A Dreamer Walking

FilmStruck – Cinema’s Love Letter

Posted in Personal Philosophy by Jacob on November 21, 2018

FilmStruck Closing

There is no streaming service that holds as strong of a punch in sheer knowledge of cinema’s rich history, as FilmStruck. Nothing comes close! And only two years after launch, it will be shutting down due to having too small of a “niche” audience. WHAT THE HELL?!?!

What sold me about FilmStruck is not just their ability to bring us wonderful material covering a variety of cultures and subject matters. Or their individual focus on the less represented genders or races in the cinema world. But on top of all that they were dedicated to diving deep into the filmmaking process by providing hundreds of hours of extra features on the making and impact of the films they championed.

Honestly I did not watch many films on FilmStruck. Maybe, two a month. Rather, after watching a film on a great artist I had just been introduced to, I would start to dive deep into the extra features. I would listen to interviews  of actors and crew members who were there when greats such as Yasujiro Ozu and Jean-Pierre Melville walked their sets. The movies these filmmakers were known for were cool to see, but FilmStruck wouldn’t settle with the greatest hits of any given artist, they would dive deep into a filmmaker’s career. Long forgotten films would be highlighted by the site. Many of the films on FilmStruck can not be found on other platforms or in even in physical copy.

Why does a service like this get so little attention? Why does a multi billion dollar company think preserving these types of films is not important? Studying classic and foreign films has been a lonely venture for me. Though I spent many years going to school for media arts, I could hardly get any of my peers interested in cinema’s rich history. There could be all sorts of critiques about why this is. Very few would be flattering. But this is not a post whining about people not being cultured enough to cherish rich storytelling over junk food “entertainment”. This is a plea, a cry to anyone out there willing to understand just how important standing up for artistic and culturistic preservation is to the betterment of society.

Netflix, Hulu, and HBO are wonderful services. I consider many of them like friends, sometimes providing a needed laugh while at times giving me something to think about. These services represent my peers and I hold a great amount of respect for how the they are driving our artform forward. Yet the artist’s highlighted on FilmStruck represent my teachers. I have spent countless hours taking notes on their unique structures, their beautiful images, and profound insights. This blog was built upon the kinds of revelations I have discovered on FilmStruck.  The great directors you see on the site, Kurosawa, Ford, and Bergman all have placed a brick on the great platform I stand on today. The filmmakers on all the other streaming services owe those highlighted on FilmStruck a great dept. This was driven home by the fact two dozen filmmakers, including Christopher Nolan, Ryan Johnson, Guillermo Del Toro, and Paul Thomas Anderson have posted a public letter pleading WarnerMedia to save the streaming service. Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg are also lending their voice to the fight.

We make a critical mistake to think art can last without our support. Time does not work that way. Without the needed resources and careful care, we will lose some of our most profound stories. With the end of FilmStruck there will be hundreds of movies you won’t be able to find streaming anywhere else, along with countless hours of informative interviews, behind the scenes documentaries, and commentaries. Thankfully Criterion, one of FilmStruck’s greatest collaborators, plans to start their own streaming service this coming spring. However, there is no guarantee it will be able to sustain itself any better than FilmStruck. The difference will be found in us. We simply need to decide if the cinema of our past and distant lands will be part of the forgotten or our teachers.

If you support FilmStruck’s efforts to preserve cinema, please sign and share this partition to #SaveFilmStruck. The more voices we have the harder it is it ignore us.

Alfred Hitchcock – An Observation – The Young Spunge

Posted in Film and Filmaker Studies, Observation Series by Jacob on October 24, 2018

Young AlfredYes, believe it or not this is Alfred Hitchcock. Not the self confident and slightly cocky man you see in later years. Rather, a young man just starting to understand the numerous possibilities of his artform and his role to play in the medium.

Hitchcock started exploring cinema in the mid 1910’s, making title cards for the start of films. From there he went into script writing and art direction. Though he said in a Peter Bogdanovich interview he had no ambition for becoming a director, he displayed a great amount of talent for the job at an early age. Infact, one of the things that got him in trouble in his job as Art Director was this nasty habit for telling the cameraman where to place the camera on the sets he was working on.

The latest film on my list to study has been  The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog. This silent 1927 film is considered to be the first real “Hitchcock” film, though he had directed two before this point. The main reason, it was his first mystery film – the genre he would become most famous for directing. In this film you can see signs of everything to come. The amount of control he had over the young medium is breathtaking. You can see the influences clearly; his love for American’s dramatic pace, the Soviet Union’s use of montage, and German’s extreme use of light and camera placement.

What struck me the most when watching The Lodger is the fact that I could see such a deep connection the artist had with the material. Yes, influences abided throughout the film, yet each technique was being used for the purpose of getting deeper into the psychology of the characters. Nothing felt showy, because the extreme angles, imaginative framing, and exhaustive montages were constantly giving us insight about the characters and their world.

When one of the main characters observes a whole montage of images in a footprint in the snow, it’s not because Hitchcock was tickled by Sergei Eisenstein’s use of montage in Battleship Potemkin. Rather, Hitchcock wanted to visually show the thoughts that were connecting like dominoes in the character’s head. When we see a combination of dramatic lighting and extreme angles as the mother wakes up and creeps into her lodger’s bedroom, it’s not because Hitchcock was a die hard fan of  F.W. Murnau’s films, even though he was 😉 . He wanted to let us in on the mother’s startling suspicions that the lodger could very well be The London Strangler.

No artist simply comes out fully formed. They are always influenced by those around them. Hitchcock had some magnificent artist to inspire him during his day. Yet, the reason he became great himself was due to his ability to absorb his influences and make them his own. Today, I see a great amount of copying going around. I need to admit I don’t see much copying of the masters from the silent era, but rather I see copies of the most recent Youtube prodigy. To be inspired by someone in your medium is totally fine. However, when it comes to your storytelling, you can’t simply make decisions based off of those who inspire you.

The difference between copying and absorbing comes down to the question you are trying to answer. Copying has a very easy question to answer, “What?”. If you can figure out what someone did to create a shot you can copy it. As long as you have the equipment any complicated piece can be copied. And to be sure, great filmmakers such as Hitchcock found answers to what went into making their favorite shots. Yet, Hitchcock was also able to figure out the answer to the other question, the far more important question. “Why?”. Only if you discover the answer to the question of why, do you understand how to mold the technique to your personal storytelling.

Hitchcock never seemed to be stealing techniques from other filmmakers. Instead, he  found personal and profound reasons to apply them to his stories. We often come out of a Hitchcock movie believing there was no better ways to use the camera. Time after time The Lodger gives us profound insight into the passions, fears, and insecurities of the character’s we see on screen. The reason is because their passions, fears, and insecurities are even more important to Hitchcock than his shots. Once he knows the character’s inner most feelings does he understand why he needs to use the shots he uses. An insert of a hand reaching for a doorknob, a POV shot of someone walking toward a house, or a reflection of a man walking toward a painting, are all powerful expressions of the character’s inner most conflicts.

A sponge doesn’t simply hold water, it absorbs the liquid into it’s very being.  We all need to have inspirations, yet we must also have enough confidence in ourselves to let those inspirations further our personal development as artists. A mere copying of those around us will produce stale material, easily forgotten. Yet letting those inspirations build upon who we are, can produce magnificent pieces of work. Work, like that of Hitchcock’s The Lodger, that could be remembered far beyond our lifetime.