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Post by Admin on Fri Dec 31, 2010 4:44 am

This is kind of cool, plus Michael worked with both:

UK Honours ‘Hunger’ Film Helmer Steve McQueen and TV’s ‘Poirot’ Detective David Suchet
by admin on December 31st, 2010
Posted In: Deadline

This New Year’s UK Honours list from the Queen includes only two names of major showbiz interest for CBEs (one notch below knighthood): film director Steve McQueen (Hunger) who’s about to start shooting Shame in January with Michael Fassbender, and actor David Suchet, best known for playing Belgian detective Hercule Poirot in those marvelous Agatha Christie mysteries for ITV and PBS. I would say that McQueen’s selection is surprising given his anti-establishment stance. His Hunger was a sympathetic portrayal of Irish terrorist Bobby Sands – not the Establishment’s favourite person. Actress Harriet Walter, mainly known for her stage work over here, has become a Dame, and comedienne Sheila Hancock also becomes a CBE. Down a peg from that, Burt Kwouk, who was Peter Sellers’ karate-chopping butler in the Pink Panther movies has been made an OBE.

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Post by Admin on Sun Jan 16, 2011 9:05 pm

resistance is not futile: resistance is everything
I think a lot about resistance: about what it means when ordinary people refuse to yield to powers much stronger than themselves. I've been thinking of the many forms acts of resistance can take, why people resist, what it means.

Last summer in Toronto, groups of people walked the streets of their city to show that they could, to defy the sudden existence of martial law that claimed they couldn't.

All over the UK, students are in the streets and occupying buildings, resisting massive cuts to education funding. The situation in the UK and throughout Europe is very dire - but the people whose system caused the pain are not suffering. A friend who lives in London and I were emailing recently, and she summed it up this way:

...they are closing libraries, cutting everything, raising university tuition fees by 200% and sales tax is now 20%! Bankers are getting huge bonuses still. We work with quite a few financial services firms and it's like they are living in a different universe. Although of course they are taking the opportunity to lay off as many as they can as well even though they are continuing to make huge profits. Barclays doesn't serve tea anymore at meetings to 'cut back'.

Some of my friend's British compatriots are employing a brilliantly creative strategy of resistance to library closures. (Many thanks to Deang for sending this story.)

A town has emptied its library in a bid to fight plans to close it down.

People in Stony Stratford, near Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, have spent the week withdrawing their maximum allowance of books in protest against council plans to close it as part of budget cuts.

And today they said the plan had been a success, with all 16,000 books withdrawn from the library.

Today, as they celebrated the empty shelves, Emily Malleson from Friends of Stony Stratford Library (FOSSL) said they were amazed at how everyone in the town had pulled together.

She said it was calculated that books were being checked out at a rate of around 378 per hour - smashing the usual rates.

"A local resident mentioned the idea, maybe as a bit of a joke, but we thought it was a great idea so we put it to FOSSL," she said.

"I went home, put it on Facebook and emailed everyone I could think of and it's just gone absolutely mad."

They planned to start the campaign on Wednesday, but keen supporters of the library started taking books out the week before.

And in just over a week, the shelves were emptied, with the final books withdrawn yesterday.

"People were going in last night to get books and there weren't any left, "she said.

"I think it's a very simple but clever idea and it's given something that people can act on and make their voice heard.

I love this for so many reasons: how this town values and protects its library, how people united can fight back, how a few organizers with a good idea can spark rebellion. I also love the story because it's about reading as resistance.

Reading has been used as act of political resistance through the ages. Countless books and movies depicting ordinary people struggling against totalitarianism will bring you to hidden books, an echo of children secretly reading books forbidden by their authoritarian schoolmasters, now with potentially fatal consequences.

I recently saw this connection in two differnt novels. (Still in the works: a winter-break "what i'm reading" post.) In The Chosen One, an excellent young-adult novel by Carol Lynch Williams, a young person's resistance to her parents' oppressive religion - and a forced marriage to a man four times her age - begins with reading. Her rebellion begins in the library, until the library becomes - literally - her means of escape.

In Anne Michaels' Fugitive Pieces, after a man risks his life to save a Jewish boy, they read together, working their way through the man's vast library, the education of that boy becoming an ongoing act of resistance.

Reading as resistance isn't about beating the enemy: it's about maintaining some human dignity, stubbornly clinging to a shred of one's own humanity. That has been the case for all the subjugated peoples of the world who have refused to speak the language of their oppressors. At least in private, and often at great cost, people the world over will insist on speaking the language of their own people. It's a way of saying: we still exist.

Also in Fugitive Pieces, a shopkeeper in the Nazi-occupied Greek village hides oranges, saving the scarce fruit - and their desperately-needed nutrition - for the neediest families. The shopkeeper could be killed on the spot: hiding an orange as an act of courageous resistance.

Food can become an instrument of resistance. The movie "Hunger" depicts the refusal of food as the ultimate resistance: the 1981 IRA hunger strike, led by Bobby Sands in 66 days of self-inflicted torture. First we see an earlier form of protest, as the political prisoners in Northern Ireland refuse to wash or change their clothes, covering the walls of their cells in their own excrement, making their captors' jobs as disgusting and difficult as possible.

When the guards haul off the men for forced bathing - heavy accent on forced - the prisoners lash out with feet and fists and teeth, individual naked men fighting back against a small army decked out in face shields and batons. It's a stunning scene. I thought: this is what resistance means. Never going quietly. Never being docile. Fighting every inch of the way. Resistance means: we will not go quietly.

Michael Fassbender's harrowing, incredible performance as Sands causes you to question the very nature of human survival and sacrifice. Watching the effects of starvation on the human body and brain, you wonder, how could a human being choose this? Where do they find the strength? Inevitably, even a believer like me may be led to ask, what good does this do?

Then in the postscript you learn that 10 more men made the same choice - that the prison ultimately met all their demands - that during the hunger strike, Bobby Sands was elected to Parliament, opening the door for political recognition of Sinn Fein.

And suddenly the movie's title isn't about the needs of the body: it's about the human hunger for freedom.
Posted by laura k at 1/16/2011 10:00:00 AM

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Post by Admin on Fri Jan 21, 2011 1:28 am

Wednesday, January 19, 2011
Skeleton Business, by Matt Warren

It was slightly disturbing how much fun I had watching Hunger, director Steve McQueen’s grimmer-than-grim, fact-based interpretation of the 1981 Irish hunger strike to protest the political status of IRA members imprisoned in Northern Ireland. “Fun” maybe isn’t the first word you would associate with such a stone cold bummer of a film, but somewhere amid all the brutal prisoner abuse, body horror, and s$#!-smeared walls, the film helped me forget my own troubles, and, perversely, helped cheer me up. When people talk about film being an escapist art form, I guess what they usually mean is something fun and frothy involving Avatarism or Hogwarts or whatever. But sometimes something as miserablist as Hunger can be just as effective.

While back in Utah to visit the family over Christmas, a cheerful outing to the ol’ ski hill quickly turned into a thrice-fractured shoulder, emergency surgery, and twenty thousand dollars of medical bills not covered by my insurance, which was due to be activated-I s$#! you not-THE VERY NEXT DAY following the 30 day waiting period for coverage for new employees at my new job. I know, I know. Boo f#%@#&! hoo. But there’s more. The day I flew home, my girlfriend was in a huge car wreck on the 405 and was spirited away via ambulance to Long Beach Memorial. I rushed directly from the airport to the hospital in my narcoticized, oxycodone-addled state to the hospital busted wing and all to find my best friend/life partner laying flat on a backboard, neckbrace on, face covered in blood (she was ultimately OK, thank God).
Also, I broke my glasses and my cat was mildly sick for about a day and a half. So far, 2011 = total f#%@#&! clown party.

Which is why it was such a relief to dial up Hunger on Netflix Watch Instant. Sometimes you watch a film for the right reason, like to educate yourself about important goings-on in recent world history, or to feel inspired by the depths of one man’s total devotion to a single cause, even at the expense of his own life. But other times you just wanna see somebody get their s$#! wrecked even harder than yours did. And in Hunger, protagonist Bobby Sands and his IRA cohorts get their s$#! wrecked wrecked. We’re talking brutal beatdowns at the hands of overstressed, ill-tempered prison guards. We’re talking damp, dirty jail cells caked in urine and feces. We’re talking indelicate anal cavity searches. We’re talking suicide via the most protracted, painful, and aesthetically upsetting means possible.

Hunger depicts suffering with the kind of fetishistic detail not seen since Mel Gibson’s The Passion, which is why I found my response to it so odd, and maybe a little disturbing. Was it schadenfreude? Or was I just relieved that my situation wasn’t that bad. It’s comforting to know that, despite how profound your own psychic and physical pain may feel to you, you’re usually only scratching the surface of human misery. Maybe that’s why, as I sat in bed hunched over my laptop, Netflix open, unable to move even one inch for fear of sending tendrils of pain shooting through my entire body, I finally, for the first time since the accident, felt… OK.

But maybe it was just the simple pleasures of watching a well-made movie. Cinema’s ability to distract is the primary component to its appeal. At this point in popular culture, the examination of entertainment’s narcotic-like effects is an entire sub-genre unto itself, turning up as the key plot point in both David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest and William Shatner’s TekWar, the two most important literary works of the last 25 years. Generally, these works take a reliably critical attitude toward the idea of turning off one’s consciousness in favor of being swept up in Entertainment’s loving, smothering embrace. But sometimes escapism is necessary as a survival mechanism.

But conversely, the virtues of escapism have themselves become cliché. Think Jonathan Pryce’s fantastical flights of fancy in Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, or the imaginations of the young heroes (?) of Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures. These films act as antidotes to kind of anti-entertainment paranoia on display in such techno-thrillers as Strange Days and 1995’s era-defining TekWar: The Movie, starring William Shatner. Neither Days nor Creatures end well for their protagonists, but each film illustrates what is beneficial about leaving your earthly worries behind in favor of immersive fantasy narratives. Both films are, at their core, movies about escapism.
But what is escapism, and how does the term apply to Hunger? For most, a film’s escapist value is directly proportional to its ability to create an immersive, wholly-realized word as separate and distinct from the viewer’s own reality as possible. This is because most people’s lives are sh*#&% and boring. Even people with awesome lives think that their lives are boring and sh*#&%, and if they don’t, they usually have some sort of major personality disorder. This is why audiences generally prefer to spend time in places with names like Pandora, Middle Earth, and the Grid. Places without office parks or Buffalo Wild Wings. Places without Lady Footlocker. Places where every moment is thrilling and every action meaningful. This is usually what we mean by “escapism.”
But if you’re like me (and probably like you, too, if you’ve read this far in an article on f#%@#&! Battleship Pretension), you’ve wasted the best years of your life and a huge chunk of your parents’ hard-earned/inherited money attaining a certain degree of film literacy. And once you reach a certain level of film literacy, an expertly crafted movie becomes its own kind of thrilling adventure, regardless of the content of the narrative. For most filmgoers, the enjoyment derived from a movie is based solely on the film’s ability to wow them through a handful of flashy, turbocharged action set pieces. But a film nerd delights in excellence in every discipline involved with filmmaking: acting, direction, sound, costumes, production design, etc. Some people get excited by explosions; I get excited by the texture of wallpaper on a well-built set.
And Hunger is all about amazing textures. If you didn’t already know that director Steve McQueen came to film from the world of visual art, you may have guessed, given the film’s careful production design, framing, and lighting. One shot lingers on the wall of a prison cell covered is dried s$#! smeared into a spiral. A hose is turned on and, slowly, the s$#! flecks away to reveal the surface underneath. In other shot, prisoners empty their bedpans into under their doors into the hallway, flooding it with piss. The camera holds on the empty hallway. All at once, liquid pools under the row of doors and bubbles out into the hall, pools gradually connecting to cover the smooth concrete surface. Another shot later on reverses the process, with a lone custodian sweeping the hallway clean of pee. These moments are all about texture and surfaces, and are, for all their inherent ugliness, both beautiful and hypnotic.

But what, you may ask, is the metaphorical significance of all this piss-and-s$#! business? Well, I could sit here and conjure up some pile about how it all represents the cleanliness of the soul transcending the limitations of the flesh or something, but I’d be a liar. I don’t know that any of it means anything. In a way, Hunger is a film less about protest and political struggle than it is a film about scabs and bruises. It’s a film about the moist center of the open sore and its dry, flaky outer ring. It’s interested in the body as architecture, as a structure on the verge of collapse. It’s not a biopic about Bobby Sands (Michael Fassbender in a fearless, Christian-Bale-in-The Machinist-esque turn that no doubt upset his mother very much), but rather a film about a group of desperate people who turned their bodies into a weapon simply by pressing the self-destruct button.

In a recent episode of BP, Tyler and David discussed whether film is inherently a storytelling medium, or if it is simply the art of pairing sound and moving image, with its narrative capabilities being mostly incidental. I tend to favor the latter point of view, which is another reason why I found Hunger so resonate. I enjoy when filmmakers don’t try to fit difficult material into the sort of neat little story arcs advocated by screenwriting books like Save the Cat. It’s frighteningly easy to imagine a glossy, Miramax-style version of the Bobby Sands story, complete with a script by Akiva Goldsmith and a Best Supporting Actress turn by Gwyneth Paltrow’s Irish accent as Sands’ steadfast gal Friday on the outside. But McQueen’s film is not a Bobby Sands biopic. It’s an impressionistic portrait of events told through a series of highly stylized, stand-alone vignettes. It reminded me in ways of François Girard’s cubism-influenced Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould. There are long takes, flashbacks, dream sequences, and in-camera SFX sequences. There’s even one moment of unexpected and, for lack of a better word, awesome violence that wouldn’t feel out of place in something like Out of Sight or Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.

Like all great films, Hunger casts a spell. It was a spell powerful enough to transport my mind elsewhere and allow me to forget my problems. The destination may have been a cold, damp prison where terrible things were going on, but it was still somewhere I was relieved to be for 90 minutes. But I suppose the oxycodone didn’t hurt, either.

Posted by Battleship Pretension at 11:09 PM

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Post by Admin on Mon Jan 31, 2011 12:21 am

Sunday, 30 January 2011
Themes Of Social British Realism
Growing Up & Aspiration
Definition: Maturing, going from kids to adults, getting an education, get out of their current situation, to be more than what you grew up with, change who you are, having dreams of a better lifestyle
Example: Billy Elliot (2000)
How it explores the theme: Billy dislikes sport but has a passion for ballet dancing. He is aspired to become a professional ballet dancer when he is older, but it is not accepted by the people around him.
Further Info: The film was set against the background of the 1984 Miner's Strike. Billy Elliot is an 11 year old boy who is torn between his passion for dance and the disintergration of his family to become a boxer. The message this film gives out is "Inside every one of us is a special talent waiting to come out. The trick is finding it." Jamie Bell, who stars as Billy in the film says he wanted to "prove that it wasn't just for girls". The film had a budget of $5,000,000 and made some success in USA with a gross of $21,994,911. Below is the trailer for the film.

Race, Ethnicity & Cultural Tensions
Definition: Racism, tensions between two cultures - they do not always get on
Example: East Is East (1999)
How it explores the theme: Mixed race children are confused between the two cultures they come from and find it difficult to keep both in balance. Their father tries to control their lives by getting them married to Pakistani girls because he wants them to follow his culture.
Further Info: It is directed by Damien O'Donnell and tells the story of a Khan family living in Manchester during the 1970s. George (a Pakistani immigrant) and Ella's (a native Anglo) marriage and children face racial prejudice and struggle to find a place for themselves because George wants them to follow his tradition. O'Donnell says "We're dealing with racism...we do it in the film with humour because I think it's a great way to make a point". Thes use of humour in a film is effective in getting a message across because people are likely to watch it anyway for entertainment. East Is East was a little popular with USA and had a gross of $4,170,647. Below is the trailer for the film which shows the lives of children who wish to follow their own British lifestyle.

Social Class
Definition: under class, working class, live in council estates, no job, ordinary people
Example: The Full Monty (1997)
How it explores the theme: It is about 6 men who are unemployed who decide to become strippers to gain enough money to get somewhere else. The working class are just ordinary people like anyone else as a man says "you're just like the rest of us...scrap".
Further Info: The film had a budget of $3,500,000 and it's gross was $45,857,453 in the USA. It was distributed by Fox Searchlight and the comedy involved is what made the film successful. The director Peter Cattaneo was nominated for the BAFTA Award for Best Direction and won the Academy Award for Best Director. The film was set in Sheffield which is seen as a grimy, dominished locale and the script reflects the loss of status for individuals and the community. Below is trailer made for the film for an American audience because the comedy involved in the film would appeal to them.

Definition: Emotional scenes, a reason for violence, impacts on dialogue with swearing, fighting, bullying, guns
Example: Kidulthood (2006)
How it explores the theme: Three boys who are sixth formers bullying three boys in the lower year, punches one to the ground to show their dominance. Boy under pressure by his uncle to cut someone's face with a knife. A boy beats up his girlfriend for cheating on him.
Further Info: Noel Clarke wrote and starred in the film Kidulthood as well as it's sequel, Adulthood which was later released in June 2008. According to the director, Menhaj Huda, the film cost only just £600,000 to make. The film was shot in the actual areas of inner West London and the London Underground of Ladbroke Grove. Noel Clarke wanted to show the lives of actual teenagers growing up in these areas and pass on a message to the audience. He mentions in an interview that many people who watched Kidulthood, miss out the moral message it was giving out. He also says "If you behave like this and get involved with these sorts of could die" and that it wasn't just about "another young black man getting killed on the street". In the video below, Philip Saunders interviews Noel Clarke.

Definition: Homosexuality, bisexual, transgender, others around people may not accept the way they are
Example: My Beautiful Laundrette (1985)
How it explores the theme: Two men who like each other of different ethnicities but the Pakistani man is being dominiated by the white ethnicity. The Pakistani man's father tries to set him up with a girl so he is not attracted to men.
Further Info: The film's budget was £650,000 and it's gross was $2,451,545 in the USA. Channel 4 Films/Film Four was the first production company to produce films of extreme themes. It was directed by Stephen Frears and written by Hanif Kureishi. Homosexuality was a major issue back at the time during around 1985. The film also involves comedy to push the issue forward and give out a message to show the lifestyles of ordinary people. Below is the trailer for the film.

Gender Roles & Relationships
Definition: Pedophiles, mother/father figures, expected to be a man/woman, friendships can change your life, relationship between husband and wife
Example: One Upon a Time in the Midlands (2002)
How it explores the theme: A man who acts feminine as he hides in a cupboard, he intimidates a tougher man than himself and tries to run away from his troubles as he says "Where's my suitcase?!". A man also calls him "You're not even half a man".
Further Info: The gross for the film was small in the USA which was $171,830. The director Shane Meadows, who also directed This Is England, was nominated for the Best Feature at the Gijon International Film Festival 2002. The film trailer portrays the roles of men and women as shown in the trailer below.

Definition: Drugs, alcohol, self-harming, thieving/shoplifting
Example: Trainspotting (1996)
How it explores the theme: Strange scene when the person drops a pill in the toilet and goes down inside it to get it, this gives us the idea that people are addicted to substances and are willing to take big risks which seems unrealistic. The guy also nearly gets runover by a car and starts laughing at the screen.
Further Info: Trainspotting had a budget of $3,500,000 and was successful with it's gross $16,501,785 which shocked critics. The film shows the "Edinburgh heroin culture" and portrays the fantasy and urban life that heroin addicts face. In the video below, the director Danny Boyle describes his intentions of the film.

British Politics
Definition: Explores how the government doesn't care about the society or people, anti-government films made to represent this
Example: Hunger (2008)
How it explores the theme: This film is about the last six weeks of the life of a hunger striker, Bobby Sands. It is based on the 1981 Irish hunger strike. A man sacrifices for what he believes in.
Further Info: Michael Fassbender plays Bobby Sands, the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) volunteer and led the 1981 Irish hunger strike. Critics say that the film dramatizes these events rather than portraying what actually would've happened. Hunger was turned down by the Irish Film Board, but still had gone down to be one of the most successful Irish films. The film was also named as the 'Best Film Of 2009' by the Toronto Film Critics Association Awards. The director of this film, Steve McQueen, wanted to show people about events which occured in the past which they don't know about. McQueen talks about this outside the London Film Festival in 2008.

Definition: Moving from one area to another area, trouble fitting in with the society, they are taking away our benefits
Example: Somers Town (2008)
How it explores the theme: It is about a lonely Polish boy who makes friends with someone already within the society. Football is a common sport in Britain and a man gets the Polish boy to wear an arsenal t-shirt so he supports that football team.
Further Info: It's gross revenue was £566,616 and is directed by Shade Meadows, who was also the director of This Is England. The film studies the social environment in Somers Town in London which was shot in black and white. It was set around Pheonix Court, a low council property which reinforces the social realism in films of the working class. New Of The World describes the film as 'Hilarious, heartwarming British film-making'. Below is the official trailer for the film.

Posted by misspgx at 09:53

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Post by Admin on Sun Feb 20, 2011 6:29 pm

Alex, as home grown talent I was wondering how your experiences being on set of such a big budget production felt compared to some of your earlier films you did? And does this mean a permanent switch to the US for you?

Alex Pettyfer: I don’t know if it is a permanent switch because I love English films, I love Steve McQueen’s Hunger with Michael Fassbender. I love our British independents and that most of our British talent is recognised through them – like Tom Hardy with Bronson. So I will definitely come back to England for a role like that. Unfortunately for a 20 year old there aren’t many roles like that.

I really enjoyed working on this movie. I think the difference is the work ethic. It’s a lot faster which is weird because when you have less money you would think you would work faster. You have to work faster and be more concentrated on getting what you need and not what you think you need.

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Post by Admin on Sat Feb 26, 2011 5:00 am

Friday, February 25, 2011
The top 10 shots of 2008 | Kristopher Tapley
I'm hoping to make this an annual tradition here at In Contention. It's no secret we have a lot of respect for below-the-line talent around these parts, but it's nice to have a visual way of showing that appreciation. I sat down to write this piece for the first time last year, taken by the caliber of cinematography we had to bask in throughout the year and, indeed, the awards season. The unusually high number of lensing achievements in 2007 left a slew of images to choose from and it was difficult whittling it down to 10.

This year the challenge was of a different sort. The field was curiously thin. It wasn't that the talent wasn't on display. God knows, a number of the greats were lining up behind the camera this year. But the images weren't as instantly iconic or as viscerally gripping as they were in 2007, which might have left me a bit disappointed on one hand. Then again, it just made searching for my favorites all the more involved and interesting, and I'm happy to offer my findings to you in this space, even if it meant doubling up.

Yes, in one instance (an undeniable one, really), a certain film found two shots popping up on the list, and nearly three. Another film also found itself close to a second mention, but I tried to keep a balance of honesty and fairness in place as much as possible. If a film has two of the year's best shots, it has two of the year's best shots, right?

This year, things are slightly different. Last time around, I got a few arbitrary quotes from lensers throughout the season and plugged them into the piece where they fit best. This year, I sought out the various directors of photography to get their opinions on the specific shots in question. Their insight, as always, makes for a better story and, indeed, more context for the reader. I hope you enjoy reading their thoughts as much as I did collecting them.

So, I look forward to doing this each and every year I'm cranking out copy for your reading pleasure (or displeasure). In my view, it is one of the best ways I can commemorate the technicians that so often find themselves overlooked this time of year.

So let's get on with the list…



Director of Photography: Sean Bobbitt

It is an interesting shot in that it sort of highlights the working relationship between myself and Steve McQueen. He said it was as if the camera was a balloon bouncing around the room, always looking at Michael. There was no visual reference that he could think of but he had a gut feeling that there was something about that movement of the camera. It highlights Steve's creativity because he's coming from the world of art. We had several discussions about how you get a camera to move like that, coming up with all sorts of rigs — including large balloons — none of which were really practical. As we were getting more into the shoot, the birds started to grow in importance, and for Steve it was suddenly clear that it wasn't a balloon, it was a bird, and the bird represented Bobby Sands' soul, trying to escape this room.

–Sean Bobbitt

Steve McQueen's "Hunger" is a visual masterpiece, loaded with captivating images sprung from the mind of a contemporary artist in this, his first feature film. One could talk all day about the virtues of the film's narrative structure, a broken string of moments that catches its stride in an extended glimpse of hunger striker Bobby Sands (played brilliantly by Michael Fassbender) in his final days of incarceration at HM Maze Prison outside of Belfast.

Sean Bobbitt has spent much of his time in the world of television as of late, but it seems a collaboration with McQueen was all it took to unleash a ferocious sense of creativity in the lenser. He captures the Maze with a number of clever and thematically potent angles and hues, equally effective with elaborate camera movement and the stillness of visual commentary.

The shot that stuck out in my mind comes late in the film, perhaps the most unusual of the numerous memorable images on display. The camera hovers above Fassbender as he goes into a series of convulsions, forgoing whatever fluids might have remained in his stomach. It then pushes in swiftly on the actor as the viewer hears the sound of bird wings flapping, then out again, repeating the movement a number of times before resting in a somewhat defeated manner. I do it no justice here; the movement is excellently explained by Bobbitt above.

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Post by Admin on Sun Oct 02, 2011 7:56 pm

Paul Davies Special: Sound Design of Hunger – Exclusive Interview

by Peter Albrechtsen

It’s still Paul Davies’ month here at Designing Sound and now is the time to dig into one of Paul’s most celebrated works: Hunger.

This 2008 film tells the story of the fierce battle between the Irish Republican Army and the British state, which in 1981 led to a hunger strike in which 10 IRA prisoners died. A haunting, intense drama that has received worldwide acclaim – it premiered at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival, winning the prestigious Camera d’Or award for first-time filmmakers. It was also a major breakthrough for the lead star, Michael Fassbender. Paul Davies talks about the film’s extraordinary stark soundtrack:

Designing Sound: How did you get involved in Hunger?

Paul Davies: My initial contact for the film was the producer Laura Hastings-Smith, who I’d worked with before, on a film called The Lives of the Saints, directed by Rankin, the well-known British photographer. Laura, because of my work on this film, suggested me and Richard Davey (who had been the re-recording mixer on Rankin’s film) as the sound team for Hunger. I went for a meeting with Steve, which went well, and subsequently we were appointed as the sound post team for the project.

DS: The director Steve McQueen has a background in video art. How did that influence his filmmaking, particularly the use of sound?

PD: As you say Steve has a background in film and visual art, however my relationship with him was no different than with any of the other directors I have worked with in the past. Steve related to me as a narrative filmmaker, and not as a fine artist. The only time I was really aware of Steve’s fine art background was in our initial meeting which happened before the film had been shot and he showed me his visual reference book, which contained images of renaissance paintings and contemporary photographs from the period of the hunger strike. After this Steve’s concerns were with narrative and atmosphere, and how we were going to convey the emotion of the story in sound and images.

DS: How was your working process and your schedule on the project?

PD: As I indicated in the earlier section I had read the script and had a meeting with Steve about the conceptual approach before filming began. After this, because the film was actually shot in two sections three months apart, to allow Michael Fassbender the lead actor to lose weight, I saw a cut of the first two thirds of the film, before the second shoot and then saw a couple of versions of the complete film before starting work on the sound design with my assistant sound designer Chu-Li Shewring.

The sound post process started with a detailed spotting session with Steve and the picture editor Joe Walker, Joe had also compiled his own sound notes which acted as a basis for the sound design. Already from the cutting copy Steve and Joe’s intentions regarding the minimal use of music and the use of production sound effects recorded by Mervyn Moore the location sound recordist, provided a clear template for us to follow. The actual time we had for sound editing was actually quite short, four weeks each for me, Chu Li and Peter Shaw the dialogue editor. Fortunately Mervyns’ tracks were very well recorded and provided a firm foundation for us to build the sound design upon and also meant that we only had to record minimal ADR. Tim Alban recorded and edited the foley, which also provided a crucial element in the sound design. We knew that much in the way we had worked on Lynne Ramsay’s films we would want to be able to foreground well recorded Foley in the mix so as to “zoom” in to the characters in the film, to draw closer to them and feel their physical presence.

DS: Dramaturgically, it’s a very interesting movie. The film focuses on different characters throughout the film and the first half feels very realistic whereas the last part is often very subjective. How did this influence the sound design?

PD: Steve was very clear in our first meeting after we started on the sound editing that he didn’t want a conventional prison film i.e. all slamming doors and keys in locks and a busy crowd track shouting throughout in the background. I had laid up some initial tracks of “typical” prison atmospheres, Steve came in and listened to this and said that this was precisely what he didn’t want. We then started discussing the conceptual approach that he wanted for the film, he mentioned the work of the French director Robert Bresson, and his film A Man Escaped in particular. I hadn’t actually seem this film, and it wasn’t available on DVD in the UK at the time, but I was familiar with Bresson’s work from Film School and my involvement with Lynne Ramsay, and I had also read his excellent book on film making (which is essential reading for all film practitioners) “Notes on Cinematography”.

So I knew from all this that we would be adopting a very spare sound style, focussing on one thing at a time, in a very controlled and precise way. So although the film may seem “realistic” on the surface, it is actually quite stylised underneath, and you are right about the change in the final third, this was a conscious decision I made that as Bobby is moving closer to death the atmospheres changes and there is even the subtle inclusion of electronic sound design elements. From the way this final third was shot, it felt to me that Bobby was already in the ante room of the afterlife as it were, and so the sound becomes more esoteric, nebulous and floating.

DS: There’s a lot of extremely intense sequences with Bobby Sands at the end where you really feel the starvation he’s going through. How did you work with the sound to get close to Bobby? Did Michael Fassbender do a lot of breathing ADR? And did you go through a lot of passes to create something like the imagined childhood dreamscapes?

PD: We used foley as a device to draw us closer to the characters as mentioned earlier, focusing on small movements etc. But I had also decided fairly early on that we would need to bring in Michael Fassbender to the ADR studio to record breaths. Normally on most films, breaths are re-recorded just to cover a few scenes, if at all. However on Hunger we spent about 3 hours in the ADR studio with Michael covering breaths pretty much throughout his scenes in the film. This again has the effect of pulling in the viewer closer to the character. It was important to get the original actor to record these breaths by the way, as the performance of these breaths was just as important as any scripted ADR, this was a point that Michael understood straight away, and he gave his full commitment to the process. It was also the reason why I supervised all the ADR recording for the film, as I knew that it would be a vital component of the sound design, we recorded breaths for the other main characters in the film as well.

DS: There’s an impressive use of dynamics and often some quite hard cuts between scenes throughout. Was this something you developed in the sound editing or was it more of a mix thing?

A: This was something that we developed during the sound editing process, and the was further refined during the mixing stage with Richard Davey, the re-recording mixer who did a good job of creating such a precise yet emotionally powerful mix.

DS: How much effects recording did you do? How big a factor was realism for you – did you use the factual sounds for the prison and cars etc.?

PD: Unfortunately, because of the tightness of the sound editing schedule we had no time to record bespoke sound effects for the film, however very kindly a French colleague Vincent Hazard gave me access to a library of sound effects that he had recorded in prisons and hospitals and these proved invaluable in constructing the unique atmosphere of the film.

DS: Did you research a lot to find the proper sounds and props for the foley? The baton banging on the plastic shields is one particular sound that comes to mind.

PD: Again lack of time was a restriction in this regard, and in fact the baton and shield banging is pretty much all original location sound built up and layered.

DS: What’s your own favorite sequence of the movie?

PD: The sequence of Bobby dying in the hospital bed being visited by his mother and then the bearded man, the subtle stylisation of the sound design creates a very powerful effect, especially as this is something new in the film, a technique which we hadn’t used previously – it was more effective when it was introduced as a new element. The sound here becomes very interior, it is all from Michael’s point of view, we see the bearded man speaking, but the sound of his dialogue is very muffled and unintelligible.

DS: I read an interview with Steve McQueen where he said: “Sound, for me, was the most important part of the film because it fills the spaces where the camera just can’t go. A sound can give you the dimensions of a room. It can give you smell, it can give you tension. In some ways sound can travel itself into other areas of our senses, other areas of our psyche that unfortunately cannot be just viewed.” How did these thoughts influence your collaboration?

PD: Steve made it clear right from our first meeting that the sound would really form 50% of the impact of this film. Steve had a very clear concept in this respect. I think that part of the reason that people have always commented on the sound in Hunger is that because there is very little scored music in the film so the focus of the audience is naturally drawn to the sound design, and because the soundtrack is so stark and each sound so carefully chosen it resonates in the viewer’s mind.

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