How To Watch a Film: A Helpful Guide To Doing Something You Thought You Already Knew How To Do

November 11, 2011

I never thought I would ever have to write anything about this particular topic but more and more everyday i realize it has to be done. To set up this post I will refer to a conversation I had a few years back with a dear friend of mine. She is an incredible bookworm that reads an insane amount of books. Literature to her is the highest form of art and simply cannot be beaten. I agree that literature is awesome and I don’t do anywhere near the amount of reading she does but I enjoy it very much. I can totally dig her love for lit but what pissed me off is that she not only doesnt have an appreciation for cinema (I hope I changed this somewhat) but she often downgraded it as an art form and even said it was “a waste of time” at one point. This of course sparked an argument between us, which many topics do. She said that watching films doesnt stimulate the mind as much as reading does. This let me point out is a huge falsehood on a very basic scientific level for the reason that there are more senses involved. Reading involves only one sense, sight. Cinema involves both sight, and hearing and sometimes smell if you remember watching movies at the old Roseville 4 like I do. (You know what I’m talking about. That place was smelly and rundown but  we loved it. A great blow was dealt to the poor of St. Paul that can’t afford to see first run films when that place closed. Fuck you Rainbow in Roseville!)  As the argument progressed I explained how watching film is something that requires just as much mental excercise as reading. They both require intense comprehension and mental processing. When she realized she was being beat she said something that kinda resounded, “Very few People actually watch movies like you do.” I realized over the years that people, especially in this day and age are horrible film watchers. I think part of the reason my dear friend doesnt appreciate cinema the way she should is because she has absolutely horrible, yes horrible movie watching habits. Everyone thinks that watching a film is something everyone can do. Well that’s just not the case. Most people think it’s just sitting in the dark watching  a bunch of pretty colors move on a screen. This post is for my bookworm friend and all those others that don’t know how to appreciate a film. I’ll never forget one time she asked me why I thought cinema was such a great thing, I responded that cinema is the perfect marriage of the two greatest accomplishments of the human species, art and science. That shut her up for a while. Anyway, to the list!

1. Pay Attention

I know it sounds like it’s a fairly obvious thing but its the number one thing people don’t do. The 21st century shows attention span being at an all time low. I don’t think people do any one thing for more than an hour nowadays except sleep. Distractions are a huge problem when trying to watch a film. Film speeds by at 24 frames per second you better be watching you might miss something. For seeing films in theatres here is a few helpful tips. Keep talking to a minimum. I know its kinda awkward if you are hanging out with someone and you don’t say a word to them but it really takes away from you being able to pay full attention to the film. I once saw a film with the aforementioned friend and she talked through the whole film which was actually nice because the movie was Twilight 2 which is just fucking awful. Joe and I will go see movies and rarely utter a word to each other during the film. Afterward however we usually stand outside the theatre and have a few cigarettes and discuss the film for usually at least 30 minutes depending on what the weather is like. Give it a try sometime, discussion not smoking which is very bad for you but your decision nonetheless. If you can resist talking during the film try doing something that a lot of people have never done before, go see a movie alone. Even though it’s a little lonely because in American Culture cinema is a group event. Going alone is usually great fun and you get the full impact of the film.

Another helpful tip is to do the adult thing and pee and or shit before the movie starts. Leaving a theater is the worst possible thing you can do especially for a dumb reason like taking a piss. I had to pee an hour into The Return of the King but I held it till the end Goddamnit. I may have damaged my bladder but I wasnt about to miss out on pure magic for even a minute. Another thing, If you are like many Americans and cannot sit through a movie without eating popcorn and having pop, plan accordingly. Get the big size you cheap bastard. That way you wont need a refill, Or just ration the amount of food you have so you don’t have to leave. LEAVING THE THEATER IS THE WORST THING YOU CAN DO.

I think the home movie/dvd revolution is one of he greatest things ever. It allows you to bring the magic of cinema right into your house. Although it have revolutionized cinema it present a lot of other problems for the art. When you are in you own home there are plenty of distractions you have to avoid. With the advent of the pause button it makes it possible for you to stop the film and do other things while watching a movie. Some people think this is great but i think it sucks. If you don’t think it suck try watching a movie with my family who are a bunch of Philistines. They will stretch an hour and a half film to well over two hours with the amount of pausing they do. Films build tension and they have what is called pacing. Very intelligent and dedicated people work for months on getting the pacing right in a film, by you pausing the goddamned movie all the time you threw off the pacing of the film and in the case of Drama and Horror films you can completely derail the momentum of the movie rendering much less effective than it is intended to be. Films work on the human mind at  a conscience and subcontious level they are meant to be a continuous flow of sensory information leading you to a predetermined emotional response. Sergei Eisenstein figured that out in the 1920’s. If you stop the film you stop the flow of sensory information therefore distorting or stopping all together the path of predetermined emotional responses. People work very hard to get you to have certain responses when watching a film please don’t fuck it up by pausing it all of the time. Another huge distraction that people have absolutely drives me up a fuckin wall. Laptops. Some people think that browsing the internet on their laptop while having a movie play on their T.V. constitutes watching a movie. If you are on your laptop you’re not watching the movie. I have some friends that will say “lets watch a movie” and then they put one in and pull out their fucking laptop. If you ever invite me over to watch a movie and you take out a laptop I am going to kick you in the balls and leave.

2. Be culturally/Socially relative.

When watching a film, especially and older film, you need to kind of approach it from a sociological point of view. When watching a film you need to do your best to put yourself in the mindset of the time and place that the film was made for, and at the same time determine its significance to your place and time. If you put yourself in the mentality of the people the film was originally intended for you will have a much easier time relating to the characters, getting the humor, admiring the special effects, and in the case of horror films, enjoying the scares. I hate when people complain that they can’t watch old movies because the effects are dated or that they can’t relate because it’s in a different time. As we have already established films play on human emotions. Humans have had the same type of hopes fears and dreams since the beginning of time. This is in part why we are one of the few species on the planet that have art to express these things. IF YOU ARE A HUMAN YOU CAN RELATE TO ANY MOVIE EVER MADE ON SOME LEVEL. It also helps to have some historical context to the film. For example one of my favorite films Dr. Strangelove is a parody of the cold war and mutual destruction mentality of the superpowers during the 1960’s. You could make a movie like that today with no problem but they released their film in 1964. It would take some real balls to release a movie lampooning such a serious matter in the midst of it. Having a little historical context can really help you further appreciate the film.

3. Watch Actively

Contrary to common belief in this country when you watch a movie sometimes you have to do some of the work. Film is not a medium by which information is blasted into your brain whether you like it or not, there is some assembly required. You need to think while watching a film, yes think.  While you are watching a movie your mind should constantly be working. You should be thinking about scenes you just saw, what you think is going to happen in the next scene, what type of information are you being given, what can you infer from this information, who are the character and how do they all fit into the story. You should always be thinking when watching a film is pay attention is how the film is made. If you pay attention the cinematography, editing and even the score. Filmmakers use all these tools to convey different ideas. They can be used to convey a whole host of things. When watching how a scene is set up the question you should always be asking yourself is, “what is the director trying to convey to me?”

Another thing you can do is what I call emotionally invest in a film. I know you dudes out there don’t like to do any of this “emotional” crap, but it’s always a much more enjoyable experience if you try to empathize with the characters on-screen. You have to imagine what you would feel like in that situation. You also just have to me open to the emotions the film is trying to convey. Art is all about making people have an emotional response. If you emotionally invest in a film you will have more to lose if the film is not well done. People like myself who emotionally invest in a film tend to have a greater response to the film in either direction. There are films out there that I love so much I can’t even describe it to you, it’s almost like they are my good friends or family members. On the other hand sometimes you emotionally invest and you get screwed and this can cause intense hatred for a film. Example Funny Games  is probably the movie I hate most in the world. It basically calls you an asshole for the entirety of the film its suck so hard.  For more about Funny Games I refer you to Joe’s amazing review  here

Another thing that goes alone with emotionally investing is what they refer to is Suspension of Disbelief. This is a term that they use in the industry to say that the viewer actually buys what is going on in the film. Suspension of Disbelief occurs involuntarily in your mind but the thing is just don’t be such a prick about it. You can sit there and not believe a goddamn thing that is trying to be conveyed to you but if that’s how you watch films you will never have a good time. You need to let your guard down and just buy into it for a little bit. If the film is super shitty this may be impossible but you should always try.

4. Follow up

Another thing you can do whether or not you like a movie is actually go on the internet and read about the film. The  internet is full of great sites where you can learn about what other people thought of the movie and clues to its symbolism and countless other things you can learn about the film. Going on the web afterward can really increase your appreciation for a film. Also just thinking about a movie after you watch it can make you like it more or less. For example when I first watched what is now my favorite film The Godfather I thought it was really good, but over the next few days I kept thinking about all the great scenes and the unforgettable lines and characters that made me like it more and more with each passing day. Another helpful thing is not to do too much reading before you see the film. Sometime it can really sway your opinion of the movie. Going in blind is the best way to go. All you should know is the title of the film, what country it’s from and what year it was made. Another thing to do is just discuss it with someone who has also seen it. If you’re on a date its a great way to start a conversation. There is always plenty to talk about when it comes to film. Just remember a picture is worth a thousand words and in a film you get 24 of em every second.

5. Re Watch

One of the most valuable things you can do is rewatching a film. You don’t have to do it right away but give it some time to sink in and then revisit it. You should do this especially if you really like the film. There are 24 photographs for every second of film you watch you’re bound to have missed something somewhere along the line. Beware there is a danger to rewatching films. Sometimes when you revisit a film you hate it the second, third, fourth ect. time around. We call that rewatch value. I learned this the hard way with Zack Snyder’s 300 when I was in Highschool. We snuck in to see this movie (we were only 16 at the time) 3 times and thought it was so awesome. So naturally when the DVD dropped I bought the expensive 2 disc special edition and when I re watched it I hated it. I know there are some of you out there saying “what?!! That movie is awesome!”. It’s really not. I thought that way once. Go ahead feel free to rewatch it, that movie sucks some serious dick. Anyway the key to whether a movie is good or not is in the Rewatch. That being said sometimes there are films that draw  a particular emotional response, (or in the case of some of the horror films I have seen  a specific gastrointestinal response) that you don’t really wanna revisit anytime soon. That is completely understandable. There is no need to be a masochist.

Well I hope that this list will help you learn to do what you thought you already knew what to do. I hope it will help people more fully appreciate the art of cinema. I hope that my dear bookworm friend read this and trys to apply these 5 things while watching her next piece of cinema. Thanks for reading you guys. Feel free to comment. Tell your friends about our blog, we cherish every reader.

-Danny Johnson


From Babylon to Helm’s Deep: Comparing Griffith to Jackson

September 30, 2011

I recently wrote a paper on D.W Griffith’s Intolerance from 1916 for my film history class. We had to write about any aspect of the film that we found interesting. I chose to write about the battle scenes which are epic as shit. They are probably some of the greatest battle scenes ever so I compared them to the Battle of Helm’s Deep from The Two Towers.  I did it partally because I wanted to stick with what I know because I only had 1 hour to do it before class. I got full points on it. I thought some of you might find it interesting.  The following is a part of that paper. Enjoy.

The Battle scenes in Intolerance absolutely blew me away as I was watching them. The whole time I watched from my seat in 2011 I imagined what it was like to see these battles for the first time in 1916. I think the battle scenes in Intolerance are among the best I have seen in film. They are every bit as epic as the battle in The Lord of the Rings and without the help of computer generated effects of even many optical effects for that matter.  The greatest battle in Intolerance is definitely the siege of Babylon by the Persians. For the Babylon scenes Griffith virtually rebuilt and entire ancient city. The great gates and wall were just like the artist renderings you would find in any history book.  The scenes in the Babylon set were just amazing. The details of the walls and archways are just breath taking. Every frame of film taken in this set is in itself a beautifully photograph.

            As the Persians approach the city and the gates are closed they forces of Babylon scramble to their defensive positions along the great walls. What makes the battle scenes seem so epic is Griffith’s brilliant editing.  What he does so perfectly can be seen again in modern films like The Lord of the Rings. Griffith edits together shots of the battle on a grand scale, a medium scale and a small scale. The grand scale shot are the ones done usually from overhead to show what the overall progression of the battle is.  For example the grand scale shot are used when the siege tower are being positioned along the wall ready to attack. The grand scale shots are to give us an idea of how the battle is going overall. The medium scale shots are when there is the most hand to hand combat. They are usually in a fairly large area and show anywhere from 20 to 100 people engaged in combat.  The small scale shots are the ones that revolve around the characters we have already met. The shots of the Princess pleading for her husband to return unharmed from battle, the mountain girls shooting arrows into the Persian hordes, the shots of the prince’s top general going “Berserk” are all example of the small scale. Griffith shows the battle on all of these scales which help to build up to the ending outcome of the battle and to what happens to each character.

This type of storytelling can definitely be seen in Peter Jackson’s The Two Towers at the battle of Helm’s Deep. The similarities in the battle of Helm’s deep and the siege of Babylon are actually uncannily similar in the way they are shot. There is no doubt in my mind that Jackson drew a huge inspiration from the battle scenes in Intolerance. Jackson used the same grand, medium, and small scale editing for all the battles in The Lord of the Rings.  In The Two Towers at the battle of Helm’s Deep you can see the grand scale shot used in by showing the Uruk-hai approaching and taking position in the valley along the wall. He also uses it to show the siege ladders going up all along the wall. He used the medium scale to show decisive parts of the battle such as the defense of the gate when the battering rams are being used, and the defense of the drainage creek after the wall has been breached by explosives.  He used the same small scale scenes to show us where our characters are in the battle and how they are doing. There are many shots of Aragorn, Legolas, Gimili, and Théoden battle Uruk-hai in small scale hand to hand combat. When directors used this method that Griffith used in Intolerance 1916 they add a huge amount of dimension to their battle scenes that make them incredibly epic.

 Soldiers shut the gates before the Persian attack on Babylon

Check out Intolerance on Netflix

Blood, Gore and Redemption: A Review of The Passion Of The Christ

September 25, 2011

Director: Mel Gibson  (2004)

Let me please start out by saying something that is pretty obvious to everyone in our culture. Films affect people. Film can have profound effects on our culture and even individual behavior. Jaws made people afraid to swim in the ocean for years. Psycho made people think twice every time they get into an unknown shower. IT made a generation of people afraid of clowns. Films popularize cars, clothes, music, and even everyday sayings. Some films even touch people on the religious level. There are to very popular films that have done this on a huge scale. Both of these films actually brought people back to the church and mass and confession attendance actually sky rocketed shortly after the release of both. Both films were wildly popular, ridiculously commercially successful and sparked huge controversy world-wide. One was from 1973 and the other is from 2004. Give up? Hopefully you were smart enough to figure one is the movie we are going to look at The Passion of the Christ, and the other is The Exorcist. If you think about these films have a lot in common. The Exorcist is the most commercially successful horror film of all time and among the most critically acclaimed. It was nominated for 10 Academy Awards including best picture and is the only horror film to ever be nominated for Best Picture. (although that is open to some debate based on the definition of “horror“) The Passion of the Christ is the highest grossing non-english film in history. During screenings of both films there were reports of people becoming physically ill, people weeping openly and others walking out of the theatres. Both of these films deal with something very dear to many people; their faith. One uses people’s faith to scare them in the most profound way possible, the other plays on people’s faith by showing them a graphic depiction of how their messiah and religious icon suffered and died all for the sake of redeeming their sins. The point of the comparison is that both films did what they set out to do, and that is affect people. Whether they are good films is a whole other story. Another thing that they both have in common is that they are JUST films. They based on books that were based on (obscure frankly in both cases) actual events. Whatever is said about the Passion is NOT being said about Christ, Christianity or Christendom on the whole. This is a review of a film not of a religion. I know this may be hard to grasp because some Christians, Catholics especially, seem to think it is now part of church doctrine. It is not and therefore it is open to scrutiny. People have a great emotional attachment to this film, there is even a documentary out there (which I have seen parts of. Thanks Catholic school) called Miracles of the Passion. It features real life stories of real miracles that occur surrounding the film.(couldn’t have made that shit up if I tried).

Ok. Now that we did the disclaimer we can now get down to the review. Let me start off with saying I don’t like this movie. I don’t hate it, but I really don’t like it. The severity of my dislike has decreased somewhat since I rewatched the film a few days ago in anticipation for writing this. A few years ago you would have used me use terms like “deeply pornographic” or “snuff film” or “Mel Gibson’s Catholic torture porn”. I will try my hardest not to use those terms today. 

Lets get some context for my first experience with this film and for people who don’t remember, the reaction of the general public. I was in 8th grade when this movie came out. I went to see it with my family. (which isn’t really out of the ordinary for us since we have been able to watch R ratings since we could walk). I remember at points in the film hearing people, including my mother and sister, weep openly. I remember during the more grisly scenes of the film people left the theater crying and did not return. I remember after the lights came on people were still crying and I saw two teachers from my school who were also in tears. I remember the extremely awkward meal at Applebees afterward. The remember how it affected people so much. I also remember feeling like an asshole for not feeling very affected by it at all. It was probably one of the first times in my life I asked my self the now frequent question, “Am I a psychopath?”

One of the main reasons I don’t like this film is because of its blatant use of stereotypes. Christians have been doing dramatizations of the Passion since the middle ages. At that time in Europe anti-Semitism was extremely prevalent. The passion plays of the middle ages always had the same central villain, the Jew. These plays would show grotesque figures, non-human in appearance jeering and at jesus as the carried the cross through the streets of Jerusalem. remember the scene with the running of the Jew in Borat? These plays were not really much less offensive than that. There has always been tension between christians and Jews because for much of your life you are brought up to believe that the Jews are the perpetrators of Jesus’s death. Its hard not to with the way the passion is presented to christians. In truth the Passion in the gospels never really explicitly says all the things we see in the dramatizations. If you take the time to crack open the Bible you see that the gospels are actually incredibly vague on the whole story of the passion. In the film Mel Gibson’s portrait of the Jews is not much different from that of the middle ages. If you take the time to look during the film you will see that all the Jews in the film that oppose Jesus are grissled old people and many of them, especially the high priests have exaggerated large noses. This is clearly not on purpose because all the disciples of Jesus are not made to be as ugly and grissled and they don’t really have exaggerated Jewish features, they look more like Italian movie stars. (a few of them actually were.) We are also shown that there are very few people in Jerusalem that don’t hate Jesus’s guts. It seems every Jew wants him dead except for the disciples and the exception of a few others. We can argue all day about whether this film is anti-semitic or not but at the end of the day we know that Mel Gibson is an anti-Semite because of his bigotry he spewed out when he was arrested for DUI in 2006. Sober thoughts are drunken words my friend.

Another stereotype in this film is that Roman soldiers are complete psychopaths. The Roman soldier are portrayed to be so fuckin mean that it’s almost comical. The way the laugh as the whip the shit out of Jesus is just laughable after a while. In the scourging scene the soldiers are splattered with Jesus’s blood they literally rub it in and laugh hysterically. I think that these it would have been a lot more believable if the Romans for the most part were not portrayed as animals. I don’t honestly believe that the Romans in charge of executing criminal could be such a band of laughing idiots. The thing you have to understand is that the Roman army was the most well disciplined and sophisticated fighting force that the world had ever seen at that point. For me to believe that they could conquer then known world while letting idiots behave like that within their ranks in quite a stretch.  Although most of the Romans are sadistic drunken motherfucker not all in the film are. The character that actually comes out smelling like a rose is Pontius Pilate. I don’t think I have ever seen more forgiving portrait of Pontius in my life. Even though in the gospels Pontius says repeatedly that he does not believe Jesus is guilty they really lay it on thick in the film. Pontius is faced with a moral conundrum and it seems to be one of the hardest decisions he has ever had to make. It is my own honest opinion that Gibson made Pontius such an identifiable character is not for that sake of Pontius but for a different reason. In all honesty the fault of Jesus’s crucifixion is shared between the Romans and the Sanhedrin. I think that Gibson portrayed the character so favorable (I actually found him to be pretty much the only character I could identify with in the film.) to further shift blame from the Romans back on to Caiaphas and the Jews. What you have to remember is that the Romans pulled the trigger. The Romans crucified thousands of people, it was their main mode of execution at the time. When Caiaphas demanded that Jesus be executed Pilate easily could have told them to go fuck themselves. There are a two other Romans that seem not to be complete assholes. The first is Pilates right hand Abenader. He seem to have some sort of conscience and shows remorse for the death of Jesus. The other is a random Roman that follows Christ on the way to Golgotha. He sees Jesus speak to his mother Mary and takes pity on her. He is also the soldier that pierces the side of Christ as he hang dead on the cross. According to Christian legend his name is Longinus and he later goes on become a saint. 

The scene where Jesus goes to be judged by Herod Antipas is so weird it took me completely out of the story. Even though the gospels don’t really describe Herod or his hall in great depth every dramatization I have seen it is always a room full of drunken derelicts lying around cackling at Jesus. This film wasnt any different. Gibson made a point to show that they were deviants by showing men wearing makeup and wigs, people of different races and also some sort of large cat, a cheetah I think. This scene is just an utter mess and is probably the most annoying scene in the film. I know that it is in the gospels and everything but for the narrative it does absolutely nothing.

Gibson did take some creative license while making the film pretty much all of which failed in my opinion. One of the main things that there a few scenes with Satan incarnate either watching events unfold or talking to Jesus. The problem with this is that I couldn’t take the Satan character seriously because he looks just like Tilda Swinton if she had Alopecia. (Go ahead imagine it. Its uncanny) There is one scene that really annoyed me just because I’m kind of a nerd. There is a scene in the garden of Gethsemane where satan is taunting Jesus as he prays one of my favorite Jesus quotes “Father if its possible let this cup pass me by, but your will be done, not mine.” Satan unleashes a serpent to slither about Jesus as he prays. The snake he releases is an albino Buramese Python which isn’t native to the area. I understand that it looks cool and that Satan probably has a whole arsenal of serpents at his disposal but c’mon Gibson use a native snake.  The Satan scenes I liked the first few times I watched the film but didn’t really like them the last time around. There are also quite a few scenes where Gibson is clearly trying to scare the audience with either creepy imagery or startling scenes. It just makes me confused to whether this is a drama about the death of Jesus or a horror film, it’s often pretty hard to tell. Another thing I hate is the way Judas kills himself. In this film he is haunted by demonic children that chase him out into the desert where he finds a rope and hangs himself in order to make the horrific images stop. It really takes away from the fact that Judas kills himself because he is ashamed because he betrayed his lord, messiah and good friend for the price of a slave at the time. If you go by this Judas may have not even been all that sorry. He might have killed himself just to make the demons go away. Its may add another spice up the story a bit but I feel it takes away more than it gives.

The main reason that I strongly dislike the film is the violence. The violence in this film is not only gratuitous it actually borders on pornographic. (damn I said it didn’t i?) Mel Gibson wanted to make a film about Jesus that would inspire people and remind them that he died for our sins. The mode he chose to do this is sadism, gore and extreme violence. Instead of showing that Jesus was a good man who taught many lessons to the world that was killed unrighteous. He choses to rape our sense of human decency. He uses this violence to make you feel so bad that someone endured that on your account that you forget all about the teachings and there implications. In the end you just feel bad that this guy is getting the shit beat out of him. My point is that I think people would feel bad watching anyone, including Hitler and Osama Bin Laden, endure the kind of sick shit that you see happen to Jesus in this movie. Gibson shoot the gore is this movie like a director would shoot it in a horror film. They are constantly trying to push the envelope show you something you havent seen before. As you’re watching the scourging at the pillar you see the Roman use a type of whip that has jagged metal hooks at the end. The problem is that type of whip had beads on the end not hooks. Such a type of whip would do way too much tissue damage and most likely cause the person to bleed to death. I don’t think that any doctor would disagree with the fact that no human could endure that amount of pain and tissue damage and not fall into shock. Gibson show violence that is just not necessary at all and serves only to disgust to audience. For example in the scourging scene you see the hooks on the whip get stuck in the flesh of Jesus and has to be ripped out, flinging blood and flesh into the crowd. In the same scene you see the hooks dig their way into the scalp of Jesus. These are the kind of gratuitous gore effect  you would expect to see in a horror film. One thing that I noticed as well was that Gibson uses plot devices to justify the level of violence. For instance after the scourging scene we learn that Pontius never intended to flagellate Jesus that badly and Abenader was upset when he saw how badly they beat him. This device gives Gibson the ability to show someone being beating more savagely than would have been the norm.

 Another thing that is shown that is extremely unnecessary and make my stomach turn every time I see it is when they are nailing Jesus to the cross. I don’t know if it’s because Jesus is resisting or because his arm wont reach or what, but the Romans proceed to dislocate the shoulder of Jesus before they drive the nail through his palm.  The whole movie is just gross. They beat the fuck out of Jesus the whole time and only to make you feel worse. I honestly don’t believe the real crucifixion was as violent as it was portrayed in the film. (not to downplay it. crucifixion is a horrible way to die.)

When it comes down to it The Passion of the Christ is a bad film. I don’t know if id ever recommend it to anyone who hasn’t seen it but see it for yourself and form your own opinion. Also have some disgression when showing this film to children. I remember when it first came out kids that weren’t allowed to see R rated movies got to see the Passion. Just remember that violence is still violence and this movie has some of the worst I have seen. There is a reason it is a hard R rating. It is not ok for children to see just because it’s about Jesus because to be honest it might just traumatize them all together.

I really don’t like this film and hopefully this review has enlightened you a little bit as to why. My dislike of this film has nothing whatsoever to do with my religious opinion. Even though it has been done since the beginning of film, maybe the 21st century would have benefited from a film about Christ. The problem is this movie focuses on a very minor part of the life of Jesus. It is literally only a few pages in each of the gospels. I don’t understand why we must obsess how and why he was killed. It is only a small part of his life. Should we not focus more on the lessons he taught to the world? I think you would be hard-pressed to find anyone in the world that disagrees with the things taught us about. I have yet to hear someone utter the sentiment, “Fuck peace, love and charity.”

notice the color of the blood is toned down for the trailer


Music in Film

March 17, 2010

(From Wings of Desire)

I love how movies can incorporate all of the arts into them. Film combines visuals, dialogue, music and editing and wraps them together in a package to tell a story. I’m going to try and do little write ups on each of the above four things and highlight some directors who are genius at them. So for this first post I’d like to talk about my second favorite form of art which is music. Basically in film there are two kinds of music: scored and unscored. Scored music is music that a composer has made specifically for whatever particular film he/she has been hired to score. It follows the pace of the scene and if it is good it will add a little something extra that will make that scene memorable. Unscored music is pretty much everything else. Directors often use music in their films that was not originally created for it. For this post I’d like to talk about directors using unscored music.

Unscored music is often used as background noise, or something that characters can comment on. It also can be used to show that the film is set in a different time period. If a film is set in the 70’s then one would use plenty of 70’s songs in the film. This can get expensive as you must get permission to use the music and pay for it, but if a film has a moderate budget it can normally accomplish this task. Using music that is apart from the film can do many things. It can help the audience further connect with a character, it can create atmosphere, and it can ramp up tension. Many normal scores do these things as well, but what normal scores cannot do is immediately draw you into the scene and give you insights to the characters. If a character turns on a radio or expresses excitement at a particular song you can learn about them. Films like Garden State (The Shins), (500) Days of Summer (The Smiths), Wings of Desire (Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds), Reservoir Dogs (K Billy’s Super Sound of the 70’s), American Psycho (Huey Lewis and the News) and many more all feature music that plays a prominent role in the story. Unscored music also can add emotional impact and serve as a transition point from one scene to another.

I’d just like to quickly highlight some scenes from directors that are fantastic at using music from outside sources and incorporating them into a film:

Quentin Tarantino-All of Tarantino’s films are filled with homages and old school references and stylish songs.

Kill Bill

  (Music starts at 4:36)

This scene in Kill Bill features a band called the 5, 6, 7’s performing “Woo Hoo” while the camera tracks The Bride and other characters bustling about a club. First of all the song itself is awesome and it really is a great way to transition into the next scene where everything comes to a head between The Bride and the Crazy 88’s. The camera work is also fantastic.

Reservoir Dogs

(Fairly Graphic)

This is the infamous ear scene from Reservoir Dogs. Tarantino takes a well known song and completely twists it around as he places it into a torture scene. It’s a very disturbing effect and he borrowed the technique from the even more infamous Singin’ In the Rain scene from A Clockwork Orange.

PT Anderson– PT Anderson is the director of Magnolia, There Will Be Blood, Boogie Nights, and Punch Drunk Love. He is famous for his long tracking shots and use of unscored music. Boogie Nights especially features an incredible array of songs from the early and late 70’s.

Boogie Nights

For those who haven’t seen this movie this clip is 10 minutes long, but very worth it. The three characters in the car have devised a get rich quick scheme by selling baking soda to a rich cocaine dealer played by Alfred Molina. The scene is incredibly tense as Sister Christian and then Jessie’s Girl blast out of the dealer’s speaker as his bodyguard weighs the bag of fake cocaine. Just a flawless scene.

Wes Anderson– Like Tarantino, Wes Anderson is known for his use of outside music in his films. He uses it wonderfully and it really adds to his films. My favorite film of his is The Royal Tenenbaums.

The Royal Tenenbaums

A great scene that really shows the feelings of Luke Wilson’s character. I love the camera angles and the slow motion artfully used here.

Again, these are just a few films that I highlighted and there are so many more. If you want to see more films that utilize music wonderfully I’d suggest you see Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai, Lost in Translation, Apocalypse Now, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Goodfellas, Trainspotting, Do the Right Thing, and if you want I got more.


Why Do People Enjoy Horror Films?

March 14, 2010

I don’t know about you guys but i have often wondered why people enjoy horror because it may be considered pretty sadistic from a completely neutral standpoint. Lets break it down.

Horror has been a part of Cinema since its inception in the early 20th century. Horror emerged almost immediately as large part of the silent film industry.  among some of the earlier horror films are London After Midnight (1927), Doctor Jekyll and  Mr. Hyde (1920), Phantom of the Opera (1925),  and perhaps the best know silent horror picture F.W. Murnau’s masterpiece  Nosferatu (1926). Horror has been a part of western Literature for even longer with Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, and the various works of Edgar Allan Poe  appearing in the 18th Centuries. What is it about horror that has kept us wanting more for 200 years? The Following is my theory only and is not meant to be taken as fact but only to help you think further into the subject and explore one of my favorite questions, “Why?”.

First of all anyone reading this that refuses to accept that people are in fact members of the animal kingdom albeit with a much higher intellect, might as well stop reading now because this will be wasted on you. I don’t mean to be rude im just trying to save you some time.

Horror started to become more prevalent about the same time as law and order reigned supreme in most parts of the world. This is when all of the animalistic natures of man were no longer necessary. No matter how hard modern man has tried he could never completely get rid of all of our primal instinct programmed into our DNA. This some times has had disastrous outcome.

Homo Sapiens are pretty much undisputedly violent in their very nature. I am not saying by any means that people are intrinsically evil beings but it is hard to argue that we are not violent by nature.  That is not necessarily a bad thing either without our unrelenting violence there is no way the man could have conquered and settled every corner of the globe. It has helped us survive and become the civilized species we are today.  The problem with this inborn ferociousness only began to occur when civilization emerged. When man no longer had to fear natural prey and constantly follow the food source everywhere, when their violence had no use in everyday life anymore people began to turn on each other rather than use their violent natures to survive the elements because that was no longer nessecary. It can hardly be called a coincidence that horror became most popular when modern society all but abolished violence as an acceptable part of everyday life and only encouraged in times of war.

Violence in one form or another is always a central theme in horror films. In horror films violence is everywhere to be seen. You be hard pressed to find a horror film that does not involve at least one person dying usually in a pretty violent way at the hands of another person. Horror films are a socially acceptable way to explore our violent nature vicariously. One main example of this is how in many horror films the character that by all rights should be the hated and loathed antagonist over time becomes a loved protagonist. This is evident in slasher films. For those who aren’t familiar with the term a slasher film is a horror film that is centered around one unusually incredibly prolific serial killer. This films were most popular in the late 70’s and early 80’s starting with John Carpenter’s  Halloween in 1978.  These films for the most part are thin on plot but heavy on killings, violence and gore. The killers in these films have become beloved film icons. If you watch one of these films with people that are slasher flick fans you will notice that you will not hear them cheering for the people that are trying to survive the killing spree of these horrible killers but the killers themselves. In the later sequels to these films you will see not further developement of characters but only more gore and more creative ways of killing. The Killers in these films are truly animals. They kill whoever they want for any reason and do not let anyone stand in the way of their ultimate goal. They are basically a distillation of prehistoric man.  People like them because they are genetically built to be just like them.  Goal driven, Emotionless killing machines that will do anything to get what they want. They do anything they need to do to survive and will have no regrets about it. Many people in modern society would say these traits are that of a psychopath. That may be so but you would have to concede then that before civilization we were all psychopaths. I’m not trying to defend or justify the life style of a serial killer but it is something to think about.

Another theme that is prevalent in many horror films is sex. Whether it may be scantily clad women, copious sexual undertones, gratuitous nudity, or graphic sex scenes. To be frank humans are wired to constantly reproduce. This again going back to prehistoric man. In modern society free mating is not as acceptable as it was pre civilization (although it seems we are reverting back to our old free sex patterns in some ways). So we have humans that are geneticly programmed to reproduce as many times as they can before they die living in a society that for the most part subscribes to monogamy. (for the record I am a fan of monogamy) That means there is a lot of caged up sex drive with nowhere to go. Maybe horror films have more sexuality than most other films to further satisfy the primal nature of man. If you don’t think that human beings are geneticly wired for constantly reproduction, not unlike all other animals, think about this. Humans are a species of primate that probably originate in africa. In 200,000 years, the evolutionary blink of an eye, we have spread to all corners of the globe. This cannot be said for any other primate species. The human population has only dropped at one point in history and that was during the black plague in the 14th century. Other than that the human species has reproduced with the tenacity some would say only rivaled by rodent and viruses.  Also unlike most highly reproductive species we are not ready to survive on our own until years of growth have taken place.  How you ask did a species with such a long period of maturation and such a high infant mortality rate before the adaptation of modern science? Sex lots and lots of sex.

Just a side note. One of the most popular genres of horror the vampire genre is basically an allegory for sex. The person gives their bodily fluids in order to sustain life within another person. It’s no wonder most vampire movies are thick with sexual undertones.  notice also nearly always the vampire is an attractive young male that preys on young beautiful girls. the more classic vampire tales even go as far as to say that vampires only feed on the blood of young virgins. Its something to think about.

The thing most noticed about horror film is something that some would argue is the whole point of horror, Fear. It seems strange that a person would like to be afraid. For the most part being afraid is not a pleasant experience. What you have to understand is that man used to have a good amount of fear in everyday life. There used to be danger around every corner and now everyday life for man has become boring at least for what we are evolutionarily designed for. Fear in humans triggers the release of Epinephrine also refered to as Adrenaline. It triggers a fight or flight response, elevation of blood pressure, increased respiration, flooding of the brain and muscles with extra amounts of glucose and oxygen. A small amount of adrenaline can create one hell of a feeling. In short fear and adrenaline gives you a thrill and make you feel more alive. Horror films give us a chance to revisit our primal fear that is no longe experienced in everyday life. Also another point people who have experienced a lot of primal fear in their life many times do not enjoy horror films. People like war veterans and survivors of tragedy or violent oppression do no need to have a dose of primal fear for they have experienced it first hand.

As a closing let me just say that i am a huge fan of the horror genre for reasons unknown to me. I just am naturally inclined words it.  I really wanted to know why so being a science and history nerd this is what i came up with. I don’t expect you to take it as fact or even agree with it at all. It is just my theory  to the answer of a question that i have pondered for years. It still doesn’t answer another question. Is It Healthy? Let me know what you think if you agree or disagree.

-Danny Johnson