Jim Emerson’s Opening Shots Project is worth your time. It’s food for the hungry mind of the always visually-minded screenwriter. It reminds us just how much information a single image can convey to an audience without one word being spoken. It also shows how the opening shot sets up what the movie’s about, as well as the expectation of what is to come, and in good movies, the first shot and the last are usually connected.
Andrews Culbertson’s “Clashing values in Sunset Blvd.”
“It’s the morally laconic Gillis, a character not unlike Double Indemnity protagonist Walter Neff, who’s most representative of noir. That he’s a B movie writer is apt as he could easily be a character out of one of his hackneyed scripts. Gillis and Norma represent different Hollywoods. He’s from the one that speaks, she the one that was silent. She’s been at its peak, he struggles in its netherworld. Norma has bought into the illusion of the medium, while Gillis views Hollywood strictly as an industry. Upon recognizing Norma, he pays her the cinema’s ultimate backhanded compliment. “You’re Norma Desmond. You used to be big.” Gillis, despite Norma’s response to the contrary (“I am big. It’s the pictures that got small.”), is right. She’s no longer big and only believes she is because of faux fan letters written by her butler Max (who is also her former director and ex-husband). Nonetheless, there are certain individuals, including Cecil B. DeMille, who accord Norma a level of respect commensurate with her status as a former star. Gillis isn’t one of them, and throughout the film he displays a tireless capacity for making cynical observations about Norma and her environs. Yet despite their appreciable differences, Joe Gillis and Norma Desmond share one particular trait vis-à-vis Hollywood. They are both, at that moment in time, outsiders looking in.”
Jayson Harsin’s “Walking the Fine Line Between Clever and Stupid”
“But the melodramatic devices are captive to a kind of Hollywood love story. The choice to focus on Cash’s early life is highly reductive and typical of Hollywood screen formulas. In this story, two major forces seem to propel Cash: a love quest for June Carter, the starlet of royal country ilk, and an Oedipal drive to conquer his father. Both are located in his early life. In a sense, this narrative choice makes the film a narrow psychological study.”
Gary Morris’ “Epic Sweep On Kurasawa’s Sprawling Red Beard”
“Kurosawa’s cinema is large in every sense of the word. He often spent a year or more on preparation, sometimes had enormous sets built, popularized the three-hour movie, drew on elite literary sources like Shakespeare and Dostoyevsky, and tackled the big questions centering on social injustice and the more tragic aspects of the human condition. It’s no coincidence that major western films were inspired by, or practically copy, Kurosawa’s originals (Magnificent Seven’s debt to Seven Samurai, and A Fistful of Dollars’ to Yojimbo, come to mind). Of course, ambition has its pitfalls, and a sprawling project like Red Beard illustrates some of Kurosawa’s weaknesses alongside his obvious strengths.”
Georges Recourt’s “Casablanca: notes on what comprises a truly great movie”
“What ingredients are required to make a truly great movie? Stars? Maybe, but all of the biggest and most famous ones have had mega-bombs. A talented director? Can't hurt, but everyone's made a stinker or two. Great photography and other technical displays? Sure, that's necessary but hardly sufficient, or we'd all be watching Disney nature movies. Good acting? They used to say that Lawrence Olivier could read the phone book brilliantly, but I never really believed that one. What's left? As the old Hollywood line says, there are three things that are mandatory for the best movies: Script, Script & Script! The plot's got to work, and the characters must have realism, depth, and nuance. The story's got to grab you and never let go. What's truly astonishing here is, once you realize how great the Epstein brothers' script (with help from Howard Koch & adapted from a play called Everybody Comes to Rick's) really is, you then find out that much of the final dialogue writing was done the night before shooting each scene, according to Warner legend.”
Paul Schrader & Taxi Driver. Not essential to read but the highlight below was interesting to me:
“At the time I wrote it [Taxi Driver], I was in a rather low and bad place,” Schrader says. “I had broken with Pauline [Kael], I had broken with my wife, I had broken with the woman I left my wife for, I had broken with the American Film Institute and I was in debt.” For several weeks, he drifted around LA, living and sleeping in his car, eating junk food, watching porn. Eventually, when his stomach began to hurt badly, he went to the hospital and discovered he had an ulcer. “When I was talking to the nurse, I realized I hadn't spoken to anyone in weeks ... that was when the metaphor of the taxi cab occurred to me. That is what I was: this person in an iron box, a coffin, floating round the city, but seemingly alone.”
And last but certainly not least (perhaps even the best), I have to mention Darren Haber’s “Deconstructing Francis: Apocalypse Now and the End of the ‘70s.” I loved this article. We could easily lose ourselves in our own stories just as Coppola lost himself in Apocalypse Now:
"Willard dreams of grand destruction, choppers and exploding jungles, visions which appear to drive him to madness, to the smashing of his own reflection. This is a nightly ritual, or an oft-repeated one (he has, we assume, indulgent neighbors). And yet he always awakes, sober, to sunlight, stewing in this memory of madness, fading fast, though this madness awaits him at the end of the day when darkness flares, a vicious cycle of anguish that never ends. In this sense, he is rather like Kierkegaard’s "Unhappiest Man," a man metaphysically displaced, removed from time, whose visions of the future echo the horror of the past … a man who anticipates the future yet whose future has become this enervating present. Thus dreaming of the future is futile, and instead of hope he sees more disappointment, this eternal anxiety."
"There is no way out, no escape hatch, the game is up and Coppola knows it. You can hear it in his voice. In the documentary, his voice grows edgier as production-days mount behind him like corpses. He knows he is sailing toward something far from wisdom … not the Alexandrian Library but the Devil’s Triangle. Since he cannot (or will not) find Kurtz, the dark heart of his movie contains … nothing. Or rather, a nothingness. A vast, amorphous, epically expensive nothingness at that."
"Failure at this point appears inevitable, except – and ay laddie, here’s the rub – he still wants to succeed! Who doesn’t? He still has his ego to contend with, to say nothing of all of those chips piled up in front of him. He has bet the whole enchilada. Too much is at stake to walk away from the table. But he wants to. But he can’t. But he wants to. But he cannot, and cannot afford the self-punishment he so desperately craves but doesn’t want. The contradictions caved in on him. Coppola imploded."
"In this light, Coppola’s sin seems forgivable. His arrogance and cruelty still pluck when we read of it, but it did come back to haunt him. Apocalypse Now was a game he lost from the start, the deck so loaded against him. He played but he didn’t play because it was a rigged game, a virtual game with (demonically) real consequences. He lost his voice, his vision … in other words, everything, the worst possible punishment for the audacious spellbinder. (He certainly landed on the wrong side of the laugh.) Now, of course, he directs adaptations of John Grisham novels, his ambition all but emaciated."
On that happy note, how about some inspirational quotes from filmmakers? We've all read the quotes from all the screenwriters, but we can be inspired by the directors, too, can we not?
I think that a preoccupation with originality of form is more or less a fruitless thing. A truly original person with a truly original mind will not be able to function in the old form and will simply do something different.
Stanley Kubrick (pictured above)
Something becomes personal when it deviates from the norm.
I steal from every movie ever made.
When the first movie to show the anger people have about the war is a grade Z zombie movie, that tells you all you need to know about how afraid of ruffling anyone's feathers people in the movie business are today.
In the NUDE, all that is not beautiful is obscene.
I have swum against the stream all my life. It's not something I feel uncomfortable with. Is it difficult? Is it unpleasant? You bet.
Brian De Palma
All the great legends are Templates for human behavior. I would define a myth as a story that has survived.
The cinema is death at work.
Film is a battleground. Love, hate, violence, action, death... in a word, emotion.
Works of art are never finished, just stopped.
People seek the familiar in films. Whether it be a familiar genre, actors, or a specific kind of emotional gratification, films have become delivery systems for the feelings that people crave. You can't expect, therefore, to do any serious damage to anybody's way of thinking by using such familiar devices.
I just hope that I get a chance to keep making pictures in the atmosphere of freedom to make mistakes, and to find those magical things. Then I don't care what else happens.
If the movie is quiet I generally feel the audience is busy. That's when they're working.
When I create fear, it'll come in the form of a warning. I'll say to the actor, "I'm only going to do this shot maybe three times at the most."
We have to make more idiosyncratic films, but that needn't eschew popularity.
Directing ain't about drawing a neat little picture and showing it to the cameraman. The fact is, you don't know what directing is until the sun is setting and you've got to get five shots and you're only going to get two.
Even as a child, I didn't believe in fairytales. They bored me stiff. On the other hand, reality amazed me.
Making a film is a beautiful mystery. You go deep into the wood, and you don't want to come out of that wood.
I can’t speak for any other director, but I don’t set out to do recurring themes.
I still would like you to feel the enthusiasm that all those people felt in the twenties and thirties, that indeed we had discovered, with cinema, the great 20th-century, all-embracing medium.
Seeing a murder on television can help work off one's antagonisms. And if you haven't any antagonisms, the commercials will give you some.
I have a process where I eliminate dialogue and replace it with actions that can speak the same truth, if possible.
Disney has the best casting. If he doesn't like an actor he just tears him up.
I would define myself as being naive and perverse at the same time. And I think that if that is consistent it will make the tone consistent.
"Based on a true story" is a come-on, the aesthetic equivalent of "no loan request refused." For, at best, the creator has fashioned a film based on his understanding of, interpretation of, and reduction of the report of an actual occurrence.