Topic: Film

The cutaway: The bisected sets of Anderson, Godard, Lewis, Berkeley, Keaton and Parrott

In a recent issue of The New Yorker, a Goings On listing written by Richard Brody noted that the Museum of the Moving Image was screening the Jerry Lewis film, The Ladies Man. In the movie, Lewis plays Herbert H. Heebert, “a high-strung and wounded young man who seeks a secular sanctuary from sex and ends up in Hollywood, as a handyman in a women’s boarding house.” Brody goes on to write, “The house where Herbert lives and works is one of the greatest and most influential sets of all time,” which got me thinking about where else have I seen this “colossal dollhouse-like cutaway” approach before and, for that matter, since.

A recent example of an epic “dollhouse effect” is Wes Anderson’s set piece for The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, which featured a fantastic cutaway/bisected research vessel dubbed the Belafonte. The Belafonte, complete with mini-sub and helicopter, is of course a loving homage to oceanographer Jacques Cousteau’s vessel, the Calypso. And yes, Harry Belafonte played calypso music on an album called Calypso. Seu Jorge, on the other hand, is a Brazilian Samba musician and the Belafonte’s resident recording artist who performs haunting David Bowie covers at intervals throughout the film. But I digress. The point is, after doing a little research on the making of the Belafonte set I stumbled upon Anthony Balducci’s blog, which itemizes a half-dozen examples of this visual trope, which apparently has been around for at leat 95 years.

Here are some examples, traveling back in time from the present:

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (Wes Anderson, 2004)

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (Wes Anderson, 2004)

Tout Va Bien (Jean-Pierre Gorin, Jean-Luc Godard; 1972)

Tout Va Bien (Jean-Pierre Gorin, Jean-Luc Godard; 1972)

The Ladies Man (Jerry Lewis, 1961)

The Ladies Man (Jerry Lewis, 1961)

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Symmetry and one-point perspective in the films of Stanley Kubrick and Wes Anderson

TOP: Kubrick // One-Point Perspective from kogonada on Vimeo.
BOTTOM: Wes Anderson // Centered from kogonada on Vimeo.

These are beautiful video compilations that demonstrate quite vividly Stanly Kubrick’s love of symmetry and how the director made use of one-point perspective in his films, and the influence he has had in this regard on the contemporary director Wes Anderson.

Visit kogonada.com to see move very interesting video “essays” on the work of great directors.


See also: The cutaway: The bisected sets of Anderson, Godard, Lewis, Berkeley, Keaton and Parrott

How HAL from “2001: A Space Odyssey” got his name…and no, it’s not IBM minus one

HAL 9000The HAL 9000 computer is one of the stars of Stanley Kubrick’s science-fiction film masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and the novel it is based on by Arthur C. Clarke. It has often been a legend that the name HAL was derived because each letter comes one place before IBM in the alphabet. Arthur C. Clarke has always denied this, and the true origin of HAL’s name is recounted on the HAL 9000 Wikipedia page:

Although it is often conjectured that the name HAL was based on a one-letter shift from the name IBM, this has been denied by both Clarke and 2001 director Stanley Kubrick. In 2010: Odyssey Two, Clarke speaks through the character of Dr. Chandra (he originally spoke through Dr. Floyd until Chandra was awoken), who characterized this idea as: “[u]tter nonsense! [...] I thought that by now every intelligent person knew that H-A-L is derived from Heuristic ALgorithmic”.

Clarke more directly addressed this issue in his book The Lost Worlds of 2001:

As is clearly stated in the novel (Chapter 16), HAL stands for Heuristically programmed ALgorithmic computer. However, about once a week some character spots the fact that HAL is one letter ahead of IBM, and promptly assumes that Stanley and I were taking a crack at the estimable institution … As it happened, IBM had given us a good deal of help, so we were quite embarrassed by this, and would have changed the name had we spotted the coincidence.

Also, IBM is explicitly mentioned in the film 2001, as are many other real companies. IBM is given fictional credit as being the manufacturer of the Pan Am Clipper’s computer, and the IBM logo can be seen in the center of the cockpit’s instrument panel. In addition, the IBM logo is shown on the lower arm keypad on Poole’s space suit in the scene where he space walks to replace the antenna unit, and may possibly be shown reflected on Bowman’s face when he is inside the pod on his way to retrieve the body of Poole (there is speculation as to whether or not the reflection is that of the letters “IBM” or the letters “MGM”, the film studio).

HAL has become such an icon of our culture that we are fortunate neither Clarke or Kubrick noticed the downshift from “IBM,” or this epic computer may have been named “Siri.” Or Dora. Or Obie. Or any one of these other names of fictional computers.

The cinema and visual poetry of the Lettrists of Lettrism (AKA Lettrisme or Letterism)

Littrist cinema

Stills from Maurice Lemaitre’s Le Film Est Deja Commencé? (1951). Image from Vertigo (see below).

Lettrism (or Lettrisme or Letterism) is a French film and visual poetry movement that enjoyed a brief heyday as the avant-garde du jour in 1950s Paris, and is often associated with the French Revolutionary Student Movement of 1968. Founded by Elvis lookalike  Isidore Isou (born Ioan-Isidor Goldstein, 1925-2007), Lettrism influenced other forms of art and poetry in Europe and Latin America up to the present and likely into the future, even as most Viners and Snapchatters remain unaware of this strange fold in the space-time continuum of art.

From the Wikipedia article on Lettrism:

Lettrism is a French avant-garde movement, established in Paris in the mid-1940s by Romanian immigrant Isidore Isou. In a body of work totaling hundreds of volumes, Isou and the Lettrists have applied their theories to all areas of art and culture, most notably in poetry, film, painting and political theory. The movement has its theoretical roots in Dada and Surrealism. Isou viewed his fellow countryman, Tristan Tzara, as the greatest creator and rightful leader of the Dada movement, and dismissed most of the others as plagiarists and falsifiers. Among the Surrealists, André Breton was a significant influence, but Isou was dissatisfied by what he saw as the stagnation and theoretical bankruptcy of the movement as it stood in the 1940s.

In French, the movement is called Lettrisme, from the French word for letter, arising from the fact that many of their early works centred around letters and other visual or spoken symbols. The Lettristes themselves prefer the spelling ‘Letterism’ for the Anglicised term, and this is the form that is used on those rare occasions when they produce or supervise English translations of their writings: however, ‘Lettrism’ is at least as common in English usage. The term, having been the original name that was first given to the group, has lingered as a blanket term to cover all of their activities, even as many of these have moved away from any connection to letters. But other names have also been introduced, either for the group as a whole or for its activities in specific domains, such as ‘the Isouian movement’, ‘youth uprising’, ‘hypergraphics’, ‘creatics’, ‘infinitesimal art’ and ‘excoördism’.

Vertigo Magazine has an excellent article about Lettrism, The Negation of Cinema: Some Brief Notes on Letterist Cinema 1950 – 1952, by Louis Benassi; here are some excerpts to further elucidate the story of Lettrism: »»»

Masticating Up The Scenery (Pinky Raised)

Cate_Blanchett_Making_A_Scene
Making A Scene is a collection of 11 short films featuring Cate Blanchett, Bradley Cooper, Adèle, Greta Gerwig, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Robert Redford and Forest Whitaker. Directed by Janusz Kaminski, the films “screen” online at the The New York Times Magazine.

Tim Jenison’s Vermeer Machine

Tim Jenison

NPR aired a wonderful feature on Teller’s new documentary of inventor Tim Jenison’s attempt to paint in the manner of 17th century Flemish master Johannes Vermeer. You can hear the entire interview at NPR; here is an excerpt of the interview, Teller Breaks His Silence To Talk ‘Tim’s Vermeer’:

Jenison was inspired by Vermeer’s paintings and by the book Secret Knowledge, in which the contemporary English artist David Hockney theorized that Renaissance painters might have achieved photographic accuracy by employing tools that anticipated photography.

He proposed they may have used the camera obscura, a darkened room with a small aperture that a painter would have sat in as if he were inside a giant pinhole camera — along with lenses, possibly, or more likely concave mirrors.

Jenison brought an inventor’s mind to the task of putting these theories to the test, and Tim’s Vermeer, which explains the project and documents the results, is narrated by Jenison’s friend Penn Gillette, of the magic act Penn and Teller, and directed by the other half of that duo.

Though Penn and Teller’s act usually involves the latter working strictly in silence, Teller took himself off mute to speak with NPR’s Robert Siegel about the film and the method he believes Vermeer used.

“In the 1600s in Holland and that area of Europe, lenses and mirrors were quite popular as things for science hobbyists,” he says.” The telescope had just been invented, so the chances that Vermeer had very good access to all sorts of lenses and mirrors is very high.” »»»

Everyday mysteries: Saul Leiter, a master of lyrical color street photography

Saul Leiter - Snow, 1960

Saul Leiter, perhaps the most famous non-famous New York street photographer, has just passed away at age 89. A pioneer who worked mostly in color in an age when street photography was still a predominantly black and white medium, Leiter captured the ineffable details than can only be seen and appreciated if you slow down and pay attention. Notes the obituary in today’s New York Times:

Mr. Leiter was considered a member of the New York School of photographers — the circle that included Weegee and Arbus and Avedon — and yet he was not quite of it. He was largely self-taught, and his work resembles no one else’s: tender, contemplative, quasi-abstract and intensely concerned with color and geometry, it seems as much as anything to be about the essential condition of perceiving the world.

“Seeing is a neglected enterprise,” Mr. Leiter often said.

Where other New York photographers of the period were apt to document the city’s elements discretely — streets, people, buildings — Mr. Leiter captured the almost indefinable spaces where all three intersect, many of them within a two-block radius of the East Village apartment in which he had lived since the early 1950s.

… Unplanned and unstaged, Mr. Leiter’s photographs are slices fleetingly glimpsed by a walker in the city. People are often in soft focus, shown only in part or absent altogether, though their presence is keenly implied. Sensitive to the city’s found geometry, he shot by design around the edges of things: vistas are often seen through rain, snow or misted windows.

“A window covered with raindrops interests me more than a photograph of a famous person,” Mr. Leiter says in the recently-released feature-length documentary, In No Great Hurry: 13 Lessons in Life With Saul Leiter, by the British filmmaker Tomas Leach. Here is the trailer for the film:

The New York Times continues: »»»

Frank Zappa on The Steve Allen show, 1963, playing music on bicycles

This a great. A young, unknown Frank Zappa (Allen and the announcer keep pronouncing his name “Zoppa”) on the Steve Allen show creating an interactive music happening with two bicycles, the studio band (playing “non-musically”), and recorded electronic music. Obviously inspired by John Cage, but very funny. Steve Allen makes some funny jokes, but has adds a nice, respectful coda, and Zappa cracks up repeatedly.

Zappa takes the opportunity to promote his new album, How’s Your Bird, due for release one week later, and the “world’s worst move” — The Worlds Greatest Sinner — for which he composed the score. The movie, by iconoclastic “grindhouse” actor/writer/director Timothy Carey, was not released, and would not be seen by the public for 50 years. So of course we’ll have to hunt it down and see it. Carey’s biography is very interesting, and among his many strange appearances on the fringes of popular culture, he is on the iconic Beatles Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, album, in a still from Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing, though all but a small part of the back of his shirt (seen directly behind George) is obscured in the final version released with the album. Check out “The Sgt Pepper Album Cover Shoot Dissected” for more fascinating details about the murkier aspects of this most famous of album covers.


See also:

Sightings: Bigfoot, Elf and J.D. Salinger

Bigfoot, Elf, J.D. Salinger

Three mysterious creatures in the wild: Bigfoot, Buddy the Elf, and J.D. Salinger (photo: Paul Adao, 1988).

The classic Bigfoot image is from a 1967 film by Roger Patterson and Robert Gimlin, at Bluff Creek in Northern California (see video below). The Bigfoot might be fake, but the scarred and battered film stock is the real deal, real enough perhaps to inspire a few new Hipstamatic filters. The movie Elf is a Christmas classic from 2003, starring Will Ferrell as the feral elf, Buddy, seen here in Central Park in homage to Patterson’s Bigfoot. And the alleged and unverified photo of the late great J.D. Salinger was snapped by Paul Adao in 1988. Another Adao photo illustrates a wonderful New York Magazine story by publisher Roger Lathbury from 2010, Betraying Salinger. I scored the publishing coup of the decade: his final book. And then I blew it.

Bonus: there’s been another Bigfoot sighting — in our portfolio.

“The Master” Paul Thomas Anderson

Terri Gross interviewed director Paul Thomas Anderson on Fresh Air, about his new film The Master, staring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Joaquin Phoenix and Amy Adams.

Highlights from the interview include: Anderson’s father Ernie Anderson was the voice of ABC, and a Cleveland television late-night horror movie host known as “Ghoulardi.” Mr. Anderson attempts to imitate his father’s voiceover work, does so poorly. Why The Master was shot on crotchety 65 mm wide high-resolution film. Mr. Anderson has a sense of humor. Turner Movie Classics play perpetually in Mr. Anderson’s house like Norma Desmond Muzak.

Here is the interview:

David Lynch’s hair as art motif

David Lynch's hair in paintings

Artist, filmmaker and composer David Lynch sports a head of hair that’s an art motif in itself, seen here in some famous paintings. Created / discovered by Jeremy Chen in his post, The Painter, which includes a couple more examples.

The Clock by Christian Marclay

Christian Marclay - The Clock (composite)

Chances are by now that you’ve heard of Christian Marclay’s brilliant work of art, The Clock (2010), though less likely that you have actually seen it (I haven’t as yet). As described by Wikipedia, the piece “is in effect a clock, but it is made of a 24-hour montage of thousands of time-related scenes from movies and some TV shows, meticulously edited to be shown in ‘real time’: each scene contains an indication of time (for instance, a timepiece, or a piece of dialogue) that is synchronized to show the actual time.”

A lot has been written about The Clock, and from what I’ve read, this is much more than just a collage of film images. The images not only work in sequence as a clock, but the pacing of the editing builds to moments of climax, as the top of the hour approaches, and then to a more relaxed pace after the hour has passed. And the soundtracks of the clips are overlapped and blended across transitions, creating new correspondences and “dialog” between disparate scenes. In short, this is a living, breathing clock, more like a day-long dream (a contemporary Ulysses?) than a typical film, clock, art work, or “typical” anything.

Check out this wonderful New Yorker profile piece by Daniel Zalewski, The Hours: How Christian Marclay created the ultimate digital mosaic. Here is an excerpt about how Marclay transforms the ordinary into art:

Part of Marclay’s fascination with the cinematic archive had to do with the way it resisted transfiguration. It wasn’t hard to turn a recorded sound into an estranged abstraction, by slowing it down or folding it into a new rhythm. But, even if you chopped a film into a single frame, specificity clung to it: Audrey Hepburn, Givenchy, Manhattan, 1961. Marclay wondered if he could fashion from familiar clips a genuinely unfamiliar film, one with its own logic, rhythm, and aesthetics. In his view, the best collages combined the “memory aspect”—recognition of the source material—with the pleasurable violence of transformation. If Marclay could turn the sky green for one day, he’d do it.

Later in the piece, Zalewski offers this observation about the paradoxical nature of time both in The Clock and in the viewing of it:

There were darker resonances, too. People went to the movies to lose track of time; this video would pound viewers with an awareness of how long they’d been languishing in the dark. It would evoke the laziest of modern pleasures—channel surfing—except that the time wasted would be painfully underlined.

… There was a lineage of avant-garde cinema that, with varying degrees of obscurity, examined the temporal qualities of film. Marclay’s contribution to the cinema of duration, though, would be pleasurable to watch. He sensed a creepy challenge. If his film was sufficiently seductive, he might coax people to sit for hours, literally watching their lives tick away.

There are several copies of The Clock owned by museums or private collectors that are in circulation, touring the globe for short-run performances. Be sure to catch all or part of it when it comes to a city near you, and watch your life tick away. I can’t wait.

Salesman by Albert Maysles, David Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin

Before An American Family (1973), The Real World (1992), Road Rules (1994), True Life (1998), Making the Band (2001), Project Greenlight (2001), American Chopper (2003), American Casino (2004), American Hot Rod (2004), Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County (2004), Dog Whisperer (2004), The Real Housewives of Orange County (2006), The Real Housewives of New Jersey (2009), The Real Housewives of Atlanta (2008), Ice Road Truckers (2007), Jersey Shore (2009) or American Pickers (2010), there was Salesman (1968). Featuring big, beefy, gin-soaked, topcoat-wearing, caddy-wielding bible salesmen like Jamie “The Rabbit” Baker, Paul “The Badger” Brennan, Raymond “The Bull” Martos and Charles “The Gipper” McDevitt. There are some wonderfully candid scenes and it is perhaps one of the most lifelike films (in pace, tenor and tone) that I have ever seen. The Maysles-Zwerin team are very, very patient observers, and they must have literally become flies on the wall to have captured the emotional nudity contained in this very empathetic film. There is no hint of the filmmakers either leading or directing the participating characters into “behaving,” “acting” or “performing for the cameras.” The dramatic (unscripted) rise and fall of many of the characters’ fortunes are in fact in the hands of a higher power and/or fate depending on your personal beliefs. Either way its a powerful reality and enjoyable to watch from a safe distance.

From the Criterion Collection: “A landmark American documentary, Salesman captures in vivid detail the bygone era of the door-to-door salesman. While laboring to sell a gold-embossed version of the Good Book, Paul Brennan and his colleagues target the beleaguered masses—then face the demands of quotas and the frustrations of life on the road. Following Brennan on his daily rounds, the Maysles discover a real-life Willy Loman, walking the line from hype to despair.”

A Fine Ending: 1950s movie end titles

Film end titles from the 1950s

A composite of 1950s American, Italian and French movie end title screenshots from one of our favorite websites, The Movie Title Stills Collection, created by the most excellent designer Christian Annyas. Here are the film titles, from left-to-right, top-to-bottom:

  1. FINE: Il Cammino Della Speranza (1950)
  2. THE END: Human Desire (1954)
  3. FINE: Non c’è pace tra gli ulivi (1950)
  4. The End: Big Heat (1953)
  5. FINE: Grido (1957)
  6. THE END: Desk Set (1957)
  7. FINE: Un Maledetto Imbroglio (1959)
  8. The End: It Happened To Jane (1959)
  9. FINE: Un Americano a Roma (1954)
  10. The End: Teacher’s Pet (1958)
  11. FIN: Bob le Flambeur (1955)
  12. The End: His Kind of Woman (1951)
  13. FINE: Guardie e Ladri (1951)
  14. THE END: From Here To Eternity (1953)
  15. FINE: La Grand Guerra (1959)
  16. the end: 12 Angry Men (1957)
  17. Fine: Le Notti di Cabiria (1957)
  18. THE END: Not As A Stranger (1955)

To END this silly dialectic with one last FINE, here is a quick video of the end title sequence of Un Americano a Roma (1954), which I found after I had already begun contrasting the title languages:

For a related post, see: The End (1991) by Ed Ruscha.

Caine’s Arcade and the joy of creative play

Caine’s Arcade from Nirvan Mullick: A 9 year old boy – who built an elaborate cardboard arcade inside his dad’s used auto part store – is about to have the best day of his life.

“To stimulate creativity, one must develop the childlike inclination for play and the childlike desire for recognition.”
~Albert Einstein

You’ve probably heard by now the story of Caine Monroy, which began with an exuberantly creative 9 year old boy and his chance encounter with a kindred spirit, blossomed into an act of love, and went viral thanks to the 11-minute video above. Andy Isaacson wrote a great story about the Caine’s Arcade phenomenon in this week’s New Yorker, The Perfect Moment Goes Perfectly Viral, which is a must-read. It tells the whole amazing story, which is almost as much about the 37 year old struggling filmmaker playing in his artistic medium as it is about young Caine playing in his.

I find this story very inspiring, and a wonderful tonic to the glut of bad news we hear about every day. And it got me thinking afresh about the role of inspiration, joy, and creative play in our work here at Zinzin and in our everyday lives.

In our Manifesto (#13) we ask the question, When Was The Last Time You Enjoyed Naming?, and go on to say that the naming process, “should be engaging, thought-provoking, cathartic, stimulating, argumentative, enlightening, and just plain fun. You are creating a name that ideally will function as a very concise poem and catch fire out in the wider world. It’s a rush.” This belief is at the core of who we are at Zinzin, and Caine’s Arcade is a perfect example. We believe that what matters most is the capacity and willingness to perceive poetry and art in the words and life all around us. It’s not about “skills,” it’s about sensibility, and sensitivity. If you have it, you know it can’t be turned off. There is no down time, nor would you ever want there to be.

There is so much rich language  all around us–past, present and future–that it’s simply the funnest thing in the world to play with it, mold it, break it down and rejigger it. This is the art of naming. This is the joy of creation and discovery applied to the real world task of creating brands. We strive to live in an inspired state all the time, because inspiration is joyful, and inspiration is addictive. This is what Caine Monroy embodies for me with every fiber of his being, and this is where all great art–and names–comes from. No wonder he almost always has such a big grin on his face–he’s only nine, but he already knows the secret of happiness. Let’s hope he stays “forever young,” for, as Picasso famously said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” I think Caine Monroy has a great chance to hold onto that spirit of creative joy, and Mullick’s wonderful little film will always be there to remind him of it.

Pile Up Gawking Slack-Jawed and Rubbernecked: Two-Lane Blacktop (1971) by Monte Hellman

James Taylor is The Driver, Warren Oates is G.T.O, Laurie Bird is The Girl, Harry Dean Stanton is The Oklahoma Hitchhiker (as H.D. Stanton) and Dennis ‘Beach Boy’ Wilson is The Mechanic! Monte Hellman directs this 1971 bunch of small town car freaks chasing me across two states, make that three states. Pink slips for cars where to? DC? Then on down to Florida. Florida? Yes Florida. Color me gone, baby. Check out the rear end. This man is on something officer and may very well want to suck us up his tail pipe. And all they think about is cars, them small town car freaks. Are you trying to blow my mind in the far-out world of the high-speed scene! SFX: screeching careening tires and dueling approaching colliding car horns. Yes it is truly a mess, a muddle, a pickle, a befuddle, a heap, a botch, a blunder, a bust, a ruin, a fumble, a bumble, a snafu, a goof, and an utter shambles of a film, but what a glorious mess it is. And like any good wreck this 19 car pile up is bound to leave you gawking slack-jawed and rubbernecked. In fact Hellman’s Blacktop and Vincent Gallo’s The Brown Bunny (2003) would make wonderful drive-in double feature. Here is an excerpt from the Criterion Collection synopsis:

“…Yet no summary can do justice to the existential punch of Two-Lane Blacktop. Maverick director Monte Hellman’s stripped-down narrative, gorgeous widescreen compositions, and sophisticated look at American male obsession make this one of the artistic high points of 1970s cinema, and possibly the greatest road movie ever made.”