Gabriel Solomons

Film

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June 7th, 2012

New ways of seeing

Travel to any new destination brings with it a mixture of excitement, anticipation and trepidation.

Last month I was invited to give a lecture at the 14th annual Eskisehir film festival in Turkey – a festival that takes place at Anadolu University, one of the largest universities in the world due to its successful distance education program which has an intake of nearly 2 million students. The festival took place from 3rd to 9th of May with an eclectic lineup of films, workshops and presentations all exploring the growing influence of Turkish film in world cinema and acting as an effective platform for emerging film makers.

My talk was entitled ‘The Cinematic City’ which focused specifically on Istanbul’s appearance in movies over the past 60 years and which acted as a tie-in to the book recently produced as part of my World Film Locations series, published by Intellect in Bristol.

I had never been to Turkey before and so was a bit wary of discussing Turkish film with Turkish film students – all too conscious of coming across like an outsider speaking with inauthentic authority, which is why I was so grateful to have had the opportunity of spending a few days immersing myself in Turkish cinema before delivering my presentation. Not only was I able to see a range of films that touched on various ‘localized’ topics, but I gained wonderful insights about these topics from the film-makers themselves who often introduced their movies and gave Q&A sessions following each screening.

There is nothing quite like fully experiencing the place about which you are preparing to discuss, either from a point of research or practice, and I was so much more equipped for engaging with my audience after only a few days in Turkey.

Issues such as immigration, religion and familial obligation, all common and recurring themes in Turkish film, made far more sense to me when being discussed with those who experience these things on a day to day basis and added to my sense of inclusion and participation.

Mark Twain famously said that ‘travel is fatal to bigotry, prejudice and narrow mindedness’ which is such a spot-on assessment of why it’s so important to get out and about every so often. Not only does travel challenge our (often narrow) perceptions of the world but – if we make a real effort to connect with the people and culture we visit – can truly be life changing.

Categories: Education Film

April 19th, 2012

The colour of night: Parked up in Paris, Texas

There is a fleeting scene about 8 minutes into Wim Wenders’ heartbreaking but life-affirming film Paris, Texas  that has stayed with me ever since I first saw it twenty odd years ago. The scene is of Walt Henderson (Dean Stockwell) parked up at a gas station, checking his map which is propped up on the hood of his car while on the way to pick up his wayward brother Travis (Harry Dean Stanton) deep in the Texas scrubs. I had yet to experience the great American open road even though I was living in Los Angeles at the time, but this one glorious shot encapsulated what I had always imagined a typical Stateside road trip to look, and more importantly, feel like.

The first quarter of Paris, Texas is essentially a road movie which shows just how taken Wenders was, as so many of us are, by a generic roadside Americana that includes fabulously lit-up gas stations, convenience stores and diners bathed in multicolored neon that often transforms them into alluring dreamscapes. The unique ability of a film maker is of course to elevate these ‘non-places’ even more by the use of ambient sound, cinematography and action – something that Wenders has done so well throughout his career. As both a photographer and film maker, Wenders appreciates the power of the still image which may explain why many of his films use an idle camera that allows scenes to unfold within the space of a carefully composed frame. This lingering, elegiacal method fits perfectly with both the mood of Paris, Texas and the measured pace of Travis’ character as he makes slow but steady progress towards his personal redemption – and scenes such as Walt’s gas station pit stop help to establish this tone early on.

I’ve been lucky enough to venture out on a few American road trips since first watching the film in the late 1980s so now have my own experiences to compare to those onscreen, and while I’ve thoroughly enjoyed each journey none have quite lived up to the dreamy promise of Paris, Texas. Understandable I guess as reality very rarely lives up to a fictional account, especially one created by a film maker like Wim Wenders so versed in transforming the everyday into the extraordinary.

In his foreword to the book ‘On Location: Cities of the World in Film‘ Wenders describes this evocative nature of landscape:

‘A street, or a house front, or a mountain, or a bridge, or a river, or whatever, is not just “background”. Each also has a history, a “personality”, an identity that deserves to be taken seriously.’

He reinforces this idea by putting forth the example of how the Aboriginal people of Australia see every landscape formation as embodying some figure from a mythical past – every rock, tree or hill carrying a story that is related to their ‘dreamtime’. I can fully relate to this and remember a time in my own childhood when spaces, landscapes and objects had this kind of resonance, either in how I co-opted them into my own imagined play-space or seeing what they could reveal about my own fears and dreams i.e. that house is haunted or that skyscraper is literally scraping the sky.

These ideas and beliefs must inform the way in which Wenders makes his films and no doubt are one of the reasons why his films–Paris, Texas in particular–have made such an impression on me, essentially because I share the same beliefs. So when I see Walt sipping his coffee beside an ice dispensing machine as the setting sun ignites the sky into a thousand shades of orange, I don’t simply see what is there but what is ‘dreamed’, both by the the film maker and by my own imagination.

Categories: Architecture Design Film Photography

October 5th, 2011

Poster Boy: One sheets of distinction (vol.5)

Poster art is first and foremost in whetting our appetite for a particular film – setting our imaginations in motion by triggering all sorts of visual cues that link to story, genre and mood. Continuing our regular web series, Gabriel Solomons once again casts a critical gaze on a few choice film posters for upcoming features.

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Categories: Design Film

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