Watch: Reaction Shots In Movies: The Self, Exposed

Watch: Reaction Shots In Movies: The Self, Exposed

The human face is a funny thing. We like to think we are in complete control of our facial expressions most of the time, but in fact we are not. You might grimace at receiving news of a colleague’s success. You might smile inappropriately at hearing bad news about someone you know. Only the person you’re talking to, e.g., the "viewer," knows for sure what you seem to be thinking, if that makes sense. And yet, we place a great deal of emphasis on the importance of facial expressions in communications: if the lips say yes, are the eyes saying no? What does that furrowing of the eyebrows mean? And so on. Is it possible that the way humans communicate with each other in this age has been shaped by the movies? This video essay by Must See Films about reaction shots takes us past some of the most memorable movies ever made; we see Charlie Chaplin’s Tramp rejoicing at a declaration of love, Jack Nicholson’s Jack Torrance receiving the full brunt of the horror of his imagination in ‘The Shining,’ Mickey Rourke’s wrestler taking in the decay of his body in opposition to the world around him in ‘The Wrestler,’ and many others. The characters’ expressions don’t seem staged or unnatural in relation to the events taking place on screen–in fact they seem imitable, the kinds of expressions we might put on in certain circumstances. Or are they? How can we know? 

Watch: Exploring the Set-Ups in ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’

Watch: Exploring the Set-Ups in ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’

we search for the setups that contribute to the climax of ‘One Flew Over the
Cuckoo’s Nest
,’ we will find two that are very important to the emotional
payoff of the film’s conclusion. By studying these scenes, we can better
understand how these setups were cleverly concealed. In most cases, a setup
should not call attention to itself.  Even a close-up of an object will
convey to an audience that the object is significant and will be revisited
later in the film. The trick that is employed in ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s
Nestseems to be the consolidating of setup scenes with character building
scenes. ‘Cuckoo’s Nest’ is a character-driven story; how R.P. McMurphy
behaves dictates the direction of the plot. The sink scene—a scene that centers
entirely on the idea of a payoff that will ultimately come to pass—can still
manage to hide the setup by using the scene as a way to show that McMurphy
believes that he can triumph over the system when he can’t.

Tyler Knudsen, a San
Francisco Bay Area native, has been a student of film for most of his life.
Appearing several television commercials as a child, Tyler was inspired to
shift his focus from acting to directing after performing as a featured extra
in Vincent Ward’s
What Dreams May Come. He studied Film & Digital
Media with an emphasis on production at the University of California, Santa
Cruz and recently moved to New York City where he currently resides with his girlfriend.


For more of Tyler’s video essays, check out his channel at



The "Cruel Summer" series of articles examines influential movies from the summers of the 1980s. The previous entries in the series have covered THE BLUES BROTHERS (1980), STRIPES (1981), ROCKY III (1982), WARGAMES (1983), PURPLE RAIN (1984), PEE-WEE'S BIG ADVENTURE (1985), TOP GUN (1986), ROBOCOP (1987), and DIE HARD (1988).

Tim Burton’s Batman was a game-changer for summer blockbusters. It closed out a decade marked by light and sunny escapist entertainment by applying a more serious, atmospheric attitude, both dark and thrilling. It also ushered in a new level of hype that became an integral part of the movie-going experience. And it pointed the way for comic-book movies to become the dominant vehicle for summer entertainment.

Before Batman, Hollywood had created comic-book movies as silly, second-tier product. With the exception of the first Superman movie, comic-book movies lacked high production values and fidelity to their source material.

Things began to change when comic-book artists like Frank Miller and Alan Moore offered their takes on the superhero genre. Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns brought a new level of psychological depth and graphic sophistication to comics.

Meanwhile, Hollywood was searching for the new Steven Spielberg or George Lucas, another prodigy with a childlike sense of wonder to dazzle audiences. Enter Tim Burton, who scored two hits, Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure and Beetlejuice, before turning 30. The surprise success of these dark, anarchic films marked Burton as having the ability to be edgy and still appeal to mass audiences. The execs at Warner Brothers could sense that audiences’ tastes were changing and a risk-taker like Burton might be necessary for Batman.

Batman arrived at the end of a decade where greed ran rampant, recession was imminent and people sensed things were getting worse, not better. Burton’s vision of Batman matched his audience’s feelings of restlessness and unease.

Every aspect of the movie was infused with Burton’s desire to present the world of Batman as a reflection of modern dystopia. Anton Furst’s groundbreaking production design took elements of Metropolis, Blade Runner and Depression-era Art Deco Manhattan, heaping layers of urban squalor upon itself.

But if there’s one image that defines the bold new vision of Burton’s Batman, it’s the Batsuit. Designer Bob Ringwood totally rejected the gray and blue image from the camp TV series. Ringwood’s design is a suit that contains drama in itself, something powerful but unwieldy, something closer to Robocop than Adam West. The Batsuit is a vision of man made superior by advanced technology, but also encased and imprisoned by it. It’s a 21st-century suit of armor for a Dark Knight, and it is still the template for how we see Batman today.

At the same time, the new Batman’s rigidness made him a foil for the film’s true protagonist. The Joker, with his anarchic wit and irreverent gags, is the heir to Beetlejuice. the charismatic anti-hero and master of ceremonies of Burton’s funhouse. At the same time, he was the comic alibi that could make Burton’s seriousness acceptable, breathing life and energy into his arty aspirations.

The Joker may have overwhelmed Batman in this film, but looking at the superhero movies that followed, we see the real winner, in a legacy of dark, disturbed protagonists whose vulnerabilities reflect the anxieties of our era. At the same time, Batman’s demons yielded a new dimension of interior drama and fragility that feels real—something that modern-day superheroes with their unlimited CGI powers can’t compensate for.

With its groundbreaking character types and radical visuals, Batman provided a new template for blockbuster storytelling, one that could even overcome its greatest weakness: its script. The plot of Batman may dip into incoherence, revolving around the Joker’s wanting to become some kind of homicidal artist by poisoning the citizens of Gotham until they die with a smile on their face.

Then again, the plot holes didn’t seem to matter to audiences. What mattered was the vision, the mood, the experience of a live-action comic-book movie that treated its source material seriously. Burton’s Batman provided the signal for a new comic-book movie whose ambitions often surpassed its abilities to deliver. These films are often incoherent or overloaded, but at their best, they come through with unforgettable images and moments. The Joker’s master plan has come to fruition. For better or worse, we exit the theater with a smile on our face.

San Antonio-based film critic Aaron Aradillas is a contributor to The House Next Door, a contributor to Moving Image Source, and the host ofBack at Midnight,” an Internet radio program about film and television.



[EDITOR'S NOTE: In a yearly feature titled "Oscars Revisited," Press Play takes a look back at the Academy Awards race from earlier eras. Our inaugural series focuses on the five Best Picture nominees from calendar year 1981: Reds, Atlantic City, On Golden Pond, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Chariots of Fire.]

At 3.5 hours, it was the last Hollywood movie to be made that required an intermission. It cost Paramount roughly $91 million ($33 million in 1981 money). And it focused mostly on American communists and anarchists in the shadow of World War I, as viewed from the perspective of super-red American journo John Reed, author of Ten Days that Shook the World. In retrospect, it’s not shocking that a film like Reds was never made again. It’s shocking that at some point in American history, such a film was ever made.

nullChalk it up to the power of Warren Beatty. Coasting on the success of such mega-hits as Shampoo – which he’d produced and starred in – and Heaven Can Wait – which he’d starred in, produced and co-directed – he was ready to make the ultimate “one for me.” And what a one it was. He’d been fascinated with the journalist since the mid-60s, and, with his typical slow burn, had started filming interviews with old-time lefty heavy hitters like feminist author Rebecca West, playwright Arthur Miller and ACLU founder Roger Nash Baldwin as far back as 1970 on the off chance that he'd gain funding to make a film about Reed and his comrades. Somehow he convinced Paramount of the feasibility of the project – though soon after signing on the dotted line they reportedly offered him $1 million to not make it – and it not only scored the brother four Oscar nods and one actual statue, but made $41 million, which was a highly respectable box office return for the time.

For all the hoopla it garnered in 1981 – it also nailed cinematographer Vittorio Storaro and Maureen Stapleton much-deserved Academy Awards – the film has since largely disappeared out of the public consciousness. In fact, it was only released on DVD in 2006, at which point Beatty finally consented to publicly discuss the film for the first time. (At a New York Film Festival screening I attended that year, he could scarcely shut up on the subject, although he mostly decried his funding difficulties.) But does it hold up?

Yes and no. I confess I’m most partial to Reds for the miracle of its very existence, for the fact that it managed to put the mishigas of 1910s trade unions and two warring factions of the American communist party on a big screen for all the world to see, for how it breathed life into such increasingly obscure characters as anarchist Emma Goldman (Stapleton) and American Communist Party founder Louis Fraina (a wonderfully slim Paul Sorvino exhaling great gales of Italian). And in general, the performances are wonderful. As Reed’s editor, Gene Hackman fumes with a half-grin; he should add a rider to all his contracts that ensures he gets to bellow “Dammit” at least four times, as he does here. And Reds may be the last instance in which Jack Nicholson truly disappeared into a different character. As playwright Eugene O’Neill, he radiates a booze-soaked unhappiness that is as subtly sinister, as uncharacteristically passive-aggressive, as his more recent performances are predictably bombastic.

nullAt the film’s center lives the fraught romance between Reed (Beatty) and socialite writer Louise Bryant (Diane Keaton); Beatty had to maintain that aspect of the sweeping historical epic tradition, after all. I’d never really grokked Keaton’s much-touted beauty before. Above the high lace collars of that era, though, her grey eyes widen and narrow with a sensuality that’s hard to deny, and she speaks with none of the stammering affectations that muck up so many of her performances. But because the star-crossed lovers proclaimed a “free love” relationship – an eternally naïve concept if there ever were one, and one destined to appeal to well-known lothario Beatty – scene after scene sounds the soap operatic notes of their off-and-on relationship, including some gratingly if convincingly moony love scenes (Keaton and Beatty were reportedly involved off screen) and some awfully wooden dialogue (“I'm just living in your margins! No one takes me seriously!” “Well, what are you serious about?”). In general, dialogue has never been Beatty’s strong suit; everyone tends to rat-a-tat-tat in bumperstickese here (except for him; the man is a hopeless mumbler). There’s something charming about all that ideological jargon, though. So earnest. So unfashionable, at least until recently.

For Americans in this decade have once again become a people inured to wartime, as they were in the 1910s. More, a recent Pew Research Center poll states that for the first time more people under 30 view socialism positively than view capitalism positively, a statistic certainly borne out by the insurgence of Occupy Wall Streeters, though that movement has yet to fully identify its objectives. Instead, OWS is slowly building with equal parts whimsy and will – not unlike Reds itself, whose relevance has thus finally been resurrected.

Herein lies a film – a movie, really – that builds glacially and with an elephantine grace, that lingers a deliciously long time on conversations held in the velvet-draped saloons and drafty wooden halls and plum-colored parlors of the time, and then breaks out with a sudden lightness in a revelation of mass communion and political comedy. In the tradition of all the very best American endeavors, the messiness of this film’s big aims proves most integral to its success. Boosted by its terrific visuals (all dusty refracted sunlight and lonely crowds of faces) and an original Stephen Sondheim score, Reds is a big sincere sprawl whose tragedy and ever-widening vistas will, somewhat inexplicably, always gladden the heart.

Lisa Rosman has reviewed film for Marie Claire, Time Out New York, Salon, LA Weekly, Us Weekly, Premiere and, where she was film editor for five years. She has also commentated for the Oxygen Channel, TNT, the IFC and NY1. You can follow Lisa on twitter here.