THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD On Blu-ray & Local Exhibit


The 7th VOYAGE OF SINBAD is universally considered one of the best of all the Sinbad films. And a large part of the reason for that is the masterful effects work by Ray Harryhausen. Anyone who saw this film as a child knows that the images and effects are unforgettable, burned into our collective psyches.

This was Harryhausen’s baby. He shopped the idea around from studio to studio for a number of years to no avail, but finally found a comrade in producer Charles H. Schneer, who had produced earlier films for which Harryhausen had done visual effects. This would be the continuation of a long and fruitful relationship that went on to bring us such wondrous classics as THE 3 WORLDS OF GULLIVER, MYSTERIOUS ISLAND, the much beloved JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS, as well as THE VALLEY OF GWANGI, THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD, SINBAD AND THE EYE OF THE TIGER, the original CLASH OF THE TITANS and many, many others.

It’s hard to say exactly how this film should look, but the Blu-ray for VOYAGE is quite lovely. Flesh tones appear more or less accurate, if not a little pushed, but never to the point of distraction. Film grain is present and that’s a great thing given that excessive grain removal has been used on other transfers to horrendous effect. VOYAGE maintains its natural film grain with no apparent manipulation. Most of the images are quite sharp and detailed, and those images that do appear softer are clearly products of the original elements and not an anomaly due to a poor transfer. Sony’s MPEG-4 AVC 1080p transfer won’t disappoint fans of the film that want the film to look like just that: film.

Sony has chosen to release VOYAGE in the 1.66:1 aspect ratio despite the fact that it was shown theatrically in 1.85:1. The most likely reason for this is that Harryhausen never liked the wider screen formats and wanted to make VOYAGE in 1.33:1. There are those who sensed that the 1.85:1 frame always felt a bit tight for this pic, so Sony’s re-framing is a compromise that opens the frame up just a bit more and allows it to breathe.

Sony’s Dolby TrueHD 5.1 remix is a joy and creates a solid sound field that is quite surprising for a film of this age. Wind and ocean sounds are truly immersive and the LFE channel even gets a bit of a workout (check out the Cyclops banging on an invisible wall!). The original mono track is also included.

All in all, THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD is still a terrifically entertaining film and this Blu-ray will not disappoint its legions of fans.

And to add to the Harryhausen celebration, the Academy of Motion Pictures, Arts and Sciences in Los Angeles is currently holding a Ray Harryhausen exhibit running through August 22nd. There you will find original models, drawings, storyboards and behind-the-scenes photographs, as well as clips from the many films themselves. This is NOT to be missed!

 

THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD On Blu-ray & Local Exhibit

And The Winner Is… Jeff Mattson


Those of us following the trials and tribulations of Dark Star Orchestra know that, since the sudden exit of lead guitarist and founder John Kadlecik, DSO members have played with two different guitarists with the intent of making a final decision as to who would become their next permanent member. And while I personally loved seeing them with Stu Allen, I also loved hearing them with Jeff Mattson. Both brought something to the band that would have been a welcome addition. There really was no wrong choice. However, I think most of us knew that Mattson was looking like their guy for quite some time so this announcement just verifies what most of us already assumed. The official announcement from DSO:

Jeff Mattson Gets the Gig

After months of touring and playing with Jeff, we have decided to offer him the full time gig, which he has gratefully accepted. Jeff has blown us away with his energy, licks, and presence on stage. He is a great guy, an inspiring musician and so much fun to perform with, we cannot wait to get back out there and mix it up with him once again. We are having more fun than ever and are looking forward to seeing you all at the upcoming shows.

Congrats Jeff. Looking forward to seeing you live!

And The Winner Is… Jeff Mattson

Director/Cinematographer Ronald Neame Dies


Legendary director, cinematographer, writer and producer Ronald Neame died today at the age of 99. My first conscious introduction to Neame was as a boy seeing his filmed musical adaptation of A CHRISTMAS CAROL, called SCROOGE, in the movie theaters. The film has a spotty reputation and came at the end of an era when the filmed musical was starting to die. But Albert Finney’s Scrooge is still one of my favorites and the film is a seasonal tradition in my home. I still love it dearly and it never fails to make me cry.

Then came THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE, which I saw repeatedly during its first run. I was obsessed. Then THE ODESSA FILE, which I loved, followed by the fun but somewhat misguided METEOR and then the sorely underrated Walter Matthau film HOPSCOTCH.

Years later, I went back in Mr. Neame’s directing career to catch up on his earlier works which included the amazing Alec Guinness films THE HORSE’S MOUTH and TUNES OF GLORY. There was also Judy Garland’s final film I COULD GO ON SINGING, as well as the popular TV biopic THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE.

Around that same time, I discovered Neame’s work as the amazing cinematographer of many of David Lean’s earlier works: IN WHICH WE SERVE, THIS HAPPY BREED, and BLITHE SPIRIT, as well as the Powell/Pressburger ONE OF OUR AIRCRAFT IS MISSING. And these films signaled the end of Neame’s career as a cinematographer after having shot a whopping 45 films between 1933 and 1945!

Add a producer credit to many of the above films as well as such classics as BRIEF ENCOUNTER, GREAT EXPECTATIONS and OLIVER TWIST. Neame was also credited as writer on THIS HAPPY BREED, BLITHE SPIRIT, BRIEF ENCOUNTER and GREAT EXPECTATIONS among others. Yes, this was a man whose contribution to film was irreplaceable. We thank you, Mr. Neame, for all the joy, creativity and adventures you sent our way. You are an inspiration.

Director/Cinematographer Ronald Neame Dies

LEGION a waste of celluloid that looks great on Blu


There is good news and bad news when it comes to Sony Screen Gems’ Blu-ray release of LEGION. The good news is the MPEG-4 AVC 1080P picture and DTS-HD Master 5.1 audio is pretty spectacular. Framed at 2.40:1, the image is sharp and clean and flesh tones appear natural. The sound mix will give your system a nice workout with tons of appropriate surround action and a strong LFE channel to boot. Exactly what one would hope for from an action/horror film such as this.

The bad news is the film itself is treacherously bad. A series of stilted scenes held together by the thinnest of plot and some of the weakest dialogue in recent memory. There is no subtext whatsoever to be found in a single word uttered here. Characters are nothing more than stick figures moving aimlessly though a series of non-events. Meaning, that despite threats/promises from the main characters that things are about to get seriously intense, you’re gonna have to wait a whole lot longer than the 100 minute running time this film uses up for that to happen, because it never takes place within the boundaries of the film itself.

Logic is a stranger to LEGION. It’s hard to know whether or not there may have been something there at one time, but what made it to the screen defies any attempt to actually tell a story. Sadly, Screen Gems has a bit of a reputation for dramatically altering films in post-production from the filmmakers’ intent, so it’s altogether possible there was once a story and characters to be found here. But if so, they have become victims of the Hollywood marketing apocalypse that destroys films as if on a mission of creative genocide.

This is a film that could have, and perhaps should have, been made on a shoestring budget. As it is, the film was made cheaply by Hollywood standards and that would have been impressive on its own if they had maintained some semblance of a script. But even terrific actors like Dennis Quaid, Paul Bettany and Charles S. Dutton have no clue how to make the dialogue seem anything less than painful. The film essentially takes place in one location and could have been quite claustrophobic and exciting. And though the film has tons of digital effects, most of them have nothing to do with the story and the biggest moments are reserved for men in angel costumes walking through doors with lots of backlight. In other words, the digital effects are the film’s biggest shaggy dog story. They simply serve no purpose in the film, but look great in the trailer.

Knowing what it takes to get a film made, any film, makes it that much harder to give it a negative review. But in this case, Screen Gems has, once again, insulted its audience by offering them nothing of value. Not even mind-numbing entertainment. And if something of value had once existed in LEGION, Screen Gems has systematically stripped it bare. Not even the bones remain.

LEGION a waste of celluloid that looks great on Blu

“How Dare You Edit Your Own Film,” And Other Creative Alienations


Why is it that so many people have such rigid definitions of what constitutes art or the artistic process? To me, it seems to defy the very definition. My experience working as a filmmaker in Hollywood has brought me face to face with folks who are striving to say something, and others who place little value on artistic self-expression. But what’s most difficult to navigate for me, is the artist who appears to have given in to the notion that there is a right way and a wrong way to make a film.

I recently had a conversation with two friends about film editing. They are both extremely intelligent, extremely creative people. One of them has directed a feature that got taken away from him in post, the other is about to embark on his directorial debut. Both suggested that it was not in the best interest of the film or the story for the director to edit his/her own movie.

“You have no perspective,” was the reasoning.

Now don’t misunderstand me. I do not believe every director should edit his/her own movie. Quite the contrary. Editing is an art form all its own. It is also a skill that is developed. And there are some extraordinary director/editor relationships that are downright biblical (Scorcese/Schoonmaker, Coppola/Murch, Tarantino/Menke).  These artists have found a creative connection that inspires; they each feel that they are better together than separate. It has become an integral part of their creative process. And, of course, this extends to writer/director relationships (Powell/Pressburger, Ivory/Jhabvala, Lee/Schamus), director/cinematographer relationships (Bergman/Nykvist, Mann/Alton, Bertolucci/Storaro), and director/actor relationships (Scorsese/DeNiro, Allen/Keaton, von Sternberg/Dietrich). I doubt there are many people out there who would rather these relationships didn’t exist. But just because these teamings are successful, does that mean writers should not direct? Directors should not shoot? Actors should not direct? Or in the case of this discussion, directors should not edit?

There are no rules to the creative process. Every artist must approach their art in the way they believe leads to the end goal. And to do so, one needs to have an end goal in mind. That goal can be something concrete, or it can be something amorphous, more a feeling, a tone, something instinctual. I love the collaborative creative process. And I love the solitary creative process. As a writer, I remain solitary. Until I feel that I can go no further without the creative input of those I trust and admire. Some folks prefer having a writing partner. I’ve done both and, currently, I prefer the former. I have found it to be more creatively freeing and inspiring. For me.

There is not a one-size-fits-all roadmap to making art. To storytelling. To self-expression. To filmmaking.

Woody Allen claims that one should never try and write a script without knowing exactly where it’s going; that if one attempts to write that script otherwise, they will hit a wall around page 60 and have no idea where to go from there. I am a life-long admirer of Allen’s work. I think he is a brilliant, insightful writer/director. However, his take on writing is true for him. And, I am certain, for many, many others. It is not, however, the approach I have found works best for me in achieving what I want from a script. I prefer to work stream-of-consciousness. I have learned to trust my subconscious to create things in the moment that reveal themselves to me later. It is that very same experience I want to take with me onto the set AND into the editing room. As the writer/director/editor of a film, I am fully engaged in the writing process which, for me, not only continues through editing, but finally arrives at editing. It does not cease simply because I have moved beyond the script. I am telling a story. Hopefully, with a unique voice. The writing of that story, in film terms, is not complete until the picture is locked. So until that happens, my subconscious is allowed to run free.

After writing and directing my first feature, I lost that film in post-production to the powers-that-be and the film was re-edited from scratch without my participation. The result was a story and film that showed virtually nothing of who I was as an artist, filmmaker, director, writer or human being. During our editing conversation the other night, my friend suggested that there are only so many ways an editor can change what you’ve shot.

There are very few things in this world I disagree with more.

There are infinite possibilities for how a film can be put together based on the footage shot. Tone, style, pacing, meaning, even the very story itself, can all be different from what was initially intended. All via the editing process. Performances can be dramatically altered. Even main characters can be turned into secondary characters. Unless, of course, one is editing an Alfred Hitchcock film. Hitch, to maintain creative control, would edit his films, essentially, in-camera so that there was only one way to put the images together. He found a way to be the editor on his own films without entering the editing room.

Barring that approach, anything is possible in the editing room. There are thousands of ways to edit together a single scene. Millions to edit together an entire film. One has to truly understand this in order to comprehend the enormous power and potential of film editing. It has been my experience that most people do not.

When I sat down to create my own cut of the film that the studio took away (something I was told I could not do, but did anyway), I learned something I never knew before: I loved editing more than any other phase in the filmmaking process. I experienced a level of intimacy with the story, performances and footage that turned this part of the journey into one of the single most satisfying creative undertakings of my entire life. I was connected to the film in a way that transcended where I had been. And believe me, after 8 years of fighting to get the film made and living through the all-encompassing experience of directing it, I was already pretty damned immersed in the world of my story. But this was far more intense and personal than the seven weeks I spent working with an editor before the film was taken away and re-cut by the studio.

It was thru editing that I was able to complete the story, in my own voice, and impart an experience on to others that matched, not only what I had envisioned, but what I had felt. By that, I don’t mean to suggest that I put the film together exactly as I had storyboarded it. Or even exactly as I had shot it. There is no point in the creative process when I want to close myself off to inspiration. Editing was more creative and instinctual a process for me than the actual writing itself. It was a crucial extension of the storytelling journey and the final piece of the puzzle I was looking for. And I am certainly not the first filmmaker to feel this way.

“I love editing. I think I like it more than any other phase of film making. If I wanted to be frivolous, I might say that everything that precedes editing is merely a way of producing film to edit.” –Stanley Kubrick

When asked which area of filmmaking he most looked forward to, filmmaker John Sayles replied:

“It’s editing, actually. So often when I write a movie I have no idea if I’m going to get to make it — or make it in the next decade. It’s taken us so long to get some of our movies made, and I’ve had to do other lower-budget things first, that you can feel like a real sap when you sit down and write. I like a lot about directing, but it’s really stressful because there is always disaster looming with each new shot. The sun may go away, or you might have an actor who starts a new film tomorrow and you still have five scenes to shoot with him. So many things are totally out of your control. It’s a bit like trying to write something very serious with a taxi meter next to you. You just see the money ticking off every second you’re thinking. When you get to the editing, you’re still making the film, you’re still working with the actors, their performances, the rhythm of the film. You’re still rewriting, but there’s not that pressure. It doesn’t matter if the sun is shining or not. I know, at that point, I’m gonna make the movie. I know it’s not going to fall apart and the money isn’t going to disappear from the bank if we get it that far. It’s one of the reasons I continue to edit. It’s more fun.”

From what I was able to gather, my friends felt as if, in denying the editing of the film to be done through fresh eyes, I was not taking advantage of all of the opportunities offered in the filmmaking process, hence not putting the film first, but my ego instead. I suppose the same could be said of a writer who does not allow another director to take over and interpret the script through fresh eyes. Or a director who does not allow someone else to shoot and light the film. Or a director who does not allow someone else to star in the film.

I will repeat: there are no rules in art.

There is no question that a healthy, creative relationship with an editor can and will yield amazing results and unpredictable discoveries. But it is not the only valid approach to making a film. The filmmaker’s storytelling palette, if it extends to editing, may bring something of equal or greater value. It works both ways. To suggest that the filmmaking process is dependent on hiring someone else to edit is to limit the creative process of the individual. It is just as valid to edit the film oneself as it is to have an editor. But one must want to go on a solitary editing journey. And have the skills to do so. And they must have a strong vision and be open to discovery. And trust their instincts. And their subconscious. All approaches will yield something different. All are equally creative. But to limit that process to one way and not another is, well, in my opinion, a misguided lesson to impart to future filmmakers. Were everyone to believe that a director should never edit his/her films, then the filmmaking world would be missing some of the great works by the Coen Brothers, John Sayles, Robert Rodriguez, Steven Soderbergh… All filmmakers who edit their own films. Some, like Soderbergh and Rodriguez, even shoot their own films. Are they not artists who serve their stories?

Yes, film is almost always a collaborative effort. But what portions are collaborative are up to the artist, assuming one has control. Does the writer have to have a writing partner, or is it equally valid to write the script oneself? By dictating an artist’s palette, we risk destroying the very creative process itself.

From Sean Smith’s dismal, misguided Newsweek article “Career Intervention.”

“When someone is given total artistic freedom,” says one blockbuster producer, “the result is usually bad.”

Yes, there are producers who feel directors should never have creative control. Does that make it so? This is undoubtedly true for that particular producer’s approach to making a film, but if it were to be accepted as the way to make a film…

In an excerpt from that same article, one indie exec comments on the negative repercussions of filmmakers (like Stanley Kubrick) who choose to live and work outside of Hollywood:

“The smaller you make your world, the less of an artist you can really be.”

As if there were only one true way to be an artist. As if Hollywood were the center of the universe. In a town where people are told how things are done and what can and can’t be done, there are many who fall into the trap of believing what they’re told without actually finding out for themselves. “No one gets final cut.” If you’re a filmmaker in Hollywood, you’re going to hear that line uttered more than any other. It is not true. But I’ve heard it repeated by filmmakers themselves, regurgitating what they have been lead to believe. Yet, there are directors who get final cut. Yes, even some first-time directors. So what happens when the facts outweigh the statement, but the statement is perpetuated? What is the psychology behind this? If having final cut is not important to someone, then it is a non-issue. However, if maintaining creative control is important to you, then it can be done. It is every day.

If, as a filmmaker, you look forward to working with an editor, if that excites you, inspires you, then that is what you should do. But to dictate that approach to all other filmmakers is creatively restrictive. Every filmmaker has a different reason for making their film. Every filmmaker envisions a different outcome, enjoys a different process. We all find what works best for us as individual artists. As individual creators. As individual storytellers. Even in a town where the word “individual” is dirty and creative alienation is the soup of the day.

For more thoughts on film editing, check out my post: “The Art Of Film Editing & The Plague Of Ego.”

“How Dare You Edit Your Own Film,” And Other Creative Alienations

The Different “Jerrys” Of Dark Star Orchestra


What an interesting opportunity to be able to compare three different interpretations of Jerry Garcia’s influence on lead singer/guitarists all within the same band. Since founding member John Kadlecik made his exit to play lead in Bob Weir and Phil Lesh’s Further, Dark Star Orchestra has been playing with two different replacements. The first, and again current, is Jeff Mattson of The Donna Jean Godchaux Band. The second was Stu Allen of JGB fame. Both are heavily Garcia-influenced guitarists, but both bring an original vibe and approach that is distinct.

Stu Allen

Having listened to both of them (and seen Allen live), my immediate sense is that each is an exciting replacement for Kadlecik. Stu Allen, after years with JGB, has a more relaxed approach. Meaning, he takes his time and lets the music build slowly until you find yourself in the midst of a crescendo you didn’t necessarily see coming. Not that it feels out of place. Quite the contrary. Allen’s playing is so mesmerizing and natural that it’s easy to drift into an almost meditative state while immersed. It’s downright hypnotizing.

By contrast, Mattson moves toward the peak quicker, though he’s hardly rushed. His playing is energized and intense. Yet he still maintains that fine balance of exploring the music while pushing the sounds toward a natural crescendo. But there’s a rock-n-roll edge to Mattson that separates him stylistically from Allen.

The differences don’t stop there. According to DSO keyboardist Rob Barraco:

“The one thing that Jeff has above everybody else is that he really understands the earlier bend on the Dead. The late ’60s, early ’70s. He does it so well and that’s something that we really haven’t concentrated on in this band until now. Jeff brings just a little more grease, that psychedelic greasy element that was missing in John’s playing. Not to demean John’s playing, because he’s brilliant. That’s just what Jeff brings that is different.”

Rhythm guitarist, Rob Eaton adds:

“[Mattson] comes at it from a place of its inception almost. He understands where it started and how it started and what it felt like when it started. He brings to the table a really deep understanding of what Jerry meant to this music in a pretty profound way that I didn’t realize until I started playing with him.”

Jeff Mattson

Allen, it seems, favors the 80’s. That makes Mattson a great choice simply based on the fact that we stand to get recreations of more early Dead shows and that’s my personal preference. On the other hand, Allen kicked ass when I saw him with DSO and his extraordinary vocabulary and lilting late-Jerry voice was a real plus. I would go back to see him again in a heartbeat. So it’s hard to choose. They both have different strengths that make them truly captivating and alluring.

Both players seem to have stepped into Kadlecik’s shoes (and, by extension, Jerry’s) with relative ease. And DSO band members seem to have embraced both with equal vigor. They appear (and sound) like they are having a blast. No matter who’s standing in the lead guitar role. That means, no matter who you see them with, you’re in for a treat.

Here’s a bit of both to give you a taste. This first link is to DSO’s recent show in Hampton Beach, N.H. second night. Some Deadhead friends of mine were there and, thankfully, the original setlist could not have been a better one for them. The first set is quite good, building from an ambiguous place into being a great lead-in to what turned out to be a killer second set. And Mattson rocks it out with style.

The second is from Petaluma, CA. last April with Stu Allen standing in. There’s some truly amazing musicianship taking place here.

Both are original set lists and fascinating to take in for their diversity of style, as well as their similarities.

Enjoy. And I’d love to hear your feedback on which guitarist you lean toward. If any.

Mattson: http://www.archive.org/details/dso2010-05-29.flac16

Allen: http://www.archive.org/details/DSO2010-04-14.flac16

The Different “Jerrys” Of Dark Star Orchestra

Grateful Dead Philadelphia 1989 Comes To DVD In CRIMSON, WHITE & INDIGO


Rhino’s newest Grateful Dead concert release, “Crimson, White & Indigo” is a DVD/CD combo set, this time from Philadelphia’s JFK Stadium on July 7, 1989. This was the last event at the old stadium before it was torn down and the Dead seemed intent on making her final moments memorable. And so they were.

Somewhat past their prime, the Grateful Dead nonetheless came together on this night to deliver a show that was not only uncharacteristically tight for its period, but showed the band members having more fun on stage than had been seen in a while. The band had been in the studio working on their newest (and, as it would turn out, final) studio album, and this may have something to do with the fact that the boys seemed more connected and present here than they had in the years leading up to this tour and, sadly, in the years to follow.

The DVD is presented in the standard 1.33:1 aspect ratio as it was displayed on the big screens at the stadium itself. Len Dell’Amico’s direction, while not particularly inspired, is rarely distracting and allows us to watch the band at play. Thankfully this time without the annoying psychedelic visuals that accompanied some of the Dead’s earlier video releases.

The sound is offered in both 2.0 and 5.1. While we hope Rhino will eventually begin offering these releases on Blu-ray for the benefit of lossless audio, the sound here on both mixes is quite clean. That said, there is something a bit odd about the 5.1 mix. While all instruments are present, the mix uses the surrounds in unconventional ways, often throwing a percussion beat here or a drum beat there. It is oftentimes more distracting than enveloping. And while the audience is somewhat present in the surrounds on this release, they are quite distant and place the viewer more on stage with the band as opposed to being in the audience itself. A stronger soundboard/audience matrix might have been welcome, but at the end of the day, it boils down to personal preference and there is certainly nothing here to complain about on a technical level.

Rhino’s new release offers a glimpse into the Grateful Dead’s inconsistent later years on a night when everything came together to illuminate a special moment and the band seemed poised to take the music to new heights. Sadly, a little more than a year later, keyboardist Brent Mydland would die of an overdose. Six years later would see the staggering loss of lead guitarist and singer Jerry Garcia. The rough roads ahead were paved with ups and downs and the struggles took their toll both musically and personally. But for a moment, the Grateful Dead stood before a crowd of fans at Philly’s JFK and played their hearts out. And Rhino has done fans the honor of allowing us to relive that moment with their new DVD/CD release. Hopefully, they will do the same for some of the great shows videotaped in the 70’s so that later generations can see and hear what the Dead were like at their peak; before the massive crowds following the popularity of “Touch of Grey” changed the scene dramatically, and before the signs of substance abuse and personal struggles started to take its toll on the music.

Please visit the Grateful Dead’s official site at Dead.net for more audio and video releases (many unavailable elsewhere), current news, and all things Grateful Dead.

Here is the trailer for “Crimson, White & Indigo” that was put together for a last minute theatrical run of the concert that played here in Los Angeles, as well as other cities across the country:

Grateful Dead Philadelphia 1989 Comes To DVD In CRIMSON, WHITE & INDIGO