The Coen Brothers have been filming their take on the John Wayne classic, True Grit, for a spell now. Judging from this recently released still featuring Big Lebowski Dude Jeff Bridges, it’s going to be a beautiful remake, typical of their style. When fans of the original first heard of the remaking of the story of Mattie and Rooster Cogburn’s quest for Old West Justice, they were skeptical. This should calm them down.
Settings in movies tend to be places the average person doesn’t spend a lot of time in, be it a beach in the South of France, or in outer space, or elsewhere. The exotic nature of a particular scene stimulates the imagination, and pulls the viewer in deeper. Our interest perks up when the characters on-screen find themselves in strange locales; and one of these locales is the dreaded, beloved, and mysterious elevator shaft.
Found almost exclusively in the action/thriller genres, scenes involving elevator shafts take us into the forbidden area above and below the cars we generally ride in when traveling tall buildings. While it’s true that the concept of a mechanical lift has been around for centuries, modern elevators (and the dangers associated with them) sparked the imaginations of filmmakers since the days of black and white. And although the typical elevator shaft is not a grandiose space that would allow for such dramatics as Hollywood would like us to think, many timeless classics have portrayed them as such. Let’s take a look at some.
Death by Shaft
In John Farrow’s classic, The Big Clock, Charles Laughton’s character Janoth plummets to his death when he steps into an open shaft; this is after killing his accuser, so it’s justified. Things don’t end up so satisfying for Emilio Estevez’s character in Mission Impossible‘s opening sequence, as the car he’s hiding atop takes him to the top of the shaft, where he meets a steely, gruesome end.
There’s even a horror movie starring Naomi Watts about a killer, evil, possessed elevator called The Shaft: YouTube Link
Surviving the Danger
Detective John McClane is pretty well-versed in dispatching the villains he encounters via elevator shaft. Whether he’s dropping C-4 down the Nakatomi Plaza’s well, or battling a henchwoman in a power station’s, he definitely “dies hard” in a hostile environment.
The opening of Speed features a breathtaking rescue effort as a group of office workers are held hostage in an elevator car, Dennis Hopper’s madman ready to blow the cables at a moment’s notice. Enter Keanu Reeves and Jeff Daniels, who go into the shaft above the imperiled car and save lives in a most excellent fashion. Director Jan de Bont was the cinematographer for Die Hard, and the influence shows in this taut sequence.
Narrow escapes are plentiful in each movie about an unstoppable cyborg trying to kill the Connors, and Terminator 2: Judgement Day includes many, including this scene where the T-1000, having just missed the elevator going down with his prey aboard, deftly opens the doors and jumps down onto the top of the car. Multiple stabbing attempts later, he oozes into the elevator after failing to kill his quarry… again.
Other examples of surviving the danger include Backdraft, and I assume Salt. In the former, a firefighter is rescued from a burning shaft, and the latter ostensibly has Angelina Jolie eluding her pursuers in some acrobatic way. What can I say, I haven’t seen it.
Use it or Lose it
Some films have a scene in an elevator shaft for utilitarian purposes. There’s not a lot of danger, and nobody dies. The characters just need to use the shaft in order to do something.
And finally, a scene involving an elevator shaft unlike any other.
Without giving too much away, this scene from Inception is hands down the most creative use of an elevator shaft I can think of. Joseph Gordon-Leavitt’s Arthur puts the shaft, the car, and the cables into a cinematic spin that completely makes sense… once you’ve seen the movie a couple of times.
Okay, here’s where I turn it over to you, reader. What did I miss? Sound off in the comments.
When James Cameron put out a casting call for American actors in London for his production of Aliens, he got a jewel of an actress by the name of Jenette Goldstein, who jokingly auditioned for the part of tough Latino Marine, Vasquez. She not only stole many scenes in the sci-fi epic, but Cameron’s heart as well, ending up in two more of his gargantuan box office smashes, although audiences may have not recognized her. She’s gained a reputation as being a chameleon.
Everyone remembers her roles, especially Vasquez. Perhaps the funniest moment in Aliens is when Bill Paxton’s Hudson asks her (as she’s flexing some mad pull-ups) if she’s ever been mistaken for a man. Without missing a beat, she retorts, “No, have you?” That was her breakout performance, after studying acting in Los Angeles and competing alongside peers like Val Kilmer and Kevin Spacey.
She then went on to an eclectic film career, playing John Connor’s foster mother in Terminator 2: Judgement Day. “Wolfie’s fine, honey. Where are you?” Also of note is her role in Star Trek: Generations, and an overlooked addition to my post about 3 actors in 2 movies. Jenette, Bill Paxton, and Lance Henriksen were all in both Aliens and Near Dark.
The role of the Irish mother in Cameron’s Titanic is probably the most chameleon-like of her performances. A master of dialects and physically altering her persona, Goldstein really shines in this small, yet powerful role. Personally, I was totally unaware that the actress playing this character was the same woman who wielded one of the biggest guns in cinematic history while screaming “Let’s rock!” and killing voracious aliens.
She also went to the same high school as some of our favorite stars, like Angelina Jolie, Nicholas Cage, and Richard Dreyfuss. I think it’s telling that in the credits for Aliens, her character is actually named Jenette Vasquez. Hats (and bandannas) off, Ms. Goldstein; we really really like you!
In his insightful and detailed article, Never Wake Up: The Meaning and Secret of Inception, Devin Faraci explains the two things we must accept when considering Christopher Nolan’s film. The first thing is that the entire movie is a dream. Faraci points to the many clues that indicate Cobb as the dreamer, creating the entire fantasy in his subconscious. Take the scene of Mal’s death.
– note that when Cobb remembers her suicide she is, bizarrely, sitting on a ledge opposite the room they rented. You could do the logical gymnastics required to claim that Mal simply rented another room across the alleyway, but the more realistic notion here is that it’s a dream, with the gap between the two lovers being a metaphorical one made literal. When Mal jumps she leaves behind the top, and if she was right about the world being a dream, the fact that it spins or doesn’t spin is meaningless. It’s a dream construct anyway. There’s no way to use the top as a proof of reality.
Remember, the top is Mal’s totem, not Cobb’s.
After a second viewing for myself, I’m convinced of the argument… for the most part. I couldn’t spot any dead giveaways in the first act when they were supposedly awake, but they are peppered throughout the film. The ending was supposed to be real, right? Then what was Michael Caine doing there at the airport?
Faruci’s other point is the main thrust of his article; the whole stucture of Inception resembles the making of a movie, more precisely, a Christopher Nolan movie.
The heist team quite neatly maps to major players in a film production. Cobb is the director while Arthur, the guy who does the research and who sets up the places to sleep, is the producer. Ariadne, the dream architect, is the screenwriter – she creates the world that will be entered. Eames is the actor (this is so obvious that the character sits at an old fashioned mirrored vanity, the type which stage actors would use).
More deep thoughts about this unique film at CHUD.
It’s really hard to find this movie anywhere, unless you have Netflix, but the best place to see this 1927 masterpiece by Fritz Lang would be at a theater. Portland’s Cinema 21 to the rescue! The Complete Metropolis ends its run there on a couple of days. I’ll be sure to catch a showing before that happens.
Majek Pictures presents “Apple of My Eye” directed by Michael Koerbel
Another example of the current technological revolution, you can now shoot beautifully rendered scenes, edit them, and upload them to the Internet all from one device. The iPhone 4G. I just may have to get me one of those, after all.
Don’t miss the making-of, following this delightful short.
I hadn’t seen Catherine Hardwick’s adaptation of Stacy Peralta’s documentary, Z-Boys and Dogtown, since it came out in theaters; I had kind of forgotten how awesome it is. From the cinematic style and period-piece ascetic of the clothes, the cars, and of course, those old-school skateboards, to the fine acting jobs (particulary Heath Ledger and Emile Hirsch), this film tells a great story of Seventies glory.
I remember seeing this and thinking Emile should play Kurt Cobain in a biopic, or maybe River Phoenix. Acting chops aside, his skateboarding skills are nothing to sneeze at, either.
And at this moment we can watch it on Crackle, with limited ads, but otherwise free. Highly recommended if you like movies that rock. The endpiece is especially poignant and cool. So, if you’re interested, here it is. (UPDATE: no longer available. Sorry, folks.)
Awesome random cast members: Rebecca De Mornay, Johnny Knoxville, and Academy Award nominee Jeremy Renner.