Selected by Zimmerman Skyrat, 101Bananas.com
Movies are such a big part of American culture that everyone tends to remember famous movie scenes the way we remember the day JFK was shot. Sometimes some of your strongest memories from childhood may not be things that happened in your real life, but a scene in a movie that, when remembered years later, seems as if it happened in your real life. Walker Percy, in his novel The Moviegoer, said this:
Other people, so I have read, treasure memorable moments in their lives: the time one climbed the Parthenon at sunrise, the summer night one met a lonely girl in Central Park and achieved with her a sweet and natural relationship, as they say in books. I too once met a girl in Central Park, but it is not much to remember. What I remember is the time John Wayne killed three men with a carbine as he was falling to the dusty street in Stagecoach, and the time the kitten found Orson Welles in the doorway in The Third Man.
Here’s a random selection of “Great Movie Moments” that stick in my mind, in no particular order:
2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY — Director Stanley Kubrick covers a few million years of evolution in one quick cut when an ape first learns to use a tool as a weapon. The ape throws the bone up in the air, and the bone turning end over end in slow motion is transformed in one cut into a 20th century space station.
BREATHLESS — Godard’s new “New Wave” style culminates in the last scene of the movie, as the mortally wounded Jean-Paul Belmondo runs and staggers all the way down the middle of a long street, in perfect time with the accompanying light jazz soundtrack. When he finally collapses in the middle of a crosswalk, looking up at the cops and his girlfriend Jean Seberg, no movie “hero” has ever died a more influential (on films and directors), or semi-comical, death. He makes funny faces at Seberg and then, in the most audacious, outrageous gesture a viewer could imagine, brushes his own hand over his eyes to close them in death.
THE DEERHUNTER — After director Michael Cimino’s long introduction to the story, he uses a sudden jarring cut to transition directly from small-town middle America to the jungles of Vietnam, with the unmistakable sound of helicopters approaching in the background.
MANHATTAN — Woody Allen’s comical yet serious “lecture” on morality to Michael Murphy in an empty classroom right next to the skeleton of an ape that they just happen to be standing next to. Allen reminds Murphy that this (pointing to the ape skeleton) is going to be him someday, so he should be doing the right thing.
COOL HAND LUKE — Strother Martin (as “the Capt’n”) makes an example of Paul Newman (as “Luke”) to the assembled inmates of the prison camp, and expresses authority’s contempt for the essential rebelliousness of the ’60s distilled into one line: “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.”
LONE STAR — Director John Sayles’ amazing transitions to the flashbacks that tell most of the story in the film, not by a cut or a fade, but by simply slowly panning the camera away to another part of the scene, and suddenly it’s 40 years ago.
PLEASANTVILLE — Several points in the movie when things start suddenly appearing in color in the middle of a black and white world. A rose, a car, certain people; visual metaphors for the overwhelming social upheaval, and ultimately, change in consciousness the town is going through.
STARDUST MEMORIES — Director Woody Allen plays with reality by showing a few seconds of a Charlotte Rampling closeup several times in succession with a quick cut between each shot. But...it’s not quite the same few seconds, and her face isn’t in quite the same position, and sometimes they are alternate versions of the same few seconds, and sometimes they are different things she said pared down to the essential words or sentence.
ON THE WATERFRONT — Marlon Brando, in the back seat of a taxi, finally realizes too late that what’s gone can never be recovered, and wails out a universally recognized lament for his wasted youth: “I coulda been a contender!”
A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE — Marlon Brando, again: “Stella! Hey, Stella!”
THE GODFATHER — Marlon Brando, yet again: “I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse.”
CONTACT — The first two minutes of the movie, as the camera pulls back and back and back, moving away from Earth far off into the universe, and the further away we get, the older the snippets of radio and TV sound we hear, setting up the premise of the story for the whole movie.
THE THIRD MAN — Orson Welles’ famous “grand entrance” to the movie. He is supposedly dead, but his friend looking for him finally finds him, at night, hiding in the shadows of an entranceway to a building. The camera is looking at the ground as a cat meows and rubs against his ankle, and the camera slowly pans up to his grinning face as he emerges from the shadows.
CASABLANCA — In film studies parlance, it’s called a “reaction shot,” and is very common in most movies. Something momentous happens or somebody says something important, and the camera cuts to a close-up of someone’s face to get their reaction. A perfect example of the reaction shot is at the end of Casablanca, and thanks to modern DVDs you can play this over and over at half-speed and study it like a great painting. A moment after Rick (Humphrey Bogart) shoots the German Major Strasser (Claude Veidt) in the presence of Captain Renault (Claude Rains), head of the police in Casablanca, some police officers pull up in a car. Captain Renault says “Major Strasser’s been shot!” and the camera cuts to Rick’s tense face as you hold your breath wondering if the cops will haul him away. Cut back to Captain Renault’s face, then back again to Rick, and you can just see the little cogwheels in their mind turning. Rick knows he could be arrested and end up in a concentration camp; Captain Renault hesitates, trying to decide whether Rick is more valuable to him free or not, and whether he should let him get away with such a serious crime. Three seconds seem like three minutes, and then Captain Renault makes his decision and barks out one of the most famous lines in cinema history: “Round up the usual suspects!” Cut back to Rick’s face and there’s just the slightest tiny hint of the beginning of that famous Bogie grin, and a slight nod. Rick recognizes what Captain Renault has done for him, and knows that if it weren’t the case before, now they’re really partners.
ANNIE HALL — Director and actor Woody Allen startles his audience by turning to the camera and talking directly to you, the viewer.
REMAINS OF THE DAY — The indescribable look on Emma Thompson’s face as the bus, with Anthony Hopkins on it, pulls away from the bus stop, and her, forever. If a picture is worth a thousand words, this shot is worth a million.
CITY LIGHTS — The last scene of the movie, when the formerly-blind flower shop girl Virginia Cherrill gives a flower to Charlie Chaplin, a bum on the street. She puts it into his hand and holds his hand for a few seconds, slowly realizing who he is, as she recognizes by touch the benefactor who gave her the money for the operation that restored her eyesight.
MODERN TIMES — The hilarious sequence when a new-fangled feeding machine is tested on Charlie Chaplin. The machine is supposed to increase productivity by automatically feeding the factory workers lunch. It goes berserk, spilling soup all over and spinning an ear of corn as Chaplin tries to keep up with it.
ADAM AT 6 A.M. — The final shot of the movie when Michael Douglas realizes he really doesn’t want to permanently join the small-town world he fooled himself into thinking he wanted. He stops on the two-lane highway in the middle of nowhere, does a u-turn, and throws the 5-gallon tub of ice cream he had just bought for his wedding reception out the back of his small convertible sports car. He speeds off, his car receding into the distance in the background, and in the foreground the smashed ice cream tub sits there melting in the middle of the road.
ALL THAT JAZZ — Director Bob Fosse’s inspired casting of a beautiful Jessica Lange as “Death.” Just slightly different from the black-hooded figure with a sickle in Bergman’s The Seventh Seal....
9 1/2 WEEKS — Kim Basinger does the best, I mean absolutely hands down bar none the best striptease you’ll ever see in a Hollywood movie, taking it all off for Mickey Rourke while dancing around to the music of Joe Cocker’s “You Can Leave Your Hat On.” (And that’s about all she leaves on....)
PSYCHO — The shower scene, what else?
SAVING PRIVATE RYAN — The first 20 minutes of the movie, the Allied landing at Omaha Beach on D-Day, will probably never be equaled as a subjective impressionistic filming of the personal experience of combat.
MY DINNER WITH ANDRÉ — The point in the movie (no doubt different for everyone) where you gradually realize this is the whole movie, and Wallace Shawn and André Gregory (and the director’s camera) are never going to leave the restaurant and their serious conversation until the movie’s over.
PLANET OF THE APES — Charlton Heston disregards the ape’s warning that he won’t like what he finds, and rides off on horseback down the shoreline, discovering the Statue of Liberty broken and fallen on the beach.
28 UP — Every time director Michael Apted cuts from a 7-year old talking about what they want to do when they grow up to the same person at 14, or 21, or 28, and we see exactly how they actually turned out. Wordsworth’s maxim “The child is father of the man” comes to mind, and the lines from the Paul Simon song, “No it isn’t strange, after changes upon changes we are more or less the same, after changes we are more or less the same.”
THE PUBLIC ENEMY — Today’s dark ages of politically correct feminism weren’t always the norm. In this old James Cagney movie, his anti-social, anti-woman, in-your-face tough-guy character is a hilarious cool tonic. Thousands of men must have cheered when he gets tired of Mae Clarke’s incessant babbling and smashes half a grapefruit right in her face.
BLUE VELVET — “A candy-colored clown they call the sandman tiptoes to my room every night....” Dean Stockwell holds a light up to his face as if it were a microphone and does an unforgettable psychotically weird lip-synch rendition of Roy Orbison’s song “In Dreams.”
SUNSET BOULEVARD — Gloria Swanson is the ultimate delusional diva when she floats grandly down the staircase and announces, “I’m ready for my closeup, Mr. DeMille.”