Montages are bullshit and other things Rocky didn’t teach me

So I’m approaching the end of Makers. Maybe not the complete end — that’s a week or two away, but the point where the fledgling pigeons fall with a nudge from the nest. I assume it’s expected we’ll fly some distance on our own. I hope they’re right.

I’m referring of course to the final projects. I haven’t yet been through it, so it’s hard to say, but I assume that the tools with which we have thus far been equipped are deemed to suffice.

But, frankly, I don’t feel adequately equipped. And I’m not, not totally. The Makers final projects are not considered to be tests, but consolidations. But if there is anything to take away here, it’s that learning something new is hard.

On that note, I’d like to address a movie-logic conceit that has always troubled me. Let’s take a boilerplate, big budget action film. It’s about two thirds of the way through the film. Things look bad. The odds against our hero emerging victorious seem extensive. The enemy is too strong. Our rookie hero just doesn’t have the skills (how could he — he was only recruited an hour ago). Say it along with me: what this film needs now is a montage.

Fingers get pointed at montages (most expertly of course from Team America) for crimes of cliche. It’s a lazy and cheap way to zip the hero from spotty newb to talented warrior/golfer/juggler/whatever. The film is saying: look. Time is passing, ok? And this guy or girl… she’s good. She’s going to pick these skills up fast. But not so fast as we can show you it *all*. That’s just silly. So, here’s a taste of them training. Please assume they’ve got good for the rest of the film. Here’s some motivational music.

And it’s not the cliche I have the problem with. Sure it can come across as a bit lazy if it’s not done well (the new Antman film, whilst generally OK, had a pretty cringe training montage). It’s that in no universe is that how learning works. It gives such a narrow view of the process, it gives anyone trying to learn the wrong impression of what’s involved.

Because learning isn’t linear. You don’t start bad, practice and practice and practice, and get good. I think if Makers has taught me anything, it’s that. Learning is a series of struggles, a series of successes, some days waking up a little less lost than the day before, and some days waking up twice so. Each step forward has another (usually smaller, though not always) step backwards. Learning is about ironing out all the ways you’re bad at something, and that takes time. And once you’ve ironed one sleeve, you’ve got to start on the collar. And the collar is *fiddly*.

So that, friends, is why montage scenes are bullshit.

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