VIDEO ESSAY: Slow Motion Movie Supercut

VIDEO ESSAY: Slow Motion Movie Supercut


If you grew up during the 1970s, and first came into
sentient moviegoer-ship during the 1980s, then one slow-motion scene
which probably dented your consciousness was the running scene at the beginning
of Chariots of Fire, showing the film’s
two heroes running down a beach to the tch-tch-tch-tch-tch-tch of a
much-imitated Vangelis soundtrack. The purpose of the slo-mo here turns out to
be one of the key purposes of this technique—to give dignity to an action whose
speed we might otherwise take for granted. The slow motion impresses upon us
the gravity of the movement, its meaning above and beyond mere movement. In the
same way, a director might present someone walking in slow motion to show,
somehow, that the character in question has hit his or her stride; the crooks
of Reservoir Dogs might be leaving brunch to go to work, in one sense, but the
work they are doing is sinister, however darkly and semi-comically confused it
might become after that brunch. Sometimes that slo-mo walk might simply show a
character who is at ease inside her own identity, as in the case of Gwyneth
Paltrow’s Margot, gliding towards her brother to Nico’s frail voice in The Royal Tenenbaums; unhappy as she may
be, she has full possession of her unhappiness. Motion may be slowed down to
draw out the tension of a scene like pulling, pulling, pulling on a rubber band, with the understanding that if
the scene were played in real time, the action might be too explosive for us to
bear—but also raising the question as to whether the motion is so much more
bearable in slowness. Think of the falling carriage in The Untouchables: step,
after step, after step, bullets flying, but achingly, achingly slowly… And yet what about the
cases in which slow motion seems to be presented for its own sake, to show us
the terrible beauty of things blown apart: glass windowpanes, buildings, cars,
even human heads? Or to show us what a bullet looks like as it flies to its
destination, or, as in the case of Wanted, is deflected by Angelina Jolie’s wrist?
Leigh Singer’s video shows us 113 different films featuring slow motion, dating
from 1936 to the present, demonstrating that, above all, the use of the
technique forces us to do what any film worth its salt should do: LOOK. Singer
wisely places a crucial, classic slo-mo scene near the piece’s very end: a shot
of the apes, the earliest human ancestors, pounding bone with bone in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Kubrick used
slow motion in this case for one reason, and one reason only, to make sure we
would not forget our history. And at this speed, who could, indeed, forget it?–Max Winter

Leigh Singer is a freelance film journalist, filmmaker and screenwriter.
Leigh studied Film and Literature at Warwick University, where he
directed and adapted the world stage premiere of Steven Soderbergh’s
‘sex, lies and videotape’. He has written or made video essays on fllm for The Guardian, The Independent, BBCi,
Dazed & Confused, Total Film,
and others, has appeared on TV and radio as a film critic and is a
programmer with the London Film Festival. You can reach him on Twitter

Max Winter is the Editor of Press Play.

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