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The Camera Moves #2

Two jaw-dropping scenes from director Vincente Minnelli: the ball in Madam Bovary and the drunken car ride in Two Weeks in Another Town.
"Madame Bovary (1949) offers what is arguably the greatest of all of Minnelli’s parties, the musical and melodramatic set piece (over eight minutes long) of the ball at Vaubyessard.  The entire sequence is built upon a set of escalating visual and musical motifs: the play with fabric (with Emma’s ornate gown at the center of this), the contrasting rhythms and movements of the social dances (culminating with the eroticism of the waltz) and, most important, glass — the chandeliers, the glasses of alcohol, the mirror, and the windows.  In a moment of supreme delirium, these windows are eventually shattered by chair-wielding butlers in response to Emma’s anxiety about fainting due to the heat while she is waltzing.  In the midst of all this, Minnelli also establishes a contrast between the world of the visible (Emma as the center of attention, being looked at and admired by all, including herself as she stares lovingly at her own image in the mirror), and a world of the invisible (her husband Charles, not only ignored but barely even seen by anyone)."
...and at 5'24" comes the justly famous twirling-dance, twirling-camera movement, the delirious impressionistic camera-climax to the scene, leading to the window-breaking McElhaney notes above in his fabulous piece on Minnelli.
"...At other times, the camera will sometimes begin to move and then hesitate, as though changing its mind, before it then moves in another direction. The ultimate example of this is probably in Two Weeks in Another Town, where the car carrying a drunken and hysterical Jack Andrus (Kirk Douglas), with his ex-wife Carlotta (Cyd Charisse), screaming her head off at his side, begins to spin out of control. The car executes a 180-degree turn as the camera moves 90 degrees in the opposite direction.  The car still spinning, the camera briefly stops and then resumes movement by retracing its steps and doing a full 180 around the spinning car until both car and camera come to a full stop.  Conversely, the camera itself may move in a single direction while movement within the frame establishes a counterpoint."  —Joe McElhaney, Vincente Minnelli at BAMcinématek (Sep 23-Nov 2), Alt Screen
Madame Bovary plays at The Complete Vincente Minnelli retrospective at the BAMcinématek in New York on October 7, 2011.
Oh, man, when I first saw that scene, and in particular the moment you describe at 5’24" I was completely enthralled and forgave the movie it’s code demanded liberties with the plot of Madame Bovary. I dearly wish I could see some of the Minnelli retrospective since I am a big fan of his work, but it seems you New Yorkers get all the luck! Thanks for the piece anyway, and I hope you’ll do a little more on Minnelli for the retrospective.

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