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Tag Archive: Francois Truffaut


It’s one of Alfred Hitchcock’s finest and most celebrated films.  Pairing Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak, Hitchcock explored the ultimate con, the perfect murder, and a hopeless love story.  In Hitchcock’s stylish 1958 film Vertigo, the director also paints one of the most beautiful travelogues for the San Francisco Bay area.  The American Film Institute has declared it the all-time best mystery, the #12 best film score, the #18 best romance, the #18 best thriller, and the ninth best movie of all American films.  Over the years international critics’ polls have seen Vertigo move back and forth with Citizen Kane for the designation of best film of all time.  Celebrated directors François Truffaut and Martin Scorcese have heralded the film.  Vertigo is also the only film that featured Hitchcock himself as a trumpet player–you’ll just need to keep a watchful eye for his cameo.  And you can do that this weekend, as Vertigo is returning to theaters nationwide for two days to celebrate its 60th anniversary beginning this Sunday, March 18, 2018, as part of Turner Classic Movies, Universal Pictures and Fathom Events’ retrospective screenings of film classics.

Even more so than Otto Preminger’s haunting 1944 film Laura, Vertigo delves into obsession like no other film.  Stewart’s take on an ex-cop observing the beautiful wife of an old friend at that friend’s request is a character far removed from any other role Stewart had ever taken on.  And Novak really plays two women as the film is cracked into two halves–one a dangerous and enigmatic stranger, the other a young romantic from Salina, Kansas, trying to escape the decisions of her past.  You, too, will find it hard pressed to avoid becoming obsessed with the film (I’ve seen it at least twice in theaters and dozens of times on home video over the decades).

Behind the scenes film aficionados will appreciate that Vertigo was the first film to use the dolly zoom, the camera taking the dolly out while zooming in, thereby creating the dizzying vertigo effect throughout the movie.  John Whitney used an M5 gun director–an actual World War II anti-tank firing predictor, along with famed graphic designer Saul Bass’s spiral motifs, to create the film’s unusual opening title sequence.  Edith Head’s spectacular designs were behind Novak and Stewart’s memorable wardrobes.  The film was nominated for two Oscars, George Dutton for sound, and Hal Pereira, Henry Bumstead, Sam Comer, and Frank R. McKelvy for Art Decoration/Set Decoration.

But probably most significantly for the ambience of the film, Bernard Hermann’s score is one of Hollywood’s finest, and Martin Scorcese summed up the music his way:  “Hitchcock’s film is about obsession, which means that it’s about circling back to the same moment, again and again…  And the music is also built around spirals and circles, fulfilment and despair.  Herrmann really understood what Hitchcock was going for — he wanted to penetrate to the heart of obsession.”  Years later the 2011 Oscar winner for best picture The Artist would use the spiraling love theme from Vertigo to achieve the emotion needed for its key scene.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Timed for release as part of the 40th anniversary celebration of Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, fans of Close Encounters finally get one of the most eagerly awaited, behind the scenes looks at the quintessential UFO film as Harper Design releases its hardcover chronicle this week, Close Encounters of the Third Kind: The Ultimate Visual History.  And it’s everything fans of the film could hope for.

Known for his work as a publicist on more than fifty films, author Michael Klastorin worked with Sony Pictures and Amblin Entertainment to unearth rare and never-before-seen imagery from their archives.  The book is a stunning collection of on-set photography, concept art, storyboards, and recollections of the cast and crew to create a visual narrative of the film’s journey to the big screen and through the entire production process.  First created as a story idea by Spielberg in his twenties, Close Encounters is still considered by Spielberg as one of his most personal projects.  Spielberg recounts his efforts to sell the film, his attempts to get a known screenwriter to write it only for him to finally decide to write it himself, and his original story synopsis, which remained hardly altered.  Spielberg initially wanted to reflect Watergate in his film to reflect the current zeitgeist, something of a government trying to cover up the aliens like Project Blue Book, but by the time the film was far along in pre-production it was determined audiences were tired of conspiracies as the sole defining theme.  Spielberg’s discussion of his early vision seems very similar to what Chris Carter would develop more than a decade later in his television series The X-Files.

Except those who are no longer with us, all of the players you’d expect provide contributions in the book.  Actor Bob Balaban provides some of the most interesting stories from the set, including his casting process for the film and development of his working relationship with internationally known director and film co-star Francois Truffaut.  Richard Dreyfuss’s recollections focus on his campaigning Spielberg to be cast for the role, the difficulty in the Nearys’ location shoot for the family home, and his realization from his very first discussions about the project with Spielberg that Close Encounters would stand up as a noble film pursuit.  Melinda Dillon’s role changed throughout the shoot, cutting one scene for financial reasons and adding the scene where she has the revelation that Devil’s Tower is the image in her dreams.  She also filmed much of the movie with a broken toe, followed by another leg injury caused on-set jumping from a helicopter.

The most fascinating behind-the-scenes effects discussion comes from Doug Trumbull.  His UFO storm development effect work was extraordinary.  You’ll find location photographs, visual effects explanations and process development discussions, photos of the Mother Ship model and other set models, concept art from Ralph McQuarrie, and many views of the film’s extra-terrestrials.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

For me, Close Encounters of the Third Kind was the film that got away.  I was lucky to have been taken to every great sci-fi classic and Spielberg film from Jaws forward, but multiple Star Wars viewings probably nudged out my chance to see this one back in 1977.  Close Encounters didn’t arrive in theaters until the Christmas season that year and it would likely have generated some nightmares as I was only about a year older than the boy co-star of the film–so it was probably a good thing.  Close Encounters of the Third Kind is back in theaters this week to celebrate its 40th anniversary.  Watching it for the first time on the big screen was like filling in a last brick in the wall.  It’s a satisfying re-watch, and every time you screen a classic in the theater again you learn something new.  The film is being preceded this week by a behind-the-scenes featurette, including an interview with Steven Spielberg and excerpts from the home movies he routinely films as he directs his movies.  It also contains a clip of each iconic scene in the film, so those who haven’t seen the film and want to view it for the first time may want to duck out for popcorn during the previews.  Close Encounters is screening only for a few more days, so no matter how many times you have seen it, it’s time to go back again.  Nothing beats a classic, especially a Spielberg film, on the big screen.

You might find Close Encounters’ pacing to stand out as a bit slow.  Movies today need to be action-packed to grab viewers.  The elements the viewer needs to know are laid out methodically, and yet the film is not told in normal storytelling fashion.  Richard Dreyfuss’s innocent everyman Roy Neary is not your normal protagonist.  Every bit the victim here, he also may be more like a lottery winner, selected to do what many dream of.  He asks for none of the personal invasion he encounters–ripped from his family and job, this uncontrollable compulsion arrives, pursuing him with only a realization that whatever this vision is about it’s somehow important.  From the film’s abrupt start it feels very avant-garde, a bit like modern independent filmmaking, with its back and forth explanation of a communication project in progress spliced with a utility worker who experiences a strange event.  Sequences of real world end-to-end conversations that other directors might have edited to more quickly get to the point also illustrate unusual directing decisions.  Only in what doubles as a horror movie sequence–basically a child abduction–do we get a clear realization of aliens as one possible antagonist of the film.  And when the movie really kicks in at Devil’s Tower the audience can see the international marriage of scientists and military is possibly another villain.  Or is there a villain at all?  Many scenes suggest dissonance itself is the culprit–all the barriers to clear communication that get in the way–the ongoing, pounding barrage of multiple interpreters in a single conversation, air traffic control operators speaking at once, Neary’s wife played by Teri Garr and her kids all talking or screaming or beating toys to pieces, Roy’s co-workers on the radio all speaking at once, a room full of scientists babbling at each other as they try to interpret these six repeated numbers beings sent to them from outer space, aliens playing rapid tones against humans doing the same.  And the sound of all the toys turning on at once, the toys of little Barry (Cary Guffey) that wake up his mom Jillian, played by Oscar nominee Melinda Dillon, forcing her to join the story as a victim along with Roy.  Then the resolution of conflict only arrives as the aliens and humans finally reach clarity with the tonal communication between them in the film’s climactic encounter.  In the preview to the film, Spielberg mentions Pinocchio and Jiminy Cricket’s crooning “when you wish upon a star, makes no difference who you are” as his inspiration–what the film is all about.  That familiar Disney motif is certainly present thanks to John Williams’ beautiful score.  Maybe Roy is his own enemy–unable to break away from the influence of these beings?  Or by following this calling does he rescue himself from a family that doesn’t understand or listen to him, and a mundane job and neighborhood of zombie-like suburbanites who always seem to be watching him?

Whatever the through line of the story is intended to be, the film is sweeping and enormous in scope, addressing subjects everyone can get sucked into: telepathy, conspiracy theories, all the UFO theories (from cattle mutilations to Area 51 to alien abductions and flying saucers), and unexplained phenomena (from missing people to the curious fascination of aliens with rummaging through refrigerators).  It’s all there in this suspenseful package, all from this brilliant young filmmaker who said he and his cast just couldn’t wait to show everyone this great thing they had created.  Hints at so many films are contained here that you could wonder if Spielberg starts generating every subsequent project idea by first watching Close Encounters:  We see the young child’s parents terrified in their home by some strange force in Poltergeist as Jillian tries to prevent the aliens from breaking into her home.  We see the quiet standing crowd at night waiting at the foot of Devil’s Tower for something good or bad to happen filmed similar to the soldiers waiting as the Ark is opened at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark.  And it’s almost a surprise to realize the mother ship at the end of Close Encounters is not the ship from E.T., the Extra-Terrestrial, another giant, flying, lit-up Christmas tree-house transporting that curious little botanist who would arrive only five years later.

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What would Devil’s Tower be today–40 years after the release of Close Encounters of the Third Kind–if director Steven Spielberg hadn’t located his point of first contact with aliens at that singular national monument?  Think about the revenues Spielberg drove into the National Parks over the years–today it gets 400,000 visitors annually.  How many side trips have we all taken off the beaten path between Yellowstone Park and Mt. Rushmore to see it for ourselves?  Would it have the same allure?

Forty years later and Close Encounters of the Third Kind has been given a full 4K restoration, and it’s coming to theaters for one week this summer followed by a home release.  Fresh off the success of Jaws, it was a return: Spielberg, John Williams, Richard Dreyfuss, production designer Joe Alves and more–and nobody knew what Spielberg was bringing to audiences as the big follow-up after his first summer blockbuster.  A science fiction film nominated for eight Academy Awards?  It would take home the award for sound effects editing (Frank A. Warner) and cinematography (Vilmos Zsigmond).  Plus we saw memorable performances from Teri Garr (Young Frankenstein, Mr. Mom), Melinda Dillon (A Christmas Story) nominated for her role, French director François Truffaut in one of his few acting performances, and Bob Balaban (Lady in the Water, Best in Show).

This new theatrical version has been restored from the original negatives–it’s the director’s cut, for those familiar with the various releases over the years.  If you missed it in the theaters (or weren’t born yet!), don’t miss this epic masterpiece on the big screen.  And for eagle-eyed genre fans, watch for brief encounters in the film with Carl Weathers (Rocky, Predator) and Lance Henriksen (Alien). 

Check out this smartly edited new trailer for a sci-fi classic:

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McQueen The Blob

Cancel your weekend plans. Hulu.com is letting anyone in the U.S. watch their Criterion Collection of films now through Monday, February 18 at this linkFree.  I’ve just watched the first 20 minutes of Akira Kurasawa’s Seven Samurai for the umpteenth time.  The only limitation is how many movies you can watch in the next 72 hours.

The selection includes all the big Criterion films you would expect.  You can watch Kurasawa’s Hidden Fortress, which along with Seven Samurai, were two of George Lucas’s major influences for Star Wars.  There’s also Kurasawa’s Rashomon, Sanjuro, Yojimbo, Throne of Blood, Stray Dog, Scandal, Drunken Angel… The list goes on.  And if classic Japanese Samurai films aren’t your thing, you might try what we at borg.com listed as the number one Western of all time in our top 10 list back in 2011–John Ford’s 1939 classic Stagecoach.  Or try something totally different, Steve McQueen in The Blob?  Or a comedy–Walter Matthau in Hopscotch?

Hidden Fortress

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