Saturday, May 19, 2007


A movie theatre I used to frequent showed slides before the feature which included, among other things, humorous movie-term definitions. Some of my favorites were:
  • Tae-Ka-Numba-Kwon-Doh – the martial art in which 6 or more bad guys have the good guy surrounded, but they attack him one at a time so that he has a chance to defeat them.
  • Steer-Jerker – an actor who, when he is driving a car, jerks the steering wheel from side to side even when the scenery shows that he is going straight down the road.
  • Propstacles – objects, most often garbage cans and bread carts, that a movie character pushes in the path of someone who is chasing him.

There are other definitions, though I forget the words, for the amazing psychic power movie characters have, enabling them to turn on the TV or radio just when it is about to start talking about themselves; and the way people in movies always lean close to the “fish eye” spy hole in someone’s door.

The slides are funny because you realize these are meaningless, unrealistic things that you constantly see people doing in movies. I can think of a couple more off the top of my head. For example, why do people in movies always jerk their head back when they swallow a pill? I have never found that I needed to jerk my head when I swallowed a pill. I don’t think it would help. Also, why do movie characters always leave the front door hanging wide open when they walk into a house? Don’t they ever think about privacy, safety, fuel efficiency? They also often leave car doors hanging open when they get out of the vehicle. This just irritates me.

The one about the TV or radio also applies to recordings. When a movie character has to rewind a tape to watch or listen to something again, he always rewinds it to just the right spot; and if he plays the same bit over & over, he manages to rewind it to EXACTLY the same spot each time. They even have this power with LP records; for instance, in the scene in The Man Who Knew Too Much where the bad guys are plotting an assassination during a concert, and the sniper is supposed to fire at the same time as a cymbal crash, the conspirators play an excerpt from the piece over & over until the sniper is familiar with it. They manage to drop the needle at exactly the same point in the music every time.

“Propstacles” brings to mind another movie cliché. How many times, in how many different cities, at how many times of year, has a chase through the streets gotten tangled up in a Chinese New Year parade? In some types of movies, you almost count the minutes until a paper dragon comes snaking/dancing along. I think one movie with this “Chinatown” gimmick was set in Milwaukee. Does Milwaukee even have a Chinatown?

Here’s something you might notice, if you watch closely. For instance, look at almost any movie in which a child actor has scenes with an adult (such as To Kill a Mockingbird). When the shot includes both the child and the adult, and the adult is speaking, watch the child’s lips. You can often catch child actors moving their lips along with the lines the adult actors are saying. I noticed this in the scene in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets when Kenneth Branagh explains that he didn’t do all the things he had written about himself. Dan Radcliffe is almost lip-synching Branagh's lines!

Of course, some of my favorite movies and movie-makers were known for distorting reality. Hitchcock’s Notorious has a stairway scene in which the actors walk down about twice as many stairs as the stairway had in it. In The Birds he deliberately showed a truck driving down a dirt road without kicking up any dirt behind it, and, a few minutes later, driving the other way down the same road & leaving a huge cloud of dust in its wake. And later you see Tippi Hedren walking upstairs with a flashlight, in pitch darkness, and since the light is aimed away from her face you shouldn’t be able to see her face—but they had rigged a tiny light to shine back at her from the top of the flashlight, so you could see her face. But these distortions of reality weren’t mistakes or clichés; they were done on purpose so you would see what the director wanted you to see. I wonder if some of these other movie clichés are done on purpose for the same reason....

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