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Weekend Reel Reads: Filming Italy, Dissecting Tarkovsky and Scoring HItchcock

Features
by Steve Greene
July 22, 2012 12:43 PM
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Reel Reads is a regular feature that gathers lengthier stories related to the world of film criticism you may have missed during the week. If there's anything you think would be ideal for future installments, please let us know at critic@indiewire.com.

Camera in Hand, Italian at Heart:

Darius Khondji has enjoyed a distinguished career as a cinematographer, shooting such seemingly disparate projects as "Seven," "Evita" and "Midnight in Paris." As Woody Allen's latest film "To Rome With Love" expands to more screens, the New York Times' Elaine Sciolino spoke with Khondji about his collaborations with Allen and many other high-profile directors, while charting Khondji's ascension through the industry ranks, from a preteen filmmaker to his education both at NYU and abroad.

"Darkness hovers over all Mr. Khondji’s work, but his latest, and third, project with Mr. Allen is also infused with light: rich, orange and mellow…The 56-year-old cinematographer used a collection of older lenses to give more saturation of color to the two stories involving Italians, modern lenses with crisper definition when filming the two Americans-in-Rome stories. Both he and Mr. Allen dislike bright sunlight, so they commissioned a company in Milan to make giant helium-filled mattresses that they hoisted 40 feet in the air to block out the harsh midday light. Sometimes they would throw on a layer of black netting or silk on the mattresses to filter out even more."

The Films of Jim Jarmusch:

Our friends over at the staff of The Playlist put together this helpful guide to the films of the notable American director. Complete with plot overviews, concise analysis and a grading guide for each film, the director's filmography is on display for anyone looking for the right entry point to his body of work.

"Jarmusch is a sort of perennial outsider: at 15 his hair turned grey, which his friend and collaborator Tom Waits thinks made him "an immigrant in the teenage world. He's been an immigrant -- a benign, fascinated foreigner -- ever since. And all his films are about that." And it's not hard to see Waits' point -- from little-seen debut 'Permanent Vacation' and breakout follow-up 'Stranger Than Paradise,' to more recent star-laden films like 'Broken Flowers' and 'The Limits Of Control,' he's painted a bleak, disconnected, wryly comic view of the world that's never quite given him mainstream success, but has made him one of American indie's most consistent and valuable filmmakers."

Sculpting in Time:

Jacob Mikanowski’s review of the new Geoff Dyer book “Zona” is a concise meditation on the work of director Andrei Tarkovsky. While film aficionados may be more familiar with “Solaris” or “Andrei Rublev,” Dyer’s latest work focuses solely on “Stalker,” Tarkovsky’s 1979 film. Mikanowski, in examining Dyer’s response to the film, works to put Tarkovsky’s films in context, both with the auteurs of his day and the artists who may be carrying on his tradition.

"Tarkovsky can be a difficult director to love. His films are intimidating monoliths, often slow, ponderous or obscure. Watching them is work. They require a degree of patience and a level of attention that can make them seem like artifacts from an alternate past in which film was developed at the same time as stained glass and Gregorian chant. Yet again, hardly anyone has been better at creating a believable future, one built on human frailty and decay as much as progress. But more than any other director he provides moments of visual revelation: things that are stunning because they could only be seen on a cinema screen."

Working with Hitch:

Because of the impermanent nature of film scores during the silent era, new discoveries of older classics bring the opportunity to contribute to the atmosphere of a film whose original has been lost to time. Writing at the British Film Institute website, Neil Brand provides his perspective on providing a new score for the 1929 Alfred Hitchcock silent film "Blackmail." It’s a handy overview of the film, but it also delves into the more specific musical choices Brand made to capture the iconic director’s cinematic essence.

"Silent film remains the poor relation of its sophisticated offspring for many, particularly those in the media who should realise the difference. Perhaps one day soon silent cinema, to the broad mass of even the culturally aware, will at last come to be recognised for what it is – not sound film with the sound turned down but a theatrically vibrant form of cinema in its own right. As opera is to theatre, silent film is cinema with the emotions musically engaged – not a negation of reality but an emotionally enhanced version of it."

Just Another Princess Movie:

"Brave."

More than just a review of the recent Pixar film "Brave," Lili Loofbourow’s piece for The New Inquiry is a thorough unpacking of both the content of the film and the various reactions it’s elicited from critics and audiences alike. Loofbourow asserts that the real strength of the film is the mother-daughter relationship, one that upends many of the criticisms leveled at the overall product for being “un-Pixar” or “predictable.” The resultant movie is one that, despite claims to the contrary, advances our notions of the fate of what a “princess” movie can be.

"Brave, like Wall-E, doesn’t exactly offer any solutions to the problem of Merida’s marriage or non-marriage. What it does do, however, is say (rather like the Occupy movement) Not This. Not the prince, not the forced marriage for the sake of political stability, not even the turn in the story where — in an amazing coincidence — she turns out to actually like one of the princes, so no difficult choice must be made. It also says Not That, and points to Mor-du. If the film rejects total submission, that is, sacrificing the individual for the sake of the group, it also exposes the perils of a radical and self-serving individualism."

One book, two movies: a worrying cinema trend?

The recent trend of literary adaptations being split into two installments probably bothers many, but someone who’s especially concerned is Den of Geek’s Ryan Lambie. Rather than just decrying this film trend as a money-grabbing maneuver, Lambie makes the connection to television. His argument is that, by turning three installments into four, the nature of the storytelling veers more into episodic territory than the natural progression of the trilogy arc.

"In the face of this, movies surely have to keep reminding us why they’re unique, and play to their strengths. One of those strengths is their ability to engage in a relatively brief period of time. Unless we’re on one of those DVD box set marathons, we tend to dip in and out of TV shows – and if we’re watching them on old-fashioned telly, we’re wrenched out of them whether we like it or not by adverts now and again. Movies, on the other hand, have our strict, undivided attention in those two hours we spend in the dark. By releasing three-act stories into chunks, we’re taking a step away from what movies do best, and returning to something more akin to the serial plays of early cinema – which were, ironically enough, killed by the advent of TV."

When Can I Take My Kids to Comic-Con?

Sean O'Connell's regular When Can I Watch That With My Kids? series for Movies.com regularly tries to pinpoint the proper entry-point age for various elements of popular culture. This past week, after the madness of Comic-Con has subsided, O'Connell endeavored to determine the ideal age for introducing a younger kid to the San Diego mayhem. There are understandably iffy sections of the convention for young prospectives, but O'Connell seems to have settled on a reasonable starting point for any aspiring Comic-Con devotee.

"And then there are the times when you aren’t walking, at all. No matter what you want to do at Comic-Con, you’ll have to wait in line to do it. Dying for Starbucks? Get in line. Have to use the bathroom? The line forms to the left. Hoping to get into Hall H for the Marvel panel? You should have gotten in line at 4:30 a.m. Seriously, the Hall H line usually is comically long. I heard too many horror stories of people who misjudged the line and missed something they were dying to see. Attending Comic-Con means waiting in line. That requires extreme patience. When was the last time you used 'patient' to describe your kid?"

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