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What Distinguishes a Competent, Good-Looking Film From a Poorly Made Film?

Jazzalo​ha

almost 2 years ago

Cinephiles often talk about how good a film looks and how well it was made. For some filmmakers, the quality of the visuals and filmmaking are really obvious. I’m thinking of filmmakers like Kubrick, Malick or Tarkovsky, for example. But with other filmmakers and films, noticing and appreciating the quality can be more difficult. I guess you could say I’m thinking of filmmakers and films that ascribe to the “invisible” approach to filmmaking—there isn’t obvious styles or great images. (e.g., grand panoramic images). Sidney Lumet might be an example of such a filmmaker, while The Social Network or Zodiac might be examples films.

For a long time, I don’t think I really could distinguish and appreciate the competent (but unspectacular) filmmaking—and I’m still not great at this. In this thread, I’d like to articulate the differences between the kind of competent filmmaking I’m referring to and not-so-competent or mediocre filmmaking. I think this would be a good thing to understand, and as cinephiles I think we should be able to articulate the differences (especially those who aspire to be critics).

Matt Parks

almost 2 years ago

Is this a trick question?

Jerry Johnson

almost 2 years ago

while The Social Network or Zodiac might be examples films.

??? Whatever you think of him (and I’m not a big fan), Fincher has an unrepentantly and singular visual style.

I agree with Lumet and would add Cukor, Mankiewicz, and Wilder to the exemplary “invisibles” group.

Drunken Father Figure of Old

almost 2 years ago

Yeah I’m not really sure what you’re asking. Cause it kind of sounds like “which visual styles appeal to you?” Cause I feel like most poorly-made films ascribe to the invisible approach… or maybe I just have the same problem as you do!

El hombre huevo

almost 2 years ago

Competence in form directly relates to competence in staging and material.

Hence why directors usually get credit for success and failure of film among cinephiles because they generally have large amounts of control over all of these elements.

In other words…
There’s a reason Visconti could never have taken a script handed to Lubitsch and made anything decent out of it, and vice-versa.

Jazzalo​ha

almost 2 years ago

@Matt

Is this a trick question?

I’m guessing you’re saying this because a good-looking film should be obvious (i.e., it looks good, duh). But some well-made, good-looking films aren’t that obvious, imo. For example, this weekend I saw some trailers to several films—Quentin Tarantino’s new one and Ben Stiller film. The Tarantino film (or trailer) looked a lot better, more interesting than the Stiller film. The Stiller film wasn’t obviously terrible (and it may not have been—but the filmmaking seemed to be a lower in quality than the Tarantino film. But I may not have been able to pick up the differences several years ago. Then again, I might have, but that’s not a good example. How about something like the film, Stealth versus Top Gun? (Actually, I can barely remember the filmmaking of Stealth, but I don’t recall it being exceptional.) The differences may not be obvious to some people, and those who see differences may not be able to articulate those differences, not very easily anyway. Do you see what I’m saying?

@Jerry

??? Whatever you think of him (and I’m not a big fan), Fincher has an unrepentantly and singular visual style.

Even in those films? Well, this only goes to show that I’m not very perceptive about these matters. (I’m not being coy, here.) I think he does some interesting things, but I’m not really noticing a distinctive style.

@DFFOO

Yeah I’m not really sure what you’re asking. Cause it kind of sounds like “which visual styles appeal to you?” Cause I feel like most poorly-made films ascribe to the invisible approach… or maybe I just have the same problem as you do!

That could be. I think Lumet is solid, but I don’t think his style is noticeable. Curtiz’s direction in Casablanca is solid, if not very good, but nothing obviously brilliant, imo. What’s the difference between these films and (I have a hard time thinking of an example)…a film that is less competently made.

Hellsho​cked

almost 2 years ago

films that ascribe to the “invisible” approach to filmmaking—there isn’t obvious styles or great images

Couldn’t agree less about The Social Network. Whatever you may think of its quality (or of Fincher himself for that matter) it was one of the most carefully framed movies of its year. I’m not a big Fincher fan but as usual he manages to cram an amazing ammount of information into each of his shots.

El hombre huevo

almost 2 years ago

On Tarantino and Fincher…

“The will to create something of substance and importance makes way for a more superficial sensibility that aims at no more than a lavish display of decoration.”
~Hofflin

Matt Parks

almost 2 years ago

Lumet’s invisibility is overestimated—if you look at The Fugitive Kind, The Pawnbroker, and The Hill, for example, they’re anything but.


attack of the giant telephone ^ from Fail-Safe


^Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead

El hombre huevo

almost 2 years ago

On Lumet (and shameless self-promotion)…

tomas.roges

almost 2 years ago

Some films are very sexy. Some aren’t. Some are often handsome or just cute. I guess it’s just what’s visually appealing to a person. If you see a good looking film walking down the street, do you turn and stare or do you wait until your girlfriend isn’t looking?

Polaris​DiB

almost 2 years ago

Again, the really poorly shot films either don’t make it to screen for anyone to see, or are a function of a camp/cult aesthetic that also features poor performances, poor scripting, poor ideas…. usually. Or, one has to watch hundreds of incredibly poorly made student films, including producing their own and seeing how shit they look, to start learning how to do it right. There is no 1:1 ratio on this and yes, different styles and techniques and methods of presentation etc. and so on, but a poorly made film is pretty distinguishable from a good looking one, or even a competent one.

This is not a measurement of production value. A competent director can make a no budget movie look good if they have a good compositional sense and know how to get performances from actors, and will start to learn how to shoot coverage and lead-in material to make the editing flow smoothly, etc. An experimental filmmaker will start making small pieces that more showcase their lack of knowledge of the equipment they are using than their ability to push its limits before starting to understand how to really stretch effects and ideas and techniques.

The thing is, for all we criticize along a spectrum of 1 to 10 (or something similar), 1 being incompetent and 10 being perfect, everything that exists and is finished and rated on websites is the top 10% of what has been produced: the rest you’ve never seen because it’s unwatchable.

A director either needs to have been an editor, DP, or photographer or SOMETHING in order to understand the compositional elements that an audience will automatically associate (regardless of whether they know they do or not) with competence, or needs to rely on highly competent DPs and editors. Usually if the director is incompetent, there’s no saving the production, but it is the job of every department to make the director look good.

—PolarisDiB

Jazzalo​ha

almost 2 years ago

@Hell

I’m not a big Fincher fan but as usual he manages to cram an amazing ammount of information into each of his shots.

But this isn’t stylistically obvious as Tony Scott’s kinetic camera movements and editing, nor is it obviously gorgeous like Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon, for example—at least it’s not obvious to me. Of course, what is obvious or not is relative to the individual. I can only say that for myself that I didn’t really find the filmmaking in The Social Network very distinctive or exceptional. (This is your cue to show me how the filmmaking is terrific.)

I think we would all agree that cinephiles—especially those who have seen a lot of movies—see and appreciate filmmaking in a way that average moviegoers do not. What is obvious to the former is not obviosu to the latter. The idea of the thread is to ignore the films with filmmaking that would impress even the novice moviegoer and explain good filmmaking that isn’t so obvious.

@Matt

Lumet’s invisibility is overestimated—if you look at The Fugitive Kind, The Pawnbroker, and The Hill, for example, they’re anything but.

Your post is a good example of what I’m talking about. I’m assuming you think that by showing these frames that your point is a clear as day. For me, it is not. They images look nice and some of them look good, but they don’t immediately reveal that Lumet does not employ an invisible style. If this is obvious to everyone else, then I must confess (with embarrassment) that this isn’t obvious for me. But I don’t think I’m the only one—at least I think average moviegoers might react the same way.

Jaspar Lamar Crabb

almost 2 years ago

GOOD EDITING…without it, the film is doomed

Polaris​DiB

almost 2 years ago

^You cannot edit if you don’t have the shots. The larger part of getting past being a n00b director is learning how to shoot coverage and anticipate continuity.

—DiB

Joks

almost 2 years ago

“Fincher has an unrepentantly and singular visual style”

social network looks nothing like the game or seven, so that is clearly false.

“Lumet’s invisibility is overestimated”

the point is that his ‘style’ isn’t noticeable though, not that he doesn’t use visuals in a representative or figurative sense in the occasional moment.

Jazzalo​ha

almost 2 years ago

^Good points by Joks.

@DiB

Again, the really poorly shot films either don’t make it to screen for anyone to see,…The thing is, for all we criticize along a spectrum of 1 to 10 (or something similar), 1 being incompetent and 10 being perfect, everything that exists and is finished and rated on websites is the top 10% of what has been produced: the rest you’ve never seen because it’s unwatchable.

Point taken, and it’s a good one. But, clearly, there are differences in quality between the “10%” that make it to screen, right? Btw, my sense is that silly Hollywood comedies are often not shot as well as dramas. Is this true? And if this is accurate, is this because competent directors get to make dramatic films, while the “rookies” or “unknowns” have to make comedies? ?

Santino

almost 2 years ago

“Again, the really poorly shot films either don’t make it to screen for anyone to see, or are a function of a camp/cult aesthetic that also features poor performances, poor scripting, poor ideas…. usually. "

I agree with Polaris here. Most films that make it to theaters or even to a limited audience is a competently looking film. In regards to what looks good and what looks great, this is all in the eye of the beholder. One person say Zodiac is average but another person says it’s the most visually sophisticated film Fincher has ever done. What I will say is that what tends to be labeled as “great looking” from cinephiles tend to be very different from what filmmakers label “great looking”. Who is right? The people who make the films or the people who study the films? Well, as we talked about in that other thread, they both are.

@Jazz -

“But this isn’t stylistically obvious as Tony Scott’s kinetic camera movements and editing, nor is it obviously gorgeous like Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon, for example—at least it’s not obvious to me.”

I think the key phrase here is “to me”. :)

In a less jackassed way of putting it, think of it this way – the less obvious it is, the better it probably is (especially with a guy like Fincher, who’s already established himself with a distinct style in his earlier work). In other words, we know how obsessive Fincher is about an image. He’s already proven his abilities to “wow” us. So now what? Does he continue to be repetitive and make all his films look like Fight Club? No, he grows up and sets aside trying to impress us with his visual abilities and instead uses those abilities as a function to tell a great story. Of course you disagree that Zodiac and The Social Network are anything special but for my money, they have all the visual distinction of his earlier films but without the juvenile showy-ness.

“I think we would all agree that cinephiles—especially those who have seen a lot of movies—see and appreciate filmmaking in a way that average moviegoers do not.”

Sometimes I wonder about this. In terms of the technical aspects of filmmaking, particularly visual aesthetics, I’m not so sure cinephiles are that far off from average moviegoers (of course they would like to think they are not – hehe).

If you don’t believe me, see this comment from Joks:

“Social network looks nothing like the game or seven, so that is clearly false.”

Joks

almost 2 years ago

“One person say Zodiac is average but another person says it’s the most visually sophisticated film Fincher has ever done. What I will say is that what tends to be labeled as “great looking” from cinephiles tend to be very different from what filmmakers label “great looking”.

My take is that there is something of a clash often between those that appreciate stylists that tell good stories, and formalist type directors. A friend of mine, for example, is a huge snob and rates ‘stylists’ lower than formalists, and the directors he lumps in the ‘stylist’ category are as diverse as Fincher and Scorsese. I also rank them lower, but for somewhat different reasons.

Personally i don’t see the visual distinction in Social Network. There wasn’t a great shot in the film imo and the framing was nothing special at all. I understand it’s meant to be understated, but compared to the more ‘subtle’ framing of other directors which i won’t name now for the purpose of avoiding an argument, it was a piece of piss. a generic looking ‘clean’ and sterile film. It looked like a factory product to me.

Santino

almost 2 years ago

@Joks -

“The point is that his ‘style’ isn’t noticeable though, not that he doesn’t use visual in a representative or figurative sense in the occasional moment.”

You realize this is intentional, right? Have you read his book, Making Movies? So if he’s not trying to have a style, how can you criticize him for not having a style?

I think this all goes back to what you define a good filmmaker as. For cinephiles (and probably a lot of critics), the auteur theory and having that distinct style is paramount to everyting (including making a good movie!). But I think this is misguided and too easy a cheat sheet for evaluating directors.

Joks

almost 2 years ago

“So if he’s not trying to have a style, how can you criticize him for not having a style?”

I wasn’t criticising him.

Santino

almost 2 years ago

“Personally i don’t see the visual distinction in Social Network. There wasn’t a great shot in the film imo and the framing was nothing special at all. "

If I had the time, patience, and knowledge on how to embed images on here, I might be compelled to show you how impressive a visual feast The Social Network is. But unfortunately, laziness supersedes any desire to make this point. So feel free to continue thinking The Social Network is generic. It really doesn’t mean that much to me. lol

El hombre huevo

almost 2 years ago

“…they have all the visual distinction of his earlier films but without the juvenile showy-ness.”

Uhhh… The entire conception of Zodiac and The Social Network are juvenile showiness.

What a growth… From making films about religious serial killers and psychotic geniuses, to making films about astrologist serial killers and narcissistic geniuses…

Joks

almost 2 years ago

^^from memory it was full yellow and blue too, particularly yellow, which is very typical and generic these days. Piss stained skin tones etc. was just looking at shots then didn’t see one good or interesting one.

you will never convince me Santino. sorry ;-)

unless you are lowering the bar considerably.

Santino

almost 2 years ago

haha – that’s ok Joks. I’m just the Hollywood apologist. I’ve long given up the convincing game. :)

Joks

almost 2 years ago

^^well i was praising him too much in this thread, it was time to pull back a little :-)

I also think that being methodical without having much in the way of ideas is not a virtue in and of itself.

Santino

almost 2 years ago

hehe

“I also think that being methodical without having much in the way of ideas is not a virtue in and of itself.”

If you’re referring to Michael Mann’s recent films, I agree!

Jazzalo​ha

almost 2 years ago

@Santino

In a less jackassed way of putting it, think of it this way – the less obvious it is, the better it probably is (especially with a guy like Fincher, who’s already established himself with a distinct style in his earlier work).

Maybe in Fincher’s case, but beyond that, I’m not sure if I agree with this. Filmmaking that draws attention to itself can be bad, in a way, but a lot of great filmmaking is pretty evident to me.

He’s already proven his abilities to “wow” us. So now what? Does he continue to be repetitive and make all his films look like Fight Club? No, he grows up and sets aside trying to impress us with his visual abilities and instead uses those abilities as a function to tell a great story. Of course you disagree that Zodiac and The Social Network are anything special but for my money, they have all the visual distinction of his earlier films but without the juvenile showy-ness.

It’s a nice theory, but I don’t know if this is true or not. What’s problematic, though, is the implication that filmmakers with a distinctive style are “showy” or trying to impress people. That seems like a big assumption, and one I wouldn’t agree with—not as a blanket statement anyway.

Sometimes I wonder about this. In terms of the technical aspects of filmmaking, particularly visual aesthetics, I’m not so sure cinephiles are that far off from average moviegoers (of course they would like to think they are not – hehe).

Well, I’m speaking in general terms, so clueless cinephiles like Joks don’t count. ;) (I’m totally kidding around, Joks.) Seriously, in general, you don’t think what I’m saying is true? Of course, cinephiles aren’t perfect and some have blind-spots. I don’t know if I’m a cinephile, but I love movies—and I watch movies the average moviegoer doesn’t care about—and I know I have blind-spots (as I alluded to in the OP). I get the sense that some that really good filmmaking is obvious to some people here, but it’s not to me.

I pretty much feel the same way about The Social Network as Joks—the images and filmmaking doesn’t really stand out at all for me. It’s not terrible filmmaking, but I don’t see anything outstanding about it, either. However, maybe I’m not sophisticated to appreciate the filmmaking—that’s what this thread is about—i.e., articulating and explaining good filmmaking that may not be obvious.

If I had the time, patience, and knowledge on how to embed images on here, I might be compelled to show you how impressive a visual feast The Social Network is. But unfortunately, laziness supersedes any desire to make this point. So feel free to continue thinking The Social Network is generic. It really doesn’t mean that much to me. lol

I understand why you wouldn’t want to do this, but I consider this our loss (or at least my loss). Could you not talk about the filmmaking without stills?

captain

almost 2 years ago

Jazz wrote: “But with other filmmakers and films, noticing and appreciating the quality can be more difficult. I guess you could say I’m thinking of filmmakers and films that ascribe to the “invisible” approach to filmmaking—there isn’t obvious styles or great images. (e.g., grand panoramic images). Sidney Lumet might be an example of such a filmmaker”

What is an “invisible” style of filmmaking? Is this your own term, or just a term I have missed? I thought I knew what you meant, but don’t think that Lumet would fit into this category how i understand it, as shown by Matt Parks. Do you mean that you don’t think he has a signature visual style, that is seen through most/all of his films? Or just that you think that all of Lumet’s films employ a sort of visual minimalism, by using few strange camera angles, “normal” lighting, and setpieces that draw little attention to themselves? I could see where you are coming from with the former, because even though I love Lumet, sometimes I forget that he directed particular films. But as to the latter (referring to what I call visual minimalism), I agree with Matt Parks, and that Lumet often uses very striking images in films, though oftentimes these images are of more commonplace things than something like Kubrick’s space station, or Malick’s nature.

Scanning through his WIkipedia page, I found several quotes that might relate to what you are referring to. Here is one from Owen Gleiberman (I have no idea what the MUBI consensus on Gleiberman is, but here it is anyways ;) :

In Dog Day Afternoon and Serpico, Lumet became famous for how he caught the teeming, squalid energy of New York. It was a working class outer-borough energy. Lumet’s streets were just as mean as Scorsese’s, but Lumet’s seemed plain rather than poetic. He channeled that New York skeezy vitality with such natural force that it was easy to overlook what was truly involved in the achievement. He captured that New York vibe like no one else because he saw it, lived it, breathed it — but then he had to go out and stage it, or re-create it, almost as if he were staging a documentary, letting his actors square off like random predators, insisting on the most natural light possible, making offices look as ugly and bureaucratic as they were because he knew, beneath that, that they weren’t just offices but lairs, and that there was a deeper intensity, almost a kind of beauty, to catching the coarseness of reality as it truly looked.

.
Is this kind of what you are referring to? A director’s ability to really draw in an audience, but by employing imagery that, while very sophisticated and beautiful, does not demand that the audience immediately notice the imagery for imagery’s sake (that’s a word, right?)? Visual direction that really aids in the telling of the story and overall intention of the film without being showy and, hmmm, dazzling?

Hellsho​cked

almost 2 years ago

About The Social Network:

This is not exactly how I saw the film but I do agree with much of his analysis and, also being too lazy to find/create specific frames to post, this will have to do. If you’re really interested in talking about I suppose I can try to make an effort.