Friday, January 30, 2009

I Think This Is The Good Part

This scene from Ken Russell's "The Who's Tommy" (1975) shows something you haven't seen in any other film before (probably). Ann Margaret is being inundated by baked beans, flowing out of a broken television. It's a visual rhyme, of course, to the cover of their earlier album, "The Who Sell Out."

Ann Margaret was nominated for an Oscar for this role.

The '70s were a very different time.

This is the type of promotional shot that can create a high level of interest for some viewers. Films are successful sometimes only based on a couple of great moments; if you can stick your award-winning actress in a pile of baked beans you got a scene people are going to talk about.

Ken Russell was good at putting those kinds of scenes in his films, often when they wouldn't fit. Nowadays even the most conservative films need at least one show-stopper, or at least something to talk about as you make your way home. Even a rather mannered remake like Burton's "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" created an inordinate amount of buzz by adding the heart-tugging emotional sinkhole of Wonka's wacky father, an appropriate and resonant addition to what at first seemed like a bad idea for a remake.

A genre film delivers generally exactly to our expectations, and anything it may do to surprise us is part of the texture - not really a shock so much as comforting. ("I just knew they were gonna poke that guy in the eye.") But the above shot from "The Rats" (2002) has a visual shock of the familiar and the uncanny – a special effect (that in real life may turn out not to be very special at all), combining the common place, spectacle, and production value (a wide underwater-lit pool and a girl in a bathing suit) demands that you seek this out – if just to see that good part.

One scene, or a plot point, that captures our imagination. Such a thing can inordinately drive ticket sales. "Paul Blart: Mall Cop" (2009) features Kevin James riding around on a Segway which has a certain amount of charm and daffiness, but when he hits that double-glass door and does a John Candy fall (not once but twice in the trailer), I was sold.

I said to myself, "I have to see that."

And apparently, so did a lot of America as well. The #1 movie two weeks in a row. Much less people paid to see the blue vampire movie.

Besides, that was a prequel - those aren't ever any good.

No comments: