RESPOND TO 2 PEERS
Inception uses several narrative/plot devices as well as editing choices to help drive its story. For example, it uses a chronological narrative to follow the events in sequential order, while utilizing flashbacks and memories to give information to the audience at the appropriate time. It then returns to its chronological order of events. It also places an important emphasis on the setting. The movie is primarily located in the dreams of others, which drives the plot of planting ideas into someone’s mind even further. It uses a cliffhanger approach at the end of the movie which left the audience intrigued and questioning whether they were still in a dream at the end or whether they finally made it back to the real world. The movie also used foreshadowing to indicate a situation that was prone to happen. For example, when the protagonist’s wife was introduced, it was apparent that the protagonist could not control her and that she would endanger the rest of the crew. Finally, the director chose a series of editing choices that helped drive the story, express emotions, and establish a scene’s importance. For example, the director chose close-ups of the main character’s which portray the seriousness or confusion of a scene. The director also chose long shot lengths to sustain tension and place a dramatic emphasis and panning to stay close to the action.
These narrative techniques are evident in Week Two’s viewing materials. For example, in The Gilded Cage, the director followed a chronological order to establish the timeframe and sequence, while using a flashback to convey the husband kissing another woman. The setting was primarily in a house with two stepsisters and their mother, along with the house of the pampered sister and her new husband. The setting of the house with the sister and her new husband, along with their relationship, symbolized how the sister put herself in a gilded cage by her mindset and actions. The movie foreshadows by conveying the younger sister’s desire for the rejected suitor, who later on becomes her soulmate. The director also chose editing choices that helped drive the story. The most prominent was panning to keep the audience close to the action. He also had brief shot lengths which were used for dramatic emphasis on the scene.
Gutmann, P. (n.d.). D. W. Griffith and the dawn of film art — Part 6: Editing, PANNING, close-ups and the Dissolve. Retrieved from http://www.classicalnotes.net/griffith/part6.html
National Film Preservation Foundation. (n.d.). Preserved films. Retrieved from https://www.filmpreservation.org/preserved-films/screening-room/the-gilded-cage-1915
The first editing choice is intercutting. In the 1970 movie Patton, there is a scene where Patton and his troops lie in wait for a German armored column – who Patton believes is being lead by Erwin Rommel. The camera cuts between Patton and the American troops poised to strike, and the seemingly oblivious German tanks and infantry. The editing contrasts the deadly serious concentration of the Allies and the nonchalance of the Germans who are unaware of their fate, and builds tension up until the moment that the first salvo from the Allies is unleashed. The editing continues after the battle starts – showing the Allied positions opening fire from carefully concealed positions, and the chaos and pandemonium experienced by the German troops.
We see intercutting also used in The Gilded Cage. Between 1:40-2:20, it shows the put-upon stepsister Marie performing domestic drudgery, while cutting to Eloise, the favorite, preparing to meet her suitor, Kent. Though Eloise is less than joyous because she is preparing to break off her engagement with Kent, the fact that she is preparing for a date while Kate empties the ashes from the fireplace gives you an idea of the tension between the two.
Patton also uses the close up “to reveal an essential plot detail.” (Guttman, http://www.classicalnotes.net/griffith/part6) Patton, fully dressed in his uniform, is taking a nap. On the bedside table, there is a book; the camera gives us a close up to reveal the title: “The Tank in Battle” by Erwin Rommel. This scene is prior to the scene mentioned above and is essential to the plot: Patton, who lived and breathed all things military, reads Rommel’s book so that he may better understand how to defeat him. At the end of the scene mentioned above, while Patton is looking through binoculars at the obliterated German column, he utters this famous line: “Rommel! You magnificent ba$tard! I read your book!”
We also see the close up used The U.S. Navy of 1915. At 10:51-10:59 as it shows the faces of the rowing crew. From a distance, the boats appear to move effortlessly and, with the synchronized oars, almost gracefully across the water. However, the close up of the rowing crew tells a different story. You can see the intensity – and the effort – in their faces as they work to make their craft glide effortlessly and gracefully across the water.
Third editing choice is trick photography. The Coen Brothers, in their 1997 The Big Lebowski, use this to great comic effect. The title character, played by Jeff Bridges, is “shrunk down” and shown on the ball return of a bowling lane. You see Lebowski recoil as the now huge bowling ball appears to crush him, but he ends up in one of the ball’s finger holes. The ball is then rolled down the lane and the view changes as the ball rotates. Because the movie features many scenes filmed in a bowling alley, this instance of trick photography is pertinent to the plot.
The Gilded Cage also features trick photography. This was not something that was revolutionary in 1915 cinema – Georges Meiles used quite it ably in his films around the turn of the 20th Century – but the effect is well done nonetheless. At the end of the feature, Eloise is distraught after catching her new husband canoodling with another woman. (this scene takes place after another editing choice – the dissolve – to be discussed later) Eloise enters the room and walks across to a birdcage. She promptly frees the bird and sets the cage on the table. The final scene is an image of Eloise superimposed into the birdcage – the “gilded cage”.
Panning is an editing choice that is used so frequently that we as viewers take it for granted. Peter Guttman, in our week 2 reading (Guttman, http://www.classicalnotes.net/griffith/part6 points out that panning can serve the same function as editing, but without the “disruption of perspective”. Moreover, the pan keeps the continuity between the objects and the actors that separate shots would “obscure”.
My example of panning comes from Braveheart (1995). In the scenes of the Battle of Stirling, there are two armies – Scottish and English. Panning is used to show the enormity of the mass of troops on both sides, while staying close enough to see their facial expressions. You could show the size of the armies from a distant shot, but it would be at the expense of the drama and tension you would gain by being able to read their facial expressions.
From viewing of Week 2, I reference The Great Train Robbery. In scene 8 we see the train coming to a stop and the robbers making their escape. The camera pans from right to left – showing the robbers fleeing the danger of the crime scene (the train) into the relative safety of the surrounding valley. This serves as a transition rather than the Braveheart example of giving the audience a sense of the scope of the battle about to ensue.
Shot Length, like panning, is another editing choice that is so common you can be unaware of its impact unless you know to look for it. The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976) has several examples of varying shot lengths that build tension and excitement. One of my favorite scenes is when Josey meets with Comanche chief Ten Bears. As Josey approaches the Comanche they surround him.
Ten Bears tells Josey he may “go in peace.”
Josey: “I reckon not.”
(Five seconds of silence)
“I got nowhere to go.”
Ten Bears: “Then you will die.”
In the five seconds of silence between Josey’s responses, the camera does four quick cuts to the faces of Ten Bears and three of the Comanche braves – building the tension by showing their stone-faced response as they anticipate the answers from Ten Bears and Josey. That scene has always had great impact because it was literally a case of life-or-death.
From our week 2 viewing, my example of a creative use of shot length is The Great Train Robbery. In one of the assigned viewings for week 2, “The History of Cutting – The Birth of Cinema and Continuity Editing”, narrator John Hess explains how film makers – in this case, Edwin S. Porter – used editing to “compress time in favor of impact over reality.” In scene 7, the robbers uncouple the engine and tender and disappear into the distance – the whole scene takes about 15 seconds. The film cuts to a new scene where the engine appears in the right side of the frame and the robbers flee. By keeping the shot in scene 7 to 15 seconds, the audience can see that the robbers have escaped, but by cutting to a new scene, the audience has no idea how long the train has been traveling. By cutting the scene short and cutting to the new scene, Porter “compresses time”.
I have always enjoyed watching movies and though I have seen these editing choices used a thousand times, I never knew what they were called. It’s interesting to me because it gives me a whole new perspective.