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Archive for the month “June, 2012”

Koyaanisqatsi-A beautiful confusion or just a mere slideshow?

Yesterday I went experimental by watching this documentary. First of all it was pretty hard to chew on especially if it is just random images and a score. (Good thing I took a can of Coke and 3 madeleines to snack on during that film haha!). Perhaps I am used to a documentary filled with visuals,voices and sounds. However it was interesting and thought I would put my thoughts here.

It was interesting how this documentary is laid out as it reminded me of a Beatles’ song “A Day in The Life” in pacing-wise.

In that Beatles song-it started slow and gentle,then it slowly paced up till the turing point at 2:17 and it went back in a faster pace. An interesting fact about this part as quoted by music historian Johan Cavelli “The rising orchestra-glissando and the thundering sound are reminiscent of “Entry of the Gods into Valhalla” from Richard Wagner’s opera “Das Rheingold,” where after the rising glissando, Thor beats with his hammer. George Martin said in his 1979 book All You Need is Ears that the glissando was Lennon’s idea. After Lennon’s death, Martin seems to have changed his mind. In his 1995 book Summer of Love: The Making of Sgt. Pepper, he states that the rising orchestra-glissando was McCartney’s idea.” Perhaps what Geoffrey maybe used that pacing as the metaphor of how urbanization is slowly creeped up the natural world to the point we become part of the ‘machine’ as analyzed by Grgeory Rogers for his article in Koyaanisqatsi and the Visual Narrative of Environmental Film-“For the most part, the city-machine functions with extreme efficiency and breathtaking beauty. Yet in contrast to commercial cinema’s homages to the city as a site of heroic individualism and ingenuity, Reggio’s beautiful beast excels in “the destruction of individuality and serenity.” Reggio’s implicit critique is not so much of the city itself, but of a cultural myopia”

Or maybe I could see this documentary as a circle,in the beginning we seen the civilization of man by the image of cave-paintings and in the end,the same image again. It was the cycle of the destruction of the natural world,as humans used explosions to wipe away the natural existence as seen of buildings collapsing and that dangling image of a part of missile zoomed slowly. As Jorn K. Bramann looked into the analysis of that film-“The dependency of people on human-made objects, on technological installations and arrangements created by modern industry, is highlighted by the risks and dangers to which in varying degrees all inhabitants of the planet are subjected. One of the original reasons for developing modern science and technology was the desire to make the world safer to live in—to control and neutralize as much as possible the effects of floods, storms, earthquakes, draughts, epidemics, and other potential catastrophes. While efforts in this direction have been highly successful, the development of modern technology has also created new dangers that can be just as disastrous as natural events.”

If I look it in a general perspective-the average audience member,I could see it as a dull slideshow with a dramatic slideshow. It’s nothing but repetitious images that is equated to photography porn I seen at commercials on my television to save the earth from destruction and doom. At times I question myself “What I am watching this?” and tried to gain my attention to that film by scoffing my face with lots of sugary products. Now that is the problem of this film-while I admire that Reggio is trying to appeal to the masses on the scale of destruction we did with today’s technology,I think it was the techniques that perhaps make it so alien. Showing slow-no images in a trippy manner did not hit the core for many. When I refer to “many”, I mean the people who watched films which shows more action and dazzle without much thought. I could see it as more as a video art in an art gallery than the cinema screenings. It may sound negative but this is life and not every film pleases people.Maybe that is why not many picked this film and enjoy it. It is too abstract for the mind. Interestingly I saw a wordpress comment in a blog post “Koyaanisqatsi: Life Out of Balance” – The world as we know it” and thought I would put as it fits what is the audience mindset of it

The quote by Reggio, that the film’s meaning is “up [to] the viewer” seems like a very cheap way of saying, “If you find it profound for a certain reason, THAT’S what I meant to say with it.”

And to claim that a film has no one interpretation, and then give it a subtitle like “Life Out of Balance,” seems contradictory.

Dear Reggio,

Either you titled the film in a way to bring everyone to a collective conclusion, or you have no idea what your own film is intended for. Make up your mind.

Sincerely,
The World

Even the famed film critic Roger Ebert criticzed its abstract methods and think it’s nothing but the glorification of man

“
This film has one idea, a simplistic one. It contrasts the glory of nature with the mess made by man. But man is a messy beast, given to leaving reminders of his presence all over the surface of planet Earth. Although a Hopi word is used to evoke unspoiled nature, no Hopis are seen, and the contrast in the movie doesn’t seem to be between American Indian society and Los Angeles expressways, but between expressways and a beautiful world empty of man. Thanks, but no thanks.

I had another problem. All of the images in this movie are beautiful, even the images of man despoiling the environment. The first shot of smokestacks is no doubt supposed to make us recoil in horror, but actually I thought they looked rather noble. The shots of the expressways are also two-edged. Given the clue in the title, we can consider them as an example of life out of control. Or — and here’s the catch – -we can marvel at the fast-action photography and reflect about all those people moving so quickly to their thousands of individual destinations. What a piece of work is a man! And what expressways he builds!”

Anyway whenever you think it was a though-provoking film about the environment or just a terrible slideshow with so much ironies. Koyaanisquasti is something different for me. I think we should try to watch beyond our flashy “Hollywood Blockbuster” bubble and try watching something different.

Kaneda without a Cause

After watching Akira (1988) by Katsuhiro Otomo,I did some reading in IMDB and they say they are connected by Rebel Without A Cause (1955). I thought “hmmm” and I thought of that brillant idea to compare the quintessential 1950’s teenage classic to the anime film Akira. They may be made in different countries and different directors but I feel that both are interlinked in similar ways. So this will be my review/comparison topic for today.

Now I will brief you on the stories of these films

I find this a challenge to summarise Akira because it was pretty complex,so here I go-Set in 2019 Neo-Tokyo. That country suffered the effects of a nuclear bombing from WW3. Anyway we met our two protagonists-Tetsuo and Kaneda,so Tetsuo was sent to a secret venue where he was implanted with supernatural powers that could be equated to God. However he went berserk and his only friend Kaneda have to rescue the world from destruction. This film was a cult-classic and perhaps  catalyzed the love and obsession of anime in the West. This film made Katsuhiro Otomo a name to remembered in the anime world and so many people are influenced by his works.

Now to Rebel Without a Cause,the arch-typical teenage film in the 1950’s. It was a simple story about Jimmy (Played by the amazing James Dean) who have some problems in relating to society and his parents wanted to do anything in order to fit in. It gained it cult status because of James’s sudden death before the première. He was perhaps the model of the teenage-hood during the 50’s:Wayward and perhaps insecure as executed by James Dean’s sheer acting.

O.K if I just mention James Dean,everyone would totally think of that image of James Dean wearing that red wind-breaker with the simplest t-shirt and jeans. It was rebellious and it was so classic that I wanted to emulate in my dressing for myself. Actually Ray wanted to make this film in Black and White,however when Ray tried colour film-they have to think quickly for Jim’s outfit. Rumours said that he bought it from a Red Cross outfit and that is how it was born.

While James Dean have that famous jacket,Kaneda have his own red motorcycle suit.Well expect he have the capsule pill on his back which will be the recurring motif for the film on the psychic kids have to be dependent on medicine. It was interesting that it could be linked to imperialism as the japanese flag have the red sun as their motif. Even his motorcycle was also red too,if you are not wowed by that famous scene when Kaneda drove his motorcycle. Then I don’t know who would it be. I think Otomo subconsciously used that jacket image we get from James Dean to bring his idea about the alienated youth.

Secondly it was the complexity of the relationship between Plato and Jimbo can be similar to Tetsuo and Kaneda. We know that both came from dsyfunctional families.In Rebel Without a Cause for Jim-he have the difficulty to relate to his father who was passive. According to Senses of Cinema article “Finding the Father: A Psychoanalytic Study of Rebel Without a Cause”-Chris Wood added that ” his father lacks the courage to act upon it. For Jim, even the word “chicken” sends him into violent bursts, as it conjures up negative images of his father, who is “hen-pecked” by Jim’s mother. “She eats him alive,” Jim tells Juvenile Officer Ray, “and he takes it. He always wants to be my pal…If he had the guts to knock Mom cold once, then maybe she’d be happy…I’d never want to be like him.” He added his case with an analysis from Vicky Lebeau on Dean’s character that there is a “‘palpable desire’ for parental authority, and the alternative family set up by the adolescent rebel.” On the otherhand Plato’s father could be either absent or deceased,he craved that attention from the parents that Chris added that the acting of murdering the puppies could be seen as “Plato’s scrutiny of, and contempt for, any paternal gesture of kindness.” So they co-related each other as they wanted to have a secure family and a paternal feeling. It could be almost sexual as many theorised Rebel Without a Cause in regards to teh relationship between Plato and Jim. That energy was also felt in the set itself as recounted by Sal Mieno (Plato) on working his co-actor James Dean “I was in incredible awe of him. I was fascinated by him. I think it was sexual to an extent, but I had no idea or any understanding of affection between men. I really gave him hero worship, and I recognized later what it was, but the feeling then was that I couldn’t wait to just get near him… It was only years later that I understood I was incredibly in love with him.”

On the other-hand Akira is very different from Rebel Without a Cause if Plato really depended on Jim to be the fatherly figure that he could not have, Testsuo wanted to rebel from Kaneda-the father figure. In one scene when Tetsuo kept on punching one the Clowns bike gang member as a form of revenge,Kanada try to intervene the meaningless killing-“Do you wanted to get him killed,that is enough” and there he attacked him back “Do you know I was let-down,I don’t want you to protect me.” It seems that Testsuo desired the parental power that Kaneda have,he keep on swearing that he would acquaint with that power. Of he did through the “experiement” in the lab and he did gain that power. However it proved to be detrimental for Tetsuo as he suffered hallucinatory nightmares of his powers (thanks to the growth-regressed espers) and he formed to a mutated creature. Just like Plato in the end when he got accidentally shot by the police,Tetsuo disappeared or “died” from the existence of Neo-Tokyo. It is interesting that their relationship does not have an erotic energy as it was perhaps played down to show how humanity used its power.

Both Jim and Kaneda have almost similar character growth process,while Jim’s sensitive personality formed the new image of the masculine image during the 50’s by his ambiguous personality and a softer approach. Kanada is perhaps your typical brash Shoenen (Boys’ manga) male character-very brash and yet super loyal to his “nakama” which was pretty much the opposite to Dean’s image. However they have to reach a point of maturity when they navigate what the world is. For Jim,it is the realization that he must take up his role as ‘a man’ and learn how to take full responsibility to his actions. Chris Woods cite the ending of Rebel with this quote of the growth of Jim-“Jim’s covering Plato’s corpse with his jacket is a last display of paternal love for his fallen friend, and in a symbolic display of adult initiation, Jim’s father wraps his own jacket around his son’s shoulders. “Whatever comes we’ll face it together,” he assures Jim. “I’ll try to be as strong as you want me to be.” Jim’s father is now willing to help guide Jim into the symbolic world, although the boy seems to have made it there already.”  It showed about Jim’s maturity to take in responsibility in the world unlike Plato who wanted to retreat to his childhood. On the other-hand Kaneda have his growth as a character as he questioned on the power of that so-called “Akira” and the power of humanity when it encounters science. There is one scene when he recalled Kei saying the same line as one of the espers on humanity and how they used that power. He questioned what is that power on how it was used. We can see it in the end when Kei rescued Kaneba and he witnessed the shirking of his world and of course the inevitable disappearance of Tetsuro. As one of his motorcycle gang memebers asked “Where is Tetsuro” and just like Jim in Rebel,he gave a response to him “He disappeared.” and there was a happier ending as Neo-Tokyo have a brighter outlook unlike the somber ending of Rebel Without A Cause. In the end Kaneda and his companions can ride to the world safely thanks to Tetsuro and the espers’ sacrifice to save humanity.

In conclusion,it seems why there is a connection of Rebel Without a Cause and Akira despite being separate in genres and countries. I think Otomo wanted to use Ray’s teen angst to highlight the theme of Akira, externalism of humanity and its power. Whenever it was that familiar homage to that red windbreaker that James Dean wore during his rebellion with Kaneda’s motorcycle suit. Or the dymanics between Tetsuro and Kaneda that could be viewed as the father-son relationship without the homosexual edge. Even the way Kaneda developed as a character could echoed Jim’s growth to maturity. So I will end this comparison with the quote from one of the esepers Kiyoko that could summarise the aspect of Akira and rebel without a cause “The future is not a straight line. It is filled with many crossroads. There must be a future that we can choose for ourselves. ” Basically it just simply boiled down to personal choice and the journey the characters have to take. Is it why we enjoyed watching films,because we could relate to the main characters emotionally and mentally.

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Art of films:Waking up Sleeping Beauty (1959)

I remember one of my lecturers said that film is the seventh sister of the arts,combining every art known.Basically this little column focused on how art history was incorporated to the world of film.

Today I will gave myself the most difficult task ever in my film geeking history,revisting a childhood fairytale “Sleeping Beauty.” There are so many people who grew up watching Disney animated features,perhaps this beauty was perhaps a staple of our childhood. Here it is not only radical,visually but also in story-telling. Here I would be focusing on the art of Sleeping Beauty and how it incorporates art history to its animation style.

For some background history on the production of sleeping beauty-basically Disney have some triumphs with the release of Snow White (1937) as the first animation feature-length film and during the early 50’s Cinderella (1951) did extremely well on the box offices. Subsequently Disney released more animated films but not as well-received as Cinderella like Alice in Wonderland (1951) or Lady and The Tramp (1955). In addition Walt Disney way too focused on Disneyland,so he neglected the animation department.According to the Perfect Picture-Sleeping Beauty, Disney thought how to make it very different from his previous fairytale blockbusters. Well first the story was way different as there are no sub-plots for the minor characters or lots of humour. However what it makes it so different is perhaps its animation style that is such a marvel for today whenever you are an animation buff or a casual viewer.

During that period,illustration and design have gone to more stylized with its block-like shape and limited colour palette. So it looks something like this

Now Walt thought of applying that same philosophy  as one commented that “Sleeping Beauty seems to be that response to that question in a feature film.” So the look of Sleeping Beauty leans to be “More designee, more sopishcated and more decorative.” as seen in a concept art by Eyvrid Eale. (I would be mentioning about his works very soon)

Interestingly Walt mentioned that his concept was ‘moving illustrations“,So if you paused a frame in Sleeping Beauty on your DVD player,well it’s basically look well-composed illustration itself. (I suggest you try it and let me know). Here is a Blu-Ray example of what I am talking about

So John Hinges (The layout artist) visited the Cloisters (Metropolitan Museum of art branch dedicated to Medieval art) and saw this piece that will inspire the look of Sleeping Beauty and emulates Disney’s vision to life.

Ta-da! The Unicorn tapestery and there they got their inspiration from of course Medieval and Gothic Paintings and manuscripts

And some as far as Persian Minitaures

Extremely detailed backgrounds (well it takes the background painters 8-10 days during the production of Sleeping beauty to finish 1 background of Sleeping Beauty)

Jewel-Like Tones

Block-like designs which is in trend during the late 50’s (Fun Fact:Eyrind Earle did these detailed manuscripts like paintings in a specially made book for the prolouge and ending)

The original book

Even the costumes are slightly inspired to Sleeping Beauty

This is the closest we can get to Sleeping Beauty. (Aurora’s costume)

This is a page called “The Book of Hours” which is an instruction manual for harverst and I found a similar homage to Earale’s concept art.

Another fun fact again,in a commentary by Disney animators John Lassiter,Andreas Deja and Leonard Maltin. The character designs of the goons (A.K.A Malecifent’s evil sidekicks) are based on the creatures in the painting called The Temptation of St Anthony (1505-1506)

Basically the design team did borrow some inspiration from Renassicene paintings too. Now you need a dream team to executed the intricate nature of these paintings let’s focus on the man who created the most beautiful backgrounds for Sleeping Beauty:Eyvind Earle.

One commented that Earle “was a quiet man,almost private”. Despite Walt’s immersive support for his art direction-the animators would say otherwise and they are totally against his style. Even in the revival of Disney animation in the 1973 at the Lincoln Center-Frank Thomas attacked Earle publicly. However that backlash from his fellow Disney animators who called his art direction too ‘Austere” does not hurt Earle because he perhaps created the dream Walt wanted. He managed to fused his unique abstract block-like style with the influences of Medieval and Gothic paintings beautifully.

Now compare to the concept art/backgrounds for Sleeping Beauty,it looks strong and graphic as opposed to the more romantic and gentler art directions of the past two Disney films.

Now I would do a rundown of the most iconic and famous scenes of Sleeping Beauty

Once Upon A Dream

Well this song may be called Once Upon a Dream,where Prince Philip meets Aurora for the first time in 16 years. It was an animation nightmare for the animators itself. It took 4 times just to reanimate that scene it almost make the company gone bankrupt and lots of heated arguments filled teh animation room. Burny Mattiniston (The animator of Malecificent) once recounted on the approval from Walt himself during an interview with Animated Views-“it’s the first scene done to see if the animation would work with Eyvind’s backgrounds and it was critical to Walt to see if this approach would work…and the fact that I had to redo it so many times. Marc took me to a local restaurant and gave me a cake saying ‘Happy 31′ when Walt okayed it for final color!” It was that eye of detail that makes Sleeping Beauty such a success in the animation department.   I recommend that you should watch this feauturette-“Scene 8” which talks in depth on the animation sequences of Once Upon A Dream and the problems during that well-loved sequence.

Now to the analysis,in contrast to the extremely intricate backgrounds of Earale which echoed the influences of The Persian Miniatures and Gothic paintings. The character design of Sleeping Beauty was sleek and elegant-like. It is no surprise that Aurora was inspired by Audrey Hepburn!

Of course we also see the jewel-like tones as seen in Phillip’s cape. It adds that modern edge that is so co-linked with the current period. To me the red could stand the strength and it echoes Aurora’s pink/blue dress.

It was beautiful to look at and personally I feel it was worthwhile that these animators spend hours and days just making that extremely beautiful and perhaps well-loved sequence of that film. Here is a live-action reference of that dance sequence of Aurora

In contrast to the serene (Yet nightmare sequence for the animators then) Once Upon A Dream, as John Lasstasser commented the climax sequence as “the scene that scares the heck out of kids,a spectulaer ending and makes use of the new screen format” By the way the screen format he talks about,Sleeping Beauty was filmed in 70mm (Previous films filmed in that format are Lawrence of Arabia,Ben-Hur and Kubrick 2001-A Space Odyssey)

Perhaps it was perhaps the most awe-inspiring scenes in Sleeping Beauty. The use of purples,yellows and blues are absolutely fitting as the colours of evil and darkness and it seems that it leans more to the illustration-like nature  by the block-like designs like the scene of Prince Philip going through the forest of thorns. as opposed to the extremely detailed backgrounds we seen in Once Upon A Dream .It feels like an illustration comes to life before your eyes.

The Animator of Maleficent’s dragon form was inspired by the movements of a rattlesnake and you see the live action reference video I put in on the photo recreation of the battle sequence, you see the dodging back and forth like a snake. It was that sheer amount of that detail that Disney painted special attention that makes the most frightening scene ever in Sleeping Beauty.

After a decade in production-Sleeping Beauty opened on 10 January 1959 and it actually did well in the box offices,making it the first grossing film next to Ben-Hur (1959). However it leads to detrimental results for this gamble as Disney slowly swapped its to Xerox software (We will see prominently later in 101 Dalmatians and The Jungle Book) in the 1960’s and there will no more animation fairytales till The Little Mermaid (1989).  It nearly bankrupt the Disney company eventually.

However it was all worth it as it inspired so many young animators to take up the quality of Sleeping Beauty into their films. Many admired Earle’s stylized art direction and of course creates so many memorable sequences that was etched to many minds. Recently Tangled (2010) wanted to hark back the old days of Sleeping Beauty.

To conclude of my really extremely ambitious post I shall put a quote by John Canemaker. As commented at the beginning of the documentary “Perfect Picture-The Making of Sleeping Beauty.”-“It is the end of the era,the end of animation,we will never seen this opulence again,the lavishness and the meticulous craftsmanship that is gone.” Yes this type and scale of animation may not been seen again in today’s animation films. However there is hope that many generations would watch Sleeping Beauty and do appreciate the boundaries of animation they have reached today.

I would like to thank my sister,she was previously studied animation to let me to take the challenge of analyzing our childhood film with fresh eyes. I admit it was tough to find essays or information for that film on the net online. I have lots of fun rediscovering that classic and when I rented my DVD of Sleeping Beauty. I just want to pause the DVD and admire how beautiful it was.

When a threesome is never ever a good thing-A look into Jules Et Jim (1962)

Sorry for some certain silence as I have been slacking on my Hero (2002) post. Well anyway to make this up how about looking at the dynamics on Jules et Jim? Basically hailed as one of the French New Wave classics,this summarized this extremely brief yet vital period in film history. In case you are wondering I called this “when a threesome is never ever a good thing.” ? It is actually what I am thinking pretty much after I watched this classic. So I would be highlighting the love triangle between Jules,Jim and Catherine.

So here is how the story goes,I will try to be spoiler-free as possible. Before The Great War (WW1) a friendship was born between passive Jules and lady-killer Jim who met each other in a station. All goes well till they met Catherine,a eccentric and free-spirited girl. Both fall in love with the same girl and things get really really messy.

Here I am going to look at some scenes and how it subconsciously seeps through my mind. Of course I know about this film because I watched Amelie (2001) and they refereed to that film by a literal sense. I could sense its influence by the use of the voiceover. The voice of Jules Et Jim have this fairy-tale like feeling as if they are telling the audience a moral story of the loss of innocence while Amelie is more towards some dark humor and whimsicality. For instance the ending scene,I was taken aback when I watched Jules witnessing silently about that crazy incident of Catherine driving recklessly to that bridge with Jim. To me what makes me give that “Whut” face to be precise was the voice-over ”

Jules would never again fear
that she would cheat on him...
or die... because it was over              
The bodies were found in the reeds
Jim's coffin was bigger than life.
Catherine's was a jewel-box
They left nothing                
Jules had his daughter
Had Catherine enjoyed the battle?
No                 
She'd dazed Jules to the point
of nause He felt a surge of relief               
The men's friendship
had no equal in love                
They'd totally enjoyed little details
and tenderly noted their differences
From the start they'd been called
Don Quixote and Sancho Panza
The ashes were put in urns
and sealed away                   
Jules would have mixed them together 
Catherine had wanted
to be strewn from a hilltop...
but that wasn't permitted
 Perhaps it sounds so ironic especially this narration “From the start they’d been called Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.” In the beginning Jules mentioned to Jim during their first meeting that they are similar to that literary friendship. It was Catherine who torn their friendship and Jules have to suffer the consequences here.

Secondly it is similar to Amelie as the main female protagonists,as both are free-spirted in behaviour-wise. While Amelie was pretty shy and afraid to make human contact,Catherine seems to be feistier and unwilling to settle down in life. It was seen that she betrayed her husband Jules,who passively accepted her affair with Jim. She do not want to be held down by being a good little housewife and submit to her husband. It echoes the days of the 50’s-60’s when the feminism movement arises and the ladies wanted to take control of their own lives. Perhaps Truffaut was commentating on how young females were like,breaking free from the destined roles as housewives and taking up the more masculine role. It was interesting that that famous catch scene that Catherine disguised herself as a man in that scene. Perhaps it hints about the rising role of women being dominant to post-war society. Jules was perhaps taking the submissive role of the househusband and while Catherine was ruling the roost over him.

However what makes it stands out from Amelie was its frank use of sexuality,perhaps it would shocking to the pre-50’s generation then. Their views of sexuality was liberating in contrast to the stuffy view of old. It was normal for them to be extremely open to sex during that period. However I am glad Truffaut did not blandly show these scenes in a literal way,otherwise I think will spoiled the film. It was interesting that they set the film during The Great War as it added so much irony about their views of sexuality-Perhaps it would be a shocker if two guys stayed in a house with a woman then. Fast forward to 1962,it seems normal now. However we could see the tragic consequences,as both Jim and Jules are incapable of giving their time and devotion to Catherine whenever physical like the miscarriage or mentally like Jules’ incapability to be a strong husband for her.

Perhaps to summarize everything from this post,why I put this title-Perhaps Truffaut is making a commentary on the human nature as Germaine Geer summarised in her review for that film in Guardian (link) “The question is not, after all, whether a woman can love two men at once, because obviously she can. But for true love to flourish, as Jules and Jim could both tell you, the parties must be free and equal.” We can easily satisfied the self but however we are so unwilling to spend some time for the partner and relished on self. Might as well don’t have a relationship at all. That is why it is so tragic when Jules watched Catherine did a reckless act and taking not only his best friend but also his wife which he is incapable of caring her. So I will leave with the quote again.

Catherine had wanted to be strewn from a hilltop...but that wasn't permitted

Hero (Ying Xiong)-a myriad of colours (2002)

I confess when I watched my first Zhang Yimou film-Raise the Red Lantern,despite watching it twice (One for personal viewing,the other time for History of Film for the Chinese 5th-6th generation films), I absolutely hated it. No matter how beautiful his cinematography is or Gong Li’s performance. I thought his works are quite terrible til I watched his recent films like The Curse of The Golden Flower and recently Hero. There I get to appreciate his beautiful cinematography and compelling stories. Today I will discuss on the colour scheme of Hero (Ying Xiong) and how it helps to redefine the “Wu Xia” genre.

Here is the story-In the Warring States era in China,we met our protagonist Nameless (Jet Li) who travelled a journey to tell the Emperor about his success of murdering 3 notorious asssaissns. However it was not what it seems. It may sound familiar to another film Rashomon (1950) by Akira Kurosawa in the narrative aspects. Yes we get different accounts on how Nameless actually killed the assassins,we the audience do not know which account is true or not. Actually Zhang Yimou cited Rashomon as the inspiration for the script for Hero. I could called it the colour version of Rashomon so I would dissect on the colour scheme of Hero.

Black

Firstly we enter the film-Hero,where we meet our main character-Nameless. Everything was almost monochromatic,it was filled with nothing but neutrals. Black represent the somber nature as Nameless comes up to the Emperor to tell his story. In Chinese culture Black was regarded as the King of colours. So it’s quite appropriate that the emperor is wearing black here.

Red

I did some readings from Cinematographer Christopher Doyle (He is the DOP behind Wong Kar-Wai’s In the Mood of Love and Chungking Express),he actually expressed that Asian Cinema rarely used red as they are afraid it would stereotype China’s imagery. Well it was until In The Mood of Love til Doyle boldly used red in here. Red expressed passion and anger. It could be seen as an aggressive colour. Here we were given Nameless’ story that he managed to kill two assassins by deceiving each other,for Broken Sword’s betrayal by making love to his maid (This was added to the best sex scenes ever despite being brief-who can’t love the cloth folding image) and of course Flying Snow’s Anger.

Blue

Here it is the Emperor’s version of the story-Blue usually stand for calmness and in Chinese Culture stands for immortality. Here the Emperor seen them as calm,rational individuals who were willing to go with Nameless to kill the emperor. It was interesting they fight in the water-which stands for life. In the end it was Flying Snow who died as she sacrificed her life for the kingdom.

Green

Here it’s Nameless’s second story to convince the emperor here.  Green represents life,in chinese culture-it represent harmony and health. It was interesting that they used green as it could represent envy here as Flying Snow was perhaps jealous that her partner did not succeeded in killing the king. Both are never killed in this segment.

White

Here this perhaps it was the truth behind that story. It was interesting that they chosen white as it have various interpretations. In Chinese culture-it represents death whilst in Western traditions,it represents purity and justice. I found that sequence interesting as they used the desert as the setting and some shots remind me of Lawrence of  Arabia (1962). Maybe Zhang Yimou wanted us to understand the idea of barrenness and the lack of understanding here. China is vast but however it could be conquered.

However we came back to Black,and in the end after hearing various stories,we do not know whenever it was true or not? But we do know that great sacrifices have to be made in order to create peace. Even the emperor seems unsound despite Nameless sparing him form his murder. The ironic thing is that Nameless was buried as a hero,perhaps there is some distortion of truth.

 

Alice in The Cities analysis

Originally I was intending to do an analysis on Alice in The cities (1975)-Wim Wenders…However I found some interesting essays and analysis on it. Thought I would share with you guys

http://cinephile.ca/archives/volume-5-no-2-the-scene/alice-in-the-cities-the-uses-of-disorientation/

This one focused on how Wim Wenders used disorientation in his film. I found it interesting that we see it in Alice’s eyes.

http://travissaves.blogspot.sg/2011/07/alice-in-cities-anti-lolita-meets-paper.html

Quite an interesting comparison between Alice and the cities with Lolita. I found it intriguing as I watched Lolita before and Wenders used almost similar shots to Lolita. I need to watch Paper Moon to get that analysis.

Maybe I would focus on how similar is Paris,Texas to Alice in The Cities or Wim Wenders’ Americaization. Any suggestions?

The whimsicality of Amelie (2001)

An Amelie homage done by GuroLoli

I know Jeneut’s works since I watch clips of Delicatessen and A Very Long Engagement during Production Design Class,he seems to have a unique style of cinematography which blurred the idea between reality and fantasy. It’s fairytale-like yet it is grounded to reality itself. Perhaps the world known his true auter style when they showed Amelie in 2001,which he worked during his production with Alien. Here I am doing some quick analysis on how Jeneut convey that whimsicality in Amelie in terms of narration,cinematography and Production Design.

The Opening

Play from 0.37-3.20 (Sorry I can’t find a better opening on Youtube)

The opening was almost fairy-tale like with the narration,when they narrates about Amelie’s birth. He seem to observe the little details on the day Amelie was born-like how the glass sway back and forth,an old friend canceling the details of a dead friend in his notebook for example. It was tinged in a yellowish tone to bring us the nostalgic and warm time. There we are shown the process of pregnancy and birth from the microscope footage of the fertilization and the time-lapse footage of the pregnancy and birth. The music was soft and calming as it remscience the days of silent film days.

Later we see the title sequence of Amelie,the main character as a child doing little activities to amuse herself whenever it was suck raspberries from her fingers to her mouth or pressing her face to the camera. It leads us to this child-like air to the film. It was time of simple pleasures like relishing your favourite milkshake or doing puppets from the mouth. Even the colouring of the shot adds that nostalgic feel with the cross-processed yellows and greens.

It carried out throughout the film that air of whimsicality by its clever usage of the narration like pointing out the obscure quirks of the parents like the parents’ OCD manner to organize their belongings in an orderly manner. Even the use of CGI (Computer Graphic Images) to illustrate her imagination coming alive to cope with her loneliness. There it applied that same colour palette that was established during the title sequence of the film.

Now fast-forward to the present day,we seen Amelie as a painfully shy waitress who worked in the cafe appreciating the simple things in life with that child-like energy. There it was cut in a fast-paced manner showing close-ups or L.S of Amelie-which highlights her joy in simple objects like “the sound of a cracked creme brulee with a teaspoon.” or sinking her hand to a bag of beans. To me it looks like Amelie have these pleasures to feel the sense of touch that she lacked as a child. That connection with people she lacked. Interestingly there is a snippet of Truffaut’s film-Jules Et Jim which they showed the couple kissing,however Amelie seems to be detached from the main moment and focused on the little details in the film like “The fly on the wall.” We still have the narrator telling us on Amelie’s experiences which added to that whimsical fairy-tale like atmosphere here. It even intrudes slightly to Amelie’s cheeky’s thoughts. It was frank but at the same time it have a sly sense of humor here.

Later on,we bring us to the inciting incident of Amelie’s realization to help people when she heard about the news of Princess Diana’s death. Some background on that part-Princess Diana was pretty well-known for her humanitarian projects and it was a shocker for England in regards of her death. Perhaps it gave her that realization,that there is more to life and the discovery of a tin box gave that catalyst that she could break out from her solitude. Again we seen the warm colours in her bedroom which represent the exuberance and passion for life. There her adventure starts.

I would like to highlight the painting that was covered in Amelie,to me it really helps in adding that meaning to the film. Luncheon of the Boating Party. by Pierre Augustine Renoir. For those who are on the err-side of Art History,he was one of these artists who are in group-The Impressionists. Well you know their goal is to depict life within an impression  as due to the popularity of photography during the 19th century. What is interesting is how Amelie could relate herself to the lady who is drinking through the glass (I.E Ellen Andree). Is she thinking about the life she was living or being distant? I feel that it adds that whimsical factor to Amelie,just like Ellen-she was afraid to interact with people due to her deprival of her parents’ affection or perhaps she became wistful for the future that she may find someone to link with. Like the painting,it is up to our interpartion about how we view life-are we going to take pleasure in the simple things or complicate ourselves with too much chaos?

By the way,Jean Renoir was actually Pierre-Augustine Renoir’s son and he created the movement of French Poetic Realism which the critics at Cahiers et Cinema (Famous people are Truffaut and Jean Luc-Godard) raved about his works. Talk about complicated.

We are also given the male lead Nino,like Amelie is pretty quirky as he have an obsession of collecting discarded passport photos. His name is interesting because in Spanish-Nino means Young or Childlike. He have this similarity like Amelie,he is also painfully shy because of a bullying experience and he was ostracized for his quirky habits. We didn’t see him speak at times,which echoes Amelie’s nature. However in the end,when Amelie realized he is at the door,they did not speak at all. Therefore it adds a feeling of satisfaction that Amelie gets to meet Nino at all,despite her shyness.

To finish off that whimsical air in Amelie,there is a similarity of Wong Kar-Wai’s Chungking Express where Amelie ‘raided’ the bully grocer is almost similar to Faye raiding Cop 633’s apartment.

It looks similar that the pixie-like leading ladies tried to come into a person’s household for personal reasons. For Chungking Express-Faye wanted to enter the house in order to cheer up 633’s broken heart to the point she emulates his former girlfriend. On the otherhand,it was almost heroic that Amelie wanted to teach the boss a lesson on bullying his colleauge,by playing some pranks on to the point of being cruel. That is why it added to that fairy-tale like charm.

In conclusion,I feel that the story have a sense of whimsicality by the use of the all-known narrator and simple plot. The characters could be appeared as one-dimessional like the bully boss or develops slowly like Nino. It was executed by the ‘cross-processed’ look that makes it  nostalgic. Therefore you are transported to that world which everything is possible

 

Musings:Enter the madness of Apocalyse Now

Well guys,I would be talking about Apocalypse Now (1979) by Francis Ford Coppola by how they conveyed the ‘maddness’ of war by its music choices and cinematography.

“You smell that? Do you smell that? Napalm, son. Nothing else in the world smells like that. I love the smell of napalm in the morning. You know, one time we had a hill bombed, for twelve hours. When it was all over I walked up. We didn’t find one of ’em, not one stinkin’ dink body. But the smell! You know – that gasoline smell… the whole hill! Smelled like… victory.”

For those who never watched the film (I suggest you do so otherwise you will get spoiled)-I called this an odyssey of a disillusioned army lieutenant Willard (Martin Sheen) who was given a job to assassinate a rather unsound Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando-the guy who pioneered method acting alongside James Dean). Throughout his journey to kill that man,he encounted the horrors of the vietnam war.

In context,let’s look at the historical part-The Vietnam War. Basically it was one of the events in the Cold War history,which turned to be the most bloodiest period in American History. When it was thought to help the south Vietnamese to fight against the Communists turned to be nothing but pure madness and bloodshed. Even today,those who survived their time as the recruit in the Vietnam War still suffer hallucinations and nightmares about this terrible experience.

How do you convoy the madness of The Vietnam War in this film? I found the choices of the music and cinematography interesting as it seems to add the intertexuality to that film.

The Ride of the Valkyires Helicopter Scene (Perhaps the most famous usage of the piece in Pop Culture)

I admit this scene creep me out a bit that I nearly do not want to play The Ride of The Valkyries ever again after I watched the film itself. Now to the intertextuality of that famous piece that is now commonly associated with pop culture thanks to this film. So I did some research on the history behind the music piece. That piece belonged  one of Wagner’s suboperas-Die Walkure which comprised with his bigger opera  Der Ring des Nibelungen. To date was Wagner’s most ambitious opera ever in Classical music history. So basically it was an epic tale of Norse Mythology between the love triangle of a Valkyrie Brunhilde,Siegfriend and his twin sister.

Yes it’s pretty complicated if you know your Norse mythology well. So I will skip the boring bits and talk about the context of this piece. Basically this piece was the sisters of Brunhilde,they are known as the Valkyries (Female warriors who died in battle) came down to heaven to bring the fallen warriors to Vahalla (Known as Norse Heaven:Basically you die in battle,you celebrate your afterlife with fighting and lots of drinking from your enemies’ skulls-a little bit gross but it’s their idea). So it is just simply 8 minutes part of these ladies coming down here to bring people to Vahalla.

Now this piece was perhaps the most well-known piece of Wagner besides the Bridal March (Longherien). Of course it have been used over and over again in our film culture whenever it was for mocking  like James Dean humming that tune in defiance of his parents from Rebel Without A cause (1955),making it accessible in What’s up Doc? or the earliest case of the usage of that piece- The Birth of The Nation (1905),where the Ku Klux Klan rode along to save the damsels of distress. It seemed that piece is destined for greatness in the film soundtrack til this film (I.E Apocalyse Now) makes this piece history.

Interesting Fact: Hitler used this piece in his newsreel during his rule,so we are talking about pride for the Germans

How does Coppola used this piece to convey the madness in war? There is that conversation between Willard and Kilogere,as Willard asked what music he chose for the helicopter assault and he replied simply “We use Wagner. It scares the shit out of the slopes. My boys love it! ” Perhaps Kilogere wants the boys to feel motivated and seen themselves as heroes. It was perhaps their goal to join in war,so that they will come to their own “Vahalla”,winning with honor and knowing they fought a good battle. It was interesting how they paced the music,in one point they stopped the theme for a while to showcase an idyllic scene of children coming out of school and slowly the piece’s volume grew louder as the villagers grew frantic over the raid. Here,things get a lot crazy here as you could feel the foreboding voice of the operatic soprano as they tried to touch down the land and the raid started. When that attack ends,Kilogere added “Very good, Hell’s Angels — suggest you follow with cannon fire.” It sounds ironic to me because now they are somewhat recognized as heroes who supposedly saved the Vietnamese from war. However they did with violence even it means killing innocent lives. In that way,it was twisting a heroic piece to convey they are heroes in their own minds however it was not as they seem.

Secondly let’s look at the music in the introduction and cinematography here. Here they used the song “The End” By The Doors (Not to be mistaken for The Beatles The End)

This is the end
Beautiful friend
This is the end
My only friend, the end
Of our elaborate plans, the end
Of everything that stands, the end
No safety or surprise, the end
I’ll never look into your eyes…again
Can you picture what will be
So limitless and free
Desperately in need…of some…stranger’s hand
In a…desperate land
Lost in a Roman…wilderness of pain
And all the children are insane
All the children are insane
Waiting for the summer rain, yeah
There’s danger on the edge of town
Ride the King’s highway, baby
Weird scenes inside the gold mine
Ride the highway west, baby
Ride the snake, ride the snake
To the lake, the ancient lake, baby
The snake is long, seven miles
Ride the snake…he’s old, and his skin is cold
The west is the best
The west is the best
Get here, and we’ll do the rest
The blue bus is callin’ us
The blue bus is callin’ us
Driver, where you taken’ us
The killer awoke before dawn, he put his boots on
He took a face from the ancient gallery
And he walked on down the hall
He went into the room where his sister lived, and…then he
Paid a visit to his brother, and then he
He walked on down the hall, and
And he came to a door…and he looked inside
Father, yes son, I want to kill you
Mother…I want to…WAAAAAA
C’mon baby,——— No “take a chance with us”
C’mon baby, take a chance with us
C’mon baby, take a chance with us
And meet me at the back of the blue bus
Doin’ a blue rock
On a blue bus
Doin’ a blue rock
C’mon, yeah
Kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill
This is the end
Beautiful friend
This is the end
My only friend, the end
It hurts to set you free
But you’ll never follow me
The end of laughter and soft lies
The end of nights we tried to die
This is the end

Again,some background behind the song itself. Basically Jim Morrison wrote this song about the break-up of his girlfriend Mary Scott.He could see it as  the farewell to innocence.

In the beginning,we see a helicopter flying  and the ground being exploded with bombs which foreshadows the air raid much later (Yes The Wagner sequence) and slowly dissolve into Martin Sheen (Willard)’s face. Then the footage seems to be overlapped together. Slowly the footage changed from Sheen’s face to the tracking of his letters and personal belongings he have. It overlaps with fan which symbolized his monotony when he stayed in Saigon. There it cuts back to a mini flashback of his previous recruitment where orange smokes shot up to the coolness of the blues in their jungle track. Firstly it shows how tiresome the war is and it was noted that Jim Morrison died at 27 from a drug over-dose which implied the recurits’ problems as they suffered hallucations from the Vietnam War.

It was interesting on the part where he self-mulitate himself where Morrison’s screams came along with the F-Me,he punched his hand onto the mirror and dripped the blood from his hand to himself. Yes it’s pretty creepy and I actually thought of the worse. To me it shows his breaking point of Willard,and it could be compared to T.E Lawrence’s madness where he just complain his disillusionment.

Lastly I would highlight a different song by The Rolling Stones and absolutely my favourite song from them-(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction. I feel that this scene needs to be analyzed because of the way they used the song.

I can’t get no satisfaction
I can’t get no satisfaction
‘Cause I try and I try and I try and I try
I can’t get no, I can’t get no

When I’m drivin’ in my car
And that man comes on the radio
He’s tellin’ me more and more
About some useless information
Supposed to fire my imagination
I can’t get no, oh no, no, no
Hey hey hey, that’s what I say

I can’t get no satisfaction
I can’t get no satisfaction
‘Cause I try and I try and I try and I try
I can’t get no, I can’t get no
When I’m watchin’ my T.V.
And that man comes on to tell me
How white my shirts can be
But he can’t be a man ’cause he doesn’t smoke
The same cigarrettes as me
I can’t get no, oh no, no, no
Hey hey hey, that’s what I say

I can’t get no satisfaction
I can’t get no girl reaction
‘Cause I try and I try and I try and I try
I can’t get no, I can’t get no

When I’m ridin’ round the world
And I’m doin’ this and I’m signing that
And I’m tryin’ to make some girl
Who tells me baby better come back later next week
‘Cause you see I’m on a losing streak
I can’t get no, oh no, no, no
Hey hey hey, that’s what I say

I can’t get no, I can’t get no
I can’t get no satisfaction
No satisfaction, no satisfaction, no satisfaction

Basically this song is interesting in its usage,as it shows the frustration of Willard not being able to grasp that mission. Even the line implied on how tired the recruits have to face the war over and over again “Who tells me baby better come back later next week ‘Cause you see I’m on a losing streak.” Anyway Willard could not be satisfied about what people think of Colenel Kurtz as the crazy man as the army conveyed. Even the bassline shows his madness here.

In conclusion,I just love the way for conveying music for the madness whenever the dislluisonment of being heroes or the current situation. It was quite an interesting film to be analysed over and over again

Appreciation for Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

Yes I have done my part to watch Prometheus (2012) after being scared silly by the film. I know this film by people freaking out that Michael Fassbender (Yes…that actor from X-Men First Class) somewhat creepily similar acting performance to the acting of Peter O’Toole in Lawrence of Arabia for his character David.

If you watch the film,you will notice lots of direct or slightly indirect homages to this film. While it is a good thing that they homaged it as it coincided so nicely with the 50th anniversary of the release of the film and the Cannes restoration. I am afraid that people would watch it because of that film (I.E Prometheus) itself. So I would give my reasons who should you give this film a try just because Fassbender did it or what so ever.

Basically the story is about T.E Lawrence (Lawrence Of Arabia)-a famous WW1 hero who is well-known to help out in the Arab revolt. Here is the picture of the real guy behind

Yup…he is quite average-looking but his life is more than it seems. It all thanks to a bold director which changed the epics of today and it’s still bringing awe to me. As Steven Spielberg once quoted in a documentary in his appreciation for Lawrence of Arabia to start off my appreciation for this film-“It was a miracle ”

20120614-155604.jpg

To me watching as the budding cinephile Lawrence of Arabia just shook my world with its absolutely beautiful cinematography.

This GIF is one of the 1001 cinematography porn scenes you will forever see in Lawrence of Arabia. God these images will be stuck  in my head-lots of sand and desert scenes. We got to thank the cinematographer for Lawrence of Arabia-Freddie Young (he will execute few more David Lean films like Dr Zhivago and Ryan’s Daughter) for creating these scenes and it’s so perfect that he created a lens just for one scene. One scene and it’s perfection.

Here is that beauty that is just specially created for that scene.

I know that people would think it’s just a film full of sand..Nope you are missing the point. Now here comes the best eargasm you will experience in your life. Of course I need to loop it endlessly throughout that film. Hello you are talking about the greatest movie soundtracks ever alongside John Williams and so many famous movie composers. It all thanks to Maurice Jarre,who composed the most romantic score perfect for this epic. Not convinced? Click on this video

I will make a confession when I listened to the overture while to school. I feel like I was walking to the desert like a boss. I mean it. That is how good the soundtrack is. Of course Maurice Jarre will compose more scores after his fame from Lawrence of Arabia, from Dead Poets Society (Yes it’s unlikely but it works) to the most infamous among all imfamous themes that someone who never watch the film Dr Zhivago know that tune.

To me what seals this film as my ultimate favourite film is Peter O’Toole’s acting as the enigmatic Lawrence of Arabia. Now here is the fun fact who auditioned to play T.E Lawrence from Marlon Brando,Albert Finney,Anthony Perkins (Yes that creeper guy in Psycho as Norman Bates),Montongramy Cliff and even Alec Guinness (He played previously in another David Lean’s film-The Bridge to the river Kwai). Eventually this role was given to unknown Irish actor Peter O’Toole. The rest is history when he just played that role so beautifully. It gave him an Academy Award Nomination in 1962 for Best Actor for his role which was lost to Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird (personally I like Peck himself and both should have won for Best Actor). Now here is that scene that shows Peter’s pure sheer acting that I nearly cried when I re-watched it the second time.

Well you know it served inspiration for the actors in these recent films like Tom Hiddleston as Loki.

“And I find myself listening to that sometimes. And there are some great performances. Ken talked a lot about some of Peter O’Toole’s greatest performances and how in LAWRENCE OF ARABIA or THE LION IN WINTER he is on the edge of darkness. He’s on the edge of sanity. You can see it in his eyes that he’s been pushed to the brink and you’re not sure if you can trust him because there’s a madness in there, you know? A greatness, too and a charisma and a power that you want to get close to and you want to see inside, but it’s a little bit dangerous. And so I’ve been trying to kind of… I drive to work every morning and I try and light some kind of bonfire under myself which is adrenalized and hot and alone. It’s a strange feeling when you’re playing a character that feels so alone. “

Or the most recent incarnation Michael Fassbender as David,

This is Michael Fassbender…he just got famous because of X-Men First Class. So when he approached to play as an andriod

Many people who watch the film as me,commented on how creepily similar is Fassbender to O’Toole. (I swear it’s so true that it’s almsot frightening)

“Yes. That was Ridley’s initial idea for the hair and for the look. He’s the robot. Or humanoid. Or android. Or whatever you want to call it. We also took inspiration from David Bowie and some of his looks as well. I liked the idea of having a feminine quality to him for sure. Both Lawrence and David Bowie have elements of that. He’s curious about everything. Something blowing up or something killing him, if that happened, there would be curiosity right up until the moment that it happened. He thinks, I’ll do this because that will have a knock-on effect and I might learn something else from it, rather than it having anything to do with morality”

To me as a restoration geek-perhaps it is appropriate to see why I loved this film. Lawrence of Arabia was cut so many times after its theatrical premiere to the point,it was a two hour film which did not serve for its epicness. It was until they managed to find the negative in a barn. It have the entire cut of the whole film but no sound,so they have to rope back the cast back to re-record the sound again (Expect for Jack Hawkins). My god it’s sheer scale for the epic ever. Recently they finished the 4K/8K restoration just in time for the 50th anniversary of the release for the film!

Of course the story is so fantastic as it have this theme of self-idenity which was wonderfully written. Actually one of my favourite quotes from this film that summarized the film to me “Do you think I’m just anyone Ali? Do you?” we explored who is Lawrence and it is up to you to your impression of T.E Lawrence. Of course the editing is amazing and I think we have to applaud Anne V. Coates for editing this beautiful film. So here is the clip. Fun Fact: David Lean was an editor before he became a Director. How awesome could you get?

Now I have enlighten you with reasons to watch Lawrence of Arabia not because of the obvious referring in Prometheus. It was the miracle that is unmatchable to today’s epics. We do not have these epics in the scale like this anymore. I suggest to get yourself a big television,3 hours to spare and lots of snacks to enjoy this film. Have fun as one said “Big things do have small beginnings” I hoped you will develop this love for this film as I do.

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