Thursday, January 01, 2009

Happy New Year!

New Year's is my favorite holiday for the same reason that dissolves are my favorite formal device in movies. I don't know whether I prefer New Year's Eve, as a chance for reflecting back upon the year, or New Year's Day, launching forward into a whole new series of "firsts" and of hopefully emended habits. As in the dissolve, the outgoing and the incoming are held in momentary, overlapping suspension, and I love the sense of smooth continuity from the past to the future, notwithstanding the certain feeling that a change is in progress. I love how dissolves can endow movies with lightness, delicacy, and circumspection, and that you're never quite sure whether the dissolve is dramatically motivated (i.e., a cue for a flashback or a fantasy) or whether the filmmakers have chosen it primarily for texture, like chefs and musicians do when they add a flavor or a note for their own, accentuating sake.

I love when the superimposed images turn out to resonate with or even decode each other, if you're paying enough attention to the brief moment when they share the screen. I love how the dissolve can suggest symbolic associations without seeming to bonk you over the head, because the moment whisks by so fast. I love Tarkovsky, Ophuls, Sternberg, Dash, and Welles for their dissolves. I love when a director I associate more with rectilinear frames and strong cuts, like Stanley Kubrick or Todd Haynes, suddenly opts for the softness of the dissolve. I love that even when the world seems unduly wracked with nerves and threats and broken cease-fires, history can quietly dissolve from one year to another, right in the middle of the night, and you remember that time is not a series of studded events, but a pliant and sensuous flow.

Eyes Wide Shut, 0:03:24, © 1999 Warner Bros. Pictures



Blogger tim r said...

Love this post Nick, and I'm going to use it to make a resolution of my own: after a year (more?) spent dithering in the cyberwilderness, I intend to be back and properly blogging again in 2009. Good credit crunch activity and all.

Can we play favourite dissolves? I think mine may be that transitional one in The House of Mirth -- you know, the camera tracking along a small stream in the rain, crossing half the world, and popping up in the sunny Med. A gorgeous structural shift, and a moment to breathe and think.

What others? So many great ones in Citizen Kane. And terrific examples right through The Shining, normally designed to confuse us about what's inside and what's out -- carpets, maze, that model of the maze.

I guess for a movie that uses dissolves to create and then unravel its entire universe, we need look no further than Mulholland Drive -- there must be dozens, right?

7:25 PM, January 01, 2009  
Blogger Dr. S said...

I have a favorite dissolve about 38 minutes into The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, but I also have lots of favorites in the films I teach. And one of the things I love about them ties in with what you're saying here--when you can pause on one, capture it partway through, you can catch just how evanescent and tricksy film's effects are. I love that if you're seeing dissolves, you're at least starting to see the film itself, not just the story the film is telling.

12:24 AM, January 03, 2009  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@Tim: Let's do play favorite dissolves! Several of the ones you mentioned leapt to my mind, too, when I was writing this post; I do love a Lynchian dissolve. But my own concentration sort of dissolved after you mentioned that you'd be writing more. With a lead like that, it's hard to refocus on the ensuing thread.

@Dr. S: I love when you write about movies! I can hear your teaching voice. "You can see the film, not just the story the film is telling you." Lovely!

4:04 PM, January 03, 2009  

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