October 27, 2013

The Mathematical Editing of Sergio Leone's 'The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly'

gbuUnless you're watching a film critically, it's easy to get swept away by the story. Even then, it's difficult to pick up on the many storytelling devices and techniques utilized in films, like costuming, blocking, and editing, which means there's a possibility of missing the stories within the story. Max Tohline has shared an interesting examination into the editing of the "Trio" scene from Sergio Leone's 1967 spaghetti western The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, revealing mathematical patterns and images of thought that open up and enrich the narrative. Continue on for the video:

Filmmakers know that one of the greatest things about film is its capacity to tell stories on multiple levels, in multiple ways. In the same way that dialog or an action on-screen relays critical information to the audience about the narrative, the lighting of a scene or the arrangement of shots relays it, too.

In the video, Tohline breaks down the editing of the famous final scene in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly mathematically -- taking each shot, categorizing them, and counting how often, and in what sequence, they appear. He reveals how this editing technique tells an incredible story where there is none.

I mean, what does the final scene entail? Three guys vying for the loot of gold take their place in a three-way standoff. Then, for several minutes, they just look at each other. Editing is one of the few things that keeps this from being a boring, drawn-out sequence that, like a dead man, tells no tales. Tohline's analysis not only shows just how intricate and precise the editing was, but also how mathematical the basis of storytelling can be.

Check out Tohline's video below:

What do you think of Tohline's analysis of the "Trio" scene? What about his thoughts on how viewers tend to "miss the film" because they're only "looking for the story?" Share your thoughts in the comments below.

[via Cinephilia and Beyond]

Your Comment

38 Comments

Sergio Leone, please

October 27, 2013 at 7:07PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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do they say "Leoni" in the US?

October 28, 2013 at 4:22PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Sergio Leone, please? You don't like his style or what. I loved those campy Spaghetti Westerns. And think they are good legit films. Please elaborate.

November 2, 2013 at 11:16PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Gary

thank you so much for these :)

October 27, 2013 at 9:15PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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What about his thoughts on how viewers tend to “miss the film” because they’re only “looking for the story?”

Story is part of a film, and dear god can people just cut the fancy word crap "its a festive bonanza of cinematography" like jesus it's not a classical novel

October 27, 2013 at 9:37PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Tyler

Not sure what you mean there. Isn't the film also the story? A film can be just as "classic" as a novel? Maybe I missed your point.

October 28, 2013 at 8:20AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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JPS

Basically the article asked if people want the story they miss the film where the fact is even in the review the guy failed to realize how the 2 and a half minutes he was talking about was film /and/ story and kind of voided his own reasoning.

October 28, 2013 at 7:31PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Tyler

If you think “festive bonanza of cinematography" is "fancy" you should probably never write anything...ever. Certainly not a Bonanza reboot at least.

October 28, 2013 at 11:30AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Bob

I agree that "cinematography bonanza" is kind of snob expression, but talking about westerns, I remember a scene of Sam Peckinpah's Wild Bunch where he uses slow motion in a shooting; first time I saw it, I thought "This is Pure Cinema!". And the same applies to every other movie where directors and editors apply all their skills to create something beautiful
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VxNiEEtYe4Q

October 28, 2013 at 4:32PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Maybe I'm more practical and to the point - frank I guess. When I watch an informative video I want to know the meat and not be caught up with him trying to express how much he loves it. Also, I'm unsure of how the system in America and places works but in New Zealand everything he just said was literally textbook template as to writing a film essay over here. I hate writing film essays.

October 28, 2013 at 7:20PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Tyler

When one watches some daytime soaps, all he sees if Wide, OTS, OTS, OTS, OTS, OTS, OTS ... + High Close-Up to end the scene. And every scene is always 100-110 seconds long. It becomes soooooo monotonous, like there's no more creativity left in a production, like it isn't show business anymore but rather a giant homogeneous assembly line. Editing such as in G, B&U breaks up that monotony and aids with the pace.
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PS. I had a chance to watch "Once upon a time in America" recently ... got through about an hour ... found it too plodding. Then you watch the first fifteen minutes of "Once Upon a Time in the West" and wonder if there's anything cooler.

October 27, 2013 at 10:05PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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DLD

Leone is my favourite director. Love his film so much.
By the time of 'America' he had become very self-indulgent, it's quite a repugnant film to be honest.

OUATITW was 1966 by the way.

October 28, 2013 at 4:43AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Fresno Bob

It wasn't released until the very end of 1967.

October 28, 2013 at 1:40PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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V Renée
Nights & Weekends Editor
Writer/Director

Initial release: December 23, 1966 (Italy)

October 28, 2013 at 3:48PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Fresno Bob

I meant GBU obviously, not OUATITW

October 28, 2013 at 3:51PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Fresno Bob

I assumed you meant that :)

US release wasn't until 1967, but it doesn't really matter in this context anyway, so...

October 28, 2013 at 4:40PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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V Renée
Nights & Weekends Editor
Writer/Director

Didn't realise there was so much hate out there for Once Upon a Time in America. I really like that film. It is very ponderous but De Niro gives such a quiet, subtle performance; it made the 4 hours fly by for me.

There was this really weird brain study done some years ago about certain directors, their films, and the effect they have on viewers brains. The Good The Bad and the Ugly was used as a test example. It was shown to create high correlation between the brains of different viewers. Not surprisingly, Alfred Hitchcock was shown to be the director who created the most correlation in viewers brains (he once boasted about being able to play the audience like a fiddle and it seems this claim can be backed up with hard science)... Probably not useful for filmmakers in the field but a very interesting paper nonetheless:
http://www.cns.nyu.edu/~nava/MyPubs/Hasson-etal_NeuroCinematics2008.pdf

October 28, 2013 at 10:02AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Mak

I don't hate Once Upon a Time in America, but it was the ringing phone that did it for me.

October 28, 2013 at 12:01PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Saied

Haha. I hear you man.

October 28, 2013 at 12:21PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Mak

I still admire America, and watch it often as the talent on show is undeniable.
But it leaves a very bad taste in the mouth.
Would love to see the 5 hour cut they keep threatening to release

October 28, 2013 at 3:50PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Fresno Bob

Do you know what the deal with the 5hr version is? Apparently is toured in America in a theatrical version but was pulled or something before it finished its run? I think I read somewhere that Scorsese was involved with it too?

October 28, 2013 at 4:11PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Mak

Despite different styles I always found myself comparing Leone and Peckinpah films; a contrast with Wild Bunch last reel might be interesting (though the article stands on its own anyway, thanks).

October 28, 2013 at 10:26AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Saied

Leone was a genius. Morricone is arguably the best film composer of all time.

October 28, 2013 at 12:37PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Ian B

Wow, amazing video!! Secrets of editing.. could be more of these!
T H A N K Y O U !!!

October 28, 2013 at 5:38PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Just to chime in on Tohline's rhythm and tension comments - most remember the "Louie's Restaurant" scene from the original "Godfather". One of the best bits - not as much as the shot itself - was the bottle opening by the waiter. Everyone paused for a second amidst your stereotypical "cut the tension with the knife" cliche. Yet, Coppola handled it with the utmost class.
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Look at the first 20 seconds of this clip and tell me that it doesn't remind you of a duel.
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[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kSQqv2UuvC0]

October 28, 2013 at 8:57PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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DLD

Oh, what the heck. Since this applies to the main theme of the article, I'll imbed it -
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kSQqv2UuvC0

October 28, 2013 at 8:58PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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DLD

What a great video essay and interesting view of the sequence from this iconic film and film maker - 2.5 minutes of 'nothing' that's pure cinema.

October 31, 2013 at 11:48PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Phillip

Well, to paraphrase "The Ugly" - "If you're going to shoot, shoot. Don't talk."

Analysing great film and pretending you understand why it's all brilliant is a bit futile.

If you do, make a movie of your own. The world of film is full of 20-20 hind-sighters. I enjoyed his argument, but I could write you up a completely different set of reasons for why it's cut the way it is. I don't think it was cut to a pattern at all. The pattern evolves from the logic of what each shot demands be the next shot, based on what the shot before was and the story making perfect sense. For it to be fully realised as a work of genius, you have to have seen the film that leads to this moment and understand who the characters are.

I don't think it's "2'30" of nothing" at all. I think it's the most incredibly expressive piece of story telling that helps you to know what it feels like to be in a situation where absolutely everything is at stake.

It's thrilling. And it all ends when the crucial shot is fired, like a moment of orgasm.

December 29, 2013 at 7:09PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Sam

If anyone's interested in "true film" and what the "cinematic" means, he should read Slavko Vorkapitch. However, even he doesn't use mathematical correlations in regards to filmmaking.

Anyway, the trio is a perfect example of rhytm in changing AM (american - head to mid thigh)-CU-ECU shots in order to produce proper reaction in public - tension leading to, well orgasm. Morricone perfectly followed Leone's intention with his musical score. Of course, the whole movie leads to this final scene.

June 27, 2015 at 5:38PM

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Srdjan Bozinovic
Director of Photography, Head Cameraman
220

Sorry, my browser's gone haywire.

June 27, 2015 at 5:38PM, Edited June 27, 5:53PM

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Srdjan Bozinovic
Director of Photography, Head Cameraman
220

The Video is Gone! Can you please try to get it back? I really want to see it

February 12, 2014 at 1:53PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Brendan

the video is on vimeo now:

http://vimeo.com/86125935

March 25, 2014 at 12:46PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Paul

Sorry

This video does not exist.

July 7, 2014 at 3:43PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Jo

Sooo, what happened to the video?

July 7, 2014 at 5:46PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Chris

Thank a lot for your sharing !

June 26, 2015 at 11:16PM

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Thanh Le
DP/Editor
74

Really liked the way the procedure and underlying theory were explained. The compilation of shots was well arranged. Thumbs up!

July 19, 2015 at 3:27AM

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Tanay Chaudhari
Cinema Aficionado, Reviewer, Aspiring Screenwriter+Producer
185

I think this is a wonderful explanation of the vast amount of film editing going on in the final duel of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. I have always loved this great scene (even when I didn't know that Tuco's gun was empty) but had no idea Sergio Leone put so much thought into the shots, integrating them with the great Spanish music of trumpets and drums. Definitely one of the greatest scenes in movie history.

January 30, 2016 at 8:27PM

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What a great video essay! Thanks for sharing.

July 28, 2016 at 7:23AM

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