Saturday, 25 February 2012

Scene 6: Reviewing Film Reviewing

It's been a while since I've posted, and frankly I am not sure what to talk about. 

Should I discuss the The Artist - the award-winning pastiche of 20's and 30's cinema with its cheeky, cheerful heart that I saw last week? 

Or should I talk about the Oscars, something that was heavily discussed on Film 2012, and has already stirred controversy amongst Claudia Winkleman, Danny Lee and their reviewer guests - just say War Horse and you get two very different responses! Watch the episode here to see what happens: Film 2012: Episode 7

No, we can come back to those. Let me instead ask a question: Film reviews, generally useful or not? 

I now read and watch many film reviews in my search to keep up to date on industry news, and think I have sometimes allowed such reviews to cloud my idea of what a film is going to be like. 

Of course if we watch a trailer for a film we build up expectations anyway, but these are our own - or at least the impression that the trailer editor is trying to give you. 

Reviews are generally there to give us more information to help make our mind up. The reviewers should be quite knowledgable about film, and know when to spot a piece of celluliod trash and thus help us avoid it - especially when cinema ticket prices can be quite expensive. 

However, the review is often the reviewers opinion as well, and it doesn't mean that what he/she thinks is bad or good is what you or I might. If there's one thing in this world we must remember about media and the arts it is that everything is subjective.

For example War Horse - I heard it was going to be horribly cheesy, so that's what I expected. So when I watched it, I immediately noticed how cheesy the scenes at the farm, with its almost constant sunsets, was. To be fair, even after I saw it twice, I still thought those bits were cheesy, but I had to admit to the brother that yes, War Horse was actually a good film.

I just wonder though, if I had not read anything about War Horse, would I have noticed the orange lighting or the strange glossiness of the farm, like it had almost been CGI-ed in? Possibly. I possibily wouldn't have moaned about it as much.

A different example is Midnight in Paris. There is a film that I think was rather let down by its trailer. The trailer is quite vague, and makes it seem like Owen Wilson just wanders Paris in a daze, and does a bit of dancing. It fails to get across the fact that he actually time-travels!  Something I only found out about because of reading a review - which is what made me want to watch it. 

On the other hand, the review also mentioned the theme of the film e.g. that there is no golden age. This unfortunately meant that I ended up thinking about this idea throughout the movie - instead of just relaxing and watching it.

Then again, perhaps its not just the reviews, its probably partly me. I think I need to learn how to sit back and just watch a film again - without worrying about comparing it to what I've read about it, or deconstructing it, or think about script ideas inspired by said movie (thank you War Horse). 

Anyway, enjoy the Oscars!

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Scene 5: Dogme95 Day Afternoon

Okay, so today I thought I'd look into Dogme95, a fascinating movement in film that has interested me since I first read about it.

Dogme95 is a manifesto and/or approach to making films created in 1995 by four Danish directors -  Lars Von Trier, Thomas Vinterberg, Kristian Levring and Soren Kragh-Jacobsen. The idea was announced at the Paris celebrations of 100 years of cinema, by Lars Von Trier. 

The manifesto set out ten rules, together known as the Vow of Chasity, for creating films in a parred down way, in the hopes of getting filmmakers back to the basics of film and away from the artificial. 

Here is a link to  the Vow of Chasity, abridged:

As you can see the Vow restricted you to shooting films on location, without effects, sets, props, lighting or scripts! Oh, and it has to be a feature, not a short. Oh, and the directors have to give up their claim on personal taste, being an artist and their credit on the film. So much for the auteur theory!

If any of the rules are broken however the director must confess to it. Interestingly even the founders in their very first Dogme95 films, ended up bending or breaking the rules!

Each film was certified and given a number. The first Dogme95 film was Dogme1 The Celebration/Festen (1998) by Thomas Vinterberg. 

The second was by Lars Von Triers, the controversial Dogme2 The Idiots/Idioterne (1998):

Both started the movement off, inspiring others to begin making Dogme95 films, including the popular Dogme12 Italian for Beginners/Italiensk for Begyndere (2000), a romcom. 

However in June 2002 it was decided that Dogme96 had become a genre, something it had never meant to do - in the Vow of Chasity it actually states that a Dogme95 film cannot be a genre film. So the Dogmesecretariat, the body for registering Dogme95 films officially, was closed down. Three years later the movement apparently, finally, broke up. 

Though there is no longer a board to verify people's films however, filmmaker's can still register films as Dogme95 online, sadly just by checking a box on an online form. There are now at least over a hundred Dogme95 films.  Including the first British Dogme95 film, Dogme37 Gypo, which came out 2005.

You can read a review on it here, the trailer is below:

Personally I find Dogme95 an interesting contradiction and a tempting challenge. 

On the one hand it allows so much freedom. You just come up with an idea, find the people, find the locations, find a camera and start shooting. No fancy stuff needed - or in fact wanted.

Yet on the other it is also very restrictive. You really have to think about what you can create within the rules, and how you hope to shoot it. 

Personally want to shoot my own Dogme95 film one day - and try to obey all the rules!

For those of you really interested in learning more I discovered there is documentary called The Name of This Film is Dogme95 (2000) that looks at the movment.  

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Scene 4: Directed by Francois Truffaut, Written by Dickens

Wow, the birthdays of two very famous figures have cropped up, along with Google tributes, in two days! 

The first birthday Google celebrated with a three picture reel on the 6th February was Francois Truffaut, the famous French director.

Since I do not know much about the French director, beyond the names of his most famous films The 400 Blows (1959) and Jules and Jim, I did a little research on him. 

It turns out Francois Truffaut was one of the critics writing in the magazine Les Cashiers du cinema, along with Jean-Luc Godard, and was part of the French New Wave or La Nouvelle Vague film movement. His first film, The 400 Blows, won him a prize at the Cannes Film Festival.

Of course he's done many more films beyond his black and white classics. One film in particular I want to see is The Story of Adele H (1975) about Victor Hugo's daughter, which also stars a young Bruce Robinson aka the director/writer of the cult classic Withnail and I (1987) and the recent Johnny Depp film The Rum Diary (2011). 

Truffaut not only made films though, like many directors he was also an actor and made appearances in several of his own movies. He was also in Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) as a UFO specialist. 

The second birthday is of course Charles Dickens' 200th. 

Though he famous for being one of our great novelists, it has to be noted that part of the reason his work is so well known, is because it has been adapted for film and television screens so often. 

To celebrate the bicentenary the BBC had several documentaries, as well two new television adaptions of The Mystery Edwin Drood and Great Expectations, on TV last Christmas. 

The Dickens' story adapted the most for screen is probably A Christmas Carol. It has been done again, and again, from the black and white version Scrooge (1951) to the colourful A Muppet's Christmas Carol (1992) to the most recent 3D Motion capture wonder with Jim Carrey - A Christmas Carol (2009).

Meanwhile David Lean's Great Expectations (1946) is generally regarded to begin with one of the most famous scenes in cinema history - that of young Pip being grabbed by the criminal outside the churchyard. 

The great actor Alec Guinness was also in the film, playing Pip's friend Herbert Pocket. Alec Guinness then of course went on to play Fagin in Oliver Twist (1948) which was again directed by David Lean, just two years later. Some people may not know but Guinness's association with Dickens doesn't end there, he later played Jacob Marley's ghost in yet another adaption of A Christmas Carol in 1970. 

For more information on both Dickens in film and Francois Truffaut, I recommend checking out the BFI Youtube channel, and Imdb!

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Scene 3: She Kissed a Girl, and She Meant It

I watched a fascinating documentary just recently, it's a 1995 docmentary on film called The Celluloid Closet and it is about the representation of homosexuality in movies, mainly in American.

Check out the trailer:

It was interesting, but sad, to see that intially homosexuals were represented first as comic relief, then as characters who always had to die at the end of the film because they were considered perverse, and then later as villians, before finally being accepted on the film screen. 

Fortunately things have progressed in the media world, as the documentary itself showed with the films of the 1980's and 1990's, and I am glad to say we now live in a much more enlightened time. 

Though I have to say that the majority of film couples are heterosexual - and personally I think television has been moving forward a bit faster recently than films. 

Take for example the British scriptwriters Russell T Davis and Steven Moffat who introduced homosexuality and bisexuality into Doctor Who (2005 - present), mostly through the character of Captain Jack Harkness, who's story was continued in the spin-off series Torchwood (2006 - present).

Russell T Davis incidently also wrote the wonderful series Queer as Folk (1999), which was about the gay scene in Manchester and Bob and Rose (2001), a series about a gay guy falling in love with a girl. 

But its not just Russell T Davis, there was also the late-night comedy drama Sugar Rush (2005), about lesbian teens, and more recently Christopher and His Kind (2011) a BBC film for television based on the life of gay writer Christopher Isherwood in 1930's Berlin.

I'll admit I haven't seen all these programmes - only Doctor Who, Torchwood, Christopher and His Kind, and the first series of Queer as Folk (though I should really watch the second series) - but I had heard of Bob and Rose and Sugar Rush, as well as Will and Grace (1998 - 2006) and Tipping the Velvet (2002). 

Meanwhile the only recent mainstream films I can think of that centre around homosexual couples, are I Love You Phillip Morris (2009) and The Kids Are Alright (2010). 

That's two. Okay, I Pronnounce You Chuck and Larry (2007) was recent but it was a comedy about two straight guys marrying. It obvious had intentions to spread some awareness, but I don't fully think it counts. 

So either I have not watched enough movies yet (very possible!) or mainstream film hasn't really gone and explored beyond the heterosexual cliche as much as television, and watching the trailer of The Kids Are Alright I have to ask, why not?  

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Scene 2: Personality Check! or Writing Character Advice

Only my second post and I am already disappearing behind the scenes and into scriptwriting to say hooray! Because I think I've finally figured out how to create a well-rounded 3D character before I write them into a script.

Creating a realistic but interesting character is, at least I think, key to a story. Good characters can relieve bad or messy plotting/story to some extend, whilst a good plot can be tainted by badly created characters - possibly, I was going to use Lesbian Vampire Killers as an example, but I wasn't to desperately impressed witht the plot there either, let alone James Corden's character - the actor himself is fine, its just the character that annoyed me. 

Back to the point, I recently purchased yet another book on scriptwriting called Lew Hunter's Screenwriting 434, which impressed me by not seeming to complicated in its approach and not to bogged down in some sort of complex theory. It's advice on character building was looking for the soul of the character by writing out a description, not one of these descriptons:

Name: Sophie Miller
Age: 24

Sophie Miller is a magazine journalist, who lives in London. She moved there from North Yorkshire two years ago after studying English and Journalism at university. She has a chic apartment in the good partof town. She plays tennis, likes Gucci shoes. She has a boyfriend called Nick who is a finanical consultant. etc. etc.

Which I had been using, for some strange reason - despite the fact that Robert McKee's book  Story had pointed out that character should not be a list of traits and ticks, but should be shown through action and how they react - which is good advice too. 

So, anyway, the examples given in Lew's book went something like this instead:

Sophie Miller looks like any normal young office worker at a London magazine - all fashionably dressed, tidy hair and a neat smile. Her only give away is the slight accent, slightly Northern, though she's tried very hard to lose it. Sophie abandoned the hills of Yorkshire two years ago for the dream life of posh restuarants, sharp suited, attractive boyfriends, expensive shoes and yoga lessons. The lifestyle she'd read about in the glossy magazines of the Sunday papers she read as a girl. Now she has it, the finanical consultant boyfriend Nick, the chic apartment, the tennis matches against the glamourous next door neighbours - and she hates it. The London buildings seem to push out the sky. She misses cycling down to the local swimming pool on hot days, and hates spending her time in an office writing about handbags. She's bought tons of handbags now, and she knows, that no matter how expensive they are, they won't change your life. 

As you can see, this sums up the persons thoughts, feelings and here, even their inner conflict. It's not quite as good as the book examples, but you see what I mean about soul? You may not know her favourite type of shoe, but you know her. I would reccomend this exercise to all writers, it really gets you in the mind-set of the character, and I'm definitely using it from now on. 

Scene 1: Opening Film Titles

Welcome to yet another blog in the internet universe. In this blog I want to talk about media - specifically film, TV and radio/audio. 

I first wanted to go into the media industry because I wanted to be scriptwriter, and still do, but I had not really been a huge film fan beforehand. I only really started learning more about the who's who in films after college, when I found myself working in a film company with people who knew much more about film history me. 

I had not seen most of the film classics, and I had not studied Film Studies either - something quite different from my practical media course at college. 

So, not wanting to be left behind I started to do some research. I began to watch Film 2011/12 regularly and watch trailers on Imdb. I somehow managed, during an Internet search, to find myself reading about Breathless, Jean-Luc Godard and the filmmakers of the New Wave/Nouvelle Vague - which led me to even watched Les Mepris! 

I learnt about Stanely Kubrick and Ken Russell - a director I had merely tripped over once, thanks to his connections to literature - from a DoP friend of mine. I watched documentaries on BBC4 and bought The 400 Blows.

And the more I've learnt, the more I've enjoyed film; and now I want to explore films and talk about film, in fact not just film - but TV, and the media industry, and all cultural, historical and behind-the-scenes stuff that is interconnected and entangled with the moving image. 

So, my dear audience and media industry people, this is why I am writing this blog, let's go and explore...