Edgar Wright is a certified movie buff of the highest order, a cinephile and fanatic whose love for the silver screen is all-consuming. This adoration of cinema is something that can easily be identified in his own work.
Like fellow auteurs Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino, there is a detectable notion to their work of an ode to all that has gone before them. In every vinyl slung beheading attempt, ‘Brighton Rock’ backed car chase or messenger death by toppled spire, there is a celebration of the art form itself.
Over the years, Wright has been quick to espouse this love himself, turning out 1000 greatest films lists, 50 best soundtracks declarations, and now, his eight favourite scenes of all time.
As part of the BBC’s Life Cinematic series, the filmmaker talked candidly about the most perfect movie moments that he has been lucky enough to witness. As ever, his list proves to be an eclectic genre-straddling mix but always coupled with an inherent glug of something visceral.
Edgar Wright’s favourite scenes:
Favourite music scene – An American Werewolf in London
The first scene that he chose to focus on is what he describes as the perfect needle drop. An American Werewolf in London features a technique known as soundtrack dissonance whereby the songs are juxtaposed against the disparate onscreen action. When David Naughton turns to the camera and looks straight down the lens is a moment that Wright will remember forever.
The director remarked, “Those real left-turn mood swings make me… excited.” The idea of a man turning into a werewolf while the soft and soothing tones of the silken-voiced Sam Cooke rings out is something that he found particularly striking.
Adding: “An American Werewolf in London is scary, it’s funny, it has amazing effects, it has male and female nudity, it has swearing… It just feels transgressive and mischievous, in the best way.”
The best action sequence – Mad Max: Fury Road
Next up on his list, was, naturally, the perfect action sequence. For Wright, this proved a difficult choice, but merely in terms of which scene as opposed to which film. “You could pick any three minutes of Mad Max: Fury Road as the best action scene,” he remarked in glowing tones.
Eventually, however, the director went for the moment that Tom Hardy’s stone-faced Max Rockatansky takes to the top of the convoy in a perfect centre screen depiction of artistic carnage.
The perfect title sequence – Bullitt
Elsewhere, Wright also championed what he considers to be the perfect title sequence from the 1968 Steve McQueen all-guts, no-glory, San Francisco-based maverick cop movie Bullitt. The opening title sequence was designed by Cuban-born artist Pablo Ferro who had previously worked as a comic book illustrator for Stan Lee’s now-ubiquitous franchise.
His switch to cinematic design proved to be a flourishing one as he pushed the idea of a title sequence into a new artistic realm. For Bullitt, he ingeniously managed to craft windows for the next scene to flow into. The effect is one that any philistine can aesthetically appreciate, as Wright jokes: “Even before you’ve seen Steve McQueen in a sweater, there’s no argument that you’re watching a very cool movie.”
Favourite dance sequence – Dames
Dance numbers don’t often feature in cinematic rundowns, but as this piece has previously stated, if Wright has a bent for anything, it’s certainly on the more visceral end of the spectrum. On this occasion, he also delves deep into the past with the 1934 film Dames.
As Wright eulogises regarding the innovative, ahead of its time sequence: “The amount of techniques that Busby Berkeley invented and other people took into other musicals, advertising, visual art… it’s extraordinary.”
The greatest long take – Hard Boiled
Next up, is perhaps the most revered technique in cinema: the long take. ‘The Long Take’ is a technique that can lead the viewer into a story in an almost claustrophobic sense. It can pick up the pace by somehow seeming even more frantic than constant cutting. It can humanise the action by unfurling it from a voyeuristic perspective, as was the case in the iconic Citizen Kane which helped to popularise the shot.
Wright, however, opts for a scene in John Woo’s classic Hard Boiled. Wright describes the classic elevator moment as a zenith for Woo. “John Woo brings showmanship, musicality and choreography to action cinema,” he explains. “This scene would be hard to do in edits… to do it in one shot is just ambitious bordering on insane.”
The best sound design moment – Delicatessen
Sound Design is the classic Oscar’s category that scarcely anyone watching has any clue about, and the fact that it always goes to movies that are also in the Best Picture category has always seemed a bit sus to me.
However, there are rare moments that it is indeed notable and Wright identified one of them in the 1991 film Delicatessen. “There are lots of films I love, and then there are set pieces in films that make me sit up and say, ‘I wanna do that’. That Delicatessen scene is one of those sequences,” he said.
The greatest voiceover – Raising Arizona
A rather more beloved niche of cinema is the classic voiceover technique. Immediately the likes of Goodfellas’ “I always wanted to be a gangster” and Red describing Andy Dufresne’s escape in The Shawshank Redemption will spring to mind, but if the voiceover’s hinge on the writing, then what better place to put your penny than the incomparable Coen brothers.
Wright has made it clear over the years that Raising Arizona is one of his favourite films of all time, and that is something that his cohorts Simon Pegg and Nick Frost share in. The director eulogised the opening narration to the film, stating: “It becomes this almost dreamlike film where you accept their heightened version of reality because the narrator is guiding you with a very specific comedic voice.”
The best suspense build-up – Carrie
Lastly, Wright dabbled in the world of tension building to heap some praise on Brian De Palma and his Stephen King adaptation of Carrie. The scene in question where Carrie is announced as prom queen and disaster awaits makes use of one-point perspective, as film editor Paul Hirsch explains: “I was able to construct a scene in which all of the characters and their motives are understood by showing the audience what they’re seeing and how they’re reacting to what they’re seeing.”
Stephen King adaptations have been a staple in the cinema that has followed De Palma’s 1976 effort, but as Wright explains, Carrie is the first and it’s the best.