Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Scenes #3: Scott Pilgrim Versus The World

The whole idea with this edition of Scenes was to step back a bit. Both of the prior installments were segments that were in one way or another show stoppers. Scenes that drew attention in and of themselves.

Scott Pilgrim certainly has plenty of sequences like that. Arguably more then any other film released this year. But dissecting one of them seemed to me as if it would only serve to heighten the divide between those blown away by the film's effervescence and those who insist it's merely shallow (Some of the unkinder critics seem determined to prove that the film's fans are shallow as well. If to no one but themselves.)

Instead I wanted to highlight a scene that is by the film's standard's positively modest. But which highlights the real technique that Wright's detractor's, and even fan's do themselves a disservice in ignoring.

“Every shot in this movie it looked like he knew what he was doing. There wasn’t one shot in the movie were it looked like he wasn’t confident. And I thought to myself I’d like to direct one movie, just one movie... doesn’t have to even be a good movie, where every shot I feel that good about.”

-Scott Swan-

I wouldn't be the first to note that despite jettisoning the ensemble he's built for himself over the last decade, Scott Pilgrim was almost something of a return home for Wright. The humor and general style of the film resemble Wright's BBC series Spaced much more closely then either of his films.

This conversation is after all the kind of thing that Wright can do in his sleep by now. Smartly written, deeply character rooted, dialogue driven humor. As a conversation it hardly lasts two minutes, yet it's as elliptical and sharp as the best of Wright's banter. We may not know these characters but it seems that we do because obviously know each other so awfully well.

And... Um... Gee... I -I seem to forget what I was talking about. (Sigh)...

Oh right the film the film.

I don't think Michael Cera gets enough credit for how thoroughly he slipped his George Michael Bluth/Juno persona. True his basic character type may not diverge all that much from those two career defining/damning roles and even less from the aloof hipster persona he developed in dreck like Paper Heart.

But none of those characters could have given a smile like that. That "Cat that ate the canary and then picked his teeth with the broken cage." look of smug satisfaction.

Many have criticized the pop art sound effects and enhancements that intrude on the frame but I enjoy them. To me their simply manifestations of the film's exuberance. Containing itself never even crosses its mind.

If the film has a flaw it's that Ellen Wong brings so much charm and sweetness to the role, that I find it hard to believe that there's not a viewer who isn't rooting for her just a bit over Winstead's moody Ramona. It's not Winstead's fault, just that Wright's script saddled Ramona with all her moodiness, but by compressing the action from over a year to a week ended up robbing her and Scott of the very real relationship they built in the book and all the resonance that earned. (While at the same time ironing out some of Knive's freakier qualities.)

Their relationship never rises above an infatuation. And if you're going to have an infatuation, at no point does Knives not seem the better candidate.

I mean I might go so far as to say that Knives is the most infatuating girl in Scott Pilgrim-

Sigh. But we all know that'd be a lie.... Sardonic, freckled, redheads will always carry the day....

While the scene up to this point was shot in the standard "Over" "Over" "Two Shot" rhythm that made its visuals not unlike those of a standard sit com (Including Wright's own) we get a sudden burst of energy with a whip pan-

And a nice set of jump cuts. The prologue, and its sleepy pacing just ended. And having Kim count off the start of a film that so often captures the energy and intimacy of live music is a very very nice touch.

The slow pullback is another nice move. Not only does it give the song and it's performance a real time to build (One of the things I like best about the movie as a whole is it never once cuts a musical performance short. There are musicals that don't do that.) but it subtly mirrors the way the camera moves in "band" games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band. There are a lot of obvious jokes in which the film and the comic incorporate the grammar of videogames. But a lot of sly ones too.

That is one assured opening to a film. Like I said of Powell last week that's not confidence that's damn near cockiness.

And that's before we get a credit's sequence (My favorite this side of Watchmen) that makes it look as though we're watching DA Pennebaker's Scott Pilgrim Versus The World.

And yet, just like the film they represent it would be a mistake to discount the credits of Scott Pilgrim as bustling along on mere energy alone. Just aside from the meticulous match of rhythm are the myriad of Easter Eggs and Injokes sprinkled through at near subliminal speed.

Like everything in Scott Pilgrim the credit's only look easy. Underneath the benign liveliness is a real and dedicated sense of craft.


Did you know Bill Pope's name means "Secret Weapon"?

And if there's a better punch line this year. I don't know it.



I'm well aware that Scott Pilgrim has a band of detractor's as fervent as its cult. And I get it, kind of. This is a movie that plays at a very specific wavelength. But if you're a film fan and you can’t hold a little love in your heart, or at least a goofy grin, for a film with such a sense of play, wit and inventiveness to contain the following images well...

(Call this next segment Scenes 3b. Reason it's not getting a full piece is because I don't really have much more to say then "Bet you ten bucks that Edgar Wright dusted off his copy of Streets Of Fire Before directing this.")

(I'll take that tenner now...)

(Look guys as much as I like The Hughes Brothers. After that sequence, Edgar Wright for Akira. I'm dead fucking serious.)

...then we're just chasing a very different cinematic fix.

(Postscript 2: To Ms. Pill and her lawyers. I am very sorry.... Also how about dinner sometime?)


Andrew Green said...

Incredible in-depth analysis of a woefully underrated film....

Anthony "Calorie Mate" Rogers said...

Oh hey, I got work to unblock the word verification thing!

Anyway, I've really been digging your Scenes posts, and it was great to see it put toward a movie I'd recently seen - and one I really loved. And a scene I hadn't thought much about, to boot! Wonderful.

thevoid99 said...

My 2nd favorite film of 2010... so far.

Great work man. I had so much fun watching that film.

The Dirty Mac said...

I heart you Sex Bob-Omb!

Neil Fulwood said...

Maybe I'm reading too much into it, but I'm picking up on this ever-so-subtle Alison Pill appreciation.

(Good call, brother!)

Bryce Wilson said...

@ Andrew: Many thanks sir.

@ CM: Thank you CM. There's so many great scenes in Pilgrim that this one flies by most.

@ thevoid99: I'm not exactly sure were this sits on my official list. But I'll be very surprised if its not comfortably in the top five.

@ TDM: I heart you too.

@ Neil: As always sir your astute skills at observation serve you well.

Biba Pickles said...

I did notice that Ramona seemed more like a cold bitch in the movie. In the comic she was more defensive, but overall very sweet. Knives was sweeter in the movie then how she was in the book. She was a borderline stalker and delusional. It's like Knives and Ramona had a variation of a freaky friday. Dibbs on Jodie Foster.

Bryce Wilson said...

Good point there Biba. All the more reason I was rooting for Knives.