Friday, July 11, 2008

What's It All About?

A few weeks ago on NPR's Fresh Air, they played a 1997 interview between Roger Ebert and Martin Scorsese done at Ohio State University. The two men are discussing Raging Bull- they played two clips from the film on the radio and it is fascinating just listening to the film- and Ebert begins the discussion like this:

...People will discuss the subject matter as if that is what the film is about. The film is about boxing, or it’s about gangsters. A film is not about its subject, its about how it’s about its subject. The subject is neutral, people don't understand that. Whenever anyone makes a statement I don’t like to go to movies about ... fill in the blank. My response is 'anyone who makes that statement is an idiot.' I don’t want to go to bad films about cowboys is maybe a more intelligent statement.

Well said, Roger. Raging Bull was about a boxer not about boxing.

If you want to hear 12 minutes of Ebert and Scorsese's discussion as well as listen to two scenes from Raging Bull, then go to itunes and look up the June 27 Fresh Air podcast or visit and go to the Fresh Air archives. It's a great, passionate discussion as well as an interesting insight into how Scorsese shot the boxing scenes for Raging Bull. Later in the broadcast Michael Imperioli talks about working on Goodfellas and what it was like to work with Robert DeNiro.

Check it out.


Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

I finally got around to seeing The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Julian Schnabel's film about Jean-Dominique Bauby, the editor of Elle magazine who suffered a massive stroke which left him in a condition called "locked-in syndrome."

It's a terrific film in many ways: the story of what happened to Jean-Do is amazing. After his stroke he was in a coma for 20 days. When he awoke he was mentally aware of his surroundings but paralyzed with the exception of his left eye. He used his eye to communicate, blinking as a transcriber repeatedly recited a French language frequency alphabet. Using this method he wrote a memoir chronicling everyday events and what it is like for a person with locked-in syndrome. It took 200,000 blinks and each word took approximately two minutes to complete.

Another reason I liked the film was Schnabel's use of the point of view shot. Much of the film is from Bauby's point of view, so the viewer really feels what it is like to have this condition. Using the p.o.v. camera, the viewer finally catches a glimpse of the afflicted Bauby in a refelection. It comes as a shock that this person- with a brain which is quite alive- is in such a horrible physical state. By using this p.o.v. shot we got to experience the feeling Bauby had when he saw his own reflection.

During the film I found myself thinking that Mathieu Amalric-who plays Bauby in the film- was terrific bringing this character to life. While I do think Amalric did a great job, I think it was Schnabel's direction that made Amalric's performance so strong. During much of the film we don't see Bauby, we only hear him. So when we finally get to see Amalric's crumpled body it is even more horrific for us, because WE have had locked-in syndrome and we now realize what it has done to OUR bodies. Julian Schnabel was most deserving of his Oscar nomination for best direction and I think he should have won.