Interesting Viral Video

Tarantino on Revival Houses

Back in February 2010, Quentin Tarantino spoke about the New Beverly Cinema, the revival house he owns in Los Angeles.

It was during a panel at the Santa Barbara international film festival and, in an age of increasingly on demand home entertainment, was such a passionate defence of the theatrical experience that I had to make the following video of it.

For people in Los Angeles between Dec 9th and Dec 16th, Edgar Wright be screening various films as part of his latest season ‘Movies Edgar Has Never Seen’.

> New Beverly Cinema
> Connect with them on Facebook and Twitter
> The Wright Stuff III: ‘Movies Edgar Has Never Seen’ at the New Beverly


Godard Loop

A 26 minute video essay explores the visual motifs of Jean-Luc Godard.

Produced by Michael Baute and edited by Bettina Blickwede, it consists of images found throughout his 60 year career.

There are more videos of the individual Godard motifs on their blog, Keyframe.

[vis The Daily MUBi]

> Jean-Luc Godard at Wikipedia and TSFDT
> Keyframe


Martin Scorsese at BAFTA

Martin Scorsese turns 69 today.

Last December he gave at talk at BAFTA with Francine Stock where he discussed his life and career.

You can watch the whole thing here:

Amongst the things they talked about were:

It has been a pretty busy year for Scorsese: there was the re-release of Taxi Driver followed by the outstanding Blu-raythe DVD release of his 1999 documentary about Italian cinema My Voyage to Italy, a lengthy discussion at the LMCA about film preservation, his outstanding documentary about George Harrison and his upcoming 3D film Hugo.

Hugo opens in the UK on Friday 2nd December

> More on Martin Scorsese at Wikipedia, MUBi and TSFDT
> BAFTA Guru
> Scorsese on 3D
> World Cinema Foundation


Del Toro and Nolan on Memento

Earlier this year Guillermo Del Toro sat down with Christopher Nolan to discuss Memento in Los Angeles.

It was after a screening at the Egyptian Theater to promote the restored Blu-ray release of the film and was a fascinating discussion between two of the best directors currently working in Hollywood.

Although it looks like it was officially filmed for future release, Michael Midnight was in the audience and managed to capture edited highlights of the conversation.

Amongst the things they discussed were:

  • The influence of Jorge Luis Borges on Nolan’s writing
  • Why Nolan has never watched the ‘chronologically correct’ version
  • Distribution chief Bob Berney (who masterminded the release of Memento and Pan’s Labyrinth)
  • Why seeing Memento connect with audiences inspired Inception
  • The importance of ‘restless’ actors like Guy Pearce
  • The mix of emotion and genre
  • How Nolan’s brother Jonathan persuaded him to never reveal the truth about the ending
  • Nolan’s stripped down approach to dialogue
  • Casting Guy Pearce and Carrie Anne Moss
  • The IMAX film camera

> Christopher Nolan and Guillermo Del Toro at Wikipedia
> Visual representations of Memento


Wim Wenders at the NYFF 2011

Last month at the 49th New York Film Festival director Wim Wenders sat down for an extended talk about his career.

He was their to screen his new film Pina, a 3D documentary about Pina Bausch, and sat down for a lengthy chat with Scott Foundas as part of their HBO Films Directors Dialogue series.

They discuss a wide variety of topics, including:

> Wim Wenders’ official site
> More on Wenders at Wikipedia, MUBi and Senses of Cinema
> Film Society of Lincoln Center


Hollywood Conversations with Mike Figgis

Back in 1998 Mike Figgis recorded a series of interviews with actors, director and producers.

It was primarily for Part 10 of the Faber Projections series, which was published in 1999.

I’d read the book when it came out but now Figgis has uploaded videos of the original interviews to his Vimeo channel, which were first shown on Film Four in 1999 (before it became Film4).

Most were conducted in his office on the Sony Pictures lot and featured candid and often fascinating conversations about the film industry with some key players.

Part of what’s intriguing about them is to consider how much things have (or have not) changed since then.

Click on the following links to view them on Vimeo:

> Mike Figgis at IMDb, Wikipedia and Vimeo
> Buy the book at Amazon
> Read his book on Digital Filmmaking at Google Books

Directors Documentaries Interesting

Errol Morris at BAFTA

Famed documentarian Errol Morris was at BAFTA this week where he gave the annual David Lean lecture and a Q&A with Adam Curtis.

He has been in London this week promoting Tabloid, his new film about a bizarre scandal involving a beauty queen and a mormon, and the event was live streamed over the web on BAFTA Guru.

To watch the full 30 minute speech head on over to the BAFTA site, but here is a clip:

Afterwards he engaged in an interesting Q&A session with fellow director Adam Curtis which can be seen here:

I first saw Tabloid at the London Film Festival last year and it is going to be a strong contender for the inaugural BAFTA documentary award.

Interestingly, the film hit the headlines this week when Joyce McKinney (the main subject) announced she was suing Morris for her portrayal in the film, which has echoes of Randall Adams suing Morris, despite the fact that (or maybe because?) his 1988 film The Thin Blue Line got him off death row.

Perhaps there is a follow up film to be made?

> Tabloid review from LFF 2010
> BAFTA Guru
> Adam Curtis’ essential BBC blog which regularly culls interesting material from the archives
> More on Errol Morris at Wikipedia


The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Then and Now

Hervé Attia has made a lot of videos showing movie locations as they look in the present day along with clips from the actual film.

The one that immediately stuck out was this one for Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966).

A western set in America, with exteriors shot in Spain and interiors in Italy, it remains a fascinating reinterpretation of an archetypal Hollywood genre.

What’s particularly cool is that Attia uses Photoshop to fade in images from the movie with startling precision on locations that have stayed (relatively) similar, despite the 45 years that have passed since it was shot.

Although critically reviled by some at the time of release, mainly due to the violence, it is worth remembering that not only is it Quentin Tarantino’s favourite film but also ranks at Number 4 in the Internet Movie Database‘s Top 250 movie poll.

If you subscribe to his YouTube channel you can see more videos like this, including ones for A Clockwork Orange, Planet of the Apes and Blade Runner.

> Herve Attia’s YouTube channel
> More on The Good, the Bad and the Ugly at Wikipedia


Hitchcock Masters of Cinema Interview

An interview with Alfred Hitchcock around the time of Frenzy (1972) provides a useful overview of his career.

What makes this programme particularly interesting is that the first part of the interview is conducted by Pia Lindström, the daughter of Ingrid Bergman.

Note that when she asks about Spellbound (1945) and Notorious (1946), she’s asking about films which starred her mother, which gives her questions an interesting subtext.

They talk about:

The second half of the programme is with critic William Everson and he asks Hitchcock about the earlier part of his career, including:

> The Hitchcock Wiki
> The Evolution of the Hitchcock trailer
> More on Pia Lindström and William Everson at Wikipedia

Interesting music

How Led Zeppelin influenced John Carpenter

John Carpenter recently revealed the major influence on his memorable score for Assault on Precinct 13.

In a recent interview with Simon Reynolds for Vision Sound Music, he talks about his early musical influences and how Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song and Lalo Schifrin‘s Dirty Harry theme influenced the score for his 1976 film.

Immigrant Song was the opening track on Led Zeppelin III, which was released in 1970 so it is entirely feasible that Lalo Schifrin was listening to it when Dirty Harry was in production during 1971 before being released in December of that year.

Notice how the theme which accompanies any scene involving the villian Scorpio (Andy Robinson) features a similar riff to Jimmy Page’s guitar, which influenced Carpenter’s main theme for Assault on Precinct 13.

It just goes to show how everything is a remix.

> John Carpenter at Wikipedia
> Watch the full Vision Sound Music interview with Carpenter
> Buy Assault on Precinct 13Led Zeppelin III and Dirty Harry from Amazon UK
> Lalo Schifrin’s official site

Interesting Technology TV

The Machine That Changed The World

Back in 1992 PBS aired a series on the history of computers called The Machine That Changed the World.

Produced by WGBH Television, it was written and directed by Nancy Linde and was also shown in the UK on the BBC.

You can watch all the episodes below, courtesy of Waxy.

Episode 1: Great Brains

Explores the earliest forms of computing, from Charles Babbage in the 1800s to the first working computers of the 1940s.

Episode 2: Inventing the Future

The second part picks up the story of ENIAC and the first commercial computer company, culminates with the moon landing in 1969 and the rise of Silicon Valley.

Episode 3: The Paperback Computer

Explores the rise of the modern personal computer, the development of the graphical user interface, the Apple II and Macintosh, along with some early 90s predictions of the future.

Episode 4: The Thinking Machine

The history of artificial intelligence and the possibility of teaching computers to think and learn like human beings.

Episode 5: The World at Your Fingertips

The final episode explores the rise of information networks including the Internet and the world wide web.

WGBH Boston
> IMDb entry


Martin Scorsese on 3D

Martin Scorsese spoke about 3D earlier today after a screening of his latest film in Los Angeles.

Hugo is based on the novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, and is the story of a young orphan (Asa Butterfield) living inside a Paris train station in the late 1920s.

After a sneak preview at the New York Film Festival (where an unfinished version screened) it played today in front of various press and (presumably) Academy voters.

Jeffrey Wells of Hollywood Elsewhere shot some video of the post-screening Q&A, which was moderated by none other than Paul Thomas Anderson and also featured DP Robert Richardson, production designer Dante Ferretti, editor Thelma Schoonmaker, visual effects supervisor Robert Legato and composer Howard Shore.

In the first video Scorsese talks about why he chose the material:

Aside from being Scorsese’s first film in 3D, it was a pioneering production that employed the latest in digital camera technology.

It was shot on a new 3D camera rig developed by Vince Pace, which combines two digital Arri Alexa cameras.

Here Scorsese talks about 3D in the context of cinema history, comparing it to the advent of colour:

The film was pioneering in other ways as it was the first major production to shoot with Cooke 5/i Prime Lenses and to employ Pace’s new data system, which allows the filmmakers on set to extract and manipulate digital camera information on set (rather than in post-production).

Gregor Tavenner, the first Camera Assistant on the film, talked about this in an interview last year with Film and Digital Times:

The Pace system has the ability to record all the metadata for every frame of every shot. Which it does. It links I/O data convergence, readouts, what’s where, and stores it.

The Alexas don’t have LDS or /i data contacts built into their PL mount yet. Maybe in the next model, later this year. But right now it’s a big plus to be able to plug the /i connector into the 5/i lens and extract all the data, and display it. The Transvideo monitors plug right into /i connectors—so I get a full readout of all the lens data on screen. It’s beautiful.

Post. It’s a new world. There is no post house. We’re doing it. Pace is doing it. It’s incredible. We built our own screening room, our own file room, we have coloring, our own grader on staff, so Bob can go in every day and grade his footage. And Marty can do stereo corrections right there. He can see finished product. And I tell you, it’s really beautiful. It makes a lot of sense.

Some other video was shot at the screening where Thelma Schoonmaker talked about editing and mixing in 3D:

And here is Richardson and Scorsese talking about shooting the film on the Alexa and how they played with colours on set:

Hugo is out in the US on November 23rd and in the UK on Friday 2nd December

> Official site
> IMDb link

Interesting Technology

Steve Jobs PBS Interview from 1990

PBS have posted a a rare 1990 video interview with Steve Jobs.

With news that another interview with late Apple boss has surfaced in a garage in London, it makes for fascinating viewing.

Filmed during his time at NeXT, he talks about his early experiences with computers at NASA, network computing, the desktop publishing revolution of the 1980s and his vision for the future (which, as we now know, was prescient).

Although regarded as a costly failure at the time, in hindsight NeXT was essentially research and development for Jobs’ second stint at Apple.

Watch An Interview With Steve Jobs on PBS. See more from NOVA.

A transcript of the interview is here.

The video is taken from unedited rushes for the PBS series The Machine That Changed the World, which aired in five parts in 1992.

> Steve Jobs 1955-2011
> More about computing at Wikipedia



BAFTA recently launched a section on their website dedicated to video interviews with notable people from the worlds of film, TV and gaming.

Aside from having one of the greatest screening rooms in London, BAFTA regularly hosts events involving noted directors, actors and even legendary game designers.

You can check out lengthy interviews with such luminaries as:

Some of this video has been tucked away on their website, which is perhaps why they have grouped them under a new section called BAFTA Guru.

They’ll even be live streaming the Annual David Lean Lecture this Sunday (6th November) at 8pm (GMT), which this year will be given Errol Morris, whose new film Tabloid is released here next week.

> BAFTA Guru (browse the mini-site by craft)
> Main BAFTA site and Twitter feed, Facebook page and YouTube channel
> More on BAFTA at Wikipedia


Ridley Scott Searchlab Lecture

In 2002 director Ridley Scott gave an interesting Searchlab Lecture in which he talked for over an hour about his career.

It was posted by Fox Searchlight as part of their series of web videos where they get directors to discuss their craft.

Presented in four parts, he covers the following:

  • How he almost became a fashion photographer
  • Working with D.A. Pennebaker on the landmark documentary Primary (1960)
  • His time directing live television at the BBC and moonlighting in commercials.
  • The rising costs of movie making
  • How perfectionism and pragmatism can make a good mix.
  • Dealing with actors
  • Matte paintings and the dangers of CGI
  • Why comics are difficult to adapt
  • How MTV gave Blade Runner a second life
  • The problem of finding a good writer
  • Why he finds storyboarding crucial
  • Auditioning actors and the importance of good casting tapes
  • Why comprehensive script read throughs are a waste of time
  • Recording read throughs with principal actors on audio
  • Working with actors on set
  • Why he likes filming actors with two cameras
  • Pitfalls facing rookie directors
  • The importance of ‘just doing it’
  • Art vs commerce and whether the general audience is smart or not (interesting answer!)
  • Editing and the importance of cutting to music

N.B. The video contains some industrial language so don’t play it too loudly if you are in the office 😉

> Ridley Scott at the IMDb, Wikipedia and MUBi
> Fox Searchlight and their YouTube channel


Split Screen Blow-up

A YouTube video shows scenes from Michelangelo Antonioni‘s Blow-up (1966) alongside the London locations thirty years later.

Still one of the best ever depictions of England’s capital city, the film is about a photographer (David Hemmings) who takes a shot of two lovers in a park and soon finds out there’s more to the image than he first realised.

One of the key films of the 1960s, its critical and financial success played a key role in the demise of the US Production Code and it features a memorable score by Herbie Hancock as well as cameos from the likes of Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page.

It also influenced films such as The Conversation (1974) and Blow Out (1981), which played around with similar themes but replaced the central plot device of photography with audio instead.

The actual park used for filming was Maryon Park in Charlton and a few years ago (1999?) someone shot this video of the locations and then posted them in a split-screen video online.

What’s fascinating is that many of the themes of the film hold up today, especially the line where Vanessa Redgrave admonishes Hemmings for taking a photo in a public place (some issues of technology and privacy are still with us).

Also, the observational style of the camera work reveals plenty of interesting things in the modern day video – such as the man not wearing a shirt walking towards the camera – which perhaps highlight the central theme of the elusiveness of what we see.

[Original video was by YouTube user dorlec01]

> Buy Blowup on DVD at Amazon UK
> More on Michelangelo Antonioni at Wikipedia
> 2005 Guardian interview with actor Peter Bowles about the film

Interesting News Technology

James Cameron Accepts Popular Mechanics Award

James Cameron recently accepted the Popular Mechanics award for Breakthrough Leadership in 2011 where he discussed technology, filmmaking and the Avatar sequels.

Here is video of Popular Mechanics Editor-in-Chief Jim Meigs and Sigourney Weaver presenting the award to Cameron and his subsequent speech:

Earlier in the day he spoke at length to Meigs, where they discussed his early sci-fi influences, the importance of 2001: A Space Odyssey, why filmmakers should embrace technology, deep-sea exploration and the real-world influences on Avatar:

Here is the subsequent audience Q&A where he discusses higher frame rates, how the US can get its innovative edge back, the presentation of scientists on film and the experience of 3D in cinemas and the home.

> Popular Mechanics Archives
> Q&A print interview at Popular Mechanics
> Lengthy 2009 video interview where Cameron talks about the visual effects of Avatar
> More on James Cameron at Wikipedia
> Voice Cameos of James Cameron

Interesting Technology

Walter Isaacson on 60 Mins

Walter Isaacson’s new biography of Steve Jobs came out today and 60 Mins did a recent interview with the author, which included sound clips of the late Apple boss.

I’ve already started reading the book and although some of it has been leaked, there are some incredible insights and details.

Here is Part 1:

Part 2:

Overtime segment:

> Buy the Walter Isaacson book in Hardback or Kindle
> Steve Jobs 1955-2011
> More on the history of Pixar

Directors Interesting

Alexander Payne 2005 Interview

Back in 2005 director Alexander Payne sat down for a long form interview about his career.

His latest film The Descendants was one of the highlights of the London Film Festival for me and is likely to be a major awards contender.

This talk was held at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis after the success of Sideways, which had been one of the the most acclaimed films of the previous year.

Hosted by LA Times & NPR film critic Kenneth Turan, the conversation goes pretty deep into his career as they cover various aspects of his life and work, including:

  • His Nebraska background
  • Film school
  • His early love of Kurosawa films, silent cinema and the New Hollywood era of the 1970s
  • Getting in to the film idustry
  • Using non-professional actors
  • Why he likes adapting novels
  • The original ending of Election
  • Adapting About Schmidt and working with Jack Nicholson
  • Why he loves voiceover
  • Shooting physical comedy
  • Sideways and the idea of personal cinema
  • The importance of casting
  • Pros and cons of modern filmmaking technology
  • Women audiences and Sideways
  • The influence of silent Italian comedy and Hal Ashby on Sideways
  • Using success to get the next film made

Fans of his work will find much to chew on here and for aspiring filmmakers it provides interesting insights into one of the best American directors currently working.

> Alexander Payne at IMDb, Wikipedia and MUBi
> Walker Art Center and YouTube Channel


The National Film Theatre in 1964

The BFI have released footage of what the National Film Theatre looked like in 1964.

This excerpt from the short ‘South Bank’ shows cinemagoers at the famous London venue.

Apparently it was “the latest Godard offering”, which could mean Contempt (1963) or Band of Outsiders (1964).

But given that the NFT is a rep cinema, it could concievably be anything he did from Breathless (1959) onwards.

Can anyone confirm what film these people were watching?

> BFI Southbank
> BFI Films on YouTube
> More on the BFI at Wikipedia

Interesting News

The Reel History of Britain

The BFI and BBC have teamed up to screen a series of archive films about British life.

Exploring life in this country during the 20th century, it covers subjects such as rural life in the 1930s, evacuation during World War II, teenagers in the 1950s, the NHS and package holidays in the 1960s.

A series of programmes hosted by Melvyn Bragg screens every weekday on BBC2 at 6:30pm and are also available via BBC iPlayer.

On the BFI website you can watch over one hundred films used in the series and find out more about the people who made them.

The videos aren’t embeddable, but you can watch them on the dedicated site.

> Reel History website
> Find out more about the History of Britain at Wikipedia


Voice Cameos of James Cameron

Director James Cameron can often be heard making off-screen voice cameos in his movies.

In the The Terminator (1984), some have speculated that he voices the guy who leaves an answerphone message for Sarah Connor, cancelling their date for the evening.

But although it could be him putting on an accent, it seems more likely he is the motel receptionist later in the film who checks Sarah and Kyle Reese in as they flee the killer cyborg.

At a Terminator promotional event in 1991, Cameron admitted that he provided some of the sounds for the Alien Queen in Aliens (1986), dubbing them at his house near Pinewood Studios.

Near the beginning of The Abyss (1989), he began a tradition of voicing a pilot, as we can hear him ask for clearence to land a helicopter on the Benthic Explorer ship as he drops off the Navy SEAL team.

In Terminator 2 (1991) he went back to voicing villains, providing the screams of the T-1000 as it interacted with molten steel towards the end of the film.

With True Lies (1994), he was back to voicing pilots, as one of the Marine Harrier pilots who fires upon the terrorist convoy on the Overseas Highway bridge.

With Titanic (1997), his voice cameo is easily missed as a faint voice on deck asking a fellow passenger about ‘talk of an iceberg’. (Unusually, he also makes couple of visual cameos in the background of two scenes)

Avatar (2009) saw him return to pilot mode as he can be heard on the radio as Quaritch’s forces begin their attack on Hometree.

I’m guessing he finds voice cameos easier than making a distracting visual appearence and that it’s easier to dub in some dialogue during post-production.

> More on James Cameron at Wikipedia
> T2 fan event in 1991

Directors Interesting

Ingmar Bergman in Dallas, 1981

In 1981 Ingmar Bergman paid a visit to the Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

Somebody filmed  a press conference he gave and it was recently posted on the web:

He also did a one-on-one interview with Bobbie Wygant where he talked about Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976) and the recent attempt on President Regan’s life, the ratings system in Sweden and his personal life around the time of Persona (1966).

Coming at the tail end of his illustrious career, it makes for interesting viewing.

> More on Ingmar Bergman at Wikipedia
> Vimeo channel

Interesting Thoughts

The Evolution of the Hitchcock Trailer

Once he was established as a Hollywood director Alfred Hitchcock cleverly used his persona as a major promotional tool for his films.

Although he is rightly regarded as one of the great directors in cinema, the marketing of his movies reveal a lot about how he managed to combine his artistic sensibilities with commercial instincts.

Charlton Heston was once quoted as saying:

“The trouble with movies as a business is that it’s an art, and the trouble with movies as art is that it’s a business”.

Perhaps more than any other director, Hitchcock managed to solve this conundrum and we can see his mastery of the movies as both an art and a business by looking at the trailers to several of his films.

For his breakthrough US work Rebecca (1940), the trailer played up the fact that it was a David O’Selznick production as much as an Alfred Hitchcock film and that it was also “the most glamorous film of all time”:

At this point, despite his experience, he was essentially a director for hire and had yet to become the portly icon of later years.

Notorious (1946) goes for the ‘big fonts proclaiming big things’ approach to trailers and Hitch is still nowhere to be seen, although it is worth noting that he is referred to as ‘the master of suspense’.

A sign that Hitchcock was more talented than the average Hollywood director was the ambition of Rope (1948), a film which had the illusion of being mostly shot in one take, although it was actually a string of set pieces cleverly stitched together.

The trailer was partly narrated by Jimmy Stewart’s character and didn’t feature the director, although the form of the film played an important part in establishing his reputation as more than just a director for hire.

The 1950s saw Hollywood embrace all kinds of technical innovations (e.g. Cinemascope, 3D) to stave off the threat of television, but Hitchcock was embracing it both as a form in itself and seizing the opportunity to become a familiar face to great swathes of Americans every week.

In 1949 one million Americans owned TV sets and by the end of the decade this number had sky-rocketed to over 50 million, so here was a director clearly in touch with both his audience and the emerging trends of the time.

By 1955 Hitchcock had his own TV series – Alfred Hitchcock Presents, later to become The Alfred Hitchcock Hour – which became famous for his opening monologues.

This is the first episode, where he addressed the audience in his own inimitable way:

On the burgeoning medium of television during this period it provided invaluable publicity for his career as a movie director.

It was ironic that in an age of chiselled movie stars he would become such an American cultural icon, especially after a childhood in England crippled by shyness and obesity.

But perhaps there was a conflicted showman inside the director.

What else could explain his famous cameos throughout his career, which were a simultaneous expression to stay hidden and be noticed?

By The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), which saw him remake his own film, his reputation was established but for the trailer it was Jimmy Stewart who again who addressed the audience to describe the making of the movie.

The same year Hitchcock made his first notable appearence in a trailer, talking about himself in the third person no less, whilst narrating the outline for The Wrong Man (1956):

A vitally important film for the director both in content and style, it seems appropriate that he would make an early marketing appearance here.

Perhaps his promotional performances every week on TV in front of millions of viewers had convinced the studio bosses he not only had a reputation but could be trusted to sell to the audience directly?

For Vertigo (1958) however, Hitchcock took a back seat to a conventional narration guy.

Was it because the story of an obsessive man who forces a reluctant brunette to become an icy blonde was a bit too personal for him?

After the relative commercial failure of this hypnotic film – which would mushroom in critical esteem decades later – he returned with his most commercial project to date.

North By Northwest (1959) was a pretty big deal for MGM and they let Hitchcock completely take over the trailer, using his dry wit to play up the humour in the material and guarantee they would be in for a ride.

Can you imagine any modern studio or contemporary director approve a trailer like this?

His next film was less obviously commercial, based on a novel with grisly real life influences, and was to be filmed in black and white with his TV crew.

The project began life at Paramount, who were so put off by the material that they originally refused to make it and sold off key rights to Universal and the director (even today it is often mistakenly thought of as a Universal movie).

Psycho (1960) certainly presented a marketing challenge and Hitchcock responded with perhaps his most famous trailer, which was this 6 minute promotional short.

It was a shrewd move as the director’s trademark humour let viewers know that the film wasn’t as dark as they may have heard.

That being said, the sudden climax at the end, complete with Bernard Herrman’s violins hinted that there was something dark and sinister within the main attraction.

Not only did Psycho represent the high watermark of the director’s artistic and commercial career, is also saw him reach a plateau as a marketing genius.

Hitchcock persuaded cinemas not to allow audiences in if they were late, which intensified the must-see factor and also provided the film with valuable extra publicity.

Who did audiences see in the foyer of their local cinema?

The director pointing at his watch and telling them that if they were late they had to attend the next showing of the film.

Whilst the public loved it, critical reaction was decidedly cooler with The Observer’s critic embarrassing themselves by not even staying until the end (I’m happy to report that their current critic Philip French always stays until the end credits of each movie he sees).

For The Birds (1963), the director repeated the trick with another witty short.

Note how the dry humour again deflects from the dark subject matter, which could have proved a commercial turn off.

By this point Hitchcock was a major cultural personality due to both his movies and TV shows, which first aired on CBS from 1955 to 1960, and then on NBC from 1960 to 1962.

This was then followed by The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, which lasted from 1962 to 1965 and such was the director’s longevity that even after his death in 1980, NBC and USA Network even revived the show for four seasons in the late 1980s.

If you think of each TV introduction as free publicity for his films, it also ranks as one of the longest and most cost-effective marketing campaigns in movie history.

The Marnie (1964) trailer continued the concept of the director as master showman.

Such was Hitchcock’s elevated status at this point – note how he literally ascends from a lofty position at the beginning – that he could refer to his previous films with the expectation that the general audience would know what he was talking about.

Perhaps one of his most interesting films, the trailer captures the changing social attitudes of the 1960s as Hitchcock is being less coded about sex and uses his dry, comic prudishness to neat effect.

One can almost imagine the team from Mad Men working on the campaign for this movie, and although Cary Grant in North By Northwest is often rightfully cited as an influence on Matthew Weiner’s show, Sean Connery’s character in Marnie seems like a more accurate touchstone for Don Draper.

In retrospect, the film is a fascinating collision of two cinematic icons as the ‘Master of Suspense’ cast James Bond in a major role – the commercial side of Hitchcock’s brain wanted a star in Sean Connery, but the artist knew his screen presence would add an extra dimension to the film.

However, the explosive success of the Bond franchise may have had an adverse effect on Hitchcock’s films as the mid-60s craze for Cold War spy films led him to make two films which saw him go somewhat astray.

Torn Curtain (1966) was beset by production difficulties and reflected the uneasy reality that was dawning on directors like Hitchcock and studios such as Universal.

Stars like Paul Newman and Julie Andrews were becoming increasingly important and the days when the men in suits could order them around like cattle were beginning to change.

This is reflected in the trailer which plays up Hitchcock’s brand name but places greater emphasis on the two leads, violence (‘Shock! Intrigue!’) and the Cold War intrigue which had gripped pop culture.

Topaz (1969) saw the problems of his previous film multiply and is rightly considered one of his weakest.

Again we have a Cold War spy thriller, although this one is even more muddled.

We briefly see Hitchcock at the beginning saying that it is ‘a story of espionage in high places’, before a self-consciously groovy montage of split-screen techniques which seems to reflect the messy, fragmentary nature of the film.

In creating his own worlds he was often a master, but in this period he was less successful in crafting suspense out of the complexities of the Cold War, when actual news stories could be more shocking than anything in his imagination.

Frenzy (1972) saw Hitchcock return to his home country of England and is by far his most interesting later work.

The trailer sees him return to centre stage with a monologue which seems to reference his extended promotional short for Psycho – which is appropriate as both films revolve around a sinister murderer (Mrs. Bates/The Necktie Murderer) and a single location (Covent Garden/Bates Motel).

This film saw the director’s career come full circle, as he returned to the murder-mystery genre after his unsuccessful espionage movies and it was set and shot around Covent Garden, where his father used to make a living as a greengrocer.

It is hard to watch the bit where Hitchcock spots his tie without thinking of the childhood story the director once told about being sent to a police station as a boy, or the William Friedkin anecdote about when Hitch questioned his young apprentice for not wearing a tie whilst shooting the final episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.

The trailer for his swan song Family Plot (1976) sees the director make his final appearence in a trailer.

The quality of the film and his customary dry wit seem to betray the fact that he had one eye on retirement.

What do all these trailers say about Hitchcock?

In them we can see the evolution of a director who managed to use the very commercialism of the Hollywood system to his artistic advantage.

By cultivating a showman persona, he enticed audiences into cinemas and once they were there he usually surprised them in strange and imaginative ways.

> More on Alfred Hitchcock at Wikipedia
> The Hitchcock Wiki
> Hitchcock TV

Interesting News

Terrence Malick and Christian Bale filming in Austin

Video has surfaced online of Terrence Malick and Christian Bale shooting their latest film in Austin, Texas.

Malick was seen in his hometown at the Austin City Limits music festival over the weekend along with a film crew and Christian Bale.

The festival was streamed live on YouTube as acts like Iron and Wine, TV on the Radio and Coldplay performed.

However, Bale and Malick were also caught on camera in the crowd by Twitvid user Johnny Garcia:

The production crew were obviously aware that they would be shooting amongst a crowd and that photos and video were likely to be taken.

Perhaps that was the vibe Malick was going for, even though any film fans there may have been startled to see one of the legends of cinema and a leading A-list actor in the crowd of a music festival.

At one point Bale shoots a knowing glance to the (users) camera and then a woman called Sarah gives Malick a beer to give to Bale (both seemed very appreciative).

The Film Stage have also posted photos of the filming along with some Twitter reaction.

The big question is what film is this for?

His next project – which some think may be called The Burial – is scheduled for release next year and the IMDb list it simply as the Untitled Terrence Malick Project (2012).

It might be tempting to assume this is another movie altogether but I have a suspicion that it could be part of the film out next year.

Last September, Malick was spotted at another music festival (called Indian Summer) in Bartlesville, Oklahoma filming with actress Olga Kurylenko.

Rockville Music Magazine said at the time:

Festival goers took note of the Redbud Pictures LLC signs throughout the grounds alerting the public of filming. Redbud Pictures was incorporated in Oklahoma and Texas in the spring of 2010. A representative in the Texas Secretary of State’s office confirmed Terrence Malick is the manager of Redbud Pictures. Actress Olga Kurylenko was filmed interlacing with the Indian Summer crowd and was also filmed twirling with a local girl, who’s parents were taken aside to sign a release. Locals were content to watch Hollywood unfold before them and remained respectful of Malick’s film crew while they moved freely, without security, throughout the Indian Summer crowd.

Note the similarities between the two different shoots – both involve crowds at a festival and the production company happens to have been based in Bartlesville and Austin.

Could it be that Bale was being filmed for The Burial?

> Untitled Terrence Malick project at the IMDb
> Possible first image for the new Malick film
> Rockville Music magazine on the September 2010 filming in Oklahoma


Flying Over Planet Earth

Have you ever wanted to see what Earth looks like from orbit?

Science educator James Drake created this time-lapse video using still images taken from the International Space Station as it orbited the planet at night.

The images were taken as it flew over the Americas and the video was made from 600 photos available online.

It begins over the Pacific Ocean and continues over North and South America, before entering daylight near Antarctica and even ends with a solar lens flare.

If you look really carefully you can see such places as Vancouver, Seattle, San Fransisco, Los Angeles, the Gulf of Mexico, lightning over the Pacific, Chile, the Amazon and the earth’s ionosphere.

N.B. As it is a silent video, someone in the YouTube comments section suggests the addition of Jerry Goldsmith’s Ilia’s Theme from Star Trek (1979) but I would say that Flight into Space from John Barry’s Moonraker (1979) would also work.

[via Universe Today]

> Infinity Imagined – James Drake’s Tumblr blog
> Find out more about Earth and the ISS at Wikipedia

Interesting News

Twin Towers on Film

This video compilation by Dan Meth shows the World Trade Center appearing in several movies from 1969-2001.

The Hot Rock (1972), Dog Day Afternoon (1975), Three Days of the Condor (1975), Superman (1978), Wolfen (1981), Escape from New York (1981) and Being John Malkovich (1999) are just some of the films featured.

With the tenth anniversary of 9/11 approaching there’s going to be a lot of news media coverage about it over the next two weeks.

Aside from the enormous human cost and dreadful long-term consequences of that day, part of what made the Twin Towers resonate so much was that they formed an indelible part of the New York skyline for a generation.

In turn, they were reproduced around the world in movies and television for a generation, be it the opening of Friends (1994-2004) or various blockbusters like Independence Day (1996) and Armageddon (1998).

This website has an detail chronological list of the buildings appearing in movies, along with some screen shots.

It claims that the first appearence of the fledgling WTC building was this shot in William Friedkin’s The French Connection (1971).

Another interesting development was how filmmakers featured the Towers after September 2001.

Famously, a teaser trailer for Spider-Man (2002) was pulled after featuring the two buildings (although glimpses of it could be seen in the final film) and a drama like Changing Lanes (2002) captured the towers before they fell, but actually came came out several months after the attacks.

Director Roger Michell edited out shots in the days after 9/11 but later put them back in as a tribute.

Later period films, such as Munich (2005), digitally reinserted the towers and this also reflected advances in visual effects as well as their historical importance to New York over three decades.

Perhaps the most unique use of the towers in a film was Spike Lee’s 25th Hour (2002) which used the ‘Tribute in Light‘ in the months after 9/11 for a memorable opening title sequence.

Whenever I think of the biggest news event of my lifetime, this sequence often springs to mind.

> World Trade Center in popular culture at Wikipedia
> The Siege and 9/11
> WTC in Movies (extensive list of the Twin Towers in movies)
> Celluloid Skyline – a website and book about New York on film
> Spike Lee audio commentary for the 25th Hour opening sequence

Interesting Thoughts

HMV and the Decline of Retail

Images of a flagship HMV store in London reveal much about the changing nature of retail down the years.

HMV is an iconic UK retail chain for music and films, founded in 1921 by the Gramaphone Company, which was one of the earliest companies to record and sell music to the public.

The store’s name is an acronym for “His Master’s Voice” and got its distinctive logo from a painting by English artist Francis Barraud.

It depicts a dog called Nipper, which the artist inherited from his late brother, as he listens to a recording on a wind-up gramophone.

Although for many years the company was not actually “HMV” or His Master’s Voice, the popularity of the trademark persisted and the first HMV shop opened in 1921 in London.

In the decades since then it has not only spawned shops around the world but remained a permanent retail fixture in the capital city, despite switching locations.

Recently the Voices of East Anglia blog posted some photos, including this shot from HMV’s Flickr account of what the store looked like in the 1960s.

hmv 363 Oxford Street, London - Exterior of store 1960s

The full gallery is worth checking out as you can see how people used to browse for vinyl records in the personal export lounge, examine what music systems and televisions used to look like and observe the stage and screen section.

It really is like an episode of Mad Men.

There is also a gallery of photos from the 1970s (now in colour!) which shows the same HMV store, though sadly not the interior.

1976 - London - Oxfordstr. - HMV

I’m not an expert on the history of retail on Oxford Street (maybe someone can help in the comments?) but I think that HMV moved from this building and then opened a store across the street, before opening a larger store at 150 Oxford Street.

The original building is now this branch of Footlocker:

Last year HMV closed down the store near Bond Street tube station but the flagship store at 150 Oxford Street remains.

The only question is: for how long?

The recession has so far led to the closure of retailers like Woolworths, Borders and Zavvi (formerly Virgin Megastores).

On Oxford Street in particular, the closure of the Zavvi and Borders branches felt like the retail equivalent of organ removal.

Since I was a kid I’ve always browsed for music, films and books there and to see them close down is sad.

There is something to be said for the serendipity of browsing in a store, but the economics of these stores increasingly don’t add up in the age of Amazon.

How can these places compete with a retailer which has dramatically lower overheads, enviable distribution costs, vastly superior customer data and greater insight into how people shop in the 21st century?

The ‘Amazon Effect’ on retail struck me when I went into the Covent Garden branch of Fopp, the music and film retailer which HMV bought in 2007.

When it comes to music, why would I want to purchase physical CDs when I can listen to vast amounts of music on Spotify and iTunes or (semi-legally) YouTube?

This very dilemma has seen the music industry decimated over the last decade and the vast profits generated from sales be transferred into the bank accounts of two technology giants.

In 2008 Apple surpassed Walmart to become the world’s largest music retailer as they reap enormous profits from selling the inexpensive digital music (MP3 files) and the expensive hardware on which it plays (iPods and iPhones).

Google have a search site which powers the proliferation of free MP3s (just type in the name of a song and you’ll probably find it) and in YouTube owns the worlds largest unofficial music library, which you can personalise by visiting

Film is probably a few years behind music, but movie companies and retailers arguably face a similar tsunami of change as digital delivery of content (e.g. Netflix streaming) replaces the physical (e.g. DVD and Blu-ray discs).

Two things struck me as I browsed the DVD and Blu-ray section of Fopp, which HMV saved in 2007.

Firstly, this is a golden age of DVD bargains: the sheer quality of films on offer for bargain bucket prices was staggering.

For example, in HMV Oxford Street you can get the following titles for around £5: All The President’s Men (1976), Breathless (1960), Chinatown (1974) and Sideways (2004).

Amazing HMV Bargains

But this is also true of Amazon where you can get hold of classic material for low prices: Citizen Kane for £3.97, The Roman Polanksi Collection (3 film collection of Chinatown, Rosemary’s Baby and The Tenant!) for £6.93 and if you want a great value blockbuster in HD, try Terminator 2 on Blu-ray for just £7.93.

In fact it was downstairs in the Blu-ray section of Fopp where the ‘Amazon effect’ really struck me.

I wanted to check out my favourite Blu-ray box set of 2010, which is the Alien Anthology (quick tip: skip the final two films, feast on the first two and put several hours aside for the incredible array of extras).

How much did the Alien Anthology Blu-ray box-set cost in Fopp? £52.

I got out my iPhone and ran a price check on Amazon, where it cost £19.98.

That’s a staggering price difference of £32.02.

Now this is just a single example of one particular product, but I suspect it is reflective of a wider shift as retail and content move into an increasingly virtual world.

Two months ago the BBC reported that HMV profits fell 14.5% in its results for the year to April and the share price has slumped dramatically over the past twelve months.

Part of their new strategy has been to open stores like the one in Wimbledon, which have a small cinema above the shop.

I went back in June and was impressed not only with the sound and projection, but the fact that they were screening up scale fare like Senna alongside blockbusters such as X-Men: First Class.

The other part of the strategy is for the group to expand into live ticketing and digital music.

But whether they can make significant profits from these avenues quickly enough remains to be seen.

Maintaining their bricks-and-mortar operations whilst trying to make inroads into the digital world is going to be a huge challenge.

This comment on Metafilter by the user memebake is perhaps a realistic note to end on:

I used to go to HMV and the independent stores on Berwick Street loads about 15 years ago, and it was fun flipping through the racks looking for things. But before I get too nostalgic, its worth reminding myself that a lot of the albums I bought in that era turned out to be rubbish. The old “hear one song on the radio then buy the album for £12 without hearing any of it” model just encouraged lazy albums with two singles and a bunch of filler tracks.

Whereas now I can get crowdsourced ratings and reviews, preview individual tracks, and then buy the thing without leaving the place I’m sitting. The problem for me nowdays is not buying albums that turn out to be rubbish, its downloading albums and then forgetting to ever go back and listen to them.

Business (we are often told) is all about adapting to new opportunities and taking risks and all that stuff. The old music retail business failed to do that and basically let Amazon and Apple take over. It was obvious for years and years that large-store-large-inventory wasn’t going to be able to compete. They wont get any sad goodbyes from me. I still try and go to Selectadisc now and then though.

> Find out more about HMV, Fopp and Amazon at Wikipedia
> Flickr Gallery of London 35 Years Ago


The History of Pixar

This 2005 discussion at the Computer History Museum gathered together some of the key figures behind Pixar.

Moderated by Michael Rubin, author of Droidmaker: George Lucas and the Digital Revolution, it features:

  • Ed Catmull (Co-Founder and President, Pixar Animation Studios)
  • Brad Bird (Writer/Director, The Incredibles)
  • Alvy Ray Smith (Co-Founder of four centers of computer graphics excellence: Altamira, Pixar, Lucasfilm, New York Tech)
  • Andrew Stanton (Writer/ Director, Finding Nemo)
Running at 1 hour and 41 minutes, it is a great discussion about the history, ethos and working methods of the company.

These days it is perhaps easy to overlook the extraordinary developments in computer animation over the last 30 years, but listening to these guys is a reminder of the hard work and application that went into the studios work.

With all the news and commentary about Steve Jobs stepping down as Apple’s CEO, it is worth remembering how visionary he was in buying a computer graphics division of Lucasfilm and helping it become a major animation studio.

Understandably, he will always be remembered more for Apple but the history of Pixar is also a fantastic story which encompasses how the digital revolution in computing shaped how we see movies.

It is worth remembering that Jobs first became a billionaire because of Pixar, not Apple.

The roots of what would become Pixar began when George Lucas was having problems with visual effects on the original Star Wars films – for example, the opening shot of Star Wars (1977) took eight months.

Visual effects were traditionally done using methods that involved models and optical printers, but Lucas wanted to hire people who could use the power of computers to help make the process easier.

This episode of Horizon from 1985 shows how visual effects were done on the original Star Wars films:

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

In the early 1980s they worked on films which were either produced by Lucasfilm or involved the effects arm of Industrial Light & Magic, most notably Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) and Young Sherlock Holmes (1985) which both featured ground breaking use of computers in specific visual effects shots.

When Jobs purchased the company in 1986 and renamed it Pixar, he was essentially buying the most advanced computer animation research group in the world.

One of the founding members was John Lasseter and in 2009 he told me what the goal was in those early days:

“Pixar originally was not an animation studio but a computer company. But we did computer animation research and our goal was to one day do a feature film using this technology. But were were developing – inventing – much of computer animation at Pixar. So we then got a deal with Disney to develop a feature film, which turned out to be Toy Story. It was a huge hit and ushered in an age of computer animation.”

Production on the first Toy Story began in 1991, which was a landmark year for visual effects and animation as both Terminator 2 and Disney’s Beauty and the Beast both made heavy use of advances in computer technology.

Four years later when Toy Story eventually came out in 1995, it was the world’s first full-length computer 3D animated and rendered motion picture.

It began a decade of incredible critical and commercial success with films such as A Bug’s Life (1998), Toy Story 2 (1999), Monsters, Inc. (2001), Finding Nemo (2003), The Incredibles (2004), Cars (2006), Ratatouille (2007), WALL-E (2008), Up (2009) and Toy Story 3 (2010).

The final Toy Story film last year became the highest-grossing animated film of all time.

Part of the genius of the company has been to match technical innovation with high standards of writing and storytelling.

In early 2006 Disney officially acquired Pixar for $7.4 billion with Steve Jobs becoming the largest single shareholder, whilst John Lasseter became Chief Creative Officer of Walt Disney Feature Animation.

The $10 million investment Jobs made in Pixar back in 1986 had yielded a profit of $7.3 billion, but also a priceless legacy for animated film.

> Pixar
> The Pixar Touch by David A Price at Amazon UK
> John Lasseter on the history of Pixar in 2009
> Angus MacLane on WALL-E in 2008
> Emotional story about Pixar’s Up
> CNN story from 1995 about the release of Toy Story

Interesting Thoughts video

Chaos Cinema and the Rise of the Avid

This two-part video essay by Matthias Stork on the style of modern action films considers the rise of chaos cinema.

The first part contrasts traditional, composed action set-pieces in Die Hard (1988) with the frenetic approach adopted in more recent films from directors like Paul Greengrass and Michael Bay, as well as highlighting the importance of sound in shaping our perception of a scene.

The second part explores the way dialogue scenes have also been affected, but also points out the benefits of chaos cinema if used for a specific purpose, using the example of Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker (2009).

I’m not sure I agree with all examples here, as the Greengrass Bourne films – The Bourne Supremacy (2004) and The Bourne Ultimatum (2007) – are exhilarating and shouldn’t be blamed for the lame copycats that followed in their wake.

The question I was left pondering after watching these videos is why did ‘chaos cinema’ really take hold over the last 15 years?

One could cite the influence of a generation of directors who ‘graduated’ from MTV videos and commercials, such as Michael Bay, Gore Verbinski and David Fincher.

Or perhaps the rise of handheld visuals and quick cutting has roots in trying to satiate the attention spans of the younger audiences used to first person video games, as shooter games like Overwatch, people play with the use of services as Overwatch boosting from sites online.

In a sense, the GoldenEye first-person shooter game which came out in 1997 proved more influential and prophetic than the actual film that inspired it two years beforehand.

Perhaps audiences got used to shorter attention spans in the age of the Internet and this frenetic multi-tasking was somehow reflected on screen.

My theory is that computer based non-linear editing systems, such as the Avid and Final Cut Pro have had a major influence.

Back in 1990 when Bernardo Bertolucci was editing The Sheltering Sky (1990), the Italian director was asked by a BBC film crew to compare the old editing system with a new non-linear based one.

Filmmaker and author Michael Rubin worked on the production and discussed in 2006 how it used the laserdisc-based CMX 6000 editing system:

“No-one was using non-linear on feature films at the time. We set it up at the post-production in Soho …the English [producers] were waiting for this computer to crash, so we could get back to film.”

This was a pretty extraordinary development, given that Bertolucci, cinematographer Vittorio Storaro and editor Gabriella Cristiani had all just won Oscars for their sumptuous epic The Last Emperor (1987).

Bertolucci admitted to the BBC crew that he missed the feel and smell of celluloid on a traditional flat-bed system, but seemed impressed by the unprecedented freedom offered by a computerised system.

It was clear that a gradual revolution was taking place, roughly at the same time as computerisation was changing visual effects with ILM doing ground-breaking work on Terminator 2 (1991), partly thanks to a new program called Photoshop.

In the past, using machines like a Steenbeck – which physically cut and spliced celluloid – made editing a much slower and more considered process.

When you see someone like David Lean editing A Passage to India (1984) on a moviola, you realise what a skilled and mechanical process it was to physically cut a film:

The rise of the Avid in the 1990s changed all that, giving editors astonishing flexibility and freedom to arrange sequences and cut them with precision.

Bill Warner, the pioneer who came up with the basic idea of the Avid, mistakenly thought that such as system already existed in the late 1980s when he developed what was essentially a software program that ran on a Macintosh.

When early computerised editing systems first came in, the challenge they faced was convincing directors and editors who were used to editing on older systems they were familiar with.

After all, if traditional editing machines like the Moviola, Steenbeck and KEM weren’t broke, then why fix them?

In the high-pressure world of film post-production time literally is money and there is often a rush to get the scenes arranged for the score and final sound mix.

It would have been quite a challenge to explain to experienced editors used to cutting the old way that Avid offered a compelling alternative and that they had to learn how to use a computer.

*UPDATE 01/06/15* Filmmaker IQ do a nice history of the transition here:

Given the steep learning curve, it was no surprise that change was gradual but by the early 1990s Avids began to replace older flatbed editing machines and by 1995 many major productions had made the switch to scanning their films in via telecine and then cutting them on computer.

When Walter Murch won the Oscar for editing The English Patient (1996) on an Avid, it became the first editing Oscar to be awarded to a production that used a digital based system, even though the final print was still celluloid.

Whilst mainstream Hollywood has made the switch, Steven Spielberg has been a famous hold out against editing machines like the Avid, because he dislikes the very speed of the modern workflow, saying he needs time to think during editing.

Although even he admitted at a recent DGA event that he has surrendered to the new system whilst editing his latest film, War Horse, which will be cut by his longtime collaborator Michael Kahn.

This freedom to quickly arrange and cut together elements of a film seems to have had a profound influence on the work of ‘chaos cinema’ directors.

Paul Greengrass shoots lots of footage so he can assemble it in the editing room; Tony Scott shoots on multiple cameras with such ferocity that his films are almost avant garde; and Michael Bay’s career seems like a case study in applying techniques of MTV videos directly to the multiplex.

These filmmakers get a lot of attention for how they shoot action, but the way they piece it together in the editing room is as fundamental to their visual style.

Would they be agents of chaos without modern, lightweight cameras and faster editing systems?

> IndieWire essay on Chaos Cinema
> David Bordwell on ‘intensified continuity’
> Find out more about non-linear editing systems at Wikipedia

Directors Interesting

A Stanley Kubrick Odyssey

This twelve minute montage of Stanley Kubrick movies is a hypnotic tribute to the director.

Incorporating clips from from The Killing (1956) through to Eyes Wide Shut (1999), it highlights various motifs using editing and split-screen effects.

Titled ‘A Stanley Kubrick Odyssey’ it was cut together by Richard Vezina and the music featured is Summoning of the Muse by Dead Can Dance and Sanvean by Lisa Gerrard.

People who often accuse Kubrick’s films of lacking emotion should definitely watch this.

> Stanley Kubrick at Wikipedia and MUBi
> Dead Can Dance

Amusing Interesting

Huge-ly Misleading

The DVD cover for the British film Huge features a misleading quote.

Take a look at the cover below and you’ll see that someone from The Guardian found it ‘heartfelt’.

This would normally indicate a positive review, but if you actually hunt down the full review on The Guardian’s website, you’ll find Xan Brooks wasn’t too impressed.

Not only does he give it two stars, but the full sentence containing the word ‘heartfelt’ reads:

“The tale is heartfelt but the technique is shot”

I don’t know about you but the second half of that sentence isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement is it?

What about the remote chance that another Guardian writer found the film to his liking and also used the word ‘heartfelt’?

No, that didn’t happen.

Although not quite up there with ‘freelance runners‘ from UK distributors planting comments on blogs or the major studio who invented a critic to lavish praise on its own movies, it’s still pretty misleading.

The Advertising Standards Authority is the body that regulates the UK advertising industry and its code of practice states:

“no marketing communication should mislead, or be likely to mislead, by inaccuracy, ambiguity, exaggeration, omission or otherwise”

In this case, I think the quote on the Huge DVD cover misleads by omission.

Can you think of any other examples of reviews taken out of context?

> Guardian review of Huge
> Huge at the IMDb
> BBC News on the legal fallout in 2005 from a studio inventing quotes


Abu Dhabi Media Summit 2011

Earlier this year the Abu Dhabi Media Summit took place with some key Hollywood figures talking about issues facing the industry.

Firstly, director James Cameron spoke with News Corp’s European CEO James Murdoch about a variety of topics affecting the film business including:

  • The future of 3D
  • Technology and risk taking
  • The nature of business in Hollywood
  • Dealing with crisis
  • Exploration and the environment
  • The future of entertainment
  • Breaking down the barriers of reality and film

The conversation runs for 41 minutes and can be seen here:

The second panel was called ‘Hollywood Power Shifts’ and dealt with the wider issues facing the entertainment business.

Hosted by Dan Sabbagh of The Guardian, the guests included: Mohammed Al Mubarak (Chairman, Imagenation Abu Dhabi); Skip Brittenham (Senior Partner and Founder, Ziffren, Brittenham LLP); Ari Emanuel (Co-CEO WME Entertainment); Jim Gianopulos (Co-chairman & CEO, Fox Filmed Entertainment) and Walter Parkes (Former DreamWorks president and currently co-head of Parkes-MacDonald Productions).

The discussion covers:

  • The relationship between the consumers and content
  • Piracy and the role of Internet Service Providers
  • How social media affects studio marketing
  • Sequels and remakes
  • The possible power shift from West to East
  • How text messaging is helping movies with subtitles
  • How Muslim culture is represented in Hollywood movies
  • The changing nature of content (movies, TV and the web)
  • Brands and movies
Skip to 6.05 to get to the discussion:

There is was also an interesting talk called ‘Content and the Cloud’ by Charlie Boswell (Director of Digital Media and Entertainment at AMD) and Jules Urbach (Founder and CEO, OTOY).

They discuss how how filmmakers and game companies can benefit from using cloud technology to make and deliver content.

Although it may seem a little technical, the implications of what they say could be profound for movie studios and games companies.

They discuss how:

  • Production houses can shift heavy duty work to the cloud (e.g. Avatar and The Social Network)
  • How the cloud could revolutionise how movie studios deliver content
  • The possible end of optical discs (DVD and Blu-ray) and the rise of streaming via the cloud
  • Bandwidth issues
  • The relationship between games and movies

Given the direction Apple are moving in with iCloud, this is an area worth watching closely.

> YouTube channel for the 2011 Summit
> More on the Abu Dhabi Media Summit at Wikipedia

Behind The Scenes Interesting

Film London Seminars

Film London recently held some interesting seminars on the sales side of the movie business.

For all that is written about the artistic merits of a particular film, sometimes the process of how a film reaches cinemas getsless attention.

Film London is the capital’s film and media agency, a not-for-profit organisation supported by the BFIMayor of LondonThe Arts Council and Skillset.

They have put seminars online with some key people from the industry, which cover: audience research, marketing (business-to-business, traditional, viral) and public relations.

In an era where the digital revolution is affecting both the production and distribution of films, these videos contain some incredibly useful information and advice.

They have disabled embedding, but you can click through the following links to view them.

> Film London
> How Stuff Works on Movie Distribution


Interesting TV

Alexander Mackendrick and The Watergate Hearings

In the early 1970s director Alexander Mackendrick used the Watergate hearings to explore the basics of film grammar.

After establishing himself as a director with vintage Ealing comedies in the late 1940s, he returned to America where he made the classic Sweet Smell of Success (1957) with Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis.

In 1969 he went into teaching at the California Institute of the Arts, where his students included future filmmakers such as Terence Davies, F. X. Feeney and James Mangold.

As the Watergate scandal heated up with saturation television coverage, Mackendrick noticed that the principles of narrative filmmaking could be applied to real-life television coverage.

For those not familair with Watergate, it began with a seemingly minor burglary at the Democratic campaign headquarters at the Watergate Hotel in 1972, and as Washington Post reporters probed the story, they gradually uncovered widespread criminal behaviour and evidence of a cover-up within the Nixon administration.

The Senate Watergate Committee began hearings in May 1973 and after several dramatic revelations, Nixon was forced to resign in August 1974.

Over the course of that year leading to his resignation, various people were called to testify to the committee, which were broadcast live on TV.

One exchange that caught Mackendrick’s attention was the between Senator Howard Baker and Sally Harmony, who secretary to G. Gordon Liddy, one of the key Nixon operatives later convicted of conspiracy, burglary and wiretapping.

You can watch the footage here:

Mackendrick was struck by the inherent drama of the conversation and the visual language of what unfolded on his television set.

He even wrote a detailed pamphlet which explored how the principles of a dramatic film apply to documentaries.

It makes for fascinating reading, but this particular quote stands out:

“It’s my guess that a movie director, given dailies of exactly the same footage, could hardly have done a better job of editing even if given time to analyse the material. The rapidly intercut closeups may be silent, but their subtext is obvious and eloquent. Seeing these live broadcasts from Washington, I remember being transfixed by what was essentially news reportage.”

He even sketched out a diagram of where the cameras were in relation to the people:

The interesting thing is that you can apply Mackendrick’s analysis to any non-fiction footage, be it reality television, YouTube videos or serious current affairs.

The most seismic news event of the past decade was 9/11, a terrorist attack which many people at the time remarked was ‘like a movie’.

On NBC’s live coverage, a terrified witness on the phone says these very words at 04.21:

Presumably part of the terrorist plan was to use the Western media against itself, as they knew these images would be carried around the world.

The catch 22 for media is that they had to broadcast them as it was a major news story, but they also knew that the terror was being fed into millions of living rooms across the world.

Although the live coverage was edited in real-time, the way in which the images came together for audiences was like a dreadful disaster movie unfolding live on television. (For more on 9/11 and the movies click here)

On a very different note, Susan Boyle’s famous appearence on Britain’s Got Talent was massively popular because it was a classic underdog story compressed into 6 minutes.

Susan Boyle – Singer – Britains Got Talent 2009 by moovieblog

But notice several key points in the narrative:

  • Simon Cowell’s doubtful look at 1.06
  • Notice the cut to a sceptical audience member at 1.24 right after Boyle talks about her dream of being a professional singer
  • Simon Cowell’s raised eyebrows at 1.59 which indicate the moment where the underdog has come good
  • Amanda Holden’s eyes opening at 2.01 which accentuates that Boyle can really sing

This wasn’t quite live, but the basic narrative building blocks of what made it resonate were shaped in editing.

It currently has over 72 million views on YouTube (the reason I can’t embed from that particular site is a whole other story).

Mackendrick’s basic observations still resonate because they tap into the way in which human beings process the moving image.

Keep an eye out for any factual footage, be it on a serious news or the tackiest reality TV and notice how it is constructed.

You’ll probably find out more than you might initially think.

> Alexander Mackendrick at the IMDb
> More on Mackendrick and the Watergate footage at The Sticking Place

Documentaries Interesting

Gary Slutkin on Disrupting Violence

This week sees the UK release of The Interrupters, a documentary which explores an anti-violence program in Chicago based on the theories of Gary Slutkin.

Directed by Steve James, who made the classic 1994 documentary Hoop Dreams, the film follows the work of CeaseFire, an initiative which has created and implemented the concept of ‘The Violence Interrupter’.

This sees three people – Ameena Matthews, Cobe Williams and Eddie Bocanegra – with experience of crime, work on the street to mediate conflicts which could result in violent crime.

Essentially, it’s a bit like Minority Report without all the high-tech stuff.

The CeaseFire project was founded in 1995 by Dr. Slutkin, who developed the theory that violence is like an infectious disease that can be prevented by changing behaviour.

Last year he gave this talk explaining his basic ideas:

The UK release of The Interrupters is incredibly timely, with riots and looting breaking out in London and other major cities in the same week it opens in UK cinemas.

In a related side note, the films UK distributor Dogwoof was affected by the devastating fire at a Sony distribution centre in Enfield, which housed most of the stock for the UK’s indie music and film labels.

I would strongly recommend the film, as it is easily one of the best films of the year and essential viewing in a week where violence and urban decay have dominated UK headlines.

> My review of The Interrupters
Official website
> Official Facebook and Twitter
Reviews of The Interrupters at Metacritic
Original NY Times article by Alex Kotlowitz that inspired the film
> More on the UK Riots of 2011

Animation Interesting

[the films of] Pixar Animation Studios

Kees van Dijkhuizen‘s latest instalment in his montage project showcasing the works of different directors, focuses on the films of Pixar.

Previous montages have explored single directors such as Michel Gondry, David Fincher, Wes Anderson and Sofia Coppola, but this one devoted to Pixar is a wonderful distillation of what has been an amazing run of movies since 1995.

It includes clips from the Toy Story trilogy (1995-2010), A Bug’s Life (1998), Monsters Inc (2001), Finding Nemo (2003), The Incredibles (2004), Cars (2006), Ratatouille (2007), WALL-E (2008) and Up (2009).

> Behind the scenes post
> Pixar at Wikipedia


Martin Scorsese at the LACMA

Martin Scorsese has been a tireless advocate for film preservation and last year gave a fascinating hour long talk at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Speaking to Michael Govan, the director of the LACMA, Scorsese discusses a variety of topics and you can watch the full interview here, which begins at 6:06:

Amongst the things they cover include:

  • Moving to LA in the 1970s and watching prints of old films
  • The change from the 3-strip camera process to Eastman color
  • Realising the quality of film prints were declining after watching a double bill of Niagra (1953) and The Seven Year Itch (1955)
  • The reason a proper print for Luchino Visconti’s The Leopard (1960) didn’t exist for a long time
  • How his quest for preserving film prints led to the creation of The Film Foundation in the late 1980s
  • The fire in the mid-1970s that destroyed the original negative of Citizen Kane (1941)
  • The films that have benefited from the foundation’s work, such as restored prints of Shadow of a Doubt (1943), Paths of Glory (1957) and Once Upon a Time in the West (1969).
  • How the Film Foundation had restored The Red Shoes (1948) from an original camera negative that was ‘mouldy’
  • The importance of preservation for inspiring the next generation of directors
  • How the entertainment aspect of cinema created a stigma around it being considered an art form
  • The meaning of a cut
  • A parallel tracking shot in Blow Up (1966)
  • How he came to appreciate the films of Frank Borzage after the age of 50
  • How plot is the ‘hardest thing to shoot’
  • The influence of the shower scene in Psycho (1960) on a fight scene in Raging Bull (1980)
  • Why Hitchcock is such a fascinating director
  • What makes cinema unique as an art
  • How he would shoot a 3D film (he has since made Hugo)
  • Shooting the HBO mini-series Boardwalk Empire
  • The debate on grain and whether digital restorations should remove it or not

Not only is it like listening to the best film professor in history, but it is a genuinely illuminating discussion that touches upon the art and technique of the medium that has meant so much to him.

> Martin Scorsese at Wikipedia
> The Film Foundation
> LAMCA and their Vimeo Channel



Frederic Brodbeck has created a fascinating project which measures data to reveal the visual characteristics of certain movies.

As part of his bachelor graduation project at the Royal Academy of Arts in The Hague, he used software to break down the characteristics of particular films (e.g. editing, colour, speech, motion) and then turned this information into a moving graphic.

He writes:

…cinemetrics is about measuring and visualizing movie data, in order to reveal the characteristics of films and to create a visual “fingerprint” for them. Information such as the editing structure, color, speech or motion are extracted, analyzed and transformed into graphic representations so that movies can be seen as a whole and easily interpreted or compared side by side. Being someone who really enjoys movies and cinema, I always notice little things about the style of a movie, so film and its characteristics were an interesting starting point for this project.

Furthermore my thesis is about generative / computational design and what role writing code plays regarding new approaches in (graphic) design. It was clear that for my graduation project I would use the methods I described in the thesis and that it would involve a certain amount of programming in order to visualize data. However, today there are already a lot of information graphics using meta-data related to film and cinema (budget, box office data, awards won, relationship between characters etc.). That’s why I wanted to use the movie itself as a source of data, to see what sort of information can be extracted from it, to find ways of visualizing it and to create the necessary tools to do this.

This video is a neat introduction to the project:

The films used in the above video are:

This is all possible because digital formats allow us to extract and process the data that makes up a single movie, but what’s impressive here is the tools Brodbeck has used and the presentation of what he has found.

He explains his process:

Extracting, processing and visualizing movie data is something you cannot do manually, that’s why custom software tools were written for pretty much every step of the process. Tools for disassembling video files into their components (video, audio, subtitles, etc.) and processing them (shot detection, average shot length, motion measuring, color palettes), as well as an interactive application to generate and compare different movie fingerprints. Most of the code is available here.

He has also written up his findings as a book:

Although film is sometimes an elusive medium to pin down with raw data, this is an impressive attampt to do just that.

> Cinemetrics
> Frederic Brodbeck at Vimeo> Scientific study to find the saddest movie scene ever


A History of the Title Sequence

This short film by Jurjen Versteeg neatly references some key players in the art of film title design.

A History Of The Title Sequence from jurjen versteeg on Vimeo.

Titled A History of the Title Sequence, it pays tribute to notable movie design figures and references key movies, including the following (click on each link to find out more or see the originals):

> Jurjen Versteeg at Vimeo
> View lots of classics at Art of the Title