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Pride

Takes a formulaic approach but is ultimately very effective in its retelling of the fundraising activities of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners. Would make…

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The Boxtrolls

"The Boxtrolls" is a beautiful example of the potential in LAIKA's stop-motion approach, and the images onscreen are tactile and layered. But, as always, it's…

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Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

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Monsieur Hire

Patrice Leconte's "Monsieur Hire" is a tragedy about loneliness and erotomania, told about two solitary people who have nothing else in common. It involves a…

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* This filmography is not intended to be a comprehensive list of this artist’s work. Instead it reflects the films this person has been involved with that have been reviewed on this site.

Inventing David Geffen: The Art of Self-Creation

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"American Masters: Inventing David Geffen" premieres Tuesday, Nov. 20th at 8:00pm on PBS. (Check local listings.) It can also be viewed, where available, via PBS On Demand.

by Jeff Shannon

It was my good fortune to be working at Microsoft when the big announcement was made in March of 1995: Microsoft was entering into a joint venture with DreamWorks SKG, the new film studio and entertainment company founded the previous year by mega-moguls Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen (the "SKG" in the company's original moniker). At the time, Microsoft dominated the booming business of multimedia publishing, and the group I was working in, nicknamed "MMPUB," was producing a dazzling variety of CD-ROM games and reference guides. As an independent contractor I was the assistant editor of Cinemania, a content-rich, interactive movie encyclopedia (later enhanced with a website presence) that was an elegant and in some ways superior precursor to the Internet Movie Database.

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Joni MItchell: "Big Yellow Taxi"

And when she was very young:

Joni Mitchell in Canada 1965 Uploaded by . - "Big Yellow Taxi" is quoted in my blog entry about loneliness.

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"Who Killed Bambi?" - A screenplay

This, for the benefit of future rock historians, is the transscript of a screenplay I wrote in the summer of 1977. It was tailored for the historic punk rock band the Sex Pistols, and was to be directed by Russ Meyer and produced by the impresario Malcolm McLaren. It still carried its original title, "Anarchy in the U.K.," although shortly after I phoned up with a suggested title change, which was accepted: "Who Killed Bambi?" I wrote about this adventure in my blog entry McLaren & Meyer & Rotten & Vicious & me. Discussions with Meyer, McLaren and Rene Daalder led to this draft. All I intend to do here is reprint it. Comments are open, but I can't discuss what I wrote, why I wrote it, or what I should or shouldn't have written. Frankly, I have no idea.

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TIFF 08: Con artistry in Bloom

It seems appropriate that the first screening I attended for the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival should be a movie about stories and con games: "The Brothers Bloom," written and directed by Rian Johnson, maker of "Brick," one of my favorite movies of 2005.

Now look back at that sentence and you'll notice it's a setup for another story. (And con?)

I mean, of course it's going to make sense to me that the first movie I see in Toronto is going to be about storytelling as con artistry, in which stories themselves are the biggest cons of all -- because, then, seeing the movie becomes part of my story, and the lead (or "lede," if you prefer) for the story you're reading now, about my first TIFF 2008 screening. That's the way stories work, and the way we work stories.

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Hitchcockian chills

Hitchcock

I've been loading my thousands of CDs (most of which have been in boxes for about three years) into iTunes in recent weeks and it's been quite a revealing experience. (It explains, for one thing, why I've never been able to accumulate any money. And this project is going to require two 2TB external hard drives, because I'm using lossless compression.) Sometimes it's embarrassing or mystifying. What void was I trying to fill with a Kurtis Blow's greatest hits? I already had "The Breaks" -- one of the earliest non-Sugarhill rap/hip-hop hits -- and "Hard Times" on various compilations... but it sounds good. And I do love compilations, especially those from obscure jazz, soul and R&B labels from the '40s, '50s and '60s (like Minit or Specialty or Sue or Excello), up to the better-known Vee Jay and Okeh and Ace and Commodore, or the bubblegum label Buddah (yes, it's spelled that way). And, of course, various label, period, artist and thematic anthologies put together by Rhino (including the massive Stax/Volt and Atlantic boxes). The "Beg, Scream & Shout!" box is the greatest.

But the reason I'm writing this now is my reencounter with Robyn Hitchcock. I did a piece a while back about the cinematic imagination of Joni Mitchell, and I was happy to reacquaint myself with "My Wife and My Dead Wife" on the album "Fegmania!" It's quintessentially Hitchcockian, reflective of Robyn's eerie ectoplasmic humor (though much of his work is more surreally Cronenbergian, bursting with ghastly biological horrors, as in "Star of Hairs" or "Tropical Flesh Mandala"), and suggesting Sir Alfred, too. In some respects it's a twist on "Rebecca," but funnier. Notice, too, the ways Hitchcock chooses to belatedly reveal what's going on, almost as if you were suddenly catching a glimpse of a ghost out of the corner of your eye. And the final pull-back at the seashore is masterful. This is quite a movie:

My wife lies down in a chair And peels a pear I know she's there I'm making coffee for two Just me and you But I come back in with coffee for three Coffee for three?

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The films of Joni Mitchell: A brief retrospective

View image Hejira: The refuge of the road, a prisoner of the white lines on the freeway...

Joni Mitchell is a gifted musician, a great songwriter, and a damn fine actress. (People always talk about her lyrics, but its her performances that make those words sing.) She's also a terrific director and cinematographer and all-around filmmaker and critic -- and I'm taking exclusively about her recorded music. I've been thinking about this for a long time, and then a thread on girish's blog a while back made me want to write about it. So, here goes. A few of my favorite examples, music and lyrics, analysis and critique (hers), composition and montage:

How about the camerawork in this shot from "The Boho Dance" (from "The Hissing of Summer Lawns"):

A camera pans the cocktail hour Behind a blind of potted palms And finds a lady in a Paris dress With runs in her nylons

I see this as a horizontal dolly shot more than a "pan." And not too much zeroing in on the legs. Maybe a tilt down as the lady drops an hors d'oeuvre, just so you have a chance to notice. Or maybe somebody seated in the foreground spots the flawed stockings from across the room and there's a bit of rack focus to the lady's gams. Maybe we just see her in a full shot, with her back to us, standing in a cluster of other people who can't see the runs that are turned toward the camera. Or, if she's seated, perhaps she crosses or uncrosses her stems briefly, allowing us a glimpse of the telltale hosiery. There are lots of ways to shoot it, but Mitchell tells you what the shot needs to convey so you can come up with the specific compositions yourself.

Then there's this amazing zoom out from "Hejira" (song and album -- my personal favorite):

White flags of winter chimneys Waving truce against the moon In the mirrors of a modern bank from the window of a hotel room

You see the snow-topped chimneys and the moon and you feel the mood. Then your perceptual awareness shifts. The tone drops a bit and you realize what you're seeing is a reflection off a bank building. The music slips higher and you pull back even further. These images aren't just objectively out there. You're watching them from the window of your hotel room.

It's a song about traveling, about getting away, about returning to oneself after the "possessive coupling" of a recent love affair. But it's been fairly impressionistic ("all emotions and abstractions," as she sings in "Song for Sharon") until this point: "I'm traveling in some vehicle/I'm sitting in some cafe." It's an anonymous landscape, dotted with specific observations: "... as natural as the weather/In this moody sky today," or "snow gathers like bolts of lace/Waltzing on a ballroom girl. And then, at the end, you (and the narrator) are actually back in the world, at a specific place at a particular moment, with the understanding that, even as a "defector from the petty wars," it's only until "love sucks me back that way." Jaco Pastorius' gray and wintery bass is just like that moody sky.

If Mitchell has a signature shot, it may be that hotel-room long shot. Like this one overlooking Central Park in "Song for Sharon" (from "Hejira"):

Now there are 29 skaters on Wolman Rink Circling in singles and in pairs In this vigorous anonymity A blank face at the window stares and stares and stares and stares

Or this one from "Harry's House"/"Centerpiece" ("The Hissing of Summer Lawns"):

He opens up his suitcase In the continental suite And people third stories down Look like colored currents in the street A helicopter lands on the Pan Am roof Like a dragonfly on a tomb

Mitchell is also an expert sound designer. Watch (and listen) to this, from "For the Roses" (song and album):

I heard it in the wind last night It sounded like applause Chilly now End of summer No more shiny hot nights It was just the arbutus rustling And the bumping of the logs And the moon swept down black water Like an empty spotlight

Or this atmospheric (and subjective) sound work from "Car on a Hill" (on "Court and Spark"), where the protagonist waits, anxiously and uncertainly, for her lover to arrive in the Hollywood Hills. I think of this song as a kind of sequel to the Beatles' "Blue Jay Way":

Ive been sitting up waiting for my sugar to show Ive been listening to the sirens and the radio He said he'd be over three hours ago Ive been waiting for his car on the hill...

Fast tires come screaming around the bend But theres still no buzzer They roll on...

Can you hear that? Definitely a Surround effect. Squealing tires in the canyons, maybe emerging out of the distant sound of sirens -- you can't quite tell where the sounds are coming from up here -- getting closer, then... no buzzer. The song ends with a repeated circular figure on Fender Rhodes and guitar, with drive-by oboe (or synth), that leaves you -- and her -- hanging...

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Roger writes to readers

For 40 years, I didn't miss a single deadline, but since July, I have missed every one. I also, to my intense disappointment, missed the Telluride and Toronto film festivals. Having just written my first review since June ("The Queen"), I think an update is in order.

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Kubrick and the cosmic zoom

A mighty zoom. It begins here...

... and ends here.

It's been said that what "The Shining" is to the dolly/Steadicam shot, "Barry Lyndon" is to the zoom. Jeffrey Bernstein offers an in-depth exploration of all those slow, still-life zooms in "Barry Lyndon" -- 36 of them by his count, and I believe him! (Here's the .pdf file.) I have so much reading to do.

The zoom, because it is purely optical and does not involve actually moving the camera, has unique visual properties. It tends to flatten the image as it enlarges it (I was going to say "gets closer," but of course that's the point -- it doesn't). Kubrick uses it so that his characters appear to be locked within the frame, and shots are presented like paintings -- portraits or landscapes. It's part of the canvas of the film, as it were. (BTW, my revised 1981 appreciation of "Barry Lyndon," one of my favorite films, can be found here: "Barry Lyndon and the Cosmic Wager.")

Bernstein writes: In "Barry Lyndon" Kubrick elevates a ‘poor cousin’ as it were of film technique—the zoom in progress—to a central position. In the first twenty-one minutes of the film there are six zooms and one zoom-like track-out. The majority of these zooms are elaborate; the shortest in duration lasts no less than ten seconds, while the fifth (the Nora-Captain Quin love scene) lasts a remarkable thirty-four seconds, and the sixth (the opening of the Barry-Captain Quin duel) lasts thirty seconds. Six of the first eleven scenes in the film, including three scenes in a row, begin with elaborate zoom-outs. The audience can’t help but notice the zooms. Perhaps never before in the history of commercial cinema have zooms been employed to be noticed by the audience. And not only to be noticed, but to be thought about as well. It seems to me that Kubrick’s use of the zoom movement in "Barry Lyndon" is the most elaborate and sustained use of zoom movement ever seen in a film.You'll get no argument from me! Though Robert Altman and Vilmos Zsigmond do deserve special mention for their work in "McCabe and Mrs. Miller," "Images" and "The Long Goodbye." In the latter the camera never stops zooming and moving, as if it were bobbing on the waves at Malibu...

(Yes, those last four words are a Joni Mitchell reference.)

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