About Grant

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New York, NY, United States
Film director and screenwriter. Cinephile since birth. Director of DREAMS OF THE WAYWARD (2013). Film Studies MA student at Columbia University.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Special Effects Vs. Special Affects

Ingmar Bergman's Cries And Whispers (1972)
 I find it interesting what impresses the masses these days.  Sadly, "special effects" has become a household term that has nearly become synonymous with "really great movie".  Sure, special effects have expanded the scope that movies can be created within (in my opinion, the perfect recent example of excellent special effects would be Peter Jackson's The Lord of The Rings films), however, as films have become slapped with "3D", something must be asked of the people that saw Avatar more than once on the big screen:  "Did you actually like the story?"

 It's fascinating how many people refuse to watch a film because it is in another language, yet a film like Avatar (which contains a fake language that is subtitled in the BS font Papyrus) earns over a billion in the box-office.  At the end of the day, you have to ask yourself why the movie was being made.  James Cameron can do as he pleases (and will), but a film like Avatar with a massive budget and advertising aimed directly at receiving viewers because of the marvelous new 3D technology (originally first used in 1936) cannot be taken seriously as it was essentially made to earn loads of money while serving as a 162 minute commercial for 3D.  Sadly, the year 2010 was besmirched by this, and so was the reputation of film.

 "The greats of film" - such as Ingmar Bergman - told completely original stories (several of Bergman's films cannot even be categorized in a genre properly).  Often demonstrating wildly unbelievable camera work and imagery (such as in his 1966 film Persona), his cinematography changed the film world forever.  Rather than banking off of the camera technique, the film used the camera style to enhance the psychological events taking place on the screen instead of serving as a gimmick to attract viewers.  Bergman's cinematographer, Sven Nykvist, won two Oscars for Bergman's films Cries And Whispers (1972) and Fanny And Alexander (1982), but not because of advancements in technology and special effects, but rather because of the way that his cinematography evoked emotion in the guts of audiences around the world.

Jean-Luc Godard's Contempt (1963)
 Jean-Luc Godard filmed his 1963 Contempt (Le Mépris) starring Brigitte Bardot (the Megan Fox of her day), but he did not use the fact that Bardot was in the film as an excuse to exploit her body (until producers asked him to).  Today, directors like Michael Bay choose to use sex as a tool to get audiences to see his films (Transformers (2007) etc), but his films will not live on the way that Godard's landmark film Contempt has.  Godard's work is the definition of artistry, and even though the producers requested a little skin, Godard managed to use it to his advantage by propelling the theme of his Odyssey-alluding film forward with her Venus-like forms.
Akira Kurosawa's Ran (1985)
 Akira Kurosawa - the director whose early films inspired George Lucas to create Star Wars - adapted Shakespeare's King Lear in his epic film Ran (1985).  After facing heavy financing issues from Japanese studios, Kurosawa still managed to use over a thousand extras and had several battle scenes (one iconically exceeding 10 minutes).
 Stanley Kubrick implemented the use of over three-thousand lbs of explosives in his anti-war WW1 film Paths of Glory (1957) starring Kirk Douglas.  Though the explosions are grand and powerful, they were only used to capture the reality of the war for the French soldiers in the trenches (and not a single German soldier is killed on the screen throughout the film... or ever implied to be killed in general).

 Through all of this, it should be clear that special effects and elements that can be perceived as "gimmicks" do have a place in film, but it is when people such as Michael Bay, James Cameron, and Roland Emmerich abuse CGI and use it as a gimmick that it suddenly becomes wrong.  George Lucas has used Star Wars as a gimmick in itself for the past 30+ years.  Star Wars is an oddity in the sense that it has taken from the greats (specifically Kurosawa), but in the past decade Lucas has allowed for his brain-child franchise to poorly build upon itself.
 Today, film essentially needs to be critiqued by the source.  Is the film you're watching a ploy to earn a few extra bucks, or is it a new masterpiece?  As a director, you can have the greatest special effects in the world, but if your story is lacking then why does it matter?
 In the words of director Alejandro González Iñárritu, "It's where I really invest - Not in special effects, but special affects."


Cries And Whispers

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