Ethan Dean Art

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Monday, April 30, 2012

There Will Be Blood Gaze Locations

Check out this cool video tracking the eye movements of adults watching the PTA film 'There Will Be Blood.'  This has been around for a while, but I think it complements my last post as far as screen compostion goes.

Friday, April 27, 2012

'Punch Drunk Love' Scene Analysis

     First of all, I think a good scene will do two things:  impress an audience with an initial appeal, mostly driven by character, production design, music, staging, etc.  It will have an obvious direction, but without any conflict the scene is flat, and really not very functional.  As a result, a scene must also be 'designed' to make a dramatic statement, or an other words, raise the stakes a bit.  A well mapped out film will combine each scene in a manner that the audience will sense the dillema facing the character.  This pressure on the character will normally force them to make a life or death decision.  
     I think fundamentally, film is about pantomiming human interplay.  The drama that unfolds between humans in the family, the workplace, behind closed doors, in one's own head.  I think that a film is designed to make only a few images extremely powerful in the minds of people.  I've seen paintings more beautiful than any single frame in a film, but the most beautiful paintings cannot eclipse the emotional weight that a film can. 
     The following scene from Punch Drunk Love shows a filmmaker painting together images in a manner that raises the stakes, and upends convention.  It is an important scene in the context of Barry's character, and in terms of the plot.  It's also just a fun scene to watch.

     I would like to note first, the composition of the first shot, which in itself could account for another write up.  Barry (Adam Sandler), doing the incredibly mundane task of taking out the trash walks outside with his head down.  We do not see his face, we cannot tell what he is thinking, but at the pace he is walking it seems he just wants to get this thing over with.  We hear crickets, rattles, and a high pitched tone that is probably music dubbed over the top to give the ring of the nighttime more attention.
     A car shoots into frame, skids to a halt, and just as Barry starts to throw the trash away he is shoved into the back of the truck and it drives away.  But we don't see an incredibly long interplay between Barry and his kidnappers in the rear of the truck.  There is no heroism in Barry's actions so far.
     The next shot is of a rediculously attired, probably high young man.  The camera pulls away and we see the truck.  This man and his pals kidnapped Barry.  (All the while, because of the way the shots are edited together, the audience is piecing together bits of information.  They're not told who kidnapped Barry, it is assumed.  In fact, not even Barry would know who kidnapped him.  He had his back to them when they put him in the truck.  We don't know anymore than Barry does.) We then see a long shot of Barry at the ATM.  Back to the audience again.  Barry, like the coward he is, is taking out as much as money as he can to get him out this 'jam.'  The fact that his back is to us is almost indicative of his shame.  He committed a sin by calling a phone-sex line.  In a way, he deserves this.
     We then see Barry's face for the first time in the scene.  He turns to his captors and gives the 'one moment' sign.  He's being respectful and considerate.  Without a fight, without one bit of heroism, Barry simply hands over the $500 charged him for 'being a pervert.'  We find out these men are the muscle of the phone-sex-line scam that Phillip Seymour Hoffman's character is in charge of.
     Barry tries to explain himself.  He tries to tell the abductors that he stopped, he didn't fully commit the sin.  But they don't care.  Barry falls to the ground after a man swoops into the scene and punches him in the face.

(In the initial version of the script, called 'Knuckle Sandwich,' I could imagine that there must have been some punkish undertone.  Barry must be in his thirties, having long graduated high school.  The story takes place in the 2000's, but it was first conceived in the early 90's.  With some perspective, the character of Barry hasn't really changed much, except I'm pretty sure he's aged alongside PTA.  If the bare bones of the character were written at the height of the "punk" movement, then I would assume that Barry could be emblematic of the misguided aggression of the time.  I should also say it's a complete stretch to think that.  I think PTA wrote a character that has some serious inner needs.  He sometimes expresses them in unintentionally hurtful ways.  Comparably, smashing windows isn't perceived to be the equivalent of being called 'gay boy' by your sisters.

He struggles with human intimacy, with touch. That's why he called the phone-sex line.  Really it's for the same reason Holden Caulfield asks for a prostitute in the book 'The Catcher in the Rye.' I would argue that being punched in the face is a form of human interaction, but also more of an initiation.  Barry has been violated, penetrated.  He's completely taken aback by the punch. We get this feeling while watching the scene play out. )

     Once Barry takes a shot, the music becomes incredibly important to the scene.  The next sequence of shots, I think, is a director being a director.  PTA decides to use music straight out of the Twilight Zone or some 'B' horror movie to create the sense that Barry is being closely pursued by these 'monsters.'  When you talk about being creative with your material, this is a perfect example.  Barry's been kidnapped by aliens, so let the audience know that this moment is extremely tramatic for Barry.  He's been kind and respectful.  He tried to explain why he did what he did.  He tried to tell them he knew it was wrong, but he took the bait, and these men could care less.
     We see a shot of the captors casually ride up along side the sprinting Barry, further proof that the hot pursuit from the monster was more of a cowardly escape. Leaning out the window we hear a captor yell, "Where are you going?  We know where you live."
     Now, what I said earlier about drama and the functional purpose of certain scenes is exemplified perfectly here.  The air is let out as the captors shout at Barry that they know where he lives.  This is an incredibly important scene in the greater scheme of the plot, but more importantly, Barry can't escape.  Barry has to take responsibility and take charge, or get the hell out of there.
     The significance of "we know where you live,' takes the audience out of the temporary state of disillusionment and utter rediculousness, and into the realm of reality.  Barry feels penetrated, violated.  He can no longer play the game of the captors.
     Good writing, good filmmaking will juxtapose images that have really no immediate coherence together, and bring them together in the end.  Yes, they should have an intitial appeal, but they must also serve their dramatic purpose.   Just as a good painter gives the impression of a color, when you look a little closer, there are actually dozens of colors interplaying with each other to create an overall feel.  Each stroke is made with consideration for basic principles of light and form, and the stroke made right before it and right after it.  
     A character is really the catalyst that brings the world together.  It makes sense, because we understand the world through a human eye.  Film is a transportive medium, it takes you into another world.   In fact, as a writer or director, you want to SHOW the audience this other world you created.  You use the character to do that.
     In some manner, you are trying to take the character out of the world they are living in, and put them into another without choice. You have to remember that the audience that is watching your picture has been indoctrinated with thousands of films and television shows throughout their lifetime, millions of images.  They've seen it all before. So why not embrace it?  If you're trying to communicate a certain tone, then you could only imagine that it requires a degree of insight into the character that only you, the filmmaker knows.  You have to look deeper than the source material in order to evoke the proper mixture of feelings. There's always an inner need that the character is expressing, and the manner he lives his life will tell you exactly what that is.  You're job as the filmmaker is to mess his life up, so that in those life or death moments, they'll let themselves out and come clean, or dig themselves a deeper hole.  You as the filmmaker, though, have to recognize those moments, because every time they make a life or death decision, they're world changes. You need to be aware of that.  

I would like to mention that PTA has a freaky ability to turn an incredibly mundane space into an exciting sequence of scenes.  Who would of thought that the San Fernando valley, some backlot, could look as interesting as it does.

Scorsese and PTA

Paul Thomas Anderson and Martin Scorsese on the same stage.  Pay attention not to the words, but the tone of Scorsese's reasoning behind 3D, and the passion and realization he has concerning telling stories.  Scorsese is a thinker.  Film is a facile art form, and Scorsese completely realizes that.  It's as if every time he tells a story he rethinks the possibilities of film and telling stories, not unlike PTA.  I can only imagine that Scorsese's inner dialogue consists of reels of film knowledge and history playing in his head.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Hal Ashby

I have heard of Hal Ashby a long time ago, and remember watching the beginning of 'Being There,' but like most movies, I never got around to finishing it.  Over my spring break and this week I watched both 'Harold and Maude' and 'Being There.'  My initial impressions are that those two films are brilliantly conceived.  Ashby is an absolute master at incorporating music into his films.  The editing style in both films is lead by the music, and everything is paced incredibly well.  There's a scene in 'Being There' where Chance the gardener (Peter Sellers) leaves the home he's been living in for his entire life.  The sequence plays out very much like a music video.  The music is a mix, incorporating some electronic and the 2001:  A Space Odyssey famous build up. 
     I think a fair measure of an intelligent artist isn't so much what you put into the film, but what you leave out.  Ashby is incredibly disciplined when it comes to oversaturating his film with gratuitous cutting or sound.  He simply lets the performances lead the direction of the film.  And I should mention that the performances he was able to elicit were some of the most unique, fun and interesting I'd seen in any movie.  There's such incredible chemistry between actors, and the casting is just perfect in both films.  I think it's a testament to the comfortability of the actors on set, and their relationship with Ashby.
     I've been thinking lately about the functionality of certain scenes in a film, and the purpose of dialogue and what that means in the context of the character.  It's hard to pick up the complete purpose in one viewing, at least for me right now, but more than often I find that the joke I laughed at earlier on has a much more meaningful purpose than simply getting the audience to laugh.  I think the brilliance of a good writer comes from masking purpose in completely character driven dialogue.  The dialogue doesn't even have to be pertinent to the situation, as long as it says something about the character and his mind set.
This leads to another point.  Every scene has beats.  Each scene is composed, and when I say composed I mean staged, written, and acted out, to pit two or more characters against each other.  I would say that every scene has to have a direction, that increases the stakes in some manner.  In dramatic writing, every scene needs a context, establish an element of anticipation, and then release it, but maybe not entirely.  I watched 'Ivan's Childhood' over the break, and remember being incredibly aware of where the writer was taking me.  I didn't know where, but I was going somewhere, and the charcter's were the medium by which I was taken there.
A scene from Ivan's Childhood
Ashby is incredibly aware of the audience.  He makes his films at two different levels, I think.  The first level is the completely superficial one-viewing in the theater, and the other level is the potential second, third, and fourth viewings at which point the audience can pick up the various levels of complexity in the film.  Overall, I enjoyed the film's very much.

Back to it

Been a while since I posted anything.

I figure since it's impossible to recount every link I've been to I'd link you to what I felt were the most significant links I've browsed over this break.
     An article on David Fincher
     Interview with The Mars Volta guitarist Omar Rodriguez Lopez on his films
     A viral clip for the movie "Prometheus" featuring Michael Fassbender.
     TV is better than Hollywood and Scorsese makes another televison show.
     Legend Sidney Lumet on legend Akira Kurosawa