Thursday, November 6, 2014

Bicycle Thieves

Bicycle Thieves was an Italian neorealist film made in 1948. The story, like many other Italian neorealist films, does not follow an organized plot with carefully planned obstacles and escalation, but rather seems to follow a life-like situation as it would occur in time. We follow the lead character Ricci as he gets lucky and finds a job, but then his bicycle is stolen. We then follow him on his quest to find this stolen bicycle. 
The story has much emphasis on emotions. We feel a great deal of empathy for Ricci when he loses the bicycle, and when he steals someone else’s we do not feel the same sense of wrong towards Ricci as we felt towards the thief that stole Ricci’s bike. This emotional connection is formed through the use of close-ups and realistic, natural acting. 
The actual scenes in the film were also very real and true to life - especially the scene were the kid is crying after the father had slapped him. That interaction and situation was very life-like, and viewers could sympathize. 
The lead characters of Ricci and his son, Bruno, were both professionals. However, some of the other cast members, such as character Fausto Guerzoni, were amateurs. The use of amateur actors were characteristic to Italian neorealist films due to budgets and because the stories were to be portrayed realistically. 
The film was shot mostly on location - especially the scenes at the river, in the streets and the church. Studio-constructed sets could not be afforded. Due to the films being shot on location, natural light could be used as a source.
There was not much camera movement - few, if any, pans and tilts, and no dolly or tracking shots. The editing was also very simplistic - with just a few cuts, crossfades and wipes.
The dialogue was dubbed and could be seen in certain scenes where the audio did not match with the movement of actors’ lips. The scene with the musicians performing in the restaurant was also dubbed because the singer’s lips were not in sync. 
Overall the film was made in a realistic, simplistic style. There are few flashy and artistic shots - most of the shots are documentary-style and follow the actions of the actors. The clothing and general aesthetics were not ‘flashy’. However, there were some beautiful and well-composed images that fit well  with the accompaniment of a beautiful emotionally-engaging story. 

Sources:
http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0536009/?ref_=tt_cl_t1
http://facstaff.gpc.edu/~jriggs/film1301/notes10.htm

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Art & Craft - Blog Analysis

Art & Craft is a 2014 oscar-nominated documentary on the work of the schizophrenic art forger, Mark Landis. Director Sam Cullman worked closely with Landis to develop a storyline that separates this documentary from other works of its kind. The audience is able to experience and appreciate a connection to Landis which allows them to engage with feelings rather than only facts.
Mark Landis may be schizophrenic, but we learn through the course of the story that his needs are no different from any other human being. He is still in need of, and capable, of love. His inner drive for finding acceptance and becoming part of a community is argued to be the reason behind his forgery escapades.
Landis allows the viewers of the film to form an instant and direct connection to him, because he is honest and doesn’t hide his life from the camera. Viewers are able to form a clear picture of who he is and what his life is like. He also shows on many occasions that life should not be all that serious, and that it’s okay to laugh about things. His honest and straight sense of humor is entertaining, but also marks him as truthful.
The way in which Landis deals with the obstacles in his life is admirable. Despite his mental conditions, he continues to strive for a normal life and tries to find his place in the world. His work in art forgery may be arguably unjust, but no one can deny the fact that he is a remarkable artist and that he accomplished extraordinary goals with every day resources. Furthermore, when Landis is uncovered by the media, he handles the situation positively by continuing his honest ways. He never denies or lies about what he did, and sticks to his belief that he never did anything wrong.
Art & Craft is a unique documentary because of its strong character line. Sam Cullman also mentioned that his intention was to go against principles of telling people 'how' or 'what' to think. Instead, he presented the audience with facts and a story that they could connect with, and allowed each person to draw their own conclusion and learn from this story.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Video never killed the radio star after all...

Every now and then the song would pop up when my player is on shuffle. I never quite understood what it was about until now.

'I heard you on the wireless back in '52, lying awake intent a tuning in on you...'

Well let's go even further back...
The 1920s was the Golden Age of film in Hollywood. The US was not very involved in WWI and did not suffer from the economic effects that other countries did - this advantage resulted in the rise of Hollywood. A large portion of the population saw films in glorious cinema palaces on a regular basis. In the 1930s, sound started made its way into film and all the cinemas played sound films. Production companies released several films every month and the industry was booming. With cinema dominating a portion of the entertainment industry, there came a need for censorship. A code was put together, prohibiting films containing extreme violence, sex, profanity or vulgar language. To some extent this limited creative freedom and made films seem a bit unrealistic - characters were not true reflections of the people of the day.
All the while up to the end of WWII, attendance in cinemas kept rising until it peaked in 1946. And then there was a sudden drop... Many historians believed it was because of TV, but only a minority of American households owned TVs then. The real culprit was radio.
The Golden Age of radio was rising and Americans spent less and less time in cinemas. After WWII, a new culture and lifestyle had developed in the US. Couples married at very young ages, started families early (the Baby Boom), and all moved to the suburbs. The downtown cinemas were left empty. People no longer walked to the cinema or went on many dates. Young couples could no longer afford expensive entertainment. So at that point, it seemed more like radio killed the video star. But video did not quite surrender just yet...
Cinemas started cutting costs where they could. They produced less films and only focused on the very best films that they knew would draw people. They fired any unnecessary staff and changed their cinema palace set-up to the informal, pop-corn-and-coke cinema we know today. At this point, film was competing with both radio and the rising power of TV. Film makers developed wide screens, stereo sound and color - all in an effort to beat the TV. Drive-ins were also appearing in the suburbs - it was cheap and convenient for the young couples to go and watch movies with their kids. Though, the appearance of movie theaters in shopping centers had one of the most significant impacts on the financial situation of the film industry. All the 'Baby Boomers' were now teenagers and went to the cinemas regularly. Suddenly, the industries profits increased remarkably and Hollywood was back in the game.
This rise of the fallen film industry at that point caused the downfall of the Golden Age of radio. But considering that radio was at its best even when cinema had existed, I disagree with the golden oldie song. Video never killed the radio star after all...

Monday, October 13, 2014

Surrealism





I chose to study surrealism because the movement focuses on the visual aspects of film rather than narratives, which intrigued me.
Surrealism developed in France in the 1920s. The French economy had taken a knock during WWI and was screening mostly American films. Young directors saw the opportunity to make unique films that were French, and started experimenting and challenging artistic norms. Films channeled emotions and made use of various bizarre visual tricks and sometimes completely moved away from reality as a whole. Surrealist filmmakers were not part of large distribution companies, but mostly worked individually.

My creative piece has a lot of interesting visual shots but no clear narrative - just like a lot of surrealist films. It focuses on emotion too - it is a symbolical representation of an emotion. The title ‘Drifting’, along with the shots of the swimmer drifting away in the water and perhaps even drowning, is the portrayal of how we drown in our problems. We try to get away, or to ‘swim’ away from our problems but we can never truly get away from them. 
Some of the visual tricks used in surrealism included double exposures, dissolves, out of focus, slow motion and fast forwarding, and playing with light and shapes. Surrealism in film was derived from the surrealist art movement of the time and these filmmakers aimed to make artworks that moved - literally moving pictures. I used slow motion, fast forwards and rewinding in the editing, as well as compositing with overlays - for interesting visual effects. The shots do not form a clear sequence and are not meant to. 
I focused specifically on Man Ray’s work because his films are very much moving artworks and very abstract - whilst other filmmakers like Luis Bunuel made films that were less abstract, but with hidden meanings. I screened Man Ray’s Le Retour a la Raison (Return to Reason), Emak-Bakia (Give us a rest), and L’Etoile de Mer (The Sea Star). He was born in the US, studied there and became a talented visual artist. He moved to France in 1921 where he pursued a career as an artist, filmmaker and photographer. He was famous for his rayographs - a technique where he placed an object on a piece of film and exposed it to light, leaving a shape behind on the film. These rayographs that he used in his films inspired me to incorporate artworks into my film. I also tried to make my film more abstract, like Man Ray's films. 
I enjoyed making the project and exploring surrealism as a silent film movement. It is an intriguing aspect of film that should not be overlooked. 

Sources:
Mast, Gerald; Kawin, Bruce F. A Short History of the Movies 8th Edition. USA: Pearson Education Inc. 2003. Pages 209-212. 
Rotha, Paul; Griffith, Richard. The Film Till Now. London: Spring Books, 1967. Pages 296-300. 
Man Ray [online] 2014. Available from: http://www.manray.net [Accessed: 13 Oct '14]

Films Screened Through:
Open Culture [online] Available from: http://www.openculture.com/2012/04/man_ray_and_the_icinema_puri_four_surrealist_films_from_the_1920s.html[Accessed 13 Oct '14]