Review: Cuba

[Originally published in Movietone News 62-63, December 1979]

When Hitchcock had to set a spy movie in Switzerland, he decided that the most effective way to exploit the milieu would be to honor an armchair tourist’s idea of the place. Hence, he built his plot and key sequences around those geographical and cultural phenomena most readily identifiable as Swiss: mountains, lakes, the manufacture of chocolate, quaint shrines, a demonstration of yodeling. Richard Lester tries to get away with the same approach to Cuba in 1959. Rum, cigars, sugar cane, the Morro, nightclubs, salsa, the U.S. Navy on more or less residential shore leave, a Latin lover and Latin love for sale: if it’s part of the pop iconography, grab it and play it for all its worth—because there’s not going to be much else to play with. That might do for Switzerland; Batista’s Cuba on the eve of Castro is quite another matter. One doesn’t have to be rabidly political to want a more substantive index of governmental corruption than a scungy police detective taking bribes from everyone in sight, or a self-promoted general (Martin Balsam) keeping fat on the income from Havana’s parking meters (said loot stashed in a strongbox chained to his dotty mother’s TV). Likewise, the proverbial fat sweaty American entrepreneur (Jack Weston) swooping down on every target of acquisitional opportunity, and a couple of bland accountants from an unspecified U.S. agency come to balance the books of the Committee for Anti-Communist Activities, are pretty unimaginative representations of the American presence, and deployed just as unimaginatively. Not that the politically correct side comes off much more flatteringly or interestingly: Fidel is (necessarily, I suppose) only a newsreel image on a video monitor, the Fidelistas are low-comedy, if well-meaning, goons beating about the cane fields, and the most dramatically important rebel is a punk (Danny De La Paz) who just wants a hifalutin excuse to shoot somebody—his sister’s aristocratic despoiler (Chris Sarandon), a British mercenary come too late to do anyone any good (Sean Connery), or any poor schmuck who gets in the line of fire.

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Eric Rohmer (1920-2010)

Eric Rohmer
Eric Rohmer

Watching an Eric Rohmer film was famously described by Harry Moseby, the Gene Hackman character in Arthur Penn’s Night Moves, (1975) (in a line quoted in both Rohmer’s Wikipedia entry and his New York Times obituary), as “like watching paint dry.” It’s my favorite movie line about a film-maker, and—along with de Niro’s bounty-hunter in Midnight Run (1988) telling Charles Grodin’s garrulously thieving accountant “I got just two words to say to you: ‘shut the fuck up’”—one of my favorite post-Mitchum tough-guy movie lines. Part of the fun is that it’s so incongruous to have Rohmer’s name come out of the mouth of an American movie tough guy, played by an actor whose roots in the action cinema include parts in Bonnie and Clyde (1967) and became a star portraying iconic cop and francophobe extraordinaire Popeye Doyle in The French Connection (1971). Crime fiction and its creatures were virtual touchstones for Rohmer’s fellow New Wavers: Godard (Breathless, 1959), Truffaut (Shoot the Piano Player, 1960), and Chabrol (from long before he adapted Patricia Highsmith’s The Cry of the Owl, 1979); heck, even Rivette’s Celine and Julie Go Boating (1974) has a murder mystery. But Rohmer, after a debut feature set on the down-and-out (if not quite mean) streets of Paris in The Sign of the Lion (1959), mostly placed his characters in a resolutely unthreatening world, for the most part in settings that are sunny, cheery, and comfortably bourgeois.

Making Rohmer’s world even less congenial to the laconic Hackman character is its pervasive logorrhea: Rohmer’s characters talk, and they talk, and they talk, long enough for several coats of paint to dry in all the rooms of all of their homes and vacation houses. It can be quite exasperating, particularly when the characters wallow in apparent self-absorption (not much leavened by self-awareness, something present in inverse proportion to verbosity). So it’s easy to sympathize with Harry (even before we learn his wife is doing some après-Rohmer extra-marital trysting). Even for the non-Harrys among us, Rohmer requires patience and a tolerance for slow spots if not quite a fondness for stasis. But when the best of his films reach their end, (that is, when the characters finish talking), the denouements often put things into new and surprising, sometimes exhilarating, perspectives amply rewarding the audience’s patience.

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Review: Butch and Sundance: The Early Days

[Originally published in Movietone News 62-63, December 1979]

There are undeniable similarities between Butch and Sundance: The Early Days and Richard Lester’s reworking of popular mythology, Robin and Marian. The earlier film, written by William (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) Goldman’s brother James, contained several seemingly deliberate takeoffs on Butch and Sundance in the dialogue, misadventures, characterization and relationship of Robin and Little John. In Butch and Sundance: The Early Days we encounter the same kind of buddy-comedy once again, with the two young men (Tom Berenger, William Katt) consistently rejecting heterosexual love in favor of their own interdependence. The departure from Butch Cassidy’s two little sons is much harder for Butch than the farewell to his wife (Jill Eikenberry); and there is a scene in which Butch and Sundance—not Butch and Mary—are treated as the boys’ parents. Butch and Sundance: The Early Days also shares with Robin and Marian an emphasis (generally uncharacteristic of Lester) on landscape to delineate character. Lester and László Kovács create the film’s best moments out of such memorable phenomena as the sand-palace mesas among which Butch first proposes partnership to the Kid (then walks from one edge of a mesa to the other, and asks, silhouetted in longshot, “How do I get outta here?”); the snowdrifts among which the Butch-Sundance relationship becomes cemented in a tradeoff of heroic sacrifices, and behind which they gradually disappear in a visual denial of the heroic stature they sought to achieve by bringing diphtheria serum into an infected area; or the floodwaters that make a creek out of the main street of Butch’s hometown, where Sundance faces the trauma of killing his first human being.

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Review: The Electric Horseman

[Originally published in Movietone News 62-63, December 1979]

Horse comes over the horizon and slants down into the golden valley, right there I figure Sydney Pollack auteur time, whoa up. I mean, if Sydney Pollack can be an auteur, it isn’t worth being one. But he wants it, oh, he can taste it. He cranes, he tracks, he dissolves. (They shoot auteurs, don’t they?) All right, enough funnin’, let’s fess up and concede that after enough films get made and enough thematic and syntactical evidence piles up, there gets to be somebody there you can recognize, and that’s Sydney Pollack. The guy has a style. Whether that style has much to do with style in the richest, most analytical and mystical senses of the word is another question. But a style he has: slick, thin; getting to be rather touching in its naïve pretentiousness; suited to keeping movies moving, and hence giving his films a leg up when it comes down to the competitive question of which movie should I go to, which film in the local triple or sextuple shopping-mall cinema is likeliest to keep me entertained. Entertained, goddam it, not edified, no matter how much the entertainer may strive to be taken for an edifier as well. The Electric Horseman entertains better than almost anything else that’s twinkled onto the scene this Christmas season. The key factors in this—gorgeous, adorable, intelligent, watchably changeable, iconically constant factors—are a couple of stars who would have been stars even when the Hollywood firmament was filled with them. REDFORD : FONDA : ELECTRIC say the ads. Believe them. And this time believe Sydney Pollack, too.

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Review: Comes a Horseman

[Originally published in Movietone News 62-63, December 1979]

The title of Alan J Pakula’s latest film echoes the old stock melodrama line “Along comes Jones” and that’s no accident. Here we have a tough-but-tender cowgirl working her dead father’s ranch with only a lovable grizzled old coot for a ranchhand; a somber villain moving through his dark house like Dracula in his castle, hatching designs on the heroine’s land as well as her body; a land-grabbing industrialist conspiring with the local banker to turn rangeland into oil wells; a tall, quiet wrangler winning the girl’s heart and saving her land to boot; singing cowboys, fireside heart-to-hearts, a crisis with hero and heroine trapped by villain in a burning building, a climactic shootout, and boy-gets-girl. From the tentative cynicism of The Parallax View and All the President’s Men, Pakula hasreturned with a vengeance to the romantic melodrama of his earlier films, all characterized by essentially corny ideas handled in an utterly uncorny manner. Kluteand Comes a Horsemanare but two special cases of the same basic plot overlay: tough professional man saves woman from villainy and from herself, winning her heart in the process. And The Sterile Cuckoo, Love and Pain and the Whole Damn Thing, Klute, andComes a Horsemanmay all be seen as variations on the theme of simple, direct man dealing with complex, independent woman.

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Moments out of Time 1999

[originally published in Film Comment Volume 36 Number 1, January/February 2000, reprinted by permission]

• The middle-aged Gerald (Alain Libolt) taking out his glasses to look at a photo of a woman who may become his wife—Eric Rohmer’s golden Autumn Tale

Richard Farnsworth and Sissy Spacek - "The Straight Story"
‘The Straight Story’

• One of those days it’s a minute away from snowing: the dancing bag, American Beauty

The Straight Story: Alvin (Richard Farnsworth) and Rose (Sissy Spacek) watching the lightning storm …

• Slow-motion bullet trajectories and time-lapse clouds, Three Kings

• The first time John Malkovich realizes he is speaking with someone else’s voice—Being John Malkovich

• “You can’t always get what you want”: the far-flung group sing—excruciating and exhilarating—in Magnolia

• The blankness of Rosetta‘s face while she waits for her boyfriend to finish drowning…

• Red balloon sailing up a spiral stairwell, The Sixth Sense

• The queasy roll of a wooden Christ into underwater closeup, In Dreams

• In Boys Don’t Cry, Brandon (Hilary Swank) watching through the windshield as Lana (Chloe Sevigny) walks fluorescent-lit toward the convenience store. The clerk tells her, “Dream on, Lana, I can’t be sellin’ you no beer tonight,” and she replies, “Fine, I’ll browse.”…

• In Besieged, a cleaningwoman (Thandie Newton) hoovers a rug while her enraptured employer (David Thewlis) watches and noodles at the piano: art and love in the making…

The End of the Affair: Sound of door closing on a lower floor. Husband (Stephen Rea) says it’s the maid. Friend of the family (Ralph Fiennes), bent over a whisky glass: “No, it was Sarah’s step.” …

• A postlapsarian pietà—burnt-out ambulance driver Frank Pierce (Nicolas Cage) cradled in the arms of Mary Burke (Patricia Arquette): all that’s left after Bringing Out the Dead

Eyes Wide Shut: the hotel clerk (Alan Cumming)’s flirtation with, uh, Bill (Tom Cruise)…

• The courtroom shouting duel between the Mississippi prosecutor (Bruce McGill) and the tobacco company lawyer (Wings Hauser), The Insider

• In Topsy-Turvy, the wonderful formality and discretion and play of language of Gilbert’s “notes” after the dress rehearsal of The Mikado…

• Cartman’s Vegas finale to “Kyle’s Mom Is a Bitch,” South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut

• Ichabod Crane’s journey up the Hudson River Valley in Sleepy Hollow: a haunted landscape straight out of Hawthorne and de Tocqueville …

• The bright-red door of the Burnham home, glowing through curtains of pouring rain: American Beauty‘s unreal estate, as seductive as Gatsby’s green light…

• Re: goggles in Three Kings: “Those are for night vision—they don’t work in the daytime.” “Yeah, they kinda work.”…

Beau Travail‘s “Billy Budd” (Grégoire Colin) staggers through a sea of blinding-white salt, all his beauty burning away in the sun…

• The practice duel between Keanu Reeves and his sensei (Laurence Fishburne) in The Matrix

• The ineffable Eugene Levy, American Pie‘s clueless, cardiganed dad, gamely striving for male bonhomie with his pastry-ravishing son…

• Mira Sorvino tasting someone else in her husband’s kiss, Summer of Sam

• “You!” On the stairs, in her husband’s embrace, Sarah (Julianne Moore)’s rapt face at the sight of her descending lover. The End of the Affair

• Sunlight haloing Magali (Béatrice Romand)’s wild thicket of hair: just one of many visual harvests in Autumn Tale

• An ice cream vendor (Isaach de Bankolé) and a samurai assassin (Forest Whitaker) watch a man building a boat on a New York rooftop—Ghost Dog….

• Reading, by campfire light, a terrible diary that was never written: Limbo

• Grainy, greenish home movie footage of Mr. Death in his basement, cheerily describing the 19th-century electric chair he’s restoring: “so small it looks like it was made for a child or a woman”…

Dogma‘s trenchcoated angel with a Cockney twang (Alan Rickman) remembering the pain of telling a carefree little kid he had to grow up to be Jesus…

• The sweet, shriven clarity of Lester Burnham’s/Kevin Spacey’s smile when he hears the news that his daughter lane is in love (“Good for her”) just before he becomes a casualty of American Beauty

The Green Mile: The Pet Sematary creepiness of a scruffy gray mouse asleep in a cigar box, its l00-year-old heart laboring on…

• An elderly retainer greeting tainted P.I. Nicolas Cage at the mansion door—”Mrs. Matthews chose to take her life this afternoon”—his dignity and self-contained grief an oasis in the deeply unclean 8MM

• A couple of broken-backed fingers sticking out of the gravel beside a roofed-over railroad line in The Bone Collector

• On the move in a screen-filling landscape, a car driven by a serial killer threads down a curving highway while a girl from Ireland—potential prey—trudges wearily off in another direction: fate and potentiality in Felicia’s Journey….

• In longshot, Connie (Stephen Rea) sprawls in an easychair, his Lolita (Sarah Polley) lying full-length across his lap, his hand inside her open jeans … a poignantly erotic vignette in Guinevere

• On a California beach, under an unforgiving sun, a fortysomething lady in a bathing suit flirts with a hunky younger guy: Susan Sarandon acts her age with such brave pride you wish she was Anywhere But Here….

• One-o’clock-in-the-morning kitchen chat between pipe-smoking Southern matriarch (Patricia Neal) and her black caretaker and friend (Charles S. Dutton)—Cookie’s Fortune

• Weeping Ed Norton burying himself in Meat Loaf’s great breasts in Fight Club

• “Respect the cock!”—Tom Cruise’s Mick Jagger strut/rant in praise of macho piggery, Magnolia

• In Go, Manny—deep into Xstasy—hallucinates a passionate macarena in a supermarket with a yellow-uniformed cashier….

• Lester and Ricky (Wes Bentley) toking up against the back wall of the country club, American Beauty

• In The Sixth Sense, a kid shrink (Bruce Willis)’s suitable case for treatment (Haley Joel Osment) turns back, sadly, after their first meeting, in a church pew: “I’ll be seeing you again, won’t I?”…

• “That movie has warped my fragile little mind!” Eric Cartman telling it like it is, South Park

• Beach Boys blare—”I Get Around”—as a clutch of U.S. soldiers careen through a sunbaked Iraqi desert, Three Kings

Double Jeopardy: the car sinking below them ‘as federal marshal (Tommy Lee Jones) and escapee (Ashley Judd) swim up toward ‘the surface of Puget Sound…

The Muse: the long trek across the Universal lot by “crawl-on” Albert Brooks, bound for a meeting with the wrong Spielberg (Steven Wright as cousin Stan)…

Mickey Blue Eyes: Sotheby’s-style art auctioneer Hugh Grant is obliged to announce the new offering painted by one of his gangland associates, “Die Piggy Piggy Die Die”….

• The sudden Morricone shriek of “spaghetti Western” music when Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon) sights a rival in Election

American Pie: Checking out the Internet action between Jim (Jason Biggs) and the foreign exchange student (Shannon Elizabeth), one of many onlookers remarks, “That guy’s in my trig class.”…

• The beginning of The Straight Story: the camera frames a little white Iowa bungalow, very slowly edges rightward to register a larger setting, then penetrate a zone of shadow beside the house. The movement’s disquieting, mysterious, drawing us into as-yet-unknown narrative territory (Twin Peaks? Lumberton? Bedford Falls?) where Something Is Going to Happen….

• Every conversation in Autumn Tale, but especially one concerning the nature of love, in which a blooming girl accuses her smitten philosophy prof of “thriving on ambiguity”: she might be speaking of the author of this exquisitely civilized conte.

• Cigarette smoke billowing out of the apartment—stuffed with dolls—of a child-abusing mother, in The Third Miracle

• Hair and blood and aquarium water pooling in a hallway, Bringing Out the Dead

• Denis Lavant jazz-dancing up and down a room with black floor and mirrored walls: Beau Travail‘s caterpillar uncocooned…

• An open window framing the abrupt absence of a fallen soul in Dreamlife of Angels

• “Happy anniversary.” The Sixth Sense

Mr. Death‘s face: flat, ordinary, familiar … Dr. Mengele as Mr. Potatohead…

• An exquisite courtesan (Gong Li) horribly blighting her own beauty in The Emperor and the Assassin

• The way Lester walks down the table and picks up the asparagus, American Beauty

• A flood of milk in the desert, Three Kings

• Her newly hacked-off head rolling across the room, a mother’s eyes come to rest over a crack in the floorboards—and stare straight at her son in hiding: a freakish (and forgotten-about) interlude in Sleepy Hollow

Princess Mononoke: a girlchild sucking tainted blood from a great white wolf … her mother …

• A new baby nurses the nub of a young war veteran’s finger, making good use of flesh sundered in battle: a vote for reunion in Ride with the Devil

• Up close and personal in Romance: a newborn’s Yoda-like face thrusting out of its mother’s vagina…

Rosetta eats a hardboiled egg while waiting to die … then interrupts her suicide to trudge matter-of-factly across the trailer park to buy another canister of gas….

• A freckled little girl fashions earrings and “nail polish” from flower petals in The Silence….

• In a crowded restaurant, recognition shatters the face of Three Seasons‘ Vietnam vet (Harvey Keitel) who’s just given up a fruitless search for the daughter he left behind: she’s the whore fawning over a john, just a few patrons away….

• In Three Kings, the, weird rapport between Troy (Mark Wahlberg) and the young Iraqi torturer (Saïd Taghmaoui) who describes how his wife was maimed in an American bomb run: “That’s horrible!” … “Oh my god, buddy, I didn’t even tell you the horrible part yet.”…

The Iron Giant: “I am not a gun.”…

• Apples and high heels, In Dreams

Topsy-Turvy: Gilbert (Jim Broadbent) accosted by a harridan-whore in a claustrophobic passageway outside the Savoy Theatre during the first performance of The Mikado: down-and-dirty reality intrudes upon his world’s relentless artifice….

• In a late-night bar, putting the obligatory moves on a pretty young reporter (Mary McCormack), True Crime‘s aging womanizer (Clint Eastwood) looks as though he’s sleazed through this scene a thousand times….

• “Once at band camp I put my flute in my pussy”—Alyson Hannigan’s American Pie geek gets real….

• “I’m the Shoveler. I shovel well.” William H. Macy, Mystery Men

• “I’m in awe of you … I’d love to sit down with you some time and just pick your brain.” The precisely gauged cadences of Caroline Burnham (Annette Bening)’s sharky shrillness, gushing over the Real Estate King (Peter Gallagher) in .American Beauty

• “You can afford a house like this, you buy a house like this, you know”—Luis Guzman explaining L.A. to Terence Stamp, The Limey

• Samuel L. Jackson’s rah-rah rant cut shockingly (and satisfyingly) short in Deep Blue Sea

• “Smell the veggieburgers!”—Zack and his lover considering how to dispose of a young woman they may have killed, Go

• Perched on bars tools, an Oscar Wilde wannabe (Henry Gibson) and a onetime quizkid at the end of his tether (William H. Macy) zigzag through a conversation of monumentally ironic cross-purposes—Magnolia….

• Rehearsing a love scene for a play in Mansfield Park, two beautiful young women, “sisters” sharper in their ways than any man of their world, begin to edge into sensual rapport…

• An Amazon raises her rifle against a mythic stag in Princess Mononoke: “I will show you how to kill a god”…

Cradle Will Rock: the jackhammered wall, a great scar where Diego Rivera’s mural used to be…

• Maxine (Catherine Keener)’s crisp white blouse, Being John Malkovich

• Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) telling .his shrink (Lorraine Bracco) she has a laugh “like a mandolin,” The Sopranos

• The wallpaper in the hotel room where Wigand (Russell Crowe) goes to ground, The Insider

• Nighttown in Ghost Dog: A black samurai slides through wasteland streets, cocooned by luxury car and Wu Tang Clan…

• A degraded earth mother squatting in her filthy subterranean hole in The Thirteenth Warrior

• The sculpted planes of Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio’s face as she kisses off a lover in Limbo—one of the band members backing her—with a haunting country-blues ballad, “Better off without you in my life”…

• In Guinevere, Jean Smart’s bravura performance as a killer mother who takes aim at her daughter’s happiness, verbally castrating Harper’s aging lover and unsexing her child with surgical precision…

• “When I was your age I lived in a duplex!” For Caroline Burnham, a look back into hell—American Beauty

Holy Smoke!: Back in Australia after her earthshaking Indian epiphany, solemn Ruth (Kate Winslet) takes one look at her best girlfriends and regresses instantly into a squealing teen harboring a bigtime crush .

• Pvt. Vig (Spike Jonze) matter-of-factly pauses, in mid-attack on an Iraqi bunker, to remote-lock the beeping luxury car he’s just parked. Three Kings

• “I just thought that’s what guys do around here”: Brandon Teena explains his happy participation in the risky redneck rite of bumper-skiing, Boys Don’t Cry….

• On the run in snowy. woods, a black devil with sharp teeth (Christopher Walken) ssssshhhhhes two angels in pink organdy—one of whom deliberately snaps

a stick. A Sleepy Hollow flashback…

• Walpurgisnacht, In Dreams: a children’s performance of Snow White in an outdoors thrumming with demonic vibes…

• Bellied up to a Midwestern bar, two old men swap tales of decades-old wartime guilt: The Straight Story….

The Limey: Congratulated by his young companion on having been part of “the Sixties,” Peter Fonda starts (to leave the room, then turns back long enough to emend: “Actually, it was mostly 1966 … and the early part of ’67.”…

• The profound pity that suffuses the face of the “goddamn mute orphan halfwit” (Samantha Morton) in Sweet and Lowdown when she lets Emmet Ray (Sean Penn) know she’s married and a mother…

• Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Kevin Smith) hanging out with a couple of “suave motherfuckers”—strangers on a train in Dogma

• A handsome gray cat perches on the back of a couch to stare (into the camera) at one of Go‘s seriously stoned adventurers. Subtitle: “I can hear your thoughts.”…

South Park: Bill Gates summarily executed for Windows 98…

• A golden American übermensch sprawled in artful abandon on a Riviera chaise lounge, The Talented Mr. Ripley‘s Dickie Greenleaf (Jude Law) proves F. Scott Fitzgerald’s contention that “the rich are very different from us.”…

• “It flows through me like rain”: The late Lester Burnham savors his life, the tenderness of his imagery a perfect measure of the look and feel of American Beauty‘s climactic weather ….

• Closeup of a pulsing vein in Galoup’s/Denis Lavant’s arm, Beau Travail‘s measure of a soul in extremis…

• The sweet nakedness of brown feet on flagstones: Thandie Newton on her way to Thewlis’s bedroom, Besieged

• “I’m ready to communicate with you now” … grownup formality from a little boy who’s been to hell and back, The Sixth Sense

• Troy Barlow phones home in Three Kings….

• W.S. Gilbert’s shuttered face as he sits on the edge of his wife’s bed and listens to her idea for a new comic opera, about a woman’s life with a Topsy-Turvy husband who has no genius for love: “Every time she tries to be born, he strangles her with her umbilical cord.”…

• Dr. Lester (Orson Bean)· insistently apologizing for his incoherent speech even though he sounds perfectly lucid—Being John Malkovich

The Third Miracle: a priest (Ed Harris) and the earthy daughter of a saint (Anne Heche) slow-dancing over her mother’s grave…

• The wind of God exploding through a window—Neil Jordan’s signature in The End of the Affair

Three Kings: From a worm’s-eye view in the foreground, we watch a blue truck, tipped over on its side, its driver staring out the shattered window, plowing inexorably toward us and the spikes of a land mine….

• Dancing with her husband at her daughter’s wedding party, Isabelle (Marie Rivière) turns suddenly grave, mirroring our sense, at the end of Autumn Tale, of lost summers and winters to come…

• “I’m great.”—Lester Burnham/Kevin Spacey, American Beauty. Yes!…

RTJ/KAM

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

Moments out of Time 1977

[Originally published in Movietone News 57, February 1978]

The destroyer rumbles into the screen of "Star Wars"
A spacecraft angles into frame from above our heads in "Star Wars"

• Archetypal cinema: the opening of Star Wars. The foreword plunges us, in media res, into the serial of our moviegoing lives. Then the camera drops its field of view, a planet heaves into sight to lend scale to the universe, and a spacecraft angles into frame from above our heads. A breath-long pause, and the screen is invaded, engulfed, and enlarged by the pursuit ship of Lord Darth Vader….

Kings of the Road: in the depth of a rainy night, on an island in the Rhine, Bruno (Rüdiger Vogler) pries up the doorstep of his childhood home and sorts through the treasures of his youth….

• The friendly closeness, clarity, and availability to event of the sky above Barry Guiler’s prairie home—Close Encounters of the Third Kind

• “Oh, God!”: Diane Keaton’s introduction as Annie Hall, and her hilariously horny litany while seducing her seducer, Looking for Mr. Goodbar

Aguirre, the Wrath of God: a warhorse, in full livery, left behind on the Amazon shore: as the camera draws inexorably away with the conquistadors’ raft, the animal is lost to view-the first and last of its species to inhabit this strange land….

• The passionate integrity of Jane Fonda’s performance in Julia: you can tell that, standing in the kitchen slicing onions, she’s thinking about The Play….

• “Verdi is dead!”—1900

• Cross of Iron: the slowmotion image and sound of an ammo clip being ejected, after the dawn skirmish with the Russian patrol …

• Scowling and bucking through sheets of rain, the “face” of the rumbling truck like the visage of an Indian god—Sorcerer

• A dialogue that never occurred: in Welles’ F for Fake, Elmyr de Houry and Clifford Irving uneasily accuse each other and excuse themselves in a hilarious montage of swallows, grunts, and sidelong glances….

• “There are no midgets in the United States Air Force!” General Dell (Burt Lancaster) defends his careerist pride against the imagined innuendo of his convict accomplice (Paul Winfield)—Twilight’s Last Gleaming

Slap Shot: The gung-ho exuberance of the Hanson brothers is too much for poor Allan Nicholls, who, leaving the lockerroom, turns to another team veteran with a beautifully pained “Fuckin’ embarrassing!” …

Aguirre, the Wrath of God: gun flashes across the river punctuate the Amazon night; the morning will disclose that the men on the whirlpool-trapped raft have made the only possible escape from the circle….

• The first apparition of fabled Uncle Ottavio (Werner Bruhns), 1900, as the shadow of a ship moving above the young Alfredo’s bed…

The Hawaiian-shirted Jimmy Doyle (Robert DeNiro) pauses to watch a sailor and a girl jitterbugging silently under the EI—New York, New York….

• Porque te vas?”: the girls making up, dressing in adult clothes, and rehearsing the comedies of grownups—Cria!

• The Cardinal (Paul Henreid) unwrapping himself from his carapace—Exorcist II: The Heretic

• Bob Balaban goes on translating for François Truffaut even though the latter has shifted into earnest English—Close Encounters of the Third Kind….

Pardon Mon Affaire—Horseman Jean Rochefort retains his poise as his mount swims him past a fisherman on the park lake….

• Nino Manfredi’s first sight of Stefania Sandrelli, etherealized by the steam from a cauldron of pasta—We All Loved Each Other So Much

• Bond, the Pyramids, the Sphinx, and Jaws: The Spy Who Loved Me

• Twenty years of love and rage erupt in a lowdown ladies’ brawl—The Turning Point….

• “Does the Pope shit in the woods?”—an unanswerable riposte by Lily Tomlin, The Late Show

A Bridge Too Far: Edward Fox’s exhortation to the troops, rightly likened (by Jack Kroll) to Henry V at Agincourt—a moment of authentic passion and complexity in a film otherwise lacking much of either…

• A man denies that the poisoned arrow in his leg is a poisoned arrow in his leg—Aguirre, the Wrath of God

• Richard Dreyfuss’s excited garbling of “Aurora Borealis”—Close Encounters of the

Third Kind

• The two suns of Tattooine—Star Wars

Julia: Vanessa Redgrave’s great horse-y excitement, bearing down on us through the arches of Oxford…

• Terry’s (Diane Keaton’s) giddy “I don’t believe it!” after her first pickup has left—Looking for Mr. Goodbar

Dersu Uzala: Dersu makes repairs of a forest lean-to while the childlike blond soldiers pop their heads out through holes in the bark and chronicler Arseniev sits making notes at screen right—one of many whole-time-and-space events in Kurosawa’s intimate epic….

1900: a Twenties interlude (with Robert DeNiro, Dominique Sanda, Werner Bruhns) that captures more sense of the period than all of Russell’s Valentino

Kings of the Road: Bruno lounges in the cab of his van and watches this car just roar down the road and leap straight into the river …

The Marquise of O…: The ebullient Count (Bruno Ganz) departs, the Marquise (Edith Clever) flicks a spray of holy water in his wake, and her brother reaches up to dab a drop from his eye….

• The terrified grin of Captain Stransky (Maximilian Schell) each time a nearby shell blast interrupts his reminiscences of the French Occupation—Cross of Iron

• Any time John Travolta hits the dancefloor in Saturday Night Fever

• Headlight, then “headlights” in the rear window of Roy Neary’s truck—Close Encounters of the Third Kind

• The descent from the mountain—Aguirre, the Wrath of God

• Nino Manfredi and Stefano Satta Flores find the tearful photos of Stefania Sandrelli in the picture-taking booth—We All Loved Each Other So Much

• George C. Scott to his youngest son after the big fish has got away: “God only knows how much I love you!”—Islands in the Stream

Sorcerer: Scanlon (Roy Scheider) walks away—but only temporarily—from an image of his destiny: a column of water rises from a snapped-off hydrant as the wounded gangster staggers down a New Jersey alley….

• L ‘affaire Picasso—F for Fake

• A pan across time and identity, Cria!: Ana the child (Ana Torrent) seeks out her mother’s “poison” as Ana the adult (“mother” Geraldine Chaplin) reflects on the event….

• Ragged claws scuttling across the kitchen floor of memory: Woody Allen, the lobsters, and Annie Hall

• Racing the sun—Dersu Uzala

• Roberts Blossoms’ superb “I saw Bigfoot once”: no hope for further indulgence by the military, even if he did probably see Bigfoot once—Close Encounters of the Third Kind

• Maggots in your comb—Suspiria

• Jet plane as locust—Exorcist II: The Heretic

• Diahne Abbott doing “Honeysuckle Rose” in New York, New York

• The operatic crane over peasants, soldiers, and the aristo duckhunters in the fog—1900

• Kathleen Quinlan’s feisty joy at feeling pain—I Never Promised You a Rose Garden

Slap Shot: Reggie (Paul Newman), leather-suited and cool as shit, strutting it for the widow woman who owns the hockey team…

• Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness) convinces the Imperial Guard that “these aren’t the people you’re looking for”—Star Wars

Dersu Uzala: The song of birds has told Dersu (Maxim Munzuk) that the rain is about to stop. He leads the Russians out of their shelter and out of the frame. A moment later, a rainbow marks their passing….

One on One: Smalltown kid Robbie Benson moving rapt in the monumental gym of Western University; the mechanized bankboards tilting down to salute him…

• The teary reunion of parents and daughter, The Marquise of O

• Ana “killing” her sisters while playing hide-and-seek—Cria!

• Tom’s (George Scott’s) awareness-a feeling at the back of his neck-that his oldest son has been killed—Islands in the Stream

Twilight’s Last Gleaming: the near-hysterical intensity of the kidding between the President (Charles Durning) and his military aide (Gerald O’Loughlin), during which they manage to prepare each other for the eventuality that the President could be going out to get killed …

• A marriage proposal under the wheels of a taxi cab-New York, New York

• Woody’s teachers revisited—Annie Hall

• A ship in the treetops–Aguirre, the Wrath of God

• After the world-rending chaos of a tank battle, Steyner’s platoon bursts into the lush green silence of an unspoiled field—Cross of Iron

• The split-second cut away from the collapsing bridge the instant Sorcerer‘s tires catch solid ground…

• The swing across the” gorge”—Star Wars

• The Tiger of the New Year leaps—Dersu Uzala

• A reunion far from “Naked Girls and Machine Guns,” The Late Show: Harry Regan’s (Howard Duff’s) last smile for Ira Wells (Art Carney) is full of blood; Ira curses him, but finds himself conceding “You were real good company”…

• A red cherry in an untouched drink in the middle of Jimmy Doyle’s reel-long first come-on to Francine Evans (Liza Minnelli)—New York, New York

Saturday Night Fever: Tony Manero (John Travolta), knowing he has lost one point too many by not being impressed at the name “Laurence Olivier,” suddenly remembers “Oh, yeah! Oh, he’s good!”

• Terry’s glee in stripping off James’ (William Atherton’s) condom—Looking for Mr. Goodbar…

Julia: Dash (Jason Robards) comes down the beach to tell Lilly “It’s the best play anybody’s written in years,” but she has to know: “Are you sure?”…

• The dancing in the trees—1900

• A head that goes on counting after it has been severed—Aguirre, the Wrath of God

Annie Hall getting shed of all those books with “death” in the title: “That’s a load off my back!”…

• A comrade’s passionate kiss that shocks the raving soldier back to his senses—Cross of Iron

New York, New York: the hospital parting: Jimmy must weep into Francine’s bed sheet because he can’t spoil his only handkerchief….

Sorcerer: Bruno Cremer’s life changes utterly at the moment when, walking away from his partner’s car, he hears the strange musical pop that means the man has committed suicide and left him in the lurch….

• The late Vittorio DeSica resurrected via film festival footage and cut in among the living players of We All Loved Each Other So Much

• The old couple (John Cromwell, Ruth Nelson) making love in Millie’s bed as Millie (Shelley Duvall) peeps through the door—3 Women

• Images from Dersu Uzala: men boating in the branches of a tree; snow flowing like a river; walking on a lake of fire…

• The luminous reactions of Barry Guiler (Cary Guffey) to the offscreen extraterrestrials who have come exploring in his kitchen—Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Pardon Mon Affaire: Jean Rochefort inadvertently brings his mistress-to-be (Anny Duperey) face to face with his wife (Danièle Delorme). Pal Claude Brasseur saves the day by showing up to reclaim his “date.”…

• Does your deodorant enhance your potency? Filming the Mitchum commercial with Shake Tiller (Kris Kristofferson) in Semi-Tough

• The girls’ cumulative storymaking—a narrative principle for Julia

• The rebels’ attack fleet takes off, Star Wars: the juxtaposition of jungle, sentinel, and the trajectory of the cruisers locks into a brilliant expression of the primal thrill of adventure storytelling…

• The ending of Exorcist II: The Heretic a lot of people didn’t see: a thrilling Albert Whitlock pan that moves us from the mythic vision of a ravaged civilization to the strobe-flashed chaos of a contemporary street where only one person “understands”…

Aguirre as King of El Dorado, on a raft swarming with spider monkeys…

1900: the axis of the world established between the two patriarchs, peasant (Sterling Hayden) and landlord (Burt Lancaster), as they toast the births of their grandsons…

• Welles’ reminiscences in a park, F for Fake: a man for all seasons…

• Lilly’s last meeting with Julia: Julia’s goodnatured direction of the scene; Lilly’s face when she hears the name of Julia’s daughter…

• The paths of Bruno and Robert (Hanns Zischler) intersecting a last time, Kings of the Road: Bruno in his van sees “Kamikaze” on the train, but preserves the other’s fiction that they cannot see each other….

Close Encounters of the Third Kind: Roy (Richard Dreyfuss) fell asleep in darkness and silence. Now he is awakened in an auspicious yellow glow, and the TV murmurs offscreen. Have They come again? Looking around, he sees that night has merely performed the small miracle of becoming day, and his daughter is watching the Saturday morning cartoons. “Are you gonna be mad?” she asks. No, he isn’t. But he’s a little disappointed….

RTJ

© 1978 Richard T. Jameson

A pdf of the original issue can be found here.


Moments out of Time 1992

[originally published in Film Comment Volume 29 Number 1, January-February 1993, reprinted by permission]

Unforgiven
Unforgiven

• The wait by the tree, and how Will Munny drinks after getting the news, Unforgiven: as director and actor, Clint Eastwood in excelsis…

• “The pleasure was all ‘mine”—The Crying Game….

The Player: The fax curling out of the dashboard unit, directing the camera to the floor of Griffin Mill’s car, and formally anticipating what will be found there…

• The skirts of Mrs. Wilcox (Vanessa Redgrave) trailing in the long grass of summer evening as she strolls around Howards End; the reliable serenity of picture-perfect home and window-framed family tableaux; the lone witness to the penultimate moments of a paradise being lost….

• Ana Galiena leaning at her counter and reading a magazineThe Hairdresser’s Husband

• To the beat of “Stuck in the Middle with You,” big-boned Michael Madsen slips and slides across a warehouse floor, his sweet rhythm segueing into sudden atrocity—Reservoir Dogs….

• “I can’t go too fast; metabolically, it’s not my rhythm”—Judy Davis, Husbands and Wives….

• Jeremy Irons and Juliette Binoche setting eyes on each other for the first time, Damage: Like some creature out of vampire lore, her black-and-white clarity racks a dead man’s focus to make him a figure of passion in her own movie….

Keep Reading

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?”…

Keep Reading

Moments out of Time 1996

[originally published in Film Comment Volume 33 Number 1, January/February 1997, reprinted by permission]

• The car materializing out of the whited-out mystery of snow/land/sky—the opening of Fargo

The English Patient: closeup, the look of pearls against Kristin Scott Thomas’s sweat-dampened throat … rediscovering the sensuality of the camera eye…

• Nobody (Gary Farmer) among the white birches, Dead Man

Mars Attacks!: a herd of cattle—in flames—stampeding down a country road…

Breaking the Waves: Touching her husband’s penis for the first time, Emily Watson blows a strand of hair away from her face in delight and amaze…

Lone Star: During a seamless elision into a dim, long-gone taqueria, deputy Buddy Deeds (Matthew McConaughey) gravels out “No” when his corrupt boss (Kris Kristofferson) orders him to collect mordita … and suddenly, shades of a Peckinpah Western rise….

• Nine minutes at a café table, Secrets & Lies

• Dawn (Heather Mattarazzo) taking a cleaver to her sister’s pink-maned Barbie doll—Welcome to the Dollhouse

• Rod Tidwell (Cuba Gooding Jr.)’s almost subliminal moue as Jerry Maguire (Tom Cruise) tells him, “You are wildly charismatic”…

• Edward Norton in Everyone Says I Love You, his appearance and bearing suggesting that F. Scott Fitzgerald is still around, writing characters for the Nineties….

Keep Reading

Moments out of Time 1998

[originally published in Film Comment Volume 35 Number 1, January/February 1999, reprinted by permission]

• Shrapnel hanging in the air, every shard in razor-sharp focus, as if molecules of the film itself had been startled out of the emulsion by the battle: Saving Private Ryan

• A bird born dying in battle: The Thin Red Line

• A tumbleweed in L.A.: The Big Lebowski

• Sopping-wet black thing drags out of swamp water and mist… the swinish sound of lungs laboring to relearn breathing: Beloved..

• The most genuinely felicitous meet-cute in living memory, Out of Sight: In the trunk of a getaway car, Federal marshal Karen Sisco (Jennifer Lopez) and prison escapee Jack Foley (George Clooney) talk movies—e.g., Three Days of the Condor, with Faye Dunaway “and Robert Redford when he was young”…

• A dying woman (Meryl Streep) opens her arms to her lost husband (William Hurt) and spoons him—fully dressed—in their bed: One True Thing

• Burning Dad, the brute (James Coburn) who, having let his wife die of cold, wraps himself in fake grief: “I should a froze.”—Affliction

• In an elevator, at war with her asshole husband (Martin Donovan), Living Out Loud‘s Judith (Holly Hunter) aims a sudden-death glare at the hapless nerd caught in close-quarters crossfire—without missing a beat in her rant….

• Four bare legs wavering in the air: Steve Prefontaine (Billy Crudup) and friend trying to fuck standing on their heads in Without Limits

• A token of love, Rushmore: Miss Cross (Olivia Williams) asks the affectless suitor at her door (Bill Murray) if he would like a carrot: “Sure,” he answers with passionate diffidence….

Keep Reading

The Devil in the Details: “The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus”

A rickety wedge of a gypsy wagon with walls a couple of stories high wobbles through modern London streets, pulled by a couple of tired horses and carrying a tired old souse playing out the role of the carny showman on pure instinct. These traveling players could have ridden right out of the medieval era on the cobblestone streets that have brought them to the waterfront pub where a rowdy bloke decides to have a little fun with these threadbare dandies, especially the succulent young moonfaced beauty (Lily Cole) he chases through the stage mirror that, like Alice before him, takes him into another world, but this is one dreamscape he’s not prepared to handle. Though it’s not exactly explained, the Imaginarium apparently offers those who step through the mylar gates visions of their own dreams, desires and creative will, but only those who do so with open minds and hearts. This bloke, barreling through with no good on his mind, isn’t coming back. “Gone,” sighs Dr. Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) with a weary resignation. “Will we miss him? I don’t think so.”

Step right up to the Imaginarium
Step right up to the Imaginarium

You can see Plummer’s Dr. Parnassus as an alter-ego for writer/director Terry Gilliam, a steampunk fantasist trying to jump-start the imaginations of a modern world with his own little theatrical spectacles cobbled together from age-old theatrical conventions and a magical device called The Imaginarium, which quite literally is a door into the imagination. (The Imaginarium is also Gilliam’s first embrace of CGI as a primary tool for creating images onscreen; like any tool, both are only as good as the mind behind it, or inside it, as the case may be.) His motivations are never fully explained, nor are his wagers with the dapper Mr. Nick (Tom Waits, with a pencil mustache and a wicked smile), the devil to his Doctor Faustus. Plummer brings a mix of dignity and degradation to Parnassus, a man whose pride and hubris has been brought low after centuries of immortality. He’s an impotent God who has given up on everything except his daughter, Valentina (Lily Cole), which only exacerbates his self-pity. Her soul was wagered to the devil long ago and it comes due on her sixteenth birthday, just days away. So Mr. Nick offers him another wager, and Parnassus plays for the soul of his daughter.

Keep Reading

Moments out of Time 1976

[Originally published in Movietone News 53, January 1977]

• The premiere of The Clansman, and D.W. Griffith’s stately acknowledgement of the cheers-the night we’d like to have attended, and thanks to Peter Bogdanovich for enabling us to be there: Nickelodeon….

• The duel in the barn: shafts of blue light, the flutter of pigeon wings, and the inexorable progress of ritual and fatality—Barry Lyndon

All the President’s Men: the daft imperturbability of the country club lawyer (Nicolas Coster) who, asked by Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) why he’s here at the plumbers’ arraignment, replies “I’m not here.”…

The duel in the barn: "Barry Lyndon"
The duel in the barn: "Barry Lyndon"

• The men weeping over chopped onions and the slowness of social change—Jonah, Who Will Be 25 in the Year 2000

• The sexual eagerness of Ali (El Hedi Ben Salem) and the old widow (Brigitte Mira) when they find one another in front of her apartment the second night—Ali—Angst essen Seele auf….

• An interview in an airport restroom—Alice in the Cities

Welcome to L.A.: Ken Hood (Harvey Keitel) gets his Christmas bonus—a partnership in the yogurt company—and rides down in the elevator. “Youuuuuu—you did it, you Kenneth! … Give me a K! Give me an E!…”

Keep Reading

Moments out of Time 1997

[originally published in Film Comment Volume 34 Number 1, January/February 1998, reprinted by permission]

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• The death of Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey), L.A. Confidential: The gunshot comes as a cinematically rare and genuine shock, but this is crowned by a supreme actor’s-moment: Jack’s multivalenced chuckle—shoulda known better—as he plants the clue with which his killer will betray himself. “Rollo … Tommasi”…

• A blue, figured rug drifting over a rocky streambed: the beginning of Gabbeh‘s motion picture magic ..

Kundun: the crane up from the Dalai Lama amidst a virtual sea of slain monks…

• The happy promiscuousness of the camera in Boogie Nights: tracking the trajectory of various characters through the first party scene at Jack Horner’s house, it notices an anonymous girl and follows her … into the pool … and under the water … and surfaces to frame Reed Rothchild (John C. Reilly) … and goes under again to meet Eddie Adams (Mark Wahlberg)….

• The tour-boat scene in My Best Friend’s Wedding, the last time that former lovers Julia Roberts and Dermot Mulroney will ever be alone together: “…If you love someone, you say it out loud, otherwise the moment just—” “—passes you by,” she finishes, as, passing under a bridge, the boat draws out of privileged shadow into the sun….

• Overarching tree limbs—the curve of a mother’s loving embrace—in Mother and Son and Ponette

• “Never ignore a man’s courtesy”—good advice from Sydney (Philip Baker Hall), Hard Eight

• In The Apostle, the way Sonny (Robert Duvall) kicks out at the cop who tries to interrupt his seduction of a soul for Jesus … a dying accident victim he touches through the window of his wrecked car…

• “Told ya it was here”—where Louis (Robert De Niro) parked the car, that is. Melanie (Bridget Fonda) is no longer interested. Jackie Brown

• Stalin (F. Murray Abraham) and Australian fan Joan Fraser (Judy Davis) getting up close and personal on a settee in Children of the Revolution

Alien Resurrection: Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) unfolding her long limbs as she emerges from a cocoon of gauze: elegant as a praying mantis…

Absolute Power: Ed Harris’s cop and Clint Eastwood’s master thief “flirting” over lunch at the museum: two good men, two good actors in perfect rapport…

• Out of the reeds on the other side of a river, Russian soldiers rise—as though from hidden graves—to renew the hostilities Capitaine Conan lives for….

• Wounded men: the compulsive, politicking charisma of D.A. Ron Leibman, and the smiling, embarrassed guiltiness of cop James Gandolfini as honest man Ian Holm’s partner; Night Falls on Manhattan

• Barely visible in Amistad‘s opening dark, a bloodied black finger scrabbles desperately to tease a nail out of wood….

• A dark, hushed kitchen crowded with ursine menace, rehearsal for the real thing in The Edge

• Don’t go there: the unclean atmosphere of the house where Bill Pullman and Patricia Arquette live in Lost Highway

L.A. Confidential: Seconds after two men have been machine-gunned through it, a picture window crashes in sheets ….

• Most startling intertitle of the year: RENO, NEVADA – TWO YEARS LATER, after the mesmerizing first reel of Hard Eight

• The almost unbearable sweetness of the duet between Catherine Sloper (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and Morris Townsend (Ben Chaplin), as close to perfect union as they ever come in Washington Square

• The hopeless, utterly endearing croaking of the bride-to-be (Cameron Diaz) in the karaoke bar: disaster become triumph in My Best Friend’s Wedding

• The polite raptness of The Colonel (the late, great Robert Ridgely) checking Eddie’s goods—Boogie Nights

• The preternatural self-possession and serene preposterousness of Ken Sherry (George Shevtzov), Love Serenade

• Castor Troy (Nicolas Cage) vamping in his opera cape with satanic red lining, Face/Off

• “I love Chow Yun Fat but I don’t see him as Batman”—overheard at a comic-book con in Chasing Amy

• The falls—a Herzogian coup in Happy Together

• Dead faces reflected in a muddy pool of leftover rainwater … epitaph for Deep Crimson‘s grotesque Bonnie and Clyde wannabes…

Smilla’s Sense of Snow: Below the frozen tundra, a seal rolls over in a grotto of blue ice, lit like a stained-glass window from another dimension…

• A teacher reaches into a landscape to pluck out a bouquet and “blue,” the color of the sky: directorial sorcery in Gabbeh….

• The hard, fast exchange of blows in a duel of will and wit between damaged boy and shrink (Matt Damon and Robin Williams) in Good Will Hunting

• Kurt (Ricky Jay) engaging Little Bill (William H. Macy) in a discussion of “minimal” while, just beyond, a rapt audience watches Little Bill’s wife getting dicked on the driveway—Boogie Nights

• Just before the end of Donnie Brasco, Lefty (AI Pacino) leaving open a drawer containing his jewelry and cash so that his wife will find them…

Washington Square’s Aunt Lavinia (Maggie Smith) spews overripe platitudes about love as she flirts with her niece’s fortune-hunting fiancé (Ben Chaplin). Behind her, glimpsed through a scrim, a whore’s legs pump up and down….

• A father’s lullaby, the grave face of a sick child, and a small knife: The Sweet Hereafter

• In the middle of a stormy night, a tiny black foal nests in the snow outside a grandmother’s yurt … a magical gift in A Mongolian Tale….

• The muffled thump of great combs trimming and shaping heavy hanks of wool: the beating heart of Gabbeh

• The first appearance of Sam Neill’s many-times-turned spy in Children of the Revolution: in ironically menacing silhouette, with a smoking cigarette cocked in his leather-gloved hand…

• Philip Baker Hall in excelsis: in Hard Eight, the matter-of-fact awe of just tracking around the casino in Sydney’s wake; and in Boogie Nights, the entrance of Floyd Gondolli…

• The brute, sudden horror of death in the dark: Harold Perrineau Jr.’s savaging by the bear in The Edge

• Behind the Victory Motel, headlights in the trees: classic air of menace at the climax of L.A. Confidential

• A father’s hand, raised from the steering wheel to wave at his kids, suddenly spasms impotently … signaling the loss of all bearings in The Sweet Hereafter….

• The way Billy Bob Thornton’s kneeling sinner turns his face away during his conversion at the tender hands of The Apostle

L.A. Confidential: Jack Vincennes’s glance at the one-way mirror in the chief’s office—behind which Ed Exley (Guy Pearce) stands—after he has copped to the grand jury…

• “This isn’t E.M. Forster!” … Upper-class British novelist Giles DeAth (John Hurt) realizing he’s in the wrong movie auditorium in Love and Death on Long Island

• Sensual short-circuiting in Female Perversions: utterly self-absorbed Eve (Tilda Swinton) making out in a hammock with her latest, lovely conquest (Karen Sillas)…

The Ice Storm: Seconds after a passionless quickie in his car’s front seat, a suburban spouse (Jamey Sheridan) draws back in horror—”Awful … that was awful”—from his neighbor’s wife (Joan Allen)….

A Thousand Acres: A woman scorned (Jessica Lange) disappears—as though she never existed—into a field of corn….

• The story about the girl that got away as told by Silent Bob, aka writer-director Kevin Smith, in Chasing Amy

• Hotshot lawyer Jon Voight, momentarily tripped up by tyro attorney Matt Damon in The Rainmaker: “You little pissant!”…

• “Jan-et!”—Judy Davis’s outraged shriek when Woody Allen accidentally calls her Jane, after her thinly disguised character in his latest novel; misogynistic metacinema in Deconstructing Harry

• A reforming junkie (Malcolm McDowell) injects his hand-puppet self with an overdose of the old “rang dang do,” in Hugo Pool

• “Earl Grey rules!”—Sudden Manhattan

• In Anastasia, ghosts from a lost age of Romanov splendor drift down from floor-to-ceiling portraits in a great, decaying ballroom….

• An image cinema waited a hundred years to frame: in Amistad, a low-angle shot up past the helm of the ship as a strong man looks skyward and steers by the stars…

• In Chasing Amy, Alyssa (Joey Lauren Adams)’s sweet, wise “sermon” about all the ways her lover’s proposed three-way could go wrong…

The Apostle: The joy and regret that illuminates an old minister’s (John Beasley) face as he explains why a weak heart keeps him from preaching: “When I get up to the pulpit and the spirit moves me … I can’t hold back.”…

• Early in The Devil’s Advocate, the virtually nuclear toilet-flush sound effect as lawyer Keanu Reeves scrubs his hands in the courthouse restroom…

• In Boogie Nights, the cap-gun verisimilitude of Brock Landers and Chest Rockwell’s shooting…

• Gary Oldman as Zorg, The Fifth Element‘s best special effect: a weirdly skewed stick-figure who seems to have been dismantled and reassembled on several occasions by repair teams with radically conflicting theories of prosthetics…

• “What the fuck happened to you, man? Your ass used to be beautiful.” Ordell (Samuel 1. Jackson) to Louis, no longer listening. Jackie Brown

Boogie Nights: During the unaccustomed near-silence while his musical tapes change over, Rahad Jackson (Alfred Molina) suddenly feels impelled to account for the thirty-seventh firecracker since the sequence began: “Cosmo … he’s Chinese”….

The Saint (Val Kilmer), having immersed himself in a near-frozen Moscow river, watches up through the water as an enemy stands above looking for him…

• After the woman he’s hot for tells him “next time,” The Apostle spins around on her front steps to aim a stiff finger at her door, shooting off steam and punching out a promise of future good times….

• In Deep Crimson, a reluctantly murderous “mother” prepares a little girl for her bath—both knowing it will be her last….

• The miraculous presence that appears behind Ponette as she grieves by her mother’s grave…

Mother and Son amid white birches on a hill that tilts inexorably down-frame…

Alien Resurrection: The horrific yet ennobled visage of Ellen Ripley’s unholy child at the moment it registers its Virgin Mother’s betrayal…

• Mother and child reunion: Amber Waves (Julianne Moore) tenderly bringing Dirk Diggler (Mark Wahlberg) home in his first big sex scene in Boogie Nights

• .Slowly closing in on the target of choice—a lost son—at the beginning of Hard Eight

• Julie Christie all aglow in anticipation of love in Afterglow

• The hair-raising shooosh of a boy’s suddenly dead body sliding along a frozen road … The Ice Storm

• A romantic melody on the radio, a slow dance on a nighttime pier … the sweet, doomed passion of an IRA soldier (Brad Pitt) and his girl (Natascha McElhone) in The Devil’s Own

Jackie Brown: Max Cherry (Robert Forster) listening to the Delfonics on his car tapedeck, and just not quite singing along…

• A sweetly demented “stalker” (Mel Gibson) sits in his car gazing up at the apartment window of the woman he loves (Julia Roberts), Conspiracy Theory. After a moment, he begins to hum, “scoring” her workout on the treadmill….

• Unable to maintain proper manly restraint under the influence of “I Will Survive,” Kevin Kline breaks out in exuberant dance—In & Out….

• An unexpected, deadpan rendition of “Wichita Lineman” by a middle-aged Asian restaurateur in Australia’s Love Serenade

My Best Friend’s Wedding: George (Rupert Everett), “radiant with charisma,” let loose on the wedding-rehearsal luncheon and drawing the entire assembly into an ecstatic rendition of “Say a Little Prayer for Me”…

Love and Death on Long Island: the delicate obtrusiveness of the proprietor of Chez d’Irv (Maury Chaykin), especially when he asks Giles DeAth whether he’s ever bumped into a guy named Stan Brickhouse—”an attractive man … average-size hands, breasts like a woman”…

• Observed from a god’s-eye view in Smilla’s Sense of Snow: a man and his dog team trying to outrace a frame-filling, moving wall of snow…

• A red car drives down a turnpike curving gently through misty green countryside: Good Will Hunting heading for his own private Idaho….

• Any of Judy Davis’s orgasmic rants in Children of the Revolution, but especially the one that ends by radically changing tune, as she sighs a mild “Ta, love” to the patient husband (Geoffrey Rush) who hands her a cuppa…

In & Out: Seen from overhead, the incidental passage of a car, driver unknown and irrelevant, that somehow validates, even blesses, the tender reunion of former student (Matt Dillon) and very rattled teacher (Joan Cusack) in the Midwest evening…

Boogie Nights: a New Year’s Eve flashbulb goes off in Little Bill’s face as he heads outside to his car to get his gun….

• Apotheosis in Gattaca: onetime übermensch Jerome (Jude Law) immolating himself in a purification chamber while “blood brother” Vincent (Ethan Hawke) rockets to heaven…

• The face of a man buried alive at the end of Taste of Cherry

• Max Cherry watching Jackie Brown (Pam Grier) depart, then turning to walk out of the focus she gave his life…

• In Washington Square, an orange parasol makes a sunflower of Catherine as she warms to her handsome suitor…

My Best Friend’s Wedding: George, improvising, making a well-meaning grab for his “fiancée’s” breast in the taxicab…

• The argument we never learn about at a neighboring table while Sydney buys Clementine (Gwyneth Paltrow) a late-night cup of coffee—Hard Eight

• “I’ll never let go,” Rose (Kate Winslet) promises Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) in Titanic, and proves it … by letting go….

The Sweet Hereafter: the camera seeming to crane up around the very curve of the earth as it finds and follows Billy Ansell (Bruce Greenwood)’s truck following the school us…

• At the climax of L.A. Confidential, a flotilla of cherry-topped cop cars cresting the hill and approaching past the pumping oil well, as a man walks toward them with hands raised …

• Long way down, Boogie Nights, in the midst of the Quentin-Tarantino-eat-your-heart-out set-piece of the year, Eddie Adams/Dirk Diggler seems to know that he’s going to die right here, right now, inevitably and with abject pointlessness. But only “Marky Mark” dies; Mark Wahlberg gets out of there a winner….

RTJ / KAM