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Cinematic: The Screen According to Suber


By Anne Burke

Published Sep 20, 2006 12:44 PM

Copyright © John Springer Collection / Corbis

In Los Angeles, there are many people who think they know everything there is to know about filmmaking. Then there is Howard Suber, who probably does.

During 42 years on the faculty at the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television, Suber M.A. '66, Ph.D. '68 has inspired and taught several generations of filmmakers. Years and even decades after leaving his classroom, former students draw upon his insights into what works and what doesn't in filmmaking.

Suber's mastery of his craft has been rewarded with a UCLA Distinguished Teaching Award. A professor emeritus who continues to teach, he founded the UCLA Film Archive and created the current Film and Television Producers Program. His influence extends beyond campus into the power corridors of Hollywood, where he has consulted for every major studio. Now, add "author" to his résumé.

In September, Michael Wiese Productions will release Suber's first book, The Power of Film, in which the author distills his wisdom into concise and witty essays, arranged by topic from A to Z. "I aimed for a book that could be read in life's sacred moments: those three minutes before you fall asleep, waiting in line, or sitting on the toilet," Suber says.

Herewith, a few examples:

To be a success, a Hollywood film must have a happy ending.
What is required for the ending of a film is not happiness; it is justice. Think about the most memorable of popular films: The Godfather (pictured), Casablanca, Annie Hall, Chinatown, Citizen Kane, Doctor Zhivago, On the Waterfront, etc. More often than not, the central characters in the film have gone through such suffering that calling their final state "happy" would be a bitter joke.

The secret of great film acting is the expression of emotion.
The Soviet film director Lev Kuleshov conducted an experiment. He took a photograph of the actor Ivan Mozhukhin. In the photo, Mozhukhin expresses no emotion. Kuleshov juxtaposed the image with stock footage of a steaming bowl of soup, a young child coming toward the camera and an old woman in a coffin. Audiences marveled at Mozhukhin's superb acting ability — how he expressed extreme hunger as he approached the bowl of soup; tender, fatherly emotions as his child came toward him; and overpowering grief at the death of his mother. The response of the audience comes not only from what is projected from the screen, but also from what the audience projects onto it.

Popular American films are filled with sex and violence.
Violence, yes, but not sex. Memorable scenes and memorable movies in American cinema usually find people in pain or people in danger; only rarely do they find people in bed.