Tuesday 16 June 2009

Movie Cliches

Attractive airhead girl lost in the woods? Check. Frothing mad German scientist? Check. Incredibly stupid policemen? Check. ... It’s the same old story. Dim-witted tourists end up abducted, imprisoned and tortured by some wacko. Fortean Times, Aug 10

Composer hands singer tatty piece of manuscript paper – here’s something I’ve been working on – see what you make of it – she takes it, starts reading, composer joins in at piano, she puts down paper and sings entire song (sometimes orchestra joins in).

For about 10 years I've noticed that the only movie characters who seem to do household tasks any more are lesbians. There's always a scene early in the movie showing them caulking something. Roger Ebert, September 16, 2010

In British films, women hold a coffee mug in both hands as if warming their hands on it (you can only do this if the coffee is tepid).

If you are an ex-military man working for both sides at once, sooner or later you will don full dress uniform and shoot yourself in a hotel room.

When you’re running from the police AND the villains, join a Salvation Army/St Patrick’s Day parade.

When someone has died in bed ... The person discovering the body always appears at the door carrying a tray, with breakfast/lunch/tea etc things on it. This person then screams and drops the tray.

In a street scene in the olden days ... The screen has to have lots of people milling about, crossing in front of the camera, temporarily blocking the people who are actually talking. There are also obvious tradesmen, carrying ladders, coffins, rolling barrels etc. Nobody stands still, not even the actors having the conversation.

In a drama set in the olden days ... Shoot every scene in the half-dark with a wobbly hand-held camera and have a civilised middle class character in a wig suddenly manhandle a prostitute violently and yell at her to reveal who raped her.

If your town is threatened by an imminent natural disaster or killer beast, the mayor's first concern will be the tourist trade or his forthcoming art exhibition. (Web)

Whenever someone walks into an empty house, you can bet someone's either hiding or hanging there. Unless there's someone sitting in an armchair who says casually, "Hello, Smith." (Web)

In a movie of the 30s/40s set on a train ... the main characters will run through the baggage car (where there’s a calf in a crate/several dalmations on leads), then through third class where there are crowds of Chinese/Balkan peasants smoking heavily and doing folk dances and a woman with a basket of live chickens on her knee. Then they run through the restaurant car narrowly avoiding a waiter with a tray full of crockery.

A girl stares into the mirror, holding a pair of scissors. She nibbles a bit off the ends of her long wig. Immediately cut to: she’s still staring into the mirror, now with a perfectly executed urchin hairdo.

If the hero and heroine have breakfast together (after a chaste night when he sleeps on the sofa), she walks about the kitchen (or comes out on the porch) stirring something in a mixing bowl she’s holding on her hip. She’s also smiling and wearing a frilly apron. The hero is amazed that a career girl like her knows how to cook. (40s, 50s)

In 40s/50s American movies set in England, the characters always live in a huge house with a vast hall containing nothing but an imposing staircase. When they drive anywhere, they have to take a road that follows the edge of the mile-high cliffs we have all round the coast here. When they decide to drive out of London for a picnic, they go straight from the Savoy to a winding country road, not passing through miles of dreary suburbs in between. Or they set off for a seedy dive in Soho and find it in a half-timbered house in a cobbled side street in what is obviously Winchester.

In American films and TV series, women sit on a sofa, pick up a cushion and hug it. When tidying up the cushions before their clandestine lover leaves, they pick up one of the cushions and hug it while saying "You will tell her this weekend, won't you?".

In 40s/50s movies set in America, the characters live in a huge, well-kept house with a garden and constantly wail “If only we could afford to move out of this terrible lower-class suburb!”

When creeping thru a wood, you always give away your presence by stepping on a dry twig and snapping it in half.

Suspicious characters play Bartok's Mikrokosmos on the piano.

When you throw a girl out of a window, she bicycles her legs frantically until she lands in the swimming pool.

How to show disdain to the man talking to you about something very important: give him a quizzical stare and then bite something with a crunch.

“May I have this dance, Mrs. Fletcher?” They never dance but sway from foot to foot while telling each other large swathes of plot and of course they can’t waltz round the room cos they’d waltz away from the camera.

When A lets B in at the front door, A stays at the door after B has gone in and looks right and left before she shuts it. She also does this after letting B out.

Two people drive off in a car. The camera stays on the street/building they have left. A person walks out of a concealed doorway/alleyway and looks meaningfully after them.

When aiming to seduce a pure young girl (or Humphrey Bogart), an older man takes off his jacket and puts on a silk dressing gown.

When anyone falls downstairs, they roll over and over until they reach the bottom.

Powerful people with their own offices enjoy talking to people with their back turned to them while staring out of their big window. (Guardian cliche list)

Close-up of tough woman in driving seat of car, alone. The window is open. Tough woman stares expressionlessly out of window at camera. Very slowly her window slides shut ... When it is fully shut, the scene ends, by which point we know conclusively that the woman has either found out an important piece of information she needed to know, or has made a crucial and necessary decision, or both. As a result we also know that her marriage/affair is over, or someone will now get killed, or both.

A woman is having an illicit affair. Her lover says, “Sorry I didn’t have time to get you a present, darling, I’d like you to have the money instead” and offers her a wad of cash. Closeup on her frozen face. (In The Apartment, she starts taking off her clothes and says “Well, as long as it’s paid for…”)

Keys are always kept singly and loose in a bag or pocket, never on a ring or a bunch, or on a fob.

When a woman’s handbag is upended (sometimes brutally by the hero or a policeman), a few hard, clean, new objects fall straight out and clatter loudly onto the tabletop: keys, purse, powder compact, lipstick. The hero or policeman always does this, and never scrabbles in the bag for whatever he’s looking for.

When making a phone call while pretending to be someone else, always hold your nose to disguise your voice.

Two characters are arguing on the sidewalk. One is trying to calm the other down. The other is becoming increasingly frantic because the mob is after her/her husband has poisoned her toothpaste/she’s found a radiation leak at her place of work etc etc. Suddenly she rushes across the road while cars screech to a halt, people shout "Get out of the way, you mad bitch!" or “Look where you’re going, lady!” and she weaves out of sight occasionally collapsing on a bonnet.

People involved in fist fights don’t fall down when they’re hit on the head.

When a woman comes into the kitchen to find the table crawling with rats, she flattens her back and open hands against the wall, turns her head to one side, and slides neatly to the floor.

When a minor villain or the hero is chased down an alley, he always ends up at a blank wall. If a villain, he pathetically attempts to climb up it. If the hero, he turns and faces his pursuers.

Woman (beautiful); Man (old, plain, kindly) The man takes the woman in his arms and holds her close. She places her head on his chest and closes her eyes. Then ... camera close-up on her face ... she opens her eyes and fixes them on the camera in a steely gaze. Message: She is only after his money!

In TV sitcoms, couples sleep in a very small, bouncy bed, and have an eiderdown.

When a tortured artist picks up a paint-laden brush and looks in a mirror he will: a) paint all over his face b) put the brush in his mouth

When people fall in love, they go to the beach, run about giggling and push each other over. Or else they go riding.

In American films, going sailing is a sign of integrity, wholesomeness, finding real values after the sham tinsel of city life etc etc. Also it’s an opportunity for women to throw their heads back, shake their hair and smile very widely.

People say "Come!" instead of "Come in!" And then don’t turn round to see who it is. (Sometimes they say “Close the door, Palmer”.)

In 40s/50s Hollywood movies, when anyone has paintings on their walls, they are famous works of art from the Prado, National Gallery etc.

When people take notes or write down an address, they clutch a very tiny pencil and write very very small (on something held in one hand). Sometimes they don’t look at what they’re writing and just make scribbling movements. Or else there’s a sudden close-up of somebody else’s hand writing impeccable calligraphy.

Typists never hit the space bar.

In radio plays, writers type v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y (pock ... pock ... pock pock) while breathing heavily and reading what they write out loud. When using a computer, they mutter the actions to themselves “Now, file menu, save as... that’s right”.

Writers constantly rip the paper out of their typewriter, scrumple it up and throw it into a basket full of screwed-up pages.

Mad people shout, cry, scream, pull faces, talk unstoppably, swear, peel wallpaper off walls and (this is the favourite) fling everything off a desk with one sweep of the arm. This is also done by (male) free spirits at end of their tether, about to walk out of a banal office job to do something more fulfilling, i.e. write a novel etc.

When people haven’t eaten for days and someone gives them a hunk of bread (they never cut a slice), they grab it in both fists and chew bits out of the middle, making grunting noises. And they gulp water from a can, making slurping noises and spilling a lot over the rim.

When a woman talks on the phone, she holds the cord with her other hand, sometimes in a suggestive manner, eg stretching it and looping it round her hand.

If a person has a mental illness, they are cured by a psychoanalyst who makes them look at a spinning disk and urges bossily “Try to remember!” Once they’ve remembered what it is they’ve forgotten, they are fine.

Uptight girl meets working class boyfriend in cafe to tell him she must go back to university instead of marrying him. Somehow they get caught up in a Polish wedding.

People go to elaborate lengths to pour drinks (go into kitchen, take cap off the soda water etc), then don't drink them. Or else they take a sip and say "I must go now", or their host kicks them out. Offering a man a drink is a coded invitation.

When a man visits a prostitute he always follows her into a house. Then we see outside the house – sash window on first floor with blind down. A bright light appears behind the blind, then two sihouettes of man and woman facing each other.

When women are about to be murdered, beaten up or raped in their own home they are often holding a china object (e.g. a tea cup) at the time. When they see their attacker they always gasp and drop it. You then see a close-up of it as it shatters on the floor (they never get murdered, beaten, raped etc in the part of their home with a carpet).

If a woman picks up a random object to clout her attacker with (Dresden shepherdess, pair of dressmaking scissors) he always dies immediately without bleeding at all and she's left wondering what to do with the corpse.

Hugely pregnant woman suddenly goes “Oh! Oh! Oh!” on a rising pitch and immediately has to sit down and moan continuously while all around go “Don’t worry! We’ll get you to the hospital! Women have babies every day!”

In a bookshop or library, someone removes several books from a shelf so that he can look thru the gap.

Prostitutes and Bad Women sit on a chair with their feet on the seat. They chew gum with their mouth open. When they're shot, poisoned, hit on the head or fished out of the bay, they lie on a hospital bed looking angelic and give a long statement to the policeman who is in love with them, and then die.

Don't get into a cable car – the cable will fray, strand by strand (sproing!). Unless it contains a macho guy who will climb out and tie the cable back together, or pass you all to the rescue helicopter, while a grizzled couple who went through the blitz sacrifice their lives.

When TV drama characters want to ask each other out, they always start “I was wondering…”

Computers in cartoons have banks of unmarked keys (no space bar or return key). You operate them by tapping rapidly on these keys without ever pausing or waiting for a response. While you do this, explain the plot to the other characters.

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