Dawn Pisturino's Blog

My Writing Journey

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.

6 Comments »

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.

10 Comments »

Jurassic Park: The Movie

Photo: Universal Pictures

(Attention! Spoiler Alert!)

Steven Spielberg’s 1993 science fiction thriller, Jurassic Park, tells a linear story using continuity editing. The movie explores the ethics of scientific manipulation of nature and introduces the concept of chaos theory. The editing, done by Michael Kahn, is seamless and flawless. There are no superfluous scenes. Each scene is designed to support the story and the theme of the movie. The pacing of the movie keeps the tension building to the climax. The editor relays the story “clearly, efficiently, and coherently” (Barsam and Monahan), leaving no doubt or confusion in the mind of the viewer. Based on the book by Michael Crichton, the camera moves smoothly back and forth between situations and scenes (parallel editing), just like a book. The opening music, written by John Williams, is ominous and primitive, implying that the viewer is entering untamed territory.

The opening scene (the master scene) shows the expert hunter standing grimly by with his gun as workers unload a metal crate. This is on the Isla Nubar, 120 miles off the coast of Costa Rica. An accident occurs, and a worker is killed when the creature inside the crate is released and grabs the worker’s leg. The viewer never sees the creature. Its presence is inferred by the creature’s movements and vocalizations, the intense and horrified expressions on the people’s faces, and the scene where the injured worker is pulled from the grip of the expert hunter. The viewer understands that something predatory and dangerous was in that crate.

A “blood-sucking” lawyer (reflecting blood-sucking mosquitoes), arrives at the amber mine at Manos de Dios (hands of God) in the Dominican Republic. There is a lawsuit now against the project. A scientist (a “digger”) views a piece of amber that was just found, containing a mosquito. From his facial expression, the viewer understands that this is a rare and valuable find.

In the Badlands near Snakewater, Montana, Drs. Allen Grant and Ellie Sadler are working hard and painstakingly on a dinosaur dig. Dr. Grant is skeptical of new technology. He dislikes kids. Dr. Sadler is more flexible and is trying hard to convince him to have children with her. The scene with the fat kid is hilarious. The camera perfectly captures the changed expressions on his face. Dr. Grant shows that he has a sense of humor.

After John Hammond, the wealthy entrepreneur, arrives and convinces the pair to go to Costa Rica with him to view his “biological preserve,” the scene cuts to San Jose, Costa Rica. We see a sweating fat man (Wayne Knight of Seinfeld fame) at a café, meeting with a suspicious-acting man. It is clear that something criminal is going on. The man offers the fat man a lot of money in exchange for some “viable embryos.” The viewer does not yet know how this scene is related to the other scenes, but his imagination is captured, and he wants to know what’s going to happen next. The director is slowly laying the groundwork for the plot of the story.

In the helicopter, Dr. Grant (a paleontologist) and Dr. Sadler (a paleontological botanist) meet Dr. Ian Malcom, a theoretical mathematician who calls himself a “chaotician.” John Hammond is not impressed with his “rock star” personality. The other doctors have not heard of chaos theory. Malcolm flirts relentlessly with Dr. Sadler.

When the helicopter reaches the island, the camera reveals a lush, tropical paradise. The music becomes uplifting and upbeat, inspiring feelings of expectation and hope. There is a promise of adventure.

As the travelers are transported in a Jeep to the main center of the island, they witness huge electrical fences equipped with 10,000 volts, moats, and large concrete walls, which are meant for the “stability of the island.” If it’s just a “biological preserve,” why do they need all of this heavy-duty protection?

The Jeep stops at a truly beautiful and peaceful pastoral scene. The camera dollies in for a close-up of Dr. Grant’s facial expression. He reaches over and grabs Dr. Sadler’s head and turns it. Both of their faces show overwhelming awe, surprise, and excitement. They are looking at a live brachiosaurus! Dr. Malcolm looks awed but concerned. The lawyer gleefully says, “We’re going to make a fortune with this place!”

The camera shows a long shot of a lake with herds of brachiosaurs and other creatures. Dr. Grant is confirmed in his theory that these creatures roamed around in herds. The viewer is also overwhelmed with awe and admiration. There is no doubt that this is a splendid park that everyone will want to visit!

At the visitor center, the doctors watch a video presentation about the “miracle of cloning.” The viewer needs this information to understand the plot and the theme of the movie. Scientists in the film extracted “Dino DNA” from mosquitoes trapped in amber, but the DNA is incomplete and filled in with DNA from frogs. (The DNA, therefore, is corrupted, or mutated.)

Throughout this segment, the doctors are so excited, they break all the rules, and John Hammond cannot control them (a foreshadowing of things to come.) Overhead, we hear the announcement that the boat for the mainland will leave soon. At the same time, the doctors are witnessing a dinosaur hatching from its shell (the miracle of life.) These dinosaurs are impure, altered, corrupted, and laboratory bred. While the lab scientist (B.D. Wong) seems completely unconcerned, Dr. Malcolm is calculating in his head all the predictability/unpredictability ratios. The lab scientist reveals that all the animals are female and cannot breed because the chromosomes have been muted (implying perfection and control.) Dr. Malcolm refutes that with an impassioned speech about the history of evolution, the power of life, and the inability to contain it: “Life finds a way.” When Dr. Grant discovers that they bred velociraptors, a close-up of his face shows his mood change from elation to deep concern. Dr. Malcolm’s speech and Dr. Grant’s mood change portend danger and chaos.

The expert hunter confirms their concerns when he says, “They should all be destroyed.” The viewer recognizes him as the man with the gun in the master scene. He explains that these creatures are calculating problem-solvers who are always watching and waiting and testing the fences to get out (a foreshadowing of the future.) The hunter is a realist who has seen these creatures in action.

At lunch, John Hammond goes on and on about the significance and legacy of his theme park, and the lawyer goes on and on about the lucrative investment. Dr. Malcolm is appalled and points out their “lack of humility before nature.” He calls them careless exploiters who did not earn the right to use this technology. As a result, they have no understanding of what they have created and take no responsibility for the results. The theme of the movie is summed up nicely here when he says that the handsomely-paid Jurassic Park scientists were so caught up in “whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think whether or not they should.” And Dr. Grant and Dr. Sadler back him up about the unpredictability of the result (foreshadowing what’s about to happen.)

The chaos elements begin to reveal themselves: the grandchildren arrive, who are knowledgeable city kids but vulnerable in this environment; a tropical storm is imminent; and Dennis, the disloyal fat man, hacks into the computer system in order to implement his nefarious plan.

When the basic tour begins, Dr. Malcolm remarks that the huge gates to the park remind him of King Kong. Richard Kylie narrates information about dilophosaurus, describing it as a deadly creature that spits poison into the eyes of its victim (foreshadowing later events.)

The scene cuts to a conversation between Dennis and John Hammond. Dennis has financial problems, which is why he is willing to sell dinosaur embryos for money, and John Hammond responds that people should pay for their mistakes (foreshadowing future events.) When his plan is in place, Dennis makes a fumbled explanation of going to the vending machines, steals the embryos, and exits the building.

On the tour, the scientists have not seen any dinosaurs except the tame and sick ones. There is an illusion of order and peace. When the storm hits, however, the chaos begins. The park systems begin to shut down, including the cars containing the scientists, the lawyer, and the children.

The best segments in the movie, in my opinion, are the scenes involving the T. Rex and the car. The editing is seamless and flawless. There is no indication anywhere that the T. Rex is not real. The acting is superb, revealing the absolute terror and horror felt by the children. The children come face-to-face with the creature, as indicated by this photo (T. Rex point of view):

As the T. Rex terrorizes the group, every character is suddenly confronted with his own mortality and feelings of powerlessness. There are several shots where the T. Rex and a character come face-to-face and even meet each other at eye level (the eyeline match cut.)

The cowardly lawyer leaves the children alone and gets his comeuppance in a dramatic scene that reveals how powerless humans are compared to these creatures.

The viewer cannot help feeling glad that the lawyer got his just reward because he just wanted to exploit these creatures for profit. The editing here is a marvel of technology because it looks absolutely real, with no obvious separation between the physical scenery and the artificial creature.

When Dennis leaves the park and gets stuck in the mud, he loses his glasses and the shaving cream canister containing the embryos. When he meets the dilophosaurus, he treats it like a dog, calling it stupid, asking it to fetch, and remarking, “No wonder you’re extinct.” He has no respect for the power and danger that have been unleashed. The creature meets him face-to-face in the car, after outwitting him, and kills him. Dennis gets his just reward, and the embryos are lost forever in the mud.

As the characters deal with varying life-threatening situations, Dr. Grant protects and rescues the children, thereby learning that kids are not so bad after all. The characters learn that everybody is necessary in a survival situation, no matter their age or gender. John Hammond realizes that human life is more important than leaving behind a fantastical legacy for the world. Dr. Malcolm is proven right. And the hunter learns that weapons are not enough against a calculating predatory creature that was able to outwit him.

Dawn Pisturino

Thomas Edison State University

January 22, 2018

Copyright 2018-2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

Works Cited

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

Spielberg, Steven, Dir. Jurassic Park. Perf. Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Richard

       Attenborough. Universal, 1993.

8 Comments »

Haunted Boy – The True Story Behind “The Exorcist”

In the summer of 1948, a young boy in Mount Rainier, Maryland began using an Ouija board with his aunt, who believed in spiritualism.  After she died, the boy and his family experienced disturbing sounds which woke them during the night: knocking, scratching, and marching feet.  The family witnessed the boy’s mattress furiously shaking, furniture moving on its own, and visitors thrown from a chair. Scratches and strange marks mysteriously appeared on the boy’s body.

Physicians and mental health experts could find no rational explanation for these events.  Finally, the family – which was not Catholic – consulted a local priest.

Father E. Albert Hughes interviewed the boy and later described his “dark, empty stare.”  He determined that the boy was possessed by multiple demons (Legions) and arranged to perform an exorcist at Georgetown Hospital in Washington, D.C.

The exorcism lasted for three nights, with no positive results.  The boy was sent home.  Not long after, the words “Louis” appeared on his chest.  The boy’s mother interpreted this as a sign to take him to St. Louis, Missouri, where she had relatives.

Father William Bowdern, a Jesuit priest, agreed to undertake a rigorous exorcism of the boy, who had suffered through months of violent behavior followed by periods of calm.

The boy was admitted to the Alexian Brothers Hospital in St. Louis and baptized Catholic.  During Easter week, while closely guarded and under restraint, the boy received confession and Holy Communion. Brother Rector Cornelius placed a statue of St. Michael the Archangel – Satan’s arch enemy – by the boy’s bed.  On the night of April 18, 1949, after hours of violent struggle and intense emotional resistance, the boy cried out, “He’s gone!”  By the next morning, Father Bowdern became convinced that the boy was indeed free from demonic possession.

The boy and his family returned to Maryland and spent the summer of 1949 as a normal, happy family.  The boy, whose identity has never been revealed, became known as “The Haunted Boy.”  With no memory of the dreadful events which had threatened to ruin his life, he grew up to become a scientist for NASA.

The fifth floor room at the Alexian Brothers Hospital, where the final exorcism had taken place, was permanently sealed.

Author William Peter Blatty, a devout Catholic, heard about “The Haunted Boy” while a student at Georgetown University.  He used the story of the boy’s ordeal for the basis of his best-selling novel, The Exorcist, one of the most terrifying and thought-provoking novels ever written.  It was later turned into a major motion picture.  Blatty wrote the screenplay.

Dawn Pisturino

Published in the Spring 2016 issue of Psychic-Magic Ezine.

Copyright 2016-2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

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The Time Warp

In the early 1980s, before our daughter was born, my husband and I decided to attend the local revival of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. At midnight sharp, we were sitting in the audience at the old, art deco Millbrae Theatre in Millbrae, California, anxious for the movie to start. It was fun to look around the theatre at the many strange costumes worn by Rocky Horror fans. But, watcher beware! Once the movie started, we were pelted with candy, rice, and popcorn, and squirted with water from squirt guns, as fans reacted to various scenes in the movie. That was the fun of the revival – interacting with each other and the movie.

That couldn’t even happen nowadays because the Fun Police would be out trying to shut it all down. Kids are missing out on a lot of clean, harmless fun!

At that time, there were old, art deco theatres in just about every town along the El Camino Real, the main business artery that courses down the San Francisco Peninsula. I remember the red plush seats and elegant, red velvet stage curtain in the old Millbrae. I was fascinated by the gold gilding on the intricate art deco interior designs. Sadly, most of these theatres have been demolished or closed down.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) has always had a large cult following of people who just want to have a good time. The story is quirky, the characters and costumes bizarre, the music lively and entertaining.

Barry Bostwick (Brad Majors) and Susan Sarandon (Janet Weiss) play a naive, “square,” straight-laced couple whose car breaks down in the middle of nowhere. Forced to take refuge at Dr. Frank-N-Furter’s house, they are reluctantly exposed to the twisted, bizarre characters who live there.

Tim Curry plays the transvestite scientist, Dr. Frank-N-Furter, who is experimenting with creating the perfect male sex symbol (Peter Hinwood). The theme of the movie is pursuing “absolute pleasure,” which reflects the overriding social theme of the 1970s.

One of the most memorable scenes in the movie is the musical number, The Time Warp. Here’s where the audience gets up out of their seats and starts dancing in the aisles!

Enjoy! And don’t let the Fun Police spoil your fun! They are already trying to shut down Christmas this year.

Dawn Pisturino

October 11, 2021

Copyright 2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

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Colorful Moments in Early Black-and-White Horror

Lon Chaney in Phantom of the Opera, 1925, black-and-white masked ball scene.

Most people think of the silent film version of Phantom of the Opera as a black-and-white film but, in reality, there were a number of color scenes in the movie.

As early as 1895, methods had been invented to inject color into scenes, but these “additive color systems” used processes that were tedious and time-consuming: hand-coloring, stenciling, tinting, and toning. They were only used on a limited basis. Tinting and toning gave the best results and were used by D.W. Griffith. Prismacolor and the Handschiegel Process fall into this category.

In 1915, the Technicolor Corporation invented a two-strip process, and this was incorporated into select scenes in Phantom of the Opera, 1925.

Lon Chaney in Phantom of the Opera, 1925, in technicolor.

Whether the black-and-white scenes or the color scenes are more frightening depends on the individual viewer. I personally like the light and dark contrasts of black-and-white film in horror movies because it feels moodier, creepier, and more akin to the darkness of evil. (Think about the original Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, and The Wolfman and how different they would look in color.)

Color films, in fact, did not really take off until the late 1930s due to the expense. And producers expected big returns on their money. It wasn’t until the 1960s that color became the norm. Now, watching a black-and-white film seems to be a treat reserved for film buffs alone!

The Unmasking Scene, Phantom of the Opera, 1925, in black-and-white.
Masked Ball Scene, Phantom of the Opera, 1925, in early technicolor.

Which do YOU prefer?

Dawn Pisturino

October 5, 2021

Copyright 2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

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

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Godzilla Rules

After the bombing of Hiroshima, filmmakers became obsessed with sci fi movies that exposed and speculated about the harmful effects of radiation poisoning on humans and the environment. Giant, monstrous creatures produced from radiation exposure became a popular theme, particularly in Japan, where the original Godzilla was born in 1954. A whole series of movies featuring Godzilla and sundry other monsters followed. Even today, remakes of the Japanese originals remain popular. And merchandise sales of T-shirts, toys, and other items remain strong. Godzilla even earned his own pop song:

Blue Oyster Cult – Godzilla
Godzilla original movie theme, 1954.

Godzilla Rules!

Dawn Pisturino

October 2, 2021

Copyright 2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

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Puttin’ on the Ritz

I’ve read that performer Michael Jackson was a big fan of Fred Astaire and studied his dance techniques. This became obvious in the style of some of his costumes, and in his own dance routines.

One of my favorite dance numbers by Fred Astaire is “Puttin’ on the Ritz.” The song was written by Irving Berlin in 1927 and published in 1929. In 1930, it became the central theme of the musical, Puttin’ on the Ritz. (See video below.)

The phrase “puttin’ on the Ritz” meant dressing fashionably in the slang of that day. The “Ritz” referred to the Ritz Hotel in London, England.

Fred Astaire performed his famous dance routine in the film, Blue Skies (1946). (See video below.)

Mel Brooks included a dance scene using Gene Wilder and Peter Boyle in 1974, in the movie Young Frankenstein.

The song and the dance were revived by the Dutch singer, Taco, in 1982 and became an international hit – MTV even aired the music video.

The music is still catchy, and makes you want to get up and dance!

Fred Astaire version (1946), courtesy of Drive-In Movie History on You Tube (includes a short clip from Young Frankenstein):

Taco version, courtesy of Taco on YouTube:

Harry Richman version (1930), courtesy of Addehiovy on YouTube:

Ritz Hotel, London, England

Dawn Pisturino

September 29, 2021

Copyright 2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

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