Rosebud Sleds and Horses’ Heads
50 of Film’s Most Evocative Objects
Scott Jordan Harris
Bristol: Intellect, 2013
Paperback. 111 pages. ISBN 978-1783200405. £9.95
Reviewed by Allister Mactaggart
Scott Jordan Harris, the author of this quirky, informative and entertaining book, tells us that he first became drawn to objects in film as a child by becoming bewitched by “a close-up of an ornate china tea cup, which sat in front of George Takei’s Sulu” in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (Nicholas Meyer, 1991) . This initial fascination with noteworthy objects in film eventually led to him writing a series of articles for The Big Picture magazine, and then to the current book. Some of the entries in this book are extended and improved versions of previous articles but most are completely new. They range from very well-known examples to other less celebrated films but which “have been chosen because they are such excellent examples of how evocative a movie object can be” .
The author’s enthusiasm for film and evocative objects is clearly evident in the fresh, informative style of writing which accompanies each entry. Wherever possible the author has sought not to spoil the plots of the films mentioned, so that an interested reader could follow up his comments by watching the films without the outcome of the narrative trajectory being given away. The succinct written entries are supplemented by illustrations of the key objects by three illustrators – Charlie Marshall, David McMillan and Jayde Perkin – who all add their own lively visual interpretations of the objects, providing a visually arresting image alongside each of the author’s commentaries. Each entry also provides useful brief information about each film, including the genre of film and type of object. It is possible, therefore, to search the book by object category and by illustrator [108-109], as well as by following a linear trajectory. In terms of the latter, the objects are discussed chronologically, starting with a key iconic image from silent cinema – that of Harold Lloyd hanging precariously from the clock on the exterior of the skyscraper in Safety Last! (1923). As a decisive image in the early years of cinema, this image has permeated the history of film and was recently referenced in Martin Scorcese’s Hugo (2011), thereby identifying how this image/object resonates widely within cinematic culture. The next entry is equally iconic – the baby carriage tottering down the steps in Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin (1925). The power of this image/object in the original film has maintained its affective charge in spite of being subsequently referenced in various parodies and pastiches.
Most of the entries in the book are indeed iconic and very well known, as the rosebud sled and the horse’s head of the book’s title, from Citizen Kane and The Godfather respectively, clearly indicate. Many other well-known examples from mainstream film are here, such as Marilyn Monroe’s white dress in The Seven Year Itch, Luke Skywalker’s Lightsaber, Indiana Jones’ hat and Mrs Robinson’s stockings in The Graduate. Others are perhaps more singular and perhaps less familiar, such as the discarded coke bottle in The Gods Must Be Crazy (South Africa / Jamie Uys, 1980). However, it was the reference to the cosmic cup of coffee in Jean-Luc Godard’s Two or Three Things I know About Her (1967) that stood out for me. I was drawn to this entry because of the similarity of its relationship to the author’s initial engagement with evocative film objects via the tea cup in Star Trek VI. Jean-Luc Godard’s voice-over in his 1967 film suggests that “Maybe an object is what serves as a link between subjects, allowing us to live in society, to be together” . And, indeed, what the book suggests is that these objects may stay with us in our memories, standing both alone from and yet running alongside narrative and other concerns, perhaps allowing us to be linked together in unforeseen ways. As Scott Jordan Harris remarks about Godard’s cosmic cup of coffee:
Incredibly, by examining a plain cup of a coffee in an ordinary cafe, we are staring at the entire universe. The coffee is stirred, and the bubbles disappear. Now we are looking at a black hole. From staring at absolutely everything we are suddenly staring at absolute nothingness. Slowly, the bubbles reappear and bind together in cosmic-seeming swirls. Life begins again, as Godard whispers about the limits of existence in an ongoing monologue that feels both preposterous and profound. 
In some ways reminiscent of the start of William Blake’s poem Auguries of Innocence from the nineteenth century: “To see the world in a grain of sand, / And a heaven in a wild flower; / Hold infinity in the palm of your hand, / And eternity in an hour”, this entry would seem to suggest that the insignificant and often overlooked details of film culture may be more important than they, at first sight, appear to be.
From Michal Myers’s mask in Halloween to Apu’s manuscript in The World of Apu / Apur Sansar (India / Satyajit Ray, 1959) via Kermit the Frog’s bicycle in The Muppet Movie, there is plenty here to keep the reader amused and entertained. The author’s personal engagement with these film objects provides a useful platform to consider how these objects resonate, both within the films themselves, and beyond into the wider culture. This is an insightful book which seeks a niche for itself within general popular writing about film. It would be a good present for those with a general interest in film and it makes an entertaining parlour game by trying to guess the entries prior to delving into the book itself. Reading the book also allows the reader to contemplate his/her own list of evocative objects, from which it is fascinating to see which ones are more widely known and loved, and which ones are particularly singular. As with all of this publisher’s books, this is an attractive object in its own right, containing many evocative objects within, which may generate in the reader reminiscences of similar objects from films seen in the past, and with thoughts to carry forward to objects in films to be seen in the future.
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