Super Scenes

Raging Bull (1980)
Martin Scorsese

Raging Bull (1980) is my favorite Scorsese for many reasons apart from the extraordinary performance Robert De Niro as the troubled boxer Jake La Motta who was deservedly honoured by the Academy next year. The mutually reinforcing Cinematography (thanks to Michael Chapman) and the spectacular editing by Scorsese regular Thelma Schoonmaker match the intensity of the lead’s performance.

In the final scene of the movie, a slightly overweight Jake La Motta is sitting in his dressing room staring at his mirror (a la Taxi Driver) just before his stand up show (a la The King Of Comedy!). He is smoking a cigar and moves into a monologue:

Jake: Some people aren’t that lucky… like the one Brando played in “On the Waterfront“, a down-and-outer. Remember the scene in the car with his brother Charlie? It went like this. It wasn’t him, Charlie. It was you. Remember that night you said, “Kid, this ain’t your night. “We’re going for the price on Wilson”. “This ain’t your night.” My night. I could’ve taken Wilson apart. So what happens? He gets a title shot. I get a one-way ticket to Palookaville. I was no good after that, Charlie. You reach a peak, then it’s downhill. It was you, Charlie. You was my brother. You should’ve looked out for me just a little bit. You should’ve taken care of me… instead of making me take dives for short-end money. You don’t understand. I could’ve had class. I could’ve been a contender. I could’ve been somebody instead of a bum. Let’s face it. It was you, Charlie. It was you.
(Enter the event manager)
Manager: How you doin’, champ? Everything OK?
Jake: Yeah.
Manager: Ready?
Jake: Five minutes.
Manager: OK. Need anything?
Jake: No.
Manager: You sure?
Jake: I’m sure. Lot of people out there?
Manager: It’s crowded.
(Exit manager)
Jake: Go get ’em, champ. I’m the boss. I’m the boss. I’m the boss. I’m the boss.

Jake warms up and starts shadow-boxing as he leaves for the stage. THe screen fades to black. The following text from the Bible appears before the credits roll on:

So, for the second time, the Pharisees
summoned the man who had been blind and said:
“Speak the truth before God.
We know this fellow is a sinner.”
“Whether or not he is a sinner, I do not know,”
The man replied.
“All I know is this:
Once I was blind and now I can see.”

– John IX, 24-26
the New English Bible

The video is given here:

Scorsese, being a cinema enthusiast himself, uses a classic scene from the Brando vehicle On The Waterfront (1954) where Terry (Brando) regrets his spoilt career and what he has become to his brother. Jake La Motta, contrite of all his mistakes that have brought sorrow to himself and many around him, quotes those lines verbatim. The scene does not involve verbalization or melodrama as many directors would be tempted to employ. Rather Scorsese simply asks his character to repeat the already famous lines and leaves the rest to the viewer to interpret. La Motta, as suggested by the biblical passage, has “woke up” and goes towards his new life with the same vigour and passion as entering his boxing matches as The Raging Bull.

Taxi Driver (1976)
Martin Scorsese

Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976) is hailed as the one of the best American movies ever made. The tale of the single male, his alienation from the ultra urban society and his voluntary involvement in the mires of the underworld definitely has its own share of lovers and haters. This post is about the classic scene from the movie where the protagonist, Travis Bickle talks to himself!

Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) is fed up by everything that is going on around. He decides to end it all and purchases a few guns. He prepares a setup on his robe so that holstering of the weapon is easier. He stands in front of a mirror and tests the setup. When he is about to finish, he enters a monologue similar to that in Raging Bull (1980).

Travis: You talkin’ to me? You talkin’ to me? You talkin’ to me? Then who the hell else are you talking… you talking to me? Well I’m the only one here. Who the fuck do you think you’re talking to? Oh yeah? OK.

Here is the video:

Scorsese uses the power of the mirror once again to carve out his character. Travis Bickle has always been a loner with his only attempt at love also failing. In this situation, Travis sees his only companion in the mirror – his image. His arrogance is also visible that establishes his hatred and inability to accept a stranger’s company and the “society” in general. The social isolation coupled with the rot of the society eventually leads to his mental disintegration and hence his choice of violence. Interestingly, the whole monologue is rumoured to be an improvisation by De Niro himself.

The Pianist (2002)
Roman Polanski

Hollywood has always had a constant flow of World War movies coming from it. But not more than a dozen stay in memories of the average film goer. Writing off the Clint Eastwood double bill and a few forgettable ones, Roman Polanski’s The Pianist (2002) may be considered the last successful World War movie. Adrian Brody’s chilling portrayal of the Polish pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman won him the Oscar in 2002, making him the youngest to do so.

In one of the best scenes in the movie, Wlady meets an old friend who promises to provide him a refuge from the Nazi army. As he leaves for the hideout he watches his friend Dorota play the Cello. Upon reaching the house, his friend’s spouse informs him that no one knows he is here and it is a locality frequented by the Nazis. After the person asks Wlady not to make any kind of noise and leaves, Wlady notices a piano and sits in front of it. He takes his hand towards the keys on the piano and we cut to his face. A music piece is being played. It is only after some seconds we notice that the music is actually playing in his mind and his fingers are just hovering over the keys. He is happy for the few minutes he “plays”.

I have uploaded the video in Youtube for your convenience:

Polanski, who has been in the industry big time, is at home directing the film. Though the scene has not a word spoken, it conveys so much about an artist and the influence of political situation on his work. In contrast to Dorota, who is free from any trouble from the Nazis and is playing her music peacefully, Wlady is under a pressure from the ruling government and is unable to produce his music. This is true of any artist who works within the boundaries of political restrictions. Not all of the artist’s true intent is put forth to the world. Right from the medieval (even before that, in fact) painters (featured in the Tarkovsky classic “Andrei Rublev“) to film makers such as Kieslowski, artists have not been given freedom of expression owing to the clash of ideologies of the creator and the ruler. This scene sums it all up with effortless ease.

It’s A Wonderful Life (1946)
Frank Capra

The grandmother of all feel-good flicks, It’s A Wonderful Life (1946) , may seem very mellow and even stereotype when viewed today, but Frank Capra‘s financial bomb gives the viewer full satisfaction at the end of the movie, every time. George Bailey’s (James Stewart) “Oh, Shucks” and “Gee, Whiz” make him a very lovable character that is a rarity in this generation.

The scene I am writing here is the final one in the film. George Bailey has committed suicide after he has gone bankrupt. His guardian angel resurrects him and shows him how the world would have been if he weren’t there. George is convinced that his life was better and wishes to live again. After he comes back to life carrying all the positives, he returns home to find that all his friends and relatives have put in small amounts of money to save him from his present situation. Yes, it is good wishes everywhere. George is saved.

Though this scene is sugarcoated to the maximum possible extent and perhaps too good to be true, it portrayed something that Hollywood would be repeating for decades to come – The indomitable nature of the human spirit. Aped in every forms possible, this scene reminds you that it’s a wonderful life indeed!

Bowling For Columbine (2002)
Michael Moore

Perhaps Moore’s best work till date, Bowling For Columbine (2002) examines the ever-increasing gun crimes especially among the youth of the United States of America. Though the truth value of the facts stated in the movie are constantly debated there are some scenes that you can’t resist appreciating.

One of them is the part where the movie tries to provide a brief history of America to trace back the gun culture. Playing just over three minutes, the scene is a completely animated sequence with South Park like caricatures being used to describe the progress of events. The narration is rapid and comic with lots of slang and voice modulations. The fast narration is interwoven with these caricatures that, from time to time, utter some weird but funny lines. You can view the scene here:

For those who do not have speakers (such as me), here is the transcript of the scene (Bear with me, its long!)

Once upon a time, there were these people in Europe called pilgrims and they were afraid of being persecuted. So they all got in a boat and sailed to the New World where they wouldn’t have to be scared ever again.
– Oh, I’m so relaxed.
– I feel so much safer.
But as soon as they arrived, they were greeted by savages.
– They got scared all over again.
– Injuns!
So they killed them all. Now, you’d think wiping out a race of people would calm them down, but no. Instead, they started getting frightened of each other.
– Witch!
– So they burned witches.
In 1775, they started killing the British, so they could be free. And it worked. But they still didn’t feel safe. So they passed a 2nd amendment, which said every white man
– could keep his gun.
– I loves my gun, loves my gun.
This brings us to the genius idea of slavery. You see, boys and girls, the white people back then were also afraid of doing any work. So they went to Africa, kidnapped thousands of black people, brought them to America, and forced them to work very hard for no money. And I don’t mean no money like:
-I work at Walmart and make no money.
I mean zero dollars. Nothing, nada, zip. Doing it that way made the USA the richest country in the world. So did having all that money and free help calm the white people down? No way. They got even more afraid. That’s because after 200 years of slavery, the black people now outnumbered the white people in many parts of the South. Well, you can pretty much what came next. The slaves started rebelling. There were uprisings and old masters’ heads got chopped off and when white people heard of this, they were freaking out. They going
– I want to live!
– Don’t kill me, big black man.
Well, just in the nick of time came Samuel Colt, who, in 1836, invented the first weapon ever that could be fired over and over without having to reload. And all the settlers were like:
But it was too late. The North soon won the Civil War and the slaves were free to go chop the old masters’ heads off. Then everybody was like:
-Oh, no, we’re gonna die.
But the freed slaves took no revenge. They just wanted to live in peace. But you couldn’t convince the white people of this.
So they formed the Ku Klux Klan and, in 1871, the same year the Klan became an illegal terrorist organization, another group was founded: the National Rifle Association. Soon, politicians passed one of the first gun laws, making it illegal for any black person to own one. It was a great year for America. he KKK and the NRA. Of course, they had nothing to do with each other; it was a coincidence. One group legally promoted responsible gun ownership; the other shot and lynched black people.
That’s the way it was till 1955, when a black woman broke the law by refusing to move to the back of the bus. White people just couldn’t believe it.
– Huh? Why won’t she move?
– What’s going on?
Man, all hell broke loose. Black people everywhere demanded their rights. White people had a major, freaky-feel meltdown
and they were all like:
-Run away! Run away!
And they did. They all ran fleeing to the suburbs, where it was all white and safe and clean. And they went out and bought a
quarter-of-a-billion guns. And put locks on their doors, alarms in their houses, and gates around the neighbourhoods. And finally, they were all safe and secure and snug as a bug. And everyone lived happily ever after.

Though this is a gross simplification of the truth, it still has the potency to grab your attention. In just 3 minutes, it gives us the outline of how the country has become what it is now. Without being a documentation or making a serious issue out of it, the scene gives a blow by pin-pointing the mistakes of the nation and the consequences, all in the typical Michael Moore style!

Schindler’s List (1993)
Steven Spielberg

Schindler’s List (1993) is undoubtedly Spielberg‘s most serious film and one of Hollywood’s most fresh films. Spielberg’s portrayal of the German industrialist who traded his wealth for the lives of hundreds of Jews provided the industry a benchmark in almost all aspects of film making. Ralph Fiennes plays the chief of the Nazi camp, Amon Goeth, and Liam Neeson plays the title character.

Oskar is troubled by the atrocities he has witnessed during his stay at the camp. He is not able to come to terms with the mindless killing of the workers at the camp. The scene I going to talk about is my favorite in the movie where Amon Goeth and Oskar Schindler are at the former’s birthday party and sitting on the balcony. Goeth is heavily drunk and points out how sober Oskar is even though he has drunk much. The following conversation ensues.

Oskar: Why do you drink that motor oil? I send you good stuff all the time. Your liver’s going to explode like a hand grenade.
Amon: You know, the more I look at you… I watch you! You’re never drunk. Oh, that’s… that’s real control. Control is power. That’s power.
Oskar: Is that why they fear us?
Amon: We have the fucking power to kill, that’s why they fear us.
Oskar: They fear us because we have the power to kill arbitrarily. A man commits a crime, he should know better. We have him killed, and we feel pretty good about it. Or we kill him ourselves and we feel even better. That’s not power, though. That’s justice. It’s different than power. Power is when we have every justification to kill… and we don’t.
Amon: You think that’s power?
Oskar: That’s what the emperors had. A man stole something… he’s brought in before the emperor… he throws himself down on the ground, he begs for mercy. He knows he’s going to die. And the emperor, pardons him. This worthless man. He lets him go.
Amon: I think you are drunk.
Oskar: That’s power, Amon. That, is power!

The video of this conversation is given here:

The following day, Goeth witnesses one of his servants bumbling and he decides to “pardon” him. Surprised, the boy exits the house. Goeth tries to feel the “power” as mentioned by Oskar only to look stupid. He immediately takes a rifle and shoots the boy to death from the balcony as Itzhak Stern (Ben Kingsley) watches on.

Amon Goeth has returned to his former self.

After the immensely successful (!) “Flashback” series, i have decided to start another one called “Super Scenes“. The posts in this series will be about the scenes that impressed me for their aspects of film making, acting, novelty or just sheer charm. I will try to provide the video links as far as possible to the scenes described in the corresponding post. The “Flashback” series and the reviews will, however, keep coming in between.

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