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One-Second Per Day Video Diaries, and Disobeying Editing Wisdom

A one-second-per-day video record from Seth‘s 29th to 30th birthdays:

I like the complete mundanity of Seth’s images and how they’re transformed by the way they’re edited, but I was even more impressed when I saw him agree to the statement that there was, “Something strangely familiar and banal about this. A year with the fear, anxiety, and alienation of modern life air-brushed out,” because there is something about this that’s right on the borderline of being completely relatable and real, and feeling like I’m about to see a Google Hangouts logo.  The interpretation of a video like this is incredibly dependent on the audio that ties it together, and at the same time, the audio here contributes to the sense of something being airbrushed out, in a way that, say, the ambient audio wouldn’t, or even some spoken interview audio would not.  But the audio track tying it together is unquestionably good editing, in the sense that it brings all the disparate clips together into a single document with a flow from beginning to end.  This is a complete story.

As a side note, I think that I enjoy this form of rapid-fire time-lapse documentary.  Compressing the memories of a year to one second per day, viewed all at once, brings out interesting patterns.

Kevin Kelly’s one-second-per-day trip in Asia:

This, on the other hand, does use the ambient sound, and feels more like a document – but not like a story.  There are moments, but they’re not ordered, and they transition abruptly.  There isn’t a climax and resolution of events.  But the ambient audio gives an incredible sense of place, which seems to be part of what’s missing from Seth’s.  (Gorgeous images and colors, too.  It’s much less of a day-in-the-life, but it’s still an interesting slice of real time.)

For all the editing advice to not cut together the audio in rapid montage, I suspect that when the montage is the full story, that strips away too much of the identifiable and specific elements of the story, and leaves that “air-brushed” feel that’s frequently associated with commercials and trailers.  Montage feels slightly anonymous, even in the center of a narrative.  There’s a middle ground here: tie together the footage with music, but also edit in a few moments of your ambient sound to round out the portrayals of the people and places.  In truth, I think that might be a description of virtually the entirety of Terence Malick’s Days of Heaven – a long, glorious montage of images and events tied together by voiceover, and punctuated periodically by ambient sound and dialog.  (Although that is slightly glib: it’s certainly not rapid, it flows at quite a traditional narrative pace.)


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“The introduction of sound has largely caused filmmakers to concentrate on realistic narrative and discard the silent cinema’s methods of indirect allusion.  In saying this, it is important to realize that this change of approach has been a matter of choice, not necessity… There is no reason at all why a sound film should not make use of pictorially expressive devices… [however, the effect cannot be] introduced in the course of otherwise straightforward realistic narrative.  The sudden transition from realism to highly sophisticated, contrived imagery becomes unacceptable because the spectator is abruptly asked to view the action… through different eyes.  [Many of the effects using indirect allusion] arise out of the setting of the story… Yet it must be remembered that the Russians produced some of their most telling visual contrasts by completely ignoring the story’s natural locale and cutting to images which have no physical connection to the rest of the film… Obviously, there can be no question of making a continuity of this kind with actual sound… any kind of natural sound would merely draw attention to [the shots’] diversity.

One may conclude that that the sound medium is not capable of this kind of editing to an idea.  But this is not necessarily so.  Nor does the fact that Eisenstein himself never quite assimilated tot he element of sound prove anything except that he personally did not do so.  British documentary makers of the thirties, particularly Basil Wright and Humphrey Jennings, showed that Eisenstein’s methods could be further developed in the sound cinema.”

–Karel Reisz