György Pálfi’s Final Cut – Ladies & Gentlemen (2012) is a movie made out of other movies, literally. It is YouTube’s beloved film mashups and supercuts on steroids. According to Andy Baio, who coined the term in 2008, “supercuts are obsessive-compulsive montages of video clips, meticulously isolating every instance of a single item, usually clichés, phrases, and other tropes.” (1) Nevertheless, Final Cut does not only offer a genre-, (2) style-, (3) year- (4) or author- and actor-bound (5) fan-made compilation; it is not a mere recap of a single film (6) or an entire season of a TV show, (7) but builds a wholly coherent narrative story made out of hundreds of excerpts of other films. To be precise, the film’s press kit mentions “images from 450 emblematic films from world cinema, from Metropolis to Indiana Jones, via The Godfather, Avatar, Scenes from a Marriage, Psycho or even Modern Times, with a few television series thrown in as well.” (8)
Pálfi’s montage film is analogous to the playful virtuosities of works like Joseph Cornell’s classic Rose Hobart (1936), Bruce Conner’s avant-garde A Movie (1958), Carl Reiner’s film noir parody Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (1982), Matthias Müller’s Home Stories (1990) and The Phoenix Tapes (with Christoph Girardet 1999), Jacob Bricca’s festival-darling Pure (2009), Swiss video artist Christian Marclay’s works such as his short Telephones (1995) and the 24 hours long The Clock (2010), or Michel Hazanavicius and Dominique Mézerette’s 1993 television film La Classe américaine. Cornell’s surrealist collage of a single film (George Melford’s 1931 East of Borneo), Conner’s rapidly paced associative database narrative, Reiner’s mixtures of original and new footage, Müller’s melodrama and Hitchcock-study, Bricca’s short but intense action overdose, Marclay’s hypnotic mega-mashup that pieces together more than ten thousand film clips, as well as Hazanavicius and Mézerette’s parody, including excerpts of 50 re-dubbed Warner Bros. films, all build on the same idea of productive recycling through the reutilizing of existing movies.
Bringing early as well as more contemporary supercut ideas to the next level, Pálfi’s movie seems to exhibit an additional degree of creativity, which goes beyond its predecessors’ originals. While Cornell’s and Conner’s films are plain instances of experimental cinema which celebrate the potentials of editing, they offer little more than visual pleasures in rhythm and associations. Müller’s shorts might be revelatory in regards to Hollywood’s visual representations in the 1950s or about leitmotiv patterning in Hitchcock’s films, but fall short of spicing up their mixed snippets through, for example, narrative coherency. Even though Reiner’s humorous mashup is able to create such a narrative arc, his film’s operability, that is the story’s coherence, is ensured by a great amount of newly recorded material, in which he wedges tiny pieces of scenes, carefully selected from 18 film noir classics. Although Bricca’s strikingly accurate montage is an ode to the cinematic technique of ‘match on action’, it does not develop or utilize its perfected audio-visual skill any further. The precisely timed soundtrack of The Jesus Lizard’s 7 vs 8, which achieves a viscerally strong aesthetic experience, represents the film’s only asset without employing its masterfully built visual continuity into a narrative one. Similarly, Marclay’s excellent idea, as well as his tenacity, exhausts in collecting and chronologically knitting cinematic clock scenes into a 24-hour loop, but has no further interest in providing, let’s say, immersive involvement or narrative experience whatsoever. As David Bordwell describes it, The Clock remains “emotionally cold”, (9) a statement that is applicable to most of the history of supercut cinema. (10)
My critical scrutiny concerning supercuts’ creative utilization is rooted in a historical insight about techniques of audio-visual compilation. (11) Since roughly the turn of the millennium an exponential growth in technological progress dismantled the exclusivity that characterized artists’ access to audio-visual creativity. (12) Digital democratization ironed out traditional hierarchies between the creator and consumer of art, as well as flattened inequalities that were created by differences in access to technological goods. Due to this development, which empowered viewers and turned them into creative users, today, video mashups, re-dubbings, remixes and other creative audio-visual practices are not so original, let alone noticeable. There could be a media archaeological formula that describes the co-relation among the level of technological access, the amount of generated content, and media consumers’ growing demands concerning the quality of created products. In times of abundance in creation as well as the distribution of novel ideas, artists need to infuse creativity into originality. Whereas most of the supercuts create something more or less original, only a few of them are able to upgrade their originality to genuine creativity. To put it simply, ‘art’ requires creativity that secures and extends the temporary effect of an original idea long term, and consequently marks the genius among the skilled. While most of the classic examples of early supercuts are significant film historical records of experimental curiosity, the majority of their contemporary successors are more like media archaeological mementos driven by technically savvy fandom. It feels that the celebrated technological democratization exchanged artistic creativity for tedious production of catalogues, compilations, and other mechanical practices of categorical or associational selections. A palpable, near-parodistic, example that describes the ‘mechanization’ of the trend is Andy Baio and Michael Bell-Smith’s 2011 supercut of supercuts called the Supersupercut, which is a randomized selection of rapidly edited scenes of existing supercuts “algorithmically-generated using youtube-dl, scene detection from shotdetect, and video processing with ffmpeg.” (13) In the near future there will be a simple software or app, feeding its algorithm with keywords and other elements of interest, which will automatically generate a perfect supercut of media content of any kind within a blink of an eye.
Without waiting for that to happen, Pálfi’s film brings creative enrichment to the supercuts’ playful but dull routine. Final Cut adds a ‘human’ factor to supercuts by incorporating ‘narrativity’ into their mechanical, (and for Bordwell even) ‘cold’ process.
Narrative Supercuts: Challenging and reconsidering rules of cinematic continuity
Pálfi is a cinematic equivalent of those rare disc jockeys that are enriching the art of musical remix through ambitioning a ‘concept album’ of audio mashups. (14) Final Cut joins an exclusive club of audio-visual supercuts, which infuse their recycled material with narrative aspirations. Although Reiner’s or Hazanavicius and Mézerette’s playful montage-films build on narrative development, akin to the interest and achievement of Final Cut, the brilliance of their method is eased greatly by different techniques, such as the addition of newly shot footage, or by a simple (re-)dubbing of the original films’ recycled characters, respectively. In fact, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid is more of a collage than a montage film as it mixes its classic film noir footage with other material of different origin. The virtuosity of the film is lessened by the fact that about 90% of its total screening time shows entirely new material, starring Steve Martin as private eye Rigby Reardon and Rachel Ward as the seductive Juliet Forrest (Reiner plays Field Marshall VonKluck). The film invokes, among others, Humphrey Bogart’s Marlowe from The Big Sleep (Howard Hawks, 1946), Cary Grant’s Johnnie from Suspicion (Alfred Hitchcock, 1941), Ingrid Bergman’s Alicia Huberman from Notorious (Alfred Hitchcock, 1946) and Ava Gardner’s vixenish Kitty Collins from The Killers (Robert Siodmak, 1946), forcing them into a single diegetic world, but it does not really feature these scenes but only offers them a supporting role in order to colour the main story of Reardon’s investigation. Comparably, re-dubbing greatly alleviates any editor’s task in creating narrative coherency: (15) while in La Classe américaine the dialogues of John Wayne, Dustin Hoffmann, Paul Newman and Robert Redford are entirely rewritten, most of Pálfi’s soundtrack remains intact as his multiple faced protagonists persist with their original uttered sentences from their original scenes and diegetic stories (it is also true that although the dialogues are untouched in Final Cut, in order to strengthen the narrative and emotional coherence among his montaged shots, Pálfi often makes use of some congruent non-diegetic music). For comparison, concerning a minimally manipulated audio track, it is worth mentioning Telephones, a seven-minute short film which depicts a fictional telephone conversation while preserving its remixed pieces’ original sound. Marclay’s only idea was to make a humorous point about cinema’s repetitive nature that endlessly builds from identical action and acting patterns. Analogously, Pálfi does not only mix distinct filmic representations of telephone conversations, but links and even exploits them to serve his overarching story’s actual narrative purpose. (16) In terms of originality and creativity, while Marclay’s Telephones, as Seth Stevenson puts it, “moves slowly and has no obvious aim”, (17) Pálfi’s Final Cut not only comments on its chosen scenes but also brings to life cinematic stereotypes.
Pálfi’s film tells a coherent, and to a certain degree even immersive and complex, story from mainly unaltered bits and pieces of other stories. Looking at the film’s total experience, coherence and a certain level of immersion are ensured by a rounded love story that operates with familiar characters and situations (supercut narratives take ‘familiarity’ quite literally when employing well-known actors from renowned movies). Complexity is achieved by smart storytelling techniques: as if a compilation of a narratively enriched supercut would not be challenging enough, Pálfi peppers his virtuosity by employing a forking-path-like narrative twist (signalling another level of the film’s playfulness with clichés). But how exactly does the film sustain any sense of coherency while persistently violating most of the norms and rules of cinematic continuity? It seems that Final Cut’s progressive resourcefulness challenges filmmakers and scholars’ notions about perceptual, cognitive and narrative continuity, rather than viewers’ story-immersion.
Take the film’s very first scene: The camera zooms close on a Na’vi face. When the blue creature opens his eyes, we see John Savage blinking from a similar range. A moment later he turns into being Jim Carrey, whose movement of waking up from a dream is finished by a yawning Robert Donat. The bleary-eyed Iván Darvas steps out of his bed, but Sam Lowry hits the bathroom. Kevin Spacey goes under the shower, or is it Michael Douglas? What we see next is film history’s most terrifying showerhead, this time spraying on Richard Gere’s head. Jack Nicholson closes the tap, and then takes a glance at the bathroom mirror, from which Jean-Paul Belmondo looks back at him (see Figures 1-12).
What we have seen is the first minute of a narrative exposition that (super-)cuts James Cameron’s Avatar (2009), Milos Forman’s Hair (1979), Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps (1935), Károly Makk’s Liliomfi (1956), Terry Gilliam’s Brazil (1985), Sam Mendes’ American Beauty (1999), Danny DeVito’s The War of the Roses (1989), another Hitchcock, this time Psycho (1960), Garry Marshall’s Pretty Woman (1990), Roman Polanski’s Chinatown (1974), and Jean-Luc Godard’s À bout de soufflé (1960). The story, or better, a story of our many actors performing a single character goes on for another 75 minutes. This character, the man, is the singular sum of the ‘Gentlemen’ from the film’s telling subtitle. From the very onset the viewer is taken on a rollercoaster ride through film history’s exuberance, but apart from an initial astonishment, ultimately experiences a single story.
The sense of a single story is achieved by a created illusion of continuity, even though the act of construction disregards both cinematographers’ and film scholars’ most treasured norms, commonly associated with the rules of Hollywood style continuity editing. These rules, most notably described by David Bordwell, Janet Staiger and Kristin Thompson, Edward Dmytryk, or Steven D. Katz, (18) are dealing with, among others, the proper use of analytical editing (cut in from establishing to closer shots), the avoidance of jump cuts (adherence to the 30º rule), the prevention of crossing the axis of action while editing (adherence to the 180º rule), the continuation of character movement through adjoining shots (match on action), the match between shots of characters looking off-screen and the approximate view of what they are looking at (eye-line match), and concerning other continuities related to characters, settings, times of the day or further preservations of visual qualities between neighbouring shots. Final Cut’s opening scene, as well as the whole film, not only violates most of these continuity norms and rules, but, by ultimately providing a relatively smooth experience, also disproves their absolute necessity as components considered to be exclusively responsible for invoking the feeling of narrative continuity. Remarkably, one of the most recent and convincing academic studies about the topic does practically the same thing by dismantling enduring theoretical concepts of cinematic continuity. Tim J. Smith’s Attentional Theory of Cinematic Continuity (henceforth AToCC) (19) re-evaluates the traditional view and its respected components. Smith’s concise summary provides a thorough overview on scholarship dedicated to cinematic continuity:
Across the literature, continuity is variously defined as creating the illusion of continuous action (Dmytryk 1986; Katz 1991; Reisz and Millar 1953; Salt 2009), preserving graphic, space, time, logical, and narrative connections between shots (Anderson 1996; Bordwell and Thompson 2001; Dmytryk 1986; Katz 1991; Reisz and Millar 1953; Salt 2009), the continued presence of at least one actor (Salt 2009) or background landmarks across a shot (Hochberg and Brooks 1978b), avoiding a noticeable “jerk” (Dmytryk 1986; Reisz and Millar 1953), drawing attention to the cut (Bordwell and Thompson 2001), or details of the film’s production (Sandys 2005). (20)
By questioning the decisive role of spatio-temporal, action and character-continuity, which seem to be the core characteristics of continuity according to these studies, in his revision Smith disproves most of these components’ significant role, and surmises a more crucial function of viewer attention and expectation. “The key assumption of AToCC is that viewers do not and should not construct a detailed spatiotemporal representation of the depicted scenes.” (21) Smith’s argument, which is built on ecological considerations, (22) developmental psychology, (23) and on his own eye-tracking studies, (24) is best summarized by his citation of Daniel T. Levin and Daniel J. Simons’ classic study: “In film, as in the real world ‘people’s actions and motives are central, whereas visual detail is only interesting when it clarifies our understanding of these actions and motives.’” (25) Smith’s plea for the relevance of attention in constructing continuity is actually about highlighting viewers’ narrative interest in a certain story. In summing up his theory, Smith, although briefly, plays with the idea of tying perceptual and narrative theories together: “Perception of continuity (…) is about enabling the viewers to shift their attention to the audio-visual details currently relevant to them and the narrative.” (26)
Pálfi’s film essentially confirms Smith’s AToCC theory and its narrative-driven extension. Final Cut, as a special case of narrative supercut, bridges Smith’s perceptual-cognitive theory of attention and expectation with viewers’ overarching interest in narrative development. What I suggest here is a nexus, according to which attention and expectation support both the experience of continuity on perception’s micro-, and on narrative’s macro-level. Narrative interest is principally about viewers’ immersion and hypotheses that are close equivalents of attention and expectation. (27) Consequently narrative engagement triggers attention and expectation, ultimately enabling immersion and hypotheses, which are fundamental to the experience of both perceptual-cognitive and narrative continuity. Even if viewers recognize the discontinuity between the juxtaposed shots, they won’t be troubled by its spatio-temporal disturbance, as their attention and expectation are occupied by an unfolding action-continuity within a narrative arc. On this note Smith, paraphrasing Andrew Hollingworth, includes an empirically reasoned argument about the reduced significance of spatiality in experiencing continuity: “Empirical evidence suggests that if background features are not relevant to the viewing task they will not be attended to and therefore not make it into long-term memory.” (28) Instead, what viewers mentally construe is a kind of narrative map, which is more of a conceptual ‘architecture’ of coherent semantic fields of narrative information than the real spatio-temporal unity of a given scene. (29) After 10 minutes deep in to Pálfi’s film no one is flabbergasted anymore by the changing background, varying quality of edited images, even altering actors and actresses, on the contrary, at this point viewers are able to follow the unfolding love story between the characters sitting in a car effortlessly (see Figures 13-16).
According to the traditional view “[f]ilmmakers believe that by adhering to continuity-editing rules they can make a cut ‘invisible’ (Dmytryk 1986) and ensure that ‘the spectator’s illusion of seeing a continuous piece of action is not interrupted.’” (30) For Smith, and actually for Pálfi too, perceptual interruption cannot fully annul the experience of continuity. Moreover, if we can trust the above argument, narrativity apparently overwrites perceptual disruption, as viewers’ awareness of continuity ‘errors’ is not necessarily against their experience of – narrative – continuity. As if being aware of the latest theory that apparently grants certain freedom for the editor, Pálfi’s film tells its coherent story while practically neglecting all the traditional rules and norms of continuity editing. Doing so, Final Cut does not only vary time, space, visual technique, colour and tone, framing or direction of movement among shots (Figures 17-20), it does not merely change actors and actresses (31) with a steady pace, but it plays with the names, genders, representational techniques, even species (Figures 21-24), of its employed ‘ladies and gentlemen’.
In sum, although Reiner’s Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid and Pálfi’s Final Cut are both interested in providing narrative experience, that is, constructing a mashup with storytelling ambitions through offering smooth continuity, their methods and interpretation of creating such continuity differs greatly. Reiner’s bravado is the ability to strengthen his story’s coherence by following classic guidelines thus creating perceptual continuity between various old and added new footage. (32) His film’s strategy in building seamless spatial and temporal unity is ensured by a full reliance on proven norms and rules of traditional continuity editing. These contain careful staging and editing practices that host eye-line matches (Figures 25-26), and involve meticulous combinations of over the shoulder re-enactments (Figures 27-28), even matte shots (Figure 29), that are mixing new material with the originals among montaged frames (Figures 25-28) or within a single shot (see Figure 29: Cary Grant ‘meets’ Steve Martin).
Quite the opposite, Pálfi’s geniality is manifested in proving the power of narrativity over perceptual quality. While Final Cut seemingly jeopardizes the comprehensibility of (and immersion in) its story by taking the risk of disregarding visual gaps between differing footage of diverse origin, Pálfi’s film practically demonstrates Smith’s alternative theory on sensed continuity, which marginalizes the role of ‘text immanence’ and celebrates viewers’ cognitive attention and narrative interest instead.
Somewhere between Hollywood style classical narrative editing (1+1=2), and Eisenstein’s ‘intellectual associative montage’ (1+1=3), Pálfi’s ‘intelligent narrative montage’ (1+2=3) may sound trivial but not artless. It builds, simultaneously, on perceptual-cognitive functions and narrative interest by counting on an enjoyable suspension of perceptual disbelief; furthermore, it examines its viewers’ cinéphile knowledge, even appealing to their savvy vanity.
Intertextual quiz for cinéphiles
Pálfi’s genius does not halt at simple recontextualization or narrative repurposing. His film does not merely refer to and build from other movies, but some of its references are chosen in order to reflect directly on the bricolage-technique of intertextual working in general. In Final Cut, for example, Vincent Cassell’s line “Are you talking to me?” from Mathieu Kassovitz’s 1995 La Haine becomes a quoted quote embedding Robert De Niro’s timeless words, from Scorsese’s 1976 Taxi Driver, a level deeper in some metatextual cinéphile quiz. Although such a playful strategy offers enough excuse to the critic to stray away in lengthy explanations about the various qualities of textual referentiality, essentially the film’s experience is less about marvelling at intertextuality and more about having cinéphilliac goose bumps. Playing the ‘guessing-game’ is every cinéphile’s favourite pastime. The positive emotion that such playfulness releases is often targeted by traditional feature films’ references (e.g. Quentin Tarantino’s overt intertextuality), experimental works’ lyric poetry (e.g. Claudio Pazienza’s 2009 Archipels Nitrate), and of course by video essays and other compilations (e.g. Press Play’s Breaking the 4th Wall Movie Supercut (33)). It is remarkable that Pálfi not only exploits the pieces of selected scenes for narrative repurposing, but, as Cassell’s case exemplifies, sometimes also invites our knowledge about the chosen films’ entirety. In the following section I mention four different tactics through which Pálfi achieves his film’s cinéphile appeal.
First of all, the movie Final Cut employs many illustrious and well-known moments of film history. (34) What is notable here is the recurring strategy, in which the film plays not only with film scenes, but even more so with our knowledge about those carefully selected classics and semi-classics. Pálfi repurposes Hitchcock’s ill-fated shower as a prop for a peaceful morning wash (Figure 9), changes the cause of Shelley Duvall’s frightful anxiety into a passionate lovelorn gesture (from Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, 1980), or converts Yoda’s Jedi wisdom to a more casual role of offering comfort against the heroine’s lovesickness (Figures 21-24). This latter, fast edited, scene could illustrate a rapid activation of the so-called “Kuleshov effect”, (35) just as much as it may function as a simple inner joke serving cinéphile fun.
Secondly, teasing with familiarity goes beyond repurposeful evocations of well-known scenes and starts a cinéphile game using cinematic clichés. With his selection from the sometimes-abundant examples available, Pálfi, beyond serving his narrative’s purposes, also makes a statement through his particular choices. For instance: how many kissing, dancing, fighting, wedding, love making or dying scenes could one select from the vast catalogue of film history? Apparently choosing one of the most memorable ones, Pálfi contributes to the forming of a cinematic canon as well as revealing personal taste and generational preference, if not the history of effect. As for the film’s first kissing scene, its emotional climax is displayed in a rapid, passionately exuberant, cut of about 19 essential kiss-moments (Figures 30-33 offers a selection from these). The hasty montage finally cools down, giving impact for Han Solo and Princess Leia’s first exchange (Figure 34). Representing probably the ultimate cinematic kiss for Pálfi’s generation, Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher’s long-awaited touching lips in Star War’s Episode V (Irvin Kershner, 1980) is tantamount to Bogart and Bergman’s in Casablanca (Michael Curtiz, 1942), Gable and Leigh’s in Gone with the Wind (Victor Fleming, 1939), Stewart and Novak’s in Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958), or, for an even younger generation, Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet’s in Titanic (James Cameron, 1997), and Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdam’s in The Notebook (Nick Cassavetes, 2004).
Thirdly, Pálfi does not only trigger his viewer’s nostalgia, but sometimes also creates a game through the selected scenes. Choosing pivotal moments from film history, Final Cut invites our inner cinéphile to activate personal memories. The film’s many examples trigger one’s knowledge about original contexts, but rarely leave us to engage with them, as the expected climax of these well-known moments are often denied through an immediate switch to a new shot. Following this strategy, an early cut makes a sudden end to Gene Kelly’s pure happiness just before his, and film history’s famous Singin’ in the Rain act is about to start (Stanley Donen/Gene Kelly, 1952; Figure 35). Similarly, many film lovers’ eyes will most certainly make a sudden shift from Oldboy Min-sik Choi’s maniac walk to the car park in the background of the frame (Chan-wook Park, 2003; Figure 36), but at the very last moment Final Cut revokes the scene’s famous payoff of a smashing rooftop by pushing forward its rapid editing pace.
Finally, Final Cut’s creativity extends its viewers’ analytical activity, providing a stimulating playground for our usual practices of reverse engineering and hypothesis making. The film’s careful selection and montage of clichés quickly trains us, and ultimately asks us to think in conjunction with the film’s creative process. Pálfi mobilizes his viewers’ meta-narrative cinéphilia when he invites us to bring in our own collection of cinematic clichés. Final Cut encourages us to play along and extend its director’s (and its four editors’) specific choices, selected from their personal databases, with our examples that we gathered during our own cinematic socialization. The best illustration of this process is my above exploration concerning the film’s first kissing scene, which as an analysis perfectly demonstrates my own cinéphile’s on-going mental ‘co-operation’ of complementing Pálfi’s canon with my own. This example is specifically illustrious in the film’s final kiss scene, presenting five extra cinematic kisses, and ‘confirms’ one of my earlier expected choices that I would have selected from my own database. While I missed James Stewart and Kim Novak’s memorable lip-encounter from Final Cut’s first kiss scene, Pálfi proved, literally, the scene’s unforgettable cinematic memory when he included the supreme moment from Vertigo in his film’s climax (Figure 37).
Final Cut’s inviting playfulness is based on database thinking, and moreover on comments about it. The film’s cliché-based narrative triggers new kinds of hypotheses that focus more on catalogue-related instead of story-driven predictions or expectations. Having quickly adapted to the rules of the film’s game, the viewer’s traditional expectation about the ‘what will happen next’ gets accompanied with guesses about possible choices, with which the film could illustrate its next cliché (my Vertigo-kiss prediction is an example of such a database-related hypothesis). Thus the question is, for example, not about what will follow a lovemaking scene, but more a speculation about which cigarette smoking scene should be presented from the many available. As mentioned earlier, such a guessing-game is greatly responsible for a cinéphile pleasure that mashup movies target. At least I certainly enjoyed my ‘I-told-you-so’ film buff moment through having guessed right: Nicolas Cage and his Marlboro appearing on the screen (Wild at Heart, David Lynch, 1990; Figure 38).
Talking about cinéphile pleasure, as a side note, I need to touch upon an additional feature that enhances Final Cut’s attractiveness. Due to its extensive copyright violations, (36) Pálfi’s film cannot be distributed, let alone screened beyond festivals or educational contexts (the film premiered in 2012 at the Cannes Film Festival’s “Cannes Classics Section”). In the age of unlimited access and global media consumption such restriction is almost unimaginable and may be responsible for particular, or for some perhaps even nostalgic, viewer emotions. If such restraint hits an esteemed filmmaker’s latest release (a rather unthinkable case today) the effect multiplies through eliciting long-forgotten memories regarding cinéphile excitement of tracking down and taking possession of obscure titles. Consequently, the exceptionally limited release of Pálfi’s highly anticipated film brings back some of these pristine cinéphile emotions of longing for access and possession, which allow for the re-experience of the practically extinct feelings of privileged and exclusive viewership. (37)
From participatory viewer to creative user
Somewhat similar to Jean-Luc Godard’s 1980s project Histoire(s) du cinema, where video’s new media became a powerful tool in the hands of a creative filmmaker obsessed with “palimpsest” vision, Pálfi’s film is a feel-good celebration of artistic inventiveness, which also marks a specific, this time digital, moment in (social) media history in which people express themselves through technology. The eloquent title, Final Cut, refers encompassingly to actual discourses about reconsidering author rights, to the democratization and elastification of artworks through digitization of the creative process, and most explicitly to a specific technical engine, Apple’s editing software Final Cut Pro, a pivotal addition to the history of creative technology, being responsible for most of the changes in media consumption. (38) Technological developments are vital: the inverse proportionality in computational power and technology price made supercut practices available for the masses, first in audio and, with some delay, also in an audio-visual context. Embracing the latest capabilities of digital new media, including illegal but nevertheless full access to the entire history of film as well as possibilities of creatively toying with this history’s products through technical engines, Pálfi, a post-modern successor of Roland Barthes and Michel Foucault’s theoretical heritage, (39) controverts the remaining rights of any authorship. (40)
On a similar note, one may wonder about the motivation that lies behind the making of video essays, mashups, and other audio-visual assemblages. Fascinated by the same question while researching supercut culture, Seth Stevenson made his own compilation about the multiple appearances of Zoe Deschanel’s peculiar cell phone case, pink with bunny ears, in the first season of Fox’s television series New Girl (Elizabeth Meriwether, 2011 -). (41) His comments on his own activity, on the one hand, underpin my earlier points about the difference between originality and creativity; although making a supercut of cell phone appearances sounds like a truly original idea, it does not require any creative challenge and generates zero added value. As he admits: “These aren’t the most compelling three minutes you’ll ever experience.” (42) On the other hand, even if such active endeavour does not necessarily cash in on social appreciation, (43) active content production could elicit a cognitive reward for its creator. While making his private compilation, Stevenson experienced a positive emotion through the extension of his analytical interest into active creativity. He describes the process as “shockingly fun” and “noticed a new and unfamiliar little jolt of power (…). I had asserted my dominance over this slickly produced piece of media.” (44) Another tech journalist Rich Juzwiak emulates Stevenson’s emotions whilst claiming, “playing ‘visual media god’ is only the beginning.” (45) Indeed, Pálfi proves Stevenson and Juzwiak’s thoughts about the creative potentials inherent in the upgraded viewer position. His Final Cut illustrates recent media trends that blur the boundary between the conventional roles of art maker and consumer, consequently exemplifying the recent transition from naive and informed passivity, (46) which characterized traditional film viewing, to more empowered positions (47) of actively devoted, forensic (48) and even creative viewership. What is remarkable is that today’s audiences utilize their recently acquired possibilities and skills, trained by new media’s interactive environments, in relation to traditional offline media such as film and television. For that reason, video supercuts and their narrative extensions are creative products that emerge from a cognitive playground, aroused by new media’s technological, sociological, and economic changes, for gratifying contemporary media consumers’ “cognitive surplus.” (49)
Challenging the essence of traditional notions such as ‘director’s cut’ and ‘ultima manus’, Pálfi relativizes the concept of final cut whilst vindicating all rights for himself as an upgraded viewer. As a cinéphile viewer and director in one person, he brings participatory viewership to a wholly new level where interactive fandom turns into truly active creative usership. In line with these developments, Final Cut provides a state of the art blueprint about the forming state of the Art in our age of turbulently changing media landscape encompassing copyright issues, media literacy, new manifestations of cinéphilia, visual creativity and technical evolution.
Final Cut – Ladies and Gentleman is screening at this year’s Melbourne International Film Festival on Sunday 28 July and Monday 5 August.
- Andy Baio (2008) supercut.org/about/ Accessed 25/05/2013.
- E.g. science fiction: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hbJrqZaB4oI, horror: https://vimeo.com/30287497 Accessed 25/05/2013.
- E.g. film noir: https://vimeo.com/38946362, German expressionism: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y3RAXsIJH44 Accessed 25/05/2013.
- E.g. 2012: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=68aKCIXZ-LY, 2000-2009: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9LBnMWJi0vQ Accessed 25/05/2013.
- E.g. video tributes to Stanley Kubrick: https://vimeo.com/48425421, Wes Anderson: https://vimeo.com/35870502, or Nicolas Cage: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xP1-oquwoL8 or Arnold Schwarzenegger: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=pDxn0Xfqkgw# Accessed 25/05/2013.
- See my 2008 attempt to summarize Hitchcock’s 1954 Rear Window while experimenting with editing software: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QRqr9b5epg4 Accessed 25/05/2013.
- E.g. ABC’s official recap of Lost (Abrams, Lieber & Lindelof 2004-2010) up to the end of its 3rd season: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QIuXZ37GQIs Accessed 25/05/2013.
- Press Kit for Final Cut: http://www.finalcut-movie.com/pages/p/presskit Accessed 25/05/2013.
- David Bordwell, ‘Time Piece’, Observation on Film Art (21 February 2011), http://www.davidbordwell.net/blog/2011/02/21/time-piece/ Accessed 25/05/2013.
- Marclay’s gimmick is a rather mechanical selection of film scenes showing exact moments of diegetic time synchronously with the very moments of The Clock’s viewing time. For example when it is high noon in the film’s fictional world, it is also 12:00 in the viewer’s reality. As David Bordwell puts it: “The Clock isn’t just about clocks; it is a clock [that] can be reset according to the time zone of the venue” (Bordwell 2011). The experience, although less narrative, is similar to watching a full season of television series 24 (Cochran/Surnow 2001-2010) at once and synchronized to the time of the show.
- Instead of providing excessive references to all the relevant theories concerning digital democratization, participatory culture, amateur practice, etc., this section focuses exclusively on those aspects of the field which are suitable to describe Pálfi’s contribution.
- It was around 2001 when I, but most of all my then state-of-the-art PC, struggled through frustratingly long hours with re-editing and rendering Christopher Nolan’s inversely told Memento (2000) into a chronological version (just to learn a few months later that a re-arranged version became a special feature of the film’s DVD edition).
- See Baio and Bell-Smith’s http://supercut.org/supersupercut/ Accessed 25/05/2013.
- “The general understanding of the term [of concept album] is that it refers to an album with songs that cohere around a single idea.” Gareth Shute, Concept Albums (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2013), p.9.
- A half-baked execution of the re-dubbing idea is Craig Baldwin’s 1992 pseudo-documentary Tribulation 99: Alien Anomalies Under America, which is assembled entirely from stock material and dubbed by an officious voice-over that ensured its conspiracy plot’s coherence. One also could mention Woody Allen’s cinematic debut, What’s Up, Tiger Lily? (1966), and its hilarious overdubbing in which a Japanese secret police movie (Senkichi Taniguchi’s 1965 Key of Keys) turns into a search for an egg salad recipe.
- Telephone conversations, thanks to their necessary spatial division, are quite popular in mashups. Having a hotline between Steve Martin and Humphrey Bogart, Reiner’s Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid exploits the idea no less than 5 times.
- Seth Stevenson, ‘The Secret Lifes of Supercutters’, Slate (27 November 2012), http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/the_browser/2012/11/how_to_make_a_supercut_secrets_of_the_youtube_collage_form_revealed.html Accessed 25/05/2013.
- David Bordwell, Janet Staiger, and Kristin Thompson, The Classical Hollywood Cinema: Film Style and Mode of Production to 1960, (London: Routledge, 1985), Edward Dmytryk, On Filmmaking (London: Focal Press, 1986), Steven D. Katz, Film Directing Shot by Shot: Visualizing from Concept to Screen (Studio City, CA: Michael Wiese Productions, 1991).
- Tim J. Smith, ‘The Attentional Theory of Cinematic Continuity’ Projections 6, 1 (2012), pp. 1-27.
- Ibid., p. 5.
- Ibid., p. 9.
- James J. Gibson, The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1979), Joseph D. Anderson, The Reality of Illusion: An Ecological Approach to Cognitive Film Theory (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1998 ).
- Daniel T. Levin, and Daniel J. Simons, “Failure to Detect Changes to Attended Objects in Motion Pictures” Psychonomic Bulletin and Review 4, 4 (1997), pp. 501-6., ‘Perceiving Stability in a Changing World: Combining Shots and Integrating Views in Motion Pictures and the Real World’ Media Psychology. 2, 4 (2000), pp. 357-380.
- Tim J. Smith, and John M. Henderson, ‘Edit Blindness: The Relationship Between Attention and Global Change Blindness in Dynamic Scenes’ Journal of Eye Movement Research 2, 2 (2008), pp. 1-17.
- Smith (2012, 8) quotes Levin and Simons (2000, 376).
- Smith (2012, 9) acknowledges but does not discuss his theory’s implications on emotion, characterization, style, and narrative. Instead, while concluding his paper, he urges for research, which will incorporate his theory to these fields of study (22).
- See other factors of ‘narrative interest’, related to the concept of tellability, by Meir Sternberg. For example one may see Sternberg’s suspense, curiosity and surprise, which are the components of narrative interest, as emotional stances that are responsible to maintain immersion and trigger hypotheses. Meir Sternberg, ‘How Narrativity Makes a Difference’ Narrative 9 (2001), p. 115-122.
- Smith (2012, 15) paraphrases Andrew Hollingworth, ‘Visual Memory for Natural Scenes: Evidence from Change Detection and Visual Search” Visual Cognition 14, 4 (2006), pp. 781-807.
- Stephen Mamber, ‘Narrative Mapping’, in Anna Everett and John Caldwell (eds.): New Media: Theories and Practices of Intertextuality. (New York: Routledge, 2003), pp. 145-158, Miklós Kiss, ‘Mapping Narrative Mapping’ (forthcoming).
- Tim J. Smith, Daniel Levin and James E. Cutting (‘A Window on Reality: Perceiving Edited Moving Images’ Current Directions in Psychological Science 21, 107 (2012), p. 107) quote Dmytryk (1986) and Karel Reisz and Gavin Millar, Technique of Film Editing (London: Focal Press, 1953), p. 216.
- Beyond question, Pálfi does not aim at Buñuel’s famous experiment with change blindness, still, his Final Cut makes an organizational rule from the subtle gimmick of That Obscure Object of Desire (1977), in which Buñuel famously cast two actresses, Carole Bouquet and Angela Molina, for a single role.
- See a brief video interview with Michael Chapman, cinematographer of Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, about his “primitive” but fun approach of matching old and new footages: http://www.webofstories.com/play/michael.chapman/59 Accessed 25/05/2013.
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O08gt8ub1qs Accessed 25/05/2013.
- Except perhaps the Hungarian film scenes, which are only well-known for those who are familiar with the country’s rich film history, or with Pálfi’s movies, as he cuts in a brief scene from his 2006 Taxidermia.
- Within a repurposing context of the film’s new situation, Yoda’s original inquiring expression, from Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (Irvin Kershner, 1980), transforms into an expression of tender empathy.
- The film’s final credits do not acknowledge any film studios but pay tribute to the infamous torrent site IsoHunt.
- Hereby I would like to thank the kind generosity of the film’s producer, Viktor Huszár (HvD Productions), for making the film available for my work (and sooth my cinephile curiosity at the same time).
- Interestingly, but not coincidentally, an early and telling example concerning the unsettled legal regulation around ‘supercut art’ is also connected to Apple through the case of the company’s failed inquiry of having permission from Christian Marclay for its iPhone advertisement. Once Marclay’s refused the tech giant’s offer, Apple went on and made its super(-final-)cut version of the Telephones: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=mmiWTKZzBLY Accessed 25/05/2013.
- Roland Barthes, ‘The Death of the Author’, in Stephen Heath (ed. and transl.): Image – Music – Text. (New York: Hill and Wang, 1977 (1968)), pp. 142-8, Michel Foucault, ‘What Is an Author?’, in Donald Bouchard (ed.): Language, Counter-Memory, Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews by Michel Foucault. (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1977 (1969)), pp. 113-138.
- On the other hand, such remixes, especially supercuts dedicated to directorial oeuvres, enhance auteur recognition through personal appreciation (see footnote nr. 5).
- Stevenson (2012).
- The relevance of an expected social reward, which stimulates fandom activity through striving for recognition and acclaim, has grown considerably thanks to the rapid process of socializing media and technology’s support of sharing culture.
- Stevenson (2012).
- Rich Juzwiak, ‘The Real Reasons Why People Make Supercuts’, Gawker (27 November 2012), http://gawker.com/5963737/the-real-reasons-why-people-make-supercuts Accessed 25/05/2013.
- Noël Carroll, ‘The Future of Allusion: Hollywood in the Seventies (And Beyond)’, October 20, Spring (1982), pp. 51-81.
- Thomas Elsaesser, ‘James Cameron’s Avatar: Access for All’, New Review of Film and Television Studies 9, 3 (2011), pp. 247-264.
- Jason Mittell, ‘Lost in a great story: Evaluation in Narrative Television (and Television Studies)’, in Roberta Pearson (ed.): Reading “Lost”: Perspectives on a Hit Television Show (London: I. B. Tauris, 2009), pp. 119-138.
- Clay Shirky, Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age. (London & New York: Penguin Press, 2010).