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All Movie Talk

Welcome to All Movie Talk! In this audio podcast, Samuel Stoddard and Stephen Keller talk about old and new movies, famous directors, historical film movements, movie trivia, and more.

All Movie Talk

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All Movie Talk, Episode 19

Show contents, with start times:

  • Film Style Spotlight: German Expressionism (1:32)
  • Trivia Question: The Bank Dick (24:39)
  • Fact or Fiction: Legal Anecdotes (25:00)
  • Top 6: Uses of Music In Non-Musicals (33:43)
  • Film Buff's Dictionary: Zoom (52:28)
  • Closing: Trivia Answer, Preview of Next Week (59:13)
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Show Notes:

Film Style Spotlight: German Expressionism

German Expressionism was a style that had its roots in expressionism, the artistic concept of deliberately distorting images to reflect a subjective reality. It began in Germany just after WWI, though one early precursor to the movement, called The Golem, was made in 1915. Unfortunately that film is lost.

The first major work of expressionism that remains is The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), by director Robert Wiene. Caligari is considered a classic pioneer in the horror genre, and it blends a surreal storyline with even more surreal images. The entire world seems to twist around itself in the film, making real the psychosis of the characters. This was a stark contrast to earlier films, which often had limited set design that focused more on providing a passable attempt at realism.

Of the German expressionists, two men stand above the others. The first is F. W. Murnau, who made several of the most acclaimed of these films. His Nosferatu (1922) one of the earliest of vampire movies, and it features revolutionary make-up work and art direction. As in Caligari, the effect of a nightmare is created throughout the film by carefully twisting every element the audience sees.

In 1924's The Last Laugh, Murnau applied these techniques to a more conventional story, telling the tale of a man who is crushed by society after he's fired. A feature-length film that practically doesn't contain a title card, it's a testament to the wonderful visuals of Murnau. The director also filmed a version of Faust (1926), which features stunning special effects.

Murnau filmed his last masterpiece in Hollywood in 1927, Sunrise, an early sound film (though it has no spoken dialogue). Like The Last Laugh, Sunrise takes expressionistic devices and applies them to a more conventional story.

The other giant of German Expressionism is Fritz Lang, whose most famous film is the early sci-fi feature Metropolis (1927). This early dystopian vision, with its twisted cityscapes and endless labyrinths of superhighways and automaton workers, has influenced almost all science fiction after it. Lang also directed one of the last great German Expressionist films, the thriller M (1931), a serial-killer story that seems daring and bold even by today's standards (it also features a very early performance by Peter Lorre).

After the Nazis came to power in Germany during the early 1930s, the German film industry fell under their control and expressionism quickly ended. The movement, however, affected film throughout the world, and would particularly influence a style of American film known as film noir.

Trivia Question: The Bank Dick

My hat, my cane, Jeeves. The writer of The Bank Dick is our mystery person today.

Fact or Fiction: Legal Anecdotes

  1. Did Warner Brothers and Groucho Marx get involved in a dispute over the use of the word "Casablanca" in the Marx Brothers film A Night In Casablanca?

    Groucho certainly wrote an absolutely hilarious letter, but the story behind it is complicated. Read all about it on Snopes and Wikipedia. Note that the Snopes page quotes the letter in abridged form, and it's really worth reading the full text.
  2. Did Columbia Pictures threaten to sue the producer of The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies, whose original title was The Incredible Strange Creature: Or, Why I Stopped Living and Became a Mixed-Up Zombie, because it sounded too much like Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb?

    It sounds more like the fodder of satirists than truth, but this IMDb page supplies the verdict.
  3. Did Darryl F. Zanuck pay somebody for the rights to film The Longest Day on private beaches in Corsica, only to find out the beaches were public beaches, and he'd been conned?

    The IMDb comes to the rescue again.
  4. Did Clark Gable kill a pedestrian in a drunk driving incident that was covered up by the studio?

    Snopes tracks the truth down.
  5. Did the Idaho State Legislature pass a resolution commending Jared and Jerusha Hess for making Napoleon Dynamite? And did the resolution read, in part, "WHEREAS, any member of the House of Representatives or the Senate of the Legislature of the State of Idaho who choose to vote Nay on this concurrent resolution are FREAKIN' IDIOTS! and run the risk of having the Worst Day of Their Lives!"?

    Here's what the state of Idaho has to say about that, and here's the Snopes commentary about it.

Top 6: Uses of Music In Non-Musicals

See our separate Top 6 entry for more information about our picks.

Film Buff's Dictionary: Zoom

The zoom is a type of lens that can go from wide to long, allowing film shots to make distant objects suddenly look closer (or vice versa). To zoom in is to make distant objects look closer; to zoom out is to do the opposite. This is not technically a camera movement; it's a method of changing the audience's point-of-view without actually moving the camera or cutting. Zoom lenses were around in some fashion for much of cinema history, but it wasn't really until the 1960s that they were of a quality to be used regularly in film productions.

Zooming tends to change the depth of field, allowing more objects to be in focus at once while wide and fewer objects in focus while long (though there are ways this can be manipulated so that long shots still have a large of depth of field).

The zoom is a very showy move that has a documentary feel to it, because filmers of documentaries have to zoom in order to capture unexpected events. The 1970s made the zoom a staple of American filmmaking, and directors like Robert Altman love the zoom for its ability to hold a long shot but to suddenly focus in on a single character or object. Stanley Kubrick loved to zoom in on the faces of his actors such that they almost overpowered the entire frame.

A classic sort of zoom involves starting with a crowd of people and then zooming in on a small group; we start with an establishing shot to understand the environment and then seamlessly move in. This has a subtly different effect than pushing in on an object, because the unique way zoom lenses work distorts things in a way that seems vaguely unnatural to the human eye.

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