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Freezing the special effects

Freezing the special effects — How you can discover the secrets behind ”A Clockwork Orange,” ”Neptune’s Daughter,” and others by using your VCR

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If we go to the movies to escape reality, we often bring them home to confront it. With a VCR and a remote, a movie’s carefully crafted secrets are yours to control. At a thumb’s touch, you can dissect your favorite flicks, viewing them in any direction and at any speed you wish. Here’s a guide to watching movies the way the filmmaker never intended you to.

Speed of Fright: In A Clockwork Orange (1971, Warner), as Malcolm McDowell smashes a phallic sculpture on a female victim’s head, a dozen expressionistic, violent images flash across the screen in a second, leaving the viewer with an unconscious sense of menace. Slowed to a crawl using the freeze frame, they’re revealed as paintings of snarling faces, disembodied breasts, contorted limbs, and other nasties.

Splash-Splish: One of the least known F/X techniques involves running a sequence in reverse even though characters appear to be moving forward. In Neptune’s Daughter (1949, MGM/UA), Esther Williams emerges from underwater with blazing sparklers protruding from her headdress; play the scene backward using your reverse slow-mo and it becomes obvious she was actually lowered into the water, damping her blaze of glory.

No-Brainer: Stopping whiz-bang special effects in mid-action can make even the snazziest shot seem ridiculous. To see a classic use of a dummy stand-in, freeze the tape of Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (1985, Warner) just before Large Marge’s head disintegrates — that noggin looks suspiciously wooden.

It’s A Flat World After All: Disney animators employ a technique called ”squash and stretch” to make characters’ pratfalls, collisions with walls, and the like more physically emphatic. In 101 Dalmations (1961, Buena Vista), for instance, freeze the scene in which Roger tackles Pongo in the park. For one brief moment, the flexible pup appears as flat as road kill.

Anticipation: Try shifting into slow motion just prior to the arrival of the Wicked Witch in The Wizard of Oz (1939, MGM/UA). The Munchkins flinch several frames before the witch’s smoke-bomb entrance.

Invisible Hand: Most people only catch slip-ups in continuity — often missed or ignored in the editing process — after repeated viewings. When Kevin Costner tries to encourage Sean Connery to join his fight against Al Capone in The Untouchables (1987, Paramount) Connery’s restless shirt repeatedly buttons and unbuttons itself.