Friday, March 26, 2010

Who are the English?

Everything shifts as you move, and different things come into focus at different points of your life, and you try to articulate that."
Photographer: Chris Steele-Perkins

Who are the English? And what images spring to mind when you think of the English and England? Ask a tourist and they would probably say Big Ben, English 'bobbies', the London Eye or maybe even the Queen. Ask a Scot, Welshmen or Irishman and you may get a different answer. However, ask an Englishman (or woman) and you will probably get more intimate  answers...mowing the lawn, going down to the pub or maybe braving the beach on a frigid summer's day. Ask Chris Steele-Perkins and he'll have a multitude of answers and what's more, as an internationally acclaimed and award-winning Magnum photographer of 40 years standing he has the images to share.  From Sunday cricket matches to snoozes in a deckchair; intimate family portraits to carefree children at play; circus shows with performing bears to the wilder performers of a street carnival; and from Saturday night dancing to race riots. Each picture tells a story of time and place and many of the images collected will strike a chord or a memory in the viewer.

Brief: At the age of two, Chris Steele-Perkins moved to England from Burma with his father. He went to school at Christ's Hospital. At the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, he studied psychology and worked for the student newspaper; he graduated with honors in 1970 and started to work as a freelance photographer, moving to London in 1971. Steele-Perkins joined Magnum Photos in 1979 and soon began working extensively in the developing world, in particular in Africa, Central America and Lebanon, as well as continuing to take photographs in Britain. He continues to work in Britain, documenting rural life in County Durham.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

EDITING: finding the film

The documentary editor is like a sculptor whose materials are restricted to the format artifacts of media: photography, professionally shot footage, archival material, home movies, interviews, music and transcripts. Today's editors working in the digital realm also have animation, graphics, and effects at their disposal to construct a cinematic story line. But while the equipment to edit documentaries evolves at an ever increasing page - from the steenbeck, Moviola or reel-to-reel video editing system of ten years ago to your average personal computer today - the craft of storytelling remains at the core of editor's work. Editor Larry Silk says "Every cut is a disturbance of reality, so the trick is to cut artfully so the cut gives you more than the disturbance it creates", Documentary editing ties together seemingly mundane moments they may lack inherent drama in a way that moves the plot forward, creates intrigue, portrays an engrossing reality, and brings the larger significance of the events to the surface of the film. 

One of the most common mistakes filmmakers make is they get caught up in how your reveal the exposition. People often begin a film with all the facts, all this background on the characters or on the subject - information that you think the audience needs to know. What you want to try to do is let the story unfold - start with something weird or surprising or wacky or mysterious. There are different philosophies on what that first scene should be, some people like to start with a straight cut interview. I rarely do that - but sometimes it works. If you do start with a talking head, then atleast start at a really unusual point in the interview, to arouse the audience's curiosity. 

You have two scenes, A and B. And each has a beginning, a middle and an end. But watching them one after the next is fairly boring. So you intercut them in parallel

Geof explains further: 
My whole strategy as an editor is to get you on that boat and to go down the river, make it feel like one smooth trip and you're being drawn along. And one thing that can happen is sometimes you'll have two scenes that'll play one after the other - A and B - which, to me, is like getting off the boat, taking a leak on the shore, and then getting back on. its stopping. it's stoppin. So, if you , find a way to intercut those two scenes - and obviously not all scenes can be intercut, there has to be a meaning to the intercutting. But if there is a meaning they can be cut in parallel. Two things happen - one, you are creating one scene rather than two back-to-back scenes. And the other benefit is, you are able to take the best of both scenes - really what you doing is using scene B as a cutaway for scene A, and scene A as a cutaway for scene B. In other words, you get rid of all the crappy stuff in scene A, because you are now in scene B. 

It is a very standard technique that's invisible to most people. You're drawing the story and it's a very good way to tell the story, through parallel editing. But obviously there's got to be a relationship between the events - that's either got to be a time relationship or there's got to be an emotional relationship of some kind between the two scenes. otherwise it won't work. 

Good editors and good directors take their ego and they put it in the locker. Lock it away and look at this movie and say "Is that thing working for a general audience?" It's a very hard thing to do, but you have to...

Watching a Compelling Documentary - Albert Maysles

For Albert Maysles, Cinematographer/Director, to watch a compelling documentary film is to become "engaged in a process that is so human and so lacking, especially in our sophisticated societies'
He feels that the Iraq war "never would have happened if we had a few films of Iraqi people. I wouldn't be going on now the way it is without more skepticism if were were looking at what's happening there. We haven't even seen a photograph of what Baghdad looks like from the air after having them bombed to hell. Have you? I haven't seen it. That's about the first basic - they bombed Baghdad. let's take a look at it. But, from there we can get into people's lives"

Of documentary filmmaking, Maysles says, " I can't think of a better profession and it's not just because I earn a living by it. Although, I don't know - do I earn a living by it?" he laughs, gesturing around at his spare midtown office. "It's not just that, It's that I'm doing good all the way around. I'm making a film that I can be proud of. I'm doing a service, the ultimate service, for people that I'm filming, giving them recognition and paying attention to them, not as they would be or should be or shouldn't be, who they are. That's what people need, right? And then there's the benefit to the audience: Millions of people can step into the lives of people they never otherwise would have met, and learn something. 

FILMMAKER-SUBJECT BOND: violations and beyond

The most extreme reactions to any Maysles Brothers film were accusations  that the brothers had violated the filmmaker-subject bond. Along with his brother David, Muffie Meyers, Ellen Hovde and Susan Froemke, Albert codirected GREY GARDENS (1975), a film about Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis's eccentric cousins. The film's main characters, mother and daughter Edit Bouvier Beale and Edith B. Beale Jr., are former socialites who lived cheerfully  in an undomesticated house in the conservative town of East Hampton. While GREY GARDENS has a bit of a cult following, it had also engendered the filmmaker's harshest criticism. 

In fact, for some of the criticism of Grey Garden was so intense as to be newsworthy. 

Many critics and viewers are uncomfortable watching scene in Grey Garden were the isolated women appear mentally ill. Edit Beagles and "Little Edie" as Albert calls her, have visions o grandeur, dancing about in near-naked performances, flirting with the camera (and with the Maysles Brothers) while raccoons and other 'un-housebroken pets' run throughout the house. Albert recognised the Beales as eccentric, but he believes they were willing - one might even say eager - participants in the film, and that the experience of making it benefited them. 

Except for tabloids shamefully perused in supermarket checkout lines, America was not yet used to seeing the rich, famous and powerful get publicly embarrassed in excruciating detail at every level of the media

Today, when reality show contestants are willing sleeping in coffins, eating bowls full of worms, and enduring liposuction procedures before a national television audience, the reaction to GREY GARDEN seems excessive. 

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