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September 15, 2014 - Image 3

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The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

Monday, September 15, 2014.- 3A

The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com Monday, September iS, 2014 - 3A

in editing

John Oliver shines in new role
on HBO's "Last Week Tonight"

T he word "frenetic"
is thrown around a
lot whenever movie
reviews or any other form of
popular, easily-digestible film
out sound
bites to
discuss that
edged sliver AKSHAY
of movie SETH
magic called
editing. And
for good reason. The process of
cutting together a film, by nature
of its methodology alone, is con-
ceived with an understanding that
the end product, whatever it may
be, will remain as invisible as it
is intangible - cloaked beneath
infinitely more palpable layers of
photography, acting, music, direc-
tion - to invoke the sense that
viewers are experiencing a natural
sequence of events unfold in front
of them organically.
Sowhen critics see extended
instances of cross cutting,jump
cutting, montage or whatever the
shit else Vin Diesel is doing in
"xXx," the easiest targets to stab
your finger at and say "There. That
right there. That's what editing
is supposed to look like" become
all these in-your-face, "frenetic"
moments which can have incredi-
blevalue inbringinganotherwise
flatrealityasense of dimension
- but are far from being the only
examples of a craft that, at its best,
forms the most basic framework
of the bridge between audience
and film.
Then to get a better idea of
what's truly possible at the hands
of an imaginative editor, we have
to look at those pictures that strive
to constrain our view: force us
to examine events that, yes, may
stillbe tied to a singular narrative,
but are isolated enough to stick
with their leads' psyches. In other
terms, the editor shouldn't have
to sift through hours of footage of
Vinny D jumpingoff a building,
engaging in multiple midair gun
fights with 50 Russian hitmen
before back flipping into a Lam-
borghini - only for it to accelerate
off another building.
Instead, the films that can real-
ly showcase the nuanced control
of the cutting room are character
studies which live, stand within
their ability to leave the camera
behind a character's shoulders
to let us see the frame through
their eyes, or their face within the
frame. So usually, the editing in
such projects becomes inherently
more meaningful than just piecing
together different angles of some-
one cartwheeling motorcycles
over a Walmart because more
often than not, you're playing with
shots of an actor's facial expres-
sions - you know, that stuff you
call actual acting?
Even the shards of action in
these films, as jarring or visceral
as they may be, are woven around
little bits of character exposition,
little glimmers of dialogue that
prop together an entire, holistic
experience. In Scorsese's "Raging
Bull," widely considered one of the
most effectively edited features of
all time, there's a crucial scene in
which Jake LaMotta has his final
bout with Sugar Ray Robinson,
this time without the help of his

now estranged brother, Joey. The
fight itself is fervently cut into a
shuddering mess of fists colliding
with face, blood spurting out of
foreheads, camera flashes explod-
ing like white bombs.
Then, around two and a half
minutes in - after LaMotta is
finished being pummeled into a
pulpy afterthought - the edit-
ing crescendos before coming
to a near standstill. As LaMotta
leans forward, arms tangled in
the ropes, we cut to his brother
leaning backward in his couch:
distant, defeated and at home.
Scorsese and his longtime editor,
Thelma Schoonmaker, have liter-
ally slowed down time, adding
weight in those crucial moments
leading up to LaMotta stumbling
over toward Robinson and saying
"you never got me down, Ray."
The editing in this scene, styl-
ized and brazen, would have fallen
flat without those transitions in

texture. And more importantly,
the little morsels Scersese is try-
ing to give us about his visibly
disturbed protagonist. The action
sits in stark contrast with one
of the film's final clips, in which
LaMotta, after being thrown into
prison, punches the brick walls of
his cage in futile rebellion. There's
no cutting here.
No fancy transitions tied to the
thwaps of fists landing on flesh.
No fiery light bulb flares or explo-
sions of splattering gore. Just
LaMotta. Isolated inineffective-
ness, nothingto do with his fists,
both sides of the empty frame
washed in darkness. The inac-
tion speaks volumes about what
Scorsese is trying to tell us about
this character -useless masculin-
ity, once feeding into the violence
that afforded him freedom to hate,
beat the people who loved him,
now alltaken away.
Two more recent movies in
which the editing plays an integral
part in formulating or informing
our opinions on troubled pro-
tagonists are "Black Swan" and
"Frank,"bothbuilt aroundhonest
explorationsofmentalillness. In
"Black Swan," Natalie Portman
portrays Nina, a paranoid schizo-
phrenic consumed by the need to
embody an evil Black Swan, sensu-
al and polarized, for an upcoming
ballet recital. The role, along with
the movie in its entirety, digs deep
into this idea of duality. Working
off the mirrors in every corner of
the framethecameraremains
fixed behind Portman, anchored
around that bravura, Academy
Award-winningperformance. And
though much ofthe credit goes to
the film's cinematography, with its
constant propensity at teasing out
"pop shots" - slights of camera
frequently used in the horror genre
to create "cheap"scares,it's the
subtle editingthat really engineers
In this case, "pop shots" were
usuallyjust director Darren
Aronofsky sneaking in errant
images of Portman in one ofthe set
piece's many mirrors, so in effect,
the audience would be watching
Nina put on makeup until sud-
denly,her reflection would take on
alife of its own. There's nothing
really creative about this brand
of visual trickery: simple CGI to
superimpose something in a place
where it's not supposed to be.
Which is why all those staggered
cuts that follow, each focused on
a different mirror angle, are so
essential in conveying horror, that
sense of"wait, did that really just
More so than simple shock
value, the editing in the film puts
us in Nina's lense of subjectivity.
Every actress in the cast has been
made up and costumed to look
like Natalie Portman - brunette,
tapered down eyebrows and a
wiry frame. So all the frequent
cuts between Portman's face to
those of female cast members -
there are many - further stress
the motifs of dissimulation and
transformation that Aronofsky
is so keen to highlight and link
with hallucination: abyproduct of
In "Frank,"the editing layout
is simpler, but similar in the sense
that it attempts to let viewers expe-
rience mental illness subjectively.
The film starts with a cutting
pattern similar to one you'd see
in a visual comedy - fast-paced

jumps that bounce between differ-
ent sight-based gags ("Hey look!
Clara just threw a bottle at him!
[cut] Hey look! It hit landed on his
head!") until director Lenny Abra-
hamson delves deeper into his
characters' depression. The jumps
slow down and by the end, are
almost entirely replaced by inac-
tive pans and tilts of the camera.
It's this "single character cut-
ting,"though outwardly invisible,
that makes these films click the
way they do - putting viewers
not just in the same frame of mind
as the protagonist, but the same
frame of vision and time. Which
isn't the same as cartwheeling
over a Walmart in a motorcycle.
But I'd rather take a glimpse
through Natalie Portman's eyes
any day.
Seth is cartwheeling over a
Walmart onsa motorcycle. To join
him, e-mail akse@umich.edu.

DailyArts Writer
The late night space has
been undergoing huge change
recently. Jimmy Fallon took the
reins over at
"The Tonight
Show," Ste-
phen Colbert Last Week
is replacing
David Let- Tonight
terman and with John
Larry Wilm-
ore is tak- O e
ing Colbert's Sundays at 11 p.m.
place in the HBO
Show" times-
lot. All of those stories got a lot
of press earlier in the year, but
during the summer, another
story took the lead: John Oliver
starting his own show at HBO.
Coming off his summer stint in
the hosting chair for "The Daily
Show," HBO snatched him from
a correspondent role on that
show and gave him his own on
Sundays. After a few months it's
clear that the move has paid off in
dividends for everyone involved.
"Last Week Tonight with John
Oliver" has quickly become the
best and one of the most impor-
tant shows in that space, even
surpassingthe show he left.
The idea of a news satire show
isn't new ("The Daily Show"
has been around for well over a
decade at this point). However,
John Oliver is doing things with
the format that haven't been
done so far because of the inher-
ent limitations of commercial
networks. He's willing to spend


Funny, bespectacled Brit schools us on U.S. and world news topics.

upwards of 20 minutes (which
happens to be the length of an
entire episode of his Comedy
Central counterparts) on a story
if it supplies him with enough
What I love about the show
is how he uses it as a platform
to bring issues that aren't being
covered on the news. In his first
episode, he spent a lot of time
covering the Indian election. A
couple of weeks ago, he spent 15
minutes talking about the preda-
tory nature of the payday loans
industry and the corruption
that's stopping the government
from regulating it. Not only does
he take the time to bash FIFA
or the militarization of police
in Ferguson, he spends time on

the smaller stories too. Airing involved in the FCC's actions
weekly allows him to go more surrounding the issue. He also
in depth and gain a broader per- enticed the trolls of the internet
spective on important stories to go comment on the site and
like these. stop the agency's current action
The best example of what he to allow an "internet fast-lane"
can do with a story is the piece in a brilliant "call to arms."
he did in June on Net Neutral- That call to action worked,
ity, which is an issue that gets crashing the FCC's website the
only limited attention on tra- next day. What thatgoes to show
ditional news networks. These is people are starting to pay
13 minutes of television take an attention to what John Oliver is
extremely complex issue and doing on thisashow. If you haven't
provides a summary that, even been watching it, you should be.
if it's biased, gives the viewer It's doing exactly what news sat-
who may have never heard of the ire should: pointing out impor-
issue an understanding of what's tant issues and making great
happening. On top of that, it's jokes around it. He's taking his
also hysterically funny, mining new platform and not only cre-
some very intelligent humor by ating hysterically funny televi-
pointing out all the corruption sion, but important television.

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