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Movie Moments

April 6th, 2008 (01:38 pm)

There have been different forms of a meme floating around LJ lately (see auggiewren for a somewhat recent sighting), in which you list 10-15 movies / things / tchochkes that you like / love / think about. I decided to do a list of ten memorable movie moments, so I randomly generated a letter (yes, you can do that) and set to it.

This has been pretty educational for me... I knew there were trends in my movie viewing, but I never realized just how deeply they run.

© 2008 D. Gordon

  1. Trouble in Paradise: Available in a luh-vly Criterion DVD, this is the Lubitsch Touch at its peak. More people should know about Ernst Lubitsch, director extraordinaire of some funny, sophisticated sexual farces - the definition of screwball - and Trouble makes a great introduction.
    The Moment: Madame Colet and The Major are at the opera, and in the middle of a fight involving The Major and François Filiba (who's outside the box door and has announced his departure several times). The Major tries to take Madame Colet's hand; she moves it away. Sitting close to her, he says something we can't hear over the music, but her expression and the way she holds herself tells us she's not about to forgive him. The opera continues; we get a shot of the orchestra, then a shot of the score. A soprano sings at the top of her voice, "I love him, I love him, I LOOOOVE him..." The pages of the score flip to indicate time passing; then she sings "I HATE him", followed by the chorus, hushed: "She hates him." I've pulled out the DVD a couple of times just to find that spot. Lubitsch's mockery of society's norms is always good.
  2. Tartuffe: Murnau = god. Tartuffe is Murnau at the end of his German career, the last movie before he left for Hollywood, with one of the most memorable beginning sequences that I can think of...
    The Moment: An older woman lies asleep in bed. A bell starts ringing, ending her deep sleep; she is clearly not happy about it. She gets up and out of bed, and moves off camera - then her arm reaches back into camera range to grab the clothes at the end of the bed. Next shot: down a long hallway. In the foreground is a pair of shoes; the camera is at shoe level. The woman comes into range at the opposite end, walks up the hall and passes by on the right, giving the shoes a quick but vicious kick on her way by. Talk about body language! - or should I say camera language? You get the partial hints you would in real life; although they don't tell the whole story, you understand the mood behind the actions right away.
  3. Tabu: Another Murnau, and his last. A story of "forbidden" love in the ultimate sense, with both "nature" and the "civilized" world as backdrops. Reri and Matahi love each other, but the priests mark her as promised to the gods; she becomes tabu. They run away to "civilization" to be together, with disastrous results. The movie is filled with classic visuals - Lotte Eisner describes Tabu as the culmination of Murnau's experimentation with molding natural light to further his stories, and it's easy to see what she meant - but the last sequence serves to tie them together in an unforgettable way.
    The Moment: SPOILER - SELECT TEXT TO VIEW A small sailboat dances over white curling waves; in it the priest is taking Reri back to meet her fate. She's crouched, defeated, in the hold; he sits by the rudder, white whiskers stark against the black water, steering. Noticing Matahi swimming towards them, he closes the hold, utterly calm in contrast to the boy pushing himself to gain on the boat. As Matahi reaches the vessel and grabs one of the ropes, the priest just as calmly cuts the rope, leaving the exhausted swimmer to flounder and drown in their wake.END SPOILER All this is done by actions, without a word; and it's the starkness of those actions, told in a brassy contrast of black and white, which signals the end of life both figuratively and literally.
  4. To Sleep So As To Dream: Given the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake, the firebombing of World War II, and just plain ignorance and neglect on the part of the studios, there are few Japanese silents left in existence. Many of the ones that exist do so through the efforts of Shunsui Matsuda, who started collecting what film fragments he could find in the years after World War II. To Sleep So As To Dream, about two bumbling detectives hired to rescue a young woman trapped in a 1915 film fragment (more or less) is a valentine to Japanese silents and Matsuda's efforts (in fact, he has a cameo in the movie).
    The Moment: An old film clip fills the screen. In it, a masked warrior faces the camera in a medium shot, scowl in his eyes. He jerks his head towards the camera, then strides forward. The focus cuts to an aged hand in a lace glove, gripping the arm of a chair. The owner of that hand is watching this film, wrapped up in the action. Cutting back to the old movie, the warrior raises a weapon to attack, but the film begins to break up. Nitrate decomposition is now running across the image. The hand reaches for the screen... and the film runs out. The whole premise of the story is held in the black and white tones of this first minute (which is repeated several times in the film), although that doesn’t become clear until later.
  5. Tati: as in Jacques. To me, Jacques Tati is hilarious. My favorite Tati is Mon Oncle, with Mr. Hulot, his nephew, and The House of the Future.
    The Moment: M. Hulot's sister and brother-in-law, owners of The House of the Future, representatives of Modernity and Progress, are trapped in the garage after their dachshund trips the door's electric eye. They've gotten the attention of the maid, who's a bit more immersed in the traditional ways; she comes over and they ask her to walk past the electric eye to trip the door. Her reaction is to cringe and say, "Don't ask me that, ma'am. I'm so afraid of electricity!" The couple's forward-looking attitude has failed them, but the maid's clinging to the past is no replacement. This easily could have been a laugh at the expense of the old ways, or a sermon on the clash between the old and the new; instead, Tati provides a true laugh - to no one's advantage. Ah... another pull out the DVD moment.
  6. 2001: Not too long ago, someone on one of the boards I wander around started a thread asking how people got interested in obscure movies. For me, part of the answer lies with Stanley Kubrick; my father, who is a science fiction fan, took me and my sister to see 2001: A Space Odyssey in the theater. I was six or so.
    The Moment: I don't remember everything from that viewing, but I do remember the woman that did the 360 in the hall and the colors that pass by through the vortex. (And I wasn't on drugs, either.) Something made an impression. This was also when theaters handed out programs, and we had one - which would be worth something if I knew where it was. *sigh*
  7. Talk To Her: Pedro Almodóvar's ode to the importance of communication. Then again, there's communication and then there's communication...
    The Moment: POSSIBLE SPOILERS AND KIDDIE CORRUPTION - SELECT TEXT TO VIEW Benigno has been carefully tending to the comatose Alicia. This evening, he tells her about a silent movie he'd seen the might before. The movie switches to that silent movie, El Amante Menguante (The Shrinking Lover). Alfredo is slowly but surely shrinking; Ampira, his scientist lover, is searching for an antidote. They go to sleep - or she does; he starts to crawl over her body in an attempt at lovemaking. He climbs and hops over her torso until he reaches her vagina; then, the size of a finger, her crawls inside and "becomes part of her, forever." Benigno has been quite the character throughout the movie, and this plot sounds like more of the same; in fact, the "body" set for this movie-within-a-movie is purposefully fake-looking. The whole thing comes across as Benigno's flakiness once again. END SPOILERS But what looks like a distraction is far from it; there's something else at work here, setting up the rest of the storyline and sneaking some powerful facts into the narrative. I don't want to spoil it (even after corrupting all the little kiddies *snort*), but it's some pretty strong stuff.
  8. 3-Iron: classic Kim Ki-duk, the ever-controversial Korean director whose movies don't do well domestically but are festival favorites overseas (and who's been known to be plenty snarky about it). The one Kim Ki-duk I've seen is his 3-Iron (Bin-jip), about a young man who enters empty houses while their owners are away (in fact, "Bin-jip" translates to "Empty Houses"). He's not there to steal or destroy; he more... "fixes" things. He fixes children's toys, he fixes messy rooms - and in one house, he unexpectedly comes across an abused wife. The movie is beautiful in how visual it is - there is very little actual dialogue, and the two wander silently through others' lives.
    The Moment: After the young man is jailed, Sun-hwa is back with her husband Min-gyu. She gets on the scale that Tae-suk had "fixed" earlier; as the camera pans up her body, she gets a thought and disassembles the scale, adjusting it as he had. This is the moment at which she changes: she's no longer trapped by her marriage, she's starting to think like Tae-suk, which is leading her to think for herself. It looks simple, but it's a sea change for the character. What an elegant way of showing it.
  9. This is Spinal Tap: Some movies are funny in their place and time, and later put nothing more than a smile on your face. And then there's Spinal Tap, the granddaddy of all mockumentaries. I saw this a couple of times in college, but going back had me laughing so hard I had tears coming from my eyes. There are several great scenes, but do I have to say more than... "Stonehenge"?
    The Moment: Spinal Tap, on their US tour (think Ohio, Holiday Inn), as decided to spice up their show with some stage props. They're on stage, dressed as Druids. Nigel recites the mystical / folkloric intro, blinks his glitter-covered eyelids, and the band launches into the song. They come to the bridge, Nigel starts reciting more lyrics, and behind him to his right a prop Stonehenge starts to descend. A prop Stonehenge. Eighteen inches high. Into the lights. The other band members are.. surprised (to say the least), but play it off. Two leprechauns come out and dance around Mini-Stonehenge, trying not to get tangled in its wires. Nigel glances at the stage manager, who just looks aloof. Cut to the next scene, in the hotel, when David starts off by saying, "I do not for one think that the problem was that the band was down. I think that the problem may have been that there was a Stonehenge monument on the stage that was in danger of being crushed by a dwarf. Alright? That really tended to understate the hugeness of the object." Bands fall apart - the Stonehenge incident leads to the manager quitting - but they don't normally do it like this.
  10. Ten: Memorable can be good. Then again, memorable can be bad. What I remember about Abbas Kiarostami's Ten is vertigo, as the camera spends 91 minutes looking into the interior of a car as it drives around Teheran. The point is to give a voice to the woman driving as she speaks with various people in her life, but the conceit eventually gets in the way of the story.
    The Moment: The Driver is speaking with her son Amin, who's maybe 10. She and her husband are divorced, she's since remarried, and the conversation shows that her relationship with her son is on very very rocky ground. The interaction may well reflect Iranian social attitudes towards women (and she makes some very good points about that), but somehow it didn't quite work here. Her son, beginning to take after his father, is not very respectful of his mother (which she could have done more to shut down); but he's also caught between two parents whom he seems to love but who are hostile to one another, plus she originally left him when she left her father. She hurt him, and he's a little young to understand the situation. They're yelling at each other, and meanwhile the car is moving through the streets. I've seen other Kiarostami, I've enjoyed them (in fact, Taste of Cherry has quite a bit of car scenery as well), and I appreciate his willingness to push the envelope; but this one just made me... car sick.

And that's that.

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