Close Encounters – Scenes That Left A Mark
Every single one of us loves the movies
It’s why I have dedicated 35 years of my life to the industry and why you are reading this article right now. It’s what binds and unites us as a community no matter where we come from or what our chosen path is from DP to Grip, PA to Producer, we are here on this site because we all love films and filmmaking.
They can leave you speechless…
Keep you on the edge of your seat…
Make you laugh out loud…
Bring tears to your eyes…
Transport you to another time…
Or another galaxy!
THAT is why I am writing this blog and have asked my team here at the HA to follow this up with their own blog pieces. Movies are what brought us here to LA and what brought us together.
Think…There was a moment that you went from “I’m a fan of film”, “I love this movie” or “I love that movie” to going “I want to work in this industry”, “I HAVE to work in film”, “That scene literally blew me away and showed me exactly where and what I want to be.” That’s what I am asking you to do now; Think…
What scene was it that gave you the consciousness when you finally saw your future in film clearly? What scene opened your eyes? What scene left a mark?
If you’re like me then you’ll have many movie moments where you went “WOW, THAT KICKED ASS!”, but even I can stop, breathe and say that the scene that put me on the course that has been my life and love for over 35 years was in 1977 in the movie Close Encounters Of The Third Kind.
For a young man, 13 years old and a fan of sci-fi this was absolutely incredible. Think about the era, Star Wars had come out in the same year; Darth Vader, Lightsabers, neon lasers flying all over the place in a galaxy far far away (nothing like ours’) and then… wow, Spielberg comes out with this masterpiece that’s set on earth and therefore even though it’s a movie, you feel like it’s not inconceivable!
The scene occurs when a little kid called Barry is kidnapped by the aliens – it’s terrifying, it’s shocking and it’s absolutely mind-blowing. All kinds of stuff is going on outside, there’s this eerie noise and then we focus on the door (in particular the door knob). At this point an orange glow stars to peek through the keyhole. There’s smoke rising inside to really highlight the rays coming through and then it moves from pointing upward to pointing down, through this keyhole – like something is looking through at who is inside. And then, whilst Barry’s mom is trying her best with a lock in the other room, her little boy opens the door and, that’s the moment – that is the most seminal moment of my life when I went “I HAVE TO MAKE MOVIES!” and more importantly for the career I’ve ended up in, I was also like “THAT LIGHT IS ASTOUNDING!” You also get struck by how tiny the kid is when he opens that door and his this little outline in a huge doorway bathed in red-orange light – like POW, I felt like I was having a close encounter myself!
That contrast of light and darkness blew me away. So much was powering out of the screen, it was mesmerizing! And the thing to remember all the way through this scene is that we only see light! The light is the enemy that is coming to take her child away. Surely that should be something pathetic and laughable, right? “What are you afraid of? Light?”
But it isn’t. This scene shows that, the contrast in the different colored lights and the harsh brightness of it just appearing from everywhere when they least expect it. She manages to stop it coming through the chimney and then the curtain flies up and she’s blinded by the light (like Manfred Mann’s Earth Band).
Everyone remembers this scene for the next moment – the screws in the vent opening themselves gradually and unstoppably. The close up on the mother’s face, (with a soft light on her patterned by the net curtains) reveals how absolutely powerless she is to do anything!
In case that isn’t eerie enough, the whole second half of the scene is accompanied by “Chances Are” by Johnny Mathis in the background which has begun playing – what kind of evil is this? They not only come for your child and bust through a vent, but they play those dulcet tones of Johnny too!
Now, you’ll probably know that I love to read the script and see what was planned out for this scene when it was originally written. So take a look below at the Close Encounters script – Spielberg and DP Vilmos Zsigmond smash it out of the park.
Bit of movie trivia for you here: The kid who plays Barry had never acted before, so Spielberg set up ways to coax a performance out of him. In this scene, to get a shot of Guffey reacting to the aliens first approaching the house, he was just off camera slowly unwrapping a present for the young actor to keep him focused and also making him smile in one of the shots.
Here’s the behind the scene picture of this scene – now you know the story, it’s pretty cool huh?
Here’s the scene itself for all of you to marvel in the same way I did. Imagine a 13 year old Shane sitting with his jaw on the floor when that door opens saying something reminiscent of “Yeah baby!”
Another reason why I love this scene to this day is because the cinematographer, Vilmos Zsigmond, became a good friend. My first encounter with his work was this movie and I have been a fan ever since. Unfortunately, as of 2016, he is no longer with us, but he would swing by the HV office regularly.
Vilmos Zsigmond visits Hurlbut Visuals – a highlight of my life.
I remember reading a quote from the great man about lighting Close Encounters where he said “To light the mammoth set, we had to bring in all the lights in Hollywood.” Now you can respect that punch of light a little more, right? Rumour has it that during shooting, Vilmos ran afoul of the film’s producer, Julia Phillips, who blamed his stylized lighting setups for the $30 million film’s cost overruns. Put it this way, I for one am glad he created those setups because it’s made me who I am today. That is why it is THE scene that left a mark. What scene made it’s mark on you?