actors, Film Spotlight, movies, oscars

Does “The Lighthouse” deserve Best Cinematography?

Best Cinematography is probably my favorite category. When director Robert Eggers‘ film The Lighthouse was nominated for Best Cinematography, I had to see it. If you read a recent post of mine, you might remember my enthusiasm for 1917. If Roger Deakins doesn’t pick up the statue for the award, I hope Jarin Blaschke wins the Oscar for The Lighthouse. 

Here are some reasons why The Lighthouse was superior in cinematography.

  1. The film is set on a remote island somewhere in New England in the 1890s. A lighthouse rules the environment with its domineering size and elegant white neck. The foghorn blares and the light revolves. Raging waves, pounding rain, and creepy seagulls hop about and give the place a forlorn, ancient aura. The theme of dark and light is central to the characters as they fall victim to their physical surroundings while confronting supernatural elements the longer they stay on the island. Choosing to film it in black and white and using 1.19:1(19:16) — I needed to look up (Wikipedia) what this was and figure out the advantage to the choice.

1.19:1 (19:16): Sometimes referred to as the Movietone ratio, this ratio was used briefly during the transitional period when the film industry was converting to sound, from 1926 to 1932 approx. It is produced by superimposing an optical soundtrack over a full-gate 1.3 aperture in printing, resulting in an almost square image. Films shot in this ratio are often projected or transferred to video incorrectly using a 1.37 mask or squashed to 1.37. Examples of films shot in the Movietone ratio include SunriseMHallelujah! and The Lighthouse.

The cinematic choice adds to the historical climate giving the picture a classic feel. It boxes the story adding to the claustrophobia. As the story progresses, the audience feels the confinement caused by the weather and the lighthouse.

2. It’s a psychological horror story. The story is about two lighthouse keepers who struggle with their sanity. Pattinson did a fine job. However, it was one of Willem Defoe’s best performances. The claustrophobic rooms, the spiral staircase, the beautiful glass prisms of the lens of the lighthouse gave the film a somber, spirited, beautifully dark environment that justified the psychological horror story. The varying camera angles and close-ups capture this and add to the tension. One major criticism was the score. The overloud-Hans-Zimmer-sledgehammer thuds were unnecessary. Especially when the actual horror happens in the final act. The constant sound of the foghorn would audibly drive anyone insane.

3. I don’t like horror films, but I love psychologically intense films. This felt like Hitchcock. Watching Pattinson’s character devolve and lose his sanity was wonderful. That is, the cinematography includes snippet glimpses of Ephraim Winslow (Pattinson) with mermaids and disturbing dream sequences. The shots looked up at the face of the crusty sea-dog played by Willem Defoe, elongating the bags under his eyes, and at times, when he stood to give godly sermons, he rose in stature and became frightening. I loved that he sang old sailor songs, told nonsensical stories (that come true), and spoke in the vernacular of a sailor in the 1890s. His mood-swinging personality kept me on edge. Two men are alone on an island for a month. How do you suppose they spend the time? I ended up liking them both even though they were morally gray.

4. A basic theme of the story is the corruption of the soul and the punishment that ensues. Who gives the punishment?  The lighthouse was Godlike. Seeking the light, Ephraim Winslow steals up to the lantern and faces the light — light that a mortal shouldn’t see. The shots that show Ephraim facing the supernatural force is awesome.

5. The ending shot is peculiar and perplexing. It sure screams of the Greek myth “Prometheus” who was punished by Zeus for helping mankind. What are your thoughts about the ending scene? During the first act, Ephraim acts out on a sea bird. A bad omen. Ephraim dreams of mating with a mermaid. A bad omen. All of the bad omens and superstitions of the nautical world are included in the story to give it an interesting aspect. The motif of blindness runs through the film such as the bird and the head of a dead man. Being blinded by the light is a punishment no one is likely to survive. It’s not a film for everyone. But I liked it. 4/5

biography, Film Spotlight, movies, oscars, Winter Project: Classic Male Actors

Burt Lancaster as Elmer and Birdman

The 1960s started off great for Burt Lancaster as an actor. He won an Oscar for the Best Actor Award for his performance in Elmer Gantry (1960) and was nominated for his performance in Birdman of Alcatraz (1962). Against Type, written by Gary Fishgall is a good biography with plenty of research and details to give one a sense of the man and his accomplishments. What can I say about this classic actor who I knew so little about?

*He grew up on the mean streets of East Harlem, NY, to a strict mother and a postal supervisor dad. He was the baby of three other siblings, 2 brothers, and a sister. Elizabeth was a proud woman in the neighborhood who owned rental properties. Fishgall suggests it was his forceful, proud mother that instilled his self-confidence.

*Burt became close friends for life with Nick Cravat. As teenagers and young adults, they traveled together performing acrobatic tricks on the trapeze in a variety of circuses. Burt was 6’2, with strong wide shoulders (44 inches, waist 30) and athletic physique which defined his appeal to audiences throughout much of his career.

*Burt joined the Army in 1942 and performed at USO shows.

*After the war, he headed to NY and starred in a play A Sound of Hunting. That success got him an agent, Harold Hecht. Their union landed Burt an audition for his breakout role in The Killers. He was 31 years old and an instant star.

*Burt was difficult and possessed high energy. He insisted upon being a part of the creative process. He questioned every director he worked with, suggested what should be done. He felt it was imperative to his individuality to have a say.

*When Burt made Elmer Gantry, he said that was the character most like him off the screen. Burt’s favorite acting performance was The Leopard. 

*When Burt made Bird Man of Alcatraz, he advocated for Robert Shroud’s parole release, so taken was he by the genius and efforts of the prisoner who for over 40 years in solitary confinement became the leading authority figure on bird diseases.

*In the 1950s, Burt formed variations of his film company because he wanted control of his work. Burt’s company, Hecht-Hill, and Hecht-Hill-Lancaster Productions company dissolved in 1960 after Hill ruptured his relationship with both Hecht and Lancaster. They were spendthrifts having lost control of too-many offices, too many staff, and high-cost productions. As an actor, he was on top. As a producer, he felt disappointment.

*Making films that showcased a wrong in society mattered to him. He wanted his films to be important. He was politically active and part of the actors’ group in the 1940s who spoke out against McCarthyism and the House of Un-American Activities.

*He was married three times and had five children.

I’m halfway through the biography. Stay tuned for more information about Burt…

Below is the train scene showing Lancaster’s intensity (and white teeth). I loved the film Elmer Gantry. Andre Previn’s score was a highlight. Shirley Jones as a prostitute was a surprise since I’ve only seen her as a singing queen for studio musicals. Shen won Best Supporting Actress for her performance. Jean Simmons was perfect. The ending scene of the fire and the dissolution of religion/dreams were magnificent. 5.5   Did you have a favorite scene?

The Birdman of Alcatraz was unusual and interesting. Not because of Lancaster’s acting which was lackluster to me. The movie was interesting because of the incredulity of the man behind the film, Robert Stroud. He ran away from home from an abusive father at the age of 13 and hitched his way to Alaska. By 18, he was a pimp and murdered a man who was with his mistress. In jail, his reputation was hard and onery. Stroud killed a prison guard with a knife and was sentenced to life imprisonment in solitary confinement. The prison at Leavenworth has a reputation for being a maximum-security prison. Interesting that Shroud was able to create a long-time friendship with the prison guard who watched over him; he kept canaries in his cell, conducted scientific experiments and eventually had the cell walls expanded to make space for more birds and equipment. He was a self-taught ornithologist with a third-grade education. He was allowed to possess a lighter, chemicals, alcohol (180 proof) and so if it really happened, I’m shocked. Guards open the doors and allow the prisoners to walk behind, beside and around them in tight proximity. One major complaint: I just didn’t think Lancaster and Karl Malden had chemistry.

The climax was disappointing. After Lancaster’s Shroud says his peace to the warden Harvey Shoemaker about rehabilitation, his response to Shroud is to timidly complain about an arthritic shoulder. I wish the script had developed the progressive warden and his relationship with Shroud. Otherwise, the several minute filming of a baby bird hatching from his egg was original. Director John Frankenheimer had interesting angles and compositions. The best acting performance goes to Telly Salavas who played a grimy, dumb hoodlum perfectly. 3.5/5 

Maybe I’m too harsh? Did you like it more than I? 

 

 

actors, Dear..., Film Spotlight, In My Opinion, movies, oscars

Dear Jessica Lange

For decades, I’ve questioned your talent. I concluded you were overrated used solely for your sex appeal, and I did not take you seriously. A Marilyn Monroe. A Tippi Hedron. Less than Faye Dunaway and slightly more than Melanie Griffith. You are a combination of breathless ambiguity and sexual coquettish that appears helpless and manipulative — a true femme fatale.

The 1982 biopic of Hollywood actress, Frances Farmer, was a muddled mess, but what a treat to see you in an unforgettable performance garnering an Oscar nomination. That year Meryl Streep won for Sophie’s Choice. Frances was the right performance but the wrong year to go up against Streep’s best delivery of her career. You gave Frances depth and subtlety to wide-sweeping emotions; do you think it was the best performance of your long career?

Frances is based on the sad, troubled life of the precocious teenager in the 1930s whose journal-to-essay concludes there is no God. It alienates her community but attracts enough attention to get Frances to Hollywood and Broadway. During the thirties and forties, her defiant personality marks her as a trouble-maker. She is taken advantage of, black-listed, and sent to various mental hospitals. Her civil liberties are denied and her body violated. What’s worse is her relationship with her mother who takes the phrase “vicarious living” to extremes. The wimpy father is powerless to stop the catfights and institutionalization of their daughter.

How does one control the spirit of Francis? Why, ice-pick therapy, of course. Somehow she survives a lobotomy and Frances became a soulless version of herself. Sam Shepard is the quasi-narrator-strange love interest who loves her unconditionally throughout the decades, but his role as a Hollywood reporter, Harry York, is ambiguous and wasted. But what does shine through is his love for Frances. Shepard does a fine job given the limitations of the script. Their chemistry continued two years later when Shepard and Lange co-star in Country (1984).  

I don’t blame you, Jessica, I blame the scriptwriters Nicholas Kazan, Eric Gergren, and Christopher De Vore who failed to get on the same page about what the film was about. I do like institution movies. There is some perverse horror in watching how patients are mistreated. Sorry to tell you, although, I bet you will agree The Snake Pit (1948) is better solely because the film had a coherent vision.

In 2017, I watched you play Joan Crawford in the television series Feud. Jessica, you were marvelous! I started to think I was wrong about your acting abilities. The other day, I was curious enough to look at your filmography. I forgot you had won Best Actress in Blue Sky (1995). You won Best Supporting Actress in 1983 for Tootsie. You have had great success in television with multiple Emmy wins for American Horror Story–were you good as that demonic nun? I never watched the show, but I can imagine that unearthly, breathless cadence of yours. I can see your smoldering eyes and deceptive smirk and bet you were unnerving. You also won a Tony for the 2016 production for the lead in Long Day’s Journey into Night. Were you as good as Katharine Hepburn? There’s more — three Golden Globes, and a slew of sandbox statues. My, your mantle is crowded.

I confess I have been wrong about you. Mea Culpa, Jessica. You are quite more than the sex toy of King Kong.

Sincerely,

Cindy