Thursday, August 25, 2016
Curious to learn what CineVerse has on tap for September and October? You can view our next two-month schedule by visiting tinyurl.com/91016cineverse.
"Watership Down" plays as a cautionary tale more for grown-ups – designed to remind us how tenuous and fragile this thing called life is for all creatures, not just lapines. Here's a recap of what we learn about this film after viewing and discussing it last evening:
HOW IS THIS FILM DIFFERENT FROM DISNEY’S APPROACH TO ANIMATED FEATURES?
• This is much more adult in tone and content, featuring violence, bloodshed and dark, existential themes.
• The aesthetic visual approach is more naturalistic and realistic than Disney’s approach, which is typically to make their animals look more anthropomorphic and act more like humans. “Nature is presented not as the Disney version but for what it is: wonderful, adventurous, but very dangerous. Being cute is no guarantee of survival. Characters are killed off or disappear into unknown fates with a naturalistic randomness not usually found in children’s fare,” wrote film reviewer Glenn Erickson.
• The characters in this film do not break out into song, as often happens in Disney films.
• There is a noticeable lack of comic relief in this movie, probably to stay consistent in its dark tone, compared to ample comic relief provided in Disney features.
• There is no love story or love interest, as well as very few female characters, in Watership Down, in contrast to numerous Disney films.
• The main character in this movie is not an orphaned child, as is often the formula for the main protagonist in Disney features.
• Watership Down is also set in Britain and is imbued with British dialects and sensibilities; most Disney films feature Americanized characters who, although the story may be set in a far-off European-like land, speak and act like Americans.
HOW WOULD THIS FILM HAVE BEEN CONTROVERSIAL AND/OR INNOVATIVE FOR 1978?
• On its surface (meaning its marketing materials, including the movie poster and trailer), it appears to be a typical animated film geared toward children; however, it becomes quickly apparent, even to those who have not read the original novel by Richard Adams, that this story, and the movie’s visuals, are more appropriate for preteens and older who can better handle and interpret the dark subject matter and bleak themes.
• The 1970s marked a period during which animated feature films began diverging away from the Disney model and toward more experimental and adult fare.
o Consider that Walt Disney died in the late 1960s, and his studio remained mired in mediocrity for two decades before it rekindled a resurgence with The Little Mermaid in 1989.
o Ralph Bakshi and other innovative animators began releasing R-rated and X-rated cartoon films throughout the 1970s.
o Yet, in Britain, where Watership Down was created and first released, it received a “U” certification – designating that it was suitable for all ages, like our rated G. This led to many complaints from parents and families that the film was not appropriate for younger children, many of whom ended up seeing the film.
• This is one of the first “adults” animated features that was not rated R; it depicts violence, bloodshed, death, pain, terror, betrayal, and the everyday dangers of life.
• It also doesn’t try to cutesy up the characters by making them more anthropomorphic, caricatured, or stereotypical. Instead, the filmmakers adopt a naturalistic style to the characters’ appearances and behaviors as well as the environments they inhabit.
• To its credit, the filmmakers present a fear of mortality and death as a real, personified threat in the form of the Black Rabbit of Death. Gerard Jones, Criterion Collection essayist, wrote: “(Director Martin Rosen) could have used death only as a threat to the hero, a resolution for the villain, a tear-jerking mechanism, or a way of raising the plot stakes, as movies typically (cynically, reductive, use it. But he was brave enough to let it be what it was in the novel: a defining element of existence, and ever-present note of melancholy, the sleep that rounds our lives.”
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE PRIMARY MESSAGES ESPOUSED BY WATERSHIP DOWN?
• Life and existence is random, unpredictable, and often unfair. Despite the fact that these characters are rabbits and look like real rabbits instead of cartoonish hares, they can easily represent human beings and the fragile nature of our human lives.
• Fascism and appeasement are dangerous – which was is true before and during World War II as it is today.
• We often turn to myths, legends and supernatural beliefs to help explain and cope with the mysteries of life.
OTHER FILMS OR STORIES THAT REMIND US OF WATERSHIP DOWN
• The book of Genesis and book of Exodus from the Old Testament
• Bambi (1942)
• Animal Farm (1954)
• Many of the “adult animated features” of the 1970s, especially more mature-themed and graphic cartoon films by Ralph Bakshi, including Fritz the Cat, Heavy Traffic, Wizards, and Lord of the Rings
• The Plague Dogs (1982)
• The Secret of NIMH (1982)
• Disney’s Dinosaur (2000)
• Coraline (2009)
Sunday, August 21, 2016
Sunday, August 14, 2016
CineVerse will not meet on Wednesday, Aug. 17. We will reconvene as normal on August 24. Hope to see you then!
Thursday, August 11, 2016
Alfred Hitchcock's best works employ techniques of "pure cinema" that use masterfully framed visuals, careful juxtapositions via editing, and creative sound design to provide information to the viewer that would otherwise be given via excessively talky dialogue or voiceover narration. Perhaps the best example of Hitch's "pure cinema" is evident in "Rear Window," which, despite its confined setting, subjective point of view, and lack of dialogue, fully exploits a movie's potential to provide an immersive and intelligent experience and evoke a strong emotional response better than virtually any other art form. Volumes could be written about how technically innovative, psychologically complex and laden with meaning "Rear Window" is, but here's a condensed summary of some of the major truths and theories about this masterwork offered during last night's CineVerse discussion:
WHAT’S IMPORTANT ABOUT THE FACT THAT NEARLY THE ENTIRE FILM IS SHOWN FROM JEFF’S POINT OF VIEW?
• We identify with Jeff, who is immobile, and are forced to see and hear what he sees and hears, making us complicit in his voyeurism. Even though what Jeff is doing is morally wrong and probably against the law, which makes him a less-than-admirable character, he still earns our undivided attention and serves as a reliable, identifiable audience surrogate.
• We learn things as Jeff learns them, making us dependent on his voyeurism to ascertain new information; there’s only one scene where Hitchcock provides us with more information than Jeff (when he falls asleep), which ratchets us the suspense and tension.
• Additionally, almost every scene of the film is shown from inside Jeff’s apartment, adding to the claustrophobia and dependence we have on his POV.
• This ties into the major theme of the film: voyeurism, and the practice of watching people as well as watching movies. “Hitchcock wants us to take a long, hard look at how we interact with movies and where our pleasure at watching them really comes from. The lesson seems to be: choose carefully what you look at because you might get more involved than you bargained for. Watch the opening credits again. The shades in Jeff's apartment window slowly rise, just the way a curtain in a theater rises before the show starts,” according to the website Shmoop.
• Playing into that theory, consider that Jeff and Lisa are so captivated by their own private cinema—watching Thorwald’s apartment—that they almost permit a nearby tenant to kill herself; later, Jeff can do little but watch as he sees Lisa threatened by Thorwald.
• Window frames, hallways and door frames symbolize the cinematic frame, as if each of these were a private movie choice for Jeff and the audience. Thorwald breaks this escapist viewing fantasy by figuratively stepping out of the screen, crossing that framing threshold and literally trespassing into Jeff’s private world.
• Online movie essayist Mark Ciocco wrote: “Jefferies watches his neighbors to escape his problems, just as the average viewer watches movies to escape his or hers. In fact, the set design reproduces the conditions of spectatorship in the conventional Movie Theater. Much like Jefferies chose apartments relevant to his problems, we pick movies that fit our own attitude towards life. Both the viewer and Jefferies are unaware of the connections between what they are watching and themselves. This represents an unconscious way of working out problems in a fantasy form.”
• Ultimately, this is a film “about a man who does on the screen what we do in the audience—look through a lens at the private lives of strangers,” wrote Roger Ebert.
WHAT IS INTERESTING ABOUT THE PEOPLE JEFF WATCHES FROM HIS REAR WINDOW?
• Each person or couple in each different home depicts a different take on relationships and love or lack thereof, each making a comment in a way about Jeff’s relationship with Lisa.
• Jeff doesn’t want to commit to or marry Lisa; yet he sees things in his many of neighbors that mirror his feelings for or fears about Lisa:
o Consider how Thorwald is irritated by a disabled, nagging spouse, and Jeff suspects Thorwald of murdering his wife—possibly a bit of subconscious wish fulfilment in Jeff yearning to be free of Lisa.
o Meanwhile, the newlyweds are constantly sexually intimate; if Jeff’s broken leg is a symbol of impotence, perhaps he wishes he could be as virile and active as the newlywed husband and fears being able to perform with Lisa; to compensate for his impotence, Jeff uses an ostentatiously huge telephoto lens, a phallic symbol. And the itches he needs to scratch are like sudden sexual urges that—ahem—need release.
o Ms. Torso stands as an object of voluptuous desire, quite the opposite of the well-dressed, suave Lisa.
• Also, these neighbors are mostly strangers to one another, disconnected and isolated from each other despite living in close proximity. Charles Taylor of Salon.com posits: “It isn’t peeping that’s on trial here as much as the propensity of human beings to detach themselves from one another.”
• The major theme of the film, then, is love and relationships; the murder mystery element of the story serves as the MacGuffin to drive the story along, but ultimately it’s not the important takeaway here; this movie is all about Jeff and Lisa learning to coexist, compromise, and not take each other for granted.
• Through most of the film, Jeff is depicted as the adolescent unwilling to grow up—turning to quick thrills for escape and adventure and not reciprocating Lisa’s affection. Lisa, by contrast, is acting adult and demonstrating that she wants to be a part of his world. Jeff’s character needs to mature and appreciate Lisa before the movie resolves.
WHAT’S DISTINCTIVE, MEMORABLE AND UNEXPECTED ABOUT “REAR WINDOW”?
• James Stewart is playing a bit against type here; he established a likable guy screen persona in the 1930s and 1940s that begins to reveal a darker side by the late 1940s, and Hitchcock capitalizes on the actor’s range.
• Arguably, Hitchcock makes us sympathize a bit with the murdering husband by showing him at first being berated by her and, later, confronting Jeff by asking “what do you want from me?” as if he’s protesting the spying on him that we and Jeff have been doing.
• There’s very little music: mostly, we hear diegetic sounds and music that the characters experience in their space, not a proper score or voiceover they can’t hear. The sound design is superb, forcing us to listen closely to faint, far-off sounds and words coming from across the courtyard.
• Our protagonist isn’t the typical Hitchcock “wrong man accused” or person tangled up in dangerous affairs like Cary Grant in “North by Northwest”; “He’s not personally involved in the crime. He isn’t horrified or frightened, or motivated by a sense of justice or outrage over a woman’s death; he’s turned on, which is made a bit too obvious by his use of a huge, phallic zoom lens to do his peeping,” wrote Taylor.
• Much of this film’s power lies in its ability to show with telling; to use images and “pure cinema” to tell its story visually, without having to resort to unnecessary exposition via dialogue or narration.
OTHER FILMS THAT REMIND US OF “REAR WINDOW”
• Sorry, Wrong Number (1948)
• The Window (1949)
• Witness to Murder (1954)
• Wait Until Dark
• The Conversation
• Body Double
Sunday, August 7, 2016
Sunday, July 31, 2016
Thursday, July 28, 2016
"Project Nim" proved to be a fascinating examination of science run amok and the hubris of man's attempt to get animals to conform to our rules and social structure. At least that's the message that the majority of CineVerse members came away with after viewing this 2011 documentary last evening. Among the topics we discussed were the following:
WHAT DID YOU FIND UNEXPECTED, DISTINCTIVE, AND MEMORABLE ABOUT THIS FILM?
• The chimpanzee often appears more intelligent and definitely more sympathetic than any of the humans around him.
• Unlike many other documentary films, this one utilizes reenacted footage with actors, and even a chimp robotic, to depict past events; this is an approach often used by documentarian Errol Morris.
• Arguably, this film is more about Nim’s handlers than Nim himself; and Roger Ebert’s review, he said: “I call Nim ‘he’ rather than ‘it’ because that’s how his humans see him. The movie is more about how we see them.”
• Viewers may go into a film like this with grandiose expectations that this would be a successful linguistic experiment and a scientific miracle – anticipating that the chimpanzee could effectively learn to communicate with humans via sign language or otherwise; actually, these expectations are lowered throughout the film and any hope for a scientific miracle is squelched by tragedy.
• The chimpanzee is often depicted as a child of divorce or a broken home as well as a troubled adolescent trying to cope in a series of dysfunctional families.
• It may make many viewers think twice about how they see animals in zoos or as pets going forward.
WHAT THEMES ARE EXAMINED IN THIS MOVIE?
• Humans or animals, but other animals are not humans and cannot be understood in human terms.
• The hubris of man – trying to get an animal to conform to man’s world.
• The sometimes inhumane consequences of man’s scientific curiosity and ambition.
NIM GETS PASSED AROUND LIKE AN ABANDONED CHILD OF DIVORCE TO A SERIES OF DIFFERENT CAREGIVERS. CAN YOU TRACE THIS PROGRESSION?
• It starts with his “father,” Herb and proceeds to:
• “Mother” (Stephanie) and Nim’s “sister” (Stephanie’s daughter) and reluctant stepfather (Stephanie’s husband)
• Stepmother (Laura)
• New sisters and brother (Herb’s new assistants)
• Head of an orphanage
• Foster father (Bob)
• Somewhat kind warden of a cruel prison (LEMSIP)
• Emancipator (lawyer)
• Adoptive father (ranch owner)
NIM THE CHIMP HAS BEEN COMPARED TO CHARACTERS IN LITERATURE BY DICKENS AND KAFKA; CAN YOU CITE ANY EXAMPLES?
• New York Times reviewer A.O. Scott wrote: “(Nim) resembles the titular hero of a Dickens novel, an orphan buffeted by circumstances whose biography is also a fable of individual virtue and social injustice. A helpless innocent compared with his protectors and tormentors, Nim bounces like a long-armed David Copperfield from one unnatural home to another His tale is Dickensian, but also Kafkaesque, since he is at the mercy of powerful forces beyond his ken or control. Red Peter, the learned ape in Kafka’s devastating “Report to an Academy,” dreams, above all else, of a “way out,” and to watch footage of the young Nim at play and in confinement is to infer that he must have known a similar longing.”
OTHER FILMS THAT REMIND US OF PROJECT NIM
• Koko: A Talking Gorilla
• Au Hasard Balthazar
• Grizzly Man
• Unlocking the Cage
• Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and Rise of the Planet of the Apes
OTHER FILMS BY DIRECTOR JAMES MARSH
• Man on Wire
• Shadow Dancer
• The Theory of Everything