Openings, part three

Sunday, September 8, 2019 - 4:47pm

NOSELL

Paramount Pictures

In the spirit of Welcome Week, Festifall and all things post-Labor-Day, The 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.

If Beale Street Could Talk

Barry Jenkins’s (“Moonlight”) opening scene in “If Beale Street Could Talk” technically lasts just three minutes. The leading pair, Alonzo “Fonny” Hunt (Stephan James, “Race”) and Tish Rivers (KiKi Layne, “Native Son”) step into the frame hand-in-hand, invigorating Baldwin’s quoted words they stroll down a quiet sidewalk and kiss before the movie cuts to a more current scene of Tish visiting Fonny in jail. For the purposes of this blurb, I am only concerned with 40 seconds of this sequence, which are entirely spent tracking their walk. Point A to Point B. That’s all.

Is it, though? Not if you play along with Jenkins, look where he wants you to look, play along with his tricks just long enough to fall under his spell. The camera arcs around the lovers, starting behind and slightly above Fonny and Tish, so at first, what stands out is the perfect synchrony of their steps like we are watching a ballet. As we watch from a steepening angle, however, we see this choreography is imperfect: Fonny’s intoed gait is not an absolute counterpart to Tish’s. As the camera begins its descent, we see their clumsy upper bodies hazarding into each other, in spite of the synchronization of their feet. 

Poise and clumsiness. Plans and inevitability. Jenkins’s lightly but not over-choreographed simplicity to mimic romance’s. Like waiting in your car for 10 minutes so you ring the doorbell reasonably late. Like “running into them” as they exit one classroom as you enter your next. Like matching a stride, slowing or quickening to keep up with the person you love.

— Julianna Morano, Daily Arts Writer

“No Strings Attached”

The first week of classes is over, “sylly week” if you will, and the only real way to mourn the end of Welcome Week parties is to watch the beginning of “No Strings Attached” several times over. The opening of the film moves quickly from the characters’ first meeting as young teens at camp to an awkward encounter at a frat party. 

While a wide shot of a frat house is no cinematographic feat, the beauty of the scene lies in the set design. Block M flags hang out the windows of the house and there’s a slow realization that Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman, at one point in their lives, were just like us. Or, at least, pretended to be. The shot continues and soon, you’re reliving freshman year — except it’s not Greta Gerwig shouting about how drunk she is but one of your new dorm friends you have to grab from an elevated surface. 

And there’s something special about watching Ashton Kutcher pretending to be a “brother” while surrounded with various university paraphernalia. He embodies the fraternity aesthetic and his confused recognition as he spots Portman from across the room is a look all too familiar from Welcome Week shenanigans. 

So, as the school year starts and schedules fill up, anytime you’re feeling down, just remember that Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman, or at least their characters, also once awkwardly tried to remember why someone seemed so familiar during the school year.

— Emma Chang, Senior Arts Editor