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Moments out of Time 1994

[originally published in Film Comment Volume 31 Number 1, January-February 1995, reprinted by permission]

• At the beginning of Pulp Fiction, Amanda Plummer laying her head on the coffeeshop table and smiling: “I’m not gonna kill anybody”….

• Just-right treatment of place, climate, community in the main-title sequence of Nobody’s Fool

• Bunny (Bill Murray) dipping a toe in the pool before stepping in to be baptized—Ed Wood

• Orson Welles’s photograph banished upon the waters, Heavenly Creatures

• Panhandling with comb kazoo (and fly open), Three Colors: White

• In Being Human‘s medieval chapter, Robin Williams crests a hill to espy a little clot of battle at a bridge in the middle of nowhere. When a wounded man staggers up from the bloody fray, gasping “Help me!”, our hero retreats, declining an invitation to that particular story….

The Hudsucker Proxy: Shadow of clock hand pointing Expressionistically at Norville (Tim Robbins) as he enters the executive. suite….

• Jimmy (Quentin Tarantino), in Pulp Fiction, cheerfully noting that Vincent (John Travolta) and Jules (Samuel L. Jackson) look like “dorks” after donning new clothes. “These are your clothes.” He agrees cheerfully about that, too….

• Terence Stamp as the Delphine Seyrig of Aussie drag queens in The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert: worldly, sad around the edges, and beautiful beyond gender….

• Living up to her name as a smart player, Sophia Ludens (Elina Lowensöhn), zaftig porn star by way of Louise Brooks’s Pandora, announces in Amateur: ”I’m going to be a mover and a shaker”….

• A vampire who lives long enough to see SunriseInterview with the Vampire

. • Sam Fuller in craggy, contemplative profile at the prow of a little boat, while Jim Jarmusch furiously paddles their way downriver, in Tigrero

• What deserved to be a great shot in a classic thriller: Jane Marsh vrooming up to fill Bruce Willis’s rearview mirror, in Color of Night

• A young girl witnessing the transformation of her belowstairs mother into an artist of sensual dance, entrancing’ her aristocrat audience—a sign of freedom and of no-exit in Silences of the Palace

• In Pulp Fiction, the hilarious seriousness with which Mia and Vincent twist at Jack Rabbit Slim’s, swimming and batmanning as though their very lives depended on style…

• A naked little boy-child running over an Irish-green hillside, the ocean calling him: The Secret of Roan Inish

• Two lines in soigné meet in a Parisian hotel closet: Sally Kellerman and Marcello Mastroianni, Prêt-à-Porter….

• The morning calm of the Vespa rides, Dear Diary

• Flight of a feather, Forrest Gump

• Snow falling in Jessica Tandy’s parlor … spiritual effects in Nobody’s Fool; Melanie Griffith as gleeful sweatshirted flasher, and Paul Newman’s stunned, serene sag against the doorjamb … physical effects in Nobody’s Fool

• A girl watches snowflakes slow-dance in the air before a tall window in the cold, bare 13th-century bedroom: a prelude to defloration in another luminously black-and-white frame from Anchoress….

• The wanting curve of Nell‘s (Jodie Foster) hands reaching toward her mirrored image…

• The exhilarating sappiness of the fairyland that sprouts and morphs into life as Gina and Yvonne race to the top of a New Zealand hill: hormonal efflorescence in Heavenly Creatures

• In Angie, two little girls sit on a Bensonhurst stoop, chanting at their flat chests: “Grow … grow … grow.” Their curvaceously adult selves strut by, turning in slowmotion to look at the kids they were. After the quartet’s long, mutual witnessing, the children disappear and the door between tomorrow’s dream and yesterday’s memory closes….

• Muriel (Toni Collette) in black leather necking with her first boyfriend: the well-meaning clod tries to unzip her and instead lets loose a beanbag chair full of compressed Styrofoam—Muriel’s Wedding….

• In Junior, Frank Langella’s line reading upon reencountering Arnold: “You look… radiant!”….

• “Pregnant is not my outline this season”—Richard E. Grant, Prêt-à-Porter….

• “Lurk him!”—Ed Wood….

• Vincent Vega tasting the $5 milkshake, Pulp Fiction

• Masonry dust on the seat of a chair: the Kilroy-was-here of an old man (James Whitmore) about to end a life he never lived, in The Shawshank Redemption

• Killing time in J’ai pas sommeil: An aging, blowsily beautiful Russian and the elegant émigré, a Cindy Crawford lookalike, enjoying a drunken, late-night slow-dance to “A Whiter Shade of Pale”…

• Patsy Cline’s voice—”Crazy for feeling this way”—piercing the dark as mist rises from a North Carolina lake: right person and place, but flawed directorial eye, in Nell….

• On a sere hillside, two lovers-on-the-run lock in hard-won embrace; a shot rings’ out and the man is stopped dead before we’ve even registered the smile, the touch, that were life’s last signs, in The Bandit Queen….

• Radiant Ana Galiena plucking a flea out of Robin Williams’s rags and dubbing it “pootch,” with all of the earthy good humor of a comely Wife of Bath, in Being Human

• “Oh I’m sorry did I break your concentration?”—Pulp Fiction….

• The livingroom from hell, Postcards from America

• The American-patrician grace and tenderness of Paul Scofield’s Mark Van Doren, Quiz Show

• The waste of Lena Olin’s fine ferocity in Romeo Is Bleeding

• Judy Davis, realizing she’s sharing a sauna with her husband’s mistress, glares behind the woman’s back, then beams in sweet surprise: “You’re here”—The New Age….

• A perfectly Murnavian frisson: gliding towards us in closeup, the soft, white curves of Nadja‘s face are projected on a whole other plane from the Expressionist alley behind her, down which mere mortals pursue her….

Vivre sa vie redux: Mia-Nana’s byblow-dancing to Neil Diamond’s “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon,” in Pulp Fiction

• Record producer Jon Polito after being beaten about the head and shoulders with a weapon of opportunity: “The King gave me this damn ashtray!”—Girls in Prison….

• Escape in the tornado, Natural Born Killers

Dear Diary‘s Nanni Moretti assaulting—in his very bed—the critic who gave a rave to Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer….

• The round head of a dark-eyed seal rising out of the sea, to keep watch in The Secret of Roan Inish

Exotica: As auditor Bruce Greenwood sets to work at the table in the back of Don McKellar’s shop, the sudden splash of … something dark … in a nearby, algae-fogged tank….

Timecop‘s Ron Silver, mature in suave villainy, face-to-face with his younger, merely sleazy self; impatient with how slow he once was in the bad-guys’ game….

• The hands of a man and a woman touch accidentally over a coffee bar, hot-wiring a mysterious sacrifice between a lost soul—”I’ll pay for both”—and his secret sharer, in J’ai pas sommeil….

• “You broke him. Now he’s yours.” Bruce Willis’s Doberman in Nobody’s Fool, given to crawling under furniture, leaving his hindquarters exposed like the canine equivalent of an ostrich….

• The Band-Aid on the back of Marsellus’s neck, Pulp Fiction

• The cut from a wide path of footprints sweeping up an African dune topped by a collapsing cross to a traffic-clogged curve of Manhattan tunnel: Being Human’s wry snapshots of civilization on the move…

• Gorgeously androgynous Siddhartha (Keanu Reeves) venturing out into a world that has the unanchored look of yet another virtual reality, offlining the artifice of Little Buddha‘s birthplace….

• Jim Carrey’s hastily improvised urban conga-line number in The Mask pulses with the kind of dementia that used to seep into certain low-budget Hollywood musicals….

• A skinny, l0-year-old girl dances around a shabby apartment, empty of mother, to an operatic solo: the rich, sweet music of a woman’s voice momentarily fills Crows‘ largely uninhabited mise-en-scène….

• “I woke up in love this morning”—the Crooklyn kids singing along with The Partridge Family….

• Edward’s (Damian Young) metamorphosis into a demented Big Bird after electroshock torture: Amateur‘s great flapping spirit of romantic love firing round after round on a green hillside studded with daffodils…

• Noncrisis round a stone cairn, Being Human: even in a Dark Age, life-and-death encounters can be inconvenient, if not downright embarrassing….

• On the-playground in Fresh, a senseless killing and a second by ricochet: the girl’s leg kicking….

• Two moments-of-truth with a toaster: an outrageous climax in Bitter Moon; Pop Tarts, the chuffing of a silencer, smoke alarm—Pulp Fiction

• A drink with Orson Welles (Vincent D’Onofrio uncanny), Ed Wood….

• The PC island where children rule in Dear Diary—it makes the short hairs rise….

• Salsa shark—Clerks

• Detective Dick Miller’s impassioned rebuke to the’ parents for not warning their Runaway Daughters about the “twisted half-light” world out there…

• The heat and light given off by Jake and his wife, Maori aristocrats out of time and place, as they sing to and with each other at a drunken brawl, Once Were Warriors

• In China Moon, Ed Harris’s tenderness toward battered Madeleine Stowe, and the bone-deep melancholy in his summing up of her perfidy: “All the time I’ve been lovin’ you, you been fuckin’ me.”…

• Husband Bill Pullman recognizing and almost enjoying the last fine mess spouse Linda Fiorentino has got him into—The Last Seduction….

It’s Pat—The Movie: Misting the house plants, Chris (Dave Foley) takes a spray in the face and tenderly remembers getting sneezed on by estranged lover Pat (Julia Sweeney)….

• Communal outrage, Serial Mom: “She doesn’t recycle!”…

Being Human: A boy with red, pointed shoes lying dead in the forest….

Dear Diary‘s last shot: Nanni Moretti tilts a glass of water to his lips and looks into the camera with the joyous appetite of someone who has beaten back death for the moment….

The Crow‘s Brandon Lee: this lost boy’s dark, focused grace makes the movie go….

• Emma Thompson’s physical charm and vulnerability in Junior as she works her klutzy variation on Cary Grant’s Bringing Up Baby scientist…

Crows‘ “sisters” negotiating a steep dune, a pattern of avalanche widening slowly, mysteriously up the incline of sand…

Sleep With Me: Quentin Tarantino’s guest rap about the “gay way” subtext of Top Gun (“You can ride my tail anytime!”)…

• “Hideous” Orson Welles’s shadow rises on the wall, visually eliding into Yvonne, looming up over her soulmate, just before the Heavenly Creatures make love….

• Black-caped and -hatted Bela Lugosi (Martin Landau) emerges from his nondescript Los Angeles bungalow and pauses to pick and smell a flower. Ed Wood‘s grainy home movie pays eloquent homage to the passing of an aging icon-while generating footage for the godawful Plan 9 from Outer Space….

• Claude Chabrol’s L’Enfer: Emmanuelle Béart has finally convinced insanely jealous husband François Cluzet of her fidelity, they’ve made passionate love, and now the camera slowly closes in on her lovely face: she gazes directly at us long enough to infect the watcher with a chilling failure of faith….

• The absolutely calculating way the father sizes up his adolescent daughter’s body in Family‘s kitchen: his look isn’t evil or crazy—he’s just a man checking when his dinner might be ready….

Fresh: The weirdly religious transport of the druglord Esteban (Giancarlo Esposito) as he mesmerizes l0-year-old Fresh (Sean Nelson) with his graphic fantasy about fucking the boy’s heroin-hooked sister (N’Bushe Wright): “My very own madonna”…

Life on another planet: A brick house set out in the featureless middle of a Midwest flatland, home for black college basketball players in Hoop Dreams

• “Oak’s nice.”—Pulp Fiction….

• A cheap pink stone—the spoor of Heavenly Creatures‘ killer angels—dropped in the mud as bait for a common woman…

• Pinned from behind by one teenaged Funseeker, while another girl closes in on her with a kitchen knife, the sweet-faced, frail grandmother’s last wondering words: “Am I going to die?”…

• Janeane Garofalo in the waiting room, considering not hearing as her name is called for the HIV test—Reality Bites

• “The designated fuck”: What a fall guy (Peter Berg) is to femme fatale Linda Fiorentino in The Last Seduction

• Coffee-colored Camille as J’ai pas sommeil‘s chanteuse: barefoot, his slender body wrapped in black panne velvet, singing and swaying slowly past a gauntlet of eyes, his hands shaping Crying Game patterns out of the blues…

• And “The Crying Game” rising on the soundtrack of Ace Ventura, Pet Detective as Ace (Jim Carrey) learns what became of a certain vanished football star…

Interview with the Vampire: the childish intensity of appetite—”I want some more”—in Kirsten Dunst’s newborn nosferatu….

• Preggers and pigging out in Junior: the authentic camaraderie of Pamela Reed and Arnold Schwarzenegger…

• The lacerating realism of Chrissy Rock’s performance in Ladybird, Ladybird: doggedly making yet another child, going bonkers when flesh of her flesh is officially amputated from her life…

• Raw, soul-breaking kinesis–energy, noise, violence—during the drag races down by the railyards in Metal Skin: the best cars—and the best people—are ”sick”….

• Tommy Lee Jones’s Warden McKlusky self-morphing as he moves through space, Natural Born Killers: Ed Grimley’s redneck uncle as drawn by Chuck Jones…

• Bovine Muriel turned butterfly during a joyous rendition—in peroxide mane and skintight sateen—of ABBA’s “Dancing Queen”: Muriel’s Wedding

• Jack Nicholson pissing on James Spader’s shoes, Wolf

• Butch (Bruce Willis): “You OK?” Marsellus (Ving Rhames): “No, man, I’m pretty fuckin’ far from OK.” Pulp Fiction

The Hudsucker Proxy: In the Jean Arthur (also Barbara Stanwyck/Katharine Hepburn/Miriam Hopkins) part, Jennifer Jason Leigh tries to keep up with Tim Robbins’s words and gestures as he delivers “their” old Muncie school cheer….

• Absolutely worst idea of the year: in I Love Trouble, Julia Roberts sees rival newsperson Nick Nolte’s face on every key of her keyboard … or was it Nolte seeing Roberts? Oh god, don’t make us look again….

White: New neon sign blinking above a hapless homecoming: “Too bad you missed Christmas”….

• Calling down queries about the current plot of The Bold and the Beautiful from Stromboli’s volcanic slopes in Dear Diary … somewhere Bergman and Rossellini turn in their graves….

• A chubby tot, glowing in her tearful mother’s arms, raises a hand in solemnly maternal farewell to her onetime kidnapper, a disinherited child watching from the dark outside: Crows….

• “This may be the best moment of your life,” suggests Hector’s wise child (Helen Miller), as the sun slowly leaks out of Being Human‘s last “world”: the only light on the beach the glow from a family’s campfire, and the completed history of Everyman’s long homecoming….

Heavenly Creatures: the camera rushing through the arch leading to the sandcastle, pushing through the door and carrying the movie into a life-size interior, while the girls look in through the windows…

• Just the sight of them on a Hollywood streetcorner, as life, the night, and the Fifties stream by: that gang of Ed Wood‘s (Martin Landau, Jeffrey Jones, Lisa Marie, George “The Animal” Steele, et al.)…

• Vincent and Jules exiting. the diner at the end of Pulp Fiction: the genealogy of their synchronized strut and simultaneous holstering of guns can be traced directly to the gunslinger chutzpah of Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes….