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A response to the question never asked

Dual perspectives on the final cut

Tomorrow will be the last session of my Art of Editing class. The class definitely became more interesting in the last couple of weeks, largely due to an increase in student participation as we gave our final presentations. Each person brought in a clip from one of their favorite movies or television shows and discussed the editing techniques used. For my own presentation, I showed the first few minutes of a season five episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer called “The Body.” Only a few of the other students had seen the show before, but I was happy to discover that most people seemed to appreciate the brief segment. There is something thrilling about sharing something beloved with another person, be it a favorite song, TV show, or place. Watching them experience it for the first time recalls a whiff of the original euphoria, that magic moment of delighted discovery that leaves an indelible mark on the memory but fades with subsequent exposures to the same material.

I had watched the episode several times while preparing for my presentation and noticed details I had never registered consciously before. My understanding of the characters and show’s construction evolved as a result, but the revelations were academic in nature, not driven by the fan’s enthusiasm that had led me to revisit the content in the first place. It reminded me that there is a definite distinction between studying a work of art as a critic/producer and consuming it as a spectator; while the former can deepen one’s appreciation, it cannot match the emotional charge of the latter. Once my brain latches onto the technical aspects of the production, it is no longer in the state of suspended disbelief that would otherwise buoy it through the narrative. Evaluating the framing of shots and transitions between handheld and steadycam, I cannot feel the heroine’s despair as she finds her mother lying limp on the sofa. Examining the manipulation of time through a fantasy sequence, I’m not swept along on the brief wave of false hope that the heroine experiences as the EMTs attempt to revive her mother. My classroom audience operated one one level, and I, in the didactic role, operated on a parallel level.

How does the discerning artist reconcile these two modalities? Is it possible to fuse them into a single multi-layered experience, to learn craft while enjoying the ride? To me, it feels like trying to stand on one foot, then stand on the other without lowering the first. If you can manage it, congratulations – you’ve learned how to levitate. For the rest of us poor one-foot-hopping wannabes, the rewind/play buttons are there for us, time after time.

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Filed under: Education, Film, Reflection, ,

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