Friday, October 14, 2011

Evolution of a Revolution

I had a chance to go to the CCW conference this week again, and update myself and talk to others about content & communication.  I find the conference interesting and I learn a lot by talking to vendors, and other technicians and artists who are in the field of communication.  Many provide content to the web, and that content is spilling over to other traditional media such as cable, and network.  One of the seminars was titled: "So What Comes After File-Based Work Flows?  The Next Generation".   I found it interesting what others are doing, and how they are doing it.  Media is getting faster and that ability to become immediate is changing the landscape of how people consume different types of media.  Maybe it's just the way human beings are.  We think that knowing something immediately will give us an edge or help us.
What I was excited about is that the web has knocked down barriers between countries, people, and governments.  People hear things and see things and it sparks ideas, and even movements.

My dad was a big believer in communication.  He was a short wave radio operator and he loved talking to others around the world.  My dad always felt that he could get to the truth by just asking the people who were there.  Of course now governments, and corporations have seen the power of the web, and do so by influencing others to their way of thought.  It's a double edged sword, and one that can do much harm and great good.  It's up to the user to decide what he or she does with it, and there is some really GOOD things happening.

To get back to the seminar.  I was pretty blown away on how fast people could post their content so quickly.  Using an I-pad to shoot, edit, and upload a video clip we can now have that immediacy quickly, and since it doesn't go through the traditional gatekeepers such as editors, producers, and even politicians we can get a more honest look at the human condition.  People producing their own content as easily as writing or speaking. 

I can only think of once when suddenly media was so drastically changed, and that was when Gutenberg developed the printing press in 1440.  It was then that books could be printed for more then just the aristocracy.  Then in the 19th century when the development of the steam powered rotary presses came along we started to print in an industrial scale where books became cheaper and everyone had access to books, and newspapers.   That's what's happening now with social media.  The proliferation of handheld devices is making it more accessible to everyone, and the language is changing.

Josh Apter demonstrated his I-pad camera, and it was pretty cool to see how fast one could create content and distribute it.  In a way it is already happening with people uploading events on their phones to their YouTube or FaceBook accounts.  Just imagine that on a grand scale, and imagine media providers combing through user based content, and broadcasting them.  Such footage of disasters, wars, revolutions, and events coming to us in real time from a variety of sources.

I can only imagine the problems this can create, but it also provides us with a voice.  An idea, or a concept can be shot through the web, and instantly communicated to thousands if not millions. 

We are in the infancy of a modern day revolution ladies and gentlemen.  Like all thing it has great good, and great evil too.  It's how we decide to use it that will dominate human beings for a long time to come.  It's a brave new world, and some sci-fi authors nightmares, or their utopias are over the next horizon.  Let's hope we all choose well.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

The Exorcist (1973) # 5

The Exorcist was a film that showed me that horror could be filled with terror, and the unexpected.  I saw this film at a relatively late age.  I was way too young when it first came out, but I had heard stories about the film.  Whether these stories were true it didn't really matter.  It fed the myth of the film in my mind, and when I finally saw it I was amazed at the artistry of the film.  From the direction to the cinematography the film "The Exorcist" is a film that deserves mention here.  Based on the William Peter Blatty's 1971 best-selling theological-horror novel of the same name the movie remains pretty faithful to the book.

Having seen the film later in life I did become obsessed about the cinematography of the film.  Owen Roizman was the cinematographer, and from the first shot to the last shot the film is a masterpiece in cinmatography.  I'm not going to say much more about the film because it's all been said before.  The Exorcist is the only horror film to be nominated for ten academy awards.  That is until Silence of the Lambs was nominated in 1991.  The Exorcist won two of the ten in best adapted screenplay and best sound.  I think it should have won more, but that's another story.

The film is a battle between good and the ultimate evil (the devil).  Maybe the film hits some sort of primordial reaction within us that makes us turn away in horror.  After all it is about the devil possessing a young little girl, and battling a priest who is questioning his faith.  I know for some the film is blasphemy, but again I think it goes back to that very primitive emotion within us all.  Like I said about "The Evil Dead" possession movies seem to strike a chord within a audience. 

I know my own perception of the film was that it was a "forbidden film".  That all the stories were true, and that the film was garbage, or cheap exploitation, but that's the myth.  When I did see it I saw it more as a good horror film about good and evil, and that good and evil weren't so black and white.  Our hero in the film has doubts, and a troubled past.  What he does in the end is a noble sacrifice.  When you really get right into the story of the film the movie is truly a classic.  From the music, to the cinematography, and even the direction of the actors are all well done.  It's a film that plays well today and will play well into the future.  I know even today when I hear the theme of the film it brings up goosebumps in me.

Why this film isn't number one or two is purely a personal reason, but it is a film that any true horror fan should watch.  If you doubt me in thinking that it is scary I dare you to see it alone at night by yourself.  I guarantee that after watching the film you'll think twice about turning off that light when you go to sleep.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

The Evil Dead (1981) #4

I saw Evil Dead where it was meant to be seen. A drive-in. I had heard about this film from some of my classmate’s back in high school, and I read everything I could put my hands on about the film. Fangoria magazine was my pipeline to the fantastic, and for a teenager with an over active imagination, and a thirst for all things movies Fangoria was the magazine to read. That and "Cinemagic" magazine. A magazine devoted to filmmaking.

The stories about how "Evil Dead" was made fascinated me. A bunch of guys going out into the country with some film equipment and their cast and crew and making a film. What they came back with was a film that hit a nerve with audiences, and it became a success. Sam Rami and his gang made cinematic low budget history when they made their film "the Evil Dead". A film with very few characters, and a simple plot. My film professor was right in a way. If you want to make an interesting film take some buddies and film some where in the woods with some actors and crew. His argument was that there was nowhere to go and so you could concentrate on getting the film done, and finished. One location, few actors, low budget. In a way my professor was right, but sometimes it's easier said then done. Evil Dead is a film that shows what a filmmaker can do with little resources and a lot of ingenuity.

Another film shot in 16mm Evil Dead went on to become a success in theaters.  Sam Rami's career started with the film, and he's grown as a director.  No one can argue that him directing the Spiderman franchise was a bad choice.  I was never a fan of the sequels to "The Evil Dead", but there are fans who love them, and who am I to argue with them.  A lot of Rami's movies contain some really blatant humor.  Almost "Three Stooges" type of comedy, and I do remember reading that Rami was a fan of their films. 

Also I would be remiss in talking about the film if I didn't mention Bruce Campbell the films star.  Since he made his debut in "the Evil Dead" he has made a name for himself in Hollywood, and he's a favorite of mine. 

The Evil Dead is a film that has a lot of atmosphere, and is pretty scary.  I remember seeing it with a buddy of mine who liked these type of films but was pretty creeped out by this one.  His answer to why it was so creepy for him was that it dealt with "possession" and that creeped him out.  After all how do you fight a loved one who is possessed by an evil spirit?  You kill the spirit you kill the person who you know.  Maybe that's why "Evil Dead' is such a scary good film.  It posses the question what would you do?  The possessed do some awful bad things to the living, yet they hide in the bodies of our loved ones.  The creators of the film do a great job of pushing the film forward.  They use the location to their advantage, and the dark woods come alive with evil.  Evil that is unseen, yet they use a flying camera through the woods as the spirits POV.  Like any good filmmaker would do it's better to not see the monster and have the audience use their imagination on how it really looks then actually show it.

Evil Dead delivers, and it's a film that really plays well this time of year.  It's also a film that other filmmakers should study and become inspired by.  I know I was, and the film does still play well after all these years.  If you want to see a good solid scary film that has some good performances Evil Dead is your type of film.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Dawn of the Dead (1978) # 3

If I had to name one film that blew my mind when I was a teenage it would have to be "Dawn of the Dead".  George Romero's "Dawn of the Dead" is a film that is on so many levels it boggles the mind.  A horror film, a satire on society, a statement on consumerism, and a sequel.  That's what "Dawn..." is and in lesser hands it would not have been effective, but because the filmmaker is George Romero this film hits the audience on all levels.  I was about 14 years old when this film came out, and it was one of the hardest films to see for me back then.  Released without a rating it only played in several theaters, and if you were not accompanied with an adult you didn't get in.  I saw it in Germany while visiting my aunt, and in Europe it was called "Zombie 2".  Argento had made a film called "Zombie" previously and called his cut of Dawn "Zombie 2".  Little did I know that there were two versions of this film.  One was the European one which was released by Dario Argento and included different music, and some other cuts.  Here in the United States it was released by United Film Distribution and that was the Romero version. 

After seeing both cuts I did like Romero's version better, but it explained why my friend and I would argue on some parts of the film.  It was because we saw two different versions of the film.  Maybe it was because the film was released when I was a teenager, but it was a film that all other horror films had to measure up to.  

Romero is a skillful filmmaker, and he puts a lot of dark humor into his films.  The violent scenes of the film were very comic bookish in tone.  The blood was bright red, and the effects were primitive, but effective since no audience had seen such effect like that before. 

The plot of the film is about a group of survivors of the "zombie apocalypse" who hole up in a mall while all of society is falling apart.  How Romero presents this "zombie apocalypse" is interesting.  There is no reason why the dead are coming back.  The audience is given some clues, or some reasoning, but Romero never gets into the details.  It isn't really important.  What is important is how society quickly falls apart, and how we ourselves are responsible for screwing the whole thing up.

Thats why the film plays on so many levels.  You could take the film and actually dissect it into a thesis on "American consumerism".  It has been  done, and it isn't all a bunch of BS.  Romero elevates the horror film here and does it without hitting his audience in the head with a blatant preachy message. 

The film was made independently with the help of European financing, and when it was released it did do okay boxoffice wise even though it was released in a few theaters here because it was not rated.  A few years later it was released in a rated "R" version, along with Romero's film "Knightriders".

I have to confess I am a Romero fan.  I've even met him a few times as so many fans have done, and gone to some screenings where he lectured.   I've enjoyed his stories of production, and find it amazing why Hollywood shuns him at times.  Romero's films are laced with deeper meaning, yet they are fun and escapist type films.  I remember how as a teenager I tried to create my own "zombie apocalypse" amateur film in Super 8.  Maybe that's why the film holds a special place in my heart. 

Any way.  This is one of my top films for seeing around this time.  It holds up well having been made in 1978.  Also the re-make by Zack Snyder of this film is also interesting, and it is one remake that I think is worth seeing.  It is at least an interesting take on the original film, and it does have its moments of pure fright.

So if you find yourself alone on a dark and stormy night I would suggest watching "Dawn of the Dead".  It's a film that really has some scary moments, and makes that October chill even chillier.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Halloween (1978) #2

I would have to say that the one film that makes this month memorable is"Halloween".  Not the re-make of course, but the original from John Carpenter, and Debra Hill.  It stars Jamie Lee Curtis, and Donald Pleasence, and it was originally called "The Babysitter Murders".  The movie was done on a low budget, and looks fantastic for it's budget range.  I'm always amazed at the camera work in the film, and how great the cinematography looks.  Dean Cundy is the man behind the cinematography and the look of the film.  Along with the art direction the film really feels like it was shot in October even though it was not.  The film was shot with a Panaglide, and Carpenter makes good use of it here.  The camera floats through each scene, and it gives us the audience this lurking sense of dread.  Where will Michael Myers (the killer) come from next?  Carpenter always has you guessing.

I'm a strong believer of atmosphere in a movie, and Halloween is such a movie.  The films plot is simplistic, but memorable and unlike other films the villain here is somewhat a mythical character come to life.  Michael Myers is the boogeyman .  I think Halloween was one of the first films to do so.   Carpenter admits that the film is about evil, and about sex.  It is sex that starts the whole film and there is a re-current theme in the film about promiscuity, but essential the film is about evil, and how it never dies.  To make more of the film then what it is seems to be would be a waste of time.  Halloween is a good simple horror film with some good acting, and slick production values.  Carpenters musical score for the film enhances the film and makes the audience get involved in the action.  I remember seeing it in the theater and people were shouting at the screen for the character to run or hide.  To get the audience that involved takes some skill, and shows Carpenter to be a great manipulator of suspense.

In essence the film is a good solid horror film with a bit of a nod to those old B-movie films.  The casting of Donald Pleasence was key here.  Pleasence plays the psychiatrist that is hunting Michael Myers after he escapes from the insane asylum.  Pleasence brings to his part a man who knows who Michael Myers really is.  Pleasence character (Dr. Loomis) is one who has seen true evil, and he is on a crusade to stop it. 

Simple put I like Halloween for its feel and its simplistic plot line.  It has been repeatedly been done since then, but it was Halloween that was the first to do so.  It's production value adds to the film.  Carpenter is a true craftsman, and we see how well he does it here.  The shots at night are picture perfect and erie.  The setting which is a small town called Haddonfield can be any town in the USA, and that too is the movies strength.  That murder and mayhem can happen anywhere in a small town is what adds to the myth of Michael Myers.  In the beginning its almost Norman Rockwell territory.  When Myers comes to visit Rockwell's image of a small town is turned into a nightmare.  Maybe that's what fascinated me, and makes the movie so memorable for me.  The killer is a man in a mask who is expressionless, yet frighteningly filled with anger.  Nick Castle who plays the "shape" as he is listed in credits does a convincing performance of an unstoppable killer.

The film is well paced, and moves along quickly.  It's a good solid horror flick, and that's as simple as I can put it.  In the end evil losses, and will return.  We are left with questions, and a haunting suspicion that Michael Myers maybe around the next corner coming this time for us.  Halloween is a film that involves its audience, and it makes the movie a thrilling experience to watch.  That's why it's second on my list and a film that still thrills me today.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1975) #1

Okay it's that time in the year. The weather gets cooler, the leaves begin falling from the tree, and we all begin to dress up in silly little costumes.

It's Halloween soon, and the countdown has begun. So why not celebrate the month of October with my very own countdown. A countdown of the best horror movies. Based on me. I'm sure opinions will vary widely, but I figured I give it a shot, and see just how many I can write about here.

First up is a movie called "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre". The original one that is. Not the remake or the prequel that they made not too long ago. I'm not a big fan of those, and remakes in general. I understand them from a studio's perspective since there is another younger audience out there who may want to see it, and when there's money to be made you can bank that a studio is going to make a remake. After all it's easy money, and the word franchise is a golden ticket for the studios.

But this review is about Tobe Hooper's movie "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre". The original movie that stared Marilyn Burns, and Edwin Neal. I was never a fan of the movie until I re-saw the film with a friend of mine. From that time I became a fan of the film, and have always recommended it as the quintessential horror film of all time.

Now I know some of you out there may not agree, but I'd have to say that the film is a stroll through mayhem and chaos with a bit of dark humor laced within the storyline. Just the beginning of the film sets it aside from all other films. The viewer is subjected to disturbing images of decayed human limbs, and a graveyard monument of two human corpses joined together. We are then introduced to our characters, and their trip degenerates into mayhem from there.

I won't go into the plot since so many people know it already, but what Hooper does here is give us a ride on the wild-side that devolves into madness, and hysteria. He does this so well that we actually care for the protagonists in the film. Hooper slowly manages to bring the madness by the introduction of the "Hitchhiker", and then his family. When you think it can't get any crazier it does, and that’s the movies strength. The film is shot in 16mm and it gives it that documentary or docudrama feel. When the killing begins all bets are off. No one is immune, and all become a victim of the madness that the filmmaker has released.

Some of the scenes when Marilyn is introduced to the whole "chainsaw family" can only be described as a trip into madness. Marilyn Burns plays the scene for all that its worth, and you can feel the terror coming off the screen as the “family” tries to kill her.  The scene is so strong that you will want to pull your head away from the screen and not look, but you are transfixed in the moment and can't. That is what true horror is, and I have to say "Chainsaw..." does that.

So that's why I put it at number one on my horror list. It still scares me, and repulses me at times. It can still shake me and after watching it I feel like I've just gone along with Marilyn to the gates of insanity. Its power is because of Hooper's direction. He has done many films after this, but "Chainsaw" is the one that he hit it out of the park. It's no wonder that it has a place in the museum of modern art. I mean it's a classic in its own right, and you can thank Hooper and his production team for making it a classic.

Simple put it's a classic through and through. The images, the sound, and the feel of the film give it its status. None of its remakes does that or even comes close. What I can summarize is that a few talent individuals got together and made a film that they wanted and they pulled no punches. They were young and hungry back then and they wanted to make something that they thought would sell. Little did they know that they would make a classic that would stand the test of time. Not many films do this, but this film does. That's why it's number one in my book. See it with the lights out, and be prepared to get scared, and thanks Mr. Hooper for making a classic that all filmmakers should aspire to.