Donald Clarke

Whingeing about cinema and real life since 2009

My favourite shot in all cinema

Yes, silly season is upon us. It’s the time to draw up ridiculous lists that reduce great works of art into neat, countable entities that can be easily rated by idiots such as your current correspondent. The subject today (more …

Wed, Jun 29, 2011, 22:52

   

Yes, silly season is upon us. It’s the time to draw up ridiculous lists that reduce great works of art into neat, countable entities that can be easily rated by idiots such as your current correspondent. The subject today (more will follow before leaves fall) is the greatest single shot in movie history. Actually, that’s too, too preposterous. The subject is my favourite single shot in movie history. I mean one continuous, unbroken take. Regular readers will not be surprised to hear that my favourite scene is probably the creation of the Bride in the immortal Bride of Frankenstein. But there are no real standout takes in that sequence.

Purists would bow away from the spectacular. That seems a little austere to me. If we’re going to single out one take let’s focus upon a piece of true bravura film-making. I thought about the mysterious rain shower towards the end of Tarkovsky’s Stalker. Opting for the obvious, one could pick the camera passing through the illuminated sign and down through the skylight in Citizen Kane. In tribute to the recently deceased John Mackenzie, what about Bob Hoskins’s terrible realisation at the close of The Long Good Friday? Didn’t Luis Buñuel do something interesting with an eyeball? (Though, come to think of it, that was all about montage.)

No. I’ve settled upon Jill McBain’s arrival at Flagstaff in Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West. Happily, the sequence is available on YouTube. It begins at about 2′ 7″ into this clip.

YouTube Preview Image

If you don’t know the film, Jill, played by the unbelievably charismatic Claudia Cardinale, has just arrived at the station to meet her new husband. Unfortunately, he’s just been killed by Henry Fonda (of all people). So, she is left alone on the platform. She passes through the station office. The camera spies her through a window (a letterbox that rhymes with the wide-screen format) and then rises above the roof as she makes her way into the busy background. Ennio Morricone’s score surges as we see the rough settlement forming itself into a town before our astonished eyes.

Those purists (damn you) will point out that the success of the shot hangs very much on the untouchable score. So what? We’re assessing the finished article, not the director’s raw vision. But it also triumphs because it expresses the themes of the film in one articulate sweep. Here is civilisation being formed in the most harsh surroundings. Obviously, this horrid little clip gives you no sense of the gorgeous finished article. I’m sure the film will turn up in the IFI again before too long. Until then, content yourself with the excellent DVD package which features a superb commentary from the reliably perceptive Christopher Frayling.