Tuesday, December 20, 2011


JOHNNY CHAZZ: To witness, and better yet, to experience a film with minimal cuts is positively sensational. The problem is that we just do not see it much anymore. Use of minimal cuts and extended takes is a direct sign of strength in direction, writing and in the overall editing process. To witness, and worse yet, to experience a film with constant cutting borders on both tiring and annoying, serving as a sign of weakness in direction and in the overall film-making process. Hence, the subject for this week: The effects of constant cutting in film.

Director James Cameron: "JC, I have you now!"
Today’s worst films are placed into one single category: The action and adventure film. These are not films – they are popcorn movies that saturate the screen with endless and pointless action, over-cutting and a complete lack of meaningful dialogue. Little is being accomplished with these films and they have become a dime a dozen. Simply put – they are tasteless eye candy. Even James Cameron (“Avatar” and “Titanic”) analogized today’s action films as being so over-cut that they appear as ‘chopped salad’.

The idea of an extended scene or take not only adds to the realism of the film, but creates a real bond between audience and character. Constant cutting creates distraction and more importantly, a space between the character and the audience resulting in a separation that we never want. Constant cutting also disorients the audience wherein you completely lose your audience and destroys the scene from the top-down and from the bottom-up. The effect is a total reduction in the dramatic and tension effect that these types of scenes are capable of creating.

Acclaimed Director: AKIRA KUROSAWA
How conscious are we really of the cuts in a film? It is the idea of the ‘uninterrupted shot’ that creates the emotion. Camera angles may constantly change and dollies may move in and out adding to this amazing effect without effects being used. To shoot an extended scene within a limited space is priceless. Directors such as Kurosawa, Scorsese, Truffaut and Woody Allen are especially known for utilizing long-takes to draw audiences into them and create the right mood. Other examples might include the party scene from “Far From Heaven”, the interior scenes of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” the final scene from Coppola’s “The Conversation” or Antonioni’s “The Passenger”. Perhaps the opening scenes to most Kubrick films ("A Clockwork Orange" or "2001: A Space Odyssey"), might qualify, or even the extended take in Lynch’s "Mulholland Drive” at Club Silencio. Both “Before Sunrise” and “Before Sunset” also have memorable and extended scenes allowing us (as an audience) to become emotionally invested into the characters. How about the tour through the House of Blue Leaves in “Kill Bill”? Tarantino’s “Reservoir Dogs” also offers us an opening scene that we instantly become invested in. Finally, the extended take during the last scene of "The Third Man” could easily be regarded as another long-take that works with great effectiveness.
An awkward tender moment without edits from BEFORE SUNRISE

We could go on and on, but I imagine that this week’s readers get the idea of where I am heading. Most directors and audiences who enjoy constant cutting do so to maintain interest – a visual interest. The truth is that when a scene is extended and minimal cuts are used, well – that is precisely what makes some of the most memorable scenes in Hollywood and film history. Just think about some of your favorite scenes of all time and it would be a safe bet that the cuts used in those scenes are strictly limited. Extended cuts will always allow the audience to be emotionally drawn into the scene while creating a sense of real-time.

Someone once said: “Audiences prefer to move their own heads and to examine a scene, but when our view is forcibly changed – we lose all interest”.Judge for yourselves CINEMA: COUNTERPOINT readers. I leave this portion now with my counterpart Jer, and eagerly anticipate his response in reference to the effects of over-cutting in film.

JER: Yet another great topic pulled from the heavens to talk about! It is funny how you diligently mentioned directors such as Kurosawa, Scorsese and Coppola…yet, again, no love for one of my personal favorites and an exemplarity of the extended scene director: Mr. Brian DePalma!

Director Brian DePalma
I took it upon myself to cover one of DePalma’s greatest films and a prime example of long shots in a motion picture when I covered THE UNTOUCHABLES in my November 7th, 2011 posting. There are several extended/ uninterrupted scenes to converse about. The opening scene hangs over Robert DeNiro’s portrayal of Al Capone as he sits in a barber’s chair. The scene is unflinching as it stays on a wide shot and slowly begin descending into a close- up (or tight- shot) of the hot towel wrapped around his face only to have the barber remove the warm cloth and reveal Capone for the first time. The shot still remains unedited as you hear him reply to reporter’s questions. An excellent tracking shot (or dolly shot) has a low positioned camera circling around the table occupied by Sean Connery, Kevin Costner, Andy Garcia and Charles Martin Smith. The camera never cuts to any other shot and steadily paces round them, like an inpatient waiter, circling while the actors carry on with their talks. One other wonderfully extended shot has Martin Smith walking into an elevator within the Chicago Precinct as the camera remains on the outer doors as they close and pans to the left to catch both Costner and Connery walking into the scene while in conversation. It is a well- choreographed moment involving a busy hallway of officers and citizens carrying on their own business while intermingling with the real action taking place.

Another example of a long- steady cam shot can be found in 1992’s RAISING CAIN, also by DePalma. The scene is a well executed moment as we follow Dr. Lynn Waldheim (Frances Sternhagen) as she followed by two investigators as she rattles off an impressive and extensive piece of monolog concerning the main character’s multiple personalities. The scene begins in an interrogation room, moves out into the hallways, down two sets of stairs, into an elevator and into the basement morgue. The entire unedited scene clocks in at a staggering four minutes and fourteen seconds!
Start counting after 0.21! Here is the scene from RAISING CAIN!

Famed music video director Julien Temple directed the feature length film ABSOLUTE BEGINNERS in 1986 with musician/ actors David Bowie and Sade. Taking a page from his recent Janet Jackson video entitled “When I Think Of You” which had Miss Jackson strolling and singing through the neighborhood streets while pedestrians walk, chefs cook and a policeman directs traffic all in one single and unedited shot, Temple would re-create a similar scene as the opening to his film. Most of the main characters repeat the basic choreography and scenery from Jackson’s video on a grander, more cinematic scale. Same scene, different budget!
Not the film, but Temple's Janet Jackson video for "When I Think Of You!"

Director Stanley Kubrick embraced the newly- introduced Stedi- Cam by using its equally balanced camera operation to avoid shaking while the camera followed a moving sequence in his 1980 classic THE SHINING. The best use of both the camera and the continuous unedited scenes followed little Danny Torrance (Danny Lloyd) as he would peddle his tricycle throughout the corridors of the emptied Overlook Hotel. The pace is quick, as we are almost bring driven by Danny’s energetic legs peddling though lobbies and hotel walkways… as he is unaware of what may lie around every bend turned, the audience is victim to his maneuvering ways.

A very complex extended shot would appear in Martin Scorsese’s 1990 mob film GOODFELLAS. The film is sprinkled with tiny shots but one has to lean towards the sequence involving Ray Liotta’s Henry Hill as he escorts Lorraine Brocco’s Karen as they exit out of a car, cross a busy street filled with cars, though the backdoor of a nightclub, passing the kitchen and though the waiters’ doors to the front of the club where a table is brought forth on cue with chairs awaiting to finally sit and enjoy Henny Youngman on stage beginning within seconds after their grand entrance. Intricate in its timing including busboys, waiters, patrons and cooks along the way. A flawless piece of work played to the tune of The Crystals’ “Then He Kissed Me."
Here is the scene from GOODFELLAS for your entertainment

JOHNNY CHAZZ: I will, of course give Credit to DePalma for his use of extended scenes and long takes as well. Specific moments in "Carrie", "The Untouchables" (nice detail you included here in your response as the wide / tight shot is highly effective in the opening barber scene) and well - the forgetful, but appropriate for this week "Black Dahlia" utilized this technique quite well. It is virtually impossible as you know Jer; to include every director in these discussions, so I simply try to highlight the ones that immediately come to mind. Still - DePalma does come to mind when discussing the films mentioned above. Kurosawa, Scorsese, Kubrick, Truffaut, Coppola and Allen are all immediates however and must be included as well - thus, I am glad you agreed with this.
A great moment from Akira Kurosawa's final film DREAMS

"Absolute Beginners" is a film that I am unfamiliar with, but the idea of the single, and unedited shot sparks my interest.....Netflix is calling here.

You mentioned "The Shining" (that specific Kubrick style I have tried to allude to this week) as well as "Goodfellas" (Scorsese again) and I could not agree more. The use of the Stedi-Cam is highly effective and creates that real, genuine tension that gives both films such power. The ultimate effect is to develop an atmosphere of authentic suspense or what we refer to as "cinéma vérité" to heighten dramatic scenes. It is also intriguing that you mention the tune "Then He Kissed Me" as having such an effect on a scene - as music is just another way to heighten the emotional impact and overall effectiveness of the single-shot......

So CINEMA: COUNTERPOINT Fans - it appears as though the ball is in your court now. How do you feel about films today being cut-up like "chopped salad"? Chime in with your thoughts and opinions on the subject and leave us your comments. Please note that we always respond to all so please check back here for our replies.

CINEMA: COUNTERPOINT will be tuning- off for a holiday- break and will return with a brand new topic on Wednesday January 11th, 2012! On behalf of both JER and JOHNNY CHAZZ… we wish you all the Happiest and Safest of Holidays and a prosperous and eventful New Year! See you back here in 2012!

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  1. Most movies of today have far too many cuts in them. I agree with you in this blog that more directors have to focus more and more and the details of a scene and lengthening the scenes to make more of an emotional impact on the audiences. (Will - Chicago, Illinois))

  2. Thanks for your comments Will. We are on the same page about what today's director needs to do and it how it compares to others... now if only someone would listen!

  3. Hello Cinema Counterpoint- I have posted here on your blog a few times and still like what you guys have discuss every week in the cinema and movie industry. I think that only the ation and high-tech movies today are best served with the constant cutting technique. I guess there is always a times and a place for where it should be used. It gets misused a lot and that does become pretty annoying. Thanks! Chris from Corvallis, Oregon.

  4. Always great hearing from you Chris! Movies like TRANSFORMERS, SHERLOCK HOLMES and SPIDERMAN are just a few examples of the new querky fast edit. Films more character- based are longer in the shot and fewer on the edit.

    Thanks for your comments and looking forward to more next year!

  5. I have felt for a long time that editing has gone haywire. I regularly get frustrated with fast cuts that leave me wanting more. Scenes that should have been longer are cut short and then they jump to a scene that leaves you disoriented. I miss the style of the older films with their long takes and the way the camera would either close in or pull back for effect. Thanks for the great topic....

  6. I am hoping that someday a new trend could be set in which directors and editors actually see how long it could go without an edit in a scene...one can only wish...lol