Friday, January 31, 2014

Miklós Jancsó (1921-2014)

A scene from Silence and Cry (Jancsó, Hungary, 1968)

The “tracking shot in Kapo,” a little seen film by Gillo Ponecorvo, has become short hand for a type of aestheticization of the Atrocities of War, an easy out for criticism to label depictions of horror on moral levels via aesthetics. Many critics (including myself at times) often feel queasy attacking a film on moral grounds (the usual “what gives us the right to judge” connotations etc etc), but formal discussions become fair game to sneak such articulations in. This is our expertise after all.

Miklós Jancsó’s tracking shots don’t offer easy aesthetic answers in terms of their morality. Formally they are breathtaking: dollies, zooms, whip-pans, the whole works to create a lucid sense of space, one that is not about tracking us through a space, but disorienting us. Jancsó shifts emphasis throughout – information (ie. the characters) enters and exit the frame; they become the dominant center before suddenly retreating to the background. It’s different from what Robert Altman would do, because Altman treated everyone equally. Jancsó’s shifts are more sudden and jerky; scenes are always interrupted by the presence of new information.

If morality of films were only judged by their formal elements, Jancsó would be more damning than Kapo. Except Jancsó’s political explorations justify such aesthetics. He lived in a country that was literally torn: first during the war, and secondly between its Soviet influence and its Western aspirations. A film like The Red and the White, the agreed upon canonical title of his work, presents an seemingly unending war in which victors, villains, and victims are all one in the same. His idea of a tracking shot is not to sweep us up in emotion. It’s to throw us around into the shit.

Jancsó passed away yesterday. David Hudson provides more news here.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Blu Wings

In my continuing work with Masters of Cinema, my latest booklet is on William Wellman's glorious and Oscar winning epic Wings from 1927. It's a wonderful film, and a unique one for Wellman's career, who would go on to create some of the most bizarre and lovingly made B movies like Night Nurse, Westward the Women, Yellow Sky, and Lady of Burlesque

Wings is perhaps his most famous film, and thus the booklet does what it can to honor the film and Wellman. It includes a fantastic new text and image essay from Gina Telaroli entitled "This is the excellent foppery of the world," a 1978 interview with Wellman by Scott Eyman, and an excerpt from his own autobiography discussing his own relationship with the stuntmen he worked with. 

I did find a few more things through my research, and while some of them fall under certain copyright restrictions that I cannot reproduce here, this excerpt below falls under fair use and is worth your time: "Half Way To Heaven," by Albert Boswell, which is a 1930 profile of stuntmen published in The New Movie Magazine (and only ran for about five years). Thanks to the wonderful folks at Lantern, I was able to track this down. Alas, space kept it out of the booklet, but it's a good read for you before you buy the Blu-Ray