News: Unconventional Edit in Mann's "Public Enemies" (DP: Dante Spinotti)

Unconventional Edit in Mann's "Public Enemies" (DP: Dante Spinotti)

I watched Michael Mann's "Public Enemies" (DP: Dante Spinotti) last night for the first time and was struck by a very unconventional, yet effective (I think), cut.  In the opening sequence (video below), Dillinger is driven up to the entrance of a prison and escorted out of the car.  The scene is established in a long lens medium wide shot (probably 200mm from 150' away...Note: standard 35mm dimensions, not 2/3").  After a few steps/seconds, it cuts to a wide angle lens closeup (24-2mm from within 2').

The cut is appropriately jarring as you're immediately thrust into an intimacy with Dillinger's character as well as with the visual style of the rest of the film.  It's a truly unique character introduction.  My guess is that the reason I felt it to be so jarring was that, not having been introduced yet to Mann's visual approach in the film, this massive jump in not only frame size, but lens choice especially, is unfamiliar and therefore unsettling. 

When editing a concert video, it's always awkward to cut from a wide (in which you can see an additional camera operator) to that other operator's shot.  Inversely, it's awkward, at the very least, to cut from a wide shot to a tighter (wide angle lens) perspective in which you would have seen this B camera operator.  The convention is to cut to a shot that would have been out of the field of view of the wide shot (ie, longer lens closeup).

As with the whole film, I was most impressed by Mann's decision to throw convention to the wind.  In this particular cut, you're fully aware of the artifice of the camera, the edit, and the filmmaking process; it's almost a carry-over from Reality TV/viral videos (staged "moments", inauthentic, etc.) and I'd guess is a tacit attempt on Mann's part to fuse the vulgar with the cinematic.  If you look at Mann's recent work (Collateral, Miami Vice, and Public Enemies), he's really pushing the visual envelope in a way that few other filmmakers are; it's at the same time uncomfortably familiar and foreign.

Unconventional Edit in Mann's "Public Enemies" (DP: Dante Spinotti)

Unconventional Edit in Mann's "Public Enemies" (DP: Dante Spinotti)

Cut is at 1:05

1 Comment

yo I really liked this movie too, it definitely did have a raw, reality tv, or as you were saying concert video look/editing style. I think that lends to the whole thing of shooting it digitally, it feels/looks like a reality crew is following along w/Dillinger in the 20s. I had to watch the special features on this at work a bunch o times and he talks about that being the idea. At first I was taken aback by the look but it grows on you as the film progresses. A lot of the framing in it reminded me of The Insider where he does a lot of handheld extreme C.U of Wigand, getting a lot of perspective into his P.O.V, but its different in Public Enemies, less impressionistic and more raw. It doesn't create the same psychological intimacy like in The Insider, you're right it draws attention to more of a reality TV aesthetic.

People get so caught up in frames always looking beautiful just to look beautiful, I like that Mann was trying to do something different, using an aesthetic that lends itself to a thematic intention outside visual appeal.

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