Tropes In Motion

by Tracy R. Walsh

Simon Owens offers a brief history of the supercut – that YouTube-ready montage of film clichés, tropes, or catchphrases:

While the supercut – a neologism coined by blogger Andy Baio  has proliferated with the creation of YouTube and its ease of use, the concept of stringing together brief clips to point out a common refrain stretches back decades. Jon Stewart almost single-handedly invented a new form of media criticism by collating the inane and vapid beltway doublespeak that plagues punditocracy. Tom McCormack, who wrote what is perhaps the definitive history of the supercut, traces the genre as far back as 1958 with Bruce Conner’s A Movie, “an early example of found-footage cinema” that “climaxes with interwoven footage of disasters: sinking ships, falling bridges, crashing cars, exploding blimps.”

Owens says it’s not just nostalgia that drives the art form:

For [supercutter Alex] Moschina, [what gives the genre so much emotional resonance is] the sense of recognition that’s triggered when the tropes and themes found through a television show’s arc or in dozens of unrelated movies are pieced together. It creates a kind of “A-ha!” moment when a Hollywood cliché that you perhaps never fully internalized is laid out for you. “It’s definitely something that everyone thinks about, whether they realize it or not,” he said. “They’ll be watching a movie and the main character will do something that makes you think, ‘Who does that in real life?’ Then you realize that if you noticed this weird cliché, other people probably noticed it as well, and so you have a built-in audience that will appreciate the hilarity of that situation.”