The Awful Truth
It's a familiar parlor game to ask one another to name our favorite movies. For those who take movies seriously, the answer can mean anything from deepened friendships to feelings of betrayal. Yet specific scenes often mean even more than specific titles: Cherished movie scenes divulge more personal truths than entire films, which, with their narrative plenty, can easily obscure an embarrassment of personal fetishes, obsessions and fears. Knowing this, and for reasons that are perhaps more voyeuristic than intellectual or political, we asked a handful of women to describe a scene in a movie that they felt provided the best insight into the relationship between the sexes. As expected, the answers were far-ranging. They were also, by turns, funny, caustic, cynical and generous. It would be presumptuous to think that these scenes reveal everything about these women, save that each looks at movies with her eyes wide open, and quite a few of them had sex on the brain.
The very first scene in Jean Renoir's Rules of the Game when the flier lands after his daring and dangerous flight and notices that the married woman he loves isn't there. Suddenly all his accomplishments seem like nothing. He has no interest in the reporters and the huge adoring crowd; it all seems like ashes. I first saw the film when I was 20 and I didn't get it. I thought, What's wrong with these people, why don't they just do what they want and say what they want? I've seen it again probably about every five years, and each time it makes more sense to me. I have to say that my second choice is the scene from Vertigo in which Jimmy Stewart realizes that he can turn Judy into Madeleine. That was a revelation. I thought, Oh my God, there's this incredibly fetishistic imprinting that goes on and people really do have their type and the actual person behind the type doesn't matter. There's some physical thing that goes on and men are looking for something in women that has nothing to do with who the women are. I saw that at about the same time as Rules of the Game, and let me tell you, I got that one right away.
, pundit and author of Release 2.1: A Design for Living in the Digital Age (Broadway).
My all-time favorite is when Jack Nicholson finally kisses Faye Dunaway in Chinatown, because it's funny as well as incredibly passionate. He's got that Band-Aid on his nose and we've been waiting for this to happen for a long, long time. They don't hop to the kiss the first time they see each other, it comes quite late, it makes it much more interesting, there's a lot more tension. It took a long way to get there and it's clear it's not going to be easy, either. The kiss doesn't resolve anything at all. I love that whole movie, it's so rich and so evil.
NELL IRVIN PAINTER
, historian; author of Sojourner Truth: A Life, A Symbol (Norton).
I have so much trouble going to movies because I spend so much of my life surrounded by white people and being "on" that it's not entertaining to go to the movies and see a lot of white people unless it's a really good film. For a movie to touch me it either has to have intimacy or black people in it. There are several moving scenes in Passion Fish. The male lead, Vondie Curtis-Hall--he's the handsomest man in the world. Whoa. Certainly he's the sexiest male in the world. I like the scenes with the white guy and his children because some of the happiest moments I've seen with my husband are those with his children. Those were nice scenes, but every scene with Alfre Woodard and Vondie Curtis-Hall--just lovely.
, filmmaker. Her first feature, Girlfight, shared the top award for best dramatic feature at this year's Sundance Film Festival; it opens later this summer.
There's a sexual frankness and open chemistry in the second getting-to-know-you scene between Piper Laurie and Paul Newman at the bus station in The Hustler. What's beautiful is that it's clear that she's quite intelligent, might even have a handle on him being less intelligent. You also get the sense right away just from the way that she drinks, and what happens to her rapidly as she drinks a lot, that she's really messed up. It's very powerful to see Paul Newman struck by her instead of the floozies he later meets. There's something very real about him attempting to coexist with this woman and accept her tenderness and offer his own.
One of the truest relationships is between Margo Channing and her boyfriend in All About Eve. They are totally in love but you don't necessarily know that in the beginning. You're not given assurances, until that moment that I love--being a kind of fiery woman in a relationship myself--when he's got Margo on the bed after she's come into the audition. Eve has performed brilliantly and your heart is sinking and Margo is pretending like she doesn't know and is smoking her cigarettes and he grabs her and throws her on the bed and he's shaking her and saying, "I love you! Don't you get it? I'm in love with you." He's telling her, to her face, who she is. It doesn't matter how heinously she behaves, he is in love with her. Her. It can't be Eve, it can't be the next person just like Margo or better or younger, it's her. So often there's a sort of mathematical way that Hollywood does things. You can always tell who's going to get together and who's not. This is a movie about a woman who is behaving monstrously and a man who is being an ignoramus, but they love each other and nothing in the plot can damage that. You don't have to be a good girl to be loved, you don't have to behave the way Hollywood formulas want you to behave. I find that inspiring.