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February 19, 2010

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The Siren

Thank you for the "Marty" aside. It irritates me no end, too. And I try (though there may be an instance or two somewhere on my site) to refrain from other nicknames I never got permission to use, like "Jimmy" Cagney or "Betty" Bacall. (Bacall I know for sure would eat you for breakfast if you Betty-ed her. An acquaintance of mine who works at a tres famous French couture shop in Manhattan got upbraided by Ms Bacall herself for not addressing her as "Madame.")

Chuck

Glenn,

I hope you'll accept "fuck yeah" as sufficient enough response to your topics this week.

Lou Lumenick

Glenn, thank you so much for sharing your vivid fantasy of "Ms. Pfeiffer'' and you "shagging like feral cats'' atop a roundtable at the "Married to the Mob'' junket. I liked but didn't love "Shutter Island,'' but Messrs. Scott and Wells may have something of a point when a critic who really should know better opens his gushing review by telling us how thrilled to introduce Mr. Scorsese at an awards dinner.

Michael Adams

In addition to Marty, we have Woody and Spike. Then there was Orson and Otto. Why does no one call Wells favorite (and mine) Mann Mike or Mikey?

The Chevalier

I think you're taking my comments a little too harshly. I actually like his last two films (haven't seen Shutter yet). It's his '90s output I think was mostly a wash.

I've simply found that for a long time, Scorsese's supporters tend to completely gloss over his flaws as a filmmaker. I can remember taking a film class in the early '90s, and the teacher showed us the scene in Raging Bull where his wife is cooking the steak. Afterward, one of the students pointed out that there was bad continuity -- in one shot Jake's wife is right next to him, then it cuts wider as he flips the table and she's suddenly not there. The teacher denied that there was bad continuity and said it was because of pan-and-scan VHS. But it was obviously bad continuity -- and having watched the movie on laser disk in full 1.85, I knew the teacher was wrong.

This is what I mean by rose-tinted. No matter how much I love any filmmaker, I can very easily see what's wrong with their work. It's just a question of honesty. I had a conversation with somebody who praised Gangs when it came out. I said it was way too uneven to be considered great. And he said that while it had valleys and peaks, the peaks were just so far above anything else that the valleys didn't matter. To this day, I cannot comprehend that rationale.

James Keepnews

I don't think Scorsese can do no wrong -- Bringing Out the Dead, anyone? -- and certainly don't begrudge those who want to take some sand out of what they perceive as limitations in the work of, let's face it, the single most accomplished living American filmmaker and one of the most talented -- sand-takers vs. water-carriers, I suppose.

But it's a pretty trustworthy sign for me when any film has generated this much passion for and against itself. SOMETHING is at work here and I'm going to stop reading about Shutter Island (could one imagine more ominously cinematographic title for Mart, >ahemhttp://www.movingimagesource.us/articles/mad-about-movies-20100219

James Keepnews

So much for using HTML characters on a blog. I wanted to quote a telling sentence from Mr. Nelson's essay before linking it:

"So what the new film merely reasserts, if with a wallop, is that character in Scorsese’s films almost always trumps genre as a governing force, and precisely for the character’s instability.

You think? I think I think so...

The Siren

But isn't this just an extension of a discussion one could have about many critics, especially some auteurists, who plead for *all* the works of a director they love, even ones that seem bad to non-devotees? Scorsese is far from unique in having attracted that kind of love, although I suppose he has little company among living directors.

Mind you, I don't care for all Scorsese films, but I must be some kind of acolyte as I liked such unloved outings as Bringing Out the Dead (and I positively adored Casino). His goodwill with me is well-founded on his having given me many, many memorable evenings at the movie, and I'm sure it is with the alleged "water carriers" as well.

Fuzzy Bastarrd

Siren, I think you're spot on about the insistence of some auteurists that a favorite director can do no wrong, and a hated director no right. It's a sad American-style devolution of auteurist criticism from a heuristic tool to a branding strategy.

And yeah, Raging Bull, like a lot of Scorsese films, is a complete hash, continuity-wise. Which demonstrates how little continuity matters to anyone but IMDB commenters. The professor's insistence that this couldn't possibly be the case is a sad example of someone so wrapped up in teaching The Rules that he can't understand what the rules are for.

Zach

@ The Chevalier -

I think I can comprehend the rationale, although I wouldn't say that the valleys "don't matter." Just that, in GANGS, the good outshines the bad. Speaking for myself, it's a terrific film - not perfect, and certainly flawed, but so chock-full of pathos and wit and sublime weirdness that it gets pretty damn close.

Also, while I applaud your eye for detail, I don't share your view that one of Mr. Scorsese's (wink) flaws as a filmmaker is a disregard for continuity. There's an intrinsic streak of messiness in all of his work, and if that results in occasional lapses in continuity, so be it. It's all of a piece - part of his ecstatic expressionism. (Although it was lame of your teacher to pretend it wasn't there.)

bill

I loved, or at least very much liked, BRINGING OUT THE DEAD, too, and have never understood why that's the film everybody brings out as evidence that Scorsese is slipping. If nothing else, I thought he showed a beauitful eye for the surreal in that film (the white horse under the bridge, the legless man scrambling across the street, in the ambulance headlights...)

bill

Also, I'm seeing SHUTTER ISLAND tonight, so I'll have an honest-to-peaches opinion of it and everything.

Glenn Kenny

@ The Chevalier: My construction of the argument perhaps called for a description of the objections that was pitched with more treble, let's say, than the original detractor may have intended. At least that's how I was seeing it whilst I composed.

And then again: You bother me about a steak? I just looked at that scene from "Raging Bull," and sure enough, that is a continuity gaffe. In the relatively tight medium closeup of DeNiro and Laurie Flax, her arm, the front of her dress, and the bottom of her chin are all there in the right hand side of the frame as she dishes out—are they vegetables? caramelized onions?—and then, after a very quick cut, it's a medium shot in which DeNiro pushes the table away in a flash. It's not ENTIRELY inconceivable that Flax's character backed away from DeNiro's in a quick enough instinctive recoil that she could not be seen in that particular frame. But it's unlikely. It's also unlikely that the filmmakers were unaware of it, and hadn't figured that all eyes would be on DeNiro as he defeated his own purpose. I think I actually read somewhere that Thelma Schoonmaker once said "Matching is for pussies."

But that sharp-eyed student found a gaffe! And than mean ole perfesser refused to admit it existed! (That WAS kind of dumb, actually.) Schoonmaker's editing Oscar clearly needs to be rescinded! It's too bad your pal didn't send his discovery to Premiere back in the day...we surely would have published it in Gaffe Squad.

Also, Shelley Duvall's cigarette ash expands and contracts all helter-skelter during her consultation with Anne Jackson in "The Shining." The chocolate ice cream on Danny Lloyd's face disappears and reappears in the Scatman Crothers kitchen scene therein. And Werner Hinz literally disappears in the opening scene of "The Longest Day." I wrote about my, and Kent Jones', philosophy on continuity errors here: http://somecamerunning.typepad.com/some_came_running/2008/07/the-fantastic-d.html

bill

"Fuck continuity." - Dotty in ZEROVILLE by Steve Erickson

James Keepnews

I'm not at all sure about Scorcese's lacking in the continuity dept. But then, I'm often doubtful of film school absolutes where continuity is concerned -- the "360-degree rule" whose origins in the proscenium theatrical tradition any Bressonian should properly bristle against (though, arguably, Bresson did not in his own shooting), matching to master shots, &c., &c.

Chev's one example notwithstanding, and with all due respect to FB, I think Raging Bull is positively elegant from a continuity perspective compared to some of his other films New York, New York, e.g.). I'm reminded how Michael Chapman talked about how they shot the fight scenes in Raging Bull with one camera, with something like dance move footprints on the ring's mat to follow. You can't shoot like that unless you know where your "continuity" is coming from when you and Thelma get to the editing room. Let's not forget Mr. Scorsese's early industry teeth-cutting as an editor on Woodstock and a few other films. It may not be "classical" continuity like the King's English, but in every film it's expressed in a distinctively Scorsesan syntax. Even in Bringing Out the Dead :}

lazarus

Let's not forget Paul Sorvino's disappearing and reappearing cigar in GoodFellas.

The Siren

Some continuity things reach out and throttle you, as the Raging Bull example evidently stuck out to the Chevalier's friend. My example would be the appearing/disappearing black bonnet of Scarlett O'Hara when she's fleeing Atlanta. But for the most part I agree with Kent Jones, as pithily paraphrased at Glenn's link. And I will add that I run from the continuity errors section at IMDB. Strikes me as a piss-poor way to watch a movie, matching up everything like an unpaid script girl.

The Chevalier

Oh, it wasn't a friend who noticed the gaffe. Just somebody else in class. But I'd spotted it long before.

Scorsese's always had bad continuity. It was obvious to me from 20 years ago when I was a teen, first educating myself with VHS. I remember getting Kubrick, getting Coppola, getting Spielberg, getting Allen -- but then being severely disappointed once I got to Taxi Driver and Raging Bull; they just felt sloppy and uneven to me. But that's just my take.

As per Kubrick's continuity, it's interesting because he was such a control freak. (He spent 6 weeks shooting the 10 shots with Domino in EWS.) You know he's completely conscious of what he's doing -- and very often it's done specifically to call attention to itself. The Duvall cigarette and Lloyd sandwich early in The Shining are funny examples -- because in both instances he gets you to focus on the objects for several iterations with perfect continuity, then, on the final shot, suddenly the sandwich is broken and the cigarette tip has crumbled. It's like he's intentionally fucking with the audience. Same thing in FMJ, where the cadets are out of place during the opening sequence, or how a soldier is seen close with his rifle lacking a magazine, then a few shots later we see him eject his cartridge and shove another one in -- or even how the number of troops changes shot to shot when they're running to Animal Mother.

A nice juxtaposition of sensibilities is to compare the Copa shot from GoodFellas with the entry to Hue in FMJ. Scorsese does a long, elegant unbroken shot. But Kubrick keeps it going, then suddenly, he breaks the shot for a brief reverse -- then, he cuts back to the tracking shot; it's an intentionally disorienting move. Not that that has anything to do with continuity.

Nobody sees the same thing. A lot of people look at Scorsese's work and see confidence and exuberance, but I always saw sloppiness and insecurity. I used to joke that I could still see the grease pencil on his movies.

Tom Russell

Continuity is important only in films that make continuity, the illusion of "realism", and the clear statement of spatial relationships a priority. Action films, for example, are a genre that thrives on such priorities, even if no one let Michael Bay in on that secret.

Looking for continuity in, say, a Cassavetes film, is folly. And I think pointing out continuity errors in Scorsese-Schoonmaker, whose work is often more expressive as opposed to representative, is kinda like complaining about the jump-cuts in a Godard film. But that's just my two cents.

My favourite jump-cut/continuity error: the Cyd Charisse number on SINGIN' IN THE RAIN. You know exactly what I'm talking about.

Glenn Kenny

It's kind of funny: I'm sitting here arguing, in effect, that continuity gaffes don't matter. And yet I know that if I was a filmmaker, and I had made a picture that had a prominent continuity gaffe, unintended and/or unmitigated, I'd be sick to my stomach and not recover for months, years. I still agonize over the single solitary typo in my "Star Wars" essay collection (a misspelling of Natalie Portman's name).

It makes me wonder (oooooh): is there a filmmaker who has a totally blemish-free continuity record? Aside from the Lumieres and Melies, ar ar ar? How about Wyler? Anybody?

I understand from some contemporary filmmakers of my acquaintance that "script-girling," as it were, is something of a lost art these days. Interestingly enough, I don't think there was any kind of "script supervisor" on "The Girlfriend Experience," because, I figured, Mr. Soderbergh was a) shooting it himself anyway and b) intended to edit out of continuity anyway. He wasn't doing a lot of "coverage," either.

Zach

Continuity gaffes tend to fly pretty high over my head - I've never noticed any of the FMJ inconsistencies that Chevalier points out (although I have always been puzzled by that weird initial cut in the reverse-track in Ermey's opening monologue). I was tickled pink, however, by the moving garbage can in CITIZEN RUTH - the scene where she's being told about the evils of abortion - which I noticed only on viewing w/ the commentary, because Payne himself points it out, and states that he did it for no other reason than the silly fun of it.

He does the same thing (which, again, I would have missed if not for the commentary) in Election - in the opening scene when Tracy assembles the table, there are quick cuts to five legs being snapped open. One of the many reasons Payne kicks ass.

Tom Russell

My defense notwithstanding, I know as a filmmaker that mistakes I couldn't eliminate make me cringe. Our new method-- using multiple cameras and editing the different angles within the best take-- seems to be eliminating both continuity problems and audio hiccoughs, so fingers crossed.

There is one "mistake" we left in deliberately in SEAHORSE-- there's a scene where the brother-in-law is supposed to say "My sister was a better cook before she married you", but the actor said "your sister". And it was just so damn funny that we couldn't in good conscience cut it out.

Discman

Oh, good. Some other "Bringing Out the Dead" fans on the board. I had thought I was the only one left -- or maybe the only one who ever had been.

Seeing it in the theater did it for me. Richardson's image-making consistently impresses me, but his work with Scorcese is arguably his best.

I'll admit that a second viewing of "Dead" was not to the level of the first viewing, but that second viewing was on a 27-inch TV at home. Not a comparable experience.

I also loved the use of music in "Bringing Out the Dead."

Steven Santos

Every movie has continuity errors. A good editor will choose the moments that best serve the emotion of the scene rather than what will "match". To judge a filmmaker primarily by the continuity errors in their films is rather short-sighted.

As far as "Carrying Marty's Water", this conversation occurs with every important filmmaker out there who has a following. I believe every great director out there falls short of having a perfect filmography (and I think Scorsese has been spotty himself recently), but I would generally prefer critics make their arguments about the film rather than spending half their reviews talking about which side they're on regarding the "Water Carrying".

Do I really need another critic touting their alternative-to-the-mainstream opinion as if they were so special and unique? Congrats, guys, you see Martin Scorsese for the fraud he is that people like me are too dumb to see through because I liked "Kundun" too much. Excuse me, but Marty has more buckets of water for me to carry.

lazarus

It just dawned on me that I had a film teacher back around 1990/1991 (at Columbia College in Chicago, for the record), who always referred to the man as "Mr. Scorsese", a title of respect he gave no other filmmaker.

I think the same teacher was eventually fired for supposedly showing the Rob Lowe sex tape to some students, though that could have just been a school myth.

PaulJBis

It's not that continuity isn't important. Of course it is. The problem is: important relative to what?

Say you're an editor and you have to choose between a take where the actor nails it and delivers an Oscar-calibr monologue, but someone has forgotten to refill that glass of water that was supposed to be full, and another take where the water in the glass is right but the actor just isn't that inspired. Which one do you choose?

The Chevalier

Would a writer ever suggest that proper punctuation is unimportant?

Glenn Kenny

I was rather enjoying the give and take here up until this point, at which I feel obliged to quote Warren Oates in "Stripes:" "Lighten up, Francis."

And add: with Edith Wharton, and Marcel Proust, "proper" punctuation is important. With e. e. cummings and John Dos Passos, not so much. And bring up the question: which is more "proper:" the sequential comma or the serial comma?

The Chevalier

Is the comma intellectually intentional, or is it the result of sloppy writing?

Tess

I, love, this, topic.

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