Reading the Movies MEME

MovieMan0283 at The Dancing Image started a meme called “Reading the Movies”, where the writer lists their top 10 list of books on films that have been an inspiration. I haven’t read many film books (or at least that’s what I tell myself), and most of the following were required reading for my film-related classes. But they all have inspired me in some capacity, so enjoy the following. I look forward to checking out the other lists when I get the chance.

In order of their placement on my bookshelf…


Title: Awake in the Dark
Author: Roger Ebert
Inspiration: If there’s one thing that I like about Roger Ebert, it’s his unmistakable love of movies, and you can’t help but feel inspired by it.


Title: The Great Movies (Parts I and II)
Author: Roger Ebert
Inspiration: Ditto from above. And I believe this was the first time I read about Fellini.


Title: I Lost It at the Movies
Author: Pauline Kael
Inspiration: Pauline Kael has inspired me to watch several movies so that I can read her book intelligently. (It hasn’t happened yet)


Title: Celluloid Mavericks: A History of American Independent Film Making
Author: Greg Merrit
Inspiration: There’s something to be said about going back to early days of film, and Celluloid Mavericks does this well. I was introduced to the likes of Edgar Ulmer, Jim Jarmusch, John Cassavetes, Robert Aldrich, and Samuel Fuller. (We also watched some Lynch and Coen as well, who I was already familiar with). It was a great class.


Title: A New History of Documentary Film
Author: Jack C. Ellis
Inspiration: I hadn’t seen too many documentaries before taking this class, and wasn’t a big fan. I always thought of documentaries as stuffy, boring, and filled with talking heads. Little did I know how intriguing documentaries could be, and how narrative translate so well to them. If there’s one thing the I learned from this book, it’s that everyone has a story to tell. How you tell that story is another thing. I am now a fan of Albert & David Maysles, Errol Morris, D.A. Pennebaker, Steve James, and many others. I learned more about cinema verite, which is a favorite subject of mine.


Title: Silent Movies: The Birth of Film and the Triumph of Movie Culture
Author: Peter Kobel
Inspiration: I watched Greed and Sunrise. Is there anything else to say?


Title: Through a Screen Darkly
Author: Jeffrey Overstreet
Inspiration: Perhapy my biggest inspiration of all. Jeffrey encourages his readers to look closer and to seek out quality films. Auto-biographical in nature, the story of his forays into film are personally wonderful.


Title: European Cinema
Author: Elizabeth Ezra
Inspiration: Another film class textbook that introduced me to Ingmar Bergman, Sergei Eisenstein, Vittorio De Sica, Werner Herzog, Jean-Luc Godard, Federico Fellini, Jean Renoir, Fritz Lang, and many more.


Title: Story
Author: Robert Mckee
Inspiration: Highly recommended for writers of any kind. Stories are everywhere.


Title: Screenplay
Author: Syd Field
Inspiration: This falls into the same grouping as Story, but with more emphasis on the format of a script.

Consider yourself TAGGED.


Nashville Film Festival Report, Day 2


Day 2 of the Nashville Film Festival started with the 1:00 showing of a documentary called Capturing Reality: The Art of Documentary. The overall format of the film was interviews with a host of documentarians around the world broken up by clips from their films. I appreciated the range of talking heads, as there were many faces that I didn’t recognize. After the film was over, I came away with two cemented ideas: Errol Morris continues to fascinate me (Especially with his interviewing device showcased in Fog of War), and I appreciate Werner Herzog more and more…but trust him less. He blurs the line between fact and fiction too much for my tastes. His point that all film in a sense is fictionalized, but I don’t think that should stop filmmakers from trying to portray truth in the films. This is a discussion that I would have liked to see more interaction with between the interviewed.

Mothers and Daughters

After a quick lunch, I watched Mothers & Daughters at 3:15. This film followed the mother/daughter relationships between several characters, overlapping in some areas. Overall it came across as being overly dramatic in several scenes, but there were a few gem moments that really touched me. The older woman (pictured above)  in the film was fantastic. The emotionality of the character was portrayed with such subtelty.


I admit that William Shatner was one of the selling points of the festival for me. I’d read a little about the William Shatner’s Gonzo Ballet here and there, but wasn’t quite sure what it was about until watching it at the festival. In short, it’s a documentary that tells the story behind choreographer Margo Sappington’s ballet Common People. The performance fuses the ballet with Has Been, a recent album by William Shatner and Ben Folds. The documentary, which works more as a DVD special feature than a feature-length film, tells the story through interviews with the artists involved in both productions, which is a great story to tell. It also features footage from the ballet, which was riveting to say the least. I would have loved to see it performed live. After returning from Nashville, I purchased a copy of Has Been, which is quite a treat.



Directed By: Pete Doctor / Bob Peterson
Written By: Bob Peterson
Voices: Edward Asner / Christopher Plummer

Up is the latest animated film from Disney / Pixar, and is a treat for all ages. It follows the exploits of Carl Fredricksen, a disgruntled, elderly balloon salesman, and a local boy scout named Russell, as they set off in a grand adventure to South America in Carl’s house, propelled by a plethora of colorful balloons.

That’s the most that I want to give away from a film that everyone should experience for themselves. I was impressed by the balance between the style and the narrative in Up. The opening 15 minutes or so, for example, is in essence a montage, that blends the two together perfectly and sets up the rest of the film nicely.

Pixar has a history of technical excellence, and Up definitely falls into this category. It was released in 2D and 3D formats, and I applaud the Pixar team for creating a 3D film that doesn’t feel too gimmicky. The 3D format accentuates the film, and doesn’t draw too much attention to itself, taking the viewer out of the experience.

From the beginning of the film, the story evokes feelings of nostalgia, childlike innocence. While Up is a decidedly humorous (Sometimes too silly for my tastes) family film, it’s also very serious, touching upon themes of family, belonging, and fear.

Following in the footsteps of WALL·E, I love Pixar’s emphasis on non-verbals, especially in the opening montage, drawing upon Charlie Chaplin’s physicality, antics, and especially pathos. The emotionality of the film was especially heightened by Michael Giacchino’s breathtaking score, which kept me in my seat during the end credits.

While I found the story especially moving at times, however, some of the dialogue seemed forced and on-the-nose. An example of this would be when Russell tells Carl about his family, a scene that felt like tacked on exposition to get the story moving. In writing a story, subtlety is a virtue.

And while I was more than wiling to accept the fantastic nature of the film by leaving my brain at the door and taking my heart with me, there were certain elements that left me scratching my now empty head.

But aside from a few issues that I had with the film, Up is a truly fantastic film that everyone deserves to see. The themes and characters are so rich that the whole family can take something away from it.

Nashville Film Festival Report, Day 1

This post is a long time in the writing, largely due to graduating from college, and the extended trip back home to Pennsylvania. It has given me more time to digest the films that I watched, however. I had the opportunity to attend the Nashville Film Festival again this year, and it was a great experience. Aside from watching some great films, I also had the opportunity to hang around with some of the people involved in the creation of these films, through the Q&A sessions after their films and bumping into them outside of the theater. I would like to write up a post for each day that I was at the film festial, briefly recounting what went on and my quick reactions to the many films that I saw.


On Thursday, April 16th, (500) Days of Summer started the festival at 7:00 PM. Directed by newcomer Marc Webb, the film is a semi-romantic comedy. (Watch the preview here) Leads Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel have a great on-screen chemistry that propels the film. The style and narrative structure of the film is unique and postmodern at times. It is centered around Tom (Gordon-Levitt), who falls in love with Summer (Deschanel). The film jumps around from the aftermath of Summer breaking up with Tom, and the 500 days before-hand. It’s quirky, but at the same time realistic. Look for it’s limited release on July 17th, and pray that it gets picked up for a wider audience.

After the film, there was a quick Q&A between director Marc Webb (right) and Variety film critic Joe Leydon (left). Afterwards I found myself in a conversation with the two outside of the theater. At one point they were talking about the differences between Truffaut and Goddard, at which point Mr. Leydon showed off a tatoo of film strip that read “Truffaut Lives”.


Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison

(Seen at the Nashville Film Festival)

Directed by documentarian Bestor Cram and written by Johnny Cash biographer Michael Streissguth, Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison is a fascinating look at Cash’s famous live recording behind the titular bars.

With the lack of actual footage of the event, Cram pulled together a collection of photographs taken at the concert by Jim Marshall, interviews with people involved and affected, and rare footage taken inside Folsom.  Where the film could have easily been devoted to one story, I appreciate the narrative balance presented here. Instead of dealing with the ups and downs of Johnny Cash’s life like so many other films, Cram instead focuses on Cash’s life surrounding the Folsom Prison performance and two inmates whose lives were affected by his performance.

While I didn’t particularly care for Millard Dedmon’s story, he seemed to serve as an amalgamation of the Folsom inmates. Glen Sherley, on the other hand, is the driving force of the film. While at Folsom, Sherley wrote a song called “Greystone Chapel”. The night before the performance, his recording ended up in the hands of Johnny Cash, who performed the song the following day. Cash and Sherley became good friends, with Cash helping Sherley out years after he was released from Folsom. It’s a fascinating story that will stick with you; that’s the power of good cinema.

The first documentary to focus exclusively on such an important event, Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison succeeds at telling such a captivating story in just 87 minutes. Watch this film if you have the opportunity.

Hello Kitty Reviews

kitty_poster Over the weekend I was able to catch up on some television shows that I had been neglecting for a while. I ended up watching four episodes of Hello Kitty’s Furry Tale Theater, a fantastic animated television series that was years before its time. Directed by Michael Maliani in the late 1980s, each episode features Hello Kitty and friends reenacting popular fairy tales and stories.

Clocking in at just under an hour, these short episodes are sure to please children and adults and alike. The balance between entertainment and socio-political commentary is extraordinary. The Chernobyl disaster of 1986 clearly had an influence on Little Red Bunny Hood, which features unsafe environments.

In Hello Mother Goose, we follow the lead character as a private eye trying to solve a case of multiple thefts. Throughout the abstruse mystery Mother Goose encounters multiple people under a massive state of confusion. In this reviewer’s eyes, this is a political statement about President Regan’s war on drugs at the time. Mother Goose’s line, “A series of borrowings without permission” further illustrates the political nature of the episode.

But Hello Kitty’s Furry Tale Theater isn’t without some light-hearted entertainment. Throughout the running time we are treated to a multitude of clever puns (Each episode begins with the line, “Once upon a meow”) and playful jabs at the various genres that are present (“Meanie? Of course I’m a meanie. I’m a witch!” – Kitty and the Beast)

The episodes in this set include Grinder Genie and the Magic Lamp, Hello Mother Goose, Kitty and the Beast, and Little Red Bunny Hood. While each is about a different fairy tale, they all amalgamate together to form an entertaining, yet thought-provoking whole; a piece of art that continues to survive the test of time.

If you would like to join the crowd of enlightened viewers, the first season of Hello Kitty’s Furry Tale Theater is available on iTunes for $21.99 As King Cole would say, you should “Cat-nab-it” while you still can! (Or you can rent it for free at your local library. Your choice)


The Class


Starting with teachers at a high school in Paris introducing themselves before the school year begins, director Laurent Cantet sets the mood and setting for the rest of the film. The Class rarely steps outside of the building, showing us what happens within the confines of the classroom.

The Class, based on François Bégaudeau’s semi-autobiographical novel of the same name, is about Bégaudeau (played by himself in the film) teaching French to a culturally diverse class in a Paris high school. It deals with important issues that pertain to teaching and interacting with people coming from different cultures and backgrounds. In several scenes Bégaudeau has to explain what certain words and idioms that he uses mean because the students aren’t familiar with them.

Stylistically, The Class falls into the cinéma vérité camp, adopting a distinctive documentary feel. The majority of the film takes place within the classroom, and is intimately filmed. It’s as if the camera is hovering around the classroom capturing spontaneous moments as they happen. Aside from meetings with the student boards and parents, there isn’t much background for the students given; what you see is what you get. There are a lot of close-ups in the film, reminding me of the style of director John Cassavetes.

Staying during the closing credits, I had a short conversation with an older couple that were seated a few rows in front of me about the film. The husband is a teacher, and they were wondering what my take on the film was, and more importantly, Bégaudeau’s teaching method. We talked about the cultural problems that he had to deal with and how he genuinely wanted his students to succeed.

That said, however, I appreciate how the filmmakers didn’t make Bégaudeau out to be the perfect teacher. For example, he’s been teaching there for four years and should have more control over his classroom; the students run the class more than they should. The moments when he does connect with the students, however, are beautiful. I think he would be more at home in an organic setting rather than the traditional one that he’s currently in.

In some ways The Class can be compared to Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing. Both films deal with a culture clash that takes place in an environment where people are forced into contact with each other. The Class succeeds in showing us what can happen when various cultures come together under the same roof. It raises a lot of questions about education, culture, and communication, leaving the viewer to struggle with the answers as the credits roll.