Sunday, November 29, 2009 by Mohan K.V
Statistics are like bikinis. What they reveal is suggestive, but what they conceal is vital.
The viewer's imagination fills it up most satisfactorily. This has a double-advantage, in that the director can also focus on getting each chunk perfectly right, and not worry about how it fits in with the rest of the movie. One of the most important ingredients of this technique however, is that the scenes must be distinct enough for the viewer to detect a clear difference, but not so distinct that the jump is too big to fill. If the scenes are too close, the imagination-filling part doesn't kick in too well and you get a jagged experience. There's definitely some kind of uncanny valley here. Tarantino is one of the people who have got the pre-valley peak bang on. I can't think of one right now, but there are tons of examples of a director trying too hard with transition scenes to keep the narration self-contained, and thereby ruining the feel.
Verbal's description begins at 1:50. Start there, turn off your monitor and just listen.
Don't be lazy to navigate there. This is not a commonly remembered scene, and is one of the only good scenes from the movie not to be found on Youtube or anywhere on Google Video. The Megavideo link may go down anytime, so do use SideReel and find it if it's gone. In case everything fails, as the very last resort, here is the transcript of the most chilling part:
Get your rest, Gentlemen. The boat will be ready for you on Friday. If I see you or any of your friends before then, Miss. Finneran will find herself the victim of a most gruesome violation before she dies. As will your father, Mr. Hockney. and your Uncle Randall in Arizona, Mr. Kint. I might only castrate Mr. McManus's nephew, David. Do I make myself clear?
This transcript is nothing, I repeat, nothing, without Mr. Kobayashi's mild, educated - no, learned, calm accent. The austere serenity with which this threat is delivered - that seals the deal.
Another recent demonstration of such cold power is that by the fantastic Col. Hans Landa in Inglourious Basterds. His every moment in the movie is brilliant - the first Jew-rat scene, the Cinderella scene - I can't count! He amazing cold power will keep you riveted whenever he's on.
Inglourious Basterds, the Jew-Rat analogy
His accent that is ever present but makes a distinct appearance at places - like 'never occur' in the clip above, and the derisive, sneering way he mentions 'dignity' - has this effect of marking him as an outsider, not one of us. And he's an outsider with power, loads of it. Earlier in this scene, when he switches over to English, I went 'fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck' till the last bullet was fired. The dialog between him and Ms. Hammersmack which leads to the Cinderella sequence was another one of those gut-chilling moments of fear and tension.
(There are many other scenes in the movie I want to talk about, including ones not involving him. The Bear Jew scene where the German does not flinch, does not blink and looks straight into his killer's eyes; the finger counting scene; many more. I also want to rant about how much I hated the ending, and how much I hated Brad Pitt's character for winning everything with no effort on- or off-screen whatsoever. I also want to present my theory of optimally-constrained movie moments, but all that for another sunny day. Today is all about cold power.)
It is important to note that in ALL of these examples, none of the parties wielding supreme power have ever any weapon at all. If they have indeed held one, it is at best as powerful as what everyone in the scene is holding. No, it's subtler, more personal than that. Further, none of these people are really at the top of any scheme they are in. Hartman is just a measly drill instructor, not a General with supreme command. Jules is just a contract killer, like a thousand others, who quivers before Marsellus Wallace, and who wets his pants when he contemplates the prospect of a nurse coming home to see a dead body. Kobayashi is a simple lawyer, just an order-carrier for an unseen Kaiser Soze. Even Hans Landa is just a lowly Colonel. It is almost as if their low position clears any illusions of power vested by a hierarchy, and thus allows them to focus on personal power, over individuals. If Landa had been a General, he might have just got a platoon of soldiers to do a job. The power vested in him would have been textbook-like, and his exertion of that power is also textbook-like. If the General of an army gets people to listen to him with rapt attention and hang on to every word, there's nothing special about that. They're listening to him because he's the General. But when a lowly Colonel philosophizes over how rats are different from squirrels, and yet everyone listens to him at the edge of their seats, there you see the kind of power that we are celebrating.
As an aside, I'm quickly becoming a great fan of the techniques of British colonial administration. They were used against us, yes, but that fact should not come in the way of measuring their effectiveness, nor cloud our memory of them being used to root out some of our society's very worst diseases like Sati. Part of this appreciation is because of the brilliant way Dilip taught us Indian history. For example, let me quote Charles James Napier (of the 'Peccavi' fame) from Wikipedia:
The best way to quiet a country is a good thrashing, followed by great kindness afterwards. Even the wildest chaps are thus tamed
Former U.S. Marine Drill Instructor R. Lee Ermey was originally hired as a technical adviser and asked Kubrick if he could audition for the role of Hartman. However Kubrick, having seen his portrayal as Drill Instructor Sgt Loyce in The Boys in Company C, told him that he wasn't vicious enough to play the character. In response, Ermey made a videotape of himself improvising insulting dialogue towards a group of Royal Marines while being pelted by people off-camera with oranges and tennis balls. Ermey, in spite of the distractions, rattled off an unbroken string of insults for 15 minutes, and he did not flinch, duck, or repeat himself while the projectiles rained on him. Upon viewing it, Kubrick gave him the role, realizing that Ermey "was a genius for this part". Ermey's experience as a real-life DI during the Vietnam era proved invaluable, and the realism was such that in one instance, Ermey barked an order off-camera to Kubrick to stand up when he was spoken to, and Kubrick instinctively obeyed, standing at attention before realizing what had happened. Kubrick estimated that Ermey came up with 150 pages of insults, many of them improvised on the spot — a rarity for a Kubrick film. According to Kubrick's estimate, the former drill instructor wrote 50% of his own dialogue, especially the insults. Ermey usually needed only two to three takes per scene, another rarity for a Kubrick film.
The 150 pages of improvised insults - each syllable is gold! "Your days of finger-banging ol' Mary Jane Rottencrotch through her purtty pink panties are over!", "Do you feel dizzy? Do you feel faint? Jesus Saint Christ! I think you've got a hard-on!", "Bullshit. It looks to me like the best part of you ran down the crack of your momma's ass and ended up as a brown stain on the mattress! I think you been cheated!", "Are you a peter puffer? I'll bet you're the kinda guy that would fuck a person in the ass and not even have the goddamn common courtesy to give him a reach-around. I'll be watching you". I could go on and on list all of his dialog!