Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Modern Times: Tron-ified

There's a bunch of Tron-ified films bobbing around the Internet right now. This one's my favourite, naturally.

The malleability of silent footage always amazes me. Link is HERE.

Nick Tierce's Tron-ified Modern Times from Nick Tierce on Vimeo.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Axiom (2010)

This past September, the Toronto Urban Film Festival (TUFF) announced its 2010 list of award-winning, minute-long silent films. TUFF films, produced by new and established artists around the world, run in loops on the Toronto Transit Commission’s (TTC’s) platform-level information boards, operated by OneStop Media. The boards have no speakers, so any film shown on them must run silent. This year’s ‘The Medium is the Message’ category-winner, and third-place winner overall, was Axiom.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Brought to you by...

German company Allied Vision Technologies (AVT) 'designs, produces and sells cameras and components for image processing in industrial and life-science applications.' It helps machines to see.

Click above and you'll see a (not so convincing) Marilyn Monroe pitching one of their products. But click HERE and you'll see something else.

Thanks to Edna's Place (as in Edna Purviance) for posting this on Twitter.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Rebirth of a Nation (2004, ongoing)

Who ‘owns’ The Birth of a Nation?

In literal, legal terms, no one. The silent debuted in 1915 in the United States, making it public domain. So you might say it belongs to all of us. It’s part of our shared heritage.

Some would prefer that it wasn’t. As I’ve written elsewhere on this blog, Birth of a Nation is an irredeemably racist film; and despite being a groundbreaking technical achievement for its time—and a supremely well-made film for all time—it will never again be appreciated more than it is reviled. Things were once much different, of course. Audiences in 1915, while not unified in praise, still made Birth of a Nation the most profitable silent in history. It received presidential sanction and rejuvenated a then-moribund Ku Klux Klan. It was long hailed as the greatest of U.S. motion pictures, despite this last fact.

Birth of a Nation is too historically important to ignore, and too egregious to celebrate. It is a cultural tension-point. So for those with an interest in film, or politics, or both, it is a must-see. And for those with artistic ability themselves, it is the starting point for further discourse. So it was, and continues to be, for U.S.-based hip-hop musician, turntablist, author and producer, Paul D. Miller, aka ‘DJ Spooky’. Since 2004, Miller has toured the globe with his own, substantially altered cut of Birth of a Nation, called Rebirth of a Nation; a live show in which Miller re-edits the film on the spot using various dj techniques, accompanied by musicians. I saw Miller’s performance the other night at the Bell Lightbox here in Toronto; it was a packed house. While Miller did not do a live edit that night (working, instead, from a precut version) he did handle the music, alongside the I Furiosi Baroque Ensemble, who accompanied (if that’s the right term for what Miller does) on strings.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Birth of a Nation (1915)

Where to begin…

You can’t appreciate—fully, appreciate—The Birth of a Nation unless you can watch Ku Klux Klansmen gun down or scatter a militia made up entirely of blacks, and cheer. And if you can do that, I don’t want to know you.

This is how Birth of a Nation quells discussion. It is such a piece of bluntly racist propaganda; so relentlessly bigoted, particularly in its second hour, that it’s impossible for anyone to discuss the film’s artistic and technical merits in isolation, though many try. They talk about director D.W. Griffith’s ground-breaking editing techniques, which give the film its dramatic potency. They talk about its unprecedented popular appeal. True, true. Even at 180 minutes, Birth of a Nation absolutely flies by.

And then there’s its star, Lillian Gish; the supreme queen of pantomime, weaving her tale with minimal intertitles and no histrionics. She’s perfect for Griffith, who relies on old-fashioned prescriptive intertitles to get his point across. He merely sets Gish up, and she goes to work.

There’s charm in the film, too; borne in the depth—the literal deepness—of its scenes. Something’s almost always going on behind the main players in Birth of a Nation: a card game between two guards; a doctor tending to the arm of a wounded soldier; slaves working the fields. There’s a whole world here. Griffith worked very hard to create this place.

But have you seen it? Will you see it? Unlike the equally bulky silent, Metropolis, which can be restored, promoted, and toured across North America, there will be no celebration of Birth of a Nation. What was once hailed as America’s greatest film is best-known today as an expertly crafted, three-hour smear.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Metropolis (Newly Restored) (1927)

You never forget your firsts in this life. Metropolis was my first silent film. This was the white, black and steel-grey set of alien images that transfixed me nearly twenty years ago, beginning a love affair with a wonderful medium. If not for this film, Silent Volume might not exist. So I take Metropolis very personally.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Brownlow to be Honored

Film-preservation legend Kevin Brownlow will be the recipient of a Academy Honorary Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences this Saturday. The British preservationist, author, documentarian and film historian is a major hero in the silent film community, and the story of how he came to know these movies really charms me:

"I was at a very unpleasant boarding school and the headmaster used to tempt us back from visits by our parents by showing us films — he didn't have a sound projector."

Not long after, Brownlow was living with his parents in London when they got him his own hand projector and two films. "I went out into the streets of London to look for more films and immediately found one that was missing the beginning but looked quite promising."

Brownlow, 72, was fortunate to meet and know several greats from the silent era; thanks to his efforts, those of us in the younger generations can better appreciate what those men and women, now all gone, worked so hard to produce.

The LA Times article is here.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Battleship Potemkin (1925)

‘Part One: The Men and the Maggots.’ The words are rendered in tall, heavy text. White against black. Spartan, unflinching. Unluxurious, unadorned. Simple, functional.


Scene One: water swirling; waves exploding over Odessa’s causeway. The causeway is strong and solid—but it functions only when the Black Sea ebbs. And now the Sea threatens to overflow. It will be relentless when it does. And always will the Sea so threaten, because always will there be this Sea, in this place. It retains its character. It will rise and rise and rise again.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Balcony Shots

I've begun a second blog!

Something different.

Silent Volume isn't going anywhere, don't worry. But I hope you'll pay a visit to my newest project, a blog called Balcony Shots (so named because it will sometimes feature photos taken from my balcony, on the fifteenth floor). This is a place to showcase my emerging hobby, photography, and it will be updated regularly.

The first pic is already posted! Tell your friends!