All posts by George Bell

What does a score/soundtrack really do?

Over the past few years I have become exceedingly fascinated with the role that music plays in film, and how a movie’s soundtrack can, in many ways, serve as the highlight to the project as a whole. I was inspired recently to talk about this after I re-watched Dazed and Confised (Linklater 1992). If you have never taken the time to analyze how each iconic song in the movie correlates with teenage life and a specific scene that takes place, a really encourage you to do so. Linklater is known for being very masterful when it comes to depicting human emotion and the evolution of the individual, and in many ways this talent is shown through his song choice in Dazed and Confused. By choosing music with a specific angsty side to it, Linkater was able to capture the mood of young teenagers and departing seniors in a well thought out coming of age story that encompassed freshman to senior year of high school. While this is just a small snip it of what music can do for a film, one of the more prominent examples in recent film history is that of Hans Zimmer’s influence on the film industry. After doing much of Christopher Nolan’s film scores, Hans Zimmer has quickly solidified himself as one of the music greats in cinematic history due to his ability to correlate on screen images with sometimes ominous and beautiful orchestral pieces. Whether it is the use of preconceived songs(soundtrack) or an original score, since the outbreak of sound in film, music in cinema has taken on a central role in movie production and has come to serve as one of the determinant’s to a film’s overall quality and effectiveness.



Red Army

As our documentary segment has finally come to a close I have been thinking recently about what aspects actually make a documentary “successful” and whether or not the story and topics covered in a documentary are the true reason they succeed. So, I decided to research the top documentaries on Rotten Tomatoes and other sites, which actually proved to be an eye opener. I was expecting to find political and social issues at the top of this list, but quite the contrary I discovered that the range of topics tackled in each of the top 50 documentaries varied greatly. For example, the number documentary I found was Man on Wire, which follows the story of Philippe Petit, the man who crossed the twin towers on a tight rope. So, after I looked at a few more of these most critically praised documentaries and their reviews I began to realize that it is not the actual topic discussed in the film that makes them so compelling but rather the way in which they are filmed and mapped out, much the same as any other film genre. It kind of made me realize that documentary film making relies just as much on camera work, editing, and musical scores, as it does the actual story that is portrayed. So, with this in mind, I began to think, are documentaries actually made to solely be informative or do they exist as just another form of cinematic entertainment. In many ways I would guess both, but the question is really interesting because usually we assume that documentaries exist as a way to inform us about an issue rather than entertain us, but in reality entertainment is their main goal; As if a documentary is not entertaining, an audience will not watch it long enough to understand its message. With that said, I thought it might be cool to show a trailer of a recently released documentary that I saw a preview for in theaters, and how the way in which the trailer is shot and edited was the main thing that drew me to watching it rather than the issue that it surrounds.



Trailers, how you get hooked

As this was touched upon in one of the presentations a few days ago, I thought it would be cool to once again touch upon just how great of an impact a trailer can have on the success of a movie. So, I thought a bit about the many movie trailers that I have seen in the past and distinctly remember two that always stood out in my mind. The first of these movies was Cloverfield. If any of you have never seen the movie, it is a rather sub-par gigantic monster flick and raked in a fair amount at the box office. However, in many ways the success it experienced at the box office may have been greatly due to how well crafted its trailer was. Very understated, the whole trailer was very simple and did not reveal much of the plot at all, however it generated interest in its audiences almost solely by the use of  a cliffhanger. I remember watching the trailer and how eager I was to watch the movie after it failed to show the giant monster whose existence was merely implied in the 1 minute and 50 second trailer. However, even though the movie offered an entertaining thrill ride, I was ultimately let down due to myself falling victim to its well crafted trailer.

On the other hand you can also have a movie like Drive, whose trailer  so poorly represented the true style of the film that I was initially repulsed by the film before I even saw it, and did not end up watching the film till a year after its release. If you have not seen Drive, it is a must see, and please, don’t judge the movie by its trailer


Here are the trailers for both movies:



The Hateful Eight and The Auteur Theory

So, last night I just rewatched Inglourious Basterds for the first time in about two years, and as I love that movie, it prompted me to look up any news on Tarantino’s new movie The Hateful Eight. Not surprisingly it is another western that follows eight skillful gun men/women as they are trapped in some sort of snowy frontier. Although not much is truly known about the project yet, much about it is already known solely by the fact that it is directed by Tarantino. Auteur theory has been a fairly prevalent aspect of big budget American cinema for the past few decades, and slowly it has turned the process of garnering attention for movies from being about the film itself, to relying on the director’s notoriety to bring in money. Yes, there is nothing wring with a successful and talented director gaining praise for his works, but this gradually has become a perpetuation and thus has diminished opportunity for new directors to jump onto the scene. If you are shown two trailers and given the choice to pick one movie or the other to watch, your opinion is based solely on the interest the trailer evoked in you. However, if you are then told one trailer is by Scorcese and the other by a relatively unknown  director, chances are you will choose the Scorcese film to watch, regardless of the trailers. My favorite example of this is how M. Night Shyamalan has continued to produce big budget movies and bring in money, even though his past five films have been terribly received. So why do his films keep getting big budgets and continue to see at least some box office success? People remember Shyamalan’s old films like The Sixth Sense and thus go into his more recent films believing they will be just as good as his previous ones, when in reality they are not. So, in many ways it is a double edged sword that somehow should be better understood, and viewers must realize that we cannot watch a film or believe that it is automatically a masterpiece solely by who it is directed by, but rather we must make truly informed decisions based on the film itself.

Special Effects in Interstellar

If any of you have not yet seen Interstellar, let me start by strongly encouraging you all to watch the film. Although our film class covered much ground I thought one area in which we didn’t look at enough was the use of special effects in movies and just how much time is put into making props and characters. Without spoiling the movie I will tell you that possibly one of the most interesting special effects components of a film that I have seen in recent years is how the e-marine robots, TARS, CASE, and KIPP, were constructed and implemented into Interstellar.  So I thought instead of explaining it via a boring account in text, I could show you the actual behind the scenes footage of how this feat was accomplished. Sadly the youtube video was deleted, but it is still up on dailymotion






Films… That aren’t from Hollywood

Since in our last class we spent a fair amount of time discussing the concept of “world cinema” and how this classification is in some ways a little flawed. Personally, I believe that too often people overlook films because they are in another language, or are stylistically different from the traditional American Cinema, and that this not only causes many to miss out on some truly fantastic movies, but it also hinders the development of a greater knowledge of film. Therefore, I thought it would be a good idea to share a few of my favorite films that are not American Cinema.

Memories of Murder(Bong Joon-Ho): This movie is a product of the South Korean film industry, which, if you didn’t know, churns out some pretty fantastic movies that are often under-appreciated. The movie is a crime/drama based on a true police case that took place a few years before the films production.  Even though comical and goofy at times, the majority of the film is overshadowed by morbidity and hopelessness.

Seven Samurai(Akira Kurosawa): No doubt you’ve probably heard of this film, or Kurosawa. Seven Samurai is one of the most prominent epics in film history and is regarded as a classic.

Caché(Michael Haneke): A French thriller I saw a few years ago that caught me pretty off guard as it is a slow moving movie that gradually begins to disturb you, unlike conventional thrillers that always appear to rely on quick pacing.

Akira(Katsuhiro Otomo):  Possibly the most famous anime ever conceived, it is a truly gruesome and shocking film about a dystopian Tokyo and offers much insight into the production of WMDs.


Let The Right One In

Spirited Away

City of God 

Pan’s Labyrinth 


Color and Belonging in Persepolis

After our class screening of Persepolis last night I was still a little perplexed as to what the use of color in the film really might have been meant to convey, other than differentiating between past and present. So, after looking online for a bit, and reading a few articles about the movie I was able to glean enough information to form a theory as to what else this use of color was attempting to convey.

Throughout the movie Marjane is seen to frequently be in conflict with herself, her surroundings, and most noticeably, the people around her. Much of this stems from her disruptive and war torn childhood, which had forced her to move away from her family at the age of thirteen, sparking a long lasting sense of loneliness, guilt, and confusion within her. Even when finally returning to home Marjane was unable to completely adapt back into her old society as she still could not identify fully with her peers, as her time in Vienna was drastically different from what they had experienced back home. While the film progresses onward, these emotions continue and it seems as though Marjane’s life does not really appear to improve. When Marjane finally comes to terms with the fact that she is unhappy with her life in Tehran, her parents  tell her she must move out of Iran and find a place where she is actually free to express herself, and thus live her how she sees fit. Although this ends the film at a somber note and it is clear Marjane is sad to leave her family behind, maybe this implies that Marjane is finally leaving her difficult past behind her and has come to terms with who she is and what she really wants out of life.

Therefore, by the director using color during the present, and black and white during the past, he is able to more effectively convey Marjane’s emotional maturity, and that her life may finally change for the better.



As an avid fan of Neo-Noir films, and seeing as we just watched Chinatown(Polanski, 74), I thought it would make sense to make a post about the genre. Like film noir, Neo-Noir is frequently characterized by its dim lighting and overall dramatic visual style, which are both used to give the films their traditionally dramatic tones. However, unlike film noir, Neo-Noir is filmed in color rather than black and white. So how does a film actually get classified as Neo-Noir? It is kind of hazy, but basically the films almost always feature some type of mystery/detective type of story, while boding dark and distinctly somber lighting. For example, take this scene from Drive: (There is some Graphic Violence)

It uses low-key lighting to emphasize the shadows on each character’s face to not only highlight the intimacy of the moment between the two, but also add a solemn tone to it as well.

While this may not be characteristic of all Neo-Noir films, it truly does get to the essence of what the movies are all about, dramatization and intimacy.


Vocabulary of Film and Why Learning A New Language is Always Great

When we were talking in class a few days ago about how over the many years that American cinema has existed,  a certain “vocabulary” for watching film has slowly materialized, I began to wonder if there were any films I knew of that ever purposely attempted to deviate from using this traditional “American cinema vocabulary”. After thinking for a bit I started coming up with a few movies that, in my opinion, would fit this mold. Right off the bat I was able to think of three, intrinsically different, but equally wonderful movies. The first, which is perhaps one of my favorite movies, is Upstream Color ( Carruth, 2013), a movie that requires you to think and analyze each individual scene in order to truly understand what is going on in the film. The second is one of Terrence Mallick’s more recent releases from 2011, Tree of Life, which is a visually stunning masterpiece. While the third is an eerie science fiction film, Under The Skin (Glazer, 2013), in which Scarlett Johansson plays an alien disguised as a human that preys on men.

So when going through each aspect of these movies that I thought might set them apart from more traditional American cinema, I began to understand why many may be put off by these films. Unlike in the majority of American movies where dialogue is abundant and frequently used to keep the audience up to date on what is happening in the plot, these films rely greatly on subtle visual cues and scene sequencing to keep the viewer up to date. Now, it is not surprising that this proves distasteful and bland to the average moviegoer, why wouldn’t it? It’s always frustrating to learn a new language, even more so to try and effectively follow a story in one. In many ways, watching a new style of cinema is very similar to this.

When I first watched The Tree of Life, I had a very difficult time understanding the ideas each shot was attempting to convey. The first 50 minutes of the movie felt more like a chore than entertainment. However, about a little more than halfway through the movie I began picking up on more subtle suggestions that certain scenes would make, rather than trying to look to what the characters were saying for guidance. This is perhaps when I first started learning a “cinematic language” unlike the one I was used to, and just like learning a new language, it was very rewarding.

Sadly, like some of my friends, many people never give these movies enough of a chance, and thus miss out on a fantastic experience. This is usually due to them thinking the film is too boring, or has no point, when in reality it is frequently the opposite. That is why I personally think it is always necessary to be open-minded anytime you watch a movie and exceedingly hesitant to dismiss one just because its style is different than what you may be accustomed to.

I strongly implore you guys to check out these movies, especially Upstream Color and Tree of Life.

Just to note: Carruth was the director, writer, cinematographer, composer, lead actor, producer, and editor of Upstream Color, which means he’s a boss.

Cinematography of Amelie

While watching the beginning of Amelie(Jeunet, 2001) I was quite intrigued by the cinematography of the film as it slightly reminded me of something by Wes Anderson. However, even though the overall saturation and warmth of the film seemed similar to something like Moonrise Kingdom, the style in which it was shot was much different than anything I have seen before. Probably the most distinct aspect of this “style” is how frequently cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel shot close ups. So, after gaining some interest in this I decided to do some research on the cameras used to shoot the film. So, I found that Delbonnel used both a  Kodak Vision 250D 5246 and Vision 320T 5277 when filming, and while the majority of the warmth and saturated look was added in digitally, an  81EF filter was occasionally used during day shots. What impressed me the most though was discovering that before shooting close ups of any character Delbonnel and Jeunet actually experimented with a variety of lenses to see which corresponded best with each character’s facial features. Jeunet also chose to film the majority of Amelie with a wide angle lens so as to allow for the majority of  the background to remain in focus, and thus give the viewer a better look at each one of his beautifully made sets. Overall, I thought these two aspects of the cinematography in the film, using different lenses for close ups and using a wide lens to keep the background in focus, provided Amelie with much more subtle charm than it would have had if Jeunet and Delbonnel had shot it differently.