Passing glances: Scorsese on men, Turkle on surfing

Last night I saw a Martin Scorsese film. Does it matter which one? Not for the purposes of what I’m about to say, but I’ll tell you anyway. It was The Wolf of Wall Street.

Considering how often Martin Scorsese has dealt with bros being bros— Continue reading


Even Netflix is doing it: adventures in advanced film technology

We’re so conscious of movies as cultural expressions—their performers played up on magazine covers, their directors lionized or criticized or both, their storylines hashed over, their titles entering our language—that we’re apt to forget they’re also technological artifacts, the product of an ongoing and increasingly sophisticated set of developments involving chemistry, optics, mechanical and electrical engineering, and electronics. In the beginning, pictures didn’t move at all; then they did. Then we added sound, followed by color and other improvements. It’s a historical irony that the character of Norma Desmond, responding to someone’s remark that she used to be big, declared, “I am big. It’s the pictures that got small” at the outset of the 1950s, in which movies not only became brighter and sharper, as had been happening all along, but also got bigger and broader—widescreen formats, explored earlier, began to spread in that decade. Three-D, the ability to suggest depth, has arrived twice now. The tale continues.

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Yes, Virginia, another comment on acting

An actor acquaintance of mine, Jeff Still, recently shared on Facebook an Atlantic article about the contortions that film actors have begun going through in the name of creating a character. Surely you’ve heard of a few. Jared Leto acted like the Joker throughout the production of the recent Suicide Squad film, a process that included pranking the cast with used condoms and a dead pig. Leonardo DiCaprio, a committed vegetarian, felt he had to eat real meat in a scene of The Revenant. Adrien Brody starved himself and (by one account) broke up with his girlfriend before doing The Pianist.

This overheated approach to acting Continue reading

If you have nothing better to do—or even if you do—stream these two films while you can

If you’re the kind of person who cares about exactly what is and isn’t available on Netflix at any given time, you’re probably not reading my blog, because I’m not the kind of blogger who writes about such things. But for a moment, I’m going to adopt the persona. I just stumbled across a list of movies and TV shows that can now be streamed from Netflix but that will soon be withdrawn, and two of the films are worth a nod. Both will become unavailable on June 1. Continue reading

On actor Ben Foster and making discoveries

Even if you watch the kind of movie trailer that outlines half the plot, you’re likely to be surprised by any decent film, just as you’re likely to be surprised in some manner or degree by most other works of art or entertainment. The experiences they create are just too dense or extensive to be conveyed in reduced form; the reason we read the book that just got good reviews or see the movie everyone’s talking about it is to find out for ourselves what it’s like. But you can get a special kind of kick, or jolt, or unsettling sensation, from going into something with near-total ignorance. Continue reading

Notes on the virtual future of dance films

A recent New York Times report on the Tribeca Film Festival’s Virtual Arcade, which offered 18 films exploring various aspects of virtual reality, included this paragraph:

The sheer experimentalism in the room is exhilarating. You can feel the various content creators exploring what can be done in the medium, whether educationally, artistically (“Ashes,” a dance film by Jessica Kantor is an example) or in terms of storytelling. What kinds of tales can be told, and from what perspectives? With the potential to now pull viewers inside of the film, will there be pressure to turn the story over to the viewer entirely, so that V.R. becomes just a more sophisticated selfie?

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Briefly noted: Vilmos Zsigmond, 1930–2016

A good story about Vilmos Zsigmond comes from his youth. Shortly after he finished film school, a protest movement swelled into a rebellion. He and a friend borrowed a movie camera, got hold of some negative, and filmed what was happening, sometimes hiding the camera in a paper bag with a hole cut for the lens. This wasn’t Berkeley in the 60s but Budapest in 1956; the rebellion was met by Soviet tanks and troops. Zsigmond and his friend escaped from Hungary and made their way to America, where their footage ended up on TV and they ended up in Los Angeles. Zsigmond’s companion on that trek was László Kovács; the two of them became groundbreaking cinematographers, shooting works as varied as Easy Rider (Kovács) and McCabe and Mrs. Miller (Zsigmond).

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