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.