cutting on the action

photography and film – facts, ideas, values

FILM The Conversation

‘The Conversation’: A Brilliantly Composed Symbol of Watergate America

Cinephilia and Beyond Another longform form this wonderful film site. Please if you use it make a small contribution.

As an added treat a pdf of the screenplay, by Copploa, written in 1973, which is downloadable, but if you want it not to be popping up up as a webpage but as a file on your PC, make sure to save it as such.

The centre-piece is a facsimile of an interview in Filmmakers Newsletter, 1974, with with Brian De Palma and Coppola getting into the nitty-gitty of The Conversation’s conception and making. De Palma going on to make Blow Out in 1980, starring John Travolta.

NB. Coppola mentions Blow Up as an influence.

Also, for the real enthusiasts: Drew Morton’s video essay, Cross-Cut, looking at Blow Up [1960], The Conversation [1973] and Blow Out [1980], here embedded in this Indewire page with a short intro. It’s only 6 mins long, a true video essay made up of just video, doing the job of comparing and contrasting – film explaining film – not one of those video clip/slide-show type-thingummies with lecture tagged on. Though many of this type can be good, there is that thing about whether such a detailed lecture might be better as a separate essay/paper. That debate about video essays is probably still going on. Now the video essay, a well-thumbed subject in itself, has evolved a lot since the early days, with academics pouring over them in various ways.

If you know your three films well, and you’re into film-making, can’t fail to be impressed by Drew’s brilliant editing.

Before coming across Drew Morton’s essay when he first put it up, had myself spent inordinate amounts of time taking screen grabs of all three films, hoping to construct a slide show doing the same thing, lacking the wherewithall to do clips, again with no audio essay superimposed on the visuals. Having seen Drew’s, the idea was soon dropped, but mine would have gone into a lot more detail of all three films. Self-evidently video essays are not ideal for anyone who doesn’t know the film or films. And one of my pet hates, trailers giving awy too much information, even Drews sparse choice of clips would give too much away, in my extreme trailersist view.

A trailerist of course almost kicks in TV screens while shoutung, No, No, No! trying to stop it when the next episode of a series is laid out in such detail as to provide a clear impression of the whole plot, even if it’s a bit jumbled up.

Drew’s vimeo page shows he’s not been a slacker, producing many classy video essays.

Drew has put up earlier shorter versions of Cross-Cut, linked to below, which each have two intercut quotes, but no voice-over, which point to film essays and the video essay form, rather than directly to the three films.

As he puts in his comments on v .5:

“What began as “A poetic introduction to the fiction film as videographic criticism that seeks to illustrate the works of Raymond Bellour and Laura Mulvey through BLOW OUT, BLOW UP, and THE CONVERSATION” eventually became a more modest experiment in exploring the narrative, stylistic, and thematic connections between Michelangelo Antonioni’s BLOW-UP, Francis Ford Coppola’s THE CONVERSATION, and Brian De Palma’s BLOW OUT. This is the first – thumbnail – version.”

and v .75 :

“What began as “A poetic introduction to the fiction film as videographic criticism that seeks to illustrate the works of Raymond Bellour and Laura Mulvey through BLOW OUT, BLOW UP, and THE CONVERSATION” eventually became a more modest experiment in exploring the narrative, stylistic, and thematic connections between Michelangelo Antonioni’s BLOW-UP, Francis Ford Coppola’s THE CONVERSATION, and Brian De Palma’s BLOW OUT. This is the second version – made before the theoretical framing device was ultimately jettisoned.

Differences from Version .5: I realized that I needed to begin intercutting between the three films earlier to establish more of an aesthetic rhythm and conceptual dynamism. If I had stuck with the structure outlined in draft .5, I wouldn’t have introduced THE CONVERSATION until almost 2 minutes in (and BLOW OUT probably nearly three minutes). In short, it was becoming a piece dominated by discrete thirds without really doing much intellectually.”

CROSS-CUT (AKA Cinefilea, Version .5)

CROSS-CUT (AKA Cinefilea, Version .75)

And again for convenience, v. 1.0 :


September 8, 2018 Posted by | Antonioni, Blow Out, Blow Up [1966], Coppola, De Palma, The Conversation [1974] | , , | Leave a comment

The 15 Basic Elements to Know to Better Your Film’s Mise-en-Scene

Blade Runner 1982

The 15 Basic Elements to Know to Better Your Film’s Mise-en-Scene

Filmmaker Michael Hall of Shohawk, in Mentorless, filmmaking blog.

+ 15 diagrams. Who wants text when you have graphics? It’s a visual medium! Have a thing about mise-en-scene? Don’t even know what it is [but it’s in French and looks interesting..]? This is for you and you.

Michael has done another mise-en-scene:

7 Ways Mise-en-scene Will Make You a Better Filmmaker

which also includes the same 15 diagrams at the bottom.

Pinched the Blade Runner header from this post.

November 25, 2017 Posted by | film, film technique, film techniques, film-making | , | Leave a comment

FILM Fellini La Dolce Vita 1960


La Dolce Vita

The Magic Widow 6 November 2015 ~ film blog by Kristoffer T notable for the quality film stills

the cinematography of la Dolce vita: that’s deep, man

Brandon W. Irvines’ Underplex film blog, 20 June 2013 ~ always plenty of stills

La Dolce Vita: Lessons not learned

Kate Fitzpatrick, Brattle Theatre Film Notes, 24 June 2103

Search Brattle for other La Dolce Vita posts.

February 26, 2017 Posted by | Antonioni, film, film directors, La Dolce Vita [1960] | , | Leave a comment

FILM ESSAY Kiarostami by Hugh Gibson

FILM KIAROSTAMI Him  in front odf a quote

TIFF ~ The Review ~ 28 August 2016 ~ Issue 29

August 29, 2016 Posted by | Abbas kiarostami, film, film essay | | Leave a comment

FILM SCRIPT The Imitation Game [2014]


The Imitation Game

Screenplay by Graham Moore

pp. 118 / pdf

December 13, 2014 Posted by | The Imitation Game [2014] | , , | Leave a comment


FILM WES ANDERSON The Grand Budapest hotel

At the Movies – Michael Wood

The Grand Budapest Hotel

LRB, Vol. 36 No. 8, 17 April 2014

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Screenplay by Wes Anderson

pdf/ pp. 122

December 13, 2014 Posted by | film directors, screenplay, script, The Grand Budapest Hotel | , , | Leave a comment

FILM VIDEO ESSAY Drew Morton’s Cross-Cut


Cross Cut


Drew Morton

Explore the narrative, stylistic, and thematic connections between Michelangelo
Antonioni’s BLOW-UP, Francis Ford Coppola’s THE CONVERSATION, and Brian DePalma’s BLOW OUT with this video essay entitled “Cross-Cut.” Note: This video essay originally began as a more theoretical project. The other drafts have been posted to Vimeo for the sake of pedagogy.

CROSS-CUT (AKA Cinefilea, Version .5)

CROSS-CUT (AKA Cinefilea, Version .75)

CROSS-CUT (AKA Cinefilea, Version 1.0)

What began as “A poetic introduction to the fiction film as videographic criticism that seeks to illustrate the works of Raymond Bellour and Laura Mulvey through BLOW OUT, BLOW UP, and THE CONVERSATION” eventually became a more modest experiment in exploring the narrative, stylistic, and thematic connections between Michelangelo Antonioni’s BLOW-UP, Francis Ford Coppola’s THE CONVERSATION, and Brian De Palma’s BLOW OUT. This is the final version of the theoretically framed “Cinefilea” version.

Differences from Version .75: Thanks to notes from Benjamin Sampson and Adrian Martin, I’ve tried to be more evocative in the opening (hence the use of the photographs from BLOW OUT and BLOW UP). I’ve also broken up the text quotations to assist in this and the reader.

Rationale for Why This Version Was Ultimately Abandoned:

My objective was to make a video essay about video essays through these three films with three theoretical texts without resorting to voice-over. After asking a range of colleagues for notes (including Corey Creekmur, Chiara Grizzaffi, Adrian Martin, and Benjamin Sampson), it became quickly apparent that clearly did not work. I typically make video essays that are either argumentative and theoretical (and thus voice-over driven and incredibly structured according to a progression of evidence) or largely evocative and poetic pieces. I had never really tried to cross the streams before and this piece functions as an artifact of that rather contradictory impulse and the dialogue that ensued between us afterwards. To boil it down, it isn’t easy to fuse scholarship and poetry when you’re making a found footage film. When I tried to superimpose cinephilia onto these three films, their original meanings and contexts exerted too much of a hold.

Drew’s comments associated with the videos have been included in full.

November 25, 2014 Posted by | Blow Up [1966], Francis Ford Coppola, The Conversation [1974], video essay | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

FILM DOCUMENTARY SHORT Orlando von Einsiedel – Skateistan [2011]

FILM DOC Skateistan [1C]

FILM DOC Skateistan [4]

FILM DOC Skateistan [2]

FILM DOC Skateistan [1]

Skateistan: To Live And Skate Kabul

Click the red circle to start movie.

From : Aeon Film

More Aeon films: Aeon Film

December 21, 2013 Posted by | film, film short, Orlando von Einsiedel, Skateistan | , , | Leave a comment

FILM DOCUMENTARIST The Thinking Man’s Detective


Sightly modified from: Tina Berning

Errol Morris: The Thinking Man’s Detective

— The documentary filmmaker has become America’s most surprising and provocative public intellectual

Ron Rosenbaum, Smithsonian Magazine, March 2012

December 14, 2013 Posted by | Errol Morris, film, film documentary | | Leave a comment

FILM Guardian Top 10 in categories


Guardian Top 10s

18 categories

↑ The image comes from Top 100: Best Movies (of All-Time)

December 4, 2013 Posted by | films top 10 | | Leave a comment

FILM CINEMATOGRAPHY The Importance of Cinematography

FILM Citizen Kane contract signing

Citizen Kane: adapted from David Bordwell: Foreground, background, playground

The Importance of Cinematography

A 5.50 min video by Saun McDougall [Sean McDougall, McDougallFilm. What no website?]

There are terazillions of videos on cinematography. But this is a catchy title. The importance of anything surely gets your attention over A Guide to Basic Cinematography – yet the latter is a good video for someone who has read books, seen stills and diagrams but yearns to see film explained in film. Barring the neat postage stamp famous film examples popping up top right, it is a text book. But let’s have it called I Love Cinematography with the narrator appearing left, cartwheeling into medium shot, then running to camera for his close-up, puffing, hair awry: “I love cinematography and this is why….”

101 Film anything doesn’t quite do it title-wise. Earnest, but not sounding important. Lots of good videos, but look fella-me-guys we need titles, Gone with the Cinematographer, Lost in Cinematography, The Silence of the Cinematographer, The Pursuit of Cinematography, There Will Be Cinematography, Synecdoche, Cinematography. That Obscure Object of Cinematography. Now you’re watching.

Richard Michalak’s {1} (there must be a series somewhere..) is the best Idiot’s Short Information-Packed Guide to Cinematography I’ve seen so far. Mark Fenton who put it up (with permission he says..) calls it, Cinematography Learn from a Master. O.k, let’s loop back to the previous paragraph for the names bit.

Next it’ll be the nexus of writer, director, cinematographer and editor. Descriptions of people working together, not theory. Best/worst. Someone said in something I just read that the screenwriter and the editor are considered the more creative of this group. But before that a few links in a separate post on what the cinematographer aka the director of photography does when he gets hold of the screenplay. But before that a couple of who wins cinematography awards.

November 9, 2013 Posted by | cinematography, film, Richard Michalak | , | Leave a comment

FILM John Sayles’ Golden Rules of MovieMaking

moviemaking Lick Pier 1926

Lick Pier, Venice, California, 1926

Wisdom Wednesday: John Sayles’ Golden Rules of MovieMaking

MovieMaker 6 November 2013

November 8, 2013 Posted by | film, film directors | | Leave a comment

FILM SCREENPLAY Is it a great one?


What makes a great screenplay?

John Yorke, Guardian,15 March 2013

From Casablanca to The Killing – the elements of a great script are essentially the same. John Yorke – who is responsible for some of the most popular recent British TV dramas – reveals how and why the best screenwriting works

Also by John Yorke:

Into The Woods: A Five Act Journey Into Story

This is lovely long piece which doesn’t mention Chinatown By Robert Townes. But lo, a commenter does. And COTA has posted a version at Screenplay: Chinatown [1977] It’s one of my favourite films, which I repeat ad nauseam. Best silly man joke in film too : note in that shot how the people line up one behind the other.

October 22, 2013 Posted by | film, Film script/screenplay | , , | Leave a comment

FILM JOURNAL Alphaville Issue 5 – Cinema in the Interstices

PHOTO Cracked_Concrete_01_by_RocketStock

click to enlarge

Alphaville : Journal of Film and Scene Media

Issue 5

Cinema in the Interstices

Cinema in the Interstices: Editorial

Conscious of the underlying significance of this term and its many interpretations within the context of visual culture, particularly as related to film and screen media, Alphaville: Journal of Film and Screen Media set out to provide a forum to explore the myriad of interstices that exist both within the medium of film and between film and other media, firstly in the form of an international conference held at University College Cork in September 2012, and now in a special issue of Alphaville dedicated to the topic.

Lot’s and lots to read.

I was drawn in by the word interstice. A wonderful sounding word which most people couldn’t pronounce let alone define. The editorials starts with:

The interstice: something empty, something minute—a crevice, a chink, a narrow gap—yet, in spite of this definition of something apparently slight and inconsequential, one perhaps may make the claim that the interstice serves as a foundational element of film. The “intervening space”, as the OED defines it, in its celluloid form provided the connection between multiple images, allowing them to run together to form the illusion of movement. While this interstitial black strip that imperceptibly framed the moving image is no longer a constituent part of cinema in its current digital format, interstices continue to proliferate in screen media, perhaps to a greater extent than ever. Indeed, just as cinema originated in the interstices between theatre, painting, literature and photography, this intermediality takes on a redefined role in the digital era, with the lines between cinema, television, art, video and new media becoming increasingly difficult to define.

And so I was off, thinking about black bars between frames of pellicule. Though I knew in my bones, chasing a few rabbits down their holes, this was the entre to a lot more things of interest and use among a whole swathe I probably wouldn’t understand or be bothered with. But how do you know till you read?

And so what exactly are the film things I am bothered with? Think, Think. One, how films are made, particularly cinematography and editing, aesthetics goes without saying (but there, I’ve said it), and the limits of film (and the sort of questions that cropped up when Godard started writing in the Cahiers and then made films himself which, if we use A Bout de Souffle, was often about how film was not up to the job he wanted it to do – and/or was dead and gone in the terms in which he saw it: in two words Eisenstein and montage. Godard a writer trying a new medium and as I see it often being disappointed and expressing this disappointment in his own films. Alright, I admit it, I’ve been trying Histoires yet again). Phew! How hard it is to attend to three things at once and have the added disadvantage of English subtitles. Perhaps better without enough French to read La « partition » des Histoire(s) du cinéma de Jean-Luc Godard by Céline Scemama as a companion-piece to Histoire(s). My ideal: watch it first, then the transcription,then both together. But it becomes a study not an experience, where it has to be watched on DVD to stop it at will.

The start point – stimulated by the Alphaville editorial’s first para – was that black gap between each frame. Faux naively (sometimes the ridiculously obvious can turn up insights) I mused the black dividing lines had to be there because of the way a roll of film running through a camera exposed individual frames. A shutter or shutters opened to expose each frame and it couldn’t do it quick enough to have no gap between frames. Though of course even if that were feasible, with each frame abutting directly to the next, the separation of frames as they are by a gap might well be needed to help create the moving images at a certain speed of projection. Who knows – not many – if the movie would work projected without the few millimeters of black space?

It wasn’t there in order to. It was there because it had to be there, and then they found a way to get over these leetel black bars between frames by projecting the film at a certain speed both to eliminate them from perception, and eventually at 24fps to get a movie that wasn’t jerky as the early silent films were.

Then the assertion that

[..] cinema originated in the interstices between theatre, painting, literature and photography

made me think some more – and this is the first paragraph of the editorial! – what interstices were these exactly? That later.

The fourth wall. We know that cinema was distinctly theatrical in it’s beginnings. But surely, film rather than being in cracks between the traditional arts – once the theatrical style was left behind – was a new art form which superimposed itself on them as a whole, using them; or perhaps that the arts fed directly or indirectly into film, rather than the other way round. Or even that it parasitised on them or was in symbiosis with them. Or both. Or saprophytic. Or even commensal. But it did become the predominant – as in popular and wide-spread – art form the 20 century. Pretty quickly it was the flicks people went to see instead of music hall – certainly not art galleries or museums. Though come to think of it, music and film became close partners in a way that art and theatre did not. Theatre and ballet became favourite subjects of film and have remained so to the present day. Opera became the musical. But film technique has developed on its own.

Film Studies at University College Cork

Well, better start reading. Might learn something.

October 2, 2013 Posted by | 24 fps, art, À bout de souffle, Breathless, Cahiers du cinéma, cinematography, Eisenstein, film, Film and The Arts, film editing, film music, film [its techniques], film-making, Godard, perception | , , , | Leave a comment

FILM ADAPTATION Re-visiting Pinter’s Proust

The previous post about novel and screenplay made me think again of Pinter and his Proust Play.

These two were not around when I did my Pinter/Proust posts*

In Which Harold Pinter Changes Marcel Proust

Alex Carnevale in This Recording, 23 August 2011


Pinter the Adapter: The Proust Screenplay in Notes and Drafts

Naoko Yagi

No date on this pdf. But she’s a prof. at Wasada University with one of her research areas listed as: Harold Pinter’s plays, screenplays, and prose.


Little patch of yellow wall or a single asparagus? : Harold Pinter’s The Proust Screenplay

Little patch of yellow wall or a single asparagus? : Harold Pinter’s The Proust Screenplay {2}

September 17, 2013 Posted by | film, film adaptation, Film on radio, Film script/screenplay, Pinter, Proust | Leave a comment


FILM POSTER paths of Glory [2]

Why use my own words when those of the website are readily available and, well, they know what they’re doing. I’m just shining my spotlight on another corner of the film world magnificently exposed to everyone – film expert, buff, film student, even those unsure about film over book – through the wonders of the interweb:

INTERCUT is a film podcast supported by the #yegfilm collective which explores a love of film, the process of filmmaking, and filmmakers themselves.

I started with Dailies #1 purely because it has Michael Douglas in Kubrick’s 1957 Paths of Glory as it’s cover. Think it’s time to watch that again. What a pleasure to hear them start talking about Bela Tarr. Since I’ve spent hours rewinding the opening cow sequence of Tarr’s Satantango, hearing anyone at all talking about his films is really exciting.

My Tarr’s can be found in this search on Cutting on the action. Slow, slow film, requires slow, long posts.

N.B. I’m not a film expert, I just watch films and dream of making my own. (The making equivalent of the guy working in the New York restaurant as a waiter who says he’s an actor, usually seen as a scene in a film…). So don’t expect illumination: you might be disappointed. Anywhere I have written at length about a film is mostly me working through things about a particular film I’ve just seen. It won’t be expert analysis or criticism. Or if turns out to be either or both, that’s probably purely accidental.

P.S. Check out these images of Paths to Glory. There’s a whole set of posts in there on colour and black & White film…

….note the way light rays and blocks of light on objects work so well in monochrome.

June 23, 2013 Posted by | Bela Tarr, film, film analysis, film blog, film directors, film editing, film podcast, film production, film reflexivity, Film script/screenplay, film short, film sound, film still, film watching | , | Leave a comment

FILM unfilm


Bored with film? Same old thing? A Gun, a Girl; a Girl and her Gun; A Girl Without a Gun but a lot of fun, that type of thing.

Critics unsatisfying? Theorists obtuse, incomprehensible? What else is there? What can a film enthusiast do? Read film books? Sit in a dark, quiet room? Or even a quiet, dark room.

At last a real alternative.

Enter the world of unfilm.

Investigative journalists Ivan Rigor and Fern F. Feliciano recently unearthed film in the Archive of the Soviet Film Academy. So far no has come forwards with a plausible explanation. Who’d want to bury a film? Oh, yes, critics, forgot that.

Eisenstein, famous director of iconic Battleship Potemkin. Early unrealised project: All You Didn’t Know About Film But Were Afraid To Ask.

All You Wanted To Know About Film But Were Afraid To Imagine.

CARTOON girl gun fool

June 11, 2013 Posted by | film | Leave a comment

FILM ANTONIONI L’ Avventura in 3 images

September 4, 2012 Posted by | Antonioni, film, film still, L'Avventura | , , , | Leave a comment

FILM Are screenplays literature?

This was a post in a previous blog of mine called Moleskine modality, which is linked to from here. Looking for a post I did on Bliar and the Iraq invasion of 2003, I also had a quick look at what I had written in Moleskine. It’s defunct as a posting site, but has a great many links to all sorts of things that might be useful. It was as much about books and writers as film. I decided to move on to a dedicated film (and a bit of photography) blog instead of book/film. It was partly because I was getting fed up with Blogger. It seems a lot better now, and has even got pretty good free themes which tend to show up WordPress.

So here’s the post on screenplays as literature, or not:

It’s his title, not mine. This essay has three parts:

Are Screenplays literature? Part I

Are Screenplays Literature? Part II

Are Screenplays Literature? Part III

This came about because of a decision suddenly – the decision version of a flash memory which had a simple, clear nachrechtfertigung to drop a very absorbing and pleasurably expanding (the polite word for ideas-creep) novel in favour of a very ancient screenplay/novel project which began in the late 80s.

Without getting through the first part of this essay on the screenplay I was already running with the notions. Yes, of course, the film = the novel. Then: what, if we are drawing tables of analogues, is the novel equivalent of the screenplay? Reading on I see the publication of screenplays as if they were literature has become the thing.

I have never seen the screenplay as the finished product. The bit that we do when we read the book (because it is the reader input which adds the final touch to the skill and insights of the writer) is what the writer (constantly readjusting his script to the needs of the film), director, actors, cinematographer, stage designer, location manager do. Then, as I have hinted at in some of the links under screenplay/scripts, there are later adaptations of the original screenplay floating about which the novice would have no idea are not the start point. It can be difficult to see which is which when someone hasn’t been careful enough at the time to record what is what, and/or because things get lost.

I have mentioned something I noticed when doing a generalised screenplay foray a while back: often what you see online is someone’s transcription of the film, not the screenplay itself.

To make the screenplay as much like the finished novel ( = [novel] + [readers cognition]} necessitated the writer’s instructions. Stating the bleeding obvious, though a perfect dialogue by itself can work pretty well given an imaginative reader, without ‘stage’ direction something of what is in most novels has been left out. Strictly speaking like is not being compared to like.

The money quotes come from part III:

What is Literature?

The 19th-century novelist George Eliot (a woman writing under a man’s name) defined literature this way: “the nearest thing to life; it is a mode of amplifying experience and extending our contact with our fellow-men beyond the bounds (=limits) of our personal lot (=fate).”

Terrence McGiver, a teacher, expands the definition: “Literature helps us grow, both personally and intellectually. It provides an objective base for knowledge and understanding. It links us with the cultural, philosophic, and religious world of which we are part. It enables us to recognize human dreams and struggles in different places and times that we otherwise would never know existed. It helps us develop mature sensibility and compassion for the condition of all living things — human, animal and vegetable. It gives us the knowledge and perception to appreciate the beauty of order and arrangement, which a well-constructed song or a beautifully painted canvas also gives us.”

Other observers have pointed out that literature is written to be read aesthetically; that it emphasizes character over plot; that it must be worth re-reading; that it contains enduring human themes; that it is the opposite of trash.

All these definitions give clues why it’s so easy to conclude that screenplays are not literature.

September 4, 2012 Posted by | film, screenplay | , , , | Leave a comment

FILM 250 mostly obscure, mostly overlooked, and/or mostly unloved films. [apparently]

Ain’t Nobody’s Blues But My Own

— Flying in the face of consensus — A selection of 250 mostly obscure,
mostly overlooked, and/or mostly unloved films.

From They Shoot Horses Don’t They? With an intro by Bill Georgaris. 29 February 2012. Update of 2010 compilation.

Useful: a thumb-nail graphic for each film, so it’s easy to run through the three-column layout. Each potted review has a few links to other reviews.

August 20, 2012 Posted by | film, film list | Leave a comment