goin thru it.
Because of my interest in editing, I was fascinated by Sergei Eisenstein’s ideas about how montage and editing can reveal untold stories and new meanings. To explore this concept further, I decided to create a short film using footage from two unrelated projects: a music video that I made with my friend Charles, and footage from a trip my mother and I took to the Florida springs. The challenge of combining these two very different sources was exciting to me, and I hoped to discover something new in the process. Seeing this project as an opportunity to challenge my skills in editing and sound design, I went into the process with Roberto Rossellini’s mindset of letting the film discover itself.
As I began to work with the footage, I found that the film was taking shape as a meditation on loss and the struggle to move forward while still holding onto memories. The film follows a protagonist who is haunted by memories of a girl from the springs. Water is a recurring motif throughout the film, triggering memories of the past and slowing down time. The protagonist tries to go about his day, exercising and attempting to clear his mind, but these memories persist. The use of trains adds to the film’s tension and anxiety, suggesting that the protagonist’s life is like a train wreck that he cannot escape. The shower scene, in which Charles portrays someone who is mentally struggling and eventually breaks down, is a powerful moment of emotion and realization. The shower is often a place of contemplation because it lacks distractions; however, when there is something you are trying to escape mentally, it can be easy for your mind to roam to those places when there is nothing else to do. Additionally, the shower water here is his way of keeping her close to him, but his mind quickly shifts to the painful reality that she is gone.
Even in the protagonist’s dreams, these dark feelings still haunt him. The nightmare is significant because it reflects how the protagonist is starting to spiral as all these negative feelings move him further and further into a state of depression. However, the introduction of the protagonist’s younger brother offers a glimmer of hope and lightness. The younger brother represents the people and things that can lift us out of our darkness, if only momentarily. This moment is especially significant to me because I also have two younger brothers and they have the ability to pull me out of my negative state whenever I am “going through it.” The film cuts next to the protagonist submerging himself beneath his bath water. As he lays underwater, a montage of clips from his day, his nightmare, and the girl all begin to flash in. At the same time the sound intensifies, until he can’t hold his breath any longer and pulls himself out of the water, gasping for air. My hope is that the audience feels just as overwhelmed and out of breath as the protagonist does.
Much of the film’s meaning is derived from the use of editing. Eisenstein discusses how a shot on its own can produce a particular feeling, but the editing together of shots can lead to a new meaning that is itself greater than the sum of each shot. In Eisenstein’s view montage “is not an idea composed of successive shots stuck together but an idea that DERIVES from the collision between two shots that are independent of one another” (Eisenstein, “The Dramaturgy,” 95). When discussing rhythmic montage, he writes, “formal tension through acceleration is here achieved by shortening the shots, not just in accordance with the basic scheme’s formula of repetition, but also in violation of this canon” (Eisenstein 188). While I consider the entirety of my film to be one big montage, the rhythmic montage that happens when the protagonist is taking a bath was especially significant. The pacing of the images was just as important as what the images showed. As he lingers under the water for longer, slowly running out of air, both the pacing of the shots and the sound intensify.
Furthermore, sound design also contributed greatly to the overall meaning and feel of the film. At first, I had thought about using very little sound and keeping most of the film silent. However, as I continued to edit, I realized that sound could play a more important role in helping the viewer connect to the protagonist’s internal state of mind. Béla Balázs discusses the ability of sound to “adjust itself to our imagination rather than to nature” and “open up a new sphere for experience” (184). In my film, sound shifts from synchronous to non-synchronous, from diegetic to non-diegetic. Sometimes there is a conflict or tension between what is on screen and what we hear. I also utilize the sound close-up often to add to the surreal qualities of the film and bring attention to important feelings and associations like I do with the sounds of water and the train. Especially because of the film’s lack of dialogue and its rather surreal nature, the use of sound became an important tool to help guide the viewer through the story’s surreal and dreamlike quality.
I also draw on Jean Epstein’s concept of photogénie and the ways in which the photogenic aspects of people, places, or objects can be “a consequence of its variations in space-time” (Epstein 294). Throughout my film I play with space-time and sonic incongruity to convey the emotions and internal psychological state of the protagonist. Slowing down a shot makes the viewer sit with whatever is on screen for longer than they naturally would. It also reflects how much of the protagonist’s life is stuck in those moments of pain and sorrow. All these devices are used to tap into what this experience of loss and mourning is like for our protagonist.
Lastly, I tried to keep in mind the film’s atmosphere and how I wanted the film to make someone feel. Robert Spadoni writes, “atmosphere is not merely space but its emotional coloration” (53). To convey a sense of film atmosphere I used cool-toned color grading, slow-motion, low-key lighting, handheld camera motion, and sound. I would describe the atmosphere of my film as lethargic, gloomy, unnerving, and even menacing. To me, how this film feels is more important than having a clear understanding of plot and story.
In conclusion, the process of editing has allowed me to discover the incredible power of storytelling through film. By manipulating elements such as space, time, and sound, I was able to convey a range of emotions and psychological states that added depth and intensity to the film. Drawing on film theory and the ideas of pioneers such as Eisenstein, I experimented with montage to create a rhythmic and poetic expression of the protagonist’s journey towards healing and acceptance. Moreover, the film is a poetic expression of what it feels like to have no control over your thoughts when your mind keeps reminding you of a past you are trying to let go of. Ultimately, the film is a reflection of the power of cinema as a medium for conveying the complexities of the human experience. As Jean Epstein once said, “cinema is poetry’s strongest medium,” and I wholeheartedly agree.
Balázs, Béla. Béla Balázs: Early Film Theory, ed. Erica Carter, trans. Rodney Livingstone, Berghahn Books, 2010.
Eisenstein, Sergei. Film Form: Essays in Film Theory, ed. and trans. Jay Leyda, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1977.
Eisenstein, Sergei. “The Dramaturgy of Film Form (The Dialectical Approach to Film Form),”The Eisenstein Reader, ed. Richard Taylor, trans. Richard Taylor and William Powell, British Film Institute, 1998, pp. 93-110.
Epstein, Jean. “On Certain Characteristics of Photogénie.” French Film Theory and Criticism 1907-1939. Vol. 1: 1907 – 1029. Ed Richard Abel. Princeton UP, 1988.
Spadoni, Robert. “What is Film Atmosphere?” Quarterly Review of Film and Video, vol 37, no. 1, 2020, pp. 48-75.