Mean Streets

In his review of Mean Streets, Roger Ebert claimed that Martin Scorsese had the potential to become the American Fellini in ten years. It probably didn’t really take that long. Scorsese is a living library of film, but he isn’t a dusty repository of knowledge. He’s a vibrant, imaginative creator who might know more about movies than anyone else on the planet, and that makes him uniquely qualified to be both prolific and proficient. Over the course of his career, he’s created indelible works bursting with anger, violence, fragility, care, and wonder. Never content to stick with one story mode, he’s run the gamut of styles and substance. So here’s a free bit of film school (for filmmakers and fans alike) from our American Fellini.

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Merch Hunter - Large

In a variation on the usual format, this week the Merch Hunter will be getting on his soap-box, because there is something fundamentally broken with the way that studios and marketeers produce and release film posters these days, which has criminally devalued them as a really viable collectible compared to the Golden Age posters of yesteryear. The problem is, posters are now seen as little more than a disposable marketing tool, rather than a celebration of the subject film: they are deemed an obligatory step in the pre-release campaign and in 90% of cases are given less consideration or dutiful care than the ridiculous promotional material that is sent out in bulk to bloggers (like Drive tooth-picks and Horrible Bosses beach-balls). Film posters are supposed to be works of art: they should not be limited to cheap thrill character reveals or plot hints, because the trailer already exists for those reasons. Yet time and time again, modern studios feel the need to advance this risible idea of the poster as a “teaser”, which not only makes it completely disposable after the event in most cases, but also fundamentally redefines what a poster is. Instead of something to be held in esteem, and given pride of place on cherished wall-space, what is left is a glorified jpeg, expressly aimed at the blogosphere and its hunger for new material no matter what the cost.

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Culture Warrior

The self-reflexive practices of the meta-film take various forms. On the one hand, there’s the legacy of cinephilic directors from Brian De Palma to P. T. Anderson to Robert Rodriguez who shout out to specific films through their in-crowd referencing, or even go so far as to structure entire narratives through tributes to cinema’s past. Then there’s “the wink,” those film’s, like this weekend’s The Muppets, who exercise cheeky humor by breaking the fourth wall and by constant reference to the fact that they are in a heavily constructed film reality. The third category is less common, but perhaps the most interesting. There has been a recent influx of films that don’t use past films to construct present narratives or engage in Brecht-light humor, but have as their central narrative concern the broad developmental history of the medium itself, from practices of filmgoing to particularities of projection, and anything in between. Bertolucci’s The Dreamers is a good example of this mode of meta-filmmaking, but more high-profile films have begin to make this turn, specifically by directors who formerly operated in the first (and perhaps most common) category, like Tarantino with Inglourious Basterds two years ago. Now Martin Scorsese has followed suit with the 3D love letter to early cinema and film preservation that is Hugo.

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Culture Warrior

Synesthesia (syn-es-the-sia, Brit. syn-aes-the-sia): “The production of a sense impression relating to one sense or part of the body by stimulation of another sense or part of the body.” Synesthesia is a neurological disorder in which the experience of one sense motivates an involuntary association with another sense. Those who experience synesthesia, known as synesthetes, are able to either perceive letters or numbers as inherently colored, hear movement, or – in probably the best-known cases of the disorder – see music in the form of colors and/or associative shapes. Now, cognitive sciences seem, on the surface, to have little to do with the study of cinema, but the topic of synesthesia can be particularly helpful in understanding the way in which we interpret the interaction of the two senses most available in watching movies: the aural and the visual.

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