Sunday, January 30, 2011

Thoughts on Linklater

According to Price, the thematic commonality in Linklater's films is that they all have to do with idleness. He seems to be trying to document daydreamers and idlers in the teen to post-college realms. Price also states that Linklater seems to be interested in the ideas between these characters and how an entire film can based on what they talk about. The reaction that each character has to the conversations also seems to be intriguing to him too.

I think what Wood meant when he wrote “style is the artists means of defining the relationship between the spectator to film,” is how a person feels about the events and conversations that are happening on screen. I think he’s trying to generate unspoken questions that come up within a person while watching these events and hearing these conversations.

After learning about how Linklater made this more of a collaborative film, it became more interesting and ‘real’ to me. I enjoyed learning that this film became personal for him, the actors and his screenwriting partner. I think his collaborative method makes for a more interesting film. The questions and thoughts that the characters have about life and death led me to think about some of my own. I can relate more to it now, though, since I know that these are the thoughts of these individuals outside of the film, too. I think the accidental meeting with the guys in the play about a cow was great and it would have been really interesting to have them actually have attended the play.

Film is the only medium that can capture real time, real moments, at that precise second that you want it. You can see expressions on characters' faces, as well as other events that relay emotion to the viewer. Writing can have the same effect too, but it would take a person much longer to write about a day in Vienna, than it would be to just film it and actually see it. I think being able to see something take place, as opposed to reading it, creates stronger emotion. Also, with film, you cannot miss the details of a certain moment in time.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

A Realistic Scene: Tape

The first film that came to mind for this assignment, partly because it’s been brought up in class a couple of times, was Tape, directed by Richard Linklater. Tape takes place in a tiny hotel room, where two characters – old friends who haven’t seen each other in a long time – have a long, rambling conversation which turns into an argument and a confrontation. There are several elements which give the film a very authentic feeling: the whole thing is shot in real time, the lighting and set are exactly what one might find in a cheap hotel room, and the plot is driven entirely by the dialogue.

There is a scene that takes place about halfway through the film where the two characters are facing each other across a small table; at this point the conversation has turned into an argument, where one character is trying to wheedle a confession out of the other. Instead of using two cameras which cut back and forth to the characters as they speak, one camera is used to swivel back and forth between them. As the argument escalates and the line delivery becomes more rapid, the camera has to swivel back and forth faster and faster. It produces a feeling of dizziness and frustration, getting the viewer into the same mood as the characters as the fight becomes more intense.

I thought that this was a very effective method of involving the audience in the tension of the scene. The back-and-forth camera movement seems to drag the viewer into the discussion as a third party looking from one character to the other. Since the film is entirely dialogue-driven, these kinds of camera tricks can help to engage the audience in what is happening and subtly influence the viewer’s emotional state.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Richard Linklater: Before Sunrise

Film history: the ferris wheel in The Third Man (the canted angles will also come up in Do The Right Thing) -- the same one where Jesse and Celine kiss:

Assignment: Required Reading & Writing

1. Here's an article by Brian Price, giving an overview of common themes in several of Linklater's films. It's a decent example of a kind of "auteurist" analysis, laying out the commonalities that make all the films seem like they come from the same personality:

2. Here's a very personal appreciation of Before Sunrise by the late critic Robin Wood. It's fussily written, but I like the informal, deliberately subjective nature of the piece. There are actually two essays on the page -- avoid the second piece if you want to avoid spoilers for Linklater's follow-up to Before Sunrise:

3. And here's a quote from Linklater, talking about time and film (he also talks about the "sequel" to Before Sunrise:

RS: One thing that ties your films together is that they seem to take place at one moment either before or after these defining thresholds of maturity. Tape, subUrbia, Dazed and Confused, Waking Life, School of Rock. Is this something you work towards, or a natural tendency?

Linklater: It must be just the way my mind works. My early ideas about film were that it could capture a certain realism of a time, that’s a thing film can do unlike other art forms, they can capture reality in that moment. What better time than some kind of pivotal moment in your life. I guess I always liked the idea of people who are in the process of discovering themselves. I think we check in with Julie and Ethan and find they’re still in that process. I think that process never ends, and I’ll gladly pull out a gun and shoot myself if I start making films in which I’ve found all my answers and I’m here to impart great knowledge or wisdom to others.

RS: What’s the difference between making Before Sunset in your forties, as opposed to Before Sunrise in your thirties?

Linklater: On those films, it’s an interesting mix because roughly I’m ten years older than them [Delpy and Hawke]. They’re inhabiting it at that moment and I’ve got a ten-year lag time. There I was in my early thirties, them in their early twenties, so I was looking back at a younger time and they’re in that moment.

RS: Before Sunset seems more like an exploration and experiment on the representation of time than a straightforward sequel. You’re looking at these actors as actors, as people, hearing them discuss the lines on their faces, almost like Michael Apted’s 7 Up documentaries.

Linklater: It’s rare you’re given the opportunity in narrative, given the limitations of film, to actually have the same characters, have existing footage of them nine years previous and be able to use that in your storytelling methodology. It’s a nice luxury, a nice element to deal with. Two people encountering each other after all that time, it was a lot of fun to play with the notion of this huge gap in time. This film is real time, 80 minutes of real time. Whereas the other one was 14-16 hours of what seems like real time. And that’s all separated by nine years of life. I think the big idea that makes Before Sunset even a possibility was the notion of making it in real time. It probably begged for a bigger epic structure and I thought about it over the years. Something more traditional, telling the story on different continents. But that never worked out, it never took hold. Maybe I was somewhat emboldened by the experience on Tape, experimenting with real time.

It was somewhere after Before Sunrise and SubUrbia, everyone started telling me I was telling stories within 24 hours or 12 hours, and I joked, someday I’ll make a movie that takes place in real time, like Bergman’s Winter Light is as long as the film itself. It seemed to me like the ultimate cinematic challenge. While it was very dramatic, Before Sunset is kind of the opposite. It’s not a traditional drama. It’s closer to just existing. It can’t help but have a little dramatic structure that we impose on it. But I really just wanted to capture two people existing. And let the context take care of itself. Time and cinema. Tarkovsky put it so eloquently in his book Sculpting in Time. He articulates it as well as anyone, cinema’s particular relation to time. I was always kind of moved by what he talked about. I guess my idea of storytelling drifts in that direction.

Your assignment, due before Wednesday's class, is to make a blog post with your responses to the following questions, which relate to the above readings.

For reading #1:

What are the thematic commonalities in Linklater's films, according to Price?

For reading #2:

What do you think Wood means when he writes "style is the artist's means of defining the relationship of the spectator to the film"?

And what do you think of Linklater's approach to making Before Sunrise, as described by Wood -- bringing in collaborative scriptwriting, giving the actors the opportunity to draw on their own personal histories to shape incidents and scenes, incorporating improvisation and "accidental" meetings with real people, like the actors in the "play about the cow"? Do any of those techniques give the film a greater claim on "reality" or "realism?"

For reading #3:

Write a few sentences giving your own ideas on how film, as an artistic medium, can have a unique relationship to time -- ways film can address time in a manner that writing, painting, theater, music, dance, etc., cannot.

Recommended/Optional Reading and Viewing

Reverse Shot Linklater interview (from which the above "cinema and time" quotes are taken -- the third page has some spoilers for Before Sunset, so you might want to skip that one):

Production history for Before Sunrise:

Linklater on Netflix instant:
The Newton Boys

Good Linklater films not on instant view:
Dazed and Confused
Waking Life
The School of Rock
Before Sunset
A Scanner Darkly

Virginia Wolf's 'Orlando', directed by Sally Potter.

Sally Potter directed the screen adaptation of Virginia Wolf's novel, 'Orlando: A Biography'.
Starring Tilda Swinton as Orlando (the book entirely fictional) reverberates the thin line between female and male. It meanders through the centuries starting in the Elizabethan age and ending in the current time (being 1992, when the film was shot).
     Orlando the immortal, changes from a man to a woman half way through the decades and encounters all that humans struggle with, love, sex, death, reasoning, philosophy, gender indifference, and nature.
     What I relate to and what Potter is able to capture, is the beautiful true frustratingly strange and fluid way humans interact with each other, of Orlando's struggle with these interactions and mastery of such and of being a human itself. Swinton shows these instense reflective moments in the close ups of her face when she looks directly into the camera, pause, then cut. In that silent moment you perceive a million words.

The Hurt Locker

It took me quite a while to think of a film or scene that felt "real" to me, which was surprising. I finally decided to use the recent film The Hurt Locker (2008) for my example. The film follows a team of elite Army EOD (Explosive Ordinance Disposal) technicians on their tour in modern day Iraq, with a heavily episodic structure. After the team suffers the death of their leader to an IED in the opening scene, they receive a wild and reckless replacement who compulsively dives into danger as if playing with death.

The Hurt Locker was filmed in a rough documentary style with mostly handheld shots. The use of a musical score is minimal, which isolate the scenes from external influence and emphasizes the scenes in which it is present. The film also uses a sense of pace that matches the events. I find this particularly in the scene in which the team finds themselves in a sniper exchange from extreme range along with a group of private military contractors. After the gunfight they wait and remain in position, and the pace slows way down as if to force the audience into the same tortuous and anxiety driven experience. These are all elements in which I believe contribute to the movie "feeling real".

I decided that there are two avenues in which a film can feel real. The first approach is to simply use accuracy and realism to attach the film to the real world. The second is use techniques that place the audience into the scene so as to experience it as participants. I make this distinction since I can not respectably attest to the accuracy of the film, but more importantly because I feel the film most effectively employs the second method I described. To me this film does a great job of embedding the audience into the episodic scenes. I believe one way it is able to do this is by only letting the audience know as much as the characters do at any given time. Rarely does the audiences experience exceed that of the characters'. For example, in the opening scene, the audience does not get to notice the suspicious character (who triggers the explosion) until any of the characters do.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A scene that felt very real

"In Her Shoes" is a studio film about two sisters, Rose the oldest and Maggie the youngest, and their very different lives. In the movie they end up parting ways due to Maggie's selfish and inmature actions. This leads them to find out that their maternal grandmother is alive (though their mother has passed).

About three-quarters of the way through the movie, the two sisters are at their grandmother's house in the bathroom; their first time together since their fight. In this scene we learn that the Rose knew all along that their mother did not die from a car accident, as Maggie had been told, but committed suicide. She also begins to tell her about how their mother had a mental illness, and Maggie never heard the fights that their parents would get into because Rose would take Maggie into her bedroom and turn the record player on so she would not hear them. Rose spent most of her life up to this point protecting Maggie.

This seemed very real because the camera shots jump back and forth between each sister depending on who is speaking. Each shot jumps from either being pretty close up on one sister, to jumping back for a minute to see the body language of the other sister. They are also having this conversation in a bathroom which, in my experience, seems to be the place where some serious discussions can end up taking place between women-or sisters for that matter.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Sundance 2011

The Sundance Festival kicked off it's 2011 edition this weekend -- for better or worse, Sundance is the contact point where indy film and mainstream culture most directly meet. The website for the festival is here:

And here are a few resources for ongoing coverage of the festival and the films making their premieres there. Here's coverage from the perspective of a couple critics working for the pop-culture arm of The Onion:

The Onion AV Club.

And here's coverage from a couple more "institutional" perspectives:

The Hollywood Reporter.


Lastly, from the "old news" department -- I had an animated short in the first iteration of Sundance's online component to the festival, back in 2001 -- I did a write-up about it for the Animated News Network. If you're interested in what the festival looked like from the point of view of an absolute small-fry, here it is: