Great Scene: “The Conversation”

March 8th, 2015 by

From the 1974 movie The Conversation, written and directed by Francis Ford Coppola. From IMDb:

Harry Caul (Gene Hackman), a private surveillance expert in San Francisco, has been hired by the Director to follow and record the actions of his wife, Ann (Cindy Williams), and her lover, Marc (Frederic Forrest). Using three separate microphones, Caul and his associates follow the couple around a park. Later, he pieces together a conversation that clearly indicates the two are in a relationship and that they fear being found out by the Director.

In this scene, Caul goes to the hotel that Ann and Marc mentioned as meeting place in their conversation. He rents an adjoining room and inserts a microphone through the wall to listen to the conversation.

This moment ranks right up there among the most visually arresting images in cinema history:

The original April 1974 NYT review of the movie by Vincent Canby.

Do you remember this scene from The Conversation?

Great Scene: “The Breakfast Club”

February 21st, 2015 by

The classic John Hughes teen comedy The Breakfast Club was released 30 years ago this week. That’s right… you’re officially old! In honor of the movie, here is one of its many great scenes in which Bender attempts an escape, fails, and the others cover for the “ruckus”.

It’s a transition point in the story, where the teens in effect bond in the face of adult authority, setting the stage for the upcoming ‘confessional’ scene.

Man, do we miss John Hughes.

Great Scene: “The Graduate”

February 7th, 2015 by

This memorable montage from the 1967 movie The Graduate, screenplay by Calder Willingham and Buck Henry, novel by Charles Webb:

Several things of note:

* The two Simon & Garfunkel songs accompanying the images: “Sounds of Silence” and “April, Come She Will”. Director Mike Nichols was insistent on integrating these and other Simon & Garfunkel songs into the movie.

* The repeated close-ups of Ben’s (Dustin Hoffman) face reinforce the question: What is going on inside his mind as this young man engages in an affair with Mrs. Robinson.

* The masterful use of visual-to-visual transitions: closing and opening doors; Ben’s face at home, Ben’s face in a hotel room; and the classic ending shot of Ben jumping out of the pool, cutting to Ben climaxing atop Mrs. Robinson.

The montage speaks to the genius of Mike Nichols and is a fantastic reminder that movies are primarily a visual medium.

Great Scene: “Stardust Memories”

February 1st, 2015 by

The opening scene in Woody Allen’s 1980 movie Stardust Memories.

IMDb plot summary: While attending a retrospect of his work, a filmmaker recalls his life and his loves: the inspirations for his films.

In some ways, a classic Woody Allen scene recalling that line, “I’d never join a club that would allow a person like me to become a member.” There is the Beautiful Party People Train. And there is the Dour Ugly People Train. Woody is on the latter.

The nightmarish quality of the scene and the black and white images bring to mind Ingmar Bergman, one of Allen’s cinematic inspirations.

The scene sets the tone for a movie that befuddled many Allen fans, a significant departure from the tone and feel of his two most previous movies Annie Hall and Manhattan.

Great Scene: “The Full Monty”

January 17th, 2015 by

While the instinct might be to put the spotlight on this scene from the 1997 comedy The Full Monty:

I going to feature another scene.

IMDb plot summary:

Six unemployed steel workers form a male striptease act. The women cheer them on to go for “the full monty” – total nudity.

After an altercation with police, the guys, who have been training for their performance, decide to give up their plan. By coincidence, they all meet at the unemployment line when a certain song comes over the loudspeakers:

No dialogue, just visuals, but what does it tell us? Logic may have dictated them to forgo their performance, but in the process of rehearsing, something has connected with them. Their minds may be saying no, but their bodies are still saying yes.

To read all of the entries in the Great Scene archive, go here.

Great Scene: “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”

January 3rd, 2015 by

There are so many great scenes in the 1977 movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind. This one has always stuck with me. Every shot, every cut builds pace and tension, all of it based on a simple question: Where did the sounds come from? Check out the way Spielberg handles the reveal of that information:

That jump — cutting from on top of the hill, then down to the throng, their hands in the foreground reaching into the sky as one — such great cinema.

By the way, Spielberg didn’t just direct the movie. He wrote the screenplay.

What are your favorite scenes from Close Encounters of the Third Kind?

Great Scene: “Sophie’s Choice”

December 27th, 2014 by

A gut-wrenching scene from the 1982 movie Sophie’s Choice, screenplay by Alan J. Pakula, based on the novel by William Styron.

IMDb plot summary: Sophie is the survivor of Nazi concentration camps, who has found a reason to live in Nathan, a sparkling if unsteady American Jew obsessed with the Holocaust. They befriend Stingo, the movie’s narrator, a young American writer new to New York City. But the happiness of Sophie and Nathan is endangered by her ghosts and his obsessions.

The scene plays out as a flashback late in the story, a crucial revelation which explains much of Sophie’s self-destructive personality, haunted by this very moment: A mother has to choose between her son and her daughter — one shall live, one shall die.

Great Scene: “A Christmas Story”

December 20th, 2014 by

For four long years, I lived in North Dakota, so I know first-hand about really cold winters and things like what transpire in this memorable scene from the wonderful 1983 movie A Christmas Story, screenplay by Jean Shepherd & Leigh Brown & Bob Clark, based on Shepherd’s novel.

Don’t believe getting your tongue stuck on frozen metal is possible? As part of the winter survival guide our family received when we moved to Minot Air Force Base was the specific advice about never taking out a trash can with our bare hands because the skin would stick. And don’t even dare pulling your hand away as that would rip off skin. Instead we were advised to pour warm water over our hands or in an emergency… pee on them. I’m serious! Fortunately the young lad in A Christmas Story didn’t have to do that!

Who else loves this movie? Favorite scenes?

Great Scene: “The Great Escape”

December 6th, 2014 by

When I was a kid, I loved this movie. For my money, there was no actor more bad-ass than Steve McQueen. Here is a great scene from The Great Escape (1963), screenplay by James Clavell and W.R. Burnett, book by Paul Brickhill.

Hilts “The Cooler King,” played by McQueen, doesn’t escape, but even as he’s returned to captivity, he is unbowed. At least he tried. And he’ll keep trying.

Great Scene: “Tampopo”

November 29th, 2014 by

If you haven’t seen the 1985 Tampopo, written and directed by Jûzô Itami, do yourself a favor and check it out. Starring the great Ken Watanabe, it’s a delightful comedy.

IMDb plot summary: A truck driver stops at a small family-run noodle shop and decides to help its fledgling business. The story is intertwined with various vignettes about the relationship of love and food.

Here a character known as Gun reminisces about an experience from his youth, learning some secrets of ramen:

Jûzô Itami was a wonderful talent who sadly took his own life. He left behind a memorable collection of movies he wrote and directed including The Funeral, A Taxing Woman, A Taxing Woman Returns, and Tampopo.