- HOLLYWOOD, Calif.
American Cinema Editors’ (ACE) 19th annual Invisible Art/Visible Artists panel of Oscar-nominated feature film editors stayed true to its tradition of making invisible artistry tangible, this time going so far as to shed light on a scene that was absolutely not seen by any movie-goers--a musical number in Vice which wound up on the cutting room floor.
Vice editor Hank Corwin, ACE, founder of commercial edit house Lost Planet, told the ACE gathering of the song-and-dance sequence set in a congressional cafeteria. While it was stirring, he said, the scene still bit the dust, underscoring the difficult choices editors need to make, often having to “let go” of moments or scenes they love but in the big picture aren’t included for the greater good of the story. Though not shown at the ACE session, the musical number--described by Corwin as a “fantastic, kinetic” piece of choreography--might be part of the never-seen-before-material enticement that helps lure prospective consumers to buy the DVD release.
Corwin and the rest of this year’s Best Editing Oscar nominees--including the eventual Academy Award winner, John Ottman, ACE, for Bohemian Rhapsody--were on hand for the ACE panel discussion held Saturday (2/23) at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood. Corwin and Ottman were joined by editors Barry Alexander Brown (BlacKkKlansman), Patrick J. Don Vito, ACE (Green Book) and Yorgos Mavropsaridis, ACE (The Favourite). Panel moderator was Alan Heim, ACE--VP of American Cinema Editors and president of the Motion Picture Editors Guild--who won an Oscar for All That Jazz in 1980, three years after being nominated for Network.
Each panelist selected an extended scene or sequence from his respective Oscar-nominated film to serve as a catalyst for discussion, often sparking exchanges between the editors. For example, Don Vito shared a sequence in Green Book which took us back and forth between comedy and drama, at one point providing a montage of concert performances by virtuoso pianist Don Shirley (portrayed by Mahershala Ali) and culminating in him and his driver/bodyguard Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen) being arrested on the road during a rainy night. Don Vito talked of nuances that might not be readily apparent to an audience but still felt on a subconscious level--like the applause from each concert sounding like rainfall, thus facilitating the transition from ovation after ovation to the unjust arrest.
Corwin chimed in that the nuances of that sequence were “truly invisible,” reflecting “a gorgeous way of thinking.” He further assessed that the Green Book sequence was “beautiful in its symmetry. I loved it.”
Also intentionally invisible to viewers were the some 400 visual effects shots in Green Book, including head replacement work deployed at times whereby Ali’s face was placed on the body of composer Kris Bowers, who played piano in the movie.
Fly fishing; operatic feel
While Corwin didn’t show the aforementioned musical number in Vice, he did screen the scene where Dick Cheney (Christian Bale) comes to then Texas Governor/presidential candidate George Bush’s (Sam Rockwell) office, laying the groundwork for Cheney becoming a search committee of one to help find the best VP running mate for Bush.
Asked why he intercut fly fishing scenes into that fateful meeting in the Governor’s office, Corwin noted that Lynne Cheney once said that if you want to understand her husband, you have to know he’s a fly fisherman. Corwin observed that the fishing moments underscore the power of “silence in a dialogue scene,” a departure from his reputation in some circles of being associated with “frenzy” as an editor.
Mavropsaridis shared a sequence from The Favourite in which Abigail (Emma Stone), vying to get closer to Queen Anne (Olivia Colman), poisons tea drank by Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz). As we see Sarah leave on horseback, the suspense builds leading to her inevitable riding accident. Intercut are scenes of Abigail all the while negotiating and jockeying for power within the castle, seemingly forever manipulating to gain the Queen’s favor.
Mavropsaridis explained that he was looking for an “operatic” feel to build the tension from the poisoning to Sarah falling off the horse. Fellow panelist Ottman commended the sequence, citing its masterful stretching of the action to further grow the suspense. Ottman observed that this sequence from The Favourite combats the misconception that editors are always shortening scenes and “taking things out.” The reality is that editors often have to linger and stretch at key junctures to help “make more of something that was never there.”
Ottman screened a sequence which includes Freddie Mercury striving to make the studio recording of “Bohemian Rhapsody” match his vision for the song. The scene masterfully conveys the process of making art and considering commerce, mixing elements of drama and comedy. ACE panel moderator Heim said the sequence was a joy to watch.
Brown selected a sequence from BlacKkKlansman which starts with Spike Lee’s signature double-dolly technique in which Colorado police detective Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) and his girlfriend/activist Patrice Dumas (Laura Harrier) move toward a window to see off in the distance a Ku Klux Klan cross burning. We are then taken into the heart of that travesty and from there propelled into another real-life travesty in the form of 2017 news footage in which white supremacists and Nazis marched in Charlottesville, Virginia, their hate meeting resistance and then yielding the murder of 32-year-old civil rights protester Heather Heyer. Two Virginia State Patrol troopers—Lt. H. Jay Cullen, 48, and Berke M.M. Bates, 40—were also killed in a helicopter crash while trying to advance public safety efforts. The news footage also contained part of the now infamous reaction of President Trump who at a press conference talked of “good people” marching in step with the Nazis and KKK members.
Brown noted that he and Lee have a shorthand they’ve developed over the past some 37 years. The editor knew Lee when he was in film school at NYU. And the two learned together--on School Daze and Do the Right Thing, among other films. This collaborative shorthand also made it possible for Brown to in relatively short order realize a quick turnaround time on the cutting of BlacKkKlansman, starting in early January and finishing in time a couple of months later for last year’s Cannes Film Festival. There the feature film’s world premiere screening received a six-minute standing ovation.
An ongoing process
Several of the editors noted that growing up with a film is an ongoing process--and by the time a film is finished, it’s only afterwards that they completely understand it, meaning they could have gone on to edit it again with greater wisdom.
This led Heim to recall the late famed editor Ralph Rosenblum, ACE who observed, “You never finish a film. You abandon it.”
Still, as is, editors bring something invaluable to the process. Corwin related that a good editor adds “another layer of consciousness” to what directors are doing. “That’s why directors hire us.”