New Yorker review of “Pina”

Anthony Lane reviews Pina in the latest issue of the The New Yorker.

The question is, What do you get from “Pina” that you could not get from watching the Tanztheater live? Answer: More than you could possibly believe. This is not just a matter of the al-fresco scenes, or of our proximity to the dancers, near enough to hear them pant. There is also Wenders’s decision to shoot the film in 3-D, and, in so doing, to goad stereoscopic technology into its first leap since “Avatar.” Not before time; 3-D was stalling badly, but now we are back on track, thanks to Scorsese’s “Hugo” and to Wenders, who takes no more than a minute to flourish his credentials.

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3D Trailer for Hugo

The International 3D Society has posted a 3D trailer for Martin Scorsese’s Hugo.  Don’t have a 3D-enabled computer (yet)? There’s a link to the 2D trailer as well.

While you are on their site check out the other interesting things the society is doing to celebrate 3D filmmaking.

3D and Sour Grapes

I have to be honest, when I started this blog I thought it was going to be a long time before 3D gained wide acceptance as more than a gimmick.  Audiences were weary of poke-in-the-eye hijinks and cheap, quickie cardboard conversions and there was very little to point to (Avatar and, um, Avatar 2?) as an alternative.

The tide is turning sooner than I expected.  According to The Hollywood Reporter, Scorsese’s Hugo actually “overperformed” at the box office on its opening weekend.  The film is a hit with audiences and critics, winning new respect and credibility for 3D.

I wanted this blog to be a forum to exchange ideas, debunk myths, and objectively consider the challenges of 3D, but now I’ve also got to find some polite ways to say “I told you so”.

There’s still a long way to go, but when I read things like this from the Irish Times, “Scorsese and 3D: enough already” it makes me smile.

Martin Scorsese’s Hugo 3D debuts: the golden age is here

My review in seven words: the film is excellent, go see it. 

But I’m not here to review films. This is a blog about 3D so this post is going to be about Scorsese’s first 3D film Hugo, a new landmark in 3D filmmaking.

Martin Scorsese has made a fantastic film on at least two distinct levels.  It’s a great story told beautifully.  Plus it’s a turning point in filmmaking that examines another major turning point in filmmaking history with great insight and love.

Visually it’s gorgeous, very well suited for 3D treatment.  Hugo is full of dark moody interior shots that lend themselves beautifully to the low light limitations of 3D. Lush period sets, lots of steam, snow, oversized clockworks—these all work very well in 3D.

Scorsese has also mastered the art of expressive 3D close-ups.  Having an incredibly talented cast certainly helps, but there is an intimacy in his technique that I haven’t seen before. It adds to the story.

Sidebar: at the showing I attended there was something funny going on with the right side of the screen, not in every scene, but many. It looked like perhaps some alignment was off.  I was seated slightly to the left in the theatre, but not far enough to make a difference. It was distracting (so was the row of eight little boys loudly chewing popcorn behind me) but not enough to keep me from being completely caught up in the film.

Hugo is a story-driven film, not the effects-driven cross-merchandised product so many people have come to dread.  The story is a powerful one, featuring an archetype most of us can identify with—the plucky resourceful orphan. From Dickens’ Oliver Twist and David Copperfield to Harry Potter, it’s a great formula.  When you see it bring tissues.

Georges Méliès (1861 to 1938)

But there’s another very meaningful level to the film centered on Georges Méliès, an early enthusiastic pioneer of spectacular cinematic visual effects.  In gorgeous and (as far as I can tell) quite accurate flashbacks Scorsese captures his delight in the new technology, the highs and lows of the business, as well as the risks of ridicule, ignominy, and obscurity.

Méliès took what was literally a sideshow gimmick and turned it into the most important storytelling tool since the invention of the printing press and moveable type. You see where I’m going with this? 

This had special resonance for me.  There are parallels with the artistic tribulations of 3D and I had an overwhelming sense of the historical moment—the cinema crossroads if you will—we’re at today.

Scorsese is a prominent film preservationist, cineaste, and promoter of film history—as well as one of the most respected directors of our time. His study of and respect for film history is visible in every frame.  He shows the seminal L’arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat or The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat Station by the Lumière brothers—one of the first things I blogged about here.  Even the film’s poster depicts little Hugo dangling from a clock hand in an homage to Harold Lloyd.  With this film Scorsese now joins the ranks of Wim Wenders and Werner Herzog as pioneers elevating a lowly gimmick into a powerful storytelling tool, an art.

With every 3D film of artistic quality and integrity released the industry gains important experience and the negative stereotypes about 3D are eroded a bit more.

3D isn’t finished—it’s just getting started

Our culture is nostalgic.  The good old days always seem to be behind us.  Every generation believes the parade’s gone by. With Hugo we are finally seeing what 3D can do in the hands of a visionary filmmaker—from my vantage point I am increasingly convinced that the golden age of 3D film is just beginning.

3D sells!

In honor of “Black Friday” in the US—a day dedicated to crass commercialism I’m posting some of the random ways the term “3D” is being used to generate interest in things that have precious little to nothing to do with 3D.

The lesson?  3D still sells!

This product line has been around for a year or so:

[Full disclosure, I actually bought some of this!]

3D crayons…I guess this sort of counts.

But this is the weirdest yet—a surreal commercial for Toblerone.

Stay tuned, more to come!

PINA at Last

Let me just say upfront, this is not a review but a reaction. Or, more precisely, an appreciation. 

Some of us have been waiting for a long time to see Wim Wenders’ 3D debut—Pina about the legendary choreographer and dance company leader Pina Bausch.

I saw a brief, tantalizing clip at a conference last summer, and everyone I meet who has actually seen it is raving. But it has yet to achieve wide release and has been hard to find.

I finally got to see Pina this week as part of the events leading up to this weekend’s performances of the Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch at Canada’s National Arts Centre. 

This is the 3D film I’ve been waiting for.

It’s gorgeous. Lyrical, subtle, joyful, witty, inspiring, and deeply moving.  The film presents four of Bausch’s modern dance pieces, interspersed with vignettes—danced and spoken by company members as well as some archival footage.

The backstory is heartbreaking—Bausch passed away before shooting could begin and never got a chance to see her very ephemeral art captured so lovingly on screen.  Her work is deeply emotional and very theatrical.  I’ve seen plays within films before (Olivier’s Henry V, Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast) but never anything that emulated the experience of being at a live performance so profoundly.

It’s great work, Wenders is a great filmmaker, but the masterful use of the 3D stereoscopy tool truly makes it transcendent.

The show sold out, the audience included a who’s who of the local art and museum scene. In the lobby people were offering to buy tickets off those who had them.

Unfortunately this was a single screening, in a sub-optimal oddly shaped theatre, with bad sound, cheap glasses, faulty AC and a technical snafu that made the first few minutes unwatchable (double image but not in 3D—hoots and howls from the upscale artsy crowd). I can’t wait to see it again, somewhere great.

I was accompanied by a couple artist friends who were ready to hate it.  They came away saying it was the best film they’d seen in ages.

The truth is, we are on the verge of a golden age of 3D as an artistic medium. Whether or not you care about modern dance—this film is a masterpiece.  In Pina 3D is not a gimmick but an essential component of telling the story and immersing us emotionally into what is on the screen.

I hope it wins every prize. I hope it inspires a new generation of filmmakers and audiences alike.  I know it inspires me.

Behind the Scenes: Peter Jackson’s “Hobbit” in 3D

Here’s a nifty video diary from the set of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit.  It’s full of details on camera technology, some of the aesthetic and artistic choices being made, and a sense of excitement about a powerful new storytelling tool.

They’re using 48 RED Epic cameras, 3ality 3D, 48 FPS (frames per second) and a lot of  classic special effects and filmmaking skills.

Great insight into the challenge and opportunity—I’m looking forward to December 2012!