Meeting P.T. Anderson Update (26/7/15)

The 30th test video is now complete using found footage from There Will Be Blood (2007), I can’t believe I have made so many in a few months. They all vary, some are stronger than others. I think I need to take time out to evaluate where I am with all of these videos. I will of course be looking at both Punch Drunk Love (2002) and Inherent Vice (2014) which are breaks away from the usual drama we find in Paul Thomas Anderson’s work, its as if he needs to take a break from it all to relax, before coming back once more with something great again. Not to take away from these two lighter films they have things I still want to work with further.

This latest video is a move away from what I have done previously, allow the idea to really run the piece more than the content. I could be reworking older tests to see what else can be made from them. I’m happy with the look and the pace of this video. Its unexpected, funny and quite dark at times. Probably dictated by the audio which closes the scene and film, having only audio allows your imagination to run away with itself, it becomes harder to watch.

Meeting P.T. Anderson Update (25/7/15)

The postcards have arrived and I have focused on photographing them today. I had to consider the background for each one, considering how it would add or take away from the piece in terms of the tone of the video. This is going to be a piece in its own right, a lot more effort is going into the making of it. With a physical piece also being produced I can’t deny.

I was going to buy material for these backgrounds, when I realised that I had a wealth of material in my studio which I could make use of instead. I’m hoping that they will when the video is pieced together produce visuals that add to the dialogue from the scene.

I have also considered the inclusion of found footage which has been largely unsuccessful, so for now this will remain postcard/photographic based. I can see a future in producing more pieces like this, transforming how the audience experiences a scene from a film.

High Noon (1952) Revisited

High Noon (1952)High Noon (1952) was thought to be “un-American” by the most American of actors John Wayne until later in life when time was able to make things clearer. On the surface a town turns against it’s sheriff in its darkest hours. As three men await the arrival of newly released convict Frank Miller (Ian MacDonald) who has come to even a score against Marshall Will Kane (Gary Cooper) who five years ago put him behind bars. His past has come back to haunt him. If we look beyond the harsh statement made by the Duke – Un-American, what defines America? It’s a big question to answer which could draw a lot of answers, some good, some bad. I’m not sure what my answer would be. A young country that grew up fast, tamed a country and re-shaped in it the shape of an idea, of dreams. A country that prides itself of self-sufficiency, to better yourself. Whilst on the other hand we have wild gun-play under the guise of the right to bear arms, which recently has seen countless innocent people killed in massacre after massacre. I could go on, when I think the Western would not be half the genre without that six-barreled weapon that helped defend and give birth to a nation. A very flawed and sad statement but still holds some truth.

The freedom of expression is another ideal that was discussed in High Noon as one industry was having a witch-hunt, weeding out creatives just for their political beliefs, if they weren’t a Republican or Democrat they’re seen as Communist. Pressured to admit to things that may even not be true. The town of Hollywood as reflected in the frontier town that was looked down upon by the North who at the time was at war. As a town turns against one of their own for one reason or another. Today we would see these reasons as poor, stand-up and be counted, defend yourself. That’s what it is to be American, either as an individual or a group, to stand up and be counted, and respected.

The towns-people in Wild West terms are cowards, yellow and weak. Even as the Duke says the women want the men to fight, hiding behind words and ideas that they could just out there, part of the Marshall’s posse, what a different film this would be. Then writers such as Carl Foreman were left out in the cold by his colleagues and friends in Hollywood. A powerful reflection of the once respected turn against at the slightest sign of trouble. For a whole town to turn against you in your hour of need, even your newly married Quaker wife (Grace Kelly) is not what you really need.

OK context aside and time to see High Noon as just a film, well that’s not really going to happen, it is the backbone of this tense western where the tension and drama just gets hotter and hotter. There is no real relief as Marshall Kane goes from the saloon to the church in hopes of recruiting his posse. Whilst out of town Millers gang waiting his arrival, switching back and forth as the 80 minutes before his arrival passing by. The short running time adds to that illusion, believed, edited to be real-time, which didn’t work-out this time I viewed the film. This suggest that the passage of time only adds to the drama, it becomes all the more real as not only the town is turning against him, so is the passing of the last hour potentially the last hour of his life. The more times you see a clock you believe time is slipping through you hands like grains of sand, becoming precious things you can’t get back.

You cannot forget Tex Ritter‘s title song that plays throughout, acting as Kane’s conscience is eating away at him. Or the town taunting him as he walks the lonely streets as they all run-away from him. The song is his inner soul torturing him that lingers. Whilst his newly wed wife Amy who would rather run-away than stand by her man as he feels duty and honor bound to see of Frank Miller  dead or himself. He’s seen as the only American in the film you can respect. Played by Cooper one of only a few actors who could embody that ideal to the world. 

We look into Kane’s past in the town, how he has affected those around him, both good and bad. There are only a few who will standby him and that’s just not enough to fend off Frank Miller. We as an audience find ourselves frustrated at this ludicrous statements as they all turn away from him. He has a supporter in his old flame Helen Ramírez (Katy Jurado) still sees him for who he is, even when his wife is ready to leave him at the very sight of a gun. An image she is associated with at the end of the film which makes for one hell of a finale that is really rarely seen today.

So why the return to High Noon you may ask? Well to see where the Un-American idea comes from, the build-up of tension and playing with time in order to do that. Not many films this short really want to show you the time they are on-screen, more interested in the content they can get on there. This is a masterclass in allegory and tension, in a genre that was really starting to hit it’s stride in the 1950’s and what an addition to the genre.

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A Most Violent Year (2014)

A Most Violent Year (2014)There was a lot of hype around A Most Violent Year (2014) around awards season. With all these films out to see at the time I couldn’t get to this one and a part of me is glad really as I feel I would’ve been disappointed, the DVD which I have just watched is covered in comparisons to Serpico (1973), The Godfather (1972) and Once Upon a Time in America (1984) all of which are great pieces of film, to compare this much later entry to these films is something you can’t say without creating an aura around the film to live up to these expectations. Which I feel has been a complete misfire really, I think all that hype got the critics into a hysteria around A Most Violent Year (2014). If I’m honest I enjoyed far more The Calling (2014) which was a middle of the road thriller with older and unknown actors, which is probably why that was less successful. At least I wanted to see what was going to happen more.

I think it comes down to the characters, if you don’t care for them then you just can’t engage enough to really want to enjoy the film. I’m not going to compare both films as that is something I rarely do and they are two completely different films with two very different budgets. The canvas on which the plots unfold are different two, one small town Canada and the other down town New York City. What I can gauge from the film is that Oscar Isaac has developed a niche for playing the bad guy now, something which may change with the release of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens at Christmas. I think here with him in this role I wanted to find something in him to respect, to like, which really failed for me.

His character Abel Morales wants to be successful in the oil business just his other competitors are, we find him at the beginning of the film, about to make the biggest purchase of his career, that could make him the most powerful man in the city for his industry. Clearly a lot is at stake here, if only I really cared though. He wants to be the tough guy without really being tough, he wont even carry a gun, maybe that is where the Serpico comparison comes into this. Even when his family are put into danger he wont allow his wife Anna (Jessica Chastain) to have a gun in the house. If anything she’s the one with the trousers on, the brains of the business really. He wants to go straight, with all these temptations to violence put in his way.

The title suggests a year of violence, it’s actually a month, as we see the deposit go down on a deal before it closes in a months time. We see Abel struggle with the danger to his business, family and threat to his future. Is he another Michael Corlenone? who wants to stay straight or at least as long as possible. There is also a threat to his reputation from the D.A. Lawrence (David Oyelowo) who has gathered a mass of evidence against him. The threat of charges, no matter how small are lingering over him as he is about to make or break.

Nothing is clearly going his way, especially when the Bank pull the rug from under his feet, leaving him to beg, borrow and steal if needs be. I am left wondering how he is going the money together, whilst still not really caring if he pulls it off. I wish I could feel something for this guy whose conscience is really conflicted to the point that I don’t know what he is thinking. There’s a scene late on where he catches two me with one of his lorries, he has both the opportunity and motive to kill but at the last-minute stops which I hated. Am I so predisposed to wanting the bad guy shot that my expectations are being dashed? Is this a gangster with a heart like Carlito (Al Pacino) in Carlito’s Way (1993) who struggles to stay on a reformed path. Abel is trying to avoid falling into that trap in the first place.

I suppose I’ve worked out during the review what is good about the film in terms of plot and the comparisons which I still think are very flimsy if I’m honest. We do have some solid performances all round which is a bonus. I can’t fault the cinematography or soundtrack either which both create a dark world of temptation which the aptly named Morales are living in. They have it all and want even more. It’s the decisions they make which they are willing to live with. It’s not a film I think I will be re-visiting in a rush, maybe in a year or so to see what else I can garner from it. Until then I’m not overly impressed or care enough about the characters to really enjoy it.

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Meeting P.T. Anderson Update (18/7/15)

I’m coming to end of my time working with There Will Be Blood (2007) I found that the remainder of the footage I had to work with was too perfect to work with really, which left me at a loss as to what I could do. Leaving me with one piece of footage, the last climatic scene when Eli Sunday (Paul Dano) and Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) reunited years later. The scene has been parodied a lot which made the options of what I could do limiting until I was listening to the dialogue itself. The first portion when Sunday is forced to humiliate himself is manipulated to increase that state, to the point where I suggest he is really suffering. It has become more of an audio piece than a video and becomes harder to listen to.

The next portion of the sequence caused me the real trouble, the best way to respond the clip, the “Milkshake” scene which been wonderfully reproduced in typography, I didn’t want to do that, I was researching to see if my idea has already been done, where the image spoken in the dialogue is visualized. I was inspired by an advertisement for Lloyds Bank which used found images, mostly vintage style from the 1950’s. This was probably done for cost reasons.

The effect that this will have on this clip will change it at least on two levels, one it will dictate the visuals you have against the dialogue spoken. Whilst on another it creates new visuals for the scene. I’ve ordered a selection of postcards that represent the imagery, without being too obvious hopefully in terms to what is going on. As I will have the physical, I will be photographing them and adding them to the audio track. I will hopefully be using them as a companion piece that can be exhibited alongside or away from the video, as it can work on its own. Now all I can do is wait. So it seems I’m not quite finished with There Will Be Blood just yet.

The Revenant – looks very familiar

It’s not just me who has seen the teaser trailer today for Leonardo DiCaprio‘s and director Alejandro González Iñárritu who scooped up best picture and director at the Oscars last year for Birdman earlier this year. I’ve been aware of The Revenant (2015) for a few months, the plot outlines stinks of a blatant remake with a different name and a twist on an earlier Richard Harris and John Huston film Man of the Wilderness (1971) which is in a very different tone at least to the trailer, It does however visually look the same to the older neo-Western that is an incredible film that relies more on action and acting than dialogue which is kept to a minimum.

It’s to early to tell really from this teaser trailer, there is a bear in both and they are left to survive in earlier America with Native American’s, I’m not too sure there’s going to be a boat being wheeled around this time somehow. The only other question is, will this be DiCaprio’s year at the awards?

The Iron Horse (1924)

The Iron Horse (1924)I’ve been looking out for this silent John Ford for a while now, one of those early epic Westerns that helped to define the language that I explore in my practice. It’s also a rare chance to see Ford’s work before he made a star out of John Wayne who he shall always be credited with. He’s nowhere to be seen in The Iron Horse (1924) which predates all the Westerns I have seen by a few years. I was lucky enough to catch the original directors cut that was not seen outside of the U.S. during its original run. I always try to go for the director’s cut of a film if it’s available as the directors intentions are then  on the screen (that’s ignoring George Lucas).

Moving away from directorial choices and cuts of films to the meat of the film, the coming together of the East and the West of America, the progression of a nation. Laying down the foundations for the country to develop and prosper. I have seen the same basic story before with a much lighter tone attached, and running time slightly shorter too. That’s down to all the build-up and character development that Ford puts into the film so the running time is well deserved, not a meter of film is wasted really. As we know he never shot more than he needed, to ensure he got the picture that he wanted, not leaving anything to chance. He begins by adding a human story between a young boy and girl Miriam Marsh (Madge Bellamy) who at first I thought nothing of as the boy Davy Brandon leaves with his father to go Westward to begin to plan out a route for a transcontinental railroad. A bold journey that ends in heart for the boy when his father (James Gordon) who is killed by a two-fingered white Cheyenne who killed him to keep his secret from being revealed outside the nation he is now a part of. I can see even this early on in the depiction of the Native American, the lengths that are gone to in order to create the dark and dangerous image of the one-dimensional Native American, here a renegade white man, even more dangerous you might think, bringing together the ideas of two cultures.

Jumping forward a few years to during the Civil War we see Abraham Lincoln (Charles Edward Bull) sign a bill that allows work to begin on the transcontinental railroad, wanting to look beyond the present situation of the war, considering the peace in the future. The President’s depicted as almost god-like in his presence and screen-time. Even though limited to a few scenes his presence is felt through the rest of the film. Ford would later return to the 14th President with Henry Fonda in Young Mr. Lincoln  (1939). There is otherwise no other mention of the war that is going on back East between the North and the South. Instead it’s about this milestone in American history, at the time of the making of the film less than a hundred years had passed since its initial completion as the Continental and Union Pacific railroad companies laid the track that would eventually meet.

All this plays as backdrop to the drama that unfolds within the Union Pacific as they move Westward. We see all aspects of construction, from planning the laying of track to how to get around the country whilst still keeping under budget. We see all the classic clichés we take for granted from the striking work force after receiving no pay for months, to warring Cheyenne who are a constant threat as their land is being divided up before their eyes, the Buffalo population begin to diminish at the hands of the likes of Buffalo Bill (George Waggner). As I have found before with Ford his films are nothing without the rich mix of people that fill them, from the Italian ex-soldiers to the Chinese workers. He knows what America is built upon, a mixed immigrant population that made the country he loves great which he celebrates here. It’s not just Cowboys who have a score to settle.

The main drama is between Davy and Miriam who after spending years apart are now reunited, the childhood sweethearts may have a second chance. Before having to deal with her finance Jesson (Cyril Chadwick) the villain of the film tries to get him out of the picture. It’s really not as straightforward as Hollywood romance is today or even in the golden age, there is a price to pay before they can be together. Amongst the history there’s room for a little melodrama with Ford who keeps it to a minimum as we have a lot to look at and take in. 

Overall for of silent John Ford film I have not been let down, sadly there was no Harry Carey to be seen but we did have an okish replacement with George O’Brien as the older Davy Brandon who comes into the picture in the second act. We have the roots of the genre here, not all of them but a strong part of the foundation of what I love today. History beginning to be re-written on the screen. With all sorts of historical characters making an appearance, this is American folklore for the 20th century told in sweeping form.

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Meeting P.T. Anderson Update (11/7/15) Part 2

The second half of test video output today continues with a sexualising of a religious scene, where Eli Sunday (Paul Dano) is faith healing an elderly woman with arthritis. The gestures he makes could be seen as sexual, in the way he does touch her, in order to rid her of the demon that lays within her, causing her suffering. So I decided to slow down and play up that idea and possible relationship. There is no real sexual content in the film, not that it really needs it with all the violence and language we have on-screen, it would instead detract from the two main men who continue to lock heads. I feel it’s slightly more successful than my previous attempt with Boogie Nights (1997) footage. I’m not sure either of them are really pieces to keep though.

Moving onto more of an action orientated scene which was initially going to be about adding sound effects and foley, which on reflection and during production just weren’t appropriate. I decided instead to speed up the scene, by cutting out some of the action and refocusing out attention between the HW (Dillon Freasier) and Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) in which we see the true cost of his wealth as it happens. I the most part the re-cut scene does work. I’m concerned bout the fire towards the end which was originally broken up. I could re-edit if I choose to keep the piece.

Finally I had the opportunity for some fun with a scene that was otherwise quite dark. I remembered a very early test using footage from The Master (2012). Taking another similar scene and try and turn it into slapstick, however, the tone is very different here. Plainview is attacking Sunday who has asked once more for his money. He basically loses it in front of everyone, a precursor of things to come. I think it becomes more awkward when we see the actions sped up and recut.

So there’s my output for the day. I am satisfied at least with the volume of the work. The quality can be improved in places. Overall I am pleased I have returned to this work and another film. I hope to produce a few more before the month is over and move onto either Punch Drunk Love (2002) or Inherent Vice (2014)

Meeting P.T. Anderson Update (11/7/15) Part 1

I’ve decided to slice this update in half as I have 6 videos to share with you today, I’ve moved onto the much later There Will Be Blood (2007) which after Paul Thomas Anderson‘s break away from all things deep and serious with Punch Drunk Love (2002) he returned with a far darker piece of work that I thought was going to be hard to find anything to work with. I have been once again proved wrong, My only real memory was the final scene about the milkshake metaphor when Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) explains to preacher and life-long thorn in his side Eli Sunday (Paul Dano) that he doesn’t need any more land to get hold of more oil. Both are very flawed and power hungry men. There is a return to the theme of the father-son relationship which is never far away in Anderson’s films. This film is more sophisticated than Magnolia (1999) which more about the cliches of modern film and TV, what we expect and the unexpected. Will There Be Blood is a fictional biopic of an oil man who has success but not without feeling it’s consequences.

As I searched for footage that I could use, I found far less than with previous films. I am hoping still to find more in hopes of playing around with the film than I have so far. So far I feel there are a few pieces in there. I’ve gone back to a few tried and tested methods which work and at times don’t. Again it’s all experimentation. So onto the first video which removes the dialogue from the scene, which I have done with all the films so far. It’s also a scene that is repeated in all of Anderson’s films, the getting to know the enemy or the other side conversation, or the ice-breaker that sets up the film. Which for here takes a good 20-30s before we even see it. I feel the video is successful mostly in the first half when Paul Sunday (Dano) is meeting with Plainview to negotiate the sale of land to drill for oil.

The second is the positive of the first one, which is now sped up, after the removal of the spaces I left last time. I don’t feel this was really that successful due to the nature of the conversation. Unlike an earlier test that really did hit home to the point where you can’t take it anymore. Here we have a business agreement that has too many gaps, that without would be very hard to watch, it’s still quite natural at times. It does run rather fast but those breaks don’t help the pace.

The third video I have changed the dynamic of the scene between Sunday and Plainview, who is visited in his office by Sunday in order to ask him if he could bless the well, a good-will gesture, showing the power of the church in the community, and ultimately his desire to have the money he has been promised. As I did before with Tom Cruise in an earlier test video, the other walks all over them due to their inability to speak. I also slowed down some of the motions to show Sunday’s power over him, even his own office. Plainview does speak but only minimally.

Labyrinth (1986)

Labyrinth (1986)If I’m honest this is not the best film in the world for me, I know and realise it is has a massive cult following and is much loved. I can see all of that and understand it too. It’s like my first encounter with Citizen Kane (1941) but does have that alienating quality of being high-brow. Labyrinth (1986) it does, however have more of a charm and universal appeal that engages with a larger audience, For me I think I wasn’t buying into beginning which I wasn’t expecting. Which I think was because I was expecting something different, but what was I really expecting going in blind.

For me what redeems this is the lack of C.G.I. there are splashes and sequences of the stuff in places, the opening titles make use of it, however, it’s minimal throughout. The charm lies in the puppets, provided by Jim Henson who was and will always be remembered for the muppets, taking the puppet to a new level in entertainment. Here we have a film free of that world, even the standard muppet for something more sophisticated yet defiantly still in the Henson style which I respect. There’s no absence of characters to act against, or the suggestion there ever was during production (minus one sequence), it’s all there, all the magic in front of the camera. It’s the physicality of the characters that are brought to life as we see them in full frame and no strings from above or rods from below. And if there was I would still forgive it all.

Ok moving onto the film itself which is David Bowie left right and centre, although his time on-screen is just under half, his presence is felt throughout as teenage fantasy-dreaming Sarah (Jennifer Connelly) is given the task to rescue her half baby brother Toby before he is turned into a goblin. Which is all started after she reads a spell out from a book titled Labyrinth is magically brought to life as she quotes from the book, venting her anger at the baby who she has to babysit. It’s the classic frustrated teenage daughter really escaping to a fantasy world that she understand and can enjoy.

I can draw comparisons to Alice in Wonderland ok she’s not falling asleep as she goes after a white rabbit, there is still that initial desire to escape reality and all its trappings to something they both understand. Before entering into one that really makes less sense. For Sarah she has a lot of growing up to do in the Labyrinth as she makes here way through the maze, complete with its own traps and tricks. Even the characters she meets along the way that are more complex than most puppets we usually meet, from the goblin Hoggle (Brian Henson) to the guard of bridge Ambrosius (Percy Edwards) they all make the world authentic and richer for all their flaws as individuals. 

Turning back to Sarah who completes the whole journey with all setbacks she has she holds her own, with adolescent and strokes of adult logic to get her half-brother back in one piece. All from the minds of three men, one of which really sticks out for me, Terry Jones one of the Pythons adds another layer of eccentricity to the world, much like how Terry Gillham creates truly unique worlds. You can see the British sensibility to the film in most of the characters and dialogue, adding class to an otherwise American fantasy movie otherwise, raising it to be a richer film.

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