If there’s any justice in the world, the split screen will make a comeback one of these days. Sure, it’s good for the odd cheeky 60s reference, as in Down With Love, but the ability to show simultanaeity across multiple spaces without going to newly-tired shit like CCTV has its uses.

Case in point: In Airport Dean Martin leers like nobody’s business while Jacqueline Bisset changes. This shot sneaks into “more comic than creepy” territory precisely because it’s in split screen. When you have Dino’s undeniable charisma on the one side and Bisset’s sex appeal on the other, we can forget how damn old he is (almost 27 years older than her). In fact, Dino and Bisset are way more believable as a couple in split screen; the tangible chemistry between them is in this split screen and almost nowhere else in the movie.

Airport, for all its deadly earnestness, gets in a few bizarre – and compelling – split screens. There’s Mel calling home to talk to his daughters, who occupy little squares while his wife occupies a large one – creating a weird, dysfunctional Brady Bunch wall by the time everyone’s on the line together. In another set of shots, the air traffic controller pops up inside the plane’s cockpit in a superimposed oval between the pilots, where the plane’s non-dashboard controls are visible. The all-hands call to the airport police slices the screen up along diagonals and covers almost the entirety of the concourse in an expected, but slightly off-kilter representation. In all of these, nothing particularly radical is going on, but there’s just enough of a wiggle in the film’s visual style to make me wonder when this sort of Ross Hunter film gets its shot at critical re-appraisal.

Advertisements