Elizabeth Shoemaker comments on my post on Hyper Kinetic Editing by asking:
How do you feel about the use of multiscreen images to propel stories in television (i.e. CSI MIAMI). And, do you think that audiences will just adapt to the hyperkinetic editing? I had an experience years ago watching the classic “M.” Many in the group thought it was too slow. And I had to wonder if it’s because audiences are so much better at making leaps in story that it made them impatient for the movie to “move on.”
Personally, I think that picture-in-picture/split screen/multiple screen editing can be quite effective if it is used to tell the story properly. Split screen was used very early on to show two people on a phone conversation (much like 24 does today, though slightly less kinetically). It seemed to take off in the Sixties, after Dupont, IBM and a number of other companies used it in the films they showed at the New York’s World Fair (1964-1965) — films directed by Charles and Roy Eames, and Francis Thompson (who I worked for in the late seventies, by the way).
Check out the original THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR, for instance, to see a use of split screen that isn’t about telephone conversations.
So, it’s not the fact that there is split screen but the fact that it’s used more energetically than before that creates the difference.
On Elizabeth’s second point, there is no doubt in my mind that this rapid style of editing is both influenced by and has an influence on the culture that we live in. It has long been pointed out that editing changed with the advent of MTV. It has also been noted that the number of edits per 2000 foot film reel (about 22 minutes of film) has gone up since the introduction of digital non-linear editing. It is also obvious to me that experimental filmmakers like Ed Emshwiller, Kenneth Anger, Michael Snow, and Stan Brakhage created a filmmaking style that made it possible for kinetic editing to move to the mainstream. But I think that it is far from clear which is the chicken and which is the egg.
I had an M type experience like yours. A few years ago I decided to rewatch THE FRENCH CONNECTION, with the intent of using its famous car chase underneath the elevated train tracks in an editing class of mine. However, when I took a look at Friedkin’s direction and Jerry Greenberg’s editing on it, while it still blew me away as amazing, it no longer seemed to be the frenetic, nausea-inducing editing style that caused many viewers to complain that they couldn’t watch it. It had been too much of an experience.
Culture changes and experimental cinema generally is in the forefront of that change. Commerical film, on the other hand, always lags behind. So, now that frenetic editing seems to be in every film short of a Shakespeare adaption, the audience is used to it. But, in my opinion, it’s not because film is changing our sensibilities. It’s because film is following our evolving sensibilities.
If you take a look at many movies from the 30s, you’ll notice that there’s a lot of shoe leather — shots of people walking or driving from one place to another. A character will say “I’m going home now.” And then he will turn and walk away, open the door, go out into the hallway, get into the elevator. We’ll watch the floor indicator descending, and then see him get out of the elevator and walk through the lobby to his car (always conveniently parked right in front of the building — were there always convenient spots in that era?) . He’ll get in, start the car and take off. After a shot or two (with a wipe between them) of the car driving, it will pull up in front of the house. The man will shut off the engine, get out of the car and walk to the front door. He’ll open it, step inside, and we’ll cut to him walking into the living room. “I’m home,” he’ll announce.
Here, in 2008, we’ll hear him say “I’m going home” and there’ll be a cut to him stepping into the living where he’ll announce “I’m home.”
Audiences change. Film eventually changes with them.