Thursday, June 30, 2011

Who ARE those guys?

Wild Card #2. There were no Parent Trap style handshakes involved but I have nonetheless made a pact with Amanda of A Noodle in A Haystack to produce one wild card post a month. Not only is it a chance to flex muscles outside of filmdom, it has the added fun of not knowing what we may come up with. Feel free to pull up a chair and join us if you like. The more the merrier.

Walking through stores I always notice them. Picture frames on display with black and white photographs peering from newly minted frames, ghosts encased in silver too bright for their faded world. And I've always wondered why. Are some old photographs in the public domain, making them a more suitable choice for companies that want to give potential buyers an idea of how their own loved ones will look? Do families donate their likeness? Or is it some perverse reminder of what we all will soon become? Souls for sale. Two for the price of one.

Monday, June 20, 2011

More Classic Coens-O Brother, Where Art Thou? Edition

Joel Coen has described O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000) as The Odyssey meets The Three Stooges. Such a description encapsulates why the Coen Brothers are one of my favorite filmmaking teams working today. I have a soft spot for artists who know their history and are able to find creative ways to incorporate it into their own work. I previously pointed out some connections between The Hudsucker Proxy and the Frank Capra canon in this post and was delighted to see another link to classic film in my latest CB viewing.  While more subtle I can't help but connect it to another one of my favorites.

About midway through the film Everett (George Clooney) has a run in with his ex-wife (Holly Hunter) and her uppity new beau, Vernon T. Waldrip (Ray McKinnon). When Everett speaks unkindly to his wife Vernon feels he must intervene, and the two put up their dukes.

While it may be coincidence Vernon's over exaggerated, seemingly inexperienced stance immediately reminded me of Gary Cooper's character in Ball of Fire.

Even though the tables are turned with Vernon as the Dana Andrews aggressor with this in mind I knew that he would be quite a shot.

It is a subtle move that not only defies viewer expectation but further cemented my admiration. Oh, and the rest of the film is amazing too. How it took me 11 years to get around to watching it I'll never know.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

new name, same blog

Just wanted to write a quick note to let everyone know that the blog formerly known as Or Maybe Eisenstein Should Just Relax is now Movie Montage. As much as I loved my old name it only recently dawned on me (I'm not the sharpest tool in the shed) that while what I post here should fall under fair use (or I'm good about giving credit where credit is due, at least) having song lyrics from a modern work as the shining searchlight for my blog is probably not the greatest idea. I occupy a rather specific and small corner of the internet so while I doubt it would ever be a problem it just seemed like the thing to do. I also don't want some menacing fellow with a baseball bat and a double breasted suit to take me out to the ballgame under the sea, so to speak. With the new name I have no such worries, it still retains links to Eisenstein and to editing, and identifies this blog from the start with film. I also admit to deriving pleasure from alliteration, and my vanity loves the sound of Meredith of Movie Montage. It makes me feel more important than I actually am.

So sorry to confuse everyone once again with all these changes, I think after this the dust will finally have settled.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Editing Spotlight: Death of a Cyclist

Muerta de un ciclista (1955)
Film Editing By: Margarita de Ochoa

Death of a Cyclist opens with a tease where a cyclist leisurely disappears from view. Then a crash, a bang, a sudden screech of wheels, and in this moment the film changes, as suddenly as the lives of the characters trapped in its web are transformed by this early original sin.

Maria (Lucia Bose) and Juan (Alberto Closas), the culprits behind this crime, find themselves on the road that day as lovers who must hide their meetings from Maria's husband Miguel (Otello Toso). The death of the cyclist is something they swear to forget till the mischievous Rafa (Carlos Casaravilla) hints that they may not have been as alone or discreet as previously assumed. Perhaps Miguel might be interested in his suspicions as well.

The pace of the editing of the film as a whole follows a similar murderous path, cutting just before the viewer would expect, quickening the pace, shortening the breath between life and death. In one instance, if memory serves, there is even a rapid cut from a youthful college student to a church cemetery, a scene transition that also acts as montage. Such moves can either hit with the bluntness of a rusty hammer or cut clean through, and Death of a Cyclist exhibits a little of both.

For me the most breathtaking sequence in the film is the lead in to the supposed 'outing' when it is presumed that Rafa has told all. It occurs during a "Spanish" dance which is introduced as a joke, a costume party of sorts put on for the benefit of a couple of foreigners. And (at least according to another stereotypical trope) do not the Aunt Bessies and Myrtle Mays of Paris, Illinois, their camera straps trapped between mini mountains of neck fat, always prefer a little romanticism?

A transition from the swipe of a grand piano to the strumming of a guitar,
from modernity to ethnic tradition

Dancers stomp to the soulful singing of Gracia Montes in an entrancing number meant to enhance rather than distract from the ugly meeting that will soon take place. This use of sound focuses the audience even more intensely on the emotional impact of the scene.

Carlos Casaravilla (The Spanish Buster Keaton?) whispering to Lucia Bose, their expressions the only indicator of the ugliness of his words which are drowned by the music

The loud dance setting does not simply act as a shield. The music and the rhythm of the background action are paramount to the central tension.

Editing plays the most important role in building this tension while simultaneously linking it into the greater narrative. The camera jumps between isolated aspects of the performance and the nervous faces of the leads. Jarring extreme closeups cause further disorientation and add to the drama. Despite this spatial dislocation eye lines between the central characters are clearly maintained and given added weight by the tight framing, making the importance of relationships (sanctioned and elicit) all-important, not just in plot but in overall construction.

The full scene (and the film) are definitely worth a look.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Bridesmaids (2011), Vulgarity, and The Case of the Laughing Theater Audience

Poirot is too busy buying a new mustache comb and Marple has found herself tangled in yards of yarn. But I’ve read enough Agatha Christie mysteries to know when something is amiss, and have decided to tackle this investigation myself.

The Facts Were These.

Weekday nights the local Cineplex becomes a ghost town. Empty packets of sour patch kids flutter across the floor like tumbleweed as one lone hombre mans the concessions, waiting for customers that will likely never come.

But this is only a stage trick, and as 9:30pm nears our theater begins to fill. The audience for the evening consists of those old enough to see an R rated movie without having to sneak in, but not old enough to have milk bottles holstered at the hip. A theatergoers dream where crying children dance like sugarplums in sleep deprived heads, mercifully out of our earshot.

The lights dim for Bridesmaids, a new comedy garnering attention for its strong female cast.

But I wasn’t laughing.

Why wasn’t I laughing?

The plot thickens.

I did enjoy Bridesmaids (and speaking of plot the title more or less speaks for itself). I too grant praise to its strong female cast, notably Kristen Wiig (who also co-wrote the script) and Melissa McCarthy, who almost steals the show.

But my enjoyment remained largely confined to the occasional smile where everyone else seemed to roar. It felt like being the last kid picked for kickball all over again.

I just don’t find projectile vomit funny. Did I not go to enough frat parties (aka any) in college to find the concept of throwing up in another girls hair entertaining? Possibly.

To keep this from turning into commentary on ‘whatever happened to class,’ it is worth noting that this sort of physical comedy has been present in films since the beginnings. As has a brand of ‘bad taste’ criticism, notably in relation to early Chaplin comedies that were criticized for their vulgarity by the newly minted middle class movie audience. A famous example of this form of comedy is the opening of The Immigrant (1917) where Chaplin leans over the side of a boat, giving the impression that the tramp is seasick and hurling. But when he comes up he reveals that he is actually fishing.

Of course the difference here is that the joke works because of the power of suggestion and misdirection. The effect would be quite different if Chaplin had actually blown chunks all over Edna Purviance.

And that’s why I left the theater largely disappointed. Wiig and the rest of the cast proved capable of what I’ll call a different kind of comedy as using the words ‘intelligent’ or ‘sophisticated’ might make me hurl. A hilarious airplane scene where Wiig uses her body with the same goofy grace and ease as Lucille Ball, or a sequence where she struggles to get the attention of a cop with each gag topped infinitum.

Such comedy is planned. Timed. Vomiting is involuntary. A passive action defined by lack of control. And it feels like a cop out.

Differences in taste aside I can’t knock the feeling that the crass humor (not confined to vomiting) is disingenuous. Yes, SNL has featured waterfalls of vomit for years, and yes, I love that the film tackles female stereotypes and presents a picture of women who are allowed to take part in acts entirely ‘unfeminine.’ What bothers me is that in promotion and execution it seems less a statement of ‘girls will be girls,' but rather ‘girls will be boys.’ Basically I won't be happy until I see a movie poster with promotion reading 'not another dumb action movie.'

I praise Bridesmaids for its challenge of form, but in the end the film can’t escape one of the chick flicks ultimate clich├ęs. Maybe this is just a case of “it’s not you, it’s me.”

But I don’t want to be the stereotypical deadbeat boyfriend. Gender aside I’ll settle for awkward guy friend standing on the sidelines, knowing the film can do better.