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Be quiet the doctor's wife said gently, let's all keep quiet, there are times when words serve no purpose, if only I, too, could weep, say everything with tears, not have to speak in order to be understood.

José Saramago


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Monday, January 18th, 2010

Opening shot

I'm finding myself annoyed and puzzled by a bit of subtitling at the beginning of Heimat. Long, beautiful tracking shot without dialog (is this a German thing originally, or is it borrowed from Westerns?*) -- the young man is walking home from war to his village -- and then the view switches to a young woman in the village looking out the window, seeing him come, and says to an older woman, exactly what I'm not completely sure but it sure sounds like, "Ist das niemals Paul?" -- I don't know this idiom but it sure sounds like it would mean something like "Hey, isn't that Paul?" and not, as the subtitlists assure us, "Isn't that Paul Simon?" Why give us this bit of information, that the characters last name is Simon? This is going to be important certainly but there's no reason to cast it in there... And of course it is distracting because of the name being what it is. It seems like very frequently in the first half hour or so, somebody will say "Paul" and it will be subtitled with his family name.

Aargh, never mind, what the characters are saying is of course "der Simons Paul" -- the subtitles were doing the right thing if I would only let them work.

* Well according to Alan Bracchus, the technique has been around as long as the medium of film; but he says "perhaps the first true, universally-accepted ‘long tracking shot’ is Orson Welles’ opening shot in Touch of Evil (1958)." I guess I am associating this technique with German directors because I've watched a lot of German movies lately.

posted evening of January 18th, 2010: Respond
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Gorgeous


Another image from Heimat is making me wish I could find some stills and clips from this movie online; but no luck. The opening shot of Paul has been all in black-and-white; as he reaches his parents' farm he looks in the window of the barn where his father is working at the forge; its interior is shot in color but you don't notice this at first because it is dark -- the camera pans to the bar of iron that Herr Simon is hammering and its orange glow just fills the screen. And just as quickly pans/shifts back to outside and black-and-white. (The gruff, happy interaction between father and son in the next scene is pretty affecting stuff also.)

Update: Found a couple of stills.

posted evening of January 18th, 2010: Respond
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Thursday, March 18th, 2010

Heimat: a chronicle of emigration

At the beginning of every episode of Heimat: eine deutsche Chronik, before the titles (every episode so far, excluding the first -- I'm watching the fifth now) there is a short piece of narration in English while the camera pans over a set of old photographs of the characters in Schabbach. This was kind of jarring to me at first -- it is not explained, the narrator still has not been identified. The only character who has emigrated to the U.S. is Paul, and the narrator refers to Paul in the third person... Looking at the screenplay I see the narrator identified as Glasisch, who (I believe) is still in Schabbach at the present moment, 1938 or so. This is (assuming I haven't missed some key bit of exposition) a pretty complex piece of plotting -- the viewer knows Glasisch as a character, and knows the narrator as a Schabbacher who has emigrated, but does not know they are the same. Presumably that will be revealed at some point.

Update: At the beginning of episode 8, the narrator says "The war memorial was unveiled in 1920. I was there -- there I am, that's me!" as he points to a picture of Glasisch.

posted evening of March 18th, 2010: Respond

Friday, November 26th, 2010

Camerawork in Hernán Rivera Letelier's prose

One key distinction to be made between El arte de la resurrección and a Bruegel painting, of course, is the direction, the cinematic quality of the former. If I stand looking at "The Battle between Carnival and Lent" it keeps me engaged, keeps my gaze shifting; but I am "directing" the movie by moving my gaze. Whereas here, there is clearly a cameraman showing us where to focus and what to move to the periphery. Check out this beautiful pan from the plaza to in front of the union hall, from chapter 7 -- reminds me a little of the opening shot from Heimat. The striking workers in La Piojo are waiting for their lunch, in front of the union hall:

Even from a distance one could see that chaos reigned, everything in a rambunctious disarray: a few kids, stick in hand, trying to keep at a distance the group of stray dogs that had assembled, attracted by the aroma of food, while a few well-built gaucho types were greasy with sweat, gathering and splitting wood for the fire; the group of women inside was sweating too, in their aprons cut from canvas flour sacks, their cheeks smudged with soot, they were ladling out dishes of the hot, steaming stew to the tight line of men, women, children who held out their chipped dishes, their faces long with hunger. The menu, like every day's, was a generous helping of chili beans -- one day with crushed maize, one day with peppers, which cooked on the other fire, smoking under a black skillet, seasoned with a colorful bloom of paprika.
The camera starts out away from the action, across the plaza; gradually it zooms in on the kids keeping away the stray dogs, then pans to men cutting wood (in my mental picture of this scene, the men are sort of behind the kids (vis-a-vis the pov) and a bit toward the union hall, the camera is moving across the plaza and a bit to the right) and then (continuing to the right, and swinging around) to the women cooking and to the people waiting; and the last word of the sentence is "hunger"! Then we linger lovingly on the food that's cooking, the centerpiece of this scene. (This and a passage a little later on when Christ is eating are beautiful food writing I must say -- this Rivera Letelier is extremely versatile.)

posted afternoon of November 26th, 2010: Respond
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