Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Cats of Mirikitani

I always wondered one thing: What does it take to make a truly powerful, touching and meaningful biographical documentary? After watching “The Cats of Mirikitani”, I think I have got some answers:

First, the filmmaker him/herself might not know what he/she is getting into at first. It always just start with curiosity, and an urge to dig deeper. Everyone has some curiosity within them but not everyone is willing to take a step further. I have noticed that, since I came to the US four years ago, I always get assignments called “Self-portrait”, in all kinds of class i took: Drawing, Sculpture, Film, Animation, Poetry, English, even music composition class. But I was not used to being so self-absorbed and as I grew up in China, I often got assignments called “My Mother”, “My teacher”, or “My classmate” for composition class. I also observed and wrote about people whom I didn’t know, like a street musician who plays flute carrying his one-year-old son, the mailman who still sent newspapers riding his bicycle in the storm, or a distant cousin of my who just paid a visit to my house. Everyone around me is fascinating, no matter what he/she does. Just like Jimmy; he is just one of those street artists in Soho, but if Linda had not discovered him, an excellent documentary would have existed. However, if Linda had picked someone else, I believe there would be an equally meaningful documentary.

Secondly, Linda is a very good listener and truly bonds with Jimmy. I disbelieve that the filmmaker could be ever be invisible in a documentary, even if it’s in the style of

“cinema verite”. If the filmmaker doesn’t make his/her presence important to his/her subject, the film would be not real and personal, therefore the subject might seem really detached from the camera/filmmaker, and audience as well. Linda’s initial curiosity of Jimmy evolved into taking him in her apartment and living with him; this level of commitment needs more than simple incentives of good materials for a documentary film. She truly cared about him, and he cared about her as well. (It cracked me up when he was worried about her going out at night as a single woman)

At this point, maybe the “documentary: almost turned into “home movie”.

Thirdly, I always thought that it’s easier to report/document something already exist, than to create/shoot/direct everything from a storyline/script. Now I think they take different efforts.

Mitch McCabe’s “Playing the part”, from my point of view, is a staged film shot in the style of documentary. It may be based on true stories, but it, in a sense, detached itself from the audience, when it seemed obvious that it was staged. I was taken out of it and kind of bothered when I slowly realize it might not be a real documentary, though the was really interesting.

Some notes from the reading:

1.Cinematographic qualities involve three factors: 1)the photographic aspect of the shot 2)the framing of the shot 3)the duration of the shot

2.A very fast film stock means more sensitive to differences in color, texture, shape etc, produces a more contrasty look.

3 by manipulating the film stock lighting factors and developing prodedures, filmmakers can achieve enormous variety in the look of the film image.

4.The range of tonalities in the image is most crucially affected by the exposure of the image during filming. The filmmaker usually controls exposure by regulating how much light pass through the camera lens.

5.The speed of the motion we see on the screen depends on the relation between the rate at which the film was shot and the rate of projection.

6.Control of perspective is based on the focal length of the lens: wide-angle, normal, and telephoto etc.

7. Composite filming can also be accomplished by matte work.

8. every shot has some measurable screen duration, but in the history of cinema, directors have varied considerably in their choice of short or lengthy shots.

9.very often, frame mobility breaks the longtake shot into significant smaller units .

10.focal length not only affect the shape and scale, but also affects the lens’ depth of field.

11. A lens with a depth of field of ten feet to infinity

12.If the movement is to look accurate on the screen, the rate of shooting should correspond to the rate of projection.

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