Friday, July 29, 2011

Cinematographers as Directors

My research for this piece didn't come out quite as I'd hoped. It appears that a good number of big-time cinematographers either never directed a movie or directed a small amount of which I've never heard. Based on simple observation, it doesn't seem like they make the jump to director as much or with as much success as editors (I may dive into that subject in the near future). Of my initial list of about 15 cinematographers, I'm down to six, but instead of scrapping the topic, I still found a lot of interest in this small sample size.

Freddie Francis
Cinematographer: The Innocents, The Elephant Man, Cape Fear Remake
Director: Girly, lots of cheesy horror movies.

Freddie Francis is really the reason for writing this now. I just watched Girly and it was one of the weirdest movie watching experiences of my life. I really didn't know what to make of the film (but there will be more on that when I get to my Week in Netflix column). One can kind of see why Francis would go for the weird horror films what with his relationship with David Lynch, but his cinematography in The Innocents is the definition of classy. When I think of that or The Elephant Man in comparison to Girly, I can't believe that the same person had a hand in both (seriously, how does a DP not want to take control of the lighting when he's directing?). Francis had a 16-year gap between films he DP'd mostly through the '70s. I wonder if he returned to it because his directing career was a bit too odd.

Jack Cardiff
Cinematographer: Black Narcissus, The Red Shoes, The African Queen
Director: The Mutations

Cardiff is the reason I ever thought of this post. The projectionist at the Hollywood Theatre has a collection of 35mm trailers and The Mutations is one of them. When I saw The Mutations trailer and that Jack Cardiff was the director, I could hardly believe that the man responsible for some of the most beautiful images ever put to screen could be involved in that. But he was! I still have trouble believing it and can't imagine what drew Cardiff to the material. He's directed many other films, but I don't know anything about them. A quick survey of them makes The Mutations stand out all the more (note: The Mutations looks awesome).

Caleb Deschanel
Cinematographer: Being There, The Right Stuff, The Natural, The Passion of the Christ
Director: Twin Peaks, Law and Order: Trial by Jury, Bones

Deschanel directed to movies that I haven't seen, but his recent directorial output (and Twin Peaks is hardly recent) is all TV. This strikes me as he takes the opportunities when they come. And Bones has to be solely because his daughter is on the show. It is mildly interesting that all of the TV shows are based around criminal investigations.

(no TV show clips because they already pretty much have a look)

Janusz Kaminski
Cinematographer: pretty much everything Spielberg has made from Schindler's List on
Director: Lost Souls, The Event

Just as George-Michael is an Ann-hog, Steven Spielberg is a Janusz Kaminski-hog. I can only take solace in that fact that before Spielberg got him, Kaminski shot Cool as Ice a mere two years prior to Schindler's List, which blows my mind. I have not seen Lost Souls, but I have seen the trailer and I can't help but wonder why he would risk screwing up the Spielberg gravy train for this. Then again, I doubt that was ever a risk.

Gordon Willis
Cinematographer: The Godfather Trilogy, All the President's Men, Annie Hall
Director: Windows

He had lengthy relationships with both Francis Ford Coppola and Woody Allen, but his sole directorial effort sounds like pure exploitation (taken from IMDB): "Shire is the subject of a perverse obsession by a Lesbian neighbor, Andrea, who not only is in lust with her but hires a rapist in order to get audio tapes of her moaning. Ashley turns pepping tom and watches Shire with a telescope as she begins an affair with Det. Cortese." At least he served as his own cinematographer on this one. I can't find a clip of it, but I'm intrigued to see if it looks any good because it doesn't sound that good.

Haskell Wexler
Cinematographer: Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Faces, The Conversation, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
Director: Medium Cool

Wexler's directorial work has primarily been in documentary, which makes sense since Medium Cool is most famous for shooting during the 1968 Chicago Democratic Convention riots (which is the only reason I can think of to watch the movie, because it's not very good (more appropriately, I don't like it). I didn't realize that Wexler had shot so many great movies until looking him up for this post.

The lesson I take from all of this? Cinematographers aren't offered many movies to direct and have to take what presents itself or develop something themselves. And possibly that cinematographers don't care much about directing.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Trapped Cat

This is my cat, Roxy. Her curiosity got her stuck and since I'm an advocate of self-reliance, I picked up a camera to record her struggles. I can't wait to do the same when I have children.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Making Cider

This is what successful fermentation looks like. Still to be determined: taste.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Mostly Mediocrity

I am on some kind of with watching movies that are neither good nor bad. Well, some bad, but most of them fall smack dab in the middle, which is to be expected, I guess.

The Vixen (Les femmes) -- Jean Aurel
I totally get the appeal of Brigitte Bardot. She's beautiful and has amazing eyes, but dear lord, has she been in some bad movie! The Vixen exists pretty much to play to Bardot's sex appeal, but it fails at being remotely sexy. OK, not entirely. The credits are somewhat sexy, but they are still photos and Bardot's lips. The rest of the film is about a writer who recounts his sexual mores to his new secretary (Bardot). Eventually, she falls for him, even though his history (of which she's very aware) shows he's fickle, fickle man. I don't even care about the plot. The movie is supposed to be sexy and it's simply boring.

Howl's Moving Castle -- Hayao Miyazaki
I really didn't like Princess Mononoke (I post as ncapp24). My expectations for Miyazaki were relatively high given his reputation and the film failed on many respects. I was very pleased to discover that all of the failings I felt Mononoke had, Howl's Moving Castle didn't. It was everything I hoped Mononoke would be. The animation is wonderful and dreamy. The fantasy is imaginative and the characters run the gamut of gruesome to cute to just awesome (I love the weird black, blobby agents of the Witch of the Waste). The film kind of falls apart at the end, rushing to try to bring everything back together without doing an adequate job of explaining what's happening aside, "it's magic!" That aside, the film is great and I'm now looking forward to more Miyazaki (though that could change if I run into another Mononoke scenario... now I'm the fickle one).

Shadows -- John Cassevetes
My thoughts can be found here (I'm really whoring out Sunday Screenings today. And for some reason I post as Nate Capp on that thread. Shouldn't be confusing for you smart people). Short review: I liked it!

Muppets from Space -- Tim Hill
It's remarkable that it took me this long to see Muppets from Space. In my mind, it was more like Pigs in Space than the actual film than it is. I kind of wish it had been Pigs in Space. It's not that Muppets from Space is bad, just that it's disappointing. I love the Muppets. They have always been huge part of my life as Capp. The elements were there to make a funny, touching movie, something The Muppets have always been good at, but it wasn't, and I think I know why: funk music. I couldn't believe that the film opened with Brick House and continued with all sorts of other funk songs. One of the great things about Muppet movies has always been the original music. Yes, Muppets from Space needed a Paul Williams injection. It could have been a poignant exploration of identity and what a family is, but it's just a mildly amusing diversion in the vast world of Muppets.

Glass: A Portrait of Philip in Twelve Parts -- Scott Hicks
I got to see Philip Glass speak at the Portland Art Museum shortly after I moved here and it was very inspirational, though all I appear to have taken from it is that it's OK to not achieve your dreams until you're 40. Regardless, the experience (along with his music for Koyaanisqatsi, which I just spelled correctly on my first try) instilled an interest in Glass that moved beyond, "I can't believe he did the score for Candyman." The problem with A Portrait in Twelve Parts is that it thinks we want to know about Glass' domestic life. Unfortunately, like most people, his domestic life is pretty boring. Pleasantly boring for him, but not for the viewer. I don't think I'm going out on a limb too much to suggest that the reason people are watching this documentary are to get insight into Glass as an artist. What goes in to writing an opera? Where do his influences come from? What's the creative process like? Instead we get to see him make pizza and hear his wife talk about how they're drifting apart (and giving away her computer passwords).

Come and See -- Elem Klimov
Come and See is World War II seen through the eyes of a child and maybe that's why the film seems so damn simplistic. The only thing I got out of the film is that war sucks and you don't need two and a half hours to tell me that (and really, I've already been told that by a million other movies, books, news broadcasts, etc, but I won't give it too much offense since the movie came out when I was three and could have affected me more so had I seen it before I became jaded). I always feel callous when I say that about a film that depicts the horrors of war so realistically, but just because it was real doesn't mean it's a movie. I think the biggest problem is that the main character never seems to be doing anything but reacting to the horrors. He does have an arc, but it all has to do with his frustration at the war. I didn't not like the film, but at this point, it feels like well-worn territory (again, not the film's fault).

The Case of the Grinning Cat -- Chris Marker
Marker uses the Grinning Cat tags as a jumping point to do a documentary about protests in Paris around 9/11/01. I don't think it works completely, but it's nice to see someone doing something different with the form (which he's done for years, even though I couldn't really make it through San Soleil even with its Vertigo hook). The film is frequently funny in a dry sort of way and the subject matter is interesting, though I think there's a gap since I never followed French politics. One thing I do know, the French people will protest and riot for anything. My mind started to drift off toward the end, which tells me it could probably have been shorter to make its point. At one hour, though, it wasn't much of an issue. It's kind of the perfect movie for our cat-meme obsessed culture.

The Killing Fields -- Rolande Joffe
I had a similar reaction to The Killing Fields that I had to Come and See, though it was a take on the war (conflict) in Vietnam that we hadn't seen much of: the expansion into Cambodia. At first, the film felt like a self-indulgent piece based on the writings of journalist-subject Sydney Schanberg, but then I found out that not only is it an original screenplay, but it was written by Bruce Robinson (who wrote/directed Withnail and I, which kind of blows my mind). The story of Dith Pran is pretty amazing and you should look it up. While you're at it, you should look up Haing S. Ngor because his story is similarly amazing and sad. The following story (taken from IMDB) greatly endeared me to him:
At the Oscar's, when Haing S. Ngor won the Oscar for best supporting actor, he walked onto the stage with his 15-year-old niece. Upon walking up to the stage, John Malkovichjokingly shouted something in Cambodian to him which shocked his niece and made Haing Ngor laugh. He shouted, "The award's mine, asshole!" In Haing Ngor's autobiography, he describes John Malkovich's keen interest in learning Cambodian swear words.
Sid and Nancy -- Alex Cox
I'm not a fan of the Sex Pistols, but I'd heard lots of good about Sid and Nancy (plus, we have a poster of the film autographed by Alex Cox at the theater), so I'd figure it's worth a shot. The film didn't make me a Sex Pistols fan, but I really wasn't expecting it to (just like Rock 'n' Roll High School didn't make me a Ramones fan, but that movie still owns). Aside from a great performance by Gary Oldman and the film's grungy aesthetic, I didn't really care much for it. I didn't know much about the Sex Pistols and Sid and Nancy didn't do much to fill in the gaps, which is fine, it's not about the Sex Pistols, but the film turned out to be little more than I thought it was going to be, which is some junkies being assholes. And they were assholes. I couldn't wait for Nancy to die, she was so obnoxious, and I wouldn't have minded if Sid died either. The story that I found far more interesting that's just touched upon is Johnny Rotten's attempts to keep the band together despite the destructive force of Sid Vicious, Nancy, and heroine. Because, from what I understand, the Sex Pistols needed Sid. He was a Personality. As it stood, I watched people I didn't like destroy their lives. Good. Fuck 'em.


I'm going to post something later today, but I rather like this video I made for Sunday Screenings and since most of you don't participate in that forum, I thought I'd share. It's silly and cheap, but it makes me smile. I think it's the music. Anyway, here you go!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

It's RiDQulous

I have a tendency to over-think advertising, be it billboards, commercials, sky writing, whatever (I thought I wrote another piece on advertising, but I think I've just talked about it so much that I assumed I wrote it. Maybe in the future). So when I went in to a local Dairy Queen -- probably the first Dairy Queen I've been in in at least ten years -- and saw their absolutely riDQulous add campaign, I could actually feel my mind spasm. I don't currently have cable, so if what I saw replaced the Rocky Horror lips in Dairy Queen's ads a while ago, I apologize for not being up to date.

There was a poster very much like the following:
Now, don't get me wrong, any effort to try to emphasize the "D" and "Q" in ridiculous is just that. However, they chose the absolute worst way to do it. I can only imagine because they don't trust the public to "get it" in any other way.

Let's break it down...
-- As it stands, I'm inclined to pronounce it rid-kwuh-lus*.
-- I assume that they want it to be pronounced ri-dee-kyoo-lous.
--However, too be consistent in pronouncing the "D" and "Q" as letters, with their spelling it would be ri-dee-kyoo-yoo-lus. Or perhaps ri-dee-kyoo-oo-lus.
-- A better alternative would just be to spell it riDiQulous, but that's very problematic, though the "D" and "Q" still stand out.
-- What they should have done, since they seemed to be married to this absurd marketing campaign is this: RiDQlous. Maybe even Ri-DQ-lous. The "D" makes an imperfect second syllable ("dee" instead of "dih"), but at least it contains the proper pronunciations while separating the DQ, which is what they want.

However, the whole thing is so forced that they should have dropped the idea before pen hit paper. It's certainly no "I'm lovin' it" or "Just do it." Honestly, they never should have changed it from the subtly clever, "We treat you right." It makes me a little sad that someone got paid for this campaign...

*I'm no expert on spelling phonetically, so I hope the point comes across.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Zombie Nightmare Animated

This is the reason that I haven't been posting here much recently (or at least the thing I'm blaming). It's my first ever attempt at stop-motion so it's quite rough. I learned a lot from the process, so hopefully things will be smoother the next time I make one. All-in-all, it came all right. I must caution anyone who wants to do stop-motion work: don't use iMovie (like I need to tell anyone that).

Bands Whose Appeal I Don't Understand

This isn't a list of bands I hate. I've covered that before. This is a list (and just a list, so no dull paragraphs explaining why) of bands who I don't get why people love them. You'll find many, if not all, on lists of greatest bands/artists of all-time. I'll leave it up to you to explain why I'm wrong and should embrace your act of choice. In particular order:

Bob Marley
Steely Dan
Beastie Boys
The Eagles (OK... so this one is a band I hate)
Joni Mitchell
John Mellencamp
LCD Soundsystem
The Smiths/Morrissey

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

American Dreams, Nonsense Words, and Colors of Natural Phenomena

It's been a while since posting anything and I apologize. I was working on something that I hope to post sometime soon. I haven't been watching quite as many movies lately, so my thoughts on the first couple aren't as clear as they once were. Apologies all around.

American Movie -- Chris Smith
American Movie is a documentary about a man's, Mark Borchardt, attempt to make an ultra-low budget film. Just looking at Borchardt and hearing him talk, one would think it would be easy to make fun of him, and it probably is, but I was too impressed with his go-for-it attitude. The guy might not have a lot going for him, but he's got his passion. The viewer alternately feels bad for him for putting his heart and soul into something that has a high likelihood of being nothing and admires him for taking the risk. My favorite parts of American Movie all had to do with his friend's, Mike Schank, stories about his drug-addled past. There does seem to be a sort of cruel irony that Chris Smith seems to have gone on to a more successful career, though I was happy to see that Borchardt has been working in film since, even if they are minimally known. I didn't watch Coven, which was on the DVD, but I was told by a coworker that it is pretty cool and I tend to trust him.

House of Clocks -- Lucio Fulci
This comes late in Fulci's career and it shows. The film is a mess on every possible level, seemingly eschewing logic for twists. I'm not a huge fan of Fulci's to begin with -- his films have their moments but are largely pretty slow -- but I can't recommend this one even a little.

A Serious Man -- Joel and Ethan Coen
This is one of those films that seemingly nothing but bad things happens to the main character for the duration of the movie. I'm not a fan of this kind of movie (Bridesmaids and Meet the Parents falls into this category, too). The drama just feels contrived, like the writers (in this case, the Coens, who I normally like) sat around deciding what's the worst thing that could happen to the main character instead of the plot points happening organically. Also, the children in A Serious Man are horribly annoying. However, the end credits feature the line, "No Jews were harmed during the making of this film," which is highly amusing.

The Tingler and Zotz!-- William Castle
I have an affinity towards William Castle. I love his P.T. Barnum-esque qualities. His films are often quite silly, but in a affable and appealing sort
of way that leaves you happy even if the movie wasn't great. I'd heard The Tingler spoken of pejoratively and I can't tell you how much I enjoyed it. Every time I watch Vincent Price, I gain new appreciation for his considerable skills as an actor and feel bad that his persona has become a parody (much like another great actor, Peter Lorre). There are so many amazing flourishes associated with The Tingler that I need to see it with all the fixins. Seats rigged up to zap people's backs. Audience plants to scream. Everything. And the scene in the bathroom is much more effective than Spielberg's red jacket in Schindler's List. The movie rules.

As for Zotz!... it's a comedy. An amazingly goofy comedy that reminded me a lot of The Absent-Minded Professor for some reason (maybe because it was release the year after?). It's most interesting to me to see Tom Poston, who's appe
ared in seemingly ever sitcom of the '90s and early '00s, as a young man. And it's kind of fun to say "Zotz!" I only recommend this if you're a fan of William Castle. Or if you have free time since it's on the same DVD as The Tingler.

Eureka -- Nicolas Roeg
This is definitely a Nicolas Roeg film. I didn't know he directed it until I started watching it, but it's unmistakable. I liked Walkabout and Don't Look Now is pretty good. The Man Who Fell to Earth is strange, but this was mostly boring. The cast is far better than the content. One can't help but feel a big influence on There Will Be Blood, though. It gets better towards the end and then turns into a courtroom drama and become utterly ridiculous. I'm sure it has many defenders. I'm not one.

Blue Thunder -- John Badham
I don't know if it's the style of the film, but I had a sense that it was directed by the same person who directed WarGames and I was right! Blue Thunder is about helicopter cops (I call dibs on the name Chopper Cops for something) and is pretty fun. They try to throw in some weird Vietnam flashbacks, but those don't amount to much. It's mostly about conspiracy and a rivalry between Roy Scheider and Malcolm McDowell. Plus, it's got a baby-faced Daniel Stern and Warren "Mother-Fuckin'" Oates! Not great, by any means. But fun as hell. And the ending is amazing in all its balls-out absurdity.

Red Dawn -- John Milius
In a shameless plug, you can read my thoughts on Red Dawn here. And feel free to add your own.

Naked -- Mike Leigh
I was very surprised by Naked. I'm not exactly sure how or why it ended up on my queue. It's the exact type of intense personal drama I shy away from, but David Thewlis is pretty mesmerizing, Malcolm McDowell voice and all. It's also fascinating that the film tries to make us feel for an obnoxious, know-it-all rapist. I haven't seen much by Mike Leigh and HATED Happy-G0-Lucky, so I'm glad this was on my queue. I may have to give other films by him a shot. I have to give the music a huge assist for this film. It created a great mood while being incredibly interesting.