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.
Now I’m not really a fan if Jack Black who I find too wacky and out there, I have seen School of Rock (2003) which you can tell was made for him. The same goes for Be Kind Rewind (2008) which I finally saw today and I actually did engage with it and with him as an actor, well comedian if I’m honest. I think it was more the film lover in me that drew me to this film.
You’d think that video stores by the time Be Kind Rewind was made there would be no more of these left. As the DVD had long taken over the role of the main home entertainment medium. Now you could say its all about streaming as DVD and Blu-Ray sales are struggling in the era of on-demand viewing platforms and illegal downloads. I have personally taken to not downloading films in support of the film industry. Anyway enough of my film politics and onto this fun film that really pays homage to modern film without being overly romantic about it. As the next film to really do that was The Artist (2011) which really made you soft and gooey inside.
I think what really got me as how these average characters, not some larger than life people, (apart from Black really injected so much fun into this otherwise throwaway film about film. I must say it has given me ideas for a future Western piece I want to make. Ok now lets talk about Be Kind Rewind a film that really should never have been made on the face of it. When video shop owner Mr.Fletcher (Danny Glover) entrusts his store to Mike (Yasiin Bey) whilst he goes on a research trip, he leaves only one instruction, “keep Jerry (Jack Black) out”. Which we know doesn’t last long in a film. After a mad-cap scheme leaves Jerry magnetised he somehow wipes all the video tapes in the store. Reminds of me Thunderbird 1 erasing the footage of camera to ensure they stay top-secret. Which in this case is not good for business as they both find out a day later.
Coming up with a mad-cap ideas to re-shoot the films, beginning with Ghostbusters (1984) with just the two of them, crappy special effects and some clever ingenuity too. All in the hopes that Miss Falewicz (Mia Farrow) who has been keeping an eye on the shop for Mr. Fletcher doesn’t recognise this bootleg version from the far superior original. To a point it works, a shorter version passes her by unnoticed but not her nephew who comes in with his friends wanting more of the same. Placing Jerry and Mike in a sticky situation, one which they come out on-top (for a while). F
They begin to film more, starting with Rush Hour 2 (2001) which we see in much more detail, there is more clever tricks which we are let into. Its seems that no film is too complicated for them. This soon booms into a series of “Swede” films that they make, with the help of Alma (Melonie Diaz) the token woman in the film who also allows them to do more and make more “Swedes” for the ever-growing customer base that had once fizzled out. The shop is however threatened with demolition if it’s not brought up to code/regulation in time.
Of course the legal consequences of all these “Swedes” does catch up with the gang, now reunited with Mr. Fletcher who has taken on this business model. Taking the form ironically of Sigourney Weaver sadly not as Dana Barrett who lays down the law of copyright infringement, pirate videos etc, basically shutting them down in embarrassing style. Forcing them to face the reality of their situation, no longer able to make “Swedes”. Leading them to make a film from scratch about a local jazz musician who was “born” in the video store. Its full of film-making energy which we have been seeing flickers of throughout the film, which finally comes together. It could be seen as disjointed having it all broken up and placed all over the place, from the beginning until the final act when we see it come together, as the film a documentary of Fats Waller. It’s a very loose film with a lot of heart and low-fi techniques that is actually quite heartwarming to watch, a strong reaction to the slick production values of film today. Creating to look and feel if something much older with practically no budget produce this documentary that brings together the community that cinema used to do. Like the other films they made its full of heart and heaps of fun, its got Black all over it and it works.
First off I didn’t know that Studio Ghibili had one more film up their sleeves in the form of The Tale of The Princess Kaguya (2013) which visually reminds me loosely of My Neighbors the Yamadas (1999), thats not the point of why I’m posting tonight. Wanting to add to Mark Kermode’s video on the issue of subtitles, which I myself have gotten used to. It takes time to adjust to foreign language film. The nearest I got before was probably a few scenes where the baddies were talking amongst themselves. I’ve touched on the theme a few times already this years. Most recently with The Return of a Man Called Horse (1976) which was poor subtitled, constantly reminding me I was listening to Sioux, not another language. Also Yurusarezaru mono/Unforgiven (2013) was had its share of subtitle issues, having white text in the snow, bit of no brainer really.
Still Kermode’s post was about the original foreign film versus dubbed version. Thankfully I’ve only really seen the Studio Ghibli’s which have been treated rather well, some under the supervision of Walt Disney Studio’s. In the past even the English language versions have been criticised by Hayao Miyazaki has criticised them (probably the earlier ones). Personally I have seen various versions of these films, sometimes wishing for the original, getting used to the speed that the dialogue is delivered. I maybe re-watching a few again in the original Japanese of Film4 next month, wanting to experience the original language. Its like seeing work in a gallery, when you see it in the flesh, its the best feeling ever, to experience it’s aura, how it was intended to be seen. Of course subtitles aren’t for everyone, kids need the dubbed versions to even engage with the film or they are lost, thankfully more recently the dubbing is done with care.
I know that spaghetti westerns were rife of dubbing, but that i feel is part of the fabric. Italian made, a homage to an English language genre, which is dubbed for an international English speaking audience. I’m used to this, seeing it as part of the fabric, films made quick with international casts, there was no time to get the language right, match it up later in the recording studio. Makes sense when they turned out so many.
Another plus to subtitles is that the audience can and has to be more engaged if they really care about it. You really take a chance to half-watch a foreign film and still understand it. Something I feel I did with City of God (2006) recently, still enjoying the film that had so much to offer beyond the Portuguese language. And that is the sign of true lover of film, someone who can get beyond the language barrier and see and enjoy the plot. Having a film in its original language you are really accepting it experiencing it as the film-makers intended.
A few years ago I reviewed Bad Day at Black Rock (1955) not really understanding what was really going on in this early neo-western. With my ever-growing knowledge of the genre I was hungry to re-watch this short but ever so sweet and tense western that gets to the point and scratches it like a rash until it bleeds allowing the truth to come out of the town that John J Macreedy (Spencer Tracy), the first stranger to step off a train into this tumble weed of a town that has stood still.
From the first moment that Macreedy steps off the train he is met with cold opposition from nearly everyone he meets. All he wants to do is find a Japanese man named Komoko. Is he investigating him for a crime, the strangers purpose is not fully explained until the last act, We and the town are left guess who this guy is, what does he want? We are all on tenterhooks as to what is going on.
A town led by Rene Smith (Robert Ryan) who is hot on the tail of a man who won’t b budged in his search for a man we soon learnt no longer lives out on adobe flats. Smith is a cold calculated man who has everyone under his thumb, able to incite fear in them, reminding them of four years ago, the last time that they saw Komoko who we are told was taken to a relocation centre in the aftermath of Pearl Harbour. 4 years on there is still a strong hatred for the enemy who they have been fighting for four years. Mostly in the form of Smith’s resentment for not being accepted into the forces. Feeding out into the town taking the form of fear that pits the strong against the weak.
The weak don’t stay down for long, with the local doctor Velie (Walter Brennan) who has had enough of the strangle hold on this old western town that has been lost to the ravages of time. Kept alive by a few, some of the old ways never die. It seems that the silent and weak won’t take anymore. Glad to see someone shake things up for them and boy does Tracy shake things up, even a veteran with only one arm can still stand his ground in this masculine world that seems to be lost in the wake of the recent horrors abroad.
We have all the regulars of the west transported to not so distant period in modern history, with as shirt, jeans and that classic hat we are back in the west, out in the middle of nowhere, a perfect place for the truth to be hidden. Made at a time when the fear of communism was at a high, livelihoods in Hollywood on the line in the “witch hunt”. The atmosphere of fear to speak up or stay quiet was at its height. Changing the themes to fears of Japanese Americans, fearing they were once the country’s enemy.
You can feel the tension in the classic western, with tight acting from all of the cast, a broad spectrum of character to represent the nation in a state of fear, The truth is a powerful weapon in the hands of both the weak and strong. Its how we handle it is what matters, making for a film that is on fire as we wait to see who will crack under the pressure of a stranger just wanting to do the right thing.
- GSK Faces a Bad Day at Black Rock (tfoxlaw.wordpress.com)
- Bad Day at Black Rock (1955) John Sturges (twentyfourframes.wordpress.com)
- Two screen-specific scenes from Bad Day at Black Rock (filmschoolthrucommentaries.wordpress.com)
- Bad Day at Black Rock (1001films.wordpress.com)
A few years ago I found Open Range (2003) whilst I was just discovering the western genre, my final year at art-school, I was eager to explore beyond the classic genre, knowing that it starred both Robert Duvall and Kevin Costner both synonymous with the genre. My first reaction to my first viewing of this film was more negative than positive, the pastoral image of the open country that greets us at the start of the film is soon lost to an adult western. And that’s thinking that Stagecoach (1939) was adult, that’s considering it was released over 60 years earlier, the genre has grown up for its time, now here’s another take on a tried and tested plot that allows for more adult cowboys to stand up and be heard. No longer is this a young man’s game.
I think also having watching a few more westerns in between, being able to return to films I first sniffed at has helped a growing maturity that has allowed me to go back to a film that I was considering selling my copy on eBay (glad I didn’t by the way). Also reading more about the genre has opened my mind to what it’s all about, the myth of conquest originally, the birth of a new nation filled with hopes, dreams and all the danger that came with it.
Returning to the pastoral location of the west we find four men, two running the cattle outfit and two hired hands, grazing their cattle on land that is the property of cattle baron Denton Baxter (Michael Gambon) who practically owns the law and the town, trying to run these men off his land. So far it’s nothing new really, yet its the older men pushing each other around, each set in their ways, It’s only when the hired hands Mose and Button (Abraham Benrubi are caught in the middle, making the quarrel personal, its time to sort things out once and for all.
The remaining men ride back into town, stopping at the doctor’s house, home also to Sue Barlow (Annette Bening) who nurses the young Button. Leaving the two men to in town, revenge and justice is now on their minds. We have to wait the rest of the film for the final showdown which is indeed worth the wait, filled with personal exploration of both Boss Spearman (Duvall) and Charley Waite (Costner) more-so Waite a former civil war solider suffering from Post traumatic stress disorder, a condition that was not to be first diagnosed until well into the next century, dealt in 1800’s America with understanding from a gravelly older partner, something that would more likely have been met with bottling up your emotions and carrying on. Becoming more dangerous with a few guns strapped to his belt.
Its Spearman and Sue’s combined input that allows Charley to start to put to rest his demons before entering into a showdown I’ve not seen the likes of since Pale Rider (1985) and Tombstone (1993) within a more accurate frontier town that sees the townspeople rise up and support the classic stranger see that all men are treated with respect. A long yet not drawn out gun battle, feeling the right length for an all out gunfight. A classic delivery that last far longer than your average 5 minutes before gaining the towns respect.
Open Range is far more than I thought it was, a slow western that is too complex, when it needs to be complex to support a maturer cast who we can see need more than a love interest and wrong doing to see this film through. There is a love of the genre that is woven into the film, from the design of the town, to the cinematography of the landscape. Lead actors who have grown up in the genre, Duvall having been part of the dying classic to its present form. Whilst Costner has breathed new life and energy into a genre that has been tired at time.
- O: Open Range (2003) (alphabeticalfilm.wordpress.com)
- Droid Defines the Decades Best Movies #13 Open Range (2003) (moonwolves.wordpress.com)
My first encounter was quite different to now with Aces High (1976), catching only a few minutes of the anit-war film. Instead of being on the more memorable trenches of the great war, we are out in the quiet of France with squadron 76 who about to receive a new pilot, fresh out of training a wet behind the ears to his outlook to war. Lt. Stephen Croft (Peter Firth) is eager to join the squadron lead by his former school house captain, inspired even more by his rousing speech at his school, hoping to enlist more young men.
The tone of hope and glory soon fades when we meet once more the now jaded Maj. John Gresham (Malcolm McDowell) who needs a stiff drink before taking to the skies. The trials of war have taken their toll on this once excited man. The Boy has become a man in the space of a few short years. Unlike the young Croft who pulled strings to get into this squadron, to be alongside his role model. Whilst the older friend Capt. ‘Uncle’ Sinclair (Christopher Plummer) welcomes Croft with open arms, seeing the youth as a breath of fresh air.
We spend a short week with squadron 76 and from day one we see that Croft is learning and growing, when he meets petrified Lt. Crawford (Simon Ward) who wants only to go home. A man who is unable to contain his fear of fighting in the air, dicing with death on an almost daily basis. Using any excuse he can to avoid another day in the sky. Something the other men could deal with far better; singing and drinking in the company of the other pilots.
Away from the squadron we the top brass in a world of their own, discussing rumours and women, not tactics and missions. Even deciding that parachutes for the men would be too much of a distraction. Something that really struck a chord with me. We see in countless WWII films the men landing with parachutes to safety. Today the reason given to with-hold them is sheer lunacy. Probably one of the many issues that can be laid with the out-of-touch generals. Its the men on the field of war who their decisions effect.
As the week progresses we see Croft the boy grow before our eyes into a man. The glory of going to war and fight the enemy is worn away. He becomes more competent a pilot as time progresses but still doesn’t understand much of the world around him. Something which most of the men still are learning themselves. However our focus being on the rawest level, allows us to see the war and conflict from his perspective, played against Gresham who has come out the other end a changed man, who reluctantly begins to play the house captain once more, the rules of school no longer apply.
With a script with little dialogue the emphasis is on the action in the sky, where all men are at risk, not just from hails of bullets but the laws of physics which could take any of them away. Using WWI as metaphor for anti-war is even stronger at the moment as we come up the centenary of the outbreak of the war to settle all wars. When machine became stronger than men, a tool of the greatest and bloodiest war to that date. To see countless thousands of men who gave themselves to fight. For younger men the gesture could be seen as hollow, having not lived to the full before doing their duty for king and country. It’s the loss of young blood against the thoughtlessness of old which we see only for a few scenes, shaping their future. For the pilots who took to the skies are inside machines that gave them such power yet could easily take away life from themselves or others.
The message itself still rings true, even more so this year when we will remember like never before. Having a minimal look to the film, taking place in France it could easily have been filmed in the U.K. Allowing us to focus on the action. Being an anti-war film the ideas will be seen in a different light, as we mark the beginning, the loss and the repercussions of war, its place maybe unsure for a time.
It’s been around a year since Side by Side (2012) was released discussing the use of film and digital in the film industry today. Documenting transition from the celluloid film that had been used for over a century to capture and project films, to the progressive transfer to digital. This journey has come a step closer recently with Paramount Studios announcing that Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues(2013) was their last film to distributed on 35mm film to cinemas. Moving to all digital with Wolf on Wall Street (2013), which was partially filmed digitally. Neither are landmark films (until Oscar night).
Paramount being the first of the major studios to change it’s distribution method. With 20th Century Fox, thought not to be far behind with the likes of Lionsgate and Walt Disney Studios who had sent out letters of this change in the not too distant future to cinemas.
It’s another sign of the demise of film and the universal use of digital to project and capture film. Something that I will personally miss, to hear a projector at the back of a screen. Yet the filming on digital is personally far easier to work with. A romantic notion tinged with reality and progress. Again this highlights the need for film preservation, speared headed by the likes of Scorsese and other film organisations whose job is to maintain celluloid prints of film before the disappear forever. It’s known that a very large portion of silent films are now gone. With the odd one turning up in variable conditions.
It’s independent cinemas who will feel this the hardest with, who will be increasingly finding it harder to find film prints, as more films are released digitally. Paramount is working with cinema chains to fund digital projectors however, which will ease this situation. However will older films that are shown be redistributed in digital form?
It’s all a matter of finance too, costing far less to print digitally, instead of at a lab which are now few and far between today. Today marks the next phase of the digital revolution as the distribution format is changing, for speed, convenience and costs. Whilst at the heart of it all you catch new releases in a large dark room surrounded by others, the core experience will still be there, just the delivery of the print is changing. Which in effect is better for the film, not loosing quality on each print and showing of the film overtime. The only problem that remains is how to them store all these prints for future audiences to enjoy.
- End of film: Paramount first studio to stop distributing film prints (latimes.com)
- Farewell, film: Paramount Pictures to release movies in digital only (foxnews.com)
- Report: Paramount Pictures Cuts Film, Goes All-Digital in U.S. (gizmodo.com)
- Paramount Pictures ‘first studio to phase out physical film’ (telegraph.co.uk)
- Death of film: Paramount is reportedly the first movie studio to go all digital (venturebeat.com)
Made in response to Rebecca Solnit’s observation in River of Shadows: Eadwaeard Muybridge and the technological Wild West. Muybridge who documented the Modoc Wars (1872-3), during which time the Native American nation carried out a Ghost Dance to raise their dead ancestors to help fend off the U.S. Army. Ultimately a failure at the time, the idea of raising the dead was later achieved through cinema which allows those who appear on-screen a form of immortality. Explored in further in the classic genre of the western which has lost gone into a state of decline.
Previously shown at
- BYOB Birmingham (2013), Birmingham,
- Two Queens After Party (YAY), Leicester
- Canned Film Festival (2014), Northwich
- 1 Night Only Film Festival, (2014) Durham
- The Shag, Film Screening, (2016) London
An experimental short video that explored over-lapping footage onto filmed footage. Using a scene from Double Indemnity (1944) Dir, Wilder and a cardboard set that allowed the characters to move around another environment.