Who framed Tony Zhou?

If you were already thinking, “Huh, two blog posts within a week – this is like Christmas! Just without the presents, turkey and Ibsenesque family drama!”, you’re only half right – no turkey, I’m afraid. Also, this isn’t a regular post so much as a suggestion that if you’re into cinema, especially cinematography, and haven’t already checked out Tony Zhou’s Vimeo page, you’re missing something. Zhou is fantastic at analysing and discussing how certain filmmakers use framing and editing to achieve very specific effects – and he’s the kind of critic who always puts what he looks at first rather than his critical ego. I find it almost impossible to come away from watching one of his videos and not to run to my DVD shelves, pick out one of the films he’s just talked about and rewatch it, savouring each single frame.

Here are just two of his video essays, namely one on Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World) and his brand of visual comedy…

… and here’s one on the late Satoshi Kon (Tokyo Godfathers, Paprika).

You’ll find Zhou here on Vimeo, and he’s also got a YouTube channel, for those who find Vimeo hit-and-miss in terms of download speeds.

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.

Pretty as a picture

Actually, that’s not really accurate. Terence Malick’s Days of Heaven isn’t pretty – it’s beautiful. The cinematography has a grandeur that is breathtaking at times. There are films that you’d want to frame and hang on the wall, and all of Malick’s works have that quality.

Happy couple doing couply things

What about the rest of the film, though? Does it just look good but is a waste of time otherwise? Apparently, Days of Heaven was criticised for its muted emotions. Indeed, we don’t get the extremes of passion that the love-triangle plot would suggest. No shouting and screaming, and even during the film’s scenes of violence there’s a certain distanced quality of defeat and resignation. Which I liked a lot, thuogh. So much emotion in films is melodrama, going to 11, but a) this isn’t necessarily true to life and b) I wouldn’t want this sort of emotional forte fortissimo in every film. Not every tragedy of jealousy should be Othello.

The protagonists in Days of Heaven seem so know from the first that real happiness is likely to be out of their reach, that the best they can hope for is a momentary reprieve from the dull despair, of poverty, of illness, of loneliness. Melodramatic passion is an indulgence none of them believe in. Their emotions, or at least their expression of their feelings,  have been dulled by various kinds of deprivation.

This dullness is encapsulated neatly in the narration by the teenage character Linda. She’s a kindred spirit to Sissy Spacek’s Holly in Badlands, although without that character’s naive romantic imagination. As with Holly, nothing would seem to be quite real to Linda. Bad things happen, people die, that’s the way it is. No use crying about it. Fair or unfair doesn’t come into it.

Day of the Locust

I’m not sure I get the film’s ending, though. Although the narration’s focus lies with the lovers, we get a curious continuation of Linda’s story that ends abruptly. I’m certain there are film buffs who could explain the purpose of this not-really-epilogue to me. I could come up with a number of interpretations, but I’m not sure any of them would ring true. Perhaps I should just watch the film again, though, and become caught up in the sheer depth and width of the images all over.