November 21st, 2010
Manolito and Victoria in Trail to Nevermore
Recently when watching The Virginian, I noticed several continuity errors in the episode. Coincidentally, the following episode of High Chaparral, Trail to Nevermore also had quite a few. This led me to wonder if the editors at the time had had a bad week. While some people consider them annoying, and I recognise that too many would be, I find continuity errors provide a certain charm, showing us that even the revered weavers of the TV magic we enjoy, weren’t perfect. Glasses empty or refill themselves, guns fire more rounds than they should be able to and other little details slip past the filmmakers. I think the technical side of film making is fascinating. It is also a skill that requires an exacting eye. Since I opened with Trail to Nevermore we’ll look at that first.
Victoria left High Chaparral with John and Mano, wearing brown culottes and somewhere along the line they seem to have unstitched themselves and reformed into a skirt after they were stranded. A brown jacket also materialised but I leave that one to the possibility that she brought it with her after their ambushed wagon was lost to them, though I’m not sure how since she arrived at Nevermore empty handed. At least the color of the new skirt was close. John and Mano also managed to spend days in the ghost town without needing a shave. Finally, no one seemed to notice that John had injured his left arm to the point where it was painful to touch yet he used that arm to hold and lean on his walking stick. Definitely not their best week.
As you are aware, nothing we see on the screen is filmed in the sequence that we watch it. This is often evident when we observe two characters talking during an outdoor scene. Some small change in lighting, animals in a nearby paddock change (or vanish) or even the actor’s hairstyle can be a giveaway that the scene was not shot in one hit. Other clues to scenes being filmed at different times include the positioning of clothing or the appearance and disappearance of dirt on a face or sweat marks on clothing.
Sam Butler and Trini in the episode Follow Your Heart
Follow Your Heart provides us with an excellent example of the latter. Sam’s clothing is wet with sweat when he enters the church but he is dry while inside. The sweat marks reappear when he leaves the church but he dries up again in the graveyard when he talks to Trini soon after. Clearly, the two dry scenes were filmed at a different time to the wet ones and presumably one filming day was much hotter than the other.
Often, small continuity errors are apparent during dusk and dawn settings. This sort of thing would be very hard to avoid since no two mornings or evenings are exactly alike. One person might have a pink sunset behind them while the other has dark night (or lighter afternoon skies) – another giveaway that the scenes were filmed at different times. While not quite an error, like the coiled snake that regularly turns up, I also smile when the same flash of lightning not only appears repeatedly during a given storm, but in episodes of other westerns! Of course I could be wrong but it sure looks like the same one to me*.
Manolito is injured by a rattlesnake in the episode Joyful Noise
Furniture also appears and disappears, such as the bench outside Perlita’s house when Mano visits her in For What We Are About to Receive – the memorable Thanksgiving episode. When Mano leaves the house the bench has vanished. What’s more, wounds migrate or disappear altogether. In A Joyful Noise, Mano’s right ankle is bitten by a rattlesnake. A few scenes later the bandages are on his left. Blue doesn’t escape a migrating injury either. In Sea of Enemies his left temple is split when he is hit by a gun. The bleeding injury vanishes for a while, only to reappear in a later scene. Sometimes modern technology also makes an unexpected appearance such as in The Lieutenant. For the sharp eyed person, close inspection of one outdoor scene reveals a jet contrail in the skies above the characters. I’m pretty sure that wasn’t meant to be there. Automobile tire prints are also visible in the sand outside the Cannon house in The Guns of Johnny Rondo. Doubtless, the vehicles that left them there carried filming equipment. But it’s all forgivable.
Film continuity is necessary to make scenes that are meant to flow consistently, do just that and filmmakers are generally pretty good about getting things right. Some inconsistencies do tend to distract the viewer and can be mildly annoying. One example of this was in an episode of The Virginian. As I arrived a few minutes late, I missed the title so can’t tell you. It was about a millionaire who closed down a wagon route that was losing money for the company. He spends a month working with the Virginian and learns some valuable life lessons. It’s definitely a favourite episode for me and I enjoyed it immensely – except for that one glaring error.
During a very rough and tumble fight scene, leaving the Virginian and the millionaire grubby and their hair dishevelled, they stopped to glare at each other with venom (as you do). Here a conspicuous slip leaps out. During this breath catching interlude both men had clean faces and perfectly combed hair. If you’ll excuse the pun, to have them suddenly look so tidy was definitely a bit sloppy. I’m surprised not a single person involved failed to notice that one.
Even the best of filmed productions have errors that have been captured for posterity so High Chaparral is in good company. One of my favourite movies, It’s a Wonderful Life, is not only a delight to watch, but provides a buffet of continuity errors. In what is one of my all time favourites in any filmed production, we see a policeman’s shadow pointing at something moments before the policeman raises his arm to do the pointing! Now that’s a neat trick, don’t you think?
* I know I’m being the ultimate nerd here, and while I am sure it is the same bolt of lightning we always see, I could be wrong. I admit this to avoid any readers writing to me to point out (rightly so!) that according to Einstein’s Special Relativity – and he even used lightning as an example – from different reference frames, there can never be agreement on the simultaneity of events. So perhaps, many different flashes of lighting looked identical to me, though I doubt it.