Unreal Nature

March 19, 2015

Primary Responsibility

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:56 am

… Where the fiction editor may reasonably feel that his or her first loyalty is to the director’s intentions, the documentary editor is likely to feel that he or she shares with the director a primary responsibility to the ‘material’ — and through it, via the documentary imperative, to the world.

Continuing through Portrait of an Invisible Man: The Working Life of Stewart McAllister, Film Editor by Dai Vaughan (1983):

… Semiologists may argue that, since language is essentially a structure of significant differences, the material substrate for these differentiations is of no great consequence. Yet it is a fact — if only a psychological one — that many an artist is deeply committed to a particular, and sometimes very restricted, raw material: Michelangelo to Carrara marble, Pope to the heroic couplet, Chopin to the particular sonorities of the piano … Editors are people whose talents are excited by images on strips of celluloid. Film-making, however, is a two-stage process in which the end-product of one stage is the raw material for the next; in which the camera-crew transforms the world into the elements of a language, and the editor uses that language to speak.

… The director is the link between the two stages, spanning the two linguistic processes: seeing even in the raw world the potential for that language which will comment upon it. Yet even when this is said, and even when the partnership works at its most productive, there remains the fact that the director cannot begin where the editor begins — from the shot footage — and that the editor, conversely, does not experience the editing as secondary, any more than Michelangelo experienced his work as secondary to a quarryman’s. And in documentary this experienced equality receives an additional emphasis: for whereas, in fiction, the goal of everyone’s efforts is the realization of a prior vision which may be assumed to be that of the director and/or writer, in documentary the goal is the realization of that which was photographed.

[line break added to make this easier to read online] It would make little sense, in a fiction film, for an editor (or other technician) to accuse the director of breaking faith with style or with subject-matter; but such accusations are a commonplace in documentary. Where the fiction editor may reasonably feel that his or her first loyalty is to the director’s intentions, the documentary editor is likely to feel that he or she shares with the director a primary responsibility to the ‘material’ — and through it, via the documentary imperative, to the world.

My most recent previous post from Vaughan’s book is here.

-Julie

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