Saturday, November 09, 2002

Okay -- now this is something I'm having a hard time buying. Does David Thomson really know what the hell he's talking about? I have my doubts. I don't have the exact quote, but Sidney Lumet said in his book Making Movies that editing was a basically invisible art, that the only people who know if a film was edited well or not are the director and the editor, and that when a critic says a film is edited badly -- and it applies just as much when he says it is edited well -- the correct response is "How the hell does he know? It might have been brilliantly edited depending on what the editor has to work with."

If you look at a film like Citizen Kane, for example, you may well be looking at a film where all the cuts were planned in advance. A lot of movies are like that, given the way they are storyboarded. Cuts can be very much planned -- listen to Peter Bogdanovich's explanation of "cutting in the camera" on the Director's Cut of The Last Picture Show.. Or witness the great Bunuel, who used to brag about the fact that he edited in a day and a half.

But, on the other hand, not always. One of the best stories in Peter Biskind's gossipy Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex-Drugs-and-Rock 'n' Roll Generation Saved Hollywood was how Stephen Spielberg turned in a lot of incomprehensible footage for Jaws that was salvaged by the scissors of Verna Fields. Critics, of course, thought Spielberg was a genius and never mentioned Fields -- who nonetheless won an Oscar.

I defy anyone to show me how you can just look at a film and tell whether the cutting is the work of editor or director.

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