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A personal problem I have with this, is that director Wendy Apple shows you the inventor of a basic editing technique; and then (nine times out of ten) cuts to some loud, superficial action/effects movie that uses it. More than a few times, a technique that would be much better highlighted in a well-chosen clip where the edit can be studied almost in isolation, is instead buried under explosions, green screen razzle-dazzle, car-chases and gratuitous knife.gun.martial arts battles, where a fraction of the impact can be credited to the edit.
The larger problem is that this approach continually results in Eisentein, Reifenstahl, Griffith clips sitting in close proximity to, and introducing things like Terminator 2, Scream, Gladiator, Titanic, Top Gun, The Matrix, Star Wars. !??! Equating originators who believed in what they were doing to the depths of their soul (and devised these techniques themselves), with modern filmmakers who frequently just want to increase viewer stimulation to increase their payday with a tried and true technique, is obtuse if not completely grotesque. Jumping from the ingenuity of a filmmaker devising an editing trick to rally people to a political viewpoint, to popcorn movies about surface stimulation and box office receipts is so reductivist as to be offensive. Which is I suppose a back-handed tribute to the meaning that editing can cause. This may be appropriate in one case; as when WW2 propaganda films are used to introduce Starship Troopers, because it's director (Verhoeven) is knowingly riffing on propaganda. But I was not watching this thinking "Thank God Eisenstein invented X so that it could be used in Basic Instinct." Instead, I frequently had a pained expression on my face.
One can imagine this dilemma arose out of the need to cut to living, breathing editors who pick up the story, but it imposes some real arrogance on those involved. It almost never chooses to cut to calm, modern art films by thoughtful directors where the spare use of gimmickry allows you to appreciate what the editing tool actually does. In doing so it jumps almost completely over the middle years (60s-70s) where an astonishing burst of rebellion and experimentation occurred, from a second wave of originators. Tarkovsky, Antonioni, Kubrick, Resnais, Truffaut, Polanski..? All missing, to make room for people like Joe Dante and James Cameron.
The documentary is narrated by Kathy Bates and, as the list of participants reveals, has a couple of dozen commentators. Not all of them are household names, of course, because who knows the names of any editors? Interesting that the craft started with women seated at their desks and cutting and gluing the old-fashioned way. It was thought proper to put a film through an assembly line of women because, well, that's a woman's job, isn't it? Cutting, snipping, crocheting, macramé, sewing -- weaving away forever like Penelope.
And it STILL seems to be at least one of the occupations where the men haven't moved in and taken over entirely. (Another is superstar modeling, where the beautiful woman is paid about ten times what the beautiful man is paid.) One might think of the editor as some pale ectomorph buried in his cellar, gawking into a moviola, but they're actually pretty human and proud of what they do. The closest any of the editors come to that covert stereotype is probably Walter Murch. Here he is, a thin figure in a black Beatnik pullover, neatly trimmed beard, and proper eyeglasses, with never a wry comment or an expansive movement. He knows it too. He compares editors to precision jewelers. Yet he knows exactly what he's doing and shows us, point by point, how it's done. PS: It no longer involves being bent over a table and examining frames of movie film.
A nice informative job by director Wendy Apple -- and editors Daniel Loeventhal and Tim Tobin.