Catastrophic relationships and circumstance (Before the Rain)

Before the Rain is a film produced in 1994 and it is a three part story that brings together a story of relationships and the impact each part has on the people that surround them.

We have the first part, named Words, which is about a character named Kiril and his vow of silence he has in a monastery in Macedonia. The story builds a relationship with one of the Monks as well as a girl named Zamira, who has been accused of murder and is hiding from the people searching for her. The other monks find that he has been hiding her and sends him away with Zamira. During their getting away, Zamira’s grandfather and brother finds them both. During an argument, the bother ends up shooting and killing Zamira.

In part two, named Faces, the main focus is on a woman named Anne who lives in London as a photo editor. She is a married woman to a man named Nick, but has an affair with a war photographer named Aleksander. The relationship between Anne and Aleksander dissolves. During the story, it is established that she is now pregnant, supposedly with Nick’s child and during a dinner together with Nick, she states she wants a divorce. Along with this argument going on, a fight between two other people turns into gunshots being fired and Anne’s husband being shot and killed during this moment.

In part three, Pictures, the film goes back to Macedonia but this time, with Aleksander heading back home after a 16 year hiatus. It shows references to the first story with Zamira and the people who are searching for her, which are shown to be relatives of Aleksander. The story presents Aleksander having a past relationship to Zamira’s mother and that their is a conflict between the two different families. In the end, after Zamira is accused of murder, Zamira’s mother asks Aleksander to save her daughter as if she was his own. In the end, as Aleksander is trying to save Zamira, Aleksander is shot and killed by one of his own family members.

In each of the parts of the film, it shows tragic circumstances that happen between each relationship in the story. There is death rampant in this film and it encompasses each part with terrible circumstances to deal with.

In the first part, with Kiril seeing Zamira dying after being cast out of the monastery is the tragic circumstances. Her stating to her family that Kiril loves her even though they speak different languages is strong and pushes both the softer side for the audience; and the anger moment from her grandfather and brother.

In the second part, Anne has both an affair and marriage that is destroyed by death and circumstances. The relationship dissolves from Aleksander because he quit being a photographer and wants to live a simpler life in Macedonia. This is something that Anne can not do at this moment because of her relationship with her husband Nick. The tragedy with Nick is that they fight with each other in a restaurant and she proclaims she wants a divorce. In the background, an Albanian and Macedonian argue with one another and it turns into a fight. The Macedonian leaves and comes back with a gun and starts shooting people. In the end, Nick was shot and killed and Anne is left to deal with that situation.

For the third and final part of the tragic relationships, it is about Aleksander and his reconnection with his homeland. He tries to reconnect with past relationships but as he is doing so, a conflict involving the two families come into play and someone ends up dead, and the supposed culprit is the daughter of an Albanian woman who was once friends with Aleksander. The daughter, Zamira, has been caught and is being held by Aleksanders family. He ends up going to try and save Zamira at the request of the mother, but is shot in the back as Zamira ends up running off and the beginning of the first story unfolds once more.

The circle of this film is about relationships and what occurs within them. Things seem to go into a circle pattern with some sci-fi aspects of unexplainable instances with each of the stories. In the end, the story shows that life goes in a circle with each moment having hapiness and tragedy built into them.

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Into the Air Duct (Cinematography scene from Alien)

My ode to Alien is a constant repetition, that teeters on obsession, in which I pass off as my passion. I have seen this movie so many times that I know nearly every heartbeat and set-up throughout the entire film. I have read multiple books, screenplays and comic-books along with having watched all the films in the series, both good and bad. This is my creme de la creme, the film above all others and I love showing the goods for why this movie is the best for me.

This movie was an idea written by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shussett in the late 70’s that started as a “Roger Corman B movie sci-fi horror film“, and once picked up by Fox Studios, in hopes of following in the sci-fi juggernaut of Star Wars, began evolving and at the time, a freshman director by the name of Ridley Scottcame on board, hand drawn the story boards and turned a modest budget of 4 million dollars, into a doubled budget of 8.2 million. It was shot in 1978, released in 1979 and watched by me in 1986.

Dan O’Bannon on the set of Alien in 1978

USCSS Nostromo

The mise en scene of this movie has a few different setups. The main setting is of the spacecraft Nostromo, a claustrophobic space tug traveling across space to its final destination of earth. The secondary and third settings for the film is of an alien planet and a derelict spacecraft giving off a “distress” signal in which the crew of the Nostromo have to investigate the source. During the film, it sets up a naturalistic lifestyle with each of the seven crew members seeming to already know each other and a hierarchy has been established.

Derelict and alien planet

I do not want to give away the plot of the film for others who have yet to see it. You will be spoiled when watching this specific scene I have decided to break down for its shot by shot analysis.

This is the moment in the film when Dallas (played by Tom Skerritt), the captain of the Nostromo, makes the decision to go into the air ducts in hopes of cornering the Alien into an airlock and launching it out into space. He sets up two teams (Ripley and Ash; Parker and Lambert) at different air duct openings with motion sensors as he moves through the ducts with a headset and flame-thrower.

Any statements for shots with the camera will be italicized.

0:00-0:11 – Shows the hatch to the air vent opening and Dallas announces that he is at the first junction to his crew. This is a long shot placing Dallas in front of the air duct. 

0:12-0:14 – Shows his first team, Ripley and Ash, responding to Dallas. This is a 2-shot of both Ripley and Ash.

0:15-0:19 – Dallas calls out to Parker and Lambert and Lambert responds that she is trying to get a reading (of Dallas). This has the long shot of Dallas, a 2-shot of Parker and Lambert, and a glance-object-glance of Lambert looking at the motion tracker.

0:20-0:24 – Ripley states to Dallas the airlock is open. There is an glance-object-glance shot showing the airlock door and Ripley.

0:25-0:34 – Dallas is watching a hatch close in front of him. This is a medium shot that is set up right in front of the air duct and it closes singularly on Dallas in the framing of it as it closes.

0:34-0:38 – Lambert states she has a reading on Dallas. Glance-object-glance shot in the stabilized 2-shot of Parker and Lambert.

0:39-1:29 – Dallas is slowly crawling through the air vent where he looks like he barely fits with little lighting except for the light from the flame thrower. He asks his team to open the hatch to third junction. The shot is a medium to close up shot with the camera remaining static and Dallas moves towards the camera. It also has a glance-object-glance when he is looking at the vent and asks to have it opened.

1:30-1:43 – Dallas calls to a very nervous looking Ripley and asks her to close all hatches behind him. The is a single close-up of Ripley along with an quick cut of the hatch being closed after Dallas’ order.

1:44-1:56 – Dallas walks through the ducts and as is walking away, multiple hatches are being closed behind him. This is a medium shot with him walking away to the right of the camera.

1:56 – 2:00 The tracker is being shown that has Dallas as a dot in the middle of the tracker screen and another dot has come onto the screen. Lambert says she thinks she has it, dallas responds with where, and Lambert says it (the Alien) is somewhere around the third junction. This is a glance-object-glance of Lambert and the motion tracker.

2:01-2:23 – Dallas says he is moving on and begins walking forwards again. This is a medium shot along with a quick cut to Lambert in a single shot with a worried look on her face. The shot continues on Dallas as he walks again towards the camera and after a shot from underneath him as he walks over one of the junctions.

2:24-2:46 – Dallas has turned around as Lambert says that it (the Alien) is right around there somewhere and that he has to be careful. Dallas looks down the shaft he crossed over in the previous shot and looks up. He then fires the flame-thrower down the shaft twice. He states that he has reached the third junction and is going down. This is a medium static shot of Dallas looking around and when he fires the flamethrower, it shows a quick cut of the shaft below him and that it is empty.

2:47-2:49 – Quick shots of Ripley worried and Ash straight faced. A single shot for both characters.

2:50-3:10 – Dallas moves down a ladder to the junction below him and then Parker asks whats wrong with the box. Lambert tells Dallas that he is going to have to hold his position for a minute. A medium shot of Dallas underneath and it cuts to the motion tracker screen with Dallas moving downward. Then there is a multiple object-glance-object of Lambert and parker in a 2-shot looking at the motion tracker. 

3:11-3:34 – Lambert announces she has lost the signal but it has got to be around there somewhere. Dallas asks are you sure. She reassures him it has to be around there. There are more quick cuts of Dallas, Ripley, Lambert, and a hatch opening and closing. There is an establishing close-up shot of Dallas putting his hand in some sort of clear liquid and then a medium shot glancing upward of him looking at it. Then another medium shot of Dallas looking and firing his flame-thrower to the left of him.

3:35-3:45 – Close-up shot of Ripley calling Dallas’ name. Then of Dallas looking worried and partly exhausted. There is also a quick close-up shot of Parker.

3:46-3:50 – Dallas with a lot of shadow on him except for part of his face and arms and he is asking if he is clear to get out of there. A medium shot of him at an awkward angle.

3:51-4:10 – As he asks that, the motion tracker shows movement right next to dallas on the tracking monitor. Lambert starts saying for him to move, to get out of there, thats it’s moving right towards him. Dallas looks at the ladder and moves downward. It shows the motion tracker at a close-up shot, then to a close-up of Ripley, then a medium angled shot of Dallas. It shows Dallas looking up towards the ladder and it shows a quick cut of the ladder itself. Two more close-up shots of Ripley and then of a straight faced Ash.

4:11-4:16 – Dallas moves down on the ladder and looks to his right, then to his left and is attacked by the oncoming Alien. This is a medium shot showing Dallas coming into view of the camera looking to his right, a quick close-up of Ripley, and then back to Dallas as he begins to look left, it quick cuts to a close-up of the Alien with its arms shooting outward.

4:17-4:24 – Ripley and Parker call out Dallas’ name as Lambert keeps saying no. It shows a close-up shot of Ripley, then a close-up 2-shot of Parker and Lambert, then back to Ripley leaning her head back and closing her eyes.

This is one of the most intense scenes of the film for me. It establishes the idea that anyone can die in this film and that the sounds and cuts make the dread more palpable. Playing on the idea of seeing less is more and the fact that in 4 1/2 minutes, you see the Alien for less than a second, but that moment sticks in your head.

And also for your viewing pleasure is the original trailer for Alien

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Days of Heaven, or sweeping shots of beautiful pastures (Cinematography & Mise en scene)

When watching Days of Heaven, you have to imagine it like a pot of chili. The ingredients it takes to make chili good is just like the film.  You have multiple set pieces, actors, and plots; like you need spices, vegetables, beans, and meat all simmering in a pot together. It takes a lot of time for the ingredients to cook, allowing each ingredient to release during that time, introducing each part at different time. The result is an explosion of taste the longer the pot simmers. This is what a Terrence Malick film is about, you let everything slowly move over time as it establishes all the pieces. Once this has been accomplished, the buildup is an explosion of massive flavor and art.

Days of Heaven is a movie primarily shot in Alberta, Canada in 1978, directed by Terrence Malick, and starring a very young Richard Gere, Sam Shepard, Brooke Adams, and Linda Manz. Set in the early 20th century, in Texas, as Gere, Adams, and Manz work harvesting crops for a wealthy farmer. What unfolds is a romantic drama of a triangle of love between Gere, Adams, and Shepards characters. This is the setup up for the massive feast on the eyes of the cinematography and mise en scene.

The mise en scene is of the past with many classic settings like farm machines, trains, and billowing farm lands with an old house and wheat fields aplenty. Gere’s character Bill, even though shown as a poor industrial and farm worker, he is typically dressed quite dignified, feeling as though he deserves more than he has. Brooke Adams as Abby plays a very soft spoken character, lesser dressed, yet very beautiful woman following Gere as they hide their love for one another, acting as brother and sister.

Adams is the plot device used in the film that pulls the strength out of both Shepards dying, yet wealthy farmer and Gere’s poor man, who wants more characters. She is what drives both of them to make the choices throughout the film. Manz character Linda is used as a narrator, describing the situations as they unfold in a dramatic manner throughout the film, but within an innocence of a child. The scenes are narrated with an explanation of things told to her by others and also how subtly she views them in a naiveté only seen through a child’s eyes. 

Everything has a very classic and country feel to it. Touched with very little technology and everything is worked on by hand, except for when harvesting wheat, a train ride, motorcycle, and bi-plane/tri-planes. 

The cinematography of Days of Heaven is the full course meal of the film. With its sweeping shots of the lands and environments, medium shots of the characters with them being presented as a center of the scene, and low angled shots of characters through their emotion development. The scenes make the film look like a painting or photograph with each shot being thought out with precision and a critical eye. Every shot in the film tries to capture the right beauty or emotion conveyed to the viewer. This is what leaves a lasting impression and leaves you looking back at the film trying to understand as a viewer why is this film so powerful. 

My view of this film is a lead by example approach. They took the idea of what they wanted to convey, and executed it perfectly to the audience. Making each shot count, or feel like they are all necessary is difficult. This is perhaps why Mallick takes so long in producing films. He wants to make sure every shot, every line, every character is developed so it will impact you as the film moves from one scene to the next.

This is what is called a slow burn film. You don’t know which way things will go for the characters. Each piece slowly progresses itself into moments of beauty and tension, not knowing who is going to stay, who will die, how long will everything last, where will the critical moments be with such a subtle release of each part of the story. Even in the end, the characters left are not given a resolution and that leaves a feeling of being unsettled.

I have my ups and downs with Terrence Malick. His films are considered to be slow going and feels like they go on forever. With Days of Heaven, the story is consistent for the 1st and 2nd acts, but the end resolution is something that leaves you pondering what is going to happen to everyone and why did it happen this way? I think it is about seeing the scope of a poem on a big screen, leaving the audience up to their own resolution and giving us beautiful set pieces and shots for the whole film. The scope of this film is truly a piece of art and gives everything an important role, from the subtle wind blowing in the wheat fields, to the energetic exhibition of the flying circus.

Terrence Malick actually drew his inspiration through turn of the century paintings, including Andrew Wyeth’s painting Christina’s World, which can explain the feeling of this film feeling like a painting.

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The focus of Mise en Scene in Blade Runner.

Blade Runner is a film released in the early 1980’s in which I never saw it in the theater, my experience was on a grainy quality film called VHS. The movie still spectacularly blew my mind as a child and continues to do so today. I am now able to enjoy it more critically since I love production design in films. Blade Runner has a high quality of set pieces, matte paintings, vehicles, and costume. The mise en scene of this film is everywhere, it engulfs us and pulls us into the futuristic noir world the director Ridley Scott  produced.

The first thing you see is the grit and grime of the world. The future in the film, shows us how everything is overpopulated and dirty. The neon lights and smoke is shown throughout, with lights being casted through the smoke to enhance the feeling of suffocation. Everything looks wet and uncomfortable, people wear clothing that feels just slightly more advanced and worn. Nothing looks very new. That is the setup for this world.

The next thing you realize is the advanced technology like replicants, cloned animals, flying cars, and futuristic buildings. The replicants are androids made to do our dirty work off world and have a limited life span, in which the plot of the story revolve around four replicants (or skin jobs) that have hijacked a space ship and are renegades and are needing to be retired (destroyed). We see a few different animals in the film like an owl and snake that have been cloned, emphasizes the creatures to be different like serial numbers on a scale, or the eerie glow of the owls eyes. We see the new technology of flying police cars taking off VTOL and soaring through a weathered and industrial backdrop with fire plumes and futuristically designed structures.  

Every set piece we are guided through shows things to be a mess, with the layers of dust and garbage strewn across everything. It seems the future will be cluttered and we will have no place to set a cup or dish. A life of excess that brought us to no where to put things. The city streets are cluttered with people and everyone looks to be trying to find a spot to sit just to eat food at a food stand, like the main character Deckard, who sits across as people walk by with their lightsaber-esque umbrellas. We next see him in a police station cluttered and dirty where he walks into an office that has little room just to sit down. All these places, including his own apartment feel claustrophobic and gives off a feeling of anxiety. 

I want to give a very special addendum to the smoke of this film. Not just the fact that nearly everyone smokes, but that there is a smoke or fog in nearly every scene in the film. It helps to enhance the lighting and make it eerie, but when I see smoke, I always want to cough and it makes me feel like something needs to be cleaned or rectified to get the smoke out of there. The smoke of the film is a very mise en scene piece and it helps establish the way the world now looks. It leads me into the way I feel about Blade Runner.

What I feel with the film is always anxious, in each of the places we are taken to. The mise en scene of all the places we go are messy and busy. It never feels calm or meditative. I wanted to focus on the set pieces for what is “in the scene” which there are many of. I still feel uneasy when watching this film and it sticks with you even after it is over. It takes you to places that we had not seen during the 80’s (now some technologies have been created) but as a child, I was captivated at the way the world looked and the way people acted. 

Now that is has been 30 years since its original release and being able to see this film on Blu-ray and in a director’s cut version. I love the way technology has helped to enhance the production design so subtly. Getting to see details in the city, cars, and clothes show a greater depth and little nuances that you could not see on VHS, Laserdisc, or DVD quality. 

On a final note, I want to leave you with a scene about the artificial owl and the explanation of replicants/clones.

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Silent movies as a precursor to the modern day film…

Edison FIlms

Lumiere Brothers

Georges Méliès A Trip to the Moon

Edwin S. Porter’s The Great Train Robbery

The previous week we had watched Metropolis (1927) and this past Thursday we watched segments of silent films and shorts. These early films show the way that technology move with how often we utilize that technology. The growth of films moved at a spectacular speed that we go from film shorts by Thomas Edison and the Lumiere Brothers in the late 1800’s, to films like Georges Méliès A Trip to the Moon (1902) and Edwin S. Porter’s The Great Train Robbery (1903). These films grew in production value and scale in the matter of less than a quarter century. The scope and shots of the films in their use of of cinematography were still in their infancy stages, but utilized some panning, fade ins and outs, and long and medium shots.

Charlie Chaplin’s The Gold Rush

Carl Theodor Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc/La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc

Dziga Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera/Человек с киноаппаратом

In the 1920’s there was a significant growth in the way films were produced. We had feature length films coming from different countries, including our own like Charlie Chaplin’s The Gold Rush (1925). In France, we had Carl Theodor Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc (La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc 1928). Lastly, in Russia, we have Dziga Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera (Человек с киноаппаратом 1929). These films utilize newer techniques like zoom, glance object glance, and establishing shots. The production of multiple stages in other states and countries are more present along with more advanced editing and composition techniques. In some instances you feel as though you are a part of the film, especially when it zooms in on a character and urges you to take note to what’s going on.

In the Russian film, Man with a Movie Camera, we are taken on a ride through the film as a documentary showing an organic symbiosis in a day in the life of Moscow. It shows the juxtaposition in many of life’s triumphs and tragedies, poor and wealthy, and the reliance and use of technology.

The most significant growth I had seen in any of these shorts or films has to be The Passion of Joan of Arc. The fact that it was produced in 1928 and yet the way they were able to shoot the film looks in some ways that it could have been made today. The terrible truth is that a lot of films of our era, utilize filming techniques less and less because our dependence of technology fixing any of our shortcomings. In turn, it makes many filmakers lazy in the way a film s shot and edited. Some films still come out each year that challenge us as viewers and feed us with amazing shots, sound, and editing that lets us know that there are still many reasons to make films today.

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What makes a film brilliant? Why and how do certain films capture our hearts and minds?

Through all the pain and dopiness I have had throughout the weekend, I was still able to enjoy the film Prof. Wilson directed us to watch, Metropolis. I have always wanted to see this film, due to its impact it has had on film throughout history. I always want to see movies that change the way people view films and with something like Metropolis, you can surely see it. It is a magnificent spectacle with amazing set pieces, overdramatic characters, great effects for its era, and the music. Each of these things helped make the impact of a very old film substantial. These are things that draw me into a brilliant film. What I got from this film is that it can be old and a silent film, but still get your mind swallowing the enticing food it is giving you. The movie tends to be slow at first and you feel like it is going to go on like this for a long time, but it ends up drawing you in and keeps things moving at a fairly decent pace.

All of these things it shows us what it takes for a film to be brilliant. It has to be all facets coming together at the same time to have a passion for the material and objects of what they are creating. It can not just be the actor who brings a film together. It has to be the director, cinematographer, editor, composer, etc. All these things came together quite well for metropolis and you can see why this movie is still talked about for generations.

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Elena through these past 5 years

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