Feature Friday: “Dark Star” (1974)

I caught up with Dark Star only a few years back, at one of the Music Box‘s science-fiction marathons. I was pleased to discover that Dark Star ranks among John Carpenter’s best, while at the same time standing out due to its odd, grim humor. (Kubrick’s influence hangs over the picture, which pokes lovingly not only at 2001—just look at the opening scene—but Dr. Strangelove.) Much of the comedy is also due to the presence of writer/star/production designer/editor Dan O’Bannon, the brilliant screenwriter behind Alien and Total Recall and Lifeforce. Appropriately, Dark Star contains lots of swipes from Philip K. Dick, as well as some ideas that would later infiltrate Alien: the cramped and tedious corporate working condition, an ornery alien creature running amok…

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The Overlook Hotel – the best resource for The Shining

This is how they did it.

The Overlook Hotel is simply the best site about The Shining on the internet. There are dozens of never before seen photos from the making of the film (including how Nicholson was propped up frozen in the snow at the end), new posters, artwork, tattoos, copies of screenplays, anything you can think of. Lee Unkrich is the caretaker of the site and I salute him.

Just in case you need more ephemera on The Shining here is that little article On Newfound Footage.

The Barthelme Problem

[This post is something of a response to John's recent post, and some of the comments made there by Darby, John, and me.]

Back in high school/college, my favorite filmmakers were Terry Gilliam, Stanley Kubrick, Peter Greenaway, and Martin Scorsese:

As you can see, I gravitated toward a visually spectacular cinema. Everything else looked so boring! So mundane!

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It’s Not Time to DeListify

Moodyson's film "Together"


Andrei Tarkovsky’s Top Ten List :

  1. Le Journal d’un curé de campagne – Bresson, 1951
  2. Winter Light – Bergman, 1962
  3. Nazarin – Luis Bunel, 1959
  4. Wild Strawberries – Bergman, 1957
  5. City Lights – Charlie Chaplin, 1931
  6. Ugetsu Monogatari – Mizoguchi, 1953
  7. Seven Samurai – Kurosawa, 1954
  8. Persona – Bergman, 1966
  9. Mouchette – Bresson, 1967
  10. Woman of the Dunes – Teshigahara, 1964

More info on that list at Nostalghia.com, the best site about Tarkovsky on the internet

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Style as Imitation

Leonardo #1, page 17 (1987) (detail; First Publishing reprint). Art by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird.

1.

My father, who once trained as a baker, taught me when I was a kid how to bake an apple pie. I don’t know where he got the original recipe from; I highly doubt that he invented it. Certainly he didn’t invent the idea of baking pies. And he didn’t invent the idea of baking an apple pie.

He was very clear about certain instructions:

  • always use Granny Smith apples;
  • always use ice-cold water;
  • touch the dough as little as possible.

Since then, I’ve baked several apple pies, and over time I’ve modified the recipe slightly, but it’s essentially the same (and I never violate his prime instructions).

When I make a new apple pie, I’m not doing anything new.

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There Will Be 2001

This is somewhat late to the party, but three years later I still haven’t seen this argument made anywhere else, so here goes.

Many critics have noted that Daniel Day-Lewis‘s performance in There Will Be Blood (2007) drew heavily from his fellow Irishman John Huston‘s turn in Chinatown (1974). See, for instance, here, here, here, and here. Or just compare for yourself:

…But that is only one level of mimicry. Paul Thomas Anderson’s feature itself is loosely based, structurally, on Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).

Now, I’m not claiming that Anderson consciously aped Kubrick’s masterpiece. And I don’t want to suggest that the films share identical or even similar plots (although there are some points of comparison). Rather, it is the manner in which There Will Be Blood presents its respective story that it borrows from 2001.

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Kubrick: The Great Bully

We all know the stories. 80 takes, 90 takes. Well, you rewrite something that many times, it’s bound to get better, at least a little. Here’s Kubrick and Shelley Duvall somewhat going at it on the set of The Shining, from the Making of The Shining.

Does she deserve it? Is he breaking her down to fit the role of someone completely terrorized? Is it mindfuck?

This is from the making of Full Metal Jacket. A rarer clip, something about tea breaks for the crew…

Making movies is a much different enterprise than writing, given all the people involved. I have a sneaking feeling that if Kubrick didn’t behave this way the movies would not have been as good. He wanted things done the best they could possibly be accomplished. Perhaps we should aim just as high in our artistic pursuits. The twelve films he delivered became testaments and the actors, even Duvall, seem very appreciative of how they were pushed.

Do you as a writer push as hard as Kubrick would have you pushed? Is it time to go Kubrick on ourselves and press until it hurts?

Brevity, part 7: Slow Motion

Note: This post is partly a reply to a question someone asked me, back-channel, about slow motion, but also partly due to my general interest in how time works in narrative, and in brevity and stasis (and “the ongoing”).

Slow motion is created by presenting film footage at a slower rate than it was shot at. The principle is as old as cinema itself. In 1879, Eadweard Muybridge invented the zoopraxiscope, which allowed him to project his 1870s photographic motion studies as animations. (Film projection is, interestingly, older than film-capture cameras.) It was observed immediately that repeating the photos 2:1 (double-printing), or spinning the zoopraxiscope slowly, would slow the motion down.

An aside: In conducting his motion studies, Muybridge lined up multiple cameras that were activated by tripwires. (The motion picture camera wouldn’t be invented until 1890.) This same technique would later be resurrected as “Time-Slice” or “Bullet-Time,” popularized by the Wachowskis in The Matrix.

After the jump I’ve arranged a partial history of slow motion in cinema. It isn’t intended to be an exhaustive list; rather, I’ll point out what I consider memorable or otherwise significant uses of slow motion.

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Brevity, Part 2: Long Takes

Some of us have been discussing long takes in movies, and John mentioned that he’d like seeing a list of films that consist primarily of the beautiful things. So here is a start at such a list. (And here is another one, which like this list embeds many YouTube clips, such as the magnificent opening shot Orson Welles’s Touch of Evil (1958), the homage Robert Altman pays it in The Player (1992), and many others—including some overlap.)

But first: What’s the value in the long take?

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“Words of Wisdom Lloyd, Words of Wisdom”

Even Kubrick couldn’t envision Bluetooth.

This was inspired by some back and forth with Adam Jameson on film.  No other quote on the process of art has meant more to me than this one by Stanley Kubrick:

I don’t think that writers or painters or film makers function because they have something they particularly want to say. They have something that they feel. And they like the art form: they like words, or the smell of paint, or celluloid and photographic images and working with actors. I don’t think that any genuine artist has ever been orientated by some didactic point of view, even if he (she) thought he (she)was.

Other artists have echoed this, such as Faulkner describing how The Sound and the Fury came about with the image of “the muddy seat of a little girl’s drawers in a pear tree…”

For me, if we are in reaction to the world in creating art, it is not from a cerebral bent, but something deep-seeded. Thoughts?

Lars von Trier’s Slippery, Sloppy Antichrist

antichrist

Lars has made some very good movies in his time. Breaking the Waves, Dancer in the Dark and Dogville are all examples of exciting, provocative cinema. And now comes this–thing.

I’m very mixed about this motion picture. Not torn up, not oozing, like after Eyes Wide Shut. There are some beautiful images in this film, the black and white prologue showing an erect penis going into a vagina has to be one of the most gorgeous shots of the sex act I’ve ever seen. The unnamed couple, Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg, then spend the next hour of the movie talking out their grief (mainly hers) after their young son fell out a window and died while they were in the throes of sex during the prologue. The film goes to color and it becomes a weird incarnation of therapist and patient (Dafoe plays an actual therapist). This interplay continues even as the couple goes to a cabin in the woods, their “Eden.” After a few days there, Gainsbourg says she is cured, but Dafoe does not believe her and continues trying to help her breathe, “Five, four, three…”

At times a David Lynchesque soundtrack comes on signaling something weird is going to happen. (Having just seen Inland Empire and being a fan of Blue Velvet, this touch seemed off-putting, as did Gainsbourg’s request to have Dafoe hit her during sex–another obvious borrowing from Blue Velvet.) The weird happenings are somewhat interesting–a deer running with a dead foetus stuck to its behind, a fox that is eating itself and then speaks English to a seemingly reserved Dafoe. He is the only one having these visions (if they are visions). Then, in the attic of the cabin, Dafoe finds Gainsbourg’s notes for a thesis (called Gynocide) she had been writing that doesn’t come to fruition, (film is fuzzy concerning whether it is finished). Arcane pictures, woodcuts in the manner of Dürer, and three never before heard of constellations in the sky called the Three Beggars–a deer, a fox and a crow (don’t worry the crow is coming).

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