Archive for the ‘Moving Pictures’ category

Moving Pictures: Exploring the art of the movie poster, then and now

March 20, 2009


While checking out a flick at MoMA recently, I came across the most extraordinary exhibit of movie posters painted for the grand Eastman Theater by Batiste Madalena during the late period of silent cinema, from 1924-1928. Imagine traveling back to a time before Photoshop and digital cameras, when movie posters were actually hand-made. The eye-popping colors and attention to detail within this exhibit are truly amazing to behold, but one thing it makes you realize is that great design is timeless.

To test that theory, I roped in the Film Society’s own graphic designer Karen Weeks to travel back to the Museum to check out the show and talk about the art of the movie poster.


Here’s Karen. She’s the Batiste Madelena of the Upper West Side. She designs all the lovely movie posters you see outside at Lincoln Center, like the one above for Rendez-Vous with French Cinema.


As soon as we got to the exhibit, Karen began to school me on the challenges of designing movie posters. Her job is to create a compelling visual representation of a film, and just like Madelena, she often works from limited press materials. Remember our Oscar Micheaux series? That time, there were barely any surviving images from the work of the black cinema pioneer, so Karen was forced to come up with some creative solutions.


Looking at the following vintage movie poster, Karen wondered if Madalena was confronted with a similar dearth of usable visuals and had to improvise.IMG_3079Another cool thing that Karen noticed was this layout of Greta Garbo. Look closely at the way Garbo’s scarf interacts with the title line. Very photoshoppy isn’t it?


And now check out Karen’s own scarf magic for The Film Society: israel_wrtc692

“One thing that’s key to designing a great movie poster is finding an arresting pair of eyes,” Karen told me, and a perfect illustration is this poster from The Sea Hawk.


And check out William Holden’s peepers. Squinty, but powerful:


Batiste Madalena: Handpainted Movie Posters for the Eastman Theater is a must-see exhibit for movie and design-lovers both. But hurry, it closes soon–April 6.

Naturally, it’s yet another reason we think you should go to New Directors/New Films this year. Take in great films, new directors…and the timeless art of movie poster design at MoMA all at once. We’ll see you at the theater!

Moving Pictures is the filmlinc blog’s extremely erratic series that looks at film as art in unusual manifestations outside of the walls of our institution. Check out past features on Bill Brand’s subway installation Masstransisscope, Brooklyn Academy of Music’s production of Continuous Cities, and artist Scott Draves’s online project, Electric Sheep in the archives.


From the department of awesome social media ideas: Wikipedia Loves Art!

January 12, 2009


Photo via Flickr by Vannah

Art-lovers, Wikipedia obsessives, and shutterbugs, rejoice! In February, you’ll have the chance to be a part of an extraordinary effort to capture museum collections the world over to better illustrate Wikipedia articles. Wikipedia Loves Art is a scavenger hunt and free content photography contest coordinated with the Brooklyn Museum, the Indianapolis Museum of Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the V&A and now The Film Society of Lincoln Center. While yes, it’s true that we don’t have any art on our walls, we’re thrilled to be taking part in this project spearheaded by the Brooklyn Museum.

Check out the rules of the overall contest here. There are lots of ways to get involved. You can go scavenging with a team at one of the museums listed above, or you can work on a Wikipedia entry that needs some help. To play for a Film Society of Lincoln Center prize, submit photographs of historic movie house architecture–i.e., iconic movie houses, surviving movie palaces, drive-ins, crumbling remnants, projection equipment and other aspects of movie house architecture. These can be nationwide–at the Ziegfeld, or at an Egyptian theater in LA, or perhaps you could visit Bud Cadell’s favorite, the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, TX. It’s all about celebrating classic movie houses, and coming up with great images for Wikipedia. An in-house panel will pick a winner who will receive a five-film series pass and a subscription to Film Comment magazine.

The event is planned to run for the whole month of February 2009, so get your cameras ready and stay tuned for more details on activities related to the project.

Moving Pictures: computers dream in concert thanks to artist Scott Draves

December 22, 2008

It was forty years ago now when author Phillip K. Dick first posed the provocative question “Do androids dream of electric sheep?” We all know how Ridley Scott answered the question.

But it turns out the prescient master of science fiction still inspires and challenges. In 1999, Scott Draves invented a free, open-source screensaver called Electric Sheep that allows a network of users’ machines to communicate with each other via the internet to collaboratively weave together morphing abstract animations known as “sheep.”

Not satisfied with simply facilitating the dream-time communication of computers, Draves set to work on a “painting that evolves” entitled Dreams in High Fidelity. This limited edition computer installation that is self-sustaining and self-renewing based on the network of computers that feed “sheep” into the project. Dreams in High Fidelity can be seen at Google Headquarters, and it’s also cataloged as a part of MoMA’s Design and the Elastic Mind website, which in itself is a mind-blower of a site, check it out ASAP.

Draves told MoMA: “The goal of the project is to create a self-supporting, network-resident life form: to make the soul of the machine visible.” Who says computers can’t dream?

Moving Pictures is an occasional series on the far reaches of film as art:

[Moving Pictures: Attaining Underground Momentum with Bill Brand’s Masstrasiscope]
[Moving Pictures: Two recent projects grapple with the Internet’s impact on storytelling]

Moving Pictures: Two recent projects grapple with the Internet’s impact on storytelling

November 20, 2008

Early this week, the New York Times reported that the eggheads at MIT have launched a institute called the Center for Future Storytelling. After referring to “21st century storytelling”–a slippery concept if there ever was one–project founder David Kirkpatrick explained that part of the function of the new initiative would be to “keep meaning alive.” Scholars, graduate students and members of the film industry will use the center to expound upon the changes that technology has wrought upon Homer’s territory. It leads one to wonder, what would Manny Farber say?

Meanwhile in Brooklyn, Continuous City, a part of BAM’s Next Wave festival, might provide a fairly good primer on what “21st century storytelling” actually looks like. Providing a very of-the-moment commentary on the way the internet is not only changing artistic expression, but also basic human interaction, the production made me think about Antonio Campos’s NYFF selection Afterschool. Both projects employ the vernacular of user-generated video in all its artlessness, but, as it turns out, to very different ends.

What was so enlivening about Continuous City was how it enlarged three distinct traditions: that of film, theater and installation art, in the service of telling its three intersecting stories. J.V. (Rizwan Mirza) is a familiar character, an internet mogul with a can’t-lose pitch: his Xubu will connect the inhabitants of a increasingly fragmented world via videophones.

But this story really belongs to J.V.’s globe-trotting chief evangelist Mike. It’s through Mike’s video dispatches to his daughter Sam that the production finds its central means of commenting on how the internet both defines and facilitates communication. That these videophone dispatches played so convincingly as document was a real testament to Harry Sinclair’s performance. I truly never expected to encounter such documentary-style verisimilitude in this kind of environment. But the fact is, Continuous City probably owes more the tradition of cinema than to theater. The use of video screens allowed the three story to unfold in a kind of kinetic montage that borrow from cinema while transcending even those limitations, because the spectator here is free to select his or her own lens on the spectacle in the way they divide their attention between the live action and the video footage.

I came away from Continuous City impressed by the way the production tweaked all of these traditions and managed to challenge the viewer. Just as with Afterschool, I think I was probably less impressed with what was said than how it was said; the medium really is the message here. Still, by showing how fresh, vital and genre-bending the theater can be, Continuous City provides living proof that the heart of “story” still beats in fresh new forms.

Continuous City will be performed tonight through Sunday as part of BAM’s Next Wave Festival.

True to the form they appropriate, the production invites regular internet denizens to become a part of Continuous City.

Photos courtesy of The Builder’s Association.

Moving Pictures will be an occasional series on the far reaches of film as art in the city and beyond.

Captured: Bill Brand’s Masstransiscope

November 12, 2008

Here’s another imperfect attempt to capture Bill Brand’s Masstransiscope.  The truth is that it should be viewed in person, although you may have to make a few loops on the B and Q due to the ever-tumultuous New York subway system.  As with all public art, half of Masstransiscope’s meaning is constructed by its interaction with the public and in my viewing experience it became a testament to New York commuters astounding ability to ignore their surroundings, even when they are utterly charming.  I can only hope that some school in NY is planning to pile their class of 20 5th graders into a subway car to give the piece the squeals of approval it deserves.

Read the filmlinc blog’s interview with artist Bill Brand

Moving Pictures: attaining underground momentum with Bill Brand’s Masstransiscope

November 7, 2008

Recently, my morning commute from Brooklyn to the Film Society took me on the most unusual journey.

Right after my B train left Dekalb Station but before it emerged onto the bridge, I found myself witness to a kinetic explosion of color and shapes. I realized I was looking through a giant zoetrope which was being animated by the movement of the train.

Some sleuthing uncovered the project’s name, Masstransiscope, and its artist, Bill Brand. It was originally installed in an abandoned elevated Myrtle Avenue station in 1980, but obscured with grime in the 28 years since then. After the artist (and New Directors/New Films alum) graciously agreed to answer some of my questions about the project, I  learned that the restoration of his project was only completed last Friday. It’s now an eye-popping treat for any rider on the northbound B/Q trains.

First off, I’d like to say that normally my view in the subway is of scratchitti and Dr. Zizmor ads, and so the first thing that I thought when I was confronted with Masstransiscope was what on earth was in the artist’s mind when he came up with this?

Bill Brand: I thought of it riding the subway. I’ve always been interested in early cinema and how the moving  image and the train come out of the same technology and mindset, so I was imagining that as I was looking out the window as I was going by.

Do you think the way people respond to it has changed in the 28 years since it was first installed?

BB: Well, the culture has changed so much. Now there are advertisements that function the same the way, so I was wondering if it would still look like a work of art it was made to be. I was happy to see that it’s still giving and not asking.

What happens when you subvert the traditional means of making films, turning commuters into cameras, for instance?

BB: Well, I don’t know if the commuter is the camera; I think that they are the projector actually. I come out of avant garde film tradition and a lot of what motivates us is the idea that the spectator can be active, and that the viewer is not just a passive recipient of what the artist is giving them. This piece is a way of making that explicit. Though most of its life has been in the dark, my sense is that people take this as their piece. Good public art turns around to become owned by the people who live with it.

The fact that the mechanism of the illusion reveals itself when the train slows down and speeds up, to me that was never a defect, it was a part of the piece, and part of the notion that the spectator becomes an active viewer. There’s a kind of reflexivity in the piece, the viewer is both the recipient and a participant.

One thing that tickles me pink is that this piece really resists categorization. Even the restoration has been sort of ad hoc. And I am hoping that the piece will have its own underground momentum.

Visit Bill Brand’s blog or website to see more about the restoration effort.

Moving Pictures will be an occassional series on the far reaches of film as art in the city and beyond.