Edgar Wright Reinvents How Sound Can Be Used In Film

Film

Sound is typically a boring and overlooked aspect of movies, not because it is inherently boring, but because most directors do not recognize the advantage of using it in different ways. Director Edgar Wright takes sound and, as he does with everything else, makes it extraordinary in his films.

Wright uses something called intensified continuity, defined by David Bordwell in Intensified Continuity Visual Style in Contemporary American Film as “traditional continuity amped up, raised to a higher pitch of emphasis.” Wright uses sonic intensified continuity particularly in scene transitions throughout his feature films, including Hot FuzzShaun of the Dead, and Baby Driver, among others.


Wright’s Use Of Sonic Intensified Continuity

In one scene from Hot Fuzz, Danny (Nick Frost) is showing Nicholas (Simon Pegg) a flip book and the flip book sounds become amplified and morph into the short and exaggerated sounds of a door opening, a pen writing on paper, and general motion sounds before transitioning to a conversation between the two in a different setting.

While the typical establishing shot used as a transition can be effective, it is overused and there is nothing special about it. In most cases, the boring transitions are the times when viewers will take out their phones and scroll through Twitter until something draws their attention back in. Wright never needs to draw their attention back in — he never loses it.


Excessive Swearing In PG-13

Wright also creatively uses sound to circumvent R-ratings. The MPAA allows only a few swear words in PG-13 movies before it becomes an R-rated movie. The MPAA enforces these rules so that audiences are aware of what they are walking into (or what they are letting their children walk into). Many directors try to avoid an R-rating because it limits the audience and therefore the box office success.

Edgar Wright manages to keep the spirit of swear words in his movie by using sound to cover them up. In one scene from Scott Pilgrim vs the World, Julie (Aubrey Plaza) is swearing at Scott (Michael Cera), but a beep sound and a black box over her mouth mask it. In this situation, adults will understand that she is still swearing and children will not, therefore maintaining the intended dialogue while keeping it PG-13.


Wright’s Use Of Diegetic Music

In a scene from Shaun of the Dead, the main characters are in a pub hiding from zombies. Doors are barricaded; lights are off. Ed turns on an arcade game and suddenly the zombies approach the noise from outside. When a single zombie enters the bar, the juke box turns on to Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now.” Everyone grabs a cricket bat and begins circling the zombie while hitting him over and over again to the beat of the song.

In a scene where non-diegetic music (music that only exists to us viewers) would typically be used, Wright found an opportunity to introduce diegetic music (music that is playing within the world of the film) for heightened effect.


Wright’s most recent film, Baby Driver, didn’t just make sound an interesting part of the film — it made sound the whole film. Most movie trailers are intensified by matching the beats to the visuals or cuts. Edgar Wright does this throughout every single one of the film’s 113 minutes. The film is an action musical.

In Baby Driver, Baby (Ansel Elgort) is a getaway driver who drowns out his tinnitus by always listening to music. With the use of this diegetic music, the sound is as critical to his role in the film as it is to ours. Baby dances along streets to the music just as his car swerves and screeches to the music.


When you think about the qualities of certain movies, sound is probably the last thing you think of. All films have good sound — if they didn’t, nobody would watch them. But what the majority of films fail to do is use it creatively.

There’s something incredible about watching a film that a director has seemingly poured every ounce of his creativity into and then watching his next film and realizing he had more creativity than you thought possible.

Ad Astra Is Not A Space Movie… And That Is Why It Succeeds

Film

 

The following contains spoilers for Ad Astra:

One of my favorite movies is About Time — a movie about life’s small moments and the people we share them with. It just so happens that it also involves time travel.

I feel the same way about Ad Astra. It is the only space movie I like because it is not a Space Movie. Space Movies like Gravity and The Martian are likable but forgettable. Space Movies like Interstellar are simply awful — yes I’m sure.

Ad Astra was set in space, but it is about something much smaller yet much much bigger than that: human relationships.

It shows us that a father and son’s relationship is more exciting than the marvels of taking commercial flights to the moon or landing on Mars. It doesn’t propose that space is exciting at all. It has normalized it, but the contrast between their casual space travel and our lack of such doesn’t draw attention to itself or feel unnatural.

Roy McBride, played by Brad Pitt, is struggling with the new knowledge that his father is believed to be still alive. He goes along with the mission he is sent on: to communicate with his father in an effort to stop him from causing further damage to the whole solar system with the project he was sent out there to work on.

McBride tries to be stoic while beginning this mission, though emotion creeps in in small, but visible, doses. A subtle portrait of masculinity, he tries to repress the feelings of love and abandonment he feels for and from his father. Only when he sends out several radio communications to his father does he begin to assess what he is feeling and come crashing down.

These emotional scenes are enhanced because of the juxtaposition with the ordinary feeling of seeing space exploration.

It never makes us feel like we are being pulled out of the film. Rather, we are pulled in to the emotional journey, for which space is simply the backdrop.

Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper: Views of Shallow

Film

On Sunday night, Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper performed “Shallow” from A Star is Born, in which the pair played Ally and Jackson Maine, respectively. The film, which marks Cooper’s directorial debut, went largely unrecognized by the Academy. With eight nominations heading into the night, the film walked away with just one win: Best Original Song.

Each year, the Best Original Song nominees perform throughout the ceremony. Though the Academy tried to scratch this for the sake of hitting a 3-hour run time, complaints kept the tradition (mostly) alive.

A Star is Born was released on October 5, 2018 and “Shallow,” of course, went on to earn its Best Original Song nomination on January 22, 2019.  Long before nominations were announced, Bradley Cooper revealed to Variety that he already shared ideas with Gaga for their potential Oscar performance, saying, “I started texting her the whole pitch of how we should do it. So we’ll see. There might be a cool, unorthodox way we could perform it.”

There are a lot of different ways they could have performed it (perhaps have Alec Baldwin introduce them a la the SNL scene in the film), but when the time came, it became clear that it wasn’t the performance they had an unorthodox idea for– it was the filming of it.

The camera is filming from the stage as the piano is brought out and Cooper and Gaga emerge from the audience. If it looked weird, it’s because performances are never shown from this angle. The camera is always in the audience, or at least facing the stage. If it looked familiar, it’s because this is exactly how every performance was filmed in A Star is Born.

In all of the concert scenes, which were filmed in between acts of Stagecoach and Glastonbury, the camera is on stage with the performers. Cinematographer Matthew Libatique spoke with Carolyn Giardina on The Hollywood Reporter‘s Behind the Scenes Podcast, sharing that Cooper asked him, “What do you think if we just shot from the stage and never saw the audience perspective?”

In an interview with Film School Rejects, Libatique recalls an early conversation with Cooper:

“Remembering an experience he had being backstage at a show and the feeling that he had. Just being there looking out at the audience amongst the stage and amongst the band and all people around the stage. What that sort of feeling was. He had the idea to shoot it from that perspective only and forget about the audience’s point of view”

This style of cinematography, while ostracizing the audiences within the film, brings the audience of the film closer to the story. The closest we come to identifying with any audience within the film is when Ally’s father sits at home watching his daughter on YouTube with his friends and discusses how many people have seen the video.

Because of the cinematography, we care about Ally’s career on a personal level, not as fans. We feel more important than the audiences in the film– we feel like the friend, the sibling, the parent. The cinematography makes the film about Ally and Jackson as human beings with their careers as an added layer. The film is not treated like a concert with dialogue thrown in the middle.

The camera remains in their personal space not just on the stage, but in personal moments as well. During the wedding montage, the camera is right in Ally’s face. This same framing is used as she performs “I’ll Never Love Again” at the very end of the film. In the final moments of the film, she looks into the camera, acknowledging that we were there the whole time.

 

Review: Stranger Things 2

Film

Written for Mosaic by Kitty Williams | Co-Editor-in-Chief

The following contains spoilers for season two of Stranger Things on Netflix:

D’Artagnan the growing demogorgon is on the loose in Hawkins, Indiana. Dustin and friends set down a meat trail to lure him in for the kill. Lucas and newcomer Max crouch in hiding, waiting for the demogorgon to appear.

Lucas leans over to Max, who just moved from California. “Hawkins seems pretty lame, I bet,” he says.

One year after the events of season one, Hawkins faces the dangers and monsters of the Upside Down once again. The gang is back together, but only some of them are fully “Right-Side Up.”

Will is no longer stuck in the Upside Down, but he is still in touch with it, living on the edge of both worlds. He regularly has episodes where he shifts into the Upside Down, and eventually the demogorgon invades his body. Noah Schnapp delivers a beautiful performance as Will is caught in moments of absentness and moments of excruciating pain.

The gang is back together to help, but it has grown a bit. Max is Chapter One’s titular character, a girl who quickly makes her way into the group after getting their attention by breaking the record on Dig Dug at the arcade.

Along with her came her cruel brother Billy who threatens Steve Harrington’s “king” status in Hawkins. He also poses a threat to the other kids, as he is racist towards Lucas and stands in the way of their mission to save Hawkins.

Sean Astin, no stranger to acting in a fantasy series, plays Bob Newby. “Bob the Brain” as he is referred to, is the boyfriend of Joyce Byers and unexpected hero of Stranger Things 2 when he uses his knowledge of coding to stop the demogorgons from escaping the Upside Down.

The familiar fan-favorites Eleven and Hopper join together this season. Hopper has made Eleven a home in the woods and hides her there to keep her safe. Their wit and bond is amusing to watch as they go through times of frustration and trust.

Eleven goes through some self-discovery as she reconnects with her mother and finds another girl with mind powers, a sister. The season ends with a classic 80s school dance to top off the classic 80s style of the series. Season one was an immediate success and the long-awaited season two is following suit.

British Shows to Watch on Netflix

Film

Written for Mosaic by Kitty Williams | Co-Editor-in-Chief

 Netflix can be overwhelming with its ever-changing and sometimes bizarre categories with shifting titles every month. You know how it goes: you don’t have the energy to go digging through all of the options so you just go straight to your old reliable (probably The Office). In an effort to get more out of the Netflix experience, I’ve rounded up some options for your winter-break viewing (or finals week procrastination-not the recommended option). Because Netflix does have so many choices, I limited this list by British television shows and films. This is for the anglophiles:

1. Sherlock

This series follows one of literature’s famous duos: Sherlock Holmes and John Watson, but this time it is set in modern-day London. This series has three seasons so far with only three episodes in each. The good news, though, is that every episode is an hour and a half long.

2. Ripper Street

This show is also set in London, but this time it is set in the Victorian era. Matthew Macfadyen plays Detective Inspector Reid, who, along with his team, puts himself in danger in order to solve crimes and murders happening in London after Jack the Ripper’s time.

3. The Crown

For the royal-obsessed, this show begins with the start of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign and continues on from there with flashbacks to her childhood here and there. As the royal family is very private, this drama ponders what goes on in private moments and conversations.

4. The Queen

In this film, Helen Mirren stars as the Queen of England. While The Crown follows her entire reign, this film focuses on one brief time: the day after Princess Diana’s death. Michael Sheen plays Tony Blair, then Prime Minister who was adamant about how the Queen should respond to news of the tragedy.

5. Broadchurch

This show is not for those who like closure after each episode. This series begins with the death of a young boy and follows the detectives who tirelessly search for his killer in a small coastal England town.

6. The IT Crowd

This British comedy centers around two men who work in IT but struggle to interact with others in socially acceptable ways. It follows them as they come to terms with the woman who knows nothing about computers but joins them as head of the IT department.

7. Fawlty Towers

John Cleese of Monty Python plays Basil Fawlty, a man who runs a hotel with his wife Sybil. This show follows their funny interactions with customers and fellow employees in this hotel where everything seems to go wrong.

8. The Imitation Game

This Oscar-nominated film follows Alan Turing as he and his team work to crack the enigma and win World War II. It also features flashbacks to Turing’s childhood to give us insight into his personal life.

9. Atonement

This film features James McAvoy and Keira Knightley as two people in love. However, things fall apart when her sister places accusations on him and he is forced away. Things are complicated further by their roles in World War II.

Op-Ed: More Great Gerwig, Please

Film

Written for Mosaic by Kitty Williams | Co-Editor-in-Chief

On January 7th, stars were gathered at the Beverly Hilton Hotel for the 75th Golden Globes. Natalie Portman and Ron Howard presented the nominees for Best Director. Certainly breaking from the teleprompter in front of her, Portman leaned into the microphone and said, “Here are the all male nominees.”

[Enter Lady Bird]

Greta Gerwig is an actress, screenwriter, and director who is nominated for Best Director for her Best Picture-nominated film Lady Bird. This year she is the only woman in the Best Director category. More shocking is the fact that she is one of five women ever to be nominated for this award.

The other nominees included Lina Mertwuller, Jane Campion, Sofia Coppola, and Kathryn Bigelow. Kathryn Bigelow was the only woman to ever win. She won for her film The Hurt Locker, which was about a bomb disposal team. It also won Best Picture that year.

There’s a trend with Oscar nominated films and that is that they are always about something really dramatic. Often, the main character is going through a really traumatic life experience. In addition, there are car chases, gunfights, and relationships formed and broken.

This is where Lady Bird does something different. It is simply about a high school girl’s relationship with her mother. It also touches on her other relationships in life. One of her past credits as a screenwriter and actress was for Frances, Ha. This film, in a very similar way, focused on two best friends and their evolving relationship through a collection of small moments. Gerwig has a talent for taking ordinary moments and making them important without forcing them to be extraordinary.

Gerwig said in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter on Oscar Nominee Night, “Stop a woman in the street and ask her what her relationship is like with her mother. You won’t get a one word answer.”

Everyone can sit in this movie and see some part of them in a character on screen. It speaks a universal language in the most sincere way. This is the kind of story that needs to be told. This film isn’t the saddest, but it will make a viewer cry if only because they feel understood. If that isn’t deserving of an Oscar, I don’t know what is.

“Different things can be sad. It’s not all war.” –Lady Bird

Best Netflix Originals

Film

This listicle was written and published for The Mosaic.

Kitty Williams

While Netflix may not always have the best movies or television series at the ready, it certainly makes up for it with the original movies and series it provides. The popular streaming service introduced its first Netflix Original in 2013 and now they have an originals list of over 50 series. Here are some of the best series this category has to offer.

  1. Black Mirror

This show began in 2011 and aired on television until Netflix commissioned its third and most recent season. This British anthology has been likened to The Twilight Zone, and for good reason. The show addresses the future of technology and the problems that come along with it in a mesmerizing yet terrifying way.

  1. Derek

Ricky Gervais plays the titular character in this heartwarming mock documentary series. Derek is a good-hearted and childlike caretaker in a nursing home who truly loves what he does. His friends include Dougie, the curmudgeon janitor who constantly sports a frown and a silly haircut, and Kev, who doesn’t work there but hangs around to drink beer and make crude jokes.

  1. The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

Creator Tina Fey makes the dreary seem bright in this original series starring Ellie Kemper as the optimistic Kimmy Schmidt. Kimmy lived in a bunker for many years when a cult leader told her the world was ending. After escaping, she learns to live in New York City alongside roommate and aspiring actor Titus Andromedon.

  1. The Crown

This series, which premiered earlier this month, follows the life of Queen Elizabeth II. Claire Foy stars as a young Queen Elizabeth II in this inside look into the life of royalty. The show begins with Elizabeth’s marriage and continues on to show her reign as Queen of England and all that it entails, including her interactions with Winston Churchill.

  1. Grace and Frankie

Sol and Robert are business partners turned lovers who have kept their love a secret from their wives for the past 20 years. Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin star as Grace and Frankie, the wives who don’t always get along but learn to get through this tough time together. After they learn that their husbands plan on getting married, they decide to live together in their beach house. The series follows their complicated lives with great humor as their families merge in an unexpected way.

  1. Stranger Things

In a town where bad things never seem to happen, terror strikes when a young boy goes missing. This brand new release, inspired by the theories about the Montauk Project on Long Island, follows a group of teenagers as they try to find their missing friend, Will. While searching, the young boys find a girl with supernatural abilities who escaped from government experiments. Together, they work to find what took Will and bring Will home alive.

The Hunt: A Reflection on Denmark’s History

Film

This essay on Danish film The Hunt was written for World Cinema.

By Kitty Williams

The Hunt is a 2013 Danish film directed by Thomas Vinterberg, one of the fathers of Dogme 95. Dogme 95 was a short-lived film movement characterized by realism in every sense of the word. The film’s theme is also very much a part of Denmark’s reality. The film is a powerful portrayal of the severe damage an accusation of sexual abuse can do to a person. Lucas works at a day care for young children and is falsely accused of sexually abusing a young girl who happens to be the daughter of his best friend. Unfortunately, this is too often a reality in Denmark.

Dogme 95 is a film movement that was created by Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg, the director of The Hunt, in 1995. Films considered to be part of the Dogme 95 movement are required to follow a strict set of guidelines. There are ten guidelines, all of which stress the importance of maintaining reality. Though it does not abide by every rule, The Hunt holds onto some of the practices of Dogme 95. There are to be no special effects; a rule adhered to by The Hunt. The film is very visually simple, with shots of the houses, streets, and people of Denmark. The most visually exciting shots are of the colorful forests the hunted animals call home.

Dogme 95 also requires that a film is in color and does not have any non-diegetic music. The Hunt is in color, but it does include music. Music’s presence is so scarce, though, that it is hardly noticeable. Many scenes are plagued by silence, including the scene where Lucas walks around, bleeding from having been hit multiple times. His friends see him but stay away, waiting for him to leave. We see him continue to walk alone, limping, in complete silence. Ironically, another rule of Dogme 95 is that the director goes unlisted in the credits. The director of The Hunt (and the creator of this rule) is listed at the end of the film: Thomas Vintergberg.

The realism of the film extends into the themes that carry throughout. Sexual abuse is a serious topic and is at the center of the film. The main character, Lucas, is falsely accused of sexually abusing one of the children he takes care of at the day care. Unfortunately, Denmark has a history of sexual abuse cases. The number of reported cases was on the rise in 1997. As a result, Denmark began focusing on this issue and was very open with the public about the problem. One famous case, the “Tønder case,” put a spotlight on the issue. This case revealed that a man had been prostituting his daughter to many men. More cases of sexual abuse were found in the following years. Similarly, in the film after all the families with children at the day-care were notified of the accusation, they began looking for the warning signs in their children. Some parents saw symptoms where there weren’t any.

Films are a reflection of the society we live in. The Hunt, on the surface, is about a man who struggles to continue on with his ordinary life after being accused of sexually abusing a young girl from the day care he works at. Taking a deeper look, it is clear that this film is tackling the larger issues of Denmark’s society, still under the influence of the Dogme 95 film movement that was created by the director of the film alongside Lars von Trier.

Phoenix: Speak Low, Stand Tall

Film

This essay about the German film Phoenix was written for World Cinema.

By Kitty Williams

Christian Petzold’s 2014 film Phoenix explores the emotional recovery two individuals must endure after World War II. After World War II, many films in Europe were very raw. The war was such a major influence on the world that films began to reflect the changes in a very real way. Nelly, a German Jewish woman is recovering physically and emotionally from her time in the concentration camps and the facial wound she sustained there. In her eyes, recovery means going back to the way things were rather than moving forward. Her husband, Johnny, is focused more on his own recovery financially. He believes her to be dead and his primary goal is to receive her inheritance. He does this by making Nelly over to look like Nelly, not realizing it is in fact her. Though this makeover satisfies both of their agendas in the beginning, it is Nelly who truly recovers, leaving Johnny with the guilt for what he has done to her. Phoenix approaches the raw truths of post-war life in a powerful way, getting at the core of relationships.

After the war, particularly for those who were released from concentration camps, life was very different. Those who were lucky enough to live to see their release from such torture emerged in a changed world. Nelly returns home from the concentration camp and is in the care of her friend Lene. She undergoes facial reconstruction surgery and emerges with a new face despite pleading for her old one. “I want to look exactly like I used to,” she says. This not because she was particularly fond of her appearance before the war, but because she was fond of her life before the war and she believes having that face back will bring a piece of that life back with it. Before the war, people were glamorized in movies with the use of lighting and costuming. After the war, this was not done as often. People were hardened to the realities of life. Similarly, in Phoenix, we hear from Nelly and others how beautiful she was before the war. She is not glamorized on camera but in memory. Now, her face sans makeup (in the beginning of the film) holds the realism of the post-war era. It is only when she feels back to her pre-war self that she begins to wear makeup and brightly colored dresses.

The film also deals with the very real emotional traumas raised by the war. Nelly’s husband believes her to be dead and yet when he sees her he believes her to be a lookalike that he can use to steal her inheritance. Lene tries to convince Nelly that he betrayed her to the Nazis, but she doesn’t listen. She allows him to dress her up to pull off his plan. She clings to the idea of being herself again and living her old life. She does it in an effort to reinsert herself into her old life when in actuality it is making her a spectator of her own life. Their interactions are less about their romantic relationship and more about the need they both have to make things better for themselves. For Johnny, that is money; for Nelly, that is reconnecting with who she was before the betrayal, concentration camp, and facial reconstruction.

War has a deep and lasting affect on everything, including cinema. In turn, it affects Phoenix’s Nelly and Johnny. The pre-war Nelly we hear about is a representation of pre-war cinema. The Nelly we see is in search of who she was, and strives to achieve this by pleading for her old face and going in search of her husband. She doesn’t want her face to look beautiful, or Johnny for romance, but for her old life. Though she fights to be her pre-war self, she has become a recovered version of herself.