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.
Category: Scene Analysis Archive
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).
The 1943 Fox musical Stormy Weather is worth seeing not because of its conventional and wafer-thin backstage storyline, but because it offers the opportunity to see great musical numbers with the film’s two leads, Lena Horne and Bill Robinson, as well as other legendary African American artists like Cab Calloway, Katherine Dunham, and Fats Waller. Gifted African American performers were under-utilized and generally poorly served in Hollywood during the studio era, frequently relegated to stereotyped supporting roles or “specialty” numbers that could be excised from prints shipped to racially segregated areas of the United States. And while Stormy Weather is a product of its times and not without its fraught details – including a performance by a pair of comedians in minstrel-style blackface makeup – it also offers an indispensable peek at some extraordinary talents.
Phantom Thread is a movie about obsession. Call it love, admiration, compulsion or simply attention to detail, it is the central ingredient in Paul Thomas Anderson’s answer to the vintage Hollywood romance. Following the peculiar relationship between eccentric couturier Reynolds Woodcock and foreign waitress-turned-muse-turned-partner Alma, the postwar London-set film fits right in with the other classic love affairs of the time, save for its distinctly modern look at what is essentially a well-dressed, well-spoken battle of the kinks.
Have you ever had a complete breakdown in public; blurring the line between public and private spheres? In Her, Theodore faces this exact experience when his operating system lover, Samantha, breaks his heart. Samantha is not just in love with Theodore, but also 641 other users.