Posts tagged “George Lucas

Elstree 1976 (2015)


If I’m honest I had mixed thoughts when it came to Elstree 1976 (2015) a little known documentary about some of the extra’s from Star Wars (1977). Instead of all the docs that had gone before focusing on the stars, the director and the origins of the film that in themselves have all taken on legendary status. But what about those  bit parts which in the Star Wars universe have all become remembered, anything that’s vaguely relates to the franchise is worth sharing, selling or talking about. My reservations for this doc I think came from what could really be discovered that hadn’t already been said or discussed about the history of the film.

As soon as I got started I knew this was going to be different, unique even. Thankfully made in cooperation with Lucas Film that gave this doc more authority allowing it to be more credible, instead of just talking to the extra’s, we have recreations of the film sets, the costumes are brought out if only briefly. All these elements are important in telling the Star Wars story, without them it wouldn’t be authentic to the audience, false and not worth telling. You could say the untold story is more exciting as we have only had glimpses, If you look away from the hard-core fan-base your knowledge is not so sharp beyond the credited actors in the film.

Beginning with introductions that link the extras directly to their action figures, a strong link to the film that no average person can claim to having. Through the figures that helped to provide George Lucas with his fortune and ensuring the next two installments would be possible. The idea of action figures being tied into a film had tried and failed in the past, as history of the film tells us, for Lucas holding onto the rights to the toys was a very clever move. Becoming collectibles over time, practically anything that appeared in the three films has great value (if in great condition and in the original packaging). Ten figures to ten actors faces, all playing varying parts in the franchise’s first film.

Beyond opening comments of having their own action figures they talk very little about Star Wars. We learn of their childhoods, youth and early acting careers none of them as spectacular as Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford or Carrie Fisher who all had more success. These 10 actors have stayed in obscurity more or less. David Prowse the actor behind the helmet of Darth Vader has one of the more familiar stories, an ex body builder who turned to acting after being told he’d never be successful – because of his feet. I forgot he had a small part in A Clockwork Orange (1971). To lesser known actors such as Pam Rose who was in the Cantina as Leesub Sirlin before going onto other extra parts late 1970s and early 1980’s. Whilst others have made a career out of being an extra like Derek Lyons with more than 80 credits to his name, that’s a lot for an extra.

During the main body of the film – the making of Star Wars we gained an insight to what film was like. From the tacky costumes, the 100’s of storm troopers to prosethetics and meeting the quietly spoken George Lucas who got one of them a cup of tea. How some of them ate lunch with Hamill. I learned how some of these extras took on speaking roles such as the storm trooper who waved Obi Wan, Luke Skywalker and co through, with “the droids they were looking for”. All these and more moments that are looked over in favor of the Fisher/Harrson affair, or the quotes about the awful script. What also makes this film stand apart is the gifs, that show us those blink and you’ll miss them moments in the films where the extra’s can be found. Weird at first, you soon get used to what it going on. Really bringing to life those moments that we in the audience wouldn’t care about.

All this before moving onto post Star Wars life, some it opened the doors to steady work as an extra, for others little came of it. Yet the power of that film alone, ignoring Empire and Jedi we have a film that changed so many lives for those who worked on it. Leading to the present the culture that has been created by this little b-movie science fiction film of good vs. evil- the convention circuit that some warming to it, whilst others have shied away from it. Prowse talking about honestly how he has made a career out of Star Wars and fair play to him, there’s money to be made.

I see this short documentary as a nice little insight into those much forgotten actors who brought to life the characters who are just as celebrated, Greedo, Boba Fett and all the X-Wing fighters, the list is endless really. To see the faces behind the make-up and costumes, and their lives which brought all of that to the screen. It won’t be as exciting without an all star documentary, however its something more special, shinning a light on the overlooked actors who did gave their time and effort to bring Star Wars to life.


Duel (1971)


Duel (1971)My lunchtime’s have been recently consumed by reading Easy Riders Raging Bulls: How the Drugs ‘n’ Rock ‘n’ Roll Generation saved Hollywood by Peter Biskind. I’m speeding through it, giving me a really good insight into Hollywood’s silver age, catching up with the New Wave Europe that was racing ahead with new ideas. The old guard (moguls or the corporation’s that bought them out) were not prepared or even ready for the likes of Coppola, Beatty, Lucas, Scorsese, Friedkin, Bogdanovich and Spielberg did for American film. Be that good or bad, that’s up to the individual to decide. Because of the way the book’s written there are times that I feel some directors are not getting a look in until much later on. However there’s a reason, a rational to this, bringing in Scorsese in at the mid-point with Speilberg who we know weren’t doing much in Hollywood, but were there trying to make their personal films a reality.

The book has given me many recommendations (without even telling me) to go away and find these films. Starting with M.A.S.H (1970), there are more I want to get into, I just waiting for them to present themselves. Even a few cheeky revisits which are long over due. I wanted to focus on Steven Spielberg here for this review I wasn’t aware that his first feature film Duel (1971) (not shot on Super 8) was actually for TV. After years of struggling to get anything made and with the curse of Joan Crawford whom he directed in Night Gallery he was stuck in the lesser medium. Once his Movie of the week was aired “Spielberg became a darling of the French Critics”.. (pg 257 – Easy Riders and Raging Bulls). I remember reading an article where a critic suggested that she preferred his earlier work pre-Jaws to that which came after.

I guess she has something there, there is a massive change is tone from the first darker three films that are more adult as much as they are pure escapism you don’t have the schmaltz for which he has come to be known for. Not to say he’s not the worse director for it. He is a master of his medium, yet the title of auteur which is more easily given to Coppola and Scorsese et al. all have very strong styles. What Spielberg has is the ability to deliver big cinematic pieces that can stimulate emotional responses, he’s a master manipulator of emotion I should say. He knows is needed to produce emotion A, by doing B and C in turn to get your attention. It could be argued that he’s never really grown up, that’s what I’m finding from his contemporaries. Which really isn’t a bad thing in terms of his success. He has been able to deal with dark material from the Holocaust to the end of the Civil War, he’s no mouse, however he’s able to tap into the inner child of the audience because he never really let go to that feeling. Looking at his contemporaries work of the 1970’s that is dark, cynical and stylized. Most of them are great pieces of work, the modern classics we have today were made by these men.

Duel is sadly not one of them, for the reason that it’s been overlooked, not celebrated and not properly distributed in the country that produced it. Being shown theatrically in Europe and Japan to great praise, a horror film that relies on that single aspect of driving – Lorries. Admittedly I’m not a fan of those “Kings of the Road”, having to drive on the motorway a lot I have seen what can happen. Previously involved in a road accident that involved one (I’m all in one piece) it really changes your perspective and can change your outlook on how you drive. As much as we need them for the economy to grow I hate them. Spielberg plays on that fear we drivers can have of these vehicles that storm past us, clog up the road and can cause mayhem.

For the director it’s a rare if his only horror film, and not in the traditional sense. It takes place all in a single day, if only a few hours of David Mann’s (Dennis Weaver) life and it’s really enough. What begins just another big-headed road hogging lorry driver. (Sorry for my American readers/followers a Lorry is what we call trucks) is obstructing Mann as he drives to a meeting he is crossing the country for. Getting to the meeting soon fades away as trouble and survival become more important. A chance encounter with an unknown driver of a rusty tanker whose antagonistic and frankly dangerous driving leads to a game of cat and mouse on the open roads of America. This not the same as other road movies of the era, there’s no time for friendship, self exploration or tripping out. Out running the police or even getting the job done, this is survival.

What makes this stand apart from being the run of the mill TV movie of the week is the distinctive cinematography. The opening sequence of the camera being strapped to the bonnet (hood) of the car as it travels through various locations. Telling is we are on the road and have been for sometime. Is this the view of the car or the driver? more than likely the car that holds and carries the driver before we meet the lorry that is to bring hell with him. We have to see the world from the drivers point of view. Not as confined as Locke (2013) which is restricted to the car and the conversations that Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy) has over the phone that alter the direction he take in life. This is not as complex as that, more easily compared to Jaws (1975) that plays on your basic fears, that fight or flight. Being able to move is the only option you have, to think on your feet, those quick life or death decisions. Returning to the cinematography briefly we are able to get into Mann’s head as he tries to work out who the driver once he has stopped after the first 3rd of the film. No one really knows who the driver is, given a few pieces of information.

Could I be so bald as the to make the jump and compare this to a stripped back Western, hell yes I will. We have the traveling gunfighter whose making his way to the next town. Met along the way by a group of Native Americans who want him to move on. Not knowing he is on their land, he’s an intruder and has to go. Or is that too simple, as they continually engage him in intimidation that leads ultimately to the gunfighters/white mans victory. Probably a simple translation but a starting point. We have a lorry that is relentless for reasons no one can understand, its crazy yet we watch on, driven by how we can all relate to dangerous drivers, even those who follow us and are completely safe for miles at a time, simply taking the same road as us.

Summing up in what has become a very long review of a much overlooked of Spielberg’s it’s not the landmark film that changed the landscape of the genre like he achieves with his blockbuster a few years later. Instead it’s a solid little horror film that taps into that shared fear we all have. Drivers or not we all at one time or another fear someone is following us, some with good cause for concern. There’s none of the magic that he channels by referencing classic cinema, taking what works and making it his own. Overall I am please to have seen this little film, running in at 85 minutes, just a little sad I missed his reflection in one of those split seconds of a director who is having fun on a limited budget and making it something bigger, grander, more exciting, ultimately cinematic for the small screen when he couldn’t get there at the time.


Close Encounters of the Third Kind: Special Edition (1980)


Close Encounters of-the Third Kind (1980)I can’t remember if I ever saw the original 1977 cut of Close Encounters of the Third Kind which now seems like far longer than it probably was. It was time to remind myself of this classic piece of science fiction. Released the same year as Star Wars (1977) which would have been stiff competition for Steven Spielberg who would have enjoyed rubbing shoulders up against his contemporary George Lucas. Both having significant effect on the genre and the medium of mainstream cinema that as I have said previously was going through a Silver age in Hollywood. In the closing years we probably have the adult version of Steven Spielberg’s later film ET: The Extra-Terrestial (1982) which flipped the experience to the view of the child.

Both steeped in the wonder of the unknown, wanting to believe what is yet not understand by humanity. That is a brief summation of the film without really breaking down whats really going on. I remember seeing an Inside the Actors Studio with the director who mentioned that light means life, which is indeed very true. The main source of life on the planet we live on, its position to the sun makes it perfect for life to be sustained. To think we are the only civilisation in the Universe is however nonsense, short-sighted and ignorant in my opinion. I don’t buy into the conspiracy theories as there really is little proof. However time will only tell, anything can happen.

Close Encounters is about that possibility and letting it happen, instead of the army, usually American coming out with tanks, briefing the president who then tells the world during the 1990’s onwards. The sense of fear in the films played down, instead focusing on the scientific investigation led by Francois Truffaut and his bearded colleagues who travel the world. Traveling with Nato, a peace organisation that only wants answers, communicating with those who have witnessed and been touched by the blue and red lights that have lit up the nights sky. A universal experience yet shared by so few who are only seen as mad in the eyes of the general public. Reflecting a nation who had been fed lies, not knowing what to believe. Here we have only a few who stay together through this shared experience in rural America (Ohio), some are seen as the usual nut-cases which adds to the humor of the film. However there is no joking out this otherwise outer-body experience.

A young boy Barry (Cary Guffey) is the first to truly accept this bright flashes of light for what they are, he is reached by these aliens who only want to communicate. They don’t cause and destruction to the planet. Instead create a sense of hysteria among the general public. It’s only a child that can truly be open to the unknown as they have no real fear or inhibitions, everything is new, an experience that can lead to new behaviour’s and responses being formed in later life. His mother Gillian (Melinda Dillon) is more cautious but only as a parent, she has shared the same moments, only age determines their responses. It’s about the faith in the unknown and walking up to touch it.

The adult version of Barry is Spielberg’s go to every-man of the 1970’s and 80’s Roy (Richard Dreyfuss) who I could only remember before in the film for trying to build his first Devils Tower out of mashed potato.

An obsession that consumes his home-life and marriage, they leave him out of fear. He’s driven by an urge to create an image that is not fully formed in his head. Like an artist whose trying to express an idea, struggling to find the right form. Not leaving the studio until they see it taking form they way it should be, taking on a life of its own. Roy has a need that can’t be controlled. The audience can only watch on in disbelief at this creative output by both Roy and Gillian who have the energy to carry on almost regardless of other commitments.

Turning again to the scientist who I believe have more screen time in this special edition, I’m not entirely sure if I have seen the original it has been that long, almost becoming a blur of images among the mass of films I consume on a yearly basis, some are more than likely to be forgotten. The search for meaning in the events that they follow’s driven by a sense of understanding not fear. Fear is only a weapon the use later for reasons of safety in the local vicinity of Devils Tower, to keep the event as quiet as possible, it makes it more special, maybe other events have happened in the past, this could be the seed of another crack-pot theory, it’s possible. This weapon of fear doesn’t stop those who have made it past all the barriers both physical and ideological that are in their way. A blind devotion to a feeling that is as indescribable as  the shared experience they had at the beginning.

Away from all the theory this is a classic piece of sci-fi that relies less on special effects for most of the film it’s about the feeling of wonder thats created, the emotion that those who have been touched by the aliens drives them, When we do have these flying saucers that heavily informed by B-movies still hold up today. It’s all about the light, both on the UFO’s and with the cinematography. There are countless scenes where light is flaring, almost bleeding over the frame. This is intentional – light means life – and should leak through from the other space that is visiting the film, rarely are we in the dark for long.

I’m so pleased that I have revisited this film that is all about experience, letting your imagination run away with you. That’s the power of Spielberg’s greatest films, they are rarely heavy on the mind, instead sweeping you on a journey that you rarely get to taken on today. Heavily referencing the classic cinema as he has continued to do; revitalised for a new audience who need have forgotten the power of the silver screen. I felt that less than 24 hours ago, having several moment where I paused in wonder at the images before me.


The Last Picture Show (1971)


The Last Picture Show (1971)This came as a real surprise to me in the listings. In recent weeks I have changed my mind regarding Peter Bogdanovich the once hot 70’s director has become stuck in the past. Ok that’s harsh, he more nostalgic for an era in cinema which you can only get if you watch the classics at home or at your local indie cinema when they find a 35mm print or a film season on TV. Looking at the trailer for his most recent film She’s Funny That Way (2014) which judging by the trailer is just not funny. When I saw What’s Up Doc? (1972) It felt fresh, of its time and relevant for it’s time. Which is what She’s Funny that Way there’s nothing new, an old idea in a different guise. Maybe it’s just me being critical and not up for a modern-day screwball comedy which are dated, yet still work because we love them for their zaniness and moment in time when that comedy worked, the on-screen chemistry.

When I look at The Last Picture Show (1971) I saw all that nostalgia for a time in the directors youth, taking most of that all out and making it relevant to a modern audience. It’s not your classic fifties drama, certainly not a Nicholas Ray film which cranked up the emotion and colour. Here it’s all taken out, softened the image and removing all the happy families leaving you with real-life of a group of kids trying to make sense of adult life in a run-down Texas town that has long seen better days. Bogdanovich wasn’t the only director in a nostalgic mood in the early part of the decade, George Lucas gave us the gem of American Graffiti (1973), focusing on the last night with a group of friends, driving around all day. It was about the cars, the antics, the last moments of freedom.

The earlier film takes place over a longer period of time, high-school life is coming to an end and adult life is heavy on the horizon, they want to be seen as adults by the town. Looking up to Sam the Lion (Ben Johnson) the old-timer who delivers words of wisdom and stories that they eat up. Especially Sonny Crawford (Timothy Bottoms) and Duane Jackson (Jeff Bridges) two young men who are more than willing to explore. They are just knocking about town in their cars, this is a taste of what life was really like and to be honest still is. Bogdanovich is saying you think life was simple and carefree in the movies he grew up with, well thats just not true. There was all the angst, the peer-pressure and sexual frustration, it was simply ignored unless you were James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause (1955) when it was in the air.

What could easily be mistaken for a mid-fifties teen film becomes more adult pretty early on with the kids exploring each other. Looking beyond the soft cinematography to find there’s no boundary between what is adult and child in this film, it’s about crossing that line and trying to stay over it without loosing your head, which is pretty hard to do even for a 25-year old sometimes so you never really know for sure. For these young actors who have varying levels of success, none more so than the dude Jeff Bridges. It’s not really about him it’s about his friend Sonny who begins with his one year anniversary with his then girlfriend, splitting up when he can’t sleep with her, naturally frustrated he figures a way to get his cake and eat it. Which takes the form of the coaches wife Ruth Popper (Cloris Leachman) who has her own problems to deal with, which we are left to figure out for ourselves.

Whilst Duane has similar issues with his girl Jacy Farrow (Cybill Shepherd) who has pressures at home to go out with the right kind of guy, whilst in the process she grows up to be just like her mum. A woman with all the looks and traits that lead her to where she is now, in a marriage of good position but no real love. Sexual politics between men and women hasn’t changed much either, something that she learns later on. The realities of life are not hidden in this film. Marked over the course of a few years with the run-down cinema which we first see showing Father of the Bride (1950), the ideal of cinema really aren’t being reflected in average American life. An image that the rest of the world was being fed, whilst over the in the UK the social realism films such as Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960). An interesting reflection of the images that both film industries wanted to project of their respective countries. With the first generation of school taught film-makers coming-out new radical films changed all of that. Producing some of the most exciting films ever made in America. 

With all these adult events going on in the film, it moves along at a gentle pace, it feels almost normal and part of everyday film-life which makes it so easy to watch until you get hit with teenage sex, death and other shenanigans that would otherwise be censored about 15 years before. It wasn’t what I expected really coming from Bogdanovich, the ultimate film sentimentalist who has tonnes of love letters to cinema made up and ready to deliver.

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The Sugarland Express (1974)


The Sugarland Express (1974)I started watching The Sugarland Express (1974) looking for the glimmers of Steven Spielberg‘s directing style, being his directorial debut. Not long ago seen his contemporary George Lucas‘s first film American Graffiti (1973) making his mark on the film world. Part of the first group of directors who had come out of film-school, armed with over half a century of knowledge to hand to refer to and inspire in their own work. I’ve not seen many of Spielberg’s early films, probably starting more so with Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) where we can see that his visual and storytelling style has been cemented and growing.

With one eye on all of this I couldn’t help but be reminded on the recent story in the news of Ashya King’s family who was discharged by his parents from Southampton Hospital late last month, wanting on the best treatment for their son who was diagnosed with a brain tumour. Reflected in this road caper as a couple of criminals will do anything to be reunited with their son in foster care now.

A mother Lou Jean (Goldie Hawn) with a criminal record has lost her son to foster parents after a string of crimes and time behind bars, goes to extreme length to smuggle out her husband Clovis (William Atherton) who is a month away from being released. The need to be with her son is too strong to wait, time is of the essence for a couple who as we learn will do almost anything in the state of Texas to get back their son.

These events based on fact take up what seems to be the whole states police force to track and follow this couple on the edge after hijacking eager new traffic cop Slide (Michael Sacks) who knows the law back to front who looses the upper hand early on. Leading to him being in the passenger seat for the remainder of the film. As the states police force are literally behind them on the open road as they travel the state with hope is complete disregard for the law. Creating a whole host of mayhem where guns are fired like mad, whilst police Captain Tanner (Ben Johnson) tries to keep things under control, communicating with the couple driven to be with their son. Most of the emotion comes from the wild Lou Jean who is the mastermind of all the antics.

Its pure madness in the heartland of America as a couple bring the state to a standstill, stir up emotions of hope that encourages the public to get behind these law breakers, no law can surely keep a family a-part for long. The law seems to drop away losing all meaning the regular people who flock to see the celebrities of the moment creating hysteria in their wake. Moments of greatness, removing them from normality  are taking place. A hallmark of Spielberg’s work, full of wonder for the common man. The visual cues of light, wonder and children are all there starting to take route in the lives of everyday people.

To make a comparison to American Graffiti can only be found in the youthfulness of the feel of the films as young people find freedom in vehicles over the period of a short time. There’s more of sense of occasion here as life is brought to a stand still, there is not the life changing moment as we leave childhood to adulthood. It’s the survival of the family at any cost, a cost that draws out the audiences emotion amongst all the car-crashes and people who they meet along the way. We can also see a nod from classic cinema with Ben Johnson in a major role, Spielberg is already pulling rabbits out of the hat even if we don’t realise it, taking a risk of working with a first time film director, who had practiced during the 1960’s with a number of television programmes. His theatrical film debut shows that he is able to create a stir of moments, emotion that entertain us without too much of the wonder that he is now known for. There’s no polish here, it’s just the roads, gunfire and madness. All that was about to change.  

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American Graffiti (1973)


American Graffiti (1973)I caught this by sheer chance, knowing that American Graffiti (1973) was made by George Lucas pre Star Wars this I couldn’t pass up. Able to see into what the director had to offers us before he helped to change the landscape of film forever with his later blockbusters. Made very much as a love note to his own youth, brimming over with atmospheric music and cars that don;t just shine but glimmer on the screen. Even today, more than forty years after its release there is still a real sense of love and nostalgia for this time which feels lost.

Taking place over the course of a night and one morning we follow a group of young people who have just finished high-school, ready to go off in their different directions. beginning the night at the place to be, the drive in diner, a massive set piece covered in neon lighting that oozes the past, of the late fifties, and early sixties as 5 kids make the transition from kid to adult in the space of a night, well almost. Filled with new faces eager to make a name for themselves, actors that we would see throughout the next decade or so of film. It’s odd to see a pre-moustached Richard Dreyfuss with a few extra pounds, whilst Ron Howard is about to break into his own stride with Happy Days before turning to directing. You could say this film was a training ground for both director and actors, all out to prove they could make a film, not set in the present day but the not so distant past, something audiences could can still identify with. It doesn’t matter the era, it’s the sense of the impending future that could and will change everything around them, as a major life event can change relationships.

Curt (Richard Dreyfuss) and Steve (Ron Howard) are at opposite sides of whether to leave for college (university, I always get confused). Steve is ready for the new challenge, wanting to embrace it. Whilst Curt is yet to make his mind up, he has no ties, no girl to keep him in town, something is stopping him, himself. It’s Steve who then leaves to spend one last night with his girlfriend Laurie (Cindy Williams) who want to act like adults, even agreeing to see other people during his first term (semester) away. It gets messy for them. Whilst for two other men of the group they leave in their cars. John (Paul Le Matis given Steve’s car to look after, taking his chance to find a girl whilst driving the city streets at night. Whilst drag racer Terry (Charles Martin Smith) is trying to stay out of trouble. 

Each member of the group of friends travels the streets in cars, allowing them one last time to enjoy the freedom of the road and time in-between high-school and college. Theres a real feeling of excitement on these streets, as the race each other, cause trouble, just wanting to have fun before the hard work really begins for these carefree people. All these characters are fleshed out enough that you can see something in each them that we can find in people we know ourselves. All coming from Lucas’s own childhood before leaving for a galaxy far, far away. Everyone is having fun, stretching their talents to see what they can do. 

Taking place over the course of a matter of hours, our time with these people is even more precious, going back and forth between each one. Not one of them gets more screen time. Even though today we would say Dreyfuss and Howard as they are still prominent figures. What I will take away from this film is the classic cars, a part of Americana, the giant bodywork that you just don’t see today. The soundtrack too is one that wherever you were in the film was always humming along like a car-radio keeping things loose and carefree whilst everything wasn’t quite going to plan. A sometimes forgotten film, when you look at the career of Lucas, who did go onto better things, going completely independent from the studios, showing that he could make a movie and have a good time on terra firm before he got carried away with perfecting his vision of Star Wars which has transcended time to become more than he ever thought.    


Is the Blockbuster Dying?


George LucasSteven Spielberg and George Lucas recently told an audience at USC that Hollywood was about to implode, with all the money hungry blockbusters that are released. Causing a collapse in the industry, pushing aside smaller films. Spielberg spoke of his latest film Lincoln (2012) that nearly became a HBO movie, not being able to find a distributor. Thankfully it did, earning itself two Oscars, notably one for Daniel Day Lewis. It seems very odd that for a director of Spielberg’s calibre to struggle to find distribution deals, after thirty years of success. Lucas adds that his own Red Tails (2012) struggled to get funding, which turned out to be box office and critical flop (there must be a reason why it nearly never got made).

They predicted a future with ticket prices a “in which the failure of half a dozen $250m movies in quick succession caused a seismic shift in studio dynamics, leading to audiences being asked to pay $25 (£15) a ticket for films such as Iron Man 3 but just $7 (£4.50) for movies such as Spielberg’s own Lincoln.” It’s ironic that the blockbusters they speak of, would never have existed if it wasn’t for Jaws (1975) and Star Wars (1977) that caused Hollywood to reconsider how they made and sold movies to the public. No longer are we allowed the more thoughtful small movies of the early 70’s with the likes of Al Pacino or Jack Nicholson,with new directors with new visions coming through. Now it’s more about making the biggest return from the biggest spend. How far can you go?

English: Steven Spielberg at the 2011 San Dieg...

Low budget films are indeed on the decline. Just looking at whats coming out in the next year, most of them are big blockbusters and sequels of previously released blockbusters. We are saturated with this films that can be loose on plot, big on action. I could go on and off point here forever a while.

The two directors commented on the struggling directors coming through now that the “many talented young directors were now considered “too fringey” for a cinematic release. “That’s the big danger, and there’s eventually going to be an implosion – or a big meltdown,” That maybe the case, we are becoming saturated with these films, which audience can lose interest in if we have seen enough of it. Over here in the UK things are far better, with independent cinemas showing smaller home-grown films such as Berberian Sound Studio and Sightseers which may not be the biggest films, but fresh, entertaining and different. Something that Hollywood can’t get their heads around. They’ll happily import and distribute them though.

They have a created a form of cinema that may possibly be biting them where it most hurts, in their creativity. More so Spielberg who has had continued success. Unlike his contemporary who after the Star Wars prequels has lost his appeal. Already he has been funding his films independently. But fails due to his own shortcoming as a director and writer. He has an incredible talent for story telling, if only he would take of the blinkers and share the work (rant over).

They way we consume film has changed dramatically over the past 5 years, being able to watch it on any number of devices at any-time, renting online. TV films are becoming more respected, in a medium that is forever overtaking Hollywood with its latest output. Will we be digesting our films on first release in a completely new way soon, such as the upcoming release of A Field in England (2013) that is having a multiple release in the cinema, on DVD and on TV all on 5th July. Much like Iron Sky (2012) which was released in cinemas and on DVD the following day. Partly due to costs, but also exploiting the avenues to access the film to a big enough audience.

The high ticket prices that are mentioned is nonsense, they wont reach such heights in reality. The audience just wont pay them, unless they really want to see the film. In a recession that is going on as long as it has, we can’t afford to pay £10-20, (my eyes bulge at the fee for buying 3D glasses). The preferential prices would work in favour of the lower budget, less desired films that would become the winners. It just won’t happen.

The future for cinema is ever-changing as we see from year to year as we see with is 3D film the latest gimmick to pass, to the sequels. What is happening for sure, is how we view a film that will always be around. The cinema itself will exist, probably in an independent capacity, luckily I know if two that are successes, showing old and new films, seasons of films and festivals, they have adapted to changing needs, having digital and 3D projection. We will always need an escape from reality to far off worlds, romances and mystery and everything in between. As far as Spielberg and Lucas go, Spielberg will always make big blockbusters, whilst Lucas will live off his past successes. Hollywood will re-think its strategy when something out of the blue comes along to shake up the world of cinema, from The Jazz Singer (1927) that first synchronised sound, to Snow White and the Seven Drawfs (1937) that showed what was possible in a new medium. The epic romantic scale of Gone with the Wind (1939) to the fun and vast canvas of Star Wars. Tastes shift over time. Whilst the rest of the world is experimenting and being fresh, Hollywood is trying to adjust that’s all, whilst we are ahead of the game knowing what we like, they are just getting slow in the century of age.

 


Personal Cuts


Mark Kermode‘s latest blog post has really struck a chord with me. not that I have a particular film in mind that I want to re-cut. I know that diehard-fans of Star Wars have taken it upon themselves to make their own edit of episodes 1-3 which has allowed them to produce a personal version of the film that retells the saga in a more satisfying way for the fan. Kermode mentions for the umpteenth time Django Unchained (2012) taking out Quentin Tarantino‘s cameo as an Australian slave owner. I agree he should have had more restraint in what he was doing, staying to the lesser known cameo with the clumsy KKK who discussed the origins of their dress, making them look stupid and unable to see. That was clever and more subtle.

Moving to my main point that if we all take it upon ourselves to edit the films we believe need some attention shows a lack of respect for the piece we have. The work of the film makers who have delivered the work. Of course there are directors cuts that allows the director to return and reshape it, which is perfectly fair, it’s their work. Immediately I think of George Lucas who has taken that agency too far, which has angered fans. Then to look at Ridley Scott who has made alterations that greatly improve Blade Runner (1982). I have produced work using film, but that has changed the form intentionally into a new piece of work.

It would be interesting to see how the opinion of a fan can reshape a film, would they view that as the definitive version? Would they share it online with others to gauge opinion? Would a redit be a group effort? Would new sequences be shot and inserted? There’s a lot to consider when you really think about. If Kermode had the time and resources would he spend time re-editing Tarantino’s work,  (bar Jackie Brown (1997)). Or should we just leave it to the director and the rest of the film-makers?

 


Side by Side (2012)


Side By Side (2012)After all the posts I have made about this documentary, I sat down and rented the film from iTunes, something I don’t really ever do, or will ever do again. Having heard, and read so much about this documentary, I just couldn’t wait to watch this important film Side by Side (2012).

I feel that it’s a very important documentary that covers a lot of ground in just 90 minutes. A stimulating piece that was almost as engaging as The Story of Film: An Odyssey (2011) on More4. Here Keanu Reeves covers all the important aspects of the history of celluloid film to the introduction of digital in the early nineties to its current form today and other aspects around them both.

It seems there are more directors in favor of the digital film than the cinematographer who needs more convincing. I can see how it frees up production time and costs, which today is a great advantage. I felt sorry for Christopher Nolan, who as great a director he is, he’s a dying and stubborn breed of director who wont shift on the matter as easily as his other contemporaries. Yet I understand his position, the process of images being captured photochemically, at times being superior to the digital. But I am constantly reminded of the likes of George Lucas who gave a famous conference in 2000 stating that the new technology are just tools. Coming from the biggest innovator and supporter of digital.

Turning to the other aspects such as the editing of film which has changed radically in the last 20 years from film, and the physically cutting and sticking of film to the edit suites with quiet monitors and giant keyboards. I notice how one editor commented that the traditional technique wasn’t good enough. Again its a method to achieve the directors vision and that vision is what it’s important.

I noticed how balanced the discussion was, made up from the multiple interviewees, allowing for the audience to make their own minds up. I feel from my point of view of my practice, when filming, I rely on a small digital camera, and a fair-sized memory card. I have the images that I need to achieve the desired result. Yet I understand and appreciate the art of the photochemical process that comes with 35mm film, I just can’t afford it.

The discussion moves onto the possibilities of digital, an aspect of film where I have settled my opinion, and shared with Martin Scorsese who is unsure of what the audience believes anymore. We need to know whats real and not. However it’s a medium where we escape to the unreal, so where does that leave us. With all the advances, such as colour-correction they try to involve the cinematographer to ensure the vision is maintained, the aren’t trying to take away from the vision. Again its the vision that is all important.

And how we view these visions was another important aspect, noting that there is a steady conversion digital projection, which takes away from the cinematic experience, to hear the running of the film through the projector as it runs through. Taking us through to the storage of film, how it lasts for as long as the oldest prints in existence. With so many digital formats around, some are already obsolete. It’s the return of film that allows them to stand the test of time. Whilst some of the more cynical interviews cast a more bleak light.

The supporting material that accompanied Side by Side (2012) only serves to enrich the discussion that is presented in a balanced manner. I can only give you my conclusion that sees digital as the inevitable future of the film medium, how we view it is changing too, which scares me somewhat (and subject for another posts) as time progresses. The position of film maybe to archive and prestige films, much as Technicolor was used originally to enhance a film, celluloid will become a treat and rare. I will always appreciate the scratched and dust that appear in the older films, they are literally part of their fabric and should be appreciated and embraced.


A Proper Remastering


With the limited re-release of Lawrence of Arabia (1962) to celebrate it’s 50th anniversary. The film has been remastered, but not as you may fear, only enhancing the picture and sound quality. Revisiting the film to boost its quality. If an original print was re-released the quality would be far less superior, having faded and may even be full of scratches, which you could argue is part of the films aesthetic. I don’t know if the film has been cleaned up in that respect.

The increase in brightness and careful colour correction process, a new sound-mix to match the visual our experience of its original release is maintained and enhanced. Unlike other films, as discussed in the video above, that take the classic and pull them apart and re-release as 3D films, which really does nothing, except bring them back to the screens for a short while. I saw The Lion King (1994) in 3D which was my first time viewing the film on the big screen, I found myself lost to nostalgia and reciting half the lines. Whilst distracted at how this print was different from that I have on the (2000)DVD print. This same process is being applied to other films to just as the video says ‘milk it’ for more money. Of course people will flock to the cinema and view them, many seeing these films mainly on TV, back in their natural habitat it make sense, with the added extra or burden of every frame being pulled apart, and stretched into the 3D format.

Turning again as I have before the Star Wars films that George Lucas just can’t leave alone, with every release, he takes back the older in turn for the new and “improved” version that is nearer to his vision, but what about the vision of the fans who grew up with the original, their memories are being tarnished, Nostalgia is not able to form. The franchise and the fans are not being respected, all for perfection.

Turning to Colourisation that converts black and white films to colour, which is just pointless.  I have a few films that have been damaged by this process. Most prominently It’s a Wonderful Life (1947). The colour version is full of pastel tones, the process has not considered the make-up and the photography of the time. Being all too-aware that they were photographing in black and white, all the elements were tailored that pallet. The Make-up is full of pastel tones, obvuoisly they wont be picking up skin tones so they chose to disregard them. The beauty of black and white films is just that they are black and white, there is a lack of respect for some classic films. It hasn’t been practised in a while now which shows that consumers don’t want these washed out colour version of classic films. When I watch a black and white film, I am drawn in by the photography, which is heightened in film-noirs. I don’t wonder how they would look in colour, as you respect the director choice of film stock. They are also a moment in time, and piece of  work that if touched anyway except to repair we loose what we once had.

Lastly I can’t help but consider the remastering of Disney DVDs, with every re-release they advertise that they have been remastered. I wonder how much work is being done on these films. Are they just repeating statements, or are they using new techniques to enhance/repair the film? Another point is those who saw the original release, are they really being given back the print they paid to see, or are we being sold the idea of that? Of course to see a film in its best condition is always preferred, but you can only polish something for so long before you harm the original.

It’s about finding the balance between restoration of the original print and making a few more pounds to pocket for the distributor, and makers. Theres also a respect for the original that is sometimes lost in the eyes of the industry. Blu-ray is probably the best form of bridging that gap. The film lovers medium to see the films at their near best. The image is enhanced, so enhancing the viewing experience  without any major chnages. Just a clear image.