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Notting Hill – “Ain’t No Sunshine” February 12, 2012

Posted by TimTheFoolMan in Cinematography, Movies.
Tags: , ,

People who know me only casually might be surprised to learn this, but one of my favorite movies is “Notting Hill,” with Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts. There are many reasons for me loving this film so much, but ultimately, it comes down to several amazingly well-designed scenes, showing emotion. The essence of good cinema isn’t dialog. Dialog is the text–the words spoken that represent what characters want others to hear and believe they think and feel. What isn’t heard, but is felt, is the subtext. Subtext is what the character really believes, and is revealed by what the character does. The best scenes, for me, are those that turn the knobs of stress and pain up to the breaking point for a character, where they force him or her to act, and in doing so, reveal their true beliefs. “Notting Hill” is filled with scenes like this, and in each case, the cinematography is amazing.


For example, just after the paparazzi have discovered that Anna (Julia Roberts) is at William’s (Hugh Grant) flat, her agents and security detail come to pick her up. Just before she leaves, she says, “I will regret this for the rest of my life.” Stunned, William stops and says, “If it’s OK with you, I shall feel quite the opposite.” Then, she opens the door, leaves, and the door closes behind her amidst the throng of photographers and reporters. As soon as the door closes, the camera starts to pull back, giving you the sense of William’s perspective, almost stumbling backward. Then, the camera reverses to show him moving in that direction, sitting on the steps, and the camera follows him with a subtle push.

The Unwitting Busboy

My next favorite scene shows the end of an evening that William and Anna have spent together, walking, talking, and exploring a walled garden. They stop off at her hotel, and as Anna goes up to her room, William gets some flowers to give to her. When he arrives at the door of her room, he is greeted by Jeff (Alec Baldwin), Anna’s boyfriend, who William was unaware of, and who Anna didn’t know had come to town. When Jeff sees William, he assumes that he’s a busboy, and immediately accepts the flowers for the room. To make matters worse (and to Anna’s horror), he asks William to take some dirty dishes from the room. William, sensing it’s the only possible way to respond, dutifully plays the role of the busboy, and cleans up the room. In a final insult, Jeff tips him.


However, the most compelling cinematography of the entire film is captured in a brief scene that captures the passage of an entire year. This scene, coming on the heels of Anna leaving William with her words of regret (described above), has no dialog, but is masterfully told by Bill Withers’ haunting version of “Ain’t No Sunshine.” Perfect.



1. Allison - March 3, 2012

The seasons scene is perfect…as is nearly the rest of that movie. This is the movie that made me a fan of Hugh Grant (well, either this one or “About a Boy”), and I was already a big Julia Roberts fan.

My favorite scene is the dinner party of his friends’ house near the beginning when he brings Anna as his date. I love the conversation around the table…and how they show Anna acting like a real and relatable (sp?) person. My specially favorite part of that scene is at the end of it when the host carries his wife upstairs. It may be time for a re-watching (I own it on DVD).

2. Wally Ertelt - November 5, 2012

I really like julia roberts because she is very very pretty. ,

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