Alfie and Shotgun Stores: Atmosphere and Shot Selection
We had a film snob lovers’ weekend this weekend, Claude and I. The great upside of being married to a film snob is the vast variety of films one will be exposed to, no pun intended, over the course of the relationship. Some really good, some really bad, but none uninteresting, and never without stimulating a good conversation with Claude.
This weekend, we watched two movies that struck me in their use of atmospheric shots. I digress for a moment: I remember dating a man, briefly, before Claude, who was an art teacher. We went to the local art gallery a couple of times, and he kept asking me how different pieces of artwork made me feel. I have to admit, I haven’t had the experience of feeling emotions too terribly often when looking at static artwork, but film affects me much differently, sometimes even the most banal of scenes.
Alfie is a well-known film from (1966) starring a dashing and young Michael Caine. What seems to start out as a light-hearted romp quickly turns dark, and Caine is brilliant in his performance. But what stuck with me most about this film are the shot selection and the scenery. In one scene, Alfie and a woman are on their way home from visiting the woman’s husband in a sanatorium. Along the way they stop and take a leisurely canoe ride. The shot selection from the woman’s point of view of the sky and the trees as they go past above her and the sun streaming through the branches is really breathtaking, and elicited strong feelings from me. Feelings of what temporary peace and bliss feel like – you know it’s fleeting, so you want to drink it all in, and its sheer beauty is both bitter in its temporariness and sweet in its ability to sear itself eternally in your brain. Of course, scenes of London in the 1960’s are also quite interesting, and Sonny Rollins’ post-bop musical score really added to this movie for me. As I said, having never seen it and only knowing a little about it, I was surprised that it took the dark plot turn that it did, but for that reason, and for the shot selection, I was quite satisfied and would recommend this movie highly. Our good friend from Turner Classic Movies Robert Osbourne was less than complimentary about the remake with Jude Law, so I would probably stay away from that one.
The other film we saw this weekend was one from 2007 entitled “Shotgun Stories” staring Michael Shannon as a dead-ringer for a young David Letterman. This film was dark from start-to-almost-finish. Filmed in the small town of England, Arkansas, the long, lingering shots of rural landscapes where you hear nothing but birds or crickets really brought back what living in the country was like. A couple of shots in particular were exceptionally stunning – one simple shot of sycamore tree leaves on the ground – I know it sounds boring, but the composition and the color of that one shot is one that will remain with me for a long time. Those particular shots – the rural, quiet ones, elicit the same bittersweet feeling that I described having when watching the canoe scene from Alfie. The feeling is almost like being homesick – longing for something you know you can never have, or once had and can never have again, or dreaming of some unattainable future event or place or mood. Michael Shannon is a remarkable actor, and this movie was very thought-provoking, until its end when it just tied up too neatly for Claude and me. Claude has conditioned me not to like happy endings anymore, and really, when I look back on the films I liked before I met Claude, the ones I found to be more satisfying are the ones that don’t have a neatly-tied ending. Even the musicals that I hold most dear are the ones with downer endings – Fiddler on the Roof and Funny Girl and All That Jazz come to mind. I would definitely recommend Shotgun Stories especially if you have memories of rural life in America in the past 45 years. It is a dark tale, and has some pretty strong implied violence. It’s clearly an interesting film both visually and thematically. I’d give it 3 stars on a 1-4 rating. I think I’d give Alfie the same rating.
Now for the film snob part – as we’re watching the end credits of Shotgun Stories, Claude says, “A-ha! I thought I’d see that name pop up.” Claude has a photographic memory for film details (and book details and pretty much any details except taking food out of the freezer to thaw for tonight’s dinner), and he remarked that one of the executive producers of Shotgun Stories, David Gordon Green, is a filmmaker who directed “Pineapple Express.” There’s where I just simply will never be able to keep up with the “big boys”, Claude and his friends. I don’t have a memory for details such as that, and can’t put all the pieces together or get all the references. I guess that’s why I’m lucky to be the wife of a film snob.