There are shots so fundamentally stupid that no excuse will justify them. They exemplify lazy thinking, bad storytelling, and a total disregard for the intelligence of the audience. One often sees them even in otherwise enjoyable movies, which just goes to show you that even skilled directors are sometimes thralls to dumb traditions (or dumb executives who think they’re creative). Here are four shots that should never appear in a movie again save as parodies.
The long drop to one knee and both hands, with the head down, after which the head is slowly raised
Why: Let’s start with the physics of the situation. If you’ve ever jumped off something high, you know that you try to land with both feet braced evenly, more or less shoulder width apart. Why? Because if your feet are even, they keep your center of gravity between them, with the impact evenly distributed. If you land with one foot behind the other—as is necessary for this shot—the momentum of your falling body turns into sideways momentum because your center of gravity is not directly between your feet. It’s off to one side, which would tip the body that way unless the rest of the body was leaning the other way, which you can’t do if you’re busy trying to get both hands on the ground. Also, the leg bent to put a knee on the ground can’t absorb nearly as much impact as the leg with the foot planted, which again would mean that one foot takes more force and the falling body would overbalance. One more problem is that if you shift your torso so that your center of gravity is over your lead leg, to maintain your balance, you stand a pretty good chance of kneeing yourself in the face (actually facing yourself in the knee) and either breaking your nose or knocking some of your teeth out.
Then we get to the tactical reality of situations in which you might fall a long distance and desire to arrive in a combat-ready stance. If you’re fighting a dangerous opponent, why the fuck are you staring at the ground when you land instead of at the bad guy? If I’m Villain-O, and I see Hero Man jump from somewhere high and then take his own sweet time checking out ants and spent bullet casings and whatever after he lands, I’m on him before he can lift his chin and gaze pitilessly at me through his artfully disheveled forelock…unless I’m on a film set, in which case Villain-O will goggle uselessly at the posing Hero Man until one of them (probably Villain-O) gets the opportunity to commit the next sin on our list. Which is:
The grabbing of an opponent by the throat and lifting of said opponent off the ground
Why: This one is simple. If you’re strong enough to lift someone off the ground by the throat with one hand, you’re strong enough to crush that person’s larynx like an egg without lifting him off the ground. If your goal is to kill the opponent, all the rigmarole of lifting him off the ground and watching his feet kick uselessly in the air is an indulgence of sadism—which is boring, and also a serious failure of tactics…unless you’re on a film set, where someone has decided that the ol’ let-‘em-dangle-by-the-throat shot isn’t quite played out yet. A variation of this is:
The throwing of an opponent some distance away, followed by slowly approaching the opponent with an air of great menace
Why: Because if you’re strong enough to do that, you are also strong enough to put both hands on that opponent and strangle him, break his bones, or do whatever else you want to do in furtherance of your goal of killing him. If you are able to pick someone up and throw him across the room, you are already in control of the combat. Throwing an opponent across the room gives him a chance to recover and counterattack. In other words, you relinquish control. If the objective is to kill the other guy, this is dumb. There is no fight-to-the-death situation where the party in control has anything to gain by releasing the party being controlled…unless you’re on a film set where some kind of protracted fight is deemed necessary and everyone is too lazy to choreograph something that makes sense. And this isn’t only a problem with fight scenes. It pops up in simple conversations as well:
The tense moment in a conversation, when one party gets up and walks three or four steps away from the other party, then stops for no visible reason and delivers the next line still facing away
Why: Because nobody ever does this. In every single conversation in the history of humankind, each party either a) wants to continue the conversation or b) doesn’t.
Let’s take b) first. If you don’t want to talk to someone, you don’t get up, walk away, and speak with your face turned away from that person. You might get up and walk away, but if you’re going to do that you don’t keep talking. You especially don’t keep saying things that demand a response. Why? Because you want the conversation to be over.
Now we’ll look at a). If you do want to talk to someone, you don’t get up, walk away, and speak with your face turned away from that person—because people can’t fucking hear you when you talk with your face turned away from them. They also can’t read your lips or see your expression or interpret any of the other nonverbal cues necessary to really get what you’re saying. Therefore it is not something you do if you’re trying to have a conversation with someone…unless you’re on a film set and the director is trying to come up with a way to change the shot with no narrative or character justification.
For the love of all that is good and right and holy—not to mention a love of good movies—all of these cliched, nonsensical, self-indulgent shots should be banished to the hell of Intro to Film seminars, where they may continue to serve as examples of how lazy people try to pantomime telling stories onscreen without actually doing anything but proving their own lack of imagination.