Michelangelo, Editing Mentor
Inspired by Michelangelo’s trust of the medium - thoughts on filmmaking creativity.
Setting: The summer after I graduated from college, my friend Erik Maran and I visited Florence as part of a cross-Europe bicycle trip. It’s a city bulging with exquisite art, and is no place to rush through. Erik was on his way to architecture school, and he knew all the places to go blow our minds in this playground of beauty. When we came to the Accademia, we fell upon the ultimate sculptures — the exquisite Prisoner Series of Michelangelo.
Spectacle: The Prisoners are a group of four unfinished sculptures, with the limbs and other features of human figures emerging from large masses of uncut stone. “Atlas” features a standing male nude on bent legs straining to lift a heavy load from his head. The burden is the uncarved stone that has not yet revealed his head, so the body bears it like a dense prison. Each sculpture in the series follows a pattern of unfinished figures at once emerging and yet imprisoned within the stone. Michelangelo insisted the figures were inherent to the stone, revealed but not created by his effort. It reminds me of how I feel when I’m entrusted with a large body of footage to edit — overwhelm gives way as the material reveals its patterns and forms through interaction, through conversation. It's truly liberating.
Effect: These sculptures embody the mystery of creative expression. I've mostly felt in the process of film editing that I was chipping away at the unessential. The essence grows louder and clearer, providing directions as to how it wishes, if you will, to be expressed and refined. That which lies unrevealed in the medium whispers to the artist who can hear it. It seems helpful to value moments of deep quiet.
I think the prison motif runs throughout the history of making art. Perhaps many artists have felt tortured in attempting to manage the birthing pains of creativity. Storytelling in words, dance, or film demands an odd mixture of bewilderment and discipline. Once a shapeless force is committed to form, there arises a different kind of prison, one in which we may in fact revel and call a work of art. We may recognize it as an attempt to capture or confine something that has no limits.
(See more photos of the Prisoner series here.)
Early in my editing career, I was asked to ditch nearly all the footage shot of boxer Jake Lamotta ("Raging Bull") and use the one take of an ad-lib he did at the end of the shoot to create something unplanned and unexpected. A conundrum, at first. But here's what emerged in my collaboration with the versatile and encouraging director David McNamara.