A Dreamer Walking

Akira Kurosawa – Director – Kagemusha

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on June 1, 2014

Kurosawa #1

This might be the most beautiful shot I have ever seen of Akira Kurosawa’s. And believe me there have been plenty of beautiful shots in this old legend’s career. Kagemusha (1980), which means “shadow warrior”, is chock full of great shots. The movie is Kurosawa’s third venture into filming with color and I believe his best. It is pretty amazing this is only his third film made in color since it was made in 1980 and Kurosawa had been making movies since the 1940’s. Those who don’t know Akira Kurosawa is a director from Japan and considered one of the greatest filmmakers to grace this earth. His movie Seven Samuri (1954) is hailed by many to be the greatest movie ever made.

With the movie Rashomon (1950) Kurosawa was able to put the cinema of Japan on the map after the movie won Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival in 1951. The movie was one of the first time a filmmaker ever shot with the lens looking directly at the sun. Before this many thought film would burn up if you shot directly at the sun. However, after Rashoman the sun became a big theme in Akira Kurosawa’s work.

Getting Kagemusha made was extremely difficult. Kurosawa painted hundreds and hundreds of storyboards. He knew almost every shot of the movie before he even started shooting. He was just waiting to get backing for the project. Sadly at this time in his career the film industry in Japan was at a all time low and many considered Kurosawa to be passed his prime as a filmmaker. Thankfully however two successful young filmmakers from America, George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola, stepped in and helped finance the picture. This might have suggested to Akira Kurosawa there was some hope for the next generation. Though his industry might have given up on him, there was dedicated group of young filmmakers from the 60’s and 70’s who considered Kurosawa a legend in the realm of filmmaking.

In some ways I feel this shot is melancholy in nature. The troops in shadow look tired and defeated. Where during 1950’s Rushomon Kurosawa shot directly up into the sun that was in the middle of the sky, the sun now is setting representing and end of a way of life. Yet, the picture’s beauty is overpowering and the image of troops marching onto battle is quite inspiring. The deep oranges you see in the picture don’t feel like they represent doom as much as it represents a sort of beautiful momory Kurosawa wants us to keep a hold of.

Akira Kurosawa was a huge admirer of John Ford and Ford was known as the king of the master-shot. Ford told a very young Steven Spielberg that if he could learn why a shot is better when the horizon line is on the top of the screen or at the bottom of the screen instead of in the middle, you might just become a good filmmaker. As you can see Kurosawa places the horizon line at the top of the screen. There is no vast open space in this master shot. The world once full of possibilities is now coming to a close. This is an end of an age. In the movie it represents the ending of the Samurai. However, for Kurosawa I believe it means the moving on of an age in filmmaking. His light is about to go out, there are only a few more movies left in him.

The Searchers

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on April 23, 2013

The Searchers (1956): Directed by John Ford

The Searchers is a beautiful movie. There is no time in the movie where I rather be somewhere else. Ford never dwindles too long and has enough interesting characters to make everything feel worth it. However most of the characters feel one dimensional. They have personality but they lack the depth needed to have a lasting effect on the audience.  The only cahracter with any depth is John Wayne’s Ethan. We see his past in his eyes. He is a war veteran for a side that lost. He is a man turned cold through seeing too much violence and death. The moment of great emotion are usually shown through Wayne’s character. He is a man full of hatred and demons. He can barely tolerate his partly Indian blood partner Martin.  The story revolves around both Ethan and Martin’s search for a family member taken by the Comanche. However, we have no idea whether or not Ethan’s hatred for the Indian will mean the death of his converted niece. Ethan’s hatred for the Indian is seen through out the film, it is breaking at the seems and expressed so vividly through subtle action. One of the greatest close ups in cinema is done through a push into Ethan’s face when looking with malice at a middle aged converted white woman.

Ford is able to say volumes with a little. He holds the camera still, refrains from showing too much action, and resists using the close-up too often. Doorways, windows, people, and the great landscape of Monument Valley are used to great effect as framing devices. The eye travels effortlessly to the people Ford wants us to see.

We are not given a story with a clear bad and a clear good. Though I think Ford shows the stereotypical and one dimensional perspective of the Indian he also shows how the evils of the “white man” were  just as extreme as the evils of the Comanche.  There is great emotions coming from the characters when we see the burning of Ethan’s brothers home at the beginning of the film and yet Ford gives us just as dramatic of a image of an Indian camp being burnt to the ground with little emotion expressed from the films antagonists.  The villian of the movie Scare says he kills because the white man killed his loved ones first. Scare is a direct reflection of the main character Ethan. The same hatred that drives Scare drives Ethan.  I don’t know whether or not I like Scare being played by a dressed up white man. However, this could be a further commentary by Ford on how the savage Indian we have in our minds when we think about the West has less to do with reality and more to do with Hollywood’s manipulation.

As cynical as The Searchers is it also has a great sense of humor. From Ethan’s unwanted partnership with Martin, to the head strong Lori who just can’t help but be in love with Martin, to the over the top reverend played by the great Ward Bond, Ford keeps us entertained while not taking us away from the seriousness of Ethan’s wrath. Ford has the power to play one fight as a sort of comedy relief and a few minutes later play another piece of action as a serious piece of action full of suspense.

We do see Ford’s very cynical and shallow opinion of youth in the film. Martin really doesn’t develop in the story. He is constantly made fun of and is treated like a little incapable kid by most of the other characters. Lori is portrayed as a restless over tempered girl. Martin is barely capable partner with hardly any openings to give us something to relate to. And Ethan’s niece Debbie, the girl Martin and Ethan are searching for, is only used as a plotting device and nothing more.

Though Ford delivers on the turnaround of John Wayne’s character Ethan I see little authenticity in the development of the secondary characters. The love story between Martin and Lori is shallow and nobody but Ethan is given room to really grow through out the film. However, the characters are full of entertainment and Wayne is able to give Ethan a great amount of empathy. Ethan holds plenty of depth to keep the audience interested through out. Ford has confidence with his storytelling skills. He rarely misses a beat. At the end of the film Ford manages to deliver on our hopes and bash them at the same time. The music drives the story forward and visuals are a wonder to behold. Ford brings humor, suspense, action, horror, and happiness to the film and gives us a truly great story. John Wayne’s Ethan seems to be a direct reflection of John Ford. He often seems cold and will never be able to live on the inside with the rest of us, yet deep down his heart is in the right place full of the humanity that keeps us going back to the movies.

John Ford – An Observation – A Thousand Fights

Posted in Film and Filmaker Studies, Observation Series by Jacob on May 21, 2012

John Ford 1In the 1930’s and 40’s Hollywood everyone was under contract, especially the directors and actors. For the most part Ford had little say in the movies he made. He needed to work with the scripts the studios gave him. Ford said he would tell the studios if the script would make a lousy, good, or great picture, but no matter what he was given he would do the best he could with it. This, along with the little time Ford was given to plan, brought about some mediocre films in his career. Very few could really fight against the studio system and make it through with a strong career. Frank Capra and Orson Welles are examples of directors who fought tooth and nail against the control of the studios. As a result both directors had great beginnings to their careers but ended up burning out or slowing their success down considerably ten to twenty years into their career. You might say ten to twenty years is good, until you contrast it with Ford’s forty plus years of success.

Ford said he got into a thousand fights with the studios in his career and he lost them all. I disagree with Ford here. He might not have completely won many, if any, of them. But, he rarely lost a fight. Unlike Capra or Welles, Ford was a master at working the Hollywood system. He learned to work in a way that gave him the power over most of the movies he made without exhausting himself or making the studios too mad. Ford was a shifty fellow, he would not fight through direct defiance, but rather through being more clever then his opponent.

Ford knew the studios had the power in the editing room. So he fought this by giving the studio the minimum amount of coverage to work with. In Ford’s How Green Was My Valley (1941) there is a beautiful scene where Angharad, the most beautiful woman in the town, is just leaving after being married to a rich man who she is not in love with. The minister, Mr. Gruffydd, is the person she is truly in love with and we see him come out of the Church in silhouette looking at Angharad before she leaves. Ford was asked while shooting if he wanted to do a close up of Mr. Gruffydd. Ford replied, “Jesus no. They’ll just use it”. Most of Ford’s pictures were already cut in his head before he started shooting. He was usually so convinced in his interpretation of the story that he only shot what he absolutely needed. Even though the studios had power over Ford to edit his pictures, they could only edit in a limited amount of ways because Ford only gave them a limited amount of film to work with.

Whenever Ford had the opportunity to shoot on location he did. Ford wanted to be as far away from Hollywood and his producers as possible. One of the reasons Ford shot so many of his films in Monument Valley was because it was away from all the distractions of Hollywood and its control. There were no phones, producers, or set limitations in Monument Valley. Without the restrictions of the studio we see greatness at work. Great classics such as Stagecoach and The Searchers were made in Monument Valley. Ford’s pictures at Monument Valley are so legendary directors today refuse to shoot there out of respect of Ford and fear they would do the Valley and Ford a disservice.

The studios might have picked the scripts but it was Ford who chose what he used and what he discarded. Ford was just fine with improvisation and using the script only as a guide.  He was known for getting rid of dialogue or even getting rid of a scene or two entirely if he didn’t think it helped the story’s purpose. I have come across the story, more then once in my research of Ford, where he was given a hard time by a producer for being a few days off schedule. Ford angrily called for the script, ripped several pages out and said, “There! Now we are back on schedule”. Whether this story is true or not, it does represent Ford’s philosophy on scripts; they were never set in stone. He was always looking for the happy accident or the improvisation that enhanced or out did what he read on the page.

Ford’s tough guy demeanor was also a way to defend himself in fights. To prevent himself from always needing to argue his case when directing his crew Ford created an image of being a “hard ass”. Deep down Ford was a compassionate man with a great amount of insecurities. The sentimental scenes in Ford’s films work because he believed in them and his crew knew if a “hard ass” like Ford believed in them, they could too. No matter the insecurities, what drove Ford was ambition. Ford would never let his crew or producers see his soft side. Failure did not bring Ford down it just made him want to prove himself even more. Ford’s crew and the studios he worked for knew he was not someone to mess around with.

Movies like The Quite Man, The Searchers, and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance were ambitious pieces of cinema that would never have been made without Ford. Ford needed to fight for these films. Ford was able to get the go-ahead for his more personal films by first making the films the studios wanted him to make. Ford worked on several mediocre, at best, stories in order to get the green light for his personal projects. He understood the system better then anyone. He knew he could not get his way every time. Filmmaking was an expensive medium and Ford needed the studios in order to participate in it. He was willing to sacrifice in order to get the opportunity to perfect his art form and tell the stories that really spoke to his heart.  It took him thirty years to get the okay for The Quite Man.

As I said at the beginning of the post, I do not think Ford lost very many fights. However, I do think he was beat up. Ford was abused through out his life and he became an abuser to many people, especially the ones closest to him. Fighting has consequences. Unlike Capra, Welles, and countless others, Ford did not allow the studios to kill his creativity. He did lose many friendships through being a bully and we do see a much more cynical view on life in Ford’s later films. Ford’s last great Western, The Man who Shot Liberty Valence, is considered one of the most melancholy westerns of all time. In it we don’t see the vast landscape shots and great action scenes we are so used to seeing in a Ford Western. Instead we are given a story about the ineffectiveness of law against the true evil of the world. We see a love story that does not end the way most want. And, we are shown how the world rather believe a myth over the truth when it is more convenient.

In order to understand the unbelievable length and strength of Ford’s career all you need to do is look at his Westerns. He started by defining the Western in the silent era in the shorts he did with Harry Carey Sr. and the epic western The Iron Horse (1924). In the middle of his career he made the Western one of the most powerful genres in Hollywood with the movie Stagecoach (1939).  Ford ended his career turning Hollywood and the public’s concept of the Western on it’s head, with movies such as The Searchers (1954) and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1960). To have the kind of career Ford had you needed to be a pretty good fighter. Ford wasn’t a fighter without a cause. He fought with the studio systems, his crew, and the changing ideals of America in order to bring us his visions of the country and ideals he loved and believed in. He fought to tell his stories in the best ways he knew how. He fought with conviction, courage, and an unwillingness to stay down. Because of this he had one of the greatest careers in the history of filmmaking.

John Ford – An Observation – The Old School Director

Posted in Film and Filmaker Studies, Observation Series by Jacob on May 10, 2012

John Ford 2John Ford consistently got his films done on budget and on time. He made films full of character and story without convoluted plot. He used a minimum amount of dialogue in his movies and did not move the camera unless he needed to. Ford did not consider himself an artist. Filmmaking was his job and his mission was to create an entertaining picture for the rest of the world to see. John Ford is an example of someone who did not learn filmmaking from a school or book, but rather from on the job experience through trial and error. He stands toe to toe with the great filmmakers of the past who were not just masters at using the language of film but the ones creating it from scratch. With little money, demanding schedules, and constant monitoring with excessive restrictions from the studio systems, Ford was able to bring us classics that are hailed even now as being some of the greatest films ever made.

John Ford is the definition of an “Old School” director. He was part of the group that started it all. He was one of the ones who made us realize the power and importance of filmmaking. He was not artsy or self-indulgent. Ford’s only objective was to do well at his job. Ford wasn’t interested in showing the world the man behind the camera through huge tracking shots and clever compositions, rather his interest lied in letting the action unfold as if the camera wasn’t even there. The camera hardly moved in Ford’s films. When he moved the camera it was for a thought through reason. If he moved in on a character we knew we needed to pay attention to what the character was doing or saying. If Ford made a cut it was because he was finished exploring that particular moment in the story. These days filmmakers are afraid to keep the camera still. They will use handhelds and cut excessively just because they are worried about boring the audience. Ford believed in his crew and his directing abilities enough to follow his ambitions and not cave into the public’s demands.

The advice Ford gave for making good films was simple, “Photograph the eyes”. He knew the power of film came through human connection. Sure we liked the fist fights, horse charges, and gun fights in Ford’s films, but what kept his movies relevant was the simple study he did on the human psyche. He explored the individual and his or her obligations to family and society. He constantly contrasted the individual with the development of what many would consider the progression of History. Many filmmakers of today do not spend enough time connecting the audience to the characters and world of their film before moving on with plot. We often have BIG ideas but usually don’t have the patience to explore them or understand them. Ford didn’t care for big ideas, he explored simple things. Like the obligation a child has to his father in the movie How Green was My Valley (1941), the overpowering remorse that comes when betraying a friend in The Informer (1935), or the concept of finding worth when everything seems to be taken away in The Grapes of Wrath (1940).

John Ford made a name for himself through simplicity. He made simple stories and he filmed them in simple ways. He did not feel the need to make a blockbuster time and time again, like so many high profile directors do these days. He did not treat the actors as if they were the most important members of the film crew. Ford’s school was the films he worked on and the movies he went to. All the film student of this generation can do is stand on the shoulders of the great directors of our past. Ford was one of those great directors. In 1971 Ford said, “I never felt important. Or as though I was a career director or a genius, or any other damn thing”. This is the very reason he was a genius and why he has become an important filmmaker to study today. Ford put his art form ahead of himself. He did not make movies for fame and admiration, but rather because he had a passion for telling a story.

John Ford – An Observation – Clear Direction

Posted in Film and Filmaker Studies, Observation Series by Jacob on April 18, 2012

John Ford 3Directors from the 30’s through the 50’s did not have nearly the control directors have now. I am not saying directors have complete control now but in areas like editing and scoring a picture directors back in the early days had little to no say. John Ford disliked the editing room and was hardly in it. This made me question whether Ford was a true director or not. A director in my opinion is the man who is personally guiding the picture through all the steps of production. How could Ford guide the editing of a project if he hardly saw the editor?

Through further study of Ford I have come to realize Ford was the main editor of his films. Ford edited the picture far before it got to the editing room. He actually edited most of his pictures before he started shooting. Ford had a clear idea of what he wanted his films to be. In the editing room the studios had the power and Ford knew this. No matter what the directors intentions might have been, the studios back in the old days would take control once the film hit post-production. Ford battled this by not giving the studio heads anything more then the bare minimum. He would not shoot like the other directors of his time–capturing the whole scene in first a master, then a medium, and then a few close ups. Scott Eyman in his biography of Ford explains, “[Ford] would shoot only those portions of a given shot that he needed for the scene as he had mentally formulated it. This severely limited editing choices, and meant that Ford had to be right the first time”. Ford needed to have such a clear idea of what he wanted he could stop in a middle of a scene and go to the next shot he had pictured in his head.

The extreme conviction in the direction he wanted to go is one of the things that made Ford such a great director. Cinematographer Charles Clarke made a few films with Ford in the silent era. He said when he first worked with Ford on Upstream (1927) he did not see the relationship between the scenes they were filming. A few weeks later the picture was announced finished and Charles was under the impression they were just getting started. Even though he could not find any rhyme or reason in what they had been filming, when released Charles saw the film and thought it was quite a good picture. Charles explains that Ford had been editing in his head while they had been shooting and although it didn’t make sense to most of the crew, Ford knew how everything was coming together.

Ford knew what was needed and what wasn’t. He Understood story as well if not better then any of the great screenwriters of the day. He knew what needed to stay in the picture and he knew the scenes and pieces of dialogue he didn’t need to even bother shooting. With the old western epic The Iron Horse (1924) the only script the Fox Studio has ends half way through. The rest of the film was basically created by Ford on the go. He didn’t bother writing anything down, he just knew what would make a good story and improvised many of the scenes on the spot. Nobody but Ford understood exactly how the film was going to come together, yet lo and behold it ended up turning into one of the greatest westerns of the silent era.

We can learn a lot from Ford here. The digital era of filmmaking has brought about a curtain amount of indecision. We like to experiment and try many different things. Sometimes this can lead to brilliance but often it ends up leading to stories with no clear purpose or direction. When creating a story we need to have a clear idea of what we want. We can only know what we want if we understand what the story is about. We need to know our material well enough that every shot, piece of dialogue, and choice of music is made because we think it will get us closer to our destination. Ford’s directions were so clear because he understood what the destinations of his movies were and he believed in his abilities to get there.

John Ford- And Observation- Tension On Set

Posted in Film and Filmaker Studies, Observation Series by Jacob on April 15, 2012

Ford was one of the top directors in Hollywood so he was given some of the most juicy scrips and greatest stars of the day. With this came a huge amount of responsibility and pressure. Unlike the directors of today, who make about one movie every two to three years, Ford usually needed to make two to three films within a year. This obviously created tight production schedules. Ford’s extremely high ambitions accompanied with his crew’s absolute dedication to satisfy him only added to this mounting pressure. With all this pressure there is bound to be a curtain amount of tension on set. Most directors try to subdue the tension by being warm to their crew members and letting them realize filmmaking is a team sport full of mistakes. Not John. He embraced tension as a foundation of his directing style.

There was always a chip on Ford’s shoulder. Maybe this came from being a son of a Irish immigrant. Maybe it came from being the youngest of five and being picked on as a kid. Or maybe this came from being picked on by the studio system through out his career. No matter what it really was one of the first things I realized when studying Ford was he was not an easy going man. Jimmy Stewart described Ford’s sets as always being tense. If a crew member did not choose his actions or words wisely they were in danger of getting hit or insulted by Ford.

Ford wanted to be in control. He wanted his crew to be ready as soon as he got on set and he did not want to be questioned when asking one of his crew members to do something- even if he was asking them to get into a real fist fight on camera or jump off of a real horse while going full speed.  Ford wanted to get each shot in one take. He had no interest in doing things the same way movie after movie, so by trying new things there was bound to be a learning curve. However, Ford had little patients when something was not working. Tension often creates a greater awareness and a more professional attitude from crew members. On Ford’s sets nobody was supposed to feel at home. They were supposed to understand the demanding requirements of the studio system. Filmmaking for Ford was a job and not something to take lightly.

Tension was created between the actors in order for Ford to get the best performance out of them. While making Two Road Together, staring both Jimmy Stewart and Richard Widmark, Ford took Jimmy Stewart to the side and told him to watch out because Richard was a good actor and would start stealing his scenes if he wasn’t careful. Later Stewart found out Ford had said the same thing to Richard. Ford went to John Wayne while making The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and openly asked why he couldn’t be more like Stewart. He created a competitive atmosphere so crew members and actors would be pushing each other to perform to their best. Ford told actors at times that he was thinking of taking their key scenes out of the script in order to get the best performance out of them when the time came to shoot the scene. People who did not work well competitively did not last long.

I believe there needed to be a curtain amount of tension on set to in order to create so many quality films in such a small space of time. However, the tension Ford created was not always good. I think it led to less creativity from his crew and actors. You don’t see as much nuance in the performances of most of Ford’s characters. John Wayne and Henry Fonda seem to play the same characters in all the Ford movies I’ve seen them in. If a cast or crew member was afraid he’d get punched because of a suggestion he made, he was unlikely to make the suggestion. This led to missed opportunities in many of Ford’s films.

Ford was who he was and he worked in the way he thought was best. It is undeniable he was successful. Yet, I can’t help but feel Ford was hurt by the many pressures from the studios and the many demons of his past. A curtain amount of tension is needed on any set, but when it starts to hurt creativity and collaboration one wonders if it is necessary.

John Ford – An Observation – Beginnings

Posted in Film and Filmaker Studies, Observation Series by Jacob on April 9, 2012

John Ford 5John Ford was a poet and a bully. He was a natural at his art form. A man who always seemed to know where his films needed to go. Ford was not a likable man. He has admitted he was somewhat of a slave driver who really only  had a talent for composing a shot. However, as mean as he was to his crew he had a lot of people stick with him. Ford was known for making both Henry Fonda and John Wayne into big stars. He started off his directing career with the silent film star Harry Carey. They made twenty six pictures together. From the 1930’s on everyone wanted to make a picture with John Ford, including Shirley Temple; who did so in 1937 with Wee Willie Winkie.

The persona John Ford gave to the public was one of a rough manly man who wouldn’t take no shit from anyone. However, Ford was not the kind of filmmaker who was good in just one genre. Even though he was most known for his Westerns, Wee Willie Winkie is proof that he could explore completely different types of stories. Ford’s greatest achievement was his ability to explore cultures and show the world the fragility of family. Movies like Grapes of Wrath and How Green Was My Valley give us insight on how the world tends to break families apart. His films often concentrate on the outsider, something Ford had personal understanding of being as a son to an immigrant.

One could not go up to Ford and ask who he was. If you did you would almost always receive a lie. Ford made sure he did not share with the public who he really was. When being interviewed Ford would give short answers, even though he knew the interviewer wanted more. He stretched and even fabricate the truth to make himself look better or to make the story sound better. If you asked Ford the wrong kind of question you would need to watch out, he wouldn’t hesitate to throw something at you or hit you. He was known for his cruel practical jokes. He was a man who wouldn’t hesitate to cuss one of his crew members out. But, behind John Ford’s persona there was a man with deep emotion and conviction. Ford fought to keep each film’s integrity alive. He understood the value of life and made his audience laugh and cry as well as anyone.

If you want to know John Ford watch his films.

Here are some suggestions: The Iron Horse (1924), Four Sons (1928), Pilgrimage (1933), The Informer (1935), The Prisoner of Shark Island (1936), Wee Willie Winkie (1937), Stagecoach (1939), Young Mr. Lincoln (1939), Drums Along the Mohawk (1939), The Grapes of Wrath (1940), How Green Was My Valley (1941), My Darling Clementine (1946), Fort Apache (1948), She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949), The Quiet Man (1952), The Searchers (1956), The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962).

A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on March 2, 2011

Journey through cinemaI want to recommend the documentary  A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies to any film student who has hopes for working in Hollywood (Click on the link to go to the DVD’s Amazon page). This documentary is a priceless look at the History of Hollywood Film. In the documentary we are narrated through the Golden age of Cinema by Martin Scorsese. He gives us a very personal view on the subject. He concentrates on some filmmakers that few filmmakers of this generation have ever heard of and he skips over some of the most well known filmmakers in Hollywood History. There is hardly mention of great filmmakers like Frank Capra and Alfred Hitchcock. There is no mention of my personal favorite filmmaker Walt Disney. However, after understanding that this is a very personal view by Scorsese I became more understanding and content with him skipping over some filmmakers I personally felt connected to. I actually think this film is a “must see” because it is so personal. We are given the History of Hollywood filmmaking from Martin Scorsese’s personal perspective. There is no one else who could have made this except for Scorsese and that is what makes it priceless.

Scorsese concentrates on the type of directors that make movies like he does. We constantly see a concentration on the underdog in this documentary. Usually the movies with the tragic ending and the antihero are the movies that are highlighted by Scorsese. Scorsese starts the documentary off talking about The Director’s Dilemma. In this section Scorsese tries to express the constant battle the director has with the studio in getting  his own personal vision up on screen. Scorsese explains how the big studios in the 1930’s and 40’s had their own style and how they expected the director to conform to that style. Scorsese talks about many people who were not able to bend to the studio system and how it crushed many of their creativity and drive. It is obvious that Scorsese likes the rebel in Hollywood and all the way through the documentary we see Scorsese concentrate on the tragic Hollywood director who was good and had a grand amount of potential but eventually got crushed by the Hollywood system because he or she was too rebellious. For the most part Scorsese looks at the Hollywood system as a necessary evil the Director needs to deal with.

We are told about a few filmmakers who flourished in the Hollywood system. Scorsese does not leave out all of the popular directors of the day. His mission is to show many different directors of the time period and how they influenced the Cinema. Scorsese does a marvelous job explaining how the film process developed through out the years. In the second chapter of the documentary titled The Director as Storyteller, Scorsese takes us through three film genres, the Western, the Gangster Film, and the Musical. This is one of the most educational chapters in the whole documentary. We are shown how Hollywood as a whole developed through the development of these genres. One of the greatest examples Scorsese used is John Ford‘s three Westerns Stagecoach (1939), She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949), and The Searchers (1956) all staring John Wayne. Through specific examples of all three of these films we are shown clearly how the Hollywood story style turned from black and white morality in the 1930’s too the complex characters of the 1950’s where we don’t quite know who is right and who is wrong.

I found the Western genre examples to be the most useful. However, Scorsese does a good job explaining curtain truths the Musical and Gangster film genre’s revealed about society. We are shown how the public became more and more open to in depth and insightful stories in film. We saw how the public grew from wanting to escape to a imaginary lands in the 1930’s to wanting to watch movies that revealed truths about the land they actually lived in in the late 1940’s and 50’s.

The most unbiased section of the documentary and the section I found the most useful was when Scorsese talked about The Director as Illusionist. This is all about the vocabulary and tools of filmmaking and how they developed through out the years. We are introduced to D. W. Griffith and are given examples on how he started to build the vocabulary of film in the early 1910’s. Scorsese does a superb job using specific examples from Griffith’s films to further his points. We see how Griffith discovered the power of the high and low angle. We see how Griffith used close ups to build up emotion and how he used cuts to move his stories along. Scorsese talks about how the silent area allowed us to understand the power of film visuals. Everything needed to be communicated through the visuals and Scorsese shows us the masters of the silent era such as Cencil B. Demille and the German filmmaker F. W. Murnau and their contribution to building the visual vocabulary in film.

After showing the power of the visuals and what some of the filmmakers were able to do with them, we are introduced to sound. Scorsese talks briefly about the problems that came with sound. How the camera stopped moving for a short while because of all the technical equipment that needed to come with the new invention and how movies became full of talking heads rather then people visually telling the story. However, quickly Scorsese goes into detail on some of the great values of sound. He talks about filmmakers such as George Hill and Howard Hawks and how they used sound to bring more emotion to their scenes and heighten the suspense of their films. Scorsese talks about the contribution of color and how many filmmakers used color to represent curtain feelings that came with the characters and scenes we were observing.

When Scorsese talks about the Cinema Scope (the widescreen format of film) that came in the mid 1950’s, he goes into detail on how it was used to create a more epic feel in order to heighten the cinema experience. He talks about both the difficulties of Cinema Scope– how it was harder to focus on single characters and made film harder to edit, and the new openings for film it created– in the way it allowed us to experience the actual atmospheres and locations the actors were in. Lastly Scorsese concentrates for a few minutes on the innovations of visual effects. There was a little melancholy in the way Scorsese talked about visual effects taking over actual  location shooting. However, he does express the qualities of visual effects well and there is a point made that visual effects are only tools that require good filmmakers to be pulled off. I can not recommend this section of the documentary enough. This section by itself makes the whole documentary worth buying. Scorsese is a master illusionist when it comes to film and in this section he express in fine detail why.

The next section we go through is the most personal part of Scorsese’s documentary. The section is titled The Director as Smuggler. We are now shown many of the metaphors that went behind many B Film directors such as Jacques Tourneur, Billy Wilder, and Samuel Fuller. This section is entirely about how the directors were able to quietly but clearly express their personal vision on screen through low budget filmmaking. Scorsese makes the point, the less money it cost for a movie to get made the more freedom the director is given. We are shown specific examples on how these movies gave us insight on some very relevant issues in the time periods in which they were made. We are also shown examples from films and filmmakers that I do not think you will find in any other documentary. Most of the directors Scorsese concentrates on in this section are not well known, they just happen to have caught Scorsese’s eye and Scorsese makes sure they will be remembered through talking about their contribution to American film. There several archive interviews that are shown in the section. We hear the actual filmmakers express some of their personal thought process behind their unique filmmaking choices.

The last section of the documentary is titled The Director as Iconoclast. This is also a very personal view from Scorsese. It concentrates on some of the most influential filmmakers in the history of Cinema. The iconoclast are the filmmakers that faced the film studios head on and in many cases were destroyed because of it, but in a few cases were able to bend the studios to their will and create some of the greatest films ever made. In this section we are told about filmmakers like Erich von Straheim, Orsen Wells, and Stanly Kubrick. All these filmmakers created movies that brought up extremely relevant issues such as the corruption of greed and the importance of exploration. They created movies that concentrated on the anti hero and the outcasts. There goals were not to make the audience always feel happy after viewing the film, but rather to think and look at things in a different way then ever before. The directors in this section were all driven by personal vision and created movies that took a tremendous amount of risk and innovation. Scorsese gave us several examples on how the directors used the camera to represent their personal view. In essence these directors became influences on the audience in the way they lit their scenes and cut their sequences. Instead of giving us seamless movies these directors movie styles drew attention to themselves. To these filmmakers “the camera was a instrument of poetry”.

The last section of Martin Scoreses’ documentary is truly inspiring. Even though I do not agree with all the directors points of view they show me the amount of potential the medium of film has. Scorsese closes the documentary off by expressing the true value of film. He explains how the movies are a very spiritual experience to him. They are meant to share a common memory with the audience. They are meant to impact us through revealing universal truths. This documentary reminded me history is one of the greatest teachers a film student can have. We are shown some of the foundations of the American cinema. This documentary shows us the power of film and some of the filmmakers who were able to master that power. We see how far the medium of film has grown from it’s very beginnings. And the documentary challenges us to see how far we personally can take the medium of film.