© 2015 ellathompson


I want to momentarily revert back to week 2’s reflection where I discussed the tactic of ‘cheating’ continuity / disguising lack of continuity. I talked about the use of close ups for this purpose.

Now I want to talk about something similar, but different: dramatic disregard for continuity.

There is a scene that I idolise. I’ve watched it countless times, over and over, and it never fails to inspire me. I’ve been obsessed with this scene since first year. The scene is from Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet. It is the opening gas station stand-off scene, and it is done with laughable but ingenious disdain for continuity. In fact, this disregard for continuity is realised with such commitment that it affords the scene its enormous theatricality. The scene would not have the power it has had it been shot in any other way.

The fantastic cinematography is by Donald McAlpine and the brilliant editing is by Jill Bilcock.

This shot construction style is another direction that I could head down for my studio project.


The first half of the scene parades its crazy characters and lavish production design with equally eccentric camerawork and editing. There are crash zooms, freeze-frames with titles, square iris transitions, quick cuts, whip pans, sped up camera tracking, close ups, extreme close ups, and so on. There are several shots where the camera action of tracking into a close up is sped up, sort of like a crash zoom. The performances within each shot are just as fast-paced and eccentric as the camerawork and editing. The sound design works to accent these extravagant visuals – movements within the performance, camerawork and editing are underscored by bizarre sound effects, not to mention the theatrical musical track. The scene is also full of reaction shots – the editing seems to focus more on characters’ dramatic reactions to one another than on the action itself.


Movement is abundant within the scene. Movement within the frame, movement of the frame, movement between shots. Camera movement, prop movement, actor movement, actor performance (as well as sound movement). Movement of the frame is rivalled by movement within the frame. Character action within the shot works a lot like the camera action – it feels as momentous as the camera movement. For example, after Benvolio has just got out of the car at the gas station, there’s a shot of him where he spins back around towards the camera, takes off his sunglasses, and leans in to deliver his line. In this shot, it feels like the camera is doing the moving.


I have to highlight some of the camerawork that I absolutely love in this scene:

  • The zoom into an ECU of Benvolio’s frightened face, then pan right (following Benvolio’s change in gaze) to frame up on Tybalt’s mouth in side profile as he lights a cigarette.

  • The beautiful ground-level CU of the back of Tybalt’s boots as the match drops to the ground in slow-motion, and Tybalt’s metal boots subsequently crushing the match in slow motion. I also love the intense scratching sound that accompanies this slow motion crushing of the match.
  • Fantastic extreme close up on Tybalt as he dramatically delivers his chilling lines. This is one of those shots where the acting is key – not only in terms of dramatic performance, but also in terms of pacing. This is the unnerving pause; the moment of calm before the chaos. And John Leguizamo / Tybalt’s performance in this shot (and in the whole scene and film) was brilliant.
  • Dramatic track in from wide shot to mid-shot as Tybalt slowly opens his jacket and reveals his gun.
  • ECU Tybalt’s eyes, then cut to ECU Benvolio’s eyes (Mexican stand-off). Brilliantly dramatic shots.

  • Fast-motion track/jib out, tilt down as Tybalt kneels, and track/jib in as Tybalt removes his jacket and retrieves another gun and restocks it with bullets. Then dramatic MCU shot as he kisses the gun and slowly slides up the car to get to his feet and take aim.


What’s interesting is that – in the moment of stillness before the chaos – we switch sides of Benvolio. Originally, Benvolio had been shot from his right side. Then we see him from his left side. We cross the line and break the 180 degree rule (I think). What makes the change even more disorienting is that the shots are nearly identical; they looked like they could have just been flipped horizontally.


Another thing that’s interesting in this part of the scene is the shallow depth of field in the characters’ close ups. This is unlike most of the other close ups – and shots – in the scene. These shots give us less of a sense of where the characters are in the space by literally obscuring our vision of anything except their faces. A different lens would have been used for these shots – perhaps a prime lens with a larger focal length. I’m not sure what sort of lenses would have been used for other parts of the scene – a zoom lens, other prime lenses, perhaps a wide-angle lens for a couple of the tracking shots (but I am not quite sure).


When we get to the fight sequence – the second half of the scene – all concept of continuity seems to go out the window. In fact, there comes a point where you have no idea where the characters are in space.

There are fleeting, half-second shots of guns going off and close ups of characters’ facial reactions and people falling and sparks flying and bullets knocking over cans and bullets spinning the petrol station sign and cars skidding off. There are people looking and reacting in all different directions. Rarely is there a shot of more than one character during this fight sequence. We have little bearing of the moving characters within the space. Things are shot from bizarre angles. Eyelines are ignored. The 180 line is probably crossed. There are few wides compared with close ups and mid-shots – there are few shots that reveal where everything is in relation to each other and the space. It is a chaotic mess of un-matching, theatrical action. We have no idea where the characters are in space. And it doesn’t bloody matter. It’s completely captivating cinema. It breaks the rules and triumphs.


An example of this disregard for continuity is the cross-cutting between a close up of Tybalt dropping his cigarette into the petrol puddle and a close up of Benvolio observing this and scrambling to get out of another petrol puddle. Where they are situated in relation to each other and the space is vague. And it doesn’t matter. We don’t need to be shown where they are exactly. That might even detract from the scene’s intensity.

Another example is when the pink-haired Montague fires shots which hit and spin the petrol station sign. These shots seem like they’re purposely un-matched. For these shots to be continuous, the sign shot should almost be flipped on a horizontal axis. Or just filmed more from its left side. Yet it still works brilliantly within the sequence of similarly un-matching shots.


Anyway, I think I might have to stop here, even though I could easily keep finding more to talk about with this scene. (I love this scene so much.)



musical soundtrack exactly paced to foot car


Slows. To a point of tension. Almost to a halt.



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