I Watched Shawshank Redemption Seven Days in a Row
Wow, such a great movie! This was a fascinating (and at times arduous) experience, but worth it.
For the second viewing, I watched with the director’s commentary. And on the fourth day, I watched with the sound muted. Which for any filmmakers out there, I recommend doing every now and then, cause you see the films in such a different way.
After the second viewing of the week (and by the way, I also watched it once a few days prior to this experiment) I got a little bored. My brain didn’t want to watch the film. But then I started viewing in a different way, noticing the way the extras were performing, and observing certain camera movements, and all kinds of little points of interest that can only come from an obsessive kind of viewing.
This film is beloved by so many. Why? My usual answer is because IT’S AMAZING! And I’m not sure I want to analyse it further.
But I will say the screenplay is perfect. It has a built in structure that comes from Stephen King’s novella (Rita Hayworth & Shawshank Redemption), but Frank Darabont expanded on what was written and wrote a movie which is in so many ways a very dark movie, punctuated by unexpected highs.
Morgan Freeman gives an absolute masterclass in acting. Tim Robbins is incredible too and I can’t imagine anyone else in his role — but for me Freeman gives one of the most memorable screen performances of all time.
He steals scenes by not stealing scenes. He’s just IN IT. The third parole board scene, with his “to tell you the truth, I don’t give a shit” line. WOW! Just watch this guy do his thing.
What makes this film so special for me is its earnestness. It’s an honest film, all about story. The twists and turns don’t feel like flash gimmicks, they’re earned. They come from a dedication to telling a story– which leads to far more surprises than a shitty movie where they’re trying to add in twists to shock you.
Watching Shawshank seven times; the film begins to feel almost ordinary. Just like any other film — it’s a bunch of characters chatting and working stuff out. But that’s THE MAGIC of it. It’s just a well told story, with characters you relate to even though you’ve never spent time in a place like Shawshank.
In keeping with this style, the camerawork is unobtrusive. Like when Fat-Ass gets beaten, and when Andy gets raped. There’s a restraint. Darabont allows you to use your imagination, which is far more powerful than if they’d punched in for a heap of close-ups.
And the editing, too. There’ll be a line like “Andy spent a month in the hole” and then we CUT TO him back in the mess hall with his buddies. We don’t need to see time-passing-in-the-hole, it was enough to just be told it in a voice over. It’s these subtle, almost unnoticeable decisions, which help give the story the perfect pace and feel throughout.
I was interested to hear Darabont in the commentary talking about how they shot in sequence – because you actually see the shooting style change as the film progresses. At the beginning, there’s a lot of cutting between shots, but by half way through lots of key scenes play out in long fluid master shots. I think it’s no coincidence that so many of the all time great movies use long single takes in major scenes – it’s a way of keeping the acting and storytelling that little bit more authentic.
What I got from watching the film for a week solid was not anything revolutionary – except perhaps that this film’s genius isn’t a miracle – it was just a lot of hard work and attention to detail.
I also read the screenplay this week. There were scenes in the script, that I believe they also shot, that didn’t end up in the film. And I totally understand why — they were unnecessary moments. For example there’s a whole passage where Brook’s bird, Jake, is found dead, and the guys do a makeshift burial and try to keep it from the guards.
A lovely scene, but pointless in the context of the movie.
Maybe the difference between a good film and a GREAT one is just knowing what stuff to cut. Having the guts to make bold decisions.
Shawshank is a masterpiece. I’ll never watch it seven days in a row again, but it will still be viewed regularly.