In Movies, A Solar Eclipse Means Change Is Coming Over the years, Hollywood filmmakers have used solar eclipses as devices to mark moments of irrevocable transformation for their characters.
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In Movies, A Solar Eclipse Means Change Is Coming

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In Movies, A Solar Eclipse Means Change Is Coming

In Movies, A Solar Eclipse Means Change Is Coming

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

We've already broadcast a few stories about the upcoming solar eclipse as an astronomical phenomenon. What about the solar eclipse as a plot device? From a 1907 silent film called "The Eclipse: The Courtship Of Sun And Moon" to more modern films like "Dolores Claiborne" and "Apocalypto," solar eclipses mark moments of major change for characters. NPR's Glen Weldon tells us what happens in some movies when darkness descends in the middle of the day.

GLEN WELDON, BYLINE: For filmmakers, solar eclipses make a handy visual shorthand, a way to signal to the audience that stuff's about to get weird.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS")

RICK MORANIS: (As Seymour Krelborn) He didn't have anything unusual there...

WELDON: Because when you can't even count on something as basic as the sun shining when it's supposed to, what can you count on? In the 1986 musical "Little Shop Of Horrors," Rick Moranis' character, Seymour, is minding his own business when...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS")

MORANIS: (As Seymour Krelborn) When suddenly, and without warning, there was this...

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters, singing) Total eclipse of the sun.

WELDON: In this case, an eclipse is the thing that kicks off the movie by announcing the arrival of an evil man-eating flytrap from outer space.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS")

MORANIS: (As Seymour Krelborn) And when the light came back this weird plant was just sitting there.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters, singing) Oopsie-do (ph).

WELDON: But a solar eclipse can also make for a snazzy dramatic climax, like in the 1949 Bing Crosby vehicle "A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur's Court," based on the Mark Twain novel. Crosby goes back in time to Camelot and gets sentenced to be executed. But he knows, thanks to his handy 1949 almanac, that an eclipse is imminent, so he pretends to be a sorcerer and issues a dire and timely threat.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "A CONNECTICUT YANKEE IN KING ARTHUR'S COURT")

BING CROSBY: (As Hank Martin) Now, with a few well-chosen words, I shall blot out the sun forever. Walla Walla, Wash. Punxsutawney, Pa.

WELDON: The sky goes dependably dark and the crowd buys it. I mean, they really buy it.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "A CONNECTICUT YANKEE IN KING ARTHUR'S COURT")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS #1: (As character, screaming).

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Save us, almighty sorcerer. Save us.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS #1: (As character) Bring back the sun. Bring back the...

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) I beseech thee.

WELDON: In the 2000 science fiction movie "Pitch Black," a spaceship crashes on a planet where three suns burn constantly, forcing its local flesh-eating monsters to live underground until, well...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "PITCH BLACK")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS #2: (As character) A total eclipse.

WELDON: You can guess what happens next. These films use eclipses as big dramatic devices. But my favorite example of this - do we call it a genre? - is smaller. It's a black-and-white indie film from 1999 called "Judy Berlin."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "JUDY BERLIN")

MADELINE KAHN: (As Alice Gold) Carol, come out. You have to see this.

WELDON: In it, Madeline Kahn in her last role plays a woman in suburban Babylon, Long Island. For her, a solar eclipse offers a more existential change, a chance to see her life in a way she's never seen it before.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "JUDY BERLIN")

KAHN: (As Alice Gold) Do you hear that? Do you hear the birds in the trees? It's like they don't even know it's happening. It's so strange, isn't it?

WELDON: The eclipse in "Judy Berlin" is strange. It lasts for hours, not minutes. But it's not a gimmick because the film's trying to capture the eerie mood that descends when the sun vanishes suddenly from the sky. For most of the film, Kahn walks down the middle of the empty, dark streets and cul-de-sacs of her subdivision. Everything's different. She meets neighbors she's never talked to. She stops by the house of a friend she lost touch with.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "JUDY BERLIN")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS #3: (As character) God, look how dark it is out there.

WELDON: They're united by a sense of strangeness.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "JUDY BERLIN")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS #4: (As character) It's the eclipse.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS #5: (As character) I know, but is it supposed to be this dark?

WELDON: Walking back to her normal life, she sees her therapist standing in the street in front of his house.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "JUDY BERLIN")

KAHN: (As Alice Gold) I never pictured you in a split-level.

WELDON: He looks anxious, frightened. So in the kind of role reversal that eclipses make possible - in movies, anyway - she tells him not to worry.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "JUDY BERLIN")

KAHN: (As Alice Gold) You know, it's very funny. I'm actually very good in emergencies. Really it's just the day-to-day things that give me a little trouble. Something like this happens and I just feel that finally the rest of the world and I are, you know, speaking the same language.

WELDON: "Judy Berlin" is hard to find. You can still get it on DVD. It's maybe the most poetic example of how filmmakers use solar eclipses to take the status quo and turn it around. Glen Weldon, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TOTAL ECLIPSE OF THE HEART")

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing) Turn around.

BONNIE TYLER: (Singing) Every now and then I get a little bit lonely and you're never coming 'round.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing) Turn around.

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