Thursday, December 14, 2017

The Pope Video: Old People



It's Be Nice to Old People Month

It's Advent. Christians celebrate the birth of their Savior in less than two weeks. So naturally, this month's Pope Video dwells on the joyous mystery of the Incarnation.

Just not in our dimension.

We get Be Nice to Old People Month.


The Dalai Lama and His Band

It starts off with the Dalai Lama getting dressed. There are a few other old people of different ethnicities who wander down the street, getting jostled, spit on and knifed to death by unfeeling young people. The Pope says some nice things about caring for old people, which the Bear heartily endorses.

By the way, the Pope doesn't sit at a desk with that weird teleprompter glow in his glasses anymore. He delivers his lines standing in front of a painting, possibly even of the Blessed Virgin Mary. He has something on a chain around his neck, maybe a peace symbol; it's cropped so we can't see it and Bear can't say.

A young guy hears the Cantina music from the original Star Wars coming from a warehouse. It turns out to be the Dalai Lama and his elderly multiethnic band.


The Mysterious Pope Video Hero: Saxophone Man

Once again, we see the hero of the Pope Video series: Saxophone Man. He is accepted by the old people, and, after they've finished their rehearsal, the Dalai Lama pats him on the shoulder.

The mysterious Saxophone Man wears different faces, but has appeared in so many Pope Videos we must wonder who he is and what he represents.

The saxophone was invented by a man named "Sax," which sounds like "sex." Think about it. To give just one example, remember the famous frisky Aussies who were the keynote speakers at the Family Synod? it was 57 years of sex that kept them going through 55 years of marriage.

Two famous movies with saxophones are Airplane and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, both of which have sex. The most famous saxophonist is Bill (sex) Clinton.


Off Course, Of Course

Perhaps it is the movie Airplane that holds the key, after all. A repeated coded confession by Pope Francis.

"They could be miles off course."

"That's impossible! They're on instruments."

Indeed, they are, but not on any instruments that will help them stay "on course." Not even a saxophone.






Monday, December 11, 2017

The Red Shoes

The Red Shoes (1948)


(Written and directed by Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger, starring Moira Shearer, Anton Walbrook and Marius Goring. Winner, 1949 Academy Awards for Best Original Score & Best Art Direction. Not to be confused with the Red Shoe Diaries, the less said about the better.)


Backstage Drama

Based on a Hans Christian Anderson tale about a girl who dances herself to death after slipping into a pair of red shoes, The Red Shoes is a backstage ballet drama, not that you have to be a fan of toe dancing. It recalls a couple of American classics of the 1930s: Stage Door and What Price Hollywood?

It's Ginger Roger's character from Stage Door that sounds a warning all the more poignant in that it proved true in her real life: "At least she'll have a couple of kids to keep her company in her old age. And what'll we have? Some broken-down memories and an old scrapbook which nobody'll look at."

You'll be lucky to have that once you put those red shoes on.

What these movies have in common is the hard choices made by performers. In a broader sense, they are about placing anything ahead of the life God intended for us. If the lives of computer programmers filmed as well as backstage dramas, the same point might be made, so don't think you're off the hook because you don't have an audience.


Technicolor Pygmalion Dream

Vicky can't resist the red shoes.
Technicolor was a demanding and expensive method whose fullest expression enjoyed a relatively short life. The Criterion Collection's restored print is gorgeous (streaming via Filmstruck). From Moira Shearer's glorious red hair to the titular red shoes themselves, the colors are saturated in a way you just don't see anymore. There were many famous Technicolor features (The Wizard of Oz, Gone With the Wind) but The Red Shoes is the definitive example.

The story, like all good morality plays, is simple. Moira Shearer plays Vicky Page, a talented young ballerina noticed by impresario Boris Lermantov, who develops a Pygmalion complex toward the talented beauty. German actor Anton Walbrook brings a self-possessed continental chic to Lermontov that makes his every scene a gem. Beneath the pleasant and assured exterior, though, is a demon of his art.

He does not demand much from Vicky: just that she denies herself the comfort of human companionship and everything else normal people call "life"  in return for becoming a great dancer.

The brilliant young composer Julian Craster (played by Marius Goring) wrote her star vehicle - a ballet called "The Red Shoes," which he conducts. He challenges Lermontov for Vicky when the young couple fall in love. Vicky gives up her career, Craster pursues his to the neglect of his new wife, and Lermontov bides his time.

And seethes behind his continental chic.



An Entertaining, if Trippy Ballet

To show how much Bears know about ballet, the only thing this one can say is that ballerinas were not made of boiled leather and whipcord  in 1948. Moira Shearer does all the stuff you expect from a gal in a tutu at a weight class above Ginger Rogers.

Much of "The Red Shoes" ballet is performed during the movie. Forget Swan Lake - or Black Swan. It has the look of a musical, with ballerinas in period costume en pointe. The Bear isn't much for ballet, but he enjoyed this ballet-within-the-movie very much.

During her dance, however, some odd elements start to be introduced, and before long we are in Vicky's Technicolor hallucinatory experience of her performance. Pretty trippy for 1948 and it reaches beyond the technical capabilities of its time, but is still compelling and psychologically revealing.

The ballet ends with her death from exhaustion. The red shoes are removed -  to claim their next victim, we presume.


What Are Your Red Shoes?

The patience of Lermontov pays off, and Vicky returns to once more put on the red shoes. It is the very night of her (neglectful) husband's debut of his opera. The ending is probably not too hard to figure out, but the Bear won't spoil it for you, since he hopes you'll watch this lush Technicolor beauty that is not as well-remembered by the culture at large as it deserves. It is a wonderful movie for those "something different" moods and a nice "movie date night" choice.

Whether we're driven by crass ambition or a more noble sounding quest for artistic perfection, the engine is the same: pride. The Red Shoes is a simple tale beautifully filmed about the consequences of a disordered life. A life devoted to art can be every bit as disordered and destructive as one devoted to alcohol or sex.

Worse, because you seldom receive applause for those.

This movie invites the viewer to ask the question: what are my red shoes?

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Judging Angels - a Perfect Christmas Gift


Christmas shopping. If you're like the Bear, you'd rather not. At best, you have good intentions, then all of a sudden it's three days before Christmas and you're anxiously looking out the window for that brown UPS truck.

Act today and take care of the readers on your list. Give them something different, as in different from anything else they've read. It takes place in a Catholic moral universe, too. Come for the casuistry and Thomistic table talk; stay for the smokin' guns and redheads.

But don't take the Bear's word for it. Check out the reviews.

Did you know you know you can make "mayhem" from the letters in "Merry Christmas?" Watch "It's a Wonderful Life." Then see how things would probably work out for the rest of us.
.
And, with every copy sold, an angel earns its wings. Okay, the Bear made that up. But it does put a little salmon in his stocking.

And with the next installment coming early next year, you might as well get up to speed on the adventures of the plucky Able family.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Request for Beta Readers

Work in Progress: cover art for Book 2 of the
Rubricate Chronicles, Conspiracy of Crows.
First of all, if you took the Bear seriously when he said he was not going to blogging much and are just checking in, there is some stuff you might have missed below.

It's That Time Again

As you know, the Bear is the uncredited ghostwriter for some other guy's novels. (As if anyone but a Bear could write something like Judging Angels.)

Anyway, it's time to get Book 2 of the Rubricatae Chronicles ready for submission. The working title is Conspiracy of Crows.

What Does a Beta Reader Do?

Bear's good friend says,
"Only you can help the Bear."
What does a beta reader do?

He or she just reads a manuscript and provides feedback to the author That's it. It's not editing. You don't have to be a grammar expert or have any special qualifications other than being able to read a novel written in English and provide your reactions.

It's a job for ordinary people who read books.

The Bear just wants to know what you liked, and especially, what you didn't, and why. "Oh, I'm not smart enough to do that!" is no excuse. The Bear wants the reactions of ordinary people.

You do not have to have read the first book, Judging Angels, but it would probably help.


The Biggest Obligation is Just to Do What You Say You'll Do

Mainly, a beta reader understands the job is an important part of preparing a novel for publication and is committed to following through. If for whatever reason someone decides they don't want to read the manuscript and provide feedback after all, that's fine, of course, but the Bear does expect to know where you stopped reading and why. (I hated it, I had to have gallbladder surgery, the whole feedback thing felt too much like work, just never got around to it, whatever.)

It's just a matter of simple courtesy.

Beta readers are famous in publishing for their washout rate. The Bear is looking for folks who will take the commitment seriously. And, of course, if you are accepted as a beta reader, the manuscript is for your eyes only. The Bear would get quite cross if he saw if somewhere online (not that any of the Woodland Creatures would.)


Why Beta Readers are Important

Beta readers helped Judging Angels
become an award-winning novel.
It is no exaggeration to say that it was good beta readers who made Judging Angels a pretty good novel; at any rate a lot better than it was originally.

How much feedback is expected? Enough to be useful. The best provide real-time reactions chapter by chapter, or even scene by scene. The Bear likes beta readers who will send him an email after each reading session, or chapter by chapter. That not only helps him meet his deadline, it lets him know you're still engaged in the process.


What does the beta reader get out of it?

It's a favor to the Bear. Perhaps a way of showing your appreciation for all the free, eclectic articles he provides on a regular basis - 1,431 one of them to date. The best get included in the acknowledgements, if they want to be, under whatever name they wish. All get to look at a published novel and say, "I helped make this happen."

If you've read this far, maybe you're interested. The Bear is thinking some of the regular commenters, like Nancy, for example, might help out. If so, email the Bear. Please put "Judging Angels" in the subject. (That way it doesn't get lost in all the spam.) And please let me know under what name you post, if you are a commenter.

You may sign your commitment in blood on your own and keep it where it will remind you that your Bear and the literary patrimony of Western Civilization depends on you.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

What is "B-Roll" in Film?

B-Roll Made Simple

Sometimes you hear film types talk about “B-Roll.” In fact, it came up in the comments to the last article. No, it has nothing to do with B-movies. It’s just extra stuff that’s filmed to be edited in with the main subject. It might be anything: an exterior location, people milling about, whatever might be useful to help illustrate the main story. It can even be “stock footage.”


Stock Footage and B-Roll

Stock footage can be B-Roll, but isn't usually. Stock footage is archival film that is sold to filmmakers. Let’s say you’re making a Western. It’s expensive and difficult to shoot a stampede. You might just buy stock footage of one. (That's why those stampedes always look familiar.)

As an example, here is stock footage of a Bear from Abobe. It wasn't cheap: $89. The Bear bought it some time ago and figured it would come in handy.




But, usually, B-Roll is shot along with “A-Roll,” which is the film of the main subject.

Perhaps its origin and examples will best explain it.


The Strike at the Widget Factory

It comes from the early days of television news - the ‘50’s and 60’s. They didn’t have the technology to record video on location (i.e. outside the studio). They used 16mm film cameras.

Let’s say there was a strike at a widget factory. As a television reporter, you were to interview the owner of the company and also the leader of the striking workmen. That’s your A-Roll. But watching some guys talk makes for a pretty dull story visually. This is where B-Roll comes in.

Your B-Roll was a collection of different shots, any one of which might or might not be used, but would be available to be combined with your A-Roll of the interviews. Almost always, B-Roll didn’t have sound, since it was meant to be cut in as a visual while somebody’s talking.

So, you got a shot of the gate to the widget factory showing the name (Acme Widgets). There are strikers marching with signs. Maybe widgets on a conveyer belt inside the factory. You still had to be sensible and good B-Roll wasn’t and isn't “filler.”

Back at the studio, the A-Roll and B-Roll would be set up on two different projectors pointed at screens in front of two different giant television cameras. So, after the announcer introduced the strike story, they would project The A-Roll of the interviews and shoot the projected footage with the television camera. Into the ether it was broadcast.

During the interview, they would intercut the silent B-Roll and broadcast it by switching to the other giant television camera in front of the other screen. That would show the factory sign, the widgets, and whatever else they decided to use, while the A-Roll audio of the guy talking was still playing underneath. Then they would cut back to the A-Roll interview film.

You see this technique today so often you don’t even notice it. Look for it next time you watch your local news broadcast.


Present Day Example: Interview with the Bear

Whenever the Bear was interviewed in his office for television, a reporter would show up with a cameraman lugging his equipment. They would hook the Bear up with a tiny lavalier microphone then tape the interview - the A-Roll.

Then they would get their B-Roll. They always got the the reporter in a shot set up over the Bear's shoulder. sitting pretty and nodding as if listening. They could edit brief cuts of that into the interview, which is great for seamlessly editing out the Bear’s rambling digressions without an awkward jump in the picture.

They would always want him to "do lawyer things” for the B-Roll: typing on his computer; close-up of his paws on the keyboard; leafing through a file; forging exculpatory statements - you get the idea. That was to be used during a voiceover by the reporter.

Then, the two kinds of shots would get edited into the segment for broadcast. Much less clumsy than the old method from which we got the name "B-Roll."


Beyond News

“B-Roll” survives as a term, even if we’re not using actual film. In general, it’s anything other than the main subject that can be edited into a film later for some purpose. You want to have enough good B-Roll. (In comments to the article below, the filmmaker explains why Bird Feeder Bird got so much screen time: insufficient B-Roll.)

So, now you can impress your friends by saying things like, "By Jove, that's some ripping B-Roll."

Avinu Films Shorts - Filmmaking Secrets Revealed

Some Short Movies from Avinu Films

Today, the Bear would like to share a couple of short films from Avinu Films. That is the film company of the Maltese-American polymath Marcelle-Abela who is the publisher of the Bear's novels and apparently as sleepless as the Bear.

The two films the Bear wants to share this time have been chosen as very different examples. He thinks one is better, and will say why. You may be surprised to learn how much there is to unpack from such short films.

Rather than just link to them, the Bear would like to use them in a broader conversation about filmmaking basics to aid in appreciation for those who are interested. You can skip directly to the short features at the next blue text, or accompany the Bear as he stalks his subject with the deliberateness that has tried the patience of readers for almost million-and-a-half page views.

In both the Avinu Films Marcelle was scriptwriter, editor, colorist, and producer.


Intro with Bear's Two-Minute Trailer: Montage, Quick Edits & Use of Score




The Bear's trailer for Judging Angels cost the price of a royalty-free music clip and whatever a pack of construction paper and small bottle of Elmer's Glue runs. It is offered as an introduction to the basics of editing, montage, pacing, and how editing can make the images and score work together. For example, note how the "snip" - cutting Alice out of George's life - is done on the beat. It is a fair representation of the story and its mordant humor.

We will be looking at these same elements in the two Avinu films. They are basic to any filmmaking.

Part of the motivation for doing it on his own was that, frankly, the Bear did not like the "house style" of the trailers that were being released for Hope and Life Press books at the time. The Bear brings that up only as a baseline for the huge improvement in Marcelle's filmmaking since.


"I Cried When I Wrote This Song, So Sue Me If I Play Too Long"

Readers know the Bear must own the awful-sounding title of "film buff." You probably imagine him wearing a black turtleneck and smoking Gauloises between features at the local arthouse while discussing French New Wave Cinema with his feminist friends.

Like buffs of every stripe, he is no doubt boring to normal people when he talks about his peculiar enthusiasm. The Bear promises he would paste on a polite smile and listen to you drone on about your stamp collection for ten minutes, then start tearing up your kayak.


Lady, the Bear hopes you were on an island and
that kayak was your only means of
returning to civilization.


The Bear has the insight to realize all that, though, which makes his film blogging all the more inexcusable.

Half the time the Bear feels like he's singing Steely Dan's Deacon Blues: "I cried when I wrote this song, so, sue me if I sing too long." The story of Carnival of Souls does indeed move him, which is why he wrote the previous piece and mentions it again now. As for the Post-Mortem on the West and chronicles of Pope Francis, he'll gladly trade traffic for a mental/spiritual health break.


The Amazing Medium of Film

Film is an art we share as a culture like no other. We read different books and watch different shows, but nearly all of us share memories of great films.

If you've ever learned to play the piano because you wanted to, you know it helps you appreciate recordings or concerts, even if you never got any good at it. In the same way, learning about what makes films good or bad helps you gain a deeper appreciation than "I liked it" or not. Of course, there's nothing wrong with that. It's a personal option.

The stories behind films are often as interesting as the films themselves, and teach a lot about the craft.

For example, the last article on Carnival of Souls is an inspirational story disguised as a B-movie horror film review. It's for anyone who aspires to rise above their workaday world and do something remarkable, even if it doesn't quite work out and the only thing that keeps them from sinking back into obscurity is that they never rose above it in the first place.

And Carnival of Souls itself is worth more than one viewing as a horror movie that relies on psychology and atmosphere instead of grossness or weird-for-weird's sake. It is also a clinic in guerilla filmmaking.

Echoes can be found in the later work of George (Night of the Living Dead) Romero and David (Twin Peaks) Lynch. The former admits it but if the latter has, Bear missed it. Carnival is worth any three of M. Night Shyalaman's movies, especially if the trio includes the similarly-themed Sixth Sense.


Filmmaking is Necessarily a Cooperative Exercise

Writing is a solitary exercise. Kurt Vonnegut said, "Writers have one break, at least. They get to treat their mental illnesses every day." Movie folk may be mentally ill, too, for all Bear knows, but they at least have to be able to refrain from assault and battery long enough to complete a project, although in 1947 Henry Fonda beat the crap out of Jimmy Stewart over the McCarthy hearings. And the feud between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford was epic.

Filmmaking is a cooperative process. Part of the allure of Hollywood's Golden Age is the sheer improbability that a star factory like MGM (still less a near-Poverty Row RKO) could crank out wonderful features as a business despite egomaniacal directors, dipsomaniacal stars, dictatorial management and budget-conscious producers.

And fistfights between Jimmy Stewart and Henry Fonda.

There is no movie so devoid of artistic merit that it does not command at least a little respect from the Bear. No one wakes up and says, "I'm going to make a bad movie." All of them, even Ed Wood's pathetic efforts, represent a cooperative effort that at least made it to a distributor. Some of them remain our personal treasures as long as we live.

Today, talented filmmakers can do quite a lot with sophisticated consumer resources and direct distribution, operating outside of any system.


And, Now, the Short Films.

Ballade des Animaux

Our first one stars A Bear, although not The Bear, since it is just a little Black Bear, not a magnificent brown Ursus Arctos. Let's watch! Running time 3:08.




First of all, the Bear loves the title. Frederic Chopin wrote some distinctive one-movement pieces with the title "Ballade." They are, in the opinion of the Bear, the crown jewels of piano music (and considered among the most difficult pieces to master). The Bear has posted an old Alfred Cortot recording of  Ballade No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 23 at the end because everyone should experience that piece, and he loves how Cortot interprets Chopin.

Let's talk about immersion.

This looks like a nature documentary, but is shot on location at a zoo. The Terry Devine-King score is very nice: energetic and cheerful, and goes perfectly with the scenes of different animals, some more active than others, which makes a nice variety. There is a technique called "Mickey Mousing" where the score is matched to the action to comical effect. That's old hat and the Bear is glad she has avoided that.

The film is "for children." The Bear thinks they would enjoy it; he did. The editing is mostly brisk and well done. It made the Bear smile. Even though it really starred baboons.

Post-Production Quibbles

His quibbles here involve post-production, i.e. the stuff that happens after the shooting. It's a fact: moviemaking happens during editing. Before the magic of post-production in a feature, all you've got is hours of raw fim. Even a short film depends on good post-production work.

The Bear assumes the sort of golden tone in the opening shots of baboons and, later, the lion drinking, is a post-production effect. It's quite pretty, but calls attention to itself and does not quite fit with the rest.

Any time a person appreciating art is taken out of that moment, it's probably not a good thing.

We've all experienced being immersed in a film and suddenly thinking, "that's some bad acting," but also, "that's some good acting," or "there's a great piece of dialogue." Of course, we want good acting and memorable dialogue, but we don't want to be thinking about it while we're watching the movie. That's for later, when we're savoring the film on our own or discussing it.

Then there's the dead otter.

One of the hardest parts of any artistic endeavor is putting yourself in the place of every reader or viewer and looking for off-the-wall reactions. The scene of the otters or whatever disturbed Bear since one of them is clearly dead. (Okay, looks like it, since it is lying motionless and unblinking.) Bear found himself watching only the dead-looking otter to see if he ever blinked. (He doesn't.)

Maybe you never noticed.

Finally, and most importantly, the Bear believes it would be a better short film if it were shorter, or had more animals with a consistently brisk pace. This is about editing. It used to be done by physically cutting raw footage and splicing pieces together. Now, some very good editing can be done with iMovie on your MacBook, or more sophisticated programs.

Some of the scenes go on a bit too long, making the pacing seem a little off. The composition of the three penguins is admirable, but everything comes to a halt as we watch them standing around before they begin walking. There are not only more scenes of baboons than anything else, too much time is spent on the one eating the apple.

These may sound like nit-picky points, and they are. And maybe baboons are your favorite animal in the whole world. The film is enjoyable. The Bear can only see through his eyes and offer a few little illustrations. Short films, like short stories, are very unforgiving.

But, other than some editing and color issues children would not notice, this is a very nice little film whose score is exceptional.


Wanted

The next one runs 2:29. It is much different in tone.  As a by-the-way, the Bear recommends removing the explanation on the Avinu Film site. The film stands on its own, and I think Marcelle should trust the viewer to experience the story and make of it what he or she will. Let's watch and see what you think the story is.




The Importance of the Musical Score

The score by Paul Mottram is perfect, and features a simple repeating plucked theme over a brooding river of a composition that never reaches a resolution. Richard Wagner shook the musical world with his famous "Tristan Chord" at the beginning of Tristan und Isolde:

 F, B, D♯, and G♯

Here, the composition is much less dramatic, but the sense of an aching lack of resolution is the same, with an added sense of restlessness,

We often forget just how important a score is to a film. Even silent films weren't silent. They were accompanied by live music. Can you think of Star Wars without hearing John Williams' stirring theme? Or how about a Fellini film without Nino Rota? A Clint Eastwood Spaghetti Western without Ennio Morricone's sort of loopy scores with that chanting? Avinu Films are noteworthy for consistently excellent music.

Indeed, the score largely tells the story. Imagine a different score, maybe something like the one in the previous film. It would be a completely different story, wouldn't it?


Telling a Story Economically

It opens with a scene of traffic in a city. The visuals don't seem to go with the music, but that's on purpose and creates a sort of expectant, almost uncomfortable tone. The traffic is coming at the viewer, passing close by from the point of view of an empty bicycle lane. The feeling is edgy.

Then the location changes to the country. We see some beautifully shot scenes of an odd, but wonderful house (where is that?) surrounded by birds of different sorts. (Are those Guinea hens?) The border collie is pretty, but he seems to be waiting for something, even as he snaps at gnats. The pacing of the editing is better, in Bear's opinion, setting a slow and consistent rhythm that goes with the story. Note how the shots change close to the changes in the music. Not precisely, but Bear thinks, whether by accident or design, the slight lack of precision in that regard adds to the unsettled tone.

The score does not change with the new location, and it doesn't go with the irenic scene any better than it did with the opening shot of the city. Why? Why are we uncomfortable? What's going to happen?

We see a male hand writing a note. We're not meant to know to whom the note is written, or what the character has to say. It's all left up to our imagination. "Hello, I just wanted to..." One nice trick is we are permitted to hear the scratch of the fountain pen on the paper. That is a very intimate touch; it collapses the distance between the viewer and the images-with-music.

What have we learned now?

There is a beautifully framed shot through a rustic door into a space occupied by a small table, It looks desolate, though. The wind stirs branches that are overgrown, and while the lake view is beautiful, a gray cloud hangs over everything. The Bear notices the wonderful textures in which Avinu films seem to luxuriate.

Even accounting for their differences, this is the better of the two films in the Bear's opinion.


Use of Archetypes

Near the end, in a beautifully composed shot using poppies that converge into the distance, we see a young man with a backpack walking away from us, the house, the birds, with the dog leading, like the dog in the book of Tobit, or, if the Bear may draw on another tradition, the dog who accompanies The Fool of the Tarot deck, who is also on a journey.

The young man setting out on a journey, perhaps leaving home, and the dog, are archetypes. The dog is in many a painting as a symbol of unquestioned loyalty.

Artists of all sorts use archetypes. Whether or not you want to go all Jungian, archetypes are cultural fixtures that seem to endure from age to age. They seem hardwired into us. Star Wars is full of them. It too, has a boy on the cusp of manhood who is stirred to leave his familiar home, although Luke has robots, instead of a dog. Luke meets the Wise Old Man who initiates him. The Bear could go on, but you get the idea.

Archetypes are different from tropes in that archetypes seem to have some deep and persistent presence in a culture, whereas tropes are just common (the connotation is overused) situations and characters that television and other writers use.

The film ends with the city, again.

The Bear is not going to tell you the story. This is a marvelous short film that tells a rich story very economically. It is a fine piece of work. What do you think the story is?


Two Minor Quibbles: Starring "Bird Feeder Bird," and the Title

The Bear has two quibbles.

First, "Bird Feeder Bird" would get top billing if this were a Golden Age Hollywood movie. Yes, it's nice, it's pretty, it establishes the bucolic setting, and represents one of the nice things the human character may be giving up. But, the Bear was taken out of the film a bit wondering "So, like, what's up with all the screen time for this bird in the feeder?"

Perhaps some other element of the peaceful country life could have taken the place of the second Bird Feeder Bird appearance. It was sort of like the baboons in the first one. The Bear would ever-so-gently suggest a finer sense of what elements might be getting overused during the editing when something different but similar might be serve just as well and maintain interest slightly better.

This is especially true since the photography is always so very good - we have only two or three minutes, and we want more examples of those luscious textures and beautiful compositions, not too much time spent on the same bird eating in a bird feeder.

In a short film, as in a short story, everything has to be there for a very good reason. There is no room for Bird Feeder Bird's two lengthy scenes unless it has some symbolic meaning Bear is missing. You can get a little sloppy in a novel. Less so in a short story. Even less in a poem. Then there's a Tweet. If you're going to do short, you must accept its unforgiving nature.

The other quibble carries slightly more weight: the title.

The word "Wanted" has a definite connotation in idiomatic English. A criminal is being hunted by police. In fact, it can hardly mean anything else standing alone. It's at the top of all those "wanted posters" in Westerns. It's hard to come up with a name for a film like this, that tells a story indirectly through score and images. You don't want to give it away. But "Wanted" is a jarring choice.

The Bear does not know what was intended by the title. Unfortunately, what he understood was that the human character was hunted, perhaps close to being discovered in his country hideout, and was having to flee from the sheriff to the anonymity of the city.

If that is the story, then "Wanted" is, of course, a great title. The Bear doubts it, however, and thinks something really vague like a name might be a better choice.


Conclusion

The two Avinu short films we looked at are both enjoyable and show tremendous strengths. The scores are fantastic and well-suited to the subjects. The photography is beautiful, especially in "Wanted," which is the better film.

They also show a little room for improvement in post-production, meaning a finer sense of what's "enough" of something, and, in Ballade des Animaux, a more consistently brisk editing pace. Finally, "Wanted" is an odd choice for a title, which is naturally going to be taken as descriptive. And the story stands alone. You did a good job on that one guys. Take the description down and trust your craft.

Here, as promised, for those who made it to the end, is Alfred Cortot's interpretation of Chopin's sublime Ballade No.1 in G Minor, Op. 23.



Monday, December 4, 2017

Carnival of Souls (1962)

Three hours after my car fell into the river,
I emerge covered in bottom silt. Now forget about that!

Carnival of Souls (1962) Criterion Collection via FilmStruck pay streaming subscription for film buffs. 3 Salmon out of 5. (In terms of Salmon per Buck, an easy 5.) Criterion includes lots of extras on "The Movie that Wouldn't Die," including the filmmakers' corporate video for Phillips 66.

Some Ordinary Folks Want to Do Something Extraordinary

What would you do with $13,000 and three weeks?

If you worked for for a Lawrence, Kansas industrial motion picture production company in 1962, you would start producing a 35mm feature film. (The film ultimately cost $33,000, which still wouldn't keep David Lynch in cigarettes, coffee and quinoa.)

No, you wouldn't. Neither would the Bear.

But Director Herk Harvey and writer John Clifford did. The pair worked for Centron Corporation. Herk directed movies for companies like Phillips 66 about sales meetings, and John was writing advertising copy, with one published novel to his credit. Driving back from LA, Herk passed something that took hold of his imagination.

It was the ruins of a once famous resort on the Great Salt Lake of Utah that had been left high and dry by the receding waters. Investors added carnival attractions, which only made it creepier when it was finally abandoned to the elements and vandals. Herk just knew he had to make a movie on the location. All he needed was a script. That was no problem. In three weeks buddy John Clifford knocked out a tale in his spare time of the lone survivor of a car that plunged into the Kansas River.

The Bear exceeded his word quota today, so he deserved a guilty pleasure. And he even has words left over for the Woodland Creatures.

Making the Most of Pretty Much Nothing

Bear will be haunted by
Candace Hilligoss' eyes
for a while.
They found a pretty good actress in Candace Hilligoss, who was studying the Strasberg Method Acting technique in the same class as Marilyn Monroe and Roy Scheider. Closer to home they found a gem in local drama student Sidney Berger.

Nobody else in the movie can act, which only adds to the psychologically off-kilter feel of the movie.

Actually, they can act. Badly, but each in a different way from the others. Each local gives it his or her all in their very own awful way that could not have worked better if it had been planned. (To be fair to the actors, they live down to some bad dialogue, but it doesn't matter.)

Why is the Bear wasting your precious time on a B-movie horror film? Because it inspires him.

This was a no-hit wonder for all concerned. No one went on to make a career in feature films. But a couple of journeyman filmmakers for corporate America knew what they were doing. With a production crew of six and a lot of guerilla filmmaking techniques, they kept it cheap by using what they had in skillful and creative ways.

For the scene when Candace Hilligoss is changing in the department store dressing room, they all walked into a Salt Lake City department store and said they would like to shoot a movie. The natural question is "when?" The answer was right now. (One story is they paid a saleswoman $25 to get a man with a camera in the dressing room with Hilligoss.)

They dreamed of art, and came close enough. (Herk Harvey was inspired by French director Jean Cocteau.) An aspiring filmmaker could learn a lot by studying what has become a cult classic.

The Criterion Collection interviews with Herk Harvey and John Collins (as well as Candace Hilligoss and Sidney Bergman) are very good. The Bear particularly enjoyed the screenwriter's comments. He (like the Bear) did not outline in advance, but wrote chronologically. That means he did not know the ending until after he was halfway through. He describes his style as not knowing what he was going to write, but writing, then discovering the story he had written.

Unlike the Bear, who rewrites, dewrites, backfills and gets obsessive, Herk Harvey was ready to shoot by the time Collins finished the first draft.

Candace Hilligoss is wide-eyed, gangly, and in nearly every frame: drag-racing on a bridge; covered with bottom silt emerging from a river; playing an enormous pipe organ; haunted by the image of a man in Beetlejuice makeup; alternately being repulsed by or clinging to the slimy guy across the hall; walking through a busy town where she can hear nothing and is seen by no one; getting hysterical; and looking pretty fetching in that 60s way when she's not running from eager, grinning aqua-zombies.


"Oh, yeah, baby. You know you want me to come in, don't you?"
A still cannot do justice to Berger's portrayal of a loser
who's more oily and pathetic than menacing. 

If there was an Oscar category for Best Performance as a Oily, Repulsive Stalker, Sidney Berger would have walked away with it. If you're going to go pig-eyed leering greaser licking his chops like a cartoon Big Bad Wolf, go big. The guy is so horrifying you can't take your eyes off him. The fact that poor Mary Henry (played by Hilligoss) doesn't beat him to death with the alabaster floor-ashtray by her door at first sight shows just how desperate she is. And... well, just hmm.

The black and white cinematography ranges from artless to beautiful without often calling attention to itself.


Director Herk Harvey as "The Man" who haunts Mary Henry.
Clearly not your average zombie.

Inspiration: They Aspired to Art with Little More than 
Talent and a Location and Nearly Made it

You're probably thinking, so, the Bear's discovered some campy Plan 9 From Outer Space so-bad-it's-entertaining piece of Ed Wood trash. Nope. Not the Bear's style.

Carnival of Souls is an effective horror movie that relies on psychology and atmosphere instead of gore or overuse of monsters. It is a better than average take on a familiar trope. (It's hardly a spoiler when a girl walks out of a river covered in bottom silt three hours after her car plunges into it, so hint: An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.)

It's like a movie from auteur David Lynch only in that the next day you think you dreamed it. But these corporate movie guys cranked out a better movie in three weeks of shooting because they did not go in for the weird-for-weird's-sake backwards midgets and such. They let the ordinary be ordinary in the context of a handful of creepy shots and an understated, realistic dreamlike quality that lets you know nothing is right for this unfortunate wide-eyed girl.

And for a day or so - and especially a night or so - the ordinary world won't seem quite so right for you, either.

Is it a great move? No. It's a good movie that is far better than it should have been, made by people who loved their craft, worked with little more than talent and a good location, and aspired to art.

The distributors went broke, and the checks for all those B-movie drive-in screenings bounced.

That they nearly made it is what inspires a paperback writer known to you as the Bear.

58 days to deadline, 64,398 words of target 100,000
Book 2 of the Rubicatae Chronicles
Conspiracy of Crows
(God willing)

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