Monday, March 16, 2009


Calling all young film-makers! Here's today's challenge - To come up with a film that contains neither plot, nor characters, nor themes, nor originality, nor even intelligibility, and still get major studio backing and worldwide release. Don't worry, it can be done. And you don't even need a tripod! All you need is fear. Not yours of course, just other people's. And if that fear plugs into some aspect of our current worldwide Sanctity of Banking Campaign™ then your $25,000,000 budget is a shoo-in.

Fucking wobbly-cam!

But first an explanation of the differences between human vision and the camera. Camera technique has come a long way. If you look at the earliest silent films you'll notice that the camera never moves. Every shot was what we now call a lock-off. This was because the first tripods were the same as those used by stills photographers. And since stills didn't need to move (natch), what we now know as pans and tilts didn't exist. But gradually the early film-makers came up with innovations that attempted to replicate the human ability to look about. Sure enough the simplest moves, the aforementioned pans and tilts, were first, and then came dollies, zooms and the final triumph of steadicam.

But regardless of these advances, the cinematic experience of vision will never - never ever - match actual human vision. Here's an experiment you can try right now. Swing your head left to right. Repeatedly if you like. Was there any motion blur? Did your image of the world in front of you become some variety of unintelligible? Of course not. Our image of our world does not consist of it sliding about. If it did, we'd either lose our balance and fall over, or vomit, or both. Besides, if human vision fell to pieces every time we moved our head (particularly when we were being chased by predators, or were in turn chasing prey of our own) the human race would have died out long ago.

Fact of the matter is, as visual data is transferred from the eyes to the brain, the brain cleverly reduces what it receives into a series of near-stills that are then plugged in to our spatial sense. Thus, as we swing our head, the world stays still. Sure enough, watch any pan in any film and see how slow it is. It must be this way since even a simple thing like a pan is only the merest approximation of human vision. Try slowly panning your head right now. Notice how your eyes cannot smoothly slide across what you see. Instead they will have to make a series of small staccato flicks from object to object. Your brain only perceives what the eyes stop on. And the in-between visual data, which in a camera would be motion-blurred, is precisely ignored/rejected by your brain. The only time our vision truly goes to motion-blur hell is when we're drunk or in a car-crash. For the other 99.99% of the time we spend looking at things, there is no such thing as motion-blur. It's as unnatural as dogs and cats getting it on.

So whose brilliant fucking idea is this current rash of movies and TV-shows that feature nothing but hand-held wobbly cam? It's everywhere! Did anyone see The Bourne Ultimatum? I wasn't counting but it seemed like there were maybe three shots in the whole film where a tripod was employed. Every other goddamn shot drunkenly slid this way and that. This can be forgiven for action sequences, sure, but in the first scene of The Bourne Ultimatum, with our hero and his gal doing nothing more than sitting on a verandah watching the sunset, we're subjected to a perfectly idiotic, nausea-inducing wobble. On the small screen it's bearable, but on the big screen it's enough to make me walk out. I frankly view it as a display of contempt for the audience by the director and DOP.

And then there's Cloverfield! Jesus Christ! Cloverfield goes waaaaay beyond wobbly-cam and bravely heads right into the realm of complete unintelligibility. The camera madly swings this way and that as if operated by an eight-year-old on drugs. Whole swathes of the movie make no sense at all. On any number of occasions we can't even tell if we're upright. In Cloverfield, the answer to that famous drunk question, 'Am I standing up yet?', is - 'Hell if I know!'.

Clearly, we're in high-concept territory. "What we want to do is make a whole film that looks like it was shot on handicam. The picture will be full-rez okay, not grainy at all, but the camera will always be moving and swinging about and giving us a you-are-there feel." I just made that up but I expect that some bullshit variation of it was uttered at more than one production meeting.

And it's not only the audience that's being insulted here. As an ex-visual effects guy, I spent the whole time watching this film pitying the 3D animators who had to track in the various destroyed buildings, monsters, and jet fighters etc. Those poor suffering bastards. Okay, quick explanation - when a digital element is inserted into a background plate, the virtual camera in the 3D scene has to precisely match the move of the real world camera that shot the original footage. Otherwise the background and the foreground element won't match. This is easier said than done. Get it wrong and the inserted object slides about in the scene and looks like crap. Way back when, this camera-tracking had to be done by hand. In fact it was one of my specialities and I was the 'it' guy. Until they came up with software that did it for you. Ha! Overnight I went from being the indispensible wonder-boy, to just another 3D hack. Boo hoo. But software or no, this film would have had the animators spitting chips, wanting to kill somebody. If only they had! Never mind...

Overlooking sins

If, in totality, a film is possessed of - I don't know - let's just call it 'something good', all manner of sins will be forgiven. Searching for an example now, Blueberry just popped into my head. With my doppelganger, that saucy Frenchman Vincent Cassel, in the lead role, there were obviously problems with his French accent. And so he was dubbed with an American one. And not well either. But never mind, it's still a great film and the poor dubbing can be overlooked. And likewise, even The Bourne Ultimatum had its good points. It had dialogue that made sense, appealing actors whom we cared about, and a plot with a beginning, middle, and end. Three cheers.

So what does Cloverfield have? Fucking Nothing! It's as if we took a real movie, clipped out a ten minute sequence from the middle and stretched it into an hour and a half. Subsequently nothing makes sense. At no point is anything explained. What is this monster? Where did it come from? How come 1000kg bombs that can level buildings have no effect on it? What are those little monsters? Why does one bite from them cause you to explode in blood? Who the fuck knows?

Actually, I expect we're in high-concept territory here again. "No man, this is a slice of real life. If you were actually there you wouldn't know what was going on either. What we want to replicate is this sense of confusion, of not understanding what's happening." Shit, like that's difficult! But it's hardly surprising really. This is a horror movie, which is to say a 'fear' movie. Scaring people is the easiest, most witless thing in the world. Even my favourite six year old niece knows how to say 'Boo!' At least with a six year old it's funny.

Anyway, if we're going to be witless, let's go the whole hog and dispense with narrative, explanation, hell, every goddamn thing. And then, when people wander out of the cinema shaking their heads saying, 'What the fuck was that all about?' we can cleverly congratulate ourselves for having perfectly achieved our 'high-concept'. Well we would if we were a bunch of pretentious, overpaid, lazy, smug Hollywood gits, that is.

How to score $25,000,000 without even trying

Ha! I have a mate who is a real film director. No really, she won at Cannes and everything. And boy, does she ever have a tough time funding her films. It's a goddamn nightmare. Track record? Who gives a shit. As I said to her, if only she'd find some way to insert an Arab villain into the script, the money would be a lock. (Hmm... Imagined Experiment #257 - Let's go through Hollywood's yay-or-nay funding decisions and compare the knockback percentages for all films compared to those specifically featuring Arab villains. That would be one savage statistic, don't you think? In a bar chart with two columns, there'd actually only be one column. The other would be so statistically negligible that it would barely stand out from the baseline.)

And okay, yes, there are no Arabs in this movie. Ha! Now that I think about it, in much the same way that horror movies are routinely described as a 'cathartic release', rather than a reinforcement of fear, this movie could be described as 911 albeit with Arabs being given a pass. Ha ha ha ha. Seriously, I wouldn't be surprised if someone, somewhere put this idea forward.

Make no mistake, this film is 911 - right down to a precise recreation of the asbestos-laden pyroclastic flow of concrete dust. If the brief was to recreate 911 without actually doing 911 as such, this film would be the answer. Instead of Arabs we merely insert a non-denominational monster - a monster that can magically drop modern high-rise buildings neatly and vertically into their own basements. Buildings do that doncha know. They did on 911 anyway - three of 'em, no less. And forgetting controlled demolition now, only Arabs do this. And whilst it's true that superficially this monster doesn't resemble an Arab (ie. he's not wearing a kaffiyeh or yelling 'Allahu akbar') he certainly serves to remind us of the inner soul of Arabs who hate us for our freedom and otherwise want to neatly demolish our obsolete and well-insured iconic and treasured landmarks.

Cloverfield was bankrolled for one reason, and one reason only. With actual depictions of 911 being ho-hum now, it's necessary that we be reminded of what we're fighting for. And with an audience bored with the old 'New Pearl Harbour', this is the equivalent of a quick coat of lacquer to make a worn-out idea fresh again. It's a new 'New Pearl Harbour', dig it.

At long last, fellatio

And so! Aspiring young film-makers, there you have it! Forget everything they taught you at film-school. Plot, characters, camera technique, you don't need any of it. Forget beginning, middle, and end. Your film need not make a lick of sense. The only thing your film needs is a high-concept take on the same old 'the-world-is-thus' of Hollywood's money men. And any old piece of shit will do. Hell! Dress it up right, talk the talk, and what would otherwise comprise an unremarkable ten minute sequence in a real movie can suddenly become a complete movie all of its very own. In Hollywood, it's as easy as copping a blow-job.


Anonymous said...

Great to see you writing again... you were missed.

nobody said...

Nice of you to say so. It was a lesser piece this. But this film made me so angry that there was nothing for it.

Otherwise, I've definitely been neglecting the cinema. Part of this is to do with the fact that, what with the old man having the TV blaring every waking moment, I've pretty much hit a point where I don't want to watch anything at all. I'd rather just have the silence.

But that being said, I think I have a handle on the Matrix now. I know I've been promising it for ages but now I might actually deliver.

Mind you, I always regret promising things like this, ha ha.

Miraculix (Doug) said...

In addition to insuring that I will avoid even a kostelos library rental of this film, you have also revealed a valuable personal detail -- and insight into your perspectives on film. Bravo.

I will enjoy them all the more for this fact. One of the major character development guys at Pixar is the son of an older ski buddy stateside, and I've always found his spit takes on film refreshing for their "honesty".

For this same reason I now eagerly await your ruminations on the massive head-fake-of-a-concept-trilogy that was the Matrix.

They get you all excited making intelligent allusions all over the first film, only to veer wildly towards ZION (fer chrissakes!) in the second film, with only a the licensing paperwork and a CGI flush remaining to wrap up Act III. I'd rather watch Richard Dreyfus' gay King Lear any day.

Miraculix (Doug) said...

...ha ha ha, and maybe how you feel right now having just promised to disassemble the Matrix for us is just a wee taste of the hill of pressure we're heaping on poor ol' Mr. McGowan over LC... =)

nobody said...

Mir, you swine. You sure know how to hit a fellow where it hurts.

Penny said...

look nobody, I am here!
I never saw cloverfield, everyone said it was crap.

hubby saw it, I watched the first few minutes and that was it.

so upon reading this, I am glad I didn't waste the time.

oh yes, I did like the first matrix, the next two?
by time the third one came out?
forget about it.

nobody said...

Hey Pen,

Yep, skip the crap ones. But there's good movies here too. Have you seen Kungfu Hustle yet? It's marvellous. Um, don't read the review because I give the game away. See it and then read it.