Thursday, July 27, 2006

Great Transitions Part I

A recent comment by Hamish reminded me of a conversation we had had when he was visiting the Island a couple of weeks ago. I was mentioning something I heard Stephen Gaghan attribute to the russian novelist Leo Tolstoy.

I'm para-phrasing here, but Gaghan, while he was being interviewed for the Creative Screenwriting Podcast about his film Syriana, said Tolstoy listed the four most important elements for writing a novel: 1. Transitions 2. Context 3. Character and last (and, in the self-styled-anti-mckee-Gaghan's opinion, least) 4. Story.

There's a whole post and a half waiting about that list but I thought instead we could talk about Great Transitions. I'm not sure that this is what Gaghan (or Tolstoy) was talking about but for the purposes of this post I'll keep my comments to what I think are some Great Transitions in Film.

The two kinds of Transitions I was thinking of were: 1. Great edits. Where the cut of the film took us from one world into another. 2. Great Transitions of Story/Character, moments of a film where the characters world turns upside down... sometimes literally.

For today I just want to mention a couple of my favorite edits.

In the first category, my two suggestions might be a little Film School 101 but I remember being blown away by two cuts the first from Lean's Lawerence of Arabia.
Lawrence puts out a match with his fingers. Then shows another soldier how he does it. The soldier is burned:

William Potter: Ooh! It damn well 'urts!
T.E. Lawrence: Certainly it hurts.
Officer: What's the trick then?
T.E. Lawrence: The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts.


And soon after comes the great moment where the flame of the struck match is blown out into the burning desert sun. It's a powerful cut that literally drags us through time and space, and introduces the central motif of the flame of a man's spirit and life tied to the burning desert sun, a man who will literally light the fuse of an entire culture.

The second Great Transition is from Stanley Kubrick. The jump of thousands of years with the toss of a bone in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The cut from bone to space station introduces the idea of how closely the evolution of our species is tied to the evolution of our technology and sets up the journey of where there evolution maybe leading us.

I'll post in a couple of days about some thoughts from the second category of Great Transitions.

If you'd like to email me some suggestions with or without links to an appropriate pic I'd be happy to post it. Contact info is just on the side thingy there.

1 comment:

dave s said...

dave, as you know, the single cut that got my mind going the most is in robert altman's fan-f**king-tastic 'short cuts'. it's a film with a lot of independent storylines that eventually connect.

there's a shot of a corpse floating in a river. right away altman (and/or his editor) cuts to chris penn's angry character.

that cut says (to me) that penn killed the woman. it is never bluntly stated in the movie, but that single cut informs the rest of penn's story in the film.