Continuity is something we are all familiar with. It’s about flow, rhythm and making the filmmaking seem invisible to the audience. It’s a very delicate and the best practice I’ve had as a professional editor for the last decade is that knowing when to cut is instinctual – it’s a feeling, a part of you that tells you it’s right. I can’t really explain it, but after editing countless projects from various different style, something I really want to strive for in this project to reject everything I know and take a risk at making an editing style that is deliberately jarring and provocative to the audience.
One of my favourite edited films of all time is Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. the editor Ray Lovejoy attempted to take John Alcott (one of my favourite cinematographers) and Kubrick’s complex vision and make images contrast and juxtapose abruptly, arbitrarily and sometimes (at least for it’s time) controversially. In fact, when editing 2001: A Space Odyssey, to transition from one era to another, it was incredibly jarring in it’s immediacy, but it isn’t exactly frustrating or morally wrong to the viewer’s perception.
This match cut above in my favourite cut of all time. It’s just one cut out of hundreds, but it takes a story with two completely disconnected images – the apes at the beginning of time throwing the bone in the air, and a spaceship in the future gleaming with technological advancement. The match cut cuts the rhythm of the bone’s gravity pulling it to the ground to the ship floating in space. It’s a scientific juxtaposition, but also artist. The editor is transporting us to the future in the blink of an eye.
In this show from the opening moments of The Shining, the helicopter cinematography projects the idea of evil following the family, perpetuated by the ominous soundtrack… but we can’t forget the fade transitions in the edit. In practice, the scene is actually monotonous, it’s just a family traveling to a mountain lodge from the winter and there is nothing spectacular about the context. But the fades reinforce this agonizing journey that takes so long. But after the first cut is a fade, we start getting solid cuts and the scene becomes haunting. At this point, it’s supposed to be uncomfortable and jarring to the viewer. Despite the linearity of the cameras direction, it’s still disorientating by making the cuts out of sequence. The rhythm oddly vanishes and the intent becomes more psychological, eventually reflecting the protagonist’s mental deterioration.
In fact, in this scene above, the contrasting images comes from the close up to long shot, as well as playing within the orientation of the scene. again, there is an unconventional sense of rhythm. It’s not consistent but it throws the audience into the nightmarish horror of the emotion. It’s aggressive in it’s cutting, lapsing the imagery in a way that’s disorientating, surprising and deeply harrowing. It captures the viewers attention through the simplicity of the image, but the cutting is so elaborate and unpredictable that it traps you in the moment, and later encourages reflection.
It’s risky and back when the film was first released it was panned by critics, but more contemporary theorists look at it as unique and being that alternative way to edit a film that’s not within the natural fluency of film language. The audience are made aware of the cuts, but it makes them more critical and stimulated by the events portrayed. And we hope to capture the same intentions with our film. We want the audience to be left jarred and confused because it’s reflective of the state of the character. We aim to perpetuate an ambiguous and hard to grasp emotional disposition.
In fact, Ken Dancgyer’s theories on editing inspires this risky and innovative technique. Style is “dramatically purposeful” (2011, p. 203) – it isn’t based on aesthetic but intent. In Dancgyer’s eyes, editing can be a way to vitalise and completely shift the audience into a new perspective that can be uncomfortable with in a way that’s meaningful and profound. The most prominent quote to strike me was that sometimes style was a means of servicing a weak story or acts as “a necessary overmodulation simulating the thematic extremes of the story” (2011, p. 205). Really, our editing a means in which to simulate the audience with a range of feelings that also tackles the narratives intent, in this case, confusion, loneliness frustration and emptiness.
In fact as Dancgyer (2011) points out, Pulp Fiction (edited by the late Sally Menke) uses editing to innovate beyond the traditional narrative structure. Films follows a linear path – they start and end – but I’ve always theorised (in my own personal research) that we’ve come to expect the ‘concentric narrative’, that is, my definition of a story that doesn’t start and end but rather continues a cycle. It’s simulating because in Pulp Fiction, it lacks continuity and is presented in non-chronological order as a way of stimulating the audience to piece together a puzzle for a fragmented story that does appear linear when finally put together. It’s the added narrative, the extra emotional rush to what is a pretty simple crime drama. By manipulating time and space much like in the work of Lovejoy, the audience are more intellectually aware and engaged in the film, transcending the norm and feeling more engrossed on an entirely new interactive level to what are just static stitched together images.
This is furthered by Murch (2001), who reinforces the instinctual nature of editing.In his eyes, it’s not about technicalities, it’s about emphasis on emotion. In his book, he discusses how we get so bogged down in technical jargin and established bliefs that we can forget the expressive nature of editing. It’s build in psychological theory, and if the intent is to be dramatic and emotionally conflicting, then it only makes sense to edit in a non-traditional way. For the audience, it’s about “motion within a context” (2001, p. 6) – it the cuts make sense to your intended feeling and narrative, then ignore what any traditionalist says. And this is something I want to do significantly. We don’t want to be traditional and we anticipate it to be a divided reception, but the best art is always the one that stirs discourse.
Narrative, Murch’s theories also apply – “Always try to get he most out of least” (2001, p. 15) – a quote that really inspires our thinking process by delivering a story so simple, uneventful and monotonous, but it’s carried by meaning in it’s emotional stimulation, as subtle as it may be. As Murch concludes, “Suggestion is always more effective than exposition” (2001, p. 15), pointing to the fact that leaving it up the audience to interpret is substantially more profound and important than spoon feeding. In the eyes of the alternative method explained by Orphen (2003), if you want to be traditional, you can’t fail in your seamless or invisible continuity – you have to keep the audience immersed. If you want to be complex and different, you have to be daring and willing to do things others don’t like to drive your concepts foreword. Be aggressive as they say. As Orphen highlights, what was key to the French New Wave in it;s experimentation with editing and complex style was the obsession with “shock” (2003, p. 85) – getting the audience to react differently and be in disagreement makes your film multilayered and dimensional… and to be honest, makes your film less boring in retrospect.
Dancgyer, K. (2011) The Technique of Film and Video Editing. Burlington; London: Focal; Taylor & Francis
Kubrick, S. (1968) 2001: A Space Odyssey. DVD. Beverly Hills: MGM
Kubrick, S. (1980) The Shining. DVD. Burbank: Warner Bros.
Orphen, V. (2003) Film Editing: The Art of the Expressive. London & New York: Wallflower
Murch, W. (2001) In The Blink of an Eye: A Perspective on Film Editing. Los Angeles: Silman-James Press
Tarantino, Q. (1994) Pulp Fiction. Santa Monica: Miramax