Opening shots

Jim Emerson is compiling a list of the most famous opening shots in movies. You can read some reader and Emerson nominations on his blog. If you're a movie buff, you can try your hand at Emerson's opening shot quizzes one and two (the answers are here and here, respectively). The second quiz is much much easier than the first and is a good test of your classic movie familiarity quotient.

I look forward to the companion piece, Parting Shots. Famous pening and closing shots are like opening and closing lines in books. Good ones condense the essence of the entire work into very little.

Last year I saw Antonioni's The Passenger at the New York Film Festival, just prior to its re-release on DVD. It contains what would be one of the top 5 spots on my list of best parting shots. In one, long, unbroken shot of some seven minutes, Antonioni reprises the entire movie. The shot is mysterious from a literal perspective: what happens, and how did they shoot it?

But it is also symbolically elegant. As the camera escapes through the "prison" bars of the room, we revisit reporter David Locke's (Jack Nicholson) escape into another man's identity, that of a dead gun-runner. But as the camera glides towards freedom, it is pulled back around and re-enters the hotel, bringing us back into the room. Some things you just can't escape, and one can read that final shot in numerous ways. It is pregnant with meaning.

The new DVD release contains a 126 minute version of the film, longer than the 118 minute version on an earlier MGM cut. Antonioni has described an even longer cut of two hours and a half that he prefers, but that may never see the light of day.