Monday, September 05, 2016

Rediscovering Romeo + Juliet

Even though it's often hard to understand what's being said, it doesn't matter. Partly because we all know the story already, at least to some extant (I only knew the absolute basics). But mostly because the emotion tells the story - the emotion, the action, the cinematography.

It seems like this was one of the early MTV-style movies (or were there earlier ones?), but looking at it now, it has an incredible wealth of depth - of characters and detail, all perfectly balanced, in such a way as movies no longer know how to do.

Acting, direction, camera, sound - all stunning to behold. And what's more - all relegated to the skillful telling of the tale. That's what's been mostly lost as the venerable Hollywood of old transformed from supporter of filmmaking artists to profit-driven mega-business mavens who make no decision without consulting those oracles of modern mass entertainment - the almighty focus group, the infallible demographics study, the indispensable computer logarithm.

This page I discovered goes far toward explaining why the movie exudes brilliance, while it could have easily gone so wrong: Baz Luhrmann interview @ Peter Malone

Just a couple of nuggets:

"We don't know a lot about Shakespeare, but we do know he would make a `movie' movie. He was a player. We know about the Elizabethan stage and that he was playing for 3000 drunken punters, from the street sweeper to the Queen of England - and his competition was bear-baiting and prostitution. So he was a relentless entertainer and a user of incredible devices and theatrical tricks to ultimately create something of meaning and convey a story. That was what we wanted to do."

"Hollywood! People have many wrong ideas about Hollywood: firstly, it's much worse than The Player, much more bizarre. In fact it's a community in the desert, made up of people from all over the world, the best people from all over the world.
Now, what normally happens with the internationals - and most players in Hollywood are internationals - is that they are hired with their producer and they pick up American teams. One of my non-negotiables is that I work with my team - we work together, we are a team, we are an environment. Since the success of Romeo and Juliet, I now have an unprecedented deal where working with my team is actually ensconced in the deal." 

"You couldn't set it in the real world because it would then become a social exploration of Miami or LA or Sydney, whatever. So we decided to create a world. That world was created from meticulous research of the Elizabethan world. For example, a social reality for the Elizabethan world was that everyone carried a weapon. Then we found a way of interpreting that in the 20th century. There were schools of swordfighting; they became schools of gunfighting. Only gentlemen would carry weapons, not the poor." 

"I mean, the truth is this: the one thing we know is we don't know much about Shakespeare, but he was sure as hell focused on box office and he is not displeased that he's packing the houses. I know! William Shakespeare was an actor in a company that was competing with another. All they cared about was packing the house. Who is worried that we put rock music in? Oh, here's the news - he put popular songs of the time in his shows because it was a good way of telling a story!" 

"It is true we are intensely visual, and that intense visual language has to be freeing, not oppressing. We make pictures. Cinema is like opera, strangely. That's why cinema directors do a lot of opera and vice-versa, but not necessarily plays. They are the synthesis of the visual, the plastic, the written, the acted, the audible, the audio arts, synthesising all those things into one singular statement... but in the telling, the visual representation is a good 50% of that." 

"We shot in Mexico and Mexico is very, very, very Catholic with Catholic iconography everywhere. The giant statue in the middle of the city, that is Mexico City, with Jesus' statue put in the middle of the city. That's an electronic addition. All the iconography was about the fact of the plot point that when you marry, it is in the eyes of God. Families can't pull the couple apart. So the slightly-on-the-edge priest says, `but actually, if you do get married, the families can't do anything about it; so it's a way of forcing them to stop running around killing each other'. It's a key plot point in the play. It's very weak dramatically. So you have to have the audience believe that no-one questions religion, no-one questions the existence of God or the power of Jesus Christ. So when Juliet says, `No, if thy love be honourable, thy purpose marriage', Romeo could not say, `Look, you don't have to get married to have sex'. There's no argument about the fact that they existed in a religious context in terms of their thinking and beliefs. So it turned out like an Italian/Mexican/South American location. I mean, when you're in Mexico, religion is absolutely wrapped up with politics." 

Maybe I ought to stop posting excerpts and put the link up again, huh? Let the man tell it himself: Baz Luhrmann interview @ Peter Malone

Ok, I can't resist - one more for the road. Scenes from the movie were cut up and montaged together for this, but the song is from the sound track, and it all works together beautifully:

God, it's been so long since a movie commanded so much power and did it with so much style...

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Boiling my face!

I'm starting to record voiceovers for a new youtube channel I'll be creating soon, and I've been finding my voice does not like to cooperate! A little internet research turns up that a good way to improve your voice for speaking is to practice singing. It makes perfect sense if you think about it. Talking and singing are the same thing really, just one is more rhythmic and melodic than the other. So I've been watching a lot of youtube videos about voice training - especially for singers, and I spend a good 20 minutes or so most days singing along with the radio or iTunes. I never used to think I was a person who could sing, well, since I was a kid anyway. And I'm not saying that I'm actually getting good or anything, but there is definite improvement.

I ran into what seemed to be a hard limit though - it seems like there's always some level of swelling in my nasal passages, as if I have a permanent cold or something. Not sure if it's always like that - I never really paid attention before, but since I've started doing voiceovers it's been constant.

So I've been boiling my face and throat! Haha - sorry - steaming them actually. Holding it over a pot of boiling water for 10 minutes or so, then gargle some hot tea, and just yesterday I got some Chloraseptic and Halls cough drops which all seem to be helping. Oh, also some saline nose drops and Nasocort if I really need it. Today I hardly notice any swelling at all, though there's still a little, way in the back, like where the sinuses meet the throat.

I consider this an important part of my filmmaking system, so I'm including it here for future reference, and maybe other people can benefit from it as well.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

The original StopMotionAnimation.Com is back online!!!

I'm stunned!! It's been so long since I heard any news about this, I had pretty much given up hope of it ever happening. But I just checked in at SMA and discovered the announcement. Here's a direct link to the archive for anybody who remembers it or who might be interested to see where it all began:

StopMotionAnimation.Com Archive

Of course I'll add it to the sidebar as well for permanent linkage.

A million thanks to Paul McConnochie, who has faithfully stored it all on a hard drive all this time and apparently has put in a lot of work creating the archive version. I have no idea what kind of work is involved in doing something like that, but I do know how much material he had to sort through, being personally responsible for a vast amount of it. And of course another million thanks to the site's creator and owner Anthony Scott, without whom it never would have existed at all!

I must admit, due to the silence on the issue I as well as many other members lost hope and assumed nothing was being done, and I grumbled a few times that we'd never see it again. I honestly believed all those posts were gone forever, and I felt it as a devastating blow. That site had become a home to me, and a source of neverending inspiration and knowledge about the artform I had come to love so much.

It was much more than that though - it also served as a repository for arcane knowledge and information that quite possibly does not exist anywhere else - from professionals who worked in the stopmotion industry when the giant creatures still roamed their stomping grounds at 24 frames per second, before the specter of CGI replaced them with sleek computer generated ones. The threads there contain incredible amounts of information on everything from tips and tricks to help people make their own stopmotion films at home to mind blowing facts and trivia concerning many of the classic films and animators. Especially with regards to King Kong (the one and only original) - that subject would bring in people who didn't participate on any other subject and who had an encyclopedic knowledge about the film.

Well ok, I better stop before the tears start to flow. I've been extremely busy lately - often too busy to even check in at the new SMA board, which is why I didn't see the announcement until now (need to check and see when it went up). But now I can see I'm going to be spending some reminiscing time browsing the old memories..

Friday, April 15, 2016

Sending Love Around the World

For many years now I've had a link for Jessica Koppe's website in my sidebar, and I kept it there even when she decided to start making her posts entirely in German language. That's because her art speaks the international language - you can 'get it' even if you can't read the words underneath. Visual art crosses the language barrier (which is exactly why I've always loved the European Puppetfilm so much even though often I have no idea what's being said in them!)

What else speaks the international language?

Love, of course!!

And that happens to be the subject of her latest endeavor, an animated film called Liebe (which is German for -  well, I think you already know, right? If not then I've failed miserably!)

Here's the link to her Indiegogo project:  Leibe

Yes, most of the text is in German, as is the video (at least the one I looked at), but she at least listed the perks in English as well, so if you decide to support her you can choose what level you want. I'm assuming that most of my core audience, the ones who go back to when I used to post about the Eastern Euro puppetfilm stuff, aren't overly concerned with needing to read the words, and are primarily visual people like I am. That's why many of us are artists after all, right? Because we have something to say that can't be said in normal everyday speech, or maybe not in words at all.

Jessica, if you see this, I apologize for not making the post sooner - I really wanted to, but suffered a debilitating computer virus that wiped out my internet connection and is still playing havoc with me. I'm only just now starting to be able to get back online, and limping along on this notebook PC that I have a lot of trouble using. Even the simplest things are extremely difficult. But enough complaining!

She explained it to me in an email, but right now I don't have access to my email account, so I'll try to reconstruct this from memory as well as I can. Hope I don't mess it up too much! I believe she said she asked people in her social media network to tell her their most powerful stories about love and what it means to them, and she's taking their responses and turning them into an animated film, I'm assuming in a style like her drawing/painting style. She likes to work on paper, often (always?) on paper that's already been used for something else, so it already has a certain 'lived-in' feel to it. I really enjoy her unusual quirky style and approach.

Let's send some Love across the Atlantic to Jessica, shall we? I for one really want to see the finished film!! I'll definitely be donating to help her complete it. I hope a few of you do as well. 

Friday, January 29, 2016

Building much-needed bookcases

For way too long, this is what my 'library' has looked like. Sad haphazard stacks of books languishing forlorn in a corner of a basement room designated for 'storage' (meaning unrestrained chaos that's essentially the same as the day I moved in this house!) It looked a lot worse than this when I first got started - I moved 4 or 5 huge boxes out of the middle of the floor before taking this picture, to clear the arena for what I'm about to do..

These 3 heavy boxes contain the bookcases that I finally broke down and decided to buy yesterday. I never did buy any before because - well, whenever I look on Amazon all I see are particleboard or pressed paper atrocities with fake wood veneer.  I've got a few of those - I already know if you try to put hardback books on them the shelves will sag in the middle.

I had concocted a far-flung notion to build some modular bookcases that would interlock together but come moving time can be picked up and used as crates, just big enough so they won't be too heavy to carry even fully loaded. Yesterday I decided to get serious and just do it - I started sketching up the design and measuring and realized how freaking difficult it was going to be, and finally decided it was worth it to shell out for some solid wooden (not particleboard!) shelves. Sometimes you just gotta bite the bullet and pay for quality - after all, this is a lifetime investment. My books deserve a decent home!! So I rolled up my sleeves and got to work.

Under construction..

First one done!!

Wow, looking a lot better already!! 

I realized I could use the top surface as another shelf..

Took a quick trip out to Hobby Lobby - it had moved to just across the street from the old location, in a mega-gigantic shopping center - I had to drive around for like 10 minutes to find it! The only halfway decent set of bookends they had was this one with a split dachshund, who's tail had been broken off and glued back on rather poorly, but as a result it was reduced from $48 to $7. 

I've got the second bookcase built - but more pics at this point would be redundant. I might upload some more when I get the room cleaned up and the other shelves done and filled. It really feels good to bring some structure to the chaos. Especially some nice solid birch structure! These things are super strong - made for use in children's classrooms, where they're expected to get climbed on like a jungle gym. 

Monday, December 14, 2015

Bruce Bickford's Cas'l is finally released on DVD + some musings

I've been waiting and dreaming of this for so long I had given up hope and completely forgotten about it, but I just checked out of the blue and it is here at last!!!

Here's a very old video - I haven't been able to find a recent trailer or anything:

This clip is interlaced - I'm sure for the DVD release it's got the deluxe treatment.

Here's the ordering page on his website: Cas'l DVD

I tried to order the special edition from eBay but nothing was found there. Only 100 copies were released, so I guess they're already sold out.

I posted about this on and made some observations about Bruce and his work - a subject I've long been fascinated with. I'll collect those posts here along with the video clips I linked there:

* * *

He tends heavily toward mythology. I happened to be reading Joseph Campbell's The Power of Myth last night and he says just about every culture developed myths in which characters are killed and dissolve into the ground, only to spring forth in different forms - usually as vegetation. These are the myths of people who had recently switched from hunting to agriculture, so now their lives depend on the fecundity of the soil. Bickford's stuff is filled with that, plus characters devouring other characters and mutating into new forms. Heavily archetypal/mythological/psychological stuff. That's why it doesn't follow typical story form - it's more like dream logic.

Bruce is looking like a holy man/ visionary these days:

I noticed another odd convergence between Bickford's work and mythology. He likes to mix up different scales - little puppets beside big ones etc. In Monster Road he's sitting in front of a big window that looks out over a vast expanse of landscape and he says he used to dream of walking "out there" and finding that the houses are really as tiny as they look, and he's like a giant.

Joseph Campbell also talked about the differences between the mythology of forest people versus plains people - the forest people never see the open sky or a horizon line, or anything at a great distance, if they would step out onto the plain they'd think distant things are actually as small as they look and much closer than they really are. Weird that I happen to be reading this just now.

Bickford also seems to be obsessed with growing and shrinking characters and objects - very Alice in Wonderland.

Not only does he look like our idea of a visionary, but he does seem to have access to a glimpse of the primordial forces inside human nature, though as is so often true in mythology his visions are tragic because of some terrible price a visionary always has to pay for that power (like Odin losing an eye to drink from Mimir's well and then only being able to forsee the deaths of all the gods).

I think the reason I'm tuned in to Bruce is because I'm always interested in psychology and especially the subconscious. Mythology is practically a map of the human psyche, since it represents stories and rituals from pre-scientific times that reveal how we thought about nature and our place in it, how we warded off things that frightened us and the various ways in which we put a human face on the mysterious universe - the abyss looking back into us. This is why Freud and Jung made most of their insights by studying mythology. And Bruce seems to exist at a primitive, subconscious level in many ways, mostly because of his complexes and what he refers to as 'dyslexia' that makes it hard for him to differentiate between the 'macrocosm and the microcosm'. Lol well and also all the drugs he did in the 60's!

There are several more new Bickford clips online (new since a few years ago when I last checked) - Monster Road and Prometheus' Garden are up in their entirety now. Not legal I'm sure, but if people can finally see the films some might decide to buy the DVDs and support Bruce.

There are also a couple of clips of him giving talks. Interesting to hear him say he wished his animation was more coherent and had more of a story to it. At one point he said it's like looking into a washing machine, just everything moving all at once, and seeing it makes him feel nervous. He said when he animates he's not worried about story, he just wants to get something on film. This confirms my suspicions that his animation is done compulsively, as a warding-off. I feel like I'm getting to know him on some level now. I notice he sometimes uses phrases his dad used in Monster Road, and that the countless newspaper and magazine pictures George had taped up all over the walls in his house seem to be the material Bruce uses in his films - 20th century American cultural icons and pop culture references.

Historically there's always been a link between madness and prophecy or holiness, because madness opens up the unconscious and brings forth the archetypal forces that normally lie dormant until we're undergoing some important transition or crisis. The disturbed mind constantly sees those nightmarish visions that are locked away most of the time for the rest of us. And psychedelic drugs also open up the consciousness for those who are tuned in to the deep insights. Thinking of it this way it's easy to see why prophecy is always associated with madness and tragedy - they seem to be the price of profound insight into the psyche.

Saturday, December 05, 2015

My new film analysis blog has dropped

I've finally gone public with it. It was created to contain my Black Swan analysis, which has been in the works for some time. It's actually not fully finished yet (the Black Swan analysis), but then each time I think it is I end up discovering new stuff that requires further investigation and more writing, so I decided to go ahead and post it - it'll be a work in progress for some time now.

The latest post is a quick stream-of-consciousness writeup on the character web in Marvel's Jessica Jones, the new Netflix series. Turns out it's all built around abuse and trauma, and examines it in many ways, which for me makes it a  very intriguing show. I love when a work of fiction is built around some theme or idea, and I tend toward the more psychological ones, so this is right up my alley. I also am strongly interested in character driven drama, and JJ is an excellent example of that as well.

So, if you're interested in that sort of thing, pop on by and check it out!!

Oh hey - maybe I should post a link!