Thursday, March 22, 2012

Narration, Voiceover, and the Shape of the World

“I felt that people that frown on voiceover, it’s just a stupid thing. You think of the pictures that had voiceover, and they’re the best pictures ever. I mean, Citizen Kane, The Magnificent Ambersons, Jules and Jim. Jules and Jim is 90 percent voiceover. And The Wild Child. And even commercial films. Billy Jack had voiceover. Clockwork Orange. So that, “Show it, don’t tell it,” I think is a stupid reaction. You can be inventive in an independent picture with voiceover, and it’s one thing you can do that, in a large studio picture… they aren’t likely to do. And voiceover also helps you to cover an enormous amount of long as you don’t use it the wrong way, and that is to cheat on exposition. And you can even use it that way and it’s just fine. You know, I really do believe that as long as a picture has the breath of life in it that it’s not going to matter what kind of mistakes you make, including the expository use of voiceover.” – Terrence Malick, 1976

Do we still treat narration and voiceover like proper filmmaking technique’s bastard step-child? People have been mouthing the “show, don’t tell” platitude for decades now. And it’s understandable: The desire to “tell” is often great, and it’s not a bad idea to combat convenience and temptation. But still. Forget the films Malick cites in the above 1976 quote and think of the ones we’d cite now, many moons later. Taxi Driver, Goodfellas, Malick’s own Badlands and Days of Heaven, Full Metal Jacket. Or avoid the film-snob brigade altogether and make your way down to Risky Business and/or Avatar, if you prefer.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Earworm Cinema: A Theory

Do you know what an “earworm” is? It’s the name for those songs that get stuck in your head. Like when you walk through your day with “Walk like an Egyptian” or something echoing incessantly inside your mind, and you wonder how it happened, since you don’t even like that song.

There’s a lot of science and speculation around earworms and how they work, but one theory has it that they’re a form of cognitive itch: Basically, your memory of the song is imperfect -- it’s missing something -- and the brain, without any real prompting from you (or “you,” since your brain effectively is you) plays the song over and over in your head to get it right. This, btw, is also one of the reasons why earworms are usually songs you don’t like all that much – your brain would presumably have a better memory of a personal favorite. (It’s also the reason why one recommended way of getting rid of an earworm is just to try and play or sing the entire song from beginning to end. So next time you see me trying to remember the lyrics to “All That She Wants,” you’ll know why.)

Saturday, March 10, 2012

She Rode a Horse

They're not gonna make it.

Titanic is coming back, and I’ll probably have something to say about it when it does. It’s one of my favorite films and I don’t really care who knows it, or for that matter what they think of it. But right now, though, the thought of Titanic is inextricably intertwined with one of my most memorable and hilarious moviegoing experiences.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

On Lucy Liu, Sherlock Holmes, and My First Day at My First Sundance

Last week saw the announcement that Lucy Liu had been cast as Dr. Watson in a new American Sherlock Holmes TV show titled Elementary. Yes, this is odd news, in many ways, but I found myself sort of wistful upon hearing it. I shall now spend entirely too much space explaining why.