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August 29, 2010


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Aside of this one, my other favorite moment in "The wrong man" happens at the end, when Henry Fonda has been cleared and stumbles upon the two women who had mistakenly fingered him. He tries to confront them, saying "do you know what happened to my wife because of this?", and the two women glance a bit at him, as if not knowing what to say... and then walk away really quickly without looking at him again.

As for the subject matter, I work as a video editor, and although my daily work has little to do with the masterpieces we're talking about here (it's more like soul-deadening video reports for big corporations), I should mention that, when I was learning the job, I was told that dissolves were the quick & lazy way to fix mismatched cuts, and that the real "art" of editing lies in matching two shots so that the cut is invisible. (A similar view is expressed in Richard Pepperman's book "The eye is quicker", though more nuanced and less crudely expressed, of course). Then again, in both cases this advice was given to counter the tendence of so many Avid/FCP-educated editors to do precisely that, to use the dissolve as a lazy crutch (Pepperman tells in his book a story of an Avid demo he attended, where the rep shows two mismatched shots and says "look how easily it's fixed", and adds a dissolve). And of course, we've all seen the vacation videos made by people who have just started using Windows MovieMaker and feel the need to use every single transition in the program...

Anyway, all of this is quite below the level of the people who edit professional feature films nowadays, so I don't know how relevant it is, but I thought I'd just mention this as a possible factor.

Asher Steinberg

I was watching Minnelli's UNDERCURRENT, a noir in the REBECCA/SECRET BEYOND THE DOOR/GASLIGHT vein, last weekend. At first I was stunned by Freund's cinematography (such resplendent grays) and the way Minnelli can make 4:3 look like it's widescreen, but ultimately I came away agreeing with the critics who say that noir just wasn't for Minnelli. However, there was this one utterly brilliant dissolve. Katherine Hepburn and Robert Taylor kiss as Taylor ominously warns Hepburn that she'd better never forget "who [she] belongs to." We dissolve from the black of Taylor's hair into what looks like a black, ghostly apparition, slowly teetering/floating away from the camera with arms splayed out. It turns out to be the back of a model, trying on clothes for Hepburn in an expensive store as part of her makeover as the new society wife. It's a rather haunting image.

Ryland Walker Knight

A not-so-recent fave from LOST HIGHWAY

Ryland Walker Knight

Well, that link didn't work. So here's the raw URL: http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v102/rynhauld/LH_lap_stairs.png

Kiss Me, Son of God

The guy who runs the film blog Moon in the Gutter seems to be obsessed with dissolves. He posts great screenshots, and his "images from my favorite films" series almost always includes some dissolve stills. Check it: http://mooninthegutter.blogspot.com/search/label/Images%20From%20My%20All%20Time%20Favorite%20Films

D Cairns

Buster Keaton does a nice dissolve in Go West, where a bread roll gets shorter, to illustrate passage of time on a train journey.

Similarly, I seem to recall a nice dissolve on the bartop in The Lost Weekend, showing the number of damp rings left by Ray Milland's drink increasing.

I always liked the mix from a crashing wave, which abruptly turns red, to a blazing bonfire in Witchfinder General.

And speaking of Kane, I've yet to see a home video version that captures the moment we dissolve from Thatcher's memoirs to the falling snow, the effect of snow drifting across the white page, only visible when it cuts across the letters of Thatcher's handwriting, always seems to get lost on a TV screen.


Probably my favorite dissolve of the last 20 years or so is this one (http://soundsimages.blogspot.com/2010/04/dissolve-from-hoodlum-bill-duke-1997.html), from HOODLUM, which happens to be a vastly underrated (and often beautifully edited) movie.

Part of the reason I think the dissolve is "a lost art" (and sorry if this has already been brought up in the discussion) is a tendency to dissolve at a moment of "inaction" (the scene ends, then you dissolve), whereas I think the best dissolves occur at moments of heightened action / emotion (the reason that WRONG MAN dissolve works so well). Duke definitely follows the "classical style," using dissolves to link actions / moments of acting instead of merely "solving the problem" of a transition between scenes.

Victor Morton

One thing going on in that KANE dissolve that I only heard for the first time recently -- in both apartments, Susan is singing the aria "Una Voce Poco Fa" from THE BARBER OF SEVILLE. But in the first one, she is singing the lyrics in an English translation; in the latter, she is singing them in Rossini's original Italian. It's one of, like, 20 subtle ways that Susan is portrayed as a social climber. Since the late 19th century (in the Anglophone world anyway), translating operas has been considered, where not downright sacrilege, to be at best a necessary accommodation to the plebes and the proles.

Glenn Kenny

@ Victor Morton: Indeed. God really IS in the details here; I'm also reminded of Henry James' remark, that a true artist is someone on whom NOTHING is lost. Your example is another reason why I insist that people who dismiss or discount "Citizen Kane" are doing so out of, among other things, rather profound cultural ignorance and incuriosity.


And stubbornness. Generalizing here, of course, but it's not uncommon (especially when young) to approach acclaimed art with a chip on your shoulder--"Best ever, eh? I'LL be the judge of that!" Then you sit there and nitpick for two hours. A friend of mine told me of a university screening of KANE after which most the students seemed underwhelmed--"After all that, it's a damn sled? Sheesh." Okay, maybe no one actually said "Sheesh."

The Siren

@Glenn: "...I insist that people who dismiss or discount "Citizen Kane" are doing so out of, among other things, rather profound cultural ignorance and incuriosity."

Oh how I love you for that. And for showing the shockingly underrated George Stevens some love.

Splendid post, splendid comments. I'm just savoring.

Paul Anthony Johnson

Teaching KANE is always an interesting experience. Students initially react with their best Peggy Lee impersonation, but as I teach the movie over the next week they seem genuinely startled all the things they didn't notice when they were too busy shrugging, and when it comes time to write their paper, when they have the option of writing about any movie we've screened, about half choose to write about KANE.

Lord Henry

Great post. Loved the SHANE and SEVEN CHANCES examples, which were unfamiliar to me. But with respect to the Keaton, why a dissolve and not a match-cut, do you think? Or was the use of match-cuts rare at that time?

D Cairns

Well, match dissolves were fairly uncommon too. But since a dissolve usually signified passage of time, and a cut usually suggested something following absolutely immediately after the previous image, Keaton was following the language of the time.

But, in a very special sequence of Sherlcok Jnr, Keaton executes a very large number of absolutely extraordinary match cuts.

Lord Henry

Thanks, D Cairns. I watched all the classic Keatons when I was a kid, as they used to show them all the time on Channel Four (in the UK). Those were the days. Going to buy them all up on DVD right now.


I know that Anthony Minghella and Walter Murch were probably responsible for many memorable transitions, but in the dissolves department my favorite of theirs is likely the one in The English Patient which goes from an aerial shot flying over sand dunes to the wrinkled bed sheet where the title character is emerging from his morphine-induced recollection of the desert. It's a transition between two textures that visually are similar to legitimize the memory trigger but sensually poles apart so as to highlight the contrast between the two times and places.

Also, in the comments below Glenn's previous "dissolve" post someone mentioned Kubrick's heavy reliance on them later in his career, and there are so many great ones worth mentioning in The Shining and Eyes Wide Shut. One of the best for me is a dissolve in the latter which starts on what looks like an intentionally drab medium shot of Nicole Kidman in the most mundane setting imaginable: sitting at the kitchen table with cookies and milk, in a bathrobe and glasses with her hair up, alternating between reading a newspaper and watching some movie (a cheesy European romance?) on a little television (providing the only audible sound). This dissolves to a very tight two-shot in profile of Tom Cruise and Vinessa Shaw's prostitute, who bobs around slightly before moving in to give him a lingering kiss, the sole background element a pair of diffused and out-of-focus christmas lights, with some seductive piano jazz playing over it. The disparity between these two scenes is so jarring, and the phone call from Kidman that interrupts the latter, pulling Cruise out of realizing his urban fantasy, creates a link back to remind us before we get caught up in it ourselves.


I should clarify about the Kubrick thing above that one could certainly have cut between those two scenes, but something in the way that he allows one boring moment to melt into such an erotic, promising one stood out for me the first time I saw EWS in the theatre, and is what I think of first whenever the film is mentioned.

Evelyn Roak

It seems to make little sense to be against any cinematic device in and of itself, across the board. Stanley Cavell has a good passage in The World Viewed that is relevant: “…integrating a device is not the artistic issue, because integration can itself be a device…There is no substitute for integrity. And it is to show that only the integrity of a given work can make out the significance of a given possibility. If the device is integral to what makes a work convincing, it has full importance; without the conviction it has any and none.”


Isn't Kidman watching Mazursky's Blume in Love? I think I remember George Segal in a piazza. A discussion of that movie probably belongs in the Leone / insensitive-rape-scene thread.

Jeff McMahon

Re: those shots above in Taxi Driver, I've always thought of them as having the opposite effect of the shots from Shane - Jack Palance is conquering and dominating his cinematic space, but Travis Bickle is walking and walking and not really going anywhere.


Just thought I'd mention that one of my favorite things about that dissolve in The Wrong Man, is how unabashedly Joss Whedon stole it in Serenity.

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