Against The Hype

movies, criticism and their pleasures
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Best Shot: The Wizard of Oz

March 05, 2013 By: Colin Low Category: Capsuled Thoughts

I did not grow up with The Wizard of Oz. Sit on that for a second: like Star Wars, The Wizard of Oz feels like one of those movies that stands in for an entire mythology entrenched within the American childhood imaginary, rather than a movie that produced that mythology in the first place. How could one escape it? Yet not growing up in middle-class America meant that I wasn’t exposed to that rite of passage where Oz screenings roll around at the same time each year, permeating the holiday atmosphere. It meant that I had to make the deliberate choice to seek the movie out.

When I came around to watching The Wizard of Oz, what surprised me most was how deliriously stagebound it looks. This wasn’t a painstakingly populated Lord of the Rings or even one of those studio-set concoctions of the 80s that have become the fixture of Universal’s theme parks. Oz prides itself on painted backdrops, plastic flowers, candy-colored costumes and sets barely thirty feet wide. There aren’t even that many locations, if you consider that much of the screentime gets spent on wayside encounters with the three “friends of Dorothy” that our protagonist bumps into. But the movie barrels forth with such gusto and fairytale conviction that it’s hard to turn down.

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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!

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.

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Best Shot: The Royal Tenenbaums

July 26, 2012 By: Colin Low Category: Capsuled Thoughts

This post was written for the Hit Me with Your Best Shot series over at The Film Experience, graciously hosted by Nathaniel Rogers.

Wes Anderson’s films (of the mere Oscar-nominated two I’ve seen) brim with shots like the above: candy-colored, immaculately designed, and with human props at its center. Can you tell I’m not that huge a fan? Yet I love how the pervasive deadpan that Anderson enforces on his actors leaps out into the image here. The billboard behind Royal (Gene Hackman) and Pagoda (Kumar Pallana) might be the visual equivalent of a racist joke—why does the Indian right-hand man get lumped in with a Spanish translation?—but it’s also blaring the emergency/emergencia in which these two baffled men are waist-deep, but barely able to countenance.

Best Shot: Beauty and the Beast

April 13, 2011 By: Colin Low Category: Capsuled Thoughts

If there’s any doubt what Belle’s life as a princess will be like after the credits have rolled, this shot provides the answer. ”Far-off places, daring swordfights, magic spells, a prince in disguise”: she’s been there, and more besides. Is there another movie—an animated children’s film, no less—that has so compellingly explored the complex emotional territories of filial self-sacrifice, mob hysteria, the politics of mental illness, and full-blown romantic despair? One imagines Belle will now be content if everything else were to be found just in books. I know I would be, if I had a library like that.