Moments out of Time 1990

[Originally published in Film Comment Volume 27 Number 1, January/February 1991, reprinted by permission]

• The hat in the forest, Miller’s Crossing

GoodFellas: The sheer, abstract, utterly genuine terror of the warehouse at the end of the block, where Jimmy Conway (Robert De Niro) wants Karen (Lorraine Bracco) to stop in and pick out a dress…

Landscape in the Mist: A snowfall magicks a whole town, every inhabitant transfixed, eyes turned skyward….

• Fourth of July fireworks in a puddle: the auspicious opening of Avalon

• Shorn by the German plane shot down by the Memphis Belle, the front half of the bomber full of new kids just breaks off and falls….

• More horrifying than the brute violence that precedes it, the victim-executioner bonhomie between Lilly (Anjelica Huston) and her mobster boss (Pat Hingle) in The Grifters: “That suit makes you look taller, Bobo.”…

• Stella Wynkowski (Elizabeth Perkins) slapping Harry Dobbs (Tom Berenger) in Love at Large, then turning face-front toward the bar: Harry rubs his cheek and registers dryly, “That’s the first time we’ve touched”…

• “Let go. Let go. LET GO. Let go.” Longtime Companion

• Was it we-hit-the-Italians-if-Frankie-doesn’t-call, or if-he-does? A crisis of professionalism for Gary Oldman and fellow Westies, in State of Grace

• Altman’s camera, in Vincent & Theo, careening deliriously about a vast field of sunflowers—an artist’s eye trying to find a way to catch and compose the sprawling largesse of reality…

• Gremlin become gargoyle—Gremlins 2

Postcards from the Edge: As Dennis Quaid concludes his romantic pitch to Meryl Streep, the “little white house with rose-covered trellis” that has subliminally backed his wooing is trucked away to another part of the studio lot….

• Christopher Walken registering the presence of the camera as he stands in the shower, King of New York

The Krays: Billie Whitelaw serving biscuits and tea to her monstrous sons and their bully boys-just another batch of male children to put up with and coddle…

• New cop Jamie Lee Curtis hitching up her trousers before sitting down—Blue Steel

• Dan Hedaya finding 37 ways to read the line “I’m not arguing that with you!”—Joe vs. the Volcano

• David Watkin’s masterly lighting of the Ghost (Paul Scofield) in Hamlet, so that the figure seems to wrap the world in the grayness of the grave, without recourse to SPFX…

Reversal of Fortune: The practiced way Claus von Bülow (Jeremy Irons) maneuvers Alan Dershowitz (Ron Silver) out of his Upper East Side apartment once his conviction has been overturned: when the spotlight of von Bülow’s focused charm switches off, Dershowitz ceases to exist….

Presumed Innocent: Greta Scacchi kisses off Harrison Ford in mid-conversation when he can’t measure up to her ruthless expectations; like a man who remains standing moments after he’s been shot, he doesn’t even know he’s dead .. ”

• The bemused gallantry of Hector Elizondo’s hotel manager in Pretty Woman

• What you might see if someone shoved you up through a manhole cover on a busy street: Darkman

Mo’ Better Blues: the band ragging Giancarlo Esposito about his Frenchwoman…

• Projector beam from terra-cotta lion’s mouth, Cinema Paradiso

• Anaïs (Maria de Medeiros) discovers Henry (Fred Ward) in a movie theater watching Ecstasy, and touches his shoulder. He turns, his face wet with tears, blank with passion—Henry & June….

• Waiting for John Wilson (Clint Eastwood) to call “Action!”—White Hunter, Black Heart

Dances with Wolves: John Dunbar (Kevin Costner) wakes out of a sound sleep to find everything in his sod house shaking, as a great buffalo herd moves through the night like thunder, like ghosts…

Awakenings: De Niro ambushed by waves of uncontrollable tics and twitches as he tries to talk with the girl he has a crush on; a 40-year-old man caught in an adolescent’s worst nightmare…

• The father (Hugues Quester), making seduction chat with his daughter’s friend (Anne Teyssèdre), finds he can’t snap the piece of kindling as casually as he’d like, and stuffs it into the fireplace—A Tale of Springtime….

• A permanently suspended ellipsis, I Love You to Death: Keanu Reeves’s “You know, having sex with a kangaroo… ”

• Middle-of-the-night supper with Mom (Catherine Scorsese) as, in the driveway outside, someone/-thing thumps in the car trunk—GoodFellas

• The sound from the bathtub as Henry (Michael Rooker) renders Otis (Tom Towles) for disposal—Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer

• Having put a bullet into his quarry at point-blank range, Nick Nolte climbs up the steps from the cellar entrance of the social club and, swinging his back to the low-slung camera, lifts his police badge to quell the floodtide of revelers pouring forth from every door—Q&A….

• The way Alec Baldwin lets Junior’s mouth fall open, during moments of repose, in Miami Blues—like that of an animal panting in the shade, or Marilyn Monroe thinking…

• The way Samantha Mathis smiles at Christian Slater in the library, Pump Up the Volume: she can’t believe the delicious inappropriateness of this nerd as the rebel voice of her nighttime dreams….

• The momentary reflection of light in a predator’s eye, as Myra (Annette Bening) waits in the dark outside Lilly’s motel—The Grifters

• The roadside accident, Wild at Heart

Miller’s Crossing: The Dane (J.E. Freeman), advancing across the room to menace Verna (Marcia Gay Harden), leans sideways to avoid bumping an overhead light….

• Harvey Keitel’s last moments in The Two Jakes

• Debra Winger, her flesh glowing beneath her half-opened blue robe, queries her husband cryptically: “Isn’t it time for you to rub my tummy?”—The Sheltering Sky

• Magician-pickpocket transmutes purloined wallet into white dove—Henry & June

• The zoned-out glamour of Anne Archer in Love at Large

• The white, shocked face of Tom Reagan (Gabriel Byrne) as The Dane drives him deeper into the woods; a cold wind creaking the trees—the precise sound of death to an Irishman: Miller’s Crossing

• The cat licking the salt of the dead mother’s tears, May Fools

• Frankie (Ed Harris), in mid-conference with the capo, shamefacedly brushing away the crumbs from his roll—State of Grace

• The teen daughter watching as, in the shattered mirror, her mother and father lock in terminal conjugal combat—C’est la vie

Alice (Mia Farrow), under the influence of a mystic-East potion, flirting with the attractive father (Joe Mantegna) in the hall of her kids’ school…

• Family portrait through a window, Blue Steel: father’s arm around wife as they regard their daughter and her new beau. What’s really framed are permutations of power and impotence, threat and appeasement, men and women merging and at war….

Monsieur Hire (Michel Blanc) freeing his white mice along the railroad tracks…

Mountains of the Moon—Fiona Lewis and lain Glen meeting for the first time outside the chambers where the man they both love is being discredited as an explorer: the robustly beautiful New Woman takes in and dismisses her rival, a dying breed of brave, tainted British manhood….

• A new William Buckley for the talkshow circuit, Gremlins 2

• Steve Martin and Rick Moranis’s dance in My Blue Heaven

Vincent & Theo: Van Gogh (Tim Roth) has been mechanically sketching the Dutch prostitute; his interest quickens only when she takes a break from posing, and absentmindedly squats atop a chamber pot to pee….

• A little girl growing old in a painting, The Witches

• The grave, delicate sensuousness of Kate Capshaw as a rancher’s wife, Love at Large

• The tunnel through the hill, Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams

The Grifters: Lilly’s animal, half-sexual grief as she howls and humps over the corpse she loved…

The Sheltering Sky: Debra Winger’s terrible, toneless cry after she and John Malkovich have fruitlessly tried to anchor in each other on “the sharp edge of the world”…

• The documentary footage in Awakenings: patient (Robert De Niro) pulling doctor (Robin Williams) into the frame with him, to shake his hand and press human connection upon him…

• Henry Miller, a voyeur on a snowy Brooklyn fire escape, gets a window slammed on his necktie by his wife’s lesbian lover—Henry & June (no wonder he later loves Un Chien andalou!)…

Landscape in the Mist: A girl and a boy in futile embrace in the middle of an empty highway that spans a sea of darkness…

• “Excuse me, you think I’m funny?” Joe Pesci as Tommy De Vito in GoodFellas

Miller’s Crossing: the camera traveling along the throat of the gramophone, pulling back to frame the golden bell of the speaker as the eloquence of Frank Patterson’s “Danny Boy” and the Coen brothers’ cinematic ecstasy simultaneously crest…

RTJ/KAM

[reprinted by permission of Film Comment]


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