The drive that makes a cult classic
Directors often use scenes inside cars to create thrilling atmospheres. Kaleem Aftab looks at some of the best backseat movie moments
Saturday 11 August 2012
The extraordinary Holy Motors from maverick French director Leos Carax stars Denis Lavant as the mysterious Monsieur Oscar, who in the course of a single day is driven around Paris in a limousine by his chauffeur Celine, fulfilling appointments dressed in a variety of different guises, including an old beggar woman, an assassin, a father and a violent monster who kidnaps supermodels. The one constant is that between each appointment he uses the elongated backseat as a makeshift changing room.
Earlier this year, we saw Robert Pattinson similarly ride around New York in a limo in David Cronenberg's Cosmopolis. Juliette Binoche grabs a lift in one particularly memorable scene. Scenes in cars, as opposed to the usually elongated car chases, have made up some of the most memorable moments of movie history.
Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami is a master of the art: his film Ten was made up entirely of characters chatting in cars, and it's a theme he carries on with his new film, the Tokyo-set drama Like Someone in Love.
Kiarostami says that conversations in cars are great because, "I think that it's a very private and intimate place for dialogue… and you can just keep quiet also."
The following list gives credence to Kiarostami's words.
Pulp Fiction (1994)
There are two great car scenes in Quentin Tarantino's pulp noir. One demonstrates Tarantino's excellence at writing quotable dialogue out of seemingly mundane conversations. Vincent Vega (John Travolta) explains to Jules (Samuel L. Jackson) the differences between Europe and the US, buying beers at the cinema in Amsterdam and why a quarter-pounder is called a Royale with Cheese in France. The second and best car scene shows Tarantino's skill at making graphic violence funny. Vega and Jules are driving their friend Marvin to a rendezvous when, out of the blue, Vega accidentally shoots Marvin in the face and then tries to excuse himself by accusing Jules of driving over a speed bump.
Cosmopolis director David Cronenberg has some previous when it comes to car scenes. In adapting J.G Ballard's novel he filmed some of the most controversial sex scenes committed to celluloid, and unsurprisingly in a tale about people getting turned on by car crashes there are several noteworthy car-sex scenes. But it's the sequence in which James Spader explores the wounds of Rosanna Arquette that are the most eerie and memorable.
Thelma and Louise (1991)
One of the all-time great road movies ends with a conversation between Thelma and Louise (above) where they decide to drive into the Grand Canyon in a scene that should be depressing but is surprisingly upbeat. Refusing to get caught, they hold hands while driving to near-certain death.
Night on Earth (1991)
Taxis are as popular as limousines in movies and this Jim Jarmusch film takes place in five different taxis around the globe. It's mostly disappointing apart from one very funny sequence that sees Roberto Benigni play a taxi driver who picks up a priest in Rome and wants to confess his sins.
While car chases have been banned from the list, this one is different in that Nicolas Winding Refn shoots the getaway sequence from the inside of the car. For the most part it's an example of brain power over horsepower as Ryan Gosling uses a local sports game to get lost in the crowds and escape the pursuing police.
Towards the end of David Fincher's serial killer movie, detectives are driving John Doe to what he claims is the location of his final victim and on route they all get into a heated discussion about the nature of good and evil. One of Kevin Spacey's best-ever scenes.
Blues Brothers (1980)
Surprisingly, the best car moment of this film doesn't involve the brothers on a "mission from God" but their Nazi enemies. A city chase sequence ends with the Nazis literally reaching the end of the road and, as they fly in slo-mo at an impossible height over the city skyline, one turns to the other and says, "I've always loved you."
Wayne's World (1992)
Mike Myers started a whole host of copycat singing in the car sequences after this moment where he and his best friends drive through town singing and headbanging to Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody.
Taxi Driver (1976)
Robert De Niro takes a job as a taxi driver and, as he picks up passengers, gives a depiction of New York at it's crime-ridden, inner-city nadir at the end of the 1970s. But the best moment is from the director himself. Martin Scorsese has a cameo as a husband spying on his cheating wife from the cab.
La Dolce Vita (1960)
Marcello Mastroianni seems to spend the whole movie in his 1958 Triumph convertible driving a bevvy of beauties through the streets of Rome. The big moment is when Marcello Rubini finally tells his depressed girlfriend Emma that she is suffocating him, and after an argument and some protestation she jumps out of the side of the car. The next scene sees him picking her up at dawn, which says more about their relationship than an hour's worth of dialogue ever could.
Every Which Way But Loose (1978)
Clint Eastwood's plays a truck driver whose sidekick is an orangutan named Clyde. The animal is also his confidant, and one particularly funny conversation sees Eastwood try to bounce his thoughts off Clyde, with the orangutan's facial expressions providing the perfect responses.
'Holy Motors' is out on 28 September
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