Thursday, June 26, 2008

Mad geniuses

I've picked out 3 films that almost killed their creators, either literally or figuratively so. And the directors who made them had to be quite mad, as they pushed their craft to the very extreme in one way or another.

The first one is Jacques Tati's Play Time. Now this is a movie that is unlike any I have ever seen in my life, and I don't know how much I even like it, but yet I find it fascinating to no end. In it, there is not much dialogue at all, no main characters, and just about every shot is wide-angle. I think Tati detested closeups. His sets were so elaborate and with so many things going on at the same time, you have to watch it several times from different parts of the theater to catch everything. Its very nature was sort of off-putting to many audiences, so maybe that's why I haven't seen very many immitators. It's like seeing the Grand Canyon, if you consider yourself a true cinephile, you must see this film at least once in your life. It's quite a spectacle. I think he even said it was like this film came from another planet. In such a way I think it's quite inspiring by showing us different possibilities with cinema. This film was a real budget-buster, too. Tati created this whole futuristic city for a set, outside of Paris, they called "Tativille", and this project ate up so much money that he even resorted to using cardboard cutouts for extras at times. Incidentally, this movie put Tati into financial ruin.

The second film I've chosen to mention is Terrence Malick's Days of Heaven. He filmed this thing on the southern Alberta plains, and drove everybody up the wall during filming, I've heard. After shooting was over, he had to reshoot some scenes, and spent about two years editing the thing, which included overlaying a lot of the spoken dialogue with Linda Manz's voiceovers, and so forth. Two years of editing! I don't think he made the producers very happy, but the world should have no complaints because all that madness produced what I think is one of the most seamless and beautiful films I've ever seen in my life. I think this film comes as close to perfection as any film ever has. Incidentally, this film must have taken so much out of the director that he didn't make another film for the next 20 years. I guess that's called suffering for the cause. But I'll take one Days of Heaven over 20 Woody Allen films. And I like Woody Allen a lot.

And the final film I'll mention is.....can you guess it.....yeah, Werner Herzog's Fitzcarraldo. Of course. This film was one of the most daring projects any director ever set out to make. I think Klaus Kinski almost murdered Mr. Herzog over it, or maybe I'm exaggerating, but it wouldn't have been a surprise if he did. I don't think any director in history has had more cahones than Herzog. He was quite demanding. There are no "special effects" in this film. They really did pull a ship up a mountain. He just had to do everything authentic, didn't he? There is a companion piece to this film, a documentary on the making-of, directed by Les Blank, that is equally as fascinating to watch, or moreso. Here is a clip I don't remember seeing before, but I'll use it because it really makes the point:

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