David Liu | 11 December 2012
Many are familiar with the Saul Bass’s work as an innovator in the field of film title sequences and promotional poster art — in a career spanning nearly half a century, Bass is credited with breathing life into the multimedia potential of the cinema. But Bass also holds a renowned place in the American corporate landscape as well, with logo designs for heavyweights such as AT&T, Quaker Oats, United Airlines and Kleenex rounding out his personal resume. This legacy is explored in comprehensive fashion in Laurence King Publishing’s Saul Bass: A Life in Film & Design, a gorgeously conceived visual tribute to the late master curated by daughter Jennifer Bass and design scholar Pat Kirkham.
David Liu | 15 October 2012
Breaking Bad’s Vince Gilligan is quite the perceptive cinephile. Among the show’s cornucopia of cinematic homages and references are several moments in which key scenes from films are shown on television, often to foreshadow or augment character motivations as the series moves forward.
Breaking Bad 1x4: Cancer Man (Jim McKay, 2008)
The oft-sedentary Walter Jr. is watching Edward D. Wood Jr.’s infamous Plan 9 from Outer Space (1956), in which aliens attack Earth with rays that instantly melt humans into skeletons. This can be seen as a nod to the previous two episodes, in which Walt and Jesse concoct a plan to decompose a dead body using a gallon of hydrofluoric acid — to darkly comical results.
Breaking Bad 4x11: Crawl Space (Scott Winant, 2011)
When Gus visits Hector to inform him of the cartel’s demise, the latter is watching David Lean’s The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957). In the scene, Lt. Colonel Nicholson (Alec Guinness) realizes that he has alienated his own men in his drive to boost troop morale and finish building the bridge by any means necessary. Moments later, he is mortally wounded by shrapnel and, staggering, falls onto a detonator, blowing up the bridge. The season finale — pun alert — ends on a similarly explosive note.
Breaking Bad 5x2: Madrigal (Michelle MacLaren, 2012)
At the beginning of the episode, Mike is watching Edward Dmtryk’s The Caine Mutiny (1953), starring Humphrey Bogart as an increasingly unstable U.S. Navy ship captain. The scene suggests a twofold purpose: paralleling the collapse of Gus Fring’s drug empire and possibly forecasting the consequences of Walt’s coup d’état and ascension to the throne.
Breaking Bad 5x3: Hazard Pay (Adam Bernstein, 2012)
After a successful cook, Walt and Jesse sit back with beers and enjoy a couple of Three Stooges shorts: Ants in the Pantry (1936) and A Bird in the Head (1946). Back at home, Walt, Walter Jr. and baby Holly are watching Brian De Palma’s Scarface (1983). “Everyone dies in this movie,” says Walt, off-handedly.
Breaking Bad 5x7: Say My Name (Thomas Schnauz, 2012)
As DEA agents raid his house, Mike calmly sits back on his couch and watches Fritz Lang’s The Big Heat (1953), in which a tough but unscrupulous cop plans to take down a crime syndicate after the murder of his wife.
David Liu | 30 September 2012
Left to right, top to bottom:
Nosferatu (F.W. Murnau, 1922)
The Searchers (John Ford, 1956)
L’Avventura (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1960)
7 Women (John Ford, 1966)
Suspiria (Dario Argento, 1977)
Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Steven Spielberg, 1977)
The Boys From Fengkuei (Hou Hsiao-hsien, 1983)
The Last Emperor (Bernardo Bertolucci, 1987)
Batman (Tim Burton, 1989)
Seven (David Fincher, 1995)
Heat (Michael Mann, 1995)
Saving Private Ryan (Steven Spielberg, 1998)
Punch-Drunk Love (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2002)
Hero (Zhang Yimou, 2002)
Kingdom of Heaven (Ridley Scott, 2005)
Still Life (Jia Zhangke, 2006)
Certified Copy (Abbas Kiarostami, 2010)
The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick, 2011)
David Liu | 7 September 2012
One new takeaway from my recent revisit of Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America: lamps serve as central narrative motifs and framing devices, appearing frequently in key shots of characters and as the subject of elliptical match cuts. I’ve always been an admirer of cinematographer Tonino Delli Colli (he also shot The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and Once Upon a Time in the West for Leone, as well as virtually the entirety of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s oeuvre), and his work here deserves special mention for its nostalgic warmth, subtlety and mysticism. Like Kubrick’s fabled monolith, Leone’s lamps are at once guiding lights and enigmatic placeholders, ephemeral objects and eternal observers to a cinematic dreamscape.
Previously on Open Spaces: cinema and the city in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy.
David Liu | 27 August 2012
The final moments of Michael Mann’s Miami Vice (2006).
Left to right, top to bottom:
Shot 1 (Medium): Somewhere on the Florida coast, a tearful Isabella boards a boat and departs for Cuba.
Shot 2 (Medium): Sonny watches her leave, knowing their future together is uncertain. He strokes his lip, echoing Belmondo’s imitation of Bogart in Breathless.
Shot 3 (Extreme close-up): Back at the hospital, Trudy’s hand stirs in Rico’s.
Shot 4 (Close-up): Rico wakes up.
Shot 5 (Close-up): Trudy remains in an injury-induced coma.
Shot 6 (Close-up): Dejected, Rico slumps back into his chair.
Shot 7 (Extreme close-up): Trudy grabs Rico’s hand again.
Shot 8 (Close-up): Rico, fully awake.
Shot 9 (Medium): Feeling signs of life, Rico stands up to check on her.
Shot 10 (Close-up): A tired but hopeful Rico beckons for a nurse.
Shot 11 (Close-up): Trudy stirs slightly on the hospital bed.
Shot 12 (Medium): Back at the coast, Sonny watches for a few more seconds before walking off screen.
Shot 13 (Close-up): As her boat speeds away from the coast, Isabella struggles to hold back tears.
Shot 14 (Long): Sonny’s car leaves. The palm trees continue to blow in the wind.
Shot 15 (Close-up): Back at the hospital, Trudy slowly opens her eyes.
Shot 16 (Extreme close-up): Her hand grasps Rico’s, this time more firmly.
Shot 17 (Close-up): Isabella continues to gaze at the receding coast.
Shot 18 (Long): Already back at the hospital, Sonny walks quickly to the hospital entrance, echoing the last frame of The Searchers, a nomad in modern existence.