Wednesday, April 29, 2015

A Brief History of Aspect Ratio in Film and Television

This essay will focus on a part of filmmaking you may not have given much thought to, aspect ratio. Aspect ratio is simply the ratio of the width of the image to the height. It is written with the width first, like 4:3 or 16:9.

Sounds simple, right? Well, it has actually been somewhat of a complicated issue over the years.

The aspect ratio most commonly used in the early years of cinema was 1.33:1, which is also written as 4:3. This is a much more square shape than most movies of today.

Thomas Edison was one of the first film pioneers. His company needed to come up with a standard for their 35mm silent films. His assistant and noted filmmaker William K. Dickson decided on an image that was 4 perforations (holes in the filmstrip going up the side, commonly called perfs) high.

This standard became a bit more official in 1909. The Motion Picture Patents Company had just formed the previous December; they were a trust of all the big movie companies, the biggest distributor, and Eastman Kodak, the main supplier of film.

They aimed to standardize all aspects of film production and exhibition. They decided on using 35mm gauges with an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 and an image that is 4 Edison perfs high.

The Edison standard was solidified in 1917 when the Society of Motion Picture Engineers adopted 1.33:1 as their engineering standard. A similar ratio would be used in most films for the next few decades.

In the 1920s, there was some usage of widescreen in shorts and newsreels but it was still uncommon. In 1927, french director Abel Gance released the classic silent film Napoleon, which had an experimental sequence that used three screens side-by-side. This basically resulted in an extreme widescreen aspect ratio of 4:1.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Music Videos for Jeff Mills and Oneohtrix Point Never

I'm back again with two more of my unofficial music videos set to electronic music. This time one of them is for one of the most influential techno artists Jeff Mills, and his seminal track "The Bells." The videos I used were from various silent science fiction films, such as Metropolis, The Mechanical Man, and A Voyage to the Moon.

Next we have a unique track from Oneohtrix Point Never called "Problem Areas". I edited from various surrealist films from the 1920s and 1930s from artists like Man Ray and Marcel Duchamp. Thanks for watching.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

My reaction to the second trailer for The Force Awakens

Lucasfilm just released the highly anticipated second trailer for the new Star Wars film, The Force Awakens. I'm a huge Star Wars fan, so I'll go ahead and break down the trailer shot for shot.

The first shot is of a desert planet that is reminiscent of Tatooine, but is apparently actually a planet called Jakku that has not been featured in any Star Wars media previously. This might be a sign that Tatooine is not in the movie at all. I'm okay with this as shoehorning the planet into every episode isn't a good idea. Adding new planets is always good as well, I wouldn't want to just be returning to previously seen planets.

It pans to the left and we see a crashed X-Wing, and then a massive Star Destroyer that has crashed as well. This is a really cool shot and feels like classic Star Wars. Clearly the effects of the war between the Empire and Rebellion are still being felt.

Then we hear the voice of Luke, who was absent from the first trailer. The dialogue is taken from Return of the Jedi, and he says 'The force is strong in my family."

We then cut to a shot of Darth Vader's helmet which has been badly burnt. This makes sense as his suit was burnt by Luke in Episode 6. However, it does seem a bit odd that someone fished his helmet out of the funeral pyre, but perhaps it makes sense in context. Regardless, it makes for a cool visual and is yet another clear sign of the connection to previous films in the saga. Over the shot, there is Luke continuing, "My father has it... I have it."

At this point, we are graced with our first shot of R2-D2. Next to the droid is a figure clad in a black robe with a white sleeve underneath. This person also has a visibly mechanical hand. Presumably this is Luke. If so, I think his outfit is fitting.

Luke goes on, "My sister has it," and there's a shot of a lightsaber being passed from one hand to another. We can assume one of the pairs of hands belongs to Leia. Hopefully, this is indication that she is a Jedi in this trilogy as was implied by Return of the Jedi.

Then he says, "You have that power, too." The clear implication is that he is speaking to someone related to him who is strong in the force. Whether this is his child or Leia and Han's is unclear. I really hope that Luke has offspring, whether it be male or female.

Then we get some X-Wings flying over water in what is probably from the same sequence shown in the first trailer. Oscar Isaac is shown in the cockpit as his character Poe Dameron. It's great seeing the X-Wings back in action again.

Next, there's a very quick, but visually impressive shot of villain Kylo Ren swinging his interestingly designed red lightsaber, followed by another short clip of Daisy Ridley and John Boyega running from an explosion in the desert as Rey and Finn.

After that, they chose a close up of Kylo Ren's mask with him in the classic "using the force" posture. His character is design is really cool and he is one of the most intriguing parts of the trailer.

There's a shot of some updated Stormtroopers, TIE Fighters blowing up, and Finn taking off his helmet as a Stormtrooper.

We also get a quick peek at the "Chrome Trooper" design. The character is rumored to be portrayed by Gwendoline Christie of Game of Thrones. I'm not too sure how I feel about the shiny armor, but I will wait to see how it looks in the final film.

Following that is an adorable shot of the robot BB-8 poking his head around the corner.

One of the coolest parts is easily seeing the Millenium Falcon in action again being chased by some TIE Fighters. Some may say it's just fanservice, but isn't that what this movie is all about?

At then, the climactic shot of the trailer. At first, we just hear Harrison Ford say, "Chewie." Then we see none other than Han Solo and Chewbacca in the interior of the Falcon. This is the first clear shot we get of any of the main characters from the original trilogy, and it is plain awesome.

The only weird thing about the shot is that Chewbacca seems to be kind of awkwardly holding up his crossbow. This doesn't seem to match Han's demeanor as he doesn't seem to be in any sort of danger. However, again like many other comments I made, this may make more sense in the final film.

Overall, I am very pleased with the trailer. It really seems like they are getting the tone of Star Wars right. I kind of wish they had shown a bit more, but they are obviously trying to keep thing under wraps. Neither of the trailers has really given any indication as to what the plot will be.

A Look at the Upcoming Wii U Retail Games

The next game for the Wii U is Splatoon, and it's scheduled to come out on May 29, 2015. It's a third person shooter with a unique twist. Instead of shooting bullets or lasers, players will be shooting paint and attempting to cover territory with it.

The characters are called Inklings and can change from humans into squid form. As opposed to most shooters that are all gritty and "mature" this will be family friendly game for all ages.

A decision that seemed to go along with being for all ages was to not include voice chat as is common for many games of the genre. The developers have cited the negative attitudes shown on the voice chat in online gaming. Critics of this decision have stated that they could simply allow people to be muted as in most online games. Personally, I don't feel like it is a necessary feature and the game will probably be fine without it.

The game's focus will be on online multiplayer, but there will be a single player campaign as well. There will also be local multiplayer for at least two people.

After Splatoon, it seems the next Wii U game with a solid release date is Mario Maker. This game obviously features the iconic character but is a unique concept in not only the franchise, but in Nintendo games in general. The game involves the player making their own 2D Mario levels than can be shared online.

The game features four different art styles from different games throughout Mario's history. Of course, one of them is the NES classic Super Mario Bros. It was released in September of 1985 and Mario Maker will come out this September to commemorate the 30th anniversary of that game.

Other art styles to be included are those from Super Mario Bros. 3, the NES game released in 1990 in the United States, and Super Mario World, the first Mario game for the Super Nintendo.

The final art style is that of the New Super Mario Bros. series, which has appeared on systems such as Wii, Wii U, DS, and 3DS.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Even more of my fanmade music videos!

My first video today is set to music by Caribou, the alias of Canadian electronic artist Dan Snaith. He also released music under the monikers Manitoba and Daphni.

The track I chose is called "Can't Do Without You"  the first song from the 2014 album Our Love. The clips I picked are all from silent movies.

Next, we have another video using silent films. This one is set to "Extwistle Hall" by Demdike Stare. Enjoy!

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Monday, April 13, 2015

A Comparison of the Top Grossing Films Throughout History (Part III: Women in Film)

In part one of this series, I looked at the top grossing films from various years throughout history. My focus was on genre and the seeming resurgence of fantasy and science fiction flicks.

Part two was about sequels and remakes and whether or not they have truly taken over theaters.

In this portion, I have decided to look at the top grossing films by year and see how many of them had women as directors or writers.

I checked out all even years from 1930 to 2000 and all years from 2002 to 2014. In decades like the 30s and 40s, I used the biggest moneymakers in the US only as opposed to worldwide. This is due to the data being more complete and accessible for the American box office in these years.

It may not come as a shock that when I looked up all the top ten grossing movies from the even years in the 1930s, not a single one of them was directed by a woman. After all, this was the thirties; women had made some advances but they still had a long way to go in terms of gender equality. It's hard enough for women to break into the film industry in certain positions now, imagine how bad it must have been in the 1930s!

Directing is still a male dominated field, but what about writers? You might find it surprising that a decent amount of the top films in these years were written, at least partially, by women.

In 1930, the sixth highest grossing film was The Rogue Song, a romantic musical directed by Lionel Barrymore. The script was penned by John Colton and Frances Marion. Marion is easily one of the most significant female screenwriters, especially in her time period.

That same year, she also wrote The Big House, which garnered her an Academy Award win for best adapted screenplay. This made her the first woman writer to win an Oscar.

She won another Oscar in 1932 in the Best Story category for The Champ, thus making her the first writer of any gender to win two Academy Awards. The Champ was the fifth highest grossing film of 1932. She even got nominated again in 1934.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Another pair of my fanmade music videos (Model 500 and Com Truise)

I just finished a couple more of my unofficial music videos.

The first is set to the classic electronic track "No UFOs" by Model 500, aka Juan Atkins. The video is a compilation I created of ridiculous dancing.

The second is for the track titled "VHS Sex" by Com Truise from his 2011 album Galactic Melt.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Andrei Tarkovsky's first film Ivan's Childhood (1962)

The Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky is an undisputed legend in art house cinema, mainly for his renowned works Andrei Rublev, Stalker, and Solaris.

I finally saw his first full length film recently, Ivan's Childhood. It was released in 1962; previously Tarkovsky had only made student films no longer than 45 minutes. Ivan's Childhood is much different than his later works in many ways.

Absent are the shots that go on for minutes unbroken. Not to say the editing is fast, it is still slower than most Hollywood films, even of the era.

According to the Unspoken Cinema the average shot length of Stalker is a minute and eight seconds. The ASL in Andrei Rublev is 34.1 seconds and in The Mirror it's 23.2 seconds. By comparison, in Ivan's Childhood the ASL is 17.9 seconds. Not exactly MTV-style editing, but you get the point.

There is also a bit more experimentation with form than his later films in some ways. There is even some use of what appears to be handheld camera work. Tarkovsky also experiments with negative imagery in what results in a very striking effect.

Ivan's Childhood is shot in black and white. All of his later films would be in color, but he would often include B&W segments as in Stalker and Andrei Rublev.

Furthermore, at 95 minutes it is his shortest feature (this is disregarding his student shorts and the 63 minute documentary Voyage in Time). Three of his other features have a running time of over 2 hours and 40 minutes and his final film The Sacrifice is also quite lengthy at 149 minutes.

Overall, the film is much more accessible than most of his other work.

The director of photography was Vadim Yusov, who had worked with Tarkovsky on one of his student films and would later collaborate with him on Andrei Rublev and Solaris.  He also later worked with another significant Russian director, Sergei Bondarchuk.

The film won the highest prize, The Golden Lion, at the 1962 Venice Film Festival. It was selected as the Soviet Union's entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars, but didn't get a nomination. Still, the critical acclaim put him on the map in the world of international art house cinema.

The film's acclaim also marked a bit of a resurgence for Soviet cinema. Russian films were very influential in the 1920s due to great filmmakers like Sergei Eisenstein and Dziga Vertov. However, films soon fell under strict state control and Russian films weren't that significant on the international stage in the 1930s and 1940s.

The "Khrushchev Thaw" of the 1950s led to less censorship led to directors like Mikhail Kalatozov and Grigori Chukhrai making critically acclaimed films. This came to a head with Ivan's Childhood in 1962. Tarkovsky is now easily considered one of the two most significant Russian directors, along with Eisenstein.

Ivan's Childhood was based on a short story called "Ivan" by Russian writer Vladimir Bogomolov. Tarkovsky did not choose the story; he actually said it wasn't that good, according to IMDB trivia. However, this was actually a plus in his mind as he found weaker stories easier to adapt to film.

While the film does differ from most of the Tarkovsky oeuvre, I highly recommend it as essential viewing for anyone interested in art house cinema.

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