Archive for March 16, 2009

How To Be Meaningless

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on March 16, 2009 by dcairns

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I casually picked up a couple of Hitchcock books in the library, only realising later that one of them was Donald Spoto’s The Art of Alfred Hitchcock, which I probably wouldn’t have given the time of day to if I’d realised what it was. But it’s actually full of useful stuff, and his film analysis isn’t too bad. On MURDER! ~

“Finally, the film hints at the expressionism to which Hitchcock had been exposed in Germany. There is a marvellous opening shot, a long pan down the side of a slightly surreal tenement.”

OK, so the shot is actually the second of the film, and it’s a tracking shot, not a pan, and he means that the building is designed with expressionistic distortions, rather than surreal in some other way. But one can largely see what he’s getting at, and the description bears some resemblance to the film.

By contrast, I was looking at If It’s Purple, Someone’s Gonna Die: The Power of Color in Visual Storytelling, by Patti Bellantoni, which is a really good IDEA for a book… but the first disappointment comes in realising that the films being looked at are a rather mainstream bunch. True, Nicholas Ray rates a mention for his use of red in REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE, but WORKING GIRL rates a higher page count. If I started to list the films that aren’t mentioned, we would all probably start to cry. Suffice to say that there’s no Tashlin and Lewis, no LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN, no RED SHOES and BLACK NARCISSUS, nothing on Vittorio Storaro’s work with Bertolucci, nothing on Demy or Tati or Hitchcock. Although Bellantoni has talked to Hitch’s production designer, Robert Boyle, she preferred to ask him about THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR, rather than, say, VERTIGO.

But that’s all fine. As long as the examples used lead to some good observations, it doesn’t matter much what they are, and choosing films familiar to the modern readership makes sense. I’m now going to open the book at random and type what I see ~

“When we see horrible actions taking place in a blue atmosphere, we can identify with the helplessness of the victims.” (On THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION.)

I flip a few pages, again at random ~

“Appearing as a visual non-sequiteur, bright red-orange (as from the bowels of the earth) shoots geyser-like out of the jungle: a warning without warning coming from the darkness.” (On APOCALYPSE NOW.)

“Maybe critics didn’t mention green because once you acknowledge its presence you need a syntax to place it in and that syntax is visceral and intuitive. It’s clearly a stylisation with no reference except to itself.” (Cuaron’s GREAT EXPECTATIONS.)

“Even the reds in this film have an orange cast, which makes us respond to them more intensely.” (THE GODFATHER.)

Not untrue, just meaningless. It’s not far from Ryan O’Neal in BARRY LYNDON: “I love the artist’s use of the colour blue.” Bellantoni diagnoses how she feels about the scene, describes the colours, and then simply asserts that the colours cause or intensify the emotion. She mentions her “research” and “experiments” a lot, but rarely gives any concrete examples of what they consist of, beyond watching movies with audiences. There’s a lot of colour theory out there to draw upon, but it isn’t referenced. Famous painters’ names do not appear in the index. And Bellantoni insists on discussing one colour at a time, although the contrasts of different colours are responsible for many of the psychological effects to be found in visual art, and of course movies rarely deal in single colours, unless they’re Derek Jarman’s BLUE.

Patti Bellantoni is a member of the faculty of the Conservatory of the American Film Institute.

Fiona points out that it’s terrible I’m saying this, because the book was a present. Sorry, Eric, but as you can see, your gift did come in handy!

The Big Hat

Posted in FILM with tags , , on March 16, 2009 by dcairns

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Bob Baker’s ten-gallon hat goes up to eleven.

From BORDER WOLVES, a singing cowboy film directed by Joseph H Lewis…

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…nicknamed “Wagonwheel”.

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