One of the joys of our era is an overlooked form of time travel: re-watching a movie you haven’t seen in a year or two. The same dependable sights and sounds replay before your eyes and ears. It turns out when we are engrossed in a film, our brains respond to what we see and hear in the same way they would to taking in the events in reality. Think of a work of cinema as an elaborate memory crafted by art and technology. Each time you watch the film, you re-live the “memory.” Since the movie remains unchanged, it’s a high fidelity memory indeed. The sense of your first snow day can trigger great elation when you recall it. But you won’t see it again in the way you might the opening winter scene in It’s a Wonderful Life. Movies are stabilized memories.
“The bottom line is that time travel is allowed
by the laws of physics.”
— Brian Greene
I delight in my time machine. Each autumn, I go through a pensive phase, a time of reflection. My ritual is to re-watch a handful of movies that have seen me through the years. One of my favorites, Woody Allen’s Hannah and Her Sisters, conveys the hilarious and poignant memories each time, yet previously missed nuances do emerge. Since the movie hasn’t changed, I can notice how I have. I’m watching with new conditioning. In other words, re-watching brings into relief the fact that what I see and how I see it changes over the years. When I first saw Hannah in the theater in 1986, I was a young fellow full of ambition, hungry to conquer the world. It’s no wonder I interpreted Mickey’s (Woody Allen) identity crisis as a form of wanting to master religion in an oddly heroic fashion. Over the years, this plot element retained its hilarity, but it also revealed a seriousness about questioning one’s values as midlife erodes the certainties dreamt in youth. I once characterized Hannah, played by Mia Farrow, as frail — now I see that she exerts great will to hold the family together as it bumbles through emotional land mines. Allen’s abiding love for the jazz and swing music that weave throughout the film renews itself with each screening, and the songs somehow feel more and more like... mine.
Perhaps the most astonishing aspect of time travel through watching Hannah and Her Sisters is how my laughter during the movie has grown from an intellectual pleasure to include a more encompassing affection for humanity. Hannah is a mature comedy of ideas that ventures into the struggle of quintessential New Yorkers to feel at home in themselves. I’ll be watching it again with students in a few weeks, and I’m eager to see how the trip goes this time around.
by Eric Pomert signup
Is there a movie scene you’ve never forgotten that still fills your spirit like a glass of fine wine? Doesn’t it feel like it’s a part of who you are? Do you remember the rhythmical feel of the scene?
The most fascinating aspect of filmmaking I have witnessed is the ability of film editing to adjust to the movements of culture. As we think and connect faster, editing has gotten faster, with far less need for “classical” continuity and rhythm. In a lightning storm of activity, we can jump from thought to thought and make complex connections without spelling them out as we once felt necessary.
HOWEVER, our culture has also had adverse reactions to all this speed, so we’re also attuned to the need to slow down in order to sense and appreciate the subtler movements of elements in our storytelling. Avant-garde editors of yesteryear were tuned into faster thinking and perception, but most of the filmgoing culture wasn’t ready to take in their work.
The filmgoing "mind" is a lot more versatile now. Film has had a profound ability to slowly (and sometimes quickly) change our culture by “training” us to take in stories in novel ways. We can often spare familiar details while creating more intricate connections between plot points and characters. We have been taught ways to perceive by movies.
If you haven’t seen A Great Beauty (La Grande Belleza) yet, I recommend it. It starts off with a slow deep tempo. Soon, it takes off like a race-horse and then finds its way back to the quiet. It moves through a wide range of speeds with a rarely seen finesse. It traces the path of youthful ambition into the transformative wreckage of midlife. Forget the erudite lecture on rhythm — watching this film is an object lesson in rhythmical genius.
“The trees that are slow to grow bear the best fruit.”
Film editors today can work with a far more dynamic range of rhythms than their predecessors and still connect with the wider culture. What hasn’t changed is the importance of editing sensitivity: knowing when it’s time to slow down the cutting and storytelling rhythm. Cutting fast can become compulsive, like gambling or eating potato chips. This becomes a poor substitute for beauty and depth. It takes a certain discipline to decelerate things so the story can reach the part of our psyche that takes in the longer view and appreciates the moment with a wondrous impression, one that may well last for years.
by Eric Pomert signup
People who are wired in a way that responds strongly to that impulse get labelled as "creative types" even though they also have conservative trends in their personality that value stability, consistency, and regularity. Those whose trends are predominantly stability-seeking get labelled as “uncreative.”
None of us always likes or dislikes creativity. Perhaps for some, dividing the world into creative and uncreative camps fires them up into action - why not? But I would stay far away from believing in those as fixed categories. As a “creative type,” with dominant trends toward imagination and disruption, I’ve learned a lot from valuing the conservative trends in myself and others.
I see people more as ongoing processes rather than fixed positions. Both personality trends belong. My “brilliant” idea may fall on deaf ears today, but it may be met with a warm welcome next week, when perhaps I’ve taken in some criticism or found an even deeper conviction in the worth of the original proposal. Or maybe something has simply changed the mood of the conversation at work that has nothing to do with my machinations. The idea could also die. Sometimes this process has led me to go elsewhere with my current spark. A creative idea introduced into a group may have great potential value at some point, but it is ripe only when enough people resonate with and embrace its disruptive impulse.
“We are all patchwork,
and so shapeless and diverse in composition that each bit,
each moment, plays its own game.”
— Michel de Montaigne
Is there a guide to making this process smooth and consistent? I hope not - that would be
co-opting the mystery of creativity, leaving us with a substitute that is far too inert. A little danger and discomfort go a long way.
by Eric Pomert signup
This question recently came my way: How does a film editor contribute to storytelling?
Effective film editors are highly attuned to rhythm. Rhythm runs through everything you see in a film: frame composition, shot duration, scene duration, dialogue, music, sound effects, and graphic effects, to list the main ones. The technical aspects of knowing the software are secondary, the way knowing how to type simply serves a short story writer. The editor uses his or her instincts to coordinate these rhythms into a story that brings viewers firmly into a state of belief. When a scene drags, or a cut is just awkward, that belief can be destroyed.
You might say editors are audio-visual hypnotists with a talent to keep you spellbound in wonder.
by Eric Pomert signup