Blog Directory CineVerse: 2013

No CineVerse meeting this week

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Just a reminder that CineVerse will not meet this week due to the New Year's holiday. We will reconvene on January 8. Make a resolution to attend CineVerse regularly in 2014, and best wishes for the new year!

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No CineVerse meeting this week or next

Sunday, December 22, 2013

CineVerse will not meet this week or next week due to the Christmas and New Year's holidays. We will reconvene on January 8. Happy holidays!

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New CineVerse schedule posted

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Eager to learn what films we'll be exploring in 2014? Check out the CineVerse January/February 2014 schedule now by clicking here or visiting http://tinyurl.com/qxw4enh.

Many exciting movies have been slated for the next two months, so make your plans to join CineVerse regularly in 2014!

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Tinsel time fling

Last evening, CineVerse dusted off an old chestnut that time seems to have forgotten: Holiday Affair. It proved to be a worthy little Christmas-time flick that generated ample buzz among our members. Here's what our gab session yielded:

WHAT DID YOU FIND INTERESTING, ORIGINAL OR UNEXPECTED ABOUT HOLIDAY AFFAIR?
·       The casting of Robert Mitchum in a role depicting a kind, lovable family man of a love interest is curious, considering he had just been busted for marijuana possession a year earlier, and also considering how opposite his Hollywood persona and screen personality is to a cute but dedicated character like the one Janet Leigh plays.
·       The film tugs on the heartstrings perhaps a bit more than you think because of the fact that Connie is a war widow and Timmy has lost his father—making us care more about whom Connie picks not only for herself but as the stepfather to her child.
·       The romantic love triangle battle between the two suitors, Steve and Carl, is comical and fairly well written; the casting choices are appropriate based on the characters’ respective personalities and what each represents to Connie: one a safe, conservative breadwinner, the other more of a soulmate who offers more of a risk but also more romantic excitement and good looks.
·       The character of Timmy is pivotal in terms of setting much of the plot in motion, and he’s a real scene-stealer, which is impressive for such a young actor.

THIS FILM LOST MONEY UPON INITIAL RELEASE AND BECAME A RARE ARTIFACT OF A CHRISTMAS MOVIE. DO YOU FEEL THAT FATE WAS DESERVED? IS HOLIDAY AFFAIR AN OVERLOOKED CLASSIC THAT DESERVES TO BE RANKED ALONGSIDE OTHER CLASSIC AND TIME-HONORED CHRISTMAS FILMS?
·       Arguably, this story has little to do with the holiday of Christmas and could easily have been set at any other time of year.
·       However, the same could be said of many classic Christmas movies, including It’s a Wonderful Life.
·       Ask yourself: does this film truly get you in the Christmas spirit? Or are you entertained more by the romantic triangle angle and the curious chemistry between Mitchum and Leigh?
·       Debatably, the film features no standout performances, no Oscar-worthy screenplay, and very by-the-numbers direction, so nothing truly stands out here except for a heartwarming story that’s quite simple.
·       The fact that it’s an obscure, little-seen Christmas pic could be to its benefit: it could prove to be a refreshing, although lightweight and unsubstantial, discovery to those who enjoy unearthing antique holiday films. Too much exposure could have created a popular backlash against this picture.

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Indulge in an affair -- holiday style

Sunday, December 15, 2013

With Christmas right around the corner, CineVerse will feature a Yuletide movie on December 18: Holiday Affair (1949; 87 minutes), directed by Don Hartman, chosen by Danealle Kueltzo. Plus: stick around for a preview of the January/February CineVerse schedule.

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Picking up the fallen petals

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Yesterday, CineVerse delved into the world of movie pioneer D.W. Griffith and discussed one of his seminal works, "Broken Blossoms." Here is a recap of that group discussion:

WHAT SURPRISED YOU ABOUT THIS FILM, ESPECIALLY CONSIDERING THAT IT’S 95 YEARS OLD AND A SILENT MOVIE?
·       It’s shockingly violent and disturbing in its graphic violence and subject matter, depicting extreme physical and emotional abuse by a father upon his daughter as well as murder by gunshot and suicide by knife. Even the boxing scenes look fairly realistic for the time period, as if the actors were actually connecting on many of the punches.
·       Lillian Gish is a phenomenal actress for this era of cinema: she can emote volumes worth with just a few simple facial expressions and subtle body language; the mental torture she portrays in the closet prior to her beating is hauntingly effective and credible.
·       The film is dated in countless ways, but still packs an emotional resonance and relevancy in its themes and situations.
·       The movie is unintentionally ironic and contradictory by today’s standards: Griffith is preaching tolerance and compassion here, obviously, yet the racial slurs used and casting of white actors in Asian and black parts says a lot about the era in which Broken Blossoms was made and dilutes the impact of those characters.
·       The plot is incredibly simplistic, yet not wholly predictable. In most melodramas and romance films of this (or any period), usually the distressed damsel is rescued and lives happily ever after with her knight in shining armor, so to speak. Here, all 3 major characters die violently, and no one is redeemed.
·       And yet, despite this grim, depressing denouement, this film stands as a lyrical, poetic expression of grander themes and ideas—that love, acceptance and patience are ideals worth fighting and dying for. The film is likely unsatisfying to many viewers as an entertaining yarn or formulaic love triangle story. However, it serves as a stark reminder of how the human race needs to improve.

WHAT IS INTERESTING ABOUT BROKEN BLOSSOMS WHEN CONSIDERING THE FILM IN THE CONTEXT OF ITS TIME?
·       This was an era of omnipresent racism against Asians in America as a result of the importation of many Asian laborers and America’s broad ambitions in the Pacific. Newspapers sensationalized this threat from Asians as “the yellow peril.”
·       Asians were commonly depicted in films and literature as villains and evil threats. The tropes and stereotypes associated with Asians included depictions of opium addicts, white slavers, and uneducated shopkeepers.
·       Also, interracial marriages were against the law, and interracial intimacy would have been seen as an effrontery to society.
·       In this context, it was brave of Griffith to depict an innocent relationship between an Asian man and white girl and an Asian character worthy of sympathy and admiration.
·       Griffith, who was increasingly criticized for espousing racist views in his epic “Birth of a Nation” 4 years earlier, sought to make amends with audiences by directing “Intolerance” and “Broken Blossoms,” two films that promoted racial and religious tolerance and compassion. This was an attempt at making a humanitarian and sensitive statement.

WHAT THEMES ARE EXPLORED IN BROKEN BLOSSOMS?
·       Racial and religious tolerance: Cheng preaches Christ’s golden rule to the sailors.
·       The power of unconditional love and true inner beauty: Cheng’s love for Lucy makes him worship and adore her and forces him to make sacrifices
·       The subjugation of women in a patriarchal-dominated society: Lucy is trapped; she is warned against marriage by housewives on the streets and cautioned against prostitution by harlots she runs into, so her only two means of escape from her unhappiness are blocked. Lucy is also viewed as a servant and scapegoat by her brutish father.
·       How capitalist society breeds attitudes of violence, cruelty, and unfairness, contrasted to the Eastern philosophy of kindness, reverence, and compassion exemplified in Cheng: consider how Battling Burrows is contrasted with Cheng in speech, dress, body language and attitude.

WHAT OTHER FILMS OR WORKS OF LITERATURE DOES BROKEN BLOSSOMS REMIND YOU OF?
·       Fellini’s La Strada
·       Films depicting an interracial relationship between a Caucasian and an Asian, such as Rushmore, Sideways, and Sayonara

OTHER MAJOR WORKS BY D.W. GRIFFITH
·       The Birth of a Nation
·       Intolerance
·       Way Down East
·       The Musketeers of Pig Alley

·       532 total films he directed between 1908 and 1931

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Making beautiful music together

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Last Wednesday, CineVerse enjoyed the cinematic harmonies of "Quartet," a film that explores the joys and fears of a group of aging musicians. The group shared a number of notable observations about this movie, as summarized below:

WHAT IS APPEALING AND INTERSTING ABOUT THIS FILM?
·       It spotlights senior citizen characters in the twilight of their lives and long after their careers have faded, which is a subject that isn’t often covered in movies today; nowadays, most Hollywood films focus on the culture of youth, technology, action/adventure and science fiction and overlook aged and elderly characters to try to tap into a bigger box office.
·       The film doesn’t get too heavy into depressing themes about growing old and frail, except for one character suffering from dementia; these characters maintain their dignity and autonomy, even though it’s clear that the end is somewhere around the corner.
·       The film features a fine cast of veteran and acclaimed British actors, including Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon, Billy Connolly, Tom Courtenay and Pauline Collins. The actors demonstrate healthy chemistry and fit their parts well.
·       Many of the supporting characters are portrayed by actual musical stars of yesteryear.
·       The four principal actors are not professional singers, but thankfully we don’t have to see them lip-sync their singing in this film; while it’s not their voices we actually hear singing, the director carefully never shows the actors lips moving in song for very long.
·       This is actor Dustin Hoffman’s directorial debut, interestingly at age 75, an age when he would be a kindred spirit to these characters.
·       The opera and instrumental music is beautiful, timeless and a character unto itself in the movie.

WHAT THEMES ARE EXAMINED IN “QUARTET”?
·       The psychological challenges that can affect artists when their physical abilities start to dwindle.
·       The film asks the question: when does a professional musician actually retire, and what does retirement mean?
·       As actor Billy Connoly says: “Don’t die until you die. Stay interested until the very last second.” In other words, live life to the fullest until you are physically and mentally incapable of doing so. Also, continue to strive for improvement and engagement.
·       The film also explores how growing old doesn’t have to mean surrendering all your interests, passions, pastimes or emotions. Consider how Wilf likes to flirt, and how Reg and Jean used to be lovers and still carry emotional remnants of that breakup with them.

WHAT’S INTERESTING ABOUT THE PERSONALITIES OF THE 4 MAIN CHARACTERS IN THE QUARTET AND HOW THEY COMPARE/CONTRAST WITH EACH OTHER?
·       Reg is a “gentle, regretful soul” who attempts to understand the younger generation.
·       Wilf likes to flirt although he’s less uninhibited due to a recent stroke.
·       Crissy is plagued by the early signs of dementia, although she’s congenial and cheerful and disregards how others think of her.
·       Jean is a temperamental diva who abhors the thought of retirement as well as the idea of performing on stage when she’s past her prime.

THERE HAS BEEN A SLEW OF OTHER RECENT FILMS TACKLING THE TOPIC OF AGING AND SENIOR CITIZEN ISSUES. CAN YOU CITE ANY EXAMPLES?
·       The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
·       Amour
·       Unfinished Song
·       The documentary Young@Heart
·       Nebraska

DOES THIS FILM REMIND YOU OF ANY OTHER MOVIES, TV SHOWS OR WORKS OF LITERATURE?
·       Downton Abbey
·       On Golden Pond
·       About Schmidt
·       A Late Quartet
·       Space Cowboys
·       Films that depict drama and infighting among peers but which end in everyone collaborating to go on with the show, such as Waiting for Guffman, Fame, and The Muppets

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See how Griffith invents film grammar

Sunday, December 8, 2013

On December 11, CineVerse will conclude its current series of Triple Talent Pioneers: Filmmakers who wrote, directed, produced (and sometimes starred in) their movies with a salute to the father of modern film, D.W. Griffith. We'll watch “Broken Blossoms” (1919, 90 minutes), directed, written and produced by Griffith, plus watch excerpts from a documentary on Griffith.

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Fun foursome

Sunday, December 1, 2013

On December 4, World Cinema Wednesday returns to CineVerse with an outing from the United Kingdom: “Quartet” (2012; 98 minutes), directed by Dustin Hoffman, chosen by Rose Krc; Plus: join us for a movie trivia game, with a chance to win DVD prizes, prior to the film.

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Like taking candy from a Baby Doll

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Yesterday, CineVerse delved into a film that was a powderkeg of controversy back in 1956: Baby Doll, directed by Elia Kazan. The movie was rife with pschological subtexts, symbols and themes. Here's a recap of our group discussion:

HOW WOULD THIS FILM HAVE BEEN CONTROVERSIAL FOR ITS TIME?
·       It was condemned by the Legion of Decency, yet also approved by the production code administration (PCA; Hollywood censors).
·       It was given a provocative marketing campaign with a salacious poster and trailer.
·       Usually, women of loose morals and characters who violate moral codes of society have to be punished by the end of the film—the only person punished at the conclusion of Baby Doll is Archie, not his wife.
·       The film somewhat explicitly suggests female desire/arousal and female sexual fulfillment: she says she’s “ticklish,” which is code for sexually aroused; consider how Silva plays footsy on her stomach, suggesting genital stimulation.
·       She and Silva sleep in a crib, insinuating a “robbing of the cradle” and taboo sexuality.
·       A sexually free woman and sensual female would have been deemed a threat to the patriarchal society of the 1950s.
·       Baby Doll represents a new kind of woman for 1950s America and Hollywood movies: a woman who refuses to sexually satisfy her husband and be his cook/maid, and a female who prioritizes her own sexual gratification over her husband’s.
·       The film exposes the double standard prevalent in pre-1960s Hollywood films: when married characters in these films cheated, it usually wasn’t considered a big deal; it was more of a casual fling (consider The Seven-Year Itch). Yet, when a wife cheated, it was a serious offense unless her husband was a murdering psychopath or a scumbag deserving of punishment; in these cases, adultery by the wife can be considered justified.
·       Ultimately, audiences and religious types would have found the following points, quoted from Michele Meek’s outstanding essay on this film (visit http://www.tennesseewilliamsstudies.org/journal/work.php?ID=109),  most controversial about Baby Doll:
·       “What offended audiences was not merely the portrayal of an affair but the depiction of a woman’s sexual arousal.”
·       “Baby Doll challenges its audience with characters who are neither purely good nor blatantly evil. Author and director “were deliberately flouting the time-honored concept of providing compensating moral value to balance the material that was questionable in code terms” (Palmer and Bray 142). Such ambiguity muddies the morality of the story: without knowing who is good or evil, there is no way for the audience to identify if or how “good” wins in the end.”
·       “Williams does not show her ‘falling in love’ in any conventional sense” This lack of “love” not only makes moral restitution in the film’s conclusion impossible but, perhaps more significantly, also presents female sexual desire as independent of love.”
·       “It seems the film’s implicit challenge of the domesticated woman’s role and its explicit portrayal of female sexual desire presented an antiestablishmentarian perspective, and it was this that provoked the greatest fury. Baby Doll was released at an important juncture in American culture. Superficially, marriage and motherhood were considered “the only genuinely valued activities” for women, “every woman’s sole destiny”. A sensual woman was seen a threat to the sanctity of the nuclear family. In Hollywood films, there was no indication that women could simultaneously be sensual, successful and respectable.”
·       “The film’s depiction of the voyeur-husband who must peep on his own wife identifies the audience with the inadequate ogler and, as such, emasculates the gaze of the viewer as well. The subsequent disruption of Archie’s impotent gaping by his female object sets a satiric tone for the film, mocks the audience’s peeking into their lives, and portends the larger theme regarding women’s roles addressed in the film.”

HOW DID BABY DOLL GET APPROVED BY THE CENSORS YET BANNED BY THE LEGION OF DECENCY?
·       Keep in mind that the PCA (film censors) required “poetic justice” by the end of the film for characters who commit immoral acts.
·       Kazan convinced censors, however, that a sexual infidelity never occurs in the film, which carefully covers its tracks and never really shows any sexual activity onscreen. However, what is suggested on- and offscreen makes it fairly clear to audiences that Baby Doll and Silva have sex.

WHAT’S THE PROOF THEY ARE ENGAGING IN SEXUAL ACTIVITY?
·       We see Silva’s hands run across her body, but the hands fall out of frame before they would presumably reach her legs/private areas.
·       Silva tickles her with his foot, simulating genital foreplay.
·       They retire to her crib for a nap; the nap isn’t shown in full, but she says her “daddy would turn over in his grave”.
·       After they awaken, Silva remarks that she is different, “grown up suddenly,” and she says she feels “cool and rested for the first time in my life.” The implication is that she has been sexually awakened and liberated; she has achieved orgasm and consummated the earlier teasing.

WHAT’S IRONIC ABOUT BABY DOLL?
·       It’s not overtly sexually graphic in what we’re actually shown.
·       She’s not even a minor or “jailbait.”
·       Silva is more interested in revenge than sex.
·       We don’t know what’s going to happen “the next day”. Baby Doll’s closing quote is, there’s “nothing to do but wait for tomorrow and see if we’re remembered or forgotten.” In other words, her future is wide open, but now that she is a sexually liberated female, how will she be viewed by men in society? There’s no certainty that she will end up in a relationship with Silva.

WHAT DOES ARCHIE’S HOUSE REPRESENT?
·       It stands as a symbol for Baby Doll’s psychological, sexual and physical development. Most of the rooms are empty because she hasn’t been “filled up yet” as a sexually and intellectually satisfied woman.
·       The one room that is filled is her bedroom, with its crib, toys and children’s phonograph, symbolizing her arrested state of development, immaturity, naïve nature and relative innocence.
·       The barren, fragile attic could represent her feeble, uneducated mind, which needs to be reinforced/bolstered by knowledge and experience.

OTHER FILMS BY ELIA KAZAN
·       A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
  • A Streetcar Named Desire
  • Viva Zapata!
  • On the Waterfront
  • A Face in the Crowd
  • East of Eden
  • Splendor in the Grass
  • Gentleman’s Agreement

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No CineVerse meeting on Nov. 27

CineVerse has just learned that we will not be able to meet on Wednesday, Nov. 27 due to the Oak View Center building closing early for the Thanksgiving holiday. "Breaking the Waves," originally scheduled for that evening, will be rescheduled for a future date in January 2014 (to be announced soon). We regret this inconvenience, but our group has no control over the changing schedule of the building.

CineVerse will reconvene on Dec. 4 with "Quartet" and continue in December with "Broken Blossoms" on Dec. 11 and "Holiday Affair" on Dec. 18.

Just a reminder that our group also will not meet on Dec. 25 or Jan. 1 due to the holidays.

Happy Thanksgiving, movie lovers!

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Jailbait cinema

Sunday, November 17, 2013

On November 20, CineVerse will explore a film once banned by the Legion of Decency: “Baby Doll” (1956, 114 minutes), directed by Elia Kazan, chosen by Len Gornik.

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Still the fairest of them all...

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Yesterday, CineVerse members got to indulge their inner child and partake in "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," which produced a pretty lively discussion on the film's merits and influences. A summary follows:

HOW WOULD THIS FILM HAVE BEEN INNOVATIVE UPON ITS RELEASE IN 1937?

·       This is the first feature-length animated film in history. Previously, animated movies were shorts that typically ran prior to the main attraction.
o   This project was dubbed “Disney’s folly” because it wasn’t believed that audiences would watch a cartoon for more than a few minutes, or that adults would find them interesting at feature length.
·       Cartoons were considered kiddy fare with cruder animation and less story and character development prior to this. Snow White created a whole new world of characters, color, motion and emotion—consider how terrifying the lost in the woods sequence is, or how somber and sad Snow White’s death scene is.
o   In fact, many horror filmmakers have named Snow White as a major inspiration in their movies.
o   Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane, for example, opens with a foreboding dark castle with a single lighted window, similar to the Wicked Queen’s castle.
·       It was one of the few movies made in color at a time when black and white dominated—so it would have been doubly impressive in its lively, multi-dimensional animation and its chromatic Technicolor brilliance.
·       It’s regarded as the first official movie “soundtrack”: before, soundtracks were comprised of renditions of songs featured in a movie; this one is the first to include original recordings as they actually appeared in the film. It was also the first commercially issued film soundtrack album.
·       It employed Disney’s innovative multi-plane camera, which creates the illusion of depth and three dimensions by placing several animated cells and drawings on different planes that are shot at the same time by an overhead camera.
·       It featured realistic human movements and rotoscope-drawn figures like Snow White hat are modeled on actual live actors.

HOW DOES THIS FILM ESTABLISH THE TEMPLATE FOR NUMEROUS DISNEY FEATURE-LENGTH ANIMATED MOVIES TO FOLLOW?
·       Like many stories adapted into later Disney films, it’s a storybook, fairy tale yarn involving an orphan who is threatened by some villain (who’s often a female), befriended by wild animals, and whose wishes come true at the end by being rescued by a prince or knight.
o   Later films would include child protagonists who are traumatically separated from their parent (e.g., Pinocchio, Dumbo, Bambi, The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast)
·       The lead protagonist is a young, pretty, virginal girl (typically lacking any sexual or titillating characteristics) who must suffer trials and tribulations and some kind of life-threatening/life-changing transformation before she can get her Prince Charming: the same formula applies to Sleeping Beauty, Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, the Little Mermaid, and the Princess and the Frog.
·       She is often accompanied by forest animals, scene-stealing comic relief characters (e.g., Dopey, the Genie in Aladdin), and a feisty foil who becomes a hero (e.g., Tinkerbell, Grumpy, Meriwether in Sleeping Beauty).
·       The villain in these films is usually somehow threatened by this young female protagonist, who has the ability to take away the villain’s power/prestige (a scenario which plays out in The Lion King, Aladdin, Hercules, The Jungle Book, the Little Mermaid, and Snow White).
·       As Roger Ebert put it:
o   “Walt Disney's shorter cartoons all centered on one or a few central characters with strongly-defined personalities, starting with Mickey Mouse himself. They lived in simplified landscapes, and occupied stories in which clear objectives were boldly outlined. But when Disney decided in 1934 to make a full-length feature, he instinctively knew that the film would have to grow not only in length but in depth. The story of Snow White as told in his source, the Brothers Grimm, would scarcely occupy his running time, even at a brisk 83 minutes.
o   The most important continuing element is the use of satellite and sidekick characters, minor and major, serious and comic. A frame is not allowed for long to contain only a single character, long speeches are rare, musical and dance numbers are frequent, and the central action is underlined by the bit characters, who mirror it or react to it. Disney's other insight was to make the characters physically express their personalities. He did that not by giving them funny faces or distinctive clothes (although that was part of it) but studying styles of body language and then exaggerating them.
o   Disney's inspiration (was in) providing his heroes and supporting characters with different centers of gravity. A heroine like Snow White will stand upright and tall. But all of the comic characters will make movements centered on and emanating from their posteriors. Rump-butting is commonplace in Disney films, and characters often fall on their behinds and spin around…I think Disney did it because it works: It makes the comic characters rounder, lower, softer, bouncier and funnier, and the personalities of all seven Dwarfs are built from the seat up.”

WALT DISNEY IS CREDITED FOR BEING A CONCEPTUAL INNOVATOR RESPONSIBLE FOR SEVERAL KEY FILM AND ENTERTAINMENT FIRSTS, INCLUDING:
·       The first successful synchronized sound and picture cartoon (Steamboat Willie, in 1928).
·       The first feature-length animated movie.
·       The first film to use multi-channel surround sound systems (Fantasia).
·       The Circle Vision filming technique, which enabled the shooting and projection of movies in 360 degrees.
·       The development of an optical printer that allowed animation and live action to be combined (The Three Caballeros, 1945).
·       His invention of the multi-plane camera (previously mentioned).
·       Disney’s Studio was the first ever to provide regular color programming for TV (Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color).
·       Family theme parks (Disneyland, Disneyworld) and the first switch-back/interactive crowd lines (instead of straight lines) as well as the first dark rides and fully enclosed attractions.
·       The first indoor shopping mall (Main Street, USA at Disneyland).
·       Audio-animatronic figures, featured at Disneyland.

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Take a bite out of the big apple of animated features

Sunday, November 10, 2013

On November 13, CineVerse will return to its current monthly spotlight, Triple Talent Pioneers: Filmmakers who directed, wrote, produced (and sometimes starred in) their movies with a tribute to Walt Disney by viewing and discussing “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” (1937, 83 minutes), directed by William Cottrell, et al. Plus, enjoy excerpts from a documentary on animation and filmmaking pioneer Walt Disney.

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Marching to the beat of a different drummer

Thursday, November 7, 2013

"The Tin Drum" proved to be a challenging movie intellectually, but one filled with surprises and interesting discoveries, as well as fascinating images. Here are our group discussion insights, in a nutshell:

WHAT SURPRISED YOU ABOUT THIS FILM?
  • Its tone varies: it can be funny, dark, disturbing, erotic, political and epic.
  • It’s creepy and unsettling in that it’s using a child actor in some very adult scenes.
  • It employs various cinematic techniques, including silent cinema conventions, to tell its story visually.
  • The story and characters are varied and unpredictable: this tale and central character is loosely based upon the original author’s experiences growing up before, during and after WWII.

WHAT THEMES ARE EXAMINED IN TIN DRUM?
  • Rebellion and resistance to a hostile, unfair world
  • Refusal to mature and develop; arrested development. Oscar remains in a child’s body because he doesn’t want to see things from an adult’s point of view and he protests the political and social state of affairs around him.
  • The inevitability and necessity of physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual growth
  • The horrors and brutality of warfare
  • A human being’s innate need for acceptance and love

WHAT SYMBOLS AND MOTIFS CAN YOU IDENTIFY IN THE TIN DRUM
·       Rapid political, social and technological change in the 20th century, as represented by scenes that progress from the agricultural to the industrial, from traditional to contemporary, from feudal to postmodern, as one critic put it.
·       Oscar himself stands for the country of Germany itself, and its refusal to “grow up” amidst the chaos and turmoil around him/it; he also represents a diminutive Hitler like figure who, though small in stature, has immense power (via his drum and his screaming voice)
·       Seeking shelter under the skirt symbolizes Oscar’s desire to return to the safety of the womb and leave the scary adult world
·       Many shot framings feature groups of 3, as if to suggest a trinity of sorts: the 3 ethnic groups depicted in the film (Germans, Poles and Kashubians), the love triangle between Agnes, Alfred and Jan, and the trinity of faith, hope and charity
·       The drum itself symbolizes rebellion, anti-establishment and resistance; it serves as a wakeup call to those around Oscar who are forced to listen to his dissent.
·       Oscar’s mother’s sudden consumption of whole fish could be a grotesque representation of the German people’s complicity to tolerate Hitler’s penchant for human atrocities.
·       Oscar is strange and unnatural, just like the Nazi political ideology and party is unnatural.
·       The filmmakers portray epic landscapes in many large, sweeping shots.

THIS MOVIE IS REPLETE WITH DICHOTOMIES, IRONIES AND DUALITIES. CAN YOU CITE ANY EXAMPLES?
·       Oscar is the narrator, but he is an unreliable one, and his point of view (or our point of view supposedly through his eyes), switches abruptly from first to third person

·       The film’s tone can suddenly switch between black humor, absurdity and slapstick to disturbing reality, dark surreality and twisted eroticism; this alternation in tone creates an unsettling, unnerving disquiet in the viewer, as if to remind us that these were the experiences of Germans before and during the war.
·       The movie is a bouillabaisse of images, styles and techniques: silent film techniques (like cranked up camera speeds and use of irises) contrast with epic shots; music comes on jarringly
·       Oscar is a child, yet he often engages in adult acts of sexuality and political resistance; he’s depicted as innocent yet experienced, idealistic like a child yet depraved like an adult. As one writer put it, he is both a “detached observer and a naughty prankster.”
·       Another writer states that The Tin Drum “offers us a Fellini-esque exploration of the rise of Nazism where the central character is ambivalent, destructive, grotesque, and immoral, yet…is both the perfect Aryan and the monster eliminated by the Nazis.”

OTHER DIRECTORS CONSIDERED PART OF THE NEW GERMAN CINEMA MOVEMENT
·       Werner Herzog
·       Rainer Werner Fassbinder
·       Wim Wenders
·       Alexander Kluge

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Bang the drum slowly, little boy

Sunday, November 3, 2013

On November 6, we'll kick off the November/December CineVerse schedule with a world cinema Wednesday special from Germany: “The Tin Drum” (1979; 142 minutes), directed by Volker Schlöndorff, chosen by Joe Valente. 

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Hinting at "The Haunting"

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Few horror films are as rich in content, craftsmanship and subtext as "The Haunting" (the 1963 original version, that is). Last night's CineVerse foray into the macabre, and the last of our Shocktober Theater series, proved to be an insightful one. Here is what we learned from this flick:

HOW IS “THE HAUNTING” DIFFERENT AND DISTINCTIVE FROM OTHER HORROR FILMS, ESPECIALLY MOVIES OF THIS TIME PERIOD IN THE EARLY 1960s?
·       It’s a movie that relies on psychological subtext and suggestion instead of monster/ghost manifestation: it’s what we don’t see that scares us the most in this film, as opposed to showing horrifying monster makeup and special effects.
o   This is in keeping with the Val Lewton formula for horror; director Robert Wise was part of the Lewton horror unit at RKO in the 1940s, and he learned how to exploit the audiences’ fears of the unknown and show less rather than more.
·       Nearly everything in the film can be explained as a figment of Eleanor’s unhinged imagination; we’re not shown any concrete proof of ghosts or hauntings here, although the scene with the booming sound and bulging door definitely suggests the supernatural. Keep in mind, however, that the film is told through Eleanor’s disturbed point of view, so we could be seeing and hearing things that the others in her group do not.
·       The film is one of the first to feature a lesbian character, especially one who is depicted as feminine instead of predatory.
·       The film is shot in black and white at a time when that was no longer in vogue.
·       The sound design employed functions as a character unto itself: it’s often what we hear, and not what we see, that unnerves us so much; moments of stillness are suddenly disturbed by unsettling noises, from booming walls and doors to eerie chanting and child cries.
·       It’s arguably the first picture made about a serious scientific investigation of a house that is haunted, which became a subgenre in itself that continues today.

WHAT ARE SOME RECURRENT MOTIFS, PATTERNS AND THEMES FOUND IN “THE HAUNTING”?
·       Psychological persecution: Eleanor feels closed in upon and her psyche is fragile, ready to break at any time.
·       Alienation: The group in the house form a bond of sorts, but Eleanor is continually separated and alienated from the others.
·       Mirrors, reflecting the duality of a character and suggesting characters who second-guess what they see or their own natures.
·       Statues—silent stone figures placed around the environment as if they’re eerily watching the proceedings with cold impartiality, yet with an insinuation that they could come to life at any moment.
·       Lights that turn off and on, seen both from the interior and exterior, implying perhaps that supernatural forces are at work, or that the sleuths are sometimes in the dark before and during their investigation of the house.
·       According to one writer (found at http://www.the-haunting.com/haunting_themovie.html), “clean deaths that don’t involve blood or gore, but can also be easily explained instead of chalked up to the supernatural.”
·       The same writer also posited: “Life leaving a character is suggested by a falling object:
o   (the death of) Hugh Crain’s young wife…is represented by her bracelet sliding along her wrist.
o   The second Mrs. Crain’s death is resprented by her keys that fall and that she cannot hold/grip anymore.
o   Abigail Crain’s death is represented by the stick that falls because she cannot hold it anymore.
o   The companion’s death is represented by one shoe that falls in the void.
o   Eleanor’s death is represented by her wrist that lies with no life.



WHAT DO THE FILMMAKERS DO VISUALLY TO INCREASE THE SUSPENSE AND CREATE INTERESTING SHOTS AND IMAGES THAT FIT THE TONE AND TENSION OF THE STORY?
·       As is common in many horror, suspense and film noir movies shot in black and white, the movie employs high-contrast, low key lighting the emphasize shadows, character complexity and things that cannot be seen in the darkness.
·       Some of the haunted home’s exteriors were shot with infrared film to give it a weirder look.
·       Many shots are filmed from low angles and lit from below for a more horrifying cinematography approach and to accentuate ceilings, which suggests a claustrophobic feeling.
·       The film features an unusual number of moving camera shots (such as the camera following along the spiral staircase), creepy tracking shots, unconventional pans (camera moving from left to right or vice versa), and shots using distorted lenses to evoke a warped, bent look.
·       As critic Glenn Erickson put it: “The compositions stress the location over the people, dwarfing them in wide shots or ornate rooms, or leaving them off-balance in tilted angles, which necessitates constant reorientation.
o   Also, notice how Nell and Theo in one scene are placed in the middle of the frame, either collectively or separately. But eventually, shots progress throughout this scene that show them drifting apart, coming back together, then drifting further apart.
o   There are also other scenes where the characters are visually shown growing farther apart from each other, ultimately leaving Eleanor completely alone and isolated.

WHAT’S INTERESTING ABOUT EACH OF THE 4 MAIN CHARACTERS, AND HOW DO THEY COMPARE AND CONTRAST?
·       Eleanor is fragile, unstable and an untrustworthy narrator because we can’t know for certain that what she’s experiencing is happening in reality.
·       Theodora is cunning and manipulative.
·       Dr. Markway is a trustworthy source on the supernatural, but perhaps too clinical in his approach.
·       Luke serves as a surrogate for the audience because he’s the most skeptical, grounded in common sense, and a type we’re most likely to meet on the street, perhaps.

OTHER FILMS THAT COME TO MIND AFTER WATCHING “THE HAUNTING”
·       The Uninvited
·       The Innocents
·       The Legend of Hell House
·       Ghost Story
·       Poltergeist
·       The Conjuring

OTHER MOVIES DIRECTED BY ROBERT WISE
·       The Body Snatcher
·       The Day the Earth Stood Still
·       I Want to Live
·       Run Silent, Run Deep
·       West Side Story
·       The Sound of Music
·       The Sand Pebbles
·       Star Trek: The Motion Picture

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