I feel like I was the last person on earth to see this movie. Positive reviews were flowing all over twitter while it was in theaters and I could never seem to drag myself to the theaters, even though it seemed right up my alley. Crime drama, slow burn story, awesome actors, intense violence, fast cars, 80’s vibe. Whatever the case, I didn’t get to see this until it finally came out on blu ray, and it completely decimated me. The artistry of it is kind of hard to believe in this day and age, where the people with money can’t seem take a risk to save their family’s life. A lot of industry talk with the film has centered around its use of dissolves, and that is what really struck me as well. Personally, I am not a big fan of them. They have to be used sparingly, in my mind, and only at specific times. This comes from a lot of abuse early in my career due to a producer that required them on every transition. Well, this film just threw that ideology back in my face, and time and time again proved that the dissolve needs a rebirth of sorts. On top of that I think the actor Ryan Gosling is a force to be reckoned with and every movie I see with him these days hammers that point home.
It has been a while since I have put the time and effort into one of these breakdowns. It took a scene of this caliber to throw me into action, and I am so glad I did. There are so many things I learned through studying this over and over, and I hope you can glean something from it as well.
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. Drive was released theatrically in 2011. The Director was Nicolas Winding Refn, the Film Editor was Mat Newman, and the Cinematographer was Newton Thomas Sigel. In new form I must include the Sound Designers, Lon Bender and Victor Ray Ennis, as well as the Composer, Cliff Martinez, who I am guilty of forgetting to credit in previous posts. This scene comes right after the notorious elevator scene at the 1-hour, 13-minute, and 23 second mark and is just over 2 minutes long.
1) This is actually the last shot of the previous scene, but it leads nicely into the scene I have been looking at so I included it here. It is the completion of a pretty intense scene in the movie where the main character, known only as Driver, utterly destroys another man in an elevator while his love interest looks on. At the end of the scene she has exited the elevator and Driver is left standing there as the door closes. Through the last couple shots there has been a steady tone playing in the score. Just after the sound of the elevator door shutting, another deep tone rises in volume and leads us into a hard cut to the next scene.
2) From the well lit elevator we move to the dark interior of Driver’s car as it speeds along. Now, in addition to the steady throbbing tones that have continued on from the last scene, there is the introduction of a loud distortion like effect on the sound design. It sounds like a mixture of crackling, wind noise, and car engine sounds.
It is appropriate that we smash to this new scene after the violent explosion that finished out the previous one. Emotionally, we are still reeling from what happened. After the actual act is finished, the editor gives us us a 30 second moment of silence to let it sink in and then uses this hard visual and auditory cut to wipe the slate clean and lead us somewhere else emotionally.
3) We cut to a close up profile shot of Driver. We have not seen his face since his reaction after the murder, and for the rest of this scene we never look him directly in the eyes, but only get to see a side of him. It is extremely fitting that we never get personable with him, the cinematography mimics his guarded personality.
4) The slam of a car door marks the cut to a new setup. The character Shannon is meeting up with Driver, who has been waiting for him. This is another profile shot of our characters. I love the long pauses that populate all the dialogue scenes in this movie. After slamming the door, Shannon limps up to Driver and it is almost 5 seconds before Driver says anything, and when he finally does there is a good pause between each phrase. It gives weight to every line.
5) Almost as if it were an exclamation mark, we go to a new shot of headlights on the road from the perspective of Driver back in his car. Going back to the delivery style I brought up in the previous note, it is what allows this cut to accent Driver’s line, “and they know where I live”. Because we have been conditioned to accept these slow deliveries and long camera shots throughout the movie, when a jarring cut breaks into one of these pauses it emphasizes that previous line. I feel like it empowers editorial decisions to be used more as punctuation than in the average film. Editing is the invisible art but movies like this show that it can also be brought to the forefront as a visible player in the film’s style.
6) Back in the two shot between the cars, the camera continues dollying in as Shannon states his case in true wimpy Shannon fashion. Oh, Shannon.
7) As the cutaway to the car acted as a post accent to the dialogue in shot 4, this car cutaway is used in a similar way but to accent what is going to happen next. It gives a little dramatic separation between Shannon’s excuses and Driver’s response. This shot is very effective in that way alone, but even more so due to the quick breath that Driver takes right before the cut. So not only does it have structural importance, but material importance as well. This breath emphasizes the physical outburst Driver has in the next shot. Even though this car shot exists in a different time and space it ties directly into the shot that follows, as if Driver’s first reaction to Shannon is a angry breath. The motion of the quick breath initiates the cut as well, tying the two shots together and softening the actual cut a bit. This just reiterates how important footage selection is for an editor. This section of the shot is so deliberately put here and so beautifully impacts the beginning of this scene.
8) Driver leaps out at Shannon, grabbing him around the neck, and slams him against the car. He then asks, “What did you say?”. After such a large and violent outburst, this quiet and controlled line delivery is a perfectly contrasting match. Also, the thump sound of Shannon’s body hiting the car works so well. It nicely compliments the other, higher pitched sounds of fabric rustling.
9) Here is another cut to the profile shot of Driver in his car. I won’t say much more about the emotional punctuation, but it works as the exclamation point to the previous shot. I do have to comment on an editorial style point that is widely used here in this scene as well as throughout the film. At the very beginning we see Driver in his car and assume it is a linear story vehicle to get from the scene in the elevator to the scene with Shannon. That he very literally drove from one location to the other. But as the scene goes on you get more and more shots of him driving, and less and less assurance of “when” he is driving. Looking over this scene, time and time again, I don’t know if these driving events would have happened after the elevator or after the conversation with Shannon. That is kind of the point though, it doesn’t matter when he did this, it only matters as a way of rearranging and accenting the scene at hand. There are many other scenes where this non linear storytelling pattern is used and it really creates the whole vibe of this film.
10) This is the last cut for a while. It is also the beginning of a shift to another editorial style largely prevalent in the movie, a style of using very long dissolves and superimposes across a scene. What feels so different is these dissolves don’t happen in the usual sense of showing the passage of time.
The camera has continued its dolly move into the actors. A couple shots ago we were in a medium wide shot with both characters living in the center of the frame. Now we have travelled into a medium close up where the characters are heavily weighted to the left side of the frame, almost in an over the shoulder shot from behind Driver. It is a wonderfully executed camera move that slowly transforms over the scene to get us closer to the actors as the intensity of the scene picks up. In a lot of cases this would happen by going to closer and closer shots as the scene progressed but they achieve this through one camera move intercut with the non linear car shots.
Drivers starts to say, “I should F#@*-ing kill you” and the first of many dissolves begins. The dissolve lasts between 4 and 5 seconds and resolves into the over the shoulder shot inside Driver’s car from shot #2.
11) Just as the dissolve finishes transitioning to this shot, we hear a loud musical note and then Shannon’s line, “I just wanted him to know, that as soon as you returned the money that was the end of it, that’s all”. By going to this shot the line is being emphasized. Visually, we don’t have as much to focus on as when we were looking at Shannon’s face, so the alternative encourages more focus on the auditory aspect. Such an interesting way to highlight a line of dialogue. This point is reinforced by the shot selection here. We cannot see very much in this shot other than some of the dials and the headlights on the street outside the car. This gives us even less to look at in the shot, driving even more of the auditory focus. We do have one moment when the passing street lights illuminate Driver, but if you notice, this happens perfectly in between Shannon’s words “know” and “that”. There is also a little string hit in the music just as the lights come up. I might be stretching too much there with finding meaning, but it does seem like more than just a happy little accident. The sound design for this section is more subdued than it was earlier. You can still make out some engine sounds but it does not feature the loud, distorted noise used earlier for the hard cutaway. As Shannon starts his next line, another dissolve begins, returning us to the scene in the parking lot. The dissolve starts on another one of the deep musical notes and, from a visual standpoint, begins as a green streetlight washes over Driver.
12) The dissolve is timed so that it ends just as Shannon finishes his line, “Let me just talk to Bernie, ok?”. It lasted 7 full seconds and then on cue Driver moves abruptly, shoving Shannon as he turns away from him. Within 2 seconds it begins dissolving again. Basically, the only moment the shot is at full opacity is during this shoving motion.
13) After a very quick dissolve we are back in the profile close up of Driver in his car. For the first half of the shot the only thing visible are some streetlights off in the distance. We hear Shannon’s next line of dialogue and then there is a pause. Suddenly, Driver’s face lights up in a pool of green and then, just as quickly, it dissipates. Other than a little glint off his eye, the shot is almost completely black now for 5 seconds. There is also a pause in the dialogue, allowing us to linger on Shannon’s line, “How was I supposed to know everything led to Nino?”. There is no visual or sound except for a bit of driving noise and the synthesizer notes. It is yet another editorial technique for emphasis, driving home the importance of what is being said. We hear Driver’s voice come back in, “They’re going to come looking for me”, and then my favorite dissolve of the scene starts.
14) This film is full of beautifully designed dissolves. Part of it is the timing and decisive nature of when they start and stop, but even more so is the shot composition involved. The location of the players in the frame work wonderfully with each other across the life of the dissolve. In this case we start with a shot where Ryan Gosling’s face fills almost all of the left third of the frame. The dissolve works its magic in all the negative space occupying the rest of the frame. Because his face is the only thing even somewhat lit in the A-side shot, your focus is there. As the brightest part of the B-side shot, the fluorescent lights of the parking lot, start to appear your eye is drawn to the right. You follow the line of lights right to the face of Ryan Gosling’s as it finishing dissolving in from the medium close up. From a story perspective, it brings you in, drawing you from the left side of frame to the right just as Driver says, “and they’re going to come for you, you understand?”. It is such a beautiful finale, where so many technical and aesthetic aspects come together to empower a moment. The fine art of crafting a scene comes from changes; if things get too repetitive we start to detach from story and this whole scene is such a shining example of changes. The rest of this shot exemplifies another pacing change. Up to this point we have not held on a shot for very long at all, there is always a cutaway or dissolve breaking it up. For this final section of dialogue we change that and hold on this two-shot for a full 26 seconds after the dissolve finishes.
15) For the final exclamation point to this scene, we have one more hard cut. The last question in the previous shot is Shannon asking, “what are you going to do?”. After 4 long dissolves between shots, our answer comes in a jarring cut to Driver’s face. Everything in this shot is different from the previous iterations of his profile in the car. The car is stopped and the red glow of the stoplight is washed over Driver’s face. Also, for the first time we see his eyes moving around, as he looks to right and then down. We sense an emotional level that was not apparent in the previous moments from this setting. Shannon’s question was what he was going to do, and it seems he doesn’t know yet, because he puts is head down into his hand dejectedly. It is just utterly gorgeous shot selection.
16) The scene finally ends on another decisive dissolve. With his head down, the shot transitions into the next scene where two other characters are talking. In yet another example of the beautifully composed dissolves from Drive, the foreground face of the incoming shot fits perfectly into the negative space to the right of Driver’s face.
If you want more discussion on this film check out this conversation with Editor Mat Newman. It discusses the dissolves in even more depth.
Welcome back Masters and Padawans, hope your holidays were fantastic and most of the treats have digested well. If you scroll down this post finding yourself confused and panic stricken, it’s probably because you haven’t caught up on the A side of this record. To calm yourself down, check out Scene Breakdown: Empire Strikes Back part 1. For everyone else, let pop this cork and continue. Where were we?
Oh ya, AT-AT destruction. The last scene we looked at was of the rebel pilots tripping up a Walker blowing that sucker up.
21) From this quick show of celebration by the Rebels the tone turns serious again. We cut from Luke’s cockpit to the Rebel command room where Leia and the General declare that they cannot hold out much longer and must evacuate the remaining ground staff. After a minute of upward momentum for the Rebels, we are brought back down to the truth that overall the Rebels are losing this fight.
22) Staying inside the Rebel base, we transition to one of the hangars where evacuating troops pass by the ship that 2 of our main characters, Han Solo and Chewbacca, are working on. Similar to the technique used earlier, where we witnessed R2-D2 as the Walkers attached; this is a chance for the filmmakers to both progress story, with signs of the evacuation, and fill us in on what the central characters are up to. From this shot we go to another part of the hangar where R2-D2 is being loaded into another ship while the other droid C-3PO says his goodbyes.
23) We leave the interior of the base and get 20-seconds of general battle footage. Unlike the past sections where we had a pretty clear perspective of the fight and flow of momentum, this part steps back a little and looks at the overall battle and the erupting pandemonium. Walkers fire, Rebel infantry run around and fire back, Snowspeeders attack the Walkers, and the Rebels take a lot of damage.
24) From that last screenshot where you see the cockpit of the AT-AT firing in profile, we go inside the cockpit to the Imperial commander. His dialogue instigates the next plot point. Before this, the general battle footage was not furthering the story but instead getting us back into the action spirit after being inside for a bit. Here he says, “prepare to target the main power generators”, and we understand the enemy is close to breaking into the base. The stakes have risen for our Rebel heroes.
25) Now we have a 1-minute action scene with our main character, Luke. As if in response to the Imperial Commander’s directive, we cut to a shot of Luke’s Snowspeeder dropping in to make another attack run on the Walkers. As they barrel in on the Walkers, one of Luke’s wingmen is taken out and then Luke’s ship takes fire and crashes into the snow. The building, heroic music cuts out at the impact and the tone of the scene shifts. As Luke exits his downed ship, the legs of an incoming AT-AT loom. We have a change of momentum from the battle charge of the Snowspeeders to this cat and mouse game between the Walker and Luke. It is also an introduction of a new type of tension in the Battle of Hoth. Up to this point we have witnessed the shifting tides of the grand battle but now we see it on an individual level with one of our characters in direct peril. Along with the music change, the editorial style changes. Instead of long sequences of shots showing Rebels attacking or Walkers attacking, we go back and forth between Luke trying to get out of the Snowspeeder and the Walker closing in on him. Also, in terms of shot selection, the framing of the shots get tighter and tighter as the scene progresses. First we see all four of the Walker’s legs, then a closer shot of one foot come crashing down, then finally the foot rising up to come down seemingly right upon us. Just as it’s about to cover the entire frame we cut to Luke leaping free of the Snowspeeder and the foot crushes the ship.
26) Keeping up the intensity we cut to the inside of the base being damaged by Walker fire. Through a crumbling tunnel, Han Solo is making his way to Leia in the partially collapsed command room. Off screen we hear an announcement that Imperial forces have entered the base and Leia reluctantly orders a complete evacuation.
27) On cue from her order we see the infantry outside calling for a retreat and running away from the Walkers. For the next 17-seconds it is all Imperial forces putting a royal hurt on the Rebels.
28) The previous shot of the 3 Walkers chasing down fleeing Rebels leads us into the next little action scene with Luke. He is running along side one of the Walkers and uses his grapple gun to pull himself up to the belly of the Walker. Then he slashes open a section with his lightsaber and throws a grenade inside. After jumping off, we see the Walker explode from within. It is one last heroic scene for Luke to make a stand even though all hope is pretty much lost. This scene certainly could have immediately followed the scene where Luke escapes being crushed but is pushed downstream for a couple reasons. Had these two been combines the resulting scene would be pushing the 2-minute mark and up to this point we have never really been in one location for more than a minute. It would have slowed down the overall pace of the battle even though the content was fast paced action. Also, it continues changing the tide of momentum in the battle as we return to Imperial forces attacking in between time spent with Luke. Another thought on the subject is that the longer you stay with one of the many characters during a hectic event such as this, the more opportunity the audience has to forget what is going on with the other characters and become confused when we return to them.
29) The wave of perspective changes again as we enter the cockpit of the Walker. After firing on the ground troops and blasting one of the Snowspeeders out of the air, the Imperial Commander gets the Walker within range of the base and orders “maximum firepower”. We then see the base take a direct hit.
30) Now inside the base we experience the results of this barrage as the walls begin to fall in on Han, Leia, and C-3PO. Due to a blocked hallway, the group must head back and evacuate the base aboard Han’s ship. Over the next 3-minutes we have 2 variations of the cat and mouse action pursuit involving this group. It begins with them trying to get to the ship, while being chased by Darth Vader and his Stormtroopers who have just broken into the base. We will get a shot of the Han’s group running down a hallway then revert to the Imperial group in a previous room or hallway. As with the Luke and Walker scene a couple minutes ago, there is a building danger as the enemy closes in on our heroes. Just as the Stormtroopers catch up, the Rebel group reaches Han’s ship and shut the doors. Even though we are relieved that they have made it aboard, a second tension presents itself. The Stormtroopers begin setting up heavy weapons to destroy the ship. Now it is a race between them and Han as he tries to start up the ship. Both these build-ups are quite different than the style in the beginning of the Hoth battle. We move inside for a claustrophobic chase scene after being out in the open for wide mass combative situations. It is a great way to keep the battle from getting stale with repetitive forms of combat.
31) Han gets the ship started and they lift off, just in time. Here, again, the filmmakers lead us to other characters with the ship as a story vehicle. We start in a wide shot of the hanger as the ship lifts off, then we cut outside with the ship in the background flying past Luke, who is walking in the foreground. The ship flies off in the distance but we stay with Luke. He makes his way to an outside staging area, where his personal ship is waiting. The Battle for Hoth ends with him leaving the planet in his ship with R2-D2.
So this was definitely a worthwhile experiment for me. It was quite a different undertaking than the breakdowns I’ve gone through before, where I had to wear a different set of eyes when looking at the flow. It’s just going to take a little longer to train those eyes. I certainly want to do it again, but it was a little more taxing in comparison. But hell, that’s how you learn so I’m still glad to be doing these little exercises. As always, please share your thoughts in the comments section and feel free to suggest future scenes to look at. I have gotten some great ones off twitter friends recently that I’m excited to dive into.
May the force be with you.
I knew I would get to this movie eventually, but initially I had a different scene planned. Recently, I got to see a screening of Blue Velvet at the Starz Filmcenter and my intentions changed. Part of it was the other scene, upon further review, carried more of a performance punch rather than an editorial one; and I think part of it was that my sensibilities have changed a bit in the time since I last saw the film a couple years ago.
David Lynch’s work holds a special place in my film vernacular, and led me to his stylistic counterparts Brian De Palma and David Cronenberg, who have also become favorites of mine. Blue Velvet is a “surrealist mystery”, as many film historians have deemed it, but I’m drawn to the dark, twisted intrigue of the classic thriller. It starts with a college boy, Jeffrey, who while visiting home finds a severed ear that leads him down a dangerous road of sex and violence. Ok, so sorry for the cheesy ass synopsis. 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.
Blue Velvet was released in 1986. The writer and director was David Lynch, the Film Editor was Duwayne Dunham, and the Cinematographer was Frederick Elmes. This scene comes right before the climactic finale where Jeffery returns to the apartment that much of the mystery takes place in. The scene begins at the 1-hour, 46-minute, and 55 second mark and is just over 2 minutes 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) We start in the dark hallway outside of the apartment. Jeffery walks down the hallway towards the camera and the door to the apartment. Jeffery pauses at the door and looks down at the keys, taking a moment to collect himself. This moment gives us a chance to take in the sounds going on. One of the greatest qualities of Lynch’s films is the sound design; there always seem to be gorgeously creepy atmospheres established in the realm of sound. At this point, with the sound effects of footfalls and jingling keys halted; we hear a very low rhythmic tone coming in waves complimented with a much higher pitched steady tone much like electricity or cicadas. After the pause, Jeffery carefully unlocks the door and enters the apartment.
2) We have a matched action cut from inside the apartment now of Jeffery coming through the door. As he moves slowly into the room the high pitched hum gains in volume and pitch, adding to the tension.
3) Still in the same medium shot, Jeffery continues entering the room and as he looks around the corner, sees something and jumps back behind the wall. We don’t know what he saw, and rather than cut away we stay on Jeffery as he hides behind the wall. The editor could have done this sequence a couple different ways with different emotional responses. He could have had Jeffery start looking into the room, cut to what he is seeing, then cut back to Jeffery’s reaction or he could have shown Jeffery’s scared reaction then quickly cut to what he is looking at. Instead he holds on Jeffery without revealing what scared him. Now our imagination starts to run, wondering what horrific sight could have made him leap back like that. We stay on this shot for another 10 seconds after Jeffery reacts; seeing him cower and then inch his way back to look around the corner. Just as the light from the living room hits his face, we finally cut to what he is seeing.
4) In a wide shot of the living room, we see what scared him. There is one dead man tied to a chair and another man who has obviously been shot in the head still standing. We hold on this for 6 seconds, giving us plenty of time to take in this disturbing scene.
5) In a new medium close up, showing much more of Jeffery’s face, he closes the door while maintaining his eyeline into the room. As the door shuts, the high pitched whine quiets down but is not completely removed. Over the next 22 seconds, he tiptoes into the room, always moving forward towards the camera, which is dollying back to keep the same medium close up framing. As he walks, he glances around the room, taking in what has happened here. This shot is all about his facial expressions. They are constantly transitioning between fear, shock, and confusion.
6) Jeffery and the camera finally come to a stop, still in the medium close up. Ever since he started walking, the high-pitched whine, which had quieted, has been slowly rising again in volume. At the end of the shot, he looks down and to his right. This movement initiates the cut, which will show us what he is looking at.
7) We cut to a medium shot of the lower half of the standing man in yellow, who is a dirty cop we learned of earlier, and a broken television. As we cut, the high-pitched sound increases quite a bit, hinting that this sound may be coming from the television or from the walkie-talkie in the man’s pocket.
8) The shot continues, with the camera tilts up to the head of the man in yellow. It appears he is still breathing, but has been lobotomized by a gunshot wound to the head. Once the camera stops tilting up, we hold on him for a beat before cutting away.
9) We return to the medium close up of Jeffery. His eye contact is still with the man in yellow. As we cut to him he looks to the right and we cut away again, following his gaze.
10) In a medium shot, we see a bound and gagged man who has also been shot in the head.
11) Back to Jeffery, who takes a deep breath in reaction. This scene is all about Jeffery, so we are seeing a lot of his reaction shots as he examines the crime scene. Also this scene is based on tension, so is slower cut with a more shots to draw out the suspense. We could have removed this shot and gone to the next but by including this one we get an extra beat and an extension of the dread he is feeling.
12) Following along with Jeffery’s increasing focus on the details, we go to an extreme close up of the seated corpse. The shot starts on the man’s mouth, which is stuffed with a piece of blue velvet. If you haven’t seen the movie, well first go out and see it, but if you haven’t then you need to know that blue velvet is a key story element in the film and the song is sung numerous times throughout. After a moment, the shot tilts up slowly into a gorgeous composed shot of both the bullet hole and the results of a severed ear. In this moment we understand who this man is. He is the kidnapped husband of one of the main characters. The whole mystery began when Jeffery found the ear in a park at the beginning of the film and now he has finally found the ear’s owner, but unfortunately it is too late. After the camera comes to a stop, we hold on this for 3 seconds to allow for the realization to settle in.
13) We return to another reaction of Jeffery, as he is forming the same conclusion we just did in regards to the man’s identity. What comes next is the greatest scare of the movie. We have been lulled into this trap with long, slow shots with very little movement or sound, other than the incessant drone in the background of course. As I brought up in the Dark Knight scene breakdown, all good scares are dependant on strong audio cues. This one begins with an audio cue in this shot and overlaps into the next to finish with the visual scare. From the pocket of the man in yellow we hear the loud hiss of the walkie-talkie and the words “Get back”. In the same moment that we as the audience jump; Jeffery jumps back as well. His reaction takes 8 frames and then we cut.
14) Now, back in the wide shot from behind Jeffery, we hear the rest of the line from the walkie-talkie, “and stay down.” At the same time, the arm of the man in yellow spasms and knocks the shade off the lamp next to him. It is hard to say in written words how much this scare has gotten me each time I have viewed it. Even in reviewing the cuts for this breakdown it got me, and I completely knew it was coming. It works in a duel way because of the way the audio leads us into the visual cue; but even more so, it succeeds because so much effort was invested into the lead up. All the long shots hanging on Jeffery as he moved about the apartment, the slow camera moves, and especially the sound design got us keyed up so that when the scare came it worked magnificently. We hang on the shot as Jeffery leaps back and then settles himself. The next line begins over the walkie-talkie, “It’s Frank Booth, apartment 26.” Frank is the villain of the film and it seems the police are about to raid his place. As soon as the line finishes, we cut.
15) In his medium close up, Jeffery is still a little shaken up. The walkie-talkie transmits again with, “Lieutenant, we’re at Frank’s place now. The raid has commenced as scheduled.” Over the course of the message, Jeffery inches forward again, his eyes flicking between the man head and the walkie-talkie in his pocket. By the time it finishes, he seems to have regained his composure. As the line finishes there is a beat where he is steadily looking down towards the walkie-talkie and soundtrack music begins to fade in. After the beat he looks up, initiating the cut. This shot last for 11 seconds.
16) Back on the medium close up of the bloodied head of the man in yellow, we hear over the walkie-talkie, “Stay in place.”
17) In Jeffery’s medium close up, he looks from the man’s head down to his pocket again. The music is now at full volume, and as we cut to this shot the vocals of the song begin.
18) We cut back in the shot of the broken television and the walkie-talkie in the pocket. We hear static coming from it, but no words are being said. This is an excellent vehicle for getting us to the following scene. By looking at the device and the audio coming from it, we instinctively want to know what is happening in that other place, and will be rewarded by transitioning to that event.
19) Now we are in the next scene, where the police raid is about to begin.
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!
If you have not read Scene Breakdowns: The Wild Bunch part 1 then give it a look-see, it will be important to understanding some of the building concepts in this final part of the breakdown.
So where were we?
Oh ya, The Wild Bunch. The trust in the team has started to break down and they have just discovered that their latest robbery has been a set-up. What they thought were bags of gold coins turned out to be full of iron washers. Here is the final shot of the last breakdown which was a wide shot of the bunch standing around their worthless loot as the leader, Pike, throws down his hat and exclaims, “Bastards”.
35) We cut from the group to the one person not in the wide, the old man. He begins laughing to himself.
36) The camera tilts up from focusing on the brother’s hands, throwing the washers down, to their shocked faces. Lyle says, “Washers?”
37) A cutaway to Angel sitting down shocked and defeated. I am guessing this was to give a little bit more pause after Lyle’s last line before returning to the two shot. His next line begins over the end of this shot.
38) Now Lyle is transitioning from shock to anger, and begins to rail out against the fact that they shot their way out of the town for a bunch of cheap washers. He is looking at Pike though and we feel that is where he is focusing this anger.
39) Pike verbalizes what everyone is starting to understand, “They set it up”.
40) Lyle gets angrier and screams back at Pike. Near the tail of the clip you hear the old man cackling and the brothers eyes’ flick towards him initiating the next cut.
41) Now in close up the old man howls with insane laughter then repeats Lyle’s question, “They?”, before beginning to move forward. This small movement makes the next cut easier to digest as the action continues in the following shot. They could have cut while he was still and then had him begin moving in the next shot but the action gives motivation and softening to the cut.
42) We are now back in the original wide shot master with the old man moving towards the group and laughing wildly.
43) The old man finishes walking up to the brothers in the 3rd Wide shot. His crazy outburst even threatens Lyle a bit, who raises one hand to ward off the old man while raising his other hand into a first. The old man begins a crazy spiel over the next sequence of shots in which he laughs, speaks gibberish, and overall seems to make a fool out of himself.
44) In the two shot, Lyle lowers his arms as he realizes he is not being attacked.
45) We now go to a new medium shot of the old man ranting. What is interesting is that the shot clearly breaks the 180-degree rule established by the rest of the shots in this scene. The filmmakers could have easily followed the rule resulting in shots of the old man from over the shoulder of the brothers or Pike, but instead the camera seems to be on the other side of the stone fireplace at the center of the camp. By breaking this rule, we get a shot that doesn’t have the character perspective it would have had with being on the brother’s or Pike’s side and its unconventionalism lends itself to the crazy nature of the old man’s apparent ramblings. It is a case where by breaking the rule it is in fact adding to the scene.
46) Pike looks down in his two-shot then back at Dutch as the old man continues mocking them. Although the man is acting wild, he is speaking truth in his comments about the set-up and this is acknowledged in Pike’s facial expressions.
47) Now back to the odd medium shot where the old man mutters the line “Oh my, what a bunch”, which I think is the only time in the movie that alludes to the title. Please correct me if I am wrong though.
48) Next, in the third wide shot, the old man does a crazy little dance where he pretends to throw money up his butt. I tried to get the most appropriate screenshot, but you have to see it in action to understand how weird he looks.
49) In his odd close up the old man finishes his rant. He closes it by switching from the delirious laughter to pointed anger and snarling, “They, who the hell is they?” He then turns to walk away; initiating the same action cut that occurred at the beginning of his craziness sequence.
50) Back in the original wide shot master Pike calmly answers the question as the old man walks back to his starting position against the fence. He answers, “Railroad men, bounty hunters”.
51) We cut to a close up of Pike where he finishes his answer with a name, “Deke Thornton”. He says this name in the same calm manner but with a little bit more weight, which is complimented by the choice of cutting to the close up. Both the acting and editing emphasize the importance of this name to the story.
52) This one shot is so important to this scene. It is a close up of the old man as he says, “Deke Thornton?”. On one side it gives even more emphasis to the name, again with the close up choice right after Pike’s and in the way in which the old man says it. With having both close ups right after each other it is as if the two men are having a private conversation and that they might know each other better than we think. It clears the old man of being as crazy as we thought based on his bombastic tirade. All joking aside, he is stone serious when he hears that name. He is an old timer who has been around the block a couple times, possibly a long history with Pike, and certainly not the senile horse trader we thought him to be. After saying the name, he takes a long pause then says, “He was one of them?”
53) We see a reaction shot of Pike as he looks down for a beat of silence. This person they are speaking is very important.
54) The brothers look bewildered for a second then Lyle lashes out at Pike again.
55) With his back to us and the other characters, Pike is silent. From off camera, we hear Angel say, “Hey Gringo”. Pike begins to turn towards the voice.
56) We cut to a new two shot of the brothers as they too turn towards Angel. This is from a lower angle that might be more representative of Angel’s perspective, which is fitting because Angel is the dominant force in the following sequence of action.
57) Angel is still trying to ruffle the feathers of the brothers and chides them with “You can have my silver”.
58) In the new two shot, Tector reacts to Angel’s jokes by beginning to whip his pistol out. He makes it half way through his draw when we cut back to Angel.
59) As we return to Angel his is just finishing drawing his gun as well. The way in which the cut takes place half way into Tector’s draw and then seeing Angel finish his draw eludes to the fact that Angel was quicker and beat Tector to it. If it had cut after Tector finished drawing, then it would seem Angel was just reacting to Tector rather than them doing it at the same time with Angel being faster. Also there is a great sound effect before the cut of the gun coming out of the holster and then one of Angel cocking his hammer as he finishes drawing. Both serve the action so well and accentuate the standoff.
60) There is a quick reaction from the brothers as they back up a little at Angel’s quick draw.
61) Then we see Pike’s close up reaction to this new development.
62) Back to Angel as he continues to tease the brothers.
63) Then we hold of the brother’s two shot for a beat of silence.
64) In the original wide shot master we see the old man, with his back to the group, reach into his saddlebag and quietly remove a rifle. At this point no one even flinches towards his direction and we don’t know which character he is going to train his gun on. Because we know so very little about these players at this point, this move by him could lead to a couple different scenarios. On viewing this the first time I thought he might be teamed up with Angel and he was going to get a jump on Pike and Dutch while Angel held off the brothers. It intensifies an already taught moment where we as an audience don’t know who to trust, just like the bunch.
65) We pick up the old man now in his medium shot as he quietly cocks his rifle and walks out frame right.
66) In the second wide shot we see the old man cross behind Pike and Dutch. I think if he was a threat to them they would react to him in some way, so he must be going to get another sight on the brothers and Angel. Although this little question of sides only really plays out over 3 or 4 shots, it is still a nice extra bit of intrigue added to an already tense standoff.
67) Now we go to Angel’s first close up. I think this is the weakest of the close ups used in this scene. It does show Angel’s devilish facial expressions and maybe it is showing that he is focused on the brothers instead of the old man, but the fact that it does not have a clear drive differentiates it from the other powerful close ups used earlier. I would love to hear if anyone has a different take on this shot choice.
68) Back to the brothers, eyes still firmly planted on Angel.
69) In close up, Pike calmly says, “Go on, go for it”. We don’t know who exactly he is talking to, but by having the shot before Pike’s close up and the shot following it being of the brothers, the editor gives us a hint that it is them Pike is speaking to.
70) Back in their original two shot, the brothers slowly turn back towards Pike, as he says, “Fall apart”. Pike is talking to everyone, but with the most emphasis on the brothers. At the end of the shot we hear Dutch say, “Walk softly boys”.
71) Then we cut to Dutch holding his gun. By hearing the threat off camera, it piques our interest to see who said it. When we go to that character we get a little bit more payoff than if we had cut from the brothers to Dutch before he delivered the line.
72) We get a stern look from Pike in his close up. It is kind of the exclamation point on the threat, a silent look that lets them know he means business.
73) The brothers stand down. Although we can’t see their guns being lowered, all their body language suggests they are giving up. As Tector bends down, Lyle gives one last look over his shoulder towards Angel, which dictates the next cut.
74) Angel holsters his gun and it seems our standoff is resolved.
75) Back in our very first wide shot, all the guns are lowered and the men move towards each other in the center of the camp. There is a downbeat music cue to further solidify the scene resolution.
76) I believe the resolution came in the last shot, but I included this one because as a final sign of no hard feelings, the old man throws Tector a bottle of Whiskey. It seems in most Western films, passing a bottle of Whiskey around is a key sign that everything is good again, at least for now. Also, I like whiskey.
So that’s it. 76 shots, a roller coaster ride of emotion in one of the best western films of all time. As I said in the last post this scene is all about a group unraveling. Every time you think the issues are dealt with something else comes up. You don’t know who to trust and in a group of criminals there are not a lot of reason to trust anyone. If you want a little more info on the film, as well as some interesting tidbits on the editorial process check out the Wikipedia page on the film.
I have yet to decide what film scene to focus on next. Hopefully something I watch in the next week lends itself to this type of breakdown. If anything, it damn well won’t be as long a scene as this one. As always, I would love to hear what your interpretations are as well as any suggestions for scenes to study.
First off I have to apologize. In my excitement to start doing these breakdowns I chose a scene from a movie I had seen in the last couple days. That is not why I am apologizing. I have gained a lot from doing this exercise; there is a lot of power in analyzing something shot by shot that you don’t get from just watching the scene play out as a part of the whole feature and even from watching the scene over and over by itself. I am apologizing because it’s a long one. It wasn’t till I was fully entrenched in this particular scene that I realized how many shots were in it. I’m going to be making this a 2-part post because it is too many stills to present all together and there is a perfect emotional divider in the scene as well. So, I hope you can bear with me, because this may take a while.
This scene is not the first one that comes to mind when I think of The Wild Bunch. Usually it is the opening or the final battle. But there was a moment while watching this scene where I was really grabbed by what they were doing from a tension perspective and that is why it came to mind when I was pondering which scene to get this breakdown ball a rolling with. 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 Wild Bunch debuted theatrically in 1969. It was directed by the great Sam Peckinpah and edited by Louis Lombardo. The scene in question takes place after the opening robbery and gunfight where the remaining members of the gang are about the divide up their score. I could have given a long synopsis of the film, but all you need to know is that it is a glorious western and you damn well need to see it. This scene is the first to really introduce us to the players left and is the starting place for the rest of their story. We have seen them in action but don’t know them or where they stand in the pecking order, except for the leader, Pike.
The scene starts at around the 24 minute mark but I didn’t start it till after some of the traveling shots that lead to, what I see as, the dramatic beginning of the scene. I began at the 24:41 mark. The scene is a little over 4 minutes long and I stopped studying it after the resolution comes at the 28:50 mark. In these 4 minutes there are 76 shots.
The men have just ridden into the camp and gotten off their horses.
1) It begins with the widest shot of the scene, from behind Pike with a clear view of everyone’s placement. It’s informing us of where everyone is as well as the action of the men dropping the loot in the center of the camp.
2) Next we go to a medium shot of an old man. The scene’s true beginning started with a tracking shot of this old man moving through the camp to meet the approaching riders. We know he is important to this scene due to his screen time so far and with the way he speaks at will with Pike but know nothing else about him or his involvement in the group at this point. This medium shot endears him more to the scene because he is the first character we are seeing from a closer perspective as he looks out at the group.
3) We return to the wide shot to see the younger Mexican character walk past the 2 men in the center of frame.
4) There is a cut on action to a medium two shot of the men as the left one turns to watch the younger character. Seeing them first in this two shot makes us associate them as a pair and in agreement with each other as the scene progresses.
5) We follow his gaze to see the boy crouch down and look up at him.
6) Now this shot I don’t really know about. This is the only time it is used in this scene and doesn’t really tell us anything about this group or further the story. Maybe it is there to give us a lay of the land and show us that there are others around as the group interacts. I just don’t know.
7) Now back to the 2 shot for the instigating dialogue.
8) This is a new wide shot that has a casual balance that compliments the casual response from Pike. I like that it is not looking directly in Pike’s face and is not a direct opposite to the master from the other direction. Also, I don’t know why this stupid smiley face shows up instead of the number 8, keep trying to get rid of it but the editor wont let me. I guess WordPress likes this shot.
9) This is where you really understand how the 2 shot compliments these characters. By already having a subconscious connection because of the shot choice, its gives more impact to their intentions.
10) As the line is being said we see a cutaway of the boy who he is talking about.
11) The line is then finished back in the 2 shot. After this character, Lyle, finishes, his friend, Tector, begins to call out the old man featured earlier for his size of the take.
12) As he is speaking we cutaway to the second wide shot where you see a slight head nod by the old man as he reacts to being criticized.
13) Then we return to the 2 shot for the end of the line delivery.
14) In the old man’s medium shot he looks from the 2 men to the ground and spits in response to the statement, then glances away in Pike’s direction.
15) The 2 men look at each other as if to assure each other of commitment to this idea, then verbally reiterate that they don’t feel the shares are fair.
16) Right on the last word of the line, “fair”, we cut to a new medium shot of Pike. This time it is much less of a profile shot and dictates more power with the eye line close to the camera. It prepares you for Pike’s authority that he is about to unleash on the 2 men.
17) The men are both a little bewildered at Pike’s statement and look at each other as such.
18) Before they can finish looking back at Pike we cut to a new shot of Pike, where he immediately stands up into a close up. This is the first close up so far and it is empowered with an even tighter eyeline. It gives great weight to the intense angry line Pike bellows “why don’t you answer me you damned yellow livered trash?” For some reason the subtitles didn’t show the word “livered”, but I think it is such a great line I had to type it out for you.
19) In the 2 shot, Lyle begins to argue but Pike’s audio comes in over Lyle’s audio, overpowering Lyle’s voice and cutting him off.
20) Pike begins to deliver his final message to these boys. This shot is only on screen for maybe half as second before cutting to a reaction.
21) The reaction shot holds on the 2 brothers as Pike says “I either lead this bunch or…”
22) Pike finishes his ultimatum in the same powerful close up saying “end it right now”. Again the subtitles missed one of the words in the line. After his line we hold on Pike for a beat to let it really sink in, during which we see him clench his jaw and take a breath.
23) Just as power was added to the beginning of Pike’s outburst by going to the first close up of the scene, there are two ways that more magnitude was given to it on the tail side as well. First we cut from Pike’s close up to the original wide master shot looking out at all the players. The drastic change in shot size has a strong effect on snapping us to attention. Of the two wide shots, this one shows only the faces of the two brothers; with the eyes on them now the ball is in their court. Had we cut to the other wide shot showing Pike’s face it would have had a different emotional outcome. The second way this shot brings weight to the ultimatum is that it is held in silence for almost 7 seconds. Throughout this scene only a couple shots come even close to this length and there is very little time when one the characters is not speaking. All you hear is the wind and a chicken clucking in the background. It is such a dynamic finish to a powerful 6 shot sequence.
24) The brothers stand down and agree to the original shares.
25) We get one more close shot of Pike and then he moves out of frame toward the brothers. The movement is important to signify that the standoff is over and we can get rolling again.
26) Even though we feel like the issue has been resolved, Angel reminds us there is still tension in the group by taunting the 2 brothers with cowardly chicken clucking.
27) The brothers glance back at Angel, and then Tector turns back to look at Pike. His eye movement leads nicely into the cut to the next shot. Also because he is far to the left of the screen and his eyes draw us even more to the left we are in a perfect position to be looking at Pike’s screen location after the cut.
28) This is a new wide shot for the scene. On a practical side it allows us a good view of the action from the profile of all the characters but Angel. On an emotional side it give a balance of power to the characters by not giving any one character the focus or majority of frame. It is the right shot to further dissipate the emotions from the heated exchange and bring attention to the loot at center screen that all the characters are interested in. At the end of the shot Pike is about to start cutting into one of the money bags and instigates the cut to the next shot.
29) Back to the 2 shot where the brother realize what Pike is doing and reach down to hack into the score as well.
30) Now we see a cutaway of the bags of money and the brothers’ hands grabbing at them. From the corner of the screen we see Pike’s bag begin to pour out. We get a quick glimpse of metal pouring out, but something is not right about it.
31) A quick reaction shot of Pike and his second, Dutch, where they look distinctly bewildered, not excited.
32) The camera shows the brothers’ hands full of metal rings but doesn’t linger as it tilts back up to the 2 shot. We see that the brothers look bewildered as well. We know something is not right, but haven’t had enough time to examine what exactly they are holding. Tector exclaims, “Silver rings!?”
33) Dutch corrects him. They are in fact washers and the gang has been set up. He throws his hat down as Pike stares into the pile in shock.
34) We return to the profile wide shot as Pike throws his money bag down and Angel run into frame to see for himself.
It seems the line “Bastards” is a good one to end on. There are still some 40 odd shots still to come, so check back soon. This entire scene is a series of tense and release cycles. It is all about a gang unraveling under pressure, and is done so well. I would love to hear what you have to think about specific shot choices or edit decisions; this has a lot of my own opinion infused and seeing alternate perspectives is an important part of the education process.
I have to run though; its my Fiance’s birthday and we have head-sized margaritas to enjoy. Cheers!
Check out the rest of this breakdown Scene Breakdown: The Wild Bunch part 2