hitRECord Academy: Editing v.2

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I wanted to RECord some more thoughts on the art of editing for the "hitRECord Academy" collaboration by filmpunk. This second entry aims to focus on the effectiveness of music in editing.

The film I have chosen to use as an example is Martin Scorsese's "Taxi Driver." If you've ever delved into the works of Mr. Scorsese then you know how important music is in his films. He and his editor, Thelma Schoonmaker, often do such a good job of integrating songs into their soundtrack that you almost forget there is a musical score by a composer ("GoodFellas" is an example where there was nearly no score to be found at all.)

1976's "Taxi Driver" happened to be a rare occurence in Mr. Scorsese's career where the score actually dominated the audio track. And quite heavily at times.

Bernard Herrmann's jazz score paints a rather sad and mournful urban landscape for the film's anti-hero, lonely taxi driver Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro.) The score eases the viewer into introspective montages of Bickle's daily life; an existence filled with alienation.

But there's one sequence that comes around halfway into the film where we get see Travis watching television all by himself as he grips a large caliber handgun nonchalantly. That scene will be the focus of this entry.

> For this entry you will need to refer to the following off-site clip:

It will be most beneficial if you watch the clip in its entirety, or better yet go and watch the entire film. But for the purposes of this RECord I will refer to the above YouTube clip and its timeline in that particular link.

Here are some bullet points to consider with regards to this sequence:

* Notice the cut at :03 when it goes from the lowered gun to a close up of the TV. I found it particularly effective because the shot of Travis is in slow motion, but not super slow. It's slowed down just enough to catch your brain off guard. Also, when his gun is lowered in the frame Ms. Schoonmakers cuts before the gun can come to a halt. Essentially, she chooses to cut before the gun is properly aimed in the shot. Watch that cut at :03 again. It works very well because she cuts while his arm is still in motion.

* At :18 Ms. Schoonmaker cuts to to the sound of the guitar as it makes a higher note. This was a good place to cut because the tone of the song changes there, and a change in sound or the addition of a new instrument or something is often a reliable place to cut.

* From :23 to :46 there is a relative long zoom in on the television. This sequence relies on visuals alone to tell us how Travis is feeling, while the rest of the film features heavy uses of narration. This longer shot gives us time to imagine how he would feel as he stares at young people holding each other as they dance in happiness. Also noteworthy is that Ms. Schoonmaker finds good use of the lyrics in this section. They don't relate to Travis's character as much as the next few lines, so she uses this section of the song as the zoom shot and waits to cut to Travis again when the lyrics kick in that relate more to Travis.

* From :46 to 1:15 we get a reverse zoom of the previous shot. Instead of zooming into the TV we are zooming toward De Niro. Lyrics like "How long have I been sleeping? / How long have I been drifting through the night?" refer so much to Travis's state of mind, and how he's begun to feel about himself. He wants to do something drastic, something meaningful. He's sick of being a roamer of the dark streets, bearing witness to things he despises. With the gun in hand we really get a chance to imagine how the wheels inside his head are turning as, interestingly enough, there is peace and harmony occurring on the screen before him. Outstanding juxtaposition.

* At 1:15 Ms. Schoonmaker cuts on cue as the "Late for the sky" lyrics come on, ushering in the instrumental that concludes the song.

* At 1:27 Ms. Schoonmaker cuts again to a new sound in the song. The guitar solo comes in as she cuts to Travis, deep in thought. This sets up the transition to the next sequence where he begins to target Senator Palpatine, whom he intends to assassinate.

I think "Taxi Driver" is one of the best films to study. If you really dissect it, and all of its techniques, then you'll come away with a really interesting perspective on some of the key elements of filmmaking.

What I found so fascinating about the movie is that it can be viewed differently each time. I remember watch an interview with Quentin Tarantino once and he said that it's one of his favorite movies, and arguably the best character study ever put on film. But he also found it extremely funny. And it sort of is, in the darkest of dark humor kind of ways.

That being said, the film plays to audiences in so many ways. Even the above sequence could be analyzed in a completely different way. In some ways it is subtle. And in other ways it's a bit over the top. It could be discussed as both in my opinion, and that's what sets scenes like this apart from so many others.

From a technical standpoint the scene demonstrates the proper use of cutting to audio cues (new sounds, instrumental transitions, and prominent lyrics.) But it's what you visually match with the audio that truly moves the story forward.

While I haven't even mentioned how great Mr. De Niro is in this scene, I don't think I really have to. He's unbelievable in the movie and this is one of his best series of moments in the film. And in his entire career.

Created: Oct 30, 2010

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