Almanac Cinema: My 25 Favourite Movie Opening Scenes (4-1)

 

4A – Raging Bull (1980). Such was Robert De Niro’s commitment to method acting, that he stripped down to 66kg to play boxing legend Jake La Motta then spent three months fattening himself to 97kg in Italy to play the retired boxer and now bloated nightclub owner. Raging Bull is considered by many critics to be the best film of the ’80s; it won the Best Actor Oscar and was nominated for seven others. Along with Goodfellas and Taxi Driver, this is a crowning achievement from Martin Scorsese. The movie is filmed in stunning black and white and the opening scene has that unique contrast of impending violence and Italian classical music.

 

 

 

 

4B – Apocalypse Now (1979). Also nominated for eight Oscars, this epic production from director Francis Ford Coppola virtually mirrored everything that was wrong about its subject, the Vietnam War. The film was a massive budget blowout consisting of undisciplined behaviour, drug and alcohol abuse and actors losing the plot in the heat and humidity of the Phillipines. Add to that an egomaniac star in Marlon Brando and you’re in trouble. Fortunately for Coppola the final result was impressive and the return at the box office more than covered the investment. The opening scene is quite unforgettable and backed by the perfect song for the Vietnam conflict, The End by The Doors.

 

 

 

 

3 – Reservoir Dogs (1992). This opening scene actually starts with a group of career criminals sitting around a table in a diner supposedly planning a robbery. It then becomes a long winded autopsy of Madonna’s hit songs and other inane chat. From there we hear from comedian Steven Wright cast as a DJ who plays daggy ‘toe tapping’ songs from the ’70s that dominate the soundtrack to the film. The opener is Little Green Bag by The George Baker Selection, also a minor hit in Australia in the days of Countdown. Following the titles, director Quentin Tarantino takes us to a gruesome scene with a wounded Tim Roth being helped by Harvey Keitel which sparks your curiosity immediately. This was Tarantino’s first film and highlighted his characteristic use of split screens and alternating timelines.

 

 

 

 

2 – Taxi Driver (1976). My favourite film of all time. Robert De Niro worked as a New York taxi driver for two months as was his method acting wont and there’s no doubt it paid off when he took on the role of ex-Marine Travis Bickle. The opening scene opens the door to the seedy world of ’70s Harlem and The Bronx accompanied by the brilliant score from Bernard Herrmann.

 

 

 

 

Given my borderline obsession with Taxi Driver, whilst in NYC in 2014 we tracked down a couple of original movie sites for the film, one being the electoral office which is now a bank. Clearly ecstatic, I stormed inside it and walked around in an altered state right through the bank employees’ work stations maniacally explaining to anonymous people that ‘these are the same windows!’ and ‘this is where Cybil Shepherd sat!’ Suddenly a guard appeared with one hand on his revolver and ushered me to the door. Another ‘file under imbecile’ moment. :)

 

 

1 – Full Metal Jacket (1987). To any ex-military servicemen, this opening to Stanley Kubrick’s classic anti-war film could well be triggering. On 30th July 1980 I sat in one of these chairs as a seventeen year old pacifist, 3,000km from home and contemplating how the hell I’d gotten there – or in fact ‘why’? In the space of a few seconds I was transformed into a Hare Krishna and about to endure the worst three months of my life. That was the Australian Army and basic training at Kapooka near Wagga Wagga. This film is in two parts. Firstly a marine platoon’s basic training in South Carolina, followed by their actual war experiences in Vietnam. The basic training is conducted by Lee Ermy, a former marine sergeant who was employed initially as a consultant but was so good, Kubrick gave him the role. He is incredible and everything about the training is authentic. Amazingly, the Vietnam scenes were filmed in England even as close as East London. The opening scene says it all backed by Hello Vietnam by Johnny Wright.

 

 

 

 

P.S. I do remember an older recruit that fateful day in 1980 who hopped on the chair, turned to the barber and said ‘just a trim round the ears thanks’, to which he received a stony-faced look and deathly silence. We all laughed internally. :)

 

Thanks to those who suggested other opening sequences over the prior weeks. They were all worthy. Thanks for reading.

 

 

You can find films 25-20 HERE , 19-15 HERE, 14-10 HERE, and 9 – 5 HERE

 

 

More from Ian Wilson can be read HERE

 

 

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About Ian Wilson

Former army aircraft mechanic, sales manager, VFA footballer and coach. Now mental health worker and blogger. Lifelong St Kilda FC tragic and father to 2 x girls.

Comments

  1. Thanks for this series Ian. Most enjoyable. I think Full Metal Jacket is a remarkable film and, yes, I agree with you that it has one of the great opening scenes.

    And later, “Where you from Boy?”
    …only two things come out of…

  2. I think that I can recall scenes and lines from that film is telling. And gives genuine meaning to the grossly overused word ‘memorable’.

  3. Well done, Ian, on this epic list.

    Glad you found room for Apocalypse Now, my favourite film (by some way) and one of the greatest films of all time.

    But surprised there was no room for the magnificent opening sequence in Citizen Kane, nor indeed The Player.

    But I suppose you cannot include them all.

  4. The Big Chill opener is brilliant.

  5. Saving Private Ryan

  6. Just watched the latest make of All Quiet on the Western Front – opening scene very confronting and sets the movie’s pitch very early!

  7. All most interesting opening scenes. However, for me, I really enjoyed the way that classic rock and roll movie “The Girl Can’t Help it” began. Tom Ewell sets the scene, appearing in black and white. He says the movie has been filmed in CinemaScope and pushes the screen back on each side of him. Then reveals it’s filmed in gorgeous colour by Deluxe and suddenly colour manifests itself. He continues talking but is drowned out as the music from the band blares and Little Richard belts out “The Girl Can’t Help it”.

  8. Enjoyed these lists Ian. Great work. And some films for me to revisit as well. Always enjoyed these openings as well:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C6b32ui0wUQ

    Sometimes I think Bill Conti was the real star of Rocky.

  9. Thanks for the feedback and recommendations gents. Much appreciated. There’s a few more here to check out. The actor who played the corpse in The Big Chill John? Kevin Costner. More pointless trivia I’ve remembered from somewhere :)

  10. Enjoyed the series Ian.

    I can echo your comments on ‘Full Metal Jacket’, the only difference being that by August 1991 most of the Kapooka instructors had seen the movie and fancied themselves as the second coming of Lee Emery!

  11. Thanks Greg. I can imagine that was the case. I can assure you that in 1980 they were the real thing, manhandling, over the top in your face insults and degradation punishments were unfortunately allowed. What happened behind those walls stayed there. Cheers

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