Long live the Small Format!

Nothing much new to report today, but I’d just like to confess, here in front of God and everyone, that I am absolutely in love with the packaging design for Kodak’s Super-8mm movie film.

Super8mm film packaging

I just got a roll of each of the three major film stocks, mostly because I’ve had a gorgeous Soviet clockwork camera burning a hole in my pocket for the last three years and I’ve only ever shot two rolls of Kodachrome with it. But that’s not my point. My point is, just look at those boxes! Aren’t those just the prettiest film boxes you’ve ever seen in your life? Especially the Ektachrome package!

For one thing, these designs are the embodiment of absolute usability. Simply presented emulsion numbers, process information and color response charts. Each film stock gets its own color for easy readability, and then there’s that signature yellow ochre that says without a doubt that these are Kodak stocks.

So they’ve got the whole ease-of-use thing going for them, and the color palettes inspire a sort of retro appeal, but more than that, there’s something about these little square boxes that just screams at me to put them in my camera and just make a movie. I don’t get that feeling enough anymore, and it’s damned exciting.

In contrast, it’s rather surprising to note that the packaging for Kodak’s 16mm film stocks is downright ugly. Featureless yellow labels polluted haphazardly with all sorts of unreadable and usually irrelevant information. Granted, there are a lot more than three 16mm film stocks out there so it’s tough to brand them all individually, but they could at least try to make a nice-looking label. Don’t think it doesn’t make a difference, even to professional users. My Super-8 film-buying experience is already a positive one, and I haven’t even shot a frame of film yet!

Incidentally, if any of you out there are interested in trying to shoot with movie film, Super-8 is a great place to start, and not just because it’s named after a chain of budget motels. The film prices are fairly reasonable (compared to other movie film formats, of course—to the average consumer it’s still a mind-boggling cost per minute), the cameras are cheap and abundant, and the Super-8 cartridge is quite literally the fastest-loading film format in the world, even among consumer point-and-shoot still cameras. You can load a camera in under two seconds. If anyone is interested in putting together a shooting package for themselves, drop me a line. I’m happy to evangelize this beautiful, charming format.

In 500 Words: A Place in the Sun

In 500 Words: A Place in the Sun

Quite simply: This movie is an astonishing masterpiece that puts me to shame. For my money, it’s just as good as (if not better than) the likes of Citizen Kane. Without being enormous in scale or scope, George Stevens’ 1951 saga A Place in the Sun manages to be both epic and thrilling. Buoyed tremendously by the acting of Montgomery Clift and Stevens’ delicate directorial finesse, I have never seen a smarter or more complex romantic drama (if that is actually what this movie is).

Ranging from an American dream, through love, hatred, despair, deception, betrayal, redemption, and murder, straight into an American nightmare, A Place in the Sun defies categorization. On top of that, it deals in subject matters like premarital sex, abortion, marital infidelity and moral ambiguity—all incredibly scandalous subjects at the time, rarely seen in films of the era, and presented in such a way as to feel entirely genuine, in that period or any other.

George Stevens proves with this film that he is a master of many things. He knew when to let actors take their time with a scene. In particular, there is one shot in the film which absolutely astounded me. It lingers in close-up on Clift’s character (George Eastman), as he entertains the prospect of committing murder. Not a word is spoken, but so much is conveyed in those fifteen or so seconds. A look of inspiration crosses his face, fading seamlessly into horror, self-realization, and ultimately disgust and despair. This one shot not only epitomizes Clift’s deceptively intricate performance, but also Stevens’ prescience in allotting the sequence as much screen time as he did, producing with elegant simplicity an expository scene without a word of dialogue.

Something else Stevens masters here is the art of the optical print—used to produce carefully-planned and painstakingly-orchestrated dissolves—lingering transitions that reveal more about the plot than any dialogue scene ever could.

The movie is very well cast, and Elizabeth Taylor and Shelly Winters both deliver good performances, but Montgomery Clift definitely shines the brightest. I think a lot of people dismiss him as being a pretty boy actor—a studio-manufactured Hollywood heartthrob with no real talent, but after seeing him as quiet, conflicted introvert George Eastman I just can’t agree with that. On first glance his performance seems amateurish and unconsidered, but closer inspection reveals a wealth of detail.

You may remember a couple months ago when I panned Match Point, a movie I disliked so much that when I was watching it I picked up a plastic prop gun and started unloading imaginary bullets into the screen (Evan was there; he can verify this claim). Well, it might interest you to know that Match Point and A Place in the Sun were both adapted from the same book: An American Tragedy, by Theodore Dreiser. Witness, then, the power with which a film interpretation can shape the source material. In this case, it’s a difference between zero and five stars.

[rate 5]

Don's Impossible Adventure wins at TriMedia

Salad Spinner Haiku

Hey, everyone. Just a quick post to let the world know that Don’s Impossible Adventure Starring Salad Spinner Haiku won the audience award for best student film last week at the TriMedia Film Festival in Fort Collins. This is way cool and I wish I could have been there to see the audience reaction (I’ve never actually seen it screened publicly).

Unfortunately for you guys I’ve decided that for the time being I won’t be putting it up online so that I can shop it around to a few more festivals before I call it quits.

Check this post and this post for more information on the film.

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