The LAMB Devours the Oscars – Best Film Editing

by Dylan · February 8, 2008 · LAMB Devours the Oscars · 10 Comments

Editor’s note: Welcome to the tenth of a multi-part series dissecting the 2008 Academy Awards, brought to you by the Large Association of Movie Blogs and its assorted members. Every weekday leading up to the Oscars, a new post written by a different LAMB will be published, each covering a different category (or more) of the Oscars (there are 24 in all). To read any other posts regarding this event, please just click on the tag following the post. Thank you, and enjoy!


By * (Asterisk) of Movie Reviews (such as they are).

The second edition of The Macmillan International Film Encyclopedia (Ephraim Katz, 1994) says that “film editing is a laborious, exacting, multistage process that is both a craft and an art”, and “an editor invests weeks or months of intensive work to achieve the impression that he has done nothing at all”.

Yep, that’s an editor’s lot. He (or she; and Katz reminds us that “editing has been one of the few movie crafts wide open to women […] because it requires manual dexterity”) strives to maintain the “voice” and integrity of the creator of the original work, while at the same time bringing a new perspective and a “distance” from the project that can, hopefully, help create a better end result.

I know a bit about editing, albeit a different type of editing. For a day job, I edit books and magazines. So I understand perfectly well the notion of trying to cram X amount of information into Y amount of space (or, in the case of a film, time).

There are some commentators who would suggest that editing one’s own film is a fool’s errand. That closeness to the work is a hurdle to overcome, and the director/editor may be reluctant to rid his film of elements that others would have no qualms about losing. And while I think this idea is valid in the realms of literary editing, I think it is not a fair parallel to make. After all, literary editing is about correcting grammar, spelling, and syntax mistakes at least as much as making something read better and fit a predefined space.

In film, there is less mistake-correcting to do (in an ideal world!). In his book Digital Film-Making, director Mike Figgis writes: “It’s good to have an editor to work with in post-production [but] it’s vitally important that you don’t lose the plot […]. You can’t just abdicate your responsibility.” And this, surely, is tacit endorsement of the role of director/editor, which Figgis tell us, is “much more common now” than it used to be. That, of course, is largely as a result of the boom in digital and low-budget film-making.

And the mention of digital brings us to the name of this award. There have long been discussions over the nouns “film” and “movie” to mean what we see projected on a cinema screen. Oliver Stone once claimed that he makes movies while Quentin Tarantino makes films. There’s a sense of “a film” being smaller, and so a less impressive cinema-going, visual extravaganza, than “a movie”. Jules et Jim is a film, but Independence Day is a movie.

The difference between film and movie, of course, has a different bent when talking about editing. The term “film editing”, as used by the Academy for this award, has an implication of physically handling and splicing film, but as time goes by, fewer and fewer people are editing their work this way. Directors such as Robert Rodriguez have been prime exponents of this do-it-yourself ethic. “Some people say that cutting on film […] gives the filmmaker a much closer relationship to the film,” Rodriguez writes in Rebel Without a Crew. “If you like the sound of that, do yourself a favor and take some film home at night and fondle it all you want. But when it comes time to cut your movie use a video or computer system. Cutting on film is the slowest, most absurd way to cut a film in my opinion. It takes forever to do anything.”

Given the move towards digital editing across the board these days, maybe the Academy should consider renaming this award the Movie Editing award. This trend away from cutting celluloid is great for those who wish to be involved all the way through the process without necessarily wanting to learn a whole new discipline. You can teach yourself the basics on a computer in your home. This is one prime reason why the aforementioned director/editor tag is becoming more commonplace, but some people just want to be involved at every stage — from Orson Welles to the Coen brothers, the director/editor actually has a long pedigree.

And on the subject of the Coen brothers, they are, of course, among the nominees for this year’s Academy Award for Film Editing, for No Country for Old Men under their pseudonym Roderick Jaynes.

Of the five movies nominated, this is the only one I have seen as yet. Personally, I thought the editing was strong throughout… until the last 20 minutes or so. Shorten that coda, boys, and maybe clarify what the hell is going on it that hotel room between Ed Tom and Anton, then maybe we’ll talk about you getting that Oscar.

The other four films are:

The Bourne Ultimatum, Christopher Rouse.
If Rouse’s work on this is as good as on the same director’s United 93, this should be a hot contender.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Juliette Welfling
First-time nomination for Welfling on this critically acclaimed feature. Going by her work on the very good Read My Lips and the somewhat disappointing but interesting The Beat That My Heart Skipped, I’d say she can’t be counted out.

Into the Wild, Jay Cassidy
Another first-time nominee. Good for them. Does that mean they’re patsies, though? Hmm… We’ll see.

There Will Be Blood, Dylan Tichenor
And yet another first-time nominee… But, whoa, look at this guy’s pedigree: Boogie Nights and Magnolia alone should secure this guy a lifetime-achievement award some day. He also edited Brokeback Mountain and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. He should be commended for his work ethic alone: There Will Be Blood, The Assassination of Jesse James…, and Brokeback, back to back! That’s some feat.

So, I know it wasn’t part of the brief, but if I were a gambling man and I had to bet my shirt on someone in this category, I’d be putting it on Dylan Tichenor. I’ll be seeing this as soon as it opens over here in the UK, so if I change my mind you’ll be the first to know!

I’m done here now. Guess I’ll put on my editor’s hat and go through it all again.

Tags: ,