Friday, March 31, 2017

MP4; Projects; King Kong (Part 1)

Period 1:  King Kong

As we view and study the film King Kong (1933), please choose one of the critical lenses and use this critical lens to make sense and analyze the film. You may find the handouts, script sample, and the material posted here as helpful aspects for your discussion.

One of the greatest and influential films of the 1930's was the adventure-fantasy film King Kong (1933). Merian Cooper and Ernest Schoedsack co-produced and directed this epic film for RKO, starring blonde-bombshell (and the "Queen of Scream") Fay Wray as Ann--the beauty.

At its core is the archetypal Beauty and the Beast story. It is a quest and a love story too!

The film takes place mostly in the exotic and fictional setting of Skull Island, and then later in New York City. The similarities are obvious... It is one of the first city-destruction films as well.

Other characters include a filmmaker (Carl Denham) played by Robert Armstrong, and our typical hero-adventurer guy (Jack Driscoll), played by Bruce Cabot. Various victims, sailors, and natives round out the cast. The biggest star, however, is the little clay model of Kong himself.

The screenplay was written by James Ashmore Creelman and Ruth Rose, based on a story by Merian C. Cooper and Edgar Wallace. It is further influenced by the works of Arthur Conan Doyle & Edgar Rice Burroughs.

The film was shot in 1932, using set pieces from the film The Most Dangerous Game (1932)--which, incidentally, also starred Fay Wray. You may, if you wish, watch the complete film: The Most Dangerous Game (1932) as extra credit.

Unlike Metropolis, this film broke all previous box-office records in Hollywood and helped save RKO from bankruptcy. The film was re-released 4 times (1933, 1938, 1942, and 1946). Parts of the film were cut, censored, and then restored, or lost. One scene was the gruesome spider pit scene--that is shown in its glory by Peter Jackson's recent remake of the film. Here you go, brave-hearts. Peter Jackson also recreated the sequence by stitching the original footage remaining together with Hollywood magic...Lost Spider Sequence.

The film received no awards at its time of release. Special Effects awards were not yet invented. The use of rear projection, miniature models, trick photography, stop-motion animation were superbly done by chief technician Willis O'Brien, famed for his feature film The Lost World (1925).

Musical score is by Max Steiner, who also composed the score for Gone with the Wind (1939) and Casablanca (1941). and was the first feature length musical score written specifically for a talking film--it actually has a thematic score rather than background music, and a recorded 45-piece orchestra. All sound effects were recorded on 3 separate tracks, so one for dialogue, one for music, and one for sound effects. This becomes standard in most films of the decade.

Consider the Japanese kaiju (giant monster) films that come after this one to see how it was influential. Stop-motion models inspire filmmakers like Ray Harryhausen to make their own epics, and was the typical style used in monster movies until Star Wars (1977)--the last major use of the form being The Clash of the Titans (1981).

King Kong (1933) inspired the following sequels:
  • Son of Kong (1933) trailer
  • Mighty Joe Young (1949) trailer
  • Godzilla (1954, Jp.) trailer
  • Konga (1961) trailer
  • King Kong Vs. Godzilla (1962, Jp.)
  • King Kong Escapes (1967, Jp.)
  • King of Kong Island (1968)
  • King Kong (1976) trailer (with Jeff Bridges & Jessica Lange)
  • Queen Kong (1976, UK)
  • King Kong Lives (1986)
  • The Mighty Kong (1998, animated)
  • Mighty Joe Young (1998)
  • King Kong (2005), dir. Peter Jackson with Jack Black (as Carl Denham), Adrien Brody (as Jack Driscoll), Naomi Watts (as Fay Wray's character Ann), and a CGI 25-foot tall monstrous ape.
Period 2: RIT assembly (ensemble) or library (lab/library).

Use your time in the lab to work on your Metropolis papers or your silent film project.

HOMEWORK: Complete your Metropolis analysis papers. These are due Wednesday, April 5.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Extra Credit Films

There are so many movies, it would take years to cover all of them thoroughly (hence the reason to major in film studies...) In an attempt to encourage the viewing of some of these important early films, any of these films may be watched for extra credit.

How to do it:
1. Choose a film & watch it.
2. Summarize the film in a paragraph (or two). Aim for just the important events that happen in the film.
3. Evaluate the film in a paragraph (or two). What did you think of the film? What did you learn about the artistry of film making by watching the film (apply the practical information of this course to the film)? What did you learn about the time period or narrative stories by watching the film? Etc.
4. Turn in your film review by the end of the marking period.
5. Repeat as needed.

Oscar Micheaux:
Robert Flaherty:
Vitagraph (Sidney Drew):
Lois Weber:
Robert Wiene:
Sergei Eisenstein:
F.W. Murnau:
Cecil B. DeMille:
Paul Leni:
Harry Hoyt:
Paul Wegener: 
  • Ben Hur (1925, with Raymond Navarro)
  • Sherlock Holmes (1922, with John Barrymore, from the George Eastman collection)
Adolph Zukor:
Other silent films (actors):
Carl Laemmle:
Laurel & Hardy Films:

Monday, March 27, 2017

Narratology; Screwball Comedy; The Marx Brothers: Duck Soup

Narratology: the study of narrative forms. 
Narratologists (people who study narrative structure) are interested in the rhetoric of storytelling.

That is, the forms that "message senders" use to communicate with "message receivers."

In cinema, the problem with this communications model is determining who the sender is because while the implied author is the filmmaker, multiple authorship of scripts is common, especially in the United States. Should we credit the director, writer, editor, actor, or cinematographer as the author whose vision controls the project? Or perhaps we should credit the viewer who is responsible for following the film story?

Narration also differs according to a movie’s style. In classical films, boring gaps in the narrative are edited out by a discrete storyteller, who keeps a low profile, yet maintains to keep the action on track, moving toward a specific ending—the resolution of the story’s central conflict.

The story can be defined as the general subject matter, the raw materials of a dramatic action in chronological order.

In the classical narrative style, the established conflict builds to its maximum tension in the climax. Films are often written in 3-Acts, each with a beginning, middle, and end of an established or introduced conflict. We have studied plot extensively in playwriting. Yes, you should note inciting incidents, major decisions, complications, conflicts, crisis or turning points, dark moments and enlightenments, etc.

Also, stories are divided into genres. Each genre has rules and expectations that help define its narrative elements: story, structure, character, plot, setting, etc.

For example, in a science fiction film, we assume that spaceflight is easily possible, or that alien life is probable. These are tropes of the genre. Absurd situations, for example, are expected in comedies, but not usually appreciated in dramas. A genre sets forth the rules of what is possible in a film (or novel or short story as well).

In film there are three super genres (broad genres that encompass the whole): they are STYLES of film:
A. Realistic: (qualities: objective, 3rd person POV)
B. Classical: (qualities: objective/subjective, 3rd person, often limited 3rd person)
C. Formalistic: (qualities: subjective, 1st person or unreliable narrator)
When narratives fail to act according to convention or what we have come to expect from tradition or from the genre, we, as viewers have to figure out what is meant from the deviation of the structure and style of the genre.

Good writers are able to push the boundaries of what a story can allow within its chosen genre. When watching a movie, or reading a script or novel, you should be aware of the genre rules and assumptions you are likely to be presented with. In the romance genre, for example, we must assume that people fall in love almost immediately (and that this love is real, as opposed to just a physical attraction). That's part of the genre. When we criticize a movie, we should first check our understanding of what the writer and director were attempting to present to us.

Some classical and formalistic narrative techniques we recognize:
  1. The flashback
  2. The dream sequence
  3. The distorted view (as if the subject or character is drunk, insane, troubled, drugged, etc.) Commonly uses an oblique angle or birds eye angle or view to disorient its viewers.
  4. Voice overs (this indicates we have a subjective narrator) 
  5. The use of intertitles reminds us that we are watching a story--like reading a book. While outdated today, some films still use this technique to great effect, as in Star Wars (1977, George Lucas) or Inglorious Basterds (2009, Quentin Tarantino)
Other narrative techniques include:
  • Crosscutting
  • Montage
  • Multiple perspective
Classical style narrative plots generally follow the typical 3-act structure. They rise through a series of events (rising action) to a definitive climax, and usually resolve in some definitive way at the end of the film.

These plots are generally linear: telling the story in sequence of time and ordered events or chronological time.

Important symbols or metaphors are usually explained; solutions are offered. These classical films, more than formalistic or realistic films, are directed to a general [genre specific] audience.

Most films fall into this category, but at the far end of the spectrum are the avant garde films that use formalistic narration. Formalistic films rely heavily on metaphor, implied meaning, subjective POV, unreliable narrators, and surprising special visual effects. Here are a few sample clips of this type of film (view these on your own time):
READING ASSIGNMENT: Read the following script. As you read, examine the script for its narrative style. We will discuss the script and the film next class.
In particular, be prepared to discuss how the film uses narratology as a device. Examine the genre, the plot structure, the character portrayal, the setting, POV, and intended audience. What elements of the film script are formalistic, which are classical or realistic, etc. How does the film script adhere to the rules of the genre (what are those rules?) and find examples of the narrative style.
From Tim Dirks, AMC: 

"The Marx Brothers' classic comedy Duck Soup (1933) is a short, but brilliant satire and lampooning of blundering dictatorial leaders, fascism, and authoritarian government. The film, produced by Herman Mankiewicz, was prepared during the crisis period of the Depression. Some of its clever gags and routines were taken from Groucho's and Chico's early 1930s radio show.

It was the Marx Brothers' fifth (and last) film in a contract with Paramount Studios before they went on to MGM. The film was directed by first-class veteran director Leo McCarey, and its screenplay was written by Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby (with additional dialogue by Arthur Sheekman and Nat Perrin). The film was devoid of any Academy Award nominations.

The outrageous film was both a critical and commercial failure at the time of its release - audiences were taken aback by such preposterous political disrespect, buffoonery and cynicism at a time of political and economic crisis, with Roosevelt's struggle against Depression in the US amidst the rising power of Hitler in Germany. 

Insulted by the film, fascist Italian dictator Mussolini banned the film in Italy. Fortunately, the film was rediscovered by a generation of 1960s college students, and by revival film festivals and museum showings. As a result, the film has attained immortal status. 

This was the last of the Marx Brothers films to feature all four of the brothers. Their next film (without Zeppo), for MGM and its producer Irving Thalberg, Hollywood's most prestigious studio, was their landmark film A Night at the Opera (1935), with a more developed and polished plot-line.

The comedians in the film attack the pomposity of small-time governmental leaders (Firefly as President), the absurdity of government itself (the Cabinet meeting scene), governmental diplomacy (the Trentino-Firefly scenes), an arbitrary legal system (Chicolini's trial), and war fought over petty matters (the mobilization and war scenes). 

The non-stop, frenetic film is filled with a number of delightfully hilarious moments, gags, fast-moving acts, double entendres, comedy routines, puns, pure silliness, zany improvisations, quips and insult-spewed lines of dialogue - much of the comedy makes the obvious statement that war is indeed nonsensical and meaninglessly destructive, especially since the word 'upstart' was the insult word (Ambassador Trentino calls Firefly an 'upstart') that led to war between the two countries. 

Unlike many of the Marx Brothers other features, there are no romantic subplots (with Zeppo) and no musical interludes that stop the film's momentum - no harp solos for Harpo and no piano solos for Chico. There are, however, a couple of musical numbers that are perfectly integrated into the plot.

The film's title uses a familiar American phrase that means anything simple or easy, or alternately, a gullible sucker or pushover. Under the opening credits, four quacking ducks (the four Marx Brothers) are seen swimming and cooking in a kettle over a fire. Groucho reportedly provided the following recipe to explain the title: "Take two turkeys, one goose, four cabbages, but no duck, and mix them together. After one taste, you'll duck soup for the rest of your life."

The Story

The film opens with the flag of Freedonia (emblazoned with an "F") flying over the small village. The government of a "mythical kingdom" - the Balkan state of Freedonia, is suffering an emergency. It has gone bankrupt through mismanagement and is on the verge of revolution. The country's richest dowager millionairess, the wide and widowed benefactress Mrs. Gloria Teasdale (Margaret Dumont) has offered $20 million to sponsor and support the cash-poor government, but only if it is placed under new leadership.

The opening scene is the classic inaugural ceremony and lawn party for the conferring of the Presidency of the tin-pot republic to a newly-appointed leader, Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho Marx), characterized by a supportive Mrs. Teasdale as "a progressive, fearless fighter." 

In the coronation setting (a spoof of all such gala events), royal court guards at the entry announce the guests. Meanwhile, the representative of the neighboring Sylvania [the name of the country where Jeanette MacDonald ruled in Ernst Lubitsch's The Love Parade (1929)], Ambassador and rival suitor Trentino (Louis Calhern), schemes to win Mrs. Teasdale's hand in marriage by wooing the rich heiress (with the ultimate goal of annexing Freedonia to Sylvania). He has hired the seductive, sultry, and sinuous Latin temptress/dancer Vera Marcal (Raquel Torres), to function as a secret agent and keep Firefly distracted [in a satire of all Mata Hari films]."

As you watch (or read), notice characteristics of Screwball comedies:
  • Mistaken Identities
  • Crossdressing
  • Romantic storyline or plots (often with the lovers being mismatched)
  • Class or economic issues
  • Fast-talking dialogue (witty repartee) 
  • Ridiculous situations
  • Farce (sudden or unexpected entrances or exits, physical humor, etc.)
Read the script Duck Soup. Watch the film. Examine narrative structure and screwball comedy techniques. We will discuss these more in depth, next class when we conclude the film.

Sound in Film; Hal Roach, Laurel & Hardy: The Music Box

Please turn in your homework on identifying the positive and negative outcomes of sound in film from the article/handout "The Movies Learn to Speak" by Andrew Rausch

TASK #1: Due to testing, we will be unable to access the lab this week. Please continue researching/writing your Metropolis analysis papers on your own. See supporting materials on the blog post(s) below this one. Analysis papers are due Monday, April 3.

TASK #2: Please read and take notes on the following links/information on sound:

The Invention of Sound in Film

Joseph P. Maxfield (AT&T’s Bell Laboratories) invented the first phonograph linked to film (licensed by Victor as the Orthophonic Victrola) which became the basis for the
Vitaphone sound-on-disc system.

The Vitaphone allowed actors to lipsync their performance while the sound was recorded after; (This helped to popularize animation!) An example is from the very young Disney Studios: Steamboat Willie (1928. The first Mickey Mouse cartoon--based on Buster Keaton's Steamboat Bill).

The first sound film was Don Juan in 1926. The Jazz Singer (cantor scene);  The Jazz Singer (1927), directed by Alan Crosland, starring famous vaudeville actor, Al Jolson is popularly given this award. Really both films were songs (or just music in Don Juan's case) that were played along like a record as sounds were synched with the film. The Jazz Singer gave birth to the Hollywood musical genre.

Warner Bros. and Fox Film began wiring their theaters for sound as early as 1926. By 1928, Western Electric developed a sound-on-film system, which later developed a new competitive major studio: Radio-Keith-Orpheum or RKO.

The conversion to sound created both positive and negative effects for film:

A. Led to a revival of national film elsewhere in the world
B. Cinema owners did not have to hire musicians for an in-house orchestra
C. Silent films were easier to distribute across the world (no need to translate) which later creates the need for dubbing (1932 -- ex. Paramount studios); before this, multi-lingual films make stars like Marlene Dietrich, Maurice Chevalier, Bela Lugosi, Ingrid Bergman, Greta Garbo, and Peter Lore more important--since they can speak different languages (and therefore sync their voices to film).
D. Film became a single media event
E. Films came to the theatres as final products, whole and complete
F. The immersive qualities of film and the viewer become inseparable
G. Dialogue became a necessity to tell the plot of a film
A. Produced panic and confusion in Hollywood
B. Many musicians lost their jobs
C. Early sound films from America were boycotted by certain countries; films were not as widely distributed, more costly to translate.
D. Silent film culture was destroyed
E. Films did not require additional music, some ambiance was lost -- sound film was seen as the killer of “film as the seventh art form”
F. Film was no longer a “theatrical” or “artistic” event
G. Dialogue became a necessity to tell the plot of a film

  • Diegetic sound: Sound that occurs in the universe of the film. Character dialogue or sounds that a character can hear that occur in the setting or location, etc.
  • Internal Diegetic Sound:  Sound that only we (the audience) can hear in the mind of a single character. The internal thought process of a character (like 1st person POV in fiction). 
  • Non-diegetic sound: Sound that only the audience can hear. Music scores and themes, the voice over of a narrator that is not present, etc. (generally 3rd person omniscient POV)

For more details and examples check here.

Sound Film Comedian Stars

Hal Roach was born in Elmira, NY (near us!), before moving to Hollywood. He worked for the Pathe Exchange Co. before working for MGM (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer) as a producer. He is best known for producing the comedy teams of Laurel & Hardy and The Our Gang comedies (or Little Rascals).

Laurel and Hardy
Not all silent film stars made the transition to talkies. One comic duo that did, however, was Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. This iconic duo made over 100 films together, initially short films, before expanding into feature length films by the end of the 1930s. More can be examined by clicking on the link of their name above. Here are a few clips/films:
The Little Rascals (sample short films):
Little Rascals (Greatest Hits, 1) & Whatever Happened to the Little Rascals (information, although a bit grim)

HOMEWORK: Complete your Metropolis analysis papers (these are due Monday, April 3). For next class (Thursday, March 30) watch any one of the LITTLE RASCALS shorts linked above. Note how diegetic and non-diegetic sound is used with the new technology from the golden age of film. Explain in your answer or reflection how the short film uses sound effectively in the story/narrative of the short film. Post your answer in the COMMENT section of this blog post by end of day Thursday.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Film Exam

Please spend the first 15 minutes of today's class preparing for your test. At 7:45 we will move to the second floor to take the exam.

When you have completed the exam, please go to the library to do any of the following tasks:

A. Work with your "film company". Decide who will do what job in your company for your silent film project. Once you have a writer, that person should begin writing the treatment or outline narrative for the film.

  • Silent films do not require a lengthy script. Instead, like the narrative outline project (from George Melies' chapter) you are outlining the scenes you will include in your film to tell the story. Use the storyboards to help you plan your script.

B. Research and work on your Metropolis film analysis.

C. Read the article on Sound in Movies. This is homework.

HOMEWORK: Please read the article handout on "Sound in Film" and take notes on key ideas in the text. Answer: What were the positive and negative outcomes of sound films on the movie industry?

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Metropolis: Day 2

Please watch and take notes as you notice key aspects of the film Metropolis, directed by Fritz Lang. Your film analysis (an essay examining a particular thesis or claim) can focus on one of the following film theories:
  • Historical approach: research the film's history specifically. Find out who made the film, why they made the film, how they made the film, what reaction viewers had to the film, what happened to the film, and other historical aspects of what shaped the film or how the film shaped other films that came after it...[for examples of this sort of essay, refer to the handouts we have been reading for this class.]
  • National cinema: research the political and aesthetic climate of German cinema at the time of the film as a way to understand and draw meaning from the film. This might include how our culture today might interpret the film in contrast to when it was first made or viewed.
  • Auteur theory: research the director (or the writer or an actor) of the film. Examine where the film falls in the historical context of the artist's body of work. How did the film affect or shape the artist's career? Look for commonalities or underlying themes or approaches to dominant works in the artist's canon of work in an attempt to illuminate the artistry and effect of the film.
  • Formalist theory: Research and examine the stylistic and formal elements of the film. You might focus on the editing or lighting or acting or cinematography or special techniques found in the film. 
  • Ideological film theory: I suggest viewing the film through the Marxist critical lens or Feminist critical lens--i.e., economic class structures or gender roles. All ideological film theories try to examine how the film upholds or breaks new ground regarding its focus--in other words examining the cultural meaning and representation of aspects of the film.
You will need to create your own thesis. "My paper topic will order to explain..." for example.

Your paper should be at least 750-1,000 words in length (3-5 pages double spaced) and include a works cited page in MLA format. Please note: This paper will mostly be written outside of class and will be due at the end of next week. See previous posts and handouts for help.

HOMEWORK: Please study for your major unit exam Wednesday. See posts below for help.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Student Film Projects; Introduction to the Silent Film Project; Metropolis: Day 1


During the lab time today (period 1), please complete the following tasks:

A. Student Films (please view and take notes on these student film documentaries...good job, guys!)
B. Our next film project will be a group project/short silent film (between 2-10 minutes). Details will be discussed soon. Film groups can be up to 5 classmates (and may utilize friends, family members, etc. from outside of our class as well). Begin by organizing your film company. NOTE: you can work alone, as well, if you would like. Be your own auteur.

  • Once you have decided on a group (or if you are working solo), chat together about the kind of film you would like to make. Will you make a slapstick comedy, a sci-fi featurette, a romance, an avant-garde expressionist film, a minority film, a western, a documentary, a war film, a "blockbuster" style epic, a horror film, or a drama? 
  • Choose a style of film you would like to work with: realistic, classical, or formalistic
  • Once you know what genre & style you are likely to choose, start tossing out ideas. Keep track of your ideas. Right now, just be creative. Later you can limit your vision as to what is possible for this project. 
  • Eventually, you will need to come up with a variety of pitches and treatments for your film. Will it work as a 2-10 minute silent film? What directors have we studied, or styles of film would you like to incorporate into your film? Do you want to make sure the film has an expressionistic style, or include an Eisenstein-esque montage? Do you want transitions like wipes and irises? Do you want to use stop motion or rear-projection? Do you want close-ups and extreme long shots to establish setting, etc.? Your producer, writer, cinematographer, editor and director should have final say in what gets made.
  • Choose jobs for your film company. Here are a few important ones to consider (more details about film jobs will be forthcoming...): Director, Screenwriter, Editor, Cinematographer (director of photography), Actor(s), Producer, Grip, Sound Designer, Costume Designer, Special Effects Designer, etc. NOTE: for the first 2 weeks of this project, your producer can fire any member of your group for not participating, helping out your company, or being difficult to work with. Peers fired will have to make their own films or join other film companies. After 2-weeks, the company is stuck with the difficult peer. No complaining!

C. Study for your upcoming exam (Friday). See post below for review details.

D. Prepare to watch Metropolis by reading the short article and viewing the material found here.

Fritz Lang born in Vienna, Germany, 1890 -- the son of an architect, he dropped out of college to fight in the Great War (WWI)

After the war, Lang met producer Erich Pommer who worked for the movie company Declar--
Later Declar becomes UFA (the largest film company in Europe)

1919 - Lang directs his first film “Halbblut” (the Half-Caste)
1920 - Meets writer Thea von Harbou, marries her in 1922

Thea von Harbou wrote all of Lang’s films (including Metropolis) until 1933 when they divorced.

1925-1926 - Lang makes the film Metropolis which is drastically cut and distributed over the world Lang forms his own production company; Thea is his main writer; Metropolis becomes one of the most influential science fiction films of all time.
1931 - Lang directs M (with actor Peter Lorre)
1932 - The Testimony of Dr. Mabuse (banned because it criticized the Nazi party)
1933 - Lang immigrated to the U.S.
1934 - Lang is offered a contract by David Selznick, a producer at MGM. He goes on to make several films (mixing styles), ends up going blind and dying in 1975.

MAJOR FILMS: Halbblut (Half Caste) (1919) Dr. Mabuse (1922) (serial) Die Nibelungen (Siegfried; Kriemhild's Revenge) (1924). Metropolis (1926) Spies (1928), Woman in the Moon (1929),  M (1931) The Last Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1932) Fury (1936) You Only Live Once
(1937) Western Union (1941) Man Hunt (1941) The Ministry of Fear (1944) Cloak and Dagger (1946) Secret Beyond the Door (1948) The Big Heat (1953) Moonfleet (1955) While the City Sleeps (1956). Die Tausend Augend des Dr. Mabuse ("The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse") 1960

As we watch Metropolis, please complete the film analysis notes--You will be asked to write an essay about this film after your unit exam.

HOMEWORK: None. Study for your exam Friday.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Film Exam Review: Origin of Film through Silent Film Era

Your unit test will cover the following material.

You should be familiar with the term, device, person, or concept, and be able to explain why this thing was important or significant or how it influenced or helped contribute to early film history.

All material mentioned was either referenced and discussed below in the blog (check and review blog entries), the handouts from Turning Points in Film,  additional printed sources (handouts), films we watched in class, or from Tim Dirks website (Film History). Please refer to your notes and study. This test covers a lot, please study. Please. No. Really. Study. Review your notes. And study those notes--that's why you took them!
  • Styles of film: realism, classicism, formalism
  • Early film invention: Magic Lantern, Daguerreotype, Celluloid, Kinetoscope, Mutoscope, Praxinoscope, Thaumatrope, etc. You should be familiar with these devices and how they utilize persistence of vision, or how they influenced early film making. 
  • Edweard Muybridge, photography, & the Zoopraxinoscope
  • The Lumiere Brothers & their films (The Sprinkler SprinkledArrival of a Train, etc.)
  • Pathe Frere Manufacturing Company (Charles Pathe)
  • Pathe Films:  Onesime the Clock Maker; Slippery Jim; Aladin; The Policeman's Little Run
  • Thomas Edison and the Edison Manufacturing Company: various films (Sandow the Strongman, Serpentine Dances, Frankenstein, The Wizard of Oz (1910), Uncle Josh films, Life of an American Fireman, etc.
  • The Black Maria
  • Augustin Le Prince & the "Roundhay Garden Scene"
  • W.K.L. Dickson & his works
  • Hepworth Manufacturing Company (Cecil B. Hepworth)
  • Hepworth's films: Rescued by Rover ; How It Feels to be Run Over; Explosion of a Motor Car; That Fatal Sneeze; Alice in Wonderland
  • George Melies & A Trip to the Moon
  • Persistence of Vision
  • Etinnene-Jules Marey
  • George Eastman
  • Ferdinand Zecca
  • Edwin S. Porter & his films: The Great Train Robbery ; Dream of a Rarebit Fiend Life of an American Fireman
  • Actualities
  • D.W. Griffith and his contribution to film (also his IntoleranceWay Down East, and Birth of a Nation, etc.)
  • Billy Bitzer & contributions to cinematography/photography
  • Lillian Gish
  • Thomas Harper Ince
  • Early film comedy and comedians (particularly Mack Sennett, Mabel Normand, Harold Lloyd, Harry Langdon, Billy Bevan, Fatty Arbuckle, Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, etc.)
  • Slapstick comedy & comedic technique
  • Charlie Chaplin (various films; we watched clips; the Circus in class, but others were mentioned: view films like The Rink, or The Idle Class)
  • Buster Keaton (we watched One Week in class; but view other examples of the great "stone-face")
  • Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle & his scandal (Hays Code chapter)
  • Hollywood (the origin and development of)
  • Eisenstein & Montage & Battleship Potemkin (Odessa Step sequence)
  • Nanook of the North & Robert Flaherty
  • Types of Shots (close up, medium shot, full shot, deep focus shot, long shot, extreme close up and long shots, panning, dolly/tracking shot, etc.) and how and why they are used
  • Types of Angles (high, low, bird's eye, oblique, etc.) and how and why they are used
  • Advice about Camera shots and editing
  • Lighting: high key, low key, and chiaroscuro
  • Sound: Diegetic & non-diegetic
  • Early independent film studios/the Hollywood Studio System
  • Early major film studios (1920-1930)
  • Goldwyn, Fox, & Warner Bros. (studios)
  • Blockbooking
  • Sid Grauman
  • The Academy Awards
  • The Hays Code
  • German Expressionism & its influence
  • F. W. Murnau & Nosferatu; Sunrise
  • Robert Weine & The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
  • Carl Laemmle
  • Birt Acres
  • R.W. Paul
  • Alice Guy-Blache
  • Mack Sennett
  • Douglas Fairbanks
  • Rudolph Valentino
  • Mary Pickford
  • Lilian & Dorothy Gish, & Mae Marsh
  • Clara Bow
  • Janet Gaynor & Charles Farrell
  • Cecil B. DeMille
  • Oscar Micheaux
  • Minorities in film 
  • Conrad Viedt
  • Lon Chaney, Man of a Thousand Faces
  • Lois Weber
  • Frances Marion & Anita Loos
  • John Barrymore
  • Gloria Swanson
  • Nickelodeons & early Movie Palaces
  • Kinemacolor & early "special effects" such as tinting or painting celluloid
  • Steven Spielberg; Jaws (1975)
  • George Lucas & Star Wars (1977)
  • Characteristics of Blockbusters
  • CGI (computer generated imaging) & its contribution to contemporary film
  • Fritz Lang & Metropolis (1927)
  • Film vocabulary: 
    • Auteur, Story, Plot, Order, Narration, Narrative Form, Narratology
    • Diegesis, Scene, Sequence, Frequency, Ellipsis, Motif
    • Space, Viewing Time, Duration
HOMEWORK: Please study for your exam, please study for your exam, please study for your exam.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Silent Film Comedy; Projects Due!

LAB: Please complete and prepare your documentary projects & turn in your film journal papers today. 

Documentary film projects should be saved as MP4 films. If you don't know how to do this, please ask. After saving work as MP4 files, please upload your film to (make it public--at least during this unit), and send me the URL link in the COMMENT section below.

If you finish before 2nd period, please view the following clips:

 Various famous Hollywood actors:

Slapstick & Silent Film Comedy

The name "slapstick" comes from the bataccio — a club-like object composed of two wooden slats used in commedia dell'arte. Actors using the slapstick may hit each another repeatedly with great audible effect while causing very little actual physical damage. The term "slapstick" became synonymous with the style of silent film comedy most frequently found in the comedic silent films of Mack Sennett, Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, Hal Roach, and other comedic directors.

Later, the animated films from Warner Brothers Studio and Walt Disney will utilize many of the common gags found in comedic silent films. Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Tom & Jerry, and Donald Duck are just a few examples.

Slapstick is characterized by broad humor, absurd situations, comedic or farcical action such as chase scenes, and, of course, physical violence. Watch various clips below and note the actor/director where appropriate. Take notes on the film styles and view the films for ideas for your own stories, plays, and films.
Mack Sennett: comedian Billy Bevan (scene from Wandering Willies - 1926) and another clip with Vernon Dent & Billy Bevan
Mack Sennett: Black Oxfords (1924) with Vernon Dent & Sid Smith
Mack Sennett: comedian Harry Langdon (scene from Fiddlesticks - 1927)
Mack Sennett: comedian Harry Langdon (scene from Smile Please - 1924) & another scene (the skunk) from the same film.
Mabel Normand: The Extra Girl (clip, 1923)
Fatty & Mabel Adrift (1915) Mabel Normand & Fatty Arbuckle
Fatty Arbuckle: Coney Island (1917)
Fatty Arbuckle & Buster Keaton: The Butcher Boy (1917), The Cook (1918) The Garage (1920)
Buster Keaton: known as the great "stone face" because of his deadpan expression. Here are some stunts from The General 
Buster Keaton: One Week (1920)Sherlock Jr. (1924), The Paleface (1922) 
Harold Lloyd: from The Freshman (1925)
Harold Lloyd: from Safety Last (the clock scene) (1923)
Charley Chase: Accidental Accidents (Hal Roach directing)
Ben Turpin: Seein' Things (1928), part one; Seein' Things (part two)  

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Charlie Chaplin & Silent Film Comedy

Period 1: Lab

Please work on your documentary film project, your film journal paper #1 (both due next class), or view clips/take notes on various topics already covered.

Peruse the handout on silent film comedy techniques/characteristics.


Much of comedy (reasons why we laugh) have to do with these things:
  • Incongruity or Non sequitur. Humans are rational (supposedly) and laugh at anything that breaks a pattern or does not logically follow. Anything we are not expecting as a logical sequence creates incongruity, and so we laugh.
  • Farce or physical humor (often pratfalls, slapstick, hurting people, etc.) What doesn't kill us makes us laugh. This is only funny if the victim is not really hurt (consider cartoons!) If the character/victim is killed and we laugh, we fall into black or dark humor (and bad taste!)
  • Superiority vs. inferiority (we laugh at those weaker or in a worse situation than us). Usually an underdog or weaker protagonist gets to overcome a stronger opponent. This usually makes us feel better, and in a comedy plot, makes us feel stronger over our own oppression as viewers.
  • Mistaken identity. Ever since farce and satirical plays from the Greeks and Roman theater, mistaken identity has been a constant element in farce.
  • Absurdity (if it doesn't make sense, we laugh). Similar to incongruity, absurdity is, well, absurd.
  • Surprise. Humans will usually laugh is you can surprise them (and they are okay). The adrenaline rush is often accompanied by laughter.
Some literary devices often used in literature, film, or T.V.:
·        Hyperbole. Exaggeration—when it comes to comedy, hyperbole is king.
·        The rule of 3: the set up is like this: two common or related items followed by a third that breaks the pattern or doesn’t fit.
·        Understatement/overstatement: presenting something as being less important or less significant than it really is. Overstatement is the opposite—making mountains out of molehills, as the saying goes.
·        Wit: clever word play.
·        Mismatched pairs: tall & short, fat & thin, foolish & wise, pessimist & optimist, smart & stupid, etc.
·        Puns: a joke based on an alternative meaning of a word.

·        Innuendo: a comment or remark that is referring to a situation (often sexual) that is disparaging or suggestive.

Period 2: Classroom
Charlie Chaplin, an Overview

"All I need to make a comedy is a park, a policeman, and a pretty girl." -Sir Charles Chaplin

Sir Charles Chaplin (1889-1977)
• Born in 1889 in London, UK to theatrical parents
• Chaplin’s childhood was one of extreme poverty and hardship
• Abandoned by an alcoholic father and left with a mentally unstable mother who was unable to support him, he struggled through life in the poor house and on the streets
• He learnt much of his timing and technique in the employment of impresario Fred Karno (1866-1941) whose troupe he left during an American tour in 1913
• Offered a contract by Keystone Films
• After 1914, he convinced Keystone producer Mack Sennett to allow him to direct his own films - often wrote, directed, acted and composed his own musical scores for his films
• In many silent shorts, he established the grammar and ground rules of screen comedy using his physical dexterity and pantomime skills to create expertly choreographed, visually humorous entertainment that mixed irreverence, romance, and pathos (feeling)
• Co-founder of United Artists in 1919
• Married Oona O’Neill (daughter of playwright Eugene O’Neill)
• His left-wing sympathies caused him to emigrate to Switzerland during the 1950’s, McCarthy period
• He published his autobiography in 1964 and was knighted in 1975
• Chaplin died on Christmas day, 1977
• A writer Performer, director, composer and icon, he was a vital figure in the development of the screen comedy Films (incomplete list): Making a Living (1913) Kid Auto Races at Venice (1914) The Champion (1915) The Tramp (1915) The Pawnshop (1916) The Rink (1916) A Dog’s Life (1918) The Kid (1921) The Gold Rush (1925) City Lights (1931) Modern Times (1936) The Great Dictator (1940) Limelight (1952) A King in New York (1957) A Countess from Hong Kong (1967)
Take a look at some of Chaplin's films:

The Kid (1921, clip)
The Lion's Cage clip from the Circus (1928)
The Gold Rush (1925) Table ballet sequence from The Gold Rush and another scene; (sound and words added later by Chaplin)
The boxing scene from City Lights (1931); Documentary on City Lights & Charlie Chaplin
Modern Times (1936) trailer
The Great Dictator (1940), clip
Limelight (1952, documentary)

Charlie Chaplin Extra Credit

The Rink (1916, short film)
Police (1916, short film)
The Adventure (1917, short film)
A Dog's Life (1918, short film)
The Idle Class (1921, short film)

Watch any Chaplin short film and examine the use of comedy in the film. Post your comment/answer in the comment section of this post for extra credit. Due by end of marking period.

HOMEWORK: Complete your documentary film projects (due next class), and your film journal paper #1 (also due next class). 

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Expressionism; Montage: Weine, Eisenstein, Murnau

Please turn in your homework on German Expressionism.

We will take a few minutes this morning to complete our discussion regarding "Minorities in Film"--then move back to the 3rd floor lab for the rest of period 1.

Period 1: Lab

Please work on the following assignments while in the lab (some reading, some writing, some project work, etc.)
  • Work on your documentary project (due Friday, March 10)
  • Write your first journal paper (due Friday, March 10)
  • Read the 3 articles (packet #1) on Robert Weine's "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari", Sergei Eisenstein's "Battleship Potemkin", and F. W. Murnau's "Sunrise"--we will cover these fellows during our second class period screenings.
  • Begin homework. 
Period 2: Classroom/Screening


“Why should an artist duplicate the real world when it already exists for everyone to see?”
• Begins in Europe around 1906 in painting and theatre
• Style is unrealistic, stylized
• Attention often given to angles
• Distorted perspectives
• Narrow, tall streets and buildings (set pieces)
• Lighting is “dramatic”; Use of shadows
• Actors are grotesque, exaggerated make-up
• Dark, nightmarish tones & moods
• Attempt to show the interior lives of characters through exteriors
• Expressionism influences Futurism (and Modernism)
• Expressionism influences Film Noir in the 1930’s (more on that later...)
Robert Weine's bio
  • Cabinet of Dr. Caligari – Robert Weine (director) 1919
  • Hands of Orlac (1924, fan review)
F.W. Murnau's bio

The following movies, along with Dr. Caligari, are influential in creating the "horror" genre in film. Why, do you think, is expressionism a good stylistic choice for horror films?

Sergei Eisenstein:

The most influential film maker of early Russian film was Sergei Eisenstein.

Eisenstein is remembered in film for his contribution of the montage.

The montage changed the way filmmakers approached film narrative. It allows a filmmaker to tell a story through a sequence of shots that manipulate time. The jumble of images and cuts of a montage affect the psychological impact and effect of the film's content.

The montage technique is still used in editing today. In a script it is indicated by a series of descriptive lines, each spaced apart to indicate a series of shots, rather than description that would indicate one shot or scene. Click here for an example.

Here's a few clips from some of his films:
  • Battleship Potemkin (Odessa Step Sequence) (1925)
  • Oktober
  • Alexander Nevsky (1928) (battle on the ice sequence) - Music by Sergei Prokofiev. We can see how the invention of sound in the next few years will revolutionize film. The exciting tone of the music, nicely reflects the glory, fear, and trepidation of the characters in this scene.

HOMEWORK: There is no class on Monday. For Wednesday of next week, please complete the following tasks for next week:
  • 1. Read and answer the questions in the packet concerning "The Hays Code & Sergei Eisenstein." 
  • 2. Make sure you have read the handout article on Robert Weine, F.W. Murnau, Sergei Eisenstein and viewed their film clips from the post above. They will be on the unit test. 
  • 3. Draw near a close for your documentary project. This is due Friday, March 10. 
  • 4. Complete your film journal paper #1, also due March 10. 
  • 5. Review any film clips/topics from the beginning of this course until now. Click on the links and read or watch the various film samples or topics you may have missed. 
  • View any of the linked films in the EXTRA CREDIT film post below this one. 

The Murky Middle (Even More Advice)

Aristotle wrote that stories should have a beginning, middle, and end. Middles can be difficult. You might have a smashing opening to a stor...