Richard Marquand: Master of Cross-Cutting Storytelling. By Andrew Adams.
Going to the cinema has been a treasured pastime since the first movie houses opened in the early 1900s. Through the expert storytelling of those behind and in front of the camera, we enjoy a shared human experience. While well-cast actors and a well-written screenplay are needed for success, there is much that happens behind the scenes that allow a movie to stay with us and affect us so deeply.
Tools of the Trade
Montages are some of the most powerful story-telling tools directors employ. Movie montages serve purposes from advancing a storyline or showing a transformation to keeping the audience on the edge of their seat or tugging at their heartstrings.
Some of the most effective montages use a cross-cutting technique. This method is used when the director wants to show multiple scenes happening simultaneously, often to create suspense. Cross-cutting can be used to show a complex dichotomy between two characters or even for something as simple as a phone conversation. Regardless of how this technique is used, it’s often done so well that the audience doesn’t notice the abundance of cuts, all they know is that they can’t wait to see what happens next.
One of the most expert displays of the cross-cutting technique is in Richard Marquand’s “Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi.” This 30-minute sequence is the culmination of several complex storylines, each experiencing a thrilling climax.
Thanks to Marquand’s brilliance, there is no shortage of suspense between the hundreds of cuts in this sequence. We watch the exciting ground battle on Endor where our favorite heroes’ band together and narrowly escape death. We’re shown the desperate impatience of Lando Calrissian and Admiral Akbar as they wait for the Second Death Star’s shields to deactivate. We tragically watch as a father duels his son, a true battle between good and evil. Marquand’s ability to keep the audience emotionally focused on three separate, complex scenes at once sets him apart as one of the most skilled filmmakers of his time.
Setting the Bar High
Of course, Richard Marquand was no stranger to creating drama and suspense with his cross-cutting techniques. Thrillers such as “Jagged Edge” and “Eye of the Needle” made a name for Marquand’s talents, but “Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi” truly paved the way for blockbuster suspense sequences to come. It would go on to become a benchmark for complex action stories to live up to, and still holds up as a paragon of filmmaking today.
The cross-cutting technique is a remarkable feat of movie engineering and Marquand was certainly an innovator. Next time you notice yourself on the edge of your seat, ask yourself if a cross-cutting montage has anything to do with it.
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