Traumatizing Realism in Zodiac

David Fincher is known to be a perfectionist when it comes to creating his movies. He will film hundreds of takes until he gets the perfect take, just like what he imagined it to be like. In Zodiac, Fincher filmed an insert shot of a book falling on a seat for tens of takes until it fell just right. Furthermore, Fincher and his team worked extraordinarily hard to make the 2007 film as realistic and close as possible to the real events surrounding the Zodiac killer. While his films benefit from this demand for perfection and realism, at what point does realism become too real? In a Film Radar interview (https://news.avclub.com/zodiac-was-so-realistic-it-creeped-out-the-killer-s-rea-1824178873)  a survivor of one of the real Zodiac killer’s attacks, Bryan Hartnell, describes just how realistic the scene in Zodiac was to the real attack. “What they’ve captured on the film that you see when Cecilia is being stabbed, that’s the flash I saw happening”, Bryan describes. He continues to reveal that the entire scene was essentially exactly what happened in real life, so realistic that it creeped him out. For the average viewer, this realism is beneficial, allowing the story to be told as close as possible to the truth. However, for the survivors of such attacks, these scenes could bring back horrible memories. There have been many movies, both recently and in the past, that have been criticized as being insensitive to the survivors of the real events, as they either bring back traumatic events or show events they would rather keep private and in the past.

At what point is it ok to film/release a movie based on real events. What is the film creators duty when it comes to reconstructing real events for films? When are realistic films too realistic? Are there any historical events that should be left alone?

Human Motors in “Holy Motors”

One of the underlying themes in Leos Carax’s 2012 film “Holy Motors” is, as described in the Official Cannes Selection reading assigned this week, “The idea of motors, motorization and the importance of machines”. While reading the text, I continuously found parallels between the cinematic theme of motors and their parts with the actors and humans who made up the film itself. When describing the actors of the movie, it seemed almost as if they were describing mere parts of a bigger machine. The famous actors were not emphasized any more than the unknowns, each actor being an equally important component in the movie-making engine. Leos Carax, throughout the interview, even made the actors seem replaceable, just like machine parts would be if they broke. For example, when describing Eva Mendes, he admits that he dreamt her role as being for Kate Moss, but decided after meeting Eva that she would be better for the role. Another example is when the interviewer asks Carax if he thought that anyone else could play the part of Monsieur Oscar. Carax immediately lists a few more actors that would have been offered this role, again showing that the actors were just the pieces chosen for the movie, but that they could have just as well chosen another.

How important are the actors when making a movie? How different would a film be if a different actor/actress was cast? Are actors replaceable? Is celebrity the main factor of selling an performer or movie? Are the actors used more important to the viewer than the overall theme/message of the film? Are the pieces more important than the whole?

 

Contrasting Parallelism in Scorpio Rising

Throughout Kenneth Anger’s 1963 short film Scorpio Rising, shots of christianity and Jesus are intercut between the actions of the homosexual, nazi bikers. Shots of Jesus walking with his disciples, healing blind men, and riding his donkey are shown at the same time as the bikers partying and riding their motorcycles. Shown directly next to each other, the differences between their teachings were emphasized greatly. Jesus taught peace and love, the nazi bikers taught hate and violence. Christianity is generally against homosexuality, the bikers were all gay and vain, taking great pride in their clothing and how they looked. However, even with all the differences between the two groups, there was a parallelism between their beliefs and actions. They were both shown doing similar things at the same time, such as Jesus riding his donkey and the bikers on their bikes. The bikers also had leaders they looked up to and followed, similar to the Christians, but these heroes were the actors from biker movies, the club leaders, and Hitler. I believe that while promoting the differences between the two groups beliefs, Anger was also trying to show just how similar they can actually be.

 

Do you think that Scorpio Rising is a religious film? Is there a parallel between the gay nazi bikers and Christianity? How do these similarities both emphasize and hide their differences?

Comparing Characters Within Genre

As genre is used as a tool to categorize movies based on similarities in the narrative, symbolic, and emotional elements of the film, it is inevitable that movies of a similar genre will be compared to each other, even if they are unique in many aspects of the film. Audiences know what they expect from a movie of a specific genre, and will almost always, even subconsciously, compare it to another film of the same genre. Even the characters in the movies aren’t exempt from this.

Killmonger Is The Best Superhero Villain Since Heath Ledger’s Joker

Even though Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger and Heath Ledger’s Joker are two completely different characters, with extremely different performances, this article uses the Joker as an example of how good Killmonger is. The Joker in The Dark Knight is commonly recognized as a fantastic performance of a legendary villain, so it must be a good thing to compare this new movie’s villain to it, right?

Although I am guilty of doing the exact same thing myself, I think that it is a bit wrong to compare two different character’s performances, especially if they are not trying to affect the audience in the same way. I think that Michael B. Jordan’s performance as Killmonger was good, but comparing him to another actor kind of takes away from his acting, making his character just another superhero movie villain, instead of being unique.

I also think that it is funny, and a little sad, that the main thing that ties the two characters together (in the article) is that they are both 3-dimensional characters who evoke emotions in the audience. The article even goes to say “One thing which superhero films tend to have in common is that their villains are pretty underdeveloped and two-dimensional.”, trying to show just how special these villains are.

Technique of Silence

Music and sound has always been a part of movies. Even during the silent film era, where the technology for sound in cinema did not yet exist, there movies where loud. Either through orchestras playing along with the film, sound effects created by someone behind the screen,  or even actors reciting dialogue, there was always noise. When technology was developed for synchronized sound in cinema, different techniques for producing sound and its subsequent effects quickly developed. In movies today, it is almost expected for some sort of sound (music, dialogue, or other), to exist, even when the audience isn’t listening to it. In Christopher Nolan’s 2017 film Dunkirk, the “music” never stops, with there always being some sort of non-diegetic noise playing (i.e a clock ticking).

With sound becoming synonymous with cinema, and as sound technology continues to develop, the use of silence becomes a conscious decision by the director. Silence in cinema is always noticeable. Even when the audience doesn’t realize that there is music playing in the background, when that music suddenly cuts out, everyone realizes.

So how can silence be used as a technique? Many times, silence is used as a form of emphasis. In Raging Bull (Martin Scorsese, 1980), all sound cuts out in the fight between Jake Lamotta and Sugar Ray Robinson, when Jake taunts Sugar Ray to beat him up. Near the two minute mark of the clip included below, there is a cavernous silence, the audience’s taunts gone. Everything focuses down onto Sugar Ray and Jake preparing for what is about to happen.

How is silence used to emphasise mise-en-scene? Why is most silence in movies not completely silent? How does silence emphasize noise, and vice-versa? When is silence more appropriate for emphasis than music?

Dissolve to Flashback

Flashbacks have long been a common tool for filmmakers to show the audience information or events that happened before the film’s beginning. One classic example of such is in Michael Curtiz’s 1942 film Casablanca. Approximately in the middle of the film, Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) has a flashback recounting his time with his old flame Isla (Ingrid Bergman) in Paris, after they unexpectedly meet up again in Casablanca.

The flashback begins in present-day Casablanca, with Rick getting drunk at his bar, with Sam (Dooley Wilson) playing Rick and Isla’s favorite song from their days together. Throughout the “pre-flashback”, the camera is pushing closer and closer to Rick, ending with him filling up the entire frame gazing off into the distance. Then, the scene transitions with a ripple dissolve, into a shot of Paris’ Arc de Triomphe, before again dissolving into a shot of Rick and Isla driving, smiling, with the Arc behind them. The audience immediately recognizes that this is a flashback of their time together in Paris, which was only hinted at before. The flashback continues with a series of short scenes of their time in Paris, with several dissolve transitions scattered throughout to show the passage of time. The flashback ends with another ripple dissolve back to the shot of Rick sitting in his bar, with Sam finishing the song.

This sequence raised a few questions for me. Firstly, why is the ripple dissolve transition so naturally associated with a flashback? When people think of their past, their memories do not dissolve, nor do they ripple, so how do audiences naturally realize that they are watching a flashback, as opposed to the next chronological scene in the film? Also, how do dissolves show the passage of time between shots? Can a similar effect be achieved with a different transition? How different would the flashback’s effect be if instead of dissolves (rippled or not), hard cuts were used? Lastly, how is music and sound employed to emphasize flashback? In this example, the song was shown to “bring Rick back to the past”. Would the scene play differently if there was no song playing in the background?

Interesting Youtube Video For Shot Types

Today in class, we briefly covered the different types of shots: extreme long shot, medium shot, etc. This reminded me of a very interesting video that I saw on youtube last year that describes the different shots in more detail, as well as showing some impressive examples for each shot type. I highly recommend watching the video, even if it’s 20 minutes long. Also, as an interesting side note, their selection for the best close up is (spoiler alert) from the Passion of Joan of Arc, which we just watched part of in class.

I highly recommend watching this youtube channel’s (CineFix) other videos as well, as they are all very interesting and fun to watch

Character Introductions in Grand Budapest Hotel

Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel features a cast of quirky, colorful characters, each one unique and wonderful in their own way. While it would otherwise seem difficult or tedious to introduce each character individually, Wes Anderson understands the impact and importance of first impressions. Instead of acquainting the audience with each character through dialog, by having the character’s backstory or personality explicitly recited, Anderson familiarizes the character instantaneously through their introductory shots. In other words, Anderson introduces characters visually, rather than orally.

My favorite examples are Agatha and Dmitri’s introductions.

Agatha:

 

Our first introduction to Agatha, is the above shot of her working in a bakery. Immediately, purely through the props and setting around her, as well as the lighting, the audience knows who Agatha is. She has flour smeared all over her, so she is hardworking. She has a huge birthmark on her face, so she isn’t high in social standing, further emphasized by the fact she works in a bakery. She is surrounded by a multitude of delicious-looking cakes, so she is good at her job. Furthermore, the lighting in the shot is very warm, with a lot of reds and oranges, so it can be assumed that she is viewed in a warm, even romantic way by the narrator.

Dmitri:

On the completely other side of the scale, there is Dmitri’s introduction shot. The lighting is very cold, the colors dark and brooding. Every character is wearing black in the background, and Dmitri is no different, wearing what appears to be a military inspired outfit. He is wearing very expensive jewlery and is backed by his very evil-looking and menacing bodyguard. From all these things, it is a very easy for the audience to understand that this is a villainous character. This is no Agatha, warm and pure, but a cold, powerful man who gets what he wants, even if he has to resort to violence.

Royal Tenenbaums:

This style of character introduction through visual formats, as opposed to orally, is a repeated theme in Wes Anderson’s films. This same technique can be found in Anderson’s 2001 film The Royal Tenenbaums. In the opening credits of this movie, about the separated (fictional) Tenenbaum family and their unexpected reunion, Anderson introduces each character through brief glimpses at each character with their names (and the actor portraying them), all without any dialog. Even without saying a single word, each character’s identity and main traits are expressed to the audience, through their settings, their costumes, their actions, etc. For example, the character Chas is shown in a gym locker room shaving with children, emphasizing that he is a family man with a passion for sports, while Eli is in a fitting room with servants helping him dress, and even feeding him, showing his dominance and authority.

 

Are words always necessary to introduce a character? How much of a character’s personality and backstory can be shown purely through visual media? How can setting be used to portray character? How should a character be introduced to emphasize their important and defining traits? How important and accurate are first impressions? Should we judge a character based on looks?