I always anticipate a Sam Raimi film. He and his former partners, The Coen Brothers, have a real understanding of film's potential "Kinesthetic Effects." (I will soon devote a column to a discussion of the perception of film, Attribution Theory, Kinesthesia and its Proprioceptive Attributes.) And we mustn't forget Barry Sonnenfeld who photographed all the early Coen brothers films and took with him, as a director, a keen sense of the film qua film.
So much more to my delight when I was invited to an advance screening of Sam Raimi's latest work. I haven't had time to really evaluate the film; I like to see them many times before I can say I truly know the work, but below are my preliminary Insta-Impressions flowing from my aesthetic ruminations vis-a-vis Raimi's current opus as compared to his previous exploration of the same topic.
Spiderman Two :
I had high hopes for this film since Antoine Fuqua, the director, has really learned a lot since his disastrous debut, Replacement Killers. He has mastered what I call, "Action Geography" what Ronnie Yu calls "Scene Dynamics" and what Vorkapich referred to -negatively- as the "I Was There" mistake.
I watched a scene being filmed in an alley downtown for Replacement Killers. Chow Yun Fat is scaling a chain-link fence shooting across at Kenny Chang who is running up a fire escape on the other side of the alley. I remember well -as a guest of Kenny - that he was worn out and breathless but wouldn't stop, take after take, clambering up the fire escape. Trouper. To "put a button on the scene," as it were, Mia Sorvino comes speeding down the alley in a van with barely an inch clearance on each side (stunt double with a blond wig) and smashes into the wall at the end. Very exciting, very visceral.
I attended the premiere and within the first few seconds I knew that Antoine Fuqua knew absolutely nothing about directing action - or film even! He was a video director who thought that excitement was created simply by jump-cutting very fast between images regardless of the images relationship to each other.
The scene I described may as well have been shot on a sound stage with gray backdrop. The shots of Chow Yun Fat and Kenny were taken so close that you couldn't see where they were, let alone if they were climbing a fence or a fire escape. To compound the stupidity of this approach, Fuqua kept "crossing the stage line" with the camera so sometimes Kenny would be shooting screen-left and sometimes screen right! You had absolutely no sense at all of where either actor was in relation to the other.
The van appears in a series of shots by itself with no relation to Kenny or Yun Fat. What a stupendous waste of time and money for both the producers and the audience.
If you have a close-up of someone crossing a street and a close up of a bus driver, how do you know whether or not they are even in the same city?
To capture the tension of the bus driver running down the guy crossing the street you have to explain visually to the audience where the bus is in relation to the pedestrian and how fast each are going in relation to each other. Without a visual understanding of the "Geography," the scene has absolutely no "Dynamics." "But," says the director, "I know the bus is going to hit him because I was there! "
It's not enough for the director to have "been there!" He has to make the audience feel as if they were "there." Why Fuqua would be picked in the first place by Joel Silver and why he would ever be hired again after Replacement Killers is not a subject I care to cover in this feature. Nonetheless, Fuqua has been allowed to learn on the job and as he gets bigger and bigger budgets and better and better support personnel from cameramen to editors, he should improve. I do have high hopes for King Arthur... gotta run to catch the bargain matinee. Back later with an Insta-Impression.