Favourite opening scenes

1      la dolce vita

The opening scene is my favourite scene in the movie it stands as a precis of the films main themes. and tells you in a few shots with no meaningful dialogue, everything you need to know about time and place.

It sums up Italy in the 60’s: A  large golden statue of Jesus is flown dangling from a helicopter, over the outskirts of Rome, taking in buildings blasted by second war bombs, with modern apartment buildings growing out of the rubble, and young women in bikinis sunbathing. Its the clash of a modern Italy recovering from the effects of the war, a Catholic country where the youth are embracing the future and The Good Life

2      Werckmeister Harmonies

This is also my favourite Bela Tarr film, and has many moments of aresting photography, but what i like most about the opening scene is its humanity:
A man in a bar organises a willing bunch of drunks into heavenly bodies to explain the eclipse.
It is such a beautiful scene of human co-operation and creativity and what forces it is up against.
For a moment though, the bar-room drunks become the heavenly bodies they represent.

3  Once upon a time in the West

Three cowboys waiting for the train – the future of the west, and the beginning of their demise.

The only sound is footsteps on wood, the clink of spurs, the squeak of the elderly wind vane, the click click click of the telegram wire, the drip of water.
The sounds add to the tension like nails on a blackboard, and we are waiting, waiting for the arrival of the train and whatever event it precipitates. You can almost feel the heat and the tension eminating from the screen.

Each of the three protagonists is characterised by their reactions to things around them – flies on the face, water dripping, cracking of knuckles, all photographed in extreme close-up, so that we know them without a word being said.
For a moment though, the bar-room drunks become the heavenly bodies they represent.

4      Melancholia

Like La Dolce Vita the opening scene here stands as a summation of the entire film. It is possible the most beautiful and striking 5 minutes of cinema released that year.

To the overture of Tristian & Isolde the opening sequence plays out the end of the world in super slo-mo, standing in as an allegory for depression – or not. However you interpret it it is beautiful and arresting.

5      Apocalypse Now

In this loud explosive start, we are thrown headlong into the mad, operatic, hallucinogenic world of the Americans in VietNam, where bombing and walls of fire are beautiful, and helicopter blades segue into ceiling fans, and everything we know is unknown.

Of course there are a load more brilliant opening scenes that I decided not to name in my top 5. On another day, any of the following might have been in the top 5:

PTA’s Magnolia  because of the raining frogs

Kubrick’s 2001 because of a tossed bone that turns into a spaceship

The imperial ship chasing the rebel over our heads in Star Wars

Moving through the grass to a modern jazz accompaniment in Onibaba – bluray may have been invented just for this – black and white films, and in particular grass!

The low-key crash at the beginning of Bleu

And there is a whole other list of great openings to films about film-making, that would include 8 1/2, day for night, mepris and a host of others.

In fact my top 10 openings would look something like this:

1 la dolce vita
2 werkmeister harmonies
3 apocolypse now
4 melancholia
5 8 1/2
6 2001 space odyssey
7 bleu
8 once upon a time in the west
9 trainspotting
10 oliver twist (david lean)
11 magnolia

what else?





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