Editing is all.

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.

Posted at 11:16 am in Movies |

34 responses to “Editing is all.”

  1. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on July 14, 2010 at 1:07 pm

    “Up” did a remarkable job with an opening montage, which is not where you generally see them used.

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  2. Jeff Borden said on July 14, 2010 at 1:25 pm

    Montages are excellent training grounds, too. The great Don Siegel, whose movies are invariably lean and taut, did the opening montage of “Casablanca.” The ability to convey great amounts of information in a few seconds of footage clearly translated to his work as a director. The whole premise of “Dirty Harry” is laid out during the opening credits.

    Siegel, who directed a number of Clint Eastwood’s better films, influenced the way Eastwood directs. Neither Siegel nor Eastwood ever ran over budget or over schedule.

    We’ve been buying boxed sets of classic gangster and film-noir features for years. Some of these films are a mere 70 minutes long, but they work great. Not a wasted frame or moment. Some of our current “auteurs” could learn a thing or two by revisiting those great pictures.

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  3. beb said on July 14, 2010 at 1:33 pm

    I have not, nor ever will watch “The Godfather,” so don’t assume that every one has seen it. I’m repulsed by films that glorify criminals.

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  4. coozledad said on July 14, 2010 at 2:34 pm

    Robert Wise’s opening sequence in “The Haunting”, showing the history of Hill House. It’s a movie in itself. The rest of it isn’t bad, either.

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  5. Jeff Borden said on July 14, 2010 at 2:39 pm

    You are right, Beb, that “The Godfather” does glamorize the life of a crime family, but it is a magnificent film in so many ways. And, at base, it is easy to discern the moral bankruptcy and empty hearts of its main characters, so maybe it is not so glamorous after all.

    I’ve always assumed the most accurate depiction of mob life is “Goodfellas,” with its depictions of not very bright, violent, sleazy, immoral, lazy parasites who feed off the efforts of others. There’s no sense of operatic triumph and tragedy ala “Godfather.” These are cheap hoods. . .scum of the earth.

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  6. Dorothy said on July 14, 2010 at 2:41 pm

    beb I mean no disrespect but you should consider there is a difference between art and real life. You’re cheating yourself to not see The Godfather. Even my brother, the retired FBI agent who abhors criminals and criminal behavior, liked it. The only t.v. show he’s ever seen or will see about criminals is “The Sopranos” because he said it’s so well done, and very true-to-life.

    Jeff you’re right about “Up.” That montage made me cry. And they’re animated characters! It was lovely.

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  7. alex said on July 14, 2010 at 2:48 pm

    Goodfellas was great, but I don’t think I have the stomach to watch it again. The Godfather was too many brain cells ago for me to remember much of it, but I definitely liked Goodfellas better.

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  8. nancy said on July 14, 2010 at 2:50 pm

    “Goodfellas” has at least one good montage, but that’s a movie you watch for the tracking shots.

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  9. Dorothy said on July 14, 2010 at 3:17 pm

    I haven’t seen any episodes of The Wire in so long, and now after watching that montage I have this pang, this yearning, to call my son and tell him to bring up all 5 seasons with him when he comes tomorrow!

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  10. MaryO said on July 14, 2010 at 3:22 pm

    I have the DVD set of the first season of The Wire. It has been eight years now, and it’s still as fresh as if it were made yesterday. OK, except for the beepers. But still… It makes me laugh and cry as much now as it did back then.

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  11. brian stouder said on July 14, 2010 at 3:32 pm

    Thinking about it, Cinematic Moments are what make my flesh tingle.

    When Cary Grant is ducking the crop duster in an Indiana cornfield; or Dorothy finally does “come out, come out – wherever you are” and steps into the technicolor land of Oz; or Roy Scheider fires his small pistol at the shark (and concludes they need a bigger boat); or Gene Hackman tells Estelle Parsons to “Git yer Kodak, Blanche” ’cause they had some pitchers to snap; or when Robert Duvall and his air cavalry strike the village – or earlier, when they surf, and draw hostile fire; or speaking of war, Cary Grant in almost any scene in the movie Father Goose… those are the sort of moments that stick in my brain. Montages can be effective, but they strike me as akin to watching one of those “how it’s made” shows; very utilitarian – even if ingeniously done.

    I prefer moments that are more seamless and crafty

    edit: channel 101 on DirecTV is running the entire Wire, over the next month. I dipped into an episode of Treme while in a hotel that had HBO last month, and was immediately struck by – for lack of a better way to say it – how good it was. I’ve read all the comments about it around here, and there was some cloudy idea of what it might be like – but whatever that was, it wasn’t – it was just….good stuff. Engaging, serious, multilayered

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  12. Neil said on July 14, 2010 at 3:35 pm

    How about the dinning table sequence in Citizen Kane; as the years go on after the Kane’s marry, the husband and wife sit further and further away from each other; there is some dialog, but the montage shows the perfect representation of a relationship dying.

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  13. nancy said on July 14, 2010 at 3:38 pm

    Agreed, “Citizen Kane” has several great montages. Actually, it has great everything. I guess I had gangsters on my mind today.

    Brian, whenever I’m touting “The Wire,” or “Treme,” or the other Simon collections, I always tell people they should start at Part 1, Chapter 1, Scene 1, etc. Although it’s probably possible to drop in halfway and get the gist, so much more is revealed if you start at the beginning.

    Amazon had a one-day sale on all five seasons of “The Wire” for something like $80. A bunch of people I know grabbed that one.

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  14. Dorothy said on July 14, 2010 at 3:50 pm

    Crap – the sale is over? I was just thinking I should have bought that. I don’t go to Amazon unless I’m shopping for something specific.

    Edit: Sheesh that was an amazing deal. It’s $155 and change for all five seasons now.

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  15. Jeff Borden said on July 14, 2010 at 4:04 pm

    Is there anyone visiting today who is aware of the odd connection between “Goodfellas” and “The Sopranos?” And I don’t mean because they both deal with low-life gangsters.

    One of the famous scenes in “Goodfellas” occurs in the social club, when Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci) is giving shit to the kid serving drinks for being too slow. When the Spider the kid mouths off, Tommy shoots him in the foot. Moments later, tired of Spider howling in pain, Tommy just kills him.

    Years later, in “The Sopranos,” Christopher Moltisanti is upset that he is never mentioned in newspaper accounts of mob activities. He causes a scene in a pizza joint and then shoots the kid behind the counter in the foot.

    Michael Imperioli played both Spider and Christopher. I’ve always thought the bit in the pizza shop was David Chase’s hat tip to Scorsese.

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  16. brian stouder said on July 14, 2010 at 5:02 pm

    btw – Prospero put a well-crafted well-cap onto the depths of yesterday’s thread. Go see it, it’s good stuff!

    Regarding series teevee; the rental places have a very good selection of tv series on their shelves. I say this because, years (and years) ago, I got the complete Ken Burns Civil War tv series for Christmas. I believe it was about $90 at the time, and I still have it, and occasionally watch an episode or two….but it’s on VCR tape(!)

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  17. Deborah said on July 14, 2010 at 5:13 pm

    Prospero’s profession must have something to do with writing, like many of you here. That’s why it’s so intimidating for someone like me to comment. But that doesn’t stop me.

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  18. paddyo' said on July 14, 2010 at 6:29 pm

    We’ll have no intimidation here, Deborah, only admiration for sharp and incisive observation. Prospero has that, for sure . . .

    Meanwhile, oh man! I’d’ve paid 80 bucks for “The Wire” . . . next time, anybody hears of any “Wire” sale alerts, bring ’em to the Blogmistress at once, PLEASE!

    I rewatched the whole series this winter/spring with my girlfriend (hooked her instantly) via checkouts from the Denver Public Library branch near her house, and the sad quality of the DVDs because of other patrons’ mistreatment was criminal enough for the Bunk to take notice and Lester to contemplate some remote surveillance of the check-out desk . . .

    The worst such instance? Oh, easily when we were watching Season Five, the FINAL disk, and there was a scene in which a certain important cast member suddenly gets it (don’t want to spoil it for you who haven’t seen yet). The scratched DVD, despite repeated attempts to clean and fix, skipped over that very scene! Grrrr . . . oh well, waddaya expect for free?!

    My little sister @10 mentioned Season 1, and I gotta say, none finer — and of course, the F-word scene may be one of the finest ever writ for the screen, big or small.

    Jeff B, I never put the two together with Imperioli, re: Goodfellas and Sopranos. Brilliant . . .

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  19. Jeff Borden said on July 14, 2010 at 6:53 pm


    Michael Imperioli and Edie Falco were both popular character actors cast in a lot of NYC-based films. You can see them both in a rather creepy if slow-moving vampire film by Abel Ferrara called “The Addiction.”

    This film is an antidote to the glamorous vampires conjured up by Lestat, the Twilight bloodsucker, etc. with their great beauty and mystery. Ferrara depicts the vampire’s lust for blood in roughly the same terms as a junkie’s lust for heroin or crack. You’ve never seen so many unwashed, greasy-looking people in your life. There’s a great turn by Christopher Walken as a veteran vampire. Poor Edie winds up as vampire chow.

    Abel Ferrara is a guilty pleasure of mine. He has an exploitation director’s heart and a real feel for the darkest and most dangerous streets of NYC. His work ranges from the sleazy (“Driller Killer,” “Ms. 45” and “Fear City”) to stylish reworkings (“China Girl” is Romeo and Juliet set in Chinatown and Little Italy while his version of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” called “Body Snatchers” focuses on a teen girl who becomes aware of the pods)to genuinely cool and artistic works like “King of New York,” “Bad Lieutenant” and “The Funeral.”

    Not for everyone, but if you’re interested in an obscure but very talented director with a very personal viewpoint, he’s a great find.

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  20. Dexter said on July 14, 2010 at 9:11 pm

    “You slept with Crazy Annie? You better take a whole drugstore”—“You’re the one, Joe, you’re the ONLY one”, “He’s the one —he’s the ONLY one!” (to the cops)
    That flash-back montage explained away a lot of book ages in 1969’s Oscar winner, Best Picture, the John Schlesinger / Jerome Hellman production of “Midnight Cowboy”, my fave film of all time.

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  21. Dexter said on July 14, 2010 at 9:15 pm

    “You’re kissin’ Crazy Annie? You better take a whole damn drugstore”—“You’re the one, Joe, you’re the ONLY one”, “He’s the one —he’s the ONLY one!” (to the cops)
    That flash-back montage explained away a lot of book pages in 1969’s Oscar winner, Best Picture, the John Schlesinger / Jerome Hellman production of “Midnight Cowboy”, my fave film of all time.

    The Easy Rider acid-inspired montage in New Orleans was revered, and as much as I loved the rest of that film, the montage seemed out of place somehow.

    Another great, and well-placed montage was in Adrian Lyne’s “Jacob’s Ladder”.
    In just a few seconds we learned a lot about “Ladder” (a powerful drug that turned US GIs into crazed killers in Vietnam) . That was the one Vietnam movie that absolutely freaked me the fuck out. Goddam thing terrified me and inspired horrendous nightmares. What a great film! 🙂

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  22. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on July 14, 2010 at 9:40 pm

    Ditto on Prospero’s finis on yesterday’s thread — haven’t thought about “The Master and Margarita” in years. Prospero, whatever you’re doing these days, it’s working for you, because you are making plenty of sense and no little poetry.

    Joe Pesci weeping as his brother is beaten to death in “Goodfellas” stuck with me for weeks; I grew up not far from where their bodies were found, and those stories were horrible enough without seeing their final moments re-enacted. (And I still say the end of “The Sopranos” is quite clearly and explicitly supposed to be the whacking of Tony; he couldn’t have signaled it more clearly in the weeks preceding and in the sequencing of the camera angles: boom, nothing, blackness.)

    I am typing this sitting in a Lexington KY hotel room, rancid with mildew and cigarette smoke, which I’ve signed a form to enter asserting that management may bill me for $200 if I add to the reek. It’s enough to push me to finding a cigar on general principle. Just got back from a truly eerie experience placing a wreath on the grave of a young man who was lynched exactly 100 years ago last week in my adopted Ohio home, and buried 100 years ago today here in the Bluegrass State. The last week and a half have been a running commentary on Faulkner’s quote: “The past isn’t dead, it isn’t even past.” He wasn’t just talking about the South.

    As for spirits, I brought my own Maker’s Mark, since while I was right next to where it’s distilled, you can’t buy it there. A dry county . . . the very thing that my young friend was lynched for in July of 1910. And I can’t encourage the reading of Okrent’s “Last Call” strongly enough.

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  23. Dorothy said on July 14, 2010 at 9:55 pm

    Jeff if you’re a Maker’s Mark man, if you stop by the house some time, remind me and I’ll pour you one. It’s a favorite of my husband’s, and he uses it on his City Ham recipe.

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  24. alex said on July 14, 2010 at 10:47 pm

    Prospero’s laying off the Maker’s. Wish I could do the same.

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  25. basset said on July 14, 2010 at 10:50 pm

    Maker’s is one of several distilleries on a self-guided tour, if I remember right it’s called the “Bourbon Trail.” We got off I-65 last fall looking for it and ended up at the Heaven Hill distillery, which makes several varieties of good bourbon in addition to the cheap one it’s named after; you go to the visitors’ center and they start by showing you a nice video which opens with scenes of pristine limestone streams and voice-over about the clear mountain water and its vital importance in the making of true Kentucky bourbon.

    Later in the tour, just as you’re coming out of a barn where wooden barrels of bourbon are aging four or five floors high, the guide will point out the charred remains of the original Heaven Hill distillery, which burned awhile back, and explain how the company kept production going by buying an existing distillery in Louisville and moving the actual whiskey-making there. And, if you ask, they will admit that it’s now produced with Louisville tap water. Probably some limestone rocks in the system somewhere, though.

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  26. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on July 14, 2010 at 11:34 pm

    Just drove past many signs for the Bourbon Trail — Woodford’s distillery was my last reference point before descending into Lexington, not (I must admit) one of my favorite cities. The countryside around it, though . . . oh my. Even if you cared not a whit for horses or whiskey, it’s just beautiful and historic and amazing.

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  27. Denice B. said on July 14, 2010 at 11:51 pm

    The Godfather brings back memories. Where Beb won’t watch it, I do every time it’s on TV. I was 16 in 1972 and was shocked by the horse head scene. Guess it made an impression in my teen-aged brain.

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  28. Christy S. said on July 15, 2010 at 12:26 am

    The “Ain’t No Sunshine” scene with Hugh Grant walking down Portobello Road in “Notting Hill” was a clever montage of sorts in a mostly un-clever movie. When I see a glimmer of creativity in an uncreative effort I always wonder why the creator wasn’t able to be that creative throughout. Of course, most of those times I am proofreading my own work.

    Favorite stop on the Bourbon Trail: Four Roses distillery.

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  29. Dexter said on July 15, 2010 at 1:51 am

    In my drinking daze I tried every bourbon I heard about in a movie or saw an ad for in a magazine. I started out with bar bourbon, then started asking for “call brands”. Here in Ohio the cheapo brands were Bond & Lillard and Early Times. At times I drank Jim Beam (the worst) and Jack Daniels (was good until they changed the recipe about 25 years ago) .
    When I wanted a bump, I’d buy an “airline size” shot-bottle of J.T.S. Brown, which was available in Indiana and was the brand Paul Newman drank in “The Hustler”, 1960 movie with Jackie Gleason as Minnesota Fats.

    Maker’s Mark was good stuff, but I always looked for another brand in that range, and that is the king, Wild Turkey 101. Wild Turkey 101 drove me to great heights of insane behaviors, so I quit that before I quit the rest. My last brand was inspired by the literature of Chicago’s own Nelson Algren, who had his characters frequently drinking Old Forrester. I quit drinking distilled spirits in January of 1992, and Old Forrester was probably my last bourbon.

    My fave booze story was of the chartered airline trip to the basketball Final Four when Kentucky played. The fans’ plane ran out of sour mash sippin’ whiskey and the passengers demanded a stop to re-supply.

    Oh, by the end of 1992 I decided to chuck it all, and dumped my beer down the drain. You guys drink one for me next time, OK? I used my ration already. 🙂

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  30. John said on July 15, 2010 at 7:02 am

    Touch of Evil was a great film for several reasons, but the opening tracking shot was amazing.

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  31. Linda said on July 15, 2010 at 7:55 am

    Beb, I’m late to the party, but I have to comment on the Godfather films “glorifying” criminals. If anything, they present a life of crime as a long-running tragedy, in which Vito sets up his criminal empire, and it brings down Michael and his attempt to be a straight-arrow high achiever. Instead, the crime empire kills his brother, sets him up against his other brother, and destroys his marriage. No glory there.

    And the baptism montage is the bomb on so many levels–Michael swearing to renounce the devil and his works, while he sets the devil’s works in motion. Gripping and sad.

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  32. basset said on July 15, 2010 at 9:34 am

    Down in Martin, Greene, and Daviess counties the cheap brand was, and as far as I know still is, Kessler’s.

    Meanwhile, we are accumulating furniture and appliances against the day when the flood house is fixed up and ready to go. I would rather be back in the house pulling out wet carpet and drywall than go into most furniture stores; in my experience the lower-end ones sell mostly pressboard Chinese junk and the better stores act like I’m not really qualified to shop there. Example: Mrs. B. and I were looking at a nice leather couch last night and asked the “designer” if it’d work in our room, we’re going to paint the walls this color, we have a rug which looks like this, so forth.

    So she talks awhile, we’re not following her at all, we ask her to stop and explain and she starts laughing. Didn’t know I needed a design degree to buy a damn couch… just point us to Goodwill, we’ll be fine.

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  33. nancy said on July 15, 2010 at 9:38 am

    One night with Kessler’s in college was enough to turn me off bourbon for 25 years. When I finally screwed up my courage to sip a little Maker’s Mark, I decided I’d been unfair to bourbon all those years. But I’m still a scotch girl.

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  34. LAMary said on July 15, 2010 at 10:56 am

    The tracking shot in Goodfellas knocks me out. Not only is it amazing, it so captures the feel of that time. The Copa was rat pack cool then and to go in through the kitchen? Beyond cool.

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