Usually when watching a film the most of the audience is unaware of the process of editing. Of course, people know the fact that every moment images shift, and they know that editing establishes rhythm in film. But often the audience is unaware of the specific function of editing and the contribution of the editing process to the final film.
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So it is not easy to define what people mean when they discuss the process of film editing in a definite film.
The term “editing” deals with all possible aspects of filmic rhythm; they include all the details from the transition of images and the musical rhythm in every small sequence of shots to the general balance of rhythm in the whole narrative structure. Any film is made of a series of sequences that include a beginning, middle, and end. A short movie can even contain only one sequence (Cook, 127).
The most important aspects of film editing are produced outside the editing room. In some areas, the editor may be the primary contributor to the process, but the photographer, the scriptwriter, and the director also participate in the editing of a film.
When the scriptwriter composes the script, he creates the characters and their relations; they form the dramatic structure of any film. He invents the chronological order of all the events and the plot. He also incorporates surroundings that serve to express the characters (LoBrutto, 51).
Let’s take for instance a typical cliché like a musician playing his violin. Usually, this scene serves to create a relaxed atmosphere of luxury. But in “Titanic”, for example, this scene becomes a dramatic instrument in the development of the plot. When we first come across this scene it serves merely as a background to the luxurious party. Further on, when the accident occurs, the musicians continue to play, and this creates an atmosphere of danger, which is even more frightening due to the contrast of wonderful classical music and the total panic. At the very end of the film when crowds of desperate people are running to and fro on the deck and we can hear the voices of dying people, the hilarious music sounds terrific.
Further on, the director works out where the master shot technique (this usually includes close-ups and master shots for every character) or the sequence shot technique (which means that the whole scene is covered by one shot) must be used. Often along with, the staging of scenes a storyboard is made to foresee the way separate images fit together.
The next step comes when the manuscript is put into action by actors, design, locations, etc. The influence of the process on the store is often difficult to predict, the original purpose of the script may even be changed (LoBrutto, 98).
In Titanic in the original vision of the ending Brock spots Old Rose going to drop her necklace into the water. Thinking that she is determined to jump, Lizzy and he stop her. Then Rose reveals that she had the diamond all along, but didn’t want to sell it, because it reminded her of Cal. She says that life is priceless and after that throws the Heart of the Ocean into the water. Brock wildly laughs at his stupidity when he understands that treasure is worthless. Then Rose goes back to bed, and the film ends in the originally planned way.
But then Cameron decided that here the audience would not be interested in Brock, and he resolved to cut the dénouement of the story. When Rose drops the diamond she is alone. Cameron changed his mind because he came to the conclusion that the audience’s melancholy after the ship’s sinking would be disrupted (Heyer, 73).
The first test screening showed a fight between Lovejoy and Jack that took place when Jack and Rose escaped into the flooded saloon, but the test audience didn’t like it. They said it wouldn’t be realistic to put one’s life at stake for wealth.
In the Gun Chase sequence, Cal takes Lovejoy’s pistol and runs after Rose and Jack into the flooded dining saloon. We see Cal grabbing the pistol, turning back, and rushing to the stairs. He has a furious expression on his face. Then comes a close shot of Jack’s face. He realizes the danger threatening them both. He pushes Rose. Then we see the cross-cut of two scenes: upstairs Cal’s firing at Jack and Rose, downstairs there are frightened people. We see a dolly shot of Jack and Rose running. After that comes a dolly shot of Cal running downstairs. The scenes are cross-cut. Cal slips on the floor. He continues the chase. Here comes a close shot of the pistol which he dropped when falling. When he almost catches up with Jack and Rose he shoots again. A close shot of Jack’s face looking up. After that there is a dolly shot of Jack and Rose running, we see their backs only. It creates the feeling that the audience is participating in that chase. Cal shoots again; there is a vertical view of three floors of the ship. We see a bullet going into the water. A dolly shot of Rose and Jack. They are in the flooded saloon now. The lights fade. Here comes a long shot of the flooded room. In the foreground we see some furniture drifting in the water. The music dies down. We can hear only water splashing now. The figures of the people look tiny. All these techniques create an atmosphere of subdued terror. Rose and Jack are coming to the foreground. Cal fires and we see splashes of water. A dolly shot of Cal running after Rose and Jack. The scenes are cross-cut. We see a close-up of his face when he shoots. There are no bullets left, he swears, he’s overwhelmed with anger. But then he looks around and notices that the water is up to his waist now. There is a long shot of the flooded room. Cal shouts: “I hope you enjoy your time together!” He’s angry and offended and almost cries.
Then we see Rose and Jack rushing through a dining saloon upstairs. Back to the flooded room, we see Cal going upstairs. We see a close shot of his face again. Something changed in his expression. He’s looking back with a strange smile on his face. In the background we see Lovejoy coming. Cal says “I put the diamond in the coat”. And shouts madly “I put the coat on her!” A long shot of the flooded saloon. Cal looks desperate with one hand stretched out.
This sequence lasts for about one minute and a half, but lots of emotions are expressed within this short period of time.
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Titanic is meticulous in detail but vast in intent and scope. The reviews of critics were mostly positive. The visuals are spectacular. In 2003 this film was on the top of “Best Film Endings”. The film is justly recognized as a masterpiece. All the details look sumptuous, the effects are grippingly realistic. The romantic thread makes the tragic effect more personal.
Cook, David A. A History of Narrative Film. New York: W. W. Norton, 1996.
Heyer, Paul. Titanic Legacy Disaster as Media Event and Myth. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 1995.
LoBrutto, Vincent. Selected Takes: Film Editors on Editing. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 1991.