Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound


An endless array of sound.

(2019) Documentary (Dogwoof/Cinetic/MatsonBen Burtt, Walter Murch, Barbra Streisand, Robert Redford, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Sofia Coppola, Ang Lee, Ryan Coogler, David Lynch, Gary Rydstrom, Christopher Nolan, Ai-Ling Lee, Pat Jackson, Alyson Dee Moore, Victoria Rose Sampson, Mike A. Mangini, Peter Weir, Gwendolyn Yates Whittle, Cecilia Hall. Directed by Midge Costin

 

Movies make memories and not all of them are visual. Who could forget the roar of the T-Rex in Jurassic Park, the shriek of the violins in Psycho, the explosions and gunfire in Saving Private Ryan? Even though film began as a strictly visual medium, today it is the marriage of two of our primary senses and both are at least as important to making a movie work.

Longtime sound editor and current professor at the University of Southern California Midge Costin has a passion for sound which shows through in her documentary. She loads up with clips that illustrate her point, one of which was that Thomas Edison invented the motion picture camera in essence to give people something to look at while they were listening to his phonograph, which he invented more than a decade earlier. Due to the logistics of sound and light not moving at the same speed, we were stuck with silent films until 1927.

In any case, we get to hear from some of the giants of sound design, such as Murray Spivak, Walter Murch and Ben Burtt – hardly household names but all responsible for developments in sound that have shaped how we experience movies (and television) today.

Many of the advances in sound design were fought for by directors like Barbra Streisand, who fought with studio heads to bring stereo sound to A Star is Born – in fact, she was willing to spend a million dollars of her own money to do so, but the studio so loved the results that they footed the bill themselves. We hear how Orson Welles used techniques brought over from his time on radio to enhance films like Citizen Kane and how Murch was influenced by experimental musician John Cage when constructing the legendary scene in The Godfather when Michael Corleone kills a rival mafioso and a corrupt cop in an Italian restaurant. You can almost hear, as Murch puts it, his neurons firing.

The professorial side of Costin comes in as she discusses the various components that go into the sound mix. You’ll discover what ADR stands for (Automated Dialogue Replacement; that refers to dialogue that is re-recorded in studio) or what Foley artists do (they create sound effects such as boots walking through snow, or glass breaking). Costin does bring some of the giants of the industry to talk about sound; visionaries like Lucas and Coppola whose drive to create better movie experiences led them to hire men like Murch and Burtt. We also hear from other directors who understand the nature of sound and its importance to film (like Peter Weir and Robert Redford) as well as from a parade of sound editors.

We also discover that despite the under-representation of women in general in Hollywood technical roles, sound design has always had women involved from Pat Jackson (who is interviewed extensively) on down to Ai-Ling Lee. She also utilizes graphic representations of sound waves to delineate various sections of the film, which is largely divided between chronological advances in sound before moving into the various elements of movie sound. These sections non-buffs might find a little bit dry.

The point is that sound and music often provide an emotional context that images alone cannot alone give us. The sound of a movie has often been underestimated, not only by the moviegoing audience but by studio executives and sometimes even those who make movies. That’s a shame and even though this can sometimes sink into dryness, it is nevertheless essential viewing for any cinema lover who wants to understand movies better and is certainly a must for any aspiring film student.

REASONS TO SEE: Absolutely essential for film buffs everywhere.
REASONS TO AVOID: Those with only a casual interest in film may find it dry.
FAMILY VALUES: Perfectly suitable for all audiences.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Although 1927’s The Jazz Singer was the first movie with sound, two years earlier Don Juan had a mechanically synchronized score
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/30/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews: Metacritic: 80/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Visions of Light
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Day 5 of Six Days of Darkness!

Carol Channing: Larger Than Life


Life is a musical number when you're Carol Channing

Life is a musical number when you’re Carol Channing

(2012) Documentary (EntertainmentOne) Carol Channing, Harry Kullijian, Lily Tomlin, Chita Rivera, Barbara Walters, Tyne Daly, Debbie Reynolds, Phyllis Diller, Loni Anderson, Bruce Vilanch, JoAnne Worley, Rich Little, Angela Lansbury, Bob Mackie, Tommy Tune, Tippi Hedren. Directed by Dori Berenstein

There are names and then there are Names. A lot of younger people aren’t that familiar with the name of Carol Channing but to those of my generation and before, she is virtually synonymous with Broadway. She originated the roles of Lorelei Lee in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” and more notably, Dolly Levi in “Hello, Devi.” In both cases her signature roles were handed off to other actresses for the film versions, Marilyn Monroe for the former, Barbra Streisand for the latter.

These days she is pretty much retired from the stage although she does make appearances from time to time; for example she does a show number at the Kennedy Center Honors with Chita Rivera and Angela Lansbury (which begs the question why hasn’t she gotten one yet) and a number from “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” for a benefit.

Still, she’s recognized as the Ambassador of the Great White Way; while she’s taking a stroll pointing out the various theaters she’s been onstage in, she is seen by members of the chorus line of “Next to Normal” out taking a break between performances and is shown the reverence and love that those who love Broadway understand that she deserves.

Channing (who was 90 when this was filmed – she’s 91 now) is an ebullient force of nature, one who tells stories with genuine wit and warmth and has lots of stories to tell (such as of her first screen kiss from none other than Clint Eastwood). She’s one of those people you can’t help but like after spending just five minutes with her, and that personality shows through here.

There was a lot about her I didn’t know – about her support for gay rights causes and for other liberal touchstone causes. She has been a tireless worker in helping young actors survive the often brutal financial realities of life as a struggling actor, and for the furtherance of theatrical preservation. The more you see here, the more you like and respect her.

She hasn’t always had it easy. Not much is said about her marriage to her third husband of 42 years other than that the marriage ended abruptly and but before the divorce could become final her ex passed away. There have been allegations that it was a loveless marriage in other sources, but none of that is discussed here. Instead, the focus is on her fourth marriage to Kullijian, whom she met at Aptos Middle School in the San Francisco Bay Area and who turned out to be the love of her life, although sadly he passed away one day shy of his 92nd birthday in December 2011. However it’s obvious that they have an easy familiarity that comes from time and simpatico.

This is less of a documentary than a tribute; Berenstein really doesn’t linger too much on the unpleasant aspects of Channing’s life and rarely asks insightful questions. Not that a Mike Wallace-like approach would have been preferable but a look at the person behind the persona would have been welcome.

I still liked the movie a great deal however and wound up really falling in love with the subject a little. She may not be your cup of tea in terms of her life on Broadway, but nonetheless she’s great fun to spend an hour or so with. “Always leave ’em wanting more” is an old show business saying and it’s very true here – I wanted to spend more time with Carol Channing after the movie was done. I just wanted to get to know her better than the filmmakers allowed me to.

WHY RENT THIS: Gives you a glimpse into an amazing woman who’s had an incredible career.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Focuses overly much on “Hello, Dolly” and not enough on maybe her thoughts about certain aspects of her life.

FAMILY VALUES: Nothing here your kids haven’t heard or seen before. There is some smoking and a few mildly bad words here and there.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Channing appeared on Nixon’s enemies list, which she later claimed as “the highest honor of her career.”

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: The DVD is packed with ’em, including a Barbara Walters interview, a look at the opening night of “Hello Dolly” and much more.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $22,740 on an unknown production budget; probably lost money.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Ahead of Time

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: Desert Flower

New Releases for the Week of December 21, 2012


This Is 40

THIS IS 40

(Universal) Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann, Jason Segel, Megan Fox, John Lithgow, Albert Brooks, Melissa McCarthy, Charlyne Yi, Graham Parker, Maude Apatow, Iris Apatow. Directed by Judd Apatow

In a sort-of sequel to Knocked Up, Judd Apatow revisits the lives of big sister Debbie and her husband Pete as Debbie gets set to hit the big four-oh. They realize that they are in danger of letting life pass them by and try to figure out the important things before they are too old to appreciate them.

See the trailer, clips and featurettes here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: R (for sexual content, crude humor, pervasive language and some drug material)

Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away 3D

(Paramount) Erica Linz, Dallas Barnett, Lutz Halbhubner, John Clarke. A young woman finds that a strange and exciting circus is actually a portal to amazing worlds. Featuring the acrobats of various Cirque du Soleil shows from across the country, the film was directed by Andrew Adamson of the Narnia series and produced by James Cameron, who is testing out new 3D technology for his upcoming Avatar sequels.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: PG (for dramatic images and some sensuality)

Dabangg 2

(Arbaaz Khan) Salman Khan, Kareena Kapoor, Sonakshi Sinha, Malaika Arora. A police officer battles a corrupt politician while attempting to romance his wife, shore up his ties with his brother and father who are still mourning the murder of his mother in the first film and occasionally break into song without warning.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR

The Guilt Trip

(Paramount) Barbra Streisand, Seth Rogen, Kathy Najimy, Adam Scott. An inventor, about to embark on a road trip to sell the most important product of his life, becomes concerned with his mom’s chronic loneliness and impulsively invites her along. A road trip with Mom…what could go wrong?

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for language and some risque material)

Hyde Park on Hudson

(Focus) Bill Murray, Laura Linney, Olivia Williams, Eleanor Bron. In 1939 the King and Queen of England became the first reigning monarchs of that country to visit the United States. Their mission was to plead for American assistance in the coming war, a war that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt wasn’t eager to join. Visiting at Roosevelt’s upstate New York retreat Hyde Park, the fate of the world hung in the balance and the whole thing was witnessed by Roosevelt’s cousin Daisy.

See the trailer and featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Historical Drama

Rating: R (for brief sexuality)

Jack Reacher

(Paramount) Tom Cruise, Rosamund Pike, Richard Jenkins, Robert Duvall. A former military cop now wandering the country without possessions or roots, content to explore with complete freedom. He will have to put his skills of his former profession back to work when a former Army sniper is accused of a heinous crime that Reacher doesn’t think he committed, plunging him into a maelstrom of secrets that men would kill to keep that way. From the bestselling book series by Lee Child.

See the trailer, clips and featurettes here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Action

Rating: PG-13 (for violence, language and some drug material)

Monsters, Inc. 3D

(Disney*Pixar) Starring the voices of Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, James Coburn. The mouse mavens pull out yet another Pixar classic to be dusted off and given the 3D conversion treatment. Very nice. Unnecessary.

See the trailer, featurettes and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Animated Feature

Rating: G

Little Fockers


Little Fockers

This stunt kittie is about to find out what happens to cats who pee on Robert De Niro.

(2010) Comedy (Universal) Ben Stiller, Robert De Niro, Owen Wilson, Jessica Alba, Teri Polo, Blythe Danner, Barbra Streisand, Dustin Hoffman, Laura Dern, Harvey Keitel, Kevin Hart, Daisy Tahan, Colin Baiocchi, Tom McCarthy, Olga Fonda. Directed by Paul Weitz

Sometimes when a good movie comes along that makes a good deal of money, the temptation from the studio is to make a sequel which almost inevitably makes good money but is somewhat less high-quality than the first movie. The second movie often does good enough box office to warrant a third and by now the writers are running out of steam and the idea is becoming stale. Some film franchise avoid this trap, but others, particularly comedies, fall hard into it.

Gaylord “Greg” Focker (Stiller) has been married eight years now to his sweetheart Pam (Polo) and he’s risen to head of medical surgical nursing at a prestigious Chicago hospital, developing a reputation that Andi Garcia (Alba), the representative of a pharmaceutical company, has taken notice of and so she approaches him to do some pimping for an erectile dysfunction drug that is safe for heart patients. He’s initially reluctant to get involved, particularly with that sort of product which he – ahem – has no need for himself.

Greg’s father-in-law, Jack Byrnes (De Niro), the ex-CIA operative who has made Greg’s life a bit of a living hell, has been having some heart problems (can you guess who’s going to take the dick medicine for heart patients?) which he swears Greg to secrecy about. He and his wife (Danner) are coming to Chicago to visit the Fockers and celebrate the fifth birthday of their twins Beelzebub and Mephistopheles…err, Samantha (Tahan) and Henry (Baiocchi).

Jack is anxious for Greg to become the head of the Byrnes clan since his first choice, Dr. Bob (McCarthy) has cheated on their other daughter (the one whose wedding from the first movie Greg nearly ruined) and the two are in the midst of a divorce. Financial stability is what it’s all about for Jack, providing for a superior education for the kids and a safe home for the family. Since getting the kids into the prestigious Early Humans Academy presided over by the neurotic hippie-sort Prudence (Dern), as well as renovations on the house that thanks to lackadaisical contractor Randy (Keitel) that are behind schedule, are together prohibitively expensive, Greg decides to accept the extra cash working for the pharmaceutical company would provide.

Rather than doing what most normal human beings would do and say “yes, I’m making a little bit of extra cash to help fund the kids’ schooling,” Greg tries to hide it from Papa Byrnes and so a series of misunderstandings ensue that lead Dear old Dunderhead to believe that Greg is actually cheating on Pam with Andi Garcia which should make for an interesting Oceans 11 reunion.

I am of an opinion not shared by many studio executives that making money is not the best reason to make a movie. A movie should have something to say – if nothing else, “let us entertain you” – or have some reason to be made besides adding to the bottom line. I can’t see a single reason to have made this movie.

Certainly it adds nothing to the franchise. It says nothing new about the characters, and in point of fact seems to insist that they haven’t matured much in the intervening years. Oh, Greg’s a dad now but he seems unwilling or unable to act like a mature, responsible adult, preferring to skulk and posture. The movie’s idea of good parenting seems to be giving the kids frequent hugs and letting them do whatever they please pretty much the rest of the time (Samantha for example refuses to talk to her dad for which I can scarcely blame her).

That’s not to say that this movie is completely valueless. Certainly there are a few good laughs. Alba is easy on the eyes and Stiller although looking decidedly older here is still a compelling comedian. How can anyone completely dismiss a movie that contains talent like that in front of the camera for this one? De Niro, Streisand, Hoffman and Stiller along with Owen Wilson as the super rich new age surfer ex-lover of Pam’s are worth seeing in most cases and it is a treat to see Ms. Streisand who rarely makes screen appearances anymore. However, the De Niro-Stiller conflict which is at the heart of the first two movies lacks sizzle here.

I can’t say I hated this movie but I can’t say I loved it either. It’s simply not the kind of movie you’re going to want to see more than once and having seen it once you aren’t going to be awaiting the sequel Our Four Fockers (which might be a title for a prequel) or whatever it may wind up being called. When you leave a franchise film feeling that way, it’s time to pull the plug.

REASONS TO GO: There are laughs here and there. This is an impressive cast who are worth seeing just for the interaction.

REASONS TO STAY: Decidedly unfunny in stretches. Too many situations of people acting more stupid than real people act.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a good deal of sexual humor, some naughty words and a bit of drinking and drug use.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The studio appealed its “R” rating which was given it due to the repeated use of the f bomb which the studio contended was used for speech therapy purposes; unfortunately, the MPAA turned down the appeal.

HOME OR THEATER: If you’re gonna see it you might as well see it in the comfort of your own home.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: Fanboys

New Releases for the Week of December 24, 2010


December 24, 2010

The thorough emasculation of Robert De Niro continues.

LITTLE FOCKERS

(Universal) Robert De Niro, Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Blythe Danner, Jessica Alba, Teri Polo, Barbra Streisand, Harvey Keitel, Laura Dern. Directed by Paul Weitz

Greg Focker and Jack Burns return to torment one another in the third installment of the comedy series. Now married ten years and with two children, it seems that Greg has finally earned his place in the circle of trust. However, cash problems lead to Greg taking a second job for a drug company, leading to misunderstandings with his father-in-law who uncharacteristically goes overboard. With Pam’s ex-flame still in the picture, can the Focker family withstand the machinations of the parents?

See the trailer, clips, interviews and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for mature sexual humor throughout, language and some drug content)

Gulliver’s Travels

(20th Century Fox) Jack Black, Emily Blunt, Jason Segel, Amanda Peet. The Jonathan Swift classic is given a Black attack as the comic actor takes on the title role in this modernized version. A mail room clerk with tons of ambition and zero conscience gets swept away in the Bermuda triangle to a strange land of people no bigger than his finger. He becomes the national hero although he is just kind of skating through. Eventually he has to stand up for those smaller than himself, learning in the process that the hero inside is often bigger than the person outside. For those who love the Ice Age movies, there will be a Scrat short accompanying this film.

See the trailer, interviews and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D

Genre: Comic Fantasy

Rating: PG (for brief rude humor, mild language and action)

I Love You, Phillip Morris

(Roadside Attractions) Jim Carrey, Ewan McGregor, Leslie Mann, Rodrigo Santoro. A successful Texas businessman and pillar of his community has an epiphany; he’s gay, and he intends to live the rest of his life to the fullest. In order to support an extravagant lifestyle, he turns to crime – con games, as a matter of fact. While in prison for one of his attempts he meets the love of his life, a soft-spoken man named Phillip Morris. He determines to free his new-found companion and organizes brilliant cons and escape plans to do it. Ah, ain’t love grand?

See the trailer and a news clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: R (for sexual content including strong dialogue and language)

The King’s Speech

(Weinstein) Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter, Guy Pearce. Although most people are familiar with the current English monarch, not many Americans know much about her father who ruled before her. Even fewer know that he was afflicted with a terrible stammer. Desperate to conquer this impediment, he seeks out an Australian speech therapist with unusual methods. The two race against time to give the King of England a voice as the country is swept into World War II. This is considered one of the odds-on favorites at Oscar time.

See the trailer, interviews, promos and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Historical Drama

Rating: R (for some language)

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale

(Oscilloscope Laboratories) Tommi Korpela, Per Christian Ellefsen, Jorma Tomilla, Jonathan Hutchings. A Finnish archaeological team digs up Santa Claus – the real one…and he’s nothing like any of the legends say. As the local children begin to turn up missing, an enterprising reindeer hunter and his son bag Santa and try to sell him back to the CEO of the multinational corporation sponsoring the dig. However, nobody thought of the elves who will stop at nothing to get jolly St. Nick back. This is what I call holiday entertainment.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Fantasy/Comedy/Horror

Rating: R (for some nudity and language)

Tees Maar Khan

(Hari Om) Akshay Kumar, Katrina Kaif, Sanjay Dutt (voice), Anil Kapoor. The greatest criminal in all of India – indeed, in all of the world – is given an impossible job; to steal a load of priceless antiquities from a moving train. It will take all his skills, the unwilling help of his actress girlfriend and the participation of a vain but stupid Bollywood star to help Khan and his crew pull this one off.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Heist Comedy

Rating: NR

True Grit

(Paramount) Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, Hailee Steinfeld. The Coen Brothers take on not so much the 1969 Oscar-winning John Wayne movie but the Charles Portis novel that inspired it. 14-year-old Mattie Ross seeks to bring to justice Tom Chaney, the man who shot her father down in cold blood. To that end she recruits Rooster Cogburn, a mean drunken U.S. Marshall who shoots first and then forgets to ask the questions later. They are joined by a vain Texas Ranger who has his own agenda.

See the trailer, promos and interviews here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Western

Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of Western violence including disturbing images)