CLOSE ENCOUNTERS AGAIN

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, and I may have even written about CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND before, but I just got a chance to see it again last night during the 40th Anniversary release, and I just wanted to write a bit about it.

It’s hard to explain why, but this has become one of my favorite films.

I love the pacing of the scenes and sequences, the way Spielberg starts a scene on an intriguing image and ends it as such. The small character touches like Balaban’s interpreter, in the opening scene, declaring that he was a cartographer before interpreting French, and how that smoothly comes into play when the coordinates come in the picture. And then the scientists, in an era before Google Maps and iPhones, grab a globe, roll it through the facility to look up coordinates.

Also, this movie is remembered as the story of Richard Dreyfuss’s “Roy”, basically, yet as the protagonist he’s about the last major character introduced. We get the mysterious opening and meet Lacombe (Francois Truffaut, perfectly cast), then we meet Jillian and her son, Barry, when the mystery of the opening now touches home and becoming real to an outsider. Then, finally, we meet Roy, our “main character”, at home with is family, perhaps in their happiest moment that we see them during the film.

When I watch older movies, I often wonder what they would look like if made today, what kinds of studio notes would come into play, and then I get kind of sad that we don’t see many movies like these any more. Wide shots displaying a grand location, or even the layout of a house so that we understand where everyone is, where they’re going, and what they can do in their environments. The measured, sparse use of a closeup to really convey emotional beats and character moments. The use of music to build tension and expose character struggles, rather than telling an audience how to feel. Even characters talking over each other, the realistic nature of a chaotic house with kids reflecting the confusion that’s setting in with the scientists as they figure out where the signals are coming from.

And what I really like is that, other than a big moment in the middle when Roy breaks down in his shower, his family the next day leaving him to his madness, there are no huge, melodramatic character revelations or extreme arcs. They just ARE who they are.

Lacombe is fascinated by the discovery, looking to find a way to communicate, even if he doesn’t understand what is being said. He has a soft spot for Roy, for the drive of a person to find purpose just as much as he has or has wanted to.

And Jillian has her son — she lives alone in a rural farmhouse – and when her son is taken, she has to get him back. That’s her mission, to get her son back, to protect him. He is the meaning she is searching for, and becomes a simple A- to – B plot, in the end.

And for Roy, whose family he is disconnected from, he is searching for that connection. His wife seems on a different wavelength, can’t understand his job (she passes him the phone when the boss tries to tell her what’s going on), his kids want Goofy Golf rather than see PINOCCHIO, a childhood favorite of Roy’s that stokes his inner kid, the curiosity that’s been buried in years of “living and working” and that is restless to come out, and does so when he’s been “encountered.”

I love this film, encourage you to watch it again if you haven’t seen it in a while, and fill your imagination with possibilities.

 

 

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Contact: First Contact

I have a soft spot in my heart for the film Contact.

I can’t exactly tell you why, I just took a fast liking to it and enjoy watching it when it  presents itself. I first saw it when I was 14, with my mother. I remember the opening BOOMS of the “signal” out in space, and was instantly hooked. The idea of seeing a movie exploring not just aliens but the idea of contacting them, of a more practical look at the effect of such contact, was exciting to me. Continue reading

Last weekend I saw a movie I didn’t even hear about until the evening before the screening: IMAGINE.

This film screened at the Polish Film Festival in Los Angeles, but earlier in the year it screened at SXSW.

The movie centers on (Ian) an instructor at a school for the blind. He’s new, he’s unorthodox, and his methods become a source of concern for the school’s Doctor. That method? (Daredevil fans might recognize it) Echolocation. Basically, Ian, who is blind, can use sound to sense where items are located in a room, on the street. He doesn’t walk with a cane, but instead wears shoes with very loud heels, or walks while clucking his tongue, snapping his fingers, anything to cause sound so he can sense where things are.

The students don’t trust him. They think he can see, or that he walks with a cane when they’re not around. The film stars many children who are actually blind, adding to the realism of the piece (Edward Hogg, who plays Ian, is not blind). The performances are subtle and effective, but what made the film pop (for, it is true, the pace somewhat lags at certain points) is the complete immersion into the world of the blind.

Sounds become louder as characters focus, we’re shown scenes of blind students attempting the simple (for those with sight) task of pouring a glass of water. And then the camera seems to float right up to a person’s face, then swirl behind his head while he walks. WE get a sense, as viewers that there’s a dangerous world that grows more threatening with every footstep, yet we’re not SHOWN what’s around the students sat they progress to the sidewalks, cafes, and general community, adding to a sense of foreboding that’s not “thriller” level, but is necessary to this character-based piece.

Over the course of the movie, Ian not only gives the students a little courage, but also helps Eva, a sheltered woman at the school, rediscover all that life can offer her despite being blind. There are different ways to see the world, but you have to experience it before you can truly see.

After the film, director Andrzej Jakimowski did  a Q & A and was asked how he managed to make such a simple film feel so intense, and his answer was just as simple: When you’re showing blind characters, there’s an inherent tension involved just by the fact that they’re blind. They walk on the sidewalk near a busy street, without a cane, and we’re fearing they don’t get hit, hoping they don’t step into the street. Human curiosity and determination create the tension around the circumstances of these people.

IMAGINE is the type of film (like last years The Intouchables) that is very basic in story and structure, yet complex in the level of human-to-human interactions and basic needs. The filmmaking excels, and I look forward to seeing more of Jakimowski’s work. If you get the chance to see Imagine, please do.

Independents’ Days

Ahoy creators and createttes! And readers and writers aplenty!

I saw a few tweets today, as well as some posts and articles in the recent past relating to “indy” comics, and what exactly makes a comic book independent. Is it the number of books sold? The fan base? The publisher? Or the type of genre/story?

The whole conversation made me think of independent films, and how the classical definition of an independent film is a film that is made outside of the major studio system, i.e. a film that is funded by sources other than major studios. Now, some people equate that with “cheap” films, or “under $ XX Million” budgets. These days, it’s easy to make that argument when a lot of movies in the theaters are over a million dollars at least.

But then you have an example like Looper, a film which had around a $30 million budget, and yet still qualifies as an “indy” film because it’s investors were all outside of the major studio system. The filmmakers had to find investors, find backing, and find their own distributors.

If they’d made it within the studio system, distribution is all but guaranteed and funding is right there, but at what cost to the creator’s vision, if any? Is it possible to make a studio (aka “mainstream”) film and still maintain originality in vision?

The next question is: when an independent work (film, comic, etc.) becomes popular, does that change the intent of the work, or the status of the filmmaker, or the goals of the company involved? When My Big Fat Greek Wedding hit $250 million, did people suddenly call it or consider it “mainstream” and hack away at the idea that it was ever an independent film? Does it suddenly graduate?

This past year, Beasts of the Southern Wild was made independently, found distribution through the Sundance Film Festival, and earned a hearty amount of money, attention, and accolades. Yet I would argue it’s still an independent film.

The comic book in question is The Walking Dead. Some would argue it’s now a mainstream comic, it being the #1 comic out there, having a TV series built on it, and basically becoming its own franchise. But if a once-known-as-Indy comic can become mainstream, why doesn’t it work in reverse?

Is a Batman comic considered mainstream no matter how many sales?

What I would like to do is start a series of conversations on this blog — not interviews, not Q & A’s — with artists, publishers, producers, executives, writers, creators, etc. who are familiar with their various areas in visual and storytelling media, and talk about the state of independent creation in various fields (TV, Film, Comics, Books, Art, Fashion, Manufacturing, Photography). What does it mean to make an independent film? Is the goal for an indy to become a success? If you’re an independent fashion photographer, what does that mean exactly? Do indy comic creators only self-publish, or are their independent publishers that remain on the fringe?

If you would like to participate and take part in the conversation email me at Joe.Pezzula@Gmail.com