After months of closures, there are only days left until cinemas can finally begin opening again across the UK – ready to welcome in socially-distanced moviegoers for all kinds of fresh cinematic adventures. As we prepare to re-enter the multiplexes, arthouses, independents and more, Empire presents a series of essays from the Greatest Cinema Moments Ever issue, featuring Hollywood’s finest opening up about about their most memorable big-screen experiences. Here’s the legendary James Cameron on Wait Until Dark and Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid.
The most visceral audience reaction moment I remember from my early film-going years is the jump-scare in Wait Until Dark. People can talk about Alien or Psycho or whatever all day long, but the scene that I vividly remember truly rocking the house was when Alan Arkin, the killer — presumed by the audience to be dead — leaps out of the dark and grabs poor blind Audrey Hepburn’s ankle. Of course, there’s a now-classic music sting — a single massive strum of piano strings that felt like an electric shock up the spine.
The entire audience lost their shit — slammed back in their seats and SCREAMED like little girls — myself included. It was physical, involuntary, universal and perfectly synchronised. And the first time I really understood the visceral power of cinema. It was at the Princess Theatre in Niagara Falls, Canada, in probably 1968 — the film was released in 1967 but Canada was always an afterthought. I was 14.
Of course, when you see it now it seems tame compared to all that’s been done in the half-century since, though still to be admired in the way the tension quietly winds tighter and tighter until the sting. Interestingly, I saw the film a year later at the drive-in, and remember clearly the muffled screams coming from all the cars.
In terms of a laugh bringing down the house, I can remember two from that period, fromthe same film — Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid, written by the master William Goldman. 1) When they’re trapped on a cliff with the relentless posse of the Man In The Straw Hat closing in, and they have no choice but to jump 100 feet down into a raging rapid. Robert Redford won’t do it, admitting that he can’t swim. Paul Newman throws back his head and laughs uproariously, then says, “Hell, the fall will probably kill you!” And they jump together, yelling “Shiiiiiiiiiit” all the way down, to huge laughter.
Another moment from the same film: they’re robbing a train, about to blow this huge safe, and Newman says to Redford, “Do you think you used enough [dynamite]?” — and then the entire boxcar explodes into kindling, lofting two stuntmen straight into the camera in a fusillade of splinters — by far the most dramatic explosion stunt done to that time in cinema.
Same theatre, same town. Same impressionable young brain.
I’ve laughed harder in theatres since then (after three viewings there’s one scene in Borat I still haven’t seen because of the tears in my eyes) — but that one from 1969 is a fond memory.
Originally published in Empire's March 2021 issue.