Monthly Archives: August 2010

When Not to Edit, Pt 7: John Ford Refuses to Waste Film

The first edit that made me cry was about 50 minutes into John Ford’s The Grapes of Wrath (1940). (I’ve written at length about how much of a film wuss I am.) I had just returned from my first semester of my sophomore year in film school. The editing class had been a real eye-opener, and I had become incredibly sensitive to the Value of the Cut. In fact, my viewing of the film was like that cliché of the kid who returns from the war and can’t see anything the same way he used to. This was like that.

The whole film was an epiphany (it was the first time I saw it and I hadn’t read the book), but this scene—when Pa Joad buys penny candy at a truck stop for his children–was when the scales tipped for me. It’s a typical Ford scene: wide or medium shots and very few edits. But somewhere in there, there’s an edit that’s perfectly timed. It isn’t much—nothing in the scene is terribly dramatic– but that edit is just enough to make sure we knew what every character was feeling. That one edit was all it took.

Considering I have such strong feelings for Ford’s command of our attention, it’s only fitting that I wrap up ths series with a post about him. Previously, I’ve been explicit about why (I think) some filmmakers made the tasteful, retrained choices they did, reasons that include building tension, creating humor, and so on, but those are just specifics. The truth is that in every instance I described, the unspoken reason the director did what he did is because he knew exactly what he was doing. And Ford’s body of work is a feast of such examples, so many that it’s easier for me to just write about him in general terms.

Of all the legends surrounding Ford (of which there are many), the most common is his claim to never shoot more than he deemed necessary, which in turn would limit the amount of tampering the studio could do after the film left his hands. Like many filmmakers of the studio system, he was given limited input in the editing 1 , yet Ford’s visualiztion of the finished film was so clear, he’d film the actors’ dialog only from the angles he wanted used.

For example, if he didn’t want John Wayne’s line, “That’ll be the day,” to be seen in a close up, he wouldn’t shoot that line in a close up. The average director—certainly ones that play it safe—shoots all the dialog from multiple angles, giving the editor options while cutting the film. Ford knew if he didn’t give the editor options, then he’d exert control over the finished product—even if he was already knee-deep in shooting his next film. 2

Fortunately, I have a handful of clips that explain this. (Although his opinions on filmmaking have been chronicled in a handful of cranky on-camera interviews he did in the autumn of his years, we’re lucky enough to have some other sources for his pearls of wisdom.)

Editor and director Robert Parrish’s long career began when was an apprentice editor on Ford’s The Informer (1935). In a 1992 documentary about Ford, Parrish shared several first-hand accounts about the director. This anecdote is about how he was given the opportunity to cut a scene for The Grapes of Wrath


What did Ford mean by “I don’t shoot anything I don’t want in the picture”? It sounds like a wrestler’s brag, a macho display of confidence. But here’s another anecdote from Parrish, this time explaining how Ford directed Victor McLaglen in The Informer (1935) and at the same time control what went into the camera…


That’s crazy. It takes a confident filmmaker to pull a stunt like that (although he had 22 years and 84 films under his belt when he directed that scene). And it’s certainly distracting to the actor (not that it hurt McLaglen any: he won the Best Actor Oscar for that performance).

But wait. There’s more. Here’s a scene from How Green Was My Valley (1941). 3   The set up: Because of the forbidden romance a young woman (Maureen O’Hara) has with a preacher (Walter Pidgeon), she marries another man. This is her wedding day, and as she stoically leaves the church, the heartbroken preacher watches from a distance. (This brief scene is followed by the audio commentary by Ford-biographer Joseph McBride. 4 )


And if that doesn’t sum up Ford’s attitude, then this last clip will. (In fact, it will sum up everything I’ve pushed in the all the essays in this series.) Robert Parrish once asked Ford how he directs actors, and this is what he said…


In other words, according to Ford, never make an edit unless you have a reason.

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And that’s that. If I write anymore on this topic, I’ll only repeat myself. However, if you’d like a different take on the some of these ideas, check out this post by Steve Boone, over at Big Media Vandalism. His prose seems unchecked—I don’t mean sloppy, but he’s passionate and his ideas seem to fly out of his fingers.

I think we feel the same way about editing, but we discuss and dissect from opposites of the same coin. For example, in his post, he fearlessly criticizes contemporary filmmaking (with passing references to older films), whereas the seven essays I’ve written promote the films of yesteryear. (The youngest film I profiled is 22 years old!)

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BACK TO POST 1 If the filmmaker’s films were successful, he’d be put on his next film ASAP. This is probably why Ford was able to do seven films between 1939 and 1941, an incredible run that included Stagecoach, Young Mr. Lincoln, The Grapes of Wrath and How Green Was My Valley.

BACK TO POST 2 This subversive technique didn’t always work for him, at least by the studio’s definition of “working,” and the most famous example of it will be the topic for a later post.

BACK TO POST 3 I think How Green Was My Valley rocks. For decades I’ve heard this film referred to derisively as “The Film That Beat Citizen Kane for Best Picture.” That massive simplification of this film kept me at an arm’s length from it, and I finally saw it a few years ago. What a boob I was for buying into the Kane Propaganda Machine.

BACK TO POST 4 For those who care, yes, it’s the same Joseph McBride who co-wrote the Corman-produced Rock ‘N’ Roll High School.

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Richard Pryor, Live and in Your Living Room!

PREFACE: 1980
My friend and I are huddled around a turntable, listening to the new Cheech & Chong LP, Let’s Make A New Dope Deal, particularly one very vulgar bit called “17th American Tour” where the comedy duo say the F-word 41 times in under 3 minutes. Somewhere around our fifth straight tear-filled listening, my father suddenly yells from the first floor, “Stephen! Get down here! And bring that record!”

He’s furious. He berates me for listening to such offensive garbage. As he does this, he tries in vain to break the LP in half (his MS no doubt an impediment), yelling at one point, “Damn unbreakable records! 78s used to break when you dropped them on the floor!” And then a moment later, out of breath, “…Get the scissors.”

I’m crying at this point (my father never yells at me this way so I’m terrified). I get the scissors and he has me stand there while he does sloppy White Man Hip Hop to both sides of the LP (such a sound!). I’m ashamed of myself, with the same sentence playing over and over in my head: “$7.98 plus tax…$7.98 plus tax…[sob]…$7.98 plus tax…”

Now I told you that story to prove the depths of my father’s disdain for profane humor. Here’s another…

THREE YEARS EARLIER
My family loved comedy and comedy records, and for Christmas, 1977, my mother gave us an unusual and wonderful treat: a triple LP set called 25 Years of Recorded Comedy. It had samples—one “bit” each—from the likes of Stan Freberg, Nichols and May, Alan Sherman and so on, and we all sat in the living room, listening and laughing. (One of the happiest memories of my childhood.)

But there was one track that my Pop forbade my brother and I from listening to: Richard Pryor’s “Just Us.” With little group discussion—and, obviously, no House Vote—it was decided that Richard Pryor was an Evil Comic who Spewed Obscenities. And my father wanted to keep Pryor’s influence from our home, ears and impressionable brains. His solution was clever and memorable: a thin stream of Elmer’s glue over only Pryor’s track. 1

That fall of 1977, my poor dad must have felt his civilized world was crumbling around him since that was when Richard Pryor entered (white) middle American households via his variety series The Richard Pryor Show.

THE SHOW
For the uninitiated, here’s some background. (Much has been written about this show; the Wiki entry is good, the TV Party article is better.) By mid-1977, Richard Pryor had crossed over into the mainstream thanks to some very successful comedy records (…Is It Something I Said?) and some very successful films (Silver Streak), and TV was the next frontier. His one-hour TV special (which aired May, 1977) was a critical and commercial success, and NBC gave him a variety show for that fall.

Besides his growing demographic, I strongly suspect that NBC chose to do this because of the enormous success of Saturday Night Live. Those my age will remember the hugeness of that show; its impact was straight across the board. It was a money-generating blast of counter-culture, and I imagine NBC (which was failing miserably in primetime) thought they could spread their success/luck: “Let’s put an envelope-pushing, controversial black comic on primetime! We’ve got nothing to lose!”

The contract’s ink wasn’t dry before all involved—on both sides of the deal—realized they’d made a terrible mistake. Pryor admitted his was in over his head and put his best foot forward, trying his damnedest to squeeze some genuine, thought-=provoking ideas into a format that had been stagnant since The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour was cancelled in 1969.

Immediately, NBC treated the production to equal parts meddling and indifference (think of that: they fucked with it and ignored it, like beating someone up and forgetting you’re doing it at the same time).

The TV Guide ad

As far as their meddling goes, NBC did things like airing it at 8pm Tuesdays, opposite ABC’s biggest hits, Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley—which is as counter-productive as you can get.

As for the indifference, there’s no other way to explain how the show’s content aired. It’s fascinating. Each episode is a head-scratching mix of out-and-out variety show-style sketches (they wouldn’t be out of place on a Donny & Marie episode); bits of social commentary; and bona fide weirdness, stretches that can be best described as performance art. The shifts are schizophrenic (I believe the cliché is “coke-fueled”), and you spend half the time feeling bad for Richard Pryor, who’s being attacked incessantly by the white-sounding laugh track, and the other half of the time saying, “How did this get onto primetime TV?!”

The show was cancelled within a month. Only four were episodes were produced and to NBC’s credit, all were aired. Within that month, some of the sketches inexplicably leaked into America’s living rooms included:

-Pryor as the first black president holding his initial press conference. Its pace is completely at odds with conventional comedy television writing (where each line should be a set-up or a punchline), and the studio audience laughs through the first half of the sketch even though it’s not intended be funny.

-A construction worker inexplicably breaks into song (“I Gotta Be Me”) and strips down to a bikini.

A guy walks into a gun shop, bumps into Travis Bickle, and “overhears” the guns talking to him, urging him to buy them. It’s really unsettling.

-“New Talent,” definitely one of the strangest things I’ve seen on TV. Within the show, this “sketch” has no context or explanation, and may be the best example of NBC’s indifference (how could they have OK’ed this?).


It’s one thing to expect Richard Pryor and his associates, knowing they were on a sinking ship, to do anything they wanted (“Hey, you can only cancel us once!”), but what was going on in at NBC to think Richard Pryor could ever be packaged for mainstream TV? Were they that desperate? Did his appeal seem that broad? Was the impact of Saturday Night Live so strong that they thought something similar could be unleashed on a school night?

The Richard Pryor Show came out on DVD in 2004. It includes all four episodes (plus the TV special that got him into this mess in the first place). There’s wonderful bonus material, too. It’s really top-notch package, and I strongly recommend it as an excellent example of TV at its strangest and most daring, an incredibly brief moment when the stars lined up and gave a brilliant man and progressive thinker the keys to America’s living rooms. It was a failure, true, but a fascinating one nevertheless.

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BACK TO POST 1  A few years ago, my brother blogged about this in more detail, after Richard Pryor passed away.

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Great Expectations, Joyous Results…Dull Journey

(This was supposed to be a post about a sound effect and my history with it—a small scale version of the Cab Hailing effect I wrote about in prior posts—but my research into its history was so boring, I had to shift the focus to writing about my ever-growing parental fears.)

When I was 5, my brother and I got the Disney LP Chilling, Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House. A lot of my friends had it, too. (I bet most of you reading this remember it as well.) Ostensibly a “score” for Halloween parties, for me it was an evergreen, a year-‘round, all-purpose sonic thrill ride.

Side A began with a woman’s voice, very chilly and foreboding, provoking me to listen:

You are a bold and courageous person, afraid of nothing. High on a hilltop near your home there stands a dilapidated, old mansion…

From there, she helped me imagine such scenarios as walking through that haunted mansion, being attacked by my cat and even having a run-in with cannibalistic Martians. Side B was one graphic sound effect after another, such as thunder, creaks and screams, which is the brief track that inspired this post:

About ten years later, after I’d retired that LP in favor of scarier sounds (i.e. girls laughing at me), I watched David Lean’s 1946 Great Expectations. And when delusional Miss Havisham sets herself on fire, I was treated to an aural Proustian flashback…


For the sake of first-time listeners…

Is this a “discovery” that’s blog post-worthy? Not in and of itself. Sure, it’s interesting, but I expect anyone who knows the LP and has seen the film has already made the same connection, and everyone else would say, “Who cares?” But when I compared how I reacted in 1984 to what I did on the internet today, I thought, now that’s noteworthy.

1984
Moments after I heard the scream in Great Expectations, my mind screamed (just as loud) “THE DISNEY HALLOWEEN RECORD!” I was damn certain it was the same scream but it wasn’t easy to confirm. The only way would be to hear both side-by-side. With nothing better to do, I accepted the challenge.

My pursuit included: a used record store; a friend’s turntable and tapedeck; me combing patiently through subsequent TV Guides looking for another screening of Great Expectations; $$$; time; passion; hunger; luck; and a phonebook. (My research always included a phonebook, God love ‘em. Mine was dog-eared at “Books – Rare and Used.”) I’m talking hours of work spread over a month of Saturdays—just to confirm that I heard what I thought I heard.

And believe me, the confirmation was oh-so-sweet.

Today
On the other hand, to prepare for this post, I used these contemporary resources: Netflix; iTunes (yes, the Disney LP is on iTunes); some DVD-ripping and video-editing software; a few mouse clicks; and IMDB, which lead to this bonus: the discovery that the sound editor for Great Expectations ended up working for Disney by the mid-50s, which would explain how this scream became part of the Disney sound effects library. Minutes of minimal effort. (It took only a little longer than it took to write this paragraph.)

And believe me, the confirmation was oh-so-dull.

Clearly, I enjoy the Chase and miss it terribly. I wonder if it will be minimized into non-existence thanks to our information-filled, computer-based trend. I don’t fear that my son will lack the Hunger for knowledge (no matter how meaningless or trivial some of the info may seem), but I fear he’ll lack the resources to find what’s out there beyond the damned internet.

I know the ingenuity I have for research stems from lessons learned in my teen years, and in recent years I’ve seen many interns panic at the notion of leaving their web browser comfort zone. (A friend told me saw an apprentice editor use iChat to find someone to buy AA-batteries for her instead of running out to get them herself. W. T. F?!)

I don’t feel cynical fearing a nation/world full of squishy bodies and squishier minds, terrified of Microfiche. Hey, maybe that’ll be a future Halloween party “record”:

You are a bold and courageous person, afraid of nothing. High on a hilltop near your home there stands a dilapidated old library

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I had originally littered this post with Shit I Miss, i.e. scoping chicks at the library (a teenage pastime) and letting my imagination wander while scouring Tower Records. Please feel free to let us know what simple pleasures you miss thanks to the internet and other recent technological advancements. (And I’m not bemoaning modern technology, just noticing that it’s definitely a trade-off.)

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When Not to Edit, Pt 6: Kubrick’s Breath Control

Although my feelings about Stanley Kubrick’s films are always in flux (which is great; he keeps me on my toes, even from the grave), there’s been one constant: I love Lolita. It’s aged well, in my opinion.

I saw this first when I was in high school, and even then there was one scene that distinctly affected me. (Well, most scenes unnerved and excited me, but this one was especially effective.) And the fact that one of its strengths is the length of its shots makes it a perfect entry for this series about great moments when filmmakers shun conventional coverage and editing. 1

Here’s the set-up: Tension between scholar Humbert Humbert (James Mason) and his teenage stepdaughter/lover Lolita (Sue Lyon) has been mounting, and when he discovers that she repeatedly skipped rehearsals for her school play, he brings her home to confront her.

(Note: Even though this scene occurs late in the film, I don’t think it will be a spoiler for those unfamiliar with the story and its outcome. Also, this is a longer scene than I normally post—4-and-a-half minutes—but to make it any shorter would be criminal and defeat my purpose.)

I’m telling you, to this day, this scene ties me up in knots. It’s the standoff the story’s been building toward. Prior to this, Humbert’s successfully removed all outside intrusions from his Perfect World: he’s become the legal guardian of the object of his desire; and he’s taken her to a place unfamiliar with either of them. But he can’t control Lolita’s raging teenage hormones and short attention span, and his world explodes from within. It turns on him in the worst possible way: this is a lover’s quarrel and a father-daughter dispute. (Whoa.)

This scene must have been a monster to stage and act, and when it comes to the shooting, Kubrick shrewdly favors “less is more”: Two shots, two edits, minimal camera movement.

The first shot is the longest (more than half the scene), a wide two shot that leaves plenty of  room for Lolita and Humbert to be together…





                        …or apart.



There’s no room for the actors to hide, and there’s no edits for them to hide behind. This best exemplifies the power that can be achieved by holding a shot for much longer than a viewer is expecting. Conventional coverage, such as close-ups or over-the-shoulder shots, would have told us when to look at one or the other. As it is, however, thanks to Kubrick’s unblinking eye, we choose who to watch—and see how one’s body language affects the other’s. At times, Humbert’s an angry, frustrated parent; at other times (such as when he plays with his pants, looking down), he’s a whipped lover. Meanwhile, we see Lolita’s stubbornness, poorly executed lies, and taunts (“You need help”).

The dramatic pauses are where the tension really mounts. Humbert accuses her: “What have you been doing these afternoons?” and Lolita spends 11 seconds stalling, hemming and hawing. And the whole time I’m holding my breath.

Once Humbert changes his strategy, he moves to her right, gets down on bended knee like a contrite lover, touching her as no father should. Now Kubrick edits to his medium two shot.

This allows us to see more of Lolita. Thanks to her garish stage make-up, she looks like a grown woman (or at least pretending to be one)—yet her behavior is completely infantile. As Humbert makes his shallow promises to her, she snaps her gum—and once again, my heart rate changes, my frustration mounts. I feel more empathy for Humbert than at any other point in the film (and when you’re empathizing with a groveling pedophile, you know Kubrick and Mason have done their job well).

The rest of the scene follows suit: Humbert flip-flopping from angry dad to jealous lover and Lolita having childish outbursts. Great, intense stuff.

I’m not saying anything new here about Lolita (is that even possible?), but I do think this scene accomplishes two things:

1. All of Lolita’s dynamic shine in this scene, making it one-stop shopping for an analysis of the story; and 2. Kubrick’s strengths as a filmmaker are on fire, including his skill with actors (which doesn’t get discussed as much as his other talents). As relevant to theme of my posts—the lack of editing—he really cooks: tremendous restraint; a respect for the actors relationship to each other; and an understanding of the average viewer’s internal clock: we expect edits, we expect close-ups, but Kubrick subverts by withholding those and letting the tension mount as this corrupt relationship plays out in front of our eyes.

It was such a damn pleasure writing this post (especially in the wake of my bitch-and-moan Inception post). The more I studied this scene, the better it got. The directing, writing, acting, production design, etc., all reached new heights in my estimation. This happens when I study Hitchcock’s films, too, and finding something new in repeated viewings (even after 25 years) is, to me, a mark of a true work of art.

Next in the When Not to Edit series: Either John Frankenheimer or John Ford. No matter what, it’ll be about a director named John and his belief that if he’s done his job right, then he doesn’t need the damn edits.

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BACK TO POST 1 Let’s see. As I see it McCarey did it for a sight gag; Ozu did it to unobtrusively put us in his characters’ world; Oz did to let his actors edit within the shot; Coppola did it to reveal his lead’s frame of mind; and Browning did it to show us a kiss and a reaction to the kiss at the same time.

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…Unless It’s Tuesday: My Reaction to Inception

Exhibiting once again my tendency to avoid the Fresh and Now, I’ve finally seen Christopher Nolan’s latest. Even though the Inception Writing Train has left the station, I might as well put my thoughts down on e-paper (especially since I’ve gone on about Nolan in a prior post).

I dodged the reviews/articles since the film opened and tried my best to have a clean slate going into this screening (which we all know is impossible). I gave Nolan my best shot. 1   Since straight-forward film criticism isn’t really my bag, I’ve decided to take on this film–and its hype–from three angles. (I’ll do my best to keep the snark out of my reactions since I don’t want that to mask my real displeasure with the film. I don’t “snark” terribly well, but gratefully I have the conviction of my feelings to support my writing.)

Inception versus Nolan’s prior films. I’m on-record as not liking Momento, Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. I easily see the connections to those films in this one: overwrought, clunky, with action scenes that leave me confused. I’ll grant Nolan consistency in his body of work, though it certainly works against me seeing any of his subsequent films.

Reliable sources tell me that The Presige is the Nolan Film to See When You Don’t Like the Batman Films, so, yes, I’ve added that to my Netflix queue. But he’s 4-and-0 with me. (Hmmm…would you go out on a 5th date after 4 shitty ones? I must be a glutton for punishment.)

Inception versus films by others. Since yesterday, I’ve caught up on the reviews of this film and am shocked by claims of Nolan’s homages to other films and filmmakers. I certainly don’t see the positive influence of any of the more respected filmmakers.

For example, has he ever seen a Hitchcock film? If so, he clearly missed the point of the McGuffin, Hitchcock’s name for a plot element that’s “ambiguous, undefined, generic, left open to interpretation or otherwise completely unimportant to the plot” (Wiki). Nolan invests so much importance (READ: dialog) in his plot devices that Cobb’s emotional throughline has to constantly share our mental space with silly claptrap, like talk of “sedative strength” and “limbo.” If Hitchcock were handed this script, the first thing he’d do is rip out two-thirds of the dialog. (The second thing he’d do is hand the script back.)

And then there’s critic Anne Thompson’s bold proclamation “Nolan Delivers Kubrickian Masterpiece with Heart.” Inception is as Kubrickian as my last shit. (OK, there has to be some snark.) As far as I know, Thompson is the only critic to make that claim in print, though I sense others second her vote. She only makes a parenthetical reference to what “Kubrickian” means within this film (“repeated homages to the late great auteur beyond the obvious use of moving sets on gimbles”), but I’m stumped as to what Kubrick films/motifs she could be referring to. There’s about 600 times more dialog in Inception than there is any Kubrick film. Likewise, Kubrick’s films have a tremendous visual clarity (even when plot points are purposely vague), and, generally speaking, a low ceiling on the number of characters. None of that’s going on in Nolan’s film. (Somewhere, in Film Heaven, Alfred “Hitchcockian” Hitchcock is snickering at Kubrick: “Now you know how it feels!”)

Inception on its own merits. As you’ve already gathered, I didn’t enjoy the film. Here’s the random thoughts I had while watching Inception, all of which were recorded into my phone:

        Ken Watanabe says, “Mr. Cobb,” like a Bond villain says, “Mr. Bond.”

        Why couldn’t the digitally fix that thread!? I’m referring of course to DiCaprio’s scene with Michael Caine where they used varying takes from Leo’s angle, which meant this one errant thread on the right shoulder of his blazer would disappear and then reappear based on what take they used. Distracting? Fuck yeah. For the money spent on that film and all of the (supposed) attention to detail, it’d be nice if they used some of that technology for the straight scenes. I mean, shit, an intern could have fixed that problem in Final Cut Pro in half a day. And, I kid you not: I thought it was a plot point (Is Cobb dreaming that he’s talking to his father? A few scenes ago, Saito was talking about the threads in a carpet, so it’s possible this damn thread is a clue of some kind…)

        If I’m not emotionally invested in the characters in their waking state, how in the Hell am I going to care what they do in their sleep?

        Did Tom Berenger swallow a cop?

        When you have all the money and technology in the world at your fingertips to make the film and the “rules” for the reality within your film are always in flux, always changing, then what is there for a viewer to believe? What are the stakes?

        Y’know, I’d like to see this film with Bill Murray as Cobb. The character is an unconventional guy with a past he can’t come to grips with…yeah, I could see Bill Murray playing that role. That’s the film I’d want to see.

        All these special effects have a finite impact on me. They reminded me of my 3-year-old son endlessly and gleefuly repeating the alphabet: he might say it faster and faster—even sing it—but ultimately it’s just a string of letters and I won’t be impressed again until he makes real words out of them.

         Putting the Good Guys and the Bad Guys in all-white ski suits, head-to-toe, is a real deterrent to following the action. Duh!

        “Unless it’s Tuesday.” I kept thinking this line, over and over. It’s not said in the film, obviously; in fact, I don’t think it’s said in any film. But it’s my catchphrase for those awkward moments when a filmmaker dodges logic with a line of stupid dialog. 2  For example, after Saito gets shot, he should wake up (a “rule” that is clearly explained a few times earlier in the film), but not this time. Why? Well, the sedative is too strong. Or as I say to myself, “Yes, Saito should wake up…unless it’s Tuesday. That rule doesn’t apply on Tuesdays. Oh, you didn’t know that? Well, you do now. Whew, lucky for us he got shot on Tuesday.” This lame-ass easy-out happens repeatedly in Inception, some bullshit excuse to change the rules Nolan’s asked us to believe in the first place.

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And that’s all I have to say about Inception. I can’t wait to cleanse my palatte tonight when Debbie and I see Chaplin’s The Kid at Film Forum. And most likely I’ll be bawling my eyes out!

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BACK TO POST 1 A filmmaker couldn’t ask for a fairer shake. I arrived early and got the perfect seat. Armed myself with popcorn, baby carrots, and Hershey’s chocolate with almonds. Shoot, I even came equipped with Trailer Guard® (my own personal invention: ear plugs and sunglasses covered with duct tape, so I can avoid the pre-Feature Presentation headache I get from all the bullshit they throw at us; I just sit there deaf and blind until the film begins.)

BACK TO POST 2 Remember the lame one in Cameron’s The Abyss? Their underwater hospital or whatever it was was just raised to the sea level by aliens in a matter of minutes, when it should have taken days. “We should be dead. We didn’t decompress,” one crew member says. “They must have done something to us,” another replies. Oh, how convenient!

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Tear-Stained Images

There’s a meme running rampant across film blogs right now, and I’m throwing my hat into that ring. Stephen of Checking on My Sausages and Joel “MovieMan0283” Bocko of The Dancing Image have cosponsored it, and the directive is to come up with a collection of similarly-themed images that celebrate the “thrill of cinema.”

Here’s the rules:

1. pick as many pictures as you want, so long as they are screen-captures

2. pick a theme, any theme, as long as it supports the notion of “the thrill of cinema”

3. you MUST link to Stephen’s gallery and Joel’s gallery

4. tag five blogs, and here they are:

        –Media Wah Wah

        –Big Media Vandalism

        –Panic on the 4th of July

        –Mirror – Motion Picture Commentary

        –Edward Copeland on Film

(My apologies to any of you that may have already been tagged and I somehow missed your corresponding post.)

As intriguing as this challenge is, Joel Bocko put it best in his post: “How to chose one image…which could represent the thrill of cinema–so much of which has to do with movement, fluctuation, and context? Even some of the powerful moments I could think of…relied upon juxtaposition or understanding of the story for their full effect.”

And yet so many of the posts I’ve seen so far have risen well to the occasion. I settled on shots in films that make me cry. I’m a big wus when it comes to films, bawling at the drop of a hat. And there’s any number of reasons for the tears: a plot-point (happy or sad); a carefully placed music cue; an edit; and, of course, my own personal relationship to the film. Sometimes its simply because of the thrill of watching a film: being in a dark theater, people around me, sharing the experience, all of cinema’s tricks still work on me after all these years. (I call this being Hypnotized by the Flicker.) Throw in the fact that I don’t care who sees me crying when I watch a film and I’m a blubbering mess on a regular basis. 1

So here’s a sampler of the shots that casue me to lose my shit. I’ve included as little context as possible, trying my damnedest to avoid spoilers.

La Strada (Fellini,1954) To those in the know, this is when Zampanó (Anthony Quinn) realizes he’s an incredible asshole. It’s such a crushing blow, dramatically speaking, that I expect most of you have reacted as I do, too. I first saw this film when I was around 6, while my mother watched it on PBS. (I didn’t cry that time, but was confused by my sympathy for the characters, who bore no resemblance to anything else I’d seen.) Although I’m sure it was dubbed, it didn’t really need to be. This plays virtually as a silent film, thanks largely to Giulietta Masina’s performance. I eagerly await the day I’ll watch this with my son, Harry, though I’m sure I’ll cry more than he will.


Night Shift (Ron Howard, 1982) Hard to discern, but trust me that this is a shot of a young Michael Keaton falling face-first past a minor character.  It’s also the funniest sight gag in a great little film. I was 13 when I first saw this on cable. This joke occurs in the midst of the feel-good resolution, and I’ll stand by its effectiveness on all fronts: I so genuinely cared for the characters (played by Keaton, Henry Winkler and Shelley Long) that the inevitable happy ending was emotional for me (and this gag opened my flood gates). There’s something to be said for unpretentious comedies with likeable characters. I also think they’re aren’t as easy to make as they seem, and Night Shift is still A-list in my book.


Midnight Cowboy (John Schlesinger, 1969). This is our first glimpse of Ratso Rizzo’s dreams—which happens as watches “business partner” Joe Buck at work–and the notion that Joe Buck is really his friend. How can a character so unusal, gross and disreputable strike such nerve in me/us? I’m not sure, but I know this is the shot where I began really feeling for both of these guys—and fearing that doom was inevitable.


Freaks (Tod Browning, 1932) This shot was the subject of a recent post but it bears repeating. I went into this film like most others: my expectations did NOT include envying the titular characters. And yet with this one shot, I felt a tinge of envy and got choked up.


Local Hero (Bill Forsyth, 1983) The starless sky over Houston, Texas. We’re looking over the shoulder of Mac, the film’s central character (played by Peter Riegert). It’s hard to describe the many subtle charms of this film and even harder to explain why a shot of sky can fill me with such sadness. It’s all due to Forsyth’s deft touch, and I find the older I get—the more cynical I get—the more this shot fills me with a painful yearning. It leaves me bawling2


The Best Years of Our Lives (William Wyler, 1946) There’s many reasons why this shot makes me (and many others) cry. Plotwise, it’s housewife Milly (Myrna Loy) graduallly realizing that her husband Al (Frederic March) has just returned from war: she stops what she’s doing, slowly lifts her head and turns to the doorway. 3  That alone is reason enough: there’s incredible power in her body language. (filmmaker Wyler said it’s a scene inspired by his own experience of returning from WWII).

I first saw this film at a weekday afternoon screening at MOMA in NYC; those screenings are notoriously known as Blue Hair screenings because senior citizens get in for free. I was unemployed and went, quietly grumbling about the old, smelly types around me. Pretty soon, the theater was filled with sobbing, and then it dawned on me: “Hey, heartless asshole, this is their story! You’re here as their guest.”

Also, it’s OK for a man to cry when watching The Best Years of Our Lives: I’m pretty sure it has the highest count of “scenes with grown men crying” of any film before 1970.

The last reason this shot made me cry: no matter how well I succeed in life, I’ll never come home and find Myrna Loy as my wife. (Sorry, Debbie!)

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Now that you know my tendency to cry during films would cause Alan Alda to yell, “Grow a pair, Man!” I’ll leave you with this wonderful excerpt from the show Modern Family, where manly Jay (Ed O’Neill) gets busted by his stepson Manny…



And, yes, I did get choked up writing this post. You got a problem with that?

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BACK TO POST 1 I was such a wreck at the end of Toy Story 3 my 4-year-old son patted me gently on the shoulder and said, “It’s gonna be alright, Pop.”

BACK TO POST 2 In 1998, being single with an itch to travel alone, I made a list of Every Place on the Planet I’d Like to Visit. I’m ashamed to say it was only two locales, tied for first place: Memphis, TN, and Pennan, the village on the north east coast of Scotland where Local Hero was filmed. I went and my “adventures” there will be a post one of  these days.

BACK TO POST 3 Thanks to the doorway and the visible ceiling, it kinda looks like a shot from a John Ford film, doesn’t it?

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Keywords: YouTube, Fair Use, Viacom, Copyright Infringement

My last post was a PSA for popular culture, but here’s one for the blogging community, specifically those who liberally use film clips, (presumably) under the protection of the Fair Use laws. I’ve recently had copyright infringement issues with YouTube, duking it out mostly with their form e-mails, and as of now, I’m in a good place. 1  Therefore, I’d like to share my story so it might help others. (I benefited from the smart info circulated by Kevin Lee, Matt Zoller Seitz, and others, so let’s keep this Good Karma Train going!)

Two months ago, I was doing my blogging thing, writing posts on WordPress and embedding my video clips via YouTube, like so many others do. In early June, I received notice that one of my clips (from this post about Henry Fonda) pissed off Paramount’s digital troll and therefore that clip was disabled.

I immediately filed a countersuit—which is a simple process via YouTube–claiming Fair Use, which put the ball in Paramount’s court. I knew as long as a human saw my clip and it’s corresponding post, I’d be in the clear. Here’s how Paramount handles such things: you file the countersuit; they review the clip and drop the situation, which can take 10 to 14 business days; YouTube re-enables your clip. This process takes up to 3 weeks and for that entire time, your clip is in limbo.

Please ignore YouTube blog post from April, 2010! It claims, “Once you’ve filed your dispute, your video immediately goes back up on YouTube” (working under the assumption that you’re innocent until proven guilty and you’re out on bail, pending trial). This is not true and this misinformation instills false hope. Your clip will stay disabled until Paramount lets the matter drop.

While the Fonda clip was down, I was now on Paramount’s Shit List, which meant their troll found my two Godfather 2 clips. With three strikes against me, YouTube terminated my account. With over two thirds of my posts driven by video clips, my whole blog was dead in the water while I waited for someone at Paramount to watch my clips and cry no harm, no foul.

Meanwhile, two significant things happened by late June.

First, I found a satisfactory alternative to YouTube (satisfactory for me, mind you). I considered DailyMotion, Vimeo, Revver, and a few others. All had major caveats, but mostly I realized that it would be a temporary solution at best: I’d be kicked off any of the other video clip sites just like I had been at YouTube. So, I shelled out the money for WordPress’s videoplayer VideoPress ($60/year for the player plus 3 additional gigs of server space). True, I’m losing random YouTube traffic, but I also have the ability to disable the embedding function (meaning no one can put my clips into their blogs), which, as you’ll read, could be my ace-in-the-hole.

The other noteworthy event was the decision in Google/YouTube’s favor in their lawsuit with Viacom. The bottom line as it applies here is that YouTube is not responsible for reviewing content on their site for copyright infringment; it’s the responsibility of the victim of the infringement. In other words, if Viacom wants their clips off of YouTube, it’s their job to police the site.

Six days later, with my YouTube account still disabled (my Paramount Fair Use countersuits were still pending), I got an e-mail from a Viacom lawyer saying I should give them a call to discuss. (Did you know that Viacom owns Paramount? I forgot that!) Let’s review the timeline again:

-BEFORE 6/23: Form e-mails from YouTube on behalf of Paramount saying copyright infringement, disabled clip, blah, blah, blah.

-AFTER 6/23: Direct contact from a human at Viacom. (Man, that must have been some court decision.)

I call the lawyer Viacom. Here’s the gist: Nice guy, sounded about 10 years younger than me. He never said “Viacom will take you to court,” but he did say YouTube 4 times in 30 seconds, which gave me a clear picture of the point of the phone call. Since I knew my clips were already back up on WordPress (thanks to VideoPress), I asked, “What if my commentary were hand-in-hand with the clips, on the same site. Would my Fair Use defense be any easier?”

“Yes,” he said carefully. “It’s mostly a problem if it’s on YouTube.”

This exchange was the most promising piece of info I’ve heard yet. Couple it with WordPress’s ability to disable embedding of a clip elsewhere, and the fact that I think Viacom’s hands will be full simply policing YouTube, DailyMotion, etc—and therefore, not policing Blogger, WordPress, etc—then a blogger like me stands a chance. 2

True, I’m paying to keep my clips online, and I’m losing ancillary YouTube traffic. On the flip side, there is no advertising on my clips, my workflow is the same, and I have a better understanding of our rights as bloggers. Couple that with this recent decision, and things are looking pretty good.

So, if you and your blog are getting hassled by the Man and you’ve found this post via a Google search, take heart. One, you’re not alone and, two, you have options. And please post a comment with a link; I’d love to check out your blog!

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BACK TO POST 1 Jesus, I hope I didn’t just jinx myself.

BACK TO POST 2 Uh-oh. Double jinx!

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