Friday, August 13, 2010

A trip back to the roots of cinematography

Lumiere & Company (1995)
Starring: The Lumiere Camera (and a whole bunch of actors and directors)
Directors: Sarah Moon (and 40 different filmakers from around the world)
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the invention of the motion picture camera by the Lumiere Brothers, 40 diffferent directors (of wildly different level of international fame and wildly different degrees of creativity and apparent talent) were taksed with creating 52-second shorts filmed using restored Lumiere camera, just like the pioneers did 100 years ago.

The best shorts in this anthology package of the cinematic equivalent of haikus are very, VERY good. They give us some very interesting visuals and a number of them even manage to provide engaging or amusing storylines in just 52 seconds. David Lynch (who gives us a bizarre mini sci-fi thriller), Youssef Chahine and Merzak Allouache (who shine lights on the negative and retrograde aspects of Muslim culture a decade before it became a fashionable topic), Claude Miller (who tells the tale of a little girl trying to weigh herself), Idrissa Quedraogo (who captures some Africans playing and working on a river bank), Claude Lelouch (who shows us how cinema is at once never-changing and ever-evolving), and Zhang Yimou (who captures the march of time and change of cultures effectively with a surprising film made atop the Great Wall of China).

The mediocre ones are by filmmakers who failed to take the opportunity to allow the Lumere camera to live in the modern day but merely used their 52 seconds to ape Lumiere's style of film... a style that is entirely too basic in the modern age where simple motion isn't enough to make the time spent on even the shortest film worthwhile. (Some of these are quite beautiful visually, but they still needed more.) The best of these is John Boorman's documentation of activity on a movie set and Jacques Rivette's strange film involving a girl playing hopscotch, a man reading a newspaper, and a young woman rollerblading while carrying a lamp.

The worst of the batch barely have any motion in them and they are so boring that they make 52 seconds seem like forever. The worst of these is Spike Lee's eternal close-up of a baby doing nothing but smiling or looking akward. Whatever he got paid for his participation in this project was too much. (It's a prime and very distilled example of why I've always felt Spike Lee is overrated.)

The film is also hampered by some truly asinine interviews with the featured directors (which record their answers to lame questions like "why do you film?" and "is cinema immortal?"--although they do manage to show a few of the directors to be so pretentious that one feels embarrassed for them) and hit-and-miss mini-documentaries that capture the fimmakers setting up their mini-movies while marveling at simple beauty of Lumiere's creation (which even dissasembles into serving as its own movie projector).

At its best, "Lumiere and Company" gives the viewers some bite-sized samples of what talented and creative directors can do with even the simplest of filmmaking tools and those segments make this worthwhile viewing for lovers of movies. As for the rest of this effort (much of which is noteworthy only because it demonstrates how the emperor is indeed naked when it comes to some of these "leading directors")... well, it's why God gave us the Lumiere camera, followed in short order by the shuttle button on the remote and DVD chaptering.

No comments:

Post a Comment