Harryhausen meets Caravaggio: Tarzan in 3D

March 30, 2007

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OK, you’ll have to allow me this little detour into teenage obsession. When I was about ten, my parents bought me a View-Master with a 3-reel set of Tarzan of the Apes. Being the dreamer that I was – and still am, I suppose – I just loved to get lost inside those stereoscopic images, and I’ve looked at them so often that they must have left a questionable imprint on my young brain. The lush, nightmarish tableaux struck a nerve in me. All that muscle, the big hairy apes, plus a Jane outfit so tight that I kept expecting it to burst open… Let’s be honest: This was nothing less than a sexual awakening.

Unfortunately, I lended my View-Master reels out to a friend, who lost them when he moved to another house. Since then, all I had left was my memory of them. Enter the Internet… More than twenty years later, I googled the words “Tarzan view master” and guess what? There they were: All 21 images collected on a single webpage, captions included! As soon as I discovered this link, a wide grin appeared on my face. Too bad the pictures looked a tad fuzzy, I thought. Then it occurred to me that they were perhaps fuzzy for a reason. I grabbed the red-and-green glasses that came with my son’s Spy Kids 3D DVD (no recommendation), and yes sir: Glorious 3D! A lot of detail, sense of depth and color information got lost in the translation to cyberspace, but this 36-year-old kid is grateful nonetheless.

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There’s something about this artwork (a combination of miniatures, clay models and matte paintings?) that I still find incredibly appealing. It’s the sensuous mixture of realism and artifice, kitsch and craft, romance and savagery; the melodramatic poses; the chiaroscuro (some of the lighting is pure Caravaggio); the meticulous staging. This is what Ray Harryhausen‘s wet dreams should look like.

Go get your 3D glasses (I know you saved them in a drawer somewhere) and have a look yourself. Do any of you recognize this View-Master set? Is there someone who can tell me more about who made it, and how? Which animation studio will have the guts to produce a CGI-feature that looks as awesome as this?


NEGATIVE SPACE #9: War & popcorn

March 21, 2007

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Click on the image to see the cartoon in a larger resolution.

For those who are wondering, click here for information on the upcoming Redacted. To learn more about the Al-Mahmudiyah Incident, click here.


Cartoon Brew Films is here!

March 15, 2007

Goody, goody, goody! Today, Cartoon Brew‘s Amid Amidi and Jerry Beck officially launched CartoonBrewFilms.com: making “the world’s finest animated shorts available for convenient download to your iPod and personal computer.”

If the first three shorts are any indication, we’re up for something really special here! Ever wondered how an independent, adult short from the guys at Disney and Pixar would look like? Just take a peek at the color board below. Boys Night Out by Teddy Newton and Bert Klein feels like sexual education with Gerald McBoing Boing.

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Go check it out for yourself. The shorts cost $2,00 each–a pretty good deal if you ask me. This initiative deserves all the support it can get!


Screening Room: How to plan a happy accident

March 13, 2007

The role of chance in the arts is vastly underestimated. Sidney Lumet once said, “All great work is preparing yourself for the accident to happen.” That’s a pretty bold statement, and not entirely accurate. I don’t suppose Rembrandt’s Night Watch or the Goldberg Variations could be summed up as happy accidents. On the other hand, I do believe that artistry is often more a question of recognizing beauty, quality, magic or originality, than careful planning.

Sometimes it’s a good thing to stop contemplating, go with the flow and just see what happens. But it’s even better to lend luck a hand, set a few parameters in advance and then force a happy accident to occur. It’s like improvising notes on a specified progression of chords.

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Picture: Peter van Breukelen

Which brings me to the project featured today: a leader for a series of shocking documentaries broadcasted on the Dutch TV-channel Tien.

Leaders or title sequences often try to set the tone of a program by bombarding the screen with a collage of moving images. This usually involves juxtaposing shots within a specific graphical framework, be it split-screen or picture-in-picture. Apply some color grading, floating typefaces and a few overexposed flashes and you’ve got yourself a stylish intro. The idea behind this “moving collage” approach is always the same: to give an overall impression without getting too specific.

For this assignment, I wondered what would happen if I literally stacked images on top of each other, without resizing them, moving them around or altering their aspect ratio. I became especially interested in using superimposed footage as a graphic element in itself, without relying on strict compositions, unifying lines or limited color schemes.

With this in mind, I cut together two completely different montages on the same piece of music, compiled from footage of several documentaries. One of the montages was intentionally more abstract than the other, with a lot of blinking lights, scrolling computer texts and TV static. I superimposed this “abstract” video layer on top of the other with an emphasis on the brighter areas. The composited result was a string of happy accidents: the moving highlights in the top layer perfectly complemented the dark hues in the layer below it, as if they were designed to work in tandem. Only a few corrections were necessary to achieve a wonderful harmony in an essentially random composition.


Embarrassing Movie Posters #10

March 8, 2007

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Confessions of a De Palma fan: The Black Dahlia

March 4, 2007

I have resisted posting my thoughts on The Black Dahlia for quite a while now. Being the De Palma advocate that I am, and a host of a De Palma-minded forum to boot, I didn’t want my very subjective feelings to affect the enthusiasm of others. It just felt wrong. But now that a few months have passed, I suppose it’s time for a confession: I have mixed emotions about this film.

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Not that it’s bad. Hell no! It’s high class filmmaking, no doubt about that. I admire its narrative ambition, the stylized performances (stylized for a reason: everybody’s posturing) and the obvious skill on display. And yet… I don’t really care for it. Not since The Bonfire of the Vanities have I seen a De Palma film so far removed from my own sensibilities. Pretty odd when you consider that all the basic ingredients for a personal favorite (beautiful women: check, murder: check, mystery: check) were present.

Somehow, I missed a heartbeat to guide me. I love De Palma at his most lyrical; when he lifts you up from your seat and smacks you down again with his relentless visual storytelling, when you’re completely THERE in the moment every step of the way. That romantic, emotional roller-coaster side of De Palma (I’ve never seen him as the cold technician that detractors mistake him for) doesn’t get much room in The Black Dahlia: he’s too busy spinning his intricate web of lies around the truth… to the point of the lies replacing the truth. If The Black Dahlia is a study in obsession, it’s a very cerebral one. I realize that’s probably how Ellroy’s mind works, and in that sense, De Palma’s film might be the ideal movie adaptation. But to me, that doesn’t make it ideal De Palma. I guess I’m not much of an Ellroy man…

That said: I adored the movie when it got out of control and took a detour into the bizarre (I wanted the whole to be like that!). The ending was a creepy highlight that gave me chills all over. There were plenty of bravoura shots, great music cues and rememberable moments (the crane shot over the roof that reveals the body in the distance, Johansson shutting the bathroom door, meeting Madeleine’s family in first-person, the shadowy figure with the knife, the reveal of the clown’s painting), but – dare I say it – I was underwhelmed by the set pieces. Especially after having been blown away by Children of Men a couple of weeks earlier.

There’s much to agree with the positive arguments raised by people like Matt Zoller Seitz, Keith Uhlich and Ari the Principal Archivist… It’s just that I expected Betty Short to obsess me as much as the film’s leading characters. She didn’t. Fortunately, this tells you more about me than it does about the quality of the film.