Hit Me With Your Best Shot: The Beguiled (1971)

Just like last week Nathaniel at the Film Experience hasn’t picked a movie for the Hit Me with Your Best Shot series and so I put it out to my twitter to decide. This weeks winner was Jacob Scott who suggested I watch the original The Beguiled from 1971. The remake is coming out any day now and won Sophia Coppola best director at the Cannes Film Festival. I really like doing this each week because it allows me to either reexamine a film from a cinematography perspective or look at something new I never would have seen otherwise.

So what about the original? It’s a weird little movie that I’m glad I saw but didn’t strike me as a classic romantic thriller. For a lot of the film it felt like I was watching a TV movie (the 70s version of a lifetime thriller) but then it would occasionally do cinematic things.

The Beguiled stars Clint Eastwood as John McBurney a Yankee soldier who is taken in by a ladies school run by Martha Farnsworth played by Geraldine Page. At times it feels more like a cult than a school. Nobody is allowed to leave and the girls don’t seem to be getting much of an education.

As John begins to recover he gets to know each of the girls including Martha, who has a very twisted backstory of her own. They don’t really cite scripture but it’s more the civility and social rules of the South are their gospel. They even read through the books of manners like it is the Bible.

Each of the girls approaches John from a different way. One is the innocent virgin, another is the temptress, another is a bargainer, etc. He even gets to know Hallie, the slave, who he bonds with as a prisoner but also is at odds with because he seems to have no power over her sexually. There are a lot of tense scenes in the film and they do a good job making it feel like a pot of water about to boil over. There is obviously sensuality but it is mostly about temptation than actual participation. Envy of course also plays a big role in the story.

In picking a best shot I wanted to go with something that showed both John and the women but it’s a film that has very few group scenes. It is mostly 2-shots and close ups. Often you will have a shot from behind a woman, panning from the woman to John or a fade out where you see a woman and then it fades into John.

So for the best shot I decided to go with a pivotal scene where we see Martha’s back and John and Edwina across the table.

Overall Grade- B

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Hit Me With Your Best Shot: Parent Trap (1961)

This week for Hit Me With Your Best Shot Nathaniel over at the Film Experience has selected a film right up my alley- The Parent Trap (1961).  This is the original version of the movie. Not the superb remake starring Lindsay Lohan in 1998 (that’s how you do a remake right!).  I’m excited to talk about this film because I really do adore it.  It is one of my favorite live action Disney films.

The premise is simple enough. 2 girls meet at camp and surprise! They happen to look just like each other. It turns out they are twins separated at birth. Now they start up a scheme to switch places and bring their parents back together again. It’s not the most original story in the world but it is what they do with it that works so well. And most of the credit goes to the charismatic and wonderful cast. Hayley Mills is amazing as the twins. She gives them each individual personalities and manners of talking. Even when they have the same haircut and clothing I still know clearly who is Susan and who is Sharon.

I also love Maureen O’Hara and Brian Keith as the parents. They have terrific chemistry together and you buy these two people have always been in love with each other but have let their passionate natures keep them apart. I even love it when she ends up slugging him in the eye in one spirited argument. It feels believable for their characters that it might happen. Under all that fiestiness is of course passion and love for each other. It is classic!

The movie is also really funny. I love Maureen O’hara when she flirts it up with the local Reverend (Leo Carroll) come to go over wedding plans for Mitch and his fiance Vicky (Joanna Barnes). She is hilarious as she drives her ex crazy in front of the Reverend in a bath robe!

Vicky is a very stock gold digging horrible girlfriend you often see in romantic comedies. They can’t have her be too great or we won’t want him to get together with Maggie very much. However, here the trope works because they get a lot of humor out of it. I love when the girls submarine her on the camping trip because I could be equally spooked in the great outdoors. I hate camping and if bear cubs were licking my feet I would have words just like Vicky!

The beginning scenes at camp are also hilarious with the most epic sabotage in movies. I think every kid dreams of pulling those kind of pranks off at camp or with their friends. (I was never big into being pranked but I thought the idea of it was hilarious). It never becomes dour or depressing but is light and fun.

Now to my best shot. I realize this movie caused some controversy upon its release because many kids felt they could get their divorced parents back together. This is perhaps a strange testament to the effectiveness of the picture, but I think these complaints miss a key point of the film. Parent Trap isn’t saying all parents should get back together. Of course not. It is just saying THESE TWO PEOPLE should get back together.

As I said, Maureen O’Hara and Brian Keith have palatable chemistry together. They belong together. It’s as clear as day. The final scene when they talk and embrace is really well written, and I love when Mitch tells Maggie all the silly things he misses about her, and she tells him to wash the stew off of his shirt. It’s just great romantic comedy writing.

So, I picked this picture of the two smiling at each other.  This is why the movie works and why I love it.

BEST SHOT:

What do you think of Parent Trap 1961 or do you prefer the remake? Put in the comments section and what would be your best shot? Please share!

Overall Grade- A

Hit Me With Your Best Shot: Citizen Kane

For months I have enjoyed viewing my blogging buddy over at Coco Hits New York Conrado Falco’s posts called Hit Me with Your Best Shot.  It’s part of a series of posts sponsored by The Film Experiment which is a blog/podcast on movies.  The idea is you post the best shot (or sometimes 2) that exemplifies a classic film.

The reason these posts excite me is because I have a great love for photography as my grandfather, father and brother are all professional skilled photographers. My brother Ben Wagner is now the founder and CEO of Poler LLC clothing but he has done both film and still photography for all kinds of publications.  Anyway, photography was a big part of my family and I think that is why I love movies and in particular looking at the stills of a movie and how they all work together to evoke a particular mood or moment in the film.

On Conrado’s last Hit Me post he invited me to participate and I figured why not?  Well, of course the first one I do has to be Citizen Kane!  Only the greatest cinematography ever in a movie.  Widely argued as the greatest movie ever made, it is tough to argue that it is the best crafted movie with cinematographer Gregg Toland creating a work that has yet to be topped.  Literally almost every shot in the movie could be used for this project!

citizen kane6Most people know Orson Welles was given free rein in Citizen Kane directing himself in the story of Charles Foster Kane who is widely seen as a sub-in for newspaper baron William Randolph Hearst.  Kane starts in obscurity but rises to be the richest most powerful man in the world.  And yet on his death bed he is practically alone and his one word is Rosebud.

Then for the rest of the movie a reporter named Jerry Thompson seeks to find out what Rosebud means and who Charles Foster Kane really is.

I love this movie but I am out of my league attempting to give any kind of professional analysis of the shots.  I know some things that impress me but I am sure there is much more a truly skilled technician would be able to tell you.  I highly recommend listening to the Roger Ebert audio commentary on the blu-ray.  It’s fascinating.

So the 3 shots I picked are…

citizen kane4Here’s a man who runs a newspaper, a tabloid no less, but what does he have going into the eternities?  Nothing but himself. He is infinitely alone.  citizen kane3After he insists Susan Alexander really is a singer he forces everyone to like her and forces her to sing just to prove he is right.  This image of the light bulb, his face and the newspaper with the headline about Susan is basically his life in one shot. He is exuberant, bright, sad, staring, and causing furor where ever he goes.

citizen kane5This is a shot from the beginning when Thompson gets his assignment to research Rosebud.  They have just finished watching the Kane newsreel about the great man’s life and all the reporters are nothing but shadows.  How apropos for someone about to find out the ‘hidden meaning’ of a word and a man’s life.

The lighting Toland and Welles achieve is astonishing.  The way shadows are used and light reflecting off of people in not just one interesting way but many in one shot is mind blowing.  He has many shots with a person that is blacked out facing the characters on the screen.  All we see is like a police outline and can look at the light and the reactions of who they are talking too.  Here is another example.

citizen kane2I guess that’s 4 shots then.  Give me a break.  It’s Citizen Kane for goodness sakes!!

What do you think of my shots?  It’s really a rite of passage for any film lover and I have the Citizen Kane boxed set collector’s edition which I highly recommend.  You’ve got to see it!