On the Power Of Stopping

20 01 2008

frog thinkingArt Durkee, who is (according to his blog) a “wandering musician, artist, and writer, traveling across the face of the earth,” talks today in his blog Dragoncave, about watching the 1980 TV mini-series Shogun with friends and observing that there are many parts of the series that move very slowly compared to how they would have been edited today (go look at The French Connection today — a film which was known for its heart-beat raising editing when it came out in 1971). He remarks, favorably, that there were moments where the camera lingered on faces or cultural details that would have been long excised in today’s Bourne Identity world.

It’s rare to find film editing this careful or slow-paced these days; only one or two recent films come to mind. Everything has to be edited faster, choppier, more frenetically; it keeps us moving briskly along.

Then, because he is the itinerant traveller type he brings the point into modern life which, he says, “seems to continually accelerate without ever taking time out.” [For those of us with A-type personalities, we’d call that the “continually ON world”]. Then he says:

Anything that slows you down is a good thing.That may seem impossible to believe, or to achieve, but consider this: Life is as much about how you get where you’re going as it is about adding to the list of things you’ve achieved and places you’ve gone. Life is not a tally sheet of projects to be checked off, unless it is also a narrative of how you got them done. When and how much don’t matter as much as how, itself.

I’m reminded of something that Anne Coates once told me. Anne, who is an absolutely extraordinary editor (having cut LAWRENCE OF ARABIA and OUT OF SIGHT, among many others) said that when she first started on digital editing systems — the Lightworks in her case — on OUT OF SIGHT she had to consciously edit slower than she was technically able to cut.  She did this in order to preserve some thinking time. In the old days, I had trained myself to think as I was pulling a trim from a bin, dragging it over to the synchronizer, splicing it, matching the mag track, and splicing that, et al. It took several minutes to make a single cut, as opposed to the several seconds today. But I used that extra time to think about the next several cuts, shaping character and story, and thinking.

We need to figure out how to get back this thinking time. Durkee’s suggestion that we simply stop every now and is a pretty good one.

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