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