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In the Cut: Piecing together the action sequencePart II: A Dash of SaltPart III: I Left My Heart in My Throat in San Francisco (Bullitt, The Lineup, The French Connection)
The first of a three-part video series on action sequences at Press Play is a really detailed, shot-by-shot analysis of a famous chase in "The Dark Knight" that has always confused me. Others told me they had no problems following it, but the closer I looked at it, the better I understood what puzzled me.
As I say in the introduction over at Press Play:
When, for example, we're shown someone gazing intently offscreen and there's a cutaway to something else (that appears to be in the vicinity), we assume (having familiarized ourselves with basic cinematic grammar over the years) that we are seeing what they are looking at. But that's not always the case. Why? I don't know. I find many directorial choices in contemporary commercial movies to be sloppy, random, incomprehensible--and indefensible.
This essay takes a long, hard look at roughly the first half of the big car and truck chase sequence from Christopher Nolan's "The Dark Knight," set on the lower level streets by the Chicago River. It stops, starts, reverses, repeats, slows down... taking the sequence apart (and putting it back together) shot by shot. The idea is to look at it the way an editor would--but also as a moviegoer does. We notice lapses in visual logic whether our brains register them consciously or not. I found this sequence utterly baffling the first time I saw it, and every subsequent time. At last, I now know exactly why.
"In the Cut" is presented by Press Play, Scanners and RogerEbert.com.
UPDATE: 9/12/11): Part II is now here. This quotation comes near the beginning:
Realism, as usual, is simply a fig leaf for doing what you want. Virtually any technique can be justified as realistic according to some conception of what's important in the scene. If you shoot the action cogently, with all the moves evident, that's realistic because it shows you what's 'really' happening. If you shoot it awkwardly, that presentation is 'realistically' reflecting what a participant perceives or feels. If you shoot it as 'chaos' (another description that Nobles applies to the Expendables action scenes)--well, action feels chaotic when you're in it, right? Forget the realist alibi. What do you want your sequence to do to the viewer?
--David Bordwell, Observations on film art (September 15, 2010)
"It's enigmatic and obvious, exasperating and beguiling, heavy-handed and understated, witty and poignant, all at once." -- Alex Ramon, Boycotting Trends
What I like most about Abbas Kiarostami's "Certified Copy" is its slipperiness. The Tuscan textures are ravishing (it takes place over the course of an afternoon in and around the village of Lucignano -- or does it?), Juliette Binoche and William Shimell are easy on they eyes and ears (good thing, too, since the movie is practically one long conversation -- or is it?), but for me the most enjoyable thing about it is the way the story and characters keep subtly (and not-so-subtly) shifting, refusing to be pinned down. I was fearing one of those overly literalized Kiarostami "button" endings, but this time (as Michael Sicinski observes in his impressive, ambitious essay at MUBI), the thesis statement is placed at the front of the film and it gets slipperier from there:
"Certified Copy" operates almost in reverse of most thematically inclined works of art, which plunge us into a falsely desultory universe and gradually reveal their master interpretive passkey. Kiarostami's film presents a concept, fully formed and cogent, and allows the rest of the film to set to work on that concept, breaking it into Heisenbergian particles, then bringing it back into solid shape, and on and on.