Citizen Kane and a Saint

16 Feb

My film must have a potent and expressive opening shot.  This was made very clear to me by my friend, Thomas Ethan Harris, a film consultant and instructor.  At his most recent film seminar, “Creating a More Visually Comprehensive Cinema,” Thomas  stressed the importance of a film’s opening shot.

To illustrate his point, Thomas showed the opening shot of Citizen Kane (1941), directed by Orson Welles.  It instantly evokes the danger, mystery, and resistance embodied by the main character and the film itself.

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The opening shot of the film Citizen Kane (1941), directed by Orson Welles.

Below are two of my favorite opening shots.  First, Sofia Coppola opens Lost in Translation (2003) with a static shot of a woman’s behind.  Be assured, this is much more than a sexually charged image; Ms. Coppola is an intelligent filmmaker, hence, careful not to objectify female characters.

The opening shot of film Lost in Translation (2003), directed by Sofia Coppola.

This shot is about guarded intimacy.  We see the woman’s backside in a dimply lit room.  Her undergarment is partially transparent, revealing much, but not all.  It suggests that we will get to know the characters privately, but not fully.

And perhaps, with this revealing image, Ms. Coppola establishes her own vulnerability as the writer and director of the film.

A second opening shot that I love is Saint Francis and his disciples treading down a muddy road under freezing rain in Roberto Rossellini’s, The Flowers of St. Francis (1950).

The opening shot of the film The Flowers of St. Francis (1950), directed by Roberto Rossellini.

Rather than interpret this shot, I thought a saying of Jesus would be apropos for this spiritual film: “For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”

Thanks to my friend Thomas, I will approach the opening shot of my film with intent.  In fact, I already have a pretty good idea what it will be! Here’s a link to Thomas Ethan Harris‘ superb seminars!

What are some of your favorite opening shots and why?  Please leave a comment and let me know…

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  22. Jason March 8, 2010 at 2:56 am #

    Beyond that, I believe that the opening shot of each individual scene is incredibly important. As is the closing shot of each scene, and larger than that, the closing shot of the film.

    The closing shot of the film is the last thing an audience is going to see before they walk out of the theatre, so it better be good!

    • Christopher March 8, 2010 at 9:27 am #

      Great point, Jason. I totally agree, like a front yard and a backyard, huh? Perhaps I’ll write up a “closing shot” post soon! Thanks for the insight!!!

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  24. Harv February 20, 2010 at 1:11 pm #

    Chris,
    you’ve captured the themes of some great films by their opening scenes. Very clever. The opening scene does put into the audience’s mind an attitude that they will carry through whole film. Good stuff.
    Brett

  25. Christopher February 16, 2010 at 7:11 pm #

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I really, really want to be intentional with the opening shot of my film….

  26. Susan February 16, 2010 at 3:55 pm #

    Wow. This post really caught my attention. It’s very true that opening shots of a movie can foreshadow many themes that will be developed in the story. I really liked your thoughts about the opening shot in Lost in Translation. I think some of the most memorable opening shots are those that are seductive and intimate…

  27. Graham February 16, 2010 at 10:50 am #

    Great examples. Another great opening shot is the one of Captain Jack Sparrow in the first Pirates of the Caribbean. It starts in close on him – the glorious pirate king with the wind at the top of the crows nest – but as the camera pulls back, it reveals the mast quickly sinking, deeper and deeper, moving forward, until Depp nonchalantly – not skipping a beat – steps off onto the dock. What a great character intro.

  28. Chuck Norton February 14, 2010 at 7:42 am #

    Great post. Interesting interpretation of ‘Lost in Translation’ – agreed.

    I love the opening of Being John Malcovich. There is the puppet scene where the puppet looks so much like the master Cusack, and quickly starts acting more like a person than a stereotypical childrens puppet. And then we find out Cusack is in his basement doing this whole scene just for himself – dreaming of being a famous puppet master. Stringed puppets are so weird, in my opinion, and unconventional as a desired profession for most viewers – that it quickly grabbed my attention and set the tone of the whole movie.

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