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Old October 4th, 2005, 06:02 AM   #1
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Lovecraft's "Call of Cthulhu" done as Silent B&W

Check this out: an adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft's literary classic, "The Call of Cthulhu," releasing on DVD. It's been made as it most likely would have been made back when the story was first published... as a 1920's era, silent black and white movie. No CGI. Just the filmmaking basics.

I've seen more than my fair share of silent-era stuff, and I think they really have the look down solid... check out the trailer online. Can't wait to see the whole thing, it's definitely on my list now.

http://www.cthulhulives.org/cocmovie/index.html

Anybody in Portland, OR who wants to check this out in a screening, be sure to attend the Lovecraft Film Festival coming up Oct. 7-9 at http://www.hplfilmfestival.com
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Old October 4th, 2005, 09:50 AM   #2
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Awesome... but alas, this is what happens when i sit on my ass too long and miss on an opporunity to do it myself ;)

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Old October 4th, 2005, 11:25 AM   #3
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Like Stephen, I've wanted to make a Lovecraft-based movie for a while now, and after seeing that god awful trailer, I'm more inspired than ever; inspired to try and stop H.P. Lovecraft films from remaining the cheaply made, ineffective, made-for-tv, bad-by-B-movie-standards, laughably ridiculous Jeffrey Combs vehicles they are currently best known as (not that he's a bad actor, or anything--I love that guy). Though this film does not feature the incomparable Agent Dammers, it still fits a few of the other criteria, and the trailer does not inspire confidence.

Lovecraft's stories are supposed to be GENUINE horror, not goofy, over-the-top, played-for-laughs monster movies, and most certainly not what I'm seeing in this trailer. It boggles my mind to imagine how a group of so-called Lovecraft aficionados can think it's a good idea (a respectful one, at that) to turn any of his writing, much less his most famous story, into this. Just because this is how it WOULD have looked if made in his day does not mean it SHOULD look like that; had anyone attempted this film in the twenties, the film would have looked like this because it would have HAD to, and I feel fairly confident in positing that if given access to better equipment, a filmmaker would have jumped at the chance to use it. I do not wish Peter Jackson had shot Lord of the Rings using technology and techniques out of the thirties and forties; while technically possible, trying to tell a story of that magnitude, and of such a fantastic setting, would have come off as complete, utter nonsense, impossible to lose yourself in, let alone take seriously (some smartasses say the same thing about the films as they are now, but they can keep their fat mouths shut, thank you very much). I am not a visual effects apologist, but unless the story is contemporary and realistic, I fail to see how nineteen twenties methodology makes sense. We're talking about imaginary cities rising out of the water, hundred-foot tall monsters...they need to be believable to be scary, and twenties-era stop motion ain't gonna cut it (I loves me some stop motion animation, but I've never had it scare me, and most definitely not in a film of this vintage). It's sort of like if a group of people decided to build an authentic nineteen twenties race car, using authentic parts and construction techniques. Sure, the finished product has its own value (I, for one, like old cars), and possesses great historical significance, but simply cannot keep up with modern parts and construction techniques (those of, say, a NASCAR vehicle), no matter how hard it tries. You're not getting two hundred miles an hour out of the thing. Likewise, try as hard as you want, an authentic silent film, brimming with every cliche in the book, is very likely not the least bit horrifying. In an era of Jacob's Ladders, Silent Hills, and Session 9s (among whose horror levels I would classify HPL stories), I can't possibly see myself scared by this film. Put yet another way: I'm a big fan of Lovecraft's "At the Mountains of Madness", and would love to make it a film, but I haven't got the budget for the locations/sets required. I do, however, have an abundance of Lego bricks at my disposal. Does that mean it's a good idea to construct miniatures from them? Sure, if I want to turn the story--and, subsequently, its author--into the butt of a joke, but not if I want people to feel honest-to-goodness dread.

Don't get me wrong, I have enormous respect for how much work goes into making a movie (I congratulate these guys on having completed anything, much less an entire film), especially one with so many actors, and I love silent films ("The General" being my personal favorite thus far), but for a story meant to be as disturbing, as sincerely frightening as one written by H.P. Lovecraft, I can't imagine this film wandering any farther from the spirit of the original, short of attaching Bill Murray to star.

But hey, I haven't seen the film, right? Things might be different, maybe I'm just misreading the trailer. Yeah, that's it! I'm gonna go order the DVD to make sure my opinion is valid...:P
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Old October 4th, 2005, 12:17 PM   #4
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well, you raise some interesting issues, robert, but i thought the trailer looked way cool! i actually find a good deal of horror in the old films (dr. caligari, sunrise, metropolis, nosferatu spring most immediately to mind). one of the greatest mind-bending films ever (inspiration to many contemporary filmmakers, including terry gilliam and chris nolan) is "la jetee," which is a series of black and white stills shot on film.

i think it is out of print, but if you can find a copy of the book FLICKER, by theodore roszak, you should grab one. it is a contemporary horror/detective story about an early "lost"-"rediscovered" filmmaker named max castle. but it is loaded with all sorts of fascinating ideas about film itself and how the texture of old film has more depth than the shiny surface structures of modern film. roszak introduces this idea, which i love and have used many times to discuss films, called the "story behind the story." you can have all kinds of special effects and shiny surface structures for delivering the story, but sometimes there is something ineffably captured in the texture of a story or a sort of resonance or depth which often seems to elude modern technology and is often deeply embedded in old films, which frequently portray fairly uncomplicated stories but still have a depth and resonance which contemporary films lack.

my students were always quite moved by screenings of "sunrise," and yet the story itself seems so tame compared to similar modern stories. i would submit that the look, the texture, the lighting and shadow of that old film tells more about the story than the story itself, and to replicate that texture, resonance, and depth using modern technology is very challenging.

in other words, a good story is not the be-all, end-all of a good story, nor is good technology. a good story has a certain je ne sais quoi, which leaves you thinking and feeling about it after it's over. if you consider that standard, there simply isn't much good cinema out there. there's lots of quantity, but how much of it actually is retained past the moment of consumption?

i would submit that peter jackson's first installment of the lord of the rings was fantastic, because he was really trying to bring something sacred to the screen and managed to do so by focusing on the relationships between the characters. what was meaningful about that film was the relationships between characters and the journey itself--their need for each other in completing a journey through fantastical, magical landscape. the other two were flat by comparison to the first, because the focus became on bigger, badder special effects, almost at the expense of the exploration into the nature of loyalty, betrayal, the transcendance of prejudice, etc.

it sounds as if you're irritated because you think this effort somehow strips out the sacred nature of lovecraft's work, which plumbs the depths of horror more effectively and more profoundly than nearly any other author (although i would, personally, put neil gaiman on a pedestal beside lovecraft). and yet, i feel strongly that your equation that the use of special effects tools somehow equates to a more deeply profound or effective film is completely off base.

one of the most profoundly dread-inspiring films i have ever seen is "the fatal game," which is shot on cold, hard, cheap video and completely devoid of special effects. a mountain climber and his trip leader are caught at the top of a peak in a storm, and the leader refuses to leave the man's side, but nor does he have the strength or resources to carry him down the mountain. a classic big-peak quandary (a la jon krakauer's "into thin air"). with nothing else to do, the trip leader films the guy slowly freezing to death. and we get to watch. now THAT'S what i call dread.

Last edited by Meryem Ersoz; October 4th, 2005 at 01:55 PM.
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Old October 4th, 2005, 12:41 PM   #5
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You raise excellent points, as well, and I do think the film has potential, I'm not writing it off completely; it's just not what I personally wish to see from a Lovecraft film.

And while I can appreciate your opinion of the latter two LotR films, I can't say I felt the same thing. I've been such a fan of the story, and got so wrapped up in the world of the films, that I failed to notice any of that. Flaws and all, I love the trilogy unconditionally, however simple-minded I may be for it. And really, how could you NOT want to see the battles of Helm's Deep and Pelennor Fields in their full glory? ;)

Though I feel I should clarify something:

"I feel strongly that your equation that the use of special effects tools somehow equates to a more deeply profound or effective film is completely off base."

That's not what I meant, exactly. I can understand so many people's aversion to special effects, for fear that the filmmaker focuses too deeply on them instead of the more important parts of the film (though I still think the visual effects crew members on any film get too little credit for the amazing work they do). While I personally feel that the truly great effects work can do wonders for immersion, I was not trying to say that in this case. In relation to this film, at least, what I meant was simply that if you're going to bother having any effects at all, why not do them well? Yes, there's a certain charm to the older style "guy-in-a-rubber-suit" stuff, but it's very difficult to take seriously, and often severely detracts from the rest of the moviegoing experience.

When dealing with matters of fantasy, or science fiction, or any other kind of imagery that doesn't exist, filmmakers are reliant on effects of some sort to create it. My thinking goes that if you're making a film of an H.P. Lovecraft story where you actually SHOW us the monsters, you should make the effort to make them scary. I suggest not that the effects become spectacles, but become what industry veterans might call "transparent". Contrary to popular belief, the best, most highly regarded effects (whether mechanical or CG) are the ones you don't notice. The 3D set extension that adds some visual interest to a greenscreen shot--neither of which you, as the viewer, notice until you are told they exist. The compositing work, the color correction, things of that nature.

Effects can go toward two extremes: noticably spectacular, or noticably laughable. Either one distracts me from the film I'm supposed to be watching, and takes me right out of the moment. I'm of the opinion that filmmakers should aim for the middle. Not so flashy as to be self-indulgent, but more than just a grudging addition, an afterthought, on the filmmaker's part.
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Old October 6th, 2005, 11:50 AM   #6
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the guys behind that trailer hasn't done enough research or at least watched enough silent films. some of the cam angles&technique were impossible for pre-1927 films. looking down and up at odd angles proved nearly impossible due to the gargantuan size of the cams. not saying those shots didn't exist, just not as frequent as this supposed "silent film tribute" made it out to be. it's still 2modern. plus, it looks too clean, not enough scratches, lighting it too bright, etc.

in essence, it's a modern film w/film-scratch, b&w and bunch of other software filters. a TRUE silent film (even tributary film) would be too boring for modern audiences.
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Old October 6th, 2005, 12:58 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by Yi Fong Yu
plus, it looks too clean, not enough scratches, lighting it too bright, etc.
Hmm... as far as I'm concerned, there shouldn't be any scratches at all! Maybe I'm spoiled; back in my film school days I was very fortunate to have seen a number of silent film screenings of nearly new or like-new prints in superb (scratch-free) condition... plus, they knew how to do lighting back then... plenty of silents were satured with light. In fact the majority of them were. I agree with you about the camera angles; even the German expressonists who would often Dutch an angle couldn't go very low (but did go high on occasion). The cameras were not that big. They didn't get big until sound came along and they had to be blimped, or ensconced in a booth.
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Old October 6th, 2005, 10:14 PM   #8
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lucky you, i only watched the DVD versions (thx to netflix) and the majority of the DVD transfers were terrible. i'm sure in the film school, they treat it like gold!!! =). my absolute favorite silent film director of all time is FW Murnau. the Last Laugh is just so damn awesome.
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Old October 6th, 2005, 10:40 PM   #9
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actually, there are probably more crazy high and low angle shots than you remember. by the late '20s, the cameras were fairly compact and mobile. there's a chapter in the book "kuleshov on film" where lev kuleshov talks about hanging the cameraman from his legs from the top of a skyscraper, holding onto him untethered, while the cameraman took the shot. there are lots of stories of what daredevils the '20s cameramen were. or take a look at the film "grass" shot by merion cooper (later director of "king kong"), for my favorite example of mobile, high-risk filmmaking. some amazing footage, that. and if you look at the silent comics, especially harold lloyd, you can see a pretty unmoored camera. it was the advent of sound that stapled the camera back to the ground.

i still think this film does a lot of great silent film mimicry, but i don't think it admits the viewer the same way the old films do. it's more of an intellectual rather than visceral exercise. but still, there are so few paeans to old film, when it seems like there should be so *more* homage, not less, to old-school filmmaking.

for a really great bit of little-known filmmaking parody about old films, check out peter jackson's mockumentary "forgotten silver," made before he became the towering figure that he now is. it's a scream. his homage to the silents and as brilliantly conceived as anything he has ever done.
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Old October 7th, 2005, 12:42 AM   #10
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that's one example out of... thousands of films =).
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Old October 7th, 2005, 10:14 AM   #11
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Thanks for the Jackson tip... will definitely check it out!
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Old October 7th, 2005, 11:50 AM   #12
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Research and such

from the dvd order page: "Using the "Mythoscope" process a mix of modern and vintage techniques, the HPLHS has worked to create the most authentic and faithful screen adaptation of a Lovecraft story yet attempted"

So they're not trying to match an old silent 100%. They seem to be trying to something new incoporating old techniques. I look forward to seeing it, and I'm going to order it right away.



I thought the trailer looked pretty cool, and I doubt that the movie will be that corny. Old time trailers, especially during the 50's, anyway, were often full of hype and ballyhoo, even for good and tasteful movies.



BTW, my next short and my first feature will both be somewhat HPL related.

And I am 100% in agreement with Meryem about jacksons lotr.


and Chris, thanks for bringing this to my attention!
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Old October 7th, 2005, 04:25 PM   #13
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can someone list a few of Lovecraft's most popular books. i'm 2lazy2google =).
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Old October 7th, 2005, 05:22 PM   #14
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hpl wrote mostly short stories. His best piece imho is also one of his longest, the short novel "At the Mountains of Madness"
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" When some wild-eyed, eight foot tall maniac grabs your neck, taps the back of your favorite head against a bar room wall, and looks you crooked in the eye, and he asks you if you've payed your dues, well, you just stare that big suker right back in the eye, and you remember what old Jack Burton always says at a time like that, 'Have you paid your dues, Jack? Yes sir, the check is in the mail."
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Old October 9th, 2005, 05:36 PM   #15
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Originally Posted by Yi Fong Yu
that's one example out of... thousands of films =).
hey yi, consider that far more silent film has been lost to the ravages of fire, liquidized film stock, and lack of preservation than has been saved...the study of silent film history is always already partial. impossibly partial. many more thousands of films have been lost or destroyed than have been preserved. it actually doesn't make a lot of sense to make generalizations about silent film based on the existing oeuvre available on dvd (still it's mighty fun to try, though!)
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