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By Phil Hall | September 7, 2005

The history of editing in motion pictures is somewhat sliced and diced together into the new documentary “Edge” (the title could use some editing itself, but that’s another matter). It is basically Cinema Studies 101, complete with all of the usual suspects and more than few missing suspects.

The film traces the art of editing from the primitive days of the early silent cinema to today’s CGI-clogged digital film landscape. All of the highlights are here: D.W. Griffith liberating the silent movies from their stodgy theatrical appearance, the Soviet filmmakers pushing editing effects further, the wild experiments of the avant garde underground, and Janet Leigh taking a shower in the wrong motel.

There might be a few surprises to be found here, particularly when George Lucas arrives to declare how he was inspired by the 1920s Soviet style of filmmaking when he was editing the various “Star Wars” flicks. Major talents such as Thelma Schoonmaker, Michael Ondaatje, Mathilde Bonnefoy and Tony Gibbs are present with their insights, inspirations and anecdotes. Many great movies are here, ranging from “The Great Train Robbery” to “Woodstock” to “The Matrix.”

Alas, the film hits more than a few potholes. The quality of the scenes taken from the silent films, Riefenstahl’s “Olympia” and several French New Wave classics is surprisingly poor – it looks like they were duped from bootleg prints. Norman Jewison makes the shocking declaration that the split screen effect was invented in Canada for the 1967 Montreal Expo, but that style was being played with as far back as Abel Gance’s 1927 “Napoleon.”

Even more stunning is the absence of too many classics of film editing. Keaton is present with “Sherlock, Jr.” but Chaplin’s work is not mentioned. Dreyer is also ignored, both for his silent work (how could they forget “The Passion of Joan of Arc”?) and his sound films (especially the imaginative editing of “Vampyr”). “A Hard Day’s Night” is mentioned by name but no clips are shown. “Citizen Kane” is here but the rest of the Welles canon is not cited, while Hitchcock is only represented by “Psycho.” Don’t look for Kurosawa or Ozu because they’re not here. And the Golden Age of Hollywood apparently produced nothing in the way of memorable editing – virtually no studio film from the 1930s through the 1950s is here.

Clearly the filmmakers had problems securing the rights to many of the best examples of film editing, and often “Edge” settles for second- or even third-best. This may explain why stuff like “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “The Limey” shows up (they are entertaining movies, to be certain, but not classics of editing).

With all of the omissions and gaffes, this could’ve been called “Movie Editing for Dummies” – or perhaps “Movie Editing by Dummies” is more appropriate.

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