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Thursday 21 April 2011

Is 3D Film Making Here to Stay this Time?

Werner Herzog made his beautiful and moving documentary film The Cave of Forgotten Dreams in 3D. A reader of my blog entry on the film left the following comment: “I'd be interested in your view of 3D. Is it a fad or is it here to stay?”

Predictions are always difficult to make, particularly when they are about the future. Nevertheless, this blog entry is my attempt at answering the question.

Cave of Forgotten Dreams would have been just as moving and powerful in 2 dimensions as it was in 3. 3D did not distract me, or enter my conscious awareness while I was watching the film, despite having to wear heavy tinted 3D viewing glasses.

Powerful digital infrastructures are rapidly becoming ubiquitous in urban agglomerations worldwide. Consumers can acquire equipment that allows them to tap into these infrastructures for a wealth of creative applications including entertainment. Therefore 3D is most likely here to stay this time around. Means of delivery and production of 3D films will probably develop rapidly. Once the need for wearing weird uncomfortable tinted glasses is overcome, 3D will gradually become the preferred method for presenting top of the line visual entertainment. This development is similar to the move from black and white to colour in the film-industry of the late 1940s, after Selznick's production of Gone With the Wind.

Is that a good thing?

While embracing this and other advances in technology with enthusiasm, I will miss the 2D film world. But then, I also still love the power of expression and emotion of black and white in film and still-photography; and even the unique dramatic effects of silent films like Fritz Lang's Metropolis , Sergej Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin and Chaplin's masterpieces of the silent era.

Is it not exactly the struggle of great creative minds with the restrictions or conventional rules of the medium they use for expression that renders the most wonderful and lasting works of art? I believe it is, but every new technology has its new limits and restrictions and the world is full of creative people, so most probably we need not worry. Let us just hope that new technologies will stay around long enough to allow talented film-makers the time to become bored and frustrated with their limitations. That way they'll have to come up with creative artistic ways to overcome them.

Wednesday 13 April 2011

Cave of Forgotten Dreams, directed by Werner Herzog, Documentary Film, 4.5* out of 5

The subject of this documentary is the Chauvet Cave in the Ard├Ęche region of France. The cave is named after one of the speleologists who discovered it in 1995. It is closed to the public. The reason for this is to protect its contents, the remnants of animals and the artefacts of humans who lived about 35000 and 25000 years ago. Of these remnants none are more marvellous than the cave paintings.

In order to make this film, Werner Herzog and his team received unprecedented access to the caves and to the multidisciplinary team of researchers who are only too aware of their luck and privilege to be allowed to work on this unique treasure trove of art, archaeology and more. The film is presented in 3D. It shows us the cave and its setting with a plasticity that helps the viewer experience a unique insight into mankind's very distant past.

What makes this film great is its subject. The documentary-maker and the filming does not get in its way. On the contrary, he manages to present it and the professional and personal thoughts of the scientists working in the cave in a very straightforward manner. What makes this film deeply moving and gives it a long after burn effect is seeing the paintings of the animals and of the one human being depicted in the cave. Even if, like me, one has only a very rudimentary understanding of painting, sculpture and art history, seeing these cave paintings touches one deeply. Looking at the horses, bison, rhinoceroses drawn by human beings about 35000 and 25000 years ago, I had to revise my idea that humans then were primitive. The paintings reminded me of drawings I had seen by Pablo Picasso and Marc Chagall in the 20th century. Yet, human beings living tens of thousands of years ago as hunter gatherers were capable of producing cultural artefacts with apparently the same sensitivity and degree of imagination. These people in their thinking and looking at the world were clearly much closer to us in their complexity and creativity than I had thought.

The only weakness of this film is a superfluous preaching epilogue that spoils the last 5 minutes. The strength of Herzog's film is that it unearths interesting facts, gives us context and emotion and beautiful pictures of a unique subject full of beauty and humanity. See this film – its beautiful and haunting images will stay with you.

Friday 1 April 2011

Norwegian Wood, directed by An Hung Tranh based on the novel by Haruko Murakami, film (Drama/Romance), Japan, 3.75 * out of 5

The story follows the friendships and love life of its protagonist Toru Watanabe (Kenichi Matsuyama) as a teenager and later as a student at Tokyo University. The period of his studies falls into 1968 when as in many capitals in Europe the students in Tokyo rise up against their government and figures of authority. The student revolt however is only the backdrop to the story that concentrates on Watanabe's relationship with the women in his life. In his school days his close friends are a couple are Kizuki and Naoko (Rinko Kikuchi). They are childhood sweethearts that spend every minute of their free time together. At 17 Kizuki commits suicide for no apparent reason. As Naoko tries to get over Kizuki's death Toru and Naoko become ever closer. But Naoko finds it impossible to cope and goes to a sanatorium in the forest. Toru Watanabe meets Midori (Kiko Mizuhara) at university an outgoing self confident girl, a greater contrast to the sensitive, shy Naoko can hardly be imagined.

Norwegian Wood is an interesting beautifully photographed and directed film. Toru Watanabe is quite credible as the somewhat, withdrawn good looking student who attracts interesting women and is sexually confident in his emotionally quite taxing relationships. Excellent acting performance also from the other members of the cast.

The film is based on Haruko Murakami's 1987 cult novel of the same title. The original Japanese Title “Noruwei no Mori” would translate as Norwegian Forest. This is contrast to the meaning of Wood in the Beatles Song Norwegian Wood, which refers to furniture made of wood. The song is a favourite song of Naoko's and much of the important action in the novel plays in the beautiful forests in Japan, so the double meaning of “wood” in its title is quite appropriate.

Norwegian Wood is an interesting, challenging and beautiful film.