One Ferpect Shot

I was describing the opening of ERIN BROCKOVICH to students, don’t ask me why, and then decided to look online to see if we could watch it, and discovered I’d remembered it all wrong.

The key thing is that Erin (Julia Roberts) goes for a job and doesn’t get it. I got that bit right. But I’d described it as being all one shot, in which we never see the prospective employer she’s auditioning to. In fact, look —

These are the basic shots, and the cleverest things are that

  1. They begin on a big closeup of JR without context, right in the middle of the conversation.
  2. The first shot of the boss is wider, but this works fine: I didn’t perceive it as a clunky mismatch
  3. When we go wider on JR, we go tighter on the boss, which also works fine.

The boss looks a bit like Soderbergh.

BUT — I do feel like my memory of the scene is better than the scene. Holding on Roberts in a single, unbroken close-up would get the film off to a bolder start and really boost the idea that this is a star vehicle built around the Roberts Charisma, which it is.

It would also fit nicely with the upcoming bit, which is really cool and more closely resembles my memory of it. Roberts finishes a cigarette outside, having failed to land the job  — the movie’s most cinematic ideas all involve ellipsis, and the ending will call-back to this transition by jumping over the actual trial scene that’s nominally the story’s climax.

Then she goes to her car and finds she’s got a parking ticket, then she breaks a nail opening the door, and the trailer VO man clears his throat preparatory to growling “Erin Brockovich is having a REALLY bad day,” — and we start to feel this movie is going to be really by-the-numbers, which in some ways it is. Then she gets in, drives off into the distance —

And SMASH!

A black car side-swipes Roberts’ car, sending it spinning.

The clever bit is that this DOES look like a single shot, but obviously Soderbergh wasn’t likely to have another car crash into Roberts’ vehicle while she’s in it. We have to go back and look at the moment where her car passes the camera quite close — very simple to stitch two shots together as the car is wiping frame, with a stunt driver in a big wig behind the wheel in the second shot. So that’s quite clever, isn’t it?

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8 Responses to “One Ferpect Shot”

  1. Remembering things as happening in one shot is a common affliction. The bit in M. Hulot’s Holiday where he gets fired into the sea after stepping on a tow-rope was a particularly sad disappointment for me.

  2. I wonder how many film teachers have told their students that THE SET-UP takes place in “real time” without actually timing the film’s shots.

  3. “Cleo From 5 to 7” isn’t two hours long.

  4. The Set-Up might qualify as a version of “real time” as the scenes are all tied together with sound effects, aren’t they, so it’s “continuous” time even if the clocks don’t tell the same story as the action…

  5. Old comic strip reference: In “Doonesbury”, Hollywood almost-star Boopsie told another character about her sideline as a CGI body double. She claims her cleavage was digitally inserted into “Erin Brockovich”, and consequently she gets 50¢ every time Julia Roberts leans forward.

  6. It’s a good example of Hollywood exaggeration: to make clear that EB seems a bit less polished than others in the law firm, Roberts has a bra that shows. The real EB said she’d never dress like that.

  7. I fancy doing a blog post about visible bra straps. It’s definitely a thing, and often used to denote that the wearer was a bit of a slut. (Instances I have noted down include Tilda Swinton in Julia, Elisabeth Shue in Palmetto and Joanne Whalley in Kill Me Again.)

    Though might be interesting to see whether the slut-signifying still applies, since I suspect visible bra straps are less frowned upon nowadays, when a lot of women’s T-shirts and tops seem expressly designed to reveal glimpses of lingerie.

  8. Yes, but everybody in a film has been DESIGNED. So nobody will have a visible bra strap, panty-line or anything else without the designer, director (and star, if it’s a star) having thought about what statement they’re making with this choice. And it won’t be on the basis of “you see this all the time in real life.”

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