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Max Field

Does a Filmmaker NEED to watch Citizen Kane in 2018?

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Students or general enthusiasts in film who ask questions like the one in the OP do not tend to make it in the industry. If you don't feel a compulsion to explore and learn all there is, to study from the masters - then you won't make good work.

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But there are exceptions. I can't think of any examples in cinematography but in other creative areas there are some high achievers who couldn't abide the work of other famous artists in their field. Still, in the learning stages it helps to check out the acknowledged masters. Depends on the talent and the opportunity.

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Students or general enthusiasts in film who ask questions like the one in the OP do not tend to make it in the industry. If you don't feel a compulsion to explore and learn all there is, to study from the masters - then you won't make good work.

Care to show me what you've made by "studying the masters"?

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Macks, you don't know what you're missing here. And you don't know, what you don't know :) Maybe that works for you. When you're successful I assure you that the rest of us will be studying you!!!

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Care to show me what you've made by "studying the masters"?

 

I guess it stops you thinking that you've come up with something wonderfully new, only to discover someone has done it 100 to 90 years ago.

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Macks, you don't know what you're missing here. And you don't know, what you don't know :) Maybe that works for you. When you're successful I assure you that the rest of us will be studying you!!!

The point I'm making is, well for one, his remarks are incendiary. To imply anyone else in your industry won't be successful if they disagree with you comes off as incredibly elitist.

 

Other point, people on this forum right now who've seen a career of success are doing what is influencing the future generation far more than Kane will. There comes a point where... "influence-ception" ends.

I feel some of the disagreements here are a result of slightly excess humbleness for this generation. Most people wouldn't dare say their modern work could teach someone how do to something the right way.

This is a total culture shock by the way because a few other popular mediums are the opposite of this energy.

Pride is not married to throwing shade.

 

I've fully watched Kane before, Metropolis, M, the usual suspects (damn I don't mean the title). They have merit and a place in history

The films released in the last 20 or so years may not always innovate every single time, but will it really matter for someone producing if they learned from who did it first?

 

Guys are going super absolutist on me. A filmmaker should be filling their "influence quota". I'm not saying "never watch Citizen Kane" (although some angry folks here would like to read it as that), I'm saying quit assuming the worst for people if they don't find Kane or the other golden age titles relatable. Chances are; that "void" is being filled with something else.

Edited by Macks Fiiod
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I did not say you will not be successful. I said that when you shoot some famous films, the rest of us will study your work. :)

 

Best wishes to you Macks and please keep us up to date with your work.

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I did not say you will not be successful. I said that when you shoot some famous films, the rest of us will study your work. :)

 

Best wishes to you Macks and please keep us up to date with your work.

Sorry I wasn't referring to you, Bruce. The previous person I quote replied.

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No, the only qualification to be called a filmmaker is to make films.

 

Should one go off half cocked, and ignorant, of the medium they want to use, probably not a good idea, but may work for some.

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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.

So just watch the movies you like. Nobody's holding a gun to your head. We're talking about taste here: people like what they like. Nobody HAS to do anything.

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So just watch the movies you like. Nobody's holding a gun to your head.

Haha you'd be surprised.

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Welles use of overlapping dialogue is still very exciting.

I'm pretty sure it was Wells use of overlapping dialogue, especially in an early newsroom scene, is what inspired Steven Spielberg's heavy use of this technique throughout his career.

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Your brain is just a big filing cabinet and the reason you watch old movies is because it's a very efficient way to fill your brain files with techniques. How to get actors gracefully through a crowded set, how to frame a scene with a million things going on at once, how to do a tracking shot when there's barely room for a camera; that kind of thing.

Once you get to a certain level in filmmaking it's all about knowing how to get shots into the can efficiently and safely no matter what wild hare has climbed up your or the director's backside. 

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On 7/28/2018 at 4:55 PM, Max Field said:

The point I'm making is, well for one, his remarks are incendiary. To imply anyone else in your industry won't be successful if they disagree with you comes off as incredibly elitist.

 

Other point, people on this forum right now who've seen a career of success are doing what is influencing the future generation far more than Kane will. There comes a point where... "influence-ception" ends.

I feel some of the disagreements here are a result of slightly excess humbleness for this generation. Most people wouldn't dare say their modern work could teach someone how do to something the right way.

This is a total culture shock by the way because a few other popular mediums are the opposite of this energy.

Pride is not married to throwing shade.

 

I've fully watched Kane before, Metropolis, M, the usual suspects (damn I don't mean the title). They have merit and a place in history

The films released in the last 20 or so years may not always innovate every single time, but will it really matter for someone producing if they learned from who did it first?

 

Guys are going super absolutist on me. A filmmaker should be filling their "influence quota". I'm not saying "never watch Citizen Kane" (although some angry folks here would like to read it as that), I'm saying quit assuming the worst for people if they don't find Kane or the other golden age titles relatable. Chances are; that "void" is being filled with something else.

I must say I think there's some truth to this. When I was studying I often found that having seen certain films commonly considered as "canonical" was more a mark of elitism rather than actual learning. Noone wanted to be "that guy" who hasn't seen X or Y movie, because OMG how could you liek NOT have seen that, it's totally amazing and brilliant, when in truth, most people couldn't even tell you what makes those films so incredibly amazing and relevant. And that's not to say that those movies aren't relevant or great, just that there's an inertia in praising them which in turn makes opinions that cast doubt on that praise just get scorned. I think Max is completely right in questioning these "canonical" films, and if they are so great, it should be quite easy to point to all those things that make it such a great film, which some people have done, but others haven't. And adding to that, there's a lot of amazing films which get so little praise and consideration, while they maybe should be up there with those great classics. I think one such underrated masterpiece is Nothing Sacred from 1937, an amazing screenplay full of multiple layers of irony, one of the in my opinion greatest opening scenes ever (the one with the fake arabian prince), great Technicolor photography... It isn't even among the greatly remembered screwball comedies, yet I think it should be one of the most respected ones. But it isn't. Just one example of films that I not only believe to be impressive and underrated, but I could even objectively defend why they should be more highly praised than some "great classics". And, in the case of Citizen Kane, let's not forget that it rides a lot on the original hype and controversy of back in the day, of going after the big media mogul Hearst (someone whom many people who so greatly praise Kane wouldn't even know who he was), which also was somewhat kicking him when he was already down. It's ironic how there's so much overreaction among the liberal/progressive thinking intelligentsia when a certain someone criticizes journalism and the media, yet those same people greatly praise a film doing exactly that.
I know I'm playing devil's advocate here, but just some thoughts I wanted to get out of my system. Like I said, I nevertheless think Kane is a great movie and certainly worth a watch. But not greatly enjoying it or not immediately being dumbstruck at its genius does in my opinion not mean someone is somehow ignorant or incapable of being a good filmmaker.

More importantly, I think it would be worrisome if we became so close-minded that we don't even want to accept someone questioning such a commonly accepted idea. I believe filmmaking is first and foremost storytelling (some people might disagree, that's fine). Someone who wants to be a storyteller should also be someone who thinks for himself, and someone who thinks for himself should be someone who questions that which others just accept without question. And when something becomes such a universal truth then it's the perfect moment to question it. If we become so cowardly that we just don't want to stick out from those commonly accepted truths then we have betrayed all that which we supposedly stand for. When I started studying film, this was probably my greatest disappointment, finding me surrounded by people who not only didn't want to question the Zeitgeist, they even reacted aggressively to someone who did, shielding themselves through the groupthink. Instead of an open dialogue of different opinions I found a hivemind where no one wanted to stand out. Was this what filmmaking was about? Pretending to be different and original but really just going with the flow?
I find the same thing when I go to film festivals, and I find it greatly frustrating and depressing. Everything I see follows certain tendencies, nothing stands out because everything is "different" in more or less the same way. The supposed avant-garde has become ridiculously conservative, simply assuming those values that were progressive maybe 40 or 50 years ago as this conservative baseline.

I sometimes think that this is the real reason why cinema is dying -- there's simply no interest in new ideas. Neither in the commercial production, nor in the alternative production. Instead of a tendency of approaching each other, avant-garde and commercial production are just drifting apart, settling in boring habits of just the same over and over, while the new ideas have left this medium and moved on to all the other emerging media. Similarly (or perhaps at the root of this phenomenon) I find the human panorama in cinema to be just an endogamic elite which favours others thinking alike, not wanting to give anyone with new ideas a chance. Perhaps they see it as a threat to their established position. I say all this from a purely European point of view, where our cinema works very differently than in America, but that's my experience. When I study how things worked some decades ago it seems like there was this whole spirit of innovation, of trying new things, of giving young people a chance, of being open to different ideas... now it's all just crusty old farts (often just mentally old, not physically) who don't want anything to change, because they have theirs and that's all they care about.

Anyway, sorry for my digression. Just some things I wanted to get off my chest I guess.

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Narrative cinema is well over 100 years old now so perhaps innovation in the form is inevitably harder to achieve as the form has evolved.  But as for whether watching old movies is a cause of stylistic stagnation, I'd tend to disagree -- I would think watching only contemporary works is more likely to cause repetition of current fads because of a lack of perspective on the breadth of narrative forms. Today, to be a classist is almost to be avant-garde... certainly a contemporary movie often doesn't seem to have the visual expressiveness of a 40's MGM musical or b&w film noir. Or "Citizen Kane" for that matter.

But ultimately, great artists come from all walks of life and some are well-studied and some are just gifted and expressive without experience nor education.

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I think there is lots of problems presented when trying to canonise film classics as references for modern work, especially the very old films and especially if talking old studio films. Well, they had great visual ideas and new angles AT THE TIME they were made but now decades later there is not much you can learn and adapt to current work unless you just want to mimic the look and style of the classics of the golden era. 

Generally dull acting, most of the stories are boring like on the Citizen Kane one and they don't relate much to modern life. The lighting style and the "new visual storytelling techniques" went obsolete more than 50 years ago. As a period piece or a film history reference it can be interesting but there is not much you can learn from it which you can adapt to modern film work unless you just want to mimic the look and style 1:1.

Personally I don't think many films films shot before about 1990 are much useful as references when learning modern lighting styles. They all tend to have this 50's or 60's old style theaterish look to them 

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Learning film history is important, sure. But if wanting to learn anything you need to watch much more than just the American classics and you need to watch films from different cultures and modern times as well. How many African films you have seen for example? Russian ones? Polish movies? Italian ones you surely have seen. Bresson? Loteanu? Danish films for sure but how about the rest of the Europe? Southeastern Asia? Iranian films? India?

 

It is good to watch classic films but it is not enough to concentrate on just them and forget all the rest of the good stuff there is. I think there is lots of unnecessary name dropping and canonising going on in film education as well. There is also the general preposition that the American film classics or American high budget films are good on all aspects. Well, they tend to have relatively good actors and great or incredible production design. But most of them are by my opinion not that great storytelling or are just plain lazy in some aspects. A film can be great in some fields but suck at others. Canonising adds sugarcoating and claims that a classic film is a masterpiece in all fields which it is not.

Edited by aapo lettinen

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I watched "Rashomon" again last night.  I hadn't seen it for almost 40 years.  Yes, it looks a little bit dated now in it's style, but it sure is an effective film, with much of the story told without dialog.

More interesting to me, is that I realized that I've used many of the techniques over the years, without even remembering the source.

As for the "great classics" in general, sure many have a theatrical look these days compared to current styles, but one doesn't need to replicate the theatrical lighting styles to learn from the photographic and story telling techniques.  A powerful story or image is still a powerful story and image today.

And what a loss to miss the joy of watching many of the great old films!

And even "Citizen Kane", it's not just the story or the lighting of this picture.  Watch the blocking and staging, it's very powerful.

I recently shot an indie film and I'm kind of disappointed in the editing I've seen so far.  It's all cut showing the close ups for the dialog, but I worked hard to block and stage the wide shots to tell the story, and this is now just an afterthought apparently.  Yes, the picture looks "modern", if you will, but we've lost something very valuable that I learned from the classics...

 

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1 hour ago, David Mullen ASC said:

are just gifted and expressive without experience nor education.

Would you not consider Vine/TikTok/Youtube sources for film analysis/inspiration? I believe in technical education wholeheartedly but we're just speaking in terms of film theory right now.

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On 7/7/2018 at 5:03 PM, David Mullen ASC said:

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.

Hi David! Is there a link you can provide to the article you're talking about? I did a Google search and it provided a lot of different links to articles written by other people, but I didn't see one written by Gregg himself. I'm interested in reading it. Thanks! 

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On 11/11/2019 at 1:55 PM, Max Field said:

Would you not consider Vine/TikTok/Youtube sources for film analysis/inspiration? I believe in technical education wholeheartedly but we're just speaking in terms of film theory right now.

Personally, I think there needs to be input from both old and new. I mostly agree with Alessandro’s well-argued post above. What’s most exciting about new media to me is how many of those creators are finding their own way of telling stories, formulating new and personal syntax to cinematic language. But also, at least for my taste, the most sophisticated work I’ve found tends to be by editors who have deeply studied the history and craft of filmmaking. So there’s an argument to be made that the synthesis of new ideas and  historical grounding make for the best of both worlds. 

It’s a similar situation to popular music - open-minded artists explore and introduce fresh influences into a genre, creating hybrids and sometimes whole new genres. But the best of them tend to have deep roots in established genres, continue to study the masters, and many have a strong grasp of technical craft. 

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