Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: Editing

Best Editing 1917

The newest part of the “new art” of film was the power it gave to tell a story through editing. From the ability to compress long expanses of time to the power to heighten tension through simultaneous action in different places, to the power to redirect an audience’s attention through an insert shot, to the use of cuts within a scene to signal changes in perspective or internal experiences of a character, it was a whole new toolbox in narrative construction. Directors, writers, and editors were already exploring the possibilities of that toolbox by 1917, having come a long way from the days when edits were used mainly for “trick films” by making things appear and disappear.

The films nominated for best editing this year show a sophistication that was almost unheard-of five years earlier, but which an increasingly film-literate audience now took largely for granted. Louis Feuillade has been steadily improving his editing skills since the early days of “Fantômas,” and with “The Tragic Mill” he is able to heighten suspense effectively without dragging it out through the use of cross-cutting. The pacing of the Douglas Fairbanks vehicle “A Modern Musketeer” confirms that star’s famous penchant for “pep” as well as the editing talents of director Allen Dwan. Mary Pickford is the star of two of our nominees this year. In the first, “Little Princess,” director Marshall Neilan uses two distinct editing styles: one slow and stagey, for the main story, and one faster and clipped, for the “Ali Baba” story-within-a-story. Meanwhile, in “Poor Little Rich Girl,” despite his complaints about the scene, Maurice Tourneur turns in a remarkably edited mud fight, that necessitated several set-ups and re-takes. Rumor has it that Mary may have contributed to the editing process as well – Tourneur was mostly known for lighting more than editing.

The nominees for best editing of 1917 are:

  1. The Tragic Mill
  2. A Modern Musketeer
  3. Little Princess
  4. Poor Little Rich Girl

And the winner is…“A Modern Musketeer!”

The energy level of this movie exceeded anything I’d seen from Fairbanks – at his worst a pretty peppy guy – and a lot of this is a credit to the editing. He leaps from one scene to the next, always seeming ready to perform physical stunts or athletics at a moment’s notice. A stagier production couldn’t have pulled this off. We see Doug as D’Artagnan, fighting the good fight with swords, Doug roughing up a whole speakeasy of toughs, the cyclone in which Doug’s character was born, and Doug scaling a church tower – all before the real plot has even gotten going! It could be difficult at best to follow all that action, but the editing handles it deftly and the audience is carried along with each thrill. As a result, “A Modern Musketeer” feels like a thoroughly modern movie, even 100 years later, and that is a testament to its success.

Best Editing 1916

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.

Best Editing 1915

When you come right down to it, a movie is like a big jigsaw puzzle that only makes sense if you have all the pieces in the right place. Beyond building the narrative, a good editor can heighten emotion, create tension, or point out key aspects of the story to the audience which are invisible to the characters. While the basics of editing were already in place, the flowering of the feature film in 1915 gave editors a chance to really show their stuff – producers and directors finally began to learn that no one wanted to sit still for 90 minutes while a series of un-edited scenes were displayed by a static camera.

The candidates this year are among the best of this new breed. In “The Coward,” editing is used to complicate the story of a young man who flees from battle and later redeems himself, one tense scene inter-cutting as he hides in a box while enemy officers discuss battle plans. “The Italian,” which came out at the beginning of the year, already used editing to show tension as the main character runs home to try to save his baby while the wife cradles his sick child. “Hypocrites” edits between dual plotlines to show the cruelty of self-serving and dishonest people. In “The Golden Chance” we see several complex sequences in which Cecil B. DeMille brings out his characters’ conflicts and motivations. Finally, “Alias Jimmy Valentine” uses established techniques of editing to produce a tense crime drama with a race-to-save-a-life at the ending.

The nominees for Best Editing in 1915 are…

  1. The Coward
  2. The Italian
  3. Hypocrites
  4. Golden Chance
  5. Alias Jimmy Valentine

And the winner is… “The Italian!”

George_Beban_(The_Italian)It surprised me to find after a year of great editing that I returned to a movie I watched back in 2014 for this award, but I feel that the editing of this movie contributes greatly to its success. George Beban’s close-up symbolizes the drama and how dynamically it unfolds – but it would be meaningless without all the other shots before and after that make up a story.

Best Film Editing 1914

In the earliest days of film, action was performed in real-time, and no editing took place, but even the simple visual effects of Georges Méliès required in-camera editing by stopping and starting the camera at key moments. By 1914, narratives were created through multiple shots and structured by combining them to create meaning. Directors came to see that tension could be built by cutting away from action before its resolution, and audiences could be given information (for example through the use of a close up) to which the characters were not privy. And a complex situation, such as a battle, often could be better decoded by using multiple camera angles and cutting between them.

Each of the movies selected for this category demonstrate the height of editing at the time. “Tillie’s Punctured Romance,” a rare feature-length comedy, uses editing between different camera set-ups to produce hilarity and mayhem. “The Avenging Conscience” inserts grim imagery into the storyline to effectively produce a feeling of dread. In “The Squaw Man,” a man is assassinated by a sniper while apparently killed in a gunfight, with the editing making this clear to the audience even though it is secret to nearly all participants. “The Massacre” demonstrates D.W. Griffith’s increasing mastery of the use of multiple camera angles in a bloody and chaotic battle scene. “The Last of the Line,” like both of the two previous films, also heightens the drama of a battle by showing the audience what the characters cannot know.

The nominations for best editing for 1914 are:

  1. Tillie’s Punctured Romance
  2. The Avenging Conscience (James Smith & Rose Smith)
  3. The Squaw Man (Mamie Wagner)
  4. The Massacre
  5. Last of the Line

And the winner is… “The Massacre!”

Massacre_1914

The editing in this short really stood out to me, even though it was actually completed more than a year before its release, demonstrating why Griffith is remembered as one of the masters of the early period of filmmaking. In addition to the battle itself, the tension is built through inter-cutting to the hero riding off to get help and the cavalry’s charge to the rescue. I didn’t see better editing in the entire year.