Christopher Rouse

Christopher Rouse won the “Best Film Editing” Oscar last night for his brilliant work on “The Bourne Ultimatum.” I avoided serious embarrassment in front of my friends by correctly predicting his win. Among the clips shown yesterday at the “Invisible Art, Visible Artists” panel (see my earlier post on the subject), Rouse’s showed the best mastery of story, character, and pacing. While I had already seen several of the nominated films, it’s always good to re-watch parts of them with the sole purpose of analyzing the editing; usually when you’re watching for the first time, the story and characters (hopefully!) demand most of your attention, and the editing is something you feel without thinking about it. The “Bourne” clip showed Desh the assassin stalking Nicky through the streets and rooftops of Tangiers, with Bourne in hot pursuit, culminating in an intense mano-a-mano battle. The suspense that Rouse created by expertly intercutting Nicky’s frantic escape with the emotionless, methodical stalking of a trained assassin sent chills down my spine. While many viewers have complained that Paul Greengrass’s trademark handheld, action-packed close-ups can be disorienting and sickening, it takes tremendous skill to be able to weave half-second fragments of these shots into a coherent scene with logical pacing. There are so many possible combinations of shots that a weaker editor could miss the mark entirely.

The other film whose editing impressed me at the IAVA panel was “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.” I have not seen the film, but the clip they chose to screen for us was remarkably well constructed by Juliette Welfling. Showing emotion in a character who has no movement in his entire body aside from his left eye is not only the unenviable task of the actor, but of the editor as well. I immediately associated Welfling’s alternating use of point-of-view shots and shots of Jean-Do’s eye with The Kuleshov Effect explored by Russian filmmakers in the early 1900’s (and my observation was echoed by Dylan Tichenor, editor of “There Will Be Blood”). The audience interprets meaning from Jean-Do’s eye movements by associating them with what he is currently looking at. This underscores how the relationship between temporally contiguous shots is one of the fundamental elements of how cinematic storytelling is perceived and understood (in a nutshell: good editing is important). In addition to Welfling’s conscious use of Russian montage techniques, the rhythm of the scene added to the melancholy emotion of Jean-Do’s character, in conjunction with the excellent cinematography.

Norman Hollyn, an accomplished editor and Associate Professor at the USC School of Cinematic Arts, brought to my attention a short video made by fellow editor Mark Helfrich discussing the Oscar nominees, with clips from each of the films. It’s definitely worth a look if you missed the IAVA panel this weekend, even though you already know who won…