“Shot by shot it looks great,” Avakian [film editor] reported to Evans [head of production, Paramount Pictures]. “Kubrick couldn’t get better performances, but it cuts together like a Chinese jigsaw puzzle. We spent two days in the restaurant with Pacino, Sterling Hayden, and Al Lettieri. Each take was great, but nothing matches. The [expletive deleted] [Coppola, the movie’s director] doesn’t know what continuity means.” [emphasis added]
– Fifty Years of The Godfather
1a : uninterrupted connection, succession, or union
// its disregard of the continuity between means and ends
b : uninterrupted duration or continuation especially without essential change
// the continuity of the company’s management
2 : something that has, exhibits, or provides continuity: such as
a : a script or scenario in the performing arts
b : transitional spoken or musical matter especially for a radio or television program
c : the story and dialogue of a comic strip
3 : the property of being mathematically continuous
I still have a twitch from two years of calculus 35 years ago, so let’s let continuity 3 just lie there, shall we? Besides, the quote makes it clear that the cranky/profane film editor is talking about continuity 2a:
something that has, exhibits, or provides continuity,
such as a script or scenario in the performing arts
As for the crankiness, you can imagine the joy of trying to create visual continuity after the fact, while splicing together scenes filmed without attention to it. Where, in fact, NOTHING MATCHES.
Sidenote: Continuity errors in movies is a genre of movie appreciation/discourse. My favourite error is John McClane’s undershirt in “Die Hard”, which from one scene to the next goes from white (required under his white dress shirt) to green (appropriate as he fights the terrorists like an urban jungle fighter). Strictly speaking, I don’t suppose it was an error. Likely the producers just changed it because green looked better and they figured that watchers wouldn’t notice or care.
Anyway. Having suffered professionally from a lack of continuity 2a — in my case, trying to make one coherent and lovely document from disparate inputs where NOTHING MATCHED (often not content; usually not structure; always not writing styles) — this quote caught my attention. But since I’ve retired from this endeavour/craziness, all that is left now with respect to continuity (beyond a certain twitchiness) is empathy for any editor’s challenges, whether in text or in film, and a degree of curiosity. To wit . . .
Does continuity matter in life?
Not the visual sort, of course: As the skin wrinkles and the hair colour fades, any hopes of my own visual continuity have been set aside on a mental shelf beside those old calculus textbooks, never to be considered again.
Not the textual or verbal sort either, of course: As the days pass, the old stories and memories seem to evolve, somehow. Some get new wrinkles; others fade.
No, what I’m wondering about is, I think, continuity of something else. A continuity of purpose, perhaps, or principle. Something that splices together my life — which might look great (or not), shot by shot — into an uninterrupted connection, succession, or union.
Of course, as Søren Kierkegaard is reported to have said:
Life can only be understood backwards;
but it must be lived forwards.
Although I’d put some money on Kierkegaard’s original not being this pithy, I can see (or imagine?) a measure of continuity when I look *back* on my life. But continuity in a set of movie scenes or in a document with multiple writers comes most easily if it’s planned, not reverse engineered. Is life much different? If I want the important things in my life to endure, if I want the whole to be a coherent story, then maybe I need to live each day with one eye on how it matches what’s come before and what will come after.