by Steven Cohen
Welcome back to another edition of High-Def Digest's favorite bookmarks, where we spotlight some great scenes from various Blu-ray titles that we've found ourselves revisiting again and again.
With bookmarking capabilities allowing viewers to save their favorite scenes becoming such a common extra among many Blu-ray releases, we here at High-Def Digest thought it might be fun to take inspiration from this popular feature by spotlighting some of the scenes that we've personally bookmarked.
We're talking about the kind of scenes that literally reach out and grab you, that make you forget you're just watching lifeless pixels ignite and fade, that make your house rumble and eyes open wide with wonder. The type of scenes that simply make you smile from the sheer, infectious passion for filmmaking in their images and sounds.
Last month I covered an eclectic mix of scenes that included a professional hitman with a gentle soul, a clairvoyant chase through a shopping mall, a demonic talking goat, a madman's emotional breakthrough, and an esoteric journey through space and time. If you missed them, be sure to check out the July bookmark list and the June bookmark list.
This month I'll be covering an android's rain soaked last words, a flashy, dizzying introduction to a very unconventional family, a powerful, emotional confession by a wounded soul, an "errand boy" who finally collects his bill, and a tense journey through a warzone that sees the very future of mankind on the line. For those who haven't seen the titles featured, be warned that there are of course major spoilers ahead.
'Blade Runner: The Final Cut' (Ch.34, 01:45:56 - 01:49:04) - Drenched in a perpetual downpour of melancholy rain, and lit by the bold, neon sparks of a dying future world, Ridley's Scott's 1982 masterpiece, 'Blade Runner,' is a visually arresting and ever enduring staple of science-fiction. Though it's influenced countless derivative works, many critics of the film condemn the story for what they perceive as a cold and detached narrative. I, however, disagree with that negative assertion, and feel that the picture does indeed carry a powerful, deep, and thought provoking emotional center. This is perhaps clearer than in the scene in question here, that takes place at tail end of the movie's tense and harrowing climax. In the very memorable sequence, a replicant named Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) quietly accepts an unavoidable fate, as his wounded and battered would-be hunter, Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), watches transfixed.
After a violent physical confrontation that's left Deckard barely alive, Batty actually saves his attacker from certain death in a surprising display of compassion. The two apparent enemies collapse on a rooftop as rain gently pours from the sky. It is here that Batty delivers his famous "tears in rain" monologue, and through his gentle words and contemplative demeanor, we're suddenly left questioning who the true villains really are. Beneath his hostile, murderous exterior, a more gentle, human interior is revealed, and Hauer's solemn delivery of his lines is simply perfect. Each syllable oozes with a somber, lyrical poignancy, and each new word feels like a tiny struggle, as the last bits of life extinguish in the artificial man. Partly improvised by the actor himself, in the face of certain death, Hauer has never shined so brightly on screen, only to so slowly fade. Ford simply watches, saying nothing, letting his tired, ambiguous expressions say all that needs to be said. Scott infuses the scene with the same stylistic prowess that permeates the entire film, but restrains himself slightly, simply casting the image in the blue hues of an overcast dawn, and allowing the monologue to carry on with few cuts. As Batty lets out his last breath, a dove flies toward the heavens (admittedly not the most subtle image, but it still works). With all the escaped replicants now dead, Deckard has, as the character Gaff (Edward James Olmos) so simply declares, "… done a man's job." Or has he?
The scene really exemplifies one of the movie's central thematic quandaries. What really makes us human? Our hero is cast in the same mold of many classic film noir protagonists, carrying a cynical, brooding, and at times emotionless demeanor. For much of the picture this is our great testament to humanity (even if he is a replicant himself, as Scott implies, he still serves this function), our shining example of man's compassion and brilliance. If that's the case, then perhaps the replicants truly are "more human than human." The scene demonstrates that these manufactured men are capable of more compassion and humanity than the so called human characters who hunt them. What truly drives these androids to their murderous acts? The answer, revealed through the sentiments and tone of Batty's last words is rather poignant and nearly justifiable. They simply want more life. Their crime is a desire to live, to change and to grow. Four years is all they get. Just as they begin to feel, their cells deteriorate. As their souls bloom, their bodies wither.
The scene ends with one last bit of insight from the usually silent Gaff. In reference to Deckard's love interest, Rachel (Sean Young), he tells the Blade Runner, "It’s too bad she won’t live… but then again, who does?" It seems the distinction between man and machine may not be so important after all. Replicant or human, we all reach our eventual "time to die," and the years we get in between are rarely ever enough.
'Boogie Nights' (Ch.1, 00:00:57 - 00:03:49) - A strange and unique portrait of friendship and family, Paul Thomas Anderson's 'Boogie Nights' is a wonderful mixture of multifaceted characters, drama, comedy, and stylistic bravado. Inspired by the works of filmmakers like Martin Scorsese, Anderson litters the film with several long, tracking shots which serve to enhance the mood and atmosphere of the proceedings. The movie's opening sequence is a perfect example that showcases the director's strong visual flare and command of camera movement.
The scene begins with a shot of the film's title itself as seen on the entrance to a club. From here the camera spins around to the ground and starts to follow two of the story's main characters, Jack (Burt Reynolds), and Amber (Julianne Moore), as they enter the crowded, lively nightclub. Before even stepping foot into the building, just through the set design and extras on the street alone, Anderson already perfectly establishes a strong sense of time and place, effectively thrusting the viewer into the film's 1970s setting. The shot eventually continues into the club, uninterrupted, as the constantly reframing camera gradually introduces the audience to the film’s cast of characters while implying and revealing connections between them all. The sequence initially follows Jack, Amber, and the club's owner Maurice (Luis Guzman) but soon branches off to other supporting players in a cinematic relay race that sees the baton get passed from actor to actor. The constantly moving camera weaves in and out of the club, organically shifting from the entrance, to the dance floor, to the tables, and then back through the dance floor. The unbroken aspect of the shot creates a living, breathing world. It’s as if the reframing lens draws an invisible guiding line from person to person, naturally setting up the relationships that will be developed over the course of the movie. The full implication of the sequence, however, isn’t revealed until its conclusion.
As the scene comes to a close the camera trails off from the fun happenings of the dance floor and finds a new character, a busboy named Eddie (Mark Wahlberg). It's here that for perhaps the first time, the shot settles in place, implying that its intended destination has finally been met, punctuating its journey by focusing on a lowly worker, seemingly unrelated to the glamorous characters we saw on the journey that led to him. Though socially disjointed from the group we were just introduced to, Eddie is in effect already linked to them by the camera itself, foreshadowing some type of eventual relationship between them all. Forgetting the artistic aspects of the scene, from a purely technical standpoint it's also very impressive, and Anderson goes on to fill the movie with several more extended shots. For me though, the opening scene still resonates the most, with a fun burst of energy and style that sets it all into motion.
'Paris, Texas' (Ch.13, 01:58:59 - 02:19:45) - Slow, contemplative, and heartbreakingly beautiful, Wim Wender's 'Paris, Texas' is a bittersweet ode to love and loss. Throughout the entire film we are left wondering what our isolated, wounded protagonist, Travis (Harry Dean Stanton), once did to end up wandering alone with no memory in the vast desert wasteland of the American west. What caused the seemingly kind man to lose his family? What was he running from? These questions linger throughout and are all finally answered in the movie's most powerful and memorable scene. Shot in a series of simple, yet artfully composed shots with few cuts and little camera movement, the sequence is a raw display of acting and writing that is perfectly complemented by restrained but still potent direction.
After locating his long estranged wife, Jane (Nastassja Kinski), who is working at a seedy peepshow, Travis decides to finally confront her so that she may be reunited with her young son. In a genius bit of set design, the peepshow itself is divided into two rooms with a two-way mirror between them. Travis can see Jane but she can't see him, and actually has no idea that he's on the other side. The scene is essentially comprised of two monologues, the first by Travis, and the second from Jane, that together reveal the truth behind their separation. The first monologue starts when Travis sits down and picks up the telephone used to communicate with Jane. Though she technically can't see him, he turns his chair around, unable to look at her as he speaks, foreshadowing the shameful truth he is about to reveal. As his story begins we slowly push in on the character, adding visual weight to his somber words. We occasionally cut to Jane, showing her reaction as the monologue slowly becomes more specific, and she starts to recognize similarities in the tale. Throughout it all, Stanton's delivery remains stripped down and honest, almost naked in its tone, and the words themselves, written by Sam Shepard, are seeped in loneliness, longing, and despair, painting a devastating portrait of beauty, decay, and deep regret. More subtle cuts are employed, moving from medium-shots to two-shots with Wenders carefully deciding which points to feature only one or both of the characters in frame. These choices work to either enhance or mitigate the figurative distance between them and places emphasis on their individual internal beats. Each cut and each new angle always serves the emotional rhythm of the monologue, and signals a new internal revelation or realization without ever upstaging the performances of the actors.
When Jane finally realizes that the story being told to her, by an apparent stranger, is actually her own, and that the stranger is actually her husband, we cut to a close-up of Kinski as tears start to pool in her eyes. For the first time in the lengthy scene, gentle music creeps in, subtly complementing the images and emotions. Again, the sparse cuts all move with the narrative beats and subtext of the sequence. When Travis's story of love, jealousy, pain, madness, and cruelty comes to its tragic conclusion, we are left with a full understanding of the mysterious man. We now know what he was running from all this time… himself.
With his story concluded he turns back to Jane, and the two approach the mirror, shut off the lights, and look into each other's eyes for the first time in years. In a powerful but delicately composed shot, their faces become superimposed on the glass, as their images fuse and the healing begins. Jane turns around, just as Travis did, and begins her own monologue. She explains how even after he left, Travis continued to affect her life, remaining a constant presence in her thoughts. As she speaks, his image literally lingers in the background, solemnly listening behind the glass. The scene ends with a promise from Jane to meet with her son, completing Travis's mission. Unable to forgive himself for his past cruelty, he decides he must once again disappear from their lives, perhaps returning to where he emerged, a vast expanse of desert and ancient rock. A place with no name. Bittersweet, stripped down, and elegiac in composition, tone, and rhythm, the scene sits among the most powerful and understated sequences ever put to celluloid, and continues to reveal new intricacies and nuances in performance and editing upon every repeat viewing.
'Children of Men' (Ch.17, 01:23:51 - 01:34:19) - Alfonso Cuaron's 'Children of Men' presents us with a world in global unrest, literally without a future, slowly circling the drain. Like 'Boogie Nights,' the movie is also known for its use of long, uninterrupted, single shots, but Cuaron uses the technique in a slightly different manner. Here, the main goal behind the unbroken cinematic style is to heighten and bolster the tension of the scenes, presenting an atmosphere of unending and unrelenting danger. The movie's climactic, single shot sequence is among its most technically and artistically impressive. After delivering Kee's (Clare-Hope Ashitey) child, Theo (Clive Owen) guides the miracle mother and her baby through a violent, chaotic warzone.
The camera follows the group as Kee is taken prisoner by a gang of activists who wish to use the child for their own purposes. Theo desperately makes his way through the battlefield, avoiding enemy fire and explosions, trying to save the kidnapped mother and child. All the while, the camera never cuts away, following Theo through the chaos and barrage of bullets. By never cutting, Cuaron effectively prolongs the tension and drama. A whole new level of anxiety is added to the proceedings, as the uninterrupted take reveals a lively, bustling world that continues to exist far beyond the edges of the film frame. A sense of uncertainty and unpredictability is engendered by the actual cinematic syntax, as new dangers and obstacles may be lurking around each corner, capable of striking even before we have a chance to see them. Just like there is no rest for the characters throughout their tense journey, there is also no rest for the camera itself, never taking time to cut away, but instead following them uninterrupted. Blood even splashes on the lens, but Cuaron hammers on, keeping the momentum of the drama sustained. Eventually, Theo carefully makes his way through a decaying building littered with wounded and dying strangers, and it is here that he finally finds Kee. When the two reunite, Cuaron employs the scene's first visible cut, signaling a dramatic, stylistic, and emotional shift that reverberates strongly as the characters make their way out of the building.
With the now crying baby in hand, the pair descend down the steps, and suddenly the crowd around them hears the baby's cries. All of the spectators stop dead in their tracks, and look on in awe and amazement. Gentle music plays on in the background emphasizing the almost mystical quality of the scene. When they make their way toward the fighting soldiers, the hardened men cease firing, stand perfectly still, and look on with eyes wide. In that one, simple sound, a sound that hasn't been heard in years, it all comes rushing back. They are reminded of hope, and optimism, and innocence. They are reminded of all they've lost and all they once fought for. They are reminded of what they once were, and in that instant the world stops. They exit the building and outside the effect is the same. Soldiers kneel before the child, and for a moment it seems like all it took to end a war, all it took for peace, was the single cry of one baby. For a moment, at least. When an explosion goes off in the distance, the battle resumes, not skipping a beat, as if the child never was. The brief respite from violence ends, and mankind once again chooses to forget. Theo and Kee race on away from the chaos and toward possible salvation, but the power of the scene lingers on, cementing the true essence of the film in a masterful display of movement and tension that demands repeated viewings.
'Apocalypse Now Redux' (Ch.18, 03:03:10 - 03:10:11) - A dense, complex, brilliant work of moviemaking, Francis Ford Coppola's 'Apocalypse Now' reveals the horrors and absurdities of war and its devastating toll on the human soul. Though full of memorable and powerful scenes, its startling and disturbing assassination sequence remains its most potent. As Willard's journey down the river and into the "heart of darkness" comes to its end, he is at last confronted with the mad despot Colonel Kurtz, and must finally go through with his deadly mission.
After witnessing the insane ruler's god-like influence over the native people, Willard prepares for battle, and Coppola joins him, readying an arsenal of cinematic tools. The sequence begins with the natives arranging a ritual slaughter of a water buffalo. We watch as the crowd gathers and starts to dance around the animal, celebrating. Through these images, Coppola begins to establish a rhythm and visual motif. We cut to Willard deciding what to do, and once again Sheen's tired, world-weary voice-over creeps in, creating a cynical, dreary mood. The celebration continues and the atmosphere intensifies. Suddenly, "The End" by The Doors fills the speakers, calling back the opening of the movie and bringing things full circle for its conclusion. The mood grows bleaker and darker, as a storm brews. Lightning strikes, and in one of the film's most iconic images, Willard slowly emerges from swampy waters with his face covered in camouflage and eyes seemingly possessed, now baptized by the dark river as death incarnate. The natives continue to circle their prey, perfectly mirroring Willard's own gradual journey toward Kurtz. The lightning continues to strike, as nature wrestles against the madness of man. Shadows dance around the frame and bursts of muddy, golden hues cascade over the determined killer, reshaping his human form into something more wild and primal.
The pacing builds and builds along with the music. Willard reaches Kurtz and strikes violently. The images of his assassination are now juxtaposed against the sacrifice of the water buffalo, drawing parallels between the two actions through an expert use of dialectical montage. Each cut between the two brutal events implies meaning, but leaves the audience in control of inferring the implications themselves. The images come quicker and the music comes harder as the disturbing visuals reach their peak. The innocent animal is slashed to pieces and Kurtz falls helpless to the ground. The ritual comes to its conclusion and Willard emerges from the shadows drenched in blood, his dark deed now complete. On the floor, dying, Kurtz delivers his last words and the film's most famous line, summing up the entire effort in a whispered cry of terror, "The horror… the horror…" The scene ends, but its images continue to simmer, proving time and time again to be just as impactful regardless of how many times they're seen.
We'll be back next month with some more of our favorite bookmarks, but for now, what do you think of these picks? What are some of your own favorite bookmarks?