' ' Cinema Romantico: Forgotten Great Moments in Movie History

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Forgotten Great Moments in Movie History

The other night I was fortunate enough to catch Aziza Barnes’s “BLKS” at Steppenwolf Theatre, which was fantastic and which anyone in the Chicago area should really consider getting out and seeing (it runs until January 28th). One throwaway detail, however, that particularly caught my eye involved Namir Smallwood’s character Justin, who, for reasons too complicated to explain, is about to go to sleep on someone else’s sofa when, before tucking himself in, he sets his glasses – egads! – on the floor. My stomach dropped when I saw this, just as it dropped later when he draped the glasses over the sofa’s arm, as if he was hanging a towel over a flimsy towel rack. Oh, the humanity. This emotionally perturbed me not simply because I am glasses wearer but because I am a glasses wearer who becomes supremely paranoid regarding the condition of his glasses upon removal from his face. I need to know they are in a safe space when I turn in for the evening because if they are not I will not be able to sleep. I will have bad dreams about bad things happening to my glasses, and I will likely wake three, four, five, six, seven, eight times during the course of the night just to confirm that my glasses are where I put them and okay. I mean, I’m practically blind without my glasses, which means the stakes are high when it comes to seeing my glasses through the night, and so to see someone so casually consider his nighttime eyewear safety sent shivers down my spine.

That, as it would, because it’s me, took my mind to Joe Carnahan’s “The Grey”, the 2011 action-adventure film that most people know because it’s the one where Liam Neeson fights a wolf. Of course, his reasons for fighting the wolf, and how the film presents him fighting the wolf, if it even presents it at all (wink, wink), goes beyond what trailers suggest, but that’s neither here nor there. The point is, wolves are the foremost nemesis of “The Grey”, haunting a group of plane crash survivors as they try to reach safety in harsh, remote Alaska, and yet, as scary as those wolves are, something else, to me, was even scarier. I’ll explain.

One of the survivors is Talget (Dermot Mulroney), a friendly guy with a slightly more erudite air than his compatriots, an air evoked in his semi-coke bottle black frame glasses. And Mulroney doesn’t just let those glasses sit there on his face. No, he fidgets with them throughout, much like a glasses wearer might, because even if there are moments when glasses wearers are not at all conscious of their eyewear, there are just as many moments when we absolutely are, constantly adjusting our glasses because when glasses feel weird on your face then your whole face feels weird, your whole body feels weird, your whole mind feels weird. Take this shot, for instance, where you can see how his glasses have sort of slipped down to the edge of his nose, which, oh my God. When it’s hot, or when you’re really working and so your face gets sweaty and your glasses won’t stay up on your nose and they keep slipping down, there are few things more vexing, man. But do not get me started.

As scary as glasses are slipping down on your nose, however, that is not the scary moment I was referencing. The scariest moment occurs when the group happens upon a ravine, which leads them to construct a makeshift rope, of sorts, tie it to a mammoth tree on the other side after one of them improbably jumps across, and then ferry over the chasm one-by-one. Talget volunteers to go last, afraid of heights and worrying that if he freezes up he might doom Liam Neeson’s Ottway too, which might communicate Talget’s inevitable death but also communicates his kindness. And even here Mulroney commits to actorly business, playing a glasses wearer to the end by taking those black frames off his face and blowing on them to clear them up, because smudged glasses are a deathknell even when it isn’t literally life and death.

And as Talget finally gets out onto that line, Carnahan’s camera momentarily forgets about everyone else, lingering on just him, up close and tight, getting right in there.

And, perhaps against his better judgment, perhaps already resigned to his fate, he looks down.

And as he does, his glasses slip off his face.

He instinctively reaches out for them, of course, but they are already long gone.

And Carnahan then, and only then, cuts to a wide shot, evoking The Loneliness of The Glasses Wearer Without His Glasses.

And then Carnahan cuts back up close, implicitly capturing the look of a glasses wearer who, sans frames, not only doesn’t know what to do, knows full well he is already done for.

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