Friday, August 04, 2006

Great Transitions Part II

In Great Transitions Part I was yakking about what I thought were great story turns that were held within a Cut. In the interest of expanding the idea of what a Transition is, or might be, thought I'd mention what I believe to be a couple of great story transition... but these turns are held within a character.

The best place to look for them in film is around the end of the "second act" where a characters world is turned figuratively or literally upside down.

The first one that popped in my head was the famous "my daughter... my sister" scene from Chinatown. Jake, our hero, reacts with violence at what his brain just cannot comprehend. Evelyn asks if he can understand..."or that just too much for you." It is.

The second scene that came to mind was a scene from another Kubrick film: The Shining. Nope. Not the "Here's Johnny" scene. But the scene just before it. Shelley Duvall comes into the room where her husband Jack has been spending months isolated from the world "working on his novel." When she trespasses into his work space she leaves behind any hopes she might have held, or delusions she might still be clinging on to. She reads the words of her husband's book and her life is destroyed forever.

These moments don't have to be filled with terror though. There's a great moment of transition for Scout and Jem in To Kill a Mockingbird.

For the first half of the film they are convinced that Atticus, their father, is about the most boring man in town. Then the day comes when a rabid dog comes into the neighbourhood and the Sheriff calls for Atticus to come from his law offices to shoot it. Atticus aims, takes off his glasses and throws them to the ground and brings the sick animal down in one shot.

His children are amazed. They didn't realize their soft spoken father was "the best shot in the county." Their world isn't what they thought it was.

It's a great scene that foreshadows the climax of the film, when Boo Radley comes to save Scout and Jem from a mad dog of an entirely different sort.

What about you... Any great character transition from films that haunt you?


Graham said...

There's a really obvious one that sticks out for me, where the audience is taken for the same ride as the protagonist - 'Fight Club', when Jack realizes he is Tyler Durden.

I'm sure there's more though..

Dave said...

Great example. That just reminded me of the moment in the Sixth Sense when Willis realises who/what he is. A moment so iconic that it's parody now.

Hamish MacDonald said...

"I am your father."

Except James Earl Jones stressed it as if they'd already been discussing who Luke's father was.

Shoulda been "I am your father."


Come to think of it, don't they even make a self-conscious reference to the twist in Fight Club? Something in the dialogue about changing reels. I can't find it now.

I liked the scene in Fight Club when Ed Norton walks past a cinema that's playing Seven Years in Tibet. To me, it introduced the idea that perhaps Brad Pitt was actually playing Brad Pitt in the movie, that Ed Norton's 'Jack' had cast himself as Tyler Durden with a movie star.

dave s said...

in my fav flick 'rear window', when jimmy stewart realises he really loves grace kelly as she becomes excited about the murder mystery across the courtyard, revealing her adventurous side. it's a single shot of stewart smiling at kelly’s excitement, and it's perfect.

again in 'rear window', when raymond burr stares directly at stewart, letting him know that he's been spotted spying. the tables turn as burr gains power over stewart.

also in the orignal 'invasion of the body snatchers' when miles kisses his just-changed girlfriend, a pay-off from an earlier scene.

Annie said...

The great transition in To Kill a Mockingbird is not the one you mention. That's a minor transition - where Jeb develops a new respect for his father and Scout starts to have an inkling that he's more than a boring guy.
The major transition (and one of the best moments at the movies) is the courtroom scene - at the very end when the reverend says "Miss Jean Louise, stnad up. Your father's passin'."
Everything changes at that moment. It's riveting.

Dave said...

Hey Annie.

That is a great moment. I think that one of the things Harper Lee does so well is to build these moments one after another.

The novel (and film) is so full of subtley. In a lot of ways the story is Jem's. He's the one who has for the duration of the story the transformation from a kid into a person who will risk his life for justice and to protect his little sister.

But it is Scout, who is mostly just filled with questions and someone who tags along, that is able to articulate (through the awesome VO of Joanne Woodward) that remembrance of things past.