Warm Cinema

Essay by PaperNerd ContributorCollege, Undergraduate October 2001

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Warm Cinema As I fall deeper into the crevasses of major motion pictures and cinematography it becomes very difficult to find a movie to review well. As I type the words "major motion pictures" one of the greatest oldie movies I can think of is The Sting. This is a brilliant movie, which won the 1973 Oscar for Best Picture. It stars Robert Redford and Paul Newman as a couple of con men from 1930's Chicago who set up a trick to trap a criminal banker played by Robert Shaw.

The story takes place at the height of the great depression. Johnny Hooker (Redford) loses a close friend of his who was also a con man. Hooker is told, by his close friend (before he dies) that if he wants to make really good money he should go to see the biggest con man of them all, Henry Gondorff (Newman).

These two swindlers come up with a way to cheat the richest and most ruthless criminal banker on the Upper East Side (Shaw). While Gondorff recruits his fellow "friends" to pull off the trick, Hooker avoids run-ins with the law and works Shaw into the con. The movie ends in one of the most memorable and twisted double-crosses ever. The aspects that make this film so great are it's great ensemble acting, detailed scenery, and enlightening musical score.

In The Sting not only were the principal roles acted well, but the ensemble characters were great as well. One of the most prime examples is one of the con men named Kid Twist (played by Dawson Wilts). Despite his name, he is actually an elderly gentleman who knows all the in and outs to a "big-time" con. His most impressive attribute is his ability to change characters. In the movie he plays a dandy of a proper man, who walks with a confident stride. But there is a point in the story where he must pose as someone else in order to help fool the banker. The difference in character is very amusing because it is almost the exact opposite of the character Kid Twist. This time he is a very uptight telegraph operator whose personality is used to persuade the evil banker to go deeper into the trick.

Along with the rest of the ensemble Redford and Newman steal the show. Although I like them equally the same, I think the scene that makes the movie is the infamous train ride where Gondorff plays a game of poker with Lonnegan (Shaw) in order to set him for the con. Henry goes to the game as a "drunk" who has a lot of money to spend and waste. He knew before he went into the game that Lonnegan was a cheat at the game, but he cheats so well that no one ever suspects it. Gondorff keeps pronouncing Lonnegan's name wrong and says very rude things such as, "Well Mr. Lawben, it looks like I won again. It sure is mighty nice of you all to let me play with a bunch of rich ass-holes." And he follows the line with an obnoxious belch. Newman's characterization is flawless, not only in this scene but all others as well. Hooker is a brash, impatient character who is just learning the ropes of the trick. One of his best scenes is when Hooker first meets Henry Gondorff. Henry is passed out from a drinking binge the night before, and in an attempt to sober him up, Johnny sets Henry in a bathtub and gives him a cold shower. Hooker then says, "Someone told me I could learn a few things from you. Well, I already know how to drink." This line sets a perfect tone as to how the relationship between Henry and Johnny kicks off.

All of these scenes show great acting because the characters are portrayed perfectly. This is truly rare in film, and when it occurs, the end product is something special. When talking about the acting of the movie, it is reasonable to say that not a single thing was out of place. The timing, variation and action were all perfectly balanced.

Many of the scenes in the movie make me laugh. It is a general consensus that joy is derived from happiness and laughter. I honestly cannot get enough of watching the characters in this movie. It gives me a great feeling to think that people like this actually existed at some point in time. The realism of the acting, with the flamboyancy of everything that surrounds the characters is breathtaking.

When we watch movies today, one of the most neglected parts of the film is the overall scenery and attention to detail. What this movie really reminds me of is the vibrant colors on Broadway, or the flashiness of the musical Guys and Dolls. Which is ironic, because the timeframe is set during The Depression. But George Roy Hill (director) had a way of making this drab, colorless city seem full of life in every screen shot. All of the con men wear extravagant suits, and seem to be running everywhere they go. The costuming also shows the apparent wealth the life of a con man can bring. But the counterexample is shown at the beginning of the film when Redford is shown wearing a torn, and patch-full suit. Which goes to show that the wealth can be short lived, if lived at all.

The most amazing aspect is how well everything blends together. That alone is what makes the movie's scenery so fantastic. A specific example of this movie set is when Johnny Hooker is running away from the cops. He just bought a brand new suit and some sharp shoes when he runs into a detective who knows what is going down. Hooker sprints through the rain-washed streets and back alleyways at night, while his fresh shoes clack and click against the pavement, echoing throughout the empty streets. This experience brings me into the movie, and makes it so much more believable and fun to watch. As he runs, we get a close look at the litter filled sidewalks, run down cars that line the streets and the ugly monotone colors of the buildings. Even in one of the screen shots as Johnny runs up a set of steps, the viewer gets a great look at how shabby the wood is underneath the stairwell, and the lackluster paint job that give the stairs a sense of character.

All of the scenery is so well done, because the director took the time to not only construct it, but show it as well. Hill did not specifically direct the camera to a street with broken cars and empty boxes; he had Hooker run through them. This aspect created a serious amount of depth to each shot. The idea of scenery and action together is genius.

Every screen shot was so perfect, I felt like I was there. This concept takes a lot of work considering most people watch this movie at home on the couch. I felt as if I could smell the rain-washed streets, and I could feel the tension of the train rocking on the track. Absorbing these almost seemingly intangible qualities brings much more than joy or happiness. It brings me closer in contact with the warm blanket of perfection.

No matter what movie we watch, the musical score is the engine and pacesetter for the entire two hours. In The Sting the music is based off variations from the classic song The Entertainer, and other tunes from the ragtime composer Scott Joplin.

If you took extensive piano lessons there was a very good chance that you played this at some point in your life. The opening credits play this song with just the single piano. It is serenading, yet profoundly light hearted. It is beautiful in the sense that the mere title of the song seems to throw a sneer at the Great Depression. The attitude of the con men is fun loving at most times, just like the song, and when the men need to be laid back the song does that too. There are a few other arrangements that slow down with sorrow or speed up with pursuit. This is especially true when Hooker runs (which seems to be one of his stronger attributes in the movie) away from the detective yet again. An upbeat variation of a Dixie- Land band plays a song that would seem similar to that of a cartoon chase sequence. It is very rare in films in which music has a purpose for not only sorrow, but also humor.

The musical numbers are like the last pieces of a jig saw puzzle. It brings the whole movie into focus and clarity by adding more emotion. It is relevant to say that peoples actions in any given day can be attributed to the songs they heard on their way to work, or heard during their lunch break. Music picks people up or can just as easily shut them down. Getting those emotions and the range in between within a two-hour time span only brings the viewer in closer to a sense of reality.

I love the songs in the movie because they fit so well. And when they fit as well as these do, they can only enhance a movie to it's full potential. Combining the elements of sorrow, excitement and accomplishment into a single piano piece gives me just another excuse to watch the film again.

Joy and a warm smile. These are the two emotions that come over me when I watch this film, and also when I reminisce about it. As far as I could see there was very little if anything at all to say that was bad about this film. In the movie's overall categories I give it a 10 for story line, 10 for acting, 10 for the scenery and 10 for the musical score. A movie with a perfect 10 is very rare, but so are movies that bring out emotions like joy and happiness when you think about them.