After much waiting I am pleased to announce that Till Sunbeams Find You is finally showing!
Above 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 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.
Symbolism 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.
Antonioni 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.
Perhaps 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.
I 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:
The following is another essay I wrote for my global cinema course. The essay is an analysis of the use of sound in the film M from 1931 by director Fritz Lang. M is a film about the hunt for a child murderer (Peter Lorre) in post-WWI Germany. Lorre’s character is much like those he would play in several films over the years (creepy and grotesque). He is the perfect man to play a psychopathic child killer, and has that chilling sparkle in his eye to make it even more disturbing. I thoroughly enjoyed the movie as it was artfully filmed and effectively suspenseful. Take a look at my paper, “Listen to the Sound of M,” and if you have time, watch the film (I’ve included a link to the full movie). It is quite different from traditional murder movies (certainly nothing like the axe-wielding films of today), and many of the horrifying events are left to your imagination (sometimes that is much more vivid!)
The Reel Rating: 7
Listen to the Sound of M
Released in 1931, the film M was Austrian director Fritz Lang’s first foray into sound cinema. Prior to this picture, Lang had achieved recognition outside of Europe for Metropolis, a silent film about a futuristic city which debuted in 1927. Lang had already made fourteen silent films by the time M was released, and its tendency to move back and forth from sound to silence is reflective of the uncertainty he had with the new medium. Unlike Jean Epstein who expressed disapproval of the addition of sound, Lang saw an opportunity to experiment and enhance his work with the technology. Though he was hesitant to embrace sound in its infancy, as evidenced by M’s 1931 release, Lang eventually understood that in order for his films to have greater resonance with his contemporaries, he needed to find a way to implement it. In M, Fritz Lang integrates sound in a variety of ways to manipulate the audience’s reaction to the film which feeds into its legacy as an example of vernacular modernism.
When the subject of sound is discussed in relation to cinema, the conversation is traditionally about the use of sound, and rarely is it about its omission. However, it is nearly impossible to describe sound in M without detailing its calculated, strategic, introduction and removal. The first major instance of Lang really bringing sound to a halt is around the twenty-minute mark. The minutes immediately preceding the scene include a phone conversation from a police officer being laid over footage of the police looking for the killer. Then suddenly the sound is cut off and the immediate affect is that the primary attention of the viewer shifts from the conversation to the footage. The silence continues for roughly two minutes until it resumes with a whistle. During the period of the two silent minutes, the footage that is shown has the feel of a documentary. This idea is supported by the “observant” camera angles and the relatively “common” events which unfold. In addition to the change in the focus of the audience’s attention, the silence also acts to slow the narrative down. Rather than bombarding the viewers with the sounds which would have accompanied the busyness of the shots, Lang chooses to simplify the images by presenting them from an observational perspective. As a result, the two minutes seem to last much longer. Lang employs this sound-removal technique several more times in the film, and these moments generally occur when such “documentary-like” shots are presented.
Sound also plays a crucial role in the mise-en-scène of M. Perhaps the most prevalent way in which this is true is the formation of various “sound bridges.” As the definition of mise-en-scène encompasses not only the visual but also the auditory elements of a film, Lang plays with the connections between the two aspects, effectively highlighting both simultaneously. The result is a combination montage of both sight and sound. One such sound bridge occurs around the forty-second minute. The group of criminals is together discussing whom they could get to work on the streets to help locate the killer, when one of the men declares “The beggars!” After his enlightened suggestion, the film shifts to a man (beggar) laying out cigarette and cigar butts. On this image is transposed the dialogue of the criminal who continues, “The organization of beggars.” What Lang is able to accomplish here is seamlessly move the narrative from the men discussing whom they want to employ to actually showing the men they have chosen. In a way, the bridge itself is indicative of an affirmation that this is the course they will pursue. A further, more pronounced example of sound as an element of mise-en-scène occurs in the very first scene in which can be heard the sound of a girl talking over a blank screen. In this case, the sound constitutes the entirety of the on-screen mise-en-scène, but it also helps to put into place a certain expectation of the off-screen elements.
In many regards, the most crucial determinant leading to the classification of M as an example of vernacular modernism is the use of sound itself. Miriam Hansen describes in, “Fallen Women, Rising Stars, New Horizons,” one element of vernacular modernism as “[the] quality of the films to provide… a sensory-reflexive horizon for the experience of modernization and modernity… as a cultural counterpart and response to technological, economic, and social modernity” (Hansen 10-11)… It should be noted that the use of this part of the definition to discuss M deals with the films placement in time. Today, as most films are integrated with synchronized dialogue, simply having sound would not be enough to be reflective of contemporary technological modernity. However, as the film is released when sound is still in somewhat of an introductory phase, it is appropriate to apply its implementation as “modern,” and therefore reflective of modernism, in the socio-technological landscape of the times.
Dealing with the same element of vernacular modernism as “sensory-reflexive,” it is precisely Lang’s sound editing which draws the audience’s attention in as aforementioned. In addition, in contrast to the application of vernacular modernism as it relates to “classical” Hollywood, the narrative structure of M in some ways reflects the, then, “vernacular” development of plot. Because the audience is introduced to the killer very early on in the film, the question presented becomes less about the “who” and more about the “why.” This structure would become characteristic of several “film-noirs” of a slightly later time period. Overall, it is Lang’s embracement of modern technology and modernist storyline/narrative that lead to the description of M as a work of “vernacular modernism.”
To more narrowly work with M in a modernist lens, it must be presented within the context of German modernity. This societal modernity was largely a reaction to, and the antithesis of, Expressionism. One movement which characterized this progression emerged in Germany in the 1920s known as “The New Objectivity.” The movement itself was phasing out by the time M was released, but it embodies many of the qualities (Warner, 13 February 2013). Primarily, German modernity finds its way into M in the characters and plot of the film. In some ways, The New Objectivity was a precursor to Italian neo-realism in its objectivity and “documentary” aspects. These elements pervade M with its relatively simply characters. The modern landscape at the time was one of sorrow and suffering following the country’s defeat in WWI. The dim lighting feeds into this context and aids the film in obtaining an overall resemblance to “real-life” German culture of the 1930s.
As evidenced by Fritz Lang’s M, vernacular modernism is not only an appropriate label for sound cinema, but it further enhances the concept. Hansen said that it is the modernist aesthetic which must be, “…understood as pertaining to the entire domain of human perception and sensation” (Hansen 11)… This would indicate an almost necessitated call for sound to evolve as a primary means through which film conveys these aspects. To take the concept a level further, in dealing with the films of today, the definition of vernacular modernism must be revamped. The new definition would need to be cognizant of the contemporary technology used for viewing enhancement (i.e. high-definition or 3D), as well as the how narrative has changed since the term’s inception. Though vernacular modernism was conceived under certain socio-cultural circumstances, it remains an enduring concept which can be applied to a variety of different cinematic modes and timeframes.
I would like to take this opportunity to announce the establishment of The Written Reel’s “Reel of Fame” (ROF). The idea for this came to me as a result of my appreciation for one certain man’s commitment to TWR. That man is Tyler Zimmerman. In affect, this announcement is two-fold. Not only is the ROF now officially in existence, but I also have the pleasure of announcing its first inductee. Tyler has already commented on TWR on four occasions and was featured in the 2012 Annual Report as the year’s top commenter. He has been a friend of mine for almost half a decade: an ol’ mate from my high school days. As a fellow member of the exclusive “Z Society” (reserved for individuals with “Z” last names), I have been fortunate enough to get to know him. Over the course of that period (as it relates to TWR), Tyler has been unwavering in his reading and commenting on this site.
In addition, he was also part of a series of classic-film related events I hosted known as “Epic Movie Nights.” These films were around three hours in length and included such works as Ben-Hur, Spartacus, The Wild Bunch, and several others. I have a great deal of respect for Tyler, and must say I would be hard-pressed to find a better man to pick as the first inductee. My friendship with Tyler was not in any way based in film, but film has certainly become a part of it. Though I feel the ROF will hold its importance only in the avenue of this website, it is the highest honor I can bestow upon someone, and as a result I would like to show my gratitude to Tyler with this award.
Today, Tyler attends, and plays soccer for, Catholic University in Washington, D.C. Tyler also maintains a splendid blog in his own right, “A Day in the Life of: The Training and Life of a Collegiate-Student Athlete” (the link to which I include at the end of this post). I encourage all TWR readers to visit his site. I believe that it is important to read about experiences in all aspects of life (not just film), which is why I am so happy he gives us this great site. On behalf of myself and the entire The Written Reel community, I would like to congratulate Tyler Zimmerman on becoming the first inductee into the Reel of Fame!
The following is a paper entitled, “La Glace á Trois Faces: An Examination,” which I wrote for my Global Cinema course. The paper analyzes an excerpt from the French Impressionist film La Glace à Trois Faces (The Three-Sided Mirror) from 1927 by director Jean Epstein. I have added some images in the typical TWR (The Written Reel) style to provide some context. The Reel Rating for this film is 2.3 (by some act of God surpassing The She Gods of Shark Reef as my all-time lowest rated film). Because the paper is not actually a review of the film, I want to briefly provide my reasoning for this obscenely low score lest my words of “praise” confuse you with the reality. First, as the film is of the silent persuasion, it necessitates musical accompaniment. Where the music could have stood to somehow improve upon the confusing nature of the narrative and editing style. What we are instead offered is an absolutely jarring score complete with what seems to be background noises at a séance, the bang of a trashcan, and at points the scratching of a chalkboard (intrigued?).
To boil the plot down to one sentence; a wealthy man has fallen in love with three women at the same time, but his aversion to commitment and responsibility lead him speed his sports car to the beach and, en route, be hit and tragically lose his life at the wings of a passing swallow. My examination is of one specific scene in which the man finds himself in a room with one of the women and the phone rings (that’s about all I can really provide; apologies). While my paper may give credit to Epstein for creativity and embodying the movement of French Impressionism (and avant-gardism), the fact of the matter is that this type of film reminds me why very few people (if not for this class, myself included) know of the genre.
If all of this has you watering at the mouth, I have included a link to the film (the clip I analyze here is from about 0:43-3:09). If this is does not seem to satiate your hunger for “Avant-Garde, Experimental Cinema of the 1920s & 1930s”, Amazon offers a collection with that title for $63.98. You better hurry, I hear its making a comeback (please don’t buy it). I never thought I would say that an eight minute movie was excruciatingly long, but this is the case here. Enjoy.
La Glace à Trois Faces: An Examination
The film La Glace à Trois Faces (The Three-Sided Mirror) is the work of French director, Jean Epstein. Generally speaking, the film finds its place in the French avant-garde cinematic movement of the 1920s known as French Impressionism. In it’s most basic definition, avant-garde translates to “advance guard,” or perhaps more appropriately, “ahead of the crowd.” Various forms of experimental filmmaking characterize this movement in cinema. Avant-garde films of this period strayed from the traditional narrative which was developing in America and elsewhere by using alternative methods of editing, character development, mise-en-scène, etc. The Three-Sided Mirror, having been made in 1927, was undoubtedly influenced to some degree by the Surrealism and Dadaism which peaked interests and reshaped culture in France at the time. France, ever the fountain of nouveau art, was a logical place for such movements to develop in cinema because of the lack of control by the state or commerce of the industry. The Three-Sided Mirror employs montage and varied shot selection as some of the methods used to mold the film’s storytelling.
This clip illustrates the elaborate mise-en-scène of the film. Both characters are lavishly dressed: the man wearing white tie and silken robe, and the woman in flowery dress with excessive strings of pearls. These costumes stand in stark contrast to the simplicity of the set itself. Prior to the scene’s final few shots, only limited exposure is provided to the set with its basic colors and sparse carpeting. It is not until these final few shots that the room is truly shown to be a geometric kaleidoscope. The sight of the room in full effect is dizzying in much the same way as the optical illusion device. One cannot help but notice a thread between the complicated web of relationships among the film’s characters and the complexity of the set in this scene.
By the nature of the set, the scene expresses the tension and emotional intensity through high-contrast lighting. This method of lighting puts emphasis on the character’s faces, drawing the audience to their emotional responses. The lighting is not limited to its application on characters in the film however. In this scene in particular, the phone on the desk acts as a key device for the development of tension. Because of its significance, it is well-lit and stands out from the room in which it stands. This is in much the same way as the diamond ring which the man removes from his pocket. The ring is lit to sparkle, just as the woman’s eye which looks upon it with envy.
Epstein places a paramount in this film on experimentation of editing: a focal point in French avant-garde cinema. This scene demonstrates his affinity for montage and his overall desire to break with traditional narrative cinema. The footage is edited in several instances to have certain images fade in on top of one another. This style is seen early on in the scene when the telephone poles are transposed on each other as the camera moves passed them. The way these shots are edited gives the viewer the experience of “watching” the communications pass through the telephone wires. Shortly after cutting back to the room, the phone rings, and the message that was seen traveling earlier has finally arrived.
Epstein also experiments with a variety of shot types. While many of the shots in this scene are medium shots and close-ups, Epstein sprinkles in some long shots. One of the shots in this scene has the man break the fourth wall and stare directly into the audience, reminiscent of the “cinema of attraction” of earlier films. He describes this type of shot in his writing, “Magnification,” saying, “[the face] seems to address me personally and swells with extraordinary intensity. I am hypnotized” (“Magnification” 235). He also frequently uses close-ups and even some extreme close-ups as on the telephone and the woman’s mouth. It is clear, as evidenced in “Magnification,” that Epstein was fascinated with the close-up and what it is able to convey to the audience. These close-ups feed into the narrative Epstein attempts to formulate. He describes the effect of the close-up as a shot as one which, “limits and directs the attention” (239).
In some ways it seems as though Epstein would have been outraged by the integration of sound to the cinema. He repeatedly says that the eye is the element which holds all human attention, and this helps to explain why he placed such emphasis on editing and other storytelling techniques to convey his messages. He even goes so far as to say, “One cannot listen and look at the same time… Music which attracts attention or the imitation of noises is simply disturbing” (240). Epstein’s opinions about the idea of a sensory hierarchy suggest that he sees film as the most efficient and influential medium for the communication of ideas. This belief indicates that the popular view of cinema at the time (seen largely as entertainment) should be changed to reflect the emotional, captivating power of the medium.
La Glace à Trois Faces is a great example of the French avant-garde movement of the early 20th century. The film illustrates the desire on the part of filmmakers to challenge the conventions of the industry at the time. Epstein’s work attempts to underline that film should not fall victim to any standard, especially that of the “classical” Hollywood narrative. La Glace à Trois Faces is an “art” film and one which effectively separates itself from its contemporaries. Due to its unique style and aesthetic, the film highlights and relishes in an entirely different form of narrative.
Link to the film:
References: http://www.imdb.com, http://bit.ly/WbeF7j