A cop is trapped in the trunk of a police car with bullet holes in it so he can breathe. A Rastafarian rides his bike up to the car. He walks to the trunk, smoking a doobie. He blows his doobie smoke into the hole. The scene ends.
Can you guess what movie this is from?
The answer is Thelma and Louise.
But what does this scene have to do with the movie? Nothing really. It doesn’t advance the plot, it doesn’t tell us more about the characters, and doesn’t pay off in the end. It’s purely tangential.
I have compiled a short list of tangential scenes that I love because in order for them to get into the movie, someone must have felt very strongly about their presence in the film (even if I don’t quite understand their reasoning). This is a dedication to those that fought the good fight:
Singin’ in The Rain: Broadway Melody
The scene begins with Don Lockwood and Cosmo pitching the idea for a musical to the head of the studio. Then we drift off into that musical for around 12 mins.
We return and the studio head says, “Well, I’d have to see it on film.”
The musical scene doesn’t need to be there at all, but it is because it showcases Kelly’s dancing and adds another number to the film. Of course, it does completely separate the audience from the narrative for 12:42 minutes, but at the same time is a fascinating piece of excess.
My true favorites are the tangential scenes that carry on for a long period of time and actually make up the entirety of the 3rd act.
The Lost World: Jurassic Park
Besides flipping the usual “Original title-colon-sequel name” sequence it also disrupts the previous two acts with its third. After Dr. Malcolm escapes the raptors with his African American daughter (since we never met another black character in the first film besides Samuel L Jackson, who died, it is blatantly obvious that once Malcolm returned from the island in the first movie, he felt it was his moral obligation to visit Jackson’s wife in order to break the news of her husband’s death by raptor. Eventually they had a child, but his wife was killed when Alien’s attacked on Independence Day or simply left him for Will Smith. This ties up any lose ends and possible confusion about this character and her race)...
Anyway, the T-Rex is transported back to San Diego, where it kills a dog, drinks from a swimming pool, and looks for its child. I can remember as a kid I was terrified during this movie and was so relieved when they escaped the raptors unharmed on the island, little did I know the movie would continue in San Diego. I am not sure I opened my eyes during the rest of the film.
(Sidenote: I can’t believe the T-Rex sent a bus through a blockbuster to destroy posters from the Francis Coppola classic JACK with Robin Williams.)
Blazing Saddles actually plays upon this with its ending going from the Wild West to Hollywood. Yes, the film traversed the line between the old west and reality, but then it shatters the wall between them with the closing sequence as it zooms out in an aerial shot revealing the small western town right next to Warner Brothers Studios. It’s tangential fun as cowboys destroy musical numbers, Hitler’s lunch at the commissary, and Grauman’s Chinese Theater.
Tangential scenes and sequences may seem unnecessary, but they do have a point. I think.
The Hollywood Defender