Friday, August 26, 2011

Shamelessly Stealing from "Scanners" (Again!)

Once again, we are shamelessly swiping content from Jim Emerson's "Scanners" blog (just because this video is so good). It's a video essay from Matthias Stork on the current state of editing in films, a by-product of the current crop of directors being from such schools as stuntmen, music-video production and commercials. His points are sound in this one* (although the second part I find incredibly flawed and the sources he sights for more formalistic film-making—specifically musicals and silent films—completely overlook the concept of montage and beat-cutting), although he paints with a very wide brush.

What is fascinating to me is the importance he puts on the soundtrack of sound design and effects to provide the continuity that the uncohesive visuals don't provide. I do sound for picture, and I remember once working on a commercial done in the "
NYPD Blue" kind of caffeinated "searching" camera style where I inserted the sound of a hug, where none occurred in the picture (I remember that it featured Peter Jacobson, who's now a regular on "House"), but it was EXPECTED to be there, so we put it in, even though it violated the rule of "You See it-You Hear it = It must be Real."  In this case, if you hear it, it must have happened, even if you never see it happening.

The SFX tracks are so full now, what with digital effects and digital editing that you can fill the soundtrack up with all sorts of noise, rather than the old school simplified work of the mechanical era where the sound editors and foley artists' purpose was to focus the attention on what is important (and eliminate the superfluous). In a sense, sound has replaced picture for verisimilitude, and picture and montage is all illusion (like CGI and green-screen and simulated fight-scenes)—all you need is a suggestion of something happening, rather than any "real" "money shot." These sequences are all children of the shower murder from Psycho, where we see somebody being stabbed (and hear the cuts) even though NOT ONCE do we see the knife touching the body. Is this, then, also "Chaos Cinema?"

It is—it must be—and yet Stork, judging from his conclusions in Part 2 (which—sigh—I'll probably have to put up tomorrow), would probably be compelled to deny it (as to criticize Psycho would be...well, it would be frowned upon in critical circles and academia), as he praises the "Chaos" technique of
Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker.   The point is that this technique is a tool for communication.  It can be used badly—and has been in all sorts of action films.  But it is because the directors themselves are bad communicators and lousy story-tellers.  It's not the technique that's bad.  The techniques are used to communicate and evoke emotion, rather than provide a map of what's happening where and to whom—you don't need it with the shower scene from Psycho (as much you would, say, the gun battle in High Noon) as that shower is a very small space, but Hitchcock's many perspectives and rapid cuts are designed to extend a short murder into a longer sequence and impart appropriate terror to the that particular point in time (a later murder will be basically done in one..uh...cut).

It is chaos and manipulation, done by a master of film-art, using his craft to disorient his viewers in a shocking development and communicating the character's terror to a sympathetic audience who has been following that character from the beginning of the movie.

It is chaos, yes.  But, it is brilliant.

* Even so, his choice of the John Woo scene works...until the edits occur, and then the film is just as susceptible to chaos jumble as the ones he condemns.  At some point, the perspective gets does his point.   One suspects that Stork's favorite film might be Hitchcock's Rope.

1 comment:

Marcus said...

great read and video