It's very unusual for a film to be known more for its cinematography than its story; but that is the case for "Seconds". James Wong Howe's camerawork is historical and when you see the movie, you can understand why. Yet it's not just fancy angles and nice pans, the reason that his work is so great is because is compliments the film itself perfectly.
There's a discontent to the movie, an uneasiness and a feeling of paranoia—Howe's cinematography captures all three. It hovers at waist level and rolls around like a spectator, seeing things as an adult from the perspective of a child. It looms over the characters' shoulders and looks down at them. It jumps here and there, never allowing too much time for things to settle.
There's something very Hitchcockian about John Frankenheimer's film. We don't fully understand what's going on. After we grasp the situation, things keep changing. It's not a movie designed to keep you guessing, it's intent it to keep you engaged until the final few scenes.
The revelation is disturbing and almost perfect in a way.
Arthur Hamilton (John Randolph) is being stalked. He gets harassed by a man on a train who hands him a piece of paper with an address on it and then vanishes into the crowd. Arthur's mind is distant and his wife doesn't seem able to communicate with him.
Over the past few nights, Arthur has been getting phone calls from a man who is dead. Arthur's friend Charlie has been calling him at night; but Charlie's dead. The voice on the other end of the phone insists upon its identity and slowly proves itself to Arthur.
What does it want?
Arthur is to go to the address on the paper and introduce himself as Wilson. He does so and gets redirected to another building, which in turn takes him somewhere else.
After a goose-chase, Arthur feels ready to leave; but he's in too deep that he cannot get out.
What "Seconds" does that no other film really does as well is make the viewer consider their own life. For a movie whose theme is discontentment and new beginnings, the end of the movie may imply that we only get one life so we'd better use it well. Sure, other films have said this; but none have been so forceful as "Seconds".
The film makes you appreciate what you have and what you don't have. It makes you want to do something, so in that respect "Seconds" is a great movie because through all the disturbing revelations, it has the capacity to inspire.
Howe's camerawork is note-wothy and stunning; but the poignancy and entertainment of the film stretch far beyond that.
It is a step above most other films in terms of character development, mainly because of the transformative nature of the movie.
From the stark visual imagery, evidenced by the dehumanization of a process with a shot of a happy faced, bandaged patient to the sleek beauty of the piece, "Seconds" is a movie that can creep you out without you noticing.
There is one moment, when Arthur's newly found self ventures to a hippie-like party where there's wine making and an orgy-ish dance party—he's horribly uncomfortable until forced into participating and then it's all downhill from there—that I didn't care for. But this is the only moment.
"Seconds" seems to be saying that the denial of your true self leads to your demise.
It's a very smart movie and sticks with you well after the final image melts off the screen.
Posted by Micah Jones