Kissing in the Rain and other long takes

6 May

Great Expectations is an imperfect film† and it isn’t put on lists of acclaim the way other Cuarón films are.  Nevertheless, it is still beautiful and I’m grateful to Jude Defensor of We Talk About Movies for reminding me.  For his submission to Encore’s All Wet blog-a-thon this week, he selected the scene below.

The rain is such a multi-sensorial experience that visuals alone don’t seem to do it justice. I ended up thinking of scenes that didn’t just show the rain but married it to music gorgeous enough to evoke that exquisite feeling of wet, cool drops falling on your skin and soaking into your clothes, or the even more exhilarating sensation of running through a wall of water.  Read more.

It is yet another beautiful long take, executed by who other than DP Emmanuel Lubezki, accompanied by Patrick Doyle’s unforgettable score. It’s actually because of the Scottish composer Doyle that I came to be interested in the work of Alfonso Cuarón.  I watched A Little Princess, which he had also scored, had been taken in by the choir voices singing verses of Blake and young Liesel Matthews singing Kindle My Heart, and went in search for more.  That’s how I found Great Expectations.

It had already been out on video for a few years, but I was still in junior high and for some reason not really inclined to video rental stores (remember those?).  It was also much easier to download music than video back then (I think we were still using dial-up), so I had developed a connection with both the score and official soundtrack years before I saw the actual movie.  It was my first taste of a number of different artists/genres I had never known, as I had only been listening to pop of the mid-90s British and late-90s Bubblegum variety at the time.  Soprano Kiri Te Kanawa and classical guitarist John Williams were entirely new to me, as were Tori Amos‡ and Pulp (you know, beyond Common People – I was still young).

Perhaps because it isn’t the best example of Cuarón’s work, or because it wasn’t especially well-received and thus infrequently broadcast, I never felt particularly strongly about the final film product, as I did for the accompanying music, and never took it too seriously.  Maybe I should go back and give it another try, but with knowledge of its limitations (or just take the opportunity to better appreciate the cinematography of el Chivo and the music of Patrick Doyle and all these 90s favourites, whatever).

***

It doesn’t appear that many on Reddit were terribly excited for it, but it caught the attention of the Film School Rejects and the Playlist, among others.  Larry Wright from Refocused Media put together this video,

…to demonstrate the effect of a long take in a variety of narrative uses, and to give an idea of what a 45+ second shot looks and feels like when directed by Alfonso Cuaron.

As Bordwell and others have posited over the years, the decreasing average shot length has forced contemplative filmmaking to give way to the music video-styled, hard-cutting A.D.D. generation we see today.  Read more.

Man, I don’t think I’ve thought about David Bordwell since Prof. Button’s Approaches to Chinese Cinema or Prof. Yoon’s New Korean Cinema.

***

† While promoting Y tu mamá también, Cuarón described the independent work with his brother, el Chivo, and the actors positively, in contrast to his experience filming Great Expectations with Fox(?), due to the constraints they had put on its production.  The thing I remember, in particular, from this interview, was a comment that the producers had insisted that the American audience would not be very receptive to any comment on class, since (supposedly) they don’t have social classes on the other side of the border (south of mine, but north of the Mexico’s), and therefore they should exclude it from the story as much as possible… even though it was an adaptation of a Charles Dickens novel…  Crazy, right?  Anyways, I can’t find this interview anymore.  Does anyone have an idea of where I might find it, or a similar comment in another interview?  Cheers.

‡ The connection I felt with the music – not just Patrick Doyle’s score but also the OST – was facilitated by a really extensive page on a Tori Amos fan site that was in operation in the early 2000s.  I don’t have the link anymore, but it was clearly as site that had been around for a while.  While writing this post, I searched and came across this one, which (although it looks nothing like what I remember) could be a  descendent of what I’d seen before.  Anyways, back in 1999, Tori said this:

I didn’t enjoy doing Great Expectations in the end because it got politically weird and people weren’t forthright anymore.  And, you have to understand something, having a studio tell me what to do after we’d made an agreement isn’t what I considered having integrity.  Read more.

2 Responses to “Kissing in the Rain and other long takes”

  1. Jude Defensor 7 May 2012 at 203 AM #

    Thanks for continuing the discussion on this fascinating Frankenstein’s monster of a Fox film. :) I was drawn to this film while it was still in production also because of my anticipating something magical to come out from another Cuaron-Lubezki-Doyle collaboration. Beyond A Little Princess, Cuaron was still relatively unproven in Hollywood then, but Lubezki had wowed eyeballs in succession with Like Water for Chocolate and A Walk in the Clouds, while Doyle was coming off great acclaim from Sense & Sensibility and Hamlet. It was writer Mitch Glazer who was the big question mark really. I only found out much later that David Mamet had injected the narration, no wonder there was a different, weightier tone to them despite Ethan Hawke’s so-so reading. Imagine if Mamet had done a full polish/doctoring job and they’d cast a lead with more depth. Imagine if this had been produced by Fox Searchlight instead of 20th Century Fox. This film really is a great example of an “interesting failure” and in a way can be considered to be even more interesting than the better-executed and well-received A Little Princess precisely because of its failings. The more virtuoso flourishes, such as the quoted rain scene, the first scenes in Paraiso Perduto, seem to “pop” out more and linger in the memory.

    • jess 12 May 2012 at 1114 PM #

      This film really is a great example of an “interesting failure” and in a way can be considered to be even more interesting than the better-executed and well-received A Little Princess precisely because of its failings.

      I’ve never thought about it that way, Jude. I think, sometime soon, I will have to revisit the entire “green trilogy” (and look up where I heard the reference) to do some more thinking on this.

      I often forget about the screenwriter’s role and weight in the production. I understand that, in the wake of Y tu mamá también and Harry Potter, Cuarón (and even Clive Owen) were instrumental in the way the script for Children of Men turned out, but the mid-90s would have been an entirely different story for the filmmaker. (directing a story versus realizing a text?)

      Steven Vineberg (Critics at Large) takes a totally different view of Glazer:

      Glazer brought out the best in the [Scrooged] director, Richard Donner, who dreamed up surprising images to match the wondrous script, but in Great Expectations his collaborator came equipped with his own magic touch.

      I will have to do some more reading on this David Mamet narration. Apparently, he refused credit.

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