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Wednesday, Aug 22, 2012
Hitchcock believed in the power of images, of mixing light and shadow, color and composition to provide subtext to his characters' concerns. Dziga Vertov wanted, way back at the dawn of the artform, to push the boundaries of what the medium could be.

They say that art imitates life. Sometimes, life itself is the art. Then there is that grey area known as cinema, a format founded on bring reality to the screen and capturing the world around us filtered through fiction, fireworks, and the vision of those behind the lens. No one would ever argue that all genres are the same, but you can link many of them through the medium being mentioned. Take the documentary. While it is almost always an accurate reflection on the world around us, creativity and craftsmanship are typically applied to render the ordinary anything but. On the opposite side of things (one assumes) is something like Vertigo by the legendary Alfred Hitchcock. For the mighty Master of Suspense, the thriller format was nothing but a vessel, a means of channeling his obsessions and imagination into a viable construct that wavered from beautiful to the bizarre.

Yet few in the film critic community would argue a connection between the brilliant murder mystery (currently holding the number one spot and Sight & Sounds overall list) and the early Russian experiment Man with a Movie Camera. You can, however, see how one influenced the other, even if the authority is cursory and indirect. Hitchcock believed in the power of images, of mixing light and shadow, color and composition to provide subtext to his characters’ concerns. For him, the movie was in the making, not in the eventual outcome. Similarly, Man with a Movie Camera‘s Dziga Vertov wanted, way back at the dawn of the artform, to push the boundaries of what the medium could be. He wanted to experiment with visuals and editorial variables, to see if the lens could capture more than the regular everyday existence of his Russian comrades. For both, the end result was art imitating life, and visa versa.

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Wednesday, Aug 15, 2012
Of faces, faith, and things forgotten. Spirituality can be sourced through many things, religion being primary among them. It can also be found in remembering.

Spirituality can be sourced through many things, religion being primary among them. It can also be found in remembering. From the time we are young until the day we die, we are constantly seeking answers to our purpose, plowing through both the lessons we’re taught in organized philosophies and the fleeting glimpses of a past overloaded with lives. We tend to trade off quite a bit, using gospels that apply while dispelling those which seem outdated. Similarly, we struggle through our own recollections, trying to tell ourselves that these were actually the best of/worst of times and we are lucky/cursed in having experienced them. Nothing truly transcends. There’s no moment of grace, no inspired insight which carries you through to the next hour, or the next breath.

For filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky (perhaps best known for his sci-fi study Solaris), memory is fleeting. It is also meaningful and muddy. From the cloudy vignettes which seem to suggest an autobiography to the couplets crafted by a distant, disinterested father, his movie Mirror manages to be both elusive and endearingly emotional. It carries us across three distinct dimensions (pre, post, and long after the War) while reducing such earth shattering events to bystanders in the everyday moves of the Russian people. In The Passion of Joan of Arc, on the other hand, French icon Carl Theodor Dreyer takes the trial and execution of the title character and turns it into a testament of faith. We all know how Joan’s journey ends. How she gets there is as painful and heartbreaking as revisiting an existence marred by equally agonizing events.

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Thursday, Aug 9, 2012
For the next ten weeks, we will discuss the films that made it onto the Sight & Sound 2012 Best Films of All Time List (Overall and Director). In this installment, a tale of two Italys...and two intriguing artistic approaches.

The Second World War devastated Europe. All throughout the continent, the loss of lives and the upheaval of everyday life turned a once prosperous land into a series of sad struggles. The Axis powers, more specifically Germany and Italy, were left in literal ruins, forced into defeat by their leadership and misplaced sense of sovereign superiority. Out of this almost apocalyptic atmosphere came one of the most important innovations in the history of film: neo-realism. Begun in response to the lack of support from a spent Italian government, filmmaker vowed to make movies that approached their subjects with authenticity, truth, and above all, passion.

A few short years later, another approach would take over, attempting to bridge the gap between the documentary like aesthetic of neo-realism with the eccentricities of France’s New Wave. It wasn’t an attempt to return to the days of big budgets and even bigger cinematic dreams, but there was a sense that the everyman wasn’t necessarily interested in experiencing depressing stories about himself. Instead, the entire scope of the artform was open for reinterpretation and improvement, leading to an universal shift toward more serious, substantial subjects. By the time of the American’s contemplative post-modern phase, both conceits were absorbed into the medium, making their impact felt from arthouses all the way to the mainstream.A

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Wednesday, Jun 6, 2012
So what do you need to know about the Alien films before lining up for 8 June's Prometheus? Well, not much, actually.

Prior to its release, extraterrestrials were viewed in a calm if complicated light. Unless they were part of some schlocky ‘50s/‘60s sci-fi romp, they were revered as ancient astronauts, early explorers of Earth, and anything else Erich von Däniken and his ilk could come up with. Even Me Decade “It” boy Steven Spielberg added his own talented two cents into the mix with his epic “what if” Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Yet bubbling under the surface of our look to the skies obsession was the desire to go back to the dark. Invaders might be just that, went the concept, laying the groundwork for high tech retellings of those man in suit drive-in monster movies.

When it was announced, it seemed that the simply named Alien had little going for it. The director, a guy called Ridley Scott, was a cinematic novice. He and his brother Tony had started a production company back a decade before, but had mostly dabbled in commercials and a little seen first feature—The Duellist. The script was by Dan O’Bannon (with some un-credited help by David Giler and Walter Hill) and revolved around a basic haunted house in space dynamic. H.R. Giger, an artist best known for his controversial bio-sexual horror designs (and the cover of an Emerson, Lake, and Palmer album) was brought on to visual the title creature. Early teasers suggested something mysterious, if not exactly menacing.

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Wednesday, Apr 25, 2012
For today's consumer, access is more important than aesthetics. They would gladly trade the perfectly projected image of a legitimate theatrical screening for a pocket filled with possibilities.

Age doesn’t necessarily define a person. Attitude does. In equal measure, complaints don’t teach us about our world. They teach us about ourselves. When you combine the two, you end up with a myriad of misleading indicators. Curmudgeon. Coot. Angry old man. These are just a few of the terms used to describe the 51 year old, ten years in the business writer typing these words. Coming from a decidedly old school, five decades plus in the making, one is often regarded as out of touch and far too crotchety. Part of the problem is the tired “cultural contradiction” cliche - you know…the one that usually starts out “Music was better in my day” or “Movies were better in my day.“Add in the appropriate medium and the standard miserable message and you’ve got someone who feels lost in a world that, at a previous point, they helped make and maintain. 

After reading how James Cameron and George Lucas are pushing theater owners to covert to digital (and with it, 3D), I am reminded of my first big battle with technology. As an early adopter of VHS, I was shocked to see my friends going Beta. As they crowed about their superior image and relative cost, I bit my lip and bought copies of current movies for up to $90 a pop (I still have the original Easy Money, starring Rodney Dangerfield, that I paid $80 to own). My future father in law even came back from New York City with the just released VHS of Star Wars. At $120, it seemed like a bargain. As my VCR continued its late ‘70s/early ‘80s dominance of the market, the slaves to Sony finally succumbed. In this battle between prototypes, I was on the winning side. It’s been that way ever since…up until now, that is.

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