Against The Hype

movies, criticism and their pleasures

Archive for August, 2012

Best Shot: Sherlock Jr.

August 09, 2012 By: Colin Low Category: Capsuled Thoughts

It’s almost a given that Buster Keaton’s Sherlock Jr. (1924), springing from the head of one of early cinema’s foremost slapstick geniuses, is a choreographic delight. What’s more surprising, given our continual fallacy about human advancement, is how many self-reflexive and frame-breaking gestures abound in Sherlock Jr. that haven’t been far surpassed since. The classic example from this film, of course, is the delicious sequence when a dream-state Keaton walks up into a movie screen and gets ambushed by the cuts from one scene to another. (It’d be my pick for best shot, if only that sequence weren’t the painstaking product of numerous match cuts.)

Instead, my pick is the movie’s very ending shot you see above, for various reasons:

Buster Keaton’s stony face is part of his eternal charm, and here he even scratches his head to accentuate his adorable bafflement;

Learning romance from the movies isn’t a new thing, but it’s so rarely deliberately choreographed as part of the joke (as it is in this scene);

Frames proliferate in Sherlock Jr., not just in the movie-screen crossing sequence but also here, and multiple times elsewhere: inexplicably bolted front doors, theatrical curtains obscuring a desired lover and a competing suitor, etc.; and

As a projectionist, I love that it doesn’t seem like the projector has a space to project the movie through. The stars are more important!

The Dark Knight Rises: Why Christopher Nolan is a Fascist Filmmaker

August 04, 2012 By: Colin Low Category: Full Essays

Try as he might, Christopher Nolan can’t quite master multitudes. In the third and last instalment of his Batman trilogy, Gotham City is overthrown, and the wealthy are hauled off to a people’s court. But where are all the people? They’re faceless masses, huddled neatly to either side as an asylum-loosed judge delivers the sentence. Mansions are pillaged, crowds riot at hotel entrances—but only for the brief length of a voiced-over montage. Just as abruptly, the streets become conspicuously empty. Before this, entire held-up stock exchanges and stadiums turn meek as lambs at the sight of a few guns.

Throughout The Dark Knight Rises crowds are always docile, organized or absent, and mob agency looks a lot like the will of a few. Perhaps this is Nolan’s point. For him, history is a clash of fascists benevolent and malicious; send enough megalomaniacs running around, and the masses can be trusted to hand over their fates. Even the hostaged ships in The Dark Knight, who stood inspiringly against the Joker’s plans to set them on each other, did so at the hands of a mere three people amid two boatloads of cowering passengers.


Best Shot: How to Marry a Millionaire

August 02, 2012 By: Colin Low Category: Capsuled Thoughts

If How to Marry a Millionaire didn’t premise itself on having Marilyn Monroe, Betty Grable and Lauren Bacall share the same plane of cinematic existence, the whole enterprise would seem even more dreary than it is. It’s an implausible high concept, to be sure: three feminine “types” rent out a New York loft to try to ensnare a rich husband. If you have any familiarity with Hollywood’s hypocrisy about moneyed escapism and true love, you know how it goes. As they are, the unfolding clichés seem too lowbrow even for Monroe’s breathy ditzy blonde, let alone the angular Bacall. The movie, only the second shot in CinemaScope, only seems remotely adept at the technology when it fits all three stars onscreen. Hence my favorite shot above, where each star is dressed and takes on a mode of repose that’s so different from the others, even as they’re all dreamily contemplating their potential future catches. The pleasure’s ours.