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Entries in editing (100)


Unsung Heroes: The Editing of 'Glengarry Glen Ross'

Michael C. from Serious Film here this week with an appreciation of the craftsman that took what could have been an incredibly un-cinematic project and turned it into one hundred of the most riveting minutes of the nineties.

Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)

Whenever a prominent stage play makes the trip to the big screen it is, without fail, greeted by throngs of film writers questioning how well the material has been “opened up” for the big screen. This always gets under my skin.  Never mind that many, if not the majority, of the most beloved stage adaptations were not “opened up” at all.  No, what gets me is the implied idea that there is something inherently uncinematic about dialogue. As if audiences say things like, “I guess it’s okay when Sidney Poitier tells Rod Steiger they call him Mr. Tibbs, I just wish they were doing something cinematic at the time, like dangling from a helicopter.”

a desperate phone call with Jack LemmonThe truth, of course, is that any film that makes you identify with the events on screen is cinematic. It can take place entirely in a restaurant, a jury room, or the mind of one paralyzed man; if it makes you forget the darkened theater with the sticky floor it’s doing its job.

Director James Foley along with editor Howard E Smith knew this when he made the film of David Mamet’s Pulitzer Prize winning Glengarry Glen Ross (1992).  To paraphrase what he says in the DVD commentary, Ed Harris smoking a cigarette is as much a movie moment as Lawrence of Arabia coming over a hill leading a thousand men.  In the lesser Mamet films, the stylized writing can feel stilted and airless, but not this time. Throughout Glengarry we feel as if we are privy to the interior monologues of the characters.   

I could fill ten columns highlighting perfectly constructed moments but I’ll limit myself to three favorites:

Al Pacino's nomination was the only Oscar attention for the film

  • Any discussion of Glengarry has to begin with Alec Baldwin’s legendary scene. It's an audacious move to begin the movie with one actor delivering an uninterrupted eight-minute monologue, but Foley and Smith get away with it largely by breaking the whole sequence down into a series of short scenes – Baldwin belittles Lemmon, Harris confronts Baldwin, Baldwin denies them the leads – that add up to one riveting whole. 
  • There is a perfectly held moment just after Spacey has opened his big mouth and blown Pacino’s big sale and just before Pacino lets loose with one of the most memorable torrents of profanity in film history. It just holds on Pacino’s face as he absorbs what has just transpired, giving the audience an all time great “Uh-oh…” moment watching the fury gather behind his eyes.
  • I love the way the filmmakers relax the film’s tension just long enough to let Lemmon’s Shelly “The Machine” Levine recount what he believes to be his great triumph to Pacino. It’s a small oasis of peace and contentment before the character’s final slide down to destruction. 

Throughout the film there is never a cut for it’s own sake, never a moment where Foley and Smith showoff just to prove that it’s a movie they’re making. Instead they rely on the basic language of cinema to give the bouts of verbal violence an impact that makes most movie violence feel like playing patty-cake.



Editing. This Word. It Doesn't Mean What You Think It Means.

Though I've read a truly great book on the topic "The Conversations",  know a few editors, and have experimented with this completely fascinating craft in college, this morning when I woke up, I learned that I must have literally no idea what it means. The American Cinema Editor's Guild pulled the rug out by naming Tim Burton's Eyesore in Wonderland the best edited of all comedies in 2010. I realize that my hatred for the movie is self-feeding, ever-growing and thus deeply irrational but still... I watched it in full and all I saw was interminable rhythmless agonizing ugly incoherence.

The ACE Awards

Best Editing, Drama The Social Network's (INTERVIEW)
Best Editing, Comedy or Musical Alice in Wonderland
Best Editing, Animated Toy Story 3
Best Editing, Documentary Exit Through The Gift Shop ("UNSUNG HEROES")
Best Editing, TV Half Hour Modern Family "Family Portrait"
Best Editing, TV Hour The Walking Dead "Days Gone Bye"
Best Editing, TV (Non Commercial) Treme "Do You Know What It Means?"
Best Editing, TV Miniseries Temple Grandin
Best Editing, Reality If You Really Knew Me "Colusa High"

Perhaps the editors know something we don't? Perhaps Burton's footage from Alice was even more ghastly than what we saw in the final cut and Chris Lebenzon is being rewarded for true sorcery or merely for surviving it? Lebenzon has done fine work in the past -- even on other Burton films! -- so we don't begrudge him his kudos but this year??? When you stop to consider the other nominated efforts (The Kids Are All Right, Easy A, Made in Dagenham, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) and how well those movies flowed and/or maximized their laughs with exceptional comic timing and/or carved out a magical performance or two, it's enough to make you straight up weep and reach for the booze.

The decision is even stranger when you look at the other winners and find that they are all relatively easy to comprehend as noteworthy work. (For instance, I'm not the world's biggest fan of The Walking Dead but that pilot episode was a master class in cumulative thrills, scary but not cheap-scary cutting, and overall pace.)  The same people voted for those achievements. Temporary insanity?

IN OTHER NEWS: Final Oscar Predictions in Craft Categories



The Interviews, Goddesses and Craftsmen Alike

A big "thank you" to readers who commented on the recent spate of interviews here at The Film Experience. We don't do too many of them but you've been quite complimentary about the ones you do get. If time allows and other variables improve this year we'll do more for 2011. But in case you missed any of the interviews covering the 2010 film year, here's the rundown:


Jenny Beavan, Costume Designer, (The King's Speech)
Roger Deakins
, Cinematographer (True Grit)
Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter, Editors (The Social Network)
Eve Stewart, Production Designer (The King's Speech)
Jacki Weaver, Actress (Animal Kingdom)

...FROM THE OLD BLOG: Four of Nathaniel's 100 favorite actresses in one calendar year? Too rich! And a couple of talented men for good measure.

Kirsten Dunst, Actress (All Good Things)
Alexander Desplat, Composer (The Ghost Writer, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows)
Javier Fuentes-Leon, Director (Contracorriente aka Undertow)
Juliette Lewis, Actress (Conviction)
Patricia Clarkson, Actress (Cairo Time)
Julianne Moore, Actress (The Kids Are All Right)

Beloveds: Juliette, Patty, God and Kiki

Who should we pursue relentlessly in 2011 until they're on the phone or grabbing a cup of joe?

Which Old Hollywood legend would you like to hear from?


Interview: The Editors of The Social Network

Meet Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter of The Social Network. They were my own gold medalists this year for Best Editing and they're Oscar nominated together for the second time for David Fincher's riveting classic. You won't know their faces but they've contributed significantly to major moviegoing pleasures in the last few years: their assembly skills kept all the difficult pieces of Zodiac's mosaic rubbing together; their attention to detail augmented those complex setpieces in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button; their sense of rhythm and performance shaping kept The Social Network racing along without running roughshod over its dramatic soul. In short, they're quite a gifted team. 

Left: Angus Wall. Right: Kirk Baxter

Herewith some highlights from our conversation. 

When I spoke with them last week, they were on a wee break from working on the day's footage for The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Nathaniel: David Fincher has been shooting The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo during the awards season madness. How is this even possible? It must be exhausting.

Have you had any time to enjoy the accolades yourself or does Fincher keep you both locked up in the editing bay?

[read the whole interview]

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