husband’s collar, or spot the bad guy holding a gun in the crowd, you can freeze a frame and enlarge it, but it’s hard to put a finger on the disturbing effect of a faintly detectable bass drone accompanying a series of seemingly ordinary shots. Images are frontal and direct, triggering a primarily cerebral response; sound tends to work on a subconscious, more emotional level.

To clarify the difference between how we perceive the two, the aforementioned Walter Murch came up with a brilliant analogy based on the sideways position of the ears. It goes something like this: While we – the audience – are “answering the front door” by looking at the screen before us, sound sneaks in through the windows, the back door and the floorboards, encompassing us in a 360° spherical field. As it resides in the shadows, its subliminal presence becomes a conditional force, affecting the things we’re consciously aware of. According to Murch, “The strange thing is that you take the emotional treatment that sound is giving, and you allow that to actually change how you see the image. You see a different image when it has been emotionally conditioned by the sound.”

That’s right, sound’s a sneaky bastard! Our minds may focus on what there is to see, how we experience the view is often heard. Anyone who’s ever spent a good deal of time experimenting in the editing suite will back this up. In my capacity as a filmmaker and editor, I’ve witnessed and creatively exploited this phenomenon time and again. To radically change the emotional impact of a sequence of shots, I have often simply replaced a piece of music in post production. Oddly enough, replacing the shots themselves never results in something quite as drastic. Just how fundamentally a soundtrack can alter our perception becomes clear in the following mock trailer edited by Robert Ryang, which re-imagines Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining as a sparkling family comedy. Hear: a single music cue is all it takes to switch around the mood and snap the viewer into an appropriate state of mind.

One of the finest recent uses of conceptual sound design, however, can be heard in the trailer for the upcoming Todd Field film Little Children. This one and a half minute long miracle was created by Mark Woolen and Associates, a trailer company that was briefed to come up with something without music, elaborate dialogue or story. The result is nothing short of breathtaking and one can only hope that the film is able live up to its promotion (so far, opinions are divided). One thing’s for sure: Unless you’ve ever been tied to the railroad tracks, the sound of a train horn never sounded more foreboding…


The Five Words Challenge

July 29, 2006

Don’t mistake this for another one of those Favorite Whatever exercises. There’s no room for such fluffy diversions on Negative Space! Instead, let’s get right down to the heart and soul of it: What, I ask you, are your cinematic erogenous zones?

In order to adequately answer this seemingly abstract question, I challenge you all to name five specific words that bind the movies that move you. Not the most influential ones, not the culturally correct examples, but the movies you keep coming back to, however flawed they may be. The kind of movies that remind you (and you alone) of why you love the medium in the first place.

A film that cannot be described by these five words might still be good – an indisputable classic even – but it wouldn’t shake you to the core. The question is: what does? What tickles your fancy? What makes your movie-loving heart throb? Now’s the time to show the world where you’re really coming from…

To give an indication of what I’m getting at, here are my Five Words, in no particular order:

  1. RAPTURE
    I confess: I’m a romantic and an unflagging aesthete. I love the sense of being transcended by lyricism, beauty and the sublime.
  2. GLOOM
    Rapture only becomes truly heartbreaking for me when it’s wallowed in gloom. The celebration of tragedy that forms the climax of Blow Out is probably my favorite cinematic moment. Call me a romantic nihilist.
  3. SENSUALITY
    Just because cinema is too sensuous a medium to NOT have sex in the equation. Which probably makes me a sexist romantic nihilist.
  4. IMAGINATION
    Fiction is my religion. As a proud subscriber to the Manifesto for the Imagination, I hold the power of poetic truth, myth, metaphor, magic realism and the speculative in high regard.
  5. WONDER
    I have a special fondness for elements that are unlike anything I’ve seen/heard/felt before. True originality is hard to find, of course, but I’m always looking for a certain frisson (be it a camera angle, a line delivery, a facial or gestural expression, a visual effect, art direction, sound design, montage or narrative structure) that evokes a genuine sense of wonder in me.

Sure, that looks easy enough, doesn’t it? Just wait until you start your own list!

picnic1.jpg
Rapture, gloom, sensuality, imagination, wonder:
Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)

Your turn now. Mind you: Just five words. Not six, not fifty. I won’t be flexible about this! Avoid easy ways out (scratch VISUAL–every movie is visual!) or open doors (fundamental dramatic ingredients like CONFLICT). Give me something personal and precise that offers a good taste of your sensibilities, however unfashionable or bizarre. I assure you that, if you decide to have a go at it, the Five Words Challenge will make your next video rental choice a lot easier!


On evaluative criticism

July 20, 2006

1_statler_waldorf.jpg
Statler (right) & Waldorf

WALDORF: That was wonderful!
STATLER: Bravo!
WALDORF: I loved that!
STATLER: Ah, that was great!
WALDORF: Neh–it was pretty good.
STATLER: Well, it wasn’t bad
WALDORF: There were parts of it that weren’t very good, though.
STATLER: It could’ve been a lot better.
WALDORF: I didn’t really like it.
STATLER: It was pretty terrible.
WALDORF: It was bad.
STATLER: It was awful!
STATLER & WALDORF: Terrible! Take ‘em away! Bah, BOO!!!


Jim Emerson’s Opening Shots Project

July 1, 2006

Jim Emerson, the founding editor-in-chief of RogerEbert.com, and a 24Lies reader to boot, has a fascinating project going on at his Scanners blog, focusing on opening shots. It’s a truly wonderful read with many remarkable contributions (don’t skip 24Lies author Bob Cumbow‘s take on that famous Steadicam shot in John Carpenter’s Halloween).

I made a personal contribution with a description of the opening shot of Ken Russel’s Altered States (1980). Here it is:
______________________________________________________

Altered States opens with the image of a fluorescent, egg-like shape surrounded by darkness. It is a window. From below, in comes a floating human figure (William Hurt as Prof. Eddie Jessup), who appears to be immersed in liquid. Surrounded as he is by the dark oval frame of the window, he resembles an embryo inside a mother’s womb. The camera slowly tracks back to reveal that Jessup is inside a horizontal tank in an empty room. As it tracks back even further, the viewer detects the edges of a second window, rectangular this time. In front of that window sits a bearded scientist in a laboratory, who carefully monitors the room with the tank holding Eddie Jessup.

altered2.jpgAltered 2Altered 3

In the film, science tries to discover the essence of the Self by use of altered states of consciousness. The opening shot prepares the audience for this very process by taking the viewer through different layers/windows of consciousness: from the symbolic birth of the Self, via self-awareness, to self-examination; from subjectivity to objectivity. The soundtrack amplifies this trajectory, going from bubbly water effects and steady breathing through an oxygen mask, to the buzz of lab equipment and clicking of buttons.
______________________________________________________

For many more examples, visit Jim Emerson’s Scanners blog.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.