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Tag: Danny Boyle

Playing the Orchestra

I saw the new Danny Boyle film at a screening this week. I’m not sure which was more impressive — the film or the Q&A afterwards…. Boyle was there with the film’s editor Elliot Graham and the composer Daniel PembertoMV5BMjE0NTA2MTEwOV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNzg4NzU2NjE@._V1_SX214_AL_n and they talked about their collaborative process in interweaving the three parts of the film. What I loved most about the film was its construction. I’ve admired the beauty and intelligence of Boyle’s films in the past– across a range of genres– but this one impressed most with its structure.

Organized in three parts around three product launches, the film has three different aesthetics that Boyle described in the Q&A. The first section takes place in 1984 at the Macintosh launch and it’s filmed in 16mm that gives it a home-video feel. The second takes place in a San Francisco opera theater in 1988 for the product launch of NEXT and it’s shot in 35 mm with a sharp, documentary focus and a roving handheld camera. The last section takes place at the 1998 product launch for the iMac and it’s shot on digital video, which Doyle pointed out later was a sort of gesture toward Jobs’ technological innovations in the Pixar-produced Toy Story in 1995. Boyle explicitly described this three-act composition in the Q&A as a theatrical metaphor and it works very well to focus what could otherwise be a sprawling narrative or a dull chronological biopic. Boyle then knits the pieces together through a small cast of characters with a few ongoing conflicts– like the ones between Jobs and Wozniak or between Steve and his daughter. This structure gives the film both a sort of universal human story as well as a specific reality in one man’s life.

Jobs, of course, was notoriously difficult and Boyle and the actor Michael Fassbender don’t shirk from his negative side, though the film will certainly be critiqued as a romanticized view because of its warm and fuzzy ending. Specifically, the film emphasizes Jobs’ inability to give credit to colleagues, or even to acknowledge other people (including his daughter). This becomes a sort of megalomania: he’s the god-like creator who sits above it all but doesn’t do any of the actual work. In Aaron Sorkin’s script Jobs describes himself as a conductor, who “plays the orchestra” instead of being a virtuoso musician. Yet throughout the film I imagined asking Boyle during the Q&A how he felt about the obvious parallel between directing a film and running a visionary company like Apple, between him and Jobs. I didn’t have to ask, though, because during the conversation he brought it up himself, admitting that he had none of the actual skills of his editors or composers or actors, but only the ability to recognize and synthesize those skills. It was a remarkable acknowledgment, that revealed both how close Boyle was to Jobs and how very far away. Sitting there at his own “product launch” with three colleagues talking about collaboration was yet another ending to a remarkable film.

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Moving Vehicles

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hi2qKjg2TVk]

The pacing of this opening is terrific — from stillness to speed, from horizontal to vertical motion. The camera is a vivid, dynamic character right from the start. It’s Danny Boyle’s early film Shallow Grave (1994) and you can tell he will go on to make movies with lots of moving vehicles….

If one were to hypothesize about what makes Danny Boyle’s films his own, though, one would probably start with their situations. In the films I’ve seen–Shallow Grave, Trainspotting, Sunshine, 28 Days Later, Slumdog Millionaire, and Millions– he puts ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances to see what happens. This draws great performances from his actors, and in fact the character development in his films is swift and clear, if not always subtle. The scene above introduces the characters very economically– with the nameplate on their door. In 28 Days Later we meet our main character as he wakes up to a post-epidemic London. We see the deserted city through his eyes — making a familiar cityscape terrifying just by emptying it.

LondonDay28

These are formal pleasures too — like the juxtaposition of a bright fashion billboard still hovering over civilization’s ruins in 28 Days Later. There may be no consumers left in London, but when our four survivors loot a grocery store they are overcome with nostalgia for materialism. The film strips them of everything they knew and had, becoming literally darker and darker. Still, it wrests a modestly happy ending from the countryside, in another

28 ending

beautiful shot of a single word spelled out on a lush green field. These complicated happy endings, that manage to develop organically out of extreme situations, are another hallmark of Boyle’s form and content.

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