Thursday, June 22, 2006

Break the Windows!

Someone has kindly put up a clip of one of the great Vincente Minnelli scenes: the waltz sequence from Madame Bovary, with Jennifer Jones as the title character, Louis Jourdan as Rodolphe and Van Heflin as Charles Bovary. The ball scene is only loosely based on the book, but it's an amazing piece of cinema, an example of how great moviemaking brings together all the visual and aural arts: Minnelli's swirling camera movements, the "neurotic waltz" composed by Miklós Rózsa, the elaborate set design, and the physical beauty of the actress. The high point of the scene, where windows are smashed while Charles's bottle falls to the floor, all in rhythm with the music, is especially memorable.

The feverishness of the scene makes it the only part of the movie where Emma Bovary's life becomes, or at least seems to become, what she wants it to be. (When she looks in the mirror before the waltz starts, she finally gets to see herself as she imagines herself.) As Minnelli put it in the interview I linked to: "that’s the one time that the dream came up to the reality. She saw herself as wanted and beautiful; the belle of the ball, so to speak. Then it ended bitterly. Illusion."

And while we're on a Minnelli kick, here's a key scene from The Bad and the Beautiful that's filmed entirely in one uninterrupted take, no cutting -- demonstrating Minnelli's fondness for long takes.

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