In this post we look at the opening scenes of some of our favourite films to try to explore why they made such an impact on us.
THE SHINING (Stanley Kubrick, 1980)
Shot at the National Glacier Park in Montana this fly-over opening shot in combination with eerie music sets the tone perfectly for Kubrick's legendary horror thriller featuring Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall. Apparently Kubrick agonised for a long time which colour to choose for the credits (can totally relate to that. In an instagram kind of way).
KASPAR HAUSER (Werner Herzog, 1974)
Director and philosopher Werner Herzog chooses to fix his camera on an open and windy cornfield at the start of this film version of the intriguing story of Kaspar Hauser, a boy who grew up in the total isolation of a darkened cell in Germany in the early 1800s. Perhaps it is Kaspar himself gazing with fascination at a natural phenomenon he has never before witnessed?
POST TENEBRAS LUX (Carlos Reygadas, 2012)
Mexican director Reygadas has put a very unusual filter/lens/effect on the whole of this very fascination film. First time I saw it I wondered if he perhaps had tried to emulate the natural human sight, which is not oblong with clear focused borders at the edges, as is the case with most films. This whole film has a mysterious quality and attraction to it that is very hard to pin down. So unique and intriguing. In the opening scene we follow a child's play amongst cows, from dusk to the complete encompassing darkness in the Mexican countryside.
CACHÉ (Michael Haneke, 2006)
I'm not exactly sure why this opening shot from Paris set psychological thriller "Caché" has stayed so long in my mind. Perhaps it is the stationary camera style, also frequently used by fave directors such as Joanna Hogg and Ulrich Seidl? Perhaps the scene just sets the rhythm, or gets the viewer to appreciate and explore the details, the whole frame? I'm immediately dragged into the mood and the atmosphere here.
TURNER & HOOCH (Roger Spottiswoode, 1989)
My nine-year-old self wouldn´t be content unless I added this treasure of a movie to the list. There´s something about a young Tom Hanks (and yes, i´ll admit, the darned irresistible pooch, Hooch) which fills me with life.
The opening sets the film up so perfectly, peppered with that saxophone anthem which accompanies our 80s cinematic adventure. We watch our main character (Tom) go through his steadfast and orderly nightime rituals in all their glory establishing his relationship with his things to the point of obsession. We´re invited to greet each item that is more than likely going to be destroyed by the jaws or bodily fluids of Hooch (i´m not giving anything away here). The precise and so very clean, nay, obsessive neatening of the tear of his cheque, the origami folds of his letter and his exquisite display of the array of his colour coded vitamins. The need to clear and clean out the entire fridge due to a meager sauce spillage. We sympathise (at least, I do) with his ocd and anal tendancies. Things need to be just so. The effort and exhaustion of perfectionism. Before we see him retire to his peaceful and spotless bed – alone. We understand and appreciate Tom´s character – the contrast of this “neat freak” which is exacerbated by the inevitable meeting with his nemisis the dastardly Hooch.
What better way to combat challenges in personal differences than through humour?
FUNNY GAMES (Michael Haneke, 1997)
There´s something about the opening scene that fills me with chills. Perhaps it´s the anguish I experienced watching this film aged 22 during a particularly enthusiastic “art house” period during university. I was “into” German language film (for some reason…nay, I feel it´s granted, especially with this gem), and I knew nothing about Funny Games and what was to come. My face seemed permanently furnished with a screwed furrowed brow, and was accompanied by an upturned palm as if to mime “what the hell is going on?” and it was pretty much my entire expression during ¾ of the movie. Despite the beautifully cinematic long panoramas, I knew in the deep guts of my soul that something so terrifyingly deadly was about to occur. I thought i´d be clever, straining to decode each mis-en -scene but fell flat – nothing appears to be wrong and yet, why- - - HOW could things feel so sinister? My anxiety was the buddy of my “what the?!” and it seemed so irrational. The smooth and steady arial camerawork, the “cosy” family in the car, going on their hols -faceless for a while but not voiceless- seemed to lull me into a semi false sense of security. Something terrible MUST happen in a moment! But then, the euphoric opera track changes to a gentler operatic lullaby. Nature appears! Trees! Water! Almost dancing on the screen! Even the roads curve and join the performance.
…Except there HAS to be something amiss!
The family look like the kind family everyone would want – smiling, happy, content. And there it is. The sound switches. You can hear for yourself. To this day, that juxtaposition still makes my blood curdle.
All I know is I watch this opening and feel ill. (in a good way – it´s a GREAT film!).
FISH TANK (Andrea Arnold, 2009)
The shame that accompanied growing up on a council estate like me is so real. I feel Andrea Arnold crawled into my world and told a story through film. I´m too old to have Cassie as the soundtrack to my dance practice in my room (...or am i?), and also to have had a mobile phone as a teen, but that sense of
Is so accurately nailed, it feels more documentary than film.
The scene is set teasing us with a false glimmer of hope- the main character looks out from her dingy flat over the estate and beyond to a green and promised land that isn´t really hers to have. Panning the estate as she marches forthrightly, the railings and fences keeping "us" in, and "them" out, the countless windows watching but not connecting, It´s painfully and deeply familiar. We´re exposed to characters steeped in familiar behaviours, and it makes me cringe but also full of delight – we can and should all be able to tell our stories because they are important.
I feel i´ve met each one of those bitchy and aggressive girls, clinging to Cassie´s r&b sensuality in the hope some might rub off onto their hips, the awkwardness and desperation to be sexy and seen, vulnerable and insecure underneath their scowls. I´ve met each of those tracksuit “geezers” too, bound by masculine codes and expectations not just in costume but in rounded barred shoulder stance, dogs, tattoos, pocketed hands and ogling jeers keeping them safe in the cis-hetero-patriarchy mating ritual.
I wish I had a friend like Leah when I was being bullied in my teenage years by girls who couldn´t dance…don´t you?
What are your favourite opening scenes? Post your suggestions below!