So I diverted from my plan a little with this post. In the last entry, I proposed that I would continue with the feature film breakdowns for a while before going to other mediums; but I lied. This week I was deep into a marathon of the second season of the exquisite AMC show, Mad Men, when one of the episodes jumped out as an excellent candidate for a breakdown. This breakdown is quite different as well, in that it looks at the opening and closing scenes of the episode. The beginning is a great little montage that really sets up the first dialogue scene perfectly and the ending is a beautiful capstone to all the story points covered in the episode. Even though they don’t directly reference each other I had to include both of them in this breakdown. Both scenes have my favorite characteristics of good storytelling; they draw you in and they stay with you after they have passed. Most of my analysis is from a film editorial perspective but there will certainly be comments that deal more with directing and the other disciplines. First, I have to give credit where credit is due.
Mad Men is a dramatic series created and produced by Matthew Weiner; following the inner workings of an ad agency set in the 1960’s. It premiered on July 19, 2007 on the AMC cable channel and has since cleaned up on the awards circuit, garnering numerous Emmy and Golden Globe awards. The episode I chose to look at is “Maidenform”. The Director of the episode was Phil Abraham, the Editor was Cindy Mollo, and the Cinematographer was Chris Manley. The first scene begins at the 37-second mark and is 1-minute long. The final scene begins at the 45-minute, 35-second mark and is 1-minute, 40-seconds long. As in previous posts, for a couple examples I used multiple screenshots over the length of one shot to show varying action and camera moves.
1) To begin we cut from black. The song “The Infanta” by the The Decemerists starts playing instantly, also cutting on rather than fading in. The opening line in the song we hear is, “Here she comes”, then the guitar and drums slam in. It is quite appropriate to this montage, which involves the 3 main female characters in the show and serves the study in female strength that this episode deals with. From black, we are in a shot tracking to the left while also panning right to left. We move along a bed in a medium shot; 2-frames in, a woman’s arms and back appear. She is just finishing up putting on her undergarments.
2) The frame moves up, showing the back of her head, and then to reveal a medium shot of her reflection in the mirror she is looking at. The camera stops panning and moves slowly in on the image as the camera switches focus to the reflection. It is Betty Draper, wife of the show’s main character, Don Draper.
3) While still moving towards the mirror, the camera begins panning to the right and shifts focus to the actual Betty Draper, resulting in a medium close up of her profile. The camera continues to move around her, revealing more of her face as she evaluates herself. The camera move does all of the cutting for us and is actually 3-shots in 1. We started on her back, then saw her face in the mirror, then finished in shot of her actual face. In addition, the shot’s design is amazingly constructed in how it moves our eye across the frame. Initially, we watch the left side as her back comes in and follow it to the right as it moves past. Our eyes then flick to the left once her reflection comes into view. As the camera finally goes to her profile shot, we move back to the right side of the screen. It adds even more interest to this 16-second long shot that doesn’t feel even close to that long.
4) Just as Betty begins a big inhale, the picture starts to dissolve. At the same moment the dissolve begins, there is a long cymbal crash in the music that goes smashingly with the transition. This is a 40-frame dissolve and is excellently composed. If you notice, Betty is on the right side of the frame while the image of the incoming character is on the left side of the frame. The incoming shot is tilting up across another woman’s dresser.
5) Now fully dissolved into the new shot, we finish tilting up in a medium over the shoulder shot of Joan Holloway’s mirror reflection. She pulls an undershirt over her head, gives herself a final look, and turns away from the mirror.
6) Joan turns and leaves the left side of the frame. The camera follows her reflection on the right and pushes into a new medium shot.
7) Joan, now on the left side of frame, reaches down to the bed and, as she picks up a hangar, we begin to dissolve again. This is another 40-frame dissolve, but this time the outgoing image is on the alternate side of the frame.
8) We are now in another tracking shot of a bed, with the camera panning left again. A third woman’s back appears in medium close up, also in her underwear. Getting a connection, yet? This woman is sitting on her bed and putting on stockings. The camera pans left until it settles on her outstretched leg, then stays on the leg as camera continues tracking to reveal more of her body in profile.
9) The woman stands up to finish pulling up her pantyhose, which the camera catches as it pans back to her waist after she lowered he legs. As in the last 2 shots, much of what would be expressed by cutting between various shots of the setting is done through very well crafted camera moves. The editing in this is knowing when to start and stop showing these magnificent shots, and making them creep through each other with impeccably timed dissolves. You could have had cuts between these 3 shots, but the dissolves truly compliment the ever-moving camera. Cuts would have brought too much attention to the changing direction of the moves while the dissolves let them flow into each other.
10) The camera continues to move, this time tilting up to reveal the face of our third main female character, Peggy Olson. At the same time the camera finishes its tilt, it also finishes tracking; and is now still for the first time so far. Peggy then begins walking left and out of frame.
11) Just as she starts walking, a final dissolve begins along with another long cymbal crash in the music. I may be seeing too much in these cymbal crashes, but they seem so perfectly placed I have to think they are there by design. The incoming image is a solid dark color and as we progress through yet another 40-frame dissolve, Peggy clears the frame and we realize it is an office desk.
12) Just as the dissolve finishes a magazine slaps down on the desk for us to read. It is an advertisement for women’s bras. What a great lead up from this beautiful opener of women getting dressed. Just as the magazine comes to rest a beautiful audio cut goes with it. The music instantly vanishes as we hear a sound effect of paper slamming down and the violent ringing of office telephones. The shot hold for 3 seconds so were can read the ad’s copy, “I dreamed I stopped them in their tracks in my maidenform bra”. Well that edit decision stopped us in our tracks, for sure. After getting sucked into this slow, dreamy montage, we crash into the developing story at the ad agency with a quick movement and jarring audio transition. By dissolving from the last shot of Peggy into this mysterious desk shot, it is never given away that we have now moved out of the homes and into the office. Simply spectacular, and exactly why I had to include this scene with the breakdown to follow.
So that was the opening scene. One where the editing took somewhat of a back seat to the direction and cinematography; but as always, still essential to the complete artistry of the scene. First we see the product being used in the home then quickly go to the other side of the coin in the office dealing with the product’s advertising. All the while building on the issues of those strong female characters using these products.
Now, the second part of this breakdown is the final scene involving the main male character, Don Draper. This episode has 2 main themes. For the females, it is one of empowerment in a very male oriented world. For the men, it is infidelity. 2 of the main male characters have flings in the episode. Don has been doing it throughout the series, but in this episode, his lover brings up in bed the fact that he has a reputation for it amongst a lot of women in town. He reacts poorly to it; I think for the first time realizing how much of a habitual cheater he is. I could go on and on trying to analyze this, but that’s not why we are here. Hopefully that is enough background to understand the weight of this final scene.
13) I’ll start with the medium wide shot leading into the scene. Don has just gotten out of bed and is walking towards the bathroom.
14) We have a jump cut into the bathroom where he is currently applying shaving cream to his face. It is a slight jump in time and space, but gives some separation from the scene that came before. A quick movement of the brush in his hand initiates the following cut.
15) We cut to a wide shot from a low angle behind Don. I wouldn’t say it was a matched action cut because I don’t think he was about to lower his arm in the previous shot, but the quick hand motion leads nicely into this one where he brings his hand down from his face. After a second, his daughter walks into frame from behind the camera and moves towards the toilet. Just before the cut, there are a couple frames where she begins to turn to sit down on the toilet.
16) In a medium shot, the daughter finishes sitting down and says, “Hey Daddy”. I would say this cut was much more of a matched action cut than the last cut I discussed; they certainly left out some frames on either side of the cut to speed up the daughter’s turn, and it works nicely. The camera height is closer to Don’s height than the daughter’s, as are most of the shots in this scene other than the low angle wide shot, so we know this scene is more about his perspective than anything.
17) Back in his original medium close up, Don looks in her direction, acknowledging her presence, then turns back to the mirror and say, “Hey You”. The shot continues in silence, save for some brushing and clinking sound effects, for another 3 seconds as he finishes applying cream and reaches down to the sink.
18) We get a quick cutaway to the daughter staring up at her father and smiling. My thought is that this is just a patch to cover a cut between two different takes.
19) Returning to Don’s medium close up, he begins shaving. We overhear the daughter say, “I’m not going to talk. I don’t want you to cut yourself.” As she finishes the line, he turns his head to look down at her. Halfway into the turn we cut.
20) We get about 2 seconds of the daughter just looking up and smiling. At this point the light sound of birds chirping starts up, which will continue into the following shot.
21) In a new medium close up from more of the girl’s angle of view, we see Don look back at her lovingly. After a moment he turns back to the mirror with a smile. The sound of birds has increased quite a bit in this shot. This shot is very different in angle and composition from the ones we have seen repeated so far, so it stand out from the pack and makes us pay more attention to what’s following.
22) We are back in the original medium close up after a matched action cut based on the movement of Don’s face and his lifting of the razor. This camera is already starting to push in when we cut to it, and moves in slowly throughout the shot. After a second the bird chirping sound effects fade away and we hear more of the scrape of the razor on his cheek. Don gives himself a more serious look, and as he slows and then stops shaving, a low, humming, rumbling sound fades in. I believe it comes from the musical instrument, the didjeridu, but not sure.
23) As the sound swells, the camera keeps pushing closer and Don stares disgustingly at himself. He quickly looks down and the musical tone cuts out, replaced with the squeak of the faucet being turned and water flowing. There are so many hints within these last 2 shots to the importance of this moment to the character. The camera change utilized in the edit to bring our attention to this shot, the new camera movement within this shot, the quick change in acting, and the changes in sound design all wrapped together to empower this story point. This is the moment where a philandering husband may have just seen himself for who he really was. Wonderfully done.
24) We cut back to the daughter’s medium shot. She now has a concerned look on her face as she asks, “Are you okay, Daddy?” There is a second of pause after her line before we cut back to him where all we hear is the loud flow of water.
25) The camera has stopped moving now and we see Don’s face in this new close up in the mirror. He is still looking down, dazed, and after a long beat, tells his daughter that she should leave him alone. He takes a long pronounced swallow just before the cut.
26) The daughter immediately looks away, dejected, and gets up to leave. Just as she is about to leave frame, we hear the squeak of the faucet again, the water stops, and we cut.
27) In the first frame of the close up again, Don is looking himself in the eye with a toweled half raised to his face. He never breaks eye contact as he wipes his face. The next cut is initiated by the beginning of his body movement away from the mirror.
28) We cut to the final shot of the episode as Don continues turning away from the mirror and sits down on the toilet.
29) The camera follows Don down and begins slowly moving away from him. As the move starts we hear the chirping of birds again and somber music starts to fade in. Looking down he mulls over the thoughts going through his head. Just as the door frame is about to obscure him, he slowly looks up.
30) The camera continues to move down the hallway away from the bathroom. Then on the opposite side of frame, Don’s reflection appears on a different mirror. After a couple seconds of seeing more of this reflection, we get a long fade to black before the end titles.
This long, beautiful camera move sticks with us in its ability to further draw out this important moment in Don Draper’s life, as he begins to acknowledge his mistakes. I sat thinking about this ending well into the end credits, and in the same way I was enthralled by the introduction to the episode I sat contemplating the end. Both are great examples of storytelling, but in very different ways and with drastically different feelings other than being tied together by characters evaluating themselves in front of mirrors. Please add your take in the comments section or give me your suggestion of titles to study in the future.
Where did we leave off? Oh ya, Gotham City, interrogation room, Batman, the Joker, booya. If you haven’t read Scene Breakdown: The Dark Knight part 1, then do yourself a favor and check it out to get a background on where we are now. The two guys have just sat down and are getting to the nitty gritty. Here is the last shot we looked at.
33) We continue the back and forth of close ups with the orbiting camera moves on the Joker. He finishes his line with, “You have changed things, forever”, and we immediately cut.
34) Batman comes right back with, “Then why do you want to kill me?” and then another direct cut out.
35) The Joker instantly starts howling with laughter. Then continues another long line of dialogue with, “I don’t want to kill you.”
36) We get a reaction shot of Batman listening. This one feels like a patch for two different line reads, but also allows us a pause from looking at the Joker. It also allows us to see Batman while the Joker says the line, “What would I do without you?”, which seems an appropriate time to see Batman’s face.
37) Back to the Joker as he finishes his line, “You complete me”. The editor is again establishing the conversation style where every time a line ends we instantaneously cut to the other character. There are no pauses before or after lines, only beats within a shot. Every time it is finished we cut away and begin the next character’s line, creating a rapid fire back and forth conversation. It doesn’t feel that way because the actors are creating beats within their performance, but the editing is very blocked off.Â It makes it very, very interesting to watch. On a side note, I love the little inside joke here with the line, “You complete me” which comes from the movie As Good as it Gets starring Jack Nicholson, who played the Joker in a previous Batman movie. Just had to say that, sorry.
38) Now we pull out from the series of close ups, to more of a medium close up of Batman as he says “You’re garbage who kills for money.” We get a slight overlap of dialogue as the Joker begins his next line before the cut, but the style is the same in that the Joker begins immediately after Batman finishes his line.
39) The Joker is still in close up, and keeps leaning closer and closer to Batman throughout the shot, trying to bring him in as if he speaking to him as a friend.
40) We get another reaction shot of Batman. This time it starts with Batman’s face almost completely obscured by the back of the Joker’s head and the camera tracks the opposite direction from before, this time right to left, to reveal Batman’s eyes as the Joker says, “Like me”. Also, this is one of a couple times in this section of conversation when the 180-degree rule is broken. With the rotating camera working on both sides of the foreground character’s shoulder, there are a lot of instances where the background character is on a different side of the frame than expected. In this case, the last shot had the Joker on the left side of the frame looking right then cuts to this shot of the Batman also on the left side of the frame looking right. This method creates an oddity because things just don’t feel right, but thus supports this weird conversation with the Joker trying to bring Batman in as a collaborator.
41) Returning to the Joker’s close up, he continues preaching and ends the shot with “they will cast you out”.
42) Again in his close up reaction shot, Batman listens to the Joker finish his line, “like a leper.”
43) The Joker lays down his sales pitch for another long shot, of 11 seconds.
44) Another reaction shot of Batman as the Joker says, “I’ll show you”.
45) Another 8 seconds of the Joker talking in close up, now about the other detectives as outsiders. He is constantly trying to get Batman to identify with him as special and above everyone else.
46) With the camera back on Batman, the Joker says, “See, I’m not a monster.”
47) Half way through the word “monster”, we cut back to the Joker, now leaning back from Batman for the first time. He quickly sits forward and say, “I’m just ahead of the curve” in a very different tone, much more malicious and raspy. We hear the sound of Batman’s seat hit the ground and see a couple frames of his head darting toward the Joker.
48) From his close up, we see 10 frames of Batman spring towards the Joker and then the Joker is picked up, obscuring the frame with the back of his shirt. It is only 10 frames, but every single one is full of movement and wrenches us out of the long conversation with such force.
49) In a new medium wide shot we see Batman lifting the Joker up and over the table. The shot only lasts for 13 frames and feels faster than that. The camera is now at Batman’s head height. Just as the Joker’s legs clear the table and his body is vertical again, we cut.
50) In a new medium shot from behind the Joker, Batman is holding him up to his face. From the first frame to the last, the handheld camera is rapidly moving towards them and finishes in a medium close up similar to the ones that have mostly populated this scene. This shot is 28 frames long. After minutes of seeing very long shots, we get 3 shots in less than 2 seconds that just completely change the pacing of the scene. It is loud and violent, and gets our attention.
51) We have another medium close up almost identical to the end of the last shot, but now behind Batman. As soon as we cut to this shot, Batman says, “Where’s Dent”. I have to reiterate the trend of not giving any pause before or after cuts when a line is involved. As soon as the shot starts, the line delivery starts. The Joker sidesteps the question and starts talking about Batman’s character again, “You have all these rules, and you think they’ll save you.” As he finishes the line Batman’s shoulder jerks a bit, using motion to initiate the next cut.
52) Back to the camera angle from shot 50 as Batman continues the movement, slamming the Joker into the tile wall. This shot only last 29 frames.
53) We are now in the observation room looking at Batman from behind the detectives’ backs, seeing what they see. All the figures are dark and Batman is the only object fully exposed in the shot. This 13 frame shot is a transitional element that gets us from what is happening in the interrogation room to the dialogue in the next shot in the observational room. We could have cut straight to the next shot, but it would be more disorienting for the audience. This way we have the end of the action take place inside the interrogation room, then see that action from inside the observation room, and while we are there we can catch what the detectives are doing in the third shot. It has a subconscious way of softening the change from one room to another.
54) In the observation room, the detectives look around, nervous at Batman’s numerous violent outbursts. Gordon reassures them with, “He’s in control.”
55) We are dropped right back into the interrogation with a new close up of Batman from over the Joker’s shoulder saying, “I have one rule.” As you will notice in the next couple shots, the editor used the 2 shot transition into the observation room to reset the axis rules. We are now working with camera angles on a different side of Batman and the Joker than we were before the Joker was slammed against the wall.
56) Now we see the opposing over the shoulder shot of the Joker. He is continuing to prod Batman with, “Oh. Then that’s the rule you’ll have to break to know the truth.”
57) Snap to Batman’s close up saying, “Which is?” Through this section of the conversation the editor continues his rule of only having pauses within shots. The beginning and end of the shot are tight on lines, but there is a long breath by the Joker after Batman asks the question and before he answers. I’m sorry for saying this for the elleventy billionth time, but so far he has been such a Nazi about this cutting style I just have to keep pointing it out.
58) The Joker changes his tone again to diabolical as he says, “and tonight you are going to break your one rule.”
59) In a new profile shot of the two of them, Batman says, “I’m considering it.” It is an important line because Batman’s one rule is that he will not kill, and he is threatening that, in the Joker’s case, it may be worth breaking. I think that is why they cut to this shot rather than another close up of Batman. Because it is different than the 2 over the shoulder angles, it stands out more to us and accents the line. Personally I have a little issue with the shot, in terms of how it plays with the previous shot and the next. It is not different enough from the close ups in angle or size, so it feels odd when played in real time. That’s just me though; make your own opinion. That’s the fun of analysis. Once we cut to this profile shot, the camera moves slowly to the right and in towards them so that at the end we see more of the Joker’s face, which causes my problem with this shot in regards to how it interacts with the next shot.
60) We are back in the Joker’s over the shoulder shot, a little closer and more direct on his face then the end of the last shot. This cut works even less than the last cut for me, even though it follows the same convention in terms of line delivery. My best guess is that the line “I’m considering it” was so important to accentuate that it was worth sacrificing some cut fluidity. Every choice must boil down to what is best for the story, and at the heart of The Dark Knight is the story of Batman wrestling with this killing rule, so this line plays heavily into his personal battle. Story trumps all. Also the Joker goes against my little hard end of line cut rule, after he finishes, he takes a breath and lets out an evil little laugh as he looks down into Batman’s eyes. This little laugh initiates the following action.
61) Right after this laugh, Batman stares at the Joker for a couple frames, in close up, then begins to yank the Joker out of frame again. This shot lasts for 14 frames, 6 of which are Batman’s instigating movements coupled with a loud grunt.
62) In a slightly wider shot than the last from behind Batman, we see him tossing the Joker over his back and towards the table. Most of the shot is obscured by Batman’s back but there is enough information to follow what he is doing. It finishes just as the Joker’s body is about to hit the table, from what little we can see of him. This shot lasts 25 frames.
63) We have a matched action cut to a medium shot that is from a very similar angle to the last but with more of the Joker’s body visible as it comes to rest on the table. This shot only lasts 8 frames.
64) We have yet another medium close up shot from a similar angle. This time, what little bit of the frame is not obscured by Batman’s cape is focused on the Joker’s face as he emits a loud painful laugh. This shot is 34 frames long and ends with part of the cape streaking out of frame. This movement in the cape initiates the following cut to shot 65, and is a thing of beauty. It is such a smooth cut between two similar shots, and the cut is sold through the way in which the black cape whips around.
65) Batman begins to stomp toward the interrogation room door in a tighter medium shot. This is the fourth consecutive shot from this angle of view. When you look at these screenshots I have selected they are not the best representation of this aspect, but the cut points are much closer than they seem here. If you have an opportunity to look over this in real time a couple times, I think you will agree with me. What saves them from looking like jump cuts are the changes in frame size and composition. It seems most of the time you will see feature film action sequences covered in very wide shots from every angle, but films such as the 2 Batman movies by Nolan and the Bourne trilogy have been changing things up a bit. The combat, especially in claustrophobic one on one fights such as in this scene, are covered in a limited field of view and from handheld cameras in medium shots and close ups. It gives a very frenetic feeling to the shots and a violent disorientation that pulls you into the action very differently than the wide shot fights of many Martial Arts films. Please don’t take that as a knock to those type of films, because I love them too, it is just worth noting the difference. So far in this scene only one shot has covered any violence in a wide shot. Now, as Batman is walking away from camera he reaches out and grabs one of the chairs from the room before we cut. This shot is only 34 frames long.
66) Now in the observation room we see a race between the dark shape of Gordon and Batman to reach the door of the interrogation room. Gordon knows what Batman is about to do and wants to get into that room before it is locked from the inside. The handheld camera is following Gordon’s path but focused on Batman in the interrogation room. We cut just before Batman is about to be obscured behind the wall between the two windows. This shot is 30 frames long.
67) In a medium close up the Joker yells, “Look at you go”, as he tries to get up from the table. As he struggles, the camera starts to turn into a dutch-angled shot. It is 29 frames long.
68) Batman, in a medium wide shot, slams the chair under the door handle. This shot is 15 frames long.
69) The next 2 screenshots are from the same shot but the camera does a 90 degree pan, so I wanted you to see both points of interest. In the observation room, it starts out behind Gordon as he run through the set of doors on his way to the interrogation room door. As he turns left the camera starts panning left, quickly passing his action and moving to look through the window.
70) The camera settles on the inside of the interrogation room door, looking through the window, with Batman’s lower body walking back toward the Joker, revealing the chair propped up to lock the door. This shot is 40 frames, the longest of bunch, but combines two different shots with the pan.
71) Now we are in the hallway between the two rooms and Gordon runs into the outside of the locked door, but it won’t budge. This shot is 29 frames long.
72) In a medium close up, the Joker has sat upright and is cracking his back. He begins to say his next line, “Does Harvey…” At this point the editing style I have brought up over and over has been dropped. Audio begins overlapping shots as more and more J and L cuts get used in the shots to follow. It is a style change that goes along with change in cutting rhythm. Where a minute ago we were used to long, locked off shots in the 8 to 12 second range, now we are getting a barrage of short, handheld, moving shots in the 20 to 40 frame range.
73) In a close up profile shot, Batman charges past the camera towards the Joker.
74) Here is another 2-screenshot view of the action of one shot. We start on the Joker’s medium close up as he finishes the line, “Does Harvey know about you and his little bunny?”
75) As soon as the Joker finishes his line, Batman reaches into frame, grabs his head, and slams him into the glass window. As the Joker falls to the ground we hear Batman start his next line, “Where are…” As I sit here watching this section of shots over and over, I just have to say the sound effect of the Joker hitting the glass is intense. It keeps sticking out and sounds so painful.
76) In medium close up from the Joker’s perspective, we see Batman finish the line, “Where are they?” From off camera we hear the Joker say, “Killing is making…”
77) We cut to a medium close up of the Joker say the rest of his line, “a choice”. Now in addition to the changes in editing style and cut frequency we have a bit of a change in camera position as well. For most of the scene the shots have all been around the height of the Joker’s head, and both characters, whether the Joker and Gordon or the Joker and Batman, were at the same height. This eye level camera height gave a sense of neutrality to the character interactions from a power standpoint. Now with the Joker on the floor and Batman looming over we see a great deal of change in vertical angles. When seeing Batman, we are down with the Joker looking up, and the low angle gives Batman more dominance. When seeing the Joker, we are up at Batman’s height looking down, weakening the victim of this violence even more. This is again a very subtle quality, but all off these subtle changes add up to give a very different feel to this part of the scene. After the Joker finishes his line, Batman punches him in the face again and begins to ask again, “Where are…”
78) In the alternating close up, Batman finishes the question, “…they?” and the Joker, from off camera, begins the important line his whole twisted speech have been building up to, “Choose between…”
79) The Joker finishes the line, “one life or the other.” We immediately cut back to Batman.
80) For the first time in a while we get a beat after a line delivery. Here Batman is breathing hard and the line from the last shot is given a second to sink in. “Choose between one life or the other.” As he is starting to understand what the Joker is saying, the Joker goes further with, “Your friend…”
81) Back on the Joker he finishes, “…the district attorney, or his blushing bride-to-be.” As he finishes he begins to laugh, but as soon as the laughing begins, Batman clocks him in the face gain. We don’t cut away this time, though. We hold on the Joker as he laughs manically for almost 5 seconds, rolling over. He begins his next line, “You have nothing”. After a long sequence of shots before this being very short, this one feels even longer. It was one of those shots where the acting was so good that there is no need to cut away. It gives a good pause after all the rapid-fire cutting.
82) On Batman’s reaction shot we have the Joker finish his line, “nothing to threaten me with.” This feels like a case where they added a second “nothing” to the line by cutting together two different takes. It cuts to Batman right after the first “nothing” and there is a very different inflection on the word.
83) We immediately cut back to the Joker, who says, “Nothing to do with all your strength.” He says the line with an inciting tone yet has his hand up in a very defensive manner. Batman quickly lunges down and picks the Joker up again by his collar. There is a beautiful matched action cut to the next shot that is reminiscent of the one I really liked with the cape earlier. It is a great example of how important a couple frames can be on either side of a cut to selling it. There is a subtle jerk of the hands on Batman’s part on both sides of the cut that give an increased forcefulness to the action. I included a second screenshot of the last frame at the cut point so you have a better understanding of the action.
85) Batman finishes pulling him up in a medium close up over the shoulder shot from beneath the Joker, who begins his next line, “Don’t worry, I’m gonna tell you where they are”
86) We cut to the Joker as he accents the import part of the line, “both of them”. This is covered in the first true close up in quite a while. The tightest we have been since the sit down conversation have been more of medium close ups, so this image really pops out showing all the Joker’s crazy on his face. He paused for a beat before continuing, “And that’s the point. You’ll have to choose.”
87) We get a very quick reaction shot from Batman, who is also in his first true close up in a long while. The Joker gets the first couple words out just before we cut away, “He’s at…”
88) Back in his new close up, the Joker give Batman both of the locations. As soon as he finishes the second address, we see Batman’s shoulder jerk to the right over the last two frames.
89) We get 12 frames from Batman’s close up, of him quickly pulling the Joker towards him then flinging him down. The 2 frames of motion from the last shot really add to the cut and the way this one ties into the next. It is a burst of violence excellently depicted over this 3 shot sequence.
90) Another 12 frames now in the Joker’s close up, but this time he is much farther away from the camera, hitting the floor. The camera’s focus is still set to his closer position so the shape of the Joker on the ground is out of focus. Initially he is mostly out of frame but then half way through the shot the camera snaps to the right showing more of his body. Even though he is not moving much, the quick camera move and movements of Batman’s foreground elements gives a lot of energy to the end of this little sequence.
91) We finish the scene in the hallway between the observation room and the interrogation room. Gordon is waiting at the door as Batman opens it. Batman rushes past him as Gordon says, “Which one are you going after?” Batman yells, “Rachel”, and there is a slight pause after the name is said before they cut away.
Now there were a couple shots after this of people running around and Batman getting on his motorcycle that I left out of this. I am sure by definition on the DVD they are apart of this scene, but I felt like this is where it ended in terms of the story of it. I’m sorry again for another extremely long scene; I think it is going to be a while before I do another one of this length. I don’t know what the next breakdown is going to be but I have a couple good ideas. The next will be another feature narrative scene, but eventually I want to branch out into scripted television and even do a couple commercial breakdowns as well. We will see if something strikes my fancy in the next couple weeks. As always thank you for taking the time to read this behemoth. I hope you are getting something out of it, because I certainly am. I would highly recommend viewing this scene after the analysis and see if you pick up on any of my observation, or make some new ones of your own. I would love to hear what you have to think of it. In honor of finishing this beast after days of plodding progression, I’m gonna go mix up some liquids and watch something new. Cheers!
In the second installment of my series of breakdowns, I chose something a little more modern and with a little bit more action. There were two other films that crossed my mind but I decided to hold off on them till later and went with a flick that has been sitting out on our desk for while. I knew that I wanted to look at a scene with a little bit more action motivated cutting, but at the same time didn’t think I was ready for a complete action scene. I feel this scene from The Dark Knight has the elements of action that I wanted but also has long sit-down dialogue editing as well. From numerous film editor interviews I have read and listened to, a common thread appears; although fast cutting action scenes and montage are fun to put together, the simple conversation scene can be the most challenging and rewarding. When you don’t have images flashing and speeding around to hold the audiences attention, even more care must go into the pacing and rhythm of the conversation to keep the viewer enthralled. This scene has a bit of both, an intense back and forth between our hero, Batman, and his nemesis, the Joker, as well as some quick violent action. Most of my analysis is from a film editorial perspective but there will certainly be comments that deal more with directing and the other disciplines. First, I have to give credit where credit is due.
The Dark Knight debuted theatrically in 2008. The Director was Christopher Nolan, the Film Editor was Lee Smith, and the Cinematographer was Wally Pfister. It is the sequel to Nolan’s reboot of my favorite comic book franchise, and in my opinion the better of the two new Batman movies. But this is not a review; it is a study of editing. My favorite scenes in the film to watch have to be the car chase ending in the spectacular truck flipping sequence and the section where the Joker blows up the hospital; but the scene we are going to look at takes place right after the Joker is arrested. This is the scene where he is being interrogated at the police station, and is called “Good Cop Bad Cop” in the chapter menu. It starts at the 1 hour, 25 minute and 30 second mark. Its length is just over 5 minutes, and there are around 90 shots. In a couple examples I used multiple screenshots over the length of one shot to show varying action. I, again, have to split this analysis over 2 postings due to the amount of time and shots in the scene.
The scene takes place right after the car chase, which ended in the Joker being apprehended. Batman’s liaison within the police department, Commissioner Gordon, has just received news of the arrest and starts the scene by rushing into the station.
1) Gordon bursts through the door to the observation room, breathing hard in his rush to the station.
2) We switch to Gordon’s view, which is a room full of detectives, and hear his question over the beginning of this shot. The female detective shakes her head, no.
3) Cutting back to Gordon, he is already on his way back out of the observation room. Rather than showing him react to the detective, turn, and start leaving, the editor shaves time off the scene and more importantly gives a sense of urgency to Gordon’s actions. He heads back through the door and toward the interrogation room.
4) On the cut we hear an excellent electronic door lock sound effect as the door opens. Looking over the Joker’s shoulder we see Gordon enter the extremely dark room. As he walks towards the table, the camera begins pushing in slowly and we hear the first word of the Joker’s line, “Evening”
5) Next, we see a wide shot of a very darkly lit Joker as he says, “Commissioner”. Gordon walks in and begins to sit down.
6) Cutting on the action, Gordon sits down in the over the shoulder shot. The camera slowly pushes in during this entire shot and Gordon begins his questioning about the missing character, Harvey Dent.
7) In a medium close up, the Joker reacts to Gordon’s question with questions of his own, playing on the fact that he was in handcuffs during the kidnapping and bringing up the corrupt police force.
8) We go to a stoic reaction shot of Gordon for a beat of silence, then the beginning of the Joker’s biting question, “does that depress you commissioner?” In a dialogue scene like this, reaction shots are a way to change the pacing of the lines being read, but using them when they are most effective, when the audience really wants to see the person listening, will give the most punch to a line. In this case, we go to Gordon this first time only when the Joker finishes talking about the other characters and directly references Gordon. Its gives some more strength to the Joker’s jab at him, and we can see it on his face.
9) The Joker finishes his question back in medium close up. Both shots are getting tighter and tighter as the conversation goes on, with their respective cameras continuously pushing in.
10) We cut back to Gordon’s reaction as the Joker delivers another pointed question off camera. As soon as he finishes, Gordon snaps back, “Where is he?”, and then we immediately cut away.
11) Without really acknowledging the question, the Joker says, “What’s the time?”, then another immediate cut.
12) Gordon quickly asks, “What difference does that make?” and then a third immediate cut. After a section of long shots on the Joker slowly talking, we have 3 quick back and forth questions with very hard cutting. It is a change in the rhythm we have become accustomed to so far, and draws our attention in to the next line.
13) Here the Joker delivers the important threatening line, accentuated by the rhythmic changes in the previous shots. He alludes to the fact that Harvey Dent may have time running out; and after he finishes the line the shot is given a beat, while he drives home the point with a twitch of his eyebrows.
14) In close up, Gordon mulls over the response and begins to reach into his pocket, all the while never looking away from the Joker.
15) We get a matched action cut to a wider framing of Gordon fishing a handcuff key out of his pocket. For the last minute we have been getting increasingly closer and closer in the shot framing, slowly moving from medium wide shots to close ups. Now we have pulled out again, leading us forward in the action of the scene. Gordon begins to take off the Joker’s handcuffs.
16) A quick reaction shot of the Joker as his eyes flick down to the handcuffs then back to Gordon’s face, inquisitively.
17) Returning to the wider shot now; Gordon turns and begins to exit the interrogation room. The Joker begins his next line with “Ah” right before we cut.
18) In his closest shot so far, the Joker finishes, “the Good Cop, Bad Cop routine”, with a wicked little smile as an exclamation point.
19) Now to a medium shot of Gordon, paused at the door. He mischievously says, “Not Exactly”. Just as he finishes the line we hear the loud door buzzing sound effect from earlier that makes the line pop out a little more, and he opens to door to leave. This is my first of two favorite shots in this scene, from a photographic standpoint. The other comes up in a little bit. Part of it is the fantastic lighting, with this little pool of light that falls right on the door and fades off onto the walls on either side. Also it is the framing, with Gordon smack dab in the middle of the screen looking right at us. It just stands out to me every time I view this scene.
20) The next 3 screenshots are all from the same 5 second shot, but I really wanted to communicate the changes that take place over its run and just couldn’t do that with one still. We return to the Joker’s close up, and hear the door slam off camera as his eyes flick from side to side. A very annoyed scowl appears on his face.
21) The lights snap on in the room and we see that Batman is standing right behind the Joker. I remember viewing this in theaters and jumping in my seat at this reveal, as well as hearing most of the audience jump with me. In terms of audience response, this was the moment that shocked everyone the most after the infamous pencil trick from the beginning of the film. I have to note that the sound effect accompanying the reveal is a big part of its effectiveness, as most good scares are. Think back to all the horror film moments that really made you jump, and there was a significant sound effect that helped make it possible. It starts with the sound of a switch being flicked, then a electric buzzing and hum comes in, then what sounds like a long note from a high pitched bell being played. It is just excellent sound design.
22) After the lights come on, Batman reaches up and slams the Joker’s head into the table as he walks out of frame. In the repeat viewings of this shot, it has slowed down a bit to me. I am anticipating what I know will happen, so I notice more of a pause from Batman after the light comes on and before he attacks the Joker. It felt so much faster the first couple times I saw the entire feature play out. In thinking about this, it makes sense. From the perspective of an audience seeing it for the first time, they need a second to process the fact that the bright light has turned on and there is someone standing behind the Joker. Once they realize that, then they can deal with the act of slamming him down on the table. This pause was clearly planned ahead of time, and plays out wonderfully. I don’t think I could have thought of that before reaching the edit suite. Hats off, yet again, to Mr. Nolan and crew.
23) Next we get our first view of Batman’s face, albeit covered, in a medium close up. Yet again the vertical camera placement is about head height with the Joker. Going back a little, almost all the shots so far have been from this height. It is an additional subliminal note that this scene is all about the Joker.
24) Even after being rocked against the table, the Joker is always quick to share a little joke or witty commentary.
25) Now in a brand new wide shot from behind Batman we see the entire layout of the interrogation room as he raises his arm and swings down on the Joker again. This is the second of my 2 favorite shots in this scene. It is so dynamic after all the medium shots and close ups so far. We had a wide over the shoulder shot earlier of Gordon, but it was almost entirely hid in shadows so you couldn’t see the environment. Now we get to see everything, with Batman front and center looming over the Joker. If you look at the window on the right side you can just see the reflection of the Joker looking up at Batman and on the left side you can see the reflection of both of them as Batman begins his next assault. These little things add so much to the shot as a whole.
26) We get a matched action cut, perfectly, to an extreme close up cutaway of Batman’s fist coming down on the Joker’s hand. Along with the slamming metal table sound effect there is a loud drum hit in the music that compliments the blow.
27) Rather than going straight to a pained reaction from the Joker, we go to the medium close up of Batman instead. He slightly cocks his head a bit, in a way asking, “what do you think about that?” By going to the aggressor after the act of violence, it makes him a bit more intimidating and keeps us thinking about his powerful position rather the pain of the victim.
28) The Joker looks away with the slightest grimace, and then snaps back to verbal dueling. We can see Batman beginning to sit down in the side of the frame.
29) Batman, now seated in a medium close up, says, “You wanted me. Here I am.” As soon as he finishes the last word, we cut.
30) Back in the observation room we see Gordon and the rest of the detectives watching what’s going on between the two of them. It has been awhile since we saw this room, so this is a little reminder that what transpires in the interrogation is not private. It also gives the editor a restart on the angles he has been using without disturbing continuity or axis rules. I don’t think that he necessarily needed to get around something, but it might be a reason. More than anything I think he knew he was going to be in a new type of conversation coverage soon and wanted to make us look away and come back to the interrogation with fresh eyes. Even though it is just one 3 second shot, it has the power to sort of “wipe the slate clean” so we can be drawn into the conversation again.
31) Now for a fresh close up of the Joker from just over Batman’s shoulder. After what has been a long sequence of shorter shots, the Joker gets a full 12 seconds to start off the seated conversation. The still doesn’t do the camera movement justice at all. The camera is actually on a track revolving around their backs in a semicircle, so as this 11 seconds goes on more and more of Batman’s head is coming into frame as the camera moves from right to left. Just as Batman’s head is about to cover up the Joker’s, he delivers the last part of his line, “That’s cold”, and we cut away.
32) Immediately Batman says, “Where’s Dent?” and the Joker begins the next part of his dialogue with his back to us. A similar camera move is happening on Batman, but this time it is moving from left to right. It gives even more of a back and forth motion that goes with the combative style of the conversation.
So I think this is the point to split the analysis. I wanted to give you a taste of this new conversation but not get too far into it. There is a lot to come, so give me a couple days and I will get the rest out. As always I would love to hear what you take is on the shots we looked at, and any suggestions for other films to take a closer look at are most welcomed.
Check out the rest of this breakdown Scene Breakdown: The Dark Knight part 2