Monday, February 8, 2016

Spotlight, Montages and Juxtaposition

I feel like sommeliers and critics feel the need to justify their existence on a semi-regular basis. If you're a wine expert, you constantly have to deal with schmucks drinking Boone's Farm in front of you, telling you that it's the best wine out there. The majority of the population can't figure out why an expensive bottle of wine is expensive; they (and myself) can't even understand what's being missed with our simple, rat-brained palettes when we taste [insert fancy wine name here]. I imagine that a skilled sommelier genuinely has moments of pity for people that cannot taste what she can. To put it another way, imagine if you were the one person on the Earth that could see a color that nobody else could. You're stuck trying to explain to everyone else how pretty this color is, and nobody else can even comprehend what is impossible to describe. Anyway, I just walked out of Spotlight and not to sound like a fucking snob, but you people probably don't get how great that movie is.

Which is cool. I mean, if I just sat back and watched a movie instead of wasting precious moments of life analyzing everything all the goddamn time, I would have enjoyed it, sure, but I probably wouldn't have seen a lot that color that nobody else can see.

Alright, so let's talk about juxtaposition, which comes from the Latin word juxta meaning "to make a movie all about raping children and have audiences not want to kill themselves afterward". Spoiler alert, this movie is about the Catholic church. And an idea that gets repeated a lot in this film about the Catholic church covering up the molestation of children is X is bad, but Y. For example, (and perhaps one of the best cuts in the film) has a lawyer declaring that "If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse them, and that's the truth" immediately before a smash cut showing a crowded room of Catholic philanthropists. The implication is clear: This is the village doing the abusing. But at the same time, the uncomfortable truth sets in (and is stated blatantly by some characters in the film) despite the evil the church as done, it is also doing good. Things are not so black-and-white, the movie informs us, and the truth is somewhere in between.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. The above is an example of a montage, a word so criminally abused that the first thing you thought of was Rocky or Daniel-san training. Those are definitely montages, but the core idea between what a montage really is is that connection between two seemingly unrelated ideas. Deep down you already knew this, even if you're not conscious of it. If I flashed you a picture of Donald Trump, and then a picture of the devil, my message would be clear, even if I never explicitly said it.

But movies are almost entirely cuts, which is why I tend to believe that if an audience isn't conscientiously thinking, "The director wants me to consider these two images together as a whole," you might not realize what you're looking at. Spotlight contains so many of these types of cuts, meant to contrast different ideas and images and coalesce them into a single theme.

Spotlight doesn't stop there though, because it contains a number of those types of montages that you usually think of, those passage-of-time montages where you see Danial-san doing kicks on the beach so you know he's been training hard for a long time. One of the things that I love seeing in movies is telling a lot of information in a short amount of time, and with as little spoken language as possible. A great example of this in Spotlight is a short scene with one reporter explaining that he's married, and his wife doesn't like that he works so much. Later one, we see the same reporter in his tiny, dirty apartment boiling hot dogs, when his boss stops by with some leftover pizza. You get it, immediately, that this reporter is a really bad place right now, to the point where his boss feels the need to drop off half a pizza, because his wife is divorcing him.

Another theme that gets repeated in Spotlight is the ubiquitousness and overwhelming power of the church. And yet, there's only two actual clergy members on screen, both of them very nonthreatening, and there's definitely no mafisio, horse-head-in-the-bed shinanigans going on either. However, in nearly every shot of Boston the city, a church can be seen, oftentimes looming over the characters as they stand in the foreground, tiny and feeble. The intimidating nature of the church is seen in one particular time-lapse montage, where one character taking a taxi from the courthouse through the city of Boston. From the time he leaves the courthouse (a place comprised by the church) until he gets to his office, the presence of the church is everywhere, from the physical churches he passes to the sounds of bells interrupting his phone call. The gigantic structures of the church are promptly compared with the tiny Boston Globe building, adjacent to a billboard for the internet service putting it out of business. Of particular note is the office of our main characters, which is especially small, cramped and with a visible ceiling. (The ceiling is important. Are you sitting down right now? Look directly parallel to the floor and see how much of your ceiling is visible. Now imagine how small the room you're in would have to be for that ceiling to be visible at all times.) The contrasting shots of Boston on the outside, where the church rules, and the Boston Globe building on the inside, where the truth rules, is another great and omnipresent example of this juxtaposition. What sucks about being as dumb as I am is that even as I see these few examples, I know that in a movie like this, there's still a lot I must be missing.

Anyway, Spotlight is pretty fucking good and you should watch it.

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