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"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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Opening Shots: 'Superman,' 'Lost in Translation,' more

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.

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Opening Shots: 'Beware of a Holy Whore'

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.

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Opening Shots: 'Halloween'

The Myers house: October 31, 1963

Young lovebirds.

Through the side window, the teenagers make out on the couch.

Boyfriend grabs a clown mask.

From Robert C. Cumbow:

(An excerpt from my book, "Order in the Universe: The Films of John Carpenter):

Following the main title shot-a slow track-in on a leering jack-o'-lantern-the opening sequence of Halloween is a spectacular tour-de-force, a four-minute single take that builds up to the brutal murder of a teenage girl in a quiet home in a quiet neighborhood in quiet Haddonfield, Illinois, on Halloween, 1963. The take ends as the murderer's mask is removed and a shock cut reveals the clown-suited killer to be the victim's six-year-old brother. The camera stares, then backs off, becoming a 15-second crane shot up away from the silent, blank-faced boy holding the bloody knife as his parents look on, questioning.

Thereafter, as in "Jaws," the shift to subjective camera often deliberately signals the presence, or possible presence, of the beast. In addition to imputing guilt to the audience, the subjective camera also serves the purpose of concealing the killer's identity in the crucial opening scene. The subjective camera technique was taken up by "Friday the 13th" and the raft of "Halloween" imitators that followed and became such a convention that it was parodied in the opening to Brian De Palma's "Blow Out" [1981]. But it became a convention for a purely utilitarian reason -- preventing us from seeing the killer's face -- and acquired the unfortunate side effect of creating a sadistic woman-killing persona as the point of audience identification, something many critics and viewers reacted against.

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Opening Shots: 'Stranger Than Paradise'

View image Eva in The New World.

View image

View image

From Christopher Long, Reviewer and Features Editor,

In terms of narrative structure, the opening shot of Jim Jarmusch's "Stranger than Paradise" is a perfect "mini-movie." The film opens with a shot of Eva (Eszter Balint, seen from behind) standing to the far right of the frame; in the background, we see a plane park on an airport runway. Eva watches a plane land, very slowly picks up her luggage (a ratty suitcase and a shopping bag), turns around (glancing around in almost a full circle) then walks (again, very slowly) left and towards the camera until she exits the frame.

The shot lingers, however, long after Eva has departed to witness the parked plane as it begins its takeoff. Here is the entire story laid out in miniature: "Stranger Than Paradise" begins with an arrival by plane (Eva coming to America from Hungary) and ends with a departure by plane (Willie [John Lurie] flying to Budapest).

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Opening Shots: 'The Crying Game'

Enlarge image: Your eye just naturally alights on the figure to the right of the support...

Enlarge image: ...who moves slowly along the shore in the opposite direction of the camera. (Here, the person is dead center in the frame.)

From Edward Copeland:

When Jim asked me to submit something about my favorite opening shot from a movie, I was at first flummoxed -- it seemed all the best ones were obvious and would have been written on to death, so I dug through my memory to try to find a less-obvious choice. What I settled on was "The Crying Game." I was fortunate to see "The Crying Game" for the first time long before the hype about the "twist" kicked in, so I was genuinely surprised at the direction the film went in and I think, upon rewatching its opening, that the beginning was helpful to that end. Percy Sledge's great "When a Man Loves a Woman" plays on the soundtrack (the irony of that song will only sink in later) as the camera moves slowly under a bridge across a lake where on the other side sits an amusement park with Ferris wheels and various rides going round and round. If you had no idea going in where this film was headed, you certainly couldn't have figured it out by these images, though you'd be mesmerized nonetheless.

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Opening Shots: 'Kiss Me Deadly'

Enlarge image: Slapping flesh and heavy breathing.

From Kim Morgan, Sunset Gun:

When reading the request for greatest opening shots, the first film that popped into my head was immediate and almost too easy — “Kiss Me Deadly.��?

And then I reflected more.

There are so many masterful opening shots, some I find works of genius or some I simply love. But the more I thought about it, the more I drifted back to where my mind always manages to drift back to — stark, hard-boiled cruelty, paranoia, insanity and psycho sexual angst — so there it was again, “Kiss Me Deadly.��?

But for good reason. Robert Aldrich’s masterful noir hits you with a hysterical bang that sets its frenzied tone with such balls-out experimental élan; you can’t believe the film was released in 1955:

Before any credit sequence, the film begins with a pair of naked feet running down the middle of a highway in the black of the night.

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Opening Shots: 'Dazed and Confused' (and more)

Enlarge image: Sweeeeeeeet slow-mooooootion.

From Mike Leto, Bethpage, NY:

I agree with you about how opening shots are one of the most important parts in a film. If the opening shot is good then the movie takes hold of me right from the beginning and that can lead to a great movie. I'm glad I saw "Boogie Nights" and "Barry Lyndon" on your list and you made me look back on "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" to make me see how important that opening shot really is. But if I were you, I would need these three great opening shots on my list:

"Aguirre, The Wrath of God" -- The first shot sets up the mood for this film perfectly. First, the opening titles tell us that this is a doomed mission but we didn't even need message. We cut to a mountain covered in fog but as the fog starts to drift away we see a long line of men walking down the side of the mountain. This image, along with the music, sets a tone of failure and desparation before things actually start to go wrong."Dazed and Confused" -- I know what you're thinking but I happen to think that this film is a masterpiece and the first shot (just like "Aguirre") sets the perfect mood. When you hear Aerosmith's "Sweet Emotion" and you see the car making the turn in slow motion it brings us back in time. Not to 1976. But to our teenage years. We don't have to worry because it brings us back to a time in our lives where the worst thing that happens is that the party got cancelled.

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Opening Shots: Keep 'em coming!

It's really not that difficult.

I'll be publishing your Opening Shots submissions all this week. And I'll provide the answers to both my Opening Shots Pop Quizzes (and further appreciations of the shots themselves) on Friday or over the weekend. While nobody's correctly identified all the shots on either of the quizzes, all shots except one have been identified by at least one person. The Most Mysterious Shot: Number 8 on Quiz #2. Also, I thought some of the images were showing up dark on my desktop PC (though not on my PowerBook), so I lightened 'em up a bit.

Remember, send quiz entries and your nominations for great Opening Shots (along with your explanations for why they work at setting up the film) to jim at scannersblog dot com. (Link above.)

Also, if you want to discuss individual shots, I've enabled Comments on some of these new posts. I still have to approve them before they're published (Sun-Times policy), but I'm hoping it will help generate more lively and informative discussion hereabouts.

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Opening Shots: 'Aguirre, the Wrath of God'

From Nadia Aboufariss:

"Aguirre, the Wrath of God" begins with a shot of a huge, wooded mountain side, shrouded in the mist. We can just barely make out the figures who are slowly descending the slope, little bigger than specks on the screen. As in other Werner Herzog movies (such as his recent film "Grizzly Man" ) this opening shot suggests the utter indifference of the natural world to the exploits of man. The Spanish conquistadors who are descending the mountain, with their priests, women, and slaves are embarking on a noble quest to find the lost city of gold, "El Dorado," while simulataneously bringing the grace of God to the local savages.

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Opening Shots: 'Miller's Crossing'

Enlarge image: Clink!

Enlarge image: Gurgle.

From Dave McCoy, Editor, MSN Movies:

The Coen Brothers love to use objects as symbols for characters, especially before we actually meet them. Think of the tumbling tumbleweed that starts "The Big Lebowski" -- blowing from the outskirts of Los Angeles, through the city streets and finally making its way, aimlessly, down a beach to the sea. And is there a better metaphor for The Dude (Jeff Bridges)? "He's the man for his time and place," says The Stranger (Sam Elliott), our narrator. "He fits right in there. And that's The Dude, in Los Angle-ess." In a matter of seconds, the Coens both introduce us to our hero's wandering demeanor and the film's casual, quirky and directionless tone.

But in their 1990 masterpiece, "Miller's Crossing," it takes the Coens but one quick shot to establish their cool, hard-as-nails, no-nonsense protagonist, Tom Reagan (Gabriel Byrne).

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