Sunday, December 30, 2012

Remembering The Sound of Music and All Those in the Dark

It’s time to reflect on the past year. To review what has gone wrong, what has gone right, and what has affected who I am as a person. I thought I’d try for something in the murky gray area of bittersweet experience. I will never know their names. I will never be able to recognize them on a street corner. I don’t know them, I will never know them, and yet I will never forget sitting in a darkened theater next to two people trying desperately to remember their past.

Over the summer I was able to attend the majority of ‘The Last 70mm Film Festival’ at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. And yes, it has taken me until days of red wine and Humphrey Bogart movies (how else should a person spend an end of the year holiday?) to post about it. While the title is a bit of a tease as ‘the last’ it probably will not be, the sense of impermanence surrounding the festival has forever altered how I experience The Sound of Music.

In the mad dash for seats I ended up next to an old couple, probably in their 80s. After trying my best not to knock knees I settled in, greeted my friend and waited to watch something I’d seen many times before.

The Sound of Music is a breathtaking sight in 70mm, especially those opening shots of the Austrian countryside. I was completely enveloped by it.

Until the people next to me started talking. And talking. At first I was taken aback and sort of thrown off by how rude it was, especially for grown people who generally know better. In a short span I experienced all the general reactions you have when someone interrupts a show, whether it be with side commentary, a cell phone or a bag of Doritos. The nerve.

But then I started to listen.

During one of the musical numbers the two became concerned. ‘Do you remember that song?’ ‘No, no I don’t remember it.’ In the scene where Maria and the children sing “do re mi” and pass through a Salzburg market they began to talk about their own visits to Salzburg; what they thought of the city, some of what they saw. Their exchange became something of a dance to determine what fragmented memories remain, the ones that didn’t waved away with a sigh. When the time came for ‘Climb Every Mountain’ they held hands. Another older man in front of me in a newsboy cap adjusted his hearing aid and wiped his eyes. If this was actually some deeper moment for him I’ll never know, I can only tell how the course of events affected me. I found myself sitting there tearing up, and it wasn’t because of Peggy Wood.

How do you put into words something that’s so grand and sad and strangely hopeful and all the things that films are meant to be.

We often go to the movies for catharsis. How quick we are to forget the real people around us with their own lives, their own happiness and despair. We laugh, we cry, and we leave. But how wonderful to know that for a brief time all the variations of experience, all the things that seem so far away are so often right next to us all along.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Close Encounters with Utter Embarrassment and The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp

It’s a shame that I’ve lived in the Los Angeles area for close to a year and have only just started to adventure more into the city center. Unfortunately I’m far enough away that the prospect of sitting in traffic for hours often acts as a deterrent, and there just hasn’t been that much time. This summer I’ve been making more of an effort to rectify the situation and get back to my film nerd roots, starting with the West Coast premier of the newly restored Powell and Pressburger classic The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp.

The screening was held at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater, a place of distinguished reputation where a distinction is made at the entrance between the general moviegoing public and members of the Academy. I have to wonder if the world turns into Technicolor for those who pass through that special entrance. Inside the seats are plush red velvet and two giant oscar statuettes line both sides of the screen. Maybe I’m a little too National Lampoon for Beverly Hills but I found myself looking around to see if I recognized anyone in the audience.

Aside from my love of P&P one of the reasons I wanted to go to this event was because Powell’s widow and Scorsese’s long time editor Thelma Schoonmaker was present to give an introduction to the film. Maybe most people wouldn’t recognize her if they saw her walking down the street, but this woman is basically my Batman. She gave a nod to the films place in British history as well as all the work that had to be done on the restoration. Because it was politically hazardous at the time the film stock itself had not been handled properly and endured a lot of wear and tear. I’ve always thought of the quality of a film print only in terms of warehousing or time, not as something that people would want to tear to pieces for a point.

After the screening I waited at the running block, debating if I should go up to her or not. I made it to what I thought was a line of well wishers only to find myself in the middle of friends and people who worked the event. I awkwardly stood there for a bit then road runnered it up the aisle. It’s a good thing too as I only later realized that there’s a ‘no autograph’ policy at the theater, so walking up to the guests is probably frowned upon as well. I really don't need to end my career before it starts. I still made a bit of an ass out of myself but really, it could have been worse.

So even though I wasn’t able to say it personally, a shout out to Thelma Schoonmaker for proving that it is possible to be a film editor with a modern style who still appreciates and champions the old. You’re an inspiration and a role model for anyone who refuses to put up a brick wall between film history and film production. And for that I thank you.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Making Citizen Kane 'Modern'

I suppose it's that time to write once again about why I haven't been writing.  Though in this instance I'd like to find some interesting twist besides posting pictures of David Niven riding a mini horse. As always I appreciate those who choose to stick it out and continue following. Being a monkey crashing together cymbals once every couple of months still puts me far behind those of you who are able to keep to an update schedule and maintain the sense of community which I so appreciate here. Honestly a lot has changed for me in the past year and whenever I come on here I feel a little Norma Desmond staring at images on a screen of which she is no longer a part, but I've made comebacks before and hope to make many more.

Last summer I moved across the country to pursue a graduate degree in film editing. For those who knock the practice (and there are reasons to knock it) all I can say is that in post I've found it to be a highly technical program as well as one with a focus on storytelling, and feel that I'll come away with tangible skills that will be useful. Most of the advice I've received on this point has been that it's a personal decision, and for me it has been the right one. Because of this I've had very little time to write or to watch films as I've been trying to make them on a small scale.

The background figure is a pretty accurate representation of how I usually look on set. 

One project I worked on this semester was trying to make a 'modern' Citizen Kane trailer as if it were coming out today. I thought it would be fun since the material seems so out of step with its time to begin with, so why not take that idea a little further? I've no idea how this will be received as I know viewpoints on this sort of exercise to be different among classic film denizens, but I enjoyed the challenge. Hopefully Orson Welles won't rise from his grave and hit me in the face with a french baguette, but it's hard to be sure.

Note: Sounds best with headphones to get the bass. This was made for educational purposes only, therefore no copyright infringement is intended.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

passing late night thoughts from beneath the cobwebs

One major critique of the musical has always been that it's unrealistic, unsubstantiated fluff. People don't really sing and dance at the drop of a hat (or do they?). Life isn't really like that. And maybe none of us have tap danced around a mid century luxury cruise liner, but that doesn't mean there isn't truth in the above scene. For me it's in watching Mitzi Gaynor and Donald O'Connor dance.

I've always appreciated dancers and what they're able to accomplish through mere strength of will. It's beautiful. It's effortless. And yet everything in the above scene is the result of intense practice and physical strain.

Musical numbers may not be true to the established film rules that determine what is 'realistic' and what isn't. They're true to the idea that when you push through pain, when you tell yourself that you aren't going to give up, maybe you can create something beautiful.