Sunday, January 30, 2011

Because car chases are supposed to be sloppy

I have to go to an obscure Italian-produced film from 1976 for my favorite movie chase scene - Alberto De Martino's insanely fascist "Una Magnum Special per Tony Siatta" (aka "Blazing Magnum," "Strange Shadows in an Empty Room"), which was Italy's answer to "Dirty Harry.”

The chase in question takes place midway in the film and careens for an amazing nine-plus minutes. It’s a spectacle of vehicular mayhem that starts on car-clogged city streets, with chaser and chasee fishtailing around corners, flying over embankments and burning rubber the wrong way down one way streets.

De Martino must have loved one shot so much - where two cars get full air after bursting over a hill - that he shows it four times but from different angles. This multi-angled shot is accentuated by an explosion of music composed by Armando Trovajoli that only makes the proceeds all the more bizarre.

The cars in the chase take an impossible amount of punishment but bystanders parked along the streets are not safe from being slaughtered (one is heaved off of a jack while some luckless soul changes a tire) and pedestrians are seen running for their lives as out-of-control vehicles throttle down on them – it makes you wonder how much of this insanity was improvised.

Note, too, how wonky the editing is in this sequence - there are multiple shot formations in use here: close-ups of the drivers (one being Stuart Whitman) in their cars, long shots of careening vehicles, POV shots with cameras placed on bumpers, medium shots of spinning tires – no CGI here, just sheer old-school filmmaking bravado.

The cars end up hauling down a 45-degree embankment landing on some out-of-place country road, into a small town where they encounter a moving freight train. But - no worries - both cars leap over the train in a jaw dropping stunt, which Quentin Tarantino obviously drooled over.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Blogdanovich by Peter Bogdanovich

The indieWIRE blog network looks retro-Internet with its blocky design, large fonts...and, boy, is it blue. Well, I mean its pallette, which is a range of said blueness. But then again, is designed in many shades of blue so blue may very well be the hot Internet color du jour.

That said, indieWIRE lays out like a 1970s teen magazine or some celebrity rag with screaming headlines and a cacophony of ads. And its all about movies. Its tagline is "filmmakers. biz. fans."

(indieWIRE is a "SnagFilms" company. is "a website where you can watch full-length documentary films for free, but we’re also a platform that lets you “snag” a film and put it anywhere on the web.")

(That's an interesting concept and if you don't know about it and love documentaries, check it out. The video images are high-def quality, even when streaming via a DSL hook up. Really quite awesome for documentary buffs as well as documentary newbies.)

indieWIRE includes a handful of bloggers who write on film - the process, historical info, criticism, festivals.

But buried amongst the movie bloggers on indieWIRE is Peter Bogdanovich, who's stellar blog, called Blogdanovich, is focused on, what he terms, the "Golden Age" of cinema, including movies directed by those filmmakers Bogdanovich got to know as the "Golden Age" was coming to an end, probably in the early 1960s.

Peter Bogdanovich is no nostalgist, he cut his movie making teeth at around the same time Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Arthur Penn, Dennis Hopper and others turned their backs on the "Golden Age" by producing films outside of the studio system.

Even so, Bogdanovich has an encyclopedic knowledge of the movie makers from that studio era. Blogdanovich is terrifically written without getting bogged down in filmmaking "techno-speak." So if you're curious as to why some filmmakers place a camera a certain way to achieve a certain shot, look no further than Bogdanovich's post analyzing Jean Renoir's film THE SOUTHERNER. According to Bogdanovich, its all about poetry:

"What distinguishes the real film poets is their use of the camera to convey meanings and reverberations beyond the geography of place or the needs of the narrative. Camera placement, and therefore the composition, the lens choices, the lighting of the image, the camera’s movement, the particular juxtaposition of images, are all in the grammar for conveying hidden aspects of the tale or people—-exposing a part of the theme, or the true meaning beyond simply the plot—-endorsing, subverting, enriching the more obvious qualities of setting or performance."

Bogdanovich also drops forehead-slapping factoids into his posts. For instance, I had no idea that Stanley Kubrick was on the short list of directors for Marlon Brando's ONE-EYED JACKS. When Brando gave Kubrick three minutes to speak about why he should direct the film, Kubrick supposedly told Brando to "go fuck yourself." Brando ended up taking the helm of ONE-EYED JACKS. And Kubrick? Well...let's just say Brando directed only one movie...and that was ONE-EYED JACKS (which, in 1961, was one of the first subversive "post-westerns" pre-dating Sam Peckinpah's THE WILD BUNCH by eight years. Peckinpah, by the way, helped pen ONE-EYED JACKS, though he was uncredited).

I also did not know that Jerry Lewis was credited with inventing "video-assist monitors," which allow filmmakers to view a video version of a take immediately after its filmed. Lewis used a video camera on his film THE BELL BOY way back in 1960.

I've seen Peter Bogdanovich interviewed and always find him compelling, if not a tad arrogant, because of his breadth of cinematic knowledge. He's a cinematic expert and became a conduit for Hollywood filmmaking as a young man wanting to learn the trade in the best way he could.

In his early days as an up and coming filmmaker, Bogdanovich figured that by interviewing the likes of Orson Welles, John Ford, Alfred Hitchock, George Cukor, and others, he'd learn the trade from the inside. Which he did. He was a filmmaking force in the late '60s and early '70s - he directed TARGETS, THE LAST PICTURE SHOW (Bogdanovich's own example of what could be termed cinematic poetry), WHAT'S UP DOC?, PAPER MOON, DAISY MILLER, to name just a few.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

It isn't about the dance

When's the last time you saw a truly inspiring dance sequence in a movie? How about now?

From the Giorgos Lanthimos film "Dogtooth (Kynodontas)" -

The first week

The first week of 2011 was challenging. Assignments at work were mountainous, growing larger with each coming week.

Good, they say - as you'd rather be hyper-busy than without work at all, right?

But that doesn't alleviate stress levels.

Monday-Friday flew by due to impending deadlines that approached quickly. Want your week to fly?

Accumulate deadlines.

Personally, I don't want my weeks to fly by like that.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

The future's uncertain...and the end is always near

Hearing "Roadhouse Blues" by the Doors for the first time at 19 years old expanded my mind and led me toward a deeper understanding of rock music.

Lyrically, "Roadhouse Blues" confronts a tenuous future. Its a nihilistic song contemplating the inevitable "end" that's always at your fingertips. Read it as prophetic regarding Jim Morrison's life or read it as response to your own.

While not advocating waking up to a bottle of beer, I do get the song's sentiment - what difference does it make when confronting an uncertain future?