I was watching a movie this week, a very good one, that will open Friday here in Chicago. As sometimes happens, it led me into a realm of thinking that was not directly connected to it--or perhaps it was.
The movie is "The Mill and the Cross," by the Polish director Lech Majewski. It literally enters into a famous painting, Bruegel's "The Road to Calvary," and walks around inside of it.
Lech Majewski's "The Mill and the Cross" takes place inside Flemish painter Pieter Bruegel's 1564 The Way to Calvary -- as the artist observes, imagines, designs, sketches and paints it. I like to think of it as "Bruegel's 8 1/2," and I have rarely seen more absorbing and imaginative uses of blue-screen and CGI in movies.
Not that it's that simple. An article in American Cinematographer describes the film as "a three-year project that took [the filmmakers] to the Jura Mountains of Poland, the Czech Republic and New Zealand for 48 days of filming, followed by 28 months of postproduction at Odeon Film Studio in Warsaw. Production and post immersed them in digital technologies that included the first Red One to arrive in Poland, 2-D compositing in Flame and After Effects, 3-D compositing in Nuke and Fusion, and 3-D graphics in LightWave." Yeah.
Breugel (Rutger Hauer, acting in a world as fantastical and visually striking as that of "Blade Runner") wanders through the landscape of his painting, occasionally explaining his plans and methods to a patron played by Michael York. Charlotte Rampling is also featured as a model for the mother of Christ. But mostly they, and we, just watch. Breugel examines a dew-bejeweled spiderweb and is inspired to structure his painting along the same lines, with the principal event (Jesus stumbling while carrying the cross to Golgotha -- transposed to Flanders) in the center, yet surrounded by so much other activity (hundreds of other figures going about their business) that it is nearly lost, like the titular event in the artist's "The Fall of Icarus." At the upper left is the Tree of Life and the Circle of Life (the town); on the right, the Tree of Death (breaking wheel raised on a tree trunk) and the black Circle of Death (Golgotha).
Some people are proposing a boycott of Newsweek because of a silly article that criticizes gay actors -- specifically on TV's "Glee" and in the Broadway revival of the Bacharach-David Musical "Promises, Promises" -- for acting too gay in straight roles. This strikes me as fundamentally hilarious for several reasons, the most obvious of which are:
1) I didn't know anyone needed additional incentive to not read Newsweek, since circulation figures indicate that lots and lots of people have been not reading it without making any concerted effort not to do so.
2) "Glee" and "Promises, Promises" are both Musicals, for god's sake. Where would the Musical be without the participation of gay actors? The movie version of "Paint Your Wagon" -- that's where. You Musical fans want to spend the rest of your lives watching and listening to Clint Eastwood singing "I Talk to the Trees"? Then go ahead and complain that gay performers are too gay to star in Musicals.
View image: It starts here...
View image ... and ends here. And nearly everything that happens, except for a slow movement in on the house, happens off-screen.
From Richard T. Jameson, Editor, Movietone News, 1971-81; Editor, Film Comment, 1990-2000:
The opening shot of Joseph Losey's "Accident" (1966) begins under the main-title credits and runs for a minute or so after they have concluded. We're looking at the front of a good-sized but hardly palatial house in the English countryside -- the home, as it happens, of an Oxford don whose academic career has been less than stellar. It's nighttime, tangibly well into the wee hours. No lights are burning, no activity within is apparent. The credits roll without musical accompaniment. On the soundtrack we detect an airplane passing overhead; onscreen, a slight alteration of perspective on the surrounding tree boughs makes us aware that the camera is slowly nudging closer to the house. After a moment, there is the sound of an automobile approaching. The noise grows loud; the engine is racing. Then, a screech of tires and the sound of impact and shattering glass, abruptly cut off. There is a further pause. Then the front door of the house opens, only a hint of light glimmering in the interior. Hesitantly, a man steps out, then begins advancing into the night. Cut to several murky shots impressionistically marking his progress as he moves toward the scene of the titular accident.
The shot, though plain as, uh, day, is remarkable for several reasons. One, of scant concern to most of us, is that with it the director and his first-time cinematographer Gerry Fisher achieved their goal of shooting a color scene that actually looks like what it's supposed to be: a nighttime exterior as seen by moonlight, rather than a day-for-night fakeroo or some other conventional attempt to imitate nighttime via filters and technical trickery. Losey and Fisher went to extreme pains with the film lab to get the shot to look exactly as they wanted it -- even though, as Losey ruefully observed in interview, they knew most theaters would bathe the screen with mauve houselights for the benefit of late-arriving seat-takers, and in any event a few passes in front of the projector's carbon arc would soon alter the image on the emulsion.
So, technically, a real, if effectively unnoticed and ephemeral, coup.
HOLLYWOOD - Of all the kinds of sets they make movies on, the science-fiction sets are the most fun. Here was Michael York, dressed in a 23d Century tunic, holding a ray gun and looking immensely pleased with himself. And all around him, inside the largest sound stage on the MGM lot, were vast plastic domes and rows of ominously blinking lights and strange machines that looked like dentists' chairs run amok.