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Though I am a film student by hobby only, I do try to study various aspects of films on my own. The question I am about to raise will undoubtedly mark me as an old-timer ignorant of current technology. A recent post somewhere posed the question to me, how do today's students study film details, for example, cuts? That is, if I purchase a given DVD, is there a simple way, or a program, allowing me to stop the movie and study a cut, jogging back and forth across the two adjacent frames, to study it, and, perhaps, even capture the two frames to paste into a document?

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Accessing a specific location within a scene down to the frame level is hard to do playing DVDs off of consumer DVD players and most computer based DVD player software. It's frustrating at best. When I need to deal with DVD media to look at a specific scene with frame accurate control I rip the video and audio files using MPEGStreamclip or Cinematize to a format that is more friendly to scrubbing playback on a computer. DV is a good generic format that is easily playable on almost any editing software on both Macintosh and Windows. The only potential roadblock to doing this would be disk encryption preventing you from accessing the media files with the ripping software.

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Yeah, ripping the movie then bringing it into an editing program will get you to a specific frame.


I personally think that's a little extreme and would find the benefits of such a training regiment somewhat dubious as individual cuts are completely subservient to the overall emotional quality of sequence and the sequence can be cut many ways making the sequences subservient to the piece as a whole....which is in turn subservient to the director's vision as interpreted by the editor so the placement of a single individual cut taking out of context becomes almost meaningless because every director will bring their own vision to the project.


I'll give you an example, the most dramatic single cut I can remember is the match-cut to-the desert sun in Lawrence of Arabia. Had another director say John Ford made the film, that cut probably wouldn't have been in there, same thing with the bone-cut to-cylindrical space ship in 2001 if say George Roy Hill had directed instead of Kubrick.That doesn't mean the films wouldn't have still been great films, just different,


As all good directors have editing in mind as they're shooting, I think the best way to understand the placement of cuts is to watch the film without sound and look at how the story is being visually told without the distraction of music, sound effects and to a certain extent, dialog.


Many times cuts are determined by simple necessity, they didn't have the footage, or began to discover the movie in the editing room or something was screwed up and it had to be covered with a cut away or a reaction shot. I suspect by scrutinizing individual cuts in such forensic detail, you might be missing the forest you're trying to find because all these trees keep getting in your way. Just my 2 cents worth. B)

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  • 3 weeks later...



I appreciate your replies, which I'm just getting back to now. Certainly, the "forensic detail" approach might be compared with examining a Mozart concerto as a sequence of note changes, or even extracting the key or modality changes; or, similarly extracting a particular moment in a particular performance of same -- hardly the way to understand the ideas of composition. I have read Walter Murch's In the Blink of an Eye twice, and find his priority list of places to cut compellingly cogent. In that light, there remains, I think, a subsumed place for seeing how a cut, perhaps an unexpected one in some way, works, if one keeps it properly in the full context you indicate. Murch's list does, after all, include the matter of where the eye is in the frames on either side of a cut, though it hardly tops the list.


Leaving frame-specificity aside, broader scrubbing can be instructive in reviewing line-of-action changes, pacing, and other issues, which is cumbersome and inaccurate using typical DVD controls.





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