Friday, June 23, 2006


Over at Scanners, Jim Emerson has so much good stuff posted just in the last week that the blog virtually defines “embarrassment of riches.” (And I’m not saying that just because he had kind words to say about both my and That Little Round-Headed Boy’s adventures when we both recently headed Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.)

For example, a few days ago Jim posted a spectacular visual argument for the connection between Jonathan Glaser’s brilliant film Birth and the Luis Bunuel masterpieces Un Chien Andalou and Belle de Jour.

Then, right on the heels of that meaty and nutritious exercise, came Movies 101: Opening Shots Project, in which Jim runs down his philosophy of the important of the opening shot of a movie and delivers a brilliant exegesis of Barry Lyndon’s opener as his primary example:

"Any good movie -- heck, even the occasional bad one -- teaches you how to watch it. And that lesson usually starts with the very first image. I'm not talking necessarily about titles or opening sequences (they're worth discussing, too -- but that's another article); I'm talking about opening shots. As those who have been reading Scanners (and my Editor's Notes on know, two of my cardinal rules for movie-watching are:

1) The movie is about what happens to you while you watch it. So, pay attention -- to both the movie and your response. If you have reactions to, or questions about, what you're seeing, chances are they'll tell you something about what the movie is doing. Be aware of your questions, emotions, apprehensions, expectations.

2) The opening shot (or opening sequence) is the most important part of the movie... at least until you get to the final shot. (And in good movies, the two are often related.)

I think my favorite opening shot of all time is probably from Stanley Kubrick's masterpiece,
Barry Lyndon. Why? Because it is gorgeous, it's preternaturally funny, and it tells you everything you need to know about how to watch Barry Lyndon, one of the greatest movies ever to grace our planet."

The opening shot of Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lyndon

Not only has he got me clamoring to see Barry Lyndon again, at the end of the piece he throws down the gauntlet and asks for submissions of brief descriptions of other opening shots, the best ones to be published on his blog probably beginning sometime next week. (Remember, if you submit an opening shot description, it has to be of the opening shot only, not of an opening sequence—I was all ready to send in a take on the opening sequence of P.T. Anderson’s Punch-drunk Love until I caught myself. It’s back to the drawing board for me. But fear not-- I’ve got a couple of other lively candidates…)

And as if that isn’t enough, Jim’s latest post is a very challenging Opening Shots Pop Quiz which is guaranteed to shine up all the cogs in your moviebrain by getting them all whirring and meshing at top speed. At first glance, I’m only sure of about two out of 15, and I’m not at all sure I’m willing to risk humiliation by being able to guess only two correctly. I may have to spend a lot more time this weekend staring at those screen grabs. My guess is, if you check out Jim’s quiz, you will too.


Mr. Middlebrow said...

Don't feel too bad going two-for-fifteen on the pop quiz, Dennis. There are only three I recognize--but imagine my glee when I saw that two of them (5 and 9) are on my list of underrated / overlooked movies. Sweet!

Look forward to seeing your contribution to this--I bet you've got a doozy up your sleeve.

Paul C. said...

I'm pretty sure I recognize at least 6 or 7 of the opening shots. But some of them are real head-scratchers.

And you should still write about the opening shot of PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE- the rest of the film takes its cue from the way Barry is framed from the outset.