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Silence of the Lambs Retrospective

"That finger fondle is the most terrifying part of the movie; it literally sends a chill through my body every time I view it. Knowing what heinous acts he had committed, I felt very protective of Clarice and that is a testament to Foster's brilliance. I still believe the Oscar should have been split in half (Geena and Susan), but Foster's win here is more justified than The Accused."- NewMoonSon

"I do agree that the movie is well made, but it's about serial killers. Not everyone's cup of tea.." - Devon

 

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Entries in Hit Me With Your Best Shot (195)

Wednesday
Apr222015

Nine to Five: "Best Shot" Visual Index

For this week's episode of Hit Me With Your Best Shot: the classic comedy Nine to Five (1980). We chose it to coincide with the forthcoming premiere of Grace & Frankie which will reunite Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin at last. Pity that Dolly Parton doesn't figure in! 

Nine To Five was a smash hit when it premiered in December 1980, finishing that year as the top grossing movie without light sabers. Awards bodies weren't as kind as the public. Though the title song won two Grammys for Dolly Parton, she didn't win her Oscar category (the film's only nomination) and even more bizarrely, the movie wasn't nominated for Best Comedy at the Golden Globes. The film has endured quite well in pop culture so it doesn't need resuscitation but we thought it would be interesting to think about the way it's shot. Comedies are rarely considered in that regard. The film was directed by Colin Higgins who only made three films (all of them comedy hits) due to an early death at only 47. It was shot by cinematographer Reynaldo Villabolos who is, more happily, still with us and still working in film and television.

Best Shots from Nine To Five (1980)
10 shots from 12 participating blogs

Click to read more ...

Wednesday
Apr222015

Have you heard the one about the sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot?

I have a terrible terrible just awful confession to make, dear readers. I hope you'll find forgiveness in your hearts as it will surely sound like blasphemy. My favorite performance in the classic lady comedy Nine to Five (1980) belongs to Dabney Coleman. Yes, the sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot himself. "The Man," in Nine to Five in both the symbolic and the literal sense. But he's superbly funny in this beloved comedy, completely committed to his grossly entitled and just awful boss person whose demise his underlings fantasize about. Can you blame them?

Coleman is even better when his characterization morphs into Looney Tunes caricature in the fantasy sequences, when he gets personality transplants, sweating and terrified, humbled and guilty, or shy and objectified. If haven't thrown your internet device aside in total disgust at my betrayal, you should click to continue so that we may pick a Best Shot...

Click to read more ...

Wednesday
Apr152015

Best Shot: "Taxi Driver" Visual Index

For this week's edition of "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" our series in which we invite everyone to watch the same movie and pick their best image -- "best" being in the eye of the beholder -- we flag down Martin Scorsese and he drives us right into the squalor of 70s era New York and further still into the head space of one Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro). Though Scorsese had already broken through as an important auteur, this controversial classic was the first of his eventual eight "Best Picture" nominees. It was only the third Director of Photography job ever for Michael Chapman and though Chapman didn't become Scorsese regular cinematographer, he did reunite with the director for another classic (Raging Bull)

Best Shots from Taxi Driver (1976)
14 shots chosen by 15 participating blogs
Click on the image for the corresponding article 

New York as the very embodiment of hell on earth...
- The Spy in the Sandwich

The protagonist as silent predator...
-Antagony & Ecstasy 


The movie is basically made up of perfect frames, over 150,000 of them...
-Nebel Without a Cause 

It’s voyeurism, and he’s the audience...
-Coco Hits NY

Is Taxi Driver suggesting that evil is contagious... as it transfers it directly from the auteur to his muse?
- The Film Experience 


Simple gestures can function as shorthand for multiple meanings...
-Manuel Muñoz 

As if his fate is already predetermined...
-A Fistful of Films

One of the things that I've always admired about this film is the omnipresence of the political campaign in the background..."
-The Entertainment Junkie 


'You do a thing... that's who you are..."
-Sorta That Guy 

 I saw it within him because I recognized it within myself..."
-The Film's The Thing 

Never more unsettling than when he stands in a crowd clapping and smiling...
-Zitzelfilm 

Robert De Niro, I will always love you."
-Paul Outlaw

Above all, it's a fascinating character study of its titular vigilante
-Film Actually 


 'like an angel' by Travis Bickle's own account."
-Queerer Things 

 

The looking and the longing..."
-Dusty Hixenbaugh 

 

THE END. And can we talk about the end? I have... feelings.

Next Week on Best Shot:
The classic comedy Nine to Five (1980). Have you ever considered how it looks? We're watching it because we're too excited for Lily Tomlin & Jane Fonda's new series Grace & Frankie to hit Netflix next month.

Wednesday
Apr152015

Taxi Driver is *about* the movies

Taxi Driver is about the movies. That's my thesis at least. Oh sure it's about a few other things, too. But consider this: as early as the very first shot of Travis Bickle's yellow cab on duty, it drives right across a movie theater marquee (showing The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) via our low angle view. 

Cinematography by Michael Chapman

Massacre? An overstatement of foreshadowing perhaps but we will get to the killings in two hours. On the other hand, since we're in Travis Bickle's headspace even more than we're in the cab, you could argue that the massacres start much much earlier. In one of Taxi Driver's most famous images, Travis, alone in a theater trains his finger pistol on porn actors on the screen and begins to fire away. It's a frighteningly short jump from finger guns to actual guns and we watch him training them on random civilians in the street from a window as well as on actors on the television set.

But what prompts the descent into violent fantasy/reality?

I'd argue that the key to understanding Taxi Driver, this reading at least, is Martin Scorsese's racist, misogynist, and altogether terrifying presence in the backseat. About halfway through the movie Scorsese's unnamed fare directs Travis to sit with the meter running outside a building and the camera drifts up, on Scorsese's orders, to frame, quite literally, the target of the director's violence in a window, his supposed wife in silhouette. The director is directing and storytelling within his own directed story.

"I got some bad ideas in my head"The fare shares his violent fantasy of murdering the woman and her lover. From that moment on, Travis himself is caught up in his own violent fantasies. Is Taxi Driver suggesting that violence or evil is contagious and transferring it directly from the auteur to his muse? Or is Scorsese's fare the driver's own fantasy, a convenient projection in the rearview mirror. Many movie fans take the events of Taxi Driver literally, but I'm not so sure it's happening as we see it. Just as Travis sees it. Consider the epilogue in which he is regarded as a hero and even the girl who rejected him reevaluates. The last thing we see in the movie appears to be Travis looking at himself in the rear view mirror in a collision of quick cuts, jittery camera, and reflected street lights.

At one point in that disturbing director/muse fare/driver scene, the camera drifts from Scorsese's shadowed face to Travis's. As it lingers on Travis's face we're hearing Scorsese's voice "You think I'm sick don't you." In the very next scene Travis expresses concern to a fellow driver that he has bad thoughts in his head. Was this one of them -- Travis in conversation with himself?

best shot

Like Patrick Bateman decades later, maybe Travis 'doesn't exist' or doesn't want to. His co-worker tells him, "You become the thing you do." And the movie seems to agree.

Travis reduces his humanity throughout Taxi Driver, even physically, as he slims down to better hide how many weapons he's now carrying. Soon he is only violent fantasy. And then violent reality. This, my choice, for best shot tells us as much. Travis, whatever he was, is less and less that. Travis is a weapon. In a viewfinder. Scorsese is framing him for us but Travis Bickle is always staring right back in one of the most unsettling films of the 70s. 

 

TONIGHT AT 11 - THE FULL BEST SHOT INDEX 

Friday
Apr102015

Crawford Week Finale: To Those Who Can't Blend In!

This week's Joan Crawford mania, sparked by back-to-back best shot eppys (Mommie Dearest and Johnny Guitar) and a coincidental shout out to Mildred Pierce on Mad Men / reader question about Golden Age actresses, made this week something of an accidental theme week. For those who weren't feeling it, too bad! [Glenn Close voice]

Joan's not going to be ignored, Dan."

Joan cannot be denied. Nor can she blend in. Which is the topic of this final Joan post, my very late pick for that Best Shot party (I wasn't the only latecomer!). Let this one serve as a toast not only to the two time Oscar-winning cinematographer Harry Stradling Sr, but the costume designer Sheila O'Brien.

Best Shot. Joan, glowing like the sun in the center of the frame where she belongs.

There are many things to love about this western oddity but the single most amusing detail is that Joan has three costume changes during the extended climax. There's no time for a costume change like that time when you're running for your life! In the scene which really caught the Best Shot club's attention she is playing piano calmy in the center of her saloon (and the frame, naturally) in an enormous fluffy girly white gown. This change comes late enough in a picture in which she's only ever otherwise worn pants, that you know it's an in-your-face move meant to make a statement. (With the added benefit of pissing off her equally butch rival, Mercedes McCambridge). It's also the first time in the picture in which things go really wrong for her. Her lover Johnny Guitar momentarily rescues her from certain murder and they flee into the darkness. He's worried that she's like a great big lantern with that white dress on in the nighttime. So Crawford switches it out for an outfit that's.... wait for it... Bright red. Way to be inconspicuous Joan. A very brief time later, while still trying to avoid taking several bullets she switches that one out for... BRIGHT YELLOW. 

You will never catch Joan Crawford in camouflage. She will only spend time in the shadows if she can be beautifully lit emerging from them (see the whole of Mildred Pierce). A true star will not / can not blend in. Go ahead and put her in the center of the frame in shockingly bold colors, with nothing else to distract us. All eyes will stay on her regardless.

P.S. Curiously, though the costume designer Sheila O'Brien lived to be 80 years old, dying only a few years after Joan herself, she only served as lead Costume Designer on six Hollywood pictures, after a promotion from the wardrobe department. Five of the six were Joan Crawford vehicles so the Star obviously liked her, or Miss O'Brien worked very hard to appease the Star. Either/Or.  In fact, her first non "wardrobe credit" was "gown executer: Miss Crawford" (such a violent title!) on 1949's Flamingo Road, after which she became a lead designer. She was Oscar nominated for the popular Crawford picture Sudden Fear (1952). Her last Crawford picture Female on the Beach (1955) carries the immortal tag line:

She was TOO HUNGRY for love... to care where she found it!"

Weirdly O'Brien only has two credits after her time with Crawford and they're both years later. Did she upset the tempestuous diva? What happened to her? I'm suddenly desperate for a biopic on her. I bet there are skeletons in that wardrobe closet. 

Exit Music. Play us off, Joan!

Wednesday
Apr082015

Hit Me With Your Best Shot: "Johnny Guitar" 

Tru-Color meets True Star-Mojo in this fever dream of a gender-bending Western, this week's "Best Shot" topic. Herewith some shot choices around the web (click on the pics for the articles) and a few of my thoughts as well, as your host. 

Director Nicholas Ray, too little known today, was on a real roll in the 1950s, and between his best loved films, noir classic In a Lonely Place (1950) and ur teen angst drama Rebel Without a Cause (1955) came this divisive oddity Johnny Guitar (1954).

We'd call Johnny Guitar a feminist Western except that the women have basically switched roles with the men rather than proven their equals. Sterling Hayden and Scott Brady as "Johnny Guitar" and "The Dancin' Kid" are, despite their considerable masculine attractiveness, essentially the passive "girls" of the picture, romantic objects or helpful companions who would rather not get caught up in bloody showdowns. Joan Crawford, at her butchest, definitely wears the pants in this movie literally and figuratively. Further complicating the highly discussable gender dynamics (the secret to why the movie had a second life if you ask me) is the inimitable Mercedes McCambridge as Emma Small. She's styled not unlike Joan's twin and she may or may not be in love/lust with The Dancin' Kid or Johnny Guitar or Vienna but she's definitely harboring repressed passions! 

BEST SHOT CHOICES FROM OUR LITTLE AWESOME CLUB
(which you may join at any time - Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver is next Wednesday!) 
8 shots chosen by 11 blogs 

Crawford strikes her movie star pose every single chance she gets."
-A Fistful of Films

I wasn’t completely sold on Johnny Guitar as a movie. I am sold, however, on Joan Crawford as a movie star."
-Coco Hits New York 

Sterling Hayden, epitome of masculinity, holding a dainty, PERFECTLY CLEAN, bright blue & white teacup."
-Dancin' Dan 


An image of things that shouldn't go together being forcibly wedged into one place...
-Antagony & Ecstacy 

Hilariously takes her enemies to task seemingly without a care in the world...
-Sorta That Guy 


A quick glimpse of the frame could be easily mistaken for a shot from, say, a Quentin Tarantino film, or perhaps a Russ Meyer film."
- The Entertainment Junkie

As if having her rival be dragged out and hanged wasn't enough, Emma's gotta be all small about it and make sure that everything is destroyed..."
-The Film's The Thing 


 It's a rare Western where two women are given the meatiest roles... and I loved how the central conflict boiled down to a showdown between them."
- Film Actually

[Paul Outlaw actually chose the piano shot but his runner up is this - love his comment on it!]

 There's no time for three costume changes like that time when you're running for your life...
-The Film Experience 


'It' their fight. Has been all along.' "
-The Spy in the Sandwich 

 

NEXT WEEK:
Taxi Driver (1976) which you have no excuse not to join in on. It's easy to find!
 [Amazon Instant | Netflix Instant | iTunes]

 

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