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Moments out of Time 1992

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


• 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….

• Steve Martin attempting to rekindle passion in ex-fiancée Dana Delany, Housesitter; they end up grappling on the floor with their heads in the fireplace ….

• Once and never-again lovers Hurricane (Bill Paxton) and Fantasia (Cynda Williams) smoking in the abandoned house at night and wondering about the gun in the purseOne False Move

• All hell breaking loose at a traffic light, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me

• Alec Baldwin and a set of steak knives, Glengarry Glen Ross

• A moment of domestic tranquility with a dope dealer’s mom, Bad Lieutenant; at rare rest, on the couch, Harvey Keitel is sitting on Jesus….

Lorenzo’s Oil: An American boy gifts an older African pal with a farewell kite and, in the heavy light of tropical sunset, the golden sand up and down the beach on which they run moves like long sinuous veils. Not much later, all the ways the world is in motion will stop for Lorenzo….

• Clay Shaw (Tommy Lee Jones), asked what he’s going to do now that he’s been acquitted: “I believe I’ll fix an étouffé”—JFK (released too late for ’91’s “Moments”)…

• “There’s no crying in baseball!” … is there? Tom Hanks, A League of Their Own….

• The newly vampiric don (Robert Loggia) telling his still-human lieutenants they’re about to become “made men”—a screw-loose convergence of Cosa Nostra and Dracula’s Daughter that never quite came off, in Innocent Blood

• Wouldn’t it be pretty to think so? Brian Epstein (David Angus) gazes out a window at Barcelona in black and white; with sounds of a corrida del toros coming out of nowhere- The Hours and Times….

The Last of the Mohicans: The fierce intelligence and absolute commitment of Wes Studi’s Magua…

Bram Stoker’s Dracula: Behind Vlad the Impaler (Gary Oldman), a red sky punctuated by stylized silhouettes of slaughtered men, their shapes like Indonesian shadow-puppets. Reverberating in that evocation of a man’s terrible fall into bloodlust is Francis Coppola’s memory of his Kurtz and carnage in another country (“The horror, the horror”)….

• “I ain’t like that no more”: Unforgiven….

• Alan Rudolph mistaken for Martin Scorsese, The Player

• The best bartender since Brian Dennehy in ’10’: Col (Jim Broadbent), in The Crying Game, as one point of the three-cushion flirt talk between Dil (Jaye Davidson) and Fergus (Stephen Rea)-“He’s givin’ me the look again, Col … what do you think it means?”…

• Hell behind a bathroom mirror, Candyman: the flash of Virginia Madsen’s picture-taking, glimpsed through a jagged hole in the wall…

• Jonathan Demme’s father mistakes a youthful photo of himself for one of Jonathan—Cousin Bobby….

• In Thunderheart, Michael Apted and Roger Deakins’s aerial coverage of car trajectories across the Black Hills backcountry catches the supple intercourse of vehicle and landscape….

• Ernest Dickerson remembering watching Oliver Twist on TV with his dad, and deciding to learn how to do what lighting cameraman Guy Green did—Visions of Light….

• In the wholly specious exercise that is Swoon, the terrible waste of the way things look in black and white (cinematography by Ellen Kuras): the mystic luminescence of a shirt, the rich texture of keylighted flesh, everything of substance immanent with nothing more than moonbeams and shadows…

• The candidate (Tim Robbins), bent over a keyboard in his trailer, “notices” the camera crew, and smiles: making the devil’s music with media, Bob Roberts….

• Buying a soul for $20Highway 61

• “Now I’m totally fuckin’ tortured”—Steve Buscemi, Reservoir Dogs….

Batman Returns: Coming home from her own murder, Selena Kyle (Michelle Pfeiffer) wrecks her chatchke-filled apartment; a half-dead mouse metamorphosing into one very lively pussycat….

Basic Instinct: Classic dynamics of lone woman threatened by a bank of threatening males is cathartically countered by Catherine Martell’s (Sharon Stone’s) acid intellectual poise, and the unsettling flash of that nether mouth as she crosses her legs….

• “She’s gonna live!”—Frances Fisher, Unforgiven….

• Alone in the kitchen, Miranda Richardson, the unromantic Englishwoman, assaults her own flesh to battle the pain of her son’s death-Damage….

Alien3: At the moment of Charles Dance’s apotheosis as Ripley’s lover/healer, his wonderfully sensual flesh is erased in the blink of an eye, wiped offscreen by a quintessentially alien rival….

• The CIA monitoring infrared satellite transmission of a desert raid on the other side of the world, Patriot Games: a vaguely humanoid glimmer onscreen changes color: “That’s a kill.”…

• The puddle turning blood-red with a change of camera angle, The Player

• Michael Gambon: “Your son is such a flake.” Replies Donald O’Connor: “I know. So am I.” The last lovely moment in Toys; two hours to go…:

• The sweetly persistent propriety of Mia Sara, continuing to rearrange the shawl over policewoman Melanie Griffith’s knees as she sits talking with the rebbe (Lee Richardson)—A Stranger Among Us….

• A shape—the Golem? Nosferatu?—descending a night-misted stair in an unnamed and unlocateable Mitteleuropeen town; don’t pay any attention to them, Woodman, we love staring at Shadows and Fog, too….

• A Louise Brooks–like lady lies in the sun above the Italian coast, graciously accepting a doting manservant’s ministering; her Lost Generation face a beautiful mask, weary of being too much seen and touched … Polly Walker in Enchanted April

Final Analysis: Psychotic to the max, a high-IQ mankiller (Kim Basinger) is nonetheless brought efficiently to heel by the mindgames that shrinks—especially wronged good-guy Richard Gere—play. Is it imagination or does pure gender rage suffuse the face of Basinger’s thwarted virago?…

• Aubrey Beardsley would have approved: Lucy Westenra (Sadie Frost) floating into a secret garden of desire where Beauty meets Beast, her red dress spread out in slowmotion as if the air itself had bled a crimson stain. Bram Stoker’s Dracula….

• “I’m shy.” Helen Hunt lets Eric Stoltz gaze upon her nudity—Waterdance….

• Lovely brown Dil coming out of the bathroom in her kimono, The Crying Game

• Judy Davis eyes: in Husbands and Wives, the way she narrows her gaze and sort-of winks when Liam Neeson is displayed as a possible date; her eyelids snick down and up like a raptor’s when it sights prey….

• The utterly stoned expression of The Hairdresser’s Husband (Jean Rochefort) as he dances to sensual Arab wails and flutes, a blissed-out Buster Keaton…

• Dark, snowy night; a hooded cradle; a stream that somehow flows from a Gotham park into an inky grotto as big as the inside of the earth … the mystic birth of a hero as envisioned by Edward Gorey and Gahan Wilson—Batman Returns

• Cresting a hill in the dead of night to sight an improbable concatenation of hot flashing light and hollow booming in the heart of the wilderness, The Last of the Mohicans; a vision that echoes Rip Van Winkle’s dream of ghostly mountain bowlers, and heralds the advent of civilized warfare in the New World…

Unforgiven: The deputies discussing the arrival of gun-toting strangers, the temporary absence of their marshal, and whether it’s better to get killed on a hot day or cold; especially the running observation about Little Bill by one-armed Clyde Ledbetter (Ron White): “He just ain’t no carpenter.”…

• Ray Liotta, Illegal Entry, and Jennifer Jason-Leigh, Single White Female: though deserving of better showcases, they shine as empty souls looking to batten on fuller lives; their seductive helpfulness and admiration are tentacles attaching themselves softly, unobtrusively, till time comes for teeth to show….

The Hours and Times: The sad-hip prescience of the pretty blond stewardess (Stephanie Pack) who stops by the hotel room to banter with John Lennon-before-he-was (Ian Hart), and their strangely hermetic dance…

• “Did you just con me?” Delroy Lindo asking, and not especially minding; his West Indian Archie is sufficiently secure in his authority-and appreciative of young Malcolm Little’s (Denzel Washington) talent-that he can afford not to kill the man who will become Malcolm X….

• “Yeewwts?” Southern judge Fred Gwynne doing his civil best to understand what, precisely, the Brooklyn attorney (Joe Pesci) is saying on behalf of his clients (“the two youths”)—My Cousin Vinny

• David Ferrie (Joe Pesci), about to leave the office of Jim Garrison (Kevin Costner) after delivering an outlandish account of his “hunting trip” in the Dallas area, is told that he will be detained; some of his story just isn’t very credible. “Really?” asks Ferrie, one professional to another; “What part?”—JFK….

• A nexus of Western fact and legend in Unforgiven: the battered English Bob (Richard Harris) listens from a jail cell as Little Bill Daggett (Gene Hackman) deconstructs one of the “Duck of Death”’s finer moments for pulp novelist W.W. Beauchamp (Saul Rubinek). Just when we’ve seen through and laughed away larger-than-life fiction, Little Bill deliberately pulls his audience on screen and off-into perilous reality….

• Deep-focus Christmas, Lorenzo’s Oil: As the Odones (Susan Sarandon, Nick Nolte) reminisce with friends about how they met, a streetful of children is observed at crystalline, too-good-to-be-true play outside the window of their home. One’ child suddenly runs out of frame, then another, then the whole teeming lot of them. Somewhere offscreen, Lorenzo has fallen….

• Griffin Mill (Tim Robbins) asking his lunch companions (“We’re all intelligent people”) whether, for once, they couldn’t talk about something besides movies; a moment of silence; general laughter. The Player

Brother’s Keeper: Lyman, the nervous one, shying away from the filmmakers’ camera, leaving the path, and sliding out of sight behind an unattached door leaning against a wall…

• “Stay alive, no matter what occurs—I will find you!”: Daniel Day-Lewis to Madeleine Stowe. Overexposure in TV clips can’t reduce the bravery and exquisite judgment in the writing of that line; it’s the startling “occurs” that measures Hawkeye poised between races, cultures, and fundamental allegiances, in The Last of the Mohicans….

Unforgiven: The sense of absolute shame among the hunters on the hill after bushwhacking the young cowboy (“You’ve shot our Davy!”). Will Munny calls down his promise to the other ranchhands that “We ain’t gonna shoot—now get him some water, goddamit!”…

• Undercover cop (Tim Roth) shot by, and shooting, a terrified woman motorist—Reservoir Dogs

• Telling texture in The Crying Game‘s prologue: obsession and memory lock on to the rough burlap folds of Jody’s (Forest Whitaker’s) hood, the uneven patches of stubble spread on brown cheek and double-chins, the hot golds and burnt oranges of autumn woods outside the greenhouse; Fergus is so possessed by the touch and color and look of his hostage that he can be said to have taken his life….

Bad Lieutenant: Witnessing in longshot the bad LT’s demise: shot in his car on a crowded street, that dead standstill a perverse redemption for a man who has driven as deep into sin as he can go….

• A little boy on a bike submerging in tall grass … a mundanely mysterious vanishing in Olivier Olivier

The Hairdresser’s Husband: The primal swell of the German hairdresser’s breast, full in a boy’s rapt eyes. When his sex goddess’s heart gives out moments later, the mise-en-scène is set for a lifetime’s fantasy full of sex, death, and hairstyling….

• Half the screen filled with the page of journal/letter/novel as one of the Count’s victims and de facto historians feverishly scribbles on it; across the top of the frame, a sunset horizon with the locomotive of story hurtling across it. Bram Stoker’s Dracula knows and foregrounds the voluptuous excess of writing/feeling/imaging that is the essence of such literature and colors our reading of it….

• Elvis(es) in the sky with rhinestones—Honeymoon in Vegas

Light Sleeper: Dana Delany plunges 34 floors to her death, but there is no blood on the Bressonian pavement: the fall from spiritual grace of a fragile, edgy soul who couldn’t find a foothold in any future…

• The last embrace of The Lovers on the railway platform in the rain…

• In the last sequence of Unforgiven, the madness of Will Munny, a mantle accepted with such fullness it approaches a species of calm: the implacable lift of his shotgun into frame, the conversation with the scribbler (“You write? Letters?”), the all-but-absentminded coup de grâce to a wounded deputy even more terrible than the payoff of Little Bill: “I don’t deserve to die this way—I was building a house!” “Deserve’s got nothin’ to do with it.”…