Crowdsourcing my Film Studies paper:Film Editing in The Matrix

Well, not really- I’ve already written it, and expect to not make all that many major (content) changes, except perhaps to add a more proper introduction/conclusion. But I am actively soliciting comments here. The length is a little more than it really needs to be, so be brutal in telling me what to cut. Also need to know if I’m being too flippant- some parts really seem to read like a blog post- in some areas, since this is supposed to be something I’m graded on for 25% of the marks of a 3 credit course.

Principles of Editing with reference to “The Matrix”

Principles of Editing

Editing is a crucial part of the filmmaking process; the editor exerts almost as much influence on the final look and feel of the film as the director. He has the responsibility of putting the film together. The director gives the editor the raw material to use and the editor uses it to piece together the scenes into a film. The director and the editor must work hand in hand and have the same vision in order for the editing process to work. The editing of a film consists, among other things, of managing the transitions, control of time (pacing), and putting together the shots or rushes.

There are several different styles/methods of editing such as continuity, synthetic, associative, intellectual etc. Continuity editing is the predominant style of editing in narrative cinema and television, where the priority is on making the viewer unaware of the inherent discontinuities in the production of the film and in establishing a logical coherence between shots. However, it is hardly the only style that is used. Cross-cutting (cutting back and forth between shots of spatially unrelated places) conveys a sense of spatial discontinuity to show the viewer events that are happening in separate, parallel locations, perhaps to juxtapose something in an interesting way. Usually this is done in such a way as to minimize viewer disorientation. The jump cut (a cut between two shots that are so similar that a noticeable jump in the image occurs), however, is a deliberate device of disorientation. Other types of cuts are Axial cut, Cross-cutting, Fast cutting, Jump cut, Long take, Match out and Slow cutting. Some of the types of Film transitions are Dissolve, L- cut and Wipe.

A transition is anything that moves the film from one scene to another. There are a number of types of transitions that are used, wipe, flip frame, fade-out/fade-in, and dissolve. A wipe uses a vertical or horizontal line to wipe away the old scene and bring in the new one, the flip frame simply flips the screen from one scene to the next, the fade occurs when a scene fades to black before the new scene begins, and the dissolve is when a scene gradually dissolves into another scene­. These transitions provide smooth ways to move from one scene to another and are used to make a film appear fluid.  Editing is also used to modify or shape the timing and rhythm of the film. An editor can edit a scene or shot in a way that can alter our sense of how much time is passing. For instance, when shooting a man walking an editor can show each step, cutting to a close up of the man’s face and hands, thus slowing down the pacing and making us pay attention to the man: it serves as a cue to the audience that he is an important character. By using short quick shots sandwiched together the editor can compress time. Another way a film uses time is with the use of slow motion, which we will be covering in grater detail below, since The Matrix makes extensive use of a variant of this technique. Slow motion can be used to intensify emotional quality, to exaggerate fatigue, suggest superhuman strength, or emphasize grace of physical action. This ensures that the film keeps the rhythm of the scene and the film.

I know this is a little dry, the good(or at least, better) parts are after the jump

The primary responsibility of the editor is putting together all the shots and scenes to make the body of the film.  The director will often review the dailies and discard any unusable footage, so the editor usually gets to work with footage of some minimum quality. However, he will still have to see which of the remaining takes are better and which contains the best visuals and performances. Each shot may have taken several takes or have been shot from different angles. It is now the editor’s job to ensure that these shots remain consistent and that continuity is preserved, i.e. that each part matches with the next. While this is an important part of editing, it is not the most important part. The most important thing that an editor needs to do is to render the film in such a way as to invoke the most emotional involvement in the viewers.

The Matrix

The Matrix is a once-rare but increasingly common type of movie, in which not the actors but the editing and the visual effects are the true stars. We will be focusing on 2 of the most important aspects of the movie from the editing point of view, namely the “bullet-time”/Flo-Mo technique that was pioneered in The Matrix, and the extensive use of mise-en-scene and its very singular aesthetic, which so impressed the audiences that it sold almost as many trench-coats and black leather suits as Indiana Jones movies sold Fedora hats.

Bullet-time:

Bullet-time is a variant of the standard “slow-motion” technique that allows the viewer to explore a moment progressing in slow-motion as the camera appears to orbit around the scene at normal speed. It has the effect of show-casing the exceptional speed and agility of the main characters. This effect is used throughout the movie. It is introduced in the opening scene, when the camera revolves around Trinity who is moving at near-normal speeds while everything else is heavily slowed down. It is combined with more conventional slow motion in the lobby-shootout scene, where Neo and Trinity take on an entire squad of security guards. It is heavily used in all of Neo’s confrontations with the agents to showcase his superhuman powers within the matrix; both on the rooftop and at the climax of the movie, both before and after his death and resurrection.

Although many critics decried the final parts of the movie where the complexity of the narrative was reduced in favour of a focus on action-including Roger Ebert, who based almost his entire review around this complaint- one cannot deny that the usage of bullet-time and well-chosen visuals and cuts make them one of the most spectacular action sequences of any movie. Bullet-time allows the directors to show us in exquisite detail shots such as Agent Smith looking down at the path of bullets in the split second before it “kills” him, the shower of empty casings raining down from the helicopter, and the shock waves rippling through the exploding building.

These effects were created by modifying a photography technique known as time-slice photography, in which a large number of cameras is placed around an object and triggered nearly simultaneously. Each camera is a still-picture camera, not a motion picture camera: it contributes just one frame to the video sequence. When these shots are viewed in sequence, the viewer sees what are effectively two-dimensional “slices” of a three-dimensional moment. By firing at the appropriate time (with just enough delay between the shots) we can get a sense of motion in the scene.

Mise-en-scene:

Although the average viewer is rarely conscious of it, mise-en-scene is a powerful and important cinematic technique. Mise-en-scene allows the director to guide the viewer’s attention to what they should be looking at so that important details are not missed and trivial details are not focused on. Many effective elements of mise-en-scene are illustrated in the “white room” scene in The Matrix, in which directors Andy and Larry Wachowski use only minimal setting, costume, and staging in a very effective way.

This scene takes place in an empty white room with minimal props; two chairs, a television, a table, and a remote control. The television looks like an old set from the nineteen-sixties and looks perfectly normal except for the fact that it is not wired up. The old, Victorian red leather chairs have wooden faces carved into the ends of the arms. The Wachowski brothers rely on a limited palette of colours in their setting; the dark reds and browns of the set pieces create a startling contrast with the starkness of the background. The stark white background, anachronistic setting, and green and black costumes reinforce the emptiness and artificiality of the matrix, while the distance in the staging of Neo and Morpheus underlines Neo’s reluctance to trust and believe in Morpheus. Its deliberate mix of artificiality and familiarity very effectively underscores Morpheus’s exposition on the fake nature of the “reality” that Neo had previously known. In fact, a slightly artificial styling is present whenever the characters are inside the Matrix- the uniform black clothing and dark glasses all imbue the scene with a sense of unreality, as if you were inside a video game, which is exactly the effect that the directors wanted.

There are a number of mirror shots in the matrix. Reflections of the blue and red pills are seen in Morpheus’s glasses; Neo’s capture by Agents is viewed through the rear-view mirror of Trinity’s motorcycle; Neo observes a broken mirror mending itself; reflections warp as a spoon is bent; the reflection of a helicopter is visible as it approaches a skyscraper. Many of these are included for purely stylistic reasons but others are incorporated for functional reasons as well i.e. to show more characters or events than can otherwise be conveniently captured in one shot.

The film frequently references the book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and its sequel, Through the Looking-Glass, both of which feature alternate realities just outside our own. Another frequent reference, for the same reason, is “The Wizard of Oz”(“Kansas is going bye-bye” and “Mr. Wizard, get me the hell out of here!”). There are many other acknowledged (within the movie) and unacknowledged influences on the movie, such as Jean Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation(the book from which Neo takes out the disks to give to his “customer”), the digital rain from the Japanese anime Ghost in the Shell, and of course the obvious religious/Messianic subtext from many of our myths, especially Christianity.

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I need comments, people!

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6 thoughts on “Crowdsourcing my Film Studies paper:Film Editing in The Matrix

  1. Is the paper only about visual editing? Cos you seem to have neglected the effect of audio. Otherwise, the text is fine, except maybe for the last paragraph. It doesn’t seem to have any bearing on the topic itself. The references in a movie are more the prerogative of the producers than the editors.

    • Oh yeah, I should probably add something about that, except I didn’t know what to put. It’s definitely less important than the visual parts, though. And I should probably cut out the last part and put a proper conclusion in its place.

      Thanks!

      • Dude, sound editing has its own Oscar category 🙂 Try wiki article on this game called F.E.A.R. for clues.

  2. In the first part you got “grater” instead of “greater” once.

    The line about the Fedoras might be a little too flippant for a scientific paper (also, if they’re really strict at your uni: do you have numbers to prove this?), though personally I liked it.

    If the paper is too long, I’d cut the part about the references at the end. Though, again, personally I find this interesting, it doesn’t really have anything to do with the editing, does it?

    The part where you talk about the different types of editing might become more easily readable (and seem less dry) if you break them down in bullet points (but that could just be a personal leaning since I love bullet points).

    As you already said, the ending needs a bit of a rewrite, a summary of what you said before and a conclusion would be good.

    Most of my points are rather nitpicky though – in general the paper is fine. If I had to grade it, you’d probably get a B.

    Hope that helps!

    • Dammit, spell check didn’t catch the grater. Clearly crowdsourcing works even when you theoretically have mechanical equivalents 🙂 .

      I know the Fedora part is flippant but I really liked it 🙂 . It’s not supposed to be “scientific” so much as generally academic and all that… I dunno, I guess I’ll probably cut that too.

      Bullet points… not so sure, but I was planning on cutting some bits and making smaller paragraphs and all that which should hopefully help.

      And thanks!

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