Journal of Film and Video
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- Reviewed on 03/02/14
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Publications in this journal
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ABSTRACT: The debate concerning the impact of the introduction of digital technologies into the filmmaking process and the emergence of digital cinema has been raging for well over a decade. “Evolutionists,” as exemplified by John Belton’s 2002 article “Digital Cinema: A False Revolution,” view new technology and associated methodologies as a natural progression consistent with other technical advancements in cinema (100). “Revolutionists,” including Ganz and Khatib, argue that these technologies have not only irrevocably altered filmmaking practice but have fundamentally changed the nature of cinematic storytelling (and thus the viewer experience) as well (Ganz and Khatib 21). What is interesting to note in both Belton’s article and Ganz and Khatib’s article is that there is a presupposition that the relevant technological evolution had plateaued at the time of writing such that the question of the impact of digital technologies on cinema could effectively be answered. Yet it can be argued that the most significant advancements in filmmaking technology have occurred since these articles were written. Recently released camera systems such as the Red One and Arri Alexa are claimed to have created a brave new world of data-centric production. A recent interview in Variety with Michael Cioni, owner of Light Iron Digital, a postproduction facility catering specifically to data-centric production, sums this up: “You can’t make film smaller. You can’t make 35mm be 8K resolution no matter what you do. You can’t have a [film] camera be four pounds. You can’t fit a 400-foot magazine in a smaller space. It can’t improve at the rate Moore’s Law says we can predict technical improvements [in digital systems]” (qtd. in Cohen). No longer does a camera department require light-tight temperature-controlled spaces to load camera magazines or store reels of film. Workstations with multiple RAID arrays and linear tape backup systems have taken their place. Dailies, so called because of the time it took to develop the film and create one-light prints to check the quality and aesthetics of a day’s shoot, now take mere minutes to create, no longer requiring the specialist skills of a photochemical lab. But for all of this change, has the process of filmmaking been fundamentally altered? Is this truly a new era in which the cinematographer has become more of a data-capture specialist than a visual artist? Or do these advances in camera systems simply represent the latest chapter in the evolution of filmmaking as Belton originally argued? This article sets out to explore these questions by looking at the craft of cinematography for current mainstream production and how it has been affected by technological innovation.1 Cinematography is an art-form but at the same time it’s a craft, and it is definitely a combination of the two . . . You have to light, you have to compose and you have to create movement. Those are the three elements of cinematography. Roizman’s definition arguably represents the most common view of cinematography. Cinematographers work with a director to develop a visual means of interpreting the story. In narrative film, this process typically includes the breaking down of scripts first by acts, then by scenes, and finally by dramatic beats. At each stage, primary and secondary themes are interpreted in terms of tone and desired audience response. From this, details of setting and basic production design begin to emerge, leading to a definition of a visual style. For the director, this serves as the backbone of the production bible, providing a framework for more detailed dramatic analysis. For the cinematographer, it represents the beginning of a blueprint to enable physical production to realize the look of the piece. As the process continues, some form of visualization usually takes place. Working methodologies can differ significantly from project to project and director to director, with the cinematographer’s control over visuals ranging anywhere from being a slave to dictated camera positions (such as Hitchcock’s reputedly definitive storyboarding or the tight requirements of visual effects–based work) to holding nearly free reign over position, composition, and even blocking (as in Woody Allen projects...Journal of Film and Video 05/2014; 66(2):3-14.
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ABSTRACT: Almost since the inception of the Bond series, one of the most recognizable features of the films has been the opening sequences. From the now iconic images of a male figure (Bond) seen through the barrel of a gun to undulating female bodies, the pre-title/title sequences mark the screen in ways that are both familiar and enticing to viewers. The pre-title sequence of the Cold War classic From Russia with Love (1963), for example, the second film in the James Bond series and the first to deploy the pre-title/title formula, opens with a shot of Bond seen through a gun barrel that then gives way to the figure of 007 walking guardedly through a formal garden in the dead of night. A man sneaks up on Bond and strangles him to death with a thin wire. At this moment, exterior lights illuminate the garden to reveal a large mansion with many people standing around. The agent is congratulated for his rapid kill, and then a mask is peeled from the dead body to reveal that it is not Bond who has been slain—the exercise was simply a practice session for the agent. The scene then cuts to the title sequence, where credits are projected onto the shimmying bodies of women in belly dancer costumes.1 In almost every subsequent Bond film, the sequences function similarly, introducing the film’s hero and its broader gender politics as well as the security threat that Bond will thwart. In each new installment of the series, these high-impact, fast-moving pre-title/title sequences refer back to previous Bond films, forging intertextual linkages. At the same time, the pre-title/title sequences serve both diegetic and metonymic functions, re-presenting “real” international politics and global security threats within a normalizing male hegemony. Despite their obvious relevance to the Bond series viability, curiously little has been written on the pre-titles and titles.2 This article seeks to fill this gap, exploring the multiple functions of the sequences in three of the most recent Bond films, Die Another Day (2002), Casino Royale (2006), and Quantum of Solace (2008).3 These particular films are interesting because they mark the (at the time much-publicized) shift from Pierce Brosnan to Daniel Craig in the role of James Bond and because they also signal the changing risks presented by a turbulent international security situation. Taken together, these films not only provide a window into the ways in which pre-title/title sequences anchor the Bond series, they also offer a template for understanding the power of genre in structuring filmic articulations of contemporary geopolitics and gender politics and discourses. After a brief discussion of title and pre-title sequences and the role of genre in the Bond films, we turn to an examination of geopolitics and diegetic contemporaneity as found in Die Another Day, Casino Royale, and Quantum of Solace. We then look more particularly at the pre-title/title sequences and their generic, diegetic, and metonymic functions, arguing that the sequences, like the films as a whole, telescope contemporary geopolitics and gender politics. In “Reading the Title Sequence,” Georg Stanitzek points to the complexity and multiple functions of title sequences. These functions are economic and legal (i.e., production and distribution credits), aesthetic (49), and spatial, facilitating the transition from “outside” to “inside” and thus allowing viewers to engage the film. This opening then is both integral and “semi-autonomous” (45) because of its structure and because of the extra-diegetic information that it provides. As Stanitzek writes, “the title sequences come into being as an eminent space of cinematic intermediality” (45). The title sequence of the first Bond film, Dr. No (1962), acts as Stanitzek’s article suggests, allowing the audience to leave the mundane everyday and enter the world of Bond. However, beginning with the second film in the series (From Russia with Love) the title sequence is preceded by an action sequence that is integral not only to the “threshold” experience of viewing but also to establishing the diegesis. Stanitzek argues that the title transition allows “division and integration” (45...Journal of Film and Video 05/2014; 66(2):15-25.
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ABSTRACT: The Lives of Others won most of the top European and international film prizes between 2006 and 2007, including seven Lolas and an Oscar, but it has also been heavily attacked by some critics both for its sympathetic portrait of a Stasi officer and for its misogynistic portrait of a faithless, drug-addicted actress (e.g., Porton; Foundas). The monstrous Gerd Wiesler, critics have argued, is magically transformed into “the Good Man” of Georg Dreyman’s novel after his sudden exposure to theater, poetry, and music, and the vulnerable Christa-Maria Sieland (Martina Gedeck) must be sacrificed to the film’s central love story, that between Wiesler (Ulrich Mühe) and Dreyman (Sebastian Koch). In my view, much of this negative criticism implicitly acknowledges that Lives is tremendously successful at authentically recreating the East Berlin of the 1980s. The film captures the bleakness of the architecture, the cuisine, and the fashion in such unnerving detail that reviews insistently demand that the film deliver documentary accuracy. I too responded to the film’s authenticity and found its recreation of the East Berlin I had visited in 1983 uncanny and unsettling. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck took pains to film on location in the rare streets that had not been transformed after the fall of the Berlin Wall. He refined the palette of the film to capture the sense of color in the German Democratic Republic (GDR), so that greens stand in for blues and orange-browns replace reds (von Donnersmarck, Interview on DVD). Visually, the film strives for the quality of documentary. But The Lives of Others is not a documentary. Although he researched his subject thoroughly for four years, von Donnersmarck’s understanding of character, his interest in relationships, and his belief in the transformative power of art do not come from history, but from an education in classic Western cinema. We do not fault Casablanca (1942) or Rome, Open City (1945) for being sentimental. We do not blame The Red Shoes (1948) or The Third Man (1949) for being overblown. Instead, we celebrate these films for the courage of their sentimentality and hyperbole. And von Donnersmarck’s first film is an homage to his cinematic heritage. The performance of Martina Gedeck cannot be divorced from the iconic performances of Ingrid Bergman, Alida Valli, Anna Magnani, Moira Shearer, and Julie Christie on which hers is based. And an awareness of Wiesler’s cinematic antecedents complicates any simple reading of him as a “good man.” These antecedents have been largely overshadowed by the ideological critiques of Lives. Anna Funder, the author of Stasiland, an extraordinary book about life in the GDR, fears that Lives is fostering a new form of Ostalgie. Groups of ex-Stasi are becoming increasingly belligerent. They write articles and books, and conduct lawsuits against people who speak out against them, including against the German publisher of Stasiland. . . . The system demanded such loyalty . . . that most ex-Stasi are still true believers. A story such as Wiesler’s plays into their hands as they fight for their reputation. Funder admires Lives: “I think the film deserves its public and critical acclaim. It is a superb film, a thing of beauty. But it could not have taken place (and never did) under the GDR dictatorship. . . . No Stasi man ever tried to save his victims, because it was impossible. We’d know if one had, because the files are so comprehensive” (“Tyranny”). Whereas Funder argues that von Donnersmarck is taking brutal fact and turning it into “fantasy narrative,” I argue exactly the opposite. Von Donnersmarck’s particular achievement is using his cinematic influences—almost all of which are fantasy narratives—and transforming these into a film that many critics have misread as an attempt at documentary reality. Yet an intertextual reading that accounts for these fantasy narratives can do much to shatter this misperception. In fact, the more aware we become of these intertexts, the more we will feel ourselves being pulled into the extra-diegetic world of von Donnersmarck’s cinematic influences. One of the only specifically named intertexts in the film is the work of Bertolt Brecht. But if Brecht championed the idea of Verfremdungseffekt (the...Journal of Film and Video 05/2014; 66(2):26-42.
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ABSTRACT: A press kit from 1954 trumpets the possibility of winning a weekend with Gloria Swanson, who at the time was starring in the television “anthology” program Crown Theatre with Gloria Swanson: Glamour is for the girls . . . and what could any gal from eighteen to eighty find more glamorous than a new personality, a complete new wardrobe, and a week in New York City, as the guest of the Queen of Them All—GLORIA SWANSON! This is the grand prize in CBS Television Film Sales’ GLORIA SWANSON GLAMOUR CONTEST—now being conducted for all stations programming Crown Theatre with Gloria Swanson. The preceding paragraph is but one small part of an elaborate instructional packet that included multiple advertising setups, mock-ups, and detailed instructions on how best to implement the contest. The packet also included several head shots of Swanson and replications of a sketch that served as the “brand” of the series. The sketch, obviously Swanson, depicts the star with long black gloves and large jewelry and emphasizes her trademark mole and open-mouthed half-smile. The kit provides a snapshot of one of the ways in which early television programming—and syndicated programming in particular—attempted to attract stations through promises of old Hollywood glamour and star power. At the same time, the kit advertises a program that even the most devoted television historians can only faintly recall. In this way, its existence highlights the ways in which Swanson’s glamour was, ultimately, unamenable to television—for Crown Theatre with Gloria Swanson (1954–55), like her previous foray into television, The Gloria Swanson Hour (1948), was a failure. Both lasted but one season and have since retreated into the cobwebbed corners of television history. But as recent work in failure studies reminds us, studying debacles and disappointments that mark media history may teach us just as much as, if not more than, those media products that have succeeded. Working under this assumption, Gloria Swanson’s postwar television career is instructive, for although she may have failed as a television star, she enjoyed tremendous success elsewhere: in 1950, she starred in Sunset Boulevard, a critical and box office smash, before launching a blockbuster dress line, “Forever Young by Gloria Swanson,” that would endure for over thirty years. Such discrepancy of fortune may be traced to the specific valences of Swanson’s glamour and star image activated by each product. Her forays into television featured a facsimile of Swanson’s star image from the 1920s: classically glamorous, opulent, urban, and thoroughly unironic. Despite efforts, such as the press kit described here, to transfer her star aura to the confines of the small screen, the straight reproduction of her classic star image was dissonant with not only dominant discourses of postwar glamour, but also those associated with television in general. In contrast, Swanson’s role in Sunset Boulevard and the Forever Young dress line both renegotiated the Swanson image, shading its nostalgic value with distinctly postwar understandings of glamour, consumption, and stardom. Sunset Boulevard turned classic glamour, embodied in the form of Norma Desmond, into a tragic farce, whereas the dress line employed an entirely different tact, reframing Swanson’s glamour as enduring and readily available to the middle-aged, middle-class woman. Several scholars have examined the period of early television stardom, yet the work of Swanson has slipped through the cracks. Indeed, it would be difficult to even label Swanson a television “star.” Her small-screen failures were not unique; dozens of Hollywood stars attempted and failed to rejuvenate or restart their careers through television in the 1950s. Yet Swanson’s path through the disintegration of the studio and star systems is nevertheless worthy of scrutiny and study because her career trajectory reveals the complicated ways in which Hollywood and its stars attempted—sometimes successfully, but oftentimes not—to trade on the memory of classic identities by repackaging them in accessible, small-screen form. At the same time, the very lack of scholarship on Swanson’s extra-filmic career in the 1950s reveals the selectivity that afflicts media historiography, which too often privileges iconic roles and critical successes over abandoned television series and dress lines. Ultimately...Journal of Film and Video 02/2014; 66(1):3-20.
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ABSTRACT: Recent writing on documentary film has begun to suggest the importance of attending to the signifying work of the nonfiction performer. Building on converging lines of scholarship that emphasize the constructedness of documentary texts and the performative nature of identity, scholars such as Thomas Waugh, Leger Grindon, Vinicius do Valle Navarro, and Stella Bruzzi have argued persuasively in favor of viewing performance as a central component of nonfiction discourse. Bruzzi, for instance, underlines that documentaries are founded on the creative interaction between a filmmaker and the reality on which she or he encroaches and that they thus must be seen as “performative acts whose truth comes into being only at the moment of filming” (New Documentary 7). In this respect, Bruzzi points out that all documentaries can be characterized as performances of “reality,” effectively modifying and extending the terms of Bill Nichols’s “performative mode” (92–106) and applying these terms to the whole of nonfiction production. This acknowledgement that nonfiction films are themselves performative, however, also opens the door for consideration of a second brand of documentary performance—namely, the communicative work of the individuals who appear within nonfiction films and television programs. Indeed, if documentaries, as performative texts, produce the “truths” that they document, the people who populate such texts contribute significantly to this truth-production process by virtue of the ways in which they enact themselves for the camera. Alongside and in combination with other formal elements such as editing and shot composition, documentary subjects exert a considerable impact on the meanings and effects of the texts in which they figure through gesture, posture, facial expression, word choice, intonation, and the like. To this extent, Bruzzi’s claim that “performance has always been at the heart of documentary filmmaking” (New Documentary 125) is in fact doubly true. This article seeks to substantiate Bruzzi’s argument by illustrating the way in which performance contributes significantly to one commonly described function of documentary films. In particular, by looking to enactments of masculinity in the CBS News See It Now (1951–57) episode titled “The Case of Milo Radulovich, AO589839” (1953), I will demonstrate that performance figures importantly in documentary texts’ ability to reinforce, inflect, and/or subvert hegemonic social norms. In the moments before the “The Case of Milo Radulovich, AO589839” was aired on 20 October 1953, Edward R. Murrow is said to have turned to producer Fred Friendly and warned, “[T]hings will never be the same around here after tonight” (Friendly 3–4). In line with this widely cited bit of television lore, the Radulovich episode of See It Now has often been positioned as a watershed text within the history of small-screen documentary. Shortly after the program went live on CBS, for instance, New York Times critic Jack Gould dubbed it “a long step forward in television journalism” (X13). A. William Bluem later agreed, positioning the Radulovich broadcast as “a turning point in television history” (qtd. in Rosteck, “Synecdoche” 230). The program—a sympathetic investigation of an Air Force lieutenant dismissed from the service on the grounds of his family’s potential Communist sympathies—has been credited with forcing the Air Force to reinstate the dismissed flyer, solidifying new standards in broadcast journalism, speeding the demise of McCarthyism, and demonstrating the public service potential of the television medium for the first time. As Dinah Lynn Zeiger points out, however, “[s]uch effusive praise is a double-edged sword: for while it honors the integrity of the producers and the network for revealing the plight of one man, it also creates an echo chamber, obscuring other equally significant messages contained in the visual and verbal narrative” (281). Rarely acknowledged amid what Eric Barnouw calls the “many paeans of praise” (177) directed toward the text, for instance, is the way in which the program showcases and emphasizes gendered performances that repeat, inflect, and ultimately solidify one version of masculinity frequently positioned as normative in 1950s American culture. In this respect, the text is decidedly less groundbreaking or progressive than its legend suggests. In fact, “The Case of Milo Radulovich” indicates strikingly the way in which documentary performers—like their everyday and fictional film counterparts—might serve to...Journal of Film and Video 02/2014; 66(1):39-51.
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ABSTRACT: More than a decade into the twenty-first century, we are witnessing renewed ways through which memory might be retrieved, preserved, manipulated, and performed. Several recent documentaries, including Nathaniel Kahn’s My Architect (2003) and Nicolás Entel’s My Father, Pablo Escobar (2010), have broadened our perspective on the ways filial relationships may be remembered and reproduced, particularly when, as in these cases, the father, a public figure, has been lost to the son. Kahn’s film focuses on his father, the architect Louis Kahn, who died when Nathaniel was eleven; Entel films the story of Sebastián Marroquín, the Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar’s son, who seeks redemption from his father’s violent past. Both documentaries deploy personal memory but also a range of home movies, documents, personal interviews, and newscasts, among other elements, to build up for the son the person of his father. The project of developing the film becomes the process of reconnection with or detachment from a father and his legacy—an artistic and cultural legacy for Kahn, an illegitimate son, and a violent one for Marroquín. These documentaries thus become more than journeys of personal connection, disaffiliation, or reappraisal of the figure of the father. They are also cultural artifacts that reimagine public figures, reconstructing their lives and careers and acknowledging the particulars of their legacies. This article examines the manner of filial relationships that the sons establish through their video projects through a juxtaposition of personal memories with public life, to arrive at a necessary closure. These documentaries lie at a critical junction between life writing, memory studies, and media studies. Paul John Eakin, in How Our Lives Become Stories, defines the most common form of what he calls the “relational life” as those autobiographies “that feature the decisive impact on the autobiographer of either (1) an entire social environment (a particular kind of family, or a community and its social institutions—schools, churches, and so forth) or (2) key other individuals, usually family members, especially parents” (69). The texts thus privilege the enactment of intersubjectivity, as they blur the boundaries between autobiography and biography, heightening a sense of dialogue or the attempt at a dialogue. The kind of relational life narrative I engage here, the father–son story, is one of the most ubiquitous articulations of intersubjectivity. G. Thomas Couser provides a cogent frame for my examination of these two films, as he explains that these texts seem predominantly driven not by the desire to memorialize a beloved or admired father but by the impulse to shore up, repair, or compensate for a flawed relationship. That is, the books are best read not as static representations of fathers, whether favourable or not—indeed, very few are successful at rendering their subjects as complex human beings—but rather as attempts to claim or even fashion a relationship with a father who is somehow absent, because of death, geographical distance, or emotional reserve . . . Rather, the narratives make public claims to, and about, the relationships between the authors and their fathers. Couser calls these texts “narratives of filiation,” a term he prefers to the more commonly used “memoirs of fathers,” because, he notes, the term “filiation” highlights “their relationality, their rootedness in a sense of entitlement and their intent to enact some kind of engagement with the father, living or dead,” absent or present, legitimate or illegitimate, good or bad (135). When the parent has been absent or distant when alive, as seems most often the case with fathers in this type of memoir, the sons cling to the bits of personal memory they might possess or turn to the forms of supplementary narratives that other family members can contribute to the creation of as coherent and complete a portrait of the father as possible. These supplementary data take, in the first place, the form of stories but also include all the archival documents a family might possess, including letters, photographs, and home movies. In an age of increasing digitization and the heightened possibilities of film and media, photographs and video images are becoming central to the kinds of memoirs we construct and the resulting forms of memory that evolve...Journal of Film and Video 02/2014; 66(1):52-61.
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ABSTRACT: We’re rolling now, so . . . I suppose the thing about an interlinear to this picture should be about Michelangelo Antonioni. In this period they had what they called the “art film.” We first became aware of Antonioni with a picture called L’avventura. And this picture, The Passenger, was probably the biggest adventure in filming that I ever had in my life. With the preceding words, Jack Nicholson begins his commentary track for the 2006 DVD release of Michelangelo Antonioni’s The Passenger (1975). The words are enough to create a powerful tinge of cinephilic excitement. Here is the most iconic male star to emerge from 1970s Hollywood sitting down without an interviewer to narrate a film from one of the most enigmatic directors of the twentieth century. Since he rarely does interviews, the relaxed attitude of the famous man with the famous voice at first startled me since it is unaccompanied by the dramatic layers of performance that I have come to expect from the actor. Instead, with casual ease, Nicholson simply muses on a then thirty-year-old film—with (seemingly) no notes and no recent viewing to refresh his memory. (Whether these two impressions are true matters little since, as the viewer, it feels like an impromptu viewing by Nicholson.) As his first words imply, this commentary does not consist of an actor simply relaying behind-the-scenes stories about the filming. Instead, this peculiar narration oscillates between fleeting memories of the production and an appreciative cinephilic commentary that unabashedly celebrates Antonioni as one of Nicholson’s filmmaking heroes. As suggested by Nicholson’s characterization of the “art film,” the commentary also often takes on an educational tone, with the famous voice informing the viewer of the legendary auteur’s thematic and aesthetic preoccupations. Despite these promises, in many regards, listening to the track can be characterized as a frustrating experience, especially when Nicholson allows for long lulls in his commentary. Also, for fans of the actor, he does not give many concrete insights into his performance choices. Instead, he stays true to his originally stated intention of celebrating Antonioni, often veering into pseudo-philosophical readings of the visuals and the narrative as indicative of the interpretive ambiguities characteristic of the director. If one is looking for a detailed exposé on how it was to work with one of the biggest names in midcentury art cinema, this commentary would not be the best choice. Yet despite these shortcomings, there is something remarkably pleasurable about listening to the track. This enjoyment is partly based in the illusion of sitting down next to a megastar such as “Jack” and hearing his insights—playing out a movie geek’s dream of visiting the actor’s home and listening to him ramble on about his long career. But beyond this cinephilic fantasy, which is fleeting at best, there is something more profound involved in hearing the famous voice over the visual poetry of Antonioni, something innately tied to the enigmatic images we see unfold onscreen. Of course, the original film without the commentary track is already a worthy object of fascination—a complex filmic interplay between different perceptions of reality and identity that ranks among the auteur’s greatest works. Similar to Antonioni’s other “art film” classics—such as L’avventura (1960), L’eclisse (1962), and Blow-Up (1966)—The Passenger defines itself by narrative and thematic ambiguities, at least compared to the formal definitions of classical cinema. In the film, documentary reporter David Locke (Nicholson, in easily the most passive performance of his career), for reasons never fully explained, trades his identity with that of another man who resembles him and who died in an adjacent hotel room in a small African village. Taking the dead man’s passport and appointment book, Locke—now as David Robertson—follows his new identity’s schedule only to discover Robertson was a gunrunner for African soldiers. While attempting to stay ahead of his wife’s (Jenny Runarce) own investigation into Robertson, Locke meets a young woman (Maria Schneider) who encourages him to follow the dead man’s scheduled appointments throughout Europe. Ultimately, without ever fully...Journal of Film and Video 02/2014; 66(1):21-38.
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ABSTRACT: The idea of “performance” permeates every chapter of a new book exploring the career of documentary filmmaker D. A. Pennebaker, the latest in the Contemporary Film Directors series published by University of Illinois Press. What at first seems an odd framing device for a direct cinema pioneer becomes glaringly appropriate and enlightening as an effective mode of categorization. Even as D. A. “Penny” Pennebaker’s films employ an observational style, author Keith Beattie notes that those in front of the camera are uniquely “performing the real”—an implicit, often-unspoken interaction between filmmaker and subject, standing out as the hallmark of Pennebaker’s nearly sixty-year body of work. From concert films (clearly performed) to celebrity portraits (can famous people ever be “real”?) to experimental collaborations that blur the line between documentary and fiction (where real people “act” as other real people), D. A. Pennebaker is a master at capturing those who provide him access to their inner selves, personas that are nonetheless often specifically enacted for the camera. But doesn’t this notion of “performance” defy the tenets of observational cinema? Does this make the document less true? Not so, Beattie posits throughout D. A. Pennebaker. Rather, “the presence of the camera is the basis of a license or a warrant for a subject to extend an off-camera performance before the camera. The underlying position in this assessment . . . is that the performed self is the real or authentic self ” (14). This thesis is demonstrated clearly in concert films such as Monterey Pop (1968), Ziggy Star-dust and the Spiders from Mars (1973), Sweet Toronto (1971), Depeche Mode 101 (1989), Down from the Mountain (2000), and Only the Strong Survive (2003). The sheer number of these classic music documentaries is enough to justify a retrospective examination, yet they encompass simply the most easily defined arena where “performance” heavily plays out in front of the Pennebaker team’s multiple cameras. Beattie delights the reader with a breakdown of who shot what, where, and with what tricked-out 16mm camera. Pennebaker’s rock-umentaries had direct cinema pioneer Albert Maysles wielding his signature handheld style in front of the stage or roaming through the crowd, with partner Ricky Leacock filming from rooftops, while Pennebaker stayed onstage to capture audience reactions and remain close to the performers. And the list of performers is astonishing: John Lennon, David Bowie, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Ralph Stanley, Bo Diddley, Emmylou Harris, Wilson Pickett, Ravi Shankar, the Who, Jefferson Airplane, and of course, the holy trinity captured in Monterey Pop—Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Otis Redding—whose short careers were launched by vanguard performances at the festival. For Redding, who died before the film was released, Monterey Pop stands as a rare document of an extraordinary talent, one not filmed extensively. And as Pennebaker candidly notes in an interview at the end of the book, “television wasn’t ready for Jimi Hendrix and Janis” (135). Although the film was originally made for ABC, the network rejected Monterey Pop, declaring it “didn’t meet industry standards. Leacock’s reply—‘I didn’t know you had any’ sealed the fate” (41), spurring the entrepreneurial documentary team of Leacock and Pennebaker to undertake a successful independent self-distribution strategy, at a time when few filmmakers knew how to do this. Beattie extensively examines Pennebaker’s classic film Don’t Look Back, made with a twenty-three-year-old Bob Dylan, providing cogent insight into the filming itself. More importantly, he directly addresses canons of documentary by underscoring a clear-eyed understanding between filmmaker and subject: “A compact—in the form of a conspiracy, collaboration, and collusion—between Dylan and Pennebaker was struck” (98). The book also reveals what might be some of the first hybrid films, some made with Norman Mailer in his grandiose late 1960s prime, a collaboration that “constituted for Pennebaker a radical experimentation far removed from established codes of direct cinema” (63). The major resulting film, Maidstone (1970), was one where “Mailer sought to create an edgy and tense situation whereby a blurring of on-screen and off-screen action would reflect and feed into a profilmic mixing of realms and stories” (65). Beattie...Journal of Film and Video 01/2014; 66(2):45-46.
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ABSTRACT: “We need to separate the romance from the result,” Sean O’Sullivan says in his careful, convincing new book about the English director Mike Leigh. “It is time that we stopped thinking of Mike Leigh as a shaman and started thinking of him as a filmmaker” (2). Mike Leigh is widely considered a director of realistic films, one who enters the lives of ordinary British folks and, as if by magic, unearths unexpected complexity and richness there. Small, evocative slices of life, his films are often either revered for their insight and authenticity or criticized for their refusal to break from the confines of London living rooms and pubs. O’Sullivan notes that in a review of Leigh’s film Vera Drake (2004), the New Yorker critic David Denby said, “In its limited way, perfect”—a common reaction to Leigh’s work. In Mike Leigh (included in the University of Illinois Press’s Contemporary Film Directors series), O’Sullivan announces his intention to reclaim Leigh “as a practicing theorist—a filmmaker deeply invested in cinema’s formal, conceptual, and narrative dimensions” (1). More than “an unassuming crafter of little movies” (1), Leigh is, O’Sullivan argues, an artist who puts an extraordinary amount of thought into every aspect of the filmmaking process, creating works of great depth that depart radically from reality. The first and largest section of O’Sullivan’s book, “The Nature of Contrivance,” borrows its title from Leigh’s film Topsy-Turvy (1999). In the film, the composer Arthur Sullivan (Allan Corduner) has told his collaborator, the playwright W. S. Gilbert (Jim Broadbent), that he would like to take a break from their work together to write a grand opera, as opposed to the “trivial soufflés” Gilbert tends to write, stories that Sullivan says often rely on such “contrived devices” as magical potions. Gilbert replies, “Every theatrical performance is a contrivance, by its very nature.” Certainly, contrivance is an element of all film, but this fact is often overlooked—or unduly criticized—in Leigh’s work. The director famously spends months improvising with his cast to develop the characters they will play and the narrative that will enfold them. Perhaps it is the organic nature of this collaborative process that gives some people the impression that his films are sprung full-blown from the earth—or at least the minds and bodies of the director and his cast—rather than crafted. But Leigh’s films are made like any other. Every dreary kitchen in which a woman sits frowning into her cup of tea has a barrage of lights rigged to its ceiling, a camera rolling, a boom overhead, a video monitor in the corner, and a director of photography, gaffer, sound guy, makeup artist, and dolly grip, plus an army of electricians and production assistants ready to make noise as soon as the director calls, “Cut!” Likewise, like any director, Leigh manipulates narrative elements to suit the story, heightening tension and building suspense and emotional punch for the audience’s satisfaction—for example, in having the police knock at Vera Drake’s door to question her about a near-fatal abortion she performed at the precise moment that she’s hosting a party to celebrate her daughter’s engagement. Although we forgive this type of dramatic license in movies all the time, critics pounce when it occurs in a Mike Leigh film perhaps because his films are supposed to be just like life. This, O’Sullivan argues, is not fair. “We need to recover words like ‘contrivance,’ ‘artifice,’ and ‘design’ in order to see and hear what Leigh offers to be seen and heard,” O’Sullivan says. “We need to realign Leigh with Gilbert, the artificer, the careful shaper of language, actions, and images” (10–11). In a section titled “How to Watch a Mike Leigh Movie,” O’Sullivan outlines the narrative and stylistic elements that mark Leigh’s work. To formally understand Leigh the theorist and visual stylist, O’Sullivan instructs us to look for three cinematic tools that signal Leigh’s signature as surely as the faces of the actors he casts and the themes he explores. The first such tool is the...Journal of Film and Video 01/2014; 66(2):51-53.
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ABSTRACT: Educational film, which documentary scholars have often slighted, is more than worthy of cinema-studies attention. This is true even of the more aesthetically dreadful products. It is particularly interesting to anyone interested in cultural production. The histories of educational and entertainment-oriented documentary are inextricably intertwined in the early years, as this collection of twenty-two solid essays demonstrates. As educational film becomes a distinct market, it comes to have significant and sometimes unexpected effects both on culture and public discourse and on educational practices, as well as being a related effect of wider trends and movements. Learning with the Lights Off is a welcome contribution to the literature on educational filmmaking in the United States, not least because it provides a good guide to existing scholarly literature in a wide range of areas if you range through the footnotes of the articles. (I also would have loved a unified bibliography at the end of the book.) It also provides an impressive list of all educational film–related associations and publications from the origins to 1970 and a detailed, well-annotated guide to collections (by Elena Rossi-Snook, who also provides a thoughtful discussion of the archiving problem), which should inspire many scholars and even PhD theses. An associated Web site provides access to films discussed in each article, which increases not only the book’s utility to scholars but also its attractiveness for assigned reading. Since these are all links, however, be prepared for broken ones as time goes on. Finally, the book offers a range of ways to use this rich body of material. The articles are organized chronologically, starting in 1895, with analytical articles extending to 1970. For anyone familiar with the dominant narratives of documentary history, there is much that is enjoyable in walking through the twenty-two chapters. The irrepressible American confidence in technology—in this case, educational film—as a cure for perceived social ills runs all the way through these narratives. Among other contributors, Lee Grieveson shows this in his discussion of Ford films designed to Americanize immigrants. Names familiar in other contexts reappear here. As Jennifer Peterson recounts, Robert Flaherty’s Nanook of the North (1922) was the American Museum of Natural History’s surprise sellout when it began its film programs, which are still extant today. Pragmatic philosopher John Dewey’s progressive educational arguments are repeatedly invoked to justify the making and selling of educational films. Joris Ivens keeps popping up (in chapters by Craig Kridel and Dan Streible), hired as the go-to documentarian filmmaker, sometimes by business interests for which his politics would have been anathema. Cult auteur Edgar G. Ulmer made a solid living with educational work, as Devin Orgeron relates. The Rockefeller Foundation’s big footprint on this history recurs repeatedly and is the subject of Victoria Cain’s chapter. It is not particularly surprising to discover that a right-wing funder such as Alfred Sloan was horrified by and censored works he commissioned that criticized business, as Dan Streible shows. But it is surprising, to me at least, to see that he commissioned them at all and furthermore was not alone among corporate interests that sponsored work—particularly in the early years—that was not always linked to a business outcome. It is fascinating to see the go-away-closer dance that the genre’s promoters have done over the years with the concept of entertainment. At first a plus—indeed, some educational films are excerpts of theatrical fiction—the entertainment aspect became a minus (not serious enough for school sales), and then opinion seesawed. Medical films, as Kirsten Ostherr describes, fall under harsh scrutiny for using animation, for instance. Exploitation films were an important source of sex education, shows Eric Schaefer. The Rockefeller Foundation’s program officers were alternately attracted to the power of film and afraid that its visibility would spotlight the foundation unduly. For those who are studying the problem of whether emotionally rich narratives work better than essay-style documentary, Miriam Posner’s discussion of early films about tuberculosis deserves consultation. The editors provide a convenient overview in their introduction, which draws upon insights throughout the volume. The growth of educational...Journal of Film and Video 01/2014; 66(2):43-44.
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ABSTRACT: Practical Moviemaking: A Handbook for the Real World is a how-to manual for film school graduates who are about to enter the world of professional filmmaking. The book presents the first-person advice of Joe Wallenstein, head of physical production at the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts. The book succeeds at being both educational and entertaining and should be picked up by any film school graduate who finds that she or he is dwelling on the question “now what?” Wallenstein separates Practical Moviemaking into twenty-one chapters that cover every aspect of filmmaking: producing, breaking down a script, scheduling, budgeting, finding and managing locations, acquiring a crew, working with actors, and so on. The book also features three appendices, including one devoted to the construction of an old-school production board (Wallenstein claims that building one by hand really helps you “know” your film) and another—“Quotes from Chairman Joe”—that offers filmmaking advice in aphoristic form. Wallenstein’s assertions that “your budget will go up before it comes down” and that “talent is not necessarily a predictor of temperament” (232) are among the most sage of these quotes. Practical Moviemaking’s ultimate value stems from Wallenstein’s years of producing experience. The author’s real-world stories offer guidance to those grappling with such questions as should I buy production insurance, do I need security detail on my shoot, how do I deal with an unhappy crew, and even what do I do when the script calls for animal cruelty? Indeed, the book may have been better titled “Producing in the Real World,” given that each chapter, or topic, is explored from the producer’s perspective. Those looking for a book on the nuts and bolts of cinematography, sound recording, or story development should look elsewhere, as should those interested in independent film-making and documentary or anyone hoping to work outside the mainstream. Still, Wallenstein’s war stories, anecdotes, and opinions set Practical Moviemaking apart from other books on production. This concentration on personal experience will appeal to some readers—especially those who like hearing about the shenanigans of Hollywood (including trouble with angry teamsters, actors who insist on doing their own stunts, and actresses who will not come out of their trailer in cold weather)—but may turn off others. When moving through Practical Moviemaking, the reader has to understand that he or she is reading a text that is both a production manual and a memoir. Luckily, Wallenstein does adeptly combine advice with humor, and this production manual crossed with a memoir makes for a fun and educational read. It should also be noted that Practical Moviemaking is an incredibly optimistic and encouraging book. Film school graduates worried that they will never pull off their first feature will find that Practical Movie-making effectively demystifies the filmmaking process while taking the complexities of production seriously.Journal of Film and Video 01/2014; 66(2):50-51.
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ABSTRACT: I have known Roger Sherman for well over thirty years. He has been involved with multiple Academy Award–nominated documentaries and has earned one nomination for The Garden of Eden. He has also won an Emmy and a Peabody. Roger formed Florentine Pictures with Ken Burns, Larry Hott, Buddy Squires, and Amy Stechler after graduating from Hampshire College. Florentine’s members have made some of the outstanding documentaries of the last thirty-plus years. Roger not only directs and produces but also shoots. He has done camera work for Ken Burns and other documentary filmmakers. In addition, Roger has also done editorial still photography for Town & Country, Saveur, MetHome, and Newsweek. When Roger told me about his book project Ready, Steady, Shoot: The Guide to Great Home Video, I was intrigued. For some time I have been looking for a book to recommend to new documentary filmmakers who send almost daily requests for advice and help with their projects. I have been looking for some time for a simple approach to shooting—no theory, no technical explanations, nothing about workflow or business, but rather a stripped-down version of what I would expect from a textbook. There is a lot to be said for keeping things simple. Very simple. For someone with Roger’s experience and background to share techniques, approaches, and thoughts on directing and shooting is rare. Mr. Sherman’s book is very much a hands-on approach to the process of shooting documentaries. It is deceptively simple in its approach. The core of the work, its genius, is Roger’s idea of telling a story in ten shots. I love it. The 10-Shot Video® is perfect for new documentary filmmakers and not bad for experienced ones. I do not know whether Roger invented this approach, but pedagogically, it allows a student to make an interesting documentary (or fiction film) in a formulaic fashion that will yield a useful outcome. It allows the student to set up simple stories using a variety of shots, including mixing close-ups with medium and long shots as well as tracking and dollying shots to tell a story. Roger provides useful hints that make for excellent films. For example, he writes, “Static shots are winners,” and “Shoot three static shots for every moving one” (27–28). Not Eisenstein, but how helpful! He elaborates and advises the filmmaker to hold it for at least five seconds. He writes, “Ten seconds are about as long as a viewer can handle if there’s a fair amount of action or interest in the frame. Hold longer and the audience becomes restless” (29). In film school as a producer, I worked with dozens of new directors. It was always exciting to me to observe the moment on set when the director could finally see shots and knew where to put the camera. It is intuitive. For some, that moment never comes. For others, the ability to link camera setups, movement, and actor blocking to convey emotion, narrative, and other elements is almost a built-in gift, like perfect pitch. Roger’s book allows a new filmmaker to approach the visual side of filmmaking with a powerful tool kit or approach that makes this transition almost painless. The questions “Where should I put my camera?” and “How should I compose the shot?” are now answered. In the chapter “10-Shot Video,” Sherman provides a series of exercises that are really helpful to students and are at a production level that makes it easy for children as well as college students to practice making mini-films. “Inside, All Static” is the first exercise, to be shot in one’s living room. The ten static shots are varied, and they provide a simple narrative structure. Roger even suggests holding shots and ending with a lens cap on to have black for editing. Sherman writes, “It took me years to master when it was right to cut sooner and hold longer. If I’d figured out ‘10-Shot Video®’ years ago, my films would have benefited greatly” (54). One of Roger’s first films was with his partner Ken Burns, the Academy Award–nominated Brooklyn Bridge in 1981. That...Journal of Film and Video 01/2014; 66(2):47-48.
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ABSTRACT: Hollywood has influenced the political consciousness of Americans ever since the consolidation of the film industry in Southern California in the late 1910s. Most histories of Hollywood’s political identity are told from either the left or the right, focusing on how a small cadre of filmmakers struggled from within the mainstream to advocate for liberal causes or how a conservative culture industry helped legitimize state power at home and abroad. In Hollywood Left and Right: How Movie Stars Shaped American Politics, Steven J. Ross analyzes the careers of major stars on both sides of the aisle, exploring how their performances in front of the camera related to their roles as activists in the broader public sphere. Bringing together newspapers, statistics, institutional archives, and audiovisual sources, Ross builds on the methodology he pursued in his past projects, Working-Class Hollywood: Silent Film and the Shaping of Class in America (1998) and Movies and American Society (2002). Hollywood Left and Right’s cultural-historical approach and its emphasis on locating Hollywood activism both on and off the screen make it a significant contribution to the body of film historiography that includes the scholarship of Larry Ceplair and Steven Englund (The Inquisition in Hollywood: Politics in the Film Community, 1930–1960 [1979, ) and Lary May (The Big Tomorrow: Hollywood and the Politics of the American Way ). Rather than investigate a particular cause or epoch, Ross interweaves discussion of the careers of five left-leaning and five right-leaning figures. This comparative approach serves a rhetorical purpose, encouraging an understanding of Hollywood as a space of creative contestation, as well as an understanding of the range of opportunities and challenges some of its premier image-makers faced when trying to assert their political views. The nine chapters that constitute Hollywood Left and Right begin with how the 1920s saw two countervailing forces. First, producer Louis B. Mayer forged an alliance between Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and a pro-business Republican administration; and second, the antiauthoritarian films of Charlie Chaplin satirized the very forms of industrial efficiency that the classical studio system institutionalized. Mayer was not himself an actor and thus sits awkwardly with the other nine stars profiled in the book. Nonetheless, he played a crucial role in injecting the Republican Party with an aura of glamour and celebrity in the 1920s. His active campaigning for Herbert Hoover and his effort to bring politicians to the MGM compound to meet with company talent helped set the stage for the long-lasting productive relationship between the oligopolistic studios and conservative politics. Ross’s account of how the 1940s through 1950s professionally crippled liberals such as Edward G. Robinson and the more radical Charlie Chaplin resonates with a familiar story arc of how the chill of the Cold War altered the lives and output of many in the entertainment community. At the same time, exploration of how these years and the ones that immediately followed were transformative for George Murphy and Ronald Reagan provides important insights into the lesser-known political maturation of the post–World War II Hollywood right. Ross situates both Murphy and Reagan’s minor film careers in the context of their more major careers as politicians. Persuasively selling an alluring image of the Republican Party to a broad populace, Murphy and Reagan brought their training as actors in feature films and the industrial public relations sector to the emerging medium of television, harnessing the new technology to coach candidates and help propel themselves to California offices in the 1960s. The strongest and most complex chapter in the book analyzes the career of actor and singer Harry Belafonte, who broke racial barriers as one of the first black sex symbols in the 1950s. Belafonte’s lead role in Island in the Sun (1957), his hit single “Day-O,” and his work as an independent with his own HarBel Productions provided significant economic and cultural capital for the civil rights movement. Ross’s discussion of Paul Robeson, Sidney Poitier, John F. Kennedy, and Martin Luther King Jr. expands an understanding of Belafonte’s influences and collaborators in his attempt to fight for social justice and clarifies his role as a coalition builder...Journal of Film and Video 01/2014; 66(2):53-55.
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ABSTRACT: The conceptual power of Arsenal Pulp Press’s Queer Film Classics (QFC) film book series lives in its insistence that the truths of queer lives and the loftier words of film discourse are, in fact, made for each other. Edited by Canadian critics Thomas Waugh and Matthew Hays, the book series was launched in 2009 and will offer a total of twenty-one titles, with three books coming out per year until 2015. Each of the first nine eponymous monographs reviewed here is dedicated to an influential film made by or about queer people. Together, the books aggregate the diverse histories and stories of queer filmmakers, artists, and writers who have contributed to a range of cinema made in eight different countries between 1950 and 2005. It is the series’ capacity to tackle aesthetic, social, sexual, and political issues outside of the normative frameworks of acceptable queer discourse that marks it as a significant contribution to film studies, queer studies, and cinematic images culture at large. As a central tenet, the authors of the QFC series dare not to sanitize desire with discourse. Instead, the books show that textuality and sexuality are natural cousins. Will Aitken’s book on Death in Venice (Luchino Visconti, Italy, 1971) speaks to this crucial idea. Discussing Aschenbach, who accesses the beauty of an adolescent boy via acts of “looking up” at him from a distance, Aitken depicts the perspective of being down on one’s knees with eyes fixed to heaven (a veiled image of fellatio) as giving meaning to queer experience in the world. It is this provocative inquiry into a viewpoint that opens the series toward a wider theorization of the homosexual gaze and a philosophical consideration of queer desire. Quite rightly, the texts supersede interests in positive or positivist issues of representations to offer up more fully embodied, often conflicted readings of queer identity. Like the characters discussed throughout the series who cross so many traditions, times, and places, the books have the guts to straddle the fringe and center at once, talking frankly about sexual realism in a critical way. Adult themes that are so often embargoed as queers strive to go mainstream are recuperated in these texts with thoughtful consideration. The project at its core, to paraphrase Jon Davies’s work on Trash (Paul Morrissey, United States, 1970), tenders love and attention on that which is so often discarded or deemed abject: intergenerational man-boy love, childhood sexuality, transsexuality, lesbian love in the developing world, the paradoxes and limitations of liberal activism, queer aging in Hollywood, social indifference to HIV/AIDS, polyamory, impotence, and prostitution. Concentrating on textual analysis, each monograph invests in the specific history of the production and reception of a single film. Because the realities of living queerly differ geographically and change over decades, the texts establish their classic films as signposts along a continuum to show us how queer people have variably come to be in the world and be seen in the cinema. But though poly-vocal in nature, the series does maintain a centripetal force. The seminal text of the series is Waugh and Garrison’s book on Montreal Main (Frank Vitale, Canada, 1974), a film about an American photographer who falls in love with a twelve-year-old Canadian boy amid Montreal’s bohemian enclave, “The Main.” By deconstructing the film’s interlacing of story, space, and era, the book charts out broader shifts in the boundaries between older and newer attitudes about sex, sexual identity, and nationality. Theoretically, Waugh and Garrison mobilize the film’s feelings for an impossible love and marginal identities in terms of Deleuze’s theories of minor literature. The authors thus differentiate the histories of queer rights and artistic movements in Canada, the United States, and Europe as they run parallel to and diverge from each other. Published in no particular chronological order, the book series constructs its constellation of texts, its stars, in a nebulous arrangement. There is an open modularity to this collection of books that can and will be added to at any point in the future. As such, the series is amassing a database of material on queer cinema and history. Through these...Journal of Film and Video 01/2014; 66(2):48-50.
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ABSTRACT: In recent years, Hindi popular cinema—or “Bollywood,” as it is commonly known—has been the subject of a growing number of quality scholarly studies. Tejaswini Ganti’s Producing Bollywood: Inside the Contemporary Hindi Film Industry, an ethnography-based study examining how Bollywood evolved over the last two decades to become the global brand we know it as today, is a welcome addition to this corpus of literature. Drawing on a decade of participant-observation fieldwork, Ganti’s study reveals how the neoliberal restructuring of Bombay’s film industry has transformed the way films are made, as well as the kinds of films that are made, as the industry moves to satisfy the tastes of India’s resident middle class and diaspora. Ganti’s past work on Hindi cinema includes an ethnographic study of how the storylines of American films are adapted for Indian remakes and a classroom-ready introductory guidebook to Bollywood. In Producing Bollywood, rather than pursuing the meaning of individual films through a study of their textual elements as some scholars might, the author has concentrated on how directors, producers, and others within Bombay’s film industry see their work, their audiences, and the place of Bollywood within Indian and global society. The idea of studying how participants within a film industry view that industry may seem ambitious or unwieldy as a project, especially when the industry in question is one of the largest and most prolific of its kind in the world (and when, of necessity, to conduct such a study, the researcher must study “up” socially—study the thinking and desires of some of the richest and most sought-after entertainment figures in the world). To narrow the scope of her study and thereby overcome the first of these problems, Ganti opted for an inventive, if unlikely, solution: she would focus her research on the quite small roster of A-list Bollywood directors, stars, and other decision makers. Astonishingly, she was able to pull this approach off, and over the course of her fieldwork, she interviewed or observed many of the industry’s elite at work, including the megastar Shah Rukh Khan, whom, she reports, she was able to interview “in a variety of locales, from . . . film sets to rehearsal halls, his car, and his home” (195). Over the book’s nine chapters, Ganti elaborates on her basic premise—that since the early 1990s, the Hindi film industry has been restructured and gentrified “to conform to middle-class taste” (4)—from a range of vantage points. With regard to the business side of filmmaking, she argues that over this period, production processes have been rationalized to reduce the financial risk associated with making films, and the industry has moved to purge itself of the influence of organized crime and unsavory tax-evading investors. At the same time, the industry has pressed for greater social respectability and has sought to be seen as “cool” by elite audiences. On this theme, Ganti delivers a captivating account of how, over roughly two decades, Hindi cinema has moved from being viewed as kitschy and low-brow by India’s respectable “classes” to the position it occupies today—profitable, chic, attracting middle-class ticket buyers, and recognized by the Indian government as an engine for the nation’s economic growth. As any viewer of recent Bollywood fare already knows, this drive for respectability is evident onscreen in a decline in film plots that focus on “class conflict, social injustice, and youthful rebellion” (79). Thus, whereas peasants, workers, or others of modest economic means were often the onscreen heroes in films from earlier times, within the gentrified Bollywood of today, these figures have been replaced by designer clothes-wearing, middle-class heroes. The author argues that gentrification and the rise of neoliberalism have impacted film exhibition in India as well, as multiplex theaters have been built to attract a middle-class that previously eschewed watching movies outside their homes. Located in shopping malls, and featuring plush amenities and high-ticket prices, multiplexes were nonexistent in India a decade ago. Today, in growing numbers, these theaters provide urban professionals and well-off families with a gated moviegoing experience, one where they do...Journal of Film and Video 01/2014; 66(2):56-57.
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ABSTRACT: Since Georges Melies's rocket crashed onto a craterous lunar face in his fantasy film A Trip to the Moon (1903), a sense of the extraordinary has been synonymous with the movies. A tautological term for the fantastic has been designated to every genre of film: from a historical "feature" to a biblical "epic" or even a "spectacular" war film. Hall and Neale painstakingly explore the significance of these and other terms, why they were applied, and how they have evolved into the blockbuster concept of today. By examining the early history of cinema, the authors demonstrate the fluidity of early definitions such as "specials," "superspecials," and "features." Size, scale, expense, length of program, star and studio involvement, and high production values became key ingredients for use of the terms "epic" and "spectacle." D. W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation (1915) and European imports such as Quo Vadis? (1913) are cited as early examples of lavish films primarily marketed as epic or spectacular in an attempt to bring prestige and profit to the producers, distributors, and exhibitors. It was not until 1952 that the term "blockbuster" entered the public vernacular. The authors cite Variety (139) with using the term in its review of the Hollywood remake of Quo Vadis (1952). Nuggets of information such as how "blockbuster," initially used to describe a heavy bomb in World War II, became analogous to a weapon against the competition from television—and eventually became synonymous with the concept of the epic and spectacular film—make this book more than just a compendium of facts. This book extensively scrutinizes the distribution practices that dominated early cinema. At a time when films consisted of just a few reels, charging exhibitors according to the length of the film (e.g., fifteen cents a foot) was the norm. As films became longer and more expensive, this practice became obsolete, giving rise to other methods of distribution—such as the states rights system; open, selective, and program booking; and road-showing—in attempts to ensure profitable box office returns, especially on prestigious productions that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. By the 1930s, price-fixing, block booking, and blind selling ensured that the major studios exerted a vice-like grip on distribution that persisted for almost twenty years. Only intervention from the Supreme Court in 1948 facilitated the separation of distribution from exhibition and so quashed the monopoly of the Big Five. With the decline of the studio system, a rise in conglomerate ownership, and the rise of a youth market in the malls, the use of product marketing to drive the concept and selling of pictures was established. Star Wars (1977) is cited not only for the second coming of sound—in Dolby Stereo—but also for merchandising and sales tie-ins, which continue to dominate the marketing and distribution of films today. The book also covers social upheavals such as Vietnam and the end of the Cold War, as well as more recent media developments, including the commercialization of state broadcast systems, audience fragmentation, the Internet, and video gaming. The authors explore how these developments ushered in new variations of the blockbuster to include comic book adaptations and sci-fi, action adventure with contemporary settings, historical action films, and the new generation of disaster films. Hence, the authors label blockbusters such as Batman (1989), Alien (1992), Speed (1994), Pearl Harbor (2001), and The Day after Tomorrow (2004) as the "Cinema of Spectacular Situations" (251). Hall and Neale illuminate the evolution of the exhibition of films from early nickelodeons, picture palaces, and drive-ins to our millennium's multiplexes, IMAX theaters, and DVD home cinema. Social and cultural influences are also demonstrated to have had major effects on the filmmaking industry through its history. The swing from highbrow elitism to middle- and lower-class aesthetics during the Roaring Twenties ensured a larger homegrown market. Regular programs and prices, along with the development of the star and studio system, ensured that epics and spectacles became entrenched within the Hollywood studio system. However, the Great Depression, antitrust laws, and the introduction of the Hays Code were just a few of the pressures thrust on film producers and...Journal of Film and Video 01/2013; 65(1):100-101.
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ABSTRACT: What comes to mind when you think of the Hollywood sign? It could be the glow of our highest aspirations or the darkness of our deepest fears. Some of us have seen it in person, standing below and looking up at it in its metaphoric allure atop Mount Lee. Those who have not had the pleasure likely know it when they see it on television or in advertisements. One of the most recognizable icons on the globe, the Hollywood sign represents much more than the mountain it stands on. Understanding the importance of this billboard turned international icon, famed scholar Leo Braudy explores the sign's many meanings in The Hollywood Sign: Fantasy and Reality of an American Icon. The book provides the parallel histories of the American film industry and the sign's accidental birth as an icon of the industry it watches over. Erected in 1923 and reading "Hollywoodland," the sign was built to be an advertisement for the property sitting below it. For about a decade the sign had no association with the film industry since most studios were outside the city limits of Hollywood (Braudy paints a picture of the film industry at this time, explaining where each studio was). Before the sign represented a mixture of reality and fantasy like it does today, European filmmakers had portrayed the idea of fame and self-creation in their movies prior to working in Hollywood. The industry's growing notoriety eventually began to yield a dark side, such as the allegation of rape and murder against Fatty Arbuckle as well as the unsolved murder of William Desmond Taylor, director and former president of the Motion Picture Directors Association. Because of the contrasting images of the industry, Braudy appropriately refers to Hollywood as having a Jekyll and Hyde personality from its early days. By the 1920s, people were already flocking to Los Angeles to become famous, thanks to early gossip writers already pumping for celebrity obsession. After Shirley Temple made it big, the town was also filled with stage parents peddling their youngsters like candy. Braudy specifically notes that "young women, often considered by the locals to be little better than prostitutes, had surged into town looking for jobs and fun in this freer and easier world" (63). What the Hollywood sign would come to represent had already been set in motion. Notably, the sign did not always sit so quietly on the mountain as it does today; it originally was lit by more than four thousand bulbs that flashed, "Holly," "Wood," and "Land," before finally illuminating the whole "Hollywoodland." Although the sign can still today be faintly seen at night from the glow of the city reflecting off the white letters, it must have been impossible to miss when lit by electric lights meant to draw attention to the marketed property below. It was not until 1932 that the sign became notoriously linked with the film industry, when a young actress, Peg Entwistle, supposedly jumped to her death from the "H." Since her death, Entwistle has been seen as the first high-profile starlet, and her story is now a metaphor for the failed attempts at fame that occur continuously in Hollywood. Although the simple story of her demise has been widely accepted, Braudy raises interesting doubt about its truthfulness. Entwistle was certainly on her way to success in Hollywood and had previously had a promising career on Broadway, which makes it seem unlikely that she killed herself over her career. The traditional story of her demise based on a failed acting career may just be a matter of gossip columnists "printing the legend" instead of the fact. Braudy says that "whatever her motivations, she may have been the first to perceive the sign symbolically" (96). By the late 1930s, artists from within the industry were criticizing the idea and myth of Hollywood (a fantastical quest for fame and wealth) that the sign would come to represent. Songs such as "Hooray for Hollywood" from Hollywood Hotel (1937) lightheartedly parodied people trying to break into the film industry. A bleak vision of Hollywood was seen in Nathaniel West's 1939 novel The Day of the Locust (filmed in 1975...Journal of Film and Video 01/2013; 65(1):108-109.
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ABSTRACT: Joseph McBride has produced a novel, well-written, and entertaining guide to screenwriting for fiction film. Perhaps best known as an accomplished film historian, McBride also has professional screenwriting experience, including cowriting Rock 'n' Roll High School and working with Orson Welles on dialogue for a character he played in Welles's unfinished film The Other Side of the Wind. McBride also teaches screenwriting at San Francisco State University and states that this book arose out of his frustration with the field of screenwriting guides: "I couldn't find a book that actually gets into the nitty-gritty of what's required to learn the screenwriting craft in a systematic way and that does so concisely and without telling you how to write formulaic screenplays" (4). Although one might dispute the claim that there are no such books, McBride's guide should be counted a success by his own criteria. The book is divided into three parts. The first part deals with a number of preliminary topics, including a refreshingly upfront admission about how unwise it is to pursue screenwriting as means to money or fame. Parts 2 and 3 are where this book really distinguishes itself from other screenwriting guides. McBride believes that beginners should learn screenwriting by adapting a short story. He reasons that freeing students from the burden of coming up with an original, workable story idea allows them to focus on the craft of storytelling for the screen. This approach does not preclude creativity because of the distinctive requirements of cinematic storytelling and because adaptations can be more or less faithful to their original sources. McBride breaks down the process of writing an adapted half-hour screenplay into five steps. Steps 1 through 4 are presented in the second part of the book. The first step is to select a short story and write a two-page prose summary of it. This "story outline" is a condensed retelling of the original literary work from beginning to end. A helpful feature of the book is that McBride presents a completed example of each step after he describes its requirements; he then provides instructive critical analysis of his example as a setup for introducing the next step. McBride chooses to adapt Jack London's "To Build a Fire," the story of a brazen young man whose arrogance to trek without human company during a harsh Yukon winter in the early 1900s leads to his death (the story is included in one of the book's appendices). The second step is "the adaptation outline," which is similar to the story outline except that it presents the story as it will be adapted for the screen. Here one has freedom to alter the setting, time period, and characters as long as the deviation is not so radical that the story becomes unrecognizable as an adaptation. The third step is to produce a character biography. Doing so paves the way for the fourth step of fleshing out the adaptation outline into the treatment, a detailed recounting of the adapted story that gives a clear sense of the scene-by-scene structure of the film. Part 3 of the book sets up the final step of producing a step outline with useful chapters on screenplay formatting and style, creating playable parts, building scenes, and writing dialogue. McBride believes that working through his process will make the actual writing of the screenplay straightforward. He accordingly concludes with a concise checklist for writing one's screenplay, his sample finished script, and an epilogue that dispenses some sage advice on pursuing filmmaking. I have only two reservations about this lovely book. The first concerns what it has to say about three-act structure: "the fact is that any film with any dramatic content, however short or long or however avant-garde its approach might be, probably will still fall into three acts" (151). In order for this statement to be remotely plausible, McBride interprets three-act structure in such a broad way that it seems of little value to aspiring screenwriters. One might worry that beginners will come away with a distorted view of both three-act structure and the paucity of alternatives to it...Journal of Film and Video 01/2013; 65(1):90-91.
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ABSTRACT: In one of the introductory sections of his new book, Something Startling Happens, Todd Klick quickly and clearly states that the premise of the book is that every movie—or to use his distinction, every great movie—shares a similarity in its minute-by-minute structure. Klick came upon this when analyzing Raiders of the Lost Ark. The moment of action that occurs eight minutes into the movie struck a chord with him. After re-examining notes he had made during an analysis of The Matrix, he discovered an unexpected moment of action occurred at the same spot in both movies. Scuttling through notes he had made regarding the structure of other films, Klick confirmed his theory that eight minutes into most movies, "something startling happened." To prove his thesis, Klick began by playing three movies side by side. Instead of looking at the films in the more traditional scene-by-scene or beat-by-beat fashion, Klick studied the three films minute by minute and discovered that essentially the same thing happens in each minute. Klick ascertains that the universality of storytelling through production brings about this minute-by-minute rhythm; hence, he examines produced films instead of scripts. He goes on to suggest that it does not matter if the film ends at 89 minutes or 120 minutes—the minute events are the same. He also states that his theory can be used to improve overall story structure for the outline and treatment phase of screenwriting. Klick has a thorough list of FAQs prominently placed early in the book, discussing how the method works for scripts that are shorter than feature-length and even television pilots. Klick also thought through how his book could be used for production as well as post-production. Klick's book varies from other screenwriting how-to manuals in that he does not discuss three-act structure or engage in the use of well-worn script nomenclature. The book is divided into six major sections that represent twenty film minutes. The minutes represent the chapters in the book; thus, each section consists of twenty chapters with catchphrase titles that proceed minute by minute with exhaustive examples of movies. Each section also contains two writing exercises that involve use of a stopwatch and very specific movies. Should the reader want to complete the exercises, the student must readily have films such as Titanic, Amelie, Braveheart, or Kill Bill, on hand. The first section of the book, "In Da Beginning," covers minutes one to twenty of a feature film. Each minute is preceded by a clever title—for example, "The Build," "The Ratchet," "Whew, That Was Close!" and "Something Startling Happens"—that describes the essence of the minute. The chapters in all sections of the book are relatively short. Each opens with a brief statement that explains the concept in the chapter and then goes on to cite case studies—specific moments in films—to illustrate the point. Although many films are cited in the book (the filmography contains forty-four titles), most of the examples are from the same movies: Juno, Being John Malkovich, Pulp Fiction, The Matrix, Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Halloween. To best use Klick's book, the reader would need to have familiarity beyond one cursory viewing of the film and would need to be somewhat intimate with the film examples. This is due to the fact that each case study is brief: generally, a short sentence intended to substantiate the chapter title, often only one page long. For example, in the chapter "Minute 92: Hugs & Kisses," Klick uses Being John Malkovich, Pulp Fiction, and The Matrix as case studies. To illustrate his point that in minute 92 the hero and ally, or love interest, show affection, Klick writes, "In The Matrix, Trinity and Neo try to find a way to save Morpheus (their way of expressing affection for him)" (147). In the case study for Being John Malkovich in the same chapter, he writes, "Maxine shows affection toward puppet-Lotte" (147). Unless readers have fairly comprehensive knowledge of the films or have them on hand for easy viewing, the descriptions will most likely lack meaning for readers...Journal of Film and Video 01/2013; 65(1):94-95.
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ABSTRACT: One might argue that the last thing the world needs is another book on writing, yet screenwriters keep reading because you never know where that next wisp of insight and inspiration might be found. Writer-producer Keith Giglio has just published a book that makes the effort worthwhile, a guide that offers a fresh approach to writing film comedy, titled Writing the Comedy Blockbuster: The Inappropriate Goal. The book opens with a foreword meant to encourage and inspire, while also hinting at the tremendous hurdles that all screenwriters face. A hypothetical scenario illustrates how a "high concept/low budget" comedy script might quickly result in a big sale, and a personal anecdote recounts how the author's career was just as quickly threatened when at one point his work was labeled "too soft." The message is clear: in a business where it is incredibly difficult for writers to succeed, "it's less difficult to sell an original comedy" (xviii). Or, Giglio writes, in the playful tone used throughout the book, "Tina Fey kicks Bruce Willis's box office ass" (xix). The book is then divided into three parts, starting with a brief "How to Use This Book" chapter that suggests how people might work along with the text depending on their needs (e.g., while starting a screenplay, selling a screenplay, or using the book as a course text). This introduction is very short and the how-to instructions sparse; the chapter accomplishes little and perhaps should have been omitted. The next chapter begins with a cautionary tale about inadvertently creating derivative work, a sin the author committed when starting out, and Giglio declares that a comedy writer always "needs to be reading funny, thinking funny, writing funny, and watching funny" (2). Making the point that a writer must know his field's genres if he hopes to create original work, Giglio launches into "A Criminally Brief History of Film Comedy." Going decade by decade, from slapstick silent films to the latest wave of female-driven comedies, Giglio identifies important conventions, lists representative films that the reader should screen, names key writers and directors, and sometimes provides a brief historical context for the era. Then he segues to a section titled "The Subgenres of Comedy," which lists what most consider to be the traditional comedic genres of film fiction, from farce to musical comedy. The descriptions in this chapter are an odd mix of fully detailed and barely there, but somehow that works— they are all informative and entertaining, and the author's obvious love of film is infectious and motivating. In the next chapter, Giglio offers his recipe for comedy blockbusters, naming three primary ingredients: inappropriate goal, inappropriate behavior, and inappropriate dialogue. Focusing on the first element, which rated subtitle status on the book's cover, the author states, "The inappropriate goal is the most important event/ action in your story. Everything will emerge from the goal—the logline, characters, plot devices, and resolution" (29). He explains the concept and provides examples that show how a main character's poor decisions can spawn comedic predicaments powerful enough to drive a story. Then, in the same chapter, he segues to the subject of creating loglines. This might seem a strange shift but is actually wise, given that both tasks—creating a story engine and defining a story's essence (with elevator-pitch brevity)—should be linked. And as Giglio knows, the best time to decide these things is early in the writing process, not after a meandering first draft has been completed. If I have a complaint about this section, it is that although inappropriate goals and behavior are amply explained and illustrated, little attempt is made to follow through on explaining how one writes inappropriate dialogue—an important subject due further exploration. In part 2 of the book, the author switches gears to focus on character development. He begins by illustrating how "[c]omedy is inherently the fool's journey" (47), giving examples of how characters drive stories by pursuing inappropriate goals; some act the fool "on the inside" by making bad decisions, and others act the fool "on the outside" by also behaving in odd or silly ways...Journal of Film and Video 01/2013; 65(1):106-107.
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