The Effect of a Prolonged Timeline on Viewers

After hearing about Zodiac in class, I wasn’t expecting to enjoy it as much as I did. Granted, I can see why people can dislike this film because it feels like it drags at times, and the film is honestly exhausting at times. However, I feel that Fincher tried to bring out these emotions from the audience purposefully through the movie’s endless transitions in time without any resolve in the stories main conflict. Throughout the film, we see several people take on the case of the zodiac such as the cartoonist, Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal), Inspector David Toschi (Mark Ruffalo), and the journalist, Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr.).  As time passes, shown through an endless number of time skips, we see the case take a physical toll on everyone who was involved. First, it was the handwriting expert, who retired and became an alcoholic. Then, the case began to affect Paul Avery, the journalist. He started to become an alcoholic, and eventually, he quit The Chronicle to live on the sea, drinking his days away. When we see him for the last time in a bar, he looks 10 years older than his age and he’s breathing from an oxygen tank.

After Avery gave out, the case began to take a toll on Inspector David Toschi. One of the most tenacious people (unofficially) gives in after he lost his best lead. His emotions towards the case can be seen in his conversation’s with Robert Graysmith. In his conversations, he expresses that there are more relevant cases to investigate, and the Zodiac case will never be solved after all the years and struggles of investigating. Lastly, after seemingly endless failures to progress the case, we have Robert Graysmith take on the case by himself. As a viewer after an hour and 45 minutes into the film, we think that “Oh, this character is going to miraculously solve the case now. All this build up has to be resolved,” but we have to endure Graysmith’s painful efforts to solve this practically dead case for another 50 minutes. Similarly, viewers are able to see the physical and mental toll the case takes on Graysmith, and as a viewer, the endless amount of dead ends over time starts to really take a toll on us too. For a brief moment towards the end of the film, I thought that we would never have a resolution. Fincher prolongs the film this way to make the viewer truly experience what Graysmith goes through. By the end, we are desperate to have the mystery be solved just like Graysmith.  Finally, after a twenty-two year timeline and after Graysmith releases his book, we have the first victim of the Zodiac killer confirm the identity of his attacker through photos of different suspects. After a grueling 2 hours and 30 minutes, we only get a resolution that spans for about a minute of viewing time. By the end of the film, Fincher makes us truly understand how long and exhausting this case was.

The Power of Montage

Google Dictional defines narrative as “a spoken or written account of connected events; a story.” A narrative is primarily a story that involves many events and people that all seem to have the same event or person in common. The most important aspect of telling of a certain event or person and how different stories relate to that event or person. But how does one make a narrative with realistic, relatable characters? One cannot learn what makes a person or relationship between multiple people just by one or two occurrences or scenes. You can’t show how someone develops as a character just by talking or interview people who are close to them. How would you show how something changes or develops with time as characterization realistically can’t be fully explored with just one scene or event? People are dynamic, but it takes time; usually large amounts of it. Because of this Orson Wells takes advantage of the use of Montage to show gradual changes over what is perceived to be large periods of time.
In this week’s feature, “Citizen Kane,” Orson Wells, montage is used repeatedly to show how a person, a relationship, or a situation grows and develops over large periods of time. A good example of this is scene of Charles Kane and Emily Norton seated at the dinner table having “snippets” of conversation regarding her husband’s work at his newspaper. Using montage, Orson wells shows the snippets of conversation getting progressively negative and Emily growing more uncomfortable and angered at her husband’s newspaper. In addition, we also get to see Charles grow more ambitious and obsessed with the success of his newspaper. In each little scene of the montage we see the couple grow older just a little indicating the passage of months, possibly years between conversations. Small details about their snippets of conversations show that they have a son who has been exposed to Charles newspaper at his nursery, which Emily does not approve off but is immediately silenced by her husband at the notion of removing it from the nursery. In the final scene not a word is said. The two even refuse to make eye contact, indicating that their marriage has all but come to a cold close.

For this reason, montage is one of my favorite effects in film. I really appreciated it when montage is used to forward plot in such a manner. I modern movies, especially action movies, montage is usually only used once in the beginning or towards the end of the movie, depicted small snippets of the main character growing up to what he is today, or the preparation they must do prepare for a showdown. Super-hero movies do this a lot, but they are no where near as powerful as some of the scenes in “Citizen Kane.” The only other movies where montage is used is old 80’s movies that would always play stereotypical synthwave music while getting a large amount of work done. Like in this clip from a totally 80s (not really) movie “Kung Fury.”

My questions to the class is how else, other than the passage of long periods of time, is montage used to tell major points of the story. Are there other, more recent movies that still use montage the way “Citizen Kane” does. In the scene from “Citizen Kane” above, is this a true montage despite the fact that is uses the “sliding windows” effect to imply the passage of time?
(Is “Kung Fury” the greatest movie of all time?)

The Significance of Editing

In films, we can see the importance of mise-en-scéne and cinematography quite easily because these incorporate everything within the frame that we are focusing on. Does editing hold the same significance as these factors? The characters, the colors, and the props are all bits of information that are relayed to us directly through the mise-en-scéne and cinematography. Editing is defined as “the process of selecting and joining film footage and shots” — Timothy Corrigan and Patricia White, The Film Experience, 168. It is essentially taking different manifestations of cinematography and mise-en-scéne and putting them together. Knowing this, editing takes on paramount importance as it pieces together shots and footage in meaningful ways using cuts, transitions, and other things.

Editing can be broken down into different elements. Each element creates meaning in its own way by changing the way that the film is experienced by an audience. A cut is “the join or splice between two pieces of film” (Corrigan and White, 168). Cuts are the simplest and most common forms of editing and consists of many different types that create feelings about the film or assert an idea. Transitions are the join of two separate pieces of film with the use of some embellishment that also adds meaning to the film. This video talks about different types of cuts and transitions.

Another element of editing is the continuity style. Although it is not necessary or guaranteed, many films use a continuity style in order to orient space and time. They do this to give their film verisimilitude, which “is the quality of fictional representation that allows readers or viewers to accept a constructed [world] as plausible” (Corrigan and White, 180). By having spatial and temporal patterns, the film becomes something that is believable when we are watching it. A common use continuity editing is the eyeline match. A character is shown looking somewhere off-screen, then the camera cuts to another shot with a new subject. As viewers, we assume that the character was looking at what we saw in the second shot. Based on this edit, we can form spatial relationships between characters and objects as well as ideas about the significance of the character’s glance. In this clip from Star Wars: Episode 1, Obi-Wan Kenobi looks at his lightsaber off screen, then it cuts to his lightsaber. This mixed with his obvious desperation, we form an idea that he is planning to do something with the lightsaber to get out of his current situation, which he does.

Editing’s relationship with time is also important for creating meaning in a film. For example, sometimes the scenes of a movie will not be shown in chronological order of the story. When this occurs, typically there will be some sort of external cue through editing. Flashbacks might dissolve in simulating a character’s memory. Some sequences in films are not explicitly located in any part of the story timeline. This ambiguity is sometimes used on purpose for descriptions, psychological depth, and others. Duration also plays a part in the audiences viewing experience. A film tells a story that has its own timeline but is shown only in the runtime of the film. The length of the story and the length of the movie are almost never the same lengths, therefore it is important in editing to manipulate the duration to make the story flow and feel like its happening in its own timeline. This is affected by pace and rhythm. How often movie cuts can be measured by the average shot length (ASL). ASL helps determine the pace of films. Films take on different paces depending on what type of film they are or what kind of feeling they want to give off.

All of these elements put together are very subtle and go unnoticed when discussing the important parts of a film. However, editing creates so much meaning that basically none of the films you see today can exist without it. Not only is it necessary to put together films that we see, it is important in commanding the way that the viewer is seeing the film and interpreting it. What do you think is more important as a viewer, things like mise-en-scéne and cinematography or editing? As time has passed, the ASL of films has dropped. In your opinion what could be the cause of this trend? Is continuity something that you pay close attention to when watching a film?