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Stray Dogs

Tsai Ming-Liang's first feature in five years is a mysterious and alienating series of tableaus about the fragility of flesh and the smallness of humanity.

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Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

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Monsieur Hire

Patrice Leconte's "Monsieur Hire" is a tragedy about loneliness and erotomania, told about two solitary people who have nothing else in common. It involves a…

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Stray Dogs

Tsai Ming-Liang's first feature in five years is a mysterious and alienating series of tableaus about the fragility of flesh and the smallness of humanity.

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Opening Shots: 'Repo Man'

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From Schuyler Chapman:

Down a desert road the car ambles erratically, while the motorcycle-cop watches from the far side of the road. Lapsing, perhaps, four seconds and consisting of a 180-degree pan that follows the car as it heads toward and passes the camera and police officer, it's not a terribly long shot -- but it perfectly encapsulates the film, "Repo Man," that follows.

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A synthesized sound and clanging industrial rhythm accompany the automobile's desultory progress. The music that scores the first shot, like the jagged, punk rock guitar played over the credits, creates a sense of dread -- an undercurrent of menace -- that complements the bizarre Chevy Malibu. Music is integral to this scene (and the movie), establishing a sense of tension that might have been otherwise lost. Listen to the thrumming electronics and the rhythm vaguely reminiscent of heartbeats. This atmospheric touch tells us that something's not right. This auto is not swerving as the result of an intoxicated driver -- or rather the result of a driver intoxicated by the typical substances -- it's the result of something unknown and alien.

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The audience is set up for the film that follows: a surreal and slightly sinister chase for an old Chevy. Another aspect of the shot clinches it for "Repo Man" offering one of the best and most appropriate cinematic openings: the movement of the car itself. How have I described its motion? Desultory, erratic -- I should also add forward. Like the story that tracks its movements, the Malibu wanders hither and thither but maintains general forward momentum toward some discernible end. There will be slight detours but they never take us far off course and, frankly, make the narrative a more "scenic" trip.

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