What makes a great movie great is the drama, the tension in a "scene" created by the interaction of actor, lines, lens, lighting, music, and so on, that create the magic-- recognition of something beautiful about the human condition, revelation about character, or life itself. These a few of the highs for me, the moments I sucked in my breath realized something new. Not in any particular order.
"I've seen things you people wouldn't believe.
Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion.
I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate.
All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.
Time to die."
Roy Batty, a "replicant" in "Blade Runner", at the moment he realizes he is about to expire. All the more poignant because of his earlier, violent demand for more life, from the head of the company that manufactured him.
It was thought at one time that Rutger Hauer, the actor playing Batty, improvised these lines. In fact, he did improvise the scene, but using lines that were already in the script by David Peoples, and has made an earnest attempt to set the record straight. So the lines belong originally to David Peoples, but Hauer is still a genius for knowing where they fit, perfectly.
I do not know if the words were in the original story by Philip K. Dick. I don't remember them being there, but it's been a while. I suspect they were not.
Isabelle Adjani stretches her neck, an utterly hypnotic, erotic gesture, catching the interest of vampyre Klaus Kinski who was in a hurry to get back to his coffin as the morning light advanced, in "Nosferatu". He can't resist just one more little snack.
Anne Hathaway on the phone in "Brokeback Mountain" realizing or reckoning with Ennis, after Jack died. I love well-acted scenes of realization in good movies of substance.
Anna Schmidt walks by Holly Martins after Lime's funeral in "The Third Man". All of our expectations are that she will stop at the earnest but naive American, Holly Martins, standing there waiting for her, and then they will walk off together, arm in arm. Instead, she doesn't even look at him. She never raises her head. She never acknowledges his existence. Just walks right by him. Earlier in the story, when asked why she loved Harry Lime, she told Martins that he made her laugh, and you had the feeling that, in the grim reality of that time, this was an infinitely precious gift.
Peter Falk says "I can't see you but I know you're there" in "Wings of Desire". Discussion. I don't know why, but at that moment in the film, in that context-- as the "angels" closely observe his embrace of smoke and tobacco and art-- it gave me chills.
In "Junebug", George, attending a church dinner with his sophisticated cosmopolitan girlfriend Madeleine, on a rare visit to his home in Carolina , is asked to sing a gospel song. To Madeleine's astonishment, he does, beautifully.
In post-war Japan, Professor Shukichi lives contentedly with his daughter, Noriko. She takes care of him, doing his laundry and cooking, and every night, after preparing for bed, he peels two apples for them to enjoy together in the living room. But Shukichi's sister insists that it is time for Noriko to marry and leave home. It is shameful, she says, for him to allow his adult daughter to continue to look after him
Shukichi's sister doesn't understand that Noriko doesn't really want to get married-- she is content to live with her father. But Noriko's friends also put pressure on her, saying that her father wishes she would marry and move out but is too polite to tell her. Her father, convinced it is not natural or normal for Noriko to live with him and remain single, conducts a deception. He convinces Noriko that he plans to remarry and that she would be in the way. He makes it clear he won't be happy until he knows that she is happily married. She reluctantly, dutifully agrees, but she is clearly despondent, and is not in love with her husband-to-be. Shukichi has no real intentional of remarrying. After his daughter's wedding, Shukichi returns to his home, sits down in the living room, and silently peels an apple, and the full weight of his solitude is expressed in that mundane but eloquent gesture. It is one of the most devastating scenes I've ever watched.
The flower girl realizes that the poor little tramp she just gave a coin to is her benefactor who paid for her operation to restore her eyesight (City Lights).
In White Ribbon, the young couple daringly arrange a carriage ride together. When the young man suggests they divert off the main road and have a picnic near a river, the girl is distressed, fearful of scandal. She begs him not to insist. Then she quietly touches his hand and says, "bitte"-- "please"-- and he relents and turns the carriage around.
"You were not." Amy Adams incredulous, after Embeth Davidtz informs her that she was born in Japan, in "Junebug".
Benjamin (Dustin Hoffman) and Elaine (Katharine Ross) in "The Graduate" flee the church where Ross was about to marry an all-American type, and hop onto a bus. Astonishingly, the camera stays on them at the back of the bus, and stays, and stays, as people stare and the bus rambles down the street, as they both suddenly become awkward with each other. Hoffman and Ross later explain that they were terrified that it had been a lousy take and director Nichols was about to yell at them.
In "The Seventh Seal", Block studies the face of a "witch" to see if she continues to believe herself to be Satan's bride as the flames begin to lick her feet-- he thinks that if she does, he might believe in God, because if there is a Satan, there must be a God. Alas.. her confidence evaporates.
Yes, the brilliant "failure to communicate" sequence from "Cool Hand Luke", one of the most subtle and insightful movies ever made. And yes, the phone call to Dimitri in "Dr. Strangelove", and the brilliant ending: Colonel Kong riding the bomb to hits target like a rodeo cowboy. It's almost beyond brilliant.
The concubines of the King check out the imposter in Akira Kurosawa's "Kegemusha".
He'd kill us if he had the chance. From "The Conversation".
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© Bill Van Dyk 2009 All Rights Reserved