08 Jul 2009

Paul rants about “Public Enemies” – Part 01

Editors Note:  I’m used a lot of bold and italics in the post because I

08 Jul 2009

Editors Note:  I’m used a lot of bold and italics in the post because I was really mad.

[Michael Mann], like several of his contemporaries . . . has enthusiastically embraced digital technology. But rather than try to recreate the look of 35mm film using the cheaper and more versatile digital alternative, Mann’s aim appears to be to develop a new, distinctive digital aesthetic.

I recently found myself discussing Public Enemies with group of five or so aspiring filmmakers.   Being members of the digital generation, none of us had shot on real film and probably never will.  You’d think this would be a group that would applaud Michael Mann’s philosophy . . .  not in the slightest.

We effing hated it.   An effing lot.

In my words, here’s why:


"Hmm. Paul has a good point."

For the first time in my life, I found myself completely unable to forget I was watching a movie.  It felt like watching a disorienting behind-the-scenes video, not a Hollywood film.  Rather than enhance the realism of the picture, the digital perfection made everything look completely fake.   It may as well have been shot on a $200 handycam.

Mann’s philosophy forgets that 35mm film was never trying to be picture perfect.  Movies are supposed to be an artful form of storytelling, not a news cast.  Good production value does not mean reproducing an image in the most accurate way possible.  Rather, good production means using the proven tools of the trade to create a look (albeit a false look) that transports the audience and serves the needs of the story.  In a historical epic, this is all the more crucial.  Would the Godfather be as gripping if it had been shot in 30fps?  I think not.

The result of Mann’s approach was a 144 minute hatchet job that looked and felt like a TV soap opera.  I have a great deal more to say about this 80-million-dollar-crap-fest, but for now I’ll just leave you with this plea:

Let’s not throw out 90 years of production wisdom just because we have a new medium for storing moving pictures.

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