Archive for Ozu

Debonair

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Sport, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 31, 2018 by dcairns

Slow news day. And I’m now heading into Hell, as my viewing of feature film submissions for Edinburgh Film Festival crashes into my viewing of short films as applications for Edinburgh College of Art Film & Television Department. There will be hundreds of features and hundreds of shorts. So, probably no time for watching ANYTHING apart from snatches of BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA and I can’t write about any of the films I see for eminently reasonable privacy reasons.

BUT — my friend Travis, an ace sound editor, got in touch the other day and mentioned a clip he was going to use in a class of sound designers. It’s his favourite bit from RAGING BULL, with the mysterious close-ups of coffee cups and a coffee cup HANDLE. Scorsese is still doing these giant detail shots in SILENCE and WOLF OF WALL STREET, where Jonah Hill spots Leo’s car and it fragments into what Werner might call ECSTATIC SNAPSHOTS. The whole sequence is such a compendium of unusual choices, maybe I can just talk about THAT today.

It’s 11 am. on Wednesday the 31st of January. Watch me run a 50-yard dash with my legs cut off.We’re an hour into Scorsese’s 1980 monsterpiece. Joe Pesci as Joey La Motta slams Frank Vincent as Salvy’s head in a taxi cab door in a fit of pique. It’s a scene of high noise and chaos, the violent blows underplayed if anything in favour of the vocal panic of onlookers. Then, Scorsese and his mixing team do something very curious.

All the din fades down, while the onscreen action remains furious (though we do withdraw to a more placid, distant high angle, almost a Hitchcock God shot) and Mascagni’s Barcarolle bleeds in, wafting a discordant gentleness over the brutish proceedings. (Scorsese has talked about how the violence he saw in the streets as a kid was often accompanied by wildly contrapuntal love songs on neighbourhood radios, so that the more literal accompaniment he heard in the movies always seemed terribly mediocre.) Emotion recollected in tranquility.Then we cut to the Debonair Social Club, which should be hilarious in contrast to the preceding skull-cracking, but the music and the wideness of the shot kind of quashes the humour, deliberately. Scorsese cuts to the sign AFTER, to avoid making the joke quite coalesce. I don’t know what Travis was going to talk about in class, except that he was struck by how this rainy street scene, with a man running by to get out of the downpour, has no rain FX and no footsteps foley. Just the music, so this transitional mood overlay, which is not emotionally appropriate in any obvious way for the fight scene or the resulting negotiation we’re about to see, dominates the soundtrack and, in one very practical sense, smoothes over the gear change from one to the other.

More detail shots: the club license, framed respectably on the wall (these mob places are impossible to get into if you’re not, ahem, in the club: but I *think* maybe they filmed in a real joint. And it was slightly awkward, iirc.)  Then, as we get details of coffee-making and cups, we hear the gentle voice of “Coach” from Cheers, Nicholas Colasanto, smoothing the ruffled feathers and making nice with Pesci and the heavily bandaged Vincent, which is where the scene DOES allow some humour to break loose.

The voice is so low and reasonable and soothing, it’s the first thing that really makes sense with the music, though the circumstances still seem some considerable ironic distance from the plot of Silvano, Mascagni’s “sea-faring drama.”

That coffee-cup handle… so mysterious. How does one think of something like that. And what does it do? it makes us see an object, really SEE it, in a new way. It gives a great impression of DAINTINESS. You can sort of picture an invisible pinky sticking out as this cup is raised. Again, this could be funny, but isn’t, exactly.Cut to card-players’ hands, with a used coffee cup — is Ozu an influence here? I had been thinking Kurosawa — the bit where Mifune chooses the name Sanjuro by looking at a cornfield in YOJIMBO comes to mind — but using the idea of a coffee cup to dance from the kitchen or bar to the front of the establishment seems very like the way Ozu’s detail shots can transport us through space-time on a thread of mental connections between objects. “You don’t raise your hands,” Colasanto is saying, which is the most specific sound-picture connection we’ve had so far.

And STILL we don’t see the man talking, we just get a wider shot of the calm, stolid card-players.So, if this is what you’ve been doing, you need to keep it up, right? So now we finally go to the group this scene is about, and Colasanto’s voice has finally faded up to full volume (still soft and throaty), but instead of showing the speaker, we’re on the listeners, the patched-up Salvy and the glowering Joey, sort of trying to look like an altar boy, an amusing thing to see as Colasanto waves a hand and says, his back to us, “Now, we’ve heard everyone’s point of view…”

We only see the room in a wide shot when this part of the interview is over, which allows a sort of mental reset for the next piece of business —Finally, by now, the music has finished fading down, so slowly you don’t notice it leaving. It’s replaced by an almost totally inaudible piece of diegetic music playing somewhere, slight atmospheric creaks and clicks and fidgeting noises, the sounds of general movement in the club, but almost no except those of the principles, despite the fact that people seem like they’re probably talking in the background if you think about it realistically, and maybe the distant clank and rumble of an elevated train.

OK, it’s 11.39, time for me to get on with my day…

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Ohayo!

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on May 25, 2017 by dcairns

Just got my complimentary copies of GOOD MORNING from Criterion. I’ve made a video essay for the disc, entitled Transcendental Style and Farting, about Ozu’s use of humour. Stephen Horne edited it and Danny Carr did the special effects — yes, special effects! We’ve worked together on a few extras and Danny also did the bulk of the FX work on THE NORTHLEACH HORROR. He is Scotland’s leading compositing genius.

I was fascinated — as how can you not be? — by Ozu’d gridlike living spaces, and his empty frames which linger after the characters have shuffled out of shot. I suggested to Danny he could disassemble the rooms into sliding panels, just for fun. A very fifties effect — think Saul Bass title sequences as in SEVEN YEAR ITCH. It made for a very nice set of interstitial bits, that draw attention playfully to Ozu’s compositional tropes.

Danny’s rendition of this surpassed all expectations — one of those things that just instantly WORKED, no fine-tuning required.

GOOD MORNING is available now. When you press PLAY these rooms will magically fill up with people!

 

Three floral arrangements and a Sunday Intertitle

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on January 22, 2017 by dcairns

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(1) WOMAN IN THE MOON (Fritz Lang)

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(2) PASSING FANCY (Yasujirô Ozu)

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(3) ERASERHEAD (David Lynch)

The necessary background: arrangement one has been destroyed, absent-mindedly, by a distraught would-be astronaut during a telephone call; arrangement two has been destroyed very deliberately by a distraught schoolboy in a horticultural tantrum; arrangement three has not been destroyed. That’s as good as it was ever meant to look.

I touched base with the Lynch again when discussing sound design with students, re-watched the Lang for an upcoming project (Fiona, to my surprise, had never seen it) and the Ozu is part of a programme of viewing designed to make me fit for yet another project. Let’s talk about the Lang a little.

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The colossal, industry-busting size of METROPOLIS must have left the Lang-Von Harbou team in a bit of a bind. They wouldn’t want their next film to be an anticlimax, but they couldn’t realistically top what had gone before. Their eventual follow-up sprang from an abandoned idea for the previous super-epic’s climax in which the heroes would finally blast off into space (THINGS TO COME would eventually follow a comparable structure) and allowed them to make a slightly more modest film with a spectacular vertical ascent. So it was something different anyway. The advent of sound would allow the team to take M in an entirely different direction and not worry about gigantism as a goal.

While some compliment WOMAN IN THE MOON for inventing the countdown, I say it deserves more praise for correctly predicting that the first interplanetary travelers would walk the lunar surface wearing chunky knitwear and jodhpurs.

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Whatever that weird experiment was that Lang was performing with his actors in METROP — a range of emotion starting in a kind of feverish hysteria and ending in complete meltdown — he’s abandoned it in favour of a lighter tone and somewhat more naturalistic perfs. Though Fritz Rasp can never be adequately captured by a word like naturalistic. Germany’s leading Backpfeifengesicht, he seems to really exult in being repellent, this time perfecting his gloating smirk from beneath an askew smear of oily Hitler-hair that seems to have been poured onto his scalp like syrup. A pre-echo of Gary Oldman in THE FIFTH ELEMENT.

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Rasp and his hair

The first section of the film has more sweetness than any other Lang of its era, with sentimental sympathy for its outcast rocket scientist and his devoted young chum. (The scientist is introduced hurling an interloper downstairs, just like Professor Challenger in Doyle’s The Lost World.) Then a kind of Mabuseian paranoia takes hold as Rasp and his cohort of shadowy industrialists force their way into the moon mission.

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Complicated intertitular thing: the announcer in the upper left is live action, the rest of the frame is a still image, and the words are animated, flying out from the announcer to vanish bottom of frame: “The spaceship (weltraumschiff) has reached the launch pad.”

Then there’s the launch and the journey — the intentionally juvenile aspect of the story is clinched by the presence of a schoolboy stowaway.

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Then the stuff on the moon, where the team is beset with treachery, cowardice and, yes, lunacy, as well as a violently unstable romantic triangle. Though I’ll never stop boosting METROPOLIS, in its restored version, as a gripping story as well as a historically important epic, a case could be made for FRAU IM MOND as an easier sell if you’re thinking of introducing students or anyone else to German silent cinema.