When watching the saloon scene in Stagecoach, I became intrigued by the manifestation of the 180-degree rule by using the bar as the line of action. Ford employs many differerent cuts throughout the scene, including crosscuts from Ringo back to the Plummers and motivated cuts from Doc Boone to the brothers. Yet with the exception of one, the frames shown in all cuts respect the 180-degree line that seems to have been implicitly drawn down the bar. This one exception came in the form of a shot of the other bystanders in the bar. Perhaps the ensuing disorientation the viewer might feel is meant to mirror the bystanders' confusion? This one exception reverses the positions of the characters onscreen. To me, this raised questions regarding the importance of the 180-degree rule: are there situations in which a violation of this rule is not only acceptable, but perhaps useful in conveying a certain message? While violations of this rule are generally considered poor form, do instances exist in which they could be the opposite?
The Rule of Six
In "The Rule of Six", Walter Murch discusses the criteria of what makes a good cut. His list consists of six different elements: emotion, story, rhythm, eye-trace, two-dimensional plane of screen, and three-dimensional space of action. According to Murch, the element that carries the most significance to a good cut is emotion. He says that if a director is able to make the audience feel the way they want to feel throughout the movie, then they have been very successful. What people remember most about a movie is not the editing or the camera work, but how they felt during the movie. I would agree with Murch's point of view. When I go see a certain type of movie, I do so because I want to feel a certain way. For example, if I see a comedy, I want to laugh and be happy. If I see a drama, I want to feel sad and emotional. If a movie isn't able to draw the type of emotions from me that I am anticipating, then I generally won't enjoy the movie. If a movie is successful in drawing the emotions that I want to feel, then I will, more often than not, thoroughly enjoy the movie. When the emotion of the movie is right, it is much easier to be unconcerned with lower-order items, such as eye-trace, stage-line, and spatial continuity.
In regards to the Kuleshov group
The reading on the Kuleshov’s group work, in particular, struck a chord with me as it dealt with something I’ve thought about before. With mediums other than cinema, it’s clear to discern quality through specific characteristics. For example, music is judged by its harmony, rhythm and auditory content. The same goes for mediums such as painting, but cinema is not quite as clear. It seemed that the quality of the actors, of the shots, and the overall material was what characterized the quality of a film. Though the experiment with Khokhlova and Obolensky, in which they walk in different locations but are shown in an entirely new location, illustrates how powerful montage truly is, being able to as the author puts it, “break down and reconstruct...ultimately to remake the material.”
This all demonstrates the necessity of montage and underscores the importance of the organization of shots, not necessarily the shots themselves. The Kuleshov effect further emphasizes this by showing how people can be guided to interpret shots in a certain way simply by the shots surrounding that shot. I hadn’t fully appreciated the art of montage, before having only been familiar with the idea of a montage in American sports training montages.
Cuts and Shadow Cuts
I found the Walter Murch reading on the number of cuts in Apocalypse Now to be particularly interesting because it illuminated the scale of major motion pictures, especially their post-production. As he says, they had to cut 1,250,000 feet of film, roughly 230 hours, down to a two and a half hour movie. That provides both a great opportunity and incredible challenge. A he says, the sheer amount of work needed to be done was daunting. It took them a full year, just to get all of the cut right. Simultaneously, though, the amount of film shot allowed them to poour over each cut, making sure it as absolutely the right one. To make a cut takes all of 10 seconds, but the rest of the day was spent in meetings watching and rewatching film to find the precise and perfect moment to move from one shot to another. I personally didn't have this kind of appreciation for the job of an editor. I thought directors had much more direct control over the process, shooting scenes in a specific way with specific angles. Instead, at least for Apocalypse Now, it seems they shot a number of different angles and the director left it up to the editors to carry the emotional weight of each scene with precise editing.
Montage: A Science or an Art?
Although like many others of my generation I have been exposed to film my entire life, I have never given any thought to the plethora of elements which go into the making of each film. This newfound knowledge continues to leave me highly conflicted. On one hand, reading about and discussing such elements has allowed me to view films quite differently, as I now have a greater understanding and appreciation for the thought and work which is poured into their development. On the other hand, however, knowledge of the “behind the scenes” secrets of film making worries me that it might take away from the overall effect of the film. For example, reading about Kuleshov’s experiments in achieving a particular response from an audience with simple editing gimmicks, left me with the feeling that behind cinematic magic was pure trickery. Does knowing these tricks take away from the magic?
I especially felt this conflict in reading about different views on montage. Bordwell gives a general and simplistic definition of montage when he writes, “…montage also denotes film editing. Although the concept has implications for macrostructure, most writers restrict it to matters involving what we might call the stylistic texture of the film: the way in which shots A and B could be joined to create a particular impression.” (Of Eisenstein) A more detailed and elaborate view of the concept of montage is brought out in writings by Murch, Kuleshov and others, and it is here that I find the source of my discomfort. At many points during my reading of their works I felt as if there was an attempt to make the art of film-making into a scientific formula. For example, Murch’s attempt to order the art with his “Rule of Six” felt as though he were trying to bring order and organization to a topic that could not, or perhaps rather should not, be ordered. Bordwell reinforces my belief of this more scientific approach when he writes of Vertov’s approach to montage, “Film production became like factory production, the assembly of a whole out of pieces trimmed to fit.” (The Cinema of Eisenstein)
In contrast, the piece by Eisenstein somewhat restored my faith in the magic of film, or more realistically the view of film as an art form rather than a simple formula. In particular he writes, “But in my view montage is not an idea composed of successive shots stuck together but an idea that DERIVES from the collision between two shots that are dependent of one another.” (28) This view of film as a living form, constantly changing as new ideas are born and shaped by the raw material of the footage is one that I am more at ease with, as it allows me to view the overall impact of the film as “magic” and simultaneously also see that what goes on behind the scenes is “magical” as well. I now understand the production of film and importance of montage may be a series of techniques which can be described and taught, but the way in which these techniques are employed is where opportunity for artistic expression remains endless.
Walter Murch’s discussion of “cuts” and why they work addresses a seemingly ubiquitous cinematic technique that I have often overlooked. I had never given much thought to the visual displacement occurring as a result of the cut, as it forces us to analyze the new scene in a completely different context. Through cutting, a filmmaker is no longer bound by the constraints that are time and space. This was illuminating to me, as I have sometimes taken for granted the way a shot or group of shots is cut, ordered, and arranged, and the way this affects the emotion felt by the audience.
Murch examines the importance of emotion, which he properly deems the most important criterion for a good cut. This seems simple, but when editing, one may become too focused on the spatial continuity, stage-line, rhythm, or another aspect of cutting when, in reality, it all comes back to the question Murch poses, “How do you want the audience to feel?” The discontinuity of the cut has revolutionized the emotions imposed upon the audience. This is seen is Stagecoach, for example, in the final scene in the saloon. Through cross cutting, the audience really understands and feels the simultaneity of action, which may have been lost if it were just one long take.
"Why Do Cuts Work?"
In this excerpt Walter Murch explains why montage "works" for the audience of a film. In other words, he provides his reasoning for why an audience is not disturbed by the discontinuity of edited film. However, I didn't find his explanation to be entirely satisfying. He seems to believe that the discontinuous storytelling of a film frees it from being "'earthbound' in time and space", and he also seems surprised that when viewing a film we are not disturbed by the sudden changes in context produced by a cut. It intrigued me as to why he would be so surprised. An audience attending a narrative film, even of the earliest kind, would be aware that the film was telling a story. In other forms of narration such as stories or novels there are implicit cuts taking place; speakers change during a dialogue, prose changes from dialogue to description, and so on. I wonder, is this interpretation of written storytelling a product of my exposure to film? In other words, since I grew up knowing film as a medium exists, is the way I naturally read a novel to form it myself into scenes and cuts? I wonder in which direction this influence went. Was montage influenced by written storytelling, or is our interpretation of written storytelling influenced by film?
Evan Fiddle - Commentary on Ugetsu
Kenji Mizoguchi’s Ugetsu provides a great social commentary centered on the lives of peasant men and women in Japan during the samurai era. With constant warfare occurring between the samurai and bandits, peasants’ farms and homes were often raided without remorse. Given this hopeless situation, one may initially think that his film, like Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, functions to pity the peasants who live in constant fear and seemingly have no ways of escaping their miserable social status. Yet shortly after the film begins, we realize that Mizoguchi’s fundamental objective for creating this film is to portray women’s submissive status in the face of their overly ambitious husbands. Both Genjuro and Tobei fantasize about being rich and achieving higher status even though their wives are happy living their wretched, predictable lives. At the beginning of the film, the village chief says to Omaha and Miyagi that their men have become too greedy and must stop dreaming so that they don’t jeopardize the love and family that they currently have. Omaha is utterly upset when Tobei leaves her to pursue the life of a samurai; likewise, Miyagi has to die before Genjuro realizes that love and his role as a father are life’s most important values. Regarding continuity editing, I was struck by the way in which Mizoguchi cut between shots; rather than creating a seamless transition, he purposely dissolved certain scenes into blackness before switching to other story lines. I assume this is difference stems from typical Japanese filmmaking conventions compared to those embedded in Western cinematography, yet it was fascinating to see after recently watching John Ford’s Stagecoach – a film that was made almost fifteen years before Ugetsu and presumably had to rely on less developed technology.