Sunday, November 06, 2005

Even Rocky had a montage

One screenwriting/directing technique that seems to have fallen out of favor lately is the good old montage. Not to be confused with its fraternal twin, the series of shots, a montage allows the writer to (as the Trey Parker/Matt Stone ditty goes):

"Show a lot of things happening at once, remind everyone of what’s going on. And with every shot you show a little improvement. To show it all would take too long."

Where the montage could contain shots in different locations and at various points in time, the series of shots (as I understand it) is limited to one location and a single course of action. The author of Elements of Style for Screenwriters, Paul Argentini, further limits the series of shots to include only the main characters of the story.

A staple of seemingly every movie made in the 80's, montage was so overused and run into the ground that now it usually surfaces self-referentially and ironically, as in Team America: World Police (although the Montage track was first used in an earlier South Park episode). But if you're feeling nostalgiac for the montages of films past, I encourage you to check out, a fun site that has cataloged and rated many of the well-worn sequences. Broken down into helpful categories, such as Training, Dating, and Shopping, there's plenty here to remind you just why it is we don't see too many montages around anymore, although there are a few of more recent vintage in there.

I do have to take slight issue, however, with some of the ratings on the site. To only give the training scenes from Rocky III and IV a four out of five stars is a travesty. I don't know any red-blooded American male that can watch them and not want to jump in the ring himself with Clubber Lang or Ivan Drago when they're over. Sly may have not distinguished himself with later roles, but the man sure knew how to cut a montage of The Italian Stallion getting ready for the big one. Oh, and a great catch by the staff about the homoerotic subtext in Rocky III. Makes you wonder why Talia Shire was even hanging around the gym, full of sweaty oiled-up guys spending all day with each other getting ripped and cut.

Personally, I think it would be difficult to use the montage now without irony because it has been so done to death. On the other hand, great screenwriting to me is much about taking ideas, storylines, techniques, etc. that have become stale and putting a fresh twist on them. Everything has been done already and probably many times over, so it then just becomes a question of how you, the writer, are going to take the old and make it new again. [Cue montage of ASPIRING SCREENWRITER honing his craft over months of writing and rewriting to "Gonna Fly Now"]


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