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Joan Crawford Versus Natalie Portman

I was forced to return my library copy of the textbook I was using for my film history course, A Short History of the Movies. I went to all of the big sellers, like Amazon looking for a copy, only to find that it’s basically a gazillion dollars. And then my brilliant husband reminded me that because I’m back in the educational throes of it all, that I should go to Half.com for my books.

Therefore, I’m going to be waiting for my $12 textbook to arrive to my house via media mail — basically it’s going to take a while. In the meantime, I’m working on a few video and readings to occupy  my reading. Fortunately for me, I was just at the part of the book talking about the great comedies and comedians of the 1920s.

Looking for some events to go to or something to read this week, I came across this online “exhibit” on Los Angeles Public Library’s website on old Hollywood Movie Posters. There are so many details that are so interesting here:

Today, credit blocks consume approximately an eighth of a poster’s layout and include credits for a range of filmmakers, including the producers, director, writers, art director, costume designer, cinematographer, effects teams, and musicians. But the idea remains the same, to convey to a potential audience the who and what of a movie: who’s in it and what’s it about?

Reading that, I took a look at some of the posters available (which I highly recommend), and it made me think about the obvious differences to today’s posters and the subtle similarities.
Let’s compare this poster for Montana Moon (1930) with No Strings Attached (2011).

First of all, the synopsis….sounds AWFUL.

But most importantly, we have two lovers, in an intimate, non-threatening moment. But it’s such a generic moment. And that’s what a lot of these old movie posters seem to have in common: they only give a highly vague sense of what the movie is about. The real point is just to illustrate that Your Favorite Star will be in this movie. The only guarantee you get to know from the poster is that 1. Joan Crawford is IN this movie. 2. She’s going to suck face with some dude. 3. It’s an “all talking” movie by MGM. The embrace could mean they’re an intimate couple, and we’re seeing them in a moment we’re “not suposed to see.” It could mean she’s dying, and holding on for dear life. Or that she’s drunk on booze and pills and needs someone to help her sit up to eat her Subway sandwich. We just assume it’s the romance one because otherwise the poster would indicate a more thrilling movie. If anything the poster for Montana Moon reflects the lackluster story that IS Montana Moon.

And then there’s No Strings Attached. I will admit, I am stoked to see it, mainly because When Harry Met Sally is one of my favorite movies of all time, and its main theme, aside from you cannot help who you love, is that men and women can’t be friends without sex getting in the way. We already get that from the title, something slightly illegitimate is going on. The poster brings it home: We see them clearly AFTER an intimate moment, but the expressions on their faces are clearly happy, with a shared connection, along with that is the tagline, “Friendship has its benefits,” playing off the expression, “Friends with benefits.” The key to this is universality. This film is certainly targeting a young adult audience, but a wide young adult audience — people on both ends of the spectrum of adulthood: 18 to, say, 45ish(?). The message isn’t complicated, it isn’t confrontational or scary, and you know that in the end they’re totally going to get married and have a gazillion babies.

“Gazillion” twice in one post? Damn right.

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Best Dog Ever

I just wanted to take a break from making Christmas dinner (Cornish Game Hens, roasted red potatoes, and buttery-fantastical string beans) to give an update on some altered plans for the week. I know, I know, you’re saying “already altering plans? FAIL.”

But no. I’m making provisions to make sure I know what I’m doing.

Earlier this week I dropped a lot of money at our local big-box book store that is in the process of cutting off all of their inventory to shut the store down. Honestly, I’m surprised they lasted longer than they did. Anyway, they had a ton of stuff at 40% off, so I bought my husband’s Christmas gift and about five books for myself — some that I know I’ll need for future classes and my career, and others I’ve just wanted to get. One of which was Get the Picture: The Movie Lover’s Guide to Watching Films by Jim Piper. While I’m supposed to be evaluating these TV shows, films, and shorts, I figure I should know what I’m talking about. I’ve only read the first  2 chapters, but it has me thinking about shots in a more conscious way — color, angle, depth of shot, movement and framing.

Yesterday, on my way home from work on the bus, I watched a book mentioned in chapter 3 of my Film history book, Rescued by Rover by Cecil Hepworth. This was one of the first films to show sequence with several cuts and implied movement throughout the story. We see a baby get abducted while her nanny’s back is turned away, and * bam* the next cut is the nanny bursting in to the house, to tell the parents what happened. We don’t see her going on and flirting with that dude; we don’t see her turning around and not seeing the baby, and turning over leaves in the park to look for him. It’s implied that all of it happened, so we cut straight to the drama. Furthermore, we see the dog running across town looking for the baby. When he finds him sitting with the gypsy that stole him, the dog runs back using the same sequence of setting. He then gets his owner to follow him, in the same sequence of shots, and then they rescue the baby. Good times. It’s short, and simple, but a clear step forward in filmmaking…prior to this, cameras were pretty darn stagnant, and basically no cuts. Take that, Air Buddies!

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