Monday, June 29, 2009


There are a lot of film enthusiasts around – watching films, living them and some of them also reviewing them – for personal consumption and sometimes unfortunately for the public too. Well, one local radio jockey here in UAE does it every week with unfailing mediocrity and sweeping flaws. Reporting about acting and acting alone and thrashing a film just because everybody is doing so is such a pity. You can’t really expect a popcorn blower to understand the nuances of a unique narrative structure with sometimes a fractured screenplay. That’s why, in most award ceremony thank lord, you have a category called “Critic’s award”. I sincerely hope this post will give you the FILM VIEW and not just any view taking pot-shots at someone’s creative misadventure.
[Today Hitchcock is revered with new fanfare – with DVD collections – his initial offerings with a million cutaways and inserts were a big turnoff for theatre goers]

[Sholay was shot with a documentary camera with hardly any technical expertise thrown in – but yes with a dream script and screenplay – it worked]
[Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge had a damp first two weeks before it is lifted itself out of the ashes]

Famous Continuity Errors
Fans track continuity errors more effectively than directors do, apparently. Websites devoted to “movie mistakes” keep count and clearly the ability to spot errors in continuity develops early on as one learns the grammar of narrative cinema. There is, no doubt, a certain pleasure in the mastery involved in noticing a window magically intact after being shattered in the previous shot, a knowingness that is perhaps augmented by the additional awareness of the vast sums of money spent in the making of the film meant to wow us with their flawlessness and their capacity for manipulation of the image. A few errors spotted and reported by fans in Spiderman are:

Continuity: The intact windows above – in the scene where Mary Jane is being mugged by four men, Spiderman throws two of the men into two windows behind Mary Jane. Then the camera goes back to Spiderman beating up the other two guys. When the camera goes back to Mary Jane the two windows are intact.
Continuity: When Peter shoots his web at his bedroom lamp and pulls it across the room, it smashes against the wall and breaks. But when Aunt May is talking to Peter from the door seconds later, the lamp is back on the dresser in one piece.
Continuity: In the scene where Norman is getting ready to test himself he lies down on the bed, fastens himself when it shows him being brought into the chamber he has several electrodes connected to this chest and head.
Visible Crew/equipment: When Peter stands up after being bitten by the spider, there’s the reflection of the cameraman with headphones on the television set behind him.Continuity: In the final cemetery sequence, Peter and Mary Jane square off for a little heart, with her touching his face tenderly with her black leather gloves. The camera cuts front views of both; in hers, her fingers are touching his ear lobe, in his, they are an inch below his ear lobe. In one quick cut of hers, the hand has disappeared completely, then in midsentence, as they cut back to Peter, it’s there again.
Factual error: When Harry is talking to Mary Jane on the phone, she hangs up on him and his cell phone leaves a dial tone. Cell phones do not have a dial tone.

Sound is one element which not everyone hears closely – they spend more time looking. You will hardly ever have the premiere show public coming out of theatres saying aloud – “the sound design is awesome!!” you can count our own RJ Reviewer for not doing so also either. She was too busy counting the five/six/seven pack on the actor, although she would raise the champagne glass on our own Resul Pookutty slumdog fame for getting us the Oscar. May be our hopeful film enthusiast's parents won’t mind their wards now pursuing a ‘sound’ sound course, now that they have heard of it that it does exist!!

Let relive another moment from Lumet’s chronicle of movie-making illustrates how carefully editors construct sound (and how sometimes, sound and image don’t work together)

The sound editor on Murder on the Orient Express hired the “world’s greatest authority” on train sounds. He brought me the authentic sounds of not only the Orient Express but the Flying Scotsman, the Twentieth Century Limited, every train that had ever achieved the reputation. He worked for six weeks on train sounds only. His greatest moment occurred when, at the beginning of the picture, the train left the station at Istanbul. We had the steam, the bell, the wheels, and he even included an almost inaudible click when the train’s headlights went on. He swore that all the effects were authentic. When we got to the mix (the point at which we put all the sound together), he was bursting with anticipation. For the first time, I heard what an incredible job he’d done. But I had also heard Richard Rodney Bennett’s magnificent music score for the same scene. I know one would have to go. They couldn’t work together, I turned to Simon, He knew. I said, “Simone, it’s a great job. But, finally, we’ve heard a train leave the station. We’ve never heard a train leave the station in three-quarter time”

Now about making a movie – feeling a little out of sorts, can you? Why not find out what Maya Deren thinks about it.

Anyone can make a film. Experimental filmmaker Maya Deren knew it was possible to do so on the cheap as early as the 1940s:
Cameras do not make films; filmmakers make film. Improve your films not by adding more equipment and personnel but by using what you have to the fullest capacity. The most important part of your equipment is yourself; your mobile body, your imaginative mind, your freedom to use both

Now that you got Maya’s point of view; don’t consider yourself anything less than a Karan Johar movie with a million dollar budget thrown in . But still, dear, before you pick up the pen or hold the microphone to announce your ‘supposed’ impartial view on the film – go ahead make one of your own.

I almost felt like a jingoistic Indian cricket fan ready to disown my team 10 years ago when I added a new word into my dictionary “match fixing”.


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Photographer of the Week: Steve McCurry

"As a photographer, I am sustained by the rhythms of everyday life: the routines of herding and fishing; the chanting of prayers and the hawking of wares. Where do humans sleep? How do we feed ourselves? How do we keep warm? For me, documenting the infinitely varied ways we meet these fundamental human needs has proven to be a profound journey. The sequence of images that follows is not tied to specific events or cultures, but instead suggestive of the vast tapestry of human experience and my chance encounters with silhouette and shadow, water and light, spire and sky. In The Unguarded Moment,as in South Southeast, its companion volume I wanted to create for the reader a visceral sense of the beauty and wonder I'm confronted with during my travels when the surprise of the stranger rubs against the delight of the familiar. These frictions - between past and present, sacred and profane, the domestic and the exotic- invigorate me. My impulse is to share them, to draw a circle of stillness around them so they can touch and inspire others." A travel book has the capacity to express a country's heart - and perhaps the heart of the traveler too," writes Paul Theroux, but only if it concentrates on the people in their landscape." This is what I have tried to achieve in these pages. When people ask me what they should do to become a photographer . I seldom mention cameras or technique. I say, "If you want to be a photographer , first leave home." And as Paul Theroux further advises, "Go as far as you can. Become a stranger in a strange land. Acquire humility." In the end, I can't imagine another way of being. My life is shaped by the urgent need to wander and observe, and my camera is my passport. Here are the results of this restless curiosity - a selection of those unguarded moments I was fortunate enough to witness."

Steve McCurry is always trying to capture those 'unguarded moments' when people are at their most unselfconscious and natural. McCurry takes photographs all over the world, for National Geographic magazine and his own projects, so this book includes the places, colours and forms of Yemen, Mali, Niger, Chad, India, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Myanmar (Burma), France and the former Yugoslavia, among others.

How do you do it?

When students come to bade you goodbye and promise to meet you on the other side of the professional world – different thoughts run through your head!! Are they really prepared – Did we do enough to see them off. How many of them will go on to make promising film careers not to talk about the disappointing world of TV Entertainment.

When Student asks, “How do you do it?” Ken Burns says, “There’s two things, and you’re going to despair me for the platitudes that they are, first, but you’ve got to know who you are – because we’ve seen so many people drawn to film for some perceived glamour that isn’t there. And it’s no shame to say, “You know what? I don’t have something to say.” Because a few of us do, and we’re very lucky, or we’re burdened – cursed. But whatever it is, if you have something to say, then you can still do that.

The other thing is perseverance. Because, I’ve rarely run into bad filmmakers, I rarely ran into bad ideas. So it means that everyone’s got to work that much harder just to make sure it happens. You must overcome not just the obstacles in production, but all the other obstacles. Not enough money, a government not disposed to funding documentary films, competition and mean spiritedness within the community. All these things have to be overcome.

My students working on their final documentary project seemed very confused on the treatment part – what kind of treatment does your documentary need to present the story without any hooch pooch. Is it going to be stylized sequences like TV commercials, narrations component, standard interviews or studio lit interview frames – what is it going to be?

There’s this great conflict between observational documentary ala Cinema Verite’ and some of its strongest opponent Errol Morris – lets get into the argument while discussing one of Errol Morris films –

The Thin Blue Line released in 1998, took up the case of Randall Adams, who was wrongly convicted for murder in Dallas County, Texas. The film, and Morris’s investigation of the case, is credited with Adam’s conviction being overturned.

In The Thin Blue Line you combined traditional interviews with Philip Glass’s mesmerizing scores, and then used 35 mm film and commercial cinematography to illustrate and reillustrate the different character’s contradictory versions of what happened the night of the murder. It’s very controlled approach to the documentary form. Many of your visual techniques – such as the theatrical re-enactment – which are used frequently in nonfiction television today, were first conceived of in this film.

As Errol Morris puts it – the film THE THIN BLUE LINE is a reminder – it’s a reminder that the claims of cinema verite are spurious

Errol Morris:
It shows that style does not guarantee truth. The use of available light and a hand held camera does not mean that what you are doing is any more truthful than anything else. Truth is a pursuit, its’ s a quest. And proof is certainly in the pudding in this particular instance, because the film and the evidence accumulated in making the film, led to this man’s release from prison. And that’s hardly ever happened. If it’s happened at all in any other film that I can think of.

Direct Cinema – as defined by Pennebaker Hegedus Films---“…revolutionized the documentary genre by discarding narration, re-enactments and other staged techniques in favour of direct and uninterrupted observation, creating a fly-on-the-wall sense of immediacy.

The common bone of contention is how re-enactment is something that comes morally to Direct Cinema filmmakers. It goes with the flow and letting things happen before the camera.
As Pennebaker says: “You don’t have to set up an elaborate plan or a script, or tell people what to do. You don’t have to direct anyone. In fact, the less directing you do , the more effective they’ll be. It’s the directing that kills it, and then we get out of here.”

But when they’re involved in putting it together, its creative for them, too. It’s just as interesting for them. More interesting.

Haswell Wexler, Cinematographer talks about fly-on-the-wall documentary:
My definition of cinema verite is use your filmmaking ability. For example, I actually did that with an IMAX camera, shooting behind the scenes for the Rolling Stones IMAX. In the scene, Keith Richards walks into the shot and they start jamming and goofing around and so forth. Well, I knew for a scene that I needed a shot of Richards coming in the door so it would cut better. After I shot all this stuff I said “Keith, would you mind coming in the hotel room door?” So then, bing! I turned the big mother camera on, he comes in the door, walks out of the frame.

All documentary filmmakers, in one way or another, by the very selection of what lens they use, what time of day they shoot, what people are in the shot, what remains in the film, and what remains out of the film. It’s all a creative process, and it is not, as some purist used to maintain, just “recording reality”. There is no “reality”. Once image are recorded by whatever medium, they cease to be reality. It becomes the filmmaker’s reality. All the images we see are images now presented by the people who are able to present them. And they don’t necessarily represent the truth.

What the president makes a speech, he’s had directors tell him how to talk, he has script writers who put stuff on the TelePromTer, he has answers to questions one, two, three or four – which is not unique to the president. It’s true whenever people go public. And this has to do with the subject that I’m very interested in.

When I was young they used to say, “Well, I have photographic proof!” That photograph, it captures that moment. And that meant verite’ – that means truth. Well, certainly, in filmmaking particularly, in motion picture filmmaking, we can alter things – in post or even in camera – to make them look dimaterically different. I guarantee you, from having personal experiences, not only on feature but in documentaries, that the sanctity of the visual image is in the control of the person who owns it, and not in anyone else’s control.

Filming for a documentary is always a challenge, as a cinematographer you need to make sure you get all the relevant shots and cutaways and after you have finished filming and watch your footage – you will always feel may that shot could be done differently, since it is not scripted, the challenge is to present the way you feel when you are filming it. Do you crash zoom in or use the zoom is such a manner that it can be used as a shot itself. How about focus? Shift focus shots – all permutation and combination needs to be worked out when you are shooting it. Quite a challenge!!

Chris Hegedus explains more:
A lot of times shots are framed a particular way just out of practicality. After the film is done somebody could look at a frame and deconstruct it and say, “Oh, he did this and that” but, really, it was shot that way because that was the only spot you could be in to get that shot. As a cameraperson, you try to be in the most interesting, best spot you can, or, you’re where you are because you don’t want to move and interrupt the situation. That’s a lot of what we’re doing – we’re not trying to be flies on the wall, we want life to go on so that we can film it and record it in some way. And if you’re always moving all around the room to get the right picture of a shoe tapping or something, because you think that’s arty, chances are they may not want you there, and you are disrupting what’s going on; and just make such a nuisance of yourself. There are different reasons the film is framed and shot in a certain way, especially in our type of movie.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Photographer of the Week: John Vink

Photography cannot do much. It provides some level of information, yet it has no pretensions about changing the world."

John Vink studied photography at the fine arts school of La Cambre in Brussels, in 1968. He has been a freelance journalist since 1971. Since the mid-1980s, Vink has dedicated much time to long-term projects, the first of which was on Italy, between 1984 and 1988. He came to public attention in 1986 when he was awarded the prestigious W. Eugene Smith Grant in Humanistic Photography for Waters in Sahel, a two-year documentary project on water management involving migrant and sedentary populations of the Niger, Mali, Burkina-Faso and Senegal. Vink joined the Vu agency in Paris in 1986, then from 1987 to 1993 worked on Refugees in the World, an extensive statement about life in the refugee camps of India, Mexico, Thailand, Pakistan, Hungary, Iraq, Malawi, Bangladesh, Turkey, Sudan, Croatia, Honduras and Angola.

In 1993 there were 15 million uprooted people in the world, forced to leave their home or country and having to live in refugee camps because of war, violence, intolerance or repression. 15 million more or less assisted people, forced to live in precarious situations in an unfamiliar environment, waiting for an improvement of the situation in their country to go back or waiting for a third country willing to give them a more permanent safe haven. Today, in 2001, the UN High Commission for Refugees has registered 12 million people. John Vink started working on refugees back in 1986 and has over the years collected a substantial body of work on the situation of these uprooted people, covering some 17 different situations.

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