the net guide for creative minds
Guide to the Movies
by Tony Lee editor of Pigasus
CineMagic Moments and Favourite Scenes
(in alphabetical order)
That wonderful scene where they're all arguing about who'll go outside
and contact the ship (inviting certain death). Somewhere under the furore,
the android, Bishop, whispers with infinite reluctance, "I'll go."
So quietly that no one even hears him at first. And when the others do
shut up long enough to realise he's volunteered, there's no gratitude.
Simply relief. The unspoken implication being that he's synthetic, and
therefore expendable. Only Ripley, previously implacably hostile to androids
after her experiences in the first film, seems to understand the magnitude
of his self-sacrifice. Even when he dryly observes, "Believe me,
I'd prefer not to. I may be synthetic but I'm not stupid." For one
wonderful moment, the crowning moment in Lance Henriksen's film-stealing
performance, the android is both more moral and more human than those
ANNIE HALL (1977)
Hearing two poseurs arguing, in a cinema queue, about the meaning of Marshall
McLuhan's work, Woody Allen indulges in a classic scene of wish fulfilment
when he steps off screen and returns with media sage McLuhan, in person,
who puts a swift end to the pseudo-intellectual rhetoric.
THE BEDFORD INCIDENT
American warship captain Richard Widmark warns reporter Sidney Poitier
that he won't shirk his duty as he stalks a Russian submarine. "If
he fires one, I'll fire one," he drawls. The over tense Cold War
bridge crew react immediately.
"Fire one!" says the nuclear missile launch controller
with his finger on the red button.
BLADE RUNNER (1982)
One moment that never fails to get to me is the scene on the rooftops,
when Roy has just saved Deckard's life, and they face each other. Roy,
still holding the white dove, starts talking to Deckard about what he
has seen, living his life again in words: "I've seen things you people
wouldn't believe..." and the experiences of this creation, this 'replicant'
are suddenly vivid, human and irreplaceable, the rain mingling with the
blood on his face. Then he smiles; "All these moments will be lost
in time, like tears in rain. Time to die." He bows his head, and
the released bird flies. I love the dignity of Rutger Hauer's performance,
his voice and expressions, the moment when the bird flies, slowed down,
the wing blurred as it passes out of shot, and the stillness, after all
the violence that has gone before.
Beginnings are extremely important to cinema, of course, as in the superbly
condensed exposition of the Coen brothers' Raizing Arizona, but
I've always preferred a good ending, myself - as when the Matthew Modine
jumps off a roof in the final scene of Alan Parker's Birdy.
One of the very best low-key mystery thrillers of the 1980s,
James B. Harris' Cop stars James Woods at his twitchiest as a deeply
troubled homicide detective obsessively pursuing a serial killer. The
film's archetypal, rough justice finale is set in a school gymnasium,
late at night. Disarmed after a fight, the masked murderer doesn't plead
for his life because he knows how the legal system works: "You're
a cop, and you gotta take me in." But Woods' driven cop has an ice-cold
heart, and he merely snarls:
"I got some good news and some bad news..."
What makes this dark closure so effective is that we never
see it coming. The screen goes black (signifing lights' out for villainy)
with a chilling double blast from Woods' pump action shotgun - and in
the raw silence just before the credits, all we hear are spent cartridges
hitting and bouncing on the gym's wooden floor. It's a shock ending of
visceral but invisible horror and quite unforgettable.
CUTTER'S WAY (1981)
After Mo (Lisa Eichorn) has finally succumbed and let herself be seduced
by her husband's best friend, Bone (Jeff Bridges). Thinking she has fallen
asleep, Bone leaves her in the middle of the night. But Mo is not sleeping
and her face - conveying a wonderful mix of pain and stoicism - is one
of the most poignant reactions to betrayal in cinema history.
DEATH IN VENICE (1971)
This study of an artist, his sexuality and continuous search for beauty,
is steeped in the music of Mahler which is perfect for the claustrophobic
but, at times, open-skied and pastel-coloured Venice. In the whitewashed,
dark mazes of the citys stinking watery byways, Viscontis
film explores the destruction of mores as something attacks from an underworld
(as represented by the encroaching cholera), and it possesses various
elements that attract me, nay, suck me in like a Lovecraftian monster
with disparate tentacles. A favourite scene is the ending, set on a beach
where conical striped bathing-tents symbolise a prudish yet decadent Europe,
and where the erstwhile British matinee idol Dirk Bogarde is sitting in
a deckchair. His mascara is running. It evokes the unbearable sadness
of a middle-aged man cracking up before our very eyes, yet it also celebrates
the joy of death. We know ourselves the least.
THE DEER HUNTER (1978)
At the film's end, when Robert De Niro, John Cazale, Jon Savage, Meryl
Streep and others are sitting round the dining table while George Dzunda
cooks breakfast in the kitchen. The latter starts to hum God Bless America
and Streep first, then the others join in. The moment, which could so
easily have been pure schmaltz, not only reaffirms a vital sense of community
and belonging, but it also evokes the memory of their friend Nick (Christopher
Walken) who has died in Vietnam.
THE ELEPHANT MAN
'The Elephant Man' hit me right between the eyes when I first saw it,
aged sixteen, on its original release, which was the first movie I saw
twice at the cinema. This very afternoon, for a DVD review, I watched
it for the eighth time from beginning to end, individual scenes and sequences
I've seen countless more times. The scene where John Merrick (John Hurt),
returning to Britain from the Continent, is unmasked and chased at Victoria
Station and cornered in the Gents, actually happened. In the film it's
the third-act climax, a major reversal to Merrick's desire to be accepted
by society, and it contains the most famous line of dialogue in the film:
"I am not an animal! I am a human being - I am a man!" It never
fails to bring a sizeable lump to my throat.
THE EXORCIST III
One of the best horror movies ever, this ignores the science fictional
sequel made by John Boorman, and picks up loose threads of the original.
Writer and director William Peter Blatty (who scripted the first film)
creates a masterwork of creepy atmosphere, enlivened by Brad Dourif's
standout performance as an imprisoned madman.
In one great scene, the bed sheet shrouded killer wields huge
surgical bone-cutters and attacks a night nurse, on her rounds through
a quiet hospital. There is a stunning jump cut to the wraith-like killer,
from the far end of a corridor, but we don't actually see what happens
to the nurse - this is only suggested by the brief shot of a headless
statue. Nonetheless, this is a great shock moment.
FIRST BLOOD (1982)
The movie's set high up in the Rockies somewhere. The Stallone character,
having found out that his last Vietnam buddy is dead, goes into the nearby
one-horse town - just looking for something to eat. The sheriff, excellently
played by Brian Dennehy, takes one look and offers Stallone a lift out
of town. Stallone declines, politely. The sheriff insists: he's civil,
but very firm. He drives Stallone out the other side and over a bridge,
tips an ironic salute, and then drives back into town. Stallone looks
up into the mountains ahead, and then back at the bridge. Ahead, and then
back. Puts his collar up, turns around... and walks back into town.
I love that moment. It has a real feeling of elemental cinema
to me; the moment where the hero decides that he ain't going to be fucked
around any more - and thus seals his own fate.
HEAVEN'S GATE (1980)
In the ballroom tent known as Heaven's Gate, after all the other dancers
have left following the rollerskating sequence, David Mansfield's band
strike up a tune and Kris Kristofferson and Isabelle Huppert start to
waltz around the empty sepia-tinged room - a gorgeous, painfully romantic
moment that serves as a metaphor for the elegiac tone of the whole film.
Firstly, the scene where Marilyn Monroe uses a collection of thrift store
toys (soldiers, trains, torches and balloons) to demonstrate the theory
of relativity in Albert Einstein's New York hotel room, then demands that
he show her his legs. Second, the scene from the end of the movie where
Einstein imagines the nightmare scenario of a nuclear attack on the city,
the firestorm raging through his room, putting the other elements of the
film (fame, love, jealousy, political affiliation) into very scary perspective.
ONCE UPON A TIME
IN AMERICA (1984)
The ending, which takes us back to the very start of the film, with Robert
De Niro's 'Noodles' in the opium den, laying back after smoking on the
pipe - that strange, unexplained smile, disturbing in its implications:
does it signify an escape from the burden of memory (and guilt), or more
provocatively, does it suggest that the film we have just seen in no more
than Noodles' opium induced fantasy?
ONCE UPON A TIME
IN THE WEST (1969)
Henry Fonda's dramatic first appearance onscreen, emerging - to Morricone's
sweeping, operatic score - from the sagebrush and clouds of dust, surrounded
by his gang, all wearing ankle-length dusters, having just massacred Frank
Wolff and his children. It was a truly shocking moment, to see an actor
who had epitomised the concept of decency and nobility, here playing such
a cruel, child-killing villain.
THE SAND PEBBLES
In this Steve McQueen movie, a Chinese man helped McQueen in a navy boat's
engine room, and had a hard time saying words like "steam valve"
which he pronounced "stim wowl." Considered a traitor, locals
caught him and were torturing him on the beach, within sight of the navy
boat. McQueen grabs a rifle and shoots his friend to keep him from being
sliced slowly to pieces. Afterwards, his expression was so awful, so real.
He throws the rifle into the bay and goes below, to the engine room and
starts stoking the fires in wild, energetic grief. I cannot stop myself
from watching this movie whenever it appears on TV - even though I know
it will, again, reduce me to tears.
There are several great moments in cinema where a popular song or piece
of music is combined with striking visuals so that we can never hear that
tune again without seeing those particular images again in our mind's
eye. For example, Kubrick's 2001... changed almost everyone's response
to Strauss' waltz, 'The Blue Danube'.
In Scandal (which recounts and dissects the early 1960s'
Profumo affair), the camera eroticises party babes' Christine Keeler and
Mandy Rice-Davis (Joanne Whalley and Bridget Fonda, respectively) in their
dressing-up scene using a series of perfectly assembled close-ups of their
bodies and faces - all set to the twangy guitars of 'Apache' by The Shadows
(best known as Cliff Richard's backing band). It's debatable whether or
not this is sexist (probably), but who can hear that classic instrumental
today without thinking of those girls' in their authentic sixties' black
and white lingerie, and red and pink lipstick?
THE SEVENTH SEAL
The world-weary knight makes his confession to a hooded priest, who unknown
to him is actually Death. After a wonderful speech about the futility
of life and the yearning for proof of God's existence, the knight confesses
that he is buying time by playing chess with Death. Foolishly he confides
his strategy. Death turns and reveals himself: "I'll remember that!"
Then he vanishes. The cheated knight looks at his hand in the sunlight.
"This is my hand," he says. "I can move it, feel the blood pulsing
through it. The sun is high in the sky and I, Antonius Block, am playing
chess with Death!"
For emotional moments - Mona Washbourne, as the Lion Aunt. Also the bit
where Glenda Jackson (as poet Stevie Smith) gets out of the taxi having
returned from hospital after a suicide attempt - the look of such pain
and confused vulnerability on the Lion Aunt's face has me blubbing every
THE THING (1982)
I think that John Carpenter's remake is infinitely better than the 1950s
original, being more faithful to the source - a short story by John W.
Campbell Jr. Of course, as best scene, I'd nominate the extraordinarily
graphic horror where a severed head transforms, with much noisy popping
and cracking of spindly joints, into a monstrous spider and tries to scuttle
out the doorway. The astonished onlooker's response is entirely in character.
TV mini-mogul Max Renn (brilliantly protrayed by James Woods) picks up
a mysterious plain package delivered to his home and finds a videocassette
inside. Renn is both fascinated and repulsed when the tape becomes like
raw flesh and pulsates in his hand. He drops it on the floor, then looks
about nervously embarrassed - as if expecting a candid camera setup.
Was he hallucinating - due to the allegedly dangerous satellite
feed to which he was recently exposed? (Or was the British moral panic
of the 1980s righteous in assuming that the 'video nasty' phenomenon was
a powerful and sinister force with a life of its own?) Few directors have
tackled the theme of mass media's powerful affect with as much daring
and wit as David Cronenberg.
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