Thursday, February 19, 2009

Masters At Work



Yesterday, I wrote about Roman Polanski's masterpiece, Chinatown. Watch this masterful scene shot in a single take. The camera pans, zooms, and draws back unobtrusively, allowing the movement of the actors (Jack Nicholson and John Huston) to magnetically pull the camera along with them. Polanski heightens the menace of Huston's character by keeping in him the center or leaning into the center while Nicholson comments from the left and looks up at Huston. By positioning the actors as unit slightly off center, he induces a gnawing sense of dislocation in the viewer.

As the scene builds, we become engrossed by Huston's deliberate speech and sinister manner. The subdued peripheral lighting helps illuminate Huston's already bright white shirt; the shirt becomes a means of ensuring that our concentration is complete when he utters the chilling words that "...most people never have to face the fact that at the right time and the right place, they're capable of...anything." The line, of course, is completely at odds the purity of the color white, unnerving the viewer even more. This is superb filmmaking by a major artist at the height of his powers...

Tonight's Mardi Gras parade schedule (with links to fab pix) here...

Friday's Choice: Big Sam's Funky Nation rocks out Voodoo Fest:

7 comments:

Roy said...

Wow! Big Sam's Funky Nation has a relentless beat. Even while the organist was just noodling, my head was still bopping. That drummer is something else (although I was imagining Tito Puente doing a riff over top of him that would've worked just fine!).

Renegade Eye said...

You can count on your fingers, the few really good movies this year. I go to screenings often.

K. said...

Roy: Big Sam is the former trombonist for the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. His CD Peace, Love, & Understanding was one of my favorite recordings of last year. They're just a dynamite ensemble.

Ren: Our two favorite films last year were Rachel Getting Married and the French film A Christmas Tale.

Don Parker said...

That scene makes me think of some of the camera shots in Touch of Evil (1958) by Orson Welles. The opening shot of 3 minutes 20 seconds following a car with a bomb in the trunk, and others that interweave characters seemingly unrelated. Genius. (And Charlton Heston, may he rest in infamy, as a Mexican border sheriff.)

K. said...

Don: Didn't Chuck has dark brown makeup all over his face, plus a pencil mustache, in that one?

ZenYenta said...

I read your first post about Chinatown and had to go look it up to refresh my memory. I hadn't seen it since 1974.All I could really remember was that Jack Nicholson was some kind of detective in it. Now Mr. Yenta and I want to find it on DVD and see it again.

I think that one thing about movies then as opposed to now is that there were so many barriers and taboos to break down and film makers were always searching for ways to express their truth. Now, no real barriers and it's mostly about using new technology to present the material.

K. said...

Zen, you and Mr. Yenta will not be disappointed.

I take your point about the use of technology in film. Nonetheless, when a movie is loud, cuts repeatedly within a scene, and relies on special effects, I think you'll usually find a pedestrian director covering up a weak screenplay.

A movie that relates specifically to your point is The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. It's the rare quiet film with impressive special effects. I enjoyed the movie as far as it went. But when you get right down to it, the effects supported a narrative that wasn't about much at all.