Over the last few decades, we have seen a dramatic change in American cinema. This has been because of the effect of editors using ‘intensified continuity’ to construct the shots in films. David Bordwell suggests in his paper on ‘Intensified Continuity: Visual Style in Contemporary American Film (2002)’ that there are different components that intensified continuity use, which are not really seen in earlier classical Hollywood films. Contemporary films generally move at a much faster pace, up to the point where if you turn away for a second, you may miss something important because of the rapid editing that is now used.Order now
These modern films are being labelled as ‘post classical films’ although, as David Bordwell argues, “today’s films generally adhere to the principles of classical film making” (2002, p. 16). One film in particular that stood out for me that is relevant to the concept of ‘intensified continuity’ is the film Taken (Pierre Morel, 2008), an action film which involves a ‘retired’ CIA agent, Bryan Mills, who travels across Europe to rescue his daughter at any cost who has been kidnapped in Paris.
Throughout this essay, I shall examine and analyse the factors that David Bordwell argues make up ‘intensified continuity’, using Taken (2008) for examples to show how these factors are used successfully to create exciting and intense scenes. Furthermore, I shall assess the extent to whether films that use intensified continuity are generally based on the ideas of classical continuity as Bordwell suggests, and whether or not the use of intensified continuity is actually a positive aspect in a film.
It is apparent that Bordwell suggests that contemporary Hollywood cinema is still a variant of classical Hollywood, “Intensified continuity constitutes a selection and elaboration of options already on the classical filmmaking menu” (2002, p. 24). This includes techniques such as establishing shots, whereby the audience gets to know where everything is in relation to everything else. This is used in contemporary films so that intensified continuity is understandable.
An example of this can be found in Taken, when ‘Kim’ is in the bathroom of the house where she is staying and there is a point of view shot to the other side of the house where she sees her friend ‘Amanda’ dancing. This shows us that ‘Kim’ is on the opposite side of the house. 1. Establishing shot of Kim’s point of view from the other side of the house 2. Medium shot of Kim looking out of the window towards the other side of the house (as above) 3. Back to Kim’s point of view seeing Amanda being taken.
Bordwell sees intensified continuity as a hyperbolic development of classical filmmaking, which can be seen as excessive, but also exciting for the viewer. Bordwell suggests that there are ‘four tactics of camerawork and editing’ (2002, p. 16) that are key to intensified continuity. The first is that there is ‘more rapid editing’ in contemporary films. Bordwell comments on how classical Hollywood films have an average shot length (ASL) of around eight to eleven seconds. Comparing this to the much more contemporary film that is ‘Taken’, the ASL is a lot shorter, with some sequences of the film having shots that last around half a second.
For example, the scene where Bryan Mills finds the man who kidnapped his daughter in ‘the house with the red door’, and starts fighting all of the men in the kitchen has very quick, rapid editing, moving from shot to shot with about a second on each shot length. Steven Shaviro comments in a lecture about ‘Post continuity’ at Wayne State University, Detroit that recent action films have “totally chaotic film making much more orientated towards maximal effect every 3 seconds”.
Taken, is a good example of this as the audience is excited by the continuous delivery of shocks that ‘Bryan Mills’ creates by using his spectacular skills in fighting, car driving, and gun skills. This use of intensified continuity creates an effect which Bordwell argues generates “a keen moment-by-moment anticipation” (2002, p. 24). Bipolar extremes of lens lengths is the second characteristic that David Bordwell uses to explain the concept of intensified continuity.
As Bordwell notes, the normal lens that was used in films in the early 1900’s had a focal length of 50mm, and goes on to say that after Citizen Cane (1941), film makers became more reliant on lens lengths of 35mm, a wide-angle lens, when they “wanted good focus in several planes or full shots of a cramped setting” (2002, p. 17). In his book “The Way Hollywood Tells It,” (2006) Bordwell states “From the 1960s onward, exploiting both extremes of lens lengths within a single film became a hallmark of intensified continuity”. There is clear evidence in Taken for this statement as the whole spectrum of lens lengths are used.
For example, in the scene where Mills steals a car to chase after the boat with his daughter on it, there are close ups followed straight after by long shots that happen very quickly. The third characteristic Bordwell uses to make up the elements of intensified continuity is that there are more close framings in dialogue scenes. Bordwell notes that before the 1960’s, filmmakers often used frames that were cut off at about knee level, but from the 1960’s onwards, this changed to using more ‘singles’, which include medium shots and close up shots (2002, p. 18).
Close up shots were a technique used in classical filmmaking to create emotion for the audience, in recent Hollywood films however, they are now used in most scenes, and so they don’t share the same impact now like they used too. According to Bordwell, “As plans americains and ensemble framings became less common, the norms were re-weighted; in many films the baseline framing for a dialogue became a roomy over-the-shoulder medium shot” (2002, p. 19) which is very apparent in Taken with most dialogue scenes. 6&7. Over the shoulder shot of two characters in dialogue with each other.
Bordwell argues that these three aspects are the most influential characteristics of intensified continuity, suggesting that most contemporary films use all three, and tend to link together to support the final aspect; a free ranging camera. This final technique is the last aspect that makes up intensified continuity according to Bordwell. He suggests that the camera movements in films today are developed and more ostentatious versions of classical film during the 1930’s, which supports Bordwell’s claim that intensified continuity uses the basis of classical film making.
He gives examples including the crane shot, “which formerly marked a film’s dramatic high point but which now serves as casual embellishment. ” (2002, p. 20). Although these crane shots were an option for classical Hollywood, they were only really used to highlight a film’s dramatic highpoint. The development in technology has made a whole range of camera movements possible for contemporary films. Bordwell suggests that a free-ranging camera came about when it was popularised by horror films in the 1970’s, with shaky camera movements to signify the villains of films.
Sound and camera movements are the most influential aspect of a film, with camera movements being crucial in keeping the audience immersed in the action. Many examples could be pulled out of Taken to show how the audience maintain their interest in the film, such as when after Bryan Mills ‘negotiates’ with a prostitute and her boss comes to talk to him and starts backing him up to a wall, the camera movement suggests that the audience is also following the two men as it is fairly shaky, as if we were walking behind them.
Taken uses all four of these properties, and so is a good example of a film that incorporates intensified continuity. Shaviro argues that intensified continuity has led to an overuse in these techniques, and suggests that this has resulted in “regime change” and states, ‘The new Hollywood of the 1970’s may just have “intensified” the conventions of continuity editing; but the Hollywood of today has exploded them, and reached the point of what I will call a stylistics of post-continuity’ (Shaviro, p. 23, 2010). For him, intensified continuity in recent Hollywood films leads to bad consequences for recent Hollywood films. Furthermore, as mentioned earlier, techniques such as close up shots that were used in classical filmmaking to create an emotional response for the audience is overused in today’s contemporary films, and so the effect is no way near as great. As Bordwell notes, “even ordinary scenes are heightened to compel attention and sharpen emotional resonance” (2002, p. 4).
In addition, pushing intensified continuity to its limit risks losing spatial and temporal awareness. It could be argued that the fast pace of contemporary cinema moves us around objects and space faster than we can take in, which therefore makes it hard for the audience to keep up. However, the editing of Taken in my opinion was done very well in using intensified continuity. It had the right amount of shock and action to create a thrilling and exciting film.
The fast cutting and range of camera shots helped me to engage with the character of Bryan Mills, giving me an idea of his character in general, which is a tough, fast-on-his-feet spy, and the love he has for his daughter. Pierre Morel the director of the film has directed other spy action films including From Paris with Love (2010). He uses similar techniques throughout his films to create suspense and immerse the audience in the action. In my opinion, I would argue that intensified continuity has been a positive development in the film business, however, when overused, the results may not be as effective as intended.
Bordwell D. (2002) Intensified Continuity: Visual Style in Contemporary American Film Film Quarterly, Vol. 55, No. 3, University of California Press
Bordwell D. (2006) The way Hollywood tells it: Story and Style in Modern Movies (1st edition), United States: University of California Press
Shaviro S. (2010) Post Cinematic Affect, United Kington: Hunt, John Publishing
Shaviro S. (2013) Post Continuity and Post irony: The new Audiovisual regime (Lecture) Wayne State University, Detroit – 3/6/13
Citizen Kane. Dir. Orsen Welles. Prod. Mercury Productions. RKO Radio Pictures, USA (1941). Main cast: Joseph Cotton (Jedediah Leland), Dorothy Comingore (Susan Alexander Kane), Anges Moorehead (Mary Kane).
From Paris with Love. Dir. Pierre Morel. Prod. EuropaCorp,, France (2010). Main cast: John Travolta (Charlie Wax), Johnathon Rhys Meyers (James Reese) Kasia Smutniak (Caroline)
Taken. Dir. Pierre Morel. Prod. Luc Besson’s EuropaCorp. USA (2008). Main cast: Liam Neeson (Bryan Mills), Maggie Grace (Kim), Famke Jassen (Lenore)