The training montages that never were

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Slam-bang MTV editing, driving ’80s synth-rock, buckets of human sweat. There’s not a film in existence that wouldn’t be improved by the addition of a good old adrenaline-pumpin’ training montage. For example…

Battleship Potemkin (1925)

Inflamed by harsh conditions aboard ship – such as being forced to dine on rancid meat and watch their fellow sailors face the firing squad for no particular reason – the crew of the eponymous Russian warcraft are understandably miffed, and it isn’t long before proto-Marxist revolution begins to foment. There’s only one thing for it: mutiny. What’s missing, however, is a pumped-up, hard-rockin’ prep sequence, where the sailors form ranks on the deck swinging mops like pugel-sticks and shouting ‘ha!’, or swarm up and down the rigging in a flurry of muscular arms and flying perspiration. Sergei Eisenstein may be seen as the father of film montage, but here his flow was understandably hampered by the fact that Kenny Loggins hadn’t been born yet.

The Wizard of Oz (1939)

It’s the final act of the movie and, despite repeated refusals to 'surrender Dorothy', the winsome Kansan farmgirl has been swept off by those creepy flying monkeys, and it’s up to the Lion, the Tin Man and the Scarecrow to bust her out of Bad Witch chokey. But how will a quivering coward, a soulless automaton and a straw-pated dumbass ever attain the skills necessary for such a daring bust? Montage, that’s how! Under the Yoda-like guidance of the newly-exposed Wizard, the three embark on a rigorous regime of bench presses, squat thrusts and scrambling through a field of mud shouting ‘grrrr!’, all set to a pulsating Giorgio Moroder remix of ‘Over the Rainbow’.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

En route to Jupiter, cosmic astronaut Dave Bowman and his equally taciturn sidekick Frank realise their onboard computer, HAL 9000, is beginning to act all screwy. When Frank drifts kicking and (presumably) screaming into open space, Dave knows there’s only one cyber-genius in town with both the motive and opportunity to carry out such a crime, and sets off to end his reign of terabyte terror. What the film lacks, however, is any explanation of where Dave obtains the programming skills necessary to defeat this digital dictator. What’s missing is that timeworn riff on the classic training sequence: the study montage. Shots of Dave poring over weighty tomes, screwing up his brow in frustration, filling his third cup of coffee and angrily snapping a pencil between his fingers. Muttering things like ‘c’mon, c’mon, it’s gotta be in here’. Drawing little diagrams, then angrily scribbling them out again. Then the Eureka moment – a raised eyebrow, a tentative grin. A quick look around to make sure the omniscient HAL doesn’t know what’s happening. Then he’s off, hydrospanner in hand, ready to make that final software adjustment…

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)

Escaping the sexually confounding dynamics of their stifling polyamorous three-way, Paul Newman’s Butch Cassidy lets Sundance and their audience-friendly female makeweight have a lie-in one morning and takes off on a jaunty bike ride to the strains of Burt Bacharach’s Zen anthem ‘Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on my Head’. It’s one of cinema’s most memorably light-hearted scenes, but how much more accomplished would it have been if Butch had taken the time to really get to know the complex interplay at work between man and machine? An assembly of unconnected shots of Butch lubing his derailleur, chatting to hard-hatted eggheads and soaping his saddle was reportedly put together by director George Roy Hill, but sadly found its way onto the cutting-room floor after the film's producers deemed the whole sequence 'too fruity' for Newman’s blue-collar fanbase.

Apocalypse Now (1979)

'I wanted a montage, and for my sins, they gave me one.' Holed up in a squalid little box room listening to The Doors, swigging cider and booting the furniture in fits of attention-seeking obstreperousness, sociopathic black-ops junglist Martin Sheen is living the life of a geography student when we first encounter him in Coppola’s Vietnam War fever dream. Unable to cope with civvy street downtime between missions, his prayers are answered when he is assigned with taking out a decorated US Army Colonel who has 'gone Brando' and disappeared into the interior where he holds dominion as a mumbling poet-warlord. What we would have loved to have seen is Sheen losing the cider-gut and sweating out the amphetamines by jogging around Saigon in a crop-top and bandana, high-fiving friendly shop-keeps and dodging tracer-fire to a rock-steady beat.

JFK (1991)

With the trial date set and Kevin Costner’s Orleans Parish DA Jim Garrison believing he’s in with a shot of proving there was a government conspiracy to murder President Kennedy, Oliver Stone chooses to protract the already fit-to-burst runtime of his wild-headed political thriller by inserting a good ol’ montage sequence. We start off with Costner balancing two precariously stacked piles of legal writs down the street and, when attempting to dodge an oncoming streetcar, dropping them all on the floor. He then shares a joke with a fire-eating Mardi Gras reveler wearing a skeleton mask and who has no hands. Flash-cut to him sat at a desk with a green visor and scribbling in the word 'justice' in the margins of some bulbous tome of cryptic legalese, which then fades through to a scene of his neglected wife and kids nervously huddled together on a sofa as he screams ‘that’s not good enough, Jimmy. Run it one more time!’ down the phone line. Depending on his mood, Stone will synch this to Rachmaninov’s Hungarian Rhapsody #2, a Nine Inch Nails b-side or the Pointer Sisters’ ‘Neutron Dance’ .

There Will Be Blood (2007)

California, 1927. Wild-tempered, molasses-larynxed oilman Daniel Plainview has gone to seed, languishing in his expansive Doheny manor and ignoring the waning attentions of his son and business associate HW. Then word comes through that his arch-nemesis, baby-faced fire and brimstone preacher Eli Sunday, will be coming to town to drum up funds for a new superchurch. Daniel, a man of firm but unpredictable principles, isn’t about to let that happen. But what can he do? He’s old, tired, and spreading around the middle. There’s only one thing for it – he’ll have to get back in the game. Cut to sweeping shots of Daniel jogging feverishly through the California scrub, past a row of his own rigs pumping robotically in the red light of the rising sun. Bowling in his private lanes, scoring a perfect game and tipping a wry wink to his shuffling manservant. Sidling up behind an unsuspecting HW and slipping his own personal gold-plated monogrammed drinking straw into the boy’s rich, dark weight-gain milkshake. Soundtrack artist Jonny ‘the talented one in Radiohead’ Greenwood pulls out all the stops with a radical reinterpretation of the classic training music, combining the traditional synth-guitar-vocoder dynamic with clattering ethnic polyrhythyms and screeching walls of atonal noise…

Author: Adam Lee Davies, David Jenkins, Tom Huddleston



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