Sunday, June 12, 2011

Editing Spotlight: Death of a Cyclist

Muerta de un ciclista (1955)
Film Editing By: Margarita de Ochoa

Death of a Cyclist opens with a tease where a cyclist leisurely disappears from view. Then a crash, a bang, a sudden screech of wheels, and in this moment the film changes, as suddenly as the lives of the characters trapped in its web are transformed by this early original sin.

Maria (Lucia Bose) and Juan (Alberto Closas), the culprits behind this crime, find themselves on the road that day as lovers who must hide their meetings from Maria's husband Miguel (Otello Toso). The death of the cyclist is something they swear to forget till the mischievous Rafa (Carlos Casaravilla) hints that they may not have been as alone or discreet as previously assumed. Perhaps Miguel might be interested in his suspicions as well.

The pace of the editing of the film as a whole follows a similar murderous path, cutting just before the viewer would expect, quickening the pace, shortening the breath between life and death. In one instance, if memory serves, there is even a rapid cut from a youthful college student to a church cemetery, a scene transition that also acts as montage. Such moves can either hit with the bluntness of a rusty hammer or cut clean through, and Death of a Cyclist exhibits a little of both.

For me the most breathtaking sequence in the film is the lead in to the supposed 'outing' when it is presumed that Rafa has told all. It occurs during a "Spanish" dance which is introduced as a joke, a costume party of sorts put on for the benefit of a couple of foreigners. And (at least according to another stereotypical trope) do not the Aunt Bessies and Myrtle Mays of Paris, Illinois, their camera straps trapped between mini mountains of neck fat, always prefer a little romanticism?

A transition from the swipe of a grand piano to the strumming of a guitar,
from modernity to ethnic tradition

Dancers stomp to the soulful singing of Gracia Montes in an entrancing number meant to enhance rather than distract from the ugly meeting that will soon take place. This use of sound focuses the audience even more intensely on the emotional impact of the scene.

Carlos Casaravilla (The Spanish Buster Keaton?) whispering to Lucia Bose, their expressions the only indicator of the ugliness of his words which are drowned by the music

The loud dance setting does not simply act as a shield. The music and the rhythm of the background action are paramount to the central tension.

Editing plays the most important role in building this tension while simultaneously linking it into the greater narrative. The camera jumps between isolated aspects of the performance and the nervous faces of the leads. Jarring extreme closeups cause further disorientation and add to the drama. Despite this spatial dislocation eye lines between the central characters are clearly maintained and given added weight by the tight framing, making the importance of relationships (sanctioned and elicit) all-important, not just in plot but in overall construction.

The full scene (and the film) are definitely worth a look.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for review, it was excellent and very informative.
    thank you :)