Archive for Antonioni

Short sharp shots

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on August 31, 2022 by dcairns

Orson Welles said that you should edit in such a way that the really beautiful shots are kept brief. Of course he didn’t always follow this practice himself, but in his montage sequences in THE TRIAL, CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT or THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND you can see this in operation. A very brief but breathtaking shot makes the audience take notice, creates a different kind of tension, which has nothing to do with dramatic tension but can work alongside or in place of it: the feeling that if we blink we might miss something wondrous. They go by so fast we snatch at them with our memory banks.

This idea may lie behind Welles’ dislike of Antonioni, who he accused of lingering on things beyond the point they can sustain interest. “Are we going to see her disappear over the horizon? … yes.” It’s not really accurate, but Antonioni does serve up shots that are visually gorgeous and which you get time to appreciate.

Fellini seems to have gotten Welles message. Sometimes, in AMARCORD, he just can’t help himself and a picturesque image will be allowed to just exist, with no immediate threat of a cut to curtail it. But all the images quoted here are only a few seconds at most. Far from subliminal, but fleeting. They make me want a coffee table book. And then I remember that I have one, and it’s NOT ENOUGH. A true Fellini coffee table book would be ten thousand pages deep and smash any coffee table on earth with its weight.

5) Firenze – Zeffirelli

Posted in FILM, Sport with tags , , , , on March 9, 2022 by dcairns

So, we’ve got from A (Antonioni) to Z (Zeffirelli) in 12 REGISTI PER 12 CITTA’ but we still have seven little films to look at. Franco Z isn’t my favourite Italian director by a long chalk, but his episode is admirable — which is surprising to me because I hate football and his episode is all about the football.

Previous entries have either completely ignored (Antonioni, Bertolucci) the upcoming sporting event (the 1990 FIFA World Cup, apparently) or shoehorned a quick name-check in at the end (Lizzani). Obviously I prefer the first approach (take football money and make something elegant that has nothing to do with football) and obviously the second approach is inelegant, but Zeffirelli’s film is fairly elegant and has an approach that uses the sport to showcase the beauty of his chosen (or assigned) city and gives you some history without ramming facts down your throat like a tour guide, as Lizzani had done.

Basically, Zeffirelli shows people playing football in different locations and different historical periods. His film is attractively photographed by Daniele Nannuzzi (YOUNG TOSCANINI) and is scored by Ennio Morricone. It manages to look much more expensive than the earlier instalments — one wonders if FZ managed to squeeze more loot from his backers or if he was just really good at getting the money onscreen. He’d certainly had practice at that.

All he needed to make this a perfect little gem was a series of match-cuts so that the football flies from one game to another, travelling through time and linking all the scenes. This he somehow fails to do, perhaps because the games are real and though he’s got a lot of nice coverage he hasn’t got the precise material for beautiful matches. There are a few rough stabs at creating matches, creating a false cinematic geography and history, but it’s not quite as achieved as it ought to be. But it certainly looks nice and sounds nice and you get the impression that the filmmaker actually likes the beautiful game, or anyway the boys who play it. Not that his enjoyment is impure — I guess for anyone who appreciates sport, delighting in healthy bodies doing impressive athletic things is an essential element, as with ballet. Watching football through a gay filmmaker’s eyes gives me a slightly increased appreciation of it as a festivity (we’re not keeping score here) rather than as a competition. Which is more than I expected anyone to be able to do.

The Imperfect View

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 12, 2022 by dcairns

The teleplay Prescription Murder (1968) contains one of the earliest manifestations of Lt. Columbo — played for the first time by Peter Falk.

Here’s a bold touch by director Richard Irving, a typically prolific TV director who worked in that medium exclusively from the early fifties to the mid-eighties, having begun as an actor and then a dialogue director at RKO.

He has a gigantic scene to cover, a two-hander played out on a single set — the set of another, unknown TV show — I would assume they thriftily recycled something already built — eight and a half minutes long. Quite hard to keep something like that visually lively enough to sustain interest, though he’s helped by the fact that people rarely really WATCH television. So if you get bored of this one set and two faces, you can look at your kitchen or something.

But Irving CARES, he does something, as I say, bold. He lets both his actors turn their backs on us, and holds on a static wide for forty-three seconds. Continuous dialogue from Columbo, who is a bit meaner here than we’re used to seeing.

Irving escapes the charge of boredom with this prolonged and sort-of inexpressive angle, which robs us of much of his capable thesps’ performances (Falk and Katherine Justice). The reason there’s no tedium seems to me that a sustained shot creates its own kind of tension — we start wondering, even if only unconsciously, how long this is going to keep up. A sustained shot with no faces in it has a redoubled power, because we really can’t believe they’re holding on this.

“Cinema is just like theatre,” said Brit director David Leland, a one-hit wonder, “only there’s only one seat, and it always has to be the best.” Which is sort of true, but only sort of. It excludes all the stuff about camera movement and editing which makes cinema quite different from theatre, and it also implies, even if Leland didn’t intend it, that the director’s job is to provide a perfect view of the action, allowing the audience to feel they have the best seat. This holds true for much of the time, but is also pernicious nonsense. Think of cinematographer William A. Fraker’s account of this shot in ROSEMARY’S BABY:

Polanski had asked Fraker to set up a shot from Rosemary’s (Mia Farrow) POV looking through the doorway at Ruth Gordon. Fraker set up something he thought was pretty decent, affording a nice view. Polanski looked at it and shook his head. He moved everything until he got the above composition. Fraker couldn’t understand it at all, until he saw the film with an audience and every head in the cinema tilted to one side to try to see past the doorframe.

Both the examples are from ’68 but that’s just one of those coincidences. I’m not setting that year up as some kind of golden age of the imperfect view, although maybe such a thing is possible. Maybe the influence of, say, Antonioni, who could hold a shot and exclude stuff… But Irving may have been influenced instead by Jack Webb, who churned out Dragnet with tremendous speed and simplicity, milking his shots until they squeaked.

Yes, I’ve bought a Columbo box set, seasons 1-7. May cut into my film viewing. But hopefully it will give rise to some more observations like this one.