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