Sunday, May 3, 2009

Side Orders #11

Just to break up The 9 Years a bit, here's another edition of my film clip series SIDE ORDERS. We start with the first film ever made -- and no, it's not Women Leaving A Factory by the Lumiere Brothers. That was the first film over 30 seconds, and was made in 1895. This is Thomas Edison's Kinetoscopic Record of a Sneeze, filmed on Jan. 7, 1894. So that means we just passed the 115th Anniversary of the art form! Thanks to the Library of Congress, an indefatigable reference source for movie history.

Here's one of my favorite love scenes of all time, from George Stevens' 1951 film A Place in the Sun. Montgomery Clift is a poor boy working a factory owned by the father of Elizabeth Taylor. They're conducting an affair while Clift is also off getting frumpy factory co-worker Shelley Winters "in trouble." Steven's claustrophobic, intimate handling of Clift and Taylor's first dance together undoubtably propelled the director into receiving his first Oscar that year (as did the film's superior, Oscar-winning black-and-white photography by William C. Mellor). I, and millions of other filmgoers, have swooned over the palpable nervous energy these two actors have together, and Taylor--with her famous final line--has never been sexier. Great film, and the winner of four more Oscars for its screenplay (by Michale Wilson and Harry Brown), costumes (by Edith Head), editing (by William Hornbeck) and music (by Franz Waxman).

This is a short scene from a movie I love, but on which very few people agree with me: Franklin Schaffner's Papillon, released in 1974, with Steve McQueen as Henri "Papillon" Cheriere, a prisoner at the brutal jungle prison that was once run out of French Guiana in South America. Papillon spends most of the movie trying to figure out how to escape from this hellhole, with fellow prisoner and best friend Dustin Hoffman acting as his one investor. It's an exciting film, both in action and in its filmmaking quality. My favorite sequences come when Papillon is thrown into solitary confinement for a ridiculous number of years--a state which drives him to despair and lunacy. Occurring during this period, the following is a dream sequence of such stunning power (I love its brevity) that I think it's been hard for many viewers to forget; I've even seen it referenced in an episode of The Sopranos. The two men to whom Papillon is running to greet are supporting characters who earlier met bloody fates. I feel this is an undeniably powerful sequence, especially in the context of the film. TURN THE SOUND UP FOR THIS.

I've always been a big Peanuts fan. So, of course I love the TV shows taken from Charles Schulz's strip and, perhaps against my better judgment, I like the movies, too--Snoopy Come Home, Race For Your Life Charlie Brown, and A Boy Named Charlie Brown. This scene, from the latter film, made in 1969, is unusual in that it gives a visual voice to one of the strips more inscrutable characters: Schroeder, the Beethoven-loving, piano-playing wunderkind. It's a perfect scene to lift out of the movie, because it involves no plot: it's just a beautifully-designed bit of Bill Melendez animation that puts pictures to what's going through Schroeder's head as he assays Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata" on his toy piano. This scene never fails to bring a tear to my eye, somehow, especially when I note Schroeder's lovingly pained expression as he finishes the piece. It's a scene that indelibly illustrates fandom.

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