Joseph Weinmunson III writes:
"I saw the 1934 film "It Happened One Night" with Clark Gable and Claudette
Colbert last week, and it struck me that the movie was made at a turning
point in visual evolution. While well photographed and acted, the editing
was unbelievably clumsy by modern standards, with many unnecessary transition
shots. I think many talented filmmakers were still making the transition
from the visual language of silent pictures, prevalent only six years
before, to a medium where the spoken word was the main narrative source.
The film stands as an awkward monument between the traditions of
"Metropolis" and "The General" and the classical editing that defined
Hollywood in the 1940s and 50s."
I wonder how you define such terms as "clumsy," "unnecessary transition shots,"
and the "traditions" of METROPOLIS and THE GENERAL (rather different traditions
in each case, I would think). I notice that Gene Havlick, who edited IHON,
also edited MR. DEEDS, MR. SMITH and LOST HORIZON for Capra, as well as
HIS GIRL FRIDAY for Hawks. The handling of time in HGF, especially in the
opening scenes at the newspaper office, is quite sophisticated. I wouldn't
disagree that editing standards changed (and continue to), but I don't know
that we should judge any one set of practices by the standards of a different
era. Anyway, I'd be eager to hear more of your thoughts on the subject.
One thing that is noticeable over the years is that while the general norms of
the continuity system of editing have continued to predominate, certains aspects
of that system have evolved in different ways. For example, filmmakers up to
the 1950s seemed rather fussy about marking transitions of time or space with
fades, dissolves, or other indicators (consider all those shots of train wheels,
car tires and the like to let us know that the characters are traveling from
one place to another). It is not uncommon now to see simple cuts from one
scene to another, with the apparent assumption that the cuts will not be too
disconcerting and that audiences can figure out for themselves that the time
or place has changed.
Don Larsson, Mankato State U (MN)
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