Exploring the Artifacts #12: The Missing Links Part 2 (of 2)
Exploring The Artifacts is a series in which I examine some unique and significant components, or by-products, of cinema storytelling that are often under-appreciated.
The subject of this series is an editing technique that implies a hidden meaning specifically between two shots or scenes in a narrative. These transitions can draw a connection between story fragments in an obvious way or act as a subtle association between the instantly changing visuals. Even though this rather sophisticated device has been used sparingly in the past, it adds an intellectual depth to the stories that only motion pictures can so effectively convey. (For more examples of this technique please see The Missing Links Part 1).
In my review of the following seminal film noir, I described the two final acts: "In the preceding scene to this most satisfying conclusion, the Police Chief appears in front of reporters and speaks about the need for law enforcement, boasting of his investigative results. One is still out there, but the Commissioner proudly predicts 'We’ll get the last one too. In some ways, he’s the most dangerous of them all. A hardened killer. A hooligan. A man without human feeling or human mercy.' Then, in one of cinema’s most disparate story transitions we see the man he spoke of." The wide disparity between the description of criminal Dix Hanley and the man we see in the very next scene, makes the filmmakers' presentational intent obvious and further elicits our emotional investiture in Dix's final moments. Of course the music's underscoring (not heard since the film's opening) of Dix's demise, also assists in making this one of cinema's most emotionally impactful conclusions. *Note: The following clip contains the film's ending.
The Asphalt Jungle (1950)
Director: John Huston
In the next couple of scenes, an association, like the example above, is made between what is said in the former to what is portrayed in the latter, although the connection is far more subtly conveyed. Three astronauts who have crash landed on an alien planet get their first clear view of other human inhabitants, all of whom appear to be quite primitive, rather docile, possibly mute, and vegetarian. Immediately after these final words are spoken by Taylor (Charlton Heston): "... if this is the best they've got around here in six months we'll be running this planet", notice the cut to the puzzled reaction by the group he and his fellow space travellers are observing. This response symbolically suggests, as in the former example above, that the opposite is true, which is confirmed by the succeeding events.
Planet of the Apes (1968)
Director: Franklin J. Schaffner
Filmmaker Sam Peckinpah's magnum opus contains an overwhelming amount of vital redress concerning cinema's prior portrayals of early 1900's American western frontier and includes his less heroic presentation of the territory's far more authentic inhabitants and conflicts. Therefore, one shouldn't be surprised that his most ambitious and expressive film, overly infused with symbolism, irony, and a vast number of interlocking dramatic threads of deep, and sometimes hidden, meaningful connection, contains several instances where one scene visually correlates with another. Both of the following examples concern children. In the first we see some little-ones burn straw over their preceding activity of watching some scorpions' futile attempts to fight off an enormous bed of ants. As the straw turns black from the fire, Peckinpah dissolves to the aftermath of a much too indiscriminately applied railroad ambush's attempt to subdue a gang of outlaws: The devastating effect on the lives of local innocents caught in the crossfire, has become like the ants, victims of humanity's inherent desire to perpetrate violence. *Note: Some may find the following scenes disturbing.
The Wild Bunch (1969)
Director: Sam Peckinpah
Following the tragedy outlined above, some kids playing shoot 'em up with their hands approach the camera and shoot at us. Cut to one of the outlaws, after his escape, falling off of his horse. He's been shot in the face. The gruesome implication here is similar to the film's previous example: Violence is intrinsically a part of human nature, and is easier to control when recognised, and addressed as such. *Note: Some may find the following scenes disturbing.
The final clip in Part 1 was Alfred Hitchcock's amusing sexual innuendo poised between two scenes. It is only fitting therefore that we end Part 2 with a little humorous transition as well. First is Woody Allen (as soldier Boris Grushenko) commenting on the Russian battlefield during the Napoleonic Wars as to how different the war looks to the Generals from afar. Then there's a cut to the military officers' point of view.
Love and Death (1975)
Director: Woody Allen
*Note: Readers who might be aware of other cinematic examples of the above editing technique are welcome to mention them in the comments section. They would be most appreciated.