Openings, part one

Monday, September 2, 2019 - 4:29pm

"Moonrise Kingdom"

"Moonrise Kingdom" Buy this photo
Focus Features

In the spirit of Welcome Week, Festifall and all things post-Labor-Day, The Michigan Daily Film section has written a collection of blurbs celebrating our favorite “Openings” to movies. Here’s to another year of learning, changing, trying, failing, crying, smiling, passing, movie-watching and (most importantly) a-best-picture-awarded-to-a-film-that-surpasses-the-low-bar-of-not-being-problematic-at-best-and-severly-discouraging-as-to-the-current-state-of-the-conversation-on-racial-equality-in-America-at-worst.

“Moonrise Kingdom”

The best opening movie sequences all have the same type of premise. The filmmaker must set the stage, acclimate their audience to the wit or severity or drama or grief they’ll be tasked with dealing with and lay out the stakes of the world they’ve built. Writer/Director Damien Chazelle (“Whiplash”) calls this his overture (even when he’s not making a musical), his chance to create a microcosm of the drama that will soon unfold onscreen.

Wes Anderson’s “Moonrise Kingdom” is my favorite example of this. The writer/director splits his movie’s first five minutes into two parts of the same whole: First, beginning the movie with a drawn out title sequence to the music of Benjamin Britten’s “A Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra,” meanwhile sliding his camera laterally and horizontally to capture the impossibly rectangle vistas of the family’s lighthouse home, and second, giving the audience a tour of the imaginary island where most of the movie takes place, the tour guide, an affable Bob Balaban, leading off with a resounding “Welcome to the Island of New Penzance.”

Anderson’s opening to “Moonrise Kingdom” accomplishes all the requirements of a Chazelle movie overture. From the very first shot, he bottles up the atmosphere of the film — picture-book, precocious energy — and gives the viewer a taste of what types of conflicts are to come. The unhappy household of Suzy Bishop is scanned up and down, left and right, as a thunderous storm rages outside. She’s seen holding a box of letters from her secret pen-pal, who she views as her escape from the prison of her parents. We pivot to a melody of strings as Balaban walks us around our home-for-an-hour, framing with the announcement of a terrible storm the youthful love story whose drama will only be heightened by the arrival of the inclement weather.

Since the break-in sequence in “Bottle Rocket” and the chapel day-dream in “Rushmore” Anderson has had a knack for setting his movies off on the right foot. Honorable mention, also, to “The Royal Tenenbaum’s” 16 minutes of go-nowhere narration that, despite being complete, blatant, young-adult-novel-chapter-one exposition, feels absolutely riveting.

— Stephen Satarino, Daily Film Editor

“Scream”

Drew Barrymore, Jiffy Pop and a landline. These are primary ingredients of the opening of “Scream,” and they work together all too well. The first 12 minutes of Wes Craven’s 1996 slasher satire compose one of the most jarring scenes I can recall from childhood and one of the most intricate horror sequences ever made. There’s so much to revere in both his camerawork and sound design. There’s an increasingly rapid pop of kernels on the kitchen stove (leading to their eventual explosion as Barrymore is evading her stalker); the gradual unnerving tilt of the camera from shot to shot, which eventually frames Barrymore in the corner of the screen, as if trapping her there; the uncannily creepy voicework of Roger Jackson as Ghostface, quizzing his victim on the history of movie serial killers. But it’s that last part that I find most interesting everytime I rewatch the scene: The subtle hints Craven lays even in those first few minutes that “Scream” will be a horror movie that mocks other horror movies. It’s probably the first great example of the style, but certainly not the last. Between “Cabin in the Woods” and “Get Out” and even 2019’s “Ready or Not,” there’s no shortage of current meta horror. But that first scene is a microcosm for everything that comes later, not just in the movie, but in the future of the entire genre.

Anish Tamhaney, Daily Arts Writer