Monthly Archives: May 2007

An Article So Good You’ll Want a Sequel

One of my happy discoveries of the last few months has been that David Bordwell has his own website (with longtime writing partner Kristin Thompson); Bordwell is one of the best film academics around, and his writing is always stimulating. (I also have his latest book The Way Hollywood Tells It on my shelf waiting to be read – only the fact that it arrived with Michael Barriers’ The Animated Man and J.W. Rinzler’s The Making of Star Wars has kept me from it).

One thing I enjoy about his writing is that he avoids the same complacent narratives you hear all the time. He knows his film history and film art better than anybody – he’s co-author of Film Art and Film History: An Introduction, the books from which just about everybody else learnt what they know – and he doesn’t just settle for the simple familiar story we always hear. So, for example he and some similarly minded colleagues have responded in this article here to the common refrain that sequels are the ultimate creative cop-out, that Hollywood just wants to sell us the same idea over and over again, blah blah blah. (Bordwell is too polite to put it quite this way, but for my own money the way the film press tediously recycles this basic premise every American summer is as good an example of autopilot as the summer sequel season itself).

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Long Shots

If you had more respect for the idea of blogging than I do, you could really bemoan the influence that YouTube has had on the practice. It seems a lot of bloggers, exhausted by coming up with new content all the time, have been sinking back to what I do on this corner of my site all the time: just posting interesting YouTube videos. But there are times this trend to YouTube blogging is undeniably useful, as with this post on great long tracking shots, complete with many YouTube clips giving examples. These are the ultimate show-off shots (Jaime J. Weinman talks about their unobtrusive cousins, long uncut dialogue scenes) and it’s fun to see so many in one place.

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If you’ve been anywhere near the film geek webpages during the week you’ll have seen this news: Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg are making movies of Herge’s comic book series The Adventures of Tintin. Spielberg in particular has been mentioned in relation to this property before, but it really seems to be moving forward now. Courtesy of Variety:

Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson are teaming to direct and produce three back-to-back features based on Georges Remi’s beloved Belgian comic-strip hero Tintin for DreamWorks. Pics will be produced in full digital 3-D using performance capture technology.

The two filmmakers will each direct at least one of the movies; studio wouldn’t say which director would helm the third… The Spielberg-Jackson project isn’t likely to languish in development for long. Spielberg could become available this fall after wrapping “Indiana Jones 4.” Jackson will wrap “Bones” by the end of the year.

I have mixed feelings about this whole thing, but I’m certainly very interested. Tintin was a staple of my childhood; as I got a bit older, I cast them aside, deciding that the other big comic book series, Rene Goscinny and Albert Uderzo’s Asterix was a bit hipper. Yet I came full circle when I revisited the Tintin books as an adult. They might superficially be pitched a little younger than the jokey Asterix books, but Herge was clearly the superior artist. His beautifully simple graphical style and grasp of the comic book form really sets the Tintin books apart. He also showed remarkable facility at different genres: the Tintin books range from the full-blown adventure of sending Tintin to the moon (in Explorers on the Moon) to the minimalist house-bound mystery of The Castafiore Emerald, a comic drama where the ultimate joke is that Herge generates a whole book around nothing of consequence.

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What’s Walt?

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The Animated Man (Michael Barrier, University of California Press, 2007)

Walt Disney is, in my view, about the most interesting a figure to work in film in the twentieth century, for all sorts of reasons. Nobody did as much for their particular corner of the film medium as Disney did for animation: proper character animation, as we now think of it, was basically a Disney invention, created during the studio’s great creative period between the late twenties and the early forties. Disney took animation from a primitive form to its maturity; it seems likely that cartoons would have remained a very peripheral novelty had there not been Disney’s vision of something grander on the horizon. Yet Disney is also fascinating because of the way in which he lost interest and branched off from cartoons, leading to an incredible variation in the quality of the works prepared by the studio within his lifetime (Disney deservedly went from being a seriously regarded artist in the thirties to something of a critical pariah by the sixties). His devotion to amusement parks and other non-film corners of his business also foreshadowed the economic models that would define Hollywood in the last quarter of the century, with films increasingly becoming just one element in a wider suite of cultural products sold to audiences (so, for example, we don’t just get sold Spiderman the movie; we are sold Spiderman computer games, comic books, clothing, CDs, theme park rides, and the like). As a person, too, Disney is fascinating for his mix of visionary artistic ambition and staunch conservatism. So he’s a particularly rewarding subject for a biography.

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Pulp Muppets

Exactly what it sounds like.

Also reminds you what an awesome trailer that film had.

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Spidey Senseless

Spider-man 3 (Sam Raimi, 2007)

There’s a really good scene at the end of Sam Raimi’s second Spider-man film that embodies everything I liked about that film and hoped for from the third one. Peter Parker, having battled with this belief that he can’t balance his life as Spider-man with his relationship with childhood sweetheart Mary Jane Watson, has just been told by Mary Jane that he can have it all. The happy ending of that film is that Mary Jane declares she will stand by his side, despite all the compromises this will involve. Just as they kiss, there’s a siren outside the window, which distracts Peter. “Go get ’em, tiger,” says Mary Jane, and we get an exultant shot of Spider-man whooping in joy as he jubilantly swings down the street. Yet Raimi doesn’t finish on that shot. Instead he cuts back to Mary Jane, watching him go, as doubt spreads across her face, and it’s on that note of ambiguity that Raimi rolls the end credits. It’s a little thing, but it’s a sign of the extra thought and attention to character that distinguishes the best genre movies. Those kind of small touches made Spider-man 2 one of the best genre films of recent years, and had me eager to see how Raimi would resolve his plot threads in third instalment. So it’s really disappointing that Spider-man 3 has turned out to be a bit of a mess.

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The Crudtastic 4

Before the disappointing Spider-man 3 there is a trailer for the next Fantastic Four movie: my possibly unfair assumption is that it will suck, which might burst the recent superhero revival bubble somewhat (although there is still the next Batman film to come).

But it could be so much worse. For example, had you realised that in 1994, Roger Corman produced a version of The Fantastic Four? The rights to the series were contractually tied to the production of a movie by a certain date; if no movie was made, the producers’ option would lapse. So a movie was produced, on an absolutely rock-bottom budget, with no intention of ever releasing it (at least not through conventional channels). And of course, it now circulates as a bootleg.

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