This essay will be, in the first part, mainly talking about the role of film editors in the modern film industry, while during the second, presenting a complex of creative editing techniques the editor used in the film requiem for a dream, to further demonstrate the former topic.
For quite long, film editors are deemed as people who do nothing more than cutting the film apart, taping them back together and threading them onto a Moviola. The common-sense views of the job of a film editor, therefore, seem to be naively oversimplified.
To be sure, the editing work can be incredibly tedious in a way. It involves viewing miles of footage for hours over and over again and turning them into a coherent and enjoyable whole that will bring sound and sight together artfully to convey the director’s vision. The difficulties of the work, according to that definition, are hard to miss, which is what happens in between the art of editing.
Firstly, as an editor, you need to not only know the art, the business and the technology at the same time, but also be well adept at all.
Secondly, even though the magic is in your wand and curses to make the final story come to life, you cannot cross that line between a conveyer and a manipulator. After all, it is the director that “rules”.
Thirdly, it means you have to stand the long and tiring hours of working in isolation. Yet you also have to work closely in collaboration with others such as the sound editors and musical directors as the film nears completion.
Walter Murch, a preeminent Hollywood film editor, who has won the golden statue for three times, worldly-renowned for his masterful editing work in the English patient and the cold mountain, describes a film editor as a cross between a short-order cook and a brain surgeon. To rephrase his words, film editing requires the capability to do really delicate jobs to mainly assure the continuity of the movie, but also the routine ones—-cutting and assembling, just like a short-order cook flipping the burger.
Editors are the invisible man whose wonderful work somehow often goes unnoticed while the general public perception grants way too much credit on the directors and actors. Indeed, they are undoubtedly essential to the play as a whole, but the editor, the dark artist who makes all the broken pieces into their best shape is indisputably no lesser in importance than either of them. Moreover, in some films, the role an editor plays can be so critical that it defines the overall style of the entire film. In the following part, I will try to illustrate this point by looking into the various creative editing techniques the editor of requiem for a dream employed to make the film a stylistic one as it is.
The first and foremost editing technique is the one that runs through the entire film, termed as “hip-hop montage” by Darren Aronofsky, the director of this movie. It is a subset of fast cutting used in film to portray a complex action through a rapid series of simple actions in fast motion, accompanied by sound effects. One example is the recurring scene in which Harry, Tyrone and Marion shoot or snort the heroine in the room. A fast set of shots encompassing the movement of body cells, the magnification of pupils, the cutting of dollar note, the ignition of lighter, the sound of moan are put together swiftly and seamlessly, followed by the fast motion of their after-drug activities. This happens regularly throughout the film primarily to imply the frequency of such behaviors, and the fast motion followed simply indicates how boring and senseless these people are as if those reactions can be ignored.
Fast motion editing is another one that used by the editor quite often in the film, usually trying to imply the high frequency of the action or, not to bore the audience with the routine and tedious scenes as long as they understand what is going on. Respective examples are when the mother Sara takes the pills every single time and when she does the housework afterwards. The fraction of the doctor-patient sequence is rather unique in such a way that a contrast of fast motion(doctor) and slow motion(mother) are brought together in the same shots, causing a distinctive yet unspeakable feeling to the audience.
Split screen editing is used extensively as well, along with extreme close-ups. The most illustrative one is a set of shots where Harry and Marion caress each other on the bed. The screen is equally split into two parts with the left side on Harry and the other half on Marion. The reason this scene is carried out in this way is because it manifestly shows us the places on each character that the other person is focused on. At this romantic and somewhat psychedelic moment, they both lose a sense of self and are enraptured by their lover. The visual representation of this has to be split since an attempt to convey this in one shot would feel slightly cluttered and in disarray.
Another editing/ shooting technique well-worth-mentioning, is the long take used in the film where Marion walks out from her psychiatrist’s place after having sex with him only in exchange for money—-from the doorway, all the way to the elevator, down to the gate, out to the street, then the rain falls and Marion pukes.
To observe in more depth, you will find the usage of “dissolve”. The dissolve appears in the story when Sara dances weirdly and ghostly in her dark bedroom with the red dress partially on her plump body and the nearly scary makeup on her pale-white face. The dissolve allows the appearance of multiple images of Sara at the same time on the screen with different degrees of transparency, thus creating a creepy and spooky ambiance.
In addition to all those mentioned above, there is a shot in which the conversations match in two shots with different locations and time yet the same people. The matching of conversation is between Marion and her psychiatrist. The last shot of the first scene is in the restaurant where Marion says “I need some money” and the first shot of the next scene is on the bed with the psychiatrist saying “May I ask what it’s for”. This is incredibly coherent while controlling the pace very well.
To end this essay, Stephen Kings once says: To write is human, to edit is divine. From this quotation and the analysis above of the role of an editor as well as the in-depth exploration into requiem for a dream, we can at least paint a closer-to-reality profile of an editor and in the meantime gain deeper understandings of the crucial work he/ she does in delivering a masterpiece film.