CUT TO: or SMASH CUT TO:
Once staples of screenwriting, these two 'transitions' have more or less fallen by the wayside. And it makes sense. Even as a young gun I remember wondering..."why do I have to put 'Cut To' at the end of every scene when that's what is going to happen anyway?" It's the medium - it's how you tell a cinematic story...you 'cut to' the next shot/scene. Now I can see you can putting in DISSOLVE TO or FADE TO BLACK or FADE TO WHITE if you want to convey a desired feeling or style or pace to the reader...but otherwise, to cut to is the norm, so there's no need to write it.
There are, however, instances where I still think it can be sparingly and judiciously utilized for some extra punch...especially when you want to point a big finger at the juxtaposition (there's that word again) of the final image/moment of one scene, and the first image/moment of the next scene. In horror, action, sci-fi, even drama...
But today, I was thinking about comedy.
I admit I'm stepping a little outside my comfort zone, but hey...it's just a friggin' blog (still dwelling in the cellar of blog world according to Technorati).
So a quick study in the 3 parts of the SMASH CUT TO: for laughs.
The movie 'Parenthood' was about the intertwining lives of several parents and their families living in the U.S.. It starred Steve Martin as Gil and Mary Steenbergen as his wife Karen...and the movie had a sequence that always stood out for me.
First off, Gil and Karen and kids are at a large family gathering, and Karen gets the kitchen pep talk from the womenfolk on ways to spice up the marriage/sexlife with the hubby - like to do something you wouldn't normally do...to 'surprise him' etc. That was the set up scene. The next scene has Gil and Karen in the van driving home on the freeway. It's now night, kids are asleep in the back. And he's babbling on about the day and she's looking kinda sly and sultry. Then she starts to get cuddly...and then leans over and begins to go down on him while he's still driving. I call this the in-between scene. And the last image we see in this scene is Steve Martin's wild bug-eyes as her head disappears beneath the steering wheel, and we... SMASH CUT TO:
A tow truck, lights flashing, drives off - pulling away the cracked up family van and revealing Gil sitting on the curb with his head in his hands while Karen talks to a police officer.
It was a laugh out loud moment. The setup of the prude wife getting a little tipsy and some encouragement to be nasty from the girlfriends was in and of itself a funny scene. Then the surprise bj whilst driving - on its own, a funny scene. But the payoff or big punchline was the 'cut to' the sad 'climax' of the totaled van. In a millisecond we filled in the blanks of everything that had happened between those two cuts, and we laughed.
The other scene that came to mind is from Woody Allen's 'Annie Hall'. Allen's Alvy Singer is visiting the parents of his girlfriend Annie, played by Diane Keaton, and he meets her strange brother Duane (played by a young Christopher Walken).
In a memorable set up scene, Duane asks Alvy into his room to 'confess' something -and proceeds to describe that when he's driving at night, he likes to stare at the approaching headlights and then imagine swerving into the oncoming traffic...hearing the crunch of metal, the burning flesh, etc. Alvy politely excuses himself saying he's due back on planet earth. This scene on its own is damn funny - meeting the strange relatives...someone you don't really know wants to 'confess' something to you...and the confession is just plain bizarre.
Then the scene in between. The parent's are debating over who will take Alvy and Annie back to the airport when Pop's says, "this is stupid, Duane can take them." And we SMASH CUT TO: ...
Duane behind the wheel, blankly staring straight ahead. Pan slowly to see Annie sitting beside him, smiling and oblivious. Pan continues to find Alvy glancing nervously over at Duane - you can practically smell the pee running down Alvy's leg...
Watch and revel...
Three part juxtaposition comedy gold.
Now you could've cut to Allen reacting right there in the living room...and you would've got a laugh for sure. Or you could have cut right from the bedroom scene to the driving scene and probably got a guffaw. But it was the scene in between that gives the sequence the appropriate beats and necessary rhythm to pay it off in the most effective way. And I'd wager writing CUT TO: or SMASH CUT TO: would've enhanced the reading of the script.
And as we all know, they have to enjoy the 'read' in order to want to 'make the movie'.
I'm sure there's dozens of better examples out there (what do you say, Ken Levine) - these were just two I really liked. And I had a tougher time coming up with samples from television - it seemed to be more of a movie thing.
So I throw it to the room - your fav moments of juxtaposition... comedy?
SONG & ARTIST? - "Seems like old times, dinner dates and flowers,
Seems like old times, staying up for hours
Making dreams come true,
Doing things we used to do,
Seems like old times, being here with you."