For a lesson in the art of directing from American master Steven Spielberg, here is an educational exercise courtesy of another American master, Steven Soderbergh. On his site Extension 765, Soderbergh has taken the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark and posted a version of it in which he has removed the color and replaced the entire soundtrack with a contemporary — and very Soderberghian — score, in order to study the staging, pace, and other visual elements of Spielberg’s direction. And, yes, Raiders looks superb in black and white, thanks to its cinematographer Douglas Slocombe (still alive at 103 years old!), who also shot such classics as Rollerball, The Lion in Winter, The Lavender Hill Mob, The Man in the White Suit, and one of my all-time favorites, The Fearless Vampire Killers. If you ever wondered what Raiders of the Lost Ark would look like as a silent film, this is it! And if you are looking to see how others have learned lessons from the directing (and cinematography and editing) skills of Mr. Steven Soderbergh, look no further than that little TV show Breaking Bad. For my money, Vince Gilligan and his colleagues must have spent a fair amount of time watching various examples of Soderbergh’s work to find inspiration for Breaking Bad from the tone, pace, atmosphere, and other elements of style in a number of his best movies.
Posted in Chapter 1 | Tagged Breaking Bad, Douglas Slocombe, Extension 765, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Steven Soderbergh, Steven Spielberg, The Fearless Vampire Killers, Vince Gilligan, Visual Literacy | Leave a Comment »
That’s not really what they say in French to begin a take, but it will work on this occasion. In fact, the “cinématographe” was the groundbreaking device invented by Louis Lumière, working with his brother Auguste, over 120 years ago. To mark this 120th anniversary of the birth of projected movies and the inventions, innovations, and visions of the Lumière brothers, the Institut Lumière based in Lyon, France has partnered with the Grand Palais in Paris to create an exhibition “dedicated to the flagship inventions of the Lyon-based pioneers of cinema, Louis and Auguste Lumière.”
Rachel Donadio, writing in the New York Times, states “Back before Instagram and selfies, before home movies and Kodachrome — and long before the obsessive documentation and online sharing of every moment of our waking lives — there were two brothers from Lyon whose innovations opened the door to the future.” It is appropriate that this exhibit is in Paris, where the brothers held the first paid public screening of their movies on December 28, 1895 at the Grand Café, and where they screened large-format 75mm films at the Universal Exhibition of 1900. Check out this thorough article from the New York Times for an introduction to these inspiring filmmakers, or of course consult the pages in Chapter 2 of Moving Images that describe their place in moving image history.
For any teacher of moviemaking, one of the most vital concerns should always be safety. I know that it always has been for me — and for anyone working with adolescents it must take on the utmost importance. In class guidelines, the significance of clear rules and principles for safety must be firmly articulated in any agreement to which students and parents must sign. When developing the textbook Moving Images, I knew that I would need to discuss safety in my notes to instructors and in project guidelines, and I pointed out to the publisher that there must be a clear statement about safety in the front matter of the book.
In recent months, the importance of safety for all media creators has been at the forefront of discussions of industry standards and production practices and the legal implications of our work as moviemakers in the tragic death of assistant cameraperson Sarah Jones. Director Randall Miller was sentenced to a two-year prison term for involuntary manslaughter for the death of Ms. Jones during a night shoot on the feature film Midnight Rider. As reporter Richard Verrier explains, “The crew was filming a scene – a dream sequence for a movie about the life of Greg Allman of The Allman Brothers. And actor William Hurt was lying on a bed that had been placed on a railway track … the crew had been assured that no trains would be coming down the track, that they had permission to film there from the landowner. And what happened was a CSX freight train came barreling down the tracks and hit the bed and shards from the bed struck and killed the camera assistant Sarah Jones… and injured several other workers.” This piece for the podcast The Frame provides further information and discussion of this tragic incident and its current implications for the industry. However, it should be pointed out that these are not new concerns: Among the most famous cases of loss of life during film production are the deaths of Vic Morrow and two child actors during the making of John Landis’s segment of Twilight Zone, the death of actor Brandon Lee on The Crow, and the death of a stunt crew member for the creation of chase sequences in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight.
Related to all of this, I am reminded of the classic recurring line from Sgt. Esterhaus of Hill Street Blues: “Let’s be careful out there.” For ourselves, as well as for those with whom we are working and for whom we are responsible.
A brief message to note that the flags are flying at half-mast at mediateacher.net in appreciation of the recently departed Leonard Nimoy. This fine actor whose career became indelibly intertwined with his portrayal of the half-Vulcan half-human Mr. Spock in the Star Trek storytelling universe, provides such an inspiring example of the opportunities to connect with audiences as an artist and the ways in which media can evolve and adapt complex relationships to narratives that emerge over time. This includes exchanges with fans, including one from a fanzine in the 60’s which gives an inspiring example of the breadth and depth of this actor’s wisdom and sensitivity. Here in the pages of FaVE is a message about personal identity that is decades ahead of its time.
On a personal note, I can attest that a few times stories have been shared with me by friends who were at intimate social gatherings — far from red carpets or sci-fi conventions — at which Mr. Nimoy was a participant and that his presence was warmly and genuinely beneficent, without fail. I would also encourage any who are interested in the work of Leonard Nimoy and his contributions to Star Trek to seek out his other work, including his photography, writing, and non-Spock acting such as Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
This year’s Academy Awards nominees feature some movies that are so full of media literacy lessons – like Boyhood which was discussed in an earlier post, American Sniper which will be the subject of a new post on mediateacher.net that will appear this week, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) which features truly groundbreaking collaboration between director Alejandro González Iñárritu, cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (featured in Moving Images and a number of mediateacher posts), its actors including Michael Keaton, and percussionist and composer Antonio Sánchez, among others – and it will be very interesting to see the ones chosen in various categories by the Academy voters. The tricky relationship of history, truth, authenticity, and accuracy that has been seen in debates related to Selma and The Imitation Game as well as the multiply-controversial American Sniper is a key thematic core to lessons in Moving Images, and there will be upcoming posts that feature information and links within our already well-developed category of social studies-related media lessons.
Meanwhile, for most of the general public, the categories for the short films are the most unknown quantities on the Oscar ballot. You might want to check out this piece by A.O. Scott for any last-minute info and for a short film that shows the nominees for animation. One of the animated shorts, Me and My Moulton, is by Torill Kove, who directed past winner The Danish Poet, which is available with other past winners on an excellent BluRay by Shorts International.