>I was talking
to someone earlier today who'd just seen Armageddon and really enjoyed
it, of course, he said, it'll get slammed by the critics.
>He then said
that we had a strange way of reviewing film if you compared it to the
way music is reviewed.
>With music you
have reviewers that specialise in classical, or rock, or pop or blues
or....whereas in film we have really only the one prominent kind of reviewer
and that they equate roughly with the classical music reviewer.
>So of course
they hate Armageddon, it's rock & roll.
>I got to thinking
about it, I've spent the day sitting on the cliff watching the tide
come in and then go back out, and there's an interesting analogy to
be drawn here.
>Up until fairly
recently the movie industry has been stuck in that music period before
the mid 60's where the studio's ruled and the artists were trampled.
got to the stage where the artists are setting up their own record labels,
sorta late 60's apple and rolling stone records, and we're also
just going through the Sergeant Pepper, Itchycoo Park, Wheels on Fire,
special effects era.
>So soon we'll
all settle down and just use the effects rather than over-use them.
>How about movies
shot on DV and transferred to 35mm as Punk?
>So, where does
that leave me? wanting to make the filmic equivalent of It's Only
Rock & Roll that's where.
>Drawing on all
the source material but putting it together on a way that's fresh
>Aaah. I wish.
Can't resist a reply though, even from frantic, wintery Sydney.
the sectors of the music industry, populism tends to be frowned on by
the critics. Once the 3 Tenors traded in on their success, they were condemned
in the eyes of the serious opera reviewers. David Helfgott (to take a
popularly filmed example) may be technically clumsy, but he brought Rachmaninov
and others to packed houses who were genuinely moved by the performances.
But the critics slated him. Perhaps a Helfgott concert is like a good
script badly shot and edited. (to come back on to topic).
>Also, the ""rock'n'roll""
movies tend to get plenty of ""reviews"" of -shall
we say - the uninformed, uncritical kind that make one look to the ownership
of the newspaper/TV network and of the film studio. Generally it's
a different type of reviewer or critic who deals with art-house, and who
probably feels obliged to slate the blockbusters just to bring a bit of
story line may have been rock & roll, but the slick pristine commercial
vision (as in tv commercial vision. . . meant as a compliment) that almost
can be perceived as a movie within the movie was more like classical music
. . . I even had flashes that some of the images were derivative of Robert
Frank . . . in color. I am talking about the constant cutaways to the
farm, or the street scenes of the cities. I don't remember seeing
a second unit credit, but I would venture to say that Michael Bay and
John Schwartzman had tremendous input in creating stylish, impeccably
composed, well choreographed and stunningly art directed images adjunct
to the core events of the movie.
>Has anyone noticed
that the majority of mainstream movies are running longer than the traditional
90 minutes these days? I guess it's good for Gross Global Product.
>PS Great post,
by the way Geoff!
>Just for argument's
sake, some ""rock&roll"" can suck also and maybe
""Armageddon"" was mediocre even within the confines
of the genre. I'm sure that a number of critics knew going in what
kind of film it was trying to be and might have judged it on its own merits
and still found it lacking.
>Also, is it
wrong for critics to have higher standards than audiences, or wish that
the audience would demand better films?
>There has always
been a gap between ""serious"" film critics who dabble
in theory and essay writing, and those who are more consumer advocates.
Do we really need more Susan Grangers and Joel Seigels who seem to like
everything? Should critics, who see a lot more films than anyone else,
ignore their trained reactions and just try and guess what the ""average""
viewer will enjoy (like those Variety reviews which try to guess how well
the film will do at the box office?)
>Is it so bad
when film critics don't agree with our own reactions? Personally,
if I liked a movie, I don't really need the confirmation of critics
that I have good taste. I guess all I want from a critic is consistency
so I can judge what the movie must really be like, taking his or her biases
into consideration when reading the review.
>Now that I'm
done playing devil's advocate (for my brother-in-law's sake, who
is a classical music critic), I do agree that critics should be more open
to the broad range of possibilities in filmmaking. They tend to either
equate documentary realism as the highest state of film art (something
Hitchcock and Truffaut discussed) and thus ignore the films of Michael
Powell, for example, or they review films mainly for their literary value.
>Pardon my presumption.
Just found your guys' site. It's now one of my favorites.
>I am not a cinematographer.
Got an MFA from Columbia (under Andrew Sarris) in Film History & Criticism
in 1972 during the great Scorsese-Ashby-Coppola-Don Siegel/Dirty Harry
just retired from a career in Federal Law enforcement.
>Be that as it
may - regarding the analogy of music and films. Critics and audiences
alike take one very basic film element for granted: You have to know where
to put the camera. Ford did. So did Hawks. I'd love to see Gene Siskel's
home movies. Or better yet still photos of his summer vacation(s). Every
time I watch the opening chase sequence of Carpenter's remake of 'The
Thing', I'm blown away by his handling of the helicopter, the
dog, the guy with the rifle, and that deep snow. You know where each is
in relation to the other and know exactly what's going on at all times..
>When I think
of what I went through for a tempo and editing exercise in film school
with an 8 mm(!) camera and a tennis ball to make a coherent 5-minute film
as the ball bounced anonymously from room to room...
>One last analogy
regarding film and criticism: I'll never forget the take on critics
of one of my teacher/filmmakers in a documentary class - 'Saying that
a(n American) movie is good because it is well-photographed is like saying
'Moby Dick' is a masterpiece because it has a nice type face.'
>That is a great
the artistry with which a story is photographed has substantially more
to do with the viewers' appreciation of the story than the type face
has to do with the reading experience. Try to visualize a poorly photographed
CITIZEN KANE, for example.
>At first, it
seems like a clever statement.
>But in fact,
it's quite stupid. It reduces the role of the cinematographer to less
than the role of a typesetter. It says that great cinematography is essentially
unimportant, to be assumed, when there are films in which the shooting
is as or more important than the script or performances. Imagine, say,
Citizen Kane as shot by, oh, I won't name anyone, but think 70's
sitcom style. Would it lose something?
>A more apt but
stupid clever statement would be to say, oh, that Bob Dylan's genius
comes solely from his guitar playing. It may be a component of his music,
and an important one, but it's hardly the most important one.
great original post.
back to a musical analogy"" Kreines
>For once I have
to Disagree with you Jeff. DO you think a typesetter goes home and thinks
about how unimportant his job is or when he walks by a book store with
his family, do you think he proudly makes a reference to that book being
""his"". I'll bet he is real proud of his work
and doesn't gloat because the NY Time book review doesn't mention
him. Of course the author thinks nothing of the typesetter in his thought
of the book, but he is an intricate part of the entire process. Yes there
is a relationship of the cinematographer to the director, but how many
times is that directors work his. In other words, how many times is the
director the author of the material that he is translating to celluloid.
I don't think the writer of the screenplay sits there and says; ""I
have a great cinematographer in mind for this story"", yet the
cinematographer is no less important to the piece than the director. But
so is the wardrobe person, the set designer and the like. They are no
less important to the piece. Maybe in human terms considered less important
(because of societies ridiculous teachings that there are winners and
losers in life). It's all how you look at it. If you want to take
it as an insult, then you are correct in your statement but if you want
to look at it as a statement that says there is more to any film than
any one element then you'll begin to see beyond the ""put
down"". As I've said before, I've seen some great movies
that had lousy cinematography and I've seen some lousy movies that
had great cinematography. Just shows that a film is more than any one
Dylan's genius comes solely from his guitar playing. It may be a component
of his music, and an important one, but it's hardly the most important
>I know many
who think as a writer of music, Bob Dylan is a genius but as a performer
he sucks. I feel that way myself. I had the (opposite of pleasure) of
working with him six years ago and his attitude on life sucks. If you
didn't know he is considered a great song writer you would think he
was nothing more than a bitter asshole. Doesn't make him any less
a genius, but I would much rather here other people perform his songs
than him singing his own. In fact more people have made better cuts and
been a lot more successful at his songs than him. He even bitterly admits
that and history has recorded that fact.
>As for your
guitar statement, I would love for you to talk to some of the greats and
ask them how unimportant their guitar is. I think you'd find that
you soon insult them with any reference to their guitar being just part
of the equation. Les Paul made his whole career not on the music he wrote
or sang, but on the guitar he sold to everyone. Ask a classical musician
about his instrument and tell him that his instrument is merely part of
the equation and you'll not make many friends or get into the concert
for free. Whole companies; Steinway"", etc have made careers
on having the best instruments and any good musician will tell you they
are only as good as their instruments.
say, Citizen Kane as shot by, oh, I won't name anyone, but think 70's
sitcom style. Would it lose something? +++++
>I think it is
impossible to make any reference to a film, the person, who made it, and
when it was made and try to give the scenario of ""what do you
think would happen if they made it now?"". Kane was a masterpiece
of it's time. It still is. But it was made when it was by a person
who was successful when he was and it could never be duplicated or even
come close. I have yet to see anyone agree that any remake of anything
from the past is even close to the original.
>There are too
many factors in film making, when it was done, and who did it to try to
make a weak comparison like ""what if???"". But you
need not use a great like Kane either. No average film could be made the
same way by any two different people.
is an art. In many ways it is as underrated as cinematography is by the
public. If you don't believe the font and it's layout can affect
your mood then why are there so many? Having thrown that out, I would
compare the book's binding to the theater seats and the type face
to all the accouterments that affect our viewing of the projected images.
>So is the statement
valid? I don't think so. It's like comparing apples to oranges.
Can't be done (though many try).
>Great post Geoff.
It really made me think. Though I would agree that there were reviewers
bashing music before it could be recorded and stage plays long before
films came along. I also note that reviewers are called critics. It's
in their job description.
Will watch any bad film if even one craft has done an exellent job.
>And why do people
have libraries of hard cover cloth bound books and no one prides themselves
in paperbacks. People who like books take pleasure in the form of a book
(e.g. the typesetting, the binding, the paper quality, etc). When I started
the genre of commercials for the major publishers. I was told by many
that these days, the cover of a book is as important to the sales as many
of the authors. In fact some say that certain authors book covers are
more important that the literary quality of the author. That comes from
the vice president of Bantam books so if you want to complain about that
statement call her.
ago the cost of a paperback cover was on the order of a few cents, some
have covers that cost up to a dollar per unit. Quite expensive when your
selling a book.
>Film is a colaborative
effort utilizing the talents and skills of many people, towards a common
has the following three elements at his disposal:
>a) the story
b) the actors performance c) the cinematography
believe that cinematography has been neglected in the recent years, but
is making a strong comeback. It's a shame because it's a third
of the potential resources that you have at hand to tell your story. Proponents
of ""pure cinema"" will argue it counts for more than
a third. Murnau may have agreed with that statement, just take a look
at something like ""The Last Laugh"".
>Just my opinion.
>Surely a really
great film is when everyone has done their job well - and a really great
director sees to it that everyone does their job well AND with the same
effect. That's why CITIZEN KANE scores welle in all the ""10
best movies"" lists. Not only do the cinematographers love it,
so do the actors, literary critics, editors, semiologists etc. And they
love it even more because every great thing about the film is in tune
with every other great thing.
>But there are
plenty of good films worth watching that gain their strength from excellence
in some areas despite being only average in others. They just aren't
in the top 10 of all time.
>PS. Not sure
how Casablanca and GWTW earn their places in the top 10 according to the
above theory. Discuss.
that to the editors.
>For that matter,
try watching a Hitchcock film without the Bernard Herrmann score (or with
it when Hitch ran the scene sans music). Notwithstanding his visual and
directorial excellence, I doubt if Hitchcock would have gained such eminence
without his composer. The stories were all the same.
>BTW - <Just
my .02 cents:> - Feli - you should revise your rates. One fiftieth
of a cent??
to belabor the point, but the previous Moby Dick remark was a compliment
to the typeface itself, not how the book was set, or the craft of the
typesetter. It would be like complimenting the cinematographer on the
shape of, say, a 1.85 frame -- it's a choice often made by others
(aspect ratio, or type family), a restriction that the typesetter or cinematographer
lives with and works under.
>I have great
respect for typesetters -- my father was a printer, and I often spent
long days at Ludlow and Linotype machines and watching ""strippers""
cut lith film to burn plates. All dead technology, of course!
Dylan as off topic -- but ""Time out of Mind"" is
a great album... not up to ""Blood on the Tracks""
or ""Blonde on Blonde"", but pretty damn good. But
he doesn't need defending...
>The only reason
I mentioned Citizen Kane is that I was reading yet another Welles bio
and it sprung to mind as a reference everyone would know.
>In fact, if
you look at many books, especially poetry books, you will see the selection
of typeface, sizing, kerning, line spacing and line breaks, etc. have
a great effect on the final appreciation by the reader for the book. In
fact, paper selection and finishing materials for the case binding are
often endlessly debated, too for fine books (not necessarily those produced
for mass paperback consumption.) And the ""dumbing down""
of the craft of typeface design and typesetting are debated with as much
fire as we reserve for DV cameras.
who plays ""old Rose"" in Titanic has made a career
of producing fine-art printed books which have been bought and displayed
in many of the world's most prominent art museums.
>So the analogy
both slights fine cinematography and fine typography.
take Gill Sans over Arial anyday"" Schlicher
director has the following three elements at his disposal :
story b) the actors performance c) the cinematography
>Also is, The
Wardrobe, The set decoration, Music, Sound Effects, Special effects, Sound
design, Editing. I'm sure there are more.
think that Cinematography has been neglected in recent years. In that
I believe you mean cinematographic technique. I see TOO many movies that
have just Amazing Cinematography, but are lacking in Story, performance,
and or Direction. Lot's of technique.
>so its rock
and roll, but is it good rock and roll?
>i hate to disagree,
but there are a lot of very different types of movie reviewers, im sure
if i looked at a month old newspaper with armageddon ads, there would
be some quotes from reviewers who liked it.
>as for DV features
being punk rock, punk rock was not about a technical way of making music,
it was about an attitude (after all, a lot of it still used the same blues
progressions chuck berry used and the same instruments). i can't wait
for punk attitude to hit films. i feel like contemporary films are in
1976 with billy joel playing on the radio, and some very frustrated young
musicians are out there not wanting to be pink floyd or elton john. i
certainly hope things in film are about to explode.
in a film is not the typesetter of a finished manuscript. He is the film
equivalent of the part of the Herman Melville which is describing the
surroundings, setting the atmosphere and mood and everything else that
makes you picture the whale chase in your mind as you read the story.
>The thrust of
my remark was to disparage neither bookmaking nor cinemaphotography -
two of my life interests. It was to disparage - within the specific context
of Geoff's original great post - the quality of american film criticism.
Europeans have long held american cinematography in a higher regard than
over here. Admiring the photographic work within a great film is one part
of understanding the totality of the work. Some critics think, though,
that that is all there is. Conversely they think mediocre films or worse
have no photographic merit.
remake of 'The Thing' was pretty much panned by the critical press.
But it's opening helicopeter/sleddog/rifleman sequences are certainly
worthy of inclusion in a course on editing, tempo, shot establishment,
etc.And, like 'Armageddon' you guys would recognize even more
valuable material and/or technique in them than even the most film-literate
I love beautiful and appropriate type faces and graphic design, my appreciation
for Moby Dick would not change one iota whether I read it in a handwritten
manuscript (so long as it was readable), typewritten pages, or the most
elegantly presented layout and typeface--in my mind, where the story is
taking place--the images would be exactly the same.
replace the mental images as you watch a story. The contribution of all
the craftspeople and artists becomes an important part of those images,
naturally, and cannot be discounted. But the ""look""
of the images has a powerful effect on our appreciation of a good story,
at least it does for me.
has any effect on my mental image of the story I read.
>Re DV being
punk, I am not so sure. It might also be something less wonderful... but
Pixelvision might be closer to punk. And perhaps Betacam transferred to
video is like, well, that self-produced, self-promoted CD of lounge music
that even the friends of the artist don't listen to. (Got one in the
mail once from someone named ""Skipper...)
>I suppose the
Dylan and Welles examples make some sense, as both of them were considered
godlike in their mid-20s, and found it hard to top (or equal) their younger
easy being a prodigy, is it?"" Kreines
that a(n American) movie is good because it is well-photographed is like
>saying 'Moby Dick' is a masterpiece because it has a nice
>I can see the
sense in the quote but I think some of the members are seeing something
that's not there.
>I was trained
in the theatre where I was taught the play is everything. If someone remarks
how nice you lit this or that then you'd basically failed in your
>When I started
to shoot promos the opposite seemed to apply and for that reason I stayed
away from them for ages. Then when I did start shooting them I soon learned
that if you applied the same reasoning then you were out on your backside.
So I did a complete u-turn and started to throw the camera about and to
light in a way that it was ""visible"".
>It seems to
me what the above quote is saying is ""most"" American
films have no spine but a pretty skin. While there's nothing wrong
with admiring a pretty skin don't go calling the body great or a masterpiece.
may be a great movie but it would've been that anyway even if it had
been photographed by another DP - it just has too many things going for
it to be held back by ""bad"" photography. But this
is something we will never know. However, I base my statement on some
beautifully shot remakes of classic films which sunk like a ton of bricks!
So why didn't the good photography buoy them up?
of Hitchcock and Ford films are atrociously lit. But who complains about
the bad lighting? Yet not a few of them are considered ""masterpieces""
of American cinema. I haven't seen the remake of Psycho but 10-1 it
is beautifully lit but will sink into oblivion while Hitchcock's version
will still be playing in 50 years time.
>While the cinema
is a visual medium primarily and an audio medium secondly it's as
well to remember that it is a cerebral experience above all - unless,
of course, you're on a date!