Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The Notorious Bettie Page

Over the week-end I got to see the film "The Notorious Bettie Page" directed by Mary Harron. After the show Ms Harron & her cinematographer Mott Hupfel were introduced to the audience and we were allowed to field questions to both. If the name Mary Harron is unfamiliar to you she also directed the films "I Shot Andy Warhol" & "American Psycho". The Notorious Bettie Page is about the pin-up model from the fifties who eventually graced the pages of Playboy in 1955. Grechen Moll stars as the title character Bettie Page, and from the first frame of the film you actually believe that Ms Moll is Bettie Page. Ms Moll does a fine performance of the 50's icon, and is convincing in every aspect. Two other performance should also be singled out here to and they are Lili Taylor's & Chris Bauer's performance of Paula & Irving Klaw. Both performers do an excellent job at fleshing out the parts of the exploitive team that introduced Bettie Page to the public, and who were later plagued by the government for distributing so-called "pornographic material" through the mail.

Ms Harron's film is more about the 50's then it is about Bettie Page. The film wets ones appetite for an honest bio documentary to be done about Ms Page's life hopefully someday, but the film only superficially deals with Ms Page's dilemmas, and feelings toward her work. The current Ms Page is still around and it is noted that Ms Page did not work with the filmmakers in getting the film produced, but it is said that she approves of the film. Hopefully some day in the if there is further interest in Ms Page's exploits there will be a more definitive film made that will tell us more about this extrodinary women. Till then Ms Harron's film will probably be the most definitive.

"The Notorious Bettie Page" is an interesting look back at the 50's and what was deemed "pornographic" in a very conservative era. Ms Harron's film melds B&W footage with color, and uses it to convey a mood. Though there is some stock footage used in the film the film interweaves both color and B&W well. Though according to the filmmakers the B&W footage that they shot never satisfied them 100%, so one can only hope that on the DVD version that they'll give the filmmakers their due and color correct it to Mr Hupfel's specifications. The film is an enjoyable romp through the 50's and contains a lot of the music from that era.

All in all the film "The Notorious Bettie Page" is a film that gives us a glimpse into a very conservative era, and one where governmental forces interfered for the sake of "national decency".

As one reviewer says about the film "with a fearless lead performance by Gretchen Mol and stunning atmospheric cinematography of W.Mott Hupfel III, Ms Harron accomplishes her goal admirably, holding up a mirror to the past while making the audience examine their own "enlightened" 21st Century attitudes towards so-called pornography. As America suffocates under a new conservatism, this is a film needed more than ever."* I could not agree more whole heartedly. Go see it. You won't regret it.

*taken from "The Truth About Sex in America".

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Of things of Past & present

I just read an interview by Jeremiah Kipp over at the blog The House Next Store, and I kind of get what Godfrey Cheshire is saying about today's world of film & filmmaking. Cheshire wrote a compelling two-part essay called the "The Death of Film: The Decay of Cinema" way back in 1999. The article was written in response to digital video's emergence. It's a good essay, and one you should check out, but the recent interview with Cheshire has me excited. You see having been taught the old way of doing things and coming from a film background I was a bit skeptical about digital video, and it's look. I thought it was an inferior technology, and one that would breed bad films that would look cheap and just plain look bad up on the screen. After all isn't it video? But we've come a long way baby, and the DV technology is fueling the DVD revolution, and what we are seeing is an increase in production of all sorts of films. From documentaries to features more films are being made now then there are distribution outlets to show them. Yet I'm getting ahead of myself here, and need to backtrack for a moment.

Yes there are plenty of films out there, and like always there is plenty of crap out there as well. Just because it can be made doesn't mean it should. Digital video makes things affordable, and we are seeing an abundance of films that run the gamut of genre's, and even dare to make up genre's for themselves. I've belabored the phrase "niche filmmaking" to death here in this blog, but what we are seeing is a diverse amount of films being made in many different genres. Slowly it is the audience that will have the ultimate say in whether a film is successful or not. Sure you're saying wasn't it always like that? And you'd be partly right, but instead of having distributors vying for your money we now have the actual filmmakers vying for your attention. It's gotten easy to do so, and yet it is one of the most difficult things to do now. One must have enough money, and enough contacts to launch a film by ones-self. The clutter is astounding, and getting through the clutter takes skill, and a certain amount of tenacity. That's why I posted a picture of Roger Cormen. If one filmmaker knows how to exploit, and get through to ones audience it is Cormen. Though Cormen worked in a different era then we do now the same rules do apply to today's filmmakers as they did to filmmakers in the past. Only now it's getting personal, and harder to attract attention to oneself, and breakout of that niche one creates. After all for a film to be successful one needs to break out of that market one creates for ones-self, and get a little , dare I say, more mainstream. The old phrase "will it play in Peoria?" is still valid.

In Kipp's article Cheshire goes on to say that the Internet has incorporated a lot of how we regard television. It's immediate, and there. Also in the past few days I've seen a couple of films that I'm thoroughly impressed by. Not like the junk that seems to be flowing through Hollywood these days. I kind of liken this market to coffee & cream. The good will always surface to the top no matter what. It just takes tenacity on the part of the filmmaker, and one must be persistent.

These are exciting times to be a filmmaker. One can ignore the present day market, and give up, or one can embrace it, and work with it. I believe a more personal filmmaking era is going to happen, and people who are passionate about one thing or the other will begin to make films. When passionate people begin making films that THEY care about the audience, which is us, can only benefit from this. These are the beginnings of a new era in filmmaking, and I for one want to embrace it. I'm excited how about you?

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The end of AIVF

Long ago I joined AIVF while I was still in school. Their magazine "The Independent" covered things that were not usually covered in other type of magazines, but that was then, and this is now. Since then there have been several magazines that have come out that do a better job at reporting about film and filmmaking. I tend to agree with people that an organization is needed to advocate for independent media makers especially in such times when government funding is but a memory. It seems more and more funding goes to corporations rather then individual media makers or local media organizations. When I first joined AIVF I used their resources and found contacts, and resources I could use, but as time went by AIVF's resources seemed to dry up. I seemed to get the feeling that I was in a vacuum, and nolonger connected to other media makers. I think this is the problem now. I've always tried to reach out to other filmmakers and media makers, yet I've done this on my own, and without the help of AIVF. I've had no luck in creating a group that I could go back to for support in creating new work, but maybe that's where AIVF's new nitche is. Maybe to create small groups of artists around the country and advocate for more venues to play their works in, and for more funding to these artists. Some cities already have groups of filmmakers working together, but have no connection to others in other cities or regions. Maybe AIVF can be a uniting organization that unites various factions of filmmakers around the country. In that way the organization wouldn't have to be too big, and it could advocate for these artists on a national level.

I'm just thinking out loud, and wondering if anyone really cares. There seems to be a divided way of thinking about what or if AIVF should even continue. One faction says that AIVF's time has come, and that the organization has become antiquated, and must go the way of the dinosaur. Then there are others that feel that loosing an organization such as AIVF would silence an advocacy group which fought for filmmakers rights. For me AIVF had become long ago distant, and I believe it lost it's way. It did not keep up with technology, and it alienated others by being more academic then industry. Hopefully what comes out of this will be a good thing, but right now I sense that the death of AIVF is immanent, and some good ideas will be lost with the loss of this organization.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Oh What a feeling!

I recently got sucked into seeing the movie "Flashdance", and was taken aback by how quick that movie moves. Over at Cinecultist Karen talks about how quick the movie goes by. I mean in the first 15 minutes you know everything about this movie, and it's characters. But not only does the movie go by fast, but what drew me in originally was it's cinematography by Donald Peterman. I was still in film school when it came out, and I was astounded by it's crisp cinematography. Kodak came out with several new high speed stocks, and along with some fast lenses it seemed one could shoot mid-night in a coal mine with no problem. So began a long experimental period in my life with the camera. The scene where Jennifer Beals is working out was done with predominately sunlight through a sky light. The images are burned into my brain, and not just because Ms Beals looked SO good (okay, okay, Ms Beals had a lot to do with it), but because the cinematography was ground-breaking. At least it was back then. Peterman would push the latitude of the film stock he used and create some interesting visuals. The film also was shot in Pittsburgh, and you may not think Pittsburgh very photogenic, but the film had a feel to it that only helped it. If anyone tells you shooting in Toronto can substitute for Pittsburgh with no problem I'd argue with you that you'd be wrong. Sure you would save some production costs, but you sacrifice look, and feel of your film. Go ahead take a look. I mean do you actually buy that Moonstruck was shot in Brooklyn, because I don't. I know it was shot in Toronto, and even though most people wouldn't recognize that I certainly do since I myself come from Brooklyn. But I digress, and this is about Flashdance, and it's great cinematography. I read that some of the scenes such as the break dance scene on the street was shot on the go. They just happened to see these kids doing there thing, and thought it would be a great idea to shoot it Peterman would roll with it, and get his camera's set up quick, and it was all due to Kodak's new stock, and his super fast lenses.

It's stuff like the above that makes a film stand out. I remember long nights when I was filming stuff wide open on the lens aperture of the schools camera, and using almost all ambient light with just one or two sun guns going, and it all worked out. I look at what kodak has today with ISO speeds of 800 or above, and I'm truly amazed at where film has gone. But that brings me to the present, and what I see in a lot of digital productions. Slowly the technology will be there to capture ambient lite scenes, but when I look at these scenes I can't but help but say that film still can't hold a candle to the pixelated image known as digital. It will soon, or maybe not, but seeing Flashdance the other night really turned me onto what cinematography is all about, and that is sculpting with light. I guess that's why I shot 16mm for my movie, and that still a part of me wants to shoot more film. I don't know if it'll be cost effective and practical, but you can still find me fiddling around with film, and trying to push it's boundaries as Peterman did in Flashdance. So go ahead take a look at Flashdance and see if you don't agree. It goes by quick, and it's good film. Well crafted, and it has heart.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

King of the B's

So haven't I written about Corman already? Yes I have, but today is Mr. Corman's 80th birthday, and on one of my favorite blogs the author has challenged his readers to post a blog entry about Corman, so here it is. Roger Corman remains one of my favorite filmmakers of all time. Maybe some of his films were purely just drive-in fodder, but they were in a class all to them selves. If you want to learn about Corman I suggest you pick up two books that are ALL about him. One book is called:"Roger Corman: How I made a hundred movies in Hollywood and never lost a dime" written with Jim Jerome, and another interesting book is: Roger Corman: An unauthorized biography of the Godfather of Indie filmmaking" written by Beverly Gray. Both books offer a good idea on how Corman produced and directed his movies, and to what extent he would go to to get them up on the screen.

How I stumbled onto Corman was by watching his movies on television. In New York there would always be a movie on at 4:30 in the afternoon. Original enough it was called: "The 4:30 Movie". It was on ABC and they would run theme weeks. Sometimes it was monster week, other times it was biker week, or sometimes they would just mix it up, and play an assortment of low budget films. Of course these films were cut for commercials and time, but to a young boy they were a gateway to the imagination. The Poe films were one of my favorite, and I cannot recall ever NOT hearing Vincent Price's voice coming from the family television set. Heck! He was like my uncle who would come for a visit and tell me about tales of dread, and horror. I didn't know it then but I was beginning to go down the path of moviemaking, and I would soon find myself in the yard filming backyard epics that would only fan the flames of my imagination.

As I learned more and more about moviemaking I read anything I could get my hands on. American Cinematographer, and a magazine called "Super-8 Film" were my sources of inspiration. Corman was producing exploitive titles in the 70's and 80's, and I would find myself almost every week-end at the movies. There were three movie houses in walking distance, and I frequented all of them. I saw every type of film I could go to see. The ones that I couldn't go see I would sneak in, or bribe a usher. Everyone knew the little kid with glasses, who would sometimes sit through a film twice. Yes I was addicted, and Corman lead the way. Come to think about it I was probably his best customer. As I grew up I realized Corman was not only a master craftsman, but an astute business man. I admired how quickly he made a film, and how he could make them for so little money.

The King of the B's introduced me to other filmmakers, and I kept eating it up. Even in college I would see his films with a friend only this time on home video. We would wear out the tapes by going over scenes, and re-playing them over and over again. Roger Corman was and still is the best teacher about filmmaking, and to this filmmaker he is an inspiration for his love of movies, and his love for the art of filmmaking. So happy birthday Mr. Corman. Thanks for the memories, and thanks for the films.