19 sept. 2011

Film Aesthetics

Although I am not a film guy per se, I am very sensitive to film aesthetics: the look of a film (lighting, landscapes, costuming); the film score; the style of acting; the quality of dialogue. While Cantet's "Human Resources" is a very good film, I got no joy out its earnestly flat socialist realist style. I like the urban style of blaxploitation movies of the 70s, with their R&B soundtracks and overthetop costuming.

It's hard to beat classic hollywood film before the arrival of technicolor. I can't get enough of the stylized look of Back and White films of the 1940s. Of course, you can't just make a black and white film today and have it come out like those. Woody Allen tried it with "Manhattan." Others have too, but it isn't quite the same, is it?

9 comentarios:

Vance Maverick dijo...

You're using "aesthetics" rather narrowly here, aren't you.

To prove the rule that old B&W visual style can't be recaptured, the exception for me is "The Last Picture Show".

Clarissa dijo...

I always thought I was completely useless in film. The visual imagery tells me nothing, unlike verbal constructions.

But I'm great at analyzing the Soviet movies from 1930ies to 1980ies. These I consider to be real art, as opposed to the entirety of the Hollywood production.

I also really enjoy the Spanish movies of the 50ies and the 60ies. Contemporary movies from Spain, though, leave me cold.

I never know if these preferences have to do with my autism or something other than that.

Anybody who writes anything about film in our area gets published within seconds, as far as I hear. :-)

Spanish prof dijo...

"Anybody who writes anything about film in our area gets published within seconds, as far as I hear. :-)"

Absolutely not true. If your article is good, it gets published in a good journal. If it's not, it gets published in a third tier journal or in Especulo.

zbs dijo...

I disagree re "Last Picture Show"—it's more like "Manhattan" than anything from the 40s or 50s (e.g., "The Big Heat"). Look at the contrast. The costumes. Worlds apart. In the case of the production design, I just don't imagine how anyone can be expected to replicate a professional art director working at the top of his field when his field was the most luxe field in the world and pretty much everyone could recognize the signifiers (compare the wardrobe of the American and European executives in "The Barefoot Contessa"). Period pieces lose that vitality.

it's also worth noting that the contrast of film on era movie screens is (to my eyes) simply not replicable on tape or disc. This is readily apparent if you see a really well-preserved print projected with very good equipment. Of course this is also true of Kodachrome, the poor conservation properties of which make it even rarer to experience its full effect.

Jonathan dijo...

Everything I respond to aesthetically in a film is "aesthetics," so I don't see why my view is particularly narrow. I might not have mentioned everything I respond to. There is an aesthetics of plot and character development too, apart from the look and feel of the film.

I do like "The Last Picture Show." As with Manhattan, the use of Black and White is effective there.

Film studies in my field is at a very high level. I don't necessarily think it would be easy to break into.

Jonathan dijo...

Re: contemporary black and white films. I can like the use of this effect in a 21st century film (or late 20th century) without in any way thinking it comparable to a film from the 30s or 40s.

Vance Maverick dijo...

On reflection, "The Last Picture Show" does make better sense in the case for the prosecution. The closeups of Cybill Shepherd are direct imitations of swoony '30s lighting, but not the rest.

I may have misinterpreted what you meant by "aesthetics", Jonathan. But emphasizing the term without clarification produces an effect rather like John Lennon's self-deprecating joke about his guitar skills -- that he had trouble with the "fingering". As if there were some other aspect!

I like zbs's use of the word "luxe", which does more I think to highlight what you're talking about. Rather like the faces of the beautiful actors, it's an aspect of the films which the makers sought consistently to distill and heighten, an axis of quality. I enjoy it to an extent, but I'm also fond of other varieties of B&W: Soy Cuba, for example, a different order of spectacle.

Jonathan dijo...

That's a great quote from Lennon. I'm going to have to remember that. So aesthetics is everything, and so I can give grudging approval to film that is well-done according to some aesthetics that is not my own, like "Human Resources."

The characters in "The Last Picture Show" are seeing movies in color, in their own fictional world, where the movie house looms large. But we see them in black and white. The movie is set in, what, 1964? "Manhattan" is set in the same period when it actually appears. It doesn't evoke a past period except in its use of 20s jazz in the soundtrack.

I actually think I would be a good film writer because I am responsive to so many aspects of the art form. I just don't want to ruin it for myself by making it a professional obligation.

zbs dijo...

"Soy Cuba" is amazing, I'm not sure anyone is as good as Kalatozov at camera control. I've never seen a good original print (if any exist); the film stock was highly atypical for even Soviet films of the time, combining IIRC high-speed and infrared film in various different sequences and different development processes. Gives it a wide range of responsiveness in terms of contrast. As you suggest Vince, DPs in Hollywood were much more interested in nailing one particular visual quality by very high degree of consistency throughout a film. Of course sometimes they were very different effects, e.g. "High Noon" versus "Big Heat," but in both cases it was one particular ideal pushed all the way, rather than in the case of "Soy Cuba," an expressionistic wildness. Then again it was made in the 60s.