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Béla Tarr Regis Dialogue with Howard Feinstein

A lovely conversation with the great Béla Tarr. Feinstein is perhaps a little overt-talkative here, but it’s still wonderful to listen to Tarr discuss his career.

Video-Disc by Maciej Cwiek

A little while ago, I uploaded this short film by Polish experimental animator, Maciej Cwiek called ‘Video-Disc’ to YouTube. I thought it would be sensible to share it because it’s quite lovely. I’ll upload more Polish animation over time because it’s wonderful.

- Matthew Revert

Just because…

…Rohmer is one of the absolute greatest.

Documentary of the Week: Pretty As A Picture – The Art of David Lynch (1997)

Here’s a great documentary from 1997 about David Lynch, filmed during the making off and premiere of ‘Lost Highway’. My personal feelings about Lynch are somewhat mixed, but I respect him enormously and really think this documentary is worth your time.

From an early age, David Lynch was inspired by the arts and the warm inner glow that comes with the pursuit of creative expression. “Pretty as a Picture:The Art of David Lynch” examines how this modern day Renaissance man makes a motion picture, and examines, through his artistic explorations, the very nature of creativity.

Please enjoy ‘Pretty as a Picture: The Art of David Lynch’ and have yourself a great Sunday.

- Matthew Revert

‘Forbidden Planet’, the First Electronic Movie Score

For those of us obsessed with the early days of electronic music, the film, ‘Forbidden Planet’ represents a significant milestone. Louis and Bebe Barron’s phenomenal score is credited as the first all-electronic score in movie history. This predates the emergence of the infamous Moog synthesizer by eight years and, in actual fact, has roots extending into innovations from the late 40s. As a film, it’s difficult to place ‘Forbidden Planet’ on a pedestal above the bulk of big budget sci-fi flicks from the 50s. It’s certainly not a bad film and has plenty going for it but, in the opinion of this music geek, the score is the main reason to seek it out.

The score to ‘Forbidden Planet’ as we know it was the result of a chance encounter at a beatnik bar in New York between MGM producer, Dore Schary, and the Barrons. Upon witnessing their performance, Schary hired the duo to compose the score which, in order to avoid paying industry music guild fees, was called ‘electronic tonalities’. One imagines that Schary was desperate to save money and decided upon what he viewed as a novelty in hiring the Barons. Whatever the motivations, this decision would prove to be a groundbreaking one.

Louis (left) & Bebe Barron

Bebe and Louis Barron were a married couple whose interest in the exploration of sound cannot be understated. After marrying in 1947, the couple relocated to New York and were given a tape recorder as a wedding gift. This led to an immediate study of musique concrete techniques, which soon segued into an interest in electronic music. While their score for ‘Forbidden Planet’ would be the first electronic score in movie history, perhaps of more significance is a piece they composed in 1950 called ‘Heavenly Menagerie’, which is regarded as the first electronic composition made in America. This was primitive electronic music that took a painful amount of time to produce and involved physically cutting and arranging the tape. These electronic techniques, and the refined techniques that would become the score to ‘Forbidden Planet’, are grounded in the theories espoused in the 1948 book, ‘Cybernetics: Or, Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine’ by mathematician, Norbert Wiener. Rather than attempt to explain how Wiener’s book inspired the Baron’s electronic work, here is the description from Wikipedia:

The 1948 book Cybernetics: Or, Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine, by mathematician Norbert Wiener from MIT played an important role in the development of the Barrons’ composition.[5] The science of cybernetics proposes that certain natural laws of behavior apply to both animals and more complex electronic machines.

By following the equations presented in the book, Louis was able to build electronic circuits which he manipulated to generate sounds.[5] Most of the tonalities were generated with a circuit called a ring modulator. The sounds and patterns that came out of the circuits were unique and unpredictable because they were actually overloading the circuits until they burned out to create the sounds. The Barrons could never recreate the same sounds again, though they later tried very hard to recreate their signature sound from Forbidden Planet. Because of the unforeseen life span of the circuitry, the Barrons made a habit of recording everything.

Most of the production was not scripted or notated in any way. The Barrons didn’t even consider the process as music composition themselves. The circuit generated sound was not treated as notes, but instead as ‘actors’. In future soundtrack composition, each circuit would be manipulated according to actions of the underlying character in the film.

After recording the sounds, the couple manipulated the material by adding effects, such as reverb and tape delay. They also reversed and changed the speed of certain sounds[2]. The mixdown of multiple sounds was performed with at least three tape recorders. The outputs of two machines would be manually synchronized[3], and fed into an input of a third one, recording two separate sources simultaneously. The synchronization of future film work was accomplished by two 16 mm projectors that were tied into a 16 mm tape recorder, and thus ran at the same speed.

While Louis spent most of his time building the circuits and was responsible for all of the recording, Bebe did the composing. She had to sort through many hours of tape.[5] She described it, “it just sounded like dirty noise”. Over time, she developed the ability to determine which sounds could become something of interest. They may also have invented the tape loop. The tape loop gave the Barrons’ sounds rhythm. They mixed the sounds to create the otherworldly and strange electronic soundscapes required by Forbidden Planet.

This innovative approach to sound ultimately gave birth to one of the most stunning film scores to this day. It is a travesty to consider that the Barons were not eligible for an academy award in either the soundtrack or sound design categories because they were not members of the musicians union. This travesty is further compounded by MGM’s decision not to commercially release the soundtrack. What compounds this sequence of unfortunate events even more is the brief existence of a 7″ release of the original ‘Forbidden Planet’ theme which was discarded from the final film in favour of the Barons’ sound alchemy.

It wasn’t until 1976, in honour of ‘Forbidden Planet’s’ 20th anniversary, that the soundtrack was finally released (of course) by the Barrons themselves on their own label, ‘Planet Records’. Since this time, the importance of this soundtrack has gained deserved prominence, especially amongst fans of electronic and experimental music. What follows is a selection of pieces from the soundtrack for your listening pleasure. The soundtrack is readily available and can be purchased here (among many other places).

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Documentary of the Week: Helvetica (2007)

Here’s a wonderful documentary by Gary Hustwit that I first saw a few years ago. It charts the emergence of the famous Helvetica font and the ubiquity in which it has been absorbed into our society. If you have an interest in typeface and/or design, I think you’ll love this. Here’s some information about the documentary taken from its official website:

About the Film

Helvetica is a feature-length independent film about typography, graphic design and global visual culture. It looks at the proliferation of one typeface (which celebrated its 50th birthday in 2007) as part of a larger conversation about the way type affects our lives. The film is an exploration of urban spaces in major cities and the type that inhabits them, and a fluid discussion with renowned designers about their work, the creative process, and the choices and aesthetics behind their use of type.

Helvetica encompasses the worlds of design, advertising, psychology, and communication, and invites us to take a second look at the thousands of words we see every day. The film was shot in high-definition on location in the United States, England, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, France and Belgium.

Interviewees in Helvetica include some of the most illustrious and innovative names in the design world, including Erik Spiekermann, Matthew Carter, Massimo Vignelli, Wim Crouwel, Hermann Zapf, Neville Brody, Stefan Sagmeister, Michael Bierut, David Carson, Paula Scher, Jonathan Hoefler, Tobias Frere-Jones, Experimental Jetset, Michael C. Place, Norm, Alfred Hoffmann, Mike Parker, Bruno Steinert, Otmar Hoefer, Leslie Savan, Rick Poynor, and Lars Müller.

Helvetica had its World Premiere at the South by Southwest Film Festival in March 2007. The film subsequently toured film festivals, special events, and art house cinemas worldwide, playing in over 300 cities in 40 countries. It received its television premiere on BBC1 in November 2007, and will be broadcast on PBS as part of the Emmy award-winning series Independent Lens in fall 2008. The film was nominated for a 2008 Independent Spirit Award in the “Truer Than Fiction” category, and was shortlisted for the Design Museum London’s “Designs of the Year” Award. An excerpt of the film was included in an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

About the Typeface

Helvetica was developed by Max Miedinger with Edüard Hoffmann in 1957 for the Haas Type Foundry in Münchenstein, Switzerland. In the late 1950s, the European design world saw a revival of older sans-serif typefaces such as the German face Akzidenz Grotesk. Haas’ director Hoffmann commissioned Miedinger, a former employee and freelance designer, to draw an updated sans-serif typeface to add to their line. The result was called Neue Haas Grotesk, but its name was later changed to Helvetica, derived from Helvetia, the Latin name for Switzerland, when Haas’ German parent companies Stempel and Linotype began marketing the font internationally in 1961.

Introduced amidst a wave of popularity of Swiss design, and fueled by advertising agencies selling this new design style to their clients, Helvetica quickly appeared in corporate logos, signage for transportation systems, fine art prints, and myriad other uses worldwide. Inclusion of the font in home computer systems such as the Apple Macintosh in 1984 only further cemented its ubiquity.

Please enjoy Gary Hustwit’s, ‘Helvetica’. Please excuse the Spanish subtitles (unless you speak Spanish, in which case you can thank me later). Have a great Sunday.

- Matthew Revert

Documentary of the Week: The Life and Times of Don Luis Bunuel (1984)

The following documentary was made in 1984, the year after the death of the great Luis Bunuel. Apologies for the quality. It was taped off Australian television back in the day, but it is still a fascinating insight into one of cinema’s greats. To make matters slightly worse, part 5 is missing due to a copyright complaint. What a world! I still insist on you watching what is available.

- Matthew Revert

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