One Shot: Fantasia (1940)

Perhaps one of the most revered – and, simultaneously, the most forgotten – Disney titles of all time is the 1940 symphonic masterpiece, Fantasia. Featuring some of the most gorgeous, frightening, and imaginative animated sequences ever to come from the studio, and heavily influenced by some of the most incredible classical music pieces of all time, Fantasia is a unique film whose imagery lingers in the mind long after watching it. I often watched this film as a kid, and I still remember the vivid scenes of centaurs, hippos dancing with alligators, leaves spiraling through the air, and the bone-chilling terror of the Night on Bald Mountain segment, with the mountain-dwelling demon Chernabog and a horde of spectral ghosts and ghouls wreaking havoc on a small town.

But the most iconic segment of the film is probably The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, starring Disney’s main mouse, Mickey – and it features the definitive image of the film as a whole.

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In the sequence, apprentice Mickey dons the hat of his master, Yen Sid, and begins to cast magic that he is not quite prepared to handle… and, as magic tends to, matters swiftly go awry. There’s brooms and flooding involved. Even if you’ve never seen the full film, you are probably familiar with this image and know a bit of the story behind it.

This image is what Fantasia means. It’s magic, wonder – and a lesson to be learned. By putting that hat on, Mickey discovers how it feels to create, to be masterful, to have power beyond trudging up stairs carrying water pails. But he neglects the fact that he is not ready to wield that power, and faces the consequences of those actions as he loses control. Just by looking at this image, a viewer can see what Mickey is doing – and knows that an ominous undercurrent weaves beneath the magical glow of that starry cap. He is not big enough to sit in his master’s chair, his robe is too large for his tiny body, and darkness creeps all around him as he does something forbidden… and yet, there remains the shining allure of that magical hat, which he can’t keep his eyes off of. The viewer knows, after seeing this single shot, that they are about to witness a story to remember, and that Disney magic is about to be born, even if our favorite mouse must suffer a bit in order to learn what it means to wrestle with power you aren’t ready for.

Fantasia is a film with animated sequences that evoke feeling without any words – aided only by the sumptuous, classical soundtrack – and this single image is the impetus of a magical journey about to begin. For all the films that have been locked away in the vault, this one shall remain timeless, and should never be forgotten.

One Shot #4: Babe (1995)

There is nothing like a good, wholesome film; the kind you can pop in and watch at anytime, but are perhaps best on a rainy afternoon, when you can curl up on the couch with a warm blanket and a cup of coffee, or tea, or hot cocoa. A film that warms the heart and touches the soul. And one such film is a 1995 Best Picture nominee, Babe – the wonderful tale of a sheep-herding pig who defies the incredible odds stacked against him.

The single shot that encompasses the film happens in the final sequence, shortly before the iconic “That’ll do, Pig. That’ll do,” line:

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As much as this film is about a sweet-natured pig who just wants to belong, it’s also about his owner – a taciturn man named Arthur Hoggett, played by James Cromwell. The relationship between the two evolves over the course of the narrative, from a standard man/pig dynamic of “owner” and “owned” to an unlikely team working together for a common goal. This shot is the epitome of their bond – after a rousing success at a competition, silencing their naysayers, man and pig stand side by side, basking in the applause. But who garners the most credit? Babe, of course; which is why the shot is centered mainly on him, and only Hoggett’s legs are shown. Babe is our unlikely, curly-tailed hero, the one who deserves the focus. Yet, the framing of the shot still gives the impression that they are a steadfast team.

I mean… just look at that face. Babe is iconic. An absolute legend. If he were a morning, he’d be golden and new. This is one of the few movies I can watch over, and over, and over again and still get emotional. It is just a classic, well-done, and well-made movie, and if you haven’t seen it, you absolutely should.

 

One Shot #3: Tron Legacy (2010)

I have previously mentioned my enduring love for Tron: Legacy, directed by visionary director Joseph Kosinskibut in case you are unaware, here’s a brief synopsis of my persistent adoration. At one point, I had a Tron wall in my room. I have 2 action figures on my shelf and a glow-in-the-dark Tron Funko Pop. I wrote one of the best academic papers of my life about this film – a 27 page essay entitled “Biodigital Jazz, Man.” I saw it three times in theaters, twice in 3D.

Why does this film resonate with me? To be honest, it’s not the narrative that appeals to me the most. It’s a perfectly serviceable film with great performances and a standard, yet engaging story – and a killer soundtrack. But the aspect I love the most is the visuals. Not only because they are stunning, but because they assist in telling the story and revealing character development and thematic elements MORE THAN ANY OTHER FILM I HAVE EVER SEEN. You can quote me on that.

And though I can pick many shots that come to mind when I think of this film, and I can, excuse my French – analyze THE SHIT out of this movie based on a wide variety of stills – this is the most telling shot for me:

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What’s the importance of this shot, you ask – besides the amazing color palette and costumes? It’s visually relaying one of the ideological messages of the film by placing the actors in triangular formation within a scene, almost as a representation of a ‘holy trinity.’ Though this is not the only representation of this in the film, this is the most overt, with Flynn – The Creator – at the center, in an almost godlike position. These images, combined with the fact that Flynn is referred to as “The Creator,” Sam (right) is called “Son of Flynn,” and Quorra (left) is referred to as “The miracle,” help to convey the religious undertones of the narrative in a visual manner. There are other religious and spiritual elements in this film, weaving seamlessly into themes of betrayal, creation, power, and purpose, and each of these three characters assist in the delivery of those messages, which makes placing them in this position all the more telling. It is also indicative of the shifting power structure within the narrative, but I don’t want to delve too deep with that because I’d hate to spill spoilers for a film that came out eight years ago.

And that’s all in one image, folks. This film absolutely nails the “show not tell” idea – a skill that the director carried over to Oblivion, a film I only watched because of him because I don’t like Tom Cruise. Seriously, if you haven’t watched this movie, I challenge you to do so – and see if you can pinpoint other important “trinities” visually represented in the film, because there are two more that I picked out.

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If you’re in need of a new read, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK. Nook book is also $1.99 and paperback is $9.99 on BN.com.

 

One Shot #2: Darkest Hour

Though I had an overall so-so opinion of Joe Wright’s 2017 Winston Churchill biopic, one aspect of the film stood out to me just as much as Gary Oldman’s spellbinding lead performance – and that’s Bruno Delbonnel’s brilliant cinematography.

And part of the reason is this one shot, right here:

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Even if you haven’t seen the film or know nothing about Winston Churchill’s tenure as the British Prime Minister during the chaos of WWII, this image tells the story. The entire sequence is evocative – as many sequences throughout the film are, thanks to effective lighting techniques and superb directing – but this one shot perfectly encapsulates the way Churchill is portrayed this movie. He is a man alone, and restricted, facing a terrifying, unknown darkness. But there is a single light – he can’t clearly see the path, but continues to forge ahead.

In the film, Churchill faces an endless onslaught of doubt and opposition – much of it justified, due to his somewhat checkered track record – as he leads the nation against the ever increasing threat of the Axis powers. And though it’s a position of prominence, he is still effectively in a cage. Bound by law, bound by those who fear him and those who loathe him, bound by indecision, bound by the threat of being deposed. He grapples with what to do in the face of the Dunkirk evacuation, and how to handle a nation – and a world – at war. Asserting you cannot reason with a tiger while your head is in its mouth.

This is what that still means – this is a man with his head in a tiger’s mouth. Alone, restricted, and facing the unknown.

Any suggestions for more films/shots, message me!

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If you’re in need of a new read, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK.  Nook book is also $1.99 and paperback is $9.99 on BN.com.

One Shot #1: The Searchers

Movies are, on a base level, a collection of scenes woven together by a narrative. Like a sweater, comprised of many stitches. Or a sandwich, composed of many layers. And when you break it down even more, and strip more elements away, a film can be reduced solely to images – and some images can remain burned into the eye of the viewer forever.

Take this image, from the final scene of the acclaimed 1956 western The Searchers.

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As I’ve admitted before, I’m not a big fan of westerns, and I’m even less a fan of John Wayne movies – but The Searchers is one of the few exceptions. As in, it’s on my all-time “greats” list, thanks to being forced to watch it in film class. And a huge portion of my admiration for this film is rooted in this one image.

The film features more than one threshold/doorway shot, though the final one is the most poignant. By showing several scenes framed in a doorway or through some kind of entrance, the film is allowing the viewer an inside look to see something that might not normally be seen – something that is behind closed doors, or cut off from the world. It is also showing a separation of the “inside world” and the “outside world” and the distinctions between the two.

That makes Ethan’s final scene significant – he is framed in the doorway, but does not go in. He is a creature of the “outside world” and does not belong in the “inside,” which is why he is not shown entering the house after the conflict is over, and ultimately walks away. If The Searchers was a stereotypical western, he probably would have entered the house and they would have had a big ol’ family dinner, and Ethan’s position as a “savior” would be solidified. But Ethan is wild and unpredictable like the rambling western landscape, a restless wanderer, and by going inside, he would be chained down – and he does not belong in a place like that. The “open door” also illustrates the moral ambiguity of the film overall, as Ethan’s reluctance to settle, and his inability to join that “inside” world, is an example of his conflicted “hero” status.

This final shot is the spine of the film – at least for me. A beleaguered man walking away from door, rejecting a fresh start, left to reflect on what he has done. A “hero” who does not get a celebration, because perhaps his deeds are just as bad as the “villain’s.” And that’s how this single image is so powerful – I still reference it whenever I spy a good threshold shot in a movie.

Any other shots from different films come to mind? One that can define the entire film as a whole? Let me know!

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If you’re in need of a new read, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK.  Nook book is also $1.99 and paperback is $9.99 on BN.com.