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I love a good movie, especially one that relies more on acting and less on special effects.
In particular, I love how some movies manage to capture the raw essence of the human condition in a single scene. Sometimes, that condition is warped or contorted with human greed and hatred. Sometimes, it’s mandates tears from the audience as the actors transcend the boundaries of love and tenderless.
And sometimes it’s just a hoot to sit back and enjoy the slapstick shenanigans of a good funnyman.
The other day, I happened to catch the end of the 1980 movie “Fame” on TV. The graduating class of the New York High School of Performing Arts performs a finale, singing and dancing to an interpretive rendition of a Walt Whitman poem.
I sing the body electric. I celebrate the me yet to come. I toast to my own reunion, when I become one with the Sun.
I sing the body electric. I glory in the glow of rebirth. Creating my own tomorrow, when I shall embody the Earth.
Seriously, how can you listen to lyrics like that and not marvel at the potential of individual achievement? The fame these students thirsted for was not public recognition or money or power. They were reaching for the stars, to become a light to shine upon others.
Oddly enough, when studying Whitman’s poem in high school, we learned how he was trying to underscore the damaging fragmentation of society incurred by placing monetary value on a person’s body. He was arguing against slavery, both physical and mental.
Later on, another dose of great acting was presented as the channel aired the movie “A Few Good Men.” Now, it’s not really that great of a movie. Having Tom Cruise and Demi Moore portray lawyers could in itself classify the movie as a comedy. Those two couldn’t convince a fly to drink sugar water.
But when Jack Nicholson sat on the witness stand, it was mesmerizing. Pure acting, raw and simple, and whether or not you can handle the truth, he wove the very DNA of bravado and recalcitrance.
You just have to admire great acting.
Anthony Hopkins clicking his teeth as he expounds how well chianti goes with a victim’s liver. Even Elm Street shudders at the thought of Dr. Lecter.
Debra Winger’s dying endearment mustering what strength she has left so that she can say goodbye to her children. Heartbreak incarnate.
Tom Hanks’ eyes breathing in the stench of death on the beach of Normandy. Silent solemn horror testifying to the glory of war.
Mel Gibson hacking away at the body of a British soldier, pouring out a river of anguish to drench his fury over the murder of his son.
Malcolm McDowell sitting in the Korova Milk Bar, chastising his droogs for interrupting a Ludwig aria, classical music adorning a spectral background of pure evil.
Peter Sellers battling against his arm, rising up to salute the American President, “Mein Fuhrer, I can walk!” Watch the scene closely and you’ll see the stolid Russian ambassador crack a smile for the first time in the entire movie.
The Oscars have it all wrong. There’s no movie that’s the best, no actor or actress that deserves a title of “best,” no score nor costume design nor film editing that merits recognition above others. It’s nonsense.
But in a single scene in a movie, you can literally stop breathing as you are absorbed into a web of acting. You can cry, cringe, or laugh, the needle going off the scale. Some scenes define the entire movie.
That’s it. We need a “Best Single Scene” award. Then the Oscars would be worth watching.
But you don’t have to watch old movies to enjoy these single scene wonders. Just the other day, government WIPP officials were investigating the recent leak at the underground nuclear waste dump and came out with a statement on the situation. Smiling and speaking with reassuring calm voices, they said, “There is no risk from this event that would be harmful to you or your children.”
Ah yeah, I do love great comedic acting!