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Filmmaking

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Filmmaking & silents
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Running projectorFilmmaking is another of such topics that has to involve creation. At one point this was entirely new territory. One simply did not particularly know how to go about it. I would say that the innovation period got going somewhere between 1910 and 1930. It doesn't mean that I am looking past the achievements of for example Georges Méliès (active 1896-1913). But filmmaking became more of a team effort in a variety of countries during the time mentioned. Europe was groundbreaking territory for this silent era. The sound film established itself firmly during 1929. Hollywood filmmaking became dominant over European filmmaking during the 30's. A routine was being established and one started to develop clichées that got repeated. Filmmaking started to become a commercialization. In the early filmmaking days it was a creation in where the director pretty much had a free hand for creating, now producers started more and more to give demands to directors. After all the producers wanted to earn a profit for their financial investment. As the years past by this became more and more the ruling factor. Today the far majority of the films that are being produced are stereotypes, and they pretty much all have started to look the same. It has turned into a money making business.

The most interesting filmmaking period I find is still 1910-1930. Many worthwhile films were still being delivered during the 1930-1950 timeframe. During 1950-1970 it became popular with series that could run in several seasons. The 70's were a time of transition, then since the 80's it really had gotten to be a routine. With of course the occasional exception to that rule.

My personal preferences are films that are made quite some time ago. They go as far back as the silent expressionistic film period. It is funny to realize that people are rather prejudiced where it concerns such movies. Here is the agreement that a film needed to have sound (meant is people speaking), before it is worth anything to have or look at. It is though a different technique, one has to express in a different way as you have to work without speech. Then few people have been able to see good silent movies. They hardly ever show something on television and when they show something, well ... usually it is a rather bad choice or it is an inferior and/or incomplete copy of some sort. One should have figured by now that these oldies would all be in the public domain. So, why can't they show something good! There is though often a problem of finding a good and complete copy, many of the old films have been clipped into pieces and/or edited once again. Prior to 1950 silver nitrate film was used, and it thus contained silver. This lead in turn to that all the film that was cut out of the to be shown version of some movie was basically destroyed to regain the silver. Sometimes incompetent people had edited these movies. An example could be the 1924 ‘Greed’ from Erich von Stroheim. At one time it measured about 9 hours long, today we have only a little more than 2 hours left.  this example is extreme, but it gives some impression of the problems involved.

It is nice to know that many people are actually involved with restoring these old movies. What we have left are mostly black and white versions, however at the time when shown colour screens will have been used. For example for scenery outside you may want to use blue screens, inside somewhere light brown or something and in a garden you may use a green screen. Many of these silent movies are being restored now as how they where once shown. Musical scores are also faithfully restored. Recently with the celebration of 100 year of movie making, television both in Holland and Sweden have shown the the 1927 ‘Napoléon’ from Abel Gance. This movie was restored back in 2000 to 5½ hours long with colour screens and all, but then the version shown was only about 4 hours long? Well, you say, may be a consideration may have been that at that time we used videotape, whereas today we digitalize on DVD. A much less costly production. In this case I think it is rather that one Francis Ford Coppola compiled his own version in 1980. This version of his has been a bit persistent, fortunately this day silent fanatics really do want complete versions of their movies.

A setback also has been that the original silver nitrate film was rather flammable. Because of that we lost valuable films as some film archives got burned to the ground during the 50's and 60's. A great loss in a variety of cases. The hope is however that existing filmreels get found again. Time sort of is also running out because the old film reels are deteriorating due to their age. They don't last forever. Discoveries however are still being made. Very recently we uncovered some half an hour of missing footage from Fritz Lang's Metroplis from 1927. Discovered in Argentina.

The BBC also has made some huge errors with their archives during the 70's. The figured that various of the contents of their archives would never rekindle interest anymore, and in their ignorance they physically destroyed part of these archives. Since these lost treasures are highly sought after. A very similar phenomena has happened in the Netherlands. Series that I recall having watched while I grew up during the 70's in the Netherlands are simply gone today.


Expressionism in filmmaking

The expressionistic filmmaking style you may say is the art of creating an atmosphere through various camera angles, mixing of pictures and the play of shadow and light.  It is usually very experimental and groundbreaking (mostly during the early 20's). It is the sort that has my preference. Often its effects came to good use in thriller or rather horror type of movies. And horror in these days did not meant a lot of blood pouring out all over the place. It is using film effects to create an eerie atmosphere. Today they make such movies the simple way. No camera angles consideration, or playing with light and dark. You just see to it that it has a meager plot, a killer, screaming youngsters, cheap acting, some sex, and let them end their life in the most gruesome manner, and really don't forget to add lots and lots of tomato ketchup. How hungry people will then get ...

In my opinion a flim should be different from real life. With that I mean to say that you don't build your story that much around people that are talking all the time. Filming and arranging talking people is easy, the hard part starts when the story has to rely on good acting (i.e. not only talking) and let the viewer follow the story through the art of the cameraman.


Some of my preferences of innovative film directors:

Germany: Fritz Lang, F.W. Murnau, G.W. Pabst, Werner Herzog
France: Abel Gance, Franςois Truffaut, Claude Chabrol, Henri-Georges Clouzot, René Clément, Jean Cocteau, Jean-Luc Godard, René Clair, Robert Bresson (realism), Jean Renoir
Denmark: Carl Theodor Dreyer
England: Alfred Hitchcock, Charles Chaplin
Poland: Roman Polanski
Spain: Luis Buñuel (surrealism)
Italy: Vittoria de Sica, Federico Fellini, Luchino Visconti
USA: Erich von Stroheim, Tod Browning, Cecil B. DeMille, Frank Capra
Japan: Akira Kurosawa
Russia: Sergei Eisenstein


Actors:

Germany: Klaus Kinski, Marlene Dietrich
Sweden: Ingrid Bergman
England: Michael Caine
Romania: Bela Lugosi
USA: Humphrey Bogart, Henry Fonda, James Cagney, Edward G. Robinson, Burt Lancaster, Steve McQueen, Danny Kaye, James Mason, James Stewart, Kirk Douglas, Robert Redford, Peter Lorre, Vincent Price, Boris Karloff, Yul Brynner, Marlon Brando, Orson Welles, Laurence Olivier, Richard Burton


Humor:

England: Benny Hill, Tommy Cooper, Rowan Atkinson, Marty Feldman, John Cleese, Barry Humphries (Dame Edna), Rick Mayall
France Jacques Tati, Louis de Funès
USA: Laurel & Hardy, Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton, Abbott and Costello, Gene Wilder


Various:

Special effects: Ray Harryhausen
Animation: Charles R. Bowers, Nick Park
Tarzan Johnny Weissmuller

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