2 scenes of Crash

Crash - film posterSource and view the film Crash, 2004, directed and written by Paul Haggis, with J. Michael Muro as the director of photography. Working the cameras, J. Michael Muro is also behind the lens of many well known titles such as Dances with Wolves, Terminator 2: Judgement Day, Point Break, True Lies, Titanic, Swordfish, and X-Men: The Last Stand.

Analyse and discuss two scenes:

  • one where editing increases the intensity of the situation,
  • one where audio and/or music is used to achieve the opposite effect.

Awards for the film Crash include 3 Oscar awards for Best Achievement in Editing, Best Motion Picture of the Year, and Best Writing, Original Screenplay. It also received 3 nominations including one for Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song.

Intensity from editing

1:15 – 1:19 The intensity in this scene builds rapidly and is amplified by some great editing techniques, especially fast cutting. The scene begins with Cameron Thayer (played by Terrence Howard) attempting to evade a carjacking by two black guys. The audience gets a few subjective shots from one harasser’s perspective and as Cameron retaliates, these are mixed in with a couple of objective shots (the police are initially in the distance).

Subjective shot from the perspective of a car-jacker. Objective shot while the police are in the distance.

Tempo quickens in the ensuing segment showing a vehicle chase by the police as Cameron tries to flee but with one of the aggressors in the passenger seat. Maintaining continuity through the segment, the editing combines camera shots from the street, shots from inside and shots from on top of the police vehicles, together with sound from the sirens and the police radio. Officer Tom Hansen (played by Ryan Phillippe) recognises the registration plates whilst in pursuit of Cameron’s car.

A longer shot establishing the commencement of action.

Cameron ends up driving into a cul-de-sac and a showdown segment begins. Here the confrontation between Cameron and the police includes a longer shot establishing the commencement of action, several subjective shots taken from Cameron’s perspective, and many quick paced over-the-shoulder alternating dialogue shots with medium close to close-up camera placement. There are several instances of head and shoulders close-up shots of the police officers aiming their firearms directly at the camera. These subjective POV shots combined with the diegetic sound of the shotgun pump action gives the audience a real sense of threat. A fever pitch is reached through a series of over-the-shoulder exchanges of short bursts of dialogue between Cameron and Tom, maintaining continuity by not crossing the 180 degree line. Background mood music further heightens the emotion with both shrillness and a fast heart-like beating sound. Throughout the scene, the continuity of the shots is so tight that not only does it seem better than live coverage of a sports event, but it also serves to build the intensity to a sizzling point.

Subjective big close up shot from the perspective of Cameron. Over-the-shoulder dialogue burst. Over-the-shoulder dialogue burst.

Opposite effect through audio/music

From thesaurus.com, direct antonyms for intensity are apathy, dullness, inactivity, laziness, lethargy, and moderation. However, in relation to this film, calming, soothing, or a cooling down would be more apt to describe the opposite effect of intensity. The original score for Crash was mostly written and composed by Mark Isham, but it was the song titled In the deep by Kathleen York (Bird York) and Michael Becker that received the Oscar nomination, and drives a soothing tone to some of the film’s final scenes. The editor has carefully moderated all diegetic sounds from the sets, ensuring key dialogue is heard and narrative elements are audible, while muting or compressing less important sounds.

1:40 – 1:46 The song In the deep sung by Bird York plays softly in the background, as the only element continuously smoothing over a series of jump cut edits across each character’s conclusion. In the arms of her housemaid, Jean Cabot has realised her daily anger problem. Tom has just set his car on fire to remove evidence. As the lyrics begin, the on-set sound of the gasoline can landing on the ground is suppressed. Another visual jump cut shows John Ryan helping his father, whose breathing and soft crying sounds are heard. The next jump cut reveals Rick Cabot with both the sound and close up shot of him locking the door. The song continues while Daniel’s family are peacefully sleeping. Cameron’s driving is much calmer in the next shot. The audience can only hear a very muffled engine noise as he pulls over to observe the silent falling snow. Cameron joins several youth figures and throws a piece of timber onto the burning car wreck, none of which can be heard. Then we hear the ringing of his mobile phone as he receives a call from his wife at home. Cameron hesitates then answers the phone. After each of them say Hi, we hear Cameron’s voice over the phone telling his wife that he loves her.