With the loss of dialogue, a very conscious decision by the makers of the film, there naturally becomes a massive reliance on the audio to carry more of the plot. Traditionally audio is split up into 3 tracks – Dialogue, Sound effects and the Soundtrack.
“The soundtrack of any film…tends to condition an audiences response to it, sound principally creates the mood and atmosphere of a film, and also it’s pace and emphasis, but, most importantly, also creates a vocabulary by which the visual codes of the film are understood.”
Understanding Animation – Paul Wells – Pg. 97
Sound is a vital component of animation adding more depth and understanding to the images and the narrative, allowing the audience to engage with a film. Naturally we take for granted the sounds around us, helps our awareness of our surroundings and situation. The additional an extra layer to the visuals we process.
“Moreover, visuals are not always subtle-note the overly obvious miming of silent film-and words are not necessarily blatant…Engagement is called for whether one is interpreting action or speech, visual images or dialogue.”
Overhearing Dialogue – Sarah Kozloff – Pg. 11
However to rely solely on dialogue doesn’t mean we can’t understand a narrative without dialogue. Silent films relied upon title cards and the actor’s performances to convey emotions and move the plot forward. Today it’s very rare to silent or near silent films. One example is Robert Redford’s All is Lost (2013); the lack of dialogue was actually a draw for the actor who explains in this clip.
Silent film has had something of resurgence in mainstream film in 2011. With The Artist and Hugo. The Artist a loving homage to silent film that celebrates classic Hollywood. Whilst Hugo by Martin Scorsese is his tribute to early film, set in France, we meet an older Georges Méliès, who in the film is running a Toy store at a train station. It’s also a film that speaks about the importance of film preservation, something, which is very important to the director.
What they are really doing to attempting to re-energise a love for silent film.
“…Hugo and The Artist are only the most visible instances of a broader impulses to make silent cinema “new” at various moments in film and media history…”
New Silent Cinema – edited by Paul Flaig and Katherine Groo – Pg. 2
“…a father’s infidelity leads to his son’s all too literal emasculation, as the same actress plays both vengeful mother and wanton mistress, as the genital transplants pile up…”
Back in the U.S. Gus Van Sant‘s Gerry (2002) places two men into a salt desert, where they try to retrace their steps back to the car. Very minimal dialogue, there are long stretches where it’s just Matt Damon and Casey Affleck looking over the landscape.
More recently we have The Revenant (2015) the true-life story of Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) whose scene are almost dialogue free. Focusing on his struggle with nature, his own torn body and his anger to seek out revenge for being left for dead.
I ended the talk with a longer show reel, which is the best way to explore and understand the power of contemporary silent and minimal dialogue in film.
Tonight’s Film Talk focused on the silence and minimal dialogue found in contemporary film, the notes are below.
I’m taking a look at a more obscure aspect of film – silent or minimal dialogue in contemporary film. Starting with The Red Turtle (2017) a French and Belgian co-production with Studio Ghibli. Directed by Oscar winning animator Michael Dudok de Wit, which he won for Father and Daughter (2000) about a daughter who longs to see her father return from a rowing trip.
“In this elegant short film about how love can transcend time and death, a young Dutch girl witnesses her father inexplicably rowing out to sea, never to return…A simple and poignant dialogue-free story it is complemented with elegant and graceful design and animation, and the use of silhouettes and shadows.
The World History of Animation – Steven Cavalier -Pg. 324
The Red Turtle is a castaway film that begins by pitting man against nature as a lone survivor is washed up on an island, we first his multiple attempts to escape, only to be prevented by nature – in the form of a giant red turtle, before a woman, who he has a family with, joins him. They stay together on the island and live into old age; complete with all the trials that island life brings them. What I was initially drawn to was the radical choice to have no dialogue in the film, an idea that has been explored in my own work. De Wit’s reason’s comes from a story telling decision, which he explains in this interview.
I wouldn’t be doing the film any favors without looking at past desert island films, which have periods of little or no dialogue. First looking at Hell in the Pacific (1968), a WWII film that placed an American and Japanese soldier on a desert island, first they are still at war with each other, before they realise they have to put their politics and ideologies to one side in order to escape. The first barrier being language that had to be over come. There are sections where there’s no dialogue, a decision taken by director John Boorman , which he explains in this clip.
Moving forward to the turn of the century – Cast Away (2000) there dialogue is kept to a minimum when Fed-ex man Chuck Noland – Tom Hanks lives for years on a desert island, he has only himself and later his ball – Wilson for company, essentially he’s projecting his thoughts onto an inanimate object.
Admittedly there are some vocals – cries or gasps of emotion when necessary in the narrative, as De Witt allows for these moments of verbal expression. An example of this can be scene in the Tsunami scene.
Staying with animation, the decision to have minimal or no dialogue is nothing new. As we saw in the director’s short film Father and Daughter (2000), other animators have made the same decision. Such as Sylvain Chomet The Illusionist (2010).
“The lack of conversation is rationalized here by the different nationalities of the characters and is carried off by the strongly visual nature of the animation, creating a treat of visual story telling that leaves space for its audience to use their minds and discover the detail for themselves.”
The World History of Animation – Steven Cavalier – Pg. 392
Relying on visual cues and associations to bridge the gap. In Pixar’s WALL-E (2008), the first act of the film is near silent, referencing silent film, relying on other audio to express the little robots thoughts and emotions.
“…Wall-E comes to resemble a pet whose thoughts and feelings we believe we can interpret. And like a pet, WALL-E cannot talk, expressing himself only in mechanical beeps and squeals”
The Art of Walt Disney – Christopher Finch – Pg. 400
Whilst in Japan we have Kunio Kato’s short film Le Maison en Petits Cubes/The House of Small Cubes (2008) focusing on an lonely old man who reflects on his past.
“This story is told without any dialogue or narration, there is just a simple soundtrack.”
The World History of Animation – Steven Cavalier – Pg. 379
In the next part I’ll be looking more technically at the function of sound in animation and film.
Film Talk turned to look at Their Finest, below are the notes from the talk.
Tonight I’d like to explore the position of women behind the camera, a subject that has become more prevalent recently. Looking at representation and equality or lack of, behind the camera. Using Their Finest (2016) as a starting point for we’ll look at women working on propaganda films before jumping back to the early days of film then making our way up to the present day.
For two years the British film industry has been working closely with the Ministry of Information whose aims for feature films were
“…the importance of films as a medium of propaganda’ in putting across the themes that [Lord] Macmillan had suggested; what Britain is fighting for; how Britain fights; the need for sacrifices if the fight is to be won…”
Britain Can Take It, British Cinema in the Second World War – Anthony Aldgate & Jeffrey Richards pg 26
The film industry collaborated with the government on over two hundred films for the duration of the Second World War. It was a constant battle between creatives, production heads and the Ministry of Information to convey the messages necessary to keep morale up.
The first film to be made under this new relationship was The Lion Has Wings (1939), an Alexander Korda production. It was however commissioned before the outbreak of war but was given the approval of the MOI
“For one thing, the MOI provided “technical facilities” in the production of the film and deal struck whereby it was accordingly afforded a share of the profits. Figures as high as ’50 per cent of the profits’ were quoted by some sources and were ‘the cause of the great deal of discontent in the industry’. Whatever the exact sum, however, the MOI did not to badly out of The Lion Has Wings. It was able to pass on to the Exchequer £25,140 from the film, and that was a straight profit, after it had covered whatever costs had been accrued…”
Britain Can Take It, British Cinema in the Second World War – Anthony Aldgate & Jeffrey Richards pg 24
At the beginning of the war, women were not yet conscripted as men were leaving to take up arms and fight. Leaving a majority female audience back home at the cinema. It took MOI head at the time Jack Beddington to realise he had to
“…address the needs and desires of the predominantly working class, disenchanted, under-served and under-respected female audience. The women, it seems, wanted heart-swelling encouragement and entertainment but gave short shift to anything that didn’t smell of reality.”
Sight and Sound – May 2017 Vol 27 Issue 5, Women and WWII British Films – Stephen Woolley Pg 40
To reach that female audience, female voices were needed to communicate with them. Scriptwriter’s such as Diana Morgan who worked at Ealing and contributed to
Her experience of working in the film industry was rather confusing at times
“Sometimes you got credit for something you hadn’t done, or you wrote most of the picture and you didn’t get a credit. We didn’t worry about things like that.”
“They used to say, ‘We’ll send in the Welsh bitch [Morgan] to put in the nausea.”
Sight and Sound – May 2017 Vol 27 Issue 5, Women and WWII British Films – Stephen Woolley Pg 42
The Nausea being “The Slop” in Their Finest being the women’s dialogue. Morgan’s roles reflected by another Welsh woman – Catrin played by Gemma Arterton, whose brought in after her works discovered by scriptwriter’s at an unknown studio. It’s only after she persist does she see an increase in wages and work with her male counterparts.
It’s the persistence to get what she wants which her male counterparts would not have to fight so hard for. A fight that has been going on before WWII and is still going on today.
If we go all the way back to the silent era of film in Hollywood it was a more even playing field. Even then however it was still relegated to
“…routinized film processing tasks deemed appropriate to their sex in largely segregated setting. For male entrepreneurs, however, the film industry’s first decade suggested adventure, autonomy, and riches”
Women Filmmakers in Early Hollywood – Karen Ward Maher – Pg 9-10
It was however a time in Hollywood when women could take, such as screenwriter Beulah Marie Dix who could take on extra work.
“…in addition to writing scenarios, she worked as an extra, tended the lights, and “sent a good deal of time in the cutting room”
Women Filmmakers in Early Hollywood – Karen Ward Maher – Pg 39
It was probably the only time in Hollywood when men and women had parity in the industry as film historian Wendy Holliday found.
“…screenwriting in the early 1910s created a particularly “modern’ heterosocial work culture in which male and female writers like actors and actresses, were roughly equal, having a hand in all phases of production.”
Women Filmmakers in Early Hollywood – Karen Ward Maher – Pg 41
If Wartime propaganda films employed women to write the “nausea” or “slop”, originally Hollywood would at times cut those costs in half. In hoping to aim at the female audience they ran writing contests.
“In 1909 Evangeline Sicotte of New York City won $150 in the Georges Melies Scenario Contest for her script “The Red Star,” and Florence E. Turner of Brooklyn won third place, receiving $50 for “The Fiend of the Castle.” A scenario submitted by Mrs. Clemens to the St Louis Times not only resulted in a cash prize but also reach the screen in 1910 as a film entitled The Double.”
Women Filmmakers in Early Hollywood – Karen Ward Maher – Pg 41
Moving away from the early writers of film and across the Atlantic to France we find Alice Guy Blanche who worked as a secretary to Leon Gaumont made her own films, I’d like to share one with you – Madame a des Envies (1906) a short which depicts a woman, played by herself that indulges in whatever she wants and not thinking about the consequences. Something that has since been more regularly applied to men on-screen.
The role of editor was originally an entry-level position, which was mastered by one of the most respected editors in the industry during her time. Margaret Booth began her career with D.W. Griffith when the process was very cumbersome and frustrating.
“…joiners squinted at negatives through a magnifying glass, trying to determine where to cut with scissors and where to rejoin with tape. They couldn’t watch the film as they were working on it, so the only way to see the print was the pull the negative quickly between their fingers… The process became easier with the arrival of the first cutting machine in 1919, which had foot pedals to run the film and a spy-hole to view it through. It looked similar to a sewing machine, and perhaps because of that (and because it was a low level job), there were many women working as film cutters.”
Backwards & in Heels, The Past, Present and Future of Women working in Film – Alicia Malone Pg 34-5
Booth went onto become one of the most respected editors in the industry.
Moving forward into the sound era we have fewer women of note working behind the camera. One of those is actress/director Ida Lupino who along with her husband set up a production company, they only made a few films, the first being Not Wanted (1949), which she initially chose not to direct. Everything changed when the hired director had a heart attack
“Ida stepped up to take over, and she was a natural. A reporter who had been on set observing her work wrote that he was impressed with her speed and efficiency giving order. Ida hoped that “Not Wanted” would “show the public the heartbreak of the unwed mother;” but when the film was released, reviews were mixed, though the Hollywood Reporter said the story was “done with taste, dignity and compassion.” Ida Lupino had arrived as a director.”
Backwards & in Heels, The Past, Present and Future of Women working in Film – Alicia Malone Pg 102
Lupino is most remembered for making The Hitch Hiker (1953) in less than a month. Coming in at 71 minutes unlike Elaine May’s directorial debut New Leaf (1972), which came in at 180, which proved too long for Paramount who edited out 80 minutes.
“Elaine was so upset at the studio tinkering with her movie and took them to court. She lost the case and publicly disowned her movie, saying this was not the cut she wanted audiences to see. But despite that conflict, Elaine continued to work with the studio, and her follow up was a big success, 1972’s “The Heatrbreak Kid”
Backwards & in Heels, The Past, Present and Future of Women working in Film – Alicia Malone Pg 120-1
Staying with the studio executives, there have been a few females in the boardroom, but not without cost. Sherry Langsing arrived after her enthusiasm for story editing at MGM. Sadly having to put up with her share of sexism from directors such as Don Siegel.
“…who was furious at being a script notes by a woman. “I dealt with sexism by denying it,” Sherry said in her biography; “Did I hold grudges? Absolutely. But I felt that I had two choices, Either I was going to quit my job, stand on a picket line, and burn my bra, or I was going to have to find a way to navigate the system until I reached a position where my opinions would be heard.”
Backwards & in Heels, The Past, Present and Future of Women working in Film – Alicia Malone Pg 120-1
“There was a lot of pain and humiliation in those years,” Dawn wrote in her memoir. “I would walk into my office and I would close the door and I would say, ‘I won’t cry, I won’t cry, I won’t cry.’ At least, I wasn’t going to let them see me cry.”
Backwards & in Heels, The Past, Present and Future of Women working in Film – Alicia Malone Pg 139-40
Moving forward to the present day a study at MDSC (Media, Diversity and Social Change) that looked at the 1000 grossing films between 2007 and 16 and the directors on the.
“For each of those ten years the average percentage of male directors was 96%. This means only 4% were female directors, a ratio of 24 men to every one woman. That reflects a huge percentage of female directors not being able to work. These figures don’t have anything to do with the lack of women who actually want the job, but are due to a lack of women being considered for these jobs and a perceived lack of experienced female directors.”
Backwards & in Heels, The Past, Present and Future of Women working in Film – Alicia Malone Pg 158
That sadly doesn’t take into account one of the most successful superhero films –Wonder Woman, directed by Patty Jenkins whose last feature film was Monster (2003) since relegated to TV work. Thanks to the box office success Wonder Woman she’s hopefully guaranteed the work she deserves.
As Dr Stacy Smith from MDSC found and Wonder Woman proves.
“When you have a female director, you have more female leads, you have more female speaking characters, you have more characters that are from underrepresented racial or ethnic groups, more characters 40 years of age or older. You also have more women working in other key production roles.”
Backwards & in Heels, The Past, Present and Future of Women working in Film – Alicia Malone Pg 159
I’ll end by briefly turning to on-screen depictions, with Ghostbusters remake director Paul Feig whose known for his more female focused films when he directed the female version of The Hangover – Bridesmaids. Proving that audience respond equally to women in comic roles as men.
“I just jumped in and did it,” says Paul; “It was just so much fun. First of all, knowing I had all these roles to cast funny women in. And then once it ended up doing well, it showed me that this excuse of ‘people won’t see these moves’ was pretty much killed”
Backwards & in Heels, The Past, Present and Future of Women working in Film – Alicia Malone Pg 170
Change is slowly happening in film to make a shift towards more diversity not just for women but people of different origins both on and off-screen. With actresses of all generations, especially Jennifer Lawrence speaking out about rates of pay compared to her male counterparts.
The final part of February’s Film Talk, I looked at emotions at the train station and the homes that both Vic and Joe live in.
The next is confined to train stations. Vic (Alan Bates) walking and off his steam from the argument and his drunkenness. Whilst Joe’s (Jon Voight) is running after Ratso (Dustin Hoffman) who has just conned him. In terms of emotions they are very different. Vic’s are more internalised on screen, he is very still and tired. Whilst Joe’s is very external which we see in a combination of reality in colour and his desire in black and white, along with a flashback, a lot of emotion is on the screen. (Stills below)
Lastly the accommodation that Vic and Joe move into, Vic moves into two homes with Ingrid (June Ritchie), once at home and we presume in a flat at the end after looking around a shared house together Whilst Joe has reluctantly moved into Ratso’s condemned flat. (Stills below)
In both films we don’t see the much if any of the glamour of the 1960’s. Instead we have a more realistic representation of life from the early 1960’s with a couple who marry out of obligation before trying to make a go of married life post miscarriage. At the end of the 1960’s we have a young man whose dreams of being a hustler are dashed by the modern perceptions before learning what is more important in life taking the form of Ratso’s friendship.
After showing a portion of A Kind of Loving (1962) I moved onto Midnight Cowboy (1969)that was John Schlesinger‘s last film of the decade. It was the first X rated film to win Best Picture at the Oscars, and another two, Best Director and best-adapted screenplay.
On the surface it doesn’t share the same themes of the earlier film if anything it’s a more personal piece by Schlesinger a successful homosexual director bringing these themes to the film. It follows Joe Buck (Jon Voight) a young Texan who decides to move to New York to try his luck in his own words as a Hustler, believing his authentic cowboy image is going to attract all the women. Unaware of the images true connotations. It’s not until he gets there and is befriended by Ratso – Dustin Hoffman does he slowly begin to realize what is happening. The dream of success on the streets is shattered much like that of the sexual and cultural revolution of the 1960’s. I noticed that financially he’s always paying out and not earning in return for his “work”, things slowly get worse for him. Midnight Cowboy can be seen as the culmination of the 1960’s the pill has long been in use, allowing for more promiscuity and sexual freedom. We are seeing the results over in the States. I’d like to share a few scenes from both films back to back to show the similarities between them.
The first is the Father son chat about the future – A Kind of Loving, and Joe properly meeting Ratso – Midnight Cowboy. (Stills below)
The second we find our characters on coaches; Vic and Ingrid (June Ritchie) on the Coach – A Kind of Loving and Joe on the Coach to New York – Midnight Cowboy (Stills below)
All are starting out on new directions, the honey moon couple who as we see are de-flowered twice in a few minutes, once on the coach as they take the flowers from the button holes, and sexually. Whilst Joe is going to live out his American dream.
The third we see both Vic and Joe in arguments, Again we see Mrs. Rothwell (Thora Hird), Ingrid’s Mum giving Vic her honest opinion. And Ratso telling Joe how it is regarding his Cowboy image. (stills below)
The final two comparisons I will look at emotions at the train station and the homes that both Vic and Joe live in, which will be in the final part 3
The second in my ongoing series if Film Talks I’m running at the Rothley Community Library. I decided to discuss two films this time A Kind of Loving (1962) and Midnight Cowboy (1969) both directed by John Schlesinger. Below are the notes from the night.
Tonight I’ll be taking a look at one of last months recommendations – A Kind of Loving (1962), which I noticed was directed by John Schlesinger who went onto make Midnight Cowboy (1969). I’ll start by sharing what makes a Kitchen sink drama or has otherwise been known as a British New Wave or Social Realism. Before moving onto look at A Kind of Loving and drawing comparisons with Midnight Cowboy.
So what is a Kitchen Sink Drama? I think you have to look at Britain socially first, in order to inform these films. I turned to The Social Structure of Modern Britain – E.A. Johns (1965); which is dated by today’s standards, but nonetheless allowed me to see how society was perceived at the time of writing. I first focused on the family,
“…the view currently held by many eminent writers is that the family has been stripped of the functions which are essential to its cohesion, and that parents have abnegated their responsibilities in favour of the government-run organs of the Welfare state.”
These essential functions of the family are :
- Provision of a home
- Production and rearing of children
- Stable satisfaction of sex need
R.M. MacIver – Macmillan 1957
Johns continued on the family by quoting W.J.H Sprott who argued that
“…The family, under Western cultural conditions has shrunk functionally” and that the social services are basically “anti-family” in that they cater almost exclusively for the individual rather than the family as a whole. This view is supported up to a point by M.Penelope Hall when she quotes the article on Social Policy and the Family…This document remarks that the family has until recently, been given only a minor place in social policy, “and over-all effect has been to lower status of the family in the national life”. Day nurseries and school meals, for example encourage a mother to go to work, but do not encourage her to create a home for her children”
There’s an improvement in opportunities for young mothers wanting to be independent, which would have a knock on effect. Whilst also looking at increased leisure time available in modern Britain.
“…the increasing adoption of the 5-day working week and introduction of labour-saving devices in the home both mean that families have more leisure time. The characteristically democratic structure of most modern families mean that husbands and wives spend more of this time together.”
I also looked at the position of women in the 60’s, first looking at the jobs they have
Married women stats
25-34 years – 2/3 are employed
35-44 years – ¾ are employed
45-54 – 2/3 are employed.
Types of work include
- distribution – insurance – banking – catering – laundries (industry jobs)
- Hairdressing – domestic service – nursing (tertiary jobs)
- Clerks – typists – shop assistance (“white-blouse brigade”)
These statistics only account for married women in employment. What about when the married couple moves away from the family home into the newly built housing estates?
“Another factor…is that when families make the sudden transition from an old-established neighbourhood with a strong social life to a virgin housing estate, they may experience a good deal of loneliness, at least initially. The wives, in particular. may miss the gossip and chatter of the streets, and see a substitute in the companionship of the office or factory”
Lastly looking at marriage and divorce, which was made more accessible, however divorce was only granted under certain conditions. This passage still carries some weight today regarding the failure of marriages.
“I think the most significant element, however, is the egalitarianism which characterizes the relationship between married partners today, by contrast with the patriarchal authoritarianism which was accepted as the normal pattern in the nineteenth century…The marriage a girl enters today has far more stresses than her grandmother’s. A partnership needs much more forbearance than the situation which the wife just used to accept the idea of doing what she was told.”
It does however acknowledge that number of younger couples getting married, and why. The most obvious is the reason why our main characters Vic and Ingrid in A Kind of Loving.
“In 1960, nearly 62,000 extra-maritally conceived children were born to women married for less than 8 months (usually 5 or 6). Translated into proportion of all marriages this means that one in five brides was pregnant, and it is well established that the shot-gun marriage is more likely to break down.”
Johns doesn’t mention the introduction pill was made available with slowly increased access to it.
“At first it was only prescribed to married women – most older women who had already had children and wanted no more…In the past most women had to married at an early age, being expected to give up their job and become a full-time housewife and mother wile their husband went out to work. If a woman wanted to follow a career she had to give up thoughts of marriage. Now, married could, if they chose, plan a career, and rigid gender based division of roles began to change. It was the beginning of both a social and sexual revolution, and there was much talk of the ‘permissive society’ and ‘free love’”
Life in the 1960s – Mike Brown Pg. 9
So we have some social context around the Kitchen Sink Drama we know that they are focused on working class issues. If you’ve ever seen one you’ll notice they are mostly in Northern locations complete with the rich accents. They are devoid of special effects, the gloss that you get over in Hollywood or Europe lets take a closer look at the key directors of the movement. The subjects they covered were.
Now lets take a quick look at the key directors of the movement.
Then we have John Schlesinger who began his career as an actor in his early twenties before making his directorial debut with a 30-minute documentary about Waterloo station – Terminus. A year later he made his feature film debut with A Kind of Loving, which saw him work with producer Joseph Janni for the first of 6 films together. It’s also the first starring role for Alan Bates.
The film follows a young man Vic (Alan Bates) who falls for Ingrid (June Ritchie), which starts off like a school romance, the passing of notes, the boys fighting, and the social dances. That’s all until Ingrid falls pregnant after they both loose their virginity. This is when the dream of a carefree romance starts to fall away opening them up to married life. In the first few weeks of marriage they are living at her home with her mother played by Thora Hird. Who makes life difficult for them under her roof. It’s her way or the highway, and they can’t really afford to leave just yet. The classic mother-in-law type brings reality crashing down for them. She’s hardly in the film but makes a strong impression on Vic who until recently was free to come and go as he pleased, now assuming the role of the husband. I’d like to show you the portion of the film (stills below) when the school romance fades away as they become adults.
In part two coming I draw comparisons with John Schlesinger’s last film of the decade – Midnight Cowboy.
On 16th January I presented my first film talk, the first in a series of community based talks about film, looking into films in more detail than before. The first was looking at It’s a Wonderful Life (1947) sharing my insights of the film with the general public. Below you can read the notes from the night.
Tonight I’d like to explore the darker side of It’s a Wonderful Life, (1946), Frank Capra’s Christmas classic that at the time of release got a mixed to luke-warm response from both critics and general public. His first film post WWII, it was also the flagship film for his new production company, Liberty films which he formed with fellow directors and comrades during the war George Stevens, and William Wyler. Both very different directors; Stevens known for his comedies, especially for the Tracy and Hepburn film; Woman of the Year (1942); where the famous affair began. Whereas Wyler had been making a range of films, a few with Bette Davis who he had affairs with. It wasn’t until he released Mrs Miniver (1942) about a middle class British family coping with war on the home front did his career begin to change for the better.
Turning back to Capra, he was a Sicilian immigrant who came to America in 1903 aged six with his family. He would later to move to Hollywood where he would direct a string of very successful comedies during the depression. Moving forward to just before It’s a Wonderful life was released in late 1946, he has spent the last the duration of the World War two, posted in Washington, holding the rank of Major, in command of the U.S. Film core, coordinating projects at home and out on the front line. Most notable colleagues under his command included John Ford, John Huston, William Wyler, who made propaganda films for both public and military consumption.
With exception to John Ford, he was the most successful of the fellow directors, having directed a number of successful comedies, earning himself 3 Best Director Oscars during the 1930’s alone. The films speak for themselves
It Happened One Night (1934) was the first film and comedy to winning the “Big 5” Best Actor, Actress, Writing, Director and Film. The film follows a journalist who will stop at nothing to get an exclusive story of a runaway socialite before her big wedding.
Mr Deeds Goes to Town (1936) won best director, second in a row, and his third nomination. A musician inherits a vast fortune, spending the rest of the film fighting off city slickers who will do anything for it.
You Can’t Take it With You (1938) won Best director and film for his studio Columbia. A rich Families son falls for a daughter from an eccentric family, who in turn lay in the way of the family business’s plans.
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) most notable for the 12-minute filibuster by James Stewart picked up Best Original Screenplay. A naïve boy ranger’s leader is made governor of his state, when in Washington he finds corruption, not the high ideals who believes in.
All of these films came before Pearl Harbor in December 1942 when he would finish his on-going projects before enlisting. On returning to civilian life, his industry had changed beyond recognition, as much as they wanted him. He wrote in the New York Times about
‘Breaking Hollywood’s “Pattern of Sameness”…This war he wrote had caused American filmmakers to see movies that studios had been turning out “through their eyes” and to recoil from the “machine-like treatment” that, he contended, made most pictures look and sound the same. “Many of the men… producers, directors, scriptwriters returned from service with a firm resolve to remedy this,” he said; the production companies there were now forming would give each of them “freedom and liberty” to pursue “his own individual ideas on subject matter and material”
Five Came Back – Mark Harris – Pg. 419-20
What is this “Pattern of Sameness” that he was reacting to in his article? The article was setting out his opening of an independent studio – Liberty Studios that would produce films unhindered by the moguls. Something that more and more directors were beginning to do. Maybe this “Sameness” was a type of film he was not used to, or produced a negative response in him. Were these the films his contemporaries and even partners in his new venture were all making?
“…his fellow filmmakers, including his two new partners, were becoming more outspoken advocates for increased candour and frankness in Hollywood movies and a more adult approach to storytelling, he flinched at anything that smacked of controversy. Over the past several years he had become so enthralled by the use of film as propaganda that in peacetime he was finding it hard to think of movies in any other way. “ There are just two things that are important,” he told the Los Angeles Times in March. “One is to strengthen the individuals belief in himself, and the other, even more important right now, is to combat a modern trend towards atheism.”
Five Came Back – Mark Harris – Pg. 419-20
His fellow filmmakers were striving for more realism in their work, one response for wanting realism, a stylized realism is Film noir.
“The term “film noir” itself was coined by the French, always astute critics and avid fans of American culture from Alexis de Tocqueville through Charles Baudelaire to the young turks at Cahiers du cinema. It began to appear in French film criticism almost immediately after the conclusion of World War Two. Under Nazi Occupation the French had been deprived of American movies for almost five years; and when they finally began to watch them in late 1945, they noticed a darkening not only of mood but of the subject matter.”
Film Noir – Alain Silver & James Ursini – Pg 10
A new kind of American cinema was flooding into French cinemas.
I’d like to show the nightmare, or alternate reality sequence from the film now. However before I do, I’d like to share what I found in the sequence that fits into what makes a film noir a film noir. There a few themes and visual cues that can be attributed to the genre, each applied to different varieties within the genre, showing how flexible it is.
The Haunted Past –
“Noir protagonists are seldom creatures of the light. They are often escaping some past burdens, sometimes a traumatic incident from their past (as in Detour or Touch of Evil) o sometimes a crime committed out of passion (as in Out of the Past, Criss Cross and Double Indemnity). Occasionally they are simply fleeing their own demons created by ambiguous events buried in their past, as in In a Lonely Place.”
Film Noir – Alain Silver & James Ursini – Pg 15
For George he tries for the majority if the film to escape his hometown – Bedford Falls, which has always pulled him back at the last-minute. His father’s death, marriage to Mary, the Depression, His hearing that stopped him fighting during World War II, until finally he might be leaving to serve a jail sentence for bankruptcy.
The Fatalistic Nightmare – “The noir world revolves around causality. Events are linked like an unbreakable chain and lead inevitably to a heavily foreshadowed conclusion. It is a deterministic universe in which psychology…chance…and even structures of society…can ultimately override whatever good intentions and high hopes the main characters have.”
Film Noir – Alain Silver & James Ursini – Pg 15
You could say that George has been living a nightmare, until he enters into a world created by his desire to not exist.
These are only types of Noir narrative that apply to the film. The look of Noir has been applied to the alternate reality where George enters his Noir Nightmare, the look of the town, now named Pottersville, where we find all the business in town have sold out, part of Potters empire, populated with bars and clubs, another town to drown your sorrows, forget who you are and where you have come from, until reality will ultimately come for payment.
The lighting – Chiaroscuro Lighting. Low-key lighting, in the style of Rembrandt or Caravaggio, marks most noirs of the classic period. Shade and light play against each other not only in night exteriors but also in dimmed interiors shielded from daylight by curtains or Venetian blinds. Hard, unfiltered side light and rim outline and reveal only a portion of the face to create a dramatic tension all its own. Cinematographers such as, John F Seitz and John Alton took his style to the highest level in films like Out of the Past, Double Indemnity and T-Men. Their black and white photography with its high contrasts, stark day exteriors and realistic night work became the standard of the noir style.
Film Noir – Alain Silver & James Ursini – Pg 16
If we look at Out of the Past (1947) which follows a private investigator (Robert Mitchum) who has tried to escape his life, living in a small town as a mechanic, before his old life catches up with him in the form of Kirk Douglas. Here you can see the deep shadow that leaves the characters in almost darkness at times.
Whilst in Double Indemnity (1944) another prime example of the genre we can see how the lights are directed against the blinds, which act more like bars of a jail cell rather than an indicator of the time of day, Light and shadow are used to take us into a dark underworld that is lurking around the corner ready to consume you.
I’m going to play the nightmare sequence now (stills below), afterwards I’ll share some of my observations.
Capra essentially redressed and relight of Bedford Falls? I feel that Capra was reluctant to really delve into the genre he was resisting. He does however replicate the lighting, which is heavily stylised through the exterior scenes and those in the old Granville house, where he had previously (in his living life) threw stones at with Mary. However here it seems more stones have been thrown here, as it’s beyond a ghost house.
I also noticed that it’s the third time that he has jumped/fallen into the water, the first being to save his younger brother Harry’s life, the second as he literally and emotionally falls for Mary, his wife to be.
I can’t remember the last time I spent some real time with this work which I’ve been working loosely with since the summer. Today I’ve spent some good time in the studio playing with my lights and projector, directing them onto the white models I made in the summer. I’ve finally been able to do what I set out to all those months ago. It was rather satisfying to see these ideas take form, if they worked or didn’t was another thing, to actually follow through on a thought that had been there for a long time means I’m happier for it.
So it was all about colour to begin win, wanting to shine block colour, taking the phrase almost literally – painting the town red – with light. I found that the red was coming out more pink, turning to less obvious colours such as green and blue, before finishing with orange. Photographically the results aren’t the best. I found myself returning to earlier work, which is not where I want to be heading, I need to move away from the literal yet atmospheric.
Moving onto another idea I had was to project video onto these essentially blank canvases which meant getting the projector out and finding clips of Westerns I have, seeing what work. Not really choosing anything in particular I went for the rollerskating scene from Heaven’s Gate (1980) which pushed me to consider how to really use the projector and the model, which with every consecutive scene grew ans grew. With this scene it was more about how can I cove the whole or the majority of the model.
It was nice to see how the image consumed the model, becoming an outdoor cinema, projecting its image against a saloon. The image come up well on the model, it will ultimately vary depending on the model being projected onto. I moved onto a scene from The Searchers (1956) which was more of the same. I went to another scene from the film, this time bringing another model, meaning that the projector had to move back to accommodate them both.
What happened here was that the images took on a status of being bigger, yet still very much part of the same world. When I saw the landscape against the more urban models, this is something I wanted to explore, the background being part of these models in the foreground. Pushing it further with the final gunfight in True Grit (1969) which had wide open spaces to take advantage of.
This particular scene worked more so because of the action, the cinematic presentation of the scene, these gigantic god-like being behind the models. I also moved all four of the models in front of the projector, experimenting with layout, creating shadows, which ultimately don’t really matter as the image is still caught on the models in front, the light becomes sculptural. I carried the god-like status through to the next scene – the family massacre in Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) which I was very pleased with, partly down to the close-ups.
For the last set-up I positioned the models into a more conventional street set-up, with a gunfight from A Few Dollars More (1965) which drew me to my final thoughts of the day, linking nicely to the original inspiration of the Marquis in Melton – Street violence, or that of gunfights in the genre. I’d like to see how more models and more gunfight scenes work with this set-up. I still want to see how the cowboy figures work in terms of shadows they produce.
So as you can see I have been very busy and had lots of fun, immersed in the Western. To me this piece is about the violence that is created/depicted in the genre, this is where I maybe leading this piece going forward.
I’ve kept pretty quiet so far when it came to the remake of The Magnificent Seven (2016) which I will be doing until I sit down and see it for myself. Looking at the trailer, they tone of the film is pretty light on dialogue and heavier on actions. The casting looks OK too.
Of course the real test is if it will stand up to the original 1960 film Steve McQueen not the sequels. Very little has been given away so far apart from the making of the seven lead by Denzel Washington which is a good strong choice and will really spice things up. I’ll be looking out for it around its release of 23rd September in the UK. I am wary when it comes to remakes that are of classics that have not been considered for decades this maybe an exception.
Let me know what you think.
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?