Friday Night Seitz
In honor of Valentine's Day, we bring you transcendent moments of passion, from "Moonstruck" to "Anchorman"
The unicorn dream, “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy” (2004)
Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) is a mighty newscaster with mighty guns — a swingin’ bachelor who has a display case full of cologne, plays Jethro Tull’s “Aqualung” on jazz flute, and believes in his heart that reading the news is a man’s business. But the arrival of lifestyle reporter Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) challenges Ron’s outmoded macho code: She’s gorgeous and her hair smells like cinnamon, but she’s as much of a careerist as Ron, and she has little patience with his guff. “You are not a man,” she tells him. “You are a big fat joke.” “I’m a man who discovered the wheel and built the Eiffel Tower out of metal and brawn,” he protests. “That’s what kind of man I am. You’re just a woman with a small brain. With a brain a third the size of us. It’s science.”
Attraction is science, too — and to its credit, when this Alpha Male and Alpha Female finally hook up, “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy” doesn’t settle for the usual soft-focus slap-and-tickle, but instead pictures their union as a psychedelic dream sequence in which Ron and Veronica frolic through animated vistas like R-rated versions of a Disney cartoon couple. Clad in matching white outfits, they soar through the night sky on unicorns. “I friggin’ love you!” Ron shouts. “I friggin’ love you more!” Veronica shouts back.
Holden’s confession, “Chasing Amy” (1998)
The best scene in Kevin Smith’s best movie is also the best three minutes of Ben Affleck’s screen career: the scene where the movie’s hero, a comic book artist named Holden, declares his love for Alyssa (Joey Lauren Adams), a fellow comics artist who’s beautiful, funny … and a lesbian. At least that’s how Alyssa identifies herself — but as Alonso Duralde writes in “101 Must-See Movies for Gay Men,” “Smith is actually ahead of the game in suggesting that orientation can, in some cases, be fluid and that sometimes people can fall in love with one person in particular even if that person doesn’t happen to be of the ‘right’ gender.” What’s wonderful about this scene, though, is that the matter of orientation panics Holden less than the prospect of jeopardizing his friendship with Alyssa by confessing how he really feels.
“I love you,” Holden begins. “And not, not in a friendly way, although I think we’re great friends. And not in a misplaced affection, puppy-dog way, although I’m sure that’s what you’ll call it. I love you. Very, very simple, very truly. You are the epitome of everything I have ever looked for in another human being. And I know that you think of me as just a friend, and crossing that line is the furthest thing from an option you would ever consider. But I had to say it.”
“The center of attention,” “Reds” (1981)
Warren Beatty’s “Reds” is an unusually intelligent Hollywood epic that doubles as the chronicle of the love between brilliant, stubborn grown-ups: Communist organizer and writer John “Jack” Reed (Beatty) and the journalist and feminist Louise Bryant (Diane Keaton). The tale becomes a triangle when Louise summers in Provincetown while Reed is abroad and has an affair with playwright Eugene O’Neill (Jack Nicholson), who is directing her in a workshop production. Eugene is an alcoholic and a hopeless romantic with more traditional ideas about relationships than Louise and John. He doesn’t plan to tell Louise how he feels about her; his declaration just tumbles out of him during an edgy discussion of her performance.
“He’s a real mean son of a bitch, isn’t he? Leaving you alone?” he asks her.
“What do you mean?”
“Leaving you alone with your work.”
“You think I mind?” Louise says, visibly defensive.
“You should. It’s the one thing we mustn’t be left alone with.”
“You may feel that way,” she says, refilling his glass. “I don’t.”
“Good. Don’t let those Village radicals keep you from being what you should be.”
“What do you think I should be?” she asks, with a teasing, defiant edge.
“The center of attention,” Eugene replies.
Louise ribs Eugene, saying he must have been with “some very competitive women,” and Eugene backpedals a bit. “He has the freedom to do the things that he wants to, and so do I,” she presses, getting angry. “And I think anyone who’s afraid of that kind of freedom is really only afraid of his own emptiness … I don’t want to be patronized. I’m sorry if you don’t believe in mutual independence and free love and respect.”
“Don’t give me a lot of parlor socialism that you learned in the Village,” Eugene says, his voice softening. “If you were mine, I wouldn’t share you with anybody, or anything. It’d be just you and me. You’d be at the center of it all. And you know, it would feel a lot more like love than being left alone with your work.”
The pact, “Sid and Nancy” (1986)
Punk rock history buffs have problems with Alex Cox’s “Sid and Nancy,” starting with its doomy, romantic tone. It endorses an unabashedly adolescent view of the relationship between Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious (Gary Oldman) and his groupie girlfriend Nancy Spungen (Chloe Webb), two junkies so stupid and self-centered that it’s a wonder they stayed alive as long as they did.
And yet if you accept “Sid and Nancy” not as a docudrama, but as an expressive, subjective work in the vein of “A Clockwork Orange” and “Taxi Driver,” their apocalyptic madness is compelling, funny and oddly sweet, like hearing two real-life, bombed-out losers assert their undying devotion while slumped against a puke-stained nightclub wall. The movie is never more disturbing than when it’s suggesting that Nancy’s (apparent) killing by Sid was, in its twisted, pathetic way, an outgrowth of their love, and maybe the endpoint of a shared, unconscious wish.
Nancy: “If I asked you to kill me, would you?”
Sid: “I don’t know. How would I do it? I couldn’t live without ya.”
“Get in my bed!” “Moonstruck” (1987)
The widow Loretta Castorini (Cher) is engaged to a kindhearted but rather boring man named Johnny Cammareri (Danny Aiello), then unexpectedly finds herself falling for his younger brother, Ronny (Nicolas Cage), a volatile, romantic baker who reawakens a passion that Loretta thought had died along with her husband. Ronny makes his declaration after taking Loretta to see “La Boheme” — a fitting prelude to a comic declaration of love that’s nearly operatic in its intensity.
“Loretta, I love you,” Ronny tells her. “Not like they told you love is, and I didn’t know this either — but love don’t make things nice. It ruins everything. It breaks your heart. It makes things a mess. We aren’t here to make things perfect. The snowflakes are perfect. The stars are perfect. Not us. Not us! We are here to ruin ourselves, and to break our hearts, and love the wrong people, and die. The storybooks are bullshit! Now I want you to come upstairs with me and get in my bed!”
The final walk, “Notorious” (1946)
Let’s start by conceding that this is not a healthy relationship. The heroine of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Notorious,” Alicia (Ingrid), is the alcoholic, loose-living American-born daughter of a Nazi sympathizer. The hero is an intelligence officer named Devlin (Cary Grant) who pressures Alicia into seducing and ultimately marrying a German scientist named Alexander Sebastian (Claude Rains), the better to gather information about his secret activities in Rio de Janeiro. Alicia and Devlin are powerfully attracted to each other, and early in the film they have an affair. The relationship is corrupt because it’s based on mutual manipulation. Alicia wants to atone for her father’s disgrace; Devlin wants to bring down an escaped war criminal, and gives Alicia just enough affection to keep her on the hook, withholding warmth like a cruel father figure.
But at the end of the movie, when Alicia is exposed as a spy and poisoned by Sebastian’s controlling mother (Leopoldine Konstantin), Devlin makes their love pure by destroying the operation that he worked so hard to build, barging into Sebastian’s mansion and literally sweeping Alicia off her feet. “Don’t ever leave me,” Alicia says, clinging to Devlin as he guides her toward the stairs they’ll use to make their escape. “You’ll never get rid of me again,” he says.
“Are You Lonesome Tonight?”, “Top Secret!” (1984)
American pop star Nick Rivers (Val Kilmer) travels to East Germany, gets involved with the French resistance, and falls in love with a beautiful woman named Hillary (Lucy Gutteridge). Their love was meant to be. “My name is Hillary,” she tells him. “It means, ‘One whose bosoms defy gravity.’” “My name is Nick,” he replies. “My dad thought of it while was shaving.” Their love is sealed with a song: Nick’s sincere, tender, for-her-ears-only performance of “Are You Lonesome Tonight?”, with minor lyric changes to make it work as an ad for Macy’s. (I could only find the clip online in Italian, but the song is in English; it starts at 3:15.)
“Are you lonesome tonight?
Is your kitchen a sight?
Is your wardrobe all run down and bare?
Is your lipstick all smeared?
All your stockings not sheared?
Do they make your legs show off your hair?
Do the tears on your pillow roll down as you turn?
Do they short out the blanket and make the sheets burn?
Is your heart filled with pain? Will you come back again?
Shop at Macy’s and love me tonight.“
The tea shop scene, “Brief Encounter” (1946)
David Lean’s classic romance is about a housewife named Laura Jesson (Celia Johnson) who meets a charming doctor named Alec Harvey (Trevor Howard) at a railway station and becomes so smitten with him that she’s tempted to cheat on her husband. Is the scene I’ve chosen here really a declaration of love? I’ll let you be the judge. I think it counts as one, because it marks the moment where Laura goes from being flirtatiously excited to feeling something deeper.
They’re sitting across from each other in a tea shop. She asks him how he became a doctor. “All good doctors must primarily be enthusiasts,” he begins, then talks about his idealism, his job and his specialty, preventative medicine. He tells her he’s especially fascinated by “a slow process of fibrosis of the lung due to the inhalation of particles of dust. In the hospital here there are splendid opportunities for observing cures and making notes because of the coal mines.” She stares at him with something like wonder.
“You suddenly look much younger,” she says.
“Almost like a little boy.”
As the scene continues, Lean’s camera moves closer and closer to Laura’s beaming face. She’s so intoxicated by Alec that it doesn’t matter what he is saying or doing. He could be speaking Aramaic while balancing a sugar cube on the end of his nose. You suddenly look much younger: That’s love talking.
“You’re so pretty,” “Punch-Drunk Love” (2002)
Writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson’s romantic comedy pairs off a depressed small businessman named Barry Egan (Adam Sandler) and a sprightly young woman named Lena Leonard (Emily Watson) who shows up at his office one day asking for help with her car. The off-kilter genius of Anderson’s movie is that in its outline, it’s not that different from any other Adam Sandler comedy about an emotionally arrested, hot-tempered man child who finds salvation through love. The film’s surprising mood shifts, symbolically charged images and audacious music cues (including Olive Oyl’s love song “He Needs Me” from “Popeye”) give it a dreamy intensity. That quality comes through most strongly in Barry and Lena’s pillow talk, which is light years removed from the usual terms of endearment.
“I’m lookin’ at your face and I just wanna smash it,” Barry says, kissing her. “I just wanna fuckin’ smash it with a sledgehammer and squeeze it. You’re so pretty.”
“I want to chew your face, and I want to scoop out your eyes, and I want to eat them and chew them and suck on them,” Lena replies, sighing with pleasure.
“OK,” Barry says. “This is funny. This is nice.”
The stoop scene, “The More the Merrier” (1943)
In this romantic comedy by director George Stevens (“Shane”), a young Washington, D.C., woman named Connie Milligan (Jean Arthur) rents half of her apartment to a visiting millionaire who’s in town to advise the government on the nation’s housing shortage. The millionaire turns around and sublets half of his half to a handsome Army sergeant named Joe Carter (Joel McCrea), who’s waiting to be shipped overseas and doesn’t have anyplace to stay. The sexual tension comes to a boil one night when Joe walks Connie back to their building, passing many kissing couples along the way. Joe takes Connie’s wrap on and off. Connie maneuvers Joe’s hand onto her bare shoulder and asks him about his girlfriends. They almost kiss. She tells him she’s engaged to a much older man and shows him the engagement ring. He kisses her wrist, then her neck, then her lips. She kisses him back, hungrily.
Then she stands up and says, “I’ve got to go. Goodnight, Mr. Carter.”
“Goodnight, Miss Milligan,” he says as she goes inside.
Joe loiters on the front steps for a moment, confused. Connie, who’s been waiting inside, peeks through the open doorway. They look at each other. “I almost forgot where I live,” he says.
They go inside, passing lodgers stacked up like military bunkmates on the apartment’s parlor floor, then climb the stairs and go to their separate rooms. They lie down for the night, their bedrooms separated by the split-screen line of a wall, and admit how anxious and uncomfortable they are.
“I love you, Connie,” Joe says.
“I love you more than anything in the world,” she replies.
Every Friday, Salon writer Matt Zoller Seitz sifts through beloved classics and obscure indies for a slide show that sheds light on the hidden connections and most fascinating moments in film and TV history.