I love movies. I have loved movies all my life. I grew up on them. When I was eight years old, I managed to convince myself I would make movies when I grew up. Now I am in the process of getting a degree in Film Studies. I write about film more than ever before, partly because I have to for my classes, mostly because I enjoy it, because I have something to write about. Sometimes it helps me understand the film better; sometimes it helps me understand myself better.
I created this blog as a place to showcase my work, and also as an incentive to keep writing reviews, analyses, and essays over breaks, when there’s no one here to grade me.
I have tried many times, and failed, to explain in a coherent manner why it is that I love films. Here is my best—and most coherent—guess.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Lone Star (1996) Analysis

 Lone Star embodies both simplicity and complexity. With quiet, watchful, and soft-spoken intelligence, director John Sayles displays broad social and political awareness, without ever losing sight of the human scale. He focuses on macro-political issues that he intertwines with the personal, demonstrating how universal concerns affect the lives of ordinary individuals.

At some point during the first act of the film, a scene seemingly unrelated to the rest of the movie takes up a considerable amount of screen time. This is a school meeting where disgruntled parents argue about which textbook would be more appropriate for their children’s history class. Pilar (Elizabeth Pena), the teacher, is desperately trying to appease them by explaining that all she was trying to do was present her students with a more complete picture. “Now that’s what’s gotta stop,” a concerned mother blurts out. What they are actually arguing about in the racially diverse and intolerant small town is whose version of history they should cover. And everyone in Rio County seems to remember the past a bit differently. The director is also bent on showing us, the viewers, the complete picture in this multi-layered narrative of the present and past of this disjointed community, from multiple points of view. Brief, meaningful encounters like this make up the movie, which plunges us directly into the action and lets us figure out on our own exactly how the pieces of the puzzle fit together. Like Citizen Kane, Lone Star brings us closer to the truth through each vignette, while Sam (Chris Cooper) acts as our go-between, our guide.

Size Matters: Television’s Effects on the 1950s Film Industry

There is a scene in George Cukor’s A Star Is Born (1954) that demonstrates not only the director’s mastering of the new widescreen format and the careful balancing of composition within a larger frame, but also Cukor’s awareness of its history and value. It features aging matinee idol Norman Main (James Mason) getting fired by head of the studio Oliver Niles (Charles Bickford). The actor’s popularity had been slipping, along with the studio’s power and commercial viability after the introduction of television into the American home. During the conversation, the men stand between two flickering black-an-white images on the left and right edges of the frame. To the far left is a television set turned on to the fights, to the far right a movie, projected onto a screen in the next room. Main and Niles talk to each other precisely between a video image and a film image—a visual translation of the historical crossroads where all the studio heads and stars found themselves in 1954, with box office revenues plummeting.

Two years earlier, 1952 had marked the first full year in which the whole nation was blanketed by network television, and for the first time since the early years of the Depression, the movie industry was in a state of decline. 1952 was also, not incidentally, the year that brought wide screens and stereophonic sound, more practicable and less expensive color, a growth of independent production, and a landmark Supreme Court decision on film censorship. This was the beginning of a transition that would lead the American film industry from the hardened confines of a production-distribution-exhibition pattern that had lasted for over two decades into uncertainties and changing forms. Television was, of course, not the only factor that prompted this transition, but it was a heavily influential one. If the theater screen was to compete with the small one, Hollywood had to offer audiences something that they couldn’t get in their living rooms: new, bigger screens and visual effects, better sound quality, color, new genres, more sex, more violence.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

sex, lies, and videotape (1989) Analysis

Few movie titles have been as literal as Sex, Lies, and Videotape, writer/director Steven Soderbergh’s tour-de-force debut feature. And although the first word of the title makes a promise that a more conventional, Hollywood film would deliver on, Soderbergh’s very personal, wry, and grown-up comedy of sexual manners is all talk and almost no action, at least not onscreen, where all we get is white static. Sex, like everything else in the lives of its four protagonists, is treated in an adult and intellectual manner. Filmed in real settings, on a shoestring budget in the director’s hometown of Baton Rouge, with a cast of mostly unknown young actors and focusing on controversial subject matter, the movie was an overnight sensation when it was screened at Sundance, later going on to win the grand prize at Cannes. Just like James Spader’s Graham, an outsider who rides into town in a ’69 Cutlass, challenging the dysfunctionality of the American Dream through his very being, Soderbergh provides a new, alternative view of what American cinema is and what it could be. The ‘independence’ of Sex, Lies, and Videotape, its uniqueness, lies in both its content and form, if more pronounced in the former.