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#077. Plus or Minus 1/2

I would wager most people don’t know what this week’s topic is about. The title is merely a clever play on the two titles of the films, but in reality, this week’s theme would more accurately be portrayed as “films about directing.” While many films explore the “behind the scenes” of movie-making, few focus on the directors themselves. In fact, most of those films focus on the drama of the actors. And yet, sometimes the creative process a director goes through has its own challenges that can also be filled with just as much drama. What inspires directors to make films is sometimes the very same thing that causes people to act in them. Whether you’re shooting your first film on a reel of Super 8, or have just completed your 8½th movie, there is a particular art that goes into making movies that might be quantified, but rarely understood. This week’s two films look at what it takes to make a movie from the director’s perspective.

Super 8Super 8
Year: 2011
Rating: PG-13
Length: 112 minutes / 1.86 hours

How many of us have snuck away with the family video camera to go and shoot our own movies? Whether we want to experiment with the medium of stop-motion, film a battle scene with our friends, or just capture some sick bike tricks, most kids are limited by the camera their family owns. And even though most films end up being a garbled mess that never quite measures up to your expectations, the fact that you went out there and shot it shows at least some initiative. Yet, there are some who do show exceptional talent when they get behind that camera. These are the truly talented ones. Since a lot goes into a successful film, including a lot of money, the low-budget films of our childhood are always impressive monuments to ingenuity, to say the least.

Summer has finally hit in a small Ohio town in 1979. But instead of going swimming or playing games, Charles Kaznyk (Riley Griffiths) has plans of a different sort. Charles has decided to make a zombie film with his friends. Of course, while he wants the movie to be a success, he is also hoping that its leading lady, Alice Dainard (Elle Fanning) will notice him. Unfortunately, a relationship forms between Alice and his best friend, Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney). However, in the attempt to get the perfect location shot, Charles accidentally catches a spectacular train crash on the film of Joe’s Super 8 camera, thrusting all the kids into a government cover-up that will reveal what the town is really made of. But don’t think Charles has given up on his film just yet. With events out of their control happening around them, Charles uses the real events as backdrops for his fake movie.

Year: 1963
Rating: Not Rated
Length: 138 minutes / 2.3 hours

As mentioned in the intro for this post, (1963) refers to the number of films Federico Fellini had made. Of course, this breaks down to six movies, two shorts and one collaboration, the six of which are the only “whole” movies counted, thus making this film his 8½. This movie is widely praised by cinephiles, and it even won a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar in 1964. When considered in the absolute best of the top 10 films (Sight & Sound‘s Director’s poll), it has placed at #2 for two decades (right behind Citizen Kane (1941)). And yet, since the film’s title is a reference to the film itself, it is very meta, examining itself in endless loops. A film strictly about the creative process of creating a film is itself inherently creative. Still, considering that this, his 8½th film, is by far Fellini’s best, some encouragement can be gleaned for a lot of up-and-coming directors in the knowledge that their first work doesn’t necessarily have to be their best.

When you make a great film like Guido Anselmi (Marcello Mastroianni) has, you figure it’s the perfect time for a break. However, those who helped you make the hit are soon banging on your door, wanting you to create again just so they can get a paycheck. Of course, through that kind of forced pressure, idea creation can be limited. When your mind is a blank, where would you even begin? As with many great stories, their origins lie in the truth of the past. Guido thinks back over everything that has brought him to this point in an attempt to come up with an idea for a new film. Unfortunately, this leads to his remembrance of all the women he has loved and lost. Fortunately, these memories lead to Guido’s next idea, and filming soon begins on his next masterpiece.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 filmmaker stories

One response to “#077. Plus or Minus 1/2

  1. Pingback: End of Act Two | Cinema Connections

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