Thursday, February 23, 2006

I love movies because...

...of shots like these. It starts here:

And then, without a cut goes here:



Then finally:

These sequence of images is taken from a single shot in Howard Hawks' Only Angels Have Wings. I'm not a big Hawks nut (like our paisan R. Emmet), I'd rather watch Wilder's The Front Page than his His Girl Friday anyday. But you have to admire the gutsy filmmaking on display in a shot like that. Angels is about a society of South American airplane pilots, who brave harsh elements with bad equipment to run important tasks like delivering mail to remote areas. A lot of the movie's most dangerous flight footage is accomplished with models and rear-projection, but in this sequence, when a new pilot — who we need to know is very, very good — is given an assignment of flying the local doctor to someone in desperate need of his attention, there are no tricks are special effects deployed. The location is situation on top of a cliff, and so the pilot judges the the landing by flying over the cliff, then flying around it back to the other side in order to land as close to the edge as possible. In the shot shown above (and above and above and above) Hawks' camera follows a real plane perform this real task without a single cut. We can see that this looks very brave, very difficult, and very borderline stupid. But no matter how many times during the rest of the movie we see a chincy model or a phony rear-projection screen, we never for a second doubt the bravery of these pilots, or the seriousness of their task.

Those captures, by the way, are taken from the disc included in the awesome new Cary Grant Box Set which also includes His Girl Friday, The Talk of the Town, Holiday, and perhaps best of all, The Awful Truth.


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