Narnia News

20th Centrury Fox have reported to be picking up the Narnia mantel after Disney bowed out to due costs. The next film is set to be released in 2010 and see the addition of cousin Eustace making an entrance to the magical land. From memory I think this might be the story of the Voyage of the Dawn Tredder. My friend Adam will be pleased, he was particularly taken by what he described as "the Eddie Izzard rat" hopefully this comedy legend will return to voice the brave captain of the Dawn Tredder?

Star Wars, you Wall-E

This week I’ve been making my way through the Star Wars films, old and new, prequels and sequels seeing as Adam got given them all for Christmas it seems the right thing to do.

We were watching a New Hope (that’s episode 4 to you) last night and it got me thinking about what a mind-blowing film that must have been when it came out. The special effects, the size of the spacecraft, the angles and filming techniques, the Jim Henderson party of puppets in every scene. Amazing. Even though I’m not a big Star Wars fan, (sorry geeks) mainly because it’s far too complicated for a kid’s film, watching it again reminded me how impressive the design of the film was. Who on earth managed to make a droid so cute and appealing (R2D2 has more personality than Mark Hamil in my opinion)? It’s no easy task making a robot who doesn’t speak have personality.

Seen Wall-E? Yes, very cute. Pixar did well to create a fantastic animation where the main characters only recite each other’s names. Don’t get me wrong I loved Wall-E, and it is an impressive film, but I realised last night that’s he’s not the original. There is a scene where R2D2 and C3PO have been captured by the sand people (I think) and while they rummage about in the hull of this travelling scrap yard to find each other they stumble across …Wall-E. Or at least what I can only assume was the design inspiration for him. There he is, a minor design from Star Wars scrap heap of droids living again in Pixar’s world of eco heroism.

It just showed to me how much foresight LucasFilm had when they produced the Star Wars films. So many elements of the sets, characters and aliens have a timeless quality. It’s not overly “futuristic”, in fact it has a reassuring 70’s edge to the minimalism of the Death Star and the Tatooein sand huts, but rather stuck in an ageless space. You can’t snigger at it, thinking “what a crazy idea, they thought we’d be living on the moon”, maybe because it’s not set on earth so we are happy to detach ourselves, our own expectations of the ability (superiority) of our race and rather sit there and believe the narrative. After all, why wouldn’t there be a death star hovering over a distant planet, because it’s nothing to do with us humans we don’t question it. If the Death Star was over Earth, you can’t imagine there would be a terrible Independence Day ending with the American President shooting the crap out it. Thank god then that George Lucas chose a galaxy far far away.

Week 3 Part 2 – Nothing like an off screen bitch?

After filming Some Like It Hot (one of my favourite films) Tony Curtis famously said that kissing Marilyn Monroe was like kissing Hitler. Owch. So what does a real life comment like that do for a star’s on screen persona?

I imagine everyone who went to see a Marilyn Monroe film after that comment couldn’t help but look at her onscreen love interest and see if he winced or not when she kissed him – it could have seriously damaged her ‘star’ image, if she hadn’t been such a bombshell.

It’s the same for Bette Davis and Joan Crawford – notorious for their rumoured hatred of each other off screen they joined together in the latter stages of their career to star in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane (1962). The director, Robert Aldrich, knew that the rumours and whispers about their off screen relationship would ensure a big audience at the box office. After all, haven’t they taken this role because it’s the chance for them to live out their real-life feelings towards the other? The modern equivalent would be watching Angelina Jolie and Jennifer Aniston staring in a film together where the characters hate each other. I’d pay money to see that!

The point I’m making is that if you know something about the star off screen then it’s going to alter their onscreen presence. Only a few ‘stars’ can act so well that you forget they are infact who they are (I think Ewan McGregor is good at this) because most of the time you’re aware of them as themselves, not the character. So if you watched Mr & Mrs Smith before you knew Pitt and Jolie fell in love on the set, then you’ll have watched it with a different perspective to anyone who watched it afterwards (and for the voyeurs out there, it might have been the reason you rented the DVD).
I guess stars themselves are aware of this too. It was rumoured Bette Davis did actually kick Joan Crawford during filming, and in revenge Crawford wore heavy clothing which put Bette Davis’s back out. It all adds to the acting after all.

Week 3 Concerning Stars…

This week we learnt we’re all obsessed with stars, like it or not. I kind of agree, after all I did watch Jonathan Ross on Friday night just to see if Tom Cruise was a scientology weirdo (apparently he isn’t). So there the argument stands, even by the simple act of watching a chat show, we are all striving to see the authentic identity of the stars of screen.

For my dissertation I wrote about concepts of autonomy, the self and identity in the work of Jackson Pollock and stumbled across a lot of very interesting, if not very heavy going (not a beach read) social theory about identity. My basic understanding, from this research, about identity was we all strive to identify with each other through association or disassociation.

Basically if you’re a rock chick you’re going to relate to other rock chicks and you’ll identify them through their personal image or the things they say. Similarly, you can confirm your identity by recognising you are the opposite in the things you say and wear to lets say, a WAG. I’m sure someone more educated than me is screaming at this layman’s term description of authenticating your identity! Boo - I don’t care.

So how do you relate to someone you can’t ever really know because they are always being someone else – like a film star? Well, according to Richard Dyer we wish to believe their performance is based on real life experience – after all wouldn’t they take this film role because it in someway related to their own life? Watching a film, we know it’s a construct but we can’t help but admire (hope) the idea the star is a real person and in some way related to the character on screen – this is our access to relating to the star, to finding out their authentic self.

Have I lost you yet? Well, look at Erin Brockovich (2000) and see how Steven Soderbergh describes how he chose Julia Roberts because of her real life dual characteristics with Erin (DVD extras.) It’s not necessarily that Roberts is best performer for the role (there are, after all, many actresses who could have played this role and arguably an ‘unknown’ would have been better for the film) it’s that she is the best match for authenticity, based on what we already think of Roberts. That’s why Soderbergh kept her away from the real life Erin so that she didn’t mimic that individual, but rather that she was acting the ‘concept’ of that person. And this freedom meant that Robert’s own physicality could dominate the role (the way she walks, talks is not the same as the way Erin walks, talks etc). You are still aware of the fact this is Julia Roberts.
I really liked the film, even though I could never detach the fact I was watching Julia Roberts speaking, not “Erin Brockovich” (it’s the way she walks, way too distinctive, way too Pretty Woman!)

Oh la la it’s the Oscars again

2009 Oscar nominations are in so who can we expect to win?

I was glad to see Kate Winslet was nominated as Best Supporting Actress for her role in The Reader. After all, her cameo as a Nun in Nazi Germany for Ricky Gervais’s “Extras” revealed (in jest) that Hollywood loves a Holocaust film and she’d be a shoe in for an Oscar. Little did she expect those comical words would ring true. Other Brit hopefully Sally Dawkins didn’t secure a nomination for her role as an impossibly happy and optimistic primary school teacher in Happy-Go-Lucky (one of my favourite films last year) which was disappointing from a personal perspective.

Danny Boyles’s “feel good movie of the year” (I’m sure he’s spitting acid at this epithet) Slumdog Millionaire has received 10 nominations. I watched this film on the opening Friday night here in the UK at the Broadway and despite the half bottle of wine I had drank, it was a good film, not a great film, but definitely a good film. I really enjoyed it and look it for what it was – a very small, short snapshot into the lives of Indian street children. I didn’t find it especially challenging and none of the hideous realities and atrocities, which face the real slum dogs of Mumbai, but as story I found it really entertaining, visually stunning and wet my appetite to go travelling in India.

I’m excited about the launch of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and more so now that it was nominated for a whopping 13 Oscars. But aside from the panel’s obvious enthusiasm for this film, I guess it just goes to show people love a ripping yarn and if it includes Brad Pitt then so much the better!

Frost Nixon, Ron Howard’s, political showdown picked up five nominations. Another film I’m excited to see after reading Esquire’s interview with James Reston Jr (the man who dug the dirt on Nixon to fuel Frost’s interview). Esquire raised a good point about whether in future years we’ll be seeing a Mar/ Bush style interview to expose the political inadequacies of America’s ex president. Wishful thinking I guess, but I recon if it did happen they’d be a lot of Oscars! Another political film, Milk, picked up 8, Sean Penn being nominated for his lead role as did the Dark Knight with predictably Health Ledger’s role as the Joker being touted to win Best Supporting Actor. Super cute summer blockbuster, Pixar’s Wall-E picked up 6 nomination, but surprisingly for an animated movie Waltz with Bashir did not get nominated (only for best foreign film).

Roll on Feb 22nd

Week 1 – Tom Cruise? Part 2

So how do star’s maintain their stardom? After all I think we’ve all witnessed some silence at the Cruise camp after the whole Opera scientology, sofa antics. And judging by the carefully chosen film roles and appearances he’s made since the studio system is reluctant to bank on him as they once did (look at the posters for his new film Valkerie – equal representation to the other actors)

They do it like this. Mission Impossible 1 (1996) watch the title sequence and notice that although Cruise is the only named actor (comes before the film title) he is in disguise (big reveal at the end) and is portrayed as being part of a team. There are gadgets a plenty, bond style girls and the kitsch (albeit funked up) TV theme tune hammering away in the background. You know exactly where you are, Cruise isn’t threatened by his co-stars and it’s going to be a rid roaring spy filled adventure.

Mission Impossible 2 (2006) you get John Woo in to film you at your best (ever fight scene was designed to suit Cruise’s ability and height – just watch the extras) and relish in an almost gratuitous 15 minute scene of man conquering nature by single handedly climbing a passionately red mountain. Phew. It’s epic. You almost feel like you’re a voyeur watching something you shouldn’t (or don’t want to). What’s more, you get Metalicca in to do the soundtrack just so anyone who though Cruise was a sissy is fully back in their box.

Horrid. Why? Because Mission Impossible 2 over zealous love of Cruise as a “star” showed how obviously threatened his stardom had been by Eyes Wide Shut, Kubricks films where his then wife, Nicole Kidman emerged as the “star”, probably quite unpredicted by Cruise.

Eyes Wide Shut started with his character weakened and emasculated by Kidman’s character and ended with his acting abilities smashed by Kubrick’s direction and Kidman’s clear superiority. (Just look at the party scene in the opening 15 minutes. Kidman’s obvious height over Cruise is so openly revealed (think of all the hard work on Top Gun it took for Tony Scott to make Kelly McGillis look shorter).

So what do you do to recover? Divorce Kidman, hire John Woo and don’t look back, the star is re-born. But then you accept an invitation onto Oprah and star the process all over again … oh dear.

Week 1 – Tom Cruise? Part 1

The first session of the film course is designed to help us work out exactly what defines a “star”? Hmmm, an easy task I thought, but as the group I was hauled into began to discuss the matter different interpretations developed and contradicted my first thoughts.

A “shout out your answer” session created a set of definitions which included: immediate recognition, glamorous (the camera loves them) the box office earning power (the “opener”), that they appeal to men and women, they were “built” by a studio, they are aspirational, charismatic, notorious (both public and private) and talented. The notoriety choice was one of mine, based on the comeback of 80’s bad lad Mickey Rourke – barely an actor and yet a “star” in his own right.

So having defined a “star”, who better to deconstruct than scientology-loving-sofa-leaping-three-times-married star of screen, Tom Cruise. Love him or loathe him, he is undeniably a star. But how? Maybe it’s the size of his face.

Look at the design aesthetics of any of his film posters from the last 20 or so years see how much presence and dominance he has in them. His chiselled profile takes up a staggering 80% of the poster space, quite often taking precedent over the film title. There is little visual references to co-stars or even imagery to suggest what the film might be about (check out Vanilla Sky, Jerry McQuire for examples).

There are, however, two distinct exceptions. The Colour of Money (with Paul Newman) and Rain Man (with Dustin Hoffman) either self-consciously or a decision taken by the studios, Cruise is portrayed as an equal. This is interesting to note, as both these films were a showcase for Cruise's credibility as an actor, of which he did receive critical acclaim.
So how do star’s maintain their stardom?

Week 2 Part 2 The French Contrast

This week we studied ... The contrast French cinema offered 1930s

While America seemed to emerge from the Great Depression and embrace the fictional new world of Hollywood the French, by contrast, were facing a period of dark uncertainty. 1939 saw the dark hand of Nazi Germany knocking at the nervously guarded French door ready to attach, invade and damage a treasured and protected society.

The cinema at the time seemed to reflect this tension, a society brought together in common unity against the enemy, whilst trying to protect the status quo. La Regle Du Jou (The Rules of the Game, 1939) shows the patriotic 'equalness' within French society as man and woman unite, (through Jean Renoirs's direction) whilst simultaneously rendering and exposing the worst aspects of snobbery and inadequacies of French high society (through content and narrative). With a war looming could the capricious upper classes really join with their lower classes to a countryman, as one?

The characters, in contrast to the Hollywood studios, are filmed on location, with the bad weather and buildings become addition characters within the narrative. The party scene at the country estate of Robert and Christine when airman Andre returns is a great scene to illustrate this. All the actors talk, almost at the same time, and there seems an almost real struggle between actors to secure the limelight.

In the direction there is a noticeable lack of close-ups when characters are speaking (making it hard to identify the 'star' of the scene) there are only focused shots when characters are making Shakespearean style soliloquies, revealing to the audience snippets of background information to the characters on screen (making the audience determine which 'personality' that actor is playing) in contrast again there are quick edits between scenes, no long standing set poses or indulgent sweeping scenes (to allow the audience time to guess what's coming up.)
In the narrative conversations happen quickly, more than one in each scene, more than one at a time, and the characters and their dialogue sweep casually in and out of a scene, revealing only a subtle amount of information which you have to be quick and alert to take in.

Week 2 Part 1 - The Beautiful Spell

This week we studied ... The Hollywood Studio cinema, 1920s onwards

It would appear that American audiences held little concern for authenticity and realism. Rather a society emerging from the ravages of the Great Depression revelled in the seduction and warped 'perfect' world that the Hollywood Studio system chose to portray.

Audiences didn't mind that studio stars could travel the world from the comfort of a perfectly lit, purpose built set. Cinema goers were happy for lead actress's to stand still, poised, unfathomably beautiful under the lights, costume and makeup which created their mystical aurora. They wanted a 'reality' far from the one they had just lived through.

The Great Depression could be one reason I think the Hollywood Studio system was so easily and unquestionably adopted into the hearts and minds of the American public. A nation which had lived in economic horror was happy to watch a fantasy unveil before their eyes on a Saturday evening. Also, this was a chance for Hollywood to re-instate the American Dream. Ordinary girls and guys plucked from obscurity and escalated through the dizzy heights of the studio to emerge as 'stars' of the screen ... or so the studio publicity departments would wish them to believe.

More so, all of this fantastical and beautiful world was captured in a neat 90 minutes. Each story unfolded with a stock of 'characters' instantly recognised by the paying public. Arguably it's a comfort to an audience to second guess the ending and this is what characterisation (type casting) allowed. Even if you hadn't read the book you could guess the ending of Gone With the Wind without destroying the entertaining details in-between - and that predictable outcome having been defined and realised by the film makers gave the audience a sense of pride, a sense of belonging, a fleeting moment of thinking you, as the audience, were part of the film making process. A confirmation of your own intelligence for managing to guess the very predicable outcome.
The audience's obvious love and adoration for the studio 'stars' helped make the star's themselves feel as though they had 'made' the film. In reality it was always the carefully crafted and heavily controlling studio system. But for an actress to upset the lighting designer or cinematographer could result in a career disaster as the 'beautiful spell' would be broken. The audiences didn't want reality they wanted the American Dream in it's most epic, beautiful form

The start of my screen room

Hi there peeps,

This blog was set up to finally put into words the many rants and ravings I have about film to my friends, so rather than bending their ear I thought I would shout out into the digital ether.

As part of the new year, I've finally signed up for a film course at Nottingham's most fantastic arts cinema, the Broadway. The one I've chosen is entitled Celestial Bodies, The Rise and Fall of the Film Star and is ran by the Broadway's own education officer Sam Maxfield. As a film geek I hope this course will just add fuel to my film geekery fire and get me writing about what I love most ...