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Posts Tagged ‘film

“Dying is easy, comedy is hard”*…

 

neighbors-keaton

Neighbors. Dir. Edward F. Cline/Buster Keaton. Perf. Buster Keaton, Virginia Fox, Joe Keaton. Metro Pictures, 1920.

 

As he migrated from vaudeville stage to movie set, [Buster] Keaton realised the comedy itself did not need changing, though the opportunities afforded by the camera could extend the world in which the spatial interplay he had developed since childhood took place.

“…the greatest thing to me about picturemaking was the way it automatically did away with the physical limitations of the theatre. On the stage, even one as immense as the New York Hippodrome stage, one could only show so much. The camera had no such limitations. The whole world was its stage. If you wanted cities, deserts, the Atlantic Ocean, Persia, or the Rocky Mountains for your scenery and background, you merely took your camera to them.”

Keaton’s comedy derives largely from the positioning —and constant, unexpected repositioning— of his body in space, and in architectural space particularly. Unlike other slapstick performers who relished in the close-up and detailed attention to the protagonist, Keaton frequently directed the camera to film with a wide far-shot that could contain the whole of a building’s facade or urban span within the frame. Proud of always carrying out his own (often extremely dangerous) stunts, this enabled him to show the audience that his actions were performed in real-time —and real-place— rather than simply being tricks of the camera or editing process. It also allowed him to visually explore the many ways in which his body could engage with the urban form…

An appreciation of that greatest of all silent comedians: “Buster Keaton: Anarchitect.”

* variously attributed to actors Edmund Keane, Edmund Gwynn, and Peter O’Toole

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As we take the fall, we might send delighted birthday greetings to Stanley Donen; he was born on this date in 1924.  A Broadway dancer (who befriended a young Gene Kelly), Donen followed Kelly to Hollywood as choreographer, then a director– of such classics as On the Town (1949) and Singin’ in the Rain (1952), both of which starred Kelly who co-directed.  Donen’s other films include Royal Wedding (1951), Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954),  Funny Face (1957), Indiscreet (1958), and Charade (1963).  Credited (with his rival, Vincent Minelli) with having transitioned Hollywood musical films from realistic backstage dramas (a la Busby Berkeley) to a more integrated art form in which the songs were a natural continuation of the story, Donen is highly regarded by film historians.

One might note a kinship between Keeton’s astounding physical relationship to his surroundings and that of Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, and Fred Astaire in Donen’s films…

Stanley_Donen_(cropped) source

 

Written by LW

April 13, 2019 at 1:01 am

“Not too big, not too small… just right”*…

 

dimensions

Dimensions.Guide is a comprehensive [and free]reference database of [thousands of] dimensioned drawings documenting the standard measurements and sizes of the everyday objects and spaces that make up our world. We offer our resources to professional designers, students, and the public alike as a way to enhance our global collective awareness of the parameters and dimensions of the things around us…

For example…

Screen Shot 2019-02-02 at 3.24.06 PM

Browse at Dimensions.Guide.

* The Goldilocks Principle

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As we size it up, we might recall that it was on this date in 1921 that Charlie Chaplin released the first feature-length film in which he both starred (as “The Tramp”) and directed, The Kid.  Chaplin also wrote and produced the film.

Widely considered one of the greatest films of the silent era, it was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.

 

Written by LW

February 7, 2019 at 1:01 am

“Now I have a machine gun. Ho ho ho”*…

 

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Ok, enough bickering and fighting. Let’s settle this once and for all in the only way I know how – going into a topic in way too much detail.

As we prepare to enter the year 32 ADH (a.k.a. After Die Hard), the world is gripped by a constantly nagging question.

No, it’s not “Why does everyone call Hans Gruber and his gang ‘terrorists’ when they were clearly bank robbers?”

Today we’re going to use data to answer the question “Is Die Hard a Christmas movie?”

Along the way, we’re going to test Die Hard’s Christmas bona fides against all movies in US cinemas for the past thirty years, using a variety of methods…

Stephen Follows tackles a perennial poser: “Using data to determine if Die Hard is a Christmas movie.”

[Image above: source… which also weighs in on the Die Hard question.]

* Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman), reading what John McClane (Bruce Willis) had written on a dead terrorist’s shirt

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As we just say Yippie-Ki-Yay, we might recall that it was on this date that Phileas Fogg completed his circumnavigation of the globe in Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days.  (As the book was published in 1873, the putative year of the journey was 1871 or 1872.)

In 1888 American journalist Nellie Bly convinced her editor to let her attempt the feat.  She completed her round-the-world journey in 72 daysShe completed her round-the-world journey in 72 days.

220px-Verne_Tour_du_Monde

First edition of Verne’s tale

source

Your correspondent is headed into his annual Holiday hiatus; Regular service will resume on or around January 2…  Meantime, many thanks to all for reading– and Happy Holidays!

 

Written by LW

December 21, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Movies started out as an extension of a magic trick, so making a spectacle is part of the game”*…

 

terminator2_super_35_exampl

Widescreen feels cinematic. When black bars come down and a show goes into widescreen, it feels more like a movie. More intense. More epic. The shape of a screen changes how we feel about it, and wide just feels different.

But that feeling is an invention. We had to be taught it. And really, we had to be sold it.

Quartz’s Adam Freelander does a deep dive into movie history from Thomas Edison to Cinerama and Pan-and-Scan to “TV Safe” Shooting (or Open Matte, Shooting Flat, etc) and back to the very device that you are watching this video on — the entire aspect ratio explained…

 

[image above: source]

* Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

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As we let them entertain us, we might recall that today is the first day of Saturnalia, a Roman holiday first celebrated on this date in 497 BC on the occasion of the dedication of the Temple of Saturn in the Roman Forum.  The poet Catullus called it “the best of days” – Saturnalibus, optimo dierum!

Originally only a day long, it grew to three days, and persevered as a practice into the 4th century AD.  It opened with a sacrifice (usually a pig), followed by a public banquet, then lots of private merriment and the exchange of presents… indeed, it is believed by many to have been the model for Christmas festivities.

Tavares.Forum.Romanum.redux

The remains of the Temple of Saturn in the Roman Forum

source

 

Written by LW

December 17, 2018 at 1:01 am

“The study of man is the study of his extensions”*…

 

magic-lantern_1_md

The magic lantern was invented in the 1600’s, probably by Christiaan Huygens, a Dutch scientist. It was the earliest form of slide projector and has a long and fascinating history. The first magic lanterns were illuminated by candles, but as technology evolved they were lit by increasingly powerful means.

The name “magic lantern” comes from the experience of the early audiences who saw devils and angels mysteriously appear on the wall, as if by magic. Even in the earliest period, performances contained images that moved—created with moving pieces of glass.

By the 18th century the lantern was a common form of entertainment and education in Europe. The earliest known “lanthorn show” in the U. S. was in Salem, Massachusetts, on December 3, 1743, “for the Entertainment of the Curious.” But the source of light for lanterns in this period—usually oil lamps—was still weak, and as a consequence the audiences were small.

In the mid 19th century, two new forms of illumination were developed which led to an explosion of lantern use. “Limelight” was created by heating a piece of limestone in burning gas until it became incandescent. It was dangerous, but produced a light that was strong enough to project an image before thousands of people, leading to large shows by professional showmen…

All about the entertainment sensation of its time at the web site of The Magic Lantern Society.  [TotH to friend and colleague RW]

And for a peek at the transition from the static images of the magic lantern to film-as-we-know-it, see “Putting Magic in the Magic Lantern.”

[image above: source]

Edward T. Hall, Beyond Culture

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We we watch with wonder, we might recall that it was on this date in 1926 that The NBC Radio Network, the first network in the U.S., was launched.  Carl Schlegel of the Metropolitan Opera opened the four-hour inaugural broadcast, which also featured Will Rogers and Mary Garden; it included a remote link from KYW in Chicago and was carried by twenty-two eastern and midwestern stations, located as far west as WDAF in Kansas City, Missouri.

NBC has been formed from assets already held by its parent, Radio Corporation of America (RCA) and other assets acquired from AT&T (which had been, up to that point, a pioneer in radio technology).  Crucially, as part of the reassignment permissions granted by the government, NBC was allowed to sell advertising.

NBC’s network grew quickly; two months later, on January 1, 1927, it was split into the Red and Blue networks.  And it quickly attracted competition:  the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) in 1927 and the Mutual Broadcasting System in 1934.  In 1942 the government required NBC to divest one of its networks; it sold off NBC Blue, which became The American Broadcasting Company (ABC).

200px-NBC_Red_Network source

 

 

Written by LW

November 15, 2018 at 1:01 am

“I am big! It’s the pictures that got small.”*…

 

Romaine Fielding

Romaine Fielding got famous making a bunch of films in nothing flat—something like 100 films in just four years, from 1912 to 1915. Some of the films were probably awful. Others were showered with critical praise. Film was a fledgling medium still trying to find its voice, still battling to evolve from novelty to art. But Romaine rose above the melodramatic din of the silent film era. He was, by some accounts, America’s first movie star and, by even more accounts, among the medium’s first true visionaries…

Romaine had already lived a lot of life when he began making films in 1912. There were only a dozen film companies in Hollywood. The magazine that would launch our nation’s rabidity for celebrity culture, Photoplay, had just published its first issue. Romaine was 43 and on his fourth name by then: baby William Grant Blandin became Royal A. Blandin became Romanzo A. Blandin who made the leap finally to Romaine Fielding at the dawn of the 20th century.

There are lots of reasons for adopting pseudonyms and these include shame or aspiration or fear of legal recourse or extralegal recourse or confusion about identity or certainty about identity or general restlessness and for some it is all of this plus the usual feeling of fraudulence and an overdeveloped flair for the dramatic. In 1867 Romaine was born out of wedlock in an Iowa that wouldn’t stand for it and so his first name change was the projection of others’ shame. For the rest of his life he layered on identities, ever grander, though never entirely disingenuous…

After the success of The Toll of Fear (one of the first great psychological thrillers, made in 1913) Romaine made the cover of Motion Picture Magazine. He was voted America’s Most Popular Player by the magazine’s readers, snagging over 1.3 million of the 7 million votes cast by film buffs.

This award was a remarkable accomplishment in the pre-Oscars era. He beat out Mary Pickford, an early cinema powerhouse and eventual cofounder of the famed United Artists studio. He beat out Bronco Billy, who had starred in The Great Train Robbery (1903), arguably the first ever Western film…

The genuinely remarkable tale of an American original: “The Lost Apocalypse of Romaine Fielding.”

* “Norma Desmond” (Gloria Swanson) in Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard

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As we see stars, we might spare a thought for Herbert Eugene Ives; he died on this date in 1953.  A scientist and engineer who headed the development of facsimile and television systems at AT&T in the first half of the twentieth century, he is best known for the 1938 Ives–Stilwell experiment, which provided direct confirmation of special relativity’s time dilation (though Ives himself did not accept special relativity, and argued instead for an alternative interpretation of the experimental results).

But relevantly to this post, Ives also led AT&T’s development of video and television. His 1927 transmission–  of images of then-Commerce Secretary Herbert Hoover, from Washington, DC to New York– was the first successful long distance demonstration of television. Two years later, he achieved the first successful long-distance transmission of color images.

220px-Ives_3819812229_f084c217d1_o source

 

Written by LW

November 13, 2018 at 1:01 am

“We need ghost stories because we, in fact, are the ghosts”*…

 

Cynthia-Zarin-Originial-Master-of-Ghost-Stories

Lost keys, a snagged button, a wine glass upset—you spilled it, didn’t you, the wine didn’t spill itself? “The Complete Ghost Stories,” by M. R. James, first published between 1904 and 1935—and reprinted [last] year by Macmillan, in a hardbound pocket edition, perfect for reading in a stalled subway car—incorporate what the author, the master of the modern ghost story, called “the malice of inanimate objects.” Might that razor, so benign every other morning, know something? Does ill will ferret out, precisely, where we live? The stories start quietly. A young man inherits a country house from an unknown uncle; a print collector finds himself drawn to an oddly undistinguished engraving; a provincial hotel doesn’t—or does it?—have a room numbered thirteen. The humdrum, muffled tone of these stories transmits an atmosphere of almost superannuated ordinariness—fusty antiquarians, old books, the slightly dampish vistas of university life, train platforms in out-of-the-way stations—places and people that mimic the life of the author himself, until they don’t…

Montague Rhodes James was an acclaimed intellectual who published a handful of stories (from short quips to long, academic papers) that are widely regarded as the basis upon which modern ghost stories are built. Not entirely for the narratives, but rather the topics: his stories are unpredictable and based on haunted objects, unfamiliar beings and odd circumstances.  Cynthia Zarin, of The New Yorker, writes “Scholarly efforts have been made to unearth the early trauma that would account for James’ succession of wraiths, screeches, hairy faces, and skeletal hands creeping out from under the pillow. He reported his own childhood as happy.”  Just in time for Halloween, more at “The original master of ghost stories.”

[TotH]

* Stephen King, Danse Macabre

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As we muse on the macabre, we might send frightening birthday greetings to Elsa Sullivan Lanchester; she was born on this date in 1902.  An accomplished and acclaimed actress whose career spanned several decades (and many genre), she is surely best remembered for– and as– The Bride of Frankenstein.

Elsa-Lanchester source

 

Written by LW

October 28, 2018 at 1:01 am

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