Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Film Study

I was going to make this a screenshot trivia question but no one seemed to take any guesses so I will give you the answer.
Not a coincidence the sun is there.

In 1984, one year before he would direct Back to The Future, Robert Zemeckis directed Romancing the Stone, and in this shot from 2 minutes in we see his eye for detail. The opening vignette is actually a film adaptation of the end of a romance novel that character Joan Wilder is writing and narrating at that moment. It's like a dream sequence, but the audience doesn't know it yet. So, this is a movie, based on a fake book, being written by a character within the real movie, which was written by a totally different woman in real life, and directed by Zemeckis. If ever there was a chance to 'mail it in' this was it, because the romance novel is supposed to be cheesy, unbelievable, poly-Anna, harlequin. But Zemeckis can not help himself and set this less-than-1-second shot of the woman riding away on the horse in such a way that as soon as the horse's head pulls aside, the sun appears brilliantly because the camera places the horse head directly between it and the sun. Seconds later three armed men appear, intent on killing the woman. Her savior appears on a hill , completely disguised because the sun is actually setting behind him.
Intentionally cliche

Well, seconds earlier the woman has to shield her eyes to look at him...and now the sun is setting behind him and perfectly sets him in silhouette. This is because the hero is on a bluff (which looks like, and indeed is, in Utah) that ends in such a way that the sun shines on the woman but not the hero. I'm telling you, this 4 minute sequence probably took a week to film and I don't think this was an assistant director because the shots are too stylized. Most of it is shot outside, in a National Park or near Zion, and that demands major effort due to lighting. Check out this scene here, which also explains why the boat at the end of the movie is named "Angelina".

I point this out because the details Zemeckis applied to this fake movie within a movie based on a fake book within a screenplay are perfectly executed and actually show exactly why Back to The Future is so good. This is also the first legitimate feature film for composer Alan Silvestri, who would compose the great themes for Back to The Future and Forrest Gump too. I often like to point out that people who pine for the Eighties and moan that 'movies were so much better then" are cherry picking films like Romancing The Stone, which is basically a case of the stars aligning behind a totally unknown screenwriter to turn this into a very strong movie that stands the test of time. Quality and talent will always withstand the effects of time. Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner, Zemeckis, DeVito, Silvestri. These figures were cornerstones of cinema for a decade and beyond. The Eighties had plenty of terrible duds but Romancing the Stone is not one of them. The cinematography and production design are trademark Zemeckis.

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Man in the Van by Oggy Bleacher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.