Monday 8 November 2010

Magic MOMENTS - When Films Really Resonate

I am going to write about a common thread that runs through all of my favorite films, and hopefully it will resonate with many of you. I think it's an important thing to consider as a writer, and director; because delving into this can be very helpful.

My favorite films are often my favorite films; not necessarily because of plot, or characters (specifically) - but the space that develops around them which allows for a moment to be captured. What do I mean by a moment? The thing that makes a moment a moment, is that it isn't definable. If it was; then it wouldn't be a moment. A moment normally comes when the characters seemingly step out of the constraints of a story and purposeful dialogue; and exist truly in a moment that resonates personally with the viewer. 

In 'Almost Famous,' as Stillwater are selling their souls to the big-shot manager, Penny Lane is in the auditorium, alone, post-concert, dancing slowly to the Cat Stevens song 'The Wind.' That is a moment. At least, it was for me.

As most of you will know I've been obsessed with the movie 'Adventureland' recently. It's a film that captures many moments. When James and Lisa P sit on the out of commission ride-carriages, getting high; it really captures something. It captures life! It captures the very essence of what it is to be young-and-figuring-the-world-out, just by having two people sitting and interacting. Likewise, when James and Em sit back and watch fireworks as 'Don't dream it's over' plays over the speaker system-- it is strangely touching, and warm; which evokes something in the viewer.

I think moments only happen when they have been experienced first hand by the writer or director. Not necessarily the exact situation, but that feeling, that emotion. Do you know what I mean? In life, it's possible, on rare occasions; to forget your problems, your financial woes and your messed up relationships and instead you exist purely in a moment that means something. The best screenwriters capture the essence of these 'moments' that they have experienced themselves.

But what am I talking about? Part of me wants to get very specific and stop sounding so wishy washy, and part of me says 'an article about moments can't be too specific' so I feel stuck.
In screenplays, like in life, the character's tend to go to work, then to a restaurant, then to bed, then to work, then to a friends house, then to a bar, etc.

Moments are normally created outside of these societal norms (but only very slightly). They happen at work after everyone is gone, when only two people are left in the building. Or they happen on the way home from a restaurant, when a group of friends bond over a broken-down-car experience. I would guess your most memorable moments in life are similar. I think that's an important point.

As we get older, life gets more rigid. Jobs, relationships and responsibilities provide structures that make it difficult to have unexpected experiences. When we see someone similar to us on screen sitting around a fireplace at 3am with new friends, or we see two people spontaneously having a poem written for them on the streets of Vienna, we realise - This is us, this is ME. This is a part of my life, or my identity, or my hopes - that I can't quite reach at the moment. It's a feeling you've been longing for, or a part of yourself you've been repressing or ignoring.

The header of my blog says, "I like it when I look up at the big screen and see a part of me staring back at me" and I think that's what I'm really talking about. Great movies have the capacity to show us more rounded, complete versions of ourselves. You might relate and identify with Jerry Maguire working really hard and you might relate to his struggle; but the part that resonates might be when he's swinging Ray back and forth with Dorothy, or when Marcy is telling Rod Tidwell "you're the shit!"

These are unexpected, truthful moments. They're what life is about. They are the things that people forget about after a movie, but paradoxically, somehow never forget at all. 

Care to share?


  1. Beautiful post. I know what you're talking about.

  2. Your excellent post makes me wonder: do I allow these moments on celluloid to inspire me to have wonderful moments in my own life?

  3. Heh. I have a word for this: I call it a Showgasm.

    It's literally when every part of your body wakes up to a huge zinger moment in a movie (however quiet or loud that moment may be) and you find yourself nodding, or tearing up, but basically, your entire body and soul is saying, "YES. YES. I have felt this before, this is truth, right here, I thought no one else ever felt this way and is anyone else seeing what I'm seeing..."

    It's beautiful, and it's not that common. But when it's done well... it's done perfectly.

  4. Great post. Congrats on the blog of note. Take care.

  5. I know what you are talking about! Some movies I love to watch over and over because there is that moment in the movie that does it for me. Thanks for posting!

  6. Having just spent some time at the orlando film festival, this post really hits home. It also doesnt hurt that you referenced Jerry Maguire and Til Sunrise. Ill definitately have to check Adventureland out as well. Youve converted another follower :)

  7. I'm very happy to see you all get what I'm talking about :) It's a hard thing to explain.

  8. My whole summer was one amazing moment after the other...For the first time in my life I felt alive... My choices...My dreams...Thanks for reminding of the pure beauty of those times...

  9. I forgot to say congratulations on being named a blog of note! Superior!

  10. The song "Don't Dream It's Over" IS a moment for me. It gets me right there, which I think is what you mean. Music can add so much to a film, sometimes the combination of the visual and the audio can create an overwhelming feeling of heart swelling.

    Here are a few of my favorites, some including music and some not:

    - When Bridget Jones lip-synchs, drunk, to "All By Myself" with a glass of wine in her hand at the beginning of the film.

    - When Carolyn Burnham unloads her car and cleans up the vacant house in anticipation of her Open House in American Beauty.

    - Watching Ann August get angry and bang her satin handbag against the stucco wall repeatedly, ending in a silent teary sadness in Anywhere But Here.

    - Ironically (or not, actually), the moment in Reality Bites When Lelaina and Michael are sitting on his convertible, talking about "those moments", with "Baby I Love Your Way" playing in the background.

    I could write these down all day. I love this blog post. :)

  11. Congrats on being a coveted Blog of Note.

    I think it's sort of a life circle thing. Life gives us those moments that are so hard to capture on the big screen, yet seeing such great fictional moments on screen can inspire any number of moments in real life.

  12. Congratulations on the Blog of Note. I bow to your noteworthiness.

    Sometimes something in art connects to something in your life. Maybe something you'd forgotten about. Toy Story has always hit me like that. All three of them.

  13. You're right on about Adventureland-very underrated film. I watched Stand By Me again this weekend. Lots of great small moments. My favorite is when the kid sees the deer early in the morning-that scene has always stuck with me.

  14. Grt post... Such moments are rare to find in any movie.. BECAUSE They cannot be formed consciously by the director.. They come because of the subconscious awakening inside a film-maker.. And that happens when the film-maker profusely feels the subject without any extra effort..

  15. I have another movie example you should be able to relate to, American Beauty.

    In it the dad says essentially that everyone is sleepwalking or sleeping through life. I think you described just that above. Alot of people just go through the actions of living. They are afraid to follow their dreams and leave the comfport of their routine.

    I think it's a symptom of true happiness. Everyone walks around so enveloped in their problems and duties and expectations. We all think we are "unhappy".

    It's what destroys many relationships, marriages, lives...... Expecting pefection RATHER than allowing happiness into our lives.

    True happiness comes from gratitude and enjoying the little things. People can live with the problems in their life and still be truly happy.

    Love this blog. I often feel these moments and like to think for a second it's the movie of my life.

  16. Great post. You're right, it's all in the moments, just as it is in life. In reality, our lives don't have plots, they don't have neat little three act structures ending in catharsis and resolution. The moments in life that tend to be the most memorable or special come when the narrative stops, and a point in time is just experienced. That feeling is captured too rarely in films - but your 'Almost Famous' example is a great one.

  17. Thank you everyone -- I love all your amazing comments!

  18. Oh, I live for these. I can completely identify with you on this! One of my favorites is the scene in Breakfast at Tiffany's when Holly and Paul find Cat after she threw him from the cab and they embrace. It's so sad and loving and real and beautiful it makes me cry every single time.