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HEY ALL!

SO HULK HAS BEEN HEARING A LOT OF PEOPLE TALK ABOUT THE “BAD” CINEMATOGRAPHY IN LES MISERABLES AND HULK WANTED TO TAKE A MOMENT TO EXPLAIN WHY IT IS BAD AND CONFIRM JUST HOW MUCH CINEMATOGRAPHY MATTERS IN AFFECTING YOUR EMOTIONAL EXPERIENCE IN A THEATER!

http://badassdigest.com/2013/01/09/film-crit-hulk-smash-hulk-vs.-tom-hooper-and-art-of-cinematic-affectation/

HELLO FRIENDS.

HERE WE FIND OURSELVES ONCE AGAIN, READY TO GO BACK INTO THE DEPTHS OF ACTION FOR THE FINAL CHAPTER OF OUR JOURNEY.

AT THE VERY START HAS TO SINGLE OUT AND THANK THE WONDERFUL TOM TOWNEND, THE INCREDIBLE CINEMATOGRAPHER AND HULK’S PARTNER IN THIS SERIES. HULK STATED THIS AT THE BEGINNING, BUT DO NOT DARE MISTAKE THE MOMENTS WHERE HE SPEAKS UP IN THESE COLUMNS AS HIS “SOLE CONTRIBUTION.” EVERY SINGLE CONCEPT AND IDEA ON DISPLAY HERE WAS BORN OUT OF OUR CONVERSATIONS AND COLLABORATION.

ON DAY 1 HULK & TOM TALKED ABOUT HOW ONE GOES ABOUT THE INCEPTION OF ACTION SCENES, HOW IT WORKS FOR AUDIENCES, AND WHAT STORY-TELLING CONCEPTS ARE AT THAT CORE.

ON DAY 2 WE EXPLAINED THE WAY TO EXECUTE THE ACTION WITH COMPOSITION, CLARITY, SOUND DESIGN, AND CAREFUL EDITING CHOICES.

AND TODAY? WELL, TODAY WE PULL BACK AND EXAMINE THE EXCEPTIONS OF PERSONAL STYLE/TONE WORK, BUT ALSO THE PROBLEMS THAT CAN ARISE FROM ANY OVERT “STYLIZATION.” THEN WE’LL DELVE INTO THE REAL-WORLD PROBLEMS/OBSTACLES OF PRODUCTION LOGISTICS, AND FINALLY WHAT TO TAKE AWAY FROM ALL OF IT.

LET’S GET TO IT.

PART 6 – THE BOURNE EXCEPTION

SO HULK & TOM ATTEMPTED TO PROVE YESTERDAY THAT TAUT FILMMAKING = THE SHIT, BUT THERE IS ANOTHER REASON IT IS SO REFRESHING… AND THAT IS BECAUSE WE ARE COMING OFF A NEAR-DECADE OF BAD SHAKY-CAM.

IT’S NOT A HUGE LEAP OF FAITH TO SAY THAT PEOPLE HATE SHAKY-CAM RIGHT NOW, BUT LOST IN THIS HATE IS THE FACT THAT JUST A MERE DECADE AGO, IT SEEMED REVOLUTIONARY. BUT THE RELATIVE TIMELINESS OF THE STYLE IS ACTUALLY NEITHER NEITHER HERE NOR THERE. WHAT IS HERE AND THERE, HOWEVER, IS THAT MOST PEOPLE SEEM TO BE HATING THE DEVICE ITSELF INSTEAD OF THE POOR USE OF THE DEVICE. JUST LIKE THE EXPOSITION EXAMPLE A FEW DAYS AGO, THE SHAKY-CAM AESTHETIC DOES NOT INHERENTLY SUCK.

FOR THE RECORD ANY CONCEIVABLE CINEMATIC DEVICE, WHEN USED CORRECTLY, CAN BE EFFECTIVE. THE PROBLEMS ONLY START WHEN THE DEVICE IS USED POORLY. WHAT CONSTITUTES POOR USE? USUALLY THE CAUSE FOR OFFENSE IS REVEALED THROUGH THE MERE USE OF A DEVICE FOR THE WRONG REASONS: CRAMMING IT WHEN IT DOESN’T SERVE A REAL PURPOSE OF TONE OR NARRATIVE, MERELY TRYING TO COPY A POPULAR STYLE, OR OUTRIGHT STRIVING FOR “COOL.” IT’S ALMOST A GUARANTEE TO FAIL MISERABLY.

THE PROBLEM SORT OF STRIKES DEEP INTO THE HEART OF ANY FILMMAKER, SOMETHING AKIN TO “OKAY WHY AM I REALLY DOING THIS SHOT IF I’M HONEST WITH MYSELF?” BUT IT’S A GOOD QUESTION TO ASK BECAUSE MORE OFTEN THAN NOT IT WILL STEER YOU INTO THE RIGHT DIRECTION, SOMETHING THAT SERVES THE STORY, CHARACTERS, AND CERTAINLY THE TONE.

SHAKY-CAM CAN STILL DO THESE THINGS, WONDERFULLY EVEN.

THE POPULAR USE OF SHAKY-CAM FIRST CAME INTO THE MAINSTREAM IN A BIG WAY WITH SPIELBERG’S AFOREMENTIONED SAVING PRIVATE RYAN. THE EFFECT OF THE AESTHETIC WAS HOW IT THREW THE AUDIENCE INTO AN EXPERIENCE OF HARROWING REALISM. EVERYONE ALWAYS SAID THE SAME THING, THAT THEY FELT LIKE “THEY WERE REALLY THERE.” IN USING THIS DOCU-STYLE(12A) SPIELBERG CREATED A IMMEDIACY TO HIS NARRATIVE. THIS WAS, AND IS STILL, THE GREAT ADVANTAGE OF SHAKY-CAM: THAT IT CAN MAKE THINGS FEEL TRULY “REAL” IN A WAY THAT STYLIZED ACTION NEVER QUITE CAN.(12B)

BUT SAVING PRIVATE RYAN DIDN’T SUCCEED JUST BECAUSE THE FREAKING CAMERA SHOOK.

HERE IS THE ENTIRE LONG-ASS, HARROWING, AND BRILLIANT OPENING SCENE OF THE MOVIE. HULK SPOKE OF THE CAUSE + EFFECT BEATS ON DISPLAY IN THIS SEQUENCE IN THE EARLIER IN THE SPIELBERG SECTION, BUT CHANCES ARE YOU DON’T ACTUALLY REMEMBER A LOT OF IT. SO LET’S REVISIT THIS SUCKER VISUALLY.

THE SCENE IS AMAZING BECAUSE IT COMBINES THE HARROWING SHAKY AESTHETIC WITH SPIELBERG’S UNCANNY FOCUS ON BASIC CAUSE + EFFECT (THE DOOR OPENING AND PEOPLE GETTING SHOT, THE HELMET, THE PHONE OP, THE CARRYING PEOPLE WHO TURNS OUT DIDN’T HAVE LEGS). BUT REALLY, ALL THE PRINCIPALS WE’VE TALKED ABOUT ARE ON DISPLAY: IT HAS FREQUENT OBJECTIVES BEING CALLED OUT (SENDING THE SNIPER TO TAKE OUT THE TWO ON THE RIDGE, HOW TO TAKE THE RIDGE), EVEN WITH MOMENTS OF CHAOS IT STILL HAD NUMBER OF SHOTS ESTABLISHING SENSE OF THE IMPORTANT GEOGRAPHY (WORKING THE WAY UP THE BEACH, TO THE RIDGE AND THEN OVER INTO THE BUNKERS), IT SILL HAD NUMBER OF MOMENTS AFFECTING THE TONE (THE SOUND DESIGN GOING OUT WITH THE RINGING IN THE EARS, THE COMPARATIVE STILLNESS BEFORE THE SNIPER TAKES THE SHOTS, AND THEN THE MOMENT OF CALM WHEN THE BATTLE IS OVER).  EVEN THE SHAKY-CAM SEEMED TO USE FIRST-PERSON AT TIMES TO HELP THE IMMEDIACY SEEM EVEN MORE RELEVANT, AND ANOTHER BRILLIANT TONE-AFFECTING MANEUVER. HULK MEAN, THERE IS JUST SO MUCH MORE GOING ON THAN THE STUPID SHAKY-CAM DEVICE… BUT, SADLY, THAT’S ALL PEOPLE SEEMED TO TAKE AWAY.

(REALLY IT JUST SPEAKS TO HULK’S TANGIBLE DETAILS THEORY BUT THAT’S NOT IMPORTANT NOW)

IT REALLY FELT REVOLUTIONARY.

HOLLYWOOD TOOK NOTE, BUT IT REALLY WASN’T UNTIL THE BOURNE FILMS BECAME SYNONYMOUS WITH SHAKY- CAM AND PROVED THAT IT COULD TRANSLATE TO HOLLYWOOD ACTION BLOCKBUSTERS, THAT THE FORM REALLY TOOK OVER. AT THAT POINT EVERYONE SEEMED TO THINK THAT SHAKY-CAM WAS NOW THE WAY TO GO INSTEAD OF A WAY TO GO.  A HOST OF IMITATORS FOLLOWED AND BUTCHERED THE DEVICE TO NO END. MOVIES USED IT WHERE IT MADE ABSOLUTELY NO SENSE WHATSOEVER. PEOPLE USED IT AS AN EXCUSE TO THROW UP 10 MINUTES OF ILLOGICAL CHAOS. NO WONDER PEOPLE JUST GOT SICK OF IT SO DAMN FAST.(12C)

ALL THE WHILE, NO ONE SEEMED TO REALIZE THAT IT THE ACTUAL PLOT, GRAVITAS, AND CHARACTERIZATION OF THE BOURNE FILMS THAT MADE THE REALISM FEEL SO DAMN VIBRANT, NOT JUST THE STYLE. AND BESIDES, PAUL GREENGRASS IS ONE OF THOSE GENIUS TYPES WHO KNOWS HOW TO, FOR LACK OF A BETTER PHRASE, MAKE IT WORK.

TOM: Yeah, I love the ‘mess’ of the Moscow tunnel car chase in the 2nd Bourne film even if it seemingly goes against so many traditional action principals. The mess panics the viewer – and the panic = excitement.

RIGHT. AND LUCKILY, THE BOURNE SUPREMACY ONE OF HULK’S FAVORITE ACTION FILMS EVER. BUT HULK ARGUE CAR CHASE WORK BECAUSE GREENGRASS UNDERSTANDS IT IS ACTUALLY A BALANCING ACT.  HE BUILDS UP ENERGY WITH HIS SHAKY AESTHETIC, BUT EVERY 3-7 SECONDS OR SO THERE’S A WIDE, NON-SHAKY SHOT THAT REALLY SHOWS OFF WHAT IS HAPPENING. THESE ARE THE PUNCTUATION MARKS. HE CREATES REAL, FOLLOWABLE MOMENTS AMONGST THE “MESS.”

SERIOUSLY, PAY REALLY CLOSE ATTENTION TO THE SCENE. THE SHAKING IS WHAT YOU NOTICE AT FIRST, BUT IN BETWEEN THE SHAKING, YOU HAVE TRADITIONAL MOVIE SEQUENCE. AND THAT’S WHAT ALLOWS THE SCENE AND AESTHETIC TO WORK PROPERLY.

DAMN THAT GOOD.

AGAIN, GREENGRASS USES THE SHAKY SHOTS TO ESTABLISH THE TONE OF CHAOS AND GET THE HIGH LEVEL OF ENERGY AND REALISM THAT HE WANTS, BUT HE STILL GIVE US ENOUGH OF WHAT WE NEED. THE ACTUAL CHASE IS COMPLETELY BLOCKED OUT AND ARTICULATED. THERE STILL ENOUGH CLEAR GEOGRAPHY. WHEN SOMETHING CHAOTIC HAPPENS, THE CAMERA PULLS BACK AND RESTORES ORDER. NOTICE WE HAVE SENSE OF WHERE CHARACTERS ARE IN RELATION TO EACH OTHER. NOTICE WE STILL UNDERSTAND HOW BOURNE NEGOTIATES THE FINAL TAKE-DOWN OF KARL URBAN’S CAR. NOTICE HOW IT WORKS. GREENGRASS USES THE SHAKY-CAM TO GET THE ENERGY HE WANT, BUT HE THEN BALANCES/INTER-CUTS  WITH MORE TRADITIONAL ACTION SHOOTING.

SO REMEMBER, SHAKY-CAM, EVEN IF FALLING OUT OF STYLE, CAN STILL BE VERY EFFECTIVE.(12B)

IT’S NOT THE DEVICE, IT’S THE EXECUTION.

PART 7 – “BAYHEM” AND THE PROBLEM OF SO-CALLED-STYLIZATION

QUICK! NAME ONE, SINGULAR MOMENT FROM THE TRANSFORMERS 2 ACTION SCENES.

CHANCES ARE YOU CAN’T. WHY DO YOU THINK THAT IS?

FOR STARTERS, BAY’S ACTION TENDS TO HAVE NO ACTUAL SEQUENCING OR PUNCTUATION MARKS. IT AN ENDLESS SLOG OF MOVEMENTS THAT “LOOK COOL” BUT COMPRISE NO REAL “MOMENTS.” SURE A CHARACTER MAY DIE IN SOME “COOL” SLO-MO WAY, BUT IT NOT A PUNCTUATION MARK BECAUSE IT NOT REALLY CONNECTED TO ANY MEANING, EITHER CHARACTER-BASED OR TO THE ACTION THE PRECEDED IT.

MOST OF THE TIME YOU CAN’T EVEN TELL WHO IS WHO (THIS WAS EVEN BEFORE THE ROBOTS).

AND THEN THERE IS THE MATTER OF TONE. BECAUSE WITH BAY IT SEEMS BE ALL THE SAME SINGULAR, BIZARRE TONE. SERIOUSLY, EVERY SINGLE ACTION SCENE IN THESE MOVIES FEEL THE EXACT SAME EVEN IF THE SETTINGS JUMP. DAY. NIGHT. DOESN’T MATTER. WE TALKED ABOUT HOW IMPORTANT IT IS TO HAVE DIFFERENT TONES AND HE NEVER, NOT ONCE UTILIZES ANYTHING  OTHER THAN THE TONE  OF… WELL… LET’S JUST CALL IT “MICHAEL BAY TONE.” IT’S LIKE HE COMPLETELY FAILS TO REALIZE THAT ACTION IS JUST ANOTHER WAY OF STORYTELLING. AND TO HULK THAT CREATES CINEMATIC CATASTROPHE WHEN THE ACTION SCENES TAKE UP THE ENTIRE RUNNING TIME OF YOUR MOVIES.

YES FOLKS: MICHAEL BAY,WHOSE MOVIES COMPRISE ALMOST NOTHING BUT ACTION FROM START TO FINISH, IS ACTUALLY BAD AT ACTION.(12D)

BUT THAT’S WEIRD RIGHT? TO BE FAIR, LOTS OF PEOPLE LIKE MICHAEL BAY… OR AT LEAST NO MIND HIM… OR AT LEAST LIKE LAUGHING AT HIS STUFF… OR JUST HATING ON… WHATEVER IT IS PEOPLE KEEP SEEING HIS FUCKING MOVIES. THERE HAS TO BE REASON, RIGHT?

FELLOW CRITIC TODD GILCHRIST HAS A UNIQUE TALENT FOR DISCERNING THE COUNTER-INTUITIVE REASONS FOR WHY PEOPLE RESPOND TO CERTAIN MOVIES AND HULK THINK HE CAME UP WITH GOOD, NON-PATRONIZING THEORY ON THIS MATTER. TODD’S POINT THAT WHAT MAKES BAY’S ACTION “WORK” IS THAT HE IS ONE OF ONLY DIRECTORS REMAINING WHO REALLY TRIES TO CONVEY A SENSE OF MASSIVE SCALE TO HIS ACTION SCENES (GIANT BATTLES IN DOWNTOWN LA! ALL OF CHICAGO! BLOWING UP LANDMARKS! GLOBE TROTTING!). THIS WAS A VERY POPULAR CONVENTION IN 90’S CINEMA AND HE NOT ONLY DID IT THE “BEST” THEN, BUT HE SEEMS TO BE THE ONLY ONE STILL DOING IT TODAY. WHICH MEANS THERE REALLY IS A PLACE FOR IT IF THAT MAKES SENSE. LIKEWISE, TODD MENTIONS THAT BAY ALSO ONE OF THE FEW WHO STILL REALLY COMMITTED TO INTEGRATING PRACTICAL EFFECTS WITH CGI. MOST OF US BITCH ABOUT “WEIGHTLESS CGI” IN SO MANY FILMS THESE DAYS, BUT IF YOU THINK ABOUT IT… ISN’T BAY’S CGI OFTEN PRETTY WELL-INTEGRATED INTO REAL WORLD “WEIGHT”? THIS IS A COMPARITIVE STATEMENT OF COURSE BECAUSE THERE ARE PLENTY OF TIMES HE DOESN’T, BUT ON THE WHOLE HE SEEMS TO BE ON THE INTEGRATING PRACTICAL SIDE. HECK, THROW IN THE FACT THAT BAY TRULY WARY OF 3D (INCLUDING HIS OWN RECENT OUTPUT) AND IT MAY SEEM LIKE BAY MIGHT HAVE SOME REALLY GOOD INSTINCTS TO WORK WITH.(13)

I KNEW YOU LIKED ME

SHUT UP.

THIS ALL JUST MEANS THE PROBLEM IS THAT MICHAEL BAY CAN’T PUT THOSE GOOD INSTINCTS AND ABILITIES TOGETHER INTO SOMETHING MORE COHESIVE… AT ALL… AND THE MORE HE LEFT TO HIS OWN DEVICES, THE WORSE IT SEEMS TO GET. THERE’S NO REAL WAY TO SAY IT OTHER THAN HIS ACTION IS JUST PUT TOGETHER ALL WRONG. THERE RARELY CAUSE + EFFECT, THERE NO LINKING, THERE NEVER A SEEMING OBJECTIVE, HE CONSTANTLY INTERRUPTS TENSION WITH BAD JOKES, PEOPLE SCREAM ALL THE TIME, YOU NEVER KNOW WHO ANYONE IS, THE SENSE OF GEOGRAPHY AND SPACE COMPLETELY ABSENT (WHICH MAYBE HIS WORST OFFENDER), AND THE TONE CAN OFTEN FEEL BORDERLINE-BIPOLAR.

WHAT DOES ONE CALL THIS?

ONE CAN ONLY CALL THIS BAYHEM.

THE WORST THING TO INCLUDE IN ARTICLE IS WITH THE SADLY FAMILIAR “WEBSTER’S DEFINES….” WELL HULK GONNA GO ONE UP ON ALL YOUR ASSES…. AHEM.

URBAN DICTIONARY DEFINES BAYHEM AS:

1. The cinematic conceit of blowing shit up on a large scale, in slow motion and (usually) at sunset.
2. A portmanteau word employing the concept of the inevitable incendiary mayhem employed by uberhack Michael Bay in lieu of characters, a script or a a pube’s-weight of reality.

THAT’S GOLD JERRY, GOLD.  IN HULK’S TIME-LINE THE FIRST TIME HULK HEARD THE WONDERFUL TERM “BAYHEM” WAS ACTUALLY FROM YOU TOM AND IT IS COMPLETELY FANTASTIC.

TOM: Nah, ‘Bayhem’ has been knocking around for a while – at least since The Island. I think I first read it in a Drew McWeeny (née Moriarty )  ‘appraisal’ on AICN – and not necessarily used in a pejorative fashion at that time.  I don’t know where it was first coined. (HULK NOTE: IT IS UP ON URBAN DICTIONARY IN 2007. KUDOS TO ANYONE WHO TRACES THE PUN’S ORIGIN)

But Hulk, you’ve covered the aesthetic problems, but I’ll show you why it’s not exclusive to his action. Armageddon is a guilty pleasure -a quite dreadful film but one that I derive endless amusement from.  But there is an approach to the narrative that serves well as an illustration of what is generally wrong with the way action sequences are also handled in a Michael Bay film.

The US Navy fly Bruce Willis off his oil drilling platform, take him to (Washington DC? Kennedy Space Centre? I forget… It’s not important) and tell him that an asteroid is coming in 2 weeks time and only his skills can make NASAs plan to destroy it work.  Immediately he announces that he can only help if the collection of rednecks and social reprobates that he works with are part of the team.  So far, so silly; so good.

Then there is a montage in which the army and police round up his cohorts and Brucie goes to remonstrate with Ben Affleck who he was in the process of trying to shoot with a shotgun when the Navy helicopter turned up to collect him. Bruce has been away from his oil platform for what?  A day?  With a limited time until doomsday I doubt the authorities waste a moment before finding Brucie’s guys.  But seemingly, in (at most) a 48hr period they’ve managed to scatter themselves to the 4 corners of North America.  They’re gambling and hanging out with pole dancers in Vegas, burning across open desert on Harley Davidsons, and Ben Affleck has even managed to buy and manage his own small field of oil derricks in (Texas? California? Again, not the point). What the fuck?

Sure it makes for a funny montage full of sexy women, sexy motorbikes and sexy sweaty oil spattered Ben Affleck but seriously, what the fuck?  I don’t think Brucie authorised shore leave in his absence.  How have they all got so far in such a short space of time?  This makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.  Worse than that it’s a complete fucking insult to the audience.  Bay is effectively saying ‘none of you dumb fucks will ever question what I’ve done here because I’ll bamboozle you with pounding music, flashing lights, some of the leftover chicks from one of my Victorias Secret commercials and Ben Affleck wearing an oil stained wife beater from a 1980s poster.’ And it’s that disregard for basic temporal logic and utter arrogance towards what any reasonable audience member might expect from rational story telling that also pollutes Michael Bays action sequences.

THIS ACTUALLY VERY INTERESTING POINT BEING RAISED. AS TO THIS SPECIFIC FILM? YES, HULK AGREE. TO THE PROBLEM OF THE CONCEPT IN GENERAL? HULK CAN’T SAY HULK AGREE.

TO EXPLORE THE ISSUE OF “LOGIC” IN FULL THOUGH, HULK IS GOING TO REVISIT IN UPCOMING COLUMN. BUT BASICALLY HULK THINK THE CONVENTIONAL “REAL LIFE LOGIC” ABOUT WHAT SOMEONE WOULD DO NOT ACTUALLY MATTER IN MOVIES AS LONG AS THE TEXT CONCERNING ITSELF WITH MORE IMPORTANT THINGS, MAINLY CHARACTER LOGIC OR DRAMA LOGIC. THE THINKING IS AKIN TO ALL THE CHEATING CUTS AND POOR LOGIC IN SPIELBERG’S MOVIES. THE LOGIC DOESN’T MATTER CAUSE MOST OF THE TIME WHAT IS HAPPENING SERVES A BIGGER NARRATIVE PURPOSE. BUT THINK ABOUT THE TIMES WHERE SPIELBERG’S POOR LOGIC DOESN’T SERVE A BIGGER PURPOSE (HOOK, INDY 4, ETC). THAT’S WHEN PEOPLE FREAKING POUNCE. SO GETTING BACK TO BAY, HULK BELIEVE IT NOT NECESSARILY THE RIDICULOUS PLOTTING AND CRAP LOGIC THAT’S RUINING IT, BUT THE COMPLETE LACK OF COHESION IN TOTALITY, WHICH BLOWS PLOT HOLES IN HIS MOVIES THAT FIVE MILES WIDE. HULK ARGUE THERE A WAY TO PRESENT A MOVIE SO THAT LOGIC DOESN’T MATTER, BUT BAY SUCKS SO GOD DAMN MUCH AT TONE/CHARACTER CONSTRUCTION AND HIS REASONS FOR INCLUDING THESE SCENES ARE JUST SO DAMN NAKEDLY STUPID, THAT THE POOR LOGIC STARES YOU IN THE FACE. IT’S A BALANCING ACT. THE BEST EXAMPLE THAT HULK CAN THINK OF IS NOLAN’S THE DARK KNIGHT. EVERY SINGLE STEP OF THE JOKER’S PLAN, FOR LITERALLY THE ENTIRE MOVIE, NEVER, EVER, IN ANY WAY MAKES ANY SENSE. THE LOGIC IS MIND-BLOWINGLY INANE. SURE, SOMETIMES THE PLAN MAKES THEMATIC/CHARACTER SENSE (SOMETIMES) BUT IT SO DOES NOT MATTER WHATSOEVER BECAUSE NOLAN CRAFTS A BRILLIANT CAT + MOUSE STORY WITH TENSION AND LINKING AND SUCCESSION. THE MOVIE NEVER STOPS STEERING YOU AND YOUR EMOTIONS/INVOLVEMENT WITH ABJECT CLARITY. SO AGAIN, HULK NOT SURE LOGIC-LOGIC MATTERS IF THE MOVIE-LOGIC WORKS. BUT HONESTLY TOM, HULK PRETTY SURE YOU KNOW THIS TOO AND IT WASN’T PART OF YOUR POINT AT ALL. HULK JUST SAW AN OPPORTUNITY TO TALK ABOUT IT AND REALLY IT’S ANOTHER, MUCH BIGGER DISCUSSION.

WHERE WAS HULK? OH YEAH, THE IMPORTANT THING TOM IS THAT YOU ARE ALSO RIGHT. HE SCREWS UP STORY IN THE SAME WAY HE SCREWS UP ACTION.

TOM: Thanks?

HULK LAUGH.

BUT LET’S SHOWCASE EXACTLY WHY THE ACTION DOESN’T WORK, NOW VISUAL AIDS…

…HULK JUST REALIZED YOU COULD CALL BAY’S WORK “VISUAL A.I.D.S.”… GOD THAT’S A TERRIBLE JOKE. HULK GOING TO HELL. MOVING ON…

HOW ABOUT A COMPARISON: TAKE THE IMPLIED CHAOS OF THE BOURNE CHASE ABOVE AND COMPARE IT TO BAYHEM, WHICH HAS ACTUAL CHAOS. HERE’S THE CHASE SCENE FROM THE ROCK.

NOTICE HOW OFTEN THE BEATS ARE NOT LINKED. SURE THERE SOME SHOTS STRUNG TOGETHER, BUT IT’S MOSTLY JUMBLED. THERE’S NO FLOW. THE CLOSE-UPS AND RAPID ZOOMS IN AND OUT ARE RIDICULOUS. THE IMPACT OF EVENTS ARE NOT ORCHESTRATED, THEY ARE EITHER BLUDGEONED TOGETHER OR NON-EXISTENT. THE ACTION IS NOT A STORY. AND YET NONE OF THIS IS THE PROBLEM OF ACTUAL SUBJECT MATTER: THE LAMBORGHINI, THE HUMVEE, THE CRASHES, THE IDEAS THEMSELVES ARE FODDER FOR PUTTING TOGETHER A GOOD, INTERESTING CHASE.

WHICH BRINGS HULK TO ANOTHER IDEA FOR THE REASONS PEOPLE RESPOND TO MICHAEL BAY: HE VERY GOOD, IF NOT THE BEST, AT CATERING TO THE COOL IDEA: GIANT ROBOTS FIGHTING, ADVANCED MILITARY TECH, CONSPIRACIES, BATTLES AT FAMOUS LANDMARKS, COMIC RELIEF CHARACTERS. IT ALL COOL IDEAS AND PEOPLE LIKE WHAT HE TRYING TO DO. AND LET’S FACE IT, THERE ARE PEOPLE WHO GO TO MOVIES AND NO PAY ATTENTION TO THE FACT A FILM IS LACKING STRONG TONE (THOUGH HULK ARGUE A MOVIE WITH STRONG, VISCERAL TONE WILL WORK ON ANYONE, EVEN IF SUBCONSCIOUSLY). WHICH MEANS THEY AUDIENCE DOSN’T CARE IF THE MOVIE PLAYING TO THEM AS LONG AS IT PLAYING IN FRONT OF THEM. IN THAT CASE THE COOLNESS OF THE SUBJECT MATTER THE ONLY THING THAT MATTER. THEY ARE UNENGAGED, DISCONNECTED, AND DETACHED. THE PERFECT OPPORTUNITY FOR “COOL” TO SWOOP IN.

AND WHO HULK TO ARGUE WHAT REALLY “COOL” ANYWAY?

HONESTLY, EVALUATING MICHAEL BAY IS FURTHER COMPLICATED BY THE FACT THAT A LOT OF PEOPLE WATCH HIS MOVIES FOR A KIND OF META ENJOYMENT, MEANING SO MANY PEOPLE WATCH THEM KNOWING THEY’RE GOING TO BE SHIT. PART OF THIS IS BECAUSE THEY ARE BIG MOVIES (AND MOST RECENTLY CENTERED AROUND A BELOVED CHILDHOOD TOY LINE, WHICH APPRENTLY PEOPLE GO APE-SHIT FOR. LOOK FOR HULK’S TEDDY RUXPIN MOVIE IN THE FALL) WHICH MEANS THERE IS THIS WEIRD SOCIETAL PROMINENCE THAT JUST DRAWS PEOPLE IN. THEY WANT TO BE A PART OF THE CAMPFIRE DISCUSSION, EVEN IF THE DISCUSSION IS ABOUT HOW THAT ONE GUY IN THE CAMP SUCKS.

AND BEYOND THAT, THERE ARE PEOPLE WHO WATCH AND ENJOY JUST HOW AMAZINGLY STUPID THEY ARE OR HOWEVER IT IS WE IRONICALLY ENJOY THINGS.  KEEP IN MIND HULK INCLUDES HULK-SELF IN THIS CAMP TOO. HULK WILL NOT GO OUT OF WAY TO SEE, BUT FINDS FODDER IN BAYISM ALL THE SAME.  EVEN THIS COLUMN IS PART OF IT. TOM MENTIONS THE ARMAGEDDON AMUSEMENT AND THE BAY MOVIE KIND OF LIKES IS THE ONE HULK JUST CRAPPED ON FOR THE BAD CHASE: THE ROCK. HULK LIKE NOT BECAUSE IT IS GOOD OR BADASS OR ANYTHING COOL LIKE THAT, BUT BECAUSE IT SOMETIMES FUNNY… SOMETIMES INTENTIONALLY (NIC CAGE’S PERFORMANCE)… SOMETIMES NOT INTENTIONALLY (CONNERY’S PERFORMANCE). IT IS A DISTINCTLY META WAY OF LOOKING AT MOVIES.

BUT TO RESTATE: THERE IS NO WAY TO ARGUE BAY IS GOOD AT CONSTRUCTING ACTION SCENES BEYOND THE SCALE AND THE SUBJECTS THEMSELVES.

AND WHEN HE STRETCHES FOR ANY KIND OF “STYLE” IT IS STYLIZATION WITHOUT MEANING.

… THEN THERE ARE THE TIMES HE JUST HAS TERRIBLE IDEAS:

SO WAIT, WHY THE FUCK HAVE WE BEEN TALKING THIS LONG ABOUT MICHAEL BAY?

TOM: [Shrugs].

OH YEAH, IT IS BECAUSE MICHAEL BAY IS BOTH 1) A MIRROR OF OUR CULTURAL FOCUS ON “COOL” AND 2) SO BIG IN THE ARENA OF ACTION THAT HE IS A TRENDSETTER. THIS IS, YOU KNOW, DISTURBING AND STUFF, BUT IT WHOLLY INFORMS THE FACT THAT WE CANNOT PRETEND THAT BAY IS IN ANY WAY SINGULAR/ALONE IN THE DISPLAY OF TONE-DEAF ACTIOIN STYLE. HE MAY BE UNIQUE IN HIS BRAND OF BADNESS, BUT STYLE-WITHOUT-MEANING SEEMS TO BE ONE OF, IF NOT THE CENTRAL PROBLEM OF ACTION TODAY.

THE ISSUE CAME UP RECENT PIECE/DISCUSSION OVER ON BADASSDIGEST.(14A) THE INCLINATION TO PROVIDE SOMETHING COOL-LOOKING CAN OFTEN GO AT DIRECT ODDS WITH DRAMA. I.E., DEVIN FARACI MENTIONS IN THE ARTICLE THAT A MOVIE LIKE 300 HAS SO MUCH THAT COOL ABOUT IT, YET OFTEN THE FILM’S ACTION IS OFTEN COMPLETELY INERT IN TERMS OF EMOTIONAL INVOLVEMENT. LOTS OF PEOPLE LOVE THE ACTION IN THE FILM (IT IS PRETTY AND COOL), BUT IT’S COMPLETELY TRUE.

THINK ABOUT THE PRINCIPALS WE DISCUSSED TIME AND TIME AGAIN OVER THE LAST FEW DAYS AND WATCH THIS CLIP:

HULK LOVE THAT THE SCENE LABELED “INSANE” BECAUSE IT’S IN THE SAME VEIN OF CALLING IT COOL. IT’S ACTUALLY A NEAT IDEA FOR A SCENE (HOLDING ON ONE SHOT AS GUY GO THROUGH BATTLE) AND THE EXECUTION MUST HAVE BEEN BITCH TO PULL OFF (IT USES SLIGHT OF HAND OF COURSE). AND SURE THERE’S LOTS OF TANGIBLE, NEAT CONCEPTS, BUT IT DOESN’T WORK ON A BASIC DRAMATIC LEVEL. ANY ENJOYMENT OF THE SCENE IS A DIFFERENT KIND OF “META ENJOYMENT.” SINCE THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO EMOTIONALLY RESPOND TO, THE SHOT IS ONLY PRETTY AND WITHOUT CONSEQUENCE. WEIGHTLESS.

THEY ARE IN GOD MODE. THEY ARE NOTHING LIKE INDY.

AND FOR PETE’S SAKE, THE MAIN REASON CINEMATIC REASON TO HOLD ON A LONG SHOT IS TO GIVE THE MOMENT TENSION (REMEMBER THE TAUT FILMMAKING SECTION?), LIKE THE WAY CUARON HOLDS THE LONG SHOT OF THE CAR ESCAPE IN CHILDREN OF MEN. MEANWHILE, SNYDER’S LONG SHOT HERE DOES NOT ATTEMPT TO HOLD ANY TENSION WHATSOEVER. AND WHEN IS THE CHARACTER EVER IN DANGER? THE SLOW-MOTION IS ONLY USED TO SHOW HOW GNARLY AND COOL IT IS WITH THE SLICING OF RANDOM ENEMIES. IT IS COMPLETELY UNLIKE THE MOMENTS OF SLOW-MOTION IN BRAVEHEART, WHICH WAS TRYING CREATE TENSION BEFORE MOMENTS OF SUBSTANTIAL IMPACT.

AND FOR DOUBLE PETE’S SAKE. SLOW-MOTION ESSENTIALLY STOPS THE DRAMA OF YOUR SCENE. IT HAS TO BE USED VERY, VERY, VERY CAREFUL. YOU HAVE TO BE SETTING UP SOMETHING BIG WITH CHARACTER RESONANCE, WHICH IS WHY THE ATTACK THE BLOCK FINALE WORKS WITH THE SLO-MO.

TOM: Thanks!

NO PROBLEM. ULTIMATELY, SNYDER’S SCENE ONLY SEEM TO WORK AS DEMONSTRATION OF TECHNICAL SKILL. EMOTIONALLY IT IS NOTHING. THE WORST PART THAT THE SCENE MIGHT HAVE BEEN SO MUCH BETTER IF THERE WASN’T ANY SPEED-RAMPING AND IT JUST STRAIGHT THROUGH SHOT OF THE MAIN CHARACTER WREAKING HAVOC. IT MIGHT HAVE HAD TENSION. INSTEAD IT IS LITERALLY A LIKE WATCHING A 2D SIDE SCROLLER VIDEO GAME. AND YES, THE SCENE IS  SURE FUCKING “INSANE” BUT IT DOESN’T WORK

WELL… HULK TAKES THAT BACK… THE SCENE MAYBE WORKS A LITTLE BECAUSE FOR ONE SAVING GRACE (OR PERHAPS A SAVING THROW?).)(14B)

SEE, WHILE MUCH OF THE ACTUAL ACTION IN 300 IS AIRLESS AND COOL, SNYDER IS AT LEAST SMART ENOUGH TO USE SINGLE PUNCTUATION MARKS IN BETWEEN TO SORT OF ADD MEANING TO SOME STUFF… SOMETIMES. LIKE IN THE “INSANE” SCENE ABOVE IT ENDS WITH THE SOLDIERS BRAGGING ABOUT HOW AWESOME THEY ALL ARE AND SAY “LET’S MAKE ALL SWIM!” OR WHATEVER.  WITH THAT LITTLE ADDITION, NOW ALL THE “‘COOL” PART OF THE SCENE BEFORE ACTUALLY WORKS AS QUALIFYING SET-UP TO THEIR BOAST. IT ALLOWS THE SCENE TO WORK AS A DISPLAY OF THEIR ABILITY WHICH IS THEN USED TO STRIKE FEAR IN THE OTHER SOLDIERS. AND THAT THE MOST IMPORTANT PART. IT WHAT GIVES THE COOL ACTION THE WEIGHT AND MEANING. IT’S WHAT MAKES IT A (KIND OF) STORY… THE PROBLEM THAT IT SORT OF TAKES FOREVER TO GET THERE AND IS STILL KIND OF BORING AND OVER-INCLINED TO COOL. BUT THE IMPORTANT PART IS SNYDER EVENTUALLY FIGURES OUT A WAY TO USE SOME BASIC CAUSE + EFFECT… OF COURSE, HE THEN UNDERMINES THAT WITH THE GORGEOUS, BUT WHOLLY UN-INVOLVING SLO-MO SHOT OF THEM FALLING OFF THE EDGE OF THE CLIFF…

BUT HEY. CAN’T WIN EM ALL.

HULK REALLY WANTS TO CONVEY THAT IT IS NOT NECESSARILY THE SPEED-RAMPING ITSELF THAT IS THE PROBLEM. HULK THINK SNYDER ACTUALLY A PRETTY SMART GUY WITH A FEW HABITS THAT SOMETIMES WORK GREAT AND SOMETIMES DON’T REALLY WORK AT ALL. BUT IF WE RETURN TO THE CONCEPT OF THE BOURNE CHASE, WHERE IT IS POSSIBLE TO BALANCING PERSONAL STYLE WITH THE BASIC TENETS OF ACTION, THEN THERE IS A TOTALLY CONCEIVABLE WAY THAT SNYDER’S SPEED-RAMPING INTERESTS COULD WORK. IT JUST TAKES BALANCE AND A FOCUS ON IMPACT + DRAMA.

IT TAKES SOMETHING LIKE THIS:

IN THIS OPENING SCENE FROM WATCHMEN, SNYDER USES THE SPEED-RAMPING MORE FOR CLARITY INSTEAD OF COOL. THE ENTIRE SCENE IS MORE CONCERNED WITH THE MOMENTS OF IMPACT. CREATING DANGER. THE BEATS OF THE ACTION LARGELY BASED ON CAUSE + EFFECT (THE KNIFE THROWS, THE REVERSALS, THE BREAKING OF WALLS + CONCRETE). BETTER YET, THE SOUND DESIGN IS COMPLETELY SHARP AND FOCUSED. THERE IS EVEN AN ADDED LITTLE BIT OF TONE WORK AND COMMENTARY, AS SNYDER USES “UNFORGETTABLE” UNDERNEATH THE SCENE, THUS IMBUING THE ACTION WITH A KIND OF LYNCHIAN-IRONY-LITE. AND THE MORE YOU LEARN ABOUT THE COMEDIAN AND THE PLOT LATER IN THE FILM (THAT THE WORLD IS A CRUEL, VIOLENT JOKE), THEN THE MORE “CORRECT” THE SCENE FEELS.

THIS SEEMS LIKE A GOOD TIME TO MENTION SOMETHING THAT IS TOTALLY IMPORTANT: WE ALL HAVE THE NATURAL INSTINCT TO BE COOL. IT’S ALL PART OF THE HUMAN INCLINATION TO BE ACCEPTED AND MAKING MOVIES JUST AN EXTENSION OF THAT IN SOME WAY. BUT REMEMBER THE KID ON PLAYGROUND WHO TRIES TO BE COOL INSTEAD OF GENUINE? YEAH. IT OFTEN GOES POORLY.

WELL, THE SAME IS TRUE OF MOVIES. THE NOTION OF STYLE IS SO DAMN SEDUCTIVE AND YET IT IS A WHOLLY FALSE GOAL. IT DOESN’T MATTER IF YOU’RE ZACK SNYDER OR MICHAEL BAY, IT IS JUST SO CRITICAL TO IDENTIFY AND SUPPRESS THE INCLINATION TO MAKE THINGS COOL BEFORE YOU MAKE THEM WORK. IT’S WHAT MAKES YOUR WORK COME OFF AS “GENUINE,” JUST LIKE IN REAL LIFE! AND THUS STRIVING FOR COOL ABOVE ALL ELSE CAN ONLY HURT YOUR WORK.

BESIDES, HONESTLY THE CHANCES ARE THAT DECENT-TO-GOOD CHARACTER DESIGN CAN TAKE CARE OF ALL THE “COOL” YOU NEED (LIKE INDIANA JONES’ AWESOME OUTFIT) SO THAT’S AS FAR AS THE CONCERN REALLY NEEDS TO GO. AND THE FUNNIEST PART OF ALL OF THIS IS THAT IT IF YOU MAKE ACTION THAT WORKS AND INVESTS PEOPLE, THAN NO MATTER WHAT IT WILL INHERENTLY BE COOL. SO THERE NO REAL NEED TO WORRY ABOUT IT IN THE FIRST PLACE.

SO WHY DOES COOL IN MOVIES MATTER SO MUCH? WHY THIS IMMENSE PRESSURE? IT CAN’T JUST BE THE INCLINATION OF THE DIRECTORS RIGHT?

RIGHT.

WHICH BRINGS US TO THE REAL CRUX OF THE “COOL” PROBLEM: MARKETING.

HULK NOT ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE WHO DERIDE MARKETING, HELL HULK WORKED IN MARKETING AND FIND DEMOGRAPHICS AND SYSTEMIC ANALYSIS TO FASCINATING… BUT HULK RECOGNIZE IT HAVE DISTINCTLY DIFFERENT GOAL FROM STORYTELLING:

MARKETING IS PURELY ABOUT SALES.

STORYTELLING IS ABOUT CAPTIVATING AN AUDIENCE THAT IS ALREADY THERE.

THE TWO ARE AT ODDS. AND THEREFORE “THE BUSINESS OF COOL” IS WAY MORE IMPORTANT IN MARKETING THAT IT IS IN MOVIES. MEANING THE IMAGERY OF 300, WHICH IN TERMS OF STORYTELLING IS OFTEN WEIGHTLESS, SURE WORKS DAMN FUCKING WELL IN A TRAILER. THE SLO-MO AND SPEED-RAMPING ADHERE BEAUTIFULLY TO THE PRESENTATION OF SUCCESSIVE, A-CONTEXTUAL MOMENTS, SUGGESTING A LARGER EXPERIENCE  OF COOL AND ATTITUDE.(15)

THE NET RESULT OF THIS KIND OF ALLURE IS THAT IT GETS BUTTS IN SEATS AND MISREPRESENTS THE NOTION OF SUCCESS. YES WELL-SOLD MOVIES ON THE FIRST WEEKEND DRIVE THE BUSINESS, BUT IT IS STILL SHORT SIGHTED WHEN IT COMES TO ACTION TENT-POLES. WHY? BECAUSE THE MOST VALUABLE COMMODITY IN SUMMER MOVIES IS A PROPERTY AND PROPERTIES ARE BUILT OFF OFF GOOD PRODUCTS WHICH HAVE LONGER BOX OFFICE PLAY.  AND GOOD PRODUCTS ARE GOOD MOVIES WITH GOOD STORIES (99% OF THE TIME). SO IF YOU MAKE A FILM WHERE THE ACTION/CHARACTERIZATION IS GOOD, THAN IT CAN TRANSCEND THE AUDIENCE THAT JUST LOOKING FOR THE MARKETED COOL, THEN YOU WILL CREATE A MOVIE THAT HAS LONG -ERM ECONOMIC VALUE. REMEMBER, EVERYONE CAN ENJOY SOMETHING THAT IS GOOD. IT DOESN’T MATTER WHETHER IT IS THRILLING, FUN, OR WHATEVER. BUT IF YOU WANT THE LONG TERM FUTURE FOR YOUR FRANCHISE THEN IT HAS TO BE GOOD.

GOING BACK TO EVERYTHING WE’VE TALKED ABOUT: “GOOD-NESS” IN ACTION IS ABOUT RELATING AND PARTICIPATING: INDIANA JONES HAS THE WHIP AND THE HAT BUT HE ALSO HAS THE FEAR AND THE TERRIBLE LUCK.  WE FOLLOW JASON BOURNE NOT BECAUSE HE CAN KICK ANYONE’S ASS AND CAN GET OUT OF ANY SITUATION, BUT BECAUSE HE IS DESPERATE, AFRAID, AND TORMENTED. WE CARE ABOUT NEO’S FIGHT SKILLS BECAUSE WE CAN ACTUALLY SEE THEM.  WE CARE ABOUT THE VIOLENCE IN TARANTINO MOVIES BECAUSE HE BUILDS UP THE ANTICIPATION WITH INCREDIBLE SKILL. AND WE ARE EXHILARATED BY TWO GUYS STANDING ON SIDES OF A HOTEL DOOR BECAUSE OF THE ACTION-COMPOSING-SKILL OF FILMMAKERS WHO BROUGHT YOU BARTON FINK.

IF YOU MAKE SOMETHING THAT COMPELLING, THEN IT WILL INHERENTLY BE COOL.

TOM: This discussion of cool is pretty interesting because there is something evasive about it too. There’s real questions about veracity of image. For example, now here’s an angle. For the record, I love watching this sort of stuff:

It seems to be the real life embodiment of something every young boy dreams of – fucking flying like a bat out of hell. Even if it is more akin to “Falling, With Style” (©Buzz Lightyear).

There’s been such a proliferation of high quality amateur footage of people throwing themselves off fucking cliffs and buzzing hillside spectators posted online in the last few years that it was crushingly inevitable that such a sequence would make it’s way into a big action movie and low and behold Mr M. Bay skewered the zeitgeist by shoehorning it into Transformers 3: Dorks of the Moon.  In fact, so heralded was the flying suit sequence, all I knew about the film’s story before I saw it was ‘the Apollo moon landings had a secret agenda’, ‘in this one the kid who talks too fast is looking for a job’ and ‘THERE’S DUDES IN FLYING SUITS’. That’s 3 generations of idiots lining up at the box office right there with those 3 promises!

But the flying suit sequence was crap.  Really crap.  Not just because the plot purpose for people to be risking life and limb in that fashion seemed pretty tenuous but visually it failed to evoke even a 10th of the visceral thrill crappier YouTube footage does.

Why is that?  The presentation of the ‘flying’ in Bay’s film was competently filmed (though the cheaty CGI comps were better than the real McCoy) and even he can’t fuck up geography when it comes to ‘objects heavier than air will always fall to the ground’.  Sure, we don’t care much whether a bunch of ‘red shirts’ make it in one piece but surely the sight of a human being performing such a perilous action is innately thrilling?  No, it would seem not.

It’s no accident that I knew that there was a flying suit sequence in the film.  The Transformers publicity juggernaut had been very careful to give maximum exposure to the fact that the sequence had been performed by seasoned flying suit nut-nuts, had been filmed ‘for real’ in downtown Chicago and represented a ‘cinematic first’. As a prospective audience member you would be handing over hard earned cash at the box office to see a faithful documentation of a spectacular event especially staged for Transformers 3.  P.T. Barnum would’ve approved of the hoopla and, in industry parlance, ‘awareness’ surrounding this particular action scene.  None of your ‘CGI robots that can do anything’ here folks, real life death defying human beings performing a unique stunt.  Pass the smelling salts.

But when we see amateur footage on YouTube it IS real.  That implies a lot of things including the ghoulish potential that we’ll see a really hideous injury or fatality occur, that the requisite ‘health & safety’ considerations that rule a film set haven’t been adhered to and as a consequence what we see will be far more dangerous.

Simple distinction, right?  Well no.  What cinema can construct for us should be equally compelling, if no more so, by attaching narrative importance to the action depicted.  ‘If these guys fuck up the ENTIRE HUMAN RACE IS DOOMED!’ Compelling.

But not half as compelling as ‘JESUS WEPT, THAT LUNATIC MISSED THAT PINE TREE BY INCHES!  FUCK ME HE’S DOING 180mph AND IN SERIOUS DANGER OF GETTING A GRASS STAIN ON HIS KNEES!’-

HEY, HEY YOU ENCROACHING ON HULK SPEAK!

TOM: Deepest apologies green one.

If memory serves me (and did you know that we struggle to form memories of images presented in 3D as easily as those in 2D – MRI scans show quite different patterns of brain activity depending on which format; shit you’ll never hear about from James Cameron) Bay made a basic error in the way in which he covered the sequence.  Amateur footage always interpolates two basic camera positions – cameras fixed to the flyer and a straight man at ground level who captures the flyer’s as they ‘blow by’. Edited with a modicum of skill and some groovy techno music there’s always a neat rhythm of exhilarating ‘reach out and touch the sky’ moments punctuated with window shattering near misses which vitally give a sense of speed in relation a fixed position.  By contrast Bay’s many methods of covering the same action too often  failed to show how fast people were traveling against a static point or tried to enhance that by pushing the camera against the direction of travel.  Though, in fairness, this isn’t why the scene failed.

As I’m sure you can tell I’m finding the precise reason a bit nebulous.  After all a very similar sequence (strictly ‘sky diving’) in Star Trek was fun and thrilling.  It had clearer stakes (stop the bad guys from destroying an entire planet, oh and by the way, the only way to do this, with minutes to spare, is to plummet head first towards a tiny target) but involved a very similar spectacle.

Can that be the only reason why the Transformers scene failed to thrill?  The relative irrelevance of why people were performing their stunt?  Or is there more to it than that.  After all, the people in YouTube clips have no clear objective beyond ‘FUCKING GNARLY THRILL SEEKING’.  And by most accounts that shouldn’t be enough to be a compelling ride for the passive observer.

Anyways, I’m all out of synonyms now.

TOM. YOU JUST BLEW HULK’S BRAIN OUT BACK OF HULK’S HEAD.

TOM: Thanks?

NO, THAT WAS TREMENDOUS. VERACITY IS A REALLY INTERESTING COMPONENT TO ACTION. ONCE AGAIN IT ANOTHER ONE OF THOSE TOPICS THAT PROBABLY NEEDS IT’S OWN COLUMNS AND INVOLVES A LOT OF SEMIOTICS AND STUFF. BUT IT REALLY, TRULY RELEVANT TO ASKING US “WHAT ARE WE REALLY RESPONDING TOO?”

AND IT REMINDED HULK OF SOMETHING.

THERE IS ONE LAST TID-BIT TO ADD TO THIS “COOL” CONVERSATION ABOUT STYLE AND IT IS A VERY, VERY IMPORTANT ONE.

THERE ARE DIRECTORS CURRENTLY OUT THERE WHOSE WORK IS SO STEEPED IN THE LANGUAGE OF POPULAR AND CLASSIC GENRE/ACTION/AESTHETICS THAT THEY ARE BOTH DIRECTLY ENGAGING WHAT IS THE CURRENT “COOL” CINEMA AND YET WHOLLY TRANSCEND IT. THIS GROUP OF FILMMAKERS INCLUDES SOMEONE YOU PERHAPS FAMILIAR WITH:

EDGAR WRIGHT.

            PICTURED: BADASS

HULK MENTIONING HIM FOR SOLE REASON OF ACKNOWLEDGING THAT THERE IS A WAY OF HANDLING THE DIRECT USE OF IN-VOGUE CINEMATIC STYLINGS WITH A HIGH-WIRE ACT OF NARRATIVE/META FILMMAKING. SHAUN OF THE DEAD, HOT FUZZ, AND SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD ARE NOT ONLY HIGHLY PROPULSIVE, HILARIOUS FILMS, BUT MANAGE TO DIRECTLY ENGAGE THE TRENDS AND STYLE OF COOL CINEMA, AND YET SUBVERT IT, YET STILL NAKEDLY LOVE IT, YET FURTHER COMMENT ON IT, AND ULTIMATELY TRANSCEND IT. HE CAN LOOK DIRECTLY INTO THE ID OF BAD BOYS 2 AND FIND A KIND OF WONDERFUL CINEMATIC JOY AND IMBUE THE LANGUAGE OF BAYHEM INTO HIS OWN FULLY-FORMED, UNIQUE CINEMA. BUT WHAT ENSURES THAT ALL THESE HIGHFALUTIN COMPONENTS WORK IS ALWAYS THE FACT THAT HIS MOVIES ARE STEEPED IN NOT JUST THE LANGUAGE OF THE MORE CURRENT CLIMATE, BUT DEEPLY IN THE HISTORY OF ALLCINEMA. AND WAY MORE IMPORTANT THAT ANY OF THIS COMPLICATED STUFF, IS THE FACT THAT HIS MOVIE ARE JUST GREAT, RELATE-ABLE HUMAN STORIES AT THEIR CORE.

TOM: I hear he produces things too.

INDEED! HULK JUST THOUGHT WE REALLY SHOULD ACKNOWLEDGE THAT IT POSSIBLE TO REALLY ENGAGE THE LANGUAGE OF CURRENT CINEMA, BUT THE PROBLEM OF EVEN BRINGING THIS UP IS THAT IT WOULD START SOMETHING THAT IS SOOOOOO NOT A BASICS CONVERSATION. ANALYZING THE DIFFERENT LEVELS THAT HIS FILMS WORK ON (OFTEN SIMULTANEOUSLY) WOULD TAKE SOME SERIOUS DEEP TISSUE ANALYSIS AND THIS SUCKER IS LONG ENOUGH. SO CONSIDER THE DISCUSSION A PROMISE FOR THE FUTURE.

YOU’VE PROBABLY NOTICED THAT THIS PART OF THE ESSAY ON STYLIZATION WAS FAIRLY TANGENTIAL AND  SCATTERED IN CONVERSATION, BUT THE NATURE OF THE CONVERSATION SORT OF CALLS FOR IT. THERE’S A LOT MORE ABSTRACT, PSYCHOLOGICAL REASONS FOR THESE PROBLEMS SO BY ADDRESSING EVERYTHING AT PLAY YOU CAN SORT OF GET A CLEARER PICTURE, BUT THERE’S REALLY NO A, B, C THINKING WHEN IT COMES TO WHY PEOPLE OVERLY-STYLIZE THERE FILMS. STILL, HULK THINKS WE’VE SUFFICIENTLY COVERED THE PROBLEMS OF COOL + STYLIZATION RIGHT?

TOM: Er….Safe to say.

MOVING ON!

PART 8 –  LOGISTICS, LIMITS, AND THE REALITY OF THE 2ND UNIT

A LOT OF PETER JACKSONS ACTION WORK IS JUST WONDERFUL. IT’S FULL OF WONDER AND AWE, OBJECTIVES, BEATS, CAUSE + EFFECT AND ALL THAT GREAT STUFF. AND THEN THERE FEW SCENES THAT ARE SORT OF INFAMOUSLY BAD AND PEOPLE TOTALLY POOP ON THEM. FOR INSTANCE, PETER JACKSON SOMETIMES GETS CRAP FOR THE LAME WIZARD FIGHT SCENE IN FELLOWSHIP. AND TO BE HONEST, YEAH, THE FIGHT SCENE PRETTY LAME.

HERE’S THE PROBLEM… PETER JACKSON DIDN’T FILM IT.

IT WASN’T EVEN FILMED BY THE 2ND UNIT DIRECTOR, BUT ONE OF THE MANY 3RD UNIT DIRECTORS. IF HULK REMEMBERING THE DOCUMENTARY RIGHT, HE WAS SOME FRESH FACED KID GETTING CALLED UP TO THE MAJORS. AND TO BE FAIR HE HANDLES THE EMOTION OF THE SCENE RIGHT AND THAT’S WHAT MATTERS, BUT THE ACTION ITSELF PRETTY AWKWARDLY STAGED.

HOW DOES SOMETHING LIKE THIS HAPPEN? HOW CAN JACKSON LET IT SLIP THROUGH THE CRACKS? WELL. LET’S LOOK AT THE DIRECTING/2ND UNIT CREDITS OF FELLOWSHIP SHALL WE?

Second Unit Director or Assistant Director
Marc Ashton …. second assistant director
Richard A. Barker …. first assistant director: second unit (as Richard Barker)
Guy Campbell …. key second assistant director
Emma Cross …. second assistant director: second unit
Carolynne Cunningham …. first assistant director
Louise Harness …. key second assistant director: second unit
Belindalee Hope …. second assistant director: miniature unit
Eric Houghton …. third assistant director
Chris Husson …. third assistant director
John Mahaffie …. second unit director
Richard Matthews …. third assistant director
Ian Mune …. additional second unit director
Geoff Murphy …. second unit director
Dave Norris …. first assistant director: second unit (as David Norris)
Guy Norris …. additional second unit director
Joanne Pearce …. second second assistant director
Liz Tan …. first assistant director: second unit
Skot Thomas …. second second assistant director
Martin Walsh …. first assistant director: miniature unit (as Marty Walsh)
Simon Warnock …. first assistant director: second unit
Katie Flannigan …. third assistant director (uncredited)
Marcus Levy …. additional second assistant director: second unit (uncredited)
Barrie M. Osborne …. additional second unit director (uncredited)
Rick Porras …. additional second unit director (uncredited)
Edith Thompson …. additional second assistant director: second unit (uncredited)
Fran Walsh …. additional second unit director (uncredited)
Stephanie Weststrate …. additional second assistant director: second unit (uncredited)

YOUR REACTION: HOLY CRAP THAT A LOT OF PEOPLE.

HULK + TOM’S REACTION: THIS THE REALITY OF BIG-BUDGET FILMMAKING.

IN ALL LIKELIHOOD, EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE IS EITHER SOLELY RESPONSIBLE OR PARTIALLY RESPONSIBLE FOR A SHOT THAT ENDED UP IN THE FINAL MOVIE. WITH THE VAST NUMBER OF LOCATIONS, HUGE PRODUCTION CREWS, AND DAUNTING SCHEDULES, ACTION SCENES JUST TAKE WAY, WAY, WAY TOO MUCH TIME TO BE SOLELY HANDLED BY THE MAIN DIRECTOR. AND HONESTLY, DIRECTING ACTION IS PRETTY FREAKING BORING COMPARED TO THE NUANCE OF HANDLING AN ACTING PERFORMANCE. THIS IS NOT TO IMPLY DIRECTING ACTION NOT A VERY EXACTING PRACTICE. IN FACT, IT REQUIRE SUCH PATIENCE AND SKILL BECAUSE IT SO DAMN MONOTONOUS, THAT IT TAKES SERIOUS CHOPS. BUT SO MUCH OF IT JUST COMES DOWN TO SPENDING FOREVER TRYING TO GET THE NATURAL CHAOS TO FALL INTO PLACE JUST RIGHT.

TOM: have you read Vic Armstrong’s autobiography? It’s a nonsense ‘aeroplane’ book but very telling. It’s distressing to read how ‘action’ is seconded away from the director ALL THE TIME. Who’s film is it then? Action scenes are the raison d’être of summer tentpoles but I still want an auteurs stamp on everything. Tone & character are built on the specifics of these shots and sequences and editing style as much as anything else. It’s an unfortunate function of Hollywood economics and working practises that one ends up with essentially two authors on action films. The flip side of course is people like Chris Nolan. Highly publicised rejection of 2nd unit but shitty bad action director as well :-(

HULK HAS NOT READ IT, BUT WILL DEFINITELY CHECK IT OUT NOW. BUT YOU’RE ABSOLUTELY RIGHT. MOST OF OUR ACTION IS BEING DIRECTED BY PEOPLE WE DON’T KNOW, LIKE IN THE CREDITS ABOVE. THIS IS NOT TO IMPLY 2ND UNIT DIRECTORS AND THEIR CREWS BAD OR LACKING IN ANY WAY, SHAPE, OR FORM (HONESTLY MOST OF THEM PRETTY AMAZING), BUT IT SPEAKS TO YOUR EXACT POINT CONCERNING THE “AUTEUR STAMP.” WE ALWAYS WANT THAT SPECIAL THING THAT IS HANDLED BY THE VERY BEST CINEMATIC MINDS.

THAT AMAZING COEN BROTHER SCENE IN NO COUNTRY? THAT WASN’T SECOND UNIT. NO, THAT STUFF WAS PERSONALLY HANDLED BY THE TWO OF THEM AND HULK THINK THAT COMES ACROSS COMPLETELY.

BUT WITH THE BIG BUDGET STUFF, EVEN IF THE SEQUENCE BEEN STORY-BOARDED COMPLETELY, THE REALITY AND PRACTICALITY ON-SET JUST A DIFFERENT THING. EVEN SOMETHING AS SIMPLE AS A DIFFERENT LENS MAKES IT A DIFFERENT SHOT COMPLETE WITH A DIFFERENT FEELING. SOMETIMES A DIRECTOR JUST HAS TO ACCEPT THAT IT’S OUT OF THEIR HANDS. HULK BEEN IN THE ROOM WHILE DIRECTORS WATCHED DAILIES OF STUFF DONE BY 2ND UNIT AND EVEN IF IT NOT EXACTLY WHAT THEY WANT, THEY HAVE MAKE THAT DECISION OF IF THEY WANT RE-SHOOT IT. WHICH NOT ONLY COSTS LOTS OF MONEY/FUCKS UP THE SCHEDULE, IT TAKES UP TREMENDOUS AMOUNT ENERGY AND FOCUS, WHICH CAN OFTEN BE SPENT IN BETTER WAYS.

A LOT OF TIMES THEY RIGHTFULLY RECOGNIZE THAT WORKING ON A DRAMATIC SCENE IS WAY MORE IMPORTANT

AND BY THE WAY TOM, HULK COMPLETELY AGREE ON YOUR NOLAN POINT. AND SO DOES THIS GUY WHO HAS A VERY POPULAR VIDEO GOING AROUND THE INTERWEBS NOW. HE APPROACHES IT WITH EDITOR-LIKE PRECISION THAT WHOLLY ON POINT, BUT HULK WISH HE’D BRING A FEW MORE QUALIFIERS IN BEFORE HE STARTED TALKING. IN TERMS OF EDUCATION IT LOOSES PEOPLE TOO QUICK… ALSO, SALT? REALLY?

BACK TO THE POINT, NOLAN HAS INCREDIBLE STRENGTHS AS DIRECTOR AND HULK ADORES INCEPTION, BUT INDEED. THE VAST MAJORITY OF HIS BASIC ACTION = CRAP. AND WHAT IS PERHAPS MOST ODD ABOUT IT, IS THAT HE’LL THEN HAVE THESE PARTS OF SEQUENCES THAT ARE SO FANTASTIC (THE TUMBLING DREAM HALLWAY, THE BATPOD EJECTION, THE 18 WHEELER FLIP) THAT PRETTY MUCH REDEEM EVERYTHING ABOUT THE SEQUENCE. HULK JUST THINKS IT’S STRANGE THAT PEOPLE THINK HE A GOOD ACTION DIRECTOR. HIS ACTION MOSTLY WORKS BECAUSE HE USUALLY MAKES REALLY, REALLY GOOD MOVIES FIRST (AND THE AFOREMENTIONED GREAT MOMENTS ROUND IT OUT). BUT HULK WORRIES THAT PEOPLE ONLY GO NUTS FOR NOLAN BECAUSE HE MAKE THESE SUPER-SERIOUS MOVIES WHICH LEGITIMIZE PULPY STUFF. DOES IT REALLY NEED TO BE LEGITIMIZED LIKE THAT? OR HECK MAYBE PEOPLE LIKE HIM FOR THE SAME REASON HULK DOES, HE’S NOT AFRAID TO BE COMPLICATED, NARRATIVE-WISE OR CHARACTER MORALITY-WISE.

BUT  YOU’RE RIGHT TOM, IT REALLY JUST MAKES THE WHOLE “NO 2ND UNIT” THING KIND OF SILLY.

TOM: They’d likely help.

THE ISSUE INFORMS ANOTHER ONE THOUGH…

AS DEEP AS HULK DIVES INTO MEANING AND SEMIOTICS OF MISE EN SCENE FOR THESE CRITICAL ESSAYS, HULK ALSO HAVE ONE FOOT IN THE REALISM OF PRODUCTION LOGISTICS. THERE IS THE FAMOUS ANECDOTE (THAT HULK IS ABOUT TO POSSIBLY BUTCHER) ABOUT A REPORTER ASKING KUROSAWA WHY HE CHOSE TO COMPOSE A CERTAIN SHOT THE WAY HE DID. KUROSAWA ANSWERED HONESTLY: [BECAUSE THERE WAS A SHOPPING MALL TO THE LEFT OF THE FRAME AND A HIGHWAY TO THE RIGHT OF IT]. IT’S SUCH AN AMAZING ANECDOTE, BECAUSE IT’S TRUE. HALF THE TIME THAT WILL BE THE CASE WITH ANY GIVEN SHOT. THERE ARE REAL LIMITS TO THESE THINGS.

FOR ALL HULK’S TALK OF “ACTION IS SO SIMPLE! BE SMARTER’ HULK KNOWS THAT MAKING AN ACTION SCENE IS REALLY NOT EASY WHATSOEVER.

THE FOLLOWING IS A PERSONAL STORY TO HIGHLIGHT: HULK ONCE WORKED ON A SCENE AND BUDGET-WISE HULK X AMOUNT OF TIME TO FILM IT. THERE WAS NO WIGGLE ROOM AND NO EXTRA MONEY. NOW YOU WILL KNOW THAT HULK LOVES “TAUT FILMMAKING” AND HULK HAD ENTIRE ACTION SEQUENCE STORY-BOARDED AND FULLY PLANNED WITH D.P. BUT THE PROCESS OF TRYING TO GET THE ACTION TO WORK IN A LOCKED FRAME, WAS QUITE SIMPLY TAKING FAR TOO LONG, DESPITE THE FACT WE WERE MOVING FAIRLY QUICKLY AND THE FOOTAGE WAS COMING OUT GREAT. BUT NOT FINISHING WAS SIMPLY NOT AN OPTION. SO WE ADAPTED IN TWO WAYS: UNLOCKING THE HEAD TO MOVE THE CAMERA AND BE SURE OUR ACTION WAS ACTUALLY CAPTURED IN FRAME, BUT THUS AFFECTING THE STILL AND “TAUT” TONE WE WANTED. AT THE SAME TIME, WE HAD TO ABANDON OUR PLAN TO ALTERNATE OUR SET-UP POSITIONS SO THAT THE ACTORS POSITIONS IN THE “GEOGRAPHY” WERE KEPT AS COHERENT AS POSSIBLE. BOTH DECISIONS ALTERED THE FINAL PRODUCT AND GAVE US A “MESSIER” SCENE THAN WE INTENDED, BUT THE DECISIONS WERE WHOLLY NECESSARY. WE ADAPTED THE BEST WE COULD IN THE EDIT AND STILL MADE THE WHOLE THING WORK. WAS OUR ORIGINAL PLAN TOO AMBITIOUS? MAYBE. SHOULD WE HAVE SCHEDULED EXTRA TIME? ABSOLUTELY. BUT THIS THE REALITY OF ALL FILMMAKERS. IT DOESN’T MATTER IF YOU’RE A BIG BUDGET FILM, BECAUSE IF YOU ARE THAT MEANS YOU PROBABLY HAVE A MOVIE STAR. AND IN CASE YOU ARE UNAWARE, MOVIE STARS HAVE SET TIME LIMITS AND CRAZY SCHEDULES SO THEY’RE ALWAYS OFF TO THE NEXT PROJECT. THE TIME CONSTRAINTS ON BIG BUDGET FILMS ARE NOT BETTER, THEY ARE WORSE. AND THE PRESSURES CAN COME FROM ANY AND ALL PLACES: WEATHER, HEALTH PROBLEMS, YOU NAME IT! BUT YOU HAVE TO BE READY TO ROLL WITH THE PUNCHES.

WHICH WHY WE MUST UNDERSTAND THIS A HUMAN PROCESS. THERE IS NO PRESS THE “GOOD ACTION SEQUENCE BUTTON” IN AN EDIT BAY.

BUT AT THE VERY SAME TIME, HULK & TOM’S ENTIRE ARGUMENT THAT WE CAN STILL DO BETTER. WE CAN STRIVE TO UNDERSTAND WHAT WE DOING WITH CINEMA AS BEST AS POSSIBLE. AND THE MORE WE PREPARE, THE MORE WE INHERENTLY UNDERSTAND WHAT MAKES AN ACTION SCENE WORK, THE BETTER WE CAN DEAL WITH KNOWING HOW ON-SET CHANGES WILL EFFECT THE SCENE’S STORY AND TONE, AND THUS, THE MORE WE WILL BE ABLE CONTROL WHAT SHOWS UP IN THE FINAL PRODUCT. WE JUST CAN’T LOSE SIGHT OF THE CORE PRINCIPALS. LIKE WITH THE CAUSE + EFFECT THING. THERE IS A REASON HULK SPENT SO MUCH TIME WITH THIS PART AND IT IS BECAUSE HULK THINKS PEOPLE LOST SIGHT OF IT.

PART 9 – EPILOGUE / YOU

SO CONSIDER THIS LAST BIT A PIECE OF ADVICE-

TOM: Wait, I was promised Ewoks.

HULK TRYING TO BE POIGNANT HERE.

TOM: Sorry.

TO THOSE WHO WATCH MOVIES AND CRITIQUE THEM, HULK & TOM WANT YOU TO HAVE MORE OF A DISCERNING EYE TOWARD WHAT MAKES ACTION WORK. RECOGNIZE WHAT WE CAN DO BETTER BUT ALSO REALIZE WHY WE MAY FALL SHORT. TRY AND RECOGNIZE WHAT MIGHT BE THE FAULT OF POOR CONCEPT AND WHAT MIGHT BE THE THE RESULT OF PRODUCTION LOGISTICS. FOR EXAMPLE ONE AWFUL CUT IN A SEQUENCE IS A PRODUCTION MIS-STEP, WHEREAS 8 OKAY CUTS SHOWS POOR CONCEPT AND UNDERSTANDING. SEE? IT NOT THAT HARD! JUST REMEMBER THAT IN THE WAKE OF REALITY, THERE ARE HUMAN BEINGS INVOLVED.

AND FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO WISH TO GO FORWARD AND MAKE YOUR OWN PIECES OF ACTION?

AT THIS POINT, IT SHOULD BE OBVIOUS THAT FILMMAKING IS INCREDIBLY DIFFICULT. IT TAKES TIME TO UNDERSTAND AND GET BETTER AT IT. THERE ARE REASON YOU ARE A “YOUNG” DIRECTOR AT 35. AND EVEN IF YOU KNOW EVERYTHING THAT IS THE “RIGHT” THING TO DO, YOU WILL MAKE THE WRONG DECISIONS IN MOMENT. BUT WITH REPEATED EXPERIENCE IT WILL WILL COME TOGETHER. IF YOU KEEP YOUR MIND OPEN, EVERYTHING YOU WILL NEED TO LEARN WILL BE TAUGHT TO YOU IN THE ACTUAL PROCESS OF DOING IT. EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT WHAT TO INCLUDE IN SHOOTING-SCRIPTS YOU WILL LEARN IN PRE-PRODUCTION (“IS IT STILL THE SAME DAY?” “WHAT CLOTHES ARE THEY WEARING?”). EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO DO IN PRE-PRODUCTION YOU WILL LEARN IN PRODUCTION (“HEY WAIT, WHERE ARE PEOPLE GOING TO GO TO THE BATHROOM?”). EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO LEARN ABOUT PRODUCTION YOU WILL LEARN IN EDITING (“YEAH, GUESS WE REALLY NEEDED A PICK-UP SHOT THERE… FUCK.”) AND EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO LEARN IN EDITING YOU WILL LEARN ONCE THE WORK IS RELEASED (“I GUESS THAT SCENE DIDN’T WORK” OR “THAT DIDN’T GET A LAUGH” OR “MAYBE THAT RUINED THE MOVIE AFTER ALL”). AND THE NEXT TIME YOU START OVER YOU WILL KNOW EVEN MORE AND THEN IT IS JUST A PROCESS OF GETTING BETTER.

AND MORE SPECIFICALLY, TAKE THE FOLLOWING PIECES OF ADVICE ON YOUR ACTION SCENES:

DON’T THINK OF SOMETHING COOL.

THINK OF A PROBLEM/THREAT AND THEN FIGURE OUT HOW THE CHARACTER COULD SOLVE IT.

THINK ABOUT LINKING THAT PROBLEM IN A SERIES OF PROBLEMS.

THINK ABOUT LAYING THE GROUND WORK AND SETTING FIRST.

THINK ABOUT GIVING THE ACTION SPACE.

THINK ABOUT CLARITY.

THINK ABOUT PURPOSE.

THINK ABOUT CAUSE + EFFECT.

THINK OF IT IS AS A STORY.

AND WITH THAT…

WE ARE ROOTING FOR YOU ALL WITH THE FULL SINCERITY OF OUR HEARTS,

AND WE WISH YOU WAY MORE THAN LUCK.

<3 HULK & TOM

            HULK HAVE NO IDEA WHY TOM IS PIPPEN

TOM: Thanks?

IT’S OVER!

ENDNOTES!

(12A) BUT DO NOT DARE CONFUSE WITH TODAY’S POPULARITY OF THE DOCU-STYLE FILMMAKING TREND “FOUND FOOTAGE.” THEY ARE VERY, VERY DIFFERENT THINGS.

(12B) SORRY FOR THE FOOTNOTES SO CLOSE TOGETHER. HULK TRY BE BETTER AT THAT BUT SOMETIMES IT IMPORTANT. HULK JUST SIMPLY HAVE TO MENTION THAT THIS IS ABSOLUTELY NOT TO IMPLY THAT TRADITIONAL, STYLIZED CINEMA CANNOT FEEL “REAL.” IF YOU WRAP UP YOUR AUDIENCE IN THE STORY AND EXPERIENCE THEN ALL CINEMA, WHETHER ANIMATED OR SURREAL, CAN BE TRANSPORT YOU SOMEPLACE “REAL.” AND THAT IS THE TRUE MAGIC. THE POINT WITH SHAKY-CAM IS THAT IT CAN BE USED TO MAKE YOU FEEL LIKE “THIS IS THE REAL WORLD YOU’RE IN RIGHT NOW” IN A SLIGHTED MORE GROUNDED, TONAL WAY. THAT’S ALL.

(12C) THERE WERE OF COURSE MANY MOVIES AND TV SHOWS THAT USED IT BEAUTIFULLY: IT MADE PERFECT SENSE FOR THE INTENSITY OF THE SHIELD AND FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS USED IT FOR HUMANITARIAN AIMS. BUT ONE PLACE WHERE SHAKY-CAM WORKED SO WELL AGAINST SEEMING INTUITION WAS WITH THE NEW BATTLESTAR GALACTICA. SHAKY-CAM WORKED FOR THEM BECAUSE THEY DECIDED THAT THE MOST IMPORTANT THING TO THEIR TONE WAS TO GROUND THE VIEWER IN THE REALISM OF THEIR SCI-FI WORLD. MEANING IT WAS NOT TO SIMPLY MAKE “SILLY” SCI-FI SEEM MORE REALISTIC, BUT TO AMPLIFY THE TONE OF A SHOW THAT WAS ALREADY STRIVING TOWARD REALISM. MAKE SENSE?

(12D) AND TO BE COMPLETELY FAIR, MICHAEL BAY IS ALSO TERRIBLE AT STORYTELLING.

(13) CONSIDER THIS PART OF HULK’S BELIEF THAT IT NEVER GOOD TO TRY AND DISMISS SOMEONE COMPLETELY… IN THAT CASE YOU’D ALSO HAVE TO IGNORE FOOTNOTE #12.

(14A) NOT TO BEAT THIS DRUM AGAIN, BUT HULK WANT CLARIFY THAT HULK’S THESIS ON “COOL” ACTION SOMETHING HULK STARTED BEFORE THIS ARTICLE COME UP. IF HULK SEEM OVERLY-WORRYING AGAIN IT JUST A MATTER OF WANTING TO CLARIFY HULK NOT LIFTING IDEAS. WE SO USE TO PEOPLE LIFTING IDEAS IN INTERNET CULTURE IT ACTUALLY WORRY HULK. BESIDES, THE FACT THAT LOTS OF PEOPLE ARE SAYING THE SAME THING MORE SPEAKS TO THE FACT THAT THIS ISSUE IS THE REAL F’ING DEAL: ACTION-CRAZY HOLLYWOOD HAS NO IDEA WHAT TO DO WITH ACTION.

(14B) SECOND D+D REFERENCE OF COLUMN! SHIT GETTIN NERDY UP IN HERE!

(15) AND YET AS MUCH AS TRAILERS WANT TO SELL A “VIBE” THEY ALSO HAVE THE PECULIAR TENDENCY TO GIVE AWAY BIG BLOCKS OF STORY, IF NOT ALL OF IT. WHAT’S FUNNY IS THAT TRAILERS ARE SO COMPLETE IN WHAT THEY COVER OF THE PLOT, THAT THEY ESSENTIALLY CREATE 2 MINUTE VERSIONS OF THE MOVIE. PEOPLE THEN GO TO THE THEATER KNOWING ALL THE MAJOR BEATS THAT ARE COMING AND THEY ESSENTIALLY THEREFORE SEEKING A THEATRICAL EXPERIENCE OF THE COOL TRAILER THEY WATCHED. CONCEPTUALLY, IT IS DOWNRIGHT BIZARRE. HULK ALSO KNOW FROM PERSONAL EXPERIENCE THAT THIS TRAILER CHOICE STEMS FROM ONE POORLY WORDED QUESTION. SEE, MARKETING “EXPERTS” USE FOCUS GROUPS TO TEST TRAILERS WITH RANDOM VIEWERS AND ASK THE SAID VERY STUPID QUESTION: “WHAT WOULD YOU WANT TO SEE MORE OF IN THIS TRAILER?” 90% OF MEN SAY “MORE EXPLOSIONS AND BOOBS.” AND 90% OF WOMEN SAY “I WANTED TO KNOW MORE OF THE STORY.” IT’S OUTRIGHT FACT. AND AS A RESULT, WE GET TRAILERS THAT ARE NOTHING BUT EXPLOSIONS, BOOBS, AND THE WHOLE DAMN STORY. WHAT THE MARKETING “EXPERTS” NOT REALIZE WHATSOEVER THAT THEY ESSENTIALLY ASKING A QUESTION THAT LEADS THE AUDIENCE TO A CONCLUSION THAT UNDERMINES THE INTENTION OF MARKETING. MARKETING IS MEANT TO LEAD SOMEONE TO SAY “I WANT MORE OF WHAT I JUST GOT A TASTE OF THERE.” INSTEAD THEY ESSENTIALLY GIVING PEOPLE A COMPLETE PRODUCT EXPERIENCE IN AN EFFORT TO SATISFY THEM RIGHT THEN AND THERE, BARELY REALIZING THEY JUST RUINED IT. THEY THINK THEY ARE SELLING SOMETHING “SATISFYING” BUT THEY ARE UNKNOWINGLY MAKING TRAILERS IN HOPES THE TRAILER-VIEWER THEN GOES “I WANT TO DO THAT AGAIN.” IT IS WHOLLY WRONG-HEADED… THEN AGAIN, YOU COULD GO IN THE OPPOSITE DIRECTION LIKE J.J. ABRAMS AND TEASE AND PRETEND EVERYTHING ABOUT YOUR STORY A MYSTERY EVEN IF ITS NOT… HULK’S POINT IS THAT, LIKE NEARLY EVERYTHING, IT’S ABOUT BALANCE.

FINE... HAVE SOME EWOKS.

PREAMBLE: YESTERDAY, HULK PUBLISHED THE FASTEST CLIMBING ARTICLE IN THIS BLOG’S HISTORY.  IF YOU DIDN’T READ IT, YOU CAN DO SO BY CLICKING RIGHT HERE.

THE RESPONSE TO THE PIECE HAS BEEN TRULY HUMBLING, AND HULK HAVE MANY SINCERE THANKS TO Y’ALL.

SO HOW ABOUT WE EMBARK ON DAY 2?

CINEMATOGRAPHER EXTRAORDINAIRE TOM TOWNEND BACK AND WE READY TO ROLL (NOTE: IF HE HEARD HULK CALL HIM THAT HE WOULD GET ALL BASHFUL AND DEMURE. BUT AS EVIDENCED IN THE PRIOR COLUMN, HE PRETTY BRILLIANT).

SO YESTERDAY WE TOOK ON THE CONCEPTS AT THE CENTER OF CREATING GOOD ACTION: STARTING WITH SIMPLE IDEAS, TREATING THE ACTION AS A “STORY,” THE BASICS OF CAUSE + EFFECT, AND HAVING OBJECTIVES.

TODAY CONCERNS HOW ONE GOES ABOUT THE EXECUTION OF THOSE CONCEPTS. WE HAVE 3 PARTS FOR YOUR ASSES: GEOGRAPHY, TONE/SUSPENSE, AND “PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER.”  IN WHICH, WE WILL TALK THE MATRIX, KUNG FU, JACKIE CHAN, SOUND DESIGN, CAT PEOPLE, TAUT FILMMAKING, QUENTIN TARANTINO’S DIALOGUE SET-UPS, THE COEN BROTHERS RELATIVE AWESOMENESS, AND… DAVID LYNCH? WHAT THE FUCK?

LET’S DO IT:

PART 3 – GEOGRAPHY AND “SEEING THE FRAME”

YOU MAY ASK, “HULK, WHY DO KUNG FU FILMS WORK IF THEY’RE NOT REALLY USING CAUSE + EFFECT AND MORE JUST GUY’S PUNCHING THE CRAP OUT OF EACH OTHER?”

HULK WOULD ANSWER, “THAT A TERRIBLE QUESTION. YOU DON’T KNOW ANYTHING, DO YOU?”

… LUCKILY IT’S JUST A FAKE QUESTION HULK MADE UP TO PROVE A SILLY POINT: A GOOD FIGHT/KUNG-FU SCENE HAS JUST AS MUCH CAUSE + EFFECT AS ANY OTHER GOOD ACTION SCENE, IT JUST WORKS AT MUCH, MUCH FASTER PACE. BUT IN ORDER FOR IT TO WORK, ALL THE PUNCHES, BLOCKS, AND REVERSALS HAVE TO MAKE SENSE TO THE VIEWER. SO WHEN YOU SEE TWO PEOPLE FIGHTING, YOU HAVE TO SEE THEM FIGHTING.

THE WAY TO DO THAT IS WITH A CERTAIN WORD PEOPLE THROW AROUND A LOT WHEN TALKING ABOUT ACTION SCENES, AND THAT IS WORD “GEOGRAPHY.” WHAT IT MEANS IS THE UNDERSTANDING OF CHARACTERS IN PLACEMENT WITH EACH OTHER AS WELL AS THE SPACE AROUND THEM.

IT SOUNDS RELATIVELY SIMPLE, BUT HULK ASSURE YOU THAT AFTER DEALING WITH THE PRODUCTION COMPLICATIONS OF BLOCKING, SHOT SELECTION, AND THEN EDITING, THEN EVEN THE MOST HEAVILY PRE-VISUALIZED SEQUENCE CAN COME OUT LESS COHESIVE THAN IMAGINED IN THE FINAL PRODUCT. AFTER ALL, 3O SECONDS OF GUYS HITTING EACH OTHER ON SCREEN USUALLY TAKES DAYS TO FILM. WHICH MEANS IT IS VERY, VERY EASY TO LOSE TRACK OF HOW THINGS FIT TOGETHER IN THE CHAOS OF PRODUCTION.(9C) WHICH MEANS THAT WHEN SOMEONE IS FILMING A FIGHT SCENE, THE OVERALL COMMITMENT TO GEOGRAPHY HAS TO BE PARAMOUNT.

FORGIVE A QUICK NOTE ON THE HISTORY OF HOLLYWOOD’S RELATIONSHIP TO ACTION “GEOGRAPHY” BUT IT’S IMPORTANT FOR THE NEXT POINT. SAID HISTORY GOES SOMETHING LIKE THIS: IN THE DAWN OF MOVIES THE FRAME WAS STILL PRIMARILY THE “THEATER WINDOW” WHICH MADE EVERYTHING LOOK LIKE A FILMED STAGE PLAY. SO REALLY GEOGRAPHY OF PEOPLE AND ACTION WAS PRETTY MUCH A GIVEN. EVEN IN THE GOLDEN AGE OF FILM NOIR (INSERT 90 MILLION AWESOME FILMS AS EXAMPLES), WHICH USED A MUCH MORE STYLIZED FORM OF FILMMAKING, THE STYLE WAS PRETTY MUCH COMPOSED OF WIDE SHOTS AND LOTS OF INSERTS THAT FOCUSED ON CLARITY. THE MAJOR DIFFERENCE WAS THE LIGHTING AND COMPOSITION WAS FREAKING AWESOME. EVEN THE 60’S/ 70’S ACTION MOVIES (DIRTY HARRY, THE GREAT ESCAPE,  BULLITT, THE FRENCH CONNECTION) USED THE INVENTION OF CINEMA SCOPE TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE WIDE-FRAME. ACTION WAS STILL RULED BY MASTER SHOTS.

LIKE THIS:

THEN THE CINEMATIC REVOLUTION OF THE LATE 70’S CHANGED THE LANGUAGE OF HIGH FORM CINEMA ALL TOGETHER.  THEN SPIELBERG AND LUCAS TOOK THAT NEW FILM LANGUAGE AND USED IT TO CHANGE POPCORN CINEMA. SPIELBERG SHOT HIS ACTION FOR MAXIMUM AUDIENCE TENSION AND LUCAS SHOT HIS ACTION FOR MAXIMUM PACE (AT THE TIME THAT IS). THE EFFECT WAS REMARKABLE, BUT IT’S IMPORTANT TO NOTE THAT BOTH FILMMAKERS RITUALLY SACRIFICED GEOGRAPHY IN THE NAME OF THESE OTHER CONCEPTS. LUCKILY, THEY WERE SO GOOD AT THOSE OTHER CONCEPTS THAT THEIR WORK WAS REVOLUTIONARY. THE PROBLEM IS THAT THE GENERATION THAT FOLLOWED THEM MISSED THE MARK AND TOOK THE “STYLE” AND “PACE” OF BOTH FILMMAKERS, WITHOUT REALIZING THEIR GENIUS WAS IN THE CONTENT OF DRAMATIZATION, NOT THE CINEMATIC CHEATS. THUS, THE 80’S/90’S WERE LARGELY DARK TIMES FOR ACTION COHERENCE AND GEOGRAPHY, SAVE FOR A FEW BRIGHT SPOTS OF INTERNATIONAL CINEMA.

ENTER THE MATRIX.

…OF THE MANY OF THE THINGS THE WACHOWSKI BROTHERS DID RIGHT (AND WRONG), THEY AT LEAST UNDERSTOOD THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IN ALL THEIR FIGHT SCENES WAS GEOGRAPHY.

TOM: In all the hooplah, some people forget that it really is such an important movie outside of its own context (and sequels). The popular introduction of Hong Kong fight choreography to mainstream Hollywood raised the stakes – endless punches and tussles look lame now. Unfortunately the silly physics is what Hollywood adopted instead of the ‘flow’ and ‘shape.’ We got bullet-time jokes instead of people aping the most important thing – one specific fighting action leading to another specific fighting action – cause and effect on a macro and highly engineered level. The Dojo fight in that movie is a rare example of Hollywood getting it right.

BOOM. EXACTLY. FOR ALL THE FANCY NEW TECHNOLOGY + SPECIAL EFFECTS, IT WAS REALLY JUST GOOD OLE-FASHIONED KNOW-HOW WITH CAMERA ANGLES THAT MADE IT THE MOVIE WORK (ALONG WITH HEAVY COMMITMENT TO BASIC METAPHORS AND STORY TROPES). AND THAT DOJO SCENE IS EXEMPLARY OF EVERYTHING THE MOVIE DID SO WELL.

SO WHY DON’T WE TAKE A LOOK?

WHILE THE ACTION ITSELF IS RATHER DYNAMIC AND COMPLICATED, WERE YOU EVER CONFUSED ABOUT WHERE SOMEONE WAS IN RELATION TO THE OTHER? OR HOW THEY PULLED OFF AND EXECUTED A MOVE?

TOM: Nope.

THE CAMERA IS ALWAYS JUST FAR ENOUGH BACK TO SHOW THE WHOLE MOVEMENT. IN FACT, THE MOVEMENTS OF THE ACTORS ACTUALLY DICTATED WHERE THE CAMERA SHOULD GO NEXT, NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND. NOTICE THEIR RELATIONSHIP, THE WAY THE CAMERA SEEMED TO FLOW OFF OF THE ACTOR’S ACTIONS, AS IF IT WAS REACTING WITH EQUAL GRACE. IT BEHAVES ALMOST LIKE A DANCE PARTNER. BUT EVEN WHEN THE CAMERA IS MOVING, IT IS NEVER SO DISTRACTING AS TO MAKE THE CAMERA MOVEMENT THE MOST ACTIVE PART OF THE SCENE. IT’S NEVER TRYING TO BE “NOTICED.”

TOM: Right, it’s low stakes showboating that only just avoids pastiche.

OOOH. GOOD WORD CHOICE!

TOM: Thanks!

SO NOW LET’S GO BACK TO OUR EARLIER POINTS. NOTICE WHAT TOM TALKING ABOUT WITH THE MACRO CAUSE + EFFECT. KUNG FU IS FREAKING BEAUTIFUL, BUT STILL SIMPLE IN THOSE “STORY-TELLING” TERMS: MOVE. REVERSE. MOVE. REVERSE.

AND NOTICE THE EFFECTIVE USE OF OBJECTIVES IN THE SCENE! NOTICE HOW MORPHEUS PROVIDE THE GOALS AND EXPLAINS EVERYTHING THAT HAPPENING. HE’S NOT JUST NARRATING THE ACTION, BUT ALSO THE EMOTIONAL/CHARACTER ARC FOR NEO. AS LAME AND CLICHE AND ON THE NOSE AS ALL THOSE EMOTIONAL BEATS ARE, BY MAKING IT SO DAMN CLEAR IT ALLOWS ALL THE FANCY-PANTS ACTION TO HAVE ACTUAL STORY MEANING.

TOM: Yeah, not sure The Matrix needs the sly character exposition of Silkwood… though it couldn’t hurt.

HULK LAUGH.  BUT SEE HOW IT ALL STARTING TO PIECE TOGETHER? CAUSE + EFFECT/OBJECTIVES TIE RIGHT GEOGRAPHY BECAUSE BOTH STRIVE FOR THE GOAL OF CLARITY. AND GEOGRAPHY IS SO IMPORTANT IN HAND TO HAND FIGHT SCENE BECAUSE IT’S WHAT TELLS THE STORY. SO NOW IT’S COMING TOGETHER TO MAKE A CLEARER PICTURE OF HOW ACTION WORKS.

BUT LET’S TAKE FIGHT SCENES ONE STEP FURTHER WITH THE ALL-TIME GREAT OF KUNG-FU ACTION: JACKIE CHAN.

                                                   FUCK YEAH!

JUST SO YOU KNOW, HULK ADORES JACKIE CHAN. HULK EVEN BELIEVE HE ONE OF CINEMA’S GREAT HEIRS OF PHYSICAL COMEDY. MAYBE IT’S JUST THAT HULK GREW UP ON HIM, BUT HULK THINK HE PROBABLY HAVE MORE IN COMMON WITH THE SPARKLE OF BUSTER KEATON AND CHARLIE CHAPLIN THAN PROBABLY ANY OTHER CINEMATIC FIGURES, THOUGH HULK WILLING TO ACCEPT ARGUMENTS. (9D) SO EVEN THOUGH HIS HOLLYWOOD OUTPUT IS LESS STELLAR THAN HIS HONG-KONG OUTPUT, EVEN THOUGH HULK ADORE HIM, THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IS THAT WHAT HE DOES STILL WORKS IN THE MOST BASIC CONCEPTS OF ACTION.

EVEN THOUGH JACKIE IS WORKING IN THE KUNG FU GENRE, WE’VE PREVIOUSLY ESTABLISHED FROM SPIELBERG THAT LAUGHTER, ELATION, AND FIGHTING ENJOYMENT WORK IN EXACT SAME TERMS OF SET-UP/DELIVERY. SO IF YOU CAN UNDERSTAND AND INTEGRATE THEM SEAMLESSLY, YOU CAN CREATE INTERCHANGEABLE FORMS OF JOY. HULK BELIEVE THIS THE REASON JACKIE CHAN THE MOST POPULAR KUNG-FU IMPORT OVER OTHER GREAT CHOICES: HE CONSTANTLY TRYING TO THRILL YOU OR MAKE YOU LAUGH EVERY TWO SECONDS OF AN ACTION SCENE. AND IT’S NOT JUST HIS FIGHTING ABILITIES, WHICH ARE JAW DROPPING, BUT THE FACT HE UNDERSTOOD THAT BY USING CAUSE + EFFECT SO CLEARLY THAT HE COULD ENTERTAIN ON SEVERAL DIFFERENT LEVELS IN WHOLLY RAPID SUCCESSION.

THIS SOUNDS LIKE A SILLY STATEMENT, BUT HULK SO HAPPY THAT JACKIE WAS A PRODUCT OF TRADITIONAL ASIAN CINEMA. UNLIKE AMERICAN FILMS AND PERFORMERS, ASIAN CINEMA REALIZES THAT SUPER IMPORTANT LESSON THAT IF YOU’RE SHOWING SOMETHING GREAT THEN THE CAMERA NEVER HAS TO DO ANYTHING.

LET’S SEE HIM AT WORK, PARTICULARLY AT A SCENE THAT MOSTLY INVOLVES HAND TO HAND FIGHTING (INSTEAD OF USING PROPS, WHICH HE IS FAMOUS FOR) TO MAKE OUR POINT. WATCH HOW MUCH HE CAN AUGMENT THE BASICS OF FIGHTING, MAKING EACH PUNCH AND KICK LOOK UNIQUE IN THE CONTEXT OF ALL THE OTHERS. AND IF KUNG-FU MOVIES ARE NOT YOUR THING, FORGIVE THE PUERILE NATURE OF THE HUMOR IN THIS SCENE AND BAD-DUBBING. THIS IS WHAT KUNG FU MOVIES DO , SO HULK ASKS YOU TO BE PATIENT AND JUST LET IT BUILD. BUT AGAIN, WATCH HOW LITTLE THE CAMERA DOES:

FIRST OFF, LET US JUST ACKNOWLEDGE IF MATT DAMON DID THIS IN AN ACTION MOVIE THE ENTIRE EASTERN SEABOARD WOULD HAVE SHIT ITS COLLECTIVE PANTS (FOLLOWED OF COURSE, BY EACH SUCCESSIVE TIME ZONE). INSTEAD, THESE AMAZING FEATS ARE SOMEHOW REGARDED AS JUST “THAT STUFF THAT JACKIE DOES.” BUT THERE ARE REAL LESSONS TO TAKE AWAY.

NOTICE IN THE CLIP HOW SHORT THE ACTUAL SEQUENCE OF HITS ARE PER OPPONENT. IT IS NOT AND ENDLESS SERIES PUNCH AND KICK COMBOS. HE MOVES FROM BAD GUY TO BAD GUY SO QUICKLY (READ: LINKS THEM) THAT IT WORKS BEAUTIFULLY AND FEELS LIKE HE’S PROGRESSING, EVEN THOUGH IT IS JUST THE SAME FOUR BAD GUYS OVER AND OVER. JACKIE UNDERSTOOD THAT YOU HAD TO PUNCTUATE MOMENTS OF FIGHT SCENES LIKE SENTENCES: WITH REVERSALS, FLIPS, FALLS, JOKES, TURNING ATTENTION, FUNNY FACIAL EXPRESSIONS, AND ALL THESE FUNNY PUNCTUATION MARKS FLOW IN THE COURSE OF THE ACTION. YES, THE FIGHTING HAS AN ACTUAL RHYTHM.  AND IT’S NOT JUST BECAUSE JACKIE IS AN ABSURDLY TALENTED FIGHTER, IT’S BECAUSE THE FIGHT CHOREOGRAPHY SO WELL-DESIGNED IN FIRST PLACE.

AND AGAIN, THE CAMERA NEVER GETS IN THE FREAKING WAY.

BET LET US ALL BE HONEST, LOTS OF ACTORS ARE JUST NOT GOOD ENOUGH TO FIGHT ANYWHERE CLOSE TO THIS LEVEL (AND THEN THERE’S THE PESKY, THOUGH TOTALLY HUMANE MATTER OF INSURANCE) BUT THE LESSON OF THIS KIND OF STUFF FOR HOLLYWOOD SHOULD OBVIOUS: STRIVE TO PRODUCE THIS LEVEL OF ACTION.

POST-MATRIX HOLLYWOOD IS OBVIOUSLY WAY, WAY BETTER AT OFFERING HIGH QUALITY MARTIAL ARTS AND FIGHTING THAN BEFORE, BUT LOTS OF TIMES HOLLYWOOD IS STILL JUST “HIDING” THE ACTION SO IT DOESN’T LOOK LAME. WELL HULK ARGUE THAT NOT REALLY AN EXCUSE. NOT THIS DAY IN AGE. ACTORS TRAIN FOR MONTHS. FUCK, EDGAR WRIGHT WAS ABLE TO MAKE MICHAEL CERA, MARY ELIZABETH WINSTEAD AND EGG, HULK MEAN ANNE, FROM ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT KICK ALL SORTS OF RELATIVE ASS IN SCOTT PILGRIM. HULK MEAN, JUST FREAKING WATCH:

SERIOUSLY HOLLYWOOD? CERA, WINSTEAD, AND MAE WHITMAN JUST HANDED YOU YOUR FUCKING ASS. SURE, EDGAR WRIGHT MIGHT BE A ONCE IN A GENERATION FILMMAKER (MORE ON THAT ON DAY 3), BUT WHAT THIS SCENE PROVES IS THAT YOU ABSOLUTELY, UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES, HAVE ANY EXCUSE.(10A)

YOU HAVE TO DO BETTER. MOST OF THESE ACTION MOVIE STARS ALREADY HAVE A BREADTH OF FIGHTING EXPERIENCE. AND EVEN THEN OUR FACIAL REPLACEMENT SOFTWARE IS LEGITIMATELY PERFECT NOW AND HOLLYWOOD’S STUNT MEN AND STUNT COORDINATORS ARE SO FUCKING AMAZING AT THEIR JOBS THAT THERE’S JUST NO EXCUSE. HULK WANT TO SEE WHAT THEY CAN DO. APPARENTLY, TOM CRUISE WAS APPARENTLY A NO-BULLSHIT MASTER SWORDSMAN BY THE END OF HIS TRAINING FOR LAST SAMURAI, BUT HULK WOULDN’T KNOW FROM WHAT THE MOVIE SHOWED… SO PULL BACK THE CAMERA AND STOP OVERLY CUTTING FOR FUCKS SAKE…. SORRY. HULK GETTING  A LITTLE SMASHY. (10B)

GETTING THE CAMERA OUT OF THE WAY MATTERS, ESPECIALLY WHEN YOU HAVE SOMETHING WELL-CHOREOGRAPHED.

NEED PROOF? THIS TIME LET’S WATCH AN AMERICANIZED JACKIE CHAN MOVIE. HECK, HOW ABOUT THE ONE WHERE HE SQUARES OFF AGAINST THE OTHER IMMORTAL KUNG FU LEGEND, JET-LI! NOW UNDERSTAND THAT THIS IS A FIGHT THAT KUNG FU FANS WAITED FOR FOR DECADES… AND WATCH HOW IT TREATED “SIMILARLY” UNDER AN AMERICAN DIRECTOR, BUT DIFFERENTLY ENOUGH THAT IT ROBS THE SEQUENCE OF EFFECT:

WHY THIS SCENE FEEL SO DIFFERENT?

IT BECAUSE THE ACTION MOMENTS LACK PERSONALITY AND BEATS. THE TRANSITIONS ARE LIKE “OKAY, NO WE’RE KICKING BACK AND FORTH, NOW WE PUNCHING BACK AND FORTH.” THERE ARE NO REAL PUNCTUATION MARKS, JUST ENDLESS SUCCESSIONS. AND RATHER THAN STRIVE FOR REAL IMPACT, IT STRIVES TO BE BEAUTIFUL/ARTFUL. SURE THE CAMERA IS TECHNICALLY “FAR BACK” A LOT OF TIMES, BUT IT HAS A NUMBER OF TIMES IT CUTS WAY TOO CLOSE FOR SOME ILL CONCEIVED REASON. BASICALLY, THE CAMERA TRY TO “HELP” TOO MUCH.  AND IT FLIRTS WITH HAVING THE GEOGRAPHY IN PLACE, BUT EVERY TIME IT CUTS TO HIGHLIGHT SOMETHING”COOL” IT ONLY GETS IN THE WAY OF WHAT WE REALLY WANT TO BE SEEING.(10C)

AGAIN THESE ARE JUST BASIC CAMERA AESTHETICS. WHAT THAT CLIP MISSES MOST OF ALL IS THE SPIELBERGIAN ELEMENT OF INVENTIVENESS THAT WAS PRESENT IN THE DRUNKEN MASTER CLIP.

AND NOW TO FINISH THIS PART OFF, IT’S THAT TIME AGAIN! LET’S GO BACK TO ATTACK THE BLOCK:

TOM: Ironically, whilst the preservation of ‘screen’ geography has been praised in reviews Joe & I were also trying to hide ‘real’ geography. The A-B journey of the script is built from a totally illogical actual journey – to provide the landscape for various action beats.

THAT AMAZING TO HULK BUT KNOWING PRODUCTION LOGISTICS, ABSOLUTELY TRUE. BUT HULK REALLY FELT LIKE EVERYTHING REGISTERED RATHER WELL. YOU HAD SENSE OF THE NEIGHBORHOOD, WHERE EVERYONE LIVED AND HOW TO GET AROUND, EVEN IF THE PHYSICAL LOCATION NO MATCH AT ALL.

TOM: I’m glad it worked. We had the advantage of a location with very consistent and modular architecture and the sequence was set at night which meant that only what was lit was what you saw and true linear geography could be kept vague.  But we wanted to try and keep things consistent within our screen geography and were diligent about establishing what was in front, behind, to the left, to the right, up and down…

Again, it seems repetitious of me but at the root of everything was the script.  When one sees a character on screen doing something perilous everyone likes to feel that this was still their best option.  Otherwise one starts to loose faith and identification with the character.  To keep the actions of the gang grounded they had to always seem to be making decisions consistent with their established character and circumstances so to force them into jeopardy (which is were all the exciting fun stuff is, right?) there had to be a series of reasonable obstacles between them and physical freedom and/or atonement.

Moses makes 3 bad choices in succession at the start of the story (attempt to mug someone, give an alien a punitive kicking & accept the offer of dealing hard drugs).  Then in the subsequent 3 sequences each of those choices he made start to backfire on him and until the end of the film him and his comrades are hemmed in by the fallout from their own behaviour.  The 4th ingredient is the geography of the location, especially the titular ‘Block’ and the script was very specific in it’s description of the building, the placement of characters apartments within it and particular (but not unrealistic) quirks such as there being no elevator access to the top floor, only one entrance or exit, metal security gates on only a select number of apartment doors, etc.

The doyen of these sorts of mechanics is Die Hard, my all time 2nd favourite film set in a tower block.

HULK LAUGH.

BELIEVE.

PART 4 – TONE, SUSPENSE, AND THE ART OF GOING “TAUT”

A WOMAN WALKS DOWN AN ABANDONED HALLWAY.  SHE SENSES SOMETHING UNSEEN. SHE SLOWS. THE MOMENT BUILDS. AND THEN SOMETHING JUMPS OUT AND SCARES THE FUCK OUT OF HER/THE AUDIENCE.

WE’VE SEEN THIS A MILLION TIMES BEFORE. IT IS NOT A NEW IDEA. IT IS NOT A “COOL” IDEA. SO WHY DOES IT CONTINUE WORK TIME AND TIME AGAIN IN A MILLION DIFFERENT FORMS?

YES, CAUSE + EFFECT IS ONE BIG PART OF IT (THE SCENE IS PRETTY MUCH ALL SET-UP), BUT SINCE THERE IS NO CLEAR VISUAL EVIDENCE OF WHAT ABOUT TO ACTUALLY HAPPEN, WHERE DOES THE TENSION COME FROM? WHAT CREATES IT? WHAT IS ACTUALLY SETTING YOU UP?

SOMETIMES ACTION IS ABOUT THE SEEMINGLY INTANGIBLE THINGS, THE ACTION WE DON’T SEE. THE TENSION COMES FROM A “FEELING” WE GET. AND WHEN HULK TALKS ABOUT HOW A MOVIE FEELS THE WORD TO USE IN THAT SITUATION IS TONE. DOES THE SCENE FEEL TENSE? FUN? CHAOTIC? SAD? THAT IS WHAT TONE IS. AND MOST TIMES THE POINT OF A SCENE IS NOT ABOUT WHAT IS ACTUALLY HAPPENING, BUT HOW THE SCENE FEELS.

THE AESTHETICS OF CINEMATOGRAPHY PLAY A PART IN TONE OF COURSE. HULK THINK MOST PEOPLE UNDERSTAND THIS INTRINSICALLY: THERE IS THE DARK AND MOODY SOURCE LIGHTING OF DRAMAS AND THE HIGH-KEY BRIGHT LIGHTING OF A ROMANTIC COMEDIES. BUT WHILE THE EFFECT OF CAMERA AESTHETICS ARE DEFINITELY IMPORTANT, THEY ARE SLIGHTLY OVERRATED BY THE PUBLIC COMPARED TO SOMETHING ELSE:

SOUND DESIGN!

                                                BEEP BOOP.

SOUND DESIGN IS ABSOLUTELY THE FIRST THING RESPONSIBLE FOR EFFECTIVE TONE ESTABLISHMENT. THIS ABSOLUTELY INCLUDES THE SCORE BY THE WAY. BOTH THE SOUND DESIGN AND SCORE WORK IN CONJUNCTION TO PROVIDE THE “FEELING” OF A MOVIE AND PLAY THE AUDIENCE ON A WHOLLY VISCERAL LEVEL, MEANING SOMETHING YOU INHERENTLY REACT TO IN AN UN-PROCRESSED MANNER. SAD MUSIC MAKES YOU CRY. SCRAPING METAL MAKES YOUR CRINGE, ETC.

SO LET’S GO BACK TO THE EXAMPLE OF THE WOMAN WALKING DOWN THE ABANDONED HALLWAY. OUR FIRST EMOTIONAL CUE THAT SOMETHING IS WRONG WILL LIKELY COME FROM SOUND. IT WILL BE SUBTLE. ALMOST SUBCONSCIOUS. THINGS WILL SUDDENLY GET QUIET. THE SOUND DESIGNER WILL USE PERHAPS A SLIGHT DRONE OR HIGH-PITCHED WHINE TO GET YOUR EARS AND BODY TO RESPOND. WE HAVE A VISCERAL REACTION TO THESE SOUNDS EVEN IF OUR BRAIN IS NOT ACTUALLY PROCESSING IT. THE SUSPICION WILL THEN BE CONFIRMED WITH VISUAL CUES FROM THE WOMAN (HER SLOWING DOWN/LOOKING INTO THE NOTHINGNESS). THE FEELING WILL BUILD. PERHAPS A SLIGHT MUSICAL CUE TO “HEIGHTEN” THE EMOTION. AGAIN NOTHING ACTUALLY HAPPENING, BUT THE AUDIO TELLING US SOMETHING WRONG BEFORE IT EVEN HAPPENS. AND THEN IN THE EVENTUAL MOMENT OF ACTUAL ON-SCREEN ACTION, WHEN THE THING JUMPS OUT, THE SOUND DESIGN WILL CLIMAX OR RELEASE, THUS ENDING THE BUILD.

TOM: Stop right there. You all have to watch and enjoy this:

TOM: Surely the progenitor of all ‘lone woman getting spooked in an alley’ sequences.  I believe that the device of a sudden, loud (but justifiably ‘diagetic’) noise on the soundtrack, which makes the audience jump but which proves not to be the expected threat, is known colloquially as a ‘Lewton’s Bus’ to this day.

HULK TOTALLY HEARD THAT BEFORE BUT DIDN’T KNOW THE REFERENCE! UGH! AMAZING!

YOU DEAR READER WILL RECOGNIZE WHAT WE TALKING ABOUT HERE AS TEXTBOOK HORROR DEVICES, BUT THE SOUND DESIGN/SCORING OF ACTION SCENES USES EXACT SAME LOGIC, EITHER WITH A BIT MORE SPEED AND SUCCESSION, OR NICE LONG BUILDS TURNING INTO EXTENDED SEQUENCES.

LET’S LOOK AT A VERY WELL-MADE FILM BY EVERYONE’S FAVORITE ANTI-SEMITIC/SEXIST/CRAZY ASSHOLE. CONCERNING OUR EARLIER PARTS, THE SCENE YOU ARE ABOUT TO WATCH IS A GREAT EXAMPLE OF CAUSE + EFFECT AND YET A TERRIBLE EXAMPLE OF ESTABLISHING GEOGRAPHY. THIS IS OKAY BECAUSE IT MAKES UP FOR ANY GEOGRAPHY PROBLEMS WITH TREMENDOUS ABILITY TO BUILD TO THE ACTION WITH SOUND DESIGN/MUSIC.  PAY CLOSE ATTENTION TO JUST THE AUDIO IN THIS  SCENE AND HOW IT FEELS:

GREAT USE OF TONE RIGHT? THE WAY THE SOUND ECHOES AS THINGS MOVE SLOW? THE WAY THE MUSIC GOES IN AND OUT.? THE WAY IT PROPELS ONCE THE ACTION ACTUALLY STARTS? THE WA IT PUNCTUATES THE ACTUAL MOMENTS OF IMPACT? THE THINGS THAT MAKE THIS SCENE WORK ARE THE EXACT SAME PRINCIPALS OF THE HALLWAY SCARE ANALOGY, JUST AUGMENTED TO FIT BOTH DRAMA AND ACTION.

HULK WANT TO USE THIS OPPORTUNITY TO DISCUSS SOUND WITH A REALLY WEIRD EXAMPLE AND SHOW THAT EFFECTIVE SOUND DESIGN CAN PLAY PART OF ANY KIND OF MOVIE AND CONTROLS YOUR INTENTION/MEANING WAY MORE THAN YOU CAN EVER IMAGINE.

THAT EXAMPLE IS DAVID LYNCH.

WHEN WE TYPICALLY THINK OF DAVID LYNCH, WE THINK OF HIS AMAZING/CRAZY IMAGERY: THE BABY IN ERASERHEAD. OR FRANK WITH OXYGEN TANK. OR THE SCARY HOMELESS MONSTER BY THE DUMPSTER. THESE ARE THE SUBJECTS, BUT THEY ARE NOT THE TONE.

DAVID LYNCH’S WORK, IF IT HAS ONE RUNNING THEME, SEEMS TO BE CONCERNED WITH THE EXISTENCE OF DARKNESS JUST UNDER THE SURFACE OF “ORDINARY.” IN EXPLORING THIS THEME HIS WORK EITHER OUTRIGHT SHOWS THE SUDDEN INVASION OF THE MACABRE INTO TRADITIONAL WHOLESOME SETTINGS, OR HE PRESENTS OVERTLY-PRISTINE IMAGES THAT ARE TAINTED BY SOMETHING SEEMINGLY PERVERSE.

TO EXECUTE THIS SECOND OPTION, LYNCH TAKES GREAT CARE TO PROVIDE UNSETTLING FEELINGS AMIDST THE “ORDINARY” SUBJECTS HES’ SHOWING. HE’LL PUT STRANGE DRONES AND WHINES UNDER SCENES OF DAILY HOUSEWORK AND OUR SEEMINGLY MUNDANE SUBURBIA. HE’LL SHOW SOME CUTE PEOPLE ACTING OVERLY-NICE, BUT WITH CREEPY SOUND DESIGN THE WHOLE THING BECOMES SUPER-SUPER CREEPY. IT ALWAYS MANAGES TO SET UP THE REST OF THE MOVIE, WHICH WILL GO DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE INTO TRULY DARK PLACES. AND LYNCH ACCOMPLISHES THESE SIGNIFIER  JUST BY USING COUNTER-INTUITIVE SOUND DESIGN.

AGAIN, IT’S THE EXACT SAME PRINCIPAL: YOU KNOW SOMETHING IS WRONG EVEN YOU’RE NOT SEEING IT. WHEN THE POINT COMES AROUND WHERE LYNCH STARTS TO UNRAVEL YOU WITH HIS IMAGERY TOO, HIS MOVIES ENTER THIS BRILLIANT HEIGHTENED STATE OF FILMMAKING. FOR EXAMPLE, THE FIRST MOMENT IN BLUE VELVET,WHERE KYLE MCLAUGHLIN DISCOVERS THE FIRST HINT TO THE DARK UNDERBELLY AROUND HIM, IS PERFECT LYNCH. A TINY SLICE OF BODY HORROR COMBINED WITH A GREAT SOUND DESIGN CUE. IN THIS SCENE, NOTICE THE “WHINE” HE USES TO LINGER OVER THE SCENE AND RE-eNFORCE THAT EVEN THOUGH THE SUBJECT IS WRONG, THERE IS SOMETHING EVEN MORE WRONG BEYOND IT. CHECK IT OUT:

THE SOUND DESIGN SAYS EVERYTHING ABOUT THE TONE IN THIS SCENE (NOTE: HULK COULD HAVE PICKED WAY, WAY, WAY CREEPIER SCENES FROM LYNCH, BUT THIS MORE APPROPRIATE FOR GENERAL AUDIENCES).

GO AHEAD. JUST DARE ME TO HAUNT YOUR DREAMS.

LYNCH MATTERS BECAUSE IT SHOWS WHAT INTERESTING DEPTHS YOU CAN GO TO BY MESSING WITH THE SOUND IN YOUR MOVIE. YOU CAN CHANGE GENRES, YOU CAN IMBUE FEELINGS, BUT MOST OF ALL YOU CAN MAKE AN AUDIENCE FEEL TENSE.

SO IF YOU’RE MAKING AN ACTION MOVIE, DON’T FORGET THIS.

DON’T JUST SETTLE FOR MUSIC THAT PROPELS THE AUDIENCE THROUGH YOUR SCENE WITH RECKLESS ABANDON (JUST TO KEEP THEM PLACATED). USE YOUR SOUND DESIGN TO AMP UP TENSION (FOR EXAMPLE, SPIELBERG DOES THIS BEAUTIFULLY IN JURASSIC PARK). PLAY WITH THEIR EMOTIONS, USE HORROR BEATS AND CONCEPTS AS YOUR “SET UP” BEFORE YOU DELIVER THE ACTION GOODS. HOLD THE TENSION. IT WILL WORK SO MUCH BETTER IN TERMS OF DRAMA AND AMPLIFY YOUR CAUSE + EFFECT.

HOOOLLLLLLLDDDD!!!!!!!

SO… LET’S GO ONE STEP FURTHER AND ASK WHAT IS THE BEST WAY TO COMBINE THE LESSONS OF TENSION AND SOUND DESIGN IN TO THE LARGER SENSE OF FILMMAKING? SPECIFICALLY, HOW DO WE TAKE THIS SHARP SOUND DESIGN AND ACHIEVE THE SAME RESULT WITH CINEMATOGRAPHY AND EDITING? AND THEN HOW MARRY THE TWO INTO SOMETHING THAT AMPLIFIES THE TONE? AND YET SO IT BOTH CLEARLY SHOWS THE ACTION AND YET STILL HEIGHTENS IT?

HULK ARGUE THE WAY TO ACHIEVE ALL OF THIS IS WITH “TAUT” FILMMAKING.

ADMITTEDLY HULK LOVE TAUT FILMMAKING. IT SHOWS PERFECT UNDERSTANDING OF CINEMATIC PRINCIPALS AND QUITE HONESTLY, IT JUST HULK’S FAVORITE KIND OF FILMMAKING TO WATCH. WHY? BECAUSE IT OFFERS THOSE OF US WHO DEEP-TISSUE ANALYZE A MOVIE AS PART OF OUR INDUSTRY, A CHANCE TO REALLY TRULY “FEEL” A MOVIE. IT IS PURE CINEMA. AND HULK KNOW THE WORD “TAUT” NOT THAT DESCRIPTIVE, BUT WHAT IT ESSENTIALLY MEAN THAT TENSION AND IMPACT RULE THE SCENE ABOVE ALL OTHER FACTORS.

TAUT FILMMAKING USUALLY FEATURE A LOCKED OFF, NON-MOVING CAMERA (STILL SHOTS). THE CAMERA WILL PREFER STAY ON SUBJECT AS TENSION BUILDS UP. IF IT USES TRACKING SHOTS THEY WILL BE DELIBERATE AND SLOW (THINK KUBRICK). THE MOMENTS OF ACTUAL ACTION WILL OFTEN BE QUICK, VISCERAL, AND GRAPHICALLY VIOLENT. IF THE ACTION SPREADS OUT AND THE CHARACTERS/SUBJECTS BECOME KINETIC THE CAMERA WILL STILL STAY LOCKED OFF, BUT THE EDITING WILL QUICKEN PACE TO REFLECT THE CHANGE IN MOVEMENT. IT WILL BE JARRING, BUT NOT DISORIENTING. IN GENERAL, TAUT FILMMAKING WILL NOT USE TWO SHOTS WHEN ONE WILL DO AND EVERYTHING IS VERY, VERY DELIBERATE.

NEED SOME EXAMPLES? THE HISTORY GOES BACK TO GERMAN EXPRESSIONISM IN THE 20’S, BUT YOU’LL SURELY RECOGNIZE IT IN HITCHCOCK OR ROBERT BRESSON (A MAN CONDEMNED TO DEATH ESCAPES(1956) (10D) IS ONE OF HULK’S FAVES!). THERE’S THE FRENCH CONNECTION, JAWS, THE CONVERSATION, DAS BOOT, ALL OF SCORSESE’S ACTION, AND PRETTY MUCH EVERYTHING KUBRICK EVER DID. MORE RECENTLY WE HAVE MOVIES LIKE THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, HEAT, PAN’S LABYRINTH, A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE (AND PRETTY MUCH EVERYTHING CRONENBERG). EVEN TRUE-ART CHARACTER DRAMAS CAN COUNT LIKE KIESLOWSKI’S BLEU.

AND AS LOVER OF TAUT FILMMAKING HULK CAN NO WAIT SEE NICOLAS WINDING REFN’S DRIVE (COMING OUT THIS WEEK!). THE FOLLOWING CLIP IS FROM THE MOVIE YOU SIMPLY HAVE TO CHECK OUT. IT IS TREMENDOUS AND INCORPORATES EVERYTHING WE’VE TALK ABOUT SO FAR CONCERNING ACTION SCENES AND TAUT FILMMAKING: CAUSE + EFFECT, TENSION, STILLNESS.  IT CAN’T BE EMBEDDED, BUT SERIOUSLY, CLICK LINK AND WATCH IT:

http://www.festival-cannes.com/en/mediaPlayer/10934.html

… TENSE… EXHILARATING…. WOW.

THAT CLIP IS A PERFECT REPRESENTATION OF “TAUT” FILMMAKING. HULK BARELY FEELS LIKE HULK HAVE TO EXPLAIN ANYTHING! THAT WHAT COMPETANT FILMMAKING DOES, YOU JUST BE ON THE LOOK OUT FOR IT AND HOW IT WORKS END UP HITTING YOU RIGHT IN THE DAMN BRAIN. THE MUSIC, THE STILLNESS OF THE SHOTS, THE TENSION, THE DELIBERATE MOVEMENTS. AND BEST OF ALL, THIS “TAUT” FILMMAKING AND ALL THE CINEMATICS THAT MAKE THE SCENE WORK ARE ABSOLUTELY NOTHING NEW.

HOW NOT NEW ARE THEY? LET’S REVISIT OUR GOOD OLE’ FRIEND WAGES OF FEAR (1953). THE FILM’S GROUNDWORK LAID IN THE FIRST HOUR WHERE THEY CREATE THE CHARACTER TENSION, WHICH SETS THE STAGE FOR SEVERAL CONFRONTATIONS. WATCH THIS GREAT SCENE BELOW OF SEVERAL CHARACTERS FIGHTING OVER THE PLAYING OF MUSIC IN A BAR. NOTICE THE SUPER-DELIBERATE BEHAVIOR OF THE CAMERA AND THE CARE WITH WHICH IT CONVEYS THE IMPORTANT INFORMATION:

NOTICE THE FILM’S INTENT ON CLARITY. SURE, THE AESTHETICS ARE NO LONGER IN CINEMATIC VOGUE (THE BLACK + WHITE, THE SQUARE ANGLES, THE LINGERING PACE), BUT HULK TALKING ABOUT INTENT.(10E) EVERY SHOT SO F-ING SPECIFIC. EVERYTHING DESIGNED TO ESTABLISH INFORMATION. AND SOON IT BUILDS. SOON IT SWELLS. FINALLY THERE IS A CONFRONTATION WITH PALPABLE TENSION. IT’S AN “OLDER” FILM, BUT THE FEELING AND TONE IMPOSSIBLE NOT TO UNDERSTAND. IT SECRETLY THE EXACT SAME PRINCIPALS OF THE DRIVE CLIP.

OKAY TIME TO SWITCH GEARS IN THIS TENSION/SOUND DESIGN/TAUT DISCUSSION AND BRING UP ONE MORE WAY IN WHICH YOU CAN DIRECTLY EFFECT ACTION IN TERMS OF TONE:

DIALOGUE

NOW YOU MAY HAVE ALSO NOTICED SOMETHING ABOUT THE MOVEMENT OF THAT LAST SCENE FROM WAGES OF FEAR AND THE FOCUS OF THE DIALOGUE… IT MAY HAVE REMINDED YOU OF SOMEONE… THERE WAS ONE SHOT IN PARTICULAR THAT RINGS TRUE OF A FAMOUS DIRECTOR… HULK IS TALKING ABOUT THE SLOW TRACKING SHOT OF THE FEET WALKING TOWARD THE TABLE…. ANY GUESSES?

SO THE PERSON IT MAY HAVE REMINDED YOU OF IS ONE QUENTIN TARANTINO.

TARANTINO HAS TALKED EXTENSIVELY ABOUT THE INFLUENCE OF WAGES OF FEAR(11) AND PARTICULARLY THE DIRECT EFFECT ON HIS NOW FAMOUS BAR-ROOM SCENE FROM INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS. THE SIMILARITIES SHOULD BE OBVIOUS: THE SETTING. THE MUSIC. THE TENSION. THE DRUNKENNESS. THE DIFFERENT WANTS OF THE CHARACTERS AT ODDS. AGAIN, THE BASTERDS SCENE IS VERY MUCH IT’S OWN UNIQUE THING AND HAS SPECTACULAR VITALITY, BUT TARANTINO IS ALWAYS SMART ENOUGH TO RECOGNIZE THE LESSONS FROM GREAT FILMS.

CHIEFLY, THAT WORDS CAN BE YOUR BEST WEAPON.

PICTURED: AGREEMENT

YES DEAR READERS, EVEN DIALOGUE CAN HELP ESTABLISH TONE AND SUSPENSE IF YOU USE IT IN THE EXACT SAME WAY AS ACTION.

IT REALLY IS NO ACCIDENT THAT TARANTINO HAS MADE HIS CAREER OF BUILDING TENSION WITH DIALOGUE. THINK ABOUT IT: MR. ORANGE TELLING THE BATHROOM DRUG STORY IN RESERVOIR DOGS. THE EZEKIEL SPEECH FROM PULP FICTION. THE SUPERMAN ANALOGY IN KILL BILL. AND PRETTY MUCH THE ENTIRETY OF INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (LANDA’S JEW-HUNTER SPEECH, THE CREAM-DESSERT IN THE CAFE, THE INTERROGATION ABOUT MOUNTAIN CLIMBING). NOTICE THE KEY ELEMENT OF EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THESE “SPEECH” SCENES IS THAT ONE PERSON IS ESSENTIALLY HOLDING A SECRET FROM THE OTHERS, AND FROM THERE THE OTHER CHARACTERS ARE PLAYING WITH FACT THEY MIGHT KNOW. SERIOUSLY, THAT ONE SINGULAR DEVICE IS AT PLAY IN EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THOSE SCENES.

AT AS A RESULT, THOSE SCENES ARE TENSE AS ALL FUCKING HELL.

YES, MOST OF US ARE NOT WIZARDS OF DIALOGUE LIKE TARANTINO, BUT HE IS REALLY JUST USING A BASIC SINGULAR DEVICE (ONE THAT HITCHCOCK USED A LOT TOO) AND THEN PLAYS AROUND WITH THE DIALOGUE TO TWIST AND TURN THE AUDIENCE EVERY STEP OF THE WAY. SO NEVER, EVER FORGET THAT THE BASIC PRINCIPALS ARE THE SAME. NEVER BE AFRAID TO HAVE YOUR CHARACTERS IN THE SERVICE OF TENSION (WHILE KEEPING IN MIND A FOCUS ON ECONOMY). PLAY WITH THE AUDIENCES EXPECTATION AND HAVE CHARACTERS PLAY WITH EMOTIONS OF OTHERS. IT WILL THEN PLAY/FUCK WITH THE AUDIENCE.

AND IF YOU USE IT RIGHT, LIKE IN TARANTINO’S BAR ROOM SCENE, THEN THE GREAT DIALOGUE SET UP CAN EXPLODE IN WONDERFUL MOMENT OF CHAOTIC-ALL-HELL-BREAKS-LOOSE ACTION:

NOTICE THAT THE BRIEF MOMENT OF ACTION HAS ABSOLUTELY NO CAUSE + EFFECT, NO TANGIBLE OBJECTIVES, NO CLEAR GEOGRAPHY, AND RESEMBLES UTTER FREAKING CHAOS, AND IT IS SO TOTALLY OKAY.

AND THAT’S BECAUSE THE AMAZING SCENE OF DIALOGUE THAT COMES BEFORE SETS UP THE CHAOTIC DELIVERY OF THIS BRIEF SCENE EVER SO CAREFULLY. IT IS ONE “EFFECT.” THE BRIEF CHAOS ENTHRALLS US BECAUSE WE CARE SO MUCH ABOUT THE CHARACTERS BY THIS POINT OF THE SET UP (TESTAMENT TO TARANTINO, WE WERE INTRODUCED TO MOST OF THESE GUYS AT, LIKE, THE BEGINNING OF THE SCENE). REALLY THE SCENE WORKS BEAUTIFULLY AS ONE MOMENT OF CHAOS.

AND DON’T DARE FOR ONE SECOND ASSUME THAT IT’S BECAUSE TARANTINO DOESN’T KNOW HOW TO “STAGE” ACTION BECAUSE KILL BILL PROVED THAT BEYOND ANY KIND OF DOUBT. (11B) SPECIFICALLY WITH THE VERY LAST SCENE WITH BILL, WHICH WORKS IN A VERY, VERY SIMILAR MOMENT ENDING WITH A BRIEF EXPLOSION OF (WELL-CHOREOGRAPHED) VIOLENCE.

REMEMBER, WE MAY NOT GENIUSES, BUT WE CAN USE THE PRINCIPALS AT WORK HERE.

SO ONCE AGAIN, LET’S RETURN TO ATTACK THE BLOCK – TONE IS ONE OF THE MOST CRITICAL ASPECTS OF HOW THE ACTION WORKS IN THAT FILM, BECAUSE UNLIKE MOST HOLLYWOOD BLOCKBUSTERS, THEY HAD TO DEAL WITH LOW-BUDGET CONSTRAINTS AND AN INTIMATE SCALE,.SO IN ORDER MAKE EACH SCENE FEEL DIFFERENT THEY CHANGED THE TONE AND LANGUAGE OF EACH SCENE: THE ATTACK ON THE AMBULANCE USE HORROR LANGUAGE AND MUSIC CUES. THE ESCAPE ON THE BIKES USE CHASE LANGUAGE AND PROPULSIVE MUSICE. THE FIRST ATTACK IN THE APARTMENT USE FIGHT SCENE LANGUAGE (MOSES’S “NINJA” MOMENT). THE  SECOND ATTACK STARTS OFF WITH THE SAME FIGHT SCENE LANGUAGE AND THEN ABRUPTLY INVERTS IT WHEN THINGS START GOING WRONG. THEN THE SCENE OF TRYING TO GET TO RON’S WEED ROOM TURNS THE TONE BACK TO HORROR, BUT THIS TIME WITH EFFECTIVE STAPLE WITH THE “CHARACTERS BEING LOST IN THE FOG WHERE THE UNSEEN INSPIRE DREAD” THING AND USING EERIE “ATMOSPHERE” SOUND CUES. THEN THE LAST ACTION SCENE, WHILE BEING A BIT MORE STYLISTIC, STILL SUPER-CLEAR WITH THE OBJECTIVES/STAKES AND USES THE SLO-MO AND GREAT MUSIC TO RAM HOME EMOTION. PLUS THEY INCORPORATE OUR MAJOR CHARACTER MOMENTS. TO REITERATE, THE ENTIRE FILM HAVE ALL ACTION SCENES TAKING PLACE IN AND AROUND THE SAME APARTMENT BUILDING AND YET THEY ALL FEEL UNIQUE BECAUSE THEY SMART ENOUGH TO ESTABLISH DIFFERENT TONES.

TOM: Thanks! And just to mention, the biggest struggle on ATB was generating a sense/feeling of dangerous kinetics with fairly low speed travel. But then again it’s not like we could go too far in the other direction. Try this one on for size:

YOU’VE SUCCESSFULLY BROUGHT TARKOVSKY INTO A CONVERSATION ABOUT ACTION FILMS! CONGRATS!

TOM: Thank you. It’s one long shot and wouldn’t at first seem to be ‘action’ in any usual sense but I defy anyone to watch that scene and not feel an unbearable level of tension by the end.  Even if one doesn’t have foreknowledge of what the task is that the character has set themselves (or its wider implication in the narrative) all the right elements are there, just presented in an unconventional fashion.  One could argue that the scene is an exercise in frustrating a viewer more used to a different pace of visual story telling, or just dismiss it as an academic attempt to try the patience of anyone. But by exploring ‘real time’, rather than abbreviating it with edits, the net result is surprisingly the same.  I’ve no idea where this might shore up any of your arguments as it would seem to contradict them on a surface level but it’s always fascinated me that something so painfully slow and drawn out can become exhilarating.

REAL TIME INDEED. WHAT DID TARKOVSKY CALL FILMMAKING AFTER ALL? SCULPTING IN TIME. BUT ENOUGH TARKOVSKY.

LET’S MOVE ON AND PUT THIS SHIT ALL TOGETHER!

PART 5 – PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER

THIS PART FIVE IS GOING TO BE VERY SHORT. THAT BECAUSE HULK GOING TO SHOW A CLIP THAT, WELL, PRETTY MUCH SHOWS AND EXPLAINS HOW TO DO EVERYTHING WE’VE TALKED ABOUT SO FAR.

“RECENTNESS” BE DAMNED, HULK ARGUE THE BEST ACTION SCENE EVER IS IN NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN.

HOPEFULLY YOU SEEN IT BEFORE. IF NOT, HERE’S ALL THE BACKGROUND YOU NEED: A CHARACTER NAMED LLEWELEN MOSS STUMBLED ONTO THE CARNAGE OF A DRUG DEAL GONE WRONG. HE TAKES THE MONEY LEFT AT THE SCENE AND RUNS. THE UNSEEN DRUG BOSSES THEN SEND THEIR BEST HITMAN, ANTON CHIGURGH, TO FIND AND KILL MOSS AND GET THE MONEY BACK. AND UNFORTUNATELY FOR MOSS, ANTON CHIRGUGH IS BASICALLY THE ANGEL OF DEATH PERSONIFIED. AT THIS MOMENT ANTON HAS BEEN TAILING LLEWELEN FOR BIT AND HAS FINALLY CAUGHT UP TO HIM:

FUCKING.. A.

THINK ABOUT EVERYTHING WE TALKED ABOUT. CAUSE + EFFECT. SET-UP/PAY OFF. SHOWING LOCATIONS TO USE AGAIN (WHEN IT COMES BACK AROUND FOR THE DEAD HOTEL CLERK). THE LOCKED-OFF CAMERA. THE ALTERNATING TONE OF STILLNESS, ANTICIPATION, AND ACTION.

WHAT IS PERHAPS MOST AMAZING ABOUT THE SCENE IS THE WAY THEY EDIT IT MAKE IT FEEL IMPOSSIBLY KINETIC. THEY DO THIS BY CUTTING TO ANOTHER TENSE SHOT THAT MAKES PERFECT LOGICAL SENSE, INSTEAD OF JUST MOVING THE CAMERA RAPIDLY. BEST OF ALL, EVERY SINGLE TIME AN ACTION OR BEAT IS ABOUT TO REGISTER TO THE AUDIENCE, THAT ACTION (USUALLY A GUNSHOT) HITS THE EXACT BEAT .01 SECONDS BEFORE OUR MIND DOES, THUS GIVING EVERY SINGLE MOMENT TRUE VISCERAL IMPACT (WHILE STILL GIVING ENOUGH SET-UP FOR US TO UNDERSTAND).

IT IS A MASTERCLASS.

REALLY. HULK NOT SURE YOU TRULY UNDERSTAND HOW HARD IT IS TO GET THAT KIND OF PERFECT TIMING AND PACING IN AN ACTION SCENE. TO BE ON SET AND TO PERFECTLY UNDERSTAND HOW TO TIME THINGS WITH YOUR ACTORS AND CREW. AND THEN TO GET IT TO TRANSLATE ON FILM SO THAT IT CAN BE PERFECTLY CUT IN THE EDITING ROOM… IT LIKE… HULK MEAN… THEY JUST…  GOOD GOD.

BUT JUST LIKE TARANTINO’S DIALOGUE, LET’S BE HONEST. THE REST OF US ARE NOT THE COEN BROTHERS. WE JUST HUMAN… AND THEY CLEARLY NOT.

BUT WE CAN CERTAINLY ASPIRE TO BE LIKE THEM.

PICTURED: MAYBE THE BEST SEMIOTICS MOVIE OF ALL TIME

SO THERE WE HAVE IT! DAY 2 IN THE BOOKS!

HULK & TOM HOPE YOU ENJOYED AND FOUND IT INFORMATIVE AS DAY ONE.

TOMORROW WE TACKLE PARTS 6, 7, 8, AND 9 TO FINISH OF THE SERIES. SINCE TODAY WE COVERED HOW TO “EXECUTE” SCENES IN IDEAL FASHION, TOMORROW WE GOING TO TALK ABOUT EXCEPTIONS THAT CAN WORK, THE IMPETUS AND PROBLEMS OF “STYLIZATION,” THE CRIPPLING PROBLEMS OF PRODUCTION LOGISTICS, AND ALL THE PRACTICAL ADVICE WE CAN GIVE TO YOUNG FILMMAKERS. IN DOING SO WE’LL COVER MURDER’S ROW OF: GREENGRASS, SPEILBERG (AGAIN) MICHAEL BAY, ZACH SNYDER, CHRIS NOLAN, EDGAR WRIGHT, PETER JACKSON, AND YOUR MOM.

<3 HULK & TOM

ENDNOTES!

(9C) HECK, HULK SAW A MOVIE THAT BROKE THE 180 LINE THE OTHER DAY WITHOUT ESTABLISHING NEW GEOGRAPHY… OH YEAH, THAT WAS MOST MOVIES.

(9D) JAQUES TATI?

(10A) THIS IS NOT TO IMPLY HULK DOESN’T LIKE THOSE ACTORS. HULK ACTUALLY LOVE THOSE ACTORS. BUT THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NO CONCEIVABLE REASON THAT THEY SHOULD BE THE PRINCIPALS IN A BETTER FIGHT SCENE THAN WILL SMITH OR VIN DIESEL… IT SHOWS THAT SOMETHING ROTTEN IN THE STATE OF ACTION FILMMAKING.

(10B) HULK’S MAIN ARGUMENT THIS: IN HIGH SCHOOL HULK AND A FRIEND MADE KUNG FU FILM FOR FILM PROGRAM. SOME OF THE ACTION IN IT LEGITIMATELY BETTER THAN SOME HOLLYWOOD MOVIES THAT POPULAR AT TIME. THIS NOT TO IMPLY WE AWESOME, WE JUST SEMI-CAPABLE KUNG FU PEOPLE. WHICH MEANS THAT HOLLYWOOD’S STANDARD TREATMENT OF TWO GUYS FIGHTING EACH OTHER IS PRETTY MUCH SHIT…. AND YES YOU HEARD THAT RIGHT. THE 12 FOOT BIG GIANT GREEN HULK KNOWS KUNG FU… SO WATCH YOUR ASS.

(10C) OKAY. SO IF YOU EVER WANT TO KNOW HOW DIFFERENT ASIAN CINEMA IS FROM AMERICAN CINEMA AT THE TIME OF JACKIE’S RISE TO PROMINENCE, SEE THE PROTECTOR (1985). IT IS AN ATTEMPT TO INJECT JACKIE INTO THE TYPICAL 80’S SLEAZY ACTION MOVIE. IT IS THE WORST KIND OF HORRIBLE. THEY TRIED TO TURN JACKIE INTO THE STOIC, SUNGLASSES-WEARING BADASS AND DEFIES EVERY POSSIBLE ATTEMPT FOR HIM TO DO SOMETHING PHYSICALLY INTERESTING. HE SPENDS THE ENTIRE MOVIE DRIVING AROUND WITH DANNY AIELLO AND FEATURES THOSE AWFUL 80’S GUNFIGHTS. IT IS ONE OF HULK’S LEAST FAVORITE MOVIES OF ALL TIME BECAUSE IT IS THAT SPECIAL BRAND OF CLUELESS.

(10D) IT ALSO KNOWN AS “A MAN ESCAPED” BUT BRESSON ALWAYS WANTED THE FULL-TITLE SO HULK GOING WITH HIM.

(10E) LET’S HAVE THE QUICKEST POSSIBLE CONVERSATION ABOUT “OLD” MOVIES. THE IDEA THAT OLD MOVIES ARE “SLOW” AND “BAD” IS BOTH 1) A WHOLLY UNDERSTANDABLE IMPULSE TO A NEW VIEWER AND YET 2) QUITE POSSIBLY THE DUMBEST POSSIBLE THING ONE COULD EVER SAY. SO DON’T. WATCHING AN OLD MOVIE IS TO GO BACK AND TRANSLATE WHAT THEY WERE DOING INTO THE CINEMATIC LINGUISTICS OF THE TIME AND RECOGNIZE WHAT THEY AFFECTED THE CONTEXT OF FILM HISTORY. IT IS TO UNDERSTAND CINEMA’S UNIVERSAL LANGUAGE. SURE SOME MOVIES “WORK” BETTER IN TERMS OF DATING, BUT TO OUTRIGHT INFER THEY WERE ‘BAD” MOVIES SIMPLY BECAUSE OF DIFFERENT HISTORICAL STYLIZATIONS IS AKIN TO WALKING UP TO WALKING RIGHT UP TO HANK AARON AND SAYING HE DIDN’T KNOW HOW TO HIT HOME RUNS.

(11) UGH… THIS THE SORT OF THING HULK WOULD NORMALLY BACK UP BUT HULK CAN NOT FIND THE CLIP OR ANY WRITTEN REFERENCE TO IT. THIS LACK OF SUPPORT WOULD TRADITIONALLY REQUIRE THAT HULK OMIT THE DETAIL, BUT THIS ISN’T A 100% ACADEMIC SETTING AND TO PUT IT MORE SIMPLY: HULK DON’T WANNA. SO WE’RE GOING WITH HULK’S MEMORY ON THIS ONE… AND IF HULK’S BEING HONEST HULK’S MEMORY PRETTY DAMN GOOD.

(11B) TARANTINO FAMOUSLY BURNED ABOUT 1 MILLION FEET OF FILM ON THAT MOVIE, MOST OF WHICH WAS UNUSED BECAUSE HE WAS TRYING TO FIGURE OUT HOW TO “SHOOT” ACTION FIRST.

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