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  • James Kunovski

A Few of the Best Edits in Film (Part II)

As we move into the latter part of the twentieth century through to the new millennium, editing becomes less about innovation and more about stylistically enhancing proven conventions. That being said, there are some pretty nice edits here that deserve their own tidbit of analysis.

Raging Bull, 1980, edited by Thelma Schoonmaker

“He ain’t pretty no more.”

What better way to begin this list than with a punch. The masterful Schoonmaker, in one of her many collaborations with Scorsese takes “cutting on action” to the next level in what the Motion Picture Editors Guild labelled the best edited film of all time.


The Shining, 1980, edited by Ray Lovejoy

Breaking the 180-degree rule.

If the 180-degree rule serves consistency in spatial relationships on-screen, breaking that principle creates immediate tension like The Shining’s creepy bathroom exchange.


Raiders of the Lost Ark, 1981 edited by Michael Kahn

Is that the Paramount mountain?

Though the move would have been meticulously planned, from scouting a similar-looking mountain down to composition, it remains a clever and unique way to establish a location and also homage the studio that brought it all together.


Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, 1986, edited by Paul Hirsch

Cameron at the museum.

Essentially the Kuleshov effect in motion, this sequence, which cuts between Cameron and the pointillism of Georges Seurat, eventually inching closer and closer to each subject, reveals Cameron’s character in spite of his neutral visage. We understand his stilled expressions are a reflection of his angst and brokennesses via Seurat’s painted young girl. But, as director John Hughes points out, the more you look at Cameron, like he does for the painting, the less you actually see.


Goodfellas, 1990, edited by Thelma Schoonmaker

Hide the gun. Get married.

How does an editor go about sharing the downfall of a marriage before it has even begun? In Scorsese’s Goodfellas, Schoonmaker matches Karen (Lorraine Bracco) as she hides her husband’s gun with said husband’s (Ray Liotta) foot as he breaks the glass per Jewish wedding customs. The guests might shout “congratulations” but we just saw Henry pistol whip some guy in front of his future wife. How could this turn out well?


The Silence of the Lambs, 1991, edited by Craig McKay

Wrong house.

McKay takes the efficacy of cross-cutting to the next level with the famous “wrong house” montage from Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs. Edwin S. Porter first used parallel editing in 1903’s The Great Train Robbery to show action taking place at the same time The FBI are about to raid what they think is Buffalo Bill’s house. The doorbell rings and his wired fire alarm blares. As they break into the home, they find it is empty. Bill opens his front door to Clarice Starling, standing alone, vulnerable but still tough as nails. The realisation of terror and the frantic zoom into Agent-in-Charge Jack Crawford’s stunned expression counts as one of the best ways to build suspense, intrigue and relief and how to beautifully flip it on its head.


Perfect Blue, 1997, edited by Harutoshi Ogata

Public vs. private lives.

The late Satoshi Kon preferred editing in animation because he could tell more in less frames. In Perfect Blue, which has generously lent itself to Hollywood, by way of inspiration and influence, the contrast between troubled pop singer Mima Kirigoe’s private and public lives is slowly revealed in the film’s resounding opening moments. The duties of grocery shopping are placed against an energetic and gaudy performance. The parallel sequence beckons to something below the surface. It ends with her stage persona whipping her head in showmanship, right into a match cut of her crying and falling onto her bed. If you watch the scene a little longer, it gets even weirder… No stranger to expertly crafting two opposing worlds, Kon also did so with Paprika which blurs the lines between dreams and reality.


Out of Sight, 1998, edited by Anne V. Coates

At the bar.

Editing romance is no easy task. In Steven Soderbergh’s Out of Sight, legendary editor Anne V. Coates concocts an energy of heightened chemistry and sexual tension through her use of flashbacks, brief freeze frames and overlapping dialogue. Those techniques don’t necessarily make the scene any greater, but a keen eye for precision, cues and emotion sure do. Influenced by Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now (from Part 1), by the end of the scene the viewer realises that they didn't really see much, but the power of the scene goes a long way.


The Thin Red Line, 1998 edited by Billy Weber, Leslie Jones & Saar Klein

Love at war.

Terrence Malick’s hypnotic war film beautifully expresses the strange discordance of battle and landscape during the Pacific Theatre campaigns of World War II. Sure, the film tends to float around with its elusive meaning, but the deliberately poetic sequences that articulate those points serve the story well. One of these sequences tackles the matter of love, “Who lit this flame in us,” our protagonist narrates, “no war can put it out.” The tranquil state of his memories, of back home, and for his love, are forefront to those words. Through a slow dissolve, it slowly draws back to his harsh present — bombs falling from a sky of dreams. Two coexisting worlds clash, even if they are inexplicably linked by the stars.


Election, 1999, edited by Kevin Tent

The principal’s office showdown.

A well-earned tribute to the Spaghetti Western is stuck near the end of this satirical take on politics and high school antics. When ballot tampering accusations start to mount against civics teacher Jim McAllister, the plot comes to a head in the principal’s office when the editor cuts over fifty times in half-a-minute between the expressions of the onlookers and McAllister. Those close-ups mimic, most notably The Good, The Bad & The Ugly’s standoff, but in the situation of school elections and the world of overachieving candidacy, the stakes are just as high.


Snatch, 2000, edited by Jon Harris

I’m coming to London.

I've heard this editing style referred to as the “crash zoom montage” so let’s go with that. Guy Ritchie is without a doubt one of the most visual directors in recent memory and his breakneck approach to style explodes in this sequence that crosses the Atlantic Ocean in a matter of seconds and culminates into a perfect punchline.


Donnie Darko, 2001, edited by Sam Bauer & Eric Strand

Principal’s office.

No need to show Donnie’s comeback, when you can solely create humour from the abrupt consequence. When Mr. Darko goes on a “countercultural” (not really) rant about simplifying the “human range of emotions,” he naturally clashes with his uptight teacher. As he readies his next line we smash cut to his comeuppance.


Mulholland Drive, 2001, edited by Mary Sweeney

Duality and the match-cut.

Match-cuts link characters together in David Lynch’s mind-bending saga. In a film of mysteries, it is the one clear piece to the puzzle. Naomi Watts plays two characters, so which one is it here? Diane — I think… Maybe, it’s not that obvious after all.


City of God, 2002, edited by Daniel Rezende

Circling transition.

In Brazil’s transcendent City of God, paths constantly converge in Rio’s newfound world of organised crime. In the film’s passionate and lively opening number, our narrator “Rocket” finds himself between a prized chicken and gang members. Caught between two crossroads, the film flashbacks to twenty years prior, in a stunning transition that circles around our protagonist. It is a wonderful moment of reflection and something that incites the right amount of curiosity.


Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, 2004, edited by Valdís Óskarsdóttir

Joel’s heartbreak.

Though this sequence’s effectiveness might come down to visual effects, rather than editing alone, the theatrical transition is imaginative and like so many of Michel Gondry and Charlie Kaufman’s trademarks, escapes the conventions of cinema. The scene follows Joel as he recounts his ex-girlfriend Clementine not recognising him following a procedure that had memories of their relationship erased. He walks from the library where she works back into his house as the world around him starts to shut down. It is a surreal and stunning interpretation of heartbreak and loss.


The Fall, 2006, edited by Robert Duffy & Spot Welders

The neatest match-cut, possibly ever.

Deserves a spot on this list for its creepiness, absolute accuracy and originality. The film from which it is featured, by Tarsem Singh, should be essential viewing for the way it embraces astounding visuals and a quasi-historical plot.


There Will Be Blood, 2007, edited by Dylan Tichenor

Where did time go?

Paul Thomas Anderson’s apocalyptic portrait of family and burning relentlessness through the turn-of-the-century oil business spans complete decades in restrained but smart pacing. One of the most interesting edits happens when Anderson transitions from young Mary and H.W. bonding, to their wedding many years later, in a single jump. Where did all the time go?


Up, 2009, edited by Kevin Nolting

Carl’s grief.

Sorry to spring this on you. Just like There Will Be Blood, Up’s cut explores the blurring of time, notably during periods of grief. Following the death of his wife, Carl walks from her funeral, back home in a slow transition. Regardless of its implications, it stands as a melancholic closing to one of the more powerful openings in animated film.


Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, 2010, edited by Jonathan Amos & Paul Machliss

The cleverest transitions.

Edgar Wright is synonymous for turning the routine of editing into a trick for the senses. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is a masterclass in idiosyncratic transitions. The examples below highlight his more popular choices, wherein he matches the framing and anticipated movement of one scene into another location, before we have the chance to recognise this has happened. It’s the type of artistic choice that makes you sit back and marvel — or write an analysis.


The Social Network, 2010, edited by Angus Wall & Kirk Baxter

FaceMash montage.

The flawed and monolithic Facebook ushered in an era of instant reward and social innovation. Wall and Baxter mould those two elements when they cut from the creation of FaceMash in a dorm-turned-drawing-room to its test subjects, all like guinea pigs behind plate-glass fishbowls.


Stoker, 2013, edited by Nicolas De Toth

Eye to eye.

Park Chan-wook’s feature was inspired by Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt and though the two films share motifs, meaning and plot lines, Park homages Hitchcock in unlikelier fashion. Throughout Stoker, graphic match cuts are constantly used to surreal and bewildering effect. Though I couldn’t tell you what it means, the slow dissolve from a bird’s bloodied egg to a human eye is strangely foreboding and also a tribute to Psycho’s shower scene.


Blade Runner 2049, 2017, edited by Joe Walker

City skyline.

Technically impressive and mind-bending in its perspective, this shape-shifting segue blends the pure elements of sparkling ambers with the harsh and dizzying design of a dystopian future.


Parasite, 2019, edited by Yang Jin-mo

Introducing a take-over.

Parasite’s montage closely follows Bong Joon-ho’s storyboard in a move that shows how meticulous planning in pre-production can benefit your film later on. The “peach scene” had the unenviable task of introducing the ploy to remove the Park’s housekeeper through her peach allergy along with the Kims’ rehearsal and mounting of that strategy. The sequence begins with a conversation — Ki-woo’s “student” likes peaches but they are a forbidden fruit in her home. We stop on his face; the expressions don’t reveal much. Immediately, we cut to his sister, Ki-jung, in glorious slow motion stealing a peach from a vendor as the fuzz lightly disperses in the air. Bong and editor Yang know they don’t need to spell out the connotations. Parasite is perfect for a list about editing, for it blends technical skill with intellectual prowess to stage a monumental takeover of the Parks’ home, and our senses too.


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