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A.S.L.: 2.7

in Filmmaking
on Oct 18, 2006

Film scholar David Bordwell has a blog and it’s always worth checking out for his investigations into the art and industry of moviemaking. Here’s an excerpt from a piece on the Scorsese’s The Departed. After winding through a very interesting comparison of this film’s narrative resolution and the Hong Kong original’s, he discusses Scorsese’s editing style:

The Departed has calmed Scorsese’s urge to track a bit, but that’s balanced by its over 3200 cuts. The result is an average shot length (ASL) of about 2.7 seconds. Not unusual for an action picture nowadays, but consider where Scorsese started by conning these ASLs:

Mean Streets 7.7 seconds
Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore 8.0 seconds
Taxi Driver 7.3 seconds
King of Comedy 7.7 seconds
Gangs of New York 6.7 seconds
The Aviator 3.6 seconds

Like his contemporaries, Scorsese has succumbed to the fast-cut, hyper-close style that has made our movies so pictorially routine, however well-suited they may be for display on TV monitors and computer screens and iPods. In 1990 he seems to have realized that he needed to pick up the pace. Of GoodFellas (ASL 6.7 seconds) he remarked: “I guess the main thing that’s happened in the past ten years is that the scenes [shots] have to be quicker and shorter. [GoodFellas is sort of my version of MTV. . . but even that’s old-fashioned” (The Way Hollywood Tells It, p. 152). (For more on measuring ASLs, see the Cinemetrics site.)

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