Tear-Stained Images

There’s a meme running rampant across film blogs right now, and I’m throwing my hat into that ring. Stephen of Checking on My Sausages and Joel “MovieMan0283” Bocko of The Dancing Image have cosponsored it, and the directive is to come up with a collection of similarly-themed images that celebrate the “thrill of cinema.”

Here’s the rules:

1. pick as many pictures as you want, so long as they are screen-captures

2. pick a theme, any theme, as long as it supports the notion of “the thrill of cinema”

3. you MUST link to Stephen’s gallery and Joel’s gallery

4. tag five blogs, and here they are:

        –Media Wah Wah

        –Big Media Vandalism

        –Panic on the 4th of July

        –Mirror – Motion Picture Commentary

        –Edward Copeland on Film

(My apologies to any of you that may have already been tagged and I somehow missed your corresponding post.)

As intriguing as this challenge is, Joel Bocko put it best in his post: “How to chose one image…which could represent the thrill of cinema–so much of which has to do with movement, fluctuation, and context? Even some of the powerful moments I could think of…relied upon juxtaposition or understanding of the story for their full effect.”

And yet so many of the posts I’ve seen so far have risen well to the occasion. I settled on shots in films that make me cry. I’m a big wus when it comes to films, bawling at the drop of a hat. And there’s any number of reasons for the tears: a plot-point (happy or sad); a carefully placed music cue; an edit; and, of course, my own personal relationship to the film. Sometimes its simply because of the thrill of watching a film: being in a dark theater, people around me, sharing the experience, all of cinema’s tricks still work on me after all these years. (I call this being Hypnotized by the Flicker.) Throw in the fact that I don’t care who sees me crying when I watch a film and I’m a blubbering mess on a regular basis. 1

So here’s a sampler of the shots that casue me to lose my shit. I’ve included as little context as possible, trying my damnedest to avoid spoilers.

La Strada (Fellini,1954) To those in the know, this is when Zampanó (Anthony Quinn) realizes he’s an incredible asshole. It’s such a crushing blow, dramatically speaking, that I expect most of you have reacted as I do, too. I first saw this film when I was around 6, while my mother watched it on PBS. (I didn’t cry that time, but was confused by my sympathy for the characters, who bore no resemblance to anything else I’d seen.) Although I’m sure it was dubbed, it didn’t really need to be. This plays virtually as a silent film, thanks largely to Giulietta Masina’s performance. I eagerly await the day I’ll watch this with my son, Harry, though I’m sure I’ll cry more than he will.

Night Shift (Ron Howard, 1982) Hard to discern, but trust me that this is a shot of a young Michael Keaton falling face-first past a minor character.  It’s also the funniest sight gag in a great little film. I was 13 when I first saw this on cable. This joke occurs in the midst of the feel-good resolution, and I’ll stand by its effectiveness on all fronts: I so genuinely cared for the characters (played by Keaton, Henry Winkler and Shelley Long) that the inevitable happy ending was emotional for me (and this gag opened my flood gates). There’s something to be said for unpretentious comedies with likeable characters. I also think they’re aren’t as easy to make as they seem, and Night Shift is still A-list in my book.

Midnight Cowboy (John Schlesinger, 1969). This is our first glimpse of Ratso Rizzo’s dreams—which happens as watches “business partner” Joe Buck at work–and the notion that Joe Buck is really his friend. How can a character so unusal, gross and disreputable strike such nerve in me/us? I’m not sure, but I know this is the shot where I began really feeling for both of these guys—and fearing that doom was inevitable.

Freaks (Tod Browning, 1932) This shot was the subject of a recent post but it bears repeating. I went into this film like most others: my expectations did NOT include envying the titular characters. And yet with this one shot, I felt a tinge of envy and got choked up.

Local Hero (Bill Forsyth, 1983) The starless sky over Houston, Texas. We’re looking over the shoulder of Mac, the film’s central character (played by Peter Riegert). It’s hard to describe the many subtle charms of this film and even harder to explain why a shot of sky can fill me with such sadness. It’s all due to Forsyth’s deft touch, and I find the older I get—the more cynical I get—the more this shot fills me with a painful yearning. It leaves me bawling2

The Best Years of Our Lives (William Wyler, 1946) There’s many reasons why this shot makes me (and many others) cry. Plotwise, it’s housewife Milly (Myrna Loy) graduallly realizing that her husband Al (Frederic March) has just returned from war: she stops what she’s doing, slowly lifts her head and turns to the doorway. 3  That alone is reason enough: there’s incredible power in her body language. (filmmaker Wyler said it’s a scene inspired by his own experience of returning from WWII).

I first saw this film at a weekday afternoon screening at MOMA in NYC; those screenings are notoriously known as Blue Hair screenings because senior citizens get in for free. I was unemployed and went, quietly grumbling about the old, smelly types around me. Pretty soon, the theater was filled with sobbing, and then it dawned on me: “Hey, heartless asshole, this is their story! You’re here as their guest.”

Also, it’s OK for a man to cry when watching The Best Years of Our Lives: I’m pretty sure it has the highest count of “scenes with grown men crying” of any film before 1970.

The last reason this shot made me cry: no matter how well I succeed in life, I’ll never come home and find Myrna Loy as my wife. (Sorry, Debbie!)


Now that you know my tendency to cry during films would cause Alan Alda to yell, “Grow a pair, Man!” I’ll leave you with this wonderful excerpt from the show Modern Family, where manly Jay (Ed O’Neill) gets busted by his stepson Manny…

And, yes, I did get choked up writing this post. You got a problem with that?


BACK TO POST 1 I was such a wreck at the end of Toy Story 3 my 4-year-old son patted me gently on the shoulder and said, “It’s gonna be alright, Pop.”

BACK TO POST 2 In 1998, being single with an itch to travel alone, I made a list of Every Place on the Planet I’d Like to Visit. I’m ashamed to say it was only two locales, tied for first place: Memphis, TN, and Pennan, the village on the north east coast of Scotland where Local Hero was filmed. I went and my “adventures” there will be a post one of  these days.

BACK TO POST 3 Thanks to the doorway and the visible ceiling, it kinda looks like a shot from a John Ford film, doesn’t it?


Filed under Blogs, Film

13 responses to “Tear-Stained Images

  1. Fred

    I can’t *imagine* what Best Years of Our Lives was like for a contemporary audience.

    • It came out less than a year after the war ended! Jesus, that has the leap on the turnaround of such pst ‘Nam films as Coming Home and The Deer Hunter.

      I’ve always loved the title of Best Years: Uncompromising, with equal parts Hope and Gratitude–and an undercurrent of cynicism and anger. Frankly, I’d expect it could be interpreted differently by viewers based on their own personal experience.

  2. Jansen

    Wow. Interesting. Well it’s good to know we agree on some films.” Best years of our lives” SLAYS me. I havn’t seen it in years but knew immediately what that image was and tears welled up. Jeez. Love the story of the crowd at Moma and that it’s their film. One of the great strengths of that film is they never flash back to the war. The closest they come is that incredible sequence in the bomber at the junkyard. Even then it’s all implied memory. I also love Local Hero. Again. I know the image. How’s this for amazing? My uncle ( I’m of Scotish descent on my dads side ) has gone expat and moved to Scotland. I’m looking at pictures of his house. Right on the water. Gorgeous sunsets. I say ” have you ever seen Local Hero, looks just like that.” he says ” yeah they shot it here.” It’s literally the village where they shot it.
    Both those Images, as you say, need the context of the film for their power. Something about that CU of Hofffman. It’s an image that needs no explanation. It’s powerful if you know nothing about the film or it’s character. It supports the notion that the greatest effect in cinema is the close up.
    As always, great stuff Mr. A

    • What a great Local Hero story, Jansen!

      “they never flash back to the war”
      I never realized that, but it’s a really great point. There’s a certain “no more war films!” mentality to it. Like, “Let’s get past the rah-rah-rah, let’s storm the beaches!” idea of entertainment. Time to put the pieces back together. On the homefront.

      • Jansen

        I hadn’t read your footnote that you’ve been there. So cool. You’re one up on me. Must visit uncle someday soon.
        Your description of the title (Best Years) to Fred, kind of sums up the film as well. It’s a very interesting film as far as tone goes. A mellodrama for sure, but also takes a hard look at things. I always liked the Irony of the platoon sergeant coming home to be a bank executive, and the Office flyboy can’t get a job because he’s “unskilled”.
        The use of Harold Rusell also adds a strong note of reality to the proceedings. his hands are no special effect. His first and only time as an actor.

  3. You surprised me here! I thought the picks would be shots OF crying, rather than shots that make YOU cry. I like what you’ve done with this – putting the theme on the viewer rather than the viewed (though of course, the viewed is the impetus).

    I don’t generally weep during films, but it’s more due to ungodly repression than a hard heart (to paraphrase Jimmy Carter, I’m weeping inside). Best Years of Our Lives puts a lump in my throat every time – what an intensely moving film…

    • “I thought the picks would be shots OF crying, rather than shots that make YOU cry.”
      Totally unintentional! Come to think of it, there was something about that title that didn’t sit right with me. You hit the nail on the head. I made this post in a hurry this AM and half-expect it to be littered with typos. (I’ll have to re-read it tonight.) But as soon as I saw the meme in action, I decided to seize lightning in a bottle and crank this post out. Thanks for the inspiration!

      “I don’t generally weep during films”
      Gratefully, I’ve never held the Crying Factor as a standard of true love of film. I do want to know if Scorsese cries during films; it would make sense, right? I’m such an idiot: I was blessed enough to interview him a handful of times and every time I forgot to ask him that question!

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  5. AdamL

    You nailed two of my favorites (Mac and Loy). You and I have connected over Hero before, admitting we were both so drawn that we actually made the trip to Pennan and Morar/Arsaig ourselves. So, I recognized the shot right away. What’s so wonderful is that it so succeeds without even showing Riegert’s undoubtedly wistful expression and that it’s hand-held, helping the mood feel all the more authentic, beginning with the opening of the sliding door, and ending with a sloppy rack focus of Houston at night, “a far cry” (as it were) from the north coast of Scotland, with the curtains lapping in the wind, originating presumably in his heavy heart. If anything drew me more to the magical sleepy fishing village of this movie, it was this shot. Thanks, S. -A.

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  7. I lose my shit at movies all the time; in fact I couldn’t make it thought Best Years. Still, it’s a badge of honor to be so overwhelmed by great movies. Thanks for the tag!

  8. Pingback: When Not to Edit, Pt 7: John Ford Refuses to Waste Film « Peel Slowly

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