Thursday, December 18, 2014

American Filmmaking: The Era of Accessibility

After completing our final readings and considering our film screening - you decide: what new era is American cinema in today? Feel free to come up with your own name, and also please explain what defines this era. How is it different from previous eras (or perhaps how is it the same?)? What are those changes in criteria (biz, technology, culture) and how have they affected the art form? Are we in the middle of a transition, and if so what might be in store for the future?

If there was a word to sum up the current era of American cinema, that word would be accessibility. The shift from film to digital, along with the introduction of quality consumer video cameras, online streaming, and advancements in 3d modeling/VFX have impacted nearly all areas of the medium. Primarily, this is because all of these things have enabled filmmaking to be accessible to the masses. It is easier than ever for anyone to pick up a camera and start edit some clips together on the computer, and already made videos and movies are available right off the couch. This has led the industry to make several significant shifts.

First, free video streaming sites like YouTube have introduced entirely new genres of filmmaking and a new generation of internet video stars. Remixing and vlogging have become practically commonplace online, with viral videos turning into worldwide phenomenons that spark clothing lines, posters, apps, and nearly any kind of merchandise imaginable. Many individuals have made millions of dollars just posting videos they've made by themselves online, a feat the notice of which has not been escaped by high profile hollywood studios. Many industry-made films have been marketed through viral video attempts and online promotion. With paid streaming programs like Netflix, Amazon on Demand, and iTunes, some industry-made films are decided not be released in theaters at all, skipping straight to an online release. This decision is only becoming more feasible, cheap, and popular with each year. In the past, much of the filmmaking process took into account how the film would be projected and marketed. But with the introduction of instant entertainment, neither of those is an issue. 

Also, surprisingly enough, big budget studio films have also been significantly effected by the new accessibility of filmmaking. To compete with the online video personalities, these films have begun to rely on digital filmmaking and new technologies to stand out. This has become more and more possible through the increasingly easy to use software that is coming out to edit, color correct, add effects, and mix sound. Even beginners can take on these roles rather quickly as technology continues to improve. 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Film History: Hollywood Studio Years Reading Reflection

1. Why did the American movie audience change so much over this era and what effects did that have on the art form? The business?

Although most scholars agree that the primary cause of the significant drop in the percentage of the US population that went to the movie theater weekly was the introduction of the television, other factors did come into play as well. During the baby boom following WWII, growing families flocked to the suburbs (far from the movie theaters) and desired entertainment that was available from home, like the radio. This, along with the end of the depression, also meant spending sprees on home buying, which left little money and time for the movies. Another reason for this drop was the fewer number of singles who would go on dates to the movies, as people started getting married earlier.

All of these factors had a profound influence on both the business and the art form, as studios began losing the money and power necessary to create films as they had previously. They began to produce films on a monthly, rather than weekly basis, that could primarily be categorized as easy-to-make "B" movies. With the younger generations focusing on other things, films began to draw mostly older individuals who desired more serious "art" films with strong messages and themes rather than the flashy blockbusters of the past. This want drove the studios to comply in order to provide for themselves, although they were far more comfortable with the traditional formula and tried to stick to that strongly as well.  They started experimenting with new flashy technology like 3-d and smell-o-vision, along with better quality images to draw audiences, and tried to bring films to the suburbs through drive-ins. The new technology was not cheap for movie theaters, and the grand "palaces" of the past had to be replaced with the familiar concession stands of today.

2. How was America's cultural identity reflected or affected by Hollywood?

As Hollywood became a driving cultural component in American life, its integration enabled it to greater affect and reflect society. Celebrities found themselves with a great deal of power outside of the film world as thousands of fans idolized them and by extension their opinions, which inspired many of them to go into political activism. But even on a more basic level, movie-goers wanted to be like the stars they admired and were driven to new fashion styles and interests. During WWII and the Cold War, Hollywood's far reaching power also made Americans weary, particularly those with strong anti-communist and anti-facist views. Knowing the strong appeal of celebrity culture and ideals, many did not want their children's, friends, and peers to be swayed to embrace communist and fascist ideologies and were extremely quick to attack those in hollywood for displaying any remote show of support for those causes, as was evident from the blacklist and McCarthyism.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Silent Film Creative Piece --- Metropolis

This piece is inspired by the German Expressionist film Metropolis (1927), directed by Fritz Lang. The film, as well as the movement it is associated with, significantly utilizes a very pronounced overall mise-en-scène in order to create an extravagent and self-aware composition. This is achieved through the use of unnatural acting styles, stylized sets and costumes, lighting contrasts, and unexpected camera angles, which becomes symbolic and reflective of emotional states brought forth in the narrative and themes. In Metropolis, these stylistic decisions emphasize the magnificence of the well-off in Metropolis in juxtaposition to the bleakness of the workers’ environments, successfully coinciding with the attitudes of each class towards their surroundings and the surroundings of their peers. The combination of bitterness and ignorance is a recurring theme in the film, with the workers directing bitterness towards the ignorant industrialists, Rotwang’s bitterness towards Joh Fredersen and his family, who Rotwang blames for the death of Fredersen’s wife, and Fredersen’s ignorance of this fact. These feelings and the contrasting social groups are a driving force of the film which the style works to bring forth. Therefore for this piece, I wanted to capture the function of the highly visible mise-en-scène that is so prominent in Metropolis. I took the shot of the workers going down the elevator, exaggerating and extrapolating it. The elevator shot stood out to me in its physical and symbolically emotional enclosure of indistinguishable workers, going down to face the intense horrors of underground work. To me, the shot looked almost like a movie theater, with the workers watching the upper world go by on the screen: a world that they will never be able to tangibly interact with. In order to emphasize this, I drew the new tower of babel, the peak of the city, and its surroundings in place of what had actually been in the shot. I also wanted to emphasize the contrast of the two worlds, and the feelings each has towards the other, so I drew the workers and the elevator in black and white, with very sharp and jagged scrawls, and the city in bright colors. The Metropolis in the drawing resembles a beacon of light, while the elevator resembles terrifying miseries. And that is the role that both worlds fulfill in the film, both in the eyes of the industrialists and the workers. 

Friday, September 26, 2014

Birth of Cinema- Extra Credit Blog Post

1. On my most recent outing into New York City, I had the most fortunate delight of experiencing the marvelous spectacle that is The Great Train Robbery. Through my writing and secret adherence to many of the eccentric technologies of the coming age, I had occasionally found myself at various Kinetoscope Parlors in my recesses from writing, when I had a few jitneys to spare. At the time, I considered the moving pictures to be a rather astounding gimmick. I could observe San Francisco in all its likeness through a little box from miles away! It was a peculiar display, and quite difficult for me to fully ponder. Like God Himself, science has advanced to such a degree that it is entirely possible to return backwards in time. Impossible! It cannot be so! 'Twas a common opinion of my peers. Yet, as the rational fellow that I have prided myself on being these many decades, I took this godly invention with a grain of salt. A neat trick, but altogether impractical, I thought. Interest in such a thing will quickly diminish, just as we have seen with each new fad come and gone. Alas! After The Great Train Robbery I now see the err in my ways. Perhaps this newborn feeling originates from its display, as its utilization of "projection" was a feat I had yet to discover. But, I do not believe this to be the case. This moving picture was not a moving picture at all! It was a gripping tale of crime in the plains, with action that I fear has not once graced the stage. Each moment was terrifying and thrilling, as though it was truly happening before my eyes. Occasionally, bursts of wondrous colours danced on the images, like brief windows into true human perception of the events. Although it was slightly disorienting and challenging to follow the story, as one moving image would turn into a different one and the narrative would continue, I felt it made the suspense that much more gripping. But the most noteworthy moment of the moving picture was truly the last, during which the theater jumped in their seats and audibly gasped. There was the cowboy before us, pointing a pistol right towards us! It felt I was facing my end right then and there! If you do make an outing of your own to a showing of this spectacular, which I recommend wholeheartedly, do prepare yourself for a shockingly present experience of the future, for I can now earnestly say this gimmick here is here to stay!

2. In 1903 when The Great Train Robbery was released, film was generally just brief glimpses of everyday life rather than narratives. The film also coincided with the birth of projection, which made movies seem that much more "real" to audiences. Although in the 21st century, we are rather used to cutting and the cinematic language used in narrative films, at the time editing had only been very minimally seen, and thus would have been slightly confusing to audiences while also being more quick-paced and exciting. The Great Train Robbery marked the permanence of film, that at the time seemed to only be a fad, through its unique use of storytelling for the time.