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Cave Of Forgotten Dreams (#110 of 3)

The Conversations: 3D

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The Conversations: 3D
The Conversations: 3D

Ed Howard: If there’s anything that can excite an impassioned debate among film fans, it’s the topic of 3D. The technology has been around for a long time in one form or another—the first 3D films were released in the 1950s—but its popularity tends to wax and wane, sometimes reaching peaks where it’s a huge fad and a box office draw, while at other times the technology falls into disfavor and disuse. We are currently, without a doubt, in the middle of one of 3D’s peak periods, and there are even those, like James Cameron, who argue that 3D is the future of film. It’s pretty rare these days for any big animated film or summer blockbuster to get released to theaters without being in 3D, and older hits from the Star Wars series to Titanic are being refitted and re-released with 3D effects grafted on.

Our entry point for this conversation is provided by the release of two 3D family/adventure flicks made by esteemed directors working in the 3D format for the first time. Martin Scorsese’s Hugo and Steven Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin are very different movies, both in their own right and in how they use 3D. Scorsese’s latest work is a deeply personal (but also, paradoxically, uncharacteristic) ode to the early cinema, a formalist celebration of the joys of movies. Spielberg’s film, an adaptation of the beloved comics by Belgian artist Hergé, is arguably less of a personal work, a propulsive, often funny, action movie that hardly ever pauses for breath. Though both films share a certain witty European sensibility and both are family-friendly crowd-pleasers, it’s hard to imagine two more different movies in terms of tone: the breathless, wide-eyed wonder of Hugo and the kinetic, nearly slapstick violence and adventure of Tintin.

Precisely because these films are so different, and because they’re the product of two highly respected American directors rather than just two more disposable holiday-season spectacles, they provide a perfect opportunity to discuss the merits of 3D, to consider whether this technology really is, as filmmakers like Cameron seem to think, the future of film and a valuable aesthetic tool, or if it’s simply a faddy gimmick that’s cycled back into popularity before people get tired of it again. These films provide an interesting case study for these questions. One curiosity is that the brasher, louder Tintin arguably uses 3D effects much more subtly and minimally than the comparatively low-key Hugo, which suggests that 3D can easily be separated from the other elements of a film’s style and tone. I wonder if that disconnect between 3D and the rest of a film’s elements provides some proof for the viewpoint that 3D is an unnecessary gimmick rather than a truly vital means of expression.

DOC NYC 2010: Cave of Forgotten Dreams

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DOC NYC 2010: <em>Cave of Forgotten Dreams</em>
DOC NYC 2010: <em>Cave of Forgotten Dreams</em>

Werner Herzog’s latest documentary, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, is an exploration (in 3D!) of the Chauvet Caves, an area that Herzog identifies, romantically and poetically, as the place “where the modern human soul was awakened.” It would seem like a typically Herzogian grandiose description, if not for its essential accuracy: These caves contain the oldest discovered pictorial depictions to emanate from the human hand. The caves are thus an obvious symbol for the birth of human creativity, for the development of the uniquely human urge to document one’s world and to communicate about it. For an artist like Herzog, this is an irresistible conceit. At one point in this film, a scientist remarks that the difference between the Neanderthal and the more modern, more human successor, the Paleolithic man, was precisely this flowering of creativity in carved icons, cave paintings and even crude musical instruments, like a flute carved out of ivory. Herzog’s film resulted from a rare opportunity to explore these caves, which are jealously protected and sealed off from casual inquiry; normally, only a select few scientists ever get to see the cave interior, and even then only in limited ways.

Toronto International Film Festival 2010: Potiche, Essential Killing, & Cave of Forgotten Dreams

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Toronto International Film Festival 2010: <em>Potiche</em>, <em>Essential Killing</em>, & <em>Cave of Forgotten Dreams</em>
Toronto International Film Festival 2010: <em>Potiche</em>, <em>Essential Killing</em>, & <em>Cave of Forgotten Dreams</em>

Potiche: More like Pastiche. Back in kitschy-feminist 8 Women mode, François Ozon channels Jacques Demy (pink umbrellas and all) for this plush hymn to the fabulosity of all things Catherine Deneuve. The campy tone is set in the opening sequence, as French cinema’s knowing empress is introduced in a jogging tracksuit and tasteful curlers, cooing at fawns and winking at squirrels. It’s 1977 and she plays the docile wife of a right-wing, openly unfaithful industrialist (Fabrice Luchini). When her husband is hospitalized after a clash with striking workers, she dons her best pearls and furs and heads out to run the factory with her adult children, reactionary Papa’s girl Judith Godrèche and queer-eyed artist Jeremy Renier. Though larded with lines like “Paternalism is dead” and “The personal is political,” Ozon’s romp is less interested in charting a bourgeois wife’s private revolution than in doting on feathery coifs, split-screens, and geometric wallpaper. Deneuve does plenty of elegantly funny swanning, and works up iconic poignancy with Gérard Depardieu (as her unionist-turned-mayor ex-lover). It feels churlish to carp when a star is having so much fun, though I wish the material didn’t play like a Gallic remake of Mamma Mia!