Manhunt: religion and the director’s eye

[ by Charles Cameron — with an assist from Wm Benzon, under-appreciated and brilliant film and literary critic, musician, author of Beethoven’s Anvil ]


Screen-time is valuable: movie directors don’t just throw it away.

Here are screen-grabs of two moments in Greg Barker‘s HBO bin Laden documentary, Manhunt, offered for your consideration:



As you know from my review of Battle of Algiers (Pontecorvo) and Black Friday (Kashyap), I’m a film buff.

Screen time is the life-time of story: every second counts. And thus it is that if a director uses the same shot with variations at two or more points in a movie, they don’t just follow along, the way the elements in the narrative through-line follow along, one after another — they stack up. They “mean” cumulatively, synchronically…

Putting that in musical terms, they take on the function of rhythm rather than melody — and it is rhythm that can make the body dance, just as it is melody that can make the heart soar.

So, this repetition, this striking parallelism — why?


Here’s my friend Bill Benzon, writing about the use of parallelism in Apocalypse Now:

The Assassin and the Surfer

Now for the less obvious parallel: Willard and Lance, the only member of the boat crew to survive. One can’t miss the parallel killings nor Willard’s statement of kinship with Kurtz. This parallelism, on the other hand, is easy to miss. That is to say, it may well elude conscious notice. Unconscious notice, on the other hand … Well, what is that?

Here’s three frame-grabs that point up the parallel. The first is from the opening montage of Willard in Saigon just before he gets his orders:

The second shot comes much later in the film. Clean has been killed (bullet), then the Chief (spear). Lance is the one who floated the Chief’s body down the river. Now they’re heading upriver toward Kurtz again, with Lance in the bow of the boat:

He’s doing a martial arts dance. Not the same one as Willard did in the opening montage, but a martial arts dance. No one else in the film does such a thing. Clean does some dance moves while listening to the Rolling Stones, but they’re in an entirely different style; faster, jerkier, more angular.

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