Tagged: cinema

Pink Narcissus (1971)

Pink Narcissus is a 1971 feature film directed by James Bidgood. The 65 minute film depicts a prostitute(Bobby Kendall) as he lounges in his apartment, drifting in and out of homo-erotic fantasies. There is no dialogue as the protagonist drifts through a number of dreams, such as that of becoming a matador in an encounter with a leather-clad biker, a Roman slave boy, masturbation in a forest and seduction by a belly dancer.


While the majority of Pink Narcissus is live-action, the film features several stop-motion animated sequences, puppeted and handcrafted sets, stunning creativity, inventiveness and a strong handcrafted quality throughout. I thought this film would be of interest to many people as it is unique and distinctly personal cinema.

During an animated sequence at the film’s onset, the camera tracks through a forest with a luminescent moon shining through foliage. We see handcrafted spider webs, and live mice scurry beneath a painted backdrop of stars. The camera then tracks in to a chryssalis hatching and a stop-motion butterfly emerging and taking it’s first flight. We then see our protagonist walk into a pink room to light a candle as stop-motion rose petals fall over a gilded picture frame suspended in a pink ether. This is just a sample of the vivid imagery which permeates the film.

Pink Narcissus was shot entirely in Bidgood’s cramped New York apartment over seven years. He lived among the various sets while creating the film. This lack of space and limited resources required a certain kind of ingenuity from the creator. When asked how he went creating the forest scene in his apartment, Bidgood replied “Every breath of space was used” … “I was in a very small apartment. So that moon was a tabletop that was in one room, and the sky in the background was a huge frame that was as big as it could be and still pass through the archway that led into the living room where it started…” “You see if you have that kind of conviction and want to do that and if you really think you know how to do it, you should do it! And you shouldn’t let anyone tell you that you should ‘start a little simpler’.”

One scene I find particularly amazing comes towards the final third of the film. Seemingly taking inspiration from Robert Wiene’s German expressionist films of the 1920’s such as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Genuine, the scene depicts a hand-made New York cityscape. Asymmetrical buildings clad in glowing signage tower over colourful, strange and menacing characters. Pantless sailors, disheveled bagladies, men clad in BDSM chains and harnesses, a nurse in a storefront struggling(or dancing) with intestines, a cowboy with his cock out and a postman with his penis in his hand. Alongside these live-action characters sit atrophied stop-motion animated figures vomiting near a bin and cavorting outside a bloodbank.

“There were times when I needed four people to do a shot and there was no-body but me. There’s one scene where there’s a New York skyline. And I had to have little motors to make things work, the camera was connected to a string to make the it tilt up or tilt down because I didn’t have anyone to operate the cameras. There was another motor to make the fan blow intermittently so the curtain billowed. And then I had to run back behind the set to makethe signs in the skyline light up. It would have been nice if I had a couple of extra hands. A lot of things were like that. I had to make machines. I don’t think anyone realises how hard it was.” – James Bidgood

The film’s rejection of many cinema and staging conventions as well as it’s handmade aesthetic contribute to it’s otherworldly and ethereal tone. While nothing is done ‘sleekly’, the handmade aesthetic effectively weaves together the seperate elements to create this fantastical world . Another distinguishing feature of the film’s aesthetic and dream-like tone is it’s intense colour. Bidgood dipped the 8mm film in coloured dyes to give it bright pink to irredescent blue overtones throughout the film.

The sad part was that when you’re making a film for seven years, people don’t have a lot of patience, and they want you to finish your work of art on their timetable. So getting anyone to help me was very difficult. It was always difficult, even when I got help but it got to be toward the end that even the people that were… y’know… even Bobby left. He just couldn’t stand the whole situation anymore. Bobby is not the only Bobby in the movie, there are stand-ins for Bobby. *laughs* When you lose your leading man… first of all when your leading man goes bald making the movie, it takes a lot. It was very funny.” – James Bidgood

For years the film was rumoured to have been created by Andy Warhol or Kenneth anger, due to Bidgood being credited as ‘Anonymous’ after being denied the final cut on the film which was then edited by the producers. “It was very sad what happened to it.” ruminates Bidgood in an interview with Brian Robinson, Programmer of the London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival. “So much of Pink Narcissus is not there. It’s really sad because so many of the optical effects and the materials were all there to work with when it was taken from me and put together by people who had no idea what I was intending. First of all, the film is so personal, how could anyone else put it together? It’s like you’re trying to come into my dream world and see what I see only at night by myself.” During the mid 90’s the film’s origin was tracked to Bidgood and it was eventually re-released in 2003 on DVD by Strand Home Videos.

This film is essential viewing for anyone into personal underground cinema, which embodies stunning creativity and strong D.I.Y resourcefullness.

-Hamish Storrie

. All James Bidgood quotes were transcribed from an interview with Brian Robinson, Programmer of the London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival. The interview is contained in the special features of the 2007 BFI DVD release. 

Aspect Ratio!

I’m about to begin story-boarding so I’m currently looking into what aspect ratio to use for my film. Although it seems like a it’s pretty small and inconsequential decision, it will impact how I compose and edit the shots and the overall look of the film. It’ll also be really hard to change even half-way through pre-production.

Everything I’ve previously worked on (except for a few old 4×3 projects) has been 1.78:1 (or 16×9). This is pretty much because 1.78:1 is the main standard for HDTV and web based videos these days, so it has almost become the default choice. However, there are some other aspect ratios that are worth looking into.

There have been many aspect ratios used throughout the history of cinema. Here’s a great video from FilmmakerIQ on the history of aspect ratios for those interested.

I’ve also found a great vimeo channel called Unsusual Aspect Ratios which highlights the diversity of aspect ratios people are using out there.

THE OPTIONS
Most contemporary feature films use one of these three aspect ratios:
2.39:1 – ‘Scope’
1.85:1 – ‘Flat’ or ‘Theatrical Widescreen’
1.78:1 (16×9) – HDTV

Of course there are exceptions to this, such as Mommy (2014) by Xavier Dolan which is mostly uses a 1:1 square aspect ratio, or The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) which changes between 1.37:1, 1.85:1 and 2.35:1. These rare aspect ratios are interesting but I’m mostly interested in using the 2.39:1 ‘scope’ and 1.85:1 ‘flat’ aspect ratios. There are several pros and cons to both which has made it pretty difficult for me to decide on which I want to go with.

2.39:1
2.39:1 ‘Scope’ aspect ratio (sometimes referred to as 2.35:1) gives a wide field of view which is great for panoramic shots, landscape shots and tight close-ups. The wide frame can lend your cinematography theatricality and gravity.

The cons of 2.39:1 lay in distribution. Depending on your digital distributor, your film may be required to be ‘pan and scanned’ (cropped) down to 16×9. This is unacceptable as it will ruin the framing of your shots completely. Thankfully this seems to be getting less common as digital distributors are happier letterboxing the film to fit 16×9 screens.

Many of my favourite live-action films such as Kwaidan (1964), Kuroneko (1968), The Sword of Doom (1966), the Lone Wolf and Cub series (1972), The Devils (1971), Onibaba (1964), Dogtooth (2009), the Female Convict Scorpion trilogy (1972) and Old Boy (2003) have been shot in 2.39:1 scope ratio.

OctoberTheDevils4The Devils (1971) ~2.39:1

maxresdefaultWe Are The Strange (2007) ~2.39:1

kuroneko 2Kuroneko (1968) ~2.39:1

1.85:1
1.85:1 ‘flat’ is wide yet not excessive. It’s the middle ground of theatrical aspect ratios. It is also close to 1.78:1 so on 16×9 screens the letter boxing is minimal or optionally (but in-advisably) you can cut a little off the sides to fit the frame.

Many great films such as A Clockwork Orange (1971), Fitzcarraldo (1982) and The Birds (1963) were shot in 1.85:1; as well as many great animations such as Ghost in the Shell (1995), Akira (1988), Angel’s Egg (1985), Princess Mononoke (1997), Waltz With Bashir (2008).

g1Ghost In The Shell (1995) ~1.85:1

a-clockwork-orange (1)A Clockwork Orange (1971) ~1.85:1

angels-eggAngel’s Egg (1985) ~1.85:1

One of my initial hesitations for using 2.39:1 is that until pretty recently there just isn’t that much animation done in that aspect ratio. Some early Toei animations such as Magic Boy (1959), as well as the more recent Evangelion 3.0 (2012) used 2.39:1, however nearly all theatrical anime has, and continues to use 1.85:1 ‘flat’.

With the exception of a couple of 2.39:1 Disney animations such as Brother Bear (2000) and Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001), the majority of Disney films were shot in their preffered aspect ratio of 1.66:1.

Another rare example of 2.39:1 aspect ratios being used in animation is M Dot Strange’s feature films We Are The Strange (2008), Heart String Marionette (2012) and I Am Nightmare (2014) which all use the 2.39:1 aspect ratio.

Many of my favourite western and independent animations had extremely tight budgets, so they tend to be a mix of 1.37:1, 1.66:1, or 1.85:1, such as Fantastic Planet (1.66:1), Midori (1.37:1), Hair High (1.66:1) and Alice (1.37:1).

DISTRIBUTION AND EXHIBITION
Let’s look at the DCP frame sizes.
. Flat (1998×1080 or 3996×2160), ~1.85:1 aspect ratio
. Scope (2048 x 1080 or 4096×1716), ~2.39:1 aspect ratio
. HDTV (1920×1080 or 3840×2160), ~1.78:1 (16×9) aspect ratio

The majority of my audience will access my film through VOD or from downloading it, which means the film will most likely be watched on TVs or computer monitors; the majority of  which have an aspect ratio of 16×9. This means that if I went with 2.39:1 for my film, most people will see the film letter-boxed. Letter-boxing isn’t such a big deal for me (I actually kind of like it), so I’m not going to let that influence me.

What could influence me is if a distributor makes me crop the finished film to 16×9. That would be the worst possible scenario for a 2.39:1 film. While it’s worth considering hypothetical situations and problems that may come down the line, it isn’t enough to sway me. It also seems to be coming less frequent as network bandwidth’s improve across the globe.

TESTING ASPECT RATIOS
I’m instantly drawn to the 2.39 scope ratio. But is it the right choice for my animation?

To help me decide I made some 1.85:1 and 2.39:1 (or 2.35… whatever!) viewers from cardboard and duct tape so I could frame some shots and find what feels better to me.

aspect ratio viewers
I framed multiple shots of various types to get a feel for the frame ratios. I looked at framing human figures, objects and landscapes in Extreme Close-ups, Very Close-ups, Close-ups, Medium Close-ups, Mid Shots, 3/4 Shots, Long Shots and Extreme Long-shots and in a wide variety of angles.

aspect ratio viewer 1 aspect ratio viewer 2Sketch by Jared Brown

THE VERDICT
The shot framing tests pretty much just confirmed what I already thought.

1.85:1 is a solid aspect ratio. It excels at framing MCU’s, CU’s, MS’s and 3/4 Shots. Framing long shots or ECU’s with it is ok, but it has less room to create interesting compositions. I feel that this aspect ratio would be great for framing scenes inter-personal conflict and intimate subject matter.

2.39:1 was good at framing at CU’s, MCU’s, MS’s and 3/4 shots but it was a little harder to frame them effectively due to it’s width. This aspect ratio was excellent at ECU’s, LS’s, ELS’s, panoramic and scenic shots. The 2.39:1 aspect ratio will be great for impressive scenic shots, grand, intense or epic subject matter as well as dynamic compositions.

Ultimately (as you may have guessed), it really just comes down to taste. What kind of film do I want to make? What kind of actions will be occurring on screen? What kind of cinematography will suite the style and content? What am I most comfortable using?

After thinking about this for some time and swaying back and forth multiple times I’ve decided to go with 2.39:1. The wide frame gives heaps of room to create dynamic and expressive shot compositions. I also feel that the wide frame will suite my film better, as the subject matter is intense and will contain a fair amount of large set pieces and spectacle.

Maybe I overthought this, but as it’s something that will be hard to change once I’ve begun, I thought I should really try to figure out what I wanted. I hope this helps any other filmmakers or animators out there trying to decide which aspect ratio they want to go with. If you have any questions hit me up.

-Hamish .S

Engaging with the cinema/animation scene

Ever since I started getting into animation and cinema as a snot nosed 15 year-old, I’ve been very self-reliant and independent about the whole deal, almost to the point where I’ve been secretive about what I do. I’ve pretty much refused to promote or talk about any of my work or interests to any great extent especially with people face to face in real life.

I grew up in a small town 4 hours away from the next big city and my interest began in animation not because I fell in love with the medium (that came later), but simply because I could do it all myself. There wasn’t anyone in the town who liked the cinema I liked, had similar interests and ideas that I valued, or wanted to work with me to make the kinds of things I was interested in making. I couldn’t rely on anyone so I found ways to not have to.

gummo-weightlifting-e1373279419200wasn’t the kid from Gummo, but wasn’t that far off either

When I turned 18 and moved to a bigger city to study, I carried this sort of behavior of secrecy and independence with me. Sure I talked to the occasional person at art school about it or a friend or two, but I never went out of my way to seek out and find people doing stuff that really interested me (I met a couple by accident anyway), or even just engage with people and community in the cinema/animation scenes. This isn’t all bad as self reliance and independence can be great and is very useful (you get shit done), however at some point being secretive and clandestine about my work and interests has limited my exposure to different people and ideas working in the animation and cinema areas.

So why have I avoided them; the people and community of a subject and art I’m very much interested in? Mainly because I don’t like 95% of the stuff being produced, made or talked about. The truth is that if you have particular or discerning taste in something, you won’t like 95% of it. This applies to any form of art, be it cinema, music, comics, games, fine art or whatever. Most of the works in any medium you like you’ll consider pretty bad or at the very least, just not for you. And y’know, that’s ok! If you liked or even tried your best to like everything you’d lose the ability to be critical and that’s not something that will help you, anyone else or the progression of the art and by (maybe a long) extension… humanity. The ability to be critical allows for improvement and evolution.

But is that a valid reason to avoid the community and scene at large?

…probably not.
I’ve really begun to question the validity of my actions in avoiding the scene. Even If I don’t like a lot the work in a community of an art I’m interested in, I’m not helping myself by avoiding it. Instead I should get out there and engage with people. At most I’ll find people who have interesting work or ideas that I can learn things off, at the very least I can provide an alternative for others who have similar taste to me (even though they may be far flung).

1399518731354“hnngblurggh”

So I’ve decided I want to get out and engage with the animation and cinema communities. I’m going to try to go to screenings and meetups, volunteer at festivals and generally engage with others in the scene. It’s something I should have been doing for years now but I’ve only just realised that If I change the way I treat the community I’ll be more likely to improve myself and impact it as a whole. No doubt there will be things that will annoy and frustrate me, but to grow and improve as a filmmaker it will help to engage with others.

-Hamish. S