Monday, December 29, 2008

Cabiria: the movie with built-in spoilers

Back in the mid 19-teens, Italian filmmakers began pioneering the long form cinema we know today as "feature film".

Cabiria is regarded as the most successful of the lot. It's only borderline watchable today; it suffers from a persistent habit of early silent films in which they would put up a title card explaining what you were about to see:

and then follow that with a scene in which you see exactly what you were already told you were going to see:

It's like a movie with built-in spoilers. Another:

followed by:

But you can see the elaborate production values they put into this toga pic. The sets and costumes are great:

It also has some good stunt work like this scene where you see Roman soldiers scale a high wall by methodically building a human pyramid...

... with each layer of men standing on the shields of the men below:

And yes, they really do get a man up to the top of that wall. I don't know if that's a historically accurate maneuver, but they convinced me it could work.

Audiences of the time were also struck by something called "the Cabiria effect". In numerous shots they slowly moved the camera's vantage point into, out of or across the scene. It's a very subtle shifting of perspective that undoes the inherent flatness of a stationary camera. Today we know this as a "dolly shot" and it's not at all uncommon, but it makes Cabiria look about ten years more advanced than other movies from this period.

Still, for all this awareness of how to use the camera there are some moments of excruciatingly bad framing:

The object of that scene is a man on a bed just off the left edge of the frame. We saw them lay him on the bed in a previous shot but for some reason now we just see their butts as they lean over him.

And what is "Cabiria"? It's a girl. She may be the original "McGuffin", as Hitchcock would say. Rather unimportant in the film except as a foil to involve all these other people you see who are trying to capture her, protect her, sacrifice her, deflower her, rescue her...

Thursday, December 11, 2008

nina paley attacks!

Animated film-maker Nina Paley criticized me yesterday, over in the comments at, for using uncredited photographs in this blog, after I expressed my doubts about the merits of film projects that were based around music by (not paid) musicans who hadn't been involved with the film project. I said it was a too easy way to add polish to a film production without paying the artists who made that polish possible.

Yes, the picture of Blagojevich was uncredited. I've corrected that now by making the picture link back to the original photographer's Flicker page. I picked an image off Flicker since those are obviously out there to be used. They give you options to download a copy of any size you want for free. I presume the photographer approves of those terms or he/she wouldn't be publishing on Flicker.

But as I skim through the rest of my blog entries I see that almost every one that uses an image has a link to drive readers back to the original source. For example, the post on the recently discovered phonograph cylinders of Russian musicians links back to the pertinent NY Times article.

The numerous Youtube clips are self-documenting in themselves.

So I don't feel I've been too egregious in my borrowings here.

And Nina's film? It's "Sita Sings the Blues". (I won't even try to show you a picture here.) I actually contributed money to her last year to cover some unexpected production cost she was desperately trying to raise money to cover. My contribution wasn't much, but at the time the film was described as a narrative film about her being dumped by her ex-husband or something like that, which sounded like an interesting indy film project. I hoped that maybe my contribution would edge the film along toward distribution so that I might see it some day.

Now it turns out the film is perhaps more of music video based on some recordings from the 1920's. I'm not sure I would have contributed to a project like that. I'll never get to see the movie to be sure since Nina didn't get clearance on the music she was borrowing and her film is now shelved for copyright infringement reasons.

I've been working on an independent film lately, titled "The Tin Woodman of Oz" based on the public domain story by L. Frank Baum.

Authorized image from "The Tin Woodman of Oz":

It's a modest little movie, we didn't have many resources, but we made it all ourselves; we didn't borrow anything we didn't have the rights to, we even wrote the songs ourselves. I wrote two of them!

I don't imagine anyone out there on the internet will contribute $35,000 to our production like they did to Nina Paley's, but we did our homework before we embarked on making a movie and she didn't. Our movie has at least a remote chance of being distributed, hers has none. Which would you give money to?

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

rhymes with Manishevitz?

The nice thing about political scandals is you get to learn about local officials all across this great land that you didn't even know existed before. Idaho has a Senator? Florida had a congressman who knew how to send text messages? I had no idea.

Now it turns out that Illinois has a Governor. Who knew?

Good head of hair on that guy. They'll love that in prison. To make paint brushes for for art class, I mean.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

hair quality alert

Is it not at all suspicious that the man with the most poorly executed combover I have seen this week wants to use 100,000 year-old DNA to recreate... a woolly mammoth ?

Thursday, December 04, 2008

recession ruins romance in India

from NYTimes article:

In a country where most marriages are arranged by parents, the downturn has even taken a toll on the matrimonial prospects of those in technology outsourcing. “Because there is no job guarantees for I.T. people, for the last six months brides’ families have not been accepting grooms from this background,” said Jagadeesh Angadi, a matchmaker in Bangalore.

In America, you take bride.
In India, bride takes you.

Monday, December 01, 2008

In the year 2000...

... science will finally eliminate the scourge of water polo pony drownings. That's the only explanation I can think of for this 1950's magazine cover.

It's from a fabulous collection of retro-future illustrations. Climadome homes and personal jet packs are, of course, included.