CinemaScope and Some Came Running

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Mighty films packed the Oscar ballots in 1952. Honors split between A Streetcar Named Desire, The African Queen, A Place in the Sun, and An American in Paris. Although Best Film went to An American in Paris (1951), Vincente Minnelli lost as director to George Stevens who directed A Place in the Sun. A string of musical hits such as Meet Me In St. Louis (1944), The Bandwagon (1953), Brigadoon (1954), and  Kismet (1955) cemented Vincente Minnelli’s reputation. He was awarded Best Director for Gigi (1959) which swept the Oscars with nine awards. His background in theatrical stage direction served him well in the film industry; his gorgeous set designs, cinematography, and vivid colors are features of his style and enhanced all the more with the invention of CinemaScope in 1953.

One of my favorite Vincente Minnelli films is the 1958 classic, Some Came Running starring Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Shirley MacClaine. Of the many reasons why it’s highly regarded, Minnelli’s sensibilities display a colorful world provided by CinemaScope and inspired future directors like Martin Scorsese. I learned a lot about the history of CinemaScope at the American Widescreen Museum site  HERE.

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Having never gone to film school, I enjoyed this brief video explaining CinemaScope, letter-boxing, and Pan and scan and recommend it.

 Some Came Running (1958) 

In the film, a rogue and disappointed writer returns to his Midwest hometown where tongues gossip and reputations hang on the perceptions of a family’s name and their power in the community. Played by Frank Sinatra, Dave Hirsh is a caustic Army veteran. Chasing internal demons, he dissociates himself from his superficial brother and sister-in-law and befriends gambler Bama Dillert played by Dean Martin. Shirley MacClaine plays a tramp who follows Dave to his hometown with hopes of wooing him into a relationship. It’s a rare film that has it all: love triangles, class-conflict, dark comedy, suspenseful climax, and a satisfying conclusion delivered beautifully by director Vincente Minnelli. Some Came Running was nominated for five Oscars including Shirley MacClaine’s first Best Actress nomination.

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Frank Sinatra as Dave and Shirley MacClaine as Ginny

Shirley MacClaine’s performance was outstanding–I prefer it over her celebrated performance in The Apartment (1960). It’s unusual when you consider a segment of the film does not include her. Irony abounds in the film. MacClaine keeps her naïve charm even though she represents the experienced floozy. Unrequited love is a prominent theme. Dave loves a cold teacher whose moral standards place him beneath her. Meanwhile, he spurns the unconditional love of Ginny. The role of women compliment historical and literary themes of domesticity, sexual repression, double standards between the genders, and an overt concern for materialism. Teenager without a cause, Betty Lou, rebels and the unlikely mentors, Dave and Ginny, offer wisdom when her parents possessed none. Rebellion, boredom, and much alcohol drinking hearken to stories by John Cheever and John Updike. If you love Frank Sinatra, you’ve probably already seen this film since it’s an acclaimed acting performance, and he shines as the anti-hero. Dean Martin exudes charm. He is a creep. He redeems himself with his prop, his beloved hat.

It’s a fine classic not to be missed.

What’s your favorite performance in Some Came Running? 

Book Review: The Knife with the Ivory Handle by Cynthia Bruchman

Cindy Bruchman:

Here’ s a true friend! Wow. Thanks, Kate.

Originally posted on Odyssey of a Novice Writer:

imageIn Cynthia Bruchman’s debut novel, The Knife with the Ivory Handle, she weaves together a group of unlikely characters to create a rich and complex story.

Set in Illinois around 1900, the story begins with two orphans traveling via train to meet their adoptive parents. During the journey, they discover a black man hiding in one of the boxcars. Wounded, wanted by the law, he has to trust them not to divulge his presence to the authorities. The children make the decision to befriend him and so does the young priest sent to meet the orphans and escort them to their new home.

Bruchman does a fine job with making each of the characters compelling and sympathetic. Young Jonathan is a sensitive, creative boy with a gift for seeing beneath the surface of things. Artistic and bright, he senses the moods of others through keen observation and careful listening to…

View original 1,397 more words

Five Shots: Lilacs and Buds

What smells sweeter or is as lovely than the hues of a lilac bush in the morning sun and budding chartreuse leaves?

Here are five shots of my spring today. Which one do you like best?

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A large cup of strong coffee. A hummingbird buzzing in my ear. Ducks honking at the river below. It’s quiet. What a fine morning!

The Passage of Time in Films

Ever notice how editors and directors express the passage of time in films? Creating continuity between the switching of temporal planes is like stitching a smooth seam and both are difficult to master. Time passing is an opportune way to enhance the film’s wow factor and showcase the creativity of the director or the editor during post-production.

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For example, remember the scene in Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire, when the young brothers are on the train stealing food and they fall off? They roll away in the dust and dirt, head over heels, and when they sit up, they are teenagers. What a clever way to pass time and age the characters.

There are traditional ways to pass time.

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Orson Welles used sound, seasons, and symbols simultaneously in his masterpiece, Citizen Kane. To show the seasonal changes of a man’s life, he filmed boyhood symbols and changed the season. He used sounds of the piano playing to signify young love and applause at rallies to signify his adult life. The editing is one of many reasons why the film is highly regarded.

You could zoom into an eye and zoom out and the audience knows time has passed such as in Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan to signify that Mr. Ryan is having a flashback or in Cameron’s Titanic when geriatric Rose remembers how it all really happened on April 15, 1912.

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How about a White Flash? How about two? I thought it a perfect choice to signify the crossroads event in a character’s life. For example, in Elizabeth, her sister Mary died and she is given the royal ring and pronounced Queen of England. The next scene cuts to the breathtaking coronation ceremony at Westminster Abbey. Upon reflection, your narrative time-line is marked with those pivotal moments when life pitched a shocking event at you. Sometimes two or three in quick succession. Chop-chop. What better way to show that sensation than with a white flash in film?

Makeup is an obvious way to show the passage of time. George Stevens’s Giant (1956) or

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in David Fincher’s reversal of time adaptation in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008). The success of make-up/digital manipulation in a film creates the passage of time effectively.

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Clocks are obvious ways to show the passing of time. In High Noon (1952), the pendulum swings, the clocks advance while Gary Cooper waits for big showdown at noon. The illusion that the film is shot in “real time” is what makes the film memorable. Alfred Hitchcock tried this technique in 1948 with Rope. 

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Color is used to express the passing of time. In The Wizard of Oz, as Dorothy wakes up in the colorful world of OZ, it enhances the foreign local–it certainly isn’t black and white Kansas anymore, but the color change also suggests time has passed while she was up in that tornado traveling from one dreary place to a fantastical one.

The Starship Enterprise pops into warp speed.

Traveling through time via wormholes. Contact (1997). One of my favorite scenes. Ever.

The sun sets and rises. The fog clears. Music begins, changes, or ends.

What are your favorite scenes which feature the passing of time?

Audie Murphy

Who was the symbol of U.S. heroism during WWII and commemorated with every war decoration including the Congressional Medal of Honor and starred in over forty Hollywood films? Great things come in small packages. Audie Murphy weighed only 112 lbs. and measured 5’4 when he entered the Army in 1942, and his heroic escapades for his singular efforts such as earning the Bronze Star for destroying a German tank or systematically destroying several enemy machine-gun nests lining a hill are just two examples. I think of the scene in Saving Private Ryan after Allied troops landed on the beaches of Normandy. The squad made their way up the hill to silence the enemy fort, and I think of Audie Murphy who actually did it. By himself. That is, until his best friend joined him and the Germans shot him down. On a rampage to avenge his friend, he assaulted and secured the enemy nest. After that, he asked for one dangerous assignment after another, rising in rank, remaining loyal to his company.

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The act that earned him the Congressional Medal of Honor might have come from a Marvel superhero film. In January of 1945, nineteen-year-old second lieutenant Audie Murphy and his 18 men faced 200 Germans and six tanks. After Murphy’s two tank destroyers were disabled by German fire, he ordered the retreat. Next, he scrambled over to the tank destroyer on fire and manned the turret and assaulted the Germans by firing the machine gun. He kept up the attack single-handedly for at least thirty minutes, killing over fifty enemy soldiers. The Germans withdrew and he hobbled away exhausted and slightly injured. For his heroism, he was awarded the highest military metal. For detailed accounts of his life, I recommend the Audie Murphy Memorial Website

You might think after the war and his return to Texas, he would find peace and contentment away from the horrors of war, but like many soldiers after discharge, Audie Murphy had difficulties processing what he had endured. According to his memoir, To Hell and Back, he suffered from nightmares, and found “normalcy” suffocating. He went to Hollywood, befriended James Cagney and starred in a lot of “B” Westerns. When his plane crashed in 1971, society’s anti-Vietnam attitudes made war heroes unpopular in general, and Audie Murphy’s passing went unnoticed by many. With the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II this year, I wanted to pay tribute to an exceptional leader and outstanding soldier. Audie Murphy reminds me of the value of duty, the sacrifice of soldiers who fight for preserving freedom, and their willingness to protect their brothers in arms.

I recommend Tom Huntington’s article about the personal side of Audie Murphy in America in WWII magazine

I can’t imagine suffering the horrors of war only to relive them again in films like To Hell and Back. Have you seen John Huston’s 1951 film adaptation of The Red Badge of Courage? What about Gunsmoke which inspired the television series? Which Audie Murphy film do you recommend?

Boyhood vs. The Truman Show

Boyhood(2014) and The Truman Show(1998) have more in common than you’d think. For Boyhood, the appeal and popularity of Richard Linklater’s film, to a large part, goes to the length of time it took to film. Twelve years shooting the life of a boy growing up is a first in film-making. It was a daring idea. After all, though the story centered around the coming-of-age of Mason, the audience observed the aging process of the entire cast. That kind of commitment is remarkable. Stop-go-stop-go with a project and you risk fracturing cohesion and mood. Years rolling by alter a personality. Opinions change as anger and happiness come and go. We all feel the effects of time. Do you remember how you felt twelve years ago? Most likely what was important to you back then has altered, and your passions have waned or have grown into a new dimension. Writer/director Richard Linklater, then, took a true risk convincing a diverse cast to stay the course. I suspect the reason he succeeded was because he made the plane as he flew it.  Was this a reality film? Linklater set up a situation, threw in the characters, and filmed the reactions. I wonder if Linklater knew how he’d end his story when he began filming in 2002? I bet he had no idea, and this is what made his experiment unique.

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Directed by Peter Weir and written by Andrew Niccol, in The Truman Show, we are the audience who watches Truman being watched by another audience. In the format of a reality-show, unbeknownst to Truman a community contained under a dome agreed to play a role next to Truman for the rest of their lives. The soap opera became reality. Over time the television audience watches the cast age. The drama of life happens and Truman’s reactions become the story. A play-within-a-play adds complexity to a story; we watch the reactions of the film audience reacting to Truman. Who watches us?

Truman faces his maker and experiences an awakening. To me, it’s a better coming-of-age story than Boyhood. The Truman Show featured better cinematography and solid acting by the ensemble cast.

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With Boyhood, I found myself less engaged. It lacked a purpose so I felt bored, too, because the central character, Mason, played by Ellar Coltrane, acted as well as Hayden Christensen did as Anakin Skywalker. The scene between gathered eighth graders and seniors drinking it up and talking trash was painful to watch. It was just plain bad acting. Thank goodness for the adults. Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke acted just fine. Sad ending for them, no? They had their shot at life and arrived at the finish line disillusioned and emasculated.

What I did like about Boyhood was illustrating social history in America from  2002 to 2013. This is one of the first films which chronicles the first chunk of time of the 21st century. What fun to witness the evolution of technology in such a short time such as computers, phones, video games. Yes, to Harry Potter, the music, and the saga of Super Woman who did it all with no help from males. Add in the political climate between Bush and Obama; soldiers returning from Iraq; the rise and bust of the housing market, and the educational pressures for teenagers to get into college. How about our society’s obsession to text? Linklater created an interesting social timeline and threw in some satire for those in the present tense. Baby-boomers have no voice in this film.

Personally, I have seen The Truman Show a few times and find it far more entertaining. The philosophical questions posed about what is real, the religious imagery, and Truman’s coming-of-age is more interesting to me than Mason’s.

But that’s me. What about you?

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