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Archive for the ‘Chapter 4’ Category

Decades ago, Princeton professor P. Adams Sitney first integrated these lessons into his work on cinematic history and its hidden lessons, along with adventures in the Avant-Garde.  Check out the embedded video above and your eyes (and mind) may be opened a bit more.

Speaking of dispelling illusions, here is a related recommendation — Race: The Power of an Illusion is an exceptional documentary referenced in Moving Images and which explores the complex story of what we call “race” in AmericaYou can learn more about it here.

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DP Ed Lachman with Cate Blanchette and Rooney Mara

Ed Lachman with Cate Blanchette and Rooney Mara

In earlier posts, mediateacher has highlighted resources for screenwriting, editing, sound, and much more, and of course there have been discussions of cinematography, such as upon the release of the documentary Side by Side.  Here are some excellent cinematography resources: this 20-minute film and accompanying tutorial by John Hess of filmmakeriq.com about color and digital cinematography; the “Through the Lens Film School” blog by Chris Weaver that offers pretty easy-to-follow lighting tutorials and general tips; and, finally, an interesting “food for thought” page from Deadline magazine prompted by statements by DPs Robert Richardson and Ed Lachman (who shot Carol on 16mm!) about what is really happening these days in the world of VFX-driven cinematography.

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media dressOr is it white and gold?  A few weeks ago, a new viral event entered the lexicon: So, is the dress in that picture white & gold or blue & black?  And an intense debate ensued.  I first was asked about it by a student in my Advanced Media Literacy & Production class, and I laughed because kids, being kids, were quickly getting furious about the different opinions being expressed and whether or not one was a “white/gold” or “blue/black” person.  And they were also quite sure that what they were talking about was the color of a dress.  I told them that what they were looking at, and debating, was a picture of a dress, and that what they were disputing was how they perceived the visual information in the picture.  If they were well trained in media literacy, they might be able to address a few key issues at hand: first, the lighting in the picture is clearly problematic and we tend to interpret that visual information relative to many perceptions we have related to light and color.  I guessed “white/gold” because the bluish tint to the white I instinctively dismissed to the overexposed highlights while the darker tone certainly did not look black to me.  (Do it right now with the picture here: cover everything else except for a patch of the dark bands on the dress: is that black to you?)  This also brings up another issue that is important to consider: by giving the choice of blue/black or white/gold, there is already a setup for the viewer, we are already given a bias or a set of parameters that will skew our reactions to what we see.  We may even see things that aren’t necessarily there or it may limit our reactions by design. These issues are discussed in Chapter 4 of Moving Images: in order to master Storytelling with Light, one must understand light.  And that includes the concept of white balance, which clearly was not in play with this photo.  For anyone interested in further exploration of these issues related to light and color, I highly recommend the episode Seeing is Believing from the excellent series Brain Games.  The lesson related to our perception of color is also in this BBC article – scroll down to the example Cube Illusion – within moments, you will probably be thinking “I can’t believe my eyes!  No way!”

unforgiven_5

Another American marksman: director Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven

Another major media event from this year that makes me think of these issues is the enormous success of the movie American Sniper, directed by Clint Eastwood, which may become a media document used in our schools throughout the years to come.  For many young people, both the movie and its source autobiography are already regarded as a core historical text in the “War on Terror” and a rather faithful document of recent American history, as I have witnessed on numerous occasions in conversation and text.  This movie is a treasure trove of lessons in media literacy, through which one can delve into the messages being communicated visually and constructed for audiences, from the editorial links between the events of 9/11 and Iraq; to depictions of Iraqis as “savages” (to quote the author and subject of American Sniper, Chris Kyle) and black-clad villains of the American Western transplanted from the sandy vistas of cowboys to the desert lands of the Middle East; and to the use of actual documentary footage from Kyle’s funeral in Texas to conclude the film, cementing its message to audiences as a historical document.  In discussing the topic of the understanding of history through movies, Jeffrey M. Zacks writes in Why Movie ‘Facts’ Prevail (New York Times,February 13, 2015): “You might think: Does it really matter? Can’t we keep the film world separate from the real world?  Unfortunately, the answer is no. Studies show that if you watch a film — even one concerning historical events about which you are informed — your beliefs may be reshaped by ‘facts’ that are not factual.”

AMERICAN SNIPER

“Mustafa” – truth or fiction? Be media literate and do the research!

Issues of authenticity, distortion of historical truths or outright inaccuracy, acceptable or inappropriate license taken in the depiction of historical events or figures are all core issues faced by countless media creators working in both fiction and non-fiction.  They are core topics of Chapters 5 and 6 of Moving Images.  This past year, many valid points have been raised about controversial choices relative to the visual communication and dialogue in a number of historically-based movies, particularly American Sniper, The Imitation Gameand Selma.  Educators must continue to encourage vigorous debate and to develop students’ abilities to interpret, question, and assess the media messages with which they regularly interact.

If you are looking for a good analytical piece on American Sniper, I think this article by Noah Gittell is one of the best; he provides a brief but excellent visual and thematic analysis of the movie and appropriately contextualizes the opposing poles observed in reactions to the film.

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Director Francis Lawrence measures up a shot with Jennifer Lawrence on Catching Fire

Director Francis Lawrence measures up a shot with Jennifer Lawrence on Catching Fire

This week, there was a post on Yahoo News comparing the Hunger Games movies and offering an explanation as to “why Catching Fire is superior to the first Hunger Games movie”— which is that it was shot in 35mm. with “old lenses!”  (I have to add that I have been astonished at the degree to which it has become a meme that the second Hunger Games movie is infinitely superior; literally every adolescent that I’ve heard talk about the movies says this, and some then go on to describe the first movie as if it were shot by a detoxing wedding videographer with a Fisher-Price handycam.)

jennifer-Lawrence-on-fire-in-New-Hunger-Games-Catching-Fire-TrailerSince issues concerning evolving platforms for image capture (both digital and celluloid-based) are addressed in Chapter 4 of Moving Images and a few of my mediateacher.net blog posts, I had to laugh when I read this article and thought, “It’s nice to see this much passion about cinematography in a Yahoo article!”  At the same time, I remarked, “Hmmm, the writer needs a few lessons — after all, the first Hunger Games movie was shot in 35 as well!”  This is why an understanding of Storytelling with Light from Moving Images can be so beneficial: One must look at all the decisions being made by director, cinematographer, and the lighting and art direction personnel on the movie that craft its look (and vfx too!).  It’s how you create and work with the light and all of the things that it’s bouncing off of.  In the meantime, I highly recommend checking out the clip from the Catching Fire Blu-Ray: it includes many interesting observations by cinematographer Jo Willems and director Francis Lawrence about visual communication, including selecting aspect ratio, working with film negative, devising approaches to shot selection through choice of lenses (such as the effect of using wider lenses on a project), and going “old school” in general.

aviatorAs an additional note, for those interested in the craft of acting, there was a superb piece on Hunger Games star Jennifer Lawrence by Manohla Dargis in this past Sunday’s New York Times, while for fans of Leonardo DiCaprio, a paired article by A.O. Scott was just as compelling.  Both essays from the Times “Awards Season” series provide excellent discussion points for thoughtful debates about contemporary movies and American culture.

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Understanding the effect of aspect ratio is vital for filmmakers, such as in this year's "Gravity"

Understanding the effect of aspect ratio is vital for filmmakers, such as in this year’s “Gravity”

In Chapter 4 of Moving ImagesStorytelling with Light — the primary topic is the investigation of the core principles that one must consider as a cinematographer, whether in digital image capture or celluloid-based film.  A key issue to examine is the aspect ratio of the movie, which links back to earlier explorations of composition starting in Chapter 1.   For educators working on this unit, here is an overview of aspect ratio in motion picture history from the Filmmaker IQ website.  I was led to this page after reading an excellent essay on aspect ratios by Tyler Lavoie, who is one of my former students.  On the subject of cinematography, let me remind readers of my earlier post discussing the movie Side by Side (directed by Chris Kenneally and hosted by Keanu Reeves), which is superb to use in tandem with the work in Chapter 4.

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Cuarón (left) and Lubezki (center) working with digital techniques on Gravity set

Cuarón (left) and Lubezki (center) working with digital techniques on Gravity set

In an earlier post, I highlighted the work of cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki and director Alfonso Cuarón, featured artists in Moving Images, whose collaboration has generated many of the most powerful and provocative movies of recent decades.  Their current film, Gravity, is sure to offer strong opportunities for studies of the art of moviemaking, as it weaves together technology, visual communication, storytelling, and the artistry of directing, acting, sound design, and many other departments to craft its narrative and build its thematic and emotional resonance.  A number of thorough and insightful pieces on this movie and Cuarón’s career have appeared in recent weeks.  I highly recommend this article from the Directors Guild of America.  In addition, if you have not visited the DGA site, you will find that it is an unequaled resource, particularly for its extensive interviews with dozens of directors.  Also, New York Magazine published a superb piece by Dan P. Lee – The Camera’s Cusp: Alfonso Cuarón Takes Filmmaking to a New Extreme with Gravity in its September 22 issue.    

George Clooney, Sandra Bullock, and Alfonso Cuarón making Gravity

George Clooney, Sandra Bullock, and Alfonso Cuarón making Gravity

For an initial investigation into some of the science in Gravity, here is a video in which Cuarón and space.com’s @DavidSkyBrody discuss scientific aspects of the creation of this movie.

It is my plan to return to this post with more links to lessons associated with this movie or material that emerges once it is released.  Stay tuned.  And maybe I’ll see you at the movies on the day of its release.

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much-ado-about-nothing-whedonEnglish teachers can move on from Baz Luhrmann (whichever frantic, begging adaptation) or excerpts from the 70’s Shakespeare movies or Gibson’s Hamlet or Branagh’s grand stuff because this is a very exciting new moment for Shakespeare stagings for the screen in many hues of silver.

Another little Whedon side project from Joss the writer

Another little Joss side project

Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing has arrived and I highly recommend this excellent interview about the striking tale of this project that grew out of his work on The Avengers.   His “Anatomy of a Scene” video featuring the “blanky-cam” is good for students to think about drama and its interpretation, and for more info, there is also the surprisingly rare case of a well done official site set up for the movie.  Great for Chapter 4 of Moving Images: contemporary b&w cinematography at the filmmaker’s home; working with actors and crew to discover “where do I go, how do I say this, what will give our choices meaning?”  (Mr. Whedon was featured in an earlier blog entry; that’s why these are “more surprises” with this filmmaker who is full of them; he would have been doing just fine with those miracles known as Buffy and Firefly. )

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