The reinvention of a famous film sequence, or a film homage, is a extremely delicate art form, so nuanced that the allusion may become altogether lost by a modern audience. Although film homages may be completely unrecognizable at first, a light bulb may eventually go off, reminding observant cinephiles of a famous movie sequence from a classic motion picture. Or obsessive film buffs (like myself) will look up a film’s trivia page on IMDB, and learn about the connections made between contemporary films, and their classic counterparts, which have in turn inspired the current generation of film directors.
‘The Twist’ Dance Sequence: Federico Fellini’s 8 1/2 (1963) & Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction (1994)
Federico Fellini’s 1963 Italian-French drama-comedy, 8½ influenced a multitude of contemporary film directors, including Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen, and Quentin Tarantino. This avant-garde, black-and-white film won two Academy Awards, including one for Best Foreign Language Film, and is listed among the top 10 films on the British Film Institute’s Top 50 Greatest Films of All Time. The film centers around a famous Italian film director, Guido Anselmi (Marcello Mastroianni) and his oppressive struggle with director’s block. While Anselmi confronts both his marital problems and lack of creative inspiration, he escapes his marred reality by descending deeper into a world of dream-like memories and fantasies, which includes this famous fantasy sequence featuring Anselmi’s dancing “the twist” with a female partner.
Fellini’s stylistic, film-noir inspired dance sequence was memorably reinvented in Quentin Tarantino’s 1994 classic black comedy, Pulp Fiction. Tarantino’s prominent use of homages and pastiche has been a notable trademark of his postmodern cinematic style, and Pulp Fiction has been described as having “old-time noir passions” which allude to Fellini’s directing style. Quentin Tarantino’s modern touch transformed Fellini’s classic fantasy dance scene into one of the most memorable dance sequences of the 90’s, and arguably of all time between Vincent Vega (John Travolta) and Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman).
Love/Hate Fingers: Charles Laughton’s The Night of the Hunter (1955) & Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing (1989)
Charles Laughton’s 1955 American thriller, The Night of the Hunter centers around a corrupt yet charming murderer and self-appointed preacher, Reverend Harry Powell (Robert Mitchum), whose character was inspired by a real life serial killer from Clarksburg, West Virginia. As Powell travels across the country with symbolically tattooed fingers which represent good and evil, he deceptively captivates audience with his charismatic preachings and religious doctrines. The film’s expressionistic and unsettling style has cast a heavy influence on modern directors, such as David Lynch, Spike Lee, and the Coen brothers. In 1992, the United States Library of Congress decided to preserve The Night of the Hunter in its National Film Registry after being judged as “culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant.”
Spike Lee’s groundbreaking and controversial 1989 film, Do the Right Thing focuses on the mounting racial tensions which eventually deteriorate into violence in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, during one of the hottest days of the year. Similar to The Night of the Hunter, Spike Lee includes excerpts from Mitchum’s love/hate speech, with modern significance infused into his contemporary representation, which features Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” in the scene’s background. Also similar to Laughton’s film, Do the Right Thing was named “culturally significant” by the U.S. Library of Congress in 1999, and has since been preserved in the National Film Registry.
Uncomfortable Dinner Conversation: Robert Redford’s Ordinary People (1980) & Sam Mendes’ American Beauty (1999) & Bonus: Vince Gilligan’s Breaking Bad (2008-2013)
In Robert Redford’s 1980 American drama, Ordinary People, the integral theme of the fragmentation of an upper-middle class family hit a cord with audiences, and won two Academy Awards, including one for Best Picture. As the outwardly ordinary Jarretts’ deal with the tragic loss of their oldest son, their youngest son Conrad (Timothy Hutton) confronts his own psychological battles with post-traumatic stress disorder and survivor’s guilt. The disintegration of their familial lifestyle is brought to the surface during the dinner scene between the depressed Conrad, and his struggling parents Calvin (Donald Sutherland) and Beth (Mary Tyler Moore).
Similar stylistically to Ordinary People, Sam Mendes’ 1999 American Beauty also won the Academy Award for Best Picture, and has a resembling plot line which centers around a disintegrated family, who is struggling to find their own identities within an oppressive middle-class, suburban American society. Mirroring the tense dinner scene in Redford’s film, the Burnham’s experience their own familial unraveling as their combined frustrations come to a head during their dinner scenes. Sidenote: Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) and Calvin Jarrett (Donald Sutherland) are wearing the exact same outfit.
Bonus: Breaking Bad
Vince Gilligan’s masterful American drama, Breaking Bad also dealt with the crumbling family bond between the White family, as Walter White (Bryan Cranston) declines further into the underworld of criminal activity and crystal meth making. In the tense dinner scene between Walter, his wife Skylar, and Walt’s youthful meth-making assistant Jessie (Aaron Paul), Gilligan’s pays homage to both Ordinary People and American Beauty as a seemingly normative dinner conversation becomes stunted by severely broken bonds.
Night Club: Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (1971) & Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting (1996)
In Stanley Kubrick’s iconic 1971 dystopian crime film, A Clockwork Orange, the disturbing themes of juvenile delinquency, psychological instability, and the disintegrating societal state of a future Britain are explored through the demented eyes of the film’s anti-hero, Alex (Malcolm McDowell). The film produces an unnerving parallel between the classical music of Beethoven and the “ultra-violence” orchestrated by Alex and his small gang of thugs, or “droogs.” During a classic scene in A Clockwork Orange, Alex and his droogs congregate in the Korova Milk Bar, and attempt to make up a “rassoodocks what to do with the evening.”
Danny Boyle’s visionary 1996 British crime comedy-drama Trainspotting contains a similar tone to that of A Clockwork Orange, in which the film also deals with an emotionally dissatisfied young group of men who deal with their ruddy, drug-infested realities in the United Kingdom. Set in the late 80’s in the economically depressed region of Edinburgh, Trainspotting explores disturbing themes of drug addiction, urban squalor, and death. In the famous nightclubbing scene, Boyle makes an apt parallel between Kubrick’s film thorough the character placement, the zoom-in of the camera, and the font which surrounds the night club.