My Introduction to Cinema

Jan 1, 2009 by Samantha Halfon · Leave a Comment ·
Filed under: Cinephile, World Wide Angle 
The Godfather part III

The Godfather part III

For the past 15 years, my interests has been going back and forth between Cinema and Computers. My passion for cinema goes back to my high school days. I have always had a dislike for TV and rarely went to the movies, as it was not something my family would do much. On the other hand, I would read a lot, and around that time, I was mostly into theater. I had just read several plays, including the famous Shakespeare tragedies. One night, being alone at home, I turned the TV on while the Godfather part III was playing. It was like nothing I had seen on TV before (I only knew of children films and action flicks at that point). I was amazed by the story telling, through the acting, the filming, the soundtrack, the costumes and the setting. It was so theatrical, such a powerful tragedy, almost classical. This is when I realized that Cinema was probably the most powerful artform. After that night, I started looking around for other films of that kind.


The Godfather part III

Back in 1996, I was also discovering the Internet. This immediate access, straight from my bedroom,  to such a wide knowledge was fascinating to me. I started browsing the Web for cinema information. Up to that point my computer had been nothing more than a game console, but with the Internet, this quickly changed. As DVDs came around,my computer also became my own personal movie theater. Suddenly several hundreds of movies, in their original language and with subtitles, became available.

martin_scorsese_plaisirs_cinephileStill, it was hard for me to know where to find more movies as inspiring as the Godfather part III. I tried going around and asking neighbors and friends to tell me (and lend me) their favorite movies. The results were strange. I got to see Pulp Fiction, 12 monkeys, Totall Recall and Casino. I got to see such movies as North by Northwest and Citizen Kane too. I started recording movies on TV and watching different genres of films from different countries and time periods. From all this, I started to find what I liked and disliked and followed my own path. I discovered Sergio Leone on “Cinema de Quartier” on Canal+ one night and Jean-Pierre Melville on LaCinquième. At some point Arte also broadcasted the complete filmography of John Cassavetes, it was a revelation. Around that time, I got hold of Martin Scorsese’s Pleasures as a Cinephile and started using the films he named as a hunting list:

  • The Searchers
  • Duel in the Sun
  • Force of Evil
  • Citizen Kane
  • Umberto D
  • The Red Shoes
  • On the Waterfront
  • Vertigo
  • Bad Lieutenant
  • Senso
  • movies by Bunuel and Kurosawa
  • french movies by Renoir, Tavernier and Téchiné
  • and a lot many more!

As I would discover a new movie, I would look it up and try to find related titles. It could lead me to watch movies by the same director or starring the same actor. It could also bring me to discover another director who had dealt with the same genre or subject. Little by little, I learned to recognize genre and styles and got a perception of cinema’s history and – as it is related to me – of History, especially History of the twentieth` century.

ati_rage_128Addicted to Cinema and attracted to the Internet, I created my first website in 1998. It was dedicated to Martin Scorsese and John Cassavetes (actually, this is still online at though it’s not been updated in several years). But the real merger between Cinema and Computing took place when I decided I could do my own videos. My father bought me an Ati Rage 128 all in wonder card which allowed me to capture images from a VCR. Using Premiere 4.2, I edited my first videos which were all short TV shows about cinema. I would splice together trailers and photos with a few voice overs.

Eventually, I wanted to film my own images. I got my first DV Camera in 2000, I used it to film my family’s trip across the Southwest of the USA. The resulting movie was an hour and forty minutes long! My only knowledge about filming or editing came from experimenting with my camera and watching movies, a lot of movies. I have often heard that reading is a good way to improve one’s writing. I believe this is also true with images. Watching photos, paying attention to the images around us teaches us how to frame and compose and watching movies teaches us how to film and edit in order to tell a story. Some of us remember the family photos or 8mm films that could be  painful to go through. I’ve even seen photos with cut off heads before! Recently, everybody has become a photographer and videomaker by uploading images on Facebook and videos to youTube. It seems everyone has become more aware of images. Amateur photographers skills have increaed significantly in the digital age. I believe this is what happened to me. I didn’t learn to film in school or from a book, I learned framed and filmed trying by imitating what I had seen.

After filming in the American West, I decided to build a mini set inside a cardboard box I had painted to look like a Western set. I used it to film toy figures reinventing (without knowing it) the stop-motion films. I wanted to practice framing and try my hand at camera moves. None of these expirements lead to any complete project but it was a lot of fun to try and reproduce some camera moves I liked in so many movies I had seen.


André Bazin: Qu'est-ce que le Cinéma

After two years of watching 7 or 8 movies a week I was seriously adicted. At that point, I started reading about movies. I read Andre Bazin’s “Qu’est-ce que le Cinema” and the History of Cinema by Georges Sadoul. I also started reading theorical books about film editing and film lighting. As I was coming close to graduation, I started thinking about going into a film school. I decided I wanted to enter one of the two public film schools in France: either la Fémis or Louis Lumière. After pasing the first step of the Louis Lumiere entrance exam (maths, physics, chemistry and cinema culture), I failed at the second step: film analysis. Having followed an all scientific school path, I was totally unprepared for such an exercice.

This was a tough break but I didn’t give up. Having been an early adopter of the Internet, it seemed obvious that Multimedia would be more and more important. I knew that as time went by, there would be more and more images, sounds and videos on the Web. I felt by combining computing and films I could do interesting things. I went to computing school and used every opportunity to pick courses related to multimedia. I took classes in photo, video, 3D animation and web design.

Ten years later, videos are everywhere on the Internet. Of course, professionaly produced content found its way online. Either as paid on demand broadcast or as a commercial broadcast. Most impressively, self produced videos are everywhere on the Net. People share their videos on youTube, they also share how to videos on several other websites. Some people use videos to record their resume and send it to rectruiters. As the numbers indicate, people use the Internet to watch video content and are starting to leave their TVs behind. The demand for video online is increasing. We are witnessing a revolution in communication, information and entertainment. Cultural Labs, among others, claim that the trend for video watching online will increase and that new artforms will appear with the arrival of low budget and creative video productions. There are opportunities for people like us, filmmakers and computer oriented, to make the films we want, the way we want and find our audience.


Our film watching Tumblr

I still believe that the best way to learn about movie making, second to experimenting, is to watch movies. We try to watch between 5 and 8 movies a week, from different time periods and genres. We learn from the best. Since September, we also keep a list f the movies we watched together. Just like I take notes when I read books about Cinema, Derrick is taking notes when we watch movies in order to remember the shots we like and would love to mimic in our own videos. By watching movies and talking about them, we try to understand the art of story telling and get an opinion about what does and does not work in filming and in editing. Everytime we get a chance, we go out there to film and edit and see what we get. The next step for us is going to be to complete a screenplay and go ahead with it.

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