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Monthly Archives: January 2017

The History of Silent Films

First Motion Picture Documentation
The history of silent movies begins with the history of cinema itself; as all movies made in those times did not have sound. Eadweard Muybridge’s Sallie Gardner at a Gallop was the first silent film ever to be made. It documented equine motion and was released in 1878. The film consisted of a series of 24 photographs that were projected on the Zoopraxiscope (considered the first movie projector) in succession at high speeds to create the illusion of motion. Muybridge’s Zoopraxiscope was the inspiration behind the Kinetoscope, which was meant for individual viewing. It used the same basic technique of relaying successive photographs to create the illusion of motion. However, in spite of being a ‘motion’-picture, Sallie Gardner at a Gallop cannot be really called a ‘film’, as it was merely a relay of successive photographs that created the ‘illusion’ of motion.

First Narrative Film
The first narrative film ever, Roundhay Garden Scene was made by Louis Aimé Augustin Le Prince. It was released on 14 October 1888, and was only 2 seconds long! Louis Le Prince is considered the true father of motion picture. Motion pictures matured into full-length feature films in the 1920s, but still lacked sound. It is this short period of a few decades that is referred to as the era of silent cinema.

The Cast and the Crew
Silent movies were at their peak by the 1920s – the decade saw the birth of many a legend and many a masterpiece. By the 1920s, people had mastered the art of speaking volumes without saying a word. In fact, so adept was the film fraternity with the concept of silent films, that for quite a few years after the ‘talkies’ arrived, movies failed to create the impact they did in the silent era, for directors and actors alike could not deal with all the sound!

Acting
Charlie Chaplin, one of the geniuses of the silent era, very correctly once said that “Cinema is pantomimic art”. No sound meant no dialogs, so your body language and facial expressions had to do all the talking. Many actors hence adopted hyperbole in their acting. You may notice many actors exaggerate their actions in silent films – you fall, it has to be dramatic; you are sad, you have to be melodramatic; you are falling in love, you have to bat your eye-lashes and blush! Exaggeration worked especially well for comedies. Exaggerating grief is something that can very quickly and easily go wrong. But they all managed to do it beautifully; and that is sheer brilliance.

Music
The importance of music in creating a mood was already known – music was effectively used to the same purpose in plays and dramas. In the very beginning, music was only used to entertain the audiences before the actual movie began, and during the intertitles. Later, movies came to be accompanied with live music performances that coordinated with the scene. Theater organs were used to create special sound effects too. However, most of the movies adapted theater music and improvised on it. The first ever movie to have an original music score was D.W. Griffith’s 1915 epic The Birth of a Nation(composed by Joseph Carl Breil). As silent movies reached their highest peaks of success, the popularity of plays and dramas slowly waned.

Direction
Directors of the silent era never shied away from experimenting, for movies were still new to everyone. While most directors insisted on their actors being theatrical, melodramatic and flamboyant, a few allowed the actors to identify their own acting styles, and act naturally and candidly. Many movie-makers considered this style as rather mellow and subtle. With barely any sound and no dialogs, direction was hence a big challenge, which talented, daring directors took up bravely, and did justice to it.

Dialogs
When the requirement of saying something was unavoidable, movies made use of something called intertitles. Intertitles were text plates interspersed between the visuals. They helped carry the story from one point in the plot to another. Intertitles themselves went through various stages, from simple text intertitles to elaborate ones, sometimes even carrying an illustration of one or more of the movie characters. Writing intertitles became a profession, and soon people apart from the screenplay writers (or scenario writers, as they were called back then) came to be hired to write intertitles for movies! Intertitles evolved too, like all other aspects of silent movies, to become a special feature of the films.

Technology
The technology which was used to make movies in the silent era – and hence the norms that governed movie-making – are completely different from those which exist now. But even thinking of showing a small boy flying on a broomstick or a man dreaming would have seemed blasphemous in the silent era! And yet it was achieved brilliantly by G.A. Smith as early as in the year 1898, using a technique called double exposure. Other techniques like stop motion were also used to add to the movie-watching experience. Film continuity, slow motion, animation – some of the techniques that have become the basics of movie-making now, were all developed in the silent era of cinema.

Most Celebrated Legends of the Silent Era
Some of the initial movies were written, directed, and produced by a single person. Even after various divisions were established, some ambitious movie-makers continued to make ‘all-me’ films, where they worked on more than just one aspect of movie-making. Below is an account of some of the most celebrated legends of the silent cinema.

D.W. Griffith
The man who directed the epic The Birth of a Nation (1915), D.W. Griffith is regarded by film historians as one of the greatest American film directors ever, although he arrived in New York with the dreams of becoming a successful playwright. He made his debut in the film industry as an actor in Edward Porter’s Rescued from an Eagle’s Nest. With The Birth of a Nation, Griffith raised the bar of movies to another level. The movie set many a record, becoming the highest grossing film in history, and the first American feature film. Griffith is also celebrated for his other films – Lady Helen’s Escapade, Intolerance: Love’s Struggle Throughout the Ages, and Broken Blossoms; all of which have been preserved by the United States National Film Registry.

Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle
Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle was an actor, director and screenwriter. But he is widely and most significantly acknowledged for his comic genius. Arbuckle’s is a life full of controversies. When he was born, his father named him after a politician he despised, because he did not believe Roscoe was his child. From childhood, Roscoe had a very melodious voice. He was soon pulled into vaudeville for his singing talent. Arbuckle’s acting debut was Ben’s Kid. He popularized the cliché gag ‘pie in the face’ that went on to be adapted into several comedies of the silent era. But more than anything else, I think we are all indebted to Arbuckle for having mentored Charlie Chaplin (it is believed ‘The Tramp’ was adapted from Arbuckle’s dressing style) and discovered Buster Keaton; two very famous personalities of the silent era.

Charlie Chaplin
Charlie Chaplin is one of the most sensitive comedians to have ever existed. You watch a Chaplin movie, and you laugh – but look into the eyes of the actor, and you cannot help shedding a tear. Chaplin’s early life had him face tough times and go through hardships unimaginable of a small boy. It must have, however, paved the way for his film-technique – for Chaplin’s humor is one that begins with laughter but leaves you ashamed of yourself and what the world around is turning into. Chaplin had the power to make you introspect, after giving you a good laugh – almost as if he were challenging you. Chaplin’s films came to define and dominate the silent era, especially in the 1920s. Two of his films – The Gold Rush and The Circus, went on to become top-grossing silent films in the United States.

Buster Keaton
If Charlie Chaplin epitomizes pantomime, Buster Keaton is ‘The Great Stone Face’ (as he was nicknamed). Keaton’s comic appeal came from the way his characters in different films were always unfazed by the events occurring around them. Keaton’s debut in The Butcher Boy was first in the legacy of films of the duo that Arbuckle and Keaton made. Keaton went on to become Arbuckle’s gag-man, second-director, and best friend for life, who was to stand by Arbuckle through all his highs and lows. Such was the acting and directorial genius of the man, that he has been ranked as the 7th greatest director of all times (Entertainment Weekly) and 21st greatest male star of all times (American Film Institute). He and Arbuckle together as a pair have given the film industry some of the best comedy films.

Sergei Eisenstein
One cannot talk of silent cinema and not mention Eisenstein, a director and a film theorist. Eisenstein traveled a lot throughout his life. As a young boy, Sergei took up architecture and engineering, his father’s profession. Eisenstein’s introduction to the arts came with the study of the Japanese language, when he learned about the Kabuki theater. Eisenstein is best known for his silent film Battleship Potemkin. One who has seen this film cannot help but remember and shudder at the aesthetic beauty in which the Odessa Steps scene was shot. Though not entirely factual, the incident was added in the film to emphasize on the cruelties of the Imperial regime. Alexander Nevsky, one of Eisenstein’s talkies, won him the Order Of Lenin.

Making Way For The Talkies
The first ever talking movie was The Jazz Singer, which was released in 1927. However, attempts to construct a device that could combine visuals and sound had been made many years prior to the release of this movie. Thomas Edison’s Kinetophone was probably the earliest of movie projectors to combine sound and visuals. Even after the release of the first talky, silent films continued to reign the cinema world for quite a few years. The early attempts of the film fraternity to adapt to ‘talking movies’ were clumsy, and for a brief period, the quality of work produced reduced significantly. But even as talkies gained popularity, many a director, producer and film-maker continued to make silent movies, some with the specific intention of making a film that would celebrate the art of silent cinema, and some to pay a tribute to an era gone by. Murnau’s City Girl (1930), and Chaplin’s Modern Times(1931), are few such examples.

The names of many more maestros are associated with the silent era; like the German film director and expressionist F.W. Murnau, or Fritz Lang, who gave us the earliest science fiction film Metropolis, which was also the most expensive silent film ever made. Some film personalities even began their careers in the silent era and continued to work through the talkies till as late as the 1980s, like the silent era actress Lilian Gish, who had one of the longest careers, a complete 75 years!

Beginning at personal experiments ending in a two-second clip, the U.S. movie industry has grown into a gigantic force providing employment to more than 2 million people, and contributing grossly $180 billion each year to the U.S. economy. We indeed have a lot to owe to personalities of the silent film era, for they developed in us a taste to see motion on a screen, even though it was without sound. The art of silent movies will be celebrated by generations to come.

Steps In Producing a Movie

Right from the inception of an idea through its material conceptualization leading to its successful completion as a film, the steps below will give you some insight into how you should proceed with producing your first film. Add your individual dexterity, creativity, right choice of cast and crew, adequate financial backing, and organizational skills to these and you’ll definitely have a blockbuster in your hands.

Come up with a Concept
This one goes without saying. Unless you plan on creating a random video collage, you need to zero in on an idea if you plan on making a movie. It is better to come up with 3-4 similar ideas and then decide upon one. When you have more ideas than one to work upon, you have the flexibility to decide on the best among them by checking in which direction each idea has possibility of further developing.

Scripting the Concept
Once you have successfully decided on your main theme, you should start preparing the script by further developing that idea. During this phase, it is advisable to carry writing equipment with you all time, as you never know when and where you get a cinematic inspiration that you would like to note down for adding sub-themes or twists to your main theme. Work hard on the dialogs as catchy movie quotes and their effective delivery are remembered even decades after the movie was released, and become imbibed in the common parlance of the global audience. Think of I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse from The Godfather and you’ll know what I mean.

Draw a Storyboard
This especially helps communicate to the tech-guys how you visualize a particular shot―say, an action sequence. A series of pictures is a better way to give your stunt directors an idea on how you see your film’s protagonist and antagonist positioned against each other in that final showdown.

Get the Money Rolling
Once you are final with your movie’s script and storyboard, you can assemble these together in form of a project and show this project to financiers and companies which may take interest in your project and finance your venture. The cost of producing a movie depends upon how big your project is, besides whom you hire as your cast and crew. Remember, how you present your script and storyboard is very important when approaching financiers. If you are not very confident about your drawing and writing capabilities, get professional writers and sketch artists to do the work for you so that your film project floors the big guys with the money.

Cast and Crew
These are the most vital components that would determine whether or not your film would be successful. A talented and cooperative crew coupled with the right star cast can go ways in making a film successful even if the idea is not very original or extraordinary. On the other hand, a lax crew and the wrong cast can make even an ingenious idea fall flat. Work hard to find the right cast, take auditions and screen tests to zero in on the right actors―don’t just hire any actor just because he/she is popular and has previously delivered many hits.

Hunt for the Locales
After your cast and crew is assembled, hunt for locations based upon your script and its central idea if you plan to shoot the film outdoors. Also, when hunting for locations, keep in mind the scenes that are to be shot in those locations. The proper visual backdrop defines the mood of any scene. Hence, a proper sync must be reached between the two.

Prepare the Shooting Script
This is the actual script based on which the film is shot. This contains the actual cinematic situations, dialogs, effects, and other things which you intend the audience to see once the film is screened.

Organize a Well-defined Schedule
Make a well-defined timeline for each day of the shooting and plan ahead on what proportion is to be completed each day. Make optimum exemptions for re-takes, etc., but make sure these things don’t take up more time than usual and delay your project.

Prepare Call Sheets
Call sheets contain information and schedule regarding which members of the cast are to arrive for make-up, which crew members are due to arrive at the sets and at what time, a record of the scenes to be shot and which cast members are in it, etc. In short, these sheets show a summary of each day’s activities and attendance along with time. Distribute a copy of the call sheet to each cast and crew member so that they know what is expected of them and at what time.

Get the Equipment
Once everything is set, concentrate upon the filmmaking equipment depending upon the requirements of the script and the scenes. Besides the basic lighting and shooting equipment, you may need advanced digital support if you intend to incorporate special effects in your film.

Arrange for Sounds
Arrange for the sounds, background score, and audio effects of your movie, and keep in mind the theme while doing so.

Lights, Camera, Action
Now that everything has been finalized, give your director the green flag and proceed on commencing the shooting of your first cinematic project.

The Unbelievable Evolution of Horror Films

It could just be me, and it might be a critical eye too fervently trained to pick apart the most basic miscues in Hollywood and the surrounding industries, but the horror film industry has hit something of a boon of late. It seems to come in waves. In the 1970s, it was exploitation, slasher flicks like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and going into the ’80s, it was the uber long franchise exploitation of that slasher formula in Friday The 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street. Then there was a lull for a few years, as audiences got bored with the same old movies.

Much like its oft resurrected villains, the horror genre always comes back though, and in the 1990s, it found its stride in the teen slasher genre, this time exploiting the exploding high school, college age teen drama, with films like Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer.

Fast forward a few years, and once again the genre faltered. When you’ve seen one psychopathic, inhuman killer, you’ve seen them all. And so, the next step was something much different, and much more disturbing, born of the proliferation of stylized violence in the films of Tarantino and the psychological mind screws of Asian horror. Hollywood loves its psychopathic killers though, and so after a few years of remaking Japanese films and rewriting classic genres, the horror industry discovered something new―the torture subgenre.

It’s not new though. Films featuring sadistic violence and torture have been around for a while, but with nowhere near the following or financial backing of today’s Eli Roths. If you head back to the hey day of the 1970s exploitation films though and dig through those Cannibal and sexualized vampire films, you’ll find a huge array of scenes in which horrific, disturbing things are done to poor unsuspecting girls and young travelers. What’s different about the Cannibal Holocaust’s of the film industry is that they were incredibly censored, buried and hardly watched by anyone, for foreseeable reasons. If one were to look up the top 10 torture scenes in films (and yes, there are a few lists if you look for them) you’ll find that almost all of them are in films made after 1994, with Pulp Fiction preceding most of them.

Tarantino’s famous leather-clad gimp scene started the whole flood, and when filmmakers saw that they could make a movie with that kind of scene and make money, and win awards for it, the torture started popping up a lot more often. It’s a powerful storytelling device, if done properly. The kind of tension created by tying up the hero of a film and doing unspeakable things to him is two fold. It creates immediate drama, a situation that may or may not end in tragedy. Second, it creates the opportunity for revenge and exacting pain upon the perpetrators of previous torturous scenes.

It makes for good film. But, when the horror industry started drifting away from slasher flicks, a formula that’s fairly straight forward―psychopathic killer stalks and kills teen girls―and started introducing protracted, sadistic killers, with ridiculous methods and disturbing, exploitative plots, things changed in horror. You can take the effort and trace it to the Japanese roots from which it directly arrived, or you can look to childhood inspiration of the Tarantinos and Rob Zombies out there and the exploitation flicks of the 70s. Neither direction is entirely right, as the roots of the genre are a mix of just about everything. Today’s horror films are direct relations to the 70s exploitation flicks in style. Teens wandering a desert road on spring break, attacked and chased down by sadistic killers to commence in a painfully long, ever-tense sequence of events.

However, today’s victims are often not as innocent as they once were. The killers are still insane, and their motives skewed by that insanity, but filmmakers are finding more and more ways to imbue their motives with a sense of urgency and the exploitation of commonly ill-considered traits. Eli Roth’s Hostel, the most disturbing and gory horror film released in the past decade or so, prey’s upon the hedonistic expectations of European backpackers.

Many might disregard the torture films of today as disturbing, self ingratiating visions from disturbed filmmakers, but they are something more entirely. Instead though, I think it’s a natural progression and exploration of genre methods that we’ve visited before, but never quite accepted. In a society that finds itself inundated with constant fear of bodily harm, ideological warfare, and an enemy intangible in almost every way, these films offer a very real, very physical release. Looking at exactly how the torture is portrayed within the film is equally important. It isn’t merely a matter of capturing a few backpackers and removing fingers. These films are about figuring out why someone could be so disturbed and how anyone could survive such brutality. With that kind of terror and pain, what could possibly occur that could be any worse?

It’s the same argument that horror film popularity has been using for decades, and like it or not, war time and mass fear breeds artistic angst and disregard for decency. Horror films are a great example of that.

Mexican Music Genres

Folklore Music

At the time of the Mayan civilization, percussion instruments were primarily used, like the maracas and drums. Other instruments like the ocarinas and flutes were used a little later. During the time of the Aztec civilization, various kinds of hymns were introduced to praise the warriors and the cantares. These ancient musical forms were an irreplaceable part of the pre-Columbian era, till the exploration of Hernando Cortes, the Spaniard who defeated the Aztecs to conquer Mesoamerica. He brought the priests, soldiers, African slaves and melodious Spanish music along with him. It was not too long after that, that all the three cultures of music, namely Mesoamerican, Spanish, and African were unified to form a new and unique form of music.

Son
Around 1800, when Mexico got independence from Spain, Mexican music was introduced to the other European forms of music like the polka and the waltz. It reflected on the traditional music of ‘the nine sons’, with each one representing a particular Mexican region. The name ‘son mariachi’ means the ‘dancers on a wooden platform’ and was the most familiar son in the past. But today Mariachi is referred to as a band of eight performers. Usually three guitarists, three violinists and a trumpet player form a band. Modern-day Mariachis can be hired to play at events and are immensely popular amongst the tourists.

The band dresses in the veteran ‘charro’ (Mexican term for cowboy) costume, and usually plays the typical music from the state of Jalisco, in short, the music of the ‘Huichol’ people. Another traditional Son that is popular in Mexico is ‘Son Jarocho’. It is indigenous to the state of Veracruz. This Son has been tremendously influenced by the Creole, Cuban and African music. A special harp from Veracruz, better known as ‘arpa jarocha’, is the essence of the arocho. Before the Mexican revolution, another son named ‘Son Jalescenses’ used to be sung on the ranches of Mexico. That is the reason jalescenses is popularly known as ‘ranchera’. Ranchera symbolize the simple country music themed on the feelings of love and patriotism. It is deeply influenced by the European waltz and the romantic Latin bolero.

Corrido
At the time of the revolution, the imperishable ‘Corrido’ took birth. Corrido is a form of ballad that tells the stories of the exploitation of the country during the revolution. Modern-day corridos reflect the day-to-day life of the Mexican people and still tells the tales of the political scandals and the recent happenings.

Norteño
Also referred to as the ‘el norte’, meaning ‘the north’, norteño is the most popular form of music in Mexico, as well as the United States. This genre was invented during the ’20s. The ‘bajo sexto’ (a 12 string guitar) and the accordion are the defining instruments of norteño. Norteño is mainly popular for the enticing aroma of its country music, and its clean and steady rhythm.

The Polka Effect
Mexican music is quite influenced by this lively form of dance music. Bohemian migrants to Texas brought the polka beats along with them. Eventually, both the mariachi and ranchera were blended in the lively polka beats, that later became an essential part of the norteño music.

Tejano
Tejano is also called the ‘tex-mex’. Norteño gave birth to this musical genre as well. The origin of tejano lies near the Mexico-Texas border. Tejano is a gift of the Mexican people who moved to Texas, especially in the Central and the Southern Texas. It is a blend of a variety of musical genres across the continent, including the blues, rock and cumbia. It also has the hip-hop and disco adding more lively flavors to it.

Banda
Banda is a blend of almost all the genres of the Mexican music, like the corridos, boleros, baladas, cumbias, rancheras, and also rock and pop. Banda is basically a big brass-based form of music that mainly relies on percussion. It originated in the Sinaloa state of Mexico. Around 10 to 20 people are present in a band.

Others

  • Colombian Cumbia – Till the advent of Banda, around the 80’s, this genre was more popular in Mexico than Columbia itself.
  • Gruperas – This genre is the most popular in the regions of mid-south Mexico. This is a ‘group form’, with a blend of rumba and the ranchera. Grupera is popularly enjoyed at parties and clubs.
  • Danzón – The Cuban people were immensely influenced by the African slaves who invented the rumba. Danzón is a refined dance form, introduced to the Mexican black population by the Cuban people, around 1879.

Modern Music

The music industry in Mexico is always bustling with new arrivals of various artists. An average Mexican listens to all the popular forms of music, such as the pop, rock, heavy metal, etc. Their songs are composed in both English and Spanish.

Rock
Rock is referred to as ‘rock nacional’, meaning national rock. The world rock events have definitely inspired the rock artists in Mexico. In the late 60’s, rock bands strictly had to organize underground events. The ‘Woodstock Music and Art Fair’ (Rock y Ruedas de Avándaro) was one festival where various groups used to display their talents. It was the time when Carlos Santana became hugely popular at Woodstock. The ‘Latin ska’ movement began around the 80’s. It was a movement inspired by the Jamaican ska which is a mixture of Caribbean mento, American jazz, Calypso, and R&B (Rhythm and blues). Mexican rock was limited only to Latin America till late ’90s. It is really a combination of its traditional music and daily life stories.

Young Mexicans
Young musicians have grown up on contemporary hip-hop, rock and jazz. This has made the paradigm shift from traditional Mexican regionalism to global Latin recognition. Named as the ‘Latin alternative’ from the 90’s, it has spread like a wildfire across the globe. Contemporary artists of this genre have raised the standards and the expectations of the Latino music lovers.