Is Editing the Making of a Film?


There is something to be said about having been a film student. You tend to collect all sorts of quotes, references, ideas and images which you somehow feel will illuminate and improve the work that you are trying to do. Invariably, most of it becomes junk, but some remain jewels to be treasured. Here is one such quote which at the time of discovery made me think yes! What do directors know after all? In hindsight, I think there is much to question regarding its views on what a director should take credit for:

“Editing is the process that transforms a miscellaneous collection of badly focused, poorly exposed, and horribly framed shots containing reversed screen directions, unmatched action, disappearing props, flare, and hair in the aperture, but not containing any close-ups, cut-ins, or cut-aways into a smooth, coherent, and effective visual statement of the original script… for which the director takes the credit.” 
American cinemeditor Spring/Summer 1978

Looking at it again, it made me laugh out loud; making me wonder how much truth was there in this statement? Then I recalled Andrei Tarkovsky’s ‘Sculpting in Time’. Tarkovsky’s reflections on cinema in this book are compelling and full of insight. I think my favourite quotes or rather points of support come from a lot of what he writes, both here and in his note book. Tarkovsky like many Russian artists such as Chekhov had a minimalist approach to their visuals and text respectively, but the context of the minimalism held an essence of infinity. In ‘Sculpting in Time’, Tarkovsky writes:

No one component of a film can have any meaning in isolation: it is the film that is the work of art. And we can only talk about its components rather arbitrarily, dividing it up artificially for the sake of theoretical discussion. Nor can I accept the notion that editing is the main formative element of a film, as the protagonists of ‘montage cinema’, following Kuleshov and Eisenstein, maintained in the ‘twenties, as if a film was made on the editing table.”

Two very differing views and very different ways of making films from the opposite sides of the world! The mantra now of course is that the film is made on the editing table – that maybe so but surely the story and the drive of the characters is what ultimately makes a film. Of course there are stories of films that had to be ‘rescued’ on the editing table – but I imagine these are few in number.

I think that Tarkovsky sums it up perfectly when he says that:

It has often been pointed out, quiet rightly, that every art form involves editing, in the sense of selection and collation, adjusting part and pieces. The cinema image comes into being during shooting, and exists within the frame. During shooting, therefore, I concentrate on the course of time in the frame, in order to reproduce it and record it. Editing brings together shots which are already filled with time, and organises the unified, living structure inherent in the film; and the time that pulsates through the blood vessels of the film, making it live, is of varying rhythmic pressure”

Pure poetry, wouldn’t you agree?

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