Moments out of Time 1974

[Originally published in Movietone News 38, January 1975]

The moment of the year, probably: Day for Night: Georges Delerue phones in from Paris to play one of the key themes for the film-in-progress, at the same time a package of books arrives for use as props in an upcoming scene. As the music plays into director Ferrand’s (François Truffaut’s) good ear, director Truffaut cuts to a closeup of the books piling. up one by one—Buñuel, Lubitsch, Godard, Hitchcock, Hawks—and two gratuitous gestures meld into a glorious affirmation of the cinema’s timeless essence….

Chinatown
Chinatown

• Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) telling, with irrepressibly vulgar delight, the lockerroom joke about making love like a Chinaman, while his aides desperately try to signal the entrance of the icily elegant Evelyn Mulwray (Faye Dunaway) behind himChinatown….

Harry and Tonto: Harry (Art Carney), isolated in the sad grey light that fills a cemetery in the middle of nowhere, searching for Tonto while his bus moves on…

The Tamarind Seed: the small pulse of warmth and humanity when Judith (Julie Andrews) and Feodor (Omar Sharif) touch fingers on a drinking-glass in private communication while he and Loder (Anthony Quayle) continue to coolly negotiate for the best deal on Sverdlov’s defection…

• The gingerly auspicious drive home from the asylum in The Hireling, the cool green English land filled with the expectancy of the everyday…

• D’Artagnan’s servant (Roy Kinnear), waddling past a glumly solicitous beggar in The Three Musketeers: “Me? Not your day, is it?”…

• Burying talismans in the prairie—Badlands

California Split: George Segal trying to sleep on the couch as Ann Prentiss comes rummaging for “the Guide,” Gwen Welles climbs onto a chair to retrieve her oversized cereal bowl from the top of a china cupboard, and Elliott Gould, behind the yellow blinds of morning, plans things…

• Two hommages to Hitchcock’s North by Northwest: in Daisy Miller, Winterbourne (Barry Brown) and Daisy (Cybill Shepherd) driving away from the castle, the slightly disjointed background of their respective closeups recalling the moment when Eva Marie Saint and James Mason walk away from Mason’s house toward the plane; and in Wedding in Blood, Lucienne’s (Stéphane Audran’s) memory of her first sharing-of-space with Pierre (Michel Piccoli), their isolated closeups joined by a track across an out-of-focus public event (the school pageant) as Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint are linked at the auction gallery…

Chinatown: Jake, talking postcoitally with Mrs. Mulwray, announces he’s seen her father, and she armors her vulnerability by unconsciously crossing her arms over her breasts…

The Exorcist: the statue of some ancient demon looming up in the Iraqi dig, its face half-eaten away, not by time but by primeval sin…

Scenes from a Marriage: Marianne’s (Liv Ullmann’s) face suddenly suffused with tenderness as she covertly watches her ex-husband and comrade-in-arms build a fire: “You’ve become so small”…

• A breathlessly fluid commingling of complots and characters during a diplomatic reception in The Tamarind Seed

• At opposite sides of the screen, Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) and his Judas brother (John Cazale) are silhouetted against the white glare of snow outside a bank of windows, the frames of which delineate their physical and emotional estrangement, as flakes sink into the waters of the lake—Godfather II….

Phase IV: speeded-up evolution as one ant after another dies in the process of transporting a chunk of yellow insecticide to the queen, who ingests it and—instant adaptation—produces a yellow egg…

Death Wish: evolution in reverse as erstwhile civilized liberal Charles Bronson wields a coin-laden sock in his darkened New York apartment and thus takes up arms against the barbarians…

Buster and Billie: Billie’s (Joan Goodfellow’s) naked, violated body plastered with rain and blood in a forest clearing … a ray of light marking her return to earth and the death of something fine that nearly grew…

Wanda: a pawn becomes a queen for a moment when Wanda’s (Barbara Loden’s) scruffy lover and partner in crime offhandedly recognizes her contribution to an inept kidnapping: You did good…

• At film’s end, the island of Wanda’s face, empty of everything but a sort of half-life, swallowed up in a mindless mass of amiable barflies…

• A morgue attendant in Chinatown with a cigarette cough and a cigarette: “Middle of a drought and the water commissioner drowns—only in L.A., huh?!”…

The Merchant of Four Seasons: the daughter enters the bedroom while Mommy is making love with a strange man; as the wife leaps out of bed and strikes an exquisite nude pose, her face concealed behind the draperies in a theatrical gesture of shame, the man leans back against the pillows and grins at the performance….

• Winterbourne wonders: did Daisy Miller bestow a kiss on the Italian, behind the parasol?…

• Elliott Gould rubs soothing hot-cream on George Segal’s ribs, California Split

Badlands: the friendly cop (Allan Vint), beaming at Kit (Martin Sheen): “Kiss my ass if he don’t look like James Dean!”…

The White Dawn: an old woman singing in incomprehensible Eskimo while Portagee (Lou Gossett) joins in after a fashion, to the mystification of his colleagues…

• Joseph Losey meets Liliana Cavani: The Night Porter (Dirk Bogarde), unable to make his fellow Nazis understand the burden of guilt he cannot psychodramatize away, bursts into an outraged “Sieg heil!”; they snap back in deadly earnest and Bogarde turns, almost into the camera itself, with his finest British “Oh my God!” expression….

• The first telephoto sight of the Wild Bunch in My Name Is Nobody, their dust throwing a shadow like that of Red River‘s cloud over the mountains beyond…

• Intimations of mortality in a steam room: Breezy

• And in Amarcord, an old man leaves his own gate and is suddenly, utterly lost in fog (“Is death like this?”) a hundred feet from his home…

• The way the gravel crunches underfoot and the air is full of heat and insect-sounds as young Vito Corleone and his mother approach the Sicilian don’s villa—Godfather II

The Three Musketeers: Milady (Faye Dunaway), playing at blind man’s buff, tilting her pretty mask to spit the Duke of Buckingham (Simon Ward) upon the lure of her beauty…

• A desk drawer in Chinatown, and the ominous flash of white upon the translucent glass in the office door…

• The Indian (Chief Dan George) cures Harry’s bursitis and says “I love my work”—Harry and Tonto, obviously…

• The ant crawling the length of Kendra’s (Lynne Frederick’s) body, under her clothes, in Phase IV; she awakens to find it staring into her face, and quietly, insistently asks it to “Go away. Go-a-way!”…

• At the moment that he knows is right, Nobody (Terence Hill) tosses the absurdly improbable bomb over his shoulder and out the saloon door, back toward the men who sent him in with it; as yellow dust roils in, enshrouding him from view, his self-hypnotized voice describes the visionary destiny of Jack Beauregard (Henry Fonda)—My Name Is Nobody

• Winterbourne, observed through lace filigree, receives the news of Daisy Miller’s death—tragedy at a discreet Jamesian—and Wellesian—remove…

• The hysterics-inducing perfection of Clifton James’ incarnation of a CPO, dragging out the assignment of The Last Detail (“I wouldn’t shit you—you’re my favorite turd!”)…

• Sarah Miles becomes fascinated with a strange refracting lens on the asylum director’s desk: The Hireling

• The silhouette of Don Fanucci (Gaston Moschin) passing across the roseate stage scene and momentarily happy audience of first-generation Americans—Godfather II

• The golf game in The Tamarind Seed, during which avuncular Fergus Stephenson (Dan O’Herlihy) makes quiet, civil threats for Group Captain Patterson’s (David Baron’s) own good…

Harry and Tonto: Harry and Jake (Herbert Berghof) remembering first and last fucks while taking the meager sun on a wintry park bench…

Chinatown: Jake slaps Evelyn Mulwray’s face back and forth to force her to the truth while she screams in wearied horror the double truth: “My sister… my daughter”…

Conrack (Jon Voight), sharing late-night coffee and conversation with the stiff-necked black principal… an amiable exchange of black bigotry and white idealism, with the truth taking neither side, just ambient in the moment…

Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia: a brown girl caressing breasts and belly, the fecund curve of her body just another shaping of the riverbank; Elita’s flesh flowing into waves of grass as she lies down with her ceremonial rapist (Kris Kristofferson)…

• Rochefort’s (Christopher Lee’s) confession of hatred to Cardinal Richelieu (Charlton Heston), who replies, “But I love you, my son—even when you fail”The Three Musketeers

• And a confession from the hero of I.F. Stone’s Weekly: “I have so much fun, 1 really ought to be arrested”…

• Tony (David Proval) caressing his pet tiger, Mean Streets

• Charlie (Elliott Gould), pissed off at Fate’s sheer gall in permitting him to be stuck up two nights in a row, intimidating the holdup man (Robert DoQui) into taking only half the money—California Split

• A tree washing downriver at the beginning of the couple’s flight—Badlands

• Getting drunk on six-packs in a dark corner of a parking garage in D.C.—The Last Detail

• An artificial flower that formally echoes the modern traffic lights overhead: the improbably gratifying ending of Playtime

• Vito Corleone (Robert DeNiro) and his friend talking olive oil business with the now-aged don who murdered Vito’s father and brother; Vito leaning down to whisper his name in the old man’s ear so that he will know from whom he takes his death … the contrast between the decayed object of revenge and vengeance to which time is irrelevant—Godfather II

• Nobody, nose dripping water, club raised against the sky, patiently but ferociously watching a bug skittering on the surface of a river, as Jack Beauregard draws nigh on a ferry raft…

• Two temporally separated bill spiritually equivalent honks on a horn in Chinatown: the second time, a white car rolls to a dreadful, inevitable halt on a street swallowed by impenetrable blackness: “Good night, Mrs. Mulwray”…

• Kit fires two toneless, swallowed-up shots into the storm cellar where he has just locked an innocent couple and, breaking into a run across the field, asks, “Think I got ’em?”—Badlands

Amarcord‘s big moment, after which nothing can ever be quite the same again: The townspeople put out in tiny boats to watch a fabulous ocean liner pass by. Waiting, they sleep. Suddenly someone cries out and the luminous vision is towering above them. Ecstatic, worshipful sounds. “What’s it like? What’s it like?” a blind man wants to know. Nobody answers him, but he does not cease to smile….

• The next instant: a nearly subliminal image of tiny boats tossing on a troubled sea: fade into the bright new world of Fascism…

• Joanne Woodward sees her dead mother (Sylvia Sidney) at the top of a London escalator, but she cannot break through the wall of people separating them—Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams….

Wedding in Blood: the lovers deliriously kissing against the orange blaze of the murder car: they lean back to stare ecstatically into one another’s face and a strand of saliva still connects them…

Day for Night: the only other time the film-books music plays: Jean-Pierre Léaud’s and Jacqueline Bisset’s successful realization of a technically and emotionally difficult scene (the embarrassed lover of the night before must explain he’s going to touch her cheek) a moment before the news of Alexandre’s (Jean-Pierre Aumont’s) death reaches the set…

• Sheep scattering on the mountainside, in Alfredo, Alfredo, as Stefania Sandrelli’s erotic shriek splits the air…

The Merchant of Four Seasons: Hans’ True Love declaims her romantic regrets to the camera over a rich red out-of-focus mass; Fassbinder cuts to another angle and we see that the blob is a bunch of roses held in the patient hand of the merchant, who receives the first of many small death sentences from a world consumed by self-interest….

• The William Holden character, growing old in mind and body, shares bed-talk about Life with Breezy, and suddenly seeing her, cries out in delighted despair, “My God, you’re so new!”…

Harry and Tonto: Jessie (Geraldine Fitzgerald), Harry’s one-time Bohemian love, dreamily dancing in the old folks’ home, her face and body a signature that erases time…

• A hand thrusts out of the clutching dirt in a darkened Mexican cemetery: Benny (Warren Oates) resurrecting long enough to make a finer death for himself and the friend and the lover who cohabit in that grave—Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia

• “Hey there, kitty-kat!”-greetings from Roman Polanski, Chinatown

• Buddusky (Jack Nicholson) terrorizing a bartender in The Last Detail: slamming his gun on the bar, screaming “I am the fuckin’ Shore Patrol, motherfucker!”…

The Great Gatsby: Tom Buchanan (Bruce Dern) challenges Gatsby (Robert Redford) during the steamy Sunday in New York: a clenched fist, a grin: the one moment when the authentic dangerousness of both Robert Redford and Jay Gatsby is allowed to express itself….

• The woody sanctity of Hume Cronyn’s office—a shrine to memory and human dedication—islanded even in the newsroom, and certainly in the world of The Parallax View

• Dr. Michael C. Gwynne strutting away in his medical smock, leading some bewildered police into the hospital—The Terminal Man

• Jake Gittes and Evelyn Mulwray getting to know each other better over cocktails: the woman of many masks never bothers to inquire what he’s doing with a bandage over the middle of his face—Chinatown

The Three Musketeers: The romantic figure of D’Artagnan rides into a perfectly composed frame-an archway backed by the boles of picturesquely aligned trees; a moment later, rotund Roy Kinnear careens through and is scraped from his horse by a tree trunk in the foreground … Lester celebrating the durability of grace and style by violating them…

Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia: the swollen heaviness of the twilight and the suggestive heat of the song Benny is baited with while his woman opens herself to another man…

Godfather II: Frank Pentangeli (Michael V. Gazzo) and Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall) strolling by fits and starts behind a prison fence, amiably discussing the history of the Roman Empire; and the way noble senators chose to die by sitting down in a tub of warm water and opening their veins…

Scenes from a Marriage: Liv Ullmann’s ghastly, disconnected smile as Erland Josephson tells her that he has fallen in love and will be leaving in the morning…

Amarcord: a peacock descends into a snowball fight and spreads feathers like the texture of dreaming…

• New Year’s, midnight, the last hour of the Battista regime: Michael’s kiss of death upon brother Fredo: “You broke, my heart!”-a moment of cosmic rage in Godfather II

• Golden morning light outside the house in which Ida Sessions, and a cabbage, lie dead—Chinatown…’

• Sissy Spacek in curlers dancing with Martin Sheen in the wilderness, Badlands … retaining the accoutrements of ordinary life even as they slip farther and farther away from civilized responses to the world…

• Daisy Miller singing of “Maggie” to Winterbourne, and to us, and, indeed, to Peter Bogdanovich…

• Noah Cross’s (John Huston’s) haunting “Pleeease! Pleeease!” to his daughter in the streets of Chinatown

• The Parallax recruiter (Walter McGinn) assuring “Richard Paley” (Warren Beatty) that he is “invaluable”—The Parallax View

My Name Is Nobody: the shot of the shattered barber’s-mirror in which Jack Beauregard and his three luckless assassins are superbly framed, their falls slurring into a freezeframe as the sound of a single shot reverberates…

Thieves like Us: “Keechie Keechie Koo!”…

• Scientists and subject breaking into chillingly mutual laughter during an experiment in The Terminal Man...

• Harry walking by the lake with his daughter (Ellen Burstyn), Harry and Tonto

• “Have you capital punishment in this state? No? Pity.” Ryder’s (Robert Shaw’s superb signoff in The Taking of Pelham One Two Three

• The godhead floating over the landscape at the beginning of Zardoz

• “I get no kick from champagne!”—Blazing Saddles

• The eerie drift of the camera around Harry Caul (Gene Hackman) and the party girl in the loft—The Conversation

• The faraway sound of a car accident happening as Benny looks at a photo of “Al” Garcia: “Nope!”…

• The duel among the sheets in the convent—The Three Musketeers

Zandy’s Bride: A wonderfully cautious, constantly adjusting single take in which Zandy (Gene Hackman) and his bride-to-be (Liv Ullmann) move about one another during their first shared moment of existence…

• Don Fanucci, in his creamy suit and white hat, making his final official progress through the streets of Little Italy, an old lion stalked from above by his successor, Vito Corleone—Godfather II

Don’t Look Now: John Baxter (Donald Sutherland) looks up to see a funeral barge passing with his wife (Julie Christie) standing in the prow, dressed in black…

• Nick Carraway’s “Oh Daisy!” as his cousin prattles on thoughtlessly mere days after the death of her lover—for which she is in large measure responsible: Jack Clayton does his damnedest to give the scene to Mia Farrow, but Sam Waterston, with his back all but turned to the camera, reclaims it by reading that line in such a way that it encompasses both his horror at and his awed fascination with this definitively irresponsible witch—The Great Gatsby

• “I think he broke his fuckin’ neck!”—The Longest Yard

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three: belatedly, Lieut. Garber (Walter Matthau) meets the black inspector (Julius Harris) face to face after engaging in intense discussion with him by phone: “Oh, I didn’t know you were a—I mean, I thought you were a shorter man—or taller—what the hell”…

• The huge arena under the Hammond Building, The Parallax View: Senator Hammond’s (Jim Davis’) voice continues to announce its patriotic platitudes by means of a recording while the golf cart bearing his murdered corpse swings slowly through the geometric arrangement of red, white, and blue tables….

• Fredo, whose death is nearly upon him, sits in the middle of Lake Tahoe in the blue-grey of late afternoon, softly saying a Hail Mary so that the fish will bite … Godfather II

Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia: In the midst of holding up Benny, the relatives of Alfredo Garcia pause to let a tourist bus pass and, dutiful nationals that they are, wave as the passengers click their Instamatics…

The Three Musketeers: Rochefort strikes a self-important pose and turns himself away from Bonacieux (Spike Milligan); he would see D’Artagnan’s (Michael York’s) hand sticking out of the closet, except that his eye on that side is covered by a patch….

• The ideal Swedish couple interviewed for TV—Scenes from a Marriage

Chinatown: driving away from the Mar Vista Home for the Aged, having just rescued Gittes from the gunmen, Evelyn Mulwray brushes her hair out of the eye which is later discovered to contain a flaw—and her death….

• Zed’s (Sean Connery’s) beautifully merged look of slow animal wit and act of shrewd calculation as he suddenly bends to lick the hand of Friend—Zardoz

• Harry talking to his silent grandson (Joshua Mostel), both of them communicating perfectly—Harry and Tonto

• Waiting for the kitten to lap the milk on cue for the movie-within-a-movie, Day for Night—and, of course, waiting for the kitten to lap the milk on cue for Day for Night

• Frady’s (Warren Beatty’s) run for the lighted doorway, The Parallax View

• The opening shot of Thieves like Us: the train appearing out of the woods, the camera panning to the lake … the soft sounds of the men, and then the men themselves, reaching us … suddenly, but with no suddenness at all, it’s an escape scene….

• Harry’s—and the audience’s—absolutely irrational and absolutely incontestable fear that something, probably the dismembered remains of Cindy Williams, is going to rise out the toilet if Harry moves to flush it—The Conversation

• Blue’s—and Dan O’Herlihy’s—marvelous adjustment of attitudes in the scene in which he learns that his wife has learned he is not what he seems—The Tamarind Seed

• The burning of the witch of winter, Amarcord: someone playfully removes the ladder so that the old man who has placed the witch atop the pyre cannot get down; as the flames rise, his desperation becomes a source of amusement to his fellow townsfolk; we never do actually see him get down….

• William’s private, enthralled delight when he sees the nameplate “Barbara” on the blackjack dealer: in California Split, for real and for reel, many girls are named Barbara…

Daisy Miller: After the camera has withdrawn from the cold Winterbourne, leaving him to the increasing golden light of the cemetery where Daisy lies newly buried, color and shape return to the screen—and so does “Annie P. Miller” in the form of Cybill Shepherd, as the song about Maggie and me sounds once more and Peter Bogdanovich’s film enters upon its true, Ambersonian conclusion…

Godfather II: After Coppola dissolves from the 1901 arrival of young Vito Corleone to the 1958 confirmation of young Anthony Vito Corleone, we get a magnificent dust-jacket image of a bandshell, several thousand American citizens good and true, and, lancing across Lake Tahoe beyond, a motorboat that describes the thrust of the Corleones across the face and life of the land….

• The reunion in a “green and sheltered valley—The Tamarind Seed

• The metaphysical and the pragmatic seamlessly joined in one tragicomic gesture at the end of Scenes from a Marriage: After listening to his ex-wife/dear friend/lover/antagonist frame hopeless visions of man’s lot in the universe, Erland Josephson accedes to her points but notes that in the middle of this night, in this dark house somewhere in the world, these two people have come to cling together; and while he would love to go on clinging, his arm has been almost dislocated and his backside is growing cold—couldn’t they move down under the covers more?…

RTJ & KAM

© 1975 Richard T. Jameson and Kathleen Murphy


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