Archive for the ‘New Zealand’ Category

The debate between the advantages of shooting on digital and celluloid is now at the forefront of the film world’s psyche. Filmmakers do not agree on which medium yields the most benefits – Roger Deakins is beginning to favour digital, while Christopher Nolan’s preference for film remains unchanged. While the aesthetic advantages of each format are hotly debated, most agree that digital’s role within the industry will continue to grow. The advantages held by the digital format in economy and practicality are vast, which would seem to suit the studios perfectly – as Martin Scorsese says, “anything cheaper and faster makes sense for the businessman.” However, the champions of film will not be swayed.

Christopher Nolan and his director of photography Wally Pfister assert that digital technology is not yet advanced enough to exceed the visual quality of film, and they are technically right – there is no medium which yields a higher resolution than 70mm IMAX film, which was used in Inception and The Dark Knight Rises. However, filming in 70mm is incredibly costly. Its use is only justifiable in productions with stellar budgets, and even then it is limited to certain scenes. 35mm is still the predominant medium in feature films, and its quality is far more comparable to that of digital. David Lynch and Roger Deakins both consider digital to be equal or superior to 35mm film in its aesthetic, and Deakins even underlines the visual edge the Alexa Arri camera has over film. He explains that the film speed of the Arri allows far greater versatility in extreme light conditions, whether bright or dark. Deakins also believes that the deciding factor in Sam Mendes’ decision to film Skyfall in digital was the clarity that the medium gives the characters’ eyes. Skyfall is among the hot favourites for the Academy Award for cinematography, and if Deakins is successful the tenth time around, it will be a huge achievement for the digital format – three of the last four winners of the award will have been filmed digitally (Avatar and Hugo being the other two).

It would seem, then, that the issue of visual quality is unresolved. Everyone can agree that film and digital stock are vastly different media, and some go as far as to argue that only celluloid constitutes real cinema due to its full, organic look. They certainly have a point: if we reimagine some of the masterworks of cinema in digital – Once Upon a Time in the West, for example – instinct tells us that the result would not be as richly satisfying. Digital is, for now at least, best reserved for certain kinds of projects, whether that be the homemade feel of Cloverfield or the modern, night-time cityscapes of Drive and Collateral. The use of digital in The Hobbit, however, gave the film a sharpness and gloss which felt wrong – film is undoubtedly more suitable for period and fantasy pieces.

Aesthetics are only one of several issues which are central to the debate. The fact that filming in digital is more practical and cost-effective is near undisputable. However, the related issue of the “democratisation” of the filmmaking world is a more contentious one. While the ease of production allows people to create films who would previously have been unable to access or operate the technology, we need look no further than the music industry to see that, once a product becomes too easily produced, it also becomes easily digested and disposed of. There are worries within film circles that democratisation leads to popularisation of the ‘lowest common denominator’. The most viewed filmmakers on YouTube use silly special effects in daft action sequences – and the audience seems to lap it up. On the flip-side, however, a culture in which so many people have the means to produce a film must surely nourish the highest quality of art. Many of the most promising films in this year’s festival lineups were filmed digitally, and it is a fair assumption that some of them would never have been produced if not for the advancement of digital technology.

What must be understood is that film and digital are two entirely different media, and each one can communicate its message in a different way. While the look of celluloid has a certain magic to it, digital cinematography has begun to yield some fantastic results. Selecting the right medium is an artistic choice, and one that directors will hopefully continue to be afforded. The fact that digital technology gives opportunities to a whole new world of filmmakers can be construed in different ways – while it may be too early to tell, it would seem that the democratisation process will simply widen the gulf between true art and mass entertainment. Should we pick sides in what has been called the “battle between digital and film”? Not necessarily – above all we should support intelligent decisions on which medium is most suitable for conveying a particular film’s message.

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A halloween themed top 10, with a world cinema angle.

1) SANTA SANGRE (DIR. ALEJANDRO JODOROWSKY, MEXICO, 1989)

At number one Santa Sangre is an exhilarating, wacky horror made by one of the worlds most extraordinary directors, Alejandro Jodorowsky. This film was inspired by a real life encounter that Jodorowsky had with a reformed serial killer in a Mexican bar. The film uses the killers story as its basis, but the film is very much a product of Jodorowsky’s imagination. A unique piece of world cinema and a unique horror film at the same time.

2) ANGST (DIR. GERALD KARGL, AUSTRIA, 1983)

Angst is a seriously cold and disturbing piece of European filmmaking. While not for the faint of heart this film pushes the boundaries of the horror film. Angst takes both performances and gore to an unparalleled level of realism while, using an unconventional style of camera work to create a sense of mania. Director Gerald Kargl largely shoots from extreme high and low angles using a rig whereby the 16mm camera seemingly floats above and around the action. This implants the audience in the mind of the serial killer, whether they want to be there or not. Perhaps it’s no surprise that Angst bankrupted the filmmakers, leading them to never make a film again.

3) SUSPIRIA (DIR. DARIO ARGENTO, ITALY, 1977)

The ultimate cross over between the art film and the horror film. Dario Argento’s Suspiria is without question his masterpiece, at least in visual and sonic terms. This film has one of the most powerful scores ever composed for a horror film (by Italian progressive rock band Goblin) and its expressive and colourful cinematography complement it perfectly. Perhaps the only downside to this film is its script, but Argento’s strong direction still manages to maintain huge levels of suspense regardless.

4) TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD (DIR. AMANDO DE OSSORIO, SPAIN, 1972)

This is a fairly classical and very spooky Spanish horror made back in the early 1970’s. It features ghostly figures on horseback carrying out satanic rituals and generally murdering attractive young Spanish ladies. Let’s be honest, what more do you want for Halloween?

5) VIDEODROME (DIR. DAVID CRONENBERG, CANADA, 1983)

Canadian director David Cronenberg’s sci-fi horror stars James Woods as a seedy television producer who stumbles upon a strange television channel (videodrome) seemingly dealing in nothing but torture and violence. This disturbing film deals with the effect that increasingly disturbing viewing habits have on the public. This idea manifests itself in the film as a tumor created by videodrome which gradually alters the subject’s perception of reality. This is an intense type of psychological horror unique to Cronenberg’s very particular sensibility.

6) THE EYE (DIR. THE PANG BROTHERS, HONG KONG, 2002)

The Eye is an intensely effective Hong Kong horror. Superbly directed for the majority of the film it falls down in the last act. This said the subtle handling of suspense and scares for the first two thirds makes this film one of the most effective horrors for the last decade or so. It is perhaps even scarier that Hideo Nakata’s The Ring series, which treaded into similarly freaky territory.

7) THE TENANT (DIR. ROMAN POLANSKI, FRANCE, 1976)

Roman Polanski’s French made The Tenant sees him on top form as both director and star. This film sees Polanski working in a claustrophobic setting, which nearly always guarantee’s success for this auteur. Polanski’s ability to show a character slipping gradually into insanity rivals his American made Rosemary’s Baby, but in a sense this film is even darker as the threat comes almost entirely from within. For this reason this is a very European film, as it suggests that sanity is a thin layer that hides our potential madness beneath.

8) GOZU (DIR. TAKASHI MIIKE, JAPAN, 2003)

This film by maverick Japanese director Takashi Miike is as nonsensical and probably as much fun as any Halloween party I’ve been to in recent years. Perhaps not strictly a horror film, it is a crazy mash up of genres with elements of the gangster film and road movie blended together with a good dose of surrealism. While I’m still not quite sure what happened here, it’s definitely one to watch for the moment a reindeer (at least I think that’s what is it!?) appears from nowhere and licks a man in the face.

9) PHANTOM CARRIAGE (DIR. VICTOR SJOSTROM, SWEDEN, 1921)

A super spooky silent film from Sweden, 1921. This film uses primitive filmmaking techniques, such as double exposures and high contrast lighting to tell the story of a legend told between a group of drunkards. The story goes that the last person to die each yeah, if he is a great sinner, will have to drive the grim reapers carriage for the whole of the next year collecting the souls of all those who die. One of the drunks dies at the stroke of midnight and it all goes a bit Christmas Carol from there. Scary stuff!

10) BRAINDEAD (DIR. PETER JACKSON, NEW ZEALAND, 1992)

Before he became one of the most insanely powerful filmmakers in the world Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings trilogy, King Kong, Tintin 3D, The Hobbit) made films in his native New Zealand, involving men massacring hundreds of zombies with a lawnmower. I know which part of his career I enjoy the most.

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