June 27, 2015

Catch-22 (1970) and the importance of cinematography

 

Most of my adult life has been spent studying various forms of visual story-telling (film, comic books, animation, theater, etc.) and eating samples at grocery stores, and I can tell you without a moment's hesitation that I am an excellent judge of a good movie AND a good apple brie square.  Pretty proud of myself.

Yesterday I was flipping channels and without knowing what I was watching, stumbled upon a young Alan Arkin in a grey, dirty hospital bed talking to people who aren't his parents.

Instantly the dialogue and camera work hooked me.


It wasn't until the abrupt and much unwanted commercial break cut in that the television informed me I was watching "Catch-22" (1970)

I hadn't read that novel in high school even though it was on our list of summer reading books.  Instead I chose Fahrenheit 451, although I feel no regret since I am in a much better place now to read a WWII novel.

I had to know who was responsible for this masterpiece and it is the work of 4 principle men: Mike Nichols (oh of course, how could I not know this) Buck Henry (Get Smart and Saturday Night Live) David Watkin the cinematographer and Joseph Heller who wrote the original classic.

I will never understand why trash like Birdman gets showered with awards, and films like this go largely under appreciated.  (The director for that film telling Mike Nichol's himself at a dinner party that he didn't need his advice on directing, as well as claiming publicly that "Hitchcock is overrated."  So he is a moron.)

If you've seen Catch-22 and can appreciate the camerawork involved, you'll know how deft and masterful the cinematography really is.  This is back in a time when there was no quick digital editing or the ability to do massive CGI touch ups in post-production.  The film cost serious, serious money to develop and each take was important.



Maybe it was a bad time for the film to be released, having to compete with the much more successful M.A.S.H. and Patton released in the same year.  I do love the film Patton and despite my reticence that Robert Altman is also a genius, don't particularly care for M.A.S.H - TV or movie.  Maybe it was war-movie overload for audiences already tired and angry over Vietnam.

In the end, if I'm the only one who thinks this film is truly exceptional then that's cool.  It's not the kind of thing I can watch often, but will continue to be a source of artistic inspiration.

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