Technique of Film Editing, Reissue of 2nd Edition Paperback – 29 Sep 2009
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Although we live in an increasingly digital world, this book is every bit as pertinent to the digital editor working with Final Cut as it is to a celluloid editor working on a Movieola. For this book is not about software or hardware, but about the process and art of editing. It makes no difference whether the images were captured on silver halide film, video tape or a silicon chip.
The Technique of Film Editing is comprehensive, it begins with a history of editing and then moves on to the practice of editing in a variety of cinemagraphic styles, from action and comedy sequences, documentary reportage, montages and dialog sequences, to name only a few. What follows next is a discussion of the timeless principles of editing, such as timing, pace and rhythm.
In the second part of the book, Reisz and Millar explore the work of some notable directors and editors. They point out to us how seemingly minor choices in framing and editing can have a profound impact on how the scene is perceived by the audience. The real examples (film frames are printed that coincide with the text) from real films make this section particularly useful. Through the printed examples, you can precisely see the various points the authors are making. This was my favorite part of the book - I could understand the choices the directors and editors made and I learned much from that.
If you are involved with film editing, in any of its various forms, this is a book you should not be without. Prior to this reprinting, older copies were selling at several times this price in used bookstores and online. Focal Press is to be commended for bringing back a great work.
The major problem is that a temporal art form like film (especially the editing of it) is very difficult to capture in text form. I find it nearly impossible to judge shot selection and flow from simple text descriptions, even with footage lengths and stills. (which are given only occasionally)
It's hard to really tell what's going on without actually watching the films. And with such an out of date selection that's often easier said than done.
I checked every film that the book mentioned in-depth to see how easy they were to track down. And while the majority of them are easy to come by, I found about 20 that weren't available on Netflix and of those only 4 were readily available on Amazon.
The forward to the added second section pretty much says it all. It states that not only is the first part outdated (even for 1968) the second part will likely age even faster; and it's right. So much of the later part of the book is about the current film trends of the time like cinemascope and the French New Wave and only some of it has much to do with the actual editing.
I learned far more about editing by spending an hour and watching The Cutting Edge - The Magic of Movie Editing, which hits the highlights of pretty much everything mentioned in this book, plus some bits of knowledge from editor Walter Murch that are far more readily useful than much of what's written in this book.
If you have some experience editing you may be able to glean a few interesting tidbits from this book, but in this day and age The Technique of Film Editing seems more important for its contribution to the craft than continuing to teach it.
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.