The Pestle


Ep 23: “Garden State”

November 28, 2017

In this episode we tackle Zach Braff’s indie hit “Garden State” and discuss:

  • the camerawork and editing;
  • visual gags;
  • when performances make the film;
  • the impact this film had on us personally;
  • and much more!


Visual Gags

As far as visual gags go, this one is very easy to grasp and get a laugh out of. His shirt blending in with the background gives a quick immediate sense of disorientation and realization, a very fast tension & resolution that makes up most of comedy.


Super simple payoff that simultaneously is at once digestible but also helps to build what we know about the character, that he’s “out of it”.


The edit is a great setup and payoff. The implied question of “what are they looking at?” coupled with the audio of scratching builds a strong mental assumption of what comes next, the delivery being the dog posing somewhat humanlike and touching his junk. Perhaps lowbrow, but it works in part because it’s edited right after a more tense moment in a cemetery. Sophomoric humor juxtaposed next to deep personal emotions can play really well.


Setup with Andrew being the last person into the pool and sheepishly lying about being able to swim, and paid off with two shots: first a hard cut proving Andrew lied as he flails awkwardly in the water, second with a reverse shot (breaking the 180ยบ Rule) revealing everyone gawking at him.


Perfect camerawork to play into the comedy, in this moment Andrew is spaced out and pulled back into reality by everyone yelling his name, the camera move perfectly replicates it.


This is a great example of simple editing & camerawork to enhance the gag. We start with a locked off wide shot where Andrew begins scanning the Doctor’s wall of accolades. We cut on Andrew’s head movement to a POV of the wall being scanned in mid-motion where we land at the top of the wall, this stopping feels like a bookend to the beginning shot, but the unexpected extra move at the end is the real punchline.


Ebb & Flow

Garden State largely employs comedic edits followed by long takes. This helps us spot the humor, but also helps break the visual monotony and settle into the more emotionally engaging moments. Let’s look at a few examples.


Here we can see an example of the “Mickey Mouse” editing, associated with the bouncing ball of the Mickey Mouse Show’s lyrics where every single syllable is pounced on by that ball. Similarly, every line of dialog is cut on the person speaking with little overlap someone’s dialog overlapping someone else’s screen time. (Also strongly associated with the TV show Dragnet.) Here we can see that we are constantly popping to whoever is speaking which builds comedic momentum for punchlines and delivery, it’s very punchy and can be tiring as an audience member.


Consider this section is on the heels of the swimming gag. Comedy, some lightly punchy editing followed by this slow crane shot that reestablishes the rhythm of the moment, the geography of the setting, and is slowly pushing in on our lead characters. In a sense we have journeyed visually into a new “home” that Andrew is looking for over the course of two longer takes. Both breaking up the quicker edits and emotionally engaging us by letting the onscreen performances have room to breathe and pull us in.


Perfect example of the ebb and flow of this movie. We are quickly cutting back and forth between our characters, and there’s a brilliant triple cut at the point where Andrew says they have to try and they cut on the lines “Yeah!” / “Right?” / “Yes!” and it builds so much excitement and momentum, then just as quickly they slow us back down, emotionally landing the plane as the music swells and they kiss, then slowly dollying away before cutting to black. This is an emotional arc within the scene itself, starting from a point of sadness (he was leaving), then bringing us to a peak of excitement about being together, then slowing us down with the question of what comes next in their lives, and it’s all mirrored in the editing and camerawork.


Notes & References:
Garden State was shot on the Panavision Panaflex Platinum
“Substitution” acting technique

This Week’s Recommendations:

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