The Snoot Letter
Issue #12 – April 13, 2020
I’m starting to get the hang of this! Not life or quarantine or looming mortality, but the weekly writing and publishing of a newsletter about film, tech, and culture. Baby steps.
One thing I keep forgetting to mention here is that I set up a Discord server for professional and aspiring film/tv folk. The chat rooms have become a lot more active during the quarantine, and if you’re looking for a place to chat with people who love film and television then you might want to swing by.
Public Domain Review, one of the truly great online resources, has published a history of the classic plague doctor costume. The images in this issue are all public domain illustrations of plague doctor costumes.
I’m an annual supporter of the Public Domain Review, which is a non-profit publication that collects and curates fascinating selections from the massive body of work that has fallen out of copyright protection.
Some gems include The Dances of the Ages (1913), where miniature people showcase historic dances on a tabletop, ogled by beer guzzling titans of industry. Or maybe you want to hear the first known recording of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” (1909). Or one of my personal favorites, a gallery of Fireman’s coats from 19th century Japan.
Over the weekend, I watched The Wild Bunch for the first time, and I was blown away by the filmmaking. The three signature set pieces (the opening bank heist, the train heist, and the final shootout) are incredible adrenaline rushes of cinematic power, and would feel groundbreaking if they existed in a film released today. There is a messiness to the storytelling that feels real and human, which is a remarkable counterpoint to the precision of the editing during the action moments.
As a producer, I exert an influence on the look and feel of the movies I work on, but rarely in a way that truly defines the aesthetic. In most cases I’m nudging and bolstering, but as a producer who always tries to support the writer during development and the director during production, I’m rarely defining the creative boundaries. So I have a body of work that I suspect is more aesthetically diverse than would be the case for a director.
I find it interesting to sometimes look back and figure out which of the films from my oeuvre feel closest to my own personal aesthetic. Watching The Wild Bunch reminded me of my own taste in visual storytelling, and inspired me to think about this in a more rigorous way. I like close ups that aren’t afraid to be very close. I like wide shots that show real scope. I want bold camera movements and/or zooms that aren’t just motivated by action, but also by tone, emotion, and/or pace. I like editing that understands the push and pull of variations in pace. The push and pull of information flow, keeping the audience engaged by alternating when they are in positions of superior or inferior information compared to the main characters. Editing that understands who is driving the scene, and that a scene needs to I love music and I love a tone that incorporates comedy. I like the hand of the storyteller being present for the viewer, but for that presence to fall away as the audience is drawn further into the story and the characters. I like movies that feel like they invented a cinematic language specific to the story they’re telling.
I’m proud of all of the movies I worked on, and I certainly don’t think this is a list of the “best” movies I helped produce. Hell, I left off Anomalisa, and that movie was nominated for an Oscar! But I do think these movies are the closest to my own personal aesthetic:
If you are trying to get a sense of my personal taste from my body of work, those are the movies I’d suggest checking out.
I’m trying to keep the depressing sides of COVID to a minimum here, but obviously it’s pretty unavoidable these days. I got a text over the weekend from a friend whose father just passed away after a battle with COVID-19. Another person I work with closely is currently in the ICU. These are scary times. Much love to all of you and your loved ones. Stay safe, and stay healthy. See you next week.
~ Keith Calder
This Week’s Recommendations
📖 The Last Emperox, the third book in John Scalzi’s The Interdependecy trilogy, came out today! This is a marvelous epic space opera series by one of the best modern science fiction authors.
🎵 Waxwork Records are re-releasing Ennio Morricone’s classic score for THE THING on vinyl, along with a second album with selected unreleased lost cues that were written by John Carpenter himself.
🎹 This short video of Herbie Hancock showing his computer recording setup to Quincy Jones in 1984.