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Friday, January 18, 2013

The Work of Takashi Miike

     Takashi Miike is one the most notable and controversial directors working today. He works with many taboo and bizarre subjects and attracts attention through shocking, violent works. Although Miike is known internationally for his horror-like elements, he has worked in many different genres, often combining them in a unique way.





     Takashi Miike was born outside of Osaka, Japan. He began directing in 1991, while he was in his early thirties (“Biography”). According to his biography on IMDB, he had been to film school, but hardly ever attended class (“Biography”). His first films as director were mainly straight-to-video. Miike gained international attention with his 1999 film, Audition. It started out as a subtle drama, but ended as surreal horror with the main character getting tortured and his foot brutally cut off. The violence was considered highly graphic, thus garnering attention for the film.

     This trend continued with 2001’s Ichi the Killer, which contained even more blood and gore. The film was filled with depraved acts of sadomasochism and torture. A character is tortured with metal hooks stuck in the skin of his back and gets burning oil poured on him. The main character slices off his own tongue and a women gets her nipples cut off. According to Guardian, the film “required three minutes of cuts by the British Board of Film Classification because of its ‘extreme sexualised violence’” (Rose). Many of Miike’s other popular movies such as Visitor Q (2001) and Gozu (2003) didn't make traditional narrative sense and were filled with disgusting acts.

     For instance, in Visitor Q, a man has sex with a dead woman, feels wetness, and then assumes she is miraculously responding to him only to find out that that the wetness is feces. In addition, Gozu features a fully grown man coming out of a woman’s vagina. These films and more have caused Miike to have a strong cult following all around the globe.

     It is understandable then that Miike became known as a horror director whose films showcased extreme violence and sexual content. Disgusting and violent movies seem commonplace in today’s film world but he takes it to a whole new level. No subject matter or action is off-limits.

     Miike also had a small role in director Eli Roth’s Hostel (2005), which was a graphically violent horror movie, referred to by many as “torture porn.” Miike’s reputation as a horror filmmaker was so great that he was allowed to direct an episode of the “Masters of Horror” TV program in 2006, which has featured episodes made by John Carpenter, Dario Argento and other directors known for horror. However, is this really an accurate representation of Miike’s films?

     IMDB lists 82 credits under Miike’s name as director; this includes TV episodes and straight-to-video releases (“Takashi Miike”). Only 8 Miike films are categorized as horror. These include the previously mentioned Gozu, Visitor Q, and Audition. The others are Happiness of the Katakuris (2001), One Missed Call (2003), Izo (2004), The Great Yokai War (2005), and Detective Story (2007). Miike’s segment of Three…Extremes (2004) is also categorized as horror.

     However, even these films defy the traditional standards of horror. Audition is only horror for a half-hour at most. Miike himself does not consider Audition to be a horror film. “For me, Audition is not horror. At least, there is no monster, it's not supernatural. It's a story about a girl who has just slightly strange emotions, so it's not impossible to understand her,” he states (Mes).

     Audition is really more of an art film; fans of traditional slasher movies will likely be bewildered by the last half-hour and bored by the first hour or so. And Gozu and Visitor Q are far removed from a typical horror film. Katakuris combines horror with elements of the musical and comedy genres. Only One Missed Call seems to be a straightforward horror flick; it was remade for American audiences.

     The truth is, during his prolific career, Miike has worked with a wide variety of genres and tones, often mixing them in bizarre ways. He has made many Yakuza crime films, such as Shinjuku Triad Society (1995), Fudoh: The New Generation (1996), and Full Metal Yakuza (1997). Miike also directed a superhero movie called Zebraman that was released in 2004. His film The Great Yokai War is a children’s fantasy film. He has directed action, comedy, thrillers, fantasy and science fiction.

     Miike sometimes creates movies that are mainstream and easily understood, while other times he makes dense art films. For example, his segment of Three…Extremes is quite confusing and contains an ambiguous narrative. He seems to jump from genre to genre with ease. In fact, he appears to not even be concerned with genre. As quoted in Midnighteye.com, Miike said, “I don't think about genre at all. My films are categorized as being in a certain type of genre. But myself, I don't make the movie thinking about which category the film belongs in” (Mes).

     The playful mixing of genres is a key aspect of the Miike oeuvre. Many of his films contain scenes that seem like they are from a different movie, and tones often shift drastically without warning. When referring to his film Gozu, Miike stated, “What I really wanted to try to do by having these two elements in Gozu is to find that there's a new genre, combining two different elements and try to challenge something that [didn't] exist before. So in way, having kind of two genres together, there's so many possibilities that you could do, but not having a genre, it's more that I can try to do something different by having the different elements from the other genre” (Otto).

     Miike’s diversity is much greater than most filmmakers, yet he still injects his personality into his work; he is far from a director-for-hire that just does what his producers tell him to.

His work takes postmodern ideas to an extreme level. Miike seems to make no distinction between high or low art. One of the most interesting examples of his mixing of genres is Sukiyaki Western Django, which combines western and samurai elements into one movie. There’s gunplay one scene, and a swordfight the next.

     The film also contains many historical references, as well as homages to earlier films by directors such as Akira Kurosawa and Sergio Leone. Django also mixes comedic and dramatic elements. The Japanese cast speaks heavily accented English, which adds to the humorous aspect. For this movie, Miike cast Quentin Tarantino, another director who mixes genres, high and low art, and references numerous other films. Both use pastiche and play with the concept of genre.

     Miike is one of the most intriguing figures in film today. He became famous for his intense depictions of graphic sex and violence; his horror-like movies gained him international notoriety. However, he has directed films in almost every genre, indicating that he more than just a shock artist. He can make mainstream family movies, gross-out flicks, and deep art films. Additionally, Miike often mixes multiple genres in one film, making him an excellent example of a postmodern director. Sukiyaki Western Django epitomizes this by being a western samurai film.



Works Cited
"Biography for Takashi Miike." Internet Movie Database. <imdb.com/name/nm0586281/bio>.

Mes, Tom, and Kuriko Sato. "Midnight Eye Interview: Takashi Miike." Midnight Eye. <midnighteye.com/interviews/takashi_miike.shtml>.

Otto, Jeff. "Interview: Takashi Miike." IGN. <movies.ign.com/articles/532/532760p2.html>.

Rose, Steve. "Blood isn't that scary." Guardian., 2 June 2003. . <guardian.co.uk/film/2003/jun/02/artsfeatures.dvdreviews2>.

"Takashi Miike." Internet Movie Database. <imdb.com/name/nm0586281/>.

The Influences and Legacy of Sergei Eisenstein






       Sergei Eisenstein is one of the most discussed and analyzed filmmakers in the history of cinema and his films and essays have had a lasting impact on film theory. He was one of the first theorists to have a systematic analysis of film and taught revolutionary courses on moviemaking. Eisenstein's theories of montage were hugely influential. The editing style of his films was in drastic contrast to continuity editing popularized by D.W. Griffith. Eisenstein began directing in the silent era in Soviet Russia and his magnum opus Battleship Potemkin is considered by many film critics to be among the greatest films of all-time.

       Eisenstein started out in the theater and was well-versed in many different fields of study. The theater was important to him even as a filmmaker; he made his students spend quite a bit of time on just learning theatrical mise-en-scene. He was interested in science, philosophy, art, linguistics, and literature. Film, to him, was the synthesis of all other forms of art, as well as the highest form. Eisenstein took from an eclectic array of influences and left a massive influence on cinema.

     Eisenstein's first feature film, Strike, was released in 1925. It was about a suppression of a factory strike in Russia before the Bolshevik Revolution. Next was Battleship Potemkin, considered by many to be his masterwork. It was an international success, and the Odessa steps sequence is one of the most studied sequences in cinema history. Eisenstein released two more films in the 1920s, October and The General Line (aka Old and New). All of these movies were heavily tinged with Soviet propaganda.

       Eisenstein began to receive criticism as the political climate changed. Socialist Realism became the accepted way of creating art. His films were attacked for excessive formalism and were said to be unintelligible to the average person. Art was supposed to simple and appeal to everyone, not just the bourgeoisie. He didn't release another film until 1938, Alexander Nevsky. It had a historic setting and portrayed the Germans as villains; the film got Eisenstein back in Stalin's good graces.

        However, soon after the release of Nevsky, Germany and the USSR made a pact and Stalin pulled the film from theaters. Germany eventually reneged on this pact; the film was then allowed to be released. In the 1940s, Eisenstein planned a trilogy of films about Ivan the Terrible. Only the first two parts were made, because Stalin thought that Ivan's descent into madness should not be shown. Eisenstein died in 1948 of a heart attack.

      Eisenstein's influences were highly diverse. He drew from all cultures and disciplines. He was interested in many fields that one might think have little to do with filmmaking. Psychology was one of these. According to David Bordwell, Eisenstein cited William James, a seminal 19th-century psychologist, as an influence (116). In the same book, it's stated that, "…He pursues inquiries into psychoanalysis, hypnosis, Gestalt psychology, Vygotsky's semiotic psychology, and Kurt Lewin's field theory" (Bordwell 136). Also, Eisenstein, "…Was most deeply influenced by Pavlov, Mayakovsky, Marx and Freud"(Shaw). In Film Sense, he refers to Alfred Binet's experiments on the brain (Eisenstein 145). He also "finds insights" in "anthropology and linguistics" (113).

     Furthermore, Eisenstein was fascinated by Asian culture. He viewed the Japanese writing system, which consisted of "ideograms" to be analogous to montage in cinema. A whole chapter of his Film Form was devoted to this. "By the combination of two 'depictables' is achieved the representation of something that is graphically undepictable" (Eisenstein 30).

     For instance, in this system of writing, if one combined the hieroglyph for "dog" and "mouth", the result would be "to bark". Eisenstein compared this to putting two shots together. Together, they have a meaning that is separate from what the two shots mean when they are apart. The Kabuki theater was also important to Eisenstein. He mentions it in Film Form (Eisenstein 18).

     Eisenstein took inspiration from all forms of art as well. One of his most important influences was modernist novelist James Joyce, who wrote Ulysses and Finnegan's Wake. The idea of the "inner monologue" fascinated Eisenstein, and he used it "within Marxist cinema" (Robe 18). According to Bordwell, "The inner monologue has its source in Ulysses. When Eisenstein read Joyce's novel in 1928, he saw it as an example of how a text could generate abstract conclusions with 'physiological' methods" (169)

     Joyce is mentioned many times in The Cinema of Eisenstein, and Eisenstein refers to him several times in Film Form and The Film Sense as well. He states, "When Joyce and I met in Paris, he was intensely interested in my plans for the inner film-monologue, with a far broader scope than is afforded by literature" (Eisenstein 104).

      Eisenstein also took inspiration from visual art. The Constructivist movement took place in Russia in the 1920s; they believed that art should serve a clear social purpose. Bordwell states, "Constructivism, particularly its theatrical manifestations, strongly influenced his films" (40). Bordwell also claims that the Spanish Mannerist painter, El Greco was important to Eisenstein. According to Vance Kepley, Jr., Eisenstein used paintings to teach his students such as in the "Last Supper exercise in which Eisenstein challenged students to identify Leonardo's original dramatic core from the images simultaneously present across the work's two dimensions"(9). Music also molded his artistic development. Eisenstein was "fascinated" by German composer Richard Wagner (Bordwell 196). He "found analogies with film in… [French Impressionist composer Claude] Debussy" (Bordwell 136). In Film Sense, he discusses the music of Bach and Verdi (Eisenstein 162-163).

      Eisenstein viewed film as the combination of all forms of art, the culmination of art history. As stated in the Cinema of Eisenstein, "…Cinema is seen as fulfilling those media's greatest accomplishments. It presents ' a synthesis of painting and drama, music and sculpture, architecture and dancing, landscape and man, visual image and uttered word'" (Bordwell 196). Motion pictures combined the elements and theoretical underpinnings of all art forms. Eisenstein referred to film as a "Gesamtkunstwerk" or "total artwork" that unified all arts (196).

     Eisenstein has left a lasting legacy on filmmaking. His theoretical output and films influenced most, if not all filmmakers that have come since. According to Digital Film Archive, "Battlleship Potemkin and Eisenstein’s theory of montage has inspired directors such as Alfred Hitchcock (Psycho), Stephen Spielberg (Schindler’s List), Martin Scorsese (Raging Bull) and Brian De Palma (The Untouchables)." The Untouchables reference to Potemkin is commonly cited as it is the most obvious example.

       A Senses of Cinema article goes in-depth into the way Eisenstein's oeuvre has affected cinema. It claims that action films depend on his ideas of rhythmic montage and it states, "The careers of Alfred Hitchcock, Brian De Palma, Nicholas Roeg, Francis Ford Coppola and Oliver Stone (to name just a few), and much of the dynamism of the music video scene, would have been inconceivable without Eisenstein's ground-breaking experimentation" (Shaw).

       

       Bordwell's book goes into detail concerning the importance of Eisenstein to later directors. His works are especially important to art films. He claims that the experimental filmmaker Stan Brakhage, "employed many of Eisenstein's montage methods" (Bordwell 261). Additionally, Bordwell states, "Alexander Nevsky is explicitly cited in Pier Paolo Pasolini's Gospel According to St. Matthew (1964) and Welles's Chimes at Midnight (1966); Sergio Leone's abrupt editing and florid use of musical punctuation seemed indebted to the theory and practice of vertical montage" (266).

      Montage is not the only way that Eisenstein changed the way people make films. Bordwell says, "But filmmakers such as Yasujiro Ozu, Robert Bresson, Carl Dreyer, and Jacques Tati have shown that Eisenstein's insistence on through-composed stylistic organization was not a dead end" (268). No one can deny Eisenstein's importance, and that is why he is still studied 60 years after his death.

     Eisenstein was eclectic and open-minded in his inspirations and borrowed from linguistics, art, social and physical sciences, and literature. This is partly why his films and theoretical work were so revolutionary and why he profoundly influenced all future filmmakers, mainstream and experimental alike.



Works Cited
Bordwell, David. The Cinema of Eisenstein. Cambridge, MA: President and Fellows of Harvard College, 1993. Print.
Eisenstein, Sergei. Film Form and The Film Sense. 7th ed. Cleveland: The World Publishing Company, 1965. Print.
Robe, Chris. "Eisenstein in America: The Que Viva Mexico! Debates and the Emergent Popular Front in U.S. Film Theory and Criticism." The Velvet Light Trap 54 (2004): 18- 31. Project Muse. Web. 14 Nov. 2010.
Shaw, Dan. "Sergei Eisenstein." Senses Of Cinema. Ed. Rolando Caputo and Scott Murray. 

Thursday, January 3, 2013

The History of Comic Book Adaptations to Film (Part 1: 40s and 50s)


THE HISTORY OF COMIC BOOK ADAPTATIONS TO FILM

1940-1959

What we think of today as comic books were created in 1933. Their popularity really took off in 1938, with the creation of Superman, the first superhero.

Only three years later, Captain Marvel, published by Fawcett Comics, was the first comic book character to be adapted into film. In 1941 Republic Pictures began a serial entitled, “The Adventures of Captain Marvel.” They had tried to make a Superman movie, but DC (called National Periodical Publication at the time) refused. 


AdvCptMarvel.jpg

The serial was twelve chapters and directed by John English and William Witney. Compared to many of the serials that followed, the production values weren’t that bad, and the film isn’t that cheesy. Obviously not as good as a high budget production of the time, but not terrible either.
The title character was portrayed by Tom Tyler, who had appeared in some John Ford westerns. In the serial, Captain Marvel fights a villain called The Scorpion. Some characters created just for the movie eventually found their way into the comics. (silverage.greatnow.com/reviews/Whiz_Comics_22.htm) This is the first of many examples of comic book adaptations affecting the source material.
The serial can be watched on Youtube. Here is a link to the first episode. youtube.com/watch?v=sbJcq3TnJeM
Captain Marvel had only been created two years earlier in 1939. In both the serial and the comics, Captain Marvel’s alter ego was Billy Batson. Billy gets his powers from an old wizard named Shazam, and must say the name “Shazam” to transform into Captain Marvel, which is also true to the comics. In the 1970s, Captain Marvel was bought by DC and integrated into the DC Universe.


Also in 1941, Superman was made into a cartoon serial by Fleischer Studios. Fleischer Studios were famous for making Popeye and Betty Boop cartoons. They made the first 8 episodes of Superman; the first one was nominated for an Academy Award. The final 8 were made by Famous Studios. The serial was completed in 1943. In the serial, Superman fought a variety of villains, including robots, dinosaurs, and Nazis.
The Superman cartoons were notable for being one of the earliest uses of the Rotoscoping technique where animation is done over live-action footage. This method would later be used by filmmakers such as Ralph Bakshi and Richard Linklater (in A Scanner Darkly and Waking Life). They also contained the first use of the famous lines, “Faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound!”



The cartoon shorts were actually very influential on the Superman character in the comics. They were the first time Superman could fly, prior to that he was simply an excellent jumper.
In 1942, the Fawcett Comics character, Spy Smasher, was the basis of a Republic serial. There were 12 chapters released. According to the Unofficial Guide to DC Comics (http://www.dcuguide.com/who.php?name=spysmasher), Spy Smasher first appeared in 1940. He used a vehicle called the Gyrosub that travels through the air as well as underwater. After WW2 ended, he became Crime Smasher. However, Fawcett stopped publishing all superhero comics in the early 1950s. In 1972, DC bought the rights to all Fawcett comic characters, including Spy Smasher. Spy Smasher and the other Fawcett characters were designated to be part of the DC multiverse on Earth-S.
Uncommonly for this era, Spy Smasher featured a villain that was actually from the comics, The Mask.They did make some changes, such as giving Spy Smasher a twin brother. Spy Smasher featured opening titles in the same style as The Adventures of Captain Marvel, as made by Republic. Spy Smasher functioned as wartime propaganda; the serial begins with him getting captured in Nazi-occupied Paris.


The earliest portrayal of Batman on film was the 1943 serial made by Columbia Pictures. The whole series is available on Youtube as of this writing. Batman (Lewis Wilson) is portrayed as faking a playboy persona. Robin and Alfred both appear. Batman and Robin look pretty goofy in their costumes, but I guess they are somewhat faithful to the comics at the time.
Unfortunately, they don’t have a Batmobile (budget problems says IMDB trivia), they just use a Cadillac. According to the IMDB trivia section, other changes were the result of censorship. Instead of being vigilantes, Batman and Robin are FBI agents and none of the villains from the comics could appear.


 The Batman serial also introduced elements that would eventually become iconic parts of the Batman character such as what was then known as the “Bat’s Cave”. In episode two, Batman and Robin bring a gangster back to the Bat’s Cave, which is just an actual cave with a desk in it. There are some bats flying around, and they get him to talk simply by threatening to leave him alone with the bats. The gangster says he was hired by a guy named “Smith”. Batman responds, deadpan, “That name sounds phony.”
The serial contained some crude racial stereotypes of Japanese people. The villain, Dr. Daka, is a white character in Asian makeup that claims to serve Hirohito and has a terrible fake accent. Many racial slurs are used.


The first Marvel character to be adapted was Captain America, for a 1944 serial. This would be the only theatrical adaptation of a Marvel character until Howard the Duck was released in 1986. In the serial Captain America’s identity is not Steve Rogers, but rather Grant Gardner. He also wears an incredibly lame looking costume, even for the times.

Hop Harrigan was a DC character created by Jon Blummer. He wasn’t really a “superhero” per se, as he had no powers and didn’t wear a costume. Hop was just a really good pilot who had fought in World War Two. The character was used in a fifteen chapter serial (1946) starring William Bakewell as Harrigan. According to AllRovi, in the serial Hop fights an insane professor named Dr. Tobor.


The Vigilante serial (1947, director: Wallace Fox) was released by Columbia Pictures based on the DC character. It starred Ralph Byrd as the titular character, a singing cowboy who also fought crime on his motorcycle. In the comic book, The Vigilante’s sidekick was a young Chinese boy, but in the serial this character was changed to be white.
The Vigilante first appeared in comic form in 1938 and according to Comicbookdb.com, and went on to appear in Crisis on Infinite Earths in 1985. He appeared in the cartoon Justice League Unlimited as well as Batman: The Brave and the Bold.

In 1948, Superman was portrayed in live action for the first time by Kirk Alyn. The 15-part serial was directed by Spencer Gordon Bennett (who would go on to direct the Batman and Robin serial the next year) and Thomas Carr (also directed Congo Bill with Bennett). Columbia Pictures distributed Superman.


Also in 1948 another DC hero was given his own serial, Congo Bill. Bill first appeared in 1940 and in the fifties would go on to become known as Congorilla. Congorilla was even a member of the Justice League at one point. In the serial, Bill is an adventurer that must rescue a missing girl in Africa.

1949 saw the 15 chapter Batman and Robin serial released by Columbia. It featured Commissioner Gordon for possibly the first time, as well as comic character Vicki Vale. Sadly, the film was quite low-budget. It could have been very interesting to see a 1940s filmed version of Batman if done right. The costume, like in the previous serial looks pretty goofy. There also several continuity errors and it the whole thing looks cheap.

In 1950, the Atom man vs. Superman serial was released, which was a sequel to the 1948 serial. It kept Kirk Alyn as Superman and Bennett as director. This film contained the first filmed portrayal of Lex Luthor by Lyle Talbot.


            Superman and the Mole Men (1951) was the first full length (only 58 minutes) movie based on a comic book character. George Reeves starred as Superman as he would in the television series released next year. The show aired until 1957 and spawned a TV movie titled, “Stamp Day for Superman (1954)”.

In 1952, a Blackhawk (Quality Comics) serial was made. This was the last theatrically released serial based off a comic book. It was also released by Columbia Pictures and starred Kirk Alyn as Blackhawk. Spencer Gordon Bennett again directed, this time with Fred F. Sears.
Blackhawk was published continuously from 1941 to 1968, first by Quality, then by DC. There were also a few short series with the character printed in the 60s and 70s.
By the mid-1950s, serials were no longer commonly made. This meant the end of superhero and comic book films for the time being. This would be the case until the mid-1960s.