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Posts Tagged ‘Looking at Movies’

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Having selected Philip Kaufman’s Quills (2000) as my ?Writers in Motion? film of choice, I watched it twice, first to take in the entire story and again to take notes. For further insight, I watched the DVD extras on screenplay writer Doug Wright’s commentary, costuming, setting and casting, searched for the text of the screenplay to read for sheer literary value, and hit JSTOR for some scholarly direction. I also found accounts of the Marquis de Sade?s real life on the Time Warner True Crime site and discovered another devoted to PVC fetish wear designed in the Marquis? name. Before I knew it, I had shoved so much material into my feeble little brain that my ability to create a single thesis ground to a screeching halt. I screamed, ?TOO MUCH INFORMATION!? and took a break. This is how I roll.

Reading Barsam?s last chapter of Looking at Movies offers the perfect springboard for this paper I have yet to begin. With graduation looming just 15 days away, that?s what I call salvation in print. One method Barsam suggests is a tracing of dualisms or binary oppositions. In Quills, that could include things such as:

  • nature/culture
  • good/evil
  • freedom of speech/censorship

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In response to Richard Barsam’s Looking at Movies seventh chapter on sound:

I find the idea of silence equally as important and perhaps even more so than sound. We have been conditioned to accept that the transitions and contrasts?of sound certainly create a sense of drama, and?so much is said too in the space of silence. While I realize this has more to do with music than film, listening to Ani DiFranco in my 20′s is what first alerted me to the importance of both sound and silence. I never much thought about it prior.

On her?1990 album, Not So Soft, the tune “Every Angle” incorporates sound in a way that moves beyond the music itself and into the audience’s imagination via the story.

i’m imagining your laugh again
the one you save for your family
and your very
i’m imagining the way you say my name
i don’t know when
i’m going to hear it again
my friends can’t tell
my laughter from my cries
someone tell this photograph of you
to let go of my eyes

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(This week’s observations stem from Richard Barsom’s Looking at Movies, “Chapter 6: Editing,” a viewing of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and?a personal account of family feud.)

I?m fascinated by the ways we, as humans, make meaning from images. Whether presented on their own, in a pair or a group, the story often changes when contextualized by what surrounds that central image. If anyone has ever done scrapbooking, you know that three well placed images on a page, and not necessarily in chronological order, can epitomize an entire event, whether it be a child?s birthday party, a wild night out on the town, or a child?s wild birthday night out on the town.

Welcome to the opening montage of Terry Gilliam?s 1998 film, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. A series of black and white images flashes before us: a helicopter, a Vietnam protest, and other faded war time images alternating with a repeated black screen covered with thick, wet and vibrant spattered blood. We immediately think of fresh death, destruction and civil unrest.

Fear and Loathing in Las VegasOnce in that frame of mind, we?re hit with the jarring contrast of a long shot showing a pristine, cherry red convertible flying down the straight and narrow highway. Who is driving? Cut to a humorous image of drug induced driver/journalist, Raoul Duke (Johnny Depp) and passenger/lawyer, Dr. Gonzo (Benicio Del Toro). We not only see the main characters, and I do mean characters, we also enter their LSD induced world as our view of them is contorted through the distortion of a fish eye and barrel lens. Next, Duke repels his invisible bat hallucinations with a fly swatter. The scene then cuts to a real bat casualty lying dead in the road. The audience has just left their own sense of reality and specifically entered that of Duke?s. Welcome to the 70′s.

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Richard Barsam?s Looking at?MoviesMoving into “Chapter 5: Acting” of Barsam’s Looking at Movies, it’s interesting to learn about the ways in which acting techniques have evolved in relation to increasing capabilities of technology. Moving from theater to silent film, to camera with sound, to sound separate from the camera has provided increased actor/audience intimacy and morphed into more natural character portrayals over time.

Forest Whitaker as Idi?AminWhile this reads as a natural progression, what this technological growth has meant for acting is a regression from a more naturally performed, chronological performance. At present, many takes and set-ups are required and dependence upon location determines the shot sequence rather than narrative order. It?s no wonder that Forrest Whitaker made such an effort to be Idi Amin in Kevin McDonald’s The Last King of Scotland, off the set as much as on. The vast number of performance interruptions can only be a distraction from the feel of the story as a whole. Amin, as a man, was so intense that to slip in and out of character would have been far more difficult than to sustain that constant level of intensity.

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In Chapter 3 of Barsam?s Looking at Movies, I found the segment on costumes fascinating. Aside from obvious stylistic creations, I had assumed that accuracy of period costumes was of the utmost importance to filmmakers. This assumption is, in part, due to my singular and ridiculously unimportant role as an extra.

In June ?06 I made my film debut in Peter Schnall?s The Revolution, a thirteen part?series made by The History Channel. (Reruns are airing as I type). It captures a few quick glimpses of me in five of those episodes posing as both a middle and lower class colonial woman.


Historical accuracy in this?project was not just the main directive, it was a passion. The costume designer was so knowledgeable that she explained where certain pieces of clothing got their name and most of the actors personally owned authentic Redcoat and American Revolution uniforms, seeking this type of film for a living.

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