1920’s Painlevé nature films on new Criterion Channel

While browsing through the oldest films available on Criterion’s new streaming service, I noticed several by Jean Painlevé.* These are from a DVD collection released in 2009 called Science Is Fiction: 23 Films by Jean Painlevé (parts also released earlier by BFI). From 1925 to 1982, Painlevé directed hundreds of short films, most around 10 minutes long.

The mesmerizing, utterly unclassifiable science films of Jean Painlevé (1902-89) have to be seen to be believed: delightful, surrealist-influenced dream works that are also serious science. The French filmmaker-scientist-inventor had a decades-spanning career in which he created hundreds of short films on subjects ranging from astronomy to pigeons to, most famously, such marine-life marvels as the sea horse and the sea urchin. This definitive three-disc collection brings together the best of these, and also includes the French television series Jean Painlevé Through His Films, rock band Yo La Tengo’s eight-film score The Sounds of Science, and an essay by film scholar Scott MacDonald.

The Criterion Collection
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114 Lumière shorts now on Amazon Prime

It’s been more than 20 years since we’ve seen a home video release of the inventors of cinema, Auguste and Louis Lumière. Their catalogue was produced between 1895 and 1905, so what could have changed in the past 20 years? In 2015, the Institut Lumière led an effort to release many of their films through new 4K scans (nearly 4 times the detail of Blu-ray, and 24 times the detail of DVD), now that the technology is more affordable. The fruits of their effort has finally come to Amazon Prime streaming (in 1080p), with English subtitles for the commentary. Simply entitled Lumière!

Baby’s Tea Time (Louis Lumière on left)
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Box office movie records

Normally I don’t pay much attention to blockbuster movies, but in listening to one of the Oscars episodes of the Unspooled podcast, my curiosity was piqued. Box Office Mojo is a treasure trove of stats on gross earnings of mostly-American films. There are all sorts of metrics you can investigate on their site, but I found the All Time Worldwide (Top 20) and All Time Domestic (Adjusted for Inflation) (Top 30) to be the most interesting overall.

All time blockbuster films
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Archway screenshots from The Great Dictator

Inspired by the cinematography and set design of The Great Dictator (1940), I stitched together the vertical pan shot of the great arch at the Tomainian rally, about 3/4 of the way into the movie. I’m still baffled as to how this was made, considering you can see people clapping in the audience.

Tomainian arch in The Great Dictator (1940)

Also, my full review (posted on Letterboxd): Charlie Chaplin deftly plays on the edge of comedy and tragedy with this parody of Nazi Germany.  Read more Archway screenshots from The Great Dictator

Video clips and history of world cinema: 1908-1917

10 Years 10 Films (10Y10F) is a project to display embedded YouTube selections of cinema history. This is Part III of a series that gives the viewer a quick time-lapse view of how movie technology and style has developed throughout the world – one clip each year – from 1888 through 2017, starting with the foundations to see how filmmakers build upon or deconstruct them.

World cinema 1908-1917

1908 to 1917 was a decade of major change in the film business. Here are a few highlights:

American cinema saw an expansion out of New Jersey and New York, into Jacksonville, Florida, for warmer weather; it then took hold in Hollywood, California, between 1909 and 1915. “One-reeler” films (1000ft in length, or about 10 to 12 minutes of runtime) gave way to feature-length epics, tinted with different colors to match the mood of each scene. Intertitles containing lines of dialogue began to be used consistently from 1908 onward. Studio cameras became more portable, and 35mm film was accepted as an industry standard.

The “star system” began in 1909, emphasizing actors over plot lines to promote films. African-American movie makers entered the market, as well as more women directors. Film-making also began to take hold in Russia, India, and Latin America. 1917 marks the beginning of the Classical Hollywood era with films characterized by a formulaic narrative and style, particularly through major film studios like Universal and Paramount. Read more Video clips and history of world cinema: 1908-1917