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Entries in Hit Me With Your Best Shot (109)

Thursday
May092013

Hit Me With Your Best Shot: "Summertime"

For this week's episode of Best Shot, the collective series in which bloggers are invited to choose their favorite image from a pre-selected movie, we went to Italy for David Lean's Summertime (1955) starring Katharine Hepburn. The film won both of them Oscar nominations, for Direction and Acting respectively, and since I'd never seen it it fills in two Oscar gaps in my 1950s cinema.

It's a relatively modest picture all told, concerned not with big sweeping travelogue beauty (though the travelogue beauty is accounted for) but with an internal flowering. Spinster Katharine Hepburn goes to Italy, goes a little wild (well, wild for an American spinster from Akron Ohio), and then -- spoiler alert -- leaves Italy again. It's all very E.M. Forster really! (See A Room With a View and Where Angels Fear to Tread).

She was coming to Europe to find something. It was way back in the back of her mind was something she was looking for, a wonderful mystical magical miracle. I guess to find what she'd been missing all her life."

My runner up shot comes early in the picture and I include it because I love the way it dialogues with my favorite image at the movie's end. Jane Hudson has just arrived at her summer home, and she has a conversation with her landlady about a girl she met on the way to Italy. She describes in detail the reasons the girl is travelling abroad. Jane is too guileless to be talking about herself in the third person but she is, in essence, talking about herself, whether or not she knows it. She's also prophesying her own journey including an amusing a "let loose a bit" comment that Katharine waves off with prudish modesty.

I find the light in this sequence quite astute. The women are not in silhouette exactly -- the scene is about Jane, after all, rather than Italy -- but Italy is bright and beckoning anyway. She's not really looking at Italy... not yet at least... wrapped up as she is in connecting with other people (she hopes to make friends) and her own internal possibilities. 

I often find Hepburn a little too fussy as an actress -- particularly in her later work -- but I think she's marvelous in key scenes here really capturing Jane's internal battle between her desire to connect and her own internal nature. Even in the scenes which are very much about her attraction to Renalto (Rosanno Brazzi) she's often just looking off into space and, one assumes, her own thoughts. Jane's just not very good at connecting for as much as she'd like to. She has too many fussy walls up.

I think that's why I found the final scene so moving, despite not particularly caring for the movie. My choice for best shot comes with the film's ending. Jane has opted to leave Italy and Romantic Love behind. She likens it to leaving a party before she's worn out her welcome. It's common sense really given the circumstances of the affair but you hurt for her for giving up the thing she's always wanted and you have to wonder if it isn't partially fear and retreat to a safer lonelier home. Whether or not Jane will be more open to love after the movie is up for debate. Yet in that sudden alarming lurch outward to wave goodbye one last time to Renato (but really, to Italy and Love) I think Hepburn's gestural performance provides a marvelous clue. If returning to Ohio is, in fact, a comfort zone retreat why does her body move with such spirited abandon? 

Next Week
We're staying in Italy for The Talented Mr Ripley (1999). You know you want to sound off on that one. So join us, will ya?

14 More People Summering in Italy with Hepburn
Amiresque is overwhelmed by architecture
Encore's World on the quintessential 'spinster' performance from Hepburn 
Antagony & Ecstasy wants to talk about Aspect Ratios... and perceptions of "low points"
The Film's The Thing a Cinderella of a certain age 
Cinema Enthusiast goes to a real ball with gardenias
We Recycle Movies on David Lean's undeniable obsession with trains 
Pussy Goes Grrr this is how you stage a breakup 
Cinesnatch really goes all out with shot commentary, contrasts and travelogue beauty 
Film Actually has coffee -- or doesn't rather -- with Hepburn 
She Blogged By Night picks the first shot I think we've ever seen in this series devoted to an extra. It's beautiful! 
Los Mejores Planos gives out gold, silver and bronze medals for his favorite shots 
Cal Roth sees Jane's secret sensuality
Dancin' Dan on the scene that makes the movie 
My New Plaid Pants memories of Italy come flooding back 

Friday
May032013

"Hit Me..." Summery Schedule

Every Wednesday we look at a picture together and choose our own "best shot" individually. It's a great way to see a motion picture through multiple sets of eyes. Join us...  Add eyeballs to our crazy blogging monster that just looked at cloned monsters, rotten to the core dames, and stars reborn. 

Summertime, Ripley, Fantasia, Hud

NEXT
5/8 Summertime (1955) David Lean shoots Katharine Hepburn in Venice
5/15 The Talented Mr Ripley (1999) Tom would really like Dickie's life, thank you very much
5/22 Fantasia (1941) a strictly conducted 'best shot' special. You have three options:

1) Beginners (or Short on Time?): In honor of the May Centennial of "The Rite of Spring", choose your Best Shot from that section of Disney's experimental early feature.
2) Apprentice: Choose from 'Rite of Spring' AND the movie as a whole. Two shots.
3) Sorcerer:  Your post will contain six screenshots, your choice for "best" from each of the movies major classical movements: The Nutcracker Suite, The Sorcerer's Apprentice, Rite of Spring, The Pastoral Symphony, Dance of the Hours, and Night on Bald Mountain/Ave Maria

5/29 Hud (1963) 50th Anniversary! Nominated for 7 Oscars but outrageously not Best Picture. If you've never seen it, this is mandatory viewing before our Hit Me Hiatus in June. (Season 4 concludes in August)

Wednesday
May012013

Visual Index ~ Double Indemnity's Best Shot(s)

 

From the moment they met it was murder."

The fact that Barbara Stanwyck never won a competitive Oscar could drive anyone to the deadly deed!

For this week's edition of Hit Me With Your Best Shot we asked fellow denizens of the web to look at Double Indemnity with us. If you click on any of the still's selected as "Best Shot" after the jump it'll take you to the corresponding article, eleven of them in total.  This movie is a stone cold fox. 

Click to read more ...

Friday
Apr262013

"just the way you want it..."

...straight down the line."

Don't cross Barbara Stanwyck. Get all up in your noir this week with the classic Double Indemnity (1944), available on Netflix Instant Watch., Amazon Instant Video, or for purchase on iTunes.  We'll see you back here Wednesday night (5/1) for the next "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" episode. Join us!

Other Big Dates in Early May...
5/2: Summer Movie Madness kicks off with Iron Man 3 and big buckets of popcorn will be consumed right here.
5/7: Team Experience, which recently picked the best new millenial directors, returns with a list of the Best... nah, we won't spoil it ahead of time but trust - you won't want to miss it!
5/8: A mini 'Katharine Hepburn Fest' kicks off with a "best shot" for Summertime. We'll look at a few other movies, too.
5/10: The Great Gatsby. I'm worried but you know we'll be discussin'

Wednesday
Apr242013

Best Shot: "A Star is Born"

I have a confession to make. I only selected A Star is Born (1954) for this week's edition of 'Best Shot' as an excuse to talk about one of the all-time greatest movie scenes. I'm talking All Time All Time. The scene is the shot and the shot is the scene and the scene justifies the whole movie's title... although it might be more accurately titled A Star is Reborn. I can't let it stop me that several people have already chosen it as their Preferred Shot though this will have the unfortunate effect of making a quite extraordinary whole movie look a little front-heavy since The Scene comes very early in the film.

Take it honey. Take it from the top...

And so she does, glancing over sheet music, humming the melodic line, and easing herself into her spotlight as the mood sweeps over her. She then unleashes one of the great Garland performances, which keeps shifting incandescendantly between three separate modes: tossed off AM rehearsal goof with the boys, fully detailed showmanship of a PERFORMANCE to come, and internal musical reverie. Judy Garland is giving three spectacular performances at once all of them bleeding into each other organically in this one continuous shot. It wouldn't be half as moving or incredible if George Cukor had broken it up into little bits.

But who needs to jazz up a scene with different camera angles when "The World's Greatest Entertainer" is giving you so many character angles already?

The night is bitter. The stars have lost their glitter.
The winds grow colder. Suddenly you're older.
And all because of the man that got away.

No more his eager call, the writing's on the wall.
The dreams you dreamed have all gone astray.
The man that won you, has run off and undone you.
That great beginning has seen a final inning.
Don't know what happened. It's all a crazy game! 

Coupled with the very smart screenplay, which aptly describes this very performance immediately afterwards as filled with "little jabs of pleasure" and George Cukor's astute understanding of what to do with Cinemascope (the mise-en-scène throughout the movie is A+), it's a performance for the ages. Garland's emotionally intricate performance (her best ever as she's just as good in the "book" scenes) is, if you stop to really consider what's happening in the frame, explicitly choreographed in every way possible to provide this bracing cocktail of performance, rehearsal, improv, and narrative while also hitting so many marks which work with very smart choices in Art Direction and Cinematography. Consider, for instance, that the dominant color in this scene is red which was also used to character Norman Maine's drunken madness in the film's opening scene but here the red is suddenly warm and cozy rather than garish and unnerving.

That this shot/scene feels so genuine, spontaneous, and possible rather than like a set piece engineered to mechanical perfection is one of the great miracles of Hollywood Showmanship. The crazy part is this: the movie's just begun! Big glitzy awesome musical numbers for Garland are still ahead of us and Vicki Lester hasn't even been "Born" yet but no matter; Judy Garland came roaring back to life right here.

Quite unfortunately just as this killer scene hooks you into the film for the long haul -- and it is a long haul as running times go though the movie is gripping -- it stops looking like a movie and starts looking suspiciously like film stills. I didn't even know it was National Preservation Week when I selected this film for this date in the series. Let's call it a happy accident and thank film preservations everywhere for their efforts. A Star is Born was notoriously butchered during release when the studio suddenly decided they wanted a tighter running time and started chopping scenes. So the movie that Oscar voters screened and voted for (six noiminations but absurdly shut out of Picture & Director) was not the version that many Americans saw in late 1954 and early 1955 as it made its way around the country. The version that's most readily available now is this Frankenstein version which tries to stitch in the missing scenes where they would have appeared in the film.

Esther Blodgett becomes Vicki Lester, contract player. They don't want to see her face!

On one level it's thrilling that these shards of old scenes are there since the movie itself is so wise and "deliciously sarcastic" (thanks, Vince) about The Hollywood Machine in all of its devouring glory. But I think the reason that A Star is Born is so enduring -- and I swear it improves on each viewing it's so sophisticated -- is that it combines this biting wit with genuine empathy for the Willing Human Casualties of that machine.

On the other level, these half-scenes distract me from the pleasure of the picture and I'd almost rather watch the compromised version that survived. A Star is Born tries to make peace with its own compromises in the Maine marriage, very movingly. On this particular viewing I was quite struck by two bookend shots from Esther's Vicki makeover. 

If I can't have the whole "Man That Got Away" shot, I'll take this second one as my best shot

In this first shot, Norman is forcing Esther to wash off the horrible studio mandated makeup but she objects already convinced that she has an "awful face" and "no chin". Norman only objects to the first comment and Esther finally laughs aloud at his aggressive but supportive commands. In the second shot, Norman is still controlling her but he's unearthed her natural beauty and "extra something" that stars have and has forced her to see her it. Maine's occassionally violent always controlling Svengali instincts are maddening but the complexity and tragedy of the marital drama in A Star is Born is that "Esther Blodgett" has always needed his heavy hand to finally realize her inner "Vicki Lester" and she may be truly lost without him. By the movie's end she's abandoned both women in favor of "Mrs. Norman Maine."

NEXT: DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944) on May 1st

Nine Stars Waiting For Their Big Break...
She Blogged By Night on Norman Maine... "like a child with a blow torch"
We Recycle Movies "How A Star is Born Changed My Life" 
Film Actually gets uncomfortably privy to Norman Maine's headspace
Cinesnatch Vicki Lester Steals a Moment
Antagony & Ecstacy on the Judy Garland Meta Narrative (and more)
Amiresque shares four vivid memories of this picture
Dancin' Dan a master class in how to shoot a musical sequence 
Alison Tooey sees a good sense of distance between the characters
The Film's The Thing looks at ALL THREE film versions. Overachiever!
...or see all the choices Sequentially 

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