Saving Private Ryan
Film has the power to take audiences to meet new people, explore worlds both imagined and real, it can show you the past and send you reeling into the future. A cinematic experience can be all encompassing; it can stimulate your senses through images that the director has created, as long as the editor is on top of game and does his job properly. Through the course of this paper I will attempt to analyze the techniques Academy Award winning editor, Michael Kahn uses in Steven Spielberg s 1998 release, Saving Private Ryan.
Prior to delving into these techniques, we must first examine what the editor had to work with and what the director s goals were for the project. Ultimately Steven Spielberg wanted to recreate the chaos and terror that the young men faced as they stormed the beaches of Normandy. In order to accomplish this he handed over to the editor a million feet of film that was comprised of a miss mash of shots filmed with several different types of cameras and camera techniques. These techniques consisted of, but are not limited to, the use of varying shutter angles, different cameras, and primarily hand-held work mixed with some locked down cameras covering the same shots. This created a set of rushes that as Steven Spielberg put it were extraordinarily sloppy, but in a realistic way (James 45).
The purpose of this sloppy (James 45) camera work was to create the sense that the footage for Saving Private Ryan was actually shot by combat cameramen. The filmmaker went to the extent of allowing the dirt, blood, and debris that collected on the
This story, which is told in a non-linear fashion starts off at a cemetery, located near the beaches of Normandy. As the main character and his family slowly make their way through the long rows of white crosses, Kahn s editing style reflects the mood. He allows each shot to remain on the screen for a while in order to allow the audience to take in the somber mood of the surroundings. This slow pace also creates a false sense of security that is quickly broken at the outset of the second scene.
The transition between the first and second scene, where by we are juxtaposed into the past, is one that initially holds the slow pace of the first scene that is until the American military men begin to storm the beaches. Here the editor utilizes, exceptionally well, the miss mash of footage that was previously discussed. He takes the shots created by the differentiating camera techniques and melds them into a scene of horrific chaos. These images within themselves were extremely disturbing, but Michael was able to heighten the terror by only allowing each shot to remain on the screen just long enough for the viewer to interpret the information. Then with a flash, the first image is gone and is replaced with something just, or even more horrific. These fast cuts create a momentum that drives the soldiers, and the audience, across these death fields and up the hillside to kill the Germans and take the beach.
The majority of the half hour we spend watching our soldiers struggling to overcome the odds, while their friends are being blown to bits, is as previously explained a series of shots that are quickly cut together. However, even within the confides of this
action sequence, Kahn slows down the pace, one separate shot at a time, for a couple of instances. It is this instance where the audience is drawn into the physical violence. As the characters within the film become dazed and confused because of their surroundings, we are allowed a chance to fully take in the images. We see, for several seconds at a time, the brutality as seen through the character s eyes, and not the glory, of war. After being allowed to undertake this examination, Kahn throws us right back into the fray.
Upon conclusion of the initial battle sequence, Kahn changes his editing style by allowing individual shots to remain on the screen for much longer periods of time. This change in style was extremely important, because it gave the audience a chance to breathe and feel human again (Cercel 1). During this time period, we as the audience are given the opportunity to begin to learn more about the characters that make up the film, because the images are no longer bombarding us from all sides. This lull in the action also brings to the forefront the conflict, eight men s lives risked to save just one, within the story. Once the premise of the story is realized, Michael Kahn throws us back into the battle with his fast cut, this time slightly toned down, editing style. These editing techniques pick up pace as the final battle is fought, until we are thrown back into the present, where by the slow rate is once again resumed.
I feel that Michael Kahn, through his editing techniques, has done a superb job in creating a chaotic and suspenseful mood, for the film Saving Private Ryan. He was able to bring us into the conflict of D-Day through a series of fast cuts and then pull out for a while, so that we could learn more about the characters, before throwing us back into World War II. Even though he is responsible for the editing work done on the film, he can
not solely take credit for the way this film was pieced together, because in order to create such a body of work one must have the coverage, in terms of images, to work with prior to editing and ultimately this had to come from the director while he was on location.
Cercel, Elf. Interview with Oscar Nominee Michael Kahn, Editor, Saving Private Ryan 17 March 1999. EditorsNet. 8 December 2000