Our Butcher Year

I’ve been thinking a lot more about editing than I ever have before. That’s largely because of Tony Zhou, and his video series Every Frame a Painting. If you haven’t seen them, they are short (5~10m) videos where he dissects a particular filmmakers specific hallmarks. Whether it’s the use of the lateral tracking shot in animated features, or how Michael Bay uses parallax, he’s slowly teaching a virgin public about the unseen details of constructing a visual narrative. I’m tempted to think of it as the cinematic equivalent of Scott McCloud’s ‘Understanding Comics’. Here are two of my favourites:

Satoshi Kon – Editing Space & Time from Tony Zhou on Vimeo.

Jackie Chan – How to Do Action Comedy from Tony Zhou on Vimeo.

It’s interesting to see what the particular catalyst for a moment turns out to be. Or vice versa, how one small novelty explodes into a new way of thinking about media. Because Zhou’s videos have brought to my, and many other people’s attention, a whole range of videos and processes that were otherwise just blips on the radar. In teaching us how to understand editing, he’s turned us all into would-be surgeons.

My favourite example of this is with the Hobbit films. We all unanimously agree that 12 hours of footage to explore a book that takes 6 hours to read is egregious. No one necessarily asked for a trilogy, and like we see with almost all franchises today (Harry Potter, Twilight, Hunger Games etc.) Breaking the story into multiple parts often reads as a financial rather than artistic decision. So here we have not one but three examples of Tolkien/Jackson fans, taking inspiration from the wealth of a available footage and turning them into new, compellingly retold versions of the same story. The first, a four hour cut known as The Tolkien Edit, the second, Just over 3 hours of A Hobbit’s Cut, and lastly—and most tastefully named— There and Back Again coming in at just under 3 hours. Here’s what I like about this. It’s not a senseless parody or cruel criticism of the original. It’s the idea that these overwrought franchises are providing the ingredients with which we can create the meal. I would love to see a cut down version of The Hunger Games, or any other franchise for that matter.

The same goes for TV. With teased out versions of existing properties such as Fargo, From Dusk Till Dawn, 12 Monkeys or Bates Motel (the list is endless here) we could create infinite permutations of feature-length films without sacrificing quality or integrity. Topher Grace has already recut the Star Wars prequel films into one 85-minute edit. Not only that, but we have already successful filmmakers such as Steven Soderbergh using this same liberty to explore new interesting perspectives on films such as Raiders of the Lost Ark, Heaven’s GatePsycho and 2001: A Space Odyssey. In the age of DRM and walled gardens, it’s nice to see that it’s still in our power to negotiate with the media we see. It’s remix culture at its finest, and freedom in a world that can feel a little too locked down.