Two for Tuesday #1

OK, first of all I realize it’s Wednesday. I may find a way to write and post in anticipation of the day but in order to truly get started I want to watch films on the day of and identify my theme properly and then post. Yesterday it was just too late by the time I would’ve gotten around to it.

Anyway, the idea for Two for Tuesday is just to watch two films, no matter how different they may be. Yesterday’s choices were disparate indeed: they were Mrs. Miniver and the aforementioned feature film cut of Blake of Scotland Yard.

Mrs. Miniver

Mrs. Miniver (MGM)

This is another film I watched for 31 Days of Oscar. What was frustrating to learn was that this was during a Greer Garson block on TCM wherein her five consecutive best Actress nominations were shown. This is a feat that was only matched once, by Bette Davis. It makes sense to feature Garson, however, because I, like most, am underexposed to her. With Robert Osborne doing the introduction there was much to be learned. First being that the role of Mrs. Miniver was originally offered to Norma Shearer. Shearer didn’t want to play the mother of a fully grown son, as there’s a stigma of being an aged actress attached and thus it was offered to Greer Garson who at the time didn’t want to do it either but didn’t have the clout to turn it down. The age concern was such that Garson according to the studio was 34 but in actuality was 37 at the time. Thankfully she did it and it worked out wonderfully.

This film swept away quite a few Oscars and it’s not a wonder. Suffice it to say I just thought myself brash in guessing it was nominated for 10 Oscars, I underestimated it. It was up for 12 and won six. This film also bears a stamp this time is that of William Wyler. Wyler, who despite winning three Oscars and the Irving G. Thalberg Award doesn’t seem to get as much recognition as a man who has a similar name to him, Billy Wilder. Wyler’s film’s are always well-shot and moreover beautifully framed. This film also has a quiet realistic tension to when Mrs. Miniver (Garson) is held captive in her own house by a wounded German soldier there is no scoring it’s all quite realistically handled. Then there is shockingly good sound design that also makes you flinch as you see the quiet, simple village life disturbed by air raids.

It’s also not a wonder that there was pressure on MGM to get this film released to show the American public what life in Europe was like during the war. It’s also no surprise that this film was added to the National Film Registry in 2009.

There was also the wonderfully woven in subplot of the flower show. This not only demonstrated class differences and stasis in society but as things developed came to symbolize the solidarity of a nation. As Mr. Ballard says “There’ll always be roses.” A beautifully deft and understated way of saying the world will go on and life will persist despite what may try to ravage it. I could go on elaborating the naturalistic-humanistic symbolism of the film ad nauseum but you get the idea.

However, the poetics of the film do not halt there. During one of the first air raids the Mr. (Walter Pidgeon) stay awake as their young children do manage to fall asleep and they discuss their love for, and recite the ending of, Alice in Wonderland. The words made far more haunting and beautiful due to the backdrop and wonderful example of artistic re-appropriation of material.

Christopher Severn, Walter Pidgeon and Calre Sandars in Mrs. Miniver (MGM)


There were also some notable long take and it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that Wyler allowed the camera to roll a bit to see what his actors did. One example of this, and the genesis of this idea for me, is when Mr. Miniver and his young son Toby (Christopher Severn) and young daughter (Clare Sandars) are looking into one of the rooms of their house after an air raid taking in the damage. they look for quite a bit of time such that it feels like the scene should end but then Toby kicks a piece of rubble over the step and laughs, forcing a smile from his father. Whether improvised or whether this long pause was dictated kudos are still in store for Wyler.

Mrs. Miniver (MGM)

The very ending is also remarkable without giving too much away. There is a great reveal of the roof of the church most of which is missing. Through the hole in the roof can be seen bombers off to another battle as the congregation sings “Onward Christian Soldiers.” You can protest as much as you like about the propagandist nature of this ending or of mixing religion and war but without even involving politics it’s a great piece of cinema that ending.

In the interest of not spoiling too much I avoided the plotline of Vin (Richard Ney) and Carol (Teresa Wright, who also won an Oscar for her role) it is a major component of the story as it is a love affair that springs from a subplot and becomes quite an important and poignant part of the film. One interesting note was that the part was originally offered to Montgomery Clift who turned it down because it came with the stipulation that he sign with MGM for seven years. Clift, and the industry apparently, felt his time would come and he stayed on Broadway in the meantime.

This movie slowly and steadily rolls itself along picking up meaning and creating a tense environment in the characters. There is no real resolution within the narrative, as they are still in the midst of war but life goes on and “There will always be roses.”

Blake of Scotland Yard (1937; theatrical cut)

One thing that could’ve been added to my manifesto is that I want to try not to be redundant. I realize that I just posted about this here but yesterday I saw this version mostly for lack of something better to do and time. I will try not to over-elaborate but merely convey how utterly gutted I found this film.

The main thing that’s off when you lop 75% off a story is pace. There are moments that are far too slow or protracted and then some that whiz by in a blur, the film ends up being shorter than it feels because of that. There are far too many characters involved in this tale for it to only run 71 minutes and taking out so much you lose clues, speculation and discovery of facts and are left with basically an inciting incident, a long chase which becomes tiresome and a final reveal that is still a surprise because you had little time to wonder who the scorpion could be and were busy trying to figure out what’s up. I had issues following it and I’ve seen the longer version twice I can’t imagine the uninitiated confusion upon viewing this mess.

The intent of this piece is to honor the original film as it was made. There were some notable players involved in this such as Ralph Byrd who played Dick Tracy in more than one incarnation, Joan Barclay who starred alongside Douglas Fairbanks in The Gaucho and Dickie Jones who later went on to voice Pinocchio. There’s also a lot of good story cut out: There is a big arc with the false beggar that here seems pointless, there is Baron Polinka who is oft suspected and one of his catchphrases that cracked me up (“But I’m Baron Polinka”) is missing from this, even the tertiary involvement of Scotland Yard, which is in the title here seems unnecessary.

The only thing I liked is that it made me nostalgic for the original version. This one also gave you a virtually muted soundtrack as the theme rarely played within scenes but was always played in titles which, of course, you only see once here. Due to the desire there are some weird and bad cuts including a very awkward “If you can’t solve it, dissolve it.”

As a DVD presentation it is also a failure: it looks like there are VHS tracking lines at the bottom as if this was a dub and there’s no resume play option so when I stopped I had to find a spot within the chapter.

Ultimately, this proved it’s a failed concept as you see a long but simply-told tale diluted into a short confused mess. I hope other distributors stick to full-length serials.

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Why “Never Say Never” Makes Sense

This is a re-post from when Never Say Never was first announced. It makes sense to post it again on the verge of the film’s release.

Never Say Never (Paramount)

So recently both on his Twitter feed and on several media sources it was reported that Justin Bieber was to be the subject of an upcoming film release. The film would follow his world tour, intercut live performances be part doc, part biopic and be in 3D. Academy-award winning director Davis Guggenheim was attached to direct it, that has changed but those were the facts.
 
I find it a little humorous some of the reactions this announcement has been met with. Surprise should not be among the reactions though, derision though not necessarily deserved, was expected.
 
Taking some of these facts into consideration: Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus (as if they’re really two different people), The Jonas Brothers and even Celine Dion, of all people, recently had concert films so announcement this should be no surprise at all. Not to mention the record-breaking Michael Jackson doc This is It.
 
Not only is he talented but he’s out-earning all those acts at this point so of course a studio is going to want to put out a film. Being one who is familiar with him from his days of being pre-viral on YouTube it shocks even me that his rise to near pop immortality has been so meteoric and persistent.
 
And in 3D? Of course. Even though 3D fatigue is setting in, regardless of what scoffing studio execs say, there will still be those projects that will do it, and succeed, especially since a little more than a year has passed since Avatar smashed box office records just because it was shot in 3D. The overcharge, I mean surcharge, made it its money.
 
However, with him being a lightning rod anything Bieber-related is immediately fodder for conversation both positive and negative. It would seem this film is being overly-characterized as as a biopic, in the traditional sense of the word, much the way the photo book of his tour was being referred to as a memoir, where it is truly more of a chronicle, even if you don’t buy his assertion of it being a photo book.
 
Even more recently it was reported that Davis Guggenheim was dropping out. He is citing commitment issues as he will be plugging Waiting for Superman, his latest documentary about public education in the US, obviously there is speculation that he dropped it because his name was being dragged through the mud and the money wasn’t worth it.
 
I won’t comment on a personal/business decision but it most definitely would’ve been very time consuming. However, I don’t view this film as littering the cinematic landscape as it’s not a narrative film. It’s disposable (if you want it to be) entertainment that you can use once and destroy if you so wish and has no bearing on the overall aesthetic landscape of cinema as a whole.
 
This film will come and go and cinema will go on, so jokes or actual fears about the end times are greatly exaggerated.

The Effect of YouTube

YouTube of course is one of the most used and most important websites on the Internet. As will be displayed below there are many ways in which YouTube has already effected the film industry and many more ways in which it can and should in the future.

Self-Shooting and First Person

The image of an arm disappearing off-frame where it is holding the camera is not uncommon in digital photography and not unheard of on YouTube. Some films have been shot first person meaning the film was self-conscious and aware and the person filming is a character, like The Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield and Diary of the Dead.

With so many vlogging and freely adjusting the camera while rolling it is an image that the people are now used to, and will accept this kind of image, and it wouldn’t be surprising if it started getting incorporated into narrative features more often than it is.



Viral Marketing

Several films have already taken to creating footage to be used only for their viral marketing purposes – most recently and notably a “leak” of footage for Cloverfield 2.  The buzz surrounding Paranormal Activity was also aided in part due to its trailer being on YouTube.

When original content was first created a few years ago solely for the purposes of promoting a film you knew that it was going to be, and it continues to be, a crucial part of marketing a film. Even if not creative no major release leaves either YouTube or Apple’s trailer site out of their promotional plans.

Jump Cuts

OK, so jump cuts are nothing new and have been a somewhat tolerated part of the language of film since the French New Wave but it is truly only through the fictional narratives created on YouTube, both crude and refined, that people have en masse truly accepted the fact that continuity is a contrivance which can be forsaken for effect, if necessary.

Even the music video, which planted this seed, never fully communicated this because very few have a coherent narrative. So it was really only when the everyman got on their home video camera or webcam and started to edit that the jump cut became not just acceptable but almost preferred.

Granted the jump cut isn’t predominant in feature films, however, films don’t feel the need to justify or feel timid about using them when they need to.

Mash-Ups

This is a concept original to video sites in their way. It takes the audio and visual associate with a song and presents an alternative to the remix and ultimately creates a new song. Yet the phrase mash-up was quickly re-appropriated to merely mean combining ideas and not so specific to music so it’s not inconceivable that the idea can be used to conjoin disparate ideas in one motion picture.

In a Hollywood littered with prequels, sequels, remakes and reboots it’s certainly within the realm of possibility.
 
Trailer Recuts

Another popular YouTube trend is to recut a trailer with carefully chosen dialogue and different music to make it seem like it was created for another genre altogether. One of the most famous examples is Mary Poppins as a horror film.

Now while this is usually just film enthusiasts having fun again we are in an age where executives are looking to repackage, re-brand and recycle wherever possible and considering the studios own the depictions of these films they created on screen it is not out of the realm of possibility that they go with an idea they find online, pay off the viral editor and go off and turn The Shining into a family film.

Pre-Makes

A recent trend in which modern era movies are spoofed as trailers from the golden age splicing footage from those old films to make it seem like the older star appeared in the newer film. A for example: Indiana Jones cut as if it was a 1950s serial or Ghostbusters in the 1950s.

An even more literal interpretation of this concept of using a bygone star in a modern idea could be accomplished through motion capture or 3D animation and a deal with the estate. If that sounds a little crass keep in mind Gene Kelly has posthumously danced with a vacuum cleaner so sometimes money does outweigh legacy unfortunately.

Handheld

Handheld imagery is already well accepted by modern audiences. However, the YouTube influence is that people will become so used to seeing wildly unsteady imagery that there will be less and less concern about stable images and Steadicam.

This could be a very bad thing in the case of Quantum of Solace the combination of handheld camera work, editing and rapidity of the fight render the action nearly incomprehensible.

The positive could be an added element of realism where a film would not feel the need to cut to a more stable image or a different angle and want to exploit the sense of realism the lack of cuts would create. Images don’t always have to be pretty so long as they are effective too many modern films fail in their hand holding on both accounts.

Video

It’s kind of obvious but needs saying regardless: save for the rare loon, such as yours truly, people are rarely uploading digitized film projects on to YouTube. They typically are all native to video in one form or another. So proponents of the digital revolution in the late 90s were indeed correct only premature.

Video is getting better looking all the time and people are used to it and will accept it unquestionably. Being consistently bombarded by video that’s in a resolution less than ideal on the Internet has aided the transition.

Fred

There are no history books likely to be written about what was the first video that was considered to have gone viral and even YouTube with its statistics keeping would be hard-pressed to quantify many statistics anymore considering how widespread usage of the site has become.

However, it was recently was announced that Fred, a YouTube persona created by teenager Lucas Cruikshank was optioned to a feature film. Should it come to fruition it would be the first concept to go from YouTube to a feature film. A few instances exist of YouTube inspiring commercials but nothing like this.

This would likely be a litmus test for other YouTube sensations in the film world (the music world has already been notably affected with Justin Bieber’s career owing its existence to YouTube popularity) but more than likely a few better, if not as popular people might get deals because of this and it would obviously be the most direct influence of YouTube on cinema: content.

Recently, a Uruguayan filmmaker signed a deal on the strength of his YouTube Short.

Casting

Troye Sivan in X-Men Origins: Wolverine


YouTube has already notably played a part in the casting of a major Hollywood motion picture. Troye Sivan gained notoriety on YouTube mainly just by singing a cappella and gaining attention including that of a casting agent. The agent got in contact with him and gauged his interest in acting and sent him out on a series of auditions. The first of which was for X-Men Origins: Wolverine.

He landed the role, played Young Logan and the rest is history. It is not likely the last story of that kind which will occur.
 

Photo Montage

Another popular motif on YouTube is that of the still picture montage. It is rarely a tag but is a very frequently used technique that could be effectively used in film because in an art form predicated on the moving image to stop the motion whether through a freeze frame or a still is a very powerful maneuver.

Recently, a very effective still picture montage was used at the end of The Hangover, which showed the audience the digital photos from their wild forgotten night.

Structure

This could be the way in which YouTube has the most potential to revolutionize conventional narrative cinema as we know it. Unless a user is uber-popular and they become a “content provider” you are limited to 10 minutes or less. Flow varies and structure is unheard of, however, that does not keep many videos from being quite entertaining and creative while not traditionally structured.

However, at this day and age what has traditional structure really gotten us anyway? At this point, in many cases, all structure does is facilitate unoriginal plotlines that are made in cookie-cutter forms. When something new and original comes along it typically at least bends if not breaks the rules of narrative form so it is not far-fetched to consider that the YouTube videomakers of today could be the cinematic mavericks of tomorrow.

Therefore I call upon the YouTube generation to continue shooting, editing and telling tales the way you want to tell them and the world will listen. If not now, soon.

Conclusion

These are just some of the small ways in which YouTube can affect films. Considering how slow the learning curve is in Hollywood the effect can still permute in the years to come and let us hope that it does. It may create fascinating if not always brilliant work. At this rate it is the only current forum that can be considered a vox populi. It is a movement in and of itself even if not self-conscious of it. For that reason alone the impact is likely to be felt because as studios seek to emulate the viral style they will think it was their idea in the first place but really it was ours and that would be the greatest victory of all.