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Walking down the aisle

Since the beginning of filmed entertainment, 25,367 weddings have been portrayed on the big screen. <br />

Since the beginning of filmed entertainment, 25,367 weddings have been portrayed on the big screen.

OK, I just made that number up; it’s probably way more than that. It seems the only thing people enjoy more than going to a wedding is seeing a wedding on the big screen. At least that’s what the producers of this weekend’s Bride Wars are banking on.

Weddings are a movie staple and as Katrina Onstadt pointed out on cbc.ca, they can define the tone of the whole film. “(A) movie that starts with a wedding will always be gloomier than that which ends with one” she wrote.

It’s an astute observation. Comedies tend to build up to the big ceremony while dramas often use the walk down the aisle as a starting point for conflict. The elaborate wedding sequence that kicks off The Deer Hunter is the opening salvo in a movie Roger Ebert called “a progression from a wedding to a funeral.” Once again, the going gets grim after the I dos.

Probably the most famous wedding in film history, though, is one that never gets to the vows. The wedding scene at the end of The Graduate is a classic but the scenes that make it memorable weren’t shot as originally planned.

Director Mike Nichols originally intended for Benjamin (Dustin Hoffman) to loudly bang on the church windows to disrupt the wedding between his love, Elaine (Katharine Ross), and her intended, but in rehearsal the windows rattled so ominously someone panicked and yelled, “Everybody out!” Hoffman suggested spreading his arms out and cautiously tapping on the glass with open hands. “The clincher,” Hoffman said, “was the reviews all saying this was Benjamin’s Christ moment. It was a fix. That’s all it was.”

In a subtler, but equally memorable, moment, Elaine and Benjamin dash from the church, laughing, fleeing convention toward an unsure future. Then, suddenly, they stop laughing as though the consequences of their actions have just sunk in. It’s a powerful moment that caps a terrific movie, but again it wasn’t planned. As they shot the scene Nichols was so overbearing the two actors instinctively clammed up and sober expressions appeared on their faces. In post-production, Nichols liked their transition from cocky confidence to uncertainty so much he kept it in.

Ironically, when the film opened in Portugal censors felt the ending set a bad example for kids and clipped the last few minutes. That version ended with Elaine obeying her parents and marrying the blonde frat boy. Portuguese audiences may have missed the whole point of the movie, but at least were treated to the thing most paid to see — a big wedding scene.

Richard Crouse is the author of Son of the 100 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen and film critic for CTV’s Canada AM.

 
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