One of the most famous edits in film history is “Lawrence of Arabia”‘s pun-tastic “match cut” — a term normally referring to edits that keep objects and people in the same spatial area, but in this case a legendary cut from a match being blown out to a hot desert sun.
But that wasn’t important in film school, when a professor pulled out the laserdisc and asked the students to identify the blindingly important continuity error in the scene that builds up to that. Peter O’Toole and Claude Rains are chatting and — in a very discreet cut — something in the background changes location. The person who saw this took great glee in pointing it out — more so than in the actual pleasure of the legendary cut.
The odd thing is that I’ve been looking at this part of the film over and over for ten solid minutes now — it’s around 7:40 here — and can’t find it. If you do find it, congratulations! You’re now smarter than David Lean!
This kind of self-assertion is the pettiest kind of assertion of self over film, the technical equivalent of saying some widely beloved classic isn’t actually all that because it’s “boring.” It comes dressed in the clothing of objectivity. Hence a site like MovieMistakes.com, which exists for the sole purpose of pointing out problems. The people behind this — if Barry Newman’s profile in the Wall Street Journal is any indication — are all certifiably insane, preferring to scour the background for continuity problems rather than actually paying attention to the bulk of the film’s actual content. The argument is that such mistakes “yank you out” of the film (or something) — especially when freeze-framing in high resolution is easier than ever — but it’s nonsense. It’s a decision made by the viewer to prioritize “good technique” over all else.
Its that kind of film-school mentality that can drive otherwise sane people completely round the bend, like a friend of mine who declared he couldn’t get into Bresson’s “Pickpocket” because the lighting was too simple and amateurish. It’s the kind of thinking that leads to strange threads about how Martin Scorsese is a lousy filmmaker because his cuts don’t match. (I can think of plenty of things to object to in Scorsese, but that’s not one of them.)
And it’s nonsense, finally. You think critics have big egos? Whatever. But what could be more egotistical than the death of a thousand cuts these viewers inflict upon movies in the name of “good production values”? It’s absurd.
[Photos: “Lawrence of Arabia,” Sony, 1962; “Pickpocket,” New Yorker Films, 1959]