Monday, 15 August 2011

Scene of the Week - La Vita è Bella

This scene is from the hilarious and tragic 'La Vita è Bella' ("Life is Beautiful"). It's plot centres around an Italian Jew named Guido who is taken, along with his family, to a concentration camp following the spread of Nazism's shadow over Italy. Guido is established early on as a slapstick character that can find the funny side of anything. Once he is in the infamous striped pyjamas he is determined to keep up appearances for his son's sake and turn the concentration camp into a game. 

The juxtaposition of Guido's silliness with the horror surrounding them is a striking contrast. Seeing the holocaust through the eyes of an innocent child is also an extremely effective lens through which to view something so tragic (as also recently shown in 'The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas'). At it's core this movie is about a father protecting his son and insisting that life is beautiful even though everything around them screams the contrary. At first glance some people would say that Benigni's performance is daft and that he overacts, but his entire performance is laced with desperation, fear and anguish (his mouth is smiling but his eyes are often not). This is an incredibly fine line to walk and ultimately why he is one of only three people to have ever won the Best Actor oscar for a role in a non-english speaking movie. Superb.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Scene of the Week - Annie Hall

This is the introduction to what many people believe is Woody Allen's magnum opus, 'Annie Hall'. I could have picked so many standout scenes from this movie but in the end I settled on the superb and very original opening scene. 

In it Woody Allen's character breaks what is known as the "fourth wall" and engages the audience directly, blurring the line between fiction and reality. This is a technique most commonly associated with the theatre - often a soliloquy in which a spotlight appears on the actor as they bare their soul to the audience, giving an insight into their internal monologue. This is an incredibly powerful theatrical tool and I can think of many examples where it has been used to full effect in other movies - e.g. hilariously in 'Fight Club' (splicing pornography into children's movies) and disturbingly in Michael Haneke's incredibly original 'Funny Games' (the wink and the dead dog).   

The other amazing thing about this introduction is that within the space of about two minutes you already have a very accurate sense of him, a feat which some film makers can't ever really achieve in two hours. He tells you his character. This may sound trivial but only a very gifted comedic writer and actor could do this with any real sincerity and natural flair.

Woody Allen would be a fantastic topic for a future blog entry, he's an iconic director and one of the snappiest satirical comedians ever. Movies like 'Sleeper', 'Everything you wanted to know about sex*' and 'Manhattan' are all undeniable testaments to this. Anybody who ends a sex scene with "that's the most fun I've ever had without laughing" and "I'll never play the piano again" is obviously something a bit special and worth writing about.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Scene of the Week - 12 Angry Men

This is a scene from 12 Angry Men, a masterclass in character acting and something modern Hollywood could learn a great deal from. This particular scene deals with the issue of prejudice and how society should behave towards those who exhibit prejudiced tendencies. 

In the heat of discussion this juror's true colours show and everybody else becomes aware that his judgment is tainted with reckless hatred. It's an incredibly poignant and symbolic moment when everybody puts their differences aside and are united in their general disgust with this man's views. They turn their back on him and meet his barbed words with a wall of silence, not even dignifying him with a retort. The late, great Henry Fonda is spectacular as the juror defending a man from the electric chair and more importantly the notion that a person is innocent until proven guilty. Absolute cinema royalty.