Sunday, February 10, 2008

Scene Sunday: A Place in the Sun

I'd been meaning to see A Place in the Sun for a long while, but during a spontaneous perusal of the university library's impressive DVD collection a few days ago, I suddenly felt drawn to it, impelled to watch it. I haven't been watching classic films outside of my course recently and something had to be done about that horrendous fact. Of course, it helps to have Shelley Winters in a film: how I do adore her! Incidentally, since Shelley is not to be found in the scene I'll be looking at, I must mention now how absolutely terrific she is here. Possibly the film's best performance, and that's saying something. But let us move closer, now, children, and admire the dazzling central duo of Monty and Liz...

George Eastman (Montgomery Clift) has finally been noticed by his uncle and invited to one of their posh soirees. But George doesn't know no one, so he retreats to a deserted room with a pool table, and proceeds to show off his impressive, cheeky skills with a cue...

But who is that coming by the door? Why, it's Angela Vickers (Elizabeth Taylor), laughing with the friends she leads past the door... but at the clunk of George's cue, Angela reappears at the door and peeks in with interest. Director George Stevens never cuts away or zooms in on Angela as she passes the door, letting the audience notice even as the eye is with George as he does his party trick (which no one is there to appreciate... yet.)

As the ball clunks into the pocket, Stevens finally cuts to Taylor, her mouth slightly open, her eyes strangely transfixed, and she lets out a single, breathless word: "Wow."

Startled, George looks up- and so does Angela, both looking as surprised and faintly intrigued as the other. George slowly removes the cigarette that's been dangling in his mouth. Smiling coyly, Angela greets him with a sly "Hello."; quickly, he gives a cursory "Hello." back in a deep, slightly formal voice. George, it seems, is still in party mode, which means distant formality for this outsider.

Stevens cuts back to the long shot on the level of the pool table as Angela enters the room proper, leaving the door ajar and slinkily walking away from George, hand trailing lacksadasically upon the table as she breezily starts to chat. Taylor captures Angela's coy seductive tone beautifully here, head freely looking both at and away from George; her voice is light and teasing. "I see you had a misspent youth."

Still slightly wary, George seems to warm up slightly with his reply- an uninspired "Yes, it was."- and Angela starts to amp up the seductiveness, eyes innocently looking downward for a second as she asks, "Why all alone? Being exclusive?"

She gives him a coy look, her head bent as she lazily picks a nibble from the dish, and continues with her teasing. "Being dramatic?"

And, slowly coming to a rest before him, she finishes her list of suggestions for his loneliness with "Being blue?" Delivered by Taylor with a warm yet sultry smile, another slightly coy inflex of the head and a voice that needles both concern and suggestion, this words seem to disarm George for a second. "I'm just fooling around," he finally says, and then throws a little jibe of his own back: "Maybe you'd like to play."

But Angela's having none of it. Taylor leans against the wall with yet more breezy suggestion, nibbling self-consciously on her treat and looking over at him with a cool feeling of power. She's the one who'll do the disarming, thank you. "Oh, no. I'll just watch you. Go ahead."

Trying not to be put off, George puts the cigarette back in his mouth and bends down to play... but he just can't concentrate, Clift's eyes flicking back, his back stiffening. Angela watches with a trace of amusement but more still with continued suggestion in mind- she's all too knowledgeable about the power she has over him. "Do I make you nervous?"

George gives up the charade, standing, turning and looking up at her with embarassment, admitting with a shy laugh, "Yes." But still, Angela plays it cool and slow, on her own terms. "You look like an Eastman. Are you one of them?" she asks, keen interest in Taylor's tone as she has Angela interlace her fingers and place them innocently before her stomach.

"Uh-huh," replies George, seeming to warm up in his tone now he's stopped trying to battle her, "a nephew. My name's George."

"I'm Angela," she replies, walking forward and giving another of her coy looks to the table, picking at the cue chalk. "Vickers," George finishes for her, gaining a surprised whip round of the head from Angela. "I saw you here last spring." Here, while Clift is positioned at right angles with the camera, facing Angela, Taylor's body is facing the camera, her head turned so she can talk to George. Keen with honest interest, Angela comments, "Oh, I don't remember seeing you before." Taylor's body turns just slightly, a little more angled towards Clift as Angela is drawn into conversation.

George laughs and says softly, "No, you wouldn't," briefly echoing her coy looks with a shy look down. "You've been away, haven't you? Took a trip with your parents."

This seemingly intimate knowledge gets Angela to turn slightly again as she asks, "How did you know?"

"I read about you in the papers," replies George, and Clift's eyes seem to shine with adoration, roaming across Taylor's face as he speaks. Smiling slightly, Taylor shifts more noticeably now, perhaps projecting a conscious decision on Angela's part as she moves to face Clift directly, and Angela moves back to the suggestive: "What else do you do?"

Stevens now cuts away to a mid-shot of Clift, who smiles with slight bemusement and continued adoration as George rather uselessly replies, "The usual things."

And here, perhaps, is this scene's crowning glory: in a marked difference from the mid-shot of Clift, still in context of the slightly blurred door and wall, Stevens shoots Taylor's shot closer, in dreamy, beautiful soft focus, and she doesn't seem to be existing in any known world at all. This both reinforces the idea of this as George's story (Angela seen through his gaze), but also the foregrounding of Angela's beauty as what makes George fall in love with her, and with Taylor's existence as a glamorous movie star. In the same movie, we have Clift, the method actor, the realist, and Taylor, the beautiful, idealized movie star. Bizarrely enough, they do not retract from each other, but compliment.
"You look unusual," Angela compliments softly, a statement which Taylor prefaces with the most enticing pause as she cocks her head slightly. The words come from her mouth like honey, seductive yet honest.

And this disarms George so much that he can't even look at her for embarassment, laughing and looking down at the floor again. "That's the first time anybody ever said that."

"You keep pretty much to yourself, don't you?" Angela asks, still in dreamy focus, voice still a seductive whisper. "Yes, sometimes," replies George, with a touching acknowledgment in Clift's voice, as though George is just realizing Angela's statement is true. Stevens has cut back from his singular shots to the familiar mid-shot of the two facing each other. Already, we sense their time together is about to be cut short.

"Blue?" asks Angela, repeating her earlier words. With a coyness that seems more honest this time, she looks down at her hands and says "Exclusive?". Without really expressing anything verbally, Taylor quickly conveys that Angela has moved from surface interest to a deeper intrigue, now truly interested in how George feels, and why he was alone at the pool table.

"Well, neither right now-" George starts to say, leaning in slightly and smiling, but, in classic fashion, someone has to cut short the budding romance. "Oh, here you are, George!" interrupts his uncle genially, and the pair look round.

1 comment:

Blogger said...

VaporFi is the highest quality electronic cigarettes supplier.