Sunday, June 8, 2014

Favorite Movie Scenes Blogathon

John from Hitchcock's World is hosting his very own blogathon. This one is all about your favorite movie scenes. As always, there are rules with these things. Here they are:

1. Each choice must be a specific moment from a film, not the film itself, even if it's a movie like "My Dinner With Andre" or "Twelve Angry Men."

2. Since picking out scenes is hard, you can write about as many different moments from as many different films as you like. There are no specific restrictions in what types of films you can draw from, even if it's one of Godard's movies or Tarkovsky's "Solaris" or any other film I have criticized in this blog. I'll even try to control myself is you pick a scene from one of Connery's James Bond films (emphasis on the try).

3. I'd encourage you to try and diversify your range of choices as much as you can. In both my lists I cover movies in the science fiction, war, western, comedy, surrealist, and adventure genres with periods ranging from the 1950's to the present day. 

4. For each film you refer to you can only discuss one scene. For instance if you decide on writing about "2001: A Space Odyssey", you can't do both the shuttle docking sequence and the scene where Dave disconnects HAL, you'd have to make a choice between one or the other.

5. For each scene, you should provide a reasonably clear description. I would advise some context regarding what is happening in the scene (though you are not required to do so depending on the circumstances, i.e. if you want to avoid spoiling a crucial twist that happens here), but the focus should be on what you like about that particular moment.

6. I would also recommend making sure your descriptions are not too long. I'm not going to give a precise maximum length but try to keep your explanations from being longer than necessary.

With that in mind, let me tell you about some of my favorite scenes.

Shower Scene in Psycho

Even if you've never seen Psycho, chances are you've seen at least some portion of its shower scene. If you've somehow managed to avoid even that, you're likely to have seen some other production spoof it, pay homage to it, or just plain rip it off. What's become lost in all this is why it has become so iconic. It's just an incredible piece of filmmaking.

Just to be on the safe side, I'll still give you a bit of context. Just a little bit. On the run after embezzling a bunch of money from her employer, Marion Crane, played by Janet Leigh, comes to stay at the out-of-the-way Bates Motel. Norman Bates, the creepy proprietor played by Anthony Perkins, has been spying on her since she checked in. After Crane gets into the shower, we see a mysterious person enter the bathroom that she is unaware of. The curtain is suddenly yanked open by a woman wielding a large knife. From there, let's just say it's not a love scene.

The shot showing the person who pulled back the curtain is the most iconic one of the scene, but I would argue it's not anywhere near the best. In fact, because of advances in technology, it might be the worst. I'll explain. I've seen some old prints of the movie and this person really appears to be a shadow on the attack. I've also seen the re-mastered version and this image isn't anywhere near as black. I can pretty clearly make out the face of Anthony Perkins. It doesn't help that most of us already know who the person really is. After all, it is a fifty-plus year old movie that's been pontificated upon countless times, starting with its very first reviews and including entire books about it. The scene, and the movie as a whole, is robbed of some of its mystery. What happens following this is still visceral entertainment at its very best.

Director Alfred Hitchcock knew that in 1960, he couldn't make a woman being stabbed to death look believable by actually showing it. For this, we get the action of the knife moving in a stabbing motion, a bit awkwardly, and the the sound effect of it entering flesh that's still used to this day. We also get lots of quick-cutting between angles showing the attack. The implied nudity of the scene is also extremely important. At this time, Hitchcock couldn't actually show a naked woman and expect his movie to make it into respectable theaters. However, this had to look like it was really happening. During those cuts, it is clear she isn't wearing anything. It's a shower just like we would take. Nowadays, we take something like this for granted, but pre-sexual revolution this was extremely risque stuff. All of this draws us in by making it real to us. The genius is that since we don't see the actual cutting, something is still left to our imagination. Even better than that, we witness her try to fight off her attacker. Every attempt at a stab doesn't connect as she's grabbing her assailant's arms in an effort to save her own life. Marion's reality and our fantasy combine in a manner that layers one gruesome image upon another. Helping to grate our nerves even more, is that iconic score that seems to feature chalk screeching across a blackboard.

For me, it's the aftermath that really makes the scene. That music has finally stopped. This tells us the attack is over, and so is Marion's life. However, it is replaced the eery sound of the running shower. We don't just see Marion's body fall immediately after the attack. We see her back against the shower wall and the whole of her sliding slowly downward. We see her reaching out with her right hand as if trying to grasp one last bit of life. It can only take hold of the shower curtain. At this point we get a close up of the shower rod and see the hooks of the curtain being yanked from it as she completes her descent. We see her blood mixing with the water as it spirals down the drain. Finally, Hitchcock gives us a closeup of her eye which pulls back to reveal her face against the floor staring straight into the camera. Motionless. People like to say someone couldn't play dead as if it's the easiest thing to do. If it is, there's playing dead and then there's actually seeming to be dead, something Janet Leigh accomplishes. Her ghastly visage, aided by the complete stillness of the scene except for the water and the slow pulling back of the camera, makes this a still amazingly creepy moment.

Okay, let's move on to something a tad more festive...

The 1st Barbershop Scene in Coming to America

Eddie Murphy's lone Oscar nomination came for his work in Dreamgirls. I'll forever maintain that he should have at least earned a nod for what he accomplishes in Coming to America. I wouldn't have minded if Arsenio Hall had gotten one, either. The first barbershop scene in the film best exemplifies the effort put in by these two guys. In his main role, Eddie plays Prince Hakeem, an African prince who has decided to come to America to find his bride. Arsenio plays Semi, Hakeem's best friend and kinda/sorta servant. In order to make himself more attractive to American women, the prince has decided he needs to change his hair. He and Semi walk into the barbershop near their Queens apartment. They see one barber cutting someone's hair, a very young Cuba Gooding Jr. by the way, one barber eating his lunch, a third just sitting off to the side, and old white guy also just stting off to the side. All of them, except young Cuba, are engaged in a passionate debate about the greatest boxer of all time. Some of the normal names are bandied about: Muhammad Ali (and whether or not he should be called Cassius Clay), Joe Louis, and Rocky Marciano. It's a hilarious and very genuine feeling conversation, not unlike what happens in barbershops all across this land, particularly in the old style local shops, and particularly in black neighborhoods. What elevates this from just being one of the funnier moments in a comedy to being classic is who is having this conversation. The barber cutting hair, and presumably the one who runs the place is played by Murphy. The guy chowing down on his lunch? That's Arsenio. The third barber is neither, but doesn't say much. Then there's the old Jewish guy in the corner who says much more. That's also Eddie Murphy.

I went to see this when it came out in theaters way back when. I had an idea that Eddie and Arsenio were playing multiple roles in this scene, however I had no clue that the Jewish guy was one of them until closing credits spilled the beans. Really, all of the characters were phenomenally done. The makeup team has a huge hand in this as they did an amazing job hiding the physical features of our stars without making them look like latex monsters. Still, Murphy and Hall did an even more amazing job not giving it away with their actions. They each created distinct people with mannerisms, postures, voices, and speech patterns different from their own and each others, yet still natural feeling. Murphy's head barber spoke in a high pitched voice, used exaggerated hand movements, and seemed to always be on edge. As the prince he was the exact opposite, speaking in calm tones with an affected accent and minimal body motion. Hall played Semi as almost constantly perturbed with a deeper version of his normal speaking voice. Meanwhile, his eating barber, like Murphy's barber, spoke in a screechy voice, However, it was still more relaxed and a bit sarcastic.

The true gem in this scene is Murphy's work as the Jewish patron. As I've already said, the first time I saw Coming to America I had no idea I was looking at Eddie Murphy in disguise. In the dozens of times I've watched it since, I keep looking for him within the character. In the voices of the others he plays throughout the movie, you can eventually tell that their voices are variations of his own. With this character, while we know that's the case, we have to strain much more to hear it. The way he sits is nothing even remotely like what we've seen of the actor in numerous movies and interviews. Even in the eyes, which are normally a dead giveaway, I don't see him. What Murphy accomplishes goes far beyond what any other actor in heavy makeup has ever accomplished, with the possible exceptions of Charlize Theron in Monster, and the ridiculously underrated turn by John Leguizamo in Spawn. Many others have given fantastic performances of outrageous characters. What makes this unique is that this is just a regular guy. There appears to be nothing exceptional about him, yet he's an absolute mirage. Murphy would again come close to this type of immersion playing the grandmother of the protagonist in The Nutty Proffessor and its sequel. But not quite. In a career with many moments of comedic genius, this is his masterstroke.

And now, boys and girls, it's time for some action...

Bruce Lee vs. the Guards in Enter the Dragon

In my post about the movie, I hinted at how many times I've watched Enter the Dragon. We might be into triple digits by now. What I've seen even more often than that is this fight scene that quite literally ends one act and begins another. Of course, I've seen it every time I watched the movie. I have also seen it as part of documentaries and tributes, and watched it online. As long as we're being completely honest, I've even popped in the DVD and just watched that scene.

The quick and dirty on the scene is that Bruce is an undercover agent on Han's island posing as a competitor in an international martial arts tournament. Han is suspected of running a criminal empire from the place. One of the rules for the fighters is that they are not supposed to leave their rooms at night. Of course, this is when the best investigating is done, so Bruce leaves his room at night. This is actually the second time he's done so. The first time went off without a hitch. This time, he has to get closer to the action. This means he has to take an even bigger chance of drawing attention, which he does. Screw all this chit-chat, let's just watch it together. Oh, wait...there's one part where Bruce is holding some poor guy by the hair and then uses it snap the punk's neck. That punk is a very young Jackie Chan. Same guy in the pic just above. Ok, now...Action!


  1. I haven't actually seen Psycho in full yet, but I have seen the famous shower scene (Fun fact: the "blood" we see going down the drain was actually chocolate syrup) along with a few parodies like when Mel Brooks brilliantly spoofed it in High Anxiety (as you'd expect from a parody of Alfred Hitchcock's films). Great choice.

  2. I never realized how versatile Eddy Murphy could be in one scene. I'm not normally a huge fan of his work, but I don't know very many actors who can convincingly play multiple comedic roles in one scene, outside of Peter Sellers in The Mouse that Roared (and Dr. Strangelove to a lesser extent) and Mike Myers in the Austin Powers films. I might have to check this one out if I get the chance.

    1. Cool factoid about the blood in Psycho. Funny, I remember going to the theater to see High Anxiety with my mom when I was really young, but all I remember of it is seeing the title.

      Please check out Coming to America one of these days. It's an oddity in that in the original theatrical version it's an R-rated fairy tale. The version that plays on VH1 several times a year, though, is perfect for family consumption. Murphy and Arsenio each play several other roles in the movie in addition to the ones featured in this scene. Thanks for hosting!

    2. If you get the chance, High Anxiety is a lot of fun, especially if you like Hitchcock.

      Thanks for participating. I've actually been working on a few more possible blogathons. I 've started one new one about female characters and I've been tossing around a few ideas for a more sophisticated cosmic adventure-theme blogathon which may either be really exciting or extremely convoluted.

    3. I'll definitely check it out.