V for Vendetta was one of those movies that I was pretty jazzed about seeing, until I saw it. It landed on my retinas with a dull thud, and it still amazes me that anyone thinks it’s any good. So, there’ll be none of that today. Instead, the awesome Flying V guitar, a still from Henry V, and something from the world of wind technology (a new passion in which I begin training this Monday), the V-Wing Wind Turbine.
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.
I miss going to the drive-in, a movie experience unlike any other yet a quickly disappearing icon of early American car culture. The differences between going to a drive-in and a regular theater are numerous. I remember looking around at other screens when the movie I was watching grew slow, the obligatory repeat visits to the concession stand, even sneaking in via the trunk to save a few bucks.
When real estate became too valuable, these operations were forced out for development, and they just started vanishing. Even improving the audio experience -by replacing those awkward, often broken speakers with a signal beamed to the local AM/FM band- hasn’t stopped the extinction. Even the film world is somewhat devoid of scenes involving one, but there are a handful that I can think of.
The Centinela Drive-In in Los Angeles was already closed up when Michael Mann filmed this scene for Heat there. The rows of small inclines, placed there so patrons could angle their cars up for premium viewing experience, make for some exciting driving as the characters react to a violent double-cross. The land is now a middle class development. (More Heat filming locations at the link.)
Back to the Future III
In order to send Marty back this time, Doc sets up at a drive-in movie theater with a decidedly western theme. How appropriate. As the DeLorean accelerates to 88mph, it’s headed right for a wall mural featuring a tribe of Old West Indians riding fiercely on horseback. After he jumps, Marty is instantly surrounded by the same thing, only it’s real this time. How clever!
In this Roy Scheider/Malcolm McDowell helicopter thriller, there’s one scene where Scheider’s girlfriend has to retrieve evidence left in a dumpster at an L.A. drive-in (probably not the same one as Heat).
Drive-in theaters weren’t strictly a park-and-view experience. Many, especially in the 1960s, included playgrounds, patio dining, and a bandstand type seating area for pedestrian moviegoers – or greasers who sneak in under the fence, like in Francis Ford Coppola’s classic.
In 1985, the Spotlight 88 drive-in theater in Pennsylvania was destroyed when an F3 tornado ripped through it. Afterwards, before it closed and became a flea market, the management changed the marquis sign to say “Now Playing: Gone with the Wind.” In Jan de Bont’s 1996 action movie, a twister of similar magnitude surprises a late night screening by chewing right through a screen showing The Shining. As a somewhat ham-handed tribute, de Bont has the screen and funnel meld together just as Jack Nicholson delivers his “Here’s Johnny!” line.
In the Broadway production of Grease, the scene is the same, but the song Danny Zuko sings is actually called “Alone at the Drive In.” It’s a more bebop-ey, era-accurate song than “Sandy” could ever hope to be, but updating is nothing new. Also, nice inclusion of the animated snack bar ads. Everyone loves it when the hot dog jumps into the bun.
This gruesome gem was director Peter Bogdanovich’s first movie, edited by Jaws‘ Verna Fields, and starred Boris Karloff in a kind of self-reflective role. He plays a former monster movie actor whose style is outdated; the people need scarier monsters now. So another character decides to go on a shooting spree, at one point shooting people from behind the drive-in movie screen they’re all staring at. Whoa, deep.
Another fairly unknown movie that gets a lot of repeat viewings at this household. Billy Crudup, Samantha Morton, Jack Black, Denis Leary, Holly Hunter, Dennis Hopper. How’s that for a “Who’s in it?” Anyway, great cast and a life-affirming journey. In one crazy scene, after Crudup and Black have ingested some sort of hallucinogen, they come across an old drive-in, weeds growing tall and just the posts left where the speakers used to hang. Crudup’s character thinks he’s walking through a graveyard, then beholds his love up on the giant screen. And someone’s feet is playing an organ. It’s weird. Cool, but really strange.
Herbie Fully Loaded
Yeah, well that’s what I’ve heard.
It was wise of John Carpenter to alter the scene in the book where Leigh almost chokes to death on a hamburger, and place it at a drive-in instead of outside of a fast food place. It just feels more natural to have a car like that 1958 Plymouth Fury at a drive-in theater. Right? And instead of a hitchhiker, we just get someone who was in the next car over to save her, at Arnie’s expense.
As with many of the aggregate posts I write, I’m sure I missed some. Any ideas?