Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Eyes, windows, soul, etc.

Yes, Marie Antoinette again.
As noted, I had major issues with it. Funny thing is, I can't get the damn thing out of my head, which, I guess, is a compliment. I mean, if you're going to make a mediocre movie, why not make it catchy like a pop song?

The thing that's sticking with me isn't so much a character or a scene, but a look. Literally a look. During the course of the film, Coppola repeatedly breaks the rules of Film School 101 and has Kirsten Dunst look directly into the camera. I'd need to re-watch the film to get a precise count, butI'd guess it happens three or four times.

The first occurrence is during the opening shot. Kiki is lounging on a couch, amid a collection of pastries, being attended to by a maid; as the Gang of Four's "Natural's Not It" climaxes, she turns her head and seductively looks directly into the camera. The camera/we hold her gaze for a moment and then scene cuts to black. It's simultaneously sexy/funny, a "come hither" and a "fuck you," and it's an undeniably great moment. (Alas, it's one of the few.)

Obviously, Sofia isn't the first to break this protocol. The final shot of Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia has my favorite use of direct contact. After three hours of misery and heartbreak, the clouds are lifting; Claudia (Melora Walters) sits on a bed, listening to a lecture from Jim (John C. Reilly). Anderson pushes Reilly's speech way low in the mix; instead we're entirely focused on Walters' reaction and the song playing on the soundtrack, Aimee Mann's "Save Me." As the song reaches a crescendo, Walters raises her eyes, looks directly into the camera, and smiles. It's the first time in the film's entire running time that this major character actually smiles. (And if you've seen the film, you know that she's been through a lot and it really means something.) The camera holds on that smile for a beat before cutting to the credits. In a film full of great moments, Melora's eye contact/smile is a capper.

And now I'm blanking. I'm sure there are other truly great instances of actors looking directly at us, but nothing's jumping at me. Your picks?


At 5:43 AM, Blogger Tuwa said...

Well, there's the rather jarring break at the end of Goodfellas. When I first saw it, I didn't like it, but it's grown on me: Scorsese wanted to get across what happened in the trial and afterwards, and he wasn't interested in a court procedural or in the cliched newspaper slams ("CONWAY: LIFE IN PRISON" // "CICERO: LIFE IN PRISON" etc). So I guess he thought "Henry and Karen have both given voiceovers, why not go one better?"

There's also the scene where Albert Finney/Tom Jones puts his hat directly over the camera (with a smirk, if I remember right).

At 5:59 AM, Blogger John Barleycorn said...

I like the scene in Wet Hot American Summer when Coop is getting dumped for the final time, and his ladyfriend is listing off all the reasons she's chosen Andy over him. They become so ridiculous and long-winded he just nods, looks at the camera, nods, shrugs, rolls his eyes. Fantastic.

At 11:27 AM, Blogger Flickhead said...

There are those times when Woody Allen looks and talks directly at the camera.

If my memory is correct, Theresa Russell does it in Whore.

One-time 007 George Lazenby makes a crack directly to the audience in On Her Majesty's Secret Service.

Oliver Hardy used to look to the audience frequently for support.

Don't forget Haneke's Funny Games.

Robert Montgomery's Lady in the Lake tried using a first-person camera.

...I'm sure more will come to me...

At 11:43 AM, Blogger Brian said...

Charlie Chaplin, Maurice Chevalier, Groucho Marx, Rod Serling, Andy Warhol's Screen Tests, Mel Brooks, Spike Lee come to mind

At 5:44 AM, Blogger Tuwa said...

How could I have forgotten? Rear Window.

At 10:04 PM, Blogger Ben said...

Wow... Why do I not remember all of these moments? Well, to be fair, I haven't seen a slew of the above-mentioned titles. But now I want to go re-watch Goodfellas for that moment. And, Tuwa, why do I not remember the Rear Window moment. I loooooove that movie and have zero recollection of the eye contact.


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