Friday, May 13, 2011

At the End of the Semester

"Your eyes... Your ears... Your senses... will be overwhelmed."

     I had the great privilege of seeing Days of Heaven earlier tonight and I feel so strongly about this rapturously beautiful film that I want to let everyone know about it. I was transported by the lush details - the sights, the sounds (oh, that haunting score!) and, above all, the emotion.
     Some movies really are magic.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Children of Men

     In short, I did not like Children of Men. Its technical aspects – music, cinematography, editing, etc. – were generally well-done, but I found myself unable to engage with either the story or the characters. Whereas Slavoj Zizek sees the film as a work of genius, I see it as an hour and forty-nine minutes of unrelenting violence devoid of much character development.
     Although it’s true that many of what I consider the film’s “message” moments – the explosion in the first scene, the scene when people throw things at the train, the immigrants in the cages – are physically in the background, I do not agree with Zizek that there is where they needed to be in order to be appreciated. Nothing in the film is oblique as long as it is in the frame. It’s not like I didn’t see the explosion just because Theo was standing in front of it! Furthermore, in the scene when Jasper talks to Kee and Miriam about Dylan, it doesn’t matter that the camera is focused on Theo to the left of the screen. Even though Jasper and his company are blurrier images, the viewer’s eye immediately goes to their side. It’s not just because Jasper is talking but because what he says is crucial to the plot.
     I smiled, perhaps a bit sadly, at the inclusion of Picasso’s Guernica in the scene with Theo and his cousin. My heart leapt not merely because I love art history, but because Guernica is such a powerful statement about war. Either way, the fact that the tapestry distracted me from the dialogue regarding the transfer papers proves that details are just as important as the main action or (no pun intended) big picture.
     This brings me to the acting. I’ve spent the greater part of my life as a fan of Michael Caine, so I’m predisposed to enjoy his performances. Still, it was a treat to see him play someone other than a butler in the twilight of his career. Julianne Moore played a basic “strong woman” role well, even if it were deceptive for her to have had such high billing for what was really a glorified cameo. As for Clive Owen, I’ll give him credit for being more lifelike than usual; judging by the roles I've seen him in, his presence is often reminiscent of a human-shaped block of wood. In spite of his decent acting, however, the character of Theo is not an easily likeable one. Why should the viewer support Theo’s decisions at any point in the film? A) He went from being an activist to having a cushy office job; B) his main reasoning for helping Julian and Kee is because of money; C) after Julian and Jasper die in the space of one day, I couldn’t see what Theo's motivation would be to continue. I would be more inclined to relate to him if he had lost hope and stopped running. Theo did not seem to be the kind of character who would form attachments easily, so I found it hard to believe that he would have enough affection for Kee to keep plugging along on their journey.
     There is a moment near the end of the film when blood splashes onto the camera lens. It was incredibly off-putting. Part of what makes a film plausible is the suspension of disbelief; by admitting that the camera is present, that sense of movies-as-magic disappears. I find it hilarious that cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki asked Alfonso Cuarón to keep the blood-spattered shots in the film. Had I been the director, I never would have allowed such a gaffe.
     As a writer, I took note of some of the characters’ names. Many years of watching adaptations of P.D. James’ novels on Masterpiece Mystery has taught me that she is deeply influenced by the Anglican Church. The use of the name "Theo," therefore, is an allusion to theology. The masculinity of the name Julian was odd; sure, she’s tough, but I wouldn’t have perceived the character any differently if the name had been a typical woman's name. Finally, since Kee is not actually in the original novel, I can’t blame the source material for such a blatantly obvious use of symbolism. I get it; Kee is the “key” to saving the human race. I was reminded of a teacher of mine who told me that all great writers choose names deliberately. I understand why, but is it ALWAYS necessary? Can’t a character’s actions be what makes the real impact?
     At least Children of Men did not paint the future as a world full of aliens and hovercrafts. Despite my disdain for many of the film’s other features, I appreciated the judgment of those involved with art direction and set decoration for creating a stark landscape. Even in a sea of death, a drop of beauty is possible.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Saturday, April 2, 2011


I was too busy laughing to make a longer film. (Though the soundtrack I later added makes it better.) Were it not for my friend egging me on, I wouldn't have finished any of my attempts.

The Museum of the Moving Image has always been one of my favorite places in the world. (Except for an annual summer sojourn upstate, the city is my entire world.) Although I'm a little overwhelmed by the new modern/futuristic look, the museum is still as exciting as ever.

One of the most fun interactive demonstrations involved adding music to scenes from different movies. Naturally I had to try Independence Day, which is one those so-terrible-it's-awesome 90s movies that I can't help but love. Using classical music heightened the tension; using German heavy metal made it hilarious. The same thing happened with the scene from Twister, which could seem either suspenseful or silly (in a lighthearted way). The exercise proves just how crucial the right music can be; you really need to be able to set the right tone.

I enjoyed the new 3D experience involving walking in front of a screen and watching your own movements. It reminded me of those moments in The Dark Knight when Morgan Freeman is explaining what that spy tracking thing does and all that blue mapping stuff flashes across the screen. Excellent.

The collection of masks, makeup and costumes fascinates me. (Oh, how I love The Mask! And Mork's suit! To use a worn-out expression, I was like a kid in a candy store.) There was one miniature model of a house that was especially impressive. It got me wondering - will I ever make a movie with a big budget? It's hard enough making short films without a budget; what will I do when I have to hire people and actually pay them?

Finally, I must mention Tut's Fever Movie Palace. I have loved it for as long as I can remember. Even though I can't recall ever watching a film there, its artwork and design has always captivated me. I'll never tire of the illustrations of the Marx Brothers covering the walls... walking up the ramp into that narrow, dimly lit passageway...

This is what I saw when I got off the train and was making my way home. It was the most perfect kind of powder blue I have ever seen. No clouds. Just a quiet, not particularly hip part of Brooklyn.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Hunter College: A Day in the Life

Two questions I had to face in my first term of college. As it turned out, both answers were "no."

A lone woman - a person surrounded by walls; also a photo featuring a human, bookended by photos of questions and commands.

An intriguing request. The grammar aspect and use of color were the big draws.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


     The last form of media that I enjoyed was the film Gaslight. (It was the original 1940 British version, not the Hollywood remake.) Its story was simple and straightforward: Husband makes wife think she's crazy to disguise the fact that he's a criminal. No extraneous subplots or confusing twists - just an entertaining movie with great performances from great actors.
     Is it unethical to present a character as insane when she is not? Cruel, yes, in the sense that she is driven to it by another person; still, it isn't meant to be misleading given the context of the plot. I don't know how people reacted to Gaslight in 1940 but I doubt that anyone would have had a problem after viewing the film. One of the most aggravating issues I have with both critics and moviegoers today is that they tend to have knee-jerk reactions to certain subject matter without necessarily understanding the intent of the material or its maker. I can see it now - both advocates for the clinically insane and various feminist groups would come out of the woodworks just to slander the film. (To clarify, in the film the wife feels she is a burden and that she is to blame for her "illness.")
     Gaslight shows the horrible depths that humans can reach, particularly once they have forsaken all sense of ethical and/or moral obligation toward one another. The story, which is an uncomplicated idea, is executed beautifully. Though it is unclear if the director, Thorold Dickinson, made Gaslight with ethical concerns in mind, I suspect his objective was merely to tell the story as candidly as possible. I don't think I learned anything new from the film but, then again, it wasn't meant to be a teaching tool.
     Getting back to the general question of ethics in media, all ethical concerns are subjective. Sure, most people with brains would abhor Nazi propaganda... but the Nazis thought it was A-OK. (On the other hand, Leni Riefenstahl's work is fascinating from a purely technical point of view.)
     I would rather take part in a project that was made with ethics in mind but discusses a separate topic. I appreciate people sending positive messages but I don't much like when said messages are thrown at me. Obviously, any media discussing - for example - war can't help but be intertwined with questions of ethics and morality. However, I prefer stories to allow the viewer or reader to decide for himself.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Artist Statement

"The course of our lives can be changed by such little things. So many passing by, each intent on his own problems. So many faces that one might easily have been lost. I know now that nothing happens by chance. Every moment is measured; every step is counted." 
- Letter from an Unknown Woman (Max Ophüls, 1948)

      I first announced my intention to be a filmmaker in a homework assignment for my ninth-grade French class. (It may not have been the optimal platform for such a declaration but it was a start.) To my dismay, few people in my high school took my love for film seriously; instead it was assumed that I would be a writer. While it is true that I am working on my first novel, filmmaking is the career that I want most fervently to pursue.
     I believe that beauty is visible everywhere. There have been writers who were capable of articulating the magnificence of the world by means of elegant prose – Angela Carter, Carson McCullers, Muriel Barbery, Stefan Zweig – but my goal is to be able to express both the written and visual components of storytelling. I want to blend images, words and music into as perfect a union as I can create. (Much like Quentin Tarantino, I often come up with ideas for scenes by listening to specific songs.)
     Since I have too many favorite directors to name all of them, here is a truncated list: Billy Wilder, Alfred Hitchcock, Jacques Tati, Vincente Minnelli, Woody Allen, Ernst Lubitsch, F.W. Murnau, David Lean, Tim Burton, the team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, Max Ophüls and Mikhail Kalatozov. Although some – particularly Wilder and Minnelli – excelled in a multitude of genres, each was and still is a master of his craft.
     My experience with the filmmaking process is limited, so I hope to change that over the course of the next few years.