One of the things I find most fascinating about film is the theory behind the juxtaposition and sequencing of images. It can make or break a movie. A movie with great editing is one where you don’t have to think very much about how the story fits together. The transitions are seamless, the dialogue is fluid–everything about it flows, or in the case of horror films, doesn’t flow. If you want an example of horrible editing, look no further than Birdemic: Shock and Terror. Sidenote: I’ve just found the full movie on Youtube. I’m not sure how long it’ll stay up, but if you’re ready for an hour-and-a-half of learning what not to do, click away.
If you haven’t seen this clip of Alfred Hitchcock discussing his views on cutting, or as he likes to put it, assembly, then it’s a must read (watch). In fact, it’s required reading (watching) for this article! Aw, you thought you’d never run across those words in a blog post, did you? The clip really explains the fundamentals of how juxtaposition of images can work. And if you make it to the end, there is a great scene everyone will enjoy. Especially Hitchcock. So after watching this clip, let’s go over three good examples of excellent editing, according to the three tenets as discussed by Hitchcock.
It’s amazing to me how well these theories have held up over time. There’s an innate sense of how humans engage and perceive reality, and movies do their best to string to them together in a way that not only can stir up emotions, but it can reinforce beliefs we already have. So let’s look at three different clips that exemplify the theories Hitchcock was discussing.
In the movie Psycho, Hitchcock says that they couldn’t have just shown a women being murdered in the shower. They had to make it impressionist. It had to become art. What he succeeding in doing, however, was to show that there is a linear way in which people perceive events. There’s a sequence, and if the cuts don’t follow it, the viewer could become confused. In addition, using different angles and lengths of shot add a sense of realism somehow. It makes the viewer focus on the agony in her eyes, the pain in her body, the shrieks coming from her mouth.
The opening sequence in The Dark Knight might be the best heist scene of all time. It’s a perfect progression of story and sequencing, leaving the viewing wanting more, while giving them enough sustenance to be satisfied. The mention of Joker is a trail of breadcrumbs for the viewer to follow. With each clown-kill, the viewer soon becomes aware of the fact that each robber might off the next. By the end of the clip, it all comes to a head as Joker is revealed to be the last pilferer.
People give me grief for enjoying Drag Me to Hell, but it’s a great example of how a director can take the expected norms of a film and twist them so that they can feel new again. I would want to dub Sam Raimi the King of the B-movie, but Spiderman 3 voids any sort of recognition he might receive.
In the scene, Raimi plays with the tension found in most horror films. The “shock” that Hitchcock describes is there, but it doesn’t happen when the viewer expects it to. In fact, he pushes that expectation further with the sounds and sequencing of the scene. The sound effects used in this clip build the tension that the viewer has felt since the beginning of the movie. He uses music and noise to keep that tension prevalent, and keep the audience on their toes.
Seinfeld is the greatest sitcom of all time. It’s the blues of sitcoms. Without it, there wouldn’t be Thursday Night Comedy on NBC. This clip takes bits and pieces of other Seinfeld episodes, as well as the original “The Summer of George” episode, and gives it a new spin.
There’s something powerful in the way that Hitchcock uses his family/bikini example. It shows how much the sequences in which images are displayed matter, and how the director and editor have a huge burden of responsibility when it comes to storytelling. The film might come across exactly the way they want it, or maybe the film will derive an unintended meaning.
Now I turn it to you, Zooppsters. Are there any films that stick out in your mind that have masterful transitions? What film that should be considered as the pinnacle of the assembly of movie mosaics?