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As of Monday, February 23, 2015, Sonic Cinema is officially accepting filmmaker inquiries about having films reviewed on the site. That said, if a backlog exists in such inquiries, it might take a while to get to all of them. Thank you for your patience, and for sharing your art with us. -Brian Skutle


Actor Profile: Timothy J. Cox

One of the best things I’ve done in growing Sonic Cinema over the past 6-7 years has been embracing the idea of filmmaker requests of films they’re in or have made. It started slow—one in ‘06, one in ‘07, two in ‘08—but in 2009, the requests began coming in so fast it was difficult to keep up, and it’s been going that way ever since. One of the most prolific people in their requests, if not the most prolific, has been an actor named Timothy J. Cox, whose website you can check out here. It’s a good bet that you probably haven’t seen anything he’s been in, but if you’ve followed my reviews the past several years, you’ve no doubt seen his name several times. Some of his films I’ve reviewed on here include: “My Father, My Don”; “That Terrible Jazz”; “It’s Not You”; and “Trouble” are just some of the films he’s been in that have crossed my eyes. It’s always enjoyable to watch him in a wide variety of roles, in a wide variety of films. He is, truly, the definition of a character actor, never really playing the same character twice. I can’t wait to see what he has in store for me in the future.

I emailed Timothy some questions recently for a brief Q&A, and here are his responses.

1) Who/what inspired you to become an actor?

That’s easy: Jack Lemmon. Lemmon was the reason why I became an actor, specifically his performance in ‘Days of Wine and Roses’. He was so familiar up there on screen, like a relative, so natural and honest. Whether it was a comedic or a dramatic role, he brought so much variety and humanity to the work. When I saw that performance and saw that you could move an audience, as well as entertain them, I knew that I was an actor and that I was going to be one for life.

2) Is there particular material, or a type of role, that you find yourself gravitating towards?

Honestly, I do love supporting roles. It’s where I fit and where I have had success. It’s fun to play the shrink or the lawyer or the romantic lead’s best friend who says, ‘’Go get the girl, stupid’’. I’ve always said that I’d take the role of the Gravedigger over Hamlet any day of the week.

I just worked on the film ‘’Bulldog,’’ here in New York yesterday, where I played this school principal for two scenes. Both scenes were brief, but fun and then I was done. That’s what I like. I like to come on, do the job and then go on to the next one. A good supporting actor comes on, scores their points and then exits.

3) Do you prefer working on film or in theatre?

I’ve always been 50/50. Nothing beats the live reaction of an audience in the theatre. There’s something truly magical about the shared experience between actor and audience, but I also love the feeling of stepping onto a film set. It feels like home. It’s a different energy than the theatre. There’s a lot of waiting around, of course and you have to remain patient and ready, but when everything is firing on all cylinders, it’s quite exciting.

4) I’ve seen you in a lot of short films over the years, but very few (if any) feature films. Is there something that draws you to the short film format over features?

Shorts are a nice way for filmmakers to get their foot in the door in this business and for me, it’s been a fun way to work in a wide range of genres and roles over the years.

I’ve been fortunate to work with a lot of great filmmakers, like Sean Meehan and with Sean specifically, on every project, it just gets better and better. More risks and challenges are being taken, which is great. Sean is someone that I know is going to make great shorts and features in the future. I just hope he keeps hiring me.

5) When it comes to bringing a character to life, do you prefer a script where all the information is on the page, or do you prefer having some blanks to fill in?

To me, it’s all in the script. The script has to be solid. If the script is good, then it makes your job as the actor so much easier. You just trust the material and the people around you. When the material is not so good is when you have to push up your shirt sleeves and then it becomes work. Acting shouldn’t be work. I mean, it’s called play for a reason. To me, acting is extended recess time, playtime for adults.

Thank you very much, Timothy, not just for your time in answering these questions, but also for sharing your craft with me. I can’t wait to watch more films with you.

Sincerely,

Brian Skutle
www.sonic-cinema.com


A Movie a Week


A Movie a Week: "Rear Window"

Here we are, at last, as we begin the seventh year of this series. The past few years, I’ve gotten painfully behind at times delivering these reviews, but no time was worse than the last part of 2014, when I basically had to do two reviews a week sometimes just to catch up. Now that last year is finished up, it’s time to start this year.

The “new normal” of my life without my father, and a lot of balls in the air at the same time, is starting to normalize. Part of what kept me so behind last year was my decision to take online courses in film music at the Berklee College of Music, and it was a wonderful choice, even if it was stressful at times. Now, I have a body of work I can share, and hopefully get my foot in the door of something I love. But this is about reviewing movies, my other big love, so let’s get to it.

This year will feature a lot of the same mix of old favorites with movies I haven’t seen before that has been something of a regular happening the past few years in this column, and that will start right off the bat. For this year’s “bookend director,” I decided to go with a filmmaker who isn’t as highly regarded as some of my other choices, but definitely a personal favorite of mine. He’s directed some of my all-time favorite genre films over the years, and the more I’ve watched them, the more they find a place in my cinematic memory. That’s the hallmark of a great filmmaker, and as with Alfred Hitchcock (last year’s bookend), Richard Donner knows exactly how to push an audience’s buttons, and entertain them easily.

This week, I take a look at one of Hitchcock’s most beloved thrillers, “Rear Window”. I hope you enjoy!

Brian Skutle
www.sonic-cinema.

“Rear Window” (1954)- A+
Alfred Hitchcock spent his entire career experimenting with, and perfecting, the storytelling structure of the thriller. He had a legitimate “prestige” film with his first American production, “Rebecca,” but even that more than qualifies to be considered in the same genre vein as “Vertigo,” “Psycho,” “North By Northwest” or “Strangers on a Train.” This particular attention to genre is likely why Hitchcock did not receive an Oscar until the Honorary one he got at the end of his life, but that snub has always been attributed more to the stuffiness of the Academy than any lack of worthiness on Hitch’s part.

If you want to know exactly what made Hitchcock the greatest of all-time, one only needs to watch his 1954 thriller, “Rear Window.” The film lands firmly in the middle of the astounding run of creativity that possessed Hitch between 1951 (“Strangers on a Train”) and 1963 (“The Birds”), although I would extend that to include 1964’s “Marnie,” as well. Even more than “Psycho,” “North By Northwest” and “Vertigo,” this is about as definitive an expression of Hitchcock as an artist as you can get. It’s equal turns romantic, funny, emotional and suspenseful, and it’s one of the most inspired pieces of cinematic storytelling in the great filmmaker’s career.

Point of view is important to the overall impact of “Rear Window.” Even before we see Jimmy Stewart’s Jeffries begin to watch the people in the apartments around his neighborhood, Hitchcock’s camera establishes the framings and movements we will see throughout the remainder of the film, moving between one window and area of the courtyard to another in ways that resemble the human eye looking at things. Later, we see the use of irises during such scenes to symbolize the use of binoculars and a long range camera lens, which Jeff, as he’s called by his friends, uses to help himself see better, especially after a wife disappears across the way, and all the signs point to murder. For a film about voyeurism, Hitchcock wants us to be fully complicit in Jeff’s morally questionable behavior, and feel just as helpless when he best intentions backfire on him and those he cares about, especially Grace Kelly’s Lisa. Robert Burks shot several films for Hitchcock, including “Vertigo,” which is the pinnacle of their use of color, but this is their best collaboration in terms of framing and moving the camera. Most of the time, we are watching what Jeffries, a photojournalist whose broken leg is keeping him holed up in his apartment, is seeing in the apartment complex, and it’s a cinematic device that is truly inspired. We are very much in the same quandary that Jeffries is in during the movie, because Hitchcock’s camera doesn’t leave the apartment. It’s a clever play on the “closed room” mystery structure, and ramps up the tension brilliantly in the film’s third act, when Lisa goes snooping in Raymond Burr’s apartment for clues that Burr’s Thorwald did, in fact, kill his wife, as Jeffries suspects.

The screenplay by John Michael Hayes (who also wrote “The Man Who Knew Too Much,” “To Catch a Thief” and “The Trouble With Harry” for Hitchcock) is based on a short story, but it’s all Hitchcock, and is a perfect match for it’s stars, Stewart and Kelly. As Jeffries, Stewart brings his everyman quality to a character whose life is boring because he can’t live it holed up with a broken leg. He’s a man who needs to be in the middle of the action (he broke his leg by getting too close to a race track), but his wheelchair is preventing that. And so, ever the shutterbug, he aims his eye to the people in the apartment complex along the way, telling himself stories of their lives based on what he observes. It’s kind of amazing to me that all of these people would leave their windows and doors open for anyone to see, without giving themselves any privacy, but such is the nature of cinematic spin to tell this story; it’s not really a reflection of life (not always, at least), but a plot device. Among the most inspired touches Hitch brings to the film is to give us, and Jeffries, just enough visual information to make us think Thorwald did, in fact, kill his wife, while also giving us verbal information (provided by Doyle, Jeffries’s detective friend) to make us doubt it and try to see reason. Once the idea is planted in Jeffries’s mind, though (put there by both a woman’s scream, and Thorwald’s behavior after said scream), it’s there for good, and no one will be able to convince him otherwise. There are two fundamental tensions in this train of thought for Jeffries, along with the moral ambiguity of how he came to this conclusion—what if he’s wrong, and he’s framing an innocent man, as the trail for the world to see would imply, or worse…what if he’s right? Either way, the method in which he came to his conclusions is a bit unsettling, as Lisa and Stella (his nurse, played by Thelma Ritter) try to tell him, and wouldn’t necessarily hold up in court. Also, if the truth ever did come out, how would the others whose lives he’s intruded on think? Since his instincts proved correct, we can imagine the answer to question by the last moments of the movie.

An actor friend of mine called “Rear Window” “the perfect thriller,” in his opinion, and it’s hard to argue that. It’s handily the most entertaining of Hitchcock’s great films in both it’s story, and the way it tells that story. It has a genuinely romantic love story between Jeffries and Lisa, and while I didn’t really touch on Kelly’s performance before, let me just say that she has the physique to make us believe she is an uptown fashion model, but the head and heart to make us believe that while she seems like she’d be out of place following the love of her life (Jeffries) around the globe, her love is pure enough to make us think that she’d be perfectly fine doing so. And it’s a gripping piece of suspense from Hitchcock, who meticulously planned out everything in his films, and rarely did a more effective job than he did here. This is a true blue masterpiece of cinema, and more proof that no one did suspense like Hitch.

Previous “A Movie a Week” Reviews
“The Goonies” (1985)
“The Outlaw Josey Wales” (1976)
“Conan the Barbarian” (1982)
“The Muppets Take Manhattan” (1984)
“Bound” (1996)
“The Lover” (1992)
“4 Little Girls” (1997)
“The Godfather Part III” (1990)
“Blue Chips” (1994)
“The Paper” (1994)
“Ace in the Hole” (1951)
“Shrek” (2001)
“Dogma” (1999)
“Daredevil” (2003)
“Spartacus” (1960)
“In a Lonely Place” (1950)
“The Adventures of Robin Hood” (1939)
“Wings of Desire” (1987)
“Mad Max” (1979)
“The Iron Giant” (1999)
“Au Hasard Balthazar” (1966)
“Alien³” (1992)
“The Lost World: Jurassic Park” (1997)
“The Little Mermaid” (1989)
“Clue” (1985)
“The Terminator” (1984)
“Romancing the Stone” (1984)
“Bring It On” (2000)
“The 40 Year Old Virgin” (2005)
“Mission: Impossible” (1996)
“Paycheck” (2003)
“Spite Marriage” (1929)
“The Gold Rush” (1925)
“Rear Window” (1954)

See Brian’s list of 2009 “Movies a Week” here.
See Brian’s list of 2010 “Movies a Week” here.
See Brian’s list of 2011 “Movies a Week” here.
See Brian’s list of 2012 “Movies a Week” here.
See Brian’s list of 2013 “Movies a Week” here.
See Brian’s list of 2014 “Movies a Week” here.


Music News

If you are a fan on Sonic Cinema, Brian's music, or the work of Cinema Nouveau Productions, and would like to show your support, a store is now available through Cafe Press, with T-shirts, hats, buttons, and other merchandise. A wide variety of designs and products are available. The store is Sonic Cinema Shop and can be found at the link provided. Thank you for your support, so I can continue to do what I love. -Brian Skutle


Musical Happenings: April 2015

It’s been nearly a year since I last updated on Sonic Cinema on my musical exploits. Truth is, I’ve been pretty busy with a lot of balls juggling in the air, so I haven’t been able to update quite as regularly as I’d prefer. But here we are, almost done with the first third of 2015, and it’s definitely been a ride.

Last year, most of the year saw my creative energies being focused on academic pursuits. If you’ll recall, in April of last year I started a 3-course certificate program through the Berklee College of Music online for Music for Film & TV. The last time I updated on my “Musical Happenings,” I had just finished my first course, Film Scoring 101, which confirmed a lot of my own previous experience in the subject, but also gave me a better understanding of the spotting process and syncing to picture than I previously had. Well, in December of last year, I completed the program with two As and an A-, and received my certificate in the mail in February. Now, it’s time to put this added experience into use, and get some changes happening in terms of my career.

Creatively, the courses I took through Berklee expanded my knowledge about the field of film music, heightened my appreciation for the art form, and gave me a lot of chances to spread my wings as a composer. The third course in the program was devoted to breaking down conventions of genre writing, and scoring a scene in that genre using the techniques we learned. This was invaluable to me, not only because it allowed me more exposure in some types of writing I hadn’t done before (like comedy and romance), but because it showed me just how limited some of my thinking as a composer had been in terms of film scoring. As with classical music, there are different conventions and theoretical ideas at play when scoring different types of scenes that can only be understood when you break down examples of those pieces. It was like Music Theory for Film Music, and if I had only taken that course alone, it would have been worth it, but all three courses had invaluable information to learn. The culmination of that last course was the creation of a demo reel of some of our work, which you can hear below.

In terms of looking for opportunities to apply my craft towards film scoring, it’s been relatively slow to start out, but I’ve actually got more potential resources than I think. One of the things I’ve been doing is reaching out to some of the filmmakers I’ve come in contact with in accepting review requests for Sonic Cinema, not necessarily asking them to consider using me, but maybe putting the word out with people they may know looking for a composer. More recently, though, I joined an Atlanta filmmakers meetup group I found online, and that is already heading in the direction of making a short film after two recent meetings. (I might even be doing production sound and the overall mix, as well.) It’s a very exciting project, already, and being able to be a part of it from the start has been great knowledge.

In terms of personal musical projects, the past year has been light on it. I eschewed my usual October composing due to class and personal responsibilities, although I did record a couple of pieces I had written in 2013, one solo harpsicord piece (“Haunted By the Past”) and one flute piece (“Into the Dark Alone”). Otherwise, there were only three original works that were for something other than classes. The first was a piece for band (a configuration I’ve wanted to write for for some time) entitled “Interludes for Winds, Marimba and Timpani”, followed up by an electronic piece called “Cosmic Energy”. The last piece was more personal, and actually partially inspired by my classes. After looking at positive emotional scoring, including romantic writing, a seed of an idea took hold, and turned into a piece dedicated to my wonderful girlfriend of now 2-plus years, Meredith. It’s a piece for strings, winds and synthesizer, and it’s called “Serenity Valley: A Melody for Meredith”, and it’s one of the very best pieces I’ve ever written, in my opinion. It won’t be the only one she inspires in the years to come, that’s for sure.

That’s all I have for now in terms of my musical endeavors. It’s been quite a transitional time for me in my life, and hopefully, the work I’ve done in the past year will lead to a dramatic transition that leads to the life, and career, I’ve wanted for years. Thank you all who have been following and supporting me all this time.

Thanks for listening,

Brian Skutle
www.sonic-cinema.com
brianskutle.bandcamp.com
“Creative Beginnings” at CDBaby
“Dark Experiments” at CDBaby
“Sonic Visions of a New Old West” at CDBaby
“Beyond the Infinite: A Musical Odyssey” at CDBaby
“Storytelling” at CDBaby
“Arpeggiations & Atmospheres” on BandCamp

(view news archive)