Monday, October 20, 2008

On Horses

I saw the first half of Ben-Hur the other week. I’m supposed to see the rest of it this week as long as I succeed in not nodding off (accountable in equal parts to the slow-moving contemplative scenes of epics from the olden days and the perils of watching DVDs on weeknights). On slow-moving epics from the olden days, two things: 1) I don’t think I will ever again watch a Technicolor movie without feeling a pull towards the intense sleepiness of being in movie school and watching movies in Norris for Crit Studies and kind of finding it kind of super impossible not to lay down on the carpet between the seats in that large dark theatre, just for 15 or 60 minutes or so. 2) Is there any better type of movie to play peanut gallery in? My mom and I are pretty good at this, but Greg threw in some winners during B-H pt. 1, mostly about Charlton wandering into the slave-master guy’s private quarters in the back of the ship and wondering where the crapper is.

Okay, but point is: there’s a great scene in Ben-Hur where this horse trainer guy says goodnight to his four beautiful white horses and (maybe after the I-ma-gonna-row-you-to-death scene) this is the best scene in the first half of the movie. Just because it is so completely and overwhelmingly charming and not at all about dudes standing around in leather skirts and weird spackle darkie makeup, but real horses being beautiful. It’s a single shot as well, not a bunch of cut together shots so that it looks like the horses are reacting. It’s like a cool sliver of ice after an hour and a half of tepid buttermilk. Plus there is no plot to it: even better.

I also saw Appaloosa the other weekend. Which none of you need to see, by the way, unless you have a hankering to see Renee Zellweger smoosh her face up in a way that I guess is supposed to be cute. Anyway, it’s a pretty strangely shaped script and not very remarkable filmmaking except for one scene that, yes, involves horses. Basically: Viggo and Ed and Renee are down in the valley and being followed by some (pardon the Western parlance) Indians. Viggo takes one of the horses and rides it up the hill and gives it to them. There is no dialogue. They take the horse, drive a spear into the ground and leave. Not really a major plot point, more like an interlude on How Things Are. Really well shot and staged, great acting, and the horses are beautiful.

This is possibly Hollywood fatigue but more and more my favorite moments in movies are the pure-film moments where something happens with picture and sound that could not be captured the same way by any other medium. See: the shot of the woman’s hair in the convertible in Diving Bell and the Butterfly, the shirt inside the shirt in Brokeback Mountain, the last shot of Blair Witch Project, “that” scene in Cache, kind of all of Eternal Sunshine.

They are pure film the same way that “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” is pure song, “The Colussus” is pure painting and “The Windhover” is pure poem.

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