That Inner Voice




Naturally, I bought a bunch of books when I was in New York earlier this week. I always find when I go to Strand that they have a gazillion books but nothing I need (though the first time I visited I was astonished to bump into Mark Cousins: two guys from Edinburgh in the film section, whaddayaknow?), whereas the lovely Mercer Street Books & Records is built on a human scale: there’s one row of shelves on film, and I can look through it in a leisurely and comfortable fashion with jazz playing, and always find at least four or five things I want. This time there were two nice books of interviews with film editors. One had Dede Allen and Anne V. Coates, but was more expensive. It’s probably still there, New Yorkers! I went for Gabriella Oldham’s First Cut: Conversations with Film Editors, the cheaper paperback. Opening it at random I looked at the piece of Sidney Levin, who cut NASHVILLE and a bunch of Martin Ritt films. I don’t know Ritt’s work well, so I wondered how interesting it would be. It was EXTREMELY interesting.

Oldham asks a question about music and gets an answer that dovetails into addressing Universal Artistic Principles.


Martin Ritt’s SOUNDER, edited by Sidney Levin.

“If you cut to the beat, you’re being predictable, which is okay. And it will help you if you want to pull the rug out from under the audience later by an unexpected change of rhythm; that’s fun to do. On an emotional scene, I will often cut rhythmically until something’s about to happen, then I’ll throw everything off so you get tripped. It’s the art of seduction. You’re always seducing. You’re seducing the audiences, your lovers, your readers. You’re seducing everybody into giving away their protection. By setting up a structure, you’re allowing them to be protected. Suddenly you pull the structure out, they’re unprotected but they feel safe, and that’s the art of seduction. Then you go ahead and do what you have to do. I don’t know if I can say any more than that because how can you articulate something that’s instinctive? You just know. And the process of becoming an artist is to trust when you know. The problem with many directors and producers is that they don’t know what they know! They see it, but they don’t believe it. They’re afraid to believe what they’ve seen. You have to learn to trust that inner voice that never lies. But if you’re full of fear, you can’t hear that voice. And then you’ll try to codify what it is that makes something right. You realize, of course, that can’t be done.”

7 Responses to “That Inner Voice”

  1. This reminds me of a conversation I had with my collaborator on the short “Mirrorboy”. It was essentially a music video, but when I saw his first edit all the cuts were out of time. “You never cut to the beat” he explained, which seemed crazy to me, until I realised that you don’t normally foreground the music in a film. Another thing I learnt from the edit (although I seem to be using “learn” here to mean confirm my prejudices) is that cutting to a close-up of a joke never works. It’s only funny if it looks like an accident, and it won’t look like an accident if you cut to it.

  2. Very funny man!

    “The perfect visual gag hapens in one shot,” is a line of Richard Lester’s that I hang on to.

    “A good dancer is always slightly ahead of the beat. A good dancer *makes the music happen*” said Christopher Walken, and I think this may have universal applications.

    As Levin says, cutting to the beat and then departing from it has one effect, and another powerful one recently mentioned by David Bordwell on the Film Art site is to suddenly sync with the beat, which has a big impact after being off-beat for a while.

  3. Thanks man. Yes, your Fantasia piece reminded me of this was well. And Walken’s rule also only works in long takes.

  4. Though I have purchased a few books at the Strand, it’s overwhelming in the same way Powell’s in Portland is. Don’t get me wrong – I love to see huge, successful, independent bookstores – but I have found many more film books of interest at my local Moe’s in Berkeley (which is also big, but not AS big) than I have during my (admittedly limited) times at the Strand or Powell’s.

    What I’m trying to say is: come to Berkeley sometime! We have great food, good weather, and lots of good film books for sale! As well as Pacific Film Archive, of course…

  5. I’d love to — I just need to either get wealthy or have somebody pay me to come. If they would screen Natan also, that’d be a bonus…

  6. Natan seems likely to be right up PFA’s alley. Have you tried contacting them? There’s also the Silent Film Festival in San Francisco…

  7. I can’t recall — the movie DID play San Francisco, but I don’t remember who showed it. We didn’t get a free trip out of it, though, one rarely does.

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