Skip’s Quips: There’s a Gaffe in My Soup

Blog Sketch 082813I look back in bemusement whenever I recall the original 1977 Star Wars.

It’s a terrific flick, don’t get me wrong. But each time I start thinking about it, I summon up remembrance of continuity issues past—specifically, that scene where Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker, out cold after being beaten up by mean-spirited Sand People, somehow shifts his head’s position on the ground without allowing the audience to witness the change. In the first shot, it’s facing the side. In a later shot, it’s facing up.

The Force is strong with that one, right? He moves so quickly, the camera doesn’t even capture it.

Of course, everyone makes mistakes, and it’s too small an issue to ruin the film. Yet it strikes me as bizarre that in such a slick, polished production, a little continuity error like this could slither past. Wouldn’t someone have caught this before it reached the theaters?

Perhaps director George Lucas was concentrating more on the big picture when reviewing the film. He definitely had a lot to oversee, all things considered. Still, the paradox of great movies featuring tiny gaffes remains a constant. One can turn to Akira Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood, which allegedly saw the director order the set rebuilt after viewing a component that wouldn’t have appeared in the story’s era, yet contains a visible cut jumping from Toshiro Mifune’s still-alive Washizu to one pierced through the neck with an arrow. Or check out Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, in which Kim Novak’s faux Madeleine disappears into a house with no other exit, thereby befuddling both Scottie (Jimmy Stewart), who has followed her, and the audience. Or look into Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, where the army attacking Mordor finds itself mounted on horses in one shot and dismounted, with the steeds nowhere to be seen, in another.

There’s nothing we can so about this but suspend disbelief. These flicks are good enough to wave off continuity quibbles. As an audience, however, do we have a right to perfection for our money? Or just greatness? Am I asking too much that a film be error-free?

Perhaps. I’ll keep enjoying all the movies above, of course—nothing’s different there. I may, though, break a smile each time I watch these continuity-challenged scenes, in recognition of the idea that even masterpieces aren’t infallible.

It’s a good way to feel good about a good movie, isn’t it? I’ve already convinced myself that that’s true.

Setter’s ‘Spectives: Musings on Herzog, ‘Aguirre’ and General Zaniness

Setter Drawing for Blog 082613I don’t love all of Werner Herzog’s movies, but I have to tell ya: He’s cut in a truly original mold.

A recent viewing of Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe on Turner Classic Movies got me thinking about the oft-brilliant, sometimes-obsessive and frequently zany director and his oeuvre, which includes one of my favorite films, Aguirre, the Wrath of God. It’s a movie that defines him in a sense–a superbly shot, hauntingly scored (the dreamlike, pulsating music was crafted by Popul Vuh) picture about megalomania and how it can carry, and ultimately destroy, human endeavors. The megalomaniac in question is Aguirre himself, a crazed, based-on-a-real-person conquistador played with frightening abandon by Klaus Kinski, who teeters, glowers and broods throughout the flick as he carries out a mutiny of a 16th-century Spanish expedition to find gold amid the Amazonian jungle. As I remembered the great moments that characterized this adventure, I wondered if only a person as mad as Aguirre himself could make it, capturing hallucinogenic images such as a line of soldiers and their retinue struggling to climb down a verdant, mist-covered mountain, a head continuing to count numbers even after its owner has been decapitated, and the final scenes in which Aguirre, his doomed raft overrun by monkeys, talks to no one about his plans for global domination…no one, because everyone in his party is dead, a fact revealed memorably by the famous, swooping shot at the end.

But Herzog isn’t mad. I think he’s quite sane, though I wonder if he likes the thought that people may think he’s mad. Really, he’s an old-fashioned showman with magnificent obsessions and a talent for promoting idea-rich films made on low budgets. And I value this image he’s cultivated, because we don’t see a lot of it. It’s a mix of Hitchcock’s talent for marketing with Kurosawa’s quest for perfection, and the stories Herzog tells about his exploits rival the great ones in the cinematic lexicon–including the one about Kurosawa ordering the set of Throne of Blood to be rebuilt because he saw a nail that wouldn’t have been there during the period in which the movie takes place.

That’s not madness, folks. It’s art, and it suggests a commitment to its creation that only the most dedicated craftsmen have.

I wish there were more filmmakers like Herzog around these days, filmmakers who take risks and know how to advertise themselves. Yet there’s only one Herzog, and I think we have to be content with that. I’m certainly pleased that he gave us Aguirre, though I realize that if there’s anything that defines its creator, it’s not madness but determination and a need to produce art.

Thank you, then, Werner Herzog.