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Archive for February, 2012

Truffaut and Godard in Defense of The Cinémathèque Française, 1968

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard speak in defense of the Cinémathèque Française.

This 60 second spot ran in numerous French film theaters during the events of May, 1968, when the future of the Cinémathèque Française under the leadership of Henri Langlois was in jeopardy. French cultural minister André Malraux, at the direction of then-president Charles de Gaulle, tried to fire Langlois, who had founded the Cinémathèque Française, and was a hero to young cinéastes. The reaction was immediate – Truffaut, Godard, and the rest of the French Nouvelle Vague directors simply weren’t going to let this happen.

The protest against Langlois’ attempted dismissal quickly became an international affair, even in the pre-internet era, and filmmakers around the world threatened to pull their films from the Cinémathèque’s collection unless Langlois was reinstated. Eventually, Malraux backed down, and Langlois was restored to his post, though with reduced government funding. This advertisement played a small part in the affair, and it’s refreshing to see two world renowned filmmakers coming to the defense of cinema as an art form.

Here’s a rough translation:

Godard: “In general, films are shown commercially for seven years. After that, they’re shown in art theaters, like this one.”
Truffaut: “If their life can sometimes be extended, it’s thanks to Henri Langlois’ efforts in preserving them at the Cinémathèque Française.”
Godard: “If you’ve chosen to see the film you’re about to see tonight, or if you like to see a film you enjoy several times, you are already a friend of the Cinémathèque.”
Truffaut: “So become a member of the Committee for the Defense of The Cinémathèque Française now.”

This brief film was shot on March 14, 1968; you can see it by clicking here, or on the image above.

Robert Bresson’s Four Nights of a Dreamer (Quatre nuits d’un rêveur)

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

Click here, or on the image above, for a clip from Four Nights of A Dreamer.

Robert Bresson spent his life making gorgeous, transcendent films, but Four Nights of A Dreamer (1971) may be his single most stunningly beautiful work.

As M.C. Zenner notes in Senses of Cinema, “To look at, Quatre Nuits might have been released yesterday. Little in its matter and nothing in its manner has dated: so authentic is the reek of its present and so close to us does its ambience still seem, as a testament to the fidelity with which Bresson pointed, rolled, and selected. ‘Retouch some real with some real,’ commands the only repeated note in his Notes on the Cinematographer.

So true is this, that it’s quite hard to believe, as we view, in the antiquity of the generation to which Jacques and Marthe belong. The children of the ‘children of Marx and Coca Cola,’ raised on the video-games that continue its myths, may find it just as hard. They are well within living memory, the last two summers of that affluent, easy time on whose dusky embankments conspiracy-theories enjoyed such efflorescence, and to which the subsequent oil-crisis, inflation, mass -unemployment, the terrorist explosion, all form such an impassable barrier.

The landscaped garden of gestarbeiten, growth, Coca-Cola label designs, the ongoing circus of Viet-Nam, top-forty charts, and low Italian sports-car curves, has dried and died and sunk under new layers — of discarded key-cards, condoms, needles, or lives. It’s as dead as some of its exemplars and premature victims. And if its ghosts can still walk, they can’t bite.”

Sadly, this gorgeous film isn’t available on DVD legally, and circulates only in a terrible bootleg; it’s a shame, because nearly all of Bresson’s work, from his earliest films to his last, has now had a DVD release, but somehow, Four Nights has slipped through the cracks. Let’s hope this remarkable, ineffably romantic film soon gets a legitimate release.

Joan Crawford on Stardom, George Cukor and More

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

Here’s an interesting clip of an interview from British television with Joan Crawford, mid 1960s . . .

in which she discusses working with director George Cukor, her sometimes antagonistic relationship with Elizabeth Taylor, and argues that films have now — even in the mid 1960s — become committee projects, which either “make a lot of money or lose a lot of money,” in the words of the interviewer. One of the last of the MGM stars, Crawford here seems somewhat old-fashioned, and deeply judgmental, clearly longing for the past, but at the same time realizing that the studio system she grew up in — “I was born at Metro” — is now a thing of the past.

Jean-Luc Godard on Film Criticism, 1963

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

Here’s a remarkable interview with director Jean-Luc Godard shot for French television in 1963, just after the release of his masterpiece Le Mépris (Contempt).

It’s both fascinating and a bit sad that Godard describes film criticism of his era as essentially an “honest” field, noting that critics are always “sincere,” whether he agrees with them or not, compared to today, when film criticism has become primarily a fan-based enterprise, and the daily critics are more under pressure than ever before to conform to commercial demands. Godard, of course, started out as a critic before he became a filmmaker, and as he admits in this clip, some of his early reviews were often “cruel” towards certain filmmakers and their works.

But at the same time, he doesn’t seem to mind the same slings and arrows when they’re directed at him, just so long as the critics really mean what they say. Godard also speaks frankly of the commercial pressures brought to bear on him by producer Joseph E. Levine during the making of the film, and demonstrates enormous grace under pressure in the process. It’s a rare glimpse into the mind of one of the world’s most innovative and often controversial directors; absolutely essential viewing.

Moving Image Archive News

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

Jan-Christopher Horak at the UCLA Archives.

Arguably, the most important task facing film historians today is the preservation of the images themselves. At the Moving Image Archive News website, there are a group of interviews with some of the country’s foremost archivists on the challenges they face on a daily basis.

As their website notes, they recently conducted these interviews with some of the top professionals on “moving image archiving, preservation, and restoration about what they do in their jobs, how they got involved in the field, and the like. Over the next few weeks, you can see what they said, here on the site.If you know anyone who might be interested in working in the field, these clips should be informative and hopefully inspiring. Or, perhaps you already work in the field and are interested in finding out about other people in your line of work. So, here goes. Today, to get things rolling, here are three people with varied roles in the moving image world.”

Click here to go this essential website, right now.

Get Yourself A College Girl (1964)

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

Click here, or on the image above, for a brief clip from Get Yourself A College Girl.

And while we’re on the subject of 60s California pop, here’s a truly amazing film which has just been released on archival DVD — no masterpiece, this, but a wildly disparate cast in a completely nonsensical plot — featuring a truly amazing group of recording artists of the period, all shot in 6 days in glorious Metrocolor.

Get Yourself A College Girl was produced by the legendary “speed artist” Sam Katzman, who had an iron clad rule that no film he produced would take longer than six days to get in the can — until he lengthened his schedules in the late 60s to a lavish 15 days for some of Elvis Presley’s later films — and directed by former child actor Sidney Miller, whose other credits include directing episodes of Get Smart, The Addams Family, The Smothers Brothers Show, My Favorite Martian and even The Mickey Mouse Club.

Mixed into this cinematic stew are Nancy Sinatra, Chad Everett, Hortense Petra (Katzman’s wife, a “good luck” charm in all of his later films), plus musical guests The Standells, The Animals, The Dave Clark Five, jazz organist Jimmy Smith, jazz sax player Stan Getz with vocalist Astrud Gilberto, and a whole lot more, none of it making any sense at all, but featuring that slick, candy-colored sheen that typified California pop music of the era.

As critic Mel Neuhaus noted on the TCM Website, “A curious 1964 hybrid of teen movie musical with pre-feminist overtones as well as a parody of moralistic anti-rock message films, Get Yourself a College Girl is a must-see due to its strange guest-star cast, who help elevate the formula narrative into a near-surreal ’60s happening. The basic plot follows Mary Ann Mobley’s transition from songwriter to a controversial figure in the music industry who’s wooed by a song publisher (Chad Everett) and a politician seeking the youth vote [. . .]

The choice of music guest stars is one of the most freakish conglomerations in any movie musical. Let’s face it – any picture featuring rockers The Dave Clark 5 (Thinking of You Baby, Whenever You’re Around), The Animals (Blue Feeling, Around and Around), and The Standells (Bony Moronie, The Swim) alongside the Jimmy Smith Trio (The Sermon, Comin’ Home Johnny), plus jazz greats Stan Getz and velvet-throated vocalist Astrud Gilberto (doing their cornerstone of ’60s cool, The Girl from Ipanema) has got to be seen (and heard) to be believed.”

It’s a fascinating time capsule of a time long vanished, and worth savoring for the sheer explosion of musical talent on the screen. And, of course, everyone looks like they’re having a lot of fun.

Tabu (2012)

Monday, February 27th, 2012

Click here, or on the image above, to see the press conference at The Berlin International Film Festival for Tabu (with English translation).

Just back from The 62nd Berlin International Film Festival, Marco Abel raves about Miguel Gomes’ Tabu (2012). a dreamy narrative that nods towards the Murnau/Flaherty Tabu: A Story of the South Seas (1931), but with a decidedly different spin. Tabu won the prestigious Alfred Bauer Award as well as the FIPRESCI Prize at Berlin, and was nominated for the Golden Bear, so it seems that all the commotion is not without substance. This was the world premiere, so obviously I haven’t seen it, but it sounds delicious, and I can’t wait to check it out for myself.

Here’s a brief review by Patrick Gamble from Cinevue: “Miguel Gomes‘ third feature Tabu (2012) is an impassioned love story which draws its influences from the early romantic era of 1930’s Hollywood filmmaking – and is already one of the stand-out films at this year’s Berlinale. Aurora (played by Laura Soveral in her old age and Ana Moreira during her younger years), an elderly Portuguese women with an eccentric personality and a destructive taste for the local casino’s slot machines, lives with her African maid Santa (Isabel Cardoso) in an imposing Lisbon tower block. Her next door neighbour is Miss Pilar (Teresa Madruga), a compassionate and caring catholic who finds herself caring for Aurora as her mental state starts to show signs of deteriorating. When Aurora is admitted to hospital, Pilar is assigned the task of finding a long lost companion of hers, an Italian man with an outlandish tale of love against adversity set within the shadows of Mount Tabu in Africa.

Tabu is stepped in nostalgia, with Gomes painterly presenting his characters in romanticised black and white – a fact only emphasised by Gomes’ decision to name his movie after [an F.W.] Murnau film. It results in a film that radiates a warmth that perfectly compliments its heartbreaking story. Crossing back and forth through time, Tabu successfully differentiates past from present with subtle lighting techniques and the gentle use of soft focus – creating a dream like atmosphere that feels like crossing through a jungle of memories and regrets [. . .] Playfully switching from the gloom of the present day to the warmth and perceived simplicity of life in the past, Tabu is an enthralling, lighthearted stab at a society unable to escape from imprisoning itself in a cloud of nostalgia.”

Hollywood Moves to The Web

Sunday, February 26th, 2012

Hollywood’s theatrical fortunes continue to decline, as the ever-reliable Brooks Barnes reports in The New York Times, but it seems they have a fix on how to move to the web, and make it pay.

As Barnes reports, “Movie attendance hit a 16-year low in 2011. Star wattage continues to dim. DVD sales keep plunging. Almost none of the films being honored at Sunday’s Academy Awards have struck a mainstream nerve.
Yet Hollywood has a noticeable spring in its step. After all, it’s not the music business.

Instead of Hollywood suffering its own Napster moment — the kind of digital death trap that decimated music labels first through the illegal downloading of files and then by a migration to legal downloads almost solely through iTunes — several deals announced this month have it feeling more in control.

While studios still consider piracy a huge problem and feel stymied by Silicon Valley (and Washington politics), they nevertheless control their content. And now the Web is coming to them.

Google is developing a home entertainment device and several media companies have announced plans for new online streaming services. Taken together, the moves mean no supplier will have a monopoly over the distribution of films and television on the Internet. With more buyers comes leverage, and higher prices for content

‘The mood has shifted from,”Oh, my God, our business models are broken and we’re going to be cannibalized” to something resembling euphoria,’ said Peter Guber, a former chairman of Columbia Pictures who is now chief executive of the Mandalay Entertainment Group, which has interests in movies, TV and sports. ‘Studios see a robust, accelerating online market.’”

It makes sense; with admissions at a 16 year low, the viewers have to be somewhere, and unlike the music business, it seems that Hollywood has figured this out in time for a variety of reasons.

Read the whole piece here; more evidence of the ever changing landscape of cinema.

For Your Consideration: Women Directors Missing From the Oscars

Saturday, February 25th, 2012

This video has been tearing up the web, as well it should.

As far as I can tell, it’s the work of Melissa Silverstein, and she’s absolutely right about everything she says.

Women created the cinema. Alice Guy was arguably the first person to make a film with a plot, La fée aux choux (The Cabbage Patch Fairy, 1896); the first to make a film with sound; the first to make a film in hand-stenciled color; the first to make a film longer than 1 minute; the first to make a multi-reel film; and she started her long career in 1896, long before D.W. Griffith even thought of making a film. Her contemporaries were Georges Méliès, The Lumière Brothers, and numerous others, but Alice Guy’s more than 354 films stand as a monumental achievement at the dawn of cinema.

As Ms. Silverstein points out, “in 2011, only 5% of the top grossing films in Hollywood were directed by Women. The number has decreased since 1998. In 84 years only 4 women — Lina Wertmuller, Jane Campion, Sofia Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow — have been nominated for best director. One 1 has won.

Please feel free to send this video out far and wide, and on Sunday, remember that women directors voices and visions are missing from this very large cultural conversation. Telling people this is a cultural problem and not just a gender equity problem is a first step.”

Happy to help. A change would definitely do you good . . .

For more information on women in film, check out Gwendolyn Audrey Foster’s book Women Film Directors: An International Bio-Critical Dictionary, by clicking this link.

1,000 Small Theaters Can’t Convert to Digital

Friday, February 24th, 2012

Everyone seems to be talking about this piece in Indiewire today, and with good reason.

It’s written by Michael Hurley, who owns the Colonial Theatre in Belfast, Maine as well as the Temple Theatre in Houlton, Maine, and knows precisely whereof he speaks. As he notes, “‘Convert or die.’ This is how John Fithian, CEO and president of the National Association of Theatre Owners, has repeatedly set the terms. It’s crude, but at least we knew where we stood. The conversion stampede was on.

Many theaters that never thought they’d go digital are now adopting at a fast pace. One of my theaters, The Colonial Theatre, will be 100 years old in April. We’re in the midst of conversion; I accept and embrace that day. Every time I see platter scratches, or receive a scratched and dirty print, or deal with a particularly odd projectionist, I look forward to it more and more.

But it hasn’t happened fast enough. At the end of 2011, Fox announced they’d no longer release product in 35mm “sometime in the next year or two.” Also ending soon: The VPF, or virtual print fee. Since 2009, film distributors have paid VPFs to exhibitors. Based on the difference between the cost of a celluloid print and digital delivery, it’s designed to help theater owners offset the cost of a digital cinema retrofit, which costs about $65,000 at the low end. (A new projector, by comparison, was about $20,000 — but that was before you’d pay people to take them away.)

The VPF has helped some, but not all. As a result, NATO recently estimated that up to 20% of theaters in North America, representing up to 10,000 screens, would not convert and would probably close. ‘Convert or die,’ indeed. And that’s from someone representing theater owners.”

But there really is no choice. 35mm prints, as Hurley notes, are simply going to cease to exist. 35mm raw film stock is also increasingly hard to come by; nearly everything today is shot in digital format. Theaters that don’t convert will simply have no product to run, except for older, archival films, which would be great, but most people simply stream these classic titles, or buy or rent the DVD.

I’ve seen this coming for more than a decade, and I predicted in a lecture in Stockholm, Sweden in 2000 or so that this would happen within ten years, and also in an NPR interview in the late 1990s. In Stockholm, one of the members of the audience, a young woman, looked at me with great concern, and said “what you’re talking about is happening only in one small theater in New York, while there are literally millions of 35mm prints of films in existence, and tens of thousands of theaters all over the world equipped for 35mm projection. The technology has been with us for nearly a century. It can’t possibly go away.”

“Well,” I responded, “The Jazz Singer originally opened in just one theater in New York . . .” — and now the same thing is happening with digital cinema. There simply will be no 35mm prints, outside of museums and archives, to project. More than that, parts and supplies for 35mm projection equipment are already becoming difficult to get, as well as service for the machines. 35mm is done; digital is the new standard. As brutal as John Fithian’s statement is, it’s just the simple truth. There is no 35mm anymore. It’s digital, all the way.

About the Author

Wheeler Winston Dixon

Wheeler Winston Dixon, Ryan Professor of Film Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is an internationally recognized scholar and writer of film history, theory and criticism. He is the author of numerous books and more than 70 articles on film and appears regularly in national media outlets discussing film and culture trends. Frame by Frame is a collection of his thoughts on a number of those topics. To contact Prof. Dixon for an interview, reach him at 402.472.6064 or wdixon1@unl.edu.

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