Sunday, November 28, 2010

Sony HVR-HD1000U MiniDV 1080i High Definition Camcorder

Twenty years ago, back before digital video, they were selling full sized S-VHS camcorders. They cost about the same as a Hi8 camcorder and Hi8 was supposed to be slightly superior in some way, but people still wanted the full-sized camcorders.

I don't know, but, at the time, I figured that a full-sized S-VHS camcorder was an affordable, professional-looking alternative to spending three or four thousand dollars for an actual "prosumer" Hi8 camera.

Now, Sony has a camcorder, an
HVR-HD1000U MiniDV 1080i High Definition Camcorder with 10x Optical Zoom. It sells for about $1,500.

Here's what Sony says about it:

The HVR-HD1000U was created to meet the growing demand from users who are looking for mobility and professional appearance. This camcorder features a shoulder-mount design and black matte body similar to that of professional camcorders; making it perfect for weddings, corporate communications, colleges, universities, and sporting events where appearance makes a difference....
It's a consumer camcorder made to look like a prosumer camcorder. It's for videographers who want to impress their clients.

Well. Seems like a good idea.

Years ago, someone posted on a message board. They were going to make a no-budget slasher movie. But should they use Super 8 film or a S-VHS camcorder? Other people discussed the relative merits of the two formats. I wisely told him to get S-VHS. A big, giant camcorder would impress the actors.

Video: HVR-HD1000u First Look

Friday, November 26, 2010

Student films

There've been a number of attacks on student films. There was one website devoted entirely to making fun of them.

I did a search for "student film" on You Tube and found a few. Student films now seem to mostly be parodies of student films in general.

Apparently, there are a lot of suicides in student films. I wonder what the actual suicide rate is among film students. My guess is that it's lower than among those with other majors. There hasn't been a single documented case of an emo kid ever committing suicide, and, like emo kids, film students apparently embrace depression and make it work for them.

For years I heard that writing a short story was more difficult than writing a novel. I never understood why. It didn't make sense. I finally got an explanation: Novels aren't very well-written. In the same way, a short film needs to be better-made than a feature film.

It's rather cruel forcing film students to make short films. It's kind of like school music programs. They force kids to play classical music and jazz, the two most difficult and least popular genres, while other kids form punk rock bands, practice for a week or two then start playing gigs. Film students plumb the depths of their souls and attempt to make meaningful short films which get them nothing but mockery while far less ambitious young people make feature-length slasher films with their parents' camcorders and go on to successful careers.

Come to think of it, didn't Rick Schmidt say that he started making feature films when he and Wayne Wang realized it wasn't much harder than making a short film?

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Room

Several years ago, I was looking at a message board for a website that made fun of student films. It had a post from an angry, bitter recent film school graduate. He said he spent between twenty and thirty thousand dollars making his film. He charged it all on credit cards. I hope he had the good sense to declare bankruptcy.

His movie was about a girl leaving home. I assume it was a girl going away to college. He thought that the weakness in most student films was the acting--they never delivered their lines convincingly--so he avoided the issue and made a silent film.

I don't think he put any sound track at all on it, because when he submitted it to film festivals they'd send it back with a note alerting him to the fact that there was no sound.

As I said, the purpose of the website was to make fun of student films, but the people running it were sympathetic. They told him the movie sounded interesting and that they could understanding his feelings running up a large debt he had little hope of repaying.

I had mixed feelings. I understood what he meant and why he made a silent movie. I think this was the old days, before digital video. He had to choose between 16mm film and Hi8 video and he apparently went with film. Still, I think I would have recognized the lack of commercial potential.

The Room

That's what I thought about when I saw The Room.

I came across The Room on one of the "worst movie" lists. I'd never heard of it, but it has a cult following.

The movie cost $6,000,000 included marketing. It was self-distributed by it's mysterious first-time writer/producer/director/star, Tommy Wiseau. From what I read, he was never clear about how he raised the money, although he did mention importing leather jackets from Korea.

The movie is about a love triangle. Wiseau plays a sinewy, long-haired banker in his 50s whose fiance begins sleeping with his best friend. It was apparently intended as a melodrama, but audiences found it extremely funny. Wiseau ran with it and began to promote it as a "black comedy".
Now it has midnight showings, every two weeks in L.A. and every month in London.

It's unlikely the movie has made any money. I suppose it's possible it could after the release on DVD.

If I had six million bucks, I wouldn't blow it all making a movie. If I did squander it all on a film, it wouldn't be about a nice guy whose fiance sleeps with his best friend.

It reminded me of something in the memoirs of the journalist Claud Cockburn. He mentioned at one point getting himself assigned as a theater critic. He never attended the theater before, so he found the most hackneyed plot to be clever and original---for example, plays about guys whose fiances were sleeping with their best friends. Theater owners loved him. He gave everything a rave review. At first.

Reportedly, Wiseau rented a studio and bought a "beginning director package" which included a new 35mm camera and a high definition digital video camera. Wiseau said he was confused about the difference between the two formats, so the film was shot with both. The two cameras were mounted side by side during the filming.

Ed Wood, Jr, died just before people became interested in his movies. His friends weren't sure what he would have thought about it if he had lived, if he would have liked the attention or been hurt that they were laughing at him. There was the sad interview with his widow in which she insisted that young people didn't laugh at Plan 9, they watched if for its message of peace.

It's good that Tommy Wiseau can enjoy whatever following his movie has.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Ray Dennis Steckler, Charles Grodin

There was a show from England. The Incredibly Strange Film Show. It was probably twenty years ago.

On one episode, they interviewed Ray Dennis Steckler, director of The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies, Rat Fink a Boo Boo, The Thrill Killers, Blood Shack, and a number of other movies. His work was extemporaneous. He generally worked without a completed script. He explained that, "every time we have a completed script, the movie never seems to get made because we can never afford what's on the script. You know, you need all these things, then you spend all this time locating these things that you need for the movie, and by the time you get all that done, it's too late to make the movie."

Ed Wood, Jr, wanted to be like Orson Welles. Ray Dennis Steckler was more like Eisenstein or Pudovkin--more of an Alfred Hitchcock. The poor man's Brian de Palma, perhaps. His movies were much more visual. He made pretty good use of montage. If things had been a little different, he might have been another Robert Rodriguez.

The Incredibly Strange Film Show was hosted by Jonathan Ross. It's available on You Tube.

At a couple of points in the interviews, Steckler seems to catch himself taking his work too seriously. He quickly snaps out of it. You can't make any kind of a movie without taking it seriously, but you don't want to get caught taking yourself seriously.

I've seen it happen.

I saw Paul Michael Glaser on Charles Grodin's cable talk show after he made the movie Kazaam.

Glaser had directed other movies, but this was the first one that he worked on from start to finish, writing the script and directing all aspects of the movie. He was the auteur. He seemed quite proud and grimly serious. It was a little embarrassing.

I was at my brother's place when I saw the interview and he commented on it.

"Everybody's proud of their work," I said. There are people who are proud of having worked their whole lives in the lumber mills. I've met people who were proud of having never held any job for more than two months. I took perverse pride in being a car wash attendant. And the man did make a movie, after all.

As it happened, Kazaam grossed $19 million, a bit less than its cost, and got terrible reviews.

The child star in it was cute enough. He's still an actor. He's now shaved his head and he's covered with tattoos. You'd think that would be an impediment to an acting career.

Charles Grodin, Bill Cosby, other family films

I found Kazaam on a list of worst films, but it seemed to have done pretty well compared to most of the others on the list. Much better than Bill Cosby's family films, Ghost Dad and Leonard Part 6.

Cosby wrote and produced Leonard Part 6, but tried to blame the director for it being so terrible. It was one of the worst movies ever made. No director could have saved it. And how does Cosby explain the equally bad Ghost Dad, directed by Sidney Poitier?

Bill Cosby was hired to do ads for TCM, Ted Turner's classic movie cable station. This in spite of his role in two of the worst movies ever made, and in spite of the fact that nearly every movie shown on the channel either had an all-white cast or was explicitly racist.

The commercials were in black and white, meant to look like an old film noir. Bill Cosby tells us that he likes classic gangster movies because they don't use obscene language like in movies today.

Well. If the only good thing you can think of to say about a movie is that there were no dirty words in it, I'd say you probably didn't like it very well. In fact, that's pretty much all they said in the ads for Cosby's two movies. They couldn't quote reviews or show clips without revealing how terrible they were, so they interviewed people coming out of the theaters. The only thing they could say was that the movies weren't overtly offensive.

"Well, there wasn't any nudity."

Apparently Charles Grodin took offense at Cosby's TCM ads. He gave an angry commentary on his show. He pointed out that Cosby has made a career of presenting himself as a devoted family man when he secretly had an illegitimate daughter who he sent to prison when she threatened to sell her story to the Inquirer. This was before several women made rape accusations which Cosby denied. Who was he to complain about bad words?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Truffaut, Godard, Day For Night, and a link

There was the letter Jean-Luc Godard wrote to Francois Truffaut after the release of Truffaut's Day for Night, his movie about the making of a movie.

Truffaut was a liar, Godard wrote, "because the shot of you and Jacqueline Bisset the other night at Chez Francis is not in your film, and one wonders why the director is the only one who doesn't fuck in Day for Night."

Truffaut played the director in the movie.

Godard may have had a point there, I suppose. Truffaut was carrying on a highly publicized affair with Bisset while they were making Day for Night. But Truffaut was the only major character who doesn't have a sex scene in the movie. In fact, we keep seeing Truffaut's character alone in bed dreaming of himself as a child stealing movie posters from the local theater.

Well, it's okay with me. Truffaut was playing a character. He didn't need to do a love scene if he didn't want to.

What bothered me about it was that we know what Truffaut looked like as a kid. He looked like Jean-Pierre Leaud in The 400 Blows. He had a crew cut and a big nose. But in the dream sequences, he had a cute dutch boy haircut and an adorable little button nose.

And remember Truffaut's comment in his book on Alfred Hitchcock. He talks about the kid in Hitchcock's Sabotage. The boy keeps getting into trouble. Truffaut commented that, in movies, kids doing things they're not supposed to endears them to the audience.

Were the shots of himself as a child stealing a poster a shameless attempt to endear himself to the audience? And why on earth would a child want a poster for Citizen Kane?

Day for Night was still a pretty good movie. Truffaut not having sexual intercourse in it wasn't a major flaw. I should probably say that that wasn't Godard's central objection to it.

Truffaut had been a critic himself. Like many critics, he could dish it out but he couldn't take it. Roger Ebert wrote an angry letter to the local newspaper here after one of his books got a bad review. And Truffaut wrote a twenty page letter to Godard attacking him back.

"I've always felt that true militants are like cleaning women," Truffaut wrote, "performing a thankless, daily, necessary task. But you, you're like Ursula Andress. You make a four-minute appearance, just enough time for the cameras to flash, for you to make two or three startling pronouncements, then you disappear, shrouded in appealing mystery."

But, anyway, here's a link to an edited English translation of an interesting interview with Godard. He discusses his split Truffaut, the Oscar they're awarding him, the accusations made against him by Zionist groups, among other topics:

Who should play Prince William in the made-for-TV movie

Prince William is getting married. Good for him. But the poor girl should take a good long look at the family she's marrying into. If they divorce, who gets custody of the children? Christopher Hitchens has said a number of times that the royal children are legally the property of the royal family. I don't know if he meant that literally.

But who should play Prince William when they make a made-for-TV movie about the royal wedding? Should actors who play members of the Royal Family be better-looking or not-as-good-looking as the actual Royal Family? Or should some of them be played by better-looking actors and some played by worse-looking actors? Should William and Harry be played by a couple of handsome young stars while Prince Charles is played by some elderly Arnold Stang-like actor?

There were at least three made-for-TV movies about the Amy Fisher case. The actors who played Amy Fisher and Joey Buttafuoco were better-looking than the actual people, but poor Mary Jo Buttafuoco, the victim in the case, was always played by actresses who were less attractive than she was.

What about the baldness issue? How bald should the actor playing Prince William be?

And what about Harry? Prince Harry looks nothing like anyone in the Royal Family, but he looks just like one his mother's boyfriends. It wouldn't effect casting, though. It is a little like the Farkel Family skits on the old Rowan & Martin's Laugh In. A family with red-haired children who all looked exactly like their next-door neighbor.

Through some freak genetic mutation, the inbred royal family seems to be very long-lived. The Queen Mum was 101 when she died. Elizabeth II is only 84. Prince Charles may have to sweat it out for another 17 years before he gets to be king. If his mother manages to live that long, Charles will be almost 80.

Prince William should wait until he's 60, then marry a stewardess and have a couple of kids. That way they'll still be reasonably young when he dies and they get to take the throne. Although having to be king or queen for most of your life wouldn't be much better than spending your life waiting for your father to die.

For the sake of the children, abolish the monarchy!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

You Tube celebrities

I guess Justin Beiber is the only You Tube celebrity to hit it really big thus far.

There were others. Tay Zonday sang "Chocolate Rain" on You Tube and went on to do a Dr Pepper commercial. Chris Crocker, after the success of his "Leave Brittney Alone" video, has done some things, or they've talked about him doing some things. I don't know what. I haven't seen him in anything.

Low budget filmmakers used to get John Carradine or some other aging star to appear in their movies. Rory Calhoun started doing the same thing late in his life. Ernest Borgnine appeared in movies you wouldn't expect to see an Oscar-winner in.

Maybe it's time to turn to You Tube celebrities. Use their star power to sell DVDs.

It may be a bad idea. Few are actual actors. I don't know about the singers like Zonday and Beiber, but most of the others seem to be egomaniacs. Are narcissists easy to manipulate or just hard to work with?

Maybe you can go the other way. Pick your star then put them on You Tube to turn them into phony celebrities. Like the way John Waters used to make his own stars.

This one You Tube guy

There was one You Tube celebrity. Someone I know had "friended" him on My Space.

"Who's that guy?" I said.

"I don't know. He wanted to be my friend so I clicked 'okay'."

I won't say who the You Tube celebrity was. I don't think I want him googling himself and finding his way here. He argued at length on his My Space page that he wasn't a narcissist.

He was the second most popular "director" on You Tube at the time. He had millions of hits. I watched some of his videos. They were terrible. The only one that stands out in my mind showed him drinking a bottle of Snapple. He drinks some of it. He stops and smiles. He drinks the rest of it. The end.

Snapple was donating money to some environmental cause, so he claimed he was saving a tree.

His followers were all teenage girls. Girls get crushes on teen idols they know they would never meet as a safe way to explore romantic feelings. With this guy, they had an extra buffer. They'd never meet him and he was openly gay.

He was banned from Wikipedia---it turns out you're not allowed to make a page about yourself.

At one point, he called on his fans----he has tens of thousands of them----to send donations. He needed help with his rent. He raised eighteen dollars.

Poor kid. People don't realize that narcissism is a serious, debilitating psychiatric condition.

There are others who are more interesting. There's a young fellow called Dylan. He has a scripted series where he tells plausible-sounding anecdotes about life as a teenager.

At least it's voluntary. Not like that poor Canadian kid. He was taking a video class in school. Everyone was gone. He went into the studio and made a tape of himself with a broomstick re-enacting a fight scene from a Star Wars movie. Some classmates found the tape, posted it on line and ruined his life.

Friday, November 12, 2010

PXL 2000

"Come on!" I said.

This was over twenty years ago.

I went with my friends to Toys R Us.

"There it is!" I said.

It was a Fisher Price PXL2000---the toy camcorder that really worked! Produced a slightly fuzzy black and white picture recorded on an ordinary audio cassette tape.

It cost about $100 at a time when real camcorders could cost a thousand bucks.

My friends scoffed. I didn't buy it. I shouldn't have listened to them. Now the PXL 2000 is coveted by artists and bohemians.

I don't know why it matters. There's a free program for Mac computers to modify video to make it look like a PXL 2000 picture. Even if you don't have that, there's a way to monkey with the image to do the same thing.

I'm not sure what all of this means, but here's how to do it:

1. Scale your footage to fit a 540 x 405 composition at 15 frames per second. (This is exactly 75% of a full 720 x 540 NTSC frame.)

2. Reduce the saturation to 0.

3. Apply a Gaussian blur with a radius of 1.5 pixels.

4. Sharpen the image 30%.

5. Clamp the black point to about 5% and the white point to about 95%.

6. Compress the dynamic range of the entire image by about 1.2 to 1.

7. Posterize to 90 steps.

8. Add a lag effect; this should add a small proportion of the three previous frames to each frame, giving slight trails and motion artifacting.

9. If desired, add a scanline or “TV” effect.

10. Clamp the white and black points again.

11. Apply a second 1.5-pixel Gaussian blur.

12. Expand your composition to 720 x 540, leaving a large black border around the frame.

13. If necessary, scale your finished composition to meet your output requirements (720 x 480 for an NTSC DVD, for example).

But why do artists go for the PXL 2000 picture but dismiss other lovely analog video? Look at VHS or S-VHS video, or Hi8!

I was filming some stuff one day with a huge S-VHS camcorder. A fellow began talking to me. I told him a couple of times that I wasn't from "the media", but he kept talking, giving me a message to pass on to governor.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Dino De Laurentis, Menahem Golan, Chuck Norris

Dino De Laurentis has died at age 91.

He produced some great movies---Bitter Rice, La Strada, Nights of Cabria---but it was always a little surprising to see his name on those films because he produced a lot of somewhat lower brow movies in the '70s. I'm looking at a list of what he produced then, and he still produced some pretty good movies. Serpico, Three Days of the Condor, Ingmar Bergman's The Serpent's Egg.

There was a spaghetti western Vic Morrow directed in the 1970s called A Man Called Sledge. De Laurentis was producer. Filmed in Spain. They brought in horses from Italy. When they were done filming, the guy from De Laurentis's production company told them to shoot the horses. It would be cheaper than shipping them back to Italy.

Vic Morrow and the Americans on the set were appalled. They shipped the horses back.

Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus

In the '80s, there was a grim shift in internationally produced exploitation films. The Israelis took over.

A lot of the Italian filmmakers were in the Italian Communist Party, directors like Sergio Leone. Spaghetti Westerns were full of Communist symbolism. I mentioned in another entry the end of For a Few Dollars More--bounty hunter Clint Eastwood counts the dead bodies in the back of a wagon by adding up their monetary value. There was the gold buried in the war cemetery in The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. In another Spaghetti Western--was is Django?-- we see a rich American rancher murdering Mexican peasants and feeding their bodies to his pet eagle.

But that all vanished. Communist symbolism replaced with Zionist racism.

There was one Israeli Golan-Globus production, Lone Wolf McQuade starring Chuck Norris as a Texas Ranger. Mexicans stand in for Palestinians.

"A Texas Ranger kicked my father's teeth out! Are you going to kick my teeth out, Texas Ranger?"

Chuck Norris mows them down in the desert with an Israeli submachine gun. Then he kicks the man in the mouth.
People compared Lone Wolf McQuade to the spaghetti westerns. It had the same sort of look to it and it had loud music. But the plot revolved around Chuck Norris fighting Communists who were delivering aid to Nicaragua.

In one scene, Chuck Norris gets involved in a fight at a square dance.

"The boys are just having a little fun," says Communist David Carradine.

"Want to join the fun?" says Chuck Norris assuming a karate fighting stance.

"Stop! This is not my idea of fun!" says Barbara Carrera.

Walker, Texas Ranger

I never sat through an episode of Walker, Texas Ranger. According to The Daily Beast's list of the "Fifty Most Loathsome People" of 2007, "Walker, Texas Ranger once let a little girl battle armed gangsters, because she had the power of belief in God."

A guy who watches Walker, Texas Ranger told me that, toward the end, they resorted to a "ceramic leg". We would see elderly Chuck Norris raise his leg as if he was going to kick someone, then they would cut to a close-up of the person he was going to kick and they'd hit him with a fake leg.

It makes me wonder how one should properly use an elderly martial artist in a movie. Even if they could do a spectacular karate fight, is that what the audience wants to see? They should probably show a little dignity. Not kick as high.

Here's a karate fight with an older actor not generally associated with martial arts films:

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Copyright infringement, the New Wave, imperialism

A while back, someone from the MPAA was belly-aching about the scourge of video bootlegging. If it went on, he said, Hollywood would be reduced to making movies that were little better than TV soap operas.

Imagine a world---a paradise---in which movies all looked like daytime soap operas!

Well, it might not be paradise, but you'd get used to it. And if you didn't, you'd just have to find some other way to pass the time.

Of course, there are movies made with little money and they don't look like soap operas.

I would have liked A Beautiful Mind better if it hadn't cost $60 million. It grossed less than $180 million, so it broke even. It was just a guy walking around hallucinating. I wouldn't want it to look like a soap opera, but I wouldn't mind if it looked like an episode of T.J. Hooker, or maybe Ironside.

I read in a discussion of Dogme 95 that the average Danish movie cost something like two million dollars. Somewhere else, I read that Iran had made its most expensive movie ever, and it cost less than two million dollars.

Hollywood is spending too much on these things. The indigenous movie industries of the world are being crushed under its massive weight, which I assume is the whole idea.

After World War Two, the final demand the U.S. made of the French was that they lift the limit on the number of American movies allowed into the country before they could get aid under the Marshall Plan. This was while British youth culture was being taken over; their children dressed in blue jeans and hung around malt shops--what they call "milk bars"--listening to rock and roll.

But it all came back on the U.S. The American movies flooding France inspired The French New Wave which left Hollywood bewildered and confused. The subversion of British youth inspired their own musicians and led to the British Invasion.

But now what? You think anything like the French New Wave could challenge Hollywood? Could a few intellectuals makes films that would compete with movies costing hundreds of millions of dollars? It doesn't seem likely. A small group of filmmakers taking on Hollywood now would be like twenty or thirty thousand lightly armed insurgents in a backward, mountainous third world country trying to fight the massive, technologically advanced U.S. military.

Saturday, November 6, 2010


Well, Republicans took over the House, gained seats in the Senate.

I worked with a woman who named her dog "Galt" after the character in Ayn Rand's science fiction novel. Ron Paul did her one or two better. Named his son, Rand Paul, after Ayn herself.

Will Rand Paul filibuster the raising of the national debt, resulting in the shutdown of the government and the U.S. defaulting on its massive debt? Will this bring on a global financial collapse?

The woman who named her dog "Galt" changed all the passwords on the computers then abruptly quit and never came back. She left her belongings behind. We weren't going to return them until she gave us the passwords, but one of her friends at work smuggled her stuff out and took it to her. He was later found to have broken into the place at night and he had been using our Fed Ex account number. After he was fired, he sat in jail for attacking a cab driver.