Edge codes: the art of motion Picture Editing directed by Alex Shuper, written by Shuper and Phillip Daniels, produced by Daniels and S. Wyeth Clarkson, with George Lucas, Norman Jewison, Sarah Flack and Thelma Schoonmaker. 90 minutes. A Travesty Productions release. Opens Friday (February 18). For venues and times, see Indie & Rep Films, page 101. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Tilt your head to the sky with a hand in front of your face. See the fleshy palm, its blurry encryption of grooves and imprints. Remove the hand. Stare at the sky's vast slope of ceaseless blue. You just edited your first scene.
These days it seems instinctive to think in edits and see in scenes.
Alex Shuper's moody documentary Edge Codes is about the history and craft of film editing. But it also suggests the ongoing blur between edited reality and real life: TV Trump is a mastermind mogul with fearsome insight and power, but real Trump is a hair-weave weirdo with a trophy wife and bankrupt casino.
Have we learned from a culture of relentlessly manipulated images to think how we, too, can successfully edit ourselves to blur the truth and put forward personas more successful than we'll ever be?
Let's assume that a certain amount of editing is automatic for human beings. We turn away from the mangled victim despite our initial interest in the car crash. But the conscious practice of revising what we see is a relatively new phenomenon. Editing became ingrained in the culture with the arrival of mass for-profit electronic entertainment.
These days we know editing best as manipulation of images to attain maximum desired effect. In our entertainment-saturated culture, maximum desired effect is almost always total immersion in make-believe. There might also be the secondary intent of dispersing a message: War is bad! Buy our soup! But more often than not we've already bought the product - the movie we're watching. There's no need for a moral or a pitch or even a cohesive plot.
Since the goal of most editing is the complete entertainment experience, it all works out perfectly: we get what we paid for, and everyone's happy. Right?
The problem, of course, is that "successful" cultural products tend to be pure entertainment spectacles devoid of meaning or message. At the same time, edited verisimilitude shrinks the difference between the seeming reality of electronic entertainment and actual events in "real" life. We don't just practise The Donald's singular line, Hal, you're fired; we actually start to believe the myth he's created.
The growing obsession with plastic surgery and instant reinvention à la Queer Eye and The Swan suggests that people are developing a propensity to self-edit. Perhaps because of this growing predilection, we have less faith in a cohesive central reality that cannot be staged: the moonwalk was faked; 9/11 was a CIA plot set to operatic mood music.
Some of the editors interviewed in Edge Codes point to examples of editing that has influenced real-world events, echoing the great satire Wag The Dog, in which a war is staged to win an election. The film includes that infamous footage of a statue of Saddam pulled down by a U.S. army truck in front of a mass of applauding Iraqis. Pull back to a wide shot and there are just a handful of citizenry in a square occupied by the American military.
"Realizing the power of editing is like being woken up from the Matrix," deadpans Zach Staenberg, editor of The Matrix trilogy. In truth, to realize the power of editing is to become your own perpetual editor, each of us fashioning our own Matrix, seeking what editing promises us: the ability to create a private universe in which all moments are maximized for personal enjoyment.
Edge Codes: the Art of Motion Picture Editing (Alex Shuper) Rating: NNN
Edge Codes features an army of editors talking frankly about their craft. I'd tell you their names, but who's ever heard of them?
Thats the point, most of them say - to transform movies like The Matrix, Memento and Raging Bull without anyone noticing. Theyve been so successful that one of the recurring themes of this movie is how accustomed to editing weve become.
Edge Codes relentless visuals demonstrate the wide variety of editing styles we are all too comfortable with. The film is a perfect marriage of subject and medium, and the only problem is that discussion ends just as its getting really interesting.
Theres a sequel in this movies last 10 minutes alone: editors and film theoreticians discuss how the culture of editing has influenced society and psychology. Suddenly, a moderately interesting monograph for the film studies crowd becomes absolutely gripping.