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Monday
Feb082016

Silence of the Lambs Pt 1: The Grisly Case and a Hustling Rube.

For the 25th anniversary of the influential horror classic Silence of the Lambs, winner of 5 Oscars for 1991 (Picture, Director, Actress, Actor, and Adapted Screenplay), Team Experience is revisiting the picture, tag-team style all week long.

Cue: opening credits.

Pt 1 by Kieran Scarlett

00:00:01 – Howard Shore’s score always transports me into the mood of this film. It’s at once simple, yet incredibly evocative and iconic. 

00:00:24 – Seeing the Orion logo calls to mind Jodie Foster’s Oscar speech where she thanked Orion Pictures “as it used to be and how it will always be in [her] heart”. Amen, sister.  Seriously, check out the slate of Orion releases. There are some true gems in there.

00:01:31 – The opening montage of young FBI trainee Clarice Starling in the woods near Quantico, Virginia (thanks, super!) I love how Jodie Foster plays Clarice Starling as incredibly enthusiastic, but not naïve. That little look of “let’s do this thing” that she gives when she climbs that rope into the clearing. This performance is a great assembly of perfect little details.

more after the jump...

00:02:55 – Funny how both of Jodie Foster’s Oscar-winning films (this and The Accused) essentially begin with her character sprinting, albeit in very different contexts. It’s a tiny reminder of how different those two performances are and how good she is at inhabiting a role without in ways that aren’t conspicuously chameleon-like (if that makes sense). Jodie Foster’s Clarice has justifiably become an iconic role for Foster, almost synonymous with her real-life persona—so much so that it’s easy to forget what a surprise this performance may have been at the time, given what audiences had seen from her before.

00:03:07 – A nameless male functionary tells Starling “Crawford wants to see you in his office” with somewhat of a lingering look as she runs off. What’s behind the look? Lust? Annoyance? Some combination of both? Staying on his face as he gazes at her is a small, but very communicative little touch that tells us not too obviously what kind of world this is. The economy of storytelling in this film is great.

00:03:39 – “Production Designer Kristi Zea”. Just one of the many people on this film who should have been nominated and was not. It’s hard to make the argument that a winner of five Academy Awards, including Best Picture got the shaft. But, the lack of technical nods outside of sound and editing is galling. Most notably production design. Just another reminder for craftsmen to look outside of period and fantasy when filling out their ballot. Contemporary is not synonymous with unimpressive, people!

00:03:53 – Clarice and Ardelia (actress turned writer/director Kasi Lemmons of Eve Bayou / Black Nativity fame) share a brief encouraging single handshake in passing. I love their friendship in this film, even though it’s not featured prominently. I like to fantasize that if Kasi Lemmons ever has a film in the Oscar conversation, Jodie Foster will be stumping hard for her.

Scott Glenn as Jack Crawford. Did you doubt his character the first time through this movie?

00:05:21 – Clarice arrives in Jack Crawford’s office and lays eyes on the bulletin board containing the infamous “Bill Skins Fifth” newspaper clipping. 

00:05:35 – Graphic crime scene photos of Buffalo Bill’s victims.

00:05:51 – “Starling, Clarice M. Good morning.” Enter Scott Glenn. Am I alone in finding Jack Crawford incredibly creepy? Even on re-watches, knowing he’s not a villain I find him deeply unnerving and I can't imagine having to be in an office alone with him. During this scene I was convinced he was the killer or at least killer-adjacent when I first saw the film. He’s really serving us slimeball realness at every turn. Surprisingly, he isn’t the worst offender of the skeevy non-serial killer variety as we’ll find out very soon.

A job’s come up and I thought of you. Not a job, really. More like an interesting errand.

And how…

Who's the subject?

00:7:00 – First mention of Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter. Crawford wants Starling to go speak to him, giving her a questionnaire as he prepares to send someone who is essentially still a student into the wolf’s den—a plot contrivance I’m willing to set aside given the film that houses it. If you were a fly on the wall for this conversation wouldn’t you interject with “Excuse me, Mr. Crawford, but… doesn’t that sound like the worst idea ever?” 

00:8:24—Speaking of skeevy non-serial killers, we cut to the Dr. Frederick Chilton (Anthony Heald) at the Baltimore State Hospital who’s bragging to Starling about catching a pure psychopath alive and how rare that is (ladies? Can you believe this guy’s single?). He’s mostly telegraphing his creepiness via his haircut, which seems like it's possibly styled to hide his horns, but maybe I’m biased. My main reference point for Heald is “Boston Public” (that high school teacher drama show produced by Michelle Pfeiffer’s husband) where he played an unlikeable character similarly drunk on the elixir of middle management. Also he had a weird sexual relationship with Kathy Baker’s character who had a hook for a hand, but I digress…

Anthony Heald as Dr Chilton. (Not to be confused with Anthony Head who is Giles in Buffy!)

00:09:20—After expertly brushing off Chilton’s feeble attempts to flirt with her, Starling is ready to get down to business.  

00:10:00—I spoke about economy of storytelling earlier. We’re only ten minutes in and we’re already hearing about how Lecter ate a poor nurse’s tongue while unrestrained. “His pulse never went above 85.” Not exactly something you want to hear about someone you’re about to converse with…

00:11:21—The pan around the anteroom before we get to the prison cell is appropriately unsettling as we finally land on the kind-faced Barney (Frankie Faison). Again, top-notch work from production designer Kristi Zea imagining a world that most of us (hopefully) are unfamiliar with and making it feel specific and of a piece.

Frankie Faison is a screen regular best known for his work on "The Wire". He'll also be a series regular in Netflix series "Luke Cage"

He's past the others. The last cell…I’ll be watching. You’ll do fine.”

The first true vote of confidence Starling has received on this assignment.

00:12:23—Walk down the corridor past the parade of imprisoned psychopaths, including Miggs who hisses “I can smell your cunt,” quite possibly the most upsetting line in a movie that’s, frankly, full of upsetting lines. I’m not convinced that thick glass couldn’t be judiciously employed with some of these other patients as well...

00:12:35—Our first glimpse of Dr. Lecter, standing eerily still in an expectant pose, waiting for Starling. 

first shot of Lecter. How soon into this performance did Hopkins win the Oscar?

00:13:14—Dr. Lecter steps forward into the light to skim Starling’s credentials. While I’m not convinced this is a great performance from Anthony Hopkins, it’s sure as hell an effective one. He’s perfectly unsettling and well-cast and is great at betraying emotion only through his eyes. Can you believe this role was once earmarked for Gene Hackman?

00:14:26—Lecter sniffs the air, identifying Starling’s perfume and lotion. One clue that many have used in the (I believe) false narrative that Lecter is somehow a stand-in for queerness. But that’s a separate conversation…

00:16:19—“No, you ate yours.” She says this as calmly as one might ask for a piece of gum. The feigned calmness with which Clarice describes the brutality of Lecter’s murders is evident and he’s about to pounce. You can feel it. He takes her questionnaire…

Oh Agent Starling, you think you can dissect me with this blunt little tool?

00:17:00—Lord, here it comes. Lecter’s famous “well-scrubbed, hustling rube” speech in which he throws shade at her outfit. Kudos to Lecter (I guess) for showing restraint by also not including her boxy, poorly-tailored blazer in his read, but I suppose it was 1991

00:17:50—As cordially as their exchange began, it disintegrates as Clarice tries (unsuccessfully) to throw the criticism back at Lecter. He’s not having it, opting to tell her of one of his favorite meals of days gone by then dismisses her.

Fly, fly, fly, Agent Starling…”

00:19:07—After an…er, incident (we all know what happened. Let’s not discuss it) Lecter barks at Clarice to return. She rushes back and he tells her “Look deep within yourself, Miss Starling. Go seek out Ms. Mofet, a former patient of mine!”

00:20:15—Cut to a childhood flashback of a young Clarice rushing out to greet her sheriff father as he comes home from work. If there’s one thing I would cut from the movie, it would be every single flashback to Clarice’s childhood. They aren’t plentiful, but they’re precious and unnecessary. Especially when you have Foster, who’s great at wearing backstory on her face.

Maria Skorobogatov as Young Clarice Starling. She's only been onscreen a few times since

00:20:41—Clarice sobbing in the parking lot after an admittedly upsetting encounter, cutting immediately to her in training at a shooting range, her face stoic and fixed with resolve. Cue training montage.

00:21:46—Clarice gets a call from Jack Crawford informing her that Miggs is dead after being encouraged by Lecter to swallow his own tongue. They talk about Lecter’s cryptic “Ms. Mofet” breadcrumbs and she tells him that she found the “Your Self” storage facility in downtown Baltimore.

Miggs is dead. This isn't bad news Clarice, calm down.

00:22:45—Cut to Clarice at the storage facility in the dead of night, talking to the landlord of the facility who is playing his brief role just a little too broadly. 

00:23:23—They can’t get the door open and no one has been inside since 1980. This is where I'd be telling mysely "Quit. Run. Leave. Don’t go in there." I would make a terrible FBI agent…

00:23:53—Clarice uses a jack to prop open the door, but can only get it open part way. She'll have to slide underneath. But what’s in the storage facility?

 

CONTINUE TO CHAPTER TWO


Kieran Scarlett
Kieran is a Canadian expat whose love affair with movies began with Judy Garland and Julie Andrews.  He thanks his older brother for his film fanaticism and apologizes profusely for dragging him to see "Cold Mountain" on opening weekend because 'people in it might get nominated for stuff.'  He received his MFA in writing from the American Film institute. He spends a lot of time thinking about the 1974 Best Actress race, admiring Dorothy Malone's mambo skills and longing for the return of Holly Hunter.  Kieran can be found in Los Angeles, writing, working on movies and searching for the perfect arthouse theater with good parking. [Follow him on Twitter / More Kieran articles]

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Reader Comments (39)

Jodie Foster in this movie delivers the second best "strong woman in danger" performance ever.

Number one is Jane Fonda in Klute.

February 8, 2016 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

The ghost of Miggs will be furious that you didn't talk about him! That scene is fairly early in the movie (talk about throwing the audience into the deep end) and i wonder every time if it's the scene that Michelle Pfeiffer was like NOPE! and shut the script and turned down the offer. haha.

mistake, girl, shoulda kept reading.

Kieran - love that you shouted out Frankie Faison. Demme has such a good habit of giving closeups to people in tiny roles. It really makes the movie more about people (good and evil) rather than the grisly content.

February 8, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I simply LOVE this movie!! Made me want for a time to become a psychiatrist for some reason. I subsequently read Hannibal because serial killers were an interesting thing back in the days. And I was only 13 years old when I saw Lambs for the first time

And also by reading this makes me nervous and shiver a little bit. Foster and Hopkins were masterful in this movie. Looking forward to the next part

February 8, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterManuel

I just can't with Miggs. He's such an upsetting character. Watching this time around in the scene where Jack tells Clarice that Miggs is dead, I was just thinking of the places, as an actress, Foster had to go mentally. How does one react to the untimely death of someone who, only a few hours ago threw unsolicited bodily fluids on your face?

February 8, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterKieran Scarlett

This is great. And for the life of me I totally forgot there were any childhood flashback scenes in this movie (granted it's been a while), which maybe bolsters your argument they weren't really needed.

February 8, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterlylee

STONE COLD CLASSIC & the first film I saw where I thought this is an adult world and this is what happens out there,i' was 15.

As good as both leads are I would have given those 91 trophies to Nolte & Sarandon.

February 8, 2016 | Unregistered Commentermark

Classic film, I remember our high school English teacher allowed us to watch it in class the last day of school before summer break. Highly inappropriate for a bunch of 15 year olds but I still remember how mesmerized I was by Hopkins and Foster.

February 8, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterRami

Far and away the weirdest Best Picture winner. I only just saw this one for the first time this most recent Halloween and was utterly perplexed by its Best Picture status. Not that it isn't deserving, but it's SO unlike any other BP winner, and a whole world away from what we think of as Oscar's wheelhouse. Best stylistic choice is those conversations shot head-on. Really puts you into the story and you can really feel the pressure and "male gaze" that is on Clarice right from the start.

EVERY man is creepy in this movie. Literally every single one.

Foster is indeed so good at playing the backstory on her face, it's a really impressive performance. I still wonder what might have been with Michelle Pfeiffer in the role, though. That could have been very interesting.

February 8, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterdenny

I re-watched this last night, and noticed how Jonathan Demme really uses close-ups on the eyes almost every character to keep our feeling of unease at a high point. It's all slightly off kilter- but Hannibal's eyes are the scariest. Anthony Hopkins made sure that he didn't blink.

I think his first conversation with Clarice is one of the most iconic moments in film, so spare, yet gives us the clues to her character and to the crime she will try to solve.
I wouldn't underestimate Hopkins performance, given that his version of Lector wound up on the list of greatest film villains of all time. So subdued, and then he strikes. And that voice...

Finally, before things get too scary and too serious take a look at French and Saunders parody of Silence of the Lambs on You tube. Dawn French as Hannibal, insulting Saunders with a withering voice..." Your mother's a biology teacher in Cheshire, and you...You dreamed of getting out - all the way - to the B. B. C."
Hyperlink Code

February 8, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterLadyEdith

I love Foster here but I imagine there's an alternate reality where Pfeiffer starred in Silence Of The Lambs, Pretty Woman and Thelma and Louise!

February 8, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterRami

I think if Michelle Pfeiffer had delivered even a barely impressive turn as Clarice Starling and was coming in with a nomination attached to a Best Picture nominee so close to losing for The Fabulous Baker Boys she would have run away with Best Actress that year and Jodie Foster would have won for Nell in 1994.

It isn't always easy to see the potential of a project on the page, but it's hard to imagine that Pfeiffer doesn't kick herself a little bit when looking back at The Silence of the Lambs.

February 8, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterKieran Scarlett

Jonathan Demme really focuses on every man's eyes in close-ups in this film which is unnerving. But it's Anthony Hopkins unblinking Basilisk stare that is other worldly. Hannibal is one of the great film villains of all time with that soft subdued manner. He's so calmly lethal.

Jodie Foster is perfect as Clarice, so earnest and determined. You're correct about the flashbacks being unnecessary, Clarice's honesty and vulnerability in front of Hannibal is all we need to tell us about her character. Foster has never looked so beautiful on film.

But before things get too serious and scary, take a peek at the French and Saunders parody on You Tube. French as Hannibal, witheringly insulting with the line,
" Your mother's a biology teacher in Cheshire, and you, - you dream - of getting out - all the way to the - B. B. C. "
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ha7EB5Y_RT0&list=PLjpyeDhE1co_EsbJVJOZtYyGgeveuFGMo

February 8, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterLadyEdith

ooh one touch i love during the opening scene that you didn't mention is those signs that we pan down on the tree. "Hurt. Agony. Pain. Love It" just before Clarice learns about the case. The production design and framing on this movie is incredible.

February 8, 2016 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Michelle Pfeiffer is a very different actress.

Foster is like awesone/terrible. She makes a lot of mistakes, but she's got risky and rewarding projects (tell me one single actress that would have tried something like Nell).

Pfeiffer has a very safe filmography, she'd never be a good Clarice

February 8, 2016 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

denny -- i really think it happened because of the release date. it was almost a year old when the Oscars rolled around and by then it was clear it was a new classic. but i think if it had opened in december it woulda been talking acting nominations. too soon to work through the horror aversion.

February 8, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I always have the same reaction to Crawford's introduction. The closeups feel so confrontational in establishing relationship in the film, especially here and with Chilton. They kind of dominate the frame almost aggressively, but then Clarice's closeups really give us a sense of how she's leered over or seen as insignificant.

Also, Hannibal's "I myself cannot" after Miggs's crudeness always gives me a morbid cathartic giggle, but hints at the wit that Hopkins slips into the performance. The humor weirdly makes him even more terrifying.

February 8, 2016 | Registered CommenterChris Feil

It's interesting to juxtapose Lecter's characterization vs. in Hannibal. There's something scary about having this monster in a cage because there's the constant dread of "well what if he gets out?" And of course when he does, all hell breaks loose. I think that's why Silence of the Lambs works so well as a horror movie and Hannibal (despite having virtues) does not. We've already seen Hannibal escape and the horrors that ensued immediately following. Somehow that's scarier than "well...after that, he moved to Italy and became an art curator for a while."

February 8, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterKieran Scarlett

Kieran -- i've only ever seen Hannibal once and never had a desire to revisit.

everyone -- i appear to be the only one who isn't spooked by Jack Crawford. I love his relationship to Clarice. He seems to be toying with her but halfheartedly since he does respect her. It's weirdly specific.

February 8, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel R

I don't believe many of you are curious about another actress playing Clarice simply unappreciative of what Foster pulled off.

February 8, 2016 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

Pfeiffer turning it down reminds me of Denzel turning down "Seven" and later voicing regret.

February 8, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJakey

Jakey: Turning down Mills? Stallone (yes, he was also up for Mills) has nothing to regret (Se7en needed at least 15 years (probably more) between Mills and Somerset to have any hope of working and no one up for Somerset was 15 years older than Stallone), but I can buy Denzel regretting it.

February 8, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

Clarice's walk to meet Hannibal is like a downward spiral into Hell.

February 8, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterforever1267

Bottom line: in '91 the Academy actually got BP right (which quite frankly, they rarely do). Silence was indeed an instant classic, and there was no way Bugsy or Prince of Tides was going to take the gold away from it. I've seen it many times but not for many years now, and this piece convinced me it's time to give it another watch, very soon.

February 8, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterRob

Omg, Chris, I always chuckle at the " I myself cannot" comment as well. I love this movie.
I was watching some interview with Demme recently and he revealed that after Pfeiffer passed he wanted to hire Laura Dern! The studio refused and essentially forced him to hire Foster. He also said that he basically stole the idea of this young woman against a male world motif from Jodie herself.

Thanks for the write up! Well done.

February 8, 2016 | Unregistered Commenteralex

Washington has no reason to regret turning down Se7en since Pitt is responsible for bringing Fincher on board to begin with.

February 8, 2016 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

One of the best movies ever. Period.
I always reimagine that walkin to car scene after the first encounter everu time I myself walk to my car. LOL that breakdown though.
Pfeiffer would have done wonders for this role, and won the Oscar too.
Hopkins sealed the awards deal at the first time Lecter talked.

February 9, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterCraver

Such a great BP winner. I remember seeing it when I was a teenager and even then I noticed the eyelines being so close to the camera, and the way Clarice was framed in a male-dominated world as though she was being watched and judged. It's just done so well from that early shot where she gets into the elevator, the only woman with a group of men towering over her.

February 9, 2016 | Unregistered Commentermsd

Kieran - I don't think Jodie Foster would have won for Nell if she hadn't played Clarice...I don't think she'd have two Oscars if it weren't for this movie. If Michelle Pfeiffer had indeed taken this role, I think she would've won--essentially any one that did a decent job with this role would have won, because it's just an undeniable instant classic.

February 9, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterPhilip H.

I mean, I think she did a great job. But I don't think anyone felt Jodie Foster NEEDED two Oscars, they just couldn't deny her for this role, and she already happened to have one. So if it weren't for Lambs, I doubt she'd have two.

February 9, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterPhilip H.

I don't agree. This is not a role you win awards for, in spite of the movie being a classic. You put another actress that wasn't as great as Foster and Sarandon wins.

February 9, 2016 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

I agree w/ cal roth: Foster took the role of Clarice and fleshed it out in a way that was curiously her own. I don't think it would have been nearly as easy to buy Michelle Pfeiffer as that "well-scrubbed rube" trying to rise above her roots. And we've already seen Julianne Moore, a wonderful actress, as Clarice, with far less memorable results (granted, Hannibal was not a good movie, but still). Clarice is pretty much the embodiment of Foster's screen persona, her greatest role.

February 9, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterRob

I also totally forgot about the childhood flashbacks and even with you mentioning them and the screenshot of the girl, I cannot remember them at all. Wow, they must really be unnecessary.

And to continue this alternate Oscars even further, if Pfeiffer played Clarice and did not win, so Sarandon did, who would win Best Actress in '95?

February 9, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterDJDeeJay

Foster made the role. The role did not make Foster.

Someone wins an Oscar and everyone assumes it was the role which was Oscar-worthy instead of the performer's performance.

February 9, 2016 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

I'm gonna enjoy this series a lot. Such a great write-up and so many great comments already, especially about Jodie Foster.

One of the things I most like in this first section of the film is the walk Clarice and Dr. Chilton take down the stairs en route to Lecter's cell. The smack of the editing really hammers it home: Clarice is descending into a terrifying place, and so is the film, and unless we look away, we're going there too.

Re: Scott Glenn as Crawford: I get the creepy side, but it doesn't come across like that to me; rather, I think he is a hard ass who nevertheless hasn't forgotten what it's like to be a rookie. I also think he's respectful of Clarice, both as a rookie and as a woman. Glenn does nice work in the role.

February 9, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterEdward L.

Edward L - thanks for enjoying it. We put a lot of work into these things so it's heartening when they're read and absorbed and people actually have things to say in return.

I love that whole sequence too and I think Kieran was right to mention Nurse Barney who is so much kinder than the other men in the film. He even looks really uncomfortable later on with how Hannibal is treated by Chilton.

February 9, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I agree with you guys that Jodie did a great job and another actress wouldn't have given the same performance. For me, I just see a movie winning Picture, Director, Screenplay, Actor, and Actress, and I don't see any way that it would've lost any of those unless one of the performances was terrible lol

February 9, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterPhilip H.

Nathaniel - Sure thing - well, I love everything this site presents, but a series like this is one sort of thing that's particularly to my taste.

Philip H. - I recall that when it was the 1991 Oscars, there was some real suspense as to whether Best Actor was going to go to Hopkins or Nick Nolte. Nolte had won the Golden Globe (which in those days was a stronger precursor than it is now, if only because there were no SAG Awards) but Hopkins had established a character with iconic value, and that, in the end, swayed it, I think. Me, I would give the edge to Nolte - I thought he was terrific (even though The Prince of Tides as a film is inferior to The Silence of the Lambs), plus I've never been sure what I think about Hopkins' leading status - but these are quibbles, and I don't mean to detract from the more general discussion about The Silence of the Lambs.

February 9, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterEdward L.

Edward: I remember that suspense of that category in 1991 very well. I think I had even voted for Nolte in the Oscar pool (Nolte was terrific in a heavily flawed film–not the least of its problems was Streisand's horribly narcissistic performance). I think ultimately Hopkins is the lead actor–his presence haunts the film, despite the his limited screen time. And history has proven the Academy correct: the character and Hopkins' performance are iconic.

February 9, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterRob

When I first watched Silence of the Lambs I first thought I am seeing things, can this all be true.
Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins are superb in this film. The movie had some shocking moments of horror. I remember being in awe at the investigation of Buffalo Bill, Crawford and Starling. And being scared of Hannibal Lecter through that plate glass and Starling walking through murderer's row. The Silence of the Lambs is a first rate gut-wrenching thriller. I cannot believe it's been 25 years since the movie has been out. I would have to get the 25th Anniversary edition on Blu-Ray/DVD.

March 4, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJoe

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