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Posts Tagged ‘movies’

Gertie Turns One Hundred

November 4, 2014 | by

A century ago, well before Jurassic Park or The Land Before Time or even plain old moribund Godzilla, cinema’s preeminent dinosaur was Gertie, a colorless, potentially narcoleptic herbivore, species indeterminate, fond of dancing and casting elephants into the sea. Gertie the Dinosaur (1914) was one of the first animated films; it pioneered key-frame animation, a technique in which a story’s major positions were drawn first and the intervening frames were filled in afterward. Gertie’s creator, the cartoonist Winsor McCay, made more than ten thousand drawings of her, and these, as you can see above, yielded fewer than seven minutes of animated footage. (If you want to skip straight to the Gertie goods, head to the seven-minute mark, but beware—you’ll miss some riveting live-action scenes featuring well-dressed gentlemen shaking hands, well-dressed gentlemen gathering at a dinner party, and well-dressed gentlemen smoking.)

This Friday, as part of the MoMA International Festival of Film Preservation, the animation historian John Canemaker hosts a screening of Gertie and three of McCay’s other early animations, “as well as a re-creation—with audience participation—of the legendary routine that introduced Gertie in McCay’s vaudeville act.” No elephants will be harmed.

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A Conversation About Our Secret Life in the Movies

November 3, 2014 | by

In-the-Movies-Edit

A detail from the cover of Our Secret Life in the Movies.

When the writers Michael McGriff and J. M. Tyree lived together in San Francisco, they set out to watch every film in the Criterion Collection. Their new book, Our Secret Life in the Movies, is a coauthored mash note to cinema classics from Andrei Tarkovsky to Michael Mann: a novel in fragments, vacillating between fiction and autobiography, with more than thirty pairs of stories inspired by the films they watched together. Part collage and part homage, Secret Life follows two boys as they come of age in Reagan-era America, where the video store is the locus of the imagination and the fear of a nuclear winter looms large in the collective conscious.

McGriff and Tyree sat down together to discuss their impetus for the project, the enigma of writing about moving images, and their influences in literature and film alike.

J. M. Tyree: I’m trying to remember how we got the idea for Our Secret Life in the Movies.

Michael McGriff: We were roommates in San Francisco, both teaching in the Creative Writing Program at Stanford, and I somehow convinced you that it would be a good idea to watch the entire Criterion Collection that year.

JMT: We were living in that wonderful place near Mission Dolores, a block away from where Alfred Hitchcock created the fictional grave of Carlotta Valdes in Vertigo. The Criterion project was a real Y-chromosome thing, wasn’t it? We were watching two or three movies a day, eating a lot of pizza, drinking a lot of sambuca. I think our book evolved naturally from the feeling that movies and life seep together out there in the fog.

MM: We started writing these pairs of stories. For each movie that fascinated us, we’d both write one story. A double take on the film. We decided to leave our names off the individual stories and let the book have a life all its own.

JMT: Then the stories started connecting and linking up and merging and growing and taking over—cue The Blob. Why did you want to write a book about movies?

MM: I’ve always gone to film as my primary source of inspiration. Tarkovsky and Bergman taught me how to be a poet just as much as reading Tranströmer and Neruda. Read More »

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Brecht’s Breath, and Other News

November 3, 2014 | by

Bertolt Brecht

Better closed than open, that mouth. Brecht in 1954. Photo: German Federal Archives

  • On Brecht and hygiene: “He was physically repellent. He seldom washed and he smelled. He didn’t brush his teeth, and, consequently, many of his teeth decayed and fell out … Not surprisingly, he suffered halitosis—or rather, others suffered it. Brecht probably thought that, since imitation is the highest form of flattery, he was expressing his solidarity with the proletariat by being dirty. This, however, is insult rather than flattery … Brecht’s dirtiness was a form of condescension, the product of a lack of real interest in what poor people actually wanted.”
  • Please allow me to introduce myself: I’m a man of great wealth and taste. That’s why I’ve got this ten-thousand-dollar Rolling Stones art book sitting prominently, resplendently on my coffee table.
  • Lionel Shriver on the bitch goddess: “I’ve had to revisit a whole era of my own life, during which I imagined I was miserable. I was living in Belfast, and my career was on the rocks. Over this period, I lost my American publisher, and two novels thereafter were released exclusively in the UK. Reviews were agreeable, but sales meager … This is going to sound a stretch, but: those twelve years in the literary wilderness as a nobody, with a horribly high likelihood of getting nobodier? I think I was happy.”
  • Quick and easy advice for reading poetry (and making it, you know, fun): “Someday, when all your material possessions will seem to have shed their utility and just become obstacles to the toilet, poems will still hold their value. They are rooms that take up such little room.”
  • The cinema: Should we give a fuck? “We all know that movies make a lot of money for a few people, provide a living for many, and help most of us pass the time—which is fine, as far as it goes. But beyond that, why should anyone care?”

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Ship of Fools

October 30, 2014 | by

Jheronimus_Bosch_011

Hieronymus Bosch, The Ship of Fools (detail), ca. 1494-1510, oil on oak panel.

There is something profoundly lonely about sitting in a movie theater, watching something you know to be bad, while people around you enjoy it. I had such an experience recently: the movie had been rhapsodically reviewed, was as full and red a tomato as I’d ever seen on the Internet, had been enthusiastically recommended by people whose tastes I trust. I bought my ticket with high hopes. We want every movie to be fantastic, to change our lives or at least our day. And how rarely we have reason for such hopes! Nevertheless, it was with such an unusually optimistic outlook that I settled into my seat and cracked open my box of Junior Mints.

My first doubts crept in quickly. A joke was cracked; it wasn’t funny. Chill, I told myself. Go with it. It’ll get better. The dialogue was forced and unnatural. Everyone around me was laughing. There’s that moment in a movie when you can’t pretend anymore: when the unassailable realization sets in that, simply put, you’re not in safe hands. Maybe it’s a stupid twist or bad line; more often, it’s just the cumulative stupidity outweighing anything redeeming. You can’t trust the filmmakers anymore, and as a result, you can no longer relax. Besides everything else, it’s exhausting. This movie got worse and worse: clichéd, pretentious, clumsy, vain. I was cringing; the women next to me were laughing heartily. At the end of the movie, much of the audience rose for a spontaneous standing ovation.

It did not occur to me for a moment that I was mistaken. No: they were wrong. The movie was bad. Is this sort of certainty merely arrogance or some sort of madness? Either way, it’s not fun. I’m much too old to derive any satisfaction from poking holes in other people’s pleasure. At $14.50, there are cheaper ways to feel lonely. Read More »

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Trick Lighting

October 21, 2014 | by

Photo: Walt Stoneburner

I ran into the guy while I was taking a walk through what is now called the Columbia Waterfront District—but then, this was nearly ten years ago.

“Excuse me, do you live around here?” he said. I thought he wanted directions, but it turned out he was a location scout for a small indie film. Did I have a railroad apartment, he wondered, in an older building? I did. And would I be willing to let them shoot there for a few hours?

They came to check it out a few days later. For some reason, their approval seemed important; I scoured the place and had fresh coffee brewing (realtor-style) when they came in. This time it was a director—a middle-aged man—and a few assistants. They conferred a great deal about angles and light and what they’d have to do to make the place work before giving their qualified approval. A shooting time was set.

I had grown to hate that apartment. It had looked nice when we moved in a year before, and had felt like a fresh start. But then had come the months of unpacked boxes and unhung pictures and the day I had a burst of enthusiasm and tried to arrange everything myself. And then the anger at my slapdash methods and the walls of crooked frames, my tears. My boyfriend hated his job and, I think, me. I would walk through the door and find him sitting in the dark. We almost never had people over. And the row of small, windowless rooms, which had initially felt cozy, now looked dark and dreary. Our landlady, who it seemed was in violation of about every housing code, had long since fled the state, so any maintenance—of peeling paint or faulty wiring—was out of the question. I was glad to be forced to clean, to open ourselves up to scrutiny. Read More »

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Psychodrama

October 9, 2014 | by

Popcorn, 2008

Andrew Stevovich, Popcorn, 2008.

To those of us who enjoy seeing movies alone, the practice does not require any defense; it’s one of life’s greatest pleasures. While—obviously—everyone likes seeing a film with a like-minded friend, and while some (The Room springs to mind) derive half their pleasure from the shared experience, there’s a lot to be said for the total lack of self-consciousness inspired by a solo venture. The practical benefits are self-evident—seeing what you prefer, sitting where you like, leaving if you want—but those of reacting in a vacuum are even greater. However independent-minded you might be, it is hard not to be aware of your companion’s amusement, or disdain, or (in the case of my dad) checking of his watch whenever he gets bored. How much more relaxing to sit alone and let your impressions form, and then digest and recollect in tranquility.

Last night, I went to see Gone Girl. It struck me as a perfect movie to see alone; unlike much of the English-speaking world, I didn’t know the plot, and looked forward to thoroughly losing myself in an absorbing story. With this in mind, I purchased a ticket for one of the stand-alone seats at the back of the theater; this multiplex has assigned seating. I figured the privacy—the space to react—mitigated the distance.

But when I arrived for my showing, it was to find that, in fact, these seats were not stand-alone; while my seat was indeed isolated from the general aisle, it was one of a pair. And there was an older man already occupying the other half of what, basically, amounted to a love seat. I should perhaps add here that this theater is famously romantic; since its 2013 remodel, its fully reclining, softly padded seats, with their removable armrests, have been a destination spot for teens on the make. Not only would I not have privacy; I would be relegated in bizarre intimacy with this stranger. I had a horrible flashback to the time in seventh grade when I was invited to a bar mitzvah where I didn’t know anyone and we were seated in the order in which we filed in and I ended up sitting next to three random boys for the duration of a joust at Medieval Times. Read More »

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