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Matte Painting Techniques + Robert Mitchum Interviews Dissing Steve McQueen & Robert Wise

Matte painting Forbidden Planet: 1956 sci-fi classic inspired by Shakespeare's The TempestMatte painting in Forbidden Planet. A Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer release, Fred M. Wilcox's 1956 science-fiction classic seemingly inspired by William Shakespeare's The Tempest stars Walter Pidgeon, Anne Francis, and Leslie Nielsen.

'The Magic and Mystery of Movie Matte Painting' to explore cinema's pre-CGI 'virtual sets'

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Science and Technology Council will be presenting “Fantastic Reality: The Magic and Mystery of Movie Matte Painting,” on Monday, Dec. 10 '07, at 8 p.m. at the Linwood Dunn Theater in Hollywood. Oscar nominee and Academy Visual Effects Branch governor Craig Barron (Batman Returns, 1993) will host the evening.

According to the Academy's press release, “The Magic and Mystery of Movie Matte Painting”

“will explore the long history of the traditional method of creating 'virtual sets,' in which oil paints are brushed and daubed onto a few square feet of glass or wood to be composited later with live action footage. The recent transition into the new frontiers of software and pixels will also be examined.”

'Playing God: The Art and Artists of Matte Painting'

In conjunction with “The Magic and Mystery of Movie Matte Painting,” the Academy will open the new exhibition “Playing God: The Art and Artists of Matte Painting” in the foyer of the Linwood Dunn Theater.

The exhibition will profile the lives and works of Peter Ellenshaw (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea), Albert Whitlock (The Man Who Would Be King), Matthew Yuricich (Ghostbusters), and others, with displays of their “tools of the trade,” including several of the matte paintings created for such films as Victor Fleming's The Wizard of Oz (1939), Fred M. Wilcox's Forbidden Planet (1956), Stanley Kubrick's Spartacus (1960), and Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds (1963).

Tickets to “Fantastic Reality” are $5 for the general public and $3 for Academy members and students with a valid ID. “Playing God: The Art and Artists of Matte Painting” is open during Academy events at the Dunn Theater only. Admission is free.

The Linwood Dunn Theater is located at 1313 Vine Street in Hollywood. For additional information, visit www.oscars.org or call (310) 247-3600.

Forbidden Planet matte painting image: Courtesy of Craig Barron.

Robert Mitchum The Night of the Hunter: Perfectly miscast psychopathic murdererRobert Mitchum in The Night of the Hunter. Directed by Best Actor Academy Award winner Charles Laughton (The Private Life of Henry VIII, 1932–1933), the dark thriller The Night of the Hunter stars Robert Mitchum as a psychopathic murderer who finds his way into the home of unsuspecting small-town widow Shelley Winters and her two children (Billy Chapin, Sally Jane Bruce). Also featuring silent era veteran Lillian Gish (The Birth of a Nation, Broken Blossoms) – in what is probably her most effective talkie role – The Night of the Hunter was Laughton's sole directorial foray. As the demented love/hate Christian preacher (look at his knuckles), Robert Mitchum is perfectly miscast; i.e., physically, he's ideal for the part, yet his performance is so unsubtle that it's impossible to take him seriously – or rather, menacingly – throughout most of this beautifully shot film (courtesy of The Magnificent Ambersons cinematographer Stanley Cortez). Based on David Grubb's 1953 novel, The Night of the Hunter was adapted by The Nation and Time film critic-turned-screenwriter James Agee, with rewrites by director Laughton. A chronic alcoholic and heavy smoker, Agee suffered a fatal heart attack at age 45 in the year The Night of the Hunter came out.

Robert Mitchum interviews available on Roger Ebert website

U.S. film critic Roger Ebert affirms that Robert Mitchum, best remembered for a series of films noirs and thrillers from the 1940s and 1950s, was both his favorite movie star and favorite interview subject.

“He would tell you anything,” Ebert explains. “He fearlessly maligned his directors, co-stars, even actors he had never worked with. ([Steve] McQueen? 'He doesn't bring much to the party.') He was once called 'the embodiment of film noir,' and that was about right.

On his website's “From the Archives” segment, Ebert has posted four of the interviews he conducted with Mitchum, three of which took place around the time he was starring in Ryan's Daughter, and the fourth a tribute that came out about two decades later.

“You get a sense of his irreverence,” Ebert says, “his refusal to take himself seriously, and also, beneath the surface, a constant intelligence. Nobody can be that funny and not know what he is doing.”

At his best when cast against type

I've never found Robert Mitchum very impressive in film noirs. Jacques Tourneur's mind-boggling Out of the Past is an enjoyable entry in the genre, but mostly because of femme fatale Jane Greer. Angel Face is all about Jean Simmons while Crossfire is Robert Ryan's showcase.

In my view, Steve Cochran would have been much more effective in any of Mitchum's noir roles. Cochran was more handsome, more brooding, more sensual, more menacing, and, at least on screen, a more convincing ladies' man.

Besides, the sameness of Mitchum's approach to acting is detrimental to many of his movies. There are, however, a few glaring exceptions – invariably when film noir's cynical, tough guy was cast against type.

Poor accent or no, he is just about perfect as an affable and somewhat “weak” sheepman in Fred Zinnemann's Australian outback-set The Sundowners (1960), in which he is paired with the even more eminently watchable Deborah Kerr, also cast against type as his wife and fellow hick.

Mitchum is also memorable in another non-virile role: the schoolmaster and cuckolded husband in David Lean's Ryan's Daughter. This may well be his finest performance, even though Lean's uneven, Irish-set romantic/political drama actually belongs to eventual Best Actress Oscar nominee Sarah Miles as the schoolmaster's adulterous wife.

Robert Mitchum quotes

In his interviews, Robert Mitchum could indeed sound quite caustic when discussing other people he knew or had worked with. Entertaining reading (or watching) for some, perhaps, but some of his harsher remarks place him in a less flattering light than the people he is putting down.

Here's a longish – and, really, inoffensive – Robert Mitchum quote from an interview Roger Ebert conducted in October 1969. Mentioned are filmmakers Robert Parrish and Robert Wise, and actress Shirley MacLaine.

“But I don't give a damn, I must be good at my job; they wouldn't haul me around the world at these prices if I weren't. I remember one picture – [The] Wonderful Country [1959], I think it was – where the character comes across the border from Mexico. Parrish was the director and he wanted me to gradually lose my Mexican accent and then pick it up again when I went back to Mexico.

“Parrish is essentially a cutter, not a director. There are several of those. Wise, for example, couldn't find his way out of a field without a choreographer. Bobby even times a kiss with a stopwatch. He marks out the floor at seven o'clock in the morning, before anybody gets there. Lays it all out with a tape measure. True. It's very difficult to work that way. I worked with him and Shirley MacLaine [on Two for the Seesaw, 1962] and Shirley said, 'Why doesn't he go home? He's just in the way…' ”

In this same 1969 interview, you get the full Robert Mitchum quote regarding Steve McQueen:

“I never saw [Robert Wise's Best Picture Oscar nominee] The Sand Pebbles. Of course that was a problem picture out in front, with [Best Actor Oscar nominee] Steve McQueen in it. You've got to realize a Steve McQueen performance just naturally lends itself to monotony. Steve doesn't bring too much to the party.”


Robert Mitchum The Night of the Hunter image: United Artists.

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7 Comments to Matte Painting Techniques + Robert Mitchum Interviews Dissing Steve McQueen & Robert Wise

  1. John Daniel Holloway III

    Do you know where I can purchase the top one?

  2. Mark Davis

    Robert Mitchum carried with him, a strong but “quite” independence, depth, intelligence and mystery, in touch with himself…..Never Trying ……………” just being .” Always eluding to a savvy view of the world around him, and those “so-called” uncooperative answers when interviewed, was his effective way of “not” being exploited as an actor or as a person. Hollywood is made up of 99% backside kissers and self glorification, on and off the screen. Mitchum was neither.

    Robert Mitchum had great talent but his genius was in his powerful sense of who he was, never telling people who he is, Robert Mitchum lived who he was…. and he did it better than most anyone. He really owned himself and that is something most find an elusive goal in themselves.

    A quintessential, one of a kind original.

  3. moMO

    That's incredible. I wish I had been in LA at the time. Matte painting can be very effective. Sometimes it's better than green screen technology.

  4. kate

    Robert Mitchum is a most under rated actor. He always had my full attention ever since I first saw him on screen - I was about 8 years old. He has never lost his allure.

  5. Jasper von Blowhole

    Mitchum wasn't on my radar for about two decades. Recently I went through a noir phase and really came to like him in these movies. Especially in Out of the Past. I appreciate his thoughts on Robert Wise.

    I also used to dislike Bogart (whom I thought had no range) but his noir movies persuaded me he was a strong presence in his movies. People rise to stardom for all sorts of reasons, only one of which is acting talent.

    My selection for an actor with no range would require you to view any Bette Davis movie. She seems to have only mastered 'sullen' and 'contemptible.'

  6. Andre

    A clarification: I'm not “anti-Mitchum” and have no desire to be perceived as a “maverick.”

    But I'm free to express my “different” views, and people are free to express their disagreement. And that's just fine.

    I do like Steve Cochran, and I think he was an underrated and underused actor. Michelangelo Antonioni got some good stuff out of him in “Il Grido.” I'd recommend a look at that to those who find Cochran a predictable performer.

  7. Ned Brewster

    Regarding your statement regarding Robert Mitchum,
    How can you justify saying that Steve Cochrane is better, sexier than Robert Mitchum? Although I like Steve Cochrane as a secondary player he's pretty thin as a personality or perhaps see through is a better word and if you pardon me kind of a dummy. In that I mean, for example, Jane Greer in Out of The Past would of taken him for a ride and plugged him by the end of the first reel. An actor a little too in love with himself, for example in Best Years of Our Lives. Good a being a creep and too aware of his looks. Mitchum on the other hand had the attitude, real or not, of ” So what, so I look good, are we done?” Also Mitchum could move “B” material up to an “A” just by showing up and not tripping over the furniture. Either you're trying to be anti Mitchum in order to show what a maverick you are or you just don't have any sense. To me the reason Mitchum excelled in his acting, whether in noir films or almost any other type of film he took on, was his ability to play it low key and be natural but he also had something going on inside. Intelligence, depth, maybe just plain old experience with the real world, something many actors of the past and especially of todays movies, have very very little of. Also if you can deny Mitchums sex appeal then this may just be your own personal taste or problem. How about Steve Cochrane in Night of the Hunter think he could have pulled one that off too? Oh and referring to Mitchums attitude or style being described as somnambulistic is pretty tired as of the 1950's.