Critical Literature on the Reading Material-Classical Hollywood Narration and Continuity Editing in ‘Some Like It Hot’
Since the start of moving images, which was a revolutionary break through into the film industry with pioneers such as the Lumiere Brothers, Buster Keaton, Orson Welles and Billy Wilder the early 20th century looked promising for Hollywood. “the most popular and influential cinema ever invented” The invention of sound recording onto films started during the 1920s and developed rapidly, this ended the ‘silent era’ and opened up many more possibilities for Hollywood.
From the research that was undertaken by Bordwell, Staiger and Thompson on the films made by Hollywood between 1917 and 1960 they created the term ‘Classical Hollywood Narrative’. This was a technique used by all film makers, which was a set of ‘unwritten rules’ that they would, follow when filming and producing the story. One of the many films that Hollywood produced was ‘Some Like It Hot’ (1959) directed by Billy Wilder, starring Marilyn Monroe, Joe Lemmon and Tony Curtis, which had both ‘Continuity editing’ and a ‘classical Hollywood narrative’. The director Billy Wilder adapted very quickly to the style of Hollywood in the Golden Age.
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The film featured two musicians that witnessed the St Valentines massacre in 1929 and they managed to escape the mob by disguising themselves as women and entering a all girls band that are heading to Florida. Throughout the film the couple face endless comical situations and get into deeper trouble especially when they are caught up by their past. Continuity editing is the essence of classical Hollywood narrative, it involves the number of cuts there is within a film. It is so commonly used that, we as the audience will not be able to keep up with the number of cuts there is.
It is used to engage the audience with the action taking place within the ‘films world’ and give it the realist effect. Although there have been many films with the use of the ‘Classical Hollywood Narrative’ technique, ‘Some Like It Hot’ has more to review, where gender lines have been crossed and identities have been switched. Both Lieberfeld and Sanders analyse how the film responds to the transition of the two main characters or heroes as we know have disguised themselves as women to escape danger. “These films’ heroes disguise themselves to elude danger or achieve a goal, but disguise also gains them entree into social worlds that are ormally forbidden to them”. This shows that in the contemporary world this would have been illicit and Billy Wilder shows this through images of spillage and overflow, which is linked to scenes of violence and punishment. “By Juxtaposing images of leaks and spills with images of violent retribution, Some Like It Hot links transgression with punishment”. The film was released in the 1959, but set in the 1920s in Chicago, which is portrayed in a negative way through images of bad weather and mobsters shooting at the police and killing each other.
The two famous images in the film are when the two heroes witness the St Valentines massacre and the image of them disguised as women, which has become a symbol. “The image of Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis dressed as a female musicians in a swing band has become an icon of cross-dressing in popular culture”. When the two heroes change their looks to females and enter an all girls band they head to Florida, which is shown in a very positive way through images of sunshine and the main theme song playing in the background. “Florida is a romantic leisure land “by the beautiful sea”, as the soundtrack informs us”.
As time goes on through the film and our heroes arrive in Florida the transition becomes more and more norm, which is also represented in the theme song. “to temporarily lose control, to go “running wild” which is ‘Some Like It Hot’s’ theme song”. This allows the audience to enter the ‘films world’, which restores the realism into the film as at the start, the transition is reflected in images of violence and overflows, whereas here it is shown as being something that is off the ordinary, so not reality as men dressing up as women wasn’t socially accepted back then.
The theme song to the film is called ‘Running wild’, which reflects our two heroes and takes the audience into a ‘wild world’ where crossing gender lines or switching identities are normal. “where boundaries dissolve and transgression is the norm”. Lieberfeld and Sanders also examine how the transgression of social categories reflects on the common responsibility in a comedy genre. “transgression of other social categories, particularly, in this case, class identity, and speculate about the general role of comic narrative in the construction of social identity”.
Later on in the film Joe one of our heroes finds out what type of man Sugar (played by Marilyn Monroe) is looking for, so Joe disguises himself as another person, but this time as a male millionaire. “second identity as a phony millionairew with a British accent”, which is a more acceptable transition for the audience. In conclusion of our analysis on this text we can understand that both Lieberfeld and Sanders look at how comedy genres that have identities being switched are represented in Wilders product, which is mainly through metaphors using images of violence and the division of social class. The reading highlights not only the film’s narrative, but also its use of visual and verbal metaphors”. The second text analyses what ‘Classical Hollywood Narrative’ involves and what the fundamentals are. We will review the first chapter of the book ‘An excessively obvious cinema’ written by Bordwell. The term ‘Classical Hollywood Narrative’ was coined by Bordwell, Staiger and Thompson is referred to as being a set of rules that filmmakers follow.
Suppose that between 1917 and 1960 a distinct and homogeneous style has dominated American studio filmmaking- a style whose principles remain quite constant across decades, genres, studios, and personnel”. ‘Classical Hollywood Narrative’ is made up of three levels, which are as follows; * Devices- technical elements are characteristics of classical Hollywood cinema; three point lighting, continuity editing, movie music dissolves etc * Systems- a system of narrative logic, a system of cinematic time; and a system of cinematic space. Devices can be used in either of these systems depending on the functions. Relations of systems- the total style can be defined as the relation of those systems to each other. Each level is a fundamental part in ‘Classical Hollywood Narrative’ without one the other cannot mean anything, “It is too narrow to define classical norms by devices, and it is unwarrantable broad to define them solely by relations among systems”. These levels are not the only rules that ‘Classical Hollywood Narrative’ has to have, there is one major rule, which is the story itself and the order it must be demonstrated to the audience.
When watching a film produced by Hollywood it is divided into three sections, the start, the middle and the end. There will be peace at the start of a film, which will get disrupted by an event and raise a major problem for the heroes of the film, this being the middle. “Joe and Jerry’s witnessing Charlie’s fate in the St Valentine’s Day massacre”. The heroes will attempt to restore the peace back in the film, which will also be part of the middle. “The pair flee south in search f safety and warmth”. Finally the end where the peace is restored somehow and our heroes live ‘Happily ever after’. “Joe then tosses his wig overboard, discarding his disguise forever, and the pair’s voyage towards the horizon accords perfectly with the romantic convention”. This rule and the three levels are the fundamentals of ‘Classical Hollywood Narrative’, which is what filmmakers of Hollywood have to follow,” Hollywood cinema sees itself as bound by rules”.
For a Hollywood film to succeed it must avoid any ambiguity and engage with the audience at all times. “For illusion to work, the spectator must meet the art work at least half way”. As stated by Bordwell “that the Hollywood film purports to be ‘realistic’ in both Aristotelian sense (truth to the probable) and a naturalistic one (truth to historical fact)”. Compared to other places and there filmmakers Hollywood has succeeded and come further not for having famous directors but keeping to the same formulae for decades. What makes Hollywood so much better than anything else in the world is not only the quality of certain directors, but also the vitality and, in a certain sense, the excellence of a tradition”. However Hollywood and the contemporary world have given directors and filmmakers an advantage compared to other filmmakers from others. “In other national schools, a handful of filmmakers worked within sharply contained historical circumstances for only a few years”. Bordwell also states that “Mukarovsky’s work helps us move forward defining the Hollywood cinema as an aesthetic system”.
In conclusion to this text ‘Classical Hollywood Narrative’ is a practice, “the reader will recognize some familiar filmmaking practices” and that the three levels “The specificity of the classical style depends upon all three levels of generality”, along with continuity editing and match on action, “Match on action cut is a classical convention” are the fundamentals of ‘Classical Hollywood Narrative’. Our final text will analyse continuity editing, which plays a major role in ‘Classical Hollywood Narrative’ as it gives the realism illusion to films and engages with the audience. Classic Hollywood typically repeated points from shot to shot and scene to scene, removing any potential ambiguity that might cause the viewer confusion”. Hecht and Kalkofen evaluate two sides to continuity editing, one focusing on how cuts affect continuity, “given cuts affects the percept of continuity”, two focusing on the feeling of continuity, “to measure subjective impressions of continuity”. Hecht and Kalkofen perform two experiments to help understand why certain cuts or continuity are used depending on the emotion a particular scene wants to give to the audience.
There are two types of continuity, spatial and temporal continuity. Spatial style is where the actors or actress within the frame are standing still along with the objects in the frame as well, which makes continuity editing much easier. “Spatial continuity is easily achieved when actors and objects are stationary in the world”. However temporal continuity is a much harder style to achieve as it can be easy to make errors or as it’s called ‘film mistakes’. “Temporal continuity is rather difficult to achieve when the camera position changes while the actors or objects are in motion”.
The use of temporal continuity can be hard to achieve, but it can help give the film the realism illusion. In our film ‘Some like It Hot’ we have the use of both styles spatial and temporal continuity. In Hecht and Kalkofens first experiment, which was to see if the observers preferred gaps during cuts, the results showed that observers did prefer a gap during cuts. “observers judged he transition to be smoothest when a gap was introduced”. In the second experiment, which was to see the results if they changed the distance of the camera during the cut would affect the observers choice, which it didn’t.
This actually resulted in a stronger preference in a gap or in some cases an overlapped cut. “”Enlargement of scene size during a cut produced a strong preference for a gap in the action”. The purpose of Hecht and Kalkofens text and experiment was to see how visual perception is in reality compared to a film that has been edited and compressed to fit into a feature length film, while still having its continuous affect, “large jumps in space and time to fit large travels and entire lives into a feature-length film”.
Both Hecht and Kalkofen come up with four theories, which three of appeared to be in filmmaking and the fourth as stated by Hecht and Kalkofen to be “within perceptual psychology”. Hecht and Kalkofens shows that the use of continuity editing is a very effective style that makes it harder for the observers (audiences) to notice any interruptions that take place. “Our detection of changes that happen while perception is interrupted is extremely poor”. Hechts and Kalkofens experiments purpose was to see the effects of continuity psychology and why we don’t notice most interruptions. each change in camera position…produces a psychological temporal loss, as if time had passed during the transition despite this not being the case”. ‘Classical Hollywood Narrative’ is a tradition and will remain this way until a new style takes over, which is unlikely as it is a formulae that we as the consumers demand and enjoy watching similar films. “In the final analysis, we loved the American cinema because the films all resembled each other (Truffaut, F)”.
It is a technique that has been used for decades, which can include the real world or exclude the world, “Eventually I realized that the movies not only reflected but also excluded the world”. Hollywood filmmakers are governed by rules that they have to follow in order for the film to succeed, “They are bound by rules that set strict limits on innovation”. Filmmakers have to avoid any uncertainties and keep audience in involved in the story and the match on action. “The cinema audience plays an active role in the construction of a movie’s meaning”.
The three levels stated by Bordwell, continuity editing and match on action are all the ground rules of ‘Classical Hollywood Narrative’. These rules make up the formulae for Hollywood, which has been repeated again and again in all Hollywood films over for six decades. “Nonetheless, most genre critics argue that movies within a genre will share recurrent situations and consistent narrative patterns”. However errors can be made during filming, mainly in the continuity editing process as it can be hard to follow an object when it is in motion, continuity editing and psychology is linked closely.