Best Editing 1916

by popegrutch

Even before Sergei Eisenstein introduced his “theory of montage,” it was obvious to filmmakers that audiences reacted not only to images on the screen, but to their sequence and juxtaposition. Georges Méliès, who made some of the earliest movies, created “magical” effects by snipping together two pieces of film of the same scene, so that people and objects could appear and disappear. In the ensuing years, subtleties of narration, simultaneous action, and characters thoughts came to be represented through editing. Edwin S. Porter and D.W. Griffith are specific filmmakers who made notable advances in editing, but each year, we find some remarkable examples in unexpected places.

In 1916, editing was used in movies in a variety of ways. D.W. Griffith attempted to “parallel” four different storylines in “Intolerance,” at times implying “simultaneous” actions that were separated by centuries. In “East IsEast,” we see parallel editing to heighten our concern over whether an orphan girl will be located in time to receive her inheritance. Douglas Fairbanks is treated to some fast cutting in “His Picture in the Papers,” during a chase scene and a plot to crash a railroad car full of vegetarian food products. Documentary footage was given creative editing in “The Battle of the Somme,” allowing a combination of real and staged footage to reproduce one of the bloodiest battles of World War I. And, in “The Bloody Wedding,” an episode of “Les Vampires,” Louis Feuillade used some surprising cross-cutting between an assassin and his victim to draw out a very tense scene.

The nominees for best editing of 1916 are:

  1. Intolerance
  2. East Is East
  3. His Picture in the Papers
  4. The Battle of the Somme
  5. The Bloody Wedding

And the winner is…”The Battle of the Somme!”

I've seen this a hundred times.

While all of the nominees this year were good, and I have to admit that “Intolerance” was an especially influential movie on later editing techniques, I really felt that the best editing I saw was in this movie about the bravery of British troops under duress. By creating footage that shows the progress of the battle from planning and preparation, through operations and aftermath, the filmmakers made a narrative without having direct control over the script in advance. This wasn’t the case in the earlier “actuality” films of the era, where a few clips are assembled to show a location in detail or a couple of stars (like Mabel Normand and Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle) running around at an important event. The editing of “The Battle of the Somme” is what allows it to become a powerful human document of the past.

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