Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy New Year!

2013 Preview: A Bob Clampett Year
Bob Clampett (May 8, 1913 - May 4, 1984)
Last April, I have tried to revive this blog by increasingly writing about live-action films. Since analyses of Japanese films have become such a large part of this blog lately, I have decided to add a table of contents as a separate page at the top. I also hope that this listing will finally get some of the more labor-intensive articles about lesser known masters like Kore-eda the attention they deserve.

In the meantime, thanks to my preoccupation with Studio Ghibli films animation is once again central to Colorful Animation Expressions. This year I intend to continue my series of analyses of red - green complementary contrasts. But I also intend to make 2013 a Looney Tunes year: In one way or another I plan to celebrate Bob Clampett's (and to some extent Frank Tashlin's) 100th birthday by dedicating roughly one post a month to his (and occasionally Tashlin's) films.

But first I feel obligated to guide you to Steven Hartley's audacious attempt to review EVERY Warner Bros. cartoon ever produced: Likely Looney, Mostly Merrie! 

2012 Review: Impressive Motion Pictures
Digital drawing inspired by two production stills from Anna Karenina.[O.I.]
Of all the new releases I have seen in 2012 the following few were not necessarily the "best" films I have seen but the ones that left the deepest impression (in alphabetical order):

  • ANNA KARENINA (Joe Wright, 2012): Tom Stoppard's English stage melodrama adaptation of Tolstoy's epic novel playfully staged by Joe Wright combining 1930s Technicolor esthetics with 19th century ballet choreographed to Dario Marianelli's sweeping score.
  • BRAVE (Brenda Chapman/Mark Andrews, 2012): for all its shortcomings and compromised vision I found it to be the most tactile CG-feature coming out of Hollywood yet.
  • DRIVE (Nicolas Winding Refn, 2011): Visceral, vibrating, self-contained. A strong central relationship and a most pulsating interplay of sound and pictures make up for a slightly lightweight story.
  • HALT AUF FREIER STRECKE (Andreas Dresen, 2011): Eastern German kitchen sink realism at its best. The most impressing of three strong films about slowly dying family members (the others being Haneke's masterpiece Amour and David Sieveking's Vergiss mein nicht).
  • KISEKI - I WISH (Kore-eda Hirokazu, 2011): Not Kore-eda's best but one of his warmest and most easily accessible. Undramatically emotional.
  • LE PRÉNOM (Patellière/Delaporte, 2012): A French comedy with so many twists and turns that it surmounts last year's Carnage in every particular.
  • THE DESCENDANTS (Alexander Payne, 2011): Great acting and a human story that struck a chord with me although living in Hawaii is about as alien to me as living on the moon.
  • TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY (Thomas Alfredson, 2011): One of the most sensual 1970s spy thriller adaptations: crammed with details, engaging, puzzling, dense as well as calm and impenetrable at the same time.
  • WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN (Lynne Ramsay, 2011): A disturbing masterpiece that delivers on every level. Highly topical in a year of so many nihilistic massacres.

I have also enjoyed Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom, Stephen Chbosky's coming of age drama The Perks of Being a Wallflower and the two beautiful silent films The Artist (Michel Hazanavicius) and especially Blancanieves (Pablo Berger), a contemporary retelling of "Snow White" in the style of Spanish films of the 1920s. But ultimately, none of them left a lasting impression.

The Joy of Revisiting Favorite Films in a Different Context
Although the new releases still outnumber the older movies I have seen during 2012, it was once again a lot easier to compile the list of (re-)discoveries. This is probably due to the fact that I have been analyzing the works of several directors including Terence Davies, Clint Eastwood, Kore-eda Hirokazu, Kurosawa Akira, Miyazaki Hayao and Takahata Isao as well as historical subjects like horror films around 1960 or three-strip Technicolor films.

Many films have probably resonated with me more deeply than new releases simply because I have already seen and liked them before while gaining new insight by seeing them within a larger or different context. I also like to revisit interesting or favorite movies for the sake of reliving the emotions and discovering how my focus changes according to my growing older. As a matter of fact, I keep seeing many more facets every time I revisit a film.

My top ten (re-)discoveries of 2012 in historical order (* marks films I have never seen before):
  • Brief Encounter (David Lean, 1945)
  • High Noon (Fred Zinneman, 1952)
  • Le Notti Bianche* (Luchino Visconti, 1957)
  • Nashville* (Robert Altman, 1975)
  • The Outlaw Josey Wales (Clint Eastwood, 1976)
  • Il Casanova di Fellini* (Federico Fellini, 1976)
  • Once Upon a Time in America (Sergio Leone, 1984)
  • Distant Voices, Still Lives* (Terence Davies, 1988)
  • Ju Dou* (Zhang Yimou, 1990)
  • After Life/Wandafuru Raifu* (Kore-eda Hirokazu, 1998)

All roads lead to Italy
Chalk drawing from a Casanova still
I have made it a tradition to sum up my foray into Italian cinema at this point and although I did not ostensibly focus on any specific Italian director's work, connections to Italy popped up anywhere from Clint Eastwood to Takahata Isao whose depictions of everyday life (from Haiji, 1974 to Omohide Poro Poro, 1991) strongly remind me of Italian neorealism. On the other hand, Miyazaki's least rationally coherent excursion into intuitive storytelling, Howl's Moving Castle (2004), prompted me to revisit Fellini's underrated Giulietta Degli Spiriti (1965) which, in turn, overwhelmed me more than ever in terms of color design.

In anticipation of Django Unchained (Tarantino, 2012) I have also been catching up on some lesser-known Spaghetti Westerns. Coincidentally, this year's Locarno Film Festival held a screening of Sergio Leone's opus magnum Once Upon a Time in America. As an almost four hour long collection of imaginative set pieces it left a considerably stronger impression than when I first saw the same cut years ago.

Finally, two of the films in the list above were photographed by Giuseppe Rotunno, one of my favorite cinematographers: He handles the black and white of Visconti's dreamlike Dostoevsky adaptation Le Notti Bianche as gracefully as Fellini's inventive color extravaganza about the adventures of Casanova.

A more refined understanding of Technicolor
After looking at so many American Technicolor films Fellini's Giulietta and Casanova served as a welcome shakeup that put conventional color schemes into perspective. I have been lucky enough to see Fantasia (James Algar et al., 1940) twice this year, once with live orchestral accompaniment in a brutally oversaturated digital projection and once as part of a Technicolor retrospective in glorious 35mm! The projected print of the 1990 restoration looked a lot darker (like a real Technicolor film) and less sterile than the current BD.

Still from Technicolor's live-action debut La Cucaracha.
In connection with this retrospective (which included Lloyd Corrigan's legendary 1934 short La Cucaracha), I have also stumbled upon the book "Color Design in the 1930s: Harnessing the Technicolor Rainbow" (Scott Higgins, 2007) which not only provides detailed color analyses of carefully selected color films but also proves my point that the rules appointed in the 1930s still govern our color perception to this day. Actually, it puzzles me how I managed to not notice this study before.

For those interested in the technical history of color film Barbara Flückiger's "Timeline of Historical Film Colors" is an online database to bookmark.

Contemporary Color Concepts
This year's only animated feature that stood out to me in terms of color was Le Tableau/The Painting (Jean-François Laguionie, F 2011)which I will probably get back to in a future red-vs-green post.

In some live-action fantasy films, however, the prevalent blue-yellow scheme of past decades was refreshingly forsaken in favor of combinations of red, blue and white as seen in Hugo (based on a variety of historical concepts as is expected from Scorsese), Andrew Stanton's John Carter (a movie otherwise best forgotten) and some segments of Cloud Atlas (Tykwer/Wachowski, 2012).
Unfortunately, I don't have a HUGO BD at hand and therefore have not found a good illustration of this fresh red and blue contrast (I have been able to closely analyze the DCP, I'm not just assuming).

Hugo (2011) along with Life of Pi (Ang Lee, 2012) also made the most imaginative use of 3D, even if neither of those movies excited me as much as seeing Hitchcock's Dial M for Murder (1954) in 3D.


Simone Starace said...

Amazing blog.
Posts about Frank Tashlin's shorts will be very welcomed...

Jonas said...

Bezüglich weniger bekannten Italowestern empfehle ich:

Vamos a matar, compañeros
La resa dei conti 
El chuncho, quien sabe? 
Il mercenario
Il ritorno di Ringo

Oswald Iten said...

Lieber Jonas
coole Liste, von "Compañeros" und "Quien Sabe" kenne ich zwar die Musik, habe die Filme aber bis jetzt nie gesehen.

Freut mich übrigens, wenn mal jemand aus der Schweiz hier reinschaut!

Du hast nicht zufälligerweise eine "Hellbenders (I crudeli)" DVD rumliegen?

Steven Hartley said...

Aww thanks Oswald. I just stumbled upon this post and its nice to see you have brought it up. I'm currently reviewing 1939 now (a bad year for WB - but getting there)...I reckon by the end of this year (2013) I'll be reviewing 1943 cartoons! Sometimes I pop in once a while to see how the blog is going.

It's not easy, I can tell ya - gathering up info in the cartoons and even trying to find out about dated references in the cartoons. You probably wonder why I've done so enough. I only have one attitude: just do it! Sometimes there are reviews that go by really easy, and some are just painful and take a long time.

Jonas said...

Freue mich auch immer, Blogger aus der Schweiz anzutreffen, insbesondere bei ähnlichen Interessensgebieten (uA Eastwood, Miyazaki).

Crudeli habe ich leider auch noch nirgends schlaues gefunden. vgl: http://www.spaghetti-western.net/index.php/Crudeli,_I/DVD

simonee said...

Hmm, good job!

kitchen faucet review