As a new contributor to Art DepartMENTAL, I will be covering the Art department scene in Los Angeles in greater detail as the months go on. Rose and I thought it would be a good idea to start off with a little bit about myself and my work in the art department through a Q&A. So without further delay, Rose asked and I answered…
Tag Archives: Arts
Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival starts off shortly with Morgan Spurlock’s documentary, POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold about the quantity and persistence of product placement in television and film all while selling branding rights in order to finance that very film. Also playing tonight is Michael Tucker & Petra Epperlein’s documentary, Fightville which gets to the heart of the MMA fighting world in which fighters condition not only their bodies but their minds and souls in order to be the very best.
I had a chance to see a lot of the films receiving early buzz including the two films mentioned above. Check out my thoughts below on what’s hot and what’s not.
Directed By: Cindy Meehl | Country: USA
Runtime: 88 min
Synopsis: The Horse Whisperer may be the stuff of Hollywood legend but the charismatic horseman who inspired the novel and the film is very real. For Buck Brannaman – a true cowboy who is also part guru and part philosopher -horses are a mirror of the human soul.
Review: In this Sundance Audience Award Winner Buck Brannaman, a famed horse whisperer, proves that almost any horse can perform as an extension of oneself if given the proper training. The magnificent thing is that it is not the horses that need the training- it is the humans. Through intermittent discussion of Buck’s own abusive childhood we come to learn what Buck has been through with his own father which in some sense gave him the unique ability to understand a horse’s fears so he could become one of the best horse trainers working today. Buck is the type of film easy to fall in love with as it gets to the heart of why horses are gentle and soulful creatures by nature; it is man who has the ability to turn a horse wild, like a father with his son. There is no need to be a ‘horse person’ going into this film- Buck’s modesty will charm you into leaving a grand admirer of both horses and Buck Brannaman himself.
Directed By: Billy Corben | Country: USA
Runtime: 101 min
Synopsis: The Limelight was one of New York’s most famous nightclubs, but beneath its glamour and celebrity was an underworld of drugs, betrayal and murder. In Billy Corben’s latest documentary, we follow Limelight creator Peter Gatien through his career and the business of clubbing that nearly destroyed him.
Review: Limelight documents Peter Gatien’s humble beginnings in Cornwall, Ontario, Canada and his meteoric rise to the top with clubs in Atlanta and later ‘Limelight’ in New York City. It just so happens that his rise to the top coincided with the rise of the drug Ecstasy which became popular with the generation of club kids that Peter Gatien worked hard to create and populate throughout his clubs. Now while all of this sounds well and good in terms of entertaining subject matter, think again. This doc is a mess- from story-telling to tacky graphics I don’t know where to start. The first half doesn’t know where it’s going or frankly if there is a story arc to be had. Eventually they get to the point near the middle of the film which is the court case against Peter Gatien accusing him of knowingly turning a blind eye (no pun intended) to the drug culture he created which ultimately led to his deportation to Canada. The worst part is the film is so one-sided it feels like a Pro-Peter Gatien propaganda film. In the end it’s interesting subject matter told atrociously with no new details. I wish I could say it was better.
Directed By: Michael Tucker & Petra Epperlein | Country: USA
Runtime: 85 min
Synopsis: In a small gym in Louisiana where competitors mop up their own blood between battles, Dustin Poirier and Albert Stainback are two young fighters with potential and a dream. Through their trials, the nuanced tactics and extreme self-discipline of MMA become apparent. This is a brutal sport but there is a surprising grace and spirituality to it.
Review: Fightville follows two fighters who want to be the very best in the MMA fighting world in order to get signed by the UFC. While violence may dissuade some viewers I think that the film is very respectful in what we see on camera and never shows us brutality for entertainment’s sake. I just want to reiterate that this is not a sensationalist telling of a bloodsport. I really appreciated fighter Dustin Poirier’s passion as redemption from his past and the channeling of his energy into what is now a very well managed and regulated sport. We come to see that the most important thing is not just the physical conditioning these men receive in training but the technical and mental conditioning. This is proven in one of my favourite scenes where Albert is unprepared and coming up short after he lets life get in the way of his goals. In the end you will leave understanding these men, what they do, why they do it and how they’ve come so far in a sport so often misunderstood.
BEING ELMO: A PUPPETEER’S JOURNEY
Directed By: Constance Marks | Country: USA
Runtime: 76 min
Synopsis: This Sundance Special Jury Prize winner is heart-warming and fun for the whole family. Being Elmo is the inspiring story of how a shy nine-year-old Kevin Clash pursued his dream of becoming a puppeteer on Sesame Street. Raised in a low-income community, Clash’s talents were evident in his homemade prototypes and the puppet shows he staged for his mother’s daycare kids. But it was after his first gig on a local children’s TV show that he was truly on his path.
Review: Being Elmo is the story about the man behind the muppet. We meet Kevin Clash, a.k.a ‘Elmo’ who shows us his humble beginnings in a low income black community and how he stumbled upon puppeteering at a very young age. He saw his dreams come true so quickly he could barely believe his luck. What becomes very apparent during the film is that this wasn’t just luck, it was single-minded determination and supportive parents not to mention the puppeteering pioneers such as Jim Henson who took him under their wing and nurtured his innate talent for bringing these characters to life. The film also reminds us that every success has its price and certainly Kevin has had to sacrifice his relationships and his time in order to allow Elmo to ‘love’ the masses. However if you’re looking for a feel good doc to make you feel all warm and fuzzy this is most definitely the documentary for you.
THE BULLY PROJECT
Directed By: Lee Hirsch | Country: USA
Runtime: 94 min
Synopsis: The Bully Project follows five kids and families over the course of a school year. Stories include two families who have lost children to suicide and a mother who awaits the fate of her 14-year-old daughter who has been incarcerated after bringing a gun on her school bus. With rare access to the Sioux City Community School District, the film gives an intimate glimpse into school buses, classrooms, cafeterias and principle’s offices- offering insight into the often cruel world of children.
Review: The Bully Project stands up for every kid whose ever been bullied and brings their story to the forefront in a heart-wrenching and beautifully weaved portrait of the bullying crisis in America… and YES- it is a crisis. The filmmakers go in from all sides including child suicides due to bullying. It continues to show us what is and isn’t going on between teachers, principals, students and most importantly their parents. Among the case studies, we meet Alex, age 12, who is picked on and abused almost daily but when his parents finally find out and talk to the principal they are treated with general ambivalence. What’s frustrating is that the teachers, counselors, principals and parents are trying but it takes the parents of the offending child to also appropriately take action. We are made witness to the fact that there are no easy answers, but also understanding that the ‘boys will be boys’ excuse is not an acceptable response and open dialogue in communities will help to create solutions. From the end of the film: Text ‘BULLYPROJECT’ to ‘30644’ to help make a difference.
POM WONDERFUL PRESENTS: THE GREATEST MOVIE EVER SOLD
Directed By: Morgan Spurlock | Country: USA
Runtime: 90 min
Synopsis: How can a documentary become a blockbuster? Observing that all big Hollywood movies rely on product placements to generate mass awareness, Morgan Spurlock and producing/writing partner Jeremy Chilnick set their sights on the advertising world for their new project, a doc-buster built on branding. Spurlock buys into marketing mania to tease out the myriad methods by which products are woven into the fabric of corporate entertainment.
Review: Morgan Spurlock does it again with a documentary as entertaining as it is informative. Morgan’s goal as he starts out on his journey is to make a film funded by product placement about product placement. Along the way we the audience learn about brand collateral and brand personality and how the film and TV industry sell out daily in order to market their films better and get their project to the masses. While all of this may sound dry and boring the film is largely a comedy about a man on a mission to get a film made come hell or high water while remaining completely transparent as he ‘sells out’. By the end of the film, as we become inundated with advertisements, even Morgan starts to wonder, “Have I sold out?” By trying to exploit big brands (in a matter of speaking) has he gone to the dark side? I will say that working in the art department, this film gave me unique insight into how I myself am affecting the viewer every time I pick up the phone to add product placement to a project. I will think twice.
Will you be seeing anything at Hot Docs? Do any of these look or sound particularly enticing?
Rose XO. .
Pablo Picasso (1881 – 1973) is one of the most well-known and prolific artists of all time, painting over 20, 000 pieces. Starting from a young age he always had immense artistic talent, so much so that his father, also an artist, put down his paintbrush and declared he’d never paint again. Picasso is probably most famous for co-founding the Cubist movement with Georges Braque, but the great thing about Picasso is that within his immense body of work, he developed so many different painting styles while still keeping his own distinctive voice – you know a Picasso when you see one. Here’s a brief visual journey through Picasso’s different periods of creativity.
Childhood & Earliest Works (1881-1901)
Blue Period (1901-1904)
Rose Period (1904-1906)
Black Period (1906-1907)
Classicism & Surrealism (1913-1945)
Later Works (1946-1973)
One of my favourite Picasso’s is “Le Moulin de la Galette”, which he painted at age 19 during his first trip to Paris. What is your favourite Picasso?
Today’s Hump Day Quote Day theme is Design. You can check out the last theme, Ideas, here. The next quote theme will be Ego.
While all of the quotes below probably fit any kind of design I chose quotes that transmit the idea and my core belief behind Production Design:
Production Design is not only about having the perfect relationship to the story but also the ability to lift up the story to a place no one knew it could go. If a film is well designed it allows for depth of character and depth of story which in turn creates depth of experience for the intelligent viewer.
Blade Runner (1982)
Production Designer: Lawrence G. Paull
Good design is obvious. Great design is transparent.
— Joe Sparano
Visual design is often the polar opposite of engineering: trading hard edges for subjective decisions based on gut feelings and personal experiences. It’s messy, unpredictable, and notoriously hard to measure. The apparently erratic behavior of artists drives engineers bananas. Their decisions seem arbitrary and risk everything with no guaranteed benefit.
— Scott Stevenson
Design is the search for a magical balance between business and art; art and craft; intuition and reason; concept and detail; playfulness and formality; client and designer; designer and printer; and printer and public.
— Valerie Pettis
People ignore design that ignores people.
— Frank Chimero
People think that design is styling. Design is not style. It’s not about giving shape to the shell and not giving a damn about the guts. Good design is a renaissance attitude that combines technology, cognitive science, human need, and beauty to produce something that the world didn’t know it was missing.
Gone with the Wind (1939)
Production Designer: William Cameron Menzies
Content precedes design. Design in the absence of content is not design, it’s decoration.
Good design must be defined by appropriateness to audience and goals, and by its effectiveness, not by its adherence to Swiss design or the number of awards it wins.
— Drew Davies
The dumbest mistake is viewing design as something you do at the end of the process to ‘tidy up’ the mess, as opposed to understanding it’s a ‘day one’ issue and part of everything.
— Tom Peters
The life of a designer is a life of fight: fight against the ugliness.
Practice safe design: Use a concept.
— Petrula Vrontikis
Designing a product is designing a relationship.
— Steve Rogers
Great design will not sell an inferior product, but it will enable a great product to achieve its maximum potential.
Design is an opportunity to continue telling the story, not just to sum everything up.
— Tate Linden
Rear Window (1954)
Art Directors: Joseph MacMillan Johnson & Hal Pereira
Which quote is your favourite and why? What is your favourite film with the best production design? How and why did it affect you the way it did?