On the Cutting Edge with Belmondo, Beatty…and Moe

A jump cut is a device in film editing where a portion of a shot is removed, and the beginning and end of that shot are then joined together, with the hope that it will have dramatic effect. We’ve all seen them, in film, TV and music videos, and at one point, decades ago, jump cuts were considered revolutionary and scandalous within the film world.

As a life long fan of cinema, I sometimes wonder what my favorite jump cut is. Could it be the ones in Godard’s Breathless (1960), the über-cool edits that introduced jump cuts as a viable film style? Or maybe it’s Clyde Barrow’s truncated formal introduction in Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde, the first jump cut to keep me awake at night. Or perhaps it’s Martin Sheen’s drunken and silent self-destruction in Coppola’s Apocalypse Now. (All of these can be seen in this minute-long clip.1)


No doubt about it, all of these jump cuts have teeth. They’re visceral and intellectually exciting, and they challenge the most basic logic of time and space: one thing moves from here to there, continuously.

But when it’s all said and done, when it comes to my favorite Jump Cut in All of Cinema, I’m gonna give it to the Stooges. All Three of them. Here it is, from their 1943 Columbia short, They Stooge to Conga, directed by Del Lord.

So why do I think going from this…

…to this…

…is so effective? Why does that get the honor over the other edits—or any other similar jump cuts in the films of Scorsese, Soderbergh, Lee, the Brothers Coen, Kubrick, et al?

Because it hurts. It hits me in the belly and makes me grimace in pain. It’s visceral to nth degree. It takes the regular elements of Stooge abuse–part physical, part sound effect, and all of it right in front of our eyes—and takes it up a notch.

And who knows? Godard was thirteen when this film came out, and the Stooges were big stuff overseas, their films shown regularly in France after the war, so who’s to say…Maybe if Jean-Paul Belmondo weren’t so busy smoking cigarettes, he would have been poking Jean Seberg in the eyes.

Le nyuk, nyuk!

(By the way, if you’re interested in seeing the entire scene from “They Stooge to Conga” [generally regarded as the most violent Three Stooges scene], you can see it here.)

__________________________________________________


BACK TO POST 1 Many have commented that internet technology has let me down some here, that the jump cut from Bonnie and Clyde doesn’t read so clearly. I’ve made an isolated version of it, which slows it down some; it’s towards the bottom of my post on editor Dede Allen.

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17 Comments

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17 responses to “On the Cutting Edge with Belmondo, Beatty…and Moe

  1. gugga

    Saltobello. I don’t see the Bonie & Clyde jump cut. True, the editor trimmed it up tight and clearly cut time out from every angle, but there is nothing jarring about it. To me a true jump cut has to register as a kind of visual hiccup (that is nevertheless stylish.)

    • Ew, I should have been clear in my description of this jump cut since it’s much less noticeable than the others. There’s only one cut, a few frames missing when Clyde says his name. “Clyde” is in synch, then there’s a jump cut while he says “Barrow,” which is subsequently not there visually. This is the frame BEFORE the cut:

      and this is the frame AFTER the cut:

      I’m guessing about 4 frames are removed. It’s so subtle, YouTube might be doing it an injustice.

  2. Adam L

    Yeah, palie, this one gets a big “See Me” in red. I think a couple of these are highly debate-able. Let’s start with the Penn one. I think they were trying to sneak one by us here in the service of compression, not trying to make a visual statement the way that Goddard was. And the Stooges? Please. This is no more a series of jump cuts than it is an assembly of the filmmaker’s (or The Stooges’) favorite moments. The only winner I see here is Francis’s contribution. I’d like you to go back and do this one over. Consider it an extension. 🙂

    • I’m sticking to my guns on this one, Palie.

      Regarding Clyde: I don’t think they were trying to make a “statement” either, but a jump cut is, if nothing else, a compression of time. I don’t think it’s “service,” however, except to keep the momentum up. That film has several moments where time is manipulated and this may be the slightest of them all, but I don’t think it makes it any less worth commenting on.

      As for the Stooges, either you’re a snob or you’ve never really watched their shorts in the last ten years with an open mind. There’s more going on there than you think. Not intellect, no, but craft on both sides of the camera nevertheless.

      Frankly, Francis’s is good, but the most obvious and most practical. The jump cuts are only part of the collective whole here: the music, the lack of sound, the visual, the performance. When you have all of that, the notion of jump cuts is almost a no-brainer.

      I stay true to my post.

      • Adam L

        I’m gonna do one of those things you see when you’re watching Letterman or Stewart and the ordinarily vociferous guest politely defers to his host or is run down by him. I’ve seen both.

  3. illy c

    yeah, I also wasn’t able to register this on my computer. I also wonder how many instances there are of jump cuts like those that are accidents, like the negative was cut incorrectly. The last movie I ever cut on film, I had a shot that was missing three frames in the middle of it because, working on the flatbed with a ravaged work print, the same piece of film having been cut and respliced in various places a million times, often just a frame apart… then when I reconstituted it after changing my mind yet again, I never noticed the missing frames- until I saw the first answer print! By then- too late- the neg was cut. I’m sure that happened all the time, back in the days when editing was a real tactile craft that involved knives and tape and tiny tools. Sigh.

    • Yo, Il, “accident”? Really? Do you think there’s any shot, gesture, sound or cut in Bonnie and Clyde that’s not entirely on purpose? (I’d leave room for serendipitous mistakes, but if they’re there, then they were left in on purpose.)

      It’s a shame it isn’t so clear on a computer. I know on VHS, on TV, as a teenager, when it happened, I watched it a handful of times then walked over and hugged the VCR.

      • illy c

        I’m sure your right. My computer is almost as old as Dede Allen. It plays things in GOPs (right?), so everything looks like a jump cut.
        Speaking of, wouldn’t you love to pull an Alvie Singer right now and have Dede Allen step into the conversation? She could tell us all off.

      • Or Jerry Greenberg, who assisted on it (and I believe did a first pass on the film’s climax). He’d be the one responsible for keeping track of those loose frames, so he might have some choice words for for the discussion.

    • You’re right about the GOPs, Illy, but it’s not because your computer is old. It’s because the video has to be compressed way the hell down in order to squeeze through the tiny internet tubes. 😉

  4. Pauline Villa

    Read the post; read the replies. I have to agree…don’t see “a jump shot” in B&C. BTW, love the writing even if I’m not sure I understand everything you wrote. Writing is crisp and reads quickly. Why am I honing in on this? ‘Cause even though you wrote about a subject I know little about, I still read it. The words held my interest.

  5. Ed

    Stephen,

    I think what happened regarding that Bonnie and Clyde edit was that there was a call to the edit room that went something like this:

    “Hello Dede, it’s the negative cutter. I have bad news.”

  6. Chris Houghton

    I was channel surfing just this past weekend and I’m pretty sure I saw some jump cuts in “The Princess Bride” that I’d never seen before. It was in the scene where Andre The Giant is talking with Wesley before they fight. It looked to me like they cut out frames of Andre trying to remember his next line. I guess that makes it a “B&C” compression jump, as opposed to a Goddard “I’m so damn cool” jump. I’m calling Del Lord’s jump a little of both.

  7. MollyB

    No editor has ever said LAWERENCE OF ARABIA, the cut from lighting the match to the burning hot desert????

    • You mean as their favorite edit? No, but I’m sure it’s on a lot of lists. Have you ever seen it projected? It’s mind-blowing. The theater gets, like, ten times brighter. And the sound of his blowing out the match carrying over the cut is great, too.

  8. Ed

    Ah, yes! The tiny trim book. One of my favorite edit room items. Alas, it has become obsolete.

  9. Pingback: Dede Allen, Film Editor « Peel Slowly

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