Archive for the 'Motion Pictures' Category

Crash Course: The Art of Film Stuntwork by Turner Classic Movie’s Scott McGee

Posted by on Jan 27 2014 | Guest Blog, Motion Pictures

Guest blog by Turner Classic Movie’s Scott McGee. McGee will be in person at the Dryden Theatre on Saturday, February 1 to introduce the film BULLITT (1968) and the importance of this film to the history of stuntmen, and particularly stunt driving.

Stunt work in film is a fascinating story of former cowboys, rodeo stars, circus performers, acrobats, daredevils, World War I pilots, wrestlers, athletes and racecar drivers becoming an integral part of film history. Stunting has been a part of cinema since cinema began. The thrill audiences got from seeing someone hang precariously off a window ledge, or gallop on a horse at reckless speeds through the woods on the way to a last-second rescue, fed the same basic need that we have today: to see human beings do something seemingly impossible, or at the very least, the human body in extraordinary motion. As moviegoers, our appreciation of stuntwork taps the same part of our cerebral cortex, that part of our brain that gives us pleasure by simply watching human beings move through defined space. We get a similar rush from choreographed song and dance. But as a filmmaking tool, skill set or profession, the artistry of stunting has been minimized. It could be assumed that there’s really only a finite number of ways a stuntman could fall from an established height into an airbag. But a fall is not just a fall, not when a director, cameraman, producer, the star and the entire crew is expecting that stunt performer to interpret the screenplay to the best of his or her ability, to stay in character, to do the gag quickly and efficiently—and to try not get killed.

 

In the winter of 2002, I had a chance to travel to Los Angeles for a three-day interview shoot with several veteran stuntmen. This was for an on-air tribute to stuntmen in the movies that aired in the summer of that same year on Turner Classic Movies. While there, I had a chance to talk to some gentlemen who represented some of the great movie stunt work of any generation: Terry Leonard, the guy who was dragged underneath the truck in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981); Bob Herron, doubling Ernest Borgnine, jumped a car through a billboard, then through the roof of a barn and landed some 150 feet away for Sam Peckinpah’s otherwise forgettable Convoy (1978); Loren Janes, Steve McQueen’s long-time stunt double in The Magnificent Seven (1960), The Getaway (1972), The Hunter (1980), etc.; and others, including Rick Seaman, Jack Williams, Bobby Hoy, Tony Brubaker, and Chuck Bail. Then in 2013, I invited Mr. Janes, Jeannie Epper, and Conrad Palmisano for an hour-long conversation at the TCM Classic Film Festival in Los Angeles. What occurred to me during the ‘02 production and my ’13 interview was that these stuntmen and stuntwomen, in terms of the way they related to each other and spoke of the job, were not unlike firefighters, cops or any other vocation that entails a great deal of risk at pretty much every turn. What was lacking though was an awareness that they were more than just skilled professionals doing a job of work. They didn’t think or speak like artists, but skilled workers, old pros. That is an admirable quality, entirely in keeping with the humble ethic passed down from the first generation of stuntmen who came to Hollywood as out-of-work cowboys.

 

But stuntwork is an art, as meaningful, varied and integral to filmmaking as cinematography, acting, art direction, or scoring. Great stuntwork, like other great filmmaking disciplines, can be appreciated on multiple levels, from varying points of view. There’s bad stuntwork, to be sure, so not every fist thrown, stirrup drag, crashed car, and belly-flopped biplane should automatically be considered to have some artistic merit. The impressive 40 minute car chase that concludes the 1974 cult favorite Gone in 60 Seconds has plenty of stuntwork, but the lackluster direction and editing can not bring the film or its stunts far enough from its low-budget, drive-in parameters. However, the two car chases that director John Frankenheimer and stunt coordinator Jean-Claude Lagniez staged in Nice and the streets of Paris for Ronin (1998)? Exceptional. These sequences served the story, built characters, and created tension and suspense that help to make the entire film a modern classic. It’s not enough to just do the gag. It has to mesh with the film, with the narrative, or build the star.

 

There’s nothing inherently wrong about enjoying a stunt for its spectacle, no more than it’s wrong to enjoy Royal Wedding (1951) only for Fred Astaire’s famed dance around a revolving room. Seeing great stuntwork in film elicits a considerable “wow” factor. If it doesn’t, then the filmmakers have failed in creating the most basic response from an audience: a gasp at something they haven’t seen before. As spectacle, we acknowledge the power and the sheer enjoyment of seeing great movie stunts performed, recognizing how our emotional interpretation and enjoyment of a film is shaped by the stunts. That’s what made Bullitt (1968) such an important turning point in stunt work. Director Peter Yates and his stuntmen—Carey Loftin as stunt coordinator, Bill Hickman, Bud Ekins and Steve McQueen himself as stunt drivers (with an assist from McQueen’s frequent double, Loren Janes)—created a chase scene that was so wholly original, it stood apart from the rest of the film, and yet, is also elevated the reception of the film story itself. Critics at the time praised the film, and made a conscious call-out to the nearly 12-minute chase spectacle, while also noting Steve McQueen’s cool cop character, an assessment that was always within the context of how he and his double, Bud Ekins, performed the chase.

 


 

No film craft works independently of others. The very nature of the medium is a collaborative form. The study of film acting must take into account the power of editing, for example. Similarly, for a stunt to work fully, in order for it to have the greatest effect on the photoplay, it must reconcile itself with other disciplines, including editing, but also the way the stunt is shot by the 2nd unit director, how it is framed by the cinematographer, and the like. But within this collaborative medium, the work of the stunt performer is worthy of genuine critical appreciation.

 

But this praise does not come easy. While the romantic idea of the life of the stuntman has been the subject of films (The Lost Squadron, Lucky Devils, Hooper, The Stunt Man) and television series (The Fall Guy), the assessment of what he or she does for filmmaking has been mired in a prejudice against certain genres, namely Westerns and action films. Stuntwork is an essential ingredient of both of those genres, and because of that, stuntwork is often dismissed as the domain of brainless action. Anyone can fall off a horse or crash a car, right? But there’s so much more to stunting than simple allowing gravity to do its work. There is a vast difference between Carey Loftin driving a 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T through the American Southwest in Vanishing Point (1971) and the cartoonish shenanigans that take place in The Cannonball Run (1980). But in general terms, films that have a lot of stunts in them, such as Westerns and action pictures, are not often considered serious films. And as such, they don’t often receive high praise from the industry, like the Oscar. Veterans of the stunt business have lobbied the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences for years to have a stunt category created for Oscar consideration. So far, the Academy has refused. To be fair, they have good reasons for not creating a new category and they are at least being consistent; the category for Best Makeup wasn’t created until 1981. Regardless of whether or not stunt performers will ever get an Oscar category, two of their own have been given honorary statuettes: Yakima Canutt in 1967 and Hal Needham in 2012. But the need to look again at the work of the unknown stuntman remains. To be dragged underneath a team of horses (Yakima Canutt, Stagecoach)…crashing a plane on cue (Dick Grace, Lilac Time)…hurtling a car through New York City (Bill Hickman, The French Connection)…jumping a motorcycle onto a moving freight train (Michelle Yeoh, Supercop)…or coordinating an action sequence in such a way that allows an international film star to actually ride atop a speeding train (Sean Connery in The Great Train Robbery) or leap out of the world’s tallest building (Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol)…surely there’s an art to that.

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Évocateur Film Premiere // Dryden Trivia

Posted by on Jan 16 2014 | contest, Motion Pictures, Other

Win this poster!

Screen shot 2014-01-15 at 5.59.13 PM

Before shock jocks, Jerry Springer, and Fox News, one man ravaged the talk show format and delivered his own brand of confrontation and in-your-face antics. His name was Morton Downey Jr., and he turned political debate into shouting matches, occasional fistfights, and downright mayhem.

Featuring interviews with Herman Cain, Pat Buchanan, Chris Elliot, and Gloria Allred, the new documentary Évocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie probes the methods and motivations of not only Downey’s controversial television persona, but the man he was when the cameras were turned off.



The Dryden Theatre will be host to the Rochester Premiere of Évocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie on Saturday, January 18 at 8 p.m., and we’re thrilled to welcome the Director of the film, Seth Kramer, as our special guest for the evening.

How well do you know your Morton Downey Jr. trivia? For each correct answer your name will be entered to win a pair of tickets to the screening and one lucky person will win a signed poster! Winners announced Friday, January 17 at 4 p.m. ET.

1. Which of these guests did not appear on the Morton Downey Jr. Show? A. Timothy Leary B. Abbey Hoffman C. Meir Kahane D. Yasser Arafat.

2. What famous surf tune is Morton Downey Jr. incorrectly credited with writing?

3. What talk show guest guest was at the center violent outbreaks on both the Morton Downey Jr. Show and the Geraldo Rivera Show?

Leave your answers in the comment section.

 
 

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Too Much Johnson U.S. Premiere Preview

Posted by on Oct 16 2013 | Motion Pictures, Other

Last Wednesday, October 9, staged the long awaited world premiere of Too Much Johnson at Le Giornate del Cinema Muto Silent Film Festival in Pordenone, northern Italy. As a long time attendee of the festival, fan of the work of Orson Welles and the Mercury Theatre, and having had the honor to work at the preservation of Too Much Johnson, it was hard for me to stay away from Le Giornate this year. So I took the opportunity to travel to my native Italy and enjoy the event.

It is difficult to think about a better venue for the first screening of this long-believed- to-be-lost 1938 slapstick silent film. Not only is Pordenone  the city hosting the world’s leading international silent film festival, defined by its aficionados as “the best film festival in the world,” but it is the very same place where a nitrate print of Too Much Johnson was recently discovered and brought out of the shadows. The inventive pen of a novelist could have hardly created a happier – and more surprising – ending.

When lights went off on Wednesday evening in a packed Teatro Giuseppe Verdi, an international audience of film scholars, historians, archivists, and simply film lovers, joined for the occasion by a varied crowd of journalists and Welles enthusiasts, was finally able to enjoy the explosion of vitality brought on the screen by the whole group of the Mercury Theatre and in particular by the stunning performance of young and extremely promising Joseph Cotten.

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Images on screen were accompanied by an English live commentary by Paolo Cherchi Usai, Senior Curator of George Eastman House Motion Picture Department, introducing the audience to the world of Too Much Johnson. The commentary, integrating research conducted by the Motion Picture Department during the past few months, seems to pave the way for a new mode of presenting images that have reached us in a somewhat raw state, and consequently might need to be contextualized to be fully appreciated by an audience. And the audience of the festival was well aware of the privilege of being the first ever seeing Too Much Johnson, since the film was never completed by Orson Welles and shown in public before.

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No wonder that request for tickets was so high that the festival organizers had to add to the calendar two extra screenings with Italian live commentary provided by Paolo Cherchi Usai and myself. All three screenings of Too Much Johnson have been accompanied at the piano by Phil Carli, with music especially composed for the film.

Tonight’s U.S. Premiere at George Eastman House will bring again on stage a unique combination of images, music and expert commentary. Something to definitely be looking forward to.

 

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King of B-movies – Roger Corman

Posted by on Sep 12 2013 | Motion Pictures

Director’s note via Films & Events 9/10, 2013

The Intruder (1962)

The Intruder (1962)

The George Eastman Award for distinguished contribution to the art of film was established in 1955, and was the first award by an American film archive to honor artistic work of enduring value. In bestowing this honor, we recognize individuals who have enriched the field of motion pictures. Legendary recipients have ranged from George Cukor and Fred Astaire to Martin Scorsese and Meryl Steep.

This year’s award, being presented to Roger Corman on November 2, marks our belated embrace of independent cinema. Far surpassing his reputation as the undisputed king of B-movies, Corman has had an enormous impact on both independent and mainstream cinema over the past six decades. He is the paragon of the independents.

Best known for The Little Shop of Horrors (1960)—said to have been filmed in just two days—and his Edgar Allan Poe cycle starring Vincent Price, Corman has had a long career as a director of groundbreaking and entertaining films. He fearlessly approached every subject he covered, from monster movies and gangster films to psychedelic drugs and burgeoning countercultures.



In 1962, he made the only feature film about the civil rights movement to be made during the civil rights movement: The Intruder, starring William Shatner, which was shot on location in the Deep South.

Corman’s dedication to independent film production quickly set him apart from other producers and directors in the 1950s and 1960s. Having produced more than 550 films, Corman is known for working with incredibly small budgets and in short periods of time. The films he produced and directed in the 1950s for American International Pictures were highly successful, low-budget features—the kinds of films he has continued to make and support throughout his career.

With a famously sharp eye for talent, Corman is credited with having discovered some of the most remarkable actors and directors of the last five decades. He fostered the careers of Jack Nicholson, Francis Ford Coppola, Dennis Hopper, Peter Fonda, Robert De Niro, Jonathan Demme, Martin Scorsese, Ron Howard, and James Cameron, among many others.

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Corman was a sympathetic and accessible mentor, often giving those with little or no experience opportunities to direct or star in his films.
Corman’s sense for great cinema has reached far beyond his own productions. In the 1970s, he brought to American audiences foreign-language films that were ignored by major distributors.

New World Pictures, the company that Corman founded with his brother in 1970, distributed not only a slew of Corman’s own films, but also masterpieces by auteurs such as Ingmar Bergman, Federico Fellini, Akira Kurosawa, and François
Truffaut, as well as important works by less well-known foreign directors.

As director, producer, mentor, and distributor, Roger Corman has helped to define motion pictures. Join us in celebrating a true American independent as we honor Roger Corman for his exceptional career and tremendous contributions to cinema.

Ticket information available now.

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Eastman house restores lost Orson Welles film

Posted by on Aug 07 2013 | Motion Pictures

A very exciting day for Eastman House, National Film Preservation Foundation, the Cineteca del Friuli and Cinemazero.

A long lost film…found. It’s 35mm, it’s nitrate, it’s slapstick. Too Much Johnson.

Our very own Tony Delgrosso, Head of Preservation and Daniela Currò, Preservation Officer in the Motion Picture Department discuss their experience:

 

“Holding in one’s hands the very same print that had been personally edited by Orson Welles 75 years ago provokes an emotion that’s just impossible to describe.”
Paolo Cherchi Usai, Senior Curator of Film, George Eastman House

To find out more, and ticketing information for the U.S. premiere of Too Much Johnson, visit eastmanhouse.org/lostwellesfilm

 

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