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Mondovino


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#1 Robert Edge

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Posted 24 October 2005 - 01:54 PM

This two hour documentary on the wine business has recently been released on DVD and will apparently become the subject of a 10 part television series. The film, made by Jonathan Nossiter, has been attacked by some people for its visual style. Specifically, a lot of people have complained that there is far too much camera movement and that the overall visual effect is amateurish.

On the commentary track to the DVD, Nossiter says that the visual style is largely deliberate. He regrets certain zooms into the eyes of the subject during interviews, which he says were the result of difficulties maintaining focus with the compact Sony video camera that he was using. But apart from that, he defends the camera work and editing (or rather lack of editing) on the ground that it gives the film an immediacy that it would otherwise lack. In interview footage, the subjects are shown whenever they are speaking. Cutaways are not used to avoid showing rough movements of the camera. In fact, I don't recall a single cutaway in the entire film. It seems to me that the impact of seeing the subject's face whenever the subject is speaking is bolstered by the fact that Mondovino does not contain a single line of narration explaining or commenting on what is seen and heard on the screen. Coincidentally, I happened to read Andre Bazin's essay on Montage a few days after seeing the DVD, and my sense is that Nossiter either deliberately or accidentally took on board what Bazin had to say about the relationship between editing and a viewer's willingness to buy into the "tructh" or "believability" of what he is shown on the screen. I suppose the question is whether Nossiter went to far, i.e. whether the overall impact is that of a home movie.

There may be a secondary reason why Nossiter retained images of rough camera work duirng interviews. Some of the subjects say some extraordinarily stupid things. I think that the absence of cutaways makes it much more difficult for subjects to claim that the sound track was manipulated. If that sounds fanciful, one of the subjects, who his one of the world's most influential wine consultants and who is pretty much apoplectic about his portrayal in the film, has alleged, among other things, that the sound of his laugh was manipulated.

Pesonally, I think that Mondovino's visual style is refreshing, and also that some of the camera work is quite sophisticated. Given that Nossiter shot 500 hours of footage, which he could have afforded only by shooting video, I also think that Mondovino is something of a poster film for the potential of relatively inexpensive, compact video cameras and small crews. I'm curious to kow what others think about this film.

For info on the film, as well as a NY Times article on the controversy that the film has caused in the wine world, see www.mondovinofilm.com
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#2 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 25 October 2005 - 12:39 AM

I haven't seen it, but my wife did -- she liked the movie but hated the camera work. She found it highly distracting and annoying. She came back from the theater saying "someone should buy that filmmaker a tripod!"
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#3 Robert Edge

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Posted 25 October 2005 - 08:26 AM

Your wife is definitely not alone in her reaction. I didn't find the camera work particularly distracting, in fact found the visual style interesting, but I wonder whether that is because I saw the film in my living room on a TV screen rather than in a theater on a big screen. The film is certainly worth seeing, if only because there is something to learn - positive or negative or perhaps a bit of both - about how it is shot. One question that is worth asking while watching the film is whether it could have been made with a larger camera on a tripod plus lighting kit and a crew, etc. Personally, I don't think that he could have gotten the material he did - his subjects are extremely candid, despite the fact that in many cases they are powerful people used to the media and were accompanied by public relations people - had he not been shooting with a small camera hand held and with only one or two other people working with him.
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