Understanding the Hidden Editing in Hitchcock's 'Rope'
Quite possibly one of the first things learned about editing, whether in a class or on the job, is that "good" editing is invisible. The classical Hollywood style of editing doesn't call attention to itself, because to do that would take the audience out of the story space and shift their focus onto the techniques used to make the film they're watching. Of course, you could avoid all of the pitfalls of bad editing by just -- not editing your footage (that's a joke,) which is the illusion Alfred Hitchcock created in his 1948 crime thriller Rope. How did ol' Hitch pull it off? Vashi Nedomansky of Vashi Visuals shows us how.
Right of the bat, let's get something straight -- there is editing in Rope. Any movie filmed on 35mm has cuts, because a 35mm magazine can only hold 10 minutes of footage. In fact, there are blatant hard cuts that weren't even attempted to be hidden, but the scarcity of edits, as well as the use of handheld camerawork, are what make Rope so important to cinema.
Even though there is editing, it's often described as a film that plays out in real time. Why? Probably because it's such an immersive piece of filmmaking; the hidden edits and use of handheld cameras follow and track its characters, allowing audiences to experience and react to each situation at the same moment the actors do -- right in the thick of the action.
If you haven't seen the film before, definitely carve out an hour and a half of your day to check it out and try and spot the edits yourself. Or you could check out this video that Vashi uploaded today that pinpoints all 10 in Hitchcock's film.
A couple of things to think about: Unless your intention is to call attention to the editing in your film, getting down a rhythm and pattern to hide cuts is definitely an important part of storytelling. Utilizing the dissolves and wipes that appear in Rope are effective, but there are many contemporary editing techniques that get the job done -- other than a well-timed cut of course.
Also, it's important to remember that cinema is an abstraction of time and space, and that abstraction is created by the camera, influenced by the filmmaker, and experienced by the viewer. With a film that plays out in "real time," time seems less like an abstraction, which gives the impression to the viewer that what they're seeing is real life -- "real" real life.
This type of filmmaking (editing included) opens up the diegesis to the audience, letting their attention go where they want it to go. So really, a film becomes more subjective with these techniques employed. Vashi shares a great resource, an article written by Peter J. Dellolio, that takes a closer look at the film's editing on a theoretical level.
In Rope, a synthesis of real time and filmic space forces the viewer to absorb narrative information on multiple, often distastefully ironic levels. At the same time, the viewer is given freedom of selection in terms of how, when, and why her/her attention is split, inviting some comparison with similar choices experienced during depth of focus shots, a spatial configuration that Hitchcock characteristically avoided.
The subjectivity, realism, and immersion of the editing reminds me of the editing (and narrative/cinematographic techniques) of Italian neorealism, which if you need a refresher on the film movement, check out our article here.
For more information about the editing in Hitchcock's Rope, be sure to head over to Vashi's article.
Are there any editing techniques that you find especially helpful in doing this? What films, other than Rope, would you suggest studying for its editing?
[via Vashi Visuals]