Monday, April 29, 2019

The Golden Age of Hollywood; Screwball Script: Day 2; Wizard of Oz & Gone With the Wind

Crash Course Film: The Golden Age of Hollywood, #11. As we watch the episode, take notes on: The Hollywood Studio System & Its Global Dominance, Color Cinematography, and Aspect Ratio of film (4:3 & 16:9, widescreen). Turn in your notes for participation credit this morning.

Please use our lab time until 8:05 to work on your Screwball comedy script project. See previous posts and handouts for details. 

Back to Color

While Technicolor was invented as far back as 1916 but was not a new invention. Kinemacolor had been around since 1908. These color film inventions were not widely used, and Walt Disney held the contract for the use of 3-strip technicolor, shutting out other animation studios like Fleischer Studios, who had to pay Disney for the rights or use the less brilliant and vibrant cinecolor process.

1939 was a good year for color film (and Victor Fleming).

MGM's musical-fantasy The Wizard of Oz, directed by Victor Fleming, starring Judy Garland was nominated for 6 Academy Awards but lost Best Picture to the epic 4-hour long historical romance-drama Gone With the Wind (also directed by Victor Fleming) and starring Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh. So, either way, Victor Fleming...winner.

We will read parts of these scripts (please sign up for parts on the sign-up sheets), then watch some of the films (sadly, we are not screening the full Wizard of Oz, since most of you know the film already; and Gone with the Wind is too long anyway.) You should, however, know why these films (and why Victor Fleming & his star actresses became famous.)

HOMEWORK: Please work on your script projects. You will have one more class period as a lab to work on your script next class. The draft of your Screwball comedy script is due Monday, May 6.

Additionally, if we did not complete our reading of the script handouts, please do so. Notice how the script is written. Note that nothing is CENTERED, nor is it double spaced. Some irregularities with format exist, but within each script, the script is consistent. This is one of the most important things to remember for young film writers.       

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Bringing Up Baby (conclusion); Screwball Comedy Script Assignment

Bringing Up Baby, 1938 directed by Howard Hawks, starring Cary Grant & Katherine Hepburn.

Please complete the Cornell Notes looking for examples and scenes that fulfill the Screwball Comedy characteristics:
  • 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.) 
Hand in your notes at the end of our viewing for participation credit.

HOMEWORK: Please read the material on Howard Hawks' His Girl Friday (a screwball comedy) and the sample script. This is a typical length for a good, short film. See how comedy techniques work in the script and use these techniques in your own script. Project draft will be due Monday, May 6, so start working and writing your idea. See handout for details. 

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Student Silent Film Projects; Screwball Comedy: Bringing Up Baby

This morning, please take the first 5-10 minutes to post a COMMENT in the COMMENT section of this blog about your experience creating your silent film projects. What did you learn about making a short film from the experience? What worked for you, what caused you problems, etc.?

After commenting, let's screen your films:
Good job, guys! Congratulations on completing a difficult task! This marking period you will be writing and making a sound film, so you'll use your film making skills again. More details about this project will be forthcoming.

Before we leave film comedy for good, let's begin screening the screwball comedy: Bringing Up Baby, 1938 directed by Howard Hawks, starring Cary Grant & Katherine Hepburn.

Please complete the Cornell Notes looking for examples and scenes that fulfill the Screwball Comedy characteristics:
  • 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.) 
HOMEWORK: Please read the following film essay by Margaret Perry, and from AMC's website by Tim Dirks. We will be discussing this film and its components next class when we finish the screening.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Disney: Snow White (1937); Color in Film

This morning we will screen Walt Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937). Enjoy the singing! As you watch, use the handout to complete your notes. Watch and note how color is used to characterize good versus bad characters or settings. Examine the film for its warm and cool colors.

After the film, we'll review the following short film documentary (11 min.) How Technicolor Changed Movies.

Color in Film

Color tends to be a subconscious element in films. It has an emotional appeal which often suggests the mood of the film or the characters in it. At its most effective, complimentary characters are dressed in complimentary colors--antagonists are dressed in contrasting colors to their protagonists. Characters can match or contrast their settings and a whole host of other useful symbols can be created with color.

Early Color Film (1901)

The first Technicolor film was THE GULF BETWEEN (U.S., 1917), a five-reeler made by Technicolor Motion Picture Corp. in Florida mainly for trade showings in eastern cities, to create interest in color movies among producers and exhibitors. It did not receive a nationwide distribution. A lost film today, only a few frames survive.

Kodachrome sample (1922)

The first two-strip Technicolor feature made in Hollywood, and the first to receive a nationwide distribution, was the costume drama THE TOLL OF THE SEA (1922).

Another silent movie filmed entirely in two-strip Technicolor was the swashbuckler THE BLACK PIRATE (1926), produced by and starring Douglas Fairbanks (one of the actors who started United Artists with Charlie Chaplin & Mary Pickford).

EXTRA CREDIT OPTIONS: THE TEN COMMANDMENTS (Cecil B. DeMille's epic, 1923) THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (Carl Laemmle, 1925) Demille's BEN-HUR (1925) and KING OF KINGS (Cecil B. DeMille, 1927) used color as a gimmick or in parts. Here's another Demille epic 1935 film The Crusades (full film, optionsfor extra credit!)
Later his remakes of The Ten Commandments (1956) & Ben Hur (1959) will be in color. You can watch these films starring Charleton Heston as well for extra credit this week.

The first all-talking Technicolor feature was the Warner Bros. musical ON WITH THE SHOW (1929). Various other musicals followed, such as Lockstep (1929) and Gold Diggers (1929).

All of the color films up to this point were two-color processes, which could capture only two of the three primary colors of light.

In 1932, Technicolor perfected a three-color motion picture process (also known as three-strip Technicolor, because three negatives were employed in the camera, one for each primary color of light -- red, green, and blue).

3-strip Technicolor

3-strip technicolor was introduced with the Walt Disney cartoon FLOWERS AND TREES (1932), which won the first Academy Award for Animation. Walt Disney kept a monopoly on 3-color technicolor from 1932-1935.

The first feature-length movie in three-strip Technicolor was the costume comedy-drama BECKY SHARP (U.S., 1935)

Technicolor used a three-color system: red, blue, green (these colors, therefore, are most vivid)

Early color in film was used as an expression (like expressionism) of the director’s or cinematographer’s story, and so early films with color tend to be ones that are more formalistic, artificial, or exotic. Oddly, color was often not used for “realistic” movies and was seen, still more oddly, as less than realistic. You should note that most early color films were romances, fantasies, musicals, or animated films.

Warm colorsredyelloworange (brown)
Cool colorsBluegreenviolet (white)

During the 1930's, Technicolor was still expensive. It was still being used as a movie gimmick as seen here. The Women (1939); here's the trailer for the film.

It was, therefore, Technicolor and the 3 strip technicolor process that rocketed the Walt Disney Studios into a formidable film studio. Please refer to the chapter on Walt Disney & Snow White to see why he's important in the film industry.

Extra, Extra Credit Option: You may view these short films from Disney and taken together (that is, reference them all in your review) you may write a review for Disney's short subjects.
HOMEWORK: If you missed any of these links, please view them on your own time. Take notes, etc.

Your film project is due tomorrow (April 12) or by next Friday (April 19). Please upload your films to Youtube and share the URL with me in the Google classroom assignment area.

All extra credit films (there are some listed on this post...) are due by Friday, April 19 as well.

Have a nice break!

Monday, April 8, 2019

Duck Soup (The Marx Brothers)

Just a reminder that your attendance in this class is a gradable score. Please attempt to arrive in class on time. Your MP grade may be affected negatively with consistent tardiness to periods 1 & 2. 

See and read the film notes and the copy of the script Duck Soup. As you watch (and 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.) 
EXTRA CREDIT OPTION: Find at least 1 example of each of these items and be able to explain how these tropes are used in the film to some effect. For extra credit, write a 1-2 page analysis of the film's use of screwball comedy techniques. This will be due by the end of the marking period (next week).

Remember: your silent film projects are due either by Friday, April 12 or by Friday, April 19. No film projects will count for credit after the 19th! Please upload your film to Youtube and send me the URL link (either in this post, next posts or in our Google classroom!)

HOMEWORK: Read the script Duck Soup. Examine the film's screwball comedy techniques. Read the chapter concerning Disney's Snow White. We'll screen this film next class before break. 

Thursday, April 4, 2019

The Marx Brothers: Screwball Comedy; Duck Soup

After our viewing of The Music Box & Hal Roach's Little Rascals, we'll continue our comedy series with screwball comedy.

Screwball Comedy is a style of comedy popularized in the 1930s. At its center is the need for Depression-era audiences to escape into mass entertainment. They are a product of their time. Typical romances (the right guy gets the girl), lampooning or criticism of the leisure or upper class, parties, food, and, of course, music made these films excellent examples of what sound in film was capable of providing to audiences.

Protagonists are drawn from lower and middle classes, often centering around a male protagonist whose normal life is upended by falling in love with a feisty female. At the same time, usually, there is a mismatched couple who act as foil or counterpoint to this more appropriate couple. Marriage is always the end result. 

As the Hays Code took effect, screwball comedy remained safe social satire with a lot of farce. Fast-paced dialogue, puns or wordplay, and wit, sight gags, screwy or silly plot twists, mistaken identity, and zany characters are all characteristics of the Screwball Comedy style. Songs are sometimes slipped into the action. As we view Duck Soup (1933), look for the following characteristics:
  • 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.)
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 insulting 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 (and 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.)
HOMEWORK: Read the script Duck Soup. Examine the films' narrative structure, witty and clever dialogue, and screwball comedy techniques. 

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Film Exam: Silent Film Era; The Music Box

Please take a moment to study for your exam, then take the exam.

When you finish, please work on your silent films, any late work, and wait until our class has completed the exam. We will then continue on with Hal Roach, Laurel & Hardy, and the Little Rascals from last class.

HOMEWORK: None. Your film projects are due by Friday, April 14. Please upload the files to Youtube and send your URL to our Google Classroom post. No late film projects will be accepted for MP3.

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