Monday, December 22, 2008

Eyes Wide Shut

What the hell, Kubrick.

Didn't they tell you you can't make a movie like that?

Monday, November 19, 2007

No Country For Old Men

There has to be someone to tell the audience how to feel - all the other characters can be stoic or oblivious, but someone has to take the natural, expected reaction to whatever situation is onscreen. And that character has to know everything the audience knows.

Otherwise, you'll be left with, "I didn't know what to think about that."

Sunday, November 18, 2007


Munich taught me that characters can change for the worse - but they still have to have a "before" snapshot in Act I.

It also reminded me that the touch of death does not come at the beginning of the third act, but rather, at the beginning of the Dark Night of the Soul, just before the third act begins. That's a very crucial difference, and one I had been missing.

It put me in that "movie trance" very, very effectively - I think the reason was the super-slick Spielberg cinematography. There was always something to look at and appreciate, in the moment - something that few enough directors take into consideration these days.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Grave of the Fireflies

Even tragic, innocent, child heroes don't have to be perfect angels.

A little taste of hope can make a situation that much sadder.

All characters should do their best to succeed in a messed-up situation.

Saturday, September 15, 2007


I've already seen it once, and due to an awkward lab schedule, I was running on next to no sleep. Nonetheless, when this movie played in class, I was so into it I forgot to pay attention to the filmmaking.

Murderball taught me to make characters react differently to different things - scary, intimidating Zupan is a touching father figure to Keith. The events of any story are exactly as meaningful as the characters believe they are. Audiences take our cues from the characters. If one guy is blasé about losing his legs, losing your legs must not be that big of a deal. But if another guy almost breaks down under the strain of trying to cope with it, then the first guy's a tough guy and accidents suck.

Murderball also taught me that brief animation sequences can be awesome. They can help explain abstract concepts, or provide a visual element to, say, a monologue.

Friday, September 14, 2007

La Strada

I feel a certain obligation to kick off these little columns with some form of synopsis to the movie I'm going to be talking about. I wonder, though, if the benefits outweigh the downsides. On the one hand, a synopsis would help you understand what the hell I'm talking about, and it would get my brain started thinking about the material. On the other hand, trying to describe things is not something that comes naturally to me, and in fact tends to sap my energy, preventing me from getting to the point of the piece. But there again, perhaps I need practice synopsizing, certainly a potentially useful skill.

I suppose I have no choice but to do what feels right.

La Strada is about innocence, coercion, infatuation, disappointment, and wonder. Gelsomina, played by Giulietta Masina, is a wonderfully expressive audience proxy. When bad things happen to her, you know because she looks hurt, and her hurt look makes you feel hurt. When the world around her is exciting, you take joy in her excitement.

I learned from La Strada that a passive protagonist doesn't have to be a death sentence. Screenwriting books hate the passive protagonist. The very idea gives them chills. Your hero has to choose his fate - that's what makes him a hero! And it's true, most of the time, when you see the hero onscreen being led around by the nose, he's awkward, annoying, and unsympathetic.

Is it the persecution of Gelsomina that makes her so endearing? I suppose she does make choices, albeit choices made from weakness. She doesn't have to go with Zampano. And she does run away, and she is offered a new home, twice - once with the circus, once with the convent.

The Innocent is a strange and difficult archetype. Your manly hero is simple to construct. Make him very, very good at what he does, and then put him in a situation where he has to use talents he didn't know he had. North By Northwest - Kaplan is a skilled bullshit artist, and he uses that talent, but he also has to sneak around and climb on Mount Rushmore. Pulp Fiction - Vincent's a great hit man and a great dancer, but finds himself having to doctor Uma Thurman.

Everybody uses this. Competence is admirable, which creates sympathy, and being forced to learn new skills is frightening, which creates empathy.

And then there's Gelsomina. She's not particularly good at anything at all - much is made of Zampano abusively teaching her how to do her job. She sacrifices herself for her family, sort of, but she doesn't seem to have much of a conception of what exactly she's doing. It's not an admirable moral choice, just a hazy sort of wandering.

How the hell is she so adorable?

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Nanook of the North

Yes, that's right. I also do this for movies I see in class. It's harder for me, here, though - feels more like an assignment, which drains my willpower. Nonetheless, a commitment is a commitment, and I am committed to finding things I learned about every movie I watch.


Nanook of the North taught me that a little bit of sudden, unexpected cuteness can go a long way toward sustaining interest. As YouTube so eloquently shows, people will watch anything, no matter how asinine, as long as it has that cuteness factor.

It also taught me not to overdo it. Sure, the baby trying to pet the fox, and it almost biting her, is cute and funny once, as is the makeshift human sled. But repeated over and over again, it starts to lose its charm. Understatement is the key - Save the best instant moments to show nonchalantly, as though it happens all the time and is hardly worth noting.