Breaking Out and Breaking In

Breaking Out and Breaking In: A Distributed Film Fest of Prison Breaks and Bank Heists kicks off Friday, January 27, sponsored by BLDGBLOG, Filmmaker Magazine, and Studio-X NYC.
[Image: Breaking Out and Breaking In poster by Atley Kasky and Keith Scharwath; view larger!].

Breaking Out and Breaking In is an exploration of the use and misuse of space in prison escapes and bank heists, where architecture is the obstacle between you and what you’re looking for.

Watch the films at home—or anywhere you may be—and then come back to discuss the films here on BLDGBLOG. It’s a “distributed” film fest; there is no central venue, just a curated list of films and a list of days on which to watch them. There’s no set time, no geographic exclusion, and no limit to the food breaks or repeated scenes you might require. And it all leads up to a public discussion at Studio-X NYC on Monday, April 30.

The overall idea is to discuss breaking out and breaking in as spatial scenarios that work as mirror images of one another, each process with its own tools, techniques, and unique forms of unexpected architectural expertise.

How do prisoners and burglars reinterpret the built environments around them? Where does this more aggressive understanding of space differ from the constructive insights of an architect—and how can a building be strategically unbuilt so as to get at what lies on the other side? What particular kinds of spatial and temporal knowledge—where to tunnel, when to go—do these other users of buildings need to develop?

If burglary and prison breaks each require a kind of counter-manual of the city, then what might such a guide include—from precise time schedules and blindspots to the limits of surveillance—what points of weakness and unexpected parallels should it map, and what typologies of incisions or perforations would it posit to allow new routes through closed spaces?

The escape and the break-in here are both about illicit reinterpretations of space, sometimes violent, sometimes simply used against the grain, operating a building, we might say, in every way the architect—and the guards who police his or her creation—regrettably overlooked.

Conversely, how is space regulated and maintained from the standpoint of the police and the prison guard, or from the point of view of the homeowner who seeks to hide his or her private riches? What obstacles, blockades, misdirections, decoys, safe rooms, and security systems must be implemented to ensure that a given space is properly accessed?
[Image: Breaking Out and Breaking In poster by Atley Kasky and Keith Scharwath].

These are all recurring themes here on BLDGBLOG, where, over the years, we’ve discussed how to plan the perfect heist and how to perforate a skyscraper, as well as how to worm your way through the interlinked foundations of London; and perhaps we might say that 19th-century architect George Leonidas Leslie, who used his spatial skills to become “the head of the most successful gang of bankrobbers known,” is, in a sense, our festival’s mascot or patron saint.

Over the next four months, we will be discussing these questions and many more—from how certain sequences in these films were shot to the stage sets constructed to produce them—culminating in a public event at Studio-X NYC in April.

Of course, not all of these films are escapes from prisons as such or heists specifically aimed at banks; instead, we’ll explore what it means to break out from an overly managed suburban life in The Truman Show and how an elaborate home invasion goes wrong in Panic Room; we’ll watch the perfectly timed dream-physics kicks and corporate secrets of Inception as well as a team of German terrorists robbing the vaults of the Nakatomi Building of its negotiated bearer bonds. And our list is by no means exhaustive, with some films chosen less for their cinematic quality or the depth of their characterization than for their discussability or the originality of their spatial propositions.

So, in order of viewing, this distributed film fest of prison breaks and bank heists includes:

Breaking Out—

Friday, January 27, 2012
Grand Illusion (dir. Jean Renoir, 1937)

Monday, January 30, 2012
A Man Escaped (dir. Robert Bresson, 1956)

Friday, February 3, 2012
The Great Escape (dir. John Sturges, 1963)

Monday, February 6, 2012
Cool Hand Luke (dir. Stuart Rosenberg, 1967)

Monday, February 13, 2012
Papillon (dir. Franklin J. Schaffner, 1973)

Friday, February 17, 2012
Escape from Alcatraz (dir. Don Siegel, 1979)

Monday, February 20, 2012
Escape from New York (dir. John Carpenter, 1981)

Friday, February 24, 2012
Cube (dir. Vincenzo Natali, 1997)

Monday, February 27, 2012
The Truman Show (dir. Peter Weir, 1998)

Friday, March 2, 2012
The Escapist (dir. Rupert Wyatt, 2008)

—Breaking In—

Monday, March 19, 2012
Rififi (dir. Jules Dassin, 1955)

Friday, March 23, 2012
The Day They Robbed the Bank of England (dir. John Guillermin, 1960)

Monday, March 26, 2012
The Italian Job (dir. Peter Collinson, 1969) vs. The Italian Job (dir. F. Gary Gray, 2003)

Friday, March 30, 2012
Dog Day Afternoon (dir. Sidney Lumet, 1975) vs. The Third Memory (dir. Pierre Huyghe, 1999)

Monday, April 2, 2012
Die Hard (dir. John McTiernan, 1988)

Friday, April 6, 2012
Following (dir. Christopher Nolan, 1998)

Monday, April 9, 2012
Panic Room (dir. David Fincher, 2002)

Friday, April 13, 2012
Inside Man (dir. Spike Lee, 2006)

Monday, April 16, 2012
The Bank Job (dir. Roger Donaldson, 2008)

Friday, April 20, 2012
Inception (dir. Christopher Nolan, 2010)

Again, you can watch the films wherever you might be, from the Lower East Side to Rotterdam, from Toronto and Mumbai to Beijing, and then join the relevant comment threads here on BLDGBLOG (posted, I hope, within a day or two of the screening date). Further, look out for some original analyses on Filmmaker Magazine as the festival unfolds.

Finally, stop by Studio-X NYC on the evening of Monday, April 30, for a free public discussion featuring a stellar group of panelists soon to be announced.

I hope many of you will participate in this experiment in film curation!

(New Yorkers, note that Robert Bresson’s A Man Escaped happens to be screening this week at Film Forum, so it might be a good idea to catch it before it leaves the theater).

17 thoughts on “Breaking Out and Breaking In”

  1. What do we do if we are poor college students in the middle of ohio? Are there links to the films, or do i need to get on a interlibrary loan thing to figure this out?

  2. Anon, almost all the films are available on Netflix or Blockbuster, and you can find many of them on Hulu and the iTunes store, as well. Others are on Amazon, and some are also streamable on Amazon Prime or Netflix. Some are probably also available through Redbox. The Huyghe film is—at least right now—available on YouTube.

    The hardest one to find, at least for me, was The Day They Robbed The Bank of England, which I had to order from Amazon.

    Hope that helps! Some basic Googling will find all the best or easiest options.

  3. This seems like a perfect use case for 'meetup everywhere'. I'd love to host a movie night or two for folks in SF doing the distributed festival.

  4. Fabulous idea. I'm very excited to participate and see about hosting a few corresponding movie nights with colleagues and friends.

  5. This is an awesome concept – a suggestion? Make it clear in the first sentence that everyone can participate from anywhere in the world. (i.e., it's not until the second paragraph after the poster that it's mentioned, except for the tiny grey-on-black text in the poster.)

    Also, a couple of other films which struck me as having some interesting takes on this genre include "Thief" with James Caan, and "Sneakers" with Robert Redford/Ben Kingsley…the former the heist itself used things like plasma torches, and the latter because it exploited "holes" in electronic security systems.


  6. Joe, the Meetup account is a great idea; can you email me (bldgblog / gmail) and we can switcharoo the account? Thanks for doing that!

    After much ado, meanwhile, the first posts for this will go up late tonight or early tomorrow morning for Grand Illusion and A Man Escaped.

  7. Great list. I realize you can't have it all but +3 for Le Trou; possibly my favourite break out movie ever…I might add it on as my overtime pic in this series…

  8. Thanks, guys! Le Trou would be great, and I would love to see it referenced in the comment threads for the fest as a whole; alas, I wasn't able to include every great film about breaking out or breaking in, and, sadly, both lists suffer from some very noticeable exclusions. But even the films that aren't explicitly part of the festival form a larger context for conversation, so please feel free to bring Le Trou into the frame whenever you see fit!

    Meanwhile, I apologize for the delay—the last week of work has been too much—but I've now posted about Grand Illusion. Stop by and see what you think.

  9. Hey Everyone,

    My friend and I have been designing a monthly journal called Interiors for the past 3 months and thought you all might be interested.

    Interiors is an online journal, published on the 15th of each month, in which films are analyzed and diagrammed in terms of space. Interiors focuses on how space is used throughout a particular scene and how the architecture of the film impacts its narratives and characters.

    It has a lot to do with this series, "Breaking Out & Breaking In", so we thought we'd share it with you. Thanks.

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