Ants in Your Plants of 1941


Today I was supposed to be in New York but flight got pushed back. Something to do with a slight snowfall. Daniel Riccuito of The Chiseler reports that the sky is basically solid snowflakes, drifting UPWARDS. Which sounds fine — the ground will be cleared in no time. It’s just the sky you have to worry about. Walk in a crouch, New York, and you’ll be alright. But I can see how an atmosphere composed entirely of frozen water would make air traffic problematic.

So I go tomorrow, arriving at the Walter Reade Theater hopefully just in time for the 3,15 screening of NATAN as part of the New York Jewish Film Festival. I will be lugging my luggage, tired and wired, but hopefully coherent enough for a cogent Q&A. And then another screening 8.45 the same day. Hope to see you there, weather permitting.

Meanwhile, there is time to tell you about SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS, on Blu-Ray from the Criterion Collection. I made a video essay for this, aided by editor Stephen Horne and graphic designer Danny Carr who gets a special shout-out here for an amazing 40s-style animated title sequence, sampled above. Since the Coen Brothers swiped one title from John L. Sullivan’s fictional filmography (O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU?) I wanted to grab another. It was this or HEY-HEY IN THE HAY LOFT. The conversations then came to be about what a title for such a film might consist of. Danny surpassed all expectations by combining the pull-back-thru-lettering device of THE PALM BEACH STORY with the animated characters of THE LADY EVE, all in a convincing early forties style despite working with computer rather than cel animation. I’m blown away by his work.

The piece also features an interview with Bill Forsyth, a fan of the film who explains how it influenced him. This was folded into my script after I wrote it, much as I did with Richard Lester’s interview for my A HARD DAY’S NIGHT piece. One of these days I’ll manage to do the interview first and then write the VO around it, like a sane person.

You can pre-order this magnificent product here —

Sullivan’s Travels [Blu-ray]

I’m really chuffed with how it turned out!


9 Responses to “Ants in Your Plants of 1941”

  1. Bon Voyages!! wrap warm! do you have hiking boots?

  2. David, it was a thrill and an honour to be involved. Enjoy yourself in New York.

    I’m not sure about the technicalities of The Palm Beach Story pull-backs, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they were using the same set-up they used for the moving split-screen end scene, which appears to be some sort of very early motion control rig. Beyond his brilliance with dialogue and memorably lunatic characters, there are also quite a few moments of technical show-offy brilliance in Preston’s filmography (the track into Rex Harrison’s eyeball in Unfaithfully Yours is another one).

  3. It could be a motorized dolly with a fixed speed, I guess. I assume they pulled back from extreme closeup on each glass plate with a title on it, and multiple-exposed them in sequence, which gives the effect of pulling back THROUGH a whole series of panels.

    For such a shot, you MIGHT not need a machine, a good dolly grip could probably match speed closely enough.

    But for the closing shot, yeah, Sturges the inventor steps in!

    There’s a kind of motion control shot in Red River, where the camera pans 360. Hawks didn’t have enough cows to fill the landscape, so he filled half of it, panned on a motorized turntable, then moved the cows to the other side of a telegraph pole and did it again. A careful wipe following the telegraph pole turns the two shots into one and doubles the bovine population.

    Hawks was an engineer…

  4. Randy Cook Says:

    Pull back on moving split screen happens w/o titles, with the shot ending as the priest enters (so it’s an optical printer shot, probably, with a motorized, repeatable pull back ) Then they cut to close coverage. Then for final pull back I suspect they have a process plate with a an optical of the split screen, or maybe they did split screen IN CAMERA, so they wouldn’t be re-photographing a plate which had already been duped. But the edges of screen appear to be obscured with (miniature) set dressing, and process screen is thus already miniaturized a bit, reducing some of the grain from dupe. Pull back on that (with two pieces of optical glass in matte box). Get lens just past plane of first title glass (clear of lettering). Remove first optical glass from matte box and put title glass in easel (you must retain exposure, and shooting thru a glass loses you about 1/4 stop, if I remember correctly). Pull back to next glass, take out 2nd glass from matte box, insert 2nd title glass. Must be done frame at a time, of course.

  5. Wow! I understand about a third of that, but I *am* a trifle jet-lagged, sitting here in the Walter Reade Theater, New York. I shall alert Danny who will be better able to process these process shots.

  6. Randy Cook Says:

    You understand about a third of that because of the Palinesque incoherence of the post. Apologies.

  7. I tried again and was fine up until “matte box”. Now, I know what that is/was, but don’t know enough about how it can be used in this context.

  8. Randy Cook Says:

    Since you don’t want to change your exposure during the shot, here’s the work-around. Set the exposure for your BG (in this case, process plate with the happy couples at the ceremony). Having determined f/stop you then open up half stop on top of that. You have to “move through” 2 glass sheets onto which the letters of the titles are affixed. Each title glass title glass will lose you 1/4 stop exposure. So before you get into position behind the first title glass (which cannot be in place while the camera is trucking backward), the camera itself has to carry 2 “optical flats” (pieces of glass) in front of the lens. Those can be carried in a filter holder in the matte box, Carl Denham- style. Again, the first portion of the shot, w/o titles, is photographed at the base exposure OPENED UP 1/2 stop to accommodate the 2 optical flats which the matte box carries. You get to the first title glass plane, and remove one optical flat (which raises exposure by 1/4 stop, to 1/4 stop under yr base exposure). But then the title glass is put in place, which returns you to 1/2 stop under. Continue to next position with camera carrying 1 optical flat (-1/4 stop) and shooting thru one title glass (-1/4 stop) . Get to next title glass position, remove remaining optical flat and position second title glass, and continue with exposure constant throughout shot. Or, farm it out to India or China and let them worry about it.

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