Saturday 8 August 2009

What impact can we have as filmmakers? And with impact, do we have responsibility?

I'm interested in whatever any of you might bring to this discussion -- be you a film director, a writer, a film-lover, someone who hates movies, or even someone who's never seen one. Whoever you are, I'd love to hear your thoughts on this. What is the maximum impact we can have as filmmakers? Can films really change lives? Can they make us act for social change? Can they change us for the better?.

There is a lot of room for films as pure entertainment. Most of Hollywood's output is exactly that. But sometimes, we can do more. Whether it's a little documentary making you aware about a new topic, or 'Shawshank Redemption' offering you hope-- ocassionally, a film can have an important and influential effect on you. But how big is that effect? On a personal level-- has a film ever changed the way you feel about a matter? Has it ever inspired you to do something that you wouldn't have done without it?

Documentaries, of course-- offer us a direct line into an issue. But what difference do they really make? For example, if you take a look at Michael Moore's documentaries (especially the older ones) they brought a lot of issues to a wider audience, for example gun laws-- and for a while, it looked like he could change America. In fact, he was certain he would with 'Fahrenheit 9/11' - but he didn't.

Of course, the problem for Michael Moore and indeed for most documentarians who touch upon politics and issues, is that they are tainted by their persuasions. They are an extension of a journalist, or a politician; they're just part of the cycle of partisan politics. Even in one of my favourite documentaries, 'When The Levees Broke' - Spike Lee can't steer clear of politics. NOR SHOULD HE HAVE, but my point is that as a result of that, some viewers are going to feel polarized.

As fictional writers and directors; we are able to have a dramatic impact on audiences. Right now, films like the Harry Potter Series and 'Twilight' are watched and loved by millions of teenagers worldwide. Do the makers of these films have only the need to entertain, or is there a responsibility regarding the message and intended meaning of these films?

I don't wish to get into a conversation about whether violence in films causes violence in the streets -- I'd like to skim past that and look at it more positively; and ask--- do we have an opportunity to change the world, for the better, with the stories we tell? And how should we go about doing that? It's a tricky thing to approach. I remember watching 'Wall-E' in the cinema and being completely turned off because of it's overt messages about the environment. Yet at the same time I've watched many other films and enjoyed the political intent behind them. Does it come down to personal taste, or is there a way of storytelling that is appropriate? Do we know where that line is?

It's also worth addressing the fact that It'd be a shame to swing too far in the way of responsibility and political correctness. A film with absolutely no violence, no jokes pertaining to race or sex or sexual-orientation would be boring. It wouldn't be real life. Is it wrong to have pure violence? Is it wrong for Tarantino to rewrite the most important death in modern history? What responsibilities do we carry as people putting our creative ideas into the open?

I often feel a limitation as a writer. It's a ghost role that says 'You will only have a certain amount of impact.' And I just wonder, does that limitation really exist? I am unsure if a film has ever changed the world. And even if it hasn't, I'd like to believe it can. I'd like to believe that motion pictures could fulfill a role that is different to that of leaders, policy makers, and celebrities.

I'd like to facilitate an open forum discussion through the comments section below. I hope we can better understand each other and discuss our beliefs in terms of the true power of movies. What impact can we have? And with that impact, do we have responsibilities?

Care to share?

Thursday 6 August 2009

RIP John Hughes, Director of 'Home Alone' and 'The Breakfast Club'

'Home Alone,' 'Ferris Bueller's Day Off,' 'Miracle On 34th Street,' 'The Breakfast Club,' 'Sixteen Candles,' 'Planes, Trains, And Automobiles' - I could name many more. John Hughes, to put it simply, is an iconic legend, whose creations are some of the most loved films of the 80's and 90's. 'Ferris Bueller's Day Off' defined the 80's, 'Home Alone' was my favourite film for years after it came out. I still watch it every Christmas. For me, 'Home Alone' and 'Home Alone 2: Lost In New York' are THE quientessential Christmas movies.

He passed away suddenly today at the age of 59 - of a heart attack whilst taking a morning walk. reports that "In the last decade, he stepped back from the legacy he created to enjoy time with his family, maintain a functioning farm in northern Illinois and support independent arts. He is survived by his wife of 39 years, Nancy, two sons, John and James, and four grandchildren."

It's great to know that he left us a great legacy of truly brilliant, often heartwarming films-- and didn't feel the need to stick around in Hollywood cashing in everywhere he could. Instead, he made his masterpieces, and then became a family man.

RIP - John Hughes. 59 is way, way, way, way, WAY too young. The only comforting thing when this happens in our industry is to know of the legacy that has been left behind - and in Hughes' case; it's enormous-- and I am sure his work will mean something to everyone who reads this. What could be better than that?

Care to share?

Wednesday 5 August 2009

Open-Air Screenings Bring A Slice Of Movie Magic To London.

I love open-air cinema. It's quite a rare treat in London because of the miserable weather. But any time somebody foolish attempts it, I always make sure I am there. Because when it does happen, it's magic. I get to live my Cinema Paradiso fantasy.

So this is Somerset House.
And here are film lovers.
As the day began to fade, the smell of cinema was in the air.
And before we knew it the time had come to watch 'Don't Look Now' (Nicolas Roeg, 1973) - starring Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie. Prior to the film we were treated to an introduction by
Steven Frears (Director, 'High Fidelity,' 'The Queen,' etc)

People were gripped by the classic piece of cinema, the beautiful
surroundings, and the rare London calm.

But for me, the best part of the night was in Covent Garden,
hearing this wonderful man since a bunch of Cat Stevens songs.

'Don't Look Now' is part of the Film4 Summer Screen series. With notable films such as 'Shawshank Redemption' and 'Slumdog Millionnaire' already screened, we're left with 'Strangers On A Train', a double bill of 'Cool Hand Luke'/'Road House' - and it ends on Saturday with 'Raiders Of The Lost Ark.'

Raiders is sold out but Thursday and Friday have limited tickets available on the door, from 5.30pm onwards. See you there. If you love films and are in London, this is the perfect way to enjoy a film, along with 2000 of your closest friends.

Care to share?

Monday 3 August 2009

Frankie and Johnny is AWESOME!

I just watched 'Frankie & Johnny' for the first time and just wanted to say -- what a great, great, great film.

I love films like this, and we don't really seem to get them anymore. I'm talking about those gritty New York pictures about trying to get by, trying to live your life. Frankie and Johnny is the tale of two characters played by Michelle Pfeiffer and Al Pacino, who are just trying to get by in life. Just trying to make a living. But Johnny (Pacino) is fresh out of prison and after meeting Frankie (Pfeiffer) he falls in love.

This is Pacino playing Pacino, but in a way you rarely see. He's still got all the answers and is full of confidence, but you can also see how breakable he is, and how needy he is-- he needs Frankie from the second he meets her, and nothing will deter him. But it's Michelle Pfeiffer's performance that's really incredible. Frankie is a woman who wants to live comfortably, working by day and then sitting at home on her own with her VCR (it was 1991). And when Johnny comes after her, she resists it and fights it, basically for the whole movie.

It's a film about past scars; it's about not wanting to be vulnerable to being fucked over again. In that respect it's something pretty much everyone can relate too. Pfeiffer's performance is beautiful-- she doesn't even have to say a word, you see the conflict and fear in her eyes and her bodily movements. She's fighting Johnny, she's fighting herself, she's fighting everything-- it's powerful viewing.

The thing that's sad is that we just don't get these movies anymore. Throw a man and a woman together now and it needs a sell-able gimmick, like 'She has to get married to stay in the country' (The Proposal) or a man who knows the formula to winning women can't get it to work on the woman of his dreams (Hitch) -- basically every romance or comedy you see comes with a concept, something amusing or silly that the plot revolves around. It's much harder to sell a studio exec or producer on "Two New Yorkers who work in a cafe argue and fight a lot, and struggle to accept themselves and each other." Nobody wants that. But they should, because it's films like 'Frankie and Johnny' that really speak something truthful and honest, and they get great performances from some of our finest actors.

Care to share?

Sunday 2 August 2009

Errant Thoughts From A Week Of Movie Watching.

'The Proposal' is a film you see with your girlfriend. If you're girlfriend's not available, you download it illegally. If you can't find it online, you wait for DVD. And preferably, you wait for a girl to watch it with. Or you do what the Kid In The Front Row did, and go see it on the big screen, alone. I was surrounded by either twentysomething couples, or thirteen year old girls. Either way, I was completely out of place.

But, as usual-- once a film starts, I couldn't care less. And surprisingly, I kind of enjoyed 'The Proposal'. It's got a lot of crap from people for being formulaic, predictable, etc etc-- and they're probably right, but I was able to forgive it -- I just enjoyed drifting into the light fluff and being swept away in beautiful wide shots of Alaska, and the simple, fun comedic happenings on screen. It was a perfect way to begin my week of movie watching. A much different experience to...

'Trouble The Water' is a documentary showing a very personal account of Hurricane Katrina, filmed by an amateur filmmaker on her little camera, as it was happening. Seeing the effects of the Hurricane and what the people of New Orleans went through is uncomfortable, yet riveting viewing. And of course, like the Spike Lee documentary 'When The Levees Broke' (which I feel is a far superior film), the main thing that comes across is the complete ineptitude of the Governmental response. I'm not a particularly political guy, and it's rare you'll see me ranting about stuff on here. But in a country like America; the way the people, mostly black, of the poorest areas of New Orleans were treated is unacceptable. America can get aid to all areas of the world in no time at all, America can send armed forces anywhere in the world in no time at all -- and perhaps the most important thing, America can build incredible, amazing buildings and structures anywhere in the world in no time at all. But they couldn't get help to the people of New Orleans, they couldn't get them food; they couldn't provide New Orleans with an adequate Levee system. In a country like America, it just seems unacceptable to me to leave your own countrymen in that kind of predicament. The worst part is that I wasn't aware of the scale of neglect until a few filmmakers told me about it. It makes you wonder about the media.

But yeah, go watch 'When The Levees Broke' and 'Trouble The Water.'

Watching the original 'The Blues Brothers' in the cinema is a great experience. It reminds you of everything that is incredible about the movies. 'The Blues Brothers' feels like it's been written by a hyperactive fourteen year old. You can imagine him writing the script "um, I know! And then a lady shoots them outside a hotel. And then a thousand police chase them into a building! And then all the police cars crash! and then they sing an old song! yeahhhh!" The strange thing is that it actually works. It's funny, it's entertaining, it's action-packed, it's heart-warming. It's everything. What a wonderful, wonderful film. Magic. And even more so when viewed on the big screen, as I was lucky enough to do last week.

'Duplicity' with Julia Robert and Clive Owen looked pretty interesting. After twenty minutes, I gave up.
'Revolutionary Road' is a film I'd been meaning to watch for a long time, but I had kept putting it off due to my belief that all Kate Winslet films look really boring. I eventually rented it. And I kinda enjoyed it. But I enjoyed it in a way where I was easily distracted and more than happy to go stop and start, finding time for mini Facebook intervals, raiding the fridge intervals, daydreaming intervals.

The film was a little pretentious, at times. I guess that was kind of the idea, I mean-- Kate and Leo's characters both think they're better than everyone and destined for great things, despite getting caught up in the mess of life like everyone else. Come the end, I felt I was right in my assumption about Winslet films. Because despite being watchable and occasionally intriguing-- 'Revolutionary Road,' for the most part, was quite boring.

Did I watch as many films as I'd planned this week? No. But I watched quite a few. And I did manage to write 51 pages of a feature script, so all in all, it was a good week, film-wise and other-wise.

Care to share?