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kottke.org posts about movies

The Times of Bill Cunningham

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 17, 2020

In 1994, legendary street fashion photographer Bill Cunningham gave a six-hour interview about his life and work. This interview was recently rediscovered and made into a documentary called The Times of Bill Cunningham. Here’s a trailer:

The movie is out in theaters, but the reviews so far are mixed, especially when compared to the rave reviews received by 2011’s Bill Cunningham New York. Still, Cunningham is a gem and I will watch this at some point soon. (via recs)

Inglourious Basterds’ Witty Slate Clapper

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 13, 2020

Geraldine Brezca has worked on several of director Quentin Tarantino’s movies,1 and for Inglourious Basterds, she was the slate operator — i.e. she clapped the clapper before each scene. And as this video shows, she was very entertaining and creative in her duties:

For each scene’s label, Brezca came up with something funny (A66F = “au revoir 66 fuckers”), ribald (29B = “29 blowjobs”), appropriate (39FE = “39 feet essential” on a scene featuring feet), respectful (4AK = “4 Akira Kurosawa”), or profane (79E = “79 fucking explosives”, which got quite a chuckle from Brad Pitt). See also Here’s Why Slate Operators Matter (And Why Quentin Tarantino’s is So Great).

  1. Brezca’s IMDB page shows that the last movie she worked on was Django Unchained in 2012. Not sure if she left the industry or passed away or what…

Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 12, 2020

Trailer ↑. Well, if you like Wes Anderson this looks terrific. And if you don’t, well, perhaps not. The French Dispatch is about a weekly literary magazine in the style of the New Yorker. From the actual New Yorker:

Wes Anderson’s new movie, “The French Dispatch,” which will open this summer, is about the doings of a fictional weekly magazine that looks an awful lot like — and was, in fact, inspired by — The New Yorker. The editor and writers of this fictional magazine, and the stories it publishes — three of which are dramatized in the film — are also loosely inspired by The New Yorker. Anderson has been a New Yorker devotee since he was a teen-ager, and has even amassed a vast collection of bound volumes of the magazine, going back to the nineteen-forties. That he has placed his fictional magazine in a made-up French metropolis (it’s called Ennui-sur-Blasé), at some point midway through the last century, only makes connecting the dots between “The French Dispatch” and The New Yorker that much more delightful.

Amazing…he basically made a movie about the New Yorker archives. And btw, writing “teen-ager” instead of “teenager” is the most New Yorker thing ever — but at least it wasn’t “teën-ager.”

Back to the movie, it’s got a cracking cast: Benicio del Toro, Adrien Brody, Tilda Swinton, Léa Seydoux, Frances McDormand, Timothée Chalamet, Jeffrey Wright, Bill Murray and Owen Wilson all star and then the supporting cast includes Liev Schreiber, Elisabeth Moss, Willem Defoe, Saoirse Ronan, Christoph Waltz, Jason Schwartzman, Anjelica Huston, and even the Fonz, Henry Winkler. The poster is quite something as well:

French Dispatch Poster

Opens July 24…can’t wait!

The Booksellers

posted by Patrick Tanguay   Feb 05, 2020

I’m very much here for this! “A behind-the-scenes look at the New York rare book world.” Includes interviews with Fran Lebowitz, Susan Orlean, Kevin Young and Gay Talese.

Antiquarian booksellers are part scholar, part detective and part businessperson, and their personalities and knowledge are as broad as the material they handle. They also play an underappreciated yet essential role in preserving history. THE BOOKSELLERS takes viewers inside their small but fascinating world, populated by an assortment of obsessives, intellects, eccentrics and dreamers.

From the trailer:

The people that I see reading actual books in the subway are mostly in their twenties, it’s one of the few encouraging things you will ever see int he subway.

Worldizing - How Walter Murch Brought More Immersive Sound to Film

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 31, 2020

I love echo - any kind of reverberation or atmosphere around a voice or a sound effect that tells you something about the space you are in.

That’s a quote from legendary film editor and sound designer Walter Murch. In the 70s, he pioneered a technique called worldizing, for which he used a mix of pristine studio-recorded and rougher set-recorded sounds to make a more immersive soundscape for theater audiences. He used it in The Godfather, Apocalypse Now, and American Graffiti:

George [Lucas] and I took the master track of the two-hour radio show with Wolfman Jack as DJ and played it back on a Nagra in a real space — a suburban backyard. I was fifty-or-so-feet away with a microphone recording that sound onto another Nagra, keeping it in sync and moving the microphone kind of at random, back and forth, as George moved the speaker through 180 degrees. There were times when microphone and speaker were pointed right at each other, and there were other times when they were pointed in completely opposite directions. So that was a separate track. Then, we did that whole thing again.

When I was mixing the film, I had three tracks to draw from. One of them was what you might call the “dry studio track” of the radio show, where the music was very clear and sharp and everything was in audio focus. Then there were the other two tracks which were staggered a couple of frames to each other, and on which the axis of the microphone and the speakers was never the same because we couldn’t remember what we had done intentionally.

Beastie Boys Story

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 29, 2020

Here’s the trailer for Beastie Boys Story, a feature-length documentary about the band directed by Spike Jonze. The film will debut in early April in IMAX theaters and be out on Apple+ later that month. From Rolling Stone:

The documentary is a live extension of 2018’s Beastie Boys Book, a memoir that paid tribute to Yauch, who died of cancer in 2012. “Looking back, it’s like, oh shit, that was crazy — how did we live through that?” Horovitz told Rolling Stone of the memoir. “And look at us now. We’re grown-ups. We have to think about mortgages. I gotta get dog food.”

Live portions of the documentary were taken from Horovitz and Diamond’s recent show at Kings Theatre in Brooklyn; it was all part of a live tour directed by Jonze that consisted of Q&A segments, readings, and guest moderators.

Darth Costanza

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 27, 2020

The premise is pretty simple and there’s no need to oversell it because you can imagine what this is going to sound like going in and it delivers perfectly: George Costanza’s father’s voice dubbed over Darth Vader’s dialogue in Star Wars. Serenity now!

(Quickly: Luke = Jerry, Han = George, Leia = Elaine, Chewie = Kramer. Does that even work? (Obi-Wan = Uncle Leo? Is 3PO Newman?))

The Short Student Film That Became Napoleon Dynamite

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 22, 2020

While in film school at BYU, Jared Hess made a short film called Peluca in just a couple of days for under $500. Two years later, Peluca and its main character (played by Jon Heder) became the basis of Napoleon Dynamite. Here’s the original short — the main character’s name is Seth instead of Napoleon but the moment he speaks his first line, you know it’s the same exact character:

See also The Case of the Napoleon Dynamite Problem. (via open culture)

Kenobi, a Star Wars Fan Film

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 17, 2020

Although the announced Disney+ series about Obi-Wan Kenobi may shed some light on the matter, we don’t know too much about what “Ben Kenobi” was up to on Tatooine after the events of Revenge of the Sith, besides keeping an eye on Luke. This short film made by a group of Star Wars fans as a “love letter” to the series shows what may have happened after the Empire makes its presence known when Luke is just a young boy. (via kevin kelly)

The Best Best Picture Lineups in Oscar History

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 17, 2020

Using their extensive database of member ratings, Letterboxd averaged the ratings for the Best Picture nominees for each year to determine which years ranked highest. The top five are (official Academy winners marked w/ an asterisk):

  1. 1975 (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest*, Barry Lyndon, Dog Day Afternoon, Jaws, Nashville)
  2. 2019 (Ford v Ferrari, The Irishman, Jojo Rabbit, Joker, Little Women, Marriage Story, 1917, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Parasite)
  3. 1976 (Rocky*, All the President’s Men, Bound for Glory, Network, Taxi Driver)
  4. 1974 (The Godfather Part II*, Chinatown, The Conversation, Lenny, The Towering Inferno)
  5. 1994 (Forrest Gump*, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Pulp Fiction, Quiz Show, The Shawshank Redemption)

1975 was apparently the clear winner but 2019 in the #2 spot is a very strong showing, especially considering there are the ratings of nine nominees to average instead of just five. But as this analysis shows, the Academy and Letterboxd users do not often agree on which Picture is “actually” Best:

It is often said that The Academy doesn’t always choose the nominee that *actually* deserves Best Picture. And according to the average ratings of the nominees on Letterboxd, that is true about 76% of the time!

I’d guess there’s also a recency bias at work (newer films tend to get rated higher), as well as age-related (I’d guess Letterboxd skews young-ish?) and gender-related (majority male, but probably not as much as IMDB) biases. It would be neat to see how controlling for those effects would affect the average ratings. (via @mrgan)

How 1917 Was Filmed to Look Like One Long Continuous Take

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 15, 2020

1917 is the latest in a string of one-shot movies, where the action is presented in real-time and filmed to look as though it were done in one continuous take. This video takes a look at how director Sam Mendes, cinematographer Roger Deakins, and editor Lee Smith constructed the film. In this interview, Smith & Mendes say that the film contains dozens of cuts, with shots lasting anywhere from 39 seconds to 8 & 1/2 minutes. My favorite parts of the video are when they show the camera going from hand-held to crane to truck to cover single shots at a variety of speeds and angles. It’s really impressive.

But — does the effect work to draw the audience into the action? I saw 1917 last night and was distracted at times looking for the cuts and wondering how they seamlessly transitioned from a steadicam sort of shot to a crane shot. Maybe I’d read too much about it going in and distracted myself?

Steven Soderbergh’s Media Diet for 2019

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 14, 2020

Every year, director Steven Soderbergh publishes a list of the movies, books, TV series, short films, and short stories he’s watched and read over the course of the year (one of the inspirations for my media diet posts). For many creators, the key to making good work is to read and watch widely with an emphasis on quality — it’s difficult make great work if your ingredients are poor — so Soderbergh’s 2019 list is a fascinating look at the director’s inputs for the next year’s creative endeavors.

Some observations:

Retitling “Little Women” So Men Will Go See It

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 14, 2020

The audience for Greta Gerwig’s Little Women is running about 2/3 women and 1/3 men. Bruce Handy has some suggestions for a title change that would entice more men to check the movie out.

“Star Wars, Episode X: The Rise of Amy”
“Four Girls, One Teacup”
“Into the Marchverse”
“The Jo Supremacy”

I saw Little Women on New Year’s Day and loved it — one of my favorite 2019 movies for sure. It’s idiotic that Gerwig didn’t get nominated for a Best Director Oscar.

See also Kaitlyn Greenidge’s opinion piece, The Bearable Whiteness of ‘Little Women’.

Hand-Painted Movie Posters from Ghana in the 80s & 90s

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 13, 2020

Africa Movie Posters

Africa Movie Posters

Africa Movie Posters

In order to drum up business for local movie theaters in Africa (most notably in Ghana), theater owners would commission local artists to paint movie posters.

When Frank Armah began painting posters for Ghanaian movie theaters in the mid-1980s, he was given a clear mandate: Sell as many tickets as possible. If the movie was gory, the poster should be gorier (skulls, blood, skulls dripping blood). If it was sexy, make the poster sexier (breasts, lots of them, ideally at least watermelon-sized). And when in doubt, throw in a fish. Or don’t you remember the human-sized red fish lunging for James Bond in The Spy Who Loved Me?

“The goal was to get people excited, curious, to make them want to see more,” he says. And if the movie they saw ended up surprisingly light on man-eating fish and giant breasts? So be it. “Often we hadn’t even seen the movies, so these posters were based on our imaginations,” he says. “Sometimes the poster ended up speaking louder than the movie.”

You can check out more of these amazing artworks in this Twitter thread, this BBC story, on the AIGA site, and at Poster House, which has an exhibition of these posters up through Feb 16.

Update: I removed this modern-day spoof of the Ghanaian posters from the post. The tell is the reference to this amazing GIF. (thx, erik)

Ian McKellan’s 1999 Lord of the Rings Blog

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 11, 2020

Gandalf Mckellan

Starting in 1999 with his casting as Gandalf and continuing through 2003, Ian McKellan wrote a blog called The Grey Book about his experiences starring in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movie trilogy. (His website is getting pounded right now, so check out the Internet Archive mirror if you can’t get through.)

So the journey has begun without me. On Monday 11th October, Elijah Wood et al gathered in Hobbiton — and I hear they are behaving themselves! I have been in Toronto, masquerading as Magneto, the master of magnetism, on the set of Bryan Singer’s “X-Men.” I have just sent Peter Jackson an e-mail of good luck. I don’t expect an immediate reply — directing a film is totally time-consuming.

Meanwhile, Tolkien aficionados are mailing to the “Grey Book.” From teenagers and readers old as wizards come the advice, the demands, the warnings — united by the hope that the film’s Gandalf will match their own individual interpretations of the Lord of the Rings. I take comfort from the general assurance that they approve of the casting (not just of me but of all the other actors so far announced - thrilling news that Cate Blanchett is joining us.) Yet how can I satisfy everyone’s imagined Gandalf? Simply, I can’t.

And yet I believe he did satisfy almost everyone. Maybe McKellen will even reprise his role as the wizard in the upcoming Amazon series. (via a very excited Stephen Colbert)

Parasite’s Perfect Montage

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 02, 2020

From Evan Puschak, this is an analysis of a tightly edited five-minute montage in the middle of Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite in which a family of schemers removes the last obstacle in their way of a luxurious life of service.

(This next bit is way off topic…I am not even going to try and connect it to the movie or Puschak’s thoughts on editing.) In looking for an appropriate quote from the video, I went searching in YouTube’s automatically generated transcript of the video and instead discovered whatever fancy AI program they’ve employed for transcription had some problems with the Korean language spoken in the video:

well the Kogi’s held on crew could to work a contra cut under something crazy kangaroo hot lava could carry yours a tiny car would cause a huge bang engines in his element saw cars motherfuckers Christian wear boxers and couvent a easy call it to Minaj Monica City on criminals chief juniper gun and a car don’t belong back in case come on Joey tell him to cool on the cloud Coronas our tornado man hold it up on watch from Atlanta

Also, peaches are a thing now in movies!

My Recent Media Diet, The Late 2010s Edition

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 30, 2019

Every month or two for the past couple of years, I’ve shared the movies, books, music, TV, and podcasts I’ve enjoyed (or not) recently. Here’s everything I’ve “consumed” since late October.

Uncut Gems. Watching this movie replicates very closely what it feels like to live in NYC (and not in a good way). This movie contains one of my favorite scenes of the year and Sandler is a genius. (A)

Seduce And Destroy with Josh Safdie, Benny Safdie & Paul Thomas Anderson (A24 Podcast). The best bits of this were fascinating but some of it was too inside baseball. Listen to this after seeing Uncut Gems. (B+)

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. The Iliad as a romance novel (of sorts). Loved it. (A)

Hustlers. Jennifer Lopez did not require fancy cameras or the de-aging CGI of The Irishman to make her look 20 years younger. (B+)

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon. Such a great alchemy of subjects — kind of a miracle how it all works together. (A-)

Jesus Is King. Boring. Christian hip hop isn’t any better than Christian rock. Born again Kanye? I miss the old Kanye… (C-)

The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance. Wonderfully creative. A couple of really disturbing parts though for kids. (A-)

The Dark Crystal. Watched this after Age of Resistance and it holds up really well. (B+)

Tunes 2011-2019. Gets better with every listen. (A-)

The Laundromat. Soderbergh and Streep? This should have been better. (B)

The Fifth Season by N.K Jemison. Liked this but it didn’t make me want to immediately start the next book in the series. (B+)

21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari. Lots to chew on in this one but I ultimately didn’t finish it. But that’s more on me than Harari. (B+)

David Whyte: The Conversational Nature of Reality (On Being). “Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet / confinement of your aloneness / to learn / anything or anyone / that does not bring you alive / is too small for you.” Whyte sounds like a fascinating person. (A-)

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Re-watched the entire series over the past several months. Strong in the middle seasons but not a great ending. (B+)

The OJ Simpson Trial (You’re Wrong About…). Excellent multi-part reexamination of the OJ trial centered on the women, principally Nicole Brown Simpson but also Marcia Clark and Paula Barbieri. It took me awhile to get used to the sometimes-too-casual banter about distressing subject matter, but their knowledge and discussion of the subject matter won me over. (A-)

Ad Astra. The filmmakers couldn’t find a way to do this movie without the voiceover? Just let Pitt act…everything he says is obvious from his face. Beautiful though. (B+)

Dead Wake by Erik Larson. Engaging account of the sinking of the Lusitania, which eventually & circuitously led to the entry of the United States into World War I. (A-)

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. This wasn’t my favorite book I’ve read with my kids. (B-)

The Devil Next Door. Interesting story but I wanted more from this re: the nature of truth & evil. (B)

The Lighthouse. Sunshine x Fight Club. (A-)

Ford v Ferrari. Driving home from the theater, it took every ounce of self-control not to put the pedal on the floor and see if my car can do 120 on a Vermont county road. (A-)

The Crown (season 3). I didn’t like this quite much as the first two seasons, but I did like the overt and not-so-overt references to Brexit. There was a low-stakes-ness to this season which fits with other exported British media (Downton, British Baking Show) and the country’s rapidly dwindling status as a world power. (B+)

Menu Mind Control (Gastropod). Really interesting discussion of how menus are constructed to balance the needs of the restaurant and the desires of the diner. Buckle up though…Gastropod is one of the densest podcasts out there. (A-)

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. A surprisingly trippy adaptation of one of my favorite magazine articles on Fred Rogers. Hanks is great as usual. (B+)

Coco. Another Pixar gem. (A-)

A Table for Two, Please? (Talk Money). From a new podcast by my pal Mesh — the first episode is about the business side of opening and running restaurants. (B+)

Knives Out. From the hype this got, I was expecting a bit more than a good murder mystery but it was just a good murder mystery. (B+)

Marriage Story. Great performances all around, but Jesus why did I watch this? It captures very well the feeling and experience of divorce. Total PTSD trigger though. (D/A-)

Galatea. Engaging short story by Madeline Miller. (B+)

Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker. Impossible at this point for anyone to objectively review the ninth movie in a series which in some ways has defined culture of the last 40 years. I loved it, even the hokey parts. (A)

High Life. Not even sure what to say about this one. (B-)

Past installments of my media diet are available here.

The Eyeless Girls

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 26, 2019

Hélène Delmaire paints portraits of girls without eyes.

Helene Delmaire

Helene Delmaire

Helene Delmaire

Helene Delmaire

Delmaire did all of the paintings for the film Portrait of a Lady On Fire and even appears painting in the film.

I did pretty much all the paintings except the one that’s without a face. Céline and the actresses would work out how the scene was going to go. Once that was set up, I’d come, take a photo and while they were shooting the scenes, I went to a little corner of the castle and did my sketches.

Delmaire sells originals and prints of her work here. (via @alteredq)

Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 26, 2019

I am fascinated with the sound of movies, from the soundtracks to the foley effects and even temp music. Making Waves is a documentary about this integral aspect of cinema. Here’s a trailer:

Directed by veteran Hollywood sound editor Midge Costin, the film reveals the hidden power of sound in cinema, introduces us to the unsung heroes who create it, and features insights from legendary directors with whom they collaborate.

Featuring the insights and stories of iconic directors such as George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, David Lynch, Barbra Streisand, Ang Lee, Sofia Coppola and Ryan Coogler, working with sound design pioneers — Walter Murch, Ben Burtt and Gary Rydstrom — and the many women and men who followed in their footsteps.

(thx, dunstan)

Star Wars Spoiler Generator

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 23, 2019

From Randall Munroe at XKCD, here’s a spoilers generator for the latest Star Wars movie.

Xkcd Star Wars Spoiler Generator

In this Star Wars movie, our heroes return to take on the First Order and new villain Theranos with some help with their new friend Dab Tweetdeck. Rey builds a new lightsaber with a beige blade, and they head out to confront the First Order’s new superweapon, the Moonsquisher, a space station capable of cutting a planet in half and smashing the halves together like two cymbals. They unexpectedly join forces with their old enemy Boba Fett and destroy the superweapon in a battle featuring Kylo Ren putting on another helmet over his smaller one. P.S. Rey’s parents are Obi-wan and Laura Dern.

The 25 Best Films of 2019

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 19, 2019

Hey, Merry Ehrlichmas! David Ehrlich’s video countdown of his top 25 films of the year is one of my most anticipated end-of-the-year thingers. Viewing it always makes me want to watch movies for three straight days. As a companion, Ehrlich listed the movies here, along with the most memorable moment from each.

Watching “The Irishman,” especially for the first time, you get the sense that it’s teeming with hidden moments that will cling to you like barnacles for the rest of your life. Some of them are more apparent than others: Pacino chanting “Solidarity!” Pesci saying “It’s what it is.” Ray Romano asking De Niro if he’s really guilty at heart. The film’s most indelible treasures are lurking a bit deeper under the surface. On my second viewing, nothing hit me harder than the rhyme between two distant confrontations: As a child, Peggy suspects that her father is hiding some demons, but Frank directs his daughter back to her breakfast. Years later, Peggy wordlessly confronts her dad with daggers in her eyes, and Frank is so far beyond salvation that his only recourse is to keep eating his cereal like nothing ever happened.

Some random thoughts on the list and the year in movies: Surprised to see Ad Astra so high — I didn’t hear great things so I skipped it. I thought I saw a lot of movies this year, but this list once again proves me wrong. I can’t wait to see Uncut Gems. No Booksmart? I really loved Booksmart. I did not like Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and Knives Out as much as everyone else did. I mean, they were fine, but… Great to see Hustlers on the list — when Jennifer Lopez gets good roles, she knocks the cover off of the ball. Give Jennifer Lopez more good roles!

See also these two 2019 movie trailer mashups:

(thx, brandt & david)

The Trailer for Tenet, Christopher Nolan’s Next Time-Bending Film

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 19, 2019

Christopher Nolan loves to play around with time. In most of his films — Interstellar, Memento, Dunkirk, Inception — time flows slow, fast, and in unexpected directions. His latest project, Tenet, appears from the above trailer to be no different, with events occurring in reverse and characters observing events that haven’t happened yet. You can read more about the movie here, but here in the real world, we’re going to have to somehow wait through the normal passage of time until July 17th, 2020 to see it. (thx, aaron)

Come and See

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 19, 2019

Elem Kilmov’s 1985 Soviet anti-war film Come and See is getting a 2K restoration and theatrical re-release in 2020. In a 4/4 star review of Come and See, Roger Ebert called it “one of the most devastating films ever about anything”:

It’s said that you can’t make an effective anti-war film because war by its nature is exciting, and the end of the film belongs to the survivors. No one would ever make the mistake of saying that about Elem Klimov’s “Come and See.” This 1985 film from Russia is one of the most devastating films ever about anything, and in it, the survivors must envy the dead.

Director Steven Soderbergh called it “one of the best things I’ve ever seen”.

Cool Multiplane Animation in this Pinocchio Clip from 1940

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 18, 2019

This is a 45-second clip from Pinocchio, an animated film made by Disney in 1940.

The scene itself isn’t that exciting…until you actually start to wonder, wait, how was this made? The way the camera effortlessly swoops past buildings and through archways like one of Pixar’s infinitely pliable virtual cameras, the depth of field changing as we pan and zoom toward Pinocchio’s door — how did they do that 80 years ago, animating by hand? The film’s animators achieved this effect using a relatively recent invention, the multiplane camera.

The basic idea is that instead of animating characters against a single static background, you can animate several layers of independently moving scenes painted on glass. In a 1957 film, Walt Disney himself explained how the camera worked:

And here’s how Disney used the technique in dozens of scenes from Snow White to Bambi to 101 Dalmatians:

Because we’re seeing the output of an actual camera zooming and panning, many of these scenes feel more grounded in reality than even some of today’s best digital output. Even 80 years later, the effect is impressive, a real testament to the collaborative talent of Disney’s animators & technicians.

Fantastic Fungi

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 17, 2019

That’s the trailer for Fantastic Fungi, a feature-length documentary about the worldwide network of mushrooms & mycelium that thrives beneath our feet. Here’s a description of what the film covers, from its companion book:

Fantastic Fungi is at the forefront of a mycological revolution that is quickly going mainstream. In this book, learn about the incredible communication network of mycelium under our feet, which has the proven ability to restore the planet’s ecosystems, repair our health, and resurrect our symbiotic relationship with nature. Fantastic Fungi aspires to educate and inspire the reader in three critical areas: First, the text showcases research that reveals mushrooms as a viable alternative to Western pharmacology. Second, it explores studies pointing to mycelium as a solution to our gravest environmental challenges. And, finally, it details fungi’s marvelous proven ability to shift consciousness.

In a review for RogerEbert.com, Matt Fagerholm called the film “one of the year’s most mind-blowing, soul-cleansing and yes, immensely entertaining triumphs”. (via colossal)

The Time-Traveling Cinematography of The Irishman

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 12, 2019

Here’s a short clip of cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto talking about his work on The Irishman.

The movie takes place over several decades and Prieto worked with director Martin Scorsese to build a distinct look for each period based on different photo processing techniques: Kodachrome for the 50s, Ektachrome for the 60s & early 70s, and neutral for the film’s present-day:

Irishman Cinematography

Irishman Cinematography

Irishman Cinematography

Prieto also talks a little bit about the three camera system needed to “youthify” the actors. (You Honor, I would like to state for the record that Jennifer Lopez did not require fancy cameras or de-aging CGI to make her look 20 years younger in Hustlers. I rest my case.)

If Hogwarts Were an Inner-City School (Key & Peele)

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 11, 2019

In this faux HBO documentary short from Key & Peele, we visit Vincent Clortho Public School for Wizards, the American inner-city answer to Harry Potter’s Hogwarts.

“The hallways are a-bluster with the conversation of our Quidditch team.”

“Half the team is back here riding mops. We got two little [kids] on Swiffers.”

If the name “Vincent Clortho” sounds sorta familiar, that’s because they borrowed it from Ghostbusters (Vinz Clortho, the Keymaster).

Wonder Woman 1984

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 08, 2019

This, my friends, is the trailer for Wonder Woman 1984. Ok, let’s see what we have here. Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, the only DC Comics movie superhero worth a damn since Nolan’s Batmans. 1984, one of the best years ever for movies and pop culture. A remix of Blue Monday by New Order, still the best-selling 12” single of all time. Patty Jenkins is directing and came up with the story this time (instead of having to deal with Zack Snyder’s nonsense). YES PLEASE.

The Breakthrough that Made Animation Look Natural

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 06, 2019

In the latest in a series of videos on film innovations that came from outside Hollywood, Phil Edwards highlights rotoscoping, a process of filming live action and transferring the motion to produce realistic animated movement invented by Max Fleischer.

As the above video shows, it started with Max’s brother Dave dancing on a roof in a clown costume. Footage of that was then used to model the classic Koko the Clown cartoons, which formed the basis for many Fleischer Studios films. Today, animators still use techniques like rotoscoping to turn real movement into animation.

A number of the studio’s most memorable cartoons used footage of legendary jazz singer Cab Calloway to create fluid animated sequences, like this dancing walrus from Betty Boop.

As Edwards notes, Fleischer’s studio also invented an early multiplane animation device, which allowed for the independent movement of different parts of the background to create the illusion of depth, resulting in yet more realism. Here’s Steven Johnson describing Disney’s more sophisticated multiplane camera in his book Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World:

All of these technical and procedural breakthroughs summed up to an artistic one: Snow White was the first animated film to feature both visual and emotional depth. It pulled at the heartstrings in a way that even live-action films had failed to do. This, more than anything, is why Snow White marks a milestone in the history of illusion. “No animated cartoon had ever looked like Snow White,” Disney’s biographer Neil Gabler writes, “and certainly none had packed its emotional wallop.” Before the film was shown to an audience, Disney and his team debated whether it might just be powerful enough to provoke tears — an implausible proposition given the shallow physical comedy that had governed every animated film to date. But when Snow White debuted at the Carthay Circle Theatre, near L.A.’s Hancock Park, on December 21, 1937, the celebrity audience was heard audibly sobbing during the final sequences where the dwarfs discover their poisoned princess and lay garlands of flowers on her.

The Origins of Stop Motion Animation

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 26, 2019

In this episode of the Almanac video series from Vox, Phil Edwards takes a look at how an early film using stop motion animation, a 1912 short of dancing bugs made by an insect collector, showed the promise of the technique.

Though people have been experimenting with stop motion since the beginning of film, the new art really took off when an insect collector named Wladyslaw Starewicz (later Ladislas Starevich, among other spellings) wanted to see his beetles move.

His 1912 film, The Cameraman’s Revenge, was the most significant of those early experiments. By that time, he’d been discovered as a precocious museum director in a Lithuanian Natural History Museum, and that enabled him to make movies. The Cameraman’s Revenge was his boldest experiment yet, depicting a tryst between star-crossed (bug) lovers.

Starevich’s later films influenced the stop motion work of Terry Gilliam and Wes Anderson, as well as its earlier use in King Kong. Here’s the The Cameraman’s Revenge in its entirety: