This is a book that every aspiring serious film maker should own and read. The Technique of Film Editing speaks not to the step by step instructions or DIY of film editing, but the reasons behind editing a particular montage and the message the director is trying to deliver. This is the bible of film editing. This book teaches the lexicon of film editing. It assumes you already know how to splice film, synchronize a soundtrack, or use your non-linear digital editor.
This first three quarters of this book were originally published in 1953, the final quarter was published in 1968, and a small number of essays were added in 2010. The editors were very careful to treat this book with reverence and historical significance, being very British, and not disturbing the original chapters. Each chapter was written by a different person. Reading this book, there is a sense of awe looking at the past.
For a modern film editor working with digital editing, this book may seem like a waste of time. It doesn't ever mention how to apply a particular digital effect, or what to apply where. It doesn't come packed with a DVD full of sample footage demonstrating the key points from each chapter. No, the book relies on shooting scripts and still images to illustrate editing techniques. This is decidedly old school, long before anybody could easily replay those clips. Oddly, the book is much like shooting and editing a film in real life. There are no example film clips in the film you are trying to edit. There is only the shooting script and the director trying to explain what they mean.
On the one hand, the book is very successful at describing masterpiece film sequences. On the other hand, it requires an incredible amount of imagination and concentration from the reader to understand when or when not to use a particular technique. And there is the problem with the book; it is a lot of work to understand.
The other problem with the book is the reverence and unwillingness to change a word of the 1953 edition. That reverence becomes almost ridiculous with two pages in the preface to the 1968 addition where the author calls out pages and paragraphs that should be changed. Footnotes would have worked infinitely better.
The early works are the foundation on which film was built. They are the language that every current film maker uses today, and are as relevant now as they were back in the fifties. The later works are how film makers took those rules and turned film upside down. How they used what the viewer expected from years of watching films, and delivered something completely different.
This book reminded me of the film history and film semiotics classes I took long ago. It was a good feeling to see detailed descriptions of films that I love and know well. From D.W. Griffith, through Eisenstein and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, through Hitchcock and Orson Welles, through non-descript newsreels, documentaries, and educational films, to Truffaut and Antonioni. The amazing historically significant piece, every detailed discussion of a film is marked by the film reel (when film was delivered in cans on individual reels spliced together at the theater).
In the day of digital editing, when anything is possible, '...the most important discovery in film editing was not computer editing systems after all but the simple Italian tape splicer...giving editors the freedom to make changes with out having to lose two frames every time they made a cut." Imagine losing two frames, how insignificant that sounds today.