Wednesday, August 24, 2016

2016 Blind Spot Series: A Brief History of Time

Based on the book by Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time is a film about the life of Stephen Hawking and his views on the universe. Directed by Errol Morris, the film is a documentary on the man with interviews with Hawkings as well as various family members and colleagues. All of which told in a very stylistic manner in a mixture of straightforward interviews, archival photos, and recreated dramatic images to support Hawking’s theories on time and space. The result is a compelling and riveting film about the life and mind of Stephen Hawking.

The film is a documentary on the life of astrophysicist Stephen Hawking as well as his views on the subject of cosmology as he reveals many theories on the universe and the idea about time. Told through interviews as well as archival footage and some dramatic creations based on Hawking’s theories, the film also explores many of the ideas about how the universe was created and the idea about whether or not there is a God. While the film moves back and forth into aspects about Hawking’s life told by his mother Isobel and sister Mary as well as various friend and colleagues. It also features footage of Hawking talking through a voice synthesizer about himself and views on the world as it relates to his increasing study on the universe.

Errol Morris’ direction is quite straightforward when it comes to the interviews as they’re shot largely in medium shots with a few stylish angles and close-ups as it relates to the way Morris presents Hawking. The scenes where Morris creates these visual tricks using diagrams and drawings based on Hawking’s theories do have some unique visual tricks as well as the way he presents simple objects to support his theories. With the aid of cinematographer John Bailey with additional work from Stefan Czapsky, the interviews and the dramatic recreations definitely have a unique look that is also aided by production designer Ted Bafaloukos and art director David Lee in creating sets for the interviews as well as a scene of a teacup falling into the floor.

With contributions from editor Brad Fuller along with sound editors Eliza Paley and Ira Spiegel, Morris‘ usage of stock footage as well as film footage from the sci-fi film The Black Hole is intriguing as it play into the mystique of the black hole with Paley and Spiegel providing a few sound effects in those dramatic recreation sequences. The film’s music by Philip Glass is amazing for its eerie yet soothing electronic score that play into that sense of drama but also with moments that are low-key as it play into the pieces that relates to Hawking’s family life.

The 2014 Region 1/Region A dual DVD/Blu-Ray release presents the film in a newly remastered 4k digital transfer supervised by Errol Morris and cinematographer John Bailey. Presented in the 1:85:1 aspect ratio with 5.1 Surround Sound with a DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack for the Blu-Ray. The special features include a 34-minute interview with Errol Morris who talks about the film as well as working with Stephen Hawking. Morris also talks about his approach as well as being someone who didn’t follow the rules of conventional filmmaking as it relates to the documentary. Along with tidbits on its visual presentation, Morris also talked about his time with Hawking around the time the film was made which occurred during a crucial period in Hawking’s own personal life as he was going through a separation with his first wife Jane Wilde as Morris revealed he was unsuccessful in getting Wilde to be in the film because of his poor cello playing.

The 12-minute interview with cinematographer John Bailey has the cinematographer talking about his collaboration with Morris on the film as well as his approach to lighting. Especially as he reveals how different it was in terms of shooting something for a dramatic feature and what Morris wants to say visually. Bailey also talks about some paintings that inspired him for some of the lighting in the interviews while revealed that he and Morris had to work with Hawking for a few days in shooting him for his own scenes as it’s a very fascinating piece about what a cinematographer’s role in the documentary. The dual-disc release features two additional texts that doesn’t appear in the DVD as it includes a chapter from Hawking’s 2013 memoir and an excerpt from the titular book the film was named after.

The third piece of text that appears in the dual-disc release and solely on the DVD release is an essay by film/book critic David Sterritt entitled Macrobiography. Sterritt’s essay talks about Hawking’s status as an unlikely celebrity as well as the fact that his work is seen as this guide to the ideas of the universe. On the film, Sterritt talks about how accessible the film is on a subject matter this is often very complex to the average person as well as Morris’ visual treatment of Hawking and his theories. The essay also talks about how the film relates to a lot of the work of Morris as a filmmaker as it all play into this fascination with humanity while often trying to find ways to reinvent the idea of nonfiction filmmaking as it’s a wonderful read to a great film.

A Brief History of Time is a phenomenal film from Errol Morris. Featuring dazzling visuals, a hypnotic score by Philip Glass, and fascinating interviews with colleagues and family who know Stephen Hawking as well as tidbits from the man himself. It’s a film that doesn’t just defy the idea of what a documentary is but also creates a portrait to one of the most riveting human beings on the face of the Earth. In the end, A Brief History of Time is an incredible film from Errol Morris.

Related: The Theory of Everything

Errol Morris Films: (Gates of Heaven) - (Vernon, Florida) - The Thin Blue Line - (The Dark Wind) - Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control - (Mr. Death) - (The Fog of War) - (Standard Operating Procedure) - Tabloid (2010 film) - (The Unknown Known)

© thevoid99 2016

1 comment:

ruth said...

Very cool that you're still keeping up w/ the Blindspot series. Interesting pick too, I don't know much about Hawkings other than from what I saw in the biopic Theory of Everything.