Category Archives: Readings

Silence was Golden in Cinema from The Telegraph

The Artist

Ye gods, people! There’s a lot of silent cinema interest and nostalgia floating around these days, thanks to Hugo and The Artists. Some of I agree with, some of it is silly, some of it is blatant coat-tail riding. But this piece from The Telegraph, “Too late, we realise that silence was golden in the cinema,” is the piece de resistance of all the talk. It is: 1. True and well said, 2. Quite beautiful in its implications, and 3. A total heart-breaker. Matthew Sweet gets my nomination for silent-cinema writer of the year.

Cinema has fallen in love again – with itself. The affair began in the spring at Cannes, when the science-fiction spectacular that opened the festival inspired a collective gasp of wonder. Up on the screen, a gaggle of explorers blasted off to an alien world of incomparable strangeness and beauty. Faces flickered in the stars. Rose-tinted rings glowed around Saturn. Bizarre crustaceoid monsters loomed. But the director, George Méliès, was not present to hear the cheers. He’s been dead since 1938. A Trip to the Moon was made in 1902. A silent movie, hand-painted, frame by frame, in the Paris of Dreyfus and Degas – a place quite as alien as anything it conjures on the screen. Read the rest here.

Buster Keaton and the Uses of Illusion

buster keaton-syd avery-elephant

Buster Keaton in the photograph titled "What Elephant?"

I often think very deep thoughts about Buster Keaton’s early stage life in vaudeville and then I get deep thought fatigue and go have some cookies. But really, there’s a lot to be said about how Keaton’s early stage experience prepared him for the moment he met a movie camera. For instance, doesn’t Buster Keaton’s stone-faced character seem to appear fully formed, even in his earliest appearances in Arbuckle’s movies? If we can agree that Keaton was the most accomplished technical film maker of all the silent clowns (if you don’t agree, boo on you), isn’t there an argument to be made that by having his performance already down pat, he had the time and attention to devote to the craft of filmmaking? I think there are some solid arguments to be made here. But, like I said, the siren call of cookies usually stops me from actually making them.

Which is why I was delighted to come across “The Conjurer: Buster Keaton and the uses of illusion” by Ben Robinson, published by The Moving Image Source. Here’s a nifty little piece about Keaton’s pre-movie experience in the art illusion and how it appears again and again in his filmmaking, and, well, his plain old Buster-ness. It’s a fascinating piece, made all the better that someone else said it so I don’t have to. Now where did my cookies get off to?

Alan Schneider on Samuel Beckett’s “Film”

The blog A Piece of Monologue has this interesting reflection from Alan Schneider, the director of Samuel Beckett’s “Film.” It’s also intriguing to hear from the makers of a film about the challenges encountered while making the movie. I was surprised to learn that Keaton was not the first choice, nor even the second. Part of what I loved about “Film” was how it seemed to be tailor made for Buster, and became a meta comment on the meta comments of Keaton himself. Just goes to show, huh?

The post also has some really awesome pictures. Here’s one of them, but be sure to check out the post and the other pics.

Buster Keaton and Samuel Beckett on the set of Film

The Return of Silent Cinema from Slate Magazine

John Goodman-the artist

Yesterday Slate magazine ran a piece by Tom Shone titled “The Return of Silent Cinema.” As some one who cares, deeply, about silent cinema it certainly snagged my eye and heartened me. But the article is a bit deeper (and interesting) than noting that we’re in a culturally nostalgic moment based on The Artist and Scorsese’s iteration of George Melies in Hugo. I have yet  to see The Artist, but I’ve read the reviews of people who have and I think I have an outline of how this film indulges in nostalgia and is not a modern iteration of a silent movie, but rather a love song to the classic form. And I haven’t see Hugo either, Scorsese – well, the man is a bottomless well of nostalgia for cinema of yesteryear.

So, does this moment that marks an obvious revival of interest in the silent era tell us something greater about ourselves and how we feel about the medium of cinema? Probably. “The Return of Silent Cinema” posits some thoughts. Agree or don’t, the idea that the summer blockbuster a la Star Wars or Raiders of the Lost Ark was a previous return to some basic silent era precepts is an interesting and compelling notion. I will admit I had never thought of it quite like that. (Score! Guilt free enjoyment of Indy!) And to draw a parallel between our current moment in film technology and the earth rocking introduction of synchronized sound is also a compelling path of fault. As Slate puts it “go-motion, blue screen, green screen, CGI, motion capture, morphing, bullet time, digital compositing, virtual cinematography, 3-D, rotoscoping” might also alter our movie landscape in ways as profound as talkies. Mighn’t it?

I’m personally reserving specific judgement about the validity of these arguments because, as noted, I haven’t seen The Artist or Hugo. I’ve only experienced this alleged revival, this collective longing for a different era of visual storytelling, as a second-hand rumor. But I would love to hear from those of you who have seen the movies or feel provoked by Shone’s specific arguments. What do you think?

To Kael or Not to Kael?

pauline kaelTo be candid, I haven’t read much of Pauline Kael’s work. Her retirement from The New York predates my own reading of that magazine by a few years, so I didn’t have the chance to encounter her work organically. As someone who cares about movies and writing about movies, I dutifully procured battered copies of Reeling and I Lost it at the Movies, but… well, I didn’t get very far. To hear about Paulien Kael or to read about Pauline Kael gets me very jazzed to read her work, but when I sit down to actually read, it falls apart for me.

From what I have read, I don’t dislike Kael or her writing style, per se. It’s just that, ultimately, I’m not very involved in the movies she writes about. For a laundry list of reasons, I cut myself off cinematically sometime around 1967. Which is not to say that object to post-1967 movies, nor that I’ve never seen any, but it’s not where my interests lie. The laundry list of reasons for my post-1967 ban, some arbitrary, some justified, is probably the subject of another post. But suffice it to say, this is why I’ve largely missed out on Pauline Kael.

I do feel like I’ve missed out, though. Again, what I know, what I hear, and hell, even what I’ve read intrigues me. With the publication of  the new critical biography Pauline Kael: A Life in the Dark by Brian Kellow and a new Library of America collection of Kael’s work The Age of Movies, I’m once again intrigued. Maybe reading about Pauline Kael is an entree into her work? I’ve been reading some reviews and toying around with buying the bio, but I wonder… has anyone read it yet?

How do you guys feel about Pauline Kael’s writing, in general? Have you read this book or are you thinking of reading it? Know any good reviews? Let me know if the comments!

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