Les États généraux du film documentaire 2007 Cut !

Cut !



The workshop will be organised in two parts. Jean-Louis Comolli will take care of the first part (morning) and Marie-Pierre Duhamel-Muller will be responsible for the second part (afternoon). They will of course intervene in each other's segment.

A few words on our point of departure: we want to question some of the figures of articulation and transition used in the construction and editing of documentary films: different matches, fade-outs or dissolves, short cuts, jump cuts... These figures will be studied using examples taken from documentary films. The goal is above all to explore the effects and consequences of meaning linked to forms that often remain unreflected.

To describe in a formula the system of so many films of which Bowling for Columbine will be our paradigm, we could speak of a generalized form of zapping. Show something, leave it, come back, show it again. Leave nothing in place, in its duration, in a scene, in a setting, no idea, theme, motif, reasoning or argument is complete but engage in a constant coming and going, beginning and ending. Bash repeatedly over the head, declaim affirmations, multiply shock-images, break up sound-bites, project a sparkle of short cuts, clip cuts, play with editing effects like on an ultra-high speed gaming console. Fascinate with the permanent illusion of "spectacular editing".

What do we see, what do we hear in Bowling for Columbine? A series of short shots which mixes in its movement heterogeneous materials, registers and styles: here and elsewhere, the gag and a serious moment, yesterday and today, drama and comedy, photos and documents, pathos and irony, various archives, nonsense and terror, television ads, surveillance videos, etc. This mix is agreeable to watch. The play of the heterogeneous in a film is always a challenge. But, and above all in a film, no play is without its cost. The meaning of the game here is to reduce the otherness (of the world) to the familiar (of spectacle). All of this material which pulsates and expands in polymorphous directions is run through the meat grinder of the short cut. The effect is one of great uniformity. Everything is equivalent in weight and value. The spectacle is everywhere, the real nowhere.

Touch everything to touch nothing. Jumping about is a form of avoidance. The model for this kind of editing is the TV ad or musical clip, and the model of the model is the gesture of the zapper. Impatience, precipitation, feverish fragmentation, sampling, hysterical use of the fragment, the fantasy of ubiquity and volition. At the end of which: crumbs.

It is unlikely that you'll find in Bowling for Columbine many shots more than twenty seconds long and most of them are probably below ten seconds. Let's take as an example the prologue: it lasts 1 minute 43 seconds, is composed of nineteen shorts of an average length (just to see) of 5.42 seconds.

We will question the necessity and (accelerated) history of this acceleration of the spectator's way of looking. The aim is to forbid any mental projection. The wild fragmentation of lengths, their systematic shortening excites to the point of saturation the scopic impulse. A thousand fragments of the visible of which none will really latch onto us.

Another case: the jump cut, this practice is quite generally used today, and amounts to cutting within the filmed figure of space and time, within the filmed body-text, in order to select the moments of speech proposed to the viewer.

It is an affirmation of the absolute power of editing. It purposely tells us that we are seeing only "excerpts" of what was filmed: these phrases, mimics, gestures in a discontinuity which does not seek to disguise itself behind the illusion of a cinematic cutaway (difference of axis or movement).

The effect is certainly a denunciation of editing by itself and an unveiling of its "artful" nature: the cuts are visible, there are jumps in the image (not in the sound), things become virtual, light, accelerated. On the other hand, the repetition of these cuts, the minor violence (but felt as such) of these jumps in the image is also the sign of a dismembering of the filmed gesture, of a jerkiness in time, a disarticulation of the scene, of the irruption of a kind of (weak) chaos in the supposedly continuous recorded space-time of the shoot. In this way the editing contradicts and rewrites the shoot. The "inscription of truth" inherent in every shot is fragmented to the point where it no longer says much, and the truth of the recorded relationship only appears as an ephemeral shimmer.

The jump cuts in the film directly attack the representation of the human body and the production of speech in their duration. Effects? First of all that of an overfragmentation of the filmed whole: the jump cuts increase the number of shots and reduce their length. Then the jump cuts seal the sign of the absolute control the author exercises over the material. Virtual lightness on one hand, a tightening of the screws on the other. What can be transmitted by the filmed person is thus limited and refiltered by the author. If it is true that an edit is always the choice of the author-director and/or of the editor, this choice establishes or not a "place where there is play" for the spectator. This is the whole issue. Repeated as they are here, these cuts in the shot communicate a desire for power and control the acceptance of which we are asked to support to be able to enjoy the fruits of the selected "best bits". As spectators we are invited to become tasters: the spectator is invited to partake of a pleasure which demeans us. It's a way of asking the viewer to accept that the filmed body and speech are "at orders". Make us renounce the arrival of the other as "unforeseen". How can we not see in this type of editing some obscure desire to deprive the "other" of freedom, the other being the person filmed as well as the spectator?

This day is not planned as a lesson but as an invitation to reflect together, with the aid of excerpts, moments, new developments, the figures of editing in their history, in their persistence as well as in their deviations. It will conclude by the projection of a fiction film Kosintsev and Trauberg's The New Babylon (1929). We will no doubt have reviewed the theories and "rules" of editing whose choice, respect, refusal, reinvention, submissive or rebellious practices have traversed documentary history. We will have rediscovered the twenties, those of the young USSR and the European avant-garde, and (re)considered the masters of editing, their rhythm and musicality, their lyrical collision, their invention of space and time. To better understand today's "effects", the lines which separate or bring together documentary and fiction, the silent and sound cinema, the body of the actor, body of the filmed person, response and word. Short cuts, jump cuts, dissolves and fade outs are almost a hundred years old: together we will search for the spectator they desire.


Coordination : Jean-Louis Comolli and Marie-Pierre Duhamel-Muller.