Exposing the Ugly Truth in “Z”

Costa-Garvas opens his polarizing political masterpiece with an arresting statement that sets the tone for the rest of the film: “any resemblance to real events, to persons living or dead, is not accidental. It is DELIBERATE.” Right from the outset, you find yourself hooked and drawn into one of the most thrilling explorations of political corruption ever put on film. The influence of “Z” is still apparent today; everything from the documentary-like neorealist approach adopted in many films that followed, to the urgency and explosiveness of “Do the Right Thing” and the investigative structure of “JFK” and “Elite Squad: The Enemy Within”. With “Z”, Costa-Garvas single handedly established the modern political film.

The plot revolves around the planned killing of a left-wing politician during a demonstration. Even before his death gets announced, the government and army try to cover it all up in order to protect the image of their nation. Despite their clumsy efforts, the truth finds a way out under the curiosity of an investigative journalist who was there when it happened. This fast-paced, hard-hitting thriller is an exercise in courageous filmmaking. Costa-Garvas’ “Z” film exposes ugly truths and throttles forward with the efficiency of a sharpshooter.

It is such a shame that a film that holds up with so much relevancy is not not as widely discussed today as it was back when it was first released. “Z” should be essential viewing to every governmental official in every country around the world. This type of revolting cinema has the power to expose entire regimes and put governmental policies in place. The film’s true intentions are very clear. It calls for immediate change; it calls for a revolution.

The 10 Best Films of 2019

What a year for cinema! There was pretty much something for everyone. Robert Eggers, Ari Aster and Jordan Peele all made successful returns to the horror genre. Hollywood heavyweights, Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, and Sam Mendes reminded us why we hold them with such high regard. There were also plenty of independent as well as foreign films that took the world by storm. As is the case every year, I start my list with my favorite film of the year; the rest of the films are listed in no particular order. Without further ado, here are the ten best films of 2019.


Robert Eggers’ “The Lighthouse


Robert Eggers’ “The Lighthouse” is a strange and bizarre Lovecraftian horror unlike anything you’ve seen before. The film plunges viewers into the depth of madness, but as you fall into the abyss of insanity, you’ll find yourself laughing hysterically at the brilliant comedic performances delivered by Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson. Set on a remote island in New England, “The Lighthouse” is loosely based on the Smalls Lighthouse tragedy in which two lighthouse keepers, both named Thomas, got stuck in a lighthouse during a storm.

The articulate writing is something to behold with language is so rich and rhythmic, it almost sounds Biblical. Dafoe delivers an almost Shakespearean monologue that is as memorable as the famous Indianapolis monologue delivered by another seaman, Quint in “Jaws”. Eggers has officially cemented himself as one of the most important filmmakers working today with his Kubrick-level attention to detail. Just like his directorial debut, “The VVitch”, this sophomore masterpiece is filled with period-accurate dialogue that is destined to be quoted for years to come. The film also looks as good as it sounds.

Aesthetically, “The Lighthouse” has an almost antique quality to it. Not only was it shot on 35mm black-and-white film stock, but Eggers insisted on shooting the film using vintage equipment from the 1930’s. The compositions are so vivid, you can almost taste the sea-salt and smell the stench of booze in the air. Robert Eggers’ “The Lighthouse” is a sea yarn full of sailor superstitions; it could be the most haunting film about sea-lore ever made. Save it for a cold stormy night.


Noah Baumbach’s “Marriage Story”


There’s a subtle yet incredibly hard-hitting moment midway through Noah Baumbach’s “Marriage Story” that sums up this beautiful picture perfectly. It’s the first legal meeting between both parties. Both of them are sitting at the table, their lawyers by their side, when a waiter comes to take orders. They all make their picks, but when it’s Charlie’s turn, he looks at the menu and shrugs with no idea what to order. Nicole then grabs the menu and orders for him: “Greek salad with lemon and olive oil instead of Greek dressing.” It’s an incredibly revealing moment. She knows him better than he knows himself, and despite everything they’ve been through, she still cares for him deeply.

Baumbach’s compassionate work is full of tender moments bursting with humanism and kindness. The observant writing illuminates a dynamic relationship between two complex yet sympathetic characters. “Marriage Story” could’ve easily been called “Divorce Story”, but the contradicting title suggests that marriage is a failed institution. The film follows in the footsteps of Robert Benton’s “Kramer vs. Kramer” and Ingmar Bergman’s “Scenes from a Marriage”- a once in a generation type of film.


Bong Joon-ho’s “Parasite”


Bong Joon-ho is a master when it comes to genre-fusion. Just like his magnum opus, “Memories of Murder”, Joon-ho skillfully mixes humor with pathos in one of the most original motion pictures of the year. “Parasite” is a thrill ride from start to finish, but what makes it stands tall above other thrillers is its message. Like a centerpiece in the middle of a delicately furnished interior, you can’t miss the social commentary at the heart of it all. Families at both ends of the wealth spectrum intermingle in a class warfare that is equally entertaining as it is thought-provoking. Who exactly is the title referring to?


Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon A Time in Hollywood”


Tarantino’s love letter to the Golden Age of Hollywood is the funniest motion picture of the year. The film takes its time and forces us to surrender to its pace. Instead of going for a story-driven narrative, Tarantino makes us spend quality time with his main characters, Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his best friend and stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). Their on-screen chemistry is the stuff of legend, a duo the likes of which we haven’t seen since Paul Newman teamed up with Robert Redford in “The Sting” and “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”. Who would’ve thought a film about the Manson murders would turn out to be the feel-good movie of the year? The ninth film from Quentin Tarantino is his best work this decade.


Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman”


Martin Scorsese brings forth a gangster film we haven’t seen before. “The Irishman” is a meditation on time and death. Scorsese doesn’t glamorize a gangster’s lifestyle by showing them indulge in excess. Instead, he draws our attention to the latter part of their lives, the part we rarely see on the big screen, when their time on Earth is nearing its end. We see them look back at their legacy with regret, numbness, and shame. We feel the loneliness of their last days, hours filled with melancholic reflection and hopelessness. In a lot of ways, this film is the antithesis to “Goodfellas”, a eulogy to the gangster genre the same way “Unforgiven” was a eulogy to the western genre. Martin Scorsese takes big risks and his approach remains as radical as ever. He is a master behind the camera; watching “The Irishman” was like watching a top Michelin chef put together a killer dish, only you get to consume it at the end.


Mati Diop’s “Atlantics”


“What is a ghost? A tragedy condemned to repeat itself time and again? A moment of pain, perhaps. Something dead which still seems to be alive. An emotion suspended in time. Like a blurred photograph. Like an insect trapped in amber. A ghost. That’s what I am.” _Guillermo Del Toro

“Atlantics” is a ghost story that gets it right. Diop’s haunting tale about refugees disguises itself as a melancholic love story. The film revolves around a group of unpaid workers in Senegal who set off on a boat in hopes of reaching Spain. The main protagonist is a young girl who longs to be reunited with her lover. This tender mood-piece integrates elements of the supernatural into an otherwise realistic setting- the type of magical realism that reminded me of the literary work of Gabriel García Márquez. “Atlantics” is about the countless souls lost at sea, and the loved ones they left behind- it will cast a spell on you.


Ari Aster’s “Midsommar”


Aris Aster’s twisted cult-horror “Midsommar” took me completely by surprise. Instead of making you a spectator or a non-participant observer to the occurrences at the Midsommar festival, Aster uses psychotropic visuals to pull you in and make you part of the experience. We are not merely onlookers to strangers in distress, we are the strangers in distress. Aster utilizes the viewer’s natural curiosity to suck you into daylight horror. Instead of relying on things creeping in the shadows, Aster makes you fear what you can see in broad daylight, and believe me when I say, he isn’t afraid to expose you to the type of disturbing imagery that will stick with you for a very long time. Part fairytale, part break-up movie, Ari Aster’s twisted cult horror will surely stand the test of time.


The Safdie Brothers’ “Uncut Gems”


The Safdie Brothers came back with another adrenaline rush of a movie. Just like, “Heaven Knows What” and “Good Time”, “Uncut Gems” is another rollercoaster ride that goes straight through the underbelly of New York. This time around, the focus is on Howard Ratner, a high-stakes gambler in pursuit of a big win. Ratner is played by Adam Sandler who is firing on all cylinders in a career defining performance. Over the years, I watched the Safdie brothers deliver one anxiety inducing film after another, but this time, they definitely hit it big in Hollywood. With a filmography that feels like an ode to the gritty crime thrillers of the 70’s, each film is an improvement on the last. From this moment on, every Safdie Brothers picture will be an anticipated event, and I can’t wait to see what they have in store for us next.


Joanna Hogg’s “The Souvenir”


Probably the most underrated entry on this list, Hogg’s memoir film is a brutally honest portrayal of a young filmmaker in a toxic relationship with an intellectual wrestling with their own demons. But the film is really about the connection between life and art, and how to become an artist, you must draw from your own experiences. One character argues that if you don’t, your artistic expression would simply not ring true. The strongest aspect about Hogg’s fourth feature is its almost meta-narrative structure, an autobiographical film about an artist derailed and then strengthened by her own experiences. Tom Burke and Honor Swinton Byrne (Tilda Swinton’s daughter) deliver wonderfully nuanced performances in one of the year’s most devastating yet intellectually stimulating films.


Pedro Almodóvar’s “Pain and Glory”


“Pain and Glory” is Almodóvar’s most personal work to date- a moving look at an ageing artist coming to terms with his past while facing creative paralysis. Antonio Banderas shows depth and sensitivity in a beautifully textured performance as Salvador Mallo. Penelope Cruz delivers an understated yet effortless performance as the mother. But it’s Asier Etxeandia who absolutely steals the show as a habitual heroin user/actor who is desperate for a comeback. “Pain and Glory” is a soulful reflection on life and love, it simmers with tenderness, charm, and warmth. Almodóvar made a film about finding the will to create as you deal with the physical and emotional pains that come with ageing.


Honorable Mentions: “Monos”, “Portrait of a Lady on Fire”, “A Hidden Life”,  “Ride Your Wave”, “Ad Astra”, “An Elephant Sitting Still”, “For Sama”, “Honeyland”, “1917”, “The Farewell”, “Just 6.5”, “The Nightingale”, “Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound”, “Sea of Shadows”, “Sorry We Missed You”, “Ford v Ferrari”, “Togo”, “Waves”, “US”, “The Peanut Butter Falcon”


Disturbance in Luis Buñuel’s “Land Without Bread”

In Luis Buñuel’s grotesque, “Land Without Bread”, we are introduced to a small town struck by extreme poverty and disease. The camera does not shy away from exposing viewers to some of the most disturbing imagery you can think of. We see plenty of rotten animals, a dead baby, the mourning mother, and sick children with swollen tongues dying on the sidewalk. We even learn of mentally disabled dwarfs who roam the hills of the town. We are told by the narrator that they are the result of incest, which is quite common in the town of La Hurdes. Yes, the imagery captured in this anthropological expedition is quite unsettling, but nothing is more disturbing than the truth behind the making of this film.

Shortly after watching this thirty-minute documentary, I learned that none of this was real. Buñuel simply staged the film to resemble a documentary to get a point across. Today, this type of film is referred to as a pseudo-documentary, a film that takes the form of documentary, but the events it portrays are not true. Unlike a mockumentary, this type of fake fiction is not intended to be taken as satire or humor. What I found truly inexcusable was the lengths Buñuel went to in order to attain these images.

A tremendous amount of animal cruelty went into the making of this film. In fact, Buñuel flat out tortured and slaughtered several animals to deliver his message. He ordered honey to be spread over a donkey and filmed the poor animal as it got stung to death by bees. In another sequence, a goat was pushed off a rocky mountain; and in an earlier scene, a chicken is strung up from its legs as a man pulls its head off with his bare hands. Naturally, the film was banned by the Spanish government for years after its initial release. The official reason was “defamation of the good name of the Spanish people.”

I couldn’t help but wonder, why one of cinema’s greatest filmmakers would go to such extremes to manipulate his audience into believing this was all true. I suppose the only way to make it look real was to actually film the real thing. But still, why? Was it to cause an uproar and start a dialogue about the dire need for progress? It could be a case of ‘desperate times call for desperate measures’, or perhaps he simply wanted to showcase how easy it is to manipulate the audience. If that was the case then he clearly succeeded, because he surely had me fooled. “Land Without Bread” clearly crossed the line of ethical filmmaking, yet one can’t deny that it brought an awareness to how easy it is for governments to manipulate its people. It also sparks debate about social issues and filmmaking itself to this day.



Film Analysis: “Godzilla”


“The arrogance of man is thinking nature is in their control and not the other way around.” Dr. Ichiro Serizawa  

Besides stomping all over the arrogance of man, the king of all monsters also managed to crush box office competition with a towering worldwide gross of over $200 million in less than five days. Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla is a beast of a film, and while it does brush its thick tail close to greatness, it is not without its flaws. However, the shortcomings, which I will mention later in my review, are minor and do not reflect the silly complaints I’ve been hearing from a lot of fellow viewers and film critics.

Many argue that Godzilla  takes itself way too seriously, but I believe this to be the film’s strongest aspect. The campy feel of the horrible 1998 remake and the countless Toho sequels to the original are not good references to what a Godzilla film is supposed to look and feel like. In fact, this 60thanniversary remake is not nearly as serious, brutal and bleak as the original 1954 classic. Godzilla was never supposed to be a film about a giant Kaiju (strange creature) unleashing his fury on a defenseless city. The giant reptile actually stood for something real and meaningful when it was initially released in 1954.

In 1954, Japan banned making films about the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bomb incidents. It was forbidden to directly refer to the incident on film. Then came a filmmaker by the name of Ishiro Honda and changed all that. Like all great filmmakers when faced with censorship, he used creativity to work his way around it. Godzilla is a product of nuclear bombs both literally and figuratively speaking. In the original, Godzilla is awakened by nuclear tests in the Pacific. The giant atomic-heat-breathing reptile blasts his way through metropolitan areas leaving behind traces of nuclear radiation. Much like a nuclear bomb, the horror does not end with the destruction of a city; the aftermath is just as deadly. We see children suffer and die in the wake of Godzilla’s leave.

Godzilla was a metaphor for nuclear threat to mankind. Godzilla was the destroyer of cities, a destructive monster righteously punishing humanity for its mistakes. This is why Godzilla has stood the test of time in Japan as a culturally significant film. This is why Japan has produced moreGodzilla films than the US has produced Bond films; Godzilla is always in the Japanese collective conscious, reminding them of that horrible incident. Godzilla was a cathartic movie-going experience for an entire nation.

So you see, Godzilla was always meant to be a serious film. When Japan saw that the 1998 US remake completely ignored the nuclear angle to this story, they disowned it, by releasing another film. It featured scenes of scientists declaring the 1998 attacks on New York to belong to another monster called Zilla mistaken to be Godzilla. Later in that film, the real Godzilla kills Zilla, the creature from the 1998 Godzilla film. So when I heard, that another Godzilla film was in the works, the one thing I hoped for was for it to take its subject matter more seriously staying true to its roots.

As for the claims that Godzilla should have received more screen-time, and that the film takes itself way too seriously. I must admit, every single time Godzilla came on screen, I felt like a nine-year old all over again, but his minimal screen-time never really bothered me. In fact, I applaud Edwards for creating the first ‘anti-blockbuster’ blockbuster. Edwards almost avoids showing us the beast. The camera shies away from big battles, and destructive city rampages; we only see glimpses of what is happening, and the viewer is often left with nothing but a horrific aftermath sequence. Leaving it up to our imagination is far more horrifying that being spoon-fed the action.

Besides, one aspect Godzilla shares with the greatest monster films of all time is the carefully chosen limited appearances of the “mon-star.” We may not see a lot of Bruce, the Xenomorph and T-Rex inJaws, Alien and Jurassic Park, but their menacing next-door presence is felt hovering throughout the films at all times. Like Jaws, Alien, Jurassic Park, and any good monster film really, Godzilla only makes an appearance an hour into the film. The prolonged reveal makes his entrance all the more epic and terrifying.

Gareth Edwards is an indie filmmaker who only has one small film in his resume, the impressive 2010 indie, Monsters, a film where he singlehandedly took up the duties of director, writer, cinematographer, production designer, and visual effects wizard. As you can see, the hard work paid off, and the indie filmmaker made a name for himself in Hollywood overnight. This is only his second film, and it feels like the work of a mature filmmaker in complete control of every element in his film. Edwards was the man for the job. He knew his monsters and his debut film was inspired by the original Godzilla.

The reason I mention the backstory and symbolic metaphor of the original Godzilla is to point out what Edwards did with the 2014 retelling. Edwards could’ve remade Godzilla with the same symbolism, and that would’ve been enough for me, but he went a step further. Gareth Edwards madeGodzilla relevant to contemporary times. You see, back in 1954, humanity’s biggest threat was the emergence of nuclear power. Today, the biggest threat to our world is climate change. Man has abused this planet for far too long. Countless nuclear tests have polluted the water, air, and natural habitat we live in, but man is no match for nature, and once again we are paying the price for our mistakes.

The film begins in a nuclear power plant. Something hits the nuclear power plant and everyone is forced to abandon their post. Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) is forced to shut the doors on his own wife to avoid radiation leakage. The meltdown scenes are gut wrenching, because they seem all too familiar. Edwards starts his film by making Godzilla stand for something relevant to the times we live in. The scenes are reminiscent of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster of March 11, 2011. A tsunami hit the Fukushima power plant that day. In the film, Muto, a creature that feeds on nuclear energy, hits the power plant. Both the tsunami and Muto are forces of nature uncontrollable by man. In both cases, the films seemed to suggest a wake up call, reminding us of how trivial and vulnerable mankind is when pitted against nature, something our communal ego tends to forget.

The genius of Edwards’ storytelling is in making the human story fade away as the film progresses to the final showdown between Muto and Godzilla. Godzilla starts as a very personal family story and ends on a much bigger scale. The human story becomes of less importance. In other words, the insignificance of man unravels through the progress of the film’s plot and it is utterly brilliant. I applaud Edwards for managing to encapsulate the film’s message within what can only be referred to as a rare cinematic storytelling technique.

Bryan Cranston, who pretty much dominates his scenes with sheer presence that rivals that of Godzilla himself, is not a main character. Aaron Taylor-Johnson who plays his son, Ford Brody, is reduced to nothing but a Macguffin (a cinematic term originally coined by Hitchock that refers to an irrelevant object or plot device used solely to move the chain of events forward).

It comes as no surprise that Edwards verbally delivers this message through a Japanese character played by the great Ken Watanabe. “The arrogance of man is thinking nature is in their control and not the other way around.” His character’s first name, Dr. Ishiro, is a clever nod to the original 1954 classic, directed by Ishiro Honda. Dr. Ishiro Serizawa is also the first character to utter the word Godzilla; only he does it in its original Japanese pronunciation, Gojira.

True to its message, the human beings are as insignificant to the Kaiju as ants are to man. Powerless against Muto and Godzilla, they come to the realisation that only nature can restore balance, in this case it’s Godzilla, who is just as capable of restoring balance as he is of destroying it.

This leads me to the film’s only flaw; the stupidity of the military commanders, whose believe that creating a much more powerful explosive device is the key to destroying Godzilla and Muto is simply absurd. Did they miss the briefing session? Godzilla grew more powerful when they tried to bomb him in 1954 (another nod to the original). Muto, who is below Godzilla in the food chain, feeds on nuclear energy for heaven’s sake. It’s like assuming the way to kill a fat chicken-loving kid is by throwing a nice delicious turkey his way. Nonetheless, the film is a must-see summer film.

The original remains the quintessential Godzilla film, but don’t let that steer you away. The realistic battle scenes are quick and short just like most animal-on-animal fights, and the blockbuster action sequences are actually governed by physics for a change. Gareth Edwards’ take on Godzilla deserves every bit of success coming its way. Godzilla is not only a wake up call to our fragility as a species, but the film in itself is a reminder to what summer blockbusters ought to be like.

Film History: The Physicality of “Silent Running”

The other day I was discussing the physicality of objects with a fellow Far-Flung Correspondent), Grace Wang. We were mourning the death of physical objects. Like me, she shares this preference of actual physical books over e-books, letters over emails, photo albums on a shelf over digitalized photo albums on Facebook. There is something unique about the physicality of them all, something that will always be absent from their digital replacements. Of course recycling these objects goes without saying.

The smell of a book as you turn a soft page, or the excitement of checking the mailbox for snail mail is something many of us will always prefer over clicking a ‘Next Page’ icon in an e-book or checking an inbox full of emails. It’s why the Jimmy Stewart film “Shop Around the Corner” worked better as a romantic comedy than the Tom Hanks remake “You’ve Got Mail”. Yes, both may contain the same content but content has nothing to do with it. I would rather slam a book with anger or crumble a letter than double click a delete button. This need for physical objects is more than just an act of nostalgia; it’s a predilection.


shop around the corner.jpgI’m expressing all this because I feel the same way about movies. The full model mechanical shark in “Jaws” will always be scarier than the CGI sharks in “Deep Blue Sea.” Again, it has nothing to do with nostalgia and I’ll explain why in a moment. You see, Bruce (the shark in “Jaws”) is an actual large object. Bruce has a body and a jaw full of solid teeth. On the other hand, the sharks in “Deep Blue Sea” are computer graphics from 1999. Today, these sharks are no longer scary. The reason for that being is CGI does not date very well. Now that computer graphics are advancing in a rapid rate, the 1999 sharks look more like brightened catroonish screen misfits. The CGI is simply no longer as fresh as it once was. Yes, Bruce looks more fake but he will always be more real simply because he’ll always look the same and actually be there within the physical dimensions of a scene.

This concept applies to most movies. James Cameron recently said that if he had the technology available today back in 1997, he would never have built the life-size model of Titanic. This breaks my heart because the physicality of the ship will never feel as real no matter how advanced the technology. You simply cannot create something more realistic than reality itself. It just doesn’t happen. It saddens me that the set of “Titanic” may very well be the last of its kind (epic Hollywood set). Building the set rather than digitally creating it is more time consuming which is why CGI is taking over. Yet, time often rewards filmmakers with ideas and a better overall vision. I now realize that time has passed, paragraphs have aligned, and I still didn’t mention the film, “Silent Running”. I may not have mentioned it in the previous paragraphs but I most definitely discussed it.


“Silent Running” looks great twenty-eight years after its making simply because of the physicality of every prop and set featured in the film. Everything from giant interiors to miniatures, to large models, to suits and props looks and feels real. After doing some research, I learned that the main freighter in the film aka the Valley Forge Space Freighter was 28 feet long (8 meters) and took six months to build from close to 800 aircraft and tank kits. The three little drones (Huey, Dewey, and Louie) also known as the three cutest robots in film history (up till Wall-E came along) are actually suits worn by double-amputees. The little CGI used back in those days was to enhance scenes not replace them. Duncan Jones recently revisited this vintage sci-fi world with his directional debut, “Moon”. In a year with CGI infested movies (“Avatar”, “District 9”, “Star Trek”, “Transformers 2”), “Moon”, the film with the least effects and most miniatures was without doubt the most impressive.




Duncan Jones always mentions “Silent Running” when reporters ask him about the films that influenced him. I can see why; both stories are quite similar. Both involve a man dealing with loneliness thousands of miles away from Earth. “Silent Running” has an environmentalist twist though, a theme that is more relevant today than it was back in 1972. Douglas Trumbull, the special-effects supervisor of “2001 A Space Odyssey”, directed the film revolving around a future in which all plant life on Earth has been made extinct. The only remaining plant life is preserved in a fleet of space freighters that carry forests in domes.

Film History: The Motion Picture Patent Wars

Members of the Motion Picture Patents Company

               The Motion Picture Patents Company was the result of the patent wars that started when W.K.L. Dickson started his own company, the Biograph. Prior to that moment Edison and his company had nothing to worry about, for they were successful at dominating the motion picture field. When the Lumiere brothers came to the U.S. with their cinematograph, Edison found a way to lure them away. However, Dickson knowing the ways of Edison having previously worked for him creating the kinetograph, a 35mm camera, knew how to challenge the entrepreneur. He basically created an entirely different camera that shot 70mm films known as the mutoscope to avoid getting sued.

               With the demand exceeding the supply in the film industry, another competition emerged, J. Stauart Blackon and his vitagraph and by 1898 there were three major studios, Edison, Biograph and Vitagraph. Edison reacted to these challenges by filing over twenty lawsuits in a matter of years. While sometimes he would succeed, he would more often fail to bring an end to these new companies. Edison would file lawsuits especially on Biograph since Dickson was his former employer and a great threat to his company. Still with Biograph having a patent to its camera the matter seemed rather impossible.

1893- Edison Introduces the Dickson Kinetoscope

                Eventually smaller companies started to emerge including Selig, Essany, Lubin, Kleine, Kalem, Melie’s Star, and Pathe. Edison’s need to dominate did not end yet and his only hope was to introduce the MPPC and get top billing. After a few months of disagreements between Edison and Dickson, the MPPC was finally established in 1908 with Biograph earning the second most profits followed by the rest.

                With Edison and Dickson pleased with the result of a legal monopoly, they no longer had to fear competition. It was officially illegal to distribute or show any films without permission of the MPPC. They had the rights to every film and camera in the market and there for a while there was no one to stop them. Unfortunate for them, many parties were displeased with the total control over costs and prices, and with more demand than “the Trust” could provide, a second generation calling themselves Independents appeared. The Motion Picture Patents Company called them outlaws for they did not submit themselves to the monopoly. 

Homer Edison aka Thomas Simpson

               The independents movement stayed away from New York and Edison’s monopoly to avoid lawsuits. In 1909, the Independent Motion Picture Company formed and used illegal equipment to strengthen their underground market. When stars started signing contracts to IMP, the Motion Picture Patents Company started losing control of the business and reacted by creating the General Film Company to block the distribution of independents without a license. It was then that the MPPC had effectively regained its monopoly. The monopoly would not last and the MPPC would soon meet its end.

            William Fox, the owner of a film rental company didn’t want to sell his company to Edison who would constantly offer him deals, and Edison found himself facing another challenge. Soon the Fox Film Corporation started making movies and even after losing his license, he still defied the MPPC with a lawsuit that would lead to the decline of the Motion Picture Patents Company. The government was already not pleased with all the monopolies forming around the country and so Fox used this in his favor and it helped him win them over in a lawsuit that would bring an end to the patents trust formed by Edison and Dickson.    

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Film History: The Story of “Hollywood”

At first the iconic sign read “Hollywoodland” after that “land” was removed and it has been known as “Hollywood” ever since.

When one hears the word’ Hollywood’, the first thing that pops in mind is movies. There’s a reason why Los Angeles became the center of motion pictures. It all started with a few independent studios that ventured as far away as possible from “the trust”, mainly Thomas Edison and his lawsuits, and so they headed to L.A. to distribute, produce, and exhibit their movies. The fact that Los Angeles was far away from New York helped make it the home for independent film studios. Even though there was still a presence of the major film studios in Los Angeles, it was not till after independent film studios realization of the positive aspects about L.A.’s location that Hollywood was finally established. The four major positive aspects were basically the fact that L.A. was sunny all year long, the property was inexpensive, it was an open shop town, and of course the variety of locations and geography. These conditions made it perfect for any studio to shoot movies. Soon almost every studio be it major or independent wanted to settle there, making Hollywood full of film factories.

            Once Hollywood became the center of the film industry in the US, a system had to be established which introduces us to the studio system. The system was first and foremost designed to ensure the cost and quality of the movies being produced. Having a system made Hollywood a much more organized film industry than anywhere else in the world. There was a clear division of labor from the producer, to the screenwriter to the actors and director. All screenplays had to be approved by the producer and established a kind of guideline and draft of what the end product will be. Soon MGM, Paramount Pictures, RKO Radio Pictures, and Warner Bros. were leading the film industry in a well-defined system. Smaller studios like Universal Studios, United Artists, and Columbia Pictures were also rising to take their share of the evolving industry. The age of Edison was coming to an end, and a new entrepreneur with high expectation, Adolf Zukor, took control of Paramount Pictures and tried to lead the studio system.

Once in charge of Paramount he added a practice to the system known as block booking. The idea of block booking was to sell multiple films to theaters ahead of time in one quantity. This ensured that the studios would gain profits ahead of time and that theaters would have films to play all year long. As a result 90% of movies shown in the US were American movies and due to a large domestic audience being such a large country, profits were higher than anywhere else in the world. However, Hollywood with its studio system and great qualities for shooting movies wasn’t the capital of the film industry in the US alone. In fact, its success became worldwide.

            Having a broad based US culture, there was a sudden wide appeal and people all over the world became suddenly interested in Hollywood movies. As for European cinema, while they were still in competition, the effects of WWI destroyed the European film industries. It was mainly due to the conversion to propaganda films. Therefore, while Europe was suffering from the war trying to focus on propaganda instead of the film industry, Hollywood was growing with a strong system and eventually became the leading film industry of the world. European cinema tried to make a comeback but was never able to achieve the heights of the Hollywood system, and to this day, Europe has failed to recover from the effects of WWI on their film industries placing Hollywood ahead of their time.

Film History: From Vaudeville Houses to Deluxe Theaters

          Vaudeville houses existed long before nickelodeons and movie theaters. The main idea behind a vaudeville house was to display live acts, each lasting between five to ten minutes to an audience. While the upper class wouldn’t venture into these houses, by the late 1800’s they were the dominant form of mass entertainment. The acts often showed the unusual, or comedic acts, and various other entertaining acts such as magician performances. Their success was probably due to the very cheap admission price, between five to ten cents. There was also a weekly change of acts and this worked out perfectly because performers would travel from all over the country to perform their acts to different audiences in different states. That way there was always something new to the audience and the performers were constantly in employment. This method was called the interstate vaudeville circuit and was one of the main reasons why people were drawn to these houses week after week. 

          However, the significance of vaudeville houses to motion picture history can be traced back to when the Lumiere brothers arrived to the US. Once there, they would hook their cinematograph to the magic lantern and project their short films to a live audience in vaudeville houses. Edison naturally felt that they were a threat to his growing empire of film business since prior to their arrival people could only watch these short films individually through a kinetoscope. People were getting tired of these single film presentations and the idea of watching a short film with a large audience seemed a lot more appealing and therefore Edison imitated the Lumiere brothers and projected his short films in vaudeville houses across the nation as well. One can clearly see how vaudeville houses triggered the idea of a modern theater. The friendly atmosphere and crowded audience lead to nickelodeons. Nickelodeons would then coexist with vaudeville houses but primarily focused on short films instead of acts. Later on deluxe theaters were built and they became the go to place for film fans, yet it all started with these old fashioned vaudeville houses that introduced the simple idea of an audience sitting together to enjoy some sort of entertainment for a low admission price. This helped the film industry find its target audience, everyone.   

        The deluxe theater plays a very significant role in establishing the early development of film. The reason for that being is because prior to these theaters being built, nickelodeons and vaudeville houses would only play short films. One may very well claim that the rise of deluxe theaters lead to the decline to both vaudeville houses and nickelodeons. While nickelodeons and vaudeville houses co-existed often playing short films and acts with nickelodeons playing more fictional short films than having acts performed and vaudeville houses vice versa, both were the public’s main source of entertainment. However by 1915 and the success of feature films, everything changed. Deluxe theaters were newly constructed and built unlike nickelodeons which evolved from vaudeville houses. These theaters were not a conversion of any sort, for feature films could not play on nickelodeons and so they had to build deluxe theaters. 

          Now that the film industry was booming, the deluxe theater offered a lot more than the old fashion entertainment houses. Firstly, they were a lot larger having the ability to hold a capacity of up to 6000 seats. There was the casual weekly change of program and each week the decorative exterior would light up a new movie title in colorful light bulbs. They also offered a better service for a lot of labor was required to operate a deluxe theater from ticket sales to ushers walking customers to their assigned seats, etc. Naturally with better service and a cleaner environment, the prices went up. Instead of paying five or ten cents, tickets cost between one and two dollars. Therefore films were no longer for the lower class only, and eventually the middle and upper class would consider films as an appropriate form of entertainment. S.L. Rothafel can be credited with making deluxe theaters such a pleasant environment, for his motto was to treat the audience like kings and queens. He later added a cooling system and theaters were air conditioned for the first time in history. However with all these special services such as printed programs, and air conditioned theaters, the film industry never lost its audience for everyone could afford to attend these theaters every once in a while. In fact, these deluxe theaters only made motion pictures the dominant form of entertainment. 

The Virginia Theater in 1921


The Roots and History of the Horror Film


Linda Blair in "The Exorcist"
"The Exorcist"

                Each genre has a specific effect on the viewer. When it comes to the horror genre, that effect is fear. The horror genre has a very unique history, for unlike genres like the film noir or the gangster genre, the horror genre originated in Germany with the expressionistic movement. World War I affected numerous lives. The decade following the war was crucial for the horror film genre. It was in the 1920’s that saw German Expressionism develop into full form. Prior to that period (during World War I), all studios were controlled by the German government in order t produce propaganda films. Foreign movies were banned till 1916 but this ended in 1921 and German cinema benefited a lot from the situation. The reason for that being is, after the First World War UFA (Germany’s major studio at the time) was fully capitalized and hired the most talented German filmmakers to put cinema back on its feet. From that moment on, the horror genre was changed forever.

"The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari"
"The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari"

  It was the decade that saw German Expressionism in the form of film (it was already dominant in many other art forms). German Expressionism was a movement that had movies focusing on the mood and atmosphere of a movie which would be central and crucial to the future horror film. “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” was the first horror film and the first step triggering the movement. The movie which came out in the formative period (period when genres are formed) of the genre had a huge influence and impact on world cinema. Unique angle shots, exaggerated sets, theater like acting, and unusual makeup were the main elements that defined the expressionistic movement. For the first time in cinema history, these elements combined, or the mise en scene in general was there to reflect the psychological state of mind of the characters. The movie was basically expressing the pain and confusion Germany was going through at the time. It reflected the times and the state of confusion Germans felt following the war. According to film historian, Rick Worland, Dr. Caligari represented authority as he ordered his companion to go on a killing spree. Just like the Germans a few years back were ordered by authority to go and kill the enemy. All the elements and conventions associated with the genre can be traced to that crucial moment in horror history, the moment when “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” first hit theaters.

A creepy score, dark atmosphere, haunting mood and the fact that the movie reflected its time were the main conventions that triggered what would in the future be considered a horror film. The success of the movie inspired more of the same, movies like “The Golem, “M”, “Metropolis”, and “Nosferatu” followed. However with the start of Nazi Germany and the end of the 20’s, many of these revolutionary German filmmakers fled to the United States. Once there, these same filmmakers did what they did before, they changed cinema forever, only this time it was in America.

John Carpenter's "Halloween"

Universal Studios saw great success in the early 30’s, with “Dracula” and “Frankenstein” coming out in 1931. Again, the most obvious reason for the success of these horror films in the US was the times. It was the era of the Great Depression and fear was spread across the nations. Many viewers could identify with that emotion when sitting through a horror film. What’s most fascinating is how similar to German Expressionism both movies were. The shared the mood, the score, the idea of the other (a person different from everyone else in society, in this case the monster), and of course the element of fear mirroring that period. The horror genre soon became the most controversial and argued over genre in film. Especially with Cracaur’s first book on the horror genre ever released, “From Caligari to Hitler” being published in the 1940’s. He argued that German Expressionism was a way to promote and encourage fascism. The basis of his argument was that it was a way for the audience to escape reality yet mock it at the same time. “From Caligari to Hitler” had a huge message behind it and from that moment on, horror films were always associated with the ideological or political status of the period.

"Night of the Living Dead"

  Robin Wood was also very important in the periodic development of the genre. His theory was that there were two aspects underneath ever horror film. The first was Freudism and how we as viewers have certain things in our subconscious that we tend to block or repress due to what society taught us. What made horror films scary was that these aspects were forced upon the viewers and the spotlight was on the strange and “un-talked” about.  The second element under Wood’s theory was the Marxist idea of how each society had a ruling class. This ruling class had an ideology that was applied on the entire society. (I’ll give an example later on how this can be applied on horror films such as “Night of the Living Dead”) In order to fully understand his theory we have to break the horror genre into periods, and so while “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” came out in the formative period, horror films such as “Dracula” and “Frankenstein are considered to have come out in the golden age of horror film or the classical period (the period when horror films and their conventions were all set and not tested upon, people knew what they were in for when watching a horror film). It is movies like “Blood for Dracula”, and “Night of the Living Dead” that are considered to be part of the revisionist period (the period when people played with the horror conventions and toyed with where they could go with the genre). Anyway the idea of the working class being presented as zombies attacking the higher class in “Night of the Living Dead”, “Dawn of the Dead”, and many other George Romero films are perfect examples of Wood’s theory. Wood’s argument of basically “revenge of the repressed” was proven to be very much true. The idea of “the other” was argued over and Wood believed that how the issue in the plot of the horror film was resolved established the movie’s ideological message. For example if by the end of the movie, the zombies or “the repressed” take over the city then that’s exactly what the message the filmmaker is sending to the world.

"The Others"

To this day with the many phases of the horror genre from the slaughter phase to the slasher phase in the 70’s and 80’s, the horror film was never the same again. Instead of being there to primarily scare audiences, they were taken seriously for the themes and messages they expressed. In “Halloween”, teenagers are the victims for there was a sudden explosion of unsafe sex and drug use with the under aged which explains how most of them are killed while committing any of these two acts or taboos. After the birth of the slasher genre in 1960 with Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho”, it was “Halloween” that influenced and triggered the movement and “Friday the 13th”, “Nightmare on Elm Street” and their many sequels followed. By the nineties, the phase was dead till Wes Craven came out with a mocking of the subgenre in 1997’s blockbuster “Scream”. During the second half of the nineties there was a brief shift and focus on supernatural ghost stories with movies like “The Sixth Sense”, The Others”, and “Stir of Echoes” dominating the period. The decade ended with the huge success of “Blair Witch Project” which triggered the handheld documentary like horror film. Movies like “Open Water”, “Quarantine”, “Cloverfield” and this year’s “Paranormal Activities” shared the same idea as their sub genre creator. Unfortunately, the shift the horror genre is taking is what many would consider the downfall of the genre. There only seems to be two types of horror movies, remakes (“Texas Chainsaw massacre”, “The Hills Have Eyes”, “Halloween”, “Friday the 13th”, “Halloween”, the upcoming “Birds” remake, etc.) By remakes, Japanese remakes are included as well (“The Grudge”, “The Rings”, their sequels, etc.); the second type being the documentary handheld horror film which only proves to be worth our time once every twenty failures. A genre that was once respected and hailed for its brilliance (ex. “The Exorcist”) is going downhill faster than any other genre in film. The conventions are still there, the horror isn’t. Back then the idea of the movie was what scared us all, now “the idea” has been replaced with “jump out of your seat” moments. Hopefully this will change in the future. Who knows, maybe the great Martin Scorsese will put the genre back on its feet with his upcoming original horror mystery, “Shutter Island”. There is still reason to hope.