In film and video, which way the characters move across the screen affects how the viewers think about those characters. Generally, left-to-right movement is viewed positively while movement the opposite way is viewed more negatively. In the video, they mention a piece Roger Ebert wrote on How to Read a Movie, which is worth a re-read even if you saw it here many years ago.
The Iron Giant has been remastered and burnished with a pair of extra scenes for a re-release in US theaters scheduled for the end of September.
Warner Bros. and Fathom Events are teaming up to bring The Iron Giant back to life. The beloved 1999 animated film is being remastered and augmented with new footage, and it’s coming to select American theatres as what the studio’s calling the “Signature Edition” on September 30th. There’ll also be an encore presentation in select theatres a few days later on October 4th.
The movie earned a respectable $23 million at the box office and critical acclaim, but failed to recoup its $70 million production budget. After reading a bunch of positive reviews, including one from my cinematic divining rod Roger Ebert, I was one of the brave few souls to see The Iron Giant in the theater. Hope to catch it again in September. (via @anildash)
In a local Chicago TV segment from 1980, here’s film critic Gene Siskel reviewing The Empire Strikes Back.
Interesting that he spends most of his time commenting on the special effects. At the time of this review, Siskel had been doing a show with Roger Ebert called Sneak Previews, but they seemed to have missed reviewing the original Star Wars or Empire on the show. Ebert reviewed Empire in 1997, giving it four stars and calling it “the best of the three Star Wars films”.
“The Empire Strikes Back” is the best of three Star Wars films, and the most thought-provoking. After the space opera cheerfulness of the original film, this one plunges into darkness and even despair, and surrenders more completely to the underlying mystery of the story. It is because of the emotions stirred in “Empire” that the entire series takes on a mythic quality that resonates back to the first and ahead to the third. This is the heart.
The film was made in 1980 with full knowledge that “Star Wars” had become the most successful movie of all time. If corners were cut in the first film’s budget, no cost was spared in this one: It is a visual extravaganza from beginning to end, one of the most visionary and inventive of all films.
Sight and Sound polled 340 critics and filmmakers in search of the world’s best documentary films. Here are their top 50. From the list, the top five:
A Man with a Movie Camera
Night and Fog
The Thin Blue Line
Unless you went to film school or are a big film nerd, you probably haven’t seen (or even heard of) the top choice, A Man with a Movie Camera. Roger Ebert reviewed the film several years ago as part of his Great Movies Collection.
Born in 1896 and coming of age during the Russian Revolution, Vertov considered himself a radical artist in a decade where modernism and surrealism were gaining stature in all the arts. He began by editing official newsreels, which he assembled into montages that must have appeared rather surprising to some audiences, and then started making his own films. He would invent an entirely new style. Perhaps he did. “It stands as a stinging indictment of almost every film made between its release in 1929 and the appearance of Godard’s ‘Breathless’ 30 years later,” the critic Neil Young wrote, “and Vertov’s dazzling picture seems, today, arguably the fresher of the two.” Godard is said to have introduced the “jump cut,” but Vertov’s film is entirely jump cuts.
If you’re curious, the film is available on YouTube in its entirety:
Life Itself, the documentary about Roger Ebert, is now out in theaters. But you can also watch it via various Video On Demand services, including Amazon and iTunes. Here’s the trailer to whet yer whistle:
LIFE ITSELF, the first ever feature-length documentary on the life of Roger Ebert, covers the prolific critic’s life journey from his days at the University of Illinois, to his move to Chicago where he became the first film critic ever to win the Pulitzer Prize, then to television where he and Gene Siskel became iconic stars, and finally to what Roger referred to as “his third act”; how he overcame disabilities wrought by cancer to became a major voice on the internet and through social media.
Director Steve James (HOOP DREAMS) has conducted interviews with over two dozen people, including lifelong friends, professional colleagues, the first ever interview with Gene Siskel’s wife, and filmmakers Errol Morris, Werner Herzog, Ramin Bahrani, Gregory Nava, Ava DuVernay, and Martin Scorsese, who is one of the executive producers along with Steven Zaillian.
I’m reading back through my archive of stuff written by and about Roger Ebert and I realized I’ve never written about my favorite piece of his: Dwarfs, Little People and the M-Word. It’s nothing particularly earthshattering or insightful, but the piece demonstrates what I really liked about Ebert: humanist, happy to be corrected when in the wrong, not afraid to poke fun at himself, and a lover of both language and knowledge.
I had no idea the word “midget” was considered offensive, and you are the only person who has ever written to me about it. In my mind it is a descriptive term, like “dwarf.” “Little People” has seemed to me to have a vaguely condescending cuteness to it. If I am now informed that “midget” is offensive, I will no longer use it. What is your feeling about “dwarf?” Is “Little Person” always the preferred term? Our newspaper’s style book, based on Associated Press, does not consider “midget” or “dwarf” to be offensive terms, but perhaps we have not caught up.
Ebert, 70, who reviewed movies for the Chicago Sun-Times for 46 years and on TV for 31 years, and who was without question the nation’s most prominent and influential film critic, died Thursday in Chicago. He had been in poor health over the past decade, battling cancers of the thyroid and salivary gland.
He lost part of his lower jaw in 2006, and with it the ability to speak or eat, a calamity that would have driven other men from the public eye. But Ebert refused to hide, instead forging what became a new chapter in his career, an extraordinary chronicle of his devastating illness that won him a new generation of admirers. “No point in denying it,” he wrote, analyzing his medical struggles with characteristic courage, candor and wit, a view that was never tinged with bitterness or self-pity.
Always technically savvy - he was an early investor in Google - Ebert let the Internet be his voice. His rogerebert.com had millions of fans, and he received a special achievement award as the 2010 “Person of the Year” from the Webby Awards, which noted that “his online journal has raised the bar for the level of poignancy, thoughtfulness and critique one can achieve on the Web.” His Twitter feeds had 827,000 followers.
Ebert was both widely popular and professionally respected. He not only won a Pulitzer Prize - the first film critic to do so - but his name was added to the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2005, among the movie stars he wrote about so well for so long. His reviews were syndicated in hundreds of newspapers worldwide.
What in the world is a leave of presence? It means I am not going away. My intent is to continue to write selected reviews but to leave the rest to a talented team of writers handpicked and greatly admired by me. What’s more, I’ll be able at last to do what I’ve always fantasized about doing: reviewing only the movies I want to review.
At the same time, I am re-launching the new and improved Rogerebert.com and taking ownership of the site under a separate entity, Ebert Digital, run by me, my beloved wife, Chaz, and our brilliant friend, Josh Golden of Table XI. Stepping away from the day-to-day grind will enable me to continue as a film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times, and roll out other projects under the Ebert brand in the coming year.
Let me tell you a story. The day after Columbine, I was interviewed for the Tom Brokaw news program. The reporter had been assigned a theory and was seeking sound bites to support it. “Wouldn’t you say,” she asked, “that killings like this are influenced by violent movies?” No, I said, I wouldn’t say that. “But what about ‘Basketball Diaries’?” she asked. “Doesn’t that have a scene of a boy walking into a school with a machine gun?” The obscure 1995 Leonardo Di Caprio movie did indeed have a brief fantasy scene of that nature, I said, but the movie failed at the box office (it grossed only $2.5 million), and it’s unlikely the Columbine killers saw it.
The reporter looked disappointed, so I offered her my theory. “Events like this,” I said, “if they are influenced by anything, are influenced by news programs like your own. When an unbalanced kid walks into a school and starts shooting, it becomes a major media event. Cable news drops ordinary programming and goes around the clock with it. The story is assigned a logo and a theme song; these two kids were packaged as the Trench Coat Mafia. The message is clear to other disturbed kids around the country: If I shoot up my school, I can be famous. The TV will talk about nothing else but me. Experts will try to figure out what I was thinking. The kids and teachers at school will see they shouldn’t have messed with me. I’ll go out in a blaze of glory.”
In short, I said, events like Columbine are influenced far less by violent movies than by CNN, the NBC Nightly News and all the other news media, who glorify the killers in the guise of “explaining” them. I commended the policy at the Sun-Times, where our editor said the paper would no longer feature school killings on Page 1. The reporter thanked me and turned off the camera. Of course the interview was never used. They found plenty of talking heads to condemn violent movies, and everybody was happy.
“Citizen Kane” speaks for itself. “2001: A Space Odyssey” is likewise a stand-along monument, a great visionary leap, unsurpassed in its vision of man and the universe. It was a statement that came at a time which now looks something like the peak of humanity’s technological optimism. Many would choose “Taxi Driver” as Scorsese’s greatest film, but I believe “Raging Bull” is his best and most personal, a film he says in some ways saved his life. It is the greatest cinematic expression of the torture of jealousy — his “Othello.”
The message I get is that Americans love the movies as much as ever. It’s the theaters that are losing their charm. Proof: theaters thrive that police their audiences, show a variety of titles and emphasize value-added features. The rest of the industry can’t depend forever on blockbusters to bail it out.
The problem with using 3-D for feature-length films is not so much the technology or its lack of contribution to the storytelling, it’s that human eyes were not designed to focus and converge on images at two different distances. Walter Murch, the legendary sound designer and editor, explains in a note to Roger Ebert:
The biggest problem with 3D, though, is the “convergence/focus” issue. A couple of the other issues — darkness and “smallness” — are at least theoretically solvable. But the deeper problem is that the audience must focus their eyes at the plane of the screen — say it is 80 feet away. This is constant no matter what.
But their eyes must converge at perhaps 10 feet away, then 60 feet, then 120 feet, and so on, depending on what the illusion is. So 3D films require us to focus at one distance and converge at another. And 600 million years of evolution has never presented this problem before. All living things with eyes have always focussed and converged at the same point.
“Rosebud.” The most famous word in the history of cinema. It explains everything, and nothing. Who, for that matter, actually heard Charles Foster Kane say it before he died? The butler says, late in the film, that he did. But Kane seems to be alone when he dies, and the reflection on the shard of glass from the broken paperweight shows the nurse entering the room. Gossip has it that the screenwriter, Herman Mankiewicz, used “rosebud” as an inside joke, because as a friend of Hearst’s mistress, Marion Davies, he knew “rosebud” was the old man’s pet name for the most intimate part of her anatomy.
The new show will appear on PBS and feature Elvis Mitchell & Christy Lemire as the main hosts.
“I believe that by returning to its public roots, our new show will win better and more consistent time slots in more markets,” added Ebert. “American television is swamped by mindless gossip about celebrities, and I’m happy this show will continue to tell viewers honestly if the critics think a new movie is worth seeing.”
The movie had been controversial. The president of the festival jury, Tennessee Williams, already had vowed that it would win a prize only over his dead body (it won the Grand Prix; Williams lived). The key people at the press conference were Martin Scorsese, the film’s director, and Paul Schrader, who wrote it. The French critics were lobbing complex philosophical questions at them in French, and then the English-language translators were wading in, and everyone was getting nicely confused.
Someone finally condescended to ask a question of the little girl down at the end of the table - the one, you might assume, who’d been brought along to France as a treat, along with all the ice cream she could eat. The translator grabbed for the microphone, but Jodie Foster waved him off and answered the question herself, in perfect French. There was an astonished round of applause: At last, an American who spoke French! And less than 5 feet tall!
He both writes and thinks about food in the present tense. Ask about favorite foods and he’ll scribble a note: “I love spicy and Indian.” An offer to bring some New Jersey peaches to his summer home here on the shore of Lake Michigan brings a sharp defense of Michigan peaches and a menu idea. “Maybe for dessert we could have a salad of local fresh fruits.”
“Food for me is in the present tense,” he said. “Eating for me is now only in the past tense.” He says he has a “voluptuous food memory” that gets stronger all the time.
“I can remember the taste and smell of everything, even though I can no longer taste or smell,” he said.
Here are the opening couple of paragraphs from the post that evolved into the cookbook:
First, get the Pot. You need the simplest rice cooker made. It comes with two speeds: Cook, and Warm. Not expensive. Now you’re all set to cook meals for the rest of your life on two square feet of counter space, plus a chopping block. No, I am not putting you on the Rice Diet. Eat what you like. I am thinking of you, student in your dorm room. You, solitary writer, artist, musician, potter, plumber, builder, hermit. You, parents with kids. You, night watchman. You, obsessed computer programmer or weary web-worker. You, lovers who like to cook together but don’t want to put anything in the oven. You, in the witness protection program. You, nutritional wingnut. You, in a wheelchair.
And you, serving in Iraq or Afghanistan. You, person on a small budget who wants healthy food. You, shut-in. You, recovering campaign worker. You, movie critic at Sundance. You, sex worker waiting for the phone to ring. You, factory worker sick of frozen meals. You, people in Werner Herzog’s documentary about life at the South Pole. You, early riser skipping breakfast. You, teenager home alone. You, rabbi, pastor, priest,, nun, waitress, community organizer, monk, nurse, starving actor, taxi driver, long-haul driver. Yes, you, reader of the second-best best-written blog on the internet.
Film Critics GENE SISKEL and ROGER EBERT join Terry Gross on stage in Chicago for a “live” audience version of Fresh Air. This was recorded in February 1996. The duo began their TV collaboration in 1975 on Chicago Public Television station WTTW. After two successful season, the program became a national PBS show. In 1981 it moved to commercial television.Their show is now known as “Siskel and Ebert” and is heard in 180 markets. Gene Siskel is film colmnist for the Chicago Tribune, and Roger Ebert is critic for the Chicago Sun-Times. “Siskel and Ebert” has been nominated for five national emmy awards. Ebert has recieved a Pulitzer Prize for film criticism.
I don’t know how people in the industry feel, but for me, the internet is the best thing that ever happened to radio.
He was in the hands of medicine. He was hopeful but realistic. He will come to feel increasingly like a member of the audience in the theater of his own illness. I’ve been there. There were times when I seemed to have nothing to do with it. One night, unable to speak, I caught the eye of a nurse through my open door and pointed to the blood leaking from my hospital gown. She pushed a panic button and my bed was surrounded by an emergency team, the duty physician pushing his fingers with great force against my carotid artery to halt the bleeding. I was hoisted on my sheet over to a gurney, and raced to the OR. “Move it, people,” he shouted. “We’re going to lose this man.”
Anderson Cooper asked Hitchens whether he’d been moved by the prayer groups supporting him to pray himself:
“No, that’s all meaningless to me. I don’t think souls or bodies can be changed by incantation.” There was a catch in his voice, and the slightest hint of tears. That was the moment — not the cancer or the dying — that got to me. Prayer groups also prayed for me, and I was grateful and moved. It isn’t the sad people in movies who make me cry, it’s the good ones.
Hitchens added that if there should be reports of his deathbed conversion, they would be reports of a man “irrational and babbling with pain.” As long as he retains his thinking ability, he said, there will be no conversion to belief in God. This is what I expected him to say. Deathbed conversions have always seemed to me like a Hail Mary Pass, proving nothing about religion and much about desperation.
I wrote this at Snarkmarket at the beginning of the week:
Recent efforts by Tony Judt, Christopher Hitchens, Atul Gawande, following on slightly older ones by Joan Didion and Phillip Roth, make me wonder whether we’ve achieved a new breakthrough in our ability to write about death — perhaps especially protracted death, death within the context of medical treatment, in a secular context, which as Gawande reminds us, is comparatively new and certainly much more common.
Here’s the section of Gawande’s recent New Yorker essay I was thinking of:
For all but our most recent history, dying was typically a brief process. Whether the cause was childhood infection, difficult childbirth, heart attack, or pneumonia, the interval between recognizing that you had a life-threatening ailment and death was often just a matter of days or weeks… [A]s the end-of-life researcher Joanne Lynn has observed, people usually experienced life-threatening illness the way they experienced bad weather—as something that struck with little warning—and you either got through it or you didn’t.
An unexpected cost of the secularization/medicalization of death is that we lose the language we need to talk our way through it:
Dying used to be accompanied by a prescribed set of customs. Guides to ars moriendi, the art of dying, were extraordinarily popular; a 1415 medieval Latin text was reprinted in more than a hundred editions across Europe. Reaffirming one’s faith, repenting one’s sins, and letting go of one’s worldly possessions and desires were crucial, and the guides provided families with prayers and questions for the dying in order to put them in the right frame of mind during their final hours. Last words came to hold a particular place of reverence.
These days, swift catastrophic illness is the exception; for most people, death comes only after long medical struggle with an incurable condition—advanced cancer, progressive organ failure (usually the heart, kidney, or liver), or the multiple debilities of very old age. In all such cases, death is certain, but the timing isn’t. So everyone struggles with this uncertainty—with how, and when, to accept that the battle is lost.
That’s one of the stunning things about Gawande’s essay — how much of what it describes is a failure of language. No one can speak, at least directly; we can only watch.
But now everything he says must be written, either first on his laptop and funneled through speakers or, as he usually prefers, on some kind of paper. His new life is lived through Times New Roman and chicken scratch. So many words, so much writing — it’s like a kind of explosion is taking place on the second floor of his brownstone. It’s not the food or the drink he worries about anymore — I went thru a period when I obsessed about root beer + Steak + Shake malts, he writes on a blue Post-it note — but how many more words he can get out in the time he has left.
I’ve always liked Ebert and I consider this version an upgrade…he’s doing his best work. (thx, david)
What I miss is the society. Lunch and dinner are the two occasions when we most easily meet with friends and family. They’re the first way we experience places far from home. Where we sit to regard the passing parade. How we learn indirectly of other cultures. When we feel good together. Meals are when we get a lot of our talking done — probably most of our recreational talking. That’s what I miss.
Health care in Colonial America looked nothing like what we’d consider medicine today, but the debates it triggered were similar. The danger of smallpox and the high cost of its prevention led to divisive questions about who should pay, whether everyone deserved equal access, and if responsibility lay at the feet of the individual, the state, or the nation. Epidemics forced the early republic to wrestle with the question of the federal government’s proper role in regulating the nation’s health.
I am told we cannot trust the government. I believe we must trust it, and work to make it trustworthy. We are told the free enterprise system will sort things out, but it has not. When insurance companies direct millions toward lobbying and advertising against a health care system, every dollar is being withheld from sick people. When it goes to salaries, executive jets, corporate edifices and legislative manipulation, it isn’t going to Amy Caudle.
1. The Night of the Hunter, Laughton 2. Apocalypse Now, Coppola 3. Sunrise, Murnau 4. Black Narcissus, Powell & Pressburger 5. L’avventura, Antonioni 6. The Searchers, Ford 7. The Magnificent Ambersons, Welles 8. The Seventh Seal , Bergman 9. L’atalante, Vigo 10. Rio Bravo, Hawks
Lots of notable titles missing…and only a couple post-1980s films make the list.