Category Archives: Breathless

Film School: Editing

Editing to me, is the least sexy of the film disciplines. Writing, directing, acting or cinematography are all skills and jobs I can see the joy and creativity in. Editing, on the other hand, is essentially being locked in a room for months on end, going frame by frame through endless reels of footage as you move from close-up to wide shot back to close-up.

Of course certain films and directors are more well-known for their editing styles than others. Take for example, the terrifying scene from Requiem for a Dream, which must surely hold the record for most cuts per second, as we quickly move from horrifying scenario to horrifying scenario.

Scott-Pilgrim-vs-The-World-Movie-Poster.jpgTake also, the more recent example of Scott Pilgrim , where Edgar Wright, inspired by the tropes of comic books, cuts to reaction shots of characters during key scenes in the movie (normally accompanied by 80s video game sound effects). Actors from the movie have described how Wright would want precisely the right half-a-second shot, with their eyebrow raised ‘this much’ and eyes looking at precisely the right angle. In a film like this, it is the editing, not the actors who are doing the brunt of the work.

Largely, however, editing goes unnoticed by the viewer, too immersed in the story to consider why the director has used a close-up for that part of the scene, and a wide shot for another.

Jean Luc Godard, however, decided to draw attention to his own edits with what became known as ‘jump cuts’. That is, when the foreground of a scene changes only slightly, but in such a way that it is obvious a cut/edit has been made. It’s perhaps easier to see in this clip from Godard’s Breathless:

The first jump cut occurs after about 14 seconds, and there are plenty more after this.

One might ask the obvious question: what’s the point? Surely the idea of cinema is to immerse, and by drawing attention to its own techniques, does something like a ‘jump cut’ not do the opposite?

One can argue for a long time about the reasoning behind a film-maker like Godard, known for breaking the conventions of cinema as and when he pleased. One of the things he does do, however, is force us to question what we are being shown by more conventional film-makers. By drawing attention to the editing in his own film, it forces us to consider the apparently more subtle editing in other works. What purpose is it serving? How long are the shots? What is the camera really showing us? What are we having to imagine is going on around it?

An actor, not quite on their A-game, can be made to look better by only holding on their sad-face for so long, or by making a long stare into the distance look like regret/thoughtfulness/longing/satisfaction/resignation depending on what the previous and/or next shot shows us.

Editing, you see can cover a multitude of sins (as well as perhaps even causing a multitude of sins). The process of weaving together hours of footage is something quite unique to the filmed narratives of movies and television. However, the choices of what to show us, when and for how long can be just as important as story, characters or cinematography.

What I’ve Been Watching – DVD – Breathless & No Distance Left To Run


Godard’s Breathless is one of the most important movies of the New Wave Era in 1950s/60s cinema.

Simply, it tells the story of a man on the run from the law after shooting a police officer. His aim is to persuade his American lover to flee Paris with him.

Then again, it doesn’t really tell that story at all.

With long scenes of dialogue sandwiched between short scenes of action, it’s obvious Godard is not so much interested in the plot, but instead in experimenting with a different way of telling quite a straight forward story.

Like a great sprawling river, Breathless meanders towards its conclusion without being too concerned about normal conventions like pacing and a three act structure.

A good twenty minutes is spent in a hotel room where the two main characters talk about life, love and everything in between. Some information pays off later, but most is just like any conversation you might hear between two people: some statements are insightful, some not, some entertaining, some not. It’s strange, but never boring, and never leaves the viewer with a firm grasp of what’s going to happen next.

Such scenes may remind viewers of the famous piece of dialogue in Pulp Fiction where Jackson and Travolta discuss a “Royale with Cheese”. The information garnered in both scenes serves no particular purpose, either in terms of the plot or character development.

However, one might argue, Tarintino’s scene is at least in keeping with the pace of the movie. Godard seems to have no such concerns about the length or position of such a scene. You could argue his only rule for making this movie was to break as many conventions as possible.

Godard is a director who divides audiences. He doesn’t seem to make movies as entertainment, but rather as works of ‘art'(whatever that means). His movies should be watched by those who want their views of film to be challenged, and who are willing to put everything they thought they knew about narrative cinema to one side for the duration.

No Distance Left to Run (2010).jpgNo Distance Left To Run

The first album I ever bought was Blur’s The Great Escape. It was released at the height of their Britpop fame: when arguments about Blur versus Oasis, and American versus British music seemed to matter.

No Distance Left To Run tells the story of the band’s formation in the late eighties right up to their reunion gigs in 2009.

It goes behind the scenes with the band as they prepare for and then perform at both Glastonbury and Hyde Park, the latter of which NME awarded the Best Live Event of 2009.

Now in their early forties, the band were able to speak very honestly about everything – from trying to make it big in the early nineties, being the most successful band in the country at the middle of the decade, and then going in a completely different direction in 1997 with Blur and their subsequent albums.

Most interesting of the band members is Coxon, who plays the introverted genius of the band. There’s a sense in the movie, that much as him and Albarn were worlds apart personality-wise, they somehow brought out the best in each other. Coxon convincing Albarn to go in a completely different direction after Great Escape, opening up Albarn’s eyes to the other types of music he could make.

There’s obvious pain and dejection as Coxon speaks about his split from the band in 2002, coming as a result of his ongoing battle with alcohol. Other members of the band speak of their regret over everything that happened: without giving quick fix answers about what caused the band to split.

Aside from the interviews with Coxon, another interesting insight is how the band found out about each other’s lives through each other’s songs or books. Albarn’s break-up becoming a reality to the rest of the band through the lyrics of Tender and No Distance Left To Run. Alex James’ love and respect for Coxon being articulated to him in the form of James’ autobiography, and helping convince the latter to get back with his old friends again.

The band’s relationship is best summed up by Rowntree, the drummer: “all four of us have got one sister and no brothers. We’ve become each other’s surrogate brothers, and that brings with it an ability to understand each other very deeply – and an ability to push each other’s buttons at will. ” Unlike other band reunions which seem to be done purely for financial reasons, it seemed like this one was done for emotional ones. A way of coming to terms with the band that had dominated more than ten years of their lives.

No Distance Left To Run is a movie that is probably only appealing to fans of Blur, and I can understand completely why those not interested in the band may want to give it a miss. However, I’m certain the tales of Britpop, Blur versus Oasis and so on will give those who remember the era a great sense of nostalgia for when the charts mattered and music formed culture.