Monday, August 11, 2003

Old movies that are good

I just watched the DVD of The Manchurian Candidate, a famous film that I had never seen but that is every bit as good as its reputation says it is. In particular, it is wonderfully well written from a character and dialogue point of view. It is striking as to just how much dialogue the film has compared to modern films, too. Some of it is simply monologues, with one character explaining the situation to another. This isn't unique to this particular film, though. These days, Hollywood studios feel that the audience is going to lose interest if there is a camera on one character for more than a few seconds, and so there is a huge amount of cutting to another shot, and trying to do things visually. Cameron Crowe and Billy Wilder talk about this in Crowe's book Conversations with Wilder. Wilder was particularly fond of relatively long closeup shots of actors faces, in which you could watch their emotions unfolding. These days, such shots tend to get cut. Audiences are presumed to be too impatient to watch long scenes of character development. I don't believe that they are, but Hollywood seems to. (Why is this? Is it that directors these days tend to come from the worlds of television commercials and music videos? Is it that the non-English speaking world is more and more important to Hollywood and films with less dialogue travel better? Is it that in the age of special effects and amazing visual possibilities this is now considered to be all that matters? I don't know, although this is an issue which will come up again when I discuss the relative failure of this summer's Hollywood films.

In this particular film, I love Angela Lansbury's performance in this film. Her role appears minor at the start of the film, but slowly grows in prominence and importance as layer after layer is revealed about the character and her loyalties and motivations. Really good stuff. .

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