While looking up something else on YouTube, I came across Santa Claus, the world's first Christmas movie! This British silent film, a little over a minute long, was made in 1898 and was directed by George Albert Smith, a "stage hypnotist, psychic, magic lantern lecturer, Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society, inventor" and noted film pioneer. It was considered a technical marvel in its time and definitely worth a watch.
Michael Brooke of BFI National Archive reports that the movie had "considerable technical ambition and accomplishment for its period," and that it "uses pioneering visual effects in its depiction of a visit from St. Nicholas." He also writes that it is "believed to be the cinema's earliest known example of parallel action and, when coupled with double-exposure techniques that Smith had already demonstrated in the same year's The Mesmerist (1898) and Photographing a Ghost (1898), the result is one of the most visually and conceptually sophisticated British films made up to then."
Read the rest
In this picture you see two children being placed in bed by a maid, lights are then shut off. Santa Claus enters the room from the fireplace and proceeds to trim the tree. He then fills the stockings that were previously hung on the mantle by the children. After walking backward and surveying his work, he suddenly darts at the fireplace and disappears up the chimney. This film surprises everyone and leaves them to wonder how old St. Nicholas disappears.
Did you see this trailer for Under the Silver Lake about a year ago and think nothing of it? Lots of people did and dismissed it as a generic hipster-centric snoozefest. But a few interested people stuck around and read the checklist as a piece of comedy. Vinyl? Yes. Ridiculously nice apartments with one sole occupant? Yes. Struggling actors trying to make it in Hollywood? Yes. Pretentious bars? Yes. Violent Femmes? Sure, yes.
As much as these elements might seem like they'd make for a bland 30-something-centric film involving thousand yard stares and brunch, director David Robert Mitchell (It Follows) lampoons mumblecore, Los Angeles and "the male gaze."
The story in Silver Lake starts off innocently enough, wherein our protagonist Sam (Andrew Garfield) is caught staring at his sunbathing neighbor through binoculars and later notices signs of a neighborhood dog murderer. Perpetually unemployed (and unperturbed), Sam tracks down clues surrounding a disappearance and gets rapidly sucked into the lavish, oddball world of the Hollywood adjacent.
Though the plot reads a bit like a noir, it's difficult to describe this world as an "underbelly," seeing as the parties and high teas Sam goes to on his mock-chivalric quest are neither clouded in cigar smoke nor shot through shuttered blinds. The real hook of this film comes in the barrage of red herrings, corner-of-your-eye subplots and ridiculous clues that sometimes pan out, sometimes don't, and sometimes turn out to be redundant at best. In addition to all that, the film's (for lack of a better word) meta narrative allows you to go on a hunt for clues that parallel Sam's adventure. Read the rest
Film editor Andrew Saladino of the Royal Ocean Film Society analyzes the exquisitely engineered airships in the films of Hayao Miyazaki. Read the rest
My mom always sewed my Halloween costumes when I was a kid, so I never got to wear one of the many licensed ones featured in the recently released documentary, "Halloween in a Box." I'm not really complaining but the plastic-masked ones you'd find at Woolworth did have a real charm to them. In any event, this film follows the history of these costumes and how its manufacturers had to work together to keep trick-or-treating alive after the Tylenol poisonings of the early eighties. Read the rest
In 1969, visionary designers Charles and Ray Eames directed this cinematic ballet of more than 100 spinning tops from around the world. The score is by famed Hollywood composer Elmer Bernstein (The Ten Commandments, The Magnificent Seven, Airplane!, etc.). From the Eames Office:
Tops had its genesis in an earlier film produced for the Stars of Jazz television program in 1957. The Eameses decided to make a longer, color version in 1966, which they worked on in spare moments between other projects.
The film is a celebration of the ancient art and craft of top-making and spinning. One hundred and twenty-three tops spin to the accompaniment of a score by Elmer Bernstein. Using close-up, live-action photography, the film shows tops, old and new, from various countries, including China, Japan, India, the United States, France, and England.
Charles’s fascination with spinning tops went back to his childhood; in this film he found a perfect vehicle for demonstrating their beauty in motion and for making visual points about the universality of tops, the physics of motion (MIT physics professor, Philip Morrison, often showed the film to students and colleagues), and the intimate relationship between toys and science.
Read the rest
These four notes from a 13th-century funeral song can be heard during emotional scenes in countless movies.
Think back to some of the most dramatic scenes in film history — from The Lion King, The Shining, It’s a Wonderful Life. Besides being sad or scary, they have something else in common: the dies irae. “Dies irae” translates from Latin to “Day of Wrath” — it’s a 13th-century Gregorian chant describing the day Catholics believe God will judge the living and the dead and send them to heaven or hell. And it was sung during one specific mass: funerals.
As Catholicism permeated world culture, the melody of the chant was repurposed into classical music, where it was used to convey a deathly, eerie tone. From there it worked its way into films — and if you don’t already know it, you’ve almost certainly heard it before: It’s played over and over in our scariest and most dramatic cinematic moments.
Image: Vox/YouTube Read the rest
If you live in Los Angeles, I highly recommend paying a visit to Japan House in Hollywood. It's an event and cultural center created by the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and features art exhibits, lectures, architecture and technology exhibits, and more. Its upcoming "Movie & Bites" event is a perfect reason to visit:
Read the rest
Sunday, September 22
4:00 PM - 7:00 PM | $20
JAPAN HOUSE Salon | Level 5
A meal brings people together in more ways than one. As well as nourishing the body with sustenance, a meal can evoke forgotten memories and renew bonds that have weakened over time and distance. In this installment of “Movie & Bites,” a combined screening and culinary event featuring acclaimed works in Japanese film and television, these themes will be explored in The Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice (1952) by legendary filmmaker Yasujiro Ozu.
Taking place in 1950s Tokyo, a wealthy middle-aged couple find themselves growing apart and their marriage slowly disintegrating. Taeko, a sophisticated, city-bred housewife, is bored and resentful of her marriage to Mokichi, a humble and provincial businessman whose simple pleasures include cheap cigarettes and a taste for the unassuming, eponymous dish: green tea over rice (ochazuke). The couple’s marital woes are heightened by the arrival of Taeko’s vivacious niece, Setsuko, whose modernizing ways come into conflict with Taeko and Mokichi’s traditional views. Ozu, a master of observational storytelling, crafts an emotionally powerful yet austere film that shows the gentle unraveling of a marriage, the growing pains of acceptance, and the timorous, hesitant first steps at reconciliation over a mutual understanding of each other’s flaws and humanity.
For years, it was just about impossible to see a film that Ed Norton didn't have something to do with. Then, just like Kaiser Soze, poof, he was gone. Except now he's back! Given that Norton will wrote, directed and is staring in Motherless Brooklyn, his absence from the big screen is totally understandable—that's a lot of work to shoulder. Bruce Willis, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, with Alec Baldwin and Willem Dafoe are on board to help bring this Jonathan Lethem's gem of a neo-pulp thriller to life. Read the rest
If you're a Taika Waititi fan, like I am, it's been one hell of a year. The What We Do in the Shadows TV series was absolutely brilliant. Last week, it was announced that he'd be directing the fourth Thor movie and, earlier today, the first trailer for Jojo Rabbit dropped. He's a writing and directing machine! If you've ever wondered what Waititi's creative process is like, then you'll want to dig into the insight offered up in this interview with the good folks at BAFTA.
My biggest takeaway: Keep writing no matter what. Force yourself to write and don't be afraid of blank pages. It's a grind, but no matter what you're scribbling about, you'll get there in the end.
Image via Flickr, courtesy of Activités culturelles UdeM Read the rest
You don't want to miss the technicolor "rainbow of love" that is Verasphere: A Love Story In Costume. This new KQED Truly CA short documentary film made me smile, laugh, tear up, and want to pull out my glue gun and start making costumes again, all in the span of 20 minutes.
[It] follows two San Francisco artists, David Faulk and Michael Johnstone, who fall in love at the height of the AIDS epidemic. While most of their community is overcome with grief and rage, David and Michael discover an unlikely joy through the creation of Mrs. Vera, an outrageous costumed character made from found materials. What began as an intimate art project and a way to pass the time while they faced an inevitable death, soon took on a life of its own. Now 25 years later, a large and diverse community has evolved around Mrs. Vera, all centered around one day of costumed celebration in the San Francisco Pride Parade.
For SF Pride this past weekend, Mrs. Vera and Michael Johnstone rode in the parade as Community Grand Marshals, followed by colorful members of the "Verasphere." Put on your sunglasses because the photos are super bright!:
Mrs. Vera and Michael Johnstone
Marcos Sorensen and Isabel Samaras
Andy Cowitt and Michael Wertz
Also, don't miss Mrs. Vera's Daybook, an ongoing series of photos by Michael of David as Mrs. Vera.
Thanks to Ruby Rieke for the SF Pride photos! Read the rest
In 1982, Japanese avant-garde filmmaker Toshio Matsumoto used video cut-up techniques to deconstruct a single residential building into a disorienting architectural puzzle. The short film is titled Shift (シフト 断層). Music by Yasuke Inagaki.
From a 1996 interview with Matsumoto:
We have to do more to irritate and disturb modes of perception, thinking, or feeling that have become automatized in this way. I did several kinds of experiments from the 1970s to the 1980s that de-automatized the visual field. But when image technology progresses such that you can make any kind of image, people become visually used to that. That's why there's not much left today with a fresh impact. In this way, the problem is that the interpretive structure of narrating, giving meaning to, or interpreting the world has become so thoroughly systematized that one cannot conceive of anything else that is largely untouched. We have to de-systematize that.
Read the rest
Watch this new trailer for that upcoming Martin Scorsese Netflix feature on Bob Dylan. Read the rest
The "Mystery Man" scene from Lost Highway (embedded above) has become a YouTube classic, a bite-size précis of everything distinctive about the director's unique style and tone, that weird unnerving place between terrifying and cheesy. Here's Sean T. Collins on "David Lynch's scariest scene"
Our hero’s an avant-jazz saxophonist; it’s possible this isn’t the oddest person he’s met this week. Nevermind that he’s had nightmares about his wife Renee, whom he can no longer satisfy sexually, in which she had this man’s face. Nevermind that this guy is saying they met at Fred and Renee’s austere house, where an unknown intruder has been breaking in to film them as they sleep and then dropping off the videotapes at their front door. Nevermind that all the music and party chatter has faded out and all we hear beneath the dialogue is the proverbial ominous whoosh. We may know we’re watching something frightening, but Fred doesn’t, not yet.
“As a matter of fact,” the Mystery Man says regarding the house, “I’m there right now.”
Blake's perverse intensity gets instantly under your skin even if you think it's silly, which it is. In the real world, dangerous people are often ridiculous and I wonder if this is why David Lynch let Robert Blake design the character and do his own makeup.
See also Collins' article about monumental horror images. Read the rest
Enjoy Sverker Löding, Stefan Helin and William Forsberg make good use of an abandoned (but conscpicuously well-kept) wool factory before it gets turned into condos or turned into an Investigation Discovery Channel host's segue lair.
This is one of my favourite indoor places I've ever filmed. A big old wool factory in the middle of nowhere. Just wanted to keep this edit very simple and real. Just pure skateboarding, sound and a very nice looking location.
Filmed with BMPCC 4K in BRAW, Milvus 21mm on Ronin-S.
Kristoffer Davidsson used the new 4k Blackmagic "Pocket" Cinema Camera, which is amazingly inexpensive for a credible production camera and produces great footage—but has some of the same practical shortcomings as its predecessor: tough to use without a rig, poor battery life, etc. They can't produce enough to meet demand, unfortunately, so they're selling far over MSRP on eBay and craigslist. Read the rest
Back in 1947, decades before cat memes became a way of life, experimental documentary filmmakers Maya Deren and Alexander Hammid gave us a lovely glimpse of the "Private Life of a Cat." From Archive.org:
RECORDS FEMALE CAT & HER 5 KITTENS AS MOTHER CAT APPROACHES LABOR, KITTENS ARE BORN & OBTAIN MILK & MOTHER CAT THEN CARES FOR THEM IN LEARNING & GROWING PROCESS, IN WHICH TOM CAT OCCASIONALLY PARTICIPATES.
Previously: Maya Deren's Sights and sounds of Haitian vodou Read the rest
Aerial photographer and filmmaker Toby Harriman turned his lens on the soaring public housing apartment block towers in Hong Kong. Read the rest
Check out this incredibly dedicated animated flipbook re-creation of all the booby traps in the 1990 holiday scare-'em film HOME ALONE, starring Macaulay Culkin and Joe Pesci. Read the rest