The Best Campfire Scenes, from Days of Heaven to Blazing Saddles

Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog
Oct. 20 2011 5:38 PM

The Top Five Campfire Scenes in Movies

catechism
Robert Longstreet and Steve Little in a scene from 'The Catechism Cataclysm'.

In Todd Rohal’s new film, The Catechism Cataclysm, which opens tomorrow (and goes to video-on-demand next week), a priest called Father Billy (played by Steve Little of Eastbound & Down), is asked to take a sabbatical after telling “inappropriate” parables to his flock. He presses his high-school idol Robbie (Robert Longstreet) to join him on a canoe trip, and, when night falls, their trip takes a turn for the bizarre—culminating in a shocking, absurdist finale set around a campfire.

Advertisement

There’s a distinguished tradition of campfire scenes in the movies—and with good reason, as Rohal explains below. He picked his five favorite such scenes for Brow Beat.

As Werner Herzog reminds us in Cave of Forgotten Dreams, before cinema there was the campfire—a place to tell stories in the dark while staring into the light. Here’s a few campfire scenes that meld old traditions with the new-fangled medium of cinema and that sit particularly close to my heart.

Stand By Me (1986)

The ultimate campfire story. The TV version muted out the latter part of Lardass’s name; even so, I put my taped-from-TV VHS version through years of re-viewings. This is the kind of story a real high-school kid would write: a mostly nonsensical gross-out revenge fantasy—and wow, does this one never want to leave me.

Blazing Saddles (1974)

Again, this one was edited for content when shown on TV (removing the farts from the soundtrack entirely, so it just looks like a bunch of men hunching and leaning over). The scene plays well around the world and may be the only scene listed here that’ll stand the test of time. You could play this for cavemen or time-travelers from the year 2566 and they’d all respond the same way you did when you first saw it.

Dead Man (1995)

Among the themes that recur in campfire movie scenes: beans. Johnny Depp’s best line of dialogue in any movie comes in Dead ManHe approaches Iggy Pop in a dress and Billy Bob Thornton in fur and says, “I smelled beans.” Campfire scenes work particularly well when done in black and white: This scene feels dirty and weird, like a campfire should.

Easy Rider (1969)

Smoking pot, talking about UFOs and freedom. I actually don’t even know if I like this scene, but I feel like it deserves inclusion here.

This is the only campfire scene I’m listing here that’s actually lit by the campfire (that is, it uses natural light). There’s no talking this time—just a big old hullaballoo dance party. Which, I’m sure, is how Malick described this scene to everyone before they shot it: “I dunno, let’s just leave the lights off and shoot a goddamn hullaballoo dance party.”

TODAY IN SLATE

Culturebox

The End of Pregnancy

And the inevitable rise of the artificial womb.

Doctor Tests Positive for Ebola in New York City

How a Company You’ve Never Heard of Took Control of the Entire Porn Industry

The Hot New Strategy for Desperate Democrats

Blame China for everything.

The Questions That Michael Brown’s Autopsies Can’t Answer

Foreigners

Kiev Used to Be an Easygoing Place

Now it’s descending into madness.

Technology

Don’t Just Sit There

How to be more productive during your commute.

There Has Never Been a Comic Book Character Like John Constantine

Which Came First, the Word Chicken or the Word Egg?

  News & Politics
The Slate Quiz
Oct. 24 2014 12:10 AM Play the Slate News Quiz With Jeopardy! superchampion Ken Jennings.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 23 2014 5:53 PM Amazon Investors Suddenly Bearish on Losing Money
  Life
Outward
Oct. 23 2014 5:08 PM Why Is an Obscure 1968 Documentary in the Opening Credits of Transparent?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 23 2014 11:33 AM Watch Little Princesses Curse for the Feminist Cause
  Slate Plus
Working
Oct. 23 2014 11:28 AM Slate’s Working Podcast: Episode 2 Transcript Read what David Plotz asked Dr. Meri Kolbrener about her workday.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 23 2014 6:55 PM A Goodfellas Actor Sued The Simpsons for Stealing His Likeness. Does He Have a Case?
  Technology
Technology
Oct. 23 2014 11:47 PM Don’t Just Sit There How to be more productive during your commute.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Oct. 24 2014 7:00 AM Gallery: The Partial Solar Eclipse of October 2014
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.