It’s the pictures that got small

This week I saw my first Hitchcock on the big screen. I grew up in the ’80s, which meant that I first and, more often than not, only saw the classics of cinema on TV – and in the ’80s that meant, what, screens that were 30 inches across if you were lucky? TVs were big, bulky monstrosities, but the screens weren’t particularly big – which was good, really, because television channels broadcast images that were relatively fuzzy. If you sat close enough to the screen so that it filled your field of vision (and you could smell that weird electric smell), what you saw was basically impressionist art.

North By Northwest

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War is monkey hell

Technically, War for the Planet of the Apes is a triumph. There are no two ways about it. The fully computer-generated ape protagonists aren’t perfect all of the time just yet, but they have heft and weight and they’re expressive and believable – and while I cannot say how much of the performance is the work of the actors and how much is the animators’, all of these deserve all the praise they receive and more. Outside fully animated films of the Disney and Pixar kind, I cannot remember a film that relied so heavily on non-human protagonists where, after a few minutes, you accept and stop thinking about the fact that the leads in the story aren’t the same species as you.

War for the Planet of the Apes

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Out of Sight – not out of mind…

Out of Sight will always have a special place in whatever chamber of my film nerd’s heart is reserved for films. For one thing, it was my first taste of Soderbergh’s work – and, in spite of his lesser films, he remains one of my favourite directors. However, and this may sound strange, I like him most for the editing of his movies… even though he didn’t edit most of his films.

Nevertheless, it’s obvious that he doesn’t just leave the editorial work to his undoubtedly talented editors – many of his films play with jump cuts, freeze frames and achronological editing, whether he’s the one sitting in the Avid chair or not. There’s a strongly impressionistic feel to how Soderbergh places his scenes in relation to each other, to the point where it can become annoying for audiences that aren’t made up of editing geeks like me. The Limey is a case in point (and, even more film nerdy, the director’s commentary on the DVD edition plays the same games with jumbled chronology as the movie – I got a kick out of it, but chances are I’m part of a very exclusive club there).

What strikes about Out of Sight is how effortless the fractured chronology is presented. People were confused by Pulp Fiction‘s B-A-C-style narrative, but that’s nothing compared to how this film jumps, starting pretty much in the middle and liberally moving back and forth. Nevertheless, you’re never confused as to what is going on in the story. Soderbergh hides his positively avantgardeĀ  editing in plain sight.

And it’s rarely been done as successfully as in the love scene between George Clooney (pretty much at the beginning of his career as an actor rather than clothesrack) and Jennifer Lopez (has she ever been better than in this film?), which cuts smoothly back and forth between the actual lovemaking and the buildup. The spark between Clooney and Lopez is made into one of the most erotic love scenes in American filmmaking. Yet the fades and the music also have something sad – it’s clear, somehow, from watching the scene that this will be the one and only time the two characters are in effect together.

P.S.: To be fair, the scene is not entirely original. Soderbergh has obviously watched his Nicholas Roeg closely, getting his inspiration from the Julie Christie/Donald Sutherland love scene in Don’t Look Now (gotta love the accidental synchronicity between the two films’ titles) which jumps back and forth between sex and the couple putting their clothes back on afterwards, infusing the mundane married life with the erotic.

P.P.S.: For anyone interested in the art of editing, do read In the Blink of an Eye by Walter Murch (Apocalypse Now, The English Patient, Jarhead).

Godfather of Funk

Last night we watched The Godfather Part III, for completeness’ sake. When I first watched it, I’d been prepared for something abysmal, so I ended up thinking it wasn’t very good but neither was it that bad. Rewatching it, though, I hardly could believe that it was made by the same people who’d worked on the first two Godfather movies.

Enough has been said about Sophia Coppola’s horrible acting in the film, and it’s a good thing that she’s decided to continue her movie work on the other side of the camera. What struck me this second time was how un-cinematic the film is. Both The Godfather and its first sequel are beautiful films to behold. They have an “Old Masters” glow to them. They look like they come from Hollywood’s glory days.

The Godfather 3, by comparison, looks dowdy. They’ve got some nice sets (or they were allowed to film in gorgeous interiors) – but they’re all presented very flatly, and this flatness is heightened by the often pedestrian editing. Granted, there are scenes that look good and that are edited well, but then there are so many others (especially in the half of the film before they go to Sicily) that feel like ’80s television. Especially dialogues are edited with no feel for tension or flow: character A has a line, finishes it, cut to character B doing his or her sub-standard line, cut to character A again. Yup. Bad television editing.

Checking out IMDB, I find it amazing that the film was nominated at the Academy Awards for its cinematography and editing, and I can only believe that the nominations were the Academy’s form of commiserating what had happened to the venerable series and the equally venerable craftsmen working on it.

But I have to wonder: what happened to the Francis Ford Coppola who directed the first two Godfather movies? Or Apocalypse Now? Or The Conversation, a masterfully told tale of paranoia?

P.S.: I don’t get the praises and nominations for the writing either. If the previous Godfather movies were Shakespearean, this one was largely day-time soap… and its attempts at political intrigue were muddled, implying larger schemes but ultimately feeling like so much sound and fury signifying nothing.