Updated: Jul 30, 2021
FILM AND REALITY
Local Film Industry and Local Genre Filmmaking
In the neoliberal societies of today, local film industry and local genre filmmaking outside of the centre of filmmaking Hollywood or Tokyo are relatively ignored. In Asia, especially Japan, local film industry doesn’t exist at all. Hong Kong as a local city lost its own independent film industry when it heavily depends on state subsidies and mainland-joint projects. Fortunately Hong Kong actually has kept its star system and advanced westernized genre filmmaking techniques however Hong Kong became ''the 2nd Taiwan'' in terms of dependency to subsidies.
Constitutionally one of local provinces of China, Taiwan is basically still not improved fundamentally due to its decades of KMT bureaucratic cultivation of small ''elite'' groups, state subsidies however Taiwan more aggressively enhanced its internet marketing, propaganda campaigns by infiltrating many US tech giants in recent years.
Furthermore, Taiwan is strategically buying awards and nominations at international film festivals by donations and cooperation with foreign advertisement agencies. Its network can be used on their political agenda, too. However it can’t help them creatively despite their paid ''official records'' because their genre filmmaking itself is still poor and inferior to Japan and Hong Kong until today. Major hit in Taiwan is nothing in Japan.
There are only local cinemas where mainly distribute major studio films outside of the centre of filmmaking. For Japan, It is always centralized by Tokyo and its advertisement giants Dentsu and Hakuhodo. Thus local filmmaking / independent filmmaking for nationwide distribution is a miracle. It makes local film schools totally useless. And decent jobs in film-related industries are limited in leading advertisement companies. Neoliberalism sucked up the traditional employment system and film industry at the same time. It extremely differs from so called studio system era in 1950s and 60s.
About US, although some would say that US film cities outside of Hollywood are Austin, Chicago and New York. It’s absolutely true and many Asian countries send their publicly funded ''agents'' to their film schools to mainly study M.F.A. programs. One thing is specifically unique that even Hollywood itself is a local city within Los Angeles (Washington D.C. is their capital city) yet the status of being a centre of film industry is another aspect. The centre of filmmaking in one country is movable. For instance, film centre in US was shifted from Chicago and New York during the silent era.
Chicago was the original center of the film industry, thanks to an alliance between filmmaking patent holder Thomas Edison and Chicago’s Essanay Studios and Selig Polyscope. Essanay launched the film career of silent star Charlie Chaplin before Chaplin and the film industry headed west, precipitating the decline of the city’s filmmaking prominence. (1)
For China, their centre of filmmaking moved from Shanghai to Hong Kong (part of it moved to Taiwan with KMT in 1949; mainly movie equipment) and then went back to Shanghai and Beijing now. For Japan, film production in Kyoto is dead in 1960s (only art department of Toei partially remains but waiting for its complete closure) and there is only Tokyo. For Taiwan, it's Taipei.
Being geographically close or located in film cities is definitely important to make films like George A. Romero suggested. Evans City and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania had such geographical and industrial conditions in late 1960s and 1970s. The king of horror, creator of modern zombie cult George A. Romero was and still is the champion of local film production. His advantage was that he could make brilliant local genre films outside of film cities or centre of filmmaking. He made two cult movies like The Night of the Living Dead (1968) and The Crazies (1973) in Evans City, Pennsylvania with massive and corporative support from the local city. His aim was to make Hollywood-like films outside of Hollywood. This concept and his spirit still inspire many filmmakers who are facing neoliberal reality of the today’s world. Making genre films under the local conditions. Romero proved that local independent genre filmmaking is possible and capable to produce well-made genre cult movies.
Back to Hong Kong, there were 326 films released in Hong Kong in 2019. However Hong Kong’s total box office revenue (1,923,196,382 HKD; 1.9 billion HKD) declined 1.75 % in 2019 compared to 2018 due to the anti-extradition bill riots. The total Hong Kong local film production was only 46 (box office hit means over 10 million HKD); non local films were 280 (box office hit means over 60 million HKD). (2)
It lost its balance and safety as a local industry. Hong Kong films drastically lack social comments due to its escapism and short term commercial considerations. It is time to learn how film masters faced the local barriers and difficulties to challenge Hollywood films.
RT published an op-ed Bored in coronavirus quarantine? Here are the best epidemic movies to crank up your panic! which written by Michael McCaffrey on March 7, 2020. He suggested biohazard movies. Such as:
RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2011)
12 MONKEYS (1995)
28 DAYS LATER (2002)
WORLD WAR Z (2013)
ANDROMEDA STRAIN (1971)
CONTAGION (2011) (3)
Among above, OUTBREAK (1995) was based on Marburg virus epidemic in 1967 not Ebola virus; CONTAGION (2011) was based on Nipah virus outbreak in Malesia in 1999 not SARS. Both films unrealistically took narrative from another virus epidemics thus did not directly refer to Ebola or SARS-COV. They still can say that those are not direct exploitation of them. Others on the list are pure fiction far from reality.
However both films are master pieces on contagion disaster film genre. OUTBREAK (1995) borrowed a plot from The Crazies (1973). The pentagon wants to nuke the deadly virus infected small town in US. However it did not bring any dramatic tense to the story in The Crazies (1973).
Epidemic in US is now very close to the ‘extreme situation’ depicted in The Crazies (1973). Police is unable to hold prisoners and even won’t arrest criminals. Furthermore police themselves got infected by SARS-COV2 and went on sick leave, reported on March 26.
Thousands of New York City Police Department (NYPD) officers have called off sick, and more than 200 have confirmed cases of the coronavirus, according to Police Commissioner Dermot Shea.
Shea said about 3,200 officers were out sick Wednesday, triple the normal rate and constituting 9 percent of the force, as the coronavirus outbreak continues to sweep through New York. (4)
Like this film, a pentagon contractor was confirmed positive died on March 21.
The Pentagon on Sunday announced the first Defense Department-related death from coronavirus.
A Virginia defense contractor who had tested positive for COVID-19 and worked at the Defense Security Cooperation Agency died March 21 at a hospital in Crystal City. (5)
Military takeover of the entire town or city did not occur in CONTAGION (2011). The Crazies (1973) must be added to the recommending film list because it is a classic which contains all elements in the genre. I love The Crazies (1973) for its content, style and independent spirit. It’s close to us in terms of local filmmaking and reality of COVID-19 pandemic.
WHO, CDC and the notorious bio lab Fort Detrick are depicted or mentioned in numerous bio hazard disaster flicks. Always being a suspicious origin of US biowarfare, Fort Detrick was closed temporary since July 2019 before the COVID-19 pandemic. And now reopened on March 30, 2020.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has restored a military laboratory on Fort Detrick to full capacity, approximately eight months after shutting down research in its top laboratories.
……In July, the CDC issued a cease and desist order for work in biosafety level 3 and 4 laboratories, where researchers handle dangerous pathogens like Ebola and the bacteria causing the plague. The order came after the CDC noted lapses in biosafety protocols during a site visit.
The two breaches reported by USAMRIID to the CDC demonstrated a failure of the Army laboratory to “implement and maintain containment procedures sufficient to contain select agents or toxins” that were made by operations in the biosafety level 3 and 4 laboratories, according to a report obtained last year by The Frederick News-Post.
The CDC revisited USAMRIID multiple times since July, allowing the laboratory to resume partial operations in November. Each follow-up visit allowed a little more work.
STORY STRUCTURE OF FILM
ACT1 SET UP
A biological weapon Trixie virus which made at Fort Datrick secretly yet accidentally released in water reserve in Evans City, Pennsylvania while delivering by aircraft. Trixie makes infected people incurably mad or absolutely dead. It spreads in the entire city and causes riots and arson at a farm house. (establishment)
Protagonist, ex-Green Beret, firefighter David (Will McMillan), his pregnant wife, nurse Judy (Lane Carroll) and another firefighter, ex-infantryman Clank (Harold Wayne Jones) are called up and go to work for emergency. Meanwhile, the US military in Nuclear, Biological, Chemical suits with gas masks led by major Ryder (Harry Spillman) arrives in Evans City to contain outbreak of Trixie takes over clinic where Judy works for. (Inciting incident)
In Washington D.C., government meeting concludes that Colonel Peckem (Lloyd Hollar) and Fort Detrick scientist Dr. Watts (Richard France) must go to Evans city to contain the virus. Furthermore, US government prepares a contingency plan to nuke the city once the epidemic out of control. For this, government also deploys nuke bombers.
David and Clank leave the fire site after they hear about the military presence in town and suspicious virus outbreak. They go to pick up Judy. On the dark road, David, Clank and Judy encounter each other after Judy drives a car and run away from the clinic where US military occupied. (End of ACT1; set up all dramatic contradictions)
ACT2 RISING CONFLICTS
David, Judy, Clank, Kathy Fulton (Lynn Lowry), her father Artie (Richard Liberty) and Frank Winston (David Barber) captured and confined in a large military van by soldiers however the five without Frank Winston (David Barber) escape after the van gets assaulted by infected locals. David and Clank drives the van and decide escaping from Evans City thus they first drive toward country club building to hide temporarily. They will be arrested if the soldiers catch up with them. (Beginning of ACT2; Complication)
Crisis further complicates after US army quarantines everyone in town. Anyone attempts to escape from Evans City will be shot at the site. When the army quarantines town people at school, the Mayer and sheriff quarrel with Colonel Peckem (Lloyd Hollar) yet end up sheriff’s suicide with a gun. Military control versus civilian control is a core conflict.
The US army evicts residents from their homes. In one case, a soldier gets stabbed by a smiling old woman with her knitting needle. Town people almost go insane due to the Trixie virus. Another unit of soldiers are also assaulted by infected militia. (Complication)
At the country club, Artie quarrels with David and Clank on if they should go back to the town or not but all of them agree to follow David’s initiative under the circumstances. (Midpoint; Point of No Return)
On the next day, they try walking through the nearby woods yet they encounter more soldiers and a helicopter chasing them. David and Clank open fire on the helicopter then it’s destroyed by their gun shots. Later they come to a farm house where occupied by three sentries but Clank kills all of them after one of captives tells truth about quarantine and some of them tries to reach for a gun. They hide at the farmhouse for a night. (Rising conflicts)
Trixie infected local priest (Jack Zaharia) goes mad and touches himself with gas like famous TOUCHING MONK in 1963. (Rising conflicts)
Artie goes mad and rapes his daughter Kathy Fulton, then he commits suicide after he is heavily beaten up by Clank. In the next morning, infected Kathy wanders outside of farm house where bunch of soldiers find and surround her. When she screams soldiers shot her. Possibly infected Clank manages David and Judy to escape by shooting several soldiers but he himself gets shot in the head. (End of ACT2: The Worst Situation for main characters)
Dr. Watts finally finds a natural immune from one of blood samples from patients and decides going back to Fort Datrick to make vaccines however soldiers misrecognize him as one of quarantined patients at the school. And they push him into confinement with crazies. Dr. Watts gets killed in following provocation by crazies, one of them pulls him and then he bounces down the stairs to death.
In the evening, soldiers creeping toward their hiding place, a construction factory. David hides obviously infected Judy in brick wall surrounded her. After David kills two soldiers to take Judy out of there, she misrecognizes David as one of them due to its robbed NBC suit from one of them. When Judy runs away, David calls her however militia suddenly appears and mistakenly kills her. David kills several of them for a revenge but one of militia is recognized as David’s fellow firefighter. Finally, David surrenders to soldiers. (Solution)
Colonel Peckem is allocated to another infected city Louisville by a helicopter. (Solution)
Unlike internet sources, David did not deliberately hide his immunity because he does not have it and actually gets infected at the end. Moreover he realises it after murdering fellows impulsively for Judy. There is no fixed antagonist in this film. In fact, Colonel Peckem is a protagonist who is as same as the counterpart David. Trixie is not a MacGuffin yet it turns the good into the bad. Thus in this film, the infected people become antagonists innocently.
This films has two action lines which are led by two protagonists, one is David and the other one is Colonel Peckem. Both sides are good not evil. There is no simple Hollywood dualism
in this film. Really an alternative to Hollywood traditional narrative. The most important thing is that protagonists and antagonists are dialectically interchangeable due to Trixie. It gradually makes good people turn into bad guys. Maybe innocent villains. This is superior than any ordinally genre films of today. Why no one mentioned this?
Technical Aspects and Aesthetics
CUBIST CUTTING STYLE
American standardised films are made by two or more cameras, so called multiple cameras. Even major Soviet films were made in this way. No single camera work like Japan and Taiwan. Hong Kong is a specialist on this westernized or modernized filmmaking method in genre filmmaking. Hong Kong filmmakers are superior than any Asian countries technically. It's undoubtable. Hollywood and Hong Kong are two major global cinema cities in history. For Japan, Akira Kurosawa was an exception, individual phenomenon whose editing was and still is highly praised by Hollywood editors. In fact, Hollywood film editors regard Japanese story board based single camera shot editing as some kind of undeveloped Galapagos stuff which is seemed ineffective. It's not effective but it's just an insult to freedom of expression and more professional editing methodology. I totally agree with Hollywood filmmakers and Akira Kurosawa on this major issue in film editing. Coverage is necessary.
Furthermore, George A. Romero's early days of filmmaking (1968-1978), his single camera based editorial style is also free from grotesque dogmatism of story board based editing of Japan. Japan's story board based editing is also taught in Taiwan where was ex colony of Japan in the past. It is an expression of laziness, process of film editing is highly mechanised and limited in this way. In fact, no coverage. It more fits today's out sourcing editing room rent service mode in which an editor is not an editor anymore, it's just an operator who works for the post production company for users of the editorial software, directors and producers. As the result, they are not artists, not editors, just mechanical operators who don't belong to the production crew fundamentally.
On the contrary, true editors have rights to make their editor's cuts (the first cuts of the film) before the director's cuts and the producer's cuts. This correct and globally standardised process of film editing is also equally right on TV production.
Simple comparison between Japan's story board based single camera editing and George A. Romero's single camera editing is below:
a. Japan-Taiwan's story board based single camera editing: Basically no coverage. Money saving wide shots and a lot of dull dialogues in it. Including all coverage or trying to use many of them is strictly disdained and even denounced by stupid conservative ideologues in the field. While strictly only making shots on the story board logically lacks coverage for actions inside of shots. This kills creating pacing, rhythm, image and possibilities of alteration. Thus it is far from stable professional production. Masters of this mode of film editing were Yasujiro Ozu, Mikio Naruse (Akira Kurosawa highly praised his editing as a champion of this spooky kind) and the best one was and still is Kenji Misumi.
Kenji Mizoguchi does not belong to this mode of film editing. He was mostly closed to Akira Kurosawa.
Only Kenji Mizoguchi really understood the quality and high values of Akira Kurosawa's editing at the time. Making single camera looks like multiple cameras is an essential phase to grab the tips of real multi-camera editing. Because using multiple cameras won't guarantee it will look like multi camera editing, even worse.
Note: No coverage means no additional angles-sizes for the same action. If one angle is depicted on the story board, that's it. No two or more angles-sizes for the same action to cover.
b. George A. Romero's single camera editing is summed as keeping movement in cuts. Every shot must have one or more actions, movements, cuts are meant to keep something moving, keep heads moving. This is the most important and fundamental thing to Romero's editorial style. Especially, THE CRAZIES (1973) had no crane, no Steadicam, no dolly, no drone yet this commercial cutting style created the image of movements. Keeping certain movement in cuts, no action, no movement, no cuts. This also applied in sound editing. There is always specific sound track is added to cuts even though it can be heard slightly like birds chirping, radio, helicopter, fire, siren etc. There must be specific sound track penetrated every set of cuts. Romero called it a subliminal stuff. Beside these, Romero only used film cutter and synchroniser to cut films during the period without Steenbeck or Moviola. I personally also reached the same conclusion that using a cutter and synchroniser is effective than editing on Steenbeck. Steenbeck is useful to check the cuts in motion. This is me and American friend's conclusion on traditional film editing.
During editing before finally synched with music, editing shots without any music tracks was not his way of editing as himself said. This is mostly related with the first cuts, editor's cuts at early phase of editing. The solution is adding needle drops. Needle drop means pre-existed music from library, database. This exercise is necessary. I myself did it during silent and talkie film student stuffs.
Unlike Lucio Fulci, there are no extreme close ups for eye movements. Fulci's cutting is concentrated on eye movements, he loved extreme close ups of eyes than anyone else. Of course this is also not typical in Asian films. Hong Kong horror films are affected by Lucio Fulci for degree of exaggeration of violence. However Romero consciously made cutaways, close ups, reaction shots without any master shots. More cutaways and close ups to compress original actions in scenes. One action has three different angles shot by single camera thus he said he made 30 to 40 set ups per day in this way.
Romero respected Orson Wells, and even he admitted his editing was influenced by commercial cutting he engaged for decades and Orson Welles. Orson Wells considered many cuts for low budget production like Macbeth (1948) and sequence shots for higher budget films like The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) due to full staging of live actions while he thought myth of sequence shots by Bazin was nonsense. Orson Wells corrected Bazin's anti-Soviet montage bias on film editing. This job was not done by Soviet but by Orson Welles himself. Cutting is essential as you just see we must connect shots to create a film. It's a simple answer to demonisation of film editing by extremists and hard line anti-Communist lunatics in film critics and censorship. Those kinds of ideologues distorted freedom of expression and essential function of film editing. Stupid Taiwanese KMT or DPP ideologues still embrace early phase of Bazin against later years of Bazin. They just abstracted Bazin's anti Soviet montage criticism which was abandoned by Bazin himself after he interviewed Orson Welles.
Including coverage (many cutaways and close ups without lazy wide shots and master shots) as many as possible, even all of them is his typical editorial tendency I love. As the result, there are rarely establishment shots in it, every scenery is divided and limited in cutaways and close ups. It compressed the space, time and concentrated on dramatically and psychologically meaningful movements.
For cons, Romero admitted that he did not know eye lines and screen directions at the time thus there are many mismatch cuts on this. It's omitted here. Only refer to his successful editorial solutions in this film.
1. Functions of Cutaways
It compresses time and space without any master shots or wide shots. Cutaways basically are close ups but not limited to be. There is no full wide shot or literal establishing shot.
This set of cuts separated the room and only economically focused on movements. It's a minimalist approach to the narrow military office room inside of the clinic. No wide shot, no establishment shot, no master shot yet it actually established the relationships among characters through cutaways and close ups. All of them are moving in the shots. Cutting kept the movement and penetrated the set of cuts.
A set of cuts at the burning house sequence. It also does not depend of any master shots or establishing shots. David's close up/ cutaway became part of reverse cut here.
Their geographical relationships are established not by a direct establishing shot but cutaway shots.
Cutaways can create suspense like following set of cuts. (this set composited by three shots and two cuts)
Again, there is neither dull wide shot nor literally taught establishing shot at all. Establishing a scene does not only depend on an establishing shot. Cuts can establish a scene without any wide shots.
Some time, only a reverse cut of two extreme close ups can establish a scene without a wide shot. It quite differs from Yasujiro Ozu's reverse cut of literal front shots.
The best example of Romero's editing style is the opening sequence. Used three cutaways/ close ups to compress the staging actions. Cubist editing style is Romero's typical feature. Romero tried to avoid any flatness in visual sense and stillness in musical sense as a film editor.
The point is that there is an actual movement in each shot. One move, one shot. Cutting is to keep cuts in action. There must be a particular movement in all shots.
2. Keeping eyes, brains, actors moving by editing
There are moving shadows even in still shots in which characters are just sitting or pausing. There must be some movement in each shot. This principle was highly consciously materialised by Romero.
In the latter case, Romero only shot shadow of David without full wide shot which possibly fully shown him with them. Other characters are compressed into shadows in one shot. Put everything inside as many as possible creatively. Editing affected Mise en scene.
Intercut means cuts between characters who do not recognise with each other in the scene. It differs from cross cutting while characters are recognising with each other. However Intercut and cross cutting are dialectically interchangeable. It means intercut can become cross cutting, vice versa.
In the first example at White House scene, it intercuts with deployment of bomber and Dr. Watts' arriving at airport. First, the White House scene is horizontally intercuts with footage of deployment of bomber to Evans City; second, intercuts between the White House and Dr. Watts at airpot are not horizontally dealt with, the latter gradually replaces the former. This is purely an intercut.
In both scenes, all characters are quarrelling about the ''correct'' quarantine measures. The two action lines are completely separated yet beautifully gradually replaced by the Dr. Watts' scene at the airport.
Tonic montage (intercut) is used in the rape scene. It intercuts with a dining room scene in which Clank tolls the bell. Its unnatural sounds penetrate the rape scene. It is the tone of madness.
4. Analytic montage; Overlapping Action
Analytic montage means quick cuts of series of extreme close ups of an intensified action. Typically like the shower scene in The Psycho (1960). It's also called overlapping action because it repeats the same shots or exactly the same action. This method is originated in a scene in which a raged sailor breaking a dish on the table in The Battleship of Potemkin (1925).
In The Crazies (1973), the analytic montage is used when the infected woman suddenly stabs the soldier in a house. This montage is composed of same shots. Romero separated shots into pieces.
The last example is the death of Kathy. What amazing is that the traditional establishing shot was put at the end when Kathy gets shot and down on the ground. Romero did not forget staging a movement to it by chasing the bunch of sheep to let them move across the frame from the left to the right. Panning reveals a unit of soldiers in the farmland in front of Kathy walking toward them. This way of staging antagonists is dramatically successful when it creates a tension, very dialectical.