I’m trying to keep myself accountable this year to catching up to classics that I’ve embarrassingly never seen – The Apartment (swoon), Paths of Glory, The Conversation, more to come that have foolishly slipped through the cracks.
For this week’s Hit Me With Your Best Shot, we’ve been given the option of To Kill A Mockingbird or Roman Holiday to celebrate the 100th birthday of star Gregory Peck. Mockingbird was a childhood staple, so naturally I chose the unseen option from master director William Wyler for a little two bird, one stone. His everyman charm is on full display in Holiday, but Audrey Hepburn’s Oscar-winning princess is the one at center stage. The camera is fascinated by her, capturing every secret and momentary curiosity that tracks across her expressive face – with Peck being the plainspoken foil with secrets of his own.
If Peck takes a backseat in audience focus, it’s because his half of the love story lacks a personal arc that fuels the film like Hepburn’s Princess Ann. He’s falling in love with her, but her falling in love with him is only a piece to the larger puzzle of her self-actualization. It’s easy to imagine cinematographers Franz Planer and Henri Alekan (Oscar-nominated for their work here) relying heavily on the machinations of the star’s face given the quality of the performance at hand. Granted part of a cinematographer’s job is capturing performance, and they certainly know when to hold back and let the performer tell the story. As Ann enjoys the anonymity of Rome and enacts the whims she’d been refused by her position, Hepburn is staged more confidently in the frame while her body language becoming even more complex and nuanced.
However, the city begins to tell the love story.
I mean, who couldn’t fall in love in Rome? But Princess Ann’s Rome of Roman Holiday isn’t just vast architecture and ancient pillars – though make no mistake, the film is pure location porn, grand and alive. Though as Ann journeys through the day, her stops become more intimate and narratively resonant. Her pitstops of gleeful abandon, wish fulfillment, and false pretenses are reflected in the history of the city, with Hepburn projecting everything Ann leaves unsaid.
At each new adventure, the lovers are drawn closer and closer together in the frame, and sharing it with increased frequency. Initially they are diminished by the scale of their grand surroundings, but as their intrigue in one another grows, the scale reverts. The wonder the audience feels for the city is slowly replaced by the burgeoning love affair – leading up to the deceptively simple Best Shot.
Perhaps out of context, this shot seems pedestrian, but there’s a simple power in drawing the lovers closer together over the course of a film (I audibly gasped at this shot, taken with the emotion). The close-up is over-used in current filmmaking to the point that we can forget its impact and value. Here it provides a moment as immediate and heart-catching as the lovers first kiss, a new level of intimacy achieved. The context of the city around them no longer significant, just the pure blinding truth of their attraction to one another.
Again to the point of capturing performance: Planer and Alekan capture Peck and Hepburn at their pure best here – Peck’s straightforward charm finally unfettered, and Hepburn telling a complete story in five seconds with just her eyelids and a few facial muscles. This is how you capture romance!
More of Hit Me With Your Best Shot!