There was a terrific feature in Empire Magazine last month, especially during a pandemic when all cinemas are shut down and barely any major movies are released. They invited their readers and celebrated filmmakers, like Steven Spielberg, James Cameron and Bong Joon-Ho to share their favorite cinema moments.
They are specifically looking for moments in which the whole audience experienced movie magic. Think Hannibal Lecter escaping from prison in The Silence of the Lambs. Can you imagine the audience’s response when he pulls the face off in the ambulance? I sure can, even though I never saw Silence in cinema. Or the ending in Buffalo Bill’s house where the depraved serial killer is stalking Clarice Starling with night vision goggles? These are memories from filmmaker Edgar Wright (Baby Driver, Shaun of the Dead), who initiated this feature.
Wright: “I vividly recall riotous screenings of A Fish Called Wanda and There’s Something About Mary, the unforgettable sound of massed sobs in E.T. or Titanic, or just the palpable energy of the first weekend crowd of Scream or The Silence of the Lambs, which was so electric, you’d think it could power a city. I’ve been lucky enough to have made a few scenes myself where the crowd have drowned out the next scene because they are laughing or whooping (I’m thinking the ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ scene in Shaun of the Dead, JK). Such moments are truly infectious, but again, that’s an adjective that needs to be retired for the moment.”
Other notable contributions in the issue are:
– Darth Vader’s dilemma right before he kills the emperor in Return of the Jedi. By Simon Pegg.
– Luke throwing down his lightsaber, also in Return of the Jedi. By Mark Hamill.
– Neo stops the bullets, but the whole film really, in The Matrix. By Chris Evans.
– The tragic reality of Menace II Society. By Patty Jenkins.
– The ear scene in Reservoir Dogs. By Joe Russo.
– And many many more….
My favorite cinema moment by far is The Lord of the Rings. I went to fellowship on opening day and it was a magical experience. You could feel the whole room just be completely absorbed by the wondrous world Peter Jackson and his team had painted on the screen. It was breathtaking. I remember highlight after highlight, but the ultimate audience engagement happened in Moria where the fellowship faces one challenge after the other. When finally Gandalf sacrifices himself to let the others escape, the audience felt like Frodo: totally and utterly defeated. By the time they face the Uruk Hai at the end, the audience was re-energized, and left the room in pretty good spirit, but also sad because of the loss of both Boromir and Gandalf.
The Two Towers even topped this experience. The way it starts is just a master move. Gandalf being pulled into the abyss and falling and fighting the demonic Balrog. Everybody in that cinema went apeshit. After that: one great scene after the other. But the real show stealer of the evening was off course Gollum. Never before had a digital character been so fully realised. Andy Serkis’ performance is mind blowing. He should have won the Oscar for best supporting actor that year, no question. The movie ends at Helm’s Deep and this is a groundbreaking battle scene in terms of pure scale and spectacle. It is the only movie I saw in cinema three times.
Of course, at the moment there are no cinema experiences at all, but the memories remain. And like many of our favorite movie characters, they will return at some point. No question. True cinema moments are magical. There is no substitute.