For your Rocky Premiere!!!
On Wednesday, Tim and I went to see Fahrenheit 9/11 (which opened in Manhattan that day, although its wide release was yesterday), and although we spent two hours watching a Michael Moore film, we ended up being consumerist bastards and doing a lot of shopping. Somehow, I ended up at home with two books, the DVD of Badder Santa, an alien, a combination grill/waffle iron and a blender.
I still haven't had the chance to use the waffle maker or blender yet.
I have been going through several tapes shot by my cinematographer Jay Cohen of Lester Swing. Unfortunately, I couldn't put any of the footage onto my hard drive because of a strange computer glitch, which I'm hoping to clear up in the near future, but I have marked down a bunch of stuff that will be good in the documentary Jay and I are putting together of the production of their new record, The Music Album.
The documentary is rather interesting to be working on because the production of the album is so unusual. It was recorded completely analog, with vintage recording equipment and amplifiers. There is some great footage of bassist Frankie Sparasino playing the Hammond organ.
The material has formed a shape in my head, I just have to solve the technical problem involved in getting it on my hard drive, and Jay and I need to do some more interviews.
Incidentally, The Music Album was originally meant to be THEMUSICALBUM, which, as you can see, can also spell out "The Musical Bum," which was the brainchild of guitarist Charlie Neder, whom I worked with at Tower, and he envisioned artwork besed around said musical bum. His brother, (also a guitarist and former Tower co-worker) John Neder wryly admitted that any reference to the musical bum has been removed from the cover art because it too accurately described members of the band.
As everybody who is reading this must know by now, my favorite movie monster of all time is the Xenomorph from the Alien franchise. McFarlane toys put out a line of aliens a few years ago, a figure from each film. From Alien there was the warrior adult form of the beast itself, which was sold along with a Predator and a base with three eggs with facehuggers in them. From Alien3, there was the adult dog alien, and from Alien: Resurrection, there was the warrior adult (a significantly different, and much sillier design). The figure from Aliens, however, was a Queen, with a diorama that included a hapless chest-burster victim. While I love my Queen, the adult alien from the second film was never made available, which is a shame because even though I prefer the head with the cowl, I still think that the ribbed understructure (which is revealed in Aliens only) is still interesting.
Well, now they've re-released the line, and in addition to the first film's creature being made available by itself, the warrior adult from Aliens is now available. Except for the head, this incarnation differs the least from Giger's original design, although I understand that there is a Japanese company that has released an alien from the first film that is slightly more accurate than even McFarlane's from a feature point of view, although as is obvious from the above image that McFarlane's has better proportions.
Nevertheless, I will be placing this on order forthwith.
Central Park is not really what I would call a park (it is not wild enough), but it is still a wonderful place to go in the summer. I've always loved the rocks and hills, plus you rarely ever find conservatives there. It's true. Conservatives look at Central Park as being a big, ugly green spot in the center of Manhattan that is taking up valuable mall space.
The criticisms leveled at the film in the print media have been interesting. It is the intent that is being questioned, not the content... because it is unassailable. The facts are incontestable (it is mostly review of material unofficially suppressed in the mainstream American news services), and the administration is pretty much hoist upon its own petard. Instead, Moore becomes the target, or the material seen in the film is questioned. One reviewer tried his damndest to make the footage of Bush in the kindergarten class mean that he was in great pain, ignoring the fact that such a reaction is just as damning as the stupid shock we do see.
Moore avoids blatant editorializing, which was a main criticism of Bowling For Columbine, allowing the story of the corporate takeover of our government to tell itself (although he does throw in a few musical gems from time to time), pressing the matter through implication and intellectual montage. It is obviously sending conservatives in a tizzy because they can't even level a decent criticism at it, but unfortunately, Americans have this annoying habit of not seeing films if they are condemned by the Religious Right. We'll see.
Apparently television reviewers have been just calling it outright lies, which is interesting because they don't have to back anything up. I'm not saying that they have to in print journalism either, but there still is a higher standard, save for The New York Post.
The restoration of my laserdisc player has allowed me to watch several films I've never gotten on DVD, as their presentation in that incarnations do not offer any advantages beyond convenience. The DVDs are not anamorphically enhanced for 16:9, and they do not have 5.1 soundtracks. Besides, I missed the cute little turtle with the “Program material is recorded on the other side of this Laser Video Disc” note (if you had a laserdisc player, you'd know what I mean).
The laser of The Crying Game looks kind of blah and sounds all right. Chances are a good remastering of this title will be a distinct improvement over the laser, but as it stands, the same master was used to create the DVD as was used for the laser.
The film is one that confused audiences. Not the “big secret,” although that was an issue at the time. No, what seems to confuse audiences is what Fergus' (Stephen Rea) motivations are in getting close to Dil (Jaye Davidson). The most common reason I've heard is “he only ever felt sorry for her,” so that people can relax in the comfort of their black-and-white view of sexuality. The truth, and careful viewing of the film will make this only more apparent, is that Fergus is attracted to Dil because of his suppressed attraction to Jody (Forest Whitaker).
The relationship between Jody and Fergus takes up a half an hour of screen time, and it is an act with blatantly sexual connotations that is their first real connection with one another, and let us not forget the recurring images in Fergus' head of Jody pitching... which, when he finds out about Dil's true nature, becomes a smug affirmation that he threw Fergus a googly, a particularly difficult Cricket pitch. Towards the end of the film, he remakes Dil as Jody, an act which is one of great mythic importance.
Once Fergus does find out about Dil, his relationship with her becomes much, much more interesting. Certainly their repartee becomes wittier and crackling. It is here where, if the film were the one-trick-pony that many have called it, the film would fall apart. It does not because Fergus is just as engaged by Dil, though in a different way. He can not take her for granted anymore. The end of the film is poetic perfection. Fergus has the image that he is comfortable with of Dil, without having to deal with her on a physical level.
Miranda Richardson is absolutely terrifying, and Jim Broadbent also appears as Col, the bartender at the Metro, a bar that, if Fergus had taken a good look around in, he might have been a little less shocked...
Another point of interest in this film is the use of music. The film opens with Percy Sledge performing the classic “When A Man Loves A Woman,” and closes with Lyle Lovett's rendition of “Stand By Your Man,” both tracks ironically commenting on the situation and the film in general. Dave Barry's naïve ballad, “The Crying Game,” from which the film draws its title from not only perfectly fits Dil's character, but the remake by Boy George is particularly witty.
This is all balanced by Anne Dudley's mournful score. It is, in my opinion, still her best score, although American History X comes a close second. The story is advanced by tragedy, no matter how much fun is had along the way, and her score, with its haunting trumpet motif, wrenching strings and harsh snare drums perfectly illustrate the fragile and violent emotional world these characters live in.
This is a film about crossing boundaries, both sexual and racial. I hadn't seen this film in quite some years, and as soon as it started, I was struck by how colorful and detailed the characterization is.
Before The Lord of the Rings showed us how beautiful New Zealand could look, The Piano showed us how muddy it could be.
Jane Campion has written of this film how she is fascinated by characters whose view of sexuality is not of the modern age. The Piano is a modern film, to be sure, but its subject matter stays close to its generating concept.
Holly Hunter's Oscar-winning performance is outstanding. Denied the ability to speak, she must instead emote through her gestures, carriage and facial expression. One never doubts what Ada's is feeling, even is she is hiding her emotions. We certainly have the impression that she has a past, a fact which is obvious because she has a daughter (a very young Anna Paquin, who also won an Academy Award), but would easily have been glossed over or ignored.
Her passion for Baines (Harvey Keitel, in one of his “Penis Performances,” a series of films that came out the same year in which he went the full monty) develops because he alone can understand her and her music, despite his own inability to express himself. By contrast, Stewart (Sam Neill, straight off Jurassic Park) is frozen. Stuart Dryburgh's photography makes much use of filters, particularly in outdoor sequences, so the film has a particular look, and Michael Nyman's evocative score carries much of the film. Hunter herself played the piano in the sequences where Ada plays, although the piano heard in the score and the recordings on the album are all Nyman himself. Nyman's pieces for Ada herself are fascinating, often based upon existing traditional pieces, reworked in his own way to be haunting. I would say that this is Nyman's most accessible score, but it is no less interesting for all of that.
The picture on the laser is pretty damn good, actually. The colors are exactly what they should be, and it is very sharp... not as sharp as it would be were it in 16:9, but it is nevertheless a pretty rich image.
The sound, though...
When DVDs first came out, one of the first criticisms that were leveled against them was their lackluster sound. This was partly because Dolby Digital didn't upgrade from 384 kbps to 448 kbps until after the format had been established, but it is also because laserdiscs had full bandwidth CD sound by contrast.
The laser of The Piano had one of the most aggressive and detailed Dolby Surround soundtracks ever, and decoding it in Dolby Pro-Logic II, which splits the surrounds (like the old Fosgate, then Meridian system) makes it indistinguishable from something recorded in 5.1. Sound designer Lee Smith's layered textures and atmosphere certainly live up to the “surround” concept, underlining the location and emotional content. Every little nuance has a sound, and that sound is perfectly integrated into its location. If this film were given a good remaster, the DVD would be hard-pressed to improve upon the sound of this laserdisc.
I don't know if anybody else has noticed this, but there seems to be a direct correlation between nudity and the Best Actress Oscar. I'm serious. Holly Hunter, Halle Berry, Gwyneth Paltrow... these are only a few of the women who have won the award for films in which they take their clothes off in.
I solemnly swear I am up to no good...
...in freakin' IMAX!
First off, I wish to say that this is the best presentation of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban you will ever see. The digital process by which the IMAX image is derived certainly works... except for some minor edge–enhancement and the standard “digital doesn't handle blacks very well” issues, the image is pristine. Although the image is slightly taller than the 2.35:1 35 millimeter prints, the aspect ratio is about 2.1:1, preserving the widescreen aesthetic of the film. The effect is similar to a 70 millimeter blow-up, only better. The SDDS 8-channel sound is phenomenal, with great split-surrounds. There is thunderous power but also great subtlety (power: going through the clock sounds like going through the clock; subtle: after Harry Patronuses the Boggart back into Lupin's box, the track seen in the Astronomy tower is audible the entire time, moving slowly from front to back and behind along with the camera movement).
Okay, so this is what pisses me off about this.
I have been grousing about the lousy quality of the 35 millimeter prints since the movie came out. The fact is that if they can eke this much detail and saturation from the negative, even with all the digital enhancement, tells me they could produce a much better looking 35 millimeter print than they have. Super 35 can never look as good as something shot anamorphically, but it can look better than it usually does. The prints of The Fellowship of the Ring, The Return of the King and the two Matrix sequels are examples of very good Super 35 derived anamorphic print. The high-speed contact printing process is much to be blamed, but I think that a lot of it is simple laziness in the conversion process.
That said, this is hands-down the best narrative film ever to be offered in the IMAX format*, and it is quite a lot of film. It is easy to forget how important a big screen can be for a film, and in this case, we're talking about a gargantuan screen.
So, even if you've seen the film, I can recommend the IMAX Experience whole-heartedly.
* Former IMAX feature film presentations have been of Apollo 13, Star Wars: Episode II and The Matrix Reloaded. While Apollo 13 is an... okay film... the other two are, well, less than perfect shall we say. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is on a different level of storytelling.