As opposed to a photograph (at least before Photoshop existed), this link, incurred during editing video and film, offers hardly controllable options of manipulation.
If we believe the demagogues and the theory of film, the moving image is the very most dangerous of all media. The killer argument why this is true: a film or a video has no final form before a large number of different settings have not been interlinked.
Once again, film history offers a good example of manipulation, and the silent film “Battleship Potemkim” (1925) which ironically became famous for its dialectic editing. The Russian propaganda film by director (and cutter!) Sergei Eisenstein shows the mutiny of the crew of the warship Knjas Potjomkin Tawritscheski against its tsarist officers.
As the anniversary film at the Bolshoi Theatre to celebrate the 1905 revolution in Moscow in 1925, the film enjoyed worldwide acclaim for its editing despite its radical message.
A year later, director Eisenstein contractually granted a distributor in Sweden permission to (quote) “marginally recut [his film] but not to omit or add anything” before its screening.
Editing is the moral dimension of film! SERGEI EISENSTEIN
The original of the film starts with the exploitation of the sailors by the officers who react to the protest of their crew with death sentences. At the last minute, the firing squad turns against the officers and the revolution starts.
In the version intended for the Scandinavian market, the film starts with the firing squad eliminating the officers; however no reason for this is shown. Instead, the revolutionaries stood shaking in front of the tsarist officers’ rifles at the end of the film, who therefore – and differing from the original – had regained the upper hand and won against the revolutionaries! One of the most revolutionary films of the former contemporary history was turned into its opposite by editing.
It must be the irony of fate that this incident actually happened to Sergei Eisenstein. Up to the present day, Eisenstein is viewed as the actual originator of dialectics in film editing.
The films of Sergei Eisenstein have demonstrated to the world that, as a result of cutting, detached content-related settings can also become related. If, for example, a face was cut in front of a close-up of a piece of bread, cinema audiences were convinced that the person was hungry.
The cutting of immovable objects into the course of a plot is a more commonplace example of considerably far more harmless manipulations. If a film or video shows two subsequent settings of a person walking, the viewer doesn’t necessarily subsume that time has passed between the two settings. If a third setting showing a motionless object is inserted between the same settings, this combination suddenly implies continuation of time.
The reason for this is that visible movement is linked to our natural sense of time As opposed to living objects, we do not associate motionless objects with the course of time.
In the viewer’s emotional world, they do not symbolise the actual passing of time, in a certain sense they are timeless or infinite. The combination of an actual time feeling with indeterminable passing of time therefore gives rise to the feeling for the following setting that time has passed.
Editing Video: Learnings
What can be learnt from this? Three things:
Editing can interrelate different film material, scenes and settings so that they differ from what was planned. This may take place for demagogic reasons or for purposes of agitation.
Cuts can be made so that they cannot be recognised as such (for example as swish panning) and therefore serve as a strong dramaturgical element which provokes contrasts or moments of surprise.
Editing can also display a manipulative effect as a result of the combination of settings which only take effect in their interplay.
Within documentary and animal filmmaker circles, but also amongst animal rights activists, a manipulative effect as a result of the combination of settings which only take effect in their interplay is so-called “Mickey Mousing”. As the name reveals, this term was characterised by Disney. The animal films of the 1950s created by the entertainment company were also so successful because editing lent the animals emotions and reactions which, despite similarities to human emotions, had nothing in common with reality. The film dog Lassie sends its regards.
The image may be the “mother of the word” (Hugo Ball), but the “father” of the moving image is editing. Editing plays an important role in documentary films, image and product films. This alone should provide reason enough to be aware of the opportunities, opportunities and risks for communication using films and videos.