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Posts Tagged ‘Hollywood’

Forthcoming Book – Black and White Cinema: A Short History

Tuesday, July 21st, 2015

I have a forthcoming book on Black & White Cinema from Rutgers University Press.

From the glossy monochrome of the classic Hollywood romance, to the gritty greyscale of the gangster picture, to film noir’s moody interplay of light and shadow, black-and-white cinematography has been used to create a remarkably wide array of tones. Yet today, with black-and-white film stock nearly impossible to find, these cinematographic techniques are virtually extinct, and filmgoers’ appreciation of them is similarly waning.

Black and White Cinema is the first study to consider the use of black-and-white as an art form in its own right, providing a comprehensive and global overview of the era when it flourished, from the 1900s to the 1960s. Acclaimed film scholar Wheeler Winston Dixon introduces us to the masters of this art, discussing the signature styles and technical innovations of award-winning cinematographers like James Wong Howe, Gregg Toland, Freddie Francis, and Sven Nykvist.

Giving us a unique glimpse behind the scenes, Dixon also reveals the creative teams—from lighting technicians to matte painters—whose work profoundly shaped the look of black-and-white cinema. More than just a study of film history, this book is a rallying cry, meant to inspire a love for the artistry of black-and-white film, so that we might work to preserve this important part of our cinematic heritage. Lavishly illustrated with more than forty on-the-set stills, Black and White Cinema provides a vivid and illuminating look at a creatively vital era.

Here are some early reviews:

“Dixon covers the entire history of black and white movies in one volume, and talks about the films and cinematographers who created these films, and often got little credit for their work. Fascinating and compelling, this is essential reading for anyone who loves movies.”—Robert Downey Sr., director, Putney Swope

“Dixon has an encyclopedic knowledge of film history, and a subtle and well-honed aesthetic sense. He rescues important films from oblivion, and finds fresh angles of approach to films that are already familiar.” —Steven Shaviro, Wayne State University

“Wheeler Winston Dixon’s colorful study of black-and-white cinema reaffirms yet again his unfailing expertise as a critic, historian, and dazzlingly fine writer. Indispensable for students, scholars, and movie buffs alike.”—David Sterritt, author of The Cinema of Clint Eastwood: Chronicles of America

“In his latest book, Black and White Cinema, Wheeler Winston Dixon rediscovers the art of cinematography in those glorious black-and-white movies from Hollywood’s classic age.” –Jan-Christopher Horak, Director, UCLA Film & Television Archive.

More information here; my thanks to all who helped with this rather large project.

TCM Partners With Women in Film

Wednesday, June 17th, 2015

As Lisa de Moraes reports in Deadline Hollywood, “Turner Classic Movies (TCM) and Women In Film Los Angeles have joined forces for a multi-year partnership dedicated to raising awareness about the lack of gender equality in the industry, while celebrating the achievements of women who have succeeded in film.

TCM has earmarked the month of October for the next three consecutive years for the programming initiative. The network will present films from female industry icons, and provide context on the historical and current states of the representation of women in the film industry.

The month-long programming initiative hopes to take a deeper look at gender inequality in the film industry, and will tackle pro-social elements (research, resources, tools, etc) to assist women filmmakers in furthering their careers. Women in Film Los Angeles will partner with TCM throughout this programming initiative to offer research and resources.

‘The issue of gender inequality in the film industry is both timely and immensely important to shine a light on,’ said TCM’s general manager Jennifer Dorian. ‘We’re thrilled to partner with such a well-respected organization as Women in Film in order to address and promote the empowerment of women in our industry.’

‘For years, I have dreamed of having a network reach out to our organization with a true interest in our advocacy and the ability to collaborate on programming that will reach audiences everywhere,’ WIF President, Cathy Schulman said in today’s announcement.

In April, WIF and Sundance released results of a study they conducted that concluded men outnumbered women 23-to-1 as directors of the 1,300 top-grossing films since 2002, and found gender stereotyping to be one of the main reasons for the disparity.”

An excellent idea – long overdue.

Maggie Gyllenhaal “Too Old” To Play A Romantic Lead – Hollywood

Monday, June 1st, 2015

Maggie Gyllenhaal speaks out on an issue of real concern in Hollywood, and actually, in cinema worldwide.

As Margarita Noriega, Jonathan Allen, and Javier Zarracina report in Vox, “Maggie Gyllenhaal rapped Hollywood last week by revealing she was turned down for a role as the love interest of a 55-year-old leading man because she was ‘too old.’ She is 37. Her experience frustrated and surprised many, and we wanted to know just how typical it is of the way Hollywood really works.

A woman’s sex appeal sunsets on Sunset Boulevard in remarkably shorter time than its genetic reality, and Gyllenhaal’s story is part of a trend of female leads disappearing from romantic roles in top box office films after the actors turn 30. The average age of a romantic female lead is about 30.

In a review of the top-grossing romantic films since 1978, among the two primary romantic subgenres (comedies and dramas) the average age of female leads is about 30 [see the complete chart here].

Only a handful of actresses over 30 played romantic leads in these films, and usually as older seductresses of young men. And if they’re women of color, forget it. On the big screen, women go from Lolitas to Yentes so fast it seems like they’re living in dog years.

Just 12 percent of the 100 top-grossing films last year had female protagonists, says Patricia White, chair of film and media studies at Swarthmore College: ‘The disparity corresponds to erroneous market wisdom that only films by, about, and targeted to men (especially young ones) make money. Films are judged by opening weekend grosses with worldwide releases now common.’”

As Gyllenhaal told Sharon Waxman in The Wrap, “there are things that are really disappointing about being an actress in Hollywood that surprise me all the time. I’m 37 and I was told recently I was too old to play the lover of a man who was 55. It was astonishing to me. It made me feel bad, and then it made me feel angry, and then it made me laugh.”

Read the entire article by clicking here, or on the image above – essential reading.

Hollywood Goes Commercial – Really!

Wednesday, May 6th, 2015

As Alexandra Bruell and Maureen Morrison report in AdAge, more and more stars are doing commercials.

As they write, “the plot of Sofia Coppola’s 2003 film, Lost in Translation, follows a movie star played by Bill Murray as he films a commercial in Tokyo to avoid lowering his status in Hollywood. That ploy certainly wouldn’t work today — and it certainly wouldn’t be necessary.

Matthew McConaughey’s Oscar-winning turn in Dallas Buyers Club coincided with a series of TV commercials for Lincoln. Charlize Theron is the face of Dior. Brad Pitt hawked Chanel No. 5. Katy Perry pitched Proactiv acne treatment. And Kevin Spacey replaced a talking baby as the face of E-Trade. In other words, adland has the keys to Hollywood.

‘There’s no question the relationship between entertainment and advertising is grander and more important and deeper than it’s ever been,’ said David Droga, creative chairman at Droga5. Some shops are capitalizing on the trend by aggressively teaming up with more established entertainment powers: In the past few years, Deutsch has formed relationships with music labels such as Capitol Records; Edelman started a joint venture with United Talent Agency; and Droga5 sold a 49% stake to William Morris Endeavor.

Agencies know what brands want from stars. ‘They need agencies for our strategic thinking, for our link to brands and money, for our consumer understanding,’ said Mr. Droga, whose shop is working with Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, a star of Furious 7, to build his own brand. Brands have also made it easier for celebrities to lend their star power by improving production values and telling more relevant stories. BMW Films, which starred celebrities including Madonna and Clive Owen in 2001 and 2002, led the way.”

In short, it’s a new day in Hollywood – click here, or on the image above, to read the whole article.

The Horrifying Future of Movies – Nothing But Franchises

Thursday, December 18th, 2014

Here’s an absolutely brilliant and deeply impassioned piece by author Mark Harris.

Writing in the journal Grantland, Harris sees a future of nothing but utterly predictable franchise films, made by cost accountants and others with no real investment in film as an art form, which it most certainly is. As he writes, in part, “I believe that what studios see when they look at the bumper-to-bumper barricade of a 2015–20 lineup they’ve built is a sense of security — a feeling that they have gotten their ducks in a row. But these lists, with their tremulous certainty that there is safety in numbers, especially when numbers come at the end of a title, represent something else as well: rigidity and fear. If you asked a bunch of executives without a creative bone in their bodies to craft a movie lineup for which the primary goal is to prevent failure, this is exactly what the defensive result would look like. It’s a bulwark that has been constructed using only those tools with which they feel comfortable — spreadsheets, P&L statements, demographic studies, risk-avoidance principles, and a calendar. There is no evident love of movies in this lineup, or even just joy in creative risk. Only a dread of losing.”

You can see the entire article by clicking here, or on the image above; essential reading.

William Friedkin’s Sorcerer (1977) and How Star Wars Changed Movies

Sunday, April 27th, 2014

William Friedkin’s superb film Sorcerer (1977) has finally been released on Blu-ray.

As Jason Guerrasio notes in the April 21, 2014 issue of Vanity Fair, “In 1977, there was no director hotter in Hollywood than William Friedkin. His last two films, The French Connection and The Exorcist, were instant classics and now he was about to release what he considered his masterwork, Sorcerer. What he didn’t foresee, however, was that a modestly budgeted science-fiction epic called Star Wars would destroy his beloved film and change the Hollywood landscape forever.

A reimagining of Henri-Georges Clouzot’s classic The Wages of Fear, Sorcerer stars Roy Scheider as one of four outcasts who take on a lucrative but dangerous job of transporting unstable dynamite through a South American jungle in dingy trucks. Though the film boasts solid acting and a thrilling sequence where the trucks must cross an ancient bridge—not to mention an incredible score from Tangerine Dream—production on the film was marred in delays and on-set conflict.

Things didn’t get any better when Paramount released the film a month after Star Wars, quickly becoming a casualty of the craze over George Lucas’s intergalactic opera. Outside of the occasional repertory screening over the decades, Sorcerer was forgotten. Then in 2012, Friedkin sued both Paramount and Universal (which had international rights) to find who owned the film. Through that, Warner Bros. bought it and on Tuesday will release a remastered Blu-ray of the film; a select theatrical release is planned as well.”

[As Friedkin told Guerrasio] “I’d say 80 percent of American films today are all offshoots of Star Wars. If Star Wars had failed you would not have the kind of films that are popular today. Hollywood has given over completely to the comic-book and video-game heroes, and rightly so because they are successful, the audience wants them. But that hunger, that desire, was tapped by Star Wars. None of us could see the tsunami of Star Wars. It happened rather quickly. You know, virtually every studio passed on Star Wars. I had a company with Coppola and [Peter] Bogdanovich then called the Directors Company, it was financed by Paramount and we had the right to green-light any films we wanted, outside of our own, at a certain budget.

Francis brought us the script of Star Wars and Peter and I looked at it and said, ‘What the hell is this? Who’s going to direct this?’ And he said, ‘George.’ And I said, ‘I don’t think so.’ I couldn’t believe George could pull it off, and I was wrong. I think fate plays the most significant part in all of our lives and that’s what happened. For a long period there I enjoyed nothing but success: critical and commercial. All I was interested in then and now is how close I could come to my vision of the film I wanted to make. In those days, we had no idea what kind of money films made, until Star Wars. It wasn’t in the papers every day. The quality of the film is all I cared about. Of course, you’re disappointed, but I never guided my life by any of that.”

It’s a remarkable and all but forgotten film; check out the Blu-ray now.

Jean Renoir on Val Lewton

Saturday, December 7th, 2013

Renoir worked briefly with Val Lewton on Woman on The Beach (1947).

As he observed in a 1954 interview, “I’ll say a few words about Val Lewton, because he was an extremely interesting person; unfortunately he died, it’s already been a few years. He was one of the first, maybe the first, who had the idea to make films that weren’t expensive, with ‘B’ picture budgets, but with certain ambitions, with quality screenplays, telling more refined stories than usual. Don’t go thinking that I despise ‘B’ pictures; in general I like them better than big, pretentious psychological films they’re much more fun.

When I happen to go to the movies in America, I go see ‘B’ pictures. First of all, they are an expression of the great technical quality of Hollywood. Because, to make a good western in a week, the way they do at Monogram, starting Monday and finishing Saturday, believe me, that requires extraordinary technical ability; and detective stories are done with the same speed. I also think that ‘B’ pictures are often better than important films because they are made so fast that the filmmaker obviously has total freedom; they don’t have time to watch over him.”

You can read more about Renoir’s thoughts on this by following this link.

Hollywood Moves to The Web

Sunday, February 26th, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Modest Proposal: Apple Should Buy Hollywood

Friday, January 27th, 2012

As Erick Schonfeld notes in TechCrunch, instead of constantly dealing with Hollywood for programming content, why doesn’t Apple just buy the studios, and take control of the entire process from top to bottom?

We’ve already had one example of this, when NBC bought Universal rather than pay the licensing fees for the Law and Order franchise; this is the next logical, if somewhat dispiriting, step in the process — and, of course, majority control of NBC/Universal was subsequently acquired by Comcast. And Apple certainly has pockets deep enough to do this: they have $96.7 billion in cash just lying around, piling up interest, waiting to be put to use.

As Schonfeld writes, “Apple wants to bring Hollywood into people’s homes in an entirely new way. Hence all the chatter lately of a real Apple TV in the works. However, before TVs can become more than a hobby for Apple, there is a major roadblock it must get past. The reluctance of Hollywood to license its best movies and TV shows at the price Apple wants to pay.

In that light, all the cash Apple has been hoarding and building up for years now becomes more intriguing. Its staggering piles of money now total $97.6 billion, to be precise. What are they going to do with all that cash?

One thing they could do is buy their way into Hollywood. Think about it for a second. Today, Apple could literally buy Time Warner ($38 billion market cap), Viacom ($29 billion), and Dreamworks ($1.6 billion) combined, and still have $30 billion left over. If it waits a few more quarters it could snap up News Corp ($49 billion) as well. Only Disney, which is worth $70 billion, would take a while longer to save up for.”

Well, this could certainly happen, but I shudder to think of the consequences if it does. Certainly, the conglomerization of the studios in the 21st century as mere ancillary arms to tech giants is nothing new, as Gwendolyn Audrey Foster and I documented in our new book, 21st Century Hollywood: Movies in the Era of Transformation, and the studios long ago ceased to be independent entities, run by creative despots who viewed the cinema as both a business and an art form.

The studios today are run by disinterested business people, make programming to order, prefer pre-sold projects to original ideas, and keep an eye relentlessly on the bottom line. The days when the legendary head of production Irving G. Thalberg of MGM could suggest that certain films should be done simply for art’s sake, as loss leaders for more commercial projects, are long gone.

A world in which only mainstream, multiplex movies exist would be death of individual thought, and the ultimate, hegemonic triumph of Adolph Zukor’s grand dream of vertical integration, where everything from production, to distribution, and exhibition, is controlled by a single entity, as Tim Wu details so trenchantly in his brilliant book The Master Switch.

But it seems the logical step for Apple. With that much money to fool around with, why not? From a business point of view, of course. As for a creative enterprise, well, that’s going to be left for the DIYers at the margin, as it always has been, and always will be — the people who effect real change, and create new work in the face of corporate control.

You can read Erick Schonfeld’s entire essay by clicking here, or on the image at the top of this page.

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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