Category Archives: Gripes

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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…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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Charlie Chaplin: What Was He Thinking?!

Have you ever seen a Charlie Chaplin film projected, with an audience? I’m always surprised to find out how few have. It’s magical, a communal experience with everyone bonding via laughter. Not only will you enjoy yourself, I guarantee that at some point during the screening you’ll make a mental list of loved ones you wish could be there with you. It’s the most amazing side effect, craving to share your joy with others. My God, what could be a better feeling to have when seeing a film?

Currently, the Film Forum in NYC is having a Chaplin festival, through August 5. Screenings include Modern Times, The Kid, The Chaplin Revue (a shorts collection) and a collection of his Mutual Shorts from 1917, which will have live piano accompaniment (the inventive and indefatigable Steve Sterner). Naturally, they’re showing (arguably) his masterpiece, The Gold Rush (1925), which is screening tonight. Even though Chaplin calls this film, “The picture I want to be remembered by,” I can’t in good conscience suggest this screening. To know why, we must turn back the clock…

In 1942, Charlie Chaplin, 52, was caving to artistic insecurity. Virtually a Luddite when it came to talking pictures, his three features made during the Sound Era were either completely or mostly silent (he composed music but there was very little synchronized sound for the dialog). Like any performer who made a cultural impact, he feared two kinds of mortality: his own death and the death of his body of work. In an effort to keep up with the times, he modernized The Gold Rush for contemporary audiences. Drastically.

Obviously, Chaplin added music (again, his own compositions) and sound effects and seized the opportunity to tighten the plot some, removing a subplot. So far, so good. Logical. Also, he changed the film’s ending, which I think was a big mistake. Without giving anything away, I’ll just say that he altered the film’s conclusion to be something more chaste but less satisfying.

However, it’s the narration that does the real damage to The Gold Rush. Chaplin himself provides it, complete with his native British accent. Here’s a before-and-after sample which will state my case…

Did you cringe? I did the first time I saw the 1942 version (I was already familiar with the silent version). I looked around me as if someone in the audience were rudely speaking. Chaplin’s voice and demeanor is, frankly, condescending (“The Little Fellow”!) and clashes with the action on the screen. He sounds like a loud mime.1  His insecurities as an aging artist get the best of him and he spoon-feeds us set-ups and occasionally punchlines. Likewise, his music spells out every gag (his music is an acquired taste, to say the least).

Here’s another example, in this case one of the film’s most famous gags. The Tramp and his cohort (Mack Swain) are trapped and starving in a cabin, his delirious friend hallucinating that Chaplin is a chicken…

I feel like yelling at the screen, “Hey, Dude! I’m sittin’ right here! I can see what’s going on! Give it a rest!”

The obvious comparison is George Lucas’s infamous alterations to the first three Star Wars films, when he “spiced up” his films for a contemporary audience. And it’s a perfect way to defend Chaplin’s actions since they bear little resemblance to Lucas’s. For starters, Chaplin was a relic from the Silent Era and had become fearful that the bulk of his work would be forgotten completely. Film preservation wasn’t in style at the time (it wouldn’t be for decades), and he had seen the work of his peers literally disappear. (If Lucas seriously thinks his films will disappear or become obsolete, he’s an idiot.) And so Chaplin approached The Gold Rush with the logical notion not to preserve but to allow rediscovery. Unfortunately, he doubted the new audience’s ability to comprehend his brilliant mimicry, which is truly sad.

I guess when you add Ego, Age, Insecurity and Power, you get, well, the Loudest Silent Film Ever.

This is a part of the reissue's opening credits, the writing on the wall, so to speak.

To this day, the 1942 version is the one most readily available, at least the best- looking one. (In fact, to many of you reading, that may be the only version you know.) In 1953, the original version fell into the public domain in the US, so copies of that could be had on film and video, but always in less-than-reputable versions. Finally, in 2003, a 2-disc set was released which included both versions, though the 1942 version is the one presented front-and-center.

Sadly, for reasons that I’m sure are buried deep in one of Chaplin’s contracts, the new 35mm print at Film Forum is the 1942 version of the film, which makes me wonder when (or if) a new print of the original version of the film will be available. Like his other films from the Silent Era, The Gold Rush should be seen projected, with an adoring and receptive audience. It’s magical. But what’s screening tonight is a drag.

So, let’s call this post a PSA. If The Gold Rush is ever screening in your neighborhood, be sure to find out what version it is, or else you’ll find yourself yelling, “Shhhhh!” at the screen.

The reissue's poster. Notice the tell-tale caption: "With Music and Words."

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BACK TO POST 1 In the early 70s when Albert Brooks was doing stand up comedy, he did a bit on The Tonight Show as a French mime who spoke during his act: “Now I am walking against zee wind!…Now I am climbing zee rope!” That’s what I think of when I watch the 1942 version of The Gold Rush. And when you’re watching Chaplin, you don’t think of another comic. Sacrilege!

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Batman Begins…to Annoy Me (or Christopher Nolan Needs a Bullshit Detector)

Full disclosure: I’m not a fan of Christopher Nolan’s 2005 franchise re-boot Batman Begins.

Fuller disclosure: I really tried, having seen it one-and-a-half times. (I walked out mid-way through my first screening of it, and then, in the wake of the over-whelming praise of my peers and their cries of “What are you on crack?! That shit rocks!!” and “What an asshole you are for not loving it!” and “This friendship is over,” I revisted it, with eyes more open than the first time. But to no avail. I spent the whole time wishing I could Memento my ass back to a time before the film began. 1

It’s comforting to know that there’s a smart backlash to the structural messes known as Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, but looking at the box office receipts (the true indication of a “great” film), we’re still a minority, albeit an angry one. (And, yeah, I know, I’m a few years late on this post, but, hey, I’m still a rookie!)

I’d rather not give overviews of either film or a thorough breakdown of what bores me about them. Instead I’d like to do what I’ve been doing regularly on my blog: dissect one moment, a standout moment for me, which I think typifies the whole kit and kaboodle.

In fact, the moment in Batman Begins I’m going discuss is the one that prompted me to turn to my wife in the theater in 2005 and say, “OK, I’m done.”

A third of the way into the film, Bruce is in Ra’s Al Ghul’s “boot camp,” about to be given his final test, with Henri Ducard by his side. Here’s an abbreviated version of the scene…

Look, I have no qualms about Bruce Wayne killing every non-Caucasian in the room—or even saving Ducard—but I hate that he says (twice!) that he won’t be an “executioner.” I’m not going to dilly-dally over the finer subtleties what he meant with that word (he will not kill anyone unjustly) versus what he does (kill with just cause) OR that it’s Nolan’s way of showing Bruce’s inner conflict and tortured soul. Screw that.

To me, it’s simply a case of bad dialog. Not bad like, “Your eyes are pools I’d love to swim in,” but bad like when I heard it, I thought, “OK, so Bruce Wayne’s not an exectutioner. I can dig it.” But when he started killing everyone in sight, I asked, “Wait. But didn’t he just say he wasn’t going to do that?!” And that’s the kind of questions that yank me right out of a film, and in the case of Batman Begins, I was yanked out for good.

Back in college, I had a writing teacher named Howard Enders, and he advocated nurturing what he called your Bullshit Detector. That was the alarm in your head that would go off whenever you wrote anything that was false in spirit or intent. It’s along the lines of “Maybe you can bullshit the reader, but do you really want to bullshit yourself?” In fact, if your Bullshit Detector worked well when you were writing your script, then you stand a great chance of maintaining a sense of truth for the rest of your filmmaking process.

And Howard’s impact was so profound that to this day, I have a Bullshit Detctor for watching films, and when something doesn’t feel right, off it goes. (Thanks, Howard. I mean it.)

So, does the blame fall on the script? Hard to say. There’s a draft of Batman Begins on the internet, one credited solely to David Goyer, and the word “executioner” doesn’t appear once in the script. (True, there’s a scene that strongly resembles the one above, but Ducard asks Bruce to blow out a candle, not kill someone.) So, I suppose that Bruce’s tortured soul line entered the picture when Nolan wrote his draft of the script. Muy intersante.

Would the scene be perfect–or even better–without the word “executioner”? Probably not. 2  But is it too much to ask the filmmaker and his cohorts to vet their script for sore thumbs that might cause confusion? I wonder if anyone in the process said, “Y’know, Chris, I get what you’re saying with the ‘executioner’ lines, but then why does Bruce kill that guy who’s tied up. Y’know, the one he said he wouldn’t ‘execute’?” Well, if anyone did bring up this point, he or she was outvoted.

I’m bugged that I’m writing a whole post that does nothing but bitch about a film I don’t like. The more I write these things, the more I realize my stronger posts tend to be about what I love, not what I don’t. (Maybe it’s my Bullshit Detector at work.) So, I’m going to end this post on an up note!

In Cameron Crowe’s book Conversations with Wilder, writer-director Billy Wilder repeatedly says that if you have a strong script you’re likely to have a strong film—but it won’t happen the other way around. (Weak scripts will always make weak films.) And regarding The Apartment (perhaps his most “perfect” screenplay), he says its strong script made every subsequent step in the filmmaking process easier, a no-brainer:

“The idea behind shooting it is getting everything that is written on the screen. Everything, making it clear…I just tried to be careful that one thing led into the other thing…We did The Apartment in fifty days and edited it in less than a week. We had three feet of unused film. Why? Because the story was good.”

I can’t elaborate on that sage advice. It’s as succinct as, well, a screenplay by Billy Wilder. But, I’ll add this piece of naïve optimism: I saw Nolan’s Batman Begins even though I didn’t enjoy Momento (aka the World’s Longest Twilight Zone Episode). And even after those two missteps, I still saw The Dark Knight, which I thought was dreadful. And yet, I’m sure I’ll see Inception this summer. And if I think it blows, I’ll send Christopher Nolan a copy of Conversations with Wilder.

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BACK TO POST 1 My alternate joke: But to no avail. I spent the whole time wishing it were called Batman Ends.

BACK TO POST 2 I tried re-cutting the scene without the word “executioner,” but it was still a bore of a scene so I gave up.

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The terrifying motion picture from the terrifying No. 1 best seller.

Jaws premiered 35 years ago today, and the internet’s abuzz about it. Plenty of articles, blog posts and e-partying, which I think is really great. Turns out there are many of us out there who call it My Favorite Film. It’s a nice community to be in. (I’ve included a few links below.)

This film is a part of me on a molecular level1, and I’ve already done two posts on it (Before and After and The Many Faces of…). I have many more Jaws-related posts in me, however, I fear they’ll all quickly devolve into bitching about the bad sound mix done in 2000 (see my Before and After post if you don’t believe me). But I don’t want that kind of anger to taint this wonderful anniversary.

Tell you what: my post today will be predominantly about a great moment within Jaws—and towards the end of the post, maybe I’ll grumble a little about what it sounds like in the theaters today.

OK, here’s the scene, which I’ll call the Whale Song scene: Brody, Hooper and Quint are on the Orca, and Quint’s just finished his Indianapolis story. The mood is as quiet as the film will ever get—on the Orca at least—and the silence is interrupted by the sound of a whale in the distance. Naturally, this freaks out Brody, land-lubber that he is. Pay attention to the whale’s interaction with the others…

This is as beautiful as it gets. Gentle, haunting. Let’s break it down, since I think it gets even better under scrutiny:

       -Quint’s story ends. The guys are humbled by his tale. All of us (Brody, Hooper and the audience) have a better understanding of what drives this shark hunter.
       -The whale cries; Brody reacts; Hooper explains, “It’s a whale.”
       -Quint sings with a small smile, “Farewell and adieu to you fair Spanish lady…”
       -The whale cries again.
       -Quint joins the whale, continuing, “Farewell and adieu, you ladies of Spain…”
       -The whale cries the last time.
       -Hooper picks up as soon as the whale is done: “Show me the way to go home…”

In a nutshell, Quint duets with the whale, making his spiritual kinship with the sea even more pronounced than his Indianapolis story did. In fact, you could say that, yes, he’s got issues with sharks but not with the ocean. It’s obvious this is a man who plans to die at sea.

And the fact that Hooper follows his lead—singing a song that asks for “the way home”—could be seen as foreshadowing Quint’s ultimate demise2   a couple of reels later. (Tellingly, in the first version of the script to include the singing, it’s Quint who begins “Show Me the Way to Go Home.”)

I don’t normally read this much into films, but Jaws is so chock full of subtleties, nuances, and idiosyncrasies I’m inclined to think everything is there for a reason. By all accounts—Carl Gottlieb’s The Jaws Log; Laurent Bouzereau’s excellent “The Making of Steven Spielberg’s Jaws”; comparing the few drafts of the screenplay floating around the internet against the end result—this was by-the-seat-of-their-pants filmmaking, with re-writing and improvisation happening at every turn—and yet the young director had a vision and a clear focus on the characters’ purpose within the scheme of the story. Therefore, it’s very likely (to me) that Spielberg directed Robert Shaw to imagine he was singing with the whale.

It bears another viewing…

Of course, a sound effect this distinct prompts questions from an old sound editor like myself: Who picked the actual sound? Who placed it in the film, timing it the way it is? I wouldn’t be surprised if it were Spielberg, perhaps even choosing it prior to shooting. At the very least, a sound effect this important would have been settled upon in the editing room, with input from editor Verna Fields. I can’t imagine the film going through the entire picture edit without any whale sound there, waiting for a sound editor to dig up something appropriate. It’s just too important a sound effect.

But I do have an idea what the scene would sound like without that whale sound. As I wrote in my first post, Jaws was originally mixed in mono (for which it won an Oscar), and when it came out on DVD in 2000, it was remixed for surround sound. Yet for some still-unknown reason, many of the film’s juiciest sound effects were either missing or replaced by something noticeably different or inferior. Sadly, the Whale Song scene, one of my favorite sounding scenes in the film, has been decimated…

I know I said I wasn’t going to bitch too much in this post, but here goes:

       1. The interplay between the whale and Quint and Hooper is gone. Instead, the whale now cries the same time as Quint, which leaves those pockets of silence wide open. The average ear, hearing a film for the first time, is trained to listen to the characters, and any sound placed beneath them will be a distraction. When I used to sound edit, we had a basic rule: it was OK to have sound FX/design wedged in between lines of dialog. (Joe Sixpack, when hearing a sound effect snuck in between some dialog, isn’t going to say, “Hey, they stuck that sound in there because nothing else was going on!” Trust me on that.)
       2. This new whale sound is creepy and happy at the same time—but definitely not mournful in the way the original is. It also sounds like the whale was miked closely when it was recorded and it still sounds that way. Gone is the feeling of distant crying.
       3. Where are all those great boat creaks and groans?! Now the scene sounds like it was filmed on a soundstage (it wasn’t). Check this out. This short clip begins with the new mix and then crosses over into the original, personality-filled mix. (You may have to crank this up for full effect.)

For the life of me, I can’t figure out why any of this was done. But I do know this: if Jaws ever gets its long-overdue theatrical re-release, it will have this anemic mix—and that’s a shame.

But, hey! Enough of my old man grumblin’! Back to the celebratin’!

I’m going to leave you with a couple of gifts. First, here’s those links to some very interesting Jaws-related blogs and articles:
       –Radiation-Scarred Reviews has been doing a week-long Sharkathalon, which includes posts about shark films before and after Jaws as well as links to other blogs posting about the film.
       –Too Much Horror Fiction has some great samples of Jaws in print; and its sister blog Panic on the 4th of July has equally exciting examples of Jaws posters.
       –Hunting Bruce, or, on the Trail of the Jaws Shark, an NPR piece about a journalist fulfilling a life-long dream of literally touching the mechanical shark

And lastly, a song. The song. And this might be the version the guys were referencing:

The Andrews Sisters – Show Me the Way to Go Home (2:49, right-click to download)

I suggest you crank it up, grab a friend or two, and sing along.

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BACK TO POST 1 Obviously, Jaws is the Big Mac Daddy of Quotable Films. Oh, sure, there’s “You’re gonna need a bigger boat,” and “Back home we got a taxidermy man–He’s gonna have a heart attack when he sees what I brung him!” Y’know, the quotes we hear peppering our everyday lives. But I’m talking about a deeper layer, like “(inhale).” That’s when Brody gets out of bed, inhaling and standing up straight, which is how I’ve gotten out of bed most days of my life. Or this old chestnut: “(sniff).” Of course, I’m referring to Brody walking down the street of Amity, sniffing sharply then looking up at the birds. I do that one every Fall day.

BACK TO POST 2 Or is it “demeeze”?

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Play It Again, Woody…Wait. Is That Woody?

(This blog is still clips-free! My research on Vimeo and DailyMotion, as alternatives to YouTube, has left me flat. The former moderates clips and has no time for the words Fair or Use, in any order; and I think the latter looks pretty damn bad. I put up a few test clips and was less than satisfied with the results. Currently, I’m exploring VideoPress, which is WordPress’s video hosting tool. So far, I’ve posted a few clips and none of them play at all. Not a good sign. To be continued.)

A few months ago I ranted on about MGM’s insulting behavior towards that gem-in-their-crown Annie Hall. While I think abuse of Woody Allen’s film is artistically damaging, I’ll give them this much credit: at least they know what he looks like, which is more than I can say about Paramount Pictures.

Paramount released Allen’s Play It Again, Sam in 1972. It’s an unusal film in his canon since it takes place in San Francisco (instead of Manhattan) and was not directed by him (Herbert Ross did). It’s about a nebbishy cinephile (played by you-know-who) who falls in love with his best friend’s wife and receives encouragement and advice from the ghost of Humphrey Bogart. The film was successful, as was the play it was based on, both written by Woody.

The cover of the 1979 VHS (right) is all well and good, with artwork based on the film’s US poster (not the Belgian version above). Very “of its time.”

The ridiculousness begins, however, when you flip it over. There are three photos on the back, one is wide and there are two smaller ones beneath it. Here’s the top one…

Because I’ve seen the film, I can guess it’s Woody Allen to the right, but mind you, that’s an educated guess.

Here’s the one on the lower left…

This is marginally better since it has exposure though our hero is inexplicably camouflaged. I’m not sure if it’s Play It Again, Sam or Platoon.

And here’s the kicker, the photo on the lower right…

Are you shitting me? Who the fuck is that?! Was there someone at Paramount who said, “Hmmm…Curly hair…big nose…glasses…I’m thinking ‘Jew.’ Yep, it’s Woody”? I’ve double-checked—triple-checked–the film and this guy isn’t even in it! Is it possible that these are the only three production stills taken for the film? No wonder Woody’s characters get nauseous in Hollywood.


(Hey, I just noticed this in the homestretch of making this post. I wonder if there’s any coincidence between this essay, which essentially calls Paramount Pictures a bunch of idiots, and the fact that they were the studio that made YouTube pull my clips down. Well, well, well. Blog-as-Rorschach Test…)

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Great Annie Hall Gag Dumbed-Down to Near Extinction

Back in 1979, Woody Allen inadvertently helped invent the Home Theatre Experience when he insisted that his film Manhattan be transferred to VHS only in the letterboxed format.



So, instead of this aesthetically compromising pan-and-scan version…





                        …we got this:


And since there were no “rules” in place yet, Allen and cinematographer Gordon Willis settled on a neutral gray matte for the letterboxing.

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Ever since then, however, Woody Allen has been less concerned with how his body of work is preserved for the home market, which is sad since that’s where it will be seen most from now on.


The first thing I noticed is that when Manhattan went to DVD in 2000, the gray bars were gone:

This is hardly cause for alarm. Certainly, Woody’s allowed to change his mind, and I know some people thought the gray was a little twee. As for me, I’ve seen Manhattan with the gray bars dozens of times, so it’s disconcerting to see it otherwise. The sad truth is that I don’t think MGM (who released the DVD) asked Woody Allen for his opinion, and I don’t think he cared one way or another.

Still, that’s small potatoes compared to this…

Twenty-five minutes into Woody Allen’s 1977 Annie Hall, his character Alvy Singer and Annie have their first meeting. This extended sequence of memorable lines (“That’s OK. We can walk to the curb from here”) and 70s urban mating ritual culminates with the Balcony Scene, which plays more like a year of therapy than a scene in a comedy. In it, while Alvy and Annie try to impress each other with intellectual observations, we see their insecure thoughts as subtitles. For those who need a refresher, here’s the scene. For the rest, here’s a sample of how it once looked on film, TV and VHS:

And yet, now, when you watch the only version on DVD available in the US, here’s an idea of what you see…

HuhI? Someone at MGM really thinks I need to be told that the words on the screen aren’t the ones coming from Annie and Alvy’s mouths? If they think I’m that dumb, then why not do these subtitles as well…

Or…

Sadly, I can easily imagine a first time viewer of the film (and my generation has to accept the fact that not everybody has seen Annie Hall) being confused by the inclusion of “[thinking]” in the subtitles, assuming that that’s what Woody Allen had intended. (God, what a dreadful thought.)

I can accept and respect the fact that Woody doesn’t do commentaries or ‘making of’ docs (more in a later post on my feelings about that), but I hope he’d at least protect one of his most brilliant and enduring gags. (And I mean that, too; it might not be the funniest joke in Annie Hall, but, my God, does it stick with you.)

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And just for the Hell of it, what if Woody Allen and co-writer Marshall Brickman decided to limit their insights to just Woody’s character (perhaps calling the film Alvy Singer). Then maybe the Balcony Scene would look a little something like this…

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Filed under Film, Gripes