The Technique of Film Editing (1968) is a classic text for film students

The following text is based upon a previous post entitled Drug Wars (2013) updates.

It focuses and enlarges upon themes related to editing, contextualization, and management of attention and emotional response in accordance with principles of instrumental reason in a machine in the garden era.

Film history

We are dealing with history, and its conceptualization.

Heritage preservation can serve as a blurb, a storyline, and a back story.

Sometimes – as with regard to the Long Branch Aerodrome – historical plaques serve a useful purpose.

A Sept. 9, 2013 article at the University of Oxford (OUP) blog is entitled: “The rebirth of international heritage law.”


Blurbs are an essential component of history, which may take many forms, including evidence-based versions and versions that distort or ignore historical evidence evidence.

My understanding of how blurbs work is influenced by Erving Goffman, whose academic career I’ve discussed in a previous post:

  • [Gregory W. H.] Smith notes (pp. 14-15) that “Goffman’s contribution to the war effort was to work for an agency [that is, the NFB] then heavily involved in the production of propaganda films. At that time the noted Scottish documentary filmmaker, John Grierson (1898-1972) directed the Board.
  • “While Goffman’s duties were mostly low-level and routine (boxing films for dispatch and preparing cuttings files from magazines), he could not have avoided exposure to discussions about filmic practices for decomposing ordinary life into elements that could then be reconstructed as a representation of reality [Y. Winkin, ed., Erving Goffman: Les moments et leurs hommes (1988), pp. 20-21].”

Regent Park, Toronto

Two NFB films about Regent Park demonstrate the applications of techniques dating from the Film Board’s propaganda productions. Of related interest is John Grierson: Life, Contributions, Influence (2000).

An classic overview of the history of film editing techniques up until 1968 is available in The Technique of Film Editing (1968). A key message is that the meaning of a given moving image depends upon the context in which it is presented. The latter study notes (p. 298) that Grierson’s documentary movement of the thirties was dedicated  to “the creative treatment [emphasis in original] of actuality.”

The latter book reflects the times in which it was written. The camera person and editor are consistently referred to as males. Smoking is assumed to be an everyday indoor occurrence. Updated material written in the sixties refers to the disorientation caused by information overload in that era. The accompanying feelings of dislocation and fragmentation gave rise, as the book notes, to valuable developments in the language of filmmaking.

It’s useful, with regard to the icons of film history, to contextualize W. D. Griffith among others.

A study by Steven Bach (2007) of Nazi-era filmmaking is of relevance as is Iron Fists: Branding the Twentieth-Century Totalitarian State (2008).

Also of interest is Love, Hate and Propaganda, a six hour DVD series about World War Two. A review of the series posted at the B.C. Teachers Federation website can be found here.

Of related interest is The Shoah in Ukraine: History, Testimony, Memorialization (2008).

Also of interest are discussions related to the recycling of Nazi amateur war footage.

These topics bring to mind children’s books published in Nazi Germany.

Evil men (2013)

These topics bring to mind Evil Men (2013) by James Dawes.

On page 169 of his 2013 study, Dawes remarks:

  • War makes it hard to discern what is true. It has always been thus. Wars are made possible, sustained, and won or lost through deceit and the confusion of reference. The lies of war extend even to its most basic physical operations. “Strategy,” Elaine Scarry [1985] writes, “does not simply entail lies but is essentially and centrally a verbal act of lying.” Codes, for instance, “are attempts to make meaning irrecoverable,” and in camouflage, “the principle of lying is carried forward into the materialized self-expression of clothing, shelter, and other structures.” War, she writes, is defined by its “disappearing content.” It is, by nature, a matter of cover-ups.

Sir William Stephenson

It may be added – as the story of Sir William Stephenson underlines – that Allied excellence in dealing with wartime codes and subterfuge was a key factor in determining the outcome of the Second World War.

Germany in the 1930s

An August 21, 2013 Atlantic article describes the development of German concentration camps.

Of related interest is Berlin Alexanderplatz: Radio, Film, and the Death of Weimar Culture (2009), a study of 1930s Germany.

The book establishes a context for Steven Heller’s Iron Fists (2008).

Topics addressed in the latter study are also highlighted in a December 23, 2009 New York Times article entitled Deadly Style: Bauhaus’s Nazi Connection.

James Dawes interview

A CBC interview with James Dawes can be accessed here.

I learned of Evil Men (2013) from CBC Radio’s The Current.

Geographical imagination

These topics also bring to mind the concept of the geographical imagination.

Land and property, as characterized in Western society, are historically and conceptually related concepts.

A related underlying concept appears to be power – what it is and how it is used. Power is a topic of interest to many people. Donald J. Savoie argues that how power is conceptualized and used warrants close discussion. A June 4, 2013 Globe and Mail article outlines the value of such a study.

A March 2013 article in The Atlantic addresses power in the context of bullying. Emily Bazelon (2013) has contributed much of value to recent discussions regarding bullying, through a book and a wide range of perceptive interviews and articles related to it.

Land, property, and power are matters of what James A. Tyner (2012) has conceptualized as the geographical imagination. As a blurb in his study, Genocide and the geographical imagination: life and death in Germany, China, and Cambodia (2012), notes, his research demonstrates “how specific states articulate and act upon particular geographical concepts that determine and devalue the moral worth of groups and individuals.”

Tyner’s concept of geographical imagination is the clearest and most cogent conceptualization of the relation among property, land, and power that I have encountered to date.

An overview of Nazi propaganda regarding people with disabilities can be accessed here.

Edison, Beethoven, Flaubert

A July 30, 2012 post entitled “The medieval origins of 20th century anti-semitism in Germany” at the Oxford University Press blog provides further context.

A July 13, 2013 New York Times article discusses the motivations of members of Indonesian death squads in the 1960s. The article describes a documentary about the slaughter of as many as a million people in Indonesia following the military’s seizure of power there in 1965.

A Sept. 26, 2013 New York Times article reviews a book entitled The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger, and a Forgotten Genocide (2013).

In The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film (2002), William Murch argues that the three fathers of film are Edison, Beethoven, and Flaubert: Edison brought forward the mechanical means of motion picture production; Flaubert introduced a particular kind of realism to Western literature; and Beethoven introduced a dynamic representation of form to Western music.

As Murch characterizes the history of film, Beethoven’s music  is structured in such a way that – through sudden shifts in tonality, rhythm, and musical focus – you can hear film’s grammar – cuts, dissolves, fades, superimposes, long shots, and close shots – being worked out in musical terms.


Image from Arsenal Lands west of Small Arms Building at Dixie Road and Lakeshore Road East. Jaan Pill photo

Image from Arsenal Lands west of Small Arms Building at Dixie Road and Lakeshore Road East. Jaan Pill photo

A May 7, 2015 New York Times article is entitled: ” ‘Forbidden Films’ Exhumes Nazi Poison From the Movie Vaults.”

The opening paragraphs read:

“The Third Reich was not only a totalitarian state but also a total multimedia regime. Seven decades after its fiery collapse, the embers remain — including some 1,200 feature films produced under Joseph Goebbels’s ministry of propaganda. Are they historical evidence, incitements to murder, fascist pornography, evergreen entertainments, toxic waste or passé kitsch? All of the above?

“Those questions are raised by ‘Forbidden Films: The Hidden Legacy of Nazi Film,’ a documentary essay by the German filmmaker Felix Moeller, opening May 13 at Film Forum for a weeklong, free-admission run.

“Mr. Moeller, born 20 years after Germany’s defeat, is concerned about what he sees as youthful disinterest in the Nazi period and the concurrent rise of right-wing nationalism in Europe. He arrived at “Forbidden Films,” he said by telephone from Berlin, after making ‘Harlan: In the Shadow of Jew Süss,’ a documentary about the family legacy of Nazi Germany’s most celebrated director, Veit Harlan. Harlan’s most notorious film, “Jew Süss” (1940) — a period melodrama in which a Jewish moneylender connives to take control of the duchy of Württemberg — is as incontrovertibly anti-Semitic as it was enormously popular.”

[End of excerpt]

A November 2019 Atlantic article is entitled: “The Many Contradictions of Thomas Edison: His greatest invention wasn’t the light bulb or the phonograph or the moving picture—or anything tangible. It was a way of thinking about technology.”

An excerpt reads:

This can be read in several ways—as provocative overstatement, as an honest description of creativity’s mechanics, or as a paean to the inventor’s workaholism. To me, its ambiguity highlights Edison’s greatest contradiction. The man who created the team-based R&D lab had a habit of talking about his work in the first-person singular, referring to “my so-called inventions” and anointing himself “the industrious one.” Edison’s life should be a durable lesson in the power of creative teamwork. Instead his surname has become an eponym for individual genius, whether heroic or hyped. Edison reveres its subject, but Morris’s portrait also shows that while “the industrious one” can be a remarkable catalyst, inventiveness truly thrives thanks to the industrious many.

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