Mr. Turner – Impressive, but not quite worth it

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Mr. Turner (UK/2014)

UK Release by Focus Features – 31st October 2014

Directed by Mike Leigh

Brief Synopsis: A portrait of J.M.W Turner’s life that chronicles various exploits and artistic endeavours. 

Scene by scene Mr. Turner is exquisite in portrait and admirable in context. However, this does not make it compelling, rather the steady pacing and acts are underwhelming in their progression and execution. The drama is not as thirsty as one feels it should be; the cog driving the machine seems to be missing. To be even more disparaging, it could come under the category of a bit messy and predictable. Whilst many elements of the filmmaking process (design, costume etc.) are flawless and no doubt award winning, the character of Mr. Turner does not express the emotional range, which I’d hoped for from an artist, to carry this great spectacle. The performance by Timothy Spall is clearly engrossing of certain behaviours but only adequate in whole.

This is not a critique of Turner’s works of art, which are glorious and formidable, it is a critique of the non-apparent flexibility and miscellany of occurrence that should be prevalent in a mans life. It is not an easy film to pull apart, for it is most likely very accurate indeed and Mike Leigh, of course, has the masters’ touch. Yet, at two and a half hours long, the virtuosity and steady pacing run to the end of the line. I struggle to find another way to express my dissatisfaction, it is perhaps just one of those films you expect to be wholly great, but turns out just to be good.

Timothy Spall as Mr. Turner is grumpy, methodical and plain rude. This is not surprising of an artist, who must have their ups and downs, yet it ends here; there is no further insight into the man, he doesn’t let us in and perhaps that is more powerful for this picture. But, what about the touching spirit that brings out those raw brush strokes? Where is the life of this man who finds such inspiration? This critique may be more suited to Turner himself than Leigh’s film; I obviously cannot know this fact. What I do know, is that film is fortunate enough to be accepted and advantageously allowed to explicitly dramatise into fiction, and therefore I want to see an altogether noteworthy and enthusing character up there on the screen.

Turner’s fellow artists (Haydon, Constable, Eastlake, Soane et al.) bring together the most prosperous and exciting scenes with great wit and thought on display. Mark Stanley as Clarkson Stanfield is particularly amusing in his perceptive mode of sheer aristocratic persuasion. The vibrant lifestyle of the artists is eminent, yet once we are back with Turner it is only desolate, solemn and sexually frustrated. The housemaid is the primary asset of Turner’s desires; she is submissive and disarmingly played by Sandy Foster. The rest of the supporting cast rightly deserves a nod and Lesley Manville is noticeably in full swing to continue her extensive work with Leigh.

The cinematography by Dick Pope can be breathtaking and masterful; in particular the shots of Turner walking the hills at dawn with his little sketchbook. If only there were more of these intimate sequences with nature, which so dearly express where Turner’s vision lies and which showcase the beauty of the United Kingdom. Admittedly, they must have been very time-consuming shots, the weather being as unpredictable as it often is in the UK! The framing and composition is indeed flawless, but it is not always as powerful as one should hope. There just isn’t the reticence of cinematic language I feel could have been reached. It is another impressive work by Leigh, but I am sure he could have sharpened his brushwork.

3/5 stars

The Limelight Index: Patrick Chapman – Artist/Director

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I recently caught up with Patrick Chapman, an artist turned filmmaker from Los Angeles. Patrick has recently completed his first feature film PHIN and is now working on his second feature ToY. We chatted about his inspirations and how he goes about the filmmaking process. Here is the interview:

Hi Patrick, when did you first get passionate about film?

I was in college doing an art major and found that I wasn’t learning much, so I was spending a lot money paying for something that didn’t seem worthwhile. I started watching a lot of movies with my friends, and the college had a pretty good film department, so things fell into place and I gradually switched over to that. I got really lucky, because I’d be painting houses right now if I got an art major, instead I get to make beautiful films.

Your background is in painting; does this influence your filmmaking?

Definitely. I like to make a lot of films about artists, similar to David Lynch’s stuff. It definitely helps with the cinematography and processes of that nature. You can both be a writer and be a good storyteller, or you can be a cinematographer and have a really interesting vision.

So you’d describe your style as prominently visual?

Yeah, I’m definitely an artist. But, of course, I do depend on other writers to help me build my story.

Am I right in saying, your new project is co-written?

Yeah. My twin brother helped me on my first one and now I’ve got Andrew Hanson helping me on my latest. I also have a bunch of other people who look it over. You always give out your scripts because it’s the best way to have a lot of feedback, especially in film. If your doing art, that’s one thing, but when you’re doing film or television you need a lot of feedback.

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Could you tell us a bit more about your latest project?

Yeah, my latest project is called ToY and it’s about an individual artist who’s just doing regular artwork and its not getting her anywhere. She searches for new models and comes across an online escort service, which interests her and she goes into interviewing escorts. She meets an escort in particular, an ageing 45 year old at the end of her career. The artist wants to make an art installation around this character, but ends up falling in love with the woman. It’s very Leaving Las Vegas; it’s two twisted souls learning about each other’s life, one gets ruined, and the other doesn’t.

Does your storytelling come from a personal background?

Yeah, I definitely twist that into my characters. For this next one, I don’t exactly have the experience of lesbian love in my background. But, thanks to people on the creative team, I have been put in the shoes of two women in love, which has been quite interesting. ToY’s COLLEGE and PRO have a unique mix of softness, tumultuousness and passion to their relationship, a raw vulnerable kind of love. Their love is fascinating and fresh to me.

Which filmmakers do you look up to?

I would say mostly David Lynch, his stuff is always great. The Coen Brothers are also great, but Stanley Kubrick is probably my favourite. He was a photographer at first, so he has a similar path to me, coming from the art angle. I find his work very visually stimulating and interesting, A Clockwork Orange and Full Metal Jacket are two good examples.

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Do you still have time for your painting?

Filming takes up most of my time, but I’ve been doing personal stuff for the past 3 or 4 years and editing for CBS. Painting comes on in-between each project. Everyone should have a good hobby, whether it be photography, painting, poetry, it’s nice to have something to look forward coming home too.

What’s your favourite thing about being a filmmaker?

I’d say shooting and directing. You work really hard to write the script, raise the money, casting, then actually being on set, when the lightings struck and calling action, this is the best part. It’s seeing the project come alive. Casting is actually fun though, you’ve written the script and now you get to see a load of different actors interpret it their own way. Directors should sit through as many castings as possible. You can write a character and say this is exactly what I want to say, but you’ll always get someone who goes 180.

Have you ever had an actor influence you that you go back and change the script?

Definitely. When we wrote PHIN he was meant to be this very melodramatic character, very serious, but then Eric Frentzel who actually came in and got the part, was all over the place. He had different accents for each character, so we ended up going with his idea. You should change stuff after you see actors do it; you want them to naturally be able to change the lines how they see fit.

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Any advice to filmmakers starting out?

I would say, technically, know as much stuff as you can. When it comes down to doing filmmaking on your own, being an editor, or a cinematographer, always helps. Your going to have to do a bit of everything at some point, it will also save you money. Home your skills into one area to start with. It’s always hard to come straight out of college being a director, but if you’re a really good editor or writer, and really focused in, you can actually make money coming out of college. No ones going to be like “Hey, I’m Speilberg”, no one can be like this right after college.

Do you find if you know more about different areas then you can pass on your vision more clearly?

Definitely, but you don’t have to read up on the latest technology, for example the new chip that’s in the red camera. But, knowing your lenses, and your lighting kits is great. So, when I talk to my DP we know what we’re talking about, he is also an editor so he can make good judgments on where to cut etc. You should always have a general feel for everything, but do find one thing to focus on through college and try and get paid at doing it.

Thanks Patrick, it’s been great talking to you.

There’s some really interesting stuff said by Patrick in this interview. I particularly like how he approaches filmmaking from a very visual aesthetic and therefore uses his background to an advantage. Finding a hobby that ties into what you do as a profession is surely an ideal phenomena for all of us. I specifically find photography a great hobby to practice, and as Patrick mentioned, greats like Kubrick have evolved from this background. Anyway, you can find Patrick’s intriguing new film project on the web at all of the following links:

Like ToY on Facebook: www.facebook.com/ToytheMovie
Check out ToY on Kickstarter: www.kickstarter.com/projects/166612916/toy
Follow ToY on Twitter: https://twitter.com/toythemovie
Visit the website: www.toythemovie.com

Thanks for taking part.

The Limelight Index: Victoria Mather – Multimedia Artist

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I was delighted to get in touch with Victoria Mathers, a very talented multimedia artist (illustrator, animator, graphics designer, filmmaker) who’s debut short film animation has gained over 82 thousand views on Vimeo alone and been a big hit at film festivals worldwide. Here, she tells us a bit more about this success and how she got started out in the creative industries.

Can you tell us a bit more about what you do as an art director and illustrator?

I have art directed Children’s TV series and Illustrated various things mainly in development so I can’t really talk about them – how boring I know!

What influenced you to take this career path, any noteworthy directors, designers?

When I was 17, I got my first job on a feature film working for Art Director Brian Savegar (Dinosaurs, A Room with a View) at Ealing Studios. He taught me a lot and the experience definitely sparked my interest in the industry early on. The crew encouraged me to go to university, so I took their advice.

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You come from a background in art and design; did this lend itself to your interest in film?

Yes absolutely, I always did painting, photography and illustration. I also loved short stories and did a bit of animation. To be honest, I was interested in most forms of creative expression and craft. Naturally animation made a lot of sense to me since it combines all of these things.

Your short film, Stanley Pickle, has achieved 33 notable awards to date. Were you expecting the film to be this incredibly successful?

At the time it was a relief to complete everything and I was more concerned with actually getting it selected for festivals, since the technique I had decided to use falls between live action and animation. I therefore thought we might run in to issues trying to clarify it. When we won our first prize after premiering at Edinburgh International Film Festival the ball started rolling and it didn’t stop; now the film is available in up to 7000 schools in the UK and abroad via the British Council. After our epic festival run it really is the best result ever.

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How did the project and this extraordinary idea come about?

The idea came up a year before film school and was a loosely developed story intended as a 3-minute stop motion puppet film. After a year at film school I realized that this project, with the right crew, could be something much bigger and more interesting. From here, I was luckily in the right place at the right time.

The technique was something I had experimented with prior to making Stanley Pickle. It made perfect sense to use pixilation since it lends itself to that clockwork feel perfectly.

Can you explain a bit about the process you had to go through in achieving this spectacular stop-motion animation?

My brief to the actors was – ‘think of this like a very long and slightly painful Yoga session.’ The actors, who were all very well trained, held each position a frame at a time with direction from me. Occasionally, with the parent characters, we had an assistant run in to the shot and move the clockwork keys a frame at a time.

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How many animators were involved? 

Me for the most part, but I hired my friend, Andy Biddle, who was working on Fantastic Mr. Fox to do the bird flying animation. A couple of other friends did some standby running in and out of shots to move objects. There was a lot going on, so we needed quite a few members of crew running around.

Do you have any more of your own projects in the firing line, a feature film perhaps?

We have written a feature version of Stanley Pickle, but that still needs a lot of work. I’ve made a few commercials and another very quick turnaround short live action film that was a new insightful experience. At the moment I intend to just keep on keeping on!

Any advice you’d want to give to upcoming filmmakers, designers (all artists alike) on the current state of this creative industry? Any tips?

Make sure you can afford it. It’s not the most economical profession and you really do have to love it to live it. The opportunity to tell a story (which I believe we all have in us) is an excellent one, and the more people who express themselves in this way, the more we can all learn from each other.

Thank you.

Visit Victoria’s website for her portfolio and more about what she does.

Watch Stanley Pickle below:

Short of the Week: A Brief History of John Baldessari

My short film of the week: A Brief History of John Baldessari

This short documentary stands out from the crowd. It is a witty and a suitable companion to Baldessari’s life – the playful artist and six foot seven friendly giant.

The documentary profiles Baldessari’s life and career in five and half rapid minutes. Tom Waits narrates in a non-linear style, sharply in conjuction with Baldessari’s blithe dialogue. It creates a provocative mix and occasionally lends itself to surrealism – not to mention Baldessari’s artwork!

There is a profane connection with the audience, as Baldessari is made to seem like a normal guy – he has a messy desk, a chair and a coffee machine. These everyday objects are symbolic of Baldessari’s artistic obsessions with the ordinary. His art flairs from his daily life.

This clever little profile of an extraordinary man is certainly extraordinary and, most of all, a pleasure to watch.