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« Political Divisions | Main | Moving Images of All Kinds Linkage »

November 28, 2008

Infinite Cuts

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

As many of you know, I'm no longer much of a movie viewer. But yesterday my wife and daughter dragged me off to see Quantum of Solace, the latest James Bond flick.

Now I feel even older and more out of touch than usual.

That's because I found the plot difficult to follow (something to do with my hearing?) and, especially, the many action sequences were chopped into teeny weeny itsy bitsy miniscule nanocuts.

I'm guessing that young viewers who are used to fast-action computer games and quick-cut advertisements on television are able to grasp details better than I can. And for all I know, lots of action movies these days reduce things to a seqence of two-second scenes. (I don't know, 'cause I almost never see such films.)

The link above mentions that the action stuff generally won praise from critics. This puzzles me. My take was that the quick cuts destroyed viewer orientation because the physical layout of the setting was poorly established in the first place and because the camera position often changed radically from cut to cut. In several places the cuts were between virtually unrelated events; one instance was the Palio horse race in Siena and Bond chasing a bad guy under, around and over Siena.

For me, the action lost excitement because I was lost. I had a poor idea regarding what was where. I had little clue as to where the actors were going in chase sequences. I had found it hard to grasp, in some cases, the degree of danger Bond was in if the setting is part of the mix along with his antagonists.

Worse, the action was just that: all action. No dramatic arc. No tension required on the part of the audience. So why really care what happens; Bond's gonna survive anyway. Let the guns fire, the roofs collapse, the airplanes crash.

Compare this to the classic Goldfinger Bond film of 1964. The climactic seqence in the Fort Knox gold repository where Bond has to defuse an atom bomb plays out over many minutes and the tension rises scene by scene. No flurry of quick cuts here. The audience is totally in the picture, stomachs knotted as Bond overcomes obstacle after obstacle while the bomb's timer counts down to zero.



posted by Donald at November 28, 2008


I completely agree with you about the editing of the action scenes--too many cuts, too many close-ups. I had an easier time with the plot. It helps a lot if you've seen the previous movie, Casino Royale.

Casino Royale, by contrast, opens with one of the best foot chase/fight sequences in any movie, with parkour sensastion Sebastien Foucan.

Posted by: Ken Hirsch on November 28, 2008 4:35 PM

Here's a fun Exiled review of Quantum of Solace that repeats many of your points at greater length. I suspect "Eileen Jones" is yet another nom de plume for the hard-working John Dolan (aka The War Nerd, Gary Brecher).

Posted by: MQ on November 28, 2008 6:26 PM

Just wait for it to show up at your neighborhood dollar theater. What can you lose? A buck and a few hours?

Posted by: Charlton Griffin on November 28, 2008 10:20 PM

An American film enthusiast I knew in Sydney during the seventies warned me of an emerging trend in movies. The best description he could give was that moviemakers, instead of entertaining you, flattered you. By all kinds of distracting cinematography and editing, they were trying to make the viewer feel he was being "let in on something". (Those who've read C. S. Lewis' essay "The Inner Ring" might note an echo of the phenomenon there.)

The warning applied to popular action movies as much as to arthouse. Donald's comparison of Goldfinger and Quantum of Solace is apt. The new Bond movie congratulates you for watching it. It obliges, rather than entertains...starting right from the tosser title and the Ibsen-faced lead. And in an era when even a T-Shirt slogan or soft-drink label confers intellectual depth or cultural sanctity, it's no surprise that you often have to check the bottom of the bottom shelf for a good flick these days. How often it's a quasi B movie that makes the grade. (Some time back, Michael mentioned Red Eye and some others that are worth catching. A valuable post.)

The burglary scene in Rififi or the Fort Knox scene in Goldfinger are meant to enthrall. They are too well crafted to bother with mystifications of any sort. The cinematography is, above all else, a courtesy extended to the viewer.

Posted by: Robert Townshend on November 29, 2008 4:41 AM

Haven't seen Quantum of Solace yet, but I really enjoyed the previous one, Casino Royale. Daniel Craig brought a brooding intensity befit a modern Bond. The action scenes were well done, heavily influenced by the Bourne movies, which seen to have redefined action scenes. More importantly, the repartee between Bond and Vesper Lynd, played by the gorgeous Eva Green, was smart and witty. And adult.

I do think the quick cut editing is proving to be a generational thing. Those of us raised on the first generation of MTV seem to be the cutoff line. I appreciate the slower pace of the older Bond movies, but also enjoy the frenetic pace of recent quality action flicks like the aforementioned Bourne movies and the first Daniel Craig as Bond flick. If done well.

Posted by: JV on November 29, 2008 1:58 PM

I just saw this moving and found it self-defeatingly confusing. I was also struck by the extent to which it was openly anti-capitalist and anti-American. Verily, that rot has even reached good old Bond now. It's the end of the world.

Posted by: Lester Hunt on November 29, 2008 11:44 PM

No, Donald, it isn't your age or hearing.

The action sequences were just not well done in this movie. The action sequences in the previous movie "Casino Royale" were much better and very entertaining.

Posted by: as on December 1, 2008 3:49 PM

You may have a point there, as. The Bourne movies were in the quick-cut style, yet I liked them. Maybe "quick-cut" is a newish genre, something that can be fatiguing and pointless unless understood and executed well.

The Bourne franchise seems to keep in mind the immortal lesson of Dumas and Monte Cristo: It's the revenge, stupid!

Posted by: Robert Townshend on December 1, 2008 5:58 PM

I found myself looking at my watch part way through.
Another thing - no acting from Daniel Craig. I'm all for the "repressed British male" thing where a cauldron of emotions seething inside is expressed merely in a tightly-held hand or a flicker of an eyebrow. But I want a little bit of expression, just enough to convince me that there's something being repressed. As far as I could tell, Daniel Craig was just dialing it in and the reason James Bond looked like he didn't care about the previous girl's death was that he didn't care.

Posted by: Tracy W on December 2, 2008 5:57 AM

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