Best Shot: Dog Day Afternoon
No, that’s not my best shot from Dog Day Afternoon, although that this movie begins by showing an image of a moving ship, among more b-roll, counts as guffaw-worthy to me. Because the rest of the movie presents the clashing that occurs during movement within claustrophobic surroundings, that this combination is more explosive than any kind of action in a city like 1970’s New York where something’s always happening. Sonny Wortzik (Al Pacino) and his accomplice Sal (John Cazale) planned a simple bank robbery in a branch in Brooklyn but one mistake after another turned it into barricaded televised street theatre. And we have to note that Sidney Lumet is the best person to document this story, one of the few who understood New York and its citizens’ contradictory cosmopolitan nature. Sonny is short, armed and scrappy and that’s not even where that list ends.
Nathaniel’s Hit Me With Your Best Shot series, just like movies themselves are visual obviously, but Dog Day Afternoon is equally a sonic experience. Sonny and Moretti (Charles Durning) and all the others involved applauded or mocked by a pre-internet flash mob (they all suddenly appear as the cops set up the barricades, it’s hilarious). While rewatching this movie I wished that the players and the audience shared more screen time. And while Moretti was on his bullhorn, I wonder if a simple screen cap conveys that context that there’s an audience echoing his booming calls to Sonny. Can a screen cap let a neophyte understand that Sonny is waving to dozens of people with joy and not look like a deranged person? Can the breeze and the sweat give a hint that there are hundreds of eyes watching the two of them?
Sounds influence actions, like in the scene when cops try to break in through the windows of the back wall of the bank and the clusterfuck that happens afterwards. When he shoots the tellers inside get frantic and the people outside duck and scurry.
There are also moments that work as decrescendos here, the characters’ bellows and pleadings compensating for the lack of running around or gun pointing. No bullhorn needed, like the breeze or the light make these characters across the street from a bank look like magical vision for Sonny, begging for his sanity. And Sonny yells back, the best use of Pacno’s lung power because there’s a whole city block to fill with his voice.
But back to movement and energy, my favourite element of this movie encapsulated by the shots that I remember when this movie gets brought up in conversation. So much running in this movie, making for two of my best shots here.
Sonny trying to find out who the person is across the street who is realizing that a robbery is taking place. Moretti running either to his trigger happy cops to back away from Sonny or to running towards a random passerby who assaults Sonny. Moretti takes on a substitute father role for Sonny (Sonny’s real father, played by Dominic Chianese of Sopranos and Boardwalk Empire fame, is on the border of disowning his poverty-stricken son). Both surrogate father and son have trouble with the spaces they inhabit. The petulant child is moping inside while appeasing the female-dominated playground that he thinks he he’s entitled to. The father trying to make the son content while tugging on the strings of the forces of the outside world that he can barely control, which is, after all, what Sonny tragically struggles with.
…Your Best Shot: Singin’ In The Rain
I’ve seen this week’s selection in Nathaniel’s “Best Shot” series, Singin’ in the Rain, after my childhood ended, way after I suppose I should have seen it. I’ve even seen high school-level re-interpretations of its choreography A Clockwork Orange before the real thing. This rewatch is my third. That apparently is a paltry number compared to the people in the special features section who would watch it once a year ever since they were teenagers. But then again I first saw it in 2008 so I might be on my way to their pace.
That first time was when I rented the DVD because I didn’t have cable and wanted to watch whatever was on TCM that week. I watched it as my only comfort in living in my old basement apartment – I think it was flooded. The second time was in a class in college that I wasn’t even enrolled in, a friend commenting that it’s one of the timeless comedies, the genre, as a rule, having a short shelf life. While rewatching this week’s selection in Nathaniel’s “Best Shot” series Singin’ in the Rain, I picked up on a few things, or I remembered things that I otherwise would have forgotten. There’s Kathy Selden’s (Debbie Reynolds) reaction to silent actor Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) putting his hand on her shoulder.
I don’t want to be the party pooper here but the movie has as least one musical sequence that perfunctorily ends with ceasing action followed by the characters laughing at each other for singing and dancing so committed. But my favourite shot is part of a sequence that plays a dance number out more seamlessly, and I feel like I have to apologize because it’s a boring answer because it’s in the titular sequence. The shot strangely reminds me of, pardon my over-analyzing, this mini-lecture I attended about the Three Stooges and a return to primitivism. But instead of a bourgeois dinner turned into a food fight, the arc is from Don practicing civilized forms expression, singing and dancing, to jumping on a puddle like a kid. Like its slapstick predecessor this is about the joy of release. This is also Rob Marshall favourite shot although I don’t know what that says about me.
Unlike the drawn pencil dreamlike aesthetic Kelly’s Oscar-winning vehicle An American in Paris in 1951 – which I actually like, mind you – this movie’s palette are more solid and bright. A few scenes like those come to mind, like the musical montage, making us wonder what it Busby Berekely would have done with colour, and Don’s dream images. But this sequence, which seems dour on paper, when Don takes a gamble after being present in the worst preview screenings of one of his movies, when it’s raining in Los Angeles, a sequence where gray and black dominate, is just as happy as the scenes with brighter colours in them. It’s also those elegant colours complemented by Kelly’s smoothness that make the scene work.
Singin’ in the Rain is also playing in every Cineplex Theatre in Toronto at 7PM because of some 60th anniversary thing, co-presented by TCM. The sound you will be hearing is me lamenting my work schedule and slow, impending bankruptcy, stopping me from being in this event.
HMWYBS: Buster Keaton’s Sherlock Jr.
Buster Keaton can’t help but be in the shadow of Charlie Chaplin, the latter’s mustache and cane looking as cute as a kitten while the former’s face looks melancholy yet versatile. But not only is his expressive face one of his assets but his body. What my friend said about him is that he was the Steve-O of his generation although yes, it should be the other way around that Steve-O should be hailed as the Buster Keaton of his generation.
The comparison makes sense, as he would do his own stunts and forsake his physical well-being. I can’t remember the first movie I saw of his, but it involved him running the top of a demolished brick building – that and this movie, Sherlock Jr., makes me wonder if insurance exited back then and if they worried about his safety as I was. Here he would organize cluster fucks of enviable production value and would literally slip on clichéd banana peels and jump into a lake to make his audience laugh.
Slapstick humour is sadistic, even in its more ‘optimistic’ examples. Most of the time we watch Keaton fall and be in a generally disadvantageous situation, but my best shot involve him taking on physical feats and instead of failing, he does something awesome. This is the first of ‘awesome’ stunts and I guess the first one always sticks in my head.
Here he’s the titular Sherlock Jr., a dreamed up, more suave, movie-within-a-movie version of himself perfectly landing on a suspect’s Model T. I know it’s a wide shot and we only see an ant version of himself but he’s humble enough, like most silent comedy actors, to let us see his place in the big picture and how he can move within it. With finesse. And that stunt show the upper body strength we though he didn’t have.
- The Way We Link (thefilmexperience.net)
HMWYBS: The Royal Tenenbaums
In the Best Shot series The Film Experience’s Nathaniel Rogers encourages willing participants weekly with a new movie and a particular image (or set of images) within that stand out for us. Every movie has its challenges, this week’s selection being The Royal Tenenbaums being particularly daunting – I imagine any but two Wes Anderson with be equally difficult.
Which one that features a quirkily costumed character or occasional animal, setting or breaking the shot’s symmetry? Which segue shot showing a fictional book written by and/or about one or some of the characters? Which room or façade that Anderson himself meticulously planned and decorated, arguably trapping the movie’s said characters?
One of the rooms depicted is a product of Etheline Tenenbaum’s (Anjelica Huston) worldly education for her sons and daughter. There’s the one with younger Chas in his childhood room, dwarfed while sitting on a table near his shelves filled with monotonous finance books as large as his torso. Even if it’s one of the most monochromatic shots and mises-en-scene within Anderson’s oeuvre, it almost became my favourite shot because it’s the first one to crack me up.
And while we’re at it let me say that I’ve never seen this movie ever. I don’t the do the ‘let’s watch the director’s other movies’ kind of shit that other, better bloggers do before watching Moonrise Kingdom. I don’t subscribe to that time-consuming insanity because I have other time-consuming insanities. I didn’t even know if I was ever going to watch the latter at all, with my shifting mood and schedule.
Anyway! So yes, if you’re paying attention, I watched that before Tenenbaums. And I couldn’t shake what my favourite shot is in the former – Sam piercing Suzy’s earlobe – and I was thinking about how a man’s present work influences and/or mirrors his past, instead of the other way around.
There were many candidates for this Moonrise-like shot, the ones featuring the tent being too obvious. There’s widower Chas (Ben Stiller) dragging his kids Ari and Uzi out to a fire drill. But there are more moments like that when the main conflict surfaces, as the movie belongs to a sub-subgenre of family reunion dramedy. It’s no longer just Chas and his two sons, it’s the three of them and the rest of the family, particularly the dynamic between the three guys and their boor-in-a-suit grandfather Royal Tenenbaum (Gene Hackman). The rotten dad suddenly wants to change.
If I kept my Sociology of the the Family texts – ugh – I can tell you exactly what they say about grandfathers and grandparents’ role outside the nuclear family but it could be one of two ways. One is to instill traditional values to the children that the latter’s parents forego or rebel from, which Royal doesn’t do. The other is to be the lax influence in those children’s lives, which is a roundabout way of explaining why my best shots belong within this glorious montage of Royal and the kids making harmless mayhem in Upper West Side.
I don’t participate at this kind of activity but I’m of a child siring age. So when I look at children in the movies I think of the fun times I had as a child that I wouldn’t let my future kids do because they’re dangerous. Or realizing how fucked up these activities were in hindsight, like running across incoming traffic! But it’s this complicit nature within childhood, the bleeding ears and scraped knees and the pain being a temporary part of the fun. Kids egg each other on to this as much as adults do to kids. Even the passive aggressiveness that Chas and Royal inflict on other characters have traces of this behaviour.
Besides, Royal eventually jumps to this regressive state caused by the foresight that time is fleeting, when he no longer gives a fuck and wants to have the same fun as he did as kid. He’s the truth-teller within a family of uptight, stunted intellectuals. And even if they don’t take place within the doll house rooms or 388 Archer Avenue, Anderson unleashing his characters out to the chaos of New York, they still engender the director’s glowing childlike ethos.
- Best Shot: “The Royal Tenenbaums” (thefilmexperience.net)
HYWYB Shot: Crowds in Perdition
This week’s choice for Nathaniel’s Best Shot series, ROAD TO PERDITION, is undeserving of my tardiness but here it goes. ROAD TO PERDITION is probably my favourite Sam Mendes film because it’s one with the least conflictophiliac historionics, if my newly coined word makes sense. It doesn’t have Kevin Spacey, Jake Gylenhaal or Leonardo di Caprio yelling at their co-stars (AWAY WE GO is up for eventual investigation), and misanthropy never ages well for me. Sure there’s a lot of conflict in this movie too. There’s a scene with Paul Newman‘s character, mob lord John Rooney beating this hit out of his son Connor (Daniel Craig) that can put the latter half of Liam Neeson’s career to shame. But the characters’ destination might be perilous but it’s a smooth ride to get there or in other words, their damnation is certain but it comes as a smoulder instead of a sadistic arsonist.
There are also white picket fences in AMERICAN BEAUTY and REVOLUTIONARY ROAD, as well as the glaring deserts in JARHEAD. ROAD TO PERDITION is on the opposite side of the spectrum, evoking what would happen if Norman Rockwell carved in cozy mahogany. And its gloss and shadows, fitting for adapting a graphic novel, will have its echoes in movies today, almost a decade after this one. But it’s always a new experience watching this movie again, the colour palette more diverse, its blocking beautifully done. Cinematographer Conrad L. Hall does all of this while also redefining symmetry, as cheesy as that sounds. Every group of images holds a newly discovered theme. Like this one of crowds!
This shot above is the best of the movie, an introduction to John’s grand-godson Michael Sullivan Jr. (Tyler Hoechlin). We the audience can barely see him but here he is trying to sell newspapers. Since Michael is our narrator his character transforms into a troubled adolescent. This might be too simple of a character and story arc, but this shot shows the child coexisting with the world-weary, faceless, Kollwitz-like figures. The world is already full of terrible things but his innocence makes him oblivious. He’s also biking towards them, diving inadvertently and cheerily towards damnation. And as a parting gift here’s my second favourite shot that ties in with the first, Michael waiting for his father (Tom Hanks), wading within men looking through the wanted ads during the Depression, a few seconds before he breaks down.
- Hit Me With Your Best Shot: “Road to Perdition” (thefilmexperience.net)
HMWYBS: The Woman within “Picnic”
William Inge‘s work like Bus Stop and Splendor in the Grass are heart wrenching narratives about people who may or may not just find each other once in their lives. The depiction of women in his work are also memorable, from Cherie’s sequined exhaustion and Wilma Dean Loomis’ slow burn. These portrayals are my points of comparison with today’s ‘Best Shot‘ selection, PICNIC, and its leading female character Madge (Kim Novak. This won’t be the last time a character she plays will be told how to dress and behave).
Madge is a reluctant ideal, a woefully un-rehearsed queen with a cardboard crown, a deconstructed female character (I use ‘deconstructed’ instead of ‘evolving’ but evolution to me suggests a certain fullness which Madge never really has). She’s a trapped in a fictional world ruled by the female gaze, targeting both her and her male counterpart Hal Carter (William Holden). She’s never fully glamourized because of our raw first impressions of her, which is probably a more honest and refreshing depiction of women during the postwar era. All of this drama is shot by James Wong Howe (occasionally aided by a young Haskell Wexler). Wong Howe’s transforms his use of dazzling light, normally seen in his contrast-heavy noirs, to the kind of nature-philia and human choreography reminiscent of rococo and impressionism seen in this movie. It’s like using the artistic systems of the old world to depict the new, the latter’s white people entitlement marred hierarchy and rebellion.
And that is why this shot is my best. This scene isn’t the climax of the movie, neither is it integral in Madge’s ‘construction’ but it’s a part of the process. A lot is discussed in this room, marriage, a woman’s desirability, intelligence. And a fight is going to break out, as Madge is simultaneously being built up and torn down.
HMWYBS: Reactions to Adele H.
I’m only writing on this space for Nathaniel R.’s Best Shot series (we’re still waiting on Possessed :S) because my water birth-like paragraphs about the shots from Francois Truffaut‘s The Story of Adele H. that interest me are too long for tumblr. Truffaut thought that Adele’s story as fitting to tell in a 95 minute feature. However she is only and arguably unjustly seen as a footnote in her father Victor Hugo’s life and only having a stub page in Wikipedia. Anyway….
Third runner-up, because of what iMDb’s mothboy88 thinks:
When Adele (Isabelle Adjani) writes “Victor Hugo” in the dust on the mirror, and then wipes it off, it’s almost exactly the same as when Hanzo writes “Bill” on the window, and The Bride wipes it off with her sleeve.
Although I can’t remember which Kill Bill he or she is talking about. Part 1?
Second runner-up: I’m probably not the only Canadian who reads Nathaniel but I’m probably the loudest. If I was patriotic I’d dedicate this whole post to Canadian representations in this movie, since it’s mostly set in Halifax. I was also a bit irritated at how half of the characters didn’t know who Hugo was, or that this movie made Halifax look like a city for less than the 50,000 of its population during the film’s time period of 1863. Or that it wasn’t filmed in that city until iMDB’s pbellema reminded me that Old Halifax blew up in World War I, the same war that put the news of her death in the fringes. I also realized that beginning the story with a map reminds me of Casablanca but this movie is obviously more depressing.
Runner up: Because it’s my space I would like to talk about my broken heart. And fittingly, downward spirals are one of Truffaut’s favourite arcs. There are many instances where I withdraw my investment on such stories from him and other directors, as much as I appreciate the execution and the acting in those movies’ final moments. Regardless of what I think about these kind of movies, my tendencies to over-read images sees this shot as a heterosexual masculine aversion from ‘ridiculous’ women, or the world, gender dominated or otherwise, rejecting her. It’s also a majestic moment in an otherwise intimate movie, although it makes me feel like an asshole that my runner-up shot shows Adjani’s back instead of her beautiful face.
Best: If the earlier shot shows the movie’s world, this shot explains its format. This is not your average epistolary movie, as she recites her letters instead of being heard through voice-overs. What captivated me visually is how it’s dark and grimy like a Delacroix painting (this movie loves the colour brown). The scene where this shot belongs to also puts many things into context, how she has to cut paper from a roll like she would for bread. How she would talk about how her father owes her money which, even to me who belongs to the ‘entitled generation’ sounds unthinkable. How her beloved Albert’s position would be jeopardized and how single-minded love like hers might and should have only existed in her lifetime.
- ‘Best Shot’ Resumes Production on June 27th (thefilmexperience.net)
HMWYBS: Colours and Threats in ‘The Exorcist’
This post is part of Nathaniel R’s Hit Me With Your Best Shot series.
I’m probably underestimating the aesthetic value of these shots in William Friedkin‘s The Exorcist but I’ll start my entry with this scene because I did not know where it was going and when I did, it hit personal sides of me. Actress Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn) has exhausted many treatments for her daughter named Regan (Linda Blair, in the role that would make and break her career), who changed from being a nice girl into a cursing, welting, throwing, puking machine. The doctors and psychiatrists in white coats surround Chris and tell her that Regan needs ‘the best care’ in the latter’s situation.
And because this is an Ellen Burstyn movie, she says that she’s a strong woman and don’t you dare tell her how to raise her child and Regan is not going to an institution! This inquisition-like deliberation is reminiscent of methods decades ago where male doctors tell female hysterics how to be cured, which makes me wonder how that would subvert gender dynamics if the movie stuck to showing a possessed boy as opposed to the female characters in exorcism movies then and now. To ease the tension and since we already know that this movie is going in this direction, one of the doctors suggests an exorcism, explaining that –
It’s been pretty much discarded these days except by the…Catholics who keep it in the closet as a sort of embarrassment, but uh, it has worked.
He’s all hand gesture-y about it too. Chris responds with –
You’re telling me that I should take my daughter to a witch doctor? Is that it?
Witch doctor? Screw you, MacNeil. Well, at least she’s never fully passive through this ordeal. I can’t say that I’m offended, with all the implications of the word ‘witch.’ But even from a ‘sinner’ who looks at the Church from an ambivalent standpoint I, as a believer, still feel targeted when people, fictional or otherwise, talk about religions as hocus pocus.
But then it’s an adage from Film School 101 that horror as a genre casts doubt on our technology-age, secular society and ironically makes us return to the original way of thinking that we and our ancestors doubted in the first place. The last resort, the one that might cure Regan, is the one that has no scientific proof at all. Even the priests (including Max von Sydow) are shocked that a practice they believe is archaic can heal the possessed.
The threat against an individual as a mirror threat against Catholicism arguably isn’t Friedkin’s intention, although there’s enough visuals to harp for that interpretation to be real enough. One of the movie’s opening images is that of the Virgin, carved from white marble. White, the colour of the civilized hospital words, is also the colour of worship. This movie, as well as David Lynch’s horror movies, uses white or bright colours a lot which is the opposite of the black or red in other movies of the genre. It starts showing Her with the dissolve from an urban American street, perhaps showing Her omniscience. But Her pristine texture can also mean that she’s passive to the world going retrograde and evil, as Justine from Melancholia would say. It even makes me uncomfortable to watch the vandalism against Her image – I almost posted it and decided against it, and it’s probably out on the internet somewhere already – her statue degraded like the ‘evil’ ones that the elder priest’s archaeological team finds in Niniveh in modern Norther Iraq (evil characters as Iraqis, how typical), the Virgin’s body transformed by the changes outside her cloistered church. It’s the same difference when it comes to Regan, we the audience are taken each step towards her transformation into this outlandish creature, making us finally believe that the devil has invaded her.
Just like Regan’s slow changes, we can also feel this ‘threat’ or ‘dread,’ a particular requirement in the horror genre, especially in the other introduction sequences, like the one where the rock picks surround the priest get louder, more menacing and invasive. Or when Chris walks around Georgetown during the autumn and there’s already something suspicious in the way the wind blows and the leaves fall around her. And when Father Karras encounters that ‘former altar boy’ in the New York subway.
And since the demon-populated, pre-Christian beliefs represent human’s innate primeval side, the titular exorcism and thus, the Catholic Church is a force of civilization ironing out humans’ former kinks. Regan’s exorcism reminds me of a well-orchestrated theatre piece where three entities have physical and verbal beat downs, the movie finally going into the shadowed darkness to battle the evil out.
- E is for The Exorcist (nettiethomson.com)
- Tip of the Scalpel to The Scariest Movie of All Time – The Exorcist (dreadcentral.com)
HMWYBS: Raise the Red Lantern
Raise the Red Lantern is my first Zhang Yimou and first Gong Li, the latter’s talent discussed with exclamation so much that it makes me feel like I missed out, although there are many beauties who have come to grace cinema after her. Nonetheless there can’t be a better first impression than watching her play Songlian, determined to dig her own grave despite her mother’s warnings. She behaves as stiffly and as nervous as a wall in one minute and trying to shout those same walls down during the next. I’m used to more Western narratives where a woman, whose only companion is her husband and perhaps a lover, becomes unhinged in isolation. But this movie complicates that dynamic by making Songlian one of four mistresses to an early 20th century Chinese aristocrat Master Chen (Ma Jingwu), whose attitudes to each other are less cooperative and more competitive, adding to her isolation, a crippling yet universal feeling for many of literature’s heroines. But while we’re sympathizing with her and want her to succeed and play her wifely role perfectly, we’re also frustrated by her introversion the growing viciousness that her servants (especially Lin Kong as her servant Yan’er) begin to notice.
I love how the mistresses are depicted, Songlian, the dowager one, the ‘nice’ one (Cao Cuifen) and Meishan (He Caifei), the holdout who still introduces herself as an opera singer. She always uses lipstick and light make up and her chamber reflects her former occupation, looking like a stage as Songlian remarks. It’s has the most personality compared to the golden warmth of the first two mistresses’ chambers. It’s one of the last times that the two women will be positioned as equals, both having the same stakes at the game, both deferring a chance to be in their Master’s company to the ‘nice’ mistress through one’s schemes and the other’s indulgence.
But I noticed that there’s more to Songlian’s off-white chamber when her frenemy the third mistress visits. Plastered on the walls are scrolls as large as Meishan’s masks, a reminder of her off-screen past as a university student – funnily enough that Meishan looks up to her because of the former’s unfinished education. I’m starting to grow into the shot above as my best because of the inadvertent double effect that these scrolls put attention to themselves as well as recede to walls of the same colour, as well as reflecting the restrained nature of both her studies and as a mistress-in-waiting. Even the red lanterns don’t even make the place look more colourful. Yimou’s camera prefers to push the camera back, making these women as secondary to the room as the room’s motifs. She finally lets Meishan into her chamber not as a competitor but as a confidante but there’s so much going on with the body language and blocking to reinforce the borders between them, as Meishan furthers herself into Songlian’s quarters there’s still some reluctance, with her arms crossed and the latter with a demure pose, not looking at her visitor directly.
The shots that came close to being the best are exteriors. Songlian is outside her quarters, giving her the freedom to navigate the palace in open air but she again recedes, making her insignificant compared to the palace’s grand scale as well as its many, conniving inhabitants. But this new knowledge has a price, giving her more access to the family’s ghosts. The ‘nice’ mistress tells her not to go to the locked chamber. Of course the household likes to keep their oppression from reach but she goes back when her friend Meishan is dragged there through her own drunken fault.
Because of an injustice the house seems as if it has its own spirit, or that Songlian makes it seem that way to keep her victim alive. In the household light means power and most of the time the Master and the men have this, the lanterns symbolizing the Master’s company and the favour tipping towards a certain mistress. But sometimes the women get this power like the shot below where the women can scare the men off, being unable to kill off or rid of a subversive mistress.
Her freedom is eventually negated in the end when she regresses into her childlike self with school girl outfit, walking back and forth in her own hallway like Minotaur, barred from the Master and the household’s company as they fear the destruction she might cause to the society that’s been equally cruel to her. It was kind of frustrating to get this shot, as Yimou kept cutting these static shots too fast and with slightly different angles. It had this effect where the lanterns criss crossed together. There’s probably something more to these shots that I can’t articulate but I eventually embraced its beauty.
- Coming Soon to “Hit Me…” (thefilmexperience.net)
HMWY Best Shot: Serenity’s Characters
It’s surprising that a “Buffy” fan like me – I’ve seen and love the movie too – wouldn’t catch “Firefly,” but I had my stupidity to blame. I wanted a “Buffy” 2.0 – so why didn’t I read “Fray?” – and it seemed too much of an outlandish concept for me. But Nathaniel, probably the only person guiding me through my schizophrenic viewing habits, chose “Firefly’s” movie adaptation for his best shot series, keeping in mind that creator/writer/director Whedon’s having a big year this year. So why not? Above is a shot of carnage fitting for the movie’s ‘space western’ genre mash-up and that although Joss Whedon isn’t on top to direct Blood Meridien but he should at least be in consideration.
This experience is making me regret that I didn’t watch the series, the logical reason should be Whedon’s sharp writing and I suppose it’s nice to see futuristic cowboys but it’s really because of the characters and casting, including Alan Tudyk, David Krumholtz and Sarah Paulson. Specifically, of Adam Baldwin of Full Metal Jacket fame. I wouldn’t say that this part of the movie’s premise is ludicrous, and that his character Jayne butts heads with the titular Serenity‘s Captain Malcolm (Nathan Fillion) a lot and wants to kill the mysterious River Tam (Summer Glau). But like come on guys, his tight, short-sleeved shirts makes me think that the show should have given him a love interest. Things would have totally been different if I was on that ‘boat.’ Looking at his iMDb “Firefly” isn’t the only show I should watch for him. Apparently he was in “Angel” too and fuck do I have to watch “Chuck” now too? What kind of fan am I?
The best lines and situations saved for Malcolm, or Mal for short (Why isn’t Fillion, this movie’s star, getting the Jeremy Renner roles? The guys look alike but he’s taller yet yes, more intentionally awkward). And there are some good shots of him being framed by the movie’s well-done mix of multicultural sci-fi punk ethos, contrasting yet perfectly complementing his character as this old school masculine gunslinger. Above is him moving a fan to see what River is up to and below is him being irreverent, mocking Buddha – one of the religions and ideals that he as a character questions – for his love interest Inara’s guilty pleasure. Kudos to the movie’s art director Daniel T. Dorrance and costume designer Ruth Carter for this awesomeness.
But the movie’s most visually compelling character is River, who only gets into and stays in the boat because she’s the younger sister of one of the newer crew members (Sean Maher) and because she’s psychic. She looks like a friend of mine here in Toronto who also blogs about movies, actually. My best shot actually involves the movie’s intricate opening sequence, a series of scenes that would get novices like me confused as to what the movie is about. There are wide shots of different planets followed by a teacher explaining ‘the verse’ in an outdoor elementary school – thank God the future has smaller class sizes, am I right or am I right? – which turns out to be a dream sequence, Matrix style. Her brother helps her escape her almost permanent comatose state, which is actually hologram-recorded by Chiwetel Ejiofor’s character, Javert looking at his Valjean and waify Cosette and trying to find out where they could be hiding.
But the fun of watching her doesn’t stop there. She has two kinds of entrances, one where her leg(s) and the seam of her flowing dress come into the shot and one where the camera zooms or shock cuts into her perma-startled face. She also climbs up the ceiling to hide sometimes. And the one below? Bad. Ass.
Best Shot: Snow White and…
Walt Disney and crew’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, this week’s featured movie in Nathaniel’s Best Shot series, doesn’t really suggest images to me but acceleration. There’s this slowness to their movements but there’s this jolt of urgency to them as the movie progresses. The characters are also the only solid blocks of colour, the opposite of their Medieval-styled ornate surroundings. Here are some of my favourite shots.
Ok, this image is more of a static and and I didn’t even feel like including this because it feels like I’m just repeating my Black Narcissus best shot. Springtime is for lovers and Disney’s version puts us smack dab in the middle of the story as opposed to taking us to Snow White’s parents, etc. I know you know the story but the original Grimm Brothers’ tale is about Snow White’s growth as a domestic and sexual being, as well as the Evil Queen being Snow White’s mother and the Prince being the father, if I haven’t ruined your childhood yet. Anyway, this shot reminds me of the movie’s operatic structure, this tenor complementing Snow White’s coloratura. There’s also the Medieval costume’s drapery being very creamy throughout the film, influencing how we see these characters’ movement and posture. He’s not as effete as most of the Disney princes but those shoes look like they can walk on water.
Just like her suitor’s footwear, Snow White represents the daintiness of womanhood that earlier literature – and 1937 counts as ‘early’ – propagates, going through the woods and surviving while wearing pumps. She glides on surfaces instead of touching them like normal humans. She finds refuge from her homicidal (step)mother in the most hopeful of places. However it’s strange how these strangers can carve wood for their houses but find no time to dust heir house. Digging all day is not an excuse. It’s also more infuriating that her ragged state while shining the Queen’s Palace’s front steps is framed as slavery but cleaning for a bunch of dudes is totally ok. But we’ll give her brownie points for venturing into the cottage on her own and leveraging her lodgings and influencing the dwarfs’ eating habits. But that still feels codependent.
But can I really begrudge such people, even if they scare me more now than I did when I was a child? The dwarfs, by the way, probably start the tradition of fairy tale creatures as surrogate husbands, later prototypes of which include the original “Peter Pan.” This shot is my best shot simply because it will begin my quest to decide which dwarf is which. Doc, Dopey and Grumpy are the most constant characters so they’re the easiest to tell but to know the others I had to look into their eyes, which is nearly impossible if they’re moving too fast and freaking out while they’re imagining a monster sleeping in their beds. Thank God I eventually used the pause button. Also, this shot is one of the few examples that show how these characters have no bones in their bodies. They’re swift yet also graceful.
And finally the shot of the Queen. This scene is the Wicked Stepmother’s Lady MacBeth moment, having to take away her own femininity to make herself do the evil deeds that she believes must be done. The hoarseness within the voice actress becomes externalized, her slim figure becoming more brittle. This also baffles me after this recent rewatch because she is getting herself ugly to defeat the young woman more beautiful than her. Eventually she poisons the princess, their only onscreen encounter which is surprisingly not hostile.
Best Shot: ‘…mother’s womb.’
My first reaction to Richard Donner’s movie, second to ‘Nat’s Best Shot series is back! Yay!’ is that I have now learned where that hipster singer’s name comes from, assuming of course that all musicians get their names out of thin air unless stated or informed of otherwise. And fortunately, the movie Ladyhawke isn’t as bad as the electro-whaetever musician. Little Boots is better.
An actor’s blocking and personality changes an image in a movie despite of how the camera sticks to the same frame boundaries. This shot of a dirty wall and a hand desperately trying to stick out comes after one that shows three men getting hanged. The first thing that comes to my mind is that this man faced another execution, of getting cemented within a wall or something, suggesting a brutality that the movie might have. It cuts to a scene when knights search for an imprisoned Philippe Gaston to be hanged next and it cuts back to the same muddy surface we see earlier.
And then we realize that it’s just Cooter Burger breaking out of that wall and we realize that he and we are just going to be fine. We see and hear Matthew Broderick’s luminous face and first words – comparing his current state to that of ‘escaping mother’s womb.’ Despite his and everyone else’s wobbly accents, he brings whimsy and youthful physicality to a movie that we’ll discover is anachronistically yet enjoyably cartoony, a Medieval adventure story viewed under a modern lens and a good God soundtrack.
Those are my favourite shots although there were many from which to choose, the movie simultaneously bringing my tendencies to compare the natural compositions with Brueghel, which is coincidental because Philippe’s unlikely road buddy in the cursed Navarre is played by Rutger Hauer, who will eventually play the painter three decades later. Other shots and the colour within them also remind me of Cezanne, Powell, Poussin and Cameron although the silhouettes makes a Western trope into its own thanks to cinematographer Vittorio Storaro. The movie also features Michelle Pfeiffer as the titular love interest Ladyhawke/Isabeau and Alfred Molina as Cesare, a man who works for the three characters’ common and blasphemous enemy.
Shot: Tarzan the Apologist
This post is a part of Nathaniel’s ‘Hit Me With Your Best Shot‘ series.
Our generation has CGI, earlier generations of movies had whatever this is, green screen. In an early scene in W. S. Van Dyke‘s Tarzan the Ape Man, visitor Jane Parker (Maureen O’Sullivan), her father James (C. Aubrey Smith) and his young associate/Jane’s logically set-up boyfriend Harry Holt (Neil Hamilton) happen to be around when African tribesmen are having a trading session. The trio come over to check out the African warriors, the two groups obviously shot separately. This is when contemporary snark comes in, like “As if MGM would let the white ‘actors’ and the black ‘extras’ breathe the same air, am I right?” or “How rude with their backs facing the audience!”
We can also overthink this shot as a metaphor for cinema, especially useful in racial binaries in cinematic spectatorship. The Europeans examine the Africans while the latter are oblivious to white eyes, take from that what you will. This can go two ways – first, the sheltered European might have a visceral reaction towards the images of difference in front of her/him. Softening the ‘capitalist exploitation’ angle, the movie makes Jane, a pre-code heroine, smarter than that, unhesitatingly approaching the human subject near her and asking for its meaning, assuming civilization in the African’s make-up and armour. Her father tells her that say, the decorations in the shields represent how many lions or humans the guy killed. She’s not fazed. But don’t worry, she’ll be in the same spaces the Africans but for real this time. She’ll also be doing a lot more screaming, but for other, more justified reasons.
Jane screams since discovering Tarzan (Johnny Weissmuller) is more shocking than the Africans or the animals. Tarzan either represents civilization lost within uncultivated land or a critique of the British/turn of the century empires. What I mean by the latter is that Tarzan’s presence in Africa means that there have been other Europeans who have explored the same territory as Jane and her fellow English are trying to break into, and that the earlier Europeans succumb to wilderness. Now that Jane and Tarzan have found each other and he stops throwing her around like a rag doll, she finds it, inadvertently, her mission to (re)teach the English language to him. I’ve tried the erudition above, but we do need the Weissmuller shots if I’m blogging about the Tarzan movie, as well as to point out that despite of everything, his hair looks better than hers.
Additional cast and character info via oldschoolreviews. Further reading: The first chapter of Gwendolyn Audrey Foster’s “Performing Whiteness,” because I’m pretentious like that.
- Maureen O’Sullivan. She Jane! (thefilmexperience.net)
…With Your Best Shot: “Eraserhead”
After the first five minutes of David Lynch’s Eraserhead, Henry’s (John Nance) short hem and white socks gives Michael Jackson sartorial inspiration. But seriously, this ‘beginning’ reminds me of the ending of On The Waterfront, but instead of the neo-realist working men going back to work, Henry, alone, goes on vacation. The shadows seem penciled in within this industrial urban setting, but the darkness will be more solid and the vacation ruined as the film continues.
This post is a part of Nathaniel Rogers’ ‘Hit Me With Your Best Shot‘ series.
Shot: Beauty and the Beast
I don’t get my movies in reputable places, so when I got my copy of Beauty and the Beast and started watching it, I thought it was colourful, suspiciously colourful. The film tells its prologue through a series of stained glass-like representations, my best shot is that of the haggard woman turning into a beautiful fairy. There’s something both pre-Raphaelite about her even if she also anachronistically looks like a 20-year old version of a “Powerpuff Girl,” her flared sleeves suggest a sweeping action just like the cartoons that would come a decade later.
This prologue is also the reverse Snow White, where young people who live by themselves have to be suspicious of old haggard women because they can kill or turn their victims into a half-bulldog, half-lion. The transfiguring women also bring objects that are physical manifestations of sexuality. While the stepmother’s apple overwhelms the daughter who’s too young, the rose can mean many things, reminding him that beauty, just like the rose, can be gradually destroyed by time, or by its own frailty. The haggard woman tires to offer the rose to the prince in exchange of shelter, as a way of saying that beauty can be used as currency and whatever else that implies. And of course, the stained glass medium, normally used for Christian imagery, is now depicting a fairy tale.
I don’t know why I assumed that the colours in this film would be duller. Maybe because the colours feel penciled in. I’d assume that watching this movie for the third time is what it’s like to see the Sistine Chapel after it’s been cleaned off of centuries worth of grime. It’s like seeing something as crisp as it would have been twenty years ago.
This is my second favourite shot. Instead of Belle’s mustard dress, I keep seeing blue throughout this movie. This shot also conveys the palace’s large space. It’s strange to see Belle and Beast within the vast palace, but when not when Gaston is looking for him. As if the couple is overwhelmed or understand that space while Gaston waltzes in without any decency. Speaking of which, I would like to congratulate Disney for being ahead of their time, since this movie’s villain comes from one of the most reviled groups of people for the past decade – juiceheads!
Since I like pictures, here’s a Busby Berkeley-esque musical interlude, the most uptight one getting to sing a few verses.
Gaston’s lynch mob for the Beast, looking Fantasia and all.
And Angela Lansbury. This post is part of Nathaniel R’s ‘Hit Me With Your Best Shot‘ series.
Shots of Fantasy: Heavenly Creatures
This post is for Nathaniel Rogers’ “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” series.
The second time I saw Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures was on the big screen, brought by CINSSU in the winter of 2008. Peter Kuplowsky introduced it, saying that this movie never gets shown in its proper format and getting it on 35 and screening it will do the film justice. Which makes my best shot above gloriously majestic. Peter Jackson doesn’t need to go the extra mile to show the girls’ fantasy world. This shot, instead, is all about inclusion, Jackson including Juliet (Kate Winslet) and Pauline Yvonne (Melanie Lynskey), making them as small as the unicorns on the right hand side. They’re immersed into the fantasy instead of being its voyeur, legitimizing the [ETA] Fourth World’s tangibility.
It’s a self-imposed challenge that if I haven’t written about the movie on my blog, I have to rewatch it. By 7:06 PM of the anniversary of Kurt Cobain’s death, I would have seen this movie a whopping four times. On Facebook, Chris D. Mischs called it an ‘ugly’ movie. This is the first time I have heard the movie being called that, and it let me cloud my mind. But I guess it’s a marvel that it took that fourth time for me to see its flaws, like the pans or zooms ending with either Juliet or Paul of them turning around to face the camera that makes the film less naturalistic. Or when Juliet exclaims ‘That’s great!’ while finding out that Pauline can break into the latter’s dad’s safe for their fare money. Which leads us to how this movie is about two hormonal teenagers who act without hesitation, and the queer politics involving them and their crime.
I did see positive aspects of the film. Its cinematic references, despite the obvious one from The Third Man to the subtle homages to Throne of Blood and the Sound of Music. How Winslet, although imperfect in this film, can seamlessly switch from one emotion to another. Or that yes, Lynskey and Sarah Peirse look the same but I never realized how much the actress who plays Juliet’s mom looks much like Winslet herself.
My second and third viewings made me assume that Juliet is the dominant person in the relationship, the one with the nice big mansion. Paul hangs on to her every word, subscribing to Juliet’s fantasies and crushes, but she does get to hold the reins too, like when she tells Juliet that her breath smells like onions. Juliet couldn’t have suggested to kill Paul’s mom (Peirse), Paul did. There’s even the moment when Juliet hesitates in the act but Paul looks at her as if to do her part. It’s the same ambivalence when I watched it those second and third times. My focus then was on Paul’s relationship with her mom. The second time, I sided with Mom, the third with Paul.
I first saw this film when I was ten or eleven, airing on a local channel. Winslet became more recognizable worldwide because of Titanic, and for some reason I remember her movies being played a lot back in the Philippines. The opening scene just shocked me. Kate wasn’t just the girl in Titanic, she was an actress.
I can’t remember any other time I’ve felt that in between then and now. I guess that means I’m easy to impress, put a little blood and screaming and I’m captivated. I’ve noticed that except for two movies, she’s always made great entrances. Whether she adds scenes that top the first one or not, I’d still remember how her character is introduced and rely on either the pathos or enthusiasm there. And good God can the girl cry.
How did this movie slip through the cracks of the Philippine censorship board? Back then I thought that everything in Hollywood spoon-fed me was great, but movies like this gave me a new criterion for what makes a great film, a criterion that I stood by until my second year in University – the more fucked up a movie is, the better. Which is obviously reductive, since I needed the few more viewing to appreciate its cinematography, pacing, acting and all of that.
It also felt rebellious as a boy who has yet to discover his sexuality to have seen two characters who cross the line without blatantly calling themselves that. I distinctly implanted the close-up of the psychiatrist’s teeth as he diagnoses Juliet and Paul with the condemning word ‘homosexuality,’ and back then I defended them as not homosexuals because I thought their intense and pure friendship shouldn’t bear that denigrating title, which reflects my innocence or ignorance on the subject itself and that they weren’t homosexuals because they didn’t look the part.
On Ingrid Randoja’s seminar last year
because I’m so cool, she noted this as one of canonical lesbian films in the gay 90’s. This and the one with Jennifer Tilly where she and her girlfriend kills someone too. Which again subverts my recent reading that it’s one of those ‘gays who KILL’ movies. I still don’t know how to feel about a movie that packages a stereotype differently. Despite the little flaws that I see now, watching this film is like the girls seeing the Fourth World. It’s something radical and I hope it’s not too much to thank Jackson and the actors for making a movie that shook my world.
Psycho stories and shots
Sorry for the short blog hiatus! There’s more of that to come, unfortunately.
Instead of talking about my favourite shot from Psycho – that’ll come later – or my long-ass history with arguably Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece, or my veneration for the woman with the coolest CV in Hollywood (Janet Leigh) and the man with the coolest CV in Hollywood (Martin Balsam) I’ll talk about a shot and a story that I’m probably not supposed to tell. This story also means that I can’t talk about what school I went to, although I probably can’t keep my mouth shut for that long. And that despite the slight Schadenfreude, I feel bad about telling this story because the same things that I might imply on this person might also be said about me.
As a background, in my college, there is a great film professor pushing into his emeritus years. If you wanted an introduction to ways of thinking and philosophy from the 20th century and beyond, he’s your guy. He is much beloved by the earlier classes but the dissent against his has been coming stronger as new generations of students come. My ambivalent opinion towards him doesn’t make the fact that I’m unemployable because I like talking shit any less true.
So me and an alum were talking about B film ‘Hobo With a Shotgun,’ that recently had its Canadian première. I hesitated on saying that I hated it, he was talking about its merits and deeper nuances, about how the film treats. “So, like, the Drake character is Stephen Harper and Rutger Hauer is some guy in some other political party or ‘the people’ or something?”
“No, not that deep.”
“Sorry. I guess it’s the _ _ _ _ _ _ _ training in me that make me over-analyze things.” Although I do believe that every film is political and social, a belief that will lead to a story that I will never tell unless we meet in person.
“Oh, God. Him. It’s like every film to him is about the economy. Like for Psycho. For genre class he made a shot-by-shot analysis of the shower scene. At the end he showed the shot of the drain, and asked the class ‘What do you see?’ You know what he said?”
“The swirling of the water is reminiscent of the dollar sign,” I asked sarcastically.
“And I shit you not, _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ yelled ‘Bullshit,’ walked out of the room and never took his classes again.”
“That is kinda funny. I have _ _ _ _ on my Facebook. I should write on his wall sometime.”
I’m haunted by that sequence because the chunky blood that comes out of Marion Crane (Leigh), eventually being diluted in the water for that ‘zero’ moment.
What’s also ironic is that while I’m talking out of my ass, I’m using one of my prof’s shot-counter shot analysis that he intended for Vertigo – another clue – and how in the earlier scenes, the backgrounds used for Jimmy Stewart’s character had clean geometric borders while the Barbara bel Geddes character worked around a hot mess. The same thing happens here in Psycho, where two characters are literally a few feet away from each other yet the spaces are clearly bordered. Marion sits in front of a relatively blank wallpaper while Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) chooses to sit with his creepy stuffed birds. The clutter around him shows his conflicted, angry mind while she’s fine if a bit delusional.
Despite Marion’s blood and her effects, the bathroom feels clean when Norman enters. It’s as if doing the deed is a method of purgation for him. The clouds and the fog hours before seem to disappear for him, the dead trees making way for his brooding face.
Or to a lesser extent, there’s one particular shot with Lila Crane (Vera Miles) and Sam Loomis (wooden John Gavin). It’s a little bit smoky on Lila’s side while the downtown buildings serve as a background for Sam. We can argue which parts of the mise-en-scene make one more troubled than the other, but I like this shot because it’s pretty.
Then there’s the last scene, showing Norman imprisoned around the ultimate void, when the battle’s been won.
This has been part of Nathaniel Rogers’ “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” series.
Best Shot Redux: Memento
This post is part of Nathaniel’s Hit me with your best shot series.
That’s fortunate since this season of the series requires me to rewatch movies that I’ve either seen before, or like Memento, four times. Twice, when the movie had its run on Showcase in Canada, when it still showed turn of the twenty-first century American independent film that began a new chapter of my love for cinema, unlike the less challenging cable programming and box office movies it shows today. The third time in Cinema and Modernity class, part of the Film Noir section, the first time I saw the beginning of the movie – or is it the end?
ph. Newmarket/Summit/Columbia TriStar/Alliance
Where was I? Rewatching any film means noticing things that I haven’t before. The first series of shots I’m going to talk about are what I thought my best shots were going to be. The bullet casing, animating itself through the film’s first scene playing in reverse, reminding me of Cobb’s totem in Inception. I started looking for other images here that reminded me of the other Nolan films. The birds in Natalie’s (Carrie-Anne Moss) room are less glamorous versions of the birds in The Prestige. Lenny’s (Guy Pearce) fire like the one that burned Bruce Wayne’s house down in Batman Begins. I’ll go for a stretch for The Dark Knight and talk about how both hero and villain mutilate their bodies and how both have unknown pasts.
But all roads lead to Inception, the connection between that magnum opus of a movie and this one are stronger than with Nolan’s other films. Like Cobb, the film shows Lenny remembering his wife through second long shots of her, the objects she used, of the things broken when she was attacked. Instead of the vivid feel of Mal’s flashbacks, Lenny’s wife’s seem fleeting and poetic, like how the only army wife in Malick’s The Thin Red Line is depicted. It’s also strange watching Jorja Fox be the prototype to Marion Cotillard, or is Cotillard Fox’s photocopy?
Second. The elusive Natalie, going from ordinarily shady character to foul-mouthed villain to everything in between. The audience sees minor characters like her through Lenny’s eyes and encounters. She’s the exception to the rule. Lenny leaves Natalie’s bedroom, leaving her three seconds to herself, making me wonder about the film’s subjectivity, or if subjectivity is what Nolan is aiming for. She touches Lenny’s side of the bed. Who is she yearning for, Lenny or Jimmy, her drug-dealing boyfriend that Lenny has killed? Is she finding a kindred spirit with her boyfriend’s murderer, since they both have lost loves? Falling in love with him and falling into the trap that she has originally set out for him? The film repeats this moment but instead Lenny acts it out, his reactions to the half-empty bed in his motel room feel less genuine.
I tried avoiding the ‘beautiful woman’ shot I’m always tempted to use, but I couldn’t resist with Carrie-Anne Moss here. What kind of performances she would have given if she wasn’t relegated to being Trinity from the Matrix trilogy? She makes my favourite shot of the film. Also, a few bloggers, including me at one point, have accused Nolan of writing terrible female roles, but it takes him three seconds to turn a seemingly bipolar femme fatale into a nuanced, complex character. And he really likes his brunettes. Whether you think that’s enough is up to you.
Third. In which Nolan gives us the film’s twist, making me wonder why I haven’t noticed this in earlier viewings, or if Nolan just hid this well. And do you have any idea how difficult it was for me to get this screen cap? Ten minutes, seven times. Sammy Jankis (Sephen Tobolowsky) turns into Lenny. I am proud of this shot.
Rest my little ones, rest.
This post is part of Nathaniel R’s Hit Me With Your Best shot series.
If this movie was any more of a hit in its first run, Robert Mitchum wouldn’t have been allowed to sing at the old school roasts.
And…snark over. Film historians ETA including Ebert laud Charles Laughton’s only film and masterpiece The Night of the Hunter for its excellent cinematography and that goes well with the film’s pacing. There’s a lot of tense moments within the film, but the children cross the river to safety like, pardon the biblical reference, the Hebrew across the Nile. The children find a barn to sleep in, and for the first time, they and the audience can breathe and be tranquil. Despite the darkness of the barn we see twilight transform into night into daybreak.
Oh come on, man!
As the boy says with contempt, ‘Don’t he ever sleep.’ Hey, Mitchum, leave those kids alone!
That shot of his silhouette lets the kids know that they’re in trouble, that Mitchum’s character is evil at its most relentless, that there;’s little salvation for these young ones at all. The shot’s picture plane also consists of a foreground (the barn), a middle ground (the treetops) and a background (the plain). It makes me wonder how big a studio Laughton have had to work around with to create this shot, what kind of camera tricks he may have used to convey such dimensionality.
Also, a friend of mine has a fatwa on Lillian Gish for acting in D.W. Griffith’s racist pictures. To me, this movie and her awesomeness atones for her past sins.
Fellini’s Women Don’t Walk, They…
This is a part of Nathaniel R’s Hit Me With Your Best Shot series, starring Anita Ekberg, CEO of LOLCats, and Marcello Mastroianni, curator of cool.
I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with Federico Fellini‘s work, mostly on the love side. There’s like one or two films of his that seem insipid and enforced schoolboy attitudes. But for the most part, he’s the guy that the stereotypically pretentious cineastes like, which is ironic because he’s so fun and silly and childlike and playful. This week, Nathaniel’s doing La Dolce Vita. I try my best in writing the most intelligent film criticism I can, but do you really want erudition out of a movie about Italians in their thirties partying it up?
This movie was also my introduction to Anouk Aimee. I like her better here than in 8 1/2, but then I always like the flirt over the neglected wife.
The picture above will also be the gayest moment in a Fellini film, second to all of Satyricon. Although someone correct me if I’m wrong.
Nonetheless, here’s my favourite shot/sequence is the last one. It’s the morning after a party, two of the women spot a commotion on the beach. And of course, Fellini women don’t walk, they saunter. I don’t even remember the shots being like this. I remember them all walking to the beach from the right hand side of the screen. But really they walk through the forest area from the right hand side of the screen and they walk on the beach with their backs facing the audience. And of course I don’t remember how much the forest looks like a backdrop, but then those ‘painted’ trees look like they have dimension. I’m not gonna cheat and look up on iMDb whether Fellini filmed this in a studio or not. I just love how surreal the shot is. Not Bunuel surreal, no offense to him, but fun, playtime surreal.
Here’s Marcello (Mastroianni) looking as fresh as an 18-year-old. I also don’t remember the film being almost three hours long, but if I was having this much fun, this movie could have gone on all night long.
La Dolce Vita is playing today at October 10 and November 9 at the Bell Lightbox, but I kinda wanna see Rules of the Game too.
Somerset Hitting the Books
Before I show my answer, I wanna show my back-ups.
The most elegant/scary opening credits.
Detective David Mills (Brad Pitt) reacts to stuff.
Four reasons why Mills is a terrible person are shown/implied in this shot.
I suppose this is the right space to write about my complaints about this movie, on how Mills, a guy who’s worked homicide for five years is still a moralizing optimist. Or that the murders wherever Mills is from can’t be as bad as the one’s he’s about to see in L.A. I also have problems with John Doe (Kevin Spacey) hating fat people but hating skinny people too. I don’t know about California law but around here if a the defence admits to his counsel of being guilty, the fight is over. I’m also sure that the whore he killed has used condoms while she’s on duty.
Thankfully, my latest viewing of this movie is one when the dominant force is Detective William Somerset (Morgan Freeman), patient, pensive yet jaded. My answer after the cut.
Director David Fincher‘s always known for his low-light sfumato effect in his films. The same goes for Se7en, where even the ‘white’ shots are wedged in contrast with sharp black. There are, however, instances within Se7en when big dots of colour appear, like here, colour shown behind a car window, made translucent by the rain, looking like a Van Gogh.
The neon signs of the city can advertise anything, including, sadistically, this
But my best shots and two that I can expand upon are these.
Green study lamps, aesthetically pleasing. What a way to visualize enlightenment ignored in a dark, seedy, crass city. Bright objects always get to me.
The library guards are on good terms with Somerset, leaving the books all to himself. He chooses a table, sets the briefcase down, looking at all the books that the guards are ignoring. He eventually addresses this disconnect ‘All the knowledge in the world at your fingertips.’ The guards see his bet and tops it by playing Bach on the boom box, making this trip to the library a relaxing time.
It’s been established that Somerset wants to give up his badge. However, it’s stuff like pulling all-nighters that make others, like the guards in this library, think that he’s eternally linked to this job. He absorbs the information on a handful of books neither with young earnestness nor a yawn. No coffee breaks. The film also establishes this scene as if this might be his last trip to this library, and wants to sit down and take his time with the books.
A guard say ‘Hey Smiley, you’re gonna miss us.’ He responds ‘I just might.’ Interesting nickname.
Also notice the lamps in the second shot are pointing different direction, the mise-en-scene arranged in meticulous disarray.
This post is part of Nathaniel R’s Hit Me with Your Best Shot Series.
- Blu-ray Review: Se7en (seattlepi.com)
- Check Out a Classic Scene From the New ‘Seven’ Blu-ray (cinematical.com)
Ready For My Best Shot
As part of Nathaniel R’s Hit Me With Your Best shot series, this week features Elia Kazan and Budd Schulberg‘s A Face in the Crowd.
Marcia (Patricia Neal) is all smiles in this dank jailhouse but for some reason, she looks at a drunk prisoner Lonesome Rhodes (Andy Griffith), both moved and saddened. I watched this movie cold and for the first time. This movie begins with bucolic acoustic guitar music, the first scene acted out in this room. Misinterpreting Elia Kazan’s reputation as a theatre director and ‘Budd Schulberg’ meaning this movie was probably based on a play. It would also be a challenge to the filmmakers to create cinema in such theatre-like spaces. Mix those Rube Goldberg tangents with how I liked the way these characters are in this scene, I was assuming that this movie’s gonna stay put in this room and in this small town. But nooooo…..
Kazan was the closest thing North America ever had to a Roberto Rossellini, or is he?
This is what I imagine every pre-1967 B-movie would feel like.
Then he became a sellout douche. The best comparison I can come up with for this director and movie is Richard Brooks’ Elmer Gantry. This movie’s also about the advent of television and celebrity politics, with the TV set within the frame.
But here is my best shot, even if it doesn’t encapsulate the film. None of my best shots yet are like that. It’s probably yours too, which makes it boring, but I hope my write-up seems more ‘original.’
I call this the Reverse Norma Desmond Shot. Marcia reminds me of Norma’s insane, destructive impulses. A member of Rhodes’ sound crew blurted out how he would like America to see what the real Lonesome Rhodes is really like, or more correctly, has become. This little wish turns into a sinister idea that possesses her, thus the obvious but probably one of the most effective noir-like close-ups ever put to film. There’s also a little of Joe Gillis in her in wanting to unmask the truth to and about a delusional person, yet what she does to him is more cruel that what Joe says to Norma in person. She destroys him, and in doing so has to both lament and defend that rash decision.
Best Shot: Bring it On
I was a cheerleader in my first year in University. Because of that, this movie is seminal viewing. I actually know the cheer in the beginning of the movie five years before I saw it in its entirety. I’d try to recite or cheer it but I’d just go on a loop. I was thinking about skipping this movie, featured in Nathaniel Rogers’ Best Shot series, but as a former cheerleader, that would be treasonous.
Bring it On‘s hero, Torrance Shipman (Kirsten Dunst) has a lot on her hands. Captaining a 5-time regional cheerleading champion that isn’t as united as they once were, a boyfriend in college, another love interest (Shakespearean actor Jesse Bradford), having to constantly court love interest’s sister/gymnast turned neophyte cheerleader Missy (Eliza Dushku). Knowing that her predecessor Big Red stole the earlier routines, she hires a crazy-ass choreographer to teach them a new, non-stolen routine. Or so she thought.
I had to re-watch and look within the movie to see close-ups of the hands. I don’t know why it’s the first image that comes to mind when someone discusses the movie, but there they are.
There’s Kurosawa, Bette Davis evil. But watching this and watching the Toros do the same routine made me uncomfortable. I couldn’t even listen to it. I’m one of those movie watchers that used to go to the bathroom when there’s a scene when a character gets embarrassed. That reaction, my friends, can only be caused by pure evil in cinema.
Image that are probably better than this one will be posted later today/tomorrow if no one posts them.
Best Shot Redux: Black Narcissus
Still dwelling on last week’s episode of Nathaniel Rogers’ Best Shot series, Black Narcissus. I’m not gonna say disappointed since that makes me sound like a cocky bastard, but nobody caught this?
These two shots show that Sister Clodagh’s (Deborah Kerr) not the humourless nun she’s trying to be. And this is her bonding moment with Mr. Dean (David Farrar). If only there were more coffee cups and the habit would have come off. But alas, the blossoms still win.