In the Blink of an Eye is a book about editing. Its author Water Murch spent a career editing big movies one of which was the iconic Vietnam war classic ‘Apocalypse Now’. Other credits are ‘American Graffiti’, ‘The God Father part 2’, ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being’, ‘Ghost’, ‘the English Patient’ and ‘The Talented Mr Ripley’
The book details Murch’s editing methods on several levels. In one fascinating chapter he details his ‘Rule of six’ which explains his priorities for editing. If you take the premise that raw footage (un-edited) could be cut and edited to tell a number of different narratives, many aspects of which we have been exploring in our video appropriation classes, then the editor has absolute power on the eventual story told in the final piece.
Manipulating Susan Sontag’s interviews in my recent Video piece produced a completely different narrative to the one intended by the original editor. Murch gives a priority list which he applies to edits to help him achieve the best edit the raw footage could provide.
The first on his list is emotion, and he poses the question ‘How do you want the audience to feel as they watch the piece?’ He rates this as 51% important in deciding how the edit is to appear.
Next he places ‘Story’ and gives this a 23% importance. His argument is simple, blindly following the story makes for a lifeless edit.
Next is Rhythm with a 10% importance. This can best be described as the flow of a piece and is demonstrated best when the audience forget they are watching a film and become totally absorbed.
No.4 is ‘Eye Trace’ and describes the paths the eye will follow as you scan the screen, he gives this a 7% importance.
No.5 Two Dimensional plane of screen. This is described by Murch as “it respects planarity – the grammar of three dimensions transposed by photography into two.” This has a 5% importance in an edit.
No. 6 Three dimensional space of action. This is all to do with continuity and where people and objects are in relation to each other in a room, it achieves just 4% importance.
He concludes his argument that you cannot give a higher priority to a low ranking element if a higher ranking element is also present. This common sense approach to editing I found fascinating and very insightful. The book is an easy read and also covers some of the history of editing and the machinery involved, the techniques he used, the pro and cons of different editing styles and countless pieces of advice for editors.
Testimonials are provided by Francis Coppola, George Lucas, Philip Kaufman and Fred Zinnemann. A good read. In the Blink of an eye, a perspective on film editing 2nd edition – Walter Murch / Silman-James press 2001 ISBN 1-879505-62-2