Friday, August 31, 2007

It's TV, It Ain't Cinema

David Bordwell has written another excellent piece on modern cinema, this time on the style of film-making in "The Bourne Ultimatum" which, in typical Paul Greengrass fashion, is a dizzy melange of kinetic hand-held camera work and slashing edits. Bordwell summarises his resistance to the style thus:

(1) The style isn’t original or unique. It’s a familiar approach to filmmaking on display in many theatrical releases and in plenty of television. The run-and-gun look is one option within today’s dominant Hollywood style, intensified continuity.

(2) The style achieves its effect through particular techniques, chiefly camerawork, editing, and sound.

(3) The style isn’t best justified as being a reflection of Jason Bourne’s momentary mental states (desperation, panic) or his longer-term mental state (amnesia).

(4) In this case the style achieves a visceral impact, but at the cost of coherence and spatial orientation. It may also serve to hide plot holes and make preposterous stunts seem less so.

I agree with all of these but I thought I might add a couple of points about the origins of this style and possibly why it is more prevalent now than in the past.

We can summarise the style as comprising loosely hand-held camera work, sharp focus pulls and then blistering quick edits in the cutting room. I first recall seeing this style of film-making on television in the mid-nineties. I remember people at the art-college I attended getting very excited by the series "This Life" which featured the hand-held camera and the hard focus-pulls if not the quick edits. But this was television, and a TV screen is contained comfortably within your field of view, is inherently less immersive and requires the use of big graphic styles to make any impact. We can, and often do, move around whilst watching TV so our spatial relationship with the screen is quite dynamic. This is not so at the cinema. More kinetic styles work well on TV because it is less intrusive into our field of view and its smaller scale means it has to be bolder to be seen - it cannot perform subtlety of style like the cinema can.

The style was simultaneously being used by documentary makers, often those on a budget and shooting with just a single camera. The quick reframes and focus pulls would be edited out were more coverage available but the lower the budget, the less coverage and so more of these "mistakes" end up on screen and eventually become indicative of a small-scale, non-corporate project. Even now documentaries can be seen with this style. "Mondovino" by Jonathan Nossiter was self-funded and self-shot and though its subject matter, the international wine industry, is rather more sedate than a Jason Bourne outing Nossiter's film has the hand-held, pull focus style that we come to associate with the rebel documentary maker.

These are tropes for mainstream Hollywood though. These films are not low-budget, nor are they really run and gun film-making. The VFX studio Double Negative has put months of work in on Greengrass's film, making all that expensively shot material look as though it were captured just as it is seen. The use of green screen elements, CGI are all on a par with any other big budget action film, because that's exactly what the film is. Hollywood hopes to get us to believe that this is a "grittier" more "real" vision of the action film by aping the mannerisms of the indie documentary or edgy TV series. I don't agree. It makes it seem like lazy film-making for television, not cinema. When one then considers the hack and slash editing style that is then layered on top to ramp up the kineticism further we often end up with an incoherent mess.

It is the pop video editing piled on top of the rebel documentary visual stylings that finally push them into the absurd. The relentless manner of these films' construction in fact makes the drama and narrative terribly one dimensional. If there is no variance in pace, framing or movement then the eye and mind adjust to it until the fast cutting seems normal. Speed is relative. If there is no slowness to contrast the frenetic action then action seems staid. Three rapid cuts after several longer ones have impact. Three rapid cuts after 120 previous rapid cuts have none. By shooting and cutting dialogue scenes like a low budget pop promo doesn't make the film more exciting overall, it in fact reduces the impact of the action when it begins.

I often wonder whether a great deal of the televisualising of cinema has come about because of the reliance of directors on video-assist technology. These devices allow the director to watch exactly what's being filmed on a small TV set as it is being shot and then use that video to edit the sequence before the film cans have even had the chance to be taken for development. The days of 'dailies sessions', where rushes of the previous day's film are screened on a cinema screen, are gone to great extent. Directors and editors do much their work on a film by looking at a TV screen or computer monitor. I suppose we shouldn't be all that surprised that they end up making faux indie documentary television not cinema.

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Green Man T-shirt

Green Man Design Progression, originally uploaded by Mr Atrocity.

As Tinseltroos and I have a whole weekend to ourselves in the flat we've decided to get a bit crafty. T found this great tutorial on the web for bleach dying clothes using a stencil and after a trip to the London Graphics Centre and American Apparel we have clothes and stencil making equipment. I'm going for a green man themed shirt, one with a medieval twist.

The sketches are for the overall design, I haven't yet figured out which parts will be bleached, and which left as plain shirt colour. If I'm feeling brave I may try to do some shading on the leaf areas, much like T has on her back tattoo. We'll be taking pictures as we go so I'll post the results as and when we have them.

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Thursday, August 30, 2007

More Meme Silliness

Advanced Global Personality Test Results
Extraversion |||||||||||||||| 66%
Stability |||||||||||||||||| 76%
Orderliness |||||||||||| 50%
Accommodation |||||||||||||||| 70%
Interdependence |||||||||||||||| 70%
Intellectual |||||||||||||||||||| 83%
Mystical |||||| 30%
Artistic |||||||||||||||||||| 90%
Religious || 10%
Hedonism |||||||||||||||||| 76%
Materialism |||||||||||| 43%
Narcissism |||||||||||||||| 63%
Adventurousness |||||| 30%
Work ethic |||||||||||||||| 70%
Self absorbed |||||||||||| 43%
Conflict seeking |||||||||||||||| 70%
Need to dominate |||||||||||||| 56%
Romantic |||||||||||||||||||| 90%
Avoidant || 10%
Anti-authority |||||||||||||| 56%
Wealth |||||||||| 36%
Dependency |||| 16%
Change averse |||||| 23%
Cautiousness |||||||||||| 43%
Individuality |||||||||||||||||| 76%
Sexuality |||||||||||||||||||| 83%
Peter pan complex |||||||||||| 50%
Physical security |||||||||||||||||||| 90%
Physical Fitness |||||||||||||| 57%
Histrionic |||||||||||| 50%
Paranoia |||||||||| 36%
Vanity |||||||||||||||| 63%
Hypersensitivity |||||||||||||||| 63%
Indie |||||||||||||||| 66%
Take Free Advanced Global Personality Test
personality tests by

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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Pie and Calipers

Yesterday we had some chums over for dinner as they are to fly out to Australia at the end of the week to start a new life. I have tried to warn them that Australia is full of poisonous bitey things but to no avail, they're still going. Tinseltroos made a delicious pilaf from the Madhur Jaffrey veggie cookbook I got her for her birthday. I decided to take everyone back to the 1970s and made a lemon meringue pie. I am proud to say that I made everything from scratch, pastry, lemon curd and the meringue. I even branched out by making hot meringue, the method where you add hot sugar to the egg white so it cooks instantly and you end up with the lightest, fluffiest meringue imaginable. And I got to use my blowtorch to finish the top off. What's not to like?

Calculating a Chain Line

Tonight I finally got round to trying to calculate the correct bottom bracket to buy for my bicycle project. This is a rather crucial element of the build as the load on the chain from fixed wheel riding is very high so it pays to have the straightest chain possible between the chain wheel and the rear sprocket. Having spent the evening with rulers, my vernier calipers and severals sheets of paper for my notes and calculations I have determined that I think I need a 110mm bottom bracket and that is what I've just ordered. If my measurements are accurate, and my arithmetic is all in order then this will be the final part to buy and now, finally, I'll actually be able to finish the build. Just in time for winter when no-one wants to ride anymore. Bugger. If it's the wrong size, I'll have wasted fifteen quid and have to do the whole thing again but hey-ho it's all a learning experience.

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Monday, August 27, 2007

My Little Sister

lizzieLeeWedding7614.JPG, originally uploaded by Mr Atrocity.

Wow, my wee sister, she who is known as "The Tiniest Bagel Toaster" for reasons no-one can remember got married on Saturday. I'm sure she was only about 6 last week.

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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

A Beautiful Story

This little tale was related to me by one of the participants. He, along with a noted British film director were once working on a commercial with Karl Lagerfeld. During a meeting with the great man the noted director mentioned in passing how much he liked KL's shirt and in a moment of cheekiness asked if he could have one. "No", the maestro replied, "my tailor makes all my shirts. I cannot wear prêt-à-porter. It cuts me like a knife."

Genius. That's how fashion designers should behave. I am going to describe anything I disapprove of from now as "cutting me like a knife".



I suddenly realised this morning whilst shaving that I have been a computer graphics professional for ten years this month. My first job was doing titles for a crazy American evangelist who had made a DVD about his UK tour and was having the video post-produced in the town where I was at art college, which is why I heard about and got the job. Not an overly auspicious start, either artistically or morally but I was a poor student and I got paid more for a week of CG work than I would have for a month of shelf-stacking in a supermarket which was my other possible summer job.

When I look back at who I was then and the aspirations I had I realise that I'm exceptionally fortunate. The 21 year old me desperately wanted to work in visual effects, and through a few twists and turns of graphic design and kids TV series I made it. I am one of those lucky, lucky people who manage to achieve their dreams and even though I complain about work, especially the pressure and the hours, I wouldn't want to swap it for anything else. Perhaps another company, perhaps working in commercials again as a change from features, which I've been doing non-stop for 6 years now, but essentially I do what I love and what I assume I'm regarded as being quite good at it since they keep paying me.

I suspect in ten more years I shall probably be doing pretty much what I am now.

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Monday, August 20, 2007

Les Misérables - a short review

Saw this musical for the first time tonight. Here's its report card:

Story - C
Music - C-
Libretto - FAIL
Cast - C-
Set - B
Costume - C
Audience - FAIL

Overall - Semi-skimmed melodrama.

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Sunday, August 19, 2007

From the Sublime to the Sublime

What a wonderful weekend. I spent yesterday at Lord's watching cricket's equivalent of the F.A. Cup final or the Superbowl where Hampshire took on Durham. It was a privilege to see Shane Warne, arguably the best spin bowler the game has ever seen, and yet he ended up on the losing side. Durham played brilliantly. Disciplined batting and a quickfire 78 from the irrepressible Shivnarine Chanderpaul set Hampshire a daunting 312 for victory. Two wickets from the first two balls of Hampshire's reply pretty much did for their chances and they never looked even close to making the runs. Even Kevin Pietersen failed to fire. It's good to see a young county (in cricketing terms anyway) doing so well. Congratulations to Durham on a thoroughly deserved victory.

Youth and vigour were much in evidence today also. After a leisurely day, Tinseltroos and I walked over to The Royal Albert Hall for this evening's Prom Concert. Gustavo Dudamel conducted the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela playing Shostakovich's 10th symphony (a personal favourite), followed by excerpts from West Side Story (always good fun) and finished with a selection of pieces by south American composers of whom I'd not previously heard, to whit Revueltas and Ginastera.

This group of teenagers were the best orchestra it has ever been my good fortune to see. They put many of the more famous names in classical music to shame. I have been to many classical concerts and have become used to orchestras who only seem to half know the piece they are performing. They don't hit the notes exactly together and thus end up sounding muddy and lacklustre. Their reliance on sight-reading also means they look less at the conductor who is therefore unable to get them to coalesce into a seamless whole and craft a whole sound from the mass of individuals. Not so tonight. Listening to this big orchestra was the aural equivalent of watching a flock birds change direction, as one, in flight. They were so light on their toes that the music felt as though it were coming from one giant living thing, one delightfully monstrous creature entirely at the beck and call of the effusive Dudamel.

The Shostakovich piece shifts from joy to melancholy to menace to anger throughout and they carried off these twists and turns with such dexterity and such soul and passion that I was left lost for words. They were so musical, an odd thing to say perhaps but one so often gets the impression that many professional orchestras really see what they do as just a job and if all the notes are there and in the right order that will do. Tonight's performers gave it their all. The packed hall responded in kind roaring and applauding them back for 4 encores. They were more than worth every one.

Have a look on the BBC's web-page for the listen again option for the show and see what I mean.

Update: Apparently I am not alone in thinking this.

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Friday, August 17, 2007

Max Roach 1924-2007

Max Roach Quartet, originally uploaded by jazzmiddelheim.

My favourite jazz drummer, co-leader of my favourite jazz band of all time with Clifford Brown, Max Roach has died at the age of 83. A very sad day.

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Wednesday, August 15, 2007


I Drew Tinseltroos

I'm trying to get my creative juices flowing again. Having been run ragged by being pulled onto a project in its death throes I'm feeling pretty shattered and I need to get my artistic mojo back. To that end I'm trying to do some more drawing. I haven't done any "proper" drawing in over a year and it shows. I wish drawing were like riding a bike and you never lost the ability no matter how long you went between rides but sadly it isn't. In my experience unless I draw constantly I lose the fine control I need. My drawings look sloppy and poorly constructed; there is no tension in the line, no power to pencil strokes and the shading is scruffy. I suppose it must be a matter of pure hand/eye co-ordination. I know what I want the drawing to look like but the minute level of control of my hands that I need just isn't there at the moment. It's like playing the guitar, if I take a break from playing my hands slow down and I lose precision.

On the plus side even if I'm not over-enthusiastic about the quality of my work at the moment I at least know that it's doing me good and it is very therapeutic. As it's impossible to draw with tension in your arms and shoulders, it's almost as good as having a massage. After spending half an hour with a sketchpad I can feel my knotty shoulders unwind a little. And because you're concentrating on something else it's a subconscious effort to physically relax and it is much more effective for it. I know if I am instructed to relax I find it nigh on impossible to do so, but a little drawing really helps.

It feels good to be doing something constructive that uses a different part of my brain and who knows if I keep practicing I may get vaguely competent again.

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Saturday, August 11, 2007

Glad Tidings

It may be nearly 9 p.m. on a Saturday which I have spent entirely at work and I'm still here but at least after a single game of the new football season, Crewe are on top. You may now sit back and watch their gentle slide down the table to the inevitable relegation crisis as the season progresses.

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The World Has Gone Mad

Ennio Morricone has a myspace page. What kind of lunacy is this?

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Friday, August 10, 2007

The Ancient House

The Ancient House, originally uploaded by  blech.

This is where Tinseltroos and I will be spending my birthday. It's going to be wonderful.

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Upside Down Demolition, originally uploaded by Mr Atrocity.

Here's a photo I took out and about last weekend of a building that's being demolished bottom to top, partly because of its unusual method of construction but mostly just to show gravity who's boss.

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I've been sitting here in the office alone with some sushi whilst everyone else is out for lunch reading "Spook Country", the new novel by William Gibson. The passage I was reading concerned the details of a dream the heroine has until interrupted by a 'phone call. In the dream, she is walking down Monmouth Street in Covent Garden towards Seven Dials, a walk I did this very lunchtime. She looks at the coffee shop I get my morning cappuccino from every day. The 'phone call she then takes informs her that the owner of the magazine she is working for has the same name as a character from Gibson's last book, "Pattern Recognition". The heroine of that book wore a Buzz Rickson's MA-1 USAF black bomber jacket, an example of which I just picked up on eBay. As "Spook Country" seems largely concerned with the intrusions of the virtual and the imagined upon the real world I begin to wonder how many more weird connections between my day to day life and this book will occur. What does William Gibson know that I don't?

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Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Let The Music Play

You scored as Traveling Matt Fraggle, You left everything you knew in Fraggle Rock to begin the exploration of the last great frontier of Fraggledom – Outer Space. You send postcards back to your nephew in the Rock from time to time to impart your wisdom to him in hopes that the brave service to all Fragglekind will be beneficial to those who need it. You're not sure that you want to come back home because the world of the Silly Creatures is very interesting, but your homesickness shows through in almost every postcard you write.

Traveling Matt Fraggle


Madame Trash Heap


Red Fraggle


Gobo Fraggle


Mokey Fraggle


Boober Fraggle


Wembley Fraggle






Junior Gorg


Which Fraggle Rock character are you?
created with

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A Series of Tubes

Be did not lie when they said they'd connected us up within a week. I have to say I'm seriously impressed. When I eventually got home last night and plugged the gizmo into the wall, hey presto the light went green and Schossadlerflug was pulled, kicking and screaming, into the twenty-first century. I not only got my laptops talking to it but the Wii also. And because the Wii talks to the outside world we could get Street Fighter 2 Turbo for the Virtual Console. Huzzah! Christ but it looks dated. I remember being spotty and hormonal and thinking that there was no way that SF2 could be topped. Ever. It seems I was wrong. Let the nostalgia fest begin! Next up some Mario and perhaps some retro Zelda action.

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Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Good Times, Bad Times

After 8 o'clock and I'm still stuck in the studio working when I should be out enjoying the beautiful summer evening that is ebbing away just outside the window in front of me. That's pretty bad. What's worse is that one of my best buddies told me over lunch that she's returning home to Canada at the end of the month after living here for 7 years. That was a bit of a shock; though she's often threatened to go she's never actually carried it through. But the 30th August will see her out of the UK, probably for good. I shall miss her a lot; it's a hell of a long way to travel for sushi and a good chat like we do most weeks.

Apparently my ISP tells me that Schossadlerflug should have the internet now. If only I wasn't at work I could be checking that out.

OK, melancholy and griping over. I have prehistoric noses to paint and light (don't ask) before I can go home tonight.

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Monday, August 06, 2007

Back To The Wedding

Back To The Wedding

As an extra present for the lovely couple whose wedding we attended a few weeks back, Tinseltroos and I have made them a wee poster. There is more Photoshop and VFX than photograph now but I'm quite happy with it. There should be a poster sized print heading their way even as I type.

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Thursday, August 02, 2007

London Calling

A very long time ago I wrote a piece about my love of "proper" telephones. It remains one of my favourite posts but the motivation for writing - the idea that I might get an old telephone for the house has, until now, remained just an idea. Yesterday Tinseltroos got a modern update of the classic 500 series 'phone designed by Henry Dreyfuss in the late 1940s. It has buttons in the place of the holes in the dial so it's modern in the sense that it's touch-tone and works on a digital network. It is decidedly not contemporary in its heft, style (it has some), and the pleasing mechanical ring of a real bell is the best bit of all. I've had to 'phone home using my mobile a couple of times whilst standing next to our new baby just to hear it.


Wednesday, August 01, 2007

What I Did Not On My Holidays

Here's a brief overview piece about the visual effects on "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix". I even get a name-check which is pleasing even if it shouldn't make any difference really. My mother will be proud. If she had the internet. Which she doesn't.

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Brigstocke Hits The Nail On The Head Again