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DP Sean Price Williams on Cinematography and Film History

Thursday, September 21st, 2017

Sean Price Williams is one of the most inventive and original cinematographers working today.

As Jon Hogan writes, at the start of an interview with Williams in the web journal Hyperallergic, “cinematographer Sean Price Williams has been revered by critics and indie film fans for the better part of the last decade. While drawing particular influence from master filmmakers like Robert Altman and Roman Polanski, his visual thinking stays fresh by constantly seeking fellow image makers — whether cinematographers, photographers, or others — who make the vulgar and common beautiful.

Williams’s singular eye has kept him in-demand; you’ll see his name in the credits of four movies in 2017 alone. Michael Almereyda’s Marjorie Prime is a tale of technology simulating humanity and Good Time — the latest from Queens natives Josh and Ben Safdie — is a sprint through the New York City underworld. Golden Exits (which has yet to receive a theatrical release following its Sundance premiere) marks Williams’s reunion with Brooklyn-based director Alex Ross Perry, who has worked with the cinematographer on his four prior features.

However, Thirst Street, directed by Nathan Silver, is the truest visual smorgasbord of the batch. To tell the story of flight attendant Gina (Lindsay Burdge) as she fixates on a one-night stand in Paris, Williams draws inspiration from 1970s European art films and cinéma du look to weave tapestries of color that both beckon and repel viewers in following Gina’s descent. Ahead of Thirst Street’s screening at New York City’s Quad Cinema starting September 20, Williams discussed his unique gift for imbuing stories of misanthropes and criminals with raw emotion and neon glamor.

Jon Hogan: Your first film experiences in New York City grew from your time working at now-closed East Village fixture Kim’s Video and Music. There, you met future collaborators like directors Alex Ross Perry and Robert Greene and actress Kate Lyn Sheil as coworkers. Why was Kim’s such fertile ground for cinematic creativity?

Sean Price Williams: Because it’s a library, and that’s what libraries should be. We could immediately be learning and catching up on the history of cinema with what was available to us, which was a lot compared to now. You have to illegally download, otherwise you don’t have a choice, because the streaming options aren’t very good as far as the history of cinema. I’m shocked by how little FilmStruck actually has. People are like ‘there’s so much.’ No. There’s so little.

JH: In terms of streaming libraries, what elements of the canon are missing or not readily available?

SPW: The first 100 years of cinema are barely represented at all in a legal way online. I encourage everyone to download … I think we have to encourage that if there’s going to be any kind of education for cinema at all. Otherwise it’s just directed to us by Netflix and Amazon, whatever their licensing agreement is. That’s not a way to be guided.

JH: You worked with the late documentarian Albert Maysles. What lessons did you learn from him? How does your vision change when filming documentaries like Maysles’s Iris or Robert Greene’s Kate Plays Christine?

SPW: When I first came to New York, I was shooting stuff for this website that had no means at all. We were shooting mostly documentary stuff (parades, events, concerts, things like that), but I’m not an avid documentary watcher. The documentary and the feature stuff were always criss-crossing, and I didn’t really think of it as two totally different things. I was always trying to make documentaries seem more cinematic with some sort of language that might seem more interesting on a big screen.

When I worked with Al, I knew his movies. I loved his movies. They had an elegance that was cinematic and totally unique to them. When I would go through his dailies as his archivist I would see things in the dailies that were confirmation about the unique kind of eye he had. It’s not something you can really pick up and learn. You can learn some things, but you can’t imitate him. He was impulsive and instinctual.”

You can read the rest of this instructive and inspirational interview by clicking here, or on the image above.

New Film History Book: Hitler in Los Angeles

Thursday, September 21st, 2017

Here, courtesy of The Hollywood Reporter, is a preview of an extremely important and timely book.

As author Steven J. Ross writes, “in March 1934, Leon Lewis, a 44-year-old lawyer and former executive director of the Anti-Defamation League, invited 40 of Hollywood’s most powerful studio heads, producers and directors — men like Louis B. Mayer, Irving Thalberg and Jack Warner — to a secret meeting at Hillcrest, the elite Jewish country club in Cheviot Hills.

For nearly a year, Lewis had used a network of spies (including the son of a Bavarian general) to keep tabs on Nazis and American-born fascists in Los Angeles. Some in the group knew a bit about what Lewis had been up to, but few knew the full extent of his work. As the group settled into the Club Room after dinner, Lewis rose to share what he had learned: Anti-Semites had invaded their studios.

Foremen sympathetic to the Nazi and fascist cause had fired so many below-the-line Jewish employees that many studios had ‘reached a condition of almost 100 percent [Aryan] purity.’ Scarier still, Lewis told them his spies had uncovered death threats against the moguls. He pleaded with them for money to continue his operations so they could keep track of not only how the Nazis were trying to influence the studios but also their plans for sabotage and murder in Southern California. Would the moguls help?

Thalberg promised $3,500 from MGM. Paramount production head Emanuel Cohen matched it. RKO’s David Selznick contributed and said he would canvass the town’s talent agents for additional contributions. By the end of the evening, the group had pledged $24,000 ($439,000 in 2017 dollars) for the spy operation.

Over the next decade, until the end of World War II, Lewis used the money raised from Hollywood to recruit World War I veterans — and their wives and daughters — to spy on Nazi and fascist groups in Los Angeles. Often rising to leadership positions, this daring group of men and women foiled a series of Nazi plots — from hanging 24 Hollywood actors and power figures, including Al Jolson, Eddie Cantor, Charlie Chaplin, Mayer and Samuel Goldwyn, to blowing up defense installations on the day Nazis planned to launch their American putsch.

Even though Nazi plans for murder and sabotage failed, as with today, we need to take this homegrown extremism seriously. Lewis certainly did. While local and federal officials were busy monitoring the activities of communists, his operatives uncovered enough evidence of hatred and plotting to be concerned about the fate of Los Angeles Jews and American democracy. Were it not for Lewis and his spies, these plots might have succeeded.”

Read more by clicking here or above; a dark period of Hollywood history that must be told.

Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Governors Awards

Wednesday, September 6th, 2017

Here’s a really exemplary group of honorees, all deserving of accolades.

As Kristopher Tapley notes in Variety, the latest group of honorary Oscar honorees are – at last – a diverse group. As Tapley writes, “this year’s crop of honorary Oscar recipients, scheduled to be feted at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ annual Governors Awards ceremony on Nov. 11, represents ‘the broad spectrum of what we aspire to do with these awards,’ newly minted Academy president John Bailey says. ‘It’s really fascinating to see the breadth of the four honorees and just how different their careers have been.’

Set for recognition are writer-director Charles Burnett (Killer of Sheep, To Sleep with Anger), cinematographer Owen Roizman (The French Connection, The Exorcist), actor Donald Sutherland (MASH, Ordinary People), and director Agnès Varda (Cleo from 5 to 7, The Beaches of Agnes).

It’s the first slate of Governors Awards honorees under Bailey’s watch, after the cinematographer won the reins of the Academy at the organization’s most recent election just under a month ago. However, Bailey notes that he was ‘totally agnostic’ in the selections, so it’s just a happy coincidence that a fellow cinematographer got the call this year.

‘I’ve known Owen for 35 years or so and he was a president of the [American Society of Cinematographers],’ Bailey says. ‘I never actually worked with him but I certainly have always been incredibly moved by the commitment he’s had to his work and the variety of work that he’s done.’

Bailey has been an outspoken supporter of Varda’s in his time as an Academy governor. As recently as Thursday afternoon, just before departing for the Telluride Film Festival (where Varda’s latest film Faces Places screened), he was speaking with passion about how overlooked she has been throughout her career, particularly as a driving inspiration for the French New Wave movement. Varda’s name has been in the mix for honorary Oscar recognition in the past.

‘We have people who might be under consideration one year, but then their strongest advocates support them the next year and they pick up new ones,’ Bailey says. ‘The two Lauras [Dern and Karpman] were very supportive of [Varda]. It’s so wonderful that dynamic women governors spoke on her behalf.’

Speaking of being overlooked, Burnett knows something about that. Widely respected among filmmakers and cinephiles, he and his work have never quite penetrated the popular discourse. He received a career’s worth of notice 10 years ago, however, when his 1978 film Killer of Sheep finally saw release. ‘There are a number of filmmakers that, in terms of the media and in terms of the so-called studio mainstream, are kind of off the radar,’ Bailey says. ‘But for filmmakers, they are inspiring and committed people.’

And it’s pure happenstance, Bailey points out, that Burnett is set for a sold-out film scholars lecture at the Academy’s Linwood Dunn Theater Thursday night. The event will consist of a talk by Indiana University’s James Naremore pegged to his forthcoming book Charles Burnett: A Cinema of Symbolic Knowledge, followed by a screening of Burnett’s To Sleep with Anger.

But of course, Sutherland makes for the splashiest of the honorees this year, or at least the one most outside the industry will recognize. The most arresting stat to mention here, however, is that despite a body of work that amasses more than 100 features, Sutherland has never received an Oscar nomination.

‘I’ve known Donald going back before Ordinary People and I remember when the nominations came out, I was stunned then, as I have been multiple times,’ Bailey says. ‘But we all know the Oscar nominations are a result of many different factors. [The Governors Awards are] not like the Oscar nominations, where there is a lot of promotion and broad-based cultural support and advocacy. This is purely something that is internal with the Board of Governors, and there’s something about actually being given an award by your peers, rather than the industry at large, that is, to me, incredibly moving.’

It’s especially nice to see Varda, the true pioneer of the New Wave, and Burnett, one of the most unrelentingly individual filmmakers in recent memeory, get such recognition. Varda has long since outstripped the work of her contemporaries Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut, who in the 1960s were the stars of the movement, moving smoothly from film to digital video. And Burnett has created a truly one-of-a-kind body of work under exceedingly difficult circumstances, offering audiences a deeply personal vision that encompasses all of life.

The Award ceremony will take place on November 11, 2018.

Richard Fleischer’s “Bodyguard” (1948)

Wednesday, August 30th, 2017

Here’s a great little film noir, recently released to DVD – check it out.

Since I seem to be in a noir mood today, I’ll follow up my entry on The Big Clock with this neat little programmer from 1948, which I blogged about some time back on the website Film Noir of The Week, ably edited by Steve Eifert.

As I wrote for NOTW, “Lawrence Tierney (whose brother was the equally tough actor Scott Brady) pushes his way through Richard Fleischer’s Bodyguard (1948) with the same brutal assurance he brought to such films as Max Nosseck’s Dillinger (1945), in which he played the title role of the notorious gangster with eerie intensity, and his finest film, Robert Wise’s Born to Kill (1947). But then again, in all his roles, Tierney was really channeling his real life persona of a rabble rousing hellion, who seemed absolutely incapable of staying out of trouble. Tierney is one of the cinema’s unique characters, indelibly identified with violent roles, and in real life, just as much of a loose cannon as he was on the screen.

Bodyguard is a distinctly down-market affair, with a running time of a mere 62 minutes, and was produced by RKO’s B unit, but it still packs a punch; in many ways, the noirs that Richard Fleischer directed for RKO in the first days of his career, such as Follow Me Quietly (1949), Armored Car Robbery (1950), and The Narrow Margin (1952) are his best work, certainly worthy of more attention than Fantastic Voyage (1966) or Doctor Dolittle (1967), which typified the big budget films that dominated the bulk of Fleischer’s career.

Here, working from a script by Fred Niblo Jr. and Harry Essex, from a story by George W. George and Robert Altman (yes, that Robert Altman), Fleischer tells the tale of tough guy cop Mike Carter (Tierney), who is pushed off the force for cutting corners with little things like search warrants and beating up suspects to get a confession out of them, much to the delight of his immediate superior Lieutenant Borden (Frank Fenton).

Fleischer stages the confrontation between Carter and Borden in a series of increasingly tight close-ups, in which each man gradually walks towards the camera, cutting back and forth, until both faces dominate the frame with overpowering intensity. The literal face-off ends when Carter abrupt punches Borden in the nose, and is kicked off the force for good.

In his spare time, Mike looks after (in an odd sort of way) a group of young toughs as a sort of Big Brother, and the film quickly moves to a baseball game, where Mike has treated the kids to a doubleheader in the company of his girlfriend, Doris Brewster (Priscilla Lane, in her final screen performance).

No sooner does Mike take his seat, however, than the slimy Freddie Dysen (Phillip Reed at his most disagreeable) slips in beside him, and offers him a job as bodyguard to one “Gene” Dysen, the owner of a meatpacking plant who has been receiving death threats. Despite a generous retainer, Mike turns the job down, but Freddie persists, and when Mike discovers that “Gene” Dysen is in reality Eugenia Dysen (Elisabeth Risdon, coolly professional as always), and there is another attempt on Eugenia’s life, Mike reluctantly accepts the position.

What follows is a typically violent 1940s noir, with Tierney walking through the role with his customary forthright arrogance – “one side, Dracula” he barks at Eugenia’s startled butler when first entering the Dysen mansion – and Lane offering capable support as his long suffering girlfriend. Naturally, there’s a murder, and Mike is implicated, and just as predictably, has to clear himself despite police interference.

I don’t want to give the plot away, except to note that lurking behind the entire affair is the profit motive – capitalism turned to murder – and Fleischer effectively limns the dark side of post war Los Angeles with deft assurance, ably assisted by the cinematography of Robert De Grasse, and Elmo Williams’ editing.”

You can read the entire essay by clicking here, and see the trailer by clicking here; while you’re at it, why not check out the entire Film Noir of the Week website by clicking here, for a nearly encyclopedic series of entries on some of the most effective – and often overlooked – noirs of all time. It’s nice that Bodyguard is on DVD; many of these films never made the jump to that format. Get it while you can!

A remarkably tight and effective little film; well worth an hour of your time.

“Take The Hardest Path” – Roberto Rossellini’s “Voyage to Italy”

Tuesday, August 8th, 2017

Ingrid Bergman and Roberto Rossellini at work on the set.

In July 2009, I wrote in Senses of Cinema about Rossellini’s remarkable Voyage to Italy that the film “was shot from 2 February through 30 April 1953, on a variety of locations throughout Italy, including Naples, Capri, Pompeii, and at the Titanus studios in Rome, and was a tempestuous production throughout. The plot is simple: an unhappily married couple, Katherine (Ingrid Bergman) and Alex Joyce (George Sanders) are traveling from London through Italy to Naples, where they have inherited a villa.

Their marriage is a shambles, and they quarrel constantly; indeed, it is hard to imagine a more ill suited couple in the history of cinema. Katherine, relatively young and vibrant, seems trapped in a loveless match with the ill-tempered, dour Alex, who thinks only of money, and openly flirts with other women while ignoring his wife. Katherine has made the journey not only to sell the villa, but also in the hope that the “voyage” will reignite the passion of their marriage; instead, as the trip becomes more complex, and fraught with delays and interruptions, Alex’s boredom and frustration turns to outright hostility towards his wife.

In desperation, Katherine recounts to her disaffected husband the tale of a former suitor who, long ago, has been passionately in love with her; but Alex is unmoved, and Katherine seems resigned to the fact that their marriage will end in divorce, as soon as the necessary papers for the sale of the villa have been signed. The couple decide to split up, and spend their remaining time in Naples separately; Katherine visits a series of natural wonders with a succession of paid, only professionally attentive Italian tour guides, while Alex seeks out the company of a group of British nationals vacationing in Capri.

Katherine’s time is nevertheless redolent of the state of her collapsing marriage; viewing the ruins of Pompeii, with human bodies still entombed in centuries-old ash, as well as witnessing first-hand a small volcanic eruption on a tour, Katherine seems lost, lonely, and disconnected from the world around her, yet at the same time she years for some sort of human compassion. Alex is clearly disinterested.

And yet, in the film’s final, unforgettable sequence, as the now-reunited, but still-quarreling couple watch a passing religious procession, they are seized with an unexpected emotion, and fervently embrace each other, declaring their love, and wondering how they could possibly have become so estranged. Their renewal of love is a miracle, entirely inexplicable by any conventional narrative standards; the entire film, indeed, has been consistently moving away from such a reconciliation.

Love appears to have conquered a seemingly irreparable emotional breakdown. It is one of the most unexpected and transcendent moments in not just all of Rossellini, but in all of cinema; as one might imagine, the ending was also highly controversial at the time of the film’s release, and remains so, because it seems to come out of thin air, rather than in response to any section or aspect of the film’s narrative exposition.”

Much of the film was improvised; often Rossellini didn’t really know which direction the film was going in. The actors, especially George Sanders, were often irritated by Rossellini’s seeming indecision during the production, but the director was searching for something through the film, something perhaps related to his difficult and ultimately doomed relationship with Ingrid Bergman, who worked with Rossellini in three of his films, and abandoned her Hollywood career to work with him in Italy.

As I observed back in 2009, “Voyage to Italy is a film in search of itself, a film that only knows its own conclusion when it appears, miraculously, in front of it, arriving at a final destination that no one in the audience could possibly have foreseen. And yet, the final moments of the film seem absolutely ‘right’; indeed, it seems to be the only possible conclusion to the film.” And yet this could not have been an easy path to take; rather, it was a jump into the void, with only the slightest idea of how the film would finally end. And yet only with such a quest can anything worthwhile be made; if you aren’t searching for something, then you are lost.

“When you don’t know which path to take, choose the hardest one.” – Roberto Rossellini

Movie Theaters’ $1.3 Billion Stock Collapse

Friday, August 4th, 2017

2017 hasn’t been that great for movie box office figures – what does the future hold?

As Anousha Sakoui and Emma Orr report on the Bloomberg News website, “Hope is fading for a feel-good ending at the U.S. box office. After several months of flops like Warner Bros.’ King Arthur and EuropaCorp’s Valerian, movie studios and theaters are beginning to acknowledge that their streak of record-setting ticket sales may be coming to an end. AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc., the world’s biggest cinema chain, laid out a worse-than-projected outlook for the North American box office this week.

That announcement dragged down shares of theater stocks, wiping out $1.3 billion from the value of the top four cinema operators in North America since Aug. 1. Even with a new Star Wars, a Marvel superhero movie and the sequel to Blade Runner on the docket for the holiday season, the box office is unlikely to make up for a ‘severe hit’ in the third quarter, according to Bloomberg Intelligence. To date, receipts are down 2 percent in 2017, and AMC is projecting a 1.5 percent decline for the full year.

The concern is that the slump isn’t just a run of bad luck. Cinema operators have managed for years to keep increasing sales by raising ticket prices amid stagnant attendance, but a sharp drop in film going would make that harder to sustain. And the tried-and-true formula of churning out big-budget sequels and cinematic universes populated with super beings seems to be wearing on film goers. Movies featuring once-reliable draws Jack Sparrow, the Transformers and the Mummy did poorly in the U.S.

Meanwhile, competition is heating up. Netflix Inc. and other digital distributors are creating more original movies, and consumers have more demands on their attention than ever, from Snapchat to YouTube. Further exacerbating the trend, studios are expected to push for a new premium video-on-demand window this year.

It’s possible that Hollywood could reverse the trend next year, when a new movie about Han Solo, an Avengers film, and sequels to Deadpool and Jurassic World are scheduled. ‘This is very typical of the movie business,’ said Paul Sweeney, an analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence. ‘You could make the argument that the slate for next year looks really good, which should grow the market next year in North America. That part’s a cyclical thing, and it’s likely to come back.’

And movie-theater operators Regal Entertainment Group, Cinemark Holdings Inc. and Imax Corp. aren’t facing the same level of pressure as AMC, which is carrying almost $5 billion in debt after expanding its empire to Europe, with acquisitions in the U.K. and Sweden.

Controlled by Chinese billionaire Wang Jianlin’s Dalian Wanda Group Co., AMC has become the poster child for China’s incursion into Hollywood. Concern that Dalian Wanda’s international investments may wane is adding to AMC’s troubles. ‘With China cracking down on funding for AMC’s majority shareholder, Dalian Wanda, the cinema chain faces murky prospects given its high debt level and appetite for global M&A,’ wrote Geetha Ranganathan, a Bloomberg Intelligence analyst.”

Now, it could be that we’re just going through a run of bad films – or it could be, as Sakoui and Orr note, that “the tried-and-true formula of churning out big-budget sequels and cinematic universes populated with super beings seems to be wearing on film goers.” I’d argue it’s the latter, and though a new Star Wars or Marvel film may come along that rocks the box office, eventually this is a formula that’s bound to collapse. The figures above show it – theatrical box office is steadily going down.

But then again, what are the theaters to do? Audiences have been force fed junk for so long that they no longer know what a more thoughtful, challenging film looks like – they wouldn’t know how to approach anything that doesn’t have three act plot format, cardboard cutout characters, and a massive dose of CGI. Can you imagine if Ingmar Bergman’s Persona were released theatrically today? Or Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita (which incidentally, holds the record for the biggest box office success for any foreign subtitled film to this day, adjusted for inflation)?

No one would come. Contemporary audiences only want genre films, franchise films, spectacle films, and superhero/heroine films. That’s it. And furthermore, theaters are locked into multi-year contracts stretching into the next decade for upcoming films from Marvel, DC, Disney, Lucasfilm (bearing in mind that Marvel and Lucasfilm are part of Disney) so they have to run their films no matter what.  What are theater owners to do? They could convert their auditoriums into gigantic videogame parlors, with multiplayer games on the screen, but that, too, would eventually fade.

The future is online. The future is streaming. The future is Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and similar companies. The future is people sitting in their living room watching web series, or feature films, on their 50″ plasma, streaming from the web, or cable – if they still live in the dark ages – but the future is not in movie theaters. It costs too much to go out, the prices at the concession stand are out of control (it’s really the only way the multiplexes can make any money), and furthermore, in today’s violent society, theaters are simply not safe. And with Amazon and Netflix making their own features, distributed through their own online network, who needs movie theaters?

The outlook for theatrical exhibition is grim indeed – what can turn it around?

Forgotten African American Women of Early Hollywood

Thursday, July 20th, 2017

Here’s a really important new exhibition at the California African American Museum; above, Iris Hall as Eve Mason in The Symbol of the Unconquered (1920), directed by Oscar Micheaux.

As the notes for exhibition outline, “curated by Tyree Boyd-Pates, History Curator and Program Manager, CAAM, and the Tyree Boyd-Pates, Center Stage [is] an exhibition that considers pioneering African American filmmakers and production companies in the early 20th century that provided African American women the opportunity to participate in front of, and behind, the camera. They challenged disparaging portrayals of black women in Hollywood, and instead conveyed their wit, intelligence, and talent for largely black audiences to admire and emulate. The exhibition runs from June 28 to October 15, 2017.

Produced for American audiences between 1910 and 1950, these motion pictures were commonly called race films. CAAM will screen several rarely seen examples, including Oscar Micheaux‘s Within Our Gates (1920) and The Symbol of the Unconquered (1920), extant clips from Lincoln Picture Company’s The Symbol of the Unconquered (1921, dir. Harry Grant), The Scar of Shame (1929), The Scar of Shame (1941, dir. Spencer Williams), and others. Each film features women protagonists and captures the spirit of entrepreneurship and African American upliftment characteristic of race films from this era.”

As Nadra Nittle adds in an article on the series on the KCET website, “Hollywood has long had a problem with representation and diversity, especially concerning anyone female and nonwhite. In the first half of the 20th century, black women were largely relegated to playing mammy and Jezebel roles. D.W. Griffith’s 1915 Birth of a Nation even depicted African Americans as rapists and imbeciles, leading to a resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan.

The black woman’s unfortunate standing in Hollywood history is why the California African American Museum’s “Center Stage: African American Women in Silent Race Films,” which runs until October 15, is so significant. It reveals how as early as 100 years ago, independent black filmmakers presented complex portrayals of women of color that major studios never fathomed. These silent gems depict black women exploring their religious faith, fighting for the rights of African Americans and in loving relationships. They underscore how even today Hollywood has much ground to cover in its depiction of black women.”

I have been running these films in my classes for years, way back in the 1970s in the 16mm era, when they were first made available in prints from the original 35mm negatives. But with the passing of time, it seems that people forget, and new generations need to be reminded, of the immense value of these works – films, directors, and actors who made an enormous and indelible contribution to the history of the cinema. Not only are these films an essential part of cinema history; they offer an effective antidote to the evils of D.W. Griffith’s ultra-racist Birth of A Nation, which is still being widely screened while these far superior films are neglected. It’s time to change that – forever.

This is an amazing chance to see these key works; don’t miss it if you’re in Los Angeles.

Forthcoming Book: The Films of Terence Fisher

Friday, June 30th, 2017

I have a new book coming out from Auteur Press / Columbia University Press this Fall, 2017.

Tracing the entire career of the British director Terence Fisher, best known for his Gothic horror films for Hammer Film Productions―such as The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) and Dracula (1958)―The Films of Terence Fisher: Hammer Horror and Beyond covers not only his horror films, but also his film noirs, comedies, and early apprenticeship work to create a full picture of Fisher’s life and work.

Based on the work Dixon did in his groundbreaking study The Charm of Evil, this is an entirely revised and rewritten work with new research, new details, and fresh critical insights. Brimming with rare stills, interviews, and detailed analysis of Fisher’s films―both for Hammer as well as his earlier work―this is the ultimate “one-stop” book on Terence Fisher, both in his horror films, and his entire body of work, as well as his legacy to the British cinema.

“This book is a cinephile’s dream, as well as an exemplary work of scholarship. Wheeler Winston Dixon illuminates the movies and the career of Terence Fisher in loving detail, bringing us close to an important director whose work now gets its proper due for the first time.” – Steven Shaviro, author of The Universe of Things

The Films of Terence Fisher: Hammer Horror and Beyond will appeal especially to fans of Fisher, of Hammer horror films, and of British cinema more generally. It made me want to watch and re-watch these movies!” – Daniel Herbert, author of Videoland

“Dixon’s book is the definitive study of Terence Fisher, the director who spearheaded Britain’s 1950s Gothic revival and put Hammer Films on the map of international horror cinema.  An invaluable resource that belongs on the shelf of any serious horror fan or scholar.” – Ian Olney, author of Zombie Cinema

“Dixon recreates Fisher’s world of filmmaking with true skill, bringing each movie to life, and highlighting the many challenges that surrounded the director’s projects. The Films of Terence Fisher: Hammer Horror and Beyond provides a valuable guide not just to Fisher, but also to the twentieth-century British Film Industry in general.” – John Wills, author of Disney Culture

Look for it this Fall; my thanks to all who helped with this project.

Klaus Kreimeier’s Origins of Cinema Website

Thursday, June 29th, 2017

Here’s a very interesting website from German film historian Klaus Kreimeier.

This remarkably comprehensive website covers the history of film from 1900 to 1915, and what’s more, has linked videos for nearly every director mentioned, and gives full credit (at last!) to Alice Guy, who is perpetually marginalized (as readers of this blog now full well) from most cinema histories. The site is in English, and offers thoughtful commentary on a wide-ranging group of filmmakers from around the globe, who helped to create the cinema as we knew it in the 20th century, before CGI took over and turned it into something blenderized and unreal.

Of course, Georges Méliès was already moving the cinema into the zone of the fantastic with such films as À la conquête du pôle, L’alchimiste Parafaragaramus ou la cornue infernale, La sirène, Le diable au convent, Les trésors de Satan, Le voyage à travers l’impossible, Le voyage dans la lune, Le voyage de Gulliver à Lilliput et chez les géants and many other pioneering short films, but this site also has numerous selections from many other key figures in early documentary and narrative cinema, with over 900 short films in all.

Absolutely worth a visit – a real resource for cinema historians.

See It: “Wonder Woman” Featurette + Behind The Scenes Footage

Saturday, June 3rd, 2017

Wonder Woman is nearing $100 million at the boxoffice; watch the on set featurette here.

Here’s an extended look at this groundbreaking film, which has proved a smash success at the boxoffice, and signaled a welcome break from the dreary series of ultra-violent, downbeat Warner Bros. / DC films that preceded it – a triumph for director Patty Jenkins and all concerned. And if that isn’t enough, check out this behind the scenes footage, in raw format, here. And finally, here’s an extended interview by Kate Erbland in Indiewire with Patty Jenkins, on the long and winding road to the final film, which was filled with upsets, last minute surprises, and lots of behind the scenes drama.

As Jenkins notes, “My entire career trajectory headed this way, because I one day wanted to make a film like this,” Jenkins said. “I didn’t know that I would be the one who got to make Wonder Woman. In a way, this movie is the movie I’m more prepared for than anything I’ve ever done, because it was always something I wanted. It was worth the wait.

I know that I’m carrying a bit of a weight on my shoulders of what I do represents more than just myself as a director. I wish that wasn’t true, but it is. It makes me think about doing work that I believe in and that I believe I can do well, probably even a hair more than I would otherwise. I never want to set a belief that a woman has to direct a woman’s film, meaning she can’t direct a man’s film. If only films can be directed by people who are exactly the same as that, it’s only gonna limit all of the women more.

I don’t believe that any movie has to be directed by someone like it. In this case, I do think that my perspective on it probably as a woman really changed it and was helpful to this. I am super-comfortable with powerful women. I feel completely relaxed about where the latitude is of that. Like can she still make a joke? Of course she can. Can she still be sexy? Of course she can. That all makes sense to me.”

It’s more than overdue that this has happened. Women started the cinema. Women have been directing films since 1896. Women are completely at home behind the camera. To think anything else is simply sexism – Patty Jenkins had to wait 13 years after her classic film Monster to get this opportunity – I’m glad she hung in there, and I hope it leads to many more projects in the future.

You can read the entire interview here; after you watch the videos above.

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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