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   Disconnected Souls of Ghost World:    

    A Case Study of an Effective Opening Sequence

How often do you hear “you only get one chance to make a good first impression”? Much care and thought must go into the opening sequence of a film. The beginning is crucial. Not only must it set the right tone, it must also invite viewers seamlessly into the storyteller’s realm. Only then may they respond emotionally to whatever drives the story - be the main character, plot, or another element.   

In her commentary of Boys Don’t Cry (1999), filmmaker Kimberly Peirce states that there is a minute and a half in which a filmmaker can do anything he or she wants to reveal main character’s mindset or fantasy of self. Her film opens with a sequence of Teena (Hilary Swank) as Brendon, inviting the audience to connect  immediately to the character’s inner desire. Peirce sites many great examples of effective 

opening sequences such as Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull (1980, Jake LaMotta boxing in a ring, alone) and Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde (1967, Bonnie’s desire to escape). An example I would add is Terry Zwigoff’s Ghost World (2001). 

In the opening sequence of Ghost World, a camera tracks along electrical wires to a row of houses lit from within by the glow of television. The transmission is a communication of isolated people in separate rooms, side by side, not communicating with anyone of even each other. The pan along the windows is matched with video clips of an electrifying dance sequence from Raja Nawathe’s film Gumnaan (1965). Gumnaan is a take of Agatha Christie’s classic ‘And Then There Were None’, where eight people are left stranded on an island when their plane abandons them. One by one, they die.

  The individuals introduced early in Ghost World seem dead, already. One by one, the windows reveal disconnected souls. We pass by a motionless smoking female, a disaffected man eating chicken, an empty room with a table set for one, and a set of parents passively watching television beyond the sightline of their not-so-passive child. Each room holds the victims of the empty pursuit of fulfilling the implied expectations of the adult human experience – consumption, absorption and reproduction. The pan stops with Thora Birch’s character - the almost adult, Enid. Unlike the others, she has life and a spirit about her. She moves with exuberance within the vividly coloured world of her wardrobe and bedroom. Yet will she too become a victim as she matures? Will she be next, as the Christie classic implies, the one before there were none?        

Often stated, it has been suggested that the true nature of a person’s character is revealed by what he or she does when no one else is looking. Although brief, the opening sequence reveals much of Enid’s character as she dances by herself. She exhibits an inward intensity, she is a collector of the unorthodox, and she is in search of identity and meaning. Enid’s dance moves mirrors the dancers in Gumnaan. This is our first example of her trying on a set of characteristics to see how they fit. We understand quickly that Enid is not like others her age. The film on her television, the music and her dance exhibit that she is more comfortable with the obscure and atypical. Behind her is a poster for Hollingsworth Morse’s PufnStuf (1970), which suggest a duality in Enid’s adventurous personality. Creators Sid and Marty Kroft’s H. R. PufnStuf is purportedly innocent in itself, but for many has not-so-innocent pro-narcotic interpretations (one popular example is the lyrics of the title song itself). Her room contains many toys (including H.R. PufnStuf merchandise) and collectibles, which both help to establish her desire to collect unconventional items and to help explain her upcoming odd connection with Seymour (Steve Buscemi).

Perhaps it is only in Enid’s pursuit of the unconventional that will save her from losing her soul as she matures in the ghost world that surrounds. Most people can identify with Enid - her feeling of displacement, uncertainty and, as many great film characters, an overwhelming sense of being an outsider.    

Terry Zwigoff gives his audience a lot of information and the foundation of his story in a very short time, as any exemplary filmmaker should in a good introductory sequence.



 © NightAngel Productions 2006