July 11, 2014

Film School Crash Course: The 10 Most Effective Editing Moments of All Time

There are very few things that you can learn in film school that can't be learned online in some form or another. The only problem is that tracking down all of that information can be a bit of, well, a pain in the ass. Oftentimes you have to dig through page after page on obscure forums, or watch YouTube video after YouTube video, just to find something that is relatively helpful in your pursuit of filmmaking knowledge. Other times however, sites like IndieWire, Cinefix, (and ours, of course) bring the film school to you, without any need for absurd tuition and a lifetime of debt, and for people wondering what kind of material is taught in college editing courses, right now is one of those times.

I would like to preface this by saying that the following video is literally a 7-minute crash course in what I learned from the first two weeks of an advanced editing class a few years ago. Essentially, through studying some of the most iconic and viscerally effective moments in editing history, you can begin to internalize the philosophies behind the myriad techniques used in those edits, everything from graphic matches and elliptical edits to frenetically-paced and juxtapositional edits.

So here are the 10 most effective editing moments of all time. This video comes courtesy of the excellent Cinefix YouTube channel, and is a video adaptation of one of IndieWire's many lists.

Having completed my stint in film school, I can guarantee you guys that these are the films, and the specific moments from those films, that are studied extensively. Why? Because many of these moments exemplify the power and allure behind the art of cinema editing, while making us aware of some of the advanced aesthetic techniques that comprise editing grammar. They're prime examples of techniques that all of us, or at least those of us with an interest in the psychological implications of editing, should learn and internalize for use in our own films.

Link: CineFix -- YouTube

Your Comment

62 Comments

All top iconic scenes covered. Perfect reminder and great read and video :D

July 11, 2014 at 3:27PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Gaurav Dharmani

As a 80's film school grad and someone who started editing film on a flatbed, I think the list needs "Classic" in the title. So many of these "edits" were the best they could do at the time and pretty average by todays standards. While Lawrence of Arabia, Apoc. Now and Godfather remain on my all-time list I believe EVERYTHING changed in the 90's with Pulp Fiction's (Tarantino's) non-linear storytelling. I think you can divide the history of cinema as those before and after Pulp Fiction. Also, where are JAWS or Bullit or French Connection or Taxi Driver? All which have masterful editing.

July 11, 2014 at 3:38PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Lance Bachelder

agreed

July 11, 2014 at 4:45PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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james

So, you think Tarantino invented this? Really? And there's a big difference between story structure and shot-to-shot editing.

July 11, 2014 at 5:24PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Wade

I tend to agree with Critic Jonathan Rosenbaum in his comparison of Godard to Tarantino. "...the differences... are astronomical; it's like comparing a combined museum, library, film archive, record shop, and department store with a jukebox, a video-rental outlet, and an issue of TV Guide.

August 22, 2014 at 11:16PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Ghostdog

I guess if you think Pulp Fiction changed everything you have never seen any of the 30s and 40s movies that had reordered chronology, flashbacks within flashbacks, flash-forwards etc. and you definitely never saw any of Resnais' 60s work, so you don't know about the hypothetical flash-forwards of La Guerre est Finie, or the pure ambiguity of Marienbad.

And, as others have said, editing can cover many things, but most large scale reorderings are going to be the work of the writer rather than the editor.

As for the video, good editing *can* be obvious, and there are some nice examples, but it also can be be almost imperceptible.

July 11, 2014 at 5:34PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Asdf

Can you give examples of the `30s and `40s movies with reordered chronology you speak of please?

July 15, 2014 at 6:31PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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soiudknei

Certainly Godard in the 60's which I believe was before Pulp Fiction.

August 22, 2014 at 11:11PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Ghostdog

Imperceptible all good editing should be. but the process, reveal a unique way to resolve each sequence that are different in each feature film. and the perception of all these problems os a simple cut determine the final result so these is a kind of issue for any editor.

July 18, 2014 at 9:36AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Also Tarantino is a self confessed copyist so many things from framing to cuts is referenced. I agree about Taxi Driver etc but the article was about the cut, not the entire edit.

July 11, 2014 at 6:23PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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JPS

Pulp Fiction is awesome, but you should watch Stanley Kubrick's The Killing. It's structure is wild, 40 years before Tarantino made a movie.

July 12, 2014 at 12:42AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Paul

To be honest I was bored to tears by Pulp, though I agree 100% with you on, Kubrick's, The Killing which in which it would appear the entire structure for R-Dogs was lifted from it and perhaps that is why I found it to be QT's most interesting endeavor.

August 22, 2014 at 11:20PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Ghostdog

Funny, as a film school grad, I would expect you to recognize that Tarantino's work was mostly pastiche and not intended to be ground-breaking...

July 12, 2014 at 10:38AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Swissted

Completely agree with you.

August 22, 2014 at 11:31PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Ghostdog

You must be kidding. Which film school did you go to? Tarantino did not invent non-linear story telling. Recently I watched an Indian film which had a non-linear style. And, no, It's not a Bollywood film. It's Anantharam by Adoor Gopalakrishnan.

July 15, 2014 at 10:08PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Don Palathara

As an Indian who hates Bollywood, I'm glad people watch Adoor's movies.

July 15, 2014 at 11:33PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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redindian

Non linear story telling precedes Tarantino, go watch Rashomon.

July 16, 2014 at 3:22AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Bill

Rashomon story structure originated from the book,so I don't think that is the best example.
But agreed that Tarantino obv did not invent non linear storytelling.

August 22, 2014 at 3:09PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Mike

Huh? With all due respect Lance, you are saying you are a grad student and you have never seen a film by Godard????? The man who said, "A story should have a beginning, a middle and an end, but not necessarily in that order." Godard has been breaking the rules of cinema well before, QT was born

August 22, 2014 at 11:39PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Ghostdog

Son, just watch any Godard movie and then meditate who really change cinema's history

August 23, 2014 at 6:20PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Quentin Tarantino

pfff according to who?, to a dude that just want to tell the world that he has all the cinematographic knolwdge availabe, but no base to support this claim??, a dude that just want to repeat what they teach in a cinema crash course, without doubt?. i don´t think so, the best editing moment is the one that works, for the audience, for the director, for the editor, FOR the movie at hand, if you want to make a ranking, that is fine, but first explain what is the selection method you are using, this article looks more like a cheap journalist article than a learning eperience

July 11, 2014 at 4:03PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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poto

Agreed.

July 17, 2014 at 5:42PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Jerry

How about the battle of the hymns scene in Casablanca (1942)?

July 11, 2014 at 4:05PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Enrique Vial

I miss Dziga Vertov's editing techniques, I think he was better than Eisenstein in that regard. That's just me though... The point of a list is to stir discussion.

July 11, 2014 at 4:18PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Brennan

Agree completely, although Eisenstein may have begun the Russian montage, Vertov took it to new levels. I was disappointed that the death/wedding in The Cranes are Flying wasn't on this list...

July 17, 2014 at 11:07PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Theo

Certainly a few of these have stayed with me many decades (Un Chien Andalou) but the cinematic moment that was my personal Aha! moment about the power of editing came in "All That Jazz", about choreographer Bob Fosse. In one scene he is auditioning dancers and each one poses for a tight shot, then pirouettes and each turn brings around a new dancer. Until that moment, I don't think I had been aware of editing as a powerful tool for molding the flow of a movie. Perhaps, as a photographer, I had been just too attached to the camera work.

July 11, 2014 at 4:57PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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RobR

"Perhaps, as a photographer, I had been just too attached to the camera work."

One of those moments when you remember why you love film, the collaboration and artistic effort of all involved. I relate deeply to that line.

July 11, 2014 at 5:59PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Ken

I give this a half-meh. While these are all "iconic" and probably essential film study most of the scenes are very heightened or bombastic. I'd love to see a top ten "subtle" or "under the radar" edits from smaller films and/or lesser known filmmakers.

Also, since editing is the "invisible" art you only really know the power of it after the movie is over.

July 11, 2014 at 4:58PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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earnestreply

The "half meh" I think comes from being to familiar with them. The power at their time of release was significant and you really need to see these with "fresh" eyes. In other words the "meh" is yours, not the cuts.

July 11, 2014 at 6:28PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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JPS

Iconic in that everyone should not just see them, but see them in context of the great films they come from. Here, is where the "very few things that you can learn in film school that can’t be learned online," line makes me laugh.

Any monkey can "copy" these scenes, or better- the "style" of a particular filmmaker. The best filmmakers are, however, students of film. Certainly, one can learn "things" online, but unless you have the voice of a critic (which is what a good prof, or classmates will become), your work will not advance because you won't see your faults, or simply, be challenged in our ability.

Film schools have their place. But rather, its the inquiry that a new/young filmmaker must posses, as well as the ability to accept and be critical of his or her own work that is often missed by silly statements and lists like this. This can come from degrees in English, Philosophy, writing, or any of the liberal arts (just don't expect to find a job). Additionally, having lived a life outside of ones bubble through experiencing how others live, can also give you a great education.

But to say or believe that you can watch this clip and "get" all you need to understand editing is dumb on its face. Great clips though--- now go see the films, read the scripts, see the films again. Then read the scripts again.

July 11, 2014 at 5:26PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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profwilliams

I couldn't agree more. I didn't intend the article to be some kind of replacement for actual editing instruction and critique (both of which are invaluable), but more as a jumping off point for people that don't have access to traditional instruction. It's more about pointing out a few core concepts of editing, concepts that people might not have been aware of, and giving those people a basic foundation on which to start building their knowledge.

July 11, 2014 at 5:37PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Robert Hardy
Founder of Filmmaker's Process
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'Crash Course' made me think this would have some educational value. This is too vague to be useful.

July 11, 2014 at 5:29PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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BonnyJo

I thought he was being funny, as "crash course" is a figurative term.

July 14, 2014 at 4:47PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Charlie

Superb, Thanx for sharing this :)

July 11, 2014 at 6:11PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Great read and video. And it was indeed a good selection of movies. I also have among my all time editing favorites Oliver Stone's movies such as Any Given Sunday and Natural Born Killers; Greenaway's Prospero's Books; the famous sequence of Aronofsky's Requiem for a Dream; Danny Boile's Transpotting and Guy Ritchie's Snatch. And, of course, Pulp Fiction.

July 11, 2014 at 6:42PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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I found this list quite predictable, and not just because it trotted out the usual suspects, but because it regularly confused editing with story structure. Interweaving story strands is ultimatwly down to the writer and the director much more so than rhd editor. I'd like to see a list which really taught me something about how great scenes were made better by great editing. This video isn't that. This is the equivalent of pub banter rather than genuine insight.

July 11, 2014 at 8:24PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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In fairness, the big'uns such Eisenstein, Kubrick, Coppola, Hitchcock used the editing/montage as a part of their storytelling rather than a sheer exercise in cinematic possibilities. (which is what I thought of "Bonnie and Clyde")

July 12, 2014 at 1:14AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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DLD

What about the good, the bad, and the ugly? Scene were all three characters have their guns drawn out. I know there was an article on here written about the math of how it was edited. I thought that should of been on the list.

July 11, 2014 at 8:48PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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bert

No mention about Rocky. Rocky introduce the steadycam.
I feel this movie as the best movie I'm never seen both "Lundi matin" of Otar Ilosseliani, about choral, long take, and whole movie empathyc sense. Edit footage is only a way to make costruction...

August 22, 2014 at 9:58PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Editing is the spine of cinema. And it's so fluid. Some of the best cuts of all time were so perfectly timed, and so tied to the story, you never saw them. You only felt them. In the same way, some editing is so obvious it elevates the elements of the scene to greater meaning. It's a fluid art.

I love what Sidney Lumet says about editing in his book, "Making Movies." He essentially argues that no one can judge editing because no one saw the footage before the final product (sans editor and director).

July 12, 2014 at 1:01AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Paul

Thank you for all the great info!

July 12, 2014 at 1:16AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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zac

"Breathless" by Godard. Hack out the middle of a long scene and you get more, not less.

July 12, 2014 at 10:33AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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dm10003

Where is the Shining? Better juxtaposed shots than 2001 IMO :D
Good run through of great timing, and montage work, but I agree with a lot of above. You can't analyze these moments outside of the context of the films they're in without dampening the effect of the cuts. And you can't retell the effect of the cuts by just seeing the pictures they hold in frame.
This took me back to film school and studying Eisenstein and the like. Likewise, the video and article do little to touch on the philosophies and techniques of editing as one's view is centered on only the edits (cuts, frames, juxt.) -- I think everything from story timing, music, etc. holds an edit in memory -- not just the cuts and such.

Thanks for the video!

July 12, 2014 at 4:53PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Jared

and lets be honest -- who remembers the edits of un chien andalou? Content made these invisible! (the sign of a good cut-up!)

July 12, 2014 at 4:56PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Jared

While you make great points, I would say that if anyone has the choice of film school vs no film school, I would always side on going to film school. An actual film school too, not a 'film major' at community college or a regular university, but actually going to UCLA, USC, CalArts, Brooks, Chapman, or the like. Having one on one time with instructors, and building a massive network of connections is probably the most valuable thing I obtained at film school.

July 14, 2014 at 1:59AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Clockwork Orange......and most of Jean and Caro films (French duel)

July 15, 2014 at 12:50PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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andy

Would have to say a few favorites:

Movie: Gladiator - Pietro Scalia - Maximus' entry to 'are you not entertained?' soliloquy, second by Maximus final fight with Commodus and death sequence (Nominated for Best Editing 2001)

Movie: Matrix - Zach Staenberg - Neo fighting Morpheus - 'I know Kung-Fu. Show me' followed by Trinity opening scene (Oscar for Best Editing 1999)

July 15, 2014 at 6:40PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Michael

Good list. I would add the final chase sequence from The Naked City, the breakfast montage from Citizen Kane, the final duel in The Good the Bad and the Ugly, and the opening sequence from The Insider.

July 16, 2014 at 3:19AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Bill

Good List. But I do feel Jaws should have made the list. The editing process for that film was well done. Especially when it came to making the mechanical shark look real. Speilberg said one frame made such an impact on making the shark look real vs looking completely fake.

July 16, 2014 at 9:10AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Tim McCabe

Also the opening montage in "Lord of War", in which they follow the making of ammunition to the rocking of the Rolling Stones. Love that montage.

July 16, 2014 at 9:12AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Tim McCabe

What about "Silence of the Lambs" ? when Clarice knocks at the door and in parallel the police is going to the house of the killer

July 16, 2014 at 9:13AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Johnata de la Rosa

As a sequential storyteller and storyboard artist, and not being fully versed/knowledgeable in film vocabulary; It seems to me that Editing is basically the same as Storytelling. And to be a great storyteller, you have to understand the mechanics behind what makes a great sequence work..

The only issue I had with this presentation is that the mechanics, or function behind these edits were presented. And honestly, I saw absolutely no brilliance in the the Lawrence of Arabia cut( but I'm willing to admit I might just not understand it fully, and would be interested in anyone's take on that)

July 16, 2014 at 11:47PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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As a person who enjoys pornography, I am amused by those of you who think that your job title or schoolwork elevates your opinion over mine.

July 17, 2014 at 3:43PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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I am convinced that the more demented a movie is, the more the demented will love it.

July 18, 2014 at 9:46AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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M2D

Yup.. Impressed to learn the art science ,: cinema

July 19, 2014 at 1:21PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Mukil

Must say Bravo Mr. Treehorn. That's telling it like it is.
As for Top 10 lists and the Internet ,its gratifying to know ,that soon the Proliferation of Lists that have filled the Internet with More useless Garbage & Clicks than almost anything else that has come Round' the Bend should soon be running its course. Sure ,like Cable TV ,there is a lot of Space to be filled but the Person who came up with Internet Best of Sites should be Tarred & Feathered along with the Inventor of Packing Peanuts & Junk Mail.

July 19, 2014 at 8:04PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Dheep'

I have to say one of the top memorable for me personally is the entire intro to Terminator 2. The children's park melting away in fire set to that iconic music with the zoom of the Terminator's face at the end along with those hard bass notes.

August 22, 2014 at 1:01PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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What about the opening of Goodfellas?! Or the montage sequence explaining why Billy Batts was murdered?!!!

August 22, 2014 at 3:30PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Miro

The title of the article says most effective editing moments. Not best editing techniques or styles.
As in, there was something accomplished by a particular edit in the movie instead of how the style the movie was edited. Duh!!!

August 22, 2014 at 7:10PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Ricardo

All those cuts are epic no doubt. But obviously there are many more that didn't make the list.
To add just a few - The good, the bad and the ugly - both the final duel and the scene where Tuco is looking for the grave
The 80ies movie Highlander has a whole plethora of amazing match cuts (Mona Lisa mural, Aquarium etc...) seamlessly moving us through the different time periods of the story
Once upon a time in America - the sequence where the little kid gets shot and Noodles stabs the cop

At least to me those are some instances where as a kid I understood why editing is an art form.

August 22, 2014 at 8:13PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Kerphelio

All that Jazz. "On Broadway".

August 23, 2014 at 11:50AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Ric

As someone who works as both a director and an editor, I have to say that my one major complaint about this video is that you never mention the names of the editors who made those iconic cuts. (Except in the case of someone like Eisenstein, who did both.) Yes, as editors, it is our job to make our work invisible. But if the editing is being called out, it would be nice if the artist who created it weren't kept invisible. :)

December 2, 2014 at 2:03PM

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Amy
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Tarantino was a master in reviving classical narrative structures. All his films are full of tributes. The great contribution to film Tarantino was certainly the editor Sally Menke. "Inglourious Basterds", has many awesome editorial moments. Also I remember "All That Jazz" with an incredible final sequence for the main character (played by Roy Schneider, edited by Alan Heim who, by the way, won the Oscar against "Apocalypse Now" edited by Walter Murch). Or the opening Battle scene of "Saving Private Ryan" (Directed by Spielberg and edited by Khan) Another films with a super interesting structures like: "Memento" (Dir. Nolan/Editor Dody Dorn), "Eternal Sunshine for the Spotless Minds" (Dir. Gondry/Editor Valdís Óskarsdóttir), I think they should be included in the list.

December 3, 2014 at 6:38PM

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Otto Scheuren
Editor
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