(This is a reposting of one of the essays from the old version of the site. I believed in it then, and I still do. If you’ve seen the movie in question, you know what I’m talking about and if you haven’t…get to it! You can watch it streaming on Netflix.)
I’m going to tell you about the greatest moment in film. Ever.
I’m not kidding. I’m actually writing about what can only be considered as perhaps the singular greatest visual piece of flat out art ever put to film. It wasn’t scripted and I’m pretty sure it was an accident, but it is sheer genius.
It is an Italian film of some minor note, directed by the late Lucio Fulci. It has gone through several title changes; “The City of the Living Dead,” and “The Gates of Hell” being two of them that you may have the most luck should you chose to seek this film out (and you god damn should.)
It is a zombie film. That’s first in my set up here. You must be very aware of that before watching this. The big clue will be when several people die and come back as odd kinky looking zombies. The special effects tread between brilliant and 5th grade-sometimes in the very same scene.
I will not divulge any of the details of the plot other than a suicidal priest has caused the dead to rise up and seriously fuck shit up somewhere in upstate New York. A psychic faints and apparently dies when the aforementioned priest hangs himself, causing the Fracas of the Dead. (Don’t steal that-it’s mine!) Being New York City in the 70’s, of course they pop her in a coffin without even embalming her. Before she can be buried, the clock strikes 5PM and of course, the two union gravediggers leave their shovels and stop lowering the coffin. Because it’s time to go home and fuck overtime.
A reporter hears the girl wake up, screaming inside of the casket. He does what any chain smoking reporter would do and tries to break the coffin open with a pickaxe. Repeatedly. Right up by the girls screaming face.
That is not the scene.
No, as awesome as that scene is, it’s got nothing on THE scene.
About three quarters into the movie, another girl (read; future victim) is painting quietly in her studio. It’s a nice looking studio with a bay window to the ocean. It’s a really nice looking studio and the girl, vaguely pretty, is concentrating on her next masterpiece. The phone rings and she answers it. The dialogue is unimportant as the camera swivels and exposes her “work.”
The “painting” is a pretty ocean beach scene, which of course makes sense as she can look out of the window and hey, there’s a beach! Let’s ignore the fact that it’s night during the scene, and think “Well, maybe she’s been working on it since the afternoon.”
Hovering over the beach however is something that made me stop the movie for about five minutes. It’s a head. No body, just a head. The head of a fucking rhinoceros. Seriously. It looks like one of those things you had to draw to get into that correspondence school in the back of your TV guide in the mid 70’s. You know, either a pirate, a happy frog or a fucking rhino head?
At this point, I’m totally distracted for the rest of the scene and subsequently, the entire rest of the film. Who the fuck has that running around their head, begging the artist to bring it to canvas? Where does this come from? Even better, as the scene progresses and the camera changes angle, you see for a fleeting moment, that right in front of the window facing the ocean, there is a rather large model of a fucking rhino head on a stand.
It’s brilliant. It’s a goddamn movie in a movie as far as I’m concerned. It’s as if the art department and the set designer had an argument and this was the compromise.
“But, what am I supposed to do with this rhino head?”
“It’s not going on my fucking set!”
“Well, she has to be painting something for Christ’s sake!”
I no longer cared about anything else that happened in the movie, even when the girl painting dies in a really stupid way a few minutes later. Who is going to finish this amazing rhino head floating on the beach? What’s the painting called? “Floating Rhino Head Over Beach” is too obvious. These are Italian filmmakers for crying out loud! It’s probably something like “Bella Cosa Rinoceronte Amore Galleggiante,” or, beautiful rhinocerous floating love thing. At least, that’s what I would call it.
I wish every movie had a scene like this. It made up for the amount of sucking that the rest of the movie had shot all over it.
It’s sheer genius.
And boom, the greatest moment in film.