Moments out of Time 1995

[Originally published in Film Comment Volume 32 Number 1, January/February 1996, reprinted by permission]

• Oriental views of train bridges into Brooklyn, Smoke

• Birds, insects, air: the sounds around the Roseman Bridge, The Bridges of Madison County

• 1948 sunshine, and a rapturously integral job of period re-creation that never preens as such—Devil in a Blue Dress

• Forest of air fresheners—the apartment of victim #3, Seven

Once Were Warriors: the camera craning around the outside of the home, looking oddly electrified against the night, as if it were a toy house…

The Kingdom: witnessing, from a worm’s-eye view, the automated doors of the hospital swish open—for no one—so that dead leaves can skitter into the deserted corridor beyond…

The Doom Generation: A boy (James Duval) walks his neon’d yo-yo in a horror movie nightscape….

• The bad-child way Nicolas Cage says “I’m sorry” to the nice guy who has to fire him, in Leaving Las Vegas

• Laurence Fishburne’s Othello turning an Arabic gesture of courtesy into graceful gangsta sign…

• A Fisher-Queen and her Merlin (Patricia Arquette, Aung Ko) rafting down a dark, silent river, Beyond Rangoon

• Michael Mann texture, Heat: In a modern-age nonzone under a concrete overpass, and just across the way from an armored car massacre, a bearded bum stands guard over a TV tipped into a grocery cart, its pink screen alive with static….

Dolores Claiborne: Jennifer Jason Leigh looks into a ferryboat restroom mirror to see … a veil of dark hair where her face should be….

To Die For: Wide-eyed fizzy innocence going all flat as Suzanne Stone (Nicole Kidman) flips a cute little umbrella out of her drink, takes a hard suck on the straw, and calculates how much screentime might be bought by “doing things ordinary people wouldn’t do” to George Segal’s cock…

• A Chabrolian kitchen, La Cérémonie: hot cocoa, casual carnage, and Isabelle Huppert cracking wise, apropos the corpse (“His goose is cooked!”)…

• “Alas, poor Yorick”: a faithful son’s very drunken soliloquy to a cooked sheep’s head-an Icelandic delicacy, like Cold Fever itself…

• Working the power of POV in Strange Days: Trapped inside a car with Lenny (Ralph Fiennes) and Mace (Angela Bassett), we watch helplessly as bad guys douse us with gasoline and set us on fire…

• Abandon all hope, ye who enter here: Seven‘s death-factory credit sequence, decomposing flesh, image, sound, and film…

• The astonishing irradiated textures of Hickok’s (Jeff Bridges) opium dream, Wild Bill: a ghost-faced Indian crowned by a halo of black-and-white quills; the white slant of a horse’s straining neck; etiolated riders dissolving into limewhite space; a “little dog” elongating into solarized oblivion…

• The slow realization that the dim, shattered space out of which we are looking out is the interior of an overturned car, and that Midget (Gabriel Casseus) will smile no more—New Jersey Drive

• A young black man (Harold Perrineau Jr.) walking up a curve of Peekskill road, the telephoto collapsing past/present/future, all Smoke

Frankie Starlight: the Dork of Cork (Corban Walker) beaming up at the man who may be his father (Matt Dillon), his dwarf’s face a world of wit and feeling…

Babe: As he learns the facts of life under the killing-shed meathooks, Babe’s head—except for snout and fanned ears—remains darkly shadowed … so that at film’s end the little pig’s face may bloom up toward the Boss’s saving approval, like a sunflower…

• Bruce Willis relishing “the music of the 20th century,” Twelve Monkeys

• The, what, razor-sharp haze of city lights beyond De Niro and Amy Brenneman’s yearning profiles, Heat

Get Shorty: Writhing under Ray Bones (Dennis Farina)’s foot, Harry Zimm (Gene Hackman) is handed a pistol and told to put one more into the guy Ray has killed. He points the gun up at Ray’s crotch instead … and Ray simply folds it away without comment. Some fuckin’ guys never learn….

• Approaching the confessional, Desperado: “Father forgive me, I’ve killed quite a few men”…

• “Easy, if you didn’t want ‘im killed, why’d you leave him with me?” Mouse (Don Cheadle) making perfect sense, by his lights, Devil in a Blue Dress

• Figure in hall bearing groceries—Seven

• At the movies, somebody coughs: the trajectory of a virus, Outbreak

• After the rape, Rob Roy‘s wife (Jessica Lange) making a proud, painful walk to water…

Angels and Insects: Matty’s (Kristin Scott Thomas) detonating revelation during a decorous wordgame—INSECT embraces INCEST…

• The two vicars of Christ (Linus Roache, Tom Wilkinson) supplying orgiastic thumps, cries, and moans for the benefit of the face-of-Death cleric on the other side of the wallPriest

• Scraping carrots at the sink: the electric first touch in The Bridges of Madison County

• Ace Rothstein (Robert De Niro) stepping out into morning light as effulgent as his clothes—the first, and alas highest, moment of Casino

• Haiku for von Sternberg, Shanghai Triad: An exotic Shanghai lily (Gong Li) lounges in her fur coat, cigarette poised, by the open door of a lakeside shack. Beyond, wind moves water and reeds….

• A tear, a cobweb, a sleeping canary—the first elements of an outrageous, hilarious, and manically gladsome concatenation of catastrophes in The City of Lost Children

• A shot we’ve waited years for: Heat takes aerial survey of blocks and blocks of empty nighttown, here and there punctuated by islands of streetlight, then lowers to follow one moving vehicle….

• Perfect scale and a glorious fusion of character, incident, landscape in Sense and Sensibility: Elinor (Emma Thompson) and Marianne (Kate Winslet) achieving mutual insight on the hillside overlooking the inlet, the tide having newly turned…

Wild Reeds: the amazing 360+ pan that loses the young people amid the sweeping richness of the countryside, then catches sight of them again just as they walk out of the film and into the years separating then from now…

Ulysses’ Gaze: love among the ruins, with Sarajevo’s citizens sitting on benches in the snow to watch an outdoor Romeo and Juliet…

The Doom Generation: Johnathon Schaech’s devilishly AC/DC savior pitches woo to his punk Magdalene (Rose McGowan): “You fuckin’ furry tuna taco”….

• Using his teeth to pull off a signet ring for a woman (Kristin Scott Thomas) he’s just cozened, one-armed Richard III-to-be (Ian McKellen) slides it out of his mouth like a dirty joke….

• The up-close smell of sun-warmed flesh bathed in booze-lust lost beside a motel pool in Leaving Las Vegas

Tokyo Fist: Seen through a windowed door, a boxer’s arms punch into frame like striking snakes….

• One solid guy: Ed Harris’s redoubtability and tenderness as Gene Kranz, the head of Houston Control, Apollo 13; and exactly catching the veteran guerrilla’s wry bemusement as, in Nixon, his E. Howard Hunt fades into the night advising John Dean (David Hyde Pierce), “Your graves have already been dug.”…

• In The Usual Suspects, Peter Greene nailing down the franchise on “crazy fucker” during a hilltop meeting at midnight of radically bad guys…

Wild Bill shakes out his coat, smoothes his mustaches, lays down his lapels, fingers his mane behind his ears, rakes his hat brim, and strides out to the latest big gundown: It’s show time!

Get Shorty: Martin Weir (Danny DeVito) finally nails “the look”….

• “Like the guy in The Godfather says, this is America, OK?” Dan Hedaya in To Die For

• “Oh oh, it’s gonna be a good one!” Marlon Brando anticipating sweet torment as Faye Dunaway puts the moves on him, Don Juan de Marco

• The terrible flatness of Sean Penn’s blue eyes as he tries to charm the nun (Susan Sarandon) who will save his soul: “little man on the make” in Dead Man Walking

• Song of the year: “My Blue Heaven,” as rendered from her coffin by a dead grandma mid-funeral mass, Antonia’s Line, and by Greek (mouse) chorus in Babe

• The pixilated music of Mira Sorvino, Mighty Aphrodite

• Nicolas Cage builds a psychotic Bluto for Kiss of Death: Junior’s massive neck and pumped torso topped by a too-small head….

• Tender farewell to alumna Elizabeth Berkley from Robert Davi, Showgirls: “Must be weird not having anybody come on you”…

• Karen (Renee Russo) and Martin (Danny DeVito) simultaneously realizing he’s doing Shylock, not a shylock—Get Shorty

• “You’re such a Cassandra.” “I’m not such a Cassandra, I’m Cassandra—that’s who I am!” Mighty Aphrodite

• Anna Karina in Haut bas fragile doing an Edith Piaf, singing “My Lost Love” to a daughter” she will never know…

• In To Die For, the way James’s (Joaquin Phoenix) vacant eyes and slack face switch on as he watches his Salome dance in car headlights … followed by very slowmotion epiphany as he registers the part he’s been assigned in her soap opera…

• Lamely earnest Otis (Carlos Jacott), interviewed for a career as videostore clerk in Kicking and Screaming: who are his influences? “Samuel Fuller … all the good ones … all the other ones”…

Screamers: A weary offworld veteran (Peter Weller) of a war that’s gone on forever does a deadpan Archie Bunker on a gung-ho young Marine who won’t shut up: “Relent!”…

Get Shorty: in the L.A. rep house, at the end of Touch of Evil, Chili (John Travolta) leaning forward to brush a stranger’s arm and beam, “Great, huh!”…

Twelve Monkeys: Madeleine Stowe becomes blond “Madeleine,” stepping out of an unaccounted-for greenish-gray glow off the lobby of the moviehouse as Bernard Herrmann’s morbid memory theme from Vertigo swells on the soundtrack (though it’s The Birds we last saw on the theater’s screen)….

Smoke: After paging incuriously through Augie’s many photos of “his” corner of Brooklyn, Paul (William Hurt) suddenly comes upon his late wife’s face … in passing….

Citizen Langlois: the crabbed silhouette of Lotte Eisner making her way toward the .statue of Metropolis‘s False Maria in the Cinémathèque…

• Tieresias (Jack Warden) at the (New) Acropolis, Mighty Aphrodite (“Does the Trojan Horse have a wooden dick?”)…

Desperado: slowmo telephoto shot of Salma Hayek and Antonio Banderas approaching the camera, an explosion blooming tall and orange behind them, their long black tresses rising and falling in unison…

The White Balloon: The little girl in search of a New Year’s goldfish inches her skirt a little further over the grate through which her money has fallen, in case the too-friendly soldier has his eye on it….

Sense and Sensibility: the quietly knowing sideways cut of Elinor’s glance when her feckless mother (Gemma Jones) allows that there was “something” in Willoughby’s eyes…

• Near the end of Kicking and Screaming, Chet’s observation—”Know how to make God laugh? .. Make a plan”—but especially Eric Stoltz’s approximately eight-stage reaction to his own joke, as if he’d never really listened to it before…

• Closing in on the dots that make up a mediated eye in the main-title sequence of To Die For; later, the sudden, total eclipse in Larry Maretto’s (Matt Dillon’s) pupil…

• Surveilled from a distance—and by videocamera, yet—master criminal McCauley (Robert De Niro) nevertheless stares straight out of the ghostly blue screen to exchange one long, impossible look with manhunter Hanna (Al Pacino): Heat….

• Lenny Nero, fucking and killing his beloved Faith (Juliette Lewis), locks eyes in a mirror with his smiling doppelgänger. Who’s reflecting whom in Strange Days?…

• History, indeed life, as TV: after moments of no contact, the wrinkle of static that magicks the Apollo 13 capsule suddenly into view, almost at sea level already. The show will have a happy ending….

• Susan Sarandon’s outstretched hand as a killer dies—purest Christian charity in Dead Man Walking

• The white hand of Desdemona (Irène Jacob) caressing the dark round of Othello‘s skull as she dies…

• An unremarkable demon (Sandrine Bonnaire) slides into the dark when La Cérémonie is over….

• Chazz Palminteri looks at the bottom of a coffee cup, The Usual Suspects….

• “Come ‘ere!” Ray Bones wants his car—Get Shorty….

• Taking a long look at the final digs of a downfall child, the finale of To Die For: a frozen lake where, backed by the shriek of “Season of the Witch,” Janice Maretto (Ileana Douglas) skates and skates and skates … then disappears…

Leaving Las Vegas‘s deathbed consummation: Sera (Elisabeth Shue) riding a dead horse…

Beyond Rangoon: Wracked equally despair and nausea, Laura lurches out into a tropical downpour to be sick. Discreetly, Aung Ko steps forth to shelter her with an umbrella….

• After church, cemetery, and newlyweds, Sense and Sensibility‘s final, and perhaps most telling, freeze-frame: a shower of gold…

• Clint Eastwood standing in the rain, watching something of value pass away—The Bridges of Madison County

• Paul explaining how Sir Walter Raleigh weighed Smoke, and smiling at how it’s a story…

RTJ /KAM