This post is for the "...And Scene!" Blogathon hosted by Sister Celluloid. Click here to read all the other memorable scenes covered in this blogathon.
I did yoga once. A friend of mine convinced me to take this introduction to yoga course through one of those extended learning programs. It was good, however, when it came to the meditation time at the end of the session I always fell asleep. Meditation didn’t suit me. Okay, meditation laying on my back in a dark room that is air conditioned after a long day at work didn’t suit me. But meditation doesn’t always have to involve lying on a yoga mat and breathing deeply. Meditation is really a focused state. To meditate is to engage in contemplation or reflection. To focus one’s thoughts on; reflect or ponder over.
So what does this have to do with one of my favorite scenes in film? I chose the heist scene from Jules Dassin’s criminal masterpiece Rififi (1955). In watching this scene multiple times I began to notice some things. Both in the nature of the characters and the direction, as well as what the scene can mean for the audience, i.e. me.
The scene takes place approximately a ⅓ of the way through the film. Therefore we have already been introduced to the characters who make up the group. Tony, Jo, Mario, and the new comer Cesar.
Additionally, this has already given the audience time to learn about some of the planning that went into the job. As the case with any heist film, planning is essential. This gives the audience a bit of insight as to what is going to happen during the actual heist. Like most heist films, each character has a job to do. Usually a safe guy, bag man, fence, and brains of the operation, etc. Also, there is always one of those crew members that messes up the job for everyone. Rififi is no different. In this scene we get to see all the members performing at their peak. Each person has a job and they do it or the heist doesn’t happen.
After stealing a car, Tony picks up the other three men and they make there way to an alley near the jewelry store Mappin and Webb. Carrying two suitcases and an umbrella, they make their way to an adjacent entrance near the store. The soundtrack plays as they gag and blindfold the concierge and his wife. They make their way up the elevator, not saying a word. There is this beautiful shot of the elevator rising in the darkness. The light from the box making shadows dance along the walls. They enter a room on the second floor. Once the door shuts, the score also cuts out. The only sound the audience hears is that of breathing and movement. The camera follows the light of the flashlight as it scans the dark room, letting the audience get a layout of the room. They bring the two into a room and tie them to chairs. Blocking out the windows with blankets, they can now turn on the lights and begin to make their way through the floor. Everything is on a schedule, timed, and planned out. Each move is as if it was planned. Tony moves the rug as the other three pick up the piano. Jo pulls out the handle to the crowbar, and Mario inserts the proper piece. While Jo and Mario break away the floorboards, Tony and Cesar break out the tools. Tools which have all been packaged in the suitcase related to the respective uses. The rope pre-knotted lies in wait. A hammer comes out along with a sock to cover it. Jo begins to chisel at the floor, the camera pulls in tight on this action. After cutting the re-bar in the floor, Jo breaches the ceiling of Mappin & Webb. There is excitement.
Cesar uses that umbrella from earlier in a rather clever way. Doesn’t he know it’s bad luck to open an umbrella inside? Foreshadowing, maybe. As they break open more of the floor, shots cut from above the men to below them. With some editing we fast forward a little. They’ve created a man size hole. Now that rope can be put to use. Tony is the first to go down, disabling the alarm system. This gives the others clearance to come down.
Lowering the safe onto a block of wood allows Cesar to work his cutting contraption. Drilling and cutting slowly away at the back of the safe they finally break through. Outside, the police have spotted the car Tony stole earlier. As they inspect the car, Tony waits. Eventually knocking one of the police out and making off with the car. They get away and Tony ditches the car. The musical score picks up as Tony arrives at Mario’s apartment. It is much faster paced than previously as the men are poised with anticipation. It is not until Tony dumps open the bag that anyone talks. They are all taken aback by the score.
Focus is the key to this scene. Each character must remain focused throughout the scene or the job won’t go as planned. Dassin stages the scene so that each shot reveals the preparation and focus that went into the job. It is almost as if he is trying to show us how to rob a jewelry store. Each set of tools is carefully shown as it’s pulled out of the suitcase. Including the alternate “soft” pairs of shoes for each one of the thieves. I like the ballet slippers the best. As there is no dialogue, the characters communicate non verbally. Everything has an order to it. This puts the viewer in with them, pounding away at the floor, grinding the safe back, or even waiting.. Sometimes when viewing this scene I find myself holding my breath. Not wanting to make a sound either. Even shushing anyone else who dares to speak.
What is created in this scene is a meditation on the art of cinema. A reflection on showing rather than telling. At 30+ minutes in length, Dassin doesn’t really leave much to the imagination of the audience. He is telling us everything we need to know about the heist through visual descriptiveness. From the way in which he shoots each action, to the items he chooses to place in the frame. The lack of a musical score in the scene adds an elongated element to it,almost as if we are watching it in real time. Everything about this scene puts the audience right there with the men involved. Focused on the story. Which is exactly what film should do.
This is the scene I tell people to shut up when watching. To silence their phones, and stop crunching chips. If you haven't seen this scene or the others that go with it to make up Rififi, I would highly recommend it.
I watched this scene on Criterion's Blu-Ray of Rfifi. As always, they do an amazing job putting this together. Check it out here.
“Do you play?”
This post is part of the SEX! (Now that I have your attention) Blogathon hosted by MovieMovieBlogBlog. Click here to read all the other salacious, sultry, and sexy posts of other participants.
What is sexy? A very personal and subjective question. While historical context plays a huge role in what we determine to be sexy, whether it’s gap teeth or doe eyes, etc. Somethings, I think, will always be sexy. Like that of sexual tension. There is something to be said about the buildup that comes with pursuit that is downright sexy. And The Thomas Crown Affair (1968) gives us a prime example of it.
While subvert sexuality in film under the Hay’s Code was on its way out by the time The Thomas Crown Affair hit theaters in June of 1968, we had not reached the complete break away of the 1970’s yet. This plays well into the nature of the film itself. The characters are playing a game. A game that is played not out in the open, but through subtlety.
Everyone who has ever seen The Thomas Crown Affair can recall the chess scene. But I would like to make a case for the film’s sexiness as a whole. This is not to say that the chess scene is not one of the sexiest ever filmed outside of that match between Antonious Block and the Devil, just kidding. It is to say that the film as a whole is a crescendo of subvert sexuality and tension climaxing (pun intended) with that infamous chess match. The film constructs a characterization of the two main characters as almost archetypes of men and women in the modern world. The immature male unwilling to let his guard down for fear his masculinity may be put to the test; and the career centered woman, at war with older societal sensibilities and her need for emotional fulfillment.
Bored millionaire Thomas Crown devises a bank heist. Using an alias and some very bright lights, Tommy contracts multiple men to pull off the heist. Each man not knowing the next, only knowing their particular part in the job. The heist is a success, netting Crown a cool 2 million dollars. He then deposits the money in a series of trips to Switzerland. The police are baffled.
Then comes insurance investigator Vicki Anderson. She for some reason immediately identifies Crown as the mastermind behind the heist. So she begins to follow this lead. Apparently Mr. Crown has made several trips to Switzerland recently. Not an odd thing, I make about five a year. This is suspect in Miss Anderson’s book. And let the game of cat and mouse begin. Not only is the overlying pursuit of Crown as the main suspect, there is also the underlying instant attraction between the two. Which eventually leads to a relationship, complicating matters for both parties. Tommy finally is forced to see how much Vicki actually loves him by telling her his plans for another heist. When his Rolls-Royce arrives at the cemetery for the pick up he is not in it. Tommy has given her an ultimatum, which she tears up. We see him flying away on a jet. Ah the love that could never be.
Modernity is stylistically evident throughout this film. There is nothing more mod than split screen storytelling. A stylistic element that attempts to break away from the narrative, giving the viewer an opportunity to see multiple actions as if they are happening simultaneously. Given the film a faster paced feel. Or in the case of this film, make the viewer believe there is more going on than actually is. Modern style is evident in the two main characters as well. Both dress very stylishly. They keep up with style. They are both jet setters every sense of the word.
Thomas Crown is a millionaire investment banker. He also plays polo, flies gliders, rides in dune buggies, and occasionally plans bank heists. He has grown bored with the everyday life of investment banking, polo matches, and gliding. He longs for excitement. And he gets it when meets Vicki Anderson. He is immature in the sense that all modern men are. Seeking vanity over substance. Attempting to fill a void with objects and experiences rather than depth. This immaturity is linked to his sense of trust. He never lets anyone too close. While this works out well when planning and executing bank robbery, it does not bode well for relationships.
Steve McQueen appears to be mildly out of place in a three piece suit. Not what we as the audience are used to seeing him in as well. In the same sense, Thomas Crown is out of place in the world he occupies. Although he is obviously very good at investment banking, he is searching for something more. Something outside the constraints of the banking world, outside of that three piece suit. This feeling is almost unconsciously sensed through Steve McQueen’s actions.
Vicki Anderson is the modern woman. Career driven, not held down by older societal norms of women. This is the swinging 60’s, remember. Her attire suggests she knows the value of materials. Vicki is being pulled in two directions. On the one hand she is a sophisticated, stylish, manipulative career woman. On the other, she is possibly falling in love, subject to emotional and perhaps biological needs that come with it. She is falling for a suspect that could make her a lot of money. It is this internal fight that drives her character development. Will she act on love or money? The opposed of Tommy, who is struggling with issues of trust and in a sense maturity. In the end it seems she goes for the money route, opting to remain a single career woman. While leaving Tommy Crown to travel the world alone.
Sexual tension mounting on both sides culminates in the chess match. A metaphor for the cat and mouse game the two characters have been playing since the beginning of the film. Tommy boy has had most of the control up until this point, leading Vicki along. It is not until the he invites her to play a game of chess that his guard is finally let down. Vicki’s coy looks, lip pulls, and chess piece fondling do him in.
Through quick cuts we see her sexual innuendos played out. First subversively through eye fluttering and arm rubbing. Becoming more overt, lip tugging and piece stroking. Cuts back to Crown show him at first mindful of the game. Vicki’s play is at first innocent, mimicking Crown’s, pawn and then knight. Becoming more aggressive as her distractions become more visible. He then begins to mimic her hand movements as he becomes further distracted. She touches his leg with hers, he flinches. He puts his hand on the side to rest, she touches it. He has lost the match before it even began. Even the lighting of each character is designed to lead the audience on the route of seduction. Dunaway is lite softly, giving her features a glow. While McQueen is also lite from one side, his lighting is much harsher and realistic. Then growing ever distracted by his competitor, he is easily forces into check. Something he is not used to he stands up “let’s play something else”, pulling her to him.
They come together in a kiss. Cutting from multiple angles the camera still lingers on the two, getting tighter and more frequently with cuts. Until the camera spins out of control around the two characters, melting into a colorful blur of light.
They end up spending a lot of time together. Riding in the dune buggy, going to his beach house deck thing, and having a nice time. But eventually they both must come to terms with their own inner complications and the roles they've established with each other from the very beginning.
Unfortunately for these two, it was not meant to be. We are left with the sense that the modern romance is a matter of choice. That we can’t have both love and money. Trust and freedom. These entities do not co-mingle in the modern romance. Although, we the audience know that this is possible.
Getting back to the topic at hand, what is sexy. Whether you're in a new relationship, just met someone, or married for 40 years. Even in the modern age pursuit is still sexy. So pursue, flirt, be subvert, play chess, and make that other person want to pursue you back. Because like The Thomas Crown Affair shows us, there is nothing sexier than a game of cat and mouse. And maybe a dune buggy ride.
And just in case you haven't seen the chess match here it is for your viewing pleasure.
This post is part of the Beach Party Blogathon hosted by Speakeasy and Silver Screenings. Click here to check out all the bodacious babes, beach parties and gnarly creatures others have been writing about for this blogathon.
...therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.” -John Donne
Summer always makes me think of the end of summer. I know that sounds stupid, and rightly so, but hear me out. I love the fall. It’s my favorite time of year. Leaves, pumpkin lattes, and Halloween. I know, this is a post about the summer. I am getting to that. During September and sometimes if you’re lucky October, the cold weather holds off for a bit, giving us an Indian Summer. It’s almost as if summer is holding on tight and isn’t going to let go. Unfortunately as pale white gentleman the summer and I have never truly had a great relationship. However Indian summer and I, we are best friends. And it’s during this unseasonably warm time of the year that the film in which I would like to discuss takes place.
The Raft is the second segment in Creepshow 2 (1987), the follow up installment of the horror anthology series Creepshow (1982) by director George A. Romero and author Stephen King. Originally this story appears in the anthology of short stories by entitled Skeleton Crew by Stephen King (note: when looking for this at the bookstore or library do not ask for Skeleton Key, the person helping you will never find it). The Creepshow 1 and 2 modeled after the great pre-code EC comics such as Tales from the Crypt, Vault of Horror and Weird Science. This was not the first time the comics of EC have influenced cinema. Amicus Studios produced a two films in the anthology format which were based on stories from EC, Tales from the Crypt (1972) and Vault of Horror (1973). The classic John Hughes film Weird Science (1985) is also based on an EC tale.
The Raft begins on a highway in an unknown location. A Camaro winds its way down the road. Inside are Deke, Randy, Laverne, and Rachel. They are heading toward Cascade Lake, where there is a raft they can swim out to, smoke, bang, and say goodbye to summer. Although it is almost Halloween, Randy or Poncho as he’s called, is certain the raft will still be out on the lake. This is because the owners don’t take it in until “the lake is frozen”. Why Randy is privy to this knowledge is unknown. Deke is wary as this is a long trip out to Cascade Lake. Once they arrive Deke is gladly surprised that the raft is still there and immediately disrobes to head out toward it. Poncho follows suit with the girls lagging behind. The water is cold “45 or 50 degrees” in Randy’s estimate, which could stop your heart. He is pre-med so he should know these things. The girls follow with the previously shy Rachel leading.
As they swim toward the raft Randy notices a duck struggling to fly out of dark mass. The mass is moving towards them. Randy urges the girls to swim faster, even pulling Rachel up onto the raft with some force. Laverne makes it on to the raft as the mass drifts past them. “Looks like it was going for the girls” Randy looks concerned, “No one knows we’re out here. No one at all.” The others are not phased by this. A discussion of whether or not it is an oil slick, who has seen an oil slick over a couple of joints ensues.
Rachel is mesmerized by the blob, sticking her fingers out to touch it. She is almost instantly consumed as the blob runs up her arm eating her flesh and pulling her into the water. “It hurts!” she cries as she is pulled under. Obviously it is now apparent to the group that this is not an oil slick.
Randy is freaking out, Deke has to hold him back, “she’s dead” he tells Randy. And then there were three. Deke decides that he’s going to make a swim for it, perhaps whatever that thing is might be full from eating Rachel. He’s fast swimmer. He has yellow speedos on. He can probably make it. Ah but alas he’s been talking too loud and the creature has overheard his plan. Grabbing Deke from between the cracks of the raft and pulling him down he is helpless to overcome the mass of flesh eating ooze. He drops his lighter and his joint. Party foul bro. With the best swimmer gone, Laverne and Randy are left to balance themselves on the boards of the raft in a Mexican standoff with the creature. Growing tired and cold they decide to huddle through the night for warmth. In the morning Randy wakes up. Laverne is still asleep, so he decides what might be best is to lay her down a little and pull her top up so he can get a fondle in before she and the creature wake up. Little does he know it’s the early creature that catches the humans. Before Laverne is fully awake it grabs her by the face through the crack of the raft. Eating her flesh and pulling her into the lake. Randy decides it's time to make a break for the shore. He dives in, pursued by the creature. He crawls onto the shore just in time. He proclaims “I beat you!”. This is when, like a wave, the creature consumes him. As the creature slips back into the water the camera pans to the right across the Camaro, still playing music, to a sign which reads “No Swimming”.
The Raft begins slowing, with its pace increasing once the characters arrive at the lake. The deaths come swift and fast. As if the creature has been waiting a long time to feed. The viewer is left as befuddled as the characters themselves. There is no back story. There are only hints given during the car ride up. It is not until the very end that we see, not the characters, that there were signs that they shouldn’t be doing what they were doing. Although,“No Swimming” is really just an invitation to swim.
From the very opening scene the hierarchy of characters is apparent. Deke is driving. He is a macho, football player type. The one who takes Randy’s words regarding the raft and puts them into action. Next to him is Laverne, presumably his girl rolling a joint for him. Between them is Randy, or Poncho as he is called by Deke. Randy sits positioned between the two, inching his way into the front seat festivities. Rachel sits quietly in the back, not partaking in the fun. Randy is already poised as the brains of the operation, as he remembered the raft being out on the lake three weeks ago on his geology field trip. This fact will be brought up by Deke later when he is trying to asses the nature of the creature that just consumed Rachel, “You read all the science books...” Visually we see that the group has been paired into couples. Separated by their apparent personality types. Although once they reach the raft, the true nature of some of the characters is revealed.
Although Rachel is quiet and reserved in the car, once at the lake she is the first to jump in the water. Perhaps prompted by Deke’s taunting of Randy. On the raft she strips off her outer layer of clothing, joining Laverne huddled around Deke. Not phased by the mass moving toward the raft. Rachel is the only obtainable woman in the group for Randy, unless his balls don’t turn to ice cubes that is. However it’s clear that she might not be that into him. I mean they went and saved some animals from an oil slick together. They love the environment, what’s not to like about Randy, Rachel? Come on. Unfortunately it is Rachel's nonchalant attitude toward the creature that gets her killed. And we never get to find out if Randy would have made it with her.
Unlike Rachel, Deke’s death possibly more strategic, if not simply unlucky. He is the only one of the group who would be able to swim past the creature. A fact he points out right before it grabs him. Given that he does not read the science books, as he puts it, physicality is the only attribute Deke has to offer the group. Once this is taken out of the picture it is no longer up to the group to out run the creature, but to outsmart it. A feat they do not succeed in doing. I mean maybe it was full, and ate Deke to take that option out of the equation.
Laverne is characteristically different than that of Rachel. She doesn’t go on trips to save animals from oil slicks. Though she does show school spirit. She is an object of men’s desires. She is out of Randy’s league. A fact he will attempt to move past later on, using the old “end of the world” scenario on her. Sort of. As he says when holding her above the raft “I’m not Deke!” He can’t use his strength to save her, something she is not used to. It becomes apparent she has almost nothing to offer the situation by nightfall. She complains, and refuses to watch the creature. Opting to convince Randy to watch it together instead. It is her objectivity that eventually leads to her demise.
Randy’s character posses the most hope from the group and yet ultimately aides in the death of his friend. He is the first to notice something is amiss. The one who states the muck in the water is not an oil slick. Yet this inevitably does him no good. He chooses his baser instincts over intellect, and in the process gets Laverne killed. Up until that point, there is hope for him. At least in the sense that he might make it. Laverne is too stupid, sorry Laverne it’s true, to make it out of this alive. Once the morning comes Randy has in a sense given up. He might as well take advantage of the situation. At least until Laverne wakes up. From a blob eating her face. Sexy. From there on out he is running on impulse. He doesn't use his intellect, gloating on shore about how he beat the creature by arriving to the beach. Failing to ask the question, is this creature an amphibian. Such promise Randy, you were pre-med.
Like Randy points out, it’s no coincidence that the creature shows up once they arrive. It catches a little pre-game duck snack along the way before the main course. It might be speculated that the creature posses the ability to mesmerize its victims. Both Rachel and Randy seem to be in a trance for a time. Maybe it told him to lay Laverne down and pull up her shirt. This also makes me wonder about the owners of the lake. The ones who leave the raft out until the lake freezes, and who post a “No Swimming” sign. Perhaps they have been mesmerized by the creature as well and use the raft as a baiting tool to feed it. Some sort of ritualistic worship. And if we panned the camera further we’d see a pile of cars partially buried ala From Dusk til Dawn (1999) style. Anyway, I am getting a little off topic. While I could wax intellectual about what the creature may possibly represent, either overt or subversively. I’ll leave that up to you for your own interpretation.
The characters in this film are trying to cling onto something, whether its warm weather, a wooden raft or life itself. Everything in this film is fleeting. Except of course for that Camaro’s battery. I mean the radio is on for like 24 hours.
The Raft reminds me of why I don’t like swimming in lakes. All that muck and branches at the bottom. Slimy through your toes. Who knows what’s in there. But it also reminds me of what is so special about summer, its brevity. So whether you're hitting the beach or your local lake this summer, swim safe. Make sure there's a lifeguard on duty, and turn your car off.
The Distracted Blogger
I watch movies. I write about them here. I watch more movies. I get nothing else done.
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