Great Movie Moments #1: Match Cut in The Fall (2006)
Hopefully, the start of a regular(ish) thing, detailing moments (scenes, characters, shots, whatever) that define why I love watching movies.
To kick off, my favourite match cut in cinema. It’s not the bone-to-spaceship cut in 2001: A Space Odyssey, or any of the clever Paramount mountain in-jokes in the Indiana Jones films. Actually, it’s not techically a match cut at all, since it’s quite obviously a dissolve.
It’s a transition in a scene from Tarsem Singh’s eye-popping The Fall
, released a couple of years ago to mixed reviews and zero box office, but likely to endure as one of the
cult films of the past decade because its fans (of which I include myself) get so passionate, bordering on zealotry, in our praise of its visual beauty and narrative playfulness.
Presented here is the sequence leading up to the match, which is itself a giddy, swirling marvel of costume and camera…but in the dying seconds, as the priest’s face transforms into a mountain top (apparently without the aid of CGI) you realise Tarsem is able to better even that stunner. The only shame is that this vid doesn’t carry on to show the elaborate pan away from the mountain, which underlines how extraordinary and precise a match this was. Then again, that’s a perfect excuse to watch the rest of the movie.
If you’re still unconvinced, here’s a fuller review….
(Tarsem, US, 2008)
The vanity project redeemed: a banquet of visual treats for the eyes, but full of surprisingly meaty ideas, too…
After The Fountain, the idea of a vanity project fills me with dread…but The Fall redeems that rare sub-genre. Like Darren Aronofsky’s grand folly, this was a labour of love which its director (advert and music video maestro Tarsem) conceived and developed over many years with the dedication of a zealot. Like The Fountain, this is driven by a love of imagery and a mystical faith in storytelling. But unlike The Fountain, its purpose is clearer, its style linked inextricably to substance. It’s an eye-popping marvel, but also extremely moving and profound.
The set-up couldn’t be simpler, as Roy, an injured stuntman in silent-era Hollywood enchants young girl Alexandria with surreal tall tales of heroism and adventure: the cue for a mad procession including swimming elephants, a man born inside a tree and a monkey-assisted bandit named Charles Darwin. There are obvious shades of The Princess Bride and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, but Tarsem’s storyteller isn’t content just to spin yarns for sheer pleasure. Alexandria just wants to be transported to exotic worlds; Roy wants a different kind of escape and his dark agenda threatens to disrupt the girl’s desires.
Like Pan’s Labyrinth, this is delicately poised between innocence and experience in its study of the allure of fantasy over grim reality, but Tarsem is even more interested than Guillermo Del Toro in probing the gap between the two. Tarsem creates a bold parallel structure through fluid editing – the use of match cuts is extraordinary – to highlight how a story told on the fly is derived from the mood of the storyteller…but also from that of the listener. If the words belong to Roy, the visuals belong to the girl. Characters are taken, in true Wizard of Oz style, from people she has seen in real life, and crucial details are mis-imagined. Tarsem has that instinctive grasp of the affinity between film and dream and the imagery traverses the globe in the blink of an eye – or a cut. One rhapsodic montage takes the travellers from the pyramids to the Great Wall of China and the Statue of Liberty, achieving physically impossible segues that are, quite literally, child’s play to Alexandria.
Crucial to this sense is that Tarsem avoids CGI and relies on the splendour of found locations. There are frankly stunning tableaux here: deserts, islands, and a walled castle set against the blue walls of the city. The effect is comparable to Zhang Yimou, or the kind of thing Terry Gilliam would make if he had decent investment. But then that’s Tarsem’s real secret: he shot it with his own money, using advertising gigs to reach these far-flung treasures. The result allows Tarsem to sink or swim on his own instinct: this is a lushly expensive home movie but it’s the independence that allows the film’s unique tone to thrive.
The result is ragged and can seem uncertain in tone, arguably trapped in the space between kids’ movie (…but too violent) and adult drama (…yet too whimsical) – but I think that’s intentional. The battle between Roy and Alexandria for control of the film’s fantasy world echoes a wider debate about the kind of stories we want to see on the big screen. Tarsem’s sentiments are never in question: he is flying the flag for a pure cinema, borne of the same kind of passion which drove him to make The Fall. It’s that – ultimately – that makes this such a heartfelt, bewitching love letter to the imagination and to movies themselves. If he hasn’t convinced you by then, the final montage of silent footage, a feast of Chaplin and Keaton, should reaffirm your faith in cinema as a medium for madmen and mavericks, which makes even Hollywood’s brightest contemporary talents look like work-shy slackers in comparison.
Tagged Film Reviews, Great Movie Moments, Review