The Movie: Hot Rod
The Scene: “Quiet Place”
The Editor: Malcolm Campbell

About 15 minutes into Hot Rod, young daredevil Rod Kimble (Andy Samberg) discovers that his hard-ass stepfather (Ian McShane), whom he has vowed to beat in a fight, has a failing heart. This prompts Rod to declare, “I need to go to my quiet place!” The setting then cuts to a forest, where he is dancing out his troubles while smoking a cigarette and slopping drinking some liquor. His moves are set to the strains of “Never” by Moving Pictures, making it clear that this is an homage to the angry dancing scene in the warehouse in Footloose. Much of Samberg’s acrobatic routine takes its cues from Kevin Bacon, and the editing by Malcolm Campbell follows suit.

This scene is cut like a music video, which is appropriate, because it is focused not on moving the narrative forward but on capturing Rod’s emotional state. There is a mix of mostly wide and medium-wide shots composed of several trees and most or all of Rod. This is appropriate, as he is using his whole body to dance. The editing pace matches the rock music well, with a busy but steady pace in which the shots last about 2-5 seconds each.

The dancing portion goes into its conclusion when Rod jumps off a stump and performs a front flip in the air. Or, he performs at least ten front flips. Each shot of him flipping is cut in mid-air, so it is unclear if each subsequent flip is a new flip or the same flip from a different angle. His flipping style is slightly different each time, so there are likely multiple flips. The quicker editing at this point makes it seem like Rod is flipping several times in a row before landing, despite such a feat’s logical impossibility. This less-than-literal style is then brought back down to earth, as Rod trips against a stump and falls over a cliff, with the music suddenly cutting out.

Comedy has been called an editor’s medium, and it shows during Rod’s descent, which lasts nearly an entire minute. The cuts emphasize how unlikely and unexpected the duration of his fall is. Rod’s movement on any given shot generally moves from right to left on the frame, conveying a steady momentum. Until the end, the shot compositions do not give any indication of the end of the cliff, leaving the viewer on edge, uncertain about how long this will last. Thus, there is an atmosphere of surprise that is crucial to comedy. The coup de grâce is a switch to a series of three much wider shots, with Rod’s screams barely audible in the distance. In this sequence, Rod is off-screen for five seconds (as opposed to no more than a second before this point), building maximum tension right before he falls out of the sky and finally rolls into a flat patch of land, giving the audience a moment to breathe as they process this quick burst of surrealism.

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