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richard
Posted on Tuesday, November 09, 2004 - 04:13 pm:   

Have just seen a curiously awful movie called VANISHING POINT, made in 1971.

Awful because it's full of hippy cliche (incl. a totally naked blonde flower child on a motorbike who offers to shag Our Hero for "fun") and lacks any real character interaction,or indeed storyline aside from a long, pointless speed-fuelled car chase from Denver to San Francisco.

*Curiously* awful because it was actually very well made in technical terms and despite its multitude of shortcomings, it managed to offer something almost unseen in mainstream movies these days - space!

Space in terms of quiet footage where there is no music and not much happens, so your eyes get the chance to rest on images and reflect.

Space also in terms of some superb secondary and tertiary character acting where you were actually driven to wonder what said secondary and tertiary characters were thinking - and couldn't decide exactly what that might be - thus ambiguity, thus humanity. I suddenly realised, when the end credits rolled that I hadn't doubted the verisimilitude of a single character (apart from the carboard cut-out hero and, of course, the naked biker chick).

My question is this - why, while they're still churning out shit movies by the barrel load, do we no longer get this space, ambiguity and engagement. Is it an evil conspiracy we can blame on Bush, or something else...?

Any thoughts?
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Mastadge
Posted on Tuesday, November 09, 2004 - 05:07 pm:   

I blame MTV, video games, hippies, gays, chocolate milk, and dolphins.
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richard
Posted on Tuesday, November 09, 2004 - 05:45 pm:   

yeah, especially the dolphins. Good point. Goddammned bottle-nosed, bleeding heart layabouts - when was the last time you saw one of them critters in a church?
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Sam
Posted on Tuesday, November 09, 2004 - 10:11 pm:   

"when was the last time you saw one of them critters in a church?"

In the tuna salad, perhaps...
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neilw
Posted on Wednesday, November 10, 2004 - 05:24 am:   

Richard - you've made this Vanishing Point sound quite appealing. I like space (and occasionally naked blonde hippy biker chicks) in my movies. I'm actually finding that modern action movies have too much *action* in them for me. The cuts are sometimes too fast for the eye to track, and it all becomes barely followable motion and loud noise.

Space, yes. Presumably your midwest teen male demographic goldmine just won't stand for it anymore.
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richard
Posted on Wednesday, November 10, 2004 - 05:49 am:   

well, neil, watch at your own risk - it is pretty appalling in terms of story-telling and summer-of-love assumptions. Lines like "Here I am trying to turn you on and you just want to turn me in" (OUCH!!!!) abound.

But you're right, an equivalent movie now (Fast and the Furious?) would leave you no room to think between explosions and gunfire. It's interesting because I thought this was exactly the point with, for example, Eastwood's Mystic River (brilliant) and John Frankenheimer's Ronin (rather less brilliant) - the pacing and style in both was something you just don't see done in these kind of movies any more. It takes dinosaur directors to bring it back in. Otherwise you're stuck with the choice of MTV style action (Bad Boys 2, Van Helsing) or Arthouse (often viscerally rather unsatisfying).

There's definitely some middle ground here that needs filling.
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gary gibson
Posted on Wednesday, November 10, 2004 - 06:07 am:   

There's a book about the shift in Hollywood away from relative cinematic experimentalism to formulaic summer blockbusters, which suggests that many auteur-style directors basically screwed the pooch when it came to effecting any genuine ground-shift in the way movies were made in Hollywood in the Seventies. The book is Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, and I saw it in Fopp (which you'll know, Richard) for about a tenner bundled with a dvd of the accompanying tv series. It's been a while since I read it, though. My personal take on it is that movies like Vanishing Point are very European-influenced in terms of pacing.
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Robert Burke Richardson
Posted on Thursday, November 11, 2004 - 12:24 am:   

I recently saw Spider-Man 2 for the first time (late to the party, I know) and found myself noticing how a lot of Sam Raimi's establishing shots provided a moment to reflect. It's true that there's really not that much to think about in Spidey 2, but the film's relatively old-school use of the language of cinema made it a much better movie than I'd been expecting.
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Lou Anders
Posted on Thursday, November 11, 2004 - 07:10 am:   

Agreed. "Raindrops keep falling on my head" was arguably the best moment in Spiderman 2.

But while I agree that "space" is rare these days, it's not absent. See the remake of the Thomas Crown Affair. I love the scene where they ride in a glider. Gorgeous cinematography and music, and all that happens is they glide. No air combat, no surface to air missiles, no crash-landing.
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richard
Posted on Thursday, November 11, 2004 - 11:18 am:   

Yeah, it was nice to see Raimi at work in SM 2 - though I still thought it was a vastly inferior movie to Darkman, where he infused the whole superhero ethos with far more bleakness and fury, and thus interest. For most of SM 2, I was either bored rigid or going into diabetic shock at the saccharine nobility of it all. Lines like "There's a hero in all of us, Peter..." or "He's just a *kid*" made my toes curl.

Gary - how exactly did these guys "screw the pooch"???

Lou - any idea who directed the TCA re-make?
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Adam
Posted on Friday, November 12, 2004 - 04:33 am:   

Richard - the TCA remake was directed by John McTiernan of Predator and Die Hard fame.

I loved the unambiguous heroism of SM2 - Its overtly optimistic mood further increases the escapism of the whole superhero genre. Okay, some of those lines are toe-curling, but I couldn't help but be swept up with it.
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richard
Posted on Friday, November 12, 2004 - 05:21 am:   

Well, Adam, you got a stronger stomach and a sweeter tooth than me. Give me Miller's Dark Knight, Moore's Watchmen or Milligan's X Force over this stuff any day of the week.

Incidentally, I also suspect SM2 of some nicifying edits, notably where the excruciatingly noble subway passengers place themselves between SM and Doc Oc with the words "You got to come through me first". Seems to me that was perfectly set up for Doc Oc to literally plunge his arms *through* them with all the associated carnage - would in fact have been a classic Raimi touch. But clearly whoever was on tone control judged that far too icky and so we got the sanitised version.

McTiernan, huh? You know it's funny, but even as recently as Predator (1987 recently - eek, I'm old), I think we were getting the space to breathe in (the best of) our action movies. All that trophy-cleanng stuff...
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Robert Burke Richardson
Posted on Friday, November 12, 2004 - 01:07 pm:   

Just saw the "Revenge of the Sith" trailer and... it's brilliant. I know Lucas will only hurt me again, but I just can't resist him!

The trailer is almost like a comic in its procession of images, but with the addition of a procession of meaningful sounds, and Alec Guiness narrating. The images are a mix of episodes I, II, & IV, and the spectacle of the images (to me) seems here subverted in order to focus on the story elements. If you knew nothing of the context, the trailer would just be a succession of images, but they hold great portent for those in the know.

Anyway, that's not so much an observation on visual space within a narrative structure as it is on finally having the emotional space to feel for the Star Wars characters.
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Robert Burke Richardson
Posted on Friday, November 12, 2004 - 01:16 pm:   

Lou;

"Raindrops" was a great moment for me because I didn't expect Raimi to take the film so far in that direction. It was a lot funnier than I was expecting.

Richard;

"There's a hero in all of us, Peter..."

The only way I could get through that awkward scene was to think that Aunt May knows -- or is working her way towards the knowledge -- that Peter is really Spidey. Raimi has said he's only up for three films, so I could see him bringing May into the fold and maybe even marying Peter and MJ in the next one.
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gary gibson
Posted on Friday, November 12, 2004 - 03:00 pm:   

Concerning the 'saccharine' aspect of the spiderman movies - that's actually quite faithful to the tone of the original comic strips, which combined a strong 'soap' element with superheroics. it humanised what had until then been a very two-dimensional genre, and created the idea of a hero whose personal day-to-day problems are as insurmountable in their way as the villains he battles when in costume. *not* having that as an integral and substantial part of the movie would have been a marked move away from the tone of the original comic, and in many ways Raimi was surprisingly faithful to the original stories, up to and including scenes shot to emulate scenes in the original strips.
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richard
Posted on Friday, November 12, 2004 - 06:03 pm:   

soap element, hm. There's this tempting image creeping up on me of Peter Parker hanging out at the Queen Vic - "blimey Pete, there's a l'l bi of a nero in all of us, y'know. Pint of IPA, was it?"
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Lou Anders
Posted on Friday, November 12, 2004 - 06:43 pm:   

Re: Marrying Mary Jane. Maybe. But will he divorce her too, as he is in the comics.
Re: Dark Knight, agreed, though DK2 may have ruined it for me, abit like Matrix Revolutions in that regard.
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Gordon Van Gelder
Posted on Friday, November 12, 2004 - 07:01 pm:   

You might want to compare the THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR remake with the original. The first one was a late-1960s job with a lot of late-1960s effects like split screens/multiple shots and _lots_ of what you call space. There's a long scene in the film of Steve McQueen playing polo and Faye Dunaway watching him and nothing else happens. It's space for some, tedium for others.

My opinion on what's happened to space is that Hollywood and its bottom-line mentality has driven it away. Everything costs. You want to add four minutes of space to a film, how are you going to pay for it? Every movie's supposed to be a blockbuster, and every blockbuster is supposed to be wall-to-wall action, and where are you going to put space in when you've got wall-to-wall action?
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richard
Posted on Saturday, November 13, 2004 - 03:59 am:   

Hi Gordon - yeah, the bottom line definitely has a lot to do with it. But I reckon there's also a sort of "righteous rigour" being applied here. I remember seeing Rutger Hauer interviewed about the ambiguities of character and relationship in "The Hitcher", and he was pretty scathing about Hollywood's insistence on absolute clarity, ie spelling out to the audience every single motivation and reason for every single action. He was advocating giving the viewers the space and letting them work it out for themselves, and he seemed wearily pissed off that the Hollywood machine wouldn't trust its audience enough to take the risk and do that any more.

I've also spoken to a number of people who write screenplays and they seem to concur: there are structured rules for writing a scene, emotional dynamics must follow a certain scheme, characters must be seen to transfer from emotional stance A to emotional stance Z by end of scene. Partly, I think this is just the American Business Model applied to creativity - break it down, see what makes it tick, then reproduce same at factory pitch. You're not a writer, you're some sort of "word technician". But also I think it's driven by a mentality (at studio and at audience level - maybe that mid-west teen demographic you were talking about, Gary) that doesn't *want* to be challenged - "I've paid good money to see this movie, I don't *want* to go home puzzled or reflective, I don't *want* to be asking myself questions, I want it to be a complete, hermetically sealed, wholly enjoyable and wholly disposable experience". Let's rewire that final scene of Casablanca/Lear/Antigone, so it all comes out happy ever after. Let's nail each action to a single clear motivation, so no-one has to wonder abut anything anymore.

Whereas, of course, any decent writer (as opposed to a mere word technician) will know that part of the joy of good work comes from the space and ambiguity *between* motivations, the mesh of conflicting impulses and ill-considered reactions that form the bulk of human behaviour
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gary gibson
Posted on Saturday, November 13, 2004 - 04:05 am:   

gordon - one of the less salient aspects of modern day hollywood is the idea that a viewer should be able to leave his seat in the cinema, spend ten minutes queuing for popcorn, come back, and still be able to follow exactly what's going on. In other words, plot has died in favour of special effects.

Perhaps the problem with movies today is the same as the one I have heard associated with publishing - too many accountants, with an interest solely in profit margins, to whom either movies or books are nothing more than frameworks designed to generate money.
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Adam
Posted on Saturday, November 13, 2004 - 07:10 am:   

"Seems to me that was perfectly set up for Doc Oc to literally plunge his arms *through* them with all the associated carnage - would in fact have been a classic Raimi touch."

Richard - I'd like to check out your script for Spiderman 3! But as Gary says above, the film is similar in tone to the comics, and why it worked so well for me as an uplifting escapist adventure.

As for Predator - I agree with the 'space' in that movie - it adds to the tension between set pieces, and fleshes out character in a way no modern films do.

What has happened to good science fiction films? The most recent good sci fi film was probably Pitch Black, but it'll be nowhere near as iconic in the future.

I *want* to have to think about what I've just watched!
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Gordon Van Gelder
Posted on Saturday, November 13, 2004 - 07:49 am:   

Gary G.---

Your comparison of Hollywood with book publishing is exactly what I had in mind. And to continue the analogy, I find that films with unconventional structures (such as the inclusion of 'space') tend to come from independents, just as indie publishers tend to put out the offbeat books that take bigger risks.

Last night I saw a 1953 Western that was full of long shots of Wyoming range and even included a cattle run in one scene. In light of the discussion here, it got me wondering: what's the last film anyone here saw that had _frontier_ to it. You know, big open spaces, long shots, some romantic notion of humanity living in balance with the environment. I think Clint Eastwood has aimed for some of this in films like A PERFECT WORLD. Can't think of many other recent movies with any kind of frontier spirit. Did that movie with James Garner and Eastwood as old astronauts have it (SPACE COWBOYS, that's the title). Richard, maybe part of your question about space is tied in to America's continuing overpopulation. The new frontier is maybe suburbia? Instead of films about ranchers and sodbusters, we get movies like John Sayles's SUNSHINE STATE about condo developers and homeowners, or something like Zach Braff's GARDEN STATE, in which the landscape-evoking-sense-of-wonder scene occurs in a garbage dump.
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richard
Posted on Saturday, November 13, 2004 - 08:58 am:   

Sorry Neil, I see I attributed your comment on mid west demographics to Gary there -

Adam - you're right about Pitch Black, it was a classic case of a movie built (albeit occasionally rather shakily) around a great SF concept. Another, more subtle example of the same dynamic was Gattaca. (And both were very low budget, interestingly enough.) The strength of both movies was that they were firmly rooted in the characters and didn't (or maybe couldn't afford to) subordinate that to big set pieces and action, which I think is usually the thing SF movies get sold on. For which, personally, I blame George Lucas.
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Robert Burke Richardson
Posted on Saturday, November 13, 2004 - 01:22 pm:   

RE: Frontier

The love affair with the New Zealand landscape in Jackson's LotR (particularly the first two) would count for me. These films, particularly "Fellowship," have a lot of narrative space in them, too -- I was very pleased with all the shots of the ring.

In terms of the North American landscape, the last film I remember that had any interest in it at all was Burton's "Sleepy Hollow" (in another way, I suppose, Shyamalan's "Signs" made nice use of cornfields -- in fact, I think what draws me to Shyamalan's films is precisely the use of the kind of space Richard is talking about). Freaks of the Heartland, a comic by Steve Niles and Greg Ruth, portrays the prarie as this kind of sparse, evocative world. The Coens' "O Brother Where Art Thou" also finds magical/mythic dimensions in North American landscapes.

In the '90s there was "Twin Peaks" and "Northern Exposure." NX particularly had a frontier feel and dealt with frontier issues (remember Maurice, the former NASA astronaut?). "Blue Velvet" in the '80s explored the visual terrain of "Twin Peaks," but I think it was "Eraserhead" in '77 that really replaced the John Ford-style intimidating natural landscape with the claustraphobic, intimidating urban landscape.

Sorry to rattle off so many titles -- once I started thinking about it, more and more came to mind :-)
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Jeremy Lassen
Posted on Saturday, November 13, 2004 - 02:52 pm:   

I just watched a film lat night that seemed to drip with space, and be completely in love with the American landscape -- Snow Falling on Cedars.

The Pacific Northwest setting, and its weather was an important "character" in this film. I had this one sitting on my shelf for over a year, and never got around to watching it, just because I didn't know anything about it. Run out and watch it if you get a chance.

Ethan hawk (of Gattica fame?) turns in an admirable performance, and Max Von Sydow chews up the scenery with a vigorous zeal. The underlying sentimentality was undercut by its unflinchingly grim look at 1950’s American race relations. Good shit.
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Gordon Van Gelder
Posted on Saturday, November 13, 2004 - 06:42 pm:   

Robert---

You beat me to it; I realized today that I could answer my own question with LORD OF THE RINGS.
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Mastadge
Posted on Saturday, November 13, 2004 - 06:59 pm:   

Gattaca.

No I's among DNA's nucleotide bases. Only adenine, cytosine, guanine, and thymine.

Sorry. Third time I've seen that misspelling today.
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Robert Burke Richardson
Posted on Saturday, November 13, 2004 - 08:59 pm:   

Gordon;

Your famous distaste for elves must have blocked your recollections :-)
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Lou Anders
Posted on Sunday, November 14, 2004 - 09:42 am:   

All of the above makes me think that there ARE plenty of films that still make use of this sense of space and reflective moments. They are just often NOT the blockbusters of the year (LORD OF THE RINGS being an exception).

One of my pet peeves is when someone says to me "Why don't they make films like they used to?" and then I rattle off a list of just such films (usually including the aforementioned GATTACA, and generally L.A. CONFIDENTIAL and UNFORGIVEN) only to find out that they haven't seen any of them!

Someone once said that America gets the politicians they deserve (I fear we are seeing this played out right now), but I think America gets the cinema it wants. The average American, who reads maybe one book a year (and that by Clancy, Grisham etc…) does "just want to be entertained" and does not want to be challenged.

Recently, I tried to interest a very smart lawyer friend of mine in William Gibson’s PATTERN RECOGNITION, my thinking being that since it was set in the present-day and was only SFnal-ish as opposed to full-on SF it might be a nice window in. He read the first page and exclaimed, “My God, that’s an art book! What is this, literature?” Whereupon I took him to a waist-high stack of DA VINCI CODEs and said, “Nevermind. This is more your speed.”

Curtis White has a book called THE MIDDLE MIND: WHY AMERICANS DON'T WANT TO BE CHALLENGED that deals with just this phenomenon. I confess, I haven't read the book, as I'm told the execution is not up to the premise – that the lack of challenging entertainment is leading to a dearth of culture affecting everything from quality of life to politics. But I think the subject is spot on and I'd like to see more mainstream discussion of the phenomenon.

So to put this back on Hollywood: There ARE plenty of quality movies made each year, certainly more than I can watch (and why has no one mentioned the tremendous films of Wes Anderson? Plenty of space in BOTTLE ROCKET). The problem is a lack of quality viewers. Terry Gilliam talks a lot about this, how lead by Lucas and Spielberg, Hollywood have untrained mainstream viewers to the point where they are incapable of watching films like FIVE EASY PIECES or THE DEER HUNTER. Of course, the inverse may also be true. A film like the brilliant RUN, LOLA, RUN might have been incomprehensible to viewers in the pre-MTV 1970s.

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Gordon Van Gelder
Posted on Sunday, November 14, 2004 - 11:57 am:   

Lou---

Before we drift off topic here, do you agree with Richard's initial thesis, that films today don't have any "space" in them? We seem to be coming up with maybe two films per year thus far that have what we're calling "space."
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Lou Anders
Posted on Sunday, November 14, 2004 - 12:16 pm:   

No, I might have agreed initially, but now I think I don't. I think you can look back on a decade or a perid and say, "look at all the great work they produced and look at all the junk we have now." But that discounts all the junk that ran alongside of the classic works, the bear-baiting that was going on one street over from the Shakespear performance.

But what I think has happened is that the focus has shifted. Films that featured this "space" might have been viewed by everyone, might have emerged to be the talked about works, in an earlier decade where cinema was regarded almost as another form of literature, whereas today it is typically only the blockbuster that is viewed by everyone. (And yes, the blockbuster is the result of a very deliberate formula being distilled and applied.)

I realize as I type this that I am making a qualitative judgment, relating "space" to more thought-provoking fair, and I may be in error here since it was VANISHING POINT that provoked the discussion initially. But leaving aside judgment calls and simply talking about the presence or lack of "space," I can think of plenty more examples: CROUCHING TIGER, RUSHMORE, (the recent) SOLARIS, CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS MIND, CQ, ETC...

I tend to think that there are just as many films of a particular nature as there is support from viewers seeking that entertainment experience. So, WAX OR THE DISCOVER OF TELEVISION AMONG THE BEES found its audience and BAD SANTA found its.
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Lou Anders
Posted on Sunday, November 14, 2004 - 12:19 pm:   

Oh, and before I forget - no one has mentioned AMERICAN BEAUTY, where "space" (and a dancing trashbag) is pretty much the theme. And if we can extend this to television, SIX FEET UNDER also applies ("It's not TV, it's HBO).
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Mastadge
Posted on Sunday, November 14, 2004 - 12:20 pm:   

I'd also like to point out that a similar change is underway in film scores. We used to have scores by the likes of Bernard Herrmann (Vertigo, etc) and Franz Waxman and all of their ilk that really pulled you in and really earned the emotional and psychological responses they evoked. More and more common is the Media Ventures Jerry Bruckheimer school of film scoring with Wall of Noise style "music" full of synthesized cellos, huge choirs, banks of real and synthesized percussion pounding nonstop, and the sheer volume topping the scale. The kind of music you hear in Pirates of the Carribean, King Arthur, Van Helsing and so forth that's catchy and loud but not at all interesting, that manipulates you into certain moods but isn't worth going back to for another listen, and never changes, and never develops. Of course, there's still good stuff coming out, but honestly, it's been a tremendously depressing few years for film score fans.
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Lou Anders
Posted on Sunday, November 14, 2004 - 12:45 pm:   

Ah, go watch the opening of THUNDERBALL some time. The fight scene has absolutely no music, and the only sound is the sound of the fight - breathing, breaking furniture, scuffling, etc... It's silent the whole way, until the final blow, when bond KOs the badguy over the head with a statue, and they reinforce it with a single note from the orchestra in time with the blow.
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Gordon Van Gelder
Posted on Sunday, November 14, 2004 - 12:47 pm:   

Lou---

I think Richard was probably suggesting a correlation between the amount of space in a film and its quality, but I don't see the two as necessarily being related. The late-60s film MORE, the stoner film with the Pink Floyd soundtrack, struck me as being filled with space -- so much so that it was ultimately an empty movie. (At least as far as my hazy recollection of it goes.) On the other hand, I thought BEING JOHN MALKOVICH was terrific and that was a cramped film with very little space at all.
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Lou Anders
Posted on Sunday, November 14, 2004 - 01:30 pm:   

Gordon, point taken.
Meanwhile, on a related note, we can blame DIE HARD for gobbling up the "space" that used to be allowed in the action genre, essentially making the third act the whole film. Have you ever seen Sam Peckinpah's STRAW DOGS? The film featured what was, at the time, the longest sustained violence in cinema, but only after a very long, slow build.
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Gordon Van Gelder
Posted on Sunday, November 14, 2004 - 03:33 pm:   

Lou---

Seems like a long leap from STRAW DOGS to DIE HARD---they were fifteen years apart, weren't they? But they're definitely comparable in that the violence is confined to one building. I'll have to think about that more.

Richard, would you agree that the "snipe hunt" (or whatever they call it in STRAW DOGS) meets your definition of "space"? That's where they take Dustin Hoffman's character out on a hunt and leave him in the marsh for a long time. (There's more to the plot at this point, but I don't want to say it and spoil it for anyone who hasn't seen the film.)
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Lou Anders
Posted on Sunday, November 14, 2004 - 03:52 pm:   

Gordon,
STRAW DOGS was 1971, DIE HARD 1988. Both were notable (and noted) at the time for their approaches to violence. In the former, Peckinpah's rare non-Western, was called out for its then extreme 12 minutes or so of sustained violence. The latter extends this by essentially dispensing with plot and cutting to act three after the first 10 minutes or so - a brilliant move for that particular film but probably one with a lot of damaging repercussions.
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richard
Posted on Monday, November 15, 2004 - 08:09 am:   

Okay, here's an admission - I've never seen Straw Dogs.

I think, guys, you've pretty convincingly sold me the fact that there are still plenty of movies with space out there, and that I'm just getting old and grumpy. What I perceived as a general lack is probably in fact, as Gordon and Lou are arguing, a lack in the particular ambit of mainstream action movies.

So, I feel simultaneously better about the world than I did when I started this thread, but also still grumpy because I used to be a big fan of mainstream action. The thing is, it's getting harder and harder to feed that taste without switching off my brain first, which I'm not good at. My sister, for example is quite capable of going to see Bad Boys 2 and coming out saying, "Yeah it was mindless shit but I got my two hours of visceral thrills and spills, and that's what I was paying for". I am not. I want my visceral thrills served up with due attention to the fact that I'm not a moron. This used to be feasible, back when action and drama bordered on each other and a powerhouse action movie by definition included powerhouse character and dialogue.

It seems really to be a classic ABM case of identify, isolate, duplicate at volume. Studios (mistakenly, I'd like to think) assume that what sells an action movie is the car chase, the gun battles and the explosions, so why not HAVE A MOVIE THAT CONSISTS ENTIRELY OF THOSE ELEMENTS. Action movie-making then becomes a case of sewing enough of these set pieces together to fill two hours with a minimum regard for secondary factors like characterisation, dialogue, emotional coherence, moral ambiguity, sense of genuine jeopardy or even basic logic. And with those gone, how the hell are you going to manage space. So you end up with Van Helsing and Blade 2 in place of Alien and the Exorcist, Bad Boys 2 and King Arthur in place of Heat and Last of the Mohicans, Spiderman 2 in place of Batman Returns. It's not an good old days/bad new days thing, it's a relatively recent and on-going corrosion...

It's also, incidentally, the reason I find it difficult to get hold of good FPS platform games that don't have cringe-inducing NPS dialogue and storyline. Compared to the all important on-going drive of the game, these factors are clearly not considered important enough for quality control.
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Mastadge
Posted on Monday, November 15, 2004 - 10:12 am:   

Never seen Straw Dogs?! Even *I* have seen Straw Dogs!
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Lou Anders
Posted on Monday, November 15, 2004 - 01:06 pm:   

Richard,
I think you have diagnosed it perfectly. Ad to this the fact that most megastars now arrive on set with their own script doctors, who are contractorally granted the rights to "pump up the scripts" in favor of their respective celebrities. Sean Connery actually has two that come with him to any project.

Meanwhile...
Ah, BLADE 2. As bad as I thought that movie was, I was impressed with the audacity of combining BLADE with BLADE RUNNER.
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gary gibson
Posted on Tuesday, November 16, 2004 - 08:18 am:   

"It's also, incidentally, the reason I find it difficult to get hold of good FPS platform games that don't have cringe-inducing NPS dialogue and storyline."

... so you've played Halo, then? Big cringes.

ps - Straw Dogs: yes, insanely violent, but I think one the main things that kept it out of the cinemas for so long is the rape scene, possibly the nastiest yet committed to film by a director.
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richard
Posted on Tuesday, November 16, 2004 - 12:01 pm:   

I doubt that, Gary - have you seen Bandit Queen? I mean, I haven't seen Straw Dogs, but I've had the rape scene narrated to me a couple of times, and while it sounds grim, it's nothing to what goes on at the centre of Bandit Queen....seriously, I was on the verge of tears by the end of that scene, and when the movie finished I didn't say anything to anybody for about half an hour because I was numb. I hesitate to recommend it, because it really calls into question the idea of why you're watching, but really, it's horrific.

Never played Halo, but I hired Halo 2 now I've got an X-box and yep, criiiiiiiinnnnnnnnnnge. Same goes for Turok Evolution (tho the game play on that one was good enough to make me endure the occasional outburst of "go, marines, go" inanity). This is also what keeps me away from the whole Rainbow Spec Soldier of Fortunate Most Wanted Save the World from Hyperterrorists stuff. I'm just praying Doom 3 and Half Life 2 live up to the expectations their predecessors raised.
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Mastadge
Posted on Tuesday, November 16, 2004 - 01:29 pm:   

In terms of FPS . . . Star Wars: Republic Commando is getting good word-of-mouth . . . at least from Karen Traviss, author of CITY OF PEARL, CROSSING THE LINE, and, of course, a Star Wars: Republic Commando novel -- which happens to be one of the best Star Wars novels yet written. Which to this crowd may be damning by faint praise, but so be it.

To hear what she has to say about it, check out her LJ post on the subject here:

http://www.livejournal.com/users/karentraviss/30989.html
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Robert Burke Richardson
Posted on Tuesday, November 16, 2004 - 09:34 pm:   

Re: space, one of the architects of the modern all-FX-actioner is Steven Spielberg, but while I haven't enjoyed many of his recent films, I do think he has avoided most of the visual narrative problems we're discussing here. If anyone is interested in asking Spielberg himself about this (in the context of his new War of the Worlds), digitalwebbing is taking questions here: http://www.digitalwebbing.com/forums/showthread.php?t=62439

If anyone else is interested in this, would it be okay if we posted trial wordings of the question here and then picked the best one to send?
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richard
Posted on Wednesday, November 17, 2004 - 02:36 pm:   

Robert - sure, absolutely cool with me. Fire away.

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Robert Burke Richardson
Posted on Friday, November 19, 2004 - 11:57 am:   

^Got hit by a deadline, so didn't actually send anything to Mr. Spielberg. I did see Raiders again recently, and found it to be an almost perfect film.
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Will Hindmarch
Posted on Monday, November 22, 2004 - 04:38 pm:   

Wish I'd gotten here sooner. "Raiders of the Lost Ark" is my silver bullet for all filmic discussions; it's a champion film. Unfortunately, modern American action directors (e.g., Michael Bay) seem to think just the truck chase was a great film. Consider that "Raiders" was once considered an action-packed film with wall-to-wall set pieces. In truth, it has a large number of set pieces, but more importantly it places them just so, understanding that negative space is just as important in film as it is in any other medium, and that film is a medium of time, not just framing.

Spielberg is still a very talented director, though I think his sentimentality has overcome his punch. As for space in Hollywood pictures: Amen, brothers, but this is not a new problem. Let's remember that *tons* of movies come out every year, and that ten years later only a tiny fraction of those will be remembered well enough to be used in an argument. Everyone thinks the current year is a terrible year for movies, every year. You guys all passed these points a half-mile back, though; I'm just trying to catch up.

John ("Hunt for Red October") McTiernan is one of the great action directors working today... when he's working. After "Last Action Hero" and "The 13th Warrior," (for which I blame Crichton, not McTiernan), and now "Beyond Borders," he's been having trouble getting much good attention. If Pierce Brosnan gets to do his "Crown Affair" sequel (I just this past week saw TCA again, strangely), maybe we'll see McTiernan again. There's also the ever-looming possibility of a fourth "Die Hard." (McTiernan, for the record, didn't do "Die Hard 2;" that was the laughable Renny Harlin.)

Martin Campbell ("GoldenEye") is another good one. His "Mask of Zorro" is so spacey that it's almost too long, though I respect it (and, hopefully, it's forthcoming sequel) for that in the face of movies like "Pearl Harbor."

A good movie with wide open spaces (literal and figurative), a love of North American landscapes, and a pretty terrific gun fight: Kevin Costner's "Open Range." It's a long, often quiet, sometimes slow picture, but on a second viewing I couldn't find much fat on it, really, except for the last ten minutes. Very satisfying gunplay, too. And loud.

Thinking of it, there's plenty of space in modern Hollywood actioners, it's just that it's all empty space and they've given you nothing to reflect on.
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mastadge
Posted on Monday, November 22, 2004 - 05:55 pm:   

Mask of Zorro is a lot of fun. Definitely one of my guilty pleasure movies. Almost too simple, but I can pop it on any time I want a couple hours of amusement. I hope the second one doesn't suck.
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richard
Posted on Tuesday, November 23, 2004 - 02:47 pm:   

Hi Will - in fact, I really liked 13th Warrior. It had a real Sunday lunchtime movie feel to it, not sure why, but the acting was terrific and the script was pretty sharp as far as character and wit went, and there were some superb moments. All the hairs on the back of my neck stood up at Bulweig's last stand speech, so someone was doing something right. I spent most of the film thinking "These Vikings really deserve a better movie to be in."

Open Range, hmmmmmmmmmm...started very thoughtful and promising, then dissolved into Little House on the Prairie. Embittered cold eyed killer discovers mid-western morality and domestic bliss, all shades of grey bleach out into simple goodies and baddies....yuck. I think they were headed Tombstone-wards, and then someone got cold feet about the ambiguity. I'd agree about the space though - some beautiful wide sky footage.

You're dead right about Raiders - it was a beautifully balanced movie. My favourite line of the whole film: "You want to talk to God? Okay, let's go see him together." That and the genius sword vs revolver bathos.
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Will Hindmarch
Posted on Tuesday, November 23, 2004 - 09:29 pm:   

I consider "13th Warrior" to be a guilty pleasure (and, therefore, bought it on DVD). Rumor is that it was chopped to pieces after Crichton tried to "take over the film." I don't know how much of that is true, but the film was all but abandoned by the studio following a name change (originally named after the book, "Eaters of the Dead") and, I imagine, test audience exposure; I'd love to see what that movie was before. I love it's sense of immersion, the signature moment of language cross-over (a hallmark of McTiernan, insomuch as he also did it well in "Red October"), and the way that battles become clearer to us as the audience as Ibn becomes more accustomed to fighting. Plus, I like the amount of characterization we get on the various warriors -- not a great deal, but a wisely calculated amount for each.

I like "Open Range" because it's not "Tombstone." I have "Tombstone," like "Tombstone," but haven't had a non-epic Western in a while. I like how small the story feels, how up-front and honest, in the face of such huge vistas, how empty the countryside feels. I think it builds to its action well and, man, do I love to see guys go flying from a good scattergun shot. It absolutely does give up on its ambiguity, though, and that's a damn shame.

Nice element to single out of "Raiders," too... Indy and Belloq have an anti-hero/villain relationship you don't get in major action pictures anymore. They get a scene together, and it's not all exposition, threats, or antics. Hell, Indy's the one who threatens to kill Belloq! They don't need a hostage to justify having a scene together... they're just two guys who want the same thing for different reasons. Good stuff.

I should be working on other writing right now. Can you tell? :-)

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