Out of the Furnace
"Out of the Furnace," about two suffering brothers (Christian Bale and Casey Affleck) in Pennsylvania steel country. hits some of the same notes as "The…
From Leonard Maltin:
The one that first comes to mind is from a film I fell in love with thirty-some years ago, "Scarecrow," directed by Jerry Schatzberg and shot by Vilmos Zsigmond. I revisited it when it finally came to DVD last year and felt exactly the same way. It opens on a static shot of a wood and wire fence alongside a two-lane highway, as a figure makes his way down a hill toward the fence (and us)...the sky is gray behind him. We're riveted to this image, eager to find out who this is, where he's coming from, and where he's headed. I haven't timed it to see how long the shot actually runs, but it's long, and absolutely mesmerizing: an opening shot that draws you in and makes you want to watch the movie.
JE: Thanks, Leonard -- it's a beauty! The dark gray clouds contrasting with the pale tan of the dry, grassy slope; the light playing across the hillside that makes the clouds shift even darker; the sound of thunder echoing in the distance -- it's the kind of shot where, seconds into the movie, you can almost smell the setting: The ionic scent of the approaching rain, the dusty pollenated aroma of the baked grass. And it's also funny, as Gene Hackman attempts to extricate himself from the fence. Anyone who's attempted to climb over, under or through barbed wire knows the pain and frustration of this moment all too well! It looks like the shot was originally even longer, and is interrupted by a few cutaways to Al Pacino watching from behind a tree -- perhaps to substitute different takes. And you're right: Now I'm going to watch the whole movie. (Love Pacino's introduction: "Hi. I'm Francis.")
It's a very special Tom Cruise Night when the California League Lake Elsinore Storm face the High Desert Mavericks this evening (Friday) at 7:05, PDT. The Los Angeles Times reports: Besides giving away a Cruise bobblehead — make that a "bobble-couch," depicting the star in full Oprah couch-jumping mode — the San Diego Padres' Class-A affiliate will celebrate the "silent birth" of Tom and Katie Holmes' baby, Suri, with a "silent inning," during which no batters will be announced and no music played. "Silent birth," a Church of Scientology teaching, specifies no music and no talking during the birth.
Other planned activities include a couch-jumping contest, a Scientology information and sign-up booth and a retrospective of Cruise's movie career.
The Storm's opponent? The High Desert Mavericks, of course. No doubt in honor of Cruise's character in "Top Gun." Next week: The Adelanto Operating Thetans take on the Yucaipa Cocktails.
What was I thinking?
David Poland sent me this funny picture (of me) that he took during a panel discussion at Roger Ebert's Overlooked Film Festival in May, called "Not Playing at a Theatre Near You." It is clear that I was lost in thought. What was I thinking? I'm pretty sure it was either: "How can I get more coffee here right now?" or "We'd better stop fussing about how 'superior' the 'big-screen theatrical experience' is and just accept the reality that: 1) more people watch more movies on smaller screens (even big HDTV ones) than go to theaters, in part because home screens and sound systems have improved, while audience etiquette and other aspects of the theatrical experience have deteriorated; 2) theatrical exhibition should be seen as a luxury, not a necessity, since economics prevent many of the best movies being made nowadays from getting the wildly expensive full theatrical release treatment; 3) even critics who tout 'the big-screen experience' often don't see movies on big theater screens, or with audiences; they see them in small screening rooms with a handful of other critics, where the screens aren't appreciably bigger than my 55-inch Sony HDTV -- which, from where I sit, is about the size (and clarity) of your average movie screen to someone sitting in the back half of the auditorium; 4) there's nothing wrong -- or necessarily aesthetically inferior -- about watching movies on a video screen (particularly a rear-projection one, which uses a xenon lamp not unlike a movie projector) in a comfortable room at home, and DVDs are far superior in quality to most of the beat-up 35mm art house prints and 16mm nontheatrical prints (many of them multi-generational dupes) with which those of us who grew up as cinephiles in the '60s and '70s had to content ourselves; 5) there should be nothing shameful about 'straight-to-DVD' releases; that's a perfectly legitimate, and realistic, distribution strategy for the world we live in."
Yes, I'm pretty sure it was that second thing I was thinking about. Because I seem to recall saying it out loud.
I was reminded of this when I came upon girish's provocative posting about "Theater vs. Home" at his always-insightful and stimulating blog: It is of course a happy truism that watching a movie in a theater is the inarguably ideal way to experience it. For a movie-lover, the theater is a sort of temple, and the experience touched with religiosity. You look up in hushed awe at the screen—in contrast, you look down at a TV screen, as Godard once noted—and the darkness dispatches all distraction, leaving only the light and sound emanating from the screen.
And then there’s the enveloping scale of the image, which you can regulate in relative terms by sitting closer or farther away from the screen. Cinephiles often have their favorite rows and vantage points (when I’m alone: usually fourth or fifth row center; when I’m with others: based upon a process of grumbling and negotiation). Most of all, you relinquish control over the movie by submitting to its (unbroken and continuous) terms, accepting its rules of temporality.
And yet, and yet….there’s a part of me that sees this hushed, worshipful submission to the terms dictated by the work of art as….a tad stifling.
"I am your host! Und sagen..."
Here they are, eleven of the most famous opening shots in movie history, plus a bonus that I threw in just because I like it. Prepare to smack your head and say, "D'oh! I knew that!" But don't give up -- keep sending in your nominations for great opening shots, along with your explanations for why they set up the movie so well, to: jim AT scannersblog dot com.
Congrats to Daniel Dietzel, who got all ten right, but did not hazard a guess about the two bonus shots -- and to Jeremy Matthews, who got nine out of the top 10, but also correctly identified both the bonus/tiebreakers!
And come back Sunday for the answers to the original Opening Shots Pop Quiz.
Now, the answers to the Opening Shots Quiz 2: 10 Easy Pieces (+2):
"Barry Lyndon": Let's begin again...
Some great (and maybe not-so-great) movies reward repeated viewings; others you may savor only once or twice. The newly redesigned Slate.com has asked several movie people what movies they've seen most often. (On my own personal list: I never tire of the crackling artistic life in "Nashville," "Chinatown," "Citizen Kane," "E.T.," "North By Northwest," "Trouble in Paradise," "Fight Club," "Donnie Darko," "Double Indemnity," "Stranger Than Paradise," "Stop Making Sense"... Then there's "Animal Crackers," any Buster Keaton movie [but especially "Our Hospitality," "Sherlock Jr." and "Steamboat Bill Jr."], "Waiting for Guffman," "Dazed and Confused," "Boogie Nights" -- oh, and "Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy," an unheralded comedy masterpiece...)
Among the choices in Slate's "The Movies I've Seen the Most":
Writer-director Paul Schrader (author of the indispensible book of film criticism, "Ozu Bresson Dreyer"): Robert Bresson's "Pickpocket." (Duh -- he's used the ending twice in his own movies, "American Gigolo" and "Light Sleeper.")
Movies 101: Opening Shots Project Introduction
I still have plenty of excellent Opening Shots submissions to edit and post -- and I'm doing my best to get frame grabs to accompany them whenever I can. (Quiz answers coming soon, too.) To no one's surprise, "Star Wars" (1977) has been the most popular nomination -- and for good reasons. But do keep 'em coming. I think of new brilliant opening shots every day, so if your initial ideas have already been mentioned, keep thinking. (Or, if you'd care to add to the discussion of a particular shot, Comments have supposedly been enabled on certain posts -- though I have to approve 'em first.)
A few notes about terminology, just so we can be sure we're all speaking the same language:
shot: a continuous image on film, from the time it begins (when the camera is rolling) until a cut (or fade out or dissolve) takes us to the next image. Sometimes the word "take" -- as in continuous shot -- is used interchangeably, although it is more specifically used to refer to one of several attempts to "get" a certain shot during filming. The editor often chooses between several takes of a given shot, and may cut them into shorter shots, or inter-cut different takes with other shots.)
pan: when the camera pivots horizontally, usually on a tripod. If a shot is strictly a pan, the camera does not move from its location, it just swivels -- as if you were standing still and turning your head. It can, of course, be used in various combinations with any of the other techniques below. The opening shot of "Psycho" is a simple pan. Later, a zoom and a crane shot are used in the opening sequence.
tilt: like a pan, but a vertical movement rather than a horizontal one. The camera does not "pan" up the exterior of a skyscraper from a position on the sidewalk across the street; it "tilts" up. The last shot of Robert Altman's "Nashville" is a simple tilt up to the empty sky.
dolly shot: a shot in which the camera actually moves -- usually when mounted on a dolly or a crane, and often on tracks which have been put down to ensure a smooth-gliding and precise movement.
tracking shot: sometimes used interchangeably with "dolly shot," but technically a shot where the camera moves with, or "tracks," another moving object in the frame -- whether from above, below, ahead, aside, or behind. (See opening shot of "Birth" -- which also appears to use a crane and a Steadicam.)
crane shot: a movement where the camera is mounted on a crane (and sometimes a dolly as well), usually to rise above, or descend to, the scene of the primary action. Lots of movies end with crane shots that raise up on a crane and sometimes dolly back at the same time (think of "Chinatown" or "Silence of the Lambs").
handheld shot: any shot in which the camera operator simply holds the camera manually, whether standing in one place or moving around within the scene. Often characterized by a certain shakiness that we're used to experiencing as more immediate, immersive, or documentary-like than a solid, mounted camera, which can feel more detached and "objective."
Steadicam shot: a Steadicam is a gyroscopic device that, as its name indicates, can be used to eliminate the shakiness of handheld shots for a smoother, more fluid movement -- as if the camera is floating on air. (See "Halloween" for a dazzling example.) In a landmark shot at the beginning of Hal Ashby's "Bound for Glory" (photographed by Haskell Wexler), the Steadicam operator is actually on a crane and lowered to the earth, where he steps off and continues the shot at ground level.
zoom: a zoom lens is simply a sliding telephoto lens that smoothly enlarges or reduces the size of objects in the frame optically, like looking through a adjustable telescope. The camera doesn't necessarily move (though it sometimes does that at the same time), but appears to magnify or decrease whatever it's looking at. As you zoom in on something, the image appears to "flatten." (Recall the famous shot of Omar Sharif riding toward the camera across the desert in "Lawrence of Arabia" -- he never really seems to get any closer because of the long telephoto lens that is used.) The dizzying "Vertigo" effect (after Hitchock's innovation in that film) involves dollying in and zooming out at the same time (or vice-versa) -- an effect employed memorably in a shot of Roy Scheider on the beach when a shark is sighted in "Jaws."
View image: Enzo is still with us.
It was widely reported that Moose, the 15-year-old Jack Russell Terrier who played the title role in "My Dog Skip," and who played Eddie on the long-running TV sitcom "Frazier," passed away at the ripe old age of 105 in dog years. (He would have been 16 -- or 112 -- December 24, according to IMDb.) While we mourn the passing of Moose, we should point out that he played Old Skip in the movie, while his son Enzo played Skip for most of the film. (Actually, there were reportedly six dogs who performed as Skip in various capacities.)
Likewise, Enzo replaced Moose on "Frazier" after eight years on the show, which ran from 1993 to 2004. But while dogs may be good enough actors to play the same role (like, say, Dick York and Dick Sargent), we should remember that they are not interchangeable. They are individuals. I know this. I live with two of them, and Frances and Edith are very distinct personalities.
I used to live in Los Angeles and work in and around the movie industry, where I encountered hundreds of celebrities in situations ranging from the casual (say, at the drugstore) to the professional (on a set, in a meeting, or for an interview). But my favorite movie star sighting ever came at the Overlooked Film Festival in 2004, where a man and his dog exited an elevator in the Illini Student Union Building -- and I immediately recognized the dog as Skip. (It was Enzo -- a surprise guest at a matinee screening of "My Dog Skip.") Of course, I took a picture.
Moose is dead. Long live Enzo.
View image: The opening curtain.
View image: A 1936 comic book.
View image: A child reads the comic book.
From Mark Roberts, Calgary, Alberta, Canada:
I am such a fan of movie opening moments (sounds strange I know, but a great opening moment is something I really treasure), that I had to respond to your call for favourite moments (and I'm going to have to see "Barry Lyndon" now too...). They're all pretty literal... nothing terribly deep in terms of artistic impression... but that shouldn't disqualify a great opening.
"Superman" I always get caught up by the opening moments. As the child narrator speaks about the Daily Planet, the curtains pull back to reveal the first issue of "Action Comics," moving to the "live" shot of the Daily Planet, and then into space and the opening credits. John William's score draws us through the open curtains and into the other world of the movie. I still get a little leap in my chest when the theme reaches its first crescendo and the title "Superman" leaps into view.
View image: Dieters at the beginning of the shot.
View image: Dieters at the end of the shot.
From Scott Gowans, Web Manager, WOSU Public Media, Columbus, OH:
I had been reviewing films for four or so years before I decided to take some film courses at Ohio State. One intensive, joyful seminar was the work of Rainer Werner Fassbinder, whose films had just been re-mastered and were showing in pristine condition at the Wexner Center on campus. His work is both frustrating, fascinating, illuminating, and always puts me on edge. For anyone who doesn’t get him or his work, I understand, and I’m also sorry. He’s hard to watch and abstruse, but when you get it, nothing looks the same anymore. My professor hates the way society attached the term ‘genius’ to anybody who shows above-average intelligence, but he had no problem with putting Fassbinder in the same class as Goethe and Shakespeare. One opening shot sticks with me, though I could site others. The first shot in “Beware of a Holy Whore��? has the camera at waist-level looking slightly upwards at Deiters (played by avant-garde filmmaker Werner Schroeter), who has brown hair spilling over his shoulders, and is dressed in a black cowboy suit. Behind him is sky. Deiters, whose role in the film is an odd photographer, delivers a soliloquy about Goofy (the cartoon character) in drag, who teaches kindergarten, gets beaten up by his students, meets Wee Willy, a gangster who is "the size of a 3-year-old," takes the crook home, and feeds him. Though the police arrest Wee Willy, Goofy refuses to accept that his new friend is less than perfect.