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Max Field / Macks Fiiod

Does a Filmmaker NEED to watch Citizen Kane in 2018?

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Like the title says, I've been asking myself this for a while now.

How much is practical thought versus traditional thought?

 

If we all agree that Citizen Kane put things into cinematography that we still see in just about every movie today, is it really still necessary as a learning tool in this era?

 

A good filmmaker and a good film historian are 2 different things.

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He should probably have had his attention drawn to it at film school. I'm fairly sure mine was.

It probably doesn't have too much practical technical relevance today, but its impact on the conventions of Hollywood cinema are undeniable.

That's the lesson of Kane- you don't have to do what's aways been done.

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There’s no law that a painter has to have seen a painting by Leonardo, Vermeer, Van Gogh... or any painting for that matter. But it has always seemed odd to me when someone can’t be bothered to learn the fundamentals of their chosen art form, which includes some BASIC history. But whatever works for them.

 

But if I ran a film school, you’d be darn certain that every student would be shown “Citizen Kane”. And doubly so if I ran a cinematography department!

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The first time you go out to work on a movie as a cinematographer and the director says he wants to do a deep focus effect and shows you a frame from “Citizen Kane”, it would get real practical very quickly.

 

There are few touchstone reading materials for cinematography but Toland’s article on shooting “Citizen Kane” is one of them.

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One of the things about this that I notice is that a lot of less-experienced people who are perhaps just starting out have very little idea of blocking and staging. This is part of the reason why a lot of very basic short films are terribly "cutty" with each shot doing exactly one thing, before, kerpow, we're off to the next one.

 

This is a different problem to the frenetic editing of some action movies, which is done to make it feel pacy; those films are often shot in such a way that they could be presented in longer takes if the editors were a bit more considered, which is a topic for another day.

 

But a lot of short films are essentially presented as a string of individual setups, where a longer take, with at least more willingness to operate the camera, perhaps even move the camera, and show a lot of action in one go, might work better. Older movies are a very good demonstration of this sort of thing, particularly musicals which made a point of showing a dance sequence in full. It might not be what we're doing now, but it demonstrates a lot of technique. The musical number "A Boy Like That" from West Side Story was once used as an example of this in a class taught by (if I remember correctly) Stephen H. Burum, ASC. It's far from a one-setup scene, but the use of blocking and staging, with cleverly set up light to keep people visible, in silhouette and in front light, is absolutely masterful.

 

Shot in 65mm, on 5251, a 50-speed tungsten stock, by Daniel L. Fapp. People constantly claim this is three-strip technicolor. It isn't.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4oxfOncYiag

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Also, it's just a plain old good movie. So if you like watching good movies, I would recommend it. And now with 2018 availability to many old movies that weren't available in the past and with the technology to watch these old movies on bigger screens again, now's a better time than any to catch up on the classics that came out in theaters before we were born. I watched "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" for the first time last night on a 10 foot screen in my basement. It was great.

 

But all that aside, I'm sure Mr. Mullen has said this plenty of times in the past, but it's worth finding out who your favorite filmmaker's favorite filmmakers are and watching their movies to learn what your favorite filmmaker's influences were. I really like Martin Scorsese films and he talks about his influences all the time... I have "The Red Shoes" sitting in a netflix sleeve as we speak. I just listened to an interview with Quentin Tarantino where he talked about how a review of one of his favorite Jean-Luc Godard films inspired his entire point of view on writing. Who knows what will inspire you, so why not watch as much as you can?

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Who knows what will inspire you, so why not watch as much as you can?

This may be a discussion for a different thread, but would it be crucial for a filmmaker to figure out the seed for their own style before flipping through tons of movies for analysis?

 

What I end up commonly encountering is guys who actively analyze a century of titles to then go on set and have no clue how to really apply any of it to something original.

 

Also we'll probably need to accept that in 50 years filmmakers will hold far less value for Citizen Kane. When 30-unders talk it up it comes off as posturing as opposed to a genuine appreciation.

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This may be a discussion for a different thread, but would it be crucial for a filmmaker to figure out the seed for their own style before flipping through tons of movies for analysis?

 

I don't know. I just really like watching movies. And I love breaking down the craft as far as I'm capable. It's been my favorite thing to do since as far back as I can remember having a favorite thing to do. The first thing my parents let me do by myself was walk to the movie theater and see whatever was playing. I didn't even know what I was watching half the time, but if it was PG, I bought a ticket. I just turned forty a few days ago and all I asked my wife for my birthday is to let me BBQ and watch a good movie on my projector in the basement. That's a perfect birthday in my opinion.

 

So... when someone tells me there was a movie made almost eighty years ago that was so good it's influenced new movies ever since... it's hard for me to understand not wanting to watch it.

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Being soundly educated in the classics has always been a road to success in the arts. Of course there's no guarantee because the other requirements are talent and lots of hard work, and basically, sticking with it and not giving up.

 

There's another thing though: being obsessed with other's achievements, and being an expert on what has been produced by others, but not really getting out there and doing your own things. A famous classical musician once said something along the lines of "If you're at the top of the game you don't have time to sit down and listen to the other soloists." But people do. We need inspiration and technical and artistic knowledge.

 

So seek a good balance. Get educated, stay educated, but get out there and do your own thing as quick as you can, and keep doing it. Don't watch too many films - make your own. But you have to know your art. Wisdom and hard work .....

 

Yes, you must watch Citizen Kane. It's a classic.

Edited by Jon O'Brien

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There's another thing though: being obsessed with other's achievements, and being an expert on what has been produced by others, but not really getting out there and doing your own things.

I'm guilty of that, no question.

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I don't know. I just really like watching movies.

That's where I find myself differing from a lot of guys who work in this field; It's rare a feature keeps my interest, I turn most movies off after 30 minutes.

If I wasn't forced to watch Citizen Kane in highschool film study, I would've turned it off after the first half. Same with The Godfather.

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It's rare a feature keeps my interest, I turn most movies off after 30 minutes.

 

But you want to make them?

 

Edit: Both my mom and my step mom don't like watching movies, so it would be weird if they told me they wanted to make one. Who says they don't like pizza then opens a pizzeria?

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But you want to make them?

I want to make movies that're like the movies I enjoy, why would someone want to enter a craft unless they feel there's a new (or underappreciated) angle they could offer? It feels like the entire output from the industry today is either big CGI explosions or pseudo-intellectual born-rich problems.

Edited by Macks Fiiod

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If one has a problem with the current output of movies, that's all the more reason to watch something from a different generation. Not a lot of CGI explosions in "Citizen Kane"... How can one both complain about having to see old movies while complaining about the state of contemporary movies?

 

As for personal style, I sort of believe that one cannot or should not artificially come up with a personal style -- do the work that interests you and a personal style will hopefully organically emerge from who you are and what interests you. I don't think an artist should spend much time pondering what their "style" is, they should let others notice a style.

 

Imagine a writer who didn't read books because they thought anything they read would affect their style. When a writer goes and sees an adaption of a Shakespeare play, do they start writing like Shakespeare? Or should artists only see mediocre art because great art might be too influential?

 

If a director doesn't know what to do on the set, it usually isn't because they are TOO educated. A lack of personal drive or imagination or decision-making skills has little to do with the degree of arts education they received.

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And if the issue is practicality, that's all the more reason to try and learn from the past rather than lose time on the set reinventing the wheel.

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If one has a problem with the current output of movies, that's all the more reason to watch something from a different generation. Not a lot of CGI explosions in "Citizen Kane"... How can one both complain about having to see old movies while complaining about the state of contemporary movies?

There's movies every now and then I truly vibe with regardless of era, but they end up being brushed off as mediocre or forgotten in a decade. I personally can't find most old movies engaging because the culture is too different and the pacing too slow.

 

I tend to not find a lot of pictures which interest me, but when one does I try to gather all the info I can about its production.

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Watching Citizen Kane on a big screen is a different experience to seeing it on a small screen, Many older films (I suspect all) were never intended to be seen on small screens.

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That's where I find myself differing from a lot of guys who work in this field; It's rare a feature keeps my interest, I turn most movies off after 30 minutes.

If I wasn't forced to watch Citizen Kane in highschool film study, I would've turned it off after the first half. Same with The Godfather.

Macks, If you can't watch these films past 30 minutes, you might be in the wrong business. Maybe commercials and music videos are more your thing?

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Macks, If you can't watch these films past 30 minutes, you might be in the wrong business. Maybe commercials and music videos are more your thing?

I have watched them all the way through, just didn't enjoy it.

 

Here's the thing; I can list off many films my era appreciates that keep me engaged, but if someone significantly older or younger were to watch them, they'd have the same reaction as me to older films.

I remember having a funny conversation with Tyler where he was like "Man you haven't seen any movies" and then I listed off a few of my favorites in the last 20 years and he replied "Nope never seen 'em".

Neither of us were wrong or right, we just come from different places.

 

What I might be getting at is an artwork's engagement is largely cultural (whether it be era or location), so I'm not sure we can give certain movies a universal title of "essential" unless getting into the technological aspect of film.

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The films aren't technical, they are about stories and how they are told. Certainly Citizen Kane isn't to everyone's taste, it's not what could be called mainstream, but a 20 year window for a filmmaker is rather limiting.,

 

There are films which hold up in a timeless way,while others show their age. Pacing isn't always the reason, some older films ,move at the pace of a music video.

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Watch Kane and then read My Lunches with Orson. A series of conversations that indie filmmaker Henry Jaglom had over lunches with Orson when Orson was much older and not a "marketable" director in Hollywood anymore. They were recorded and then transcribed You get an excellent sense of Orson as an individual and his struggle to get subsequent projects developed after Kane. Depressing and hilarious at times but full of very interesting Hollywood anecdotes.

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Need and should are two different things. You don't NEED to do anything really to be a "filmmaker," however you should always be learning so you can better yourself and your craft. This often will manifest from watching films others have done regardless on if you like them or not (lord knows I've seen many films I don't like).

Should you watch Kane? Sure, why not; might as well see what all the hype has been about whether or not you agree with it.

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