Posts by Andrew Nichols

Editor-In-Chief, NQN

The Underappreciated Scene Transition

One of my personal favorite touches in filmmaking is when a film’s editing ties two separate scenes together such that the way in which a transition takes place conveys meaning beyond that of a normal cut. Film (more accurately speaking, media of the moving image) is unique in that transitions from one scene to another can be instantaneous. In the vast majority of cases, this means that the production of two different scenes is a self-contained exercise, wherein each is shot separately, and then placed in its order in the film’s narrative, with the only interaction between the two scenes being said narrative link. The transition itself is given little or no thought.

However, there are sequences throughout the annals of film history that aim to creatively weave scenes together, and make an artistic statement via a dissolve, cut, wipe, fade, etc. Such sequences and transitions can make a film much more cohesive, and can elevate the artistic meaning of a film beyond the reaches of a “conventional” cut.

To show what I mean, here are my three favorite examples:

1. Citizen Kane’s (1941) “eye dissolve” 

I mean, come on. This eye matching is just nutty.


To not only have the foresight to plan such a transition, but be able to formulate a way in which you can stage and shoot these scenes and get that eye match is the sign that Orson Welles was in an elevated stratosphere of filmmaking while making Citizen Kane. Also, the rest of the stained glass gives some more symbolic meaning to Susan’s character (the scales being the clearest). But I’ll leave that for you to read into.

Sometimes the greatest scene transitions are much more subtle in practice, but can make a grand statement. Sadly, these moments of greatness often go unnoticed, as is the case with my second example:

2. Opening credits zoom out from O Něčem Jiném (1963)

This one doesn’t appear to fit within the theme of scene transitions. Moreover, it doesn’t even seem all that interesting at first. I consider it a scene transition because without the zoom it would be incredibly difficult for a first-time viewer to discern that they are watching a TV being filmed. As such, the audience moves from watching an isolated performance by a gymnast, to a family’s home. But still, why is this transition worthy of praise? Sure, it’s mildly impressive that director Věra Chytilová is able to convincingly shoot the scene such that we can’t tell we’re watching a TV, but the two zooms (first being a zoom away from the gymnast, then a zoom out to the living room) aren’t all that great in isolation.

The reason why I love this particular transition has to do with O Něčem Jiném’s structure as a film, and how this subtle introduction interacts with it. O Něčem Jiném (English title: Something Different) has two seemingly separate stories that are intercut with one another. Edgar Cochran sums it up nicely:

“Two stories are simultaneously told. One dutiful mother progressively becomes a frustrated woman who is the only one assuming the family responsibilities of working at home and looking after her only son, whereas her husband works all day, does not appreciate his wife’s efforts and the only thing he does by the time he gets home is to read the newspaper and watch soccer matches. On the other hand, a female gymnast prepares for her last competition before her career retirement, but faces pressure from her trainer and a lack of motivation to keep going. The film depicts frustration on both sides, and parallels two worlds dominated by men, where women do not receive any recognition, and in case they do, it is momentary.”

What Cochran does not mention is that the gymnast is Eva Bosáková, an actual Czech gymnast whose scenes were shot while she was training for the 1962 World Championships in Prague. Her segment of the film is a documentary, with Chytilová observing what was going on behind the scenes in her training sessions. Conversely, the story of housewife Věra (played by Vera Uzelacová) was written for the film, and is “fictional”. This opening sequence is the only interaction that the two stories have in Something Different, and yet it proves to be one of the keys to the film’s meaning. Chytilová is expressing that the struggles of the housewife are just as real as those of the gymnast, by connecting their worlds through this framing device. If the gymnast’s story is real, and contained in the diegesis of the housewife’s world, it makes the housewife’s world just as real. An extremely potent and subversive statement, especially for 1963.

And finally, my absolute favorite transition

3. A statement on race and power, from Imitation of Life (1959)

Imitation of Life tells the story of aspiring actress Lora (Lana Turner) who befriends and takes in African-American Annie (Juanita Moore) and her daughter Sarah Jane (Susan Kohner). When Lora’s career takes off, Annie becomes the family housekeeper. However, Sarah Jane is extremely fair-skinned, and passes as white for the majority of the film, much to her mother’s dismay. She begins dating a white boy, but her race and his racism come to a head in the following scene:



The loud, seemingly-ill-fitting jazz in the background punctuates the beating scene such that it forces the audience to pay attention—you can’t ignore it as “normal conventional movie drama” anymore. Then, it abruptly cuts to Annie giving Lora a foot massage, as Lora says “Ahh that felt so good.” Such a line following a savage beating like that is not merely coincidence. The visual symbolism of a black woman giving a white woman a foot massage underscores this.

This has been read numerous ways, including as a confirmation that director Douglas Sirk secretly harbors racist sentiments himself. However, my reading is one of a commentary on society and the prevailing attitudes of the time. Sirk is arguing that white people of the day, no matter how seemingly allied with black people (as Lora is through the film) are willing to make black people subservient in order to fulfill their desires. When a black person gets out of “their place” (as Sarah Jane did), it “feels good” to put them back (violently, if need be). Sirk later acknowledged that the two African-American characters were the main characters of the film, claiming that he “subversively undercut Turner to draw focus toward the problems of the two black characters.” I mean, just look at this screenshot:

Lana Turner’s skin and costuming practically blend into the monochrome set, something that repeatedly happens to all of the white characters in the second half of the film. Sirk reduces her to furniture; he’s visually confirming that her story is NOT the one that matters. Such a visual strategy makes it hard for me to believe that he used the preceding cut as some sort of sick joke.

Instead, I think it was Sirk’s way of undercutting his apparently progressive and “colorblind” leading white family. This transition shows that even though Lora claims she views Annie as an equal, she truly views her as a subordinate. Even though she appears to love Annie and Sarah Jane, she is aghast earlier in the film when she discovers that Sarah Jane is dating a white boy and not “one of her own”.

I cannot understate how important it is to consider this transition in the context of the film as a whole, and recommend wholeheartedly that you go watch it now. But the fact that even in isolation it can be so pregnant with meaning is a testament to the power of editing in film, and reinforces what a shame it is that this opportunity for artistic expression is so criminally underutilized.

Loss, Grief, and the New York Mets

My father passed away on May 28th, 2017. The 11 or so months since then have been the longest, hardest, and most bizarre months of my life.

When you lose a loved one, one of the things that people who’ve previously experienced loss warn you about is that grief “comes in waves”. Seemingly random things will remind you of the deceased. These waves are sometimes positive, mostly negative, and you usually never see them coming.

When my father died, I was getting coffee at a local shop with an old friend. I returned home to the awful squeal of ambulance alarms and the anguished cries that you only hear when someone leaves this life. Every day on my commute to work, there’s a sticker advertising that coffee shop on the meter where I pay for my parking. Every morning, at around 5:40 AM, memories of that awful day come flooding back. It is, unequivocally, the worst part of my day.

These moments are the things that make grief such an all-encompassing experience, for months, years, decades after the initial shock of loss. Nine times out of ten, I want nothing more than to escape them.

Which is what makes the Mets’ hot start all the more odd.

My Father and I used to go on trips every summer to catch a baseball game in as many different ballparks as possible. During my teen and pre-teen years we went to 17 different stadiums in 13 cities. Much to the chagrin and envy of my siblings, it was just me and my dad who went on these excursions to embrace America’s pastime.

We spent countless hours in airports, rental cars, and hotel rooms. We ate the local cuisine with the delight and vigor that can only come after a two hour flight delay and three hours in coach. We went to all the tourist attractions in Chicago, St. Louis, and even the much-maligned Cleveland. In short, we saw a snapshot of America.

Above all that though, we saw baseball. It was a sacred experience, just a father and his son, taking in a ballgame. We shut off our cell phones, and only allowed ourselves one half-inning to snap pictures with our camera. For those three to five hours, the only things that mattered were the crack of the bat, the scrape of a slide, the low hum of the crowd, and the pop of a fastball hitting the catcher’s mitt.

Even though we saw games all over the country, and became experts on each team by the time we left their place of residence, it always came back to our beloved Mets. My Dad was born in 1962, and one of his oldest memories was racing home to watch the Amazin’ Mets of 1969 play in the World Series. His childhood home was just down the street from the elementary school, so all of his friends would come over to watch Tom Terrific battle the vaunted Orioles’ attack. By the time the last out settled into the glove of Cleon Jones, my young father had already become a Mets fan for life.

I grew up with stories about that team and the 1986 squad. We had a commemorative VHS recap of the ‘86 season in my house, and my brother and I must have watched it 200 times in our youth (you can experience it in all of its amazingly cheesy 80s glory here). I was the weirdo six-year-old who said stuff like “Mookie Wilson is my favorite baseball player” even though he retired four years before I was born.

On summer evenings, whenever my Dad got home from work, we’d throw on the TV and watch the Mets. They were usually terrible, as is the case with most Mets squads. The Mets have never really had a sustained run of excellence, so even when they have a great season, it’s usually bookended by mediocrity. It’s what makes those magical runs all the more special.

In 2015, when our beloved Mets made the World Series, My Dad took my brother and I to see game three of the NLDS at Citi Field. It was the game after Chase Utley injured Reuben Tejada on a dirty slide, typical of what I’d expect from a former Phillie. The crowd that night was unlike anything I’ve experienced before or since. It was electric. There was a stretch of three innings where we never sat down. When Yoenis Céspedes hit a three-run rocket to make it 10-3, all three of us were jumping and yelling in pure euphoria.

That was one of the greatest nights of my life. I was with my Dad, at the ballpark, and the Mets were on a magical run. It was perfect.



My father and I never got to share a Mets World Series title. It brings me comfort to know that he saw two in his life. But my first will be experienced without him. It is a fact that has brought me to tears in the past few months, a fact that almost makes me fearful of the emotional strain that will come if our Mets hoist the trophy.

I avoided ballparks all of last summer following my father’s death. It was an experience that was too entangled with him; to go to the ballpark for the first time without him was to admit that the man who had cultivated my love for the game was gone.

However, the Mets have gotten off to their best start in franchise history this year. Each new win beckoned me to the park, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that if my father were still here, we would have already bought tickets. These are the inescapable emotions during grief that make seemingly positive moments clouded and confounding. What “should” be an unblemished positive becomes an infinitely more complex sensation. A yearning for the presence of my father, so that we could share in this joyous occasion.

I went to the park on Saturday night, and witnessed the Mets suffer just their second loss of the year. The scene was familiar; the cracks, scrapes, hums, and pops were still there. Yet something was missing. Someone was missing.

Going to a baseball game will never be the same knowing that my father will never join me there again. But thus far, it is the only “wave trigger” I’ve found that lifts me up rather than tear me down. A rush of memories come back, an inexplicable typhoon of smells and sounds and thoughts of time spent with the man who raised me. Watching the Mets play is so much more than watching a simple baseball game. It is communing with my father, who I love and miss dearly. And for that, I am beyond grateful.

Let’s go Mets.


Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed this piece, I highly recommend that you check out “Life, Sports, and the Pursuit of Happiness” by my best friend Michael Graziano. It’s excellent, and had no small part in influencing this essay.  I also suggest you read “The Fiberglass Backboard” by Bryan Curtis, which has helped me through the past few months in more ways than I could list here. Thumbnail image copyright Bleacher Report, 2015.

The Great Book Race of 2018


Editor’s note: This e-mail exchange took place between 3/31 and 4/5. Since then Andrew has finished one more book and Maggie has finished two, because she’s a tryhard.

Andrew Nichols: Alright Magz. I got beef with you. My New Year’s resolution this year was to read a book a month. By no means a lofty goal, but one that I felt I could accomplish and feel good about.

Then I log onto instagram on Jan 6th and see this crap:


(Go follow @magzreadz on instagram if you don’t already).

So now I gotta double my book goal, and I have an instagram account telling me how far behind I am. I’ve done four books thus far and just started number five. Meanwhile you just finished book 5, right?

@Magzreadz (Maggie Cavanaugh): Yeah, that’s right, and you know me, I can get competitive too, so knowing I’ve got you not too far behind me is a great motivator. A book a month is a great goal, but isn’t this more fun?!

I’m reading books of all genres, whatever I’m feeling like picking up next. Do you have a certain genre you’re sticking with, or are you in the same boat? And what have you read so far?

Andrew: Same for me. Personally I tend toward nonfiction but the book I’m reading right now if my first fiction book of the year.

Thus far I’ve read Chain of Title by David Dayen, American Cinema: Directors and Directions by Andrew Sarris, Backwards and in Heels by Alicia Malone, and The Horror Genre:From Beelzebub to Blair Witch by Paul Wells.

What about you? I know you already gave out ratings on your instagram, so how about we do some superlatives?

I’m thinking BEST BOOK, MOST ADDICTING, WORST BOOK, and finally the ones we recommend vs. those we don’t?

Maggie: So far I’ve read Wild by Cheryl Strayed, Into the Wild by Jon Kraukauer, Bad Monkey by Carl Hiaasen, Talking as Fast as I Can by Lauren Graham, and Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert.

That plan sounds good! I’ll make up some superlatives for the books we don’t cover with those categories.

Andrew: Good looks. Without further adieu…


Maggie: So far this award goes to Wild by Cheryl Strayed. Strayed is real and raw in her tellings, and she encounters a fair amount of entertaining situations. I struggled to put it down, when I needed to.

Andrew: I haven’t read it yet but I’m definitely gonna keep it in mind now. I just remember walking out of the movie adaptation thinking that the homie Reese Witherspoon was dope.

For me this goes to Chain of Title by David Dayen. This is the book that’s hardest to explain, hardest to read, but is also one of the most vital books in a while. It’s about how banks used shady, often illegal practices to skirt around regulations during the height of the subprime mortgage bubble. Essentially, banks were selling off people’s mortgages at such a fast rate that they ignored many of the centuries-old property laws that govern home ownership. When the bubble burst, millions were foreclosed on, oftentimes by banks that were not the initial owner of their mortgage (so like, if you got a loan from Citi, and they sold it, then Chase tried foreclosing on you even though you’ve never interacted with them). The book tells this story via three people who noticed the skirting of laws, fought their foreclosures in court, and ended up becoming activists during the financial crisis. There’s hella jargon, it can be confusing, but I’ve also never encountered more “Wait, hang on , they did WHAT?!”, or “holy shit that’s bad” moments in a book before.


Maggie: Bad Monkey by Carl Hiaasen. I hate giving this book this particular  superlative, because I LIKE Carl Hiaasen, but so far, this book is at the bottom of my list. I just couldn’t get into it, the story took forever to develop, actually, I never felt like it REALLY did.

Andrew: Adolescent Andrew loved Hoot so hearing that Hiaasen wrote a shitter of a book is disappointing.

Maggie: Don’t be too upset, one of my favorite books is by him (Skinny Dip). It’s hilarious and captivating, if you ever feel the desire to read a fiction book, I would definitely recommend it.

Andrew: I at least somewhat enjoyed all of the books I read so this is a tad unfair. But alas, this has to go to The Horror Genre by Paul Wells. It’s interesting, and goes in all sorts of directions you wouldn’t get from a mainstream book. But Wells is so clearly writing for grad students and other academics that it can be frustrating. He falls into the trap of thinking that he needs to use the thesaurus on every word. This book reminded me of the most painful readings from my film courses in college. It’s brief (just over 100 pages) and opens your mind up (Marxist and Darwinist tendencies of Horror, anyone?) but still a slog.

Maggie: Sounds like an enticing one; it’s always a disappointment when the topic of a book is interesting, but the language feels so broken up and unnatural when the author tries too hard.


MaggieInto the Wild by Jon Krakauer. I read this book in a day, basically refused to put it down, it was beyond fascinating to me, and left me inspired to rough it out in the Alaskan wilderness, because anyone can do it according to Chris McCandless, it’s why we were put on this earth. Adventure awaits… until you get hungry… and die. I finished this book and started Wild right away, thinking I’d encounter another adventure that inspired me so much that I’d convince myself to ACTUALLY go on a hike (mind you, I was on crutches while reading both books… perhaps I had a small case of cabin fever…) but Strayed told the whole, more true, truth about ditching civilization and living in the wilderness, bringing me back down to earth.

Andrew: Krakauer is interesting to me—I read Into Thin Air way back because a ton of people recommended it. It was solid, definitely a slow starter that picked up momentum. Krakauer got his start as a writer for the magazine Outside and I never felt like he ever fully transitioned into being comfortable writing books. He can hook you in, sure, but it feels very sectioned, divided—almost like it’s one of those Dickens books where chapters were released as they’re written. I think it’s fitting that Wild felt more real; it was written from the perspective of a person finding themselves rather than a journalist preaching to the outdoorsy choir.

Maggie: I never really thought of Into the Wild as sectioned when I read it, but you bring up a good point. Thinking back, the chapters were all very distinct, as if each one was it’s own short story, each one being related to the other, but separated nonetheless.

Andrew: For me this superlative goes to Backwards and in Heels by Alicia Malone. Malone is one of my favorite film critics/writers/content-creators going right now, and she did an awesome job with this book. Basically it details the history of women in Hollywood filmmaking, via a series of biographical essays on women in periods ranging from the late 1800s to the present (people like Ava DuVernay, Viola Davis, etc.). Malone writes in the intro that you can hop around to whatever you find most interesting, and that’s exactly how I read it. It’s awesome to be able to jump to whatever catches your eye, and I ended up reading all of it in one jumbled 4-hour session. Malone’s at her best when she can expand on a known figure (Marylin Monroe, Gina Davis) and make larger observations on their work and reception. But even when she’s just doing an information dump it’s really entertaining and informative. I wish it wasn’t just Hollywood-centric, because I’d love to be able to read about the influential feminist European directors from Malone’s perspective (and also because Chantal Akerman and Věra Chytilová are two personal favorites of mine).

Maggie: Sounds amazing! I’m all for reading about strong women in history. Women in Hollywood tend to captivate the public eye more than any other group of ladies, so they set the scene for the times, kind of like the #metoo movement going on now. I don’t know if any social issues were brought up in that book, but I’m sure it was interesting to see how times changed along the timeline of the book. I’d love to read it!

As for my other two superlatives, they are:


Maggie: Which goes to Talking as Fast as I Can by Lauren Graham. I grew up rushing home from school to watch Gilmore Girls, so I read this out of not only interest, but also for the nostalgia factor, the 13 year old inside me was ecstatic.

And the other is…


Maggie: Which goes to Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. I almost quit reading this book multiple times because Gilbert was so irritating, I found her beliefs ignorant, and her stubbornness in some situations was outrageous.

Andrew: I have no clue how Eat, Pray, Love became such a hit. Everyone I know who has read it has absolutely hated it. It’s pretty easy to find happiness when you’re given a $200K publisher’s advance to fuck about all over the world.

At any rate, my superlative is:


Andrew: Which goes to American Cinema: Directors and Directions 1929-1968. I’m a sucker for rankings. I’m a sucker for auteurist film criticism. I’m a sucker for authoritative works that clearly come from a wide knowledge base. Sarris’s style is not for everyone. Hell it’s probably not for most people. But I absolutely love it. This book inspires the closest thing to bar arguments that film scholar have, and I adore it. It helps that I agree with Sarris on most things (though Nicholas Ray and Douglas Sirk are underrated, while Robert Flaherty is criminally overrated) but I think if you disagree with him it can still be a fun hate read. Lots of jokes and stray observations keep it lighter than a purely academic piece.

Maggie: Sounds like it was written for you to read. Humor in more academic texts is so important, otherwise its so easy to lose your reader, unless theyre being forced to read it for class, but even so, a successful author will not make their reader roll their eyes at the thought of their name.

Andrew: Well thanks for doing this Magz! We’ll check back in at the next milestone (ten), whichever one of us reaches it first. And you better watch your back, I’m comin’ for the lead.


  • Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
  • Wild by Cheryl Strayed
  • Talking as Fast as I Can by Lauren Graham


  • Backwards and in Heels by Alicia Malone
  • Chain of Title by David Dayen
  • American Cinema by Andrew Sarris


Mining Film in a Digital Age: Art in its Context

“The more you look, the more you see.”

–Multiple Authors


In Fritz Lang’s 1931 film “M”, a serial killer (Peter Lorre) wanders around Berlin, stalking, kidnapping, and murdering children one by one. He is hunted by both the police (using the highest technology of the time) and the criminals of Berlin (who want to get the suddenly zealous police off their backs). Eventually, the killer is identified by a blind man who recognized the tune that he had constantly been whistling: “In the Hall of the Mountain King” by Edvard Grieg.

Have you heard “In the Hall of the Mountain King”? It’s a trick question; I already know that you have:

“In the Hall of the Mountain King” is one of those songs that everyone knows, they just don’t know that they know it (that sentence makes sense, I swear). You’ve heard it countless times in your life. It’s been  in countless commercials, movies, and TV shows. It’s come to be associated with slapstick situations, and overall, when used, it is to invoke a comedic tone. When you hear it, you probably think of one of these over-the-top scenes. Or maybe you don’t think about it at all, and it’s been relegated to“background music that I’m already pissed is stuck in my head for the next 4 hours”.

And that’s the problem. Because, for Fritz Lang’s M, “In the Hall Of the Mountain King” (from now on referred to as “Hall”) holds a great deal of meaning. “Hall” was written by Edvard Greig as an accompaniment to act 2 scene six of the play Peer Gynt by Henrik Ibsen. The song carries great significance in the play, as it scores the scene when the titular central protagonist is about to meet with the Troll king, in the King’s great hall (as far as I know, Henrik Ibsen did not have access to hallucinogenic drugs. He was just an interesting dude). The Troll King and Peer discuss the phrase central to the play, which represents an attitude that is the subject of criticism in Gynt: “To thyself, be enough”. It is a phrase which characterizes pure selfishness, but is one embraced by Peer and the King.

Grieg tried to encapsulate this with his music, writing:

“For the Hall of the Mountain King I have written something that so reeks of ‘to-thyself-be-enough-ness’ that I can’t bear to hear it, though I hope that the irony will make itself felt.”[Santon, Tim. Ibsen’s Peer Gynt.]

Indeed, the idea of only doing enough to satisfy yourself, without regard for others, is one that fits nicely on a child-murderer. It adds depth and significance to Lang’s decision to make “Hall” the murderer’s theme.

When I first saw M, I had no idea of Lang’s intentions in that song choice. For me, the song carried the connotation of slapstick, of silliness– so that when I encountered it in an older film, it seemed innocuous. I imagine only a tiny fraction of 21st century viewers had a reaction far from mine, or looked into any potential symbolic meaning behind the whistled theme. As a result, at least one part of M’s brilliance was missed.

As art ages, the connotations associated with certain aspects of it change, for a variety of reasons. More media is accessible now than ever, and sometimes the meaning of works of art can change without us realizing it (such as with M and “Hall”). In this media environment, it has become vital for viewers to have a heightened awareness when considering older films, and to try to understand artistic decisions as they were intended, to supplement the way we initially receive them. Because if we don’t, we might miss a stroke of pure brilliance.