Thursday, 10 December 2009

Film: Our Mind's Movie Library

Sometimes we read a special passage that makes an instant, indelible imprint on our mind; the content sinks in and we remember it forever.

One such piece of writing for me is an article in Sight and Sound (Nov, 1993) in which the novelist, filmmaker and one-time film editor at Time Out, Chris Petit, ‘raids the movie library inside his head’.

The article is a stream of consciousness trail from one random movie memory to another. Whether or not I am familiar with the films, filmmakers, actors or theories he references does not lessen the impact of the piece; this is an enthralling meditation on movies and memory that reveals how we all contain reels of film stored in the archive that inhabits our mind, and with as little as a flick of a switch, we can project these magic moments once again.

Here is an extract from Petit's article:
‘… Clint Eastwood’s chipped tooth. Genevieve Bujold’s eyes. The tree-house in Swiss Family Robinson. The eaves of the attic room where Robert Mitchum kills Shelley Winters in Night of the Hunter. Bad early Jack Nicholson performances. Bresson’s note about the ejaculatory force of the eye. Jeanne Moreau’s shoes in Diary of a Chambermaid. The last walk in The Wild Bunch…’

There are about 200 of these memories and observations in the article. From the extract above, I could picture the tree-house, the eaves, the last walk, the shoes and some Roger Corman era poor Nicholson performances. But I had not seen Eastwood’s chipped tooth or Bujold’s eyes and sure enough, as soon as I watched Tightrope I was looking for that chipped tooth; and when I watched Dead Ringers I was entranced by Bujold’s glaring eyes.

For some reason though, there are two passages elsewhere in the article that always stuck with me: ‘the way Lee Marvin holds a gun’ and ‘the fact that films don’t say The End any more.’ These observations, both esoteric and astute respectively, reveal not only a lot about the author's passionate observation of film but also how film is a collective experience from which we each derive a very personal response: For Petit it is the eaves in The Night of the Hunter; for me it's Shelley Winters sitting in her car under the water, her hair flowing like reeds, I remember most vividly.

It's the power the image has to reach into us and remain inside us that fascinates me. Sometimes we cherish it like a close friend, sometimes we resent its intrusion, and during the course of a film, who knows when those moments may occur, or what they maybe.

And the question still stands: When did films stop saying The End (or Fin) and why?

[This is an edited version. The uncut version can be found at]

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