Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Intolerable Cruelty

Well, I finally got around to watching the movie for my first Coen brother's paper...which was due more then a week ago. I know I know, but, cest la vie, such is life!

So the movie I watched was Intolerable Cruelty, with George Cloony and Catherine Zeta Jones. It's a romantic comedy that the Coen's wrote with two other guys, and it shows. I liked it, but at the same time....well, I had to turn it off about ten minutes to the end because I just couldn't handle what was happening because, being someone who usually knows the ending within the first few minutes, I had no idea what would happen and it made me hella uncomfortable.

Basically, it is really Hollywood, ya know, "mainstream" as the kids say, which is fine, except that right at about plot point 2, approx. 90 minutes in, everything turns on its head and we get some classic Coen, bizzrro-land action, complete with a hit man with asthma and mace.

A lot of the Coen's usual suspects are present, if not in casting, then in style. The credits are delayed until an entire scene, complete with one long dolly shot, has gone by. However, the opening credits are given in a very Hollywood manner, with cartoons of cherubs and such...not the usual for the brothers grim.

Anyway, I'm not really sure what I'll be writing my paper on yet. I'll let you know!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Visitor

Tonight I saw The Visitor at our local second run theatre, The Riverview. The Visitor is the story of a professor of Economics whose self-pitying solitude is disrupted when he discovers two illegal immigrants have been conned into living in his long-time vacant NYC apartment thinking they are subletting it with the owner's consent.

The film makes some amazing comments on America and who we've become, as well as honestly examining relationships between white Americans and immigrants (illegal and legal). The silence of the film often says more then the dialog (although that was well done as well) making use of plastic materials* to illustrate moods, underlying meanings and character development.

I don't want to give anything away because I think what this film has to say is important enough that anyone stumbling upon this blog needs to see this film, but pay attention to the use especially of flags, foreign languages and flowers when you see The Visitor. Also, spend some time contemplating who the visitor of the film really is and why.

*in the grammar of cinema, "plastic material" refers to objects used in the storytelling; as straightforward as what books are on a shelf to the more obscure choices like dish patterns. Plastic materials often have great significance to the core message in a film, although the film can be enjoyed without picking up on their usage.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

p.s. Movie Preview

One little thing before I skitter off to bed...

I just saw a sneek preview for a movie called Sex Drive about an 18 year-old virgin who doesn't like it and so goes on a crazy road trip with his two best friends, a ladies man and a girl he's in love with, to hook up with an internet babe in Tennessee. Seth Green makes a really brilliant cameo as sarcastic car-fixin' Amish dude, and there is a hilarious scene near the end involving the cops and a donut suit -- I don't know why it was funny, it just was. I had tears streaming down my face.

However, I gotta say I was kinda disappointed in the film on a cinematic level. I thought we were passed making so many gay jokes (even if they end up as plot devices), fatchx jokes and the like. Although I don't care for censorship, at least the hays (sp?) code made it so film makers had to work to get their dirty jokes in. Now-a-days we can just let it all hang out...and Sex Drive does. ;l

paper musings

So, remember how I had those papers to write? Well, it's Tuesday night, and my documentary paper is due in about 15 hours. And while I'd like to say that I just copied it onto a flash drive all ready to be printed, it just ain't so.

If you just want to be disgusted, I'll understand. But, for the stronger willed, read on. I am going to attempt to (at least mostly) write my paper tonight, and I am going to start by free-flowing on the themes I want to explore in my paper. Just to warn ya, it may get long!

Aaaannnnd, off we go!

51 Birch Street tells the story of the Block family from an insider viewpoint. Documentary film maker Doug Block explores the complicated history of who his parents are and who they were. In the beginning his voice over explains that the footage we see was taken for posterity's sake; shots of his mother having a martini, getting ready for the day, his parents fiftieth wedding anniversary. Then, unexpectedly, Block's mother dies and the story begins to unfold. Three months after her death Block's dad, Mike Block, remarries -- his former secretary, Kitty-- arousing suspicions of an affair. The twist comes when, after delving into his mothers journals, Block discovers that it was his mother, and not his father, who had an extra-marital affair, as well as an unrequited love for her therapist. Block explores what can happen when you start to ask the questions you never wanted the answers to in the first place, but does so with a kind of humanity that would be missing from the story if filmed by anyone other than himself. Through his use of interview style and cinematographic language, Block is able to tell his family's emotional tale honestly. (This is pretty much my thesis, in case you were wondering)

One of the key components to the modern documentary is the interview. For a subject to share their thoughts and feelings openly, the interviewer needs to establish a repore (sp) with the subject. With 51 Birch Street, the interviewer himself is a character in the events, and so is already intimately acquainted with his subjects. However, some of the most interesting scenes are those in which those closest to Block the son and brother, seem the farthest away from Block the film maker with camera. At the very beginning of the film Block is taking a shot from the bottom of a staircase, his mother walks out of the room, enters the bathroom. He has shot her from below and when she realizes this, she yells that she won't come out because he has broken her trust. This one sentence from his footage deals with one of the more fundamental questions Block has about his film -- should he read (or have read) her journals? Has he betrayed her trust by looking into who she really was-- at least in the the "she" of the 60's when the journals were written. Later he asks his mother's best friend who hems and haws over it before saying that is exactly what she would have wanted, for someone to really know her. Another example of his interview techniques; this is a woman who has known him all his life, and yet she treats this with a composure that portrays her firm understanding that this is an interview and other people will see it, so she needs to choose her words carefully and she does. He films his mother's friend in a more classical frame, face in left hand of frame, camera on tripod, flower nicely placed in background, whereas his family's interviews are often hand held with the subject centered and the camera almost too close for comfort. He asks a young rabbi about the journals, and he admits that he would have read them, hoping to gain insight into his family and thereby himself. Again he uses the same classic interview cinematography style, putting the subject at a distance from himself and the audience to create a feeling that, while their opinions are valid, they may not be quite what he is looking for.

And so by the end of the film he realizes, through the lens, that the question of right or wrong in this instance is not so cut and dried. He shows us this throughout the film by use of plastic materials. Specifically, there are many shots of driving down Birch Street in fall. The main part of the film, excluding old family videos, takes place over the course of about four or five months-- it can't be fall all that time. Autumn represents crossroads, a time of indecision. A melancholy time that makes us glorify what summer was and what winter will be, without allowing for the reality of what those seasons were . The only shot of winter is when he his mother dies. Although his voice over talks of life going on and moving forward, it is clear through the use of trees clothed only in snow and shots of his own nuclear family sitting dejected in their apartment that he has not moved on emotionally from his mother's death. In one of only two outside the family interviews, Block speaks with a psychologist who is an expetrt on father/son relationships who points out that his issues with his father (who at this point has not been cleared of having an affair) are more about loss and the ways in which they each deal with it. His father marries another woman right away, and Block makes a movie about it.

OK, my brain might actually explode if I write much more. am going to go to bed and try and come up with something decent in the morning, and if not then...well, my prof will have to wait till Thursday or Friday and that's that. If you want to read my conclusion, look back tomorrow!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Documenting History/History of Documenting

You caught me. I haven't been posting anything for a while, and that was very bad of me. In my defense, the summer got really crazy, with not enough time for films OR blogging. But, now that I am back in school, life is settling down, and I have to watch at least two films a week in school, I am going to try and back to blogging!

One of my film theory classes this semester is Documentary History. So far we have watched some early Lumiere films -- the grandfathers of documentary's if you will -- Nannook of the North, which a lot of people think of as the first documentary, but since the term wasn't even coined yet...I think it gave us a lot of the style choices we make today when documenting nature or people in other parts of the world, but I don't think it should be held accountable for its not being cinéma vérité.

Anyway, then we watched Man With a Movie Camera and yesterday we finished our discussions on it and watched two federally funded films of the late depression era. These were really neat, with striking footage of ecological disasters. The first one we watched was The River, about the Mississippi. The narrator speaks in poetry, and the script actually won a Pulitzer Prize Award for poetry. The music, for both films, was composed by Virgil Thompson, so you can imagine what that sounded like.

One of the reasons we watched The River was that it talks about the flooding of the New Orleans area that happened in the early part of the twentieth century, and our Professor felt it was interesting to see how the government knew about these problems seventy years ago, and still we had the devastation of Katrina. Also interesting to note that the film puts almost all responsibility on Human interference with nature, and yet there are still people denying that today...*cough, sara palin, cough*.

Our first paper is due next week and I will be sure to post some if not all of it here on my blog. I will be writing about 51 Birch Street which says some interesting things about family, secrets and love. So check back for that!