The 70-Minute Mark
by Nicholas Rombes
Guidelines for this project can be found here.
~ The number of frames (five) with no human figure, which brings to mind all those moments in films where no human being is on the screen, where the space is filled with nature or buildings or empty rooms or fields or hallways or stairwells or the sky or the ocean or empty streets or streets at night.
~ The different tools used to capture the frame and the wild variety in terms of image quality, which is the way films are remembered anyway, not always as pristine HD, but sometimes smudged and tangled up with our variances of mood. In The Pleasure of the Text, Roland Barthes wrote that “the text chooses me, by a whole disposition of invisible screens, selective baffles.”
~ All these 70-minute moments, gathered together. They are utterly familiar, some of them. Others are more obscure. They are not linked by genre, or style, or historical era, or nationality. A weird index of films related only by a shared time code.
~ We are post digital now; the pixel trade is exhausted.
~ Weirdly, unexpectedly, cinema has come full circle. Frame grabs as illuminated slides as if from the magic lanterns of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the images now projected not onto but emanating from the screen. A sort of magic, still.
~ In frames accompanied with text, the text is provided by the frame contributor.
Brazil (Terry Gilliam, 1985) | Vihren Mitev
The Golden Key (Zolotoy klyuchik; Aleksandr Ptushko, 1939) | Grace Krilanovich
The Devil, Probably (Le diable probablement; Robert Bresson, 1977) | Masha Tupitsyn
Jules and Jim (Jules et Jim; François Truffaut, 1962) | Austin Carder
This is 1:10:00 of François Truffaut’s 1962 film, Jules et Jim. The image includes the narration from the scene, and is more representative of the film than I could have hoped. I do not, however, think that this representative quality is particular to this moment. Much of Jules et Jim’s magic resides in the fact that nearly every frame feels macrocosmic of the film’s universe. The English translation of the narration in this frame, “Happiness isn’t easy to record and wears out without anyone noticing,” could easily be an epigraph of the film. The film’s official epigraph, voiced by Jeanne Moreau in the opening seconds, is:
Tu m’as dit “Je t’aime,”
Je t’ai dit “Attends.”
J’allais dire “Prends-moi,”
Tu m’as dit “Va-t-en.”
The English subtitles forego the poetics of the French to communicate the literal meaning of the lines:
You told me “I love you,”
I told you “Wait.”
I was going to say “Take me,”
You told me “Go away.”
Examined Life (Astra Taylor, 2008) | Joe Linker
70 minutes into the film, we find Astra’s sister, Sunaura Taylor, taking a walk in San Francisco with Judith Butler. The topic of Butler’s segment in the film is the body. At 70 minutes, Sunaura is explaining what it’s like for her to “move in social space” (Judith’s term) in her wheel chair. Sunaura describes “embodiment.” The screen grab contains a Spanish subtitle: “nuestra propia encarnacion unica.”
American History X (Tony Kaye, 1998) | Sam Bennetts
Heavenly Creatures (Peter Jackson, 1994) | Mary Duffy
Is loss ever felt more deeply (however melodramatically) than by a teenage girl rent from her best friend?
Mannequin (Michael Gottlieb, 1987) | Shuwei Fang
With flatt’ry now he seeks her mind to move,
And now with gifts (the pow’rful bribes of love)
Down by Law (Jim Jarmusch, 1986) | Benjamin Woodward
Alice in Wonderland (Tim Burton, 2010) | Chinmaya Joshi
The White Queen raises a conundrum. How do you make a potion to shrink someone? If you simply shrink cells, well, that won’t work because the function of cells depends on the proper shape and electrical charges of protein molecules. Unless you shrink the original atoms, you are probably going to alter the function of these molecules, rendering them useless. Hence, what the potion really needs to do, is to actually kill off the cells in Alice’s body in a structured fashion. All fine and dandy. Until you realise that she intends to have Alice meet a particular stranger who has been waiting for her. However, the fact that you have killed off Alice’s cells, probably part of her brain cells as well, is it the same Alice? Is this guest going to be happy to have met a different Alice? Well, I suppose, it doesn’t matter. What looks like Alice, feels like Alice, smells like Alice and tastes like Alice is probably Alice.
Léon: The Professional (Luc Besson, 1994) | Niki Ayende
In the Mood for Love (Fa yeung nin wa; Kar Way Wong, 2000) | Sumaiyya Khan
A Dangerous Method (David Cronenberg, 2011) | Tabassum Ali Sukhera
Splendor in the Grass (Elia Kazan, 1961) | Nadine Boljkovac
Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941) | Umar Jee
The Fountain (Darren Aronofsky, 2006) | Umar Jee
The Exorcist III (William Peter Blatty, 1990) | Yusef Sayed
This remarkable plan-sequence places the little-known third installment in The Exorcist series in a lineage that connects it with the works of Jacques Tati and Michael Snow. Largely comprising a single shot, using a fixed camera, the hospital corridor scene nevertheless opens up numerous possibilities for the use of offscreen space, with an unlocatable sound and a false alarm ratcheting up the suspense. A nurse on the night shift – left alone temporarily by police officers securing the ward – is perturbed by a strange noise. The clinical environment, the light and the length of the hallway are reminiscent of Ernie Gehr’s Serene Velocity(1970). The visual framework appears minimalist – the repeated arch pattern, the flecks of bright red and blue, and the white lamp – but the scene is charged with the potential of genre shock-tricks . In horror cinema much of the tension arises from our awareness that the unknown might at any time be lurking around the corner, or behind the door. The woman is trapped; locked in the sightline of the camera’s lens, caught within the walls of the building. Like watching a passage from Playtime (1967), our eyes start scanning every part of the frame for activity. Perhaps something behind the camera is menacing her. Anything could happen, we don’t know what will arise next or from where. HereLegion finds its own velocity, and its own unsettling wavelength
The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara (Errol Morris, 2003) | Athena Nation
Like the stitching of a baseball
(symbol of America)
it became frayed
but in flight
hurlburling towards the bat
it was perfect.
Here’s the transcript of this section where the screengrab takes place. Italics indicates the grab:
McNamara: It was just confusion, and events afterwards showed that our judgment that we’d been attacked that day was wrong. It didn’t happen. And the judgment that we’d been attacked on August 2nd was right. We had been, although that was disputed at the time. So we were right once and wrong once.
Ultimately, President Johnson authorized bombing in response to what he thought had been the second attack ? it hadn’t occurred but that’s irrelevant to the point I’m making here. He authorized the attack on the assumption it had occurred, and his belief that it was a conscious decision on the part of the North Vietnamese political and military leaders to escalate the conflict and an indication they would not stop short of winning.
We were wrong, but we had in our minds a mindset that led to that action. And it carried such heavy costs. We see incorrectly or we see only half of the story at times.
EM: We see what we want to believe.
McNamara: You’re absolutely right. Belief and seeing, they’re both often wrong.
We can also take this epigraph as a chronology of the film, and minute 70 of Jules et Jim comes between “Take me” and “Go away.” The titular characters, as well as Moreau’s Catherine, have all said “Take me” in one form or another. Their reservations that lurk beneath the surface are evident in this frame; minute 70 is the essence of the blissful, too good to be true center of the film before we are told to “Go away.”
Girl Boss Revenge: Sukeban (Noribumi Suzuki, 1972) | Helen Johnson
Gladiator (Ridley Scott, 2000) | Ritu Raj
John Dies at the End (Don Coscarelli, 2012) | Bruce Bennett
Weekend at Bernie’s (1989, Ted Kotcheff) |Russell Bennetts
The businessman is a uniquely talented individual who deserves a plus-sized reward.
The businessman is dead and no one has noticed.
The workers shield their eyes.
The King’s Speech (Tom Hooper, 2010) | Parth Sapti Kupta
Kunjananthante Kada (Kunjanandan’s Groceries; Salim Ahamed, 2013) | Divya Rajan
La Vie de Bohème (Aki Kaurismäki, 1992) | Mahendra Singh
Murder by Death (Robert Moore, 1976) | Visnu Vardhan
Playtime (Jacques Tati, 1967) | Martin Reis
“Every single moment is a coincidence.”
– Douglas Copeland
Pretty in Pink (Howard Deutch, 1986) | Corina Dootjes
Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (George Miller, 1981) | Shawn Eng
Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead (Tom Stoppard, 1990) | Jeremy K. Spencer
Shaheed (S. Ram Sharma, 1965) | Chris Moffat
Here is the 70th minute from S Ram Sharma’s Shaheed, a 1965 film about the Indian revolutionary Bhagat Singh. Bhagat Singh was executed by British colonial authorities in 1931 for ‘conspiring to wage war against the King-Emperor’, and remains an immensely popular figure in contemporary India. He is known as Shaheed-e-Azam, “The Great Martyr,” and in this scene – 1:10:00 in the film – he is seen (in the white shirt, centre) shouting “Inquilab Zindabad” (Long Live Revolution) in the Delhi court room, defending his decision to throw a bomb in the Legislative Assembly. The scene captures a recalcitrant defence of violence, a moment elevated to legend in the popular imagination.
RuPaul Is: Starbooty! (John Witherspoon, 1987) | Tamar Shlaim
The Master (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2012) | Aaron Hodges
Dominance masquerading as consolation. Vulnerability of the enlightened. Irony of the master being mastered.
Umberto D. (Vittorio De Sica, 1952) | Nadine Boljkovac
About the Author:
Nicholas Rombes is author of the forthcoming novel The Absolution of Robert Acestes Laing (Two Dollar Radio Press) and Ramones, from the 33 1/3 series. His work has appeared in The Believer, The Los Angeles Review of Books, and Filmmaker Magazine. He is a professor in Detroit, Michigan.