It’s often said that editing either makes or breaks the film. Metaphorically speaking, it’s like carving an idol from a block of stone. Hours of raw footage has to be trimmed down into minutes of the final film, with the basic goal of making the film intelligible. Moreover, thousands of creative decisions have to be made while editing to bring out the essence of the story, its emotional appeal, and the desired audience reaction. Editing is often the difference between an average film and a great one.
The craft of editing is as artistic as it is technical; the answer lies in using the techniques artistically. A single frame here or there changes the whole ambience of the scene. Thus, an editor has to keep in mind the impact they want the scene to have on the viewer and then use the tools at their disposal in the best way to land that impact.
The tools used for editing may have come a long way, highly capable editing software has replaced the mechanical cutters on which editors used to cut films (film strips). But, the irreplaceable tool is instinct. Editing is referred to by many as an invisible art, the art which gives a film its flow. And for it to be invisible, it should have an organic flow to it, and concurrently have an emotional impact on the audiences. This can only be achieved through the instinct of an editor.
In this article, we will explore the films which have been Oscar acclaimed for editing, through the years.
- Ford v Ferrari – (2019): The latest recipient of the honour, the film is not just another action movie about racing, rather it’s about the passion which drives an individual. For the audience to feel that passion, they must feel and relate to each character’s motivation, which has been achieved through captivating editing. The buildup in each sequence has a befitting reward to it, the rising tensions have equivalent relief to it, which gives this movie its unique flow.
- Dunkirk – (2017): It’s an accomplishment for a film with such minimal dialogue to communicate emotions so effectively. It takes skilful editing to mesh three different timelines, in a way that the tension in each timeline is continuously rising. (Taking away nothing from the scintillating sound design and cinematography). The editing gives each sequence a sense of urgency, anticipation and tension, which are the essential elements to a story of evacuating soldiers from the clinches of the enemy.
- Whiplash – (2014): Whiplash is one of the few films which are so dominantly controlled by editing. The editor Tom Cross has edited the conversation sequences in such a brilliant way that it silently makes us feel what the characters are going through. The same can be said about the drumming sequences which are so crisp and engaging, they don’t let your eyes off the screen even for the briefest of moments. The editing gives the character the authority they should have with the context of the story.
- The Girl With The Golden Tattoo – (2009): The Girl With The Golden Tattoo is an outstanding illustration of how one should edit conversation scenes. For a non-action film to win for its editing speaks a ton about its craft! The other notable thing is the way they have edited the background score with the visuals. The editing of a scene determines what the power dynamics are between characters and what the audience should focus on. Picking up shots lifts the appeal of the scene requires masterful visual storytelling!
- The Aviator – (2004): The Aviator encompasses a lot of aspects of the protagonist’s life, there are a lot of layers to the story. Be it his slow descending to critical OCD, personal life or professional life. Thelma Schoonmaker (the editor) is an expert when it comes to editing technique, her 3 Oscars for editing is a testament to it. Though some techniques may drift away from realistic cinema, it does deliver the impact; for example, the scenes when the OCD and germaphobia struck.
- Saving Private Ryan – (1998): Unlike what most war films highlight, Saving Private Ryan focuses on the vulnerabilities of the soldiers in a hostile war environment. The film takes you so dreadingly close to the battle and gives the viewer a first-hand experience of what the soldiers in war have to face. It explores human emotions so well because of its editing. The edit of the film as a whole and for individual sequences complement each other. Each battle scene has tension and the film as a whole has peaks of tensions and equivalent relief.
- The Matrix – (1999): To fit so much information in under 150 minutes requires masterful editing. The Matrix is a very rare combination of sci-fi with extraordinary storytelling. The transition between the two scenes is noteworthy! It keeps the audience puzzled as to what is real and what is a dream. The challenge for the editors in such a concept heavy film is to keep the film crisp and also convey the concept to the audience. The Matrix is not only crisp overall, but also the individual scenes.
- Apollo 13 – (1995): A film about a journey to the moon has to be one with a lot of tension and suspense. Apollo 13 was not just about the journey and what goes into it, it was about the emotions that people around the mammoth task goes through. Through its brilliant intercutting we understand the emotions of each involved party. The extent to which the emotions are conveyed is subjective to each viewer, but most will agree that Apollo 13 is one of the most impactful space movies.
- Schindler’s List – (1993): A movie on a topic such as the holocaust needs to be treated with the utmost sensitivity. Schindler’s List explores the human emotions of people involved in such a horrific tragedy. Be it Schindler’s character journey (transition from a profit-hungry businessman to a saviour of numerous lives) or the horrors of the holocaust, the edit does justice to it. It’s the invisible craft of editing which is working on an audience who empathize with what’s going on the screen.
- Raging Bull – (1980): A classic, whose editing technique still inspires filmmakers. The stand out editing for this film has to be the boxing sequences. Just through the editing (of course other aspects too), the audience can perceive the mental state in which the protagonist is. The transition between his personal life and his life in the ring gives us a clear picture as to how both those lives are intricately woven. The editing helps Raging Bull stick out of all the other boxing films.