I usually avoid MOWs (Movies of the Week – movies made for television, not theatrical release). I’ve worked on enough MOWs and watched enough and usually been disappointed. Last night I made an exception. I watched Lifetime’s biopic, Georgia O’Keefe. Two weeks before I finally caught Frida, initially created for theatrical release, on TV.
Similarities between Films and Artists
Both movies had talented casts, ample budgets and not cheap locations in different states (and countries in Frida’s case.) Both women achieved international fame with their art and married male artists who advocated their groundbreaking art and were incurable womanizers. Each woman created unique paintings that pioneered powerful images of female sexuality.
I have been to their hang outs (O’Keefe’s Taos, Abiquiu, and Lake George and Kahlo’s Casa Azul) and seen their art in museums, postcards, and. I admire both women for their outstanding art and inspiring words and lives. I realize a biopic speaks to contemporary times as much as it tries to illuminate the life of its subject. Frida comes alive in her movie; Georgia deserves a do-over.
Show, Tell, See
Why does an editor make a cut? The golden rule of editing is that every cut must be motivated – have a reason – to be made. You can’t just make a cut because you like the shot or the director/producer/client told you to (well sometimes for job survival you have to do the latter). Every cut must advance the story in some way: Give more information about a character, location, or plot or add to the suspense. It’ best if the editor cuts so that s/he is ahead of even with the audience. When the audience is ahead of the story it loses interest.
In his seminal book, In the Blink of an Eye, Academy award-winning editor and editing philosopher Walter Murch talks about what makes for an “ideal” cut. He ranks six criteria. Emotion – what the audience feels – get the highest rank: 51%. Murch believes that what the audience finally remembers is “…not the editing, not the camerawork, not the performances, not even the story-it’s how they felt.”*
She was robbed
The story of Georgia O’Keefe was not felt in the editing, performances, or script. In Frida we got Kahlo’s physical anguish, heartbreak, tenderness, and out and out aliveness due the lighting and cinematogrpahy, and performances – all supported by editing with its pacing and focus on Frida and the people she cared about intereacted with most. In Georgia O’Keefe I never felt the woman or the artist and the relationship between her and Stieglitz and the other characters was hackneyed and in intursion.
I didn’t want to hear in a letter how Georgia sunbathed nude with Mabel Dodge and her entourage, I wanted to see Georgia go out in the New Mexican mountains and plains she so loved and get down with them in nude body and soul. I wanted to feel what it was like to first paint an overtly female, vaginal flower. I wanted to really understand her relationship with Mr. Stieglitz. For the first time, I felt Jeremey Irons created a caricature, hiding behind bushy eyebrows and a moustache, not a character.
Make your movies show and tell, and above all, let them make us feel and want to relate them to others.
*page 18, In the Blink of an Eye, by Walter Murch.
Editing practices, Joy goes to the movies