Stealing a meme from Digital Poetics:
Select three different, arbitrary time codes (in this case the 10 minute, 40 minute, and 70 minute mark), freeze the frames, and use that as the guide to writing about the film. No compromise: the film must be stopped at these time codes. What if, instead of freely choosing what parts of the film to address, one let the film determine this? Constraint as a form of freedom.
I think this is an interesting idea. You step away from the highs and lows that the movie wants you to focus on (or away from), and use empirical and arbitrary tiny moments to judge the movie on. In Digital Poetic’s seminal effort here, though, they allow themselves much leeway to tie these arbitrary images to the overall qualities of the movie; using the randomly selected moments to illustrate the good (and bad) of the movie reviewed.
So here goes my attempt to use this technique to discuss one of my all-time favorite movies: Bruce Willis’ 1991 vanity vehicle, Hudson Hawk.
This scene is an odd one: it’s very dark, the location is ambiguously Northeast Urban, and we can barely see the main characters (7 o’clock from the bottom left corner of the sign). The bright sign in the corner adds to the “city never sleeps” atmosphere (although we’re in Jersey, not NYC), but its bright and contrasting colors shed a little insight into the use of brilliant color throughout this movie. This cinematic device no doubt becomes much easier a little later where the story moves away from grey, gritty Jersey to colorful Rome, where it remains for the rest of the film.
This scene occurs at the crux of a culture shock for Hawk (Willis), who has been in prison for upwards of ten years. The Five-Tone Bar, an establishment he co-owns with BFF Tommy (Danny Aiello), has transformed from a working-class watering hole to an upscale yuppie bistro (”Raindeer Goat Cheese Pizza!” exclaims Hawk upon reading the menu). This sets up Hawk’s character as stuck in a bit of a time warp, in this case between the Billy Joel 80s and the Nirvana 90s.
Another dark shot, taken while the characters are in the middle of watching a slideshow. This shot (adjusted here for visibility) comes immediately after some unexpected BDSM photos of the Mayflowers (and their butler) appear in a montage of photos showing Hawk and Tommy robbing the auction house a few days before. Right after this scene, Hawk is sent to St. Peter’s Basilica, to case the joint for another heist.
This shot does a good job of showcasing the general personalities of the three characters shown. Darwin Mayflower (Richard E. Grant) tries to appear cool and powerful, but fails. His wife and business partner, Minerva (Sandra Bernhard), is looking at him curiously, but ultimately aloof and unconcerned. Hawk, for his part, is rolling his eyes at their cartoonishness, as he does throughout the movie.
Also, like the previous shot, some of the movie’s brilliant coloring can be inferred: Minerva’s red dress stands out next to Hawk and Darwin’s greyish austerity. In lighter shots, a more colorful, corporate neo-classical set can be seen.
With a touch of classic comedic style, Tommy and Hawk are both rambling at the same time at Vatican secret agent Anna Baragli (Andie MacDowell), after pulling one over on the Mayflowers and the CIA by pretending to get into a fight. The glaring splash of red on Tommy’s shirt — again, standing out among the grey of both his suit and European stone, and, as in the 10 minute shot, contrasted with green in Hawk’s shirt — is a ketchup stain meant to look like a gunshot wound.
This scene shortly becomes one of the movie’s shameless money shots of Rome. After Hawk calms down from his rant, he looks out over the fence at some crumbling Roman-era remains, and asks, “Why do they leave all these rocks out in the yard?”, a sort of homage to dryly comedic “road films” of the 50s and 60s.
What do all of these shots illustrate? For one, the movie’s use of brighter-than-life color, adding a cartoonishness to every scene. For another, the movie’s repeated attempts to merge a classic slapstick comedy sensibility with a little bit of big-bang action. Upon release, this movie suffered at the box office from the inability of audiences to accept the combination of the two, wanting it to be either a comedy or an action film, and the bright cartoonish color perhaps left them hoping for more obvious and easily-digested humor, instead of surreal absurdity sprinkled with subtle in-jokes and long-forgotten classic comedy.