Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for the ‘Movies & TV’ Category

Grim thought in a line from a movie for children

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The movie is The Kid Who Would Be King.

The line is “A land is only as good as its leaders,” said by Merlin, played by Patrick Stewart.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 August 2020 at 8:26 am

Posted in Movies & TV

If you listen to me, ….

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Read The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York, by Robert A. Caro. That is fascinating in itself and also provides context for Ed Norton’s movie Motherless Brooklyn, which is worth seeing and wonderfully done.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 July 2020 at 6:51 pm

Posted in Books, Movies & TV

Tap Dance to Anna Kendrick’s cup son in “Pitch Perfect”

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The sequence in Pitch Perfect starts at 26:30 if you want to see it again.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 July 2020 at 2:50 pm

Posted in Movies & TV, Music, Video

Steve Martin: “Carl Reiner, Perfect”

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Steve Martin’s eulogic essay on Carl Reiner:

I’ve known only two perfect people in my life. One is that son of a bitch Martin Short; the other is Carl Reiner.

I met Carl in 1979 when I asked him to direct my first film, “The Jerk.” Carl was the go-to comedy director of the day, having made hits like “Oh, God!” as well as respected art fare like “Where’s Poppa?” Carl said yes, and I was thrilled. Exhausted by my previous 10 years on the road and a bit personally lost, I would now get to hole up face-to-face with Carl Reiner while we worked on a movie script. Rather than hibernating in my barely furnished condominium — the road had left my personal life bereft — I would hang out at his home on Rodeo Drive, where the sofas and pillows held indented impressions representing years of family and friends.

I was a novice film actor-writer wannabe, and I got lessons right away. Minutes after I arrived, he opened the script and said, “Here’s the first thing I do.” He started going through page by page making occasional marks. I said, “What are you doing?” He said, “I’m changing all the nights to days.” Carl was saving cast and crew the pain of unnecessary night shoots, where your body clock is severely whiplashed, as though you’ve taken a quick weekend round trip to China.

My goal as a co-writer of the script was a joke on every page; Carl’s was too, but all through the process he stressed and bolstered the tangential romance that was in the early drafts until it was in the forefront. Carl’s most valuable contribution to the movie was its emotional center, and I suspect it was those heart tugs that made the film a success.

“The Jerk” was filmed during the gas crisis, so Carl would pick me up for work every day in his Honda Civic. That seemed reasonable, so I bought a Honda Civic. Carl had seltzer water in blue bottles delivered weekly by the last remaining seltzer-water delivery service in Beverly Hills. That seemed reasonable, too, so I had seltzer water delivered to my WASP-y bachelor household. Carl’s influence on me was just beginning.

On the first day’s drive to the set, he confided, “Whenever I start a film, I hear the child’s voice in my head singing, ‘We’re makin’ a movie, we’re makin’ a movie!’” I was already excited, but I was glad to see this old pro so gleeful at starting yet another project. On these drives we began conducting little thought experiments to see if we could improve the day’s work. Once, we got so giddy over a scene we had to pull over. Here was the scene:

My character, Navin Johnson, was hitchhiking from a small farm in Missouri to the big city. A car pulls over to give me a lift. The driver shouts to me, “St. Louis?” Puzzled, I say, “No, Navin Johnson.”

The joke didn’t play as well as we expected — I finally admit 41 years later — but it did give us an afternoon of uncontrolled hysterics.

Carl knew how to direct comedy, of course, and while we were shooting, he gave me the best comic direction I ever received. We were filming a scene and slightly stuck. After about the fifth take, he stopped shooting and took me aside. I was expecting a lengthy discussion of motivation, character and possibly a discourse on comedy, but he said only, “Funny it up.” Not a Stanislavsky direction, but one I could understand.

At the end of the film, I got another practical tidbit. He invited me to a “color temperature” screening, a mysterious affair where the movie is shown to the director and cinematographer to determine if the color is accurate. We watched without sound and at double-speed to make the process easier. At the end of the screening, Carl said to the cinematographer, Victor Kemper: “Great. Now lighten it up two points.” I surreptitiously whispered, “Why?” He said, “Lighter is funnier.”

During my five or six creative years with Carl, we had lunch together almost every day. We ate at Ma Maison, a restaurant where a young Wolfgang Puck created innovative dishes that Carl and I marveled over.

Those lunches at Ma Maison were fascinating. The names Sid (Caesar) and Dick (Van Dyke) came out of his mouth regularly, accompanied by stories, reminiscences and, to break it up, his current political outrages, which he would dissect with rabbinical clarity. The stories were so vivid I can recall them from memory. One lunch, he described a foreign spy sketch he did with Sid:

“I approached Sid on a railway station. I told him all he had to do was deliver a briefcase to the next stop. I said, ‘When you get off the train, you will see an exceptionally beautiful blond woman with long lŭurious legs. That woman will be me.’”

Another time, he told me this story about the maddest he ever got:

“I wanted to hire Dean Jones for an episode of ‘Dick Van Dyke.’” (Dean, a born-again Christian, was booked to do some intermittent religious duties exactly when Carl needed him.) “But Dean wanted to do the show, so I worked out a schedule where I would shoot two different shows shuffled together over two weeks. I could shoot Dean on Monday on Script 1, then on Tuesday shoot part of Script 2, then get Dean back on Thursday to shoot for two days, and then repeat the process the next week. I was moving actors around, moving shooting days around and moving locations around. When I called Dean to tell him the plan, he said, relieved, ‘I knew the Lord would find a way.’”

I’ve heard several people say Carl was like a father to them. But, to me, Carl was not fatherly. He was exemplar. Five years and four films later, I was a different person because of a subtle osmosis of traits from Carl to me. Carl’s manner on the set taught me how to behave on the set. His interaction with people gave me a template of how to be better, nicer, how to lead with kindness. His directorial results were the same as the nastier directors I ran into later in my career. He taught me about modesty, too. I called him late one evening to discuss the next day’s shooting. I asked, “Am I interrupting you?” He said, “No, I’m just lying here going through a litany of my failures.”

When I perform comedy, I can still hear echoes of my influences coming through. Jack Benny, certainly, Mike Nichols and Elaine May, Lenny Bruce, Steve Allen, Carl Reiner, too. But it is not Carl’s comedic advice I cherish. Rather, it was how he affected my everyday life, the part that has nothing to do with movies or acting. Sometimes I deal with people in meetings, social dinners and plain-old conversation with a buoyancy foreign to me and realize, “Oh, that’s the way Carl would have done it.”

So Carl, I raise my glass of seltzer and . . .

Continue reading. Of all the qualities Carl Reiner exhibited, Martin points to one not often mentioned as a characteristic of famous people: decency.

I will point out that what Martin describes is the transmission of memes — of behavior, of how to look at things, of what to be aware of — from Reiner to him, memes perhaps acquired by Reiner from exemplars he himself admired. That’s the sort of afterlife we have: our affect on other people, the spreading ripple of the memes we pass along.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 July 2020 at 6:35 pm

A good sign in a TV legal series

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At the beginning of episode 5 I had to go back and watch episode 1, knowing what I now know, and many things stood out now in high relief. A very good series. Janet King, Australian Crown Prosecutor, Amazon Prime.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 July 2020 at 7:40 pm

Posted in Movies & TV

Barrister & Mann Cologne Russe and the Rockwell R3

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The fragrance of Cologne Russe is striking — haunting, even. And that Rooney Emilion is a terrific brush. I loved the lather I got this morning and spent some extra time enjoying the fragrance and the feel of brush and lather. Barrister & Mann’s description:

Based on one of the oldest forms of perfume, Cologne Russe is a throwback to a scent created by the House of Guerlain for the Russian royal family and discontinued in the early twentieth century.

We blend lemon, bergamot, petitgrain, and herbs with violet, rose, bay, and amber to produce a rich, beautifully fresh scent derived from the colognes of old. The scent is distinctly warmer than most other cologne-type fragrances, owing largely to its inclusion of castoreum, benzoin, and vanilla. Clean and elegant without the aloofness of some other scents, Cologne Russe is the perfect way to brighten your morning.

The Rockwell 6S is a wonderful razor. I have used (and like) all the baseplates, but generally I go with the R3 as I did today. The baseplate design does make switching baseplates easy by providing a comfortable grip at the ends. Three passes left my face remarkably smooth, a result due perhaps not solely to razor and blade but also to the extra time spent in lathering.

A splash of Cologne Russe aftershave, and I’m feeling top-notch.

I just watched “It’s a Lovely Day in the Neighborhood,” the movie about Fred Rogers and the man who wrote an Esquire interview of him (who in the movie bore the name Lloyd Vogel, though the writer’s name is in fact Tom Junod, which he pointed out in a post-movie article about Mr. Robers). Atlanta magazine also has an interesting interview with Junod about his relationship with Rogers.

The pieces linked above indicate that the movie falls short of capturing the character and charm of Mr. Rogers, but one thing in the move struck me forcibly. Throughout the movie, the character Lloyd Vogel is unshaven — not in the sense of having a beard, but rather like someone coming off a four-day drunk. Add some rumpled, worn, mismatched clothing and he would look like a Skid Row bum: a person who cannot take care of himself.

That presentation may be deliberate, for indeed the character portrayed in the movie is unable to take care of himself — he can’t care for himself because he doesn’t care for himself, and his appearance reflects his low opinion of himself. Who knows the effect a good shave — a shave like the one I experienced this morning — would have had on his mood and demeanor?

In the Guide, I discuss the psychological follow-through of giving yourself a good shave — not merely a fast shave with a cartridge razor and canned foam, but a shave using a good and fragrant true lather and a comfortable and efficient safety razor with a brand of blade you like. That sort of shave takes a few minutes longer than a cartridge razor + canned foam shave — say, 7 minutes instead of 3 minutes — but the return on the four additional minutes is substantial.

For one thing, the shave becomes something enjoyed rather than something endured. For another, the man’s unconscious mind notes the time and care spent on himself, and the evidence of self-care would trigger cognitive dissonance with the sort of self-loathing and anger Lloyd Vogel exhibits in the film. The unconscious reasoning is that taking time and care in this morning routine means that one must be worth that time and care. The effect from a single day’s shave is small and short-lived, but the cumulative effect of a daily pleasurable shave ritual over two or three months is to demonstrate to oneself that he is cared for — by himself, if no one else — and that he thus is worth caring for.

The ripple effect can extend to more attention to dress and appearance, a more cheerful demeanor and outlook, more openness and good feelings with respect to others.

I will note that Fred Rogers was always clean-shaven and never looked like a bum.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 July 2020 at 9:33 am

“The Big Short”: see it (again, if you’ve seen it before) on Netflix

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The Big Short tells, in a highly entertaining way, one chapter in America’s decline which, to all appearances, continues unchecked. It’s an entertainly move with solid substance.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 July 2020 at 9:44 am

Posted in Business, Movies & TV

Wallace Shawn, The Art of Theater

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A Paris Review interview from 2012:

Wallace Shawn is recognizable to most of the world as a character actor: he made a memorable debut in Woody Allen’s Manhattan (1979) and, since then, has appeared in movies as diverse as The Bostonians and The Princess Bride and on the popular television series Gossip Girl. He has also starred in two films made with his longtime collaborator, André Gregory: My Dinner with André (1981) and Vanya on 42nd Street (1994), which were directed by Louis Malle.

It is as a writer, however, that Shawn has most influenced the American stage. Perhaps the noted young playwright Rebecca Gilman, citing Shawn as an influence, put it best when she said of his work, “He’s the only writer who writes about intellectuals in a complicated and even contradictory way. He’s really funny, too.” Shawn has written in other genres as well. His latest book, Essays (2009), is just that, a collection of first-person nonfiction that reflects, among other things, his political activism and his interest in other writers (it includes, for instance, an interview with poet Mark Strand that he conducted in 1998 for The Paris Review).

Shawn was born in New York City in 1943. His father, William Shawn, was, for nearly thirty-six years, the editor of The New Yorker; his mother, Cecille, worked for many years as a journalist. His younger brother, Allen, is a composer (they collaborated on the opera The Music Teacher, which had its New York premiere in 2006). Wallace—or Wally, as he is known to family and friends—graduated with an A.B. in history from Harvard in 1965; that same year, he traveled as a Fulbright scholar to India, where he taught English, and then spent two years at Oxford studying philosophy and economics. He returned to New York in 1970 and has lived there ever since.

Shawn’s first play, Four Meals in May (1967), was written when he was still at Oxford. He continued to write when he came back to New York, supporting himself at different times as a copier in a copy center, a runner in the garment district, and a schoolteacher. Following a trio of early works—The Family Play (1970), The Hotel Play (1970), The Hospital Play (1971)—Shawn’s first professional production came in 1975 with Our Late Night, directed by Gregory. Since then, he has written six plays: A Thought in Three Parts (1976), Marie and Bruce (1978), Aunt Dan and Lemon (1985), The Fever (1990), The Designated Mourner (1997), and Grasses of a Thousand Colors (2008). He has also adapted Machiavelli’s The Mandrake (1977) and Brecht’s Threepenny Opera (2006), Shawn’s first work to reach Broadway.

Our conversation took place in the offices of The Paris Review over a period of three months in 2009 and 2010, during which time it always seemed to be snowing. Shawn’s distinctive voice, thoughtful and deliberate, turned a number of his interlocutor’s questions inside out, which lead to many interesting digressions and further meditations on Shawn’s big  subject: the nature of speech and what we mean when we try to say anything at all.

INTERVIEWER

Why did you choose to leave the theater to perform The Fever?

SHAWN

Because there was something I actually wanted to say. The Fever is a one-person play. I decided I would perform it myself, and I decided I would not perform it in theaters, because the character in the play says certain things that I meant. I thought, I’m not just trying to entertain somebody, I’m trying to tell somebody something that I mean. And you can’t do that in a theater, because if you put a person on a stage in a theater, that person will be interpreted as a character in a story. No matter what happens on that stage, it will be interpreted by everybody as a form of entertainment.

INTERVIEWER

What would be wrong with that? Are you against entertainment?

SHAWN

That’s like saying, Are you against pumpkin pie? Pumpkin pie is enjoyable and people enjoy it, but it’s in a different category from, for example, penicillin. Enjoyment is important, and pie is important, but pie is not the only thing we need.

I didn’t want The Fever to be seen as just another “disturbing” play—“disturbing” being a term of praise for a certain kind of enjoyable or entertaining evening. In an amusement park, you can go on a roller coaster that carries you up and down, or you can go on another kind of ride that whirls you around in a circle. Similarly, there are different sorts of entertaining experiences in the theater. You can go to a play that is enjoyable because it’s funny, and then on the next night you can go to a play that’s enjoyable because it’s “disturbing.” For example, in the sixties, there were plays inspired by the black power movement where a guy would come to the front of the stage and yell at the audience, “You are pigs, we are going to get you.” And the drama critic would say, “My favorite part of the evening was the thrilling moment when that guy approached the audience and said ‘You are pigs. We are going to get you.’ ” To that drama critic, that was an exciting moment of theater. To the writer of the play—well, he might have meant it. But the critic watching the play didn’t really feel threatened, he just thought it was great theater.

The idea that people might react like that to The Fever was nauseating to me. I didn’t want to give someone an agreeable feeling of agitation. I was trying to speak as a friend to a friend, from one human being to another. And that isn’t possible in a theater, because in a theater, even if an actor has a heart attack and dies onstage, the audience always interprets it as part of the show.

INTERVIEWER

Where else could you stage it?

SHAWN

I decided to do The Fever in apartments, in private homes. In a way, the play was a kind of declaration to my own friends, first of all, and then to my class, the bourgeois class. I was telling my own group that I no longer believed in the various justifications for our existence that I’d formerly found convincing. It was like a secret meeting of the bourgeois class, in which I would speak frankly about what we were.

INTERVIEWER

But eventually you did perform the piece in a theater.

SHAWN

Eventually I thought, I can’t keep doing this play for twelve people at a time. I love doing it like that, but I’ve done it now a hundred times, and only twelve hundred people have seen it! If I could only do it in one of those rooms where there are a lot of seats cleverly arranged, a hundred people could see it at once! So I went back to theater, although I did do the piece in a slightly nontraditional way—I mingled with the audience before the play, I didn’t have theatrical lighting or a set or a program, et cetera. Unfortunately, it was pretty brutally denounced.

INTERVIEWER

By critics?

SHAWN

Yes. It was described as something that was almost without any value—a ludicrous display of pomposity.

INTERVIEWER

What did you make of that?

SHAWN

Public humiliation is always quite painful, obviously, because you do feel that everyone on the street has read about you and believed what they’ve read, and they’re all thinking, Ah yes, there’s that pitiful fraud I read about. But mainly I was shattered to realize that The Fever would not become part of a public conversation, would not stretch out across the United States and beyond and have the chance to affect people. I was trying to explain to all the nice people out there how it could be possible that from our own point of view we’re so nice, and we’re so lovable, and we’re so cute, and so sensitive, and yet from the point of view of people who are weak and powerless we are an implacable, vicious enemy. I’d found what I knew were the best words I could ever find to say what I wanted to say, and I realized that because of the negative criticism, those words would be heard only by a handful of odd theater fans, not by society as a whole.

INTERVIEWER

Do you enjoy going to the theater? . . .

Continue reading. Lots more, all good.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 June 2020 at 3:07 pm

Posted in Art, Movies & TV

Excellent full-length documentary on AlphaGo and the match against the world champion

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I highly recommend this documentary even to those who do not play Go. I have no knowledge of (or interest in) football, but I loved the series “Friday Night Lights,” as so many do, not because of the football but because of the human drama. Football is really just the MacGuffin. The story is about the people, and it is absorbing because of that. So it is with this documentary.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 June 2020 at 9:24 pm

Sick of the ‘blue code of silence,’ director Ava DuVernay starts an initiative to spotlight police brutality

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Geoff Edgers reports in the Washington Post on an interesting initiative:

In late May, director Ava DuVernay tweeted a clip of Tye Anders, a 21-year-old black man in Texas, lying on the ground, terrified and in tears, as police stood over him with guns drawn. He had allegedly run a stop sign.

“Can anyone identify these cops for me?” she asked. “I’m starting a new project.”

Now DuVernay, whose acclaimed 2019 “When They See Us” miniseries documented the lives of the five teenagers wrongly imprisoned in the 1989 Central Park jogger case, is revealing that project, meant to spotlight police officers who have abused and murdered black people. The Law Enforcement Accountability Project (LEAP) will fund 25 projects — including film, theater, photography, poetry, music, sculpture and dance — over the next two years through DuVernay’s Array Alliance nonprofit. LEAP will have an initial budget of $3 million from contributors including the Ford Foundation and screenwriter-producer Ryan Murphy (“Glee,” “American Horror Story”).

DuVernay says she had an epiphany after repeatedly watching the horrifying video of George Floyd’s death that was taken by 17-year-old Darnella Frazier. Frazier was walking her 9-year-old cousin to a corner store when she saw Floyd being pulled out of a car. She began filming police officer Derek Chauvin and Floyd, pinned under his knee for more than eight minutes. Chauvin, who has since been fired and charged with second-degree murder, stares into the camera as Floyd pleads to be released.

“I’m used to watching racist, violent images,” says DuVernay. “So why did George Floyd’s final moments devastate me like it did? I realized that it was because this time the cop isn’t hidden behind a body cam or distorted by grainy surveillance video. This time, I can see the cop’s face. As a viewer, there are several times when he even looks right at me. Then . . . I started to realize how rare that is. And that led me to think, ‘how many of these police officers do we never see?’ They disappear, end up leaving town, and show up in another department. Their names are said, but it’s never amplified and it’s kind of like this group contract. Somehow, we, as American citizens, have agreed to not speak their names. I do not agree to that anymore.”

DuVernay says she isn’t ready to reveal specific projects yet, but the first finished work will go public in August.

And there won’t be any shortage of incidents to spotlight. DuVernay notes that it took five years for Daniel Pantaleo, the New York City police officer who choked Eric Garner in 2014, to be fired. Pantaleo was not charged in Garner’s death. And no charges have been filed in the deaths of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old emergency medical technician killed in Louisville in March after police stormed her apartment, or Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old shot in a Cleveland park when a police officer mistook his toy gun for a real weapon. There are also the many officers tried and acquitted, including Betty Jo Shelby, who fatally shot an unarmed black man in Tulsa in 2016. Today, she is a police officer in another county and teaches a course on what she calls “The Ferguson effect,” when “a police officer is victimized by anti-police groups and tried in the court of public opinion.”

DuVernay says: “This is a broken system, some people will say. I will say it was built this way. And we, as taxpayers who pay these people’s salaries, should at least be able to speak their names. Why have we agreed not to mention them? It’s much different than a serial killer or a school shooter. These are people who work for us. They have broken the law, they have broken their oath, and we should be able to talk about that.”

Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, says he was immediately drawn to the idea.

“Artists are the best transmitters and translators of the American narrative and unfortunately, racism in law enforcement has been a part of the American narrative,” he says.

Walker says that DuVernay, whose films include “Selma,” “A Wrinkle in Time,” and the ­Academy Award-nominated documentary “13th,” is the perfect person to lead this project. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 June 2020 at 3:15 pm

13th — a movie worth watching

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So, if you have Netflix, watch it. Or at least watch it for 10 minutes and then decide whether to finish.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 June 2020 at 8:52 pm

I MUST see “Bathtubs Over Broadway”

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Sample song from a GM musical “Diesel Dazzle”:

Written by LeisureGuy

3 May 2020 at 8:43 pm

Posted in Business, Movies & TV

Great series: “Unforgotten”

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Season 3 just came out on BritBox and I’m bingeing it. I so admire Nicola Walker. I first saw her in the memorable miniseries “River” — well worth seeing.

In “River” her co-star was Stellan Skarsgård, star of the wonderful “In Order of Disappearance,” a movie rather than a series. (It was remade in an English-language version with Liam Neeson as the star, but I’ve not seen that. They’re both tall guys: Skarsgård is 6’3″, Neeson is 6’4″.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 May 2020 at 5:28 pm

Posted in Movies & TV

Online exhibits from Stanford University Libraries

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It turns out that there are many online exhibits to peruse.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 April 2020 at 1:45 pm

Hamlet as a vlogger

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This is fascinating. From Gary Cook’s description of his work: “An adaptation of Hamlet where Hamlet is a popular vlogger who frequently posts his breakdowns online”

He’s got several pieces up on Youtube. Here’s his (well-done and interesting) version of the soliloquy:

Written by LeisureGuy

23 April 2020 at 10:53 am

Posted in Art, Movies & TV, Video

AlphaGo: The movie

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The full documentary:

Written by LeisureGuy

22 March 2020 at 10:02 am

Posted in Games, Go, Movies & TV

Transitional spellings

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I’ve been watching “Dalziel & Pascoe” on Britbox, a murder mystery series, and in the name “Dalziel,” a, the first l, z, and i are silent, so it’s pronounced “DEE-ell.” That seemed odd, until I read this.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 March 2020 at 6:53 am

Posted in Movies & TV

Christopher Walken profile — worth reading

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We Could Use a Little More Christopher Walken,” by

Written by LeisureGuy

6 March 2020 at 11:36 am

Posted in Movies & TV

“The End of History” — a brief time-travel movie

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Written by LeisureGuy

28 February 2020 at 4:59 pm

Real Film Strikes Back

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David Munro has a very interesting article (at least for film buffs) in Craftsmanship Quarterly. It begins:

Section 1. The Nuts and Bolts of Cinema
Section 2. Film Vs. Digital: A Primer
Section 3. A Moving Image, Literally
Section 4. Splendid Imperfection
Section 5. The Rise of Digital Video
Section 6. The Power of Ones and Zeroes
Section 7. Digital Imaging Grows Up
Section 8. Mining Film’s “Intangibles”
Section 9. “It’s About The Basics”
Section 10. Celluloid’s Next Act

Film was declared dead on November 2, 2011. On that day, the late, great Roger Ebert penned a blog post-cum-eulogy titled, “The Sudden Death of Film.” “The victory of video was quick and merciless,” he wrote. “I insisted, like many other critics, that I always knew when I was not being shown a true celluloid print. The day came when I didn’t.”

The “print” that Ebert was referring to would be a foreign concept to many of today’s filmmakers. He was talking about emulsion-coated, silver halide-and-color dye embedded, dripping-wet-from-the-developer strips of image-laden celluloid. That film. Real film. Film film.

Around the time of Ebert’s epitaph, signs of film’s demise were everywhere, and you didn’t have to be a movie critic to notice. Kodak was in Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Film processing labs were shuttering seemingly by the hour. And theater chains were transitioning to digital exhibition formats at a madcap pace. Just like that, the repository of a century’s dreams and nightmares—Marilyn, moon landings, Hitchcock, The Hindenburg—became a thing that once was, and could no longer be.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the coroner’s table. Film produced a pulse. In the Spring of 2014, two years after Ebert’s eulogy, the heads of six major studios were approached by a group of iconic, A-list directors. Like the cavalry in a John Ford Western, the directors rode in and strong-armed a deal whereby the major studios would buy enough film each year to ensure Kodak’s survival. “The studios listened,” says Linda Brown, head of USC’s cinematography department, “because the directors were named Quentin Tarantino, Christopher Nolan, and Steven Spielberg.” In the following years, including this year in particular, these and other top directors kept winning Academy Awards for movies shot on celluloid.

Among today’s movie productions, ninety-nine percent of them are now one-hundred percent digital. So why would a posse of Oscar-winning directors go to the mat for a dying medium with a reputation for being costly, cumbersome, and commercially non-viable? As I explored this question, I discovered not just film diehards, but digital pioneers who continue to use celluloid as the source of their inspiration. What is it about film that evokes so much devotion that it’s now being summoned back to life?

THE NUTS AND BOLTS OF CINEMA

My introduction to filmmaking happened in 1989 at the University of Southern California. A disillusioned young ad man, I’d been bitten by the movie bug and decided to attend the school’s Summer filmmaking “boot camp” to see if my big screen infatuation was more than a temporary fling. It was the best six weeks of my life.

Hands-on and fully analog, I immersed myself in the artistic and technical aspects of a craft that had not changed much since its invention nearly a century before. Like the internal combustion engine, refinements were many, but the basic mechanics were the same. In film’s materiality, I found the world. Subjects I’d spent most of my life avoiding – chemistry, physics, engineering, math—were suddenly captivating and essential.

USC’s sound stages and cutting rooms were playgrounds of hefty, manually operated, industrial age machinery. Although analog video formats (primarily VHS) had overtaken the home entertainment market, film remained the undisputed medium of origin for industry pros and independents alike. I learned to edit on a Moviola (Pat. 1924), to shoot on an Arriflex-S camera (1952), to record sound on a Nagra tape recorder (1951), and to load a camera using Kodak 7278 Tri-X reversal film stock (1955). By every qualitative metric—resolution, dynamic range, color reproduction—film’s aesthetic bona fides were demonstrably superior to video, and it wasn’t even close. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, as you can tell from the TOC.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 February 2020 at 3:37 pm

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