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« Linkz, the Eight and Powerful | Main | Halfway House 2012. Lead Actor (Thus Far) »
Thursday
Jul052012

Hit Me With Your Best Shot: "Picnic"

In the Best Shot series we all watch a pre-selected movie and pick what we think of as its best shot.

If watching Picnic (1955) taught me anything it's that you really need to exercize caution. Caution about whose filthy shirts you'll launder, who you'll let kiss you in the car parked by the river, which daughter you'll vicariously live through, which college friend you'll drop in on unannounced and empty-handed, which man you'll drunkenly throw yourself at to tear off his clothing (Rosalind Russell you crazy bitch!), and so on. Above all else Picnic reminded me to use caution before renting DVDs! I had never seen this Best Picture nominee and had only heard tales of its beautiful photography but the version I got was a terrible transfer in *gasp* "Pan and Scan".

In this slinky sexy scene pan and scan robs us of the beautiful lines of Novak and Holden's bodies as they dance romantically around each other.

If that's what you watched I apologize profusely for assigning this movie. But let's talk about Young Beauties, Old Maids, and Hunky Men anyway. The movie demands it...

In the 80s when VHS transformed the entertainment industry thousands of movies were defiled forever by the pan and scan technique which chops off both sides of the movie's image to fit it onto square televisions. "Forever" sounds alarmist but too many movies only get one shot at a home video format so forgive the hysteria. Thankfully over this past decade as televisions grew larger and more rectangular, pan and scan is approaching its death bed. May I spit on its grave when it finally croaks? But my copy of Picnic was hopelessly square (and I'm not talking about the film's content) marring the beautifully lit images that the legendary cinematography James Wong Howe dreamt up for its end of summer narrative.

I'm going on and on about this because the movie itself is obsessed with physical beauty and gets all angsty over the sexuality of both the male and female gaze. Given the topic, corrupting the image feels especially unfortunate!  So now I've seen Picnic but I really don't feel as if I've seen it. Choosing a best shot is futile but I'll try to anyway.

Runner up: here's a mirror shot I love (this series has taught me that I'm actually kind of obsessive about reflection shots) and the super disturbing conversation that precedes it. Madge (Kim Novak) is being placed on a literal pedestal by her mother Flo (Betty Fields) while they work on a party dress. Flo is encouraging Madge to throw herself at her rich boyfriend Alan (Cliff Robertson) with a little more enthusiasm.

Flo: Better get busy.

Madge:
Busy?

Flo:
A pretty girl doesn't have too long. Just a few years. Then she's the equal of kings; she can walk out of a shanty like this and live in a palace!  If she loses her chance when she's young she might as well throw all her prettiness away.

Madge:
I'm only 19!

Flo:
and next summer you'll be 20. And then 21.

And then 40. 

Madge: You don't have to be morbid !!!

Ha!

Both Madge and her sister Millie (Susan Strasberg) have surely been indoctrinated with this Beauty is Everything talk their whole lives and both of them are terribly unhappy with their roles as "The Pretty One" and the other one. 

I chose the following two shots as best on account of their dreamy beauty and their character revealing nature. Both shots feature Madge gazing at the two men competing for her heart... or at least her surface beauty.

Kim Novak looking at Cliff Robertson

the female gaze: Kim Novak staring at William Holden

What good is it just to be pretty? Maybe I get tired of only being looked at"

...Madge says to her mother with genuine confusion and frustration.

It's a plight one imagines all the great beauties of the silver screen can relate to but it might be even more complicated for Madge than it is for Kim Novak. In Madge's case the real issue is never addressed, the question may be only half-asked. What good is it only to be looked at when you're the one who wants to do the looking?

Picnic baskets
Antagony & Ecstacy Tim rises to the challenge for a movie he doesn't like at all
Okinawa Assault on the construction of women in Picnic 
Cinesnatch 'are we doing this? i believe we are.'
Encore Entertainment appreciates how many characters Logan can fit in a shot.  

next on "Hit Me" 
7/11 Road to Perdition (2002)
7/18 Pink Narcissus (1971)
7/25 The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
8/01 How to Marry a Millionaire (1953)

previously on "Hit Me"... 
If you love this series, spread the word so it gets a season 4!
The Story of Adele H
,  PossessedThe ExorcistRaise the Red LanternSerenitySnow WhiteEaster ParadeBonnie and Clyde and Ladyhawke.

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