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Archive for May, 2017

New from The BFI: Minute Bodies on DVD and Blu-ray

Thursday, May 25th, 2017

The pioneering photo micrography of F. Percy Smith is now on DVD from the BFI.

As the notes for the DVD explain, “Minute Bodies: The Intimate World of F. Percy Smith, directed by Stuart Staples of Tindersticks, was first screened at the 60th BFI London Film Festival in October 2016. It is a meditative and immersive film tribute to the astonishing work and achievements of the early twentieth century naturalist, inventor, and pioneering filmmaker F. Percy Smith. You can see the trailer here.

Minute Bodies is an interpretative edit that combines Smith’s original footage with a new contemporary score by Tindersticks, with Thomas Belhom and Christine Ott, to create a hypnotic, alien yet familiar dreamscape that connects us to the sense of wonder Smith must have felt as he peered through his own lenses to see these micro-worlds for the first time.

The forming of the edit and its musical score evolved over a three year period. The music was created from a loose collective of invited musicians. With Tindersticks at its heart it also greatly benefits from the involvement of Thomas Belhom (percussion) and Christine Ott (Ondes Martenot and piano). There are also cameos from David Coulter (musical saw and nose flute) and Julian Siegel (saxophone). It was recorded and mixed at the band’s studio in France.”

The DVD / Blu-ray from the BFI boasts the BFI’s usual superb standard of both image and sound, and in addition to the main feature, there are a host of short films from the early 1900s to the mid 1930s, examining the wonders of nature in time lapse and slow motion format, which are every bit as compelling as the main attraction.

The BFI’s motto has been “Film Forever” for some time, and they’ve gone a long way this, and their other releases, towards being the most adventurous DVD label in Europe. The seamless editing of the hallucinatory images of F. Percy Smith, coupled with Tindersticks’ gently ambient soundtrack, combines to create a vision of the world which is simultaneously sinister and wondrous – a world most people never even imagine.

Considering the relatively primitive technology of the period, Smith’s images are clear and crisp, and the intense care and detail that went into each of his miniature films is readily apparent. Films are only really films when they’re being viewed, and while once Smith’s shorts were classroom staples in science classes and the like in Britain in the early part of the 20th century, without preservation they would be lost to us now.

That’s what makes this DVD so stunning, so essential, and so magical. 

Indiewire’s Cannes 2017 Roundup

Wednesday, May 24th, 2017

There’s lots of great films at Cannes. Most will never get real distribution.

Cannes is still going on until May 28th, but the coverage provided by Indiewire above gives one an idea of the embarrassment of riches on display at the fest, even if it has been marred – ever so slightly – be tech snafus and some less than stellar entries and sidebars.

But consider: the festival offered a superb restoration of Belle de Jour, as well as a new documentary on Stanley Kubrick’s long and illustrious career; animated films from Iran; talks by Wim Wenders and Spike Lee at the American Pavilion; the premiere of Todd Haynes’ new film Wonderstruck; a wealth of technical information for aspiring and practicing filmmakers; the first two episodes of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks reboot; a seminar on how VOD and theaters will continue to co-exist; as well as new films by Arnaud Desplechin, Vanessa Redgrave in her directorial debut, Takashi Miike’s 100th feature film, Bruno Dumont’s “heavy metal” Joan of Arc film Jeanette, Sofia Coppola’s take on The Beguiled and so much more.

There’s so much going on here – so much more than what’s going at your local multiplex. If you’re lucky enough to live in a town that supports an art theater, please go and see the more adventurous films there. They won’t be coming to the main commercial houses, who are too busy prepping for Top Gun 2 (seriously). For all the expense and crowds and security and other inconveniences of Cannes, it remains a magnet for talent and controversy in the cinema, all the more important in an era that doesn’t value art as an essential aspect of human existence, which it absolutely is.

Follow all of Indiewire‘s coverage of Cannes by clicking here, or on the image above.

New Video – Mystery Train

Wednesday, May 24th, 2017

Here’s a new video entitled Mystery Train. Click here, or on the image above, to view.

Wheeler Winston Dixon’s films have been screened at The Maryland Institute College of Art, The Museum of Modern Art, The Whitney Museum of American Art, Anthology Film Archives, The Microscope Gallery, The British Film Institute, The Jewish Museum, and The Millennium Film Workshop.

In addition, his works have been shown at The San Francisco Cinématheque, The New Arts Lab, The Collective for Living Cinema, The Kitchen Center for Experimental Art, The Filmmakers Cinématheque, Film Forum, The Amos Eno Gallery, Sla 307 Art Space, The Gallery of Modern Art, The Oberhausen Film Festival and at numerous universities and film societies throughout the world.

In 2003, Dixon was honored with a retrospective of his films at The Museum of Modern Art, and his films were acquired for the permanent collection of the Museum, in both print and original format. More recently, he has been working in HD video with such films as An American Dream, Instant Replay, and The Shapes of Things, and continues to create new work, with some two hundred plus videos to date available for viewing on his Vimeo website.

To see more of Dixon’s video and film work, just click here.

Cannes 2017 – 12 Feature Films By Women Directors

Friday, May 19th, 2017

As Ella Wilks-Harper reports in The Independent, Cannes 2017 has 12 feature films by women in the line up.

Which isn’t exactly earth-shattering, but it’s a start. However, the festival has also taken some much deserved flack – in my opinion – for the official poster for the 2017 season, not reproduced here, which as Wilks notes uses “a heavily photoshopped image of Italian actress Claudia Cardinale.” Still, as Wilks-Harper writes, “The line-up for the highly anticipated Cannes Film Festival 2017 has been announced, unveiling a notable rise in female directors making the list. A total of twelve will have films screened at the prestigious festival, up from 2016’s nine and a significant change from 2012’s festival, where no films by female directors were shown.

In a press conference, festival president Pierre Lescure – alongside General Thierry Frémaux – announced the Official Selection, including the eighteen films that will be in competition this year, including Naomi Kawase’s Radiance and Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here. Kristen Stewart’s directorial short film, Come Swim, will also premiere at Cannes. Last year the actress starred in Olivier Assayas’ film Personal Shopper, which was booed by the audience at Cannes, despite positive reviews. Also at the festival, two episodes of the eagerly anticipated reboot of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks will be shown.”

The full schedule is as follows:

Competition

Ismael’s Ghosts – Arnaud Desplechin (opening film)

Loveless – Andrey Zvyagintsev

Good Time – Benny Safdie and Josh Safdie

You Were Never Really Here – Lynne Ramsay

A Gentle Creature – Sergei Loznitsa

Jupiter’s Moon – Kornél Mundruczó

L’Amant Double – François Ozon

The Killing of a Sacred Deer – Yorgos Lanthimos

Radiance – Naomi Kawase

The Day After – Hong Sang-soo

Le Redoutable – Michel Hazanavicius

Wonderstruck – Todd Haynes

Rodin – Jacques Doillon

Happy End – Michael Haneke

The Beguiled – Sofia Coppola

120 Battements Par Minute – Robin Campillo

Okja – Bong Joon-ho

In the Fade – Fatih Akin

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) – Noah Baumbach

Un Certain Regard

Barbara – Mathieu Amalric

The Desert Bride – Cecilia Atan and Valeria Pivato

Closeness – Kantemir Balagov

Beauty and the Dogs – Kaouther Ben Hania

L’Atelier – Laurent Cantet

Lucky – Sergio Castellitto

April’s Daughter – Michel Franco

Western – Valeska Grisebach

Directions – Stephan Komandarev

Out – Gyorgy Kristof

Before We Vanish – Kiyoshi Kurosawa

The Nature of Time – Karim Moussaoui

Dregs – Mohammad Rasoulof

Jeune Femme – Léonor Serraille

Wind River – Taylor Sheridan

After the War – Annarita Zambrano

Out of Competition:

Blade of the Immortal – Takashi Miike

How to Talk to Girls at Parties – John Cameron Mitchell

Visages, Villages – Agnès Varda & JR

Midnight Screenings

The Villainess – Jung Byung-Gil

The Merciless – Byun Sung-Hyun

Special Screenings

An Inconvenient Sequel – Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk

12 Jours – Raymond Depardon

They – Anahita Ghazvinizadeh

Clair’s Camera – Hong Sang-soo

Promised Land – Eugene Jarecki

Napalm – Claude Lanzmann

Demons in Paradise – Jude Ratman

Sea Sorrow – Vanessa Redgrave

Special Screenings – Events

Twin Peaks – David Lynch (first two episodes)

24 Frames – Abbas Kiarostami

Come Swim – Kristen Stewart

Top of the Lake: China Girl – Jane Campion, Ariel Kleiman

Carne y arena – Alejandro González Iñárritu

It’s nice to see so many familiar names on the list, such as Agnès Varda, but at the same time, a number of people are making the point that perhaps participating in Cannes isn’t the greatest way to launch a difficult, indie film. If everything goes well, then fine – it certainly can’t hurt. But if the audience doesn’t like a film – and Cannes viewers are typically quite open for their disdain for a film, if it fails to catch their fancy – you’re pretty much doomed from the start, and chances of getting a theatrical distribution deal drop dramatically. The festival, which got underway a few days ago, has already been marred by technical glitches and various controversies about “what constitutes a film” – does it need a theatrical opening to compete?

As Elsa Keslassy wrote in Variety on May 10th, “the Cannes Film Festival said Wednesday that it would keep Netflix movies Okja and The Meyerowitz Stories in competition despite opposition from French exhibitors but that, in future, all competition titles ‘will have to commit…to being distributed in French movie theaters.’ The festival’s board had convened a meeting Tuesday to discuss the possibility of yanking both films from competition, as recommended by France’s exhibitors’ association, which is represented on the board. Although the idea was rejected, the festival issued a statement Wednesday expressing regret over Netflix’s decision not to release the films widely in French cinemas.

‘Cannes is aware of the anxiety aroused by the absence of the release in theaters of those films in France. The Festival de Cannes asked Netflix in vain to accept that these two films could reach the audience of French movie theaters and not only its subscribers,’ the statement said, adding: ‘The festival regrets that no agreement has been reached.’ The festival said it had decided to ‘adapt its rules’ for the future. Starting next year, ‘any film that wishes to compete in competition at Cannes will have to commit itself to being distributed in French movie theaters.'”

There will be much more on this, but sadly, most of the films in the festival will never see general release – a drastic change from the days when every film in the festival was guaranteed a theatrical opening, if only because of the prevailing technology of the era. And the glitz and glamour amp up every year, so that in a sense, the movies themselves become almost incidental. Still, it’s a celebration of the cinema – with many diverging opinions – and it’s nice to see a festival which honors the art of the cinema, while at the same time being one of the most competitive cinematic marketplaces on the face of the planet.

You can see a complete rundown the festival, which runs from May 17 to 28, by clicking here.

The Collapsing Theatrical Window for Films

Thursday, May 18th, 2017

As Anthony D’Alessandro notes in Deadline, theatrical release windows for movies are in jeopardy.

There’s been a lot of talk recently that film distribution is moving away from theaters, and towards PVOD – Premium Video on Demand – viewing a film at home on the day of release for as much as $50 a pop. It’s been tried before, and except for big ticket sporting events, it hasn’t really worked out. But that may be changing.

As  D’Alessandro reports, “The urban myth feared by many is that if the per-title rental price in the PVOD window drops down to $20, consumers ultimately will realize that it’s cheaper to watch a movie at home then in cinemas, forgoing costs that come with a night out, i.e. babysitter, parking, dinner, etc. Some studio executives claim their talks with exhibition over PVOD aren’t contentious, but many insiders say that both parties’ working relationship is best described as ‘frenemies.’

Says one distribution veteran: ‘Exhibitors are freaking out. They can’t make money unless they grow their companies, and it’s hard to build these $40M multiplexes. If you have your investors hearing about windows closings, what incentive is there for them to hold on to their stocks?’ The former executive adds that PVOD, if not managed properly, could cause ‘a slowdown in exhibitions’ luxury-seat remodeling and force the mom-and-pop theaters out of business.’ Some also forecast that the domestic supply will shrink, that moviegoing will be relegated to tentpoles with mid- to low-budget fare relegated to in-home streaming.

However, these are doomsday theories, and there’s some positive evidence that the majors aren’t going to cannibalize their own business. Here they are:

The Theatrical Window Will Be Protected: ‘The last thing studios would want to do is threaten that lucrative revenue stream by encroaching on the theatrical window,’ says Tony Wible, Media & Entertainment Senior Analyst at Drexel Hamilton. ‘Theatrical plays a role in pricing the TV licenses for films, and there’s an incentive for studios to maintain the theatrical window.’

Despite Their Bullishness, Studios Haven’t Figured Out a PVOD Formula Yet: There’s buzz that Warner Bros. will come to terms on a PVOD solution by Q4 or Q1 2018, but they’re not going to act alone in the marketplace without another studio. In addition, there are too many moving parts to the PVOD equation, and the whole notion of it goes beyond the Monday-morning haggling between a distributor and exhibitor to hold a film on screens. Other windows like electronic sell-through [EST, when the consumer purchases a permanent video download, either in the cloud or on their computer] would be impacted, and that’s another discussion studios need to have with digital partners including iTunes and Vudu.

If PVOD Becomes a Reality, It Will Face Its Own Challenges: Home consumers already have committed their [money] to cable bundles, Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime. When it comes to content in the home, they have way too much of it, not to mention VOD menus are already crowded. So, where’s the incentive to rent one title for [as an example] $30? ‘If you have a $30 VOD product, it’s going to be too expensive for the home consumer when it’s priced against these services,’ says Wible, ‘There’s a value trade-off.’

In Addition, Exhibition Claims That In-Home Streaming Services Aren’t Their Direct Competition: According to Alamo Drafthouse and Neon label chief Tim League,’Theaters are more in competition with restaurants and comedy clubs and the types of entertainment that gets you out of the house.’ Currently, exhibitors such as Regal, Cinemark and AMC are barreling forward with luxury modeling and food/alcohol amenities, and these efforts have led to increased capacity and B.O. revenue upticks, with increased cash-on-cash returns.

Mid- and Low-Budget Movies Can Remain in the Theatrical Space: Some have screamed that economically budgeted fare doesn’t have a chance going forward in an event-driven theatrical marketplace, but the success of Get Out, Split, Fifty Shades Darker, Hidden Figures, John Wick: Chapter 2 and even La La Land have proved otherwise; that’s all about how a studio positions and sells a film. ‘There’s not a clear delineating line of what is meant for theatrical and what’s intended for streaming,’ says Amazon’s distribution and marketing chief Bob Berney.

Whether a mid-budget or indie film winds up on streaming or theatrical has a lot to do with a film’s financiers, and when there’s a company like Netflix willing to pony up big bucks for the smaller screen, money talks. In addition, mid-level and low-budget films ‘need to be event-ized,’ says Berney. Whether they thrive on the big screen boils down to several factors, i.e. a distributor’s passion for the film, how far they’re willing to go with it, a pic’s critical and festival reactions. Not to mention, as long as there are Oscars, there will be smart, upscale specialty movies on the big screen.”

There’s much more to this excellent article; you can read the whole piece by clicking here.

Maybe VR Isn’t The Future of Cinema – Just a Gimmick?

Friday, May 5th, 2017

Many Best Buy VR pop-up stores closed in February; now Facebook is shutting down its Oculus Story Studio.

As Janko Roettgers reported in Variety, “Oculus Story Studio, the award-winning studio behind virtual reality (VR) short films like Dear Angelica and Henry is being shut down, Facebook announced Thursday afternoon. The studio’s 50 staffers are encouraged to apply for new jobs within Oculus, but all ongoing projects of the studio are being cancelled.

‘We’ve been looking at the best way to allocate our resources to create an impact on the ecosystem,’ said Oculus VP of Content Jason Rubin in a blog post. ‘After careful consideration, we’ve decided to shift our focus away from internal content creation to support more external production. As part of that shift, we’ll be winding down Story Studio.’

Oculus officially unveiled Story Studio to the world in early 2015, when it also premiered Lost as the studio’s first narrative piece. In 2016, Story Studio followed up with Henry, an animated VR short about a lovable hedgehog that won an Emmy for Outstanding Original Interactive Program later that year. And earlier this year, Oculus Story Studio premiered its most ambitious project with Dear Angelica, a VR film that was animated entirely within VR itself and that featured Geena Davis voicing one of the two main characters.

All three films will continue to be available on the Oculus Store, Rubin said Thursday. For Dear Angelica, the Story Studio team also developed an entire authoring tool called Quill that allows animators to draw 3-D scenes while wearing a headset and that has been available for free on the Oculus Store. Quill could be open sourced, according to a spokesperson, but Oculus is not going to provide any active support for it anymore.

That could be bad news for animators looking to explore new forms of storytelling in VR; the Story Studio team had in recent months been looking to venture into 3-D comics, and debuted a collection of VR comics at the Tribeca Film Festival last month. At the time, it announced that these comics would be released on the Oculus Store later this year, but that seems less certain now.”

This comes on the heels of an announcement in February 2017 that roughly 200 “pop up” Oculus demo booths located in Best Buy stores in the United States were being shuttered due to lack of consumer interest. As Michael Rougeau reported in Digital Trends, “just under half of the Oculus Rift demo kiosks in Best Buy stores across the U.S. are being shut down, according to a report from Business Insider. The reason? It could be a lack of interest from shoppers.

Apparently, it wasn’t uncommon for Best Buy employees ‘to go days without giving a single demonstration,’ the website said. A memo between a third-party company and store employees reportedly confirmed that the move is due to poor ‘store performance.’ An Oculus spokesperson later confirmed with the website that the Best Buy Rift pop-ups are closing, but said the shift is due to ‘seasonal changes’ and that Oculus is ‘prioritizing demos … in larger markets.’

The move will reportedly affect 200 of the 500 Best Buy locations in the U.S. that currently have Oculus Rift demo stations. ‘We still believe the best way to learn about VR is through a live demo,’ the spokesperson, Andrea Schubert, said. ‘We’re going to find opportunities to do regular events and pop-ups in retail locations and local communities throughout the year.’ She mentioned that stores in Canada will still have the demo kiosks as well.

Business Insider’s report cited multiple unnamed sources who said that the demo stations were often too buggy to use and demos were infrequent even during the holidays. Another of the site’s sources said that Facebook, which owns Oculus, has considered opening dedicated storefronts to sell the headset, but that those talks are still in the early stage.” Summing up the move, Rougeau noted that “the removal of Oculus Rift kiosks from Best Buy stores may be a signal of the product’s declining status.”

It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the coming months.

Lucy Fischer’s New Book “Cinema By Design”

Friday, May 5th, 2017

Lucy Fischer has an excellent new book out on the influence of Art Nouveau in film.

As the website for the book from Columbia University Press notes, “Art Nouveau thrived from the late 1890s through the First World War. The international design movement reveled in curvilinear forms and both playful and macabre visions and had a deep impact on cinematic art direction, costuming, gender representation, genre, and theme. Though historians have long dismissed Art Nouveau as a decadent cultural mode, its tremendous afterlife in cinema proves otherwise. In Cinema by Design, Lucy Fischer traces Art Nouveau’s long history in films from various decades and global locales, appreciating the movement’s enduring avant-garde aesthetics and dynamic ideology.

Fischer begins with the portrayal of women and nature in the magical ‘trick films’ of the Spanish director Segundo de Chomón; the elite dress and décor design choices in Cecil B. DeMille’s The Affairs of Anatol (1921); and the mise-en-scène of fantasy in Raoul Walsh’s The Thief of Bagdad (1924). Reading Salome (1923), Fischer shows how the cinema offered an engaging frame for adapting the risqué works of Oscar Wilde and Aubrey Beardsley. Moving to the modern era, Fischer focuses on a series of dramatic films, including Michelangelo Antonioni’s The Passenger (1975), that make creative use of the architecture of Antoni Gaudí; and several European works of horror—The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971), Deep Red (1975), and The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears (2013)—in which Art Nouveau architecture and narrative supply unique resonances in scenes of terror.

In later chapters, she examines films like Klimt (2006) that portray the style in relation to the art world and ends by discussing the Art Nouveau revival in 1960s cinema. Fischer’s analysis brings into focus the partnership between Art Nouveau’s fascination with the illogical and the unconventional and filmmakers’ desire to upend viewers’ perception of the world. Her work explains why an art movement embedded in modernist sensibilities can flourish in contemporary film through its visions of nature, gender, sexuality, and the exotic.”

This is a brilliant and wide-ranging book, written in a direct and accessible style, which moves smoothly from one film to another, and one era to another, effortlessly navigating both space and time in cinema history, in a text which is at once adventurous, incisive, and thoroughly grounded in cinema and art history. Fischer is a brilliant scholar whose work is always deeply informed and carefully considered, and with this book, she tackles a theme in cinema art direction which is far more wide-spread than one might expect. Complete with a plethora of illustrations, this is a must have text for any lover of film.

Again, proof of the old saying that the only new history is that which you don’t know – essential reading.

About the Author

Headshot of 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 thirty books and more than 100 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. All comments by Dixon on this blog are his own opinions.

In The National News

Wheeler Winston Dixon has been quoted by Fast Company, The New Yorker, The New York Times, the BBC, CNN, The Christian Science Monitor, US News and World Report, The Boston Globe, Entertainment Weekly, The Los Angeles Times, NPR, The PBS Newshour, USA Today and other national media outlets on digital cinema, film and related topics - see the UNL newsroom at http://news.unl.edu/news-releases/1/ for more details.

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