I decided to do this post on iconic film images after an un-named blog I visit directed me to another un-named blog. Once there an un-named blogger posted what they considered to be their top ten iconic film images. Well to be bluntly honest I wasn't impressed with what I saw. To me they were more favorites rather than well thought, reasoned images. Certainly none were what I could honestly call 'iconic'. Some were so obscure I didn't even know them! So it got me to thinking. What would I consider my top ten iconic film images? Believe it or not it wasn't, as I quickly found out, an easy task. First of all I have my own particular favorites. But I wanted to be more definitive rather than make the mistake I thought this un-named blogger did.
Now I'm not trying to be a presumptuous arsehole here but what I have come up with here are ten of what I consider genuinely iconic images. I've done so through a certain criteria. Firstly, and crucially, they must be instantly recognisable to a wide cross section of film watchers. To me an iconic image cannot be one from a film only a certain type of film goer has watched. Iconic isn't from some obscure film, from an obscure studio, from an obscure director, no matter how good the film may or may not be. Secondly it must have had an impact, not only in becoming seared on the cinematic world's collective world but to have also entered the realms of popular culture. That is what an icon is. Immediately identifiable to a wide range of people and accessible to all.
Again I stress this is not a list of personal favorites. But suffice to say several are, but are included due their own merits and not on how I feel about them. There are several I had to discard for this reason because they don't fit within the criteria I laid down. For instance the cliff jump from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, which is certainly iconic ( and a personal favorite, certainly top three with me ), but one I had to leave out. But it would certainly rate very highly in the top best of lists if I had to go past only ten. Marlon Brando as Don Corleone is certainly an iconic image, but again against the ten I have selected not quite iconic enough.
And here I must stress something else. It is not the scene itself that I'm concerned with but with the certain image a particular scene produced. For instance Ursula Andress was in many other bikini scenes in Dr. No besides the iconic one of her walking out of the surf. That scene alone is the iconic one over the others with her and ' that bikini '. Hopefully I have set the idea in your minds as to what I'm driving at. I'm sure we all have differing ideas. But after the disappointment of what I saw on that un-mentioned blog I thought I could come up with better. I hate to say it but this blogger quite clearly stressed that they considered their choices as ' the best '. I disagreed with what I saw.
So preamble over read on!!
Again controversial for its depiction of nudity...in other words...more thigh!!!!! Mmmmm thigh! Not that I mind even though most it is done by a body double and not Janet Leigh herself. But whilst the whole scene is famous beyond words its most enduring image is not of Janet Leigh, or her scream, but of the silhouetted knife wielding 'mother' of Norman Bates. But unlike Marilyn Monroe's image above I'm sure almost everyone can not only name the two actors, but also the film the scene is from, and probably just as likely, the fact they have seen Psycho. Maybe though its most enduring legacy is that this is the grandfather of the 'slasher' films. Wannabes like Jason, Freddy and Michael all owe their existence to Norman Bates. But none, I repeat none, have even come close to Psycho. It is an undisputed masterpiece and in the AFI's top 100 greatest films. Yes this is an iconic image from what could quite possibly be the best known, most talked about scene, in cinematic history.
Just how iconic can an image get??!! This is such an instantly recognisable image that certainly comes close, but doesn't quite define, Stanley Kubrick's 1964 masterpiece. I think Peter Seller's brilliant three pronged performance also are instantly thought of when this film is mentioned. And rightly so ( but even George C Scott's performance is masterful as the deranged general ). In such a great film it is a case of brilliant performances that are not overshadowed by the image it is most famous for. If anything when I look at it it conjures up the whole film with Slim Pickens' nuke ride. This was a film I was fortunate enough to see on the big screen three years ( I also saw A Clockwork Orange in the same theatre way back in 1991 ). I consider it Kubrick's best film and one that has left an image that has been parodied any number of times. Again how many don't know the image or the film? Iconic? You bet your sweet ass it is!!
Where are your thighs Julie?? Come on this iconic image-ville and female thighs are mandatory to iconicness....seemingly!!! Anyway I cannot ever, ever, ever tell you how much I abso-fucking-lutely hate this film!! Seriously this would be near on number one as the film I hate the most!! ( In fact I don't like musicals in general but I make an exception for the wonderful, delightful, masterful The Wizard of Oz ). I have come to this point because for soooo many Christmases in a row this played on NZ telly. This and Jaws would have to be the MOST heavily screened films on NZ telly over the years. Every bloody Christmas I had to endure Julie Andrews run up that god forsaken hill, spread her arms and warble out those hateful lines 'The hills are alive to the sound of music.' Honestly cutting my danglies of with a rusty razor blade holds more appeal than EVER sitting through that scene again!! No kidding, but when ever I see it I run screaming from the room with my hands over ears. I can be found later hiding under my bed as a quivering nervous wreck!!!!!!!! But The Sound of Music is undoubtedly a great film and I do acknowledge it as such. The image above again is incredibly iconic just because it is so instantly recognisable. But it goes a bit further than just being able to name the actress and film because there is 'that' ( arrrrgggggghhhhhhh ) song as well. Now if you don't mind I want to crawl under my bed for a while as I can hear it in my mind right now!! Nooooooooooooooooo!!
Well there it is, my top 10!! Believe me folks it wasn't as easy as you'd think to come up with just 10. Give it a go if you don't believe me. Like I stated these are not personal favorites but images I think truly iconic with an enduring legacy. One look at them says it all. And what must be remembered is that the images are not necessarily from great scenes. There are far greater cinematic scenes than some of those above which haven't produced an iconic image. But in saying that 6 out of the 10 are out of films on the AFI's top 100 greatest films list. And as an example of how difficult this was I thought I throw in two more. They are examples of instantly identifiable images which ask the question, just great scene or iconic image as well?
Jaws. The name alone conjures up any number of images and feelings among us all. An iconic film with an iconic theme da dum da dum da dum in ever increasing tempo. You ALL know it.!! I think along with Psycho this would have to be one of the most watched and talked about films ever made. Its place in popular culture cannot be disputed and again it is on the AFI's top 100 greatest films list. Whether it is a great film or not is a moot point because it's place in our collective memories is permanently cemented. My iconic image from the film is the one where Rob Scheider's character turns around and sees the shark for the first time. Unfortunately I cannot find a shot of the precise moment but it is soooo identifiable. The image above is only seconds before it. The look on his face is priceless and we all know the immortal words he next splutters out to Robert Shaw ' You are going to need a bigger boat '. A true Mastercard moment and black humour at its finest.
Linda Blair, The Exorcist
This seminal horror has several memorable scenes, from Reagan spider walking down the stairs ( a genuinely creepy sight ) to her levitating. But in a film with so many creepy moments the 360 head turn must rate as the best known, which has left an iconic image in the process. But again just how iconic is it and how great? Is it good enough to actually be called ' great' ? Possibly not becasue a whole wealth of people do not watch horror films so this would be unknown to them. And this is the point. But like so many images it is the one that is instantly talked about whenever the film is spoken off to those who have watched it ( conversely there are many who haven't seen the film and yet still know the scene ). I couldn't believe my eyes when I first saw it over twenty five years ago!! Even today it chills my blood and The Exorcist is an iconic film all by itself. Many have come and tried to take its crown but none have been able to capture the sheer atmosphere of evil and genuine creepiness of this great horror. Often imitated...but never, never beaten! The Exorcist is to horror films like Paranormal Activity and The Exorcism of Emily Rose etc what Psycho is to the abundance of ( way inferior ) slasher flicks.
So what say you?? What are your most iconic film images? Hopefully I have set a criteria and you get my point. Whilst I'm not asking you to agree with my choices I'm sure you can see where I'm coming from. A great scene does not necessarily equate to producing a great enduring image. I mean I couldn't think of one from great films such as Casablanca or Gone with the Wind. The Wizard of Oz has so many wonderful images it was impossible to pick one I could consider iconic. I mean most scenes included the yellow brick road and that alone couldn't be considered iconic.
Seriously give this some thought because it isn't easy!!!