I wanted to RECord some thoughts on the art of editing for the "hitRECord Academy" collaboration by filmpunk. For this first entry I wanted to discuss the scene that first made me fascinated with editing when I was in high school. Francis Ford Coppola's "Apocalypse Now" was the movie and the briefing scene in the Nha Trang is the scene where a fascination with editing began for me.
In a film that runs 153 minutes there are many sequences of great editing. It was cut by Walter Murch, one of the greatest editors in history, and it will always boggle my mind how he was able to construct such a mesmerizing film out of the chaos that was its two year shoot (chronicled brilliantly in the documentary "Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse.")
> For this entry you will need to refer to the following off-site clip:
It will be most beneficial if you watch the clip in its entirety, or better yet go and watch the entire film. But for the purposes of this RECord I will refer to the above YouTube clip and its timeline.
Essentially Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) has been summoned from isolation to embark on a dangerous mission to assassinate a rogue colonel (Marlon Brando) who has apparently gone insane during the Vietnam War and recruited an army of Vietnamese natives to worship him. Defying the U.S. military and their war strategies, Brando's character needs to be executed. And Willard is to be the dark soul to do it.
> Please begin watching from 3:15 until 4:53.
This minute and 38 second sequence changed the way I watched movies forever. I went from thinking of editing as "Person A talks and when Person B talks you cut to them, and then back to Person A again."
Of course almost all movies are cut far more elaborately than that, but in this sequence the mood for the entire film is presented in the way Mr. Murch selects images to go along with Brando's eerie voice recording.
Here are some bullet points to consider with regards to this sequence:
* There is no musical score throughout the scene. The voiceover sets the rhythm.
* Brando's character is only shown in a photograph (and this is the first time he shown in the film.) The photo itself is shadowy, and very noir-like. But it's really the voiceover in the background that makes the photo seem darker. Mr. Murch plays with our senses with this juxtaposition of image versus sound.
* Prior to the audio tape being played, the men in the room with Willard have only been shown in long shot. As the voiceover plays we finally get close-ups of their faces. Suddenly the "meet and greet" atmosphere from earlier in the scene is gone and it is replaced with introspective shots of the men listening to the disturbing words being played.
* At 3:45 Brando uses the words "crawling, slithering" during the close-up of the shrimp. This subconsciously makes the shrimp unappetizing, and yet the man picks away at them. This creates a variety of metaphors.
* But the one shot that stands out to me, and really got my attention, was at 4:35 when the camera pans from a close-up of the knife over to the still hand. I always thought to myself how much it stood out, and yet it fits in with the way the pan up shot was done with the shrimp. Those two shots make the viewer think of more than just the words, or the characters, or the mission that is being set up. They are symbols, and the knife to the hand is reminiscent of an earlier scene where a suicidal Sheen cuts his hand on glass and spreads the blood all over his body before emotionally breaking down in a lonely hotel room. So much is said with the knife pan, and yet it's just a few seconds of film and it's so brief that the casual viewer may think nothing of it.
So, much more can be said of this scene, and the film itself. And many other movies at that. But this has always been what started my interest in editing. It's the ability of an editor to make the viewer instantly feel something. In this case it's uneasiness in a variety of ways.
Mr. Murch achieves this while also informing the audience, and Sheen, of Brando's state of mind with the audio tape. The information on the tape never gets lost in the editing. In fact it gets heightened by the shot selection, and what images go with what audio. If you really think about it, it could have been very tempting to actually show Brando speaking the words in flashback form, or to show cutaway footage of the war.
But it's the mystery in not knowing and the restraint in showing just a simple photo of Brando that lures the mind. And then, as we're shown the affect the words have on the men in the room, we start to construct our own views about who Brando is. Sheen begins to do this as well throughout his trek toward the river compound where Brando and his native army reside.
In closing I think as much as we can learn from one another on the site, bringing in an outside source every now and again can be a very constructive thing. I think it's very important to study and discuss the legends of the motion picture business so we can all share our reactions to art on and off the site as well.