Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Film Editing

Keeping in line with cinematography and the visual arts we'll go straight into Film Editing. I always start off saying that I don't know much about what I'm talking about and that the post will be short. I'm not going to do that here, though, because then the posts seem to spiral out of control. I'd like to not write a thousand words on this category. The nominated films are:
  • American Hustle
  • Captain Phillips
  • Dallas Buyers Club
  • Gravity
  • 12 Years a Slave
There are a number of films I'm surprised didn't get a nomination here: Her, Nebraska, Prisoners, and Wolf of Wall Street. In the end, though, none of them deserve to take home the award, so it isn't terribly important.

If I'm honest about American Hustle, I'd say that one of its strengths is the allowance of lingering shots on for each of the diverse characters. If I'm brutally honest about American Hustle, I'd say that it's critical weakness is in too much restraint. Taken individually, those scenes were pleasing, but they weren't particularly interesting. Add them all up they hurt the pacing of the film. That might be single greatest reason I don't like this film; it just felt long, especially for what amounts to a heist film.

Captain Phillips on the other hand runs nearly the exact same length but it moves fairly quickly. For as much as I dislike the messages the movie puts forth, I can't argue with the editing. Tension is built with a lot of cuts to seemingly mundane things. All those cuts, though, build the pace and tension. Take this twenty second clip, for example. There are a dozen cuts in those twenty seconds, many of which could have been construed as unnecessary. The editors do this throughout - cutting to non-dialogue characters, instruments, locations and such in order to create a well-paced, high-tension film. It's one of the few things I really like about Captain Phillips.

Like American Hustle, Dallas Buyers Club has drama's characteristic editing. The pace, though, doesn't feel as slow, nor does it feel out of place in a film about a man slowly dying of AIDS. There wasn't anything here that spoke loudly though. The editors exercised a ton of restraint and it works well. I just don't know that following that formula is worthy of an Oscar.

If we really want to talk about restraint, though, we need to look at Gravity and 12 Years a Slave. The editing in the former is as minimal as you'll find in modern film. It's more accurate to measure the cuts in Gravity by minutes rather than frames or even seconds. The smoothness is due to the cinematographer, but the restraint in editing those scenes is perfect. Even the tensest of action cuts are a few second long. There's no cheating to create action here, and it's a beautiful thing to behold.

12 Years a Slave does the heart no favors. In one scene, it offers three cuts totalling fifteen seconds, a one minute and twenty-five second segment, and then another minute and twenty-seven seconds with only eight more cuts. What is that scene of? Solomon hung on a tree. For over three solid minutes we have little to look at other than Solomon strung up by his neck, half of which there is nothing to see save for his toes straining to the ground seeking any perch to give any slack possible to the noose. This is repeated later in similarly long and brutal whipping scene. The viewer is nearly incapable of looking away. Those takes are painfully long and justifiably so. If a film about the brutalities of slavery doesn't make you uncomfortable, it isn't doing its job. 12 Years a Slave takes up that mantle and performs brilliantly.

Of all the films that I thought could have been mentioned, I don't think any are better than Gravity or 12 Years a Slave, though at first remembrance they're all at least on par with Captain Phillips. 12 Years a Slave is phenomenal, and I can't shake a feeling that it will triumph. I really believe Gravity deserves to win a boatload of technical awards. I think it should, and I think it will win here. It simply ekes out every ounce of beauty captured on film and makes the most of every frame it has to work with.

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