Citizen Kane (1941) Dir. Orson Welles
"Harmony said he wanted the movie to look like a candy shop, very colorful, and I thought maybe it would be great to use colors we don’t use so much in cinema — purple or pink or yellow, something quite strong. It was a good movie to experiment with those colors. When I went to Florida, we started to scout at night, and when the night is coming, you start to see different colors, neon signs, sodium lights. It’s very interesting. So I started to understand the city and how to light the movie to catch that feeling. This was a tricky shot because I was alone inside the car with the actress to shoot her in profile with a walkie talkie, talking to the girls: ‘Okay, window one, window two,’ to coordinate the shot." - Benoît Debie (Director of Photography)
Cinematographer Gordon Willis, 1931-2014.
Chris McCoy recently spoke with the rarely interviewed Willis; the conversation appears in the May 2014 issue of The Believer.
"Woody actually contacted me a few years ago. He wanted to do something in New York. I said, ‘I’m sorry, my eyesight is now at a point where I can’t do it for you.’ I said, ‘All women look beautiful to me now.’"
(Images from The Godfather, The Parallax View, All the President’s Men, Annie Hall, Manhattan, Pennies from Heaven, and Broadway Danny Rose.)
Aliens (1986) - directed by James Cameron. Starring Sigourney Weaver, Michael Biehn and Bill Paxton.
Cinematography by Adrian Biddle
Editing by Ray Lovejoy
When you hear the phrase match cut, the most famous examples are scenes from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey or David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia. This match cut from James Cameron’s Aliens, however, is an interesting and understated one. While not a direct cut - there are a handful of frames separating the two scenes featured in the photo set above - the edit here is deliberate because it transitions from the facehugger to Ripley’s hand, showing off the graphic or structural similarities between the two images. This is sometimes referred to as a “graphic match” (x). What’s great about this cut is that right after the viewer sees the facehugger, we transition slowly down to Ripley’s hand. The camera direction is very deliberate because it is a fake-out; the filmmaker wants the audience to think that in the second gif, you are looking at the facehugger, when it is really Ripley’s hand.
“There used to be just one way. There was one way you could do things. There were people who protected it like a copyright, a secret cult only for the initiated. That’s why I don’t regret making Breathless and blowing that all apart.”
Jean-Luc Godard’s New Wave masterpiece premiered in Paris on this date in 1960.
I know what I’ll be reading today: Rudy Wurlitzerl’s screenplay for Sam Peckinpah’s ‘Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid,’ the wildest western ever made [pdf]. (NOTE: For educational purposes only.) Thanks to Ambrose Chapel and the great folks at Write to Reel.
“Sam was drunk, of course,” recalls Kris Kristofferson, who plays Billy. “By the end of the day that bottle had taken over. I’ll never forget Bob Dylan turnin’ and lookin’ at me like, ‘What the hell have you gotten me into?’” Dylan wrote the songs for the movie, including ‘Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.’ He also has a small role as the mysterious printer’s assistant named Alias, who joins up with Billy and his gang. Rita Coolidge, Kristofferson’s girlfriend at the time, plays a Mexican woman whom Billy/Kristofferson makes sulfurous love to just before he’s gunned down by Pat Garrett (played by James Coburn), his erstwhile friend and mentor.
Peckinpah would start drinking on the set first thing each morning, and by the afternoon he would be loaded and walking around firing a revolver into the air. At night he’d lie in bed shooting at his reflection in the mirror, a drunken outburst that made its way into the movie when, after killing Billy, Garrett, in a bout of self-hatred and disgust, shoots to pieces his own reflection in a mirror. At one point, “I had to take a pistol away from Sam,” says Kristofferson. “He was worrying some people.” —How Kris Kristofferson, Bob Dylan, and a drunken Sam Peckinpah reinvented Billy the Kid 40 years ago
“He was a great, innovative craftsman of film, but his sensibility was unique, inimitable. Action filmmakers can use an impersonal, impeccably directed movie like ‘The Getaway’ as a textbook. But whatever it was that possessed Peckinpah on the morning he dreamed up The Wild Bunch’s majestic walk is fundamentally unteachable. And it’s probably safe to say that no one will ever again make—or feel the impulse to attempt—a movie like his last Western, ‘Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid’ (1973). In telling the well-known story of the lawman Garrett’s pursuit of his old friend Billy, Peckinpah slows the narrative to a fatalistic mosey—sleepwalk set to the tempo of faintly jingling spurs. The movie is, in its way, as daring as ‘The Wild Bunch’: There’s a lot of dying here, but in ‘Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid,’ the deaths come one at a time, with mournful regularity. It’s the only one of Peckinpah’s films in which the director himself appears on screen: He plays a coffin maker.” —Terrence Rafferty, Son of the West
Tell us about Sam Peckinpah.
Sam Peckinpah was a genius for four hours a day. The rest of that time he was drunk. He called himself “a working alcoholic,” but he was much more than that. I think the alcohol sort of quelled all the influences that were going on around him so he could really focus on what he was doing with the film. He would shoot with three cameras and just… do it. You never talked with Sam about things like motivation. I asked him one time, when we were doing ‘Major Dundee.’ I said “Sam, what is it that makes my character tick?” And he thought about it for a minute and finally said “Drier. Dry. He doesn’t give a shit.” And that’s who that character was! And that’s how I played him… It was really sad what happened to that picture. The studio took it away from him and re-cut it. We had a great knife fight in that picture, between Mario Adorf and myself. And it was a viscous fucking knife fight. While we were shooting it, people were yelling for us to stop! That’s how real it looked. It was a terrific piece of action, and it was cut from the film… the night it premiered at the Paramount theater, Sam saw the studio’s cut and was just devastated. His hands were shaking. He had half a pint of whiskey and dropped it. It smashed on the floor. And my wife at the time said “Sam, it’s okay, it’s only a movie.”
When you look at Major Dundee, it’s sort of like looking at the U.S. cut of Pat Garrett, which was also severely compromised by the studio. You can see there’s a masterpiece in there somewhere.
I agree, but what they call the “director’s cut” of Pat Garrett is actually just the television cut. Sam had the only true cut that he made, and that’s up in his archives in Sonoma. When he finished cutting Pat Garrett, it was taken away from him. This was Jim Aubrey at MGM and he was more interested in getting his hotel ready than he was in film. I think he really despised anybody who displayed artistry. He really like digging into them. When we started shooting Pat Garrett, I just finished shooting a film with Blake Edwards called ‘The Carey Treatment’ (1973) that Aubrey also took away and re-cut. And I said to Sam “This guy’s crazy! He could do this film all sorts of harm.” Sam said “Don’t worry about a thing, Jim. I just bought one share of stock in MGM, and if they mess with me, goddammit, I’ll sue their asses!” (laughs) “One share of stock, Sam?! What’s that gonna do?!” “You’ll see.” (laughs)
I heard a story that Peckinpah got drunk during the shoot and didn’t want to kill Billy! True?
Yeah, but he wasn’t that drunk. We were sitting in his trailer and he said “Goddammit! Why do we have to kill him?” “Well Sam, that’s the way it happened.” “Well, why can’t we make it un-happen?” “Sam we can’t do it.” (beat) “Why… not?!” (laughs) I think he saw a lot of himself in the character of Billy… We found out halfway through the shoot that most of the masters we had shot were out of focus. We were using five or six cameras at once and we didn’t have a camera mechanic because MGM wouldn’t pay for one! So we used different lenses, different set-ups, and still, it’s all out of focus. Finally the camera mechanic is sent out. It turns out the flange in the camera was off by one one thousandth of an inch, or some damn thing. So we tell Aubrey that we have to re-shoot all these masters. He says “You’re not gonna re-shoot anything. The audience isn’t gonna know the fuckin’ difference!” Can you imagine?! It was just mind-blowing! So what we did was, we stole all those shots when the brass didn’t know we were shooting and got it all! So now this really pissed them off, because now we had some real film on our hands! (laughs) So Sam had his cut previewed, and at the same time, Aubrey had his guys cutting their film. So all the editors got together and gave Sam a cut of his film, but without a soundtrack. He didn’t get that back until he cut it for television. But there’s only about five minutes missing from that cut he originally made. —James Coburn: The Hollywood Interview
Recommended Listening: Audio Interview with Sam Peckinpah
In memory of Sam Peckinpah (February 21, 1925 — December 28, 1984).
Mama, put my guns in the ground
I can’t shoot them anymore
"Godard told the story of when he and Jean-Pierre Gorin, working together sometime in the early nineteen-seventies, attempted an experiment: to imitate a single shot from Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin. He explained that they didn’t manage to do it—that the framing and the angle completely escaped them. I’m not surprised—in exactly the same way as I doubt whether Eisenstein, had he lived longer, could have copied perfectly a shot of Godard’s. The camera operator’s own gestures, the particular equipment that’s available, and—yes—the very carriage of the actor being filmed all determine the nature of a shot.
There’s no such thing as a pure angle or composition, any more than there is such a thing as a pure performance; the life of the creators are embodied in all the actions that bring a movie into being. And those habits of body are no mere accidents of upbringing but the very essence of a zeitgeist, of the spirit of the time as it manifests itself. The angles have been lost for the same reason that people move differently; people move differently because of differences in the way that people are raised and educated and influenced, because of differences in thought and feeling, in essential self-image.
Still from Battleship Potemkin (1925, dir. Sergei Eisenstein)