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Opening Shots: The American Friend

The opening shot of Wim Wenders' moody color noir "The American Friend" (1977), based on Patricia Highsmith's 1974 novel "Ripley's Game," isn't anything fancy or complicated -- no intricate tracking or crane movement -- but, wow, does it announce the movie. First we hear the sirens and the traffic noise behind a black screen, over which the title is immediately emblazoned in electric red-orange block letters: "DER AMERIKANISCHE FREUND."

Bam! We're there, at street level on the lower West Side of Manhattan. We get a look at a few cars and a truck heading uptown, and the ghostly outlines of the World Trade Center towers that stand in the distant haze -- modern New York looming over this less imposing block of old New York. (They also provide a Roman numeral II to mark this sequel to the Scanners Opening Shot Project, which is why I chose this shot for last week's announcement of Part 2).


Fassbinder or NPR?

View image From "The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant" -- one of the best movies, and movie titles, ever. Say it five times.

Back when the New German Cinema was colonizing America, my friends and I liked to transform our favorite actor-names, especially those from Fassbinder movies, into exclamations. "Ulli Lommel!" we would exclaim. Or, "Gottfried John!" (with a W.C. Fields inflection). Or, "What the Harry Baer was that!?!" The moniker-musik of Fassbinder's cinematographers alone still fill me with joy: Michael Ballhaus, Dietrich Lohmann, Xaver Schwarzenberger, Jürgen Jürges...

My dream was to hear the complete cast and credits of "Berlin Alexanderplatz" read by a National Public Radio on-air personality. Sure, every name sounds great when pronounced on NPR -- and especially "Sylvia Poggioli" or "Corey Flintoff." (I love how the second syllable of "Flintoff" falls off, like it's going over a cliff. Say that last sentence out loud. It's fun.) But what if you put the two together? It could be like peanut butter and chocolate.

What follows is a list of very, very good names for your enjoyment. They are best when you speak them with impeccable diction. And don't forget the umlauts, where appropriate. While you're doing that, can you also figure out which ones are from NPR and which are from Fassbinder? After scrambling the two lists of my favorites I'm not sure I can anymore. I will, however, say this: Rüdiger Vogler. (He's a Wim Wenders actor, not a Fassbinder vet, but he's a damn fine one with a damn fine name and I wanted to get him in here somewhere.)

UPDATE: You want to hear how it's done? Our Man In Istanbul, Ali Arikan, reads some Fassbinderian names with poetic precision here.

Before the jump, here's a few to get you started -- but beware, there are three tricks!

1 Kai Ryssdal 2 Kurt Raab 3 Peer Raben 4 Mara Liasson 5 Ulla Jacobsson 6 Annabelle Gurwitch 7 Elisabeth Trissenaar 8 Ira Flatow 9 David Folkenflik


'The Departed': Choppy craftsmanship?

View image Scorsese and Company: Leonardo Di Caprio, Scorsese, cinematographer Michael Ballhaus (with light meter around his neck), Jack Nicholson. (Others unidentified.)

UPDATE: Revisiting "The Departed."

A number of times while watching Martin Scorsese's "The Departed" I was distracted by cuts that didn't match. I'm not one of those petty "gaffe squadders" who look for continuity errors -- but I was bugged by actors who shifted in space from shot to shot. Sharp-eyed David Bordwell is the first person I know of to have written about these lapses in traditional Hollywood standards of professionalism and craftsmanship -- and a lot more. Check out a series of related entries on From his blog: Speaking of editing: It’s blasphemy, but I’ve been long convinced that Scorsese’s films aren’t particularly well-edited. Look at any conversation scene, particularly the OTS [over-the-shoulder] passages, and you’ll see blatant mismatches of position, eyeline, and gesture. Spoons, hands, and cigarettes jump around spasmodically. In "The Departed," Alec Baldwin somehow loses his beer can in a reverse shot, and in the swanky restaurant, it’s hard to determine if there are one or two of those towering chocolate desserts on the table.

This may seem picky, but craft competence is not for nothing. Current reliance on tightly framed faces tends to sacrifice any sense of the specifics of a place. In most scenes, actors are so overcloseupped that little space is left for geography, even the mundane layout of a police station. Choppy cutting also subtly jars our sense of a smooth performance. Why can’t our directors sustain a fixed two-shot of the principals and let the actors carry the scene -– not just with the lines they say but with the way they hold their bodies and move their hands and employ props? Scorsese, though always a heavy shot/reverse-shot user, held full shots to greater effect in earlier movies.

Space on a larger scale matters too. The atmosphere of Hong Kong was conveyed far more vividly in the original "IA" than the landscape of Boston is here. The most concrete locale seems to be a Chinatown porn theatre (filmed at New York’s Cinema Village). There’s also a gilded State House dome that is distressing in its lumpy symbolism. While others are applauding, Bordwell says this time he'll have to sit on his hands. He also presents an illuminating breakdown of shot lengths in Scorsese films here:

Festivals & Awards

'Chicago' leads the parade

"Chicago" waited 27 years to make the transition from stage to screen, but finished strong, winning 13 nominations Tuesday as the 75th annual Academy Awards nominations were revealed. After last year's best-picture nod for "Moulin Rouge," the movie's front-runner status signals a rebirth of the movie musical.