Reviewing These Classics

Now that we understand Central Station, Three Kings, The Thin Blue Line, The Piano and Raging Bull, let’s revisit them. Turn those televisions on and pop the film in. While watching each film notice the important aspects previously discussed.

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The Great Adaptation of Halloween

Some of the greatest film classics are derived from other sources. These sources may be novels, comics books, television shows, plays and other movies. Filmmakers use this to help them develop ideas or so that they can re-imagine the essence of the source. Some adaptations can change or update the time of the story. A great example of this is the film, Halloween

The first Halloween was made in 1978 and was directed by John Carpenter. This film contains sex and violence, but on a very minimal level due to the film restrictions of that time. As time went on, audiences adapted to the idea of violence and sex and soon became more prone to more graphic images. Now when audiences view the first version of the film, it does not frighten them as much as it did during the time it was released. At the time, however, the film was a huge hit, grossing $60 million worldwide. It became one of the most profitable independent films. The film had many imitators and influenced the making of many other previous horror flicks.

Because the film became a known classic, Rob Zombie decided to create a new version of the film decades later. He wanted to present the same idea, but using horror techniques that people expect today. In other words, he wanted more blood and gore as well the depiction of psychological disturbances. One event that this film is known for is when one of the inmates in Michael Myer’s asylum gets raped by  two men, one of which is a security guard. Such an occurrence would never have been shown in the previous version of Halloween. Even today this portrayal was very intense for the audience. At the same time, it goes to show how much film has changed according to what it is allowed to give viewers.

As Rob Zombie knew of the popularity of the first film, he saw the making of the next version as an opportunity to make profit. This makes the new version a “presold” film meaning that it is adapted from an already successful source. Because people today know the story and still are entertained by it, there is no doubt that they would be entertained by an updated version of it. The “presold” film usually generates the audience interests because they know the story and expect it to be just as great as the first. People are drawn to what they recognize.

The problem with adaptations is that it leaves more room for viewers to be disappointed. When viewers know the story they often expect the new version to be exactly the same if not better than the original. Many filmmakers like to alter stories that are adapted to give their own personal style. This is what happened in Halloween. Although the story was basically the same, many scenes were added to create a better understanding of the life of Michael Myers. It also reflected today’s society as opposed to society in 1978. Rob Zombie’s reenactment of the film turned out to be a success. As it had a different feel than the original, it caused fear and a psychological disturbance in the minds of the viewers, which is something that everyone wants to get out of horror films.

Overall, adaptations create more films, There are only so many stories and ideas, but what makes a film unique is the way these ideas are used. If you think about it, there truly is no original film. All films are derived or influenced from other sources. They differ by what the director is willing to do with them. Thus creates a wide array of films that audiences are drawn to by their recognition and their expectation of it being a great film.

Editing Breathless

Many people say that editing is the key to cinema because it is a widely discussed film technique that can achieve so much in a film. What is editing? It is the coordination of one shot with the next. It is the transition between uninterrupted film segments. These transitions, or changes from one shot to another, are known as cuts. By using cuts, films are able to have different types of edits or editing methods to make the film more interesting. 

One film known for its editing techniques is Breathless. This film was created in 1960, the time of the French New Wave. The French New Wave was a movement marked by French filmmakers who created works that strayed from classical cinematic form. Many filmmakers of the time started many editing experiments. Breathless was one of the first films to use discontinuity editing where the connections between shots are not invisible. The audience is able to tell the editing is being done between shots. It is not a smooth transition. The objective of this method is to push the viewer out of their involvement with the film. They are put into a distance where they no longer feel like they are in the movie. The film’s use of jump cuts is what created this discontinuity. The jump cut is when the object in front of the camera appears to “jump” on screen. The best example is the famous car scene where the camera is focused in on Patricia. While she is talking to Michel her head tends to look one direction and then all of a sudden it is seen looking in a different direction. Her face tends to jump from different positions. See the jump cuts in the video below.

Also, a part from its jump cuts, the film fails to give any establishing shots or shot/reverse shots that were shown often in classical cinematic form. The establishing shot is when you can see the entire space of a scene. It gives the audience the overall picture and then is followed by a breakdown where the camera gets a closer view of objects in that scene. In Breathless, the camera is constantly getting a close view of objects in a scene without establishing the overall picture. This tactic helps skew the audience’s understanding of that scene. As for the shot/reverse shot, there is none during any conversation. Shot/reverse shot is the pattern used for conversation between two people. It is when the camera is looking over the should of the listener at the person who is speaking. Then when the other person starts talking, the camera switches and looks toward that other person. The audience always sees both people engaging in the conversation. Breathless only shows the camera going back and forth on the characters when they are talking. It does not show both in the same shot like traditional shot/reverse shot methods do. 

With the film failing to incorporate these editing techniques, it is suggesting the characters’ disconnection or lack of agency. They are often being separated by the camera and are rarely seen together in the same shot although they are interacting in the same scene. Although the lack of these elements really shapes the film, Breathless is widely known for its use of jump cuts. In the film, they create spatial disorientation for the viewers. The viewers do not feel connected to the film because they notice the artificiality. This allows them to separate from the characters and see them as individuals in the film.

Unfolding the Narrative of Rashomon

It is accurate to say that a vast majority of films contain a narrative form, or a structure through which movies tell stories. Audiences usually have certain expectation pertaining to the narrative of a film. These expectations are usually derived from an original film, a film of the same genre, the trailer, online production, or a book or novel from which the film came. For example, when Harry Potter came out, many people expected the narrative of the film to be exactly like the book. Also, after seeing other previous films, viewers expect there to be characters and action, connected incidents, conflict and resolution, and emotion and meaning. They expect there to be elements that create a story. Narratives are also a series of events usually connected by cause and effect. When something happens in a film, it leads to another. This is what creates the flow of the movie.

Now that we understand narrative form we can see how the narrative structure can vary. Films mostly contain a linear structure meaning that it is an ordered story with a beginning, middle and an end. Some contain non-linear structures meaning many things. For instance, the narrative can show many stories in the course of the film. It can also perhaps jump through time with either flashbacks or time travel. Either way, the story is not a constant flow of an occurrence.

One of my favorite examples of narrative structure is the film, Rashomon. It is actually famous for its inconventional narrative organization. Rashomon reveals several characters’ story or point of view of the same situation. As a man gets killed in the woods and his wife gets raped, many witnessed account for what they saw. All have a different story and the audience sees all flashbacks of the witnesses. The overall story of the four witnesses giving their point of view is also being told to a commoner in a gatehouse. In other words, this film is a story within a story within a story.

The idea of cause and effect is also confused in the film. Neither one of the stories being told effects the other stories, but within each story being told where the characters are giving their accounts of what they say really happened, there is a cause an effect. For instance, in one of the interpretations, the wife kills her husband because he admits that he does not need her. The cause being her husband’s words and the effect being her action of killing him. In general, however, there is no overall cause and effect that add to the flow of the entire story.

Finally, the characters and conclusion are not a commonality in many Hollywood narratives. The characters are less active in the film and tend to use their energy to contemplate the situation. They also seem to be self-serving and unreliable making the audience hard to relate with them. It is also difficult to figure out who really is telling the truth. None of the characters have a justifiable lead over the others. As for the conclusion of the film, it remains open-ended. The truth about what actually happens is unresolved and the audience is left to think about who’s story was the right one. 

Because the narrative in Rashomon is so different than what audiences are used to, audiences are more attracted to it. The style of the film and the way it was organized influenced many other films previously made. This film also used its differences in narrative structure to create a message for the viewers. This message is that it is impossible to comprehend truth. Now many other filmmakers use this tactic of manipulating the narrative structure to show themes of the film and to give audiences something to think about. A more recent example it The Time Traveler’s Wife. This film keeps the viewers thinking as they never know what is about to happen with the continuous jumping in time.

A Walk Along The Thin Blue Line

Documentary films are quickly becoming a more demanded type of film. At first, they were just seen as film practice, but now they are evolving into a much greater phenomenon. With these films, the audience is able to get a realistic view as they are presented with facts about the world. When viewing a documentary, the audience expects that the people, places and events that are shown are real and do exist. They trust the content of the film.

A notable example of a documentary is The Thin Blue Line. The entirety of this film is marked by interviews, staged performances and the presentation of actual documents relating to the case. As this documentary is about the Randall Dale Adams conviction of a murder he did not commit, the filmmakers interviewed the people most in tune with the case. This includes Randall Dale Adams himself, David Harris, the man who actually committed the murder, a police officer, investigators, a lawyer and some witnesses. All of them told the story of what they knew of the murder and what they did to try to solve the case. As the documentary jumped around from person to person telling their story, their stories were staged. Staging is a very common technique in documentaries. This is when the moments being described are acted out by other actors to give the audience a visual of what they described had happened. Most of the film show the murder scene according to each person describing it. It was acted out in different ways to show the different stories being described. For instance, the film begins by showing what really happened, which is where a policeman pulled a car over for not having its headlights on and as he approached the window, he was shot to death by the driver. Then, once David Harris’ testimonial is described, the scene is shown differently. For his testimonial, he said that Adams was in the car with him and as the policeman walked up, Adams shot him. This helps the audience to better understand the situation being told. Finally, there are a lot of still shots in the film on important documents of the case.  This gives proof that the case did actually exist and again creates visuals for the audience when the documents are being described in the story.

Documentaries also have different types of form. There is the categorical form where the film is organized into distinct subsets of the topic and there is rhetorical form where the parts of the film support an argument. In a sense, The Thin Blue Line is categorical. It begins by identifying its subject and then it creates patterns. Although much of the story tends to be a narrative where everyone’s interviews are put together to create the overall story, each story of those involved is separated. When one person is focused on, their side of the story is shown. It is almost like it is a story within a story. The film is organized by these stories. As for rhetorical form, the film does persuade the audience that David Harris was the murderer. Obviously, we know now that he was the murderer, but at the time the film was released, Adams was still in prison. In fact, he was not released from prison until about a year after the film was released. This film just helps to define the story and may even have influenced the review of Adam’s case.

Finally, there are different types of documentaries. There are the compilation films, which are produced by assembling images from archival sources, direct-cinema films, which records an ongoing event as it happens, the nature documentaries, the portrait documentaries, and the synthetic documentaries, which is a mixture of several forms. From what was previously states, we know that this documentary takes many forms, therefore making it a synthetic documentary. It also is a portrait documentary because it focuses on specific people and is a historical context. It is also a compilation film because much of the images shown in the film are evidence, like the documents for example.

In general, documentaries not only provide historical and realistic views of the world, but they also try to make a point. They give arguments and back them up with evidence. They are becoming more successful because filmmakers are finding better ways to make them entertaining. It is all about the interesting shots they use and how they portray certain information. As people are drawn to what is entertaining, they also like the realistic aspects of these films. People tend to relate more to real situations.

The Three Kings of Genre

We all look at genre as a way to classify movies, perhaps when we distinguish our favorites and when we describe a film to a friend. We may say that the film Wedding Crashers is a romantic comedy and the film Hairspray is a musical, but what really gives them that category? It all has to do with the subject or the theme of the film. For instance, gangster films usually center on large upscale urban crime, while science fiction has technology beyond the reach of contemporary science. It is to the point now that whenever we see such subjects in a film, we immediately make a connection to a genre. Genres also go beyond subject matter as well. For instance, some genres are defined by the distinctive emotional effect they aim for. Comedies usually aim for amusement, while suspense films usually aim for tension. When an audience feels these emotions they immediately draw the link between that emotion and that genre.

We also define genres by certain genre conventions, which give every film of a similar type some kind of common identity. There are thematic conventions, where a similar theme is conveyed in certain films. For example, we may recognize gangster films because they usually have the standard theme of the price of success. There are also conventions of technique, where similar characteristic film techniques are used to define the genre. For example, melodramas usually use poignant music to help exaggerate the plot, while horror films may use somber lighting to help create a more horrific setting. Finally, there is conventional iconography, which consists of recurring symbolic images that carry meaning. For example, Samurai films are known for having swords and kimonos present, while science fiction films are known for having spaceships.

The audience usually expects a genre to offer something familiar, while still expecting to get a different variation of it. A film that has a great sense of genre is Three Kings. When you first look at this film, you know it is a war film because of the convention iconography of guns, bombs, and the uniforms men are wearing. There are also conventions of technique used in the film as well. The filmmakers used hand-held cameras to give the film a more journalistic feel and also filmed a lot of their action shots with only one camera. Most action films usually use multiple cameras when shooting action shots, but the director, David Russell, thought that using only one shot made the film more believable. In a sense the film looked almost like a documentary because the characteristic film techniques made everything look so real.

This film is also considered a comedy given that it aims for the emotional effect of amusement. The way the characters talk to each other and interact makes the audience laugh. Even at the beginning of the film, Mark Wahlberg’s character is asking his fellow troops if it is alright to shoot an enemy. Nobody seems to be listening to Wahlberg as they are too attuned to their own personal issues, like the man with sand in his nose. This makes it funny because as serious as his question is in regards to taking someone’s life, his fellow troops are more concerned with other pointless matters. Also, after the war in Iraq is over they all have a big celebration. They make total fools of themselves as they dance and drink together. This adds fun and humor to the film and give the audience a sense of what the rest of the film will be like.

Finally, the film is considered a drama. A drama is usually seen as real characters dealing with emotional themes. The themes in this film is crime, corruption, and conflict. As you see many people die throughout the film, one scene that really stood out to me was the one after the main characters took the gold back from Iraq as part of the peace treaty. While doing this heist, they noticed that the Iraqi men had several hostages and they wanted to help save them. As the war was over and they promised to shed no more blood. They were suppose to leave Iraq and to not attend to what the Iraqis were doing. As they tried to help the hostages, the Iraqi men kept saying that it was not their problem and to just do what they came to do. The main characters would not listen and witnessed a helpless, innocent woman get shot. When she got shot, her husband and daughter also watched. It was such a dramatic moment. After the violence was done, you watched them both embrace the woman and cry hysterically. Even the main characters were effected by this terror.

These genres in Three Kings provide a social function. Not only do they present to the audience the familiar along with a new variation of the genre, but they exploit social values and attitudes. In this film, emotions are aroused by touching on social uncertainties, but they then are channeled into approved attitudes. For instance, people usually do not like the idea of war and death, but they are okay with seeing people die if they deserve it. People always hope the good guys in films prevail while the bad guys suffer. Such films show the difference between good and bad and set the depiction for society to follow. With these values and depictions that society learns from and utilizes, we know that genre is way more important that just the categorization of films.

The Cause of Such a Rage

When viewing a film, one of the best ways of determining whether its good or bad is through the actors and their acting skills. So what defines good or bad acting? It is easier for us to define a bad film because we tend to notice it more. When good acting is going on, we overlook the acting technique and get on with the narrative. When bad acting is going on, it hits us right away. Perhaps the actors are overdoing it. Maybe they are over-exaggerating certain feelings or maybe not showing enough of the feelings at all. When it is apparent that the acting is done poorly, it is hard to notice anything else. Anyone can make this judgeship. What about good acting? When you think about it, this question is much more difficult to answer. Well, the only way to answer it is to evaluate a film known for its excellent acting.

The film, Raging Bull, is a biographical film about Jake LaMotta, a man with horrific rage. He is a middleweight boxer who uses his rage to win battles in the ring, but outside of the ring, it slowly begins to ruin his life. For this role, a man was needed to make this anger believable. Nobody fit this role better than Robert De Niro. Robert De Niro is known as a method actor, meaning that he connects the feelings of the character with his own experiences. He does research and preparation for his roles. For this role in particular, he spent time with Vicki LaMotta, the wife of Jake LaMotta. He also trained with Jake LaMotta and became as good as a ranked middleweight. Finally, he gained 60 pounds after the fight scenes were shot to play the older Jake LaMotta. By doing this as an actor, he is able to become the character making it more believable to the audience.

Not only did he study and prepare for his role, but he got through the challenges of acting this out on film. As opposed to stage actors, film actors have a lack of rehearsal, out of continuity shooting, the impact of other contributors, and having to go along with film technology. Also, film actors only perform a few minutes at a time, so they do not have the time to really develop their character as the narrative continues. Finally, film actors have limited control over their performance. Especially for this role, De Niro had to act specifically to how Jake LaMotta would act. This is why studying his character was so important because he needed to be that exact person in the film. Jake LaMotta was known for his frustration and his story unfolds through how this frustration affects all the relationships in his life.

De Niro uses failure of language as well as his body language to show such frustration. One of the first scenes of the film, LaMotta is yelling at his first wife for not cooking his steak the way he wants it. He wants it more rare and she overcooks it. This suggests that his character is carnivorous in a sense. He likes his steak almost right off the bone. As for the fighting, he seems to yell at his wife for the silliest reasons. He got so heated in this scene that one of his neighbors starts complaining about the noise and refers to him as an animal. Of course, given his character, he yells back at the neighbor.  This obviously shows how uncontrollable he rage is. It gives the audience a sense of who he is as a person so they will later understand the cause of his self-defeating life. Such a cause eventually leads to him losing his first wife as well as many other important figures in his life. He creates his own destruction.

Overall, De Niro delivers an excellent performance because he successfully shows the audience who Jake LaMotta really is. He portrays such frustration and rage with ease and makes LaMotta’s loss look to be a result of that. The purpose of this film, according to the director, Martin Scorsese, was to criticize violence and the negative effects of masculinity. This is achieved through De Niro’s act. Although LaMotta seems tough and masculine, such attributes end up destroying him. It is not about being defined through domination because that can only lead to even more frustration and loss of control. It is about being in control and about picking your fights.

Sounds of The Piano

Sound is one of the most important aspects of film. It is what clarifies image events and shapes how we perceive and interpret the image. Every film has sound. Even those old “silent films” have musical scores, so really there is nothing silent about them. One of the best films that utilizes important concepts of film sound is The Piano. Of course, any film that is about a musician must have an outstanding musical selection. Especially when all the character does is play the piano throughout the entire film. Film sound, however, is much more than that. Its about the dialogue, and sound effects as well as the music.

The original movie poster for The PianoDialogue has a huge role in film. Dialogue advances the narrative, gives voice to the characters’ thoughts and emotions, and establishes the character. It also emphasizes the setting of the characters’ cultural background, age, class and education. In this film, the characters are heavily expressed through dialogue. First of all, when you hear the characters speak for the first time, you quickly notice their accents. This shows that the story is taking place in another country, which is New Zealand in this case. It also suggests that the characters are of a different cultural background, which may play into the overall plot of the film. What is also interesting about the particular dialogue in this film is that the main character, Ada, is a mute, but she uses her daughter, Flora to communicate for her.  The way her daughter expresses her mother is often direct and brash, usually because her mother only tries to communicate when she is angry or when she needs something. Her daughter is able to give her a voice, which not only reveals how Ada is as a character, but also how Flora is as a character. There is also voice-over narration, which also helps to express Ada’s characters. What is voice-over narration? It is what allows the audience immediate access to the character’s thoughts. At the beginning of the film, Ada is shown. As a viewer, you hear her voice, which discusses her thoughts. You do not even realize she is a mute until later on because you first hear her through her thoughts.

Sound effects are also vital in film. Sound effects are the sounds heard as part of the action and the physical environment on the screen. They are usually created by Foley artists to give each sound a distinct noise. Foley artists manipulate various material and record the resulting sounds. For instance, in one particular scene, Ada and Flora are walking through the woods to go see Baines, the man who has her piano. They reach a huge plot of mud in the middle of the trail and as they walk through it, you can hear the intense wet sounds the mud makes against their shoes. Normally the camera cannot catch such sounds during actual filming, so the Foley artists emphasize these sounds and record them amongst the scene. In this film, there are also ambient sounds, which consist of the sound of the wind and the birds chirping. These sounds define the location, and can portray the environments impact on the characters.

Finally there is music. There are two kinds of music that are present in this film. There is diegetic music, which includes any music playing within the world of the story. Diegetic music would be off when Ada plays her piano. All characters present in these scenes can hear the music and experience it. Then there is non-diegetic music, which is music that characters in the world cannot hear. This would be any background music, such as an orchestra playing a particular melody. I know in the first scene, while we see Ada waling through the landscape while a voice-over narration is established, there is what sounds like an orchestra playing in the background. This sets the mood of the scene, which in this case is calm and peaceful.

In general, sound makes the movie. It emphasizes the characters as well as the setting and even gets certain points across. The main components of sound, dialogue, sound effects, and music, are put together in the end in a process called mixing. The final product of a film is when the sound and image are coerced together. The sound and image have an important relationship because they both clarify each others meaning. They also give silence value in film, which is actually shown in The Piano. There are many moments that Ada is sitting in a room in complete silence like she is waiting for something or something is about to happen. This draws more anticipation among the audience and keeps them wondering of what is to happen next. Again, this adds to the film making it a huge success.

Let’s head to Central Station

One of the first films I absolutely have to discuss is Central Station or shall I say Central Do Brasil. This film is set in Brazil and is entirely done in the Portuguese language. Now who does not enjoy watching films in subtitles? Really though, hearing the language teaches you about the cultural aspects of the film. Now I can go on about everything I learned about the cultural aspects of the film, but what really got my attention were all the elements of cinematography that were used to present the experiences and viewpoints of the characters. What is cinematography, you ask? Just think of it as writing in movement. Usually when we think of films, we think of what is known as the mise-en-scene, or everything that is in front of the camera. We think of the props, the costumes, and the settings. In the old days, yes, this was all that film was. Today, filmmakers are using many more elements that influence what we as viewers see. This includes the movement of the camera, the placement of the camera, contrast, the use of color, the angle of the shot, the type of shot and the duration of the shot. Well you get the picture. Film goes farther beyond what we as viewers actually see.

So how does this play into Central Station? Easy. Pretty much every scene uses some form of cinematography. One of the first scenes in the film particularly stood out to me in terms of its cinematography. Now we all know Josue, the nine-year-old male lead. He suffers from a tragic event when he witnesses his mother being hit by a bus. This scene is incredibly intense. We as viewers feel this intensity, but we never consider what actually makes it intense. For starters, right before the bus hits his mother, the camera shoots a close-up of Josue’s face and then a close-up of his mother’s face.  These close-ups are a type of shot and they show the viewer the expression of the characters. Obviously we know something bad is about to happen and that Josue will be deeply affected by it. These short shots, or the duration of the shots, build up the intensity of the moment. The camera continues to cut back and forth between both characters making the scene seem fast-paced, again adding to the intensity.

Another important element is Josue’s point of view. Like I mentioned before, the close-ups on Josue’s face are meant to show how Josue is feeling. The camera is also kept at Josue’s height, which is a framing technique. Framing defines the image we see and directs our attention to the material in the image. When we are kept at Josue’s height, we feel like we are seeing everything in his perspective. We are not looking down on him and we are not looking up at him. We are at his level. You can tell we are at his level because all the adults around him are being cut off at the shoulders. Even when Josue leans down to see if his mother is alright, the camera is lowered along with him. This keeps our attention on Josue and lets us see things the way he does. So why does the film maker want us to see things through Josue? We are supposed to understand the pain and sadness that Josue goes through, which sets us up for the rest of the story.

The next scene shows Josue sitting in Central Station. He has tears running down his face and he is alone. The lighting and color are extremely noticeable here. All the people walking around him look almost blue, while Josue has a bright light being cast on him. This is also a great example of contrast, another element of cinematography. It makes him stand out among all the other people in the station. The viewer’s eyes are directed right at Josue for being the most colorful and bright object. Finally, during this scene there is depth of field. Depth of field is the measurements of the closest and farthest planes in front of the camera lens. Everything of significance in the scene is usually in sharp focus while everything else is blurred out. In this scene, Josue remains in sharp focus while those around him are being blurred out. This, like the lighting, makes him stand out. The film makers obviously wanted Josue to be the most significant object in this scene. This leaves the viewers to be saddened by Josue’s situation and to be concerned about him. It also makes them wonder what is to happen to Josue because he is now alone and has nowhere to go.

So that is it. We covered certain types of shots, framing, depth of field, the duration of the shot, contrast, color and lighting. There is still so many elements of cinematography in this film, however, that really influence its meaning. You can probably write a book on it. For the sake of showing an example of cinematography usage and how powerful this film is because of it, I will leave it at that and allow you to think of other elements as you watch the film. Even as you watch other films, think about what the camera is doing, the lighting being used and the framing of the shots. If you do not do this, you still get the exact message the film makers want you to get just by the influence of these elements. If they were any different in Central Station than were already presented, the film would be completely different.