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Opening Shots: 'Thieves Like Us'

From Dennis Cozzalio, Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule, Glendale, CA:

When Jim invited me to participate in this survey, I accepted with enthusiasm and then immediately began to worry. Every example of a great opening shot that was coming to mind ("Touch of Evil," "The Player," "Shadow of a Doubt") had already been pawed over and written about to such a degree that I certainly didn’t think I would have anything more to add to the discussion that hadn’t already been said, and far more eloquently than I would be able to say it. And as I continued to drag my feet, I saw some of the off-the-chart top choices I had come up with ("Dazed and Confused," "Kiss Me Deadly") get snapped up and written about, again, quite eloquently, by others. Now, after digging through my DVD and laserdisc collection, I’ve finally come up with what I think are some great ones, and as usual I haven’t the discipline to hold myself to just one.

UPDATED WITH FRAME GRABS (07/14/06) JE: Dennis, the owner and proprietor of Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule, of one of my favorite movie blogs, has contributed several great shots and analyses. I'm going to spread 'em out over the next few weeks or so -- and try to get frame grabs for 'em. I hadn't seen "Thieves Like Us" since I showed it in the ASUW student film series at the University of Washington in about 1980, and it isn't available on US Region 1 NTSC DVD -- but I found a German Region 2 PAL version through an Amazon.com z-shop importer, DaaVeeDee.

"Thieves Like Us " (Robert Altman, 1974; photographed by Jean Boffety) Robert Altman has had more than one rich, visually stunning opening shot in his long career. From the Panavision image of helicopters racking into focus to kick off "M*A*S*H," to Rene Auberjoinois’ mysterious lecturer announcing a series of avian themes and questions while surrounded by bird skeletons and other classroom at the beginning of "Brewster McCloud"; from Elliot Gould’s Philip Marlowe stretched out on a bed, counteracting the proactive image of Raymond Chandler’s private eye to the strains of “Hooray for Hollywood��? [and "The Long Goodbye" -- ed] to open "The Long Goodbye," to the K-Tel-esque record commercial that serves as the opening credits of "Nashville," to the raising of the flag by bugle call leading into the staged massacre that opens "Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull’s History Lesson" (proclaimed on-screen with satiric bombast as “Robert Altman’s Absolutely Unique and Heroic Enterprise of Inimitable Lustre!��?), Altman knows how to kick off a movie.

One of his most beautiful opening shots, however, occurs at the beginning of "Thieves Like Us," a shot that artfully prepares us for the somber mood, the deliberate, unhurried pace of the film as a whole, and its naturalistic attitude toward the story it intends to tell, that of the doomed relationship between a young escaped convict and the naпve young woman with whom he falls in love.

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