Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Goofs on Goofs



1) to blunder, make an error, misjudgment, etc.


2) a foolish or stupid person

One of my favorite websites - and I'm guessing one of the favorite of many film bloggers - is I use the site for many reasons, whether it be checking the filmography of an actor or director or finding a lot of valuable information about a particular movie, as to when it was released, the complete cast and crew as well as images from the film. Often I find myself watching an old film at home and then see a character actor whose face is familiar, but whose name is not. I immediately go to the site and look up his or her name. That's a neat benefit of this site and one can then follow up and see a list of other films this actor appeared in over the course of his or her career.

There are other features on and some I love - such as the trivia section as well as memorable quotes - but there is one section that drives me nuts. That is the "goofs" section, where mistakes in a particular film are pointed out. Some of these mistakes are in continuity, while others are visual, such as a microphone being visible in part of the shot or an historical error, such as current automobiles in the background of a scene set in the 1930s or '40s.

This listing of mistakes is supposed to be all fun and games and let's face it, this has been going on for years, even before the internet was with us. Books have been written about film gaffes, so this is nothing new. Yet it's never been as detailed as this, which of course comes as no surprise, given the sensory information overload we deal with via the internet (as well as media outlets) these days. So of course, every possible mistake is singled out for a listing.

Except some of these mistakes really aren't mistakes at all. I noticed this the other day when I saw this listing for a few of my favorite films. Let's start with L.A. Confidential. Here is an actual entry from the goofs section on the site:

At the end when Ed Exley received his medal, he walks Lynn outside. When they are walking outside to the car, Ed doesn't have his medal throughout the end of the movie.

Ok, you've caught the filmmakers in a continuity error here. While it's possible that Exley removed his medal, he'd realistically have no place to put it (it's a large medal worn around his neck), so this is most definitely a mistake. Congratulations, you caught this one.

But then we have this gem:

When Jack Vincennes finds Matt Reynolds's body, there is a close-up shot on Matt's face. In that shot you can clearly see that the vein in his neck is still moving.

I went ahead and watched that scene several times and have yet to see this. Seems to me this is a very realistic shot of a dead man. But if they say they saw it, they must have seen it, right? Perhaps some wishful thinking here?

No movie escapes the wrath of the people looking for goofs, not even a classic such as Chinatown. A few trivial mistakes (such as the sound of the 1930s police siren!) are written about, but here's one that boggles the mind:

When Gittes is driving through the orange groves, the sign says "No Trepassing." "Trepassing" should be spelt "Trespassing."

Did the person who wrote this ever think that the sign was written that way on purpose? That the misspelling of the word "trespassing" as "trepassing" was deliberate to show that the individuals who took care of the orange groves were farmers and perhaps not that well educated? This is listed on the site as a "possible deliberate error by the filmmakers", so the site does realize this, but why even list this at all?

Then there are the goofs for the film Key Largo, the classic Bogart/Edward G. Robinson film directed by John Huston. Now this is one of my favorite films and I've probably seen this at home more than 20 times. I love the film (obviously), but watch just about any film that often and you're bound to notice a few errors, such as the string supporting the model palm trees in a hurricane or the length of Robinson's tie in several continuous scenes. These are pointed out on the site, so they've done their job.

But consider this one:

Describing the summer heat in the Keys, Mr. Temple says that it will cool down in November: "The thermometer will drop to 100 (F, about 38C)", implying that summer temperatures are consistently above 100. This is incorrect. The climate is humid, but the adjacent waters moderate the temperature. Average summer high is 87F (31C). According to the Keys official tourism website, "The hottest it's ever been in Key West is 97º F (36º C), and that was way back in 1880."

Ok, you've done your research on this, good for you! But come on, this is a movie about a gangster taking control over guests at a hotel, it's not a documentary about the climate of Key Largo. When Mr. Temple says that the temperatures will cool down to 100 F, it's a line the audience or viewer can idenitfy with; in other words, it's extremely hot during the summer. Would you rather have him say, "The thermometer will drop down to 87 degrees"? Imagine that line and how it would sound! Please, lighten up here will you?

Finally, the critique I couldn't believe I was reading:

The hurricane passes by unrealistically quickly.

Approximately two minutes of the film are scenes of the height of the hurricane. Apparently whoever wrote this wanted 15 or 20 minutes of hurricane footage. Note to this individual - this is a movie - it's not actual footage of a hurricane! Do you criticize Spartacus for only taking three hours to cover the slave revolt? We all know that took years, right?

Also, did the person who wrote that the hurricane paased by too quickly notice that dissolves were used in the editing? In case you don't know film grammar, a dissolve is used to denote a passage of time. Thus the two minutes of screen time showing the hurricane actually represents a much longer time, perhaps 20 or 30 minutes.

One thing to remember here is that the people who watch these films for goofs (I'm convinced there are people who deliberately look for mistakes) are watching on DVDs, where they can freeze frame or watch at half speed. That's just a bit different than watching this movie in real time in a theater or even at home. Do you think that the filmmakers of the 1940s or even the 1970s knew that their films could one day be watched in this manner? I compare this to baseball umpires who have to instantly judge a bang-bang play at first base and rule safe or out. Watching on tv, we get the luxury of seeing the replay, as often as three or four times, slowed down to a freeze frame. It becomes a little easier this way, doesn't it? The umpire doesn't have this option and it's amazing how often they get it right.

So can we stop this over analysis of every detail in every film? Can we instead focus on what's truly important, such as the film's themes or whether the screenplay is well written and the acting is special? To the goofs who write about goofs in movies, here's a suggestion - get a life!


  1. The goofs must get some sense of superiority over pointing out mistakes that are sometimes very hard to avoid. I've made a number of 20 - 30-minute dramatic movies with my drama club, and no matter how carefully we plan, there's always some continuity error that results from time constraints or circumstances beyond our control. And some of these goofs don't even check their sources. I'm so tired of hearing someone say that there's a jet vapor trail visible in the chariot race sequence in Ben-Hur. Wrong movie - it's some low-budget Roman epic. And, besides, who pays any attention to the sky during the chariot race?

  2. Well said!

    Those who can do, those who can't...

  3. Good points. Nitpicking is almost an Olympic sport now-a-days. In big budget movies though, its inexcusable. Isn't that why films hire continuity checkers?

  4. Maurice:

    You also make a good point on continuity checkers and as I mentioned with the scene with the medal in L.A. Confidential, that is a mistake that should have been noticed during the filming of that scene. And yes, given the big budgets these days, continuity errors should not be present.

    My main goal here was to point out the ridiculous nature of some of these complaints.