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Sonic Flashbacks in The Prestige

by Paul Cote

In this example of non-simultaneous sound, we see Cutter's commentary functioning as a sonic flashback.  At the start of the film, we heard Cutter explaining the principles behind a magic trick at Borden's trial.  Though chronology can be tricky in this film, everything we see in this closing montage - Cutter's exchange with Borden's child and Angier's theater burning down - takes place after this courtroom monologue.  Cutter's voiceover is thus both figuratively and literally a sonic flashback, reminding us of the premise stated at the start of the film.

Flash forward in Easy Rider

by Michael Frierson

How often do filmmakers use the flash forward – temporal ellipsis – to show us future events in cinema? Relatively rarely, since humans do not ordinarily know the future. Motivating a flash forward within a narrative is difficult. In Easy Rider, Wyatt (Peter Fonda) visits a brothel in New Orleans with Billy (Dennis Hopper). While waiting for the women to arrive, Wyatt looks around the room and the camera tilts up to a faux plaque painted on a wall above him: “Death only closes a man’s reputation and determines it as good or bad." The editor, Donn Cambern, cuts to a very short aerial shot pulling away from of a fire beside a deserted road, then cuts back to Wyatt, who sighs pointedly and looks down. We only learn at the end of the film that this shot of the fire was actually Wyatt’s premonition of his own death. Billy and Wyatt are both shot at the end of the film, and the closing scene repeats the aerial fire shot. The film’s ending retroactively answers the puzzlement created earlier in the brothel.

Flash back in Forrest Gump

by Michael Frierson

One traditional kind of narrative flashback in film is recounted enactment: a character in the film recounts something in his or her past and we see that event enacted on screen. In Forrest Gump (Robert Zemeckis, 1994) Forrest (Tom Hanks) strikes up a philosophical conversation with a nurse on a park bench about her shoes. As the camera pushes in, Forrest recalls “I bet if I think about it real hard I could remember my first pair of shoes.” He closes his eyes, thinking hard, and continues, “Moma said they would take me anywhere,” cut to Forrest as a young boy, striking the same facial expression. As the camera pulls back, the adult Forrest’s voice continues, “She said they were my magic shoes.” The camera reveals Forrest in a doctor’s office. As Forrest opens his eyes in astonishment, the camera continues back to reveal his first pair of leg braces.

Flash back: The original scene in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance that later replays as a recounted enactment

by Michael Frierson

John Ford presents the shooting of Liberty Valance twice in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Ransom “Ranse” Stoddard (James Stewart), a lawyer raised and educated in the East, comes to Shinbone in the Western territories to set up a law office. He competes with the rancher Tom Doniphon (John Wayne) for the attention of Hallie (Vera Miles), and ultimately brings law and order to the town by killing a local thug who terrorizes the town -- Liberty Valence (Lee Marvin) -- or so he thinks. In the first presentation of the scene, we see the action from Stoddard's point of view, which suggests he has killed Valance, a remarkable feat given Valance's skill with a gun. It's only when Doniphon (John Wayne) takes Stoddard aside later and tells him that he didn't kill Valance that we see the "true" presentation of killing, where Doniphon shoots him from the alley nearby. This version of the scene becomes the basis for comparison to the enactment that comes in flashback later as Doniphon recounts the event, and Ford cuts to show it from the his point of view.

Non-simultaneous Sound in The Prestige

This clip from The Prestige illustrates both the concept of the sonic flashback and the sonic flashforward.

from The Prestige (2006)
Creator: Christopher Nolan
Distributor: Touchstone Pictures
Posted by Paul Cote
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