Know a good editing job when you see it? Think people should at least mention George Tomasini’s name when discussing Janet Leigh’s brief encounter with a shower nozzle in Psycho? When The Magnificent Ambersons plays on tv, and all you think is, “Wise, you bastard”.
This is the place to discuss your favourite editors, favourite edited scenes, etc.
Let me start with this:
One of my all-time favourite scenes, from the point of view of good editing, is the Barry Guiler abduction scene in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Those screws popping up out of the grate! Fantastic work. Michael Kahn is a master of his craft (has he been mentioned once on this site?).
Then there is the late, great Dede Allen.
In the words of Delia Smith: let’s be ‘avin’ you.
Come on, people: editors do have an important role to play in the artistic process of filmmaking. You all must have some favourite sequences that display this art in all its “cut cut cut” (Fred Ward in The Player) glory?
Let’s begin with the biggies:
1. The car chase in The French Connection
2. The baptism sequence in The Godfather
3. The openings of Persona , All That Jazz and Apocalypse Now
4. The fights in Raging Bull
5. All of Jaws and JFK
First, I recommend Walter Murch’s In the Blink of an Eye, it is a brilliant book on editing. There is a section when Murch is talking about the Conversation and how Hackman’s performance really drew him in. It got to the point where they were having the same thought pattern (as a cut is a new thought), and Murch found himself making cuts on Hackman’s eyes, his blinking.
Second, watch the documentary The Cutting Edge.
Third, here are my five favorite editing jobs-
Andrew Marcus, Howards End
Dylan Tichenor , Magnolia
Joe Hutshing & Pietro Scalia, JFK
Richard Marks, Walter Murch, Gerald B. Greenberg, Lisa Fruchtman, Apocalypse Now
Thelma Schoonmaker, Raging Bull
Drama is actually hard to edit, action scenes are time consuming, so many cuts, but drama has to have such a tender touch, you don’t want to over cut, yet as much as you want to respect a performance, you have to keep things. Every shot as a life of its own, most more than one. This is where, as Murch says, it pays off to havw a connection to the performances, if you can get into the heads of the characters, you can bring that life to the screen. Cutting on emotion vs cutting on action (which is one of Schoonmaker’s greatest gifts, she does both perfectly).
Editing may be more subtle than anything else in film, just by a simple cut we are directed to an idea, or misdirected. Editing is a powerful tool, it would be nice if more were to realize it.
My favourite films for editing.
Joel cox, Gran Torino (Not a great film by any standards but the fluent rhythmic editing really stands out)
Susan Shipton, Exotica (The cuts from the club to the search for the body)
Graeme Clifford, Don’t Look Now (Sex scene between Donald Sutherland and Jullie Christie and also for his work on Images.)
John Sayles, Passion Fish, (sailing down the mangroves)
Mario Senedrei, Battle of Algiers (Also edited the Leopard)
Anne V Coates, Out of Sight (the sex scene and restaurant scene between J-Lo and George Clooney again not an amazing film, but great editing)
Lyudmila Feiginova, Mirror
Melville, Kurosawa, and Welles were the greatest.
Jason, greatest at what?
Marcia Lucas’s work on “Taxi Driver” in which editing is at least one of the top 5 elements of the film that allow us to explore the psychology of Travis Bickle. Also, there’s the Battle of Yavin in “Star Wars,” which may be one of the best edited action scenes ever.
In honor of Dede Allen, the ending of “Bonnie and Clyde” in which the editing suggests that the relationship of the two lovebirds was just as ephemeral as the length of each shot covering their deaths.
From the same year, Sam O’Steen’s work on “The Graduate” is superlative. Lots of match cutting with great effect, in addition to maintaining long takes. The most important focus behind editing lies not in where to cut, but why to cut. In some occasions, leaving a shot uncut maintains a certain idea that the film wants to get across. For instance, take the scene in which Mrs. Robinson invites Ben to come up to Elaine’s room and implores him to go back downstairs to get her purse while she changes. Ben obliges, and both characters leave the room. However, while both go about their business, the shot stays from inside Elaine’s room, and the frame remains static, implying that both character’s minds are still lingering inside the room.
And ALL of “Man with a Movie Camera” in which Dziga Vertov elevates everyday life to the level of art through juxtaposition.
All of F for Fake. I think Welles had something like four editors working on it and it shows.
A great example of understated editing
“Know a good editing job when you see it?”
Not really—which is sad. I’d like to be more sensitive and knowledgeable about editing. What makes up good editing?
Good editing is when you don’t really in realize it, the timing and the rhythm, when the cuts are just a natural change. It’s part of what Murch talks about in how we get involved in the film and start sharing in the thought process.
One scene I love for the editing in in Se7en, when Somerset is researching the deadly sins in the library.
A great job of following the movement and thoughts of somerset and building to the dropping off of the envelope on Mills’ desk.
“Good editing is when you don’t really in realize it, the timing and the rhythm, when the cuts are just a natural change.”
Well, you can’t blame me for not noticing editing. :)
Does pacing basically depend on editing?
I thought of a film with good editing (or at least one that comes to mind): JFK
This is a very dfficult subject for me to write about becuse I’m an editor by trade.
The biggest leeson I have learned is this- YOU CANT EDIT FOOTAGE YOU DONT HAVE.
Editing is a collaboration between the editor and the director. If the relationship does not work the editing will not work. Period. Editing will not save a film.
As opposed to Production Design- THAT can save a film.
It’s a part of it.
In 96 I did the second of a short that ending up winning a Student emmy Award. The first cut was boring, about 35 minutes. The cut I did was 36:30 and flowed better and seemed shorter. I convinced the director we should rearrange so scenes to help with the mood and I paid great attention to the eyes and the breathes actors were taking, so I worked off the thought processes of the actors and built the pacing from there. But I would say a great deal of the pacing comes from the editing.
It’s always easier to tell what bad editing is then good editing.
A great film for pacing is Howard’s End, in lesser hands to could have been horribly boring, but instead it was compelling.
I agree about JFK, but one of the things about JFK is that the editing is obvious, and is supposed to be, where other filmmakers want the seamless feel, Stone usually goes wants audiences to be bombarded.
I really enjoy films that use the long take aesthetic thus understandably feature less editing. What is the role of the editor in such films? I suppose he could technically dictate the pacing, but cutting a few seconds off a three minute shot might not make that much of a difference.
As I mentioned earlier every shot has a life of its own and if you cut it too soon it’s obvious and if you cut it too late it’s obvious. I also mentioned that shots can have more than one life, there are mulitple places to cut.
It really is amazing how much of a difference one frame makes, but it really does.
And it is important to when Not to cut, to let the performance dictate.
“The biggest leeson I have learned is this- YOU CANT EDIT FOOTAGE YOU DONT HAVE.
Editing is a collaboration between the editor and the director. If the relationship does not work the editing will not work.”
How about expanding on both of these points, Francisco?
You have to have to coverage. It’s always great when the director, editor and DP can all sit down and basically preshoot and precut the film, know exactly what you’re gonna need. You can’t cut to a close up if they never shot it.
Thanks, Uli. That makes sense.
I’ll look for the book you mentioned and the film. (Does the film show examples with commentators breaking down the examples?)
Cutting Edge goes over the history and Murch has some strong sections about the editing of Cold Mountain.
Along with Visions of Light, Cutting Edge is the best fimmaking documentary I’ve seen; I’m looking forward to Great Directors and Tales from the Script both of which are out in theatres now.
I liked Visions of Light, too, but I wanted more examples/commentary! Hopefully, NF has Cutting Edge.
1. Chihuahua’s operation scene in “My Darling Clementine”
2. “Secret Honor” (transformng a single set, one man show into a kinetic moviegoing experience is akin to bench pressing a house both in terms of awesomeness and degree of difficulty)
3. “Bonnie & Clyde” and “The Wild Bunch” (both impossibly influential on film editing as well as every other aspect of filmmaking)
I just watched The Cutting Edge and enjoyed it. Here are some questions:
What role does a director play in the editing process? One of the editors mentioned that the editor really has the biggest influence on the final cut of the film (or something to that effect). If that’s true, I’d want to say call editors auteurs or the auteur of a film. But my impression is that directors have a huge say on the editing of the film. They control how much freedom and influence an editor has and they ultimately make the final call (e.g. an editor can cut a scene a certain way, but the director can veto that cut and ask for another one.) Is this basically correct?
Along the same lines, how does one fairly credit an editor for the editing? What I mean is that if the editing of a film is ultimately a close collaboration between the director and editor, how can you say a specific editor deserves an award?
One final question. Some of the interviewees mentioned that the younger generation (ie. those who grew up on TV and music videos) can process visual information much quicker so they prefer faster cuts. I believe this was said primarily in relation to action films. I grew up on TV and music videos, but I don’t like faster cuts in action sequences—not ones that make it difficult to understand the action. But now I’m wondering if people actually enjoy these faster cuts in action sequences.
I’ve always assumed that while audiences may like fast cuts in action films, I think they would actually prefer less cuts and more two-shot or longer shots where one can see the sequence develop and make more sense of it. (I’m thinking of hand-to-hand fight sequences in particular.) But now maybe I’m wondering if a younger audience actually prefers these faster cuts that I find hard to understand.
I think the relationship between Scorsese and Schoonmaker is a great example of an editing process, he trusts her to the cut the film knowing she will make the he cuts he agrees with, but he seats in on occasion and is always there for the final cut.
The thing about the editor have influence is this is the final pass, the final eyes before the audience, and things are found in the editing process. As Francisco mentioned you can’t edit what’s not there, and in that process it can be seen that pickups or reshoots are needed.
The faster cutting is true to a degree, but it’s all still jut a personal thing. We do process imagines faster now than in previous generations, it’s the natural way of things, we have so much going on around us that we are taking in info at a faster pace, so we can handle the breakneck speed at which so some things are cut. You can some of these action films back to the 40s and people would have no clue what thye were seeing. But just because we can take more, doesn’t mean we have to get another cut every second, the editing is dictated by the story and the shots, you aren’t gonna edit a Victorian drama the same as drug crime action flick.