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New Escapist Column! On the Use of Long Takes in “1917”…

I published a new In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine a little while ago, looking at the use of long takes within 1917.

The long take is an interesting cinematic technique. Most obviously, it’s a dazzling display of craft and technical proficiency. It’s a power move that exists largely so a director can flex their muscles. However, it also serves a compelling paradoxical purpose. The longer that a director holds a take, the more that the audience drifts away from reality. Cuts allow the audience to ground themselves, to process what they have seen. Removing cuts forces the audience to hold a single long gaze. In 1917, Sam Mendes uses that gaze to collapse time and space. In doing so, he captures some of the insanity of war.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

Non-Review Review: Pavarotti

Pavarotti is pretty much exactly what one might expect from a Ron Howard documentary looking at the life of Luciano Pavarotti.

Howard is often overlooked or dismissed as a filmmaker, in large part because he never cultivated the same sort of auteur persona associated with other great American directors like Steven Spielberg or Robert Zemeckis. Indeed, it’s often quite difficult to pin down what exactly makes a Ron Howard film distinctly his own, which is something of a compliment. Howard has a versatility and adaptability that makes him one of the most enduring and successful major American film directors, with his filmography including films as diverse as Splash, Willow, Ransom, A Beautiful Mind and The DaVinci Code.

Nailing the high note.

However, there are certain recurring motifs that can be spotted in his work. In particular, Howard has something of a minor fascination with competence, returning time and time again to the idea of people who are very good at doing what they do. Some of Howard’s best films read as odes to competence, simply watching highly capable people in tense situations, demonstrating their skill and craft; Apollo 13, Rush and even Frost/Nixon. It is tempting to read far too much into this, to ask whether Howard sees something of himself in his subjects, the skilled craftsman who delivers exactly what’s needed more times than not.

This perhaps explains the shape of Pavarotti, Howard’s latest effort. It is a film that is very much interested in the how of its subject, more than the why. The film largely avoids trying to explain the eponymous tenor, and comes alive when discussing the maestro‘s technique, craft and organisation. There is a genuine appreciation of the skill and technique on display in Pavarotti, which is very engaged in the mechanics of how the singer accomplished so much of what he did – both in terms of actual performance, but also in terms of business management. The only problem is that this doesn’t leave much room for Pavarotti as a man.

Scoring highly.

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Is There Method to the Madness: Christian Bale’s Weight & Method Acting

Christian Bale is losing a massive amount of weight again for his role in the upcoming Concrete Island. It’s rather topical, given that the actor took time out of an interview to lambaste those who would deride his massive amount of weight loss for The Fighter:

‘To be honest, I find it laughable that it’s considered to be some f—ing gimmick — it’s so patronizing. For God’s sake, do people not understand what a pain it is to do? It’s as though it’s some comment about, ‘Oh it’s easy for him, because he’s done it a bunch of times.’ It’s not easy, it’s not fun — it’s horrible.”

In fairness, I think Bale misses the general thrust of the argument when he makes the (entirely fair) point that it’s a very difficult process. I don’t think anybody will argue that such control over his own body mass is easy (as, if it were, I’d probably choose to be the epitome of physical fitness, but it doesn’t work that way). I think the general question is whether such a large fluctuation in weight adds a benefit to his roles that is worth the physical strain. Is there a gain for the pain, so to speak?

What's the skinny?

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