My latest article for Thought Catalog — some reflections on “The Will to Connect” in the Age of Social Media.SHARE
Part of what separates movie stars from the rest of us—aside from their paychecks—is that they have great faces. Not necessarily beautiful faces (although often they have that too), but faces that are able to convey a tremendous amount of emotional information in a short amount of screen time. What might take a novelist a paragraph or two of description to communicate, a great face can communicate in half the time, and sometimes with double the impact.
This is especially true when a movie ends with a close-up on an actor’s face. It’s rarely done these days (most movies tend to end with a wide/master shot or a sweeping aerial), and when it is done, it can run the risk of coming across as cheesy or melodramatic. But when it’s done successfully, ending a movie with a close-up on an actor’s face can be quite effective… and incredibly moving.
Here are three movies that I think succeed in pulling this off:
1) Sunset Boulevard (1950). It’s hard to believe Gloria Swanson (pictured above) lost the 1950 Oscar for Best Actress to Judy Holiday, since few actresses before or since have created a character as memorable as Norma Desmond. As the aging silent film star who falls in love with a washed-up screenwriter (William Holden), Swanson gave the performance of her career, and uttered one of film history’s most famous lines: “OK, Mr. Demille, I’m ready for my close-up.” Billy Wilder’s classic is still one of the darkest satires about Hollywood ever made, and the film’s final shot, with a deranged Norma Desmond moving closer and closer into frame, captures the madness of a Hollywood star who’s lost all touch with reality.
2) Nights of Cabiria (1958). Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini specialized in creating spectacle. But he also knew how to use the power of an actor’s face for emotional impact, as witnessed in Nights of Cabiria, for which he won his second Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film (he would win 4 times in total, the most times any director has won in this category). The story revolves around Cabiria (played by Fellini’s wife, Giulietta Masina), a sweet-natured, resourceful prostitute doing her best to survive in a cruel, male-dominated world. The film follows Cabiria on her various adventures, which take a dark turn toward the end, culminating with the once-resilient Cabiria nearly losing her will to go on living. The last shot of the movie, however, might be one of the most moving testaments to the strength of the human spirit recorded on film (it might also be my favorite ending of a movie). And after seeing this shot, one also understands why Fellini–who often compared life to a circus–loved Masina’s face, since it perfectly captures the tragic optimism of a clown.
3) About Schmidt (2002) Jack Nicholson received his 8th nomination for Best Actor for his portrayal of a retired, recently windowed insurance salesman going through a mid-life crisis. Warren Schmidt’s life is a series of quiet disasters and disappointments, all of which he relates in a series of letters to Ndugu, a Tanzanian boy he’s decided to sponsor as part of a foster program for African children. At the end of the film, after enduring one humiliating existential defeat after another, Schmidt is about ready to consider his life a failure… when suddenly he receives his first letter from Ndugu. I won’t spoil it for you, but IMHO, the last shot could be one of Nicholson’s finest acting moments (and that’s saying a lot!).
So those are my picks. Are there any other movies you’d add to this list?SHARE
Herman Cain’s been getting quite a bit of attention this week, in large part because of his impressive performance during this week’s GOP presidential debate, where he repeatedly touted his “999″ plan to overhaul the tax code. And it appears to be resonating with GOP voters. In an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll released on Wednesday, Cain is leading the GOP field nationally, with 27% to former Governor Mitt Romney’s 23%.
I’m not a trained economist, though I think the Washington Post’s Fact Checker did a thorough job of sorting out the fact from the fiction (and in some instances the downright delusion) in Cain’s plan. (If elected President, does Cain actually think he can overhaul the tax code 3 times?)
Just the same, the surge in Cain’s popularity of late is a fascinating turn of events. In 2008, it was Obama vs. McCain. Could 2012 be Obama vs. Cain? Could we actually see two African-Americans at the top of the ticket vying for the presidency?
Or is Cain simply just the new GOP flavor of the week? (In this case, white dark chocolate.)
One thing’s for sure: if it does comes down to an Obama vs. Cain face-off, it will be proof positive for racist fundamentalist Christians across the nation that the apocalypse is definitely near.
Of course, secular progressives might see the match-up a bit differently. As comic W. Kamau Bell wryly tweeted: “If the Presidential election was Obama vs. Cain, would that be black on black crime at the highest level?”SHARE
Hazel shares her thoughts about Bank of America’s recent fee increases; Sarah Palin’s decision not to run for President; the n-word controversy on The View; and the untimely passing of Steve Jobs.
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