Dawn Pisturino's Blog

My Writing Journey

Short Poems

(Mini Me from Austin Powers)

Short Poems by Dawn Pisturino

Love Your Man

Love your man and love him well;

Give all you can and time will tell

The consequences, good or ill.

But love him still.

September 8, 1985

~

Attack on Libya

All around the terrorist camp

The monkey chased the weasel;

The monkey thought ’twas all in fun:

Pop! Goes the weasel.

A billion for the air raid,

A million for the missile;

That’s the way the money goes:

Pop! Goes the weasel.

April 16, 1986

(Based on the nursery song)

~

Sorrows

Sorrows come and sorrows go,

Pleasures last a day;

I know not why He made it so:

I wish it were the other way!

May 3, 1986

~

The Airplane

I looked into the big, big sky

And watched an airplane passing by;

I was too small for him to see,

And so he never noticed me.

May 3, 1986

~

Thanks for visiting and reading my poems!

Dawn Pisturino

April 27, 2022

Copyright 1985-2022 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

18 Comments »

Love Your Mother!

(GAIA)

Gaia was the Greek goddess of the Earth who was born out of Chaos at the beginning of creation. Through her mating with Uranus, the celestial gods were born. Her dalliance with Pontos brought forth the sea gods. Through Tartaros, she birthed the giants. All humans and animals were created from her material being.

The Greeks viewed the Earth as a flat disk surrounded by a river. Overhead, the Earth was protected by a heavenly dome. Underneath, a deep pit formed the dome of the Underworld. Gaia was the Mother who nourished and nurtured the Earth and everything on it. The seas and mountains anchored securely on her great and abundant breasts.

Humans are not separate from nature. We are as dependent on Mother Earth for our sustenance as any other creature. But the human ego, pumped up by advanced technology, has deceived us into believing that we are above it all. We are so powerful, intelligent, and all-knowing, that we can control nature, the weather, and all aspects of the natural order. We are the Masters of the Universe, ready to hop onto the next spaceship to another planet. The problem is that we will take all of our problems and our egos with us.

In the 1970s, scientists claimed that the Earth was headed for another Ice Age and had all the data to back it up. So far, it hasn’t happened. They claimed that the Earth would run out of petroleum in 25 years. It never happened. They claimed that the Earth was going to be so over-populated in the future that famine would be widespread. Except for the political manipulation of politicians, this has not happened.

In the 1990s, we began to see books like The Coming Plague (1994) and The Coming Global Superstorm (1999) which predicted widespread existential threats like devastating disease and severe weather patterns that would wipe out the human race. No natural event has ever occurred in the history of mankind which had the capability to wipe out the entire human race. (Please note that I’m not talking about the dinosaurs here.) COVID was never virulent enough to rise to that occasion, as inconvenient and life-changing as it has been. (And there is no evidence that COVID originated from climate change, as some people are claiming. It could just as likely have originated from a lab, as some evidence suggests, or arisen naturally as a result of mutation, which is the most logical conclusion.) And, the wildfires, hurricanes, and tornados we have experienced have been contained as local events.

When scientists first labeled climate change as “global warming,” they neglected to explain to the general public how that actually works, and people were confused by what they actually experienced; so they re-labeled it as “climate change” to make it easier to understand. Essentially, it means that when one part of the planet grows warmer and changes the local environment, other changes occur in other parts of the planet – but NOT NECESSARILY THE SAME CHANGES. For example, record heat in one part of the planet may be accompanied by record cold in another part, even if the overall temperature of the planet has increased. Increased drought in one area may be accompanied by increased precipitation in another. Climate (long-term conditions) and weather (short-term conditions) involve much more than just temperature. Wind and ocean currents play a big part. An extreme event would be a sudden and unstoppable shift in climate. This scenario was touched upon in the movie The Day After Tomorrow (2004), where North America was suddenly covered with ice, and people were forced to migrate south to Mexico. (This movie, by the way, is based on the book, The Coming Global Superstorm.)

Our Mother Earth also has mechanisms in place to control population (disease, infertility, old age, predation, and natural death). The human ego is so out of control that we have come to a point where we believe that nobody should ever get sick and nobody should ever die. This attitude has been clearly evident during the COVID pandemic. One of the most important things I learned as a registered nurse and healthcare worker is that you can’t save everybody, and in fact, you shouldn’t save everybody. This sounds cold-hearted, but it’s a fact of life. The world is out of balance because of human interference in the natural order.

On Earth Day and everyday, remember and love your Mother – she who nourishes and sustains your very existence. But please don’t spread the seeds of hysteria, fear, panic, and anxiety. When Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and others began telling young people that we were all going to die in 12 years because of climate change, we began receiving young people into our inpatient mental health unit who were so distraught and eaten up with anxiety, paranoia, and fear that some of them were on the verge of suicide. Deliberately spreading this kind of fear-mongering rhetoric is irresponsible, cruel, and unacceptable. It’s pollution of a different sort.

Recycle what you can, plant trees, pick up litter, and keep your environment clean and free from as many toxins as possible. Work to help endangered species and places to thrive. Help clean up our oceans, rivers, and lakes. Conserve water! Reduce your use of plastic. Use energy-efficient vehicles, appliances, and lighting. Drive electric vehicles, if that’s your style, but remember that those batteries create toxic waste (ALL BATTERIES create toxic waste). Electronic computers, cellphones, and other devices also create toxic waste and use elements like lithium that have to be mined from the earth. Mining leads to erosion and deforestation. Convert to solar, wind, and all-electric, if you want. But remember that even these technologies have their environmental downside. For example, the breakdown of energy sources used to generate electricity is as follows, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration: natural gas 40%, nuclear energy 20%, renewable energy 20%, coal 19%, petroleum 1%. Using electricity does not eliminate fossil fuels and nuclear energy from the equation. Anybody who tells you otherwise (including politicians and climate activists) has not done their homework. Furthermore, humans and animals are carbon-based entities. Plants depend on CO2 to produce oxygen. We could never live in a carbon-free world because that, in itself, would be an existential threat.

On April 22, we honor our planet. Happy Earth Day!

Dawn Pisturino

April 21, 2022

Copyright 2022 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

41 Comments »

Bela Lugosi: From Jesus Christ to Dracula

(Bela Lugosi as Jesus Christ)

Before he became indelibly inked with the image of Dracula, Bela Lugosi worked as a theater actor in Hungary. He performed with various repertory companies from 1902 until 1913, when he was accepted into the National Theater in Budapest. He stayed with the company until 1919.

According to Lugosi, one of his most memorable and important roles was portraying Jesus Christ in the 1916 production of The Passion Play in Debrecen, Hungary. He was so taken with his resemblance to the traditional image of Christ that he had several photographs taken which still survive today.

In 1927, Lugosi appeared as Count Dracula in the Broadway production of Dracula. His performance and interpretation of the character were so captivating that he was hired to reprise the role in the 1931 Universal movie a few years later. The movie made him a star, and he was forever typecast as a horror icon, even though he would have preferred to move on to other roles.

Bela Lugosi died of a heart attack on August 16, 1956 in Los Angeles, California and was buried in Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City. His iconic portrayal of Count Dracula lives on in the minds and hearts of all of his fans. Visit his official website: http://www.belalugosi.com.

Dawn Pisturino

April 11, 2022

Copyright 2022 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

19 Comments »

Technicolor, VistaVision, and the Widescreen Visual Experience

ATTENTION! SPOILER ALERT!

Not only did John Ford film the 1956 movie, The Searchers, in brilliant Technicolor, but he filmed it in VistaVision, providing the audience with an enhanced widescreen visual experience.

http://www.widescreenmuseum.com/widescreen/vistavision.htm

Movies made in VistaVision were intended to be viewed in theaters with large screens, both in height and width. VistaVision technology created an “optical reduction from a large negative image to the standard release print image . . . [that improved] the front and side seat viewing” (American WideScreen Museum) in widescreen formats.

John Ford’s spectacular landscape shots of Monument Valley (cinematographer Winton C. Hoch) were perfect for both Technicolor and widescreen viewing. Here are some examples:

In this wide angle long shot, the audience sees the renegade Comanches attacking the search party from two sides and chasing them through the valley. The landscape is open and wide, giving the impression of an unlimited environment with no place to hide. Will the search party survive this attack?

In this long shot, the searchers forge ahead with the search for the lost child, Debbie, in spite of a desolate desert landscape, storms, and few provisions. It is a dramatic scene which highlights the grim determination of the men involved.

In the final long shot, John Wayne walks away, after reuniting Debbie with her adopted brother, in order to avoid being arrested for murder. He is framed in black, indicating that this is the end of the story, and he will probably never return. He is a loner who got his revenge, found personal redemption, and saved his family. He is the hero of the story— but he is also a broken man who does not fit into civilized society. He has not necessarily overcome his bitterness and racism. He merely decided that saving one of the last members of his family was more important than killing her.

If John Ford’s intention was to highlight spectacular landscapes and provide the audience with an incredible widescreen experience, Technicolor and VistaVision were the right film stock and technology to use.

But if it was his intention to tell a dramatic and tension-filled story, he might have done better to use black and white film stock. The bright colors and wide angle screen shots detract from the story. It is easy to get caught up in the visual spectacle and miss what’s happening in the story. Barsam and Monahan describe The Searchers as “a psychological western that is concerned less with the traditional western’s struggle between good and evil than with the lead character’s struggle against personal demons” (Barsam and Monahan 216). They conclude that the movie “might have been even more powerful shot in black and white instead of color.  Doing so might have produced a visual mood, as in film noir, that complemented the darkness at the heart of the movie’s narrative” (Barsam and Monahan 216).

John Ford was not striving for accuracy and authenticity in The Searchers, and the use of color highlights the movie’s many flaws. Viewers in the 1950s were not as familiar with the Southwest as they are today. In 2017, John Ford could not get away with filming a western in Monument Valley (which is located in Northern Arizona and Utah), and slapping on an intertitle identifying the location as Texas. The viewers would not accept it. Neither would they accept a white actor with gray or hazel eyes masquerading as a full-blooded Comanche wearing all-too-bright red and yellow war paint. The women in Scar’s tribe of renegade Comanches are attired in traditional Navajo clothing – including John Wayne’s lost niece, Debbie (Natalie Wood). Today’s Navajos watch movies and would eagerly point out this historical inaccuracy. (Monument Valley is Navajo country, and it is obvious from the movie that Ford employed local natives to masquerade as Comanches. As part of my job, I worked with members of the Navajo, Hopi, and Apache tribes. I found the inaccuracies in The Searchers to be jarring, even though I first saw the movie on TV many years ago as a child.) Black and white film might have minimized the obvious flaws.

Barsam, Richard, and Dave Monahan. Looking at Movies, 5th ed. New York: Norton, 2016.

Ford, John, Dir. The Searchers. Perf. John Wayne. Warner Bros., 1956.

Ryder, Loren L. “The Story of VistaVision.” The American WideScreen Museum. 2006.

       <http://www.widescreenmuseum.com/widescreen/vistavision.htm.

Dawn Pisturino

Thomas Edison State University

January 1, 2018

Copyright 2018-2022 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

11 Comments »

Rebel Without a Cause: Juvenile Delinquency

ATTENTION: SPOILER ALERT!

       After World War II, Hollywood struggled to re-define itself.  Box office revenues stagnated, and Hollywood needed new markets to keep going.  The teenage market was an obvious choice.

       Post-war prosperity in the 1950s made it possible for the middle-class to own houses, cars, and the latest work-saving appliances on a widespread scale.  After the fear and deprivation of the war years, Americans wanted to enjoy their new-found prosperity.  Television invaded American homes, bringing new entertainment and exposure to the latest products.  The consumer economy had begun.

       Teenagers had unprecedented pocket money and leisure time.  While their parents climbed the social ladder and hung out with friends at the country club, teenagers necked in the back seats of cars and danced to the latest rock and roll tunes. Hollywood targeted teens to become the new movie-going generation (Lewis, 250, 255).

       The upbeat world of the 1950s cringed under the shadow of nuclear war and an increasingly aggressive Soviet Union.  Beatniks mourned the impending death of humanity in coffee houses and cafes.  The McCarthy years dragged on, and the fear of Communism ran rampant throughout the country.  At the same time, a new kind of socially-conscious movie was being made to highlight problems in American society (Lewis, 228).  Juvenile delinquency became a hot topic.

       Nicholas Ray’s 1955 movie, Rebel Without a Cause, explores the alienation and delinquency of “upper-middle-class white suburban teenagers” (Lewis, 253).  The movie was filmed using Cinemascope widescreen technology and Warnercolor.  Starring James Dean, Sal Mineo, and Natalie Wood, this tense melodrama was meant to serve as a wake-up call to parents: take care of your children, or they will go down the wrong path (Lewis, 253).

       When the movie opens, it is Easter in Los Angeles, California, 1955.  Jim Stark (James Dean) is lying on the pavement, drunk, playing with a mechanical monkey.  It is a poignant scene that shows a lost character who is torn between childhood and adulthood.

       Jim Stark is hauled off to jail and becomes aware of John/Plato (Sal Mineo) and Judy (Natalie Wood).  The three troubled teens are required to speak to the juvenile officer, who tries to understand them.

       Judy cries about her father, who pushed her away when she reached puberty, and complains that she feels unloved by him.  She craves his attention, runs out of the house, and wanders around alone after dark when they get into a conflict over wearing make-up and grown up clothes.  Judy is trying to grow up, but growing up means losing closeness with her father (fear of incest).  She cannot understand why he is pushing her away because nobody has talked to her about it.  Her anger and despair lead her to hang out with the tough high school gang, The Wheels, and the gang’s leader, Buzz.

       John/Plato is an abandoned and neglected rich boy whose black maid is paid to raise him.  It is his birthday, and he is angry because his parents are divorced, his father is not involved in his life, and his mother stays away on vacation.  He has been picked up for shooting some puppies, a deviant behavior that is considered nowadays to be a precursor for sociopathic/psychopathic serial killers (Siegel, 353).  Although his black maid appears to sincerely care for him, calling him “her boy,” she is powerless to help him.  John/Plato appears to be emotionally unstable, starved for love, rejected by his peers, vulnerable and gullible, and physically and emotionally immature. 

       While waiting to see the juvenile officer, Jim Stark annoys the other police officers by wailing like a police siren, making obnoxious comments, and exhibiting a negative, sarcastic attitude.  In one scene, a deep-focus camera shot captures the three troubled teens through windows: Judy sitting in the office with the juvenile officer; John/Plato waiting in the office next door; and Jim sitting on a chair in the background.  The viewer understands that these three troubled teens will eventually get together, connected by their common suffering and antisocial behavior.

       Jim’s mother and father show up at the police station wearing a mink coat and a tuxedo.  They have been at a party at the country club.  Jim’s father laughs and minimizes his son’s drinking.  After all, the family has just moved to Los Angeles, and Jim has not made any friends yet.  The parents bicker, blaming one another; and Jim’s father says to him, “Don’t I buy you everything you want?”  Jim covers his ears and cries at his parents, “You’re tearing me apart!”

       Jim loses control, punches the juvenile officer, and bangs on the desk.  He is in danger of going to juvenile hall.  His parents admit that they have been moving frequently because of Jim’s behavior in order to protect him and their own reputations.  It becomes clear that Jim’s father is weak and cowardly.  His mother is a nag.

       On the first day of school, Jim is bullied for being the new kid.  He tries to befriend Judy, but she smokes cigarettes and hangs out with the tough crowd.  John/Plato looks up to Jim and tags along behind him, calling him “my best friend.”  During the field trip at the Griffith Observatory, the teens are exposed to a presentation about the universe and a nihilistic commentary about the insignificance of earth and human beings.  Jim and John/Plato can both identify with this.

       Jim gets into a knife fight with Buzz, the leader of The Wheels.  At the end of the fight, they agree to compete in a “chickie run.”  Jim doesn’t know what this is, but he agrees to do it as a matter of honor.  When he consults his father, his father cannot give him any worthwhile advice.    Later that night, Buzz is killed when his jacket gets caught on the door, and he is unable to escape from the car.  His car goes over a cliff, and all the members of the gang take off.  Jim confesses to his parents what happened.  His mother wants to move.  His father tells him to keep quiet.

       Jim wants to do the right thing and confess to the police.  The police ignore him and tell him to go home.  Gang members think he has squealed and go after him.  A live chicken is hung up over the door of Jim’s house, scaring his parents.  Jim and Judy hide out in an abandoned mansion.  Parallel to this, the gang attacks John/Plato, and his black maid chases them off.  In his mother’s room, he finds a child support check from his father, gets angry, grabs his mother’s gun, and takes off for the abandoned mansion.

       At the mansion, the three teens pretend that they are a nuclear family, bemoan the presence of troublesome children (they should be drowned), and isolate themselves from reality.  After John/Plato falls asleep, Judy and Jim go off by themselves.  The gang shows up, and John/Plato goes nuts when he finds out that Jim and Judy have left him alone.  He shoots one of the gang members.  The police show up.  John/Plato runs off to the nearby Griffith Observatory, and he shoots at the police.  Jim and Judy get into the Observatory, take the bullets out of the gun, and escort John/Plato out of the Observatory.  John/Plato does not realize the gun is empty and points it at the police.  The police shoot and kill him.

       At the end, Jim breaks down and cries “Help me!”  His father finds renewed strength and courage and promises to be there for him, no matter what happens.  Jim’s mother finds new respect for her husband.  The family is saved.

       The importance of a strong family and good communication are highlighted throughout the movie.  No matter how much wealth a family has, wealth cannot give a child what it needs to be happy, secure, and well-grounded.  Parents are responsible for raising good citizens who contribute to society.  Nicholas Ray sent this message loud and clear when he made Rebel Without a Cause. 

Dawn Pisturino

Thomas Edison State University

February 13, 2018

Copyright 2018-2022 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

Works Cited

Lewis, Jon. American Cinema: A History. New York: Norton, 2008.

Ray, Nicholas, Dir. Rebel Without a Cause. Perf. James Dean. Warner Bros., 1955.

Siegel, Larry J. Criminology. Belmont: Wadsworth, 2012.

9 Comments »

Film Noir: The Maltese Falcon

ATTENTION: SPOILER ALERT!

John Huston’s 1941 movie, The Maltese Falcon, is a film noir that borders on dark comedy. The opening music is melodramatic, dark, and foreboding. The story takes place in San Francisco, a romantic city with a wild and shady past. The movie is appropriately filmed in black and white, using chiaroscuro contrasts of deep shadows and bright light.

An attractive and distraught woman, Miss Wanderly (Mary Astor), seeks the help of hard-boiled and pessimistic Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart) and his partner, Miles Archer, in finding her sister. This sister allegedly ran away from New York with a sinister man named Floyd Thursby.

Spade and Archer agree to help, and not long after, Archer is gunned down in the fog and the dark.

(Archer gets gunned down)

Two detectives visit Spade and question him.  In this scene, the lighting causes the brims of their hats to cast shadows over their eyes, making the detectives appear dark, tough, suspicious, and corrupt. They imply that Spade (his name reflects darkness and corruption) has a shady past and they want to put him away. (“Spade” could also symbolize digging up the truth.) Spade’s face is in bright light as he defends his innocence.

(Spade and the two detectives)

Spade does not show any emotion over his partner’s death, and this makes him appear unfeeling, cold, and possibly, guilty. Soon after, Thursby is also shot down. This reinforces the detectives’ suspicions that Spade has something to do with the two murders. It would be natural for him to avenge his partner’s death, and the two detectives empathize with him.

We soon discover that Spade has been having an affair with Archer’s wife. She is far more glamorous than Miss Wanderly. Spade rejects her, especially when she accuses him of murdering her husband. This puts even more doubt in the mind of the viewer. Did Spade do it?

(Photo of Spade and Mrs. Archer)

Spade forces Miss Wanderly (Mary Astor) to confess her real name – which is Bridget – and the real story. (Who knows what’s real and not real or who’s lying and not lying?) She uses her sex appeal and plays the helpless victim, saying, “Can’t you shield me so I don’t have to answer their questions?”

(Spade and Bridget Wanderly)

Throughout the movie, Sam Spade keeps his back to the wall, implying paranoia and danger. He stays alert and pays attention. He is familiar with crooks and the underworld of crime. He expects people to lie and cheat.

Mr. Cairo (Peter Lorre), a short, well-dressed dandy with an exotic accent, approaches Spade and asks for his help in recovering a statuette of a black bird. He claims to know about Archer and Thursby and offers Spade $5,000.00. Spade knocks him out and searches him after Cairo pulls a gun on him. Cairo gets back his gun and holds Spade at gunpoint while he searches his office.

Spade laughs at Cairo (as he does at everyone throughout the movie). When he is free again, he discovers that he is being followed by “the boy.” He dodges him and goes to Bridget’s apartment. There, he tells her to knock off “the school girl manner.” She admits that she’s a very bad girl who’s done a lot of very bad things. Spade kisses her, playing along with her, and finds out that she knows Cairo. But she claims to be afraid of him and needs Spade’s help. They go to Spade’s apartment, and Archer’s wife sees them outside. They wait for Cairo, knowing that “the boy” is watching the apartment. The tension builds.

Throughout the movie, Spade laughs at all of them and tries to stay one step ahead of everybody. He is always bluffing, like an expert poker player, and taking chances. He plays one side against the other in order to dig up the truth and protect himself. Everybody is guilty of something, and nobody can be trusted. Every character – including Spade – is shady, pessimistic, comical, and greedy.

When Cairo comes to Spade’s apartment, it comes out that Floyd Thursby was working for the “Fat Man” (Sydney Greenstreet). A fight ensues. Bridget slaps Cairo (exerting her dominance) and Cairo pulls out his gun. Spade intervenes, saying, “When you’re slapped, you’ll take it and like it.” (Cairo looks weak and defenseless in comparison to Bridget and Spade). The detectives show up and accuse Spade of killing Archer over his wife.

(Bridget slaps Mr. Cairo)

Bridget and Cairo continue to fight, and Cairo cries for help (the emasculated man). Bridget kicks him in front of the cops, and they get hauled off for questioning. 

Throughout the movie, Bridget flirts with Spade, trying to manipulate and distract him. He plays along with her, even letting her tell him she loves him. He finds out that Bridget and Floyd were paid to help Cairo and the “Fat Man,” but Floyd betrayed her. Spade later discovers that “the boy” is also working for the “Fat Man.”

When Spade finally meets the “Fat Man,” he discovers the history behind the black bird (stirring up greed and fantasies of great wealth). The “Fat Man” knows what it is (the Maltese Falcon), and Spade claims to know where it is. It is a cat-and-mouse game. The “Fat Man” and Cairo are not professional criminals, but they are driven by greed. The “Fat Man” slips Spade a Mickey Finn (to knock him out). Cairo searches Spade’s apartment. When Spade wakes up, he searches the “Fat Man’s” apartment.

Later on, Spade tells his loyal and adoring secretary about the black bird. A man stumbles into his office with a package and drops dead. He is Captain Jacoby, Master of the ship, La Paloma, which has just arrived from Hong Kong (in keeping with San Francisco history and the romantic history of the bird). Spade hides the bird and drives down to Burlingame after dark. (I used to live in Burlingame, which is on the San Francisco Peninsula, so I always get tickled by this part of the movie). He meets with the “Fat Man,” Cairo, Bridget, and “the boy.”

Spade’s secretary brings him the bird. Spade laughs maniacally and watches, transfixed, as the bird is unwrapped and the “Fat Man” tries to scrape off the black coating from the statue. The bird is a fake. Cairo turns on the “Fat Man”, but the “Fat Man” laughs like a little boy and persuades him to go to Istanbul with him.

(Spade, Mr. Cairo, Bridget Wanderly, the Fat Man)

Spade calls the police about the crooks and confronts Bridget. She is the one who shot Archer. Spade gives her up to the police, saying, “You’re taking the fall.” She cries and accuses him of not caring for her. He tells her that when your partner is killed, you’re supposed to do something about it. With a maniacal look on his face, he says, “I’m as crooked as I’m supposed to be.”

Spade kisses Bridget and turns her over to the cops. They get onto the elevator with her. When the elevator gate closes, it looks just like prison bars.

(Bridget Wanderly going to jail)

In the end, Spade picks up the Maltese Falcon, calling it “the stuff that dreams are made of.” He got his revenge for his partner’s death, who died over a lead bird—a stupid, worthless piece of junk.

Dawn Pisturino

Thomas Edison State University

January 15, 2018

Copyright 2018-2022 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

Works Cited

Huston, John, Dir. The Maltese Falcon. Perf. Humphrey Bogart. Warner Bros., 1941.

Lewis, Jon. American Cinema: A History. New York: Norton, 2008.

28 Comments »

Creating Soundtracks in Movies

(Wayne’s World)

How Sound Focuses Attention on Spatial and Temporal Relationships

       Sound affects the movie audience on the physical, emotional, and psychological levels.  This is true even if the audience is not aware of the effects.  Sound can contribute to the suspense or romance of the story.  It can help to establish the time period and genre.  Sound colors audience perceptions and expectations.  It contributes to the meaning of the movie.

       Sound is part of the total world (diegesis) of a movie (Barsam and Monahan, 136, 371).  Footsteps, doorbells, bird songs, gunfire, brakes screeching, crickets creaking, etc., add to the realism of the movie.  Without real-world sounds, modern audiences would perceive that something is missing.

       Diegetic sounds originate from within the world of the movie.  Both the audience and the characters hear the sounds, even though the sounds are not usually added to the movie until later (Barsam and Monahan, 371).

       Nondiegetic sounds, which originate from outside the world of the movie, can be heard only by the audience.  They play on the audiences’ senses, but they do not affect the characters in the movie (Barsam and Monahan, 371).

       The sound most often heard in movies is diegetic sound.  It can be “internal or external, on-screen or off-screen, and recorded during the production or constructed during postproduction” Barsam and Monahan, 372).  Diegetic sound gives the audience “an awareness of both the spatial and the temporal dimensions of the shot from which the sound emanates” (Barsam and Monahan, 371).

       If a character knocks on a door, the diegetic on-screen sound of knocking “occurs simultaneously with the image” (Barsam and Monahan, 372).   If a narrator explains why the character is knocking on the door, only the audience hears the narration.  This is nondiegetic off-screen sound.  If the character starts thinking about why he is knocking on the door, this is internal sound.  If an unseen bird starts singing in the background, the character can hear it, and this is considered external sound (Barsam and Monahan, 372-374).

       In Dennis Hopper’s 1969 movie, Easy Rider, the nondiegetic soundtrack sets the time period as the 1960s.  The music is consistent with the costumes, the action, and the story. The loud shotgun blasts which kill the two protagonists are diegetic sounds heard by both the characters and the audience.  The suddenness of the sounds simultaneously occurring with the action, shocks and disturbs the audience.

       Orson Welles pioneered the use of multiple layers of sound in Citizen Kane.  The party scene at the Inquirer’s offices uses “deep-focus sound that functions much like deep-focus cinematography” (Barsam and Monahan, 397).  The characters in the scene include musicians, dancers, waiters, journalists, and the main protagonists.  While the band plays, the dancers dance, and Charles Kane (Orson Welles) sings, Mr. Bernstein (Everett Sloane) and Jed Leland (Joseph Cotton) talk to each other in a corner.  Deep-focus cinematography keeps the camera focused on Charles Kane as the main subject, but a microphone makes the voices of Jed and Bernstein stand out from the rest of the sounds at the party (Barsam and Monahan, 397-398).

       The spatial and temporal relationships of the characters within the setting are established through Welles’ use of sound.  Jed and Bernstein’s conversation is distinctly heard by the audience because the camera is closer to these two characters (Barsam and Monahan, 399).  Jed and Bernstein are free to discuss their impressions of Charles Kane while Kane celebrates his own success.  Kane dominates the room while everyone else is shown celebrating his celebrity and worshipping at his feet.  Money and power talk louder here than anything else, and the scene clearly depicts Kane’s megalomania and domination of his employees.  At the same time, Jed Leland’s conversation reveals his disappointment and disillusionment with Kane.  The sound mix allows for a realistic portrayal of the scene.

       Consciously or unconsciously, the audience is affected by sound and how it is manipulated and incorporated into a movie.  As technology progresses, sound engineering will become a bigger component in movies.

Dawn Pisturino

Thomas Edison State University

February 6, 2018

Copyright 2018-2022 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

Works Cited

Barsam, Richard, and Dave Monahan. Looking at Movies, 5th ed. New York: Norton, 2016.

4 Comments »

Hollywood Filmmaking Today

 Photo by Thea Hdc on Unsplash

      As Hollywood evolved from small production companies into large corporations, so did the financing of motion pictures.  Large corporations could sell stock and borrow money from well-heeled investors.  But this depended on the reliability of the investment.  Investor fears of risky ventures forced Hollywood corporations to incorporate traditional business practices: “efficient management, timely production practices, and profitable results” (Lewis 477).  Hollywood developed standardized practices that still survive today.

       The Hollywood studios held a virtual monopoly over the production, distribution, and exhibition of motion pictures until 1948.  With the Paramount decision, this monopoly came to an end.  Suddenly, the studios lost much of the real estate they had used as collateral to borrow money.  Following the example of independent filmmakers, such as David O. Selznick, the studios replaced the studio system with the independent system (Lewis 477).

       Today, filmmakers have many options for obtaining financing.  “Money may come from the studio, the producer, the investment community, or (most probably) a combination of these” (Lewis 477).  Financing may be procured in stages as the production progresses.  Controlling costs is a major concern, especially when it is difficult to accurately predict them (Lewis 479).

       Under the studio system, the budget was based on direct and indirect costs.  “Direct costs included everything from art direction and cinematography to insurance.  Indirect costs, usually 20 percent of the direct costs, covered the studio’s overall contribution to ‘overhead’” (Lewis 479).  The independent system calculates costs according to a 30/70 configuration.

       Costs can become inflated by the use of union labor (Lewis 476), special effects technology, personnel with special expert skills, and the high salaries commanded by superstar actors, producers, and directors.  Sometimes, it is possible to negotiate contracts that reduce upfront costs and benefit all parties involved.

       Marketing, distributing, and exhibiting motion pictures depend on the product produced.  Exclusive and limited releases assess audiences’ initial response; key-city releases assess audience reaction on a second-run basis; and “wide and saturated releases on hundreds or thousands of screens in the major markets . . . [test audience reaction] as good reviews and word of mouth build public awareness and demand” (Lewis 482).  While studios have established methods for bringing their films to market, independents use various methods.  They can rent their films to a studio or producing organization with the means to market, distribute, and exhibit them (Lewis 482).

       Experts determine release dates, arrange tie-ins with toys, books, and other merchandise, decide screening locations, form contracts with DVD and streaming companies, work on advertising and publicity, and complete negotiations on domestic and foreign rights.  Others calculate rental and download costs, ticket prices, and length of runs (Lewis 482).  Movies are an expensive commodity!

       Today, Hollywood comprises a combination of a modernized studio system and independent production companies that may or may not be part of a studio company.  In total, this collection of Hollywood filmmakers grossed $10.9 billion in revenue in 2013 (Lewis 483).  As Hollywood continues to evolve, it will discover new avenues of financing and generating revenue.

Dawn Pisturino

Thomas Edison State University

January 23, 2018

Copyright 2018-2022 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

Works Cited

Barsam, Richard, and Dave Monahan. Looking at Movies, 5th ed. New York: Norton, 2016.

Lewis, Jon. American Cinema: A History. New York: Norton, 2008.

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Three Godfathers: Cowboy Christmas Movie

Mise-en-scene is a French phrase meaning production. In theatrical terms, this means “staging or putting on an action or scene” (Barsam 165). The two largest components of mise-en-scene are design and composition, which include settings, props, lighting, actors, makeup, hairstyles, costumes, overall organization, presentation, and integration. The finished product must look and feel cohesive and balanced, fully supporting the story and theme of the movie, as well as the genre, in every respect.

The 1948 movie, 3 Godfathers, directed by John Ford and Merian C. Cooper, stars John Wayne, Pedro Armendariz, Harry Carey, Jr., and Ward Bond. The story is John Ford’s version (and vision) of the New Testament story of the Three Wise Men, incorporated into the western genre. Above all, it is a story about sin and redemption, supported by Biblical symbolism and themes of Old West justice.

The movie setting is open because the characters have to be able to move around. Most of the movie was filmed on location in Death Valley, California (not Arizona.) Rousing western music, composed of themes from well-known cowboy songs, supports the title scenes. The major underlying musical theme is from the song “Streets of Laredo.” The movie is filmed in Technicolor, which adds vibrancy to the spectacular natural scenery, costumes, and characters.

While the titles play, we see a train chugging along from the right of the scene, crossing the open desert. The camera cuts to three horsemen riding through the desert. They are dressed in typical cowboy clothing. The Mexican cowboy is appropriately dressed in Mexican clothing. The next cut shows John Wayne sitting on a horse at twilight, framed by two saguaro cactuses. He is clearly the main character. A quotation appears in white letters: “Bright star of the early western sky . . .” These scenes confirm that viewers are watching a western set some time in the 1880s-1890s. The quote reminds viewers of the star of Bethlehem. At the end of the titles, the viewers see a wide shot of the western landscape and the three horsemen riding toward the camera.

At a water hole, John Wayne (Robert Hightower) orders the other two men to fill up all canteens and water bags because they won’t find another water hole for at least 60 miles. The camera zooms in on Robert smoking and looking out over the landscape. He is clearly the leader. He joins Pedro, the Mexican, in a tight close-up, and they plan robbing the bank in the nearby town of Welcome, Arizona. Next, Robert crouches down at the third man’s level in a close-up shot of him and William. William is the youngest member of this gang.

The gang rides into the town. It is obviously a well-established town because of the grown trees and flower gardens. John Ford introduces a joke here. The first man the gang meets is B. Sweet (Ward Bond), who is tending his oleander bushes. The men laugh and joke about his name. His wife comes out of the house, dressed in a traditional western gown and hairstyle. She calls her husband “Pearly.” The laughs get even louder over this. Sweet redeems his manhood by clarifying that his name is actually Buck. He swats his wife on the behind with an oleander branch, telling the gang that his wife is a former dancer (presumably in a saloon.) He slips on his leather sheriff’s vest and star, and the gang is caught off guard. The implication is clear: B. Sweet is no tenderfoot from the East but a hardened westerner and experienced lawman. He and his wife offer hospitality to the men, believing they are cowboys from a cattle drive passing through town, and mention that their niece and her never-do-well husband are traveling to Welcome along the Mormon Trail.

Asking for the location of the bank does not rouse much suspicion. But William forgets himself, reveling in the motherly attention he is receiving from the sheriff’s wife, and mentions that people also call him The Abilene Kid. The Sheriff immediately becomes suspicious. When the men leave for the bank, he looks through a book of wanted posters and finds one of The Abilene Kid.

On the way to the bank, a stage pulls into town. A well-dressed young lady greets the gang, happy to leave civilization in Denver and return to her less-civilized town. She reveals that she is the bank president’s daughter and overwhelms the gang with sweetness and perfect manners. (As a minor character, she represents civilized manners and social status.) Two young dandies greet her with bouquets of oleanders (a desert-thriving plant), and it’s clear that she is a popular young lady. Her homecoming provides a distraction for the town while the gang robs the bank.

The typical western scene ensues. Shots are fired, and the sheriff and his deputies rush to capture the men. There are wonderful scenes of a man trying to calm a bucking horse and a scared horse running through the street, pulling an empty covered wagon. As the sheriff and his men chase the gang in a buckboard wagon, William is shot and rescued by Robert. The posse chases the gang into the desert wilderness and quits after the sheriff shoots a hole in Robert’s water bag. Although the sheriff says, “They aren’t paying me to kill folks,” he knows that the gang will die without water.

When Robert discovers the ruined water bag, he laments, “You know, he busted that on purpose,” understanding that the sheriff has condemned the men to death in the desert (Old West justice.) Robert observes that they are playing a game of chess with the sheriff and changes their flight plan.

At this point, the gang is forced to leave all vestiges of civilization and head into the barren desert. (Biblically, this represents the Hebrews going into the desert during the Exodus and undergoing cleansing and purification in order to learn obedience and faith in God.) They immediately plunge into a world of sand dunes, sandstorms, salt flats, and rocks. It’s man against nature.

In many scenes, Ford has the characters walking into the sun, the wind, the sand storms, making their journey even more arduous. He uses tight close-up shots to convey the tight bond between the men. He uses wide screen shots to convey the barrenness and openness of the environment. The landscape is beautiful, yes, but dangerous and deadly.

The men lose their horses after a sandstorm and have to walk. Pedro swears that “the devils came in the middle of the night.” The sheriff arrives at Apache Wells with his men (some locations are named after Arizona Indian tribes.) It is here that we learn it is Christmas time. Snow-capped mountains rise up in the background.

The gang arrives at Terrapin Tanks, and this is where the story changes from a typical western to a morality play. The men plan to get water to fill their canteens but discover a wagon containing a pregnant woman instead. Her husband, out of a greenhorn’s ignorance, has blown up the water hole with dynamite, believing he could retrieve more water. Instead, he has permanently lost access to the water supply. Since he is not around, the gang assumes that he is dead. But they celebrate his death. His actions have ensured the deaths of future travelers looking for water. Old West justice demands that the man die.

Pedro demonstrates great compassion and tenderness when he helps the woman give birth to a son (the Christ Child.) The other two men squeeze water out of barrel head cactuses and give it to the mother. It’s night, and the mother asks the three men to be godfathers to her son and keep him alive. They agree. She names the child Robert William Pedro Hightower, after the three men. Finally, the mother says, “We must be moving on,” and dies. The camera focuses on a dead tree and a lighted lantern, framed in the back opening of the wagon’s canvas cover. The lantern dies out, and the dead tree forms a foreboding and forbidding vision of death.

The men give the mother a proper Christian burial. Robert stands by as a skeptic. But the baby brings the men joy, wonder, and hope. They argue over how to care for the baby, demonstrate their love, compassion, and tenderness for the new life, and overcome some of their roughness.  The baby also brings some much-needed comic relief. At the same time, in parallel shots, the sheriff at Apache Wells is viewing Robert as a good chess player and figures out that the gang has gone to Terrapin Tanks. The chase is on.

As the men become more desperate for water, they argue and draw guns on each other. William uses the Bible for guidance and decides that they were not brought into the desert by accident. Like the Three Wise Men in the Bible, they were meant to find the baby (the Christ Child) and save him (from the elements instead of King Herod.) After throwing out the names of nearby towns (all Biblical), they decide to head East to New Jerusalem (representing redemption and salvation.) The camera cuts to a beautifully-photographed scene showing a bright star in the eastern sky, shining down on sand dunes rippled with shadowy contrasts. The three men trudge across the scene, traveling West to East, receiving hope and strength from the star.

The sheriff finds the abandoned wagon and figures out that it belonged to his niece and her worthless husband. He blames the gang for blowing up the water hole with dynamite, even though they are innocent. He curses them as murderers of future travelers and swears to hunt them down.

William and Pedro both die while crossing a cracked, parched salt flat after asking for forgiveness from God. Robert saves William’s Bible and moves on. It is Christmas. He must climb over the mountain. (Biblically, going up into the mountain represents searching for God.) He takes shelter in a rock-walled passage, which resembles a cave. He falls down, hopeless. He gives the last water to the baby and starts throwing away unnecessary items. In a last desperate act, he opens up the Bible and reads the passage. The passage tells him to take the donkey and its colt. Angrily, Robert throws away the Bible, considering the passage a cruel joke.

Crazed by thirst, Robert hears William and Pedro talking and singing and egging him on. The camera shows them as ghosts walking behind him. Suddenly, framed by the rock walls, Robert sees a donkey and its colt. He cannot believe it, but they are real, and he looks up to the sky, hardly believing that the New Testament passage has come true.

Robert makes it to town and bursts into a saloon, where the people are somberly singing Christmas carols. The people are overjoyed to see the baby, and the piano player plays “Silent Night.” The sheriff confronts Robert here, and he collapses to the floor.

An obvious fade out/fade in pushes the story forward into the future. The whole town treats Robert like a King for saving the baby. The judge sentences him to only one year and one day in prison and grants him custody. As Robert is leaving on the train for prison, the banker’s daughter asks him if she can write, and it is obvious that she will wait for him. When Robert returns, he has a chance of becoming a civilized man.

Dawn Pisturino

Thomas Edison State University

December 18, 2017; December 15, 2021

Copyright 2017-2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

Works Cited:

Barsam, Richard, and Dave Monahan. Looking at Movies, 5th ed. New York: Norton, 2016.

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A Tribute to Actor Michael York

Michael York as Pip in Great Expectations (1974)

Last night, I was thinking about the 1974 movie, Great Expectations, and wondering whatever happened to British actor Michael York. Was he still alive? An Internet search showed that he is 79 years old, living in West Hollywood, and still very much alive.

In 2011, my daughter, lyric soprano Ariel Pisturino, was a member of the cast in the Long Beach Opera production of Cherubini’s Medea. She had a singing role as one of Dirce’s handmaidens. One night, after the performance, an average looking elderly couple came up to her and expressed their admiration for her performance. The man was so sickly looking, he looked like he was in the last stages of cirrhosis of the liver, pancreatitis, or cancer. His skin was yellow and dry, his hair limp and straw-like. He seemed very familiar to me, but I could not immediately place him. But the man had a very distinctive theatrical voice, and there it was — Michael York!

(Lyric soprano Ariel Pisturino in 2011 at the furniture warehouse converted to a theater for the LBO production, Medea. Photo by Dawn Pisturino. The production garnered a lot of media coverage because former director, Andreas Mitisek, had a reputation for staging innovative opera productions in unusual locations.)

Michael York and his long-time wife, American photographer Patricia McCallum, were so kind and gracious to my daughter! He encouraged her talent and career and wished her the best for all of her future endeavors. He did not come off as arrogant or condescending, but just a real, down-to-earth person. In other words, he is not one of those Hollywood snobs who thinks he’s better than everybody else. He is not an angry, loud, foul-mouthed creep like Alec Baldwin, who was forced to go to anger management therapy. He and his wife showed up in ordinary clothes. In fact, they were under-dressed. With his obvious health problems, it looked like he had fallen on hard times. But the reality is a little different.

In 2012, York was diagnosed with amyloidosis, a rare disease in which insoluble proteins invade parts of the body and internal organs, eventually causing the organs to shut down. It took three years to get the right diagnosis. He underwent autologous stem cell transplant therapy and has been doing well since. A classically trained Shakespearean actor, York now writes books, does voiceovers, and promotes fundraising and public awareness of amyloidosis.

It just goes to show that no matter how talented you are, how important you think you are, or how rich you are, bad things happen. And it’s how you handle those challenges which determines the kind of person you are.

(Ariel Pisturino [facing front] as one of Dirce’s handmaidens in the LBO production of Medea.)

I will always have the greatest respect for Michael York for encouraging my daughter in her career. His humility and graciousness touched both our hearts. And I wish him and his wife all the best. We never know how our lives are going to end up, but we can never go wrong with being kind to others, supporting others with positive affirmations, and encouraging their hopes and dreams.

Michael York’s website: http://www.michaelyork.net

Long Beach Opera website: http://www.longbeachopera.org

Ariel Pisturino website: http://www.arielpisturino.com

Dawn Pisturino

November 4, 2021

Copyright 2011-2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

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