Thursday, December 09, 2010

Unsung Heroes: The Editing of Exit Through the Gift Shop

Michael C. back again from Serious Film. It's time to wrap up the first season of Unsung Heroes and I thought what better way to do that than to focus on a film that's still in the 2010 conversation while there's a chance to upgrade its status from "unsung" to "frequently honored".

The editing of Banksy’s Exit Through the Gift Shop would be a long shot even if it didn’t come from a documentary. The fact that it does puts its chances for recognition outside of a guild award somewhere just shy of nonexistent. Too bad since I saw no more effective use of montage at theaters in 2010, communicating a variety of complicated ideas while on the surface telling a simple, compelling narrative.

If you didn’t know anything about how awards voters marked their ballots you might logically assume that documentaries would have a big advantage in the editing categories due to the challenges they present. After all, fiction films have the advantage of working from a set script while non-fiction movies are handed the task of sculpting a narrative out of the raw material of real life. That was certainly the case with Gift Shop, which is drawn from the archives of a man who shot video compulsively, every day, for the better part of a decade. (the truth of this, like most of the film, is open to debate, but there was undoubtedly a wealth of material to sort through) That ninety of the sharpest minutes of the year were fashioned out of this vast ocean of footage is stunning.

It’s a testament to the skill of editors Chris King and Tom Fulford that accusations of the film being a hoax are so widespread. It’s hard to believe that the sloppiness of real life could yield results that put the vast majority of Hollywood productions to shame. Nobody is going to accuse a boring, flat documentary of being staged. Big ideas about art aside, this film moves. It’s got energy and zip. The dismal blockbusters from last Summer would have been fortunate to match half of this film's energy. 

Gift Shop juggles so many separate strands so skillfully we don’t realize how much they packed into the narrative until we think back on it. It is introduced as a character study of eccentric art world gadfly Thierry Guetta, and on that level it is fascinating enough. It adds to that a portrait of an artistic movement with rare intimacy and understanding of its subject, and then peppers in enough character beats to make the stunning story twists of the last third believable. That it then tops it all off with an in depth meditation on the nature of art is what elevates this to a special level of achievement. I didn’t expect a doc about street artists to deepen my understanding of what separates a good artist from a bad one, but that’s what it did. Anybody who looks at graffiti and sniffs, “How could that be art?” could well find the answer here.

We've seen the same dynamic repeated in this series in which work that falls outside the conventional wisdom of what is award worthy goes unnoticed. I thought it would be worthwhile for the season finale of Unsung Heroes to recognize something that still had hope of finding larger recognition. So have at it voting bodies. Open your minds when you mark those ballots. Don't just mark Waiting for Superman because it seems important. And while you're at it, take another look at the production design of Black Swan, the score of The Social Network, and the cinematography of Somewhere. Make my job hard. 

Season 1 of Unsung Heroes:

Paths of Glory, Punch-Drunk Love, Dumbo, Duck SoupIn Bruges, The Descent, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, The Big Lebowski, Ratatouille, Election, The 25th Hour, Rob Roy, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless MindPulp Fiction


Dean said...

I feel ashamed I didn't really consider the editing after I watched it. Everything you said is so true.

Volvagia said...

The main issue would be: Most editors naturally mark the ballots for MOST VISIBLE EDITING. To draw attention to their form. There's only one glaring case of HOW DID YOU MISS IT: Requiem for a Dream in 2000. (I buy 4 of the 5 wide field. The one I don't understand: Wonder Boys. Really Mike Douglas would have been a better acting nominee then Crowe (Gladiator is not equal to acting, fellas). Here, though? For a fiction film it's not remarkable at all, especially when Requiem's rewriting the rules. And through their higher support of horrors, thrillers and actioners (the genres that most rely on rewriting the rules of editing) when compared to the rest of the Academy, they've rarely missed a beat when it comes to game changing editing. Here, though? Dumb. Daring and energetic, even if it's also over-editing by the end.)

Amir said...

second best editing on my list this year.
terrific film and i think actually, the editing is the only reason the film works.
even banksy's timely humor wouldn't have seemed so timely if it wasn't for the editing.
great choice!

The Awards Prognosticator said...

The editing of this film was the first thing that stood out to me as what made it so exceptional, as much for the subtle comedic beats as for the staggering assembly of so much of Guietta's footage.

Michael said...

The Academy had the wherewithal to nominate a documentary for editing in 94 with Hoop Dreams, so a nomination wouldn't be unprecedented.

Edit Pictures said...

I comprehend humiliated I didn't truly muse the editing after I watched it. Everything you said is so faithful.