5/22/2007

All Movie Talk, Episode 34

Posted in Episodes at 5:00 am by Sam

Show contents, with start times:

  • Film Buff’s Dictionary: High Angle, Low Angle (2:33)
  • Trivia Question: First Feature (8:24)
  • Film Spotlight: Short Cuts (9:11)
  • Top 6: Funniest Movie Titles (29:17)
  • Director Spotlight: Stanley Kubrick, Part 2 (34:09)
  • Closing: Trivia Answer, Preview of Next Week (59:27)

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Show Notes:

Film Buff’s Dictionary: High Angle, Low Angle

In addition to the distance the camera appears from a subject, the camera’s height relative to the subject is a major decision in shot composition. Normally, the camera appears to be at the eye level of its subjects, and changing this alters the texture of the shot.

A high angle shot is one in which the camera is above the eye level of the characters. These shots diminish the subject, as it appears as though the audience is above the person. Such shots make it easier to see an actor within the environment, and they can be used to make characters appear trapped in their surroundings.

A low angle shot is the opposite: it’s when the camera is below the subject’s eyeline. These are less common than high angle shots, and as such call more attention to themselves. They are rare in part because they often mean extra work for a film crew, as they must finish ceilings on any sets they build if the director intends to shoot from low angles. They are used largely to illustrate powerful characters.

Trivia Question: First Feature

The very first feature — a longer film consisting of several reels of film — was this obscure film.

Film Spotlight: Short Cuts

Short Cuts (1993) is a brilliant film by master director Robert Altman. With a cast list of notable actors too long to list here, it tells a large number of interlocking stories that take place over a few days in Los Angeles.

Based on several stories by Raymond Carver, the film’s narrative structure is similar to other Altman films such as Nashville (1975), and it builds to a powerful ending that is fairly unexpected.

It is hard to describe precisely why the movie works so well, except that Altman is absolutely on the top of his game here. The naturalistic, improvisational style he gets from his actors suits the material quite well, and we get the feeling that all of these characters exist. As we watch Short Cuts, we get the very real sense that we’re glimpsing the lives of actual people, and not simply scripted characters.

Top 6: Funniest Movie Titles

See our separate Top 6 entry for more information about our picks.

Director Spotlight: Stanley Kubrick, Part 2

In the second part of our discussion about Stanley Kubrick, we examine his filmography, one film at a time:

  • Fear and Desire (1953): A notoriously bad film that Kubrick hated later in his life, it is almost impossible to see legally as Kubrick (and now his estate) owns all the rights to the movie and does not allow it to be seen often.
  • Killer’s Kiss (1955): Not a particularly celebrated film, but there are some scenes where the magic of Kubrick’s visual style begins to break through.
  • The Killing (1956): A tight, taut heist and generally recognized as Kubrick’s first great film. Also the first of his films to be an adaptation.
  • Paths of Glory (1957): A war movie about how cowardice can be relative, it is a great attack on bureaucracy, particularly that of the military. Ultimately the film comes down to a battle of wills between two men, a very Kubrickian sort of theme.
  • Spartacus (1960): The only real big-budget Hollywood epic that Kubrick would tackle, a critically acclaimed picture that Kubrick was not happy with (his poor experience with the production led in part to his relocating to England to finish out his career). We feel that despite the director’s unhappiness, it is still a very good film.
  • Lolita (1962): Heavily censored because of its controversial subject matter, Lolita is sort of a minor entry in the director’s filmography, but still an effective psychological portrait.
  • Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964): Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here! This is the war room! One of the greatest satires of all time, Strangelove was a parody of the Cold War released at the height of that struggle. Cynical and unflinching in its doomsday logic, this is one of Kubrick’s most well-regarded films, a comedy that works on multiple levels.
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968): Many consider it the greatest science fiction film of all time, but it is not without controversy. The film features several sequences that are essentially incomprehensible, and it appears that this is how Kubrick intended them. Its detractors point out these sequences, while its proponents point out its spectacular visuals and wonderful psychological battle between man and machine.
  • A Clockwork Orange (1971): Another controversial film, Clockwork Orange is about freedom and moral decisions, presented in a manner that is often quite difficult to watch. A real cult favorite for its bizarre, evocative portrait of a dystopian future and the sorts of people that might inhabit it.
  • Barry Lyndon (1975)
  • The Shining (1980)
  • Full Metal Jacket (1987)
  • Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
 
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13 Comments »

  1. Rifty (64) said,

    May 22, 2007 at 10:29 am

    Bit of a silly question, but I’ve heard you using the term in almost every episode since To 6 Heist Movies, and I don’t get it, so I feel I have to ask…

    What, exactly, does “Scenery Chewing” mean?

    -Rifty

  2. Sam (405) said,

    May 22, 2007 at 11:41 am

    Overacting so exuberantly and energetically, that if the actor literally went back to the scenery backdrops and ate them up, it would scarcely be more outrageous a performance. As that description implies, it’s a term that came out of live theater, initially and often still used as a criticism. But today, lots of times when we use it, it’s complimentary, recognizing that a performance is so lively and spirited that it’s infectiously fun.

  3. Jeffrey (84) said,

    May 22, 2007 at 12:37 pm

    Looking forward to later this year when Warner Home Video are releasing a whole bunch of Kubrick’s films as SE DVDs with a whole bunch of extras. I hope they resolve the issue of using the correct aspect ratio’s that Kubrick prefers.

  4. joem18b (231) said,

    May 22, 2007 at 1:10 pm

    Top 6 scenery chewing would be fun.

    There are some gems here: http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=scenery+chewing&search=Search

    (Speaking of Kubrick, in The Killing, scene 16, Elisha Cook wants to say “call a halt” but it comes out “ha…call a halt” or “hall…call a halt.”)

  5. wintermute (157) said,

    May 22, 2007 at 2:58 pm

    The super-fast lens that Kubrick used for his indoor shots was a 50mm f/0.7, if you’re interested. This means that its maximum aperture was over 70mm.

  6. joem18b (231) said,

    May 23, 2007 at 1:03 pm

    I loved Short Cuts. The podcast discussion was great. Having said that, what follows here is just trivial stuff, so anybody wanting serious should skip it.

    - When talking about this movie, did Altman say SHORT cuts or short CUTS or just short cuts?

    - The recent Jindabyne is based on one of the Carver stories also used in Short Cuts (men on fishing trip discover body of dead woman).

    - When Julia Roberts married Lyle Lovett, I realized that there are levels of Hollywood reality beyond my ken.

    - The recent Nine Lives put me in mind of Short Cuts. For those who haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend it.

    - In the Top Six lists that I’ve made, I’ve never listed a movie with Lili Taylor in it, so I’m adding her to my Mother’s Day list for her work in Six Feet Under and Casa de los Babies.

    - Rotten Tomatoes has Short Cuts at 93%, but just to remind us that, as in presidential-approval polls, there is always another opinion, Rita Kempley in the Washington Post: “A cynical, sexist and shallow work from cinema’s premier misanthrope, Robert Altman, who here shows neither compassion for — nor insight into — the human condition.” Boo.

    - One thing that stayed with me about Short Cuts is the moment when Julianne Moore, talking with her husband (?), steps out of the bathroom or bedroom and continues the conversation for a while, or does a monolog, can’t remember which because I was distracted by her full-frontal. I’m sitting there scratching my head wondering, is this acting chops or what? I mean, what is the point here? Just seemed peculiar. If there is a commentary track, I’m looking forward to finding out what Altman was up to in that scene.

  7. Sam (405) said,

    May 23, 2007 at 2:37 pm

    joem18b: If you can find the documentary “Luck, Trust, and Ketchup” — curiously named, but basically it’s a feature-length documentary about the making of Short Cuts — that sheds a lot of light on the creative process there.

    I also second your recommendation of “Nine Lives,” a great, great, great film.

  8. joem18b (231) said,

    May 23, 2007 at 4:35 pm

    Thanks for the lead!

    Btw, one of you mentioned Ken Adam, who did the War Room set in Strangelove. For whomever doesn’t know it, just to mention that Adam went on to do the fantastic under-the-volcano set for You Only Live Twice. It might still be the biggest movie set ever built? He began with a million-dollar budget, back when a million was worth something (1967).

  9. Sam (405) said,

    May 24, 2007 at 9:36 am

    joem18b: We first talked about Ken Adam back in Episode 4, when we covered You Only Live Twice. I think it’s no longer the largest movie set ever built, but what beat it were subsequent James Bond sets.

    Ken Adam is not only a great designer with big budgets, but a great designer with small budgets. I love the room he built for Dr. No to receive Professor Dent and give him the tarantula. It’s dramatic and evocative, but all it really is is an empty room with a funky shaped hole in the ceiling to admit light.

    And he’s also a fantastic interview. I love listening to him in making-of documentaries.

  10. joem18b (231) said,

    May 24, 2007 at 12:16 pm

    At the end of this episode you say “That’s it for Episode 34. The good news is that there will be, and this is official, an Episode 35.” When I first heard this, I took it to mean that further episodes had been in doubt but that yes, there would be at least one more of them. Several other movie podcasts have gone belly-up lately so maybe I’m just sensitized. Or were you just teasing the next episode by letting us know that the segments for it were already in the can?

  11. Jeffrey (84) said,

    May 24, 2007 at 12:18 pm

    You can watch one of Kubrick’s short films “The Flying Padre” here:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OqTlxRYt7B0

  12. Jeffrey (84) said,

    May 24, 2007 at 12:22 pm

    Forgot to add that “Day of the Fight” can be downloaded here:
    http://mutinycompany.com/dayotfight.html

  13. Grishny (156) said,

    June 13, 2007 at 11:47 am

    We recently signed up for Blockbuster’s Total Access membership and are currently on our free 2-week trial. One of the first movies I ordered was Short Cuts, and I watched it last night. Some impressions:

    This film has just about every kind of character in it… some that you love, some that you hate, some that you hate to love and some that you love to hate. The Tim Robbins character especially irritated me, because I felt that the whole movie tried to build up my loathing for the guy and then suddenly in the end tried to turn it around and make me like him again, but I didn’t really feel ready to do so…

    This is certainly one of those movies that doesn’t leave your head after you see it; I actually had difficulty falling asleep last night after watching it because I couldn’t stop pondering it.

    The movie ultimately struck me as rather sad and depressing. Certainly enjoyable, but still… it seems to me that while each character or group of characters had their arc; they’re all stuck in a circular cycle that will repeat itself over and over, except perhaps for the Finnegan family’s story; that certainly had a definite closure but it was not a very uplifting one. Too bad for me, I suppose, that those characters were the ones I think I most identified with.

    I liked how the lyrics of the lounge singer’s music sort of bookended the movie, with her singing about how “we’re all prisoners of life” in the beginning, and then again at the end when she has come to realize that those words were true, and for herself just as much as anybody else.

    If I took anything of value away from this movie, it is perhaps the warning not to make assumptions. We do it all the time, and yet we have no idea what is truly motivating the actions of the people we interact with in the world around us every day.

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