Month: August 2017

Classic Bit Review: The General (1926)

Six years after The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, came The General. Whilst we are still in the era of silent cinema as the talkies were just a few years away, we have a change in film. Many American film companies had move to Hollywood due to various weather types that meant filming on location was no longer a huge concern, cheap real estate as the location was mainly for growing oranges and there wasn’t a union for labour workers until the 1930s.


The General, co-written by the star of the film Buster Keaton, in comparison to The Cabinet of Dr Caligari is seen as more of a film with techniques used as it moves away from the mise-en scene been staged like a play. The camera is a technique of storytelling in The General opposed to just being a device used to record a story. The scene in which Keaton’s character is rejected by his love and sits on the train wheel which moves him like a rag doll is evidence of Keaton’s character techniques as the juxtaposition of the huge machine and this tiny body is comedy genius. The General features close ups, a note-worthy example is the scene in which Keaton’s character is under the table whilst trying to rescue his love, we first see a long shot of the table surrounded by the soldiers with the audience seeing Keaton’s feet, then cuts to a close up of Keaton’s face. The General also uses editing techniques, such as a match-on-action cut from a close up of Keaton’s face looking at a hole, to a point of view shot of the hole to see what he is looking at.


Could it be Keaton himself that had led critics to the emphasis on his talent? Whilst the techniques he uses in contrast to German films such as Faust (directed by F.W Murnau) are clearly more relatable to the majority modern films of today. The Scarlett Letter (directed by Victor Sjöström) was also released in 1926 and uses similar techniques to The General, suggesting that the praise of the film isn’t due simply to the techniques used but Keaton himself. The entire package of Keaton is mastery itself. The ongoing debate of who is better, Chaplin or Keaton, has been ongoing for decades and whilst Chaplin had the initial popularity and trademark character; Keaton also rivalled with his famous ‘Great Stone Face’. Both these performers were also directors and whilst the debate of the two is interesting, Chaplin and Keaton were both huge influences on film. Chaplin may have had the lead up until the revivals of Keaton’s films, upon the discovery; Keaton was given the praise he initially deserved. It’s clear that his techniques were great and helped set the standard for Hollywood, but Keaton’s persona of his characters and his imagery for his movies helps in defining him as a master of cinema.




Bit Review: Atomic Blonde (2017)

Atomic Blonde (2017) directed by David Leitch, one of the uncredited directors of John Wick (2014), stars Charlize Theron and James McAvoy. Based on the graphic novel The Coldest City by author Antony Johnston and artist Sam Hart. This is the first solo venture for Leitch, and follows Theron as an undercover MI6 agent who is sent to Berlin during the Cold War to recover a list that features a double agent. The main agent that the MI6, and CIA, want to know the identity of the double agent named Satchel and assassinate them.


Atomic Blonde is sexy, cool and fun. It’s stylish and an excellent debut for Leitch. The story isn’t too hard to follow but it is a bit too complicated. The film is a great spy film, the action is slow at a few moments but the choreography fits the mood of the film. The character of Lorraine Broughton is badass, and hopefully will be put on the same pedestal as Uma Thurman in Kill Bill (2003), and Gina Carano in Haywire (2011). I know I’d love to dress up as her for Halloween. The camera work helps to show how badass Theron is during the action scenes. As David Edelstein from Vulture, says “It’s an audience member and a participant”, as it observes the drama but gets involved during intense fight scenes. What makes Lorraine Broughton such a brilliant character is that she isn’t sexualized, and the cinematography doesn’t focus on her in a creep voyeuristic way but shows her if she was Keanu Reeves in John Wick. Broughton’s sexuality is never mocked, and she is never treated less because she was a woman, showing that gender doesn’t mean a thing if you’re tough like Theron.


The cast are amazing. Sofia Boutella, Charlize Theron and James McAvoy are outstanding. Sofia Boutella is definite one of my favourites, I loved her in Star Trek: Beyond (2016), Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015) and she was one of the only good things about The Mummy (2017). She is both beautiful and incredibly talented, and I cannot wait to see what she does in the future. I couldn’t talk about Atomic Blonde without discussing the soundtrack, which fits the film perfectly. From the sombre rendition of 99 Luftballoons to Under Pressure post fight sequences. The soundtrack uses a combination of 1980s songs and covers to add a contemporized feeling of the eighties.


Reasons to watch this film; the stylish cinematography, the soundtrack and the cool characters. To see Berlin during the Cold War is an amazing reason alone to watch this film. Don’t expect an enigmatic story, but expect a stylish and cool film that’ll stick in your head for days.

Bit Composer Analysis: Joe Hisaishi

Joe Hisaishi, whose birth name is Mamoru Fujisawa, is a Japanese film composer who is acclaimed worldwide for his scores. He was a frequent collaborator with Hayao Miyazaki and Takeshi Kitano, in which he is most popularly known for. Hisaishi has a deep appreciation for music, and like many composers he is influenced by classical music and French romanticism. A key composer which seems to influence Hisaishi is French composer Claude Debussy. Hisaishi’s style and arrangement is similar to Debussy, as Debussy’s Clair De Lune features similar melodies to Miyazaki’s Spirited Away main theme regarding arrangement and tone. Hisaishi takes his position as a film composer as absolute. Hisaishi believes that music isn’t something to fill the silence in film, and in turn it is an element on its own which drives the story and can manipulate an audience’s response. In this essay, I will look at Hisaishi as a composer and see if he has any distinct trademarks in his style specifically by looking at his work for Kitano and Miyazaki.


One director whose primary genre is crime and the other who focuses on fantasy worlds, Kitano and Miyazaki couldn’t be more different in their genres and types of filmmaking. However, they have one big thing in common, their use of composer Hisaishi. Both were frequent collaborators with Hisaishi, until Miyazaki retired and Kitano parted ways with him. Despite the two different directors, Hisaishi has a sort of signature that he uses in his music. His arrangement of melody repetition is something that is replicated in a variety of his scores. Most often in the scores themselves, the melody is repeated in the song. An example would be his track “Summer” from Kitano’s Kikijuro, the track begins with a violin leading in the music with a four-note piece that has an adagio tempo. Then, the violin is followed by a seven-note melody played on the piano that is the melody for the track. The piano piece is played in minor to give a bittersweet and melancholy emotion which follows the emotive space onscreen. The song begins with the title credits, an animated sequence which at first follows the violins pace on an eye zooming in the see the vision in the eye. The piano plays as we see guardian angels over one child in bed, then cutting to an angel figure stood over a bed of flowers. The title of the film appears, followed by stereotypically oriental sounds and the melody played earlier on piano is now played on a synthesiser to change the sound of the melody. The oriental sounds are distinct as the bells and woodwind instruments convey an East-Asian sound, and this is something Hisaishi does quite often and it helps him stand out from other composers and is part of his signature. The seven-note melody from earlier on is now repeated but now it sounds almost different with the other assortments but instead of giving a sad emotion, it gives us context into the world we are about to be brought into.


As we see the young boy running onscreen in slow motion, the piano tune returns still in minor to convey a bittersweet emotion. He is alone and the angels on his back suggest he is the boy in the opening credit cartoon, but it’s the music that manipulates the audience to feel sympathetic for the boy as the notes are arranged so that they sound sorrowful. The violin continues steadily until the music picks up as we hear another seven-note melody on the piano followed by the violin which becomes allegro and matches the piano melody. The music begins to crescendo and suggests a prominent danger which is matched onscreen as the boys are running away from suspected bullies. An added cello to the sound makes the danger seem even more closer as the deep notes suggest something is lurking behind them. The piano melody turns into a five-note melody making it more faster in sound and highlighting the urgency even more as they run. As the music hits its heaviest moment, the music slows down and returns to the simple original seven-note melody and violin in the background with a harp as well. The notes sound isolated and far apart, they reflect the two main characters in the film and their emotions. This piece overall reflects the characters and their feeling of isolation and alienation due to their situations, Kikijuro (Beat Takeshi) acts with anger and Masao (Yusuke Sekiguchi) feels sad. The track “Summer” is one of Hisaishi’s most notable songs as it features many of his signatures, such as his melodies and style, and the way he manipulates the audience by using music to show the emotion of the characters in the films he scores. Many composers, such as Hans Zimmer, repeat melodies but it’s the distinct signature of Hisaishi using those seven-notes on the piano and violin that show us it’s his piece.


Hisaishi also uses the same melodies, or highly similar, in other tracks and not just in the same songs. The chord progressions are often almost the same, apart from one or two chords. The song entitled “The Girl Who Fell from the Sky” from Laputa: Castle in the Sky starts off with a few chords played in an adagio speed and are articulated very legato. Almost identical is the “One Summer’s Day” track from Spirited Away, which starts off with the similar chord progression except this track has two less chords at the end of the melody, as the song from Laputa has two extra chords at the end of the opening melody. The arrangement of the chords that open the track are almost similar and this repetition is something that Hisaishi uses often but with a great strategic skill that makes the track into something completely different. The chord progression often descends and then uses a melody to complete the track. The same formula is seen for many his tracks, such as “Ashitaka and San” from Princess Mononoke and “Summer” from Kikijuro. Despite the similar traits and formula, his compositions are each unique and are effective in what they try to convey. Hisaishi’s compositions can stand alone and are visual in song, as the notes themselves provide an image alone. The visual accompaniments of the films provide a literal meaning but the music itself conveys its own meaning, “Ashitaka and San” is a piece on its own which is beautiful and moving. The track conveys both romance, adventure and a sense of conflict without the visual imagery showing that Hisaishi’s work adds to the films rather than simply providing a backing track or to fill the silence.


Another prominent similarity between many of Hisaishi’s pieces is his use of instruments, primarily strings and piano. Many of his traditional scores often begin with a piano melody, then are accompanied by a violin. In such compositions, “A Miraculous Recovery” from As The Sun Also Rises (directed by Jiang Wen), “Princess Mononoke” from the film of the same title (Miyazaki) and “Meet Again” from Kids Return (directed by Kitano) to name a few. To look in close detail, Spirited Away is an excellent example. The track “One Summers Day” begins with slow keys on the piano which are echoed, then a synthesizer is heard in the background with a steady note filling the silence. In a nutshell, the track begins slow and simple but soon it is then followed by the melody played on the piano and stringed instruments to add more to the song. The violin plays as an underlying part of the track, a background noise for the melody to play on top. These instruments are often played in together, as Hisaishi often goes for the distinct sound of the two together to successfully manipulate the audience’s emotion.


Hisaishi often uses the synthesiser too, and manipulates the sound to fit the film. Two of many examples are A Scene at the Sea’s “Silent Love” theme and My Neighbour Totoro’s “The Huge Tree in the Tsukamori Forest” both use the synthesiser in different ways. In My Neighbour Totoro, he uses the synthesiser to convey a mystical edge to give a magical feeling to the score as it follows two girls who find supernatural creatures hidden in the forest. The track “Silent Love” uses higher chords mixed with low ones to create a romantic feeling, the beat sounds sensual and emphasises a romantic theme. The guitar and the vocals hidden in the background, mixed with a drum beat adds drama to the sound. The story itself follows a deaf man who learns to surf for the girl that he loves, and the theme perfectly captures that alone. The synthesiser is an excellent tool that Hisaishi frequently uses to convey emotion in the films he scores, and the use of it is one of his signatures that highlight it’s his work.


Hisaishi has been known for his signature, and sometimes this can hinder his work. Kitano commented that “Mister Hisaishi as a composer is not very flexible, so I decided to use someone else”, after the two parted ways after Dolls and Kitano found another composer for his next feature Zatōichi. However, I disagree with Kitano’s comments as Hisaishi seems to adapt to whatever film he is assigned too. The way that he can jump from a magical score for Studio Ghibli to a yakuza gangster film. For Kitano’s Brother, Hisaishi used a saxophone amongst many other jazz instruments to convey an American sound and the loneliness by using a saxophone with a violin and a clarinet. Of course, the piano chords mixed with the violin give it the Hisaishi signature. In the title track in Brother, Hisaishi uses drums and saxophones to emphasise the American sound and in Kiki’s Delivery Service many of the melodies are played by accordions to give a European feel. Hisaishi’s music has a distinct signature at times, such of the use of chords and instruments, but none of his pieces of work are ever the same. Hisaishi plays with techniques for certain sounds, an example would be like pizzicato and staccato strings in major key to create effects like tiptoeing in films like My Neighbour Totoro, he uses the same instruments most of the time but orchestrates them differently. Hisaishi plays concerts by himself and can fill stadiums with just his music that he orchestrates. He is one of Japan’s most distinguished and respected composers who has worked with many great film directors from Kitano, Miyazaki to Yoji Yamada, a vast difference in styles but are connected by Hisaishi and his creative scores.



Bit TV Review: Misfits (2009 – 2013)

I had heard many people comment on Misfits, and especially how good it is. I had never seen it prior as it never seemed interesting to me. I decided to give it a go and watch the first ever episode on Demand 4, and ended up binging the first series. The show began with a group of young offenders doing community service, and I thought that it would be a show in which these young offenders realise their mistakes and become a part of society, and everyone lives happily ever after. However, the show was nothing like I expected. Basically, through a mysterious event our characters find themselves with superhuman powers, although they are not the only ones.

The show features around five young offenders: Nathan, Simon, Kelly, Curtis and Aisha. Each of these characters have different backgrounds and fit into different cliques but they don’t all come together because they work out their differences and become best friends. They witness something and cover it ultimately forming a secret pact. The first series is about how they cover up the incident and keeping it a secret. Whilst the plot sounds serious, the show itself is funny and full of emotional and heartfelt moments. I didn’t even plan on watching the first episode but ended up getting hooked and binge watching the first season.

The cast are excellent, all show both comedic and dramatic qualities. It is shot to an incredible standard, the editing and the music are both brilliant as well. It’s a show that is hard to explain why, but it is addictive. I binged the entire boxset, and found myself asking ‘Why is it being rebooted?’. The original is brilliant and doesn’t need a needless reboot, so watch the original whilst you can.