Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Motion Studies: Scenery's gone with the Wind

A Moontower, similar to the one in Dazed and Confused
     Dazed and Confused (1993) is a film that shuns the grand scheme of things and celebrates rowdy, youthful minutiae. So why add an artificial sense of grandiosity at the end? This is the problem that befalls it at the point near the end, when the party the Texas high school has put together in an empty park begins drawing to a close, after a fight breaks up. The song “Tuesday’s gone with the Wind” by Lynyrd Skynyrd rises to a crescendo over a long arial shot of the swarm of teenagers scattering.
            An establishing shot to end a prolonged sequence; nothing wrong with that. But there is something off here. This is a film about teenagers. Teenagers drinking, smoking, beating up freshmen, making out, playing 70’s hair music, “driving around.” This scene at the park—known as “The Moontower,” after the tower that stands in the center—is the thudding, stumbling denoument to a day full of such activity. Do we really need a grandiose shot of a camera slowly circling a scene, presiding over it all, as if to look down on these people? As the camera inches to the right, we look at the dots below and cannot bring ourselves to think of them as dots in a grand drama. We have already come to think of them as bumbling, outrageous teenagers in a free-flowing, intoxicated party that happened very much on earth. This closing shot looks like a composition that snuck out of a costume drama or an epic disaster film. And while Dazed and Confused in one sense is both of those, it is a shot that looks aloof. Those few circling inches look pretentious and out of place. It is further complicated when we see, in the upper corner of the screen, shafts of yellow light grazing the trees. Yes, it is almost day. But with those few inches, the joke’s already up; we know it’s not the sun, but the production lights.
            (This is an off-putting moment in an otherwise highly enjoyable film, leading me to find a way to forgive director Richard Linklater. I can think of exactly one pardon; perhaps he intended the shot to be from the point of view of the top of the moontower. But even then, Linklater would have to have established where the moontower is located on the field exactly and what the view is like from the top looking directly down, and it is too obvious that the shot is from a helicopter. Linklater doesn’t get a free hall pass on this one.)