Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Inside Llewyn Davis

This film illustrates the bleak loneliness of a lost man. The music is beautiful. The images are fitting and symbolism on mark. It is sad, but not depressing--for me at least--because the sadness is identifiable inside oneself and, therefore, the film acts as a warm embrace which makes this viewer feel... less alone in the world. Maybe it was just my own heart beating, but at least I could feel it happily for a moment. And did I mention, really funny too.

At least check out the soundtrack... Oscar Isaac did an amazing job.

Monday, November 11, 2013

That's A Wrap On The Zeroth Law

Here are some shots from the final scene of my short The Zeroth Law. I've been shooting for about a month.

I had to adapt a short story for class and choose Anton Chekhov's Sleepy, in which young girl has a series of dreams. This final scene is a dream about slavery. My adaptation of Sleepy became very personal over the writing process. I decided to skew everything through the lens of my own mind. I'll share more later when the film is finished--I'll post it with a statement.

The shoot started off pretty well but then the air show rolled in. We were filming in Swope Park which happens to be really close to Arrowhead Stadium where the Kansas City Chiefs were 5-0. We had several sound delays due to helicopters and unusual car traffic compared to our initial location scout.

Our makeup artist, Tess Roam, did a great job--especially considering the fact that she was filling in with two days notice. Our original makeup artist accidentally double booked and phoned in a friend on our job.

But I was more than happy with the results.

All of the guys playing our slaves did a great job. Everyone was cooperative and really into their role which made things move so smoothly. I think it was the best filming experience I have had yet. Everyone fulfilled their role exactly on time. We got our coverage and we were outta there.

I love Steve's eyes here. He lived up to his part as Frightened Man #1.

Everyone had enough time to enjoy a few beers before parting ways. Great costuming by my good friend Marguerite Rappold. New to the business of costuming but damn good find. I recommend her to anyone looking for a versatile costume designer.

So, that's a wrap on The Zeroth Law. Now on to Post Production. I'm hoping to have a final edit in a month but there is a lot of color correction to do with all the footage as well as sweetening and mastering of the sound.. so, may be just a rough cut in a month.

Thanks to everyone involved AND A VERY SPECIAL THANKS to my wife, star, and co-producer  Lydia DeMonte -- I couldn't have done it without her -- especially since she plays such a huge role a role off camera.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Mustachy Mister

I played a film nazi in a funny musical short for a classmate's final project.

Saturday, October 12, 2013


Rush was a masterfully crafted film.

I went into the theater with an aversion to all things racing. My butt was only in the seat for two reasons: 1. There wasn't any other movie showing with an interesting trailer. 2. Ron Howard won over Machete Kills.

The difference between this and other race movies was the time given to developing the relationships between the characters. Usually, the drama is secondary to high throttle action--don't get me wrong, there is plenty of action--but this film is tricky. It is based on real events and the filmmakers actually develop human characters.

Rush has the proper distribution of action, sex, and drama to keep the average movie goer, and typical "car guy" alike, satiated.

The look of the film was beautiful as well. DPs/Cinematographers/Colorists should see it for the look alone.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

To The Woods

To The Woods from Jon DeMonte on Vimeo.

A sound design project for class.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Escape from Tomorrow

This was a bizarre movie. My interest was peaked because of their unique methods of production--i.g. filming without permission incognito at Disney World on DSLR--but I was happy to see greater production value than images invoked by those defining principles. This was well thought out to achieve the level of production it accomplishes without permissions, equipment, and especially under the stress of film making down low.

I don't really want to give away any of the plot. Besides, I'm not sure I could really reveal much besides what happens sequentially. I could hint at meaning but I think it is best to discover the film unadulterated. I recommend Escape from Tomorrow to all movie goers and would say it is a must see for all film makers.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Zeroth Law

I'm working on this new short about Reciprocal Determinism and what it is we inherit exactly as we all cool to an even temperature as a society.

When feminine influences mix with sadomasochistic machismo of the past, what do we end up with?

Is it this cold calculated corporatism we all consume and clutter on along to?

What does it take to start anew?

Friday, September 27, 2013

Blue Jasmine

I really liked this movie. The ending left those that I watched it with feeling unsatisfied, but I think the ending of all things was most satisfactory for me. It was different and didn't leave you with an uplifting arch but a haze of probability. I felt the narrative did a great job of conveying the main character's state of mind and engaging the viewer emotionally.

I only did enough reading on the film to know it was a Woody Allen film. It was satisfying to realize halfway through that it was a re-imagining of A Streetcar Named Desire. It is so different, however, this knowledge going in couldn't ruin it. You're probably going to love it or hate it--and those are usually the best films because they inspire a passionate debate.

I highly recommend Blue Jasmine.

Watch it and then track down a copy of A Streetcar Named Desire.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Grip: Grissly Hand

worked as a grip on the Country Singles music video for the Grissly Hand.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Beware of a Holy Whore

This film is interesting to watch with a group of informed film critics--which is how I viewed it earlier this evening. However, I'm not sure I would recommended it--even to passionate cinephiles. Even "insider" knowledge going in rendered a painful experience probably best reserved to filmmakers and know-it-alls.

The film is composed of very long static shots (without a lot happening within the frame) which eventually lead to claustrophobic tracking shots. The cinematography and editing gives you the impression that time has stopped and you become very aware of the seat beneath you.

The characters all seem unable to cope with their feelings. Their frustrations are released through violent or sexual outbursts. The only outlet for these sad individuals is the film, they are lost without it. The few times they are barely active is on set. There we only see them setting up as they never seem to make it to a take without fighting or rambling on some tangent.

The only time the director seems able to articulate his thoughts is when describing the shots, motivations, and meaning of his film--his art--which has become an utter disaster and will probably never be finished. His inner turmoil goes on unbeknownst to all parties involved--unless, perhaps, you take a close listen to his descriptions of the film he is making.

Pursue with caution.. BEWARE of a Holy Whore.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Do Movies Dream of Dark and Twisted Themes?

          In the beginning, Film Noir was defined through the characteristics of classic Hollywood cinema; as it’s opposite or film negative. As Noir filmmakers continued to challenge Hollywood’s values, a new set of principles began to emerge. These principles intensified and evolved until so hard-boiled, they formed the foundations of a new genre. The genre comprised an alternative technique, i.g., voice-over, flashback, subjective point-of-view, chiaroscuro lighting, sense of hopelessness and predetermined fate, psychologically unstable characters, and the presence of a femme fatale or black widow. These techniques were used to subvert classical Hollywood cinema and it’s perpetuation of the American myth. The genre championed a new realism birthed out of the traumatized post-war psyche. A darker realism than that of the Italians. A realism that would soon find itself cold and blind, unable to fathom silver linings.
          The Neorealist seemed to create under a motto encompassed by a quote from James Joyce, “Let the world be as it is and learn to rock with the waves. Remain radiant in the filth of the world”. Only suckers are fooled by such words in the world of Noir. If a character tries to live that they end up dead, or worse, left to live and suffer the endless filth. Noirs depict narratives of inner struggle, the human battle between good and evil within. One visual example is Fritz Lang’s TheBig Heat made in 1953. The femme fatale is scolded early on providing a visual representation of the evil within her which creeps out to the surface. In the end, she does good, but dies pretty side up with all her ugliness buried in a mink. In Charles Laughton’s The Night of the Hunter, made in 1955, Robert Mitchum’s knuckles have ”LOVE” and “HATE” tattooed across them. He preaches about the struggle between love and hate while acting out the same battle against Mother Goose.
            Noirs set you up with idealized individuals and then flip the audience on their backs, punishing them for believing in single dimensions. Many of the idealized characters are women, as in DoubleIndemnity or Out of the Past, but things never end up as the main character thought. In The Maltese Falcon, the detective is ethically compelled by his world grounded in truth in a world full of liars. The cognitive dissonance of society is present in every beat. This is an important theme of Noir and above all other symptoms is the most important. A sense that there is something wrong with the world and the hopelessness one must cope with when facing it. The gumball whores with a heart of gold are quickly chewed up, leaving us with real solid ones, like Lorraine and Tatum in Billy Wilder’s 1951 satire, Ace in the Hole.
          Made right after his huge success Sunset Boulevard, this film bombed. They couldn’t even fool audiences under the title The Big Carnival. The reasons are probably best described by Molly Haskell, it’s a “Noir in broad daylight”. This film delivers a harsh critique of the media and American public with sharp wit and economic precision. Wilder, the man with a mind full of razor blades, never intended to send along a spoonful of sugar as he demanded a complaining Kirk Douglas to give it “both knees”. The only crimes involved are own greedy and gluttonous sins. If you don’t understand what Wilder is “up-to”, then you probably spend the entire film looking for a hero and are left disappointed. Sure, the bad guys end up no better off than where they started but nothing is learned, they just play out a pathetic self-fulfilling prophecy and then move on to the next circus. Tatum can call out all the phonies and embroider truth just like Lonesome in A Face in the Crowd. But they have no redeeming qualities, they knew who they were before and they prove it to the audience by the end.
          The Noir in these cases are not in the images on the screen but, as Haskell put it, interior. “Inside a mountain tunnel where a man is trapped and suffocating, and inside the mind of a reporter rotting from accumulated layers of self-induced moral grime.” She suggests other filmmakers of the fifties were also hiding their darkness in broad daylight. Filmmakers like Hitchcock, Ray, and Sirk. The main difference, she asserts, is the saeva indignation, or fierce indignation, with which he satirizes American culture. This shows the rapid progression of Noir from a mere alternative style of shooting, but a genre with alternative themes and intentions. Ebert points out, and I agree, that “it’s easy to blame the press for its portraits of self-destructing celebrities, philandering preachers, corrupt politicians or bragging serial killers, but who loves those stories? The public does… Instead of blaming the journalist who masterminds a media circus, he is equally hard on sightseers who pay 25 cents admission. Nobody gets off the hook here.”
          Back then the press ridiculed the film, even though it was based on true events. When Sandra Bullock remade the film, All About Steve in 2009, she churned it into cinematic shit. There was hardly even cause for the media to mention it besides her casting of Hollywood’s latest heartthrob—but that didn’t even garner attention. Bullock didn’t give it both knees. She rewrites with a sentimental stroke. A pen filled with a sentiment for the public. She kisses the ass of the live-strong, rascal driving, jingoist motards that make me want to puke. But even they didn’t buy it! I saw it with my mother because nothing else was showing that I hadn’t already seen. If I would have known then that it was a remake of Ace in the Hole I would have asked for my money back. I hadn’t yet seen Wilder’s masterpiece. Wilder’s characters are corrupt because they represent a culture which grows more corrupt with rise of consumerism. In a day where globalization has thoroughly raped and pillaged the Earth and human spirit I have no sympathy for those existential victims who don’t take a stand with the same fierce indignation of Billy Wilder.
          If a buck can be made an American is there because Americans know, it’s better to have the blues, than nothing. This line sets up two great Noir works, the first AFace in the Crowd made in 1957 by Elia Kazan. A film where a homeless fool rises to the highest heights of American influence, as TV personality, solely through the confidence of his ignorance. The second is Robert Aldrich’s odd Noir, Kiss MeDeadly made in 1950. With ascending titles and a script full of philosophical and literary allusions it is no surprise that Godard was a fan. A woman is thrown in the looney bin for trying to conceal, to hide away the reckless doomsday device of men. Meanwhile, the self-indulgent art world is sleeping; double dosing itself with cubist abstractions without making comment on the weather, on the rising tides, or the great what’s it!
          Again, we track a character self-aware, he knows he is rotten and we get no redemption—that is unless you’re going with the original ending in which he dies with the rest of the schemers. But even then it’s cheap. He hopelessly limps from dollar to dollar and there is no gratification without a punishment, without a yearning to live. He represents some of the worst qualities of Americans, dumb, selfish, and horny for more.
          Noirs introduced the world to existentialism and black culture. Jazz numbers over dark and rainy city streets accompanied by the “Negress” singing, One of these days, you’re gonna miss me honey or I’d rather have the blues than nothing at all. Blacks act as a type of Greek Chorus to film noir. They’re never really prominent figures but are vital assets to the story. In the case of noir, there is no substitute and it is important to give credit. It is a shame their roles were more exploitative, but without this introduction who knows how long, when, and where their next break would have occurred. In The Big Combo, the film opens with jazz and a dark city. There’s a boxing ring and a woman running through the shadows from two men. These men use jazz as a weapon against a cop. They play it through a hearing aid until a drum solo becomes too painful, too unbearable that he passes out.
          And here is where Noir begins to dream. Where the villains are all blown to hell and the police officers are knocked out by jazz. When a film noir dreams, it dreams a twisted dream. That dream becomes a nightmare and that night, The Night of the Hunter by Charles Laughton. People want to debate whether this film deserves the title of noir or not—the answer is, yes. The scenes are pit against the other in high contrast—sweet scenes of youth against harshness of human nature. It is full of frightening chiaroscuro lighting throughout—like Mitchum’s shadow on the bedroom wall, or the scenes in the basement. It is an expressionistic odyssey which doesn’t fit in. This off-kilter nature alone could qualify it as noir, but it has the same interior themes as The Big Heat, Double Indemnity, They Live by Night, and many more. A Noir for children as much as Ace in the Hole is a Noir for reporters—each probably better described as a horror film in that company. But when examined closely I believe that the best description is probably a Noir fairytale or, as I like to put it, a Noir nightmare—when films dare to dream—when the genre becomes self-aware.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Diseased American Dream

FilmNoir does not really exist.  It is merely a term of convenience used in reference to a variety of films made by a number of studios in the same time period.  Film Noir sums up a complex set of films usually sharing similar features, in particular, an over-arching attitude.  In these early years, Film Noir should not be confused as a genre which filmmakers set out to produce.  It is not until roughly thirty years of haunting the collective American psyche that Film Noir is considered a genre.  Even then, it is aloof and typically depicted through extremes or parody in films such as Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, L.A. Confidential, The Usual Suspects, Sin City, Se7en, or Memento.  Still, one could make a pretty good argument that these films are better defined as exhibiting the symptoms of noir and more closely resemble crime dramas, thrillers, or detective flicks.
The term Film Noir came out of France after World War II.  The French had been isolated throughout the war.  Their last images of American cinema were of Hollywood’s musicals and highly contrived dance pictures.  Critics in Cahiers du Cinema saw American films pouring in during peacetime that had grown dark in look and subject matter.  If musicals were representative of the American Dream, these new films were the American Nightmare.  The war itself had much to do with these grim projections.  Our knights had come back from the war with their shining armor covered in blood.  Along with their physical scars they brought back a traumatized mind and the refugees of eviscerated nations.  In short, tension.  A tension that would intensify and reverberate through all layers of society once home and the veil of the American Dream had been lifted.  Fatalism had attached itself like a disease to the American psyche and it seemed that nobody could find a silver lining.  Our films projected this as we had finally found problems ninety minutes could not solve.  Nonetheless, we were compelled to share these inner conflicts in hope of finding some resolution, some solace through national group therapy.
Suffering this extreme shock had left us a blank slate with little besides empty consumer myths to flesh out the story.  Our culture saw an influx of new influence, in particular, Jews fleeing Germany.  With them came a reinforcement of this fatalism and a German style of filming.  The chiaroscuro lighting and dutch-angles would coalesce with pulp fiction to produce the perfect storm, a dark wet hurricane.  Most critics say Film Noir began in 1944 with an explosion in 1946 but before then we can see precursors to noir style.  German Expressionist films like M, made in 1931 by Fritz Lang, give us a great example of a noir precursor.  The film depicts a world of extremes, darkness next to light, innocence parallel to malicious intent, a world off-tilt.  This look of an off-tilt chiaroscuro world seen in other Expressionist films like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, made in 1920 by Robert Wiene, exemplify the dark look that is found in most noir films.  They also exhibit the dark feelings associated with noir.  M is about a child killer punished by and cold angry mob and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is about a zombified strangler.
WarnerBrothers is probably the most recognizable American influence of noir style.  Before WWII they popularized gangster films.  Their gritty crime dramas typically depicted working class people gone wrong.  But we saw their films from the criminal’s perspective and thereby the working class was usually justified in some way.  This changed in 1931 with Public Enemy.  The villain is a psychopath.  He takes what he wants and kills without second thought.  There is no justification of his violence.  This is another precursor to the Film Noir style, a selfish disregard for others and justice.  But in order to better understand what Film Noir really means, we must first understand what it is not.  For some time Hollywood had a set of dreamy standards to which all films aspired.  Classical Hollywood films followed logical action, defined characters, and a psychologically stable hero.  Their films would celebrate heterosexual romance through the gaze of a patriarchalmale.  The endings were motivated and happy with clear restoration of justice.  Said restoration was made even clearer through stable space, composition, and lighting.  The editing was neutral or invisible making the construction of the film seem seamless.  Slowly the dark sickness began to eat away at these standards to better project the diseased version of the dream.
The films of noir style were a rejection of conformity and an assault of psychological stability.  The protagonist of the noir story suffers internally and a greater emphasis is put on compositional tension rather than physical action.  This is done using complex chronological order and by tracing the mental states of the hero through voice-over, flashback, and subjective point-of-view.  Scenes are typically lit for night and full of oblique and vertical lines.  Actors and settings are often given equal lighting emphasis.  The motivated happy ending is attacked through fatalism and predetermined fate.  Heterosexual romance is made laughable in the presence of the powerful black widow.  In the presence of these new femme fatales yesterday’s bulging hero is rendered helpless and limp.  PaulSchrader says these techniques emphasize loss, nostalgia, insecurity and are then submerged in mannerism and style.  He says, “in such a world, style becomes paramount.”  In short, Noir style is a film negative of classic Hollywood films.
The Hollywood musical is the Apex of classicism, what all of Hollywood aspired to achieve.  In 1955, Oklahoma sings out proudly about a bright golden haze on the meadow, about a beautiful morning.  Classic films are bathed in bright light and smiles while in the world of Film Noir it is always raining.  It is a world of frantic jazz and somber minor tones.  A corrupt city where nothing is what it seems.  Murder My Sweet made in 1945 shows this as a drunken woman lays it on thick one moment, only to suddenly sober up and make a phone call.  The protagonist watches this play out through the window and knows that she is setting him up for certain death.  His reaction?  He moves calmly on down the road to face the inevitable.  This fatalism is taken even farther in Noirs like Sunset Boulevard, made in 1950, where we meet our hero already dead.  His voice-over takes us back to the beginning and we watch him spiral down unable to hit the brakes.  No matter which way you turn in the world of Film Noir, fate always sticks out its foot to trip you.
This feeling of hopelessness is the chief identifier of Film Noir while the look itself is secondary and varies based on who produces the film.  Casablanca, made in 1942, helps illustrate my point.  This film exhibits all the outward visual signs of disease but not the disease itself.  We see chiaroscuro lighting, snappy dialogue, a seemingly unstable hero; however, the ending of Casablanca shows its true colors—red, white, and blue.  This patriotic Hollywood propaganda film is best identified as a “preparedness film”.  Rick, the main character, is an isolationist running the CafĂ© Americana.  He had been burned by romantic endeavors in the past and now lives out a selfish philosophy, that is, until that romance comes back into his life and gives him something to fight for.  Rick comes to his senses and lives up to his psychologically stable potential by deciding to murder Nazis.  This film may exhibit the symptoms of Noir but is merely another stylistic precursor.
Hollywood’s dreamy standards were still enforced throughout the period Noir, but filmmakers began to subvert them through crafty dialogue and symbolism.  “Low budgets bought you freedom,” says Scorsese in Director As Smuggler.  Scorsese is making reference to the stage on which Film Noir was birthed—the low budget double feature.  Noir films were overlooked by studios because they were cheap and thrown together quickly to be paired up with a bigger better picture.  Detour, made in 1945, was shot for twenty thousand dollars in six days.  It ran sixty-eight minutes long and was diseased dream to the core.  This high contrast film flashes back from an erratic broken man in a diner via voice-over.  Through bad acting and one take wonders we watch an existential victim spiral down a murderous road right into the arms of a femme fatale.  She wraps him around her finger and attempts to drag him deeper into the murky waters of noir for her personal gain.  He eventually murders her and continues down the road to his inevitable incarceration.  A self-imposed prison as he could have taken a more active role in his fate early on if he only tried.  He could have been with the good girl, but he passively fell into the black widow’s web—a fatal flaw of Film Noir protagonists, passivity without a strong ego.  This type of set up was common in Noir as male paranoia was on the rise with the shifting social norms.
Through Hollywood standards, women were culturally constructed to develop taste for masochism and men sadism.  Women’s films were referred to as “three hanky movies” or “women’s weepers”.  But films like Detour were the beginning of “men’s weepers”, indulging the disenfranchised hopelessness of the modern man.  Rosie the Riveter filled in for and supplied our boys while they were overseas.  When they returned home, she, and our nation, was fulfilled in more ways than one.  Women had been equalized and no longer had to just close their eyes and think of the homeland.  Once given a taste of equality one can hardly go quietly back into submission.  PTSD paranoid male view saw the femme fatale hit the screen.  She aggressively put her sexuality on display and was not afraid to use it to carve out a piece for herself.  And so our male protagonists received a dose of masculine masochism usually cloaked in obvious false superiority.  In Double Indemnity, made in 1946 by Billy Wilder, we see Fred McMurray sold as a pussified push-over and the audience buys it.  He pathetically bats at the balls of yarn set out for him not knowing they’re the silk string of the black widow’s web.  He plays macho with the cheap blonde and even we laugh at his speeding metaphor.  He goes limp at the sight of a woman allowing her to lead him around by the fallace.
RobertMitchum gives a more convincing performance as macho-man gone weak-in-the-knees in Out of the Past, made in 1947.  Around the “good girl” he meanders instead of taking a bite just like his buddy Tom Neal and his number one dame in Detour.  Their hopelessness highlighted and intensified by women, through their inability to perform.  Then she, the “bad girl”, stepped out of the sun and into shadow.  By then it was already too late.  He was weak and drifting while she was willing to do what he could not.  They’re both rotten and deserve each other.  Mitchum sure talks tough and puts on a good show, but don’t let the “sex” scene fool you.  He appears to be in control, taking the towel off her head, tossing the veil aside, shattering her light; but as they fall off screen and her front door is blown wide open one can’t help thinking, who is taking whom?  We receive confirmation by the end but, of course, it too late for anyone to save our poor hero.
Film Noirs like Detour and Out of the Past remind me of another post-war film movement, Italian Neorealism.  The Noir and Neorealist birth pangs are similar yet their working conditions so different each ends up the other’s evil doppelganger.  Due to budget constraints they both use locations, fast paced shooting, no name actors, and, most important, both are born out of World War II.  The Italian Neorealist reaction is quite different than American Film Noir and I believe boils down to perception.  The United States were shocked and traumatized by the horrors of war and made fertile ground for Freudian ideals through the vein of Edward Bernays.  They declared that humans were not to be trusted.  As inherently violent selfish beings the nation should strive to subvert and deny human nature.  Hollywood, advertising, and other forms media spend decades attempting to indoctrinate the population.   The battle over our fractured minds today continues today.
The Italians on the other hand move in a different direction.  They suffer through the brutality and destruction of fascism and war on their own soil.  With their homes destroyed and society raped they reject the robotic delusion of the human spirit and turn to the Franciscan roots hidden away in Catholicism.  Their films depict disillusioned individuals rising, finding silver linings.  They show the power of innocence in the face of abuse.  I find similarities here with the deaf character in Out of the Past.  He is perhaps the strongest character in the film taking on the most active role.  We share special moments with him as he saves Mitchum and again later when he frees the good girl from an obsessive future filled with what-ifs by lying to her.  I can’t help but think of Cabiria looking out at us passing the peace when the deaf kid turns to the sign and salutes the dead Robert Mitchum.  Small world or a big sign.
My favorite of the three films we watched was Gilda, made in 1946 by Charles Vidor.  Vidor’s film may seem cynical and hopeless on the surface but looking closer I think the subtext of this film is up to a lot more than the plot reveals.  The film takes place in Argentina after WWII, a well-known Nazi hide out after the war.  A majority of the scenes take place in a panopticon-like nightclub casino.  The two sides are separated by a mirror, one side a lavish nightclub and the other a series of rigged payoffs in which the house always wins.  The owner of this nightclub is old money, running a tungsten cartel to launder fascist money.  His weapon of choice is an elegant black cane which conceals a deadly blade.  Through venetian blinds and hidden microphones this Friedmaniacal fake spies on all around him while delicately pulling the strings.
The main characters are two Americans.  A man and woman who both think they are smart and in control but, like other Noir protagonists, are actually being manipulated by the black widow.  In this case, the black widow is the fascist boss.  The Americans would do better if they worked together, however, they are at odds because of old scars.  They have a history that leaves both feeling abandoned and betrayed by the other.  They’ve now grown to find security in the rich embrace of the boss without realizing they are his pets.  The only one who sees the bigger picture is an indigenous peasant philosopher left cleaning the bathroom and shining shoes.  The man dislikes him while the woman finds him charming.  After the fascist fakes his death our main man starts feeling secure in his position at the top of the panopticon—that is if he can control the woman.  She runs off finding new security in the arms of a lawyer who betrays her to the new system of power.  Long story short, our hero tries to run the cartel but bungles it.  The local cops were just letting the fascists show their hand before they stole the pot.  Just as the old money swoops in to exact his revenge, who is it that saves the day?  You might think it was our hero but no, it is the philosopher peasant who turns the fascist’s own fallace against him.  He stabs him in the back to remind us all where true power lies, in the hands of the workers.  The local cops rule it justifiable homicide.  The disenchanted romantics are free to return to their homeland, free of the fascist regimes which have tried to snuff out the human spirit.  However our Americans return to a nightmarish society full of fear and paranoia.  Maybe these two should have made their way to Italy.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Honeymoon: Day 7 <> OR <> This IS the End

Sad, but its nearly over. If only I wasn't a cheap bastard, if only I had a real job, if only I could've given my beautiful wife the honeymoon she deserves. Hopefully, I'll be able to give her something better when I grow up.

So, Dublin.. pretty feckin' cool.  We stayed in this vodka themed hotel one night in the last city.
Absolute Hotel & Spa--I think it was called.  A cool city. Nice people. Everywhere we went they were excited to meet Americans and talk about America.  We pretty much got the same question:

"Where are you from?"
Kansas City.
"Kansas.. what is Kansas famous for?"
"OH YEA! Dorothy!"

We were on our way to see the Book of Kells at Trinity College, a pretty cool place. Dublin mixes in the new with the old well. It is a city I could die in.
This is the library after viewing the book. There were a bunch of fat assholy french people with sharp elbows filling the space beyond this frame. That douche on the left just had to get in the shot as well.
The library was full of busts, Locke and Demosthenese among them.
We set out to accomplish one final task, to have a pint in the oldest known pub in Dublin.
Ireland is pretty much over, for now. There just wasn't enough time so, to be continued. I didn't even get to see the North, where my people are from and DUH, G.O.T. is filmed!

Onward to tiny planes and sleepless nights!

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Honeymoon: Day 6 <> OR <> The EMO Post

So, we went to The Cliffs of Moher.  This place was amazingly beautiful, expansive, and crowded--but luckily it was so expansive, wet, and cold that we were able to hike along the cliff and find some solitude.

This location was factored in for more than just its beauty. After my brother died I decided that I was going to take a small thimble size portion of his ashes with me to amazing locations and scatter them until I had scattered all the ashes I have--which isn't very much to begin with--hence, the thimble size portion.
Here is a shot of me being cool in our rental. This was what the coast was like leading up to the cliffs. We stopped several times to check out the landscape. We called this area Dragonstone.

When we got to the cliffs we hiked a ways, I didn't want anyone to bother us, PLUS, I didn't know if I would get in trouble, PLUS, I didn't really know what to do or say.

Along the way I thought up some real deep words to say about scattering through the fog and resting deep below, returned to our ancestors, blah blah--I said it, and meant it all--but it was for me and my brother. It was a moving moment, for a moment. The fog rolled in and enveloped Lydia and I. Once it cleared, the fear of death was upon me when I could see how dead I would be if I slipped.
I miss my brother. I can't stop missing him. These scattering ceremonies are a cheap substitution or his company. I can't fill the hole inside.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Honeymoon: Day 5 <> OR <> Drinking, Castles, & Stuff

So we've hit up like 3 castles and some fancy houses. You pass so many old towers along the highways its crazy. Stuff in Ireland is old. Everything is beautiful, even their highways. There aren't obnoxious powerlines, fences, or billboards everywhere. There are stone or hedgewalls lining the property lines and roads.

We stopped in this little fishing village on a whim--more like, we were sick of driving and wanted a beer.  The place was pretty dull, really, but they had a pub and the place was simply beautiful.  The houses and businesses were the same as any old town we passed through, but the difference was the buildings weren't torn down to make way for cheap looking strip malls.

The town spiraled down the side of a cliff. We parked up by this old catholic church and went inside. There was a LONNNG traditional ceremony going on inside.  We walked down the roads, alleyways, and sidewalks until we reached the shore. There were a bunch of old fishermen standing around pointing and gossiping at the few tourists passing by. We didn't know it but we had stumbled onto a landmark, one of the last stops where The Titanic picked up all those Irish people that were locked in the lower decks and left to die like dogs--yea, this was where most of them folks jumped on board.
Here is a cool pic from Bunratty Castle. This place had a badass hall. I really wanted to film a scene with natural light there.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Honeymoon: Day 3 <> OR <> Finally Sum Fuckin' Fun

Kickin' off the first REAL day of the 'moon with a kick ass Irish breakfast--they loaded us with delicious meat and pastries--and stoppin' off at the first friggin' place that comes to mind besides Leprechauns and green when most of us 'muricans think Ireland--BLARNEY CASTLE.

The first thing I learned about the castle that I didn't know is that it rests on HUGE grounds. They're beautiful and fun for the whole family.

But if you're lookin' to kiss the stone, you've gotta hit up the castle itself. It was my first real castle and pretty fuckin' cool. You can check it out from head to toe.

And, of course, once you climb all the way to the top you can kiss the disgusting stone of a thousand lips. There are two old guys there who feel you up and charge you $1.50 for it too--its optional, but, you better PAY or they look at you sideways.
It was pretty cool. There are a lot of other places on the grounds which I wont go into here as we're in a hurry to hit up our first pub in town.

Honeymoon: Day 2 <> OR <> Packt Like Sardines Ina Tin Can

So, things worked out--I guess. As all things in life, honeymoons never seem to work out quite as planned. We spent a whole friggin' day flying around the world. Our first plane was great--spaciously sitting together and what-not. But when we stepped onto the plane for Ireland it became painfully clear that the voyage was going to be miserable.

We were separated, first of all, with no chance of shuffling seats. I was packed in with a couple GIANT bros--apparently we were traveling with a college group--but at least I had a window seat, or so I THOUGHT.  The seats were right up against each other, narrow isles, ZERO leg room. My knees were touching the seat in front of me and so the two GIANTS to my left had to spread their legs and hang over into my narrowing space in order to fit. Lydia was sitting with a much smaller young gentleman and sleeping middle aged woman.. I'm sure she has complaints, but I didn't want to hear them much after my OMFG I CAN"T SLEEP and THIS GUY STINKS horror.

They served us a frozen TV dinner and mediocre snacks in just the proper increments to prevent sleep if you were somehow able. I mostly played the shit movies they had On Demand and did my best to find a happy place. I didn't get up at all during the flight. It was too difficult. The GIANTS would have to get up and make everyone else around us uncomfortable so I just sat there and watched Quartet. It was pretty obvious but attempting to redirect the film and think up better lines and plot points kept me going. Next I watched Skyfall, again--but it was good. Started A Good Day to Die Hard, but couldn't finish it--it was during this film that I almost fell asleep but was interrupted by peanuts and ginger ale. I spent the remainder of the trip watching The Life of Pi, a great film. I was so delirious at this point that I could really identify with the main character.

We landed, exhausted. Rented a car. Drove down the coast line with low tolerance and luckily no other-side-of-the-road mishaps. Our first night was at a golf resort in Blarney. The beds were AWESOME. Lydia slept in "late". I slept until about 4am, got out of bed at about 5am--when their shitty 4 channels no longer amused me--and I walked around on the golf course until sunrise. It was windy and chilly but well worth it. There were beautiful blue greens fading to innumerable hues all around me as the sun crept in.

I got back to the room before the sun was  up proper and jumped back into bed for a  bit. I held my wife for  a minute before waking her for our first Irish breakfast and trek back into town to kiss the stone.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Honeymoon: Day 1 <> OR <> Never Trust A Travel Agent

We spent the day gathering all the last minute items and wrapping up loose ends. Dropped off the dog, picked up cat food and outlet adapters. We read and reread our itinerary and airline rules. My biggest concern was whether they'd let me through with a thimble of my brother's ashes to scatter at the Cliffs of Moher.

When we arrived two hours before our flight at 5pm we were informed that the itinerary, updated 4 days ago on the 16th, was incorrect and our plane left the gate as we approached the check-in counter. After a long argument over the phone with a lady from Jersey, our travel agency scheduled a flight for tomorrow at 10:58am. They refunded us a whopping $300 because we're "only missing our first night's stay" in Kilkenny. I wanted to choke the bitch for that one.

So, we returned home and tried to pretend we were still on vacation.. we ordered Minsky's Pizza and watched The Guard. It was one of the only Irish films that didn't seem too depressing. I mean, really--take a look--it is hard to find an Irish film that isn't about the IRA, prison, political upheaval, Leprechauns, or Selkies. Also, I had seen most of those films anyway. I really liked The Guard, it had a muted personality filled with wit and a dry plot. It was character driven and the actors did a great job.

The plan now is to arrive in Dublin on Wednesday at 10am and immediately drive through Kilkenny in a rounda-outta-the-fuckin-way route to Blarney. We have tickets we paid for to tour the castle--so hopefully we'll have enough time to make it there and still hit up the sights we intended to see in Blarney.

I have started reading James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. I haven't really read past the bio and introduction but I am already excited to get started. I know Joseph Campbell loves Joyce. He quotes from him a lot and refers to him as the most important modern writer. Others have told me that they've liked his later works but still have no idea what A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is about. They talk about it like a reading marathon or endurance test. I am intrigued.

Already, in the introduction by Seamus Deane, I identify with the main character through the writer's descriptions--as I'm sure most people might be. This line in particular related:  Stephen, as a child, as boy and as young man, is seduced time and again by siren voice -- parental, political, religious, sexual, literary -- but concedes ultimately only to his own voice, or to the ventriloquial versions of his own voice that he assigns to his 'soul'.  The writer also quotes from the text. One line I appreciated:  The exercise of authority might be sometimes (rarely) questionable, its intentions, never.

I just got a copy of the 1967 film adaptation of his later book Ulysses. I really want to read the novel, I feel like I already have since Truby's screenwriting book The Anatomy of Story breaks it down for examples of good storytelling--I used Truby's book as the guide to my first full length screenplay. I think I'm going to take a break and watch that now as I doubt it would be something my beautiful new wife would be interested in. Will follow up with thoughts and more adventures of Honeymooning.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Wedding Bells

I married the beautiful woman who changed my life today.  It was a lovely day.  Evening spent dancing in the moonlight.  Photo by Cory Hinesley

Lots of great wedding photos by Brandon Forrest Frederick

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Belmondo and Seberg Birth Beatty

          In the nineteen forties, the American dream suffered a traumatic blow due to war and psychological trauma.  The eternal optimism of yesterday became the limping daydream of barbaric human animals.  We were able to fathom beautiful delusions, but our instinctual drives would always prevent their fulfillment.  The Set-Up, in 1949, opens on a series of signs which reflect this fractured psyche.  The bold lettering of Paradise City, a boxing arena, dominates the frame.  Below it, the sign of a nightclub, Dreamland, glows in the darkness of night.  Beneath these two, the much smaller sign of a restaurant flashes Chop Suey.  The combination of these play like an equation: Paradise City + Dreamland = Chop Suey.  Chop Suey, an American rendition of Chinese cuisine, is an outdated term for all things inauthentic (think, what a bunch of hooey, Chop Suey).  This equation seems to put its own words to the state of the American psyche.  Dreams wrapped in delusions equaling an inauthentic way of life.  A flavor made in America; a flavor we all love.  With this bitter taste on our tongues we made authenticity a criminal, romanticism a fugitive, and put lovers on the run.
The Set-Up is a boxing Noir. Scorsese talks at length about boxing movies being the perfect metaphor for life.  The fight is in the ring, the ring of life.  The bell dings and you start to fight, round, after round, after round until someone is knocked out.  This boxing film involves an organized racket fixing the fight.  The fight is the one last chance at victory for the hero.  His wife wants him to quit but he is a fighter and a fighter’s gotta fight—even though this may be his last.  His wife can’t stand to see him take the beatings any longer.  She thinks she knows he is going to lose again, so she takes a bet out against him, hoping to retire with the money.  From the very beginning this film has no sympathy for the weak.  A paper boy tells a fight card peddler complaining about fairness to “take a hike”.  We watch the truth of struggle and survival take place in and out of the ring.  In the alley behind the arena the gangsters bust the hero’s hand because he fights honest and fair.  He won, but he and his wife are left with nothing but his honor.  In the world of Noir, you can fight fair to the end, but it always ends with disaster.
The same is true in The Asphalt Jungle, made in 1950 by John Huston.  This heist movie embodies the phrase, whatever can go wrong, will.  Mr. Emmerich, a wealthy lawyer, cheats; on his wife and a gang of jewel thieves.  The main theme in this film seems to tell us beware our passions as they eventually become our downfall.  Dix loves horses; no matter how much money he steals, it all ends up at the track.  He is never able to buy back his family farm, but at least he is able to bleed out there while horses sniff his corpse.  Mr. Emmerich gets found out by the thieves and fingered by the cops; but in the end he blows his brains out—a fitting death for the worst kind of double-crosser.  Mr. Emmerich was blinded by pride and greed, but Doc is smart until the end; that is, until his love of young girls distracts him long enough to be caught.  I find it eerie that Marilyn Monroe got her start in this Film Noir.  The period saw Freudian narratives and analysis popularized.  The narratives made Marilyn a star while the analysis destroyed her life.
Though 1950 is a pivotal year for Noir, as they became harder and more realistic, it was still the height of the production code era.  A script still had to be approved before production, which meant inserting moral scenes.  In one such scene, the Police Commissioner demonstrates dramatically to the press what the world might be like without the Order of the Police.  Though, I think Houston shows the mark of a great filmmaker as this scene is well done and less jarring to the narrative than other examples.  A classic Noir sense of loss and longing to return runs through the film via Dix.  The first thing he wants to do when he gets that money is to bath in a creek and wash off the city dirt.  We can see Doll cry a little inside as she realizes she is part of that city dirt.  For the most part, Film Noir has two motivations, passion and greed.  This one has a touch of both.
            Sunset Boulevard, made in 1950 by Billy Wilder, only really includes the first motivation through the fear of abandonment designation.  There is a sub-genre of Film Noir, however, which discusses love.  It attempts to embody the reality of love within the bounds of the Noir story world.  It is called, lovers on the run.  In a world where people live false lives manageable only through shared deluded constructs, anything outside the construct is an attack.  Being barbaric animals, these people will then counter-attack in defense of their way of life.  In the world of Noir, any authentic or unique experience is such an attack on the society at large.  This climate of the Noir story world creates the perfect storm for lovers on the run.  One of the characters, usually the male lead, is made a criminal due to misunderstanding or being forced to act in defense against society.  He attempts to escape, becomes a fugitive, and is pursued by some representation of authority, i.g. Police or crime boss.  Early in his escape he encounters a woman who understands him; after all, women have been persecuted by male dominated society for generations.  She helps him escape, even if it is only through her understanding, and typically joins him on the road—becoming a lovers on the run flick.
            TheyLive by Night; made in 1949 by Nicholas Ray, is a great example of this type of lovers on the run story.  Bowie is a young man, imprisoned unlawfully as a minor, convinced by two career criminals to escape from prison.  While on the run, he and the gang kill a Police Officer and lose all hope of turning back.  Except for Bowie.  Bowie is somehow freed through his love of Keechie, the neglected daughter of a poor drunken filling station operator.  They attempt to hide out in a cabin and Bowie is then pursued not only by authorities, but the gang as well.  When Bowie tries one final escape to save Keechie and his unborn child, a vengeful and selfish woman sets them up to be nabbed by the authorities.  Bowie dies in a hail of gunfire while Keechie is left to raise his unborn child alone.  Their fatal flaw wasn’t robbing banks or running from the law, but falling in love.  Love, in the world of Noir, dooms one to a life on the run and premature death.
            This romantic plot, where the man finds salvation through the woman, is not typical in Film Noir. Gun Crazy, made in 1950 by Joseph Lewis, is the more classic structure for Noir.  In this case, the man is more psychologically stable in the beginning, though neutered.  Then, one day, he meets a woman lusting for power, though unable to achieve said power without a fallace.  So she is forced into the role of the black widow, to lay in wait for the perfect man, one made erect only through her intervention.  The two become interdependent and whole in the presence of the other.  Gun Crazy makes these themes even more evident through its fetishism of guns.
            Bart is a sharp shooter obsessed with guns because of the power and purpose he feels while wielding a gun.  However, he cannot fulfill the true nature of his talents—to kill.  He trains others to shoot and kill but isn’t whole shooting targets.  Bart meets Annie.  Annie is a sharp shooter who shoots with flare.  She lusts for more power and material wealth but is only limited by the man she uses.  Upon their meeting, that man is a carnival boss.  But with Bart in the picture it quickly becomes obvious that she can have more.  Together, they are made whole.  Bart is complete through her ability to kill and she through his fallace.  They do stick-up jobs until there is nowhere else to turn but Bart’s past.  There he is confronted by his impotence through his family and friends.  In the final moments, Bart chooses to kill Annie rather than let her kill.  They die in each other’s arms when the posse opens fire.  Here a man corrupted by a woman, though, fulfilled through her, loves her, is again punished by society for his reluctance to fall in line.
            These films are more sentimental than other Noirs.  They’re almost responding to the traumatic times as a Neorealist might, had they been American instead of Italian.  They Live by Night opens with text on the screen telling us the story is about two kids who haven’t been introduced to the world.  This is supposed to express their innocence and set the audience up to empathize.  This Noir takes the view of the sick barbaric individual and flips it on its head, depicting society as the sick one.  It denounces original sin, highlights the innocence of youth untouched, of love when allowed to flourish and grow.  I think the scene with the Justice of the Peace also says this.  He knows the world is harsh and so he refuses to sell them false hope.  He basically tells them that the only hope at salvation is in love itself.  That love will be given no quarter, always on the run under the scrutiny of society.  Love will either save you outright or you’re doomed to the same imprisonment of the system like everyone else.  Gun Crazy has similar thoughts.  The two eventually realize there is no way to rationalize their love or their behavior.  They know they must run or die, though Annie chooses to fight against the power and Bart’s past, he would rather die in each other’s arms as martyrs.
            These ideas don’t die with Bowie or Bart, but are carried on into New American Cinema by Beatty and Altman.  The Neo-Noir pictures produced during this new era had become more intentional and self-aware thanks to the French NewWave.  Critics like Godard coined the term Film Noir in Cahiers du Cinema, where they raved about the dark American films that had been totally overlooked and undervalued by American audiences.  Godard said that Nicholas Ray is cinema and had it not already been invented he would have done so.  Warren Beatty was influenced by the New Wave and decided to bring it to America.  He made a film with Arthur Penn kick-starting “New American Cinema”.  The term was coined by Pauline Kale when writing about their film, Bonnie &Clyde, made in 1967.  In this film we see the male body as the vehicle of power to be manipulated through feminine intent more obviously than in Gun Crazy. Gun Crazy was one of Bonnie & Clyde’s major influences along with Breathless.  These films depict a silent feminist revolution via the neutered male ego and his sex.
Bonnie & Clyde also shows us a sick society full of docile bankrupt people and business.  Though I don’t think its intent is sympathy for the individual, but merely for us to see them.  We are to be informed through them as Beatty is through Belmondo and the New Wave.  Clyde overcompensates for his impotence with cocky confidence.  We know he is aware of his impotence through his desperate need for approval from Bonnie.  In Gun Crazy, Bart was totally unaware of, or at the very least cognitively dissonant of, his impotence.  I suspect that Clyde was informed through his parents, Michel and Patricia, yet doomed to repeat the sins of his forefathers until freed finally at breath’s end.
Another leading figure of New American Cinema is the director of Thieves Like Us, made in 1974 by Robert Altman.  He also plays homage to his Noir roots in this film, a remake of They Live by Night.  Altman claims he didn’t know, until signing on to produce and direct Thieves Like Us, that it was a remake as he wasn’t aware They Live by Night was based on the book.  Neo-Noirs are more naturalistic than expressionistic Noirs of Classic Hollywood Cinema.  In Thieves Like Us, for example, we see Bowie and Keechie have sex.  In fact, we see them in bed together for quite some time.  While in They Live by Night, our only hint that they’ve consummated their marriage is through her pregnancy.  The dialogue of Neo-Noir is more naturalistic, at times seemingly improved, but somehow doesn’t feel any more realistic to me.  It lacks the subtlety of Film Noir.  Though this is intentional because these filmmakers were free to produce their films however they wanted.  And, of course, the film is in color—though full of shadows and texture, not a high-key Technicolor picture.
Though I love all of the films discussed so far, the film which I liked the most is In a Lonely Place, made in 1950 by Nicholas Ray.  Dixon Steele is a man without hope.  A writer in a world where those who employ him do not value his creative work, but merely use it as a commodity to be bought, carved up, and sold to the masses.  He is driven to violence around those who disrespect the professionals victimized through the slaughter of creativity.  Dixon attacks a studio executive after he slights the drunken actor.  So, it is established early on though there are appealing attributes to Dixon, he is unpredictable and dangerous.  It is here where the perspective begins to shift from the typical to the feminine.  His love interest slowly becomes more and more paranoid as she believes Dixon has the capacity for murder.  She thinks of leaving him and he tries to stop her only to realize himself that he has again raised his hand to a woman, and this time one he loves.  He cannot control the world that continually misunderstands and rejects him.  This traumatized soldier can no longer soldier on.  He glances back once more from the darkness to the woman he loves, simultaneously convicted and vindicated.
This narrative plays on multiple levels.  To anyone struggling with a demon, to the artist who struggles alone, and to the lonely place of love.  It embodies the essence of a man; vulnerable, ugly, and needy.  It starts off about a murder but the murder almost becomes secondary.  It acts as a catalyst for the female lead to manipulate the audience psychologically as she struggles to decide whether she or society are right about Dixon.  It depicts us as fearful creatures, so concerned with betrayal we cannot truly trust, or love.  It shows us how violence and emotional extremes are inextricably linked to creation.  If one looks at the explosion of a star, sex, or in this case, the writing of a story.  Noir lives in us all.  We are inextricably linked to darkness.  Without it we would never know the light.  Film Noir’s influence continues on in our society, pop culture, and my own appreciations.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Knight Takes Pawn

The films of Ingmar Bergman and Akira Kurosawa were surprisingly comparable despite major differences in culture, language, and theme.  I think over all their differences it is an overarching obsession of both directors which trumps all; their obsession with living in the face of certain death.  Their obsessions come from similar historical events and perhaps more personal experiences.  Kurosawa probably most impacted by WWII and the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Bergman and Kurosawa both saw a buildup of arms in a post-war world leading to a Cold War between communist and western super powers.  Living and growing up in Japan during these periods would have been rough for a young Akira, but perhaps easier than the abusive childhood of young Swedish Ingmar.  It is difficult to say since both cultures have a history of strict child-rearing.  The extreme nature of Bergman’s childhood punishments might win him the prize.
Whatever the factors were, these two men were obsessed with life in face of death and the theme reoccurs in film after film.  However, they approach their overarching theme in different ways; Bergman through high art and psychological concept and Kurosawa through beautifully crafted traditional films with subtle dialogue and choreographed action.  Basically, Bergman gave most people a head ache while Kurosawa tricked you into a seeing an art film.  I appreciate both methods and outline their impacts below.
The blackest of all plagues is love? But wait, that can’t be.  We make an idol out of fear and call it God.  We sleep with the devil and pestilence is brought down on the land while young girls must burn.  Distraction and temporary avoidance maybe, but fear of the unknown and the absence of God are what we continually come back to in The Seventh Seal.  Jons concludes his statement on the love plague with “if one could die of it [love], there would be some pleasure in love, but you don’t die of it.”  Antonius Block grips the bars between him and his confessor crying out for his response but only death answers.  Meanwhile, Jons gets drunk with the artist as they swap stories and have a laugh.  The only certainty in this film is death and the only truth is the comfort found in the arms of others.  Even poor Plog finds his comfort and cure in the procession through the dark forest.. which leads to death.
Their distraction, along with the clever maneuvering of Knight Antonius Block, proves to satiate Death long enough to allow the truly pure to slip by and live another day.  But their salvation comes with the profound clarity of mortality as they’re allowed to see Death forcing the others to dance with him beyond the horizon.  No doubt they carry on in a much better state than Block, lacking his eager capacity for doubt and suspicion, as Jof has true faith.  As a reward divine hallucination is a common occurrence for him.  Though for Mia it seems the introspective world of woman has provided her with a much more simple kind of peace.  She is comforted by simple things, her baby, her husband, and wild strawberries.  Antonius Block shares her 20/20 spiritual vision for a moment when he partakes of her sacrament and proclaims, “I shall remember this moment; the silence, the twilight, the bowl of strawberries, the bowl of milk.  Your faces in the evening light.  Mikael asleep, Jof with his lyre.  I shall try to remember our talk.  I shall carry this memory carefully in my hands as if it were a bowl brimful of fresh milk.  It will be a sign to me, and a great sufficiency.”
            The introspective world meshes well with his other thematic obsessions.  In Persona this interior world and it’s relation to the out is explored as a tool of survival.  I think this film is a peek into Bergman’s personal life and at times into his very soul.  In an interview we watched in class he details the development of a Persona, a splitting of the true self from the public self.  He describes it as a defense mechanism that shields his delicate soul from the harshest realities.  We discussed his repeated institutionalization and his emotional fragility is well documented and confessed on paper and film.  He begins Persona by announcing that it is a film.  Then we enter into the Hour of the Wolf—that time where life and death, creation and destruction live.  Here we come across a young boy who attempts to ignore the “call”.  Finally he sits up and begins to massage the screen until it starts to focus.  The boy molds the screen into the face of a woman and our story begins.
            I believe this is Bergman saying, “Hello, welcome to my film, I wrote it, it is about me annnd check out these women I love—I will confess through them.”  So what is the film about?  An actress falls silent and refuses to speak.  A nurse takes care of the actress in an institution and then they live together in a remote location.  Slowly we find out that they are personalities of the same woman.  When unable to deal with reality the actress acts for the nurse; after all, an actor doesn’t truly speak but is merely a tool of the script, a collection of actions and phrases in reaction to other actions and phrases.  In the final reveal they have it out.  A part of each of them and a new persona emerges, stronger than before.  It makes its way back into reality and then Bergman pans back out into the room representation of the Hour of the Wolf.  Here he reminds you that this film has been the making of a little boy who likes stories.  A beautifully shot film and a great example of mastering the craft.  This film could mean so many things but the images, actions, and words are so plain.  And they only mean one thing because I perceived them and the meaning is mine.
            The master craftsman idea reveals a point I’d like to make about both Bergman and Kurosawa and will serve as a segue into Kurosawa.  Neither of these masters would have been half the man without the craftsmen/women they mastered, as film making is a team effort and they picked winners.  His players, Gunnar Bjornstrand, Max vonSydow, Bibi Andersson, and Liv Ullmann became extensions of his pen while Gunnar Fischer and Sven Nykvist interpreters of his sight.  They make a Bergman film a Bergman film as much as Bergman makes it his.  The same could be said for Akira Kurosawa.  Without cinematographer Kazuo Miyagawa, composer Masaru Sato, or production designer Yoshiro Muraki his films wouldn’t have been the same.  Muraki made sets and costumes that brought an authenticity into frame.  Miyagawa pulled the focus blind and perfect.  Sato’s music has established an audial signature not just for Kurosawa, but Japanese cinema.  His influence is heard in action films and animations to this day.  Perhaps more influential to those mediums, but only because I have a visual bias, is probably Toshiro Mifune.  His movements and behavior redefined the samurai and influenced action heroes from the moment he arrived.  But it was Bergman and Kurosawa who pulled all these people together and made them click.
There is also a flare of humor in their films.  In Smiles of a Summer Night, Wild Strawberries, or The Seventh Seal we find humor in the relations, in the selfishness of their nature, and especially in their summations and insights on life.  Like Dr. Borg and his maid or Jons and his singing.  The same is true in Yojimbo and Roshomon.  The characters are cartoonish at times and we see the darkness cast right along with the light in scenes where Sanjuro proclaims there is “no cure for fools” and then instantly cuts down three hired thugs.  Sanjuro plays around with people’s lives like Death at the chess board.  At times he even takes a seat at the watch tower and laughs at the effectiveness of his work.  Sanjuro’s actions are an example of Kurosawa’s subtle attack on the idealized image of the past.  He has the look down perfectly; in fact, he obsessively executed every detail of the image to make it accurate.  But then he takes a samurai and has him pit two rival profiteers and their gang against each other.
There is corruption everywhere even in Sanjuro, that is until actual innocent lives come into play.  Here our hero becomes vulnerable and almost dies.  His flaw, completely lacking in elevated society, is doing the right thing, even as a flea bitten rogue.  Later he stands up bravely to a revolver but it has no bullets for him as good triumphs over evil.  One could probably compare these scenes to those like Jons and Raval, the man who convinced Antonius Block to go on the crusade.  Raval has revealed his true nature in desperate times and Jons cuts up his face to mark him for the world to see he is corrupt.  Or the scene where Jons and Antonius stare into the burning girls eyes and see nothing but terror.
Kurosawa brought a level of authenticity to his characters by making them individuals, each with their own quirk, a compulsive process, a demented mind seen through the eyes and smile.  He brought a level of authenticity to the entire film through his obsessive behavior.  In the interviews with his team they talk about his attention to detail, like having fire fighters spray down the town in Yojimbo until the streets were sufficiently eroded.  He devotes time and effort into executing authentic representations of what he imagined, not just what is.  For example, Dreams becomes very authentic because of his work ethic in designing sets and costumes.  People on a hill look exactly like life size dolls dancing for the camera.  In Ran you believe that the king is actually insane because Kurosawa spent hours discussing insanity with the actor until they achieved the distant look of being lost inside yourself.
In Roshomon, Kurosawa lends this ethic to the genre of unreliable narratives.  Perhaps more honestly but still just as confusing as any other unreliable narrative he teaches us that perception is key, subjective, even in cases where the camera objective.  Three people can all be present at the same moment, go through the same actions, and still experience it all differently—in this case each finding a murder their own responsibility.  In Persona we have a case where one person is present with multiple narratives within, both unreliable.  I once heard that Kurosawa described Roshomon as a story about rape in the woods, but recently I found a quote saying, "Human beings are unable to be honest with themselves about themselves. They cannot talk about themselves without embellishing."  Both very simple explanations for a film that I believe demonstrates his ability to subtly tell much more.  I’d like to call Kurosawa a minimalist but it would be difficult to prove when you look at the construction of his sets and characters.
EphraimKatz said Bergman “is among a select few directors who have consistently used the medium of cinema as a creative art of personal expression, and among an even smaller group that has been able to exercise near-complete freedom and total artistic control over its film product.”  I don’t know if Kurosawa had as much artistic freedom as Bergman, but he certainly said a lot in his films as well.  I believe he is among the same class of film maker and used similar themes.  Their impacts are long lasting and have reached the ultimate level of pop culture indoctrination, the parody.  Woody Allen, who loves Bergman, uses his faces shot (from Persona), has his own white Death, and dances into the horizon at the end with him in Love and Death.  John Belushi does a samurai parody that is made up entirely of Mifune’s samurai performances.  But the most powerful and longest lasting for me—especially since it is the reason I discovered Bergman at a young age—is Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey.  Bill and Ted die and play a series of ‘90s board games against the unsportsmanlike Death and win back their lives.  Keanu’s best role by far, he was born to play Ted Logan.  I will never forget the scenes of Kurosawa, however, it is Bergman’s images that haunt me—and they’re mostly just faces.