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Old October 10th, 2002, 02:28 PM   #31
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I never said that editing does not have a profound impact on how (almost all) films are made. I appreciate very well the many subtleties and complex effects that editing brings to film. I just don't think it has the absolute without-which-there-is-no-film status that "essential" implies (not my word by the way).

As far as writing is concerned, I totally disagree and I don't think anyone who's written a book, magazine artilce, or worked in publishing would take your position. Spelling and grammar correction is usually done by copy editors, as one of the last steps before actually printing something. The primary editors are involved in the writing process from the beginning. They discuss ideas and works with authors, read drafts, make suggestions about what to leave in and take out, how to rearrange things (sound familiar?), and so on. It's not exactly the same as film editing, but it shares many of the basic elements of the process.


I think your argument that every film has at least two cuts is interesting. If one buys your argument, though, one thing it points to is that editing/cutting is not essential to film making. It is necessary, it has to be there in some way, but it's not the one and only thing that makes the single take a film: there also has to be footage between the cuts.

One could imagine a Borgesian single take film extending from the beginning of time into eternity, to at least hypothetically contradict your argument and suggest an example of a film with no editing/cutting.

I think that example is a little silly and unnecessary. To me it seems that no one would have ever called the beginning and ending of a single take, which all first films were, "cuts," until after editing had become such a big part of film making. In retrospect, in a world where we can't imagine film without editing, it makes sense to anachronistically use the term to describe the beginning and ending of single takes. But the use of "cut" in this context seems a little out of place.

I think what we conventionally call editing, is the process of having lots of footage, sitting down and picking a choosing what is going to go into the final film, and deciding in what order to arrange the clips. None of that is done with a single take film. With a single take film I think people are putting their energies a lot more into what's actually going to be on the film. And to the extent that they think about the effect of the beginning and the end of the single take, I think those moments are being considered as a beginning and an ending, or an opening and a closing. It doesn't make sense to me to call them "cuts" or "edits" when nothing (literally) has been cut. At that point, I think the argument about editing being "essential" to film making has been pushed to a kind of absurd point.

But it is an interesting idea. I can even imagine suggesting that every choice about what goes on camera, where actors marks are, what words they say and when, how the lighting is done, I can imagine calling all of that editing. Each choice inserts something into the footage in a punctual manner, not unlike editing.
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Old October 10th, 2002, 02:35 PM   #32
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I would argue that maybe you have not thought through the essence of what makes a film a film as opposed to a photograph or play.

I would suggest the best books I have read on the subject:

In the Blink of Eye (Walter Murch)
Sculpting in Time (Andrei Tarkovsky)

Editing, even my two take example, is the essense of film, because you pick the moments in time that are recorded. It's not those sets, actors, lighting, frames as there were before or after, it is as they are at this moment. That is the primary choice you make as a filmmaker - which take is the truth you seek.

All the other stuff in the frame is not in fact the central issue. The "when" ie. temporal choice or choice in time, is what makes it a "film".

Tarkovsky explains it better than I am.
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Old October 10th, 2002, 11:54 PM   #33
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"All the other stuff in the frame is not in fact the central issue."

If this is true, then why don't why just have all black (or white, or any color of your choice) frames? You can't even have a cut unless there is some content in the image. I just don't understand the need to say one thing is more important in film in an absolute way than another. There are a lot of things that going into making films.

As far as Tarkovsky is concerned, he has one theory of film. Murch has quite a different one (at least different from how you present Tarkovsky--who you present, I would note, as saying the "take" and not the "cut" is the essence of the film). Murch argues that the "blink" is like a primoridal cut that is at the basis of how thought articulates itself and how we visually relate to the waking world. So in fact, for Murch the "cut" exists before film (in the form of the blink) and is closer to being one of the necessary components of thought and everyday visual experience, than to being the essence of film. Film just steals the blink from our everyday mental experience and calls it the cut. Indeed, if you followed Murch's ideas to their logical conclusion, I think you would have to say that film is just a representation of thought and thought (neither editing nor the cut) is the essence of film.

But those are just two theories (though certainly interesting ones). A theory is always just that. A useful way to talk about something, but it should not be confused with "reality." The very significant late twentieth century French philosopher, Gilles Deleuze, offers yet another very elaborate and well considered theory of film (in his books, Cinema 1 and Cinema 2). There he argues that there are two different types of film: one based on a linear and progressive form of time representated by actions, the other based on a wholly irregular and disjunctive form of time more akin to thought (somewhat like Murch's theory). But again, that's just another (albeit very sophisticated and useful) theory.

Frankly, Stephen, I would argue that maybe you and JoJo have not considered very much what I wrote. You just keep repeating and asserting, "the essence of film is editing." Then you recommmend books to me. Perhaps that's not meant to be condescending, but it sure comes across that way: Oh poor confused soul, you should go read this book.

I could suggest a litany of significant major philosophers who write about what an "essence" is and more importantly what it is not (Hegel, Nietzsche, Richard Rorty), but it wouldn't contribute much to the discussion here. I think I've respectfully taken your ideas seriously, responded to them very thoughtfully, found them valuable in honing my own thought on the subject, and hoped that this might lead to more interesting discussion. I don't expect you to agree with me, but I expect you to consider and respond to what I have said, or just bow gracefully out of the conversation. And indeed it appears you and JoJo feel you've said what you have to say, so we probably should just let it stand at that, for others to read and comment on if it interests them.
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Old October 11th, 2002, 12:06 AM   #34
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Your post comes across as angry - I hope you don't feel offended, this is just friendly debate.

Tarkovsky and Murch are/were both much more accomplished filmmakers than any of us. They both take very different perspectives (that's why I mentioned both books). However, I find they agree on the temporal aspects of film as central to the essence of film. The titles of both books makes this idea clear.

Obviously acting, story, composition, sound, music and many other factors are huge.

But acting, story, composition, sound, music are other artforms themselves and found in other art forms.

Editing (not literary editing - that is something very different) is unique to film. That is my argument. I certainly have understood yours, but I respectfully have a different view.

I cited Murch and Tarkovsky to support my argument, not to insult you. I apologize if it came off that way.
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Old October 11th, 2002, 12:43 AM   #35
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Thanks Stephen.

Unsurpisingly, and no doubt obviously at this point, I don't think that film editing is fundamentally different from literary editing, or blinking for that matter. And I think it is ultimately valuable and important to consider both how various art forms and practices differ from and ressemble each other. I don't think there are any ultimate absolute differences (or essences).

I would also probably throw out that I see no reason to assume that film editing has always been the same thing over the course of its history; and therefore to assume that we can just refer to "editing" as one monolithic and in some basic manner always self-same pratice. It is the various interferences and ways that art forms inform each other, change and suddenly become something wholly different than what we expected that I find to be the most fruitful ground.

Thanks for the ideas and input.
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Old October 11th, 2002, 02:39 AM   #36
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Old October 11th, 2002, 08:43 AM   #37
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Nope, not angry or condesending. At least I'm not.
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