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Montage in Roeg's "Don't Look Now"

Montage in Roeg's "Don't Look Now"

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Published by Brayden Benham

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Published by: Brayden Benham on Feb 21, 2010
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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 The first scene of Peter Roeg’s
Don’t Look Now
is the best example of montage in the entire film. In it some of the key symbols and imagery usedthroughout the film are set up. This imagery includes: the colour red, brokenglass and the crescent moon. These all carry symbolic undertones. There arealso some very interesting editing techniques, such as, the use of discontinuity,match-on-action and graphic match. The diegetic and non-diegetic sound in thefilm are used meticulously to add depth to the action. All of these elements areadded together to make the opening scene a virtuoso exercise in montageediting. The colour red is first seen on the character Christine Baxter (SharonWilliams) in the form of her raincoat. Next we see it in on the ball that sheplays with. She then tosses the ball into the water as to foreshadow her owndrowning which takes place shortly after. There is also a red-hooded figure in achurch on a slide that Christine’s father John Baxter (Donald Sutherland) isexamining. When John spills his drink on the slide with the red figure, a redstain resembling blood streams out from the figures head and across the slideinto the form of a crescent moon. The blood-like liquid protruding from thefigure foreshadows that at the end of the film the hooded figure will slash John’s throat and he will die form blood-loss. Throughout the rest of the film redacts as a reminder of Christine’s death and a symbol of death and blood ingeneral. The image on the slide is furthermore interesting because the blood,in the form of a crescent, is what triggers his supernatural premonition thatsomething terrible is happening. The figure of the crescent moon reoccurs throughout the film as asymbol of the supernatural. The first, but very subtle, reference to it is in LauraBaxter’s (Julie Christies) answer to Christine’s question: “If the earth is round,why are frozen ponds flat?” Laura discovers that, “Lake Ontario is curved bythree degrees on either side,” to which John replies, “Nothing is what it seems”. This image of a curved line sets up the theme throughout the film of the
supernatural. But, ironically – judging from what John has said– he refuses toaccept the possibility of the supernatural. This notion of nothing being what itseems is all the more important because it is what leads to John’s death. Hecan’t help but think that the red-hooded figure might be his daughter, but justwhen he gets close enough to find out, it turns out she is a creepy old dwarf lady who then slashes his throat and kills him. The crescent moon is seen moreexplicitly later as a broach on the blind telepathic woman - who foresees thedoom of John and can see Christine’s ghost. It also appears in a mosaic that John is reconstructing high atop some scaffolding. This is just before he fallsfrom the scaffolding and nearly plummets to his death, which the telepathicblind woman with the crescent broach said would happen. The crescent figureis most obviously used in the scene where John pulls Christine’s lifeless bodyout of the water and holds her in his arms causing her to resemble the form of the crescent. This is further exemplified when the scene dissolves from thisimage to a close-up of the blood red crescent shaped stain on the slide of thered figure in the church.Broken glass makes its first appearance when Johnny Baxter (NicholasSalter) on his bike runs over some glass, shatters it and then falls down. Just asthis happens, there is a quick cut to a close up of John looking up from his deskas if he heard it. But this would have been impossible because he is inside thehouse and the boy is on the other side of the yard. The reason heacknowledges it is, of course, because of his psychic abilities. The broken glasssymbolizes the shattering of the lives and psyches of the whole family. Johnnyfalling off his bike also acts as a foreshadowing element emphasizing thedownfall of the family. After Johnny runs over the glass, he picks the brokenbits out of the tire, but accidentally cuts himself; further foreshadowing thatthere will be more blood and death to come. He then nervously twiddles thebroken glass and nurses his cut finger all the while he is watching his dadvainly attempting to resuscitate Christine. The use of broken glass as a symbol
of shattered psyches and falling down as the downfall of the family arefurthered later on in the film. Most specifically when Julie collapses over a tablein Venice and all the glass falls in slow motion crashing to the floor along withher, which symbolizes the parent’s downfall and shattered psyches. There are some interesting editing techniques in the first scene. In orderto hint at Christine’s drowning there is a shot of her throwing her red balltoward the pond. Just as this is happening there is a quick cut to John spilling aglass, saying, “Oh, shit”, then another quick cut back to the ball actuallylanding in the water. It is a kind-of match on action cut and it suggests, throughthe image of the spilling of the drink, that something is going to happen that isout of the parent’s hands. The suggestion of what is going to happen (i.e.Christine’s drowning) is pointed to when her ball lands in the water. Seeing asthe ball is red, which acts as a reminder and representation of Christinethroughout the whole film, it can be said that the ball landing in the water is aforeshadowing of her death. Another interesting edit is a very telling graphicmatch. The first shot is a close up of the slide with the red hooded figure andthe crescent shaped stream of red. The next is a medium tracking shot of thered-jacketed Christine’s reflection in the pond as she runs along the shore.Since it is a reflection, Christine is now upside down and skewed, suggestingthat the main character’s lives will be flipped upside down. It also sets up thetheme of duality, which plays a major role throughout the film. For examplethere are two blind sisters, two red-hooded figures and two parents, and noneof them are what they seem. The most blatant, but effective use of editing is inthe first scene when John pulls Christine’s body out of the water. To createemotional depth and emphasis the sequence is played in slow motion and usesdiscontinuous cuts to emphasize the arduousness of John’s realization that hisdaughter has drowned. As he is pulling her out of the water, there are cuts justfragments of seconds long back in time. This discontinuous editing along withthe slow motion lets the viewer feel the impact of the death more explicitly and

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