26 octobre 2009

"One of the Best Video of All Time" (1)

Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)
Beyoncé - 2008 (Album I am... Sacha Fierce)

When I first saw the video I thought it was silly, over-the-top, even irritating. But the catchy tune won me over after repeated viewing, especially the voice melody in the chorus. We can't say much of the music, a very basic hammering beat. There are 2 notes on a guitar string sliding up and down, a 2 notes bass line on a synthesizer, 3 hits on a drum and continuous clapping samples, cycled endlessly with additional sound effects here and there. But that's it. The zero degree of instrumental music. I wonder what music style it corresponds to... it's probably closer to a slow Drum & Bass beat than R&B. Beyoncé admitted that the "Sasha Fierce" half of her double album is intentionally playful and rhythmic for an easy-going dance drive.
All the melodic variations come from the voice line only which is not terribly wide ranging either but seductive nonetheless. The bridge gives a bit more vocal range to the song with a more elaborate melody and intermittent back vocals.
It's totally mesmerising and after repeated viewing it becomes addictive (which is the main objective of popular music). Now I really like it and have been playing it in loop for a good while.

Also, listen to this delicious acoustic deconstruction by a talented home-based duo : Pomplamoose, freshly uploaded (YouTube, 17 Sept 2009)
The video could improve, but I love the false-candid, self-conscious, serious-but-ironic kind of attitude (a little Miranda July?). The rest of their channel is equally awesome.

The storyline, condensed in three paragraphs, is quite ironic. Beyoncé Knowles is the model of a very successful woman, a sex symbol, a star, and happens to be newly wed to another star, Jay-Z. Probably one of the most glamorous couple in the music industry at the moment. Yet she sings a feminist message to single ladies, incarnating the emancipation of today's women, regular women.
Basically "If you liked it then you shoulda put a ring on it" translates into "If you want me, you need to marry me". A bit of an emotional blackmail. As she sings this taunt to men in general, she rubs in all women's face the big rock she sports at her ring finger. She's married, she doesn't have to worry about male indecision, fear of commitment and lack of responsibility. The choreography and the ostentatious piece of jewellery she wears around her ring keep on emphasizing the success of her personal life.
Or maybe it is a message to her ex-boyfriend(s) who missed his (their) chance to propose her before Jay-Z noticed her... something like "You didn't put a ring on my finger, he did, so now shut up". Anyway I like this straightforward dare. Ladies are not afraid anymore to put up certain conditions and deadlines in the game of seduction. "I don't care if you're jealous now. You didn't buy me a ring so I'm not yours anymore. It's not your business who I dance with." She knows it hurts to see the woman you love(d) in somebody else's arms!
But it also takes courage for the girl to end a relationship and move on, because her beloved partner is not interested to commit more permanently for a wedding. Not every woman would take the risk to break their couple, however unsatisfying it is, to go single again. Beyoncé's sex appeal saves her from staying single too long I would assume. It connects naturally with women who suffered in a on-and-off relationship and are afraid to bail out definitely.
"I've got gloss on my lips, a man on my hips..."
Here is a synecdoche for you. The whole entity (a man) is replacing a part of the whole (his hands) that is implied in the sentence. I like this line "I've got a man on my hips" it is possessive, dominating and provocative. She reverses the action, from being enlaced by someone else, she becomes the captor. The man holds her in his arms, and she says I've got him, he's stuck on me, my hips are like magnets.

Then the irony continues. She keeps singing that she wants a ring (a materialistic metaphor for marriage), and she then say don't give me things, your love is all I want. In the end she wants the wedding ring, but not the romantic presents of an endless courtship.

Three clone dancers, same height, same muscular legs, dressed alike, same shoes, same hairdo, in perfect synchronized moves.
A black body outfit hides all womanly shapes (tits & ass) because of the absence of volume shadows. However, what it reveals with frill ornamented high-cut hips are long objectified legs : symbols of feminine seduction in an hypnotic dance. Legs and hips move a lot, and are frequently emphasized by complementing hand gesture (slap on ass, hands on hips, hands in the air).
Beyoncé stands out from the trio by her asymmetrical outfit, covering most of her left arm and revealing entirely the right arm with a naked shoulder. The other two back-dancers wear a symmetrical sleeveless body outfit.
Beyoncé also wears big earrings and an ostentatious piece of jewellery on her left hand. This extension of a ring that engulf the entire forearm, called the robo-glove, was designed by French designer Thierry Mugler. It's like an Avant-Garde concept of a ring, a ring that spreads around the fingers, hand and arm with titanium and crystal. Quite a massive "ring" that imprisons her entire hand. A megalomanic outgrowth of the traditional, discreet, simple, humble wedding ring. This oversized symbol shows off how much she invests, psychologically, into this marriage proof; and how much she rubs it in everybody's face. Sacha Fierce is an "ironic" alter-ego, of course, but the irony is also a PC way to put on an arrogant attitude that would seem outrageous if not exaggerated for humorous purpose...

The "Three Graces" is a famous motif in painting and sculpture inherited from the Greek antiquity (Charites, or Gratiae in Roman mythology) : Aglaea (beauty), Euphrosyne (mirth), and Thalia (good cheer).

The song starts with the 3 girls lined up frontally, so we can notice Beyoncé is shorter than her back-dancers. The synchronous choreography is more casual. But the formation quickly moves to a triangular form, with Beyoncé ahead of the others, closer to the camera lens. This and a low angle camera uses perspective deformation to make Beyoncé taller (on screen) than the ones in the back. It seems to also help a perfect synchronisation of all 3 dancers, as they can follow Beyoncé's every moves in a faster and more precise choreography.

(to be continued)

23 octobre 2009

Truffaut on Bazin (1959 & 83)

retrouver ce média sur www.ina.fr

retrouver ce média sur www.ina.fr

16 octobre 2009

Regional Industries in India - World Cinema Stats (10)

Indian regional cinemas by language (1931-2008)
I only found data from 1931 to 1993, and only 2 years since then (2003 and 2008), but it gives a good idea how the Indian industry developed. Hindi films (the Bollywood standard, although Mumbai is in the Marathi region, but Marathi cinema is very small) clearly dominate the market, but is hardly the totality of Indian cinema as you can see. I have represented here the 8 main languages that produce the most films, consistently. The survey I used lists 51 different languages! (including English, German, Farsi, Arabic, Thai or Sanskrit, though only a single digit in total)
The production quantity really exploded since the 70ies, and it is growing again rapidly since 2000. It seems out of control.
In the early decades of talky cinema (under British rule), many regions without their own industry opted for Hindi and made their films in Bombai. And lots of films were made in native language with a Hindi version for the pan-Indian market.
The Indian Independence (15 August 1947) boosts Indian cinema as a whole and regional cinemas. Satyajit Ray opens auteur cinema in Bengale in the 50ies, for a while. In the 70ies, Kerala (Malayalam language) becomes the region of auteur cinema, with Adoor Gopalakrishnan and the New Cinema.
In 1968, Telugu film production overtakes Hindi film production for the first time.
In 1979, Tamil film production overtakes Hindi film production for the first time.
Since the 80ies, 5 industries seem to compete for the top ranking : Hindi (Delhi + Mumbai), in the North; and in the South : Tamil (Madras-Chennai), Telugu (Hyderabad), Kannada (Bangalore) and Malayalam (Trivandrum), each with a powerful film industry and studios of their own.
In 2008, Bollywood made more Hindi films (around 600, not even half of all Indian films) than Hollywood made American films (520)! Unfortunately the financial success/flops ratio is worse than in Hollywood. The production cost remains inferior than in Hollywood though and the B.O. returns are much larger.
What everyone calls "Bollywood" is in fact a series of regional cinemas, with an individual production more proportional to what we see elsewhere in the world, around 200 films each (except for Hindi recently) per year. Though they all make mainly Masala films (Indian musicals). Regional cinema and art films struggle to survive within a commercial market overwhelmed by a single standardized formula of self-censored romantic dramas containing 5 to 10 choreographic routines.

This next picture shows the important milestones and historical dates to make sense of the ups and downs of these graphs, also a few landmark films.

Complete timeline of film production 1913-2010 (including Silent Era) :



  • "Encyclopedia of Indian cinema" Ashish Rajadhyaksha, Paul Willemen, B.F.I. Oxford University Press, 1994, New Dehli, India.
  • "Indian Cinema. Le cinema indien" Ed. by E. Grimaud & K. Gormley, Asiaexpo Edition, 2008, Lyon, France.
  • My open-source spreadsheet

12 octobre 2009

Devdas (2002/Bhansali)

The new issue (#6) of Indian Auteur is out! With a new website overhaul, a downloadable/printable version of the journal (PDF here), or an online flipbook (here). The theme is around the musical genre, in Indian cinema and in World cinema.
My article is an analysis on the first part of Devdas (Sanjay Leela Bhansali's 2002 version). Enjoy.

08 octobre 2009

China Production - World Cinema Stats (8)

Finally found some data on Chinese film production (a 1949-86 study). Pre-1949 films still wanted though, as well as 2 periods : 87-94 and 98-05.
If these figures are correct, it wasn't as large as I expected. However few come out to our markets, they are no competition (in size) to India, EU, USA or even Japan, contrary to what I assumed from the most populous country.
But it produced a greater number of educational/scientific films (5000) and documentaries (12000) between 1949 and 1984, mostly for propaganda purpose.
Note the dramatic "shortage" during the "Cultural Revolution" repression. Recently it is growing to a better shape according to China's population and economy.

More random infos:
  • 1979 : 29.3 million admissions (all time high at the time [1984])
  • 1994 : 5 millions admissions
  • 1985 : 182,948 travelling projectors to screen about 20 films/year in rural areas.
  • 1990 : travelling projectors drop to 100,000.
  • 1995 : still 100,000 travelling projectors
  • 1981-85 : 6th Quinquennial Plan (with an objective of about 120 new films/year)
  • 1982 : 6000 theatres in urban areas / 4000 in rural areas
  • 1983 : 99 theatres in Beijing
  • 1995 : 66 theatres (only 13 modern theatres) in Beijing (=10 millions inhabitants); 3000 rural theatres

Source :

06 octobre 2009

Pariscope 2009

Rosenbaum : "As a French friend recently pointed out to me, American audiences have a tendency to regard most films as pieces of property or business ventures, an attitude reflected and encouraged by critics who refer to films at “hits” and “flops”. Perhaps this is one reason why American viewers tend to be more restless and inattentive at films than the French; having purchased a “piece of the action,” they may feel a certain anxiety about how their investment turns out. Another explanation may be two decades of television-conditioning, which seems to teach many Americans that a screen is something to be glanced at, not watched, and a soundtrack overheard as much as listened to. In France, television is still commonly regarded as a precious novelty, and one rarely sees a Frenchman watching the tube with anything less than total absorption."
Upon reading Jonathan Rosenbaum's article : "Paris Journal, Spring 1972 (Paris moviegoing, MODERN TIMES)" [Film Comment, Spring 1972; slightly tweaked, September 2009] (18 Sept 2009), I thought it would be fun to take the same survey and compare the situation today. Maybe a New Yorker will be inclined to do the same for NYC today too...

Pariscope used to be my weekly bible too, indeed. That or its twin : L'Officiel des Spectacles. But that's how we see things have changed... today I rely instead on a free online service (AlloCiné), which is a pretty good database of all French releases, week by week, screen by screen. It cost 3F in 1992 when I arrived in Paris, and it costs 0;40€ today, so the price is stable. But I bet the sales have been eaten up by the web offering of the same infos, more instantaneous. Séances was a great signpost for all obscure screenings in the capital (unfortunately discontinued in 2008). Certainly better than Cahiers's incomplete calendar, once a month, prepared too early, and not updated in real time. They never understood (to this day!) the Cahiers website had to play a day-to-day role to connect with their "monthly" readers...

So according to Pariscope #2158 (week of 30 Sept - 6 Oct 2009) 37 years later :
  • 78 commercial cinémas (Paris "intramuros" city-centre)
  • 85 commercial cinémas (Paris suburbs)
  • 3 institutions (La Cinémathèque, Centre Pompidou, Forum des Images)
    • La Cinémathèque = 35 films (3 screens)
    • Centre Pompidou = 11 films (3 screens)
    • Forum des Images = 35 films (3 screens)
  • not counting the screenings at the various museums and foreign cultural centres (Jeu de Paume, Goethe Institute, Musée Guimet, Auditorium du Louvre, Institut du Monde Arabe, Fondation Cartier, Maison du Japon, Institut Finlandais, Maison de la Russie, Institut Hongrois, Centre Wallonie-Bruxelles, Centre Culturel Irlandais, Centre Tchèque, Institut Néérlandais, Maison du Danemark, Institut Coréen...)
Stats CNC 2008 (PDF) in Paris intramuros : 85 cinémas (41 arthouses); 363 screens ; 70509 seats
26,720,000 admissions sold in Paris in 2008 = 12.57 admissions per inhabitant per year (on average).
Stats CNC 2005 "art & essai" / arthouse (PDF) in Paris megalopole (+suburbs) : 138 arthouses (=49.3 % of total arthouses France); 283 arthouse screens (=30.5% of total arthouse screens in France); 52439 arthouse seats (=26.9% of total arthouses seats France); 184 parisian inhabitants per arthouse seat; 49 parisian inhabitants per seat (all cinemas).

Total unique film titles projected on Parisian public screens : 437 =
  • 13 new releases this week (5 USA, 4 France, 1 Korea, 1 Australia, 1 Mexico, 1 Morocco)
  • 221 current run titles (196 on commercial circuit + 24 in institutions)
  • 202 revival titles (146 on commercial circuit + 56 in institutions)
Broken down by country of origin (current + revival) :
  • 101 : USA (23%)
  • 76 : France (18%)
  • 24 : Italy (5.5%)
  • 22 : Japan (5%)
  • 21 : UK (4.8%)
  • 20 : China (4.6%)
  • 19 : Germany (4.5%)
  • 6 (each) : Spain, Israel
  • 5 : Korea, Czech Rep.
  • 4 : Russia, Canada
  • 3 : Taiwan, Sweden
  • 2 : Portugal, Australia, Denmark
  • 1 : Brazil, Hungary, Algeria, Austria, Finland, Morocco, Serbia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Cameroon, Iran, Argentina, Peru, Cuba, Greece, New Zealand, Switzerland, Senegal, Poland, Mexico
Which is :
  • 18% : France = 78 films
  • 82% : Foreign films (all non-French) = 359 films
  • 37.8% : EU = 165 films
  • 62.2% : Foreign films (all non-EU) = 272 films
This week there is a Chinese cinema retrospective; a contemporary German cinema week; a complete retrospective of Guy Maddin, Kitano, Christophe Honoré, Alain Guiraudie, Park Chan-wook, Milos Forman, Robert Aldrich; other partial homages to Billy Wilder, James Stewart, Cary Grant, Bette Davis, Sean Connery, Rivette, Tarantino, Tarkovsky, Weerasethakul; a retrospective on La Nouvelle Vague...

Nowadays, there is no more unsubtitled prints in Paris, or at La Cinémathèque (maybe rare exceptions). If the original version is not subtitled in French, at least there is English subtitles provided (in exceptional cases for rare prints). Commercial multiplexes (outside Paris) usually run a dubbed version for American films, but in Paris there is at least 1 original version available for each title. Which is more like at least 50-50% ratio of Subs/French dub. I mean it's rare when a film only screens in its French translation.

05 octobre 2009


Cinema Capacity - Japan - World Cinema Stats (7)

Case study : Japan 1955-2008

The number of Admissions naturally follows the number of screens, which is a direct consequence of the supply-demand market regulation. Except for the recent surge of screens (new multiplexes, digital projection...) that doesn't translate in a proportional increase of audience.
This time-series goes back a little further than for France (in my previous post) so we can see the clear change of era with the apparition and development of home televisions. Since 1970 the admissions stabilizes right below 200 millions, which is 6 times lower than the pre-TV, 1960 peak! This said there is no significant decrease when the VHS (70ies), DVD (mid-90ies), online piracy (~2000), Blu-ray (2006) appeared. Most of the decline can be attributed to TV alone.
Japan shows a similar drop of screens capacity around 1995 (economic crisis?) before a new expansion between 1995 and 2008.


04 octobre 2009

Cinema capacity - France - World Cinema Stats (6)

Case study : France 1975-2008

This just means that since 1975 the number of screens keeps growing, globally, but the auditoriums tend to be smaller, containing less seats each, maybe with wider seats, more comfortable (or more space reserved for concession stands). So more screens (not that many more though) to show more films, but smaller audience for each film. It's also the slow decline after the boom of the 50-60ies. Fewer people go to the movies now than they used to back then. The admission price has dramatically increased in the meantime (an average of +7% per year between 1960 and 2000).