Tuesday, March 1, 2005

Sideways closeup

A wonderful comment from the blog "2 Blowhards" on the porch scene between Paul Giamatti (there's only one m) and Virginia Madsen in Sideways. The other people mentioned are actress Sandra Oh and director and co-writer Alexander Payne:

I was grateful to be reminded by the film of how powerful movie closeups can be. . . .

The film's most beautiful closeup is of Madsen. She and Giammatti are on Oh's porch, getting used to each other’s company. Payne gives Madsen a short monologue about what wine has meant to her, and he discreetly moves the camera in as she speaks with feeling and reverence. Everything is quiet. It's evening in wine country. Your senses are awakened; the fragrances in the air are gentle, the night's sounds are distant, the evening's food, wine and conviviality are having their effect. And a luscious, generous woman is--with warmth, fervor, and grace--opening herself up. I don't know how the audiences you saw the movie with reacted to this brief passage, but some of the people around me were sniffling. Wait a minute, I was sniffling.

I think we weren't moved because the scene was sad, except in its awareness that life itself is finally sad. (Payne is of Greek descent, and he seems to me to have a Mediterranean's deep and inborn acceptance of life's tragic side.) I think that people were moved instead by the moment's combo of beauty and gentle appreciation. Without utilizing any advanced-technology whoopdedo, Payne and Madsen were working magic. Something transfiguring was happening; radiance was pouring through the screen. (The Wife whispered to me after the scene was over, "That's my kind of special effect.") When Giammatti bolts--he can't handle what's being unwrapped and offered to him--we know for damn sure how deep his sad-sackness and depression go. We're left alone for a second on the porch with Madsen, feeling the moment fade away.
You can read the whole piece by clicking here.

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