This week’s entry of Hit Me with Your Best Shot at the Film Experience is dedicated to the newly released Season 2 of the Netflix original series Orange Is the New Black, and that presents a bit of a difficulty. See, it’s probably not much of a surprise, but I really don’t watch TV. Not even TV that I’m really into – the 2008-13 sci-fi series Fringe checks pretty much every box it can to match my interests, and I was loving every episode of it as I was catching up with it last year, and after getting about a third of the way through Season 3, I was obliged to put it on hold. And I haven’t picked it back up after eight months. So if that’s how committed I can be to a show that I fully love, I don’t even know how to deal with a show whose concept sounds as uninteresting to me as OItNB, with a star to whom I am as profoundly allergic as Taylor Schilling. As far as playing along with Hit Me… goes, I supposed I could just watch a random episode, but the intellectual dishonesty of that galls me.
So it’s a bye week, but in order to keep that muscle flexed, I’m going to play catch-up. Back in April, some of you perhaps recall that I was in the hospital for several days; and during that time, I missed, of all fucking things, a Disney movie, with an episode dedicated to the 1995 film Pocahontas. As the premier Disney fan in my own life, the constant knowledge that I missed a chance to dissect a shot from one of them has been irritating me like a canker sore you can’t stop poking with your tongue, and I’m going to blatantly ignore all the rules and go ahead and write up a little something now.
I’m on record as not having any particular fondness towards the movie, for the usual reasons (appalling historical blitheness and a deeply broken approach to racial representation) and slightly less usual ones (John Smith has one of my least favorite designs of any prominent character in the 53 films of the Disney canon). Still, Disney animation in the 1990s was operating with a level of accomplishment and talent that you don’t just hand-wave away, and if Pocahontas suffers from being surrounded by the extraordinary technical peaks of The Lion King and The Hunchback of Notre Dame on either side, it’s still full of some really gorgeous shots with fantastic animation, and pretty terrific effects work. This was a generation of well-trained artists at the height of their powers and, well, that’s that.
Considering the film’s addiction to iconic shots, it wasn’t hard to find one that summed up everything I wanted it to, and here’s what I went with.
This isn’t quite the first image to show Smith and Pocahontas in the same image; it’s not quite the first to show them both clearly, since all that mist is there specifically to make things less clear. It is, though, the first time that Smith sees the woman who’s about to become the love of his life, emerging from an obscuring fog like an elemental, standing up in a beautifully fluid motion animated by Glen Keane and his assistants and ending in a phenomenally taut, tense pose that just radiates physicality and muscle even in a still. Meanwhile, John Pomeroy’s Smith is just sitting there in a fantastic pose that he holds for seconds in stunned silence: it’s a moment of being amazed and surprised by the haunting beauty of the woman he’s watching, and given the framing behind him and the extreme difference in clarity between two two characters, it’s clear that we’re meant to adopt his perspective in this moment.
And yet there’s the gun, one of the most striking parts of the whole composition: every line of his body ultimately draws our eye to that point, and then the barrel points to Pocahontas, so that we can’t really look at the shot without subliminally being aware that the story the image tells is of his weapon pointing at her – of him staring at her from behind a gun. A moment of falling into love on the spot it certainly is, but there’s an unmissable reminder of violence here, too, and it’s that default to violence that will define the rest of the plot as much as the love will. All the themes of the movie – even the accidental theme of Native Americans as a distinctly exoticised other – are snugly wrapped up in this one shot, and that’s a big part of why I picked it-
-and the other big part is that good God, that mist effect is beautiful. Almost as beautiful as the rippling reflection of the rock Pocahontas stands on. I give it up for good effects and especially good water animation, ten times out of ten. We know this. I do not apologise for who I am.