Monday, October 8, 2012

The Ultimate Recursive Movie

The Cinerama film festival did not actually close October 4th with How the West Was Won: the festival folks had special unannounced treat for the widescreen cinema fans in attendance that night.

In The Picture (2012) is a brand-new 30-min film shot in actual 3-strip Cinerama, the first since 1962. David Strohmaier, a film editor with an abiding love of old film formats and one of the organizers of the Cinerama film festival, got hold of a Cinerama camera, had it rebuilt, got Fuji to donate some filmstock, and set out to to make a travelogue.

The results were delightful and quite spectacular. In the Picture closely follows the structure of Cinerama Holiday (1955), which was framed around two couples traveling around and seeing wonders in the US and Europe. But since In The Picture was made on the cheap, it used inexpensively accessed locations around Los Angeles-- Griffith Park Observatory, Angel's Flight, Mullholland Drive, etc.

Shooting In The Picture. Note the three film magazines.
This rig weighs over 200 pounds and required three
car batteries to drive all three mags.
The film features two stars from How The West Was Won: Stanley Livingston (Chip Douglas from "My Three Sons") and a cameo by Debbie Reynolds. It even emulated the stilted dialog style of Cinerama Holiday-- though that might have more to do with working with a vintage Cinerama camera. It was usually placed about two feet from the actors for medium shots and, not being blimped, made an unholy racket.

Recursion is when an element repeats into itself, a potentially endless loop.The recursive thing I was referring to was the ending of In The Picture, and it was uncanny-- and a little spooky, as it occurred on several levels, each more directly recursive than the next:

TOP LEVEL RECURSION - At the end of Cinerama Holiday the two couples go to the Warner Theater in New York, buy tickets to Cinerama Holiday, and see themselves on the big wide screen. In The Picture, faithful to the source, ends the same way, with the four actors buying tickets in the Arclight lobby, going to the Dome and seeing themselves. So far this is a familiar movie trick: I seem to remember Buster Keaton doing it. However:

DEEPER RECURSION - In The Picture was shot just a few months ago. It is very, very strange to see the exact same place Daniel and I were sitting in displayed up on the big screen, especially in outlandishly huge 3-strip Cinerama. The same ushers and ticket-takers we saw in the lobby were extras in this sequence, and the four actors sat down in the same section we were seated in. Not a little unsettling.

A still I took of In The Picture as it was being screened at
the Cinerama Dome. By coincidence, when the actors
see themselves on screen, this is the scene they see.

EVEN DEEPER RECURSION - During this screening, In The Picture's four principal actors were in attendance-- seated all around us, in fact. The movie had already invaded our intrinsic reality: with the actors there it was literally sharing our air. (This is my reaction, of course: I understand that if you live in LA this sort of thing happens all the time.)

DEEPEST RECURSION - The 30-minute short was followed by the screening of 15-minute video documentary called "The Last Days of Cinerama," which was about… The making of In The Picture. Daniel and I fully expected this doc be followed by a 7-minute short about the making of "The Last Days of Cinerama"-- but it was getting late, Dan had to work the next day, so we didn't stick around to find out.

1 comment:

  1. I'll add that we had intended to skip the "making of" documentary but we stopped to compliment the director on our way out and he guilted us into staying. I'm glad he did. Maybe I lost a little sleep but movies ARE dreams.