Watch: Gordon Willis’s Framing Techniques in Over 25 Films: A Video Essay

Watch: Gordon Willis’s Framing Techniques in Over 25 Films: A Video Essay

Gordon Willis was one of the cinema’s greatest
artists. Drawing from over 25 of his films, this essay celebrates Willis’ lighting, blocking, preference for a 40mm lens and
above all his use of strong geometric patterns. Whether collaborating with some
of America’s most celebrated directors; Woody Allen, Alan J. Pakula and Francis
Ford Coppola, irrespective of the genre and regardless if the setting was
urban, rustic, contemporary or period, Willis’ style was
so identifiable that he redefined cinematography. Gordon Willis
was a cinematograph-auteur.

Steven Benedict is a writer, producer and director of multi-award
winning films. He is also a contributor to several shows on Newstalk106.
Having lectured for several years in
University College, Dublin, the National College of Art and Design
and the National Film School, he recently graduated with First Class
Honours from the Staffordshire University MSc in Feature Film Production
at
FILMBASE.

Watch: How Can Music Shape a War Film?

Watch: How Can Music Shape a War Film?

Just as war is inexplicable, music is inexplicable. We can describe both: one is violent, savage, sometimes needless, uneven; the other operates by relationships between sounds that simply work, remaining in our memory for reasons we can’t pinpoint. It makes sense, then, that music would be important to war films. It’s hard to forget, for instance, the sound of Wagner’s "Ride of the Valkryies" blasting from the helicopters in Apocalypse Now. The tension in the "I don’t know but I been told" marching song in Full Metal Jacket is palpable, especially given what lies ahead of the singing trainees. And the whistling melody from The Bridge Over the River Kwai is a classic–which I once whistled with a small group during summer camp as a child, not realizing the full significance of the tune. This video essay by Ian Magor uses these and other scenes to show us how music can affect the way we
perceive war in movies–and can "allow us to rediscover our humanity."

Watch: 29 Movies Shaped by (and Preceding) Ingmar Bergman’s ‘Persona’: A Video Essay

Watch: 29 Movies Shaped by (and Preceding) Ingmar Bergman’s ‘Persona’: A Video Essay

The influence of Ingmar Bergman’s Persona is legion. Using 29
other films, this essay positions his masterpiece in terms of what came after
it and what went before. It shows how Bergman visualized his central theme of identity
by way of reflections, splitting the screen, and shadows.

Films Referenced in This Piece:

Poltergeist (Tobe Hooper, 1982)
Persona (Ingmar Bergman, 1966)
Orphée (Jean Cocteau, 1950)
The Truman Show (Peter Weir, 1998)
Shadows (John Cassavetes, 1959)
Mulholland Drive (David Lynch, 2001)
The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)
Don’t Look Back (Marina de Van, 2009)
Don’t Look Now (Nicolas Roeg, 1973)
Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola, 1979)
Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958)
Performance (Nicolas Roeg, Donald Cammell, 1970)
Stardust Memories (Woody Allen 1980)
Old Boy (Park Chan-wook, 2003)
The Double Life of Veronique (Krzysztof Kieswlowski, 1991)
The Tenant (Roman Polanski, 1976)
Talk to Her (Pedro Almodovar, 2002)
The Crying Game (Neil Jordan, 1993)
Dead Ringers (David Cronenberg, 1988)
Minority Report (Steven Spielberg, 2002)
Les Biches (Claude Chabrol, 1968)
Black Swan (Darren Aronofsky, 2010)
3 Women (Robert Altman, 1977)
Angel Heart (Alan Parker, 1987)
Splice (Vincenzo Natali, 2009)
The Silence of the Lambs (Jonathan Demme, 1991)
Fight Club (David Fincher, 1999)
Heat (Michael Mann, 1995)
Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (Victor Fleming, 1941)
Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960)

The Assassination of Sterling Hayden by the Auteur Francis Coppola

The Assassination of Sterling Hayden by the Auteur Francis Coppola

This morning, I was pondering the mini-movie-marathon TCM will be dedicating to one of my favorite actors, Sterling Hayden, on his birthday, March 26th. The tall, Nordic-looking blond was often relegated to heading up B-Westerns and crime stories in the 40s and 50s,  like Arrow in the Dust and Suddenly, before finding a fan in director Stanley Kubrick. Kubrick first used Hayden in just that type of film, 1956's The Killing, an early genre piece that really didn’t set the box office on fire. Hayden's reputation didn't really begin to attain a certain stature until a few years later. By then, Stanley Kubrick had become Kubrick™, the reclusive, one-named auteur who’d buck the Hollywood establishment and direct Hayden in the slightly bent role of Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper in Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964). This atypical, blackly comic role helped Hayden get darker, pivotal roles from many of the top auteurs who'd come after Kubrick, as they ascended in the New Hollywood's director-led artistic revolution, filmmakers like Robert Altman (The Long Goodbye), Bernardo Bertolucci (1900) and most notably, Francis Coppola. It was then, while thinking of Hayden’s role in Coppola’s The Godfather, that something wild occurred to me.

In 1972, The Godfather was something new to American cinema (the movie celebrated the 40th anniversary of its release on March 15th). It was a crime story that was also a prestige picture. No expense was spared in adapting the bestseller by Mario Puzo, mostly because the demanding Coppola resisted Paramount’s previous attempts to produce it quickly and cheaply, a la Martin Ritt's box office bomb, The Brotherhood. It's hard to imagine in retrospect, but actors lacking any trace of Italian ethnicity, like Ryan O'Neal and Robert Redford, were being considered to play The Godfather's protagonist, Michael Corleone, just like The Brotherhood had cast the lantern-jawed Kirk Douglas as its lead (for more on the ins and outs of The Godfather's production, read the indispensable The Godfather Companion by Peter Biskind). And why shouldn't the studio have done so? Up until then, heroes and antiheroes, regardless of intended ethnicity, were played by WASP (or in the case of Douglas, WASP-looking) actors like Hayden himself.

nullA lack of positive ethnic representation in cinema forced Cuban Americans like myself to adopt Scarface and its Cuban drug-lord Tony Montana into our cultural iconography (which I talk about at length here). One thing Cuban Americans do share with Montana is his immigrant experience. And one of the reasons Tony Montana in particular was so easily accepted by myself and others like me is because of the actor who played him. Al Pacino not only looked like one of us, he looked nothing like Sterling Hayden. You couldn't just stick Pacino in a Western without some kind of lengthy exposition to explain his presence in the film. But you could cast Pacino as the lead in a crime movie just like the ones Hayden starred in. And that's what Coppola did, casting Pacino as the star of The Godfather against the protests of studio executives, while assigning the aging Hayden a secondary role as a police chief. And not just any chief, but an utterly detestable, racist, and corrupt one.

Pacino's Michael Corleone was the first hero Cuban Americans had called their own, in a movie known to us as El Padrino. What Coppola did not just for Italians or Cuban Americans, but all ethnicities, was demonstrate that a prestige picture by a major studio could be carried by an Italian American, one who wasn't fair-skinned and blue-eyed like Frank Sinatra, but brown-eyed and of olive complexion and short stature like Al Pacino. Combined with the casting of character actors like Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman and Jack Nicholson or black actors like Richard Roundtree as leads in some of the most popular films of the era, it’s fairly simple to see why Pacino’s success in a movie of that scale opened doors for so many offbeat-looking characters that would follow. Coppola's The Godfather was not just a major release. It won the Best Picture Oscar, spawned another Oscar-winning sequel, and has become one of the most watched movies of all time. And despite the risk of being overshadowed by no less an actor than Marlon Brando, Pacino carried The Godfather simply by virtue of being in every scene.

Coppola, who based many of the cultural touchstones of the film on his own family's experience as first-generation Italian Americans, then did something remarkable when he cast Hayden as Captain McCluskey, the despicable police chief we rooted against. He had Michael shoot him in the head midway through the film. Al Pacino, New Hollywood icon and one of my cultural heroes, shot Sterling Hayden, Old Hollywood stalwart and one of my favorite actors. In the head. Francis Coppola assassinated Sterling Hayden, and American cinema would never be the same again.

Atlanta-based freelance writer Tony Dayoub writes about film and television for his blog, Cinema Viewfinder, and reviews DVDs and Blu-rays for Nomad Editions: Wide Screen, a digital weekly. His criticism has also been featured in Slant’s The House Next Door blog, Opposing Views and Blogcritics.org. Follow him on Twitter.