Created By: karaloyal on August 29, 2010 Last Edited By: berr on March 18, 2011
Troped

Blade of Grass Cut

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Ready For Launch? Originally written by karaloyal, edited --berr.

This screenwriting technique is seen a lot in "realist" films of the seventies and eighties, with a kind of rebirth in the nineties. It involves cutting to a still object. It might be a stalk of grass, a branch with dew, or a child's toy. Sometimes the trope involves fading in and out of focus, as was done a lot in the 70s, or holding steady, sharp focus. It might be a close up of a Christmas ornament while the drunken parents are arguing, perhaps showing how the child finds it too painful to look at directly, and instead fixates on something steady and reliable. The whole scene of a dinner might focus on a bowl of soup rather than the person eating it.

This trope more often than not has a melancholy or painful tone to it. It often feels emotionally detached or wistful.

The technical term for this trope in cinema is Associational Montage, or Intellectual Montage. The Grammar of Film & Television writes:

[ The juxtaposition of short shots to represent action or ideas; Intellectual montage is used to consciously convey subjective messages through the juxtaposition of shots which are related in composition or movement, through repetition of images, through cutting rhythm, detail or metaphor. Montage editing, unlike invisible editing, uses conspicuous techniques which may include: use of close- ups, relatively frequent cuts, dissolves, superimposition, fades and jump cuts. Such editing should suggest a particular meaning. ]

What it is not: Shots of an object with major significance to the subject (the Ring in Lord of the Rings, the Coffee and the Cigarettes in Coffee And Cigarettes, Rosebud...)

See also Motif for use of objects as a motif, usually a recurring motif.

This is a specific type of Montage. Related to Aspect Montage, among others.

Examples:

Poetry

a red wheel\\ barrow
covered with rain\\ water
beside the white
chickens." ]
[ -- William Carlos Williams, "Red Wheelbarrow", illustrating this trope with a poem. ]

Comics

  • Watchmen combines this with Motif, cutting in between panels to random symbolic objects (including a snowglobe and a rose, see below) flying in stop motion to symbolize the character's thoughts, immutability of time and stuff.

Film

  • Many of the shots during musical sequences of Easy Rider.
    A classic, almost definitive example can be found here.

  • The Thin Red Line. Body blows up -- cut to blade of grass. Man slowly dying -- cut to birds preening in the trees. Narrator asks "why is nature at war with itself?" -- cut to a crocodile swimming.
    • Terrence Malick loves this trope.

  • Visible in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in a fade in/out of a tree branch with dew, set to "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head".

  • This may include the film La Jetée, which is made up of all still shots with one motion shot.

  • Many examples are silent or musical, many have dialogue, often painful dialogue, going over. High Hopes by Mike Leigh has quite a few "overlong" shots of doors, an elderly lady's dentures, a series of shots of gravestones, often used to reflect a malaise of the characters.

  • Seen in most Dogme 95 films, such as The Idiots.

  • Many shots in Dancer in the Dark are examples of this.

  • Rosebud does not apply in Citizen Kane, but the snowglobe possibly does. In fact, snowglobes in general.

  • Karina Hill writes about Eisenstein: [ "His associational montages use dialectic elements to activate audience emotions. Generally, his associational montages are used to sadden or disgust the audience. Intellectual montage is the colliding of two unrelated shots in order to arrive at an understanding of an abstract concept or message. The Soviet system within which he worked emphasized the social utility of film and he believed that film could be used to reeducate the public. Therefore, Eisenstein used montages to incite physiological, emotional, and intellectual responses in spectators, with the ultimate goal of motivating them to take action." ]

Live-Action TV

The Biggest Loser often does scenery cutaways as transitions, but in a recent episode (Season 9, episode 17), there was a bizarre close-up of a single wild rose, wet with dew, sandwiched between two of the scenery shots. The rose had nothing to do with anything.


Community Feedback Replies: 19
  • March 23, 2010
    Unknown Troper
    I don't know. I used to obsess on this one when I was a kid. Must be the Only One. Sigh.
  • March 24, 2010
    Unknown Troper
    From the webpage THE GRAMMAR OF FILM & TELEVISION:

    http://www.aber.ac.uk/media/Documents/short/gramtv.html Montage/montage editing. In its broadest meaning, the process of cutting up film and editing it into the screened sequence. However, it may also be used to mean intellectual montage - the justaposition of short shots to represent action or ideas - or (especially in Hollywood), simply cutting between shots to condense a series of events. Intellectual montage is used to consciously convey subjective messages through the juxtaposition of shots which are related in composition or movement, through repetition of images, through cutting rhythm, detail or metaphor. Montage editing, unlike invisible editing, uses conspicuous techniques which may include: use of close- ups, relatively frequent cuts, dissolves, superimposition, fades and jump cuts. Such editing should suggest a particular meaning.

    Probably the closest term would be 'intellectual montage' -- sure there's a better term, but I'm blanking on my film theory studies at the moment.

  • March 24, 2010
    Unknown Troper
    Related to Aspect Montage
  • March 24, 2010
    karaloyal
    Actually I am looking up Eisenstein, and I think it is actually associational montage.

    Karina Hill writes about Eisentstein : "His associational montages use dialectic elements to activate audience emotions. Generally, his associational montages are used to sadden or disgust the audience. Intellectual montage is the colliding of two unrelated shots in order to arrive at an understanding of an abstract concept or message. The Soviet system within which he worked emphasized the social utility of film and he believed that film could be used to reeducate the public. Therefore, Eisenstein used montages to incite physiological, emotional, and intellectual responses in spectators, with the ultimate goal of motivating them to take action."

    This would make sense, then, that this trope is associated with realist/New Hollywood and anti-Hollywood filmmaking. I am going to edit for more examples in film and literature. It is almost a poetic trope applied to film.
  • March 24, 2010
    karaloyal
    And yes, it is definitely related to Aspect Montage.
  • March 24, 2010
    berr
    I like the title Blade Of Grass but perhaps it should include "Montage" in the trope name for clarity.

    Alt titles:

    Another Example:

    • The Thin Red Line. Body blows up -- cut to blade of grass. Man slowly dying -- cut to birds preening in the trees. Narrator asks "why is nature at war with itself?" -- cut to a crocodile swimming.
  • April 2, 2010
    berr
    Blade Of Grass Cut is probably more memorable than the others.
  • April 3, 2010
    berr
    Is this Up For Grabs?
  • April 7, 2010
    Unknown Troper
    YKTTW is broken for me... can't reply to anything that falls below page 1. Any examples? Do We Have This One?
  • April 17, 2010
    berr
  • April 28, 2010
    berr
    Needs More Examples or someone to come along and say we have this, cause it seems like a fairly significant trope.
  • April 28, 2010
    Dcoetzee
    Agree that this is a good trope. Unfortunately I can't remember any of the examples I've seen.
  • June 5, 2010
    berr
    I'm not good with examples, only with writeups. I remember examples from works I've seen recently, then I go around and fill them in on existing trope pages. ;-) Anyone have Examples?
  • June 5, 2010
    Starry-Eyed
    The Biggest Loser often does scenery cutaways as transitions, but in a recent episode (Season 9, episode 17), there was a bizarre close-up of a single wild rose, wet with dew, sandwiched between two of the scenery shots. The rose had nothing to do with anything.
  • August 17, 2010
    berr
    Since this one is Up For Grabs, I'd be willing to launch it per Three Rules Of Three. any comments?
  • August 29, 2010
    berr
    Three Rules Of Three have been fulfilled, but it was suggested that it'd be good to wait for confirmation from another troper or two on whether to launch now? or wait for more examples?

    I tightened up the description by adding in examples below the fold.
  • August 29, 2010
    Grandy
    The title Blade of Grass made me think it was about using grass and leaves as blades. You know like Razor Leaf from pokemon.

    To avoid misunderstanding like that (even thought it seems it was only me...), how about name it 'Blade Of Grass Transition'?
  • March 18, 2011
    katiek
    I wrote the original - lost my login and have not been here in a while. Interesting it is still under consideration for launch. I would like to see this happen. Anyone else?
  • March 18, 2011
    katiek
    OOPS my bad I see it has *blush*. Thanks all.
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