The Cutting Edge

— The Magic of Movie Editing — 

In these days of Media Unlimited, are we really Amusing Ourselves to Death, unaware of the message in the visual medium? Or are we just overwhelmed with options? What does “media literacy” mean — and how do we go about bringing ourselves up to speed with this tool of critical thinking?

One great first step is to take a look at The Cutting Edge to see how impressions of the world are manipulated by the magic of film editing, which now applies to digital video editing, as well. Described as “the invisible art,” most film editors say they know they are doing their jobs when the audience is engrossed in what’s happening on screen. But what are they doing to us?

Celebrating a century of the art, this program underscores that film editing is actually storytelling. And believe it or not, “story” was not how film was first used. Initially, the inventors just shot what was passing by in the street until, as narrator Kathy Bates says, “they got bored or the film ran out.” Early prognosticators didn’t think “cinema” would last because people could just look out their windows and see the same things that were being recorded on film.

Enter Edwin S. Porter, an assistant to Thomas Edison, who, synchronistically with the Molière Brothers in France, was inventing the medium of film. In 1903, Porter took the first steps toward storytelling with film when he began cutting apart Edison’s sequences of a New York fire brigade rushing headlong down the street and intercutting them with film of what was happening at the house fire where they were headed. “Story” on film was born.

From D.W. Griffith and Sergei Eisenstein to Walter Murch and DeDe Allen, award-winning film editors, directors, and their films are highlighted in this engaging program. You probably won’t recognize the names and faces of editors who share their perspectives (Murch and Allen are the likely exceptions), but you’ll be fascinated to hear how they work (colorful language included!) and watch examples that demonstrate their craft.

Examples illustrate editing for action, methods of developing suspense, the studio system of the 1930s and 1940s, editing’s impact on actors, how film is used for propaganda, ways filmmakers break the “rules” and create new styles, what digital (nonlinear) editing brings to the medium, and how film editing is actually the final re-write of the story or script.

Clips abound from a wide range of films, including everything from Birth of a Nation, The Battleship Potemkin, Nosferatu, Man With A Camera, Casablanca, Triumph of the Will, and Frank Capra’s 1942 series Why We Fight to Bullitt, Star Wars, The Matrix, The French Connection, Black Hawk Down, Psycho, Easy Rider, Top Gun, Apocalypse Now, Cold Mountain, Titanic, Body Heat, Gladiator, and many, many more.

Packed into just over ninety minutes, The Cutting Edge offers something for anyone who wants to be more media literate or a knowledgeable and effective media creator.

Documentary co-produced by NHK, the BBC, and AVRO for Starz Encore
In association with The American Cinema Editors (ACE)
Narrator: Kathy Bates
Theatrical release: 2004; available on DVD

Copyright ©2013 Jill J. Jensen | Clarity from Chaos