From: Stephen Elliott
Date: Tue, Aug 16, 2011 at 8:56 AM
Subject: (The Daily Rumpus) notes on editing
A friend said to look at The Limey by Steven Soderbergh. You could see the editing, like a pattern on an expensive shirt. The movie was the editing, as opposed to the acting or any of the other elements. I wondered if the point was to save a film that didn't otherwise work but my friend said No, it had to be shot that way.
So I watched Out Of Site, perhaps Soderbergh's best. In Out Of Sight the editing is again on display, but it doesn't overtake the acting, or the music. You never wonder what the film is about. It's perfect. A symphony.
A friend encouraged me to write about editing. I don't know enough, or anything, I said. She said try. I decided to conflate her, marry two story lines. You can do that, cut out entire threads, why consummate anything, have everything be an open question. Let the viewer decide their own stories while your protagonist stares off, quiet.
The thing is there's a story that never rings true when you tell it yourself, the story where you apologize for a lover's failures. Or, like a guy I knew in Amsterdam who mentioned the way the window girls winked at him. They wanted someone younger and better looking, he said, and I laughed. Though there was Toine. The Nigerian lady did knock on the glass and invite him in for free. But... I think about the porn star who wanted to have sex with Vin Deisel. She wished he made porn. Why not sleep with him anyway? No, she wanted to get paid for it.
I dated a girl who had a client and a slave. They both got her symbol branded on their bodies. I didn't get branded; I was just the boyfriend. Her husband didn't get branded.
It's not uncommon for a sex worker to have a special client. It's just complicated. The movie Going Under is about that.
In this conflated world she said, You always go there; it's like you're hiding. She wrote me first. She said, You're like an irresistible trick. He said, Why am I the only person in the whole world who's not allowed to see you naked? She said, You love me, but not enough to jerk off to someone else. My friend said, That's just like you and me. I said it was just a movie. I said, Actually, yeah, that's the point.
What I look for when I'm editing is shape. Here she's a little stronger, here she's a little more shy. If she's awkward maybe I play her best lines on the back of her head and focus on her when she isn't saying anything. I like dialogue from people I can't see but I don't like to see a character from the front saying something without her lips moving. If you're not going to see someone again I might play a song over their scene that continues deep into the next, so it's like a montage, especially late in the film.
I learned the software so I can try something, a cut or a song, and only tell the editor if I think it works. The editor's time is more valuable than mine. I don't want to waste it. She cuts to rhythm, she fixes scenes that otherwise wouldn't work. She knows how to cut around people. I like it most when she takes risks. She's cut many films and knows so much. We both lean toward discordant notes.
So that and I read works that wouldn't make any sense to me if I wasn't in the middle of trying to do it. But right now I inhale them. Elia Kazan, Sidney Lumet, Walter Murch. And I watch movies. And I'm amazed by how much I don't know. I could write a whole book about it.