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another dispatch from the end of the world as we know it…
We might as well call it: Cinema as we knew it is dead.
An article at the moviemaking technology website Creative Cow reports that the three major manufacturers of motion picture film cameras — Aaton, ARRI and Panavision — have all ceased production of new cameras within the last year, and will only make digital movie cameras from now on. As the article’s author, Debra Kaufman, poignantly puts it, “Someone, somewhere in the world is now holding the last film camera ever to roll off the line.”
What this means is that, even though purists may continue to shoot movies on film, film itself will may become increasingly hard to come by, use, develop and preserve. It also means that the film camera — invented in 1888 by Louis Augustin Le Prince — will become to cinema what typewriters are to literature. Anybody who still uses a Smith-Corona or IBM Selectric typewriter knows what that means: if your beloved machine breaks, you can’t just take it to the local repair shop, you have to track down some old hermit in another town who advertises on Craigslist and stockpiles spare parts in his basement.
As Aaton founder Jean-Pierre Beauviala told Kaufman: “Almost nobody is buying new film cameras. Why buy a new one when there are so many used cameras around the world? We wouldn’t survive in the film industry if we were not designing a digital camera.” Bill Russell, ARRI’s vice president of cameras, added that: “The demand for film cameras on a global basis has all but disappeared.”
Theaters, movies, moviegoing and other core components of what we once called “cinema” persist, and may endure. But they’re not quite what they were in the analog cinema era. They’re something new, or something else — the next generation of technologies and rituals that had changed shockingly little between 1895 and the early aughts. We knew this day would come. Calling oneself a “film director” or “film editor” or “film buff” or a “film critic” has over the last decade started to seem a faintly nostalgic affectation; decades hence it may start to seem fanciful. It’s a vestigial word that increasingly refers to something that does not actually exist — rather like referring to the mass media as “the press.”
In May 1999 — a year that saw several major releases, including “Toy Story 2,″ projected digitally for paying customers — editor and sound designer Walter Murch wrote a piece for the New York Times headlined, “A Digital Cinema of the Mind? Could Be.” In it, Murch pointed out that only two major aspects of the analog filmmaking process had survived into the late ’90s, the recording of images on sprocketed celluloid film and their projection onto big screens by casting a beam of light through the images. Murch predicted that once digital projection became widespread, it would “trigger the final capitulation of the two last holdouts of film’s 19th-century, analog-mechanical legacy. Projection, at the end of the line, is one; the other is the original photography that begins the whole process. The movie industry is currently a digital sandwich between slices of analog bread.”
Near the end of 1999, my former New York Press colleague Godfrey Cheshire published a two-part article titled “Death of Film/Decay of Cinema“, which in hindsight seems eerily prescient. He predicted just about everything that would happen within the next decade-plus, including the replacement of old-fashioned film print projection by digital systems, the replacement of film cameras by digital cameras, and the near-total takeover of traditional cinematic language by techniques that had once been the province of television.
“Camera, projector, celluloid,” Cheshire wrote, “the basic technology hasn’t changed in over a century. Sure, as a form of expression, film underwent a radical alteration with the addition of sound, but that and other developments – color, widescreen, stereo, etc.–were simply embellishments to a technical paradigm that has held true since photographic likenesses began to move, and that everyone in the world has thought of as “the movies” – until this summer. […] For the time being, most movies will still be shot on film, primarily because audiences are used to the look, but everything else about the process will be, in effect, television – from the transmission by satellite to the projection, which for all intents and purposes is simply a glorified version of a home video projection system.”
Although I’ve become more of a surly classicist with age, I was an early defender of movies shot on video, and I really don’t see the point of doing a Grandpa Cinema routine, waving a cane and hollering that the movies somehow “equal” film. That’s silly. Cinema is not just a medium. It is alanguage. Its essence — storytelling with shots and cuts, with or without sound — will survive the death of the physical material, celluloid, that many believed was inseparably linked to it. The physical essence of analog cinema won’t survive the death of film (except at museums and repertory houses that insist on showing 16mm and 35mm prints).
But digital cinema will become so adept at mimicking the look of film that within a couple of decades, even cinematographers may not be able to tell the difference. The painterly colors, supple gray scale, hard sharpness and enticing flicker of motion picture film were always important (if mostly unacknowledged) parts of cinema’s mass appeal. The makers of digital moviemaking equipment got hip to that in the late ’90s, and channeled their research and development money accordingly; it’s surely no coincidence that celluloid-chauvinist moviegoers and moviemakers stopped resisting the digital transition once they realized that the new, electronically-created movies could be made to look somewhat like the analog kind, with dense images, a flickery frame rate, and starkly defined planes of depth.
But let’s not kid ourselves: Now that analog filmmaking is dead, an ineffable beauty has died with it. Let’s raise two toasts, then — one to the glorious past, and one to the future, whatever it may hold.
interview with director Alex Roman…
Some philosophies of aesthetics enumerate seven primary art forms derived from Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’s “Lectures on the Aesthetics” and the writings of film theorist Ricciotto Canudo: architecture, sculpture, painting, dance, music, poetry, and cinema.
The order is disputed, and architecture is sometimes shuffled to the third position, as it was by aspiring filmmaker Alex Roman for the title of his breathtaking work in progress, The Third & The Seventh, an artful combination of photorealistic architectural renderings and stylish CG cinematography.
In Roman’s able hands, the combination is undeniably poetic. His reverence for light borders on transcendent, and his attention to detail is inspiring. We caught up with Alex for a little background information.
Justin Cone: Tell us a little about yourself. Who are you? Where are you from? What do you currently do?
Alex Roman: I was born in 1979, in Alacant (Alicante), a city in Spain. I would first like to say that my real name is Jorge Seva, but I use “Alex Roman” as an artistic alias for publishing independent work. After being trained in traditional painting at a few academies, I discovered this other world called CG. After school, I made the move to Madrid and began working at a visual effects company. That stint did not last too long due to the lack of demand for visual effects in the Spanish market at the time. It was then that I switched into the VIZ (architectural visualization) business. I have been working for several companies since. After that, I took a sabbatical year for to work on an “already-built work” visualization series, which will be stitched together into a short animated piece.
JC: Were you formally trained in architecture?
AR: Nope, never. But I was very interested in architecture since I was a child. Maybe it’s not too late.
JC: Can you tell us a little about the TheThird & The Seventh film?
AR: Well, after working in VIZ for years, I realized that there was a huge aesthetic difference between most clients’ commercial demands and photography of already-built structures. The lack of respect for the architecture itself in some “pure” commercial illustration was very frustrating to me. (Well, this is just my opinion, of course.) Then, I decided to start a personal journey: to experiment with a more cinematographic and/or photographic oriented point of view of some of my favorites architects’ masterpieces. Hence, the “The Third & The Seventh” project…
JC: After thumbing through a book of Frank Lloyd Wright’s sketches once, I chatted with an architect friend of mine about the art of architectural rendering. He told me that sometimes architects intentionally leave sketches vague or messy. It not only creates wiggle room when it comes to client negotiations, it leaves room for the imagination to paint in details. How would you respond to that idea?
AR: Well, there are of course several purposes behind computer graphics benefits. That “messy” representation style is very useful at a birth-idea/growing-process stages. Also, there are of course many architects that use CG as a sketching oriented tool… why not?
JC: Your sensitivity to light is amazing. How would you describe the interplay between light and architecture?
AR: Thanks! I think architecture is sculpting with light most of the time. There’s neither volume nor colors and materials without light and shadow. Like Kahn said once: “In the old buildings, the columns were an expression of light. Light, no light, light, no light, light, you see…”
JC: The level of realism in the The Third & The Seventh is stunning. Your render times must be incredible. What software and hardware do you use? How long is an average render?
AR: I use 3DS Max and Vray for rendering, Photoshop for texture work, AfterEffects for compositing and color grading and Adobe Premiere for edit it all. My desktop PC (i7 920) it’s now the only hardware i have. Every frame rendertime may vary from 20 sec to 1:30 hr (720p) It all depends on how complex the scene is. However, i invested a lot of time in scene optimization for rendering. I think it’s the key for a flexible workflow.
JC: How can we see the full The Third & The Seventh film?
AR: I’m finishing the latest shots, fighting with the music—the hardest stage for me—and editing at the moment. We will see it complete around the end of the summer of 2009. I really hope so!
“THE THIRD AND THE SEVENTH” 2009 directed by Alex Roman
ART IN CINEMA part 2: Walther Ruttmann and the medium of the future…
by DR. WILLIAM MORITZ
The term “Absolute Film” was coined by analogy with the expression “Absolute Music,” referring to music like Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos which had no reference to a story, poetry, dance, ceremony or any other thing besides the essential elements – harmonies, rhythms, melodies, counterpoints, etc. – of music itself. Cinema even more than music seems dominated by documentary and fiction functions, both of which relied on film recording human activities which had their primary existence and meaning outside the film theatre. Absolute Film, by contrast, would present things which could be expressed uniquely with cinematic means. Other terms for this film genre sprouted everywhere: “Pure Cinema” (which was purely cinematic), “Integral Cinema” (Germaine Dulac’s phrase, using “Integral” in the French sense of “Wholly and completely”) and finally the two socio-political terms “Avant-Garde” and “Experimental,” the first of which unfortunately implies military scouts invading enemy territory and the second of which sadly implies the filmmaker groping for some unclear result.
The most unique thing that cinema could do is present a visual spectacle comparable to auditory music, with fluid, dynamic imagery rhythmically paced by editing, dissolving, superimposition, segmented screen, contrasts of positive and negative, color ambiance and other cinematic devices. Already in the 1910s, the Italian Futurists Arnaldo Ginna and Bruno Corra made at least nine films, painting directly on the filmstrip not only non-objective pieces (the gradual takeover of the all-green screen by a red star, playing with afterimage) but also taking a divisionist painting by Segantini (a girl lying in a field of flowers) and re-painting it on frame after frame of the film to allow the colored dots to vibrate even more brilliantly than on the canvas. Unfortunately these films are all lost, as is the German Hans Stoltenberg’s film painted directly on the filmstrip about the same time. Other artists made plans for abstract films that were never realized: Leopold Survage (Parisian-based friend of Picasso and Modigliani) painted several hundred sequential images, Colored Rhythm, in full color on paper, with the hope that they could be filmed, but he was unable to find an adequate color process before World War I put an end to his project. Likewise the Polish artist Mieczyslaw Szczuka drew numerous sequential images on scrolls of paper, and published two fascinating samples in 1924, just a couple of years before his death, but was apparently not able to get them filmed.
Walther Ruttmann was the first filmmaker to finish an Absolute Film and distribute it in public cinemas. A painter and musician by training, Ruttmann renounced his abstract oil painting in 1919, declaring film to be the art-medium of the future. He mastered the techniques of filmmaking, and prepared his first film Movie Opus I with single-framed painting on glass and animated cutouts. The film was colored by three methods – toning, hand-tinting, and tinting of whole strips – so there was no single negative, and each print had to be assembled scene by scene after the complex coloring had been done. An old college buddy Max Buttingcomposed a musical score for the finished film, and Ruttmann himself played the cello in the string quintet that performed live with each screening at several German cities in the Spring of 1921. Ruttmann made three more Opus films, but used simpler tinting and did not prepare special music so that the films could be more easily and widely screened.
On May 3, 1925 the UFA Theatre on Kurfurstendamm in Berlin hosted an historic matinee screening, The Absolute Film, which included a live performance of three Color Sonatinas by Ludwig Hirschfeld-Mack of the Bauhaus, using a “color-organ” instrument he had constructed called the Reflectorial ColorPlay. Viking Eggeling’s Diagonal Symphony received its public premiere (Eggeling was unfortunately in the hospital, unable to attend). Walther Ruttmann screened his Opus 3 and Opus 4. (Hans Richter‘s 30-second Film is Rhythm had been listed on the program, but when Richter realized the scope and complexity of Ruttmann and Eggeling’s films, he withdrew his little test). Rene Clair’s film Intermission had been shot as an intermission feature for the Dada ballet No Performance Today designed by painter Francis Picabia with music by Eric Satie (both also appear in the film, along with Man Ray and Marcel Duchamp, and the lead dancers from the Swedish Ballet, who had given No Performance Today its premiere in Paris in the fall of 1924). Rene Clair used every sort of cinematic device to give Intermission a zany Surrealist improbable logic, and it certainly qualifies as absolutely a film – something that could only be done by cinematic means. Similarly the film Mechanical Ballet used imagery in non-realistic fashion as rhythmic and satirical collisions of ideas. It also passed through a number of different hands before it was finished, also in the fall of 1924.
Two Americans began it: Man Ray had produced the superb Return to Reason (a witty collage of all things “movie”) which screened at a Dada happening, “An Evening with the Bearded Heart”. Dudley Murphy, who had filmed about 10 “Visual Symphony” live-action shorts synchronized with music, as well as a comedy feature and an animation film, saw Man Ray’s film and proposed that they collaborate on a larger work. The title came from a Francis Picabia satirical artwork published in his magazine 391 while Picabia was living in New York in 1917 – in an issue which also contained artwork and a poem by his friend Man Ray. Dudley Murphy and Man Ray set out to gather footage in the streets of Paris, animated stocking-model legs to do the Charleston, made scenes of Murphy’s lovely wife Katherine posed in greeting-card banalities, and set up scenes in a studio room where they filmed Man Ray’s mistress Kiki (and various other things) through special beveled lenses that Murphy had developed, which gave an automatic “cubist” quality to the image. They also shot footage of kitchen goods and plunging machine parts which were meant for an ironic intercutting with pornographic footage. Then they ran out of money. The painter Fernand Leger offered to finance the completion, but Man Ray dropped out and asked that his name not be used on the film. It is unclear what if any of the footage Leger had a part in filming (the Charlie Chaplin puppet is a Leger sculpture, though he would not know how to animate it), but the editing was accomplished by Murphy, since Leger had no actual filmmaking skills.
The first surviving abstract film, Walther Ruttmann’s Light-Play Opus Nr. 1, was shot in 1919 and 1920, had a musical score composed for it and premiered in April 1921. It makes brilliant use of color. Ruttmann had been a painter and his last abstract canvases were characterized by many delicate nuances of painterly brushstrokes and fine gradations of unmixed colors. In moving to film, Ruttmann tried to capture some of the same variety and dynamics by using three coloring techniques: tinting, toning and hand-tinting, that is, coloring the emulsion so dark areas have a hue, dying the film strip so the light areas have another color, and adding touches of other colors to specific shapes by painting directly on each film frame. This meant that each individual scene had to be printed separately (from black-and-white negative pieces), and each projection print of the film had to be assembled from a hundred fragments. The surviving copy of Opus 1 was somewhat incomplete, but one can reconstruct the film quite accurately because Ruttmann drew color pictures in the musical score (with precise indications of repeats and changes of color) so that the musicians could synchronize exactly. Ruttmann limited the imagery to a confrontation between hard-edged geometric shapes and softer pliant forms, and allowed the colors not only to characterize certain figures, but also to establish mood, as in the long blue “nocturne” of the second movement. When Ruttmann followed this with subsequent abstract Opus films, he avoided the complex color effects of his first film. He gave general orange and green tints to scenes in Opus 2 and Opus 3, but the all hard-edged, optically-vibrating Opus 4 remained black-and-white for maximum contrast.
for more ART IN CINEMA see part 1…