The confessional scene from Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal follows Antonios Block (Max von Sydow) as he struggles through a crisis of faith. The film’s opening sequence sees the physical embodiment of Death (Bengt Ekerot) come for the knight’s life but, for reasons explained during the confession scene, Block challenges Death to a game of chess to decide his fate. Traveling through a country devastated by the Black Death, Block is also dealing with the societal wreckage left in its wake. His confession in this scene is a direct response to his confrontation with the personification of Death and the actual death he has already encountered.
Category: Scene Analysis
In horror and sci-fi films, female characters are too often the victim of the male gaze. Some might offer Ripley’s disrobing scene in Alien as a classic example. However, the mise-en-scene and cinematography of the scene disrupt the sexualizing possibility of the male gaze, and instead highlight the vulnerability of the human form.
Questions of humanity and authenticity have always been at the heart of the Blade Runner universe. In Ridley Scott’s original film, Rick Deckard a “blade runner,” administers an “empathy test” meant to distinguish humans from realistic androids known as replicants, and fans have spent well over three decades debating whether Deckard himself is a replicant. Denis Villeneuve’s sequel, Blade Runner 2049 (2017), deftly maintains a sense of ambiguity regarding Deckard’s origins, and also finds new ways to wrestle with the question of what it means to be “real.”
Howard Hawks’s His Girl Friday (1940) teems with witty quips, perfect responses, and enough cigarette smoke to blot out the sun. Consider the film’s second scene where we are introduced to retired reporter Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell) and her former boss and ex-husband Walter Burns (Cary Grant). This meeting not only sets up the characters and their prior conflict, but through a momentary breakdown in the motor-mouth dialogue, we also get a glimpse at how the film will resolve itself.
The second act of West Side Story (1961) starts on a romantic note, but the film’s gang war soon sours romance into rumble. Even as Tony and Maria make plans to run away from the West Side, the tension between the Jets and the Sharks threatens to destroy their relationship before the lovers get their chance. Act II realizes this contrast between love and violence in its third musical number, “Tonight – Quintet,” in which the plot strands developed in the solo and ensemble numbers of Act I compete against one another and seek to drown each other out.
In translating the groundbreaking 1957 stage musical, West Side Story, to film, the producers knew that a work whose claim to fame was its gritty realism should only be more true-to-life on the big screen. Robert Wise, a director better known for his noirish city dramas than fanciful entertainments, brought a down-to-earth sensibility to a work that, on stage, might seem to be simply a slightly edgier musical set against an urban backdrop. On film, we are thrust head-first into the streets, with their palpable energy and danger. Wise’s disinterest in theatrical razzle-dazzle is striking throughout, but especially in the film’s opening sequence: a bird’s-eye view of the Upper West Side playground in which we meet our two warring gangs, the Sharks and the Jets.
The genius of All About Eve (1950) is that it does not drag out its fairly obvious premise that Broadway star Margo Channing’s enthusiastic, young super-fan, Eve Harrington, is deviously plotting her own career rise at Margo’s expense. Barely a quarter of the way into the film, Margo (Bette Davis) has already deemed Eve (Anne Baxter), whose fandom and sycophancy she’d rewarded with a personal assistant job, a threat to her career and boyfriend. In true theatrical fashion, Margo unleashes her first wave of retaliation by drunkenly making a scene at her own party.
In Céline Sciamma’s Girlhood (2014), nothing is as simple as it seems. “I’m going to high school,” Marieme (Karidja Touré), our careful, introspective protagonist says to her mother one evening. In truth, she has dropped out of school after being told – despite her protestations – that her only real educational future lies in learning a trade at a technical school. Instead, she has joined up with three other neighborhood girls, who soon become her sisters-in-arm as she navigates life in the banlieues of Paris. We know she is lying and, we suspect, so does her mother, though she doesn’t come out and say it. Some of the film’s most effective exchanges have no dialogue. Every gesture, every facial expression is charged with a sense of urgency that feels eminently appropriate.
The Green Fog (2017) is a mind-bending walk through the iconic narrative arc of Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958). Commissioned for the closing night of the 2017 San Francisco Film Festival, director Guy Maddin (with co-directors Galen Johnson and Evan Johnson) pays a wonderfully subversive tribute to Hitchcock’s San Francisco-centric film by stitching together footage from movies and tv shows filmed in the Bay Area. Through the scrim of cut up and reworked scenes, the emotional peaks and valleys of Vertigo’s plot materialize. However, this approach never turns into a trivia game for cinephiles. Indeed, a particularly precocious cineast could spend the entirety of The Green Fog recalling the classic films that appear on screen (over 100 in total), pulling each title from the recesses of her mind. However, in traditional Maddin fashion, a more conceptual and active level of movie watching is required.
Blue Velvet (1986) is in some ways one of David Lynch’s most accessible works: it has a more conventional, linear narrative than many of his other projects, it can be understood as a thriller, and it fits into the film noir tradition. Audiences have a framework for processing the film’s scenes of brutality and perversity. For instance, upon its initial release, Gene Siskel compared it to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960).