Brilliant use of montage in Raising Arizona
Without question, one of the most entertaining illustrations of montage, and editing, that can be used as an introduction in film studies is the sequence in the Coen Brothers' Raising Arizona, when H.I. (Nicholas Cage) robs a convenience store for some Huggies diapers and cash, along with the ensuing chase sequence from the police, through people's homes and backyards, followed by a pack of dogs through the neighborhood and a supermarket, only to be finally reunited with his wife Ed (Holly Hunter) and newly kidnapped baby Nathan Jr. For practical purposes, we'll modestly, and without any fear of hyperbole, call it the best chase sequence in film history.
I've used this sequence previously in an ESL course, studying modal auxiliary verbs. I would periodically stop the film and ask the students, "What could he do at this point in the film?" or "What should the convenience store clerk do?" or "What would you do if your boyfriend/husband just robbed a store?" It's important to note that to facilitate discussion during the study of a short film sequence, the students need to see "bite-size" segments of the film (anywhere from 45 seconds to 3 minutes at a time) to engage their attention; then the teacher needs to stop the film at times, slowing down the input of information, then reflecting on what they've seen; what they anticipate from the film; what are characters' motivations; how the director, cinematographer, and editor play with mise en scene, variety of camera shots/angles/lens, movement, and montage. After students recognize such elements of the film's narrative, composition, theme, or whatever the point of the exercise is, then resume the film until the next point of discussion.
Anyway, the variety of film techniques that are used in this sequence are seemingly endless, as the Coen Brothers play with so many details in the narrative. For instance, close ups are used to draw attention to H.I. stealing panty hose and Huggies, then it's used to zero in on the convenience store clerk pushing the alarm button. The close up is used to zero in on the dufus look on H.I.'s face when he sees the police pulling up, and the convenience store clerk's teenage smirk as he pulls up the gun to shoot him. Close up of his feet running up the street. After he jumps into someone's backyard, the family's dog jumps after him, and he's saved by the chain. We see a close-up of the peg being pulled out of the ground, as the dog breaks free. And when the supermarket manager shoots the rifle at him, we see a close up of the smoke billowing out of the barrel. We see tracking shots of dogs running, H.I. running through the supermarket. At the end of the sequence, we see the camera raise up, as the couple drive away, escaping trouble.
Sound effects throughout the scene include gun shots, screeching tires, police sirens, screams, dogs barking, the film's lighthearted theme yodelling soundtrack (thanks to inspiration from Pete Seeger), muzak in the supermarket, and glasses being shot. Also, there's high key lighting in the supermarket and convenience store, and low key lighting along the road and in the getaway car.
All of these go together to reveal a cast of foolish characters, which only adds to our sympathy for H.I. and Ed, even though they've stolen a baby and continue in a life of petty crime. Essentially, as most of the other characters are flawed in this film, the audience cannot help but sympathize with the main characters.
Altogether, I'm not sure how deeply I intend to focus teaching film/editing techniques to the students in a language arts classroom. I'm sure that the students and I could gain a lot from this process, but I wonder how useful it is for students to develop a strong vocabulary in film studies.