What do you consider to be cinematic? (4 replies and 2 comments)
It's an open question for everyone. Lately, films have become more action-oriented than ever before, and even directors like Alfred Hitchcock preferred the silent era over talkies. But, I just saw an amazing opening from Ingmar Bergman's 'Hour of the Wolf', and its a beautiful monologue by Liv Ullmann, and all she does is sit and talk directly to the camera for about five minutes! Another scene that comes to mind is a scene in Hitchcock's 'Rebecca' where Laurence Olivier reveals what really happened to Rebecca to Joan Fontaine in a long monologue. These days, I find such heavy dialogue is rarely used, except in Aaron Sorkin scripts; and such monologues are often neglected as "exposition". Another dialogue-heavy film that I love is 'The Barefoot Contessa', which is a film that has gone unrecognized as a classic. There's beautiful exchanged between Bogie and Ava Gardner. Would most of you consider dialogue-heavy films uncinematic?
Because, I prefer beautiful poetic words over "action". I prefer older films like 'Ninotchka' where the camera was nailed down and hardly ever moved.
There are all kinds of movies for all kinds of tastes. I don't think of it as a movie with great dialogue such as "Lion in Winter" or "Ace in the Hole" or "Glengarry Glenn Ross" as a better or worse type of movie than a visual, minimalist dialogue movie like "2001" or "Days of Heaven" or many Tarkovsky movies. They are all capable of being artistic.
Certainly a movie like "2001" is not something that can be transposed to a theater stage, nor could "Walkabout" or "The Revenant", which might mean that they are more "cinematic" or "pure cinema" but I'm not sure those are useful terms anyway if you are talking about whether the movie is any good or not. Well-written dialogue, acted-well, is a joy to experience.
I think technological progress has done cinema more harm than good, it just seems I feel a deeper connection to films shot with a taller frame at 1.33, and they're just deeply mesmerizing, even more so than films like 2001: A Space Odyssey. I love Kubrick, but more often than not I don't feel connected to the characters as much, they're not very likable people, and I don't think he meant to make his characters likable to begin with. I was watching 'Alice in the Cities' again last night, and there's a very classical way in which Wim directed the film, it felt like a 1940s John Ford movie, in the sense that the director doesn't add his "signature" touches, he's in a way letting the story tell itself as it unfolds with timely fade outs, and the expression of life on the road, and the identity crisis that Vogler faces while in America. There's nothing pretentious about it, and I would say it's the greatest film I've seen, it didn't win any big awards, but it's a masterpiece, and no one ever talks about it.
Nowadays, most films do feel very pretentious, I dare say even a film like 'Phantom Thread' - there's nothing wrong with that, I loved the film, but it doesn't compare to b&w films like 'Alice in the Cities' or a comedy like 'Ninotchka'. If someone sat down to watch a bunch of films from 1939, and compare those to the movies of today, you'd see that directors are imposing too much, by trying to add their "personality" as opposed to just telling a story. Cinematographers likewise have done that, everyone loves Chivo, but I think his work is too noticebale, it gets in the way with the intricate camera movement and , I just prefer the way movies used to be. I don't see why the need for better, faster cameras are needed. Past filmmakers made amazing work with what they had back in the 30s-70s, and most of the work made today just doesn't compare to the level of excellence back then. Who can top something like All About Eve today? You can't find another Bette Davis, you can't write dialogue like Mankiewicz, and not to mention a brilliant actor like George Sanders. All this new technology has become a major distraction from storytelling, it's just not the same.
I think it is incorrect to think of the 1920's through 50's as some sort of stable period of technology where filmmakers just concentrated on the art of moviemaking. You had the huge disruption of the introduction of sound movies, then the move to liberate cameras from the soundproof booths so that they could be mobile again, then you had the coming of 3-strip Technicolor by the mid-1930's, the doubling of the speed of film stocks in 1939, the change to tungsten-balance for Technicolor in the late 1940's, the introduction of color negative in 1950, Cinerama in 1952, CinemaScope in 1953 plus 3D came and went around that time, etc. The 1950's saw a new film format practically every year -- VistaVision in 1954, Technirama in 1955, followed by 65mm Todd-AO, anamorphic 65mm, 2-perf 35mm, etc. The 18mm lens became available in the 1950's, mobile sound recording using magnetic tape also. John Ford shot movies in all those formats, 35mm b&w Academy, 3-strip Technicolor, 8-perf VistaVision, 35mm CinemaScope, 65mm Super Panavision, 3-camera Cinerama!
Of course it wasn't stable, it was inevitable that there had to be technological progress with cameras and sound, since it was odd that you saw people moving their mouths and there was no sound coming out of it. My point was even with such primitive technology at the time, filmmakers were still able to produce some of the most amazing work ever made in the history of cinema. Nowadays, the technology is veering toward something that isn't even necessary. Real 3D for instance does not enhance the storytelling process at all, and not to mention the resolution of the camera, which only keeps getting higher. I don't believe John Ford was tech savvy, even with all those formats you mentioned, he was able to deliver some of the most memorable projects. Movies with color like 'The Searchers' didn't distract from the way he made movies.
And sound mainly affected the actors, as there were actors who didn't have the voice to go with the entire package ,which is why stars like Buster Keaton did not transition well.
Buster Keaton had a fine speaking voice, his problem in the 1930's was alcoholism...
I only recall seeing him in that minor role in Sunset Boulevard when he was playing poker.