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November 17th, 2017 @ 9:17 am by Kevin
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January 5th, 2012 @ 9:41 pm by admin
A question that’s been nagging me as I’ve sifted through the heaps of footage we’ve shot for Hellbound? is what image I should use to begin the film. Don’t get me wrong, we have our central metaphor in place, a unifying image that will help us explore the hell debate from many different sides. But which facet of that image should we reveal first?
This is a huge decision for me, because the opening shot or opening scene of a movie needs to set up everything to come. I think of it as a sort of prophecy, a riddle or a word picture that viewers may not understand at first but which will become all too clear by film’s end. I often gauge the competence of a filmmaker by how well he or she crafts the opening shot and how well they pay it off at the end, because if they don’t nail things out of the gate, it makes me suspect they don’t really know what their film is about.
One of my favorite films in this regard (and one of my favorite films period) is Constantine, directed by Francis Lawrence. Even before the opening scene, the studio logos are blown away by the fires of hell, a place that figures prominently in the film. Now that’s beginning at the beginning!
When we get to the first shot, we see the skeleton of a church in Mexico. Nothing is left but the building’s concrete frame, adorned by two crosses. It’s a foreboding place. Smoke from burning trash wafts across the screen as we hone in on two grubby men sifting through the rubble of what was once a thriving place of worship.
One of the men stands up, and his foot crashes through the floor. He reaches down into the hole and pulls out a mysterious object wrapped in a Nazi flag. It’s an ornate spearhead. Cue the ominous music as he senses someone–or something–watching him. Then he gets up and walks purposefully away. His buddy calls after him, but the man with the spearhead doesn’t hear him.
Out of nowhere, a convertible slams into the man. But rather than kill him, the car crumples around his body, killing its occupants. Then the man leaps over the car and runs away, clutching the spearhead in a hand that now bears a mysterious mark. All his buddy can do is look on in amazement–and horror…
On a plot level, this opening scene serves to gets the ball rolling. Something horrible has happened. We’re not exactly sure what it is, but we’re pretty sure it means doom and destruction if the guy with the spearhead isn’t stopped. So, of course, in the next scene we meet the only guy with a hope of stopping it–occult detective John Constantine.
On a thematic level, the open scene says a lot more about why this bad thing has happened in the first place. Think about the first shot–the ruins of a church. The priest and the congregation are long gone. All that’s left are a few lost souls sifting through its ashes. Then, in the foundation of the church, they find an object of death wrapped in a fascist flag. This is a powerful word picture, a critique of Christianity that essentially sets up the big question Constantine must answer if he’s going to survive until the end of film. He’s well aware of the type of religion that leads to death, but is there a type of religion that leads to life? In other words, what does it mean to be saved? That’s the question at the heart of Constantine.
Which brings me back to Hellbound?, because our film essentially asks the same question: What does it mean to be saved? What are we saved from? What are we saved to? Who is saved? Is anyone not saved? Have we embraced a gospel that leads to death, or a gospel that leads to life? And how can I pack all of these questions into a single image?
Well, I’m happy to say I think I’ve finally found it. I’m test driving it right now as I begin our rough assembly, so I still can’t say for certain whether we’ll use it in the end. But at least it gives me what I’ve been seeking for some time now… a beginning.