Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Ideas about Editing: El Chop

(Note: An edited version of this post was previously submitted for my AFTRS Screen Culture course, Ideas about Editing, October 2010)

When I think editing, I think Robert Rodriguez. Not just because he does his own editing, but for the rhythm and flow he creates through his editing methods. There is no doubt that his films would be completely different with a different editor. I decided to analyse the origin of his technique by looking closely at his debut feature "El Mariachi", to see how it came about and what impact it has on story and style.

Rodrigues Film School: Part 1

Now Rodriguez was not just the director and editor on El Mariachi, in fact he has 11 listed credits (Director, Producer, Writer, Editor, Sound Editor, Additional Editor, Music Editor, Cinematographer, Camera Operator, Special Effects and Stills Photography). Now of course Robert himself made the credits also so he had 'creative freedom' over those positions, but if anyone knows the history of the film it was essentially a one man band.

Movement of Story
The basis of Movement of Story is to describe the overall story of a film and the dramatic plot questions in play, and how this is established through editing. The scene I chose to particularly analysed is the initial scene of Mariachi mix up and Bus Chase.
  • The Premise: What if a travelling mariachi accidentally exchanged guitar cases with a gangster who is in the middle of a small town gang war?
  • Dramatic Question: Will the friendly mariachi escape from those after him, and will he clear his name?

This scene marks the beginning of a problem for El (Carlos Gallardo), our hero. We have already seen the gangster mariachi escape from those that are after him and are put into the mind frame of El. In terms of structure and satisfaction for the audience this sequence really ramps up the pace of the movie and gears it in to motion. We have seen the plot unfold for 25 minutes and we now jump right in to the main sequence of movement and drama. El is in a small unfriendly town amongst a raging gang war, where a gangster mariachi kills people at will. El is a soft spoken nice guy who drinks soda instead of beer so we really don’t know what to expect and if he can handle confrontation.

Rodriguez places the audience ahead of the action (as we have seen the evil receptionist dob him in) and so we are in anticipation of what will occur. The questions created by the editing composition are:
  • 1st Phase: Will El know they are coming for him? This is closed by the audience getting to see the perspective of El observe the mobsters arriving at his hotel.
    • 2nd Phase: Will El escape from them? This is flipped on its head as we see him remember his livelihood, his guitar case, and thus runs back towards the mobsters. This is where the scene turns.
    • 3rd Phase: Will he do anything to stay alive? Editing here becomes stylised and frantic, with the composition of the scene not defined as the camera swirls around and positions of characters become blurred. This is opened as El picks up the weapon and breaks from his character mould of the  kind hearted mariachi. It becomes closed as he puts it down in a look of regret and shock.
            The Hong Kong remake of El Mariachi, maintains the editing style of Rodriguez.

            Movement of Emotion
            The basis of Movement of Emotion is how well do the cutting patterns shape the emotional interchanges, the beats, and the turning points of a scene. In the same chase scene, before the mobsters arrive the editing style is slower, dreamy, with less music, more sound effects, a more personal view from El as we feel his tiredness and troubles. When they arrive the cuts get shorter, and cut ins more with coverage of the action. There is great conflict as we cut back and forth between El and the gang.

            We get identification with the mariachi  as Rodriguez shows us his view of looking out on the action and observing. The dream sequence before this scene sets this up greatly as we feel El is in a sort of languid state, as he  has just woken up and all of a sudden all of this action is happening around him. The emotional journey of the mariachi starts off negative when he is in danger and he wants to escape. The editing changes when he succeeds in this escape, as we slow mo zoom on his foot and zoom in to his face, and then flash back to his room, almost as if we are reading his mind. We see his train of thought flick from escape to rescuing his guitar.

            In terms of the emotional experience of the audience we are put into a state of fear to begin with, as we await to see if El is going to be killed and not even be able to do anything about it, as he doesn’t know they are after him. This changes to hope as Rodriguez provides options  for El to escape, cutting to him witnessing the gangsters arrive, then the fear of being tracked down, then the hope of going unnoticed as he walks back towards them, and finally the fear of being chased again and chaos of the shootouts.

            The editing of the music and soundtrack also reflects these emotional changes, as the beat changes from  a sort of constant beat to more deeper stronger tones. From a slow single pace to faster jaws like shrieking, below is an outline of the pattern change throughout the chase scene:
            • 1st Phase: Bud bud, bud up bu, bud bud
              • 2nd Phase: Det det det doo doo do det det do do do do
              • 3rd Phase: Doo doo doo do do do do do do do 

              This is no doubt the editing in this sequence enhances the experience. For instance when El goes back to his room to get his guitar, the cuts are very rapid, he's in and out just like that. If it had been more of a languid approach to getting the case the audience would feel frustrated and be yelling at him to get out get out  of the room. That would work at a sequence, but that’s for a different movie and emotion, this is still in a chase sequence and we the audience need to feel that he can escape enough to get out  after this mild rest.

              Rodriguez Film School: Part 2

              Movement of Images and Sound
              The basis of Movement of Images and Sound is how they relate to reveal character, story and drama. All the shots here with the gangster are fast, they are always moving, busting in on doors, jumping off trucks, the car isn’t just outside we actually see it arrive, they are constantly moving and constantly a threat. It feels like they are being slung around by a rubber band as the static receptionist guy points them in 1 direction and then the other. There is great excitation and this makes them a threat but not necessarily an intelligent threat. They never stop to think and look around. It’s kind of like a headless chicken.

              In contrast we see the mariachi looking around after the shooting, obviously he is worried about this type of action but the others don’t seem to be, they aren’t afraid of police or onlookers seeing them, they are known gangsters and that’s just how it is. We are engaged through kinesthetic empathy with El by this contrast. We get a lot of POV shots with El,  him seeing number 10 on the hotel door, his guitar case memory, and when he slides away backwards into the hallway the camera goes to the floor with him. Almost peering over the edge as he looks down the street. I think most of the sequence is thus around linkage rather than collision, even parallel linkage between the chases.

              In terms of the elements around the action there is little jeopardy except for a dog and a few onlookers,. Obviously due to the lack of money on the shoot this was what eventuated, but  the location still seems very dense especially with the bus sequence, the street seems very narrow and contained. This also establishes the small town enclosed nature, a general overall feeling that El has nowhere to hide. Rodriguez uses physical storytelling by establishing the tight space of the hotel and dense street. And then by having the action reroute back to the same location, the audience feels the closeness of everybody. Images become intensified towards the end of the chase. Especially with the shooting scenes, we close-up on the guns, Rodriguez repeats the gun shots even though the gun’s aren’t machine guns. The bad guys then die in slo-motion to hold on the action. The music cuts on a few occasions become dancing edits.

              Many of these editing elements were necessitated by Robert Rodriguez's shooting style. Any time the actors made some progress through a scene and then messed up, or lines were out of sync with the audio, he cut to a different angle. This saved on recording sync sound and shooting extra rolls of film but gave him limited coverage in the edit suite. This forced Rodriguez to be creative and make more choices on the shoot and thus saved time in the edit suite. So it has both positives and negatives. And interestingly he has continued this distinct style throughout his career, a style that has often been praised. Thus these initial limitations, helped to develop his auteur style.

              Kieran Tully
              Follow me on Twitter as Tullys Recall goes multi-platform :)

              No comments:

              Post a Comment