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Chaos Cinema: A video essay on the death of coherence in modern action filmmaking

08.24.2011

"The only art here is the art of confusion."

So says Los Angeles scholar and filmmaker Matthias Stork, whose two-part video essay "Chaos Cinema" examines the artistic decline of the action sequence in modern movies. This is something many of us have been saying for years now. And generally speaking Stork is absolutely right, citing such spot-on examples as the films of Tony Scott, CLOVERFIELD, and TRANSFORMERS to name just a few.

What Stork doesn't really delve into, though, is the why. Movies from any given period are reflections of their era. This extends far beyond simply subject matter and theme, but also in how and why movies are presented to us in the manner that they are. If the movies of the past decade, generally speaking, have become devoid of clear coherence, is that not a reflection of the sociocultural time in which they spawned? Or is it something much simpler, like the fact that more and more creatively bankrupt filmmakers are simply aping styles that at one point or another seemed "cool" to them? Maybe that in of itself is a reflection of our current culture, what with remakes, reboots, and all manner of regurgitation we're constantly seeing.

While I don't fully agree with many of Stork's implications or assertions, his essays are great food for thought. Give the videos a whirl and let us know what you think about the subject in our comments below.



Extra Tidbit: Which films would you say are the worst culprits of Stork's so-called "Chaos Cinema"?
Source: Press Play

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10:32PM on 08/25/2011

Not just A problem...THE problem!

Everything in our society has gotten faster mainly how we process and receive information (social networking, cell phones etc) We constantly want to fill our minds with noise (the advertisements playing in the once quiet and hallowed theaters BEFORE the trailers as an example). Unfortunately this societal trend has found it's way into cinema. I honestly get pissed when I see this incredibly lazy filmmaking. And thats what the problem is (for most things in life too). General laziness.
Everything in our society has gotten faster mainly how we process and receive information (social networking, cell phones etc) We constantly want to fill our minds with noise (the advertisements playing in the once quiet and hallowed theaters BEFORE the trailers as an example). Unfortunately this societal trend has found it's way into cinema. I honestly get pissed when I see this incredibly lazy filmmaking. And thats what the problem is (for most things in life too). General laziness.

Action scenes today are mostly a mess. Battle LA was a perfect example of a missed opportunity. Cool concept. Not a terrible script. SHITTASTIC cinematography, directing and editing. I couldn't tell who was who, what was what or who was getting killed and I felt myself sickened. Not with the excessive handheld but with the wasted opportunity to do something great. Its as though you have to turn your brain off now during action scenes, wait for the dust to settle and then take an inventory afterwards as to what you just watched. Directors these days have no idea on how to block a scene, grab a bunch of coverage and then just cut it together and call it cinema.

Face/Off to me is one of the last great straight up action films. Go watch it again particularly starting at the 13 minute mark in the hangar. Watch the establishing shot of Nic Cage seeing his brother being arrested and then showing Travolta walking in all in one shot. It lets you know where things are in relation to the each other. You NEVER see that level of thought any more.

I just finished editing a feature that had this. Great script, acting and structure but egads chaos cinema seeping all through the action scenes.

Who's gonna turn the tide?...probably me just give me some time. Seriously, someone has to do something...a hero must rise...I'll fix this.
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4:20PM on 08/26/2011
Well, it's only fair that I agree with you 100 % as well.

The most annoying thing about this is to see the DVD extras in action movies and see that the actors actually rehearsed the choreography for days, but you can never see it these days. Sadly, wide shots and action scenes do not go together anymore.

Because we have to use shaky cam "to feel like we are in the middle of the action". What bullshit.
Well, it's only fair that I agree with you 100 % as well.

The most annoying thing about this is to see the DVD extras in action movies and see that the actors actually rehearsed the choreography for days, but you can never see it these days. Sadly, wide shots and action scenes do not go together anymore.

Because we have to use shaky cam "to feel like we are in the middle of the action". What bullshit.
+0
4:39AM on 08/25/2011

I Hate Chaos Cinema

This is, in my opinion, the biggest problem by far in modern cinema. Even worse than all the reboots, remakes and unoriginality in general. I can always not watch uninteresting films, but when a movie that I really want to see comes along and is ruined by the frantic, modern, hectic filmmaking of today, it really pisses me off.

It is fascinating to me to watch the old classics these days. Take The Deer Hunter for example. It is amazing how slowly the wedding/after party scene moves in the
This is, in my opinion, the biggest problem by far in modern cinema. Even worse than all the reboots, remakes and unoriginality in general. I can always not watch uninteresting films, but when a movie that I really want to see comes along and is ruined by the frantic, modern, hectic filmmaking of today, it really pisses me off.

It is fascinating to me to watch the old classics these days. Take The Deer Hunter for example. It is amazing how slowly the wedding/after party scene moves in the beginning. I love those kind of scenes nowadays, as you can't see them anymore. Five minute uninterrupted scenes where people just walk and talk.

Lazy, unskilled hacks use the sensory overload style of directing, because they can get away with having no real talent. Fortunately there are some modern masters as well that are confident enough to not use gimmicks and fast cuts, and I have learned to seek out their movies. But it's getting harder and harder by the day.
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10:20PM on 08/25/2011
I agree 100% This is just killing the movie going experience for me as well.
I agree 100% This is just killing the movie going experience for me as well.
+0
3:14AM on 08/25/2011

The influence of MTV

It's no coincidence that a lot of these action directors started out making music videos. It's the unfortunate marriage of narrative cinema and MTV video sensibility
Nolan definitley listened to the criticism of BB. The action scenes in Dark Knight and Inception are much tighter and coherent.
It's no coincidence that a lot of these action directors started out making music videos. It's the unfortunate marriage of narrative cinema and MTV video sensibility
Nolan definitley listened to the criticism of BB. The action scenes in Dark Knight and Inception are much tighter and coherent.
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8:23PM on 08/24/2011
28 weeks later was like the camera man fell down when filming and actually made me nauseous.
28 weeks later was like the camera man fell down when filming and actually made me nauseous.
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+1
6:45PM on 08/24/2011

interesting but...

very cool stuff but theres still a BIG difference btw Nolan or Greengrass and Michael Bay or Tony Scott. Liked the pt in part 1 about sound design quite a bit too... great post!!
very cool stuff but theres still a BIG difference btw Nolan or Greengrass and Michael Bay or Tony Scott. Liked the pt in part 1 about sound design quite a bit too... great post!!
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6:41PM on 08/24/2011
And what audience enjoyed, unique action films did these guys make? Oh yeah, ****. So of course, they make a documentary to talk **** about something they couldn't get paid to do.
And what audience enjoyed, unique action films did these guys make? Oh yeah, ****. So of course, they make a documentary to talk **** about something they couldn't get paid to do.
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6:38PM on 08/24/2011
I get what the essayist is saying, and in many modern action films (and certainly ANYTHING by Michael Bay and Tony Scott), the visual confusion is too thick when it has no purpose other than to over-stimulize. But there are films where this style works to its benefit, and works within the context of the film itself.
I get what the essayist is saying, and in many modern action films (and certainly ANYTHING by Michael Bay and Tony Scott), the visual confusion is too thick when it has no purpose other than to over-stimulize. But there are films where this style works to its benefit, and works within the context of the film itself.
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4:45PM on 08/24/2011

Good

Made alot of good points and the doc itself is right, but it used terrible examples. Expendables? Inception? Black Hawk Down? Sounds like you just didn't like the films themselves. I think RE: Apocalypse deserved to be on there.
Made alot of good points and the doc itself is right, but it used terrible examples. Expendables? Inception? Black Hawk Down? Sounds like you just didn't like the films themselves. I think RE: Apocalypse deserved to be on there.
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2:13PM on 08/24/2011

I'm going to quote Stephen Fry here

"It's only ugly because it's new and you don't like it."
"It's only ugly because it's new and you don't like it."
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12:26PM on 08/24/2011

I think....

It's a combination of film makers wanting more fluidity to scenes of violence for them to feel less staged and also a way for 'gritty' films to feel more violent and still retain a PG-13 rating. Personally I think Christopher Nolan is far and away the worst offended for this kind of action-filming. I never knew what the hell went on in Batman Begins fight sequences and Inception had a lot of the same issues. I wish I could cite a director who bucks this trend but I cannot. I wonder who will
It's a combination of film makers wanting more fluidity to scenes of violence for them to feel less staged and also a way for 'gritty' films to feel more violent and still retain a PG-13 rating. Personally I think Christopher Nolan is far and away the worst offended for this kind of action-filming. I never knew what the hell went on in Batman Begins fight sequences and Inception had a lot of the same issues. I wish I could cite a director who bucks this trend but I cannot. I wonder who will 'fix' this issue.
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11:32AM on 08/24/2011
To this day I can't tell what exactly is going in the Quantum Of Solace opening car chase scene.
To this day I can't tell what exactly is going in the Quantum Of Solace opening car chase scene.
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1:06PM on 08/24/2011
Really?
Really?
7:30AM on 08/25/2011
Really.
Really.
11:19AM on 08/24/2011
A pretty good visual essay but nothing many people haven't seen coming. So far I've got to fault him for giving John Woo credit for his hospital shot in Hard Boiled. That was a one-take because they were out of money and time. Woo does great stuff though and his shots have purpose, just saying...
A pretty good visual essay but nothing many people haven't seen coming. So far I've got to fault him for giving John Woo credit for his hospital shot in Hard Boiled. That was a one-take because they were out of money and time. Woo does great stuff though and his shots have purpose, just saying...
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-3
9:11AM on 08/24/2011

Tell me something I don't know...

Not really an eye opener by any means. I couldn't even get through part 1 with out feeling like it was a waste of time. And is it just me or does it sound like the narrator is a timid gay man sitting in an over-sized recliner gently petting his fluffy cat named Henrietta?
Not really an eye opener by any means. I couldn't even get through part 1 with out feeling like it was a waste of time. And is it just me or does it sound like the narrator is a timid gay man sitting in an over-sized recliner gently petting his fluffy cat named Henrietta?
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11:30AM on 08/24/2011
"Death to AMIRICA!"
"Death to AMIRICA!"
9:11AM on 08/24/2011
Pretty much agree with everything that was said. Action movies are next to dead. I would've thrown in Transporter 2,3, Star Trek, Crank, and District 9. I wouldn't say that The Hurt Locker makes good use of it though. I'm pretty sure Saving Private Ryan started the shaky cam craze. It made beautiful use of shaky cam only when necessary. Films and filmmakers use it afterward without ever really look at spielberg's craft in that film. Its a lot more than shaking and cutting.
Pretty much agree with everything that was said. Action movies are next to dead. I would've thrown in Transporter 2,3, Star Trek, Crank, and District 9. I wouldn't say that The Hurt Locker makes good use of it though. I'm pretty sure Saving Private Ryan started the shaky cam craze. It made beautiful use of shaky cam only when necessary. Films and filmmakers use it afterward without ever really look at spielberg's craft in that film. Its a lot more than shaking and cutting.
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8:35AM on 08/24/2011

Not really "Chaos Cinema"..

More like "Chaos Cinematography". It's the movement of the camera that has made most action scenes today so chaotic. But I think most filmmakers have seen there's a problem and are pulling back a bit.
More like "Chaos Cinematography". It's the movement of the camera that has made most action scenes today so chaotic. But I think most filmmakers have seen there's a problem and are pulling back a bit.
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8:37AM on 08/24/2011
"Unstoppable" was horrible for this. Tony needs to calm down withe zooming in and out bullshit.
"Unstoppable" was horrible for this. Tony needs to calm down withe zooming in and out bullshit.
7:36AM on 08/24/2011
Ballistic: Eck vs. Sever. Sure, the movie has some nice action scenes but the whole movie was a mess and lack a sense of storytelling.
Ballistic: Eck vs. Sever. Sure, the movie has some nice action scenes but the whole movie was a mess and lack a sense of storytelling.
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+9
7:09AM on 08/24/2011
Transporter 3. It had some of the most awful, incoherent, indecipherable "quick-cut" action scenes I've ever had the displeasure of witnessing in my life.
Transporter 3. It had some of the most awful, incoherent, indecipherable "quick-cut" action scenes I've ever had the displeasure of witnessing in my life.
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