Wednesday 28 February 2018

Orson Welles and mirrors

1/ These days I’ve been watching some Orson Welles.
To me, the ultimate B&W films to watch if you’re interested in cinematography are, off the top of my head:
8 ½
Citizen Kane
Ivan’s Childhood

2/ Did Orson Welles have a thing for mirrors?
I watched The Lady from Shanghai last night. Don’t watch this if you haven’t seen the film, because it’s the reveal and climax, or if you watch it, mute the clip:

The mirror shoot-out is the most famous scene from The Lady from Shanghai, and perhaps the best thing about it. Orson Welles’s films seem to always have interesting visuals.
It reminded me of the mirrors in Citizen Kane:

It’s not a fancy scene that is all style and no substance. There seem to be different interpretations—that the large mirrors reflect Kane’s vanity and narcissism, or that the scene emphasises Kane’s loneliness and his inability to get away from himself. To me, the image is a metaphor for all the different Kanes in different people’s stories (the entire film, after all, is about the fruitless search for the real Kane, the hopeless attempt to complete the jigsaw puzzle).
Citizen Kane is, in my opinion, a perfect film. It contains all kinds of techniques, all the things you need to learn about cinema. But it’s more than a bag of tricks, Citizen Kane is a masterpiece.

Saturday 24 February 2018

Run Lola Run

I love Run Lola Run, especially the editing. The story is simple: Lola has 20 minutes to collect 100000 deutschmarks to save her boyfriend’s life. She has to run, run, run, to get the money and meet him on time. However, the story is repeated 3 times in the film, each time with a few small changes that lead to an entirely different outcome.
The concept of Run Lola Run is that it’s like a video game—Lola races against the clock, avoids obstacles, tries to rescue her boyfriend, and each time the game is over, it goes back to the starting point of the phone call and starts all over again. Also in each run she seems to have knowledge from previous runs, e.g. in the 1st run, her bf Manni tells her how to use her gun, and in the 2nd run, she just knows. Using fast cutting and very bold jump cuts, the film bursts with energy; it’s thrilling, daring, and inventive. 
At the same time, because of the 3 runs, 3 different outcomes, 3 possibilities, Run Lola Run also makes us think about chance and fate, about free will vs determinism, and about chaos theory. 
Brilliant film.

Thursday 22 February 2018

The favourite 3

Following the previous post, here’s a list of my 3 favourite films of some directors. I also note how many of the directors’ films I’ve watched. 
(I don’t include a director if I’ve only seen 5 films or less. You probably notice that I broke my own rule a few times). 

Woody Allen:
Annie Hall 
Crimes and Misdemeanors 
Love and Death 
(out of 18) 

Martin Scorsese: 
Taxi Driver 
Mean Streets 
The Aviator 
(out of 17) 

Ingmar Bergman: 
Cries and Whispers 
Wild Strawberries or The Seventh Seal 
(out of 15) 

Alfred Hitchcock: 
Dial M for Murder 
(out of 15) 

Billy Wilder: 
Sunset Boulevard 
The Apartment 
Witness for the Prosecution 
(out of 14) 

Federico Fellini: 
Nights of Cabiria 
8 ½ 
(out of 10) 

Clint Eastwood: 
Million Dollar Baby 
True Crime 
(out of 10) 

Zhang Yimou: 
Raise the Red Lantern 
To Live 
Red Sorghum or Ju Dou 
(out of 10) 

Stanley Kubrick: 
Dr Strangelove 
The Killing 
2001: A Space Odyssey 
(out of 9) 

Joel& Ethan Coen: 
No Country for Old Men 
The Big Lebowski 
(out of 9) 

Kenji Mizoguchi: 
Gion bayashi, aka A Geisha 
Ugetsu monogatari 
Akasen chitai, aka Street of Shame 
(out of 8) 

Luis Bunuel: 
The Exterminating Angel
The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie 
The Phantom of Liberty or Viridiana 
(out of 8) 

Wong Kar-wai: 
Chungking Express 
Happy Together
(out of 8) 

Tim Burton: 
Edward Scissorhands 
Corpse Bride
Sweeney Todd
(out of 8) 

Akira Kurosawa: 
The Bad Sleep Well 
High and Low 
(out of 7) 

Francis Ford Coppola: 
The Godfather 
The Conversation 
The Godfather Part II 
(out of 7) 

Steven Spielberg: 
Catch Me If You Can 
A.I. Artificial Intelligence 
The Terminal 
(out of 7) 

Park Chan-wook: 
The Handmaiden 
(out of 6) 

Roman Polanski: 
The Pianist 
Knife in the Water 
(out of 6) 

Quentin Tarantino: 
Pulp Fiction 
Inglourious Basterds 
Jackie Brown 
(out of 6) 

Ang Lee: 
Sense and Sensibility 
Brokeback Mountain 
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
(out of 6)

Monday 19 February 2018

High and Low and my 3 favourite Kurosawa films

Thought my favourite Japanese director was Mizoguchi, then I watched High and Low and fell in love with Kurosawa again. 
This is interesting:
Look at the renowned directors who have been influenced by him: George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola, Roman Polanski, Martin Scorsese, Robert Altman, Satyajit Ray, John Woo, Zhang Yimou, Guillermo del Toro, Alejandro González Iñárritu, J. J. Abrams… He’s also praised by other masters of cinema such as Ingmar Bergman, Andrei Tarkovsky, Federico Fellini… 
But what I find really interesting is that people’s favourite Kurosawa films can be quite different. I imagine that if you ask people about their favourite Fellini films, the answers are pretty predictable: 8 ½, La Dolce Vita, La Strada, Amarcord. Perhaps someone would say Le notti di Cabiria (as I do), but those are the usual answers. With Mizoguchi, Ugetsu Monogatari would always be mentioned, then perhaps The Life of Oharu, Sansho the Bailiff, Miss Oyu, The Crucified Lovers
The 3 favourite Kurosawa films would be quite different—he after all made many masterpieces*. Personally, my choices are Ran, The Bad Sleep Well, and High and Low
What about yours? 

*: Same for Ingmar Bergman, actually. My 3 favourite Bergman films are Persona, Cries and Whispers, and either Wild Strawberries or The Seventh Seal.

Sunday 11 February 2018

Bird Bitten and other news

1/ My short film Bird Bitten is still in post-production. We haven’t done much these days as the new semester has just started and everyone’s preparing for experimental films. 
But this is the official fb page of the film, with updates, stills, and behind-the-scene stuff, including the famous 19 takes.
2/ Among the books I read last semester, there were 2 very good ones about directing: 
Film Directing Shot by Shot: Visualizing from Concept to Screen by Steve Katz 
Directing: Film Techniques and Aesthetics by Michael Rabiger and Mick Hurbis-Cherrier 
The former is useful for thinking in visuals, creating blocking and storyboard, and planning shot list. 
The latter is a comprehensive book about all aspects of the director’s job: vision, script analysis and development, visualisation, style, pre-production, casting, working with actors, shot list, directing on set, working with crew, post-production, the edit, working with sound and music, and so on and so forth. 
On a side note, lately I’ve been watching films differently—very often I find myself noting how many shots and camera angles there are in a scene. Fellini and Mizoguchi move the actors, and then move the camera with them.
3/ Currently reading Directing Actors: Creating Memorable Performances for Film and Television by Judith Weston. Also got home Friendly Enemies: Maximizing the Director-Actor Relationship by Delia Salvi and The Casting Handbook by Jennifer Granville and Suzy Catliff. 
A useful book, with advice on what to do and not to do in working with actors. It makes me realise that I’m quite controlling. However, as with all guide books, it shouldn’t be followed unquestioningly, and 1 of the things I learnt from Laurent Tirard’s Moviemakers' Master Class years ago was that there’s no definite rule in filmmaking and each director has a different way of doing things. 
4/ At the same time, after Nabokov’s The Gift, I’ve been reading Tolstoy’s trilogy Childhood, Boyhood, Youth. Childhood was his 1st published novel, but it already showed his power of observation and psychological insight. He sees and captures the nuance of feeling and the complexity of human beings, especially in his passages about grief—that the greatest grief is still never total and complete, that the depiction of someone completely immersed in grief and nothing else would ring false, that people are very often conscious of their own display of sadness and pain and thus show it even more… 
Reading Tolstoy at the moment is a good idea. 
Also his ability to convey the sense of joy, joy in being alive, is perhaps only matched by Herman Melville. 
5/ I also borrowed Andrei Tarkovsky’s Sculpting in Time: Reflections on the Cinema. Looks like an interesting read.

Wednesday 7 February 2018

Untold Scandal and The Handmaiden

I like film adaptations. We all, I suppose, love great faithful ones, such as Gone With the Wind, Sense and Sensibility, Love and Friendship (from Lady Susan), Dangerous Liaisons (Stephen Frears version), The Godfather, The Silence of the Lambs…, but I have a particular fondness for loose adaptations, creative adaptations, especially those with a changed setting. Like Ran, loosely adapted from King Lear. Or Clueless, a modern adaptation of Emma.
Recently I’ve watched 2 excellent South Korean adaptations of Western texts, E J-yong’s Untold Scandal from 18th-century French novel Dangerous Liaisons by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos, and Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden from Sarah Waters’s neo-Victorian novel Fingersmith
Both are beautifully shot and engaging, with fine performances; Untold Scandal especially has exquisite production design. Both have some sexy scenes, with a frank depiction of, and attitude about, sex. Both have elaborate plots, and even though Untold Scandal is about sex, sexual promiscuity (or infidelity), game, and ego, and The Handmaiden focuses on money, lesbians, and kink, both films tackle the same themes of love, lust, seduction plot, innocence, deception, betrayal, cruelty, and revenge. In Untold Scandal, a womaniser places a bet with a woman who was once his lover that he would seduce a young virgin and a moral and pious woman. In The Handmaiden, 2 Korean con-artists concoct a plan to seduce an innocent Japanese woman for her money. With the deceiver being deceived, the player being played, both films suggest the unpredictability of life and the irony of fate, and we can say, the power of love and how it makes everyone vulnerable. 
Good films. 

Some stills from Untold Scandal: 

The Handmaiden: