Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Now, Voyager vs. Titanic: Making an entrance

We've all seen James Cameron's Titanic (1997) countless times; whether it was during it's initial release in cinemas, on VHS, or catching it on television at Christmas, we are all fully familiar with the film and it's star-crossed lovers, Jack and Rose. I rewatched it the other night after a few years of not seeing it and I happened to notice a similarity between the blockbuster and the Bette Davis classic Now, Voyager (1942). It has nothing to do with ships or the romances that take place in both films but rather a similar entrance given to both of our leading ladies, Davis and Kate Winslet.

I don't know whether James Cameron had seen Irving Rapper's Now, Voyager, because the scene looks very much like a tribute to the famous revelation of Davis' transformation. To clarify, yes the scene I am referring to with Davis isn't her entrance in the film but it is her entrance to us after she has had her makeover. Winslet's scene on the other hand is her first appearance in the film, and you cannot deny that both certainly have a wow, movie-star factor about them that will undoubtedly be used in documentaries about their legacies in the future. Here are some screenshots comparing the two. 

Shot 1) A glimpse of our leading lady, whether it be her shoe or her glove - both are obviously expensive, beautiful things, and hint at our ladies wealth. Although Winslet shows us her hand first, her foot soon follows. Notice already similarities in colour use - white/navy/purple - clean and classic.

Shot 2) Pan of the outfit - we now get a glimpse of what else our actress is wearing. For Davis we see that she is wear a figure-hugging dress which is simple yet elegant, and very flattering. Her slim figure and the sophistication of her outfit vastly contrasts her frumpy, granny look previously. Winslet is in a very flamboyant boarding dress/jacket, which really emphasises the wealth she has, but also shows just HOW rich you had to be to sail 1st class on the Titanic. She stands out from the other thousands in the crowd. NOTE: both are wearing white gloves.

Shot 3) A large and glamorous hat - excellent for concealing the face and also teasing the audience as to who is beneath it, the shot helps to highten to mystery and anticipation of how beautiful Davis look, or in Winslet's case - who is behind the hat?

Shot 4) Partially revealed - the hat still hides half of our actresses faces but offers a glimpse of her mouth. By focusing on the mouth the camera is immediately telling us that this is an attractive woman, and the use of red/dark lipstick on both women adds a sense of sex appeal/youth.

Shot 5) The unveiling - both Davis and Winslet have lifted their heads enough so that their faces are fully revealed. Both are looking their best, with exquisite make-up used to enhance their best features. With Davis, we already knew that she was a star, this shot simply solidifies her legendary status. However, Winslet back then was not yet a star - Titanic had made her a global star. Therefore for Winslet this shot is her star entrance; as soon as the world saw her lift her head and gaze up at the enormous ship in front of her, she was forever immortalised on film and would be recognised by millions throughout the world.

Two very different films from two very different eras. Davis is getting off her ship, Winslet is about to board hers. Davis was already a huge star at the time Now, Voyager was released, Winslet was an up-and-coming starlet with solid roles behind her but no superstar status - yet. You can even go as far to compare the journey's both actresses take on this ship as a bildungsroman - an educational trip that empowers both women and ultimately helps them to detach themselves from their controlling mothers. As far as entrances go, you can argue that this scene is the entrance both actresses are most remembered for. You cannot argue with the similarities in these scenes - did Cameron want to pay hommage to this moment from Now, Voyager? Who knows. Whatever the reason or inspiration behind it - it worked. Both Bette Davis and Kate Winslet are at their most beautiful in these films, and these two scenes give them a mythical quality in tip-top Hollywood fashion.

NOTE: I am in no way comparing Davis and Winslet as actresses. This blogpost purely analyses the two scenes and their connotations. 

Monday, 8 July 2013

Cruel Intentions: The Train Station Scene

One night a few months ago I was bored online and decided to look up some of the cutest or most romantic movie moments. Whilst many famous and even iconic scenes came up there was one that I hadn't seen before. It was from Roger Kumble's Cruel Intentions (1999) starring Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillippe, and Reese Witherspoon. Having studied film noir at university and in particular - evil women in film - I had read about Cruel Intentions before but had never actually seen it. So when my google search came up with Sebastian & Annette love scene, I decided to look it up on YouTube. Sure enough I was impressed with what is undoubtedly a cute scene but also one of the most romantic movie moments I have ever enjoyed. Eventually I watched the film; the context kind of makes the scene less cute because even though Annette seems to convert Sebastian, I think the film could have developed their relationship more before this scene so that it seems more realistic. I still really enjoyed it though.

Regardless of context and my nitpicking, here I will do a short analysis of the scene at the train station. Below you find the clip from YouTube - the uploader has mistakenly called it the airport scene, but it is supposed to be at a train station. The clip is very short and it is worth watching (for the first time or recap) if you're interested in reading this post further. IMDB have a brief synopsis available if you haven't seen this film yet.

So, here goes my shot by shot analysis as well as my attempts at explaining the deeper meanings of the scene. We start with Sebastian speeding his way to the train station after hearing that Annette has returned home. She felt rejected by Sebastian in a previous scene and feeling rather stupid, she returns home to avoid him. He hates that she has gone away and is now on his way to the train station to tell her how he feels and hopefully make her stay. 

I love this shot of Sebastian (Phillippe) - he slams the phone down with a look of frustration and guilt on his face. He hopes that he can get there on time. At this very moment the beautiful beginning of Colorblind by Counting Crows starts to play, and becomes the perfect backdrop for the scene that is about to unfold. The camera cuts to a shot of Sebastian in his car, whilst zooming back to reveal the city of New York. The expanse of the big city with it's skyscrapers and many buildings looks ominous and large, but we know that Sebastian will go and find Annette regardless of the size and numbers. 

Now we cut to Annette who has just got off her train. Looking a little glum but also attractive in a simple way (her costume colours make her stand out from the crowd) she boards the escalator in an autopilot fashion. She doesn't expect to be met by anyone here at all, she is simply making her way home. Little does she know that Sebastian is waiting for her. Some interesting camera angles are used to really home-in on Annette, perhaps to make the camera/audience find her like Sebastian is trying to do. 

This is now one of those knight-in-shining-armour moments, or at least a modern version of it. As the escalator rises and the various stairs begin to disappear at the top, Sebastian's head makes an appearance as he moves towards the oncoming passengers. Again in a brightly coloured shirt (makes him stand out from the crowd like Annette) with immaculately styled hair, a heart throb pose, and an almost moody expression on his face, he looks like a tragic, romantic hero. With the camera being in Annette's point of view, and the sides of the escalator pointing towards Sebastian, there is no questioning where our attention is focused. - directly at him. We can see Sebastian clearly, waiting for her, and we know that Annette will soon notice him as soon as she looks up. 

In a world of her own and still oblivious to what is going on, Annette glances around her until finally she looks ahead. Her eyes fix upon Sebastian. Almost as if her dreams have come true (or at least her teenage thoughts) Sebastian has come all the way to New York to meet her, and hopefully tell her what she wants to hear.

Interestingly, there is no look of surprise or shock on her face. Her gentle (loving) stare hints that she is happy to see him and perhaps even nervous (butterflies in your stomach when you see the person you like?) Their last meeting ended on bad terms, there were things left unsaid - and she looks at him as if she was hoping to see him but didn't expect to (if that makes sense). As she ascends higher to the next floor Sebastian comes fully into our view. Stood motionless and not saying a word, he is simply waiting for her (cute, huh?)

As she reaches the top of the escalator and walks off of it, there is a look of apprehension and awkwardness in her face. Is she wondering why he is there? What he is going to say? Is she hoping he will say certain things?

He still doesn't say anything, he just stares at her - pondering on how to say or show her how he feels, or perhaps he's just relieved to have found her and nervous about what to say/do.

With a satisfied smile Annette says, "I'm impressed."Enjoying her remark but wanting to say why he is there and how he feels, Sebastian responds with, "Well, I'm in love," and moves in to kiss her. Half-stunned by his declaration but also reciprocating his feelings, Annette makes no protestations, and the two kiss in a totally romantic, cute, young-love smooch.

By cutting to a shot of Annette, we see her reaction to Sebastian's advance. The camera is pretty close-up so it becomes a very intimate moment between the pair, but not too close so that it loses its pure feel. The camera then cuts to behind Annette and moves it way around the two actors; by making the camera turn around them it shows the hustle and bustle of the world around them but these two are oblivious to their surroundings. They are so caught up in the moment, this special moment, that time has stood still for them, and anything that happens around them will go unnoticed because at this moment belongs to them alone.

What I adore about this scene is its modern take on romance. Even though Sebastian isn't the most endearing character, the fact that for the first time in his life he has gone out of his way to help someone and genuinely cares about another makes us warm to him. He redeems himself. We see him speeding away in his convertible to prevent Annette from leaving, to tell her that he loves her... it's old school romance. A teenage dream.

I also really love the intimacy that the camera shows. The use of grey, muted tones at the train station surroundings and the extras contrasts the bold colours worn by our protagonists who really stand out from the rest of the "world." Following Annette leaving the train and then having the camera zoom down the escalator to see the innocent/sad expression on her face. The way that the camera then cuts up to Sebastian gradually coming into full view - we are Annette looking up at him. And of course the twirling kiss is to die for. Alfred Hitchcock knew how circling the kissing couple with the camera made for a much more intimate, passionate moment that isolates the star-crossed lovers from the rest of the world. Here Kumble uses it to great effect. 

A major ingredient in the beauty of this scene is the song choice - Colorblind by Counting Crows. Hauntingly sung by lead singer Adam Duritz, the song magically mirrors the feelings of Sebastian. Like with so many songs, the lyrics can be interpreted in numerous ways, but somehow the song fits this scene like a glove. Duritz sings about the deep, emotional torture he is currently feeling; he is colorblind and so is Sebastian because he has gone through life cruelly using women for his own sexual needs. Degrading and humiliating those whom he uses, he went about doing as he pleased without seeing what he was doing wrong - therefore he was colour blind:

I am colorblind
Coffee black and egg white

But after falling for Annette (when he was really just trying to make her another of his sexual conquests) he sees what he was doing wrong. He doesn't want to use her or hurt her - he wants to actually love her. He begins to see the changes he wants to make. This is reflected in the following lines from Colorblind:
I am ready (x3)
I am taffy stuck and tongue tied
Stutter shook and uptight
Pull me out from inside
I am ready (x3)
I am fine

It amazes me when I hear the lyrics and when I see the perfect editing of the scene to the song... it was as if Counting Crows wrote the song specifically for this scene (they didn't). Luritz's singing really comes from the heart, you hear the pain and internal battle his feelings are going through, which makes this song ideal for Sebastian and the scene. Colorblind is in fact one of my favourite songs because of this film. A brilliant choice of music; to be fair there were other music choices in the film that were powerful and made the scene memorable. For example, the use of Bittersweet Simphony by The Verve in the finale - a very clever choice that made the finale even more poignant. 

Cruel Intentions is an entertaining film. Even though some of the lines are corny and verge on the over-dramatic, it's enormous fun with plenty of comedy involved. Sarah Michelle Gellar is wonderfully evil and although some have called her acting here wooden and OTT, I think it suits her character well. She is sexy and beautiful, but her manipulation of others and evil qualities make her cold, bland, and uninteresting. Selma Blair is hilarious as the dorky, naiive victim of Kathryn and Sebastian's plans.

Nevertheless, it is Ryan Phillippe and Reese Witherspoon who touch your heart in this film. I would really have liked more development of Sebastian and Annette's love to have been shown previous to Sebastian declaring his love but it is redeemed by the magical, teenage dream set-up of the train station scene. Undeniably the offscreen romance between Phillippe and Witherspoon comes across onscreen; you feel as if you're really witnessing two young people falling in love. It's really quite beautiful. 

I hope that you enjoyed this brief analysis of the scene and if you haven't seen Cruel Intentions then give it a go. It's good fun but with some really touching, powerful scenes thanks to a great cast, Kumble's direction, and a tremendous soundtrack.