Friday, February 4, 2011

OSCARS: Best Film Editing

Old School Hollywood
Although it wasn’t one of the initial awarded categories, Best Film Editing was one of the first to be added to the list. In 1934, at the seventh annual Academy Awards, Conrad Nervig took home the first award for editing Eskimo (1933). From then on the category has been recognized every year with 101 awards distributed to date.

At its inception, like most of the categories, the winning film was the most deserving. However, as the Oscars continued, filmmaking personalities began to develop track records and studios began to launch campaigns for films. Ultimately the prize shifted to more encompassing pictures. Films that were in contention for Best Picture often got nominated for their editing as well, despite notable achievements elsewhere such as Psycho (1960) and
The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly (1966). These two films contain some of the finest scenes ever edited, notably the shower scene from Psycho, which creates an illusion of gore and brutality with quick, sharp cuts (no pun intended), and the cemetery showdown in The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, which is one of the finest demonstrations of tension ever created visually.

During the 1950s a trend began to develop where Best Picture winners were also receiving the award for Best Editing. This trend continued until the late 1960s with the advent of the fast paced chase sequence as exhibited in
Bullitt (1968). Moving forward the award was hit or miss with the Best Picture, with odds splitting about 50/50. The French Connection (1972) is a film that beautifully brought the two together, and deservedly so, incorporating an involved story with a well paced visual plot. As the 1970s progressed the award was more commonly distributed to movies with enticing action sequences like The Towering Inferno (1974), Jaws (1975), Star Wars (1977), and Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). Since the 1980s a split trend has developed, encompassing the two former ones. Films recognized for competition are either epic historical dramas, with action, or a variation of those elements, with very few exceptions. Also, since 1981, the winner for the Best Picture has also been nominated for Best Editing.

When it comes right down to it, editing can make or break a film. It is a subtle art that often goes unnoticed by casual viewers, but that aficionados gravitate towards. Not only is a good editor crucial to the overall pacing of a film, but they are also indirectly responsible for maintaining continuity. Granted, they work with what they’re given, but being able to make it work is what earns them their pay. It is the editor’s job to sift through and filter out all of the crap caught by the camera, but they must also keep an eye out for salvageable material and coverage. The first semblance of a film (rough cut) is always much longer than the final version released to theaters. Without editors, there would just be miles, and tapes, and files of raw footage, full of take after take of incoherent nonsense. They are responsible for creating the tone, pacing, and in some cases the performances in a film. Generally speaking, the editor is more responsible for what you see in the final film than the director.

Surprisingly, animated films have never been recognized for their unprecedented achievements in the field of editing. Due to the high production costs, and amount of work put in to creating a single second animation, the entire film is essentially edited before pencils are put to paper, or fingers are put to keyboards. One would think that a film good enough to receive other awards and nominations would be an obvious choice for an editing acknowledgement.

Most recently the Academy has chosen to ignore Lee Smith for his exceptional work on editing Inception (2010). He did a phenomenal job of maintaining three overlapping, intertwining storylines without missing a beat or losing the audience for a second, which would be about two and half hours in third level dream time. A film with such a complex plot is a perfect example of how vital editing is to the overall picture. Balancing one storyline can be an arduous task, throw in two more and you may as well be juggling three chainsaws. Had the editing been poor the film would have dragged in pacing and plot development ultimately sacrificing story for sanity. That just further proves that the most deserving films don’t always win, or even get nominated and that everything in terms of merit is restricted by subjectivity.

This year's nominees for Best Editing:
127 Hours - Jon Harris
Black Swan - Andrew Weisblum
The Fighter - Pamela Martin
The King's Speech - Tariq Anwar
The Social Network - Angus Wall & Kirk Baxter

          -   Creating a category that acknowledges the technical skill, which through pacing, rhythm and consistency helps to sculpt captivating stories.
          -   The 1970s – with the exception of Cabaret (1972) and All that Jazz (1979).

          -   Not being included as a category from the beginning.
          -   Not acknowledging the aforementioned films: Psycho (1960), The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly (1966), and Inception (2010).
          -   How the West was Won (1963) beating The Great Escape (1963) and Dances with Wolves (1990) beating Goodfellas (1990).
          -   This entire past decade of Best Editing winners, with the exception of Jamie Selkirk (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)) and Thelma Schoonmaker (The Aviator (2004) & The Departed (2006)).

"The Good"


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