DOWSE guide to the movies                                                                                         

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  Movie Moments

DOWSE Guide to the Movies
by Tony Lee editor of Pigasus Press

CineMagic Moments and Favourite Scenes

(in alphabetical order)

ALIENS (1986)
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 he serves.

Ceri Jordan

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.

Christopher Geary

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.
  Cue apocalypse.

Tony Lee

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.

Dawn Andrews

COP (1987)
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.

Tony Lee

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.

Mike O'Driscoll

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 city’s stinking watery byways, Visconti’s 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.

D.F. Lewis

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.

Mike O'Driscoll

'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.

Gary Couzens

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.

Tony Lee

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.

Michael Marshall Smith

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.

Mike O'Driscoll

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.

Neil Williamson

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?

Mike O'Drsicoll

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.

Mike O'Drsicoll

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.

Sherry Decker

SCANDAL (1989)
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?

Steven Hampton

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!"

Tamar Yellin

STEVIE (1978)
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 time.

Cari Crook

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.

Tony Lee

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.

Tony Lee

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