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Wednesday
Apr062011

Best Shot: "HEAVENLY CREATURES"

Hit Me With Your Best Shot. Each week we assign a movie. Participants are asked to select its best shot and post it to their own webspace by Wednesday evening. Everyone is welcome to join in. Next week's topic is Beauty & The Beast (1991) and there had better be a big crowd. Who doesn't love that movie?

Today we're gazing at...

HEAVENLY CREATURES (1994)

With last year's mania for the dehumanizing Kick-Ass, this Spring's death-skilled Hanna and the internet's current casting obsessions with Hunger Games, in which a young girl Katniss (to be played by Jennifer Lawrence) becomes a killer to stay alive in a future that loves murder games, you'd think just about every other violent act in the world nowadays was committed by teenage girls. This type of violence can still shock onscreen -- and I hope it always will -- but it almost never arrives with both bludgeon force and emotional acuity the way it does in Peter Jackson's hysteric and hysterically imaginative Heavenly Creatures.

The problem that Heavenly Creatures poses with a "best shot" blogging experiment is not that it doesn't have these images, but that the images are rarely static and eager to be captured with your typical screen capturing devices. Only full on film clips would suffice. Peter Jackson loves the motion in his motion pictures and Juliet ("Introducing... Kate Winslet") and Pauline ("And Introducing... Melanie Lynskey") are about the most spastic female characters of the past couple of decades outside of maybe Molly Shannon's "Superstar!" They're constantly flinging themselves about. (read the full post.)

They spin. They dance. They run. They scream. They fling themselves lustily at movie posters with the stars they've elevated to sainthood (Mario Lanza, James Mason, Leslie Howard, and most amusingly Orson Welles). Aside from the iconic and eerily calm shot of Juliet and Paul holding hands after they've made a deadly pact for the morbid named "happy event", all of the film's best images arrive in flurries of movement and high pitched screaming like that post-murder run through the brush (the opening scene above) or a little later in the film and earlier in the story, a boisterous striptease through the woods.


The heightened girlified emotions in this long sequence which starts at a movie theater just keeps escalating until there's nothing left for it to do but collapse into peals of laughter, culminating in the film's best shot. At the end of their squealing striptease they laugh and kiss and the camera zooms out and up a branch flipping across the screen as if covering a showgirl with a sudden flush of feathers or yanking theatrical curtains closed on the showstopper at the end of Act One. Peter Jackson has struggled with tone on occassion -- The Frighteners and King Kong veer off course from time to time and The Lovely Bones is a chaotic mess of "what exactly are you going for with this?" but Heavenly Creatures, which I'd call his best film, is a master class in nailing a difficult tone with precision. The movie is at once exhilarating and dangerous feeling -- making you complacent with the girl's über passionate connection but also wary of it. And it's also morbidly funny while also being respectful of the true story's actual victim; please note that the film's only purely naturalistic performance, and a great one, is from Sarah Peirce as Honora Reiper.

So this time through the story I found the following sequence of shots incongruously sad. The scoring and sounds (the usual girlish squealing) are pushing happiness out at you but there's something so emblematic about the physical action.

Juliette, the more headstrong and confident creature, is leading the charge just as she does in the pair's fantasy visions of The Fourth World that will eventually consume their every thought. She runs with abandon towards the water when suddenly she panics and grabs hold of the pier for dear life.

But Juliette has already set the stubborn charging Pauline in motion. This newly spirited introvert charges forward taking the leap without hesitation letting the moment completely swallow her up. Just as she will in the couple's final fateful irreversible moments.

[FWIW: Heavenly Creatures is a member of Nathaniel's Personal Canon]

more such heavenly creatures

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Reader Comments (17)

I've always found that sequence on the pier so wonderful and symbolic, so glad to see it represented. I was watching the film earlier in hopes to participate and noticed--as you said--how difficult it is to capture a singular frame or shot that can represent the film visually. It's such a wonderful piece of work, and the energy of those two girls radiates off the screen! Such a masterpiece!

April 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMattyD.

Looked at the pictures -- I never saw this movie -- although I'm aware The Simpsons did their own version of the film with Lisa and another character voiced by Emily Blunt.

OT: I hate the Mildren Pierce miniseries -- we haven't even gotten to the Rachel Wood stuff and the whole thing feels like good on paper only.

April 7, 2011 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtfu11

Mildred

April 7, 2011 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtfu11

i vividly remember seeing 'heavenly creatures' at the time of it's release (partly because i was seeing a new zealander at the time and this was the first film we saw together) and loving it, but i don't recall if it was a hit at the time or has it appreciated over time?

such an amazingly visual film, and you've captured the two stills that immediately came to mind when you announced it was to be a best shot entry - the pier and the blood on kate's face

oh kate - loved her from the moment she corrected miss waller's french

April 7, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterpar3182

Great post. I've never seen a movie where realism and romanticism clash and co-exist as they do here. It's a major work, and as you suggest here, the tone is really something -I would call it a balancing act, but somehow that doesn't seem right- and it goes from massively, morbidly funny to terrifying and devastating with the ease of something truly masterly; but it's electrifying throughout.

April 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJavi

The Frighteners was him? I didn't realize my childhood had more Peter Jackson than I thought! Now 'Don't Fear the Reaper' is gonna be stuck in my head.

Heavenly Creatures is 99% as fresh as it was the first time I saw it. Your write-up on the pier shot is amazing. Perfect. It' sort of foreshadows the rest of the film, that even if Juliet's the more confident one, Pauline is the one who will take things to the next level, without even thinking about the consequences.

April 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPaolo

I had read some great reviews about Winslet's performance months before actually seeing the film. I knew she had a lot of nominations for it, but after the film ended I was far more impressed with Melanie Lynskey's performance. She's the multidimensional one in the production, she's the secretly naive & innocent, and eventually vicious and cruel character.

Kate Winslet starts the film in absolutely phenomenal fashion, really love her for the first 30 minutes or so and then BOOM, nothing happens, she is sick, or away, or just reacting to what is given to her. The film almost ignores her from then on, the attention shifts completely to the point that I cannot feel her as co-lead at the end of the film.

"Heavenly Creatures" is an interesting film, featuring two new faces, but the more impressive debut comes from Melanie Lynskey.

P.S. you've seen her IMDB "Mildred Pierce" press conference photos right? Am I the only one who thinks she can play Wolverine without having to apply any makeup on? OK, I'm just being mean, but seriously... what happened there? She's a beautiful woman, she's famous as hell, why is she doing this to herself?

April 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterYavor

Yavor -- they're both so special in it. I love the way Melanie pronounces "murder" as something "moiduh"

par 3182 -- it's quite an entrance scene AND quite an "introducing..." all told. if i was an actor, i'd be way too obsessed with that sort of thing. BUT WHAT ABOUT MY COMMEMORATIVE REELS WHEN I DIE. WHERE'S MY GREAT "INTRODUCING..." SCENE?!

April 7, 2011 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I love that Melanie Lynskey tweeted about this last night.

April 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRJ

RJ -- don't think that didn't put a smile on my face. I love actors who are also cinephiles. It gives me hope for the movies.

April 7, 2011 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I have now commented on all the other posts. as always i hope you're all reading the participants pieces too. I think it's so interesting to get a bunch of perspectives simultaneously. and maybe this is the film thats prompted the most homogenous response in terms of the image. Everyone loves that shot of the girls holding hands... and rarely does everyone seem to glom on to a shot that a director is purposefully passing off to us as the movies big BEST moment.

i'll shut up now. Also: I love this movie.

April 7, 2011 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I am all about the Lord of the Rings films, but this is probably Peter Jackson's best. It's such a singular film, with a very unique visual sensibility. WHY did Melanie Lynskey not become as huge as Kate Winslet after this? She was, and still is, AMAZING.

My favorite shots in this are the "Sound of Music" homage and the scene with the two of them in the bathtub - which is actually several shots, but I think it sort encapsulates the aesthetic of the film: the slightly off-kilter symmetry, the extreme close-ups, etc.

And as an aside, that shot of the two girls standing in front of the house holding hands? Totally made me think of Dogtooth. Too bad there was already a Distant Relatives post about Dogtooth and Salo.

April 7, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterdenny

I love this film so much. It has my most memorable cinematic line when Pauline leaned over to Juliette in the art class and said "I think your drawing's fantastic" - the pronunciation of "FINtastic" has always stuck with me for some reason, and Juliette's look of smug satisfaction after being told her painting was wrong.

I agree with denny, I always wondered how Kate Winslet came out of this film the bigger star, I thought Melanie Lynskey was magnificant.

April 7, 2011 | Unregistered Commentervbn

Nathaniel: Your analysis of the pier scene is just spot-on; I didn't catch the wider metaphor of how much Juliette is a catalyst for Pauline's leaping off into the reaches of her imagination till you mentioned it. Great stuff.

I watched this movie for the first time for this series, and was astounded by the formal adventurousness and deft tonal shifts that Peter Jackson takes on here. Brilliant. Fellowship of the Ring will still be closer to my heart, for its vision of the place mythic cinema can still hold in our moviegoing climate, but Heavenly Creatures is almost certainly Jackson's apex in craft as a filmmaker. (So far!)

April 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterColin Low

I love that you mention how difficult it is to find a specific shot for this because I kept thinking that, it's a movie that doesn't stop it's just constantly moving. i still marvel that all that information was packed into a mere 99 minutes.

(Seems like my email got lost in the junk, but here's my link http://encorentertainmnt.blogspot.com/2011/04/hit-me-with-your-best-shot-heavenly.html)

April 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew K.

Colin, thank you. I'm glad this prompted your viewing. It's still surprisingly underseen or at least underdiscussed to this day. I thought LORD OF THE RINGS would bring it back to prominence and I'm sure it increased the eyeballs but it doesn't seem to have really boosted it in the way that i hoped it would.

Andrew -- sorry about that. Love your post. Really interesting pic .

April 11, 2011 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Wonderful post, and SO nice to read these comments about a movie I've loved since the moment I saw it back in '94. And to see so many of my favourite little moments being appreciated by others as well.

For me, HC is tied into my first dipping of my toe into the Internet and learning web design... and what better first project than to make a website out of the FAQ for the film. It's still up and running - have a look:

http://www.heavenlycreaturesmovie.com

Again, great article - glad I found it - I now have a new blog to follow! 8^)

April 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAdam Abrams
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