Monday, November 12, 2007

DVD Review: Cinema 16: American Short Films

This collection of short films is part of a trilogy. Focusing on the early works of famous film maker, Cinema 16 is a balance of experimental art and narrative films. As a teaching text, I would recoomend the following films that have immediate application in the teaching context

The Lunch Date (11 min): This fantastic film challenges student audiences pre-conceptions about film. Shot in black and white. The central protagonist as a older women in a railway station. There is often an initial bias against the film but the narrative slowly hooks the audience in with a great finish. This film uses a very simple scenario of the woman who missed her train and is stuck waiting in a cafe, to tackle the greater issues like racism, prejudices and acceptance. The film is useful to study the way the film makers use image and sound to position the audience to understand the woman's predicament and to create atmosphere and mood for the piece.

Freiheit (3 min) . This early George Lucas film is another interest exercise in building tension and putting together an action sequence.

Terminal Bar (22 min): A documentary about a little New York bar uses a lot of archival photography, press releases, along the bartender / own narrating on the regular faces and the history of the bar. The film has a strong sense of visual style and rhythm to build momentum supported an evocative soundtrack. Whilst not a film with direct applications for Drama students, it should be useful to for technical observation or as part of a study of documentary films with senior students. Theme: change, belonging, history. I am not sure whether subject matter would be accessible with junior audiences.

Terry Tate: Office Linebacker (4 min) This comic short plays with a version of the fish out of water scenario to hilarious effect. Suitable for any year but most likely more appreciated by older students year 9 to 12.

The Discipline of D.E. (13min) This Gus Van Sant contains a sly black humour as the narrator attempts to education the audience in the discipline of doing easy. This funny film is a useful demonstration in the power of the medium to play with ideas and explore theories.

George Lucas in Love (8 min) is satire on the Shakespeare in Love as the title suggests. As long the audience have a familiarity with Lucas' films - esp Star Wars - most students should fine the film entertaining. It would be useful to discuss / consider how and where film makers get inspiration from other works, a homage, that students are already know as a method / approach to generate new original ideas.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

DVD Review: Shorts Vol. 2

Same series but not quiet as strong a connection as Vol 1. Still plenty of interesting stuff. Here are my brief notes on some of the films regarding their applications in the teaching context. If you are going to be selective in your viewing I would recommend watching the orange titled films first.

Dear Sweet Emma: (5 min) This short animation of an old woman Emma who is not quite as sweet as she initially seems. For cartoon, some minor gruesome sequences like a cat in for garbage disposal unit. Black comedy for 15+

Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness: (15 min)This is a brilliant and powerful visual journey that draws on the style of a 1950s educational documentary. Slowly builds a visual language with a sense of humour to finally pack a provocative punch that wants to make audience think about their own p.o.v. regarding the pro-life / pro-choice debate. This is definitely a great teaching texts with senior students but needs to placed in the appropriate context.

Child's Play: A short political anti Bush advert.

Milton Rogovin: (12min) A simple documentary that records an elderly photographer journey as he returns to a community where he had taken a series of photos of the working minority groups in his neighbour since the 1970s. Good for any junior English documentary study.

The firefly Man (10 min) Another animation - focus on an elderly man reliving through flask back /nightmares an incident where his wife / child are killed in a bear attack. Touches on the themes of lost and magic realism(?). It might be useful in Junior curriculum.

Coyote Beach (21 min) I personally found this film a little drawn out. It focuses on a young power couple on a day retreat to an isolated beach. The film varies in control in pacing which loses tension and mood at times but it is still a useful film to watch as a character / relationship study. It does successful create a quiet tension, mood and atmosphere for extended passages of the film without quite sustaining it. The characters are intentional frustrating as the film-makers position the audience on either side of this power struggle / mind game that the relationship moving to and fro.

Family Tree (31 min) An exploration of the extended family as a unit / the love within the family through a Thanksgiving dinner. The film has a touch of magic realism has the long lost son who has returned has a strange relationship with trees and water. Themes of belonging, understanding differences within family structure are the focus of the narrative. With the film features solid televisual acting and characterisation, it almost runs at 30 min like a pilot for a new show. The sequences in the kitchen are a useful demonstration of creating conflict within a confined space. Useful as a teaching text year 9 to 12.

Here was the Anthem: (21 min) A Mexican crime / drug film (subtitled) portrays a drug deal with young rich kids going wrong - becomes a nightmare journey into the underworld. Paying homage to a genre of crime flicks and Mexican cinema. Theme: The haves and have not's / Crime. Useful teaching text.

And the redman went green (2 min). This is a great example of a short experimental exercise in film-making with the juxtaposition of two separate actions: 1.) a woman waiting to cross the road and 2.) A roller blader, coming together to create an atmosphere of anticipation, tension and finally poetic resolution. No strong narrative, just a chance momentary meeting. This is helpful to study the camera and editing technique used to build the action sequence.

Space Off (21 min). An interesting play with the sci-fi genre focusing on a trip to Mars. The film demonstrates in teaching context how you can take one slice/ aspect of larger story and develop it into an interesting narrative that would stand alone as a short film.

Good Night Valentino.(15 min) I particularly enjoyed this film for variety of reasons that likes it an interesting text to study in Drama / English. 1.) for the use of historical figures in a fictional context exploring an unknown conversation like Michael Frayn's "Copenhagen". History could be an interest resource for inspiration, 2.) For its sense of film style drawn from Valentino's era of silent film, framing both ends of the film a silent film, using great locations filmed evocatively with an attention to detail, and 3.) it is a useful film is reflect on the use of the narrator to drive the film, lending it a sense of a poetic monologue. There is a great sense of tension in the film's stillness. The theme touch on masculinity and the burdens of film. Definitely a teaching resource with senior students.

Home Road Movies. Animation again. Not much interest to me at the moment.

The Most Beautiful man in the world (6 min). This film is useful because it is working within the same time frame as HSC drama films. It is also interesting to look at the way the film-maker starts and finishes the film. With very little dialogue, the title of the film becomes possibly sinister or at least ambiguous in the context that the central protagonist is a small girl playing in a field near her home where she encounters a strange man. The film tells the story visually with the " shots suggested by the landscape locations". Due to minimal dialogue, the sound scape becomes important to create atmosphere and mood. The commentary is worth listening to.

The Winter People (14 min) This film positions the audience into reading actions with a haunted overtone as a mother and daughter close down the holiday house for the winter. But the young girl believes the house will be occupied by the winter people. The films plays with the convention of horror / ghost stories and would be useful teaching resources in any year 7 to 12 context. Also demonstrates potential of working with what special locations that you can get access to.

The Morning Guy: (5 min) A cheesy comedy about a husband who drives his wife mad play a radio announcer in their house. Okay with average acting and camera work.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

DVD Review: Weirdly Lame: The FireSign Theatre.

The Firesign Theatre are apparently an American institution. After a little internet research and celebrity testimony, I thought this television recording of a live show might be an example of comedy play-building.
But I haven't grown up with "The Firesign Theatre". I don't have an entrenched emotional relationship with Firesign and now wonder whether a previous connection to the group was an important prerequisite to enjoying this DVD. I'd only read a few articles and reviews on Firesign, I thought what the heck, give Firesign a go. After all, I'm curious about comedy, improvisation and theatre, and as a H.S. Drama teacher, I'm always on the look out for good DVD performance resources.
However, I must apologise to any dedicated "Firesign" fans (like Robin Williams) whom I may offend but I found "Weirdly Cool" surprisingly cumbersome and damp. There were a couple of sound moments that really worked well but on the whole, I was extremely disappointed by their worn routines and lame jokes. The stagecraft was only adequate setting some poor standard for students to aspire to. I actually found that watching "weirdly cool" became increasingly more torturous the further it went on.
Now,this DVD does provoke some thought on the nature of comedy and how much humour can be lost through cultural and/or generational gaps. How different are the British / American / Australian / German / etc senses of humour? I really doubt that I could even show one or two sections from this DVD performance to my students as an example of play-building or comic acting.
I guess "Weirdly Cool" is intended as a remembrance and must have some sentimental value to those fans who was there. In their original recording may have captured some of the flair and sharp wit that they have become famour for. However, as far as I'm concerned... Is anybody interested in a cheap almost new copy of "Weirdly Cool" for sale?
(This entry is based on my original amazon review)

DVD Review: "Theatre of Tadeusz Kantor "makes for an informative but slow slog

At nearly two and half hours, this 1991 documentary / tribute attempts to offer an insightful but at times slow study into this Polish theatre practitioner. The content basically cuts between an intimate interview with Kantor, archival footage of his performances and his design illustrations. I found some of the interview / design sections quite fascinating whilst other sections of the performance footage dragged on, out of context. A lot of the performance footage has the muffled soundtrack of a formal female narrator attempting to explain / interpret the performance which becomes tiresome and gets in the way of our enjoyment of the footage. However, the more recent performance footage gets better treatment.
Obviously, access to such resources from any theatre director / designer are rare and I do appreciate the opportunity to view them at all. From a historical / theatrical perspecive, this DVD offers an insight into this period of radical theatre and the avant garde, exploring the relationship between art, painting, object design and an "informal theatre of chance" happenings.
As a teaching tool for High School Drama students, I believe this documentary would make a very tough dry experience but as a Drama teacher, I found "The Theatre of Tadeusz Kantor" useful viewing. It should be another helpful teaching resource to broad student understanding of what theatre is and can be!

DVD Review: Shorts Vol 1. ...The useful H.S. teaching tool

As a H.S. teacher with senior (16-18 yr old) students who are starting to make short videos for their (HSC) leaving exams/ major project, I was looking for collections of short films that I could use as a teaching resource. As the students have grown up mostly viewing only feature films, I wanted to broaden their experience and knowledge of the potential and limitations of the short film format, to transform their storytelling ideas to suit the shorter format, and to inspire them to go on and produce their own original exciting work.

This collections of "Shorts! Vo. 1 " will certainly help me to fulfil this objective offering an interesting and diverse range of good short films. Most of the films have been produced on modest budgets which places the work realistically within the reach of students' own aspirations as film makers and storytellers setting a bar to shoot for. The commentaries are also actually a practical and accessable support teaching tools that present some appropriate insight into the film making process. Whilst most of the films were produced in the US or UK, there are a few European films with subtitles that are excellent.

Please note that a couple of the films contain slightly challenging or mature themes and content like suicide and pornography etc. Some of the other films in this collection also have teaching applications for English / Film Studies with younger H.S. audiences.

I have since received the next three volumns and I hope that the rest of this series sustains the standard!

Brief Film Notes.

What is wrong with this picture? by This short comic film is a variation on a charity / community service advertisement. It is quick, funny and useful film ready to engage year 7 students up (3 minutes),

DVD Review: Hamlet by Brook / Brook by Brook

Attempting to capture any theatrical production on film is always a difficult process. Of course, we are not viewing the film in a commercial context but as an audio visual recording of theatre. Even if recorded as television with a multiple camera set up, with multiple takes, and minimum audience participation, we need to understand it as a theatrical recording in this different light. As a theatre lover and Drama teacher, I really appreciate and respect any new resource that attempts to offer an insight into this unique theatrical process.
This companion package of Brook's "Hamlet" and the "Brook on Brook" documentary is no different. It actually presents an excellent and successful opportunity to study both a significant theatre production and an important theatre practitioner in Peter Brook.
I particular found Brook's Hamlet a moving and emotional performance that encouraged me to discover addition layers of meaning of this familiar play through Brook's interpretation. This Hamlet offers us a pared back view of the play, exploring what is the essence of the tale. There are numerous cuts to the full text that help to facilitate this retelling of the Hamlet fable. More importantly, this Hamlet offers us a practical chance to study how some of Brook's theories and ideas practically manifest within this theatrical/filmic production.
Personally, I loved this chance to get an insight into Brook's theatre brain. If you are a student of theatre rather than just a shakespeare lover, this DVD package is worth a go!

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Approaches To Acting: Augusto Boal

For one of my current theatre projects, I am researching Augusto Boal in preparation to teach a new topic "Approaches to Acting" as a part of the N.S.W. senior Drama course. This course provides the opportunity to study two theatre practitioners, and as such, I have selected to focus on Vsevlod Meyerhold along with Boal. This should present students with two very different but engaging "Approaches to Acting" that will inform their understanding on acting and playbuilding. Augusto Boal's work on"The Theatre of the Oppressed" is noted for his attempt to break down the division between the actors and the passive audience and resulted in the coining of the phrase "spect-actor" suggesting a more fluid connect between the two aspects of the performance process. The following entries on Augusto Boal will continue to explore this relationship between acting and the audience in Boal's work: on forum theatre, invisible theatre and the theatre of image, to develop a comprehensive understanding of Boal's approach towards acting. I will be drawing on the following references during this work.
  • Games for actors and non-actors by Augusto Boal ( Routlegdge 1992)
  • Theatre of the Oppressed by Augusto Boal (Pluto Press 2000)
  • Hamlet and The Baker's Son by Augusto Boal (Routledge 2001)
  • Augusto Boal by Frances Babbage (Routledge 2004)