Second verse, same as the first. Mostly. Again, like the first in the series, I’ll be talking about a scene from five movies in my top 100 list. The movies will be chosen at random, but you can see the full list here.
51. Rear Window – Meet the Neighbors
The opening scene of Rear Window is a masterpiece of table setting. First, we’re introduced to the world around us via a push through an open window and a nice, leisurely pan around the buildings that make up Jimmy Stewart’s visible world. The camera then finds each neighbor in turn and gives us a fleeting glimpse at their situation via a shot (always from the apartment’s POV) and some sound, but not too much sound. We need to feel like we’re spying on these people, so we never get their full story, only what Stewart can observe from his lonely wheelchair. It plays wonderfully on the big screen, which at once makes the movie feel larger than life and confines us to what the camera can see. The screen becomes a second window, and we are fully controlled by Alfred Hitchcock’s genius.
50. Jaws – “Anyway, we delivered the bomb.”
Look at the shots Spielberg uses here. We start with a medium two shot, Quint in the foreground and Hooper unfocused in the back. This is how we see about half the speech. We get 3 cuts to Brody and one or two to Hooper, but for the rest we’re seeing Quint in some way or another. The shots break from the medium two shot as Quint looks back and forth between Brody and Hooper (glances that the camera mimics, of course) and then we get a much closer version of the shot that opens the scene. Here the tension increases, as people start to die. Finally, we get a slow push in on Quint as he describes the time he was most frightened. That shot ends with the line quoted above. It’s an intense speech that is heightened perfectly by Spielberg’s supreme understanding of movie making.
28. Miller’s Crossing – The End
After two movies talking about camera stuff, let’s give the sound guys some love. This scene happens out in the woods, so the only noises for the majority of it are the leaves crunching underneath Tom and Leo’s feet. Except, of course, after the line, “Goodbye, Leo.” There, we hear the trees creaking in the background. It heightens the silence between the two men, and in a movie so literate and talky, that silence is key. And then, of course, the spectacular Carter Burwell score kicks in as the two men put their hats on (“There’s nothing more foolish than a man chasing his hat.”) and we’re left with a kind of pleasant melancholy. Music to my ears.
75. Oslo, August 31st – Sitting at a Cafe
One of my favorite ideas to see dramatized is the fact that everybody you meet has their own story. You can sometimes see your role in the lives of your friends or family members, but usually we’re just background players. Every once in a while, a book or movie will demonstrate this concept and I’ll pretty much always fall in love with it. Here is Joachim Trier’s version of that scene, replete with snippets of conversation. It also engages in some active imagination on the part of our protagonist, following people as they finish their run or sit on a park bench. We all do this kind of thing and Oslo, August 31st is really great at capturing that, among other other events small and large.
61. The Quiet Man – Falling In Love in the Falling Rain
There are few scenes more romantic than this one. As the winds howl and branches shake, John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara take refuge (of a sort) in an old cemetery. The sound and fury of the storm matches their tempestuous embrace, and signals that this won’t be your typical romance. Indeed, this one ends with a ten minute long fight scene that starts at one end of town and finishes at the other. The passion that begins here will only end in bloodshed and then, finally, acceptance. For those that like their love stories to be biblical in scale, this is the movie you need to see. (And if you can, see it in its newly restored format. So pretty.)
That’s all for now. Do you love these movies or scenes as much as I do? Leave a comment and let’s talk about it!