January 5, 2014

Blowing the Lid off of 'Chaos Cinema': How Action Films Have Changed

Action FilmWho doesn't like a good action flick, right? A bullet-dodging, time-bombing, impenetrable hero that doesn't know the meaning of the word physics is one of my guiltiest pleasures. But, over the years it has become very apparent that action films have changed significantly into two hours of sensory overload from the entertaining run/jump/climb jaunts they once were. In this three-part video essay, Los Angeles scholar and filmmaker Matthias Stork takes a deeper look into the changes in filming and editing in the action genre, which, according to him has birthed what he calls "chaos cinema".

The way we tell stories is bound to change. The way we use our medium's tools for stylistic and narrative reasons has changed as well. In the beginning, we simply had a single static shot -- a train coming into a station, a woman dancing, a baby eating. With the development of a diverse film language and continuity editing, our filmic stories began to emerge as complex narratives, and because of that, the true skill of a filmmaker was shown when he/she made a film that was not only interesting and beautiful, but coherent.

According to Mattias Stork, this is no longer the case when it comes to commercial action films. In his three-part essay (the third part is dedicated to addressing the concerns and questions of viewers), Stork investigates the changes action films have gone through since their inception -- a slow exodus from the classical Hollywood style of cinema (purposeful, hidden editing) to what most commercial action films are today. He discusses the sound, the rapid editing (film theorist David Bordwell calls this "intensified continuity"), the loss of spacial awareness, VFX, as well as the "chaos" that all of these things and more produce on-screen.

Check out Stork's video essay below:

https://vimeo.com/28016047

https://vimeo.com/28016704

https://vimeo.com/40881319

Whether you think chaos cinema, with its "intensified continuity", is another dimension of our art form that deserves respect, or just lazy filmmaking meant to overwhelm audiences rather than intrigue them, it's a change that has now become a part of our cinematic history, and therefore deserves our study.

What effect, if any, do you think "chaos cinema" is having on cinema as a whole, as well as storytelling? What do you think of Stork's view on it? Are you, as Stork puts it, a "Neoclassical Get-Off-My_Lawnist? Let us know in the comments below.

Link: Matthias Stork -- Vimeo

[via Filmmaker IQ]

Your Comment

57 Comments

I think you embedded part 2 twice

January 5, 2014 at 10:01PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Martin

I also think you misunderstood something. "Whether you think chaos cinema, with its “intensified continuity”..." I think the idea here is that chaos cinema is a style of action filmmaking that comes AFTER intensified continuity. They are apparently mutually exclusive styles (although they can be interwoven).

I watched these recently and commented on the third portion. He places a clip from Drive near the end with no explanation. Since it is a series of videos on "chaos cinema" I assume he is trying to say that it fits in that genre where I actually feel like the clip is clear in its continuity.

January 5, 2014 at 10:26PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Stork explains that the editing characteristic of "chaos cinema" is a "perversion" or extreme version of intensified editing. I don't think he suggested that they're mutually exclusive, rather the "chaos cinema" editing is a derivative of it.

But you're right -- it did come after it.

January 5, 2014 at 10:53PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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V Renée
Nights & Weekends Editor
Writer/Director

This is the kind of action filmmaking, with a few outstanding exceptions, that I'm firmly against. I don't dislike it because of the techniques themselves but because of the high volume of films that don't use them correctly.

January 5, 2014 at 10:30PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Coty

Amen! Completely agree, in most case it seems like a bandaid for poor story telling!

January 6, 2014 at 8:30AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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I have been talking to myself about this for years! I gave it the name "claustrophobiacam". The camera is always too close and you can't tell whats happening and there is no spacial awareness. I sat down to watch "The Bourne Legacy", first thought... "oh.. it's one of these...." It's certainly no "terminator 2" or "back to the future."

January 6, 2014 at 12:15AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Peckinpah films often lacked one might describe as "true physics". In other words, the action scene had artificial content. As an example, people stepped on a mine and then leaped forward in slow motion instead of simply having their extremities blown off. Peter Yates's "Bullitt" was a notable exception from many other action films of that era. The modern action films, on the other hand, pretend to offer hyper realism in a surrealist form. Part of this trend is due to the arrival of far more sophisticated CGI, part due to the financial feasibility of super high budgets. Sergey Bondarchuk's "War and Peace", working basically without a budget, also created a lot of "chaos" in its battlefield scenes and that goes back to the mid-1960's.
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An interesting comparison can also be had with the dance films. The classic Fred&Ginger films were framing their stars wide, thereby allowing them to dance as they would live on stage. That continued into the 1960's. By the late 1970's, however, John Badham's "Saturday Night Fever" showed a lot more close-ups of the dancing stars themselves while the camera took more exaggerated position, including the overhead and floor - and even what might be terms as "upskirt" - shots. The editing simultaneously went from almost none - Fred danced the way Fred danced and that's all there was to it - to the much quicker 1-2 second clips assembled like a mosaic.

January 6, 2014 at 2:36AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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DLD

While I agree in general with some points, I feel that people just circlejerk over old cinema too much. I understand that old cinema was 'better' in peoples opinions, but in reality old cinema doesn't sell. Great. If you want to make an artistic million dollar car chase go for it, but don't cry when it doesn't sell. He brings up good points, but not a lot of them are practical.

January 6, 2014 at 12:52AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Tyler

I can't believe I'm agreeing with you, but I am.
What upsets me about this essay is it assumes the filmmakers CHOSE to do their action sequences this way.
a) to shoot a Micheal Bay action sequence at the story level of early Frankenheimer (example) would add another 50-100M to the budget. I'm serious. Films made in the last decade have much more actual 'action' in them. Quantity over quality.
b) often the 'named' director is not actually in charge of shooting, editing or producing those sequences (Bay is mostly an exception). They are budgeted separately, directed by a different person, edited by someone who often doesn't see/touch the rest of the picture, and cut to the producer's/studio wants. This is the primary reason they often don't make sense compared to those from earlier decades (although I'm sure I can find plenty of rubbish from the '80s). Its notable that only the auteur films have 'consistent continuity'. No shit. The director actually got to shoot and edit those bits!

I have more but have to run. In general, I call BS on most of this, although I fully understand why cinephiles get upset. Iron Man 3's action sequences are utter nonsense.

January 6, 2014 at 2:21AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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marklondon

That's totally wrong, Bay and Co. are just lazy.

Look at Drive, this is a very small movie but it has the most realistic and adrenaline pumping action I've seen in years, it's almost a modern classic movie. Or watch Ruins, the short CG movie, but it's clearly inspired by Terminator 2 and made people wet their trousers.

January 6, 2014 at 3:59AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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mariano

Watch Jack Reacher, actually- it's probably one of the best action films of the last few years, but most didn't bother because of it's Tom Cruisey-ness. Shame, as it's a solid genre effort that's been directed and shot by a pair of people that give a shit about actual cinema- it's got one of the best car chases, and several of the best fights that I've seen in mainstream cinema in years. Chris McQuarrie cited John Ford's work as a bit of an influence, and you can see it shine through in places. It's definitely a modern film, but made using the sort of sensibility, direction and pacing you might have seen 40 years ago.

January 6, 2014 at 8:56AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Gary

Agreed. Jack Reacher is a phenomenally well-made action flick. The car chase sequence was a delight.

January 7, 2014 at 9:39AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Kevin Treadway

Jack Reacher is good cinema for sure, but the plot line is a little underdeveloped in my opinion.

January 7, 2014 at 10:10PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Beau Wright

Jack Reacher yes a great film the Tom Cruse secound best film with Top Gun.
Lot of people do not bordered to rent it or watch the movie.
Maybe the title it's not appropriate and give no idea, we must admit a nice script.
Some time i missing film like Inspector Harry or Billy Jack, where you see
the first white using karate at the movie.

But today many unplug the TV i have a large flat screen and i watch only movie with
and i never watch TV or cable from the last 12 year, it's hard for me to find 4 great new film a week.
What is missing it's Independent filmmaker and producer to show us new material.

January 9, 2014 at 5:53PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Pierre Samuel Rioux

Sorry, but no.
Michael Bay is definitely NOT lazy. And his style changes from film to film, even with recognizable "Bayisms" that distinguish his movies, they are stylistically distinct. "Pain & Gain" is nothing like "Transformers 2".

Liking his style is a matter of tastes, preferences, ect. But, let's at least be honest about what he's doing in an action sequence. Snap judgements about his motives are far lazier than anything he puts on the screen.

January 6, 2014 at 10:52AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Jerome

Sorry. Not only is Michael Bay lazy but he gives a fuck about his audience which is way to stupid to tell the difference between a turd and a burger anyway.

January 6, 2014 at 2:48PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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mariano

Partially agree. While I'm not a fan of Bay's style for the most part he is obviously incredibly hard-working and focused on producing a distinct brand of hyper-cinema that many people like. I thought Transformers 3 was pretty impressive.

That said I call bullshit on the judgements made by the producer of the above videos. I like coherent geography in my action films for the most part but it's a totally valid choice to disorientate and visually overload the viewer to emulate the feeling of a brutal action experience. Most of the films he uses to demonstrate are actually using continuity similar to the old films - just sped up for a more visually-literate audience who CAN follow what's going on... even if this guy is too old-school to get it. Of course I find some modern films too shaky or disorientating (Transformers 1 and Borne 3 are good examples) but that is just a 'bad' use of this style, not proof that this style is not valid.

More in support of his point, the success of Avatar, Gravity and Drive tell me that audiences still appreciate good old-school action geography.

January 6, 2014 at 9:24PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Stu Mannion

Heh ... speaking of the devil, Michael Bay made an ass out of himself today at CES...

January 6, 2014 at 10:44PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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DLD

Stu, this is true. Every single time James Cameron decides to make a movie, which is always old school and has clean geography, it's the biggest movie ever. Audiences a lot of tiems don't care necessarily if the geography is clean or not, but I think a lot of times they have a special appreciation when it is, maybe they can't articulate why. Could you imagine Gravity asa chaos type of movie, it wouldn't work.

January 7, 2014 at 8:55AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Muh

I'm sure you realize ,they didn't mean Lazy literally

January 12, 2014 at 1:15PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Dheep'

I'd disagree with you there...because to do a car chase in a Michael Bay way means you have to blow up 18 cars, two buildings, an overpass and also have some robots or flying ships. A Frankenheimer car chase would need three cars and great stunt drivers. You could do that WAY cheaper.

January 6, 2014 at 7:11PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Muh

Personally I don't think its an issue of old cinema vs the new. I watch action films when I want to unwind and found myself drifting more to Korean and Chinese action films, I think its because I find the flow of whats happening and who is kicking who's _ _ _ . The funny thing is I hate sub titles but I will rather that over having to rewind the film a tonne of times to work out whats going on. My point is its a matter of choice, obviously these films are selling so a vast number of people like or can deal with that style, I love Inception but would have hated it in the cinema as it too me twice the time to watch it because of the number of times I went back to understand the action. I guess 'Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy' is more down some people's street than 'Transformers'.

January 6, 2014 at 8:43AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Sorry, but that doesn't wash. Many action movies are made with clear action scenes. Tarantino doesn't make a mishmash of cuts and shaking camera, and he makes hit after hit. You can tell what happens in the Marvel movies, I'd say those are fairly classically done. I bet you anything the new Star Wars will be classically made. Skyfall has clean action. The Hobbit movies have clean action. All the shaky camera in the world didn't make anyone want to see Battleship. It's not a binary thing, this works or this doesn't work.

January 6, 2014 at 7:06PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Muh

The Hobbit movies do *not* have clean action. The more digital he does, the less he remembers what physics used to mean. It's all weightless feeling, and combined with unmotivated camera movement. Picture that dwarf rolling around in the barrel while the other barrels were in the water. Jackson has drunken the GCI/frenetic-cam Kool-Aid. He has always moved the camera quickly, but it's so fake now b/c of the overreliance on CGI characters and virtual cameras. When there is less of both, his action looks better.

January 13, 2014 at 1:37AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Daniel Mimura

I agree about Tarantino and Skyfall...etc...

January 13, 2014 at 1:39AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Daniel Mimura

Because after the all - the ONLY reason for waking every morning is acquiring More Cash. Absolute & foremost above All else - MORE.

January 12, 2014 at 1:13PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Dheep'

Snarktown. Get over yourself buddy. There is no such thing as what cinema "should be". To each their own. If you are really having that hard of a time understanding the onscreen action, you should see a doctor, not make a poorly edited video.

January 6, 2014 at 3:20AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Corey

Nice one.

January 6, 2014 at 9:27PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Stu Mannion

What is this dude's problem. I followed the action just fine. I agree with his point on sound but his tone over this whole things is so disrespectful and condescending. I love the new style as Ridley & Tony Scott are some of my favorites. I think the intention is to make you feel the action and the chaos at the same time.

January 6, 2014 at 9:27AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Jay

As you might have figured he seems a bit 'slow' if you know what I mean. None of his arguments pushed any points besides "old cinema is better because I can tell what is happening -> therefore everyone in the world is the same as me"

January 6, 2014 at 4:51PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Tyler

Interesting essay, although I would argue that "chaos cinema" is still an art form unto itself; whether or not one likes it is another matter. I also think Stork would do better to characterize chaos cinema as the trademark of certain directors, rather than the current standard of the action genre (Michael Bay, Tony Scott, Christopher Nolan and Paul Greengrass dominate his examples). He neglects other, more coherent action films such as Drive and Skyfall, the latter of which is an especially good contrast with Marc Forster's frenetic and far less-satisfying Quantum of Solace.

January 6, 2014 at 10:31AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Eric

I'm not convinced that true art gives a shit about genres. Certainly commercial cinema of the type described in this essay does. I understand the appeal of "chaos cinema" as I used to love playing with my Transformer toys in the sandpit out in the back garden too. But now I'm in my 30's and have COD on my PS3 i don't need to go outside anymore...

January 6, 2014 at 10:54AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Lupocide

Your best opening paragraph so far.

January 6, 2014 at 12:00PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Conan

Agree 100%!
A lot of NFS opening paragraphs and titles are just misleading and aimed for clicks, but you are just losing a large part of your readers because of this. This is a great step forward Renée! Please keep writing clear titles and openings.

January 6, 2014 at 5:00PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Henri De Vreese

Once he said "the filmmakers make stable shots wilder and blurrier in post production per the use of After Effects software", I knew he didnt know what he was talking about.

Hollywood blockbusters don't use After Effects. A nitpick but this shows a lack a practical knowledge. The guy emphasizes textbook knowledge. He'd have done better to show what films from this decade have gotten it "right" (there are several) and contrast those specifically with the sloppy ones.

Rather he cheated by stating a premise: modern vs classic and backwards shoehorning his argument onto that.

Sloppy essay.

January 6, 2014 at 12:08PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Yeah, that gave it away for me, too.

January 6, 2014 at 2:31PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Except for thats actually what filmmakers do.

January 6, 2014 at 3:03PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Daniel

Soundtrack, huh?
I personally prefer my action scenes with sound effect and no music.

January 6, 2014 at 12:20PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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VinceGortho

Soundtrack does not always infer musical score, Soundtrack can also mean Sound Effects, Mixing, and ADR. His point is that as visual continuity is diminished, Audio continuity increases. Much like when we loose one sense, the others step up and become more sensitive to compensate.

January 6, 2014 at 3:06PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Daniel

What an insult to lump Paul Greengrass and Christopher Nolan in with Michael Bay! The use of the handheld camera look was borrowed from documentaries by indie filmmakers in the 90s to bring a heightened sense of reality and eschew the formalism of the past. It "trickled up" to big budget films in the 2000s. It's not like these filmmakers can't make formalist films, they just understand that viewers have sophisticated enough aesthetics that they don't require to be walked through a physical space step by step. To me those Bourne movies have the best fights/chases ever filmed BECAUSE they have a more impressionistic editing that allows us to fill in the blanks. I'd much prefer them to the pleasure of a leisurely Indiana Jones or Diehard fight. A documentary aesthetic DOES bring us psychologically closer to the action. And chaos makes sense if you're trying to convey the chaos of a real life action scenario.

The films that do try to reintroduce that classicism often feel cheesy and dated and irrelevant to me (like Spielberg's Indiana Jones 4 or Tintin). Those classic scenes he opens with feel old and doddy to me, and none of us would accept them if they saw them in a theater today. It would be like listening to the football game on the radio. It has a certain charm, but it's not the best way to experience it anymore. And just because something is formalistically coherent, doesn't mean the story makes any sense (see: Prometheus). Out with the old and in with the new!

January 6, 2014 at 2:31PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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I highly disagree. "Classic" action scenes still exist and entertain. Even in the current line of Marvel movies, which do employ a lot of CG, you see the use of classical action styles. Ultimately you pick the style that works best with the film you're making. For example, I prefer the style John Woo uses, which is highly choreographed and uses quick cuts. I get the happy medium of being able to tell what's going on while still feeling like a participant. And as for "out with the old and in with the new", that's a phrase that should NEVER be used when talking about art.

January 6, 2014 at 3:07PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Coty

Amen

January 6, 2014 at 3:13PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Daniel

Just so you are aware, Christopher Nolan doesn't mind being lumped in with Michael Bay.

http://www.slashfilm.com/christopher-nolan-loves-watching-michael-bay-mo...

January 6, 2014 at 3:10PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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I like Nolan because the quality of his movies in general and his ideas are great...but he's a shitty, shitty action director. Take for example the ending of Inception...you have guys shooting guns at each other for ten minutes, and it all seems like random b-roll just thrown together. There's no impact or investment in anything that's going on. He can do okay action when there's a gimmick involved...the rotating hallway was great, but that's the scene where he had a camera locked down.

January 6, 2014 at 7:15PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Muh

I think it's funny that you see Bay as so terrible and Greengrass as not. to me they're cut from the same cloth in terms of how they make movies, except that Greengrass makes movies about better subjects and Bay make pap. But are they so different in how they shoot action? I'd say not really. What would you say differentiates them besides the subject matter?

January 6, 2014 at 7:37PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Muh

"none of us would accept them if they saw them in a theater today"

Except everyone did.

January 6, 2014 at 3:08PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Daniel

Lets also not forget that he is not talking about action scenes alone. He includes conversation scenes with the same "Chaos Cinema" that is used in action scenes.

Plus he is not bashing the movie or the scene in and of itself, he is talking about the lack of spacial awareness. If you think it's obsolete filmmaking, ask any cinematographer if the 180 degree rule matters anymore.

January 6, 2014 at 3:12PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Daniel

Quite right. If you watch or work on a lot of micro-budget films, one of the big problems people have is an inability to effectively establish story geography, so characters teleport from scene to scene. OF course there are times when you want to do that for story economy, but if you are trying to set up any sort of tension through parallel editing or so, failure to establish the story geography early in the film means that things like chase or to-the-rescue sequences don't play well - even if they're contained within a single location like a house - because the audience has no feeling for how far the traveling character has to go or how far s/he is from the destination, draining all the urgency out of the scene and making it feel contrived.

June 3, 2015 at 1:44AM

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Eddy Robinson
Writer/Director
222

With all due respect to the author this is one giant category mistake. Comparing one genre of action films with another is really a case of comparing apples and oranges.

Attempting to prove one is measurably better than another by employing a string of baseless assertions and moderately obscure adjectives achieves nothing.

Some audiences clearly enjoy 'chaos cinema'; are they all wrong? Is their experience invalid? No, of course not (try and prove otherwise). If they were presented with 'classical' action films would they prefer them? Unlikely.

If one were looking for an aesthetic justification for 'chaos cinema' (if such a thing were required, which it isn't) what about expressionism? I.E. that 'chaos cinema' presents action the way it feels, not how it really is. An emotional reality, not a physical one. One could also use dreams as a reference.

Overall, this is a lazy, poorly researched polemic based purely on the author's personal tastes. Useful, informative and objective it certainly is not.

January 6, 2014 at 4:04PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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If anything it was a good essay on how times have changed, how technology has pushed us to need to be physically and emotionally involved in the moment; much like Facebook and Twitter, you're part of the world, and cinema kind of needs to keep up to the pace of us.

In older times, everything was laid back and watching a car drive down the road was exhilarating.

January 6, 2014 at 4:54PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Tyler

But people DO prefer them a lot of times. The biggest blockbuster movies today are still pretty classical...The Avengers, in fact all of the Marvel movies, Star Wars, the Lord of the Rings movies, etc. Those aren't chaos action scenes.

January 6, 2014 at 7:17PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Muh

Can I just re-state how insufferable this Stork guy is... He really doesn't know much about visual story-telling and just pushes his personal preferences as fact. I couldn't keep watching.

January 6, 2014 at 9:55PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Stu Mannion

Agreed. Yes Michael Bay makes fast-cut action nonsense, and plenty of movies put spectacle over all else. HOWEVER, that doesn't discount (i) the grandeur of the Hollywood spectacle, how awesome the visual possibilities now are, or (ii) the use of deliberately disorienting action when, like in Blackhawk Down, it serves the story as the characters and experience we're sharing with them isn't clear cut.

Giant thumbs down for this "analysis".

January 7, 2014 at 6:16PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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I remember when Cloverfield came out people were complaining about motion sickness. I actually feel a little queasy after watching all of those clips. I feel that the overuse of shakycam is like watching bad YouTube video where you want to know what's going on but miss the good part due to the shaking.

I wonder how much of people's perception that Hollywood is making crap movies is because the smooth cinematic feel is being replaced by this "reality tv" feel. I like the author's point that the quick edits don't allow us the see the acting talent through facial expressions. In the words of my mother, "Hollywood is replacing acting with action."

January 11, 2014 at 2:58AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Dandy Trooper

Bay's city destruction sequence in "Armageddon" was beautiful and his action sequences are generally more comprehensible than the others shown as "chaos cinema". He may be bad at having an actual story to tell, but don't lump his action sequences in with the others. It can be quite unelegant, but, whatever it is, it's not sloppy. Bay is way more precise than this essay is giving him credit for. Though, yes, sometimes he does get overindulgent and everything just turns into a mess, but not always...

The "classical" example in the beginning of the third video was probably meant to showcase the "high tenstion" disruption of visual clarity, but, IMO, it goes so far that it becomes "chaos cinema" at its worst. It's almost as disorienting for me to watch as the Quantum of Solace car chase example.

On the other hand, where the hell is the supposed "chaos cinema" in the "Resident Evil: Afterlife" example?? That looked freaking amazing.

So, yeah, I actually agree with many of the points raised, but not with the clip choices. I do think the essay paints with a broad brush, but "chaos cinema" IS, indeed, a trend, for better or for worse.

April 12, 2014 at 7:31AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Muzozavr

Stork says: "the new action films are fast, florid, volatile—an audiovisual warzone" as if that is a bad thing, and then cuts to a scene from Blackhawk Down, a war movie.

Audiovisual warzone in a war movie.
Audiovisual warzone war movie.
Warzone war movie.

Makes sense to me, what's the problem Stork? The fact that he cuts in footage from the Bourne trilogy as examples of the bad "new" action movie immediately disproves his own thesis just as thoroughly as his lack of awareness about the value of an "audiovisual warzone" in a war movie. The Bourne trilogy is easily my favourite action movie anthology, and any one of the Bourne movies ranks in my top twenty action movie list.

I think you have to read a few more books, watch a few more movies, and Google "Impressionism".

July 23, 2015 at 11:17PM, Edited July 23, 11:17PM

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Is it Chaos Cinema or simply a case of filmmakers not knowing what they are doing?

From my personal experience it is usually the latter. Let me explain: In Hollywood, Actors sell tickets... in Asia, Action sells tickets.

How many times does it happen in a Hollywood movie that action sequences are rehearsed for weeks on end and when the action is to be filmed on set they completely change the action at the last minute. Also Action Directors are hardly ever present during rehearsals and only see the action for the first time on the day of principal photography.

There is however, a new breed of stunt performers and coordinators coming to the surface who make amazing Previs that sometimes look better than the actual movie. Unfortunately, those Previs get pushed aside sometimes by the second unit (action) director as their ego gets the better of them and they don’t want to be seen as the person who didn’t came up with all the cool shots done in the Previs. They also need to justify their $20,000/week wages to the producers even though they are well behind the times. Consequently, when it comes to shooting the action no thought or planning has gone into the filming. In such cases shaking the camera, or what we refer to as The Monkey Cam, is the better option as time is money. It also makes the lives of the camera operators so much easier as they don’t have to worry about their timing in getting the action right which is a skill on it’s own. Labeling their work as Chaos Cinema also justifies their exuberant wages for being mediocre at their job. From a producers point of view they absolutely love shooting action with The Monkey Cam as it is a much faster way of shooting and let's be honest... in the long run money is what dictates the outcome of many Hollywood action sequences. Why do it in three days if you can do it in one day or less.

Asia has a completely different approach and philosophy when it comes to shooting action films. First of all, a huge amount of time gets put into rehearsals and those rehearsals usually entail rehearsing the action with an action director and his team of camera operators who then shoot the same action as per rehearsals for principal photography.
Due to the fact that a lot of time was spent in rehearsals with the camera no time is wasted figuring out where to put the camera or wondering what the choreography should look like.

It wasn't always like this though. Action and dialogue would be made up on the spot. Nevertheless, they would still have the knack of coming up with some really cool action sequences. The reason being is that they have done it so many times in training and on set that coming up with a cool action sequence becomes second nature. Also in Asia they are not bound to strict rules and regulations that limit any progress in making films in general. It is more of a collaborative effort and that’s why Jackie Chan could be directing one shot and operating the camera in the next shot. Good luck trying that on a Hollywood set.

I almost feel like the Art of Action is dying here in the West. It is definitely not taught in many film schools and students have absolutely no idea what to do when it comes to shooting action. All you have to do is look at their scripts when it comes to an action part. It will usually say… ‘fight scene’ or ‘action sequence’ with no more detail. They will get a stunt coordinator to work on their project and expect them to come up with something amazing like on a Jackie Chan film with no prep whatsoever. With the lack of planning or the will to learn young filmmakers will simply revert to The Monkey Cam because that is what Hollywood does. What hope is there for action if they are the future frontline filmmakers? There are however a few Western (Action) Directors such as Brad Allan and Isaac Florentine who still keeping the dream alive for avid action fans like myself. There are also some Hollywood Directors such as Simon West who cleverly employ Asian Action Directors in their films such as Corey Yuen who know how to make cool action for their films. Let us not forget Sammo Hung, Andy Cheng, Tony Ching Siu Tung, JC, Donnie Yen to name but a few. There are many more I could mention but let's just keep it at that.

I will leave you with one final thought from the amazingly talented Vincent Paterson... "In the long run it's all about politics and you have to realise what your place is and learn how to weasel your way in to get your voice heard and your art seen." This is a skill I am still trying to master.

August 24, 2016 at 6:45AM, Edited August 24, 6:45AM

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Philippe Deseck
Filmmaker/Assistant Stunt Coordinator
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