Saturday, May 29, 2010

Dennis Hopper - 1936 - 2010


I suppose I could write a remembrance of Dennis Hopper on these pages but I don't think I could do a better job than this gent named Arbogast, who recently penned some fine words on the actor, writer, director that deserve re-reading.

I will say this though, in a weak and tepid attempt to put into words how powerful and underrated an actor Dennis Hopper was: For all its grandeur and spectacle and power and rage and visual beauty, Apocalypse Now doesn't truly come alive for me until Dennis Hopper enters the frame, and at a point when most people think the film falls apart. Rest in peace, Dennis.

Friday, May 21, 2010

The Trailer as Mini-Movie

The other day on Facebook I put up a self-made trailer for Citizen Kane with the idea of making it a spoiler trailer of the kind that does everything but show you the climax of the film, frame for frame. As such, Rosebud is quite obviously hinted at throughout, effectively spoiling the mystery for anyone who hasn't seen it. It seems like a modern dilemma but actually trailers have been doing it for decades. Neil Sarver mentioned the trailer for The Searchers as among the worst offenders and he's right, it does play like a mini-version of the film itself leaving little surprise for the viewer in the theatrical setting. Another mini-movie is the original trailer for Jaws.

But for me, it's not just the spoiler quality of modern trailers that makes them so awful but the by-rote editing style everyone is now familiar with as exemplified in this now famous and widely seen parody of modern day trailers, found here. But it's this trailer for Avatar that I had in mind more when making mine as it has the same old action/thriller trailer editing schtick down pat: Intro to characters, slow build to story followed by short montage with quick cuts and music building towards crescendo. Then title and sometimes, as in mine, a short post-title scene before credits. And this method of trailer making is, to me, an anti-sell of the movie. I was no big fan of Avatar (see my lukewarm review) but it was better than the trailer would lead one to believe. The trailer looks like a bad sell of one of the worst video games ever conceived.

I don't watch trailers much for this very reason. They never quite sell me on a movie and make movies I might otherwise find enjoyable seem really bad. And in some cases, as mentioned earlier, Pleasantville and What Lies Beneath being two notable examples, they practically show the viewer a condensed version of the entire narrative making seeing the actual film virtually pointless (which, in the case of What Lies Beneath was probably a good thing).

Because of this "tell all" nature of the theatrical trailer I much prefer the teaser trailer, the one that gives but a hint of the movie and actually makes you want to see it. My favorite of recent years is probably Inglourious Basterds. It's entertaining and fun and most of all, once you see the film, you realize it gave away virtually nothing. But teasers don't have much of that quality anymore and seem as bad as the full trailers that often follow. And somehow, in a kind of perverse celebration of this, I plan on making more trailers for classic movies, in part to keep my editing skills up to task and in part just to see how to best make a bad trailer for the purely creative aspect of it. I hope you enjoy them as much as I enjoy making them. Probably not but what the hell, I'm going to make them anyway.

Here's the Citizen Kane trailer for those who didn't see it on Facebook. The sound quality's not as good as I'd like (my narration is a little too echo-chamber sounding) but that should, hopefully, improve with time. Enjoy.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

"Perhaps, one day, we will be friends..."

"Someone remind me why we made this door so big."


Since King Kong's release in 1933, viewers have asked, sometimes mockingly, "If you built a massive wall to keep Kong out, why, in God's name, did you make a door big enough for him to get in?!" It's a logical question. After all, if any one of the villagers needs to get outside to take a stroll or have a picnic it's a simple matter of installing a 7 foot door, or doors, along the wall. Building a conveniently sized 40 foot door seems to defeat the purpose of the wall. But maybe not.

I believe the villagers are extending a welcome to Kong, albeit a guarded one. They are saying, "Now, right now, we are enemies. You are big and powerful and can eat us. Or step on us. Or even throw us around. But one day, far off in the future, perhaps, we will be friends. We will invite you to dinner and for you to accept and actually attend, you'll need to get through the wall. No problem. We already have a door big enough for you to do just that. It's locked right now but one day, we hope, it will be open."

Kong relieves himself outside the wall. Hey, when you gotta go, you gotta go.


I imagine every time Kong came to get a fresh bride he looked at that door and thought, "I've got to get past my anger for these people. They want me to know I'm welcome but for now, at least, I cannot be, for I hate them."

Kong does eventually come through that door and gets gassed for his troubles.

What might have been.

"Up yours, jerkwads!" Kong gives everyone the finger upon his triumphant entry.

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Cinephile Emerges

It's been over two weeks and it's time to get back down to business. Cinema Styles will be returning to full time posting starting this Monday. I enjoyed a somewhat successful hiatus; the story I was working on is pretty much complete with but a few changes necessary before sending it off to my friend for the screenplay part of it all but the short film I'd hoped to finish seems like an aimless disaster to me at this point. I can't get my mind around it no matter how hard I try and forcing inspiration isn't very... inspiring. Still, I'll keep at it.

In my time away from Cinema Styles I watched many movies but mainly documentaries, on subjects ranging from the Manhattan Project (for the millionth time) to Howard Zinn to Sacco and Vanzetti to revisiting Ken Burns' superb The Civil War. I also re-watched Malcolm X and was more impressed by Denzel Washington's performance this time than I was when I first saw it. Also, it's one of the few biopics that doesn't feel like pure drudgery even if it does follow the standard mold. And it does but it does so with a vigor absent from so many biopics outside of the more recent The Aviator which I also liked much better the second time I saw it.

That's it for now. Next week more posts and more video, including a new The Land Before CGI. Have a good weekend everyone!

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pictured above is producer Darryl Zanuck studying a map at a Normandy beach entrenchment for his 1968 television special Revisiting D-Day.