Thursday, February 15, 2007

Muriel Awards: Best Cinematic Moment

"A lot of lip service was given to his cool long, technically difficult shots, but very little lip was given to how well they were integrated into the narrative. During the scenes I was aware of the shot, but like the opening of Touch of Evil, that awareness never broke my suspension of disbelief." ~ Martin McClellan

16 comments:

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Martin, everyone: I thought those long takes were enthralling too, for the most part. But there's a moment near the beginning of one where the camera is sprayed by a rogue splatter of blood, and Cuaron, in the interest of battle verisimilitude, I'm supposing, leaves the droplets on the lens as Owen and the pregnant woman make their way through the rubble and gunfire.

Now, I'm all for verisimiltude, especially in a scene like this one, but this occurrence had precisely the opposite effect on me that the director presumably would want-- it threw me completely out of the scene. Suddenly, I became aware of Cuaron's long-take strategy in a way I wasn't before, and literally all I could think about was, "Jesus, this shot, the way it's progressing, could go on for five or six more minutes. Are they going to leave these distracting droplets on the screen for the rest of this shot?"

And as it turned out, the shot did last that long. But at one point, a minute or so after I became distracted, Owen enters the stairwell of a bombed-out building, looks up, and as the camera tilts up to see what he's seeing, in the midst of that tilt, the droplets disappear. So obviously Cuaron didn't want them there for the duration either-- it seems he felt they became distracting as well, just at a much later point in the shot than I did. Yet he wanted what the splash gave him when it happened.

I just don't think he counted on the kind of reaction I had. And I wonder still why he didn't just digitally erase the damn things at the beginning and sacrifice a chance happening for the greater good of the shot.

Martin McClellan said...

Dennis: The interesting thing is that during the shooting, Cuaron agreed with you. There was a story in the NY Times (now behind a pay wall) about that very shot. It was, obviously, incredibly complicated and they only had three opportunities to pull it off.

The first two takes were messed up somehow, and they were starting the last take. Cuaron noticed the accidental blood splatter and yelled "Cut!" thinking they could quickly restart and try it again, but his request was drown out by explosions and nobody on the crew heard him.

It was only afterward that he decided that this blown shot was actually not a blown shot, and that the blood -- in his mind -- enhanced it.

Personally, I liked the blood when it happened -- I felt it was clever but not too precious -- but I can certainly understand how it might take you out of the moment. In either case, the story is interesting that it was a happy accident and not planned splatter.

Jason_Alley said...
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Jason_Alley said...
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Jason_Alley said...

I really like the blood spatter - to me, it enhanced the terrifying first-person feel of the shot. It made me feel like I was there, too.

I can see how that might take some viewers out of the film, but it did the exact opposite for me, it PLUNGED me in, even more than I had already been.

Steve said...

Some fabulous shots and sequences garnering votes here, several of which I would have voted for had we gone to ten. The Superman bit, though... I dunno. I had an experience similar to what Dennis speaks of vis-a-vis Children of Men -- I kept being taken out of it every time Singer cut to Kate Bosworth hurtling around the interior of the cabin. I should have been thinking, "Wow, cool, look at Supes go!"; instead, I was thinking, "Jesus, how is Lois not dead?"

James said...

I didn't find the blood splatter so distracting as the fact that they suddenly disappeared. But blood or no blood, I think it's impossible for a film fan not to be deeply appreciative of the whole thing. An entire movie could (and should) be made just over the filming of that one take; thinking of the pressure to get it right made me feel as tense as the story did.

James said...

And I thought the Superman Returns part was a good example of the weakness of the character, which is to say that his real power isn't super strength or flying per say, but moving in front of things before they hit the ground/bystanders/whatever. Absolute power is soooooo boring!

Paul C. said...

As you can see, this was one of the closer categories- in fact, the final ballot I received ended up swinging the vote Cuaron's way (which was good, as I had no blurbs about naked Kazakh wrestling ready).

I'm just surprised I was alone in choosing the second long take from CHILDREN OF MEN, in which Theo, Kee and Miriam escape the safe house. Much as I grooved on the other long takes, this is the only one that I really lost myself in, to the point where I was discussing the "three long takes" with friends after I saw the film, and I had to think for a few minutes before it dawned on me that this was one of the long takes they were talking about. From a logistical standpoint, it's modest compared to the others- no battle scenes, relatively few people involved- but it's amazing suspense filmmaking.

Of course, had I expanded the category to 10 nominees it might have been mentioned more often.

Jason_Alley said...
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Jason_Alley said...

No, you're right - that was an amazing scene as well, and every bit as much of a "you are there" moment as the others. I guess the devastating, violent nature of the others was what made me gravitate towards them.

The one I'm surprised I was alone on was the scene in "Half Nelson" where Epps sells drugs to Gosling. It's such a crystal-clear realization for both characters - one of the most powerful scenes I saw last year and there isn't even a word spoken, just a heartbreaking look.

By the way, I LOVE this category.

Paul C. said...

Yeah, it's a pretty fun category, even if it does feel a little like cinematic sampling. On the one hand singling out scenes is much closer to how most of us talk about movies in casual conversation- discussing a key scene in a movie we like as an example of what makes a movie so awesome. On the other hand it feels a little like buying an album for one or two songs.

Paul C. said...

Also, since so many of you seemed to enjoy this category I think I'll expand it to 10 nominations apiece next year. With your approval, of course.

Martin McClellan said...

I think this is a great and pretty unique category. I'd like to see it expanded!

Also -- I voted for Superman, because one thing that Brian Singer got right was the sense of scale. You'd see this tiny little spec of blue shooting across the sky in comparison to the massive plane. For me, it sold the scene despite the questionable physics.

Bemis said...

For me, the blood on the lens had a tactile quality - a more visceral version of the same effect you get from sunlight haloing into the lens. Rather than taking me out of the moment, it made it as immediate as if I were seeing it through my own eyes.

Kza said...

I'll be the first to admit my lameness and say that I never noticed the blood-splattered lens.