Friday, 11 December 2009

Film: How to Enhance the Filmic Experience (without resorting to 3D)

Hypothetical Situation #1: I've won the Euro Lottery and built a specialist cinema.

Hypothetical Situation #2: You are in my specialist cinema.


You're in my cinema and the film ends - the credits have arrived. But do not stand up; that's sacrilege. Instead, stay with the film. You're in my cinema and you must abide by my rules because I have a special surprise install for you, one that will enhance your overall viewing experience. So stay seated, calm and follow the instructions...

What happens next depends on what the film was. But one way or another, whether you are ushered through an alternative door or given a cryptic puzzle to solve, the filmic experience will transcend the silver screen and seep into your reality.

My reason for this is: I believe the filmic experience should not end as soon as the credits arrive; at this point the viewer is in a meditative, mildly hypnotic state. It takes a little while to adjust to reality after a film. How many times have you left the cinema and a felt little bit disorientated? Took a left turn instead of a right turn after leaving the cinema? Or been struck by the brightness of the outside world?

I want to exploit that state of mind by extending and externalising the filmic experience. For example, imagine the end of a screening of Don’t Look Now (1973), if it was compulsory to exit through another door that leads down a series of mock Venetian alleyways while a midget in a red raincoat darts hither and thither? Or imagine after a Saw movie the doors are shut, then Jigsaw comes up on the cinema screen and gives the audience a conundrum they have to solve before they can retrieve the key that will lead to their escape.

The closest I've heard anything coming close to this idea is theatre company Rumdrunk's It Felt Like a Kiss, where, the audience watches a 54 minute, hard hitting Adam Curtis documentary about the collapse of the American dream and terror spreading throughout the planet; after wich they are ushered through a series of eerie rooms and claustrophobic passageways.

If this can be done theatrically there is no reason why it can't be cinematically, too. With this is mind I'm off to Ladbrookes.

Oh, and Hypotheical Situation #3: Your mobile phone goes off in my specialist cinema.

Consequence: You will not see the phone in one piece again!

Film: 3D vs The Percepto

Cinemas around the country are adapting to 3D. But I think championing 3D is misguided (with the exception of animation films).

In the early 50’s there was a wave of 3D films in Hollywood then it fizzled out as quickly as it began. The same happened with the next wave, does anybody remember flocking to see Jaws 3D, Amityville 3D, Friday the 13th III 3D. More recently there’s been My Bloody Valentine 3D and The Final Destination 3D, not really a cause celebre.

As an alternative, filmmakers should resurrect horror movie maestro William Castle’s method of eliciting an immediate and physical response from his audience via an invention called the Percepto.

The Percepto was an electric buzzer that was wired to seats. At the appropriate moment in a film specially tailored for the Percepto (The Tingler (1958)), some of the audience received mild electric shocks.

Imagine doing the same to a modern audience, either tailoring a film for those exact effects, or create similar effects around existing films.

3D will fizzle out again, it's in its nature. As for the Percepto, its return is long overdue.

[This is an edited version. The unedited version can be found at]

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Film: Our Mind's Movie Library

Sometimes we read a special passage that makes an instant, indelible imprint on our mind; the content sinks in and we remember it forever.

One such piece of writing for me is an article in Sight and Sound (Nov, 1993) in which the novelist, filmmaker and one-time film editor at Time Out, Chris Petit, ‘raids the movie library inside his head’.

The article is a stream of consciousness trail from one random movie memory to another. Whether or not I am familiar with the films, filmmakers, actors or theories he references does not lessen the impact of the piece; this is an enthralling meditation on movies and memory that reveals how we all contain reels of film stored in the archive that inhabits our mind, and with as little as a flick of a switch, we can project these magic moments once again.

Here is an extract from Petit's article:
‘… Clint Eastwood’s chipped tooth. Genevieve Bujold’s eyes. The tree-house in Swiss Family Robinson. The eaves of the attic room where Robert Mitchum kills Shelley Winters in Night of the Hunter. Bad early Jack Nicholson performances. Bresson’s note about the ejaculatory force of the eye. Jeanne Moreau’s shoes in Diary of a Chambermaid. The last walk in The Wild Bunch…’

There are about 200 of these memories and observations in the article. From the extract above, I could picture the tree-house, the eaves, the last walk, the shoes and some Roger Corman era poor Nicholson performances. But I had not seen Eastwood’s chipped tooth or Bujold’s eyes and sure enough, as soon as I watched Tightrope I was looking for that chipped tooth; and when I watched Dead Ringers I was entranced by Bujold’s glaring eyes.

For some reason though, there are two passages elsewhere in the article that always stuck with me: ‘the way Lee Marvin holds a gun’ and ‘the fact that films don’t say The End any more.’ These observations, both esoteric and astute respectively, reveal not only a lot about the author's passionate observation of film but also how film is a collective experience from which we each derive a very personal response: For Petit it is the eaves in The Night of the Hunter; for me it's Shelley Winters sitting in her car under the water, her hair flowing like reeds, I remember most vividly.

It's the power the image has to reach into us and remain inside us that fascinates me. Sometimes we cherish it like a close friend, sometimes we resent its intrusion, and during the course of a film, who knows when those moments may occur, or what they maybe.

And the question still stands: When did films stop saying The End (or Fin) and why?

[This is an edited version. The uncut version can be found at]

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

On Writing #5: A Journalistic Alter Ego

I’m not a trained journalist but yesterday I had to step into a journalist’s shoes and interview somebody for a magazine article I am writing.

The article is about people with fibromyalgia who have had their benefits withheld having fallen foul of the government's latest scheme to catch benefit fraudsters.

To the supermarket cafe where I was to meet my first interviewee, I took an archaic Dictaphone, a notepad and a pen. I tried to project a proficient journalistic facade, harbouring the virtuosity of Woodward and Bernstein but that was dashed immediately: I approached the wrong lady; I was feeling lucky and thought I would take a punt, after all she both resembled the description I had been given and was giving me the proverbial eye - she confused me.

So I sensibly decided to just be myself and phoned my interviewee. She was only a few feet away (and several years younger than the woman I had just mistakenly accosted) waving at me - nice start.

Anyhow, the harmless blunder did well to break the ice and the interview went well, although the audio on the Dictaphone is hard to hear at times, partly due to a child nearby that occasionally screams and at one point, came right over and started fiddling with my interviewee’s handbag!

The article is in its early stages; however, I will be charting its progress in following blog posts.

Film: Fantastic Fabrications vs Real Reality

A few days ago I watched William Friedkin's Sorcerer (1977). One thing struck me most: it was a refreshing reminder of what witnessing a 'real' movie stunt feels like; a spectre that is seldom seen in modern cinema. This led me to conclude that the impressiveness of what can be achieved by the ingenuity of computers will never match the effectiveness of the ‘real’ stunt.

One particular moment in Sorcerer convinced me of the superiority of the 'real' over CGI's fantastic fabrications. In a tense scene lasting 8 minutes, filmed in a jungle during a violent tropical storm, a batch of huge trucks carrying nitro-glycerine drive over a weak wood-and-rope bridge that hangs precariously a foot or two above a raging, swollen river. Everything is real: real trucks, real bridge, real river and a real tropical storm.

What’s also impressive is, instead of stunt drivers and studio based close ups, the late Roy Scheider - among some other established actors - is driving one of the trucks. It's unbelievable. You just don't see that nowadays - unless you count Jackie Chan.

Now compare the truck-over-the-bridge scene in Sorcerer to a scene in X Men Origins: Wolverine (2009). The climactic fight scene revolves around three characters fighting on top of a colossal chimney that's in the process of collapsing. It is an impressive spectacle, no doubt, but CGI is by its very nature fake, so it maybe great to look at but it fails to reach the level of what it would have been like if Liev Schreiber, Hugh Jackman and the other guy were really on top of a collapsing chimney.

The problem is we know all too well from behind-the-scenes extras on DVDs that they were probably safely tucked up in studio at room temp, against a green screen with props and runners serving their every need. This makes it harder to suspend belief and easier to acknowledge that the reality of X Men is a lame shame compared to Sorcerer's 'real' relentless ambition.

My point basically is, if a film really wants to impress and awe an audience, bigger special effects won’t work as effectively as a real stunt. Such stunts were in films much more often a few decades ago, think about the Smokey and the Bandit (1977-83) and Cannonball Run (1981-89) trilogies for example. And when such stunts are done these days there's a fuss, as if it's something new. A recent example of this would be the hype that surrounded Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof (2007). It was refreshing (and breathtaking) to see a dangerous stunt where a lady was crawling on a bonnet of a car travelling above the speed limit once again on the screen. Bravo!

[This is an edited version. The unedited version can be found at]

[The bridge sequence can be found at]

Monday, 7 December 2009

On Writing #4: The stream of unconscious

In the summer of 98, I experienced a strange writing-related incident when I was working on a play entitled the Paper House.

The basic plot of The Paper House is: a couple with marital and medicinal problems are in their bedroom preparing for their vacation when they're interrupted by a young burglar who, it turns out, the husband had arranged to rob their house (but the burglar arrived one day too early). What happens next is a mock-courtroom set-up in the bedroom where the husband and wife battle against each other, their secrets and weaknesses are exposed, while the befuddled burglar has become an unwitting juror/hostage.

I wrote The Paper House with Edward Albee's Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf in mind.

When I finished my first draft I printed off two copies and got my parents to read it out - I played the befuddled burglar. To my embarrassment I realised that the two 'characters' where caricatures of my mother and father, revealing what were to my mind their worst aspects. I wanted to stop the read-through, but carried on.

It was very strange watching this happen before me; first to see my parents reading it out aloud not realising what I had done, that was bizarre enough; second, recognizing how this play came directly out of my unconscious - it did come very naturally.

This incident demonstrated how cathartic writing can be, how everyday experiences can filter into writing, sometimes explicitly, othertimes unconsciously.

On Writing #3: A Tense Situation

As part of my first MA project I wrote an article for a magazine. The article was about my mother’s long term illness. Writing it was harder than I expected. Condensing 12 years worth of events into roughly 1200 words was a challenge in itself, but the hardest moment was when I handed it to my mother to read.

Before I began to write the article I talked to my mother about it, partly to refresh my memory, mainly to have her consent to continue. Once I had her consent and enough of a refresh to write about her illness it dawned on me that squeezing everything I wanted to write about into 1200 words (about 3 pages) was quite a chore. My main concern was that the condensation would trivialise my mother’s illness and fail to fully capture its nature.

After editing my first draft down to the bone, I took the second draft of the article to my mother and sat next to her while she read it. As she read I realised how tense I was; my right hand was firmly grabbing my left wrist. Even my mother's odd chuckle did'nt relieve the tenseness I felt. It was weird. My previous scribblings have been read by family, friends, tutors, judges, examiners and strangers, and I'd never felt this tense before.

Could it be because the article is the most personally important piece of writing I've ever done?

Fortunately when she finished reading it her verdict was a double thumbs up. It turned out to be theraputic for both of us.

Now the article may be published in February, I hope all those that read it who have the same or similar illness to my mother, will equally enjoy it.

On Writing #2: The Domain Name Game

For part of my MA course I have to create a website to market myself as a freelance writer. This task led to a dilemma: for the domain name, do I use my name or create a name?

I have been playing ping-pong with a barrage of ideas for a while. I want something fresh and simple; a name that is at once self-referential and suitably indicative of the kind of workmanship that’s up for hire; a name that twinkles and gives a knowing wink while projecting seriousness and professionalism. That said, some ideas have been unbelievably corny, but that's the nature of an inhibited brainstorm: there is no self-censorship, so some self-esteem-knocking howlers are expected to filter through - that, on the positive side, makes the better ideas seem better.

Below are some remnants of the dilemma induced brainstorm (Hurricane Andy). As you may notice, it turns into a Cyrano de Bergerac/Roxanne type routine.

Option (1) Variables of my name (My full name is Andrew Duncan Wright. When I was a teenager I became Andy. I’m also known as Wrighty)


Option (2) Setting myself up as a writer more explicitly


Option (3) Something completely different

Modest – www.writingsolutionsforyou/
Modern & Modest – www.writingsolutions4u/
Direct - www.andywrightfrelancewriter/, andyfreelancewright
Direct with a touch of Moulin Rouge - www.andyduncancanwriteforyou/
Brash Confidence – www.stealthpen, www.heavensentsolutions
Wordy - www.writing-quandaries-quibbled
Arrogant - www.thegreatestsolutionsever, www.bestsiteintheworld/, www.grabyourcoatyouvepulled/
Exploitative - www.google2, www.stephenfri/, www.wrightstuff/

After a spell of deliberation, I made a decision and - as is always the case - whittled back to my first, most obvious idea: my name!

However, depending on how I evolve over the next few months, the domain name may have to change.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

YouTube's Dark Side


In light of the controversy over the doctored image of Michelle Obama appearing prioritised on Google’s search engine, I would like to dwell on the immoral lack of responsibility of YouTube, the immensely popular video sharing website that, since 2006, has been owned by Google.

YouTube is a phenomenon, there’s no doubt about it. On the site there are millions of uploaded videos that range from footage of the most important historical events of the last 100 years, to the most mind numbingly mundane non-events of the last minute. But the problem is: it uploads whatever is posted, and some are genuinely disturbing.

There are scenes of extreme violence, mutilations, wounds, suicides and fatal accidents. What’s more disturbing than the content is the accessibility of such material. Due to the graphic nature of some videos, a password is required, but anybody can lie about their age on the sign-up form. To think that there are young children and teenagers who have open access to this material is frightening.

To highlight the popularity of such morbid videos here are a few examples:

Sadam Hausen being hanged to death - 2,209,596 views

Fatal diving accident - 6,258,500 views

It is not unusual for other footage that includes graphic accidents and suicides to reach more than a million hits.

There are many video compilations on YouTube. Some are a montage of vehicle crashes. Quite often the compilation may be labelled as ‘funny crash bloopers’, yet amongst the edited footage there are fatal accidents where victims are flung from their vehicles, or knocked down. Sometimes there is an inappropriate soundtrack added. I wonder in horror how the relatives of the victims would react if they knew that their loved one's final moments were being watched all over the world, time and time again.

In the 80’s when only VHS was available, if any film contained a real death it would have been banned, instantly. Now, in 2009, scenes of death can be accessed instantly. And there is nobody out there to stop it.

In 2007 there was a Panorama investigation into mobile phone footage of bullying, fights and happy slapping finding its way onto YouTube and being viewed multiple times. When a controller was asked what would be done with such footage he basically held is hands up and admitted that he will do nothing. And so it continues. The link below will take you to a press release for the aforementioned Panorama programme.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

On Writing #1: The Writer vs The Editor

Whenever I’ve read a work of fiction, I’ve naturally assumed, perhaps naively so, that the content was entirely decided upon by the author. I never considered the work of the editor nor the extent of their influence. That was until I read The Final Cut, Sarah Churchwell’s revealing article in the Guardian’s 24/10/09 Review supplement.

In the article Churchwell illustrates the influence editors have had over literary giants such as Raymond Carver, Ernest Hemmingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. For me, the article was a shocking revelation; editors not only advise but also rewrite, sometimes making huge decisions on the author’s behalf? Inevitably I was led to the question: how much is the author the author?

During the 70’s, Raymond Carver was a respected writer, having written the well-received Will You Be Quiet, Please? (1976), but far from famous. Then he wrote the collection of short stories, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love (1980), which received massive critical recognition. The collection was noted for its laconic and ‘minimalist’ style, a style that was labelled ‘Carveresque’. This distinct writing style was not so much created by Carver but by his editor, Gordon Lish. It could therefore be said that Lish had, in effect, ‘made Carver’s reputation’.

When Lish was handed the manuscript for What We Talk About When We Talk About Love he proceeded to edit, after he finished he had altered Carver’s original book’s title (Beginners), the characters’ names, the chapter titles and even the nature of the stories. Churchill writes:

‘… Lish not only made the stories much shorter: he also made them more elliptical, more open-ended, darker, more violent and callous, more working class and less overtly intellectual… changing their tone and overall attitude to women.’

I never realised editors had the power to take such liberties. I assumed the brave or ruthless editorial actions Lish took would scorn the author’s credibility and breach the extent to which editors can contribute to an author's work. I was clearly wrong, or maybe the Carver and Lish relationship was unusual. To me it seems that their collaborative relationship was so intermingled that the editor should be credited as much as the author, otherwise is that not a doing a disservice to the editor and fooling the reader?

After reading Churchwell’s article I went to my own shelf of books and rifled through a dozen or so, searching for the names of credited editors. I could not find one. So who knows who made the final decision of the final piece? Has the content been toned down? Who is responsible for the quality of the writing? How much have the author's original intentions been swayed by those of their editor?

Ironically the closest I came to finding an editor was in Raymond Carver’s Short Cuts (1993), a collection of 9 stories from What We Talk About When We Talk About Love that inspired Robert Altman's film of the same name. The copyright goes to Tess Gallagher, Carver’s wife who has recently restored Carver’s original, un-Lished, version of What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, restoring even its title, Beginners (which now is 229 pages long, over 80 pages longer than before).

Afterthought........ Comparatively, in other works of art, for example painting, I wonder what it would have been like if there was an editorial artist who finished some of Dali's surreal landscapes, adding tones where they had consider it missing.

The editors of films are credited and well acknowledged. However, the real editors who notoriously use their power to cut are the producers and studio executives. But which one is superior: the director’s cut or the studio cut? The author’s vision or the populist package? Would you rather see Sergio Leone’s 229 minute cut of Once Upon A Time In America (1984) or the studio version which runs at 144 mintes?

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Consumer Echoes and Tom Waits

There are some songs that suit the usual lead up to Christmas that were not explicitly created to capitalise on that period; what these songs do instead is perfectly encapsulate the feel (and the noise) of that period, not so much what we like about that period, more so what it is about that period that can give us a stabbing headache.

There is precisely such a song on Tom Wait’s 1976 album, Small Change, called Step Right Up. It is a typical Waitsian song: exhuming the shoddy demure of a barfly; the horse vocal that sounds like the devil singing with an inflamed throat after a protracted drag on a dozen cigars at once; the stripped down backing musicians nonchalantly playing a repetitive jazz riff; the lyrics that swing from plausible to implausible, from rhyming to jarring, from humourous to downright surreal. But this song is doubly relevant not just because it captures the hustle and bustle noise of Christmas, it also encapsulates the effects the recession has had on the consumer environment.

The song does not have a narrative or a single character like many of Waits’ songs do, Step Right Up is more of a stream of consciousness, an arbitrary snatch of taglines, the voices of a dozen fraught market traders rolled into one. Imagine a verbal collage of all the businesses we see and hear during the Christmas period, targeting our consumer-selves, whether it is from a catalogue, the warbles of a market trader, the host of a TV shopping channel or an advertisement in all its many forms. It’s that sheer barrage of information about cut-price sales, weird products we are made to think we need, the general hard-sell and desperation, that this song has captured so well.

The lyrics are reminiscent of what it has been like to walk through Plymouth city centre over the last year: ‘Everything must go./ Going out of business./ Going out of business/ Going out of business sale./ Fifty percent off original retail price./ Skip the middle man./ Don’t settle for less/ …We need your business. / We’re going out of business./ We’ll give you the business./ Get on the business end of our going-out-of-business sale.’ Bring images to mind of all the shops closing down, their slashed prices and the strident advertising frantically attempting to entice the consumers as they pass by.

Later in the song there is a bombardment of absurd but dream perfect products: ‘It mows your lawn and picks up the kids from school./ It gets rid of facial hair./ It gets rid of embarrassing age spots./ It delivers a pizza/ And it lengthens and it strengthens / And it finds that slipper that’s been at large under the chaise lounge for several weeks.’ This, I imagine, is how the subconscious feels, where the sheer scale of adverts, street hawkers and bartered products begin to blur into one and another, creating one heaving mass unit; a single product that can do everything and anything all at once.

So as Christmas looms ahead I will inevitably find myself shopping in the city, or online; and when I read and hear those sales people hollering I’m going to give the ruckus a jazz riff back beat and enjoy, rather than get annoyed, by this desperate and festive time. I’m going to try and hear the music amidst the grating hustle and bustle, and hear the rocking in the hocking.

Monday, 9 November 2009

The Gig that got my Goat

Last night I went to Plymouth Hippo to watch Irish pop rock band Ash play. I've seen them once before, about 5 years ago and they do put on a really good live show. I enjoyed seeing them this second time but one thing stopped me fully enjoying it: people holding up their digital cameras and mobile phones filming an ENTIRE song.

This filming of gigs is so common (and let's face it, been going on for quite a while now) it has reached the point that when a popular song comes on, the view of the band is distorted my a sudden influx of raised hands, each holding one of these pesky gadgets, then the only way to see the chuffing performance is on somebody else's 1.5 inch squared screen! Which is exactly what these perpetrators are doing! One woman did it during the whole of Straight To You at a Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds gig, and at an Emmiliana Torrini gig, Emmiliana pleaded with audience members not to take photographs, only half took notice! Where's the respect?

Am I wrong to get miffed at this? If I went to a gig and raised up my Cannon XM2 Digital Video Camera for 3-5mins, would these camera misfits mind, and wouldn't that be illegal? Isn't that taking bootleggin' a bit too far?

Anyway, to get my revenge my aim from now on is to get right to the front of a gig and turn to face the audience, I'm going to wear platform shoes, put on weight to get an especially wide moon face and stare right back into those apertures, wrecking their amateur footage, appearing like Pezuzu, the subliminal demon face in The Exorcist, haunting them out of taking films next time. I urge you all to do the same!