Thursday, August 22, 2013

In which my inner film geek escapes for an afternoon...

I get laughed at from time to time for my affection for "making of" documentaries and the extras on DVD editions of films like commentaries. But, you know what? You can learn stuff from them. Especially, as a writer, it is instructive to see how films are put together as a method of storytelling. Because storytelling is storytelling, no matter what the method, and putting together a story or a novel, or even a non-fiction piece of writing, has things in common with putting together a film.

And then, sometimes, it's just interesting to see how different people approach filmmaking, and how they do their work in general. Cruising YouTube today, I found an example of that. As I'm sure I've mentioned here before, I am a huge Steve McQueen fan, and "Bullitt" (1968) is one of my favorites of his films. I came across this short "making of" documentary that covers, among other things, the shooting of the famous chase scene, which took three weeks to shoot, in that film:

A point is made during the clip, which was produced by Warner Brothers, of the care that was taken to make sure that civilians were out of the way as the high-speed chase made its way through San Francisco. This is in huge contrast to the clip I also found today discussing how the car-chases-train scene in "The French Connection" (1971) was shot. Just watch and listen:

The first thing that becomes clear is that the chase scene in "The French Connection" didn't exist in the original shooting script for the film and was created specifically to outdo the chase in "Bullitt". The second thing you notice is that the director of "The French Connection", William Friedkin, specifically did not do anything to protect bystanders from getting hurt, and as Friedkin says in the clip, "nobody planned anything" and "it was all improvisation". Nobody knew a car was going to come down the street, pedal to the metal, damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead. You'll also notice that quite a bit of the conversation in the clip is devoted to rationalizing the decision to just shoot the sequence, no matter the consequences.

There are a lot of people who will argue that the chase sequence in "The French Connection" is "better" or "greater" than the chase sequence in "Bullitt". I disagree. So, here is what I consider to be the greatest chase scene ever. Still:

What many people don't recall, however, is that there is another chase scene in "Bullitt", this one near the end of the film, that is also pretty neat. It is mentioned in the "making of" clip above, and takes place out on the runways at San Francisco International Airport. I couldn't find a clip of the whole thing, but here is part of it:

You might be right if you suspect that all of this is just a huge excuse to spend some time entertaining my inner film geek.

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