The Cutting Edge: The Magic of Movie Editing
The Cutting Edge: The Magic of Movie Editing is a 2004 documentary film directed by filmmaker Wendy Apple. The film is about the art of film editing. Clips are shown from many groundbreaking films with innovative editing styles.
The Cutting Edge: The Magic of Editing teaches the viewer how editors compile strips of film in order to create memorable movie going experiences. In addition to interviews with a variety of respected and award-winning editors, the movie offers clips form some of the most memorable films in the history of the art form.
“The Cutting Edge: The Magic of Movie Editing” is a 2004 documentary celebrating the first century of film editing. Those expecting a fitting counterpart to “Visions of Light: The Art of Cinematography” are going to be a bit disappointed because this documentary is not on that same level. What you will find is part history lesson on the development of movie editing and part introduction to the things film editors do. The emphasis at the beginning is all about cutting, but we will learn that film editors make a lot of other decisions and there are lots of film editors and directors appearing as talking heads to explain these things with accompanying examples from lots of classic (and not so classic) films. Quentin Tarantino speaks to the importance of a single frame and his reasons for deciding to work with a female film editor, and Steven Spielberg talks about the objectivity of the film editor. But you have to wish that this documentary could have let these points be made by the film editors themselves since one of the premises here is that film editors are often forgotten when people think about how a film is made.
The history lesson begins with not only the creation of movie editing when Edwin Porter, one of Thomas Edison’s employees, first cut scenes together to create a story in 1903, first in “The Life of an American Fireman” and then the more famous “Great Train Robbery.” A theoretical distinction between the polar approaches of D.W. Griffith’s seamless editing, as in “The Birth of a Nation,” versus the more manipulative approach of Russian documentary filmmaker Dziga Vertov and his team in “Man with a Movie Camera” and later Sergei Eisenstein in “Battleship Potemkin.” The history of film editing seems to come down to certain individuals who were in the right place at the right time, but there is also the interesting observation that originally women were film editors because the task was seen as being akin to knitting, and it was not until sound was introduced and the process became so “technical” than men started doing the job instead. Ultimately the goal in this documentary is not just to be informative but to persuade viewers that after the director and the stars the film editor is the most important person involved in the production of a film and in creating “the final script.”
Sections are devoted to the general idea of cutting action, suspense, or sex, as well as cutting for the studios or to make the actor a star. At one point “The Rules” are established, and then the documentary looks at how successful film editors have broken all of those rules. Specific examples of editing that look at the specific choices that were made are fairly rare in this documentary. There is a brief example from “Home for the Holiday” where we actually get to see some of the choices for cutting a scene where a turkey falls on Cynthia Stevenson, but usually all you get is the editor describing after the fact what they did, as with Walter Murch and the hotel sequence at the start of “Apocalypse Now.” There are a couple of choice examples of how sound comes into play with Pietro Scalla in “Black Hawk Down” and Tina Hirsch in “Dante’s Peak,” that helps to expand our notion of film editing. Then you have the extreme case of Alan Heim convincing director Bob Fosse to cut 20 minutes following the climactic courtroom scene in “Lenny” to get to Bruce’s death. The problem is every time you get one of these specific examples you want more and the documentary is more likely to get back to a general topic (I was waiting for a section on the concept of American montage exemplified by the baptism scene in “The Godfather,” but that never came). Still, you do get a decent introduction to the topic.
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