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The TOTEM Poll: Totally Off Topic, Everything Media
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Old January 14th, 2004, 11:55 PM   #1
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Favorites...but with a technical slant

There have been a lot of "What's your favorite..." threads, but how about one that'll help more directly toward "homework" in our filmmaking pursuits?

What are your favorite films and/or scenes in the following categories and why:

1. Best use of symbolism
2. Most creative transition(s)
3. Best photographic style
4. Best cinematic moment (where writing, directing, shooting, acting, music all merge to create one of those scenes you can't get out of your head)
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Old January 15th, 2004, 01:02 AM   #2
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I'm really sorry, John, I'm afraid I'm not really answering your questions, so, you know, just ignore this post altogether, actually. But while it's tough to pick specific movie moments, like the map travel transitions from Raiders of the Lost Ark, or the schizophrenic camera-zooming of Fight Club, or the "Who are you?" climax to Laurence of Arabia, the first question--best symbol--I think, defies answering, because the very good symbols should really not be noticed at all, as they speak directly to the subconscious mind. What I have to say below qualifies as "technical" insofar as it relates to writing craft.

The Austro-French psychologist and author Paul Diel insightfully understood the goal of symbolism is to be the representation and transparent conveyance of psychic (i.e., psychological) functions. A symbol--usually, a distinctive character trait, a weapon, an artifact of some kind, or a character or setting name--can be obtuse or subtle, but as long as it is not fundamentally incorrect, nor is it (as in so many movies written by those whose deepest understanding of myth is Christopher Vogler) not really a symbol but instead a convenient plot artifice, then the symbol has served its purpose and is valid and serviceable. I think proper use of symbolism is rarely found in films, especially in films written directly for the screen and not having literature as their source material pedigree. STAR WARS, of course, is fraught with terribly good if hackneyed mythic symbols--an enabling sword bequeathed from good king father to fighting hero son, a fear-inspiring black mask that shuts the villain in with his own vanity, blocking out the light of truth that could redeem him, the white gown of the virginal damsel-in-distress (and notice how to goes to off-white and then to brown as the sequels progress!), and on and on and on. But some filmmakers apparently believe that symbols are no more than "tricks" to be pointed out in directors' commentaries, as is the case with the use of the color red in The Sixth Sense. Red appears whenever the ghosts appear, as a red sweater or a red balloon, and superficially this is not an inappropriate use of the color since red reminds us of blood, and by extension, of death. But the symbol's appearance is haphazard and not the least bit revealing about any character's psychological state. It's strategic, but meaningless. A symbol must do its job without it having to be pointed out.

There is a 2003 Ewan McGregor film, I am not sure if it ever received a US release or not, called Young Adam. Its whole stock and trade is symbolism, from the otherwise unelaborated title to the items that McGregor disposes of in the river--i.e., drowns in his subconscious. Has anyone else seen it?
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Old January 15th, 2004, 01:11 AM   #3
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I haven't given this too much thought yet, but the movie that immediately jumped out at me when I read #3 was The Man Who Wasn't There by the Coen Brothers. Beautiful black & white lighting, I still have yet to see something that surpasses it.
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Old January 15th, 2004, 01:13 AM   #4
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You missed 2, 3, and 4, Robert. ;) I agree in part...but also disagree somewhat. Although I hope this thread doesn't take a turn to attempt to define symbolism, or more accurately, "appropriate" symbolism, I'd like to point out to everyone that I welcome all their thoughts on elements that they considered as effective uses of symbolism.

While the use of red in Sixth Sense may seem too arbitrary to be considered symbolic, the use of red in American Beauty is very consistent and adds one more layer of depth to the film. Not many films today strive to pack the cerebral whallop of, say, a Bergman film...but in all honesty, how many of us truly enjoy watching films of that vein outside of "research"? Give me an old tree in winter reflected as Ruth Gordon rolls up the car window in "Harold and Maude" any day over symbolism buried so deep that it requires group discussion and a "film appreciation" professor to dig out the meaning. While it's interesting to have multiple depths of symbolism, some transparent, some not so... if it's buried so deep that the majority of people don't see it...has it accomplished anything?

I haven't seen "Young Adam" yet...but I'll see if I can track it down. I saw "The Pillow Book" on the rental shelf the other day, so I should be able to find "Young Adam." (Not always easy to find lesser-known titles at the DVD rental shops in my neck of the woods)

Here are my four:

1. Best use of symbolism - Harold and Maude, Some Girls, The Graduate, and American Beauty come to mind right now
2. Most creative transition(s) - Highlander always has amazed me in its use of transitions
3. Best photographic style - Alex, that's one of my favorites, too..."The Man Who Wasn't There." I'd also add "The Godfather" series, and pretty much everything Ridley Scott has ever done...especially "Bladerunner". Oh, and not to forget, everything filmed by Charles Papert (the previous is an unpaid endorsement).
4. Best cinematic moment - There are many here, but the one that I'll put down to get the ball rolling is the multiple hit scene in "The Godfather." (Just thought of another...the entire final party scene in "Meet Joe Black"...especially the "Thank you for loving me" part.)
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Old January 15th, 2004, 01:33 AM   #5
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The academic hunt for symbols in stories--picking and poking at them like fish eyes--isn't really what's required of a symbols. Good symbols function on a subconcious level, which is why, I think, if you're asking for good ones, you're going to need to break open the chalk and pinch on the pince-nez, since if they're truly good, they hit us without us ever seeing them coming, and we nod our heads without knowing we do so...

PS
Ooh, Blade Runner's good, and I was going to mention the Godfather montage under the transition category!
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Old January 15th, 2004, 02:30 AM   #6
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I would have to say "Le Samourai" by Jean Pier Melville, simply the most perfect movie ever made, it is just so deep and embodied with it's conscious use of genre conventions/convictions i can not think of anything executed just as well.

A must see.

Some screen shots

www.mindfreeproductions.com/fedora/fedora.jpg

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Old January 15th, 2004, 02:41 AM   #7
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In all curiousity, what makes you enamored of that movie? We picked it up probably for no other reason than John Woo's endorsement on the video box, but we decided it was a waste. Nothing fulfilling there. It definitely doesn't have anything to do with a samurai.

I just read the reviews on IMDb to see if I was alone, or if I'd missed something.
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Old January 15th, 2004, 03:13 AM   #8
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Hey robert,

Samourai was just an analogy of a lone assasin, infact that quote seen at the very start was ficticious and conjured up by the director.

The mininalistic styling and absolute devotion to the conventions of the genre had me hooked instantly, it is like watching a slow beautiful dance, where you know the ballette off by heart but can't look away at the beauty of it's execution.

The acting, scripting and production are amazingly pulled off. The lack of intimacy, and when we finally get intimate it is only upon almost death, by in large the full idea of male chivalry (that being the asexual, selfless and honour among thieves) is at its upmost conviction.

Robert, little known fact, but thoroughly obvious, all gangster films, as well as westerns are based on the Japanese martial chivalry opera's/stories/films. That was the idea of this film, to pull everything back to it's upmost basic, and explore the complexity of such a simple story and character.

The idea of the anti-hero, the man who kills for gain, yet lives by a strict set of rules. The man who can never love a women as much as he loves his antagonist, who usually is almost the same character usually, be it a cop or another killer.

It is a massive area of study, which i spent over 2 years looking into, interesting things to note, with John Woo he took the idea of the relationship between the protagonist and antagonist much further, becoming very close to sexual, being himself a homosexual director, he found much beauty in the homo-erotic overtones in almost all gangster movies, as well as westerns.

Le Samourai was remade into John Woo's 'The Killer', and features penetration shots of bullets being removed from flesh to replace the scenes of sex, framing Phat as you would a beautiful female, lovingly moving over his curves and so on within composition.

I could go on and on about how much the movie absolutely hit the nail on the head with every facet of the genre, but i think others may find it boring.

But a fantastic movie named "Yojimbo" a japanese movie, was later remade into " Fistful of Dollars" which was then remade into "Django" which was then remade over 300 times around the world, using it's character relations and framework as a basis, including bits and pieces used in Tarintino's work.

Anyways i am waffling.

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Old January 15th, 2004, 03:28 AM   #9
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<<Robert, little known fact, but thoroughly obvious, all gangster films, as well as westerns are based on the Japanese martial chivalry opera's/stories/films.>>

Zac, I beg to differ on that. That's rather a broad and unfounded statement. The very first gangster films, D. W. Griffith's "The Musketeers of Pig Alley" (1912), Raoul Walsh's "Regeneration" (1915) set the gangster film machine in motion. One or more of these used actual gangsters and police to star in the movie...and I'd wager that none of them were familiar with Japanese culture or lore at that point in time. I could throw out arguments concerning westerns as well... but what would it matter? Inspiration comes from everywhere and it's circular...one thing inspires another which inspires yet another which influences the first, etc. Japanese filmmaking has had a major influence, but so have Italian and British and French and German...and even American filmmakers. Oh, yeah...and Austrialian. ;)

Anyway...to get things back on track...what would your picks be for:

1. Best use of symbolism
2. Most creative transition(s)
3. Best photographic style
4. Best cinematic momen

And if the answer to all is "Le Samourai"... could you give specific examples? I'll go out and rent it again if you do. ;)
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Old January 15th, 2004, 04:01 AM   #10
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John, it also depends on which facet and stage of the genre you are persuing.

Such films as 'pig alley' where just leaning onto the experimental end of the genre as a creation, and was not actually classified as a gangster film.

By the time the genre had crystalised into it's classical stage, the inspiration and ideology was exactly that of the martial chivarly.

But yeah... i am only going by own study and observation, and from the interviews i have read with the writers of these films.

I guess it dosn't matter what culture or place it comes from, the mythiology crosses over, even if one hadn't heard of the other, it is amazing to listen to stories of the Aboriginals of Australia and the Indians of the America's and to hear such similar tales, even though it was impossible at the time for them to correspond.

The reason in film theory martial chivarly is used as the defining basis, is that it is an easy target to use as a blanket term, because it emcompasses the idealogy that many cultures had created.

Ok,

1. Symbolism
Wow tough one, so many movies i adore and watch.

I would have to say "Rebel without a Cause" if i was looking at a specific motif, which of course as so often homaged too, the colour red, symbolising a death or near death experience coming.

Another movie would be the original "Scarface" Hawkes i believe directed it, been so long, for it's use of the American Dream, and how it de-constructs it.

Then of course you have the list of movies, that releyed so heavily on classic symetry to sybolise events coming and going.

Psycho
Kubrick's The Shining
Le Samourai
Double Indemnity

I could keep going

2. Most creative Transitions
I loved the montage scenes within Midnight Cowboy and also to a less extent the recent "One Hour Photo"

As creative transitions go, i would have to give it too, Argento's Suspiria, while mostly hard cuts, the use of music and colours, would enthrawl me, i loved how he used cue's in his editing.

3. Best photographic style

Suspiria
Tokyo Drifer (stunning)
Anything by Kubrick
Halloween
Fight Club
One Hour Photo (same DOP as Fight Club)
Vampyros Lesbos
Le Samourai
Breathless

I could add more.

4. Best Cinema Moment

The end of Annie Hall, "...eggs"

Zac
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