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Fellini’s La Dolce Vita To Be “Remade”

Thursday, July 9th, 2015

Someone is actually going to try to “remake” La Dolce Vita. This will never, never work.

As Anita Busch writes in Deadline, rapidly becoming the most authoritative source of film industry news on the planet, “Some may call it heresy. Others will shrug and say, they did it with Lolita [and look how that turned out]. Federico Fellini’s estate just closed an option agreement with AMBI Group principals Andrea Iervolino and Monika Bacardi to do a ‘homage’ film on the filmmaker’s 1960s classic La Dolce Vita which starred Marcello Mastroianni and Anita Ekberg. Considered one the best films of the era, La Dolce Vita won the Palme d’Or at the 1960 Cannes Film Festival.

The project will be financed and produced by AMBI with Italian producer Daniele Di Lorenzo through his production company LDM Productions banner. How did it happen? Through Francesca Fellini, niece of Federico Fellini and the last blood descendent of the Fellini family.

‘We’ve been approached countless times and asked to consider everything from remakes and re-imaginings to prequels and sequels. We knew it would take very special producers and compelling circumstances to motivate the family to allow rights to be optioned,’ she said in a statement. ‘Daniele, Andrea and Monika have a beautiful vision of a modern film, and considering their Italian heritage and deep appreciation and understanding of my uncle’s works, there couldn’t be a better alignment for this project.’

The classic Italian film about a photographer and his beautiful conquests will be remade in a contemporary setting. ‘Our vision is of a contemporary story every bit as commercial, iconic and award-worthy as the original. These are big aspirations of course, but we have to be bold if we want to match the imprint of the original film and have the utmost confidence this vision will play out beautifully. We’re thankful to the Fellini family and eager to begin collaborating with Daniele, who shares our passion and has been so amazing in bringing this to us,’  said Iervolino.

The iconic comedy-drama followed a photographer/reporter Marcello Rubini (Mastroianni) over seven days and nights on his journey through Rome in a fruitless search for love and happiness. While Marcello contends with the overdose taken by his girlfriend, Emma (Yvonne Furneaux), he also pursues heiress Maddalena (Anouk Aimée) and movie star Sylvia (Ekberg), embracing a carefree approach to living. Despite his hedonistic attitude, Marcello does have moments of quiet reflection, resulting in an intriguing cinematic character study.”

Fellini’s film had one essential ingredient that the new film won’t have – Fellini – like Psycho without Hitchcock. It will probably also be in color, when the original was stunningly effective in black and white. This will be a curiosity, and may even make some money, but it won’t be La Dolce Vita – and it won’t have Fellini’s vision. Nothing anyone can do can replace that, or even replicate it – La Dolce Vita was a personal testament by Fellini of his life at that time in Rome, and the new film – whatever it is – will be something else entirely.

Why not just re-release the original, to give contemporary audiences a taste of real genius?

Glorious Technicolor: From George Eastman House and Beyond at MoMA

Monday, July 6th, 2015

The Museum of Modern Art is running a stunning retrospective of 100 years of Technicolor.

As Ben Kenigsberg writes in The New York Times, “this year [Technicolor] turns 100. The breadth and variety of American films that used Technicolor processes between 1922 and 1955 are apparent in a recent book, The Dawn of Technicolor, 1915-1935 by James Layton and David Pierce, and a continuing series at the Museum of Modern Art running through Aug. 5 . . . [after early experiments with a variety of processes, the company created "three-strip Technicolor," used extensively during the Golden Age of Hollywood, and] with a refined combination of cyan, magenta and yellow on its prints, the company unveiled that process in Flowers and Trees, a 1932 Disney short (showing in the MoMA series Glorious Technicolor: From George Eastman House and Beyond, on July 31 and Aug. 3).

A three-color Technicolor feature, Becky Sharp (Sunday), followed in 1935. The film series presents Technicolor as more than a novelty and tries to convey what the MoMA curator Joshua Siegel calls a ‘misunderstood’ story. He added, ‘I think we have these associations with Technicolor as this kind of garish, highly saturated, candy-color look, which was certainly true of a certain period of filmmaking.’” But that’s just a small part of the story.

As The Museum of Modern Art’s website adds, “This 100th-anniversary celebration of Technicolor, initiated by George Eastman House and presented in collaboration with the Berlinale, Deutsche Kinemathek – Museum für Film und Fernsehen, and Austrian Film Museum, presents more than 60 feature films, along with a rich selection of cartoons, short subjects, industrials, and screen tests. MoMA’s exhibition focuses exclusively on American films made between 1922 and 1955 (the year that Hollywood studios stopped using Technicolor three-strip cameras), with a delirious range of musicals, melodramas, swashbuckling and seafaring adventures, sword-and-sandal Biblical epics, Orientalist fantasies, Westerns, literary adaptations, homespun Americana, and even rare instances of film noir and 3-D.

The exhibition honors Technicolor’s most immortal achievements, presenting rare 35mm dye-transfer prints of The Wizard of Oz, Gone with the Wind, and Singin’ in the Rain. It also deepens and complicates our appreciation of Technicolor’s history—and our nostalgic memories of movie-palace dreams—by revisiting some of the more muted and delicate, even diaphanous, uses of Technicolor in films like The Toll of the Sea and The Garden of Allah.

Even as period advertisements for Technicolor heralded the process as uniquely ‘natural,’ and ‘truer to life’ —a reflection of the painstaking efforts of the company’s technicians and color supervisors to achieve greater verisimilitude—filmmakers like Vincente Minnelli and Rouben Mamoulian were working closely with their cinematographers, production designers, costumers, and makeup artists to explore the expressive, fanciful, and even psychological uses of color by experimenting with light and shadow, chiaroscuro and sfumato, in emulation of Old Masters like El Greco, Titian and Zurburán, or with the brash, electric colors and bold contours of Fauvists like Raoul Dufy.”

Organized by Joshua Siegel, Curator of Film at the Museum of Modern Art, the series runs from June 5 through August 5, 2015, and is an absolute must for all cineastes, even if you’ve seen these films before. The chance to see them projected in their original format- 35mm film as opposed to digital prints – is becoming increasingly rare, and the work and effort that went into this amazing series is really quite amazing. As Kenigsberg notes, “in a sense, digital work can’t compare to the artistry represented by the company’s heyday. ‘Technicolor is not just about color,’ Mr. Siegel said. ‘It’s about light and shadow, and it’s about depth and molding.’ These qualities are lost, he added, ‘in digital projections of contemporary films.’”

This is a must-see exhibition for everyone who loves cinema.

Robert Heide on Stonewall and Greenwich Village in the ’60s

Friday, July 3rd, 2015

My friend, the playwright Robert Heide, posted this excellent article on LGBT culture in 1960s NYC.

As Heide wrote in The Villager on June 25, 2015, “The evening of June 28, 1969, is the starting point of the gay revolution at what was once seen as a notorious mafia-run gay hustler bar by some uptight Villagers — and in particular by the New York Police Department — the Stonewall Inn, at 51 Christopher St.

The place was originally a horse stable, almost 200 years old in 1930 when it was converted into a rental hall for business banquets, birthday and wedding parties. In the ’60s it opened as a gay bar and attracted a mix of wild drag queens and young gay men.

Drags and transvestites were often excluded from the more exclusive gay men’s Village spots, like Julius’ and Lenny’s Hideaway, both on W. 10th St., and the Old Colony and Mary’s, on Eighth St. The cellar dive that was known as Lenny’s is now Smalls Jazz Club.

I myself hit the Stonewall a few times back in the early days with a brownette, pointy-toothed Candy Darling. This was before he/she was given a makeover by the flamboyant Off Off Broadway theater director Ron Link, who taught Candy how to do her makeup in 1930s movie-star style.

The newly glamorized Candy was presented in a show written by Jackie Curtis at Bastiano’s Cellar Studio Theater in the Village called Glamour, Glory and Gold, which featured in his first stage role a young actor named Robert De Niro. For the Candy transformation, Link got out a white henna powder concoction that, when mixed with peroxide and pure ammonia and applied to dark hair, turned it platinum-white blonde, thus changing a drab Candy into a Kim Novak/Jean Harlow blonde bombshell.

Eventually, Candy went on to become a Warhol Superstar: for the final makeover touch Warhol paid to have Candy’s teeth capped pearly white. At about the same time, drag performers Jackie Curtis and Holly Woodlawn also jumped into the Warhol superstar film scene at the Factory.

There are many stories and myths about the rebellion at the Stonewall and the riots that followed and one of them has a Stonewall regular, a black drag named Marsha, hitting a cop over the head with a high-heeled shoe on the first night of the famous police raid.

Some of the Black Marsha myth may have been concocted or exaggerated by the three-day protest crowd. It is known that at one point the police were actually locked (along with Howard Smith, the Village Voice columnist) inside the place by the angry drags and queens and their sympathizers fed up with the constant raids and continuous harassment.

My partner, John Gilman, and I watched some of the big happenings from Christopher Park, not realizing at that time the full importance these events would ultimately have on gay history, gay identity, the gay revolution and the gay liberation that followed. Now, same-sex marriage is O.K. and, in the summer of 2015 with Olympian Bruce Jenner becoming Caitlyn Jenner, sex change has become the new ‘normal’ in America, leading us to a completely different way of looking at the world of transgenders, transsexuals and transvestites.”

Bob Heide’s play The Bed – a scene is pictured above, with John Gilman, Bob’s partner – was one of the key works of the era, and was eventually filmed by Andy Warhol, and archived in The Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh. Bob and John still live on Christopher Street in Manhattan, and continue to push for LGBT rights and recognition, while still writing books and plays – and excellent articles like this one. It’s a really authentic account of what went during this crucial era in American culture. You want to know how it really was? Check it out.

You can read the entire article by clicking here, or on the image above.

Philip Cohen – Photography as Art

Friday, July 3rd, 2015

My old friend Philip Cohen is a master photographer – great to see his new work!

Philip Cohen, who was part of the original line up of my band Figures of Light, and with whom I worked on a number of films in the 1960s and 70s, is now a commercial and art photographer in California, and his work is absolutely terrific. He just sent me this image of his newest exhibition, which is sensational, and if you click on the link above, you’ll go directly to his home page, featuring a portfolio of his work, and much more.

As he says about his craft, “when photographing artwork I’m always looking for the one angle that sums up the work most succinctly. However very often the only way to show what’s really happening is to shoot details: pictures taken from a different angle or way close up or both. And you can’t just count on cropping from the overall shot in Photoshop because you won’t be showing anything new.

So shoot the details when you do the overall shots. When shooting details of 2-D work select an interesting composition within the composition to reveal something about the piece that the overall shot can’t show. Shoot these details “full frame” to maximize clarity; cropping in Photoshop later won’t work as well.”

Phil’s own work is a revelation – if you’re ever out his way, check it out – it’s really remarkable.

Francesca Catalano – A Brilliant New Director of Cinematography

Thursday, July 2nd, 2015

Francesa Catalano is a new talent to watch – literally!

Yesterday, at the suggestion of Gwendolyn Audrey Foster, I viewed Luca Boni and Marco Ristori’s low budget horror film, Reich of the Dead (2015), shot in Italy on a minimal budget with English speaking actors – including Andrew Harwood Mills, Dan van Husen, Aaron Stielstra, Ally McClelland -  which would be just another program picture were it not for Francesca Catalano’s absolutely superb CinemaScope cinematography, using a RED Scarlet digital camera to achieve some really astonishingly subtle effects.

From what I can gather, this is her first film as a full-fledged DP, although she has worked in second unit and assistant capacities on a number of films. But on the evidence of her work here, she is clearly a major talent, and someone who is ready to step up to fulltime DP work on a major project. Someone smart will grab her soon – she’s got a style all her own, which uses a good deal of available light, and deeply saturated color, and makes this very minor film well worth watching – sort of like one of Val Lewton’s Gothic thrillers from the 1940s.

In particular, her style of cinematography embraces the principles of tenebrism, which as Wikipedia notes,  “is a style of painting using very pronounced chiaroscuro, where there are violent contrasts of light and dark, and where darkness becomes a dominating feature of the image. The technique was developed to add drama to an image through a spotlight effect, and was popular during the Baroque period of painting.”

I wrote her to ask for her thoughts, and she responded, in part: “Thanks so much for your note. I really love [the painter] Caravaggio, and I think everyone who wants to be a DP should know or have seen once in their life some of his great work. You’re right, the movie is done with a very low budget and just a few lights, which is the reason that I tried to use natural light as much as possible, to bring out the colors of the location itself, and enhance the costumes.”

Catalano’s work is really one of a kind – as I told her, it is reminiscent of Caravaggio, but also recalls the work of the great Italian DP Mario Bava in its atmospheric and restrained sense of mood and atmosphere – in short, the vision of a true original, who has obviously studied painting seriously, and instinctively understands how to use light and shadow to create a really remarkable series of images on a very limited budget.

American DPs often approach their work as if it’s just another assignment, and expect most of the color grading to be done in post-production, but here, working with minimal resources, Catalano shows how much can be done on the set, using the qualities of the scene itself, and taking real risks with her compositions, to achieve something really extraordinary.

All in all, Catalano has the sensibility of a true artist.

New Book: Historia del cine mundial – Guía esencial

Friday, June 26th, 2015

Ma Non Troppo has just published a Spanish language translation of our book, A Short History of Film.

Written by Wheeler Winston Dixon and Gwendolyn Audrey Foster, our textbook A Short History of Film (Rutgers University Press, 2013) has gone through six re-printings and two editions in the United States; now, there is a new Spanish language edition published by Ma Non Troppo in Barcelona, translated by Isabel Hernández Argilés.

The Spanish title is roughly translated as History of World Cinema: An Essential Guide, From the Precursors to Today’s CGI, and is described by the publisher as “an exciting book on the history of the seventh art – [a] must for any fan – this concise history of cinema provides a comprehensive and accessible perspective on the main movements, directors, studios and film genres from 1880 until today. In addition, more than 250 outstanding stills and photographs accompany the text, to familiarize the reader with the key directors and films of the motion picture industry.” We’re very glad to see this new edition of our book make its public debut, in Castilian Spanish, which will be distributed in Spain, Argentina, Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia, Uruguay, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico and elsewhere in South America.

As Library Journal noted of the English-language version in a starred review, “this excellent introduction stands out in a crowded field with its lively, accessible writing, broad coverage, and particular focus on traditionally marginalized figures in film history…the most striking aspect of the book is the coverage of women, African Americans, and Third World filmmakers, which strongly complements its solid coverage of American and European film. Illustrations abound, and even the best-versed cineaste will find new films to track down after reading the breezy, enthusiastic analysis in this book. Highly recommended for all collections, this text would also make an excellent textbook for introductory film-studies courses.”

So, here’s to reaching a wider audience.

Norman McLaren’s Pas de deux (1968) – A Forgotten Classic

Wednesday, June 24th, 2015

Norman McLaren’s classic short film Pas de deux deserves a wider audience.

Growing up, this film was everywhere, and now it seems to have vanished from our collective memory. It’s a superb short film by the gifted animator Norman McLaren, created near the end of his long career at the National Film Board of Canada. As the NFB notes, in this hypnotic film McLaren uses “cinema effects that are all that you would expect from this master of improvisation in music and illustration. By exposing the same frames as many as ten times, the artist creates a multiple image of the ballerina and her partner (Margaret Mercier and Vincent Warren).” Pas de deux received 17 awards, including the 1969 BAFTA Award for Best Animated Film and an Academy Award nomination.

This is just another of the many, many brilliant short and feature films that have been plowed under by the relentless onslaught of mainstream multiplex fare; and while there are numerous bootleg copies of this film circulating on the web, even one with a supposedly “enhanced” music track, which one commenter rightly noted was “an insult to McLaren,” this is the original version, as uploaded by the NFB to Vimeo, and thus available to all to watch, and marvel at. Pas de deux was made near the end of the photochemical era of moving image production, and McLaren and his associates push the limits of conventional optical printing to their absolute edge in this film, which remains as entrancing as it was when first created.

There really isn’t much more to say; I’ll let the film speak for itself.

Spike Lee’s 4 Little Girls

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2015

In this deeply trying time in our nation’s struggle for basic human rights, this is a key film.

Spike Lee is, of course, the most important and influential African-American filmmaker working today, and one of the most important and influential filmmakers working today, period. In 1997, Spike Lee created a brilliant and moving documentary on the horrific September 15, 1963 murder of four African-American girls in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama.

As Wikipedia notes, “Lee had first intended to create a dramatic reproduction of the incident, but decided that would not be the best approach. He shifted to a documentary. Once he secured funding, Lee went to Birmingham with a small skeleton film crew. He wanted to have the families be as comfortable as possible. Ellen Kuras was the Director of Photography and Sam Pollard the producer/editor.

Kuras said of her desire to shoot 4 Little Girls, ‘I was really interested because my background is in political documentaries . . .I always felt that one of the reasons that I had got into filmmaking was that I wanted to use my craft to be able to say something about the human condition, however I could, in my own humble way. For me this was an opportunity to make a small contribution.’

The film covered the events in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963 related to civil rights demonstrations and the movement to end racial discrimination in local stores and facilities. In 1963 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King arrived in the town to help with their strategy.

People of the community met at the 16th Street Baptist Church while organizing their events. The demonstrations were covered by national media, and the use by police of police dogs and pressured water from hoses on young people shocked the nation. So many demonstrators were arrested that the jail was filled.

A local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan placed bombs at the Baptist Church and set them off on Sunday morning 15 September 1963. Four young girls were killed in the explosion. The deaths provoked national outrage, and that summer the US Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which was signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson.

The film ends with trial and conviction of Robert Edward Chambliss in 1977 as the main person responsible for bombing. The film also delves into black churches being set on fire in Birmingham in 1993, giving the impression that while progress has been made, there are some aspects that still haven’t changed. The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary.”

No, it’s very clear that “some aspects still haven’t changed” at all, as the brutal massacre of nine people at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston, South Carolina, on June 17, 2015 has more than aptly proved.

The subsequent campaign to remove the confederate flag from various public places, license plates, and the ban on such merchandise by Sears, Walmart, Amazon and Ebay – something that should have happened a long time ago – is one outcome of this senseless series of murders, but the cost of creating such change is much too high. Nine people were killed, including the senior pastor and state senator from South Carolina, Clementa C. Pinckney.

As I write this, these events are still unfolding, and it’s too early to tell if any real positive change will occur as a result of this senseless violence. I know that it has profoundly shaken me,  as well as all people of conscience, in the United States and around the world, and I can only be heartened that perhaps something will come out of this terrible tragedy that will move us all to a better place.

In the meantime, let us remember that the struggle for basic human rights for all goes on day after day, year in and year out, and is never really full accomplished. All we can do is continue to move towards the light, and a better tomorrow.

Spike Lee’s brilliant movie is a reminder of that struggle; if you have not seen it, do so now.

Dorothy Arzner Retrospective at UCLA

Saturday, June 20th, 2015

Dorothy Arzner is finally getting a retrospective of her key works.

As the UCLA Film Archive, responsible for restoring some of the most adventurous and challenging films of the Hollywood studio era writes in the program notes for the series, “The Archive is pleased to commemorate the indispensable career of director Dorothy Arzner (1897-1979) as part of a year-long commemoration of our own 50th Anniversary.  This retrospective features six Archive restorations of Arzner’s work, which have helped to spur scholarship into and retrospectives of the director’s remarkable achievements.  The UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television is also proud to claim Arzner as a former professor.

A remarkable and nearly unique figure in American film history, Arzner forged a career characterized by an individual worldview, and a strong, recognizable voice.  She was also, not incidentally, the sole female director in the studio era to sustain a directing career, working in that capacity for nearly two decades and helming 20 features—conspicuously, still a record in Hollywood.

Distinguished as a storyteller with penetrating insight into women’s perspectives and experiences, Arzner herself emphatically made the point that only a woman could offer such authority and authenticity.  At a time when the marginalization of women directors in the American film establishment is still actively debated, we celebrate Dorothy Arzner, and the Archive’s long association with her legacy.”

Film screened include The Wild Party, Anybody’s Woman, Working Girls, Sarah and Son, First Comes Courage (a personal favorite of mine), Craig’s Wife and Christopher Strong (perhaps her best known films), Dance, Girl, Dance, Nana, The Red Kimona, Merrily We Go To Hell and a number of other titles from her long career, in gorgeously restored prints. If you’re going to be in the Los Angeles area, especially since many of these titles are simply not available on DVD – and as with director Ida Lupino, when is Arzner going to get a box set of her complete works (probably never, unfortunately) – you owe it to yourself to see the work of this pioneering and brilliant filmmaker.

Dorothy Arzner- an American original.

Robin Williams’ Final Performance – “Boulevard”

Friday, June 19th, 2015

I have never been a Robin Williams cultist, but Boulevard seems restrained, serious, and deeply felt.

Actually, I’m quite surprised to be posting this, but Robin Williams has always been full of surprises, from his very earliest work up to the final days of his all too brief career. In the end, there seemed to be a great deal of sadness about him, in personal appearances as well as in his films – though I should make it clear that we never met – and I just got the sense that he was having a difficult time in his life.

So I was surprised to see the trailer for this small, economical film that seems much more successful, at least to me, than most of his more famous comedy work. Completed in 2014, it’s only now getting a shot at a theatrical release. As Michael Miller noted in People Magazine, “in Boulevard, the late actor plays a lonely man trapped by his monotonous life and crumbling marriage. After a chance encounter with a young hitchhiker, Williams’ character begins to climb out of his rut and turn his life around.

‘This is one of the kindest characters Williams has ever played, which makes his self-imposed turmoil – the consequence of not wanting to hurt anyone, least of all his wife – all the more tragic,’ film critic Peter Debruge wrote in Variety when the film premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival last year. ‘Tapping into that same loneliness felt in One Hour Photo and Good Will Hunting, the actor projects a regret so deep and identifiable, viewers should have no trouble connecting it to whatever is missing in their own lives – whether those regrets are romantic, sexual, professional or spiritual.’”  Boulevard is directed by Dito Montiel from a script by Douglas Soesbe.

Boulevard also stars Bob Odenkirk and Kathy Baker, and is slated for a July 10, 2015 release.

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 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. To contact Prof. Dixon for an interview, reach him at wdixon1@unl.edu or wheelerwinstondixon.com

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