Anybody who’s been to the movies with me knows how much I love a good montage scene. A bad one — and there are so many — not so much, but a good one? Glorious. Nothing like a lot of quick scenes accompanied by music to get a lot of storytelling water carried in a short time. They’re easy to screw up, but when they work, nothing feels more cinematic to me. You can’t do a montage on the stage, nor on the page.
What does a montage do? It collapses time. How did Rocky manage to fly up those museum steps so easily? It was all that training. How do we get the couple from first date to the night of the proposal? A fall-in-love sequence. They’re made to order for any movie or show with lots of characters, because it allows you to put an epilogue on the whole season, or even series, without having to do too much ponderous, expository writing. The rest of the crew will work harder than ever. A good montage is no small trick.
I was hoping to post a clip from one of the most famous, and maybe my favorite of all — the baptism scene from “The Godfather,” but it looks like the copyright police have been out on YouTube lately, and I can’t find an unadulterated cut. But what the hell, you’ve seen it, we’ve all seen it. I remember reading somewhere that the scene was the result of a lot of bad footage from the church scenes. It was too dark except for just a few shots, and Coppola’s editor said, “Hang on, I think we can still save this.” That might be urban legend, but I like it. Sometimes art is an accident.
There’s no doubt David Chase’s second-season ender on “The Sopranos” was an homage to Coppola’s, but a little cheeky, too — his way of saying this Mafia family is as important as the Corleones. But the structure and material is the same — the boss’ families, blood and criminal, contrasted with his criminal activities, which was the engine of the whole series. What makes this special, I think, is the unusual music choice — “Thru and Thru,” a track from the Rolling Stones’ “Voodoo Lounge,” released well into their irrelevant years and one that would have been forgotten along with the rest of the album if not for its bluesy counterpoint to the celebrations of this scene:
As good as that one is, I like “The Wire” montages better. Each season ended with one, because with a Russian novel of a cast, it really is the only way to wrap up everyone’s loose ends. It also underlines that show’s thematic material — the gods will not save us, the war on drugs is a fool’s errand, we do our work and our work does us, etc. And for all of David Simon’s deep, deep music choices in these season-enders, I still like this one best, Jesse Winchester’s “Step by Step,” finishing out season one:
But what brought this on was what happened the other night, channel-surfing. I landed on “Casino,” exactly as this scene was starting:
I’ve seen this a dozen or more times by now, and I always notice something new in it. This time it was the little one-line performances by Nicki’s tipsters. Martin Scorsese is one of the best directors of actors working, but I marvel at how he got just the right note out of each one in this seven-minute sequence, which required about a million setups and actors delivering one line, but perfectly. I like the way the secretary says, “Mint-condition coins.”
Warning that may be too late: Most of these clips contain major profanity, the latter a great deal of it. (Shrug.) Joe Pesci. What are you gonna do?
Sorry I’m late today, but an early phone call and errand sort of upended my schedule. Since I’m late and behind and all the rest of it, no bloggage today. Suggest your own, or recall your ab-fave movie montages. Because I gotta go.