CLASSIC MOVIE SCENES #8 – DEAD MAN’S SHOES (2004) – RICHARD MEETS SONNY
Directed by: Shane Meadows
Produced by: Mark Herbert, Louise Meadows
Written by: Paddy Considine, Paul Fraser, Shane Meadows
Cast: Paddy Considine, Toby Kebbell, Gary Stretch, Stuart Wolfenden etc.
Cinematography: Danny Cohen
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
Shane Meadows’ Dead Man’s Shoes (2004) is both a revenge thriller and a metaphor for the lost youth of England. Specifically, the youth of the Midlands discarded and forgotten by society.
Paddy Considine gives an incredible performance full of intensity, guilt, pathos, pain, self-loathing and regret. He portrays, Richard, a returning soldier, out to get back at those that hurt his brother, Anthony (Toby Kebbell). The film asks: can revenge absolve guilt? Alas, there is no easy answer.
The film was shot in three weeks on a shoestring budget. Among many, many brilliant and disturbing scenes is the one where Richard initially meets main gang-leader, Sonny (Gary Stretch). It’s a short but impactful scene full of menace and suspense. Richard makes it plain he is coming for Sonny and his motley crew of low level criminals. Apparently a larger scale confrontation was scripted, but due to budget constraints this scene replaced it; proving that more often than not less is definitely more.
CLASSIC MOVIE SCENES #7 – ‘FLAMENCO DANCE’ SCENE – HAPPY GO LUCKY (2008)
Directed and written by: Mike Leigh
Produced by: Simon Channing Williams
Cast: Sally Hawkins, Eddie Marsan, Alexis Zegerman, Andrea Riseborough, Karina Fernandez etc.
Music: Gary Yershon
Cinematography: Dick Pope
While I’m a massive fan of Mike Leigh’s body of work, I disliked Happy Go Lucky (2008) when I first saw it. I think I must have been in a bad mood or just did not get it. Maybe, on first watch, I felt it was an inconsequential film when compared to his others?
However, having re-watched it a couple of times in the last year I must admit I have completely changed my mind about it. Indeed, Sally Hawkins’ characterisation and acting as Poppy Cross is a joy.
In the ‘Flamenco Dance’ scene we find Poppy joining a dance class for what she hopes is a bit of fun and exercise. The teacher, passionately portrayed by Karina Fernandez, is Poppy’s opposite in terms of intensity and seriousness. This is all meant to be a bit of a laugh as Hawkins’ wonderful facial expressions suggest.
Yet, while the scene begins humorously it ends rather embarrassingly as the Flamenco teacher has a hell of an emotional meltdown in front of the class. I love this scene because of Hawkins’ sly performance juxtaposing with Fernandez’ heartfelt breakdown; all of which captures wildly different emotions in a short period of time.
CLASSIC MOVIE SCENES #6 – ‘TOMORROW BELONGS TO ME’ – CABARET (1972)
Directed by: Bob Fosse
Produced by: Cy Feuer
Screenplay by Jay Allen – Based on Cabaret by Joe Masteroff
Starring: Liza Minnelli, Michael York, Helmut Griem, Joel Grey, Fritz Wepper, Marisa Berenson
Songs: John Kander & Fred Ebb (Lyrics) – Score: Ralph Burns
Cinematography: Geoffrey Unsworth
**CONTAINS PLOT AND THEME SPOILERS**
Cabaret (1972) was that strange thing: a dark, satirical, sexual, explicit and cynical musical. I only actually watched it for the first time last year and thought it was a true classic; and I don’t usually enjoy musicals as a rule. Not only is the direction, writing, choreography and performance brilliant but from a thematic perspective it was took risks in regard to gender and sexual representations. Moreover, the historical themes are very compelling too. The film would garner many Oscars and was a critical and commercial smash, sending Liza Minnelli to super-stardom at the same time.
Set in Berlin, the narrative concerns a variety of characters that appear at, or attend the infamous Kit Kat Club. Episodic in structure the main stories focus on the loves and losses of the likes of singer Sally Bowles (Minnelli), writer, Brian Roberts (Michael York) and German playoy, Baron Max Von Heune (Helmut Griem). Interspersed within the drama are the songs from the stage of the Kit Kat Club, introduced by the seedy Master of Ceremonies, portrayed by Joel Grey. Furthermore, the film charts the movement from the bohemian freedom of the Weimar Republic to the threat of the looming National Socialist Party as it insidiously bleeds into the German political landscape.
This change is seen to chilling effect in the only song featured outside the club, namely, ‘Tomorrow Belongs to Me’. In this classic scene we begin innocently enough with the angelic singing of a teenage boy. As he continues to sing we cut to the crowd listening intently. Then the camera pans down and it’s revealed the boy is a member of the Hitler Youth. Suddenly, the portentous horror of the situation is all too apparent and the song becomes an unsettling reminder of grim future events. As members of the crowd join in fervently with the song, we know, we just know it’s the end of innocence for the German people and the world.
CONTRASTING DREAMS ON PAGE AND SCREEN: REVIEWING THE WORK OF PHILIP K. DICK
“Today we live in a society in which spurious realities are manufactured by the media, by governments, by big corporations, by religious groups, political groups… So I ask, in my writing, what is real? I do not distrust their motives; I distrust their power. They have a lot of it. And it is an astonishing power: that of creating whole universes, universes of the mind. I ought to know. I do the same thing.”
― Philip K. Dick
For a writer who wrote extensively about artificial intelligence and technology, Philip K. Dick himself was in fact a certifiable writing machine, publishing over 44 novels, a further 120-odd short stories, plus a whole vision of manuscripts, essays and other literary paraphernalia. His death at the relatively young age of 53 took an incredible genius away from us; however, you’re never too far away from his work either on TV, computer or at the cinema.
The latest cinema release inspired by Dick’s vision was the beautifully directed space epic Blade Runner 2049 (2017). Here Denis Villeneuve picked up the baton from Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982); an adaptation of K. Dick’s seminal novel Do Android’s Dream of Electric Sheep (1968). But of course his stories have also given us film adaptations including: Minority Report (2002), Total Recall (1990 & 2012), The Adjustment Bureau (2011), Next (2007), Paycheck (2003), A Scanner Darkly (2006) etc. Moreover, Amazon has recently adapted his classic 1962 alternate history novel The Man in the High Castle (2015) to positive acclaim.
With Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror jumping ship to Netflix, Channel Four UK (Sony / Amazon in the U.S.A) and various other production companies) must have felt there was a “futuristic anthology show” hole in their schedule. Thus, they obtained the rights to Philip K. Dick’s back catalogue and produced a show called Electric Dreams – shown in two halves in 2017 and 2018. The production values were very high and some extremely talented actors, producers, writers and directors were brought in to bring ten Dickian short stories to the TV screen. Such creative luminaries included: Janelle Monae, Dee Rees, Ronald Moore, Juno Temple, Bryan Cranston, David Farr, Matthew Graham, Timothy Spall, Jack Thorne, Steve Buscemi, Anna Paquin, Terrence Howard, Travis Beacham, Richard Madden, Vera Farmiga and many more.
I have immersed myself in the novels, cinema and TV work inspired by Philip K. Dick recently. I was fascinated by the themes and narratives represented and comparisons between the literary and screen works. How did they compare to Dick’s original vision and how do they differ?
NIGHTMARE THEMES IN ELECTRIC DREAMS
Of late I have read his novels Do Android’s Dream of Electric Sheep (1968), Ubik (1969) and the collection of short stories – collated in conjunction with the Channel 4 series – Electric Dreams. Moreover, I have seen most of his works adapted for cinema. His narratives are often hallucinatory and dream-like with simple yet devastating prose. They deal in reality, alternative reality and beyond reality. You’re often in a place where you are unsure as to what is occurring is in the real world or some imagined or manufactured nightmare. Technology, disease and war are more than often a threat. The biggest threat though is humanity and its seeming endless proclivity for inventing weapons, machines and viruses with which to kill. Paranoia and doubt infect Dick’s work making you feel as trapped as his characters. Further, mutated strands of humanity are a staple trope where telepaths and empaths inhabit his oeuvre; along with classic science fiction aliens and monsters from outer space too.
The narratives, while possessing an otherworldly and futuristic feel, paradoxically feel realistic because his characters are everyday people. They are rarely action heroes or soldiers or scientists but rather administrators or office staff, factory or transport workers. They are family people trying to make their way through life and the horrors the world throws at them. Given Dick was writing during the 1950s onwards it’s not surprising that the threat of nuclear war hung heavy within his words. Furthermore, the rapid technological breakthroughs which, while offering hope for humanity, brought with it a movement to the loss of free will and a possible future governed by machines. Big corporations, banks, governments and computers all erode and destroy the very fabric of being in Dick’s world rendering human identity and existence obsolete. His universe is brimming with people under threat, humans desiring to escape and a questioning of what it means to be human.
CONTEXTUALISING THE NIGHTMARES
**CONTAINS FILM AND LITERARY SPOILERS**
Adapting Dick’s work can be complex because what works on the page as a concept can be difficult to transfer to a visual medium. Conversely, his work is often altered beyond recognition with fragments of the initial idea remaining while others stay true to the original. The original and subsequent sequel of Bladerunner (1982) are very faithful to the structure and futuristic vision of Dick’s original novel; retaining the ‘hunting of replicants’ plot and the existential question of whether an android can be considered human. In Electric Dreams the adaptation of the short story Human Is. . . . poses a similar question. In this story a wife faces the choice as to whether her husband, whose body has been invaded by an alien, is in fact more human because he is an improvement and displaying idealised human traits such as kindness and love. The flipside of this occurs in the film adaptation of Imposter (2002), and the short story adaptation The Father Thing, where nefarious aliens hell-bent on invasion take over the humans in order to divide and conquer. Human Is… both the short story and television adaptation are particularly convincing as many people have all been trapped in dying relationships where we wish we could change our partner. Dick’s story takes this idea and makes it real and emotionally very powerful.
Certain filmmakers, when adapting Dick’s work, will mould their style to his vision. For example, in the Steven Spielberg directed thriller Minority Report (2002), Dick’s pre-crime conspiracy model was presented as an action pursuit film with Tom Cruise going on the run for a crime he may or may not have committed. Spielberg retains the initial idea and concepts relating to pre-cognitive telepathy and empathic mutation but renders it a more fast-paced and spectacular cinematic experience. Similarly, telepathy and mutants feature heavily in Matthew Graham’s pretty faithful adaptation of The Hoodmaker. Like Minority Report telepaths are exploited by the government and law to do their bidding, only for the system to be corrupted and used for death by those in power.
Dick’s story We Can Remember it For You Wholesale, has been adapted on two occasions as Total Recall (1990 and 2012). Paul Verhoeven’s earlier version about warring government agents and colonies on Mars is an absolute blast. Dick’s concepts relating to alternative realities and implanted memories are fused with an explosive Arnold Schwarzenegger action film. Yet, what is retained amidst the shoot-outs and spectacular set-pieces is the main protagonists’ life dissatisfaction and desire to escape their everyday existence for something more exciting. This is a common theme in Dick’s work and can also be found in the Electric Dreams’ stories Impossible Planet and The Commuter. In the latter a Station clerk finds a hitherto lost “town” which offers a means of escape from his seemingly humdrum life but it comes at a cost. While Total Recall raises the pace and stakes within an interplanetary setting, The Commuter is more ordinary and emotional in its cerebral representation.
Political, social and technological corruption is present in many of Dick’s other works too. In Richard Linklater’s adaptation of A Scanner Darkly (2006), an undercover cop battles to conceal his identity while struggling with drug addiction. While in Electric Dreams, Dee Rees’ rendition of Dick’s short story The Hanging Man, takes an allegorical story about social unrest and fascistic hangings, turning it into a thought-provoking, paranoiac nightmare scenario. Rees calls her story Kill All Others, where we find Mel Rodriguez’s factory worker driven by fake news and political manipulation during an election. This eerily reflects much of the social and media saturation seen during Donald Trump’s U.S. election win. Likewise the adaptation of Foster, Your Dead became the very impactful Safe and Sound; and examined the deadly possibilities of technology firms manipulating youth within the context of the war on terror.
Arguably not as successful, however, was the Tony Grisoni adaptation called Crazy Diamond. This episode completely altered Dick’s story Sales Pitch, which told of a relentless Sales-Bot who won’t take no for an answer. In fact I had no idea what Crazy Diamond was trying to say and perhaps the writer should have stuck to Dick’s intriguing techo-nightmare premise. Indeed, threat of technology and the inevitable doom progress represents is also presented in the excellent episode called Autofac. Dick wrote this story in 1955 and set it after an apocalyptic world war has devastated Earth’s civilizations. All that remains is a network of hardened robot “Autofacs” supplying goods to the human survivors. However, these drones and bots are in fact hindering survival and the idea is incredibly prescient. Indeed with the rise of Amazon and Google and Apple industries our society is becoming more dependent on such technology to the extent we could be classed as helpless without it.
Lastly, what Electric Dreams demonstrates, along with the many film adaptations of his work, is that Dick’s concepts are just as relevant, if not more so than at the time of writing. Moreover, what this thematic and genre contextualisation of Dick’s work illustrates is that universal themes such as: the desire to escape; what it means to be human; media manipulation; fear of technology and war; oppressive government regimes; and all round insidious paranoia about a very dark future are inescapable and will always be part of society and the human condition.
CAPTAIN AMERICA: WINTER SOLDIER (2014) – “THE ELEVATOR SCENE”
Directed by: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Produced by: Kevin Feige
Screenplay by: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely
Based on: Captain America: by Joe Simon , Jack Kirby
Starring: Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie
Cinematography: Trent Opaloch
Edited by: Jeffrey Ford, Matthew Schmidt
In my original review of Captain America: Winter Soldier (2014) – which can be found here – I described the film as: “. . . neat socio-political commentary – full of the rip-roaring action.” In fact I think it is still my favourite Marvel film of the lot due to the fantastic conspiracy driven plot allied with some incredible stunts and action. Moreover, Steve Rogers’ relationship with Bucky Barnes is also further developed and thoroughly tested in an emotionally effective fraternal friendship breakdown.
The film has many standout scenes but one is more memorable than others in my view. It’s the scene in the elevator where Rogers finds himself being turned on by those he believed he could trust at Shield. It doesn’t intrinsically, until the culmination of the set-piece, involve massive explosions and CGI-driven action. Indeed, the “elevator/lift scene” is a wonderfully executed fight scene which makes use of its limited space to place our protagonist in an almighty bind.
Rogers enters the lift and immediately begins to feel something could be afoot. As more and more – what we eventually learn to be – Hydra henchmen enter the lift the editing builds fantastic suspense. Various shots build anticipation: looks from Rogers; a bead of sweat running down a man-in-black’s back; plus hushed conversation from an “office worker” in the lift. Then just before the fight ensues Rogers utters a great one-liner to set it all up: “Before we get started – does anyone want to get out!”
It’s already a classic scene before the brutal hand-to-hand combat kicks off and encapsulates the mix of paranoia and adrenalized action present within the whole movie. Watch it here:
CLASSIC MOVIE SCENES #4 – ZODIAC (2007) “The Basement Scene”
Directed by: David Fincher
Produced by: Mike Medavoy, Arnold W. Messer, Bradley J. Fischer, Ceán Chaffin
Screenplay by: James Vanderbilt
Based on: Zodiac & Zodiac Unmasked by Robert Graysmith
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey Jr., Anthony Edwards
Arguably, the finest thriller director around at the moment is David Fincher. His film Zodiac (2007) was a detailed analysis of the characters involved in the hunt for the eponymous serial killer. It’s a film full of brutal murders and obsessive characters, notably Jake Gyllenhaal’s cartoonist turned investigator, Robert Graysmith. His character almost goes insane discovering who the Zodiac killer; so much so he risks losing everything – including his mind!
Toward the end of the film, Graysmith interviews Bob Vaughn (Charles Fleischer), a film projectionist, and the suspense is created literally out of nothing. The total absence of a known nemesis creates an unlikely amount of tension, especially allied with the way Fincher shoots in shadows and frames his characters. Graysmith is not seemingly in any danger but his paranoia, claustrophobia and growing sense of unease petrifies him until he is forced to flee. In fact, the thriller genre convention of revealing the murderer is, like in the real-life case of the Zodiac, rejected; thus catharsis is denied to the audience throughout this nail-biting paranoiac thriller classic.
Jake Gyllenhaal’s sweaty, panicked performance is perfect here as is his counterpart Charles Fleischer, who seems scary without even trying. Moreover, while it seems obvious to state that a director is the one controlling the various creative aspects of a film, David Fincher is one of those filmmakers whose form and style is often remarkable. This scene is testament to his skills as a cinematic craftsman par excellence.
For an excellent analysis of the “basement scene” check this link out too:
Joe Wright’s majestic directorial adaptation of Ian McEwan’s tragic romantic war story is a poignant study of petty revenge and class conflict. The scene on Dunkirk beach is the standout cinematic moment of the film as James McEvoy’s weakened soldier, Robbie Turner, flanked by compatriots portrayed by Daniel Mays and Nonso Anonzie, vainly attempts to find a way off the beach.
The scene is shown in one long five minute take and involves a certain beautiful, poetic and brutal chaos. Dario Marianelli’s soaring score and a male choir on the beach accompany images of: naked men skinny-dipping, horses being shot, crushed boats, blazing fires, spinning carousels and big wheels; as trapped soldiers remain in peril from bombs overhead.
Aside from the cinematic and technical achievement on display the emotional impact is surreal, heartfelt and haunting. The power from the film’s denouement when we discover much of the episode has been filtered through Saoirse Ronan’s unreliable narration makes the scene all the more heart-breaking.