Editor’s note: Welcome to the eleventh of a 33-part series dissecting the 83rd Academy Awards, brought to you by the Large Association of Movie Blogs and its assorted members. Every day leading up to the Oscars, a new post written by a different LAMB will be published, each covering a different category of the Oscars. To read any other posts regarding this event, please click the tag following the post. Thank you, and enjoy!
by The Mad Hatter from The Dark of the Matinee
This year I got to ask an Oscar winning editor “Exactly, what is editing?”. This is what he told me…
Editing is constructing the film from the ground up out of bits that have been planned and shot by the director. Now we’re taking them, and like a mosaic, we’re figuring out exactly the best placement for them given exactly how they turned out.
It’s all about constructing a mural…out of little pieces of film. It’s looking at the whole and trying to keep everything balanced within the overall structure of the story – but it’s also about trying to take advantage of things that turned out better than expected.
What I think he’s saying is that editing is about sculpting from nuance. It can take messy execution and elevate it to greatness. In short, as my favorite editor likes to say “Editing is storytelling”
Where Oscar is concerned, editing uses a broad palette. Oscar winners have thrilled us with action (BLACK HAWK DOWN, THE MATRIX, RETURN OF THE KING), they have moved us with subtlety (JFK, THE ENGLISH PATIENT, SCHINDLER’S LIST), and they have taken a multifaceted story and told it to us in an unexpected way (TRAFFIC, SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE). Over the last several years, it’s actually become a rather interesting touchstone as to how Oscar night will go. Fun fact: The last time a film won Best Picture without even being nominated for Best Editing? 30 years ago with ORDINARY PEOPLE. (That can’t bode well for TRUE GRIT’s slim chances, can it?)
This year’s crop of nominees run the gamut, with a little less action in the mix but a whole lot of structure.
THE FIGHTER is an interesting case. As a boxing film, it’s not cut especially well – which is odd because it’s a subject that is usually cut with a mathematic precision that echoes the sport itself. However, the editing does succeed in making us feel very much a part of the ringside audience. It builds that final fight in a way that makes us want to get to our feet…and while it doesn’t put us in the ring, it certainly makes us feel like we’re sitting in the front row.
THE KING’S SPEECH is primarily about subtlety. It’s less about the montages of speech therapy between Loag and Bertie, and more about the conversations that surround these moments. Whether it’s The future Queen Mother asking the would-be therapist about a hypothetical client, the King-in-Waiting trying to stand up to his older brother and virtually getting shoved on his ass, or a commoner and a monarch speaking as equals…the film is permeated by this slow, deliberate march towards something life-changing. It’s in the mix, but more for substance than style.
BLACK SWAN is all about the editing. It’s unhinged melodrama borders on sensory overload at times, but never goes that step too far. The audience stays off-kilter by never completely being able to trust what we are watching, almost as if we are looking into one of the many broken mirrors. At the centre is the production of a ballet where the editing puts us on the stage and gives us a sense of precisely how much these dancers are giving of themselves for their art. Scene after scene in this film is intricately built from solid editing, and it stands every chance of winning the award.
As many of you will likely know, I am biased where 127 HOURS is concerned. I’ve been praising it to high heavens ever since getting an early look at it back in September, and its editing is no small part of what I believe makes it work. It finds an interesting balance of both claustrophobia and vast scope. Then of course there’s “The Scene”, which when closely watched isn’t that gory…but is presented with such intense editing that our minds start to fill in every painful blank. I’m a little bit biased, but if Oscar decides to go a little off-book and honour one of the lesser contenders, 127 HOURS could be where it goes in this category.
Surprisingly though, what seems to be the leader in this category is THE SOCIAL NETWORK. I mentioned off the top that editing is about sculpting with nuance, and few films this year had as much nuance as what Aaron Sorkin’s script inspired from the cast of this film. David Fincher captured take after take after take…all of them with varying inflections, gestures, looks and reactions. Swap out just the smallest thing, and the scene goes through a seismic tonal shift. An example can be found in the bonus features of the blu-ray where a feature on the film’s editing shows us Eduardo’s final statement of the film played a few different ways. In that deposition room, he breaks down his relationship to Zuckerberg face-to-face in no uncertain terms. We watch it three different ways, each time poignant…but ever so slightly “off”. Then we see the take that the editors chose, and we know that it’s right. Multiply that one bit of dialogue by the infinite amount this film contains, and you understand what makes it such an impressive feat.
Oscar nights tend to get a bit streaky, and some years one film can get on a bit of a roll…for better or for worse. If that happens later this month, look for THE KING’S SPEECH to step up and nab this award. If not, look for either 127 HOURS or THE SOCIAL NETWORK to take the prize.