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 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, 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.
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.
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)
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)
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)
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).
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.
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)