A blog mostly dedicated to cinema (including both new and old film reviews; commentary; and as the URL suggests - movie lists, although it has been lacking in this area to be honest), but on occasion touching on other areas of personal interest to me.
I have argued that Pulp Fiction,
despite what most people believe, is not actually a very violent film. I stick
strongly to that belief. I don’t want to say the same thing about The Godfather because I believe it is
rife with violence, but it is worth noting that the first violent scene (the
garroting of Luca Brasi) comes 42 minutes into the film. This suggests that
violence exists in the film only when necessary. It places the focus on family
(the subject of the opening wedding celebration), on loyalty (the subject of
the meetings Don Corleone has, as well as the help he provides Johnny Fontane),
and it is about business (the subject of the meeting with Virgil Sollozzo).
fade out from the scene in Corleone’s office to the fade in of the next section
indicates a passage of time. Coppola opens with an establishing shot of a
department store and a New York street scene
decorated for Christmas. The music cue is the popular tune, “Have Yourself a
Merry Little Christmas.” Next we see Kay and Michael exiting a store carrying
gifts and discussing what they’ve bought for the members of Michael’s family.
These two shots set up two important points: 1) it is now December, about three
months have passed since the meeting with Sollozzo; 2) Kay and Michael are
separate from the world we’ve seen up to this point and separate from the
violence that is about to take place.
then go to shots of Luca preparing himself in his apartment. We still hear the
Christmas tune playing on a radio in Luca’s apartment, tying this scene
chronologically to the last. This is happening at the same time that Michael
and Kay are shopping. Then we get a third establishing shot, this time of Vito
exiting his office and telling Fredo to have Paulie get the car. Fredo tells
him that Paulie called out sick so he, Fredo, will have to get the car himself.
This sets up the assassination attempt on Vito and the reason for his lack of a
real bodyguard as he leaves his office.
Outside looking in as Luca meets with Bruno Tattaglia
goes to meet with Bruno Tattaglia and Virgil Sollozzo. Sollozzo offers him a
deal to join the Tattaglia family and offers his hand to seal it. Luca won’t
shake Sollozzo’s hand so as not to betray his loyalty to Don Corleone. Notice
here how Bruno’s and Sollozzo’s expressions change, indicating they know it’s a
set up. Luca simply takes out a cigarette and then Bruno, smiling, leans in to
light it for him. In a brief moment we see Bruno’s eye line shift to look past
Luca. He’s looking at the assassin who will garrote Luca in a moment. There is
nearly 20 seconds of complete silence (the only exceptions being the sounds of
the lighter and a mumbled Italian word from Luca after his cigarette is lit).
There is a palpable sense of danger in the silence coupled with the way the shots
are arranged. In a moment, there is a rapid-fire succession of cuts as Luca’s
left hand is held down, Sollozzo brings a knife down, Luca’s right hand is
pierced to the bar, and a man with a garrote begins strangling Luca from
behind. The scene symmetrically closes as it began – with an outsider’s
perspective looking through the glass wall into the bar at the action taking
The symmetric close to Luca's death scene.
the murder of Luca we go immediately to Tom exiting a store and being
confronted by Sollozzo and asked to join him for a talk. Sollozzo won’t let Tom
leave, but reassures him that he has nothing to worry about because he could
have killed him already if he’d wanted to. In the next shot we go back to Vito,
now walking out onto the street and telling Fredo to wait because he wants to
buy some fruit. By this point, the audience should be expecting something will
happen to Vito. We’ve just seen his loyal bodyguard murdered and Tom Hagen
taken ‘prisoner’ and we know that Vito’s usual driver is out sick. The
following sequence of cuts is a great example of how to build suspense using
editing and sound – similar to the sequence leading to Luca’s murder. First
there is a long shot of Vito buying fruit. We are reminded that Fredo is
already in the car and Vito is unprotected in the open. Cut to a shot of two
men stepping off the sidewalk, their hands in their pockets. Cut to a close up
of Vito glancing up. Cut to a close up of the gunmen’s feet beginning to run
accompanied by only the sound of footsteps. Cut back to a close up of Vito, who
bolts from the frame as the sound of footsteps continues. Cut back to a close
up of the running feet with sound of footsteps, then the reveal – a close up of
the two guns drawn – still with the sounds of running footsteps. Cut to a long
shot from the fruit stand as Vito trips and stumbles into the street yelling
for Fredo. Cut to an extreme high angle shot looking down as Vito falls against
the hood of the car and the two gunmen open fire on him. In the end, Fredo
fumbles his gun and fails to protect his father, who falls into the street
apparently dead. The gunmen run off and Fredo falls to the sidewalk crying.
to this sequence the average shot length through the film had been about 9.5
seconds. This segment has an average shot length of about 5.7 seconds – far
faster. Of course it’s common practice that action sequences use fast cuts,
very often to conceal special effects and methods for simulating violence, but
also to create a sense of excitement by quickening the pace. All those things
are true here, but it is not only the action sequences that have a quickened
pace. The sequence contains 63 shots in total. The 9 longest of those range
from 14 to 32 seconds in length and 6 of those are establishing shots of some
sort: Kay and Michael walking together (14 seconds); Luca preparing in his
apartment (23 seconds); Vito asking Fredo to have Paulie get the car (20
seconds); Luca walking down the hallway of the hotel where he will meet
Sollozzo (17 seconds); Luca continuing in the hallway and entering the bar (19
seconds); Tom exiting a store and being confronted by Sollozzo (32 seconds).
The other three are the opening dialogue between Luca and Bruno (15 seconds);
Vito buying fruit (15 seconds); Vito sliding off the car to the ground (14.5 seconds).
The remainder of the shots clock in at 10 seconds or less and about 80% of
those are 5 seconds or less. Overall the sequence moves at a much faster pace
providing more tension, more excitement and signaling a complete change in pace
for the film. The plot, which was set up in the previous sequence, is now
beginning to roll.