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Archive for the ‘Festivals’ Category

3-D Festival at the Egyptian Theatre, Los Angeles

Thursday, May 23rd, 2013

The largest festival of 3-D films in the world is coming to Los Angeles; click here, or on the image above, for more information.

As the press release for the event notes, “the World 3-D Film Expo will return to the Egyptian Theatre, September 6-15, 2013. The ten-day festival will pay tribute to the 60th anniversary of what many film historians regard as the ‘Golden Age’ of 3-D, and will include screenings of the John Wayne western Hondo, the Vincent Price horror film House of Wax, Cole Porter’s musical Kiss Me Kate, the sci-fi thriller It Came From Outer Space, and later 3-D films, such as 1983’s Jaws 3-D. Lesser-known titles, such as The French Line with Jane Russell and Second Chance with Robert Mitchum, will also be included.

The Expo is partnering with digital 3-D projection sponsor RealD to present a number of screenings in RealD 3-D including Alfred Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder and Jack Arnold’s sci-fi/horror classic Creature from the Black Lagoon. Stefan Droessler, 3-D historian and head of the Munich Film Museum, will present an in-depth overview of ‘European 3-D Filmmaking 1935-1953,’ including long-lost footage from the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

The festival will also be home to several premieres including the Los Angeles Premiere of the 1946 Russian 3-D adaptation of Robinson Crusoe. September 14th will mark the World Premiere of the stereoscopic version of the 1954 Korean War drama, Dragonfly Squadron. The film was only released in a flat version during its initial release, and has never been seen by audiences in 3-D. Newly-restored 35 mm prints of shorts ‘Rocky Marciano, Champion vs. Jersey Joe Walcott, Challenger’ and ‘College Capers’ will be screened in 3-D for the first time in 60 years. Most programs being presented at the festival will be shown in archival double-system 35 mm. prints, many of them the last known copies.”

The 3-D footage of the 1936 Berlin Olympics is a real find; if you’re going to be in Los Angeles, go!

Charles Ives: Total Immersion

Wednesday, May 15th, 2013

This was a once-in-a-lifetime event; all four Charles Ives symphonies in a single night.

On the last night of a very hectic New York research trip, I was lucky enough to attend the Charles Ives “Total Immersion” concert, featuring Leonard Slatkin conducting the Detroit Symphony Orchestra at Carnegie Hall, in a marathon evening which tackled nothing less than the performance of all four of Charles Ives’ symphonies, a taxing assignment for any orchestral group, but particular in the case of the justly famous Fourth Symphony, which is so complex that it requires two conductors, a huge orchestra, and a complete choral group to bring the work to life.

As you can see in the video above, the Fourth combines so many musical themes and such a wide array of instrumentation that any presentation of the work is daunting; it also comes with the considerable difficulty of containing, in several of its movements, two time signatures running simultaneously at two different tempos, which is why the second conductor is so necessary. I was staying in a hotel right around the corner from Carnegie Hall, and noticed a poster for the evening when I first arrived, at the astounding price of only $25 a ticket for any seat in the house.

Obtaining two tickets in the dress circle early Monday morning the week of the concert, I wondered all week long whether or not I would have the stamina to last through the entire evening, which started at 7:30 and didn’t conclude until nearly 11PM, especially since I had to get up the next morning at 5AM to catch a flight home. At the last minute, I decided that whatever the hardship in lack of sleep, this was an evening not to be missed, and I am deeply, deeply happy that I made that decision.

Slatkin and the Detroit Symphony were in top form, and the packed house knew it from the first downbeat; here was an ensemble that brought Ives’ often difficult music to life, and an amazing opportunity to track Ives’ development as a composer from the rather traditional First Symphony — which nevertheless boasts a spectacular First Movement (breaking concert hall protocol, the audience interrupted the orchestra after the movement was complete for a lengthy round of enthusiastic applause, rather than waiting for the entire piece to conclude). The Second was darker and more experimental, while the Third — which astoundingly won the Pulitzer Prize — was the briefest and least impressive, and then came, as one of my seatmates put it, “the main event.”

The Ives Fourth has been one of my favorite pieces of music since I can remember — indeed, I scored an entire film of mine, The DC 5 Memorial Film (1969) to the Fourth Movement in its entirety — and Skatkin’s interpretation of this intense, difficult, and ultimately transcendent piece of music was absolutely faultless. I was very pleased when I read James R. Oestreich’s review in The New York Times to find that he, too, was impressed by the evening; as he wrote, “the high point came on Friday evening with Detroit’s audacious presentation of an ‘Ives Immersion’: all four of Charles Ives’s numbered symphonies in chronological order.

Obvious in retrospect (though not likely to be repeated often, given its strenuous demands on performers and listeners alike), the program made for an extraordinary journey, from the relatively conventional sensibility of a prodigious student composer in the First Symphony to the unfettered one of an indomitable master in the Fourth . . .

Taken together, the four symphonies could almost be read as individual movements of a gigantic whole, so natural and compelling was the flow. After that First Symphony — first movement, as it were — the Second came as a sort of scherzo, gamboling through old folk and hymn tunes, with ‘Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean’ as anchor. The Third Symphony, relatively restrained and more focused in its borrowing, seemed a calming slow movement before the all-out radicalization of the Fourth.

Mr. Slatkin preceded his performance of the Fourth Symphony with a brief, brilliant demonstration of the work’s complexities. He had the orchestra play a four-measure mashup of tunes and rhythms from the second movement, then had the various sections play individual layers. And what should appear but ‘Turkey in the Straw’ in the violins, scarcely to be heard behind the blaring trumpets and under the accumulated weight of other instruments when everything was put back together. In similar fashion, Mr. Slatkin showed why a second conductor (Teddy Abrams) was needed in parts of the second and fourth movements, dismantling, then remantling the conflicting meters.”

All in all, a brilliant evening, and another, much needed reminder of how essential the arts are in today’s society.

Post Tenebras Lux (Light After Darkness)

Sunday, May 12th, 2013

I just got back from a research trip in New York City, where I saw a brilliant film.

I saw Post Tenebras Lux at Film Forum, and was absolutely mesmerized by the film. As Film Forum’s official notes for the film explain, “Post Tenebras Lux (‘light after darkness’) is a new autobiographical feature from acclaimed director Carlos Reygadas, winner of the Best Director prize at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. Ostensibly the story of an upscale, urban family whose move to the Mexican countryside results in domestic crises and class friction, it’s a stunningly photographed, impressionistic psychological portrait of a family and their place within the sublime, unforgiving natural world.

Reygadas conjures a host of unforgettable, ominous images: a haunting sequence at dusk as Reygadas’s real-life daughter wanders a muddy field as farm animals loudly circle and thunder and lightning threaten; a glowing-red demon gliding through the rooms of a home; a husband and wife visiting a swingers’ bathhouse with rooms named after famous philosophers. By turns entrancing and mystifying, Post Tenebras Lux palpably explores the primal conflicts of the human condition.”

When the film was screened at Cannes, there was a near riot, and many of the audience members walked out in protest, but for the life of me, I can’t figure why. The film’s narrative is at once straightforward and filled with magical realism, as in the scene, pictured above, in which a glowing red demon silently enters a middle class house, toolbox in hand, intent on wreaking havoc in his wake. Indeed, I’ve seldom seen a film that was more accessible, and at the same time more mysterious, lingering in the memory long after the final images have faded from the screen.

Click here to read an interview with the director, Carlos Reygadas.

Esther Eng, Pioneering Feminist Director

Tuesday, April 2nd, 2013

Wai Kim-Fong, Esther Eng and Beal Wong on the set of Eng’s film Heartache

Esther Eng, a pioneering feminist director, is the subject of a new documentary. As Elizabeth Kerr notes in a review of the documentary, Golden Gate Silver Light, which premiered at the Hong Kong International Film Festival, in The Hollywood Reporter, “Wei’s feature doc is clearly a labor of love — she also edited, produced, wrote, shot and narrated — and the workload often shows. The voice-over (difficult under dramatic circumstances) is academic and frequently stilted, the subtitles are riddled with inconsistencies and spelling errors, and Wei is given to hyperbole (there are many “masters” and “legends” referred to in the film). The HDV photography is functional and efficient and nothing more, and the film is heavy on stock footage and archival photos (though that is likely beyond Wei’s control). Despite the technical and cinematic shortcomings, festivals should provide Golden Gate Silver Light a healthy life on the strength of its subject, and the film could find a place on specialty cable and even in academic circles.

Wei begins her search for details on Eng’s life in the city of her birth, San Francisco, and follows her footsteps to Hollywood, then Hong Kong and finally back to the United States where she died in New York in 1970. Along the way Wei tracks down the bystander who found Eng’s personal journals and photos in a dumpster (which he donated to the Hong Kong Film Archive) and as many surviving family and co-workers — many former Cantonese opera stars fleeing the war in the 1930s — as she could to paint a rough sketch of the unconventional woman. The conversations with Eng’s now-elderly peers complement the material supplied by periodicals and Hollywood biographers and film critics (including The Hollywood Reporter critic Todd McCarthy). The fact that Wei found two with a semblance of knowledge of Eng speaks to just how unjustly she’s been disregarded.

One of Golden Gate’s strengths is its seamless ability to weave history, Sino-U.S. relations and social standards together to allow for inference and context. When the Chinese Exclusion Act kept Eng from pursuing her chosen career, she left for Hong Kong, where the same individualist streak made her a local celebrity, which stemmed as much from the success of the five films she made there to the exotic lesbianism no one seemed to care about. When she returned to the United States, she was a successful filmmaker — who cast Bruce Lee as an infant girl in one of her last films, Golden Gate Girl (1941).”

This is a fascinating look at a neglected artist; click here for another essay on Eng’s work from China Daily, by Frank Bren.

Ingmar Bergman Retrospective at Film Streams

Friday, February 1st, 2013

Film Streams in Omaha is running an retrospective on filmmaker Ingmar Bergman.

Bob Fischbach interviewed me for a piece on the Ingmar Bergman festival at Film Streams in Omaha that begins today. Bob’s piece in the Omaha World Herald notes that: “‘You can’t say you’ve got an understanding of film unless you see the films of Bergman,’ Dixon contends. ‘His films are riveting, they have great entertainment value and they’re absorbing experiences. From the beginning, he addressed the timeless questions of human existence: life, death, love, faith, hope. Meditations on what it is to be alive, to have friends and lovers, to face mortality.’

Ernst Ingmar Bergman was born in Uppsala, Sweden, in July 1918. His father was a Lutheran minister, later chaplain to the king of Sweden. He directed more than 60 films and documentaries, most of which he also wrote. Bergman also directed 170 stage plays, through which he developed a core company of actors for his films: Max von Sydow, Liv Ullman, Bibi Andersson, Ingrid Thulin, Anders Ek and Gunnar Björnstrand among them.

He was one of the first European filmmakers to break through in the United States. Three of his films won the foreign-language Oscar: The Virgin Spring (1960), Through a Glass Darkly (1961), and Fanny and Alexander (1983). Another, Cries and Whispers (1974), was nominated for best film.

Dixon said Bergman’s career began with a stroke of luck: being born in Sweden. Through its Svensk Filmindustri, the nation underwrites the first film of its best students from the national film school. ‘He never had to cater to anyone other than himself,’ Dixon said. ‘He created cinema as an art form because he didn’t worry about audience feedback or test screenings or producers.’ When Dick Cavett once asked Bergman what he’d do if a producer told him to change a script, Bergman replied that he’d tell the producer to go to hell. ‘That was a deeply inspirational model to filmmakers around the world, an art form undiluted,’ Dixon said.”

You can read the entire piece here; a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see the work of an undisputed master on the big screen. Don’t miss it.

“Writing on Water”: Digital Cinema Packages, Key Delivery Messages, and the Ephemerality of Digital Cinema

Monday, October 8th, 2012

Click here to view a video on projecting DCPs using KDMs; not so easy, is it?

Val Lewton, the 1940s film producer, once observed that making films was “like writing on water,” since the film medium was so inherently fragile. But that’s nothing compared to the new regime of Digital Cinema Packages.

The latest evidence of this comes from the New York Film Festival, where on September 28, 2012, Brian de Palma was scheduled to present his new film, Passion, to a sold out audience. But there was just one problem; since the movie came as a DCP, or Digital Cinema Package, and not an actual film print, when it came time to screen Passion, no one could unlock the files.

Result: no screening.

As Bob Cashill reported in the web journal Pop Dose, “In what was for me an unprecedented event in my decades of festival going, the screening was cancelled. Why?

Three words: Digital Cinema Package, or DCP.

What is DCP? It’s heralded as the future of cinema projection, but really it’s the present; chances are your local multiplex has gone DCP, as your local independently owned theater or repertory house struggles to find a way to pay for it as celluloid goes up in smoke. The brave new world of digital projection comes with pitfalls, however. Like, if the system malfunctions, and no one can get a grip on what went wrong, you’re [out of luck], as the Film Society of Lincoln Center learned the hard way last night.

If you follow the festival at all you’ve been reading a lot about how Richard Peña, its programming director, is bowing out after 25 years of distinguished service. ‘I bet he wishes he retired last year,’ grumbled a fellow patron as we all exited Alice Tully Hall after more than an hour of waiting.

Peña, who had to keep coming onstage to deliver the worsening news, said that the DCP has been tested without incident minutes before showtime, but minus a code [the KDM, or Key Delivery Message, that] had somehow locked down. Minus someone who could fix the code . . . [and] that was it for the evening.

After a half hour or so of waiting Peña announced that audience members who couldn’t stay could get refunds at the boxoffice. Only 10-15% seemed to. Which was touching; we wanted to see the movie and were willing to put up with the inconvenience . . . But it was out of Peña’s hands, or De Palma’s hands, or any human hands. It was a glitch in the machine, a hiccup in the software. And with that the 50th anniversary of the New York Film Festival was tainted.”

Here’s what happened.

Once upon a time, when you screened a film at a theater, you took the 35mm print out of the shipping case, threaded it up, checked the aspect ratio, focus, and sound level, and ran the film. If you wanted to do an additional screening for a critic, or add an extra show, you could. If you wanted to switch the movie from one screen to another in your theater, you could. If short, you had the time, and the freedom, to have some measure of control over the projection of the films you screened.

Not anymore.

With digital projection comes a series of encryption codes, called KDMs, which must be used to “unlock” the digital files for projection, often within windows as short as four hours. Switching screens or adding additional shows now has to be cleared with the distributor every time, usually by e-mail. You can’t just pull the film and run it anymore. It has to be approved, and unlocked with a KDM, on a case-by-case basis.

As this excerpt from “Digital Cinema Technology: Frequently Asked Questions” notes, “KDM is the acronym for Key Delivery Message. The security key for each movie is delivered in a unique KDM, one KDM per per digital cinema server. The security key is encrypted within the KDM, which means that the delivery of a KDM to the wrong server or wrong location will not work, and thus such errors cannot compromise the security of the movie.

The KDM is a small file, and is typically emailed to the exhibitor. To create the correct KDM, however, requires knowledge of the digital certificate in the projection system’s media block.

KDMs have only a few [emphasis added] conditions associated with their use:

A KDM will only work for one movie title on one server.

A KDM will only work within the prescribed engagement time period.

To play a movie on two servers requires two KDMs for the movie. This means that to move a movie to a 2nd server requires a 2nd KDM. The engagement time window of the KDM is set per the business requirements of the studio distributing the movie. If your KDM expires and you don’t have a new KDM to continue on the engagement, then you cannot play the movie.”

This is about hegemonic studio control; nothing more, or what theorist Tim Wu refers to as the desire to control “The Master Switch.”

DCPs and KDMs take real authority away from the exhibitor; it’s a hypersurveillance system that comes from the top down, and limits what theater owners can do. Digital projection may have many significant attributes — superior picture and sound, no scratches, clean, crisp images — but now movies don’t really exist unless they’re unlocked by the KDM, and have no portability. This is what the studios want. But I’m not sure it’s good for the public, or critics, or exhibitors — a real measure of discretionary freedom has been lost.

Click here, or on the image at the top of this page, to view a demo video on how the process works.

This is an Orwellian future, nothing less.

A Short History of Film, Second Edition

Saturday, October 6th, 2012

A Short History of Film

Second Edition

Wheeler Winston Dixon and Gwendolyn Audrey Foster

Rutgers University Press

A history of world cinema that makes its past as vibrant as its present—now revised and updated through 2012.

Praise for the previous edition:

“This is the film history book we’ve been waiting for.” —David Sterritt, Chairman, National Society of Film Critics

“Highly recommended for all collections.” —Library Journal (starred review)

The second edition of A Short History of film provides a concise and accurate overview of the history of world cinema, detailing the major movements, directors, studios, and genres from 1896 through 2012. Accompanied by more than 250 rare color and black and white stills—including photographs of some of the industry’s most recent films—the new edition is unmatched in its panoramic view of the medium as it is practiced in the United States and around the world as well as its sense of cinema’s sweep in the 20th and early 21st centuries.

Wheeler Winston Dixon and Gwendolyn Audrey Foster present new and amended coverage of film in general as well as the birth and death dates and final works of notable directors. Their expanded focus on key films brings the book firmly into the digital era and chronicles the death of film as a production medium.

The book takes readers through the invention of the kinetoscope, the introduction of sound and color between the two world wars, and ultimately the computer generated imagery of the present day. It details significant periods in world cinema, including the early major industries in Europe, the dominance of the Hollywood studio system in the 1930s and 1940s, and the French New Wave of the 1960s.

Attention is given to small independent efforts in developing nations and the more personal independent film movement that briefly flourished in the United States, the significant filmmakers of all nations, and the effects of censorship and regulation on production everywhere. In addition, the authors incorporate the stories of women and other minority filmmakers who have often been overlooked in other texts.

Engaging and accessible, this is the best one-stop source for the history of world film available for students, teachers, and general audiences alike.

WHEELER WINSTON DIXON is the James Ryan Professor of Film Studies at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. His many books include Death of the Moguls: The End of Classical Hollywood, 21st-Century Hollywood: Movies in the Era of Transformation (co-authored with Gwendolyn Audrey Foster), A History of Horror, and Film Noir and the Cinema of Paranoia (all Rutgers University Press).

GWENDOLYN AUDREY FOSTER is a professor of film studies in the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, and with Wheeler Winston Dixon, Editor in Chief of Quarterly Review of Film and Video. Her many books include 21st-Century Hollywood: Movies in the Era of Transformation (co-authored with Wheeler Winston Dixon) and Class-Passing: Social Mobility in Film and Popular Culture.

Second edition available in paper, hardcover and Kindle March, 2013 from Rutgers University Press.

Film Noir: The Directors

Saturday, April 21st, 2012

I have a new essay on the noir films of director Robert Wise, just out in this excellent new collection edited by noir specialists Alain Silver and James Ursini, Film Noir: The Directors, published by Limelight Editions.

Here’s the first paragraph of my essay:

“Robert Wise’s case as a noir director is a curious one; Wise seemingly freelanced throughout his career, and never really came down decisively in any one genre, swinging all the way from musicals to horror films, with every possible stop in-between. His youth was marked by constant movie going, and he soon got tired of the limited opportunities offered by his hometown, and trekking to Hollywood, got a job in RKO’s cutting department. At first an apprentice, working on music and dialogue tracks, and then a full-fledged editor, Wise rapidly rose through the ranks of the studio hierarchy, and by 1939 was cutting complete “A” level features, such as William Dieterle’s version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and in 1940, Dorothy Arzner’s feminist tract Dance Girl Dance.

In 1941, however, Wise’s skillful editing came to the attention of Orson Welles, fresh off his 1938 War of the Worlds Mercury Theatre radio broadcast, which memorably caused panic in the New York/New Jersey/Connecticut tri-state area, with its vivid depiction of a Martian invasion in Grover’s Mills, New Jersey, presented as a news broadcast in real time, a format that completely fooled a rather unsophisticated radio audience. Welles, who has been working in radio as an actor on series such as The Shadow since the mid 1930s, and before that as a director and impresario for a variety of outré Broadway productions, was rewarded with a three-picture deal at RKO for his audacious success, and sequestered himself in a screening room at the studio, watching everything from newsreels and travelogues to John Ford westerns, often in the company of the gifted Gregg Toland, a brilliant director of cinematography who was part of the RKO studio staff. For Welles, Wise edited Citizen Kane (1941), a film that surely needs no introduction to readers of this volume, and which, along with Boris Ingster’s Stranger on the Third Floor (1940, and also an RKO film), heralded the dawn of the noir era.”

If you want more, you’ll have to buy the book.

As one ecstatic reader of the volume noted of Film Noir: The Directors on the Amazon.com website, “some 20+ directors are profiled & discussed with many examples of their works and overall style. This book is well-produced, slick looking with generous illustrations and lots of informative film analysis. A gold mine for fans of bleak character driven tales of fatalistic heroes hopelessly lost in a dark world of never-ending shadows. Film noir heaven (can one possibly exist?) doesn’t get any better than this. Absolutely essential.”

It’s a real honor to be included here, and Alain Silver and James Ursini are holding a book signing in Los Angeles to mark the publication of Film Noir: The Directors at the famed Larry Edmunds Bookshop, located at 6644 Hollywood Boulevard, on April 28th at 5PM, followed by a screening of Slaughter on Tenth Avenue and Edge of the City, with a special appearance by noir actress Julie Adams at The Egyptian Theater, as part of their noir series for the American Cinematheque.

I’ve seen a number of films at the Egyptian, and the projection — still 35mm, thankfully — is perhaps the best I’ve ever seen. If you live in the Los Angeles area, stop by Larry Edmunds Bookshop, pick up a copy of Film Noir: The Directors, and then walk down a few blocks to the Egyptian theater, located at 6712 Hollywood Boulevard, for a night of pure noir on the street of broken dreams.

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.”

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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