The hero of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” is trapped in a wheelchair, and we’re trapped, too–trapped inside his point of view, inside his lack of freedom and his limited options. When he passes his long days and nights by shamelessly maintaining a secret watch on his neighbors, we share his obsession. It’s wrong, we know, to spy on others, but after all, aren’t we always voyeurs when we go to the movies? Here’s a film about a man who does on the screen what we do in the audience–look through a lens at the private lives of strangers.
The film is–what else?–a coming-of-age story centered on a young girl named Chihiro, who’s really bummed out about moving to a new city where she won’t be able to be with her old friends. Her mother and father, who mean well but still shrug off her depression, are ready to move into their new home when a wrong turn on the road leads them to a mysterious, abandoned theme park. Or so they think. It turns out that the family has stumbled upon a passage to the spirit world, with Chihiro’s parents transformed into livestock after unknowingly consuming the food of the spirits without permission. Frightened and utterly alone, the only way for Chihiro to survive in this strange new world is to toil and work herself raw in a bathhouse run by a wicked sorceress.
This week we will watch Buster Keaton’s 1928 classic silent film, Steamboat Bill Jr. on Thursday and Friday in Cartooning & Animation.
While watching the film we will stop occasionally to take a closer look at how story and characterization can be conveyed without relying on sound/talking.
Live action film had a heavy influence on the early animators; the greatest silent film makers were able to tell a story and express mood and emotion visually with a minimum of dialogue. This was achieved with a focus on clear staging, body language, and facial expression. These three concepts are incredibly important for animation, and even more so for comics.
The story had all grown out of a single idea: Chaplin imagined a scene of comic thrills, such as his contemporary Harold Lloyd had made his speciality. The scene he envisaged was the climactic sequence in which, having taken the place of the tight-rope walker, and suspended high over The Circus ring, he is attacked by malicious escaped monkeys.
In one respect, Pinocchio was a failure. The 1940 follow-up to Walt Disney’s world-beating Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs—which proved in 1937 that feature-length animated movies were not only possible, but could be profitable as well—Pinocchio cost more than twice as much as its predecessor, and made back only half its production costs in its initial theatrical run. (A 1992 re-release made considerably more, but by that time the film had already been entrenched as a classic in the popular imagination.) But creatively, Pinocchio represents the apex of the Disney Feature Animation brand, a project of wild ambition that consumed Walt Disney and his team for two years, and firmly established feature animation as a legitimate art form on the same level as traditional filmmaking.
We’ll be taking a look at Minecraft: The Story of Mojang this week. The film will take up Monday, Tuesday, and probably the sketch journal portion of Wednesday (In other words: be prepared for working on Wednesday).
Two Player Productions, Description of the Film:
In 2009, independent video game designer Markus “Notch” Persson released a work in progress that would go on to break every industry rule for achieving success. Part exploratory adventure, part creative building tool, Minecraft evolved from a cult classic into an unprecedented hit, raking daily sales in by the thousands. By the end of 2010, Notch was able to quit his day job and live the dream of founding his own development studio, Mojang.
Coming up next: Charlie Chaplin in The Gold Rush (1925). Our next silent movie is the one that Chaplin himself consistently said was the film that he most wanted to be remembered for. Chaplin’s Tramp finds his way up north in search of gold and along the way turns up adventure and heartache. Chaplin’s films are notable for combining comedy and melodrama, a feat he first attempted at feature film length in The Kid (1921). Chaplin makes use of clear staging, body language, and facial expression to take his audience on an emotional roller coaster from laughter to teary eyed empathy. Continue Reading ›
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is considered by many to be Studio Ghibli’s first effort, even though it was made before the studio was formed. The film was animated by the studio Topcraft, because the company that hired Miyazaki and Takahata to make the film, Tokuma Shoten, didn’t own an animation studio themselves. Created with a relatively small budget of nearly $1 million, it was more of a test run for what the studio could accomplish in the future, but it still has all the staples of Ghibli’s best work and features Miyazaki’s favorite themes: a strong female character who either equals or outdoes the men, a penchant towards environmentalism, the conflict between innocence and the darkness of adulthood, and a fascination with the art of aviation and flight in general. It’s a simple yet engaging story with imaginative visuals, likable characters, and a gorgeous score by constant collaborator Joe Hisaiashi.
We’ll be taking a look at Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo from Thursday through Tuesday.
Yojimbo (用心棒 Yōjinbō) is a 1961 jidaigeki film directed by Akira Kurosawa. It tells the story of a rōnin, portrayed by Toshiro Mifune, who arrives in a small town where competing crime lords vie for supremacy. The two bosses each try to hire the newcomer as a bodyguard.
Part of what impressed Miyazaki and Suzuki in Morita’s storyboards was the characterization of protagonist Haru, who they liked because she had “a believable feel to her”. Haru manages to be very relatable, because unlike Ghibli’s more graceful female protagonists, Haru is actually an affable klutz that gives her an everyday, neighborly feel. Muta and The Baron are fun additions, as they act almost like a buddy-cop/Odd Couple duo, with The Baron’s professionalism and suave demeanor clashing with Muta’s bombastic, easy-to-outrage personality.
Starting Thursday we’ll be taking a look at Studio Ghibli’s 2002 film, The Cat Returns. Check out this essay by Christopher Runyon at moviemezzanine.com for a great take on the film.