In mid-December, as film critics and studios were beginning to tout their “Best Of 2012” lists, Randy Haberkamp, managing director of programming at AMPAS, hosted an evening of extreme “counter programming” at the Academy’s Vine Street Dunn Theater: The Films of 1912: A Century Ago. It was the tenth year of this series —and it was sold out.
An added fillip, if one were needed for the eclectic mix of silent film buffs, students, and preservationist/archivists in attendance, was the piano accompaniment of Michael Mortilla. But the real headliner that evening was Joe Rinaudo. Dressed in full period costume and standing at the back of the theater, Rinaudo was hand-cranking his restored “1909 Power’s Model 6 Cameragraph Motion Picture Machine” as the projector’s reflected light bathed him in a soft nimbus. For those sitting nearby, the rhythm of the film threading through the gate with its intermittent clickety clack, was easily audible above the piano, the scene being an evocation of the earliest days of movie exhibition when projector and projectionist stood center aisle in the theater. Rinaudo’s presence on the floor created an immediacy that seemed to make a century of film history evaporate. Afterwards, he was swamped by young and curious film buffs intent on discussing the films and the steampunk stylings of his restored, chromed projection device. Continue reading ‘A Century Ago: Films of 1912 — Part One’
Nestled adjacent to the city communication towers. Photo by Carol Littleton.
Now that the Sherwin-Williams Company has completed its painting of the HOLLYWOOD sign on Mt. Lee, it glows as never before. The final touch was the application of its High Reflective White paint, (SW 7757, according to the promos).
The “makeover” began in early October with a thorough hand stripping of up to five coats of old paint, followed by a power wash to clean the corrugated metal base. An anti-corrosion primer was then applied, followed by two coats of the Emerald Exterior high reflective paint. That same process is being done to the sign’s backside, which has been subjected to decades of graffiti and tagging. It is estimated that this restoration will require 110 gallons of primer and over 275 gallons of white paint.
Workers scraping off old paint. Oct. 2012. Photos by Alex Pitt and Duff Ferguson.
Stripping the first L, Oct. 2012.
This effort, however, is only the latest chapter in a near 90-year saga of the sign’s ongoing struggle to survive nature’s (and man’s) ravages. Continue reading ‘Hollywood Gets a Face Lift’
Among a host of treasured American feature films and esteemed documentaries considered for the 2012 Registry of the National Film Preservation Board, there is an unlikely hopeful: a film test. It was made in 1922 at the Paragon Studios in Fort Lee, New Jersey, a decade after D.W. Griffith and his cinematographer Billy Bitzer had migrated to Los Angeles. (Update: the test was in fact included in this year’s registry, announced on Dec. 19).
There had been some earlier color processes including Kinemacolor, but none had proven to be very commercial. The Kodak Company had begun testing a two-color Kodachrome process as early as 1914. It was rather unwieldy as well, as described in a Kodak blog:
The Two-Color Kodachrome Process was an attempt to bring natural lifelike colors to the screen through the photochemical method in a subtractive color system. First tests on the Two-Color Kodachrome Process were begun in late 1914. Shot with a dual-lens camera, the process recorded filtered images on black/white negative stock, then made black/white separation positives. The final prints were actually produced by bleaching and tanning a double-coated duplicate negative (made from the positive separations), then dyeing the emulsion green/blue on one side and red on the other. Combined they created a rather ethereal palette of hues.” Continue reading ‘Two Early Color Tests’
In 2008, the French government issued three postage stamps featuring movie cartoon characters created largely by a madcap, workaholic guy from Taylor, Texas.
“Vous savez quoi? Je suis heureux”—French postal stamps.
His family lineage was from Alabama and Mississippi, though legend has it that the family tree had branches that bore Daniel Boone (disputed by his daughter in a comment to me after the posting of this piece) and the infamous “hanging judge,” Roy Bean. Some even called him by his middle name “Bean.” But his fellow animators at the Walter Lantz studio, where he first won employment in Hollywood, called him by the nickname that stuck—“Tex.”
Fred “Tex” Avery came to Hollywood at age 20 with friends from his hometown. Not finding employment, they soon went back home but Avery stayed in the film capital, loading produce on trucks and sleeping on the beach at night (another legend disputed by his daughter, who insists Avery had an apartment in Hollywood). Several years after landing a job at the Walter Lantz studio, an office prank firing papers clips across the aisles resulted in Avery’s losing sight in his left eye. Some critics have hinted that this lack of depth perception contributed to the flat plane look in his seminal work, although almost from the beginning, he and his animator ilk supported a deliberately flat-plane technique. It was a style that was the antithesis of the Disney Studios’ hyper-engineered multi-plane animation evident in their feature length films such as Snow White. Continue reading ‘The Unhinged Animator: “Tex” Avery’
No one is likely to conflate the dangerous, kinetic world of Nigerian Nollywood action movies with the benign fantasies of Lewis Carroll, although each portrays a surreal universe. The Nollywood portraits of South African photographer Pieter Hugo depict the denizens of a dark rabbit hole of third world cinema, one heralded as the world’s third most prolific production center—behind only Hollywood and Bollywood.
Song Iyke with onlookers.
Chommy Choko Eli, Florence Owanta, Kelechi Anwuacha.
Nollywood began as an indigenous, from the ground up, movie industry—an outgrowth of the proliferation of video cameras, at first bulky analog, then in the last decade, digital HD prosumer camcorders. Numbers are not easy to keep in this freewheeling, decentralized business but it is estimated that 150-200 feature length features are produced every month, sold in thousands of video kiosks countrywide, generated from the Lagos distribution center, Idumota Market. The average movie run is 50,000 copies, while a major hit may sell close to one-quarter million units. These numbers are so high because there are virtually no cinema screens in the country of 170 million; a DVD sells for about two dollars and may be seen by hundreds of viewers. Continue reading ‘Pieter (Hugo) in Nollywood’
According to its director, Robert Florey, the entire budget for the 11-minute 1928 silent film was ninety-seven dollars, eighty of which was the cost of the negative, developing and printing. The film may have seemed at the time, even to the filmmakers, to be only a bagatelle, but almost seventy years later, in 1997, the National Film Preservation Board of the Library of Congress selected it for preservation in its annual review of films of significant historical importance. For the three who created the film, it was only one of several experimental films they made before being launched into mainstream Hollywood careers. Each one became a “star,” fate distancing them from the movie dead end of Mr. John Jones, extra number 9413, the unfortunate subject of their film.
Florey helmed dozens of “B” movies in the 30s and 40s, followed by a distinguished career in television. Co-director Slavko Vorkapich became a major Hollywood force in the 30s, creating all-important montage and time transition sequences for dozens of large budget Hollywood movies. Years later, Vorkapich expounded his film theories as teacher and lecturer, influencing generations of emerging filmmakers. The third “star” of this triad is credited simply as “Gregg.” He was the cinematographer of 9413 and of the two other experimental shorts made by the trio in the late twenties. “Gregg’s” previous credits were as an assistant cameraman with Arthur Edeson, a founding member of the American Society of Cinematographers, who had credits going back to 1914. Gregg also worked with George Barnes, the deep focus pioneer who was to have so much influence on the young cinematographer. Continue reading ‘“The Life and Death of 9413 a Hollywood Extra”’
Two weeks after the release of Chris Kenneally and Keanu Reeves’s HD video documentary Side by Side, Paul Thomas Anderson’s magisterial 70mm feature The Master struck a fortissimo chord for motion picture film amid the cacophony of the ongoing digital babble. Whether this is a resurgent hymn to the vibrancy and primacy of celluloid or its dirge remains to be seen. My local cinema complex, the Lincoln Center AMC 15, is projecting The Master in 70mm and in a DCP. I chose the 9:30 am Sunday film projection—complete with changeover cues. Remember them? The AMPAS member screening in Beverly Hills that same afternoon was also in 70mm. The studios have stated there will be no more film exhibition prints made by them within the next year and Fujifilm announced on the same day as the release of Anderson’s film that it will by this year’s end cease the production of most motion picture film products. So where, exactly, you might ask, do we stand?
Cinema Precision 65 mm
Following discussions with many friends and colleagues about the film Side by Side, I decided to follow up my interview with Chris Kenneally by asking 13 professionals about their thoughts on the film/video dialogue. Most of them are feature, television or documentary cinematographers; some are camera assistants and operators; several are film educators. None are directors or producers and none are featured in the documentary. I was looking for a view from the trenches. I was intrigued as well by the opinions of those who work in both film and digital video media—switch hitters who constitute the front line experience. I asked the same five questions of each colleague. Some respondents are brief; others are expansive. Some are purely professional and technical, and some are highly personal. All of them thoughtfully considered the questions.
This is quite a long article; you may want to sample it or read it in several sittings. But if you have the time to engage it completely, you will find a broad spectrum of opinions. Continue reading ‘SIDE BY SIDE: Part Two — Filmmaker Comments’
“Side by Side” director Chris Kenneally.
On Friday, August 31, after an opening day screening of his documentary Side by Side, about the intersection of film and digital video, director Chris Kenneally faced a Q&A audience at Lincoln Center’s new Elinor Bunin Munroe Cinemas. Located across from the Juilliard School on W.65th St., the complex is an integral arm of the Film Society of Lincoln Center. Kenneally had arrived from a similar audience session downtown at Greenwich Village’s Quad Cinema.
I arrived early, but bought the last ticket for the screening in the “Amphitheatre.” Descending the stairs of the high tech but intimate room, I saw not a white screen but a dark reflective surface that looked to be about thirteen feet diagonally. I turned around to check the projection booth and ports. There were none. Looking back to the screen, I read the word Panasonic across the bottom of the bezel. It’s a television—and I saw the whole room reflected in it.
The 152 inch Panasonic Plasma screen at Lincoln Center Munroe cinema.
Continue reading ‘SIDE BY SIDE: Part One—A Point of View’
Alton in the Thirties.
On September 14, 2009 “John’s Bailiwick” appeared on the ASC website. It was an experiment, for the ASC as much as for me. This is how it began:
This is the first posting I am making on a blog for American Cinematographer magazine. I am doing this at the invitation of publisher Martha Winterhalter and executive editor Steven Pizzello, good friends, who have so far played Ariadne, helping me thread through the labyrinth of my many, I am sad to say, irregular pieces for the AC magazine’s “Filmmakers Forum.” They have asked me to attempt less formal but more frequent postings on topics that interest and concern me.
From the beginning, Martha Winterhalter has been my intrepid adviser and administrator; she somehow finds time to indulge my often-whimsical choices of topics. I am extremely grateful to her to have had this space for three years now—to sound off on issues technical, but more often, aesthetic.
This entry begins the fourth year of writing the Bailiwick. I want to thank everyone who have made comments. Many are deeply reflective, even personal; others are brief and anecdotal. I welcome them all. So, thanks to all of you who have indulged me as I’ve explored topics besides movies. One of the great lures of writing these pieces is the opportunity it gives me to focus on something about which I want to know more. Research is a personal satisfaction, but, more importantly, it affords an opportunity to share the results with you. I don’t expect everyone to share my fascination with the music of John Cage, the “Red Book” of Karl Jung, or the kinetic sculptures of Jean Tinguely or Theo Jansen– or even my ever-increasing love of silent cinema. But I am continually amazed at the breadth of insights reflected in your comments. Continue reading ‘Third Year Blogging: A Few (Not Quite) Random Thoughts’
Manuscript page of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata 30, opus 109.
If the Well-Tempered Clavier of J.S. Bach is the Old Testament of keyboard music, the 32 piano sonatas of Beethoven are the New Testament. This is the judgment of the late 19th century pianist and conductor Hans von Bülow, a staunch Wagnerian, but also a close friend of Johannes Brahms.
Bülow was the first artist to perform the entire Beethoven cycle from memory. Artur Schnabel, in the late 1920s, was perhaps the next (though legend has it that the 10 year old Camille Saint-Saens offered to play any movement from any of the sonatas as a concert encore.) Schnabel was also the first to record the complete cycle. According to the notes of the Naxos CD remastering of the 1935 set:
Artur Schnabel’s pioneering Beethoven Sonata Society recordings were originally issued on 204 78-rpm sides in fifteen volumes, each containing six or seven discs. The first twelve sets contained the thirty-two sonatas, usually packaged as one early, one middle and one late sonata per album. Variations, bagatelles and sundry short pieces occupied the final three volumes.
Continue reading ‘Barenboim’s Beethoven: The Piano Sonatas as Rite of Passage’