8. Blood Test in The Thing
Not all great scenes are complex arks or systemic developments, sometimes a great scene is one that explodes with terrific force and is absolutely incredible to behold. Such can be found in John Carpenter’s 1982 science fiction horror masterpiece, The Thing.
The story concerns a parasitic extra-terrestrial lifeform that assimilates other organisms and in turn imitates them. The Thing infiltrates an Antarctic research station, taking the appearance of the researchers that it absorbs, and paranoia develops within the group.
There are many incredible scenes and props, from the shocking defibrillator scene to the countless examples of expert prosthetic work that brought the creature to life. But in terms of a scene that builds a slow cacophony of tension only to erupt in a truly terrifying and masterful way then we have to give the edge to the fateful blood test scene.
The stakes are set out in a clear and concise way, the creature’s DNA reacts when under attack therefore a simple blood sample should allow Kurt Russel to test everyone and find out who is not what they appear to be.
When the scene does erupt it does so in such an explosive and chaotic way that it’s hard not to scream in terror. The fact that most of the characters are tied down for what was once a security measure but in an instant becomes detrimental to their survival only makes it more terrifying. Rob Bottin’s miraculous special effects work is pure nightmare fuel.
7. Racial Montage in Do the Right Thing
Spike Lee has frequently made use of a fourth wall breaking montage as we’ve also seen in his 2002 film 25th Hour, but back in the 1980s with what many consider his greatest directorial achievement to date he exhibited an aggressive and racially charged and socially conscious sequence concerning the lives of peoples of varying backgrounds and ethnicities on the streets of New York in Do the Right Thing.
The movie tells the story of a Brooklyn neighborhood’s simmering racial tension, which comes to a head and culminates in tragedy on the hottest day of summer.
Lee’s blend of style and substance, comedy and drama and energetic but socially relevant story arcs was a revelation when it was first released and one of the stand out scenes is a tour of those simmering racial tensions with a series of intense monologues aimed squarely at the audience.
Not only is the scene itself bold for displaying so many characters each with their own underlying prejudices but it says so much more than it may initially indicate. It captures not only the varying opinions of multiple characters and how they relate to one another but also shows that racial prejudice can be a deadly circle of one group laying their problems on another.
It does not blame any specific group nor does it excuse anyone else, it simply want to capture the mood of an entire suburb from every angle it can and we think it is fair to say that Lee succeeded on all fronts.
6. Transcription in Amadeus
One of the great scenes that not only stands on its own as a masterful piece of storytelling and character development, but also one that utilizes the unique power of cinema and realises it to its full potential.
When it came to capturing the creative process of a genius like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart the filmmakers knew they had to bring forward something unique that could bring the power of his music to the screen, and though there are no obvious tricks or techniques on display it is simply the amalgamation of several fantastic elements that equal more than the sum of their parts.
First consider the rhythm of the scene, the way the camera dances between the two actors in one shot from the next, we barely have time to register each individual note as Mozart recites them.
Then look at the two performances from F Murray Abraham as Salieri to Tom Hulce as Mozart. Abraham’s sheer awe at the recital but intent to finish the transcript is obvious from the start, the easiest way to describe the character of Salieri is that he had the talent of a mediocre composer but the ear of a masterful music lover, so that he knew how bad he was, and how good Mozart was.
Then Hulce’s performance conveys a sense of great genius stricken by his own health. He makes the creative process look easy but is also clearly under physical strain due to his failing health.
The imposition of the finished product as it would have appeared in Mozart’s mind is also a wonderful inclusion that is times perfectly to Hulce’s movements as he composes the imaginary orchestra. Though the film is often criticised for how accurate it is, Amadeus is undeniably powerful and an achievement of cinema thanks to scenes like this.
5. Kissing Compilation in Cinema Paradiso
Though unlike some other scenes on this list this one require a little more context to be fully appreciated it is still magnificently emotional and endlessly endearing. A coming of age movie that focusses on a love of cinema and all things related to it, Cinema Paradiso tells the story of a successful filmmaker’s childhood and his friendship with a cinema projectionist Alfredo.
One recurring motif throughout the film is that certain romantic movie scenes were cut due to strict censorship laws but near the end of the film the director finds a reel that has spliced all of these scenes together in a single montage.
The scene stands as a perfect example of how repetition of a common theme can shed light on the more subtle nuances of what is going on with the films plot and characters.
Even taken out of context the scene is a glorious celebration of romance on the silver screen that is as nostalgic as it is varied. Within the narrative however it is a love letter to both film as an art form and to the main character of the film. It a sign of redemption, of making peace with the past and a wonderful analysis of cinema and its unrivalled power.
4. Never got me Down in Raging Bull
When it came to crafting his own boxing movie in the form of a biopic about Jake La Motta, Martin Scorsese wanted to create fight scenes that were more expressionistic than objective and nowhere is that more obvious than this scenario in which Jake La Motta allows himself to be pounded to a bloody pulp.
By placing his camera within the ring Scorsese created a more intimate and personal view of the fights and was able to capture the utter brutality of the violence as it unfolded.
De Niro also trained with the real La Motta, even entering three real Brooklyn professional boxing matches, two of which he won. La Motta even said that he was good enough to make a career out of it.
Luckily though he stuck with acting and when one looks at the intensity and ferocity as well as the sheer passion and hatred behind his performance it becomes absolutely breath taking.
The self-loathing of La Motta is evident here as he chooses this fight to act as a sacrificial moment in which he throws the title bout but also subjects himself to immense physical pain.
It acts as recompense and punishment for his own sins against his loved ones. But ultimately he takes pride in never falling down or succumbing to his beating. For him that in itself is a victory, and because we as an audience understand his character so well it makes perfect sense.
3. Candle in an Empty Pool in Nostalghia
Andrei Tarkovsky’s enigmatic film about a writer who, trapped by his fame and unhappy marriage seeks out his cultural past in Italy is transcendent, patient and absolutely stunning in its beauty. There is not a single shot that isn’t seeping with Tarkovsky’s usual form of poetic harmony and one of the most hauntingly beautiful of them all is the restrained and eerily beautiful scene of the candle in an empty pool.
The shot that opens the film is a long and meditative shot that depicts the lighting of a candle only for it to be placed in an empty pool. The shot lasts for nine minutes and to be honest it is difficult to explain why it works so perfectly. In theory it is just a nice looking shot with a few fancy camera moves but looking beyond that it becomes so much more.
It is so deceptively simple yet also overwhelmingly symbolic and powerful. There is no easy or technical explanation as to why exactly the scene brings forth these emotions whether it be the brilliance of how the scene is framed or the poetry within the details or just the sheer audacity of such a quiet detail being held in focus for such a long amount of time, regardless, it is pure cinema at its best.
2. Tears in the Rain in Blade Runner
Ridley Scott’s 1982 science fiction classic is one of the most influential and enduring films to emerge from the 1980s and with good reason. The film depicts a dystopian Los Angeles in which genetically engineered replicants, which are visually indistinguishable from adult humans who are utilized for dangerous or menial work on off-world colonies.
The plot focuses on a group of recently escaped replicants hiding in L.A. and the burnt-out expert Blade Runner, Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), who reluctantly agrees to take on one more assignment to hunt them down.
During the scene’s climax the rogue replicant leader Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) has Deckard beaten and hanging precariously from the top of a tall building. In what we think is a look of gleeful pleasure at his nemesis’ demise Batty suddenly does the unthinkable, he reaches out to save Deckard’s life. Batty then delivers a stirring speech about the fragility of memories before expending the last of his power and dying.
In a film about the relationship between man and machine, what it means to be human and what qualifies as human this scene is rife for analysis and studying.
It lends itself to the overall themes of the film from the subtlest of symbolic imagery like the flying doves and the nail in the hand right down to the simple fact that Batty’s decision to save a life at the last minute is in itself an act of compassion, an instinctive choice to preserve life, an emotion that we would associate with being human.
But even putting that aside the scene just works for its emotional impact. It’s beautiful, haunting and endlessly quotable.
1. Peep Show Reunion in Paris, Texas
Sometimes the best scenes can just be a simple conversation and that is exactly what we have here in the emotionally impactful finale of Paris, Texas. Wim Wenders 1984 drama is one of wondrous compassion and experimentation, reaching its culmination in this heart rendering scene of poignancy.
The plot focuses on an amnesiac (Harry Dean Stanton) who, after mysteriously wandering out of the desert, attempts to reconnect with his brother (Dean Stockwell) and seven-year-old son (Hunter Carson). He and his son end up embarking on a voyage through the American Southwest to track down his long-missing wife (Natassja Kinski). By the end of the film they are finally reunited with Travis in a room with Jane on the other side of the one-way mirror.
The scene is a masterclass of framing and positioning as Wenders seems to know exactly when to show the two in the same frame and when to emphasise the distance between them.
During the whole sequence of course we are treated to an amazing conversation as Travis tells her a story of a man and a young girl who fell in love, married, and had a child, probably before they were ready. At first, Jane is confused by the story, but she soon realizes who is on the other side of the glass, and that the story is that of their relationship.
The moment of revelation is a powerful one and Kinski’s performance sells every second of it, despite having so little dialogue compared to her co-star Stanton their performances are on par. They are also very different with one of confession and the other of forgiveness.
Travis describes how the couple’s love turned from being joyful to stifling, explains how the drunken man suffocated the young girl with his jealousy and control, and tells how he came to loathe himself and why he disappeared.
The speech is so brutal and honest that by the time it is over and when she urges him to stay only for them to finally meet face to face, it is a moment that is well and truly earned. It plays with your expectations and emotions to the point where you think you can’t take it anymore, only to fulfil those expectations at the last moment, that is filmmaking at its finest.
Author Bio: Joshua Price considers himself more of a fan that happens to write near insane ramblings on movies and directors like Scorsese, Spielberg, Bergman, Kubrick and Lumet rather than an actual critic and other insane ramblings can be found criticalfilmsuk.blogspot.co.uk.