Setter’s ‘Spectives: What Happened to All Those Great Opera Movies?

Setter Drawing for Blog 082613Remember Franco Zeffirelli’s excellent film of Verdi’s Otello? Lush production, sexy direction, terrific acting, and of course, the great Placido Domingo as the titular Moor.

Why can’t we get more movies like that today?

It seems like there isn’t as much of an impetus to develop cinematic spectaculars based on classic operas as there was three decades ago, and I think that’s a shame. Once upon a time, you had Ingmar Bergman doing Mozart’s The Magic Flute, too. But now, it appears that directors of a certain stature are more content to craft large-scale pictures out of popular contemporary musicals than operatic standards. It makes sense from a commercial standpoint, as the latter have a more limited audience. From an artistic perspective, however, it’s lamentable.

I want to see a great celluloid version of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, darn it! And not the nonsense that is Tristan + Isolde, see?

Today, with New York’s Metropolitan Opera doing HD films of various productions, it’s easy to think that we’ve come to an era where the genre is made accessible to everyone. I don’t think that’s the case, though. Movies of productions aren’t the same as cinematic iterations that aren’t confined to one stage; Zeffirelli’s Otello is proof of that. It was an actual film, not a filmed opera. That’s one of the reasons why it worked so well onscreen. Editing, cinematography, music, art direction – everything combined to make a powerful whole. It became a motion picture.

I don’t think opera is a dying art, nor do I believe it should be relegated to the upper class. It’s for everyone, and the great works deserve to be viewed and listened to by all. That’s why I’d like to see more of the type of thing that Zeffirelli has done in the theaters – not just HD versions. Many of these stories are quite cinematic, with fanciful plots and engaging characters. Shouldn’t they be put onscreen where they belong?

I think so. And I hope one day, we’ll see opera once again take its rightful place in the cinema.

Setter’s ‘Spectives: Integrity? Don’t Make Me Hum

Setter Drawing for Blog 082613So I’m watching Frances Ha. All of a sudden, this lilting music tickles the soundtrack.

“Hey,” I say. “That sounds like something from King of Hearts.”

Sure enough, it was. Snatched directly from the Philippe de Broca movie. In fact, the film’s main melody popped up numerous times during the proceedings.

Needless to say, it didn’t help me enjoy this rather tiresome Noah Baumbach flick any more than I already did. But there was another issue: It was distracting. I kept thinking about Hearts and how good it was. How much I wanted to see it.

Is this what Baumbach wanted when he was making Frances?

Unfortunately, this problem isn’t relegated to one movie. The Artist used a passage from Bernard Herrmann’s score for Vertigo, and I was confused about that, too. Started thinking about the latter flick as I was watching the former.

Bad, bad strategy for any filmmaker.

This goes past un hommage. It’s irrelevant. It’s sampling music from scores past and using it in other contexts. When a great score is applied to a film, it’s associated with it. You can’t pull the two apart. If you try, you bring up connotations that shouldn’t be there. Do directors want to do that?

I’d think they wouldn’t. Would Wagner want you thinking about Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro while you were watching Parsifal at Bayreuth? If you admitted that to him, he’d probably get all 19th century on you. (He was mean enough as it was.)

Unless it’s parody, a film should focus on itself. Otherwise, a movie loses its credibility. It breaks that fourth wall of sound, and the audience becomes aware of it. Directors shouldn’t want that. It’s jarring, not immersing.

I say unto filmmakers: Let’s keep-eth old scores where they are-eth. And commission new ones for your movies … or use tunes by a great composer that lack cinematic context. Something borrowed just makes me blue. Something different, however, may well be music to my ears.

Skip’s Quips: At Least They Didn’t Make a Movie About ‘Mr. Do!’

Blog Sketch 082813Have we come to the end of the line for movies based on video games?

That’s certainly my hope. I don’t think I could sit through another installment of Mortal Kombat.

Guess I should be glad they didn’t make a flick about Frogger. Or should I bite my tongue?

I can see the tagline now: “The existential adventures of a frog who only wants to get to the other side.”

I wonder, though, if the moviegoing public has seen enough of this type of thing. After all, video games these days are more cinematic than ever, with plotlines and entire scenes developed through computer-generated animation. No one really needs a film based on a game that’s like a film anyway.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not a video-game teetotaler. I actually grew up with them during their nascent days. Donkey Kong, Zaxxon. I even had a ColecoVision.

But I enjoyed them for their interactivity. That was a novel thing–to compete against your computer. Nowadays, video games are as much about watching the characters as much as playing them.

And I have to say, I find that interesting. Because the more, it seems, we gravitate toward a new technology and new experiences, the more we want the old incorporated into it.

Looking for movies in video games is perfectly natural. It’s like wanting to know more about Mozart and how he got his inspiration. The interest in the games spawns an interest in the characters.

Yet motion pictures based on these characters seem, for the most part, unsuccessful. There’s only so much we can get from a shoot-’em-up. Within the context of the games themselves, however, the cinematic qualities work. So perhaps that’s where they belong.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to check my officers’ progress in Star Trek Online. Exit, pursued by a joystick.