Wednesday, 17 December 2008

5 Classic Trailers

Last Friday Béla Tarr's latest masterpiece, The Man from London, finally 'opened' in the UK, on one screen in, appropriately, London. In place of a rant about why the hell it’s taken the film so long to reach theatres (or, rather, a theatre), I thought I'd write a post inspired by the film's sublime trailer. I first saw the film at Edinburgh International Film Festival in 2007, and in a fit of excitement over the prospect of being able to see it again on the big screen, I scoured the net in the hope of finding a trailer for it, and this is what I found:

Although this shot doesn't appear in the film itself, it still perfectly sums up the mood, the style and the themes of the film. In his review of the film in
Sight & Sound, Michael Brooke talks about a similar shot in the film, commenting on the way that the camera movement has the result of making the protagonist appear like he's going nowhere, in that instance seemingly never getting any nearer a church which looms large behind him. On a metaphorical level, both the shot Brooke discusses and the shot used in the trailer perfectly encapsulate the film's theme of being trapped and of never being able to break free, to 'get' anywhere in life, while at the same time never losing site of the possibility of freedom from the daily grind. In other words, the very essence of the film has been distilled perfectly into the trailer, and thus even here the film's masterful synthesis of form and content are revealed.

As well as getting me excited about what a genius Tarr is, the trailer has also got me thinking about other great film trailers. The two that immediately sprang to mind were the ones for
Bresson's L'Argent and Kubrick's The Shining. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to find the former online to embed in this post, but its mesmeric montage of cash machines slamming shut is really quite something, and it almost makes a purchase of the DVD worthy by itself. The trailer for The Shining is another one shot affair and is equally mesmeric, and which, thanks in no small part to its excellent use of music, fills the viewer with an ever increasing sense of despair as the shot continues:

Another trailer which I think has a really great use of music is the trailer for Scorsese's The Departed. However, the Scorsese trailer I've decided to include in my list is this one for Gangs of New York:

It may well just be because of my almost infantile love of this particular film, but there's something about this trailer which is just so exciting and thrilling. Or, in other words, it's another trailer which, for me at least, again perfectly encapsulates the film itself.

When I sat down to write this blog about trailers, I wanted to round my number out to five, because, well, it felt like a round number. With this in mind, I knew that I wanted to include something truly classic from the Hollywood of yesteryear. And so, as my final choice, I present you with the truly classic trailer for The Wolf Man. It's really not an exaggeration to say that they don't make trailers like this anymore... I leave it to you decide if that's a good or a bad thing...

Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Quote for the Week

'Words are becoming less and less necessary. They create misunderstandings' – Sandro (Gabriele Ferzetti), in Michelangelo Antonioni's L'Avventura.

Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Cinema as Spectacle

Over the last few months I have heard and read a lot about the latest technological 'advancement' of cinema, aka 3D movies and the Real D process. According to the prophets, in a few years all films will be literally coming at us in all three glorious dimensions. The new process has been variously described as the best thing to happen to cinema since the introduction of colour, the switch to sound, and the spread to widescreen. Personally I find this all rather ironic (and oxymoronic), since the best film ever made is black and white, silent, and full screen. Sure, this is just a personal opinion, but it does raise an interesting question about so called 'advances', and perhaps even the very nature of cinema itself.

While it might all be very well for the money men to be pushing a new process which will help get people into the theatres in a world where the cinema is facing ever increasing competition from alternative platforms, one has to consider to what extent the addition of a third dimension will really 'improve' or 'advance' cinema. In a sense, the answer to this question forces us to reopen the age old debate on cinema as art vs cinema as spectacle. While it's very easy to see how something like
Journey to the Center of the Earth 3-D might benefit from the addition of the third dimension, I wonder whether the films of someone like, say, Richard Linklater would really benefit. Some might argue that seeing something in 3D, even if that something is just people talking, would add an extra sense of realism to the onscreen world and thus be of benefit to even the more independent-minded works. In a sense, this is a good argument, and until the use of 3D becomes widespread enough for this to actually happen, it's something that we’ll have to console ourselves with only speculating about.

Lest my comments above appear snooty, I want to make it clear that I do believe there are times when art and spectacle overlap, and in a sense this makes it even more difficult to reach solid conclusions on the introduction of 3D. Steven Soderbergh's recent masterpiece
Che is going to be released in so-called 'road-show' fashion, while I recently caught a screening of Guy Maddin's My Winnipeg with Maddin performing the voice-over live. Both films are clearly works of art, yet this approach to their screenings brings them into the realm of a rare, special event – in other words, a spectacle. It could be argued that turning these works of art into spectacles in this way cheapens them. But that's not an argument that I would make. On the flip side of this, there are mainstream filmmakers whose work one could clearly describe as belonging firmly in the 'spectacle' camp, but who are also great artists. In my opinion, Tim Burton is a great example of this, and indeed he is already working within the 3D medium. I have yet to see the 3D version of The Nightmare Before Christmas and although I must confess that I am very keen to, even here I remain sceptical as to how much of a difference the 3D will make to my enjoyment of the film; for starters, how can one improve on something which is essentially perfect, and secondly, if the glasses remain as uncomfortable as they were on my last trip to the Imax, I'm not sure I'll last more than ten minutes (to be honest, I find the glasses that I have to wear for sight bad enough, without having to wear a second pair on top).

But if all this makes me sound curmudgeonly or resistant to change then I hope you'll forgive me; that's not my intention. To return to what I was saying at the beginning of this post, although I do believe that colour, sound and widescreen should not necessarily be seen as 'improvements', I do recognise the progress their introductions to film have led to, and some of my
favourite films are in widescreen, have colour, and yes, have sound too. But the thing that makes me nervous and which perhaps spawned this post, is not the idea of 3D films, but the idea of all films going 3D. Not all films being made today are in colour, nor indeed are they all in widescreen. Ultimately, all of these 'advances' should be seen for what they really are: tools that all filmmakers, regardless of their artistic intentions, can utilise, or chose to not utilise, in accordance with their visions.

Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

The Dangers of Box Ticking…and not Box Ticking

Like many people with large DVD collections, I have created a database on my computer which lists all the films in my collection. The list helps me index titles and keep track of what I've got and what I've watched, as well as allowing me to pull up lists of all the films by a certain director, or featuring a certain actor, etc., at the click of a button. In order to help me keep track of which ones I've seen and which I haven't there is a column called 'seen' which I literally tick once I have finished watching the film and all its features. Although this is undeniably very useful for someone like me who has far too many discs that they haven't got around to watching yet, it has also had the unfortunate side effect of leading to the early stages of that awful condition from which so many so-called film lovers suffer, and which, for want of a better name, I will call 'boxtickingitis'.

The main symptom of this affliction is, of course, the desperate compulsion to watch as many films as possible so as to simply get them 'ticked off' the list so that next time an obscure black and white silent film from the furthest corner of the globe arises in conversation, one can lean back smugly, smile, and say 'I've seen that'.

Now, to be clear, watching a lot of films is never a problem in and of itself. No, the problem with being a 'box ticker' is that, in the desperate need to consume as many films as possible, no serious consideration is given to any one film or filmmaker. There is no studying of or thinking about a film, only the next film. Hence, the final result of boxtickingitis is in an increase in smugness but a deflation in value and, ultimately, knowledge. Too many people are consuming too many texts without taking the time to attempt any real understanding of the work, and we have to ask 'what's the point?'. The box tickers may have seen a lot of work, but if they haven’t understood or grappled with any of it, then it's all worthless.

Luckily for me, my boxtickingitis has not yet turned terminal, perhaps due to the fact that it is vying within my system with another affliction, which, for now, I will call 'obsessionallyanallycompletitis'. Sufferers of this condition are known to display symptoms almost diametrically opposite to those exhibited by patients suffering from boxtickingitis. To illustrate this, I will take an example from my own life. I have had a number of Bernardo Bertolucci films (which I have never seen) on DVD for literally several years. Of course, as a partial suffer of boxtickingitis, I feel an immense pressure to watch these films, but the obsessionallyanallycompletitis within me won't allow that to happen until I have enough time to sit down and watch all of them within a relatively short space of time (a week or two), while also having time to read about them all in several different books and to exhaustively complete all the special features on each disc. As you can see, a rather large amount of time is needed for this, but that's only part of the problem. You see, a young Bertolucci was a production assistant for Pasolini
on Accattone. So before it is even possible to begin the Bertolucci 'season', it is necessary to see Accattone. But for someone suffering from obsessionallyanallycompletitis, the idea of watching Accattone on its own seems silly, and hence a Pasolini 'season' becomes necessary. But, of course, before moving in to directing, Pasolini wrote for Fellini, who, in turn, started out writing for Rossellini...and so on and so forth...

The ultimate result of this affliction, then, is an almost crippling inability to watch anything due to having insufficient time to do it 'properly', a fate perhaps even worse than those that suffer from boxtickingitis, and perhaps also the cause of an onset of the latter condition.

The debate between what's better – to have seen lots but understand little, or to have seen little but understood lots – is perhaps an issue that is too large to go into here. Of course there is a simple solution for suffers of both conditions: moderation. But the sad truth of it is that 'moderation' is not a word in the vocabulary of many sufferers. For my own part, although I feel the symptoms of my boxtickingitis getting worse with each passing week, I'm glad that obsessionallyanallycompletitis is the worse of my conditions. As a film practitioner I feel it's important for me to actually understand both the history of cinema, and the ways in which certain directors actually create the effects that their film have on their viewers.

That said, the conflict between my two conditions imbue me with a struggle worthy of Kazantzakis. For instance, when I finally find a day or two to sit down and watch the entirety of the
Planet of the Apes Box Set, should I also include Tim Burton's 'reimagining' (which, incidentally, I would like to go on record as saying I love – but more on that another time, perhaps)? The completist in me shouts a resounding 'yes!', while the box-ticker in me shouts a resounding 'no!' (it's two hours during which I could be watching something else that I haven’t already seen!).

I guess it's a struggle that I'll never really get over, but I think it's important to be aware of the dangers both of box-ticking...and of not box-ticking!

Bookmark and Share