Back before Christmas, I wrote briefly about some scenes from the last ten years that made my jaw drop. I’d like to re-visit the concept without limiting myself to the last ten years. Here are some really amazing scenes of cinema, along with a brief description of what it is that I find so magnificent about them. They’re all over the map, too. I hope I’ve got something for most everyone.
Truffaut’s Post-Modern Montage, Day for Night
Forgive the first 30 seconds here, which are in French. Day for Night is the first film I think of when I think of post-modern film. Truffaut never lets you forget that he’s making a movie… about making a movie. You can only suspend your disbelief long enough before he jabs you just a tiny bit with a camera, a boom mike, a director instructing an actor or actress. And then it finally boils over in the film in this amazing montage scene, lightly juxtaposed against classical music.
Charlie Chaplin vs. the Feeding Machine, Modern Times
Chaplin’s tramp was such a lovable character because he tapped into the every man. The lower and middle classes could watch him and see themselves in him. And so when he took to the factory to work on the assembly line, it was a match made in heaven. In the early 20th century, machinery took a more prominent role for the American worker. But here’s Chaplin the tramp, trying out innovation run amok, and expressing it in a way that only his face could.
Stuck in a Room with Märta, Winter Light
This is one of the most amazing pieces of exposition in film. Tomas is a pastor who has lost his faith. His girlfriend/mistress is an atheist named Märta. Their relationship isn’t going so well. Bergman uses this scene, very early in the film, to establish this tone. It tells you everything you need to know about both characters. And the absurd length of the letter, coupled with the fact that the camera doesn’t move once for seven and a half minutes, puts the viewer in the same claustrophobic position that Tomas and Märta are in. Trapped with each other, unable to escape, suffocating under the lack of faith. It is, in a word, tremendous. And it is only one reason this movie is one of my two favorites ever made.
Guido’s Harem, 8 1/2
I am clearly no expert on such matters. As you can see from my 1,001 Movies to See Before You Die entry, there is an extraordinary amount of great films that I have never seen. With that preamble out of the way, let me say what’s in my head- I think this is the best scene in any movie I’ve ever seen. My opinion only, of course. There’s something so light-hearted, and yet also so sinister, about it. It’s genius. Our protagonist, Guido, is trapped in a room with every woman he’s ever loved in his life. They are preserved just as he knew them at the time- all of their assets, all of their faults. For both man or woman, this is a nightmare scenario. Predictably, all hell eventually breaks loose and they all conspire against him.
The Standoff, The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
Everything you could possibly want from a finale in a western is here. Morriccone’s score slowly and steadily brings the tension to a boil. The wide shot shows off the ominous tombstones and the barren desert. It’s perfectly languid, the scene is perfectly set, and the three speechless roles are executed perfectly by Eastwood, Van Cleef, and Eli Wallach.