Il Momento della Veritá

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“Don José, the only reason I’m a torero is to make money. When I have enough I’ll retire. It’s the only reason I risk getting gored.” –  Miguelín

The Moment of Truth (Il momento della verità), from director Francesco Rosi, is a visceral plunge into the life of a famous torero—played by real-life bullfighting legend Miguel Mateo, known as Miguelín. Charting his rise and fall with a single-minded focus on the bloody business at hand, the film is at once gritty and operatic, placing the viewer right in the thick of the ring’s action, as close to death as possible. Like all of the great Italian truth seeker’s films, this is not just an electrifying drama but also a profound and moving inquiry into a violent world—and it’s perhaps the greatest bullfighting movie ever made.” – The Criterion Collection

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1. This film is comprised of a series of “moments of truth” as a matter of fact. And none is more important than what is depicted above. Here Miguelín takes a leap of faith, literally. Coming from such humble beginnings, he knows he must try any way he can to get attention. Having received some training from faded legend, Pedrucho (and exhibiting some innate talent), Miguelín feels he must take the next step. He ultimately decides to jump into the stadium, mid-bullfight and prove himself. This act comes to define Miguelín as a character. This moment shows his deep-rooted confidence in himself, and develops him as the bold character we all wish we were a little more like. He was tired of being on track to become a small town farmer, dreamed big, and committed to seeing it through. The third step in this progression is what sets him apart from most people; the bravery to try.

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2. Here we see a small fraction of the crowd that gathers to watch the spectacle of torero v. bull. And while it is the fortune that initially draws Miguelín to the profession, fame (as we have always been taught) can be just as powerful a drug. The film often depicts the reactions of the crowd up close, in a voyeuristic and documentary fashion. Laughing, pointing, and cheering seem to contradict the carnage that occurs in the stadium when viewed in our modern, PETA-inspired, animal rights perspective. And while I do not necessarily condone the violence, it cannot be denied that bullfighting has played an important role in the culture of Spain for centuries. The event is shown not unlike the gladiator battles of yore; where men live and die to defend their honor.

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3. This is what the title of the film most directly references. Having lulled the bull into confusion through a magnificent ballet with the red cloth (known as the muleta), the torero sizes him up and draws his sword. As he sets his aim, and looks into the bull’s eyes, the moment of truth commences. This is the moment which determines the fate of both bull and man. Francesco Rosi does a great job of showing the connection that is felt between Miguelín and the bulls he fights. There is almost an unspoken, unexplainable respect that manifests itself in Miguelín’s face as he rises to his toes before driving the sword through the bull. We are afforded close to a dozen opportunities to experience this moment, which makes the film a truly “visceral plunge.”

Bottom Line: Bullfighting might be a fading tradition as it continues to be outlawed in various areas, but The Moment of Truth captures the sport at its greatest. Rosi crafts for us a film which shows the beauty and grace that belies the grotesque imagery. All of the fights and gore are real (no stunt doubles, no dummies, and no CGI!); it’s unlikely we’ll every see anything like it again. It is certainly not a movie for the faint of heart (or stomach), but it reveals human nature in its most raw and unfiltered form. It should also be noted that while filmed entirely in Spain, the film is in Italian. This may seem at first strange until we consider that we make movies in other countries all the time and have all the characters speak English! Somewhere deep down, I wish I was more like Miguelín, but I can honestly say I won’t be staring a raging bull in the eyes anytime soon (at least not until I’ve had my peanut butter and jelly).

Reel Rating: 6.7

Also, I would like to note that I am changing the reviews to 3-frames as you can see. This format will evolve as I work on it more and more, but I think this is a better place to be. And in case you were wondering, shaving a movie to 3 frames is VERY hard!

 

 

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3-Frame-Reviews

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Screen Shot 2014-05-24 at 11.17.50 AMIn an effort to make my reviews shorter, more frequent, and a little more modern/edgier, I’ve decided to move away from my long essay format in which I cover more than necessary plot details and (admittedly) some over analyzation. Instead I will be selecting three frames from the films I review which in my mind serve crucial roles. This does not necessarily mean that they are the most “important” to the overall action and plot development (although this will certainly play a role). Frames can be selected for a variety of reasons: intensity, construction, beauty, importance, etc. (or maybe I just really liked it!). Under each frame I will discuss its importance and talk about how it adds to the film. Selecting only 3 frames from a whole movie (films are shot at 24fps!!) will be challenging, but that’s part of the fun! I will of course be including my Reel Ratings as well. To cover the requisite plot information, I will be using (with appropriate citation and due credit) the plot summaries provided by Turner Classic Movies and The Criterion Collection whenever possible (and other sources if necessary). My hope is that my reviews will be more accessible, interesting, and digestible for you all and that I can provide them more frequently! Maybe TWR can even start some sort of trend! Look for reviews in the new format to appear soon. Thanks as always for your support and interest. Please drop a comment to let me know your thoughts when I do post them!

Jerry

Above frame of Peter O’Toole as T.E. Lawrence in Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

Hold the Ladder

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Here is commercial I made for a company called Lock Laces. Ultimately they decided not to use it in their campaign (such is business, such is life!). I once again teamed up with the Samia brothers, who worked on Till Sunbeams Find You, with Richard as my camera operator and Arthur as the boom mic operator. The commercial also features a very talented young neighbor of mine (I won’t say more here as it would compromise the effectiveness of the commercial). And if you are new to TWR, I am the guy in the commercial; nice to meet you. Additionally, the commercial features the music of the great Django Reinhardt (whom I was introduced to by Woody Allen in Sweet and Lowdown). In my admittedly unprofessional opinion with regards to the world of advertising, I felt the best approach to this project was to make a very short commercial (run-time is only about 20s) that people would  want to share (who has the patience for anything longer these days??). In doing so, I felt the visibility of the company would propagate. As the company decided they did not want to buy the finished product from me, I still retain all rights to the material and I do not benefit monetarily or otherwise from how many people watch it. That legal stuff being said, I still would like to share my video with the world and hope you all will enjoy it and, in turn, share!

 

 

Till Sunbeams Find You

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POSTER copyAbove is the poster for my second short film entitled, Till Sunbeams Find You, which I’m very excited to announce will be premiering on Vimeo.com August 2nd (I will also be uploading it to watch here). The film stars a very talented friend of mine from high school, Dana Jordan, who is making her debut as an actress in her role as Claire. I play the male lead, Dan. My producer for the picture is another good friend of mine from high school, Arthur Samia, and his younger brother Richard did a fantastic job as our director of photography. This is the first foray into cinema for both of the Samias, and I am very honored to have them on board.

Till Sunbeams Find You is an entirely original short film. I’ve had the idea for it spinning in my head since December of 2012, and was very excited to write the script sometime in April after having scouted locations in Durham, NC, where the picture was filmed. The film took four shooting days (over a three week period), and for those of you who saw my first film, Object of Refraction, I’m sure you will be pleased to hear there is a lot of dialogue in this one! I tried to take a big leap from my last film, and I hope you all will enjoy it!

The Passenger

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the-passenger-jack-nicholson-maria-schneider-1975-dvd-1f4a2The following is the third and final essay for my Global Cinema course, entitled “Antonioni’s Artwork: The Passenger.” The paper focuses on the final scene of Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1975 film, The Passenger. The film features Jack Nicholson and Maria Schneider, and is beautifully filmed. Almost all of the scenes were filmed on location in wonderful and exotic places. It is, in essence, an “art” film, but the presence of Nicholson makes it much more… watchable. The Passenger is a bit on the long side (it’s a little over two hours, but feels longer), but I found it very interesting and morally provocative. I would recommend seeing the film before reading my paper (only because this is about the END). But if curiosity, and free time, are pressing, please read on.

The Reel Rating: 7.1

Antonioni’s Artwork: The Passenger

Born in Italy in 1912, Director Michelangelo Antonioni was greatly influenced by Italian Neorealism in his filmmaking career. Antonioni’s affinity for the neorealist aesthetic presents itself in many of his films and is especially apparent in their mise-en-scènes. He once said, “I have never shot a scene without taking account of what stands behind the actors because the relationship between people and their surroundings is of prime importance.” However, his spectrum reaches beyond shot composition, and even neorealism, as evidenced by his later adoption of new wave elements: specifically those of camera movement and editing.  His 1975 film, The Passenger, is a great example of the “art-house” style of filmmaking which was burgeoning at the time. Antonioni evokes the neorealist and new wave styles in The Passenger through symbolic imagery, a voyeuristic camera, and long takes to illustrate the alienation and escapism of its main character, David Locke.

the passenger63Symbolism pervades The Passenger and nowhere in the film is this more apparent than the final scene. The bars on Locke’s window hold both literal and figurative significance. In the most literal sense, they are an obstacle, a barrier, between Locke and the world outside his room. These bars protect him; somewhat ironically as several people enter his room (one even to kill him), from those on the other side. However, the symbol of these bars is best understood in a more figurative light. They are representative of the barrier which Locke has set up between himself and those around him. This extends beyond the walls of the room, which serves as a microcosm for his own experiences, to his life at large. The walls of the hotel are painted white, which too is ironic because white is traditionally a marker of innocence and purity, two things which are in direct contrast to Locke’s character. He spends the entire film running away and “locking out” reality (his job, wife, identity, etc.). In the final sequence, his room even estranges the new identity he has assumed with Maria Schneider’s character, Martin Knight, and the clients he has worked with. In essence, the bars and walls of this room show that even by escaping his old identity, Locke is never truly happy and can never completely run away from what plagues him. Even Locke’s name is conceivably a symbol for his personality tendencies, which in some ways serves as a foreboding that he will always be who he is. This is in much the same way as Harry Caul’s character in Coppola’s The Conversation where his life is in a “caul,” separate from his surroundings.

The individuals shown in the final scene also hold elements of symbolism in their own rights. The girl represents what Locke yearns for but can never obtain: a new life, adventure, love. She tries to help him become happy, but ultimately falls short because of Locke’s inherent characteristic of resistance. Locke’s wife, having figured out he was still alive, arrives in his room to find him dead, but he had been dead to her a long time before, saying, “I never knew him.” His wife and the police, finally arriving at the hotel after having chased him in the preceding minutes of the film, represent his past catching up with him.

vlcsnap45453Antonioni engages the camera in The Passenger’s final sequence, as well as the film in its entirety, in a voyeuristic manner reminiscent of the new wave and neorealist styles. In the case of the final sequence, the camera moves like a curious but cautious child: a child whose attention is present but somehow removed. The camera moves at a painstakingly slow, but deliberate pace in the final scene. It seems to be in a sort of trance, which prevents it from quickly approaching the subjects it depicts. Once Locke lies down on the bed, the focus shifts to what is going on outside of his hotel. But even the events out of the room are seen from afar as if the camera is simply staring out into the distance. Events unfold; a boy plays fetch with a dog, a taxi pulls up, a mariachi band plays in the distance, but the camera’s “curiosity” is not peaked by these events. It simply moves with a mind of it’s own, observing. The camera’s voyeuristic tendency seems to be present in Locke’s character as well. As the camera moves carefree and nonchalant, so too does Locke, blissfully disinterested in the problems that surround him. The scene in which the audience is first introduced to the girl is another great example of this type of cinematography. As the camera catches Locke’s interaction with the girl and he continues on, it stays on her. The camera is no longer interested in Locke but is captivated by this girl’s aura. Despite having no familiarity with the girl, the camera lingers on her; again, observing.

Another device Antonioni puts to use in the film is the long take. Long takes occur with some regularity over the course of the film. This style creates angst, as more “traditional” films use editing techniques to breakup action. Antonioni plays against this convention in a way characteristic of new wave cinema. With the long take, the audience is given more time to absorb the surroundings, in much the same way as the camera explores. An early long take in the film appears when Locke is first left along in the middle of the desert. The length of the shot helps formulate the notion that he is alone, set apart from others and the world. The vastness of the desert is scanned by the camera to show that Locke is just an insignificant blip on the proverbial map.

passengerPerhaps the best example in The Passenger of how the long take is utilized to create tension and apprehension is this final scene. As aforementioned, the camera quickly segregates itself from Locke and moves within the surroundings; as a result, the audience is left to wonder what is happening in his room. With all of the people arriving to find him, does he know they are here? Is he escaping? Is he even alive? These questions all bubble to the surface as the audience is subjected to what lies in front of the camera. Even towards the end of the take, it is somewhat unclear what has happened to Locke. After a few rewatchings of the scene, a gunshot can be discerned from underneath the rumble of a car’s engine. Again, there is a significant difference in this type of filmmaking from that of the classical narrative form. Antonioni does not simply give the audience the directions to construct the puzzle; rather he provides visages of the pieces, each of which must be understood before they can be ordered together.

The method of filmmaking which Antonioni takes advantage of in The Passenger is redolent of earlier films like Fritz Lang’s M.  Both film in a voyeuristic and somewhat documentary-like process. Present in the two is the interest and yet also the disinterest in their main characters, a trait which is deliberately introspective of itself. That is to say the films make obvious the integration and separation of these individuals from their surroundings. One of the reasons Antonioni was able to have The Passenger, which can be regarded as “art house” because of it’s clear creative differences, shown to a wider audience is because he included “stars” (i.e. Jack Nicholson and Maria Schneider). This is a practice in which Jean-Luc Goddard dabbled for films like Contempt with Brigitte Bardot and Jack Palance. By casting these established actors and actresses, their films had an automatic following. With this following, movies like Antonioni’s The Passenger were able to break cinematic conventions to tell the audience a story in a new and creative way.

Trailer:

References: http://bit.ly/12josdC, http://bit.ly/11Av3kY, http://bit.ly/ZUFOA6

Object of Refraction

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oor_SSI am very excited to announce the creation of my film company, Zinnfandel Films. I can’t afford a lawyer so consider this my legal claim to the naming rights. With the introduction of Zinnfandel Films, I am also proud to present my first short film Object of Refraction. This is a project I have been working on for several months, and I hope you all enjoy it. My hope is that this is a stepping stone to greater, more audacious productions in the future. I treated this first foray into cinema as a learning experience (and boy have I learned a lot). As a result I have high hopes and expectations for the future of Zinnfandel Films. Please drop a comment and let me know your thoughts. I would like to thank all TWR’s readers for their continued support of my efforts; I am extremely grateful.

Here is the film: